time

One of Parenting’s Saddest Truths

My husband loves Reddit. This morning, he told me about a thread and he said it was one of the saddest things he’s ever read.

The question was,”What is your favourite ‘technically correct’ fact?”

Someone responded: “At some point in your childhood, your parents put you down and never picked you up again.”

We had lots to do today—our weekend to-do list, thanks to a leaky basement, is fuller than usual.

And yet today, in particular, I noted how much we held our children.

We played airplane.

Snuggled, all four of us in bed (Sophie was down the street at a friend’s house).

The boys fell asleep on my lap (a rarity) while Andy grilled chicken for dinner.

Boredom. “Sit on my lap,” I said.

A stubbed toe. “Do you want to cuddle?” I asked.

“I’m tired,” said a small voice. “Here,” I said. “I’ll carry you.”

After dinner, before Sophie left with (another) friend down the street, I saw Andy swoop her up. She laughed. I smiled. And I know we both wondered, Is this the last? No, we both thought, silently.

But when?

“Our sweetest songs are those of saddest thought.” —Percy Bysshe Shelley

James & Owen’s 1st Day of Preschool

I have a lot I want to write right now but it’s too much. I can’t put my thoughts together. Sometimes, three-year periods bear little change. Others start with you in the NICU with two little people who—combined—weigh less than your cat and end with you watching them walk down your front walk wearing backpacks.

This picture pretty much sums up the morning. James has just found out that we aren’t going to be in preschool with him (we thought this had been made clear much earlier—apparently not). Owen (who is usually our more timid child) is thrilled.

Check out their personalized handmade backpacks. Andy’s aunt Susan made them by request—contact her here if you’d like backpacks, totes, diaper bags, clothes—she can make anything. (The boys love their backpacks. Thanks again, Aunt Susan.)

At one point Owen clenched his fists and just stood on our porch shaking his arms—he was so excited.

James is (sort of) smiling here only because I was making an absolute fool of myself in our front yard, trying to get him excited/cheer him up.

We drove.

James cried.

“Preschool will be fun, James. OK?” Owen said over and over again.

At Country Hills Montessori (the same preschool Sophie went to—the one we fell in love with) we were supposed to kiss, hug and go. Owen knew what to do as soon as he walked through the doors—where to put his backpack, where to wash his hands … Sophie had talked through all these steps with both Owen and James all summer long.

Owen didn’t look back.

James clung.

“What should we do?” I asked one of the teachers, who was at his level, holding her arms out to him.

“Kiss, hug and go,” she said.

So we did.

After I peeled his fingers off my wrist.

We heard the sound of his cry all the long walk back to our van.

(Parenting can be hard.)

The first day was only an hour long.

I spent it at Fort Thomas Coffee, with a latte, coffee cake and a copy of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings.

I have long designated this future kid-free time as time to work on my freelance projects, excited about the possibility of not editing at midnight. But today, this first day, I designated this time as mine.

I didn’t read, though. I wondered if James was still crying. I uploaded Instagrammed first-day-of-preschool pictures to Facebook. I wondered if either had had an accident. I ate my coffee cake. I wondered if James was still crying.

And then it was time to pick them up.

Mrs. Richter gave me a thumbs up while helping load another set of twins into a mini van in front of me.

They had done well.

They came out, all smiles and waves, wearing the same clothes I had sent them in, excited to tell me everything—excited to go back.

I thought of the NICU, the times I kissed, hugged and had to go. How hard that was. How hard this was. And then how OK and, ultimately, good it all was, too.

The night before, my parents stopped by for a last summer hurrah—Coney Island, Skyline, Graeters. My mom gave me a gift—a beautiful Liberty print handkerchief, with hand-rolled and hand-sewn edges. (It has since seen some use.) And a card, with this written on it:

“Opie: Cage sure looks awful empty don’t it Pa?

Andy: Yes son, it sure does. But don’t the trees seem nice and full?”

The Office

The final episode of “The Office” is on right now. Andy and I used to watch it religiously, every Thursday night. We stopped three years ago (Owen and James turn 3 Sunday). The show started soon after Andy and I were married. I was working at Popular Woodworking magazine at the time. One of my editors suggested we check out the British version—I gave it to Andy for Valentine’s Day (he gave me a book by David Sedaris).

I remember exactly where we sat on the couch in our house on Grant street, while watching it. The blanket I curled up under. Where Tucker slept. Thursday nights were our TV night. (We loved “ER,” too.)

Andy had this silly little dance that he used to do during the theme song—I loved it.

Before kids we routinely met friends at Arthur’s in Hyde Park on Thursday nights, for happy hour/dinner immediately after work. I always had a veggie burger, fries and a Blue Moon. I rarely drink beer and yet tonight I’m drinking a Blue Moon—I suppose my subconscious is being sentimental.

Much of the show I could relate to. Maybe it’s because my first job was writing for a business-to-business publication about, of all things, paper. Maybe it’s because cubicle work is cubicle work anywhere—so much of it resonates. Companies are companies, too. I remember watching an episode in which Michael hands out ice cream sandwiches to soften the blow of a new, expensive health care plan. If I remember correctly, the very next day the company I worked for handed out ice cream sandwiches to all the employees in an attempt to soften a different blow.

I watched episodes while pregnant. While sleep-deprived. Episodes interrupted 10 times while trying to persuade a little one to sleep. Episodes in full while thankful for routine and (mostly) guaranteed bedtimes.

And although there was the three-year-break, I’m watching now.

It’s not so much about the show. (When the last episode of Seinfeld aired I spent it sitting on top of a hill outside Ohio University, watching the sun set with a friend. And I love Seinfeld.) I think the sentimentality comes from the time that has passed. Eight years is a long time. All endings remind me of beginnings, and this is just another (small) one.

Sure, TV can be problematic. But it also allows these fictional stories to weave in and out of our lives for much longer than the length of a book or a play or a movie. I like that. Yes, there’s a lot of bad TV. But I’m also thankful to be able to disappear into these other lives and laugh, just laugh, for 20-some minutes once a week.

“When television is good, nothing is better. When it’s bad, nothing is worse.” —Newton N. Minow

An Extra 24 Hours, Please

I think I saw on Facebook or on a blog or in an article or something somewhere about someone lamenting that people don’t tell the truth online. That lives are depicted as rosy perfect when, in reality, things are often messy (sometimes a happy mess, yes, but messy nonetheless).

This is just one of the piles in my house. And note that this is the right side of the desk. The left side isn’t pictured. (Also, I think it’s funny that the blue pamphlet sticking out, the one about needing an oil change, says OVERDUE in bold.)

I have piles of folded clothes and unfolded clothes all over my bedroom.

I (finally!) found a corner TV stand on Craigslist. It’s in a pile of pieces, in the basement, waiting its next coat of paint. As such, our TV is on the floor in our living room and our window seat is covered in piles of DVDs, cords, players, speakers and whatnot. (Turns out I should have held onto our old TV stand a little longer before selling it.)

There are piles of train tracks in the boys’ room.

There are piles of dolls in Sophie’s room.

The playroom is pretty much a big pile of stuff in and of itself.

I have piles of freelance work to do.

I have piles of picture book queries to send out (thanks to the piles of rejections I’ve received).

I have piles of e-mails to respond to.

I have 21 saved voicemails on my cell phone and I’m pretty sure I saved them all simply because they needed something more from me.

I’m drowning.

I know, I know, I know. Playing with my kids is more important than a clean home. But I’m not talking about dust-free baseboards here. I’m talking about being able to walk through my bedroom without tripping.

So there you have it. My Wednesday morning truth.

I hope, at the very least, to be treading water soon.

We’ll see.

Right now, someone stole a train from someone else and that someone else is screaming like a banshee, threatening with a plastic dinosaur.

Off I go.

“He was swimming in a sea of other people’s expectations. Men had drowned in seas like that.” —Robert Jordan

TIME Healthland: Mother, Protector

I’m thrilled to share that TIME is going to occasionally feature some of my essays in the Healthland section of its website. My first one was posted today and you can read it here. Check it out!

“Writing is both mask and unveiling.” —E.B. White

“They Grow Up So Fast”

Turns out I’ve managed to screw up Sophie’s sense of time.

After celebrating Andy’s birthday with us, my parents took Sophie back to their house to spend the night. Sophie was watching Andy and my dad install her car seat in my parents’ car. Andy later told me that he and Sophie were talking about when she would be old enough to drive. He told her she had to be 16, and that 16 is 4, how old she is now, plus 4, which is 8, plus 4, which is 12, plus another 4, which is (finally) 16. She thought about this, and then said it would be even longer for the boys. Andy agreed, because the boys are only 2. “And because it’s going to take longer for them than it will for me,” Sophie said. “Why?” Andy asked. “Because Mommy said I’m growing up too fast.”

“An unhurried sense of time is in itself a form of wealth.” —Bonnie Friedman

One Year

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Watching “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” last year.

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Watching “The Grinch” this year.

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” —Rabindranath Tagore

Finding Time for Me, Specifically, My Hair

I’m still terribly behind updating my blog but, to be fair, I’m terribly behind on everything right now, including laundry, thank-you notes (they’re coming, I swear) and, well, my hair. Up until yesterday, I had not had a haircut since early March—before we moved, before the boys were born, before I was put on bed rest. For some women, four months between haircuts isn’t uncommon. But I have big hair. And when I don’t get it cut, I have really big hair. So yesterday I took advantage of the fact that Andy had had some child-free time the night before with friends to have some of my own child-free time and I headed out to Pump Salon for a much-needed cut and color.

Never before have I had a more embarrassing haircut.

Thankfully, Nicholena, who cuts my hair, recently had a second child of her own and was more than understanding.

Here’s what happened:

1. As Nicholena applied color to my hair she found not one, not two, but three (three!) I-kid-you-not dreadlocks in my hair.

Now, to be fair, you should know that I have curly hair. I can’t brush it. If I were to brush it, it would be huge. Instead I wash, condition and run my fingers through it. Styling involves several handfuls of mousse and a ridiculous amount of Frizz-Ease hairspray. I never blow dry. So the fact that I had three small sections of terribly tangled hair isn’t all that unreasonable. But still, I was mortified.

Lately, showers have been hard to come by. And when I do shower, I throw on clothes and then tend to whomever needs tended to while my hair starts frizzing and getting bigger and bigger, drying without product. Not wanting to live with a huge head of hair all day I usually find time to take a 30-second break to apply mousse and hairspray. Throughout the next few days I haphazardly place bobby pins to hold curls that pop loose. And then, eventually, I find 10 minutes to shower again.

Nicholena was awesome. She acted like she finds dreadlocks in curly hair all the time (I’m sure she doesn’t). And she painstakingly combed each one out. I’m thankful she didn’t have to cut them out.

2. Once the color was applied I got to sit on a comfy chair with my feet propped up on an ottoman. I flipped through Glamour, Cincinnati Magazine and Allure. And then I fell asleep. Minutes (seconds?) later I woke up to find the back of my right hand covered in hair dye. Apparently I was propping my head on my hand and my head, in my sleep-deprived-nap state, slipped. I’m looking at the stain on my hand as I type this. Yes, it probably would come out if I showered but remember, I don’t have time to shower.

3. As Nicholena washed the dye out of my hair I felt her pulling. And pulling. And pulling. Pulling ridiculous amounts of hair. Out. Of. My. Head. Apparently postpartum hair loss is normal. And thankfully, I have a lot of hair so losing a lot doesn’t do much. Yet it’s still quite embarrassing to see your hairdresser clutching fistfuls of your hair. Nicholena reminded me over and over that it’s normal but did admit she was amazed. Sorry, Andy. I’m sure there’s going to be some shower drain unclogging in your future.

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I love the cut and color. As well as the expensive deep-conditioning shampoo and conditioner I bought in an attempt to keep the whole dreadlock thing from ever happening again. And I have to believe (or at least hope) I’m not the first new mom any of this has happened to. And, I suppose, in a not so pleasant way the experience did remind me that even though things are crazy busy for me right now it’s OK and good and necessary to take time for me or else, I expect, more than my hair will end up in tangles.

“Hair brings one’s self-image into focus; it is vanity’s proving ground. Hair is terribly personal, a tangle of mysterious prejudices.” —Shana Alexander