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the questions we ask our daughters

snowWe go to the dentist office, and she’s asked who her favorite princess is.

At a visit to the pediatrician, the doctor looks in her ear and asks if Cinderella is in there.

At another appointment, a doctor tells her that all of the stickers left are “boy stickers” and that she’ll go get “some princess and Barbie stickers.” (Both of these doctors were women.)

She’s asked if her favorite color is pink, they are sure she must love pink.  (“No, blue. Blue is my favorite!” she says.)

It’s not that I think princesses or pink are bad, and I know that plenty of little girls love them – there’s a good chance she will one of these days, too.

It’s just that my daughter is so much more.

She loves being read to – Madeline, Harold & the Purple Crayon, The Snowy Day,  Pete the Cat, Olivia, Lowly Worm.

She loves painting and drawing and building tall towers out of blocks and Legos.

She loves playing with her dolls, taking care of her “teeny tiny babies”  and “cooking” in her play kitchen.

She loves dancing, throwing balls, playing train, helping me bake, telling stories, and dancing.

But not many people ask her about what she likes. (And believe me, she’d tell them. She has so much to talk about.) They just take a guess -and that guess usually has to do with princesses or Barbie.  What message is she hearing?

I know that it can be hard and weird to make conversation with a toddler.

But I think we can all ask the children around us better questions, boys and girls. When you do, you’ll hear all kinds of awesome things come out of their mouths.

Ask them what books they like.

What do they like to play with at home? What do they play with at school?

What do they like to do in the snow?

Have they drawn any pictures lately? What colors did they use?

Our children are people, and they all like different things. They have stories to tell, things to share. I would never assume I know what an adult likes just because of their gender – our kids deserve the same respect.

(And, for the record, she took a Spiderman sticker that day at the doctor’s office, and wouldn’t take it off all day. She thinks spider man catches spiders…)

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here & now….. and in about 5 months

It would be funny if I followed up that last post  – about enjoying the moment we’re in  – with a post about a big change coming to our family, wouldn’t it?

We’re expecting baby #2 in late July.

I thought a change like this would throw me into a spin about things we need and don’t have. But I’ve managed to stay firmly in this spot, this here and now. I’m happy to enjoy the time and place we’re in, to make space for a new member of our family within the home and life that we have. 

I know that, just like the first time around, things will change in ways we can’t anticipate- in hard ways and awesome ways.

And, while we wait, we get the pleasure of our almost-3-year-old’s commentary on the whole “baby in mommy’s belly” business. Some recent gems:

  • “Is that lump right there the baby?” (pointing to my expanding midsection)
  • “I can help with a lot of things, but I can’t help get that baby out of you.”
  • “I’ll take care of the baby when mommy and daddy go out. I’ll give her a bottle and put her to bed.”

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here & now

In a few weeks, I turn 33. It feels, well, mostly the same at this point. But also, it feels solid and settled (in a good way), most of the time.

My late 20s were marked by planning and looking ahead: moving, job changes, engagement, planning a wedding, starting a marriage, house hunting, buying a house, moving again, more new jobs, thinking about babies, pregnancy. From 27 to 28 to 29 it was one big step after another. I got used to that pace, to big changes and decisions.

So here I am, a couple weeks away from 33. And it’s so tempting to focus on the next thing. I try to resist searching Zillow for homes we could buy, and Pinterest for $20,000 kitchen renovation projects.

Instead, I want to plant my feet firmly and look around at where I am, where my family is, right now. Let’s just be here, together, a place we’ve worked hard to get to.

We’ve been making some changes to our home and living space so that it better suits our needs right now, and thinking creatively about the space. It feels good. It’s always been easy to find the flaws in our home, to think ahead to our next house, to put off making even small improvements because “how much longer will we be here?” But we’re going to be here awhile longer and it’s been satisfying to embrace our home, give it some love, and make it into the space we want. Financially, it’s comforting to not have a giant purchase looming, to take time to save and build up a little bit of a nest egg.

We have just these few short years of parenting young children. And there will be changes and transitions, sure, but it feels good to just make space for the magic of early childhood. If ever there is a time to just be here, now, this is it.

“Children think not of what is past, nor what is to come, but enjoy the present time, which few of us do.” – Jean de La Bruyère

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DIY Photo Advent Calendar

I spent a few minutes being crafty last week, in the name of a meaningful (and sugar-free) advent calendar. I always loved the chocolate advent calendars growing up, and Evy will too in a few years, but this year I wanted to try something different.

I printed 25 photos of our loved ones (and realized that I need to take more photos of the grownups in our life). I had some kraft paper envelopes that I numbered and decorated with stamps. Each envelope got a photo, and I pinned them to a ribbon with mini clothes pins.

Every day we open an envelope and Evy gets excited to see who’s photo is in there. The photos get pinned to the ribbon, so we’re building a photo display as we go. My plan is to put the photos in an album for her at the end.

At this age she loves opening envelopes as much as she enjoys opening presents. The only challenge is that she wants to walk off with the envelopes or photos, or that she’ll occasionally take everything off the ribbon. Not really a big deal, but I’ve had to repin things more than expected.

This project was simple, inexpensive, and consistent with the type of holiday season we want to create, with a focus on the people we love.

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Giving thanks, daily

The moments before dinnertime in our house can be chaotic, especially during the week. The sprint to get dinner made by 6:30, convincing the toddler to step away from her blocks and come to the table, getting all parts of the meal on the table (and still warm) as we’re finally ready to sit – it’s a rush of activity that sometimes involves tantrums and cold food, I’ll be honest.

It seemed a little nuts, but a couple months ago I decided to add another step to the dinner routine: saying grace, followed by each of us naming something we’re thankful for.

It’s one of my favorite parts of our day.

The two-year old leads us in grace as we hold hands, a little prayer of thanks that came from my family, who adopted it from dear friends:
God is good, God is great
We thank him for our food, family, and friends.
Amen.

Simple and sweet, it gives us that moment to come together and give thanks.

And then we go around and each say something specific we’re thankful for. Hearing a two-year-old’s gratitude is funny and sometimes poignant. Some days it’s simple: she’s thankful for burritos and her toys or chairs and plates.

Other days, she gets a little deeper. “I’m thankful I’m in my house with my mommy and daddy.” or “I’m thankful for all my family: Gramma and Vou and Nonni and Papa and Uncle Michael and Aunt Katie and Uncle Dean and my cousins.” Or “I’m thankful I had a fun day at daycare and that we’re home together now.”

And at just two-and-a-half, she’s learning gratitude and appreciation- she gets it, as much as she can. I’m amazed at what she understands at this age. Last night, Pat went to the grocery store. He came home, and E said: “Thank you, daddy, for going to the store in the cold to get us food.” Nearly every time I serve her a snack or a meal she thanks me – beyond just “thank you,” she’ll say things like “thank you, mommy, for making me this yummy food.” Teaching gratitude is one of my big parenting missions, so I’m proud of her making it a habit so early. Maybe she doesn’t fully understand it yet (it’s a lifelong lesson, isn’t it?), but it’s part of her daily routine.

It’s been popular recently to give public daily thanks in November. I know that every day I have so much to be grateful for, and that sometimes I forget that. Nightly grace and gratitude has given our family a moment to acknowledge what we have, together.

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40 Things the Internet Has Told Me to Be Afraid Of

The internet makes it hard not to be a nervous person – and especially impossible to not be a nervous mom. This is a list of all the things I’ve recently been warned about via links, articles, and blog posts. I started linking to the source of each of these warnings but decided that I’d refrain from being part of the problem. If you’re really interested in what to be afraid of with each of these things, do a quick Google search. You’ll find more than you ever wanted to know. Or email me, I’ll fill you in.

I think many of these are overblown, and/or I’ve chosen not to worry about those. Some of them relate to things I don’t eat/drink/buy/do. A few of them I do worry about. But seriously, let’s just take a step back and take a page from my favorite parenting trend of all.

Things the Internet Has Told Me to Be Afraid Of:

  1. Food that isn’t organic
  2. Food that says it is organic but maybe isn’t
  3. Brown rice
  4. White rice
  5. Baby monitors
  6. Dressers
  7. Sandy beaches
  8. Olive oil
  9. Processed food
  10. Cow’s milk
  11. Carrageenan – and, ice cream
  12. Sunblock
  13. Skin cancer
  14. Co-sleeping
  15. Not co-sleeping
  16. Babywearing
  17. Not babywearing
  18. High fructose corn syrup
  19. White bread
  20. Wheat
  21. Soy
  22. Food dyes
  23. Not eating enough vegetables
  24. Eating vegetables soaked in chlorine/chemicals/dirt
  25. Causing an eating disorder in my kid because I’m too worried about food
  26. Children’s vitamins
  27. Shampoo
  28. Swimming pools
  29. Sandbox sand 
  30. Vaccinations
  31. Declining vaccination rates and a rise in disease
  32. Trader Joe’s
  33. My pots and pans
  34. Too much screen time
  35. White noise for sleeping
  36. Sleep deprivation
  37. Lack of bacteria in my gut
  38. Too much bacteria in my reusable shopping bags
  39. Laundry detergent packets
  40. Damaging my children by being a nervous parent

What did I miss? I’m sure there are dozens of additional things I should be afraid of that I don’t even know about yet.

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loss, lessons, and letters

Sometimes, you don’t get the option of “next week” or “another day” or “when I get around to it.”  Realizing this has been a big kick in the pants for me. And I don’t mean things like “someday I’ll go to Japan.” I mean things like “I’ll send that letter when I get around to it,” and “I really should give her a call.  Maybe I’ll have time next week.”

With the loss of Meg, we lost so much. For me, among the many painful parts of the loss is the fact that I made promises to her that I didn’t make good on. I promised that while she was away, working in far off corners of the world, I would send her packages. And I never did.

But she did. Where ever she was, she let us know she was thinking of us. My 2-year-old has t-shirts from Australia, Thailand, and Dubai to prove it. And while I sent Meghan notes via email and Facebook and shared photos of the t-shirts in action, I never got around to sending those packages or writing those letters. I will always regret it. I’ll regret that I failed to follow through on my promise, and that she didn’t know just how often we thought of her. It seemed like there would always be more time, that we’d always have more visits and more email exchanges. I had dozens of excuses, but the truth is: if I had made the time, I could have done those things. There was nothing stopping me. And yet, I let time slip by and then it was too late – those letters and packages will never arrive in Meg’s mailbox. It’s a heartbreaking punch-in-the-gut lesson.

I’ve turned these thoughts over and over in my head. I can’t change it. The opportunity to show Meghan how much our little family cared about her is gone. I only hope that in the emails we exchanged and in the time we spent together that she knew how much we loved her, how proud we were of her, and how much we thought of her as she traveled the world.

As I’ve struggled with this regret, I’ve envisioned conversations with Meghan. In these conversations I apologize, and wish I could change the past, that I had just written those cards and put those packages in the mail. And Meg urges me, in her smiling way, to pay it forward. Write those letters and mail those packages to other people that I care about. I can’t send her the letters I meant to send, but I can show others, the way she showed us, that I’m thinking about them and care about them.

So, that’s the plan. It’s my Meg Mission. And it makes me feel a little better, taking one of the many lessons from the way she lived her life and putting it into practice.

Today I stopped at the stationery store and bought $50-worth of cards and paper. I went to the post office and bought stamps. As a kid and teenager I wrote letters all the time. And with my new mission in hand, I’m bringing back letter-writing. The people I care about will find notes and packages in their mailboxes. The first couple of letters are written, ready to go in the mail tomorrow. Some of these are things I’ve been “meaning to send” for ages.  And I’ve learned the hard way: do it now. Sometimes ‘when I have the time’ is just, heartbreakingly, too late.

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the bigness of 2 years old

Life with a toddler is life with a person who experiences everything intensely. To a small person, everything is big.

A ditty played by a toy is reason for a full-out, throw-down dance party.
Difficulty putting something in a pocket is reason for tears and foot-stomping.
A surprise peek around the corner is reason for deep belly laughs.
An ant on the sidewalk is reason to stop, crouch, and watch.
And a glimpse of someone you love in the morning is reason for huge smiles, huge hugs, giggles. 
It’s a life of delightful misunderstandings. Confusion about air conditioner/hair conditioner. 
It’s unique language that evolves and changes daily. Opameal for breakfast, light flashes to illuminate a dark corner, goggies barking, and pretzel yogurt treats.
It is evenings of bubble baths with bubble beards, hula-hooping bear pajammys, Goodnight Moon/Great Green Moon, family hugs, and recaps of every detail of this big busy day. 
Life with a toddler can be frustrating when a request for water becomes tears over the cup the water is in. Or when shoes must be changed three times before leaving – by myself. 

It is everything magnified. Flower petals. Sad feelings and mad feelings. Specks in the rice. The importance of the small details.

But my oh my is life with a two-year-old great. It is snuggles and laughs. It is the perfect-sized little hand reaching for yours. It is the summertime toddler smell of baby sweat and sunblock and dirt and strawberries (this smell is nearly as good as newborn baby head). It is hugs for everyone (and lessons about how not every other little person necessarily wants a hug). It is a song for everything (followed by “you know that song?”, which was just made up moments ago). Dances in the kitchen and ongoing narratives. It is messy morning hair and sleepy hugs. It is stories about elephants and engrossing pretend play, block towers of surprising height and intricacy, pancake parties and backrubs.

When Evelyn was an infant, I’d see parents of toddlers and feel absolute fear over that stage. The motion, the willfulness, the negotiation. And there is all of that. And yes, it’s exhausting. But the payoff is great. The bigness of the love, the awe in the everyday, the constant discoveries and developments- as long as we give it space, it adds up to a time of wonder for all of us. 

————–
I wrote this last week and never posted it. And then our family experienced an unexpected and difficult loss. And more than ever I see the beauty in this glorious and intense moment of toddlerhood. In this time of deep sadness and grief, there is nothing quite like the gift of wild hugs and kisses and cuddles and fresh-eyed observations from a 2-year-old. I am so grateful.

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balance, parenting, and honesty

Work-life balance, working moms, and stay-at-home moms have been all over the news, social media, and blogs this year. We’re leaning in, leaning out, having it all, giving up, and not doing enough. There’s been stands taken, points made, no-offenses and lots of defenses.

But what we need in this conversation is honesty. Early in my motherhood gig I had the realization that there is more to this ‘balance’ idea than we think. I’ve hesitated to write this story, but I think it needs to be told.
At a past job, I worked for a small woman-owned company that was growing steadily. The president was a mother of three, and her entire staff was in awe of the way she managed to balance career and family. She was incredible at what she did, and passionate about it. She was a mentor to her employees, many of us under 30, getting married and buying houses and beginning to think about having families. 
I often told her that she was a role model in achieving work-life balance, and wondered how she did it. She would tell me about waking at 4:00 am to answer emails, about she and her husband splitting up school functions, and about Saturdays spent at home with her family. 
When I told her I was pregnant, she was excited and shared stories of new motherhood. She asked if I’d be willing to be in touch during maternity leave (yes). She told me that she found life with a newborn “very doable,” gave me sweet advice, and was very supportive. I enjoyed our conversations about the work we did at the company and within our families.
As I started to look into childcare and think about life as a working mom, I would again mention to her how inspiring it was to have a successful working mom as a boss. I was beginning to get overwhelmed about childcare arrangements, finances, and having time with my baby. Again, she would respond with how wonderful it is to be a mom, how it’s all doable.
And then I learned some things from employees who had been there longer than me. I learned that she had hired someone to do the family’s grocery shopping and prepare meals. She had an interior decorator. Cleaners. I learned that she regularly hired people to help with the daily tasks of life. When she had a newborn she hired a nurse to care for the baby when she couldn’t be there and when she returned to work she was able to bring the baby to the office, nursing her there, keeping her close. 
And there’s no shame in that. She owned a successful business. She worked hard for what she had and had every right to hire help. That is what it took for her to be there for her family and for her business. She found ways to make it all work, and I have a lot of respect for that.
But she never told me about any of it. She never told me, about to have a baby, about to be blindsided by how hard new motherhood was and how hard it was to find balance, that her secret was that she had a lot of help. (Here is a great post by Rebecca at Girl’s Gone Child about the help she has.)
That’s what I mean by the lack of honesty between mothers and families, and in those articles about finding “balance.” We owe it to each other to acknowledge what it really takes to make it work.
I have new mom friends who ask me how we do it in a household with two working parents. Here’s what it takes for us: I work four days a week (starting with two days a week after my maternity leave ended, then up to three days, and now four). My daughter goes to a wonderful daycare center three days a week. My mom helps with childcare, at our house, one day a week. We have two sets of very involved grandparents that live 10 minutes away, as well as helpful siblings and friends. When we aren’t working, our top priority is family time, and so we have to be okay with letting other things slide: our house is not as clean as I would like it to be and we have at least six incomplete house projects in the works. The bottom line: we aren’t doing it by ourselves, and we’ve cobbed together a situation that works for us.
We can’t do it alone. We were never meant to do it alone, or to be isolated as a family unit. We were meant to do this with help, either from family or friends or hired, but never alone. And we need to stop acting like we’re doing it alone (or talking like others are doing it alone) and be honest about what it takes to raise a family. Every family I know has come up with different arrangements and combinations for providing a stable income and caring for children, and it almost always involves help from others. Before I entered this parenting world I thought there were two choices: two working parents + full-time childcare, or one working parent + one stay-at-home parent. It turns out those are just two out of many combinations, which can shift and change all the time, and that in most cases there is a team of people making it work.

It’s time to call off the war and be honest about what it takes – and then help each other figure it all out.

p.s. (Another really good take on this: Mommy Wars: The Peace Talks by Catherine Conners.)

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Albany: The place to start a family or the place to raise a family?

We bought our house in Albany in November 2009, and ever since then people have asked us where we’ll move when our children enter school.

It’s a question that we grappled with even before our daughter was born.

Like most city school districts, Albany schools get a bad rap – especially when compared with the neighboring suburbs, which are mostly white and middle/upper class. Many of those people moved out of Albany to the ‘burbs, leaving behind those that don’t have the ability to move out. I learned all about white flight in my college sociology classes, I know how it works and I understand why cities face these situations. But I don’t blame those families- Albany taxes are high, and the schools have different challenges than suburban schools (but those suburban schools do have their challenges, I know that, too).

Buckingham Pond playground, Albany. March 2012.

The thing that gets overlooked in the “when will you move out?” conversations is that Albany is a great place to raise a family. There is a lot to love about living here. We’ve connected with other families living in the city, who share our appreciation for the things Albany offers: community, walkability, convenience, culture, diversity, history.

The other night I met up with some other Albany moms. For the first time, I was part of a conversation about staying in Albany, and about raising a family within the city. Positive, glowing things were said about Albany schools, about the diversity our children would be exposed to, about wanting to raise children in neighborhoods with sidewalks and trees and playgrounds and a tight community.

It was refreshing and energizing. I want to keep having that conversation. What if the conversation were about how much Albany has to offer families, instead of about when we’ll all leave?

I know I’ve written about this at least twice before, but I’ll keep saying it: I love where we live.

I can easily go a week or more without leaving Albany city limits- everything I need is here: my office (commute: 10 minutes), childcare, grocery stores, restaurants, the gym, movies, the library, the food co-op, Stewarts. Many of those places are within easy walking distance.

Story time at the neighborhood library branch-
the perfect destination for warm-weather walks

We can take long walks on continuous sidewalks. We can walk to our friends’ homes or just drop by for quick visits, and we’re building a strong network of nearby friends. There are several parks and playgrounds within a half-mile. Story time at the library includes families speaking Spanish, Russian, and Chinese.

All this, but of course the question still comes: What about the schools?

We have several friends who went through Albany schools and graduated from Albany High. They had great experiences, went on to good colleges, and are successful adults – many of them have bought their own homes in Albany.

I’ve met families who have chosen to stay in Albany, who rave about their children’s experiences at Albany schools. The elementary schools offer diverse programs (Spanish, Montessori, Arts & Humanities, Science & Technology, to name a few) and Albany High has the area’s only International Baccalaureate program and has made Newsweek’s list of America’s Top Public High Schools on multiple occasions.

And yet Albany has this reputation as a place to start a family but not a place to grow and raise a family. We don’t hear the stories from people who choose to stay.

Why?

There’s the taxes issue, yes. We continue to struggle with that. Eventually we’ll outgrow our house and we hope to afford to increase our living space. When the time comes to move, will we choose to continue paying Albany taxes? Will we give up the things we love about where we live for a larger house and lower taxes elsewhere? There are a couple incentives for first-time home buyers in Albany, but what about those buying AND selling in Albany? I have a feeling there aren’t many people that do that. If we leave, are we just becoming part of the problem? (Yes.)

It will be a difficult decision, and luckily one we have a few years to think about.

I urge our city leaders to spend some time focusing on this strong and vibrant community of young families living in Albany, those with children and those without. We make up an important part of this city, but like past generations of young families many of us will move out within a few years, lured by lower taxes and an expectation that we should send our children to suburban schools. If the conversation is one about staying, will we?

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