Fudge. Charlotte. Ramona. Matilda. BFG. The Great Brain.

If you don’t know who these characters are, I have nothing but sorrow for you. If you couldn’t read them yourself–or didn’t want to–I hope you had someone in your life willing to sit down with you and read them out loud. Once I read survey results stating that children did better in school when read to by a parent (which seems obvious) but a shocking number didn’t read to their kids daily, or even weekly.

That breaks my heart. I’m trying to think of a day in Maggie or Moira’s life where they haven’t heard at least two books before lunch. Moira’s still more interested in eating the books, but she’s game to look at the bright photographs and big block words of the board books. Even when she was a newborn, I read to Maggie. I used to read her Shell Silverstein poems just to hear the sound of my own voice cutting through the addled fog of those early days. With each reading of “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout,” I pulled myself further out of the terrible new parent hole of fear and insecurity and worry that we weren’t bonding like I thought we would; at least, if I was reading to her, I was doing something right.


Our old hometown in Hawaii had half-days for school on Wednesday. That was the worst day to go to the library because so many parents used the facility as a free babysitter/dumping ground for their elementary/middle school aged kids. One day I forgot and brought Maggie anyway. The kids’ section was crawling with kids, but one little girl caught my eye. She was about seven, wearing glasses and twirling her hair thoughtfully. In her lap was a copy of Charlotte’s Web–and didn’t have much left to read. I knew what was coming and waited. Sure enough, she finished shortly before we checked out. The tears welled, huge and swimmy behind her glasses, and when she sought out her older sister at the big kids’ table she couldn’t explain why she was crying.

Looking back, I wish I had gone up to her and told her I understood that Charlotte had broken her heart. It just seemed like too private a moment to interrupt.


Maggie and I read our first chapter book together a few months back: Winnie the Pooh. She still talks about hunting for woozles. Since then we’ve read The Giraffe, The Pelly, and Me, started George’s Marvelous Medicine, and we’re going through our second round of Fantastic Mr. Fox. Every toy giraffe is a window cleaner; every mention of a bean is followed with a shout of “Bunce, Boggis, and BEEEEEEAN!” It amazes me that she’s only barely three and sits still for such long readings of dense text with minimal pictures, and her hunger for more, more, more books fills me with such indescribable joy. It’s so thrilling, anticipating all those words and worlds that are waiting for us to share together. I think Maggie will enjoy Peter’s aggravation as he deals with his irritating little brother Fudge (conversely, I hope Moira gets more out of rambunctious Ramona and frosty Beezus than I, the uptight elder child, was able to glean) and be pleasantly intrigued by the dimensions of the pit in James’s peach. And yes, even those difficult moments found in a friendly literate spider’s web or at the other end of the bridge to Terabithia–those are important too.

Reading was the core of my childhood, and I love being their guide. I can’t wait to see where books take them.


A Good Day

Everyone slept until 9am. We had our usual audiobook over breakfast, and I tell you I will mourn when Maggie stops asking for “De taaayul of Swirrwel Numpkim.”

We made playdough from scratch and Maggie helped stir and knead until it was smooth. Moira fell asleep in the carrier. When it was done I let Maggie form it into balls and we played “snowball fight” in the kitchen. We dyed it purple and scented it with a little lavender oil. They only ate a little of it.

Maggie checked all the flowers in the backyard, then turned a cardboard produce box from our grocery delivery into a boat. She went fishing for her baby dolls and two pieces of toy sushi, and then she deigned to have Moira in the boat as her co-captain.

We went to the playground. Moira got to hang upside down.

Everyone ate a complete lunch. Dishes were done. A quick dance party ensued. Nobody had any toileting accidents or leaks. Maggie only had one “reflection moment” (a time-out in my lap while she calms down and we talk about why hitting is wrong) and I didn’t lose my temper.

Both girls went down for a nap without a fuss promptly at 2pm.

I’m having coffee and reading about Charlotte Mason, surrounded by the detritus of earlier activities. There’s a veritable zoo of toy animals at my feet.

There was no real purpose to this entry, except that I want to remember it later. It was a really, really nice day.

The Class of 2002

Dear 18-year-old you:

Ten years ago this week you graduated from high school. You aren’t going to the reunion, but it’s nothing personal. Your husband (you have one! He’s totally a keeper, too) gave you the financial breakdown and said that since you live in England now (seriously! we’ll get to that) you could spend seven days in the south of France or go home for a reunion/Christmas trip. In Maine. In December. You made your choice: Bonjour, Provence!

Anyway, let me tell you a little something about yourself: that yearbook quote and ambition holds up well, but listing “Gifted and Talented” among your activities? Girl. Douche move. But that’s okay; you were really flamingly insecure and we’ll let that one slide. You end up being pretty confident. Quit worrying about your skin. Regrettably, your hair is growing in a mite gray, but at some point in the next ten years a well-meaning friend is going to show you how to work a flat-iron and some texturizing gel. It’s gonna be okay. There’s also going to be something called skinny jeans. They’re horrifying, but you took up running and gave up processed junk food so you own several pairs. Deep breaths. It’s a bold new world. And seriously, that song is not a cliche: wear your sunscreen. You’re going to have some moles removed and the word “melanoma” is going to be bandied about when your daughter is less than a year old and scare the ever-loving shit out of you, so wear the damn Coppertone.

Let me tell you something else: in June 2002, you are six months away from meeting the man who will become your husband. (It’s going to be another three years before you actually start dating. The facial hair is going to take some time to adjust to. You’ll love it, don’t worry.) You are fifteen months away from Labor Day 2003 and the decision to give up vodka forevermore. (Tragically, the decision to give up tequila will not come until 2007.) In four years you’ll be in the middle of 2006. That’s a pretty big year for you. You’re going to get engaged, you’re going to graduate college, you’re going to start your first real job, you’re going to get married, and you’re going to officially become a resident of Maryland. It’s going to be exhausting and you’re going to be confused and maybe not so sure you made the right choices. You did. You absolutely did.

So, about Maryland. Thanks to various career choices, you will never again live in Maine–at least, not full-time. But oh, dude. You’re going to live in Washington, DC and the surrounding suburbs. You’re going to live in Spain. You’re going to live in Hawaii and England. It’s going to be so scary, and so worth it. You’re going to watch the sun set over the Aegean Sea and surf off the O’ahu coast. You’re going to backpack through Japan and rip the heads off steamed shrimp in Portugal and run through the rain in Istanbul. You’re going to work for educational social change and be the editor of a magazine. You’re going to write all the time and take thousands of photographs. It’s going to be pretty bitchin’.

And seven years from now, you’re going to be a mother.

Let that sink in for a second.

You’ll have a daughter. You’ll have two daughters. They’re more beautiful and loving and smart than you could have dreamed. And thanks to a perfect storm of economic downfall and weird opportunities and a shift in life values, you’re going to stay home with them. You’re going to take them all over the damn planet. You’re going to homeschool them. I know. I couldn’t believe it either. You will not recognize the person who’s walking around in your once-18-year-old body.

That’s worth repeating: you will not recognize the 28-year-old person who’s walking around in your once-18-year-old body. It’s totally okay. You’re a nice person. You like to fundraise for charity and crochet things and you can hold your beer. You’re a good mom. You’re a good wife. You’ve never been without health insurance. It’s a good life. It’s an adventurous life; in every conceivable way, it’s a charmed life.

Flip side: you’re going to lose three jobs. Two to the economics of the times and the third, well, you’re just going to be straight-up fired in a highly dramatic, annoying way and it’s going to really suck. You’re going to sink thousands into a really crappy Ford Taurus before you see the light and buy a Honda and graduate with enough college debt to sink Greece. You’re going to lose your grandfather.

Given that those are the worst things to happen to you, you’re pretty lucky. You turned out fine.

You know who’s also going to do just fine? All those people you call your best friends. For real. Get a good look at them now, today, June 2002, because they’re going to light the world up. They’re going to be MDs and PhDs and work to help the poor and the environment; they’re going to travel the world and have beautiful families. And there’s going to be this thing called Facebook (avoid the IPO), so while you may not talk to them every week or month or even every six months, you’re going to have an idea of what they’re up to, and my God. You’re going to be so proud of them.

So, yeah, it’s an exciting time right now. You should be excited. You have a pretty sweet ten years coming up…even factoring in skinny jeans.



P.S. Buy Apple stock.

Mobile and mental

My children are out-maneuvering me at every turn.

I remember feeling this tired with Maggie, although not until Tom was gone on his extended trip. It seems that Moira will not rest–literally will not rest–until she is fully up and walking. I had a friend whose daughter was full-bore running by ten months or so and I remember feeling nothing but deep pity. Maggie didn’t crawl until nine and a half months and wasn’t fully walking until sixteen. She simply was not interested. But for the fact that I had to carry her wherever she wanted to go, it was quite advantageous.


She’s already doing the arm-over-arm army crawl. She’s about halfway to sitting up on her own. I have bets on her walking by the first day of autumn. And her little brain is so engaged, so ON, that she can’t sleep. She bucks and thrashes, tries to get on all fours, rocks herself into the wall of her crib.

It’s making me absolutely crazy. And then she’ll crash hard for three hours, wake up with a grin that splits her face in half and scream delightedly when you come in to pick her up, and I forget why I was so annoyed at 3am when she woke me up for the fourth time that night. A well-rested Moira is a sight to behold. She’s like Dug from Up. “I do not know you, AND I LOVE YOU.”

She’s into everything Maggie is into and if she could speak I imagine it would sound like this: “What’s that? What’s this? Can I eat this? I want to touch it. What’s over there? [crawl, crawl] I found this! This…whatever it is, it’s amazing! Hey, Maggie, what are you doing? SQUIRREL!”

If Moira is white-water rapids, Maggie continues to be my deep lake.

My aunt said she’s an old soul, and I see that more and more every day. Determined little bug, too–she is absolutely single-minded in her purpose and has no difficulty whatsoever outwitting me. When we were at the airport getting ready to fly back to England I was enjoying some chips with my dinner.

Maggie: Can Maggie have a chip?

Me: You need to eat your sandwich first.

Maggie: Hey! Look at dat plane!

I looked. SHE STOLE MY CHIP. I can’t believe I fell for that. To her credit, there was a plane out the window and it was very impressive.

Another time she hit me. Not a big deal; toddlers hit when they can’t communicate what they want verbally. I do insist that she take a time-out to calm down before we start talking through her emotions, because if I try in the moment she ramps up and keeps hitting. Pretty normal three-year-old stuff, but last time I put her in the bathroom to regroup. I went to get her roughly 90 seconds later and she had sat down on the toilet to do her business.

“Can you shut the door, Mommy? Privacy, please!”

So…that backfired.

I’m going to try to sneak another 45 minutes of sleep in before Maggie wakes up and starts the day’s demands. I have a feeling it’s going to be another mentally taxing one. But man, I love these little ladies. They crack me up.

Oil Driller

I’m writing this on June 1, and never have I been so excited to bid adieu a month as I am this month. May just sucked. Family tragedies, horrendous bouts of illness and medical woes, irritating work news for Tom, and a jet-lagged barnacle baby that woke us every hour on the hour for the entirety of the month.

At one point after the travel and exhaustion had really taken hold and with no end in sight, I logged into Pinterest for some distraction. I saw all the beautiful recipes for adorable desserts and preciously twee homeschooling tips and natural herbal remedies for illness…and my mind went totally blank. I had forgotten who any of these people I was following were. It took me a full twenty seconds of staring at my screen to remember: “Yyyyes? I…I care about these things? I care? I do care.” It was like breaking the surface after jumping into ice-cold lakewater; the numbness and shock finally broke and I remembered all those tidy, quiet little pastimes that I enjoy when my life isn’t completely upended.

Obviously, I needed a project. Not an art project, God, no, but something for me. Then my cousin wrote about how she gave up shampoo and hasn’t washed her hair in six months. Having just seen her in Maine and knowing that she looked quite lovely and was neither sporting dreadlocks or a halo of dung flies, I decided to jump in.

So that’s why I haven’t washed my hair in two weeks. It’s not depression, oh no; it’s a calculated plot. The first two days were rough. I got the baking-soda-to-vinegar ratio wrong and my hair flattened like a cat faced with a bucket of water. It’s short and layered, and yet I could still pull it back into a ponytail without a single flyaway stray. It was malleable. It was an audition to be the heiress to the Crisco fortune. It was absolutely gross.

Then I got a good spray bottle. And then I got the ratios right. And did a more thorough rinse. It was…a surprise. My hair was fluffy. My scalp, which has itched and flaked at the merest provocation since I can’t even remember when and occasionally is subject to chemical burns from conventional shampoo, stopped itching. It stopped looking like I styled it with Sculpey.

First I was like…

And then I realized how much money I was saving and I was itchless, frizz-free, and ALL my hair was fluffy–not just the new grays that have been popping up en masse since I spawned a second time.

THEN I was like…

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Yeah. Get that.

Next up was giving up facial soap. I’ve spent a fortune of both my and my mother’s money over the years in search of a good skin regimen. So around this time I fully re-committed to the oil cleansing method. And HOLY GOD, you do NOT want your skin and hair recovering their oil balance at the same time. All I needed was a layered spaghetti tank top and I could have gone straight back to 1997. I already have the playlists, after all. It was so wrong, and BLAH. GROSS. But hey, funny story: that worked too. Skin? Rockin’. Hair? Happy dance.

My inner brainspace is still pretty fogged and weird. But at least now it’s capped and fronted by some fabulously tended real estate.

Ahhhhh. I needed that.