Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Death of a birthday

Yesterday was my mom's birthday. Or, more grammatically correct, had been my mom's birthday. She died 10 years ago.

So she's gone. That person who raised me to be a strong, independent woman is gone. She gave me everything she could, and when she was finished with her life, she left. She is not here for me to call when I'm lost, she wasn't here when I didn't know what to do with two babies screaming at once, she won't be here the next time I'm so frustrated with life that I barely know how to go on. She's gone, but I'm still here and I will go on.

I AM sad that she's gone. I'm crying right now thinking that she never met my fantastic pain in the ass kids, or my husband and his great family. She never saw Germany or my home or the Christmas hearts I made with Chloé yesterday. She never read my blog and she never ate Gaetan's cheese soufflé with a glass of Bordeaux.

A few months after she died, I went to Venice to celebrate my 30th birthday. We took a boat to the cemetery island, and seeing all of the candles in the church, I realized that this would be a good place to leave a piece of her memory. I didn't have a grave to visit or ashes to put anywhere, only my own memories and grief that had to find a place in the present. I thought a piece of her spirit would like to live there on that sacred island. I feared for a moment she might feel trapped there, but I decided she would love the foreignness of it - and when she was finished there, she could take a boat to anywhere else in the world or beyond. So I lit her a candle and watched it sparkle and glow through the tears for a while, and then Gaetan and I went for a walk before catching the boat again.

I often feel I'm expected to be more sad about death. Like the death of someone means we the still-living have to suffer. But I can't. They are gone, these dead people, and we can do nothing about that. The only thing I can do is remember her: remember the good things and the less good things and the sweaters she made and the words she spoke and the smiles that lit up her face. I realize that for some people this is also done by remembering their birthdays, and death days. But not for me. I DO think of her birthday as December approaches, and then December 3rd comes and goes and nothing has changed. There is no one to wish happy birthday to.

She's not in this life celebrating birthdays and picking flowers and kissing her grandchildren. She has become finite here, and I assume that the infiniteness of her soul continues somewhere else. She's gone, but she goes on on her own path. Perhaps our paths will cross again. Whether I will know her then, I don't know.

Isole di San Michele (photo from www.visitvenice.co.uk) 

Christmas hearts and bow

one of my favorite pictures of my crazy mom

Monday, October 22, 2012

Just another season

It's fall again and everything's dying. My favorite time to post.
I am inspired by the explosion of color of the fall. I can't help but take the pictures and rave about the beauty created by this end of a cycle.
I mourn this time of year. I mourn the end of the summer, since it has such a short, hazardous life here in Germany. I mourn the end of freedom to live outdoors without consideration of the weather. I mourn the shortened tour of the sun in our day. The sun feeds my soul.
Others mourn, too. They mourn their lost loved ones. They mourn the life they didn't have. They mourn all the things they can't do since the cycle ended a part of them.
On a day like today, with the sun shining easily through whimsically-placed clouds in a cyan sky, I have hopeful words for those struggling through the grey within themselves. But my words do not help them, nor do the whimsy and brightness of the day. I can only wish that they can one day walk - slowly, if needed - through this season, just another season after one and before another, allowing the tears to fall from their eyes and then rest on the ground like the leaves, a foundation for seasons to come.

Monday, August 20, 2012

How to potty train your twins and other fun** stuff: Some DOs, some DON'Ts and some anecdotes.

**or not

We're in full potty-training mode here. Mia and Aidyn, age (almost) 34 months (aka two months short of three years old), are learning to use the toilet. And I can tell you, two kids learning at once is at least one too many. Fortunately, it happened that Mia caught on first, so we went with that and helped her before focussing on Aidyn. Not that we (the adults) have really made any choices here; in fact, I hesitate to even call it "training." My role is to help them practice and learn to do something we adults expect them to do but which we've "trained" them NOT to do for almost three years. Thinking of diapers and potties and trainees and trainers this way I feel gives me some perspective.

At first, I thought I could "train" them. Take the diapers off, give them a few days of peeing everywhere and they would learn. But two kids peeing everywhere is taxing to the soul, and the washing machine (I swear we wash towels every day), and all anybody learned was that they didn't want to go to the potty. I considered bribery. Candy, not so much: I can't give them candy EVERY TIME they go in the proper place. Aidyn pees about 1600 times a day! So I bought stickers. In the store, "YES! YES! We want!" At home, with the potty association, no interest. Hmph.

I felt completely powerless. How were we going to get this done??

Well, we're not done yet. But every day brings more and more success, and perhaps more importantly: I don't care. This is not a problem I need to solve. Even if they're not diaperless for preschool, there's no law against it. I don't need to feel time or any other pressure. And by taking it out of my hands and putting it into theirs, maybe I've given them what they need to get the job done: control.

Here are my more-or-less concise points for your guidance, interest, or amusement:

You're not training, you're facilitating. Helping them to practice-practice-practice. The ultimate decision to take the diaperless plunge is theirs alone. Still, they're not going to do it overnight. They have to learn, and to learn anything, you have to practice. This we can help with.
--I remember always thinking this was bullshit when I read it in the books, but now I'm for it. You choose, you stress. They choose, you...clean up. But you stress less.

If one does it and the other doesn't, CELEBRATE! One is definitely easier than two. Embrace one-at-a-timeness.

DON'T tell them it's potty training, or they'll balk. How do we forget that we're talking about terrible twos here?! Just like everything else in their lives right now, THEY want to decide. Trying to force them will just bring on a tantrum or, more generally, the opposite of what we want - in this case refusal to use the toilet.

DO encourage them to go without a diaper, even if it's just for a few minutes. This is their practice time. They will build on it.

DO let them choose to put the diaper back on. I think this is part of the terrible two factor. Give them some control.

DON'T just let them pee all over the house. You'll go crazy and they'll just have fun sliding around in their own piss. I gave them half a day and then gave up. A couple days later, we did half a day again. And so on, with more frequency and longer as they wanted/could. I think this is the best practice and also gives them time to develop the resolve and confidence they need to complete the process.

DON'T believe that "pull-ups" are like underwear. They are diapers. You can take them off and put them back on like underwear, but for kids they are diapers that they can pull on, pee in and take off like underwear. We HAVE used them for their ease of peeing in and out of, but don't expect dryness while they're wearing them.

DO give them underwear. Either the sensation of being wet or the pride of wearing underwear seems to help - who cares which it is! I'm a big fan of nudity but that seems to encourage "pee anywhere" habits.

When they both scream "I pooped!" DO assume that both have pooped and not both in the toilet.

EVERY KID IS DIFFERENT. Your first and second, your twins, my kid and your kid. They will all do this and lots of other stuff in surprisingly varied ways. But some things, maybe small, maybe big, will correlate, and our experience will overlap.

That's it for now. If I think of anything else, I'll let you know.

Good luck, to you and your kids!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012


How do we ground ourselves in a time when every time we click on this page, we see more and more of our past and present glaring at us from the screen?

Friday, April 20, 2012

A spring in my walk

This morning I walked out of the house with only a shoulder bag and my camera. No diaper bag, no extra clothes, no kids. Just a walk in the park to photograph the spring.

Across the street from us is the wine shop specializing in Spanish wine. And season-appropriate flowers and decoration.

They love to hang these eggs. Are the flowers pansies?

I continued my walk down the street past the church with the Most Atrocious Easter Decoration Ever. I've probably shown you this before, but I have to do it again.

Easter exploded on this poor fountain.

I walked down the street, talking quietly to myself and listening to the silence surrounding me, remembering to do my Kegel exercises (TMI!) since I never think to do them amid the babbling and screaming that usually accompanies me. At the playground, I watched the moms playing with their little ones (most pre-walking age) in the sand or holding them and talking to other moms and thought about how it can be a nice time while they can't move themselves.

The other side of the playground is the park. Daffodils are decorating the ground under trees that are already shedding their flowers and are now budding tiny chartreuse leaves.

Around the corner is my magnolia, the tree whose name I constantly forget. My friend told me the other day just to think of Julia Roberts but it doesn't help; my brain thinks the name starts with a "C" and I spend arduous minutes trying to think of THAT name before Julia Roberts brings me to the right one. I have photographed this magnolia for the last three years and I will probably continue to do this every year to document its beauty.

I had to walk into town, so I continued down the path through the park. Spring was everywhere, new life in new colors like a facelift for the earth.

red branches+green leaves=visible spring

THE Easter/spring flower.
Flowers alongside the highway.

Later they played on the scaffolding at the house. It's not a jungle gym, but has similar qualities - and is just as irresistible. It's amazing how much they learn doing what they're not supposed to: after this, they were landing properly when jumping from a height of one meter (important!), and swinging and jumping from a bar. Postscript: I saved the flowers that could be saved - three tulips growing close to a pole. The rest were done for the season anyway.

Still a learning experience.

She's even coloring spring.
For all my complaining, I do appreciate the time I have with my kids. I love sharing things with them. I love seeing them have fun. I love watching them learn stuff - whether I've had to pull teeth to get them there, or they've done it all on their own. But three little kids are a big energy expense, and the spring in my step is often disguised as the race to the next scream or diaper change. And sometimes it's hard to remember that the good times are just as numerous as the difficult.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Things to do when you're naked

Or, The Mischief They Got Into While You Were Showering.

1. Clean up chocolate milk powder spilled by son.

2. Clean up* broken jar of Nutella (dropped by son). This one is especially challenging because the children also have to be kept away from chocolate shards.
*Don't forget to put on shoes first.

3. Wipe up pee in the middle of the living room.

4. [ASAP after #3] Redress child who removed pants and diaper before they pee on the floor again.

5. Find beads from the broken necklace before the cats chase them to the far corners of the house.

6. Comfort screaming child who fell off the couch.

7. Clean up vomit of child before other children step in it and track it all over the house.

8. Clean up cat vomit before children try to eat it.

9. Prepare snack for older child since she's already late for preschool.

10. Replace underwear in drawer after children have used them as hats.

Please note the absence of activities such as having sex, taking a bath, or watching television. These things are done either clothed, quickly (with nudity passing only briefly) or not at all.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Mathematical beds

We have four beds. What are the sleeping possibilities? Is it a factorial?
4*3*2*1 = 24.
Or are there more since there are five of us? 5! = 120. But we have to add the cats in then, since they are as much of a pain in the ass as the children. 7! = 5040.
Or would it be some combination?
x = number of beds
y = number of participants
x! + y! = xy(no sleep)

In any [mathematical] case not a situation conducive to peaceful sleeping.

We can expand the equation to include

z = fever, nightmare, thirst, loneliness
also z[cat] = feline thirst, hunger, loneliness 

and so

x! + y! + z! + z[cat]! = xyz(no fucking sleep)

which goes like this:

It's midnight. Aidyn cries. Gets out of bed, walks to our room, crying louder with every step.
Which wakes Mia, who begins to cry and cries as she walks to our room. As they arrive at the bed, they start to scream and try to pull me out of bed. "Lait! LAIT!!" Calls for milk wrench me from sleep (although I was of course semi-awake after the first whimper). By now Chloé has heard the cacophony and walks dazed into the room. "Je veux aussi du lait," she mutters. At least we know they're learning French.

This is usually a temporary end of the shenanigans. Milk all around (it's bad, but between midnight and 6am, all you want is for them to shut up and go to sleep) and everyone is asleep in our bed. For a while. Then Mia rolls onto Chloé and Aidyn starts combing my hair with his fingers again. Chloé yells "Mia!" and pushes her away. I yell "Aidyn!" and push him away. He refuses to leave me alone so before he sits up and starts whining for milk again, I turn away and let him at my hair, hoping he'll fall back asleep again soon so that I can leave and go to Chloé's room and sleep in peace.

3am the fun starts anew. (I finally fell asleep so am still hanging on the edge of the bed with Aidyn curled up around my head.) The cat jumps onto the night table and paws things off onto the floor. I want to get up and lock him in the living room before this noise wakes up everyone else, but any movement from me could wake up you-know-who. So I try to indicate to the cat that I am going to KILL him if he doesn't fucking STOP THAT as I slip slllooowwwlllyyy from the bed. I grab the cat but as I'm walking to the door I step on a matchbox car, squeal in pain, and send the car banging into the hollow door. So much for keeping Mr. Fussypants asleep. Aidyn, the cat and I go to the kitchen, get more milk, shut the door with the cat inside and go back to bed/sleep.

5am. Scratch-scratch. Bang! Bang! Scratch-scratch. Bang! Bang! The cat trying to get out of the kitchen door. I again slip carefully from the bed to go into the kitchen and feed the fucking cats so that they will shut up and stop...doing anything at all. It works and we sleep again until the alarm goes off at 6-ish. At that point we are ALL awake because Gaetan can't find his alarm clock since the cat knocked it onto the floor under the bed.

Another night over. Thank a deity. Of course, this was a worst-case scenario, which doesn't happen more than...once a week. 

We've since stopped giving milk in the night and it has (generally) had the expected result: no hysterics for milk since there won't be any. But they still come, they still wake each other and us, and we all tend to sleep poorly and be grouchy and tired after this goes on for too many nights.

I have a few friends with multiple children who were allowed to share their parents' bed. My question for them is: How did you do this? Did you have rules about when to come in? Or why? Or only after/before a certain age? Or did you just have shit sleep until everyone was old enough to deal with their sleeping (or more accurately, waking) issues? What is the best equation for nights with small children?

Thursday, March 1, 2012


During another inspirational hour at the gym, I pondered a statement from the book I was reading. I swear I am at my best in the fitness studio, listening to my music, sweating and exhaling so much used-up energy. After an hour, I feel like I've reached my inner self and if necessary I could conquer the world.

Endorphins.That should be the title of this post.

So here was this week's epiphany:

We begin our adult life planning to live our ideal. We're going to change the world, or at least the little bit we live in. We're going to share our voice and make ourselves heard. We know that the things we believe in are right and fair and legitimate. We listen to our hearts.

Then we live a little. Work a little. Feel the pressures of life bear down on us; social, cultural, financial expectations become more real than our dreams. And even if we don't intentionally bury those dreams in our subconscious grave (because sometimes we do), we allow them to slip away into the past, and the person who dreamed them as well.

Then we live a little more. Find a mate. Start a family. Now the pressure's really on. At some point we stop and think, "Fuck those dreams. I've got to give everything I am just to keep myself and mine alive." And we keep living. Of course we're changing the world and making our lives incredible just by doing this but we rarely get the chance to recognize that.

Then one day comes when the pressure finally snaps us. We can't get dressed, pack our bag, take that step out of the house to go to work. We can barely breathe. The wall that we built around our heart to keep the dreams in has finally grown so thick that we're smothering ourselves.

So, in the interest of self-preservation, we peek inside to see what we've hidden from ourselves. And we realize that it's ...us. Me. The Real Me. The Me we so wanted to be after we'd absorbed what our parents and professors had thrown at us. The Me we had dismissed so hastily to fit the expectations of those around us. And then to establish the security we felt we needed for our family.

Now it was do or die. Let Me out or give up, let everybody down, outside and inside.

So we build the dream. Out of blood, sweat and tears. And the confidence we've built in 20 or so years of living the life we decided we were supposed to lead. We've gotten to know ourselves over these years and we've heard our heart talking to us again and again, we've recognized the voice, but we've left it buried where it couldn't threaten the status quo we've worked so hard to create.

Fortunately this breakdown seems to come after the immediate needs of our lives have been at least partially relieved. The children are bigger, we've got a job we can do and friends for the rest of the time. Life at home is routine. Probably this is why it happens; we get a chance to breathe and discover all that we've been holding in.

Here's my question: why not break out before the disaster? Why not decide to embrace our dreams before we're so tired that we have to die first and resurrect our new-old selves? What does it really take to live our ideal life? I know we're supposed to be happy with what we have, but part of what we have and what we are is our dreams. They are just as real as reality.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Another beginning

I've started a new blog!

I know what you're thinking - because it's what I'm thinking. "Why would someone who can't keep up with their own blog start another one just as they've become the leader of the local writers group and need to start working as well?!"

I'm hoping the overload will be the motivation to do everything fabulously.

So see you soon here and there!


Let's talk. Yes, let's. *Spoiler alert*

I was thinking the other day - walking alone through the city - that it's not only time without kids that I miss, but time alone, completely alone. The time I used to use to discuss with myself all the shit going on in my life. As embarrassing as it might (or might not) be, I talk to myself. Or at least I used to, before the children came.

So SOME would say I've become more sane.

But no. These, like many other forms of communication, are necessary for sanity and well-being. We all have to talk it out. With someone.

It was weird to hear those voices contemplating the stuff tumbling around in my mind. Strangely, I didn't even realize their absence before they spoke up. They just weren't there - and neither was a part of my problem-solving task force. No wonder I've been so lost! 

This morning, in a 25-minute stint of solitary time while M&A were trying out the day care, I realized that I haven't heard those voices because I start my alone time just enjoying the silence. I don't start any conversations with myself because I'm taking a break from talking altogether. Knowing the screamer who inhabits my body most of the time, it's nice to just hear nothing, for a while.

Then, in the midst of my enjoyment of silence, I was approached by an older man who asked to share a Biblical quote with me. I wanted to tell him as politely as possible to share with someone who cares, but given that I was apparently still on mute, I just let him go for it. He proceeded to tell me of the promise of the meek inheriting the earth and how lovely it would be to be around for the coming changes. The world is not looking good at the moment, but that's alright, the Bible tells us how wonderful things will be in the end and only the meek will be taking advantage of the gifts of god. Or something like that.

Me: Yes, the meek are quite a convenient following for the powers that be. God wants you to follow, not me, no. Do it for god.

Me again: I don't want to disturb this guy's peace. Just nod and smile.

Me: He won't stop. I think I may have to say something.

"Well, I have my own opinions on this," I said.

"And that's fine. At least you have something to think about today," he said. "Have a good day." He smiled and walked away.

And so I did get to think about something other than me and my kids for a little while. Had a little chat with myself and smiled a lot, enjoying the banter that one can only have with someone sharing their brain. Incomplete sentences, disconnected thoughts, discovery of multiple tangents. It all made so much sense. Again.

So next time you find yourself talking to yourself, tell yourself a joke and both of you can laugh and then discuss something that's been weighing heavily on your shoulders and see if, together, you can find a solution. Along the way, appreciate the thoughts you share and the all the ways you can help yourself find the path it's time to take.

That's my plan.