family · parenting

Happy Birthday Dad

Today, on what would have been my dad’s 71st birthday, Edgar played ‘organized’ soccer (laughing out loud at calling any toddler activity ‘organized’) for the first time.

This was ordinary, and it was extraordinary. I got emotional last weekend when I first realized this coincidence – Edgar starting out with soccer on Dad’s birthday. I felt a little in awe of the universe at the timing of things, and a little bit like laughing hysterically. (“Seriously, Universe?  I needed a reason to get MORE EMOTIONAL on Dad’s birthday?”) I cried for a while, and then, while Edgar wandered around the farm kicking a soccer ball, I followed him and I thought about my dad.

The inscription on my dad’s grave reads: HUSBAND, DAD, & COACH. Because that is who he was. From the moment when my mom signed my dad up (without asking him) to coach at Holy Child Soccer in Staten Island, NY, he coached. He coached my sister, my brother, and me on various teams, and he coached hundreds of other kids. He ended up running Holy Child Soccer, and then serving as president of the Staten Island Soccer League. I did not ever know my dad not as a soccer coach.

Every parent involved in Staten Island soccer when I was in grade school called my house at some point. I know this because I was my dad’s unofficial secretary. His responsibilities as a leader in youth soccer in Staten Island are the reason why, to this day, I have an EXCEPTIONALLY friendly and polite phone voice.  The coaches would call about fields, referees, schedules, uniforms, and I’d take their message and promise that my dad would call them back. When my dad eventually talked with them, I’d hear him laugh and say, “yup, that was my youngest on the phone,” and I’d beam with pride. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize just how much my dad did for youth soccer in Staten Island – and he did all of it after a long day or week of full-time work. We don’t realize how much our parents are doing for us, I think, until we grow up and are exhausted adults or parents ourselves.

I have countless memories of my dad as a coach – from him leading my team at practices and games to the thousands of quiet moments he had with me and my siblings, helping us to learn life lessons on the field and off. This year, there are two stories I can’t get out of my head. They both involved my dad as coach of my grade school soccer team, the Holy Child Crosskickers.

We had a heartbreaker of a game one season, when we came in second place in the league after a 1-0 loss to the Notre Dame Academy Sweethearts. The other team’s goal was the result of a long ball that hit a weird bump and bounced awkwardly over the head of our flustered goalkeeper. A fair loss, to be sure – but a real bummer after a hard-played game and season.

A week or so after this game, my dad showed up to a team gathering with a large cardboard box. He explained that a stranger had left this box of T-shirts on our front porch; they were red and white (our team colors), and the text read: “CROSSKICKERS – SIMPLY THE BEST – ONLY ONE SWEETHEART OF A BOUNCE CAN BEAT US.” We all smiled and laughed and put on our shirts and questioned nothing.  It was YEARS later when I realized that my dad (who made T-shirts for our entire extended family every summer, so it’s not like there weren’t clues, Kerriann) had ordered the shirts himself because he knew that it’s important to acknowledge our defeats, laugh if we can, and move forward with determination and a smile.

The other story I can’t get out of my head is about my dad selecting the team all-stars from the Crosskickers for the end-of-season league all-star game. That year, we were allowed to pick two players to represent our team in the game.

There were a lot of strong athletes on our team, and I was certainly one of them; my sister, my brother, and I all played soccer well, with passion, hard work,and talent. However, it never once occurred to me that my dad would choose me as an all-star for the game; he was not the type of guy to engage in nepotism, even at the level of a youth soccer game. He was harder on me, at times, and he was diligent about coaching our team in a fair and supportive way.

I remember asking my dad about who he would pick for the all-star game, and he sat down with me and explained that he really wanted to reward the players on our team who had worked especially hard and performed exceptionally well that season. I instantly understood that he wasn’t going to pick one of the three or four other “stars” on my team; he was going to reward players who had shown exceptional spirit and effort even if they weren’t the top goal scorers. We talked together, and he asked me to guess who his picks were; I thought and I talked through our season, and I guessed two players who had improved tremendously that season, moving from being average players to essential starters as the season progressed. I remember my dad beaming at me when he told me I’d guessed correctly – maybe because he was happy I understood his logic, or because he learned that we thought in similar ways.

That was my dad – he wanted to acknowledge when he saw young athletes working hard and improving. He knew that youth sports was about cultivating talent while also teaching important lessons about effort, disappointment, teamwork, and grace.

There is no pressure on Edgar to play soccer. Yes, he owns six soccer balls and only two of any other kind of ball, and yes, I’ll be thrilled if I get to coach his teams the way my dad coached mine. But really, truly, he doesn’t need to play, and I don’t need to coach. However, watching him run and kick today – watching him listen to his oh-so-patient coach talk to him about respect and fun and how to dribble – watching him run to me with a huge smile, telling me how much fun he had at “soccer school” –

Those were pretty good gifts.

Happy birthday to my dad. Keep the lessons coming, Coach.

balance · family · writing

Thoughts On Time

Sometimes Tamara takes the boys out to the coffee shop or the library so that I’ll have time to write. When this happens, it takes time getting used to having the house to myself – for the first thirty minutes, I keep looking around, expecting to spot J.J. asleep in his bouncy seat or Edgar quietly munching on Goldfish crackers. But they’re not here – they’re out, having an adventure, and I’m at home with a crackling fire, a cup of coffee, and my computer on my lap.

It’s always a challenge, finding time to write when you’re a working parent with two kids under three. And it’s really important to me to make time for writing. I haven’t made much progress with my novel – I blame the boys’ sleep needs for this – but I have managed to post on the blog twice every week since 2019 began, and I’m determined to stick to that routine for as long as possible.

I’m delayed on my novel – my goal is to finish a draft by the end of 2019, and I’m not as far as I’d like to be. But my delay is in part because I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the novel, and planning things out, rather than writing it. It feels a little uncomfortable, at times. I’d much rather be writing than planning. But as I page through the book Story Genius, I find myself wondering if this whole novel writing gig requires more planning than I’ve ever tried before.

There’s a debate in the writing community about plotting versus pantsing. The plotters map out the entire story of their novel before they write it, and the pantsers just start writing and see where their story goes. I have always been more of a pantser. But the book Story Genius by Lisa Cron is arguing something in between; I’m not done with the book yet, but I think she advocates that the writer should know the story of what is going to happen ahead of time, though the writer may allow themselves to be somewhat of a pantser when it comes to the hundreds of little details that make up the eventual plot. (I’ll let you know when I finish the book if this is an accurate representation of the Story Genius method.)

So, the boys are out with Tamara, and here I sit, with a rare few hours of alone time to write and think. And one of the things I’m considering is re-evaluating the way I spend my time.

I’m going to have more flexibility with my time now that Edgar is, thank goodness, going to sleep by himself in his bed after about six weeks of bedtime struggles. That means that I’ll have a little extra time in the evening after Edgar goes to bed, and a little extra time in the morning before the boys wake up. I’ve been pondering what routines I want to create.

I thought about this in terms of the WHEN – like, when are the little pockets of time that I have available for exercise, writing, reading, self-care, etc? There are the mornings – the wee bit of time I can steal if I wake up early enough. There are the evenings, after Edgar goes to bed, when I can write or read if I have the energy. There are the weekend afternoons during nap. And there are the times like today, when Tamara takes the boys out for an adventure on a weekend morning and I have a few hours to use for whatever I need.

That’s what I have right now – little pockets of time. It can feel frustrating sometimes! I really wish I could start building up my writing stamina, spending 2 or 3 hours at a time sitting down to write. But it is what it is for the moment, and I have to accept that, enjoy my baby boys, and be ready for the pockets of time when they pop up.

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adoption · family

Happy Adoption Day

On March 3rd, we celebrated our oldest son’s Adoption Day.

For our family, Adoption Day is the anniversary of the day we went to court, met with a judge, and had Edgar’s adoption finalized. I think that for many adoptive families, this is what they mean as well when they discuss Adoption Day; of course, I’m not certain, since every family is unique and celebrates adoption in their own way. Many families celebrate Gotcha Day in addition to or in lieu of Adoption Day; Gotcha Day refers to the day the child physically comes home to their forever family.

For me, an event like Adoption Day means a complex contest: celebration and joy versus stress and pressure.

I believe that it’s important and valuable to celebrate moments and meaningful anniversaries. However, this is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m not the friend who’ll plan your baby shower, and I’m not the one who’ll handle the details of an outing, whether we’re meeting for a movie or going on vacation to a foreign country. I’m thoughtful and kind, but I’m not a Pinterest mom who excels at making the special moments beautiful. I’m the kind of mom who desperately wants for the special moments to be extra-extra-extra-special, and who often twists herself into a tizzy trying to figure out how to be my authentic self while also facilitating moments of celebration and joy. I often find myself racing around (’cause I’m not really the “plan ahead” kinda Mom either!) and spending money I don’t need to spend trying to find gifts, or balloons, or whatever sparkly thing I think will make my family smile.

WHEW. I get stressed just typing the words!

The thing is that when it comes to Edgar’s adoption day, I didn’t stress at all. On Edgar’s first Adoption Day – the day we went to court and cried for joy in the judge’s chambers – we went out to breakfast afterward at the Towson Diner with our extended family. Shortly before last year’s Adoption Day, Tamara and I decided that Edgar’s celebration each year would start with breakfast (pancakes FTW) at the diner – at least for now. (I’m sure the day’s events will evolve as Edgar grows older!) This year, we ate an early breakfast at the diner and then went to a playground, and Edgar was overjoyed.

It was sweet, and it was simple. We didn’t want Adoption Day to be about gifts or a party – just family time and an outing that aligns with something Edgar enjoys. For me, I think that the key to facilitating celebrations without stress is to keep it simple. Adoption Day is pancakes at the diner; my birthday is a coffee shop and ice skating; Valentine’s Day is decorating the house with construction paper hearts that say reasons why we love everyone in our family. SIMPLE, and sweet. The next time I am stressing over planning something, I’m going to try to find just one simple event or gesture that can be the center of that special memory.

An added bonus of our adoption pancakes tradition is this: Edgar knows that his Adoption Day is a special event that involves pancakes. That’s a simple connection that he can understand, and it’s one of the only connections related to his adoption that he can make at two years old. We talk with Edgar all the time about the story of how he came home to us, but he can’t process things like biological parents and pregnancy and all the other big kid concepts you need to understand in order to fully comprehend what it means to be adopted.

But Edgar knows this: on Adoption Day, we go out as a family and we eat PANCAKES and we smile because it is a great day.

Happy Adoption Day, Edgar!

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family · mindfulness

Octobers

I love fall. I love sweatshirt and denim jacket weather. I love pumpkin spice lattes so much that I don’t care how cliche it is to love pumpkin spice lattes.

However, I tend to have bittersweet feelings at this time of year. I love fall, and I love the holidays. I tend the enjoy the briskness of November and the festivity of December. But I feel a wistful feeling as we approach the time of the year when the days are shorter. The biggest downer for me is the decrease in daylight hours; I dislike when the sun sets at 5 or 6 in the evening.  I also struggle with the bitterly cold times of the year, when I have to put on five layers of clothing just to walk to the mailbox.

This struggle I have with fall is indicative of one of my biggest overall struggles – keeping myself in the present moment. Enjoying October for October’s sake, without worrying about what January and February will be like.

This feeling – loving the present while dreading the future – also lines up with how I’m feeling as my waywayway too short maternity leave comes to an end. My six weeks of leave will end on October 17th. I’ve been trying not to think about it too much; I worry that if I think about it, I’ll become too overwhelmed to function and to enjoy the present. How do people do this? Just enjoy the now without anticipating the later with anxiety?

One of my wise and gentle friends often reminds me to come back to where my feet are, and that helps. Not talking about the length of my maternity leave helps, too – in a way, not talking about it is a coping skill I’m using, reminding myself to stay in the now and not to dwell on what I don’t have but to enjoy what I do have.

Today is a brisk and beautiful October day. My infant son is big enough to go in my Ergo 360 carrier and I’m celebrating that with a walk around the farm and down the trail. Life is sweet.

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community · family

Local Bucket List & Neighborhood Surprises

One day earlier this week, Edgar and I drove to Hammerman Beach, a little beach on the Gunpowder River that is located in Gunpowder Falls State Park. Tamara and I have explored a lot of Gunpowder Falls, especially the section of river that runs through our area of Maryland, but not much of the eastern side of the park.

Today’s excursion was part of a little bucket list I’ve been writing in my head – things I want to do that are in my neighborhood. I’ve been thinking and writing about wanting to live more locally. (See my post on living local here!) I have a tendency to just sort of exist wherever I am – not really absorbing the world around me as thoroughly as I could. It’s one of the reasons I am a below-average tour guide. People ask me questions about the place where I’m living, and it’s rare for me to have the answers at my fingertips the way some excellent tour guides do.

Hammerman Beach isn’t exactly in my neighborhood, but it’s in Maryland, which is the state I’ve called home for ten years. TEN YEARS! That’s longer than I’ve lived anywhere other than New York. And while I’ve never been that into crabs or the Baltimore Ravens, I do enjoy getting to know the landscape and sights that are within a day’s drive. The beach was small, sweet, and beautiful; Edgar actually said the word “beautiful” for the first time, repeating after me as we looked out at the sparkling river.still-what-i-want-in-my-life-is-to-be-willing-to-be-dazzled-to-cast-aside-the-weight-of-facts-and-quote-1

Last weekend was another good chance to explore a local event. Our farm is about five minutes away from the New Freedom Farmers Market, but I’ve never attended; we don’t sell our produce there, and I didn’t realize just how close it was. Then a friend suggested that I attend an event held at the market once a year called Yogis Take The Park and IT WAS AMAZING. The vibe was very open, loving, hippie-esque – it reminded me of a lot of places I lived and visited in my twenties. I never thought I would find that kind of vibe so close to home. We have lots of great friends and neighbors who are open and liberal-minded, but I also am keenly aware that we live in the only district in Maryland that is represented by a Republican conservative. (FOR NOW. Election Day is November 6, 2018! Vote for Jesse Colvin!)

My local bucket list adventures will continue!  I’m so grateful to live in a place that has the familiarity of home and the potential for surprises.

blogging · family · parenting

May: Thoughts On Parenting

Yes! This May is the Month of Mommying on the blog.

I’ve started using an editorial calendar for the blog a few weeks ago, and I’m finding it a really helpful tool. Whenever I think of an idea for a post, I think about when it would be best to write and share on that topic, and I tentatively schedule a date for that post. What I’ve discovered is that thinking this way helps me to generate more ideas, and often a theme develops.

That’s what happened with May. I had a few ideas for posts that were related to parenting, and I figured that the month of Mothers’ Day would be a good time for that kind of content. Then, the more I thought about topics related to parenting, the more ideas came to me.

MAGIC.

I hope you enjoy this month of thoughts on parenting (with other subjects blended in there as well).  Happy May!

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http://www.cciweb.org.uk/may-update
family

How To Celebrate #heart

I have an up-and-down relationship with holidays and the celebrating of achievements, milestones, and special life moments. One of my recurring New Year’s Resolutions is to celebrate holidays and events in fun and meaningful ways.

This is something that’s important to me – celebrating. However, as is often the case with recurring resolutions – I’m not great at actually doing it.

I love celebrating – but I’m not a planner. I think that’s a big factor that gets in the way of my celebrating holidays and events in meaningful ways. My preferred way of life is being spontaneous, going with the flow, letting things happen naturally, and that doesn’t really work with being intentional and celebratory. I can’t have a birthday party with family and friends if I never invite them over. And – true story – I can’t dress Teddy in an adorable shamrock shirt on his first St. Patrick’s Day if I don’t think of it until halfway through the day on March 17th.

For the first year of Teddy’s life, I felt a little pressure leading up to each holiday. Celebrating holidays felt important – like something I want to do for my children, so they’ll have great memories of childhood celebrations. But I don’t always know how I want to celebrate. And then Tee and I have to line up our visions of how we want to celebrate, and have extensive discussions of what traditions we want to keep, to discard, to cultivate. In some ways, that part was easier before becoming parents; before Teddy, it was easier to just kind of blend our inherited family traditions together, without really having to make choices. Once kids are involved, everything gets more meaningful, more special, and also more complicated.

Funnily, the holiday that has stressed me out the most since adding Teddy to our family is Easter.

This is funny because, really? Neither Tee nor I care very much about Easter as a holiday. We both grew up religious, but don’t practice those family religions as adults. So our inherited family traditions don’t make sense. I remember dressing up in pretty dresses to go to church; but you don’t need fancy Easter clothes if your plans are just to eat chocolate and dye Easter eggs. Originally, I decided that we would just do nothing for Easter. It wouldn’t be one of our holidays. But then, one of my best friends, who is also not religious, mentioned something about getting ready for Easter with her kids.

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I zoomed in on her; I’m pretty sure I was being weirdly intense. “What do you do for Easter if you’re not religious?” I asked her.

“It’s pretty much just Secular Chocolate Basket Of Candy Day at our house,” she explained.

This was game-changing for me, but then it started to make me even more stressed out. If the holiday means nothing to me, then why are we even celebrating? I don’t love the idea of bringing a bunch of chocolate into our household; Tee and I will just end up eating it all and feeling gross. And I don’t want to buy a bunch of junky toys that Teddy doesn’t need, either. Also – this is a suppressed childhood memory that just re-emerged recently – dying Easter eggs is really, really boring.

A few things happened that helped me to feel better about our family plan for celebrating Easter:

-I remembered that Easter egg hunts are so, so fun, and are one of my favorite memories of my dad. I bought a few plastic Easter eggs for Teddy in early March, and we started ‘playing’ Easter egg hunt in the weeks leading up to Easter. He loved it and so did I.

-Tee had a great idea for a tradition, one we started last year – a bunny cake! Using edible spring flowers for decoration. SO CUTE.

-I realized that Easter can kind of be our flexible holiday – our plans can be more spontaneous and changeable. I have strong feelings about ways that I like to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, but for Easter, things can be a little more go-with-the-flow. (Especially given the weather variable! It snowed on the night of Easter this year.  SNOWED.)

-This is the big one. Tee suggested I start thinking of Easter less as its own holiday and more as the beginning of spring, which it usually is. I love this. When I think of Easter, I think of rebirth, rejuvenation – life – family – and the joy that comes at the end of a long, cold country winter. And the hope and excitement about a beautiful spring and summer to come.

So, I’ve made my peace with Easter, for now. On a related note, we had a Wild Peace Farm party for Earth Day this weekend, and I think I’ve decided that Earth Day will be my new favorite holiday. There are pretty much no expectations for Earth Day, since it’s not a very religious holiday or a holiday I celebrated growing up. It’s sweet, simple, and low stress – which is EXACTLY my kind of holiday.

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