Monthly Archives: December 2014

Chocolate Chip Cookies, Boogers, and Board Books: An Honest Inside Look at the Life of a Working Mom

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Let me paint you the scene. It’s midnight. I just finished baking Nutella stuffed chocolate chip cookies. I’m in charge of our “connecting activity” for work tomorrow and I have carefully planned five “Minute to Win It” games. I’ve somehow also managed to sign up to bring food for the breakfast tomorrow, so along with the white elephant gift exchange present, the props for Minute to Win It, and the 9 X 13 pan of cookies, I am picking up bagels and cream cheese early tomorrow morning.

For a minute this afternoon I contemplated trying to make it to the 6:15am group work out class at the women’s gym I joined last month. Don’t worry, I’ve eaten enough chocolate this evening to tamp down that idea.

Tis the season, right? The season of way, way, way too much to do. I have always felt this way, but somehow having a son and wanting to squeeze every moment of time with him out of each day leaves very thin margins on the book-ends of my day to accomplish, well, everything.

And I do mean… everything.

This week we had a professional development for work. And she was there. You don’t know her, and yet, I’m pretty sure you do. She’s adorable, she got a work ethic to make Ben Franklin proud, she’s a step higher on the career ladder. She’s so nice that it’s annoying and yet, you realize that you can’t not like her because, ugh, she is so nice. She doesn’t have a kid yet, but I can guarantee that when she does, her days will have extra hours and she will not be awake at 1am writing a blog about how much she envies someone else. She will instead be busy being the President of the United States. Or something like that.

I’m exaggerating. Obviously. But there’s nothing like showing up to a work event having barely brushed your hair and wearing a Coldwater Creek shirt you bought from Goodwill that may or may not have gone out of style ten years ago that can send you into the spiral of down, down, down into the comparison game. Or maybe it’s just me.

I do not need anyone to remind me about how this is NOT what Christmas is all about. For that matter, I don’t need anyone to remind me that this is NOT what mothering, being a woman, being a person is all about.

And yet, here we are.

For some reason, what keeps coming into my mind over and over, and I do like to pay attention to such things, is this moment of conversation I had with a coworker this week. Not “her”. A different one. Her name is Katie. She’s the kind of person that asks how you’re doing and really wants to hear the answer. So I told her.

“Last night my son screamed for three blocks through the middle of downtown Oak Park, bucking his body wildly against me because I wouldn’t let him play with a knife at the restaurant where we’d ordered dinner.”

She had true compassion in her eyes, probably because her son is only a few months older than mine, so she gets it. And then she went into a several minute long story about, and I am not making this up, sucking boogers out of her son’s nose with the Nose Frida.

nose frida

It might have been the best conversation I had all week.

What in the world do boogers have to do with Christmas, the comparison game, and being up way too late?

I guess nothing. And everything. Because she offered me such a gift. Katie offered me the honest, real look at her day to day life. And right now, in a tale that is very familiar, her day to day life consists of… boogers.

Right now my days consist of speculation on and about the rhyming patterns of Sandra Boynton books. I can explain in incredible detail how and why Barnyard Dance is superior in every way to Birthday Monsters. My husband can chime in on the conversation because (and this is a little embarrassing) we talk about it. Kinda a lot.

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I was an over-committer long before my son came along. I can’t blame him for that. But having a son has spread the icing on the cake thin enough that it’s embarrassing to serve it. Things have slipped, and there are glaring holes in the facade I like to believe I used to be able to pull off. (For those who know me well, just go with me here. No need to burst my bubble.)

Yet, here I am. Blogging in the middle of the night after a marathon day of “doin’ too much.” Adding a few more things onto my plate so that maybe I can fool everyone else into thinking that I haven’t slowed down at all since becoming a mom. I really can do it all.

But the truth, as I’ve already laid out, I can’t. These days I get really nervous just trying to make small talk. I hate the moment in conversations when it lulls and I am expected to fill it with some thoughtful remark. I scan the Rolodex and more often than not land on… boogers. Or Sandra Boynton. Or my son’s screaming through Oak Park. Not exactly cocktail conversation.

Maybe the best I can do is this. Writing this. Telling my own version of the booger story and letting it all hang out for you to see. Would it probably have been even more meaningful, a larger step away from the comparison game, if I had bought cookies from the store? Maybe. Does it help make my point to know that I ate way more than my fair share of chocolate chips today? Maybe.

But know that despite what my chocolate chip cookies and sunny Christmas card may imply, I’m just winging it. Like everybody else.

Probably even “her”.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

How I’m Talking To My Son About Race and Police Brutality (Guest Blog)

I recently asked my friend Conni if she had any ideas about how to raise her white sons to become thoughtful people, engaged in the conversation about race, willing to speak up, but not over. Willing to listen and to learn.

Because she’s wonderful, she agreed. Here is her post:

Right now we are in the throes of what we will come to remember as the glory of boy days. My oldest is four with a blonde, pageboy haircut, bright eyes, and a ready smile. He is, as the expression goes, “all boy” and will spend hours playing with Legos, swords, and cars, and loves rough-housing with his daddy. He is not too old to snuggle in Mama’s lap, to listen to silly poems, or dance with the family in the kitchen. He kisses his baby brother and is a help around the house.

He is also “all four” in his insistence on testing boundaries, his emotional stability (his tantrums call to mind images of drunk rock stars trashing dressing rooms), and in his seemingly limitless curiosity. These days there are scores of questions. He asks all the questions. And no matter what answer I give, how simply it is packaged or how long I take to answer him, there is always a follow-up question. He would make an excellent reporter (just not TMZ, okay? ::crossing self::). And the follow-up question is almost always, “Why?” Thus, nearly every question becomes existential in nature.

Here is an example of a typical conversation:
S: Mama, what does that sign mean?
Me: It means cars need to slow down and look out for each other
S: Why do car needs to slow down?
Me: Because there’s not a lane for everyone in this part of the road
S: Why is there not room for everyone?

See what I mean!

I can’t fault the kid. He’s trying so hard to organize this grey world into neat compartments in that growing mind of his. He wants to know wrong and right. He wants to know how things always are or never will be. What all boys do and what all girls do. Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys. He loves words like always and never. They’re clear. Safe.

And so making dinner at the end of the day, the contents of the stove-top bubbling, the news on the radio blaring, my heart is turning over all the race-based headlines, the discussions on police brutality, comments on Facebook that suggest I must pick a side: blacks or police.

Here is the bottom line about my son and his race: nobody will ever be surprised by his success or question it, they will not assume they know what kind of music he listens to, or question that he has a right to be wherever he is. We know that, statistically, he will pay less for a car, get paid more than female or minority peers at the same job, and if he should have to interact with the criminal justice system (again, ::crossing self::) will be sentenced less harshly than men of color.

In light of this privilege, how will I begin to talk to him about the others who will meet a very different reality? How am I talking to him and his four-year-old brain about race?

As adults we realize that there’s no group of people that are always the “good guys” or always the “bad guys”. We know of others in trusted professions (clergy, teachers) who have abused their authority. But these nuances can be trickier to impart to a four-year-old.

My approach is based on the following Maya Angelou quote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them.”

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This is what I tell my son, “When people, your friends and especially a group of people, tell you their stories, believe them.” Believe them. Believe them when they tell you it hurts when you climb on their head or that they despise grape jelly. Believe them when they tell you they are afraid of the police (even the people you know and love and trust!) Listen for all the feelings behind their words. Focus on the people as they share their stories and fears.

Someday we will talk about the history and science behind racism. We will discuss what is known about the lingering effects of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the GI bill, the Tuskegee institute, and the mass incarceration of black men and what that has done to black communities. We will discuss the differences in how white and non-whites are sentenced, how they are treated when they apply for a loan, or enter a department store.

But not today. Today we will talk about people we know and their stories.

My friend Robyn is black with a young son and bravely navigating this alternate universe that I had little idea existed. Her boy’s name is Alex and he has amazing chipmunk cheeks and a dimpled grin. He knows all about trains and knows the soundtrack of the DC metro. “Door opening, please step back” he chirps.

In an email, Robyn writes she is thankful Alex smiles so readily at strangers because maybe this means the police will perceive him as friendly, less threatening and suspicious. Because one day soon, Alex will be a young black man and will be perceived as more threatening than my son who could be walking right beside him.

Robyn worries at night. She wonders if her husband has enough storage and charge in his phone so he can be sure to video tape any encounters with the police in case anything should happen to him. I worry about my son and husband getting in car accidents. She worries they will encounter the police.

And here’s the thing: hers is only one story but theirs are the faces I see. I know there are many, many more stories like hers. But as my son grows and I encourage him to believe people and their feelings and respond accordingly, I don’t want him to think abstractly about “black people”. I want him to think about Robyn and Chaz and his friend, Alex. I want him to understand he doesn’t have to abandon what he has come to trust in order to hear and believe their stories and advocate on their behalf.

I know most of this is beyond his understanding now but I can’t help dreaming. Dreaming that together my husband and I can raise a listener, a man who can see and hear and believe experiences that are radically different from his own and then, in turn, use that knowledge to be a peacemaker. To be able to hold two hard things at once and with belief: his love and value for his friends in the black community along with respect for the policing profession.

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Winter is Coming

My maternal ancestors were homesteaders. They traveled across oceans and prairies, mountains and rivers, and settled in Canada, Northern Wisconsin, and ultimately North Dakota. Growing up, one of my favorite books was My Prairie Year, a picture book with pencil sketches that tells the true story of one year in the life of a girl growing up in the prairie: canning foods, hanging out the wash to dry, tying string from the house to the barn during a blizzard so the path wouldn’t be lost in the mountains of snow. You know, the usual.

my prairie year

To be totally honest, there is little to connect me to the life of a homesteader. I got excited last night because I managed to make a crockpot dinner, which I believe was delicious, with only five minutes of prep. I literally dumped items into the top, put in some thawed chicken thighs, and then picked up my screaming son, who was of the opinion that five minutes not in my arms was five minutes too long.

But I think about my homesteading great great grandparents, especially as the weather turns from crisp to frigid. I remember visiting my grandmother one Thanksgiving a decade ago. We had eaten too much, so I decided to go for a walk. My mom had talked about being young in North Dakota, the wind cutting through you like a knife, and a Minnesota native, I believed I knew what she meant. I didn’t. Bent at a forty five degree angle, pushing with all my power, I managed to walk to the edge of town, probably only due to the houses breaking up the wind. Once I hit the farm land, game over. I nearly had to crawl on hands and knees to get back to my grandma’s home.

I wonder what it was like to fear the coming of this intense cold, no houses to break up the wind? What was it like to watch the dying of all vegetation, hoping and praying you had planted enough tomatoes and onions to get through the whole of winter? Did we harvest enough? Did we preserve enough? Will we last until February? Will we see the first bud of the next spring?

I wonder, and I know. Because I ask the same questions myself this year. I have a Costco a mile from my house, and my survival needs are met, but it is this time of year that I wonder if I have stored enough to get me through the cold. It’s this time of year when the stark, bare trees and snow turned crusty and charcoal from car exhaust turns me thinking inward, wondering whether I’ve planted enough sunshine, goodness, and love to endure not weeks, but months of gray, gray, gray.

I could move. I suppose the homesteaders could have, too. There are places the sun never leaves, the plants always grow. But despite the fear of the shortening days, and the quieting of colors, I’ve also grown to anticipate this emptying. I’ve learned to prepare for it, maybe in the way of my great, great, great grandmothers, spending autumn soaking up the rich red and gold of the trees, eating freshly picked apples and tomatoes still warm from the sun, taking long walks in perfect sweatshirt weather with the desperation that only comes from knowing that the days are numbered and few.

And then, to quote Alice Walker, comes the time to live frugally on surprise.

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It’s that time of year for me now. Today is gray, and I can’t remember the last time the sun peeked out. And as much as I’ve anticipated the emptying, when it happens all I want to do is spend my days curled in bed, hibernating for winter’s end. It’s the time of year when it seems certifiably insane that anyone ever stopped a covered wagon in this place and thought to themselves, “Here. This is far enough.”

And then, like discovering a shelf of forgotten canned produce, comes a surprise.

A kiss from my husband after a long day at work, the outstretched arms and sleepy grin from my son when I wake up in the morning. A compliment from a colleague, a phone call from a dear friend, the right song at the right time, a warm bath, a beautiful poem.

One such poem was sent to me by my father several months ago, and I pulled it out today, a jar of preserved tomatoes, and savored it’s words again, knowing that I needed the sustenance more today than I did in the summer when it was first sent.

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One Good Thing

It’s been a dead parade
of hours since 5 AM
a march of the bland
with the meaningless and
I can think of nothing
I have done to merit
mentioning or
remembering.

But now, at 8 pm,
I am bathing my son
in a tub filled with bubbles
and blue battleships,
the soapy water over
his Irish white skin
makes him glisten
like a glazed doughnut

and I should tell him
to stop splashing
but this is the first time
all day I have felt like living
so how can I scold
my boy who’s found joy
in something ordinary
as water? And when

I wash his hair
with Buzz Lightyear
shampoo, Liam
closes his eyes and
smiles like a puppy
being petted as I massage
the sweet lotion into
his red curls and I know

this is one good thing
I have done with my life
this day that has waited
for this moment
of water on my sleeve
and soap on my nose
to turn emptiness
into ecstasy.

…Edwin Romond

And that poem may not be enough to get me through all of winter. But it’s enough for today.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel