this week, a taste of forever

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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.

a few thoughts on burying your goldfish

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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:
Pets.
Dig.
2 feet deep.
Maybe more.
Use shovel.

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?

this week

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the best kind of chain letter {blog train}

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Last Monday, the lovely and talented Sarah Buttenwieser of Standing in the Shadows posted about a blog train, which she hopped on via Cleaver Magazine. She invited me to hitch a ride.

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.

peach pickers

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The tradition: The day after school lets out we make a trip to the peach orchard. This year, I underestimated the kids' reach and ability to pick peaches quickly.

The result? In less than 30 minutes, they'd picked 29 pounds.

We have a lot of work ahead of us consuming/preserving the bounty.

file under: strange illnesses I never knew existed

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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

The Patchwork Mother

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I'm re-posting an essay I wrote a few years ago for Mama Moderne. It's as true today as it was then, and some recent face-to-face conversations with friends made me realize how many women have complicated relationships with their mothers, and how many have wrapped themselves in their own patchwork quilt of strong, supportive, nurturing women. This is for them. -Gina

***

A few years ago, I would have told you that I hate Mother’s Day. For reasons that are complicated, my mother and I are estranged. Our history is painful. A day that should be all lightness and smiles, macaroni art and flowers and Hallmark cards and breakfast in bed… historically, for me has been heavy, soggy with high expectations and pressure to show affection and gratitude that wasn’t always felt. Growing up, it was a day to perform and pretend, not to celebrate.

Except, now I am the mother. So, as I stare at that Sunday on my calendar, it stirs up some conflicting emotions. Of course I want to be celebrated by my husband and children. I want to celebrate being a mom, too. My kids are my greatest source of joy. I work hard to meet their needs and keep them safe and show them all the amazing things this world has to offer. But there’s grief too. It lingers like a dark shadow over my shoulder.

I am a mom. I still need a mom.

No one warned me that having kids would trigger such a deep pang for mothering. But of course, it makes sense. We, as new moms, are so vulnerable. We carry enormous responsibilities and endless worries and also experience a full flood of joy that’s just so so… BIG, you can’t wrap your fingertips around it. We need understanding and encouragement and guidance from women who have walked this winding, uneven path before.

The past couple years, I’ve come to realize that I do have a perfect mom, though she is not tied up in one single person. She is a patchwork quilt of mother figures who entered my life so gracefully, each one covering and nurturing me with different gifts: parenting advice, a shoulder to cry on, pep talks, a home-cooked meal, babysitting, encouragement, admonishment, role modeling, empathy, the invitation to be unabashedly me and fully accepted in her presence.

None of them can go back and give me what I missed as a child. But right now? Today? My well is overflowing.

How I lighten the heaviness of Mother’s Day: I focus on the little gifts my children give me without even realizing it. Say, when my 18-month-old son feeds me a bite of his slobbery, soggy pretzel. When my 3.5-year-old daughter gives me a crumpled, wilted flower and insists I put it in a glass of water. When she draws me a picture at school for no reason and tells me “Mommy, I love you all day!” When my two children play together and share without prompting by me. The way they let me have access to their round, soft, warm bellies for rubbing and kissing whenever I want to. When my husband washes dishes before he leaves for work, because he knows how much I love starting the day with a clean slate. Or when he — so not a morning person — rolls out of bed at 6AM on a Saturday and keeps the kids away so that I can sleep in. The moments of stillness when my babes nuzzle into the crook of my neck and I feel their breath against my skin.

I realize I don’t need a calendar day to savor these gifts. But I’ll take the excuse to celebrate them even more, and I’ll remember to thank those who have mothered me so well.

IKEA hack art station

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Lately, the kids' art projects have been taking over the whole house. Everywhere I step, there's evidence of coloring, cutting, gluing, painting, folding. 

I love it. And I hate it, because it's EVERYWHERE. Marker scribbles on my desk. Scissors on my favorite vintage dresser. Crayons and scraps of paper on the floor.

So I cleared out a corner of the playroom to make a dedicated work space. 

For the table, I scoured the "As Is" section of IKEA and snatched up the blue table top (I believe it's a HEMNES dresser top) for $4. Drilled a few holes and attached metal hairpin legs that I found at a hardware store for $12.


It's a great height and surface for them to work on and grow with. B grabbed a throw pillow to sit on after I snapped this picture and worked on her writing.

The art supplies are stored above on the built-in shelf.


30 minutes and $16 later...we'll see if this helps focus their creative energy!

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