She's suddenly doing seven-year-old things. Dancing to popular music. Rolling her eyes. Saying things that stop me in my tracks for their depth and insight. We're reading chapter books as quickly as we can get our hands on them and enjoying the stories together. Little House on the Prairie. Runaway Ralph. The Boxcar Children. She is more aware than ever that she is her own person.
I love who she is. She is my little, tiny, grown-up girl.
It's taken a few years of getting used to the climate, but we're finally feeling brave enough to try growing our own veggies. While many parts of the country are winding down their gardening season, ours is ramping up. High temps are dipping below 100 with lows in the upper 70s. Time to plant, we're told.
The kids had some practice at school. Each classroom includes outdoor space, and many classes tend their own garden. Last year, B's class grew enough veggies to make a salad at lunchtime.
We built two raised beds off the patio in our backyard. As the weather slowly cools down, we're hopeful for a nice crop of carrots, kale, mint, broccoli, onions, beets, basil, and more.
B found a variety of mint called "chocolate mint," which smells and tastes divine. Miles chose heirloom carrot seeds which yield purple, yellow, and orange carrots.
There's something magical about walking into your backyard and selecting fresh veggies. Let's hope we can keep them growing!
B just sneaked into the pantry, reached behind the jars of pasta and spices and emerged with the TV remote control.
I flash her a sly grin that says, I see you. I know who you are, big sister, outsmarting your little brother. I did those things too.
She laughs and runs back down the stairs to watch Scooby Doo, because it's Saturday and because I said she could.
Last night in the wee hours Miles flipped on all the lights. His bedroom. Hallway. Bathroom. Master bedroom. A cold rush of light startled me awake but calmed him. I scared of the dark, Mama. I negotiated with him in the fractured, nonsensical way you do at 1 AM. Bathroom light only. Keep your door cracked open. I'll rub your back with lavender balm.
They started school two weeks ago, opening up a wide expanse of time and space for me to write uninterrupted, to finally stop cobbling together a career in 90-minute time blocks between preschool drop-off and pickup and lunch and naps and bursts of inspiration at 10 PM when I'm too exhausted to act on them. I've never been a stay-at-home-mom in the traditional sense, because I was a professional writer first. But in the practical sense, I am home, have always been home -- near them, with them. My work came second, and while it wasn't always easy to explain, that felt right.
I map out my deadlines and sit down at my computer, but the house is full of echoes. I wonder how many years I have of looking at Bronwynn and instantly understanding her. I wonder if Miles will always be reassured by my presence at night. I want to gather up these moments and stow them like wood for next winter.
For the first time, I don't want to tidy up their toys while they're away.
I feel lost and unfocused, and yet 3 PM comes quicker than I'd anticipated. After school they are full of energy, full of ideas, full of stories about the work they completed that day. One week in and Bronwynn has already worked with a model volcano, made it erupt. She's diagramming sentences, writing her own chapter books in sloppy cursive. Miles worked a geographic puzzle, counted seashells, made dinosaurs out of wooden blocks, learned to use a screwdriver correctly.
Week two I settle into more of a routine. These are strange and amazing days, writing furiously without an eye toward the clock. Reconnecting with friends without someone tugging at my hem. Running (and showering immediately after). Eating a meal prepared just for me.
I borrow a little of my kids' work ethic, the Montessori philosophy that provides the time, space and materials to learn but allows the student the freedom to choose what they will pursue. They're learning time management, how to identify their own passions and areas of improvement. They are understanding when to ask for guidance and feedback. They are beginning to embrace living and working with integrity, effective communication, compassion, respect, peacefulness.
Through all of it they are finding themselves. So am I.
There are parenting moments you prepare for. You read books, talk with other parents, research and form opinions. Breastfeeding. Potty training. Screen time. Discipline. Helicopter vs. free-range. Even before you hold your first child, you think about these things.
Then, there are other moments also common in parenting, that you give precious little thought to until they actually happen.
Like the day you look at the goldfish in his tank and realize he's swimming funny, kind of lopsided and slow, and you know the end is near. The goldfish your husband won at a carnival. You hadn't expected it to survive four days, but here he (she?) is nearly four years later, fat and proud. (S)he's dying, and you have to tell the kids. Or do you? What if you didn't tell them? Could you replace Goldie or quietly send him/her to a porcelain grave?
No, your kids are too smart for that. You have to tell them. You gather them 'round and show them the tank and explain the situation. Death is inevitable. Four years is a good, long life for a fish. We can be sad and happy at the same time.
They take the news well.
Hours pass and so does Goldie. You ask the kids what would feel right, and they request a burial. They paint a rock, a miniature headstone. You each say a few words and bury the fish under a mesquite tree. The service is brief, but poignant.
The next day the kids will visit Goldie's grave several times, missing him/her and also admiring their artwork on the headstone. The day after that, they visit less. And the day after that, Miles will visit just once, but the dog will follow him outdoors, sniff the grave, and before the sweet four-year-old can stop him, your dog (the pet you once referred to as your eldest child) will dig up the goldfish and eat it.
The dog will eat the goldfish.
Your kids will be traumatized. They will scream and cry and yell at the dog. And they will run to you in anguish and recount what happened.
And I am telling you now what no parenting book will tell you. There is no suitable response when the dog eats the goldfish. All you can do is hug your children and tell them you're sorry. There's no way to fix it. You can't make it better.
The four-year-old boy might suggest something gruesome. Can you guess what he suggests? He will remind you what happens to the things we eat and suggest waiting for Goldie to reappear in the yard. "We can just bury him again," he'll say.
No. Just, no.
Instead you'll promise to dig deeper graves for the pets. You develop a plan, a family protocol for pet burials. The six-year-old puts it in writing:
2 feet deep.
But the headstone is still there, and the body is just a shell for the soul, you tell them.
And maybe the headstone could use a little more glitter and paint?
The rules of the blog train are simple: on Monday, last week’s riders
introduce three new bloggers and also answer a series of questions.
It's a great way to discover new writers you might not have read before and spread some love around the blogosphere.
I was honored to be featured on Sarah's blog and loved reading her responses to the following questions. Today, I’m happy to share a bit about my writing process and introduce to you three
more writers I think you’ll enjoy.
First the questions:
1) What am I working on?
I'm juggling several projects at the moment, which I actually enjoy. I'm working on some large service features for SELF and Experience Life magazines, I'm doing some regular blogging and writing for several travel magazines, and I'm polishing some personal essays and chapters of my memoir to take to a summer writing workshop. I like when my plate holds a variety of projects -- creative writing, investigative reporting, blogging. It allows me to stay busy without getting burned out on one type of writing.
2) How does my work differ from others in its genre?
This is a tough question. Everything I write is nonfiction, but I participate in a few genres. My ultimate goal whether I'm writing a service piece or crafting a personal essay is to make you, the reader, consider something familiar in a completely new way. I seek to connect personally with you, to hold up an experience or concept like a prism and grab some light and reflect it at different angles.
3) Why do I write what I do?
I started my career as an editor for travel and outdoors magazines, and before that, during grad school, I was a science writer and newspaper reporter. So writing about travel, fitness and the outdoors is a natural progression. I'm good at taking complex information and presenting it in an engaging way. ...But that's not really WHY I write. I write because I have to. Since I was a kid, writing has been the thing that keeps me grounded and connected in the world. It's my lifeblood.
4) How does my writing process work? Again, it depends on the genre of writing, but I will say a lot of the work happens before I ever sit down to type a word. I visualize stories, how they'll appear on the page, what the heds and deks will look like. I think about who I want to interview and what photographs and illustrations might accompany the story. If I'm working on something particularly big or important, I often wake up in the middle of the night with an idea and write it down in a little notebook I keep on my nightstand. The actual writing happens in stages. I carve out a few hours here and there and get as many words on the page as possible, let it sit for a few days, and then go back in with fresh eyes and polish it. Since I worked as an editor for so many years, I'm a bit of a perfectionist. I have a hard time looking at a manuscript and thinking it's complete. I always feel like it could be better. Oh, and my writing process invariably includes espresso.
Now I'm happy to introduce three of my favorite writers/bloggers.
1. Jennifer Manske Fenske is a novelist and co-founder of Fat and Appy with her husband, children's book author and illustrator, Jonathan Fenske. Together they create modern art and beautiful stories for children of all ages. You should visit their blog often, because there's always a new, exciting project brewing over there! Jen and I have been close friends since college, and she constantly inspires me.
2. Rachel Walker and I met through our magazine work, but she quickly became a good friend and writing partner. She recently launched a fun blog and community for parents over 35. Spawn & Survive promises to help ease the transition to parenthood with honest stories and sage advice from someone who's surviving thriving. Rachel's writing is smart and engaging, and I'm excited to see where her blog takes her!
3. Kat Glover isn't afraid to take risks, whether it's in her writing or her life. She's relatively new to the writing scene, but has already published a few articles about her adventures in triathlons, mountain biking, and parenting. She has a knack for storytelling, which is clear when you read her blog. I'm excited to see her name in print more, and I'm inspired by how prolific and consistent a writer she is.
Let me start by saying B is fine. We had a tough week, but she is okay.
A little recap: She had been fighting a (seemingly) minor cold virus early in the week. Low fever that came and went and a runny nose. It seemed like no big deal, though we kept her home from school due to the fever.
By Wednesday she seemed much better - no fever and just a slight, clear runny nose. But then early Thursday morning I awoke to her screaming for me. I rushed into her room and she said "I can't walk. My legs hurt."
I thought maybe her legs were asleep or she was experiencing growing pains. I lifted her out of bed and set her up on her feet and she crumpled to a heap on the ground, crying in pain. She couldn't walk or even stand.
Her fever was back too, though fairly low (100F). I called her pediatrician, who told us to go straight to the children's hospital ER.
The nurses and resident we saw at first were puzzled. They hadn't seen anything like this before. It was clear B couldn't put any weight on her legs, but her temperature and vitals were close to normal. We were admitted for further tests. Her neurological screen was normal. Bloodwork showed low white cell counts (consistent with a virus) and high creatine phosphokinase (CPK) levels, which indicates muscle damage.
Several doctors consulted and told us that she had "benign acute childhood myositis" or viral myositis. It's a rare complication in which a virus causes inflammation in the muscles. In B's case, the cold virus that seemed minor had actually caused problems in her calf muscles.
Because her muscles were so inflamed and her blood protein was high, she had to have IV fluids to flush them out so that her kidneys didn't suffer.
The doctors and nurses were amazing. B didn't even feel the IV go in. She was in very little pain, and was able to watch Frozen and several other kids' movies back-to-back, which she thought was a great treat. The toughest part was lifting her and carrying her around for a couple days...she isn't a little toddler anymore!
I didn't announce we were at the hospital, because I didn't want to alarm our families until we knew exactly what was going on. But some of the fellow moms from B and Miles' schools knew something was up and their response was wonderful. In a matter of hours, we had dinners being delivered to our house, friends checking in. B missed a week of school, she longed for her friends, but her teacher made a video of the class to cheer her up. Her closest friend at her new school stopped by with stickers and crafts for both B and Miles.
Sweet Miles...he caught the cold that kicked off this whole ordeal, but he didn't suffer any complications. We're trying to give him lots of extra love and attention, too.
Despite all this, last weekend was the best Mother's Day I've ever had. Restful, quiet. We felt ensconced in our community here, able to relax and enjoy each other and cherish the relative good health of our children. Because spending even a small amount of time at a children's hospital makes me keenly aware of how lucky we are, how these same symptoms B suffered could have indicated something much, much worse.
THANK YOU to everyone for your support and care!
The best part: Sunday morning, B was standing, walking and helping Kris cook me an amazing breakfast in bed. She was still a little wobbly, but pretty much had regained full mobility in her legs and insisted on playing outside.
As I write this, a full week later, she's in the pool swimming, like nothing ever happened.
If you want to read more about benign acute myositis, there are some scientific papers here and here