Book Nerd (to the 43rd power)

The pieces of me–my love for writing and running, my need to sing off key at every song on the radio, my penchant for remembering lines to movies and bits of songs I haven’t heard in years–make me who I am. I honor myself by making time to do things I love, so that my daughter sees the woman who shapes her world as a whole person.

I grew up in a household where motherhood meant absolute sacrifice. My mom gave her all, every day, to care for me and my sister. As much as I scrounge around in the bits and fragments of childhood memories, I don’t remember my mom ever doing something just for herself. Not once.

I wish my mom had known that the whole maternal sacrifice thing… well, it’s kind of bullshit.*

I give my daughter access to all that I am. But the pieces of me–my love for writing and running, my need to sing off key at every song on the radio, my penchant for remembering lines to movies and bits of songs I haven’t heard in years–make me who I am. I honor myself by making time to do things I love, so that my daughter sees the woman who shapes her world as a whole person. Because I am. A full, glorious, flawed, incredibly enthusiastic person.

The one place where that ability to create space for the things I love hasn’t translated is reading. That’s right. Reading. I love to read. More than I love to do almost anything. Consequently, I feel guilty when I do it. There’s this subconscious voice that kicks in that tells me to stop screwing around, to do something productive. There’s something deep down in my soul that believes I don’t deserve that kind of unadulterated pleasure.

So this year, my 43rd year, I am laying down that reading guilt. I’m going to set it free because it does not serve me. And I am going to fully embrace my love of reading. So much so that I am going to read 43 books this year.

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That’s right. Go big or go home, baby.

I’m already reading 3 different books. At one time. So my very first step is, well, you know, to finish one of those. And, yes, they count even if I started reading them before I turned 43… because I am the decider.

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Here’s where you get to play along. Got a book recommendation? Drop it in the comments. I love to explore new authors, new genres… and I’m willing to try almost anything you think is good.

Here’s to uncovering all my book nerd glory in year 43.

 

 

*And by that, I mean it’s unnecessary to being a good mother. My mom’s sacrifice for us was real. It’s one she feels even now. And while I love and appreciate her, I needed to find another way for myself.

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

That First Cup of Coffee

I love mornings: the sun’s slow, upward climb; the quiet; the COFFEE. But I don’t wake up perky. It’s a little fuzzy in my brain first thing in the morning. And I’m real sleepy until that first cup of coffee.

I love mornings: the sun’s slow, upward climb; the quiet; the COFFEE. But I don’t wake up perky. It’s a little fuzzy in my brain first thing in the morning. And I’m real sleepy until that first cup of coffee. Here’s a visual representation of my mental state first thing in the morning:

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But that’s fine. Because Simon sleeps later than I do. And after a cup of coffee (and a quick browse through social media), I’m all like this:

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But there’s one wild card in this morning situation: JANE. Jane wakes up like a shooting star every morning. She hops out of bed and greets the world with all the sunshine, rainbows, and sparkles she can muster. It’s A LOT of perk. Trust me.

And she gets up early. Really early. 6 a.m. early. Even on the weekends. I know. I know. I’ve tried to reason with her. She just can’t help herself. She’s SO EXCITED TO BE ALIVE.

So, when it comes to forging a bit of quiet time for myself in the morning–and believe this: I am a MUCH better mother after that first cup of coffee–I have to get up early. 5:30 a.m. to be exact. That gives me half an hour to wake up in the relative quiet (the dog snores, so there’s that) before facing the day (and other people).

Years ago, this was my everyday practice: up before the kid so I could have coffee and be charming and whatnot. But Jane & I, we know each other well. So well that sometimes it’s uncanny. (Like I really think sometimes she can read my mind. I wish I was joking. SO not joking).

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Jane can sense when I get up (the squeaky hardwood floors probably clue her in, too). When she was young, and not yet as familiar with the ways of the world (and the moods of her mother), she used to come in and climb on me when I was trying to have quiet time–which by it’s very nature is child-free time.

But this morning, I heard her get up. And slam her bedroom door shut. And slam the bathroom door shut. (She means nothing by all this slamming. It’s just her way). Then I heard her stomp into the kitchen like a baby buffalo, where she commenced slamming cabinets making her lunch.

And never, not once, did she venture into the living room where quiet time had commenced. She did not bother, pester, or annoy. She did not ask to cuddle, tell a story, or launch into a million questions about the day ahead. She just let me be.

When I wandered into the kitchen to greet her, I was all full of sunshine, happiness, and good-mother-vibes. Because coffee. And love.

All of this is apropos of pretty much nothing–except to say that the children, they are trainable. Don’t give up. Just keep loving them, redirecting them, and drinking just as much coffee as it takes.

 

This is My Life, Right Now.

This is my life, RIGHT NOW. Because, good or bad… it’s fleeting. I’ll just stay where my feet are & take it as it comes.

On Tuesday after school (and immediately following a two hour long playdate with one of her besties), I scurried Jane in the door to change clothes so we could head to a dine-out fundraiser for her school. A bunch of her friends & their parents planned to go. So, even though I wasn’t going to eat there (I had plans with my own bestie later on), I was going to earn my Gold Star for selfless motherhood by taking her into an incredibly chaotic dining situation.

Apparently, martyrdom doesn’t look good on me. Because, when Jane emerged from her room and declared herself ready, I turned around to find her wearing chickens.

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No. Not that kind of chicken.

You see, what had happened was… sometime during the summer (when it is in the mid 90s and humid as hell everyday because THE SOUTH), Jane bounded out of her room dressed for camp in leggings. As if it were Fall.

WHA???

Now, usually I can get down with the Natural Consequences of (stupid) behavior. But when one of the Natural Consequences might be heat stroke, then that’s just a hard NO from me.

I told her to change. She freaked the fuck out had a different opinion. As we were discussing this, Jane’s Bobby came flying out of our room (where he’d been sleeping because it was only 6:30 a.m.) and asked what the tussle was about. He was planning to rescue me by a) listening to Jane, then b) telling her to pull herself together and do as her mother says. (Because he’s an excellent co-parent).

Except that Jane was all worked up and Bobby was still half-asleep, so she’s explaining herself and he interrupts and says, “You want to wear CHICKENS to camp?!”

I died. Right there. CHICKENS!!

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Since then, we’ve had approximately 1 TRILLION battles about wearing chickens at the tail end of summer. And I know we’re supposed to pick our battles. But hell if I didn’t pick this one. So when she rolled out in chickens AGAIN, it was the last straw.

“Oh, no,” I said slowly, sizing her up. “You did NOT.”

“This is what I’m wearing,” she said, staring back at me in her defiant 7 year old way.

Aw, naw… now its a CHICKEN THROWDOWN.

“Bring me all the chickens. Every last pair. And I swear, if you somehow find a chicken I didn’t collect and you put that chicken on, I SWEAR I will make you take it off and I will march out of this house and find another kid to give that chicken to. DO YOU HEAR ME?”

“Yes, ma’am,” she mumbled. Because even when she’s acting like an asshat, she remembers to say “yes ma’m.” (Because THE SOUTH)

So, now I have a pile of chickens leggings in my closet, awaiting October 15th (when Jane may once again take possession of her chickens).

THIS is my life, right now.


On Sunday morning, Jane asked me if I would take her running on the Beltline. Sunday morning was cool and beautiful, and I loved that she asked… so I took her.

I let her set her own running goals. I ran beside her, cheering her along. She smashed every goal she set. And she sprinted at the end of each run–so fast I couldn’t keep up with her. We made folks on the Beltline giggle, with my cussing under my breath trying to catch up with my lightening quick 7 year old, and her absolute glee at beating me on every sprint. (I did get close once, though. I swear.)

We stopped to take pictures a couple times. I wanted to preserve everything about that unexpectedly amazing Sunday morning. I was just so proud of her. And she was all sunlight and happiness. It was the best, most purely wonderful time with my sweet kid.

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THIS is my life, right now.

3 Ways Adults Ruin Everything

Being a kid is INTENSE. As adults, we have this bizarre tendency to reminisce over the simplicity of childhood. After two days of full immersion in elementary school culture (and three more days to go), I remember now–being a kid is hard as hell. And adults don’t always make it easier. 

Being a kid is INTENSE. As adults, we have this bizarre tendency to reminisce over the simplicity of childhood. After two days of full immersion in elementary school culture (and three more days to go), I remember now–being a kid is hard as hell. And adults don’t always make it easier.

3 Ways Adults Ruin Everything

Adults act like things are common sense–when they don’t make sense at all. This week is the  Scholastic Buy One, Get One Free Book Fair. It’s AMAZING. Kids can spend $5 and leave with two spellbinding stories. Books on dragons? Got ’em. Books featuring ass-kicking princesses? Got ’em. Graphic novels, historical fiction, picture books, bestsellers… the book fair can magically coax excitement into even the most reluctant reader.

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But buy one, get one free? Yeah, kids don’t get it. Invariably, every hour or so, a kid wants to argue with me about why they should be able to buy a book that costs $2.50 and get the $25 Chrystal Making Kit free. Why would they want to pay for the more expensive one?  It’s buy ONE, get ONE free… no one ever said which one they had to buy (even though we did. Over & over, we painstakingly explained that the more expensive book is the one they’ll have to buy. But capitalism is NOT common sense, it seems. Maybe we should call it “Buy the most expensive book, get another maybe-kinda-interesting-but-not-exactly-your-dream-book free.” But that doesn’t have a very good ring to it, I suppose).

And while they’re dealing with the frustration of not getting what they want, adults continue to walk around smugly like this all makes good sense. Like just because they explained it, it is fair. Kid verdict: UNFAIR.

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Adults act like it’s no big deal when kids get their feelings hurt. I try to teach Jane how to shake things off, how to bounce back from hurt feelings and squabbles with her friends. But just watching the ebb and flow of kid relationships over the course of a day is exhausting–and these aren’t even my relationships. Now wonder Jane comes home completely worn out after school.

Today, I wandered out on the playground and bumped into a friend of Jane’s. He was sweaty from running around–and he looked completely dejected. I knelt down, eye-to-eye with him, to figure out what was up. Jane, it seems, had kissed someone else. Then she told him they couldn’t have a playdate anymore. Man.

I totally shelved the mommy reaction to “Jane was kissing someone else” and asked if he & Jane had an argument. (He hung his head & and shook it almost imperceptibly) I assured him that he & Jane would work things out (I was right. He was the last kid Jane hugged before she left for the day). But, whoa, Jane’s kissing treachery tore this little guy up. The idea of losing that playdate with Jane devastated him.

So much hangs on one word, one interaction.

While all this was going on, one of Jane’s friends approached me, close to tears, because her Principal’s Award medal had fallen apart, and she’d lost the medal. I felt the little twinge in my stomach I used to get when I was a kid and something was very, very wrong. I helped her and Jane look for it. Then I promptly marched my full-grown self to  the powers that be to inquire about a replacement. There’s a time and a place for lessons to be learned. But nobody is trying to learn lessons on the last week of school–over a medal they worked for all year. Nobody that I know, at least.

Adults act like they know everything. Adults, we’re busy people. We try to connect with kids over things that are important to us, not to them. We talk over them. We can be really shitty listeners. Sometimes, I’m guilty of this, too. But at the book fair, my whole job is to help kids find books that they will love. My secret goal is to make enthusiastic readers out of all of them. Every one. So, I listen a lot. I ask questions, about their hobbies, their families, their interests. Then I get to work bringing them books. I’m always looking for that magic spark, that book that makes them light up. It doesn’t happen every time. But the times it does… whoa. Amazing.

But no matter if I find them the perfect book or not, they remember me. At school, I’m either The Book Fair Lady or Jane’s mom. Kids run up to me and tell me exciting things happening to them (and sometimes sad things, too). They give me hugs. One girl who I’d seen in book fair but don’t really know came skidding across the linoleum floor to show my the two books she’d finally chosen at book fair (both Diary of a Wimpy Kid). She was beaming. And looking for me to share her joy. I love that connection.

Kids know a lot more than we give them credit for. They know how to connect without overthinking it. Kids may be snarky, silly, germy, chatty, snotty, and squirmy–but they crave connection & love. And they return love so much more freely than adults. It’s humbling (and maybe a little life-giving) to be in the presence of that kind of love.

I admire the professionals who work day in and day out with kids–loving them, teaching them, guiding them. That dedication and commitment kind of takes a special type of person. (That’s TOTALLY not me) But I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to exist in the kids’ world for a bit, to alter my perspective, and to remember the truths I’ve forgotten about childhood.

I’m a much better adult when I remember what it’s like to be a kid.

 

Photo Cred: Lufti Gaos, Kiana Bosman, Wang Xi, and Patricia Prudent on Unsplash

Just Do You. Brilliantly.

I sort of threw Jane in dance so I’d have an extra day to work past 2:30 pm. She seemed to like it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if Jane likes an activity or just likes hanging with her friends. I don’t begrudge her that. I like to hang with my friends, too. And if she’s hanging while she’s doing pirouettes or what-the-hell-ever, so much the better.

My kid loves to perform. Singing? Oh, the girl sings. It’s like living in a musical in our house. Acting? She recreates scenes from movies, shows, the play they performed at school—all the time. Playing the piano? She practices without being asked. She’s seven. WHO IS THIS CHILD?!?

Dance, though. Dance is one of those after school activities that I sort of threw her in so I’d have an extra day to work past 2:30 pm. You know, more like a normal person. She seemed to like it. But sometimes it’s hard to tell if Jane likes an activity or just likes hanging with her friends. I don’t begrudge her that. I like to hang with my friends, too. And if she’s hanging while she’s doing pirouettes or what-the-hell-ever, so much the better.

Yesterday, Jane had her big dance recital—in front of the whole school. Let me stop right here. I would have lost my shit if, at 7 years old, anyone had asked me to do anything in front of the entire school. Hell, I’m 42 years old, and the idea of standing up in front of almost 600 elementary aged kids makes me want to puke. But Jane, she was excited. So excited she thought she might EXPLODE, she informed me later.

I love and am fascinated by this child in equal measure.

Jane knew every single move to the tap dance. Of course. She knew every move, but something seemed off. She was doing it right. But she didn’t seem to be feeling it. The little girl next to her was living this dance.

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Jane, not so much. She was doing it right. But it looked like it was taking every bit of her concentration. She was not one with the dance.

My first instinct: “Well, we can cut this out of the rotation next year.” I mean, we can only do so many activities. Dancing isn’t her strongest showing, so I thought… eh, we’ll try something different next year.

On the way to the car, I ran into the owner of the dance company. We chatted about how much Jane enjoyed the class. Then I mentioned that Jane seemed to be struggling to connect the moves, that dancing didn’t seem to come easily to her. The woman’s expression softened: “How wonderful that she embraces something that pushes her out of her comfort zone. She keeps pushing, even though it’s hard for her.”

Oh.

Right here is why other loving, supportive adults are crucial in child-rearing. Because obviously having Jane do something she doesn’t excel at is a great idea. It teaches perseverance and empathy (not everyone can be good at everything, after all). And the experience itself far outweighs the importance of tap dancing like Shirley Temple.

I’d gotten schooled about my own kid. It was humbling.

But this lesson about experience over performance is one I’ve already had to learn. Jane’s experience in dance mirrors my experience in running. I am not a great runner. I will never qualify for Boston. I rarely place in my age group. I might place third in my age group—if only three people my age run the race. I have friends that I’d love to run with. But I can’t. I’m not fast enough. Can’t keep up.

Nevertheless, I love to run.

For a brief moment, I almost let the fact that I’m not very good at running push me out of the sport. I got real caught up in times and placing in races and PRs. And it stopped being fun. Because I was trying to be a runner that I’m not. That sucks.

So why should Jane be a dancer she’s not?

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I tell Jane all the time that exactly who she is is enough. It’s perfect, in fact. Whether she’s the best dancer on the stage matters not a whit. I want her to do what she loves–to do her best, soak up experiences, and just be herself.

I run.

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She dances.

And we’re both brilliant at enjoying the experience.

The Riddle of Motherhood

Mothering is sacred work. I pour every ounce of goodness & light I have into this child. But what about the broken parts of me that need mothering, too?

Mothering is sacred work. I pour every ounce of goodness and light I have into this child:

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And she deserves it all. Every bit of it.

But so do I.

Inside me, there are broken bits that still need a good deal of mothering. I am in recovery, after all—and I certainly didn’t end up in recovery because of my stellar coping skills or my superb choices. I ended up there because my spirit was crushed, and I was trying to hide that pain from the world, but mostly from myself.

I’ve committed a good deal of this past decade to mending my broken spirit, to making amends—to myself and to other people–and to moving past regret into whole-hearted living. And, for the most part, it’s been a brilliant success, this thing called living my life. I’ve been lifted out of that dark place into some dazzlingly sunshiney place makes me feel hella grateful every day.

But still.

Sometimes I am hit by a memory of something I did or said that lands like a gut-punch. And I’m engulfed in regret. Or sometimes I’ll make a mistake—an honest one, born of nothing but good intentions with maybe a mix of a little carelessness—and the questioning of my worth will commence. Sometimes I still brush up against the parts of me that remain fractured, that threaten to break under the strain of life, memory, hurt.

And I do the same thing with myself that I would do with Jane. I embark on the sacred task of mothering. It really is the only way out. I turn all that kindness, compassion, and love back onto myself. I’m gentle with myself when prodding the parts that hurt. I give myself the grace to make mistakes, because I am learning. I reassure myself that my worth isn’t born out of my deeds, but out of the sheer fact of my existence. I was created from the divine, remain a part of it, and am inherently worthy of love.

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I tell myself the very things I tell Jane.

I say them because they are true. True for her. True for me. True for everyone.

The sacred work of mothering doesn’t always have to do with birthing or raising children. It is about helping the world heal a little bit at a time, starting with yourself. It’s nurturing. And loving. It’s seeing in other people something beautiful, special, divine—and knowing the same magic exists in you. It’s giving love freely–and learning to finally, finally accept it in return.

 

 

Just Breathing Out Lovingkindness Over Here

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog.

This morning was a shit show.

There. I said it. It has now been said. Shit show.

It’s not really Jane’s fault. Not entirely.

I mean, she was glaring at me like she’d gone and lost all her good sense. My mistake? Offering to make her sandwich and put it in the green container.

HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL. NOT THE GREEN CONTAINER.

Apparently, she preferred the pink container. Which she let me know by stomping on the floor. And glaring over her shoulder.

So I told her to make her own damn sandwich. (Note: I did not actually say damn out loud. But I said it real, real loud in my head. I think she could probably hear it) She huffed and puffed while she made her sandwich. I took my coffee and my English muffin to the other side of the kitchen, where her huffing was muted by the snorting of the dog. (She’s a boxer. Short snout. Sometimes breathing = snorting)

My kid’s stomping, glaring, and huffing. My dog is snorting and banging into me trying to chase her toy. Me? I’m serene. Breathing out lovingkindness.

Okay, really, I’m ignoring the hell out of everyone around me, focusing on my coffee, and trying my best not to lose my shit.

But here’s proof miracles happen: I did not yell. Not once.

Miracle before 8 a.m.? Check.

And now, annoyingly, I feel like I need to be thankful, because even though this morning was 60% sucky, by the time I dropped Jane at school we were laughing & singing “Armadillo by Morning.” (It’s not a typo… we really do sing “armadillo” instead of “Amarillo.” Whatever. we think it’s hysterical.)

Yesterday morning did not go nearly as well.

What the hell’s going on over here? Yeah. Simon flew the coop this week…something about a work trip, yada-yada-yada. What I heard: “I’ll be gone for almost a week. Good luck managing our kid who becomes a complete asshat when I leave town because she misses me so much. Huzzah!” That’s just a paraphrase, though.

Jane & I are managing. But I’m adding this to my ever-growing list of reasons I’m glad that Simon & I stuck out this marriage thing: He’s a kick-ass Bobby. And Jane loves him so much.

So do I. (But seriously, if I hear one inkling about a work trip any time soon…)