Throw back thursday: A bullet post!

*Well, I started writing this on a Thursday, at any rate…
Sometimes, on my old blog, which I really need to do something about sometime soon, when I couldn’t choose a blog topic to write about in a timely fashion, I went the way of the bullet post, a form I always enjoyed when other bloggers used it. This morning, as I sipped my coffee and pondered what to write I realized my indecision made for a perfect Thursday bullet post! It’s been a while but I am just going to write bullets until I run out of things to say today!

* On Reading – I’m still reading Peter Straub’s Mr. Xwhich I like just enough to keep reading but not enough to read quickly, and yet I urgently want to finish it so I can start Gone Girl before the movie comes out because I have actual plans – in the evening, on a weekend, no less – to go see this movie with my girlfriends, and they have all read the book. I want to be on the same page so we can discuss all the things with them. The difference between one child and two? The year Evangeline was born I still managed to read nearly 30 books. This year I’ve read six and will maybe hit ten. Maybe. If Gone Girl is fast and I get my hands on the new Tana French novel. I’m hopeful the pace will pick up a bit in 2015.

* Watching – I am in love with Outlander. I was really unsure how I would like the televised version of one of my favorite books but from the opening song until the end of each episode I am completely hooked, so much so I don’t get up from the couch to complete chores off and on, as I usually like to do with the 1/2 hour to an hour of television I watch at night. I’m quite late to the party but I am also watching Silicone Valley and even if it’s sort of a dude-centric show, it makes me laugh more than once every single episode so I keep watching. I unabashedly love television and often think the perfect career for me would have been as a script writer who turns books into television series…maybe it’s not too late? In the meantime I’ll just concentrate on continuing to write…I’m really looking forward to the return of The Mindy Project.

* My in-laws keep insisting Evangeline needs music lessons and the earlier the better, but I am unsure. They push this because they are HUGE classical music buffs and raised two daughters who now actually make livings with their music. Sam, as he will openly tell you, was not blessed with similar talent and I am decidedly unmusical as well. Evangeline has expressed an intense interest in ballet and I feel much more inclined to honor that desire at the moment because (a.) it’s something she wants to do and (b.) her pre-school curriculum is a little-heavy on the sitting down and not so much on the playing, and I am eager to provide her outlets for her toddler physicality – there is a reason I’m currently pricing junior trampolines. I wish my reasoning was not accompanied by some inner bristling whenever they pointedly suggest music lessons, though – I don’t like this quality in myself.

* Writing – I am setting aside a dedicated writing spot for myself in our house, and it feels practically revolutionary. I haven’t had a dedicated writing space since I was in graduate school. Our condo in Novi was much too small so I wrote at a desk in our living room, and while I now have a house that borders on too-big, I could never figure out intuitively where my writing space should be. Before we had our children it didn’t matter all that much – I generally lugged my laptop to the kitchen island early in the morning to write – all the better to access the coffee pot. Since the kitchen has turned into the hub of our family activity it’s no longer a peaceful place to write, so I am in the process of setting up our ages-old desk in the guest room on the third floor. Our guest room’s electric leaves something to be desired so I have to put the desk against a wall near an outlet instead of by the window, like I had hoped, but hey! A real writing spot – it’s thrilling.

* Sam asked me this week if we should stop watching the Steelers because of the NFL’s handling of Ray Rice’s assault against his fiance and I surprised myself by saying no. I already worked through a lot of complicated emotions with the league after the concussion cover-up came to light, and while I am absolutely disgusted by the video of Ray Rice beating his fiance, I feel this was a failure of law enforcement as well as the NFL. In addition, domestic violence isn’t solely the domain of the NFL. It occurs in homes of all income levels across the country and around the world, and I have no doubt in my mind that organizations as well-established as the NFL cover up for their more violent members. I am outraged by this video but I am generally outraged by what women have to suffer the world over – I mean, entire governments and religions sometimes sanction violence against women. The Steelers do a ton of good in our community – I have seen first hand year after year the positive work they do in our hospitals, so I am not quitting on them because of this horrifying incident on another team.

*Hillary for President!

* Diet update – I only have three more days on phase I of the South Beach and I’ve stuck to it faithfully. The first week I lost 2.5 lbs – the book claims you can lose between 8 and 13 but I imagine that is for people with a slightly higher BMI? I am feeling very strong and confident about my choice of diets, and with the exception of one day where I really felt wonky, I feel great. I always feel better eating a lower carb diet and now that I won’t be getting pregnant again hopefully I can adopt this into a long-term lifestyle. When I was pregnant with Evangeline grilled cheese and eggs on toast were the food of the Gods – with Duncan I felt sick almost constantly but once I started nursing him I fell into waffles and cake with a vengeance (in my defense, he was born during a polar vortex and we weren’t allowed to leave the house!). We’ll see how I do as I enter the next phase!

Happy Throw Back Friday – I promise a more substantial post next week!

But I will not carry around a water bottle

My freshman year of college, my roommate and I lived down the hall from a group of girls relatively indistinguishable from one another, all sharing a common goal that A and I did not: the determination to pledge a sorority. To a t, these girls all had shiny, light brown hair and skin that seemed perpetually freckled and tan, and when they weren’t engaging in sorority-pledging activities they lived in athletic clothes and flip flops. They ate enormous bowls of of cereal, plate after plate of salad and endless servings of frozen yogurt and not much else. And they carried oversized water bottles everywhere they went. The water bottles were so ubiquitous, in fact, that in an unattractive fit of mean-girlness, I nicknamed them (very uncreatively) the water girls. This was before I knew some people choose to drink massive amounts to help control hunger and I just didn’t understand why a quarter gallon of water needed to accompany them wherever they went. Granted, they spent quite a bit of time at the gym, but still.

Are they really concerned about becoming dehydrated?” I asked A. “I mean, is that an actual, valid concern on their part?”

This is my roundabout way of telling you I’ve started a lifestyle changeoh hell let’s call it what it is, a diet. Definitely a lifestyle change but really, a diet. In this day and age we aren’t supposed to diet anymore – no – we are supposed to be accepting of all body types, or if not that, then we are supposed to at least make moderatechanges we can live with for the long-term, but really even then we should be all about body acceptance and liking ourselves the way we are, even as we watch obesity rates soar across our country, with all the attendant health problems that accompany being overweight.

The truth is, I’ve been a little overweight for a decade now. I’m not obese but I carry extra weight in my middle that has only grown worse since carrying Duncan. Oh, I fluctuate back and forth seven pounds or so, and I’ve hopped on and off weight watchers for years…sometimes I lose some weight but then I gain it back. Truly, I am fortunate I don’t gain back more,. I’ve remained in the same 7 pound range for a really long time now with the exception of my pregnancies, and I actually didn’t gain much with those – 24 pounds with Evangeline and 19 with Duncan. I am pretty decent at maintaining at this weight but I’m not happy with myself here and so I’ve made the commitment to follow through with the South Beach Diet.

I am tempted, here, to start telling a traditional fat narrative…to share with you how I started out, how I gained weight, and why I am seeking to change, but that wouldn’t be fair, or ultimately honest. I have a solid extra layer of chubbiness that I dislike, but I don’t wear plus size clothing – I wouldn’t be a contender for the Biggest Loser reality television show. I am motivated partially out of concern for my long-term health (my mantra right now is “better a voluntary diet now than a mandatory one later”), and more than partially out of setting a great example for my daughter (I don’t want to endlessly be dieting in front of her), but more than anything else I am motivated by vanity.

Yep, vanity. I am grateful – so terribly grateful – for my body and how well it treats me. I am extremely active with my kids, pretty flexible, and with the exception of some disturbing loss of core strength post-Duncan, I feel great. I’ve carried two babies to full-term, avoided c-sections, and nourished those children with breast milk. Working in a hospital setting, I value and say thanks for my great good health, every day. Truthfully, I feel as though my outside self doesn’t match my inside self – inside I feel no older than 27 most of the time. But I can see how quickly, in one’s late thirties, a little extra weight that wasn’t prohibitive before quickly spread, and I am going to at least try to halt it. I could say I’m doing it for my kids, or for my future grandchildren, or something like that, but that’s not really how I think. Honestly, I’m doing if for all the clothes I’ve pinned on my Pinterest board. I am doing it to participate in fashion, and I am doing it so my outside me matches my inside me.

I chose the South Beach Diet because it targets the area where I carry my weight – my middle – and because I believe growing up in a stringent, low-fat house is part of what put me over my target weight to begin with, but that’s another story for a different time. Admittedly, I’m only on my third day but I’ve noticed two things: first of all, between breakfast and lunch, I don’t grow hungry. At all. Overall I’m actually not hungry, but the hours between breakfast and lunch have always been particularly tricky for me. Secondly, I realize just how shoddy some of my eating habits have become. The other day I automatically went to eat a spoonful of Evangeline’s macaroni and cheese and then realized what I was doing – I did the same with her applesauce. Sometimes I pour myself a slug of her juice in the morning – can’t do that either. It’s only been three days but it has certainly been eye-opening!

Anyway, in the interest of this blog is really about anything and everything with absolutely no theme whatsoever, I thought I’d share this part of my life as well. I might try to update every couple of months or so on my progress, if the mood strikes.

Two things I promise you I won’t be doing? Carrying around half gallon bottles of water – I still don’t understand that habit unless you are pregnant or ill. The other thing: Two words: green smoothies. Nope. Just
– no.

Making Room for the Mountains

When we were planning our annual week-long visit to northern Michigan this summer, the most difficult part logistically was working through our return trip. This was partly because we somewhat dreaded sharing a hotel room with two kids, and partly because we had our dog with us, but mostly it was because I can never actually picture leaving northern Michigan once I am there. When headed to the part of the country I still consider home after two decades away, I am always convinced that for once and for all something will happen that will cause us to remain there against all reason. Sometimes my imaginings are truly awful – the dramatic death of a parent – and sometimes they are routine, like running into the woman in charge of public relations for the hospital, discovering she’s retiring, and nonchalantly submitting my resume. These are my fantasies, so I don’t bother with details like the reality of putting our house on the market prior to moving, or the actual move itself. No, in my daydreaming the situation is either so critical in nature or so ridiculously fortunate that I don’t have to concern myself with real-life details, and no one would expect me to.

I have this adolescent belief that the geography of my home state completes me in some fundamental, lizard-brain like way, and growing up I actually didn’t have terribly grand schemes to move away from Michigan. For the most part, I hoped to return to Northern Michigan after some unspecified but exciting time away – not to my home town but to one of the towns on the west side of the state, like Petoskey or Traverse City or Boyne. My grandma once told me I’m meant to live on a lake, just like she was, and her remark stuck with me – to this day I’m not sure a greater truth about me has been spoken. Bodies of water have an incredibly calming effect on me and there is nothing I enjoy as much as long walks near them. Those of us blessed enough to spend time in an area that experiences a full, glorious autumn on the water – the juxtaposition of flaming leaves and deep blue waters – have seen God.

And yet, I’m 37 years old and except for a few years while Sam was in law school, I haven’t returned to Michigan. Our lives have bounced us around the rust belt and parts of the south at a somewhat alarming rate, but for the last six years we’ve remained settled in Pittsburgh, and, much like with marriage, we keep choosing to live here, over and over and over again.

For a couple of years, I thought I would have to reconcile myself to feeling homesick every day of my life but recently my longing has mutated to something less dramatic. Now, while I still have days where I miss Michigan acutely, I am growing more content with the idea that Pittsburgh might always be my home base. I’m even beginning to admire the mountains that surround us, drinking them in and the way they change in the light, the way I once did with lake Huron, lake Michigan and lake Charlevoix. My first go-around with Pittsburgh, for graduate school from 2002 to 2005, the mountains often made me feel like the world was closing in on me. Pittsburgh was an unknowable, odd town made up of one-way streets and a confusing mish-mash of tunnels, bridges and rivers, all of which prevented me from ever getting where I needed to go. And it seemed so dark, and all of us wanna be writers lived in the attics of rickety old Victorian homes with no air-conditioning and radiator heat, and almost everybody smoked, so that for three years I dreamed about Michigan’s wide open roads and endless sky, and the way the smell changes as you drive from southern Michigan to northern Michigan, to something like sun-baked pine needles and rich, dark soil.

We’ve lived in Pittsburgh for six years now, and in that time we’ve purchased a house and had two children. When we first returned our enthusiasm came close to zealotry – our stay in Michigan had made us appreciate Pittsburgh’s walkability, public transportation, accessibility to ethnic, non-chain restaurants and behemoth museums. We embraced the local sports teams and breathed a sigh of relief – we were home.

For several years, I continued to long for Michigan, even as we made concerted efforts to grow roots here. We joined a church, a gym, said yes when people asked us to go out and reciprocated requests in return. I enjoyed all of it, even while not being able to shake the feeling that while Pittsburgh had my heart, Michigan wasmy heart.

Lately though, something has shifted. I guess it’s the kind of shift that comes with time, but now my feet feel firmly planted in Pennsylvania soil. I’m less homesick and more at home, and it’s this shift that has allowed me to begin appreciating not just the restaurants, libraries, bars and book stores Pittsburgh has to offer, but to really sink into the city and surrounding area in a new way. In Pittsburgh, I have found my tribe – a network of friends at once vast and close-knit – friends who I can count on to drop off gatorade on my doorstep when my entire family is stricken with the stomach flu, friends who will take my kids if an emergency arrives (and I, in turn, take theirs, no questions asked)friends who always have a drink or a cup of coffee or a cake at the ready, whatever the situation may require. Instead of hanging out in smokey attics ruminating about Derrida I spend my time in backyards with barely tamed gardens, the laughter of children always nearby.

Northern Michigan provided a rather cold place to vacation this summer, and the chaos of two little ones on such a long road trip didn’t make it necessarily easy. On the second day of our drive back to Pittsburgh, as the Ohio turnpike carried us east of Cleveland toward Pennsylvania, instead of tensing up as the rivers grew wider, the bridges higher, and the slow build of the Appalachians began, I found my shoulders lowering, and I began breathing more deeply. This had always been my physical reaction in the past to driving into Michigan so to find it happen on the reverse course was shocking – it also forced me to look at the landscape with new eyes. Steam was swirling off the rivers like tufts of fireless smoke while the mountains, shades of jade and emerald emerging from the distance, beckoned. In the matter of just a hundred miles or so I would arrive in the city so artfully hidden by these early hills, driving into the land of rivers, bridges, steel pride and my loving tribe. A small part of me budged that day, making room for the mountains that surround me, allowing room in my heart for two homes – and it has been expanding ever since.

A List of Things That Are Good

Well, hell. We are now living in a world without Robin Williams, and if you would have told me that news would cause me to break down crying on a Monday evening I would have told you no waybut so it goes, I guess. “Dead Poets Society” is the second movie in my life that made me cry (the first being, of course, “E.T.”) and Robin Williams has been a mainstay actor in my life. It’s possible I am the only person in America who loathed “Mrs. Doubtfire,” (I hated what he was doing to his kids! Anyone could see it would turn out badly!) but even though I read the book first, for me, Robin Williams WAS Garp in “The World According to Garp” despite it’s first life as a novel. I am hopeful our On Demand stations will have some sort of movie offerings over the weekend to honor Robin Williams – I would like to fall into “Good Morning, Vietnam,” “The Fisher King,” “Dead Poets Society.”

So many people are expressing shock at Robin William’s suicide and yes, the manner was shocking, but I feel as though it was relatively common knowledge that he battled addiction and depression, or maybe I just assumed it, because so many comedians do? I’m not sure. I do know that many of our most beloved artists are constantly fending off demons. Too many of my friends and family, when it comes right down to it, struggle in similar ways, whether its with addiction or depression or some shattering cocktail of the two. And it’s hard – hard for those of us who don’t have these problems, to truly understand, I think. Right now a conversation is happening – an importantconversation – about demystifying and destigmatizing mental illness, and I desperately hope it’s a conversation that continues.

All of this leaves me wondering, though, what can I do? What can those of us who for some bizarre, chemical reason are able to see through the horrors occurring between Palestine and Israel, who are able to hear the latest from Iraq and somehow compartimentalize it, what can we do? Well, I know I can love, unconditionally, unabashedly and without judgment those I know struggling with similar issues. Also, I can pepper the internet with a list of good things. Oh, I’m not sure this is particularly helpful in any way, but maybe it will be to someone – at the very least, it is good for me.

A List of Things That Are Good
God.God is good.
The peaches this summer.
My baby boy’s sweet sweet cheeks.
My daughter’s word for worm: squirm.
Reading a horror novel during the dog-days of August.
The deep deep blue the sky becomes as autumn draws near.
Texting with my friends because none of us want to call each other and risk waking our babes.
The first sip of coffee in the morning (and all the other coffee that follows).
Breaking a sweat.
Pickled vegetables.
For that matter, the bounty of vegetables available in mid-August.
My marriage, at it lengthens and deepens.
Turning up a song by Billy Joel when one comes on the radio and teaching your daughter the lyrics.
Sleeping well.
Finger painting on the front porch.
The words “cream butter and sugar.”
Nature walks.
Comfortable clothes.
And gin and tonics.
The promise of Friday evenings – the possibility of Sunday evenings.

You know what? I am tempted to force this list, but I am not going to. This is everything today that I can think of as good. And it is enough.

Sleeping like a husband, and other things

Many moons ago a friend of mine posted a comment on facebook that stuck with me. It went something like this: I slept like a husband last night! I woke up thinking both of my babies had slept through the night but it turned out I was so tired I slept through their wake-ups and * had to handle them.

Her comment stayed with me, I think, because like my friend I have handled what feels like an inordinate share of nighttime duty – more than I thought I would in what I considered my mostly equal partnership prior to having children. For the most part I am okay that much of the late-night baby handling has fallen to me – it feels like a somewhat natural extension of the nighttime feedings I’ve done with both children. But there have been dozens of moments – drops in the bucket of time that don’t leave a lasting impression – where I’ve secretly (and not-so-secretly) seethed as I once again climbed imaginary stairs while shushing in a baby’s ear and rhythmically patting his or her butt while Sam slept, well, notlike a baby in our bedroom.

I don’t know if it’s an extension of this nighttime caretaking or something more biologically driven, but over the last four years I’ve found myself taking on more traditional mom roles. I make doctor’s appointments and upgrade wardrobes, I fill out school forms and make sure bottles are prepared and lunches are packed for daycare. Sam certainly does more than his share in our “second shift” lifestyle, including making dinner for us almost every night and maintaining our yard, but we aren’t in a tit-for-tat kind of relationship (something the priest who married us strongly warned us against).

I’m not sure what the right word is but I feel compelled – even driven – to do a lot of the caretaking of our kids. I have a difficult time accepting offers for help, even though Sam and I live hundreds of miles from our nearest family. My kids feel like my job, in the best possible sense of the word. But lately I’ve noticed that perhaps I’ve gone a bit too far when it comes to my kids…the other night Sam was trying to put Duncan to sleep but doing it all wrong. Or rather, he was rocking and shushing in a completely different manner than I do and instead of letting them be and working it out, I interrupted Sam, offering him advice and pointers. In my mind I was offering help for a frustrating situation – in Sam’s mind, I was intruding on a moment between him and his son, one that could have been worked through without my interference. It took until the following morning, however, to come to the realization that I need to start sleeping like a husband once in a while, and other things, too.

We’ve had to start bottle feeding Duncan, which I’ll write about in a different post perhaps. The other day, when Sam was about to give Duncan a morning bottle for the first time, I stretched out in bed, luxuriating in the extra half an hour I had while fighting back some bittersweet feelings, when I noticed something. Sam made his cup of coffee before giving Duncan his bottle. I have never done this, and it’s not because I avoided caffeine while nursing. No, the first squawk out of my precious baby boy and there I am rolling out of bed and padding down to his room to get him, practically, it seems to me now with a few days of reflection, hovering from the moment he wakes up until he falls asleep.

It’s so easy to become that mom – the mom who doesn’t want to let the kids spend the night at the in-laws alone – the mom who frets whether her kid will adapt to different routines and food while traveling – the mom who worries if her son isn’t rocked just so he won’t be able to fall asleep. However, nobody likes THAT mom and even more importantly, I don’t think anyone likes being that mom, either. My husband is an amazing father, and I think part of the reason he is so is because he doesn’t always put the kids’ needs immediately before his own. Oh, of course we both put the big needs ahead of our own, but he is able, in select moments, to just leave the kids the hell alone for a few seconds to shower or make a cup of coffee. More than once, now, he has mentioned it’s time for us to start going out at night again, and while part of me wants to sigh and complain about how much work it is to find a babysitter, I know he is right. We had eleven years of marriage and thirteen years together prior to Evangeline’s birth, and yet it is shockingly easy to lose a relationship in the chaos of young kids.

I don’t think I’ll ever be able to sleep like a husband, at least for a long time. I’m too conditioned to the cries for mamain the middle of the night. But I can do other things, like allow myself the time and space to read an article in the newspaper while Duncan plays on the floor, or require Evangeline to wait five minutes for breakfast while I sip my coffee. My husband would never even consider feeling guilty about heading out to play a round of golf – I commit, here and now, to stop referring to myself as a “bad mom” when I leave the kids for an hour and a half to go to yoga. I am removing myself as best I can from this particular cultural, American narrative – I’m going to start doing, at least some things, like a husband.

Showering With Pirates, Drowning in Paperwork

“It’s not the sleep deprivation, or the financial strain, or even the seemingly endless chores that cause me to dislike adulthood and parenthood,” I confided to Sam this morning as I pulled together Duncan’s bottles, oatmeal and pears for daycare. “It’s not stepping on Legos or even removing stickers from our sheets, although I could do without the stickers. It’s the paperwork I can’t stand.” I nodded in the direction of the most recent piece of mail that needed attending to – a threat from the library claiming I hadn’t returned a dvd copy of “The Jungle Book” even though, for the record, I know for a FACT I returned it. So completely confident am I, in fact, that I returned this DVD that I actually have plans to argue with the libraryover this when, if the library asked me for the equivalent money as a donation, I would gladly give it.

“I know, I know,” said Sam. “It’s endless and mountainous.”

Since having children, the amount of paperwork in my life has multiplied at least by a thousand, if not a million, percent. Is there such thing as a million percent? Yes, yes there is. A million percent increase in paperwork occurs when you go, over the course of three years, from a household of two to a household of four and two of you are required to show your updated vaccination records every other goddamn day.

Outstanding paperwork I currently have yet to deal with includes, in no particular order: two parking tickets for parking on the wrong side of the street on street cleaning days (to be fair, I maybe drive 2-3 times a week, at most, and never remember to move my car the one time a month street cleaning comes around); the aforementioned and incorrect library delinquency, paperwork related to Duncan’s NICU stay that has yet to be resolved, a slip signing away my permission for Evangeline to have henna tattoos at summer camp (which, yes, OF COURSE, but why can’t I say so verbally?), an updated request for Duncan’s vaccination records, registration forms for swimming and soccer for Evangeline, and all sorts of various and sundry reminders for things like making sure the kids are dressed in yellow and gold to support our baseball team or don’t forget crazy hat day! And let’s not even discuss the art work Evangeline brings home with her. Don’t get me wrong, I love the fact her daycare exposes her to art activities on such a regular basis, but by now the kid has a practically Pavlovian response when she sees paint…must put hand in that. And her teachers feel they must send it all home.

I’ve digitized what I can digitize, I’ve automated what I can automate but there is nothing to stop Evangeline’s daycare from sending home scary notes in all capital letters warning that a case hand, foot and mouth disease has been discovered and my signature is required in acknowledgment.

I am trying, when and where I can, to control the chaos that is caused by our little family of four. I recently discovered Rachel Jonat over at The Minimalist Mom and I did something I rarely do – I downloaded her book in order to understand how I could successfully become more minimalist in my mindset and in my life. This is actually another topic for a separate blog post, but I found her book incredibly helpful, and have slowly started incorporating some of her tips and ideas into my daily life.

More often than not, when I shower I am stepping over the detritus from Evangeline’s pirate obsession, pushing her pirate ship off to one side, smiling to myself, knowing Sam did the same thing instead of removing it from the tub. The fierce yet joyful faces of her pirate characters – Jake, Izzy and Cubby – grin at me while I wash my hair, shave my legs. Throughout our second floor, baskets of clean laundry overflow, and at least half the time I am choosing my outfits and my kids’ outfits from the baskets instead of our dressers and closets. With two children in daycare our finances are more constrained than they were previously, and we find ourselves doing what growing families have done since the beginning of time – eating more creatively, eating – gasp – on a budget. This is something Sam and I haven’t done since college – we were both adverse to it after being raised in families where money was always, always tight. Gone now, though, are our days of picking up expensive steaks and pricey bottles of wine – tonight we are making Mexican wraps with baked fries on the side, maybe having a beer.

In my pre-kid days, if you would have told me all of this and also promised it would all be worth it, I wouldn’t have believed you. I hated the moralistic, sometimes snotty tone parents would take with me as they claimed every single dirty diaper they changed taught them how to love more than they ever thought possible. I particularly chafed against this as I went through my scare with infertility and began imagining an alternate future for myself, one without kids.

And sometimes, in fleeting, mere moments, I do wonder if it’s all worth it. I watch our paychecks disappear down the vortex of a mortgage and two daycares and groceries while I help my poop-phobic daughter wipe herself as the baby spits up down my bra while all the while my two sisters-in-law, child free by choice, are meeting up for a week in Amsterdam and in that moment, more than anything else, I want to break down in tears, think of myself as somehow a bad person and wonder what I did in a former life to always, always now smell like sour milk and even, potentially, some days, poop, but then, a different kind of moment occurs, almost always immediately, and Duncan reaches out to touch my face and buzzes his baby lips, and Evangeline draws me in to some moment of fantastic imaginary play, or maybe Sam pours me a perfectly balanced gin and tonic after both kids are in bed and for fifteen minutes we sit together and talk about our days, and I know this: for me, itis worth it. Having children, building a family – there are days where it feels like enormously hard work, but I wouldn’t trade it – not for a European vacation, new designer shoes or even for the chance to shower alone.

The paperwork, however, is for the birds.

My father read to me – part one – on horror – second attempt

sometimes you write something, and it seems fine, but upon a later rereading you realize by not telling the whole story the piece doesn’t work, so you delete it, and try again.

If Evangeline could name her top three favorite places to visit on the weekend, she would say the library, the pool and the park, in that order. My girl, she loves getting new books. In Pittsburgh, we are incredibly lucky to have the Carnegie Library system, so on any given Saturday I can ask E if she wants to go to the library with the dinosaur or the library with the trains she likes or the library with the tent…you get the idea. On our most recent trip, she gravitated toward several beautifully illustrated fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm. These were not the Disney-ified versions of fairy tales – these were the real deal, and E was entranced. Carefully, she selected Sleeping Beauty, The Snow Queen, and Snow White to take home.

I was nervous, at first, to read them to her – concerned about my ability to handle her questions about things like evil and murder. Taking a cue from my friend Hattie, who believes children take from stories what they are able to handle that is age-appropriate, I took a breath and read to her. And it worked out just fine! Perhaps understanding her own capacity better than I do, she quickly realized the authentic tale of Snow White wasn’t appealing, but as for the other two? She held her breath for two weeks straight as we read, and read, and read again the tale of the wicked snow queen and she squealed with joy every time we read about princess Aurora and the kingdom that slept for one hundred years.

In so many ways, her favorite reading material already leans toward the dark and macabre – we spent nearly a month on a book about a haunted train. A haunted train people. That’s some scary sugar.* When she is older, hiding beneath her bedspread, flashlight in hand, totally creeped out by The Shining, I’ll know her the root of her fascination began like mine did – with real fairy tales, read on my dad’s lap.

Sam tends to worry a bit more than I do about stories being too scary for Evangeline, and I understand where he is coming from, but whether we like it or not she is already being exposed to the darkness and deceit that exists in the world. One of her best friends at school, Brandon, has recounted the plot of “The Lion King” to her endlessly – and another of her close friends is fatherless because her father died before she was born. Fiction and real life both are doing their part to prevent our instincts to over-shelter, over-protect our toddler.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had my own fascination with darker stories, beginning with my father’s recreation of some of the more famous myths, told around the campfire late at night. One of the first stories I remember hearing is the tale of Medusa, with her hair made of venomous snakes and her ability to turn men to stone – if that didn’t keep me awake at night then the grotesque clown created by Stephen King in It wasn’t likely too.

Both of my parents are big readers, but I definitely get my love of certain genres from my dad. Whether the story is about a boy who can travel across time and through worlds, or an accidental outbreak of a flu that destroys most of the world, or forbidden love causing the fall of great kingdoms, my dad exposed me to genres a lot of girls in their young adulthoods, I think, missed. As an English teacher, he also exposed me to the more traditional Great Works, and while I never took to Hemingway I certainly did to Austen, and I’m certainly grateful for that as well. But I’m honestly more grateful for the novels by Stephen King, Peter Straub, Shirley Jackson and Dan Simmons that he slipped me than I am for The Heart of Darkness – the education I was lucky enough to receive would have ensured I read those novels, but only a father whose life is made up of books would make sure I had access to Dennis Lehane.

Reading helps us understand the world, and by tackling difficult subjects in literature before I had to confront them in my real life, and I think it helped enormously. V.C. Andrews once said by the time she actually could afford a trip to Paris, upon her arrival she realized she had already been there – in books. I think reading about the fantastic, the scary, the horrific works in much the same way – senseless mass shootings and wars raged by corrupt governments make never make logical sense, but at least the first time I confronted evil it was in my bedroom, under the covers, flashlight in one hand and book in the other, my parents down the hall, close enough to call if I grew scared but far enough away to let me establish my own reading world.