Tag Archives: family

Forgive Me For This Crappy Goodbye

When I was little we went to visit my grandmother every summer in the small town of Gilby, North Dakota. We bought penny candy and played on the teeter-totters at the playground in the one block main street that consisted of a bank, post office, grocery store, hardware store, and bar. What else does a town even need?

I have a million fond memories of that place, and even more of my grandmother. My grandma was a strong, playful, extremely hardworking woman. And she hated to say goodbye.

When it was time for our family to leave my grandmother found it of utmost importance to begin trimming her hollyhocks. Or hanging the laundry to dry. Or cleaning out the pantry.

It was an ongoing joke in our family to talk about where we might find Grandma when it came time to leave. But it is also an inheritance. One shared by my mother, and then me; a deeply-seated avoidance of goodbye.

Today is my last day at school and I would much rather talk to you about dropping my dog off at the vet this morning, or going to Starbucks to get an iced tea than I would like to process how I feel about leaving. It’s the last day of school and I am hiding in my room writing a blog instead of going to say goodbye to the hundred students I have taught over the last four years.

But I also remember that this time of year is never what I expect.

The endings, the goodbyes, are rarely the celebrations or rituals or pomp and circumstance that I think they will be, want them to be. Instead of the meaningful goodbye ritual I create in my head, the last day of school is usually spent cramming the trunk of my car full to bursting with the “last few items” from my classroom that I swore was only one armful, and turns out to be a car-full.

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I forget that trying to get nine-year-olds to sit in a circle and tell stories they remember about the year is about as easy as trying to run a cat circus. So the last day of school often looks like me popping DVD after DVD into the computer, projected onto the scrubbed-clean white board, telling my students, “SHHHHHH! We can’t hear the movie!!!!”

I forget the frustration of trying to hunt down the people necessary to sign off my checklist, showing I’ve completed all the necessary documentation to end the year. I forget that there is always, always, always more paperwork thrown at me that needs to be completed before I can sign out of the building.

I forget that last day of school is usually punctuated with a staff event that is cheesy, with the teachers sitting exhausted, hair pulled up in messy ponytails, barely present to eat a hot dog or luke-warm pasta. I forget that sometimes teachers forgo the party altogether, opting instead to start the summer vacation early, sitting in front of their TV to binge watch the television shows they’ve missed for the last ten months.

I forget that goodbyes are hard for everyone, including my students, and therefore it’s so easy to leave on the wrong terms, saying “Sit down!” and “Stop talking” instead of saying all the things you meant to say, like “I love you” and “I’m going to miss you.”

I forget how quickly I turn into my grandmother, more concerned with the work of cleaning and emptying a classroom than with saying goodbye.

And I forget that the goodbye is one moment, only one moment, but the time before the goodbye is full of thousands and thousands of moments and memories. I forget that we don’t build toward a goodbye. We live. We live. We live.

When I got the call that my grandmother had had a stroke, ten years ago, everything stopped. The family flew in and gathered by her bedside to sing her songs and brush her hair. We told her stories and kissed her head. I had to leave to go back home before she passed away, and so I said my final goodbye to her on a gray Easter Sunday, and then drove the seven hours home to Saint Paul to catch a flight back to my home in Philadelphia.

I cannot for the life of me remember saying goodbye to her.

But I remember sitting with her on the porch and laughing with her as she told stories of the past. I remember the spicy cinnamon gum she chewed, which over the years changed to doublemint. I remember riding bikes around her town, bikes she spent weeks scrounging up for our visit. I remember the smell of the bread she made, “Grandma’s buns”, just out of the oven. If Grandma was to be believed, they were always her worst batch yet. I remember the cards she sent on every birthday and every milestone, telling me how proud she was of me.

And I think my grandma is okay with me not remembering our goodbye. I think she probably prefers it that way. Maybe she somehow managed to arrange it.

Maybe it’s okay to be bad at goodbyes. Maybe it’s okay to not get them right, to say the wrong things, to not say enough, to not say all that needs to be said. Maybe all the good things before the goodbye is enough. Maybe it has to be, even when it isn’t enough.

I’m gonna miss this place, I’m gonna miss these people, I’m going to miss this time.

If you need me, I’ll be hiding in my room.

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261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

 

 

The Brutal Honesty of a Photograph

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My dad recently posted some photos from our family’s time together at Easter. They are beautiful. They all show our smiling, happy faces, many surrounded by the lush and rich foliage from the nature conservatory we visited. I loved them all.

All except one. There was one I didn’t love. It was the one of my dad, my son, and me. Actually, it was the only one of me. And let me be clear, my dad and my son look great. But I look like a total bummer.

There are a lot of reasons for this. Like, the intensive sleep deficit my husband and I were rocking, due to our choice to drive through the night to get to my family’s house. We got there in record time, without the requisite hourly stops made when my son is awake. We also got there at three in the morning, and two weeks later I think it is safe to say we haven’t fully made up the sleep gap.

Also, my family has this thing about using local and organic and natural (the real natural, not the natural stamped onto Cheetos so you can fool yourself into thinking you’re being healthy) products. I am in favor of this completely. Except when it comes to shampoo. Natural shampoo is the equivalent of rubbing Aquaphor by the handfuls into my fine and oily-prone hair. So besides the bags under my eyes, my hair looks like an Italian mobster’s toupee.

But the biggest bummer of all, perhaps, is the fact that the picture is breathtakingly honest. That’s pretty much what I look like these days. Even without long distant late night drives and lotion shampoo, I generally have bags under my eyes and greasy, sloppy hair. This is what my life has become.

When I saw the picture I started down a shame spiral. How in the world had I become one of those women? You know the ones. They find a guy, settle down, and let themselves go. Also, everyone else looks put together in the photographs. Why couldn’t I at least have brushed my hair? Was that sweatshirt really necessary? Why so baggy and dirty? Is my face always so splotchy? Oy vey. You get the idea.

I started making resolutions about what I wouldn’t eat and what I would buy to make my hair shiny. I thought about the manicures and pedicures and hair cuts and wardrobes necessary to return me to my pre-baby, pre-“letting myself go” glory. I even wrote a full ending to this blog about taking care of myself and prioritizing mommy’s needs. Which I think is important.

But the more I have thought about it, the more I have been remembering the day. The day that the photo was taken.

That day, after months of waiting, I woke up in my parents’ house and got to have breakfast with my dad. I watched my son play with his cousins. I had lunch with my mom. My dad and I took the dogs to the dog park and met really enthusiastic dog owners. (Are there any other kind?)

Then we went to the conservatory and looked at the flowers. A hush fell over my son the moment his stroller entered the fern room. He was mesmerized by the plants, often close enough to rip off chunks and immediately eat them. We took the mandatory family photos by the fountain with the naked girl and my mom got her grandma/grandson snapshot. We breathed deep the rich, oxygenated air, filling up on the green we’ve been missing for the past six months.

We went home and twelve of us squeezed around a table growing too small in a kitchen growing too small to hold the abundance of new members, married and birthed in over the past three years. While eating bowls of lentil soup we laughed until we couldn’t breathe. Because that’s what my family does. Then we played games and laughed some more. And ate some more, of course, because that’s also what my family does.

All of this I accomplished with greasy hair and baggy, out of date clothes. All of this, with the food stains and the glasses that are askew from being grabbed by my curious son too many times. All of this with the fatigue that is my familiar blanket. All of this.

I want so badly to be the person who can do it all. I want to have the career. And I do. I want the perfect house. And I (mostly) do. I have the husband and the kid, the car and the memberships. But I want to do it all with nice nails, long hair that wasn’t poorly cut during a disastrous Groupon mistake. Oh, and clean, trendy clothes. Maybe even a little make-up.

And those are things that I feel like I could have if I just tried a little bit harder. If I just bought the right cream or took the time to blow dry my hair.

But remembering that day makes me feel foolish.

Could I spend more time on my hair? Of course. Will I ever? Probably not. Because frankly, my dear, I just don’t give a damn. Or at least, not enough of a damn. There’s just too many other things that I care about too much more than whether or not my hair is washed with Vaseline, or if it is washed with Aveda.

Hear me out, I’m still going to buy the Aveda shampoo, mind you, next time I go to the salon (which should be soon because honestly, the Groupon hair disaster is still haunting me). I still like to pretend that there will come a day when I will buy the magic soap that will transform my skin in a single use. Or the super shampoo that will erase the need for blow drying, styling, and productifying. (I told you, I don’t do those things. I don’t even know the appropriate words for them.)

But in case I never do, and because I know I won’t (at least for not any meaningful length of time), I have to remind myself that a picture is just a picture. Sure, it will scroll across the computer screen at my parents’ home forever and ever amen. But it is just a picture.

And I choose the moment and memory. Even with the greasy hair.

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel

I’m Pretty Much Nailing This Parenting Thing

There was bird poop on my porch steps this morning and I was elated. Because where there is bird poop, there is a bird who is chirping the message that spring, spring, spring is almost here (in weather, I mean, I am aware of how the equinox works).

Therefore, in celebration of the fact that it is spring, complete with showers, and the fact that our staff bathroom had toilet paper in it today (it’s the little things people), I am writing an uplifting piece about the milestones I (and my husband) have reached as a parent in the first seven and a half months of my son’s life.

Let me preface this by saying that I went into this whole parenting thing already sort of an expert. I teach, after all, and therefore know a thing or two about kids. So these milestones go above and beyond those basic achievements.

Now it’s time to report back on how well we have excelled as parents. Here goes:

The Disposable Diaper Achievement:

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At one month into parenting, we turned the corner on cloth diapering. Maybe it was the fact that our son’s diapers caused his rear end to be twelve times the side of his head and pushed him into baby clothes six months ahead of his age. Maybe it was too difficult to remember to put out the diapers for pick-up on Saturday mornings. Maybe it was too hard to hand-wash the wool diaper covers. Or maybe it was the fact that our son peed a lot. And insisted on being changed after every urination. Whatever it was, cloth diapers had to go.

While using cloth diapers it was not unusual for me to change my son’s diaper, put him down for a nap, and have to change his diaper again before he had fallen asleep. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m not sure if it was me or my husband who got the brilliant idea to switch to disposable diapers at nights so that we could sleep in longer than 15 minute increments, but I think we both knew that once we made that concession, we were well on our way to becoming a cloth-diaper-free house. And so it was that within two months we earned ourselves the Disposable Diaper Achievement.

Responsible Screen Time Award:

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We don’t own a TV at our house, a fact that saves a lot of time when Comcast tries to offer us their latest amazing deal. But we do own a computer and a Netflix subscription. Let’s be honest, that’s at least as good as a TV, and makes the opening statement of not owning a TV immediately less impressive.

My husband read a book that told us to limit screen time for children before the age of two. A worthy challenge. For the first few months of our son’s life we were careful to always point all computer or phone screens away from his face. Amateurs.

Anyway, the author of this book has clearly never been stuck in Chicago’s rush hour traffic with a screaming child, having already sung all verses of every song you’ve ever heard, exhausting all possible items of interest pulled from every bag and purse in the car. If the author had been in this situation, they too would have earned the Responsible Screen Time Award, an award that goes out to any parent who, in a moment of panic or fatigue, is able to use technology to soothe or distract their child.

If you need any assistance with earning this award, might I suggest a free download of the app “Magic Fingers”. You’re welcome. (I also endorse youtube videos.)

The Best Intentions Organic Homemade Baby Food Honorable Mention:

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At his four month appointment, the pediatrician told us we could start feeding our son rice cereal. My husband and I gave one another knowing glances. It was really a shame to see our pediatrician so behind in the baby food conversation. Doesn’t he know that rice cereal causes diabetes, is probably full of arsenic, and will make our child obese?

When he asked us directly, we smugly answered that we were making our own baby food. What we meant was that we have a food processor and intentions of peeling, pureeing, and storing our own homemade (organic) baby food. We hadn’t actually MADE it. (Our pediatrician gave us a sympathetic smile and said, “God bless you guys. But seriously, Gerber baby food is good, too.”)

Several days after the appointment I happened to be at Babies R Us, and there happened to be a sale on organic baby food. I picked up a box of twelve little jars. After all, we needed more storage containers for our homemade food.

It’s been three months since then and to date we have boiled and mashed one sweet potato. It wasn’t an organic sweet potato because Costco doesn’t carry organic sweet potatoes. Our son didn’t seem to mind. And that is how we managed to put ourselves on the list of parents who have earned The Best Intentions Organic Homemade Baby Food Honorable Mention.

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There have been a few other important milestones so far including, but not limited to, “Allowing Your Child to Sleep in His Swing Until the Swing Stops Swinging” Award, and the “Supplement With Formula Because Pumping More Than Once A Day At Work Is A Pain In The You Know What” Award. And let me not forget our newly achieved “Using Food To Stop Your Child From Screaming At Target” Award.

I am sure we have many, many more milestones to hit before we’re done. (Perhaps some will be shared by all the veteran parents in the comments section below.)

As my mother-in-law says, “Parents have to do what works.” (She gave very similar sex advice to us when we got married, but I digress.)

In any case, I’m proud of all we’ve accomplished so far. It makes me pretty excited. Almost (but not quite) as excited as seeing bird poop on my back porch.

Talking, Language, Memory, Anthropomorphism, Mirrors & Love

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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, By Karen Joy Fowler

“The spoken word converts individual knowledge into mutual knowledge, and there is no way back once you’ve gone over that cliff.” Rosemary

The written word also reveals secrets so I will start this review by saying that I will do my best not to go over the cliff in order to allow anyone who reaches for this book – as the result of reading this post – the opportunity to experience it as the author intended.  Whatever you do, don’t read the book flaps or the back cover.  I read this unique novel on my kindle and for once, I feel I am the better for it.  I downloaded it after reading a 2013 Great Book Picks (or something like that) and didn’t recall what it was about when I decided to begin reading it the other day.

This is a superb read – loaded with suspense, cleverly written, fascinating characters and compelling subject matter.  It is full of beginnings.  Read it through to the end (it won’t be hard to) and I can almost guarantee that you will be enthralled by the narrative and the narrator.

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I immediately fell in love with the voice of Rosemary, Karen Joy Fowler’s narrator of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves in the prologue of this story of families, academic scientific research, college towns, science,  ethics and the animal rights movement.  Rosemary immediately reveals that she was a “great talker” as a child and that her parents valued her “extravagant abundance” and “inexhaustible flow” of words; nonetheless, her mother’s tip to polite social behavior was to pick one thing to say (your favorite) when you think of two or three things to say. Her father advises her early on to begin in the middle of any story, especially given her propensity to use her words to prolong her encounters with anyone who will pay attention to her.

And so she begins to tell “the middle” of her story, ten years after her older brother disappeared and 17 years since her sister vanished.  And we begin to learn about Rosemary, a college student in her fifth year at UC Davis with no degree on the horizon.  She is arrested after throwing a glass of milk in the cafeteria for no discernible reason. And it is through the aftermath of her arrest, and the days that follow, that the reader learns about her unusual family, her struggles in Kindergarten (“kindergarten is all about learning which parts of you are welcome at school and which are not”), her journey away from talking to silence (“I’d come to silence hard”), and how a family will always struggle to be together even when staying together seems impossible.  

And as the narrative unfolds, past sins and secrets are revealed and mysteries are deciphered.  And Rosemary slowly begins to find herself in her search for her missing siblings.  She ponders: “I wonder sometimes if I’m the only one spending my life making the same mistake over and over again or if that’s simply human.  Do we all tend toward a single besetting sin?”  And we begin to understand why Rosemary must look more carefully in “the mirror,” despite her rejection of her own reflection, made ironic as she lectures a self-important college guy on the “mirror” test and how “we’ve been using it to determine self-awareness” since Darwin.

I loved this story and its thoughtful presentation of animal research ethics. Pieces of ourselves can “go missing” for years, much like Rosemary’s siblings, and sometimes the only way to find them is to look hard in the mirror and truly see what is there. Because who in this life has never been completely beside themselves?

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Ages: 14 and up.  Some profanity.