Category Archives: childhood

End of Summer Sorrow

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Tomorrow marks the beginning of the last week of summer vacation. Sigh.

It’s been a good summer in many ways. In July, my husband (who is a full-time teacher during the school year) worked part-time and the big kid had some day camp. We went to the pool a bit, played outside in the sprinklers some too.

In early August, we all took a trip to visit my dad and stepmom in California. It was really nice to see everyone, but traveling with little ones is far from relaxing. Still, the kids (especially the big one) remember it as an awesome time and are excited to travel again.

But now. This right here is my favorite thing in the world. No one has had work or other outside commitments for the past two weeks (and counting). It took me a few days to really relax into it, but oh my goodness, it’s good. I know that some people don’t love being home with no activities. And I have heard the words “I’m bored” uttered more times than I’d care to, but it doesn’t really matter when both parents are home to help (and our kids are finding stuff to do with a little nudge here and there).

I just love feeling this relaxed. I can feel each breath enter and exit my body. I can feel my heart beating slower. And I can enjoy the children—spend those few extra minutes inhaling their hair, watch the precise angle of their backs as they lean into the couch. I love the freedom of it all, not having to plan my day up to the minute so I can fit everything in and make everyone happy.

And sleeping. Taking turns sleeping in if the kids wake up too early (and dare I say that sometimes the kids are sleeping in themselves—wow!).

I know it will be impossible to bottle these feelings of slowness, solitude, and relaxation. But I hope the goodness we have been feeling—that feeling of all being together, in sync, loving on one another—will propel us forward into the busyness of September with a little more patience and understanding.

Let’s face it—the busyness of modern life can kind of suck sometimes. Don’t get me wrong: I am grateful that my husband has a good job, that my kid goes to a school he likes, and I have the kind of flexible work schedule that allows me to be home for my kids pretty much all the time. I know new adventures await us all in the new school year, and I’m excited for them.

But I see this summer ending, and I feel a little sad. No, very sad. I just want to hold on a little longer. I like the nothingness of our days. But most of all, I like these people. They are pretty much the best thing I have in life. I am eternally grateful, and so in love.

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Family photo from the other day. The best we could get. Love the pile of junk next to us on the couch. Totally authentic.

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My Grandparents’ Garden

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The old aqua blue telephone on the patio table. The pansies my grandfather planted in a neat row. And the dahlias—oh those beautiful, intense, many-petaled dahlias—in a tall wooden pot next to the telephone.

But what I remember most is the wooden fence, and the tight alleyway my sister snuck through to get from their house to ours. My sister: Dahlia. My grandmother had planted the flowers for her. Dahlia, 8 years-old, the same age as my first child is now.

She snuck through with my grandpa because he would walk her home. Every day afterschool she would go to my grandparents’ house, and stay there until my mother got home. She did her homework, ate a snack (probably challah, soup, or toast). Sometimes she sewed with my grandmother.

And then my grandpa would take her hand, walk her home, through the alley, out the other side, around the corner to our house.

And why, when I write this, am I moved? Why I am shattered?

Why is that path between the houses—my grandfather’s hand, my sister’s afternoons eating and gardening and sewing with them—so triggering, so meaningful?

Partly because they are gone, of course. The flowers, the telephone, the wooden fence (now shiny white). My grandparents, buried together under a cherry tree in Staten Island. And my sister’s 8-year-old self—32 now, across the continent in misty Seattle.

What moves me the most is the love, the protection. It’s my mother finally having help and family nearby after all those years as a single mom. All those years alone, 3000 miles away from her parents, in California. It’s my mother not having to worry that her little girls had to stay at an afterschool center, or be latch-key kids. It’s that my mother didn’t have to do it alone, for the first time in many years.

The other day I was pushing my two-year-old son past my grandparents’ old apartment building. And I was swept back to that time. I could see myself then, 13 years old, reckless, full of teenage angst and lust, missing my father, my friends, my California. But a little calmer too, a little more settled, a little closer to home.

And my mother—I didn’t understand any of it until I became a mother. I didn’t understand at all how lonely she had been all those years in California, how hard it must have been for her to raise two girls alone. I didn’t understand what great solace she must have found moving back home.

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photo credit: Flickr, Creative Commons 

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This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.

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The Gravity of It

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Nothing in my life is convenient right now. Being poked by a two-year-old at 4am most mornings? Nope. Never eating a meal without having to feed other people at the same time? I don’t think so. Never being able to leave the house without needing to persuade little people to put their shoes and jackets on, to stop fighting, stop kicking the wall, stop wiping snot on each other? Nah.

I used to be able to glide through my life effortlessly (though I probably didn’t feel that way at the time). My life was my own. I could wake up when I wanted, eat breakfast in silence, put my shoes on and leave. I could go where I wanted, nothing but my wallet and keys to keep track of. It’s hard to even remember when navigating the world was that effortless.

Things are different now. So different. I accept that most days I am tangled up in children. I accept that I am weighed down by their needs. I accept the gravity of it.

And yet, I feel the burden deeply. It pushes my body into the armchair at 4pm. It makes me say yes to extra screentime at that hour because I just can’t move another muscleI can’t muster up another smile. I can’t listen to another word coming out of their adorable little mouths. 4pm, baby, is when I feel the mind-blowing, earth-shattering heaviness of it all.

I think it’s important to say it, how terribly inconvenient motherhood is—especially motherhood at this stage, when the kids are so incredibly dependent on me. I think it’s important to say I feel buried in it.

And now I feel the push (from where?) to write about the joy, to tell you it’s all worth it. But I feel like that is the obvious part. My sons are gorgeous. Their stunning wondrousness makes me cry.

But I can’t deny that it is terribly inconvenient, stifling, so very hard to care as deeply as I do for them, and then to find the energy to care for myself as well.

I am trying to find the balance. Aren’t we all? I do, sometimes. And other times I don’t, at all.

And so I write. I tell my stories. I walk. I meditate. I do my best. That’s self-care. That sets me free.

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This post was inspired by a prompt from the wonderful Jena Schwartz.

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It Goes So Fast…I’m Holding On

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My two-year-old requires that I spend about half his nap lying with him/nursing him. Well, not requires it, but that’s how it’s always been. And if I don’t come to him, he will take a shorter nap and probably be cranky. So when he stirs, I come. I check Facebook, maybe try to write something (thank god for the “Notes” app on my phone), close my eyes for a bit.

At this point in my life as a parent (8.5 years!), I don’t really think about my  “parenting” choices, at least not in the way I used to when my first child was a baby. I obviously err on the side of crunchy/attachment parenting. But I don’t really think about it. What I do or don’t do is just…whatever. Just part of life. Nothing to be pored over or analyzed. It basically works, and if it doesn’t, I’m too tired to question it.

But it occurred to me this afternoon that there are a ton of parents out there who don’t or wouldn’t or simply can’t spend half of naptime lying there with their children. Some are working mothers, some have other kids to be with during naptime. Some have kids who have teddy bears, pacifiers, or blankets to cuddle with. Some just don’t have kids who need as much sleep assistance as my kid does. I totally get that. Every mom and kid does what works for them.

It was recently “Pajama Day” at my older son’s school. He was supposed to come dressed in PJ’s, with a favorite stuffed animal. Like his brother, he never had a teddy bear or another security object.

My son said, laughing, “I guess I’d have to bring you to school that day, Mom.”

He doesn’t sleep in our bed anymore (yes, they do eventually stop) but we lie together each night before he falls asleep and his dad or I (usually me) stay with him until he’s out.

My 2-year-old requires much more of me still. Naps, all night his body next to mine. I realize this level of need, sleep interruption, and closeness is not for everyone. I forget how strange it is to some people only because I have been parenting this way for so long and it feels like second nature to me.

Can I tell you why I do it? Yes, it started partly because I’m lazy, and going to my babies anytime they cried was easier than figuring out a different way to soothe them. Yes, I believe in breast as soother as well as nutrition source. Yes, it was just my instinct to do it.

But I also do it because I’m holding on. I’m holding on to their childhoods by holding onto them. My eight-year-old barely even wants to cuddle before bed anymore. I’m lucky if I get a second of it. Before I know it, he won’t even want me to lie near him. He’ll just go into his room, shut the door, and collapse into bed.

My two-year-old, though. He lets me hold him. He wants that. He’s small enough to still curl into me. His damp head in the May night still smells a little like a baby. OK, a lot. And I just don’t want to rush it. I can’t. It hurts my heart to think it will end. I know it will. I’m certain of it.

So, even though I sometimes get frustrated when my “off” time is interrupted; even though I sometimes feel touched out; even though I sometimes wish I could sleep alone, I go to him anyway. I lie there in the dark, mostly just waiting, sometimes just resting, often zoning out on my phone.

I’m taking him in. I’m stopping time for a second. I’m holding on.

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Thank You, Mom

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This Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of my mother. She was a single mom for most of my childhood, but I didn’t really get what that meant until I became a mother myself. I still can’t really know, since I’ve had an amazing partner-in-crime for the duration of this parenting thing. But I do know how tired I am after 15-hour days alone with the kids. I know how stressed I am about money. I know how much I crave adult contact after my long days. I know how I am always questioning myself: Have I done enough for the kids? Have I listened well enough? Have I been present with them?

I can only imagine how she did it. Like any kid, I complained about her. I wanted more attention. I criticized her for napping after work. I wished we lived in houses instead of apartments. I wanted that illusive cookie-cutter mom-and-dad white picket fence life.

But she always did the best that she could with what she had. And I realize now—as I get older, and become more and more myself—just how much she taught me, how much of her spirit is inside of me.

She taught me to follow my gut in all aspects of my life. She taught me that art and self-expression were more important than money and status. She taught me that cuddles and affection fix everything. She taught me kindness for all beings. She taught me to want peace for this world, to want it with all my heart. She taught me to question authority. She taught me that each act of kindness is a little seed that can grow a better world.

I recently published two pieces about her at The Mid (it’s a great new publication—you should check it out!). In This is It: I’m a Grown-Up, I reflect on turning 37, which feels somehow more grown-up than before. I remember my own mother at this age, and I can’t believe I am here now, where she was then. I also wrote a tribute piece to her for Mother’s Day: Why I’m So Grateful to My Mother.

I am also really proud to share with you a louder, angrier, more gritty piece I wrote for Role Reboot: It’s Mother’s Day, and I’m Pissed. I know it’s not your usual Mother’s Day fare, but it comes from my heart. I want so much more for mothers in our country. I really do. It’s not acceptable that millions of mothers and children go to sleep hungry each night. It’s not acceptable that we don’t have paid maternity leave. It’s not acceptable that even middle-class families are barely scraping by. It’s not acceptable that the number of mothers dying during childbirth has increased over the past decade.

In a way, this piece is also a tribute to my mom, who taught me from the very beginning that there was a world outside my little bubble—that there were people who struggled, that were was inequality, that we lived in a very imperfect world. She taught me to speak up about it, to write, to shout.

So Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. And thank you. For everything.

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What’s Your Story?

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This week I was thrilled to publish two new pieces. I got to delve into the past, and tell the stories I have turned over and over in my head for decades. Really fun and freeing.

The first was a piece published in a really cool publication called Role Reboot. It’s about the bumpy, intense, neverending journey toward body acceptance. As I’ve gotten older, I feel like I’ve gotten a bit closer to accepting that no matter what I do or want, I will never be skinny. But I can choose to be healthy, and happy. So simple, but hard to get. Somehow, having babies, nursing them, and just getting older has helped me accept this truth, and love my body. Here’s my piece: At 37, I’ve Finally Made Peace With My Body.

The second piece was written for xoJane. In the ’90’s I was a huge Sassy Magazine fan. It was my first magazine subscription. Michael Stipe, Courtney & Kurt, Johnny & Winona—Sassy was for misfits. And I certainly was one. xoJane is a site founded by the former editor of Sassy, so it was totally amazing to be published there, a teenage dream come true. And fitting, too, because I wrote a piece for them about when I was in high school and was sent to the principal’s office for not wearing a bra. Yes, that really happened. Here’s the story.

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I have been writing my stories (mostly in the form of poems) for years, but as I expand, and dig deeper, I see just how many stories are in me. And not just in me—in everyone. That’s the thing. We all have our stories. Harrowing ones, courageous ones, beautiful ones, heartbreaking ones. I know it’s cliché to say, but it’s true. So, if you are out there wondering if you should write, if your story matters, if you have anything say, the answer is YES. You do. Just try. Just write.

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Flowering Trees

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For National Poetry Month, a poem of mine, which I keep thinking of as all the trees become full with blossoms. It first appeared in Prairie Schooner and then in my book, Morph and Bloom.

Flowering Trees

The magnolias bloomed for a week,
then shed their petals on the lawn.
Two weeks for the redbuds,
then their feisty pinks
on sidewalks and cars.
My boy just learned the names
of these beauties and now they’re gone.
Soon he’ll venture into dirt,
squashing dandelions in his sweaty palms.
Then summer will roar into the yard,
turning the dandelions to dust.
And this morning, driving home
from the park, I saw my childhood
fly out the window: my father gripping
the steering wheel, his fingers
tapping to the music. I lost
the season, the color of his shirt,
the timbre of his voice.
All that remained
was a terrible thumping
in my throat, his love swelling,
then spinning from me.
Sometimes I search for my father
in my boy’s eyes. And when I find him,
I turn away, I scatter, I disperse.

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