Monday

Aaron and I both have had a good start to the new year. The longer I teach in Wakulla “Will Kill Ya” County, the more I seem to discover my inner Southern girl.  To explain, I am currently sitting in Tallahassee’s very hip co-op. The girl behind me in line had long dreads and smelled like patchouli. A much older man followed me to the cashier, took the other line, and with a wink, said, “I’ll race you.” Now my coffee-drinking neighbor, he sees that I am suppressing laughter at pictures of my kids, and with scathingly overt disappointment says, “I thought you were a student.” Nope—just a regular mother-of-two who spends her time away from her kids looking at pictures of her kids. Anyway, my cashier (I could stick three fingers through the loops that once were her earring holes) says, “Is this it for you?” And, I can’t believe it, but I say—to a girl at least eight years my junior—“Yes, Ma’am.”

I also do something I never thought I’d do. I say curse words.  Afterschool with my English teacher friends.  As soon as the bell rings we run to each other with some story about some student and swap a couple “I mean, what the hell?!?”s.  It feels fantastic.

Meanwhile, life is the perfect combination of mundane and magical at home.  In these hectic days of two-kids-under-four, Aaron and I have learned to be careful with each other. Today, Aaron says, “Do you have a plan for dinner?” instead of “What are we having for dinner?” because “do you have a plan” suggests that if I don’t, then he will help think of one while “what are we having” assumes dinner is my exclusive responsibility. And, these are, if anything, the days of non-exclusive responsibilities. It’s a “your turn, my turn” kind of life.  Likewise, if I want Aaron to set the table, I am wont to ask, perhaps less subtly, “Do you need me to set the table?”

Clara is apparently being taken over by her body parts. Yesterday, she tells me, “My belly wants to drink your coffee.” Then, she scolds, “No, Belly, no! You are not an adult!”  Also, her toes want to get polished and her hair most certainly does not want to get brushed.  Clara is teaching William how to share, except her version of sharing is taking whatever William has and exclaiming with pride, “I’m sharing with baby!”

Here are a few excerpts from the pictures I most recently downloaded to the computer:

I like the next two not because it’s obvious my hair needs to be washed but because William is being such a William.

“Hey, where’re you going with that?”

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“Who’s birthday is it, anyway?”

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Oh, poor William.  I promise we do sometimes make your sister be nice to you. This may or may not be one of those times.

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Precious little thing Clara has definitely discovered jewelry.

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I may have mentioned that when we go anywhere, Clara’s first question is, “They got a bathtub there?”

But, it ain’t so bad in the Rubbermaid.  They love each other.

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Show me your mad face, William.

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I’ve caught Clara a couple times reading George in bed.

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I took a shower on Saturday. This is what happened.

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Clara and Aaron have been going to Sunday School together. I might join them soon once I can be sure that William can hang at the church nursery for two.five hours.  Here she is, all purtied (yeah, Wakulla) up for church.

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Finally, William can pack it. I found a recipe for homemade cream of corn and he bathed in the stuff. Literally rubbed that junk all over his body.

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Alright, Blog, I’ll Level With You

If you are reading this right now, there is a good chance you’ve noticed I have not written in, oh, about three months.  The pressure was building—there was suddenly so much to cover with our trip to Illinois, our trip to Tampa, William’s first birthday, Clara’s first day at her new preschool, another trip to the beach, every cute thing the kids were saying and doing. 

But, as I was writing my dearest friend Kelsey, it occurred to me that the blog will do as I tell it. I could, foreseeably, write only a sentence or two a day. I could post one picture at a time. So, that is the new goal—one or two sentences, one or two pictures, here and there.

I already loaded these pictures from our last day in Louisiana, weeks and weeks ago.  I went a little snap-happy on William’s cute face.

Oh, and William is now walking.

And, here are some things Clara has said that I hope never to forget.

When I or Aaron ask for a kiss goodbye, she will sometimes tell us she doesn’t have any more kisses in her mouth. Then, suddenly, “I do have a kiss in my mouth!”

A week or so ago, we asked Clara where she learned something. At your new school? At your old school? Neither. She said she learned it in her eyes. Apparently, it was something she saw somewhere?

Lastly, we are slowly brainwashing our child.  For awhile, she was watching The Fox and the Hound every day; recently, she’s taken to her old friend Anna’s favorite Caillou. She could watch that show for hours. When we told her it was time to close the laptop and pause Caillou, and we were asked the inevitable “whhhyyyy?,” we told her that tv slows her brain down if she watches it too often. (Oh, the things parents can put into the cute little brains of their kids.) So, yesterday, when it was breakfast time, Clara closed the laptop with gusto and announced her brain hurt because it was slowing down.  She really does believe everything we tell her.

Now, without sequitor, explanation, or apology, to some cute pictures of William:

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Give Me All Your Money

Just a warning that if you go to the French Quarter in New Orleans you will very likely have to pay most people for even accidentally looking their way. With all the horsey rides, cable cars, and street performers, it really is a fun place to take young kids so exhausted by the heat they can do little more than stare at everything from a stroller. But, it is an authentically crazy place. We were trailed by a guy who twists balloons for a living until we stopped long enough for him to tell us that if we don’t carry enough cash on us, we’re asking to get shot. The musicians that play at restaurants will take their break, hover at your table while you eat your French fries, and ask when and how much you plan to tip. On the other hand, we saw the sweetest proposal ever as a guy had organized one of those flash mob dance things where one person starts dancing and people join in.

Here are a few glimpses of our visit to the place where it’s hard to tell if people are living or dying to the fullest:

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Street performers paint themselves to look like statues. They stay unfathomably still until you, of course, give them a little money.

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Clara loves her Uncle Ray . . .

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. . .because he spent a fair amount of his weekend playing “keeper of the living room” with Clara as she tried to sneak in and out for hours at a time.

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Florida Living

Last week, on the one sunny day of the summer here in Tallahassee we left at 1:00 p.m. and headed south for 1.5 hours to the beach.  We finished the day off at Beef O’ Brady’s since it happened to be their Kid’s-Eat-Free-and-Jump-on-a-Moonwalk Tuesday Night Special.

I read 2.5 pages while Aaron kept William from eating too much sand and helped Clara dump buckets of the stuff into a pile resembling a sand castle.

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In a moment of profound weakness we stopped at the gas station and bought sodas all around at five times the price and a bag of chips. The sun makes you do crazy things.

This is Clara’s “okay, I’ll look at your stinkin’ camera for you” smile.

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Off to post some of our New Orleans trip before I hear the faint “wah” and/or “Mama” coming from the back rooms . . .

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Moving Forward

We just returned from a visit to New Orleans to see Aaron’s dad, Uncle Ray, and Aunt Anne.  On the seven hour trip west from Tallahassee, Clara asked me often if we were on our way to see Uncle Anne. 

I downloaded 99 pictures to the computer tonight—some from another trip to the beach and many from our trip to New Orleans. I have something like 30 pictures just of William’s face.

For now, because now is always too close to 10:30 p.m., here’s a few that capture the highlight of our visit.

I think Aaron’s dad said it had been twelve years since the last time he did it. He had a dream he was running again. Something about the dream, something about Aaron, something about the new shoes from the Academy sports superstore– something got these boys doing what I think Aaron has wanted to do together for a long time. They went for a jog and came back two, sweaty, happy messes.

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No, There Are No Lions at Petco

We are living in a time warp. Time has been warped. We are entering week two of the bit of summer within summer that comes without obligation.  We grocery shop on Tuesdays and shower three times a day and drink a beer with lunch.

The kids continue to ooze cuteness.  A couple days ago, we turned a trip for dog food at Petco into a real outing. We told Clara there would be animals. Goldfish, guinea pigs, gerbils—your general array of animals that swim and scurry. She said there would be lions. We said, okay, maybe, because you soon learn when and when not to correct a three-year-old. Whether there are alligators in the vent system or lions at Petco—those are when-nots. Once the fact of the lion was established, Clara insisted we bring band-aids. If we were off to visit a lion, we would need them, she said.

At Petco, we saw bearded dragons and lizards—all of which have tails. Clara then exclaimed, “I don’t have a tail. I have a vagina!” Yes, let’s make sure all of Petco knows that in the process of bathing you and your brother together, we have had the same conversation many times about the difference between boys and girls. Boys have tails and girls have vaginas.

Now with the pictures:

Below, I wrap up the visit to Tampa with a shot of Clara doing what she does best—manage her little brother.  She will often be playing in her room and suddenly shout, “Get my baby!” so that she can hide under the covers while he looks for her.

 

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Clara is potty-trained. She is. I mean, she pees in the toilet. And, she poops  in there once a week or so, too. Like, huge poops that clog our toilet and make me want to take their picture. She goes to school in her underwear. But . . .  the girl’s got a real thing for pull-ups and diapers. She now knows how to diaper herself, and likes to “be like her baby,” especially at night when we’re all exhausted.

Here are the still-in-size-four diaper twins. 

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It hasn’t stopped raining in Florida since May.  To work around the onslaught, we’ve been going to Tallahassee’s equivalent of Soldotna’s Jumpin’ Junction. Clara loves it.

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Last Wednesday, I had more than one person at once come to the house. I hosted our book club, and did silly little book club things like buy fancy crackers and completely impractical punch bowls. But, then they all come over, a lot of them with their pregnant bellies, and we talk about the book for five minutes before we talk about other things. They tell me my house looks great, I tell them they look great, we swap stories about our kids, we betray small reservations, we drink wine and eat strawberries. I love women.

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And I love that guy down there, too. He is five or six times wrapped around the finger of his sweet girl. She is going to be so strong, so giving, because of her daddy’s love; I see it already.

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The rain stops for nothing and no one—not even for independence. The fireworks shows were cancelled, so Aaron did a last minute run for the “Just for Kids” firework set. We swatted mosquitos and lit sparklers. A fuel-efficient SUV with a dog gate. A pretty little girl who has everything she needs. A baby who doesn’t stop smiling. A camera with a good lens. It’s taken awhile, but I am comfortable with my freedoms.

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Still swimming in rain, we had no choice but to go underground.  We went to the Florida caverns and did not see bears.

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Clara is wearing one of my old sweatshirts here, back when unicorns were cool.

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Aaron has been working with Clara on writing her name. He picked up some preschool books and they spend thirty-minutes or so a day working through opposites and letters. My mom also ordered the Highlight magazine for Clara, which she adores (thanks, MomSmile)

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Oh, and my little dumpling. My little makes-every-cliché-make-sense little boy; the apple of my eye; the twinkle in my smile. William loves fruit and yogurt and noodles and graham crackers and not vegetables.  I remember being really worried about what Clara would and wouldn’t eat around a year old, so I’m trying not to worry that William won’t eat snow peas even when he can chew them.

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To round off the weekend and just about every night, Clara has to do dishes.

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Why You Should Hire a Mother

A couple weeks ago I heard a news segment on the salary disparities between men and women. Apparently, women make as much or a little more than men until their childbearing years. At that point, many businesses refuse to hire or promote, often shamelessly, women with children or with the potential for children.

Since that news segment, I have been thinking about the reasons why I make a better employee as a mother than I did as an unencumbered twenty-five year old.

1. The Truth about Multi-Tasking

Everyone knows mothers change the laundry while filling sippy cups with milk while scooping up the one-year-old clamoring at their calves while yelling “Don’t forget to wipe!”. But this isn’t the multi-tasking that truly characterizes the mothering experience. Mothers are constantly multi-tasking and compartmentalizing strong, emotional pulls on their time. I want to be an assistant principal one day. I want to be a giving, loving wife who says things like “Absolutely!”  I want to laugh with my kids. I want to exercise just enough so my legs won’t chaff when I go to the beach. I want to go the beach. And, in the process of holding on to all these wants, I’ve learned how to almost physically take one want, lift it up, set it aside for awhile so I can concentrate on another one. Mothers know how to clear their minds and concentrate.

2. When You’re a Mother, Everyone Looks Like a Baby

Yesterday a bedraggled older man was walking through the rain and pushing a cart of groceries through the grass on the side of the road. He seemed to be arguing out loud with himself. He looked hostile and determined, and all I could think was, how do babies become adults? This unhappy man was a baby once; likely, someone blew raspberries on his baby belly  and kissed the tops of his ears. He was rocked and held and loved. Now, he is a man who has to push a grocery cart of soaking wet food through an unkempt ditch on the side of the road.

As a mother, I look for tenderness everywhere. I am ready to forgive anyone. I am ready to feel and cry at any time. In the work place, I see a lot of people who like to pick fights. They like to exaggerate differences. They like to capitalize on others’ weaknesses. Where others might want to dissect and destroy, a mother will want to understand.

In a way, this reminds me of Aaron’s truck. Sometimes, it is a messy place to be. There are coffee cups, punctured Ziploc bags of cheerios, junk mail, saxophone reeds strewn about. In the past, if I were get into the truck in such a state, which didn’t happen very often, I might feel a strong compulsion to wipe my mouth with a napkin and leave the napkin in a crumpled mess on the passenger seat. A mess tends to be a magnet for more mess. People can be messy, too, and sometimes I think cleaner people take satisfaction in dirtying what is already dirty. We step on people who look stepped on.

But, as a mom, you are not so much solving problems all the time as you are always cleaning up messes. You look at a dirty truck or a troubled life or a difficult situation and it is instinctual to help. Mothers rarely knowingly make a bad situation worse.

3. Mothers Know How to Party

A mother can be bogged down and worried about this month’s credit card balance, but she will bake a cake for her one-year-old and pull out the camera to capture the sticky, frosted smile he makes when he eats cake for the first (okay, fifth) time.  Before I was a mother, I underestimated the power of the party. Still, I don’t throw, and will never throw, large thematic enterprises that involve trains and Spanish-speaking cartoon characters. But, sometimes, it’s time to stop, click “Shut Down,” and eat cake. Mothers not only know how to change gears faster than anyone I know, but they know when the metaphorical car of life needs to be pushed into overdrive or down-shifted. I’ve worked in a place or two where the only thing missing was morale. The one and only thing that would do was a party. Mothers can sense when, in order to keep things going, it’s time to slow them down.

4. Mothers Still Think About Newtown, Connecticut

Confession: I used to sway Republican and didn’t believe in things like poverty and PTSD. Then I became a teacher and had close encounters of the third kind with both. The day after the shooting, I held my three-month-old William and swayed to the song “One Day” by Matisyahu. When I hear this song, I am returned to the greatest tragedy of the decade. I believe, after all the coverage of the shooting, it became a kind of trauma for me. In my dreams, I sometimes see faces of terrified children and they all have Clara’s brown eyes and they are all screaming, “Mommy.”

After the shooting, the Wakulla County police department thought it would be a good idea if they placed all of us teachers between the library and cafeteria and blew off a few rounds so we could hear the difference between an angry teenager shooting a gun and an angry teenager slamming a locker.

I stood there with my fellow English teachers, waiting for the fireworks. The guns sounded, and I immediately understood why some military veterans run for cover when they hear a car door close too loudly. As the shots rang over our heads, I saw and felt the ghosts of children running all around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw tiny arms flailing in fear. I was absolutely transported by sound. I didn’t even realize I was crying until a too-glib Math teacher said, “Well, it looks like you’ve never been hunting.”

As a mother, I seem to hold onto our history’s darkest moments in the pit of my belly, right around where I grew a baby. This does not make me afraid; it makes me a fighter.  In the work place, I see people fight for things they believe in, but what often distinguishes a mother is her ability to fight in such a way that she does not get lost in the adrenaline of the fight itself.

5. Mothers Want to Laugh

Eventually, you will find your child funny, and at that moment, you live a ridiculous life that absurdist playwright Samuel Beckett could only dream about. Today at the grocery story, Clara asked me if we need jelly. I said no, we didn’t need jelly. She said, “You’re a jelly!” I said, “What kind of jelly?” She said, “Strawberry!.” I said, “Well, you’re grape jelly.” She said she was peach jelly, not grape jelly. I said I was raspberry jelly. This, I recognize, is not funny, but we were bowled over in laughter next to the frozen pizzas.

It is not that mothers have a particularly keen sense of humor; it’s that we need humor more than most people. I have to find Clara funny because often I find her exasperating. The “No, Daddy do it! No, I don’t want Daddy do it! No, Mommy do it! No, I don’t like Mommy do it!” moments are tempered by real, head-tossing moments of hilarity.

Work is serious. For a lot of people, it is high stakes. I know when a mother applies for a job, she can look like a walking distraction and a lot of days off.  But, mothers are accustomed to not taking things personally. We are building a family, and most of us live in a communal, collaborative mindset. We innately want to play well with others. We work hard because our family depends on us and because we want to be an example for our children. These are powerful compulsions.  If you hire a mother, you hire someone capable of fierce commitment and tremendous empathy.

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