Category Archives: Parenting

Melting Away

After several returns of summer-type weather, we finally seem to be immersed in autumn. The leaves are wildly different colors, and are falling off the trees, causing Maggie to yelp “Uh-Oh, the leaves fell down!” half a dozen times every time we step outside.

Because it has cooled off some, we’ve started once again taking nice long walks in the afternoon. We walk in the cool air and watch as the Halloween decorations in our neighborhood go up, becoming more and more elaborate. (We have two carved jack-0-lanterns sitting outside, but other than that, we’ve relied on our neighbors to provide the ambiance.)

When we go for these walks, Maggie has started asking to walk for the first leg of the journey instead of being pushed in a stroller, and so yesterday when we left the house for a walk, Maggie walked next to David. I walked behind them pushing Beckett in his stroller.

As we walked, I had the opportunity to really look at Maggie for what felt like the first time in months. Of course, I look at her every day. I spend all of her waking hours in the same room with her. And yet, I realized yesterday that I had not really seen her for what seems like a long time.

She was wearing an outfit that she had picked out herself: red, polka-dotted pants; purple fleece jacket; bright blue sun hat. She chattered away to David as we walked, asking questions about the leaves and trees and pumpkins and Halloween.

And maybe it was the distance. Maybe it was the fact that I was just watching her instead of interacting with her. Maybe it was the few moments that I could spend around her, but not working to meet her immediate needs, but she suddenly seemed so grown up. I could not see the baby she was even just a year ago.

On the one hand, this is hardly surprising. Anyone who has spent any time around children knows that they tend to grow and change over night.

On the other hand, this is MY kid. She’s my firstborn, and I thought I would notice.

Instead, her babyhood has simply melted away. She has become a kid – one who talks and can walk to the library and back, instead of riding in a stroller. She is steady on her feet. She crawls only in solidarity with her brother. She can peel her own banana in the morning. She even sits and “reads” to herself when I need to work and write.

It’s not heartbreaking, or even bitter sweet. I love her independence. After all, this is what we all want for our children. We want them to grow into amazing, interesting, inquisitive people who can peel their own bananas.

But I really thought I would have noticed when it happened.

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Consequences

Trigger warning: sexual abuse.

Today is a day for… I don’t even know. Justice is not quite the word, because when it comes to sexual abuse against children, there is very little justice that can actually be achieved. I have in mind the image of Lady Justice, blindfolded, holding the balanced scales. In cases of sexual abuse against young people, there is simply no balance possible. So, this is a day for a moderate kind of recognition of the real-life consequences of the actions of those who perpetrate abuse as well as those who work to shield the perpetrators from the consequences of their actions.

Yesterday, the NCAA announced sanctions against Penn State University for the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. A $60 million fine. Vacating a decade’s worth of victories for the Penn State football team and their coach Joe Paterno. A ban on post-season play for four years. And though it was not part of the sanctions, Penn State removed the statue of Joe Paterno that stood outside of Beaver Stadium.

There is a saying in 12-step circles that it is right to allow an addict to have the benefit of his or her own consequences. In the case of addicts, this means that the family members and friends are doing the addict a disservice by shielding him or her from the consequences of her or his destructive behavior. And the truth is, the consequences remain, even when the addict is shielded from them. Instead of the addict suffering the consequences, often times, the consequences fall to the children or other family members. This is neither just nor healthy, and the fallout almost always does more damage than if the addict had been allowed to experience the consequences herself.

What we are seeing at Penn State is the fallout after entirely too much time, energy, and money was spent shielding Jerry Sandusky from the consequences of his destructive behavior. NPR ran a piece this morning in which some students were upset that they are being penalized for Sandusky’s actions. And, of course, they have the right to be angry. They are experiencing the fallout of an extended delay of consequences. But let us be clear. The NCAA is not the bad guy here. There is plenty of blame and anger to be spread around, but it ought not be directed at those who are finally enforcing consequences for a decade of cover-up. The fallout always happens, and the fallout is not necessarily just.

It is for this reason that I have to wonder when the fallout will come down in the Catholic Church, and who will suffer the consequences.

Today Monsignor William Lynn sentenced. Last week, Monsignor Lynn was found guilty of child endangerment for participating in a cover-up of sexual abuse. Let’s make this clear. Monsignor Lynn allowed priests he knew to be predators to continue to minister to children.

His sentence is 3-6 years. Now, apparently, the defense lawyers are appealing the court’s decision, and the appeal has a significant chance of being successful. The reasoning behind the appeal is that Monsignor Lynn never directly supervised children.

Monsignor Lynn is really a middle-man in this scandal. He did not abuse anyone directly. Apparently he even had moments when he wanted to document and report the abuse. “But when Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua instead had the list destroyed, Lynn chose to remain in the job and obey his bishop – by keeping quiet.”

I fear that we have not yet begun to see the real fallout from the abuse dolled out by predatory priests and the cover-up that extends all the way up the ladder to the Vatican. At Penn State, after a decade of sexual abuse perpetrated by one man, the university cleaned house, and the fallout is to the tune of $60 million, and other sanctions, most of which will be felt rather acutely by the students who had nothing to do with the abuse. In the Catholic Church, we are looking at decades of abuse by who-knows-how-many priests, and what we see most often is a single diocese making token settlements to a group of abuse victims.

All actions have consequences, and when the offender is shielded from the consequences of his or her actions, there is always someone else who ends up bearing the brunt of it. I don’t yet know how to predict who will bear the brunt of the fallout from the Catholic Church’s efforts to keep the misconduct of its priests quiet and secret.

“Let the children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

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On Inspiration

This is a post in response to Small Assignment 4. Also check out responses from Anecdotaltales and Prajjwal. Thanks for writing and sharing!

A few years ago, I had a supervisor who drove me crazy. The reason for the crazy-making is that I was supposed to get a written review every quarter, but quarter after quarter, I did not get a written review. Then, all of a sudden, I would receive four quarterly reviews on the same day. This was… unhelpful. The excuse that my supervisor gave for the late reviews was that he needed to “be inspired” to write. Let’s be clear. He had to be “inspired” to simply do his job.

Now, years later, I am a writer. I get assignments and deadlines, and I must meet those deadlines or not get paid. When I get to work (often still wearing my pajamas), my first step is staring at a blank screen, or maybe write a little chicken scratch on a notebook or on the back side of an envelope. But at the end of the day, the deadline does not move, and the deadline does not wait for inspiration.

The experience of writing professionally and on deadline has crystallized one thing for me: writing is NOT about inspiration. Writing is about, well, writing. The moments when I feel inspired are wonderful moments, but if I’m honest, I must admit that those moments are rather few and far between. I am always more capable of finding an excuse to not write than I am of finding “inspiration.” In fact, not feeling inspired becomes a wonderfully convenient excuse to avoid writing. It’s right up there with “I have two babies” and “I don’t get any sleep.”

Last week, some old friends came to visit us for a few days, and then we drove out to middle Tennessee a rented a cabin for the weekend. While there, all gathered under one roof, we decided to work on a little group art project, which took the form of a book for each of the three families. Most people drew a little picture or a sketch. The kids who could be trusted to not eat the pens made drawings of their own. Now, I am not an artist. The best I can do on most days is draw a cartoon cow, although I do think I happen to draw a mean cartoon cow. So it was suggested that I write a little something.

Now, we were in a beautiful cabin out in the woods. We were half a mile from a beautiful lake, surrounded by friends and children and a hundred different reasons to feel inspired. But I did not feel inspired. I felt pressured and on the spot and a little weird. I was busy trying to keep my kids from destroying the other kids’ toys, and I really just wanted to pour another glass of wine. But one afternoon, I sat down and wrote a little something to put in the memory book. It was not the best something I’ve ever read; in fact, it was a poem. I am really not a very good poet. But it fit on the small sheet of paper, and it was written.

I believe in inspiration. I do believe that there are times when the Muse whispers in my ear and the words fit together like pieces of a puzzle. But most of the time, writing is just about getting the words down. So let me go and pour myself a glass of wine, (or coffee, as it is not yet noon), and let’s get to work.

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And.. I’m back!

Right. So, I went out of town there for a while.

I took the kids and spent the week with my parents, where there is a pool a block away and where someone else always did the cooking. From there we went and spent a few days with my grandmother, who turned 94 in May. It was wonderful to spend the time with family and to watch the kids discover the joys of swimming. It was a week of sun and light and laughter. But it was not particularly conducive to writing anything worthy of publication (on the blog or otherwise.)

So now we’re back in Memphis, and the kids are going through typical grandparent withdraw, what with the drag of just hanging out with me now. We’re all getting back into the swing of things, just in time for another little trip out of town next weekend. And then another trip out of town a couple of weeks after that. I know. My life is so hard. First world problems.

I am hoping, though, that in the next few days I will manage to get something worth reading written down and posted here. For now, though, let me encourage you all to keep on writing. Put pen to paper. That’s what counts!

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The Impossible Days

I’m working on thinking up a new Small Assignment, but in the mean time, I want to talk about impossible days.

Since we have gotten back from Nashville, writing has been kind of like… pulling teeth?  No. Pulling teeth is kind of cliche. More like trying to catch fruit flies in a butterfly net, except not quite so whimsical. Maybe it’s been like walking through foot-deep mud – the really thick kind that clings to your boots and sucks the shoes right off of your foot.  So I’m left wading through the mud with my butterfly net. Or something.

Of course, Maggie has been kind of sick since the return from Nashville, though no return of the puke-like symptoms. She just occasionally wakes up in the middle of the night whimpering “My tummy hurts.” It is both the most adorable and the most pathetic thing I’ve ever seen. We have continued the experiment of the shared room, and while it is getting better, Maggie seems to prefer sleeping on the floor right next to Beckett.  When she whimpers, he wakes up.  And the cycle continues.

So I’m tired.  I feel like creativity is kind of leaking out of my ears.  I have tried writing on the computer, in a notebook, on scratch paper, on a great big tablet with a sharpie.  Most of what I keep coming up with is halting and weirdly worded, at best.  Most of time I just end up doodling.  I can draw a MEAN cartoon pig, let me tell you.

So here I am.  Tired.  Trying desperately to remember that word.  You know, the one that means… that thing?

My guru Anne Lammott says we all have impossible days, and maybe even impossible weeks. During those impossible times, we need to keep on writing, even when it’s just a wet trail of snail slime.

So, here goes. Writing snail slime.

Time to strap on those boots and grab that butterfly net.  I’m hunting some words.

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Vacation: It ain’t what it used to be.

Warning: In what follows, there will be mention of vomit.  You are not obligated to read any more.  You have been warned.

Right, so I posted this last week, and then we packed up the car and flew the coop.  So this is my response to my third Small Assignment.

Last week, the small vacation that we had planned to go visit some friends in Nashville kind of… appeared.  I found myself running around the house making sure that the kids had enough clean clothes to get through three days plus sunblock, and Oh Yeah Maggie’s things that she insists on having in bed with her these days, including the plastic purple Easter basket that we got for an Easter egg hunt last year.

We stayed with the same person we always stay with when we go to Nashville.  The last time we visited, I was pregnant with Beckett, and our friend was living in a three-bedroom townhouse.  These days, though, he is in the process of building a house, so he sold the townhouse and is living temporarily in a one-bedroom high rise loft.  This meant that the whole family – David, me, Maggie, and Beckett – all stayed in the same room.  Beckett was immediately beside me and Maggie slept on the floor on a little toddler-sized sleeping bag.

All went about as well as we possibly could have hoped.  The kids went to sleep several hours before David and I crept into the room and climbed into bed.  Then in the morning, the kids somehow both ended up in bed with David and me as we tried to protect our friend (who was sleeping on the couch) from the noises of small children in the morning.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a vacation without some kind of hiccup, right?  That came when something shorted in the elevator on Friday evening, and the power to the entire building was blown.  It was about 4:30PM when it happened.  We spent the rest of our visit without power.  Fortunately for us, our friend lives on the 4th floor and not the 20th.  Maggie can handle four flights of stairs.  (For that matter, I can also make four flights of stairs while carrying Beckett.)  We figured that was our adventure for this vacation.

After spending a wonderful couple of days in Nashville (even despite the power outage), we headed back to Memphis, deciding that we would stop for gas .  The kids were exhausted, and so we figured they would probably just pass out for most of the 3-hour drive.  Well, 15 minutes into our drive back to Memphis, we ran into a traffic jam of rather epic proportions.  After about 40 minutes or so, we came to an exit (3 miles from where the traffic jam began), and we took it.  We wound our way to a gas station, where we stopped to fill up the tank.

While we were sitting in the car, letting the gas tank fill up, our leisurely drive took a turn toward the gross.

Maggie was singing peacefully in the back seat when suddenly, she puked.  All the way down her front, all over the car seat, in the buckles, everywhere.  It was unbelievably gross.  I got out of the car and got her out of the car seat.  I undressed her, and started cleaning her up as best I could.  Fortunately we were stopped at a gas station and could buy some cleaning supplies.  David bought a package of “Wet Ones,” which we used to clean the car seat and surrounding area.  Then we gave Maggie her little plastic Easter basket, in case she had to hurl further on down the road, said a little prayer, and took off to drive the rest of the way.

Maggie is doing better today.  She hasn’t puked since we were stopped at the gas station outside of Nashville.  But that event is likely to be the defining mark of this vacation.

I remember when my vacations were largely about reading a few good books, getting a little sun, and maybe sleeping in.  Now my vacation is about trying to keep my kids quiet so that we don’t wake up other people before 7AM, and then cleaning up puke on the way home.

Funny thing is that I’m having the time of my life going on vacation with my kids, puke and all.

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Small Assignment 3: Vacation

(Once again, there was one responder to the small assignment last week on School Lunches.  If you haven’t already, go and read his response here.)

I don’t really know about elsewhere in the world, but in Memphis, though it is not yet summer by the calendar, it certainly is summer in terms of temperature.

It is also the time of year when I look at the next three months and see travel plans stacking up every two weeks or so.  Now is the beginning of a season of traveling to visit family and friends and having family and friends come and visit us.  We’ll be taking some shorter jaunts to some more-or-less local-ish places, and one big, pack-the-rented-car-and-drive-for-two-days trip.

All of this planning makes me think of the days before adulthood when vacation meant waking up one day and getting in the car.  Being magically transported to a new place with new smells and new sights.  These days, vacation is more about watching my kids have that experience.  (Maggie is already running around saying, “Beach!” even though we won’t be leaving for our beach vacation for another two months.)

So the assignment this week is to write about vacation.  It can be a memory of a particular vacation, a meditation on vacations more generally, a short story about a dude who goes on vacation and gets more than he bargained for, or a haiku about a beach ball.

As usual, if you choose to write about this assignment, post the link to your response in a comment here, and I’ll share it at the end of the week on this sight.  Also, as usual, if you or someone you know might be interested in this little virtual writing group we’ve got going, share this post.  Anyone is invited to participate, with any writing style and really, any topic.  (Also, if you have a suggestion for a small assignment, let me know!)

Good scribbling!

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