Even more writing

If you’re interested in my story, read these. Many are posts that originally appeared on momaha.com. Some are posts from my old personal blog.
My lil jack-o-lantern, Nov. 3, 2011
I’d given my son clear instructions: Do not lose the tooth without me.
That meant no losing it with his grandparents or his dad. No losing it on someone else’s time! I had a hand in growing that tooth and if it’s coming out, I want to be there.
I guess I wasn’t clear that meant no losing it at school.
He said nothing as he jumped in the backseat after school on Monday – Halloween. Mouth closed, he handed me a tiny red treasure chest.
“Ah! You lost your tooth?!” I said. “LET ME SEE!”
He would now be without his two front teeth (just in time to wish for them for Christmas, I guess).
He hesitated but then smiled, wide and happy. Yep, the tooth that had been loose for several weeks was now gone!
I wanted to give him a hug. I wanted to stick my finger in the empty spot where that tooth that served him all those years used to be, in that spot that I remember before any tooth was there at all. I wanted to look at the tooth in the box. I wanted to talk about details (Did you wiggle it out? Pull it out? In class or at recess? Did you tell the teacher? Did you go to the nurse?).
Isn’t it funny how exciting it can be when your kid loses a tooth?
But instead the school traffic “cop” scolded us for still being in the pick-up line, closed my son’s door and we were on our way.
At the first red stoplight, I made him let me take take a picture.
He smiled, and so did I. I hope he remembers this Halloween as the year he lost his front tooth. His tooth loss total: 6.

***

She must be magic, Nov. 2, 2011
I have brilliant ideas.
Like the one I had about dressing my kids up and parading them around outside on a chilly Saturday morning so we could get our pictures taken.
When my 2-year-old had a cold. And when my 6-year-old had a bad attitude. And when I’d planned for them to wear light cotton shirts and no jackets in late October at 9 a.m.
You’d never know how good my grades were in school.
That said, the photographer I lucked into was just that good. She took sick, crabby kids and made us look good. She captured moments I didn’t even know were happening. Most importantly, she was nice. Thank you, Nicole Ferguson. (I highly recommend. Also, check her out here).
Before the photo shoot, I had this great idea to borrow a white button-up shirt and buy an orange gingham tie for my son. But after realizing a. I didn’t know how to tie that tie and b. White button-up shirts and ties don’t go very well with athletic pants (all my son owns), I ditched the idea. And I – gasp – let him wear what he wanted.
The result: Photos in which my son looks like himself.
I’m good with that.
I also don’t blame myself for wanting him to look nicer than usual. Family photos only come around once a year, right?
But I realized the battle wasn’t worth it. The gel I put in his hair that morning also wasn’t necessary. As someone I love and trust later that day told me, you can’t even tell.
Yeah. It’s called trying too hard and forcing things. Neither are ever a good idea.
So, lesson learned: The little girl will let me put her in a dress and tights (which is not unlike things she wears anyway). The boy? Let him be himself. Even when (especially when?) photos are being taken.

***

They sort of wanted it to never end, Nov. 1, 2011
The swirls of apple peel fell to the floor like cotton in the country.
They were long and beautiful and perfect for a necklace.
The little girl picked them up and draped them across her back and down her shoulders. She took a bite. She smiled.
The grown-ups stuck more red apples onto their new toy. “Wow,” they said, staring. “This is really cool.”
The new toy peeled, sliced and cored their apples. It was really easy. And fun. So much so that they sort of wanted it to never end.
But the Crock Pot filled up. So they had to stop spearing and spinning those juicy red orbs.
The little girl now was dancing, twirling those apple peel strings that hung around her neck. She had on a black dress and white tights. And a ponytail and a headband. At one point, she picked up a ukelele and the sun was shining on her from the window just so … the grown-ups weren’t sure she could get any cuter.
“Look,” the mom said. “Look at her! Aww.” The man looked and smiled, his eyes twinkling (they do that, he’s been told).
Then they went back to the apples, all sliced into rings now, waiting to be cooked. The man added cinnamon, brown sugar and water, closed the lid and turned on the heat.
When they came home that night, the house smelled like apples. The mom opened the lid, inhaled even deeper. She gave those apples a stir.
And in the morning, she and the little girl shared a bowl of homemade applesauce, the best kind of breakfast.
The best kind of memory.

***

I think I love it already, Oct. 31, 2011
My sister came home one day several weeks ago to a kitten sleeping on her welcome mat.
Just curled up in a ball, cute as a button.
Having never seen this cat before, my sister wasn’t sure what to do. Let it in? Leave it out?
She texted her big sister: I just came home to a kitten on my doorstep. OMG, it is so cute! It’s just sleeping. What should I do? I think I love it already.
Or something like that.
So my little sister let the cat in. The cat made itself at home. It purred, it climbed into my sister’s lap. It loved her right back. Right away.
The texts to the big sister continued. The little sister was worried that she was falling in love with someone else’s cat. No, this could not happen. There would be no cat stealing on my sister’s watch.
She left a note on her neighbor’s door. I imagine it went something like this: “Hey, I found a cat. It’s a kitten really. It’s orange and white and really cute and I love it. Is it yours, by any chance?”
An hour later, she took the note down.
Several hours later, she put it back up. Morning came and the note was still there. The kitten had spent the night curled up by my sister’s face, purring. The whole falling in love thing was well underway.
I told her: “Maybe this cat was meant to be yours. Maybe just set about loving it.”
She went to work and that evening, the note from the neighbor’s door had been removed. But she never heard from the neighbor.
She called the local humane society and the police department. She checked classified ads. No one was missing a cat.
She bought cat toys. She asked the big sister how in the world she could have kids when she was so worried about leaving the cat alone during the day?! Would it be alright? Did she need to cat proof her apartment?
The big sister loved seeing the little sister so happy.
My little sister waited a few more days and then made an appointment with a vet. She gave her new pet a name.
And she was happy.
Sunday morning, my sister awoke to another cat on her welcome mat. A grown-up this time, the cat was meowing. The little sister texted the big sister. It went something like this: OMG, there is a cat on my doorstep! You’ve got to be (gosh darn) kidding me.
The big sister laughed. The little sister got the cat some food.
Then she debated what to do.
Hours passed. And the cat was still there. Allergy-prone anyway, my sister knew she shouldn’t open that door. But what was this cat doing? Could it be the kitten’s mom? Did it honestly need a home? Had word gotten around?
Ultimately, reason and sound judgment told her heart to shut up. And then finally, mid-afternoon, the cat left.
But this morning? Yeah. That cat was back.

***

Believe it (and I do), Oct. 28, 2011
It was dark and cold and too early to be awake.
But we were, and so the day was beginning, on-the-brink attitudes, sensitive feelings and all.
I was fielding orders for Eggo waffles and juice when my little girl, potty-trained completely thank you very much, had to go potty.
“Excuse me,” she said, as she opened the door behind me. Then she went in and pulled down her big-girl undies and her pants and put the tiny seat on the toilet and she went.
Just like a big girl. She is 2.
I continue to be proud of her.
She smiled at me, this closed-mouth smile of I’m-the-cutest-thing-you’ll-ever-see-Mom-believe-it (and I do).
I smiled back, genuinely happy.
And then she said: “I want to kiss you.”
And my baby girl stood up and leaned forward and gave me the sweetest little-girl kisses that have ever existed. All around my face. Even my nose. Four of them. Six of them. Maybe 10.
My heart melted.
And at that moment, I knew for sure: I actually am the luckiest mom in the world.

***

Birthday girl, Oct. 27, 2011
Today is my birthday.
I am 32 years old.
Is that old? Sounds old, doesn’t it? 32.
How did I get from 23 to 32 so quickly? Wasn’t I just 25, like, two years ago?
But. Today, I’m 32. I was born on Oct. 27, 1979, at 7:10 in the morning. My mom was a month and a half shy of her 2oth birthday. Her 20th birthday. Today is my 32nd!
Yep. Old.
Ha. But it is what it is, and I’d much rather keep having birthdays than the alternative.
I just continue to be amazed at how quickly the calendar turns, from one day to the next, from one month to another, from year to year. I have a 6-year-old son and a 2-year-old daughter. I have a nearly 16-year-old sister (and a nearly 28-year-old sister – how the heck did that happen, too, by the way?). I have a 12-year-old brother. He was born my sophomore year in college.
Yep. I’m old.
But I’m happy. My life is good, and I do love birthdays. So here’s to another year. I’m celebrating everything that’s good today – you included. (To help me celebrate, check out this Prince cover by a band called John Heart Jackie. Listen to their other music, too. Fantastic!)

***

Maybe it could be like that, Oct. 26, 2011

Do you ever feel like your life might just be on the verge of being everything you’ve ever wanted?

Like if maybe you make that change, take that chance, it might just be … perfect?
I was crossing a downtown street Tuesday, in the middle of my workday, and this feeling struck me. It was a you’re-really-close-to-figuring-things-out-once-and-for-all sort of feeling.
There are a few things I know for sure:
1. I love my children more than I can ever love anything else. More than myself. They will always come first.
2. I love my boyfriend more than I can ever love a partner. More than I’ve ever loved anyone else. We are a perfect match.
3. I love the work I do. Writing and blogging and interacting with all of you is a really great way to earn a living.
But even after the emotional healing and self-discovery of the last two years, there are still other things floating out there that I’m not sure about.
They are hard to articulate. But they are things like how I actually spend my time, if I’m happy with what I do each morning when I wake up, how I spend my money, whether the life I lead is true to the values and beliefs I hold, whether the clothes I wear, food I eat, car I drive, books I read, music I listen to, friends I have (etc.!) are really true to who I am.
For the most part, they are. I have a really, really good life filled with many things to be happy about.
But could I make more room to do even more things I want to be doing, to see even more things I want to see? To breathe even deeper?
To find a little more peace?
Who knows. I’ll just continue enjoying what I have, while looking to the future.
I’ll be brave. And I’ll be true.
It’s all I can do!

***

The wind in my hair, Oct. 25, 2011

Fear is the death of the common man (woman).

Let it in and you stop taking chances. Stop taking chances and risk not really living.
This was my rationale for getting on the back of a Harley Davidson a few days ago.
I’d never been on a motorcycle before. Not a real one anyway. Not a big, hot, smooth-as-butter sort of riding one as this.
My boyfriend and I were in western Colorado visiting family and friends. His uncle asked if I’d ever been on a Harley. I shook my head no and he jumped up from the couch.
“Well, come on!” he said. And outside we went.
I was nervous. I even tried to “give” the ride to my boyfriend instead (I’m so generous: “But you love this sort of thing!”). But finally I decided to push that fear aside and just do it.
It was awesome. And I was a pro. Stay upright. Don’t lean. Don’t panic. I had it down.
There’s something about seeing the country from that vantage point. It’s almost like you can feel what you’re seeing, like the things you’re passing by are just a bit more … real.
Maybe that doesn’t make sense. Maybe I’m crazy.
But the motorcycle ride with Uncle Layne won’t be forgotten. That I know for sure.
I miss you already, peach trees and vineyards, mountains and monuments, friends and family. We’ll be back.

***

Like I could run forever, Oct. 19, 2011
I went for a run the other day, last week.
It was sunny but cool. I wore a light jacket and capri-length running tights.
It was perfect.
I ran five miles, but it was one of those runs I felt like I could go forever.
You know?
It wasn’t just the weather. It was me. Physically, my body was ready to run. My mind was ready to run. When I was running, I wanted to be doing nothing else at that moment other than that. Other than breathing and thinking and listening to music and running.
I felt free. Light. Unencumbered by to-do lists, worries, anxieties, anger, fears, stress. I was simply running.
I’ve been running two times since. Neither one was even close to as perfect.
I can’t tell you why. I don’t know what I did differently (too much coffee that morning? Too little sleep the night before? Not enough water?).
I long ago resigned myself to the fact that some runs are just better than others. Some just feel easier, some just make us feel like we could run forever.
I’ve decided to savor those. And get through the rest. Because maybe we have to endure the harder, longer runs to really appreciate the amazingly great ones.
Kind of like life. Perhaps we needthe bad stuff to have the perspective to appreciate the good.
Here’s to finding that thing that gets us through all the long runs, all the cruddy days.
What’s yours?

***

Courage, grace (and a lil happiness, too), Oct. 18, 2011
I looked at my sad, sick daughter and wondered why it had to be today.
Why today did she have to throw up? (Why ever do our babies have to feel anything but perfect?) Why on a day when we had several things to do did she feel sick?
Answer: Because it’s not up to us. Things happen when they happen. That’s how this crazy life works, and we are asked to simply deal with them. To get through.
You know those days when nothing seems easy? When everything is a lot of work? You’ve had them, right?
Sometimes, it’s not just single days but weeks, months, maybe longer. We all have periods of our lives where no matter how hard we’re trying, things just feel hard.
I had that phase, not that long ago. Try raising a 4-year-old and a baby on your own.
Paying a mortgage you can’t afford. Showing up at the office to an awkward silent treatment, to no time to yourself, to not knowing what lies ahead, to doing all you can to just get through the day.
It wasn’t fun, but I survived, and I know now that all of that is just part of my story. It’s part of what makes me who I am. Most important: We’re all OK. Stronger even than we were before. Happy. Hopeful.
There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, I know. There is always a new day tomorrow. There is always the choice to stay positive. To believe in yourself. To be brave. To face things head-on, the best you can, and to just keep going.
My favorite author, Anne Lamott, says 80 percent of life is just showing up. She also says never act on any idea you have after 10 p.m. Wisdom, right there.
But don’t give up. Even when things aren’t going the way you thought they would. Even when your life isn’t unfolding as planned. Even when others are mad at you (not your problem, probably not your fault).
You owe yourself these things:
– An unwavering belief in yourself and the all the amazing things you can do. A belief that when it falters, you pick it right back up and keep going.
– The strength to persevere, to endure, to get to the finish line of your life with grace and as much beauty as you can muster.
– Happiness. Choose it. Let yourself be joyful. You’re allowed.
– Confidence. Like yourself. Go ahead. You’re likable.
– Courage. Be brave. No one else will do it for you. You will be OK. (“We will always be OK,” my boyfriend says.)
A new day is coming whether we participate or not. Let’s choose to take part.

***

Mom, they are YELLING, Oct. 17, 2011

Look at all those people.

My kids and I had the same thought Saturday morning, on our way to drop off my son at The Rose for becoming-a-pirate class.
“What are they doing?” my 6-year-old wanted to know.
They were protesting, but I didn’t know what.
We’ve seen several groups of protesters since moving to midtown in July. Many times, they’re at the corner of 72nd and Dodge. We’ve also seen some at Memorial Park and some further up on Dodge around 90th Street.
My son always wants to know what they’re doing. So I’ve tried to explain.
I’ve talked about free speech and how in this country we have the right to basically say anything we want. I’ve talked about how the people we’ve seen are gathering to support an issue they feel strongly about. I’ve talked about how they’re trying to sway others.
Explaining the actual cause they’re rallying behind, though, has been a lot trickier. I mean, how do you explain legalizing marijuana or the pro-life movement to a 6-year-old?
(You don’t is my answer).
Anyway, the folks we ran into Saturday were part of Occupy Omaha, a spin-off of the protest movement that started on Wall Street. They are urging change in many areas, but their basic complaint is that of corporate and government corruption and greed. They allege 1 percent of the population (the powerful and the elite) make decisions for the rest of us, that executives are getting bonuses while the rest of us are getting foreclosure notices.
The protesters were numerous. So many that we had to wait through half a green light to cross Farnam Street. They carried signs like “We are the 99 percent. We will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent” and “Bail out the people, not the banks.”
My son was curious. My daughter, 2, was scared.
I wasn’t sure how to explain this cause to them either. I mean, it’s not exactly uncomplicated.
While my son was at The Rose, my daughter and I went to Goodwill Reserve in the Old Market. As we were leaving, the protesters came up behind us.
My 2-year-old immediately clung tighter to my neck. “They’re yelling, Mom,” she said, worried.
I told her there was nothing to worry about, that they were nice people just trying to talk to other people. But honestly? I didn’t like the throng of hundreds coming up on our heels either.
I honestly walked faster than I otherwise would have, to get us to our car before they caught up.
Don’t get me wrong. I am all for free speech, even when I disagree, even when I don’t like the images on some of the signs for some of the other causes.
I applaud people who give their time, their energy and their voice to making a difference. So much better than walking through life with blinders on.
I do wish the whole mess was simpler to understand, though, easier to explain to my kids, less scary. Do you think we could make it that way?

***

I’ll take what I can get, Oct. 14, 2011

I’m reading a Kurt Vonnegut book called “A Man Without a Country.”

My very liberal, politically active father bought it for me a few Christmases ago.
I’ve never read any Vonnegut save “Slaughterhouse Five,” which I know everyone says is amazing but I didn’t like.
This book, though, seemed like a quick read and the first page lured me to the next, so I started reading.
I really want to like this book.
But I can’t help feeling he’s decided his audience is a.) much older than me and b.) much more male than me.
So I don’t like this book much yet either. (Sorry, Dad.)
I did read a section Thursday, though, that stuck with me.
It was about extended families. How they’re important. How it’s unfortunate so many of us don’t have them.
He’s being stereotypical, of course, but he says women ultimately want a lot of people to talk to (about everything) and men ultimately want a lot of pals (and wish people wouldn’t get mad at them).
So many people get divorced today, he says, because when a man and a woman get married they get only each other, not the extended family that can give the woman more people to talk to and the man more pals to tell dumb jokes to.
“A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family,” he writes. “It’s a terribly vulnerable survival unit.”
Is he right?
Much of me wants to tell Kurt Vonnegut where to shove it. Much of me believes that a committed husband and wife who truly love each other and are willing to work hard to make their lives meaningful and fulfilling can do it all alone (and I truly believe they can).
Much of me says I don’t need any help.
An old friend from high school moved to Texas several years ago. She got married and started having babies. Her parents, who’d spent 20-plus years at least in our hometown, sold their house and moved to Texas. Simply to be part of their daughter’s and their grandchildren’s lives.
I like that.
And I know this is true: The more people my babies have to love them, to support and nurture and guide them on this crazy journey through life, the more blessed they are. The luckier we all are.
So maybe, Kurt Vonnegut, you are right.
But we all take what we can get. And decide to make the very best of it.

***

That neighbor I already miss, Oct. 13, 2011

I was crabby and tired and a sweaty mess the first time I met Paul.

Who was this person trying to talk to me NOW? I remember thinking. Couldn’t he see I was busy? Keep in mind – this was late afternoon and I’d been hauling every possession I own since 10 a.m. It was also 95 degrees and 300 percent humidity. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
But I looked up and Paul was smiling. On his front porch next door, my new neighbor was actually very nice. I put down my load and stopped to let him welcome me to the neighborhood.
That day, I learned Paul was divorced and remarried, that he had grown-up kids, that he worked insanely long days each weekend to have four days off during the week, that he lived there with his wife and her mom, who is 104 years old.
I learned I had a trustworthy character living next door.
Over the next couple months, I learned I liked Paul. We bonded over neighborhood news of overnight car break-ins, the raccoon family Paul had living in his roof (a mom and three babies. He waited until the babies were old enough to be apart from Mom to call in a “Critter Gitter.” You can’t dislike a man with a heart like that) and other random small talk.
I’d even recently told my son that if anything ever happened to me, “Go get Paul.”
A few weeks ago, I noticed it’d been a while since I’d seen Paul. It was odd since he’d usually come outside while the kids and I were playing. Or knock on the back door to let me know he’d be in my driveway for a bit doing whatever it is he needed to his side of the property.
The next evening, his wife came out. “I want to tell you what’s going on over here,” she said.
I stood up and walked over to the fence. Dread filled my chest.
Turns out Paul has pancreatic cancer. He’d also had a stroke.
My heart sank and I couldn’t stop the tears that spilled over. I can’t imagine what news like that must feel like. What news like that must do to a family.
Cancer is nobody’s business. Nobody deserves it, and you’ll never convince me otherwise.
Paul must still be in the hospital because I haven’t seen him. His wife said they’d likely do low-dose chemotherapy to extend his life as long as they could.
But they know what a pancreatic cancer diagnosis means. We all do.
I tell my son to get used to life being not fair, but man, this? So not fair.

***

We’ll be doing this again – Oct. 12, 2011

“What would happen if I cut up some bananas and put them in a frying pan?” I asked, the other night.

I asked because I thought I knew, but I really didn’t.
“It’d be awesome,” my boyfriend said.
So I cut up some bananas that were on their last legs. (You know when bananas get that smell and texture about them? That softness that says “Eat me now or waste your 58 cents a pound”? Well, that was the situation on my counter).
And I heated up some water and brown sugar in a frying pan on the stove.
I threw the banana slices in. Then – because I felt like there was a lot of extra room in the pan – I added some blueberries.
My boyfriend came up from playing with the kids downstairs, fixed what I’d done wrong (more brown sugar, more heat) and those bananas started to cook.
Have you ever done this?
If not, you’re going to want to.
The result of about 10 minutes on the stove was warm banana slices swimming in a super sweet simple blueberry, mapley syrup.
It might be the best thing I’ve ever put in my mouth.
The kids were eating pancakes (Yes, it was dinner time. So what? I was eating bananas and sugar). And my son was dipping his flapjack into store-bought-filled-with-artificial-crap-smiley-face-on-the-yellow-flip-top-lid syrup.
Try this syrup, we urged. You’ll like it. It’s delicious! You’ll like it better. We promise. JUST TRY IT.
The kid wouldn’t. Whatever. More for me, I reasoned!
Apparently, if I slice the bananas lengthwise instead of in rounds, add a few extra ingredients and serve with ice cream, this is how you make bananas foster. Who knew I could actually probably make something with such a fancy name?
There might just be hope for me yet.
Happy Wednesday!

***

I miss you, tiny piece of my past, Oct. 11, 2011

A long time ago, a friend who I no longer know anything about gave me something I really, truly loved.

It was a tiny running spike – the kind you find on the bottom of racing shoes – attached to a silver key ring. She had drilled a hole through the base of the spike (the part you screw into the shoe) and threaded it onto the key ring.
She gave each of us cross country girls this gift at the end of my senior season, more years ago than I care to even calculate.
I promptly put it on my keychain. And there it stayed.
That little running spike was a constant amidst all the other change, on my keychain and in my life. It stayed while house keys, dorm keys, apartment keys and many more house keys came and went. It stayed while car keys came and went. It’s been there while library card plastic key tags and pet and grocery store plastic key tags have been switched out and discarded.
It’s been there through my high school and college graduations, it came with me to Wales the semester I studied abroad, it was there the day I got married, the day I got divorced, the day both my babies were born, each day I’ve started a new job, the day I bought my first house, the day I bought my most recent house, the day I met the love of my life.
It was literally the only thing from when I was 17 that I carried, that I even saw, every day.
I really loved it.
The kids and I were leaving the house Monday morning and I went to lock the back door with my house key. That’s when I saw the empty silver ring.
I did a quick scan around the rest of my keychain.
Yeah, my tiny silver racing spike from so long ago was gone.
I pushed my emotions aside and went about my business of locking the door, buckling the kids into the car and getting them to school and myself to work.
It was only later that I really let the sadness in.
It seems silly, right? Being sad about something so small, so old, so so-what?
But it represented … a time long gone, a really good memory, a little tiny piece of who I was as a 17-year-old kid. A visible reminder of what it felt like to run like that. To wear shoes like that. To have friends like that.
Well. We lose things every day. We move on. We look ahead because that’s the only way to go.
Doesn’t mean I won’t miss that tiny piece of nostalgia. Doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to have it back.

***

My friend and our definition of success, Oct. 10, 2011

I have a friend I haven’t known long.

Not really anyway. Not in the big picture of things.
But since I met her, I’ve trusted her, believed in her, listened to her. I’ve let her be kind to me. I’veaccepted her gifts, eaten at her home, borrowed her shoes, among other things.
She is the only person who sent me a card congratulating me on my new home (in fact, after the first got lost in the mail, she sent another!).
I’m not sure I deserve her.
But over the past couple years I’ve stopped questioning kindness and just accepted it, graciously. I’ve said thank you. I’ve tried to return the good will whenever I can (yes, karma is coming). I’ve returned borrowed items that aren’t mine.
I’ve realized how lucky I am.
So this friend the other day attended an event momaha hosted with the Institute for Career Advancement Needs. The topic was meaningful conversations.
We’d been asked to write and then talk about what success looked like to us. What it meant. What it felt like. How we defined it.
Initially, I wrote down one word: “Happiness.” At its core, a successful life is one that is happy. To me, at least. Give me a one-room house with a happy family any day over a mansion with people walking around hating their lives.
I added to my list words like “love” and “health” and “well-rounded children” and “fulfillment.”
When I spoke, I noted that each of our experiences shapes our view of everything in this life. And that each of us can take what society offers as a standard of success – a high-paying job, a big house, a fancy car, a high-school quarterback son who goes on to med school – and choose to accept that or not. We each get to figure out what we want out of our lives, what will make us happy, what will make us feel we’ve achieved something worth fighting for.
So my friend, normally shy, went first. And what she said was so perfect, I almost felt like stopping right there and going home.
She mentioned a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem she’d always liked. Later, she sent it to me:

Success

To laugh often and love much;

to win the respect of intelligent persons and the affection of children;

to earn the approbation of honest citizens and endure the betrayal of false friends;

to appreciate beauty;

to find the best in others;

to give of one’s self;

to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;

to have played and laughed with enthusiasm and sung with exultation;

to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived…

this is to have succeeded.

Does it get any more perfect?
I’m sure some of you disagree (I’m learning this, too, recently … that not everyone sees things exactly as I do). And that’s OK. Again, part of the beauty of this life is we all get to make it what we will. Choose our own paths, our own successes.
Here’s to determining – and achieving – yours.

***

Second-guessing ourselves, Oct. 6, 2011

Note to self: Complete honesty with a 6-year-old right before bed isn’t always the best idea.

I’m reading “Sarah’s Key” by Tatiana de Rosnay for momaha.com’s book club (Oct. 27, 7 p.m.). My son, two nights ago before bed, asked what the book was about.
It’s about the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup on July 16, 1942. That’s the night French police went door to door in Paris, arresting Jewish families for no reason other than that they were Jewish. That’s when they stuck them in a stadium called the Velodrome d’Hiver in Paris and the nearby Drancy internment camp – in terrible conditions – before shipping them to Auschwitz.
You’ve all heard of Auschwitz.
So my 6-year-old asks his mom what the book she’s reading is about.
I tell him.
I tell him it all, and before I know it, I’m explaining the Holocaust and World World II and about Adolf Hitler and the Aryan race and how the Jews were taken from their homes unfairly, how some of them hid, how some nice people tried to help them, how lots of them were killed.
I’m talking about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. I’m talking about war.
I’m scaring the heck out of my son.
But I didn’t know I was. Honestly, I didn’t. I even stopped, very early on, and said, “I probably shouldn’t be telling you all this.”
But his eyes were intent and he was listening so closely (like he usually doesn’t do), and he begged me to go on.
It wasn’t until we were upstairs and it was time to brush his teeth that he looked at me with concern in his eyes and said, “I’m afraid I’m going to have nightmares.”
And then the tears came. Not a lot but enough.
What had I just done?
I’ve always erred on the side of being honest with my kids. I want them to understand the way the world works and why some things happen the way they do. I want them to understand actions and consequences and that no matter how hard we try, sometimes we just don’t get what we want. I want them to realize how many good people there are in this world and that, unfortunately, there are bad guys, too.
But that night, I kicked myself for telling him too much about one of the scariest things in our world’s history. The roundup and extermination of 6 million Jews, all because they didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes.
I laid with him while he fell asleep that night, like I used to do when he was a toddler. I draped my arm around him while he closed his eyes and willed him to a place filled with happy dreams.
For not the first time, I second-guessed my mothering. Of course, I reassured him that something that atrocious would never happen again, that modern-day wars don’t happen in our country, that even if they did we were safe in Omaha, Neb. That Mommy would never let anything happen to him. Ever.
He woke up the next morning happy, peaceful, rested.
I offered a silent thank you to the universe.

***

If kids ran the world, Oct. 5, 2011

We wouldn’t wear suits to the office.

We might not even have an office. Business meetings would be conducted at the breakfast nook over Eggos, Fruit Loops and orange juice.

Car pools would involve bicycles, not cars. Our days would start when we woke up, somewhere between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m. We wouldn’t have to worry about showers or make-up, at least not every day.

We’d take actual breaks mid-morning to play with our baby dolls or build a castle out of Legos.

We’d share ideas over make-believe instead of the phone. Our conference calls would be a lot more to the point, a lot less talky. We’d all say what we mean.

And then we’d do what we said we’d do. And move on.

We’d work on things like sharing and not tattling and solving problems on our own. But we’d be efficient. We’d use our minds to dream big and then we’d go on with our day. With our play. With our innocence and our curiosity and our wonderment.

We’d have fruit snacks for breakfast, if we wanted, followed by that leftover piece of cake on top of the microwave.

We’d watch a little too much Disney Jr. (But, hey, some of our best ideas come when we’re just relaxing!).

We wouldn’t stress about the laundry that hasn’t been folded, the balanced meal that hasn’t been made (again), the PTA meeting we really should attend but don’t want to, the cat’s vet appointment that’s at least six months overdue, the gray hairs that are just around the corner, the skin problems that keep reappearing even though we’re grown-ups, the bills that need to be paid (again).

We just wouldn’t worry about all that.

And you know what? Life would go on, just like it does now. The sun would still come up. The night would still fall.

And maybe, just maybe, we’d all be a little less worked up and a lot more happy.

I’m thinking it’s a nice idea, at least.

***

The social monster called Facebook, Oct. 4, 2011

I’m not a betting woman.

But if I had to wager on one of the first things you do each morning, I know where I’d put my money.

I’m betting it all on a tiny little site called Facebook.

Ever heard of it?

You have. I have. We all have. (You scream. I scream. We all scream for … Facebook?)
It’s changing the world. At least our civilized world. How many times have you thought in status update speak? Come on. How many times? How many times have you done something or heard a song lyric and thought, “That’d make a good status update!”?

And then you stopped what you were doing – the life you were actually living – to log onto your computer or your phone and share your random thought with 500 of your closest friends.

Right? Not all of you, I know. There are varying degrees of Facebook users, to be sure. And even a few hold-outs, non-believers, if you will (oh, how I envy them!). I even know someone who closed his account … simply because it wasn’t worth the trouble.

If only someone had said Facebook would save the world, instead of just change it. If only all us 800 million active Facebook users would harness the energy we spend crafting status updates about lattes and touchdowns and sick kids and what we had for lunch and use it to start making a difference. (Poverty, homelessness, domestic abuse, addiction or war, anyone?). It might actually have some redeeming value.

As it is, essentially, Facebook is up to no good. Because it lets us be up to no good. It feeds our egos and it wastes our time. It allows us to do and say things we never would in person, to interact with people we otherwise wouldn’t.

It allows us to think things that simply don’t exist. It gives us reason to worry – often about nothing. It causes us to question relationships (“Why didn’t he ‘like’ that photo of us? Why didn’t she comment on my wall post? Why hasn’t he/she/they RSVP’d to my event?”).

It is simply silly.

Ridiculous.

It takes too much of my energy. I want it to stop. Stop being so powerful, Facebook! Stop stealing my time, my emotions, my pride.

Remember when people actually attached photos to e-mails and then sent them to the people they actually cared about and knew in real life? Remember when people started personal blogs on sites like blogspot and wordpress simply as an easier way to stay in touch with family and friends, not to make it rich as the next dooce.com?

Remember that? I sort of do. It wasn’t that long ago. Try 2007.

But here we are. And, yes, let’s be honest: I use Facebook, too. I click “like” under photos. I share things about my own life for the satisfaction of the interaction that sometimes follows. I like it when the people closest to me approve of something I shared.

The ego is a scary thing.

Lately, though, especially, I think of all the books I could be reading (or writing), the songs I could be singing, the photo albums of my kids’ childhoods I could be assembling… the collaging or journaling I could be doing to really, truly help me be a better me … the house I could be cleaning, the yard I could be tending. Actual experiences I could be having.
I’d like to close my account. Be done with it. Be free.

But Facebook is the best tool I have to market momaha.com (the website I really do want you to visit each day!). And, well, I get it. As I said, I like the comments and the likes and the photo-sharing and the connection-building just as much as you.

I know it’s not going away, and I know it’s only going to get bigger, stronger, more influential.

I just hope we all take a deep breath every now and then, to remind ourselves – if nothing else – what really matters.

It’s not on a computer screen.

***

My personal classifieds, Sept. 30, 2011

Wanted: One vintage desk.

Not too big, not too tiny, not too scratched, not too heavy, not too dirty, not too ugly, not too pricey, not too dark. Once found, Desk, you will have a nice home in my upstairs bedroom. I promise not to neglect you and to play whatever music you like while using you. I promise to put some framed pictures on you, too. We’ll be happy together. As soon as I find you.

Wanted:  One perfect pair of jeans (and boots and sweater)

Not too long, not too stretchy, not too saggy, not too low-cut, not too high-cut, not too stonewashed, not too skinny, not too flared, not too ripped, not too patched, not too young, not too OLD. Please be perfect, Jeans. Make me look thin. And hot.

Wanted: One best-selling novel

Not too long, not too short, not too boring, not too cheesy, not too hard to write. OK? Oh, and please start writing yourself.

Wanted: Great hair (and skin and abs)

Not too frizzy, not too split-ended, not too short, not too long, not too dark, not too gray (jinx, jinx, jinx), not too dull, not too brassy, not too old. Please just look good, Hair. Daily. Without too much work on my part either. I’d rather not have to get out the flat iron. I’d skip the blow dryer, too, if that’s possible.

Wanted: Two well-behaved children

Not too sassy, not too whiny, not too bratty, not too demanding, not too tired, not too irrational, not too hungry, not too needy. Just be exactly how you are when you’re perfect, kids. I know you can do it.

Wanted: One shower drain that drains

Not too slow, not too gross. I’m not asking a lot. Just drain the water. Don’t let the pool of soapy water form around my feet, don’t let the dirty film cling to the tub after your slow work is done. Just drain promptly and efficiently please.

Wanted: An entire bucket of confidence, frozen in ice cubes in my freezer, to thaw and put in my drink as needed.

Not too much, not too little. Just the right amount, to remind me how good I’ve got it, at the times my head seems to forget.

Wanted: Happiness

Not too manufactured, not too fleeting. Just pure, genuine happy that stays all the time. Even if I have to choose it to do so.

What’s in your want ads today?

***

Tiny bit of a problem, Sept. 29, 2011

I can’t explain this. And I don’t know how it began.
But I’m addicted.
To something about as ridiculous as I can imagine.
To something I sort of can’t believe I’m announcing on this public forum.
I’m addicted. Not to wine or prescription drugs or ice cream or potato chips or anything like that. Not to gambling, not to shopping, not to Facebook (though some days I wonder).
Not to shoes. Not to makeup. Not to running (I wish).
No, world, I’m addicted to “Hello, Kitty” T-shirts.
Yep. I’m not kidding. I wish I was.
Go ahead. Make fun of me. I deserve it.
It’s just that when I see a “Hello, Kitty” T-shirt lately, I HAVE TO BUY IT. I don’t even really think twice about putting it in my cart.
I just bought a new one the other day. The shirt is a different color than one I already own, but the design? The design?The image on the front is exactly the same.
“Hi, my name is Veronica and I’m a ‘Hello, Kitty’ T-shirt-oholic.”
I don’t even necessarily like “Hello, Kitty.” I mean, really, we don’t even know each other. I don’t know anything about her. Is she an actual character with a cartoon or a story? Or is she just a marketing ploy? Please, world, tell me she actually has some substance.
I’ve always had a tendency to obsess about things. Not everything. And certainly as I’ve gotten older, I’ve mellowed a lot. But my friends from adolescence might remember a certain professional basketball team from Chicago that made a tiny dent in my world at the time … just as my friends from elementary school might remember a certain boy-band from Boston…
Well. I’ve always said being passionate is better than being apathetic.
Right?
Still. Someone stop me from buying any more “Hello, Kitty” T-shirts. Four is enough. Of course, there are seven days in every week …
Can anyone relate?

***

Being a big girl, Sept. 28, 2011

Being a big girl means undies, no Pull-Ups.
It means sleeping all night in your own bed. It means not waking up and requesting Mommy to lay on the (cold, hard,really cold, really hard) floor and hold your hand.
It means not hitting your brother, ever, but especially not when he’s just standing there getting his shoes tied.
It means accepting your fate without a tantrum when Mommy says no more juice, no more Oreo cookies, no more music, no more whatever it is you’re trying to be obsessive about.
It means sharing your toys. It means not taking things out of your brother’s hand. It means understanding sometimes Mommy has to take a shower and can’t turn the light on in your room right that second because she’s still in the shower.
It means not crying on the last leg of a really long road trip because as much as she wants to, Mommy simply can’t hold you and drive at the same time. It means realizing that the more you plead with her to hold you, the more her heart breaks, one tiny piece at a time.
It means knowing Mommy won’t get mad at you for going potty in your undies all over the kitchen floor 30 seconds before everyone is about to leave for the morning.
It also means knowing Mommy will get mad at you for the ensuing tantrum in which you throw yourself on the floor and knock over the cat’s food and water dishes, creating yet another mess for Mommy to clean up when really your big brother just needs to get to school.
Being a big girl means all of these grown-up things.
At the end of the day, though (every day), it really means being amazingly perfect and sweet and brilliant and precious, despite all the rest.
Just like you are.
Love you forever, my big girl.

***

Loving them when they’re gone, Sept. 27, 2011

Is there a place to board children? my friend’s husband said. Like a kennel where you board dogs?
He was kidding. I’d just said something about not having seen my kids in a few days. How it was odd, strange, uncomfortable, how I didn’t like it, how I missed them. I hadn’t said where they were while I was on my mini-vacation, away from home.
So he said that.
And I didn’t know what to say at first. I felt awkward, unsure.
“Well, when you get divorced, I guess there sort of is,” I offered.
Not that I would ever ever in a million years, never, think of my babies spending time with their dad as boarding them (terrible term, right?), it is sort of like free babysitting every once in a while.
If you choose to think of it that way. (Actually, it’s simply the other parent’s turn to parent. But. It’s also a much-needed, much-deserved break. For me).
That said, it blows.
When I signed up for this parenting gig more than six years ago, I didn’t check the box that offered a built-in break from parenting one weekend a month, one week at Christmas and one week in the summer.
It just wasn’t part of my plan.
But plans are made to be broken, I guess, aren’t they? And I’m not sad at all about where I am in my life, at this moment. Many of you know how good life is to me right now, how much promise and hope and love fill my days.
It’s all really, really good.
But I miss my babies when they’re gone. I struggle to remember who I am without them. It takes me a day or two to figure out what to do with my time when it isn’t centered on getting them to school, picking them up, making dinner, making beds, braiding hair, driving to and from gymnastics, reading books … all those things I normally do.
It takes time for me to remember it’s OK to be me without them, even though I don’t like it. It takes a little time for me to convince myself they are OK without me. It takes time for me to realize they know Mommy always comes back.
I never get used to the house being so quiet.
And then they come home.
And before I know it, we’ve fallen back into our ways and our days and our routines. Almost like they weren’t even gone at all.
And then all feels completely right in the world, again, and I give a little thanks to the universe for everything good.

***

A test of wills, Sept. 21, 2011

The battle was over three green grapes.
The little boy was stubborn enough to give up the fire, over three green globe grapes.
“Just eat them,” the mom said.
The little boy looked at her. Just stared. The fire in the fire pit put off its stinky smoke not far behind them, in the corner of the driveway, the cement cooling as the sun set.
“If you eat the three green grapes,” the little boy’s mother said, “you get to keep your fire.”
Still nothing but a stare.
The mother placed the three green orbs in her hand, palm oustretched. They balanced there, unmoving, a test of wills between them.
“Go ahead.”
Pleading clouded his eyes, his mouth opened in a whine. The mother threatened to fetch the garden hose. Is that what he wanted? Really? She had a hard time believing he wouldn’t just put three grapes, for Pete’s sake, in his mouth.
Put this whole thing behind them and let everyone get on with their fading fall night. Let the little boy poke at the fire, empty the recycling bin so the trash men wouldn’t have to. Dance in the swirling black ash.
But the standoff ensued.
The mother set the grapes back on the plastic plate and went inside, to breathe. She glanced at the bottle of wine. Shook the thought from her head. She went back outside, those three green grapes now burning a hole in that plate, the fire dying, the boy still stubborn.
Just. Eat. The. Grapes.
Tears erupted. The boy shook his head before burying his face in the crook of his mother’s left arm.
Well, this was wonderful, she thought. The cement grew colder under her feet. The little boy glanced back at the fire, barely hanging on.
The mother picked up one grape. Eat it, she said. Just one.
The boy refused. And cried some more.
Sand pails of water were retrieved. Set down. Waiting to put that fire out for good. Over three grapes.
The mother held strong.
But the boy grabbed his banana. Finished what he hadn’t before. And then the mother grabbed blueberries. A lot of blueberries. Held them in the palm of her hand.
The little boy looked down at them, up at his mother. Silently, he ate them. One by one.
The mother grabbed some more.
He ate those, too.
She grabbed more.
He ate them.
Satisfied that he’d gotten more fruit than most days, the mother popped the green grapes in her own mouth and the little boy danced like he hadn’t a care in the world around the fire that before they knew it took off like a lightning bolt and truly lit up the night.
***

Being all we’ve ever wanted, Sept. 20, 2011

When I was a little girl, the world was at my fingertips.
My worries consisted of just when we’d get to walk to the library and if I’d crossed my fingers long enough to get a cone of Blue Moon ice cream at the Town Clown.
I didn’t like the red siren that blared and swirled on birthdays at Happy Joe’s. But I did like the pizza, very much.
So when I was this little girl I knew I could be anything I wanted. But at that age – 4 or so – you don’t really think about what you’re going to “be.” You already are.
You’re you.
Isn’t it funny how that changes?
From the minute we step foot in school, it seems, we’re asked: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
What do you want to be …
What if we all answered: “Me.”
I know why people ask that question. Our parents asked us, and many of us will and do ask our own children. But what if we already are who we are, what if we could all be who we want to be? What if the question instead was, “How do you think you’d like to spend your time as a grown-up? What sort of contribution would you like to make?”
And what if as parents we’d be OK with the answer, “I don’t know.” Or with, “I want to be a mom (or a dad).” Or, “I want to be a writer.” Or, “I want to be a friend.”
Why do we push kids to identify themselves with a career? I know the way life works is we all need to contribute to society. And we all ought to educate ourselves and push ourselves to grow and learn and discover and be everything we can be. But saying we’re going to be whatever career it is we choose when we grow up just seems … backwards. To me, at least. Right now, anyway.
The happiest couple I know lives in a small town in western Colorado. They’ve been married about 15 years, they have two daughters. The man is a musician, furniture maker, thinker, “journeyman” (his term), and he makes money by being a handyman (this is likely at least the fifth “career” he’s had in his adult life). He’s chosen to think of life as living, not working. His wife, my dear friend, raises her children and supports her husband, among other things. She has taught preschool, but she doesn’t like spending time with other people’s kids more than her own. I can’t argue with that.
They are the happiest couple I know because they have chosen to live, outside of expectations, true to only themselves.
I want that. I want all of you to have that! Really, why have we made it so hard?
So here’s to being who we are, letting our children be who they are AND having everything we’ve ever wanted. I think it’s possible.

***

My mom, Sept. 19

When I was a little girl, my mom was a ballerina. For real. She had toe shoes and tutus and wore her hair in a bun.
She was thin and strong with muscular legs and long arms and all sorts of grace.
I used to watch her rehearse. She’d buy me an apple juice from the machine in the hall, the kind with the thin, tin top with the sticker you pulled off. I’d sit against the wall of the studio, clutching crayons or a book. Sometimes, I’d look up and panic: I’d lost my mom in the sea of tights and leotards. But I always spotted her. The one time I didn’t, I just waited it out. Moms always come back.
My mom was just a kid when she had me. I can’t imagine having a baby at 19, but she did, and I turned out OK, so she must have handled me just fine. Times were hard, though, I imagine, for two kids from the 70s trying to make it in Wisconsin where the winters are long and the nights are always cold.
My parents didn’t have a car. We took the city bus or they rode their bikes, me strapped onto a seat in the back.
I love looking at pictures of my childhood, my mom’s long hair, young face, my dad’s high tube socks, short shorts, crazy, wavy hair. In the pictures, we all seemed happy.
My mom used to make baked apples. They still are my favorite food memory of when I was little. Warm and gooey, those apples melted in my little-girl mouth.
My parents split when I was 12 and my mom was all I had on a daily basis. I remember feeling like we were charting our own adventure, exploring a new world. I knew we’d be just fine.
Later, when I went to college, it was hard. I cried all the time. I missed being a big fish in a little sea. I missed home. I missed my mom. She called every day. She told me I could come home if I wanted to, but I didn’t know how to quit, and it eventually got better.
After I graduated, I spent that summer at home, working at the pool where I’d spent so many summers before. My half-sister and half-brother were 6 and 2 then. I loved helping out with them when I could. One night, I remember my mom saying, “You’re going to be such a good mom.”
As I’ve gotten older and become a mom myself, my relationship with my own mother has changed. We’re not as close as we once were, and we probably don’t see eye to eye on some things. We’ve certainly argued more lately than I would like.
But this I know for sure: I am forever grateful to you, Mom, for everything you’ve done for me. The lunches you’ve made, the outfits you’ve bought, the driving lessons you gave, the tin can apple juices you offered, the love, the home, the patience, the endurance it takes to raise a person. Truly remarkable.
For all that, thank you.

***

Wisdom? Maybe. Sept. 16, 2011

They say you can’t go home again.
I think this is true.
I went back to my old high school Thursday, to give a presentation to a class. I drove straight there, like I’d never left, but it was different. The place was under construction, the office was no longer where it used to be. That stuff messes with your head.
I saw an old classmate, an old friend who is now a teacher, as I made my way to the new office to sign in and get a name tag. “Hey,” I said and waved. He gave that same smile he always had. It was weird. We’re so much older … yet the same.
A student led me past the honor wall where my picture hangs – I didn’t look! – and to the classroom where one of the best teachers I’ve ever had was talking to these kids who I was supposed to tell about writing. How to be good at it.
What I really wanted to tell them was listen up, don’t take yourself too seriously. Figure out you – what you’re into, what you want out of life, how hard you’re willing to work to get it – and then focus on that. Let the rest of the drama go. Really. Seriously. It won’t get you anywhere.
Instead, we talked about writing and reporting. About voice and sentence structure and flow. About using your senses to report and observe. About authors we love, who do this craft so well. About music and lyrics and seeing words in our heads. About the way I spend each day, about what I want to do down the road, about a kid in the class who lives and breathes boxing, about who I knew from high school that they know, too.
I don’t have a clue if it helped. But I hope at least something stuck. Maybe the part about life being 80 percent just showing up. Maybe the advice to “just start” whatever it is you’re doing (thank you, young man who very pointedly said, “Why don’t you just start writing your book now?” Yep. Why don’t I?).
If I could have left them with just a bit more advice, I guess it would be this:
1. Don’t be in a hurry to grow up. You’ll spend most of your life as an adult with adult worries and responsibilities. Homework really isn’t that bad. Neither is school.
2. Love your friends and your family; you will need them down the road. I promise you.
3. Don’t settle. For anything. You are worth everything you’ve ever wanted.
4. Work hard. Have high expectations. You deserve nothing less.
That’s all I got (besides this song by Ben Gibbard, just because). You?

***

Like we’d met before, Sept. 15, 2011

Helen must have spotted me first, in the cracker aisle, picking up Triscuits. Two boxes because they were on sale.
“You  must have a family,” she said, eyeing my cart. Yes, it was full, and yes, I do, I said.
The old woman clutched a box of sandy pecan cookies, off brand. And a shopping list on a full-size sheet of paper, about half of her black-inked items crossed off.
“Times are so hard,” she said. “I don’t know how we’re all still doing it.”
She was talking about the price of food and gas and clothing and everything else and about the loss of jobs and the low wages and the foreclosed homes and the overall tough economy.
She was talking about people like me with mouths to feed and careers to build and homes to pay for and take care of. And dreams to try to live.
Helen is 89 years old, a widow for more than 40 years. Her husband died long ago, at 48 years old, of a heart attack while driving to Lincoln. She never got to see him. Only sit outside his room at the hospital. When the nurse came out, she said she knew he was gone.
Her old eyes were teary.
They never had children either, but, oh, how she traveled. She’s been to Canada, Mexico and Europe. She’s been across the United States.
She’s lived alone ever since and she does everything herself. She told me this proudly. “Good for you,” I said. She has a condo and a pension with health benefits. She’s made funeral and burial plans. She’s got life insurance policies lined up and she hopes she never has to go to an assisted living home because she wants the money she has to go to her sister and brother’s grandkids.
She was an amazing woman, and in the 10 minutes or so we talked like old friends in the cracker aisle, I thought, “Pay attention. There’s a reason this woman just showed up in your life out of the blue.”
No, I’d never met Helen before. And I don’t imagine I’ll ever see her again. But our life unfolds as it does for a reason. Whatever the universe wanted me to learn from Helen, I’m not sure. But I paid attention just the same.
“Well, I need to be getting home,” she said, and she placed those sandy pecan cookies in her cart and slowly walked away.
I smiled and did the same.

***

The tooth fairy cometh, Sept. 14, 2011

The Tooth Fairy came again last night.
The reason: THREE lost teeth, thanks to a dentist and his laughing gas and his tools. The result of the dentist: Three gaping, sort of bloody holes in the bottom of my 6-year-old’s mouth.
(He’s such a champ, my kid. Not concerned at all, he laid there, put the weird mask thing over his nose, earphones on, staring up at “Little Einsteins” on the screen in the ceiling, ankles crossed. Side note: When do we stop trusting like that that everything’s going to be OK?)
So the Tooth Fairy had a tall order. Only ever having been to see my son once before, she couldn’t even remember what she left the first time, the milestone time of the first ever lost tooth.
My son said she gave four quarters. (Geez. Pretty good first showing, Tooth Fairy. Thanks for setting that bar high). My son did the math. Three lost teeth then would equal … 4 + 4 + 4 … 12 quarters!
Only the Tooth Fairy was plum out of 12 QUARTERS.
She had happened into the bank yesterday afternoon, though, for some gold dollars. Never having seen these before (hey, she doesn’t deal much in change), she wasn’t so sure it would pan out.
She was wrong. The bank had exactly five gold dollars to trade for silly paper money. And so she left FIVE gold dollars for the 6-year-old with three missing teeth.
She hoped he would be happy. She hoped he’d think they were pirate coins or something akin to what might be found in a buried treasure.
He did. So much so that he held onto them all morning, only setting them down beside him to eat breakfast.
Now, next time, who knows what she’ll need to bring with the bar this high! An action figure? A $10 bill? Sheesh. Expectations are heavy!
But she loves her job.
What does the Tooth Fairy bring at your house?

***

The magic of little hearts, Sept. 9, 2011

My kids and I were playing outside two nights ago. The weather’s been too beautiful not to force us all outside for as long as we can stand it (“Before you know it, there will be snow on the ground,” I told my son when he asked to go in early. “So no.”).
My beautiful little boy was being a boy without a man or a friend around to roughhouse with. He was full of energy, snarling like a monster and making forts out of the patio furniture’s cushions. He was egging my daughter on, almost begging her to come chase him, push him off the deck into the cushions … anything physical.
I kept reminding him to be gentle: “She’s so much smaller than you.”
My beautiful little girl was being very much a mama’s girl. She’d indulge her brother and then make a quick return to me, climbing onto my lap or draping an arm around my shoulder. My favorite: Ducking or twisting her head around in such a way that she’s looking me straight in the face, her big blue eyes on mine, searching for how I’m doing. I just know that’s what she’s looking for, especially if I’m quiet.
So this went on for a while – 20 minutes, 30 minutes. My son would taunt my daughter, she’d chase him, push him down and then return to my side. Repeat.
After a while, my baby girl got tired of chasing her brother. His pleas did nothing to change her mind.
So he started bringing the green patio furniture cushions to us. And then, holding a cushion over his head like a warrior heralding a kill, my little boy turned pro wrestler threatened to throw it at us.
“Don’t do it,” I said (and I meant it and he knew it).
But he threw it, straight at my head, where it hit and bounced to the ground.
We had a moment of quiet before my son took one look at my face and then offered to put himself in time-out.
More quiet. And then my daughter looked at me, reached out her tiny toddler hand and touched my head. With such kindness in her voice, she said, “You alright?”
Just like I do to them.
I started crying. Not because I was hurt – I wasn’t. But because of the empathy of my 2-year-old.
I wrapped her up in my arms and wondered what it would feel like to keep her there like that forever.

***

Be brave, Sept. 8, 2011

Two days ago, I took a black permanent marker and wrote “Be Brave” on the top of my left hand.
I didn’t know what else to do, in the middle of a bad day.
So I decided to give myself that very visual reminder, in a place a little more present than a sticky note on my computer monitor.
My son right away asked why I’d written on my hand. My answer: Because I just did.
Being brave sounds corny. I know. But to me it means more than the comic-book version of bravery. It means being strong enough to get through bad days, doubtful times, rocky spots, poor attitudes, cloudy vision, loneliness, sickness, frustration, anger, sadness, worry … all of it. All of the stuff that continues to rain down on us, challenge us, even when our lives are really good when you stop to think about it.
Sometimes, stuff just feels hard. So be brave. Keep going.
The other lesson I was reminded of yesterday came from a friend I met for coffee. He is the only Omaha friend my ex-husband and I shared who still talks to me. Who still treats me like I’m a person, too. Who still genuinely likes me. I cannot tell you how much this means.
He said this: Be kind.
Yes. Be kind. It can move mountains. That very simple act. It can.
Melissa’s post today is one of the best we’ve had on momaha.com in some time. Please be sure to read it.
Be kind. Be brave. Don’t give up.

***

I just want to hold you in my hand, Sept. 6, 2011

Have you ever felt like you know something almost beyond how you know yourself?
Like this piece of knowledge can almost sit perfectly in your hand. You can feel it, touch it. It’s that concrete.
And it’s that all-encompassing you almost can’t remember what it felt like to not have that sitting in your hand?
I’m in love. In love like I’ve never been before. That piece of knowledge that this is right, that this is what’s supposed to happen, that this is what I’ve been waiting for all along, that THIS was the rainbow at the end of the storm just sits there so nicely, so pleasantly, like a cat that never leaves your side. Like your favorite sweater in the fall. Like snuggling under the covers in a fresh-air-chilled room.
So. Here I am. In love with a man who I hope decides to marry me someday. Our little love sitting warm in my hand, like a warm ball of everything good. It’s changed my life. He is changing my life.
All for the better. All for the best. All for the I-never-knew-it-could-be-like this reality.
I used to have a hard time being patient. I used to struggle to see the journey was worth more than the destination. I never truly realized before that the journey is everything.
I’m loving every second of this journey. One I hope lasts my lifetime.
(Can you tell I’m coming off a three-day weekend that left me feeling perfect was possible?)
Happy Tuesday, ladies. I hope all of your weekends were just as fabulous.

***

You tricked me, Sept. 1, 2011

Dear Autumn,
Are you here yet?
Because I thought you were. Your cool nights have helped me sleep, let me sit out on the deck in comfort and just generally lifted my spirits.
I like wearing a sweatshirt in the mornings, Autumn. Your mornings.
The crispness of your air, the chill on my cheeks, the feel of you in my lungs. I’m not sure it gets any better. As far as seasons go anyway.
But then Wednesday something changed. You didn’t come around like I wanted. I left my windows open for you, but you were absent. Instead, I felt only hot. You let Summer and her humid ways come back around again? I’m so over Summer.
By late afternoon, I was forced to turn the AIR CONDITIONER ON AGAIN. Really? You did this to me? I was sad. Even irritable. Way to tease a girl, Autumn, and then disappear. Typical.
So, Autumn, just know this: The taste you’ve given me was so sweet. You are like an old friend, a favorite pair of jeans, that really great song, my boyfriend’s sweater.
And I want more.
Please don’t stay away too long. I’m not sure I can take much more of Summer’s abuse. I mean, it was nice while it lasted … but there’s nothing in it for me anymore.
I’m ready, Autumn. Let’s do this.
Love,
Me

***

Beauty in the quiet things, Aug. 31, 2011

I woke to open windows and a thunderstorm Tuesday morning.
That early morning light that signals it’s almost time to get up but not quite yet hung in the air outside, and the rain poured down.
Lightning flashed. A roll of thunder rumbled. And the door to my babies’ room creaked open in the hall.
A tiny boy with bare feet and bare chest came in, clutching his blankie.
Silently, I lifted up the covers and let him in. He smiled softly and so did I. And together my first-born and I gazed out the window by my bed, listening to the rain and the beauty of our lives.
It seemed right to breathe a little deeper just then, to ignore the cell phone on my nightside table. To just be.
To just look at the life I’d created, that I get to help raise up, and savor the time of just me and him.

***

Music, Aug. 30, 2011

It will change your life.
Remember that scene in “Garden State” where Natalie Portman’s character is listening to music in a doctor’s office waiting room?
Zach Braff’s character is there and she hands him her headphones.
“It’ll change your life,” she says.
Cue “New Slang” by The Shins. Yes, an amazing song.
Since I saw that movie years ago, I’ve never forgotten that sentiment. The notion that music can be all-encompassing, powerful and meaningful and emotional and wonderful. So much so that it really can change your life, or at least your outlook. At the very least, your mood.
So. Make yourself a mixtape (I’m old school. I refuse to call it a mixcd or a playlist). Put on it the songs that speak to you about who you are and where you’re going. Put on it the songs that make you feel like dancing. Or crying. Or laughing. Or falling in love.
I’ll get this party started (and no, that song does not make my mixtape … though I do heart Pink):
1. “Re: Stacks” by Bon Iver. Listen to it and look up the lyrics. I mean, really.
2. “Skinny Love” by Bon Iver. I just discovered this album (thank you, you know who) and it’s changing my life.
3. “Someone Like You” by Adele. Did you see her sing this on the MTV Video Music Awards Sunday night?! First song I’ve ever heard by her. It only took one. I’m in love.
4. “In My Time of Need” by Ryan Adams. It contains one of the most beautiful lyrics I’ve ever heard. And I think it might just mean so much more to me, too, about what happens from here on out. Again, thank you…
5. “Somewhere Only We Know” by Keane. It’s just such a beautiful song with a beautiful notion of sharing something with someone else that only the two of you know.
That’s a start. I have so much music in my heart right now. It feels so right being there.
Your turn. Please share what music speaks to you, what songs you’d put on your mixtape.
To comment, click on the header “Music.”

***

Sleep, Aug. 25, 2011

Remember before you had babies, how promising the weekends were if for nothing else than you knew you’d get to sleep?
Like as long as you wanted theoretically? Like it was probably a given you would sleep until 9. If not 10. If not 11, if you had a really good excuse…
Remember that?
Cause I kind of don’t.
My brother is almost 12. He sleeps a lot. Like until 11 a.m.
I can’t tell you how much hope this gives me.
My son is 6 and my daughter is 2 and without fail we are all awake by 7:30 a.m. On a good day. Most days, it’s 6:30 a.m. Some days, its 7 a.m.
You’d think I’d make myself go to bed by 10.
I don’t.
No, instead I relish that free time to do things that don’t necessarily have anything to do with being someone’s mom. Or I clean up the dishes from dinner, feed the cat and put away laundry.
Still. It’s my time and I’m reluctant to give it up.
So. I’m tired.
I’m going on seven years of this sort of no-the-weekend-will-not-build-your-bank-back-up tired.
But if my brother is any indication, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Like I tell myself with so many other things in this life, just get through it.
Right? (I’m talking to you, moms of middle- and high-school students!).

***

Being really honest, Aug. 24, 2011

What’s the one thing you’d change about yourself if you could?
(Yes, only one. Come on. You do not have 10 things that need to be different).
Mine is knowing when to shut up, or knowing when to not say something that I didn’t think much about before I said it.
Because sometimes when we say things, they end up meaning that much more to the person who heard them.
And then they’re really hard to take back. And when I didn’t mean what I said in the way it was received in the first place, well, then, it always make me think: a. Why are you so honest? and b. Why don’t you think before you speak?
And then there’s nothing I can do.
I know I said only one, but the second thing I would change is how much I worry about things. Little things become huge if left to ruminate in my mind, and then, yes, I slowly drive myself insane…
And the third thing I would change is how much I care about the little things.
This life is tough sometimes, right?
I know. Chill out. Only worry about what I can control. Live in the moment. Yada yada. I know.
But still.
Tell me I’m not alone. Your less-than-desirable trait, please?

***

Everything we’ve ever wanted, Aug. 19, 2011

Yesterday, on our way out the door, my son announced he didn’t want to go to school.
He didn’t feel like it.
Well. I don’t feel like taking you to school or going to work, I said. But we have to. Let’s go.
He didn’t argue. He knew his fate. Lately, it seems, I hear myself saying things like: “We don’t always get what we want.”
Because very clearly, we don’t.
But what if we did?
What if instead of doing the things we have to do every day we got to do exactly what we wanted?
Sign me up. My imaginary day of everything I’ve ever wanted would go something like this:
Instead of waking up at 6:30 a.m. with my toddler, I’d sleep until 9. And then instead of making Eggo waffles for the kids, I’d just make coffee for me. And then I’d go for a run.
I’d come home and my kids would be smiling and dressed and my daughter’s hair would already be brushed and done up in cute little barrettes that she didn’t fuss at all about. My son would ask how he could help around the house.
A little later, the kids would play nicely while I read a book. Then we’d eat lunch together (something really delicious and healthy) and go for a walk before playing outside.
Later, we’d each get some free time again. I’d read the paper, listen to music and write.
I’d catch up with my girlfriends, and my favorite musician would play me a song.
Dinner would be fantastic, the kids would go to bed at 8 p.m. without a fuss and then I’d have even more time to do whatever I wanted (wine, yoga, music).
It’s fun to dream. But I wonder … would we be happy?
Would we really be any better off than we are now?
I don’t know. Maybe we’d live in a nicer society less fraught with problems if we all got everything we ever wanted.
But my guess is we’d still find things to complain about.
So, son of mine, let’s go.
I hope to teach my kids that if we do it right, life is about a mixture of what we have to do and what we get to do. If we do it right, we find a balance of the things we love and the things we need and the things everyone has that just have to happen.
What do you think? And what would your perfect day be like? To comment, click on the header “Doing everything we’ve ever wanted.”

***

Mowing the lawn, Aug. 18, 2011

Once upon a time, I had a husband and then a boyfriend who mowed the lawn.
This was amazing.
I did not realize how amazing until yesterday when I mowed my lawn.
Is there anything worse?
I even have a nice mower. It’s self propelled. I just didn’t know what I was doing.
I’m sure the neighbors had a good show if any of them were watching for the eternity it felt like I was out there.
So the things I learned:
1. Do not mow in jeans and a brand new T-shirt.
2. Do not mow in the middle of the afternoon when the sun is at its hottest.
3. Do not mow in flip flops. I repeat: Do not mow in flip flops.
4. Do not go backwards down a steep hill with the mower in front of you.
5. Do not expect to not need a shower when you’re done. That’s just crazy. (But yes, I expected to not need one).
Let’s just say it was a learning experience.
One I can’t wait to do again next week!
(And yes, I know some of you women mow all the time and like it. Blasphemy.)

***

Favorite things, Aug. 17, 2011

What’s your favorite thing in the whole world?
Aside from your kids or your husband, or your boyfriend or your cat, what is the one thing you would bring to grown-up show and tell?
OK, two things.
Is it a shirt or a jacket? A necklace or your grandmother’s ring? A painting your best friend made? A book you’ve read six times? A box of your mother’s recipes?
This is hard. Right?
Mine:
1. A song, but I’m not sure which one.
2. A photograph, but I’m not sure which one.
My list is pretty lame without specifics, isn’t it?
So maybe I make my two things just a little bigger: A CD (a mixed CD?! I’m sneaky) and a photo album. The photo album would be filled with pictures of every time in my life I absolutely loved:
— 4-year-old me pretending to be Wonder Woman at the park with my dad
— 17-year-old me running the state cross country meet in the rain
— 22-year-old me with my cat, the first day I brought her home
— 24-year-old me hiking the Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction, Colo.
— 25-year-old me holding my baby boy
— 29-year-old me holding my baby girl
— 30-year-old me on the most amazing road trip to Colorado
— 31-year-old me finally figuring myself out
And the music … so hard to narrow down. But the lyrics would all matter, the time of my life I found each song would all matter. Some of the songs, you’ve probably never heard. Some of them would probably change if I was forced to make another a year from now.
But those things, I think, matter most. At least right now.
Your turn. What would you bring? (To comment, click on the header “Favorite things”).

***

Leaving them behind, Aug. 16, 2011

My son started first grade Monday.
Since we moved across town this summer, he was once again walking into a brand new school amid people who for the most part he’s never seen before in his life.
That’s a lot for a mom to take.
We showed up earlier than we needed to. We followed directions and waited in line with the other first-graders. I tried to make small-talk (“Look! She’s got a Justin Bieber backpack!”). He wasn’t interested. I tried offering encouragement (“Just listen to your teacher and be yourself!”). His response: “Mom. I know what school is like.”
Ohhhkay.
So then I tried to stand quietly. I tried to look really friendly. I tried to hold it together.
Does it ever get easier leaving our babies (even 6-year-old babies) in a brand new place where they know no one?
Seems like maybe it should’ve gotten easier by now.
It hasn’t.
But this is life, right? We all get through it. And we all grow from our experiences. Moms who shelter their kids their whole lives really aren’t doing them any favors.
Still. I spent much of Monday wondering how my grown-up baby was doing. Hoping he’d made friends. Hoping he hadn’t felt alone. Hoping he’d been brave enough to ask to use the restroom if he needed to. Hoping he’d figured out lunchtime. And so on.
It’s natural to worry. I know I wasn’t the only mother who was nervous. We have a look about us in instances like that!
But I’d be lying if I said I won’t feel better next month, when all this back-to-new-school business is behind us and our lives again become —  at least a little bit — old hat.

***

Doing it all over, Aug. 12, 2011

If you could do it over, would you?
If you could go back and change your mind, choose a different path, would you?
Do you ever think about that?
I know none of us would trade our children — not for anything, not for millions of dollars or a home on the beach or a perfect-all-the-time husband. Of course, not.
But what if we could go back to that boy we dated in high school and choose … not to date him. Choose to instead have more girlfriends or spend more Friday nights getting to know our parents … or getting to know ourselves. Reading more books, watching more classic films, starting a scrapbooking club or a bible study group or … anything else.
What if we could go back to that moment in college where we had to bite the bullet and pick a major? Would you still choose journalism? Or would you go that other route you’ve always wondered about, you know, that pre-med route?
What if your parents hadn’t split up? What if you’d stayed with your dad instead? Would you have the same friends, the same kids? Would you have married the same guy? (The uncomfortable answer to these questions is no.)
But we all take the life path we do for a reason. Everything happens for a reason. People come into our lives at the exact time they’re meant to, and then later, some of them leave. We make the choices we do for a reason. We deal with the fall-out from some of those choices because we have to. But every day we get a new day. This world keeps turning, no matter what we do.
I think our challenge – my challenge, at least – is believing this is all how it’s meant to turn out and being patient with the changes, with the bends in the road, without knowing the final destination.
Anyone with me? What questions do you wonder about? To comment, click on the header “Doing it all over.”

***

Transitions, Aug. 11, 2011

This has been a summer of change for my family.
The kids spent four weeks with their dad. It was the longest time they’ve ever been away from me – and while I know they missed their mom, it was harder on me than it was on them. And for that, I’m thankful.
We moved. Not just to a new house but across town. It was the second move in a year for me and my babies. They amaze me every day with their resiliency, with their adaptability, with their acceptance of change.
My daughter started a new “school” (really, a daycare center, but calling it “big-girl school” got her excited. Whatever works) three weeks ago. My son starts a new school on Monday.
He went to Star Wars camp at The Rose and gymnastics camp at Metro Stars. He’s gotten used to the idea he won’t see Ethan anymore – or any of his friends from last year at Willowdale. Already, he’s made a new friend, Jack, who thank you, universe, is in his first-grade class.
Over the last year and a half since their family split up, they’ve grown up happy and healthy and well-adjusted. It’s all I ever asked. They’ve left the home they knew to survive in a rental. They’ve embraced this new house that will be our home for I hope a long time. They’ve said goodbye to people who have been in their lives since the beginning. They’ve said, “Mom, we trust you and your decisions.”
Kids and their resiliency. God, I love them.
Here’s wishing all of you and your kids luck in the transition this new school year brings.

***

Farewell, Aug. 10, 2011

Really, summer?
Already?
You just got here! We just got used to you and your long days that kept us all up too late and let us sleep in just a little.
We just got used to wearing flip flops every day and having play dates in the afternoon if we wanted to.
We just got used to not being on so strict of a schedule.
We just got used to days at the pool, to sunscreen and melted fruit snacks. To sprinklers and popsicles and evenings on the swingset.
And now you’re hurtling us back into school, another year, another classroom, another teacher, more deadlines, more friends, more school lunches, more field trips, more real life.
We weren’t quite ready. (But are we ever?)
We’ll miss you, summer. Until next year, take care.
Love,
All of us

***

Movies that change us, Aug. 9, 2011

“I’m never going to get out of this town, am I, Gordie?”
“You can do anything you want, man.”
Remember this scene? Will Wheaton and River Phoenix. One of the last scenes of one of the best movies of my childhood, “Stand By Me.”
That film turns 25 years old this year. (Watch an NPR clip about that here.) Wow. Where does the time go?
I remember seeing that movie as a girl. I was probably 9 or 10. I fell in love, not only with the characters, those boys coming of age, but also their story.
Because it was my story. Our story. And this film touched on that intangible essence of childhood that our parents couldn’t have explained to us, that we couldn’t have prepared for, that we very likely didn’t even know was happening while we were in the midst of it.
It’s only years later, really, that we kind of get it. That innocence of childhood. That yearning to grow up but not really. That struggle to stay who you were as a child while becoming who you are as a grown-up.
Some of us never figure it out.
I like to think I’m working on it.
I watched Will, River, Corey Feldman and Jerry O’Connell again earlier this summer. The movie had been calling to me for awhile.
It is just as good now as it was then.
Happy birthday, “Stand By Me.” You’re a keeper.
Did you love this movie – or another one like it? To comment, click on the header “Movies that change us.”

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I am a brave girl, Aug. 5, 2011

Or at least I’m trying.
Have you heard of the Brave Girls Club? If not, go there. Sign up for their daily e-mails, their daily “truths,” as they call them.
Do it now. They are amazing. Here’s a sample:
Dear patient girl,
There will come a time when you can’t really even remember why or how you were so hurt and devastated. It will even become difficult to try to recreate the memories and the pain of the memories. Someday you will feel complete healing.
There will come a time when your hurts no longer define who you are. There will even come a time when you see how necessary those parts were to your story… that nothing else could have made sense without them.
Be patient with it all. Every good story has opposition … tragedy … and the overcoming of it all.
You are the brave heroine. You are the main character. You have such a beautiful, beautiful story and there are so many incredible chapters still to come.
Keep being brave. You are so loved.
I know it’s just a website, just an e-mail, but after reading these brave truths every day for several months, I am stronger. I am better. I am on my way to healing, to making the choices that are absolutely right for my life, for moving forward without fear.
I’m taking a Brave Girls Club online class now, too. Called Soul Restoration, the class teaches you to view yourself, your soul, as a house. Some of our houses have been gutted, their metaphor goes, and it’s our job to restore them — and then choose carefully who we let back in.
I’m just starting, but so far so good.
I bring this up here not to plug that class or those emails (I have no partnership with them), but to tell you where I’ve found hope, where I’ve found help. In case any of you could use it.
Happy Friday.
To comment, click on the header, “I am a brave girl.”

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Balance, Aug. 2, 2011

A long, long time ago, before I had kids, I was in love with balance. So much so that I’d pretty much mastered it.
A lifelong overachiever, I was on top of everything. My job, my workouts, my household, my relationships, my extracurricular activities.
I had enough time in my days to be on top of all those things and also still read a book or watch a movie without feeling like I ought to be doing something else. The year I was pregnant for the first time I went to bed early, again without feeling like I was missing out.
Fast forward to now. I’ve managed to identify my priorities pretty well. I know that taking care of my kids is number one and my job is number two.
So I do those things.
And everything else sort of fights for my attention. My workouts come and go (though I’m currently on a pretty good routine. Knock on wood). My house is alternately clean and cluttered and I constantly feel like I’m fighting a losing battle.
My few close friends love me enough to forgive my flightiness, my errant punctuality and my lapse in communication (at least I hope they do).
And everything else … well, life goes on whether it gets done or not.
But the battle for balance is a constant in my life now. In my early 30s, I’m raising two beautiful children on my own and trying to find peace and happiness for all of us, the best way I know how. Taking one day at a time, I think we might just make it.
How do you make it? To comment, click on the header “Balance.”

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The phases of motherhood, July 28, 2011

Remember when your first child started school (those of you have passed this milestone)?
Remember feeling like you were back in school, in a class you didn’t really care for with a pop quiz you certainly hadn’t studied for? Like you couldn’t quite wrap your mind around what you were learning or what you were supposed to be doing?
That’s certainly how I felt the first couple months last fall after my son started kindergarten. I remember very clearly feeling like I’d just graduated into another phase of motherhood that was going to take me a while to figure out.
Things like the morning routine changed. I now had to pack him a lunch and a snack everyday. I had to figure out a new time to leave in the morning, to make sure I got him to school on time. I had two kids to drop off in two different places now. My work schedule changed to allow me to pick my son up after school. He had things like P.E. and music and field trips, which made me feel like he almost needed his own calendar. I at least had to find a spot for his schedule in my head, so I knew where he needed to be when.
Also new was the social structure of his school and his life. I now had to learn to interact and make friends with the other parents gathered outside waiting for the bell to ring. I had to figure out how to set up things like play dates (my son would probably give me an F on this one) and who to invite to birthday parties (and which ones to attend).
I remember telling my girlfriends I felt like I was navigating a completely different world.
With my daughter in “big-girl school” (what I’ve dubbed her new daycare) and my son about to start first grade at a new neighborhood school, I’m preparing for another level of new and another couple months of adjustment.
I was thinking as I dropped the kids off yesterday morning (my daughter at “school,” my son at Star Wars camp) how many phases there are of motherhood. How parenting an infant is so different than parenting a toddler and a preschooler and an elementary school student and so on. How each year almost I’ve got to figure this whole thing out again, learn what my kids need and how to fulfill that, how to best help them on this journey.
And we do this all, mainly, without any help, without any classes. It’s amazing so many of us do so well!
If you have advice, I’ll take it. Otherwise, wish me (us all) luck!
To comment, click on the header “The phases of motherhood.”

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New beginnings, July 26, 2011

I packed up my daughter’s blankie, some Pull-Ups, a box of wipes and my heart and left her at a brand new daycare yesterday.
It was hard (for me). There were tears (mine), and I couldn’t shake how strange it felt to be leaving her in a great big new place with strangers.
I stayed for five minutes. I chatted briefly with her teacher, I gave my baby a hug and I told her I loved her and that I’d pick her up that afternoon.
Mama always comes back. (I tell both of my kids that, as often as I can. More than anything else, I want them to know there will always be someone there for them, if they need me or not!)
Kids surprise me, though, at how well they handle change. My daughter, just 2 in May, was absolutely fine at this new daycare center. She’d gone to a wonderful in-home provider until now.
I left her in the big play area out in the open but then hid behind a corner to peek. She was already talking to her new teacher, telling her about her new backpack and what was inside. I watched her then walk down the hallway and before I knew it, she had disappeared into her brand new classroom with brand new friends and brand new toys and all I could do was leave.
I crept out to my car, my 6-year-old in tow, drying my tears with the knowledge that my baby is doing just fine, all on her own, in a brand new world to explore. Isn’t that our jobs as parents? To teach our babies not to need us?
Yep.
But could it feel a little nicer please?

***

Teenagers, July 22, 2011

I sat next to a group of teenagers at lunch yesterday.
I was eating while working. They were eating while talking.
I didn’t mean to overhear their conversation, but I did.
Their main topic of conversation: Underage drinking.
Their second topic of conversation: Getting hit on.
The third: How little they ate the day before.
I just want to put this out in the universe right now: Please, powers who be, do not let my daughter turn out like this.
I’m troubled, for so many reasons.
Namely, these were obviously the “popular” girls. They were thin, pretty and made up with trendy clothes and manicured nails. I’m sure they were out of high school; they were making plans to furnish an apartment, talking about who had what and what they needed to buy. They chatted about what color scheme each was planning for their room and how they needed to get a pizza maker, lamps and decorations.
I’m sure they influenced plenty of others in high school, peer pressured them to drink, to have the right clothes, the right look, the right boy, the right friends. Or maybe they were peer pressured themselves.
They talked a lot about underage drinking, about a friend who’d just gotten charged with Minor In Possession, about undercover cops who had busted a party, about how one of them got a wristband at a recent concert to buy beer for the others.
About how none of them wanted to take the diversion program to lessen the MIP penalty.
One girl told her friends that she’d only had a peach to eat the entire day before, that she and her boyfriend (who was suffering through this lunch with her and her friends) had gotten nachos but she couldn’t eat them because they were gross and that she was SO HUNGRY.
Well, yeah.
She told her friends about a boy who’d purposely dropped something in front of her at a restaurant so that she’d bend down to pick it up. She laughed.
I wanted to throw up. I wanted to tell them to wake up, grow up, to get their heads around what’s actually important in this life, to not be such little kids, to have some compassion, to take the blinders off, to talk about the homeless on the streets or the soldiers dying in Afghanistan or the mothers struggling to raise their kids on their own or even the great book they’re reading.
Anything. Please, talk about something of substance, something that matters in the bigger scheme of things. Open your eyes.
I honestly think my 6-year-old has a broader world view than these teenagers.
It’s all very troubling.
And, yes, I don’t know those kids. I’ve never met them. I don’t know anything about their families or their backgrounds.
But I can’t help but fear that the hour-long conversation I overhead is all too illustrative of who they are, what their priorities are, where their heads are … where our future lies.

***

Raising sea monkeys, July 14, 2011

On my brand new kitchen counter, I have a cheap plastic container with a red lid and a red base. It is filled with murkier-by-the-day water and little monster-looking “fish.”
These little critters swim around blindly (do they have eyes? I doubt it), searching for food and … well, that’s all I can tell they’re ever doing.
These disgusting things are on my brand new kitchen counter because my son likes them. He “grew” them and I have to give him that.
I thought I was pretty smart when after purchasing a Sea Monkeys set as a birthday gift for one of his friends (sorry, Jack’s mom), I told him to ask Daddy for a set of his own.
He asked Daddy. Daddy agreed. So our Sea Monkeys were born and lived the first weeks of their lives in Denver. They then traveled to Kearney where they spent another couple weeks on my kids’ grandparents’ dime.
And now, they are home.
Ahem.
Every other day for the rest of their lives, I get to feed them a small scoop of disgusting-looking green powder.
And I get to gaze into their glass house as I wash my evening dishes.
What’s the protocol for after they pass? Do we hold a Sea Monkey funeral? Anyone else ever been a Sea Monkey parent? I seem to remember thinking they were cooler when I was 9…

***

To-do lists, July 7, 2011

I am one of those people who never feels like everything is done.
I have a hard time sitting down, let alone watching TV or a movie, when there are things to accomplish.
Call me uptight. Anal. Whatever.
I prefer to think of it as organized, motivated, responsible, the opposite of lazy.
But honestly sometimes? I wish I could relax.
Anyway, moving into this new house is a really good thing. I love the house. I think it will be a great home for me and my kids. I like the neighborhood. I even rode my bike to work the other day (and got to ride home in a thunderstorm. Ahem).
But it’s made my to-do list explode. My mind is constantly ticking through the things I need to purchase or accomplish: buy lawnmower (and hose, sprinkler, trimmer, weed killer), tackle yard, unpack boxes, organize kids’ toys, clean house (already!), plant flowers, laundry (it never stops), buy microwave, buy bike lock, go to the gym, do something fun (harder than it should be), buy groceries, stop eating out, meet my neighbors (make them brownies?), call that friend, worry about everything…
I’ll stop there.
I know I’m not alone when it comes to to-do lists that never end. But  I also know there are people out there who don’t live like this.
So tell me please: What is your secret?

***

Ghosts, July 6, 2011

I always felt like my old home wasn’t quite right.
The energy was weird. The basement felt too dark.
My cat meowed a lot, especially when downstairs in the evening.
The doorbell would ring by itself. For a couple months after I moved in, the lights would flicker for no reason.
I lived there less than a year. It was a fine set-up, a rental townhome in a quiet neighborhood. A split-level, the house had plenty of room. I spent most of my time upstairs. That’s where the kids and I had our bedrooms. That’s where the kitchen and living room were.
But also there was something about the downstairs that just wasn’t right.
I’m sure of it even more now that I’ve moved out. In my new house in midtown, my cat doesn’t meow. Though the wiring is old, the lights don’t flicker, the doorbell doesn’t ring. The energy feels … different, clean.
I’ve never believed in ghosts, and I didn’t want to believe my daughter when earlier this year, she looked over my shoulder in the kitchen and said, “Who’s that lady?”
“What lady?” I responded, looking where she pointed and seeing no one, not even a picture she might have been asking about.
“That one talking,” my toddler said. “That lady right there.”
My then 5-year-old son was there, too, and saw no one. I asked my daughter, probably 19 or 20 months old at the time, if the lady was nice. My daughter said she was.
Two days later, in my bedroom this time, my daughter said, “There’s that lady.” Again, my daughter seemed to be looking over my shoulder, behind me. Again, I saw no one.
Again, I asked if she was nice. My daughter didn’t answer, and I never heard a word about the “lady” again.
I bet my cat saw the “lady,” too.
I’m freaked just writing about it.
Am I crazy? Anyone else have ghost stories like this?

***
Sad reality, June 22, 2011

There’s a story I want you to read today.
It’s not a nice story.
It’s about the 5-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted at a park last week and her 7-year-old brother, who was forced to watch.
It’s about the two boys, 13 and 12 years old, who allegedly did that to her and took pictures of the act with a cell phone.
It’s about the little boy who now has nightmares about not being able to protect his sister. It’s about the little girl who now asks her parents if they are mad at her. It’s about the parents who wear game faces during the day, but at night break down, realizing the nightmare they are now living.
It’s about the fact that the alleged assaulters – kids themselves – likely only face probation. For a very adult crime.
I could barely stand to read about it. It makes me angry. And it makes me scared.
I want my babies to have a childhood, one without fear and without too many boundaries. I want them to be able to play and grow and live and laugh and have fun and go to the park without worry.
I want to be a parent who lets my kids explore their  tiny world.
But it is very clearly not possible, not in this day and age, not in this society frought with problems that we’ve somehow created. It is not worth the risk.
It makes me sad and it makes me afraid for what’s to come.

***

Running into the past, June 16, 2011

I ran into a former high school classmate at a concert the other night.
We hadn’t really been friends, but, both smart kids, we’d been sort of in the same circle. We even both went to the same college, so I figured I’d at least be recognizable.
Apparently not.
We crossed paths, and when I didn’t even get the guy head nod, I called him out: “Hey, aren’t you even going to say hi?!”
I had to tell him who I was (to which he said, “You look different!”). He was very friendly after that, and I enjoyed chatting with him for those few minutes.
Our conversation included me saying something like, “Remember how you got that perfect score on the ACT?” (His response: “Did I?”) and him telling me he was about to take a very top-notch position at a local medical center.
I asked what his wife does. She’s a lawyer. (My response: “Wow, you guys must be loaded.” His response: “Yes, we’re the white Huxtables.” Hahaha. He was kidding.)
Still. Doctor. Lawyer. Very successful doctor. I haven’t been able to shake the feeling I underachieved since.
I love my career. I love writing. I have few regrets (most of the time). But gosh it’d be cool to be able to tell someone you knew way back when that you’ve done something so impressive they can’t stop thinking about it, right?
Do you ever feel this way?

***

Time flies, June 1, 2011

Today is my first-born’s last day of kindergarten.
In a very real way, it seems like just a few months ago I dropped him off on his first day of kindergarten. And now he’s done.
I know I say this a lot, but it is absolutely crazy how time flies! The clock ticks so much faster now that I have children than it ever did before.
It’s scary how much I feel like I might miss if I blink or turn my head or get too wrapped up in work or even a book. The time my kids play by themselves is time I ought to be getting to know them, at this age, because before I know it, they’ll be another day, week, month, year older.
And before I know it I’ll have a soon-to-be first-grader.
Not that it’s a bad thing. I’m so proud of my son for “graduating” from kindergarten with flying colors. I’m so happy he has friends and laughter and stability and joy.
I’m so happy that kindergarten was not this scary thing that if I let myself think about it long enough last summer it felt like it was.
Now, to cherish every moment I can with him this summer, before he grows up even more.

***

The bedtime routine, May 25, 2011

I admit defeat.
I am not in charge. They are.
When it comes to bedtime, most nights, even my best-laid plans fail.
At 6:42 last night, I thought to myself, “Oh my, is it really this far from bedtime?” It’d just been one of those nights. One where my daughter screamed if I wasn’t a. holding her or b. holding her. Never mind that when I wasn’t holding her I was getting something for her. Something like dinner or a drink or a dry diaper or a movie for her to watch (hey, I was willing to try anything!) — or dinner, drink, etc., for her brother.
I was tired.
I envisioned an 8 p.m. tooth brushing and an 8:10 p.m. lights out.
But then life happened and my phone rang and I had to deal with things that just had to be dealt with right then and that’s when I really lost all control. At this point, at least, my daughter had agreed to play with her brother. They built what they called their “bounce.” Translation: A giant pile of blankets and pillows and clothes and stuffed animals in the middle of their bedroom floor (guess where they got those blankets and pillows? Yep. My bed).
Then they moved to the bathroom (my bathroom) to play in the sink. Both children got soaked. So did the countertop. And the floor.
Then it was 9:10 and they were wired.
And I was done.
I took a deep breath and tried not to yell. Jammies. Teeth. Time to lay down. (Can youalmost just hear me saying that?)
By 9:30 p.m., the 2-year-old was finally asleep. A little later, so was her brother.
Like I said, I admit defeat.
Any tips?

***

Girl power, May 23, 2011

I did my first triathlon Sunday. It was the Omaha Women’s Triathlon and I was scared out of my mind before it started.
But even through my terror, I almost felt like crying a few times before the start just looking around at all the women – of all shapes, sizes and ages – getting ready to do the same terrifying thing.
(I mean, ladies, how appealing does jumping into a chilly lake at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning sound to you? Yeah, me either).
Seeing those women, though, was awesome. There was an air of confidence, hope and optimism. You know, if all these other women can do it, so can I.
If they can pull on their swim caps and wet suits and cover the nearly half mile in a lake filled with seaweed and fish, if they can bike 12.4 miles on a hilly course, if they can then run a 5K on a hilly course … well, maybe, so can I.
So I did. I didn’t do great place-wise. But I don’t care. I finished. And that is a victory I’ll celebrate for a while.
Congrats to the 213 other amazing women who finished Omaha’s first women’s triathlon, too. Good job, ladies!

***

Happy birthday, sweet girl, May 18, 2011

Today, my baby girl turns 2. (Yes, her birthday is the day after her brother’s!).
In a very real way, I can’t believe she’s only now turning 2. She’s been talking in long sentences for what feels like a year, she runs and laughs and plays on her own and has a personality as big as the sea.
She surprises me at least twice a day. She’ll say things like, “Take me up to the sky, Mommy. Look! I’m flying up there!” and then she’ll throw her arms out to the side like a little-girl airplane.
At her brother’s gymnastics studio, she’ll go up to strangers (other parents watching their kids practice), and say, excitedly, “My birthday’s coming up, guys! I be 2!”
And now she is.
Happy birthday to the baby girl I always wanted and will cherish forever. I’m here for you always, sweet girl, Paige.
Love you forever,
Mom

***

Becoming a mom, May 17, 2011

Six years ago today, I became a mom.
I didn’t get it at the time. Not really anyway. I didn’t get then what “becoming a mom” really meant.
Maybe, six years later, I still don’t fully understand.
But on my first baby’s sixth birthday, this is what I know for sure:
– Being a mom is the most important job I will ever have. Sure, it is filled with frustration, thankless tasks and heartache. But it also brings immeasurable, unmatchable satisfaction. Joy. Happiness. Completeness. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
–  I am not a perfect mom. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I am a good mom. I love my babies more than anything. Those little pieces of me are what my days revolve around. I do my best to teach them, love them, nurture them, help them grow into the people they will someday be. I only hope they know how much their mom loves them, how much truth there is in these words: “I will always be here for you. Always.”
– My little boy is one cool kid. Last night, I laid with him as he fell asleep. He curled up next to me, his head on my chest, his legs tucked up so his knees touched his tummy. I ran my fingers across his hair, breathed in his smell and realized: He is so grown up. He’s into Justin Bieber and G.I. Joe guys and Nerf guns. He’s into playing outside until dark, watching movies and setting up elaborate battle scenes in his playroom. He’s into running around with his friends, doing gymnastics and even helping his mom with his little sister when she asks.
He’s got permanent teeth coming in all over the place. He’s got that “Geez, Mom!” look and voice when I do something he considers embarrassing.
But every morning when I drop him off at school, he looks back at me – at his mom. He smiles and says, “I love you, Mom,” before he closes the door and runs across the sidewalk to disappear inside.
Thinking about all this now makes me teary-eyed. But today, on his birthday, I’m choosing to celebrate the beautiful baby he no longer is and the one of a kind sweet boy he’s grown into.
Happy birthday, my sweet Rye! Love you forever.
Mom
To leave a comment, click on the header “Becoming a mom.”

***

My son’s first test, May 6, 2011

I thought we’d escape kindergarten without this four-letter word.
But no. In the weekly newsletter Thursday was word of a TEST. My son’s first test.
In spelling. On Monday.
Now, spelling was my favorite subject. I was – and still am – an impeccable speller. I picture words in my head. I always got a 100 percent on spelling in school.
But my nearly 6-year-old? Eh, not so much. At least not yet. He came home with a “book” he’d made in school yesterday. It was titled “my gore book by rye.” You’re gory book,” I said? No, he said, grocery store book.
Ohhhh. Of course.
In it, he’d titled a clipping of bottled water “woo” and a picture of candy “Kan.”
Please don’t think I’m being hard on him. My son is an intelligent, thoughtful, empathetic, energetic, kind child who will have no problem spelling and reading and solving math problems and growing into a successful, beautiful man. I know this like I know the flesh of my own hand.
But right now he still needs practice. Because he’s just started learning all these things he needs to know.
So his spelling test Monday will include these words: a, am, at, be, dad, go, I, is, like, look.
I know he can read those words easily. But can he spell them?
We shall find out. I feel a practice test – or five – coming on this weekend.

***
Talking about the bad guys, May 4, 2011

Do you remember where you were when the first plane struck the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001? I was in college, headed to an advanced reporting class. We were on a field trip that day to City Hall. I remember walking in and asking my professor if he’d heard what was happening in New York City.
He had, but he didn’t seem all that affected.
I don’t think any of us fully grasped the significance of what was happening.
I remember learning about the second plane striking during the City Council meeting we were observing. An aide came and whispered in the mayor’s ear. He then adjourned the meeting.
At that point, I felt really scared.
Last night, I told my son about the tragedy of Sept. 11. I’d mentioned it before but really tried to explain it last night. I told him about Osama bin Laden’s death.
I showed him Monday’s World-Herald and we looked at other pictures online. We saw bin Laden and his hideout mansion. We saw people celebrating in the streets. We saw the White House and our president, Barack Obama.
My son, who will be 6 on May 17, was fascinated. He wanted to see more and more pictures and learn more about the evil things bin Laden had been involved with.
“What else did he do?” my son asked. “Did he have weapons?”
I was cautious not to tell him too much. He is only a little boy, after all. But I wanted him to know at least a little bit of what had happened.
I made sure to tell him that there are bad people and bad things in this world but that there are also good people and good things. Lots of them. And we need to focus on the good things and what we can control.
(Also, that we live in Omaha, far away from the Twin Towers or bin Laden’s hideout.)
I firmly believe it is our job as parents to protect our children – from real dangers or perceived ones. I also believe it is our job to honestly answer their questions, as best we can (here’s what some experts say on the matter).
But what do I want to do? Tell my babies everything is fine, everywhere, that there’s no need to worry, that everything’s going to be OK.
It’s what I wish was true.

***
Shedding the weight, April 29, 2011

Most of you know I got divorced last year.
Many of you know how happy the last year and a half of my life has been. My close friends, in fact, say they’ve never seen me happier.
I agree. I have never been happier.
It’s only now, though, that I’m finally shedding that last five pounds, that last bit of burden, of anxiety, of guilt.
It took until now, but I’ve let it go. FINALLY. Good riddance.
And, oh, man, does it feel good!
I had sort of a come-to-Jesus moment last week, a moment where suddenly I could see clearly for the first time in a very, very long while. It was a moment where I realized everything I have and how much I love what I have.
I finally knew for sure what I should have known long ago: I don’t need his approval anymore. I deserve to let myself off the hook.
It is OK to move forward, to be happy in this little life that I’ve created for myself and my children, this little life that I really, truly love.
So I freed myself.
I can breathe. I can dance. I can laugh. And though I’ve done all those things over the past 18 months (more than I had the past six years, believe me), it’s somehow that much purer, that much sweeter now.
I’m so thankful to be here. And now I pray (yes, those of you who know me, I pray) that the one person I need to forgive me for this journey, for this freeing myself taking so damn long, does.
I’m ready now. I’m ready to live my own new life, on my own ridiculous (if I want them to be, right?) terms.

***

Time flies, April 27, 2011

Summer break is almost here. Wow.
Where did this school year go? It seems like just last month I was dealing with all the emotions of sending my first-born to kindergarten. Now, I’m thinking about the summer, where he will go, how he will spend it, what it will be like to have a first-grader next fall.
All this time just goes so quickly, doesn’t it?
I find myself thinking, “No! Slow down. Don’t grow up.”
But I know I can’t stop it. And really? I wouldn’t choose to stop it. Seeing our babies grow from newborns who can’t do anything on their own to walking, talking, running, laughing little people with personalities and minds and imaginations and ambitions all their own might be one of the awesomest things in the whole wide world.
If I could just hold onto little pieces of it as they grow. If I could just snatch a piece of my son’s hair or a fleck of my daughter’s smile to keep, to hold onto, as we all grow older, I’d feel a little better.
A little more secure in their presence, in my role as their mother, their guardian, their caretaker, in my position as the one who loves them most.
Because I know what my job is, ultimately: To send them off, away from me. On their own. Little people in this great big scary world.
Oh, time, slow down. Just a little.

***

Second thoughts, April 21, 2011
About two months ago, I signed up for the Omaha Women’s Triathlon.
I’d always wanted to do a triathlon, but I signed up for this one – on May 22 at Lawrence Yougman Lake near 192nd Street and West Dodge Road – a little hastily. I was ticked I couldn’t get into the Lincoln Half Marathon (on May 1 in Lincoln), even though it wasn’t even March yet. It had filled up much more quickly than it had in the past.
So I signed up for the triathlon. I wanted something to work toward, a goal to strive for. I wanted something to ensure I’d work out.
At first, I went all out. I was swimming three days a week, running and biking when I could.
Then I took a week off of work during my son’s spring break from school. Nothing like a vacation to knock you off your game.
Sheesh.
I cannot find the motivation. And as the triathlon draws nearer, my panic grows greater.
I ran four miles Sunday afternoon and three miles Monday. But I took Tuesday and Wednesday off and I’ll likely take today off, too. My knees hurt and I’m just busy. (Story of everyone’s life, right? “I just can’t find the time…”)
I don’t have a wetsuit and I hate being cold. What was I thinking signing up to do a triathlon, which involves an open-water swim, in mid-May? That water’s going to be chilly.
The excuses are SO easy to come by.
And it’s occurred to me over the past week how this triathlon experience for me is not that different from other things in life. We so easily second guess ourselves, our decisions, our choices, what we work toward and what we don’t. We’re so quick to give up, give in, beat ourselves up, think we can’t do it before we even start.
Why do we do that? Why do I do that?

***

Unless you’re really not paying attention, April 15, 2011 (meowmusings)

We’re going to get a little smarter as we get older.

That’s what superstar author Elizabeth Gilbert told me last month when I called her for an interview. She was in a hotel room in Idaho, in the middle of a speaking tour that brought her to Omaha last week.

I was so nervous in the days leading up to the interview that I started wishing someone else was writing the story instead. I do that sometimes: wish I could forsake what always ends up being awesome just to get out of the agony of the build-up.

But she was great and I was capable, if even confident and articulate. She thanked me for such thoughtful questions at the end, and that just about made my entire week.

She was what journalists call “a quote machine.” Just about everything she said was wise and worded well and quote-worthy. Writing this story was challenging mainly in making sure I kept my voice, that I didn’t rely too much on her words, that I let myself be the writer. (How crazy is that? Letting myself be the writer instead of ELIZABETH GILBERT!).

Anyway, here’s what ran in the World-Herald. I’m pretty proud of it.

The influence of ‘Eat, Pray, Love’
By Veronica Daehn
World-Herald staff writer

As far as Elizabeth Gilbert can figure, it was all an accident.
The author of the mega-successful “Eat, Pray, Love” just happened to write a book about her spiritual journey to find herself at the same time millions of women happened to be re-examining their own lives.
“When you’re struggling with those hard questions about love, despair, God, the point of your life, you really feel like you’re alone on an iceberg with that,” Gilbert said in a recent interview. “It turns out those exact questions were being shared by about 10 million people. Turns out my own personal drama is an extremely representable one.”
In her early 30s, unhappy in her marriage and her life, Gilbert left her husband and her new suburban house in New York. She ultimately traveled to Italy, India and Indonesia, where she sought spiritual guidance and healing as well as forgiveness. “Eat, Pray, Love” is a memoir of that journey.
It has sold more than 10 million copies, has been translated into more than 30 languages and was made into a major motion picture starring Julia Roberts.
Gilbert is still figuring out how to deal with all that success.
“I try to respect it and be grateful for it and keep a little tiny bit of distance from it,” she said. “There was nothing in my life that led me to believe anything like that would have happened.”
If she’s lucky, she said, people will be asking her about “Eat, Pray, Love” for the rest of her life.
There’s little doubt that its impact will be long-lasting, at least for many readers.
Mandy Horrocks, a 34-year-old Omaha mother, is just one of many women who read Gilbert’s book at that accidental right time.
Normally too busy with her career to read, Horrocks bought “Eat, Pray, Love” in the Omaha airport on her way to a business meeting in Boston. She couldn’t put it down.
“From the first lines, I just thought, ‘Oh, my God, this is my life right now.’ I just really connected.”
Horrocks read “Eat, Pray, Love” in October. A week before Christmas, she left her husband. In February, she left her job, a career she’d had for 12 years — 10 at the same place. A sales manager for a financial services company, Horrocks didn’t want to be “on” all the time anymore.
Before quitting, she told herself every day for a year that her career would get better. Put your head down and work hard, she said. She knew she could make herself do that.
“But then I woke up one day and thought, ‘Why am I making myself do this?’”
Taking a cue from Gilbert, she’s no longer doing it. Instead, she’s trying to figure out what’s next.
As for her marriage, Horrocks said she and her husband were on their way to separating anyway. But reading the book gave her a little more faith, a little more courage.
“It just kind of confirmed and reassured me that things like that can happen and be OK,” she said. “It reassured me that you do move on and do what’s important in your life.”
Women today have an added challenge, Gilbert said, because they don’t really have older generations to look up to. Their mothers and grandmothers didn’t feel pulled in so many directions because they didn’t have as many choices.
Gilbert said: “I can’t ask my mother or my grandmother how they did this because they didn’t have the life I had. She didn’t have to do the thing we do where we look down our street and there are 10 different women with 10 different paths and each one forced us to ask ourselves if we did it the right way? Was I supposed to get divorced and move to India?”
Women have enormous political and educational freedoms now, Gilbert said. And because they don’t have generations of role models to learn from and follow, they’re all pioneering their own way. (“Thank God for the blogosphere,” she said).
It can get overwhelming, but women have a responsibility to own up to their choices, even when it means they don’t get certainty, she said. Women often second-guess their decisions.
“Let us not deceive ourselves,” Gilbert said. “This is a tricky time to be a woman. Almost every day, we have six doors we could go through. Choosing one always comes with the danger that you should have gone through a different door.”
So what about Gilbert’s choice? Is she happy?
She is. She remarried (her most recent book, “Committed,” is all about marriage), and she and her husband live in a river town of 1,000 people in rural New Jersey.
She has a garden where she grows mainly flowers (the town has a wonderful Farmer’s Market for vegetables, plus she likes to look out her window and “see a ridiculously pointless pile of beauty.”) She takes yoga at a local studio. She walks her dog, Rocky. And she’s working on her next book, a novel about 19th century botanical exploration.
At ICAN, Gilbert will talk about the process of writing “Eat, Pray, Love” and surviving its aftermath.
She’ll start at the beginning of her writing career, when she was 8 or 9 years old and writing plays with her sister (she wrote, produced and directed a 10-minute musical in the fifth grade). She’ll talk about the creative process and how to live a creative life as long as you’re alive.
She’ll talk about failures, too — the 10 years she spent trying to be a writer but not getting published.
But now, she’s Elizabeth Gilbert. She took this scary step, left her marriage, traveled the world, found herself and love, wrote a best-seller, has been on “Oprah” … isn’t her life perfect?
Nah.
“The world is a shifty, spinny, complicated place where nothing is promised, where nothing remains the same,” she said. “Just when you get yourself straightened out, there’s everyone else to deal with, too — all their fears and issues. The degree of compassion that’s required to endure it is mighty.
“But unless you’re really not paying attention, you’re going to get a little smarter as you get older.”

***

No power, March 17, 2011

Yesterday was early pick-up day at my son’s school. Millard dismisses at 2 p.m. every Wednesday (working mothers, I see you cringing along with me).
I usually pick up my son from school, then my daughter from daycare before making a family trip to the store. It seems we’re almost always out of something we can’t live without for long. Toilet paper, orange juice, napkins, bread, Eggos. You know. The essentials.
We headed to one of the big box stores yesterday, way out west on Center. I had made a mental list of things we needed.
The stoplights were out on our way there, which always makes me anxious, especially around busy intersections. But we made it, and my daughter was actually excited to go in (attribute that to a woman’s innate love of shopping or the promise of chocolate chip waffles and veggie chicken nuggets in our cart).
When we got in, though, I realized the power was out there, too. No matter, we’d shop anyway, even in the dark. We were headed for a cart when the greeter, an elderly man, said we wouldn’t be able to check out. No power apparently cripples a business’s ability to accept any money.
Huh.
We stood there for a minute and then left, my daughter in tears. Actual sobs because she’d wanted so badly to sit in the cart and buy things. Oh, dear.
I quickly offered a trip to the park! A return visit to the store later! Anything you want! But nothing really worked. Think big, sad crocodile tears and a protruding bottom lip. All because the corporate big box store was closed.
I started to laugh. (What else was I supposed to do?)
We ended up just going home, navigating our way through a series of dark stoplights at major intersections along West Center Road. Luckily, our house had electricity.
We ended up not using it, though. We went outside to play in the backyard, a place we hadn’t been since last fall.
Better than a trip to the store anyway.

***

Have you all been here? March 16, 2011

Maybe at least it would make a good story, I told my son.
I was hoping.
Not that this story is awful by any means. More … irritating, I guess, than anything else. But also kind of funny.
My son, who turns 6 in May, takes gymnastics twice a week. Mondays and Thursdays at 5:30. This week, though, his mom is running a St. Patrick’s Day 5K on Thursday, so we sought out a make-up gymnastics class for him last night.
We arrived, true to form, about a minute late. He ran in, while I parked the car. I gave him clear instructions to look for his teacher and head straight in to join the group.
When my 22-month-old daughter and I made it in, I immediately walked to the window to make sure my son had found his class.
Just about right away, I knew something was wrong. For one, he was almost a foot taller than the other boys. Second, he also seemed to be joining the group mid-class. They were on the bars already. Normally, they’d be running laps for a warm-up.
I asked at the front desk. Yes, the class my son should be joining starts at 6:30, not 5:30. I checked my phone for the time: 5:36 p.m.
Ugh. Lesson: Always double check what you think you know.
I gathered my children and headed for the car. Both said, “Where are we going? What are we doing?”
The truth: I hadn’t a clue. But I knew we weren’t staying at gymnastics for the next 54 minutes, just waiting. We live far enough away that it didn’t make sense to go home either.
We hadn’t eaten yet and the kids had already requested pancakes for dinner, so I decided we’d go to the nearby breakfast restaurant. Perfect. Dinner taken care of and time wasted!
Then I saw my son’s feet. I hadn’t made him wear shoes. He takes them off as soon as he gets to gymnastics anyway, why bother with tying them? No shirt, no shoes, no service. Awesome.
So we drove. We drove until Mommy saw a thrift store. We went in, my son barefoot. I told myself the fact that my son didn’t have shoes on and we were going in to shop at a thrift store didn’t mean anything about my financial means, despite appearances to the contrary.
Goldmine: Above a rack of clothes, I saw a pair of kids’ sneakers. They were white and royal blue and off-brand.
I’m also pretty sure they were girls’ shoes.
But they fit. So we bought them.
And then we ate a speed dinner of pancakes at the nearby restaurant. Because by the time we got there, I had to ask the waiter to please rush our order.
Finally, we showed up to gymnastics – again – a minute late.

***

Healing our babies, March 15, 2011

There’s little else worse in the world than seeing my babies sick.
A throaty cough, a fever, a scraped knee or a stomach ache. Even a stuffy nose or a stubborn tooth coming in. They get me every time.
If only us moms really could heal an owie with a kiss. If only we really did have any power at all over our kids’ health. If I could take their place when they’re sick, I would. In a second.
I don’t know what it’s like to have a truly sick child. You know what I’m talking about. I am lucky to not know. And I pray to whatever higher force is out there that I never find out. If I get one wish in this world, that is it.
When I first heard about Brad and Amy Price, I wanted to not know. I wanted to forget their story. I didn’t want to acknowledge the awful truth they are facing.
Their daughter is dying. Their son might be, too. For their daughter at least, there is nothing they can do. She is 3 years old.
How does a mother (or a father) handle that?
The answer, I guess: You just do. Because you have no other choice.
Their daughter, Liviana, was diagnosed in December with metachromatic leukodystrophy, a progressive, degenerative brain disease with no cure. Shortly afterward, the family learned that 1-year-old Giovanni also has MLD. The Prices’ older two children — Aria, 6, and Miles, 4 — apparently have escaped the genetic disease.
Liviana is already suffering effects of the disease. She can’t walk. She talks less. She’s relegated to watching her siblings and friends run and play instead of joining in herself.
I cannot imagine the pain her parents must feel.
At the same time, though, they have hope that their son will beat this. Because he hasn’t yet shown effects of the disease, he was eligible for experimental treatment in Italy. The family is in Milan now where Giovanni’s treatment involves harvesting some of his cells, surgeries, chemotherapy and reinfusing the cells with corrected enzymes. They’ll be there until at least May.
Friends and family in Omaha are helping. A fundraiser is planned for tonight from 5 to 9 at The Prestige, 810 S. 169th St. You can donate at any Wells Fargo Bank or here. You can also read Amy Price’s blog here.
Here’s to hope getting us all through. Amy and Brad Price, we’re thinking of you here in Omaha.

***

Days like these, March 11, 2011

You ever had one of those days where everything feels hard? At least harder than it should be?
They usually start in the morning. I burn the waffles. I spill the sippy cup as I’m pouring the juice. I can’t find one of my daughter’s shoes.
My son doesn’t like the choices of pants in his drawer. He wants the pair of pants he wore two days ago and can’t understand why they’re not clean. It’s not like he wore them yesterday.
My daughter trips on her blankie or an errant toy (book, movie, shirt, fill in the blank really) that’s been left where it shouldn’t be.
I wake up with intentions to shower but then run out of time. I can’t find my toothbrush – it’s probably hiding out with my daughter’s shoe.
We leave the house late. My son can’t find his hat. Or his gloves. Or his library book. My daughter cries for her sunglasses to be on her face right that second, MAMA!! Even though it’s cloudy.
I forget my lunch that I actually took time to make on the kitchen counter. Again.
We hit every red light. There’s no easy place to park to simply drop my son off at school.
I try to fight the urge to swing by Starbucks. I don’t have time, I should save the money. I swing by anyway. And the drive-through is eight cars deep.
I keep on driving, wondering what’s next…
These sorts of days.
Anyone with me?

***

Siblings, March 8, 2011

Sometimes, my son will do something for his little sister that is so sweet it melts my heart.
He’ll tell her it’s OK and give her a hug if she’s crying. He’ll help her up onto the couch if she can’t make it. He’ll let her cuddle next to him if she wants to. He’ll give her a drink of his juice or a bite of his sandwich if she asks.
These are the times I think, “Wow. How different would my son’s world be if we’d never had his sister? I’m so glad we gave him that gift.”
Then there are other times.
Times I think, “Why can’t they play together nicely? Why must every 45 seconds be punctuated with a scream?”
Sigh.
Siblings are a wonderful gift. And I wouldn’t trade either of my children for ANYTHING.
But having more than one child does make a household more crazy.  It does make a parent’s workload larger – or at least different. The way siblings relate to each other – whether they get along or not, for one – can make a mom’s life stressful. Or not.
And I know: Having however many children you have, if you decide to have children at all, is a blessing. Kids make our families what they are. I’m thankful every day for the children I have.

***

Sick kids, Feb. 24, 2011

I picked up my daughter from daycare yesterday and was surprised to hear not one, not two but THREE of the children at my small in-home daycare had gone to the doctor that day.
Wow. Technically, they weren’t all sick. One went to a specialist – he needs tubes – and I’m not sure why another went. The third has an ear infection.
My daughter was sick a couple weeks ago with croup, then a bad cold. I had a sinus infection over that same time. My son a couple nights ago told me he thought he might throw up.
I don’t need to tell you that this time of year tons of kids are sick! Doctors’ offices are packed now.
But I’m sick of it (no pun intended). Please, please, Gods of Health, can you make it so no more children are sick this year (or ever?) This includes colds, infections and things far worse.
Deal? I’m willing to trade. Name your price.
Not only is it hard to see your precious babies snotty and whiny and hacking up a lung, but it’s also extra stressful for parents to miss work, kids to miss school and activities and other hassles that come with having to rearrange schedules and deviate from the routine.
Right?
Well, here’s to hoping spring comes soon (tomorrow would be good) and the warm weather chases all those germs away.
For good.

***

Putting the baby girl to bed, Jan. 19, 2011

I’ve made it more difficult than it should be.

I never stopped rocking her to sleep. And now she’s 20 months old and used to the cuddling. So to get out of it, I know what has to happen. Laying her down, kissing her goodnight and then putting up with the crying.

Doesn’t sound fun.

I made another mistake a few weeks ago, though. I added a step to falling asleep. Nice work, Mommy.

It was right before Christmas and my beautiful daughter wouldn’t go to sleep.

She was overtired, and she was crying. I turned off the lights and we sat down to rock like every other night, but this night she wouldn’t stop crying.

I tried hushing her, rocking faster, covering her up with a blanket but nothing worked. Really, she just needed to fall asleep.

I tried singing. “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” got a, “No, Mama!” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” got a similar response, as did the ABCs.

On a last-ditch whim, I tried “Jingle Bells.”

It worked. Hallelujah, the child stopped crying! And within minutes, she fell asleep.

Relieved and a little proud of myself, I sneaked out of the room, my baby resting soundly. “Jingle Bells,” I thought. Who knew?

Well, about four weeks later, I want to chuck the lyrics to “Jingle Bells” right out of my brain. Know why? Because I’ve had to sing it EVERY bedtime and nap-time since. Every single one. And if I stop after five or six rounds because, I don’t know, I’m TIRED, I get, “Mooore Jingle Bells, Mama. MOOORE Jingle Bells” in a sort of whiny little girl voice.

So then I sing more. I’ve started whispering it and only singing the chorus, in the honest hope that she’ll get bored and ask me to stop.

No such luck. Yet. At least she falls asleep …

Until I decide to stop rocking and singing all together. Oh, boy.

***

I smell meat, Oct. 23, 2010 (meowmusings)

We stopped at Hy-Vee after school yesterday and driving through the parking lot, Rye said, “I smell something.”

I looked around. Yes, he smelled meat on the grill. I told him that.

“Oh,” he said, “what kind?”

Sausages, hot dogs and ribs, I told him.

“But what animal is it?” he said. And I was proud.

“Pigs,” I said.

Silence.

I could tell he was thinking about this, about the fact that people eat animals.

As we got out of the car, he asked, “But not all animals are killed, right? Some animals get to just live, right, Mom?”

I told him that, yes, some animals like cows and pigs and chickens get to just live but that most of them are raised to become food.

We passed the giant grill with the racks of ribs and fat sausages sizzling. We both looked and then went on our way. What else can we do?

We will never, ever live in a world where animals are not killed for meat. I know this. My wish, though, is that we could get to a place where those animals are treated humanely, where they are not raised in pens too small to walk, where they are not overfed and pumped with hormones, where they do not live in their own feces, where they are not tortured.

I don’t think that’s a lot to ask.

I didn’t tell my 5-year-old all that. For now, I’m OK with the fact that he understands why we don’t eat meat. Simply, in his mind, because we don’t think it’s a nice thing to eat animals.

It feels like heresy sometimes in the heart of the Midwest, in an agricultural stronghold like Nebraska, to oppose eating meat. But it also feels like the right thing.

So that is the path we will continue on.

***

This morning’s moment, Oct. 20, 2010 (meowmusings)

I was eating Frosted Mini-Wheats, legs crossed on the living room floor this morning, while Paige danced to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on TV and Rye sat nearby on the couch.

It was the time between the rush to get everyone ready for the day and the rush to get out the door.

Rye said, “Grandma Hazel is 91.”

I have no idea what made him think of this at that moment. Perhaps, Mickey and friends had just counted by 10s to 100.

I nodded that yes, she is 91.

He said, “She says she’s getting old. She already is old!”

I called her just Hazel. He questioned that. “Hazel?”

Her name is Hazel, I explained. He furrowed his brow. “Oh, I thought it wasGrandma Hazel.”

Well, you call her that, baby, I said, because she is a grandma. She’s Daddy’s grandma. She’s your great-grandma.”

And then it was silent for half a minute.

Rye said, “Do you have a great-grandma, Mom?”

And isn’t this sad? I had to think about who that would even be.

“No,” I said. “I don’t.”

I don’t even know my grandma.

And so I’m thankful again this morning that my babies have extended family who love them, that my son has a great-grandma who he’s seen and hugged and knows, that he has grandparents who care.

***

School crushes, Sept. 2, 2010

He’s only 5.

He’s only in kindergarten.

Yet, a few days ago, Rye had a note.

From a girl.

I saw him smirking in the backseat after I picked him up from school.

“What are you smiling about?” I asked.

“Nothing,” he said, and quickly pretended like he hadn’t been staring at the small piece of paper in his hands. In fact, he tried hiding that piece of paper, as if I hadn’t already seen it.

I couldn’t see what it said, though, and this really got me. Oh, how I wanted to see what was on that tiny rectangle!

I let it go, though. I’m trying to realize that my kids are their own people and they are allowed to have feelings (and all sorts of other things) that they don’t have to share with Mommy.

I didn’t say I like this very much, but I do realize it’s the case.

Later that night, after dinner, Rye was lounging in the living room, watching a movie. I noticed he was holding onto the same small piece of paper.

My curiosity got the best of me.

I pretended to be cleaning up the living room. Really, I just wanted to see what was so important about that note.

On one side, someone had drawn stars and smiley faces. On the other side, someone had colored and written her name:

Chloe.

I smiled.

And I bit my tongue.

Even though I desperately want to know who Chloe is (and what her parents do, if she has blonde hair like Mommy and how this relationship began – recess? gym? hand holding during story time?), I let it go.

I chose instead to be happy for my little boy, that he had a new friend who liked him well enough to draw him a picture.

A picture that made him happy.

Isn’t that what we all want ultimately? Happy kids?

Right now, it’s enough for me.

***

Moments to hold onto, Sept. 1, 2010 (meowmusings)

I bought the box of Cheerios months ago for my daughter, who is now 15 months old.

She never really wanted any. Yet, still the box sat, largely untouched in the kitchen pantry. She might change her mind, I thought. Better keep it.

When I began packing for our move a couple weeks ago, that box of cereal moved to a Rubbermaid tub on the kitchen floor. Paige has enjoyed the new “toys” that have surfaced on her level in that tub. There, she discovers such treasures as pens, flour, half-eaten bags of tortilla chips, aluminum foil and cereal boxes.

Last night as I finished dinner, Paige was playing in the kitchen.

I heard it first. The sound was a bit like sand being thrown onto the sidewalk or rice being shaken in its container.

I turned my head to see Paige, upended cereal box in hand, several Cheerios on the floor.

I had plenty of time to react. To yell, “No! Paaaige! Don’t do that!” (Can you almost hear me saying that?).

But I didn’t.

I laughed.

And then she dumped the rest of the cereal out.

All of it. All over the floor.

And as those tiny circles of cereal that I don’t blame her for not liking rained down on my floor and scattered throughout the dining room and the kitchen, I laughed even harder.

This moment, for whatever reason, I chose to enjoy. And it wasn’t a conscious decision either. It was just what came out.

I loved it.

And as I sat there smiling, watching the crumbs stick to my daughter’s feet as she ran across the field of cereal she’d planted on my laminate, her laughter was the sweetest sound I’d ever heard.

I realized that these moments are worth laughing about.

I realized that these moments will be gone too quickly.

I realized that before I know it my babies’ evenings will be filled with things like baseball practice and homework and phone calls or (dear God help me) Facebook.

These babies might not always want Mom around to laugh with.

I realized, as I stared at all that cereal, that this was a moment to hold onto. Like that lock of hair from their first haircuts.

To keep in my memory as not a mess to clean up but a time we all laughed together with nothing else alive in that room but each other.

***

I shouldn’t need a husband to buy beer, Aug. 26, 2010 (meow musings)

I just needed strawberries.

So I stopped at Hy-Vee, on my way to get my little all-grown-up-all-of-a-sudden boy from school.

I went in, skipped the shopping cart and found the strawberries (for Paige and Rye). I also decided to get fruit snacks (a treat for Rye) and Corona Light (a treat for me).

My hands full, I went to the cashier with the shortest line. I was happy she was older, so we wouldn’t have to bother with a manager coming over to scan my beer and take my money.

The woman in front of me was paying when I came up and set my items on the conveyor belt. She had a daughter about Paige’s age in the cart who I suppose was cute. But she wasn’t as cute as my kid, and the cashier was ALL OVER HER.

Even after the woman had paid and was on her way, the cashier who I was waiting patiently for wanted to know the little girl’s name.

Come on, I was thinking. I have three things. Just let me pay for them. I don’t even need a bag. I checked the time on my cell phone. 17 minutes until school was out.

Finally, the cashier pulled herself away, saying, “She’s a CUTIE!”

I sort of nodded.

Ring me up, I pleaded silently.

I pulled out my credit card, ready to swipe it through the machine when she read my total.

The cashier rang up the strawberries and the fruit snacks and paused when she got to the Corona. She leaned over the counter in between us and looked at my left hand.

Then she looked at me.

“I’m going to card you. Do you have your ID?”

Yes, I did, of course.

“I’m 30 years old,” I said, and handed her my license.

She scanned the beer and gave me back my license. I slid my credit card and put it away.

I was in a hurry to go. The cashier held onto my beer.

“Do you need one of these?” she asked. She was holding Hy-Vee’s Wedding Essentials magazine.

Are you kidding me? I thought. Uh, no, I don’t need your magazine filled with overpriced bridal gowns, flowers that only die and rings that cost way too much. I’m completely over centerpieces and tuxes and glasses etched with the couple’s name, too. And if you had any clue what the last year of my life has been like, lady, I sure hope you wouldn’t be flashing that magazine in my face.

“Nope, I sure don’t,” I said. “I just got divorced.”

Now, give me my groceries and let me leave, I wanted to add.

She smiled sadly at me, judging me, it seemed, and finally let me go.

Tip number one, Hy-Vee cashiers: A ring on my left finger doesn’t prove I’m old enough to buy beer. If you’re going to card a customer, please base that decision on her face, not her marital status.

Number two: Please, please don’t assume a ringless finger means a woman wants to think about marriage. Trust me: Brides will find your magazine if they want it.

Just scan my groceries, and take my money.

That’s all I need you to do.

There are plenty of others in this world to make me feel bad about things. I don’t need you added to that list.

***

He was fine, Aug. 11, 2010 (meow musings)

I told you he would be.

I knew he would be.

Still, I had to see it for myself. I had to see him come striding out of those doors after the first day of kindergarten ended yesterday with a smile on his face, a sort of pride in his step.

About lunchtime, I started counting down until I could go get him. One hour and 15 minutes.

It wasn’t soon enough.

I’d done fine dropping him off. I’d actually loved the whole process. We all woke up as usual, had breakfast and got dressed. I was careful about making his lunch. I wanted it to be perfect.

I made sure he knew how to open the plastic sandwich bags I’d put his peanut butter and jelly sandwich and sliced strawberries in.

I made sure I packed the right kind of fruit snacks. I discreetly cut a small piece of construction paper into a heart, decorated it with an Iron Man sticker and wrote, “Rye, I love you! MOM.” I stuck it in his lunchbox, too.

It was the second thing he told me when I picked him up from school. It was a, “Hey, you surprised me with that, Mom! How’d you slip that one by me?!” sort of comment. I loved that he loved it.

The first thing he told me: “We had TWO recesses today!”

That’s my boy.

Before the end of the day, I learned he and the other kindergartners had been loud at lunch, a boy in his class named Simon had gotten hurt but no one knew what happened, his teacher had read a story about going to kindergarten and he’d had graham crackers for a mid-morning snack. Oh, and they counted to 10.

But he didn’t learn anything new. Not yet, he says.

Still, he made it. He did it. He was fine. He liked it.

Kindergarten schmindergarten.

And you were worried.

***

And he’s off, Aug. 11, 2010 (meow musings)

Today, my baby went to kindergarten.

And in 51 minutes – yes, I am counting – I can go get him.

I can’t wait. I need to make sure he was OK. I need to ask how lunch went. Could he get the baggies holding his peanut butter and jelly and strawberries open? If he couldn’t, did he ask for help? Did he do alright in the bathroom? Did he make a friend? How does he like his teacher? Did he learn anything today? When is P.E.? What about music? Were the kids in his class nice? How was recess? What did he play with? What are the names of the kids who sit at his table? Did his teacher read any books? What did he do with his school supplies?

Did he miss me?

What anxiety?

Hey, I haven’t even cried today. (That’s because I cried for hours last night. I wish I was kidding.)

I go back and forth between knowing that my child is nothing but ready for this next step in his life, that it’s exactly what he needs to continue growing and thriving AND from feeling like I want to cling to whatever strands of blonde hair I can grab ahold of to keep him from growing up – and away from Mommy – any faster.

What can I do anyway, though? Except cheer him on as he goes out into this big, wondrous world.

Here’s to you, my baby boy. Go get ’em.

***

Re-introducing Veronica Daehn, Aug. 11, 2010

Getting divorced is not an easy thing.

Every aspect of it actually is awful. Emotionally, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It’s not what I set out wanting. It wasn’t ever part of my life plan.

But it is done now, and I want you to know the girl who came out on the other side.
Her name is Veronica Daehn. She is a mother of two beautiful, smart, charming, fun children who she wouldn’t trade for the world.

She is a journalist. A friend. A daughter. A sister. An aunt.

She is the owner of one cat, who is not for sale. Ever.
She is not the Veronica Daehn who graduated school with a 4.0. Nor is she the Veronica Daehn who won awards for things like hustle and spirit in athletics. She’s not the Veronica Daehn who couldn’t take a joke. She’s not the Veronica Daehn who tried hard at everything she did.

She’s just not that girl anymore.

She is changed.

This Veronica Daehn is older, wiser, less naive, more realistic, more understanding, a better friend – and she’s working on her patience.

She is less involved in things that don’t matter. She’s stopped trying to impress people. She’s working on not caring what others think (this one is hard).
She has regrets.

This Veronica Daehn knows we don’t always get what we want – and she’s stopped striving for that.
She is working on forgiving herself. She is working on forgiving others.

And overall, this Veronica Daehn is happy to be back, as a hybrid of the girl she once was and the mother she now is. She’s paving her path as she goes, a bit more carefully this time, much more wisely, she hopes.

She’s taking things as they come, perhaps a bit more skeptically.

Perhaps a bit more happily.

She hopes.

***

These are the things I’d really put in his backpack, July 29, 2010

My son starts kindergarten in less than two weeks.

I won’t even get into how fast the time has gone, how I can’t believe he’ll be in school, real school, not just preschool or daycare.

Instead, I’m trying to focus on looking ahead and being excited about all the amazing things he’s yet to experience.

This weekend, I plan to take him to buy school supplies. The school provided a list. He is to bring:

– 4 boxes of crayons
– 1 pack of Crayola markers
– 2 boxes of tissues
– 6 white glue sticks
– 1 plastic school box, no handle
– 12 #2 pencils, sharpened
– 1 bottle of Elmer’s glue
– 1 pair of headphones
– 1 large backpack

We’ll get those items, of course, and I’ll help him fill his new backpack with them. Then on the morning he leaves me for the first real time, I’ll help him get that heavy backpack on his shoulders.

I’ll walk with him into school. I’ll make sure he finds his room, meets his teacher.

And then I’ll leave.

I don’t even like the way writing that sentence feels.

While his backpack will be full of crayons and glue sticks and markers and tissues – the things we were supposed to send with our kids to school – these are the things I really want to send with my first-born, my baby:

— Confidence. The gift of believing in yourself is bigger than anything I could ever wrap and put under the tree.

— A sense of humor. Things don’t always go the way we want. This is hard to accept, especially for us first-borns. But it’s good to be able to laugh them off.

— Courage. My biggest fear is that my little boy will need help and will be too scared or too shy to ask.

— At least one friend. Please, God, let him make him a friend. None of us deserves to be alone.

— Love. If I could, I’d stuff all the love I have for him in a little Ziploc bag, seal it tight and put it in his pocket to carry forever.

— His blankie. It’s the best substitute for Mommy. And it actually would fit in his backpack, if he’d let me pack it.

— Curiosity. I want him to know everything there is to know about this world. Not just reading and math but about faraway places and great leaders and big ideas. I want him to ask questions. I want him to get excited about learning. I want him to be smarter than me.

— Me. If I could, I’d smoosh Mommy up into a tiny action figure version and I’d slip myself into his other pocket. I’d be there just to listen or give him a little hug when he needs it.

But I know as well as you: He won’t need it. He’ll be just fine.

***

And yes, Paige had a birthday, too, June 10, 2010

(So I’m a little late with Paige’s letter. Two kids on back to back days is a lot to ask for heartfelt letters. Anyway, here we go.)

Dear Paige,

You are simply the sweetest child.

You are quick to laugh, to smile, to make me smile. I seem to love you more every day, if that’s even possible.

I always wanted a girl. I wouldn’t trade your brother for ANYTHING. But my life wouldn’t be complete without you.

Who else would I play dolls, house and dress-up with? What other little girl’s nails would I paint? Whose hair would I braid? What little girl would run and play and spin and look up at the clouds and dream with me?

You will.

There is just something about little girls. And you, sweet Paige, are as sweet as they come.

Sure, there are times when all I want to do is put you down. When my arm aches from holding you. When it’d just be so much easier to put butter on Rye’s waffle with two hands. But then you tilt your head to the side and look at me with those big blue saucers and I melt.

And then you ask me to turn on the music and I do and we dance. Music has always calmed you. As a newborn, you liked loud and rockin’ Pink. I loved that. The music and the bounce in my arms would put you to sleep in minutes. We’d spend many evenings dancing in the kitchen, me holding my little baby, while your brother and your dad played in the other room.

And now in the car when there’s music you toss your head from side to side, that silly look-at-me-mama! smile on your face the whole time.

I love it.

You are brave and curious and questioning everything. “This?” you say and point. And then I tell you. “This?” And so on.

You are also sensitive. Airplanes scare you. You don’t like loud noises. You don’t like strangers. You like things as you know them. I don’t blame you.

You’re empathetic. When Rye cries, you know something’s wrong.

And there is so much more, sweet girl, that makes you who you are. I can hardly believe that your first year has gone by so fast.

Hold on, mama, right? I certainly don’t want to miss it.

Happy first birthday, my sweet baby! I’m so lucky to be your mom.

I love you!

Mama

***

On your fifth birthday, May 25, 2010

Dear Rye,

I remember those first few weeks after you were born. The long nights. The quieter but equally long days. The endless breastfeeding. The crying.

The complete newness of it all.

I wasn’t sure either one of us was going to make it.

I remember thinking, “This, too, shall pass” and “It’s got to get better. Someday, he’ll be 2. And that will be fun.” I may have even spoken those sentiments out loud, to your dad, to convince him. And me.

But it got better. Of course, it did. I got better at being your mom. You chilled out a bit. And then my whole world revolved around you. I thought about little else. I did little else. I always wanted to be with you. Every second.

I took you to the Children’s Museum and to the zoo. We played in the sandbox in the backyard. We went for long walks at night, all three of us. You were silly and crazy and in love with construction trucks and macaroni and cheese and “choo-choos” and The Wiggles (OK, I might have forced The Wiggles on you, just a bit).

Every time you were sick, I wished it could be me feeling miserable instead. When you ran into the corner of the upstairs bathroom door on your first birthday and split your forehead open, I felt AWFUL. And when you had hand, foot and mouth disease on your second birthday, I felt almost sick myself. I remember finally getting you to eat a very soft waffle, toward the end of your party. Those ulcers in your mouth looked awful.

I’ve smiled with you more times than I’ve cried, of course. I’ve laughed at you, with you, tickled you, held you. When we made light sabers at your third birthday party and superhero capes at your fourth, it was so special to see you with your very own friends. Somehow, my baby was old enough to have his very own friends.

Last week, you turned 5. I can hardly believe we’ve come this far.

You are simply so grown up. You are sensitive, you aim to please, you are the most empathetic kid I know. I’ll never forget when years ago you cried when Clifford had to move to the country to live with Emily’s uncle (we loved that book) or when Jackie Paper stops going to play with Puff the Magic Dragon (even I cry at that part of the book/song).

You have been my helper this year with your little sister. You realize when Mommy needs something and most of the time you just do it.

You are absolutely Paige’s favorite person in the world. No one can make her laugh or smile like you.

You are kind and thoughtful and articulate and intense and emotional. A bit like someone else I know…

Rye, you will always be my special boy, my sweet boy, my first baby.

Even when you’re more grown up than you are now.

I love you, my baby. Happy 5th birthday.

Mama

***

If I could be … all the time, April 26, 2010 (meow musings)

The courthouse is an awful place.

I decided this today as I went through the metal detector to stand in the center of a tall, square, bustling room with courtrooms on each side, a stairway at one end, a hallway at another and no clear sign telling me where to go.

Eventually, I found it. I went up and looked around and then asked for help.

Finally, I handed over my papers, my hands shaking, and I tried to offer the woman a weak smile. Really, though, I looked everywhere but at her. And I tried not to lose it, right there in the middle of a normal afternoon for everyone else. But an absolutely abnormally awful afternoon for me, no matter which way I keep trying to twist the kaleidoscope.

Filing for divorce costs $157. I made a photocopy of my Wonder Woman check before I turned it in. I don’t know why. I don’t ever want to look at it.

I tried to listen as the woman told me to hang on to certain papers I’d thought I needed to turn in today and I tried to look at her as she told me where to go next – but it involved more than one step and I had to ask her to repeat the directions and the name of the place and even then I’m surprised I remembered.

I thanked her, quietly, and then I walked away, out of that dreary, cubicle-laden, messed-up customers office. And I went downstairs, papers all out of order now, took a left as she told me and found another office with another office worker who I also couldn’t look in the eye.

After 15 minutes with her – and her supervisor, who maybe could tell I was just about to lose it – it was all I could do to make it to the bench outside the door without my grief escaping in guilt-ridden sobs.

And then I couldn’t move. The people – the lawyers in suits, the elderly woman in a wheelchair, the tattoed black man, the women who passed as if they didn’t care nobody ever noticed them – moved quickly past me, in both directions. Time, for me, seemed to stand still. It was one of the most surreal moments I’ve ever had. It was as if I was in a dream, or that I wasn’t actually even me.

I went home, and the house smelled like cat pee. For the first time ever. I don’t know what to do about it.

I went to the gym where I went through the motions of a workout. I never found my groove.

I went to Hy-Vee where a man was cleaning the carpet in the entryway where the carts live. The smell was pungent and harsh, and I held my breath on the way back out a little bit later.

At home now, there is too much quiet. Rye is with Dane. Paige is asleep. Every now and then, her breath catches tiny, soft moans. Right now, the sound of the portable heater is hissing through the baby monitor.

Daphne is sleeping next to me on this old, tattered couch that I wonder if I’ll always have.

I am so tired. And so is my broken man. Now, he says, he can find happiness.

I hope – someday – I can find peace.

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