What I Know about What She Knew

What She Knew

When preparing for a recent work trip which promised much time on airplanes/in airports, I went through the familiar ritual of checking out the “Kindle Daily Deals” in hopes of finding something inexpensive to occupy my mind. With much reluctance, I selected What She Knew by Gillian Macmillan.

As the mom of 7 and 9 year old boys, I had much trepidation about diving into a story that centers around the disappearance of 8-year-old boy. I promised myself that if things got rough, I’d put the book down, back away slowly and resort to crosswords and gossip rags.

To say that I ended up devouring this book would be an understatement. I spent more than one night in my conference hotel reading until my eyes shut on their own, compelled and obsessed to know how it all turned out. It’s not only that the story is an exquisitely-crafted mystery.

This story delves so deeply into the many ways we humans punish one another and ultimately ourselves in times of crisis. When things go awry, we’re so quick to judge one another, judge ourselves…blame one another, blame ourselves. Too often, little room is left for being human, showing compassion…even and especially to ourselves.

In the end, I was left feeling that this wasn’t just a good book for me to read…but an important book for me to read. I found myself weeping and whipping out my notebook to write down passages more than once.

Those who know me well will not be surprised to read that—like lots of folks—I’ve seen some things, survived some stuff. There are dark corners in my mind that are sometimes hard to escape. When I got to the part of the book that reads, “…There are some events and uncertainties that you take to the grave, and they threaten to tumble you every single step of the way…” I wept and wrote and felt understood.

I wept and wrote some more when I read, “I understood in that moment…that being a mother had given [her]…a single silken strand, strong as a spider’s web, which had tethered her to her life. It was the string that had led her, time and time again, out of the enveloping, dangerous depths of the labyrinth that was her depression. It had prevented her from slipping fatally and completely away into the dark seductive folds of melancholia…” I thought of the days when I’ve only had strength to sit sandwiched on the couch between my boys and hold onto them for dear life…the days when I put something light and funny on the TV and just wrap myself around them until I regain the energy to get up, make something to eat, behave like a proper mother.

When I read, “…here’s the thing: none of us deserve a thing. That’s an illusion we all exist under…I should simply have been grateful for what I had. I should have celebrated my life as it was, imperfections, sadness, and all, and not forensically examined its faults…” I loosened the grip on some grief, some guilt.

And finally, when I read, “…I count my blessing every day for my blemished, damaged family, which is full of love, and this is fine, and that is all we need…” I thought, “Amen, Sister!” What I know about What She Knew is that I’m glad I read it and I hope others will do the same. There are books that are read to fill the time and there are books that are read to fill the soul. For me, this book was definitely the latter.Classic

The Season of Realism

For many, the New Year is an opportunity to reflect on all that has come before and ponder all that is yet to come. For those (like myself) who have birthdays on New Year’s Eve, the New Year is a time for double reflection…not just thinking about the past year but about all of life. Am I anywhere close to where I thought I’d be 20 years ago? If not, does it matter? What do I hope for the coming year, the next 20 years, and beyond?

Alien CakeAs I reflect and ponder on the doorstep of my 44th birthday, there is much I have surmised. For starters, I can confidently say that while the glittery, unrealistic dreams of my early 20s have faded, so have the cynical sorrows of my late 30s and early 40s. Like many of my contemporaries, I started adulthood with a few delusions of grandeur (e.g., Maybe I’ll open the world’s first nighttime poetry bakery so that I can sleep in, bake cakes in the late afternoon, and write/perform poetry by night!) When I was shaken still by the realities of parenting and mortgages, traumatic injuries, and the relentless grind of life in my late 30s and early 40s, I spent a fair amount of time being angry and sad…wondering how I could have been so wrong about what my life would become. Though the cocky confidence of youth didn’t seem to fit anymore,Pink Hair at times, I still kept trying to wear it. Other times, I found myself feeling most comfortable in a dark shroud of doubts. Even while cocooned comfortably under all that fabric, somewhere inside I knew that those doubts didn’t fit right either.

Now, I feel like I’m settling into my style…or at least the style I’ll wear for the next season or two. This new style is eclectic…a bit of the pop and color of youth mixed with classic touches of realism. Doubts and confidence are great accessories but should be used sparingly. When it feels like I’m wearing too much of either, I’ll do my best to shed something in pursuit of the ultimate in comfort and style.

Boys' StyleAs my boys grow older and develop their own style, it’s difficult to speculate what trends lie ahead or how my own style will be affected or influenced. As I stand grasping the threads of who I thought I was with one hand and the threads of who I’m becoming instead in the other, I hope that I my instincts will guide me to put aside the colors and textures that no longer suit so that I can weave something beautiful and comfortable from what remains.

XMAS 2015

Screen Time Unlimited

It’s been a little over a month since I was on a business trip and read this blog post about unlimited screen time while waiting at the airport. As a parent, I’ve read articles like this one which cite the extensive body of evidence that screen time isn’t good for kids. I’ve also read articles like this one which attempt to counter the conventional wisdom with the realities of life and parenting in a modern world. I’ve attended conferences sponsored by groups like EdSurge where I’ve seen firsthand the incredible educational possibilities that are now being unlocked by technology.

Without doubt, technology is a brave and complex new world filled with exciting possibilities and terrifying risks. There’s so much information swirling around that it’s difficult to know if the studies (like everything else) are lagging behind the technology, if (like all new and rapidly emerging phenomena) there are complexities that have yet to be teased out with adequate scientific rigor. Like many parents, I’m just trying to navigate and explore without getting myself or my kids lost, to listen to both my head and my heart and do what feels best. I wrestle daily with what’s appropriate, what’s feasible…what’s beneficial, what’s harmful. I know for sure that I get it wrong on some days and just hope that the right days outnumber the wrong.

Prior to reading the “unlimited screen time” blog post, me and mine had done our level best to be a “no more than 2 hours a day” family. While this seemed right based on the evidence, there were plenty of moments when I felt like I was spending way too much of my day monitoring minutes, explaining/arguing about/discussing our screen time policy. Since the hubs and I have staggered schedules and I’m on deck for the late shift, I would catch the brunt of the screen time angst. By the time I returned home from work in the late afternoon, the boys would often have burned through their screen time and–at the very time of the day when we were all exhausted and cranky and could use some veg out/cuddle on the couch time–screen time would be off the table as an option. I started to wonder what’s worse: (1) allowing my kids a little extra screen time or (2) arguing with my kids about screen time during the time of day when I am my least patient self.

Reading that blog post got me wondering if perhaps it might be possible to re-frame our approach to screen time so that instead of being a right that gets taken away, screen time could become a privilege that is earned for a hard day’s work. With this perspective in mind, the hubs and I sat down to make a list of all the things we want the boys doing instead of screen time. When the list was complete, we sat down to discuss and refine the list as a family. We explained that–as an experiment–we would be willing to try letting the boys have unlimited screen time if they would commit to finishing everything on the list BEFORE they booted anything up or turned anything on. We also stipulated that they would continue to be on the hook for “other duties as assigned” without complaint.

Screen Time Checklist

DrumsWhile this new approach to screen time hasn’t completely eliminated arguments or angst in our household, I am happy to report that rather than being filled with the soft glow of a cold screen, mornings are now filled with music and Legos, and comics…running, and bike rides and playing with pets. And in the afternoons..time spent cuddling on the couch far exceeds time spent arguing and monitoring. While Chris and I still struggle daily with so many little parenting decisions, I think it’Guitars safe to say that this particular parenting experiment seems to be going well. For now, the evidence in our house supports this new approach.

Running with Mama

Keepin’ it Clean

January 2015 073

Banana cakes with honey-sweetened chocolate, almond butter, slivered almonds, and honey-lemon syrup…kale/carrot/spicy avocado and bean salad…golden delicious apple and plenty of water to wash it all down

Since I have been doing the gluten free thing for a while, I’ve decided to ramp it up a bit and make a small cookbook of recipes that are healthy in other ways too. In addition to being gluten free, many of the selections are vegetarian/vegan and even the treats use minimal amounts of dairy and sugar. When sugar is used, it’s honey or coconut sugar which both have lower glycemic indices than the white processed stuff. Since I am NOT a vegetarian, a few recipes call for organic, free-range, lean meat. If you’re a vegetarian, you can skip those or substitute the meat components with something like a big beefy portabella mushroom. Surprisingly–at least in my opinion–all of these recipes are actually DELICIOUS and satisfying. If your’e looking for a way to eat well and EAT WELL, you might find something of value here. Roll up your sleeves, get out a plate and get ready to cook and eat clean!

Keepin it Clean with CBM

Momnesia

I sleep fitfully in the early morning hours, nervous that the alarm will ring and wake the lot in our tiny house. I stir and drift, stir and drift until the alarm is imminent. With one swift movement, I force myself awake. Armed with tiny smartphone flashlight, I navigate the fog and ink…tugging on workout clothes, tiptoeing through blackness, silently slinking into the car and easing down the driveway without starting the ignition to avoid waking my still-sleeping, easily-roused first born.December 2014 014

At the gym: Do I have the right form? Am I striking the right pose? Working hard enough? Responding coherently? High-fiving fervently?

At home: Does everyone have the weather-appropriate/organic/sustaining/hydrating/environmentally-friendly everything they need for the day ahead? Has homework been done? Chores? Is everyone acting civilized? Have the pets been fed and exercised? January 2015 027By the way, how’s my husband? What happened on his shift yesterday that I might need to know today? Was I supposed to bake for the class? For work? Speaking of work…best get on the road before all the good parking spaces are taken! Where’s that non-dairy/non-gluten/non-processed lunch I packed last night and nutritious breakfast I prepared this morning?

January 2015 085Morning drive: News of the world…sad, inspiring, beautiful, strange, terrifying, thought-provoking.

Office: Meetings, trainings, emails, voicemails, writing, planning, editing, facilitating.

Afternoon drive: More news. Call Chris. How was the day? Where shall we meet? What time are you off? What’s next? Baseball? Basketball? Karate? Soccer? Who needs gear? A snack? Am I coaching? Team momming? Snack shacking? PTAing? Book Clubbing?

At night: Dinner for the boys. Straighten the house. Feed and exercise the pets. Shower for the boys. Snuggles and kisses. All tucked in! Time to read to the boys. Dinner for the adults. Prep for tomorrow. Read a bit of that Book Club book. Maybe see Chris, maybe not. Sometimes…self-doubt. Am I doing too much? Not enough? Am I giving everyone—including myself—what they need? Am I making the most of being a human in this place at this time with these people?January 2015 031

Inside this dense forest of shifting attention and substantial remembering, sometimes things get lost for a while. Perspective, time…passwords. And so it came to pass that almost one year ago, I lost the password for this very blog. Since password retrieval was set to send to my now defunct old work email address, it seemed at times that the blog was dead, that access would never again be granted, that I would wander around tormented by the typos I would never be able to fix, the posts I would never be able to write. I searched the recesses of my mind unsuccessfully so many times that I started to give up hope. I almost called off the search. One day—for reasons I’m still trying to understand—a flash of clarity penetrated the forest and revealed the location of the long-hidden magical password.

Now that I have once again been welcomed into the land of the blogging, I can’t say that I’ll have lots of time to write. This said; I am thrilled to be back, to be able to post when I can, to have a handful of you indulge me when I manage to put something up. After a year of serious Momnesia, BEHOLD THE RETURN OF COMIC BOOK MAMA!

Gluten Free Cooking with CBM: Version 2.0!

Recently, I taught Oscar to make ganache. As you can see, he was eager to learn.

Recently, I taught Oscar to make ganache. As you can see, he was eager to learn.

 

Once again this year, I hosted a gluten free cooking class as a fundraiser for Oscar’s school. As part of the class, I cobbled together a small cookbook of recipes. This year–with so much going on outside of the kitchen–it was difficult to find the time and energy to sink my teeth into this project. Still, I think there are some delicious recipes in here. I hope you think so too! To create your own copy of the cookbook, print the file linked below two-sided, fold, staple, and start cookin’!

Gluten Free Cooking with CBM 2.0 Magical Modifications

Here are a couple of clowns enjoy their mousse.

Here are a couple of clowns enjoy their mousse.

 

 

My Comfy Valentine

Valentine’s Day…that once-a-year-Hallmark-opportunity to reflect on hearts and flowers, love and chocolate. In the wake of a year that has at times chewed me up and spit me out a bit, it’s sometimes been hard to get in the mood to feel celebratory. From the holidays to the last week of vomiting, asthmatic, attitudinal kids and late night, no-sleep baking marathons…it’s been hard to really feel the magic that holidays like Christmas and Valentine’s Day are supposed to illicit.

In my 42nd year, I guess I’ve been having something akin to a midlife crisis. My body isn’t as strong or fit as it used to
be. I’ve had to come to terms with the nightmarish realities of what I had thought would turn out to be my “dream job.” It’s been a year of feeling like things just don’t quite fit…from my shoes to my pants…to my career…to my life. There are times that I haven’t even enjoyed being with myself so I’m heading out on a limb to surmise that others didn’t have any interest being near me either. In such moments, inevitably it’s those closest to the epicenter that get hit the hardest, sustain the most damage. So…I’m guessing that there have been many moments this past year that Chris hasn’t exactly been feeling the love.

486: Valentine's DayWhat I’ve sorted out from all my moody broody moments is that there comes a time when one must reconcile dreams with realities…where one must let go of everything they thought, hoped would happen and embrace what’s actually happening instead. In recent days and weeks, this is what I’ve been working to do. In the midst of such a space, it may sound jaded but—from the perspective of an old married lady coming off of a tough year—the most romantic and poignant thing I’ve heard this Valentine season was uttered by Ira Glass on the February 7, 2014 edition of “This American Life.” He said…

“…one of the things that’s a comfort in marriage is that there isn’t a door…and so if something is messed up in the short term, there’s the comfort of knowing that like, we’ve made this commitment so we’ve just got to work this out. And even if tonight we’re not getting along or something between us just doesn’t feel right, there’s the comfort of knowing we’ve got time to figure this out. And that makes it so much easier. Because we do have times when we hate each other’s guts. And the ‘no escape clause’ is a bigger comfort to me than I ever would have thought…”

So…cheers to love…the new and shiny unsoiled kind…the intense and crazy passionate kind…and mostly—for me—the old and married and comfortable kind. On Valentine’s Day and any day, what more could a girl hope for than a guy who holds her hand and keeps plodding through…even and especially on the hard, grey, murky days.January 2015 037

Reclamation Proclamation

It happens slowly, doesn’t it? The distance between ideal health and uncomfortably snug pants is generally marked by gradual tiptoeing rather than giant, bold strides. Tiny, seemingly-insignificant, often-unconscious little decisions accumulate until one morning a straining button gives way and takes flight. Out of curiosity, you step on the scale and exclaim, “What the what?!! How exactly did I get here?!” And then you recall…the extra cookies, the lack of attention to regular exercise, all those delicious and totally-worth-it holiday cocktails.

Considering it was my first post-injury race, I was SHOCKED to place third for my age. Must have been a small pool.

Considering it was my first post-injury race, I was SHOCKED to place third for my age. Must have been a small pool.

After proving to myself in November that—even after a life-altering injury—I still have it in me to run a race and perform decently, I did myself a huge disservice. Rather than continuing down the path toward health, I patted myself on the back and gave myself a pass for the holidays. Because I pushed it a bit too much during the race and my foot ached as a result, I justifiably gave myself permission to ramp it back a bit. “Ramp it back a bit” gradually became, “Can’t run OR walk because it’s too cold and dark and the dog’s old,” “Give yourself a break you just started a new job!,” “You should probably test every single thing you bake during the holidays,” and finally…“What the heck?…it’s the holidays!”

As much as I enjoyed being pregnant--since I'm done growing humans--I'd like to avoid having a stomach this large again if at all possible.

As much as I enjoyed being pregnant–since I’m done growing humans–I’d like to avoid having a stomach this large again if at all possible.

Last week, after about a month and a half of slacking, I mustered the courage to step on the scale and survey the damage. Much to my dismay, I found that I am the heaviest I’ve been since pregnancy. While some of my friends scoff when I tell them this and say things like, “What are you talking about?! You look great!” I remind them that OF COURSE I look great! It’s the middle of winter! It’s still perfectly acceptable to hide all of my extra “softness” under many layers of clothing and a fabulous coat. I think they’d be singing a different tune if they saw me in a bathing suit or—better yet—talked to that button that finally gave up the fight after struggling too long to contain my girth. Whether a size 6 or a size 26, when things stop fitting the way they’re supposed to …it’s just not fun anymore. No matter how I may look to myself or anyone else…I feel sluggish and gross. The boys are starting to squish my once taught parts and say things like, “Mom: How come you’re so squishy?” How come, indeed.

I am fully aware that at the ripe old age of 42, after the birth of two children and two months of bed rest over the summer, things aren’t just going to perk up like they did when I was 20. I’m ever-so fine with the inevitable droop that befalls us all over time. Still, there comes a time to distinguish between what is inevitable and what is simply poor management. For me, that time has come. And so, I am issuing this reclamation proclamation…

Self: You don’t seem to be performing up to your potential. If you continue to underperform, a heartbreaking loss of very cute wardrobe options may ensue. Body: You belong to me and I’m taking you back. You’ve had your fun little vacation and now it’s time to get back to work. Instead of gradually tiptoeing toward a bigger size, it’s time to gradually tiptoe back to where you belong. Maybe instead of coasting up elevators, you can take the stairs. Maybe you can do some yoga while you’re catching up on Downton Abbey. Maybe you can bring your running clothes and get moving while the boys are in karate class. Perhaps you can limit yourself to just 3 pieces of chocolate most days. We’ve wandered dangerously off course and it’s time to get back into familiar territory.

Spazzy Intensity

Behold the extrovert: Front and center and hamming it up. Behold the introvert: Brooding in the background.

Behold the extrovert: Front and center and hamming it up. Behold the introvert: Brooding in the background.

The current dynamic in our house is this: We have one very intense, sometimes melodramatic introvert and one spazzy, in-your-face, wacka-wacka-wacka extrovert. Mr. Intensity can often be found reading or playing in the corner by himself while Mr. Spazzy does his level best to draw Intensity out by peppering him with questions, trying to show him stuff and—if all else fails—being as annoyingly adorable as humanly possible. This often results in Intensity punching or insulting Spazzy and Spazzy (who is also the Town Crier) tattling. We are typically treated to every excruciating detail of Intensity’s misdeeds and usually none of the details related to Spazzy’s part in the fallout. It’s only after a major effort to extract information from tight-lipped Intensity that we are able to piece together something resembling the full story. My hope and dream is that eventually these two will balance each other out. My current experience is that they drive each other to the brink of madness and often bring me and their daddy along for the ride.

A perfect example of this dynamic presented yesterday on the drive home from karate. In the last couple of days, Oscar has been caught sneaking treats. This resulted in the loss of the privilege of dessert. Following the loss of privileges, much dramatic sadness inevitably ensues. I have learned that trying to reason or explain in such moments is futile. If I have any hope of inserting a life lesson, I must bide my time until the emotional storm has passed.

And so it was that in the relative calm of yesterday’s post-karate routine that I decided to say, “Oscar: Do you know why it’s so upsetting to me and Dad when we catch you sneaking and being dishonest…even just a little bit?” Beautiful brooding Oscar set down his book, let out and exasperated sigh and said, “Why?” “Because,” I said, “It won’t be long before you’re out in the world without us and we want to have faith that even when we’re not watching, you’ll do the right and honest thing.” “OK,” he said and resumed reading. After a short silence I asked, “Do you know what defines the kind of person you are?” Again, he set down his book and huffed, “No. What?” “It’s the kind of person you are when nobody’s looking. My dream for you is that—even when nobody’s watching—you’ll choose to do the right and honest thing.”

At about that moment, we arrived at the front of the pet store and I instructed the boys to sit tight while I ran in to purchase some sawdust for the guinea pigs. I returned to the car moments later, to this excited report: “Mom!” Boris said, “Oscar said he can’t relax with you in his life!” Oscar summarily issued his brother a sideways stink-eye. After summoning much strength to push down the bursts of uncontrollable laughter that were bubbling up inside me, I said, “Oscar: I’m not trying to stress you out. I just want you to understand why Daddy and I make the decisions we make. I want you to understand where we’re coming from.” “OK,” he said as he returned to his book.

I have no way of knowing if any of the seeds I am planting will grow or if they will simply blow away in the wind. I can turn the soil, add water, try to coax out the sun. Still since I am growing a completely new and unique species, this is all a bit of an experiment. I may fail to provide the right nourishment, bugs may come to eat my spoils…all I have toiled to produce may die on the vine or fail to sprout in the first place. For now, I am enjoying my time in the garden. I remain hopeful that someday I will taste the sweet fruit of many years’ labor.

The camera doesn't lie. Spazzy Intensity abounds.

The camera doesn’t lie. Spazzy Intensity abounds.

If the Shoe Doesn’t Fit

All the flats I could wear when my cast was first removed. With some effort, I can wear a few heels now too.

All the flats I could wear when my cast was first removed in the Fall of 2013. With some effort, I can wear a few heels now too.

2013. What a year. I would scarcely know where to begin to describe the transformations, peaks and valleys that have characterized the past year. While transformations are still happening and there is certainly still much to sort out, I would say that in 2014–more than anything else–I am planning to shift from the fire-in-the-belly, take-on-the-world mentality of the 20s and 30s to the quiet contemplation of the 40s. I no longer feel the need to prove my worth. More than anything, I wish to whittle down to those who see my worth already, who value me for what I am, and accept me for what I am not.

Unlike the careless kitty I was in my youth, I see that I do not rebound quickly from the hard falls anymore. I don’t possess the will or facility to dust off and carry on as effortlessly as I used to. Rebuilding is certainly possible but it takes time and struggle and meditation.

Because I’ve lost count of the lives I have left, I want to savor and cherish what remains and feel comfortable while doing it. I want to let go of all that no longer serves me. I want to slip into the beauty of my own skin. I’m clearing out all that is impractical and uncomfortable. I am wearing the shoes that fit.