kicking and screaming my way to Hulu

Over the winter, Sam and I decided we were spending too much money on our cable bill. It’s weird how it can sneak up on you – we have a satellite dish and over time added a sports package here, a movie station there, until we looked at our bill and realized we would be embarrassed for our parents to know how much we were spending on television. We rarely have time to watch television so the return on investment was nil, and he agreed to cut out his expensive sports packages if I eliminated my (less, cough cough) expensive movie packages.

“We have a deal,” I said. “But you have to make the call. If I make the call they’ll somehow talk me into keeping HBO, I just know it. I am weak when it comes to Game of Thrones.”

Indeed, Game of Thrones and Outlander are the only television shows I really miss, and I won’t have to miss them for long – one thousand different ways exist for me to access them once the seasons are complete. I’m actually looking forward to watching Game of Thrones in box set form with my dad next winter. It was, though,one of the only television shows I watched in real time, and in sacrificing it I’ve eliminated myself from any water cooler conversation I was able to participate in. More than one well-meaning millenial (all male, for some reason) have thought it necessary to fix my predicament…if I just buy this gadget for seven dollars and then get a password to access this site and then connect my ipad to my television…

“Wait right there,” I say, to these well-meaning colleagues and friends. “You’ve just made t.v. work. The whole reason I watch an hour or so an evening is to not be working. I appreciate your efforts but I’m going to just wait for the box sets like I always have and catch up then.”

Even in exchange for my life, should such a dire situation occur, I wouldn’t be able to explain how hulu, netflix or amazon t.v. work. Logically I know I could save a lot of money by choosing to understand this sort of thing but, meh. Mostly I can’t be bothered.

At least, that was the case until Fox decided to cancel one of my most favorite television series of all time: The Mindy Project.. This is probably what I looked like:

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I have loved this television show since it began. I don’t know all the different places I’ve read about Mindy Kaling’s affinity for romantic comedies, but I knew about it before I started watching the program and expected her series to be an homage to romantic comedies which are not, in fact, not funny every second. That The Mindy Project is often so wickedly funny is a wonderful surprise – I don’t think I’ve laughed harder – as an adult – than I did the night I watched the episode “My Cool Christian Boyfriend.” Part of what makes the show so great is, of course, Mindy – but the collaboration of the entire cast is what makes the show work so damn well. Because Mindy’s character tends, especially in earlier seasons, toward the more superficial, with passions for clothes, popular culture and brunch, most of the rest of the characters bring some level of gravitas to the show, whether it’s straight man Jeremy trying to run a successful clinical practice or serious, Catholic Danny (and Mindy’s love interest) trying to excel at everything from cooking to caring for his mother. Don’t get me wrong, there is a pretty high level of jack-assery involved in every episode, but the characters create a balance I’ve rarely seen in other comedies. As the seasons have grown so have the characters, and so have the issues the show has been willing to tackle. Because it’s modeled, in some aspects, after a romantic comedy, things do take some time to unfold, and I suppose that might have frustrated some viewers. I’ve also read criticism claiming every show isn’t equally funny, but I’m not really sure how that could be achieved. What I really love about the show is how oddly true to life it can be – Mindy works in a multigenerational office that reflects a lot of current work places, with millenial ideals clashing against Gen-X ideology. There are family issues and race issues and work issues and body image issues – I defy anyone to find a show that more realistically portrays a woman’s true feelings about weight gain during pregnancy – especially if she already struggles with her weight – than this one:

http://www.tv.com/shows/the-mindy-project/what-to-expect-when-youre-expanding-3069084/

All of which is to say, by the time The Mindy Project returns, I have no doubt you’ll find me a very loyal Hulu customer and, who knows? I might catch up on Orange is the New Black and House of Cards, for I will be streaming or downloading and attaching cords to cables while, apparently, spending even less money than I am now, which seems incredible. I guess I owe a thanks, after all, to Fox!

Is McDonald’s just a memory?

A few months ago, McDonald’s ran an advertisement that was nothing more than a collage of its various signs in different cities, with community-focused messages highlighted. Some of the messages, like “Boston Strong,” would be understood globally, while others were locally focused – high school football championships and Happy Birthday messages. The commercial struck me, even though it has been years since I set foot in a McDonald’s for anything other than a cup of coffee. I grew up in a small town, and for a long time the only fast food restaurants we had were McDonald’s, Burger King and maybe Arby’s? Taco Bell didn’t come around until I was in high school, and it was a really big deal when it did, that I remember. You can watch most of the ad, and the Today Show commentary, here (I couldn’t find an unedited version):

I found this commercial so effective because, where I grew up, restaurants like McDonald’s and Big Boy were anchors in the community. We rarely, if ever, ate dinner at McDonald’s as a family, and I was a senior in college before I tried an Egg McMuffin, but occasionally on Sundays after church my mom would take us to McDonald’s and I can still feel the anticipation in the car as we drove home, the smell of French fries moistening the air, running into my room to change my clothes so I could devour a cheeseburger and fries at our kitchen table before starting homework or heading off to hang out with friends (for the record, coming home from church and changing my clothes is still one of my favorite things in the world.) I spent the majority of my time at McDonald’s in high school, when our local chain hosted all-you-can eat pancake dinners to support various causes around town – our football team, the high school choir, my theater troupe. These dinners were ubiquitous, and fueled more dance and play rehearsals than I can count. Sometimes my entire family would go, other times, I would go with group of friends, and even now I can taste the crisp-yet-gooey pancake dough, the tang of the artificial syrup, the gristle of the three-sausages we were given (sausage, alas, was not all you can eat). These are, by far, some of my best memories of growing up in a small town – the convivial air inside the restaurant on winter nights as the wind from Lake Huron beat off the lake. Much better than the slow-simmering racism, sexism and homophobia, to be sure.

I have virtually no memories of McDonald’s from my mid-twenties – first in North Carolina and later in Pittsburgh. By its very nature fast food needs to be convenient, and after high school I never lived near one that was terrible close, and as we began our series of school-dictated moves, we never lived close enough to one to make it on our radar. The lack of proximity, coupled with a heightened sense of our wellness, meant we saved McDonald’s meals for long car rides, and now we’ve even eliminated those. Evangeline hates McDonald’s – we’ve taken her on a few occasions and she refuses to eat the chicken nuggets, the apple slices, the french fries, the cheeseburgers. Because she dislikes it so much, and because Sam and I are convinced Duncan would love McDonald’s too much, we’ve removed it as a dining option altogether.

Following a 400 million dollar quarterly loss, McDonald’s has been in the news a lot lately. I oddly read quite a bit of business news because of my job, and I know criticisms of McDonald’s range from not changing with the new, more health conscious America to not sticking with what it does best – burgers, fries and fountain Coke. According to The New Yorker, it has suffered even further from the rise of “fast-casual” chains like Chipotle and Panera, which offer better quality food for a small percentage increase in price.

It makes me a little bit sad. To be sure, I don’t think McDonald’s always played fair – they may have manipulated their food so customers developed a kind of addiction to it – and with all we know about health and wellness, it’s hard to rationalize eating regularly, if at all, at the chain. But the company also gave so many of my friends their first jobs, and in my hometown it provided a reliable and safe place to meet up with friends before or after a movie. The restaurants make wonderful pit-stops on long road trips because the bathrooms are clean and bright, and their coffee is good. I hope the chain finds a way to be solvent while still remaining true to itself – I read somewhere they want to introduce an artisan chicken sandwich, which I would never order. There’s a lot of good behind the organization, especially for kids growing up in small towns with limited job and social opportunities. But then again, I guess that’s the paradox – I love it enough to want it to succeed, without having to support it myself.

(It has occurred to me that I started thinking about McDonald’s after reading this post from Chez Danisse, and as I was doing some light fact-checking I came across this as well.)

My children almost did me in this weekend. Sam has been traveling for work quite a bit, and they chose his most recent trip to show off their least lovely selves. This time last spring Duncan was still a newborn, so when Sam traveled Evangeline and I passed the time eating Lo Mein and encouraging Duncan to complete his tummy time on the baby gym. This year, Duncan wants to do everything his big sister does while at the same time keeping me in his line of vision at all times. His desire to take over Evangeline’s dollhouse, her art projects, her “cozy corner” with stuffed animals and books, and tear them to pieces, is traumatic for her, which I recognize. Just as she is beginning to create imaginary worlds that require a sustained attention span and all of her creativity, along comes Hurricane Duncan, intent on playing with his sister on his terms. It helps matters none whatsoever when I ask Evangeline if there is anything – anything at all – that she would consider playing her brother and she answers a resounding NO.

I miss our Lo Mein nights.

The more mobile and verbal Duncan grows, the more attention Evangeline demands. If Duncan decides to show off a new word, rolling ball or dog off his tongue as though they have always been there, or tries to put on his own socks, and Sam and I respond with anything approaching normal parent glee, Evangeline insists on showing off a new dance move or suddenly having a complete meltdown over the fact that the ice in her cup turned to water. With two parents available, it is easy enough to triage these demands, but I’ve been on my own with the kids a lot recently and I find myself resorting to a ridiculous kind of pleading, above what Evangeline is probably emotionally ready to handle.

“Sweetie, look. I know it’s hard to have a little brother – and you are being SO GREAT – but I really need us to all play something together. I’m his mama too and I have to keep him safe,” or “Evangeline! Honey, please. I am doing my best here, but I can’t do everything at once. Do you understand what that means? It means I can’t get you a snack and change Duncan’s diaper in the exact same moment.”

All of this has left me a little emotionally raw, which is probably why I could be found on Sunday slamming my home phone (yes, I still have a home phone -necessary for our alarm system) down repeatedly after a conversation with my parents, who are spending the month in Florida, where they discussed how much my brother and his fiancee were looking forward to their week in Mexico. Because of course they are – of course they are. They work incredibly hard and deserve a vacation but on the other hand – God, I would kill for a vacation, with the kids or without. Sun, sand, surf, boat drinks? I honestly grow teary-eyed at the thought.

I was prepared for a lot when I decided to have kids. Intellectually, I understood the sleep deprivation that it would entail. Financially, I knew that having two children on top of our graduate degrees certainly wouldn’t put us ahead financially for several years. I didn’t over-intellectualize parenting – I just knew I wanted to have kids and figured almost everything else would work itself out. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was the possibility that Sam and I, out of all of our siblings, would be the only ones to have children. Across the board, his sisters and my brother have ended up living child-free lifestyles. It’s something I never considered, and while I never had my children under the assumption that others would follow suit, I also didn’t imagine my children growing up cousin-less. I am very close with my second cousins, and one of them has two daughters around Evangeline and Duncan’s age, so my children will develop similar kinds of relationships – that isn’t the problem. What I have noticed, though, is that in our families having children isn’t the norm, and because it’s not, my children are seen and t, reated more as commodities than the tiny little people they are becoming. Growing up, I had just enough cousins to make sure none of us were considered overly-special – there were always some grandkids to have around at Christmas and Thanksgiving – always a play or hockey game or spelling bee to attend. With Evangeline and Duncan, as the only two grandchildren born to the same couple, grandparents begin scheduling holiday visits with us months in advance, and try and reserve our limited vacation time before we even have time to consider what we would like to do. We receive emails about Christmas in July, about our summer vacation plans in January. What are you doing for the Fourth of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving? Because Sam and I don’t tend to make travel plans terribly far in advance, we often spend what vacation we do have with family which, don’t get me wrong, is mostly great. Frankly we don’t have the funds for elaborate vacations and since we live quite far from family, establishing these relationships is important. But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard, sometimes, to watch our siblings vacation in Vienna, Paris, Mexico, Jamaica – to hear about their impeccable homes, dinners beginning at 9 p.m., and lazy Saturday mornings.

So much has been written about about the difficulties of parenting recently that it’s practically a blogging trend – a backlash, I think, to the Pinterest-perfect, overly optimistic blogs that were more marketing material for cleaning products and Oreos than anything else. So many writers and bloggers were stuffing how great parenting was down our throats that it was refreshing to hear moms write about spit-up covered clothes, sleepless nights, controlled but simmering rage over potty-training (or maybe that’s just me). But I also hoped, when I have my own kids, that I would have something else to say – something more interesting than sanitized joy, more interesting than the difficulty.

It’s hard. Raising young children is hard, but my hard and your hard are probably vastly different. I am equipped with an equilibrium designed to handle meltdowns in grocery stores, yogurt-covered hugs and the 2 a.m. call for water. I am less equipped, however, to manage familial politics and other people’s baggage that they bring to children – no matter how many times I remind myself to be kind and soft and open, I close up in the face of what I perceive as demands on my children when logically I know these demands come from a place of great love. And I am barely equipped at all to handle the hundred heartbreaks my children experience on a daily basis – Evangeline’s devastation when I have to pay attention to her brother instead of her, Duncan’s disappointment when Evangeline’s needs come momentarily first. And I have to work hard, to keep jealousy at bay when it feels like everyone else in the world is vacationing in exotic lands while I scrape spaghetti sauce out of my hair and revisit our budget again.

It’s taken me all week to write this post. Certainly, I write around the corners and edges of my life, so blog posts are never hammered out all at once, but it never takes me an entire week, either. At various times I thought about deleting it – the first paragraph in no way really connects with the ending, and overall it seemed more negative than I usually feel. I am apparently, so generally cheerful that Evangeline grows distraught whenever I am firm or corrective with her – “Put on your happy face! Your normal face!” she yells. “You aren’t my mommy with that face!” But if I didn’t teach her that standing on her brother was wrong, as is pulling the dog’s tail until he yelps, I’d create a little psychopath, and I know she needs the boundaries and rules I set.

But, true to my nature, I’d like to end on this note: this morning, five days after the weekend I thought would kill me, Duncan brought me one of his sister’s Clifford books. They both settled on my lap and we read the entire book without anyone fussing or trying to tear the book apart (I’m looking at you, D-man). The early morning sun brightened Evangeline’s already yellow room and it was a perfect three minutes. It wasn’t a vacation in the Bahamas, but it was enough to soften my heart and open myself to the weekend ahead – a weekend full of possibility, where I may not step on a stray Lego, or end up begging my children for improved behavior instead of guiding it appropriately, where the dishes might end up in the dishwasher instead of under the couch and where I wear my happy face, my normal face, the whole damn time.

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Recently, I took several photos of Evangeline during a ballet class and posted them on Facebook and Instagram. They garnered a lot of likes – enough to make me wonder if I had been motivated to post them because of some misplaced mom vanity – look at my beautiful daughter! – but I don’t think that’s the case. Sure, the only time Evangeline consents for me to pull her hair back is in preparation for ballet, and sure, most of the time her desire to dress in what Sam and I like to call bag lady chic overrules my desire for clothes that at least moderately match, but I rejoice in the Evangelineness of Evangeline all of the time – I am as likely to post a picture of her in her current favorite outfit – a “flower” dress and “flower” pants that together bring to mind Mimi from the Drew Carey show as I am as she appears in ballet class. No, I posted the pictures because the space simply lends itself to great photos, wonderful late-morning sun streaming onto hardwood floors, plants in every corner, mirrors around the room.

And Instagram makes things look so fancy.

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But I did have to answer “why dance?” and “why now?” My in-laws are visiting and when it comes to the arts, the practice of a musical instrument is of paramount importance to them. They have offered a few times to foot the cost of relocating their piano to our house, and also offered to pay for any music lessons my children take. I am not in any way adverse to music lessons, and will probably take them up on their offer down the road, but I always chafe at the suggestion that music is the only true art form worth pursuing. But I didn’t choose dance classes to annoy my in-laws.

I chose to enroll Evangeline in dance because I think learning to understand how your body moves and operates is one of the most valuable skills a person can master. I want her to learn, before she begins to think in terms of too fat or too skinny or to tall, the joy is that is trying to pirouette, the grace found in grand plie. Before sore necks and achy backs, before too much homework and not enough sleep, before proper schooling and social obligations and the dreaded girl scout cookie sales, I want her to understand her core, physically, because for some reason I can’t explain I believe it helps you understand your metaphorical core, as well.

Of course, I believe this because it was true for me, and I realize for Evangeline, learning to trust her own sense of self might happen in swim class or at the easel or on the soccer field. The music that moves her heart might begin with the first soft attempts to blow air into a French Horn, or it could be the smell of oil paint that sets her heart ablaze. As much as i am able, I hope I can support her interests until she finds the few that fire her imagination and fuel her soul. Until then, though, the ballet pictures sure are pretty!

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it’s time for a bullet post!

Last week I sat down to blog and couldn’t think of a flipping thing to write about. No big deal, I thought. Just take a few days off and try again. Sure enough, on Friday I started a post I thought had potential but when I revisited it this morning I felt all blah about it, like who could possibly care about that particular piece of writing? My fingers paused above the keyboard, actually, literally, paused, as I considered potential posts. Part of me considered venting about some family drama I’m going through, but that didn’t feel necessary, although it maybe would have been funny. I’m still working my way through the second novel in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series and while I’m enjoying it I doubt I’ll be moved to review it. I thought about skipping another blogging session, but if there is one thing I know, it’s that writing begets writing and the only solution to any kind of writer’s block, apart from a long walk alone, is to just keep at it.

Time for a bullet post, then! Eight bullet posts about the here and now mostly now.

* This is me, today yesterday. I’ve been avoiding taking selfies ever since my minister went on a small rant about how self-indulgent and ultimately joyless they are and I found myself agreeing with him, but yesterday, feeling exhausted from over 24 hours without sleep and managing a croupy one year old, I was feeling particularly blue about my appearance. To pass some time I tried snapping some pictures of me with Duncan but even sick, he won’t sit still, so I ended up with this. In our culture it’s easy to feel defeated in the face of so much manufactured beauty, and it’s only recently I not only came to terms with my appearance but have been proud of it and, at times, even felt beautiful. I like this shot because I haven’t had any sleep, I don’t have a stitch of makeup on, I’m covered in pasta sauce and yet I was able to look at it and think, well. Not too bad for a 37 year-old mom of two:

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* I’ve come to the realization recently that I’ve been shying away from fully utilizing my intellect at work, and yes, I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Since I’m in healthcare PR I spend a lot of time with doctors and I don’t ever expect to know the same kind of stuff they do, but within my own department I often still act like the 30 year old I was when I started, instead of owning and using my knowledge, making recommendations and believing in myself and my decisions. A lot of different events have brought me to this insight, and since realizing it I’ve taken a much more active role in my department. I don’t expect this to cure any of the frustrations I have with the position but it feels great – and belated – to have confidence in what I believe is right.

* Plenty has been written about the power of saying no, and I don’t need to belabor it all here, but I’ve recently found a ton of freedom in saying no to things that make me feel uncomfortable financially. As I’ve written about previously, paying for the cost of two children in daycare has put a strain on our finances, and our previous lifestyle – one where we could pick up whatever food we wanted to cook, whenever we wanted it without a budget, go out to eat on a whim, take vacations without saving – is temporarily gone. I occasionally get down about this and feel as though I’m failing, somehow – and then I hit myself on the forehead and remember in the last six years Sam graduated law school, we bought a house, and we had two kids. That’s quite a lot for such a short time frame and financial growing pains are to be expected. Because money is always hard to talk about, however, I’ve struggled with explaining to my friends who earn more money than we do that I can no longer afford to regularly go out for expensive dinners but I took the leap and you know what? It’s never about the expensive dinners. My friends are just as happy to come to my house and eat bad Chinese or have me at theirs for impromptu parties – some of them, I think, are even secretly relieved we aren’t spending 60 dollars on miso blackened cod. I took this approach a step further and told my parents that as much as I would love to, Evangeline and I wouldn’t be joining them in Florida this April. Frankly, this decision is crushing for all of us but my brother is also getting married this summer so I am being fiscally responsible and while it doesn’t always feel great, I’m proud of myself for exerting control in this area of our lives.

* When March began, I decided it would be the month of task completion. I am pretty sure that’s a football term, and Sam uses it all the time to celebrate or bemoan the general state of our lives with two little ones in the house. Between horrible weather conditions and illness, a lot of my goals, both short-term and long-term, were interrupted but March! March, I vowed, would be the month of Moving Things Forward. I would finish my minimalism-reorganization of the kitchen! I would have mostly have the third floor front room cleaned out and ready to become a playroom. I would have my yoga and aerobics schedule firmly in hand and for the love of all things holy I would finish Serial and Dragonfly in Amber so I could move the fuck on in my reading/listening life. I made good headway for a couple of weeks but a long business trip for Sam, a visit from my parents, and Duncan’s croup interrupted my progress (I might as well write lifeinterrupted my progress!). I have a few days left in March and while I know I won’t accomplish all of my goals, moving onto new reading material will be wonderful.

*Oh! The Counting Crows just came on the radio! I listened to the song “Anna Begins” countless times when I wrote my novel back in my early thirties – it seemed to so perfectly encapsulate my narrator. Despite their incredible progression as a band, I’m always transported back to the end of high school and beginning of college by their sound. The Counting Crows is one of the few bands I’d love to see live that I haven’t (ah – another luxury we thoughtlessly spent money on for years – concert tickets! it drives both sets of our parents nuts that we don’t yet own a proper dining room table. Oh well – we own enough memories of rock concerts, I suppose.)

* Returning to a couple of bullet points ago, regarding how slowly I’m moving through podcasts, reading material, and the like – it’s been years since I’ve been able to watch television shows in real time, which makes me fairly useless when it comes to the proverbial water cooler conversation at work. Last week one of my co-workers bounded up to (he’s sort of puppyish – bounded really is the right verb, here) and asked me if I’d seen the previous night’s episode of “The Walking Dead”. “No, but I recently finished the Sopranos,” I said helpfully. He turned away wordlessly, disgusted.

* Since the beginning of 2015, a handful of my friends have been forced to face some really scary situations. Now that Duncan is past his first year, I’ve been able to do small things for these friends – make a covered dish, run errands, check in regularly. After the love and support I received from so many people during the first years of my children’s lives, it feels amazing to be in this place, this place of helping others.

* Michigan State somehow landed in the Final Four. Usually an avid fan of my college basketball team, this year I turned my attention to Pitt since we had season tickets. A mistake, obviously. Saturday Michigan State faces Duke, Sam’s team – so it should be a pretty tense afternoon in our house. I am really looking forward to BOTH final four games – Wisconsin versus Kentucky should be spectacular. It’s not often I say this but no matter what happens on Saturday, I am guaranteed to watch the championship game next Monday – something I don’t commit to most years!

Ah, well. There you have it. I hope to have a more topic-focused post for you next time. Have a great week!

Midway through the season of Lent

Growing up as a Presbyterian in a predominantly Catholic town, I generally felt left out during the observance of Lent. I grew up in the kind of Presbyterian congregation that the minister of my current church jokingly refers to as “the frozen chosen” – we never clapped after guest musicians performed, we rarely decorated the church and our passing of the peace didn’t go beyond the lightest hand shake we could get away with. Frankly, I had little understanding of Lent as a season unto itself because nothing really changed noticeably until Palm Sunday, when the kids in the congregation were given palm leaves and reenacted Jesus’ return to Jerusalem. Things grew a little more lively during Holy Week and Easter – I recall releasing multi-colored balloons into the air in recognition of the resurrection, at least. But it definitely felt like the Catholics had most of Lent to themselves. On Fridays, all of my friends feasted on fried fish dinners from Lud’s, the local fast-food restaurant, and during the week the school halls were full of chatter about what everyone was “giving up” in observance of Lent. Pop, chocolate, candy or sugar altogether, swearing, lying, not-studying – whatever, it never seemed entirely bad to have a goal of some sort during the dark cold of late winter. I remember asking my mom at some point if I should give something up for lent and she vehemently opposed the idea, stating that was a Catholic thing, probably while she sat a juicy prime rib roast in front of us on a Friday while my dad muttered something about giving up chocolate, equivocating, and forty days in the desert.

Not huge fans of the Catholic religion, my parents.

When I moved to Pittsburgh I began thinking of Lent as its own season, partially because the ministers of my church guide us through it patiently and worshipfully but also because of my city’s willingness to embrace and then build upon any opportunity to create community. Catholics can’t eat meat on Fridays? No problem. Every Catholic church and fire hall within three counties will host a fish fry! And people, we aren’t just talking, as you might think, about the ubiquitous fried fish advertised by McDonald’s or Wendy’s – meals that are punishing in and of themselves. We are talking about homemade macaroni and cheese and spaghetti with olive oil, roasted fried shrimp and sauteed scallops – heaping, steaming platefuls of delicousness cooked up by nuns and women who regularly man large church kitchens. These fish fries are generally bring-your-own-beverage and they can be found in every Pittsburgh neighborhood, borough and suburb during Lent. To accompany these fish fries, many organizations host small carnivals, game nights and fundraisers, and so people who have remained at home on Friday nights since Christmas, at first as a welcome respite from the holiday bustle and then as a less-welcome avoidance of the cold, break out of their hermit shells and go out.

Everything begins to feel a little less dark as the Lenten season begins – the days begin to lengthen, allowing light, metaphorical and literal, to pour in.

Since the start of 2015, we’ve had a difficult time making it to church on Sundays. Every Sunday so far at least one of us has been sick except for one, where we managed to stay until the middle of the first hymn when I realized the stomach bug I so smugly thought I avoided receiving from the rest of the family struck – no child has ever been ripped so quickly from Sunday school as Evangeline was that morning. So Sam and I focused on Lent. By the time Lent begins, we reasoned, the children will be healthy. By the time Lent begins, we told ourselves, our plumbing woes will be over. We will return to regular church going with the start of the Lenten season and it shall be glorious, a small-scale resurrection of our own sort.

And on the first Sunday of Lent we did – we made it to church. We made it through the announcements and the first hymn and passing the peace and almostto the children’s sermon when Duncan – who made it very clearly known that he would NOT be left in the nursery – let out a tortured wail in response to the organ and did.not.stop. Sam took him in the hallway to go for a walk when, just as the children’s sermon was about to begin, Evangeline leaned in and whispered to me “momma, I have to use the potty. It can’t wait.” And so she and I walked to the women’s room and as my daughter was about to get down to business she slipped on some PEE on the floor – someone before us obviously hadn’t been able to make it to the actually bathroom on time – and she fell and soaked her pants, and lo – the crying. The crying. “It’s not very fun,” she gasped, “to be covered in someone else’s pee.”

of course it isn’t.

I carried her out into the hallway where Sam was managing a fussy Duncan and through marital ESP finely tuned over the last fifteen years we decided, without speaking, to head for the door.

Since that last service, we haven’t been back to church yet. Minor illnesses and major weather inconveniences have kept us away, and while initially I’ve felt guilty about it, I knew I had to look at our circumstances in a different light. Because of weather or runny noses, I’ve been able to stay home and experience long Sunday mornings. I’m a lucky mom with kids who like to sleep and on Sundays they often don’t rise until 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., allowing for two breakfasts (the first fed to the kids immediately while Sam and I drink coffee, the second mid-morning when the grownups are ready to eat) – and so, during these first snow-bound Sundays of lent, I shut out the voices of my mother and grandmother, who for some reason always seemed to believe that God is mostly found in the formal spaces set aside for prayer (church, dinner table, bedroom) and instead found grace every time Duncan brought me a book, climbed into my lap and began sucking his thumb, waiting expectantly for a story; I breathed in the warmth of my daughter as she emerged from her bed, I exhaled a prayer of peace. I said thanks for runny yellow egg yolks on fresh sourdough toast and sunlight glinting through dust-smeared dining room windows, for half finished cups of coffee left abandoned in order to keep the baby from his latest death wish.

At one point, I emailed our minister to explain our predicament. He’s a compassionate, understanding man and I believe in the work of our church and, I don’t know, I didn’t want him to think we’d just abandoned church. He of course wrote back something gracious and understanding, ending on a note stating he hoped the rest of the Lenten season was less eventful and more worshipful for us. And, in its own way, it has been.

“You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.”

― G.K. Chesterton

the piece of career advice I’ll never give my children, or anyone else

I’m a particularly sensitive person, and for many years I had a tendency to internalize advice I received, taking it quite literally. In addition to being innately sensitive, for a long time I didn’t have a strong enough sense of self to question the advice I received – I truly believed if people older than I was were sharing their proverbial pearls of wisdom, then these pearls equaled the truth. One of the bitchin’ things about growing older is developing a stronger sense of self and now I hear certain pieces of advice and roll my eyes, or scoff, or point out to my children all the ways the advice is wrong.

As it happened, I received the same piece of advice for the three areas of interest I was most passionate about growing up (writing, acting, studying English Literature). If I wanted to be a writer, or an actor, or get a Ph.D. in British Literature, I heard time and time again that I shouldn’t be able to imagine doing anything else with my life, at all. All three endeavors, I was told, were inherently selfish acts, not conducive to earning a living, let alone raising a family.

I was reminded of this bit of advice recently when I was listening to the Diane Rhem show on NPR on my way to the gym. She had a British actor on her program whose name I didn’t catch, and he was sharing this particular bit of wisdom with the mother of a daughter in a theater conservatory. Something along the lines of “just make sure it’s the only thing – truly the only thing – she wants to do – because she will sacrifice everything else for it.”

I just rolled my eyes. I mean, nobody saw me because I was alone in the car but if someone HAD been there? It was a pretty impressive eyeroll.

Because, yes. Acting and writing and dancing and playing musical instruments and studying English or history or the history of stage direction? Not terribly profitable careers, of course. We live in a pro-STEM world and the value we place on the arts seems to be dropping disturbingly quickly. Chances of succeeding as an actual working actor, or supporting yourself by your published novels alone, or even landing a tenure-track teaching position, are slim. But ultimately I’m just not sure how helpful this particular bit of advice is. For someone like me, who grew up in a house where the grown ups were constantly worried about money, the need to earn a living trumped my less practical dreams. I felt tremendous pressure, not so much from my parents but from society, generally, to succeed in areas I didn’t naturally excel in (calculus and chemistry leap to mind), that my failure in those areas constantly seemed to overshadow the fact that teachers thought I was a good writer and members of the community found me a talented actress.

I think the word “imagine” was the word that tripped me up time and time again. Not able to imagine myself doing anything else? Are you kidding me? I could imagine myself doing EVERYTHING else – law school with a dramatic career on capitol hill! Practicing pediatric oncology! Environmental studies and saving forests and rivers! Yes, I could imagine myself in all sorts of careers.

Admittedly I haven’t seen things play out well – financially speaking- for the writers, actors and Ph.Ds I know. They struggle mightily, some finally accepting the need for a day job, others allowing spouses to carry the weight of financial matters for the family. Many have limited the number of children they have not because they want to but because their financial situation has forced them to – others continue to work in hospitality industry to support their art. Still, there is a part of me that admires their commitment to their craft – not to what I consider a lack of imagination so much as fierceness, creative dedication and core beliefs held dear.

In writing this I can see how maybe I come across as unsatisfied or disillusioned with my own life – that couldn’t be further from the truth. I have a beautiful, messy, creative life with a job that could support my kids and me if anything ever happened to Sam – all of those things hold importance for me.

As Evangeline, Duncan and their friends grow up, at least some of them are bound to be less STEM-oriented and more involved in the arts. I know I won’t be the grown up to say “you should only pursue X dream if you can’t imagine doing anything else” but I hope I have the wherewithal and judgment to say “that sounds amazing! What do you need to do to achieve that?” or “becoming a prima ballerina sounds like an amazing goal – I once worked for a doctor who did so until she was 32 and then went to med school – she works at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill today!” Or “acting and writing can be tough but if you combine them you’ll have astounding success.” Or “I’m in complete agreement – very little is as fascinating at Restoration literature. And the study of history is a great way to learn to think critically, which is useful in all sorts of fields.”

I will not, as God and this blog as my witness, ever tell someone they’d better not be able to imagine themselves doing anything else. Because life is short, but it is wide, with room for so many reinventions.