Returned

The kids and I have just returned from a trip that was supposed to be a long weekend in northern Michigan but instead morphed into several days thanks to (1.) confusion over the kind of coolant to add to my car and, honestly, confusion over whether or not my car even REQUIRED coolant (it did not, as it turned out, $200 later) and (2.) unpredictable winter weather. We had a wonderful time – my mom and I took the kids ice skating for the first time, which was treacherous but ultimately rewarding, and our whole family went sledding.  We visited partly to break up the monotony of an extended business trip Sam is currently taking, and we returned to Toledo grateful to be in our own home while a little saddened by the lack of snow. Winter has very little point, in my book, if there isn’t any snow.

While we were there, one of my parents’ friends passed away. She had been exceedingly ill and it wasn’t unexpected, but it was sad nonetheless. My father particularly doesn’t handle this kind of news well since so often the people passing away are his age or, often, younger.

“It seems like we are losing people right and left,” he said, his head in his hands. I don’t really know how to act in these circumstances because he is correct – he is losing friends right and left. I generally don’t say much and give him room to just be, eventually joining him to watch Jeopardy or a college basketball game. At seventy-three, my dad is as passionate about the things he loves as he ever was – great novels, hunting, gardening, fishing – but he is slowing down at a remarkable rate, almost to the point of concern. I spoke with my mom a little bit about it and she agreed he sleeps more and moves less than he used to, and sometimes she is worried, but I am actually equally aware of the changes in her. She tells the same stories over and over again and seems exceedingly quick to anger. Ten, or even five years ago, I would have pushed both of them about these changes -pointing out to my dad that Bernie Sanders is older than he is and look, he’s running for President! Or I would have gently guided my mom toward a neurological exam. What I’ve learned over the years, though, is that they need me to remain their daughter much more than they need me to be their doctor, and until I notice something really troubling – so dramatically out of character that I need to talk about it with my brother – I am going to let them be.

Our relocation to Toledo means I now only live half a day’s distance from them, and this has been a huge gift. I can be present in a way I haven’t been for over a decade.

On the whole, I’m feeling increasingly positive about things. My eyes have completely healed from their freak allergic reaction to my contact lenses, and while I will never be able to wear contacts for 12 + hours a day like I was so stupidly doing, by summer I should be able to wear them for outdoor activities, wrestling with Duncan and driving. I will never take my sight for granted again. I have organized my resume, updated my linked in account, and have embarked on an exciting writing project with my brother – more on that coming very soon! I *think* I’ve also found a way to tackle a book I’ve been hoping to write, and my goal this month is to submit one of my poems to a literary journal.

The move from Pittsburgh rocked me to my core, no doubt. Having two such small children made it worse, I think – their needs had to continuously come before my own. But here we are, nearly at the end of the first month of a new year, and a sense of normalcy is emerging. I can’t say it hurts that Duncan is days away from  turning two years old. The other morning he walked up to me with some request or another and I looked at him and said “You can get that yourself. Once my babies turn two, I get to start reading the paper again.” He looked up at me with those big brown eyes of his, flashed his dimples in the way that slays me every time, and went and had his sister do his bidding instead.

And so it goes.

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staying at home

I’ve been thinking a lot about work, and what I’m going to do about it, this week. I know I wrote in an earlier post that I have a ton of different writing projects I am lining up and working on, and that remains true – what also remains true is my lack of interest in considering writing my only work. Since I was a little girl, I’ve always dedicated time to writing – it keeps the voices in my head at bay and my “what if” nature quietly in check. Certainly, I am spending more time at it now than I previously was able to, and I’m excited about the myriad possibilities before me, but I am not in a place – and probably never will be – where it is my income. And I am fine with that – there is still joy in it for me, and for that I am so grateful.

Currently, I guess, I am a stay at home mom. Well, there’s no guessing about it. My kids go to school a couple of days a week but Duncan is with me for five of the seven, Evangeline for four of them. This time with them has been a gift – it’s given them time to develop their brother/sister relationship instead of spending the majority of time in separate daycare classrooms, and it’s given me time to get to know them individually on a level that frankly, I didn’t before. It’s also been really, really hard. It might have been easier in Pittsburgh where I had a strong network of mom friends but here, because my oldest isn’t yet in kindergarten, I don’t have a support network or tribe to rely on, or any other mom friends to talk to. Right now I desperately miss having co-workers to talk to in the morning, and big ideas to discuss.

But, of course, when I was working I longed for the kind of time I have now. I don’t have to worry about vacation time or checking my email at night while the kids sleep. In my old position every vacation I took for five straight years was interrupted by a crisis back at work – I never took a vacation where I didn’t routinely check work email while I was away. That was difficult for me.

I think part of the reason I don’t ultimately want to remain at home is because, a part from cooking, very little of what it entails interests me. The kids are great but, as Sam pointed out last night, I’m not particularly crafty (although we have done some crafts!) and I’m not fascinated by interior design or home repair projects or any of the like. I basically see everything but the kids, and maybe cooking, as a big impediment to writing or, if I’m not writing, being out in the world. And since that is the case, I should probably, aside from spending time with the kids, be writing OR out in the world, not staring in despair at our bedroom because I just don’t want to paint it.

I recently attended a dinner party with Sam – it was great fun even though I was recovering from food poisoning because, PEOPLE. Several of the women were stay at home moms and several of the women held high-level jobs throughout the city. I enjoyed talking with all of them (PEOPLE) and never had an answer when they asked me whether I planned to continue staying at home or whether I was looking for work. You can’t really answer BOTH to that kind of question, but it’s where my heart is right now. I want to stay home and drink coffee and snuggle my kids under warm blankets while Sesame Street plays in the background and watch my husband emerge from our bedroom, all suited up and ready to tackle the day but I also want to wear my own suit and greet morning co-workers and talk about women’s health issues, and I want to spend time writing all the things I want to write and by the way, I would also like to audition for some plays again someday please and thank you. And also cook delicious meals but never ever again google “how to clean marble.”

The internet has become such a stratifying place when it comes to working moms versus stay-at-home moms. Popular websites publish completely shitty articles like “Things Working Moms Will Never Understand” and “Why I don’t hire moms” and all sorts of similar junk and it’s all so stupid. It’s ALL difficult to figure out. (I have two more minutes to write. I have no idea how I am going to wrap this up). We are all just trying to do the best we can, working or not, partnered or not, parents or not. The either/or of our situations is a society construct, and not true to how we really exist in the world, but yet we abide by it, making it so difficult to answer questions like whether we “work” or not – whether we want to “work” or not. Oh, but while I am here, let’s settle one thing once and for all…stay at home moms ARE working. And there is no income for scrubbing yogurt that has solidified into the crevice of the floor with a toothbrush because you ignored it for days in favor of keeping your toddler from killing himself because he climbs the china cabinet every time you blink. Not that I would know anything about that.

Winter

Winter arrived yesterday, bringing its full Arctic glory to Ohio. Extremely cold air and just enough snow to play outside with Evangeline for an hour. She spent much of that time making obstacle courses in the snow for us, and I spent much of that time standing by the bank of pine trees in our back yard, just breathing the Midwestern winter in. Winter is in my bones, and I remembered so many winters when I was a child, playing in the snow, ice skating, skiing – it’s a season I embrace, although with a little less enthusiasm now that I have little kids and hats and mittens keep getting lost and the younger one absolutely hates his winter coat.

Last night Duncan was coughing in his sleep, hard enough that I ended up going into his room to help him prop up his pillow. This was a difficult decision because he is a light sleeper and any appearance I make in his room signals to his baby brain it’s time to get up for the day. This was the case last night as well and he repaid my concern by taking nearly two hours to go to back to sleep, during which he repeatedly tried to drive me like I am a car and escape his room to wake up his sister. I eventually got him settled and went back to bed.

I toyed with the idea of moving my alarm clock later but it is that kind of decision, I think, that has kept me from achieving some of the goals I am aiming for in 2016. I keep waiting for things to “settle down” – for the kids to sleep perfectly and consistently, for all of us to be healthy, for the minor crises that have plagued us since we moved here to stop – and I’ve come to the realization that, as a grown up, none of this is going to stop. The night before last Evangeline woke from a nightmare and begged me to sleep with her, so I spent hours with her freezing feet tucked into my back. Recently she has been diagnosed with a minor health condition – nothing to be alarmed about but something that will require management – and I realized, all of this would have happened in Pittsburgh, but I would have been working full-time. At least right now, at this particular time in my life, I can give her care my full attention, and if both my kids keep me up at night I can sleep during Duncan’s nap time. None of this is the end of the world, and sleep loss and, well, life? They aren’t things to fear.

So I woke up to the bitterly dark morning and came here to type for half an hour before the rest of my family wakes up. My goals for the month include finally updating my resume and all my subsequent social media profiles, reviewing my old writing projects to see if there is anything I want to continue to work on, and starting to write again. I have a memoir-y type book bouncing around in my head, as well as at least one hundred other ideas (incidentally, I think it’s on the floor of my son’s room where I write my best work…in my head, rubbing his back). I am also going to look toward teaching some courses at the local universities as an adjunct, and follow what interests me here in Toledo.

Happy Monday, world.

My Kitchen Year – Ruth Reichl

I certainly didn’t intend for Ruth Reichl’s My Kitchen Year to be the first book I blog about in the new year. I had really hoped, after seeing my dad devour it over Christmas, to start the year off with Stephen King’s Revival. I think starting the year off with the right book is, for me, as important as going to the gym and starting diets is for others. But, as seems to be the case ever since moving to Toledo, fate has had other plans, and I haven’t been able to get to a bookstore or library yet. I couldn’t just dive into any fiction, though, so I was delighted to discover the cookbook I received for Christmas is basically a memoir, with recipes included.

I am not particularly fascinated by cooking. Oh, I read food blogs for recipe ideas and I like good food – I’m no longer the girl who will wax poetic about a sandwich from subway – but generally speaking I am happier if someone else is willing to prepare meals for me. For years Sam was the primary cook in our house while I tackled the grocery shopping, but since his job keeps him out so many nights I’ve had to assume the majority of the cooking duties, and by now even I am bored with my handful of chicken, pasta and seafood dishes. In thinking about the new year, while I am mostly avoiding resolutions this go-around and instead sticking to a few key words to keep in mind, I did realize I wanted to become fearless in the kitchen. I don’t particularly need to be known for my cooking – it’s not an ego thing – but I would like to feed my family and myself better.

My Kitchen Year was a great place to start. While I am never going to be the type of person to write haikus about eggplant, Reichl’s book really spoke to me. Born from notes and recipes she began cooking after “Gourmet” magazine – she was its editor in chief – was abruptly discontinued, Reichl takes us through her year of recovery as she tries to figure out what to do next with her life. While I didn’t lose my job back in Pittsburgh, I continuously struggled with feeling successful in my career and now that I am currently without a job, I find myself still struggling with the aftermath of what I can only think of as that particular failure of mine, even though it wasn’t exactly that. I’ve always liked the length of a year as a frame for nonfiction, and Reichl’s book does a beautiful job of demonstrating how long – and how short – a year really is.

Her recipes alternate between the straight forward and the exotic, and there are a few I can’t even imagine trying – tomatoes and cream, for one. But enough of them spoke to me that I know I’ll be trying them this month, if not this week, including her recipe for one of my favorite meals, polla alla diavola – and I am pretty sure I am going to serve her giant chocolate cake the same night.

I loved Reichl’s voice in this book – it is always interesting to learn from people who have followed their passion from a young age, I think – and she discusses her recovery really forced me to examine my own life.

For too long I’d been waiting for the wonderful. But there is so much joy in everyday occurrences: a butterfly in the sun, the first crisp bite of an apple, the rich aroma of roasting meat. Maybe I had to break my foot to open my eyes, but I finally understood why cooking means so much to me. In a world filled with no, it is my yes.

This passage echoes one of the sermons my minister gave at East Liberty Presbyterian Church last year before I moved…something along the lines of carrying and raising Jesus despite the hardships, prejudices and hate was Mary’s yes to God. Ever since that sermon I’ve been contemplating what my “yes” to God should be and coming up without any answers, but as I’ve perused job openings in my field I’ve realized a couple of things: 1. My children are one of my “yes”s to God, and 2. the best thing I can do is return to my roots, to what I did for decades until I had my babies – reading, writing, maybe a little bit of theater. More on the career later – I am nearly ending my thirty minutes in this space for the day – but before I leae I will share this: last night I roasted a leg of lamb for the first time, using my favorite Mark Bittman recipe. In the past I always waited for Sam or his dad to make me this dish but last night I made it all by myself and served it, and it was wonderful. I didn’t find anything sublime or therapeutic about getting the spice rub all over my hands – frankly that was a little disgusting – but I did it. I fed myself, fed my family and took a tiny step toward being my own kind of fearless.