Bing! The chime on my phone rings, indicating a new message. It’s a video from Chris, reaching across the country to me while I’m on a work trip in New Mexico. It starts focusing on Sprout, being a lump on the couch with his red velour blanket over his head. The camera then swerves to Little Bird, who is walking towards it. Walking! When the hell did that happen? At that moment, I realized just how long a week away is when you have young children.
As I night weaned my younger son, I wanted to sing a song that could comfort him in the same way my body did. While I had been playing recordings by Fleet Foxes and John Denver, I wanted something I could sing. Something beautiful, simple, special. It simply had to be The House on Pooh Corner.
The House on Pooh Corner and I go way back.
“So what time do you get home?” I asked. I desperately wanted to know how my friends had managed to solve the conundrum of living in the suburbs with young kids – how to spend time with them while also getting them to bed at a reasonable hour. They had just told me that they got their one-year-old to bed by 7:30 pm, a feat that has never happened at our house.
“6:30,” my friend replied, shrugging. “We grab her something out of the fridge and do the bedtime routine.”
I blinked. They didn’t have dinner together. Or much time together at all on weekdays. I literally had not considered that possibility.
For all the hoopla, I didn’t mind turning 30. But 34? Nobody warned me about 34.
34 is definitively in your mid-30s – a milestone that I denied last year on my birthday. At that time, I felt surprisingly sanguine. Despite 2015 being a pretty terrible year, I felt confident about the future. I was pregnant with our second child, was dreaming about potential future jobs, had a handle on my volunteer work, and was balancing work and life reasonably well.
Then the world threw me for a loop.
I was never cool. All of those things women lament about giving up when they have kids? I never did them. Instead, my transformation as a mom has been more subtle but no less radical.
I never went out clubbing. Okay, I did, but I usually complained that it was too loud or too crowded or played music I didn’t like. My husband worked nights and weekends for years and I wasn’t going to go alone, so it was a rare occasion at best.
I never dressed up in perfect makeup and stiletto heels. Mascara makes my eyelashes stick to my face. Lipstick makes my lips feel weird. I’ve never even tried to wear stilettos. The only time I’ve ever been in full makeup was my wedding; it felt like a mask.
Standing on the National Mall in the February cold, I stomped my feet and tried to ignore how sore my lower back felt. Watching the stage, I strained to listen to the speakers, from Silicon Valley billionaires to Native American activists. I was at one of the biggest climate change protests ever, focused on defeating the Keystone XL oil pipeline. While it attracted 12,000 people, it’s unlikely that many were in the same situation as I was: five months pregnant.
Despite the cold and a serious lack of bathrooms, I marched in hopes of shifting the tide against climate change. Now, with the election of Donald Trump for president and the Republican domination of Congress, I find it more important than ever before to be an activist mom.
Blank. Just blank. The empty page after empty page of my eight-month-old’s baby book stared at me in accusation. Even his name wasn’t filled in. Really? Crap.
I specifically bought this book because it was supposed to be “easy.” Just a page a month for the first year. How much time could that take? Apparently too much.
Was it that I didn’t love Little Bird enough to bother chronicling his important moments? While the guilt that beats at my brain wanted that to be the right answer, I know in my heart it’s not true. I adore my children. And I’ve spent a ton of time and effort capturing their childhood. I probably have hundreds of photos of Little Bird alone, much less those with his brother.
Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, letting the food settle before dessert, was prime storytelling time in my family. At my aunt’s house in New Jersey, we’d cram as many chairs as we could around the table. Instead of focusing on the vastly different places family members ended up, we looked to the past. Even outside of holidays, my family often shared stories, of struggles and triumphs, of funny incidents and serious ones.
As an adult, I now see that these stories influenced my values so much more than any amount of lecturing would have. In fact, children who hear family stories about both good and bad times have more resilience in the face of difficult circumstances than those who don’t. Here are a few of my family’s stories and the values they passed on to me.
I’m so much of a nerd that I wrote my college admissions essay about it. I’m so much of a nerd that I not only tabletop role-play, but play systems that aren’t D&D. I’m so much of a nerd that one of my favorite places growing up was the New York State museum. I’m so much of a nerd that I’ve dragged very small children to multiple comic book conventions.
And yet, I had a crisis of faith about my nerd self this Halloween.
The pattern books spread across the long, white, slanted table. Spotting the orange and black tab, I grabbed it and flipped to the back. My eyes ran over the photos on each page, imagining what I would look like in each costume. My mind danced with images of spiderwebs and princesses, Renaissance ladies and mermaids. Near Halloween, I always loved going to the fabric store with my mom, where we would pick out the patterns and the fabrics for the costume she made me each year.
No matter how absurd or complicated, my mom took on my requests with aplomb. She cultivated both my imagination and love of elaborate dress-up. Now that I’m making costumes for my own children, I realize how much a labor of love all of it was.