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Times like these

A few nights ago, I was checking in with a friend about his small business — which had to survive Hurricane Harvey not so long ago — and he used the phrase, “in times like these.”

I laughed.

As if we have ever lived through a time like this.

A pandemic. A global pandemic.

How can this be real?

For a few moments, as I was cleaning up toys and washing dishes, which I do every night after putting the kids to bed, I had the strangest feeling. That this wasn’t real at all. Not exactly a dream, and definitely not fake, but just… not real. Almost like something I had read about in a novel.

It’s easy to forget — or choose not to believe — when the enemy you’re fighting is invisible. When it doesn’t touch you directly.

Yet.

I had to remind myself of China. Of Italy. Of Seattle and New York City. Of the points on the map getting closer and closer to home. Of the numbers getting larger. Of the personal accounts I’ve been reading on Twitter. Of my healthcare friends on the front lines.

Then it sunk in again. This is real. This is happening. We are living through history. A generation-defining moment. It’s not end of days, but I don’t know what the other side of this looks like.

I don’t even know if there is an “other side.”

My neighbor keeps posting pictures of his daughter playing in the big, wooded park near our homes. She examines a sunset-red fungus growing on a fallen tree trunk. She shows off a leaf. She poses in her knit hat and woolen gloves, smiling.

My husband said he hopes that IB remembers some of what’s going on. At first I stared at him like he was insane. Then I thought about it some more.

Maybe it’s not so crazy. Because how our kids are experiencing this time is so different from how we are. We adults are anxious, frustrated, exhausted. But most children — the young ones, anyway — are just excited to be home from school. To spend more time with their parents. To play and laugh and be held.

It’s kind of wonderful? Because it’s a reminder that even in the worst of times, there is joy.

(And for the people who are not safe in their homes, who are stuck with angry voices or hands… my heart breaks.)

I keep hearing that by the end of this, we will all know someone who has died from COVID-19.

I fear that it’s not going to be who, but rather how many.

RB is nearly 8 months old now, and every night, he falls asleep in my arms. This is an indulgence, a bad habit I don’t want to give up yet. Those precious minutes after he falls asleep, but before I transfer him to the crib, are a form of self-care for me. I watch him, eyes closed, simply breathing, wholly at peace. I try to absorb that.

If I’m feeling bold, I might nuzzle his soft, fat cheek, or kiss his nose.

Yes, even in times like these, there is joy.

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2020

Hi.

I’m still here.

Well, not here here.

There is no time for here. No time or space for much of anything besides the kids, really.

But I’m finally getting some decent sleep again, so that’s nice.


Yesterday marked the beginning of a new year. Sometimes I feel that the way we measure and move through time is a meaningless construct — and yet, there’s something to it, isn’t there? Something to the idea of a fresh start. Something to the collective energy of so many people reflecting, reaffirming, rerouting.

In recent years, I’ve often skipped resolutions, but for 2020, I did jot down a few small — but potentially very impactful — goals:

  • Write words with wings
  • Read fiction 10 minutes every day
  • Go to bed around 11:30 pm every day
  • Don’t look at the phone when I’m spending time with people (especially my kids)
  • Blog more consistently again

Yes, in the last half of 2019, there wasn’t time for here. But it’s a new year. I’m back, because I want to be. Because this space means something to me — does something for me — even if “blogs are dead” and “readership is down” and I’m more or less just talking into a void. That’s OK. It’s my void. I like it. I’ll fill it.

(Bonus points if my using the word “void” made you think of The Good Place.)

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EVERYONE KNOWS YOU GO HOME by Natalia Sylvester

It has been months since I read this book, but I can still vividly recall so much of it. Beautifully written without being overwrought, the story is full of insights about family, love, immigration, aging, and more. My copy is littered with Post-It flags marking favorite passages. 

This book also happens to be written by my friend Natalia Sylvester, who I greatly admire for her talent, her intelligence, her kindness, and her advocacy.

“You’ll grow slowly, and then all at once.”

“Remember how you used to blow bubbles into your drink through a straw? That’s how the first few kicks will feel.”

“After you give birth, every inch of you will be exhausted and in pain except for your heart.”

“When he cries, remember your body used to be his whole world. Cherish the moments he cries for you, but let him go a little more each day.”

This rings so true to my experiences with pregnancy, birth, and motherhood. A good reminder, as I approach the arrival of my second child.

“Who do you think he’ll be like?” he had asked Elda that day at the hospital. “More you or me?”

“Both. And neither. I think that’s the whole point,” she’d said.

So many people — including myself — like to play this game with children. Who are they more like, mom or dad? Well she’s got mom’s eyes, but dad’s nose. Or dad’s stubbornness, and mom’s fondness for sweets.

But what I find so amazing now — watching my own daughter grow up, as well as my friends’ kids — is how the combination of two people creates something entirely new and unique. IB is not a mini-me or a mini-Andy. She’s herself. More and more each day.

“‘Some people have holes in their hearts not even time can fill, but that doesn’t mean they’re broken.'”

Beautiful and true.

Isabel wondered if wanting to be happy for someone counted as being happy for them.

Intentions versus reality. I’m necessarily not proud to say, I’ve felt this gap in my own emotions many times. Less so, the older I get. But still.

“Decisions are not the same as choices.”

I don’t know if I ever contemplated that distinction quite so clearly before, but I thought about it a lot after reading this line.

Sometimes you have to make a decision even when all your choices are bad. Sometimes you have to make a decision even when you have no choices at all.

“I’m proud of you,” he said.

“For what? I haven’t done anything yet.”

“You’ve done everything. You are everything.”

In a society that often seems obsessed with accomplishment, this feels like such a radical expression of love and worth. It really affected me.

Grief is never really gone; it is just a darkness you eventually adjust to.

Grief is one of the themes of my work-in-progress, so I’m always interested in how other people experience and describe it.

“Life is shit, but it’s fucking beautiful.”


I also really enjoyed this: “Can You Just Trust That We’re Human? The Millions Interviews Natalia Sylvester”

There is so much responsibility to writing. Even when you’re saying, I just want to write a book that’s fun for someone. A book can have the power, while being entertaining, to change how a person thinks or lay the groundwork for it or make them say, “I never thought of that before. Let me delve into that a little more.” So, it’s something that needs to be done very carefully. I know there’s some resistance to that, as if it’s telling someone what to think. People tend to react against it as if it’s censorship.

This is art, but it’s a powerful art, and so how about wielding it well? It’s about the craft, too. It’s going to make all of the book stronger. In the revision, it’s a step back, of thinking, what am I trying to say and what have I said? You can never know completely, obviously, because people are going to interpret everything a lot of different ways, but you try to do your best.

On her exploration of immigration, both as a writer and as an immigrant herself:

You leave a whole country, you leave your home. Immigration also means a death. You’re leaving one life for another. You’re ending this whole life and existence that you had in order to hopefully live this new one. So, what’s the tradeoff. What’s lost in that trade?

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Books, motherhood, and time

From “Boyhood on a Shelf” by Barbara Mahany:

That’s what reading together in childhood does: It forever binds us. My two boys, born eight years apart, played with their toys alone. Reading was where we nestled, where we sank in deep, side by side. Books are where our hearts did so very much of their stitching together. And they were my guideposts as a mother; they whispered the lessons I prayed my children would learn: Ferdinand, the gentle bull? Be not afraid to march to your own music. Harry Potter? Believe in magic. The tales of Narnia? Defend what is good. Tom Sawyer? Roam and roam widely. And never mind if you tumble into a slight bit of mischief.


I remember my mother reading to me. For some reason, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble and A Castle in the Attic stick out the most in my mind. But I know she started our nighttime reading years before either of those, with classics like Goodnight Moon and Dr. Seuss. My memories are hazy flickers of a candle’s flame. It’s not the sound of her voice that lingers decades later, but the feeling of being read to, and cared for. The feeling of shared discovery, as the stories unfolded before both of us at the same time.

It is interesting, and wonderful, to be on the other side of that now.

We started reading to IB almost as soon as she was born. Ridiculous, maybe, but oh well. First, it was simple board books with black and white illustrations. Then, little stories with cute rhymes. Now, we can tackle more complex picture books, with layers of meaning for all ages to appreciate.

I imagine we will do the same with RB, when he gets here. (Oh, by the way, I am pregnant again.) I very much look forward to reading to him too, and to her and him together.

I wonder which stories they will remember the most when they’re adults. I wonder what shape their memories will take.


From “How I Rebuilt My Childhood Library, Book by Book” by J. Courtney Sullivan:

When you’re dealing with used books that once belonged to children, even those listed as “like new” are worn. A stray crayon mark or a torn page is not a sign of neglect, but of love.

With the arrival of every volume, I’d get a thrill, remembering. Not just the book itself, but what it meant to read it under the covers with a flashlight, or on the back porch of our house…


In the publishing industry, there’s a lot of talk about how books are not in competition with other books — at least not truly or solely. They are in competition with movies, TV shows, apps, social media, etc.

Now that I’m a mother, and my time and energy feel much more limited, I understand this more than ever. At the end of the day, after I’ve put IB to bed, and daytime’s obligations have either been finished or saved for tomorrow, I have about an hour or two to myself. I typically spend the first thirty minutes “resetting” the house — cleaning dishes, putting away toys, etc. Then it’s my time to “relax.”

Relaxing should be easy, right? And what could be easier than surfing the internet or watching TV? Or scrolling through my Facebook and Twitter feeds? So those are the places I turn to first. The places where my mind can go a bit blank, usually.

But I don’t find fulfillment there. I don’t gain much if any nourishment from those things. Mostly when I close my laptop or put down my phone, I feel as if I’ve lost more than I’ve gained.

I don’t like that feeling.

Maybe “easy” isn’t always worth the tradeoff.

I want to read more. I want to write more.

And what’s stopping me?

Nothing at all.

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This is 33

Last month, this little turkey turned two. Yesterday, I turned thirty-three. And of course, today is Thanksgiving. Lots of occasions for reflection. It’s easy to say that what I’m most thankful for is her — because it’s true. Like any toddler, she does cry and whine on occasion, but on the whole, she’s such a joyful little creature. And now she can talk, she can sing, she can draw, she can imagine. She fills us with awe every day.

This is 33: Holding my daughter in my arms at the end of each night, telling her “just one more minute,” and then counting to 100 instead of 60, because sometimes I just want to savor the moment a little bit longer.

She’s in full-time daycare now, and while I miss her terribly when she’s away, I also revel in having my whole day back. I love the quiet of the house while the sun is shining through the windows. I appreciate the ease of running errands, scheduling appointments, and doing all the other tedious things adults have to do, without worrying about how to bring her along. Even though I am honored by my role as a mother, I enjoy feeling like my own person for a few hours. I live for sitting at the table with my journal and my pen and actually writing again.

This is 33: Returning to my roots, just a girl with some time and some blank pages, and stories simmering inside her. 

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