Five Years of Motherhood

Sawyer turned five the other day and not only does the occasion call for the standard cake and presents, but also so good-old-fashioned reflection. I know a lot of moms who get super nostalgic for the baby and toddler days around this point, but I generally don’t fall into that category. Sawyer was the cutest, happiest baby ever, but I really enjoy this stage more, since he can talk, skip naps, get himself dressed,SLEEP THROUGH THE NIGHT, etc… It’s more challenging in different ways, of course, but the release of providing every itty-bitty thing for him has been a relief. 

The last year has brought about so many changes in him. He started weekly speech therapy six months ago, since he was having some issues with some sounds, and it has made such a huge difference. I think we’ll keep him in it for quite awhile, since these sorts of things aren’t overnight fixes. It’s been so great watching him have conversations with strangers and not needing to do the “mom translation.” It requires daily practices on my part, which sometimes feel like "just another thing that I have to do," but it’s also awesome to have a resource that can help me help him. The jump from four to five has brought about an incredible explosion of imagination, creativity, and play, as well. He’s always loved LEGOs, building things, and drawing, but now even more so. He knows all of his letters and sounds and is starting to sound out short words, which is so much fun.

I’ve had to really be more aware of how I parent, in the last year, since I’m not teaching him how to be a human, not just taking care of a small child’s needs. I try to have open conversation with him about race, same-sex parents, homelessness, and the feelings of others. He’s had a little trouble with some anxiety lately, which I’ve had to really think about strategizing for. It has all made me really conscious of how I act and how I portray my own emotions in front of him. I want to see me as a human who isn’t always happy, but I know that negative emotions are contagious. I have also had to really take stock of my role as a “teacher mom,” since the teacher in me wants to make him practice reading EVERY night and the mom side of me is like “meh, he’s in preschool, we have plenty of time.” Like most things with parenting, it’s all about balance and talking things out.

I’ve also tried to be really aware of some of the pitfalls that come along with being an only-child, and am trying to combat them as much as possible. Luckily he is around other kids all day at preschool, and I’ve set up a few playdates so he can see kids outside of school too. I refuse to be at him beck-and-call at home, making him practice patience when he is being insistent (I came from a family of four kids; there was always a line to get to my mom). He is starting to be assigned chores, he is scolded for interrupting, and I am firm on sticking to household rules. He definitely does not rule this roost! There are some advantages, though, that I have no problem with. Because I only have one child we get to do cool things- vacations and outings are obviously cheaper when you’re paying for one child and not multiple. It’s also easier for me to set up little art projects or make impromptu stops at the park, since I don’t have a second baby or small kid to finagle. I've always said I'd rather spoil my kid with experiences, rather than material things. 

Personally, I still constantly feel this sort of constant pull between work, being a mom, and my own interests. I have always refused to be the mother who puts her hobbies, friends, and work on the back-burner just because of a child. Have I had to restructure my priorities? Of course. Have I had to adjust how much time I dedicate to certain things? Absolutely. Having a kid has made me a million times more efficient; I watch maybe five hours of TV a week, never sleep in (although this is not by choice, haha), use every minute of time at work, etc... It's a constant struggle and there are moments where I am extremely frustrated (not at Sawyer, just at how much is falling off my full plate), but I will say it has gotten easier in the last two years. 

It really does continue to get more and more fun as he gets older. I’ve worked with a variety of age groups, so I know that it’s not exactly smooth sailing once you get past diapers- I dread the middle school years. But for now I’ll just love each age he is and we’ll work through the trials and tribulations of growing up together (until he slams his door and yells at me to “eff off” at some point during puberty. And at that point I’ll change the wi-fi password and- I’m getting ahead of myself).

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Two days late in my class means 20% off, so you can quit reading ¾ of the way down. It’s been a week, guys.

Sawyer turned five yesterday and we had a low-key celebration at home, before this weekend’s small family party Saturday and a family trip to Legoland on Sunday. He has been asking to go and has no clue what we’re up to, so he will be so happy. He came down with bronchitis last weekend and had to stay home a few days this week, so now that everyone is healthy we’re good to go.

So it looks like I’ll be going to see Michelle Obama speak at my alma mater, UCLA, next week, through my school for her Reach Higher program. I’m a little in shock and we’re still getting the details hammered out so I’m not completely excited yet, but I’m getting there.

One of my students called Oedipus a "mother-fucker" today, and while I had to remind him of the language, I did acknowledge the accuracy (he clearly regretted saying it once it was out, haha). This is why I can’t teach little kids- I'm way too forgiving of swearing, especially with literary accuracy. We’re getting ready to read Antigone to close out the year, which has actually grown on me considerably since I read it in high school. This will be the fourth time I’ve taught it and I’m more and more comfortable with Sophocles each time.

Things have been a bit rough lately and my friends have, whether they’ve realized it or not, chosen the absolute perfect times to reach out to say hey, check in, make plans, etc… lately. I am eternally thankful for the friendships I have and can’t imagine how insane I’d be without them.

I preordered Ian McEwan’s newest book and I must say I despise the cover.

I have so many thoughts on Joe Biden running for president, many of them conflicting. In terms of political ideology, I don’t have any major complaints. I like that he has experience in politics and the White House, and I think he would bring some decorum, respect, and logic back into the office (plus, the memes! Will they come back if he wins?).  On the other hand, he’s ANOTHER OLD WHITE GUY. Can we not be more progressive? He also has a stain on his record with the Anita Hill hearings, and he is known to be a little touchy-feely (although I have thoughts on his accusations… they’re not quite the same as say, Bill Cosby). The election is still a year and a half away and I can feel the obsession brewing.

I haven’t slept well or long in several weeks and I have developed an ever-present twitch in my upper bicep, which Google says is either from overuse, stress, or caffeine. Since I basically never lift weights we know what one it is not. I think the only logical choice right now is a medically-induced coma (ha! Like my insurance would cover that).

I started reading Kevin Wilson’s newest short story collection, Baby You’re Gonna Be Mine and I’m really enjoying it. I really need to encourage more of my students to read short stories for their outside reading requirements, since they’re so great for when you’re busy.

The Library Book

My reading-life perfectly summed up in two quotes by Susan Orlean, in The Library:

“Our visits to the library were never long enough for me. The place was so bountiful. I loved wandering around the bookshelves, scanning the spines until something happened to catch my eye. Those visits were dreamy, frictionless interludes that promised I would leave richer than I arrived” (7).

“As soon as I got my own apartment, I lined it with bookcases and loaded them with hardcovers… I turned into a ravenous buyer of books…” (9)  

I finally read her nonfiction account of the horrific fire at the Los Angeles County Library’s Central branch in the 1980s, still a sort of mystery but a tragedy nonetheless. Intermixed with her investigation is a bit of a love letter to libraries and also an exploration of their history. It’s beautifully written, expertly researched, and an absolute joy from start to finish, especially for someone like me who goes to this exact library a few times a year for author events.

More than anything, though it made me think about my own personal history with libraries. Like Orlean, I visited them every chance I could get when I was a kid and then turned into a book collector as an adult (she rekindled her romance with book-lending, as I have not). I grew up visiting the Modesto Library in the Central Valley of California, constantly begging my parents to take us. When we were quite small we’d go to story time, but I remember not really loving it. I wanted to get out into the stacks and start loading up! My parents let me read whatever I wanted; my mom would tear out inappropriate stories from our subscription of Sassy Magazine (why did she even get it for us? I was like ten! Ha!), yet I vividly remember reading a novel set in a men’s prison (glory hole included) when I was quite young. They were also very liberal about not capping the amount of books we checked out, as long as we could hold them (I bought two book bags, making sure to work that system). I also used the library at school, but there you could only check out two books at a time and the librarian was sort of an uptight b-word, enforcing grade-level restrictions on the chapter books.

I owned book too, saving my money for Babysitter’s Club, Sweet Valley High, Lurlene McDaniel books, and whatever else I was into. I had an intense love for the Scholastic Book Flyers and Fairs and I would frequently trade my books in at Yesterday’s Bookstore so that I could get credit and turn around buy more (I am still made at myself for doing this with my Narnia set, though).

When I went to college I had to buy novels for my English major classes and would hold on to them quarter after quarter- my collection started growing. Once I had my own apartment with my husband and we invested in some super fancy IKEA Billy bookcases (what we still use) things got real. This was also when Amazon started really taking off and I had a full-time job. CHA-CHING! The collection started in earnest.

To this day I don’t have a library card. I know this is a huge disservice to my son, which I need to fix, but personally I love having books. We have space, I’m financially responsible, and it makes me really happy. I am incredibly appreciative of libraries, though, as they helped fuel my early passion for reading and are such amazing resources for communities.  

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[20 symbols in for 2019]

1. This week has been a "someone takes out a Prime membership using your credit card and you don't notice the monthly charge until now/a slam-dunk HELOC application has a bump you have to write too many emails on/student wears underwear on the outside of his pants for fun/giggling with your kid in bed until you feel sick/so tired your bones hurt and you feel dizzy" kind of week. And it's only Wednesday. 

2. My thoughts on a comment Michelle Obama made:

3. I added a few symbols to my monthly embroidery hoop and both author Rebecca Makkai and the LA Public Library both liked my post. I nearly died.

4. Sometimes I'm really tempted to use a random-number-generator to determine what books I read next. Sometimes I put polls on Instagram, a few times I've let Sawyer pick, but usually I know exactly what I want. Right now, not so much.

5. I just read this article about how kids shouldn't use cell phones/tablets at restaurants and I have mixed feelings. I never, ever do it, but I GET IT. We always travel with stickers and coloring supplies, which are more than enough to keep my creative little munchkin occupied until his food comes, but I just think you have to be careful about judging families sometimes. 

6. Easter weekend is coming up! We don't really have plans; Saturday there is an event at the school where I teach for the community (egg hunt, booths, petting zoo with the FFA animals), so we'll do that. Otherwise, a bunny cake, dying eggs, and a basket with a few little gifts and we'll all it good. 

LA Times Festival of Books 2019 Recap

Who needs Coachella when you can go to a BOOK festival? Easy choice (plus I'm too old to be traipsing around the desert, if we're gonna be honest... OR AM I?). My two friends from work and I headed to USC bright and early Saturday morning, making glorious traffic-free time, only to sit for forty-five minutes waiting to funnel into the parking structure, making us completely miss the first panel we had tickets for, Susan Orlean. This was incredibly disappointing, since I was just finishing up The Library Book and loving it. But, that's life.

Luckily the other three panels, the company, and the overall mood of  being surrounded by fellow book-lovers totally made up for the early snafu. Our first panel was Tayari Jones, author of American Marriage, which I read last year and loved. She was hilarious and insightful and expertly handled the moderator, who was definitely trying to take over the hour. One thing that definitely stood out to me was her connection between her novel and The Odyssey- I totally missed that when I read it the first time. She also talked about her six-year process writing the book, and some of the challenges she faced hammering out the narrative threads. 

Our second panel was Tommy Orange, who wrote the amazing There There. He was clearly a little uncomfortable, but he handled it well and really came alive during the audience Q&A portion when two people asked him questions that were obviously sensitive in terms of his Native American heritage. My friends and I were literally groaning, as were many others. Orange and I share many of the same reasons for running, which I had to love.

After walking around some of the vendors, we say on a panel featuring Janet Fitch, who I most appreciate for White Oleander, and Rebecca Makkai, who wrote The Great Believers. Honestly, Makkai stole the show, and I'm not just saying that because I'm in love with her novel. She spoke a great deal about her research process, creating the two different settings for her story, and how it felt to write about a period and space that she was so not apart of.

Despite the parking issues and the traffic on the way home (all to be expected when you live in Southern California), it was a great day. It's always great hanging out with book-loving friends, the weather was perfect, and the relaxed vibe of the festival was so nice. 

Can't wait until next year!

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

1. I just started Susan Orlean's The Library Book, about the fire at the Los Angeles Public Library, and am loving it! What took me so long?

2. Speaking of Orlean, I will be seeing her at the LA Times Festival of Books this weekend, along with a few other authors I am really excited about. I'm going with two of my good friends, both fellow English teachers, and I know it will be a great day out. 

3. If you have any sort of appreciation for sort of folksy-rock check out the Strumbellas new album. So good.

4. I may have been rejected for the Half Dome lottery, but my friend invited me on a hike she got permits for in Zion this summer and it looks like I can go! The hike itself seems pretttttty intense, but I've always wanted to get up there and this looks like the perfect excuse. 

5. I am completely into spring cleaning right now, like I have never been before. You're going to be able to eat off any surface in my home at this rate.

6. I have been doing the state testing with my students every period this week and it is so monotonous and boring. I'm getting papers graded, but it's hard staying quiet and watching them all day every day. And there are still two or three more days to go. 

7. Last weekend's trip to The Broad was excellent- Sawyer and I had a great time checking out the art.

8. In case you can't tell by the brevity of this post, I am exhausted on every single level, in terms of sleep, my body, my mind, and my emotions. I need about twelve hours of sleep, followed my a huge cup of coffee. 

Five Reason Why You Should Read The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

1. The characters  Makkai's precision when crafting characters was incredibly impressive. The depth provided to the characters, whether the main ones, or not, was so appropriately distributed. As cliché as it sounds, I really felt like I knew the protagonist, Yale, and I rooted for him in every way until the end of the novel. The more minor characters were so well-established, the seemingly passing comments on things like hair or word choice helping create such well-crafted figures. The cat was even important! Her ability to provoke empathy and intrigue left me never wanting this novel to end.

2. The subject matter At the heart of this book is the AIDS epidemic and how it impacted the gay community in the mid-1980s. I was a tiny little girl then and while I know the biological implications and the basics of the societal ramifications, I haven’t given the disease’s first decade or so an exceptional amount of thought. Makkai clearly did a lot of research, working hard to integrate multiple layers of the disease into her narrative, focusing on the psychology of those infected and their loved ones (fear, guilt, relief, paranoia, denial, anger), society’s response, and the physical impact on one’s body once the disease has been contracted.

3. The subplots Given that this is a book that surpasses the 400 page mark, there are definitely some subplots, all of which tie neatly together. Many of these related to relationships, like the art gallery intern Roman (a subplot that becomes critical), the terrorist bombing in France, and Yale’s professional issues. Nothing felt unimportant or unnecessary- her inclusion of each plot thread served a distinct purpose.

4. The setting (space and time)  I don’t necessarily find myself drawn towards books that split the narratives between two places in time, especially when the character focus changes. This book did exactly that, though, and while I enjoyed Yale’s section much more than Fiona’s (just because I LOVED him so much) I appreciated what she was doing by spreading the story out over several decades. I also appreciated what she did with the actual locations; she stayed away from San Francisco, the popular local of authors who deal with AIDS in the 1980s, and focused on Chicago instead, both the parts of town where Yale and his friends gravitated towards and also the collegiate setting. The more recent portions of the book were in Paris, including the time of the terrorist attack, an interesting parallel to show what was those in the 1980s feared, versus our current concerns.

5. The writing: While her prose is accessible, the way she finesses her language is impeccable. There aren’t long-meandering passages, while at the same time everything in the novel from the people, to the setting and the thematic implications are described in great detail. Her pacing is perfect, both in the sections in the 80s and then in 2015, with a few surprises and successful instances of foreshadowing included. I felt this book; I was emotionally invested. I cried. I smiled. I asked questions. I was angry. She had my heart tied around her pinky and it was because of her ability to write that tied us up into this reader/writer relationship.   

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[Barbara Jones-Hugu, source]

1. I am almost 100 pages into The Believers by Rebecca Makkai and am fascinated (I also listened to The Daily's episode on the second HIV patient cured, so it was perfect timing). The evolution of HIV/AIDS is simultaneously tragic and so interesting, biologically and anthropologically speaking.

2. I listened to Taylor Jenkin's Reid's More Than Words (it was... fine) and now am out of Audible credits for a few weeks so I'm back on the Podcast train. Womp womp womp. Podcasts are like the contents of Netflix to me- there's just way too much and I get way too overwhelmed.

3. My passport if about to expire, so I need to send it in for renewal. I'm terrified! I have very little trust in the postal service, so the fact I'm about to put such a sensitive document within in it bothers me greatly. I know to get tracking but still. 

4. I am working my way backwards through the fifteen seasons of Top Chef on Hulu, since it's perfect to have on when I embroider. I have no clue when I originally stopped watching, but I'm thinking maybe season five? Clearly I will have plenty of material. 

5. Sawyer and I are going to The Broad in LA this weekend, specifically for me to see the new exhibit, Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, and for him to visit for the first time. I have only been once, but I can say without a doubt it is one of my favorite museums of all time (absolute favorite? The Natural History Museum in NYC... the best!). 

On A Break.... With My Phone (Sorta)

I’ll say it loud and proud: I love my iPhone, and have since the first iteration. It plays my music, records my steps, takes my pictures, connects me to my friends, and provides me with information. It prevents boredom, excessive rumination, and the forgetting of passwords, birthdates, and random tidbits of thoughts that I constantly add to my notes. It’s my assistant, confidant, personal shopper, photographer, and meteorologist. And I don’t even use Siri.

I try hard to not use my phone in excess around Sawyer. I definitely use it, but I try to not sit on it for long periods of time when we are hanging out at home or out and about. He does see me use it plenty, though, mostly in quick bursts of 2-3 minutes, which I fully admit add up over the course of a day. I never, ever give it to him, for fear of his four-year-old self breaking it, but also because I don’t want him to be dependent on it.

When Apple released the Screen Time function last year I was embarrassed to see how much I was on my phone each day- it was far more than I thought. I know the culprits- the walks around the large campus where I teach, while on the treadmill, during my prep period between tasks, waiting in line at the store, on the occasion I watch TV, at night before bed, in the morning while drinking coffee, etc… I rarely get on my phone for more than 5 or so minutes at time, but still, everything adds up.

Because I try to live as efficiently as possible, I knew that my phone time was a slight problem. Even if I wasn’t on my phone a lot at once, the simple distractor of a few minutes here and there were negative. I remembered hearing about Catherine Price’s book How to Break Up With Your Phone somewhere, so I picked it up last week. It was an incredibly quick read and nothing in it was groundbreaking or magical, but DAMN was it a good reminder of things we should all be doing. It also forced me to really think about why I pick up my phone so often, something we all need to face the music about.

When talking to her phone, “At first it seemed strange that you wanted to come with me to the bathroom – but today it’s just another formerly private moment for us to share” (3) [snicker, hang head in embarrassment]

Phones as an addiction- “many of the same feel-good brain chemicals and reward loops that drive addiction are also released and activated when we check our phones” (23)

Social media can be a huge issue, in terms of time-sucks but also as sources of poor self-esteem and anxiety, as Price quotes Adam Alter, “’A post with zero likes wasn’t just privately painful, but also a kind of public condemnation.’” Price continues to write, “What’s particularly weird is that we don’t just care about other people’s judgements; we ask for them. We post photos and comments to show others we’re lovable, that we’re popular, and, on a more existential level, that we matter, and then we check our phones obsessively to see if other people – or at least their online profiles – agree” (34) [here’s  my question- would we keep posting if there was no response from others? I’ve asked myself that question about my blog, and the answer is yes, I would blog even if no one read. But what about Instagram stories or posts? Food for thought]

As a reason for jumping on our phones, “We fear our own minds” (37) [all kinds of yes here; I am an over-thinker and I often turn to my phone to prevent myself from thinking]

Something to think about for ourselves and kids, “… the more we read online, the more we teach our brains to skim… and the harder it is for us to focus on just one thing” (58) [I know personally I comprehend so much more when reading a physical copy of something as opposed to an online article; this is one of the reasons why I don’t use a Kindle]

The goal of taking steps to reduce your phone usage “isn’t abstinence; it’s consciousness” (81) [our phones generally make us so much less present]

Price suggests “regular short phone fasts- what I call ‘phasts’—are essential for our emotional and intellectual health” (146) [yes! I have been doing this so much more often; I use The Forest App to plant a tree and leave my phone on the counter or in a drawer]

So much of these concepts depend on your level of dependency, your job, your hobbies, your living situation, etc… Some of her suggestions made no sense for me, while others were right on the money. If you are even slightly bothered by your phone use and need some good tips, motivation, or a nice kick in the pants I highly suggest this book.

Adding, Not Subtracting

There's been a lot happening in my life lately that has caused me to do a great deal of reflecting. Actually, "reflecting" is probably too generous and introspective of a word; "obsessing, "worrying," or "ruminating" is probably more accurate. At the heart of what's going on from my end of things is this simple question: what can I control? There's a lot that's happened/is happening that I simply cannot control. For example: how other people act and treat me, home-related repairs, logistical matters at work, etc... As much as I try to put on my problem-solving hat I have to accept that I can't fix everything. So where does that leave me? With things that I can control.

That's dangerous territory too, for me. Today I spent almost nine-hours straight running errands, cleaning, and cooking, just so I felt like I had control of my environment and brain. I spend a lot of time on the treadmill, making lists, and creating contingency plans. I wake up at 3 am and struggle to get back to sleep, the wheels of my brain trying to master my life. And because of this struggle I've let a lot of things go and have picked up other bad habits, like wayyyyy too much Diet Coke, crappy snacks, pointless phone time, and being crankier than normal, to name a few.

Today in the midst of my internal madness I remembered an old blogger I used to read, a dietician, and she'd always say that it's easier to add things than subtract things when it came to eating healthy. That concept, and it's extension, and I had a moment, that's for sure. 

Basically, the notion is that instead of telling yourself not to do something, you add in positive things, which will slowly take over the negativity. So, for example, instead of saying "NO MORE DIET COKE" (I'm having heart palpations just typing this) I'd say "drink more water." Instead of "stop worrying" instead I need to add a time of day where it's okay to worry or suggestions of other things to think about instead.

Here are some things that I'm going to try to focus on ADDING this month, instead of taking away:

- ADD more water
- ADD more sleep (not sure how, but even ten more minutes a night)
- ADD more "phone on the counter" time (as opposed to at my fingertips)
- ADD more journaling (instead of "not worrying")
- ADD more 1:1 time with Sawyer on week days (weekends are great already)
- ADD vitamins and supplements in the morning 
- ADD more outdoor time (hiking in Yosemite made me so happy)
- ADD more grace for others having a rough time      
- ADD more "just saying hey" texts to friends 

 We do what we do to get by, right?