42 posts categorized "Thoughts"

Finding Passion: Professionally & Personally

October 18, 2016

Passion drives me day to day, and my passion is mostly around my family, my home, and my children.  I recently attended a huge [somewhat work-related] event in San Francisco, along with 170,000 other people, and I had the privilege of listening into a couple of empowering and motivating speeches.  

Nadine Burke Harris is a pediatrician, a mom, and an advocate.  She speaks with passion and evidence.  She explained how she was faced with hundreds of patients daily with a common diagnosis: ADHD.  However, when she looked deeper at her patients' circumstances, she realized that their social conditions were causing brain-altering stress and that they did not necessarily suffer from ADHD at the core.  Rather, these children suffered from "adverse childhood experiences" that lead to health and societal problems.  She explained how relieved her patients were to know they did not really suffer from ADHD!


Melinda Gates is a mom, high tech professional, and philanthropist.  She believes everyone has value, and she shared how heartbreaking it was to visit Africa 20 years ago when AIDS-infected women would be left by the wayside to die.  Through her work, much advancement has been made in treating AIDS and HIV, especially in Africa.  She wants to eradicate HIV.


These amazing people - these women, these mothers - are changing the world, changing the way we see things, and changing the way we do things.  As I listened to them, I kept thinking: how do I breed a change agent just like them?  How do I make huge change in the way they make huge change, both in my personal life and in my professional life?  What drives them to scale impact and how do they get it done?  What can each of us do to make the world a better place, in big ways and in small?

I like to think that giving birth to urbanMamas was one of the biggest things I've done.  Five years ago, when I moved away, I slowly stepped away from it, though I never completely left it behind.  Now, I realize that urbanMamas is a home to me, it is a passion to me, it is what I want to leave behind, it is the impact I want to have.  I come back to the site, intending it to transcend geographies, hoping to resurrect it as a place where we can come for support, for laughs, for new insight, for  a safe place to share.

As it was in the beginning, we cannot do this alone.  If you want to help, please reach out.  It takes a village. 

Weekend Warriors: October 3-5

October 01, 2014

Here’s the scoop for the weekend. For more ideas on what to do this weekend, check the Events Calendar on Metro Parent's PDX Kids Calendar and the urbanMamas calendar page.

Friday, October 3rd

Ladybug Nature Walk at Irving Park. Preschoolers can explore a different location each week with a trained naturalist. $4/child. Friday 10-11:15am.  

Weekly Storytime and Craft at the Craft Factory. Enjoy storytime followed by the opportunity to make a craft. Storytime is free. $5 for 2 tiny craft bases. Friday 10:30-11:30am.

Free First Friday at the Children's Museum. Check out the museum, plus the new Wizard of Oz exhibit, for free! Friday 4-8pm.  

Continue reading "Weekend Warriors: October 3-5" »

I said this to my daughter: "I feel fat"

May 05, 2014

I was having a water-retention day, just an unconfident and unenergetic day.  My 13-year old daughter was watching me get ready, waiting for me.  I put on a pants and a shirt, and the words just slipped out of my mouth: "I feel fat".

The moment I felt the words slip away, I regreted it.  I wished I never said it.

I am physically able and fit.  I have the privilege to be strong and the privilege to have time to dedicate to running, biking, and yoga.  I am not fat.

I never want my girls to feel like we are judged by our shapes.  It was the wrong statement for me to make; it is a class of statement I often try to refrain from making.  It gives my girls the wrong message.

This is my mama regret of the moment.

"Mama, you never keep promises"

February 19, 2014

"Mama, you never keep promises," she says.

You know what hurts most about being a working-poor single mama of three remarkable girls who deserve to receive everything life has to offer? It's not necessarily the political or policy issues that work against me. Or even the need to defend myself while simultaneously doubting myself. It's those words.

I do keep the promise of good food, a comfy bed, a trip to the doctor when they need it. But those are non-negotiable items in the contract of motherhood: I meet their basic needs no matter what it takes. And as oft I can I give them an ice cream cone, a day at the beach, a guinea pig, even. Those are childhood entitlements, so I consider them basic needs, as well, though they have no idea how challenging it is to provide them.

But the day at an amusement park, the weekend camping, the lessons in whatever interests them or the big gift they really really want, well, those are un-kept promises, it's true. Actually, I don't promise them, I typically tell them "Someday I will make this happen for you when I can." So they want them. From me. Because I'm mama. This is the part I think is hard to understand for anyone else outside this fishbowl. It means that even the most simple things for me are left undone - a yoga class, an hour walk, a doctor visit - because they all have a concrete cost that's just too hard to justify. To me they are not fixed expenses or basic needs. Yes, I would love to focus on my art, take care of my body, take care of my heart.  Of course that makes sense to me.  But in the balancing sheet of the life and sacrifice of single motherhood, it just doesn't make sense to move dollars into your children's 'expense' column, even though they go into your 'income' column.  It just doesn't feel right.

I'm left with little emotional bandwidth to do much else as my own dreams quickly diminish in the rear-view mirror on our journey.  I make compromises to my heart that anyone looking inside might find unimaginable, but they don't see the internal accounting in my head. Yet even still, I'm left with those words, so innocently spoken as mere fact from her perspective.  I'm meeting the basics, yes, yet there's still more because you teach your kids to dream, and childhood is magic; they deserve *that* childhood entitlement even more than anything else.  Yet, it's also true too that I have been home teaching my youngest girl (and one more though he recently moved away) for months now because I just couldn't fathom sacrificing the gift of time and focus that my prior professional life stole from me with my first two.  And she just sat down and read her first book to me, at age 4, with a look on her face of having conquered the tallest mountain and an air of confidence that displayed to me *of course* she conquered the tallest mountain.  I gave her hope and knowledge.

That's how it balances out and I pray that someday all three of my girls will have the graceful gift of perspective to see this.  Someday, with any luck, my girls will know this struggle to be present for them right now is the greatest gift of all.  It sure is hard when you're raising your kids alone.  I want to be someone who keeps promises.

Resolutions: do you make them? what about the kids?

January 06, 2014

As I sift through the archives, I am nostalgic reading our resolutions of yesteryear.  From Sarah, "New Decade, New Resolutions" (circa 2010) featuring writing letters, having conversations, generally stopping to smell the roses.  Two years prior, we were thinking similar themes, "Mama Resolutions for 2008", including reading more and spending more quality time with the spouse.  Some years, we focus on more healthy eating as a resolution (circa 2009), or some years we talk about new resolutions as new life-long commitments.

At the moment, I am not sure.  In years past, I would take out my list of resolutions from last year, cross out the year on top and replace it with the new year date ("read book, learn new piano song, diversify fitness regimen").  I think I shouldn't even think about resolutions anymore for fear that they will continue on unfulfilled.

What about the kids?  Are you starting to talk to them about setting new goals and meeting them?  Is there a lot of resolution-talk in your household?

High School (or College) Class Reunions: do you go?

October 12, 2013

I have disappeared from my high school mailing list, having moved enough times in the past couple of decades.  Until a "friend" on Facebook mentioned it, I didn't realize that it was our 20-year high school reunion.  Well, it had passed, in June, but there were festivities at school upcoming in November.

A robust online conversation ensued amongst many of my high school classmates: "we should skip the school reception and just go out for drinks" and "where is so-and-so?" and "why do I feel like I should lose 20 pounds in the next few weeks?"

I keep in touch with one friend from high school, who was also the maid of honor at my wedding.  There are a handful of other friends with whom I am friends with Facebook, and part of me wonders if I would ever see these folks again in real life.  I lurk from afar, "like" pictures of their kids, comment with suggestions to the post "what should I make for dinner?!?"

But, to gather in real life?  I haven't lived within 600 miles of my old high school until a couple of years ago.  Many former classmates still cluster up close to where we all grew up.  Some of them still go out together, keep in close touch.

I never really thought about going to a high school reunion, but suddenly I am thinking: why wouldn't I?  I live closeby and if it is convenient enough, why not?

I know we all had different experiences in high school, maybe some of us keep in touch with old high school friends and some of us don't.  I'm curious to hear about your reunion experiences!  Did you bring partners or kids?  Did others?  Did you have fun?  Tell me!

Finishing up the year, marking time, making plans

December 31, 2012

The year 2012 was truly a landmark for me; though I hadn't set out to start a literary magazine for parents on January 1, I'd accomplished that, and even more awesomely, I'd gotten all my three boys to school successfully. On many occasions, I went a whole six hours without having to worry about any of them a whit.  My husband started what will (we hope) be his final deployment overseas. I came up with some crazy ideas and made them happen! I won an honor for my writing! I wrote lots and lots.

When it came to marking the year, though, I felt a little lost. I've made lists and long essay-like wrap-ups in other years; I've made calendars and year-in-review letters to send to friends. But this year I've been feeling overwhelmed with all I have to do (something about this wild 2012 has been: overcommitment exploded); I've felt the regular holiday excitement, even, was more than I could manage. As usual, I had so many ideas I ended up standing in my dining room, spinning around, not knowing where to begin.

Then I saw a post from Mara on Facebook. She was doing interviews with each of her boys; audio interviews, requiring nothing but the voice memo app on her iDevice. She gave me a list of her questions, things like, "What was the best thing about 2012?" and "What are your favorite things?" and "What scares you?" I set about recording immediately.

Continue reading "Finishing up the year, marking time, making plans" »

Ideas for kids, ideas for all

November 08, 2012

Oregon Humanities is producing an amazing series of videos called "Bring your own," with the concept that we can all bring our own ideas to the table (like lunch!). I connected with this video in particular, because I have been loving the ideas my own children have been developing lately.

When I launch into one of my passionate lectures on life and the meaning of "safety" or "abortion" or "free speech," my kids listen and then come up with ideas of their own. How to look at it a new way. How to fix things. I think I should listen more. I think I should let them make a couple of videos.

Oh, June: The mama version of graduation anxiety

May 30, 2012

For as long as I can remember I both loved and mourned June. Every June for almost half my life meant goodbyes. Every teacher to whom you would never turn in homework again; every classmate who would graduate or move away in the summer; every community established so quickly and experienced so wholly. Each grade, from kindergarten all the way up to my second year of business school, had its own uncanny friendships and serendipitous societies and secret-keeping, had its possibilities and magic. And it had to end.

I was reminded of my memories of my junior year in high school during the Great Journal Revisiting that occurred when I performed early this month in Mortified Portland. I'd written a melancholy good-bye to my friends, the seniors, who were graduating. And I've been feeling the same way about the 11 days left of school for my kids.

This year, it's not teachers and fellow students I'll miss -- though indeed I will miss Truman's retiring teacher, Donna Zimbro, who was just what he needed. It's this time I'm having with my youngest, Monroe, who gets to hang out with me each day while his brothers are in school. He'll be in kindergarten next year, and our time together will change in character and intensity. Though I'll welcome the wide open possibility of 5.75 hours each day (!!) utterly to myself (let's do another !!!), I'm already nostalgic for this time we have. There's something irreplaceable about the time with a baby, a toddler, a preschool-aged child; I'm not ready to let go.

When his brothers come home from school on June 13, that time will have concluded, forever.

How has your relationship to the end of school changed as you have become a parent? Are you sad, or happy, or a sentimental mix? Do you mark these ends-of-eras in any special way?

Happy New Years, Resolutionaries!

January 01, 2012

I'm sure my friend Brandy didn't make up the word "resolutionaries," but I saw it first on her Facebook page and so we're going with that. "Resolutionaries: people who you see in the gym in January." It's not just in the gym, of course, but shopping for vegetables instead of candy bars and filling the coffee shops with their laptops, writing a screenplay, maybe, and taking walks with their kids.

As 2012 dawned beautifully today, I ran up to Mt. Tabor and it was like those gorgeous 80-degree Sundays in June -- you know the ones. The ones that happen every few years, when everyone has taken a walk with their spouses and their children and their friends -- generations of family with walking sticks and strollers, on foot and on bikes. People were everywhere, running and holding hands and laughing. New Seasons was entirely out of organic black-eyed peas. It will be an auspicious year. (Mine will have to be auspicious with white northern beans and chili beans -- thank goodness I'm only affectionately superstitious.)

 I'm a little woozy with resolutions. I make some, but often I don't make them right away, or just promise myself to commit a little better to things I'm already doing. Like running: I try to always run on New Year's Day, but often I've run on New Year's Eve as well, and (if things are looking up) a few times on Christmas week. My cycles of commitment don't so much follow the Roman calendar as they do the school calendar and my own personal cycles.

But still. I've committed to a few things that seem perfect for the new year, and so far so good. I won't promise to do these every day all year. But I'm trying to become more consistent, more present, more focused at:

  • Baking bread. I started a big batch of no-knead bread on Christmas Eve -- I'm doing another tonight.
  • Writing for myself first. Instead of starting each session of writing (and, if auspicion shines around me, each morning) with a piece of writing for pay or for a blog like this, I'll write something that pleases me, even if it's just a few sentences. (I did it tonight!)
  • Getting up before my kids. It was pretty easy today (there has been some major, major sleep deprivation in our house). But even if it's 20 minutes or so earlier, getting up first makes such a difference in my day and my ability to be present for the boys.
  • Doing things instead of waiting for someone else to __. I've been waiting for someone to help me with the living room painting. Someone to help me fix the front gate and the window. Someone to fix the ceiling so I could clean off those shelves. Etc. Etc. Today I cleaned off those shelves! And I'm almost done with the living room painting. And there will be more...
  • Asking for help. I'm never good at it. I've been trying...
  • Saying "yes" to friends. I say "maybe" a lot and know that means "no." I'm going to try to say "yes" more. Three so far in the past few weeks have warmed my heart!

Are you a resolutionary or a committed life-changer each new year or a more (umm?) creative cycle follower like me? What will this year bring, you hope, for you?

Happy Thanksgiving 2011: Grateful, Despite Myself

November 24, 2011

It's been a hard Thanksgiving for me, but I think it's more attitude and expectations than actual comparative experience. This year, I have so many reasons to be grateful, from somewhat easier behavior from my oldest boy to an adorable turn my youngest has taken -- to regularly (several times a day starting the minute we wake up) tell his brothers that they're awesome, and tell me I'm pretty. "Guess what Truman? You're awesome!" -- I can't think of any better way to start a day, from any of our perspectives.

I, somewhat impulsively, cooked a large turkey today even though it was just going to be my and my three little boys; our large family Thanksgiving was last weekend, and my husband's overseas (where he got turkey dinner -- and jet skis! -- at a Kuwaiti beach resort). Due in large part to my impulsiveness and in equal parts to my odd mix of overachieverism and procrastination, the dinner wasn't really complete until almost 9; there was no starvation here, but also no lovely picturesque traditions. We did not talk about pilgrims and native peoples. We did not dress up and take family photos. We did not say what we are grateful for. I will have leftovers (this, well, this is good).

By 7 p.m. I felt mournful. By 10 p.m. I felt more like a failure. But every time I went back to look at my life and the state of my kitchen -- yes, a bit messy, but so much bounty! -- I knew that my attitude was wrong and this situation deserves a better perspective. I could sit down and force myself, grudgingly, to be grateful -- or I could wallow in my imperfect self and lack of all the things I was favoriting on Instagram. Even when reluctant, gratitude is better.

I'm grateful for the most incredible turkey recipe I found in my neatly-organized-this-summer Saveur magazine collection; for an unusually awesome collection of babysitters who really love my kids; for having really found myself in writing over the past year-and-a-half; for people who say they appreciate me; for a husband who has a job he loves, even if it takes him far away; for being blessed with children who are both beautiful and smart and who, despite everything, love me and tell me so.

And I'm incredibly grateful for you all, and especially the other mamas who founded the site. How lucky are we, really? To live here, in this great city, or to have lived here, even. It may be insane and hilarious but it's something else, isn't it? Portlandia, the great and the strange. Every day full of story.

What are you grateful for this year? Do you have to convince yourself to be grateful, or is it coming easily?

Children Allowed, but not welcome

August 11, 2011

Recently, I had to use a Groupon (or one of those types of offers) for a facial.  I booked 6 weeks in advance, or even more.  I was excited.  I hadn't had a treat like this in a long, long time.  The morning of the facial, my sitter for the day cancelled, and I was home with my 7-year old daughter all day.  Rather than forfeit or reschedule, I decided to bring her along.  I told her our plan for the day, which included chores, lunch, the facial, some errands, and free swim.  She was excited.  She packed her bag for the day, which included a book and some water and a small snack for her to have during the 60-minute facial.  I know my girl.  She would be cooperative.

I suppose I didn't give it too much thought.  I suppose I could have.  It was a one-person operation, I figured.  We would disturb only ourselves.  I have actually had to bring a child with me before to a bodywork appointment and it was fine.  I was extremely put off by the response I received when the aesthetician opened the door.

She took one look at me, then looked long and hard at my daughter.  The look on her face was baffled, confused, and irritated.  She said, "OH", with a tone that I heard to mean "What the heck is *this*?" and "I don't do kids here."  I explained, "My sitter backed out at the last minute and this is all I could do."  She said, "OH." a few more times, with the same tone, exaggerated and really annoyed.  I tried to put the tone aside and so I could enjoy the 60 minutes I had been looking forward to for weeks.

My daughter was silent for those 60  minutes.  I forgot she was there.  She was reading and having some water and playing pretend games in her head.

Even if it was not explicit that kids were not allowed, it felt like the business operator's response indicated kids shouldn't be there.  I've been into some stores before that literally seem to flinch when I walk in with my kid(s).  Sometimes, I'm made to feel like the kids are a disease.  When it comes to airline travel, kids are an annoyance to other travelers and there is the constant proposal that there be kid-free sections of the plane.  Restaurants and supermarkets (like a Whole Foods location in Missouri) are following the kid-free movement, outright banning children or implementing the ban during specific hours.  (Ever take the kids to Happy Hour?  Always!)

Are there places you wouldn't bring your children, even if kids are technically allowed?  Are there circumstances under which you would support the kid-free movement?  Do you think the kids should be allowed to come along wherever you are entitled to go?

When Mama Cries

July 27, 2011

I had a very bad day today. I'm feeling extra vulnerable thanks to uncertainty over the future for my family -- can I survive on art alone? I'm feeling extra poor today. And my husband is on edge and somehow manages to say exactly the wrong thing at all the right times... the internet is sometimes a hard place to be all, you know, defensive and sure of oneself and stuff... I ended up entirely unsure of anything. We have a 20th reunion for our high school class coming up Friday, and I overcommitted and have a ton of responsibilities, all of which I want to get accomplished -- so everyone will have a great time, right? I spent half of the evening in tears.

Even the neighbor girl, 12, noticed -- our house is such that there's no real good place to be alone. She came up to me and put her arm around me as I sat on the front porch, hiding behind the grape vines. "Are you ok?" she asked. "Sort of," I said. Both Monroe and Truman gave me several wet sloppy cheek kisses as I, later, read them the Dueling chapter from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Everett was extra solicitous of me. I thanked them profusely.

I never know quite what to say when I dissolve in front of them. I've never been one of those people who can box their feelings up to let go later -- and anyway, our house is not the sort of place where one retreats with the vapors (if only). I just apologize and tell them why (in simple terms) I was feeling sad, and thank them for being so patient and kind.

How do you deal with the sometimes powerful emotions of being a mama around kids? Bottle up, let 'em rip, go for a run, call up your mother and tell all?

Solo parenting: Squandering child care

April 13, 2011

On Sunday, I arranged for my sister to come watch the boys as I rode up to the prettiest and hilliest part of NW Portland for an interview for a job writing a book. I was breathing hard as I locked my bike, and the interviewer met me there. By 15 minutes into the chat I had so little hope of getting the position that I almost stopped worrying about it; it was one of those situations where, despite the likeability of the people on the other side of the table and our obvious shared interests, I knew we just didn't mesh.

When I got the email message on Tuesday -- I hadn't gotten the gig -- I wasn't upset about anything but this: I'd squandered my child care! With my sister pregnant and in possession of a day job, we have our regular Tuesday/Thursday gigs (errands and writing group) and sometimes one other day. I'd used up my share and knew it would be too much to ask her to babysit Wednesday... when I had rare dinner plans with the other urbanMamas. Emails and phone calls to my regular backup caregivers were fruitless.

In the end, I was happy how the situation had turned out; the gig would have been a lot of work for a payoff that wasn't quite enough to give up some other opportunities (and not enough to afford a new regular caregiver). Except I felt so cheated that I'd "used up" my small tender of loving care for my children. As a solo parent while my husband is in Kuwait for the Army, this is one of the most valuable resources I have, and I'd thrown it away!

I'm wondering if other parents who spend lots of their time solo, whether for a travelling spouse, an absent partner, or a very busy one -- or who are doing the job on their own full-time -- feel similarly. How do you use your precious commodity? How badly do you mourn when you've wasted it? Do you, too, feel as if you have to pack a million things into those few hours each week?

Don't talk about it, mama!

March 17, 2011

There are a lot of topics that tend to divide parents and get them lined up on two sides of a seemingly uncrossable chasm: take circumcision, vaccination, infant formula. We've found many other topics here that have forged a surprising divide amongst our family, friends or internet community.

But are there some things that just aren't ok to talk about online? I wondered, today, when I came across (first, because Babble emailed it out to parents they knew manage parenting blogs, and then on subsequent discussions among Twitter friends) a post in which a mother reveals that she loves one child more than the other. If you're really interested, I'll let you find it; what I will say is that many, many commenters and my Twitter friends agreed "this isn't something you say on the internet."

I don't know; I believe that, if there's something you feel, even if it's just for a little while, it's ok to say it -- though you will certainly regret it if comments are open and people are sending around links to your post, exclamation points included. And I believe nearly every parent has regrettable thoughts from time to time, as this mama did: do I love my easy baby more than my difficult toddler? Am I a bad parent for thinking coolly of slapping my son? If I had to decide between my spouse or my children, who would I pick? Could I send my eight-year-old to a military school? (I wouldn't EVER think that. No way. Not me. Not even for a second, as I rode home on my bike after he told my sister and only babysitter that he hated her and then... no, not me!)

I may be more liberal than most, as I am after all a nonfiction writer and one that is willing to expose every bloody bit of my inner life, if it serves truth. Even I have some lines, though: I won't write even fiction in which children who are like mine in any way die, and prefer not to cover news items about mothers and fathers who hurt their children. I stear clear of all mentions of my children that are in any way sexualized. I try to never use words about other people like "fat" or "stupid," even poor Sir Topham Hatt's original moniker. I don't believe in calling anyone a "bad mom," even myself, even if I thought for a minute it was true.

What won't you say on the internet? (Be anonymous, or hypothetical, or general, whichever makes you feel safe.) Do you think that it's ok to reveal the sort of thoughts that you feel badly for thinking, afterward? Or do you think there are some confessions that just shouldn't be typed out?

This year is MY year

January 05, 2011

Last year, my third child turned one.  The days of nursing multiple times a night, managing a baby-turned-toddler, tending to needs of the older children, managing a household, pursuing a career: the year came to a screeching halt, and I wanted nothing more than for it all to end.  It was all too much.  It got to the point where I was feeling physically sick, anxious, depressed at times.

I looked forward to spending the last week of 2010 at home, regrouping, having quiet moments just our family, working on little projects that have been sitting on the back-burning for the past year(s).  That plan was foiled when the blizzard of 2010 kept us out east for an extra five days, bringing us home at 1am on New Year's Eve.

I have had a day or two to settle in and to think: "what do I want to accomplish this year?"  I realize that I never did achieve any of my goals for last year, the top two of which were: 

  • to finish reading a book
  • to master a piano piece

Continue reading "This year is MY year" »

Holiday gratitude: Where does it find *you*?

December 10, 2010

Forget Thanksgiving; it's Christmas specifically, and December and the beginning of the new year generally, where I find myself needing to focus most on my gratitude. How hard is it not to get caught up in all the wrong bits of the holiday spirit? Plenty, what with a list of cartoon-commercial gifts a mile long and twice as objectionable, sugar proferred by friends, family and strangers at every turn, always too little money compared to your needs and wants, the pressure to have a "simple" and "homemade" holiday which turns into a snafu of overcommitment, and the family togetherness-or-lack-thereof, both of which provide tearfulness and emotional extremes in equal measures.

I need to carve out pockets and tar-pits of gratitude in a time like this. I'm finding it easy, if I let it be, even though I'm finding it hard sometimes to draw in a deep breath the way I'm coaching my kids, my athletes.  Where can I find it? Here:

  • ~On the bus, on the bike~. The man in a wheelchair this morning seemed to be looking out of the corners of his eyes instead of straight ahead, but he could tell Monroe was in a funk. "Sick," I said, so he offered him a tiny Mounds bar. Monroe's eyes lit up, he smiled, he reached for the thing, he said "it's good," by way of thanks.

    And Wednesday, the sun broke through just as we reluctantly, half-sobbingly, helmet-ed and raincoat-ed up, we rode past other families offering us a smile, a wave, a hello; a grandfather and his grandson working in the yard, Truman asked if we could come back sometime, and play; a pregnant mama, surely due soon, carrying her recycling bin down the steps as we looked for surprise rainbows. Open your eyes, see, I told myself.
  • ~On Foster Boulevard, in the fifties~. It was raining hard, I was looking for the Decorette Shop, seeing signs like: 'gloves for hides,' and wondering if that was literal, could I bring in a hide? Once inside the shop near 54th, I uncovered a rich landscape of things for baking: cakes and cookies of every shape and season. I bought crystal sanding sugar, I bought cutters for reindeer, acorns, maple leafs, a train and a car, Christmas tree baubles, an unusual star. It was less than $12 for my cookie-baking riches.

Continue reading "Holiday gratitude: Where does it find *you*?" »

Helping kids expect the unknown

October 21, 2010

As I type this, I'm waiting to hear if my husband's airplane is landing right now-this-minute, or if he's still hours or days away. We've been waiting for him to come home on leave from Kuwait -- where he's been the last five months with the Army Reserves -- since Sunday, when he left. I told my boys that it was all up in the air, but then he called Monday night with a flight number and time. So, we expect him Tuesday night...

A few hours before his flight was (I thought) arriving, he got on Facebook chat with me (internet was way cheaper than phones), from Germany. OK, so, not Tuesday night. Wednesday? No, he was on "lockdown" for 12 hours. Thursday? Probably?

Now I have to go pick the boys up in a few minutes, and maybe I'll have something to tell them (we're headed to the airport!), maybe I'll just have to say, "who knows?" Though this is an extreme situation, for sure, I know I'm not the only one who has to deal with a partner who's often making last-minute changes in availability -- work travel, sudden flight changes (voluntary or not so much), having to work late or entertain friends/clients/family unexpectedly. How do you help your kids expect the unknown? Is it fair to say, "we'll never know until he walks through the door?" Or is it better to let them in a little bit on your own emotional roller coaster (not to torture them, but so they'll at least be able to understand why you're on edge)?

Right now, my best coping mechanism could generously be called "comfort" and critically be called "junk": Kettle Chips, coffee shop treats, and Burgerville drivethrough. I've been saving that good dinner (flat iron steaks, roasted cauliflower, mashed potatoes) for three days now... I think it's time to start cooking. I think my heart is telling me I should stick to a schedule and let the schedule-afflicted partner join in if he or she can... but that's a hard thing for this mama to do. What do you think?

Parenting, home-keeping: Work that we love?

July 12, 2010

The thing is, this day pictured here was a hard day, as days go. Many of the days are hard. My sister was babysitting, a rarity for a Saturday, and Monroe wouldn't be left behind while I biked to the farmer's market. It's easier by myself. I can really chat with the vendors, a thing that is always fascinating and lovely; I can buy all the produce and meat and cheeses I want, quickly, and proceed with photographing or browsing; I need never chase or carry or negotiate with a strong, strong-willed child. Monroe cried, fussed, screamed, begged with tears in his eyes and hope in his voice, 'go wif you?" I couldn't resist him, I went, I could barely talk with anyone, I had to rush through my list and never once got to photograph a pile of radishes.

But this picture, as so many of my pictures are, is of joy. And as I look through my photographs I see all my children's personalities, and I see many moments of joy, moments that spark out amongst the hardness. I see much work, but I see love in that work, I see that it is all work that I love, every minute of it. The washing dishes, the gardening and the bread-kneading and the lacto-fermenting, the biking and carrying and chasing children, the bringing to events both minor and major, the "talking to children, answering questions with questions, and treating each child’s thought as a special contribution," these are the things I love most!

I have been reading two pieces meant, I am sure, to spark discussion and controversy. The first was a piece in Salon by Babble blogger Madeline Holler. The second -- also written about by Madeline, curiously -- is a cover story from New York Magazine by staff writer Jennifer Senior. Holler spends a lot more of her time comparing her own personal life -- and how hard, indeed, it is -- to the lives of others, specifically the "radical homemakers" of whom Shannon Hayes writes.

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Pediatric 'Disorders' have this mama in chaos

June 07, 2010

"We're going with Disruptive Behavior Disorder," says the pediatric psychologist. She is young: the sort of young that goes with lots of experience working with parents and small children, seriously impressive degrees, knowledge, decisiveness. In fact, looking at her resume later, I decide she may be exactly my age. But her manner, her aspect, young.

The patient is my not-quite-three-year-old son, Monroe; I'd started this quest to get him diagnosed by a storied medical organization up on this hill of inquiry six months ago; for what? I ask myself in these spare moments after receiving the diagnosis. What did I expect? All pediatric psychologists and special education teams have for my children is a (damning) name for the symptoms I'm reporting to them. All they have is a knowledge -- from this brief interview, these questionnaires with acronyms and insufficient answer choices (there's no "it's complicated," or, "are you kidding me?" or, "but I love this kid with every inch of me" as options) -- that I've given them, that they've observed with the shapes and the little plastic bolt-and-nut. He can sort the shapes, he can screw the screw, he can tell you he's a boy and I'm his mama. He can say "I loff you!" and call blue "boo" and ask where "muffin" has gone ("my friend," I translate after a minute, a little boy only 11 months, Monroe was so sweet with him). He eats kale and garbanzo beans and picks raspberries right off the bush. He hits me, bites his brother so hard it bruises, stomps, throws things, breaks them, screams! screams! when he's angry. He's angry a lot, far more than is right.

What I wanted, I decide after much questioning myself, was a reason, if only a guess! a supposition!, something to look back to and say, "ahh," sorrowfully, to avoid next time, to purge from my life, from which to warn others away. I wanted to know how to wean this child so I can sleep better, manage better. I wanted a solution. Not a thoroughly bad name for what I already know.

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Stranger danger at the park: Sort of

May 14, 2010

Yesterday after we picked up Truman from preschool, we decided to enjoy the gloriousness of the day at nearby Kenilworth Park. We weren't the only ones: a group from Grout had biked to school and was enjoying a picnic snack at the western playground; numerous young adults were kicking back in the sun in the "bowl" of grass and staging their own impromptu picnics; a few men had taken advantage of the bowling balls ever-present in their friend's trunk and were playing a raucous game of bowling-ball croquet (with a modified sledge hammer as mallet).

The older boys ran ahead to the upper, eastern playground with the intention of giving Truman a (very short-lived) bike-riding lesson, and I followed behind, seeing from the corner of my eye a giddily happy couple disengage from what looked like an inappropriate-for-public embrace. I averted my eyes in discomfort and walked up to Everett, who was waiting for me. "Those people were just having sex," he said matter-of-factly. "They were?" I asked. "Yep. People have sex there all the time," he replied. (A few minutes later, I saw a condom wrapper a few feet away, confirming Everett's assessment of the situation. At least it was safe sex!)

The couple walked by the playground about then, probably not picking up on the context behind the murderous glance I shot at them (they smiled blissfully back), and it occurred to me that kids look at people in the way adults don't. I feel discomfort at some man's near-nakedness as he reads in the sun; I see excessive PDA; I look away. Not so my little ones.

All I had to say to Everett was, "that's not ok." I couldn't think of another response. But then I watched as Truman approached each and every arrangement of strange adults and teenagers, variously begging for snacks from a couple with eye-popping nose piercings; joining in the bowling ball game (the guys let him have his very own ball and roll it through the wickets while they played); going up to the near-naked reading guy and chat with him for a minute; taking a turn at a ball-throwing toy for a little dog, for whom Truman's misfires were entirely too stimulating; and finally, accosting a teenager practicing his tuba. The tuba player turned out to be extraordinarily patient, telling him about the parts of the instrument, showing him how the tubes and bell worked, and even letting him have a turn blowing into it.

My lesson from this was twofold: first, Truman's complete lack of social boundaries means I have to keep very vigilant (and indeed, during all this I was doing my best to be a careful observer without impinging on his child-joy of social discovery); second, I have to look at people the way my children do. See them, see what they're doing, steer clear or confront if necessary.

But: what is there to be done about strangers who choose to have sex in the public-that-includes-your-kids? I thought about this afterward and couldn't come up with a sensibly effective response. Confronting them after the fact would have been, well, pretty confrontative and angry, not something I wanted my kids to have any more exposure to than they already do; calling the police would have broken something in me (not to mention required a very public retelling for Everett, the "witness"); appealing to them quietly and privately would have meant leaving the children, which was at that point an impossibility. Perhaps there's no solution but to ask your child to please, please, never do that himself.

The cult of spring: Perspectives on mamas' need for nature

March 29, 2010

I have just negotiated a new quasi-peace in the house -- Monroe, I declare, is no longer allowed to use the iPod touch to play fruit matching games due to tearful angry meltdowns when he gets even a taste, while depriving him wholly keeps relative calm -- when I open the newest issue of Brain, Child. The cover story takes me several hours to begin; honestly, it sounds as bent for artificial controversy ("let's get mommies talking!") as any of the other mommy war-type content that has lately been flooding the journal's pages. Titled "Guilt Trip into the Woods," it starts as all long essays in mothering magazines do: with a little anecdote. Family, consisting of blogging journalist mama, dad and seven-year-old son adopted from Asia (this seems relevant to the writer), must decide where to go on vacation: nature, or New York? They pick New York, kid loves it, can't get enough of Times Square and the 10-story movie ads. He's just not a nature guy, says mama.

She's feeling bad about it, after all; she's been reading and seeing stuff online about getting kids out to nature. The focus of much of her ire is the echo of the headline, Richard Louv's Last Child in the Woods, with generous distaste left for the National Wildlife Foundation's Green Hour (for which, incidentally, I wrote a blog post last year). But writer Martha Nichols is not a believer. "...perhaps most disturbing for environmentalist moms and dads, I’m discovering that the nature movement—green and forward-thinking as it appears at first blush—looks an awful lot like a conservative message cloaked with some liberal fig leaves." She goes on to explain that she's feeling guilty, in the "morning when there’s barely enough caffeine in my system to cope, NPR seems to pummel me with stories about why our multi-tasking, Internet-chained pace isn’t good for kids..." but "whether nature is the only solution is the question," and though she connects with the concept of loving nature herself -- remember that pine tree I used to climb when I was a kid? she asks -- " long before I finished Last Child in the Woods, I wanted to chuck it across the room."

What comes down to it is this: her son isn't the nature journaling type. "He’s never been one to draw daisies in a journal if I suggest it. Instead he’d sketch a jousting tournament or a new comic strip, no matter how much I burble about the veins of a leaf. Or he’d rip the leaf apart—which for Louv might be just the ticket for a young naturalist—except that what fascinates Nick is the landscape inside his own head." She begins to describe the "fellow believers" of Louv as sectarians, they "present themselves as valiant nature warriors facing a horde of technology Visigoths," they're "nature evangelists," they're "polemical."

Continue reading "The cult of spring: Perspectives on mamas' need for nature" »

The oldest child: Too much responsibility?

February 06, 2010

My heart hurts, and my stomach: a few minutes ago, I yelled at Everett. He's seven-and-a-half, and as his dad has been away for the past two weeks doing Army duty -- he'll be away again later this month, and then, in May, he'll be mobilized to serve in Iraq for more than a year -- I'm asking the oldest boy to be far more responsible than I probably should. I know how this goes; I, too, am the oldest child of a large family, and distinctly remember feeling so infused with the responsibility of my first-born role, before I even started kindergarten I'd have nightmares in which I was the only one who could save my whole family from a house fire, an out-of-control car.

I'd been struggling with Monroe, who had dumped a quarter-cup of vanilla into the cookies, and was wailing when I wouldn't let him swipe enormous finger-fulls of butter, maple syrup, and oh, that vanilla. He was holding his arm and crying, "owe, owe, OWE!" -- I'd "hurt" him by holding his arm back from the bowl after five illicit tastes. Everett could help, I knew it: he's great with his little brother and I often look to him to fill in with patience when I've lost it.

But Everett was deep in a farm game on the iPod, and wasn't having any of this man-of-the-house baloney. I ordered him off, or else; he ran upstairs in tears. There I was: spreading my ill-patience around to the rest of the family instead of healing it. I took my breaths, set Monroe in front of the left-behind iPod, and went to apologize. But, honestly, my apology wasn't that great. I had to tell him, look, kid: when I am losing my temper and need your help, there's no one else. You have to be my go-to guy. For years.

While I work on controlling my temper, I also have this weighty question hanging heavy in the air like the scent of caramelizing vanilla: how do I temper the duty burden I'm sure to be yoking on Everett's shoulders for years to come? Where do I strike the balance between the trust and reliability I know he's earned, on one hand; and his very real needs for emotional development on the other? Have others here juggled this, whether because of being a single parent, or having a partner who frequently travels, or works very long hours? I'd love to hear your stories.

[And oh yes: the cookies turned out great. Way too much vanilla was just right.]

talking to kids about Martin Luther King, Jr., race relations, and ethics

January 18, 2010

As with everything, I launched into it without much thought. "You see," I told the boys one night last week, "many people in this country used to think people who looked different than them -- with darker skin or different hair or different-shaped noses -- weren't as good as them. They even sometimes thought they weren't fully human, like animals or something! Isn't that awful?"

"That sounds pretty stupid to me," said Everett. He's the oldest, seven-and-a-half. Emboldened, I marched on, describing how people who needed to make decisions they weren't totally comfortable with -- like owning people, treating them horribly as slaves, making them do the worst work and endure terrible living conditions -- used this ethical trap to convince themselves it was o.k. "If they believed it, then they wouldn't think of themselves as so mean and awful," I said. "And it made them feel good, to think of themselves as better than these other people."

Lately, I've been referring to Hitler in a few different contexts, telling Everett the story of the man who put the heads on Pez (I had discovered he'd ended up working for the same Nazis who had sent his entire family to their deaths in concentration camps, after the war, and been stunned by this) and another story about the man who first put jigsaw puzzles on cardboard, making them available to the masses (his family, too, had needed escape from Nazis; we don't know if they made it).

It's context that I feel the kids need to understand why Martin Luther King, Jr's speech is so important -- why it is I still cry when I hear it, for the umpteenth time -- how our generous minds let us take cruel shortcuts, sometimes, without owning up to the cost. How we build up a whole infrastructure around this cruelty, laws and societal norms and unkind jokes, to protect our fragile consciences from the truth.

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new decade, new resolutions

January 02, 2010

I've never been much for resolutions, but something about this whole new decade, coming as it does in the middle of some new opportunities for my family (my husband just received his security clearance for the Army Reserves and may soon be deployed, for one) and in this administration of Change-with-a-capital-C, has me feeling hopeful and new. What are you resolving this year? Here are some ideas from our own resolutions, now and in the past, to get you going:


Snuggle time with babies is worth everything. New babies, like new years, are a chance to start anew: for this life, give all the love we can muster, and then some.

Enjoy these moments, and see as many of them as we can. Through the craziness of life, open our eyes, see the beauty of the sweet small things.

Write letters. Handwritten notes may be fading away; I vow to help reverse that trend. Hand-delivery is good, too.

Start a conversation. Stop and say hello; knock on a door; set a special time just to chat; get mamas together for a salon. Talk, listen, converse.

Eat mindfully, cook more. Local, sustainable, humane, organic, from scratch. Clear out the pantry. Add one vegetable seed to your garden. Switch to whole grains. Reduce sugar. Whatever your decision, vow to eat with your eyes wide open.

Share a meal; show your love with food. For a special occasion, a new baby, a holiday, or just a week that's not quite so busy: invite friends over, or bring food to them. Ask someone to dinner, or lunch, or for zucchini bread. Bring a jar of jam to a neighbor. Make soup.


Run as fast as we can. Whatever our pace, in races or just out with some friends, strive to run more, run faster.


Organize something. Put toys in bins, clean out the fridge, file my old photos, finally clean my office. An ordered home helps bring order to my brain and peace to my heart.

Art and motherhood: A difficult combination?

November 16, 2009

At Wordstock last month, I sat in on several readings and discussions by writer mamas, and recently I've been very closely following other mothers and writers on Twitter and Facebook. I'll admit to a fascination that's part curiosity and part ... jealousy? longing? ... as I watch them juggle motherhood and their art. From a distance, it seems they're doing it better than me.

I've finally gotten to the point where I believe I could finish my book proposal any day (really!) and I'm finally having a essay published in print this month. After years writing online, I'm coming into this artist-writer bit, slowly, with lots of squeaking and complaints from my family. It's been hard, especially on those nights where my oldest has decided to go off melatonin, a gentle sleep aid we'd been using to good effect, and I must restart the process of coaching him on calming himself. For three hours.

A friend Tweeted she was locked in her bedroom this weekend, finishing a few last chapters of her book as her husband wrangled her boys. Another acquaintance, a writer dad, seems as if he's frequently out of town on book readings and fabulous events, trading off childcare duty and glamorous writer things with his poet wife. I asked an author I admired at Wordstock how she managed to write with children -- and she's a single mother, having adopted a little girl internationally. "Very expensive childcare," she answered.

Then yesterday, I read in the Oregonian about this fabulous couple here in Portland. They're both visual artists and she's an accomplished writer. They're gorgeous and cute and funny and successful. They have a three-month-old baby. I'm so jealous! (On the same page: a story about the Decemberists' guitarist and his lovely girlfriend, Seann McKeel, who've started a series of concerts for children and parents to help entertain their three-year-old child. She's also an artist. Oh!)

In my house, juggling art and motherhood don't go that well. A two-year-old literally hangs from my arm when I'm in the middle of typing an especially inspired sentence. I go to a coffee shop to write for three hours, and when I come home, the slow cooked meal I'd begun has burnt and homework hasn't been done -- my husband was focused on the littlest and his nap, the laundry...

Are you, too, trying to combine some passion -- whether it's writing, art, a political or non-profit endeavor, or a really rewarding job -- and motherhood? How have you managed? Do you sometimes feel that everyone but you is doing great? Or do you have secrets, tricks of the trade, that make it all come together?

Outside time, all the time?

May 03, 2009

As I type this, my two older boys run around outside in our (blessedly) big back yard. The youngest was outside, too, until naptime overtook him with a thunderstorm of neediness. Everett asks, "could you bring me something to eat out here?" and I unhesitatingly say, sure.

I've just been reading this about a U.K. preschool whose students spend nearly every moment out-of-doors. And I've been "studying" my kids' behavior and finding an unsurprising result: the more time outside, running, jumping, digging, collecting worms, fighting all those bad guys who seem to inhabit our block, or just lying in the dirt with a serious expression and a dump truck; the happier everyone is. Everett's therapist asks, "what do good days look like?" My answer is "plenty of intense outdoors play" and I immediately wonder what I'm doing with him in public school at all.


For a lot of complicated reasons, I've been considering home schooling him. With what will I fill his days? I wonder, imagining dozens of mini-power struggles over adjective worksheets. And then discarding all that wonder with the thought that maybe, we'll just have math, reading and outside time. Lots, and lots, of outside time.

Out there, we have a hundred lessons in science, math, social studies, vocabulary, agriculture; it's the Green Hour supercharged. I wonder if we'll have enough for him to build the skills in which he's lagging while at the same time protecting him from the often too-stressful, too-troubled environment of the school he's attending. Unschoolers have already been convinced, I know. For those of you who do homeschool, unschool, free school, or some variant thereof -- even just for preschool -- tell me how you've balanced "curriculum" and teaching children the parts of speech, multiplication tables, and all that with a sufficient amount of outside time. Have any of you considered changing your child's schooling to allow more time outside? How has the thought process gone for you? Have you tried it and gone back to the way of the formal schoolroom? Have you just longed for more untrammeled running, free-range kid raising time? I'd love to hear your thoughts!

Color-blind kids: is it a good thing?

February 04, 2009

When my 6 year old was trying to get our family to guess the name Barak Obama the other day, he described our new President without ever mentioning the fact that the man is African American or black.  This prompted my husband to state that our children will have the luxury of being “color-blind” when it comes to race.  While I’m not sure that being racially colorblind will be quite the reality of my children’s still-young generation, it does make me wonder if that is even really a good thing?


After living and marrying in a very diverse part of Florida, my parents raised our family in the Pacific Northwest without any discussion or mention of racial differences that I remember as a kid. Living in a community without much diversity, those weren’t conversations that were ever prompted by circumstance.  Although well intentioned, I don't really feel my parents did me any great benefit by living as if racial differences don't exist.  It wasn’t until recent years that I even learned about the concept of “white privilege”; it was just something I obliviously lived.  Shortly after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I asked a few girlfriends (all caucasian and parents of 5-6 year old kids) how they talk to their kids about race so they at grow up conscious that racial disparity is real. They all agreed our kids are too young to go there, to call attention to differences that our kids don't notice yet.


So mamas, what do you think about all of this?  Are color-blind kids a good thing?  How so?  Beyond how we as mamas talk about our own diversity, how do you talk to your kids about race, diversity, prejudice, and privilege?

New year, new commitments

January 06, 2009

The news of a friend's book deal was paired on a writers' site with an announcement of a book on "My year of living within my means." I had to laugh to keep from crying, because, seriously: isn't that what many of us have been doing forever? It's been several years since I used a credit card (and it's not just because I'm disciplined, but that's another story). Why not a life of living within your means?Old_and_new_books

All ranting aside, it made me think of all the other "year-of" books that I'd prefer to adopt, at least mostly, as a life and not just a year -- or not just a New Year's resolution. I think of the "resolution" concept as something that should be applied to the moment, not a turn of the page on a calender, a new digit. Every moment is worth starting anew (or else, perhaps I'm just habitually late and this is my mantra of excusal). I'd like to re-commit this year to:

  • The year of eating local. I continue to strive for better pathways to eat local, sustainably-produced food, and part of that this year will be to figure out how to do it without paying a lot -- and how to spread local foods beyond their "elite" label. I love what the Portland Fruit Tree Project is doing; part of local eating could be gleaning figs from a neighbor's tree or helping me harvest my cherries!
  • The year without a car. It's been two-and-a-half years since our car was last insured and this year I'm going to join the BTA instead of the Zoo (it's cheaper!) and finally sell the car. No, really. My mission is to convince as many families as possible that biking can work for them.
  • The year of living within my means. Well, I had to say it. But with a freelance career, I'm hoping to spend a little more time budgeting appropriately (and spending my money more wisely at the farmer's market).
  • The year without stuff. While I'm not committing to buying nothing new, I'm certainly limiting it to necessities (a new pair of shoes for Everett, the odd piece of photographic equipment, socks), and yarn. I can't do without new yarn.
  • The year without trash. OK, this one is a stretch, I'm only reducing, not eliminating: I've been striving to refill containers instead of buying products with new ones, compost all my kitchen scraps and feed the chickens what won't go in the compost, and avoid buying products which have packaging I can't re-use, recycle, or compost. This means paying close attention when I'm leaving the house to pack reusable containers, plastic bags, etc; and going without certain products (paper towels, for instance). I still do disposable diapers (because I have inertia, ick) and plastic wrap, but I want to figure out a few ways to reduce my trash further.

What other 'the year of' books am I missing? What are your ongoing 'year of' efforts that have turned into 'life of' instead?

On charitable giving (and receiving)

December 28, 2008

Charity is very much top-of-mind this week. My husband is in the Army Reserves, and either we are the only large-ish family in his unit and thus deemed needful of charity based solely on the number of mouths to feed, or perhaps he has slightly exaggerated our financial plight (I'm freelancing as our main source of income right now, and while the work is plentiful, my time is not so much). Either way we have received two gift baskets in the past week, both stocked with hams, a pound of margarine, and various canned goods and other nonperishables. I am grateful. And yet, given my now year-long commitment to feed my family organic, fairly traded, as-local-as-possible food, it's been a challenge deciding how to face a six-year-old who I found hoarding two boxes of cake mix and a package of Sara Lee dinner rolls in his bedroom. Among other things. One day I'll let the boys gorge themselves on Trix, Campbell's chicken noodle soup, and chocolate icing straight out of the carton, the next day I hide it all and force-feed them sourdough whole wheat baked goods and raw milk. As a culture, we believe that one should not look a gift horse in the mouth and that those receiving charitable assistance should be pleased to eat whatever GMO-ridden, conventional, processed, sugar-packed, wrapped-up-in-excess-packaging goods the givers choose.

I am torn. I wish to be grateful and am thrilled that such largess exists. I know that those who assembled the gift packages did so out of a genuine and generous wish to make our lives better. (And the PGE gift card that was included in one of them will, indeed!, make our lives better. If anyone should be struggling over what to get for a needy family -- go with the PGE gift card!) And at the same time I wish I could somehow send a message to all those who shop for holiday gift baskets and ask if they might consider getting big bags of Bob's Red Mill organic whole wheat flour, and a dozen eggs from Kookoolan Farms, and perhaps a nice local ham from Sweet Briar Farms or the Pacific Village cooperative.

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The functional family revolution in D.C.

November 23, 2008

I loved reading about Senator-Vice-President-Elect Joe Biden's impending move to Washington, D.C. in today's New York Times. What struck me first was that, though he's been working in the Senate for 36 years, he's never become a "fixture" in the Washington social scene: mostly because he's been rushing home to his wife and kids in Delaware. This has seriously impacted his political career, probably leading to failure in his own presidential campaigns.

What's more, he's certainly going to bring his 91-year-old mother to Washington, meaning that both the presidential and vice-presidential families will have three generations living together (President-elect Obama's mother-in-law is planning to move to the White House, too).

Many things about these family dynamics thrill me; one, that Biden's choices (to let career come after family) are more attractive examples for American managers and workers than those of Republican Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin.  Two, in light of our recent conversation about multi-generational living, it demonstrates uncommonly functional family relationships on the part of both Biden and Obama. I admit that, at first, my opinions of Biden were mostly those of the guy who made a bunch of awkward, minorly offensive statements; and now I'm starting to believe that he was chosen for his unusual values -- values best illuminated by the many quiet choices he's made as a father/husband/son. Having these ethics in the executive branch gives me hope (even if "hope" is becoming a cliche) and makes me feel more secure about our future. What do you think?

Election results: Our hope for the future

November 06, 2008

As a group, we founders of urbanMamas were impassioned Barack Obama supporters. His win got to us on a number of levels: it's a thrilling realization of (what we hope is) a new era in which someone's race or gender or familial fortune is far less important than his or her intelligence, character, and values. It's a victory for grassroots politics over corporate politics (I, the MBA, am actually thrilled that the stock market plummeted the day after his victory). It's a victory for children, I truly believe that; as the camera panned across the kids up on stage with Obama and Biden, I cried even more, certain that the future of those little girls in the White House would be a better one for my little boys. It gives us hope that major policies will change for the better: chief on my list are eliminating subsidies that promote monocultures (buh-bye corn and soy subsidies), senseless transport (it shouldn't be so easy to supplant local produce, apparel, or other locally-sourced products with those from across the country, or the world), and wrongheaded decisions by financial institutions.

We're happy that Barack Obama won, and also

  • Jeff Merkley (though I could do without his expensive, negative campaign); he campaigned on overhauling No Child Left Behind, fully funding public schools and Head Start programs, and creating universal access to health care.
  • Kate Brown for Secretary of State
  • The Children's Investment Levy renewal
  • The Zoo bond; even though I have mixed feelings about the whole concept of zoos, I'd rather ours be up-to-date and taking best care of the captive animals as possible

We have hope that Obama and the other elected officials can make some enormous changes in America. We need to entirely re-think our priorities as a nation; instead of focusing on jobs above all, we need to focus on people. People who are mothers, fathers, children, aunts, uncles and grandparents. People who are farmers and freelance workers. People who do not have group health care; people who choose to live a more sustainable life. We need policies that support us. We need healthy food, first. This starts by eliminating corn and soy subsidies and making sure it's not any easier to grow food that's been genetically modified or treated with petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers than it is organic, heirloom, sustainably-grown food. It continues by funding food as part of education; increasing the time spent at lunch and encouraging gardens at schools and the fresh prepartion of food in school cafeterias. We need better transportation policy; we need to make hard choices and recognize that the best option is the one that doesn't use oil. We need enormous infrastructure changes and a renewal of neighborhood schools so children are walking and biking to school and families can make the choice to go without a car, biking and taking public transportation instead. We need government encouragement for telecommuting so that families with parents who choose to work can do so with the minimal impact on their children. We need tax-funded health care so the choice whether or not both parents need to work can be far easier. We need far more generous paid family leave policies so that children's lives can begin with several months of low-stress bonding, easier breastfeeding, and happier mothers.

That's what I hope Barack Obama, his cabinet, and the other elected officials will do for us. What do you hope for?

Getting kids involved without polling places: I voted!

November 04, 2008

Ballots_on_bike_cropI remember going with my mom to the polling place when I was a kid; there was one right at the end of our block, at 25th and Madison, so watching the people stream by all day was so exciting. I couldn't wait until I was old enough to vote. Now my six-year-old is just like me: only there's no polling place. My husband and I voted after bedtime on Friday and the only evidence was our sealed, signed ballots on the table the next morning, whisked away by my parents to drop off at the elections office.

So, how can we invest our children with the excitement of civic involvement in our vote-by-mail state? Here are a couple of things we've done (and plan to do):

  • Electoral maps. There will be electoral maps to color at Backspace for the election party tonight; and last night Everett insisted I fill in every state as blue (he's loyal, that kid) on the New York Times electoral map, a fun interactive map that lets you run different scenarios while you wait.
  • Mock election. Asha at ParentHacks has a fun idea with imaginary candidates who espouse candy policies and bedtimes.
  • Get your freebies. Though election law now says they can't ask if you voted (nothing of value can be exchanged to induce someone to vote, or to refrain from voting), Starbucks is giving away a free tall coffee in honor of voting, Ben & Jerry is giving away free scoops from 5 to 8 p.m., and Dunkin' Donuts is giving away star-shaped pastries.
  • Campaign with every last second. Moms Rising has several "get out the mom vote" campaigns, like offering to be backup childcare for friends who want to vote, and making last-minute calls to remind moms to vote. Maybe the best way to adapt this to Oregon is to offer to drop off ballots for your friends who haven't yet voted, or to stage a "voting playdate" where you bring your ballots, vote, and hand them over to one mama to hand-deliver to a ballot drop-off location.

How will you get your kids enthused about your civic involvement today?

Halloween treats: Who do you trust?

October 31, 2008

Do you mind if I have a bit of a rant?

As the news rolls in about melamine in children's candy and I prepare to write a book about "inconvenient food," I consider our society on Halloween. We talked last week about all the ideas for what to give away on Halloween, some of us bemoaned the problem of not being able to hand out homemade treats because of scares (for the record, I heard a piece on NPR in the last few years about how there had been maybe two cases in all of history of people getting poisoned/hurt from Halloween treats -- less than chances that a hurricane will rip through our city).

I've given up sugar and am trying to greatly reduce my children's intake, though I let them eat whatever they get given (within reason) by teachers, relatives, friends. But really, my values these days are "prepare food with love" and I can see no love for anything but profit in the contents of the candy aisle (or the cereal aisle, or most of the aisles in the grocery store). My go-to treats are honey lavender shortbread, hazelnut butter cookies, apple pie (sweetened with maple syrup), sourdough carrot cake, and the standby: homemade oatmeal whole wheat bread with lots and lots of butter and honey. Why would I go to the store, buy something I don't believe in that very well could poison you (if the sugar isn't poison enough -- now that I've given it up even a "fun size" bar would give me a two-day headache), just because my neighbors can't trust ME?

I start to wonder if the proscription against homebaked food has gone on long enough. How did our society become this insane place where we trust a corporation unquestioningly but we don't trust our neighbors? How is it that we have grown so ill-confident of our kitchen skills that we don't even dare challenge rules against bringing homemade food to public school? (Let's leave aside allergies for the moment -- that's not the reason schools banned baking.) Damn it, I trust you to know enough about cleanliness not to get my food all poopy!

So I'm going to hand out lavendar shortbread cookies for Halloween today. I'll have an alternative (we have leftover candy on a high, high shelf) because I haven't yet gotten to the place where I want to force my neighbors to trust me. Next year maybe.

Kids and the world, can't we all just get along?

April 28, 2008

For some reason I've been reading a lot of people's opinions lately about when, and where, it's "appropriate" to take your children; and how many people, even parents themselves, often wish children weren't around. Earlier this week at a knitting event, Larissa had a particularly ugly run-in with a woman who evidently was in the "children should be neither seen nor heard" camp, and Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (who was speaking during the whole brouhaha) weighed in on her blog.

While it was long and, in the Yarn Harlot's particular style, a bit self-effacing and entirely funny, it was also just about the most honest and lovely and graceful statement about how adults and children should interact in public (no matter where or when they are) that I've read in some time. It made me feel a little bit better about the other night, when my two older boys, a little wired from being tired and hungry, crawled back and forth under our table at a neighborhood Mexican restaurant (La Bamba on Powell, where the servers are always lovely and indulgent). They disrupted no one but me and the older couple sitting next to us couldn't have been more generous about it. "We had young children once!" they said gaily.

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Pining over someplace else

April 07, 2008

We all know that Portland's da bomb.  We wouldn't be here if it weren't.  There are lots of us who have shared that we come from many different places.  Recently, though, I've been thinking.... 

We were away for spring break to explore all that is Von Trapp (some of you know that I have two little girls obsessed with the Sound of Music).  During our time away from the States, we started to wonder: "Could we be better suited in a place outside the US?"  I found myself wanting to live in a place where farmer's markets were commonplace and the way-of-doing-business, not where farmer's markets needed subsidizing, organizing, planning, or all the rest.  I found myself wanting to live in a place where walking or cycling were the primary modes of transportation, not where cars were the dominant vehicle.  I found myself wanting to live in a place where space was efficient, not where space was just another thing to fill with all our goods.

Don't get me wrong.  We love Portland.  But, we just got this feeling that we just can't seem to shake.

Do you ever have this feeling?  The feeling of wanting to live somewhere other than Portland, OR?  The feeling of pining over someplace else?  Perhaps places outside of America?  Perhaps where you have lived before?  Perhaps to be closer to family?  Have you lived "abroad"? 

Or, do you know for certain that Portland is the place for you and your family?

There's a SPRING in my step!

April 03, 2008

The blue skies and the sunshine has gotten to me!  Exclamation points abound!  Giddiness all around.  Yesterday, I picked up kids early from school so that we could have ice cream sundaes for dinner!  This morning, we had fresh baked cookies for breakfast!  I feel like playing at the park and swinging with the kids all evening long.

I know it's all a tease.  The rain will come back tomorrow.  C'mon.  This is Portland.

Still, we live in the NOW and we have blue skies outside right NOW!  Has the spring weather affected you & your family's moods?  Having a little tougher time focusing on must-do items?  Taking a few extra moments to stop and enjoy the daffodils?

What can the city do for families?

February 29, 2008

What can the city do for families?  Do you know? This mama is still sort of in the dark about how the city can embrace and work on the family-friendly agenda.  As I sat mostly absorbing and trying to process the information from the informal chats with a couple of city councilor candidates, it dawned on me that obviously the issues close and dear to me, don’t necessarily resonate with local politics.  Yes, politicians grapple with many special interest groups, but I wonder if any of them understand (or want to understand) the issues from the perspective of families?  As I sat listening, I did formulate a few gripes in my head:

  • Why does the city support this wonderful and vast network of recreation facilities, but at the same time offers “junk food” (candy bars, sodas, ice cream sandwiches) as the only snack options at these facilities?  After swimming class at 11:30 am last Saturday, I found myself in the predicament of having two hungry kids (their snacks left on our kitchen table) and the less than desirable options in front of me.  I settled on getting them a Power Bar. 
  • And while Portland is looking to install new restrooms in the Downtown area (fantastic idea), I wonder why they are considering NW Glisan between NW 5th and 6th Avenues? I bet if they asked parents where they think a new restroom should be installed how many of us would say “Jamison Square”? 
  • “Safe routes” to schools is a great start, but is school the only place kids walk to these days?  Why not safe routes to parks, libraries, and church?
  • Yes, affordable childcare, a huge issue working parents grapple with, but does it even make a dent in citywide agendas? Probably not. Some would maybe argue that it's not a role for the city. At the same time, I do wonder how many of the current or future councilors even know what that cost is, and its financial impact on families? Would they be shocked to learn that the average cost of full-time daycare downtown is tens of thousands of dollars annually (that is if you can even get your child in)?

Now I know that families make up only a small percentage of the voting public, but I also know that retaining families and keeping them in the city is healthy for ensuring vibrant and livable communities in the future. This is only one mama’s four point rant, but I’m curious if you have others?  We matter, right?

Disney, gender stereotypes: Avoidable?

February 20, 2008

Boy_and_girl Over on Twitter, several of the parents I follow have been talking about gender stereotypes. We were amazed to find that two of our children (Everett, who's five, and a little girl who's four) had recently made the oddly-worded identical statements: "Pretty stuff is for girls, and cool stuff is for boys, right mama?" It's not the worst gender stereotype in the world, of course, but Everett's always enjoyed "pretty stuff" (I have the box of much-loved gaudy buttons and beads to prove it) and, speaking as a girl here, I hate to have us all banned from "cool stuff." (Is an iPhone cool or pretty? But I digress...)

We darkly attributed the identical statements to Dragon Tales, which we find that both of our children watch, and several other parents chimed in about the gender stereotypes promoted by most (if not all) of the children's programming, especially Disney with its princess gestalt. Whether they come across it at home, at school, or on a trip down the grocery store aisle, it's highly difficult to protect children from Disney, and out-and-out impossible to eliminate gender stereotypes from a child's world.

Protectionism definitely isn't the answer, and thus far I've just countered Everett's many cultural influences by working on projecting a couple of good role models and pointing out where stereotypes aren't borne out. And, as I said on Twitter, I spend a lot of time digging in the dirt (lately, I get the feeling that a connection to earth heals all wounds). Where have gender stereotypes surprised you -- and what have you done to counteract them? Want to come dig in my backyard, too?

Who has time to read the paper?

January 20, 2008

My husband asked me the other day, "did you read that article on Kenton in the Oregonian?"  It isn't unusual for him to ask... "did you read about [blank] in the paper?"  He reads the paper in his office.  Not having an office, I don't have that big stack of black and white to flip through, and - frankly - I'm jealous.  I don't read the paper anymore.  No longer commuting primarily by bus/MAX, I've lost that precious short window of opportunity to read an article or two.  Not getting it on my doorstep, like we used to pre-kids, I don't have that growing mound of papyrus in the corner to leaf through when I have a "free moment".  Not having the time to even respond to all my emails, I don't even gravitate to the online newspapers (and, I'd never bother to go to the Oregonian online.  It's just awful!).

I know a friend who reads the Sunday paper as part of her Sunday morning ritual.  And, I am sure there are others who do.

But, what I really want to know is: Who has time to read the paper?  How do you do it?

Parenting philosophies: Is *anyone* right?

December 03, 2007

Broadway_medical_clinic_me I've been thinking, studying, and discussing a lot lately about one very important topic: parenting. Not just parenting in general, but how to parent, and how to parent right. But even more troubling than the realization that I haven't been parenting entirely perfectly is the growing conviction that no one knows what they're doing. And I'm not judging you guys, the parents: no, I'm judging the experts, the parenting authors, the pediatricians, the teachers.

Everett's temporarily in a special education program and we're finding that the teachers, "coaches," and other great staff are -- despite their commendable patience and amazing energy -- frequently guilty of inconsistence. Are they right when they ignore bad behavior, or right when they provide consequences? I was all ready to embrace Love & Logic without question when I discovered some of the more punitive examples proffered by its creators. I love my children's pediatrician unreservedly, but occasionally her behavioral advice seems half-cooked. Another mama was raving about Alfie Kohn's speech, but admitted she had trouble putting much of his advice into practice after she got home.

While it's somewhat comforting to conclude that no one knows what they're doing, it's also terrifying -- how can I get it right if I can't even decide what right, is? I wonder -- has anyone come across a philosophy you embrace whole-heartedly? And why is this parenting gig so darned hard?

The Mama Identity

August 04, 2007

So often when we become mothers, or parents, the focal point in our lives shifts onto the new beings who we're responsible for 24/7.  It's very easy to get caught up in the day to day activities and forget altogether about how life was before baby arrived.  Some folks say it's not worth reminiscing since things are different now, what's the point?  Others say it's important to remember your roots, as they are inherently your child's roots too.  So how do you connect with your pre-parenthood roots?  How do you maintain your identity aside from the "Mama Identity"?  One mother offers this story:

This mother is a rock and roll star.  I play in a band that has a regular gig at a popular venue in Portland.  I'm the only "chick" in the band, and the only parent, which means there isn't much talk about mothering/parenting issues -- nor is there more than talk about music, and "boy bantering," which is nice to have.

I love that my daughter can see me playing & singing up on stage, an equal w/ the guys, completely respected as a musician.  I love that she sees mama on stage and understands on some level that it's natural for a woman to be in the spotlight.  But the truth of the matter is, I would do it even if she didn't get that out of it.

In my experience, musical improvisation is hard, but parental improvisation is harder.  So getting together w/ the guys to play is a welcome respite.  It lets me use parts of my brain that don't get much of a workout otherwise.  And even though I'm a mom, I'm not staid.  I'm still a punk, I'm still a rude boy (girl).  I still thrill to the Sex Pistols and the first Pretenders album; I still like striking a pose and acting hard; I still delight in putting on a show, and showing off; I still dress for the occasion; I still feel vibrant and alive onstage,
and I don't feel the least bit bad that at this point in time, my daughter can only watch and not yet participate.

Do other mamas have something all to themselves that is not traditionally Mama-like, or directly beneficial to hearth/home/family?

Sometimes when I contemplate doing something that is frivolous or self-serving... mommy guilt looms over my head and I usually dismiss the idea.  Then again, sometimes I indulge the temptation.  Maybe it's just a w[h]ine night or perhaps a trip to the spa.  But nothing quite as exotic as being in a band.  How exotic is your indulgence?  How do you connect with yourself aside from your parental position?