Monday, September 7, 2015

'Twas the Night Before School...

'Twas the night before school, when all through the house
All the creatures were stirring (maybe even a louse...)
The backpacks were lined up at the front door with care,
In hopes that there'd be time in the morning for hair;

When the children were finally tucked into beds,
and visions of field trips danced in their heads;
and Mamma with her iPad, and I with a nightcap,
fondly thinking of preschool and its time for a nap,

Then out of the computer there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the keyboard I flew like a flash,
Tore open the laptop, hoping it wouldn't crash.

The glint of the screen and its pixelly glow,
Gave a greenish lustre to my complexion below,
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But an email, a tweet, and Facebook update (oh dear)

With a flick of the cursor, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment that I would be sick.
More rapid than eagles the appointments they came,
Soccer, Scouts, Piano, Fundraisers, you name it--the same!

To the top of the trash pile! Let's hide from our wall!
Now delete away! delete away! delete away all!"

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky,
So up to the house-top my anxiety it flew,
With inbox full of obligations, and requests for donations too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard in my head
The refrain and the theme of each good book I've read.
As I drew in my hand from the keyboard and phone,
I remembered my teachers, mostly good to the bone.

She was better dressed than her students, from foot to her head,
And her encouragement outlasts her; so strong in her stead.
He taught with humility; lessons a knack
a Renaissance man, of all trades he was Jack.

His eyes -- how they twinkled! His exams they were scary!
To be late or miss homework, you had best be quite wary!
Her droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
But her thoughts on the Greeks follow where'er I go;

The stump of a yardstick he held tight in his paw,
'Twas a rifle or protest sign, and we followed with awe;
He had a kind face but fire in his belly,
His sermons on life made us turn off the telly.

She was chubby and plump, and quite right for her role, We cherished each day with her sweet kindly soul.
While a wink of his eye and a twist of his head,
Was a sign that some pranking was not far ahead...

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all our notebooks; and turned with a smirk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
He reminded us daily that so school, it goes...

So I shut down my laptop, and logged off my Twitter,
and resolved that this year, I wouldn't be bitter.
For despite all the things that annually we fear, 
It's likely that this will be one AMAZING SCHOOL YEAR!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Eagle Ey

Our Tootsie earned herself a new nickname last weekend, "Trauma, Eagle Ey."

Tootsie trained her Eagle Ey on a dog at Concert in the Park on Saturday, and when she reached out to pet him, he reacted with animal instincts. To make a long story short (and to avoid the accompanying "control your child vs. control your pet" debate), I'll simply share that Tootsie required some exploratory surgery to rule out vascular damage and to stitch up wounds on her head and neck. She has minor (unnoticeable to the untrained eye) nerve damage to her face, but she's otherwise fine, acting like a typical toddler, alternately charming and defiant to her doctors and nurses and Mom and Dad. We remain in the hospital only to get comfortable with the PICC line and antibiotic infusions we will take on after discharge. 

Every event in the hospital leaves us bowing with gratitude for how fortunate we are: Only one more inch to the right, and then...only one centimeter deeper bite, and it could have been...

 We are thankful.

We are scheduled to leave for Boston and Maine on July 14. Need I mention that Tootsie got close to hijacking another Boston/Maine trip? Geez! I should probably knock wood until we are on the flight there...and BACK, as planned.

 So here I am again, rooming in the hospital under unusual circumstances with my third baby. This time, though, she's mobile. This time, I'm not allowed to leave the room unattended. Last time the two of us were confined to the hospital, she was a baby in a bassinet. I could leave her there for an hour in the care of her nurse and venture forth into the sunshine. This time, the one time I defied the nurse and went to the in-room bathroom without putting her bed's side rails up, she bailed out, stretching her IV cords to painful limits. Last time, each moment I breastfed her I was triumphant that my preemie was latching on and taking advantage of my rich bounty. This time, I'm wondering how we got to almost-two-years-old still breastfeeding. AFTER THIS, I swear, WE ARE WEANING!  

Not unlike last time, I'm at peace with our present and future. Once the paramedics arrived at the park and assured me our baby would live, I figured we could handle the rest.

So our two greatest challenges on the current horizon appear to be: 1) helping her kick her popsicle habit (averaging upwards of four a day plus lollipops), and 2) reaching consensus on a hairdo strategy (she's currently rocking the Rihanna).

Meanwhile, in typical Tootsie fashion, she's commanding the attention of the floor by doing laps in a push tricycle while declaring, "Ooooh; I like this!" and showing off how she administers her own oral meds via syringe.  She's also seizing the opportunity to potty train herself.  Why not?

In the ER at Children's Hospital, before formal names are established, patients are given "trauma names," established by alphabet much like hurricanes. Our Tootsie is "Eagle Ey" on my bracelet and hers. Which is just a new moniker for the same indomitable spirit which inspires us.

Hearty thanks to all those community members, neighbors, and friends who came to Tootsie's aid at the concert and who have provided support for all of us since. 

And we send our healing energy to the dog's owners, who were devastated by the events, and as we can only imagine, feeling helpless and hoping for the best.  We assure you we are well.  

Friday, June 12, 2015

CHS Graduation: a Tribute to Family

My graduation address to the Class of 2015 feels especially poignant as I mourn the passing of a role model and friend from the Class of 1987 and feel closer than ever to friends from my own Class of 1989.

Graduates, many of you have been a part of the Islander Family for four years. For some of you, it has only been a few months. But tonight you will be invited to join our fifty-year graduates in a family of Islander alumni and the past, present, and future of Coronado High School graduates which stretches back 100 years.  Placing yourself on a continuum of a century of events and people can make you feel as insignificant as a moment in time, or it can make you feel like you belong.

You will always be a part of the Islander Family, but I want to remind you of the other families you forged at Coronado High School and beyond its walls this year. Those families have sustained you and they are what you must seek out as you move on beyond this place.

A family can form over the course of a century or in the time an elevator is out of order. Families grow as a result of being in the same place with the same people (and the same appetite) week in and week out.   I'm thinking of Bagels and Bibles. I'm thinking of Water Polo Waffle Wednesdays. I'm thinking of Dessert Days in Woodshop and Calculus. You've grown families in your spots on the quad at break, at Starbucks before school, and astride your surf or skateboard.  In that E period class, CoSA carpool, and at that review session. 

Chances are most of you are not taking members of your Islander Family or real family along with you on your next adventures, so be on the lookout for new ones.  You’ll find them in some expected places:  your dorm, apartment building, library, dining hall, coffee shop, on teams, and in your classes and workplace.   But there’s wonderful reassurance in the familiar faces you find in less likely places…the clerk who seems to always be there when you're checking out.  The runners, walkers, or bikers who travel your same path.  The bird and squirrel outside your window each morning.  You’ll form families with people who share your faith or who share your struggle.

Coronado High School alumni create a home for one another by meeting annually on the eve of the Fourth of July in an all-school reunion. Year after year and decade after decade, 50-year graduates flock back to the island for our ceremony.  Our campus, even if the buildings aren’t the same as when you were here, will still belong to you.  Your classmates dedicated a memorial to all fallen Islanders, and the Rock and the courts and fields and stages, and that piece of pavement where you daily met your friends here at CHS, will always be yours.

So the advice I want to leave you with is to continue to actively form new families, even fleeting ones, by making eye contact, by saying hello and good morning, by high-fiving, by hugging, and by acknowledging that you're sharing the same space for a similar experience as someone else, whether it's in traffic or in a doctor’s office, or at a concert or graduation or grief group.  These connections are what make us less alone and are what makes us want to be and keep being.

I love you, my Islander sisters and brothers.  Don’t forget to come home to us for the holidays. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Live Like You're Hosting an Exchange Student

Last week we hosted a Chinese teacher and student in our home as part of an exchange sponsored by Big Sis's International Baccalaureate middle school. We learned about the exchange only a week before, and it seemed like there were one hundred reasons to say are you kidding me no, we do not need this in our lives right now, including that the visit was falling on a week of major events at my school (annual Strategic Planning, school board meeting, basketball game vs. rival high school, "Dirty in the Paint" dance--yeah, don't ask).  Adding in fun cultural activities, complicating an already complex carpool scheme, and cleaning the house in preparation could very well take me over the edge.  But Big Sis was excited.  And we have plenty of space in our house, which we bought for the purpose of sharing.  This is the kind of thing we love to do.  So we said yes.

The exchange students and teachers were arriving the evening of Super Bowl Sunday, and we learned in the morning that we had been assigned a male teacher and student.  We were disappointed; as a family of three girls it seemed obvious we would be paired with girls.  And how would it work with one adult and student?  We made an attempt to "trade" our guests with friends matched with two Chinese girls, friends who have three sons.  For a variety of reasons, though, we needed to stick with the original plan.  And that night we met our teacher, Dong, and student, Li Ze ("Tony"), and began five amazing days of cultural exchange.

Dong and Tony accompanied Big Sis to school each morning, so they participated in carpool and shadowed middle school students and teachers.  We picked them up each afternoon, taking them to the beach, Balboa Park, the Hotel del Coronado, and Seaport Village.  We introduced them to Souplantation, celebrated my birthday with them at Corvette Diner, and ended the week with Tony's favorites, pizza and spaghetti.

It took only a half-day for the awkwardness to wear off and for us to realize we were experiencing something wonderful.  I began thinking that there were some life lessons to be gleaned from our week.

1.  Opening Our Home Opened Our Family.  Hosting guests brought out the best in all of us.  Big Sis was a gracious, attentive, and generous hostess, ensuring that Tony was included in all conversations and activities at home and at school.  They became fast friends.  After a week when Big Sis and I had not been jiving, I welcomed reasons to praise and appreciate her.   Tootsie was charmed by our new family members and had Dong, father of a four-year-old, carrying her around and adopting a special protectiveness of her by the end of his first day with us. Hosting a foreign exchange inspires such simple generosity--we became ambassadors for not only our family and our daughter's school, but for our city, our state, our nation, our culture.  We became Team Family, with a shared purpose (versus what sometimes feels like competing interests):  invested in them being comfortable, welcomed, part of us.  We wanted them to have whatever it appeared they desired or wished for during their visit.  We saw glimpses of ourselves in their reactions to us:  we're funny; we're loud; we're busy.  We practiced our best behavior for most of their time with us until inevitably our warts (sibling bickering, parental impatience) began to show.

2.  We Need to Act Like Tourists More Often.  While some of my work obligations were non-negotiable, our guests inspired us to leave work and school early and embark on mini-adventures we normally wouldn't on a weekday:  roam the park, play at the beach, make family dinner a priority every night.  One evening during our dinner-time sharing of the Best Parts of Our Day, Big Sis offered that spending more time as a family and doing simple but fun activities was a highlight of the week.  It was a powerful reminder that the busy schedules of our daily lives don't have to preclude a quick evening dip in the ocean or pick-up soccer in the park, exploitation of this beautiful city we live in and all it offers.  We are challenged now to think, if we had foreign guests right now, where would we take them; what would we do?  And then consider doing just that, just because.

3.  Expressing Curiosity about Fellow Humans Enriches and Expands Us.  We were excited to share our guests and our experience with family and friends.  My brother and his wife brought their children over for a boisterous family dinner with Google Translate experiments, comparisons of and cross-cultural help with homework, discussions of food, and passing around of babies. We were reminded by Dong, who, per the Chinese norm, has one daughter and wishes he had more, what a privilege large families are.  Each new person we introduced Dong and Tony to brought out different sides of and information from them, too, including our Auntie T who's been to China four times, and our friends who are half Chinese.  We take a certain amount of multiculturalism for granted in our country, but we don't often take the time or have a safe opportunity to question and share with the clear intent of understanding one another's culture for the sake of better understanding humanity.

4.  We Live in a World of Wonder and Wonderfulness. Approach Life as an Adventure.  Practice Curiosity. Tony and Dong had never been to the ocean.  Have you been to the beach with people who've never been to the beach?  That made the beach 10,000 times more fun than it usually is.  The digging in the sand, the cartwheels on the shore, the squeals when waves of chilly water lapped over toes, the sunset:  all of it inspired a giddy celebration of simply being, and being in nature.

Tony and Dong approached all moments with eyes wide open, ready for surprises and learnings.  Every meal, every routine, every drive somewhere inspired more curiosity and questions and awe from our guests.   There were some comical iterations of this, too.  I sent Big Sis downstairs with a box of tissues for their room on the second night Tony and Dong were here.  The square Kleenex box, decorated on the outside as is customary, was mistaken by our guests as a gift, so they expressed overwhelming gratitude to Big Sis for the specially delivered present...and then found out it was tissues and were a little embarrassed.  Our tall pepper grinder was a mystery, so we emptied it to show them what it was and how it worked, with all of us grinding and sniffing pepper in demonstration.  The pepper reveal led to a tour and tasters from our spice cabinet, with Dong sampling Tajin and needing a tall glass of water as a result. Our family's structure, with Husband having the day off on Mondays and watching Tootsie, and my often-long work hours, was eye-opening to Dong, who described more traditional gender roles in Chinese families.  Meanwhile, we kept reminding ourselves that China was a country of largely no siblings, recognizing how our big-family backgrounds informed our world views, and even the questions we asked our guests.  We asked Tony and Dong what surprised them most about America.  After thinking a while, Tony, from Beijing like Dong, responded, the air.  The clean air.  Viewing our world through their eyes imbued with a renewed sense of gratitude.

5.  Caring and Giving Provides Us with Higher Purpose.  Most of us give to and care for others as part of our daily lives.  But moments when we are accountable to others in new ways recalibrate our priorities and help us find our center.  I have times when I work later than I planned and my family pays, and I feel guilty but also that the sacrifice is necessary.  But this week I felt a renewed sense of obligation and tug.  When I left work it was to be there for my family AND our special family, whom I grew to love in short time.  Hosting Dong and Tony made work feel a little less critical.  It made going home more so.  It made life richer for all of us.  We're going to try to hold on to the important parts, and embrace opportunities that stretch our family beyond ourselves.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2015: In Which Lice Appears to Be More Important Than Family News

Well, hello there 2015; I'm finally getting around to acknowledging your arrival.  We greeted you in the company of my parents with a champagne toast, fresh off the plane from a wonderful visit in the Caribbean with my brother’s family, where seven cousins, two extra aunties, as well as dogs, cats (both young and old and ailing*), guinea pigs, iguanas, geckos, and mosquitoes shared a house with a view of the sea.  We swam, ate, hiked, cooked, played football and baseball, talked, snuggled, and mostly just enjoyed being related and being together.  Tootsie soaked up love and attention twelve-fold. 

2015 opened with Middle Sis’s 3rd grade teacher’s resolution that There Shall Be No More Lice in her classroom (even she contracted the critters, poor lady).  I’ll be discreet and share that we were intimately involved in a lice intervention the day before school resumed, and it was only a week later that we received the teacher’s email of surrender:  “Lice Is Back.”  If one can conjure humor while managing the specter or reality of lice, there’s a certain comedy to be recognized in its effects on otherwise sane-appearing and level-headed mothers.  Creatures so tiny with such magnitude of power to bring successful, confident, resourceful women to their knees!  We join a sisterhood around the trauma of lice, a sorority of horror and sharing of remedies, with crying and raw-scalped children who are victims of and audience to the drama of slathering, combing, shampooing, laundering, drying, spending, rinsing and repeating. 

Lice is prehistoric.  Lice doesn’t discriminate.  Lice will never be vanquished.  It’s kind of awesome, and I mean that literally, how the little buggers maintain their hegemony over us, no matter how rich, educated, clean, willful, and powerful we think we are.  It’s only our Type-A vigilance, our determination, that keeps the villains from rising up in whole new civilizations, complete with hierarchies and alphabets.

[And here's where Big Sis points out with disdain that I've devoted more of this blog post on lice than I have on our trip to the USVI--Ed.]

Big Sis wants No Part of Lice, so while I was out of the house for a few hours one day, she helpfully stripped our couches, beds, and pillows and generated a mountain of (quite possibly) unnecessary laundry.  It wasn’t long after I recovered from my own grousing and folding of sheets and towels that our elderly dog’s bladder control surrendered.  Into the washer and dryer went multiple loads of dog bedding and towels.  And it wasn’t long after I committed myself to the cycle of dog clean-ups that our washing machine surrendered.  And it wasn’t long before the washing machine broke that Husband conveniently left town.  Right after that I recognized that Tootsie had Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease.  Right after that our babysitter fell ill with a horrible flu.  Right after that Tootsie spent some time in my office at school.  Right after that I had my own cry right there in my office.  And my mother’s help and proximity became valuable AGAIN.  Not to mention her washing machine.

Meanwhile, Husband and Middle Sis were in Arlington, where his father was interred at the National Cemetery.  The special ceremony was on Husband’s birthday, and he was surrounded by a crowd of family members.  He and Middle Sis visited sites in Washington D.C., and bonded with cousins Middle Sis had never met.  The three of us who remained at home sent our hearts, and Big Sis worked through her disappointment over not attending and experiencing all the family bonding back East.    

And Middle Sis returned home last night with an eye infection* and was excluded from school today.  SIGH. 

Some weeks just bring more gifts than others.  I'm feeling gratitude that Husband is back, Middle Sis's eye is healing, Tootsie seems healthy, dog has puppy pads to pee on, we don't appear to have lice, and we've got a three-day weekend to purchase a new washer.  


Sunday, November 30, 2014

It's a One-derful Life

It's Sunday night, or Back-to-School-After-Thanksgiving-Break Eve, and I'm feeling grateful for the time off and the good times.  I'm also noting that last year at this time I felt grateful, but walked on shaky legs, wondering how to cope with my life and my job and mostly just Being Myself.  This year, I'm celebrating this one-year-sixteen-month-old and all the joy she has brought us.

I was explaining to my aunt, who was here visiting this week, that without Tootsie, it would be easy for us--with two daughters eight and eleven years old--to each go our own ways:  someone reading here, another on a computer there, someone at a friend's house, on a bike ride...but instead Tootsie is her own nucleus for the family, our touchstone.  Everyone gravitates to her in the mornings when she wakes.  She's the first one we ask for upon arriving home.  Her antics and tricks are the center of our attention.  And as she's a toddler, we know where she is at all times, in her best interests and ours.

Last year she felt like a hurricane to me in terms of magnitude on our lives.  This year I recognize her as the eye to the hurricane we are, swirling around her and magnetically drawn in, a beautiful antithesis to entropy.

We took her on a few hikes and walks this week.  She's almost running and jumping now, loving to walk on different surfaces and stopping to run her hands in the dirt (and to eat a rock or two) and to smell every flower.  She practices words and phrases and signs some too, and when she doesn't know what else to say, it's "bee-baaa" or "baaa-beee."  She dances to Sesame Street and Katy Perry.  She's empathetic and compassionate and caring, giving loves and hugs to her cousins and friends and siblings and often teary on our behalves.

She's been sick the past few days with a high fever, sleeping and cuddling and breastfeeding around the clock.  Our initial panic at her high temperature reminded me that she has been remarkably healthy since her time in the hospital.  Our hearty, heart-full, happy girl.

We are so, so grateful.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pumpkin Made Saucy

I'm not doing so well at the writing-every-day routine so far.  But I'm thinking about writing almost every day!  I'm also thinking about exercise every day.

Tonight I made both pumpkin pizza (original recipe here) and ravioli with pumpkin sauce, two favorite seasonal dishes I haven't made in a while.  For tonight's version of the pizza I used naan bread for the crust (super quick and way easy), sweet Italian chicken sausage, shredded mozzarella and romano cheeses, and arugula.

I used the same pumpkin sauce for the ravioli (spinach and cheese), and sprinkled with shredded romano cheese.  The ravioli went to feed the twins' parents.  We ate the pizza.

Pumpkin sauce makes for a mellower/less acidic sauce on a pizza, and in my view, draws more attention to the toppings.  Worth a try!