Singing my kids (and my neuroses) to sleep

IMG_0631.JPGAt bedtime a few nights ago, the girls were giggling and telling Joe, “Do it again, Daddy! Do it again!”

So Joe re-entered Neve’s room, stood at the foot of her bed, and starting crooning “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” like a jazz singer wannabe.

My brows hunched in full-puzzlement mode. This was what led Lily and Neve into hysterics?

But then Joe arrived at the song’s bridge, at which point he started jumping up and down, and his face, though still smiling, became more intense. It was as if Black Flag’s Henry Rollins suddenly appeared, pounding out iconic lyrics as angry thrash metal: “Someday I’ll wish upon a star and wake up where the clouds are far BEHIND MEEEEEEEEE!!!!!”

The girls both doubled over, laughing so hard their eyes watered.

And I thought, “Thank you, universe, for these crazy, crazy people.” Continue reading

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Family life in the Easter/Passover divide

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On a few mornings during this past week, my 4 year old daughter Neve has crawled out of bed and asked, “Is today when I can’t eat bread?”

When I say, “No, that starts Friday night, when Passover begins,” her whole body visibly relaxes.

It’s more than a little comical. Neve’s (admittedly very narrow) eating life focuses primarily on things not kosher for Passover: bread, dry cereal, and hummus. This is a girl who often eats slices of bread as a snack, so the thought of going without her first food love for several days is clearly causing her a little, well, tsuris.

In the past, only Joe kept Passover – since he’s the official Jew and all, in addition to being an adult – but last year, we took a step toward easing me and the girls into this holiday tradition. The compromise? We left bread items in the house, but none of us were allowed eat any of it when we were at home during those 8 days; and when the girls ate at school (and I ate at work), or out at a restaurant, all Passover bets were off.

This year, though, we’re trying to go all in. The girls are intrigued by the idea of gathering and selling our Chametz – though Neve keeps mistaking that word for “hummus” – to a neighbor and then buying it back after Passover; I am, too, since I’ve never done this before. And in this post-layoff time of upheaval and transition, I’m making a more concerted effort to be a little adventurous, and thus keep depression and self-doubt at bay. Continue reading

Surprised by Joy: Toddler Edition

Neve, after she recently squished a Smurf. (Or colored her hands in "washable" blue marker. One of those.)

Neve, after squishing a Smurf with her bare hands. Or applying “washable” blue marker to her palms. One of those.

Part of the bedtime ritual around here consists of me carrying Neve – after she’s been changed into her jammies and had her teeth brushed – upstairs to her room while chanting “Books with Mommy, books with mommy” repeatedly, climbing one step for each syllable. It’s catchy.

So catchy that Neve usually sings along quietly, anticipating the time we lie sideways on the queen bed in her room (which used to be the guest room before we moved the crib in there) each night by lamplight, reading “Corduroy,” “Silly Sally,” “Bear Snores On” and other books, our heads sharing the same pillow.

Even though Lily has her own reading time with Joe or me before she goes to sleep, she’s lately asked to be part of “books with Mommy.” So of course I said yes, but told her that Neve gets to choose the books.

We grab a second pillow, I lie between my girls – who like to snuggle under their old baby blankets while I read – and we read. Which is lovely, because only lately has Neve been engaged in books Lily would enjoy, too. Books with a story. (She’s getting there, I’ve been thinking. Her little brain’s developing, just as her vocabulary is exploding.)

So last night, after an unusually peaceful night, wherein the girls even helped Joe make quesadillas for dinner, we enjoyed “books with Mommy” together and Lily left the room for her own bedtime preparations.

I lifted Neve into her crib, and at first, things went as they usually do. She flopped out on her stomach in the darkness, with a blanket over her, and I rubbed and patted her back through the bars.

Normally, she’s out in minutes – she’s my easy sleeper, folks, believe me – but last night, she was restless. And that’s when a small miracle occurred. Continue reading

The curative power of little girls, ducks, and evening walks

DEARTH OF DUCKSI love working in a newsroom. I really do. The people who work there are generally quick-witted, articulate and intellectually curious, and when news big and small (and sometimes absurd) comes over the transom, the place pulses with a vibrant electricity. It’s a fun place to be.

But on days of national heartbreak – which have become too common lately, with the Newtown shootings in December, and the Boston Marathon explosions on Monday – it becomes a place where these same great people must work to do something productive with the harrowing news that we’re all receiving simultaneously. And while there’s something inspiring and impressive about this act, the consequence is that there’s no escaping the story, on our screens or in our minds, since we’re all constantly tuned in for updates and information.

So days like Monday are hard. You feel angry and frustrated, because even though the statistics still stand wildly in favor of your family’s safety, you can’t rid your mind of that infinitesimal possibility of sudden destruction and loss. (You reflexively want to gather your family in your basement and only occasionally come out for food.) Such thoughts consumed me when walking my little daughters to preschool three days after Newtown. And now I’ll feel this during my next run through our neighborhood, and my next 10K race.

Right now, people are pledging to run to honor today’s victims, wearing old race T-shirts, changing their profile pictures on Facebook, and giving (online) voice to a collective sense of sadness and fear – all of which reflects a populace struggling mightily to find a way to respond in a positive way to the violence.

And while the cynical part of me thinks these symbolic gestures will do nothing to prevent these tragedies from happening again, I have to remind myself that there’s really nothing substantive any of us can do – writing my Congressman with a request to “get Americans off the crazy-train of violence” doesn’t seem particularly useful or effective, either – and that these small acts aren’t necessarily about solving the problem, but about grieving the loss, honoring the victims and survivors, and reflecting on the value of life. And most of us would rather do something than nothing – so we run, we pull on a shirt, we update our status, we virtually rend garments.

Still, as the clock inched toward five o’clock on Monday, I locked up the house, as I do every day, and I walked down the sidewalk toward the girls’ preschool.

Once I got there, things were chaotic, as usual – Neve was crying and desperately pulling me toward the door that leads to the playground, while Lily was throwing every item from her cubby onto the ground and obsessing over some “bracelet” she said her teacher was supposed to put there – but as unpleasant as this push-and-pull phase of multi-child parenting can be, the girls’ micro-drama nonetheless forced me to focus solely on them, solve (or at least distract them from) their problems, and exist only in the exact time and place I was occupying.

That’s something you hear a lot about if you practice yoga – being present and all that – but there really is something to it. In yoga, it’s because if you’re not focused on what you’re trying to do, and how you’re approaching it, it won’t happen. You have to focus on various parts of your body and the teacher’s voice. And that’s one of the main things I’ve always loved about the practice: it gets me out of my neurotic little head for an hour here, an hour there, and then everything else that worries me doesn’t seem quite as tragic or awful. Continue reading

Why it’s never “just like Mom used to make”

On Wednesday evening, we had a Rosh Hashanah dinner on our enclosed back porch that – aside from the addition of some Hebrew prayers, and challah, apples and honey, and candles on the table – resembled a typical (read: maddening) family dinner involving an infant and a 3 year old: Lily immediately started whining about not wanting to eat what was on her plate; when we coerced her into trying a bite, she cried, red-faced, with her food-stuffed mouth hanging open, and she wailed that she didn’t like it just before she spit it out; Neve woke up halfway through the meal, grumpy and hungry, so Joe held her while I shoveled the rest of my dinner into my mouth and left to feed the baby in a more comfortable chair; Lily started negotiating how many bites of each part of her dinner she needed to eat to qualify for dessert, and asked Joe to put some peanut butter on a piece of challah; and finally, when Joe and Lily had had their dessert, I finished feeding Neve, handed her off to Joe, and headed to the porch to have my dessert course alone.

“What did you get?” I asked Joe, who’d picked up various items at the Franklin Cider Mill the night before.

“A pumpkin pie. For you.”

I popped open the plastic container and cut a slice for myself, resuming my place at the table. The candles were burning down, the world was rainy and dark outside the windows, and the littered, abandoned battlefield of the dinner table, which I would soon need to clean up, lay before me.

But then I tasted the pie and thought of my mother. Continue reading

Contending with a midlife crisis and pre-partum depression simultaneously: An existential double whammy (or, “Is That All There Is?”)

During the month that this blog lay dormant (and we attended a dozen different events), my general mood and outlook regarding the future took a swan dive and pretty much, on a day-to-day basis, remained 20,000 leagues below the sea.

This is no coincidence, surely. Blogging, and having people read and respond to what I’m writing, is therapeutic and always makes me feel good about the parenting perspectives I’m throwing out into the world, no matter how small my “audience.” Yet when I’m honest with myself, my low-grade depression wasn’t just about missing my creative outlet; it was also a larger wave of “Is That All There Is?”-ness. One that was temporarily threatening to drown me.

Now, for those who don’t know me that well, this is not typical – despite the fact that I’ve long assumed my place in the ranks of neurotic writers. (Yes, the minute any of us hear of the professional/artistic successes of friends and peers, we’re among the first to sincerely, excitedly congratulate them – and THEN we lock ourselves in a closet for several rounds of “Why aren’t I achieving things like this?” self-flagellation.)

Generally, I’m somebody wants precisely what I have. Strong, fun, committed relationship with someone I adore, who prioritizes me and our daughter and makes me laugh? Check. A job involving things I love to do (learning through research, talking to fascinating artists/people, and writing)? Check. A quirky, cheerfully painted old house in a neighborhood that hosts block parties and is footsteps away from a small downtown? Check. Good health? Check. And co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family members (including crazy little Lily) who play a positive role in my life? Check.

So is my problem simply a self-indulgent luxury of white, middle class existence? Which is to say, have I become one of those annoying people whose “problem” is that their dreams came true, for the most part, and now they just don’t know what to do with themselves?

I’ve been tempted to dismiss my ennui this way. It’s an easy explanation, with the added bonus of having a built-in, guilt-riddled “get over it, crybaby!” sensibility. But as is usually the case, things surrounding this funk were, I think, more complicated than they originally appeared. Continue reading

Lily’s first Mommy-less weekend (Spoiler alert: she survives!)

Me and the lovely Danielle, who lives in Minneapolis

For the first time since Lily was born, I took a solo trip to visit friends this past weekend, leaving for the airport Saturday morning at about 9 a.m., and returning home on Sunday at about 6:30 p.m. 

I felt nervous about this, but I ultimately made the decision to do it because I’ve been desperately longing to spend some quality time with my far-flung girlfriends (check out this previous post on the topic). Distance makes it hard enough for adults to maintain close friendships, but throw some babies and toddlers into the mix and it’s damn near impossible.

So when I heard that three close friends would be communing in Pennsylvania, I thought about how travel would only get trickier after July, when our second baby‘s due, and thus decided, on pretty short notice, to just go ahead and go for it.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that anxiety about my decision didn’t enter the picture – far from it. Though I was excited at the prospect of some aimless gal-pal bonding time, the potential for guilt loomed large as I imagined tearful calls from Lily telling me to come home. NOW. (Shudder.) Just thinking about this filled me with dread. Continue reading