About Me

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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


I'm a good parent. Most of the time I know that for sure; sometimes I question myself a bit. 

Parenthood suits me. One of my favorite things to do is observe people. This is why I love reading fiction and I love watching movies and TV. I like to think about what makes us how we are--where do our traits and personalities come from? Personality tests are totally my jam too--Meyers-Briggs, the enneagram. Having some algorithm or outside entity tell me what I'm like has often been soothing to me--especially during times when I was really trying to figure myself out. See the reason I will start cleaning the kitchen but not finish is because I'm a "P" which means I get excited to start projects but don't like to finish them. Ah ah! So much insight.

My main parenting goal, I would say, is to provide a supportive and safe environment in which my kids can learn to be themselves. There are lots of sub-goals, of course. I want them to be kind. I want them to have good table manners and to be adventurous eaters. I want them to be curious and interested. I want them to read for pleasure. I want them to see skin color and race and culture and gender and ask questions so they can better understand what those things all mean. I want them to play outside. I want them to be good friends and have good friends. This list could go on and on. The main thing, though, is to give them space and guidance on how to figure out how to listen to the voices inside them. Their guts. Whatever it is that just IS. What we're born with. Our souls?

It is endlessly fascinating. To have four children and watch them--how different they are, the things they have in common, the things they like to do, the strengths they each have. Where does it all come from? What role do my husband and I play in all of this? Parenthood is totally my thing.

It's worth mentioning, however, that I can be very judgmental. Of others and of myself. I have a bad habit, a challenging mindset, that tells me that there is a right way of doing things. I'm probably my most frequent target. Not sure where that comes from but it's there and I have to pay close attention to it, trying not to let it get in the way. I mention it because it comes up as I'm trying to help my kids learn to be themselves. Presumably they will do things and be things that I might not like. I do think I have some influence--that part of raising children is teaching them values, or at least explaining mine.

That's the other part of parenthood that I like--the way it shows me myself in new ways. Why do I react so strongly to certain things? Why do some behaviors piss me off? Why do I think certain things are so important? So many opportunities to observe! I love it. I mean, it can be exhausting and annoying to be observing and thinking so much but a) that's part of who I am and b) that's why I go to yoga, so I can keep learning how to quiet my never-quiet mind.

And finally, there are some things that I hold to be true no matter what when it comes to kids.

It is my responsibility as an adult to do my best to make sure all kids around me are safe. 
Being a kid is important and sacred.
Kids are little people. They are as old as they have ever been every time you meet them. They deserve respect and attention.
What I do matters. The way I treat people and treat myself is something they see and learn from.
Kids like and need boundaries. As I an adult, I make the rules and communicate them so that the kids can be safe and not have to worry about who is in charge. 

I am learning so much. There are things I do as a parent that I always knew I would do, long before I ever actually had kids. There are other things, many things, that have surprised me and make me question my own views and priorities. It kicks my ass, it makes me smile. Sometimes it makes my heart swell with love, other times I have tunnel vision so I can get through the next five minutes. Why do I think I'm good at it? Because it's who I am, because I love it, because I pay attention and learn so I can do better, and because of some mysterious combination of who I am in my soul and who I've been brought up to be.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Mountain play

We celebrated our little girls' first birthday on Saturday with our first pool party. Last year at the Bigs first birthday party the pool was an empty pit and some of the kids hopped in and picked up tools to chip away at the plaster. . .safe and fun at our house!

I bought the six of us superhero capes in honor of this milestone. More than a few people told us "Once you get through the first year. . . .it's much easier?" I can't remember the last part of the sentence but the implication was that the first year was really hard and then it would get easier. So superhero capes to proclaim that ta da! We made it through the first year! Again!

Ha. Then we upped the ante and took the kids to the Mountain Play atop Mt. Tamalpais in Marin yesterday. The husband and I are still recovering from the excursion. It was. . .not easy. We didn't expect it to be easy but it was really, truly the opposite of easy. Our kids can handle an hour long drive in the minivan with few complaints. And my boy was super excited to see the line of school buses waiting to drive us up to the top of the mountain--he looks buses. And backhoes. And garbage trucks. And mail trucks. Apparently he does not love riding in a school bus--at least not up a windy road that keeps going and going. Each of us parents had a one-year-old in a hiking backpack, a bag (picnic and diaper) and a two-year-old, alternately by the hand or in arms We got very few questions or exclamations (usually we get a chorus of "Wow! Twins!" "Are those all yours?" "You've got your hands full!"). I think our fellow passengers were mostly silenced by their thoughts of what in the fuck are these fools doing? Yep. That was us.

There was crying. And whining. And seat switching. Eventually I pulled out some chocolate covered pretzel sticks. . .about one minute before we saw the entrance to the play. Sigh.

They were immediately entertained--by the people, by the little golf cart decorated in ribbons (used to transport people who needed help walking). We walked up the sloped hill to the amphitheater and found the seats my parental in-laws had found for us. Stone steps stretched down the mountain side and people sat on bleachers made of dirt and stone. My older daughter promptly fell off our bleacher onto the picnic set-up of the two men below us--a fall of about a foot and a half. She cried but was comforted pretty easily. The men were gentle and forgiving, despite having wine and cheese flung about. I may have yelled Jesus Christ! very loudly when it happened.

The play was sweet--Peter Pan. I didn't expect to watch much, if any of it, and I didn't. But it was nice to hear the singing while breathing in the fresh, mountain air and that distinctive Northern California smell of dust and bay leaves, salt and pine. We passed kids amongst the six adults and they all seemed to have fun. We sat on a blanket in the shade and played with sticks and moss and rocks. During the dueling scene Peter Pan shouted "He's mine!" of Captain Hook and Lily, in my arms, said "Mine". So she was listening, which was very cool.

We packed up early to get in the front of the line for the shuttles--the idea of waiting an hour just to get back on the school bus made me want to cry. Despite not enjoying the ride up Cyrus was happy to see the buses again, chanting "school bus" as he pointed them out. This bus was more crowded and we wedged in, two babies each. At one point I looked over at my husband and was pretty sure the look on his face exactly mirrored the one on my own. It was a look that said There is no where to go and no way to get out of this except to wait. Painful. It's own fresh circle of hell--covered in tired, hungry, diaper-rashed babies on a school bus riding down a mountain. There was vomit. And poop. And screaming. Then it ended and we hustled off the bus as fast as two weighed-down parents can hustle. We dumped bags, backpacks and children in a pile (the children were lovingly placed, not dumped) and then my husband ran to get the car while I kept our crew out of the way of cars and buses. Both little babies were asleep--one in my arms, one in the backpack.

The thing I keep realizing about adventures and outings with children is that it doesn't stop when the excursion is over. We are the ones who still need to drive them home, unload them, feed them, bathe them (sometimes) and put them to bed. Hours later, laid out on the couch watching reruns of Friday Night Lights on a randomly discovered and randomly existing Texas Longhorn TV station, we looked at each other and sigh. Like two limp dishrags, all energy and life-force having drained out from the soles of our feet.

Probably the people who said it gets easier after the first year didn't mean for us to test that theory by doing harder and more tiring things with these kids, just because we can. And of course in many ways it is getting easier--they sometimes play together on their own, which is a delight. The older ones can communicate so much more, which makes things very fun. The littles are interactive, joining in all our reindeer games and cracking us up. They all mostly sleep most of the time. Except for teething and random freak outs and other impossible to understand crises.

Yesterday was meant as a celebration of my mother-in-law's birthday, which is today. It's a big birthday and I know we will never forget it. Fun was had. Some misery too but that's the beauty of being human, and of being a parent. The misery fades and soon we'll be energized enough to plan another adventure.

Saturday, June 20, 2015


Ulcerative colitis was my first diagnosis. This past Monday was my first day at a new job. I'm working at the transplant center where I received my liver transplant almost fifteen years ago. My colitis flared with a vengeance Sunday night after being quiescent for a good, long while. As I waited for my day to start I looked around the waiting room in the liver clinic where I used to sit, newly cut open and reorganized, waiting for someone to come get me. When I first got out of the hospital I had to go to clinic every day for a month. The halls seemed so long as I shuffled along the carpet on my way to the elevator. Getting up from a chair made me look like a hunched, old woman bent over as I was to protect my abdomen held together with 55 staples in the shape of an upside-down T.

Colitis is...embarrassing. It's about poop and intestines and blood and nothing I ever really want to talk about so I rarely do. I certainly didn't want to greet my new employers with any details of this, even as I thought about how they more than anyone know some of the stories my body has told over the years. So I took deep breaths and excused myself when necessary and left early, my stomach clenching in pain. The rest of the week I spent in bed or on the couch. Sometimes I played with the kids but usually my husband took care of them, with the help of many other members of our team. I hardly ate anything. The idea of food sounded bad all around.

Someone once told me that with bowel disease or lots of diarrhea you end up flushing all of the good hormones right out of your body. The dopamine, the serotonin. That felt like a relief to me, to know that something scientific was occurring because these colitis flares make me so drained completely of all hope and happiness. I can almost recognize the untruth of the feelings because they are so pervasive that I have to remind myself that I don't actually hate everything in my life. That's not me...right?

Folding laundry on Thursday night I started crying. Matching one tiny pant leg to another to fold away a pair of size 9 month pants I felt the weight of time and its passage. It's excruciating slowness, it's warp speed. I remember sitting on the same couch, discussing our surprise pregnancy with fear and worry. Those surprise babies turn one today. My big twins are talking more and more and looking more and more like little kids.

Have to stop because there's crying from one of the kids' rooms. The birthday party starts soon. This is just a tiny scrape off the surface of more than two weeks worth of thoughts and words that have been wanting to come out but haven't.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

From the archives

Reading through an old stack of letters, each written on loose leaf binder paper, some college rule and some wide rule. Some are letters written to me from friends while others are copies of letters I wrote and then never sent or passed-usually because I'd end up calling the guy and reading directly from the letter.

The letters are dated 1991 or 1994. I read through them, thinking I might get rid of them but no. I can't. They are too good. Like this one:

"Even though last week I rode on top of the world and was sure of myself and my friends and just everything, now I have that old familiar feeling of achiness in my lungs and my chest. . .in my heart, I guess. I can't blame it on you, because so much of it is me, and my letting you do what you want, even if it means having my confidence smushed underfoot. I find myself thinking in circles, telling myself what I want and seeing how it matches up with what I think you want. I tell myself that you don't respect me, when it reality it is probably I who don't respect myself. I will do anything for you, and cry quietly because of it, because sadly, what you want doesn't match what I want as well as I thought it would. And I just end up feeling sad. So what can I do to respect myself more? Know that I will make mistakes and sometimes they will be mistakes that make me really sad. Know that I draw more people towards me if I am happy and smiling and natural, and know that I like myself better that way. Understand that I will live even if he laughs at me and know that inside me I do have the capability to be sweet and surprising and smart. I seem to forget things as I go along, like his not promising anything, and my determination to enjoy things as they are and my admiration of him as a writer and as someone who reads and sings.

Before I was just happy that he exists, and now when I want so much more, I find myself with much less. Can I find a way to balance doing what I want, having you, feeling good about myself and not expecting too much? There are so many things that I have the knowledge and the power to do, can it be so hard to do these relationship things?

Dad has a mantra, "What a great life" What is mine? For now, to be glad that I exist and glad you exist. I guess that's all for now. I leave with a much smilier face."

There's no date so I'm not sure when this was written. I think high school. I recognize myself and I recognize a self I used to be. I'm more confident now. . .I think. But I'm also still so like this, so many thoughts about what everything means.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Birthday eve

Stephanie the Wonder is out with all four kids, picking up some final pieces needed for the Bigs' second birthday party tomorrow. I am at home, cleaning the kitchen and then messing it up again as I mix up some icing for one of the cakes. They each get one this year--one is golden with lemon icing, and one is chocolate with chocolate icing. I hope they are good.

Earlier I sat down to write a post about how important ceremonies are to me and to my family of origin. The words weren't flowing so I got up to mix instead. Just as I was finishing the lemon icing, which only waits for zest and spreading at this point, Stephanie texted me a photo of my eldest daughter and my only son. They're in the stroller and she's reaching over to touch his head. He got a hair cut today and it seems she approves.

Those two love one another so much. They laugh and laugh. They look for each other. She's started calling him in the mangled, almost-unintelligible-unless-you're-in-the-inner-circle way she pronounces his name. It can't be replicated with the written word. Point is they reach for one another, these older twins of mine. And if there is one wish I have for them on this last day of being one year olds it is that they more often than not remember how loved they are.

There was a list of things to get done this week and today. But when it came down to actually living this day, I wanted to sit back and watch them. Watch them run barefoot in a fountain after lunch, shrieking with giggles. Soaking up the absolute beauty of their faces. Snuggling their baby sisters and feeling the heft of them--they're not tiny babies anymore either.

I love getting to make a party for them. A small, mellow celebration at the park down the street with food they like and people they like. Elmo plates that say "Hooray for you!" A hand-painted piece of art marking the day. The cakes aren't turning out the exact way that I wanted them, I still need to buy balloons and I sent them all away so I could write. This pre-ceremony--the planning, the cooking or ordering, the creation of the ceremony--is part of the celebration too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015


I fell in love yesterday. . .with a preschool. It's a co-op, meaning the parents participate in the school by volunteering a few times per month, among other duties. I was a co-op kid and I still maintain that my nursery school experience played a big role in the person I am today.

We walked into the school, Lily, Cyrus and I, during their last day of class before summer vacation. Three parents were working outside the front door, loading artwork and personal items into paper grocery bags labelled with the children's names. One of the moms greeted me and became my guide, offering information about how the school works and asking if I had any questions. The kids walked right in and made themselves at home, admiring the three turtles swimming in a tank and then climbing some stairs up to the Quiet Room where a girl was using kid scissors and markers. The teacher swept into the room asking for help in finding their bug catching net. There was a big moth in the playground that wanted a closer look. One mom sat at a small, round table keeping kids company as they ate their snack.

We stayed for circle time, listening to the story and watching the kids march in a circle with their teacher as they all sang about being dinosaurs. They all crouched down onto the rug to eat their pretend dinosaur lunches and then got up to march again. After a while I ushered my big twins, two this Saturday, outside to the yard. Oh, heaven. Cyrus immediately found a car his size to sit in. Lily headed for the bounce castle, inflated specially for this last day of school. Kids weaved around the three of us--pedaling heavy, metal tricycles, jumping, sitting in the sand. As I stood near Cyrus who was playing on a metal airplane, a little girl under the climbing structure called out to me "Come here, I want to show you something." She was probably three and her speech wasn't completely clear but I understood her.

I walked to the end of the yard and leaned over to have her show me. There was the moth--three inches long, the color of dust with intricate wings and antennae.

So pretty, I said.

It's so cute! she exclaimed.

We stood admiring it for a while and then I left, thanking her for showing me.

While we were there my kids moved from one nook or cranny to the next, punching keys on an old computer keyboard, playing with toy cars, poking fingers into the art project. I watched two girls climb up what looked like a heavy bag--a wide, black cylinder as big around as my arms could hold and as tall as I am--off which they jumped, landing on mats below. A few parents talked to me about the friends they've made, about how fun the community is and how much they love the teacher. Three or four students asked me questions or asked me for help:

Why did you put my name tag on my back?
Can you help me find the black, plastic phone?
Where is your girl?

Those kids, those questions, are the main thing that draws me back to a co-op. What I say yesterday matched up with my own memory--of feeling safe, of knowing that all the big people in the room were there to help me, of knowing people were interested in what I had to say, of knowing that I was important. Of note, neither of my children looked for me the entire time we were there.

Part of a co-op is parent education--a monthly mandatory meeting. You get to be a part of your kids' early school days and you also get to be a student, to learn how to be a better parent and to be a part of a community that values parenthood and childhood.

We're on the wait list and the kids won't be old enough to start for another six months anyway. I'm excited!