The Universe Told Me To, I Just Never Realized It

He knew the kids were feeling down this morning, so he left the three of us snuggling in our bed, went out into the living room and starting singing silly songs on the top of his lungs just because.

Every morning he goes into the basement and gets my work clothes off our indoor clothes line. He knows I hate when my feet get cold in the morning, and the basement floor is so very chilly. His get cold as well, of course, but he always goes anyway.

Last weekend I had to work overtime. He took the kids all day, gave them the best day ever, and it ended with them both telling me they need more Dad days, because not everyone gets to be as lucky as they are and have a Dad like him.

Sometimes I weigh what I weigh now. Sometimes I weigh 60 pounds more. When we got married I weighed 20 pounds less. There has never been a day where he forgot to tell me how stunning he finds me, or how lucky he is that he gets to be the one to sleep next to me.

Ten years ago today I arrived at a restaurant 40 minutes early for a blind date, I hopped off the Belmont stop trying to get there first to make sure it wasn’t awkward. He was already there, sitting with his coat off. By the time they cleared our plates I knew I was in love, and by the end of the next day he had already said, “you know I’m gonna marry you, right?”

belmont sign

When he told me he loved They Might be Giants I had no idea that could translate into reading our kids Bed, Bed, Bed in fantastic voices until they fell asleep in his arms with smiles on their faces.

bed bed bed

When he held my arm to prevent me from slipping in the snow I never translated it into the awesome way he would navigate sledding season with our young ones. Ten years in I see all the signs I missed, the signs that spelled out in perfectly garbled first date bravado and fears, that a partnership with a magnitude beyond our grasp had finally, finally been activated.

Happy double digits, bug, I thank the universe we followed the invisible signs pointing straight to our future happiness and jumped in head over feet. Who needs to date when you figure out instantaneously that forever already started, anyway?

We still love to dance close, even if it means a few twirls in the kitchen

We still love to dance close, even if it means a few twirls in the kitchen

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You are like the working class Martha Stewart!

We hosted an intimate holiday gathering at our new home over the holidays. As is our custom, our famous thankfulness chain adorned one wall. This year the chain had a mate, a handsome new chain festooned with a turkey family made from hand-shaped cut-outs.

turkey banner

In December we added to the atmosphere, spending afternoons painstakingly slicing small shapes from folded construction paper, turning our cozy cottage home into an indoor snow rainbow.

snowflakes

Once our hypoallergenic plastic tree entered the picture the physical embodiment of our mentalities through holiday decor truly took shape. We covered her branches in homemade ornaments saved from 10 years of building our life together, which in turn transformed our home into a masterpiece.

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Our home became a visual walk-through our life’s stages. Our childless years were represented by painstakingly created 3-D ornaments representing inside jokes, visual representation of limber-bodied days, adventurous couplings represented with pipe cleaners and glue. The early child years, where we were determined to keep tradition alive, could be seen through paint splotches on cardboard, cut into shapes with years and names written in my hurried mother’s scrawl.

There were paper plate ornaments of early childhood classrooms, hand prints with poems about tiny fingers and growth. We had branches of gingerbread men, all overly eager to share a smile, with lopsided buttons that made me long to reach into the past and tousled the hair of my babies. What is it about the smell of cinnamon and pine that reminds me more strongly of baby soap mixed with play dough than the actual scent? Every wall and branch was a visceral reminder that we created a gorgeous life out of twigs and glue.

When we had our little get together in December, sharing our new home with new and old friends, it was jarring to share this portrait of my interior. We are a messy family, one constructed with hopes on thin paper, not necessary with plans laid on firm concrete. I made a slightly self-deprecating comment in the beginning of the evening to ease my discomfort. One of our guests looked around and loudly proclaimed, “You are like a working class Martha Stewart! Look at your decorations, so much paper, how lovely!”  A Martha Stewart for the real world. It feels good to be understood.

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Bad Guy Music has Better Beats

Twinkle asked me to play Tacky’s Christmas Playlist during a recent car trip, a Christmas CD that came with a book about penguins (good guys) and foxes (bad guys). After listening to the whole thing through, she piped up,  “Mom, why do the bad guys sing hip hop and the good guys sing opera?”

Pause, rewind, what? We took the CD back to the first track and listened through again. All of the characters with high moral standing sang in operatic tones. All of the bad guys? They expressed themselves in rap and hip hop.

Twinkle told me she liked the bad guy beats more, they had more flavor, and she decided to keep their song about Sandy Claws (Santa Clause pronounced with an edge) on repeat. We didn’t really talk about it, because I didn’t really know how, but this dichotomy of music style, and its racist implications, bothered me.  When she asked me if it was okay to like bad guy music instead of good guy music I felt the pulse of the issue – why are we subliminally telling children that music performed by black people must be associated with the bad guys?

Davey is producing a play, opening this week, called White People. It expounds on micro aggression, privilege and power. We have done a lot of research, combing through every resource we could find, requesting support from an expert in race relations to help us ensure our play is produced with care – is this why the inherent unfairness has played on repeat in my head for the last two days?

When I think of Twinkle struggling to give herself permission to like “bad guy” music, when I think of all the reasons the good intentioned creators of the music would have for differentiating good from bad with style of music, it reminds me that the innocent moments instilled with quietly racial statements that shape attitudes and behaviors. We may be talking about penguins and foxes from a storybook, but its in the stories we tell our children that they recognize their world and their role in shaping it.

http://www.broadwayworld.com/detroit/article/Puzzle-Piece-Theatre-to-Present-WHITE-PEOPLE-1024-119-20141020

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House

We bought a house in September, one my husband’s coworker affectionately called a “moron house”, as in the owner just kept adding more on. This is our first home mortgage, our first attempt at finding the cadence of adulthood that includes ownership of something larger and more impressive than a 10-year-old vehicle. I never knew if we could make it to this place, but now that we are here I feel like the word property, the phrase homeowners insurance and the act of gardening take on a whole new level of sexiness. Seriously, gardening my own plot of ground has such a different feel than toiling on someone else’s soil.

When we decided to buy a house the phrase “buy in the best area you can because you can fix your house, not the neighbors” was central. Our house is quite interesting as a result of this adage.  Davey and I are slowly updating the home, making the repairs and changes necessary to turn it into our dream house. Here are some before pictures, though, just so you know what we are dealing with when we talk about renovations.

Our House

Our House

Here it is, in all its yellow and brown glory. We are concentrating on making the interior gorgeous first, though, so the toilet colors shall remain.

The front of the house is a porch that was plastered closed and turned into a room of the house. Right now it is the place where all of the boxes we can’t figure out what to do with live, but eventually it will be a mud room and a reading room combo.

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Next up is our living room and dining room, two rooms separated by a small half wall

living room

Dining Room... the poop brown carpet was the first thing we removed, I promise

Dining Room… the poop brown carpet was the first thing we removed, I promise

Next up we have three teeny tiny bedrooms, but each one has gorgeous built-ins and cool closets. Here is the one from our bedroom.

Underneath those 18 layers of white paint we have really, really nice woodwork. Someday, friends, we will reveal it all to the world once again

Underneath those 18 layers of white paint we have really, really nice woodwork. Someday, friends, we will reveal it all to the world once again

Our bathroom is standard, nothing of interest, really, until we do something with it.

Bathrooms - what you cant see is a recently re-enameled tub and a small closet

Bathrooms – what you can’t see is a recently re-enameled tub and a small closet

Our kitchen is gorgeous, interesting, authentically 1920’s (as in, original to the house’s construction) and completely lacking in the functional capabilities for a cook like me to use it. See what I mean?

My back is against the opposite wall to take this photo... But at least it is pretty to look at as I curse and try to cook

My back is against the opposite wall to take this photo… But at least it is pretty to look at as I curse and try to cook

The house is a shot-gun, from the back door and original front door you can see across the entire thing. This photo shows you the interesting subway tiles that cover our kitchen, including the ceiling. Yes, every square inch of wall and ceiling that is not covered by a cabinet is tiled.

Davey is so cute when he is concentrating

Davey is so cute when he is concentrating

We have an unfinished basement with four rooms and a scary bathroom, too

Creepy bathrooms add character, right?

Creepy bathrooms add character, right?

This picture helps explain the scream in the above photo, am I right?

This picture helps explain the scream in the above photo, am I right?

And there you have it, our home. We have already done a ton of work, and I have process photos of each step. Once we finally complete a room (hahahahaha… that may take a while) I will share it.

What lessons have I learned from all this?

1. Some people waited until they were in their 30’s to start a family, to feel ready to settle down and make it work. We did that, but with real estate. I think this helped us to attention to our non-negotiable items more, to know what features we needed to avoid (no corner lots ever again, laundry rooms without space for excessive laundry avoidance issues), know what features we needed to have (architectural interest, two bathrooms, new big-ticket items so we can wait to replace for a few years), and items we new we could adjust in the future as needs and money arose (room for a second kitchen in the basement, renovating the existing attic into more living space). If we had purchased a home the first time we tried (5 years ago in Chicago) we would not have been as smart about our investment, as back then we just concentrated on finding something we could afford.

2. Neighborhood culture is key to happiness. We live on a block where you can still literally look out your front window and see a pile of bikes/scooters to let you know which yard all the kids are playing at that day. We have three 7-year-old girls, two 5-year-old boys, and two ten-year-old kids who all play together. we have only actually lived inside this home for a week and already our children are completely ingrained in the culture of the neighborhood.

3. Smaller isn’t necessarily bad. Our new home is about 2/3 the size of our last home. We had to be strategic about what possessions we kept, what was tossed and how we could create function in every square foot we possessed. It is still a work in progress in the kitchen, as our huge renovation project for that room (doubling in space by eliminating a bedroom, adding a staircase to the upstairs to recreate the bedroom that was lost, refinishing the attic) is still 18 months off. But the rest of the house is utilized to maximize happiness through organization.

Davey, the kids and I are happy. In another week or two I will feel put away, then we will start the long task of small-scale renovations, room by room. Don’t worry, I will share the process with all of you!

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What I Wish I Said Wednesday (Only Now on a Thursday)

I read a fantastic blog post today called “F*ck Yes Or No”, which asserts that in fledgling relationships we are wasting our time if the other person’s presence in our life doesn’t cause a spontaneous resounding “heck yeah!” to cross our lips. I love this idea, to skip the triteness of relational ambivalence and instead surround ourselves with people who elicit spontaneous fist bumps of joy.

I decided Tina and I had to be friends because her mother in law publicly proclaimed that she was an amazing woman – she felt blessed that her son married her. That statement made me feel like Tina could teach me something. The decision was made for me, really, within 5 minutes of a catalogue party at her house. The items for sale were jewelry. Even though I wear only a plain wedding band from Dave and a necklace from my father I bought a bracelet, as friends do at their new BFF’s party, especially when their BFF doesn’t know she has earned such a prestigious new official title.

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Last Saturday night Dave and I were out on a double date with our best friends to watch another friend’s fantastic sci-fi synth band perform. The first time I spent any time with this couple (guitarist and his lovely wife)during their children’s birthday party their house was full to bursting with palpable love, delicious baking and filial bonding across generations. Talk about spontaneous fist bumps (in my mind, though, I am working on not scaring people away with my inability to follow social norms).

Our double date had a cameo appearance of the nicest Buffy the Vampire Slayer watcher I met at that party many months ago. Side bar, did Angel’s love for Buffy ruin anyone else’s expectations for love and honor in their adult life? I mean, why couldn’t they ever figure it out and reclaim their love? I was so ecstatic to run into this lovely lady again that I ran my inebriated butt to my husband and told him that the nicest girl was there.

His response, “You met her at a birthday party for children, you’ve spoken once.”

WHAT I WISH I SAID WEDNESDAY

So? I met you once for mango margaritas and decided to marry you before our dinners were brought to the table. Do you really want to talk about this?

BOOM. That was the sound of me dropping the mic.

Buffy Gets it http://btvs-reaction-gifs.tumblr.com/

Buffy Gets it

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Lovers Love and the Others Run Away

I avoided social media this week because I keep catching myself saying “that’s what it looks like when your parent dies of mental illness when you are 20”. Tragedy takes on new tinges when it hits this close to home. My face burns when I hear people wonder what it feels like to watch your husband stay in bed for 20 hours a day. What would happen if I answered, “it feels like your life’s happiness is being sucked through your belly button until eventually you learn how to pretend it isn’t happening”.  Love can no more stop a depressive episode than it can stop cancer from metastasizing.

This week, during a declared state of emergency in our city and with racial violence erupting miles away from where my beloved was raised, I separated myself from this world for a few days. I did this not because of powerlessness, nor because of feigned ignorance. No, I did this because I can’t bear to look in the face of children who lost their father to mental illness and search for similarities to my own children.

Love isn’t enough to end an illness and that terrifies me. Love IS enough to make sure medications are taken, appointments are kept and regimens are followed, but love will never be a cure. This week I have kissed my husband more than usual, looking in his eyes as I tell him I love him. Every time I look at him I see how hard he works to manage an illness that the world pretends can be cured with platitudes of perseverance. If only self-love and determination could cure HIV and impetigo as quickly as it cures depression and bipolar, then the world would be so beautiful!

This week has been traumatic – listening to the side conversations around the water cooler about selfish choices and leaving children behind leaves me cold. Every time I hear someone congratulate Robin William’s first wife for being smart enough to leave him before “it got too bad” my cheeks grow crimson and I walk away. I advocate and I give speeches; I find safe spaces and talk about the beauty of our life in the presence of a bipolar as a silent third partner – but never at work, of course never in the office.  How can these people possibly know that their triumphant rationalizations of trauma and loss are choking out my spirit?

It is after these moments with others that my anger bubbles. The reality that I am in love with someone with mental illness, not living with mental illness myself, knocks me back again. If it can hurt this bad to know that people think it wise for me to get going before the going gets rough, how must it feel for Dave and others living with an illness to know that the world advocates that the people who love them should leave them cold and alone before they have a chance to hurt them?

Please be kind. If you love someone who has a mental illness, sometimes being silent is a far superior alternative to trying to fix things. If you love someone who loves someone with mental illness, I am a strong advocate of the word always. Say I love you always, then stop talking. No caveats, no explanations. Just stop and let the world, their life and everything else progress as it may. The world can be a dark place and we could all use a little light, levity and love in our days.

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Finish Lines

I ran 4 miles yesterday in 46 minutes. that was slightly faster than a turtle trudging through peanut butter, sure, but I also didn’t stop and walk. I did it on a treadmill in an air-conditioned gym while reading “Everything I Needed to Know about Parenting I learned in Prison”. I’ve started and stopped almost as many parenting books as I have training plans for marathons. Somewhere in the middle I decide the authors of both can’t possibly understand what it means to be me, so I toss their plan aside for my own half-baked ideas, letting them wither on the vine. I still haven’t run a marathon, nor has my parenting research or skills left me feeling qualified to etch words of wisdom on a scenic photo to share on Facebook.

Twinkle is 7 and Ninja is 5. I have 11 more years until my oldest is out of the house, probably only four or so before my place as the holder of knowledge is challenged by hormones and peer pressure. I haven’t even started college funds yet and suddenly the inevitability of them running away from me to start their own lives, probably at a pace much faster than the 11 minute mile I pulled out last night, is creating a picture on our horizon I am not quite ready to see.

I need to remember my follow-through. I had it once, I can have it again. I am running again, slowly but with conviction. I am going to replace the books on parenting with hours of parenting with conviction. Perhaps I will finally jump my long run hurdle and run for more than 8 miles at a time, perhaps not. It’s not like racing towards finish lines of my choosing will keep the scary finish lines, the ones where growing up is involved, any farther away.

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Firmly Grounded

Our corn grew tassels this week, our gourds have become plentiful and our onions are so large their white tops are cresting above the soil. Our blueberry bushes are holding their own against the strangeness of this Michigan summer, while our flower gardens look like patches of wildness thrown between pavers instead of the cultivated landscape we envisioned. Our home is restful, peaceful in the midst of our life’s confusion.

Twinkle is back in medical treatment that is tiresome, but thankfully working. It takes a lot out of us, the shuffling and the smiling, the checking in with numerous doctors while recounting the years of trying to get this gorgeous child healthy. Two times a week now we spend in communion with science and medicine, watching as Twinkle grows stronger and healthier in front of our eyes. Tiresome and trying though it may be, watching it work, and work well, gives a power to this leg of our journey I hadn’t seen coming. This year, 2014, will not be the year childhood illness defeats our spirit – it is the year we watch miracles in the form of a patient seven-year-old who is so much better at taking everything in stride than I ever could be.

Other things have cropped into our lives, illness, injury, death and mourning have all sneaked into our path this summer. Job changes, career questions, quarter life crisis moments that are coming a bit later than expected, all things trying to crowd out the good, to test our resolve.

Davey and I, we watch the seasons change through the heights of our garden and through the brilliance of our children. I test the strength and the permanence of our love for each other by jumping, kicking and screaming at the unfairness of the world, projected by a megaphone aimed squarely and unfairly at his face. Thankfully this magically worked as a thickening agent, using projection as a coping mechanism, and added layers of cement to our already rock solid foundation instead of cracking the ground beneath our feet.

I am at a loss for words lately, at how our life can still feel so completely perfect, while we watch so many sharks circling. How can one look at my children still swell my throat, fill my eyes and make a fountain of gratitude erupt from my mouth? I am grateful, grateful that inside me rests the ability to see good, to appreciate love and feel it in my veins, and that this ability is much stronger than fear.

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Happy 7th Birthday Twinkle Toes

Dearest Twinkle Toes,

Our lilies started blooming this week. It seems fitting that the Black Eyed Susans are starting to peek their gorgeous faces out of their sacred leaf enclosures, too. Our fiery flowers, the ones so bright and powerful as they sweep around the parameter of our yard, are beckoning to passerby to recognize the sizzle and fire that lives in our dwelling. Those flowers, they are the embodiment of you, a firecracker of a girl so full of energy it amazes me that you only weigh 41 pounds. How that much amazingness fits snugly into your personhood is astounding. It is your birthday week and the earth took notice, turned on its powers of persuasion and had the most Twinkle-like flowers cascade their brilliance to announce the arrival of your seventh birthday.

This year was full of transitions, you saw the end of attending public school, the end of being bullied (forever, I promise, I will carry a sword into battle if anyone ever tries to hurt you again), and the end of wondering who you needed to become in order to be seen as enough. In the midst of so much ending it was also the most fabulous state of beginnings, too. It was the beginning of the time when your worth oozed out of every pore, seeped through every word and leapt from every newly discovered dance step. Finding a school and social circle where you were loved as you are gave you the freedom to blossom, and in that blossoming you have become more acutely aware of how amazing you are.

I never knew it was possible to genuinely enjoy hanging out with your kids. Sounds silly, but when I thought about being a mom I always pictured the way I would comfort you, or tuck you in, or feel when you won a spelling bee or were sworn in to a political office. Now that you are here, fully rounding into a person and becoming yourself, I genuinely crave your time and attention as much as you crave mine and daddy’s. I love when you read me stories, especially when you ask me if you “emote enough” to denote the characters in the story line. I look forward to when you wake up in the morning, still wiping the sleep from your eyes, dragging your teddy bear behind you, to crawl into bed with me and discuss our plans for the day. Your jokes have crossed the line into being actually funny 10% of the time, a marked improvement that makes me want to hear you always just so I don’t miss the one or two that really hit the mark.

We took you on vacation last week, somewhere new for all four of us, Niagara Falls. As we watched this wonder of the natural world together you were completely transfixed by the moment. Your eyes floated with possibilities, with questions of significance that just two months ago would have never occurred to you. I saw your world triple in size in that moment, saw the intensity of the water, the division of country, the language barriers, the art of the selfie taken by hundreds of people at once, all converge into your mind as you meandered with your hand in mine. My luck in that moment, being the one to hold your hand and guide you through this experience, was so overwhelming.

You drank in the scene of the falls, processing everything, reported back the exactly correct science behind the mist, the water cycle and the miracle of humidity, then you conjectured about natural barriers and boundaries between countries. Sometimes I pretend I don’t know the answer to your questions because your reasoning is so brilliantly perfect, so beyond the realm of my comprehension, that just listening to you work things out fills my soul with fire and reminds me three thousand times over that you give life to everything you touch, every moment you partake in and every person with whom you interact.

You are strong, you are smart, you are precious and you are perfect. I am so lucky to be your mom. Seven years ago today I had every intention of becoming the best Mom ever. I fail all the time. Thankfully you pretend not to notice, and you have spent the last seven years always being the best little Twinkle Toes I could have ever asked to raise.

I cherish you – every hair on your head, every silly question you ask and every moment of your life – I cherish you. Being your mom is always, always the best.

Love you to the moon and back,

Mommy

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Summertime

Pokemon birthday parties, end of year celebrations and so many Popsicle have littered the landscape of our lives lately. Overtime in the office has been plentiful for the first time in forever, which would usually cause me to groan, but on this day causes me to cheer. The extra money is financing an impromptu trip to Niagara falls this weekend. The planner in me, the one with the lists and the excel spreadsheets to curb social anxiety and stress, is being lured off a bridge by the parts of me ready to have campfires and show my children the biggest waterfall they can imagine. Plus, I have never been there myself, and living a short three-hour drive away makes that statement seem sort of sinful, if I believed in sin at least.

Summertime posting has been tough for me. We have a garden full of tomatoes, baby pumpkins, cucumbers, peppers, corn stalks and squash. I send the kids outside for kale to add to their smoothies in the morning, so the garden feels a little less Little House and a little more Suburban Hipster, but still good for the soul. Our blueberry bushes are each a single-stick and a hopeful flag of leafs after two months of careful twice daily watering. We have vegetables, though, and it feels like our family goal of ground to table eating is real now. Explaining that fertilizer is poop, then immediately picking food and eating it that night was a real breakthrough for Ninja, though, and he now really understands the importance of not eating food at the fruit stand before we take it home and clean it.

Twinkle wants a Dancing Bunnikins themed birthday party, which is a real stretch considering Dancing Bunnikins are a character crew that she made up herself. We will be building bunnies out of fruit, toothpicks, marshmallows and candy. We will play pin the cotton tail on the bunny and I will teach the children how to dance the bunny hop. Bunnikins are bunnies made of sugary treats that have human tendencies that also save the world, you see, so I so have a little something with which to work.

Here are the Pokémon cakes from Ninja’s party… a month later but still valid, right? He wanted his theme to be Pokemon playing LEGO under the sea – I tried to comply.

You can tell by the staging of this picture, the cleanliness of my table and the perfect lighting, that I am totally a perfectionist lifestyle blogger

You can tell by the staging of this picture, the cleanliness of my table and the perfect lighting, that I am totally a perfectionist lifestyle blogger

 

 

 

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