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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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.

 

All is calm.

I’m drinking whiskey and eating sugar cookies. There’s a full moon over the creek. Eric and I just watched Boyd Crowder get sprayed with nameless bad guy brains on TV. Merry Christmas from us and Raylon Givens.

This has been the most low-key of our sixteen married Christmases, and especially more so than last year’s. Then we thought we had some free time between family gatherings, but it was really just that I’d incorrectly written down the time we were supposed to be at dinner. Last year was peaceful for a few hours, but then there was a lot of (my) phlegmy, embarrassed crying while we scrambled to get across town.

This year we’re just home. We ordered pizza at 2:00. Pizza. I’ve been in my PJs all day–I did take a shower, but I reapplied pajamas. This is an achievement in holiday celebration: to leave one’s house to celebrate with family, but remain in Bumble pants. Because of a little bit of stomach flu in Eric’s side, Big Partington Christmas is postponed for a few days. I have done nothing productive today. I thought about reading, but the closest I got was napping near my book. There are about four hours I sat alone on the couch in the sunbeam by our Christmas tree, and I can’t account for what I did.

It doesn’t feel like Christmas, but it does feel great. We opened presents here this morning and walked our way through what will surely be a Christmas–our first Christmas–we’ll remember, simply because it was new. New is weird in the moment, though. Being together was good, as always, and the fact that we have more space has still yet to wear off. This dummy of a year ended with us settling into a place that’s so full of possibility. And our kids spoil us by being so polite, thankful, and well-behaved. I just can’t communicate effectively how much I enjoy them. I don’t sleep the night before Christmas because I can’t wait to see them open their gifts. This year was no different, and seeing them as big people in our big new house was great.

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I’m forgetting to mention that last night we had traditional Christmas Eve at Grandma’s. No soup, because a gift of a giant ham to Grandma and Grandpa meant a menu change. This is perhaps why I am craving broth today–but that gives me an excuse to get something cooking this week. Last night was good, easy. Just family being together and lots of thoughtful gifts from the most amazing grandparents a person could have.

After our Christmas morning at home today, we drove to my mom’s (in our PJs) to exchange gifts with my parents, sister, and brother in law. Our kids can’t get enough of their cousins right now, and the frenzy of tween/teen energy was enough to fill the house. There were the best kind of creative, personal gifts. I ate my weight in doughy, homemade cinnamon rolls. Last night I had some of my mom’s (also homemade) crescent rolls, so today was just more of the dough diet. I am hoping to round it out tomorrow with something fried, since lately most of my consumables are yeasty and/or covered in buttercream.

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Things I want to remember: Henry, buying cat leggings for his sister and insisting we all get Christmas jammies. Taking selfies with Grandpa Ed. Special gifts from Grandma Lila with handwritten gift tags that say “Love” over the From. Addie, spending all morning testing out the makeup in her new Caboodle from Melissa. The fact that they still make Caboodles. Eric, being so good at Christmas, so acutely aware of what makes his kids and wife happy. Finding TWO Mervyn’s boxes, even though Mervyn’s closed in 2008. The perfect smell of coffee and bacon and cinnamon rolls and cheesy breakfast potatoes at my parents’. Sharing sour watermelons with Roo. Henry snuggles in front of the Xbox, while he explained to me things I don’t understand about games I’ll never play. The 20 minutes Cookie was actually nice to me. Eric’s red flannel.

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I can’t complain. My heart is already full, and Christmas isn’t even finished yet.

Hemnes, Schmemnes.

After I went to Bacon & Butter on Sunday, and after I took my first of what I hope will be many neighborhood walks with Kitty, Eric decided we were going to Ikea. I didn’t know he even had an interest in Ikea, but I jumped at the chance to go.

Before someone mentions how cheap Ikea furniture is, how sub-par, lemme interject. I know it’s not what you’re going to call “real” furniture. But it’s not awful looking, and I need a coffee table that I can put my feet on and then sell at a garage sale when I get sick of it. I need some bookshelves, man. So we’re going to have cheap furniture in between our “real” furniture and we’re all going to be okay. I’ll leave you to your lathe–we’ll agree to disagree.

Anyway. I’d been making an Ikea list for weeks, so when Eric announced he wanted to go I changed into my comfy shoes and hopped in the car. There’s been so much to buy in the first few weeks of this new house. I am uber-thankful for that weird month between mortgage payments when you buy/sell a house, but we’re nearing the end of that beautiful time and that beautiful (spendable, extra) income. I am going to get myself to Ikea to buy some canisters, $2 toilet brushes, and step stools, dammit, because next month we have to pay the man.

I was kind of tired when we left, and I also didn’t think about it how thorough Eric can be. It’s one of the things I love about him–he is meticulous as all get-out, and as such, he proofreads every single review I write before I send it to an editor. But homeboy’s thoroughness really begins to shine in a museum or box store. He’s not going to miss a single thing. We are going to see the entire place, which means we are going to walk every single aisle and look at every single tag/blurb/display/sign.

So we did that. My body started to give out near the bed frames, and by housewares I was looking for empty end-caps to grab a sneaky sit.

Despite my tiredness, It was fun, and I’m happy that all of this house doing and shopping means the two of us get to spend time together looking at house stuff in a way we really haven’t since before Addie. It’s fun to have a new, empty house that we can fill up with dreams*.

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*and stuff that gets assembled with an Allen wrench.