Category: taking notes (page 1 of 22)

Sisters Tell Stories

You know that the best part of any girls’ night is the loads and loads of stories that come spilling out of everyone’s mouths. One minute you’ll be laughing so hard you can’t breathe and then suddenly you’ll be crying for real as you make an emotional 180.

As much as I love hanging out with friends, cracking jokes and musing about nothing, it’s really in the storytelling that friends become sisters.
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Last night I listened as two wonderful sisters-from-church talked about their experience with divorce — shared their stories of heartache, loneliness, redemption, fulfillment. I knew these women before, had talked with them, had a sense of their strength and depth. But hearing their stories colored in the lines.

They talked about how much hearing other women’s stories helped them through their own difficulties. We have sisters all over the place, we just don’t know it until we hear their stories, or tell them ours.

“Story of my life!” and “I love that story!” one of my sisters-in-law always says.

Stories are our lives, and I hope that we love the stories we live, whether they are happy or sad, tearful or fearful. And I hope, too, that we share them with our sisters to strengthen and support them — to help them color in the lines of their own lives, of their own stories.

Sisters in Beauty

I get a little bit annoyed sometimes at how focused we are on beauty. I mean, can’t we go a little deeper than that? Can’t we get beyond appearances to the meat of who people actually are? But then again, I am as much a sucker as anybody for someone telling me I’m pretty or that they like what I’m wearing or that my hair looks nice.

As much as I hate to admit it, it matters. It really does.

And I got to see why yesterday when I went to Dove’s Self-Esteem Weekend kick-off. I listened to teenage girls from the Girl Scouts, from Girls Inc. and from The Boys and Girls Club talk about beauty and confidence and how they can influence each other to feel good about themselves. Dove’s focus this year is on your beauty legacy — how others feel about themselves because of you.

I know that I have a lot of responsibility for my kids (and for my daughter especially), but one of the things that stood out to me was the sisterhood of the whole endeavor. “Confident people encourage others” was one of the takeaways of the event. Once you get to a place where you are happy with yourself — with who you are and what you can do — you are not threatened by others. You can bring out the best in them because you recognize the best in you.

Too often girls (and women) are so catty because they feel like if anybody is pretty or smart or talented, it means they are less pretty or smart or talented. (Guilty as charged!) And we bring each other down when we could be moving up and beyond the basics and actually getting stuff done.

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And that, I suppose, is as good a reason as any to focus on beauty. Because maybe if we master it in ourselves, we can help our sisters find it in themselves. And then maybe we can relax a little bit and see what we really have to offer.

My Cup Runneth Over

20140912-232146-84106104.jpgEverything is a song these days. And we’re singing it out. Whether it’s “Can You Hear the People Sing” from Les Mis or the cheer the boys came up with to celebrate the occasion of finding a license plate from one of their favorite states (Ohio!), we’re belting it out and it makes my heart sing right along with them. Even after hours. Sometimes, after we’ve put the kids to bed, we hear what sounds like Manchild singing the triumphant national anthem of a distant country. Where did he learn that? Oh, right. It’s the national anthem of Paraparaparaparafeetland, a strange and funny country which Micah has been telling the boys about at random times over the past few months. Each addition to the story leaves Manchild red in the face and nearly doubled over with laughter. Micah knows just what buttons to push to get that kid rolling in the aisles — or singing in the top bunk. Neither of which are bad places to be.

But if we’re not singing, we’re talking. Mostly Little Miss, who seems determined to get this speaking thing down. She follows along when I read stories to her, saying what I say, testing out the words. Micah and I can’t help but say what she says right back at her. Her little voice is irresistible and begs to be heard again and again — even if our efforts are a poor imitation. It’s especially amusing to hear her talk about Pokemon or Shaun the Sheep — two of her brother’s favorite things. Sure, they fight and argue and wrestle and drive me nuts, but they are also really happy to be together and share things with each other.
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With school starting, however, Little Miss is a bit on the outs. Sometimes she cries when the boys leave in the morning without her. But she and I have been spending more time together and that’s a treat. We’re learning the ABCs, matching mama animals to their babies, and chanting, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” (well, she chants, I man the controls) as we ride the bike to pick the boys up after school. And at pickup she isn’t afraid to lay her claim: last week she practically chased Squish’s class down and invited herself to be part of it. Squish held her hand as the class walked down the ramp to the meeting spot. Heart bursting

The start of school also means more running. The kids and I managed to get out about once a week during the summer: Little Miss and Squish rode along in the stroller, Manchild pedaled his own bike. We stopped at playgrounds and took water breaks. It was hot and hard and slow and not frequent enough for me. But it worked for the summer, and now it’s just me and Little Miss, cruising around almost as much as I please. We can get more miles in and do it faster and I’m starting to feel like running is part of my life again after a 3-month lull.

And here’s one last thing to share before I wish you a happy weekend: I loved this story by Peter Sagal about what to do if you’re going through hell. Give it a listen. I think there’s something to it. ;)

Collecting My Kids, Collecting Myself

Just the other day I was riding the kids around on the bike. All day long. Picking up shoes and socks for soccer practice after school. Rushing Squish across the bridge to get to kindergarten on time. Pedaling all three back to Brooklyn in the blazing heat — and wondering why some random guy decided he needed to pick on me and call me a “f#*%ing whore” several times. Apparently having kids on my bike was extremely offensive to him.

It was lonely work. I was so focused on getting to our first day of soccer on time that I didn’t hear a single thing the kids said the whole trip. Well, right up until Squish wondered why we were in the park instead of at home and I just about died because hadn’t I already told them half a dozen times that we were on our way to soccer practice?! And then after soccer we were back on the bike, slugging through the heat and up yet another hill.

I had thought that the loneliest years of motherhood were the early ones, the ones in which you spend all day waiting for a baby who can’t speak to wake up so you can go outside and make sure the world is still spinning. It felt very lonely for me, anyway. I imagined that once the kids got older, learned to speak, and were more mobile I’d have plenty of company.

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But I was wrong. Or maybe I’m doing it wrong? I’ve just noticed so many times lately that I’m on the outs, not able to join in the fun. Micah and the kids will be watching a show, playing a game, relaxing. And I’m making dinner, catching up on e-mails, rushing around, hovering on the outskirts — not really there.

It’s tricky though. I mean, we do need to eat. Chores need to be done. When I see a little block of time in which nobody is going to climb into my lap and steal my pen or co-opt my phone or keyboard, I have a hard time not taking advantage of it. I’m almost always planning events, checking schedules, putting the stars in alignment — and then moving on to the next thing while the plans go off without me. There’s not a moment to lose, after all, when I’m managing everybody else’s life as well as my own. It’s hard not to feel detached and unconnected at times like that. Like Mom is always around, but she’s never really there.

A few weeks ago I read a great book, Hold On To Your Kids by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate. The authors talk about why it’s important to build a strong relationship with your kids — so that you are the person they are attaching to and trying to be like — and how to do it. One of the simplest things to do is to “collect” your kids after you have been apart, like when they wake up or get home from school or even when they’ve been angry with you and you’ve been emotionally distanced. I’ve been working on it: giving my kids hugs, looking in their faces, getting them to smile or interact with me for just a second.

Another time to “collect” is when you are pulling them away from something else. Moving them from reading to dinner, from tv to homework. Instead of calling from the other room to tell them dinner is ready, you go and sit next to them, figure out what is going on, engage them in what they are doing before telling them it’s time to do something else. I’ve been working on that, too, and I’ve noticed a difference in how responsive they are when I come to them first, before asking them to come with me.

As I’ve taken those few moments to “collect” the kids — to sit down with them and watch the show while sitting next to them, rather than from behind them while I make dinner, or to get them to smile first thing in the morning — I have felt a difference in how smoothly these transitions go, and how responsive they are when I ask them to do something.

But as important as these little “collections” are to keep them attached to me, I think they may be even more important for me to be attached to them. When I sit down and watch the show for a minute, when I step into their world instead of acting so much like the puppet master — distant, alone, unable to see things from their perspective — I’m not so lonely any more. I don’t feel like I’m missing out on all the fun, or that I have to be the responsible one while everybody else gets to play. I’m part of the team again, out on the field, seeing what they see and enjoying it.

Last week, as we finally pulled up to our building after riding around the brutally humid streets of New York, I was in that lonely, separate place. We hadn’t even discussed the mean man who had cussed me out on the bridge and I wondered if the kids had noticed. What I really wanted, if I was going to feel so lonely, was to actually be alone. To read a book, to do what I wanted to do without having to take care of everybody — or anybody — else. But then I saw the ice cream truck and thought that if there was ever a time to chase him down and make memories, now was it. I signaled the driver and he pulled over. Three cherry dipped cones, please, and then we sat on the steps — together — and licked and dripped and followed Micah’s progress on my phone as he rode home from work.

I didn’t sit back and watch them. I didn’t retreat a few steps up to observe. I was on their level, engaged in what was happening, excited about what they were excited about. I even licked their cones when they were about to drip so no calories were wasted.

It worked. I wasn’t lonely any more, and I didn’t want to be alone. I was with my people. I’d collected them. Or maybe they’d collected me.

Unapologetic Delight — On an Airplane

Manchild, on the plane back to Brooklyn, sat laughing loudly, spontaneously, and completely unselfconsciously at the movies playing from the seat-back screen in front of him — oblivious to those sitting around us who might not care to be interrupted by his full, untempered delight.

I sat next to him, glancing around occasionally, holding tears back, willing myself not to feel or make a fuss over the movie playing from the seat-back screen in front of me. It’s just a movie, just a story, I told myself.

Yet even while I struggled to remain stoic, my heart swelled to see him so overflowing with joy. I love to see that fullness of emotion in anyone else — to know and see and feel that they are touched, delighted, pierced, moved. I feel closer, safer, knowing that they are not afraid of being open and alive and vulnerable.

When my movie ends, I turn to watch Manchild instead. He is chewing his arm, biting his fingers, jumping, wiggling, giggling along with the show. He is fully immersed. I can’t help but reach out and touch him, smile, and enjoy his enjoyment.

When we hit some rough air, he looks out the airplane window, curious but unalarmed. He wants to see the plane going through the clouds. I, on the other hand, look away, look in, try to ignore the pitching of my stomach along with the pitching of the plane. Again, I admire his fearlessness. Or is it ignorance? Youth? Inexperience? Perhaps a cleaner, more direct view of the world? Should I be envious?

But as I watch, I wonder why I guard myself so heavily, why I fight so hard to not be seen. Wouldn’t it be nice to be more open, so that people, when they see my emotions written all over my face, connect and see a real person — not just another stoic, expressionless face?

How would it be to immerse myself so fully and unapologetically in life’s emotions and experiences? To feel like a child: unhurt, unscarred, unblemished, unrepentant, undisguised, perfectly amused and amazed. Full to overflowing so that other passengers on the flight can’t help but turn and look — and smile or scowl as their own hearts dictate.

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My Cup Runneth Over

The magic is in the noticing, I read recently. Having enough is in being with what you have. Happiness comes from being happy, not in what happens to you. So this is me, filling my cup with whatever joy and happiness and love I can find.

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Last week, when all this craziness over my essay about Manchild being able to stay home alone for short periods of time was just beginning and I was having a hard time seeing past the nose on my face, my friend Amy grabbed me by the hand and took me shopping so at least I’d have something to wear when I was on Good Morning America.

Amy — who has three kids of her own,  who just moved to a new apartment, who is hoping to go back to school and finish her education, and who tirelessly finds opportunities to share her talents and solve problems with everyone she meets. I am humbled and blessed to know her and to call her my friend.

She’s been a mentor and inspiration to me since we met nearly 7 years ago. And I hope with all my heart that she gets to go back to school, finish her education, and share her talents with even more people. (Check out her video here, help her out if you can!)

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And then there was Sharra, who first invited us over for cake and ice cream on Monday night, putting an end to my “case of the Mondays” and then reminded me that Tuesday is a great day to get up early and go for a run.

She’s right. There are few things better than slipping out the door before the kids are awake and running in the sun before it gets too hot. Sharing it with a friend is one of those things.

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Yesterday we went to the carousel at Prospect Park. It’s free for kids on Thursdays this month, so we rode it twice. Squish was adamant that he didn’t want a horse that went up and down. Little Miss waved at her adoring fans (me) for half the ride. And Manchild kept an eye on his sister as he rode the horse next to her. It was the first time all week that I’d been there, where my kids were, seeing and enjoying and loving.

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falling

This morning, Little Miss drew all over herself with marker. Arms, face, feet. She took a cheese stick from fridge without asking and ate it ostentatiously in front of me. She spilled a newly-opened quart of maple syrup on the floor. She climbed on Manchild’s bed and tried to raid his treat box. She took 63 photos and videos with my phone. And then she asked to be put down for a nap. I can’t help but feel lucky that she’s mine — even after everything she’s done to me. Maybe because of everything she’s done to me.

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It’s been a hard week. I can’t pretend it hasn’t been. But I also can’t pretend that there’s a lot to be happy about and a lot to be grateful for. My cup runneth over.

A Quiet Place to Sit and Think

You know those times when you have so much going on, so many things in your head and your heart and your life that you just really don’t know what to do with it all and you just kind of close the door so that people don’t have to see/hear/witness you thinking and talking in circles about nothing at all?

That’s where I’m at.

It’s the funnel that is all blocked off because everything is trying to get through at once. In the past few months we went on our first international, child-free vacation. (You can read what I wrote for Babble about it here.)

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We moved five blocks from where we were and re-discovered, similar to getting married, that the real work in moving starts after the big day. (So far we’ve created a kitchen peninsula, mounted a small entertainment center on the wall, and begun the third “big project”: a shelving unit that will allow us to unpack half a dozen boxes full of books. Don’t even ask me about the “little projects.”)

Manchild finished first grade and we are learning what “summer vacation” means — without actually going on any vacations. (It’s harder than I expected, people. “Summer Break,” my eye. What I’m feeling is “Summer-Break-Me-in-Pieces-Trying-to-Balance-Fun-and-Rest-and-Work.”)

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Little Miss turned 2 and has been growing into a chatty little trouble-maker whom we can’t get enough of.

And there have been many little mental and emotional upheavals that have left me craving time to just sit and think. Both running and writing have fallen farther down the priority list than they have been in years, and although they are still happening, there are no clear goals or a sense of urgency for now.battlebunny

Because for now, we are getting our house in order. We are cruising through some things and charging through others. We are shaking things up so that when it all settles, it will — we hope — settle in an orderly, peaceful manner.

And with all that going on, mostly what I want to do is sit and absorb, and think, and feel.

The best table in the entire world (for the price of ice cream) – $19 (Guest Post by Micah Heiselt)

I figured since this was the first time Micah got “paid” for his writing, it deserved some recognition beyond the world of Craigslist table-buyers. Hope you enjoy it as much as we enjoyed the ice cream that was purchased because of it.

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So, let’s get straight to the point. This is probably the best table in the entire world.

For almost 7 years it has faithfully kept our breakfasts, lunches, and even dinners from falling on the floor. Thanks to it’s flatness and solidity, many words have been written cleanly on many pieces of paper. Books have rested comfortably on it’s welcoming top while the reader’s hands were busy brushing the reader’s teeth or holding a sleeping child. That’s right. This table has helped sleeping children. It’s not only tough and sturdy. It’s also tender and even adorable.

And speaking of tough and sturdy. What does one do when they have a ridiculously tall Brooklyn ceiling and the lightbulb burns out, even though it’s one of those fancy kinds that is actually a tube coiled around itself, and not a true bulb at all? And also, there is no ladder to be had. Well, I’ll tell you. They drag a freaking awesome table to the middle of the room, stick a decent — but not quite as freaking awesome — chair on top, and then stand on this tower of trustworthiness while swapping out fancy not-bulbs. That’s what. And does that table care that you just put another piece of furniture on top of it along with the weight of a full-grown adult male? It does not. Because it’s the best, most tough, and most sturdy table in the entire world, and that’s how it rolls.

But I digress. Unlike these unchanging, 4 solid pillars of wood, topped with a large flat piece of wood, the world is in a constant state of flux and unease. Families grow, apartment buildings are bought out and rent is raised to exorbitant amounts. And while the awesomest, tenderest, most adorable table in the entire world barely notices while it’s being dissembled, packed in a truck, moved to a new home and then reassembled, the rest of us do notice. We notice that there just isn’t a place in the new apartment for the table. And it’s too late to go back.

Heads are scratched. Hearts are broken. Craigslist posts are painstakingly written.

This brings us to the real question of the day. What is the value of a table? Sure, Ikea may value it at $99, but we think that’s just petty. The real value of something — dare I say someone? — that has been an integral part of the lives of a Brooklyn family, year after year — still as solid as the day it was born — is more than that. It’s worth lies not in dollars and cents, but in dreams and memories. Which is why the only thing we want in return for the best, most wooden, most slightly dented table in the entire world is a new memory to replace the many that it will take with it. This will preferably be a memory that involves 3 kid sized scoops of ice-cream (with sprinkles), one single scoop for the Mrs, and a double scoop for the Mr (to also be shared with Mrs). Plus tax.

Is that too much to ask? I think not. And neither does the most amazing, most reliable, most sturdy, most pragmatic, ice-cream loving table in the entire world.

ps. I should note that the true value (and I know because I went to the ice-cream parlor to figure it out) of the memory that we seek is $19.47. Craiglist apparently only like whole numbers, though, so it’s an even better deal.

pps. The ice cream parlor asked that I put in a shameless plug for them because they are new and have not yet reached the level of infamy that they seek. It’s called Brooklyn Bell’s The Local. We haven’t tried it yet, but it sounds quite tasty.

Friends. Pals. Buddies. Besties.

He falls. Skins his knee, scrapes his elbow. I run to help him, give him a hug, inspect the damage, tell him he’ll be alright. And he lets me — but just for a minute. Then he turns and looks around, Where is she?

She’s coming, running, ready to do her job. He jumps up, runs the rest of the way to her. Both have arms open wide for the healing hug that only she can give.

It happens again and again. The two of them know their roles perfectly. He trips, she hugs. All better. Best friends.

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At night, it starts with a giggle. Some rustling, a laugh. We hear them talking, telling stories, playing games. Manchild is telling them about his favorite Pokemon, or about how Calvin (and Hobbes) is so funny. Squish is pulling off some sort of physical humor (probably hitting his own head over and over again) while his siblings laugh. Little Miss wows her brothers with the fearlessness with which she breaks the “no climbing on the top bunk” rule.

It’s music and it’s magic and I listen in disbelief. It’s actually happening. They are friends. Pals. Buddies. Allies.

Sometimes it ends with a knock on the door (which we’ve locked so they’ll actually stay put and go to sleep). Someone isn’t in her own bed. Someone is keeping someone else awake. Someone needs to use the bathroom. The spell is broken as the parents intervene.

But when the door closes again, the music starts back up.

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It sounds like a fight. Raised voices. Demands. Ultimatums. Sometimes there are tears. But I try to listen carefully to what’s going on in the back seat as we ride around on the bike and hear instead, “I like you. I want to play with you. You’re my favorite. I think you’re funny. Let’s play!”

It’s hard to hear sometimes, but it’s there. And it’s worth putting up with the crying and the whining and the occasional wrestling match because sometimes even best friends fight.

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When all is calm and dark and quiet, and it’s time for us to finally head to bed, too, we crack the door, tiptoe in, scan the beds to see who is where. Sometimes it’ll take a few seconds to locate them all.

I’ll have a hard time finding Little Miss amidst the stuffed animals as big as she is.

Squish will be lost under the blankets — even with the blazing heat of summer.

And Manchild has surprised us once or twice by having descended from the top bunk to join his buddies in the fray down below.

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Thick as thieves, partners in crime, they egg each other on and have each other’s backs.

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Please Don’t Make Me Juggle

We talk a lot about failing and succeeding, about balancing and juggling, balls dropped or kept aloft. I just wish there was another way. Can’t we just meet each challenge as it comes? Decide what is the most important thing to do right now and do it? Hold on to what we have and move forward?

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I don’t want to feel as if I’m falling, like I’m going to hit the ground. I don’t want to fear that hurt, that abruptness of finding that I’m not able to stand on my own two feet. I don’t want to have to worry that I’m going to drop something and that everything else will fall in the scramble to prevent chaos — only to find that the chaos is inevitable.

But I don’t often get to choose. It’s not my life I’m carrying. I never know what things should be left, and what I should scramble to hold onto. Sometimes the things I think can be left behind or wait until I get back to them turn out to be someone’s most urgent priority, their most beloved possession.

So that is where I get tripped up: what is worth risking the twisted ankle and bruised shoulder for — because everything matters to someone. I may think it would be crushing if I didn’t go to the musical performance, write the napkin joke, sing the bedtime song. But, really, it would only be crushing to me. Someone else could live without it, might not even notice it’s absence.

But then, when I absent-mindedly push the precious, coveted elevator button, or add the last cup of oats to the granola mix, I sometimes tip the scales and set off a reaction that cannot be contained. The tears, the sadness, the anger spill out with unexpected power. They flow through the apartment, the day, and my own spirit. I try to keep a level head, maintain perspective, be understanding, and clean things up, make them better. But still. They seep and leech and before I know it I am covered inside and out with guilt, disappointment, confusion.

How did this happen? How did I get so off balance that I could cause such a devastating blow? How did everything change moods and directions so suddenly? Will I ever be able to wash out the stain from this particular spill entirely? Will I carry it with me, a sad reminder of my inability to be aware of everyone else’s feelings and prioritize them appropriately? Will I be able to purge it and start over again, clean, happy, pure . . . naieve?

Or am I destined to be sadder but wiser again and again and again, until I am burdened — and balanced — with that sadness and wisdom.

I guess that’s why we talk of juggling, of balancing. We worry about falling, and dropping things because we carry everyone’s feelings in our hands, and everyone wants to be on top sometimes. And the risk we take for trying to make that happen is that sometimes, they all fall down. Even our feelings. Especially our feelings.

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