The Mysterious Work of Raising Children

The Mysterious Work of Raising Children

A good friend from college and her partner just had a baby, and last Tuesday, I gathered together a bunch of hand-me-downs and goodies and packed them all into a box to send to Boston. That wasn’t the only thing I managed to get done that morning: I sealed up a birthday package for my mom, addressed a few birth announcements, cleaned the kitchen, checked my email, swept. Then I went in and woke up the baby, who’d been sleeping peacefully in his crib, by himself, white noise blaring, for two hours. After a feed and a brief period in which we managed to get out the door to the post office, get me a flu shot, and say hello to my acupuncturist, he took his second two-hour nap of the day. Oh, and there was a third. By 5 p.m. my house was the tidiest it’s been in weeks, dinner was made, emails were caught up on, an episode of Project Runway Juniors had been watched, and a part of me felt completely at loose ends, like: what on earth am I going to do with myself if this kid sleeps six hours every day? The thing is, he’d napped like that over the weekend, too, and I thought maybe, just maybe, he was setting a sleep pattern that would change my life for the better. Dare I say “revisit that neglected novel?”

You know how this story ends: on Wednesday, the baby’s naps totaled a cumulative 3 hours: two 40-minute jobbies in his crib from which he woke cranky and sweaty, plus some afternoon chaos that involved me nursing him into oblivion while lying in a semi-prone position so that we both could sleep, the kind of sleep that, before I had a small baby, I would never have considered “quality” (I mean, it’s okay having someone gnawing on your nipple for 90 minutes while you get a crick in your neck and torque your low back, but it’s not as awesome as some sleep I’ve had in my day). By five p.m. the house was still in shambles, I’d had at least one good cry, and dinner was going to have to wait until Papa Bear got home. Then we had a rough sleep night, too. The day after, same routine, from morning until night.

When L was a baby, my anxiety about his sleep took up about 90% of my brain space. At about six months I invented something called The Sleep Lab, which is to say, I undertook an exhaustive study of his sleep patterns, writing down his every night wake-up on the back of an envelope or a notebook and trying, in the daylight, to make sense of the notes. But because he was waking up every ninety minutes on a good night, and I was so tired I couldn’t see straight, my data just showed that I was completely and utterly?not slated to ever sleep again.

The Sleep Lab

Note from the sleep lab. “Rig” stands for “that crappy rigamarole where he won’t accept the pacifier and won’t calm down, so I’m losing my mind.”

This time around, I’m playing things a little smarter. I’m getting B more involved in the night times, and I’m not giving in and giving the baby my boob every time he cries. Baby S is already on a better trajectory at 3.5 months than L was at nine, and that gives me a lot of hope. But nonetheless, life feels like?a game of Jenga: every time I balance one piece, another?goes out of whack. And I’m not just talking nighttime sleep. It’s the whole picture. It’s waking the baby early to nurse so the?pick-up of the seven-year-old isn’t tainted by high-pitched shrieking. It’s the constant question of?whether dinner is take-out or fried eggs on toast or a balanced, healthy meal. It’s making sure L doesn’t feel left out when so much of my time to goes to Baby S. It’s signing L up for summer camp before I even know my summer work schedule. It’s planning for a short-term nanny share while looking for a long-term daycare situation. It’s finding time to call my senators about the Affordable Care Act. It’s the aged car and the ant problem, the writing career mostly on hold until I can predict. One. Thing. About. Any. Given. Day.

I’ve never been great with spontaneity, but I’m doing my best to hold onto what’s solid?both kids seem predictably to be in bed by eight!?and roll with what’s not (the night waking, the naps). And I’m grabbing these little moments every day to blog, to read, to journal, and most of all, to sit with this time?that, I have a feeling, will feel like a simple Jenga game?one I’ll dearly?miss playing?ten years from now.


Hey! I’ll be presenting at the San Francisco Writers Conference again this year. If anyone’s planning to attend, drop me a line or look me up. It would be great to see you.

Thank you, egarc2 (via Google Advanced Image Search) for the great Jenga picture.

Gluten-Free Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies

Gluten-Free Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies

Truth, you guys: I secretly want to be a food blogger. (Well, guess the cat’s out of the bag now!) I know my way around a kitchen, but more than that, I just love the process around food-making (not so unlike writing), and I love the way food bloggers are always so matter-of-fact yet earnest about that process. My fave food blogs? Check out Cook With What You Have by my dear friend Katherine Deumling (and if you’re looking for a last-minute gift, her recipe subscription service is a winner), Conscious Food Choices by my sister-in-law Jorin Hawley, and the terrific Rachel Eats.

So for all these years of blogging about writing and parenthood and other things, I’m not sure I have ever posted a recipe. But hey, if Donald Trump can get elected,?anything is possible. So here goes. I’m only sorry I didn’t take photos as I went!

After?Thanksgiving, a friend on Facebook posted this recipe?for cranberry clove cookies, as a way to use up leftover cranberry sauce, and they looked delicious. (Besides, I had about three cups of leftover cranberry sauce in the fridge.) But being gluten-free, I couldn’t eat them as is. I tried just subbing in an equal amount of America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free flour mix that I had on hand for the flour in the recipe, but the cookies came out insanely greasy and spreading all over the place. So I got out some cookbooks, did some experimenting, and tried again.

Herewith, my recipe. They’re perfect holiday cookies, unusual, delicious, rich, and gluten-free. Enjoy!

Gluten-Free Cranberry Thumbprint Cookies (adapted from a recipe by Moriah VanVleet)

1 3/4 c. America’s Test Kitchen gluten-free flour blend**

3/4 cup of gluten-free oats, coarsely ground in the food processor

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon xanthan gum or ground chia seed (I always use chia these days)

12 tablespoons of butter (1 stick and a half), chilled and cut into 1/4 inch slices

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

finely grated zest of one orange

1/2 cup cranberry sauce

In your stand mixer, if you have one, mix the flour blend, ground oats, salt, cloves and chia seed until blended. Add your butter and let the machine run until the dough comes together (5 minutes, at least). Add vanilla and orange zest and briefly combine.

Roll the dough into small-ish balls and place on a parchmented or sprayed cookie sheet. Flatten slightly and use your thumb or index finger to create a little indentation in each. Put the cookie sheets in the freezer for 5-10 minutes while you preheat your oven to 350?. After the dough has chilled, fill each indentation with a tiny blob of cranberry sauce.

Bake for 18-20 minutes until golden. Cool completely before eating.

** Note: you could probably sub in your GF flour blend of choice or even a packaged flour like King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill. I had some of the ATK stuff on hand, so I used it, but I make it a little differently than the recipe calls for in the first place.


Happy holidays?and happy eating!



5 Loving Tips for Political Parenting

5 Loving Tips for Political Parenting

The other night, I had a big old nasty cry.

Many of us have cried since the 2016 presidential election, some of us every day, some of us more sporadically, and some of us, Trump supporters or those more measured or those whose tear ducts no longer work, not at all.

I?d woken with a terrible cold, the kind that escalates from a mildly scratchy throat at four a.m. to aches, burning throat, and uncontrollable sneezing by nine. B was in Orange County for the day, had a six a.m. flight, so I handled the whole night with the babe myself, the babe who slept great until 4:00 and then barely at all. L was grumpy as we walked to school. B was not due home until 8:00. It was pouring down rain, a relentless, gray rain, and every time I had the baby close to falling asleep, I?d wake him up with a sneeze or because my nose was a fountain, running down my face and onto his blankets?I kid you not, it was disgusting. So circa 7:00 p.m., when he and I were both exhausted hot messes and I hadn?t managed to get dinner on the table yet, I crept into the bedroom and, all of a sudden, began crying like I haven?t cried in ages, big old wracking sobs (as silently as I could, because I was holding Baby S and doing the baby dance). I cried for my stupid day, sure, but mostly? I was crying because of the appointment of Scott Pruitt, a climate denier, to head the Environmental Protection Agency, an appointment that is more disastrous than the election of Trump himself. *

Eventually, I emerged from the bedroom. Putting the baby to sleep was futile, and L still hadn?t eaten, so I quickly put a bowl of soup on the table. Through tears, I called, ?Bunny, dinner?? at which point he walked into the kitchen, took one look at my face, and said ?Mumma, what?s wrong??

?I?m okay,? I said. ?I?m just having a hard day.?

?But why??

?Oh, well, I?m sick?and the baby won?t sleep.? And then I paused and added, ?and I?m still just really upset about Donald Trump.? As I said it, I wondered if I shouldn?t have. I don?t want L to worry too much about Trump. I want his childhood to feel intact, blissful, ignorant. But I also didn?t want to lie, so I said it. He ate dinner, and that was it.

Are you an activist mama? Looking for practical advice for political parenting? Click through to learn my five tips for being a politically engaged parent.

Here?s the thing, I realized later: unfortunately, L?s childhood won?t be blissful, ignorant, intact. In the next 4-8 years?and who knows how much beyond?he may well see his national parks drilled and his Latino friends deported and his Muslim friends harassed. He?ll probably lose his affordable healthcare and we?ll somehow find $1,200 a month to put him on one of our plans instead. He?ll see his parents wringing their hands and writing letters to nowhere and slavishly following Rebecca Solnit and Bill McKibben and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie looking for someone we trust to make sense of this world for them. He may see his mom?s reproductive rights taken away. He may be raised in an era where there is no safety net if, God forbid, he gets a girl pregnant by accident. In eight years, L will be fifteen.

There have been so many articles this election season asking ?what do we tell the children in the wake of the election?? Tell your kids, “You’re safe,” the articles say. “We won’t let you come to harm.”

But what I wonder is, what do we tell the parents who feel, quite rightly, totally lost and deeply unsafe? Click To Tweet

1. Don?t regret your children. A friend asked me the other day, ?what?s it like having a new baby in the midst of all this?” I paused, and then told her something that I have been thinking but have been a little too ashamed to say: “I honestly don’t know, if Trump had been president, if we would’ve pursued having a second child.” I know how that sounds; of course Baby S is precious to us. But when we created that baby, we didn’t live in quite the same world as we do now, and I feel so sorry for what we?ve brought him into. But regretting my children and despairing for their futures? That may be just what they want us to do, and damned if I?ll do it.

2. But?don?t create an us versus them narrative. At least not towards your fellow citizens, and not in front of your kids. This is a hard one, I know: I feel such a wall of anger towards Trump supporters right now. But many Trump supporters liked his economic policies or were fed up with Hillary or disenchanted by Obama or were uneducated, or didn?t think it would be this bad. In the end (you know, when we?re in a nuclear war with North Korea, and our water and air is too toxic to breathe anymore) it will be our commonalities?that we all love our kids, for one?that help us reunify this damaged country. I will not support or condone this government and the monsters who will be in charge of our environment or our bodies, but I will try to model openness and tolerance to my fellow citizens as much as possible.

3. Realize that if you?re a progressive, or even a conservative who believes in things like climate change and equal rights, that you?re raising your kids in an era of resistance. In fact, L needs to know that his dad and I are upset about Trump. I won?t shield him from the nasty realities of the world he?ll inherit; instead, it?s my job to prepare him for it and for the work that will inevitably fall to him to take on.

4. But keep it light. At all costs, assure your children your anger and depression are not about them. It?s hard to be emotional in front of kids, and harder to be measured when your world is falling apart. But your kids can bring you enormous joy, and in the end, your family and children are the people who will watch out for you and keep you whole. So make some time for watching movies, taking hikes, going to Berkeley Family Camp (can?t wait!), seeing friends. Your life still has light and life and value.

L and J Voting!

5. Model being an active citizen. This is the most important, parents. I know we?re all tired; the baby won?t sleep, the minivan needs a new carburetor, the school is harassing you to volunteer for the PTA. You have college essays to edit and kids to drive to sports practice. But you can?t put on Netflix just yet. You need to write, call, text, email, march, donate, and protest. And your kids need to see you doing it. We have to raise the next generation to raise hell, think critically, and protect their rights and the rights of their friends. Because apathy may be what got us into this mess in the first place.



* Footnote: I try my best to be an empathic person. In part because I teach to a very diverse population, I need to make space in my life for people from all political walks and belief systems. I?ve taught staunch right-wing gun nuts, people so far left they don?t make sense anymore, and, for the most part, a bunch of young adults whose lack of engagement makes me want to pull my hair out. We do alright together, and I care about all of them deeply (and urge them to vote!). But climate change deniers are beyond my empathy. Denying that climate change exists is like denying that the Holocaust existed. It?s morally reprehensible, and more than that, it?s stupid. Climate change will kill us all, but not before it makes our planet a hell of an awful place to live. Quite honestly, I don?t understand why it?s even a political issue, why climate change is not merely accepted and embraced as a bipartisan challenge to address, and I partly blame the fact that whoever?was it Al Gore??used the phrase ?global warming? for too long, giving people the false impression that if we had some bitterly cold winters, that meant we weren?t really experiencing climate change. I believe we all have our issues: some of us worry most about reproductive rights, some about human rights, some about healthcare. Me? It?s the environment, in part because I have spent time in some of the loveliest wild places on earth and know their value, but also because, let?s face it: all of our other rights will be totally irrelevant if the planet becomes uninhabitable.

I Had a Baby and All I Got Was This Amazing Poem

I Had a Baby and All I Got Was This Amazing Poem

Hey, friends! I am always trying to increase my readership. If you know someone who would enjoy my infrequent cerebral ramblings on the state of motherhood?and more?please send a link to my blog their way. And if you’re seeing my stuff for the first time, consider adding your name to my mailing list or following me on Facebook or Twitter. Cheers!


A little less than a month ago, I had a baby, an 8 pound slip of a thing who, in some charmed moments, lies quietly looking out the window from his bassinet:


And I’m tired. In my head I’ve been writing about his magical-yet-crazy birth for weeks now, and about what it’s like to start fresh with a newborn at 43, with a seven-year-old, but hey, little known fact: when you have a new baby, even one who sleeps occasionally, you don’t have a lot of time for things like WRITING. Or showering. Or paying bills, or making dinner, or gardening, or any of the things you used to find gratifying and easy of a day. So the blog post goes unwritten, at least for now.

Which is why it’s so lovely to have a friend like Mike Dockins, who sent this gem yesterday. Mike and I have been writing postcard poems to each other for a couple of years now, but we took a long hiatus last year. Then bam, Mike started us up again with “Postcard with Pebbles & The Bogeyman,” which sums up a lot of my feelings about (re) new (ed) motherhood pretty perfectly: the chores undone, the chores undone, the chores undone?and the boys less little, less little, less little, until one day: gone.


?for L and S


Susie, once again you?ve emerged from Ye Olde Creation Workshop to deliver unto us another squealer?someone to keep L company in the blue Berkeley dark, to help him stalk the Bogeyman, someone even with whom to conspire?against you, old friend?years hence, a list of undone chores dangling unreasonably from your unreasonable lip, the boys slouching over chipped Legos, dusty fire trucks, cobwebbed Darth Vaders?the toys of their childhoods sprawled like an ancient star map across the rug?& clutching god-knows-what intolerable species of techno-gadget, good grief, their eye-rolls locking the planet in a terrifying terrestrial wobble. Look at you: nightly rippling the Bay with the Aeolian wind of your Aeolian words, inviting little tsunamis to lap against the lifeless, lifeless pebbles, your autumn hammock no longer lying in a heap waiting for summer, but carrying you, Mama, all a-sway & lovely & wine-dark as you watch Orion?s belt whip the rooftop with barbaric yawps, all cocooned in that perfect & impossible womb, your boys little, less little, less little with each barbaric lash.

? Mike Dockins, 2016

If you want to read more of Mike’s fantastic work, check him out at the Tupelo Press 30/30 project, kind of a poet’s answer to NaNoWriMo, where he’ll be writing a poem a day all November.

And read two of my?postcard poems?here?and here.

Ruth Whippman’s Refreshing Take on American Parenting

Ruth Whippman’s Refreshing Take on American Parenting

I wanted?to?plug a just-released book by my brilliant friend Ruth Whippman, which I had the good fortune of reading parts of in utero (uh, the book’s utero, not my own, though, fun fact: Ruth’s book release date was the same as my due date for Baby #2: October 4). America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks is out now, and it’s a doozy of a read: laugh-out-loud funny, incredibly insightful, at times infuriating in the way that things you know are true but don’t quite want to believe about yourself are infuriating, and above all, smart. Ruth’s premise? That here in the good old U.S. of A., we’re so concerned with making ourselves happy that we’ll try absolutely anything to get there?even when the tactics (yoga, mindfulness, self help, slavish devotion to work) leave us, ironically,?incredibly uptight and anxious.

Of particular note is her chapter on parenting, in which she gently disembowels the American practice of attachment parenting (frankly, on most points I’m with her) and illustrates with research and hysterically funny vignettes from the playground how American parents sabotage their own possibility of happiness by putting their entire emphasis on making their kids happy instead. My jaw dropped when she?described?a Facebook post in which a mom?laments telling her child to “wait a minute” while she finishes doing the dishes, and when the child cries, realizes that she’s mistakenly given her the (wrong!) message that cleaning comes before her own flesh and blood.?Ultimately, the mom reports, she’s decided she will “never make [her daughter] wait” again (and all her Facebook friends praise her for her selflessness). Talk about a nation of nervous wrecks.

This witty, from-the-trenches reporting is the hallmark of America the Anxious. Part memoir, part research study, it’s a thought-provoking and terrific read. Check it out!

Get America the Anxious?on Amazon

Or find it at your local bookstore!?(Here’s mine.)

Visit?Ruth’s website


My Touchstone (Ruminations from 39 Weeks Pregnant)

My Touchstone (Ruminations from 39 Weeks Pregnant)

“No one really loves me except you,” L tells me one recent night, because he’s mad at his dad for taking away his Pokemon cards at bedtime.

“Lots of people love you,” I tell him. “Especially Dad. You’re just angry with Dad right now.”

He wants me to tuck him in that night. He wants to tell me about the upsetting thing that happened at recess. He wants to hold my hand on the way to school the next morning, for me to head up to the second floor (dragging my 30-pounds-heavier body up the steps) to show me how the guinea pigs in his second-grade classroom have grown. Do I say yes? Of course I say yes. Because I know that I am the sun, and L is the earth. He always knows where I am in the world. I am his?life raft, his?default, the one who really counts.

Luckily, we can also be apart. L is secure without me. He does not, as I did at seven, dread leaving mom for?school or a play date or a sleepover. When he’s not mad about Pokemon, his dad is the coolest?person in the world, his other life raft. When they have “Guys’ Night”?a phrase I came up with to describe any night it’s just the two of them?he’s delighted, can’t wait for me to leave. Once, after B and I returned from being in Hawaii for five days, he asked us to go back. I guess I don’t make meatloaf like my mom does, or indulge quite like Grampa.

I hold onto this?I think they call it “secure attachment,” those psychologist types?gratefully. I feel like maybe it means we have done something right. I do not want L so attached to me he can’t be apart. Honestly, the idea terrifies me. But still I find myself surprised by how true and deep his love is for me, by how fully his understanding of the world revolves around mine, by how, when he comes home from a birthday party or a weekend away with his grandfather it is to me he beelines, his mouth full of words. “I had so much candy, Mom, you wouldn’t believe it,” he says, or: “We went to the zoo, Mom, and out for sushi, and watched a movie, and…” or simply an urgent “Mumma. Mumma. Mumma?” and I await what comes next.

I am his touchstone.


And here at 39 weeks pregnant with his little brother, it’s making me pensive. Early on in this pregnancy, I suffered from an intense depression. It surprised me, and it made me feel really, really ashamed. I had engineered this pregnancy using the best 21st-century technology; I had finally won at the infertility game. I was supposed to be so deeply grateful and humbled to be pregnant I should have been falling over myself. Instead, I felt like I wanted to die. I couldn’t stop crying. I’d walk all over town, sobbing, feeling like I wanted to vomit, my perpetually full bladder pressing into my yoga pants like a reminder of the crazy thing we’d done, the crazy mistake we’d made. Eventually, once the feelings abated, I realized that intense hormones were mostly to blame?but also, and this surprised me, grief: all those long, infertile years, it was just L. There was something so beautiful and redeeming about his constancy that I knew I would finally be giving up. I was terrified of betraying him, and of losing him as my one and only: the inside jokes and the tuck-ins and the way we just get each other.

Because, truth is, he is my touchstone, too, my measure of nearly everything.

That time in my pregnancy passed, thank God, and next week, or maybe tomorrow, or maybe in three days?who knows??our lives will all change forever. It makes me weep a little, to write that (but what doesn’t, these days?). I’ll have a new baby in my life, a new planet for my sun. Maybe this one will want his dad more. Maybe this one won’t get my jokes. With this one, I won’t be able to play the “who’s the cutest person in our family?” game (L: “you!” Me: “No, it’s you….”). Maybe this one won’t be a talker like L. Undoubtedly, he’ll be different. Undoubtedly, in some ways he’ll be the same.

But I won’t be, ever again. And L won’t be, either.?And I’m smiling when I write that, because in the end, you know, it feels just fine.

For a funny take on a similar subject, read “The Default Parent” on Huffington Post

And a cheerful retort (“How Being the Default Parent is Your Fault”) on Dr. Mama Esquire