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postmodernfamilyblog

Multigenerational Mom Muses on Twin Toddlers & Twenty-Something Daughters

Our Postmodern Family

Our Real Modern Family

I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a while now… I guess ever since we decided to bake up a couple of twins from scratch using borrowed eggs and my forty-seven- year-old oven.  My daughter once called us the “Real Modern Family” – and you know, she’s right.  I’m a Southern woman married to a half-Korean, half-Italian/Slovenian Yankee man twelve years my junior; I have two beautiful twenty-something daughters, an arthritic dappled dachshund and a morbidly obese cat.  And now, after much thought and consideration — and then funding and injections, vaginal suppositories, and appointments — I have started motherhood all over again.  This will be the story of us: our real modern family. Or maybe, more appropriately, our postmodern family.  Postmodern, as in “radical reappraisal.” And our story is, indeed, a radical reappraisal of how to make and nurture a family.

Many things have changed since that summer almost three years ago when we began our in-vitro journey… I will do my best to record current happenings, as well as flashbacks to those glory days of post-modern fertilization, pregnancy pillows, and preeclampsia.  I’m hoping our story will be an inspiration to those battling the frustrations of infertility, to those navigating the beautiful and rugged territory of twindom, and to those who decide to either start a family or do it all over again at a rather ripe age.

Even as I try to type this, I question why I’m doing it. I have nothing special to say. I’m nothing special. I nearly stop before I’ve begun, but then I think… I’m nothing special, true… but I do have something different to offer. I can’t imagine there are too many forty-nine year olds out there lactating. Not too many women out there with twenty-three years difference between their last baby girl and their most recent baby boys, not too many women who, as my father says, “ran the engine and the caboose when it comes to supplying grandchildren.” Not too many women out there who just suffered through a sixteen-month stint of extreme sleep deprivation. If nothing else, I can be a freak show for people to point at and ridicule. Still, I hope I can inspire a few to give postmodern family planning a go.

Family X-Mas 2014

 

 

Featured post

Suffer The Little Children: The Blasphemy of Zero Tolerance

…The fascists were already in power, the verdict was already out – and the Jews of Sighet were still smiling.  — Ellie Wiesel.

Wiesel’s haunting memoir Night holds a dire warning for us all, particularly in this time of increased nationalism and white supremacist tendencies.

In this time when children are being separated from their parents (shoelaces removed from tiny feet lest they contemplate suicide).

In this time when children are being held political hostage for selfish gain.

In this time when the nation is being separated by “us and them” (and I’m talking political parties here, not “legal” and “illegal” adjectives).

In this time where so many of us are still smiling – cheering even – at the fascist tendencies of this administration.

This morning I saw a South Texas minister, who when asked what he thought about the situation, stated: “I have to put my faith in the government because they are ministers of God’s righteousness.”

Not gonna lie, I threw up a little bit in my mouth. The gore rose. And so did the anger. Because, good golly, this is NOT what Jesus would do.

He would NEVER allow little children to suffer. Never. When he said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me,” He did NOT condone their suffering. That’s simply not what that verse means.

And when he said, “Whatever you do for the least of these you do unto me,” he rebuked callousness and bullying and condoned compassion and charity. I have no doubt in my mind that crating innocent children inside holding facilities away from their parents is NOT what Jesus would do.

And when Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you. By this, everyone will know you are my disciples,” He showed His followers how to live faithfully and righteously. Juxtapose that last commandment with the minister’s statement – “I have to have faith in the government because they are ministers of God’s righteousness.”  Ugh. This is NOT what Jesus would do!

And then, there’s this piece of scripture– famously known for being the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept.”

This verse – along with so many others – shows us Jesus’s compassion and sorrow. He empathized with humanity. That’s what makes His story, our story. “For God so LOVED the world that he gave his only begotten son…” And because of LOVE that son was willing to sacrifice himself for all of us. Because of LOVE.

Jesus wept in the Gospel of John, and I have no doubt that that is what Jesus would do NOW.

Because Jesus loves us ALL — Red and Yellow, Black and White — we are all precious in his sight. Even the immigrants on our border states.

The followers of Christ are meant to live as Christlike as humanly possible. To live according to His laws. To love according to his teachings. To try to always do what Jesus would do. And this zero tolerance policy is NOT what Jesus would do.

Where is the compassion of Christ when border patrol seizes babies and jokes that their wails are “a chorus” without “a conductor.” Where is the compassion of Christ here?

Where is the compassion of Christ when we see a president – a president who can stop this sorrow in an instant with a single phone call – blame past administrations for the heinous policy that he and Jeff Sessions whipped up in April? (Quit the blame game and FIX the suffering.) Where is the compassion of Christ here?

Perhaps one of the most horrific and blasphemous quotes I have seen to date– one that is the antithesis of the compassion of Christ – the antithesis of what Jesus would do — involved a webcast evangelist who proclaimed these immigrants “unclean.”

Unclean– a word reserved in the Old Testament for people and things deemed unsuitable for worshipping God: imperfect sacrifices; women after childbirth (and the babies too) and during menstruation; lepers; animals with cloven hooves or bottom feeders.

Note that it is an Old Testament term and presumably obsolete once Christ came on the scene… as is evidenced by Peter the disciple in the New Testament Book of Acts.

Peter recognized that Jesus wanted no man called unclean, and Peter particularly referenced the Gentiles. And guess what? The vast amount of individuals in this United States are considered Gentiles because technically anyone not Jewish is a Gentile. So Christ gave Gentiles grace.

But we Gentiles are not showing grace in return.

We are locking up immigrants on our Southern border as if they are unclean. As if they are lepers; bottom feeders; cloven-hooved devils. Unclean and unfit for sacrifice. But sacrifice they have become – on the idolatrous altar of nationalism.

Jesus accepts all – Jew and Gentile alike. This zero tolerance policy is most definitely NOT what Jesus would do.

And then today I learned a new term –Tender Age Shelters — shelters designed for babies and toddlers.

Shelters designed for children my sons’ ages (and younger). The age where they won’t let me out of their sight for me to go pee or fold the laundry. The age where if they don’t know where I am, they immediately grow anxious and fearful. The age where I hear cries of “Mama! Mama!” four hundred times a day. The age where if I don’t answer right away, they resort to tears and then hysterics. The age where they follow me around like an umbilical cord is still attached – and honestly, the age where it hasn’t been that long since it actually was.

The age where they fear strangers. They hide from them behind my hips… hips designed to carry them in utero and then out in this universe until they can care for themselves without me.  I am their security. I am their sanctuary.

I can’t imagine the panic in their souls if something like this was happening to them. Their hearts would be shattered. And so would their psyches. Experts have stated that this kind of abuse can do irreparable damage to a developing mind and body.

And I can’t imagine the panic inside a parent’s soul to face a choice like they have faced. To stay in their homeland where there is nothing – nothing but hunger and poverty and crime and violence, a bleak and bitter existence – or to take a calculated risk and seek a better future for their family. I just can’t imagine such a choice.

And yes, these parents are making an illegal choice– but it is difficult and darn near impossible to navigate the treacherous red tape of legal entry, and THAT is what we should be focusing on here – instead of breaking apart families and building up walls.

These parents are seeking asylum. Much like those who accept Christ seek asylum in his love. Jesus has an open-door policy. He accepts everyone. And he commands that we do, too. He asks that we show hospitality to strangers who seek asylum, “for some have entertained angels unaware.”

I shudder at the thought of what we have done to these strangers in a strange land.

Angels are agents, attendants, messengers of God. And our message in reply has been heard loud and clear all around the world…

Lord have mercy on our souls — mercy far greater than the mercy we are showing these tender children and their tender parents.

Big Boy Bed Blues: The Crisscross-Applesauce Crossroads

This mama right here finally put these boys right here in Big Boy Beds.

 

They are only four years and four months old. I feel like we’re ahead of the curve… in some alternate universe. Then again, maybe not.

But don’t judge.

Keeping our twins in cribs this long has been self-preservation. There are two of them, after all, and they didn’t sleep – not truly, madly, deeply SLEEP for anything longer than two hour snatches — until 16 months.

So once they started, there was absolutely positively no way we were switching things up anytime soon. But now I guess, we’re past anytime soon. And now, I guess, it’s time.

But they are temperamental, routine-oriented little buggers. Well one is. Parker is easy-peasy — at least when it comes to his big boy bed. (As is evidenced below…)

IMG_9810

But Tatebug… not so much.

As is evidenced by the fact that he was having NONE OF IT when it came time to crawl between the sheets of his new, big boy bed. As in, NONE OF IT.

As in, he wanted his other bed back.

That’s what he said.

Over and over and over again, while sitting crisscross-applesauce half-way in and half-way out his teepee. (Which is ironic, really, because he’s never half-way about anything. He knows exactly what he wants at all times.)

And this boy wanted NONE OF IT. (As is evidenced below…)

tatebug

Instead, he wanted his beloved star-splattered crib sheet back. The sheet he’d had since infancy. The one where he’d trace those silver and gold and navy and red stars with his pudgy fingers while singing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” at eighteen months after waking from a full night’s sleep and feeling great because… WHO KNEW a body needed sustained periods of sleep?!? Valuable lessons were learned atop those stars. And he wanted them back!

This new bed has new stars (we had predicted this outrage and tried our best to circumvent it, but we couldn’t find the same colors…) and he was having NONE OF IT.

And he wanted his “soft pillows all around” (bumper pads, people — bumper pads), he wanted those back — the ones that helped cushion his flailing, sleep-tossed body from one wood-slatted side of his crib to the other. And now what was in their place – a wall! Are you kidding? That wall isn’t soft. And where are the sweet-and-sour greasy smudges from all the salty cry-it-out tears and sweaty corkscrew curls, and tiny, slobbering teething fingers?

This bed has none of that. And he was having NONE OF IT.

And he wanted “THAT BALL BLANKET OFF!” (A tasteful and pricey quilt purchased at Pottery Barn Kids when the boys were nine months old for an incredible steal). He wanted it OFF.

tatebed

Helpful parenting tip here folks… don’t buy your kids their toddler bedding while they’re still babies, no matter how high the discount and how hard the desire. You don’t know what your kids will prefer once they develop a personalities of their own… and they will develop their own personalities. Their own Big personalities. Huge, even. And this boy… he does NOT like all those balls and bats and helmets and pendants. He likes princesses. And mermaids. And princess mermaids.

And this new bed has balls on it. And he was having NONE OF IT.

He did want his mermaid tail.

And his six Disney princesses.

And his two magic wands.

And his toddler-sized Elsa.

And his plush puppy named Spider.

And his plush spider named… I honestly have no idea.

And we accommodated as much as parentally possible. We slid all those princesses and the giant plastic Elsa doll and every other random demand from our pint-sized dictator between his sheets. And then we tried to slide him in there too.

But he wanted NONE OF IT.

So we resorted to bribery.

First, we proffered pink and red starbursts left over from the boys’ fourth birthday party in March — cavities be damned. But they were pink and red petrified bricks, so he wanted NONE OF IT.

And then we proceeded to promise a Target trip in the morning. (Target has recently surpassed elevators as my youngest son’s current fixation. There is a glittering Disney princess parade on aisle fifteen.)

The word “Target” is his new mantra – it sustains him from morning to night. For me, it is a continuous whining Drip. Drip. Drip. — effectively waterboarding this mama’s sanity straight into a shattered abyss.

But I was willing to sacrifice momentary mental health for a good night’s sleep.

But he was having NONE OF IT.

So then we tried the allure of Elsa sheets on the internet… or her snowflakes on the ceiling…  or any damn thing he desired… if he would just climb into his mother fucking big boy bed.

But what he really wanted was NONE OF IT.

So finally, we physically put him in the fricking bed with the fricking balls and the fricking sixfold Disney princesses and told him to STAY THERE. And if he didn’t he risked Santa’s naughty list, and his cherished Target trips, and Grandma and Grandpa’s good graces.

And after an hour, he finally whimpered himself to sleep…

…only to awaken three hours later crying for his mama.

So his mama caved. And crawled in bed with him. And Elsa. And his bevy of tiara-clad Barbie dolls. And a puppy named spider and a spider named… who knows? And a couple of hard, plastic wands.

And I slept in the crack between mattress and wall and woke up with a crick in my neck — and a new, sweaty smudge on the wall because the boy wouldn’t let me turn on his ceiling fan. He wanted NONE OF IT.

And we’ll try it all over again tonight.

So wish me luck. And preserved sanity. Because this afternoon we head to Target after nap-time — if he sleeps for two hours with no one else in his bed. Well, no one else but Ariel and Anna and Elsa and Aurora and Mulan and Belle.

And I’m sure a new girl will join him tonight once our quest through Aisle Fifteen is done.

My Own Daughter Battles Depression: Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and a Mother’s Fear and Admiration

There have been two prominent suicides in the headlines this week – prominent because the names attached to them have been celebrities. The word prominent means important, so the word is problematic to me. Because, yes, their suicides are important – but it’s the lives behind the suicides — and all the others that have occurred this week, this year, this lifetime —that are truly important. And as a society, we have failed them all.

I have never had a Kate Spade bag – indeed, I’ve never spent more than several dozen dollars on my purses. I’m a schoolteacher, after all. I can’t afford that kind of luxury. I’ve been in one of her shops – an outlet shop at that – precisely one time. I really didn’t know that much about her… just about her bags. (Even in an outlet, those bags were way out of my league.)

Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand… I knew him well. Well enough to call him Tony…  when I saw him… on TV. Which means, I guess I really didn’t know him at all, despite being a devoted follower. I adored his irreverence, his passion for the “F” word, his bawdy, unshaven charisma. He made me laugh; he made me want to try bone marrow (I will. It will still happen.); and he never made me feel out of his league.

Both these celebrities left young daughters behind. And that fact hit me really hard. Because while they are not as young as the Spade and Bourdain girls, I too have daughters And I love them so incredibly much. So much so that I would face demons and slay dragons if I had to in order to protect them.

But Spade and Bourdain faced dragons they couldn’t slay. They could no longer face their demons. And that tells me that the darkness they felt was way beyond anything I could ever possibly comprehend. And that terrifies me.

Because one of my beautiful daughters struggles with demons of her own.

She struggles with depression. She struggles valiantly. She struggles openly. Nevertheless, she struggles. And despite the national and international dialogue that has recently opened with regard to mental health, a stigma still exists. And so she struggles with stigma, too.

My oldest daughter is a fifth year surgical resident in one of the most competitive, prestigious surgery programs in the nation. She is beautiful. She is bold. She is successful.

She is smart. She is kind. She is important.

And despite all of these things, she is struggling… with feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of hopelessness. She feels incapable and unlovable in this harsh, often unforgiving world. Not all the time. But often. And all alone.

And even though I her see brilliance and worth – even though I know how far she is from inadequate and hopeless and incapable and unlovable, I can’t help her see it. Because when she is inside that darkness, when those demons are commanding her mind, she sees nothing else. And that terrifies me.

Being a surgical resident can be isolating and debilitating. These young doctors work themselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. The schedules, the expectations, the demands that are put upon them are unforgiving

And the stakes are so high. Life and death rest in their hands – literally. Surgery can be debilitating for both patient and surgeon. It can ruin lives and it can end lives — on both sides of the scalpel.

Surgical residents have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Competition within the field isolates individuals. Everyone is jostling for accolades, for fellowships, for attending acknowledgements, and for attending positions.

In no other place in her life has my girl ever felt so very disconnected.

And what makes her situation even more complex is the relationship she has with her occupation. Love-Hate would be an understatement. She loves her job. She feels tremendous pride in her program and her abilities. The operating room is her wheelhouse and her respite. She is cloistered there. Time stops there. Her destiny unfolds there. She feels no pain; only passion. She feels one with her mind and her body and soul. Her hands are trained; her skills are seamless; her mind is taut.

But when she steps away from the cocoon of that OR, all the demons are back at her door. Howling.

It’s comparable to an unhealthy, abusive relationship. It builds her up. It knocks her down. The highs are super high. The lows… indescribably low. And the constant push-pull of it all wreaks havoc on her mental health.

As a mother, this breaks my heart and causes me endless worry.

I know she struggles. But thankfully, her program knows it too. She has not kept it secret. She advocates for herself and for others who may be feeling the same.

She helps lead a wellness committee for fellow residents, working to promote healthy scheduling and healthy dialogue between administration and her peers.

She tutors adult GED students every Tuesday night at a local library, connecting with people outside the research lab and operating room, spreading love and hope even as she so often feels neither.

She is a member of a book club, connecting with colleagues both socially and cognitively on issues more abstract than tissue and tumor.

Most importantly, she has seen a counselor – a mental health provider who has given her tools and techniques to fight the good fight.

Yes, my daughter works hard to stave off the demons, to grapple the dragon, to defeat the disease. As a mother, I would fight it all for her if I could. But I cannot. It is all hers to slay.

And my daughter is capable. I know that. She is kind and loving and genuine-hearted. She is capable and strong and talented and tender.

I just pray every day that she sees it too. That she can see through the darkness.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain could not.

People with everything can find themselves feeling depleted and defeated. Suicide knows no demographic. It knows no bounds.

Talk to your loved ones. Acknowledge your loved ones. Make sure they know you see them and you get them. Love on your loved ones. And then make sure they get the help that they need.

Unfortunately, getting help isn’t easy. Because the help they need is usually not covered by health insurance. And that is absolutely unacceptable. And that is just one way society has failed those battling with depression and anxiety. And that refusal helps fuel the stigma.

The stigma that if you battle depression you are weak. If you suffer from anxiety you are not strong.

But the tide of public opinion continues to shift. We can help break down the stigma and shame — by sharing our stories.

This weekend, countless celebrities took to social media speaking out and recounting their own struggles, hoping to show others that they are not alone. There is strength in numbers. Help bring hope and recognition. Share your stories. Share your struggles. This blog is my attempt to help as well, small though my platform might be.

So to all you out there fighting the good fight and battling the dark beasts — keep fighting. Stay strong and stay brave.

My sister shared some wise words about bravery with me this weekend.Being brave is not what people think it is. People who are fearless are not brave. Its easy to battle something if there’s no fear involved. The truly brave individuals are those who are full of doubt and fear, but who battle through it anyway. That is the definition of bravery.

You are brave.

You are strong.

You are important.

If you need someone to talk to — you don’t have to be suicidal to call — reach out. Call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 .

 

 

Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, and a Mother’s Fears

There have been two prominent suicides in the headlines this week – prominent because the names attached to them have been celebrities. The word prominent means important, so the word is problematic to me. Because, yes, their suicides are important – but it’s the lives behind the suicides — and all the others that have occurred this week, this year, this lifetime —that are truly important. And as a society, we have failed them all.

I have never had a Kate Spade bag – indeed, I’ve never spent more than several dozen dollars on my purses. I’m a schoolteacher, after all. I can’t afford that kind of luxury. I’ve been in one of her shops – an outlet shop at that – precisely one time. I really didn’t know that much about her… just about her bags. (Even in an outlet, those bags were way out of my league.)

Anthony Bourdain, on the other hand… I knew him well. Well enough to call him Tony…  when I saw him… on TV. Which means, I guess I really didn’t know him at all, despite being a devoted follower. I adored his irreverence, his passion for the “F” word, his bawdy, unshaven charisma. He made me laugh; he made me want to try bone marrow (I will. It will still happen.); and he never made me feel out of his league.

Both these celebrities left young daughters behind. And that fact hit me really hard. Because while they are not as young as the Spade and Bourdain girls, I too have daughters And I love them so incredibly much. So much so that I would face demons and slay dragons if I had to in order to protect them.

But Spade and Bourdain faced dragons they couldn’t slay. They could no longer face their demons. And that tells me that the darkness they felt was way beyond anything I could ever possibly comprehend. And that terrifies me.

Because one of my beautiful daughters struggles with demons of her own.

She struggles with depression. She struggles valiantly. She struggles openly. Nevertheless, she struggles. And despite the national and international dialogue that has recently opened with regard to mental health, a stigma still exists. And so she struggles with stigma, too.

My oldest daughter is a fifth year surgical resident in one of the most competitive, prestigious surgery programs in the nation. She is beautiful. She is bold. She is successful.

She is smart. She is kind. She is important.

And despite all of these things, she is struggling… with feelings of inadequacy, of worthlessness, of hopelessness. She feels incapable and unlovable in this harsh, often unforgiving world. Not all the time. But often. And all alone.

And even though I her see brilliance and worth – even though I know how far she is from inadequate and hopeless and incapable and unlovable, I can’t help her see it. Because when she is inside that darkness, when those demons are commanding her mind, she sees nothing else. And that terrifies me.

Being a surgical resident can be isolating and debilitating. These young doctors work themselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion. The schedules, the expectations, the demands that are put upon them are unforgiving

And the stakes are so high. Life and death rest in their hands – literally. Surgery can be debilitating for both patient and surgeon. It can ruin lives and it can end lives — on both sides of the scalpel.

Surgical residents have one of the highest suicide rates in the nation. Competition within the field isolates individuals. Everyone is jostling for accolades, for fellowships, for attending acknowledgements, and for attending positions.

In no other place in her life has my girl ever felt so very disconnected.

And what makes her situation even more complex is the relationship she has with her occupation. Love-Hate would be an understatement. She loves her job. She feels tremendous pride in her program and her abilities. The operating room is her wheelhouse and her respite. She is cloistered there. Time stops there. Her destiny unfolds there. She feels no pain; only passion. She feels one with her mind and her body and soul. Her hands are trained; her skills are seamless; her mind is taut.

But when she steps away from the cocoon of that OR, all the demons are back at her door. Howling.

It’s comparable to an unhealthy, abusive relationship. It builds her up. It knocks her down. The highs are super high. The lows… indescribably low. And the constant push-pull of it all wreaks havoc on her mental health.

As a mother, this breaks my heart and causes me endless worry.

I know she struggles. But thankfully, her program knows it too. She has not kept it secret. She advocates for herself and for others who may be feeling the same.

She helps lead a wellness committee for fellow residents, working to promote healthy scheduling and healthy dialogue between administration and her peers.

She tutors adult GED students every Tuesday night at a local library, connecting with people outside the research lab and operating room, spreading love and hope even as she so often feels neither.

She is a member of a book club, connecting with colleagues both socially and cognitively on issues more abstract than tissue and tumor.

Most importantly, she has seen a counselor – a mental health provider who has given her tools and techniques to fight the good fight.

Yes, my daughter works hard to stave off the demons, to grapple the dragon, to defeat the disease. As a mother, I would fight it all for her if I could. But I cannot. It is all hers to slay.

And my daughter is capable. I know that. She is kind and loving and genuine-hearted. She is capable and strong and talented and tender.

I just pray every day that she sees it too. That she can see through the darkness.

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain could not.

People with everything can find themselves feeling depleted and defeated. Suicide knows no demographic. It knows no bounds.

Talk to your loved ones. Acknowledge your loved ones. Make sure they know you see them and you get them. Love on your loved ones. And then make sure they get the help that they need.

The Postmodern Family’s Recommended Reading List for Progressive Preschoolers

A dear cousin of mine with a heart of gold and less time to herself than even I have, recently reached out to me with a blog suggestion: a recommended reading list and tutorial on how to find the time to read amidst a heaping helping of tiny humans running ’round the house.

Alas, I have plenty of recommended reads – just not too many suggestions on how to get them read while driving the juggernaut that IS motherhood with multiples. When you have two boys who are wilder than wildebeests revved up on red dye number 5, and a husband you don’t see often enough as it is, and the rather lofty goal of one blog per week to write (and writing comes slower and less-steady than a tortoise in a muck of molasses), plus a full-time job with unwieldy demands of its own, you just don’t get much reading done – or at least not the way I used to before twins. But I do accomplish a tad bit of reading — every, single night.

I’m talking about reading children’s books. To my little lads. At bedtime. And while that may not be the kind of recommended reading list my sweet cousin had in mind for my blog, I do have a couple of selections I am eager to share with you.

Both promote imagination, instill empathy, and most importantly of all, fortify young minds for the eventual challenges of adulthood.

The first is BJ Novak’s The Book with No Pictures. It is a piece of literary brilliance that sparkles with silliness and sass. It is all about the value and FUN of reading books without – you guessed it – PICTURES!

Now, as a literature teacher, reading is my bread and butter. And sadly, there are whole populations of students who take pride in the fact that they no longer read. They take pride in their own ignorance. And I’m sorry, but pride should be reserved for accomplishments and sexual preference, not ignorance! (But more on that in selection number two…)

As for The Book With No Pictures, it is full of colorful language and diversity. And I mean that literally — as in, there are lots of words in lots of different colors and lots of different fonts and sizes. There’s also an abundance of negative space on nearly every page. Novak’s book juxtaposes pared-down pages with wild and whimsical wording. The result is a little book making a big splash with a big message: Words. Are. Powerful.

And it is so true. Words are powerful, whether written or spoken. Because make no mistake about it, Novak’s book is meant to be read aloud. By adults. To kids.

Words can make us “say silly things and make silly sounds.” They can make us laugh, and sing, and see heads “made of blueberry pizza.”

Words can empower. And words can manipulate.

Words can make us believe in ourselves — or believe just the opposite.

Words are so very, very, VERY powerful.

And Novak’s work makes sure we realize their power. And my use of the word work here is quite calculated — because with good books, reading is far from passive. It should make you work. It should provoke thought and promote action. And this book stirs kids to action at a very young age. It dares them to listen, to create, to imagine, to believe.

So we’ve read our boys BJ Novak’s A Book With No Pictures nearly every night for over a year to cultivate their imaginations.

marlonnopics

The second book in my preschool recommended reading list is A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, by Jill Twiss. This one is a fairly recent find for our family. (In fact, it was only published in mid-March.) My big-hearted baby sis gave it to our boys as a birthday present. And just as we read A Book With No Pictures to cultivate active imaginations, we read Marlon Bundo to cultivate good humans.

Twiss’s book is a parody of one written by Mike Pence and featuring the pet BOTUS (Bunny of the United States), Marlon Bundo. But rather than telling the story of the bunny and his Vice President-owner, Twiss features Marlon Bundo and the love of his life, Wesley, whom he meets while hopping ‘round the grounds of the U.S. Naval Observatory. Twiss wrote it to counter the homophobia promoted by Pence and (for the most part) his political party.

Marlon Bundo sports a bow tie and Wesley wears spectacles, and they fall madly in love and want to live hoppily ever after. So they decide to marry. And their friends – like all good friends do – say, “Hooray!” But the establishment — namely, a giant Stink Bug who is In Charge and Important (even though nobody is really sure why he’s In Charge or Important) – says, “YOU CAN’T GET MARRIED!” He denies their right to love, to marriage, and to the pursuit of hoppiness. But after some lessons in electoral science as it should function — every vote counts! — the bunnies are successfully wed.

We’ve been reading this book to our boys every night for the last three months — not to promote our own political viewpoints or our dislike of the current administration (although that’s an added perk), but to teach our boys that Love is Love is Love is Love.

Because when you have several members of your extended family who share a love that the Stink Bug declares WRONG — as well as a four-year-old son who loves Disney princesses with a passion traditionally acceptable only if you are a girl — it is important to us that our boys know and understand that love is never wrong.

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So yes, we read A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo every night, and we hear that “Boy bunnies can marry boy bunnies and girl bunnies can marry girl bunnies” and that being “Different is not bad.”

After all, each of us is different in some way, shape, or manner…

And that is a very good thing.

And so is the fact that “Stink Bugs are temporary,” but “Love is forever.”

So there you have it. These are the two books currently on our postmodern family’s recommended reading list for progressive preschoolers. Hopefully they will cultivate bookworms out of your own little wiggle worms. And in so doing, also cultivate great humans with really good hearts and really solid senses of humor.

When Your Brain is a Blind Bag of Memories and Nightmares… You Never Know What You’ll Unwrap

The birthday cards would arrive the third week of May, sporting shaggy puppies or calico kittens waiting patiently in the heated darkness of the mailbox for me to find them.

Mom would scarcely have pulled in the driveway before I was yanking at the bulky sliding door of our VW bus, struggling with its weight, Mom yelling for me to wait. Wait!

She’d already broken a finger on that door – caught it inside the hinged, angry teeth of the latch. That door needed a whole lot of momentum to get started and even more force to stop it — mere flesh and tendon and bone wouldn’t do it. Mom’s finger, to this day, is crimped in the pattern of its wrath.

That door was unforgiving, but I was undeterred.

And disobedient.

I risked a tanned hide and functioning fingers to break free. Because those cards were special. I never got mail. Or at least, I never got mail from anyone other than her.

And they always arrived promptly that third week of my birthday month, right along with the humidity and Maypop blooms.

The grass would be high by then, my professor dad too wrapped up in final exams to pay it the proper attention it deserved. Gypsy, our mare, did her best to manage the bounty of the yard. Staked in the center like the point of a compass, she wandered in ever-widening circles, fringing the fragile new grass with her wide, yellow teeth. She left half-moon pressings from her hooves, pressings that snapped and lifted like a jerky time-release film as she moved on.

Back in the pasture behind our house, the land was pocked with her hoofprints, half-moons and crescents scattered in muddy galaxies, hardening as the sun waxed hotter toward summertime.

Back up front, horse-flies buzzed angrily, eyes bulging, mouths working greedily at Gypsy’s flanks. (I recently learned that only the female horse-flies bite. They saw and hack at flesh – leaving a slurry of blood and disease in their wake – all in an attempt to nurture the next generation.) I raced obliviously past the feeding frenzy toward the dusty mailbox at the side of Molly Bar Road.

It wasn’t just the cards that excited me. It was what was inside them that I couldn’t wait to see. One year, it had been a single stick of Fruit Stripe gum, another, a crinkled packet of Kool Aid.

It was the 1970s version of “blind bags” – those infectiously addictive foil-wrapped surprise packs the boys beg for every time we’re in the checkout line at Target.

(My four-year-old boys call them wine bags. They have trouble with the bilabial “b” sound, which means I live in constant fear that DFACS will show up at my door one day because they announce to anyone within shouting distance that they love wine bags and they need more of them. Well, me too, boys. Me too.)

But I understand the fascination with the potential of a hidden surprise. Because even though there was never anything big or costly inside my 1970s version of a blind bag (and not in the present-day version either), I couldn’t wait to see what I would find.

So birthday cards filled with artificial fruit flavors — that was the memory that assailed my senses as I took a trip out to my mailbox this week to gather a couple of birthday cards.

But then another one slipped in… a murkier one… one of dim lighting and sticky lipstick and a loaded gun. Well, I really don’t remember the gun, just the gunshot. And maybe it’s not even a memory, at that. Maybe it was all a dream…

There are four memories that were dredged from the deep recesses of childhood this week — situations that have moldered themselves into inconclusive scenarios that may or may not have actually occurred. One involves the birthday cards and artificial fruit flavors. Another involves the lipstick and gunshot. A third, a rabid pack of Rottweiler dogs. A fourth, a ride in a garage lift while a mechanic changed our oil.

All are memories from my childhood past. Two are happy. Two are not. Two are dreams. Two are not.

I’ve already told you about the Fruit Stripe Gum and Kool Aid and birthday cards. That’s a good one.

So now let’s talk about that memory of the rabid pack of Rottweiler dogs (three of them — Cerberus un-conjoined and running free) chasing me through a gray forest smelling of decay, their barrel chests echoing with their howls, their canine teeth gleaming with their drool. I spill out onto a moonlit meadow with them close on my heels, and I stumble and am overcome. That’s not a good one.

And then there’s the memory of the inside of a professional garage, the smell of tires and oil, the sounds of engines revving and the clanking whirr of a lift. My sisters and I rise slowly above my mother, dressed in a pale lemon shift with white eyelet trim and the mechanic, dressed in green coveralls and grease. They are both laughing. That ones pretty darn good.

And then there’s the lipstick and gunshot memory. I recall an old chest – an old chest aged nearly to black with iron bands – or leather ones maybe – and we were hunkered down next to it. Until we weren’t. Until my mother gathered me and my middle sister up on her hips, our baby sister bouncing in amniotic fluid between us, and fled the scene.

… Maybe. Maybe there was no chest. Maybe there was no gunshot. But there was lipstick. I remember the lipstick. Lipstick dragged over porous flesh and caked into flaring nostrils. Lipstick slashed across high cheekbones and pressed over eyelids with pupils rolling wild underneath A fun-house-mirror-of-melting-clown-face… That one is anything but good.

This week, I stopped my own domesticated mom van (a Town & Country, not a VW — its teeth tamed via remote control and motion sensor) —  to collect my birthday mail. And when I did, a horse-fly buzzed in the periphery of my mind and commenced to sawing open a whole slurry of wholesome and diseased recollections: the taste of fruit stripe gum, the sound of creaking car lift, the feel of canine incisors, the sight of scarlet lipstick, and the smell of smoky gun shot.

I collected the mail and left the heat of the mid afternoon sun for the heat of the repressed memories busily snapping and lifting like a time-release film.

And I sat down to write what I saw…

Leaving Woodland: A Love Story

Here we are in the middle-most parts of May in the middle-most parts of spring. It is a full, sticky, sweet time of year.

And all is ripe with the world.

The air gets juicier by the day. Skin slicks with it and hair clumps in it. Honeybees swim through it, On the back deck, wasps suck its dampness from the floor joists. Dollops of Queen Anne’s Lace float at the roadside. A foamy fog fills the deepest morning fields.

For teachers and students, this time of year is even fuller, stickier, and sweeter. School is ending — and with that end comes exam marathons and grading marathons and all sorts of end-of-year obligations. But it also means that in just a few short days, all the challenges and hurdles of the past year can be put away. In just a few short days, the pool-sides and vacays will soon be underway.

But as I give my last two days’ worth of exams for this school year, the sweet milk of concord is tinged just a tad with bittersweet.

Because in four days’ time, I will walk out the front doors of Woodland and leave behind the school I have called home from the beginnings to the middle-most part of my teaching career. And that makes my heart trip just a beat.

I have loved Woodland High School. And oh, how I love it still!

I love the building – the red-bricked, columned, porticoed beauty of its structure. It is a beautiful and storied institution. And the view from its hilltop — Lord, have mercy! I remember the first day I walked into Woodland as a teacher.

I came in through the back doors of D-Hall at sunrise and turned back to take in the view. And what I saw… well, I’m pretty sure the mouths of angels dropped open to belt out some heavenly chords in my ear.

The football stadium is there in the back, and the home stands are carved into the rocky clay hillside. Gazing onto that field, with Ladd’s Mountain jutting to the north and the Etowah River snaking off toward the east — it was magical.

And I love the student body – the tough and tender teenaged population. I’ve taught so many beautiful students with so many powerful stories.

And as a teacher of students and stories, these sixteen years have been all about the stories. Not the stories I’ve shown them — the literature of canon and curriculum, but the stories they’ve shown me — the literature of their hearts. Their stories will never leave me.

There’s the rapper who mixed beats in his basement and hid battle-scars in his bravado. And the cowboy who wrote poetry, rode bulls and broke bones.

There’s the brooding brunette who pierced her tongue with a paper clip while I was absent one day so her parents would see all her pain. And the energetic junior who sang gospel music every seventh period — and one Friday brought a frozen snake to school in his backpack.

There’s the baller who crushed statistics and opponents on the field while the world had its way with him back home. And the crooner too shy to speak up in class, but who belted it out on the stage like a boss.

There’s the bruised, uncertain sophomore who slipped me a note at the end of class to tell me that what had happened in the book we were reading had happened to her in her uncle’s back room. And the brilliant, confident valedictorian with the bird feathers in her hair and the big dreams in her head.

There’s the ukulele-playing philosopher. And the soft-spoken thespian. And the bright, bubbly philanthropist.  And the legally-blind visionary.

And so very many, many more…

And they’ve all had a story to teach me. And I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned how to laugh, how to cry, how to absorb, how to digest, how to digress, how to hold in, and hold on, and let go.

They’ve given and shown me so much. About them, about myself, and what teaching is all about. And it’s all about them. Always.

And in showing me who they are, they have shown me who I am.

And now, in this middle-most part of May in the middle-most part of spring, in the middle-most part of my career, I’m leaving Woodland And it is hard. And the closer I get to next Wednesday, the more frightened I become.

But I feel the pull of a new season – a swirling purple hurricane season. A season of new students and new family members and new stories all hang on the cusp of the solstice of summer. And all is ripe with the world.

I will always love Woodland. I met my husband here. My best friends all teach here. My favorite students in the world all went to school here. And so did my daughters.

It is truly full and sticky and a tad bit bittersweet here in the middle-most parts of this May.

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There are Three of Us in This Marriage: Confessions of a Football Wife

There are three of us in my marriage. I knew I’d be sharing my husband when I married him. And I also knew it wouldn’t be easy.

I get jealous sometimes. (Who am I kidding? I get jealous a lot.)

Because the third member is demanding and competitive and physical and fast. Oh, and hot — incredibly, extraordinarily HOT. And then there’s all the penetration. So much penetration. (For this one, it’s all about the grind!)

And I can’t compete with that. (Well, I could, but it’s not really me. I’m the quiet, reserved one in this marriage.)

So I support. And watch. And cheer him on. And I’ve been told that’s hot too. ;b

You see, my husband is a high school football coach, and he’s been married to the game for a really, really, long time. They were a thing long before he and I were a thing. And when we started dating, I had to come to terms with the rules of engagement.

But lucky for me, I love the game, too. I had worshiped it from afar nearly my entire life. I was drawn to its passion and intensity. And then I got incredibly lucky and was able to merge the two loves of my life in holy matrimony. And we’ve been happily married for the last six years. And I love it, I really, really do.

But like I said, sometimes I get jealous.

Football has its way with my husband six nights a week, five months out of every year — plus summers and even a couple of weeks in May. It steals a lot of his time… our time.

That means I don’t get many candlelit dinners and date nights in the fall. (Who am I kidding? As a family with twin boys, we don’t get many of those ANY season — but definitely not during football season.)

Needless to say, because of its unforgiving nature, football can be a homewrecker if you aren’t careful. So you have to be vigilant. And creative. And snag time whenever and wherever you can.

And since Spring Ball just ended for us after a hot and heavy ten days of full contact, Mike and I will be making the most of it for the next two weeks (before summer workouts begin…).

We’ll be eating cozy dinners together — as we referee our forty-pound, twin four-year-old boys while they fight over parental time and attention. Having Daddy home to help share the love (and war) every night is a blessing that I relish while it lasts. And while that may not sound very sexy to you, it is more than a tad bit sexy to me.

And we’ll be spending a lot of time in bubble baths — wrestling those forty-pound twin four-year-olds into and out of the water. Having Daddy home to help snag the slippery little suckers and wrangle them into pajamas every night is a blessing that I cherish while it lasts.  And while that may not sound sexy to you, it is mega-sexy to me.

And we’ll be snuggling up on the couch – with two forty-pound four-year-olds in our laps demanding four stories, complete with sound effects and occasional hand motions. Having Daddy there to read while I administer asthma and allergy meds every night is a blessing I treasure while it lasts. And while that might not sound sexy to you, it is super sexy to me.

And we’ll be giving and receiving a whole lot of loving in bed – as we tuck those two forty-pound four-year-old boys of ours beneath the covers and sing them lullabies. Having Daddy there to give real-life kisses instead of surrogate ones every night is a blessing I hold dear while it lasts. And while that might not sound sexy to you, it is uber-sexy to me.

And we’ll be taking a couple of vacations – family ones — and by family vacations, I mean our little family will be visiting our larger, extended family (including the boys’ big sisters) during the dead weeks between now and the start of football season.Having Daddy there to help contain and entertain twin preschoolers on incredibly long and arduous cross-country road trips to see the people we love most in the world may not sound very sexy to you, but I find it sexy as hell. (Well, the travel will be hell, but my husband — he’s sexy.)

Now don’t get me wrong. My coaching husband and I do have some time to celebrate US with just the two of us. We do. We make time. And sometimes it’s as simple as popcorn in bed while we catch up on our crime dramas and each other. But we do manage to squeeze in the occasional candle-lit date night, too. We even have one planned for tonight. Mike set it up and surprised me with it.

And I think that’s ANYBODY’S definition of sexy.

Yes, there are three of us in this relationship (not to mention a couple of forty-pound preschool boys). And sometimes it feels like football gets more time and attention and energy than the boys and I ever do. It is definitely demanding. And physical. And competitive. And passionate. But boy, is it HOT.

Football – and my coaching husband – they’re HOT.

So, it’s always worth the work. It’s always worth the grind. As a matter of fact, it’s all about the grind. And that, my friends, is sexy.

What it Takes to be a Teacher: The Real Three Rs of Education

Being a teacher is not what most people think it is. Heck, it’s not even what most teaching candidates think it is. You enter the profession wide-eyed and full of faith. You believe in your abilities; you believe in yourself. You will illuminate the beauty of literature, the power of mathematics, the wisdom of history, the magic of science. You imagine your students to be eager little vessels waiting patiently to be filled with your brilliance. You are ready to teach. They are ready to learn.

But here’s what you yourself learn — really, really quickly…

Only a select few of your students are eager little vessels thirsty for knowledge. They are the few and the far between. And when you actually get some of those few and far between students in your classroom, it feels amazing. They are driven and focused and quick little studies, and you find yourself thinking you are an amazing teacher.

But here’s the facts of the matter: you’re not amazing; they are. They are amazing. And it has nothing to do with you. Not really. Teaching a subject to eager students is not teaching. Nope. That’s merely taking a hungry kid to a buffet and watching her eat. You didn’t even make the food. You just led her to it. Deflate your Promethean ego and focus on the facts.

If you got into education to teach your subject and strut your stuff, you need to get out. Like yesterday. Most students are not impressed with YOU. They don’t give a darn about your subject or how many degrees or dogs or daughters you have. Many are only impressed with their friends, their text messages, their social media, their music, their video games, their sports, and their phones. (Oh, Lord how they love their phones.)

And for some of them, they focus on these things because they are fundamental to who they think they are: young and popular and primed for greatness. Their worlds are on fire with passion and drama and hunger and thirst. And you? You are merely a blip on their radar, keeping them from the joys that await them when they leave school. They love their lives, not class.

But for others, they focus on these things because they are distractions from who they think they are: ugly and empty and profoundly worthless. Their worlds are burning down from passion and drama and hunger and thirst. And you are merely a blip on their radar, keeping them from the jabs that await them when they leave school. They loathe their lives and they loathe class.

This last group is by far the hardest to teach. They lash out. They cuss you out. They cut their eyes at you. They cut your class. They sleep or snark or throw middle fingers in the air. They throw insults and elbows. They are hard to manage, hard to guide, hard to instruct, hard to teach, hard to love.

But they need you the most. They need you to teach them. Not your subject. Them.

And to do it right, you’ve got to get invested. Be invested. And stay invested. Know who they are. Know who you’re working with. And what they’re working with. I promise you, you’ll be shocked.

I’ve had students who were being abused, physically or sexually or both. I’ve had students riding the wreckage of dirty divorces. I’ve had students whose parents were in prison or in rehab or in coffins. I’ve had students who lived in children’s shelters, on friends’ sofas, on Adderall and antidepressants. I’ve had students whose mothers fed them cocaine and methamphetamines in utero. I’ve had students whose fathers fed them knuckle sandwiches and nightmares in their homes last night.

How can you expect these kids to give a damn about Shakespeare and sonnets? And honestly — they can’t. Not yet. Not without trust. Not without security. Not without understanding. Not without love. Not even if you make it all relevant to them, to their lives, to their situations, to their struggles. Not even then. Not yet.

So you have to show them trust and security and understanding and love. You have to show them these things and be these things for your students. All of them. Even the hard ones. Especially the hard ones.

That’s the fundamentals of teaching that I don’t think a college classroom can teach you. But your own classroom absolutely will – if you’re willing to learn. If you’re willing to let your students teach you what they need. Until you’re willing to learn that, you are no Teacher. Books don’t teach you how to do that. Teaching teaches you that. And you can’t Teach until you can Do.

There’s an old Stevie Smith poem called “Not Waving but Drowning.” The first stanza ends like this:

I was much further out than you thought,

And not waving but drowning.

I use these two lines as my reminder to never get jaded, to never forget that just because my feelings get hurt and my ego gets bruised when a student shuns me or shouts at me or skulks around the corner and skips my class, that it’s not all about me. My bruises are nothing like his. My battles are nothing like hers.

My job is to hear and see my students. Not the cussing, not the insults, not the disrespect —  I hear and see that just fine – but my students and their struggles. For while it’s all too easy to misinterpret their actions, most of those really, hard students (not all, but most) are not waving, but drowning. They aren’t being bad kids, they’re being lost kids — little, lost, overwhelmed, under-loved kids. That’s what I need to see and hear.

Drowning people panic and they can quickly pull you under, too. They don’t even understand what they’re doing. They just want out of the deep water and they’ll hurt anyone who comes close. They lash out as a defense. They writhe and flail and try to climb on top of you. They try to pull you down.

And there are some days your drowning students will get you down. You will feel underwater yourself. You will feel like you just can’t do it anymore. You just want to let go. To swim away. To let them fail. To let it be somebody else’s problem.

But don’t let go. Regroup and regrip and keep throwing out those life lines.

Show them they are worth saving from the flood of violence and hunger and abuse and pain and powerlessness that overwhelms them. Show them that they do not deserve to drown. They are not disposable.

They are valuable.

They matter more than the subject matter. More than Shakespeare and sonnets. More than state mandates and standardized tests. Teach them — not the subject, not the test — teach them.

When they learn that they matter, only then can they learn the subject matter. But be prepared to rinse and repeat — a lot. Like a whole, whole lot.

Don’t get frustrated when they don’t trust themselves enough yet. Don’t get frustrated when they don’t trust you enough yet. Remember who you’re working with. Remember what they’re working with. They will need lots of recognition, lots of reinforcement, lots of repetition. Until they absorb it. Until they understand that they are valuable and they matter.

Recognition. Reinforcement. Repetition. — The Real Three Rs of Education.

 

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