June 14, 2016

Feeding Myself


I've always felt at peace in my relationship with my body and food. So many of the women in my life struggle with their body image and count calories (what's a calorie?!), but gratefully I just never thought about any of that. My weight has often fluctuated, around ten pounds up or down, but I was never unhappy or self conscious when I was on the heavier side of that curve. I have always eaten exactly what I like, never dieted, and if I wasn't swimsuit-ready, so be it.

These last couple of years have really turned all of my assumptions about my body image upside down. At some point, shortly after Roo was born, I started gaining weight. Likely it was a combination of tipping to the second half of my thirties, serious sleep deprivation, working more, and lacking time to cook and eat well. For a long time, I tried to shrug off the added pounds. I'd always been very kind to myself about extra weight, and so I just ignored it. 

Now, somehow, inexplicably, I am weighing in with the same numbers that I registered full term with both of my pregnancies. It's nuts. My body often doesn't even feel like my own, and it's hard to understand how it really happened. Suddenly I am self conscious, and I do have body image issues, and it definitely doesn't feel good.

Despite all the extra exercise that I've peppered into my routine, the pounds are not melting away. I am coming to the painful reality that if I want to change my body, I will have to be more thoughtful in what I eat. This might seem like a minor issue, but meddling with my food tops the list of things I swore would never come to pass. Begrudgingly, I have looked into all the diets and their coordinating hashtags, but I have to say there is something really off-putting to me about any routine that has a group of enthusiastic followers. I'm not good at being part of a team, and I don't like being limited by any rules, even if they're by my own construction.

I know that approaching food reform as restriction won't work for me, I love food and I'm not interested in eliminating any of my favorite groups. So my current attempt at dieting is more about rewarding myself, by preparing my own meals with love. The best and freshest ingredients from the garden or market, selected and arranged on the plate with care, eaten while seated and without distraction, mindful in enjoying each bite... definitely not easy with two demanding children in tow, but I'm finding it is possible. And it certainly beats skipping pasta (though likely less effective!).

Indulgence rather than deprivation, I will let you know how it goes! 


Lunch in June: hard boiled eggs with sea salt / strawberries with basil, parmesan, and balsamic vinegar / radishes with salted french butter

June 12, 2016

The End of The Beginning


Smith's last day of preschool was just like every other, a routine that has rarely deviated in the past three years; he made sure to pack Foxy in his backpack, he climbed the stairs, hesitantly watching to make certain Roo and I were following, he switched his shoes and I walked him to the bathroom, we headed into his classroom to answer the 'question of the day', I watched until he finished his drawing, helped him choose an activity, then a final kiss and hug before I left. There was no special celebration or graduation ceremony, the school believes those events can be too stressful for some children... a policy that might make me roll my eyes if I didn't have the kid that cries when people sing him 'happy birthday'. The whole morning felt so unexceptional that I had to keep reminding myself a chapter was ending.

I have had this feeling about so many milestones in parenting; crawling, walking, eating, talking, weaning, going to school, making friends, moving through fears and patterns... I always anticipate these transitions far in advance, I struggle to visualize a new reality that seems impossible and cling to the current state with premeditated nostalgia. I cry and grieve a threshold that hasn't even come to pass, and then suddenly, I find myself moving through to the other side with shockingly little sentimentality. I deeply want to acknowledge this big shift and be present, to feel all the feelings, but instead it's just life marching forward. Just another day, different from the last. 

smith's first day of 4-day preschool / september 2015

smith's last day of preschool, ever /  june 2016


Okay, on second thought, maybe I will cry. And on that note, the poem Smith's classmates wrote about him (Smith = W).

The important thing about W is that he is our friend.
He knows a lot about dinosaurs.
He likes to play in the block room.
He likes to run down the hill.
He likes the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
He likes to build tall towers.
He's friends with James and Henry.
He's good at coloring.
He's friends with me.
He likes to build.
He knows a lot about architecture.
He likes to play in the loft.
He knows a lot about animals.
He likes playing with sticks.
He really likes funny stories.
He's silly.
But the important thing about W is that he is our friend.

I do still wish all school could be like preschool. Next stop, Kindergarten!

June 9, 2016

Tall Buildings

morning blooms tall buildings post-planting picnic sunday's rain mid-morning snack mini-tall buildings mowing efforts from where i rinse dishes the daily dress debate

Fads sweep through our house like violent storms, some lasting only a week or two, others persisting for years. Trains, sea creatures, dinosaurs, bugs... Smith might flip-flop to a fault when it comes to picking out a shirt or a snack food, but the kid can definitely commit to a topic, and he digs in deep. We all can't help but become pseudo experts on each one of his passions as they dominate our breakfast, lunch, and dinner conversations. Roo spits out complex dinosaur names that have strangers calling her 'genius', and I'm still seeking purpose for the arsenal of train facts that I memorized during those 'train years' (roughly 2-4).

This last month has been all about tall buildings, skyscrapers, the taller the better... and James is beside himself, he is just so thrilled with Smith's newest crush. As parents, we try our best not to push our interests on the kids (try!), so bedtime chats over the finer points of the Burj Khalifa, One World Trade, and the Kingdom Tower, James honestly looks as though he has won the lottery every time, he's glowing!

Personally, I could do without the constant soundtrack of overzealous block towers crashing to the ground during nap/ quiet time, but it is delightful to see Smith's genuine interest and skill in studying and constructing buildings. A chip off the old block... at least until that next fad blows in (sorry James!).

June 3, 2016

Hardened


My dad is sick. Four words I could have probably strung together at birth. If I am honest, he was always sick. Deeply gifted and deeply troubled; a photographer with a brilliant eye, a lighting director on blockbuster films, and a man who made art out of everything he touched, for better and for worse.

He was handsome and talented and charismatic, a personality that everyone just wanted to be around... until they didn't. He'd show up at grade school pick-ups in leather pants and a white t-shirt with cigarettes rolled in the sleeve, nodding me onto the back of a roaring motorcycle, and earning equal parts raised eyebrows and swoons from teachers and parents. He would buy me elaborate presents on his own birthday, and always repeated that if any kid ever really messed with me, he'd beat the shit out of them... I just had to say the word.

There were the years before rehab; cabin walls covered in photographs, meals cooked over an open fire, summer morning stops at the 711- to pick up a buttered bagel and a Yoo-hoo for me to tote to camp. There were the years of optimism following rehab; loft walls covered in photographs, money rolling in from big movie gigs, one then two then three more babies in as many years. And then, there were the years that connect those memories to today; the reality that mental illness, and not merely addiction, haunted this man; studio walls covered in photographs, watercolor postcards with hundreds of stamps and fragments of narratives bearing my address, broken relationships- personal and professional... blocked phone numbers, forced distance.

For over a decade, I have been convinced that I've made peace with my relationship with my father. He was so mired in the past, obsessed with wrong-doings from his own father, all the injustices of his own life... That isn't me. I won't allow that to be me. I am strong, I am willful, I am mindful, I am responsible, and I will cherry pick memories that serve me, and cast aside those that defeat me.

I will remember all the trips to fine museums, the ballet, tiny art galleries, punk rock shows, and dive bars. I will remember when he'd buy shoes for homeless guys on the street, give them his cell number, and in a few cases, a fresh start in life. I will remember how he wept seeing my drawing of Frida Kahlo, how he told me that I'd never be poor with talent like that, and how truly he believed in me. I'll remember his generosity, how his gifts for my children, whom he never really met, have always been numerous and flawless... right down to the box that arrived a month ago from Mexico; superhero wrestling capes for Smith, colorful embroidered dresses for Roo, perfectly fitting for each.

A couple weeks ago, I noticed a few missed calls from Minnesota, no message, no answer when I phoned the number back. Then came the news from my aunt, my dad wasn't well. He'd been in a geriatric psych ward, and now in the ICU. Maybe it was the trip to Mexico, maybe the shift in seasons, likely a mental break that was years in the making, maybe he'll pull out of it, maybe he won't. And just like that, the thick skin that I have spent 38 years hardening, feels riddled with holes. I don't know what to hope for, I don't know what the best end to this story would look like. I only know that this is a piece of my life that I was resolved would never again cause me pain, and it hurts like hell. No matter how tough I try to be, no matter how tightly I try to hold my shit together and make this life beautiful and easy for my children, the fear and pain and joy and beauty of my own history can never be escaped. I'm working to cope with that, and working to realize that it's probably for the best. I'm working...

May 30, 2016

Community Garden Love


Smith has this little stuffed fox, 'super foxy' or just 'foxy' for short. He carries him everywhere and also sometimes accidentally leaves him behind to spend the night abandoned in a playground or grocery store... still we somehow always track him down (so far, knock on wood!). I think about how many toys and stuffed creatures I have carefully chosen for the kids over the years, some hand made with loving care and hefty price tags, and yet it's this synthetic Ikea fox, thoughtlessly added to the cart in an effort to buy me some extra shopping time, that has won his heart. I never would I have guessed that we would be retracing our steps and making late night phone calls to track down that $2 mass produced toy, but Smith loves him, and so now we all do too. It's funny the things that wind up being critical to finding personal joy.

Our community garden is a bit like that fox for me. Six years ago, when we first scored our plot, it was just a way to bide my time and get my fingers dirty until I could move back to the country. I never imagined that 400 square feet of sun soaked earth would play such a big role in our family's warm weather rituals. James was initially ambivalent about our plot, and these days he is often the one dragging us all there, weeding and watering at the end of long work days. The kids have grown up with our garden as a major feature of their lives, and despite our move last summer, this patch of land, connected to a community and not a set of house keys, has remained a constant for them both.

When we were looking to buy a house, several friends made comments assuming we'd give up our garden, because we would want to start one in our own yard, or it would be too far away. But we actually made proximity to the garden a key factor in our buying process, and we are definitely keeping our plot! 

True, it does require more effort to pack up the kids and drive just to do a little gardening. I am sure that if I could swing open my back door and poke around, everything would be better maintained. But it is so worth the added work. It's wonderful to walk around and chat with other gardeners, sharing tips and seeds. I love that we were able to stay close to the city, and all of the culture and excitement it has to offer, choosing a small and shady lot without sacrificing sun loving veggies in the process. Best of all, our garden happens to be nestled in a nature preserve, which means our non-country-kids get to kick off their shoes, run through fields chasing butterflies, toss stones into streams, and generally experience much of the freedom my country-kid childhood afforded me. 

I love you community garden, you have given our family so much more than we can possibly return. Never outgrow us, and we promise that we'll never outgrow you.

May 23, 2016

As Told by an Only Child


I often think that being an only child, who is raising a couple of kids, is like living in a suspended state of puppy love. That idealistic giddiness that comes with the first true crush, the starry eyes that no sour reality can penetrate, we are closing in on three years of siblinghood in this family, and I still can't contain the daily swells of happy tears when I watch simple interactions between my children.

They fight, they torture each other, they defend each other, and give rough embraces that send them both crashing to the ground... it's all typical stuff, but these moments are my favorite part of each day. Even when they are driving me nuts and I lose my temper, I take comfort in knowing that they can help each other navigate my special brand of crazy.



For every set of siblings that stay thick as thieves through adulthood, there are likely many more that never get along, drift apart, or just never relate to one another. It doesn't always work out, and there are often good reasons for the distance. But being an only child, I can ignore possible future realities, and just glorify today's head-locks as character building, and embrace the squabbling as a welcome soundtrack to the 'big family' life that I always imagined.



One of my greatest hopes for my children is that they will always be there for each other, and that they will genuinely enjoy and respect one another as adults. Of course, much of that is out of my hands. Still, I do believe that parenting plays a substantive role in setting the tone for long term sibling love, and we're doing our best to lay down that sturdy foundation. Knocking on wood, and sentencing them both to a life of shared bedrooms and late night whispers. Like it or not!



This is tough to understand, but I just love it when they plot against me. I'm looking forward to their future memoirs detailing the lives of a brother and sister, raised by a sappy only-child mama.

operation rescue from Mama Smith on Vimeo.


p.s. there's obviously a lot of good that I could say about being an only child, and being raised by a single mother, and on and on. I suspect we all yearn for pieces of what we missed out on, while also honoring the beauty in what we did have. hopefully that comes through in this journal, as a whole. I know there are a ton of awesome only-children coming up in this world, without question!

May 15, 2016

Notes


warming up frozen pizza with a side of sunshine new lunch location daffodils to cure a lousy day wallpaper test run nap-time bits morning view rainy morning routine girls' lunch afternoon activities catnip and lavender barbershop and lollipop meals to beat the rain favorite jacket  new bed slumber quiet time with 'foxy' 'dusting'

I had my final evening of classes for this semester last Wednesday and, coupled with several days of our first real taste of summer weather, I am feeling almost giddy. The past month has seemed a haze of exhaustion and rain. There was so much to do, so many late nights and early mornings, sniffly noses and coughs, day after day of clouds and rain, and way too much 'screen time' and fast meals for the kids. We weren't in our typical (or preferred) spring rythm. But after some planting in the garden and a few sunny days this week, I finally feel like we are pulling it together! 

We have been slowly (well, by my standards!) working to make some changes in Smith and Roo's shared bedroom. We hung back up a few prints tonight, and it's pretty much complete. I know I shift their room constantly, and yeah it's a mild obsession... but I really think we almost have it right now! I can't wait to get a moment to take some pictures and share the progress. It's such a fun space, and truly reflects each of their personalities. There's nothing that beats a great kid's room, right?!

Another big push has been in preparing for Smith to enter kindergarten next year. It has been a substantial effort, mentally and emotionally wrapping our heads around the idea that he is old enough to even be entering a full day of real school, plus dealing with all the conflicting thoughts around public school in general, and the transition from his current Reggio Emilia based preschool. I've been attempting to get him ready for 'expectations', working on fun ways to spark his lagging interest in letters and numbers (building off his love of science and nature, as best I can). And then there's all the logistical issues and paperwork that come with pushing through an existing speech IEP (for those of you who know what that is!), switching districts... There have been a lot of late night talks with James, my mom, just to myself over all of this. We've had last minute debates on private schools, and a million second and third thoughts. But I do think we've chosen the right course. And if not? Well then we will just make a change. I have to keep reminding myself that nothing is irreversible. And of how fortunate we are to live in an area with impeccable public schools, something I certainly don't take for granted.

So that is some of what we have been up to since my last visit here. Seeds have been thrown in the gound, house projects have been completed, forms have been filled out, screens have been temporarily banished (well, for the kids anyway), and I have that super optimistic high that comes with the promise of every new season. There may be a frost warning tonight, but I've committed to sandals and packed away my winter coats. It's time!


*I always feel slightly sheepish to return to this space with a collection of week-old snapshots from my phone. There just hasn't been the time, or interest, to pick up my camera in the last month, and I find that the more regularly I get on here, the more I want to keep it up... so I'm just going with it!