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2 Great Children’s Books for Working Mamas

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In My Heart Mama Comes Home

In My Heart, by Molly Bang (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, 2006). This book is great on so many levels! Kyle and Owen like it a lot, and have for at least a year or two now. In the book the mama is a veterinarian and assures her young son that he is “in her heart” all the time, no matter what she is doing, even when she’s at work. The illustrations are awesome. The extra special twist is that the child in the book appears to have been adopted! He’s dark-skinned with dark hair, while both of his parents are fair-skinned with light hair. This gets it a big huge gold star in our book (no pun intended); it should go without saying that it is unique (i.e., beyond rare!) to find children’s books picturing inter-racial –apparently adoptive— families when the book’s subject isn’t specifically focused on adoption. A wonderful book for young kids with working mamas!


When Mama Comes Home Tonight, by Eileen Spinelli, illustrated by Jane Dyer (Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 1998). This book is a current favorite of Meera’s. We have it in the board book edition, which is just perfect for this sweet little book. In the book the mama comes home from work to enjoy simple pleasures with her toddler daughter. The reassuring message is definitely received by Meera; it seems to give her comfort to have this book read to her (and read it to her we do—over and over and over again!).  A wonderful book for babies and toddlers with working mamas!


I titled this post “2 Great Children’s Books for Working Mamas” on purpose. Because, while I know these books are for kids, I’m pretty sure that –at least in this house— the Mama gets just as much out of them as the bambinos do. Happy reading!

books h and m

Imbalancing Act

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Last night, while I was putting Meera to bed, I was going through my normal nightly routine with her. She has her bottle in her bed now (yes, she still has a bed-time bottle, and yes, as far as I’m concerned she can have it for as long as she wants it… in large part because it helps me maintain the illusion that she WILL BE A BABY FOREVER), and then I go through a little re-cap of the past day, and a little preview of what is to come the next day. She listens and then I kiss her goodnight and she settles in to sleep. So, last night, after her bottle, as she was lying there so peacefully cuddled up with Bunny Bun, amidst other things I said, “And tomorrow Margie will come.” Silence. “And Mommy will go to work.” She — uncharacteristically (she almost never says anything during this nightly ritual), rolled over to look right at me and said, happily, “Margie coming?” I said, “Yes.” She nodded and smiled approvingly. And then she said, in a very bossy tone (a tone we’re hearing quite a lot of lately): “Mommy no working tomorrow. Mommy home tomorrow. Ok?” The “ok?” was in a sort of “you-got-that-straight-lady?” type tone. She even pulled her hand out from under the blankets so that she could wag her pointer finger at me when she said it. My heart just about ripped in two. I swear, I could almost feel my soul pooling in a puddle on the floor beneath me. Sometimes, when K&O were the age that Meera is now, they would cry hard and actively resist daycare drop-off. The way I felt last night at Meera’s bedtime was very familiar to those daycare drop-off moments. Moments when you feel like your spirit (that spirited fire inside that keeps you walkin’ the walk, and not just talkin’ the talk, day in and day out, no matter how steep the incline) is just about as close to being broken as it ever can be. And then, somehow, someway, I got up this morning and went to work. Meera happily kissed me goodbye and screamed: “I WUV YOU!!!!” as I walked out the door while she was wrapped up in a very exciting game of hide-and-seek with her brothers and Margie. And later this morning, while I was lecturing in my class, I noticed that one of my students — a brilliant undergrad who has had a life-long struggle with ADD — was engrossed and engaged, taking detailed notes and making eye contact with me, for the entire 1.25 hour long class. A major achievement for her. A major achievement for me. And I was glad that I had made it in to work today.

Leaves Fall

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Driving home today
my dashboard thermometer read 108 degrees
first day of fall semester classes
another year begun at work
still summer at home
but fall is in the air

A perfect imbalance
of anticipation
and apprehension

A hot breeze blew up ahead
setting off a chain reaction
leaves twirling downward
from a tree with huge branches
and every part of me
wanted to reach through the windshield
to quickly push them back upward
to where they had been
and stop the fall

I rushed to try to get there
but it was no use
the leaves had fallen

The corn is so high
it feels like we're driving through arid tunnels
in certain places

In front of me a room of eager fresh faces
taking in my every word
Behind me three sets of bright eyes
watching my every move
How to weigh out the significance?
When there is nothing but imbalance
on a grand scale

everything moves forward
green turns to gold
and there is no turning back
which is precisely the conundrum
when each moment is so precious
and time speeds along

Summers end
Leaves fall
Time stands still
Only long enough to question
If I'm spending it discerningly

I arrived home to be greeted by my three-tiered answer
bounding up the driveway,
if only for just this day,

Summer at the Halfway Mark

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We are halfway through what is by far our best summer ever. We are savoring every juicy bite of watermelon, every splash in the pool, every morning of laying around in Mommy and Papi’s bed with the sun streaming in watching Curious George and Mickey Mouse Playhouse and talking about how happy we are that we don’t have to rush-rush-rush to catch the bus. Mommy is taking a lot of time off — maximizing every bit of that hard-earned tenure. Papi is working hard to slow it down a bit. Kyle and Owen are never bored, even though there is not much at all scheduled in for the bulk of most days. Meera is in-love with having her brothers home with her. Bedtime is more like 8 instead of 7, and often even later. There are toads to hold, fireflies to catch, and there is football to play in the back yard. We’re eating blueberries by the quart-full and drinking lemonade (and iced coffee!) by the gallon. We’re in the midst of a record heat wave. And even though we know these days are numbered, right now it feels like we’re smack in the middle of endless summer. Summer is at its ripest right now.

Not a day goes by that we aren’t fully grateful for all that we have in this life that we’re living. Summer makes it even easier to feel the decadent beauty of it all. And on days like today (the one-year anniversary of this), that gratefulness feels especially acute.

Summer is halfway over. But I — forever and always the one to see the glass as half full — prefer to think of it as half-the-summer-is-still-to-come.

…Continuing Onward In My Existential Crisis…

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existential crisis: a stage of development at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life, whether their life has any meaning, purpose or value.

Last week Margie was on vacation. I took the week off to be home with K, O, and M. It was a week I was very much looking forward to. It was all that I knew it would be: the joy, suffering, elation, dread, relief, anxiety, fulfillment, boredom, connectedness, isolation, and never-ending-questioning that each of these sorts of weeks always is for me. I spend much of the time thinking, “See! This is how it would be if I was a stay-at-home-mom!” juxtaposed with, “This is nothing like what it would be if I were a stay-at-home-mom.” I become obsessed with daring myself to imagine what it would be like if I didn’t have my career in tow. I become uber-obsessed with the never-ending-excruciating-questioning of my most major life choices, philosophies, and foundations. And the experience of being home full-time with my kids for a week always ends with me on the couch with a glass of wine tearfully pondering the meaning/purpose/value of my very existence in life, and Braydon sitting in the chair with a glass of wine carefully analyzing my existential crisis. It is very cathartic and therapeutic and it always makes us both feel better but it almost never gets us anywhere. And then we get up the next morning and go to work. And the honest truth is, I don’t even know where I want to go with all of this— except— I know for sure— that I want to somehow find peace with it all. And I worry, greatly, that I never will. Which deeply disturbs me. Because I feel like I’m wasting way too much time emotionally and psychologically caught up in my tortured questioning of my very essence during this phase of my life. On one hand, I believe this sort of questioning and self-identity challenging is one of the most important quests in an individual’s life. On the other hand, I find it pathetic and repulsive that I have the privilege to indulge in this sort of higher-level-philosophical-meandering. I mean, shouldn’t I just be grateful for all that I have and be done with it? Shouldn’t I just be able to be happy with it just being what it is? But the problem is, every single day that I leave my kids to go to work I feel like I might cry and it takes at least five minutes down the road in the car before the lump in my throat subsides (and some days it never does). I miss (like, really, really miss) my kids when I’m away from them — even for an hour — and I hate not being there for every single second of their lives lived. I love making our house a home, making simple suppers into lovely dinners, running the show, and being Mama. And the other problem is that I feel (at least, enough of the time for it to matter) deeply committed, passionate-toward, and called-to the work (outside the home) that I do. It is almost embarrassing to even write that, and honestly, I don’t want to explain all of that right now (and I definitely don’t want to appear to be tooting my own horn)– but as any student who has ever taken a class with me, or as any person who has ever heard a public talk by me, or as anybody who has ever worked closely with me can attest– I actually have a gift for what I do. The work I get paid to do is work that I believe actually matters and needs to be done in the world. I can only explain it like this: In terms of my work, I believe — almost all of the time — that I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in this world. The problem is that this work is wrapped up (and inextricably linked) with a demanding career that requires constant tending. And that takes me away from my kids. And that means we require childcare. Which subsequently results in me not being with them all the time. Which means — and this is the bottom line — I miss out. Yes, my kids miss out on me too. But I’m not so egotistical to think that that is too much of a problem. I know my kids are in part as awesome as they are because of the various important influential players in their life— and these people include their babysitters and nannies and teachers and other care-givers. My kids need Margie, and I want them to have her (all that she is; not “just nanny”) central in their lives. And I am a better mother when I get away from them, do meaningful work in the world outside of our home, and come back feeling like a relatively whole and internally fulfilled contributing member to the greater good. However... and this is a big ‘however’… I can’t seem to stop being haunted by the feeling that I’m missing out.

I know what I’m missing out on because I’m close enough to my children, and spend enough time with them, to be fully aware. I know all the tiny details and nuances and moments that I’m not there for. And I hate that. I also know the work of being home, and I am thankful to be able to get away from that for awhile each time I head out to my office. Honestly, it is a mixed bag. But it is a very complicated, messy, jumbled-up, fuzzy, and more-and-more-showing-the-wear-and-tear mixed bag. I’m not delusional enough to think that I’m alone in this. I know that I’m not. But that doesn’t help make it any easier on me. Whether I am or not, I continually feel like I’m a stranger in a strange land, pioneering some new frontier, and flying in uncharted territory. The demands of work and home just are not getting any easier. The quest for that elusive “balance” just seems more and more daunting as each week, month, and year unfolds. None of this resembles in any way what I thought it would be. None of this is anything that I (or we) were prepared for. None of this is easy to explain or understand. It is what it is. But it is not easy. And, to be frank, I really think that it is something that only someone who has ‘been there done that’ (or, even better, is there and is doing it) can even somewhat relate to in any real way.

I go off, and I come back. I’m at home, and then I’m at work. And everywhere I am, I feel this deep nagging angst. The existential crisis continues. And continues. And continues. And just when I think that I might be rounding the corner, I realize that I’m not– that the corner is not there to round and nobody seems to have any answers for me. Either that, or, this corner is oh-so-very-very-sharp and nothing that anybody could ever say or do would make it any rounder.

So, at lunchtime on Friday of last week I asked the boys what they would like for lunch. Normally I give them 2 or 3 simple options (peanut butter and jelly sandwich? turkey and cheese sandwich? or yogurt?) and they choose one of them and that is that. But I left it wide open and just asked them what they’d like. Kyle piped right up and the sweet little thing said (and I have no idea how he came up with this because I haven’t done this in a long, long time– like maybe over a year), “Can you make us heart shaped sandwiches? You know, the ones that you press into hearts with cookie cutters to tell us that you love us?” It wasn’t what I had expected them to request, but once it was requested there was no turning back. So, of course, I did it. I painstakingly made their bologna and cheese into lovely little hearts and presented them their plates oozing with love and sweetness and telling them how much I love them to infinity and beyond. And the three of them sat on the couch and ate their little hearts out while watching a video — and the boys asked for seconds and believe-it-or-not I even actually did the whole thing again and made them another round — and — they were in mommy-at-home-heaven. And I sat there with them, eating the cookie-cutter-remnants of the crusty cut-off pieces of their sandwiches, and watching them eat their lunch and all I could think was, “I wish I could do this everyday.” I know that these heartwiches are completely pathetic in so many ways and on so many levels.  (It is semi-humiliating to even admit that I made them and I’m sure plenty of folks out there would enjoy having a heyday scowling at my Martha-Stewart-Esque-Heartwich-Ridiculousness.) And yet they represent a lot too. They say, “mommy loves you so much that she’ll take the time to cut out these precious little sandwiches for you”; they say, “I love these kids so dang much that I’ll do this ridiculous thing for them”; they say, “there is time for this” and/or “mommy has made time for this”; and, amongst many other things too, they say, “there is nothing in the world more important than this right here and right now.” There is good and bad, right and wrong all wrapped up in that. No child should feel entitled to such things on a too regular basis. We all need to know that we aren’t the center of the universe. However, there is absolutely nothing wrong with filling them up with a little uncensored love-fest every now and then.

So, if I were home full-time, I would be tempted to make heart-shaped sandwiches everyday. I would be ridiculous (I know I would). If I do what I do now — with a whole career in tow — it is scary to think of what I’d be doing if my time was entirely devoted to my kids and home. I know myself well enough to know the pitfalls that I’d encounter and the problems I’d create. My kids would not be who they are. Braydon would probably hate me. I’d surely hate myself. Still, none of that makes it any easier to kiss them goodbye in the morning, knowing that Margie will be playing Candy Land with Kyle and Owen, and putting Meera down for her nap, and making my three precious ones their lunches (lunches that are never as good as “Mommy Lunches”). Nothing about that is easy. Nothing.

And so it goes. And, as anyone who has ever gone through this knows, this post barely even scrapes the surface of it.


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Today I came home early to pick up Meera and bring her to her 2-Year-Old-Well-Baby-Check-Up. When I arrived the boys were running around the driveway, wearing their perfect summer outfits: nothing but bathing suits. Margie had Meera dressed up for her doctor’s appointment in an adorable white sun dress with white sandals, her hair in a high ponytail on top of her head. She looked precious. She couldn’t wait to jump in the car and get to go off somewhere with just me. She didn’t care one bit that it was just an excursion to see the doctor. Dr. Alex checked her all out and Meera charmed her socks off the entire time. Grins and giggles and batting-of-the-eyes. No kidding. Little Miss is a charmer, and she’s in the 75th percentile for height and the 55th percentile for weight. And she’s 100% healthy in every way. When she got an immunization shot in her arm Meera didn’t even shed a tear. As Dr. Alex gave our brave baby girl her lollipop, she told me, quite seriously, “Heather, she’s perfect!” It sounded bizarre to me. (who in their right mind refers to anyone-or-thing as ‘perfect’?) But she meant it. And I know it. In all of her little quirky cutey eccentric strong-minded unique totally-imperfect ways our baby girl is PERFECT. And so was the sight of our garage (perfect!) as I arrived home with sticky, lollipop-coated Meera blabbering away in her car seat in the back seat. The minute I could I grabbed the camera to take a picture of our garage floor before anything could happen to change even one square inch of it’s perfect mess. All I could think was, “this is summer.” When Meera saw it, she said, “uh oh!” pointing wildly to the mess. Margie said, “I know! What a mess!” And I said, “Yes! the perfect mess! this is how it should be in the garage in summer!” And Margie chuckled in agreement and then flew out the driveway — leaving early for the day — to rush off to a concert her husband had bought them tickets for. Soon after that the bambinos were in their glory, eating Oreos and watching their favorite weekly summer show: the lawn guys mowing our yard. I swear, it never gets old for them. And now Meera’s right there with the boys in the front row — she gets practically as excited for the “mowing!!!” as K & O do. I don’t get it. I really don’t. But for them, it is perfect. After leftovers for dinner — an all-you-can-eat-buffet of microwaved tupperware containing all sorts of random stuff from the past few days set out in the middle of the table — we went to OWowCow for ice cream. Blueberry Lemon and Blood Orange Raspberry in a cup for Kyle. Strawberry in a cone for Meera. A milkshake with Chocolate Chip for Owen. Caramel Cashew for Braydon, and Coconut Almond Chip for Heather. There could not possibly be a more perfect ice cream — especially on a summer night, with it dripping and dribbly all over chins and knees and covering the front of one white sun dress. Even the sandals had to be sponged clean when we got home. And who knows how much dirt was ingested (Meera, for one, dropped her cone on the ground three times). And now the three are sleeping soundly. The bath water is filthy these nights from three grungy summery kids. But with sweet-smelling wet hair and fans blowing and night lights glowing, they fall asleep with no shirts on between clean sheets. There will probably be a laundry load of bed linens to be washed in the morning (with their deep, deep, deep down summer tired we’re stripping the boys’ bed, on average, about every-other-night these days— at least one of them wetting the bed that often), but we don’t even really care. Because really– it is all just perfect. The grime, the sweat, the tears. It is all alright. In this little family of ours we have three healthy, happy kids with two more-than-fully-fulfilled parents. And it is summer. It doesn’t get much better than that. Perfect?– In a very imperfect-kind-of-way?—-Yes. Yes it is.

Phew! It Is Officially Summer! …and now mommy is TIRED.

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Meera yesterday morning, about to head off to her last day of Garden Gate

Oh my God– seriously– Meera just keeps getting cuter and cuter. Even when she’s having a Terrible Terrific Two’s Tantrum Meltdown Moment (which she’s having about once every-other-day on average now), she’s still cuter than heck. Anyway… yesterday was Meera’s last day of Garden Gate (or, as she calls it, “Baby Day”) at River Valley Waldorf School. She and I have been going every Monday morning for this past spring semester and it has been an absolutely lovely (and lovey) experience for us both. We will miss it over the summer, but plan to start up again for the fall semester. She felt like such a big girl getting her “last day of school” photo taken. And she loved going off to school with Mommy while Kyle and Owen stayed home with Margie!!! (role reversal heaven for Baby Sister who sooooo often is the one left in the dust!) Meera’s last day of Garden Gate really officially (at least in my own psyche) marked the end of a long stretch of even-more-than-usual-intensity around here. A long, long stretch of big-ticket items that — ultimately — for better or for worse, and much to my chagrin, wind up being planned-for, prepped-for, coordinated, managed, and pulled-off-by ME.

Last spring we used a calendar on the refrigerator to help K & O keep a mental grip on our goings-on during this intense period.* It really helped a lot. So, we did it again this year-- and once again it was really a God-send in keeping them from falling over the edge.

*click re: K & O’s spring fridge calendar from last year

These bouts of intensity come in waves here, and they are very much patterned. The start of the academic year (September) is an intense time for us. The end of the fall semester/holiday season (December) is an intense time for us. [note the obvious correlation between mommy’s professional calendar’s hot spots and the family’s hot spots.] But, by far the biggest wave comes in the spring; for about ten weeks around April-May we have an annual BIG KAHUNA wave of even-more-than-usual-intensity roll in around here. The good news is, we’re aware of this pattern. The bad news is, it kicks me in the butt every time. There seems to be no way to prepare for the sheer stamina required, on my part, to ride us all through it. No matter how consciously aware I am, no matter how much I attempt to hunker us down in preparation, no matter how much I warn everyone around us of this impending rush, no matter how much that helps everyone (everyone but me) weather it quite well, still– come early June– I am left flailing on the frothy edge of the sandy shore like a beached whale. The calendar on the fridge for Kyle and Owen is very minimalist–  it notes the biggest things for them– Easter, their spring school break, their birthday, our vacation, Meera’s birthday, last day of school, etc.  It barely even resembles my own calendar which has literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of entries in and around each of those things ranging from work meetings, end-of-year dinner events, final exams and grading, reports due, deadlines for projects, letters of recommendation due, conference calls scheduled, etc., etc., etc.— to home stuff (the million details required to pull off things like To-Die-For-Easter-Baskets and 128-Guest-6-Year-Old-Birthday-Parties and international family vacations to tropical destinations)— to everything else in between (doctors appointments! pool opening! spring/summer clothes and shoes for three growing kids! drop off dinner for sick friend! make end-of-year-presents for teachers! bring flowers to my office coordinator! send graduation gift! do the bills! plant the summer flowers! do the grocery shopping! schedule play date! send thank you note! clean the toilet!). I know, I know, what is there to complain about??? Nothing really– and, let me be clear: this is not a complaint. My life is wonderful. And I do it all (every single ounce of going-over-the-top) by choice and out of my own free will. And I must say, one of my greatest prides is that I do a darn good job of protecting those around me from my inner stress (seriously, I have almost perfected that craft). I make a lot of good stuff happen for a lot of people (first and foremost those in my little tiny family). But the toll it takes is on me. I have not had a hair cut in over six months. I have not gone running in almost a year. I have not had a date night alone with my husband since January. The last time I took a bubble bath was in 2007. Seriously, it takes a toll.

Yesterday I took Kyle and Owen to our family doctor for their six-year-old annual physicals. They are, yet again, off-the-charts (literally) for height and weight, and thriving in every possible physical/medical way. But while I was there our doctor had a little chat with me about some symptoms I’ve been exhibiting for the past ten days… and… now, for the 4th time in the past six months, I’m on another round of antibiotics– this time for a pretty serious sinus infection. I’m physically depleted, my immune system is shot, I’m burning the candle at both ends, I’m totally sleep deprived, and I’m completely utterly deeply exhausted. Don’t get me wrong– it is all worth it. There is no doubt in my mind about that. I will only live once, and I’m going to live this life fully. But I do recognize the price that I pay for that. I know I’m not alone. This is the case for so many women like me running themselves ragged out there. We know, so well, the richness and fullness and joy of our kind of living. And we know, too, the toll we pay. Mommy.Is.T.I.R.E.D. We’ve had a great run of it these past several weeks. A really great run of it! And now I’m just totally, totally, totally tired.

2010 Summer Family To-Do List

Friday night we made our Summer To-Do List. Of course, my own To-Do List looks nothing like this (!), and there is much I will have to be responsible for pulling-off this summer. But– still– it is nothing compared to the these past ten weeks of our yearly spring Big Kahuna. These next three months of summer will hopefully set a slower pace and involve some simpler pleasures. We will exhale and blow bubbles and I’ll have a few minutes to lie in the sun. This afternoon I even have an appointment for a long-awaited hair cut! The summer goals are always the same: to live it up, soak it in, and use the time wisely to refuel for another year. We’ve accepted the fact that we’re on an academic calendar year. We’ve accepted (well, mostly — still with spurts of kicking and screaming every now and then) that Mommy bears the brunt of this life we lead. We’ve resigned ourselves to what it is– and what it is not. We just haven’t quite accomplished figuring out how to make it through without massive burn-out for Heather each June. Maybe some day (like when the bambinos are in their 20s?), we’ll get that figured out. For now, it just is what it is. And though the blog probably makes it appear effortlessly perfect— well, the fact is, it isn’t. It isn’t perfect. And it definitely isn’t effortless. But it is all real. And no one can ever claim that I didn’t live life to the fullest. For that I am proud. And exhausted.

This is what happens when we try to pose them for photos

This past weekend — our first weekend of the summer season — was a splendid combination of living it up and laying low. We had a pool party to go to on Saturday (photo above taken just before we left to go to it), which was just so, so much fun. And then on Sunday we got to go to an awesome huge block party that friends of ours threw. Both events were so great, and so summery, and we had such a blast! But in between those two parties there was time for sitting around the playroom and hanging around the pool. We are off to a good start. Still, Mommy’s got quite a bit of catching up with herself to do. And it will be a major challenge to see if now — over the next 10 weeks — I can actually pull off pulling myself back together.

random shot of a mundane morning moment

For The Record

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Let it be noted:

On Wednesday, June 2, 2010, for the very first time ever in his entire six-year-long life, Kyle Macon Johnson-McCormick rejected the outfit laid out for him by his mother. Up until that date, for his entire baby-hood, toddler-hood, and child-hood, Kyle Macon Johnson-McCormick never once batted an eye at what his mother dressed him in. Up until that date, during his school-going years (pre-school and kindergarten so far), Kyle Macon Johnson-McCormick put on whatever his mother had laid out for him the night before. Note: such is also exactly the same for his twin brother Owen. But– on the morning of Wednesday, June 2, 2010, Kyle, still in his pajamas, and carefully carrying his nice little stack of an outfit, politely came to his mom, and asked, “Mom, do I have to wear this?” Putting on the most neutral-‘no-problem’-face she could muster, and using the most laissez-faire-‘non-issue’-tone she possibly could, Kyle’s mother said, “No, baby. Why? Is there something you’d rather wear?” Skipping off to his closet with a spring in his step, off went Kyle. He shortly re-appeared wearing the outfit pictured above. Mother and child hugged. Child, beaming with pride and independence. Mother, putting on a good act but secretly grieving. Let it be noted: some sort of major tide has turned. A bittersweet moment in the life of the J-Ms. (Also to note: strangely enough, Owen seemed to barely even notice that any of this transpired —- a major turning of another tide of some sort.)


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Last week of classes at Lehigh + Boys’ huge birthday bash on Saturday + MorMor here for a few days to help me with all that needs to be done (including, first and foremost, helping to maintain my sanity) + 3 crazy bambinos with enough personality to fill a skyscraper + 2 exhausted parents counting the days ’till vacation…

= lots and lots to blog about, but no time to blog

“Mommy do”

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It feels like with spring, our whole family is having some kind of growth spurt. Owen has shot up in height, is going to bed better than ever and teaching himself to read; Kyle is on to his next conceptual breakthrough: money, the impact of payments, and the influence of capital on family systems; Heather working through the balance of motherhood, work, love and life; Braydon letting go of work to re-engage in family; Meera on just about everything baby and toddler related.

For a while we’ve been hearing one word things from Meera:  Yes (click of the tongue), No (“Nooooh” through the nose), More (“mooooh”, like no, but with M) and others.  But recently, She  has started using two word sentences with an subject and verb, or subject and preposition (sans verb).  We’re hearing a lot of “Do’s” and “Homes”:  Papi Do, Kitty Do, George Do (like when George [the stuffed animal] mysteriously jumped up from Meera’s crib and knocked down the mobile while being held by Missy the whole time), and Papi Home, Mommy Home, Brothers Home. She’s starting to speak.

This morning saw the application of this new found speaking.

As are soooo many families, we too are coping with Eastern Daylight Time.  “Spring Ahead” is really quite a misnomer.  It’s more like spring quickly into mayhem and further exhaustion, while  everyone gets to bed too late, and up too late and rushes out to the door, etc.  We got up very late this morning and had the same. After getting the boys to the bus, we showered and got ready.  I played with Meera while Heather took her turn.

For much of that time, we heard Meera saying:  “Mommy home”, “Papi Home”.  “Kitty Home”, “Coco Home”, “Bunny Home”.  “Mommy Home”. She played with her toys, some key rings, Heather’s shoes, and lots of jewelry.

When Margie arrived, Meera realized we were going to work.

She cried.

She was also hungry.  When Heather suggested that Margie make her some eggs, Meera nodded and smiled, clicked and said:

“Mommy Do.”

She would not let go of Heather. Heather did her best to hold it together, but finally began crying herself.  Meera looked up at her and they kissed. I wish I could hold this memory forever in my mind; I will try.

After a few minutes of transition, everyone was settled down and we left and drove together to work.  I dropped Heather off at her office and headed to my office. I looked out the window and saw her ascend the steps the building.  The building where she will go and teach, mentor, research and add to the world in a whole different way than she does at home.

On Princeton and Panties

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Last week I went to Princeton to give a talk. I had agreed to this speaking engagement awhile ago. But as I was driving home from it — planning my route strategically so that I would be able to stop at a Target to buy Meera her first underpants — I realized that I had not allowed myself to really think about the Princeton gig at all during any of the days, weeks, or months prior to it. I mean, I knew it was coming up, and I prepared my talk for it (so I had to think about that part of it)… but I hadn’t let my mind think about it one bit. I mean, the actual Princeton part of it. And driving home, I was suddenly thinking lots about it.

Princeton University. To me, it is like the creme de le creme. The only other thing that might compare at all (in my own mind) is Stanford. But Princeton has its own little story in my life, so it is more more to me. The thing is this — when I was in high school I was one of those sort of ridiculously-well-rounded, scholar-athlete, president-of-everything, top-of-her-class, over-achiever ambitious super-kids. When it came time to consider college, my parents, (the best parents ever), who had spent their entire adult lives focused on work for the common good and running a not-for-profit organization (i.e., working very hard for relatively very little $$$), told me, in no uncertain terms, that I should plan to go to whatever college I wanted. Money should not be a factor. Period. There was no arguing with them over this. This is not just what they wanted of me, this is what they demanded of me. I would be disappointing them to do anything less than attempt to get into my very top choice “dream college.” It put me in a real quandary: do I go for it and do what they want (go to a premier college with –inevitably– a pricey price tag, which would –unavoidably– practically put them in the poor house indefinitely), or do I tone it down and go against them (but allow them to not have to RE-MORTGAGE their home to put me through college)? It was a real conundrum for me. In the end, despite my private self-induced mental torture over this debacle, my own EagerBeaverAimToPleaseDeepDesireToNeverDisappointMyParents won out. I made the decision to go for it and allow myself to choose to apply to whichever colleges on the planet I would most like to attend.

Thus began my college search. During the spring of my junior year of high school, like so many other middle- and upper-middle-class families, we set out — with great excitement and anticipation — for my “college tour.” We looked at a bunch of private New England liberal arts colleges and some larger New England schools too. I knew I didn’t want to go too far from my New Hampshire home (lots of reasons for that — I don’t want to get into here), but my parents encouraged me, strongly, to at least look beyond the New England state borders. On the college trip we toured some Lutheran schools in Pennsylvania (I didn’t really like them), and then we visited Princeton University. It would have been a little bit of a reach for me to get in there, but there was a definite chance I might get in if I applied.

I will never forget my visit to Princeton. Still, right now, it is a very vivid memory. The most pronounced feeling (and thought) that I had was, “This is way out of my league.” I just felt (and thought) that it was way, way, way beyond me. The hallowed halls, the history (the oil paintings of famous people — United States presidents and such — all alum from there), the ‘feel’ of the campus, the tone of the mindset, the –literally– ivy-drenched Ivy-League-school. It was just a different playing field than I was used to– or at all comfortable with. I had visited Harvard and Yale and Brown, but none of those schools shook me the way Princeton did– Princeton felt huge and scary and just totally beyond me.  I knew immediately that I would not apply. It felt too far from home, but it also felt –completely– like I did not belong there. It was way above me, beyond me, a world in which I did not belong. I had a knee-jerk reaction, for sure, but I also –genuinely– felt and thought that I was not cut out for what it would require. It would require a huge reach on my part– a reach into a world that made me feel like a fish out of water.

So, I did not apply. Who knows if I ever would have gotten in? Knowing what I know now, all these years later, my guess is that I probably had a very good shot at getting in. My chances were probably just about as good as anyone else (who wasn’t a Legacy). They very well might have taken a chance on me. But I’ll never know. And I’m not someone who tends to look back with regret. I ended up getting in early decision– and then going– to my first-choice college (a small, elite, New England, liberal arts college). My life has turned out better than I ever could have imagined or expected. So I never pause too long to worry about the “What If’s.”

Fast forward twenty years…

And I’m driving onto the campus of Princeton University looking for the building in which I am supposed to give my talk. I see the main buildings on the center of the campus– I vividly remember them from when I was last here— as a junior in high school on a campus tour. Except this time it feels very different. I have been invited by the Sociology Department to give a lecture on my work. They are paying me a significant amount of money for my time. I am only as nervous as I’d be for any other such engagement anywhere else. I do my thing. And it seems to go off without a hitch. The undergraduates, the graduate students, the faculty… they all shower me with accolades and roll out the red carpet.

And then I’m driving home. And it all hits me.

And then I’m looking for the exit for the Target. Underpants for Meera. It will make me even later getting home (I’m already due to arrive well beyond all three bambinos’ bedtimes), but if I don’t stop to buy underpants for Meera now, she’ll have to go for quite a while longer without them (there is no other time in the foreseeable future that I’ll be able to run this errand). And she needs underpants. She is totally in the throws of serious potty training. As I’m pulling into the Target parking lot all I can think about is ‘What would the people at Princeton think if they knew I was in the midst of potty training my baby while I was writing that talk I just gave?’ With all the in-depth talk about sociology and scholarly research, I’ve somehow managed to have come across as just a regular academic (not the Professor-Mommy type). I guess I’ve kind of fooled them? I sort of feel like an impostor. They would never believe that just this morning I was wiping my baby’s bum-bum and doing the “Poopie Dance” and shelling out M&M’s for pee after pee after pee at the same time as I was proof-reading my Princeton lecture. They would never guess that I’m stopping at Target for underpants on my way home from their campus. I’m just a Professor, completely dedicated to my work.

Inside the Target I need to ask for help. The two ladies in the children’s clothing area are trying to help me locate underpants in a size smaller than a 3T. There are only a few packages available small enough to fit Meera. As we discuss potty training there in the middle of Target, I get teary telling them that I really wish she wasn’t potty training– that I’d be happy to change her diapers forever– that she’s my BABY (waaaaaaa!) and I just wish she’d never be ready for “panties” (they insist on calling the girls’ underpants “panties” so I just go along with it and start referring to them as “panties” too). We all tell our Mommy war stories about potty training and they say nice things to me about Meera (how “lucky” I am she’s potty training herself, etc.). They are trying to make me feel better because I’m totally breaking down in tears in the middle of Target. They start telling me that working at Target at night is great because it allows them to be home with their kids all day. And then one of them made some joke about how they particularly love working the children’s clothing section at night because their own kids are in bed and they get to chat with “all the other mom’s who can only get out of the house after dark too”…  and then it strikes me that they clearly think I’m a Stay-at-Home-Mom escaping the house because my kids are finally asleep. I conscientiously think to myself — right there in the midst of this — ‘Wow, they have absolutely no idea that I was just giving a talk at Princeton.’  With all the in-depth talk about potty training and panties, I’ve somehow come across as just a regular mom (not the Mommy-Professor type). I’ve guess I’ve kind of fooled them? I sort of feel like an impostor. They would never believe that just this afternoon I was standing in front of 150 people and speaking about “scholarship” and signing copies of my book and drinking latte with very famous academics. They would never guess that I’m driving home from giving a talk at Princeton. I’m just a mother, completely dedicated to my kids.

Standing, alone now, in front of the rack of “panties” I am forced to make a tough choice. There are a bunch of different packs of panties but they all have big-hoop-dress-tiny-waisted-huge-eyelashed princesses all over them. Even the ‘Dora’ underpants have a version of Dora printed on them that I’ve never seen before (she’s suddenly a grown-up Dora with very long flowy hair and a corset-type long prom-gown-type dress on). Most of the underpant princesses are the [horrifyingly scary-skinny] Disney ones. Now really, I will do a lot of things, but I refuse to put my 21-month-old daughter in a pair of “panties” that put Disney princesses all over her crotch. I just cannot bring myself to do it. I buy the one –and only one– package of plain-Jane-no-princess-(no-print-at-all)-underpants. They are Hanes brand (and I kind of like Hanes anyway— for one thing, they have some of their textile production facilities in Haiti).

For the last leg of the drive home I have my millionth identity crisis of the past five years. Who the heck am I? Am I the girl who was scared to even apply to Princeton but grew up to be an invited guest lecturer there? Or am I the potty-training mom? Am I a top-50-university Professor? Or a Waldorf Mama? Am I an Academic Author? Or a Mommy Blogger? It seems impossible to be both. And yet, of course, obviously, I am. But I don’t feel like it. I feel like I jump from puddle to puddle; doing just enough to successfully “pass” as one thing, and then “pass” again as another; running maniacally around the neighborhood on Halloween night, switching back-and-forth between two different costumes from house-to-house. I feel like an impostor everywhere I go. I have no idea who I actually am. And nobody else seems to know either. I’m way more focused on career than most other mommies I know. And I’m way more focused on mothering than most other professors I know. All that I know is that I never imagined it this way.

I imagined that it would be so much more seamless. And so much less seamless. That my identities would be so much more fluid. And so much less fluid. Mostly, I just thought it would be so much easier.

At home, at the very end of that day, I made myself a bagel-egg-and-cheese sandwich while Braydon poured us wine. We sat together at the kitchen table while I ate, and we talked over our day. Just another in a seemingly endless string of overwhelmingly exhausting, overflowing, and mind-numbingly complex-(and-wondrous) days. As usual, we came to no conclusions and figured out nothing. And then we went to bed and started it all again the next day.


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There are many types of stones and rock ranging in hardness and density and color and texture. All across the world different stones show up at the surface of our planet. And when they do arrive, coming up from the depths of the earth, they are fresh and new – even when they are extremely old. Their form and substance is shaped from the passage to above; their fundamental nature is imposed before we ever even toss a single stone in the river.

But once they emerge in to the light, weathering begins. It can be a deluge, it can be a mist, or sunny. In all cases, the elements have an immediate effect to harden, to carve, to wash away and to bring out different characteristics: on the way to the river, the rocks’ shapes start to shift and change, to undergo metamorphosis. And sooner or later, all stones are brought to one river or another in some manner: in padding, skidded or bounced, tumbled down an embankment or tossed in by able hands.

And while there are many rivers in the world – wide and flowing; with boat traffic; little more than a trickle in a nearly dry stream bed – some are truly wild. It’s up to a captain to ensure safe passage on any river. But I suppose you can never can tell about the captain until you get there.

And there are so many forces in any river – current, flood, drought, silt, other rock or even a dam now and again. It can be difficult to navigate for even the most competent oarsman, it can demand and shake the very confident of the most worthy seafarer. We are all ultimately lost to the sea; it’s passage that we enjoy and relish.

Heather and I found and were tossed two rocks which we gently placed in our river. We know that as we navigate the ever changing tides in our little boat, it’s important to moderate the flow over our boys, keep it in check. Keep if from overwhelming them, from undermining them, from carrying them away.

Our river is beautiful and we love it. Our boys love to skip stones in it, we love its flow. But like a good whitewater rafter, we also do everything we can to keep K & O tucked in the eddies of our own quickly weathering stones; keep them safe while we quickly, deftly and jointly work to build their boats and teach them to sail. We know that some day, and we don’t really know when, they will captain their own vessel on their own waters.

We have pretty intense schedules and lives. Things tip our applecart, things knock us off our rails. It’s mostly our own doing and we make the most of it. Every opportunity that has come our way by luck, work, or birth we have leveraged. It sometimes results in strife, and difficulty and tremendous speed; often it results in reward. We always do our best to keep our boys in our eddies until their boats are ready.
Today we visited our friends Matt, Stacey and Ben. While there, Kyle locked-in on a Hess firetruck. He played with it for an hour, pushing it around the floor, turning the lights on and off, making the sirens blare. He played mostly by himself, but at one point he took me into a darkened bathroom to see the trucks lights. While laying on the floor eyes fixed on the toy he joyfully whispered to me: “Papi, it’s soooo beautiful“.

Our little stone played and played. For now both are safely in our eddies.

I hope we navigate well.

The apple cart

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We have an apple cart; a very beautiful, solid apple cart. Maybe it’s maple, maybe it’s oak. An apple cart a collector would love. An apple cart many people would love to have, but most will not. An apple cart people dream about. It’s our apple cart and we built it from scratch.

It took help from family and friends, and taking advantage of materials that came our way- both found and given. And when we had what we needed, we set our hands to build the best one we could. After many a splinter, bent nail and splashes of paint we got it into some reasonably good shape and ready to carry a load.

We’ve filled our cart with tremendous bounty of all types and where ever we go we try to share that bounty and be thankful for it. What we carry is live and thriving. It has a clean scent and a crisp sound like laundry on a windy line. It has substance and heft – like a sun-warmed river rock. It’s many things in many ways and has many meanings. It’s rich in spirit, in life and in love.

It can get heavy and it overflows sometimes, but we try to remember that most people don’t even have a cart, let alone a full one. We try to always be happy with our cart and what we put in it. Generally we do ok with that.

We try to remember to do regular upkeep on our cart. Occasionally we oil the wheels, and put some paint on the sides. We leave the handgrips untouched, they are worn, woody, and smooth. But they are warm to the touch and have a sense of trust and ease of being held.

Sometimes we forget to do the maintenance. When we’re running with a load, and sharing and giving, and filling and enjoying, sometimes we just forget. But we trust the hard work that went into building it, so we’re confident it’s still solid. Occasionally we give it a hard knock, but so far it just gives a sharp crack when you rap it with your knuckles – not a soft thump. Like a fresh, ripe apple.

There is another little thing about our apple cart though. Our apple cart’s on rails. Thin train track rails. Smooth rails. Strong rails. But it’s very hard to keep the cart on these rails all the time. We do a pretty good job of it, even in inclement weather, or up hill, or down hill. We focus together and keep it going. One person often guides while the other pushes, and then we switch places. But it really really takes both of us to keep it on the rails. Sometimes we feel we could use help – but there are only two handles and it’s hard to have more feet pushing forward.

You might ask why we put it on rails, when we could have it on stable ground. The answer is only that our path is on these rails and the stops to our destination are on these rails. Any other path and we would be who we are, nor would we be as fulfilled with life as we are. It’s just like that. For us, these rails are our rails.

And from time to time, our cart goes off the rails and the front wheel gets mired and stuck. It just happens. It happens to everyone in any circumstance of course, and it happens to us too. Contents in the cart shift dangerously, things tip precariously, and more contents in the cart fall off than usual. Sometimes it tips over completely and everything is dumped out. Sometimes it’s raining and everything gets muddy – the earth clinging in an attempt to reclaim what’s rightfully hers.

And in our case, because we are on our own rails, most of the time there is no one around to see it or help. We’re never sure if we should call out for help, and so we don’t. Maybe it’s the pride we’ve put into building the cart, I am not sure. And it doesn’t matter really, that’s the way we are.

So, after we make sure no bones are broken, we shake ourselves off, right the cart, and put everything and everyone back in. We then look around, find a branch to lever our cart back onto the rails and push forward. It can take 5 minutes, it can take 5 days. It has never yet taken 5 weeks. Let’s hope it never does, I feel deeply for people who take even longer, and some never get back on – for all kinds of reasons. Maybe they didn’t have help. Maybe their foundation was not strong enough. Maybe they didn’t have the strength. Maybe others wouldn’t let them.

We work so hard to keep our cart on the rails. And it’s completely worth it. The extra effort, the tired arms, legs and backs. It’s worth it and we’re glad we have a full cart and rails on which travel.

I do worry that we will get tired. I do worry that we will slip off and need some help, but we will be to far for that help to arrive. I do worry that we are too far from help now. Right now it is just a worry, but we see glimpses of it from time to time.

Although Owen was only sick for 36 hours, and the clinic visit only took a couple hours this time, there was something that really struck me. It was Heather, scrambling to check her email and put out a fire at work. It was the first time she had been able to work at all that day, and she had about 15 minutes in between Kyle going down for a nap, getting Owen down, and trying to get a shower, eat something, clean up and get ready for the next round of Sick Toddler.

I could see the stress and anxiety. Our babysitter was on vacation, I am flat out on work and we have twin three year olds. Work wouldn’t wait, but neither would Owen. Of course there’s not even a choice there – Owen comes first. But I could see the strain. The apple cart had slipped off and took a bounce. We caught it and got it back on the rails, but in that brief moment it made me worry about a blind trussel that could be around the corner.

It’s a beautiful, full apple cart, I treasure it and everything in it more than anything else and I want to make sure it’s safe for my family.