Category: writing (page 1 of 10)

Sometimes You’re the Kite, Sometimes You’re the Anchor

It’s really not fair. Anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that Micah gets to go to work each day, that it matters what he wears or if he has bedhead. It’s not fair that he gets to sit in meetings where he shares ideas and people listen, that they appreciate his expertise, that they will take his advice.

He doesn’t live his life with a capricious and mischievous two-year-old as a constant companion, a little being who can turn a simple trip to the grocery store into an epic battle of wills. He can have insightful conversations with the people he spends his days with. He doesn’t have to remind his co-workers 7 times in a hour to sit and do their work, or revoke various privileges when they once again lose focus and start chasing each other and fighting over a stuffed monkey.

It must be nice, I think, to be compensated and appreciated. To be able to be promoted. To switch jobs if necessary.
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But then again, it’s really not fair and anyone can see that.

It’s not fair that I can wear my pjs all day and it would be totally appropriate. It’s not fair that I can sit and watch “Clifford The Big Red Dog” in the name of quality bonding time. It’s not fair that I can write whatever I want and work on whatever projects interest me the most.

I don’t have to worry about making enough money to take care of the family. I don’t have to set my own ideas aside or refashion my creative impulses to fit somebody else’s vision. I don’t have the pressure of so many deadlines or the worry of what could happen if I didn’t make them.

And I’m sure he thinks it must be nice to have the best hours of the day open to whatever I want: a run in the park, a get-together with friends, a lazy day of reading and playing make-believe.

Sometimes it feels like I am the anchor to Micah’s kite, letting him soar up above the trees where he can see spectacular views and feel the rush of the wind in his hair. It feels like I’m stuck on the ground, nothing to see, nothing to do but watch and wonder what it’s like up there.

But other times, I feel like I am the kite: flying, diving, tossed about. Beautiful views, yes, and exhilarating speed. But a bit unsteady and unsure. It must be nice, I think, to be on solid ground and surrounded by people and things, to be able to sit and relax for a bit, instead of always being pushed around.

The truth is that sometimes I am the kite, and sometimes I’m the anchor. And sometimes Micah is the anchor and sometimes he’s the kite. Sometimes we are a little bit of both. And sometimes it feels like we are both caught in the tree, tangled and trapped without any feet on the ground or any heads in the sky.

But that is the price of marriage and family and love and life. And it’s boring and it’s crazy and it’s a drag and it’s a party. And I’ll take it any day of the week. (null)

A Different Kind of Watchfulness

I haven’t changed a diaper in weeks. In my mind, this was always a long way off. Diapers were, I suppose, the last vestige of babyhood, and my babies were never going to grow up. We were never really bottle people. Sippy cups were always short-lived. Cribs and highchairs became superfluous long ago. But diapers were eternal.

Until a few weeks ago when Little Miss refused to wear one any more and very suddenly developed the motivation to use the toilet.
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She’s not perfect at it, of course. We still have to watch her, still have to look for the potty dance and be in tune with her liquid input/output ratio. We’re not always great at reading the signs, which is why the other night, when she woke up with the strangest cry I thought she just wanted me to lie down and cuddle with her for a minute. It wasn’t until we were both lying in a puddle that I realized that cuddling was not her most urgent need.

But really, I’m not here to talk about pee.

It’s more about the watchfulness. Watching for Little Miss’s dance, listening for her distress, yes. But her particular milestone is probably the most obvious thing to watch for these days. Her needs are still so physical, her emotions roll around on the floor and jump upandupandupandup. There’s no hiding them, and it’s easier to address them.

The boys, however, are growing too. I no longer feel like I need to watch them so closely on the train platforms. I don’t always need to hold their hands as we cross streets. They spend so much time at school and then do homework and read and eat dinner and go to bed, it almost feels as though I don’t need to watch them at all.
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But then again. They are away from me so much of the day. There is so much I don’t see or hear about. It’s not so much that I don’t need to watch them as much as it is that I need to watch them differently. It’s not their physical safety that preoccupies me like it did when they were younger and more impulsive. They—especially Manchild—are old enough to hide their feelings, to downplay the things that are most important, to feel it keenly if I don’t attend or respond as they’d hoped.

So I try to watch for the subtle smiles and blushes of pleasure, the quick blinking of downcast eyes, the dragging feet or involuntary bouncing. Their emotions don’t always roll and roil, bubble up and spill over like they used to. But that is, I believe, because they are felt more deeply. To not see them, or acknowledge them, would be to draw a curtain between us, one that could blind me and prevent me from warning my kids of dangers I could have protected them from—dangers that could leave scrapes and scars and bruises and burns that no one, not even they, can see.

They’re such good kids. I say that often, because it is true and because I want them to know it and because I need to remind myself of it. But I hope that by saying it so much I don’t let it become a shield or blinder against more urgent issues—and leave us all lying in a puddle of shame and regret.(null)

River Rocks

I want to write a thousand or two words on this. I want to say everything about it and say it beautifully, the way the images are in my mind. But if I try to do that, I’ll never write anything and it will be just another thought that was laid to rest in the graveyard of good ideas. (My section of that particular plot has grown quite a bit this year. Sigh.)

Sometimes things happen. Sometimes they are little things, and sometimes not so little. And sometimes those little things make big changes in your life. Sometimes things you think will change everything actually change very little.

A few weeks ago, I listened to Terri Gross’s Fresh Air episode memorializing Tom Magliozzi, who with his brother Ray, did Car Talk on NPR for a long time. The brothers got started on Car Talk (or more accurately, on fixing cars) after Tom had a near miss with a semi-truck. He wasn’t even hit, but it was close and it shook him deeply. He quit his job, started living on unemployment, and was rethinking his life when Ray came in to help him figure things out. It was from that event—the near-miss—that they started their garage, which led to their radio show, which led to much advice and laughter and philosophizing—and a legacy worth celebrating.

It is hard to believe that they weren’t born into that life. They seemed like such naturals. But they did, in fact, have very different lives planned.

And then a rock tumbled into the river and turned it a completely different way.

The way that it turned was not direct. It wasn’t planned. It wasn’t as if the rock fell in, blocked the way, and they looked around and said, “Oh, you’re right, we should be heading that way.” It was a slow process. It was gradually feeling things out and seeing what worked and what didn’t—where the good ground was and where they needed to adapt a bit more.

That adaptation led to uncharted territory that was, I’m sure, both beautiful and strange.

There have been times in my life when I have waited with eager anticipation to find out how my life would adapt to rocks and logs and that I have seen coming into my path. And there have been times when the ground I thought was solid was suddenly washed away, changing the course and the shape of my life abruptly and unexpectedly. I’ve been caught off-guard by how easily I, and others, adjust to what initially seemed to be life-altering events. And I’ve been equally surprised by how little things can force major changes.

I’ve wondered where and when those rocks will fall, that ground will erode, the logs will catch and hold and even looked ahead to see if I can see them coming. But I’ve rarely pondered the beauty they leave in their wake: the raging rapids, the slow and sinuous stream, the still ponds—serene and secretive, or the rolling falls dropping in powerful plumes, showering and spraying and misting, mystic and mysterious.

But even with that anticipation, and even trusting that those obstacles will lead to unimaginably beautiful places, the process of adaptation is uncomfortable, uncertain, undeniably distressing. Carving new ground is hard. Finding solid footing is fraught with potential failure. It can be disheartening and dizzying to feel things out, seek a new way, wade and wind and bounce against boulders.

Then again, beating the boulders, finding a way, moving and adapting and following through—that is where the beauty is made. That is where lives are changed and loves are claimed and new ground is discovered and legacies are built and shared.

What To Do When Your Sister Is Kind of a Jerk

Yes, back in the day my sisters and I had plenty of sit-on-each other moments. Probably some hair-pulling. Maybe some name-calling.

I probably got what I deserved. I was super stingy with sharing whatever clothes happened to be exclusively mine (there really weren’t many) and didn’t do much to get out of their hair. Instead, I was the pesky tag-a-long sister who really doesn’t see that an age gap is much cooler for the younger kid who gets to hang out with the older ones than the other way around.

In fact, as a teenager, I wanted very little more than to distinguish myself in some way. To be different. To have my own clothes and my own room and my own identity. I didn’t want to drive my siblings around, I didn’t want to play the same instruments, I didn’t want to be part of the pack.

And then there was that one time when it seemed as though all my hopes and dreams had been rudely snatched from my hands. Life can be beastly at times, and the beast reared its head at the end of my senior year when school acceptances and scholarship notifications were making their way to many of my friends’ mailboxes. Mine, too. Only when I opened what I expected to be a happy letter turned out to be a strangely harsh one that left me questioning all my hopes and dreams.

I cried for days. And days. And days. I made it through school in a haze and went home and cried some more.

One day, there was a knock at my bedroom door. I opened it to find a plate of freshly baked cookies and a note from my sisters letting me know they loved me and wanted me to be happy.

I don’t know if that was a turning point, exactly, but it helped. (As did a letter my mom wrote which led to the discovery that my application had been misfiled and that everything was coming up roses after all . . . . )

I kind of think that experience is emblematic of what sisterhood is. Yeah, sure, you’re kind of a jerk and pretty imperfect. But sisters are willing to cut you some slack and pass you the chocolate chip cookies.

Gotta love them.

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Sisterhood in Motherhood

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I have four biological sisters. Eight sisters-in-law. A handful of friends who have honorary sister-status in my mind and heart. And dozens and dozens of others who are my sisters in motherhood.

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We have cried and fought, borrowed clothes and lent baby supplies, shared secrets and shames. We’ve looked after each other’s kids, spent hours talking on the phone, stayed up too late laughing, and then brushed it off to spend another day doing laundry, making meals, cheering for first steps, and teaching to read.

 

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These are women who have my back, whose advice and judgment I trust, who are beyond mom-shaming and cat fighting.

This month I’m celebrating sisterhood here on Mother Runner—from the big ways my sisters in motherhood have supported and inspired me to the day-to-day words and acts that sometimes get me to bedtime without breaking down.

 

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Some of these relationships have grown and matured over decades (my sister no longer sits on me and demands that I name the top 10 cutest boys in my class) while others, though younger, skipped the superficial stages of friendship and went straight to the heart sisterhood from our very first meeting.

 

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I would love to spend the next month in a weeks-long Girls Night Out with all my girls (or GNOFF—pronounced “guh-noff” as my sisters and I call it) reminiscing and recounting and eating too much chocolate, but I can’t. Everyone has too much to do. Kids and husbands and life and all.

But I’m pretty sure that sister month on Mother Runner is the next best thing. Or close enough, anyway.

 

If you have a story about sisterhood to share, let me know! lizzie@motherrunner.com

Commentary, Here and Elsewhere

I honestly didn’t know when I wrote my last post that I would be “expanding my reach” so soon. I pitched Motherlode a month ago and had been thinking it was time to move on and shop my essay around elsewhere when I found out they wanted to run it. You can read it here. Along with the commentary. Oh, yes, the commentary!

That’s something I’m learning to deal with. The questions. The insinuations. The declarations of disgust. Not just on my writing, but on my life in general. I admit that I bring it on myself because I do live my life relatively publicly—via my writing and my cycling/running/walking. I—and my family—are often out in the open. We’re not cocooned in a car with the radio turned up, deaf to whatever anyone else may be saying about us. It’s hard for me to not want to respond to everybody. I really want to get the last word, to clear up misconceptions, to give the whole story, not just the little bit I am able to share in 750-1000 words.

Mostly, I don’t read the comments on my essays. Mostly. But that doesn’t mean I can’t hear what people say. Today, as I loaded up the bike with all my purchases from Costco (yes, I rode my bike to Costco), some lady walked by mumbling something about the crazy lady with her bike. Mumbling about me. Just loud enough for me to hear her. Some other women had walked by earlier and mentioned how brave I was. I know the line between ‘brave’ and ‘crazy’ is sometimes a thin one, and it’s probably true that I am often dancing all over it. I don’t mind. I think other people are crazy and/or brave for the way they choose to live their lives, too. So I tried to shrug it off as I rode steadily and surely back home.

Which, I suppose, is the best anyone can do in the face of criticism, whether thoughtful or off-the-cuff. Sift out the bad and hold onto the good. It’s clearly something on my mind because last week when my friend Koseli asked me to contribute to her new blog, Bored Moms, the best thing I could come up with was this: that it’s worth dealing with the criticism to be part of the community—and I mean both the physical community we encounter riding around on a bike and the virtual community we encounter when I share my experiences online.

I hope that the net result of sharing, of being seen, of living my life authentically and boldly, is positive. For me and my family, of course, but for those who take the time to notice and engage and comment, too.

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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.

Partying Under Pressure

I’m somewhat paralyzed by the task of writing anything these days. I’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. I’m afraid of saying nothing. I’m afraid of saying too much. I’m afraid what I write will not do justice to what is happening in my mind and my heart.
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But then again, I have so much to say that I might as well just spill.

So, here it goes: I’ve been really stressed about all the interest and attention I’ve gotten because of my essay about Manchild. Obviously. Nobody expects that kind of reaction. And I’m sure I’m not the only person who has been caught deer-in-the-headlights when something like this comes barreling out of nowhere.
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I’ve cried about it, I’ve joked about it, and Micah and I have talked a lot about it. Our conclusion is that we should have fun with it. Have fun with the TV interviews, anyway. Don’t worry about what they may or may not do for my career. Just go and say what I need to say, enjoy the experience, remember it for the family history. But then really go for it with the writing.
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The first part has been pretty easy. I’ve done two more interviews, a live one at 3am last Wednesday morning for The Lorraine Show in the UK. Micah and I went up to the studio while my sister slept on our couch in case the kids woke up. I sat in a tiny room, looked into the camera with a microphone clipped to my dress and a speaker in my ear, and talked about how I felt that I was empowering, not endangering, my child. (Here’s a link to the clip. I haven’t gotten the video to play, but let me know if you do!)

The second was for the CBS show The Doctors. Manchild and I flew out to LA for the taping. He wound up sitting in the dressing room at Paramount while I went through wardrobe, hair and make-up, and a couple of pep talks to hold my own and feel free to jump in and speak my piece. Which I did and it felt good. Maybe that’s what a pair of borrowed shiny black heels will do for you. (Ha!) The show won’t air until later in September, so watch this space for details.
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So that’s it for the fun. I don’t have any more interviews lined up. However, we are staying with my sister for the weekend, so maybe there is still fun to be had until Monday.

After that, no pressure, but I really want to write something good.

“Chores” Doesn’t Have to Be a Dirty Word

I’ve been accused of not letting people help me out enough. And I’ll own up to it. Sometimes it seems like it’s just easier to go ahead and do whatever needs to be done rather than ask/teach someone else to do it. But even I could see that things couldn’t go on forever like that — especially since I have a growing labor force in my very own apartment. It makes no sense for me to feel overwhelmed by needing to pick up clothes, do the dishes, and sweep the floor when I could simply do one of them and give someone else a chance to feel useful and capable and like a contributing member of the family.

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Of course, I may never have taken the time to teach it if I weren’t also writing about it. And in the process of teaching it, I realized a lot of things: foremost among them is that it only takes a few minutes to save myself a lot of frantic pin-balling around the apartment as I bump from one task to another hoping that I hit everything before I collapse.

Here are the other things I learned as I passed off some of my homemaking/housecleaning expertise to the Manchild:

It’s Time For My 7-year-old To Make His Own Lunch

I’ve been really happy that, so far, there hasn’t been much whining and griping. At least no more than our usual Saturday chores elicits. In fact, the boy seems happy to help and pleased that he is being given more responsibility — for the moment, anyway. And while I do sometimes feel a little bad that he is often asked so often to help when his siblings are running wild, I’m coming to terms with the fact that people actually do want to help. Even if they are my own kids, and even if it is “chores.”

Safety, Trust part 3

Earlier this summer Manchild brought his Calvin and Hobbes book to me, as he often does, so I could explain to him why exactly he’s laughing till his sides hurt. This particular strip had Calvin shoveling snow, contemplating life, and complaining of the unfairness that someone as intelligent as he is was reduced to performing manual labor. It seemed the Manchild kinda got it, but was fairly distracted by the idea that a 6-year-old was allowed outside by himself.

So I gave the spiel about how Calvin lives in a different place and time than we live, and how Brooklyn isn’t the place for even 7-year-olds to be out and about alone. But all Manchild could do was give me a look and say, “You know what I’m thinking, right?”

“That we should move some place where you can go outside by yourself?”

“Yep.”

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We’re not going to move. Not yet. But I can sympathize with the boy’s predicament. I’d actually been thinking about it quite a lot before Calvin shone a light on the issue. I mean, do I really need to take Manchild with me every time I go to the laundry, which is just around the block? Or the grocery store, which is right next to the laundry? And if I don’t need to drag him away from his books, how can I feel good about leaving him alone?

And that is how this summer became the “Summer of Safety” in which I let Manchild spread his wings just a little bit. Longtime readers know that this is something I’ve thought about a lot (see part 1 and part 2), and this time I got to put my thoughts into action.

I wrote about our endeavor for Babble, and you can read the first 2 (of 3) installments here:

Bye Bye Helicopter Mom

Yes, My 7-year-old Is Old Enough to Stay Home Alone

Up until this summer, I thought I had been giving the boy age-appropriate freedoms and responsibilities, but I was wrong. I’m way behind on a lot of things (though part of that is because of well, Brooklyn) but I am much more conscientious now of the need — for both me and him — to be aware of things he can do himself, and to give him the opportunity to try.

Where are you and your kids with the balance of freedoms/responsibilities? And how do people view that kind of thing where you are from? (In Brooklyn, people seem appalled if you don’t have your kids within arms reach at all times. Today some ladies were shocked when I left Little Miss sitting in the stroller outside our building while I ran 20 feet down the sidewalk to help Squish get up after he crashed his bike again.)

Oh, I’ll let you know when the last post goes live.

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