Books You Can Lose Yourself In

I thought it was really interesting that two blog posts today were about the immersive (I think I just made up a word) world of fiction. The Living Notebook writes about Absorption today, about fiction that “brings us further into [a] dream, overwhelming our senses until the dream seems real.”

And over on popcorn, Karen McHegg discusses books that “create a world different from the one [she] lives in.” You can read about those books here.

It made me think: which books have most absorbed me in recent years? My first thought was Emma Donoghue’s brilliant novel Room. I also felt immersed in the strange world of Karen Russel’s Swamplandia and the more-real-yet-also-quite-strange one of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder.

Which books have absorbed you lately? Head on over to popcorn and tell Karen McHegg.

And me? Today I’m immersed in three-year-old land. L. had a touch of pinkeye, and I knew I’d get the stink eye if I sent him to school.



Five Things About Toddlers


Since I haven’t yet made any big decisions about my blog(s), but thank you all for your words, and since I’m still taking Britt Bravo’s Juicy Blogging class and I have homework, you’re stuck with me for a few weeks longer as I practice some skills and work out some ideas.

Today’s assignment:
Write a post about how to do something your ideal readers would like to know. Title it as a “How to,” or a numbered list (e.g. 5 Ways to . . . 10 Steps to Create a . . . 4 Tips for . . .).

Hmm. I identified my ideal reader as either someone who is interested in straight talk about Momming OR someone who is interested in straight talk about writing. I’m going to hold off on writing about writing, since I have a post due in about a week on popcorntheblog (stay tuned!).

So here goes.

Five Things I Find Fascinating about Toddlers (Or, should I say, my toddler).

1. They have a given sense of gender…but sometimes they surprise you.
I very much believed that gender was constructed, and was careful not to lay any trip on my kid about his being male: “You must play with manly toys, L!” No. But at 16 months, when all of his friends were girls, L developed an unreasonable and intense attraction to trucks that has been unwavering. I really do believe, now, that gender is much more innate than we post-feminists would like to believe.

In any event, L’s wonderful Nana made him a T shirt with a garbage truck on it, and because it was such a hit, we “ordered” shirts for all of his friends. One was yellow with a pink garbage truck on it, for the little girl next door, X, who is very into pink and dresses and etc. When we unpacked the box from Nana yesterday, L snatched it up.

“This one is mine, Mumma.”
“No, sweetie, that’s for X.”
He holds on tighter.
“No, Mumma. It’s mine. It’s lello like a lion and lions are my favorite animal. And I really, really like pink.”

2. They reveal your every weakness, even the ones you thought you were getting away with.
L, in the car yesterday, yells at some guy who’s poking along: “Hey dude! Move!”

This, after several driving trips where L had said to me, “Why did you say ‘dude move’ to the guy in that car, Mumma? What you frustrated ’bout now, Mumma? Huh? You ‘noyed ’bout something?”

Yeah, yeah yeah. So I’m incapable of driving without hollering at all the other cars. Sue me. At least I have stopped indiscriminately flipping them the bird.

3. They sleep like…babies.
Which is to say, they’re totally incomprehensible again. L’s newest thing? Nap at daycare. At home, wreak utter havoc for ninety minutes until I let him out of his room, pulling my hair out. Don’t even get me started on bedtime or the return of middle-of-the-night-waking.

And now there are dreams he can remember and relay.
L, first thing yesterday, incredibly cute in his footy jams and snuggling up to his Dad in bed: “I was with my lion on BART and then I came home and saw you guys.”
Me: “Was this your dream?
L: “Yes, but it was a real dream, not a sleeping dream.”

4. They’re more fickle than a windsock.
A friend gave me this pamphlet on something called “Hand in Hand Parenting.” It talks about how, when your kid is upset, his prefrontal cortex shuts down. That’s why you can’t reason with a tantrumming toddler; because they literally can’t think. This morning, L was completely distraught because, after having to be convinced that he should get dressed before breakfast, he agreed; only to hop into his bed and refuse to get into his clothes until I finally left to eat my own breakfast. I’m enjoying my poached egg when he comes in, sobbing.

“I need to get my clothes on before breafrast!”

I sit with his head in my lap, stroking his head with my non-egg-eating hand, letting him cry and being loving as I firmly hold to “I’ll get you dressed after I finish with my breakfast.” Weeps the whole time. B finishes first and offers to get him dressed.

“I want Mumma!” yells L, who, for the past month, has literally chosen his father over me in any situation where he’s had a choice. Finally relents and lets B get him dressed. When he cheerfully comes back into the room, all better, and I get up to start doing dishes, he loses it all over again.

“We all need to eat together!”

B and I exchange glances. Decide we needed to finish our tea and eat some fruit at the table while L eats his now-cold egg.

5. They make your family stronger.
Last week was a tough week with L, and I found myself at one point giving him a lecture about how he needed to be a better community member (they’re learning about their community at daycare–I was grasping at straws here, people). Later on, I realized that I need to be a better community member. I realized that all these things–the tantrumming, the fickleness, the pre-frontal cortex–are a part of his job right now. It’s so clich?, but it’s true. And my job is not only to grin and bear it, or to turn to drink, but to become more patient, more good at this, more loving, more energized, and more in control. Somehow, when I think of it like that–kind of like we’re all actors in a play, and L plays the insane crazy person who just needs a lot of love and support in order to realize his true and wonderful potential–it makes me see this time in a different context, and B’s and my roles as more significant and heroic. It also makes me feel blessed to have a good co-pilot.

And on that sappy note, I’m off.


Daycation, All I Ever Wanted

Well, first things first: my friend Lisa Rosenman, ne? Hastings, who blogs here, awarded me the Liebster Award a few weeks ago! What’s the Liebster Award? Recognition of a blog you like with fewer than 200 followers. By the rules, you have to pass it on to five other bloggers with fewer than 200 followers. I think I’m also supposed to tell you a couple things about me that you don’t know, but, well, I’ll assume that in today’s blog post you’ll learn a few new things. In any event, thank you, Lisa!

Here are the five blogs to whom I shall in turn bestow the Liebster Award:

An Honest Mom. Straight shooting talk about parenting, pregnancy, and pranks (read about her April Fool’s snafu!).
Cook with What You Have. A dear old friend who may have more than 200 followers because she’s brilliant, but what the heck, I’ll give it to her anyway.
366in2012. A blog about farming by Laal. I love reading her daily updates about shearing sheep and planting bulbs (as you know, I pine for the “simple” life).
Love and Other Delights. Another cool blog about parenting, by a mom in Brooklyn.
The Cheese Press! Makin’ cheese, makin’ love.

Now, second things second: it’s been a while. Before I went on vacation last week things were crazy, and despite trying to carve out the time to write, I just didn’t. I hoped to blog on vacation, but quite frankly, when you’re in Hawaii with your husband and your kid is at home with your parents for six days, you kind of forget you even have a blog. Yes, Hawaii. The so-called Big Island, which, after six days, begins to feel quite quaint and small. At the same time, it’s a huge place: big mountains, powerful surf, big winds, big legacy. I was so excited to have a few days with B that I didn’t even mind the plane ride, which is usually a real killer for me (half a Xanax and a complementary Mai Tai didn’t hurt either). Once we arrived it was six days of doing whatever we felt like: hiking, snorkeling, eating ice cream, drinking rum punch on the lanai, reading, talking, making out, you know.

Pololu Valley, near Hawi

And it only took me two and a half days to relax. The most memorable day for me was Good Friday, when we drove our rental car south, south, south past all the swanky, overpriced resorts and into the real meat of Hawaii: lush foliage, rain clouds, beater cars, and shacks, and out to a black sand beach with wild winds, crashing surf, and sea turtles snacking on seaweed (the one who was hanging around shore we named Frank, in honor of L, who names everything Frank). The reason that day was most memorable was because I had an important revelation about myself: I have a lot of trouble relaxing. Ha! Understatement! Here I was, on vacation, in Hawaii–and I was basically having a panic attack the whole drive south. I couldn’t even tell you, now, what it was really about (drowning, car crash, something). But at one point B said to me, “I think L takes up so much of your brain space at home that when you have a little time away from him, lots of stuff comes crashing in. You’ll feel better.” Smart man. That afternoon, after we’d had a really wonderful hike in the woods, I did feel better. And on the way up north again we crashed a swanky resort, sat on the terrace about twenty yards from the beach, the wind wild in our hair, and had a $16 cocktail at sunset. I felt it all falling off my shoulders, all of it: schoolwork, the stresses of parenting, self-doubt, static, guilt, etc.


Daycation, all I ever wanted.

Funny story: years ago, my boyfriend A and I were in a Target in Portland, Oregon. A little kid picked up these plastic beach chairs and said, “Mom! Mom! We need these for when we go on daycation!” It stuck.

And am I happy to be back? Yes. Happiest to see my sweet boy, of course, whom I swear is taller and talking in more impressive vocabulary than when we left. And happy that L got to spend a week with my mom and dad, who, despite my worrying, were absolute champs. They had a wonderful week together, playing games, eating good food, going to the playground. My parents managed to get L to nap every day and only fed him ice cream once or twice, and we returned to a happy and healthy kid. I wish my parents lived closer, and I know L does too, but times like these are the stuff of bonding and lifetime closeness. Happy, too, to come back to my incredible community here. I was ruminating yesterday on how fortunate I am. I have all these wonderful friends. I love that friends called my parents to check in and offer help while I was away. I love that in turn, I watched a friend’s son for a few hours on Wednesday. I love that yesterday, after a nice morning with my dear C, I picked up another friend’s son from daycare, took him to my house, where he and L both napped (!), then brought him, and dinner, home. It’s a good feeling to have that proverbial village in your life.

Not that I wouldn’t object to a Mai Tai and no responsibilities, but what can you do?

Workin’ Nine to Five, What a Way to Make a Living

I know I just wrote yesterday, because I was on this kick about optimism and I really wanted to show some photos of my sweet little garden. But it just occurred to me that actually, I have had something else on my mind for a couple of weeks now, and the only reason I didn’t blog about it yesterday was that the conclusion I was trying to draw hadn’t fully gelled.

Since L switched to a new daycare about a month ago, my childcare time has doubled. This was merely logistical: Lorena wouldn’t take him for less than three days, and she charges the same for those three days whether I pick him up at noon or at 5 o’clock. Initially I thought I would keep him half days anyway, and I picked him up around 1:00 the first week. But he didn’t want to leave, and I felt I was disrupting the flow of the day when I arrived to take him home, since all the other kids were in pajamas and settling down on those little puffy mats in the living room for their naps (“L will never go for that,” I thought, thinking of our very special nap circumstances at home: white noise, stories, special blankies, crib). So after a week or so, I decided, well, I’ll try just one day to leave him there the whole day. Sure enough, L didn’t sleep and came home exhausted and fractious around 4:00 p.m. The following week I thought I’d try once more to have him stay the whole day, sure that it would be a disaster. Well, Lorena called around 3:00 to say that L was sleeping, and had been for two hours. When I went to get him, he was completely and totally happy. And since then, he has settled down on a mat in her living room three days a week with four or five other kids and sacked out at naptime. Then had someone else get him up when his nap is over, give him his snack, and find him something to do.

And I am wrestling with my feelings about this.

I’ll admit I had and probably still have a bit of a prejudice against parents who have kids and then dump them in daycare for outrageously long hours. I know some kids who are in daycare from seven to seven, five days a week. That’s a lot. On the other hand, I realized after I’d been home with L exclusively until he was sixteen months, working from home part-time for some of that, that I wasn’t cut out for full time SAHMness. When I hooked into a nanny share twelve hours a week, writing or working in cafes, I felt like my life began again. I knew then that I would not follow the model of my own mom, who was home with us the whole time we were growing up, or my sister in law, who very cheerfully stayed home with her three kids until they went to school, when she went back to work. At first I thought I had failed in some way for not wanting to do that. Sure, I could have stayed home with L full time; but I wasn’t that fulfilled or nearly as patient as the job demanded.

Since L has started with Lorena I have been amazed at how much more central my work life has become. I’m writing; I’m teaching; I’m blogging; I’m having entrepreneurial feelings; I’m networking. And I’m wrestling with a voice telling me that I’m failing my kid somehow, while all the while I’m–can I admit it?–ecstatic to be working more. I’ve been kind of whispering that to myself and to B, and today I admitted it to a friend, too: I like having L in childcare three days a week. I miss him, sure, but I also love the freedom.

There’s an awful lot of judgment thrown on mothers in particular for their decisions about work. Let’s face it: if you’re in a heterosexual relationship, there’s an easy assumption that the father will work full time and the mother will be the one to make a hard choice. As a feminist I see the unfairness in this; as a crunchy earth mama I also see the logic: I stayed home with L for over a year in part because I wanted to nurse him that whole time. I have made judgments of other mothers myself (I admitted as much, above). I hear those judgments from other people, and sometimes they seem justified (like the family I knew who employed no less than three nannies and a baby nurse, to ensure that the time they spent with their children was about one hour a day–their former nanny, my friend C, and I had a big old judge-fest about that one day). Sometimes I hear judgments when they’re not even there: when my mom says to me, “So, you pick him up when? At five? Really?” I can’t tell if she’s judging me or amazed, since her sole experience with childcare when I was a kid was an occasional trip to Mrs. McNeeley’s, a kid factory down the road with a giant TV that was always showing the Partridge Family. I was sent there maybe twice a year.

It’s dawning on me that, like sleep, work is one of those deeply personal experiences that every mother, and every family, has to figure out on her own. And what’s probably most important is not only the happiness of the children in that family but the happiness that’s being modeled by the primary caregivers. If I’m fulfilled in my life by working part-time, I model that for L. And if another mother wants to be home full time because that’s what makes her happy, then she is modeling that for her kid. And if a woman wants to work full time because that’s what makes her most happy, then she is modeling that for her kid. When a problem arises, I think, is when either the happiness of the kid is so prioritized that the mother is drained and depleted, or when the happiness of the mother is so prioritized that the kid suffers. I realize that “happiness” is perhaps the wrong word to use, here–but I use it to mean fulfillment, ease, contentment.

For me, being a “good” mother means finding balance, and balance for me means working out of the home some days and home with L some days. Our closeness does not seem to have changed since he’s away from me twenty hours a week. We’re still thick as thieves. And I am, I guess, a working mom. I like to ride my bike to pick him up between 4:30 and 5:00. Usually I have spent the entire day glued to the laptop, and I welcome the physicality of the ride. We weave our way home through the streets, chatting the whole way. He dutifully reports on what he had for lunch and which kids were there. Then he tells me about naptime.

“Were any kids talking during nap?” I ask.
“No,” L says. “They were quiet.”

Glass Half Full

Me, tonight, to B: “You know, if I got offered some editing work in the next few weeks, I think I’d take it. It would be nice to make some extra dough. It might be stressy for a bit around here if I was working a lot more, but no big deal.”

B, wryly: “Yeah, how much more stressy could it really get?”

I had a good belly laugh about that one.

Sure, life could get a lot more stressy (have I mentioned I love slang? That I adore words like “spendy” and “janky” and “stressy”?), but resolved am I to be more positive.

Some people are very clearly optimists. My mother in law, for example, can look down the face of climate change, recession, and world tragedy and declare it a really exciting time to be alive, because the world is in great turmoil and it will be fascinating to see what happens in the next twenty years (!). My dad, on the other hand, can order the wrong thing at lunch and be bummed out about it for the rest of the day (!). I find that I waffle pretty reliably between optimism and pessimism. Small things tend to really get me down (I have a lot of my dad in me), and on the other hand, I am sometimes capable of impressive grace and positivity. When my brother’s wife left him, for example, my mom told me I was a “rock.” I felt like one. I took my brother out to get drunk and wander around North Beach, then I called my parents and assured them he was going to be alright. (Then I let him sleep on my couch for three weeks, and phoned my parents with updates until everyone felt a little better.) The whole rotten experience made me really grow. It was nice to be needed in that way by my family, especially as, a), I come from one of those families where, knock on wood, things don’t fall apart too spectacularly that much; and, b), my parents tend to really be the rocks for their kids and sometime, you just gotta repay that favor.

Over the weekend my mom sent me a video by a guy we know who has cancer. This man has always been one of those extremely full-of-life, happy-go-lucky guys, and he got hit with a real doozie: metastasized esophageal cancer. Man, this video was uplifting. He details all the treatments he’s undergoing, traditional ones like chemo and non-traditional ones like acupuncture, Chinese herbs, qigong, and a macrobiotic diet. He’s talking about everything very cheerfully and calmly–much more calm than I knew him to be–but with this wisdom, just this wisdom. And then he says, “you know, this is really a spiritual journey.” His grace moved me so much. To look at your own possible death and see a spiritual journey? That’s extreme optimism. I hope I would have the strength.

I think sometimes, lately, I have been falling too heavily in the pessimist camp. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for what I have, or that I don’t see my extreme luckiness in the scheme of things. I do. I am grateful for so many things: my health, my family, my job, my home, being a mother–and having an incredible community of friends, good childcare, Netflix, a hook-up for some great wine at low prices, a bike with a seat for L, good books, good food, a future wonderful sister-in-law for my wonderful brother, oh and a brand new nephew–not their kid!–but I also think I feel things deeply. I always have, and since having a child I’ve felt in some ways opened right up, to more joy and to more heartache. I find myself crying when I listen to NPR or B looks at me the wrong way, or the right way. Then two second later I’m laughing. I’m a maniac. And like this blog post–what the hell is it really even about? Oh right, it’s about how I’ve been worrying, dear readers, that I sound like sour grapes all the time.

And it’s about this. A very small thing. About eight feet long by three feet wide. It’s not, yet, very fecund or impressive. It does not make me weep or shout with joy. But it has made me want to get up in the morning to see what’s new. And when we get off the bike after daycare or coming home from the playground, L and I go to see what we’ve missed, which creatures have come to threaten it, which ones we’ve staved off, and which tiny little sprouts are starting to push their way up.

Two weekends ago we took an old flower bed and excavated it. B handily sawed some boards and dug them in. We added compost and fertilizer and tilled it all, and planted cooking greens (collards and Chinese broccoli, to go with the chard and dino kale already there); lettuces (mache, red leaf, baby romaine); and seeds for green onions, two kinds of carrots, and some beets. This adds to our volunteer parsley, the huge bush of rosemary and oregano, some arugula, some thyme, and some mint.

It’s my garden.

Cookin' greens.

The lettuces.

My sweet ranunculus.