What Will You Be Made Of?

Friday, March 2, 2012. Sunset in Santa Barbara. On a stone wall at the edge of the ocean, we opened an envelope. 

A GIRL. Sugar and spice. Pink tutus and sparkly shoes. Or rainbow striped knee socks and purple sneakers. A girl, like me. A girl, probably so unlike me. I was shocked, am still shocked. I couldn’t imagine NOT having a girl in my life. I am a daughter, I am a sister, I am a wife, a best girl friend, a mother. I am layered in the feminine. I couldn’t imagine not sharing the experience of a daughter, the ultimate in complicated relationships.

And yet, I didn’t dare hope for a little girl. I thought, of course, I am a boy mom. I am great at being a boy mom. I know how to talk to little boys, I know how to stand back and let them fall, how to marvel at their bravado and sheer boyness, and how to just let them be. I thought, I am destined to have boys. And that was a good thing.

But wow, a GIRL. All of a sudden, sitting on that stone wall, with my past so close and my present sitting beside me grinning and holding my hand, and the small white card that announced my future, I felt a huge responsibility. I now have to raise a GIRL. Holy crap.

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Looking Back: Goodbye 2011

As the calendar flipped its way into 2012 and we reached the top of another new year, I had no real thoughts of resolutions or posting about the year we just left behind.  I was lying in bed unable to sleep the other night, and began thinking of what books I read in 2011 that I really loved and had a hard time coming up with any. Which led to a sudden desire to turn on the light and make a list of things I enjoyed in 2011. I find my days slip away too easily, between work and motherhood and pregnancy, and unless I write stuff down, it gets sucked into the neverwhere of lost moments.

Here is what I came up with. The only “rules” I gave myself was to write down the first answers that came to mind. If I actually had to pick a favorite book of 2011, or the “best” anything, I would still be making a list. Instead, I picked moments or things that defined the year for me (good or bad).

Best Trip I Took: Belize, Victoria House. Sheer perfection.

Best Concert I Attended: Arcade Fire, The Woodlands, May 4.

Best New TV Show: Revenge. First one that came to mind, and because it’s the one show I watch live and can’t wait for the DVR. Total delicious escapist television, with some great campy acting.

Best “Old” TV Show: I’m going with How I Met Your Mother on this one. Always hilarious, the show really stepped up its game this year. From the episode where Marshall’s father died, to the last two game-changers regarding Robin and Barney, no other show made me laugh and cry at the same time.

Best TV Show I’m Watching on DVD: Doctor Who.

Song I Can’t Get Out of My Head (and Don’t Want To): Rolling In The Deep, Adele; Someone Like You, Adele; and Little Lion Man, Mumford & Songs (this one is O’s preferred soundtrack when riding in the car).

Song I Can’t Get Out of My Head (But Wish I Could): Party Rock Anthem, LMFAO. This one is due to O’s inexplicable obsession and constant requests. And yes, he likes their newest one too, something about wiggling and rocking that body. Nice.

CD’s I Can’t Stop Listening To: Caitlin Rose’s amazing Own Side Now (try Own Side Now, Shanghai Cigarettes or Things Change) . Also, The National’s High Violet (try Runaway and Anyone’s Ghost).

Best Movie: Umm, can’t think of any movies I saw. This is sad. Ok, going with The Town and Bridesmaids (funny, yes, but great writing). Oh and 2011 will always be the year of  Cars: The Movie to me since O insists on watching it over and over. And over and over.

Best Short StoryRobin Black’s entire story collection, If I Loved You I Would Tell You This, especially the title story. Couldn’t put it down or stop thinking about it.

Book I Couldn’t Put Down: A Visit From the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan. The Likeness and Faithful Place, both by Tana French. Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion. April and Oliver, Tess Callahan. Oh and of course The Hunger Games trilogy, Suzanne Collins.

Best Poetry Reading That Made Me Buy a Poetry Book: Toss up between Kevin Prufer’s A  Beautiful Country (read an excerpt here) and Allison Benis White’s Self-Portrait With Crayon (read an excerpt here).

What were your faves from 2011?

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Just Write #2: Sitting in Stillness

I can’t remember the last time I had moments of doing nothing. Moments in which to think, let my thoughts meander, or not think at all. Moments to just sit. Maybe stare out the window, or really study the pattern in my slate gray carpet. Lie on my back and contemplate my ceiling. I used to have an abundance of these moments. Once, in high school, my best friend Courtenay and I stared at her ceiling for so long that we identified a certain bump in the popcorn ceiling. He became comforting to us, recognizable, a witness to our hours passed discussing our hair, and our future selves, and what the lyrics to some Smiths song really meant. We colored him pink and called him Maurice. These moments are a burden to the young; we called it boredom. We had no idea they were such a luxury.

I have stolen moments now, moments of quiet or solitude. They are rare, but I get them. Most often they are planned, and they are structured. I think, I have an hour. I can read a book, take a nap, try to write something. I can organize my photos, start O’s baby book, start a journal for new baby. Rarely do I think, I can do nothing. I don’t have time for nothing.

Someone recently led me to read Robert Frost’s poem, “The Master Speed” (thank you Lindsey!). In that way that either the universe is sending you a message, or in that way that if you think of yellow cars then suddenly you will see yellow cars everywhere, I am being bombarded by words about stillness, holding steady, and standing still. My resolutions for 2012 have not to do with achieving goals, but relinquishing them. Not with crossing a finish line, but in recognizing the bends in the road and the trees that dapple sunlight in front of me. In allowing my son to stop and bend down, to study ants or acorns or leaves as he does. Not in hurrying him along.

This is hard. I have so little time that I want to make the most of it, feel as if I did something every day, not just get up, shower, go to work, put kid to bed, eat dinner, watch TV, the end. I want something in there that is mine. But savoring stillness, quietness, is something that is mine. It just isn’t quantifiable.

I was thinking in the shower this morning about moments, and how we romanticize them. Whether it’s your first kiss, or high school graduation, or a proposal, or the moment in the delivery room when you first come face to face with your child, we think about them, we plan them out, we plot how and when and why they will be perfect. And they often are not even close to perfect. My first kiss was awkward, shoved in a closet by friends, both wearing braces. Graduation floated past me, I felt like an imposter in a big white dress and hat. College graduation I was so hung over I didn’t take any of it in. The moment I met my son was not the beautiful, joyous moment I was promised. I felt robbed, or worse, abnormal.

What I do remember is slow dancing with my first boyfriend in my backyard on a hot summer night to a George Michael song. He smelled like Drakkar Noir and I remember thinking I’d love him forever. High school graduation is a blur, but when I hear “Jane Says”, I can close my eyes and see me and my best friend Janie, about to go off to college but spending summer nights with nothing to do. We drove around in her gold Impala, our sweaty thighs in jean shorts stuck to the vinyl seats, the windows rolled down, my feet on the dash board. We found seemingly abandoned streets with huge dips and she sped up so that we were almost airborne. I can still feel the wind in our hair and the pounding drums of Welcome to the Jungle racing through our blood. College graduation I remember sitting on the warm steps of Commons in my short white dress, the strappy white high-heeled sandals I bought during dinner with my parents on 3rd Street Promenade, eating Sun Chips and drinking Dr. Pepper. It is probably the last time I sat on the steps of the Commons.

You know those moments when the universe seems to shift just a little bit to the left, and all of a sudden the thing you were looking at becomes suddenly clearer and more vibrant and just more? And everything that you see, smell, touch, taste and hear in that moment is perfectly aligned and so so beautiful that you hold your breath and  think, if I can just sit still long enough, I might learn the secret of the universe? They are rare, these moments, and you can’t create them or force them. They don’t happen at predetermined dates. They happen when you least expect them.

“The Master Speed” sounds like it’s going to be about mastering speed, going fast, faster even. But it’s not, it’s about sitting in the stillness. Speed isn’t just how fast you go; it’s also how slow you can go.

What I’m figuring out is that it takes practice. That even though it isn’t easy or natural for me, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible. Like most things that have become high on my priority list, it is hard work. But the payoff, like motherhood and writing, takes my breath away. Every time I remind myself to stop, every time I take notice of something I usually pass right over, is a tiny victory.

The Master Speed
By Robert Frost

No speed of wind or water rushing by
But you have a speed far greater. You can climb
Back up a stream of radiance to the sky,
And back through history up the stream of time.
And you were given this swiftness, not for haste
Nor chiefly that you may go where you will.
But in the rush of everything to waste,
That you may have the power of standing still—
Off any still or moving thing you say.
Two such as you with a master speed
Cannot be parted nor be swept away
From one another once you are agreed
That life is only life forevermore
Together wing to wing and oar to oar.

Interested in “just write”? Head over to The Extraordinary Ordinary and check it out. 

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Just Write #1: Waiting Room

This is my first attempt at “Just Write”. I brought my computer to work for the first time. I opened it, then felt silly and closed it, thought maybe I’d go get lunch first. I got halfway down the hall, but the words “just write” were following me. Except they came to me via Lady Gaga, to the tune of “Just Dance”. I turned, re-entered my office, shut my door and now what?

My office is bare. I have one framed picture, me and my husband and my son in coordinating blues and grays and purples, on an otherwise empty bookshelf. No other pictures, no books, no files, nothing fills that space. My walls are also empty; no paintings or photographs or diplomas. I have papers on my desk, a small orange called a “Cutie”, two coffee cups (one mug and one porcelain travel cup), and a glass of water. My Iphone. The book I am currently reading. This is all that is present of me here.

I wonder about this. How I spend so much physical time in this space, and yet it’s as if I don’t really mark myself here, don’t leave any traces. If I didn’t come back one day, it would take a sweep of the hand to erase any evidence of me. What does this say? Is it simply reflective that I don’t inhabit myself here? That my real worlds, my other worlds of wife and mother and friend and writer, are where I choose to be? Or is it strange, to spend so much time in one space without leaving your mark?

Would it be better, to be surrounded by loved ones faces and my educational history and maybe a favorite photograph or painting? Perhaps a lamp and a vase, a candy jar filled with either M&M’s for me, or sweet candies for visitors?

This isn’t the first office I’ve declined to engage in. This is my fourth job since law school. Four different companies and buildings, at least six different offices. I’ve not filled up a single one. I have never framed my law school diploma, nor my certificate for the State Board. In my last office, I had one wedding photo and a porcelain rock that said “CALM”, given to me by my mother when I studied for the bar. I miss that rock, it’s cool rounded edges slipped perfectly in my palm, it’s uneven bumps somehow more soothing than if it were flawless.

I used to feel like I was on the wrong path, and that those jobs were keeping me from my real one. I no longer feel that way; I am on my right path. Yes, it’s more circuitous and filled with many more detours and waiting waiting waiting than I would like, but it’s a road nonetheless. Even if I can’t see a mile down the way, somehow it is enough that I can see to put one foot in front of the other.

This office, this job, is not in my way. It just is, a place where I go because it is what needs to be done. But life is spent in the spaces we actually inhabit, and not where we want to be. I can put pictures up, that photograph I’ve been eyeing, declare myself a lawyer, and it won’t deter me from the road I am seeking. It’s simply a waiting room, a place where I must get comfortable until my train arrives.

Maybe when I get home tonight, I will dig out that rock. I will bring in some photographs of those that I love, those that I miss while I am waiting. Because though this is where I am now, this isn’t where I will always be.


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To Find Out or Not to Find Out?

After the “Congrats! When are you due?”, the inevitable next question is “Are you finding out?” Referring, of course, to whether or not you will find out the sex of the baby beforehand, or will wait and savor the surprise for the delivery room.

This has been on my mind a lot lately, seeing as how I happen to have a sealed envelope in my car, stuck between the pages of the latest Vogue magazine. That envelope does indeed contain the simple answer: boy or girl? Phoebe or Phoebo? Sugar and spice or frogs and tails?

I am not so conflicted about whether or not to open it. I’ve done this before, and I know all the pros and cons. What I am thinking about is what the decision to find out says about you.  Here’s the thing: I want to be an ethereal, diaper-cloth obsessed, organic only food-making mama, with that air of calm and that smile that says I know exactly what I’m doing and I’m doing exactly what I should be in this world.

You know the mom I’m talking about. The one that actually does seem to have a glow when pregnant, the one who radiates inner calm and joy, the one that does prenatal yoga, and writes letters to her unborn child in a journal, and takes weekly pictures of her growing belly. The woman that seems made for motherhood.

I want to be her. I want to believe there is an inner earth mama inside me, if only I could quit my job and declutter my life and move to the ocean and you know, discover the real me. (For some reason, I cannot envision myself being this earth mama in my current house or city. I obviously need oceans to walk beside and acres behind my house in which to grow my organic vegetable garden and hang my adorable cloth diapers across the trees. In other words, I need to have millions of dollars to buy a huge house with acres beside an ocean in order to be an earth mama.)

I am not this kind of mom. I never will be. And yet, there is something in me that still yearns to be her, in some way. And for some reason, being the kind of woman that wants to save the surprise for the delivery room seems to be one way I could be like that glowing woman.

The thing is, I love surprises. I never tried to peek at my birthday or Christmas gifts early. If I have good news, I wait until the best possible moment to tell you. I like to create “moments”. I always thought I would save the surprise for the delivery room. And then I married a man that is a planner. And actually got pregnant. And the funny thing is, I didn’t care at all whether we found out or not. He did, very much so, so I agreed. Here I was, growing this baby, feeling every movement and literally living with this life inside me, and he was on the outside. I think knowing we were having a boy helped him connect, plan, envision our future.

Last time, I carried that envelope around for weeks, waiting for the right moment. It came on a trip to Puerto Rico, on the beach, at sunset. Of course, it was crazy windy so we couldn’t actually be ON the beach or we’d chance having our eyes scratched out by sand, but we were right next to the beach at the hotel bar. I didn’t even feel a need to see what was in the envelope, I was just excited to take pictures of my husband’s face as he found out… it was a boy! We went back inside and shared our news with all of our friends that were with us, and they all toasted to our good news. It was a perfect moment, and one I won’t ever forget.

So since it worked out so well for us the first go-round and since all of my baby stuff is for boys and since I am really NOT an earth mama, my guess is we will open the envelope. But we need to find a perfect moment. Any ideas on how/where to open it? Any guesses as to what I’m baking? Did you or will you find out? Were you excited or disappointed?

For those of you NOT finding out, a friend’s wife started this genius website/registery called Not Finding Out. You can still register for blue/pink options, but you won’t know which one you are getting until post delivery when they ship everything to you.

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Make Mama Happy

O has started speaking in full sentences. Before he started talking, I couldn’t imagine what his little voice would sound like. Now, it seems strange to me that we spent more than a year with our little creature without him making real words; and even stranger, that it seemed so normal. First words, then short sentences, and now he has his own thoughts and memories. I am watching a person create himself and it is endlessly fascinating.

One of his new favorite sayings is “Make Mama happy? O make Mama happy!” and then he proceeds to make funny faces at me. This usually comes after he has done something he knows he shouldn’t have, and it is his attempt to “make up” with me. It works, of course, it’s too stinking cute.

But I hear his little voice echoing in my head all day, when I am not with him. “Make Mama happy?” And I can’t help but think, what would make me happy? What does make me happy?

The truth is, on days like today, when I watch him playing with a new stuffed monkey, pretending to feed it candy canes and then pretending to make the monkey burp, I can’t think of much that would make me happier. Sure, there are things that I want. There are things that would make my life easier, or things that I strive for, or things that I want to accomplish. But when boiled down to a little boy grinning up at me, I  want nothing else. This little guy, my husband, our family, that makes me happy.

Of course, If I’m being honest, there are other days, days like Sunday when he’s experimenting with the terrible twos, and I’m out of patience and let’s face it, not at my best. On those days, I think I would need two full-time nannies, a cook, and perpetual sunshine to make me happy.

This new question has also coincided with the Christmas season and the inevitable Christmas list. What do I want? The only thing I really want is time. Time to savor my little guy. Time to write, time to carve out a little piece for myself, so that I have more to give to my family. But you can’t really wrap up time, can you?

By the way, if my husband is reading this, since you can’t wrap up time, then how about some diamond earrings, a new Mac Airbook, or a trip to a beach, any beach? Hear me out here- diamond earrings are a symbol of time (the time that it takes for coal to become a diamond); the computer is light enough to slip into my purse, so I can steal away and write at lunchtime (buying some writing time); and a trip to the beach is in some way, a present of time. So yeah, diamond earrings, an Airbook, and a trip to the beach might just make mama a tiny bit happier. 

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The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

Yesterday at my departmental holiday gathering (cupcakes and cheese and sparkling grape juice in a conference room), one of the ladies suggested we play an “ice breaker” game. On a piece of paper, everyone wrote down the best Christmas gift ever received. I was stumped. Most of my co-workers were stumped. A very simple question, with what should be a simple answer. And I had nothing.

Growing up, I had wonderful Christmases. My parents did a good job of giving us most of what we wanted, but not too much. And yet, I couldn’t come up with a favorite gift. In fact, I had a hard time remembering any gifts with much specificity.

Here is what I do remember:

  • Driving home from my Grandma Bailey’s house on Christmas Eve and sitting backwards in the station wagon, Christmas music playing on the radio. It felt like time was suspended on that night in some alternate magical universe. I remember looking for Christmas lights, and never wanting that car ride to end. All of the anticipation of Christmas Day was in front of me, and I wanted to hold it there.
  • Sitting on the red shag carpet at my Grandma & Grandpa Wagner’s house on Christmas Day, staring up at the multitude of stockings on the mantle. My grandmother gave each cousin (all 18 of us) a stocking with some little token in it. It was never anything extravagant, but I was always so intrigued by what I would find each year. My Grandma Wagner also has a rather unique sense of humor, so you never knew what you would find.
  • The smell of my mother’s sugar cookies and cherry pies. She only bakes at holidays, but her cookies and pies are legendary.
  • Lying under the lights of the Christmas tree, eating red, green and silver Hershey kisses and dreaming about who knows what.

My son is two this year and is enthralled with Christmas. Every night we go look at the “Cri-mas lights”. We’ve seen Santa and we talk about Santa and “no crying” and reindeers and snowmen and candy canes. He helped us decorate the tree and requests to watch “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” or “Frosty the Snowman” every night before bed. He’s at that age where he doesn’t quite get it, but he knows it’s something special. As this is my first Christmas as a parent of a toddler, I’ve been thinking about what I want our Christmas traditions to be. I feel like we have it all in front of us, and I want to get it right.

This year I bought some Christmas-themed books and wrapped them all. I lined them up on our mantle, and each night before bed, O gets to pick one out and we read it together. Next year, I plan on getting a full 25 and treating it as our Advent Calendar.

Other than that, I have begun a list of traditions I would like to create for my kids.* I know O’s favorite memories will most likely be those things that I can’t anticipate, but I would still like to create some thoughtful traditions that we can do together.

I’m stocking up on ideas and making a list for the years to come. What are your favorite holiday traditions? I will post a list later.

Back to the most festive holiday gathering ever in a conference room- there were a few people that had an instant answer. The gift in question was always something that was not about the thing itself, but about the thing it represented. A plane ticket home, a promise ring, a gift of a favorite book. And when that person explained their choice, it always came with a story.

It might be too late, but this year I am going to try to pick out more thoughtful gifts rather than trying to fulfill a wish list. As for me? I wrote down a Barbie Dream House. My real answer? The fact that in my 37 years, I have never missed a single Christmas at home and I never want to. Spending Christmas with my family and actually wanting to be there is a gift that you cannot measure. I only hope that I will be so lucky and that O will still be coming home for Christmas when he’s 37.

This year? I want the gift of time. Any ideas on how to wrap that up? (I actually have some, but that’s another post).

*Yes, I did say “KIDS” up there. O is going to be a big brother! Between the pregnancy and going back to work full time, I have been far too absent in the blogging world. I am going to be revamping this site a bit, and plan to be around a bit more in 2012. Happy Holidays!

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