2017 Year in Review

Here it is, the final sum up! I’ve spent the last month assembling pictures and gifs and I still don’t have it quite all together so, whatever, get it done, get it out! That’s what this is all about, yeah?

  1. Drink more water. This was a big fail for the year. Instead, I drink the statistically improbable quantities of coffee that actually reduce your chances of getting stomach cancer. but don’t worry, this super cliche resolution will be carried over to 2018 because it turns out it actually does matter. 
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Here I am in December drinking not-water.

2. Sleep at least 6 hours per night. The year was really up and down, sleep-wise, and wrapped more on the “down” end–too much zoning out in front of the TV, wrapping presents, decorating shit, gluing tiny eyes on toddler projects, and watching cheesy Christmas movies. This is another one I’ll be carrying over to the new year. I do better when I really stay on it–it just never quite successfully becomes a natural habit. I get up too early to stay up so late. I’m doing it again…I’m doing it right now….I’ve been up an hour too late looking for pictures to correspond to each resolution from the last year….goddammit.

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Saw a lot of these this year.

3. Aim for 7. NOPE. See above.  

4. Exercise 5 days per week. As reported in October, I haven’t missed a yoga video on a weekday morning since, like, June. That’s a huge step forward from the big fat nothing I’d been doing for the prior two years…but 12-minute-videos that don’t raise my heart rate or cause me to break a sweat aren’t really sufficient. Onward and upward in the new year.

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5. Eat more vegetables. ✓ Yeah! We did well! I now regularly cook things like broccoli and cauliflower from fresh, which seems like a low bar to clear, but I’d literally only ever microwaved frozen florets before. Like, in my life. I don’t know why I thought it was hard. It’s not, they’re delicious, and we *have* made a good pattern of this. Keep it up next year, self! And branch out to try some new things!

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I don’t take a lot of food pictures, so the only evidence I have is when I burned the shit out of my arm on an unexpected tidal wave of steam rolling out of the oven when I was roasting a bunch of shit.

6. Be kinder to my spouse. ✓ I can be a snippish person and I am sure I’m not easy to live with. And in general I need more physical, mental, emotional, and auditory space than is actually available to me. But I’m really working hard at not taking that out on the person who has to spend the most time with me. It helps, too, that we did get out “alone together” more frequently this year than any time since Liddie was born. It’s always lovely to be reminded how much you actually enjoy each other’s company.

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A date night–one of several this year! Woo!–in March

7. Be less rigid. This one, and the three following it, were not “SMART” goals, in that they were not specific, measurable, achievable(?), or time-bound. And, as a result, I have no idea if I met them! I do think I made some progress this year in proactively tending to anxiety, which tends to show in all of these. I think I took more chances and leaps of faith, and “spoke my truth” more often. I’m not sure how well or how often that translated into actual flexibility or funheartbreak.gif8. Have more fun. I will say that age 2 was–overall!–a fun year for me as a parent. One was really hard. And three is shaping up to be….exciting. But two was for the most part, really fun. It felt like we’d hit our stride, for a lot of the year. ohyou.gif9. Roll with the punches. I don’t know if this quite applies, but I’ve noticed this year that I’ve become much less of a perfectionist–in a good way. I’m willing to ask a “dumb” question, to risk misspeaking rather than not speaking at all, to muddle through rather than remaining paralyzed. I’m prouder of this than I would have expected 10 or even 5 years ago.

julie.gif10. Take the long view. Everything is temporary. Everything can change. Indeed, everything will change, whether I want it to or not. ????lucille.gif11. Take myself as seriously as I expect other people to take me (like, carry business cards and shit). ✓ You know, I have rounded out the year feeling really good about my professional trajectory. I applied for promotion and in mid-December agreed to step into a new, exciting, and challenging role at our library that will be stretch–but also one that I’m fully convinced I’m prepared for and the right person to take on. I fell short in some ways–I had like three opportunities so publish (or try to publish) research this year and I basically just dropped the ball repeatedly on deadlines, follow-through, straight up doing the work. I am really struggling, there–that will be my focus in the coming year. But on the whole, a really good year, and at least in part because I started to get more serious about what I can really do with the skills and experience I’ve been developing over the last eight years.

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Super professional picture of my colleagues dumping out leftover baked beans at the company picnic.

12. But also take stuff in general less seriously. I don’t know?? 200.gif13. But also do not become complacent/paralyzed/ apathetic re: the world/our nation/social justice. Yeah, I totally did become complacent and apathetic. And now I’m back to feeling paralyzed. I need to find a good handhold to reach in, grab on, and sustainably contribute to pushing the rock back up the hill.pastriarchy.gif14. Just keep grieving ✓ It’s a process, it’s a process, it’s a process. I’ve found proactive ways to honor and celebrate my dad’s life, and my grief. I made a killer chocolate cake on his birthday. I took the day off on the anniversary of his death. We’ve been through all his belongings. I’ve digitized family films. I’ve got his artwork on my walls; I’ve shared his cameras with other photographers. I swing back and forth between feeling like I’ve betrayed him by never *really* talked about him, to feeling like he’s *all* I talk about (“Hi my name is Becky and my dad is dead.”). Liddie is at a stage right now where she asks me like 50 times a day where my daddy is, so I’m getting a lot of practice talking about it in a brief, matter-of-fact way. It’s with me all the time, even when it doesn’t immediately feel like it is. And I’ve basically become obsessed with end-of-life planning/decisions/care, hospice, palliative care, death, grief, and everyhing related to it. I’m reading everyhing I can find, and making everyone else read everything, too. Trying to channel this in a positive direction is on my list for 2018.

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I took the day off on the anniversary of my dad’s death. I happened to put these socks on. I’ve had them for, like, years and never noticed the words across the toes until that day.

15. Pull my weight re: nurturing friendships; do my fair share of organizing, hosting, prodding, reaching out, reminding, and lowering the overhead as much as possible for busy people to spend good time together. YES to the max! This year I coordinated two girlfriend reunions, and hosted multiple weekly get togethers at my house. A lot of people drank a lot of cocktails and ate a lot of ice cream and laughed a LOT and shared their stories and troubles because of me. This was the best, most important thing I did this year. cheers.gif

16. Participate in the weekly Sunday night potluck dinner organized by a former neighbor at least quarterly. Aim for monthly.  Goal retired (abandoned) This never happened. [sad trombone]

17. Cook more real food for dinner at my house. Yes! We’ve settled into a good, solid weekly routine. It could definitely use some shaking up with fresh ideas and recipes, but on the whole we’re doing a lot better than we were 14 months ago.

18. Eat dinner as a family, at the table Yes. This came in time, as the child grew, started eating better and (vaguely) more like us. The downside is her bedtime is drifting later and later and later to make this possible, which can be hard on us all. If I’m honest I sometimes miss throwing her in bed and eating my dinner in front of the TV with a glass of wine. But it’s a good evolution.

19. Make time to speak with my mom at least weekly, more if possible. Probably most of the time? Our schedules don’t always align, and that’s hard.

20. Make time to speak to my aunt and my grandma at least monthly, more if possible. Did not speak monthly, but saw this branch of the family five times this year, which is UNHEARD of. It is important to maintain contact, and I’ll keep trying, but I’ll also take that facet time as a good thing. 

21. Curtail Facebook usage (unless actually writing meaningful messages to the above or others) NOPE. GOAL RETIRED BECAUSE I NO LONGER CARE ABOUT THIS. crankyann.gif

22. Blog more. Eh, I keep trying. 

23. Write more letters. Nope. Maybe next year.

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24. Make a weekend with Kelsey and Robyn happen. 

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Girls’ weekend in Boulder and it was GLORIOUS!

25. Visit my aunt and grandma in Denver . ✓ TWICE no less–once in February and once in August

20170811_18161726. Get my high school girlfriends to Michigan for a visit. ✓ Well, mostly. Only Lisa and Eve were able to come…and then Lisa had strep and we spent most of the first evening at urgent care / Walgreen’s. But we still had many adventures, such as seeing a real, larger than life Little Caesar’s statue.20170729_14252827. Take one awesome, adventurous, ambitious family vacation.  ROMA, BABY. It was a dream come true, what I’ve always wanted, but more and better than I could have imagined. Plus also so much toddler drama. But still. I will treasure it always.20171126_160854.jpg28. Make our bedroom a nice, warm, comfortable, functional, attractive, calming, intentional place to be, rather than the garbage pile where we hide everything that we don’t want anyone else to see. Paint. Window treatments. Closet. A bed. ✓, but goal modified: We did get a bed (though it took literally months to assemble fully) and we now have two temporary crappy closet solutions. But then we sort of gave up on our room and switched our attention to Liddie’s room–where we’ve actually made a lot of progress, and just moved her into it on Jan. 1. I’ll take it!20180101_15440329. Renovate our kitchen. No, but small steps were taken. While we were away, my brother house-sat for us, and painted our cabinets. This small makeover doesn’t improve the functionality of our dysfunctional kitchen, but it does make it look nicer, which makes me less angry every time I walk into it, which means the renovation can wait. At one point we really did make some significant progress picking out cabinets and counters from IKEA, but then we got bogged down re: trying to schedule a consultation with them and gave up. Put it back on the list for next year.

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Freshly painted cabinets + the brother who did the work.

30. Establish a personal desk/table/corner/space for my crafts/personal projects/special off-limits pens/whatever  ✓ Yes and I love it and I don’t allow anyone to sit in my chair or touch my stuff. It’s as close as I’ll get to “a room of one’s own” in this life and it is precious to me and has dramatically improved the quality of my life.20171210_224955

31. When not on vacation/sick/out of the office, respond to email within 48 hoursAs if.
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32. Fix our goddamn roof. ✓ This took several rounds of work and ultimately ended in a full roof replacement. Not an expense we had expected this year. But one we were able to swallow without much harm (thanks to the sale of our old house), and it’s definitely a relief to have this properly dealt with and–in theory!–good to go for the next 25+ years. We still have a little clean up/patching/painting/touch-up to do in the hallway where all the leaks were happening.

33. Obtain access to a functional and comfortable bicycle. ✓ Just under the wire! This was my Christmas present to myself, and now it’s in the garage, never to be seen again until the thaw that I assume will come one day.20171027_19364734. Create playroom space in our basementNope 

35. Swimming lessons for Liddie. Nope–on the list for 2018 

36. Take Liddie ice skating. Nope–on the list for 2018

37.  Help my mom move out of our family home. Ease this transition as much as possible with significant practical and emotional support, i.e. a substantial stay with her this spring. Cry as much as needed. Do not withdraw, do not fail to show up for this ✓ It was a doozy–it took 4 or 5 separate weekend visits–but we did it.IMG_20170618_130009_537

38. Cruise on my brother’s schooner!!! IMG_20170905_174635_55039. Make regular donations to worthy causes. 20161214_203215

40. Visit with Liddie’s birthmother in person at least once. Aim for three times. No luck here. We made contact via text several times, but never managed to meet up. We’ll keep trying.

41. Do something fun on purpose for my birthday. ✓ An adventure, dinner, and a show with good friends. It was really lovely.

20170610_19153842. Participate in the neighborhood yard sale. ✓ Made less money than in years past, but got rid of a lot of stuff.IMG_20170603_170303_476

43. Go to the beach. ✓ Gorgeous Lake Michigan holiday weekend with familyIMG_20170702_095822_89944. Find a way that also works for spouse to regularly schedule to space and time to myself that does not involve staying up puttering until 1 a.m.: mental health days, Saturday mornings out, whatever. This remains a work in progress…smile.gif45. Set up auto-pay or reminders as appropriate to pay all bills on time. In the end I did some remedial work, like, not continuing to accidentally pay the water bill at my old house. Progress. But yeah, the credit card bills…always a disaster. Keep trying, self.giphy (3).gif

46. Clean house more consistently. Sweep, vacuum and bathrooms weekly, that would be a significant improvement and good enough. NERP

47. See more movies in the theater. Enough movies that I’m not devastated every time I manage to go and it doesn’t live up to my expectations. I love going to the movies. It brings me joy and it is probably the number one thing that I used to do a lot of and now do practically none of. ✓ LaLa Land, Beauty and the Beast, Wonder Woman, the Big Sick, Atomic Blonde, Loving Vincent, Star Wars: the Last Jedi–that’s a lot more than 2015 or 2016

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Getting ready to watch Star Wars and discovering the new reclining seats at our local movie theater.

48. See at least one live theater performance✓ And now all I want to do is see more musicals all the time.

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At Fun Home in East Lansing with Kelly & Mallory

49. Have a big-ass Christmas tree. IMG_20171203_170341_724

Completed: 25/49

In-progress/ongoing/undefined: 5/49

Did not complete: 19/49

Other things I accomplished this year that I didn’t predict or make a goal for!

  • Got a piano
  • Replaced our last old, beat up, worn out car
  • Found a new doctor who I really like, and who helped me take some really important steps forward.
  • Hosted family for Thanksgiving and Christmas
  • More work travel than (I think!) any year ever
  • And [drumroll] [burying the lede] we are trying to adopt again!
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Unquiet Time

I get up between 5 and 5:30 a.m. every weekday. I do this because it’s the only way I can get some dark, quiet, alone time in my own house. I use this time–usually at least an hour, some days closer to two hours–to walk the dog, do a yoga video, drink a whole cup of coffee while hot, make and eat my own breakfast, empty/re-load the dishwasher and, if there’s time, make L’s breakfast and maybe pack our lunches.

This time keeps me calm and sane and helps me start the day off on the right foot–i.e., means I have plenty of time to complete my metamorphosis into a human before I have to parent, spouse, adult, or anything else. This is not just about my mental and emotional well-being (which is important!) but also about just keeping ahead of the entropy of the house. Dishes, laundry, meal prep, wiping down surfaces and floors, clearing fossilized leftovers out of the fridge–this all happens in that uninterrupted early morning window.

And so, it drives me CRAZY when I don’t get it. Specifically, when the 3 y.o. wakes up at 4:54 am, wide awake, demanding breakfast, and raring to launch into an argument about why she won’t use the potty first.

This is harder for me than when she won’t go to bed at night, or even when she wakes up in the middle of the night, because, well, it feels like she’s sticking it to me on purpose (obviously not true…I mean, I wouldn’t put it past her, but she doesn’t have a clock in her room and she can’t tell time). But really because it just throws the entire day for a loop from the very first second we’re awake. When she wakes up in the middle of the night, we can get her back to bed or, in a pinch let her come into our bed. If everyone in the house is, in fact, sleeping, she is likely to settle down and at least stay quiet-ish and still-ish in the dark for awhile.

At 4:57, there’s no going back to bed, because in fact, I’m up, the dog’s up, there’s movement, there’s light, there’s clattering in the kitchen and the smell of coffee and she *knows* it’s not nighttime and nothing will convince her otherwise, even if it is pitch black outside. It also means I can’t just go walk the dog, unless S also gets up, an hour before he normally would, to make sure she doesn’t wreak havoc on the house in the 15 minutes I’m gone. And then he is up, too, which is good and helpful, in terms of childcare and prep for the day, but also a further chip away at the quiet time that I literally trade my sleep for: another person in the kitchen, all the lights on, all the clatter, all the animals, at 6 am instead of 7.

So, obviously, this is all frustrating, but also straight up part of parenting a small child. It’s to be expected. I know, I know. What I’m not sure about, and the line I’m trying to walk, is how far to go showing her that every minute of the day doesn’t revolve around her. This morning when I got back from walking the dog, I gave her a choice: stay in her room to play/look at books, or come downstairs while I did my yoga video, and either do the yoga with me, or look at her tablet on the couch.

She chose tablet on the couch, which was actually the worst because in fact TABLETS ARE THE WORST! Every 12 seconds she has unplugged the headphones, turned off the tablet, switched user profiles back over to me and locked herself out, run into a pay option in a kids app that’s preventing her from going any further (embedded purchase/upgrade options should be illegal in apps for small children, but I digress). In a way that would have been uncannily humorous, if not so enraging, I would be, like, in downward facing dog. She would demand assistance with some problem. I would pause my video, solve the problem, settle her down, start the video, get back in position and literally, as soon as my body would settle into where it needed to be….”MOMMY! I’M TANGLED UP!” and the headphone cord is wrapped around her toe.

I was starting to get really short with her: “What? … WHAT!?…. WHAT DO YOU WANT? CAN YOU PLEASE JUST STOP FOR LITERALLY TWO MINUTES!?”

I could feel my heart rate going up. I don’t think this is how yoga is supposed to work.

And I was feeling bad about it, but also just completely frustrated. Like, there’s only so early one can get up in the morning and still even pretend that it’s not the middle of the night. I am pretty much already at that place. If she starts getting up at 5, there’s nowhere for me to go, and when I contemplate this, that’s the feeling I literally have, this panicked, claustrophobic response. If this becomes a pattern, there’s. nowhere. for. me. to. go.

Last June she started getting up between 4 and 5 every day for like two weeks. Not coincidentally, I think, around this time I broke down crying in the doctors office and started an anti-anxiety/anti-depression medication. There were lots of reasons for this, this wasn’t the *cause* of my depression and anxiety. But I do firmly believe that it was the loss of this early morning, dark, quiet, low-sensory, no-people, morning warm-up time that destroyed my ability to cope/manage it.

So, back to today. Finally, I sat down with her on the couch for a chat and I said, “Look, you woke up almost 2 hours earlier than usual today. This is my quiet time, when I do other things. I’m getting frustrated because I really need that time, and to do those things. I am happy to see your face, but the rule right now is that you need to sit here, play by yourself, and be quiet until I am done. I get very frustrated when you interrupt me.”

Not that this was actually that *effective.* She’s barely three. She doesn’t necessarily even have the impulse control or awareness of other people to wait and choose to try to solve a problem by herself, before demanding assistance.

It felt good and reasonable, though, to make clear to her that not every minute is about her; that our household has other rhythms and requirements than her personal whims; that stuff happens that has nothing to do with her; and that she’s welcome to be a part of that, if she follows the rules, but if she doesn’t, I will be annoyed with her. This message will need (gentle) (and firm) reinforcing over years, I know. But laying the groundwork felt right–and helped me feel even a small measure of control over my blasted morning.

And yet it also felt questionable and subversive. Is it really ok to tell your kid, “I’m annoyed because you’re talking to me and I don’t want you to talk to me right now?” (actually I didn’t even put it that bluntly–maybe I should! That might help her to at least grasp what is going on). It seems better than just getting increasingly rageful, impatient, and resentful without explaining why. Or maintaining fake cheerful, patient facade that suddenly shatters into the horrifying monster beneath.

One lesson I took away from How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk was the recommendation, which seemed counterintuitive at the time, to *let* your kids see when you’re getting annoyed, *before* you become enraged. Because it gives them information they need, so they can adjust their behavior. On the one hand, you don’t want to play into their pushing your buttons and deliberately riling you up–which definitely happens. But also, it’s not fair to be like, “It’s fine, it’s fine, everything is fine, you’re my precious angel, so sweet, so funny, so clever, life is a game, I AM GOING TO BURN THE HOUSE DOWN.”

I work full time, so my only time with my kid during the week is before and after daycare. It seems like I should treasure an extra hour with her in the morning. But no, not so much, if from the very first second (“Come back upstairs, please.” “NO, I WANT BREAKFAST”) it’s a battle that neither of you are well equipped to navigate healthily. There’s this feeling that if you’re not patient, fully attentive, and responsive to your child’s needs at every moment, that you’re not a properly loving parent.

But it turns out that three-year-olds can’t differentiate between a need and a whim and an unfamiliar feeling or a random observation. They have no filter, they have no framework for making decisions about when and how to spout something. And there is *always* something bubbling up in those little minds of theirs. And I mean ALWAYS. It never, ever, ever, ever, stops. We have to establish this for them–help them learn to triage, and to read the room: this can wait, this never needs to be said (ever), this is an actual emergency, this feels scary but we can figure it out together, this is fine for later but don’t approach mom right now. Right? Otherwise we would all go absolutely mad?

So: while I will work on tone (ugh, nobody ever likes hearing “WHAT!? IS!? IT!?), I think after this morning I’m going to practice making it clear to her that 5-6:15 a.m. is my time, and if she’s going to be up and moving around then, so be it, but it will be on my terms. And there will be absolutely no toys, games, or shows of any kind with sound, and I am not open for questions. We can co-exist downstairs, or she can choose to have her own quiet time in her room (this is a skill I would really like for her to cultivate anyway!)

Also, she was basically falling asleep by them time we dropped her off at daycare, and threw a tantrum seconds after we walked in the door, because there were no seats available next to her BFF/frenemy. STAY ASLEEP LONGER, CHILD.

The Fire One and the Flower One

My daughter just watched her first full-length movie this week: Moana. She’s been watching the songs and clips on youtube for almost a year, so she’s very familiar with the characters and the music, but she hasn’t had the attention span to actually watch a movie until now.

My daughter has also been Going Through Some Stuff this week. The seasons are changing, I think she’s growing (she’s had a really hard time waking up in the mornings!) and she’s been extra clingy, with her teacher and with us–and then extra tantrumy when things don’t go her way, or when she has to share attention with other kids at school.

Trying to make sense of all of this has made me appreciate so much of what is wonderful and unique about Moana. We could write dozens of posts about what is good and not good about this movie (and others have), but for today’s purposes, I just want to focus on Te Ka and Te Fiti or, as my daughter calls them, “The Fire One” and “The Flower One.”

[OK, guys, Moana spoilers from here on out, but if you haven’t seen it yet by now I am not too worried about spoiling it for you]

When I saw the movie for the first time, I didn’t see it coming that Te Ka and Te Fiti were one and the same until just moments before it was revealed. I just was not expecting it, because it’s so fundamentally against the Disney MO! That the scary witch wasn’t just inherently evil and bad and needed to be killed, but that she had been injured and wronged, and she was hurt and sad and fucking angry about it (**ahem** if you’ve noticed in the meantime that Ursula, Maleficent, et al were almost universally powerful female rulers who had their power stolen from them, and were trying to get it back…?). And when someone (Moana) took the time to look at what was going on, and (crucially) amends were made, Te Ka recovered and transformed (back) into Te Fiti.

This was reassuring to my daughter in the most simplistic way while we watched the movie: The Fire One was scary, but then she turned into the Flower One. Imagine! A fairy tale resolved with healing, not with murder.

But it’s also been helpful this week, as we talk about her feelings and behavior. It’s been a rough one. There has been hitting, kicking, biting, pushing, screaming. And it has been so useful to be able to point to this image: that sometimes, when we’re scared or hurting or angry or confused, we are all The Fire One. And other times, when we’re well-nourished, well-loved, when we feel that we’re being seen and heard, we’re The Flower One. We’re still the same person. We’re not inherently bad or good. Sometimes we feel scared (and sometimes we act scary). Sometimes we’re at peace and better able to blossom. But that can (and does) change, back and forth, back and forth. And Moana’s greatest act of heroism is to see The Flower One through The Fire One, to help bring her back to herself–and to force those who wronged her to make amends. And so may we all.

Love to all my Fire Ones and Flower Ones out there…..

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My reading list for illness, death, and grief

Most readers of this blog will know that my dad died, unexpectedly and awfully, almost exactly a year and a half ago. Some of you may even read my other, semi-secret blog specifically about that experience (if that’s something you’re interested in reading and you don’t have access to it, just let me know).

In that time, I’ve read a lot about death and dying and grief (sometimes it’s felt like that’s the *only* thing I could read about!). Some of these have helped me to process and heal; others have helped me to wallow; others have been acutely painful, but made me feel less alone; some were just numbing or a distraction. Below is a list of my “top” recommendations for someone facing the death of a loved one. They’re in no particular order because there’s not really a meaningful ranking here. This is just as they occurred to me. Continue reading

On being outsmarted by a toddler, #metoo, and Hunger

Content warning: sexual harassment, assault, trauma, #metoo

This morning L. was playing with two little wooden animals, a fish and a gorilla. She told me the fish was afraid, because the gorilla was scary. Trying to create a teachable moment, I said, “Hm, maybe they just don’t know each other well enough yet. Maybe the fish could ask the gorilla a question?”

So she makes the fish say to the gorilla, “Hey, you scary? Yeah. OK.”

After I stopped laughing, I thought. (Everything she does makes me think.) My first instinct was to focus on the obvious and child-friendly lesson of “let’s not fear what we don’t understand, or people who don’t look like us. Let’s try to learn more and get to know each other.”

But in light of the inescapable #metoo zeitgeist this week, I recognized a different direction I could have taken–one that I totally missed in this moment: Continue reading