Friday, April 30, 2010

A letter from your mother on no occasion at all

Beautiful girls,

I have so much to tell you lately, I find myself writing your birthday letters early, in my head, but if there's one piece of advice I can give you as a writer it is to use up all your words now, and you will discover more.

There is something magic about the two of you right now, something that makes me love you infinitely more together than each apart. I remember when Eleri was born and we realized we had two girls, your dad and I looked at each other and asked, "what are we going to do with sisters?" because neither of us has one. Its turning out not to matter: the two of you seem to know everything you need to about sisters, and I am learning.

Eleri, you copy everything Clio does, and you are constantly looking around and asking, "where did Clio go?" which you say with the absolute cutest pronunciation and an inflection that is simply not possible to capture in print. When your dad took Clio to a baseball game without you, you spent the afternoon crestfallen, not quite sure what to do with yourself without your constant companion.

Clio, you are blossoming into this amazing sister, always trying to help Eleri, to direct her. You are also willing to help us with her, like tonight when she did not want to take a bath and I asked you to go get in the tub, knowing that would make her want to go, too. And even though you usually resist the bath these days, you just said "okay, Mom" and skipped off to the bath, looking over your shoulder to say, "Eleri, come on." And come she did. I'll be honest: three-going-on-four is not the most generous of ages, but you are often generous with your sister. On Easter, she only found a few eggs in the hunt, so you gave her some of yours. The other day we were playing with the watering cans, watering the flowers in the yard, and because I am trying to teach you about resources, teach you not to waste, I would not refill the cans, so you gave Eleri some of your water. Even though you, too, had just asked for more.

Sometimes the sharing and the copying can get a little silly, and ours is a house filled with laughter. You have the exact same laugh, and I wonder if it will be like mine when you grow up, as mine is like my mothers. I love this idea: four women with just the same laugh, like the youtube video Clio used to love with the quadruplets laughing in unison over and over. Like the mom in that video, who says "do it agin," Eleri has recently learned "again" and "more" continues to be the word of the day.

Though your laugh is so alike, you are very different people, and it's fun to see how you continue to compliment each other. Eleri is the adventuress, inventing new games for the two of you to play, and this is when Clio is the copier. Clio I can only describe as my little liberal artist, with the books, the music, the art projects, the play-acting. Eleri, I'm willing to bet that you will get Clio playing sports, and Clio, you will keep your sister reading and developing her imagination. I once posted a litany of future professions for the two of you, one way to capture who you seem to be shaping up to be in the moment. Tonight, Eleri, as you tried to body slam Clio and I on the couch, I joked that you would be a wrestler, that you would grow up to join the WWF. I also see roller derby, summer camp director, little league coach, school crossing guard. Clio my darling, you could be a librarian, a dancer, a screenwriter, a gardener (you keep cutting the flowers in the yard, no matter how many times we tell you that after flowers are cut, they can't live). These are not predictions, they are simply impressions. I love that there are so many facets to both of you.

Sometimes, Eleri will pull your hair, Clio, and being the more sensitive of the two, it is unfortunate that this playful aggression runs in your direction--you are not the one who can take it. But Eleri is also a big hugger, and she will tackle you with her affections, and that seems to right the wrong, most of the time. We are working on it with her, trying to teach her appropriate behavior, though, Eleri, you often seem disinterested in these lessons, as you are disinterested in brushing your teeth. We are working on things with both of you, all the time. Eleri, you still tend to throw things when you're finished with them (though you are also an eager and helpful participant in clean up.) Clio, you have grown defiant at times, and we are wearing out the techniques we know to bring you around. Lately, I wonder if we just need patience, though you have worn that through, too.

It's funny: part of me wants to fast forward out of three; we keep hearing four is so much better. At the same time, I would pause Eleri right here if I could, right in this perfect moment of twenty-some months, which is just so delightful (the second time around, knowing the signposts of certain ages, I feel more of an urgency as my favorite stage passes). But this is the beauty of having the two of you: you will ebb and flow, and as Clio hits the calm waters of four, Eleri may hit the rocky shore of two, and so on and so forth. I will simply hope that you continue to be such good friends, even for the hair pulling and the mutual desire for whichever toy or object the other has. Ultimately, we can just hope that your generosity of spirit and your sense of humor and kindness prevail.

I think it's probably not possible to say enough how very much I love you.


Thursday, April 22, 2010

How to become my favorite child

Dave said that Eleri picked up the new issue of Esquire, featuring the bombshell redhead, Christina Hendricks, from Mad Men, pointed, and said "Mommy?"

Clio (and Dave, for that matter), take note: I'm not sure I can think of a better compliment!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


We spent quite a bit of time outside this weekend, and while the girls are beyond thrilled to have all that space to themselves (read: a backyard), they aren't altogether sure what to do out there yet, and having lived in the concrete jungle myself for the past 12 years, I'm not sure I'm the best guide. Thanks to my friend Kim, I have at least revived the games Red Light, Green Light and Simon Says, which Eleri doesn't get but enjoys nonetheless, and which Clio likes to play but LOVES to create new rules and versions for.

Clio, never lacking for imagination or a sense of invention, is making it up as she goes along, and I'm loving her sense of discovery. Yesterday, she collected some rocks from around the driveway and gathered them together like this:

"Mom," she said, "look at my earthquake!" Then she proceeded to pour water over the rocks.

I asked her if she remembered what we had told her about earthquakes following the spate of them of late, and she nodded, pointing to the rocks and saying: "these are the plates that moved." This time I nodded, and told her that the plates are deep inside the earth, far beneath where we can see. "I know mom," she said. She gestured to an invisible line about level with her eyes, and clarified: "those are the plates, and the earth is up here!"

Pretty good. I suppose in this analogy, the water she poured over the top would be the ocean? I see no other explanation. Next time, I suppose I had better ask.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hello, Old Friend

Colorado is pretty dry. Have I mentioned this? Dry enough to make the skin on my knuckles crack and bleed. At the grocery store tonight, the check-out clerk asked if I wanted a bag? cash back? lotion for my hands? It is also dry enough that my hair has never been so tame: without even using conditioner, it lies down, plays dead. I still get curl, but without the frizz. It has been a dreamy development for someone who spent an era struggling to tame or embrace the frizz, a definite perk to the climate.

Today, however, I noticed something. My hair had a certain fullness. A fly-away quality that I daresay felt bohemian, sexy. At first I thought it was merely that I had washed it, that I had borrowed a drop of the girls' Johnson and Johnson leave-in conditioner, that my products, curl an styling creams ordered from arrojo studio, had arrived by mail (I know this is not the greenest way to style my locks, but it is the only thing in all these years that I have found to really work.) Driving home from the office, I realized that it was nothing I had done, but something in the air.

Humidity! Oh, reviled barometric reading! Oh most loathed of forecast conditions! Oh misunderstood, under-appreciated, humidity!

I swear, today is the first vaguely humid day we have encountered in 9 months. I used to complain about it: the sweating, the way skin stuck to itself and other things, the frizz. But there was a mildness in the air tonight that felt like spring, like spring in a climate other than near-desert. When I got home, I went straight to the mirror to take a look, and sure enough, my mop was back.

Hello, old friend.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

A playground conversation

Me: Clio, it's time to go now

Clio: Mom, there's a birthday party over there

Me: I know, look at the balloons

Clio: Well, we could just go to the party!?

Me: We don't know them, sweetheart. We weren't invited.

Clio: Why don't we just introduce ourselves!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Dictionary of Eleri Volume II

I've fallen way behind on sharing Eleri's ever-growing vocabulary. This is likely only interesting to her grandparents, but she might like to see it some day. The rest of you, come back another day!

Her enunciation leaves something to be desired, so I'll try to capture both the actual word and how she says it.
water (ah-dah)
yes (ah, more like yeah really)
blue (boo)
green (een)
yellow (allo)
red (ed)
purple (puh-ple)
lights out
yogurt (ago)
bubble, bottle, buckle (they all sound the same, you need context)
chicken (chick)
balloon (boon)
moon (moo)
milk (mo)
seat (see)
bike (buh)
helmet (helmee)
hat (aht)
and no. That is a favorite!
I'm sure I'm forgetting plenty, but if I'm bored, you're bored. Moving on!

Proper Nouns:
Dakota (dah-dah)
We're especially thrilled that she is saying:
Clio (Dio)
Eleri (I can't spell the pronunciation of this one!)

And she loves the possessive: "Daddy's shoes" "Clio's seat" "Mommy's food" etc.
She also asks questions: where did Clio go? But that requires some advanced work in Eleri translation, and is not to be taken lightly.


I did one of those facebook games today, 15 books in 15 minutes, which is just what it sounds like. What I liked about it was that it asked for the 15 books that stayed with you; not favorites or best or smartest or coolests. The ine's that affected you enough that they jumped immediately to mind when given this simple prompt.

I was also struck by how many books from my youth made their way in to my 15- so many, in fact, that I cheated and made two lists, one for adult books and one for young adult books, and it is the latter category that actually linger with the most sense memory, the most emotion.

Yesterday, the consultant we are working with on a strategic plan, told me this story. She had a garage sale with funny themes (like "failed exercise plans"), and a little girl wandered into the book nook. She was looking at one particular volume, and our consultant told her she could just have the book, that it was free. The mother swooped in and took the book away from her child, explaining to Martha that they were trying to restrict books until the little girl was "ready."


This is so strange to me, so counter-intuitive, but then, I'm a mother who writes blog posts on a somewhat regular basis about children's books and the joy of children reading. I felt compelled to tell Martha all about Clio's love of books from the age of 5 months, as if to fend off this crazy story she had just told me. I described to her pictures like this:

Of course, Eleri was not quite such an early "reader," and, before we realized that that's exactly what Clio was, early, we found ourselves worrying that Eleri would not love books. I'm happy to report that we were wrong. Recently she too has embraced books (as something more than a chew toy), and we've finally added them to her bedtime routine. Or, I should say we've finally successfully added them- she used to just flip the pages or throw the whole book down on the floor. Now, she takes great pride in getting them from the shelf herself, and even, sometimes, putting them back when she's done.

Eleri particularly likes lift-the-flap and other "action" books, though she also seems to have a penchant for non-fiction (Barb introduced me to the children's non-fiction section at our library last time she was here, along with fairytales and poetry). Right now, we're reading a book called Fish Facts that both girls really like. (Eleri points out the blue water, two of her favorite words, ad Clio asks questions like "what's 'prey'"?) And Clio continues to be voracious. I've now upped our bi-weekly library haul to 6 books, and for posterity, I'll share some recent titles here:

Time for ballet
The Sneetches and Other Stories
Priscilla and the Splish-Splash surprise
The Gingerbread Man
The Three Billy Goats Gruff
A Birthday for Frances
Cecily G and the 9 monkeys (the first Curious George book)
Hector Protector and As I Went Over the Water
I the Night Kitchen
Strega Nona
Strega Nona's Magic Lessons
The Poky Little Puppy
Duck at the Door
Ladybug girl
Ladybug girl dresses up
Berenstein Bear's Honey Hunt

And the list goes on and on.

If the girls ever get stuck on one of these facebook challenges in the future (or whatever time-suck technology the future holds), they can take a look here, unless, of course, that's considered cheating.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Mental Health Day

Today I took a day off, with no particular reason: no vacation, no trip, no sick kid. I took a day off because I needed one. The past month has been somewhat intense, from my 4-days-in-MN without Dave to my illness that stretched on for 3, almost 4 weeks, to starting a class to a visit from Barb and Pete to writing 8 grants and surviving the AWP conference this weekend. I was at wits end. Like this: reading Heather Armstrong's account, over at, of sitting front row at a White House initiative on workplace flexibility and the subsequent gushing about the awesomeness that is Michelle Obama left me in tears. Like this: I fell asleep close to 9pm the last two nights in a row, once while reading on the couch and once in bed with the lights on, because I was just too tired to get out of bed and turn them off.

Today I began to put some pieces of my life back together (paperwork!) But I also managed to mostly focus on myself most of the day. I went to yoga. I shaved my legs. I got a pedicure and had my eyebrows waxed. I took the floppy discs full of college papers to the data doctors for retrieval some dozen years later (unfortunately, this doctor only treats PCs). And because I didn't really know where to do these things, I realized something: this is the first time since we moved to Boulder that I have taken some of the most basic actions in service of myself. Now, I know that paying someone to cut your toenails and tidy your eyebrows are luxuries, that plenty of people take care of these things for themselves. But as the day went on, I realized the larger theme that was in play: Today was the first day since coming to Boulder 8 months ago that I had a whole day without any specific responsibilities. No work, no kids. And working backwards through the months before our move, I have to go back to Mother's Day, to MAY, to remember a time that I took a day for myself. That is almost a year. This may be obvious, but I'm going to say it anyway: that is far too long.

Now, again, I know that many mothers never get a day to themselves, ever, and I have no idea on earth how they do it. I am one who needs a day once in a while. Once a year, apparently. All of this has made me appreciate, more than ever, the 4-day work week I had at my last job. Now, it wasn't perfect: I often felt like I was making up for it in the evenings and weekends, and I often ended up heading to the office Fridays anyway. But I had the option. Because our daycare was flexible, I had all kinds of choice: to go to the office or stay home. To have the kids with me, or not. And having the space even just to run errand by myself was an incredible gift.

Tonight, I am inexplicably exhausted from my quiet day. It is partly residual, I know. But I think it is also a part of the danger of taking a break: you lose momentum. All of a sudden, you realize how much you are doing, and how hard it is. You notice the weight of the routine because you have stepped outside of it.

But sitting here on the living room sofa, my beautiful girls tucked into bed, my husband on the phone with his parents, my feet up on the coffee table, I can admire my toenails, painted "monsooner or later", and feel thankful that I finally got this break, rather than resentful that it didn't happen sooner, or more often.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Easter Sunday, and I just keep putting quotes around "Easter", vaguely aware that this, at best, will sadden my father and, at worst, cause him heartbreak. Why the quotes? Because to me, this is not a day on which someone rose from the dead, although I was raised faithfully on that story. This is a day where all the stores are inexplicably closed and most people in this part of the world are going to church, wearing hats, and having their picture taken with a man dressed like a rabbit. I haven't given this much thought in recent years, I've just gone along with whatever celebration I was lucky enough to be invited to, and I've delighted in whatever simple joys my children took from it all: the new dresses, the candy, the special meals and extra dessert.

But now Clio is three, and she's pretty smart, and we're living on our own in a town where no one is going to invite us to their celebration, and I've learned a few things about the perpetuation of myths. First, I find myself flummoxed by these holidays that are both religious and commercial: while the two pieces seem only vaguely connected (as my friend Justin, who was not raised christian, asked this morning, what does a giant bunny have to do with the rebirth of Christ, anyway?), I still worry about communicating these holidays absent a story. I mean, I'm a writer, I need a story to tell, and what, exactly, is the story of Easter if you're not talking about Jesus? Even if you are content to just go with the pagan rituals associated with these holidays, there is still a challenge for a parent. At Christmas, Dave and I discovered that parents are, in fact, responsible to not only play Santa (or the Easter Bunny), but to create the myth of Santa (etc.) in the first place. This winter, it didn't occur to us to mention Santa Claus. In fact, I remember a moment where someone asked us if Clio was expecting a visit from Santa and we looked at each other, then looked at Clio, and just went ahead and asked her: Clio, do you know who Santa is? She nodded, tentatively, as if she had heard the name but didn't know the details, and this was probably precisely the case. I think we had assumed that Santa would simply be in the air around Christmas time, and when asked, we would fill in the blanks. But we didn't. You might think that, again absent the Christ child and the star of Bethlehem, I would cling to this story: the north pole, the reindeer, the squeezing down chimneys, but as a grownup it seems a preposterous thing to build up and create for your child.

Do you see why I refered to my Christmas as a bah-humbug experience? In a way, I think I realized the impact of being left out of the myth when Clio asked, crestfallen, on Christmas Eve why Santa did not bring presents to her or to Eleri. My sister in law Maud, bless her, quickly explained to Clio that since we were not home in Boulder for Christmas, Santa did not know where to find her. Santa is just enough in the air to create disappointment at his refusal to show up and do his duty.

Next year, will we encourage a letter to Santa? Cookies and milk on Christmas eve? I'm not sure. so much of this ritual seems to be a reflection of your own childhood, and I don't remember ever writing lists or leaving out treats or visiting a stranger at the mall in a red suit. But I do want to find a way to bring some magic to the holiday for my kids, to make it not just about getting stuff (though I would be un-American if I tried to pretend I don't enjoy the thrill my kids get from getting a new toy.) What I do remember is making dozens of Christmas cookies with my mom, making ornaments and decorating the tree, singing carols and staying up way past my bedtime with my cousins at my Nonny's house, and I suppose that is why I encourage--and will continue to encourage--all those behaviors for my kids.

So, what about "easter"? Here's what I remember: my mom made me dresses from patterns and fabric that I got to choose, and let me wear them to church with a wide-brimmed hat and little white gloves, even though it was usually too cold for spring dresses in Minnesota in April; easter-egg hunts at an aunt or uncles, with all of my cousins; ham, and rolls, and cookies and candy. And getting silly from the sugar, with all those cousins.

My mom continues to take care of the dresses, though now they come from TJ Maxx.

There was a ham, and lemon-scented olive oil muffins and fried polenta, and strawberry pie and candy. Absent the cousins, we invited Dakota.

Last night, Dave and I talked it over and decided that there would be an Easter Bunny this year. At Target, I discovered along with a handful of other last-minuters, about 17 aisles completely divested of their easter candy- no peeps, no cadbury cream eggs, very few seasonal goodies to go round. But that's okay. We're not big on candy around here, and we figured that our bunny would bring something better. And I think he did: card games and seeds to plant and cute little socks (and, okay, a few candy treats), all packed in to some very usable colored plastic buckets. Easter buckets!

We took a note from Christmas, too, and we were sure to let the Bunny know that Dakota would be celebrating "easter" at our house this year, so the Bunny would knowto include him the egg hunt, and where to leave his bucket.

You know what? Clio loved the idea that the Easter Bunny would come to our house while she was sleeping and leave her treats, and that he knows her so well that he chose lavender Beauty and the Beast socks for her, and that she got to eat a lollipop and some chocolate covered pretzels, and not even during a normally sanctioned time for "dessert." She loved dyeing eggs--first last week with her grandparents, and then today with Dakota--even if it was just another craft project to her.

(Eleri just loved those muffins, the pie, and the candy.)

We'll see how long this lasts, though. Clio already caught me putting the eggs out for the egg hunt, and later doing damage control when the squirrels in our yard got a bunch of them open and ate through some others. (For the record, squirrels do like whoppers shaped and colored like easter eggs; they do not like life saver gummy bunnies.) She seemed to buy this whole idea that Mommy is the Bunny's helper, but she will outsmart me before long.

Unless she is of the smartest breed of children of all, like my cousin Katie, who pretended to hold on to a belief in Santa for years and years, threatening emotional meltdown if Santa failed to appear, all the better to milk some extra gifts out of her parents.

For now, all of this should work for the kids, and I think I'm okay with it. But I continue to struggle with making meaning at christian holidays when I don't consider myself a person with religion. My parents raised me with religion, but they also taught me to be my own person and to question, two impulses I highly value, especially as I begin to understand that those are not always the easiest things to breed in your children, because they involve letting go. In a way, and as strange as it sounds, I hope my dad can find it in him to be proud that I find the need to put "easter" in quotations, that I question the story of Jesus. If it hadn't been for his strong faith, the religious holiday would be much easier to dismiss.

Outfit of the Week

From the beginning, my mother has had a dead-on sense of Eleri's "style" (and, perhaps more pointedly, the difference from Clio's style.) For Eleri, she tend to veer away from the world of pink and lavender in which Clio happily lives. She finds things in bolder, brighter colors. Rather than delicate florals or preppy stripes, popular in Clio's half of the closet, my mother chooses large scale graphic patterns for Eleri.

In their Easter package we found a pink and green gingham dress for Clio, with ribbon straps, flutter sleeves, and a large butterfly on the back; Eleri got these springtime pagamas, with a happy bumble bee on the shirt. Now, not only does Eleri seem very happy each time she wears the top (and she chooses it first if available), she also says "happy! happy!" whenever she sees it.

Thanks mom!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On Blogging

I started a writing class last night, right here at Lighthouse (Hooray!).
My first assignment was to write about a particular writing challenge. As i chose blogging, I figured I would share it here. I'm hoping that the free writes in my class may generate good content for this blog moving forward; I guess we'll asll just have to wait and see!

When I was pregnant with my first child, I began a memoir class at Gotham Writers Workshop, fearful that once the baby came, I would never write again. I approached the class with the abandon of someone writing from the freedom of their death bed, where there is little left to lose: in workshop, I remember another writer commenting, “whoa, she's really going for it here.” I'll let your imagination run wild about the scene in question, but I will tell you this: there did seem to be an urgency to tell my most lurid stories, to get the sex and drunken exploits out into the universe now, as if talking about these behaviors did not become a new mother.

In a way, I was wrong about all of this. Giving birth to a child and mothering an infant inures you to the effect of bodily functions, awakens you to the miracles our bodies can perform and, for me at least, created the desire to run towards the truth, rather than away from it. I also wrote more, not less. I started this blog when Clio was ten months old, as a way to centralize photos and updates, but I quickly recognized the blog as a platform, and remembered, with surprise and relief, that I was a writer. Gradually, I made room among the cute photos and milestones for commentary and mini-essays, and I took pleasure experimenting with form. I felt satisfied that I was producing, the creative urge sated, the desire for readers met by the occasional comment, on the blog or in person, of “great post!”

Three years and nearly 600 posts later, I have begun to worry that blogging has spoiled me for the more sustained work of essays. While blogging allows the author to tell her daily truths, the immediacy of the form can sometimes obscure the bigger picture, and an audience filled with friends and family members can mean an editorial slant towards the sunnier side of life.

On the craft front, I recognize that blogging is satisfying in part because it plays to my strengths as a writer, and because it is fun, slipping around the hard work that comes in polishing a piece, reworking it until it, well, works. I have always had the greatest talent on a sentence level: they come out lovely, fully formed, big bodied. My sentences sound good and evoke a feeling, but they are also plagued by bad habits that are easy to forgive on a first reading, like the three descriptive phrases I just used to describe my own sentences. I understand that's at least one too many. In blogs, there is only a first reading, except for the blogger's mother, who will read posts repeatedly and forgive them each time (thank you to my number one fan!). Sentences that swoon seem like a good thing. There is little revision. Posts are snapshots, captured moments. Sometimes, there is not even spell-check. There is an impermanence that is forgiving.

When your sentences come out well, one after another, you wind up with a bigger problem: a whole essay that flows smoothly enough that taking it apart for piddling concerns like logic, perspective, and theme can become painful. There is a fear that touching the words will tarnish them, and I have rarely had the courage to break a work apart, even when I recognize the need; I fear that like Humpty Dumpty, no amount of soldiers and men can put it back together again. This is the joy--and the pain--of blogging: each piece is its own universe, even if it is incomplete.