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Archive for the ‘The Great Unknowable Future’ Category

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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Unrelated to the title of this post: Carla has recently begun speaking with what I can only describe as a Baltimore accent. We do not live in or near Baltimore.

Now to the topic at hand.

You know how sometimes there are good things going on in your life – good, or at the worst, neutral – and you know you should feel happy and grateful… and you DO, you do feel happy and grateful… but also they are kind of stressing you the cluck out?

Yes. That.

It’s kind of like saying that you have an exotic luxury cruise coming up, and you are so stressed about whether the new bathing suit you ordered is going to give you weird tan lines but you may not have enough time to get the strapless version shipped to you from Milan… and you are having anxiety about making sure that your Ferrari is going to be driven once a week while you’re gone… and you’re hosting a welcome party for Beyonce’s twins but the caterer isn’t very responsive and you’re not sure if she was able to get the live baby lobsters you wanted to give out as party favors.

Why are you complaining about something that is a) voluntary and b) positive? Why are you expending energy on being anxious about THIS when there is so very much going on in the world to which you could direct your worry? CAN YOU NEVER BE HAPPY?!?!?!?!

I mean, I’m not saying I’m going on a fancy vacation or that I even have a Ferrari. (Nope. My turn-of-the-century Honda doesn’t even dress up as a Ferrari for Halloween.) And Beyonce and I are just not that close. But… good things, nonetheless.

[Edited to add: This is nothing crazy out of the ordinary, by the way. It’s more along the lines of — but not quite — buying a new house: great! But accompanied by lots of meetings with the mortgage broker and dealing with home inspections and packing and learning the new neighborhood. Or like — but not quite — getting a promotion, where you may get a raise and a new title but you have added responsibilities and maybe need to take a management class and also now you have to give presentations to the whole company. That sort of Good Thing with Added Stresses.]

So. Good things. And yet… I am stressed out.

There are so many logistics! And planning! And phone calls! And Unknown Things!

My face is breaking out from the overwhelming weight of Copious Junk Food and Excessive Anxious Thoughts (not to mention the heat, that awful old-dish-sponge heat that lies on you in a stinky, sticky, damp layer). I cried on the phone to a stranger this morning. My sentences tend to begin in my head and end in speech, leaving the person I am speaking to feeling confused and a little concerned that I am in need of medical attention. I am forgetting things, and having to re-do things.

Part of this is because I have not had an uninterrupted night’s sleep in a week, instead spending the wee hours of the morning staring at the ceiling fan as all sorts of horrific tragedies play out in my brain in Game of Thrones style gore.  Waking up at every hour like clockwork solely to watch the ticker tape of Things That Have to Be Done scroll across the bottom of my mind screen while a wide-eyed newscaster screeches Breaking! News! of Things That Are Making Me Anxious one right after another. Sitting straight up in bed in a panic about something ridiculous, like the well-being of the (now two) baby deer who live part time in our yard. And when I am sleeping, I am having nightmares of the trying-to-save-my-child-from-a-shooter variety.

On top of everything, Carla is turning FOUR, which means that I am also smack in the middle of my annual Mooning About the Relentless Passage of Time and also Having Strong Feelings About Carla’s Birth because that will apparently never stop being a hot topic for my brain to stew over.

Also, there was a centipede in my kitchen this morning.

[Edited to add: Not five minutes — MINUTES — after I posted this, I went into my bathroom and there was a giant silverfish lounging on the floor, all, come at me, bro.]

To combat the stress, I am: A) Making lists. B) Reminding myself, in a stern but kind way, that the stress is in service of a positive outcome. C) Working out as often as possible (which makes it sound like I am at the gym multiple times a day, when really I am trying to get back up to the baseline of multiple times a week), because there is something weirdly soothing about sweat and working-out-related pain. D) Writing it all down in great melodramatic whiny paragraphs, then deleting it. (This post is, um, the not-deleted part.) E) Telling you, in hopes that you Get It and/or will distract me with something, anything. F) Trying to take some of the creative energy that is currently going toward catastrophizing and redirect it toward my actual writing. G) Keeping caffeine to a minimum. H) Reciting the things I am grateful for in a loop while in the car, in bed, in the shower.

Are any of these things working to keep the anxiety at bay? Not so far, no. But these are early days. And what do I know? Maybe they are keeping the stress at a lower level than it would be otherwise. WHAT A FUN THOUGHT THAT IS.

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Yesterday was Carla’s last day of preschool. It was a short day, so I ran to Target after I dropped her off. I had a list of things we needed, and a stack of coupons, and a cartload of Feelings, and where better to go when you have Feelings, I ask you, than to Target, where you can mindlessly wander the aisles and also participate in the soothing act of buying things?

It surprised me – which is surprising, knowing me – how much I was affected by The End of Preschool. I’ve been having terrible dreams for days: the one where I’m trying to save Carla from an active shooter but the only path away is riddled with motorcyclists and highways full of speeding cars; the one where I’m trying to save her from a furious grizzly bear lumbering toward us at the terrifying speed of bears; the one where she’s swimming with her face in the water and I’m terrified she’ll drown (way to be super original in your choice of metaphors, sub-conscious).

It’s pretty clear that this little milestone is presenting as a more significant marker of The Ceaseless Passage of Time than maybe it should be.

 

Right after I yanked my cart from the corral (and wiped down the handle with my own sanitizing wipe; I am nothing if not a germaphobe, and the wipes provided by Target say NOTHING about being sanitizing), I heard the two part harmony of children crying. The volume and intensity ramped up as I rounded the $1 section, and as I trekked down the aisle between the purses/jewelry section and the bank of checkouts, I could make out words. The older child was wailing, “I want the candy!” Her younger sibling was crying, too, but – it seemed to me – in sympathy rather than in any sort of personal outrage. The older child was really getting into it, hysterical sobs punctuated by very loud, very insistent screams of “I want the candy!” Her timbre and noise level read full-on meltdown and I am sure her mother was glad of the early-morning dearth of shoppers.

I felt, as one does, great affection and empathy for the mother, who was calmly unloading her cart onto the conveyor belt as her child railed and flailed.

As I passed, I overheard the person behind the family note, to the mother, “She wants the candy!” in a tone that conveyed bewilderment as to how the mother had missed this crucial point. And the mother responded, with great patience, “I know, but she can’t have the candy because she hit her sister. And I can’t give her candy just because she’s upset.”

Oh, internet! I was already weepy with all the sunrise, sunset feelings that The End of Preschool had brought on. But now, here was a mom who was just doing her best to teach her children, who was being scolded – albeit very gently, it seemed, from my in-motion and distant eavesdropping – for allowing her child to scream rather than just giving her the damn candy, and, in addition, she was calmly and steadfastly defending her actions to said scolder. Like she really needed a THIRD person to instruct when all she wanted was to buy her diapers and her chicken dinosaurs and get the hell out of there. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, internet, and tell her she is doing such a good job. That it will be all right.

But I don’t know that it will be. And especially at that moment, when I had to suppress the urge to shout, “Give her the candy now because she’ll be off to college in an eyeblink and you need to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT!”

 

We’ve been enjoying some really glorious weather the past week or so. Low humidity. Cool breezes. Warm sunshine. Carla and I have been spending as much time outdoors as possible.

One of our favorite activities of late is “bubbles.” I have this enormous bubble wand (from Target, obvs.) that produces excellent bubbles, both in size and quantity. I stand in our front yard and wave the wand, and then Carla chases the bubbles and tries to pop them (often with her face, which I have tried explaining is not the smartest plan).

It’s good from an energy-expenditure standpoint; Carla really throws herself into the chase. She runs hard, she leaps, she twirls, she dives. I contemplate her future as a soccer star. After fifteen or twenty minutes, she’s breathing hard and I know she will sleep well.

But aside from being good exercise (for her; unless you count “mild upper arm tiredness” as exercise on my part), it’s also kind of magical. The bubbles have their own sort of childish beauty, shiny and round, bumbling around the yard on air currents, nudging into one another, popping on the grass. When a breeze picks up, they erupt from the wand all at once: a flock of smooth and iridescent birds, bobbing this way and that in luminous clusters. When the air is still, they form slowly, elongating shimmers that finally coalesce into globes, unsure of their shape as they stretch and wobble through the air.

I love watching them burst against Carla’s hand, her cheek, her blond head. Even more, I love watching the gleaming orbs drift skyward, growing smaller as they rise, pinpricks of light against the clouds.

 

Preschool ending must have really messed me up, because – despite my list – I kept forgetting things. So I’d be in the pretzel aisle and remember that I forgot to pick up vitamins. And then I would schlep all the way back to the vitamin aisle… and realize I forgot all about Carla’s shampoo, on the complete other side of Target. And then I’d get to that side and remember I needed aluminum foil, which was way back in the opposite corner. It was a good thing I had a couple hours to kill, because I traversed that Target many times over.

One of my coupons was for 20% off Cat & Jack toddler clothing (ONE item, which at least they now state on the back of the coupon; harrumph). So I searched for awhile among the toddler clothes. But really, Carla is big enough now to shop in the older children’s section. (Of course, a pair of shorts in size XS or 4 may be identical in price to a pair of 4T shorts in the toddler section, but the coupon is applicable only to the 4T shorts.)

A whole end-cap of socks was on clearance. The display was in disarray, with all the sizes out of order. I dug around until I found the style I liked in size medium — lots of colorful stripes; pom moms on the back of one pair. A pack of Frozen socks caught my eye; Carla has a set that she’s outgrowing, so it would be nice to replace them. But they only had XL and XS – enormous socks for much older children; little teeny socks for tiny baby feet. So I had a little cry right there in the clearance section.

A whole wall of Carlas, at every age. Little wide-eyed infant with the jerky kicks and the balled up fists. Soft blond fuzz and chubby thighs crawling across the carpet. One-year-old Carla shrieking with delight as she clutches a blue carnation in her fist. Eighteen-month-old Carla saying “Hi, hi, hi” into a toy phone or digging into a baby-Carla-size pumpkin with an enormous spoon. Two-year old Carla eating snow by the bowlful, cheeks pink from the cold. Three-year-old Carla jumping gleefully on a trampoline in the backyard, blond curls taking flight around her. Three-year-old Carla in her polka dot dress and backpack posing with her chin up on her first day of school. Three-and-a-half-year-old Carla, fearless on skis, twirling with her father on ice skates, arms wrapped around the neck of a tolerant neighbor dog. Nearly-four-year-old Carla, chasing bubbles in the sunshine. Lifting her feet off the ground and gliding on her balance bike. Bending over a drawing – real! recognizable! – of a person. Skipping down the hall toward her classroom for the last time, “Elsa” braid swinging at her back. Slipping away from me, ever forward, not a glance behind.

Me, running to catch up. Never having mastered now enough to fully enjoy it. Grasping to hold onto each glimmering moment, even as the breeze catches it and pushes it up into the sky.

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Ocean.JPG

The only ship on that entire vast sea is barely a white fleck on the horizon.

Well, after all that gift discussion (after which I begrudgingly admit that even though my husband has The Exact Opposite Feelings on the topic to me, he is not the only one and maybe I should give him a break), my family visited my in-laws for spring break and I brought lots of wearable gifts my mother-in-law has bought us over the years, and she noticed and commented on ALL of it, in an affirming I’m-so-happy-you-actually-wear-that! sort of way. And I was glad.

We had SUCH a nice time over spring break, and I think the nicest part of all was that Carla was SO EASY.

She is a happy, affectionate, inquisitive child who tends toward the super-high-energy end of the energetic spectrum. Which, in the hands of her introvert, prefers-to-lie-on-the-couch-quietly-and-read-a-book-by-herself mother, can translate into exhausting. We have kept past vacations to an X-day limit because she gets bored and then the energy cranks up to 7,000 and she begins bouncing off the walls and furniture. But this year, mainly because of an incompatibility between airline ticket prices and reasonable flight times (I am NOT boarding a plane for home with my gets-more-energized-the-more-tired-she-gets toddler at eight p.m. thank you very much), we ended up staying a full week. And it was GREAT. Everything was great.

Carla was a peach of a traveler, both ways. She happily walked around the airport (with us, obviously) before our flight, looking at all the glorious toys in the many gift shops and newsstands, asking us to add a variety of items to her birthday list. She was excited about everything: the airplanes lined up outside the airport, going through security, people traveling with dogs, wearing her little penguin backpack, getting on the plane, having her own seat, plane snacks, seeing the clouds, seeing the ocean from the windows, watching Sofia appisodes over and over (she has an Amazon Fire tablet for kids that keeps her busy and happy for hours), landing, waving at friendly strangers, running full-steam to hug her grandmother when we left the concourse.

While we were in Florida, she was GREAT. She ate well, she was happy and charming. She was enthusiastic about every one of the seven million projects her grandmother had set up for her. She was happy vegging in front of the TV whenever the grown ups needed a minute. She loved the pool, the beach, the boat we took to a little island, the ocean, shells, lizards, local dogs, collecting rocks, watering the plants, pretending to drive her grandfather’s car, going to restaurants, eating ice cream. All of it. She went to bed late pretty much every night we were there, and napped maybe twice, and yet she was good natured and happy to play by herself or happy to play with a grown up, just happy in general.

Great. She was great.

So of course all of this has me thinking – maybe more concretely than usual – about babies, and how great they are, and how yes they are challenging sometimes but look! it all turns out so GREAT!

Listen: DON’T GET YOUR HOPES UP. I’m just musing here. I’m just thinking idly, happily, about a topic (babies) that interests me to no end. It doesn’t mean anything.

My husband and I are 95% certain that Carla is IT. There are many many wonderful, valid, reasonable reasons to have more than one child; there are – despite those who may disagree – an equal number of wonderful, valid, reasonable reasons to have just the one. (Or none! If that’s your choice!) So we are very comfortable with that near-decision.

But it is a near-decision, not a final one. We haven’t taken any measures. We haven’t donated the large pile of baby stuff in our basement. We haven’t stopped talking about it.

It’s just that the conversations always turn to, We love having just Carla. We feel complete. We feel happy.

But…

I still think about Another Baby, every day. Carla was such a great baby, and watching her grow and learn and develop her personality has been such a complete wondrous delight; part of me feels so sad that I won’t get to experience that with another baby.

Following nearly two weeks of Carla At Her Best, it’s easy to imagine that another baby might be doable. I’m not saying I WANT another baby. I’m just saying that, before, I couldn’t picture at ALL how a tiny, needy infant would work into our family. Because Carla is a hands-on, all-hands-on-deck kid. Now, I have this glimpse of what a more mature Carla might be like: (slightly) more serene, more independent, more able to channel that immense energy into activities that don’t put her in immediate danger and leave me whirling.

Anyway, it has me thinking, five years wouldn’t be such a bad distance between two siblings.

Let us forget the fact that we were on vacation and so we were removed from our normal pattern of life… and that we were much more relaxed and less time pressured than on a normal day… and that Carla had not her normal one-most-of-the-time, sometimes-two adults but four to attend to her every whim… and that prior to spring break, I had a week-long stomach bug, which was horrendous, and Carla was just off, complaining of a tummy ache and not eating anything much at all, so by comparison OF COURSE everything is easier… and FOUR ADULTS. Let’s not take ANY of those factors into consideration when we look at how easy it has become to parent my nearly-four-year-old. Instead, let us jump headlong into LET’S THINK ABOUT MORE BABIES.

Clearly, I have become infected with some sort of tropical brain-altering disease. So let’s turn this discussion away from ME (and, as much as it may hurt to clamp your hand over your mouth, away from Why We Need Another Baby) and toward YOU and the infinitely interesting topic of baby spacing.

What, for you, is the ideal spacing between siblings? Has your opinion changed – perhaps after you experienced the spacing in real time? What is your own experience with any siblings you have – are you a good distance apart? What are the plusses and minuses?

My brother and I are six years apart. That’s a big gap in many ways; when I went off to college he was still in middle school. Six years represents a huge difference in interests and pursuits and abilities. I wouldn’t say we’ve ever been close, although we certainly love (and like) each other. As adults, we don’t talk particularly often, but we have a good time when we’re together. For (possibly false) reference, I read or heard somewhere that a six-year age difference is like having two only children, which has plusses and minuses.

A former colleague of mine has two boys five years apart. She maintains that five years is the PERFECT distance. The older child is old enough to be helpful and self-entertaining when the baby is born. You’re far enough out of the nursing/no-sleeping infant stage that it doesn’t seem as daunting anymore. The older child is in school part of the day. There won’t be two children in college at the same time. Other reasons that I didn’t pay close enough attention to at the time, because I was DONE. Am done.

Someone my husband works with said that four years is the perfect distance. That happens to be the same spacing between my husband and his sister, who have a slightly-closer-but-not-by-much relationship than I do with my brother. I don’t particularly want to ask their mother what the plusses and minuses of that spacing are(, considering her opinion is that we are HARMING Carla by not giving her a sibling; if that is your opinion as well, I kindly ask that you refrain from sharing it here). I would guess that many of the same reasons as the five-year spacing apply.

In any event, the four-year-spacing ship has sailed for us.

A woman from my long-defunct book club had three boys, one right after another. I’m sure they weren’t exactly a year apart, but it seemed that way. And she swore by that method: you get the baby stage over with all at once. It’s not super while you’re in it, but then it’s OVER. The same goes for all the rest of life’s experiences, I suppose. And all your kids are close-knit, or at least have a good chance of it.

Most of my friends are in the eighteen-months-apart to three-years-apart club. Again, for me, all that’s left of that particular ship is a tired crest of wake finally breaking against the shore.

I think, for my particular personality, and my own brand of I Am Not Cut Out to Be a Mother at All, Let Alone to Two Children, a bigger space would be better. This may be obvious, considering that I have a nearly-four-year-old and am just now getting around to moving the dial from 95% sure we are done to 93% sure. But the idea of breathing space between the stages seems attractive. (Ignoring, of course, that all kids are in stages all the time, so there would really be NO breathing room.) It’s really too bad I didn’t start much younger; an eighteen-year-old and a newborn has its appeal.

See? I must have some sort of Only In Florida parasite munching away at the reasoning centers of my brain.

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I am dreading this recap this year, for some reason. Yet I am still doing it because TRADITION. I think I may start liberally tossing questions out the window. So BE PREPARED FOR THAT.

(This yearly recap originated with Linda of All & Sundry. If you’re so inclined, you can read past versions of my responses: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009.)

Oh! And if YOU do this yearly recap, always or for the first time this year, send me a link in the comments won’t you? I love reading these.

  • What did you do in 2016 that you’d never done before?

I quit my job to write a novel. (Which I have not yet completed, BLARGH.) (Prediction: I sense that the topic of the previous parenthetical may reappear below.)

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

Last year, I said:

This year, I want to prioritize my husband, quality time with my kid, balance in my life… and I also want to really work on personal fulfillment. That sounds… vague and a little frou-frou and a lot privileged, but I think it will honestly help with the first three priorities. At least, I hope so. And I’m going to try.

I do think I have made solid steps on all fronts, and I attribute all progress to leaving my job at the end of March. I feel very fortunate that I have this little pocket of time during which I can be part-time novelist/part-time stay-at-home-mom. The reduction in stress has helped me be more present with my husband and daughter, and helped me really focus on contributing to my family in new ways. It has not been easy, for me, to give up on being a financial contributor. That has altered the identity I always felt I had, and it has been a challenge to adapt. But I do think I’m contributing in new and different ways, or at least contributing more in areas where I wasn’t before.

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.

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

Same as last year: Not really a big year for travel. I visited three states besides my own: Illinois, Florida, and my home state. All with Carla.

I can’t really imagine the answers changing in a big way anytime soon.

  • What would you like to have in 2017 that you lacked in 2016?

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.”

  • What dates from 2016 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 31, which was my last day of working in the office.

  • What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Taking a leap of faith and quitting my office job. (OMG, broken record much?)

  • What was your biggest failure?

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?

  • Did you suffer illness or injury?

I am currently enjoying a bout of asthmatic bronchitis, which is super fun. Other than that, nothing too crazy.

  • What was the best thing you bought?

Scrivener!!! It is a tool for writers and I loooooooove it.

  • Whose behavior merited celebration?

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?

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?

This question sucks. I really want to say something fun like “a new ski lodge in Aspen!” or “a twelve-week trek around Europe!” I guess I could say my potential earnings went toward financing my lifelong dream but that makes me feel dizzy and sick to my stomach so MOVING ON.

  • What did you get really, really, really excited about?

Last year I said: The holidays this year. Carla is so excited about EVERYTHING, and it is so fun to see that.

As with last year, I didn’t even KNOW what excited was! She has been super over the moon about everything. And she gets stuff now. Like, she understood the little countdown-to-Christmas calendar I put in her room, and the last couple of days she switched the numbers all by herself before I even got to her room. She has been really gung-ho about Hanukkah, and has helped her dad light the menorah and say the prayers. She loved decorating the tree and every night for a week she would pick up a present that she knew was for her and squeeze it and hop up and down and say, “It’s so HARD to WAIT until Christmas to open my present!” I mean, a tree full of presents and she didn’t realize most of them were for her, and yet she got So Worked Up about this one tiny thing. She loved all the holiday books I pull out each year, and expressed interest in Santa and Baby Jesus and the Maccabees alike. She loved the stockings, and asked questions about how Santa could do such and such. She loved painting ornaments for her grandparents. She loved collecting the Amazon boxes from the front stoop and putting them in the guest room to await her grandmother’s arrival. She loved singing Christmas carols. Everything this year was just SO. MUCH. FUN. I hope we have at least a couple more years of this pure, unadulterated joy in the season. It’s a mood lifter for sure, and helps make all those I-want-them-to-be-fun-and-meaningful-but-are-really-kind-of-tedious projects seem worthwhile and enjoyable.

  • What song(s) will always remind you of 2016?

I have to say the Frozen soundtrack. Carla hadn’t seen a movie in her entire life until Christmas 2015, and once we started we couldn’t stop. As toddlers are wont to do, she fell in love with Frozen and we have watched it eleventy billion times. PLUS we bought the Frozen soundtrack (we call it “Carly Songs”) on CD (yes, I still use CDs in my car) and we have listened to THAT at least seventy gazillion times. Also: Justin Beiber’s “Sorry” and “Let Me Love You” by DJ Snake featuring The Beibs. “Waves” by Miguel (the Kacey Musgraves version). “One Dance” by Drake. Carla does a mean dance move to Drake, and sings along very sweetly to “Let Me Love You” and “Waves.” Also also, on the classical front, I have grown very attached to Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2. I have some fantasy that I will learn to play it. (HA.)

  • Compared to this time last year, are you:
  1. a) happier or sadder? Happier but more fearful about the future, I think?
  2. b) thinner or fatter? Fatter. Which kind of sucks because I lost 12 pounds after I left my job. I have since gained it back. But I kind of hate this question because I just do. I am scowling at it.
  3. c) richer or poorer? I am skipping this question because math.

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. MORE SCOWLING.

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

Writing. (Always.) Submitting my work for publication. Figuring out a better time management system.

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

Worrying. Yelling. Procrastinating. Writing poor-quality apocalyptic poetry. Wasting time on my phone. Feeling too hot or too cold; that’s really annoying when the house maintains a stable temperature.

  • How did you spend Christmas?

Here at home, with my husband and Carla, and my husband’s parents. It was lovely and fun. Also lovely and fun was adding my sister and niece the day after Christmas, but that amped up the freneticism by several degrees. How does adding ONE additional child to the mix make things exponentially more crazy?

  • Did you fall in love in 2016?

Ugh. Every year this one makes me gag a little, but I definitely fell more in love with my husband. He has been supportive of me and my dreams in a way that shatters me. I hope I make him feel even half as loved and understood and… seen as he makes me feel.

And, as we allow the tears to dry a bit, I fall newly in love with Carla with each new stage in her life. Three has been challenging, but it has also been utterly delightful as she becomes more independent and imaginative and curious and affectionate and funny and fun and inquisitive. I just adore her.

  • What was your favorite (new) TV program?

What a year for TV! Standouts from the year include the OJ Simpson mini-series, The Night Of, Westward, and the Gilmore Girls revival (even though I hated GG as much as I loved it – many flaws, no?). I also loved the latest seasons of The Americans, The Great British Baking Competition, Shark Tank, Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, The Middle, and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. What can I say? I like feel-good shows to balance out the gritty stuff slash real life. Oh! And two series my husband and I watched and loved that were new to us this year were 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?

I READ SO MANY BOOKS THIS YEAR! Contenders for best book include A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, The Round House by Louise Erdrich, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, and A Doubter’s Almanac by Ethan Canin. There have been others, but those are the standouts. For me, all had great stories with interesting, well-rounded characters, and truly beautiful language that enriched the story without getting in the way. Then sometime in November I fell into a Sue Grafton wormhole and have been reading my way through her Kinsey Millhone series (again) because it’s fun.

  • What did you want and get?

A chance to write a book. More time with my daughter. More time to exercise. More time in general, I guess. Less stress. And also this gorgeous green coat from Boden that unfortunately didn’t fit so BOO to that. My hips are not British enough, it seems. Oh! And I got the sheet music for Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9 No. 2, and have been painstakingly picking out the right hand notes. That’s really all I’ve managed.

  • What did you want and not get?

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

  • What was your favorite film of this year?

Let’s see. My husband and I took a break from watching TV to watch all of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies. That was fun, but I wasn’t as… enamored of the most recent (last?) film as I was of the earlier ones. (To be fair, Daniel Craig seemed less enamored of it as well.) Did I watch anything else? Of the (many) kids’ movies I’ve seen this year, Brave is my favorite, followed by Wall-E and then probably a tie between Tangled and Frozen. I did not care for Zootopia, and Robin Hood – a childhood favorite – sadly did not live up to my memory version. (Robin Hood himself is still by far the foxiest cartoon I’ve ever encountered, though. No pun intended.)

EDITED TO ADD: My husband and I watched Sicario just last night, right under the 2016 wire, and it was really well done. Dark and disturbing but a heart-thumping, thought provoking film.

  • What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I turned 35 this year, and I can’t really remember what I did. Which is a pattern at least a few years running, so I am getting rid of this question.

  • 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 2016?

Same as last year: I have full-on embraced the leggings-as-pants “style” that I used to disdain. COMFORT IS KEY. In your face, Past Me!

Also, this year I started doing Fabletics (I joined Fabletics? I am not sure of the proper verbiage here. It’s just a subscription service in the vein of Stitch Fix. Sort of. Third cousins.), and so have added some very cute workout ensembles to my wardrobe, which means that sometimes I switch up my leggings with legging-like yoga pants. You can spot the difference because I wear tennis shoes with the yoga pants version.

  • What kept you sane?

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

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

I adore Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan of Catastrophe. The characters they play are adorable and funny and in-your-face in a way I find charming. Sterling K. Brown. Constance Wu (her and her character as Jessica Huang on Fresh Off the Boat) because she seems fearless and take-no-prisoners and also is hilarious and beautiful and talented. Kelly Bishop as Emily Gilmore. Okay, so maybe these are primarily TV CHARACTERS and not necessarily the actors themselves but whatever.

  • What political issue stirred you the most?

Nope. NOPE. Not even going to. CUT.

  • Who did you miss?

Same as last year, although – shocker – blogging more frequently myself has helped a teeny bit: I guess I most missed the bloggers I used to interact with regularly, back when I blogged frequently and they blogged frequently. I suppose I should figure out a way to do Twitter (which makes me uncomfortable for some reason).

  • Who was the best new person you met?

As last year, I don’t know that I met many new people this year. AM A HERMIT. Oh wait, that’s not true. I have made a couple of (tentative strides toward making) mom friends through Carla’s new school.

  • Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2016.

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.)

Don’t you give up, nah nah nah / Never give up, nah nah nah / Let me love you.

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

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Lately, I’ve been watching Gilmore Girls reruns while I exercise (side note: watching Gilmore Girls from the Lorelai perspective rather than the Rory perspective is a WHOLE different experience) and the other day was the episode where Rory goes away to college. Which is how I ended up sobbing on the treadmill.

Because Carla’s impending entrance into pre-school is so similar to GOING AWAY TO COLLEGE.

Yes, my tiny baby begins pre-school later this month. And I am a mess A MESS about it. I know – I know – a big source of my anticipatory dread is that I have a ton of My Baby Is Growing Up FEELINGS. It’s happening so fast, you know? Before I know it, she’s going to be waving at me from her dorm room and then shutting the door.

Okay, I am tearing up again.

So let’s rapidly scoot past those and get to the more practical aspects of my fretting, which can be broken out into three categories:

I Hate Change

We have enrolled Carla in the same private school her father went to for his whole life. This is a good thing. But it means that she will be switching out of the daycare she’s been in since last November. And I am not good with change.

Last fall, when we moved her from the daycare she’d been in since she was three months old to the one she’s in now – and which turned out to be Far Better, So Much So That I Feel Regret About Not Sending Her Here From the Get Go – it was so hard. I think I flubbed it, to be honest. I didn’t really think about what a tremendous change it would be, and so I did a piss poor job of preparing Carla. And so the transition was really rough on her. AS IT WOULD BE.

So this time, my husband and I are trying to find the perfect balance between preparing Carla for this shift and freaking her out about it. But it’s going to be stressful – there’s just no way around it. No matter how old you are, new situations are stressful. Well, at least they are stressful for ME. And Carla is only three and I’m not sure exactly how much she really understands what’s going to happen.

I am having Empathy Fret for Carla about suddenly being wrenched from her teachers… and a familiar routine and surroundings… and her friends.

Plus, I love her daycare. I love her teachers. (Although Carla would, if she stayed at this daycare, switch to new teachers almost immediately, so that aspect of change is inevitable.) I like the staff a lot. I am familiar with MY part of the routine. And she is so confident and happy at this daycare. I hate that we are going to completely eliminate that source of confidence and happiness and comfort from her life.

(Side Note: One of her core teachers left at the end of July, and I almost starting crying saying goodbye to her. And then she left Carla the SWEETEST note about how even if she didn’t see Carla until she – the teacher – is an old woman, she will recognize Carla for her spirit. OMG I was sobbing as I read it.)

This Is Going to Be a Whole New Schedule – for Both of Us

Pre-school goes from 8:30 to 11:30. Then we have the option to add-on lunch and some enrichment time and some aftercare if we need to. I think there’s also a morning-care option too, if necessary. So what we’re doing – now that I am working for myself, from home – is adding lunch and enrichment. On Fridays, Carla will be done at 11:30.

This will be a Big Difference from our current schedule, which is daycare from 9:00 to 5:00.

So I am pre-emptively fretting about that.

Will she get enough stimulation/intellectual challenge/exercise between 8:30 and 2:30?

I’m super excited about having more time, just the two of us. But… what are we going to DO? Will she be tired from school, and need a nap? I don’t think there’s a nap time at school, and she’s used to napping at about 1:30, so I’m anticipating that she’ll be super tired. And if she does nap, now at around 3:00, what will that do to the rest of the day?

What if she finds me super boring? What if we like each other LESS once we spend more time together?

On the other, more selfish, hand, will I be able to get enough work done between 8:30 and 2:30? Will I resent my time with Carla? These are the things I’m most afraid of, I think. That the new schedule will open some sort of rift between us.

I Don’t Know What to Expect

I went to public school all the way until college. In a small town allllll the way across the country from where we live. I don’t know anything about private school in general, or THIS private school, specifically. For instance, I bought a cute shirt on sale at Carter’s for Carla to wear to her new school… and my husband shook his head and said that it wouldn’t meet the school’s dress code. Dress code? Oh right, I remember vaguely that when I met my husband he didn’t own a pair of jeans. Because denim is not on the dress code at his school. (Where I come from, you can wear jeans to CHURCH.)

So, okay, dress code. That’s one thing I’m going to have to figure out. No denim. No logos. No words. My husband insists no pictures, either – like, you can’t have a shirt with a butterfly on it. That’s making it a LITTLE difficult to shop.

And I don’t know about drop-off and pick-up – I’m sure we’ll learn about that, but since I don’t have a clue, I’m anxious about it. Will I have to arrive super early? Will I be spending hours each week in a long car line? Will I just… open the door and let Carla out? She’s my BABY, how can I trust she’ll get where she needs to go without me?

And I don’t know what the teachers are going to want/expect in terms of parental involvement. Like, will they expect me to ask questions and talk to them every day? Which I’m fine with! Or will they expect that I will only talk to them when they have an issue to bring up? Which I am less fine with.

And what about parental involvement beyond my own child? Will they expect me to join the PTA? I have never been part of the PTA! I am open to it. And I do like the idea of a sort of forced-interaction with other parents, which might result in some new friendships. But: ACK NEW EXPERIENCE ACK.

You must know that I WANT to send Carla to this school! I feel GRATEFUL that we are able to send her to this school! It is a FANTASTIC school! When I first visited, I was blown away by the campus and the class options and I listened with dreamy delight as my husband told me about his teachers and the courses he took. And HE went there, and HE turned out great! The school has a values system that they take seriously and it infuses their entire curriculum, and I think my husband embodies those values. He is honest and straightforward and hardworking and believes in being a contributor to his community. I think his school had a lot to do with why he’s such a great guy. And he still, to this day, has friends from school. Friends that have become MY friends, and whose kids have become friends with my kid. And those friends are all pretty great people too. AND! It provides a top-notch academic education! And it has great activities! And it’s just a super all-around school. I am SO GLAD that Carla was accepted (yes, of course there was an intensive application process) and I am DELIGHTED that she will be attending this school.

But everything about it is so foreign. Ev. Ree. Thing.

Those are the main Sources of Anticipatory Dread, but thousands of others keep flitting through my head: What if she’s too rambunctious or enthusiastic? What if the transition is super stressful? What if the school turns out NOT to be a good fit? What if she won’t eat the food there? What if she hates her teachers? What if she doesn’t make friends? What if her teachers don’t like her? What if her teachers don’t like ME?

I know that some of this is just going to take time. And I just have to try to shut off my brain until the school year begins. But I really REALLY wish there was some sort of Handbook for the Over-Anxious Parent that spelled out exactly what Carla and I do and when and how and why.

And of course I wish that she would just SLOW DOWN and stop growing so quickly. Although that would just give me more time to pre-fret, so maybe it’s okay that things are as they are.

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I only recently took down the collection of holiday cards – the last vestige of Christmas. And the least visually/physically intrusive.

It seems that I didn’t read the cards closely enough as I was hanging them up: one of them caught my eye. It was from a friend of a friend with whom I’d hung out multiple times… but we’ve since lost touch.

Her card was a photo of her entire family: herself, her spouse, her two children. And there was a cheery holiday message at the bottom, followed by their names and respective ages.

And she is TWENTY SEVEN! This was deeply surprising to me, because, as apparently I do, I had just assumed she was Exactly My Age. To find out she is seven years younger was quite startling.

Why did I think she was my age? I guess because we are both at the same stage of life: family, young kids. Although I now realize I thought that she might even be older than I am, by a couple of years, because her kids are several years older than mine is.

It’s completely silly, you know, to assume that everyone goes around having their first child at age 32. And in fact I DON’T assume that, normally; if you were to ask me what the typical age of childbirth is, I’d probably say something like… 27 or 28. And even that is based on Nothing Remotely Related to Fact or Research or Knowledge. Just a pure guess out of thin air.

Maybe I thought she was my age because she is so mature? But that’s again kind of a ridiculous thing, considering that maturity has really nothing to do with age. I know plenty of people on both ends of the spectrum: twenty-three-year-olds who are wise and self-assured and knowledgable beyond their years and fifty-five-year-olds who could be fourth-graders on the maturity index.

I think it’s just that I’m self-centered, and view the world very narrowly through my own particular perspective, and so assume that people in the same stage of life as I am must be my age.

Or maybe there comes a point when you just can’t tell anymore. I feel like I’ve reached the stage where everyone age 13 to 21 looks pretty much the same, and everyone over a certain point in their 20s to, say, age 50 or so looks about the same. Or if not the same, in some middling range of uncertainty where I would be just as satisfied to learn someone was 25 as to learn they were 48. I mean, Jennifer Lopez. She can’t be a day over 27, right?

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