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The day is not off to a good start.

Part of it is actual, part of it is mental, part of it is diet-al.

Part the first: I have managed to make my child simultaneously hate school and believe that her teachers are going to be mad at her if she isn’t perfect. We had parent teacher conferences last week, and her teachers mentioned a couple of things Carla needed to work on. And I mentioned those things to her, and we talked about some strategies, and she got really cranky and irritable with me and then we moved on. We had a lovely weekend. This morning, she waltzed into my room in one of her signature amazing ensembles (purple pants, pink shirt, faux leopard fur vest, sparkly headband) in a happy mood and snuggled with me until my alarm went off. I reminded her this morning about what we had discussed, and it was like flipping a switch. All of a sudden she was hot and would I take her temperature. No fever. She was really tired and naptime at school is way too far away so she wants to stay home. She doesn’t want to go to school. She’s NOT going to school. I tried to figure out what the deal was – she LOVES school; over the weekend, we drove past her school and the parking lot was full and she said “No fair! Those kids get to be there on the weekend!” – and eventually got out of her that she thinks she won’t be able to do what we discussed and her teachers will be mad at her. So. No school. She’s done.

Well shit.

I tried everything in my Mommy Toolkit to persuade her: Assurance: We don’t expect you to be perfect, we expect you to try your best. Your teachers love you. Here are all the wonderful things they told me about you at the conference. Here are all the things for which your father and I are so proud of you. Bribery: If you go to school today, you get to do X! I will let you bring your horse in the car on the way to school! If you still feel bad at school, you can go to the nurse and she will call me to come get you! Logic: School is your job, you have to go. If Daddy didn’t want to go to work, what would happen? It’s a law that kids your age have to go to school. Mild threats: If you don’t go, here are all the fun things you will miss. If you stay home, you will be bored; no TV, I have work to do so I can’t play with you. And – bringing out the big guns – I will make you go on ERRANDS with me. She was undeterred.

Finally, after assuring her for the ten thousandth time that neither her teachers nor I would be mad at her, that none of us expects her to be PERFECT, that we just want her to TRY… After singing her the Daniel Tiger song about “your best is the best for you”… After coming up with some specific strategies to try with her teachers… FINALLY, I got her out the door. We were thirty-five minutes late.

And then, when I was telling her teacher about the strategies we had discussed and explaining what had happened, I of course burst into tears. Because nothing makes a Bad Parenting Morning worse than leaking it all over your child’s poor teacher. The only saving grace was that we were so late, there weren’t many other parents lingering in the halls to see me blubbering.

Man, I really screwed things up. And I don’t know exactly HOW, or exactly how to fix it, or how to do it differently. And she still needs to work on the things she needs to work on, although obviously they are not DIRE. (Though I managed to get poor Carla to feel that they ARE dire.) And my heart just feels so RAW for her, because she is working so hard at growing up – so, so hard – and she wants to please us and her teachers so badly, and she is so much more sensitive than sometimes even I realize. And of all people in the world, I should be the one who KNOWS what she needs and understands how to get through to her without screwing her up and I DON’T.

So that’s the actual.

The mental is the crushing certainty that I am the absolute worst choice of person to be a parent. And that nonetheless I have to do it anyway. And at stake are my child’s PERMANENT HAPPINESS AND WELL BEING.

There is also the outward spiraling, wherein I begin to feel that everything else in life is terrible too: our house is falling apart, I can’t keep up with the to-do list, I am failing as a writer. You know. One bit of the scaffolding gets knocked in and the whole structure comes tumbling down.

Then there’s the diet-al, which is stupid and I should just QUIT because it’s making me miserable. I have a constant headache. I feel nauseated and my brain seems to be going at half speed. I am not particularly hungry or missing foods all that much, but I do have a rather abnormally intense fixation on Diet Coke.

You can see how this all adds up to a bad morning so far.

Two things I am using to try to pull myself out of this negativity quicksand:

  1. The diet is over as of Thursday morning. I will be celebrating with a big bowl of pasta and a thick slice of cake.
  2. I have a pedicure scheduled with a friend for Friday, which should be relaxing and my friend and I will get to chat and catch up.

And between me, my husband, and Carla’s teachers, we should be able to figure out how to redirect her perfectionism… somehow? Right?

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Poor Carla is just off  lately. Saturday she ate practically nothing – some bacon and a tomato from her BLT at lunch, a handful of fries; a peanut butter sandwich at our friends’ house that night – and then she ate a great lunch yesterday but literally NOTHING for dinner. Not a single bite. She requested instead to go to bed. But then she woke up at 11:30 and could NOT fall back to sleep. She was up until well past two. Two a.m. in the morning. And if by “she was up” you are assuming that maybe I was sleeping, no. I was reading Harriet the Spy and playing YouTube “spa music” and fetching water and taking her temperature and reading old favorite picture books and giving her Tylenol because her “neck” hurt when she swallowed and making a “nest” in my room beside my bed and lying quietly in the dark and hissing at Carla in my most soothing way to just be STILL and close your EYES.

No surprise that she was dragging this morning. She didn’t eat as much for breakfast as I thought (hoped) she would – most of her smoothie, one French toast stick – and was just kind of slow. Which could be tired slow. Or not-feeling-great slow. Or just plain old Kindergarten Slow. Who knows.

Why is so much of parenting so unknowable? That’s what I’m bemoaning this morning. I mean, I get it. There’s no handbook. No two kids are alike. Yada yada blah. But I have had this particular kid for nearly six whole years so you’d think I’d at least have the hang of dealing with her by now. But you’d have thought incorrectly, I’m sorry to say. (Mainly sorry for me, not so much for you and your misplaced faith in my supposed parenting “ability.”)

There are so many QUESTIONS. And I have answers to SO FEW of them! Sure, some things, like “should she be holding that sharp knife?” and “should I give her a hug?” have simple answers. But so many do NOT.

Some of the questions for which I do not have answers just TODAY:

  • Is “not eating dinner” a totally acceptable thing once in a while, or does it indicate something is WRONG?
  • Does a repeated claim that a child has a headache indicate an actual headache… or is it a bid for attention… or is it a parroting of my own not-infrequent headaches and therefore a cautionary tale against complaining too much about my own minor aches and pains… or is it a way to divert attention away from the not-eating?
  • And if there IS a headache, is it a normal Everyone-Gets-Headaches-Sometimes headache or does it indicate something is WRONG? And how do you know the difference?
  • How in the world do I stopper the effervescent frustration of Slow Child Not Moving Quickly Enough When We Need to Get to School on Time FOR THE LOVE before I burst forth with a Mean Mom snarl of PUT YOUR COAT ON OMG?
  • If there is no fever, and no REAL reason to keep a child home – especially when everyone seems to think that a snow day or two is imminent this week, based on predicted temperatures – is it really okay to send her to school? Even though this guilty feeling keeps nagging me like a staticky sock stuck to a pant leg?

This is not to mention all of the day-to-day questions I have, including but not limited to:

  • How much screen time is REALLY acceptable? And if my kid squeezes it all into the weekends, does that make it better or worse?
  • How am I ever going to get her to tie her shoes? I don’t want to buy shoes with laces until she knows how to tie them; cod knows I’m not going to tie them for her. But how is she going to learn until I buy her shoes with laces? DILEMMA.
  • Should we be FaceTime-ing with relatives more often?
  • Is my kid’s behavior around other adults totally typical of her age, or something I need to be more on top of correcting? (Things like not answering when being spoken to, sticking out her tongue or otherwise being playful, ignoring them totally and wandering off…)
  • Am I preparing her well enough for Real Life? While still allowing her to enjoy the freedom and innocence of childhood?
  • Is she really going to lose ALL her teeth? And how am I going to handle the horror that is a piece of my child’s bone hanging by a slim bloody tether from her gums MORE TIMES?
  • Do I read to her enough?
  • Do I play with her enough?
  • Does she have enough time to play?
  • How many stuffed animals are too many stuffed animals?
  • Are my expectations too high? Not high enough?
  • Am I giving her enough intellectual stimulation? Social? Physical? Creative?
  • Am I teaching her good eating habits?
  • Am I a good enough role model?
  • Is she getting enough sleep?
  • Is she happy?
  • How many ways am I failing her?

I don’t know if you are aware, but this parenting thing is EXHAUSTING. It’s like taking a midterm exam every single DAY and knowing that you haven’t studied enough and you are pretty iffy on big chunks of the material. But you don’t get a grade now  – oh no, you have to take 4,560 more exams just between now and when your kid presumably heads off to college. And they’re really important but there’s no way to know if you’re just squeaking by with a C average or totally bombing. That’s the hardest part, right? I could be TOTALLY SCREWING HER UP and I won’t know until she’s an adult.

I am going to go treat this bout of parenting angst with some melted cheese and maybe consider a nap. How’s that for being a role model, hmm?

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I have been feeling a little melancholy the past few days. I think I’ve pinpointed some of the sources: It’s that odd time of year, between holidays, where I am sad and exhausted after my full-of-family house emptied out, and the pressure of All Things Christmas is already hot and heavy. I have been rewatching The Closer, which is one of my favorite television shows, but I had forgotten how dreadfully stressful and sad the final season is. I haven’t been writing (paid work and then company/Thanksgiving), which always makes me feel unsettled and off. I read a well-written and deeply sad article in The New Yorker about dementia that hasn’t left me. My husband and I are going to see a lawyer to (FINALLY) do our estate planning. And, of course, the clouds have settled in for what promises to be many months.

It all adds up to feeling extra sensitive to silly things – a probably offhand but seemingly poignant comment from the checker at the grocery store; the way Brenda’s team is so loyal to her on The Closer; having to throw away gobs of carefully, lovingly made Thanksgiving leftovers that no one will eat; that sort of thing – and feeling a little mopey and down.

One of the other sources of my broodiness is a current heightened awareness of the juggernaut of time.

The retail sector is at least partially to blame, I think. All the frenzied emails about Christmas began what feels like months ago and have only increased in intensity. I get anxious just checking my email – all those companies yelling at me to hurry! Going fast! Don’t wait to get in on this! Shop more, save more! Ends tonight! Extended! Don’t miss out! Such a ceaseless cacophony of urgency that I am somehow unable to ignore.

Hanukkah is early this year, which makes me feel like I’m already behind.

My parents were looking at retirement homes when they were here for Thanksgiving. While I am grateful to them for preparing for their old age, and for being so open and frank about the subjects of aging and infirmity and death, it makes me sad and panicky. I may be nearly middle-aged, but I still feel like I’m somewhere in the big swirl of age twenty-to-thirty, and I’m not ready to think seriously about my parents being old.

As I literally just mentioned, I am rapidly approaching middle age, with its attendant anxieties. My skin has frequent eruptions of pique. I vacillate between feeling delighted about my middle-age invisibility and feeling angry about the fact that my husband grows increasingly attractive while I do the opposite and feeling depressed that I am fading into the wallpaper and winding inexorably toward death.

Plus – and, although it may seem like the least important item on my list, it is not– my child has her first loose tooth. As with so many childhood milestones, this feels remarkable and significant. Her little face will change so much once she loses teeth. Teeth she’s had since she was a BABY. And I’m suddenly hyper-aware that she’s five-and-a-half, which is almost six. And while five felt So Big – kindergarten!!!! – six seems practically ancient. This loose tooth has me all in a tizzy of Childhood Is Fleeting and I am simultaneously frantic about making Christmas Special While She Still Gets So Excited About Everything and mooning over all the times I failed to Cherish Every Moment. And now her babyhood is really and truly GONE. She’s practically a GROWN UP.

Of course her growing up is tied inextricably to my own mortality. It all comes down to this: This feeling that I want to keep my baby little – even while I love, LOVE how she is growing. The knowledge that it’s impossible to do so. The desperate need to take in everything – soak up every little bit of her – all the time, and watching as the moment steamrolls past even as I grasp for it.

Last night, I went in to her room to take her to the bathroom before I went to sleep. Usually, she climbs out of bed – she’s really getting too big for me to carry – but this time, I picked her up. She turned her little face up to mine for a kiss, and then draped herself over my shoulder. I stood there for a moment, just holding her. The weight of her in my arms. The warmth of her body, the baking-bread scent of her skin, the gentle sound of her sucking her thumb. Just a minute ago, she was small enough to fit in the curve of my neck. Now, her long legs dangle down to my knees. My big girl. My baby.

Well. Melancholy.

There’s a fresh layer of snow on all the trees, and a steady soft flurry. I got a bright assortment of bell peppers from the grocery store yesterday – the bright green and yellow and orange and red are a nice contrast to the grey. I’ve gotten my meager “fall” décor put away, but am allowing myself a few days before I put out the Christmas stuff; there’s no hurry, and I want to stave off that closed-in feeling I get after too many weeks of Christmas Everything Everywhere I Turn. But because I am a woman of contradictions, I put on a Christmas music station – and Mariah Carey and Tony Bennett and Wham! have done a lot to help chip away at the glum. I have coffee planned with a lovely friend. Just now, I have answered the door to find a beautiful wreath from my mother – it smells like Christmastime and is now hanging proudly on my door. It all helps.

Wreath.jpg

So too does the knowledge that this feeling shall pass, and the hope that maybe someday I will be able to enjoy the present moment without mourning its eventual passage.

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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

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Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

Fifth birthday 7

Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

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Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

Fifth birthday 2

Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

Fifth birthday 5

Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

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Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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Thank you all for your kind words on my last post. It’s so easy for that feeling of discomfort and awkwardness to spread until it’s stained every bit of me with self-loathing. I seriously never thought to consider my attempts to be friendly as… progress. I will try to do so from now on.

In the month since I wrote it, well. Life has gone on. Some of it good, some of it bad, some of it heartbreaking, the regular amalgam of living. And, listen, I don’t really want to talk about any of the reasons I might have needed comfort during that time period. (It’s nothing serious, although it felt like it was. In any event, everything is fine.) Today, I just want to talk about the comfort part.

What I turn to, when I need comfort, are distractions (reading, writing, TV) and comforting food. And the food is what I’m most interested in today, because I find it fascinating (and soothing, in itself) to learn what kinds of food people turn to in times of stress or grief.

Sure, food is primarily for sustenance. But it can also carry so much emotional weight. (No moral weight, though; I feel strongly about that.) (Unless you are killing endangered species because their XYZ is a delicacy. Then I’d have a moral objection.)  For instance, my first helping instinct is often related to food. When a neighbor lost her husband earlier this year, I immediately wanted to give her a meal. That just seemed the most useful, reasonable thing I could do, to provide some modicum of comfort to a person I know but don’t know well, a person who was likely reeling with shock and heartache and visitors and logistics and grief.

I looked online, as one does, and was surprised – probably naively so – to see what a wide variety of options people recommended. I always thought a casserole was the appropriate thing to give. A nice, hearty macaroni casserole. Or a lasagna. Something like that: easy to heat, carb-heavy. But the recommendations spanned everything from veggies and dip to cookies to fried chicken to stew.

(I ended up making a stew. It was delicious, and hearty. The death happened in the winter, and I thought it would be good for freezing or ladling out to visitors.)

Lately, after needing some comfort myself, and then remembering that stew, I got to thinking about Food As Comfort in general, and how my idea of Comfort Food might be totally different from yours.

When I am in need of comfort, I turn to the carb-heavy stuff. Chicken paprikas is my go-to favorite. It’s creamy and noodle-y and spicy, and it just makes me feel warm and cared for. It’s kind of weird that it should be my top favorite comfort food, I think, because I didn’t grow up eating it. Instead, it’s something my husband and I started making together back when I was in grad school. Well, maybe that’s the reason: I associate it with him, with cozy dinners at home together with the one person who comforts me more than anyone else.

Sometimes, though, the comfort I need is more primal – a bear returning to its cave to weather the icy winds, a newborn nuzzling up to its mother to nurse, a caterpillar spinning itself a chrysalis. I want to retreat to childhood, which was safe and loving, during which I was free from the horrors of the world. And there are many foods from my childhood that surround me with that kind of basic, fundamental warmth.

One comforting favorite is spaghetti with meat sauce. That’s the first meal I learned to make for my family, back when I was a kid. It reminds me of my childhood and of my own self-sufficiency.

Most recently, I turned to bagels. Another longterm favorite, my mom used to toast Lender’s bagels for me when I was a kid. Dripping with butter, they taste both decadent and simple, life’s complications reduced to its elemental truth: Warm bread. Melted butter. Sometimes honey, making its way in sticky rivulets down my wrist. When I was pregnant with Carla – and horribly sick for twenty-five weeks (I first typed “months” and yes, that’s how it felt) – I subsisted on bagels and pizza. The bagels would stay in my stomach when nothing else would.

Grilled cheese holds a special place in my heart. It was my mother’s go-to Miserable Wintry Day food. A crust of butter on each slice of bread. A thick molten heart of Velveeta. A glass of classic Coke on the side. The unbeatable combination of gooeyness and crunch.

And I’ll always have fond memories of Lipton noodle soup. My mom swears by chicken noodle soup; Lipton did the job just fine, and (a plus for me), has no unappealing chunks of white Styrofoam masquerading as chicken. I tore open many a paper packet and watched the tiny freeze-dried noodles plump up in a swirl of boiling water.

The comfort may not be permanent. But it does help.

What are your go-to comfort foods?

 

Chicken Paprikas 3

This is a ridiculous photo, but it’s the only one I have. I never eat this little. I eat a FULL BOWL, primarily full of sauce, which is the best part of any meal. 

Chicken Paprikas (adapted from Joy of Cooking)

Ingredients:

Approximately 6 servings

1 to 1½ pounds of boneless skinless chicken breast, chopped into bite sized pieces (pre-cooked is ideal; I’ve included a modification below in case you want to use raw chicken breast)

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 white onion, chopped roughly

1 Idaho potato, chopped roughly

1 to 3 Tbsp paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

½ to 1 tsp salt

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1 8-oz container sour cream (I use the fat free sour cream from Trader Joe’s)

3 to 4 Tbsp flour or cornstarch

1 package egg noodles

Directions:

  1. Heat vegetable oil in a stock pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add onion and paprika (and optional cayenne) to vegetable oil, stirring occasionally, until dark red and glossy.
  3. Add salt, chopped chicken breast, and chicken stock. When the mixture comes to a boil, add the chopped potato. Simmer for 15-20 minutes until you can stick a fork into the potato chunks and they slide off easily. I don’t know how to say this a better way; make sure the potato is cooked.

* If you have raw chicken breast pieces, you can do this step slightly differently. Add the raw chicken together with the salt and stock. Then, once it comes to a boil, simmer everything for 15 minutes until cooked through. Then add the potato and cook for another 15 minutes.

  1. Whisk flour/cornstarch and sour cream together in a small bowl.
  2. Add a ladle full of the stock mixture to the sour cream mixture and whisk until incorporated. Do this three times.
  3. Add the tempered sour cream mixture to the pot. Stir.
  4. Serve over egg noodles.

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Welcome to the yearly recap! Which I am doing purely because Tradition and not because I want to!

Okay, and also for completeness. And also out of a sense of reciprocity, because I want to read YOUR recap. Link me to it in the comments, pretty please? I need some early 2018 reading.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 20162015201420132012201120102009.) (Holy moly, I’ve been doing this nonsense a long time.)

  • What did you do in 2017 that you’d never done before?

This is one of the questions I am beginning to find tiresome about this recap. (You may recall that last year I began throwing out questions that irritated me. This hasn’t made the reject list… yet.) Perhaps if my life were full of Once In A Lifetime Events, it would be less so. Well. I shall keep it if ONLY because next year I will have something to add. (Don’t get too excited.)

Anyway. The thing I did this year that I’d never done before was attending a weeklong writers’ conference. It was amazing, packed full of valuable information, exhausting, and 100% worthwhile.

  • Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Last year, I said:

This year, I am going to finish the novel. That’s my primary goal. It’s taking so much longer than I anticipated just to eke out a first draft. I need to find some way to speed up the process. Because the first draft is only the beginning.

Well shit.

I did NOT finish the novel. I did NOT find a way to speed up the process. In fact, I became mired deeply in the realization that this part of it is Slow Going. But it’s a good one to put back on the list.

Also, I want to work on my patience, especially when it comes to my husband and my daughter. I want to work on exercising more regularly, because it greatly improves my mental health. I want to work on eating better. I want to read more.

Oh look, I left on some of the questions that I refused to answer last year! Just so we can give them a smug glance and move on!

  • Did anyone close to you give birth?
  • Did anyone close to you die?
  • What countries did you visit?

Same as last every year: Not really a big year for travel.

This year, I visited five states besides my own: California, Florida, New York, Virginia, and my home state out west.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon. I mean, I have some trips coming up… but nothing out of the country until 2019.

  • What would you like to have in 2018 that you lacked in 2017?

What I said last year:

Better ability to prioritize my time. A fully drafted novel. Making my time with Carla richer, somehow, rather than making a bunch of slipshod and ultimately frustrating attempts at “activities.”

Yes, let’s go with the first two once again for 2018. I think I succeeded, a lot, with the third. Carla and I spent a lot more time together in 2017 than we ever have before, and much of it was really  GREAT. We do a lot of activities – games and art projects and baking projects and walks and bike rides – together, we go to museums and playgrounds, we snuggle together, we read together. If only I could get the PATIENCE thing down, I think it would be about perfect.

Also. Deep breath. Listen, I have tried really hard over the past few years to be okay with my body. It is what it is. For the most part, I have been okay with it. But with the ever compounding effects of aging coupled with some recent weight gain, I now find myself in a not-so-great place with regards to my physical appearance. So I would like to find a way to balance the work I need to do to achieve (a semblance of) what I WANT against the sometimes-impossible-to-achieve desire to just be Zen about the state of my physical being and accept it for what it is.

  • What dates from 2017 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

This is kind of cheating, because it just happened, but December 29 because that’s when I learned that Sue Grafton passed away. She is an author whose work I have read for decades. And I admire her writing deeply, and love her primary character and her body of work. So I was really saddened when I found out she’d died.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Applying and being accepted to the writers’ conference.

  • What was your biggest failure?

Once again, what I said last year applies:

Not getting enough words on the page each day! I can trot out a 7,000-word blog post of a morning, but I seem to spend hours and hours coming up with a measly 200 for my manuscript! What gives? If I can do it elsewhere, why can’t I blather and drivel my way through a first draft?

Other failures abound!

As I mentioned before, attending the writing conference was hugely valuable… but I let it intimidate me. And that was a huge failure. Instead of digging in and doing the work, I shrank away from it and didn’t write for… many weeks. Once I got back into it, I think my writing has been stronger and more purposeful. But I am ashamed of myself for being so naïve about the process and then letting the revelation that This Isn’t Easy throw me for such a loop.

As if THAT wasn’t enough of a failure… I even blogged less than I did in 2016. So I don’t really know what’s going on. I am kicking the writing into HIGH GEAR in 2018, that’s for damn sure.

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

In early September, I caught a cold. And it stuck around through all of September and then morphed into an atypical pneumonia in October. I finally kicked it in early November, but man. Being tired and unable to exercise for nearly two months was ROUGH. So, nothing serious (thank goodness) but it was annoying enough to be really memorable.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

I have no idea. My husband and I got each other a new mattress for Christmas, but the jury is still out on whether it’s better than our old mattress. I got a new coat that I like, and a new hat and scarf that I think are adorable.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

Every year I think it’s the same, so maybe this question should go on the reject list:

This goes 100% to my husband. He is a rockstar. I can’t even express all the ways he’s shown up this year without drowning my keyboard in tears, so let’s move on. 

  • Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?

As I said last year:

I mean do you really have to ask, non-sentient Survey created years ago with no knowledge of our current times? I think I’m going to cross this one out because it makes me sad and bewildered and fearful and shaky.

  • Where did most of your money go?
  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

The past couple of years, my answer has been about Carla and the holidays. And it just keeps getting better and better! She gets SO excited about everything! But she is also getting old enough to really think about the holidays and look forward to them. She was interested in Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and we went to Temple together. She was excited about Hanukkah and even lit the menorah all by herself (with close parental supervision, of course). She was excited about Christmas and had a blast picking out presents for her family and wrapping them herself, making Christmas cookies and chocolates, decorating the tree, and everything before, after, and in between. So much fun!

I also got really excited about the writing conference. It was a huge step outside my comfort zone, and I’m really glad I did it.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2017?

Carla has become OBSESSED with Taylor Swift. We listen to 1989 all the time in the car and she can sing most of the songs word for word. Her favorite is “Wildest Dreams.” I also think of “Despacito” when I think of this year, because it was on the radio a lot and because Carla really enjoyed it. There are others that I am not remembering because I am tired.

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder?
  2. b) thinner or fatter?
  3. c) richer or poorer?

This is a question I don’t care to answer anymore, I think. Are these really the benchmarks by which I want to measure the year? No, no I don’t think so. IRRITATED SCOWLING.

  • What do you wish you’d done more of?

Writing. (Always.) Reading. Prioritizing my time better. Exercising.

  • What do you wish you’d done less of?

Yelling. Looking at my phone. Looking at headlines and freaking out. Stressing about things I have no control over.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my parents. It was lovely and fun. We had snow. We had delicious food – my dad made a roast, my mom made a pie. We made chocolates – including three batches of caramel (two of which became caramel sauce rather than candies – very happy mistakes indeed). We played lots of games. We drank lots of wine. We watched lots of movies (Elf still makes me cry. Which makes me feel stupid. But man, there’s just something so TOUCHING about all those people singing Christmas carols together and believing in Santa!) It was relaxing and warm and delightful.

  • Did you fall in love in 2017?

Ugh. REJECT. Every year this one makes me gag a little. Let’s just say for the foreseeable future it will always be my husband, my daughter, or both of them.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

Oh, how I love television!!! Mindhunter was good. So was Ozark. I enjoyed The Fall, even though it wasn’t my husband’s favorite. Big Little Lies was amazing and I wish I could watch it again for the first time. Dark was pretty excellent. Major Crimes is in its last season, and I am sad about that, because I have loved the cast and the format since the early days of The Closer. I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, Fargo, Game of Thrones, The Great British Baking CompetitionShark TankBlack-ishFresh Off the BoatThe Middle, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Master of None and Catastrophe. God, I love TV.

  • Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I can’t even. This question has got to go.

  • What was the best book you read?

Last November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and started reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again). In February – Q Is for Quarry, to be exact – I grew weary of the project. But after reading her newest (and final) book Y Is for Yesterday this past October, I had a renewed desire to finish. So I have V and W left to go. And now I own the entire series.

Okay, that entire paragraph had nothing to do with the question. The best book, I think, is a three-way tie between Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, Joe Ide’s IQ, and Justin Cronin’s The Passage. All were excellent, and I still think about them. They were high points in an otherwise dreary year, reading-wise. I don’t know what my problem is. It’s not lack of good reading material, that’s for sure. I just have been in a Reading Funk. Oh well. It happens, I guess.

  • What did you want and get?

For Christmas: Some survivalist tools. A new painting by my mother. A white Christmas. A new mattress. A cozy sweater that I kept seeing on every gift guide ever. Books: a new one I’ve been eyeing and another I haven’t. Cozy socks.

In general: Acceptance to the writing conference. Lots of really great quality time with my husband and Carla. More confidence as a (part-time) stay-at-home-mom.

  • What did you want and not get?

Second verse, same as the first:

A finished first draft of my manuscript because I am SLOW.

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

I don’t watch many movies, so I am squinting really hard trying to remember ANY besides Moana. Which was, hands down, the best movie I’ve seen all year. So. Good. Carla and I both cried in the theater when watching it for the first time, and again when we watched it at home many weeks later.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
  • What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

Same as every year (don’t I ever PROGRESS as a person?!?!):

Being able to just LET GO and not freak out about EVERYTHING.

  • How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2017?

Um, trying to stay on trend enough to not feel like a Total Loser around the other moms at dropoff without giving in to Being Trendy or spending a million bucks? Does that count as a personal fashion concept?

  • What kept you sane?

My husband. Exercise. Mom friends. Being able to write every day most days.

  • Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

I have big writer crushes on Louise Erdrich, Celeste Ng, and the late Sue Grafton.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?
  • Who did you miss?

I have had a lot of serious loneliness for some of my good friends who don’t live in my state. My best friend from forever, who lives two time zones away. My dear friend from medical school (not that she or I actually went to medical school; our husbands did) who has two beautiful daughters and a wonderful husband and who is, herself, fantastic. I wish they lived nearer. Some college friends I miss.

  • Who was the best new person you met?

I have made a few new friends through Carla! Some are still in the very early stages, others are moving right along. I haven’t found a Best Friend yet, but that’s okay.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2017.

Same as last year because I find myself amusing:

Write it down, don’t write it right, for the love of all that is holey.

  • Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

(I don’t know if the following makes sense as a lyric or as the answer to this question, but it’s in my head, so I’m going with it.)

Will you remember me / standing in a nice dress / staring at the sunset babe.

Red lips and rosy cheeks / Say you’ll see me again / even if it’s just in your

Wildest dreams.

Happy New Year, Internet! I hope 2018 goes a hell of a lot better than 2017!

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Posting has become harder for me lately. The kinds of things I want to talk about in this space – cooking for my family, planning for the holidays, complaining about ridiculous things – seem so glib and frivolous what with the state of the world. I don’t want to ignore the grief and fear and outrage so many people are feeling so acutely these days. But nor do I want to post about those things; I am fully aware that my existential dread is not worth discussing in depth, and I don’t feel like I have anything substantial to contribute to the existing conversations around All Of This.

When I seek out content online, it is typically to distract me from what’s going on in the world. Yes, I try to stay informed, but I can’t linger too much or I want to crawl into bed and sob forever. Instead, I want to spend my free time reading blog posts about baby names and holiday gift suggestions and how people spend their day and what people are doing with the veggies from their latest CSA and what it’s like to send a child to college. Things that are fun and, sure, sometimes, important, but maybe not important important, you know? (Are you blogging these days? Leave me a link. I want to read your posts.)

So today I am trying to push through the resistance that comes from not wanting to be too cheerful in the face of (another) tragedy and talk about something frivolous and unimportant.

I want to talk about phases.

Carla is at the intersection of several, shall we say, “challenging” phases. The phase where she is four, so she obviously knows MUCH better than me what she should be doing at any given moment which results in me asking her to put on her shoes fifty times and then just putting them on myself because we are already 14 minutes late for school. The phase where she screams when she (perceives she) is Deeply Wronged. (She has NEVER been a tantrum thrower, so this is startling and I am Not A Fan.) The phase where she eats nothing (we have been here before, at least). Mornings are especially fun around my house, is what you should take from all this.

It is so very difficult, when you are in the midst of a phase, to see it as A Phase rather than The Way Things Shall Be Until The Bitter End. I am only looking at these as phases because I was complaining to my friend the other day and she very calmly said, “Gosh, phases always last about two weeks longer than you think they should.” And all of a sudden, I realized that yes! These were phases! They will not last forever! (Also: Two weeks? Hahahahaha, friend.)

Sure, I want to “enjoy every minute” and I certainly am not trying to wish time away. It goes by fast enough. But also sometimes being a parent SUCKS and I wish these phases would end more quickly.

Of course, the trade off is that one phase ends only to usher in a new, perhaps equally challenging phase.

BUT there is a bright side. An annoying bright side, for those of us who are Not At This Particular Stage Yet. But a bright side nonetheless and I am grasping at anything to keep me upright here people. The bright side is that once this phase passes, it will (probably) cease to seem that bad.

This must be biological, right? The way I sometimes think fondly of pregnancy and daydream about being pregnant again. When pregnancy – for me – was not just smiling strangers and baby hiccups and cute maternity clothes. Oh no. It was twenty-five weeks of all-day-every-day morning sickness. And sudden onset crying. And it lasted for FORTY-TWO WEEKS. It was NOT GREAT. Stop rose-coloring those pregnancy glasses, me.

But the same goes for challenging childhood phases! And I know it’s not just me. My mother and mother-in-law have this rosy vision of their own children and how perfect they were. It’s kind of dispiriting – almost insulting – in a way, to have your parent look at your child, shaking her head in utter disbelief, saying, “Boy, I never went through this with my kids! They were perfect!”

Okay, okay. I am exaggerating for effect. When they talk about how perfect their kids were (and you realize “their kids” are me and my husband, right? so perhaps there is a little creative license based on audience going on here), they are not doing it in comparison to how un-perfect Carla is. (Obviously, she IS perfect.) They are not jerks. And my mom even has a story about how she once took me to the doctor and asked him what was wrong with me, because I was driving her so absolutely crazy. But it doesn’t seem like she remembers the specifics of that particular challenging phase, just that it happened.

(And, to be fair, I haven’t yet asked her about the Challenging Teen Years. I am still too close to them to hear her discuss them without dismay and chagrin. So there could be some doozies awaiting me. Let’s get through the early childhood years first, shall we?)

What I’m saying is, it’s one thing to be smack in the middle of a challenging phase and another thing entirely to be looking back at it through the gauzy mist of the past. Perhaps it would be therapeutic to take a good hard look backward at some phases and remember them as they were, rather than as the dewy memories of an idyllic babyhood they have somehow become. And then remind ourselves that those phases ENDED and today’s phases will too.

The Pumping Phase. Worst. Ever. I produced a lot of extra milk, and the only way to not choke my baby was to pump before feeding her. And then, because she got enough nourishment from just one side, to pump the other side, again, afterward. I spent what felt like most of the day attached either to my child or to that horrific breast pump. It was a Very Challenging Phase but it ended.

The Spitting Up After Every Meal Phase. Oh. My. Goodness. That was so frustrating. And wet. I’m sure it had to do with all the extra milk. But I still had to feed the child, you know? And she spat up every single time. We got some of those cloth diaper inserts to use as burp rags, and then got a huge pile more, because we went through ten or more a day. And we had to buy huge stacks of pajamas because I’d have to change Carla after every feeding. (Which, if you recall, was every two hours at some point. EGADS.) I lived in tank tops and nursing bras because I could rotate them out every time the spit up landed on me. That phase sucked. But we eventually got through it.

The Refusal to Sleep on Her Own Phase. Oh, Carla. Until she was… two? Older? (See, how quickly I have forgotten?), Carla would not fall asleep unless my husband or I was holding her or at the very least in the room with her. My husband spent portions of many nights asleep on the floor in front of her crib. Because I could not fall asleep on the floor, I remember singing her endless verses of lullabies and then trying to back very slowly out of the room without her noticing. Very rarely successfully. UGH. That was rough. But it’s over now!

The Reckless Disregard for Personal Safety Phase. There was a time when Carla had the speed of a cheetah and the caution of those wild squirrels that leap out in front of your car as you drive through your neighborhood. There was one incident where she dashed into a PARKING LOT and I almost died right there, so certain was I that she would be crushed by a car. She used to run pell-mell down the halls of her school, completely oblivious to things like commands and other people and immovable obstacles. There was a memorable heart-stopping few moments at Target when she took off down an aisle and out of my sight. Now, at least, she has some sense that streets and parking lots are dangerous and that she needs to keep me in sight at all times. The phase ended, and I no longer have to carry her everywhere for fear that she will escape and fling herself off a cliff.

The Putting Everything in Her Mouth Phase. Yuck. I was not a fan. My floors were much cleaner, but still. I am glad this one’s in the rear view.

The Potty Training Phase. This one is partially my fault, because I got it into my head that she should potty train at age two even though I don’t think she was quite ready. And then it’s partially her daycare’s fault, because the classroom teacher decided she was going to potty train the entire class at the same time (why? WHY????), and then a few weeks later she quit. In any event, I am SO GLAD THIS ONE IS OVER.

The Postpartum Phase. This really has nothing to do with Carla, but when I look back on it, I wonder if I had some form of PPD or post-partum anxiety. I was so afraid to leave the house. There’s a picture of me and my husband and Carla together in a park when she was twelve days old. It’s super cute, and one of the first of the three of us together. But I don’t really like it because it carries with it all these bad feelings. I remember so clearly how awful that trip was, how afraid I was that something would happen to her, how hyper-aware I was of how soon we’d need to head home so I could pump and feed her, how upset I got when Carla started to cry. It seems as though she and I stayed in the house pretty much the entire time I was on maternity leave, even though she was a summer baby and the weather was (presumably? I don’t remember.) great. I was so fixated on all these potential horrors, constantly worrying that she was sick or there was something wrong with her, so afraid to put her in the car, afraid even to let her spend time alone with my husband or my mom, just in case something happened to me or her at that very moment. I needed to be there. I couldn’t miss out. Add that to the endless pumping/breastfeeding cycle and it wasn’t the happiest time. So very glad that ended.

Of course, there are other phases that I truly miss. Like when Carla was learning to talk, and every day meant a few new words to practice and delight over. Like when she was a snuggly, happy six-month-old who stayed in one spot. Like when she called me Mama.

And there are other phases she’s in the midst of now that I never want to end: The Wakes Up Singing Phase. Or the Phase Where She and Her Friends All Compare Outfits and Jewelry the Second They See Each Other at School (it is ridiculous and adorable). Or the Phase Where She Wants to Help Me in the Kitchen. Or the Voice-Texting Daddy Super Sweet Things Phase. Or the Just Learning How to Read Phase. Or the “I Love You So Much I Never Want to Live Anywhere Without You” Phase.

She is a joy and a delight and I am glad to hold on to the good phases and let the bad ones fade into the detritus of memory.

What are the childhood phases you really miss? The ones that couldn’t have ended soon enough? And the ones you are not looking forward to? (Me, I’m just trying to focus on getting through TODAY. I am not even thinking about the Door Slamming Phase or the Boy-Crazy Phase or the Upsetting Report Card Phase.)

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