Sunday, January 10, 2016

changes.

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Some days it’s just about getting out of bed and thinking that this day is going to be better than the day before. It has to be. Some days are hard. This last week was full of new people, new routines, and so many new things that opened my eyes. This last week was hard. These last few months have been hard. Some of the hard stuff was my doing. Some was not. Some I will talk about in time. Some I will not. And most of it, in the end, is not my story solely to tell.
Last week I met a mother from Ethiopia. At 30, she has seven children. She walks from her home nearly 3 miles away from my new school with her youngest child in a sling, strapped to her person. Some days are just too cold for her to bring her child to school. Some days are just too hard. Last week I watched the ladies I work with provide warm coats and food to the children who would need them the most in the coming days. This was a victory.
Last week I watched a teacher bathe a child who hadn’t had a bath in weeks. Last week I learned of a 17-year-old mother who was so proud of the trip she took to the library with her toddler over Christmas break. This was a victory. Some days the things we think are hard are not really all that hard. Last week I waited with a child for her school bus to come take her from my school to another so that she could get the services she needs. She is nearly blind. She has glasses, but someone forgot them. She has leg braces, but someone forgot those, too. But. This day she was at school and she was happy. This was a victory.
Last week I went from teaching children in this city’s highest economic bracket, to being in a school that serves the most at risk families in our community. Last week was hard. Not so much for me, even though it was easy to mistakenly think it was just that. I got to come back to my warm home. To my children who love me. I got to buy groceries and cook a nice meal for my girls tonight.  This weekend, however, as nice as it was, wouldn’t let me forget what I had to go back to tomorrow. Something has changed. In five days, something has changed in me and I know now that I am right where I need to be.
Tomorrow will be hard. I will wake up earlier than I’m used to waking. I will juggle kids’ schedules and try to make sure everyone is happy even when things are changing all around us. Tomorrow life will be hard. And then, I will get some perspective, and realize that things are going to be ok. Even if it takes a while. And that is a victory.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

why I write.

Today around the table we read Terry Tempest Williams' manifesto, "I write..." It's a lovely piece, made more lovely when 15 different voices read it aloud, one sentence at a time. We then asked people to describe themselves as a writer. Here's mine.


I write to quiet the voices in my head. I also write what those voices tell me. I write to make sense of my world.  I write so that things stop making so much sense. I write because I can’t ever recall not needing to write. I write because I love the sound of my fingers on the keyboard, almost like an angry dance. I write because I need a way for my girls to know what was going on in my head when they were young. I write because no one did that for me and I really could have used it. I write because it helps me process, predict, perceive. I write because it seems like a better use of time than television or movies. I write because it’s like music to me. I write in the hopes that I’ll create at least one amazing sentence. I write because I love words. I write because I’m having an ongoing love affair with language. I write because I like combining words. Word salad. I write because it calms me. I write because it centers me. I write because it is much like mental yoga. I write because I’m angry. I write because I’m lost. I write because I don’t know how to say these things out loud to you. I write because I need to be heard. I write because I’m afraid to be heard. I write because therapy is expensive. I write because good bourbon is expensive, too. I write because I want to connect with my past. I write because I want to disconnect with my past. I write to look ahead. I write because the pen and paper were my first friends. I write because I like to maintain good friendships. I write because it is who I am. I write because sometimes I don’t know what else to do.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

the worst metaphor you'll ever hear. today.

Yesterday, we asked the participants at the Summer Institute to do some writing about themselves as readers. I've just decided to challenge myself to publish more writing here. So, here you go...here's my reading story. About peanut butter.


Ted’s lunch today caused me to consider peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. People have serious opinions on the pb&j, far beyond liking or disliking them. For example, my girls prefer my distribution of peanut butter – extra thick,  and spread all the way to the crust. But they also prefer my husband’s distribution of jelly – sloppy and globby, much more liberal than my taste allows me to recreate for them. I saw Ted’s pb&j and thought about how, much like sandwiches, we all have such differing opinions in our reading. I know, bear with me here. I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. Reading was an integral part of every single day growing up, whether we read together on laps, or alone in bedrooms under covers, stealing extra reading time with a flashlight in hand. Much like a good a good layer of peanut butter, reading for me has been something to get stuck in, to take all the way to the edges, and to devour slowly. I suppose, like jelly, reading can also be messy at times. When those purple globs escape the bread and land on your shirt, they can stain. A good book stays with you like the stains of grape jelly. Is there any other kind?
Like my opinion on peanut butter distribution, I find that I have strong opinions on what I read. Probably I’m also judging what you read, too, just so you know. I’m a fan of female writers. I’m not sure why this is, but until my recent discovery of Jonathan Tropper, my fiction reading has mostly been limited to female authors – with the exception of Wally Lamb and Stephen King. I prefer fiction to non. I dislike historical fiction, but could be swayed on this with the right book. I refuse self help books. I refuse certain trendy books. Take your 50 shades far away from me. I love a good, angsty young adult novel. Bring me back to being 16 and in love for the first time and I’m sold, hands down.
When I think about myself as a reader, I think about how some of my most favorite times have been spent reading: on the beach, in the early mornings before anyone else is awake, when I was pregnant with both girls, and struck with the worst insomnia I’ve ever experienced, and on those nights when anxiety leaves me sleepless. A good book can always take me to someplace different and help to clear my head.
When I consider myself as a reader, I now also consider how to share my love of reading with my girls, and with my students. I have to get out of my comfort zone a little when they come to me with books they want to read. I refrain from making too many comments, if I comment at all, for fear that I would crush their interest. That’s hard for me, as you might guess. I want my kids to enjoy reading as much as I do, and so far that hasn’t happened quite like I imagined it would. Maybe it’s just being a kid today. Maybe there’s too many other distractions. I’m not sure, but if all I can do is continue modeling my love of books for them, then that is what I will do.
Humor me with this metaphor for one more moment, if you will. I don’t often allow myself a good, gooey pb&j. Too many calories, too much sugar.  But it’s my favorite sandwich, the most comforting of foods, I think. Much like a good pb&j has provided that comfort to me during times of need, getting lost in a good book can do the same.

Monday, June 8, 2015

40 isn't old...if you're a tree

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Today I asked Lucy to write an introduction to share with the class I’m co-facilitating this summer. Each year we ask the participants to introduce themselves. Each year I struggle with this first assignment, but this year it was particularly hard for me to even start.  It’s not like I’m not an open book.  I mean, sure, I have things that I keep to myself, but for the most part I’m an oversharer. Yep, that’s a word. Often I will run into people who will say, “your kids are so funny!” or, “I saw you went to X restaurant, how was it?”  I don’t often have a filter, and I’m happy to share my opinions on just about everything. Your Crocs are disgusting, by the way.
I think this introduction is overshadowed by my 40th birthday on Thursday. I have started considering myself in terms of that birthday. Who am I at 40? What have I done so far?  People who are older than me laugh and tell me it’s not a big deal at all. I would like to say that 40 isn’t a big deal…and in a lot of ways it isn’t. I do think I get smarter every year. I am so glad to not be in my 20s, but 40 just seems so big.  I remember my dad turning 40. I was just about Lucy’s age, and someone gave him a tshirt that read, “40 isn’t old…if you’re a tree.” I’ve been thinking about that shirt a lot lately. I think I’ve done pretty well for 40.  Sometimes I look around and think about how glad I am to be me. I’ve learned to really like myself over the years. But that took me most of my 40 years, and I’m still working on it every single day.
I get introspective around my birthdays, and this year is no exception. At 36, I wrote about not caring so much anymore about my weight. I wrote about traveling more and starting my masters degree. At 40, I’ve learned that I can carry that extra weight without worrying so much, but that I can also be strong and healthy, and that 4 herniated discs doesn’t mean I can’t also be fit…it just looks different that it did at 20.  In the last 4 years, I’ve traveled all over the country, and a lot of that traveling has been solo. In fact, the thing that’s probably changed more than anything over the last 4 years is that I appreciate those moments of alone time more than I ever thought I would. I also care less about what other people think of me. So much less.
What’s next? Maybe that’s the biggest thing about 40. I have always been working toward something bigger, and this year, despite the big birthday, I’m not sure what that next thing is. Maybe this is the year I’ll start writing more for publication and not just for myself. It’s weird to put that on paper, but I read stuff all the time that I think I should have written and I know I can do more. Maybe this is the year I take up yoga and get my spine in order. Perhaps this is the year I get a part time job at that shop I love so much simply because I can. Maybe I look into what it takes to be a sommelier. What? I like wine more than just drinking it…really. I feel like this is going to be an interesting year for me. I don’t know what it will be, but when I go to write my introduction next year, I know somehow it will be different.
Here’s Lucy’s, in case you want to know how my kid would introduce her mama:
“Kate is a 40 year old teacher. She teaches preschool at village church. Kate got her masters Degree in 2013. She is very smart and funny. Kate says no quite a bit, in fact its been a long time since she has said yes. Her least favorite word is moist. I see her writing a lot and she Sighs a lot while she writes even if she is writing something happy. Anyway, your going to really like her.” 
 I hope she's right.

Monday, May 18, 2015

ten...



Ten years ago today I was just Kate. I wasn’t “heyyyy Mommmmmmy” or “MAMA!” or “mom. mom. mom. mom. mom. hey, mom.”  Ten years ago I didn’t lose sleep over things like first days of school, bullies, loose teeth, or slumber parties. Ten years ago I didn’t know how much of my life would no longer be mine. Ten years ago I had no clue how much my heart could hold.
Lucy came into this world in the manner you would expect more from her sister. She was sideways and she was stubborn, and in the end, her trip into this world wasn’t anything like I’d imagined…not that birth is ever what you imagine it to be. Lucy has never been sideways or stubborn, though, not even on her worst day. Lucy is one of those kids who is able to find the good in even the worst situations.  Sometimes I look at her and wonder how her loud, brash, foul-mouthed mother ever created something so sweet.  It’s in those moments that I know I have Lucy here to teach me things like patience, kindness, seeing the best in people. Those aren’t my strong traits – I know. That’s shocking. 
 Even for all of that, Lucy is the least emotional of my girls. While she certainly feels things deeply, she doesn’t like to see people cry or get upset. The outward showing of these emotions makes her uncomfortable. I think it’s in these moments that I know why she is mine…because I am perhaps the MOST emotional person.  I might shrug things off and on the outside act like I don’t care, but I feel things more deeply than I probably should and I feel like it’s my job to show her that feeling deeply is a good thing. When Dalton died, Lucy was a mess. Not so much because of the loss of her dog, though of course that affected her. Mostly, though, she was distraught over watching her parents grieve his loss. I had to tell her multiple times over those weeks that it’s normal for adults to cry and that sometimes crying can even be a good thing.  
 
Ten is already a challenge for me and she’s not even there yet.  Suddenly Lucy is more like a grown up than a child, and I’m having a hard time with that transition. I have to look at the big picture, though, and know that the two of us will continue to learn from each other.  I will look to her for kindness and for patience, and I hope I can teach her a few things about how imperfection isn't the end of the world. This is the dance of moms and daughters, apparently. Ten years in and I’m still learning every single day about how to parent a daughter. There are things that I wasn’t taught by the woman who birthed me, and things that I need to change about what she did teach me. This choreography will be new and different, and maybe a little uncoordinated at times, and that’s fine, too. See? I’m a little more patient already. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

eight.

Eight years ago today, Zoe Margaret made her way into the world. It was a quiet appearance, nothing like her sister’s near catastrophic birth not two years earlier. From the start, though, Zoe was deceiving in her demeanor. She was the baby who was happy as she could be until suddenly she wasn’t and then, watch out. The screaming that came out of her was like nothing I’d ever heard. She was the toddler who would slam her head into the floor when she was mad at us. The same child who wanted to snuggle in your lap any chance she got was the same one who wore a luchador mask for most of her second year.  I spent my pregnancy with Zoe wondering how in the world I could ever love another child the way I loved her sister. And then she arrived and I’ll be honest, I was so overwhelmed with having two children under the age of two that I didn’t bond with her immediately. I remember clearly sitting and nursing Zoe about 3 weeks into her life. I looked down at her wrinkled little face and my breath was nearly taken away because it was at that very moment that I knew how much I loved her. It’s always been a little like that with Zoe – you never really know until you know.  And I learned that I didn’t have to love her like I loved her sister. The two of them were and are so very different, there’s no way I could do that.
When she was about 6 months old, Zoe went on a hunger strike. Refused to eat anything, and when I gave her formula, she began vomiting like she was possessed. We quickly found out that her little body couldn’t digest the proteins in dairy or soy. Back then, there were few alternatives to give her, and we spent so much of her toddler years trying to keep her safe from foods that would make her sick. It honestly made me physically and mentally exhausted beyond my wildest imagination. But Zoe took things in stride. She began at a very young age asking if things had diary in them. When we went out to dinner at different places, we packed her a lunchbox. She was almost 4 years old before she ate anything that I didn’t prepare for her.  Stuff hasn’t always been easy for Zoe, but she has always figured things out gracefully and without issue.
Recently, Zoe has been having a lot of anxiety and panic attacks. They’re reminiscent of her sister’s at nearly the same age. I sort of thought we’d only have one child with these issues to worry about, but I was wrong. Life here at home has been a challenge with Zoe to say the least. She doesn’t want to go to school. She doesn’t want to eat. She wakes up at all hours of the night freaking out and refusing to sleep. A parent never, ever wants to see a child sad, but a sad child with worries she can’t explain is another beast entirely. She’s talking to someone, and we will all get through this. Here’s the thing. Tonight I took her to gymnastics class. I watched Zoe through the window and was so impressed at how much confidence she’s gained since she started the class in September. She’s able to tumble, and even able to hoist her little body up onto the balance beam without the help of her teacher. When she fell off the beam, she got right back up. That’s the thing about Zoe – she’ll keep on trying even when it seems like giving up is easier. Sometimes, with all that has been going on, it’s hard for me to see that she still has that in her. I needed to watch her tonight from the sidelines to see that for myself. It was reassuring.
Zoe is so much like her mama, and some days it’s hard to parent someone who is so much like me.  She’s a little loud. She says what she thinks without thinking so much about it first. She’s feisty and sassy, but she’s also human and when she falls, she is able to get back up. Unlike her mama, Zoe gets up a lot faster and comes back swinging a lot harder. I hope she keeps that part of her personality as she grows older.  More than anything, I hope she always knows how much she is loved. Happy, happy birthday, sweet Zoe.

Monday, February 9, 2015

saying goodbye



When I was 25, I lost my black lab Ellie when she was hit by a car. It was awful, gut wrenching stuff. In fact, back then, I compared it to losing a child. Later, when I had my own kids, I often thought about how selfish it was that I had compared my dog to a child.  I had gotten so far away from the pain of losing Ellie, that it seemed unreal that I could feel that way again about an animal. I wondered if the people who heard me say that after Ellie died thought I was insane. I wondered that until yesterday. And then I decided that no, that wasn’t selfish of me, it was completely true: losing a dog can be exactly like losing a child. Yesterday, we had to make the very hard decision to put down our sweet buddy Dalton. Dalton was nearing 13 years old, and over the course of the past six months, his health had declined immensely. He was no longer able to walk up stairs, and often had trouble just getting up out of his bed. We tried steroids and pain meds, and talked at length with our vet, who was kind and honest when he told us that we were prolonging the inevitable. We thought we would have more time with our sweet boy. And we never, ever wanted to have to make the decision that we ultimately made for him.
That’s the thing about dogs. They come in and tear stuff up. They chew and they bite and they snuggle their way right in to our hearts. They become our family. They become one of our children. They’re in all of the important pictures, and in all of the important memories. We adopted Dalton before we got married, and brought him into a house where he ruled the roost. And then, he graciously accepted our girls when each was born, like a sibling. He cared for them in his own way. He wasn’t a jumper, and never a lap dog, but he liked to get very close to the girls and just sit with them, even when they were babies. When they got older, he protected them when their friends came over. He played catch with them, and loved it when they told him he wasn’t tough while trying to pull his toys from his mouth. They never worried that he would bite them. Dalton would never have hurt a soul.
Dalton taught me so many things, but mostly he taught me about the power of aging gracefully. Yes, he lost control of his functions. But he liked to try to cover up his messes with a kitchen towel he would pull off of the rack. He seemed embarrassed by his declining health in that way, and we never scolded him for the many, many times we cleaned up after him. Eventually, his eyesight and hearing were also going, and often we had to come right up next to him so that he knew it was time to go outside, or to come inside. People kept telling me when it was time, I would know. Yesterday, when he couldn’t get up, and couldn’t walk in or out of the house without being carried, we knew. I was most upset because I wanted our vet, who has been involved since day one, to be with us. We talked about waiting until today, but ultimately knew that was a selfish move on our part. It was time. When we finally did get to the vet, Dalton put his sweet old head in Steve’s lap, like he’s done daily for the past 12 years, and he left us. It was peaceful and it was quiet, and it was the right thing to do. But that doesn’t make it any easier.  That’s the thing about dogs. They come in and tear stuff up. They chew and they bite and they snuggle their way right in to our hearts. They become our family. They become one of our children.