Wednesday, December 18, 2013

I may lack fine motor skills.

Dear Friends:

The next time I imply that I am time-strapped and overwhelmed by responsibilities, please remind me of that night when I decided to spend the good part of an hour driving to a nearby friend's  (at 10:30) to borrow back our shared bottle of corn syrup, whipping up (stubbornly runny) vegan royal icing to dress my army of whole-grain, vegan ninja men. With a fancy cocktail toothpick. Obviously unsuccessfully. Attempting to painstakingly build eyes, and a random red belt, from artificially colored, artificially everything did not help.

I give up. The rest of my wholesome—and truly delicious—ginger ninjas will run nude. All natural sweeties. Plus, looks don't matter, right? It's all about the stuff you're made of. How you treat other people. These spicy dudes treat well—and they kick the asses of those seriously sandy (in a really bad way) gluten-free Sandies I attempted a few years ago.

That is all. Good night.


Monday, December 16, 2013

I suck at stories.

I call myself a writer. Jon is an engineer. Our children—like all children—love stories. And in this family, one of us parents is constantly creating fantastical stories: full of magic and forests, dragons and fairies; the other tells tales of two little brothers who get lost in the woods or boring "mini-shorts" about animals who learn that it's awesome to be different, and it's important to be nice to people.

I am "the other." I suck at telling stories. (Jon rocks but who's comparing.) Sure, my brain churns out fiction but it tends toward character development. I've never really gotten very far with plot. That's why I've only dabbled in short stories and why writing a novel, even a really bad one, feels way harder than running a marathon. But even if I were able to draft a novel with a solid plot, it'd be fraught with family secrets... or it'd circle around one moment, one event, or one meeting that unraveled relationships, or saved a life. I don't know what exactly—but drama kids definitely don't care about.

Nevermind  the topic or tone, anyway. Telling anything on demand, isn't something at which I excel. Particularly at the end of the day. I try. Tonight, I told Julian about a monkey who loves oranges and all the other monkeys make fun of him but his mom tells him that he is so special for loving what he loves and, because she and his dad and his brother collect bananas, the oranges make their dinners more colorful and delicious. This 30-second story was lame-ass and Jules told me so, nicely. And because he was super sleepy and because I actually am a good back rubber, I got off easy.

Not so with Kai. I started with a story of many dinosaurs. His request. This story was about a carnivorous dinosaur who'd decided to become a vegetarian. Kai demanded that I include a pterodactyl, an allosaurus and a "long neck." So I made the allosaurus, a carnivore, the star. Basically, he walked around looking for plants. I named all sorts of plants. I asked Kai to contribute. He added onions. Brilliant. So the plot became that the dinosaur had bad breath and his friends taught him to eat mint. Kai thought this plot lame. He was right.

"Tell me about the long necks."

"What should I tell you about the long necks?" This is what I do. I turn the tables, looking for interaction, or a team-effort exquisite corpse sort of story approach. It never works.

"Long necks are brachiosauruses, Mom," he says, exasperated.

I try my best to think of something, talking about the long-necked brachiosauruses looking for food in trees. It does not suffice. I offer a back rub.

"I want a stooooorrrrry!!!" Kai begins kicking me. For real. Kicking. And punching.

I literally am incapable of producing an acceptable story. I tell him this. He keeps kicking and yelling. I leave, walking downstairs, telling him I won't listen until he can be nice. Moments later, he appears at the bottom of the steps.

"I'm angry at you, Mom." He snarls and growls. Literally. I laugh. He is not joking. This is serious—and I am fucking up. I get serious.

"Why are you angry?"

He runs up stairs, screaming—and sobbing, like his feelings are hurt. I follow. He reiterates that he is "angry at [me]" and turns away from me to face into a large plant in the corner of the hallway. I tell him he needs to talk with me about why he's angry, or to go into his room for some alone time (after he sits on the potty because he forgot to do that earlier and I'm sick of washing sheets... I didn't say that last part). After a bit more snarling and pouting he reveals that he's "very angry at me" because "he wanted more story and a snuggle."

We go back to his bed and I cobble together a tale about a beautiful girl with long green curls and purple basketball shorts. Her name is Sack (Kai's choice). She's sad because her brother is at school and so she has no one to play basketball with. She rounds up a bunch of insect teammates (reminiscent of those in James and the Giant Peach - I have no imagination). They walk to the court and... to be continued. Tomorrow, I'll tell the story of who they encounter there...

This story was incredibly lame. But Kai snuggled it all up with his "favorite blankie" and, with heavy eyes, started nodded off, satisfied.

I feel only defeated, a storytime failure. I'm sure there's a some sort of solution out there for unimaginative parents like me and I'm going to find it. And get more sleep, so that my brain isn't too tired to tell tales. Perhaps I should start reading books about fairies and dragons instead of ones about mothers dying of cancer. I could use a little more magical thinking, across the board. How 'bout you?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Glitter will earn you a pat down.

I have some helpful travel insights to share:

1. Glitter will earn you a patdown. Apparently the cozy sweater I changed into for the flight home was littered with glitter. Lest you start imagining some shiny bedazzled duds, here's a picture:

Subtle. So subtle I didn't notice till I got the no-go from the scan machine and quick pat-down from a super nice security officer woman who noticed the glitter right off. Later while lunching in the terminal, I noticed a woman wearing a long-sleeved shirt made of sequins. I wondered whether her screening demanded a call to airport security. 

2. If you want a fantastically loving phone call with your newly present-obsessed kids, order something from Amazon to arrive while you're away. When traveling without my kids, I normally call before their bedtime but the conversation is always a little disappointing. I can't tell which boy is talking and, typically, neither one is all that into chatting (typically I'm trying to connect right when shit is hitting the fan at home). I just end up feeling sad. Last night, we couldn't get the timing right so I phoned this morning, at 6:45 am. The kids were thrilled to hear from me—and I quickly learned why: a package arrived, from Amazon, and they wanted to know if they could open it. Noooooooo, I thought and started to panic that I'd clicked too fast and kid-gifts were coming here, instead of going to my secret storage, at Ri's. I quickly logged in and realized that the package was actually the LifeFactory sip top for Ri. I'd also meant to sent this to her house but it was A-OK to open... phew. The boys didn't care who the package was for—they just wanted to open it. And I let them. Via Facetime. I was a hero. 

So, to recap—and to rephrase: 1) during this glitzy holiday season, pack the glitter; dress plain if you're riding on a plane and 2) go ahead and send the right package to the wrong address; it might have a unexpected silver lining benefit. 

Monday, December 9, 2013

I can imagine loving-kindness.

I’ve been navel-gazing.

It started with a yoga/movement/writing/visioning retreat that was to be an early birthday present to myself. I really have no words to describe this experience. But if I did I probably wouldn’t share them here. And, in fact, sharing words at all was verboten for the second half of this two-day workshop. Which wasn’t easy for me.

I talk. I question. I prompt. Incessantly. That’s why I became I journalist. That’s why I like mingling at parties full of people I barely know and why I often strike up conversations on playgrounds, in lines, airplanes. Or at least, I don’t shut them down.

But my yoga/writing workshop experience proved not only that being quiet has its benefits (which I know) but also that I was capable of staying silent and, if forced encouraged to keep my observations and opinions and inquiries to myself for a somewhat extended length of time, I might be rewarded with realizations. Important ones.  After all, that’s what happened at the transformative (there’s a word but it’s an insufficient one so it doesn’t count) yoga/writing workshop.

Maybe I won’t be rewarded with profound realizations. Maybe, in these moments of quiet, I’ll just come up with stories, fictional shorts that serve to entertain me—and in some cases even inspire compassion, loving-kindness.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been traveling a lot in the last week. Uncharacteristically, solo. No kids. No Jon. Just me. And, to strangers, I’ve remained mostly silent. Which, as it turns out, that makes me more observant.  And imaginative.

As an eavesdropping voyeur, it’s been fascinating to listen to the dynamics of couples in stressful travel situations—mostly caused by snow and sleet but in one case, by a passport-verifying machine that forced one half of a two-person family unit to back down, cancel out and join her other half, two spots down, in finishing  his half-completed customs declaration screen. She. Was. Pissed. Her wrath was directed at Brian—that was his name—but we all got to hear it too. Brian and his domestic partner continued bickering. Like children. Did Jon and I sound like this? In public? I thought back to the man sitting in the Burlington terminal a few days earlier: so optimistically relating his (unfortunate) travel situation to the woman on the other end, the one who kept asking the same questions over and over again, in a kind yet-totally-annoying way. (Amazing as it may seem, I was eavesdropping on BOTH sides of this telephone conversation.) He seemed to be so happy to keep repeating his answers. I marveled at their considerate conversation—it seemed so nice.  Again, I wondered: where were Jon and I this Brian-and-his-angry wife/remarkably-kind-couple spectrum.

Twenty minutes later I came across a 50-something woman with strewn-about suitcases, bright makeup and big hair. She was in the process of combing her hot-rolled tresses in wide strokes while a growing line of stall-exiters waited in line to wash their hands. Who is this woman and why is she hogging up the counter with her vain primping? And – ew, gross – surely those strands are going to land all over the sinks. Then the story started forming… she was off to meet a guy she’d fallen in love with online. For the first time. Of course she wanted to look nice. Now I was rooting for her.

And then, tonight, just minutes after takeoff, the guy in 15D slumps over, his sleepy head falling over the invisible line dividing his side from mine and starts snoring. I feel an almost irrepressible urge to poke him. I want to tell him to SHUT UP. But my mind starts reeling: he’s a very anxious flyer. He’s medicated to get through. I pull out my iPhone and the headphones I’m grateful to have remembered and I start listening to “Marathon2012”—one of the few playlists I’ve synced to this device. When I tire of that, I turn to “Relaxing,” which consists of one 7:45 minute song that was supposed to be the soundtrack to Kai’s birth—till I requested that the doula switch to a running mix. The 15D Dude’s snorts sound over the ambient chimes. I feel twitchy. I want out of this seat. I remember how 15D slammed down our shared armrest and occupied all of it without even asking. Surely, he’s just a big jerk. I have no feelings of loving-kindness toward this character in the next seat. 

Maybe I should wake him up and ask him where he’s going? Did he have any delays? Did he wake up at the crack of dawn and that’s why he’s so sleepy and must snore so close to my shoulder.  I wonder. Maybe I should ask. But he's sleeping so I don't. I just sit and wonder. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

I have an interesting way of evaluating risk.

Newsflash—You shouldn't give this to your kid:

The glass. (Seriously? C'mon now.)

YOU go ahead and drink your wine out of a Ball jar (wine enthusiast friends: you might feel a little better to know what's in there is Three Buck Chuck). And you go ahead and use that photo-ready, budget-friendly juice jar to pack your yogurt parfait or that perfect portion of oats to make at work (both brilliant ideas of friends). Or screw on a Cuppow! and call it a trendy vessel for your green smoothie or iced latte. Bake preciously presented sweets in your Ball jars. But don't hand them to your 3 or 5-year-old who suffers restless leg-and-arm-and-hell-it's-the-whole-body syndrome. 

The first time I become aware of the dangers of Ball jars was via email—a note from Julian's teacher informing me that the 4 oz. glass jar in which I'd sent grapes, possibly even halved so he wouldn't choke (the ridiculous irony - he's FIVE), had broken. Jules was devastated because he thought I'd be mad. She'd sent the note so I'd make sure he knew I wasn't upset with him (man, I'd better lighten up if this is what he thinks). Really, what I think she'd really meant to say was this: "What the f*ck is wrong with you, sending glass jars in backpacks with a kindergartener?" But she's a super-nice person so she sent what she sent. With a smiley face—to make me feel better. Thing is, the dangers of glass shards hadn't even occurred to me. I've produced two magazine features on how BPA kills (or something like that) and, thus, have a complicated relationship with plastic. I shared this story with a (kidless but apparently far more sensible) colleague who nodded knowingly and, a few days, later handed me some stainless-steel canisters. (Thanks again, B!)

You'd think I would have learned from this lesson. But no. I've continued to give my children beverages in Ball jars, "tightly supervised," of course. So when Kai carried his water cup (glass Ball jar) with him from the table to the bathroom to brush his teeth last night, I thought nothing of it. When he set it on the back of the toilet so he could stand on the seat to look in the mirror while he brushed, I thought "gross." And when got into a tiff with Jules over who got to squeeze the toothpaste first and swept the glass to the floor with a flailing limb, I was all "oh SHIT" (silently and for that I give myself much credit) and whisked them both out of the room so I could clean up the scattered, shattered glass. I did a thorough job, I thought, with wet paper towels and all. I meant to go back to double vacuum after bedtime. I forgot.

Tonight, Kai, refusing to be corralled for bed, ran into the bathroom and wedged himself between the toilet and the wall (again... gross!)—then pulled out a bloody foot. Slashed, with a shard. We bandaged him up and he seems to be just fine. I'm a tad traumatized. Guilt-ridden.

So if you see my kids in the next few weeks, or months, or years, out, sitting at a fancy table sipping from stainless-steel water bottles, eating their halved grapes, you'll know what's going on: I'm overcompensating. 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Angry runs have their place too.

I've written much about the therapeutic effects of a good run. The story usually goes something like this: I'm so anxious I'm about to explode, so I tie on my shoes and run away, music turned loud. I return refreshed, renewed and ready to rejoin the world.

But sometimes—on days when the stars and my brain chemicals clash in the worst of ways—the "run relief" story takes a slightly different shape. It's usually when I'm mopey and teary and snippy and snappy and Jon (bless his heart) basically sweeps the boys up and orders me to run. I don't want to go but I say "ok, 2 miles." Sometimes this compliance takes longer. Today, it took a while. And, today, because it is November and because, today, I hate November, I decided to run on the treadmill. I wanted to run by myself (sorry, Digs), in my dark grey basement. Sorta like listening to Elliot Smith to cheer you up when you're feeling down (ridiculous), it seems now as I write this. But we've haven't set up the treadmill yet and there aren't any outlets where anyone might expect them. Which PISSED ME OFF and made me ask myself, why did we buy this house anyway? I'm prone to overreact. Particularly on days like this.

So then I decided I would not run. I would clean. Until I looked at the piles of papers everywhere and got overwhelmed. I pulled out some yoga pants and the running shirt that makes me look like a speed skater--or a condom, depending on who you ask. I looked for any iDevice that had music and a charge. I snuck out the front door. (Sorry, again, Digs.)

I sprinted up the hill and cursed the neighbor who clearly needs a new invisible fence for her fierce-barking but friendly dog. Then, lungs burning, I slowed to my typical pace. I passed the home we bid on and lost, the perfectly situated house that looks especially fantastic on the outside. I realized I was being a complete ungrateful asshole and just kept at it. I cursed along with lyrics, aloud, until I realized that people were out raking leaves and I looked and sounded like a dangerous crazy person.

At the point where I could make a right turn and tack on another mile or so, I took the path lazily traveled, stubbornly refusing to give in to my body, which was saying, "keep going - you really should do a five-miler, today." I'd said two. And that's what I'd do. On the final stretch, I didn't feel euphoric. I felt itchy (literally), a little guilty for leaving Digs behind and sort of annoyed that I didn't keep going. But, on the bright side, the 20 minutes I'd spent stepping to the beat of Girl Talk had kept me from drinking, eating and saying things that I shouldn't.  And now, writing this, with a glass of lemon water leftover from last night's dinner—a delish tagine made by Olin—I feel grateful. Much better.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"What it is" is pretty great, really

Planned vs. Actual, Part I: 
Here's how I'd planned it: I'd wake up early and make a delicious breakfast - omelets with lots of veggies and roasted fingerling potatoes, from Pete's share. We'd hang out, rake leaves as a fam, then Jon would go for a long run with Demps. During this time, the boys and I would make thoughtful cards and lavishly decorate a Funfetti cake (not my choice but it's not my birthday) with leftover Halloween candy. We'd hang a birthday banner and balloons. Jon and the boys would toss around a football in the backyard while I prepped chili and pulled chicken for the birthday dinner/football game.

Here's what actually happened: Someone woke us up early to view his incredible candy collection. Then he played with his candy collection. Then he counted his candy collection. Then he added to his candy collection by stealing all of his brother's candy. Drama ensued. Trying to preserve a peaceful birthday for Olin, I scraped up the children, grabbed Demps, and headed to Ri's for a walk in the woods. I figured whatever Jon might do with this alone time would be better than what was happening with all of us at home (I was right). We walked, we lunched, we shopped at Hannaford's—all with the assistance of Ri, my angel. At one point, a child "melted" into the floor of the bread aisle. I hissed. I tugged on the sleeve of a puffy coat. I walked away, did some deep breathing exercises, turned turned back and talked the kid onto his feet, all while struggling not to pop open the bottle of wine in my cart (Predator).

When I got home no one wanted to make cards. They were eager to ice the cake, but the kid who was acting all generous just a few days ago apparently could spare only two candy cigarettes (he called them candy candles)—just one item of his 98-piece candy collection—for the cake. At this point, I was all "whatever" and just let the cake-making happen as it would, finger licking and all.

Friends came, dinner came together, and then this happened:

Indisputable joy.

Planned versus Actual, Part II: 
I'd written "We are grateful for... " on our chalkboard wall the other day and when our friends arrived this eve, all anyone (that'd be me) had come up with was "music." And... so they got to work. It's a bit off from what I'd envisioned but it works. I am, we are, grateful: friends, fun,, music... and one certain handsome, grateful, fantastic Italian-Finnish (American) dude who, today, celebrated turning 37 with a stingily decorated finger-licked Funfetti cake.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

They care.

It started as I would expect Halloween eve to start: I encouraged bites of burritoes and broccoli while Jon rushed around setting up the candy station for the trick or trickers and looking for the various glow devices grandparents had gifted for the occasion. When we finally located the luminescent accessories in a random drawer with dish towels, placed there "so I wouldn't lose them," we cut our losses and hit the road.

Jules was dressed in the awesome werewolf costume my mom designed for him but refused face paint. "I look cuter this way—not scary—so I'll get more candy." Kai had already dissed his werewolf on his way out the door this morning.


"I want to be Wolverine," Kai had pouted, tossing the furry hat to the floor. 
"Werewolves have big claws too," I reasoned.
Knowing how important it is for three-year-olds to be dressed like all of the other superhero three-year-olds at school, I quickly located the Batman costume. In the laundry room. Soiled with something that I hope to be chocolate (good chance: it was on the chest). Batman's cape/mask was missing but I managed to find some Spiderman headwear.  Kai was thrilled. Success. 

It was windy and rainy. I missed our old hood: Ri stopping by to see the boys, the sidewalks, the streetlights, the Jastatts. But the boys' excitement was contagious. They wanted candy—loads and loads of it. I'd expected this. What I didn't expect was everything else. 

Jules would charge up to each new door and shout: "Trick or Treat for Unicef!" and push the tiny cardboard collection box out for quarters, often before taking a piece of candy.

And Kai... Kai was just taking in the night. I'm pretty sure that strolling the (dark, dark) streets with Kai, aged 3 1/2, will remain in my top ten cherished-moments memories of our "young family" days.

About halfway through our trick-or-tricking, we caught up with some friends. Jules would run with the pack up to a door and I'd hang back with Kai, who continued to mosey along at his own pace. As the other kids were already racing up to the next house, he'd climb the stairs of the one everyone else had just left, carefully keeping his balance as he clutched his plastic pumpkin in one hand and glow sword with the other. 

When the door swung open, he'd shout "trick or treat!" and leisurely select a piece of candy. Often he would drop his glow-sword and his bucket to grasp the new treat with both hands and make a very theatrical (but sincere) show of smelling it. "It's peach," he told one neighbor, of the lollipop he'd plucked from her bowl. At another house, he told a Skittles-proffering woman that he "LOVED SKITTLES" and he'd already gotten some... and started digging around to find it as evidence. "But I like to have two." At the next home, he insisted on showing the man giving him a Reese's Cup a box of candy he'd received it because "the superhero on the box turns into a rock." At every stop, he made sure to wish everyone a "Happy Halloween," sometimes following that up with a "and have a good night." He took plenty of time to admire the Halloween decorations. Each and every one. 

And as we rounded the corner for home, Kai slipped his tiny hand into mine and whispered, "those last candies - there's two in there - I saw the picture on the box. One for you and one for me." My heart exploded. 

Back at the ranch (converted into a contemporary home with no categorical style), 5-year-old Jules engaged in the expected candy counting. Moving at a productive pace, he'd managed to accumulate more than twice the loot of his younger brother but was acting relatively generous about it all. On a quick FaceTime with my parents he even promised save some candy to share with them when we visit at Thanksgiving. But Jules' tear-jerker moment came later, when I was hounding him to brush his teeth "after all that candy." (Cliche parent, I have become.)

The kid was sitting at the table shoving coins and dollars from his little wallet into the Unicef box. Jon joined us at the table and Jules asked him, and then me, for more dollars. Carefully folding a five-dollar bill into the slot, Julian explained: 

"We need to get lots of money so we can help people. Look at the things we can get for them with this money..." He pointed to the illustrations on back of the box. "You can get fruit bars." (Protein bars.) "Or soccer balls. And they die early. So you can survive them if you get them shots. But I want to get all the way to the water. They have to walk REALLY far to get water." His eyes were wide. His face was flushed. "They have to walk as far as it is to get to my school," he said. "And when they get there it is MUD. They drink mud. I want to get them clean water." 

I get teary—again—writing this. That kid is getting an extra piece of candy tomorrow. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

It's not always about proximity.

The memories are vivid yet totally random. Aunt Cora leading us through the dusty trails behind the Bessemer quarries. We were looking for fossils and spotted a "bear" - a big black garbage bag. A visit to their old Toronto house, the one with the awesome pool patio. Parts of this memory are so clear I can almost feel the cool linoleum against my feet in the book-packed basement that was my bedroom during that stay. Pretty sure it was the visit launched "The Mickler News," the short-lived family newsletter, copied for distribution by my dad at the steel mill.

I remember the trip to Houston to see the Marcums when I was in, I think, 8th grade. The air pressure on the airplane messed with my ears so badly that I couldn't hear right for two days. I read a book at the Astros game that Uncle Steve had so sweetly planned for us. I hated baseball. It was during my total-asshole period. And another trip to Houston, many years later, for Liz's high school graduation. The girl cousins went shopping. The boy cousins got shirts that said "security" and wore them for the party. There was plenty of pool time. We mostly all drank too much. I'd gotten the flight on Priceline at the very last minute. Fuck the budget. Family trumped finances. It was so worth it.

Still today, I can hear Aunt Mini rapping brilliant nonsense on a kid microphone in my mom and dad's basement after Angelo's high-school graduation in 1996. Hanging with Uncle John and Aunt Mini at the Johnson Club after Teta's funeral more than a decade ago. Mini was wearing my grandmother's fur coat (the one no one could bear to donate after she died) and a Rastafarian wig hat with dreads. Costumes, on this side of this fam, are a theme.

UB is always in costume—so I'm not sure why anyone was really surprised when a werewolf turned at Liz's wedding this past weekend, mid-reception. There are so many UB memories, new and old. In addition to costumes, most involve aggressive driving, chocolate, wine, dapper attire, gourmet food, relaxing jazz, runs and coffee. (In no particular order). Many involve surprise appearances. All involve multimedia recording devices. He's the family paparazzo. And the bon vivant. He's also the one with the crazy eyes—and the coffees—pictured up above with Aunt Mini.

Except for my Uncle John/Aunt Janet/Cousin Sam, the members of my mom's immediate family have always been at least a six-hours drive away. Yet my connections with this crew are incredibly close. Is it effort? (Probably not - I'm not that good at keeping up, honestly. UB gets the award for effort. Sister Kate comes in a close second). Must something else, like, we all got big chunks of the same DNA. Or something.  I wonder. For a bunch of people who grew up on all different corners of the country, we seem to share a lot in common: there are a bunch of talented musicians (I am not one of them) and another group of people who work in helping fields (nurses, therapists, etc.). There's sizeable group of  loud, like-to-dance types (I fit in there). Overall, we're an emotional bunch. Maybe that's it. I just don't know. But we really, really like each other—or so it seems to me.

Maybe we're just lucky.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Sometimes he just knows.

It started simply. I'd been feeling frumpy. I blamed it on my growing-out hair and too little exercise. And decided that I could turn this all around by buying a new dress for my cousin Liz's wedding. Silly me. 

It was an impulse decision. Up until this point—less than two weeks before the event—I'd been planning to wear the same black dress I'd worn to at least a dozen formal events, and a half-dozen weddings, in the last fifteen years... jazzed up with a new scarf, perhaps, or whatever fun accessories I could steal from my sis. The same black dress I wear to "serious" business meetings with staid corporate clients. I didn't want to wear this dress. I wanted a fun one. 

My day job didn't allow time for actual shopping so my sister advised Modcloth and, there, I  found an instant winner—a turquoise vintage-y frock, if you will, by the (sort of) same designer in a style very similar to the flattering but summery red one I wore to two weddings this summer. I had no doubt it would fit. Perfectly. 

It arrived. I couldn't zip it. And then with the help of Jon and my mom, I could zip it. But barely. And it restricted my ribs. And my lungs just a bit. I flipped. I was angry for deciding to order a new dress at the last minute. Why did I have to be so frivolous!? Why didn't I just wear the tried-and-true-if-boring black dress? I was angry that it didn't fit. It's all that wine-drinking without running, I whined. (Not sure how that would slim me in the ribs but...) But the thing that bothered me the most: I'd have to take the time to return this damn dress. To actually put it back in the box, tape it up and take it to the post-office, less than a mile from work and mail it back. For free. HOW WOULD I EVER DO THIS? Needless to say, I overreacted. A little.  

Somehow, after working through all of this, my mom and I ended up at TJ Maxx just before closing. And I bought this: 

Dance recitals aside, I have never before worn something like this, which means I do not own any shoes one might consider wearing with it. So I went a step further and purchased tall, strappy heels that I would typically never wear in real life. Because I can't walk in them. Mom and I somehow convinced each other that I looked awesome.  I started thinking up the matador-type moves I could on the dance floor. Hell, I might even do a Paso Doble with Jim. Or UB. This was going to be fantastic.

I came home and showed Jon, who simply raised an eyebrow. I sent my sister a text. She did not respond. Jon convinced me to try on the blue dress again. I could zip it all by myself. It was still tight but seemed to have stretched. We agreed that I should take it to the tailor to see if she could let it out, just a bit. And that's just what I did. I pick it up tomorrow. (I also returned the dress above, and the sexy, strappy shoes.)  

In the meantime, Jon surprised me with this sweet pendant to wear with the might-fit, or might-not-fit let-out dress. It's labradorite, a shimmery pale blue-green stone that will look just right with teal. Or black, if that's the way things go. Which will be fine because, as it turns out (Jon had no idea), this gemstone is purported to have a calming and harmonizing effect, "making it a very good stone for quick-tempered people."  

Sometimes he just knows.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

MVP has taken on new meaning.

MVP doesn't mean Most Valuable Player. Not anymore. Not in my new world. 

These days, MVP stands for Minimum Viable Product, a simple solution that can be deployed quickly. It's not perfect. It is attainable. It's what you can produce right now to fill a need, to solve a problem. Feedback welcome. 

This aiming for what's attainable is a new approach for me. Oh, I've tried it before. In fact, I'm a big fan of Anne Lamott's school of shitty first drafts. In theory. I've never been one to stop myself from over-editing. Overanalyzing. Over-thinking. To the point of paralysis. Because I have a problem with perfectionism. (Which, by the way, never leads to doing anything perfectly.) 

Anyway, lately, I'm realizing perfect isn't the point—and reaching for it doesn't pay off. I'm learning this at work but I'm applying it at home. When I'm packing J's lunch, I ask myself a very corporate sort of question: What's the low-hanging fruit here? And I'll tell you: it's the fresh already chopped pineapple that I picked up at the EatingWell farmer's market (free giveaway from the test kitchen), the leftover lasagna that simply needs reheated. It's a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie that I made from a tube of Cookie Love batter. 

It's good enough. Because, in the end, nobody cares about who played things best. Just get in the game. Focus on your best assets. Keep evolving the rest. Am I right? 

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's time to put down the coffee.

It's not like I was checking Facebook. It happened while I was attending to the little guy—who was shouting through the window to shut the door "so mosquitoes wouldn't get in." Mosquitoes only would have gotten into the mudroom, plus it was 7:30 am, but that's besides the point. I wanted him to feel he was being heard. (And I wanted reinforce this way of thinking, in a house that typically has at least one door totally ajar.) I stood up and shut the door.

It was an awkward half lounge/left-handed door shove, and I was gripping a canary-yellow coffee mug (that I don't even like very much) in my right hand. And what happened as a result was that drops of my cafe au lait showered down onto Julian's Fossils of Lake Champlain coloring page.  My heart skipped a beat. But Jules started laughing (an automatic reaction, it now seems) so I thought we were good. I expected bad—after all, my autopilot coffee-sloshing had ruined his work—but all seemed good.

So I said this: "Let it dry. You'll have tan spots but it will be okay. I'm sorry. It was accident. It was my bad - but totally an accident." 

It was the apology that seemed to stoke the reaction I'd first expected: cry, following by rubbing (which ripped a hole into a yet-to-be colored coral creature of some sort), followed by accusations and demands that we go to back to the museum to get another page to color RIGHT NOW.

We couldn't go now -  the bus was 2 minutes away. He had school. I had work. We would go on Friday when I was taking the day off, when he was off of school. The promise did not placate. Jules was pissed. With good right. I mean we all make mistakes but it doesn't seem okay that a careless coffee-splashing door-slammer should be able to get away with ruining your art in a single sloppy lunge. And without any apparent consequences.

It was a wake up and smell the, um, coffee moment. I move mindlessly from moment to moment of my day, coffee cup in hand. It's sort of ridiculous when you think about it. So I'm imposing a penance: Only 2 cups of coffee today. Sitting and savored. I'm sorry, Jules.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Bull sharks live on land.

I was the kind of kid who spent many gorgeous summer days lying on the glider with a book. A biography of  Helen Keller or Babe Ruth, another installment of Sweet Valley High. Didn't matter. If I started it, I didn't want to stop until I finished. On these days, I didn't care who was playing baseball, racing bikes, swimming at the quarry or selling lemonade to fund the acquisition of GI Joe guys. I just wanted to read. 

So you can imagine how excited I am now that my boys love books and that Julian, ever since starting kindergarten some weeks ago, has stopped pushing away my finger when I drag it along the words of the books he's picked out at the library. The boy has taken a serious interest in learning to read.

He asks what the letters spell and now, each night, it's become our routine to have him "read" a book to me and Kai. For about a week that book has been about Star Wars Heroes and Villians. Eh. But tonight, that hero/villian book could not be found. And so I suggested my recent and fantastic Goodwill find, a book about sharks and rays. If you know me at all, you know that this equals awesome.

Pittsburgh Zoo, Fall 2009
But it gets even awesomer. Because when Julian reads, I mostly just listen to whatever story he gleans from the page. (Right... wrong, I don't know—but I'm going with right because it seems to be a great confidence builder.) Anyway, these are the fantastic things I learned about sharks today:

  • Great white sharks have really big, big teeth, which makes them FIERCE. And they have pink tongues and they are white. And great.
  • "Hammer sharks" (I couldn't resist correcting this one) have eyes on the the end of their heads.  Hammer sharks, I mean hammerhead sharks, are really FIERCE and they like to bang their eyes. Hmm....
  • Bull sharks are really FIERCE and they have really big teeth. And they eat bulls. (There was a illustration of a bull on the page, people. This was a logical conclusion.) And that's why bull sharks live on land some of the time.  

I love age 5. So, so much. 

Monday, September 30, 2013

It really is all about perspective.

Tonight, at dinner, we went around the table and—when Julian called upon each of us (the boy is big-time into school rules)—we shared something good that happened to us that day. This is the stuff you read about in books: the warm fuzzy family moments that come together when everybody's good moods and energy levels align.

Jules told us about his two "Terrific Tickets." These are tickets, Julian has told us many more times than once, that you get in Ms. Emily's class for being "terrific"—using your manners, being a good friend, listening well. Today, apparently, he earn a ticket for offering up his spot to a friend and then another for saying thank you when he received that ticket (that second incentive seems too easily earned if you ask me).

Jon shared that he'd had an exciting day cause he won an award for doing good work.

Then it was the turn of the "person... with the white shirt that has black things on it... the person with the black hair... and the blue eyes..." Note: I am the person with the white-and-navy dress, with the (dyed) dark-brown hair and the eyes that are sort of more green than blue. But Jules, obviously, was referring to me. So I took my turn. "I was very lucky today to get the hole in my tooth fixed. Very lucky that now it's all better." And I couldn't resist tacking on a lame lesson: "But my dentist said I need to be more careful: I need to brush my teeth better and eat less candy." Lie: What the dentist said was I need to stop clenching and grinding, or I should buy a $1000 mouthguard, or I should plan to keep coming back for the same missing filling (not to mention the worn-down molars). But never mind that. Kai was up.

And excited to go. "I got pushed down on the playground and hurt my foot and I cried and cried," he said.

Jules, the moderator, points out that we're sharing good things.

"No, no," Kair corrects him. "It's OK, because I'm a tough guy."

God love this boy. Kai had an apparently awesome day despite the fact that his friend pushed him down. And made him cry and cry. (Jon says I can't ask him which friend... Why the hell not?)

And, actually, I had a pretty awesome day too. Truly, I was grateful that the tooth situation was so straightforward, that the dentist got me in this afternoon, that my job is flexible enough that I could jet out and back - a little late lunch if you will. Yes, half my face was numb, I had some sort of rubber dam in my mouth and someone was suctioning away my saliva, but I got to close my eyes, lean back and listen to not-bad jazz for 45 minutes or so in the middle of my workday. It wasn't yoga. But it wasn't half bad.

Now, I sit down to work (quick blog diversion). Tomorrow's dinner is bubbling on the stove—it's got coriander instead of cumin and basil in place of oregano, due to a delayed shopping trip. No big deal - I'll hit City Market soon. Coltrane is playing. Another night, I'd be cranky to be having to work after the boys are in bed. Instead, I feel grateful to have this work—work that I like, work that draws upon both my writing and my nutrition worlds, work that I can do sitting on one of great-Uncle Frank's Barcelona chairs, drinking coffee and then Moroccan mint tea, while all of my boys sleep.

These kinds of good days—days when everything feels just fine, great even, despite "emergency" fillings—are, I think, the best days of all.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

When my body says run, I must obey. Immediately.

Another note to self: When all the world around feels sad, scary and fragile and your mind can't seem to settle on the tasks at hand because it keeps swirling around situations that can't be solved, go for a run. Don't let the turbulence tornado into an emotional cloud that leaks tears mid-meeting (sorry, mates). Go for a run. When your brain keeps spinning, spinning—like the rainbow circle of death, don't rage against the machine. Don't keep hitting keys. Leave. Run. Restart.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Crazymaking on a Sunday night is a sin.

Note to self: After spending an incredibly fun weekend catching up with awesome old friends and watching your kids become awesome new friends, don't ruin it by walking into the house and ordering everyone around. Do not try cram a week's worth of obligations into as many hours as you can stay awake: grocery shop, do 100 loads of laundry, make dinners for the next five nights, complete "emergency" work tasks. Savor the Sunday-night. Let the boys play for awhile in the tub with the blue Lush soap. Snuggle them for an extra song. Have a glass of wine, read a book, check in with your sis. Wake up at 4:30 if you must. But don't ruin a great weekend by acting like an idiot on Sunday night. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Running to work rocks.

I got to run to work today! I live close now and didn't have any after-school kid-pick up duties. Coincidentally, it might be the most beautiful day of the year. Score.

I haven't been running enough. Perhaps my body senses that and is instructing my brain to make up running-related mantras. Things like this just keep popping into my head:
  • No run, no wine. (This is a set-up for failure.)
  • No run, no whine. (This is a good rule.)
  • Slogging isn't sprinting but it's better than sitting. (I aspire for my manifestos to ring more Holstee than Dr. Seuss but hey...)

Got any running mantras to share?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A single act of kindness still inspires me.

We all have memories. How could we forget? No way. But as the years have worn on, some of my vivid images of the day have given way to memories of memories, rituals of remembrance.

It happens every year: the calendar catches me a little off guard. Maybe it's an a meeting reminder, or it's a quick glance at the clock on my phone. And I see the date: September 11, whatever year. Sometimes, on a perfect blue-sky day in August or September, I'll be walking through a lot, or driving in my car and have a deja vu moment. I get confused. Is today the anniversary? It's not. But it's close.

And when it does come, I've noticed, in the last few years, the same—or very similar—mental cycle starts. First I notice the weather. Blue skies. Mild air. My kinda day. That's just what I was thinking when I walked the few blocks from New York Sports Club to the Conde Nast building, feeling fantastic after a morning workout. Today was much balmier. I note that.

Then I remember my reactions to what was happening before anyone was totally certain what was happening. Watching the second plane hit on the television in Meg's office, my first thought was, "what the hell is going on with air traffic control?" Terrorists weren't on my radar. This response still scares me. Am I that clueless, so slow to catch on in a crisis?

I think of how hard it was to find out if people were safe. The lines were all tied. Then I text my friend Todd, tell him that I'm glad he's alive. I do this every year.

I think of how lucky I am, not to have lost anyone I loved. I think of how much it must suck to be one of the people who did. I cry. I cry for those people. I cry because I'm not as grateful as I should be for the lucky life I have.  I cry because on most days, I'm too busy trying to get shit done, or too distracted by the small stuff, to stop and appreciate how beautiful the sky is. To laugh. To have a real conversation. To call my mom, or K, the friend with whom I emailed back and forth about the Pentagon on fire on the morning of 9/11. We were inseparable in college and I still consider her one of my best friends but we rarely talk. But that's life? Or is it?

I stop crying. And I think of Molly. We'd met just two weeks before when I started my job at Self.

"I know you're just getting to know everyone here, and I know you live in Queens," she said. She hugged me. "I live on the Upper East Side. You're coming home with me." We evacuated minutes after that, and she and I walked side-by-side and, at times, hand-in-hand, from 42nd Street to her apartment. From a sidewalk outside a TV store, we watched the second tower fall. I stayed at her place until late in the evening when the subways opened and I felt safe enough to go home. (I think. This part is fuzzy.)

How do you become the person who—when the world seems to be crashing down all around you—thinks to go over to the new girl in the corner cubicle to make sure she's OK? I want to become that person. And every September 11, my memory of Molly's kindness that day inspires me to try harder.

Crying again.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Sales goals start early.

"Mom! I gotta show you something."

He is so excited and, in turn, I'm eager to see what he's got to share. These last eight days (he's so precise about quantifying how long he's been a kindergartener), getting information out of him hasn't been easily. I'd been warned this would happen. That's OK. I respect that he's got a life of his own. But I'm so curious. I try not to bombard him with questions but I'm trained as a journalist. I probe: Who did you sit next to on the bus? Did you play with new friends? Did you have art class today? He's actually quite generous in his answers. But offering unsolicited info about his time at school has been rare.

So this "something" had to be good. He's shuffling his backpack, his lunchbox, trying to find what he's looking for—and here it is:

A pamphlet full of prizes—we're talking Jelly Eyeball Flashing Rings, Sneaker Key Chains (for his all of his keys, natch). Prizes you win for asking relatives to give you money in exchange for expensive cheap-looking wrapping paper and "fancy" bad-for-you packaged foods and magazines that you can get for free because you work for them. (Yes, yes...  I am a bad parent. I promise I'll make up for it by happily baking cookies for soccer tournaments and handing out water at fundraiser runs.) 

"You show this paper to everyone you know," he tells me, waving the prize pamphlet. "Like your Grandma and your Papa and everyone. And then they get things and you get things." 


"Yes, a special guest came to our classroom and told us all about it." 

At this point, Julian's stuff is all over the floor. He's talking with his hands, excited, waving the paper under my nose. I try not to rush him—he's really into this—but I'm getting antsy. Jon's stuck at a job site, so I am on (unexpected) double pick-up duty. If we don't leave, um, now, Kai will be standing solo on the playground with the preschool's director. Even though I left the office half an hour early—rushing out of of a meeting, ironically, about how to meet next year's aggressive sales goals—I am somehow late. 

We hurry to the car and I try to see it all through his eyes: it's a win, win. You get this, and I get this. I really should adopt a good attitude: I mean, who doesn't need a mini sandwich maker set, or a peanut butter and jelly spreader? But I can't get past that the fact there's someone—a special guest—out there who's selling my kid, age 5, on selling. I can't quite nail down, in words, just how I feel about that. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

I have more leg warmers than you.

... including these royal blue ones that bought seven years ago when I was a Crayola crayon for Halloween. Yes, when I was 30.

I also still have this "Vote for Pedro" shirt that I wore when I was Napoleon Dynamite a Halloween or two before that. In fact, I wore it to paint my living room the other night.

I have more T-shirts sporting the logos of sports teams whose rosters I know only well enough to name a player. Or two. (Gifts from a hopeful sister Kate.)

I've got an army of thrift-store-scored pants with a flattering fit that's no longer in style waiting patiently for the day when they might look cool again. And a pair or two of skinny jeans wondering if I'm going to give up my red wine habit or grabbing almonds by the handful every time I walk through the kitchen (unlikely)—or just give them up to a grateful slightly smaller friend.

I've got too many flip-flops and more boots than I need. I have warm winter coats that I keep just in case someone comes to visit and they forget I live in Vermont. Socks with acorns on them. Fleece socks with acorns. Which I keep because they're comfy—and then wonder why I feel frumpy.

I donate clothing freely but can't seem to let go of some of the most ridiculous stuff. Can anyone explain this to me?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Boys will be... balanced.

I've got a fantasy football draft going on downstairs (Jon) and a kid who won't wear a shirt unless it has a number on it. And is mesh. This one also has taken to wearing a helmet around the house. Steelers, naturally.

Both little guys are all about forts and fighting—and, tonight at the dinner table, farting. (Reprimanded big-time. Boundaries.)  They're obsessed with superheroes and pirates, dinosaurs and rocks. "All boy," people like to say. I hate that—and they're not. Whatever that means. I love rocks. And dinosaurs. Fighting and superheroes (with the exception of Batman, a real person) not so much.

My stylist admiring his teeth.
Besides, J's favorite color is pink. He digs rainbows, gems and jewels. K asks to wear nail polish, which I embrace—using less-toxic formulas, and only on his toes. He's a thumbsucker. We tint them coral and teal, alternating (a new word for him). The polish mysteriously disappears after a trip to Grandma's. The other day Kai and I went shopping for his new shoes and he insisted that I try on a pair of hot-pink leopard-print jeans, topped with green-and-blue striped tank. "You look beautiful, Mama. Wear them." Um, no. But I like your style, kid.

I always say that Jon's best qualities come from the fact that he has two older sisters. I attribute some of my more likeable traits to growing up on a dead-end street with a bunch of boys—where we played backyard ball games and raced bikes, traded GI Joe guys and baseball cards. It helped balance all the hours I spent in ballet. A bit.

I don't know where I'm going with this except to say that while people like to say I'm totally outnumbered over here I really don't see it that way. At all.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I have trouble with steady.

The other day, running (uphill), I launched into "lamp-post" negotiations: when I reach that pole...  I started thinking...  I'll walk. Then I changed my mind: No, I'll run faster. I wanted to keep going, just not at the same painfully steady pace. In this moment, kicking it up, pushing harder, was far more appealing than chugging along.

I'm sure there's plenty of science to explain that tendency but, right now, I'm too lazy to look it up. Pretty sure it has to do with dopamine. And instant gratification. And all the things that make me constantly crave new things. A tricky thing for a mom of two with a full-time job and a mortgage. There's a lot of routine in my world. A lot of Groundhog Days.

On one hand, there's daily evidence of rapid change: Soft buttery bellies have leaned out and are starting to ripple into skinny-boy six-packs. (The adults 'round here are evolving in the opposite direction, albeit much more slowly.) And, still, some definitive firsts. J boarded a school bus for the first time last week. K refused to wear a Pull-Up to bed tonight. (I deferred on that and will probably be paying at 2 am.)  Milestones—yes. But not mine.

I've just come off a big run of years marked by proposals, big plans and pregnancies, promotions and well-received pitches. Major purchases. Attention, recognition, acquistion. All exciting stuff, great for unleashing big hits of dopamine—a chemical that drives us all and me, I have evidence to believe, moreso than others. So that was good. But my cadence these days is different. My world is mostly about maintaining and sustaining, improving status-quo systems—and ones that are constantly shifting. Going with the flow, patiently, with a big-picture focus. Trusting that I'm not messing everything up without the proof of solid analytics.

I'm not naturally wired to lean into that—but I'm trying. Because I can see that "succeeding" at that effort would be a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The boys had Lucky Charms and donuts for breakfast.

I don't want any more of my ice cream, says the big little man, pushing his dish—not the one pictured below, that's Jon's—away.

I smile inside, thinking: what a smart, self-regulating young man we've got going on here. (This one. The little little man, still at Grandma and Papa's, licks the bowl and then reaches for his big brother's leftovers. Every. Time.)

Then he explains why he isn't going to finish his Phish Food: He had Lucky Charms—and a donut—for breakfast. My teeth suddenly feel filmy. My mind flashes to snippets of all the peer-reviewed journal articles I've read in the last 15 years, the studies suggesting that sugar is rotting our kids' teeth, their bodies, their brains.

As I kid, I was not allowed to have Lucky Charms for breakfast. Or Sugar Smacks. Or even Honey Nut Cheerios. At the Micco household, the breakfast cereal choices were limited to four options: regular Cheerios, Chex, Rice Crispies and Kix (Kid Tested, Mother Approved indeed). I'm pretty sure Jon wasn't offered cereal-candy for breakfast either. But his mom is a Grandma now (a good, fun, loving one, I should add)—and when her grandkids say they are hungry for breakfast, sometimes Lucky Charms are on the table. And, really, what kid can resist?

What's wrong with this photo? 
Much as it makes my nutrition-degreed self crazy to think of consuming such a product for a proper meal (dessert, offered in an appropriate context, is an entirely different story), I've accepted that my in-laws consider "spoiling kids" (their words, not mine) with sugary treats at all hours of the day a bona fide accountability in their grandparent job description. It's fine. It's occasional. It's all good.

I say this... but at some point I must have projected my knee-jerk discomfort with the nutrient-deficient diet the boys consume at the Adirondack cabin. This is obvious because he delivers this breakfast report in sing-song. The kid is taunting me. The cereal-and-pastry confession is followed with this: "... and I bet Kai is gonna be up SO late tonight. Grandma and Papa let us stay up so, so late... like till 9 o'clock." Suspicion confirmed.

I don't react. I see what's going on here.

"... past 9 o'clock. Till 10 o'clock." 

I maintain a normal face. A smiley one.

"No, no! Past 10 o'clock. They let us stay up till 11 o'clock!" 

He's searching, waiting for a reaction. Jackpot. Jon and I are both cracking up. But mostly we're impressed that Jules seems to have developed a pretty solid understanding of time. Which flies far too quickly to be concerned with quarterly sugary cereal splurges.

Monday, August 26, 2013

I have lots to learn about schools today.

"Did you like homework when you were a little girl, Mama?" I love the way he says girl—his R's are still the little-kid kind, articulated in a way that's not quite right but entirely age-appropriate, according to my sis, the speech-language pathologist.

Under my watch (read: restoring him to a seated position every time he cartwheels off the chair) he's completing his first homework assignment, one that prompts him to write in little squares things about himself: what he's good at (digging rocks), what are his hobbies (puzzles, museums and hiking), what kind of ice cream is his favorite (maple and vanilla) and what places he's visited (Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Cape Cod). His responses to this assignment seem to lend evidence to my theory that this  little guy is going to dig school.

What sort of makes sense. I did. And so did his dad.

"Yes, Jules, I liked homework. I still like homework. Learning things is super fun, don't you think?"


What I didn't always like was sitting in a chair, still. What I didn't like was being quiet. Memorizing and regurgitating facts whose importance I couldn't really place in the real world. Focusing on information that felt static. Having to try to concentrate in a silent space. I still struggle with these things. And I think someone else might too.

I've heard amazing things about our community school—and I hope they're all true. I think it's important to know things, a lot of things. But I think it's even more important to be curious enough to explore the space all around the stuff that's known and imagine how you might fill in what's missing, to seek out the synergies that allow for evolution—and to know when it's time to shut the books and play music in your underpants.