27 January 2016

On Libraries and Thought

The most priceless gift we have as humans is thought. (Perhaps it's love, I know, given what I wrote last, but bear with me.)

My library home, via

From the first moments I was blessed to spend in Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to the hours I spent waiting for our "late bus" in Mrs. McKay's domain, I was in love. I can still feel the rounded corners of the well-loved card catalog on the first floor, and remember the moment when I graduated from the children's space downstairs to the grownup volumes upstairs. I learned flower arranging. I was allowed to play mini flute concerts with my best friend. I poured over the stacks at my parents' alma mater for high school research papers, gleefully going down the rabbit hole of connecting ideas, tracking down the next book from a reference in the one on my carrel.

I stacked them all up on my private shelves, marking them with the index cards I used for notetaking. I lost track of time. I found topic upon topic I wanted to pursue - I wanted to consider. Those low walls were a safe, welcoming cave where I felt at home, every bit the college student I wasn't yet.

The University of Delaware's Morris Library, via

That my college dorm rooms overlooked the library was comforting. Rolling back the shelves to find their secrets, then photocopy their pages to take them back to my room felt almost scandalous. I couldn't throw out my pieces of the library. I have some of them, still.

Libraries are our own gift to us. Maria Popova's ode to them and the space they grant us to think provoked me this morning. I chuckled with ken at the verses she shared. Joseph Mills, lover of free libraries, paid homage to the institutional gift reader and thinker Mr. Franklin gave us when he founded the first free library.


“…a book indeed sometimes debauched me from my work…”
–Benjamin Franklin

If librarians were honest,
they wouldn’t smile, or act
welcoming. They would say,
You need to be careful. Here
be monsters. They would say,
These rooms house heathens
and heretics, murderers and
maniacs, the deluded, desperate,
and dissolute. They would say,
These books contain knowledge
of death, desire, and decay,
betrayal, blood, and more blood;
each is a Pandora’s box, so why
would you want to open one.
They would post danger
signs warning that contact
might result in mood swings,
severe changes in vision,
and mind-altering effects.
If librarians were honest
they would admit the stacks
can be more seductive and
shocking than porn. After all,
once you’ve seen a few
breasts, vaginas, and penises,
more is simply more,
a comforting banality,
but the shelves of a library
contain sensational novelties,
a scandalous, permissive mingling
of Malcolm X, Marx, Melville,
Merwin, Millay, Milton, Morrison,
and anyone can check them out,
taking them home or to some corner
where they can be debauched
and impregnated with ideas.
If librarians were honest,
they would say, No one
spends time here without being
changed. Maybe you should
go home. While you still can."

25 January 2016

The Power of Love

Thank you to Kathleen Flemming of Majestic Unicorn, for sharing her story and inspiring me to put fingers to keyboard, long overdue, to share mine.

About 2 weeks before the end of last school year, our baby boy started lashing out uncontrollably. Massive fits of anger over tiny little things, unpredictable, but nearly daily. I was the one at home after school with them, so by the time H came home, I was done. I'd try and give him time outs, but he wouldn't sit. I'd try and give him consequences (taking away toys or screen time), but there was no effect.

I couldn’t figure it out. While he could - ahem - make better choices at times, and he’s 100 percent a rough-and-tumble kid, he’d never shown what felt like violence. He is sweet to the core, loving, and affectionate. The kind of Mama’s-working-hard-behind-a-closed-door-but-I-interrupted-her-to-give-her-a-kiss-and-say-I-love-you affectionate a mama dreams of (and yet, it’s still the most lovely surprise when it happens).

Pounding fists upset wasn’t my baby.

Then one day, out of the blue, and at my wit’s end, I uncrossed my arms and lowered my voice. Instead of walking away from his outburst, I walked into it. I walked towards him, calmer than I’d been in ages. I scooped him up, plopped down on the floor right there, and, as he fought me, held him tight.

“I love you, baby. You’re safe, and I love you. I know you’re hurting, baby, and I love you.” Over and over again.

It didn’t feel like he heard me. I was glad for my healthyme journey and the residual strength I had in my arms. I had a tiger cub I was wrangling, trying to keep him safe while he fought hard against the feelings he couldn’t name.

He couldn’t name his feelings, I realized. At 5, he had no words for them. As he started to let up, I started to offer him words, “Are you angry, baby? It’s ok if you are.” He wriggled and fought. I kept it up. “I love you.”

I felt a little silly. I felt a little crunchy granola permissive parent. And I listened hard to my instinct telling me to make sure he knew how loved he is. Eventually, it subsided, and my tired, emotional boy went on with his evening and off to bed.

I was spent, nightly, but as I kept it up, the frequency abated. In the opening, I finally had the courage to mention it to his teacher. As teachers of very young children are wont to do, she reminded me that his left arm had left school early for a family trip. The person my baby loved with all his heart and soul, the person he told me repeatedly he was going to marry, and insisted regularly was family, was gone for the summer. They’d been inseparable since they met the year before in preschool.

His best friend was on vacation. His safe place, his pre-K classroom, was wrapping up for the year. We were starting to talk about The Big Move to the suburbs.

My instincts had been right. My baby was confused and angry, lost because his world as he knew it was crumbling. I kept up the hugs, and my patience grew. I understood. Things settled, we went off to his happy place Down Tha (Jersey) Shore for a week, and he healed. Some.

Then we packed up and moved to our new home. We’d talked about his new (own) room and its secret hiding place (seriously, neighborhood legend has it that a CIA operative was the original owner of our 1960-built manse). We’d gotten excited about running out the backdoor and playing soccer whenever we wanted, about watering the garden that was just ours and we didn’t share with anyone, and about catching lightning bugs without having to descend 6 floors in an elevator. We celebrated his sister’s 8th birthday with a huge party, replete with water gun battles, every meat you could imagine on the grill, and running lap after lap around Our House. We were happy.

He took his new job VERY seriously. 

Before we moved in fully, we brought over a few of their favorite things.

Relishing our newfound backyard

And then, once we’d spent about a week in our new home, it started again. The moments were long. They were brutal. He’d grown, it felt like, in those weeks since the last outburst, and was stronger. There were also stairs and a long hallway and a front door and his very own bedroom door to slam. Day after day, it repeated during the witching hour. Day after day, I tried my patience and my love. Some days it worked better than others. Some days I lost it and yelled back. One day, I let my guard down and his angry punch, which I could usually block, connected with my nose.

And then, one day, we were in a restaurant, eating peacefully, laughing about something. He turned to me, looked up, and said, “Mama, I didn’t know what moving was like.”

In that moment, I remembered that there was no way a 5 year old who’d lived in one place his whole little life, who felt things sometimes excruciatingly deeply, and had all of his connections ripped away from him, understood what “let’s pack up all of our things and move them somewhere else and stay there forever” meant. It’s absurd, really.

It took a while, but with a few extra trips to the old neighborhood, some happy camp time (art, music, “regular,” and tae kwon do, since you asked), countless nights falling asleep with his sister or us (he’d never slept alone, another thing we never realized), and a visit from a favorite 15 year old cousin willing to have epic slipper battles at the end of every day on our front walk, and he settled in. We settled in.

Almost too big for the swings he was first in as an infant

That they have these moments...

Craft cocktails two blocks away for weekend brunch? Yes, please.

Little things, like the library carpet in the new school being identical to the carpet in his pre-K classroom, are priceless. He had to sit in his spot and he told me to send this picture to his old teacher.

He still gets upset, and there’s an occasional slammed door. He sometimes tells me he misses our old house and we all need visits to our old ‘hood (it’s only 12 minutes to our favorite bakery - we clocked it), but he taught me to listen. I’m not very good at it, sometimes. Sometimes, I don’t hear what he, his sister, or even my mother-in-law or H (she’s now living with us) aren’t saying, either. Sometimes, I’m angry myself, or I just can’t hear it. But then, I remember. I remember that settling in to love and showing it unconditionally has more power than anything in the world, if we can hear it.

12 January 2016

(If Only I Were) Lost in a Book

I’m a reader, but I can’t find my way back into books.

I tell myself it’s because I’m too tired, or too busy, or not in the right frame of mind. And then I remember: books are my escape. Books are my safe place, where I can hide from the world and heal. Books may not be as scientifically helpful as your body healing while you sleep, but they let me step away from my worries.

So why do I have umpteen books on my makeshift nightstand started, but collecting dust? Why does my nighttime ritual involve me rolling into bed, intending on reading even a sentence, if that’s as long I can keep my eyes open, but going to set my alarm on my phone and instead looking at social media? Why won’t I let myself escape into my books?

If I were back in therapy, she would remind me to notice just that, notice my feelings at that point, and then later wonder about it all. Doing something about it will come later, she’d remind me as gently or strongly as I needed to hear it right then.

So this is me noticing it. I know I asked the questions two paragraphs up, but I’m going to put them on hold. I’m noticing that I’m not able to open books like I used to. I feel - as I do often at the moment - like I’m sticking out my tongue a little (maybe behind my back, where I can’t get caught), thumbing my nose at my able self who knows she can cope better with reading in her life.

“I don’t wanna!”

I’m more comfortable at the moment in my state of disrepair, my state of discomfort, than I am seeking comfort and safety in the written word. Even to put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard feels like I’m challenging my current state. Today, wanting to journal for a few minutes daily, but not knowing where I’ve still got the what feels like dozens of empty notebooks I’ve bought along the way packed from our July 2015 move, I wandered into Paper Source. “I’ll buy a journal,” I thought, so there are no excuses.

I walked out without one.

That one’s pages aren’t wide enough. There are too many words in that one. $21.95 for a Christian Lacroix gold embossed journal? Tempting, but I’m apparently feeling way too practical and frugal for that one.

I walked out without a tool I know would help me.

The same goes for books. That topic, while fascinating, is a non-fiction work, and I can’t handle that right now. This one, which H has urged me to read for years and I’ve started and am enjoying? I haven’t opened it in a week. Nothing is jumping off the shelves and shelves and shelves of volumes we have - a sanctuary, if I’d let it be one - in our family room.

I won’t use a tool I know would help me.

I won’t solve it here. I don’t want to. But I do know that, while I didn’t buy a notebook today, I put fingers to keyboard, and I wrote. I took one step, one as sure as the ones I used to march in the blustery chill of a day. And that little walk helped.

08 January 2016

Writing, checking in, and, oh yeah...10 years.

A little unorthodox for me on here, but at just past the 10 year mark (yes. 10. I've written here for TEN FREAKING YEARS), I'm wondering where this site and my writing will take me. So in the face of storied Weight Watchers online community IT issues (if you're a WWer using eTools of any kind, you know what I mean) that wouldn't let me post my darn WW blog this morning, I'm sharing it here. I needed it to be out there in a universe.

i'm checking in. i'm checking in with me - and you all just happen to be there. as usual, i don't have a lot of time, a deadline looming, but i've set my mind to recognizing that helpful things 99.9% of the time don't take much time or much effort.

so i'm writing.

i’ve had a number of mini-realizations in the last week or so - reminders, really - that i’m most centered when i’m writing. when i’m most centered, i can make productive, helpful decisions, like:

responding kindly, instead of harshly to those around me, including my babies

stopping to drink a glass of water instead of shoving some cookie in my mouth

pausing before collapsing into bed to swing my reluctant body through a single sun salutation and a twist or two

making a list of things i want to accomplish during the day

give my husband a kiss instead of an eye roll

if i stop for 5 minutes (i wish i’d timed this for myself, would’ve been useful data) and dump it out, whatever comes, i’m more me.

i’ve been tapering. i haven’t been tracking as well as i’d like. i’m still dragging my feet on getting back into the smart choices. i feel good about the possibilities smart points offers me, and i know tracking smart choices helps me oh, so much. and teenagery me is still there. so i’m tapering into my semi-annual food-based cleanse (a lot of you know about them - join me, ellen is a-MAZ-ing). i’m looking forward to it as a way to start making my choices well and reminding myself how good i can feel when i fuel well.

heck, i’m looking forward to the green.

i’ve barely seen a leaf lately, and i’m not talking about the ones now blanketing our backyard because we had no idea how much work it is to rake them all. my body and my mind miss the green. so starting monday, once i’m caffeine-free (except for green tea and cacao), and gluten-, dairy-, alcohol-, red meat-, egg-, and sugar-free (yes, it seems extreme, but in practice, i find it very calming and helpful, once i did it the first time around), those greens will roll in.

this time around, it may look different. i haven’t wanted a smoothie, for example - which i had obsessively every morning for almost 3 years - in months. i’m craving different. so i’ll listen to my body, and maybe have broth for breakfast (cannot wait to make this smitten kitchen/atk one now that i have a slow cooker), then something else later. i’m open. i might be more open now than before, but i’m getting ready.

and i’m writing.

PS - this view, on a 3+ hour drive from MD to WV for the dayjob, is part of what reminded me i need to write.

02 December 2015

One Wonderful Thing

I can't even remember what it was yesterday that gave me pause. Something caught me, made me stop and bask in a moment of wonder. It was fleeting, apparently, but it gave me an idea. I got to the office, crammed through a day, spent a lovely afternoon and evening with No.2 while his big sister was off at a flute concert rehearsal, and crashed hard by 9pm.

The idea was only that yesterday, an idea.

And then, this morning, as I shuffled partially caffeinated towards my office building, the view made me stop. It was simply beautiful. On the surface a planned, out-too-early (it was up before Thanksgiving) retail "seasonal" marketing scheme (read: make the area so pretty that folks can't help but "get in the spirit" and buy their friends and family lots and lots of Things), I wanted to wrinkle my nose at it.

Instead, I chose to let it wake up a joy - a wonder.

As a Christian, this Advent season is about just that: wonder. We wait, and we anticipate. We know of the great wonder coming. It's central for us. In our home, we're trying to counteract the giddy anticipation of ALL THE PRESENTS that's had No.2, especially, wired and on hyperdrive since before Turkey Day. We're looking for ways to give Baby Jesus his best birthday present ever by showing his world some love and kindness. But that's a story for another day.

Today, I ask you to join me in the wonder of the season. No matter what your belief system, there is a something in the air. Let's notice it and capture it - and share it. Let's see what we can create. At least once a day through January 6th (more is ok, because, let's face it, there are so many moments out there right now), capture One Wonderful Thing and share it on the social media platform of your choice (I'll be on Instagram, Twitter, and facebook), tagging it #1WonderfulThing.

There are no definitions for that wonder - or even for what constitutes a "thing." That's part of the point. Whatever catches you, whatever brings you a moment of joy - spread that wide. Tag friends and convince them to join us, and let us raise our spirits to the true spirit of the season.