Why Send a Christmas Letter When You Can Write a Blog Post Instead?

Back in August I wrote that we had finally arrived on the East Coast and had a list of priorities for settling in:

Finding a church
Finding childcare
Finding a Trader Joe’s
Finding an NPR station
Finding a salon
Finding a gym

So now, three months later, I would say we’ve gotten a solid C- on our “get ‘er done” list.

Finding a Church

Maybe. Maybe not.

We’ve been to a few, and only one resonated with all of us. Of course, Tony Campolo was preaching the only Sunday we were able to make it, so that kind of skews the data. But in its favor, the youth pastor and his wife immediately invited us over for dinner (we still haven’t made it over, but not for lack of trying), we were encouraged to participate in the youth events, and Rachel may end up in the pre-K affiliated with the church (more on that later). So why don’t we just call it home? Mostly because there are one or two other churches we’d like to try out before making a selection. My gut tells me, though, that time won’t allow for that and, more importantly, that Rachel will become attached to her classmates whose parents would be our fellow congregants.

Finding Childcare

This has been perhaps our (my) greatest failure.

I began researching preschools well before we moved. At night, once we entered victory lap time, I would peruse Zillow, church websites, and local schools until my eyes bled. There were almost no options for Aaron, so the focus was really Rachel. I narrowed it down to two that we all agreed would be perfect for her. The lead contender (which is where she is now) has chickens. Chickens! And the kids sew, roam seven acres of private land, and cook meals for the teachers that the teachers actually eat. Everything is kid-sized, and every activity is kid-driven at the individual child’s own pace. I mean seriously, what could be better for our romantically-inclined and imaginative four-year-old? The cost was reasonable, the environment beautiful, and the stated goals, mission, and pedagogy closely resembled what we (try to) put into place at home (you know, when we aren’t getting Chick-Fil-a or shouting “noooooo!!!!” at Aaron, or pleading with the kids to “put the books away and just watch TV, darn it.”)

I emailed the admissions director daily. I called often. I begged, I pleaded, I prayed. And Rachel got in.

Two months later, we are a mess. Time is short (school pick up time is near), so I won’t go into every detail. But suffice it to say, our sweet, wonderful, earnest, kind-hearted little girl turned into a potty-mouthed, hitting, screaming, terror of a child with mysterious “stomach aches” and confused pleas to “stay home, no go to school, no stay home.”

Several conferences, emails, and phone calls later, we are now getting this problem solved. We may end up paying a full year’s worth of tuition at a school with lots of chickens and no Hanauers, but parents have to do what they have to do. Our “solution” is messy: Rachel will now go to TWO schools (because it’s mid-year and all the 3-, 4-, and 5-day spots are full), and have one day home with me. Like I said, it’s a mess. But it can’t be messier than losing the sweetness of childhood in two short months. So, as of today, we go boldly into the confused world of multiple preschools.

For the record, we chose wisely for Aaron, and he is happily entertained by someone who isn’t me two days a week. Where, it just so happens, Rachel will also be two days a week beginning Dec. 1st. Just on different days….

Did I say C-minus? Perhaps I meant D+.

Finding a Trader Joe’s

Yes! Thanks be to Google.

Finding an NPR Station

Yep, a whole two of them.

Finding a Salon

Sure. Google “Aveda Annapolis” and there’s only one so there you go. The stylists are good, the aestheticians less so, but, you know, the goal was met.

Finding a Gym

Yep, I found a few. But we got really, really lucky with our house and have a spare room to use for…. What? A home gym! Now before you start thinking that sounds super fancy, I promise you it isn’t. When you add together the cost of registration fees and monthly charges of gym membership, a home gym quickly pays for itself. And in inclement weather it’ll be a lifesaver. Also, who actually makes it to the gym when small children are involved? Well, you probably do, but I don’t. Now I have no excuse.

Still need to set up the multi-exercise station and treadmill, but you get the gist.

Still need to set up the multi-exercise station and treadmill, but you get the gist.

Our House

Even Scooby likes it here.

Even Scooby likes it here.

We bought a house! As heartbroken as I was to sell our home in California, I must say I LOVE our new house. There are many things tied for first place in the “coolest feature” category, but my office is certainly worth mentioning. Let me just say that again: “my office.” Need I say more? I don’t actually, you know, use it, but I’m hoping to get there some day.

Here it is. Note the little emperor ruling the roost.

photo-18

The topic of work is a whole other blog post, but I will say that when one moves twice in two months, and one of those moves is 3000 miles, and there are two little kids to deal with, a big kid to set up in sophomore year, a needy dog, and a husband with a crazy work schedule, “work” becomes a distant second to the immediacy of… well, of everything else.

Moving on…

here’s the playroom, in which the children are supposed to be always present. But much like my office, this is an awesome but seldom used storage zone that needs to be both heated and cooled.

photo-23

Rooms actually used:

The kitchen
The laundry room
The kitchen

There are already dance grooves worn around the kitchen island and fingerprints on the margins of every counter. Who puts in black counters?? I would say someone without kids, but the prior owner had five. Don’t know what they were thinking, but maybe their kids were less grubby-handed than ours.

photo-22

Speaking of which, the kids didn’t need a single second to “adjust” or “acclimate” to this house. They took to it immediately, and even Aaron already knows every nook and cranny (especially Aaron, actually). They finally have their much-desired play structure and back yard, and maybe someday soon they’ll have their much-dreamed of snow.

Do you think it seems like a jungle to them? and (sorry about my thumb.)

Do you think it seems like a jungle to them? (sorry about my thumb.)

Next week… our first Thanksgiving here, and the month after, our first Christmas. I’m asking Santa for Rachel’s school experience to be wonderful, my office to get some serious usage, and for 4pm to be the new 6pm. But, even barring all that, I’d say we’re still doing pretty okay.

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Welcome Home?

After one month and two days, I feel like I can say with some authority that downtown Annapolis is perhaps the most beautiful place there is.

This morning I drove downtown to find a Starbucks and a park, and perhaps a walking path on the water. I found all that, but also so much more.

There was an impressive generational mix—grandparent types strolled hand in hand down the brick streets, while moms around my age (give or take) pushed their children around in strollers and sipped lattes. The air was calm. I saw almost no cell phones at all. I did see ample street parking, people conversing happily, and too many 30-something women and their tag-alongs to count.

I pulled into a parking spot directly in front of Starbucks. I went in and found myself—at 9am—only the second person in line. The cashier and I spoke cheerily of hummus and cucumbers, and he graciously forgave Aaron for throwing reusable Starbucks mugs on the floor. On the way out, I accidently bumped into a woman. In response to my apology she said:

“You are a magnetic person, and a wonderful child of God. Don’t apologize, be glad.”

Between that and my first pumpkin spice latte of fall, the tenor of my day was set.

I prepared to walk a mile to a playground I had passed earlier, but to my happy surprise I found a mostly fenced, well-shaded park with fantastic play structures just a block away. It was on the water and the state capital was visible on the horizon as I watched Aaron play. It was peaceful, beautiful, calm.

As is the case at almost all parks, the mom brigade began to trickle in around 10am.

At first there was only one mom, accompanied by a 3-year-old and a newborn. She was friendly. She had moved here a year ago. She was happy. We talked, and I was excited at the prospect of a park-born friendship. Sadly, as the other moms and tots strollered their way in, she drifted away towards them and they all gathered together—they were a group of women from the neighborhood. Apparently the park meeting was a regular thing.

Our children played together, and everyone was pleasant, yet… there was no overt attempt at inclusion in their group. And who could blame them? They wanted to chat about where to get the best deal on kids’ pants, how one woman’s husband would be out of town all weekend, while she had the kids, and other various things. This was their time, their very, very precious time, carved out to give them that extra boost to make it through their day.

I wasn’t disappointed in the lack of love-at-first-park-sighting. Instead, I felt hopeful. Hopeful because I live in a town with a lovely mix of generations, but with a heavy dose of married-with-kids. Hopeful because there is so much to do, parking is cheap and easy, and traffic is typically light (but don’t ask me about Friday afternoons…).

In the hot tourist-full days of summer or the freezing months of winter, I may feel differently than I do at this particular endorphin-filled moment. But for now… for now I am full of gratitude that this crazy life season may be beginning to slow down, to bear fruit, and to give a little breathing room.

Andy works late tonight, so I know this day will drain me. I will likely snap more than I mean to, and eat more chocolate than I should. But for now, I feel full: this place might just be okay.

Maybe even great.

parkwithaj

We’re Here!

Well, we’re here.

Which, of course, means we are not there, something that I am reminded of by surprise tears and news of 6.1-magnitude earthquakes.

That we arrived at all is nothing short of a miracle. Once we settled onto our first flight and the chaotic reality of our cross-country travel set in, I leaned over to Andy and said, “I should be live tweeting this.”

I didn’t, but had I chosen to, my tweets would have read something like this:

“Crawling in hole to die: AJ just Duplo-smacked the woman behind us… On purpose.”

“Ha! Andy’s finally glad he listened to me about buying Aaron his own seat. #mamaknowsbest #sanityseat”

“Turn off the seatbelt sign. TURN OFF THE SIGN.” #travelingwithtwoyearold”

“OMG, I forgot the Benadryl.”

planeride

Overheard from one passenger who walked by and studied our little section of hell: “Ohhhhh, there are two of them. No wonder.”

No wonder what? No wonder I had to get into the overhead compartment every five minutes? No wonder we had apple sauce all over our clothes? No wonder we had eighteen pieces of luggage plus a DVD player, pop-up tent, and the largest double stroller BOB makes? No wonder we looked more frightened, traumatized, and fatigued than characters from the Hunger Games?

18+bags

But all in all, it was really quite a successful trip. No bags were lost, check-in, security, and baggage claim all went quickly, and our ride was on time and parked nearby.

And so now we’re here.

Our temporary place is nice. Small, but nice. Two bedrooms, un-child-proof-able stairs, and a gas fireplace, also un-child-proof-able. There is a rabbit in our backyard, and Rachel devises “traps” for it daily.

My priorities for settling in, in some semblance of order, are:

Finding a church
Finding childcare
Finding a Trader Joe’s (done)
Finding an NPR station (done)
Finding a salon (done)
Finding a gym

As you can see, we’re essentially working backwards.

Overall the kids are settling in okay. Not perfect, but okay. We have found Aaron standing in the bathroom sink at 2:30am, and on top of a dresser shortly thereafter, with Rachel frantically attempting to talk him down and coax him back to bed.

eatingdowntowndogs

Sunday we went to our first Annapolis-area church. We had spent hours researching churches from Berkeley, and then researched some more from here, Saturday night.

Me: “What about this one? Looks like they have a lot of families.”

Andy: “PCA or PCUSA?”

Me: “I don’t know. I just looked at childcare.”

Andy: “What social justice outreach programs do they have?”

Me: “I don’t know. I just looked at childcare.”

Andy: “What does it say in their statement of faith?”

Me: “I don’t know. I just looked at childcare!!”

As you can tell, knowing that I have to work from home with no daycare/preschool options in sight, one car, and a husband whose work schedule is Monday through Friday, 7am to 6:15pm has changed my way of thinking just a teeny bit.

So we checked out a church with good childcare…

and ended up leaving after twenty minutes. .

Yesterday I looked at three childcare centers, and today I looked at another. I think it will fall together more quickly than I had anticipated, but by 6:30pm yesterday, with Andy stuck in traffic and having just found a tick on Aaron’s thigh, followed almost immediately by him peeing on the floor with the dog threatening to do the same, I felt like it couldn’t happen quickly enough.

But the boxes we mailed to our temporary place (we call it our “vacation home” to keep things fun for Rachel) are slowly trickling in, and after a week (one week today), we’ve found something of a routine.

Rachel already says things like, “Don’t worry. That’s just guns because they are practicing hitting targets.” (We live next door to a military training ground, apparently). We’re waiting for her to adopt sailboat slang and start asking for crab instead of chicken nuggets.

rachelsailsthedays

I do love the freedom of knowing exactly how the weather will be when I step outside in the morning—hot. No layers to put on, or sweaters to pack. The sun will burn high and hot, unless it’s raining, and even then it’s far from cold. While dressing in the morning I’ve realized that the kids have a dearth of short-sleeved shirts, and man am I pale.

Give us a couple of years, though, and we’ll be tan, flip-flopped, and hanging out with the best of the navy and sailing families, attending the “Mariners” church, cooking up soft shell, and sending the kids to Mom’s Day Out at Anchors-a-Wee (I kid you not) during the summer, and busting out the snow suits and shovels in the winter, while I curse our muddy mud room.

Because sooner or later, we won’t just be here, we’ll live here.

RandJNapTown

 

 

Just Like Heaven

The body is an amazing thing.

Yesterday I had a full-on bedtime mommy meltdown. Now granted, I was the only adult around and Aaron had ripped off his diaper not once, not twice, but THREE times so he could pee on the floor and play in it. After the last time, when he was still naked and dripping with not-water, and while I was trying to clean the mess off of the floor, he jumped onto my back, grabbed two fistfuls of my hair, and pretended I was one of those quarter-fed mechanical bulls you see in movies but never in real life. Also, he didn’t give me a quarter.

While Aaron was giddy-upping, Rachel was screaming incoherently about why she couldn’t use her bathroom—too dirty she said, and she was probably right—and that she couldn’t use the hall bathroom until I moved something for her (I found out later there was a rubber shark in the sink. She apparently doesn’t like rubber sharks). Somewhere in the middle of all this I started a volume-increasing chant of “AraronstopJustgivemeaminuteRachelgopottynow,” until finally that came out just a teech too loud for the neighbors one block over.

Eventually the kids went to bed, but I stayed up well past my bedtime for an extra-long victory lap during which I felt not at all the victor.

This morning it started all over again: The kids’ developmentally normal behavior and my (fairly rare) inability to process it without losing my temper. I snapped at my mom, at myself, at the kids, and likely the dog, too, but I don’t remember. After I dropped the kids at preschool, I sat at the kitchen table and struggled to figure out what was wrong with me. True, Andy is on one of his “50%-away-from-home” trips, and yes, we have a lot of remodeling going on, but those things didn’t really explain the depths of my I-need-a-Klonopin-NOW type of mood.

I got on my computer to work and the day’s date jumped out at me from the corner of my Mac: May 22, 2014: He died 19 years ago today. He would have been 20 this October.

Every year for as far back as I can remember, this has happened. Yes, I knew it was May. Yes, I knew the day was near. But I had no idea it was The Day.

Or so I thought.

My body—my forever-his-mom heart—somehow just knew. We are amazing creatures, humans.

Tonight during bedtime Rachel wanted to talk about Heaven. Some of her ruminations were hilarious:

“Mom, are there computers and cell phones in Heaven?”

“No, Honey, I don’t think so.”

“Well then how do people know what they’re supposed to do? Does God just tell them? Wouldn’t He need to leave a voicemail?”

Others were heartbreaking and beyond her years:

“Sometimes people go to Heaven even though it’s not their time to die.”

I held her tight.

“I don’t know why, but I’m crying a little,” she said, but she didn’t need to tell me: I already knew.

She has no idea. But her body, too, must just know. Sixteen years apart, having never met and, indeed, not even knowing of his existence, she knew. She’d had a bad day, she said. Things felt rough, her body was tired.

I know what she means.

These days are hard… the anniversaries, the birthdays… they come, like clockwork, yet I am always, always, taken by surprise.

 

 

 

 

Why I Don’t Care About Valentine’s Day

I’ve never been a big fan of marriage.

OK, that’s not really true. I think marriage is awesome. But for me, personally, marriage is, well, hard.

I’m the introvert to end all introverts. “Alone” is my middle name. So as much as I adore my husband and can’t say enough about the wonderful things I think both the legal contract as well as the covenant before God do for individuals, society, and children*, sharing daily space with someone is a whole other story.

I struggle with this a lot, and bless my husband’s heart, he puts up with me anyway.

Over the last couple of weeks, life’s been a little tough for us. We’ve had whooping cough, possible mono, colds, and, of course, work + kids. Throughout all this, my husband has remained perfectly (inexplicably frustratingly) healthy. He’s made me bad food (sorry, sweetie), changed even more diapers than normal, and pretty much rearranged his entire schedule to be home to put the baby down for his nap so I don’t have to.

Sweet, huh? But that’s nothing new. He’s always been that kind of guy.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, after a 12-hour work day for him and a long kid day for me, I saw my husband standing in the living room, vulnerable and crumpled in his shirtsleeves, tired and leaning on a doorframe… smiling. Laughing at some absurdly bad joke of mine, loving me despite my use of the word “shirtsleeves” and having worn the same pajama pants for 14 days in a row.

After sharing a tired hug, I said good night and headed down the stairs to go to bed while he stayed up with the baby.

On about step three it hit me: I love marriage.

I love that my husband and I joke in the middle of overwhelming fatigue, the way we start singing Journey in unison when the baby cries, our code words and wiggled eyebrows in social gatherings, and the fact that no matter how bad the days get, we know that we have to keep sharing space, keep singing Journey, keep smiling for the kids. And eventually, the bad days are forgotten and we dance in the kitchen to songs my husband doesn’t like but knows I do, while the kids try to cut in because they just can’t stand not to share in the love.

Valentine’s Day isn’t really a day to celebrate marriage. At least not marriage with kids. It’s about too-expensive roses, fattening chocolate, and waiting three hours on a table at an overcrowded restaurant with a mediocre fixed menu while the teenaged babysitter racks up the big bucks and goes through the medicine cabinet.

Instead, it’s the remaining 364 days out of the year that are about celebrating marriage. The bad days, the even worse days, and the grooves worn in the floor from dancing the same steps, day in, day out, laughing at it all, and knowing the person who you sometimes can’t stand is someone you will always love.

* I’m going to ignore the fact here that, historically, the structure of the legal contract was not necessarily a good thing for women.

Happy Valentine’s Day to the love of my life. You rock.

2013: The Year of the Woman

The year 2013 may well come to be known as the Year of the Woman.

Women of high socio-economic status both applauded and lamented the publication of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, while women of a certain age waxed nostalgic over the 50th anniversary release of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique. Those under 30 were surprised that the latter book existed, and those in their middle years realized the reading assignment that somewhat bored them as inapplicable in college was now vitally important, as they struggled with work/life balance and debated whether to stay home with the kids or remain in the paid workforce.

You can read the rest of today’s blog post at Sojourners by clicking here.

JStone/Shutterstock

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Sehnsucht

Tonight, two weeks after our last child’s first birthday, I reinstated my gym membership.

I went through the reenrollment process with a young, sprightly girl who seemed genuinely happy to help me.

“A pregnancy leave! How nice. Congratulations on the birth of your baby! Just fill in the baby’s name and date of birth on this form and he can go to Child Watch while you work out.”

“Great!” I fill out the form and hand it back.

“Okay, you’re good to—wait, don’t you mean October 2013?”

“Er, no. 2012.” Ms. Young and Sprightly stares at me.

I mumble, “There were complications.” (translation: “Life is complicated.”)

She still stares.

“But I’m here now!” small, awkward fist pump.

“Oh. Okay. Well then.” She hands me my ID and looks away.

Thanks, young sprightly girl.

The workout is great. I feel more alive, happier. On the drive home, I can feel the realignment of my spine, my neck. I can also tell just how sore I’ll be tomorrow.

Even though it’s barely after 5pm, it’s dark on the drive home, and store lights shine bright. I can see into Saul’s, where people eat free pickles and over-priced latkes. Twinkling lamps light the place where several years ago a friend—rich, East coast—took me for tapas and mojitos.

In the dark-made-bright, people seem to bustle. They seem fuller, somehow, then perhaps they think they are. Peppermint has replaced pumpkin, and when I get home, Rachel is making her Christmas list.

I start cooking, among other things, winter squash with butter and brown sugar. Nana will return next week, Collin the week after.

Andy and Rachel visit the porch to look at 6pm stars and I’m shooing Aaron away from the stove, wooden spoon in hand.

Tonight the early dark brings joy and something… else. Some frustration that none of this can be neatly pocketed, pulled out when I need it. It is fleeting, incapable of capture. Bittersweet and elusive.

Tomorrow, headed home on a crowded train full of tired people, legs sore and back aching, I will curse the early dark. But in this moment, with stars and vertebrae aligned, sticky smiles shining under a Berkeley sky, I am, almost, happy.

Related posts: The Smell of Pumpkin Lattes Can Only Mean One Thing: It’s Almost Christmas!

Porch view.

Porch view.