2017: 1 Second a Day

Last year–January 1, 2017 to December 31, 2017–I used the 1 Second Everyday app to capture our life in seconds. The final video is about 6 minutes long, and I love it so much.

Admittedly, it stressed me out a little during the year. I ended up thinking I accidentally deleted what I had so far in early March, and I cried for about 2 days straight. But I recovered what was missing, and I kept it up (almost) faithfully for the entire year.

It’s a little peek into our ordinary life, and I know I’ll be glad to have it for years to come. There are, unsurprisingly, a lot of pets, a lot of swim meets, and a lot of books. Enjoy!

I had a year.

This morning we watched The Battle of the Bastards again and I tried not to look away from all the stabbing. It’s been a big week in TV as we’ve tried to wait out whatever viral thing has lobbied its way into our family’s respiratory systems. Resistance is futile: five seasons of GOT, some Voyager and now The Fall, plus cold meds. TV feels like as good as any other way to mark the passing of mucous and the old year.

But this isn’t a good riddance to 2016 post. My 2015 was much harder, physically, and though 2016 surprised me, in some ways its helped me to grow up and figure out what matters. So, good on that. It feels icky to me to claim one year as the worst year ever in the same way it makes me squirm when people thank Jesus for winning a football game. Maybe my anxiety is about trying to pin that kind of power on one arbitrary thing. I do have one thing to say about the political mess of 2016: I just hope–hope–that 2017 brings more civility. America matters to me a whole lot, and so does our fundamental right to disagree with each other and still hold on to our humanity.

Anyway. Here’s what happened to me and my most important humans in 2016. It was a good year for our family.

Being a parent of non-toddlers is the strangest combination of longing for the wonderful little teeny people who used to live here and complete delight in the friendship of the newer, big people. I don’t begrudge them the fact that they’ve grown, and it’s the most wonderful thing to have these two whip-smart dudes to talk to. But I won’t lie: when Henry had a ridiculously high fever a few weeks ago and draped himself across me like a rag doll, I ate it up. (Along with his germs, which is why every one else got sick shortly thereafter). Henry is 11 now, and Addie is 14.

But they’ve done more this year than just get taller. Henry is in sixth grade, but taking math at the local junior high every afternoon. His coding and gaming hobbies have now expanded into building computers. I’d like to claim we saw it coming with Legos or something when he was three, but everyone says that thing about Legos proving your kid is a genius, right? We couldn’t have imagined what kind of mind he’d have for all that now. He’s just following his curiosity, and we’re trying our best to let him, whatever that means. He’s also a nut for anything related to mythology, ancient history, and puns. He played volleyball for his elementary school last year and joined the swim team with Addie. His favorite stroke is butterfly. He is a good and kind boy, and he makes me laugh every single day.

Addie is at the high school with me, which is nice. She bit a big bullet and did summer school there to get two classes out of the way so she could take both Spanish 2 and digital arts electives during the year. In both her summer school classes and her first semester, she worked her tail off and earned straight As. I’m incredibly proud of what a good student she is. She is a maniac of a reader and such a good writer. She had to read Ender’s Game for school and Eric and I had never read it before, so we both read it too. We ended up in a heated family argument about whether or not Ender was a hero. She was so mad about the book (I loved that!). But more important to me than arguing about books is the fact that she’s still the same kind, artistic, and sympathetic soul. I really enjoy getting to spend time with her every day as we drive to school and set up my classroom in the morning. It’s been a good chance to see her for who she really is, now. In addition to swimming on the swim team again, Addie has been volunteering regularly for the Sacramento Zoo as a part of the Zoo Teens program this year. I’m so proud of everything she is, and everything she has ahead of her.

Eric had a good year too. He got a promotion in place at a job he loves, so he can keep doing the work he likes with the people he likes. He taught several training classes for his office at McGeorge and for various other state agencies this year. He continued to do all kinds of improvements on our house and completely remodeled our garage from a nasty, dusty heap to an organized storage space and working shop for Maude (the other woman, his 1954 Ford Customline). Last spring he and his dad put up solar panels on the side of the house so the kids and I could enjoy a heated pool; I spent my entire summer enjoying the fruits of their labor and getting a ridiculous tan. Eric’s made friends with our neighbors, and continues to be happy to run over to our friends’ homes to do handyman work and fix-it jobs. I feel incredibly lucky to be married to someone who is a book smart lawyer (and a great editor for my reviews), and knows how to fix things.

My sister, Melissa’s, family lives about five minutes from us, and our kids are constantly connected. We had to tell the five of them this year that they can’t just arrange sleepovers on their group text without checking with adults–this week we’ve had to institute a code word to confirm that they checked with the other parent for approval. The best thing in the world is seeing (and hearing) our five noisy kids knock around together. They’re loud, but they love each other. When Melissa and I were pregnant with Luke and Henry we used to daydream about how close our kids would be. The older they get, the more they all want to hang out, and it’s even better than we hoped.

I didn’t work on reviews as much as I have in previous years. Part of that was by choice–twice this year I took breaks from social media and review pitching because the cycle of keeping up with publishing news and books that were coming out during such a contentious news cycle was making me weary. I think the larger consideration was that this was (and will continue to be until they graduate in 2017) such a different year with my AVID class. I’ve had the same class of amazing kids since they were freshmen. This fall, I shepherded 30 of them through the college application process and FAFSA process, and it almost defies description, it was so taxing. I take the responsibility of their futures so seriously, and I was so nervous for most of November that I’d miss something or mess up somehow in helping them. They didn’t get done early (as I’d hoped), but they got done by the deadline. I’ve been trying to forgive myself a little for not reading as much and not reviewing as much because I know teaching full time and college app assistance took all of my energy even when I wasn’t doing anything. I couldn’t turn my brain off and stop worrying about them when I’d go to bed. The amazing part of this is that for the last few months, I’ve gotten the most amazing texts as these kids get into college. I am so proud of them. They are great. But holy crap, helping 30 kids apply to college at the same time is no joke. No. Joke.

Critical work was slower this year, as I said, but probably more rewarding. The more I do it, the more I see that it is both what I want to do and what I am meant to do–but the more I continue to see what I have to learn. But 2016 brought me some big opportunities: I was fortunate enough to be asked back to do a panel at the LA Times Festival of Books again, and early in 2016, I interviewed Yann Martel for Goodreads. His publisher ended up adding the interview to the paperback version of the book, which was published in November. Just before the election, I interviewed the brilliant Michael Chabon.

The best thing this year, hands-down, was my trip to DC with Kitty to tour the West Wing with a friend from high school. It was incredible, not only because being in such a historical place is beyond anything I can put into words, but because on our way to DC, we were rerouted to North Carolina and had to drive all night to make it.  It was, in terms of travel mishaps, a pretty big mess. But navigating our way out of the mess felt like a huge accomplishment, and getting to see the Oval Office, the Press Room, the White House, and then so much of DC with Kitty, was a real gift. I’m incredibly grateful to our host, Katrina, who welcomed us into her family and home while we were there.

I spent a lot of 2016 overscheduled. I don’t say this as a brag or a badge of honor. It means I’m doing something wrong. Working full time as a high school teacher and part time as a book critic and whatever time you count it as when you’re a mom of two kids who cooks and cleans and shops and does all the things? That’s too much. I’m not happy with all of it and I spent a lot of 2016 trying to figure out how to do less and there’s not really an answer. Some of it I want to do while I’m lucky enough to have the kids here before college. I don’t want to sacrifice my time with them. So maybe 2016 was just about a shifting of priorities, or a pondering about whether or not I can be patient or still keep myself in the publishing world if I’m not still out there trying to prove the same things I was proving two years ago. I don’t have answers. But I worried a lot in 2016.

Things I don’t care about: staying up until midnight (tonight or any night), making a resolution for 2017, having any answers tonight.

What I do know: every year with this family gets better. I am lucky to be loved and to have people who let me love them and spend lots of time with them.

Happy New Year. May it be good to you.

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Treading

I’m as cranky as ever about our life on a sport schedule. Yes, I do think my kids swimming competitively is wonderful and yes, I know it makes me a jerk to complain about it. My crankiness has changed a little over the last few years. Does this matter? I am 100% less resentful of having to sit at the pool for an hour or two while the kids swim laps; I am 100% more excited about watching them compete. But practice? Pfft. I find the pool calming and I generally find it to be a good place to work (in my car at the pool, that is). Eric and I share driving duties. But I’m still cranky about the usual things: having to talk to other parents, having to eat dinner at weird times, having to not see my husband most nights, having to cajole the kids into putting on suits when they feel tired/angry/hesitant.

This is parenting. This is parenting. This is parenting.

Eric just left to pick up Addie from the pool, after driving cross-town twice to get them both there and then bring Henry home after he was done so he could avoid the wind. I just stayed home to stare at the wall. Tonight, everything is difficult. I thought that not having Henry play baseball this year was going to mean more ease. Ha.

AWP and LATFOB blinded me–as all writing/book gatherings do–with a flash of too-bright inspiration, followed by a heady sadness. Sadness for what? Nothing real. I’ve visited nerd land enough times to know it is a magical fairy illusion–one where I wear my best clothes and my best hair and most eager smile–and one that in no way corresponds to the life where I go to Costco to buy TP, or tell my freshmen every day to sit down and do school. I have zero desire to try to live in that imaginary space, and in fact I leave these nerd conventions feeling exhausted. But I also usually feel sad, a reasonless sad that seems to always manifest in a frustration with my schedule, lack of time, lack of energy for doing everything I want to do, etc. So today I’m pissed at swimming. I’m pissed at my job. I’m pissed at the hours it takes every day to transport two kids up from schools just miles from our house. I’m pissed that tonight when I went to cook rice, we were out of rice. So dumb. It’s the chafe of wants against have-tos, the old feeling like I have to be too many things to too many people, when I want to be alone, in my red sweat pants, writing for me (or, let’s be real, for someone who wants to pay me in US currency). I want to ditch the Mrs. Partington persona and shut down the HSP show. I want write and be impolite and and have energy for it and walk out of my office occasionally for hugs from my three people. Swimming gets the brunt of my frustration only because it’s the new thing in our schedule and if you’re going to parent someone who does a thing, you really can’t suck at making them go.

I am treading water in my critical career. I am pushing and pushing. I want to quit every night. I’m afraid to rest. This is writing.

We’re fighting about money. Getting married on tax day seemed funny 16 years ago.

What is this post? I’m trying to keep moving. I am staying up because I don’t know how to do the ten minutes where I lay in bed before I fall asleep. I am dreading that tonight. If I stop, I have to feel it pull me down. I have to wake up and do it again tomorrow. Nothing in my life is bad. But today I’m over my head.

 

 

 

 

Intention

Mom, don’t make me. And don’t make me say I don’t want to anymore. She didn’t have to speak the words. I read it on her face and drooping shoulders. She rubbed her upper arms and pressed her mouth tight: Mom, I don’t want to feel like this.

Parenting a thirteen year old is no horror the way people try to convince you it will be. It’s so fulfilling and fun. But if you’re paying attention–if you’re really listening to her words and silences, if you’re trying to equip your daughter to fight her way into a harsh world, it can hurt.

We were at a family wedding. She was surrounded by love and loud music and Christmas lights. But even in safe spaces, biology makes the thirteen year old mind a liar: telling girls that whatever feelings they have must be wrong or awkward, that having opinions is anathema to the crowd. People kept asking her to dance. She didn’t want to. This was the crisis.

I tried my best to break it down in love: Have your opinions, Ad. We don’t control our feelings. They just happen, and nobody can say they’re wrong. You have the right to not want to do anything that you don’t want to do. Mom, she said finally, out loud, (those pleading, wet eyes!) I know it’s okay for me not to want to do things. (I exhale.) But I feel bad when I have to tell people that I don’t want to dance.

This is being a girl. At our table, I resist the urge to tell her this, to make it about me or about women and opinions and consent and being listened to and taken seriously and about not pleasing other people, but that’s what it is. Even though being a woman is different now. She is already growing up in a world that never didn’t have lady astronauts and world leaders and CEOs and computer programmers, where she can vote and make legal decisions for herself and expect to be treated and paid for what she does. But scrub that away, and there’s still fraction of society that’s not going to take her seriously because she is female. Even if nobody has told her that yet, she has internalized it, mixed with her own shyness and good girl tendencies and teenage hormones. This is where I do bring myself up–the irony of those three words–where I acknowledge that genes and my own fears have gently nudged her toward this conflict she’s having, even though we’re in the safest of spaces.

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It wasn’t a moment that ended in a scene. My pep talk landed as much as it was going to land, and then we just looked at each other. Nothing happened until her loving father (the girl whisperer, we call him) scooped her up for a twenty minute walk outside, artfully using his skills of comfort and distraction to help her feel better. I was inadequate to the task, and by the time they walked back into the ballroom, all was well.

It’s naive to think that all is well permanently, or that the reason I’m still thinking about this almost three weeks later is that it’s just about parenting. There are several truths operating here:

  1. This isn’t about me. This is about my daughter being 13 and having hormones.
  2. My own struggles with having opinions are kind of relevant.

Because yes, she is changing faster than she can see, and yes that means discomfort. And discomfort for growth is good, the kind I want her to have. But also, this: she has a mom who spends much of her day afraid to speak her mind, and always has. I remember shopping with my mom and grandma when I was about her age, and they would hold up items of clothing for me to consider. How about this, they’d ask. Yeah, that’s cute. I like it. Mmm, hmm, I said, even to things that looked awful. I couldn’t say so, even to things I wasn’t trying on, because I was worried I’d hurt their feelings. Nobody told me this was the case–in fact, I am positive I was told the opposite–but other messages about gratitude, about being considerate, and about being good were louder. And high school was a training course in learning to please: I sublimated my actual opinions time and again because it made things easier. Ballet. Church. English class. If I could figure out what someone else wanted me to say or do, I’d make them happy. Being a part of a big family didn’t make me this way, but it was fertile breeding ground for my thinking. In a big family someone else is always happy to tell you how things should be. Want to double down on that? Marry young into another big family. Try not to rock any boats. Understand nothing about how to have opinions, assert them. Speak up for yourself only once every few decades, with disastrous results. Resolve not to try again for years. Repeat.

I really think about it, there was a short time when I didn’t care so much what people thought (or even think that anyone considered me and what I had to say). This short time coincided with early adulthood, becoming a mother, and the fact that I had yet to have any online connections. But it’s different now. For the last several years I am really chafing against the sense that I need to keep my mouth closed.

What changed? I have more opinions, actually. Louder ones that seem to want out. The realization that I don’t have to enjoy things that other people enjoy, and that things about the world that make me mad–like, screaming mad–seem not to bother other folks. At the same time, I’ve developed a weird dichotomy of personal and professional lives. Being a teacher in the social media age is scary. Trying to be a writer at the same time is ludicrous. Take one moment, one word out of context, and I’m through. As a result of my fears, my teaching has become purposefully bland. Sadly numb and devoid of most of my personality–the weird quirks I used to use to shock and joke and provoke teenagers through the books I’m teaching. What other way is there to be, now? I can’t find one, so I push my real self down, hide her from sight. And ironically, at the same time, my real self has flourished. I’ve ventured into the world of writing. Ideas. Conflict. An art entirely shocking and contrary to the kind of work I’ve chosen for myself in a stodgy institution built on the illusion of righteousness and propriety.

It isn’t just my job, though. Social media makes me uneasy. It’s a double edged sword, because so often it makes me unlonely–it gives a sense of connection to an introvert sitting alone in her bedroom. But in the past year I’ve just seen how my relationship with social media is one-sided. I read and read and post pictures I like; I am addicted to the online stories, but I am afraid to be myself. I’m afraid I’ll lose my job or afraid I’ll lose the constant feed of voices, the people who are always there. (The same people who share their own opinions as easily as sticks of gum.) I fear the fight, though, or more so I fear letting people down. So I do what I’ve always done. I let people think I agree. I let myself believe that “no” needs to come with an apology.

This year I don’t have a resolution, so much as I have an intention for myself, a way to try to be. It’s not a resolution because I expect to fail regularly, and I want to allow myself the inevitable, intermittent failure that happens when you try to change. But my intention in 2016 is to speak my mind. To bring some of the authority I can summon in my writing to my real damn life, and to be smart about how I do that, but to do it anyway. Because I don’t know how much longer I can keep looking at my daughter–my beautiful, smart, worthwhile daughter–and tell her that she is not only allowed to share, but worthy of any opinions and feelings and desires she feels–if I can’t look in the mirror and tell myself the same.

2015, A.D.

2015 was half a year. Well, it only felt like half.

Some years take longer than 12 months. But not this one. This year was a blur from June to December. I’m okay with how it all turned out, but I feel like I’ve been zombie-shuffling through my own life for most of it. I try not to think about that too often, because doing so makes me pretty anxious.

I only ever look about 5 minutes into the future: What do I have to do next? is all I can ever handle asking myself, because the big to-do list is overwhelming. This 5 minutes/next thing is my survival mechanism. But that kind of myopic view isn’t so good for savoring moments. The year just happened to me and I didn’t really notice it because I was too busy looking at the next thing. Always afraid I’d forget something. Always afraid I wouldn’t get it all done.

And yet: it’s past midnight on the east coast, almost new, and so much has changed. Addie is in her room watching The Office and sketching; Henry is working on his second coding course. They both look like different people than the still-semi-kids I knew in 2014. And for crap’s sake, we’re all sitting in a different house. 2015 brought change, whether I was paying attention or not.

I looked at my calendar this morning to remind myself of just what I did in 2015. It was fitting to discover that on January 2 of this year I had the first in a series of hoop-jumping appointments and MRIs that would lead to my hysterectomy in June. My hysterectomy led to my subsequent inability to heal properly and move on in any meaningful or final way until very, very recently. 2015 was about that, mostly. Uteruses before duderuses, as Leslie Knope says. And it was about trying to figure out how to care about all the other things (school, sports, reviews, getting out of bed, etc) that I’d committed to, if my body wasn’t going to cooperate. Is this my adult life? Yes, I’m still wondering, and I know 36 is kind of well into it to not really have a definition nailed down. There have been years adulthood felt like having to do the hard/sad/gross things even when we’re scared and without any guidance because now we’re the ones in charge. But this year adulthood has been an exercise in continuing to meet obligations even if my body is telling me to shut it all down so I can go back to bed.

Perhaps this is the same exact thing.

Our move was another insane time and energy vortex, but of course that was worth it too. I think hearing about my incredulity about our new home must be getting so old to anyone who doesn’t have a sense of just how bad the real estate market got for a while. (Are there people who don’t know this? Or maybe just people who didn’t get stuck upside down in a tiny home?) But I had gone through a process–years upon years long–of frustration with our tiny, not-perfect house, and then I’d fully grieved the fact that we would ever move out of there. Or at least mourned the idea that we were going to be able to make a change in any timeframe that seemed reasonable, and we’d resigned ourselves to faithfully paying our woefully ill-timed mortgage, come hell or high water. I thought we might have to stay where we were until the kids were in high school, and I had accepted it. So if it seems like I’m surprised daily by the alignment of stars that allowed us to move into a home that actually meets our needs (and surpasses them), you’re reading me right. I know we did this, but we are lucky enough not to do anything alone, and the help we had getting here was amazing. And really, some of it was just the luck and good fortune that comes from years of working the same damn jobs and going school and eventually making things happen for yourself (which is to say, not luck at all, but hard work). Our house is perfect for us, which is what matters to me, and I am still in awe of the fact that any of it worked out.

2015 included the same smalls joys that I’ve enjoyed for a long time: Cooking. Reading in the quiet house before everyone else wakes up. Lots of time with my cat snuggled into my knee pit. Eric, making me laugh and reminding me that nobody knows me better. Henry, dancing and dripping his way down the hall in a towel after he showers at night. Addie wanting to read and draw and chat. There’s not much about my slow life that I don’t like. I have to try to remember not to fill it up with things, because it’s often what happens when we’re just home that makes me feel the most me.

This was a good year for book reviewing. I haven’t counted exactly how many, but I reviewed a ton of books. I had my first review in a major paper, a review of Sarah Gerard’s beautiful book, Binary Star, in the LA Times. I had more reviews in the Times. I got to go moderate a panel at the Festival of Books, and then I got to interview David McCullough over the phone. Las Vegas Weekly took me on, and many places continued to ask me to work for them. 2015 was amazing in terms of the opportunities I was given, and I tried hard not to waste them. The toughest thing about trying to establish myself as a critic is to stay hungry: to keep reaching for new things that feel too far away while still trying to maintain what I have. But this year felt easier than the first year, and when I get too frustrated or I feel too inadequate (which is frequent), I have to remind myself that it’s all still pretty new. And it’s only getting better. Slow and steady is enough.

I wasn’t that happy in 2015. I am okay with this, though. There’s peace in knowing that you can be unhappy, but still okay. Or that you can get through something without having to feel good about it. I was not shaken to my core, or broken. I was inconvenienced, annoyed, taxed, and pressured. But none of that hurts too bad. I am pleased that 2015 happened, and I know I will be happy again. I have hope that eventually I will not be so tired. I am looking forward to what comes next.