Girls Can Too

Have I ever told you about how Eddie is a feminist?

I honestly can’t pinpoint when it happened; he has always just had intense feelings about how boys and girls can like and do the same things and anyone who tries to challenge that gets quite the ear-full from him. Actually, he is pretty passionate about social justice in general and is always looking out for the people who might be mistreated, left out, or hurting. In fact, his teacher this year described him as “quite the little activist.”

That makes me more happy than I can express.

He has a bunch or rowdy, good guy friends he hangs with who like to use their imaginations, run around, and trade Pokemon cards with him. But when he was Person of the Week and he brought home his book that everyone wrote to him in, over and over the girls (and some of the boys) described him as “kind” and “helpful” and a “good friend.” He tells me a lot that boys don’t really play with the girls at recess, but he does sometimes because they are his friends too.

I even overheard him and another kid talking about the president and Eddie said, “If Clinton had won, she would have been the first girl president ever. And that is a big deal. I wish she would have won because we need girls to do those jobs too!”

It’s probably not a surprise then that he is always thinking of his sister in this way, Whenever we watch shows that have strong female characters, Eddie says, “this would be a good show for Alice!” It’s interesting to me, because he never really says that about things just because they are girly, but it’s like he noticed the girls in the shows who do things that the boys can do too.

One of his favorite shows has been A Series of Unfortunate Events, and he has told me, “Mom, I think Alice will like this show someday because the baby, Sunny, is cute and the older sister, Violet is really smart. Just like Alice.”

He also really likes the show Trollhunters. He thinks I should get a purple stripe in my hair like Claire, but I told him maybe not.

When Eddie was very small, we always taught him that there were no such things as girl colors or boy colors; there are just colors. And if you like a color it’s a YOU color. When I would go away to conferences, he would ask that I paint his nails the same color as mine so we could think about each other when we looked at them.

And when I was pregnant with Charlie and brought home a baby doll, he loved it and immediately named it Baby and we used it to talk about what life would be like when Charlie arrived.

(Once Charlie was here, by the way, one baby was apparently enough for Eddie, and Baby was cast into the toy room never to be found again…until Alice revived her.)

Eddie has never shied away from doing or liking something simply because people think it’s “for girls”–which is probably why he has also watched every episode of Monster High on Netflix as well. He just likes what he likes!

But it makes my heart soar when he noticed strong girls and thinks of his sister, or when he hears the Disney channel commercial with the Dream Big, Princess song and sings along to it TO his sister.

It makes me feel like we’re doing something right around here, and that Eddie will do wonderful things for women and social just someday.

This is not a paid post. I am a member of Netflix’s Stream Team. They provide the Netflix and a device for our family to watch it on. We provide the opinions and experiences.

It Started With an Email

I was working as a long-term substitute with my own computer log in when the email came through: “Hey. Is everything Ok?”

I stared at the computer screen and then minimized my email, turned to the incoming students, and went about teaching for the morning because no, everything was no Ok. Nothing felt Ok.

When I had a minute to collect myself, I re-read the email. It was from my friend, Cortney, who shared an apartment with my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend. He was concerned because I had come over on Sunday and rather than using my key, I had knocked. I then disappeared into my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s room and he could hear serious discussion going on.  And my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend had seemed tense and weird and when Cortney asked him if everything was Ok, his answer was, “no,” and that was it.

So he emailed me because he couldn’t stop worrying about us.

I ended up spilling the entire sad sack story of the weekend and how it ended in the demise of my boyfriend-now-ex-boyfriend’s and my five-year relationship.

His response? “Don’t take this the wrong way, but that is actually a relief. I thought you were pregnant.”

Thanks, yo.

From there, we emailed back and forth sporadically for the rest of the school year. He had a tendency to worry about me–we had been friends for years, after all–and he wanted to check in to make sure I wasn’t making destructive choices (I was) and that I was eating (I wasn’t) and that I wasn’t holing up in my house feeling sorry for myself by crying to the cat (I was).

For awhile I only responded to his emails and didn’t initiate any threads because thinking about him made me think about my ex-boyfriend and it was just too much. But once school got out and I didn’t have a regular job to go to anymore, Cortney and I started emailing more often. He would stop over after work with a pizza to hang out–his way of making sure I got a decent meal since he knew I was broke and living on vodka and Doritos if left alone to make my own choices.

It wasn’t my proudest moment in life, Ok?

After my summer of wallowing, I ended up getting the full-time teaching job I am in now, and shockingly (to us anyway) Cortney and I started dating. The emailing did not stop; in fact it increased now that we weren’t seeing each other all the time due to my actually having to go to work. If I could look back on those emails, they were probably so sweet and carefree. It makes me smile to think about how young and starry-eyed we were back then.

We still email back and forth every day and I have been in this job now for almost fourteen years. One of us will start the daily thread with a “Good morning!” or “Hope you got in Ok!” Some days–like when my students are working on a test independently and Cortney is at his desk all day, we will go back and forth rapidly exchanging silly jokes or thoughts about anything from what next week’s dinners should be, when we should have our own date night, or even what is going on with our kids. Some days we only have the morning check in and then not much for the rest of the day because I am on my feet with students all day or he is out of the office or busy with calls.

Some days the topics get pretty serious. I tend to write out my feelings better than verbalize them, so there have been times I have spent my lunch period on my email typing out long messages about my mental health or other serious topics that I need to make sure I get my words just right. He will do the same. It has always been a way to give each other our thoughts and then let them sit before we respond either with another email, or in person later that evening.

We don’t do everything right as a married couple, but one thing I am proud of is our communication. Long before that first email, Cortney and I were friends who shared with each other and empathized with each other. We celebrated the great things, but we also cried about the bad things. His reaching out to me that day was just an extension of that.

We still reach out to each other every day. When Cortney was traveling for work recently, the loneliest I felt was during my work day when there were no emails coming through. After fourteen years of check-in’s and random banter, going a few days with complete silence was hard.

People who know us sometimes like to give me a little grief about how “chatty” Cortney and I can be–how we tell each other everything and send each other photos. When I was in Atlanta, Cort and I texted constantly, and my friend The Pastor’s Wife teased me a bit of being like a teenager. I know she was kidding and that it was actually out of love for us that she said what she did, because really, it’s that goofiness that has carried us for this long. It’s the easy way we communicate with each other that has made our relationship not just survive the past fourteen years, but actually build it up.

Five Alive

Dear Charlie Bird,

Today you are five. We had this conversation recently:

Me: Charlie! Next week you will be FIVE!
You (holding up all five fingers on one hand): I’ll be a whole handful!
Me: Oh buddy, you’ve been a whole handful for quite some time now.
You: Well then I will be a whole MIT-FULL!

Buddy, you have been my least easy child. And I say this with all the love in the world, my Birdie. You started this life in a sleepy, easy way. You spent your first year as a cuddly little guy who loved his sleep and who was super easy going. By the time you were two, you were very stubborn, did things your way, and communicated in screams and outbursts. Your feelings have grown so big that sometimes your small body just cannot contain them.

Now that you are five, you are starting to be able to vocalize those feelings. Your fits are fewer and your words, hugs, and helpfulness is plenty.

You tend to be reserved when you are in a new place, preferring to hang back and observe. Once you’ve warmed up, you are pretty independent, choosing to play on your own because you can have full control that way. You get along with other kids, you are just quieter and prefer to do your own thing.

You and Eddie can play super nice together, especially as you get older and you are not just a pesky little brother, but an actual playmate to him. However he is bossy and you like to do things your way which can lead to some fierce disagreements. The one person who you seem to have the most patience for is Alice. Yes, she can bug you from time to time when she wants to play with the cars you just set up in perfect rows, but if she seems interested in what you’re doing, you gladly make room for her. And when she asks you to play babies or tea party with her, you get everything set up and help her have fun.

She learns so much from you. Miss Carolyn even tells us that she watches you at daycare and will only eat her lunch if you are eating yours first. She looks up to both you and Eddie, but Eddie is more of her helper where you are the one she wants to play with and learn from. You two have a special bond I never would have guessed would happen, but that I hope will last forever.

You started Preschool this year! I admit I was nervous about how school would go for you. You go four afternoons a week. Because of your tantrums and lack of patience with yourself, Daddy and I braced ourselves for phone calls telling us you were under a table or in a closet and wouldn’t come out. But it never happened.

School has been probably the best thing that has happened to you. You love it and you are thriving! I know the fact that you have amazing teachers who love you help, but you, my Charlie, have been a natural. Your teachers tell us you are a “quiet leader” who always does the right thing. You struggle a little with writing (you are a leftie like daddy), but you know all your letters and their sounds and are ready to start sound-spelling! You catch on very quickly to anything with numbers; you can count to over a hundred!

You are most obsessed right now with Batman! You love dressing like him and having Batman everything! We even did a Batman birthday theme for you and Alice’s party (well, she had Mini Mouse). I probably shouldn’t read too much into it, but I feel like Batman fits you well. He also likes to be in control and have cool gadgets to tinker with. I can see why you are drawn to him. Plus he wears a cool mask, and I know wearing a mask helps you feel less “seen”, which is more comfortable for you.

You and Daddy are a lot of like in many ways, but you and I have a pretty close bond. I’ve finally figured out that I can’t make you talk about something you don’t want to talk about–very much like your Dad Dad. When you are feeling BIG FEELINGS, the best thing I can do is just sit next to you. Sometimes you want me to hold you and hug you, but most of the time you just want me there. At your birthday party this weekend, you didn’t get your way about something and you flipped out. You went into Alice’s room to have a fit, and I came in and just sat on the floor while you whined and tantrumed. Eventually you got quiet and I asked you, “Do you want me to make you a plate of food?” And you wiped your eyes and said, “will you sit by me?” And that was that. I did sit by you, but only for a few minutes. Then you were comfortable with all the people in our house and you were great!

You are intensely loyal and loving. For such a small, quiet guy, you are fierce with your love. When you are happy, you are very happy. When you are tired, hungry, or hurt, you are very cranky. I’ve learned that you can become overwhelmed by too much of anything. You need quiet, alone time. You need someone to just be there. You need to know you can count on your family.

I try to make sure you know always that you are safe and loved.

You can break my heart and heal my heart like no one else, my Charlie. Your words are hilarious and wise beyond your five years. I never want to forget how you say that you’re “halmost” done or you’re “halready” done or that you love everything “becept” something. Or how you make your army guys “HATTACK!”

I love how you like random things like egg cartons and pretty stones. I love that you can line up army guys on your fire truck for over an hour and make up dialogues and scenarios with them. I love the way people think you’re not paying attention, but you are paying attention to every word said.

I love the way you jam out to Kidz Bop in the car and announce that every song is your 56th favorite song or your 4th favorite song or your 15th favorite song. I wouldn’t put it past you to actually have a mental list of all the songs you love.

I love your big feelings. All of them. I love that you say to me, “You are the best Mom Mom” and I know you mean it. Even on days when you are having lots of negative feelings, I know that at the end of the day, you want to cuddle up to me before bed because I play with your hair and do the voices in your favorite books.

I love that you know Eddie better than Eddie knows himself and that you pronounce his name, “Uddie”.  I love your love for your little sister and that you call her “Beans” like Daddy does.

I love your love of cuddly comfy clothes and cozy blankets and warm spots. I love that you love chocolate more than anything in the world.

But most of all, I just really love you. All of you: the easy parts and the difficult parts, the sunny parts and the cloudy parts. You are my best Bird.

I hope your 5th birthday is wonderful!

Love,
Mom Mom

Oh Twoodles!

Dear Alice,

Ten years ago I found myself unexpectedly pregnant. Daddy and I were very upset because we weren’t trying to get pregnant. I had another year of grad school before we even wanted to think about having kids. But there we were.

As you know already, we lost that pregnancy. But before the loss and after the acceptance that I was going to be a mom, I imagined a baby girl. This is significant because up until then I saw myself as having zero kids or only having boys, but I felt a very strong feeling that there was a girl growing in my belly. Not long after my 30th birthday we found out that the pregnancy had shut down. No baby.

It would be eight years–and four more pregnancies–before a baby girl would show up in our lives.

I was convinced after Eddie and Charlie were born, that I was a boy mom through and through. I was convinced when we found out we were pregnant with you, that you were a boy. I was sure.

I was wrong.

 

I’m so glad I was wrong.

I didn’t know, Alice. I just didn’t know how very VERY much we–I–needed you. You bring such joy and sunshine and happiness to our life–to our family!

So what are you like as a two-year old?

Over this past year you learned to walk, run, and dance. You love to twirl–especially in a skirt, dress, or tutu. And you love SHOES and accessories! You call all jewelry and hair things “pretties” and you love to load them on. This weekend I painted your toenails pink and you refused the footie jammies because you couldn’t admire your toes in those. If I brush my hair, you want to brush your hair. When I put on makeup, you want to pretend to put on lipstick or blush. When I put on bracelets or a necklace, you dash to your room for one of yours. I don’t consider myself the most girly girl, but the way you shadow my actions, I see myself differently in you.

You love to sing! Every night daddy or I sing while we rock you. You have three songs you rotate through with me: Row Row (Row, Row, Row Your Boat), Sunshine (You Are My Sunshine), and Rock A Baby (Rock’a’bye The Baby). You have started singing along with us–and I even noticed you singing Row Row the other day while you were twirling in the kitchen.

You love your blankie more than any other lovie, although you love to sleep with an army of “friends.” Usually you will pair Blankie with another friend–this week it’s a Popple, last week it was Puppy–when you leave your bed. And you love books…which you know makes my heart happy. I hope you always have a love for the written word.

Babies and tea sets are still your favorite toys and your Grandma and Granny love to spoil you with lots of babies and baby accessories. Charlie and Eddie also give in and play with you because you’re so cute that it’s quite persuasive. No one can pass up a purple tea cup being handed to them by an eager two year old! Your brothers love you to the moon. Charlie is always there to play with you, and Eddie helps you with your shoes and coat. I hope they are always your go-to for when you need someone to lean on.

You may be my shadow, but you are a Daddy’s Girl through and through. When daddy picks you up from day care you are quite possessive claiming him as “mine daddy” to all who will listen. Your face lights up when you hear him come home, and if he is gone (or just in the bathroom) you will wander around with your hands out asking, “where my daddy go?” And can I tell you a secret, Alice? He adores you too. He melts when you run to him for a hug. He lives for your voice saying, “mine daddy!” I am quite sure he had no idea how much he needed a little girl either until you showed up and took our hearts captive.

Alice, your smile and giggle make everyone happy. Even though you start shy and are slow to warm up to people, your sheer joy brings light to all those around you. Your brothers were good cuddlers, but you are my hugger. You will declare “HUG! KEESES! (kisses)” before bed or before I leave for work and you will throw your whole self into squeezing my neck. You get that from your Daddy’s side of the family, you know. Sluiters and Potters are mega-huggers.

I was afraid that making it official that you were the last would somehow leave me with a feeling of sadness…a feeling of wishing for something more…a not “fullness.” But I never once felt incomplete.

In fact, now that you are here, I have never felt more intact. You complete this family in a way I just couldn’t imagine. I see your brothers differently now through the lens of a complete family–your existence makes me appreciate Eddie’s helpful nature and Charlie’s protective personality more than ever before because now I can see our whole family. There are no pieces missing.

You are our caboose–our Little Sister.

Time has never flown by so fast as it has since we have brought you three kids into this world. As you ripped open your gifts and blew out your candles all on your own tonight, I was reminded that you are not a baby anymore. You are a toddler who is absorbing everything and learning to be you.

Being a mother has been the greatest responsibility that I have ever taken on. The past two years have felt even more powerful because to raise a daughter is such an undertaking. There are a million ways to fail, but I think we can get it right, Alice.

So far, so good, my sweet love.

Love,
Mommy

How Netflix Helps Us Cheat

We are a family of book lovers. In fact, one of Alice’s first words was “booky,” Charlie pretends to read books to Alice, and Eddie had his nose in a book this morning before I left for school. We get upwards of 40 books a week at the library in the summer and blow through all of them. My To Read pile is almost as tall as I am.

“booky? Peez? Ma Ma?”

We are a family of readers. Cortney read The Hunger Games trilogy and loved it, so I got him Divergent. Although he hasn’t cracked it open yet, I was confident he would.

Then I caught him watching the movie on TV and I was like, “WHAT ARE YOU DOING? YOU HAVE THE BOOK! YOU CAN’T JUST WATCH THE MOVIE FIRST!”

We do not fool around here.

But I have a confession. Sometimes we cheat on books with Netflix.

It’s true and it’s almost hard for me to type these words, but Netflix has tons of great movies and shows based on books, and some of them we have watched without actually reading the book first.

For instance, we have watched The Jungle Book numerous times without actually having ever read it. Ever. We even own it. Maybe this is Ok, right? Because it’s a kid’s book? Maybe we get a pass?

And Eddie really loves Charlie and The Chocolate Factory. The newest one is not my favorite solely based on the ending, but Eddie enjoys the weirdness of it. I will say we have read Roald Dahl’s version, but the boys were pretty little and I know my own Charlie doesn’t remember it. Eddie does, though. And like his mom, he is quick to point out the differences in the movie from the book. Good boy.

I am currently teaching The Giver to my 8th grade students, and I have actually not watched the 2014 movie yet. It’s on Netflix and I plan to watch it this weekend while I’m on midwinter break. But I plan to watch it with Cortney who has not read the book. I’m a cheating enabler!! (It should be noted, though, that he will watch it and become increasingly annoyed with my commentary about how it is not like the book).

Probably our worst offense, however, is that Eddie has been binge-watching A Series of Unfortunate Events and I have been encouraging it–even watching it with him from time to time (I can’t help it, I love Sunny!)–and NO ONE IN THIS HOUSE has ever read ANY of the books.

I AM SO ASHAMED!

But we can’t help ourselves! And I do have the full intention of getting the Lemony Snicket’s books for our home library so the kids (and I) can read them together. Really.

I SWEAR.

So tell me…how do you cheat with Netflix? Do you watch shows before your partner can get to them? Do have a guilty pleasure you let yourself indulge when you should be doing something else? Spill the beans, yo.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Netflix provides a year of streaming and a device for our family to watch it on. I am not paid for this content. The opinions are all our own. I am part of Netflix’s Stream Team, and I love it, yo.

Visiting

When I was little, sometimes my mom would take me along with her “for coffee with Grandma.” We would stop in at my Grandma Jo’s house on a Saturday so my mom could chit chat and have coffee with her.

At least that is what I remember.

Saturday at Grandma’s house was different than Sunday at Grandma’s house.

Sunday was full and noisy.

Sunday’s dinner table was pulled out with all the table leaves in covered in a vinyl table cloth that could easily be wiped down with a wet washcloth.

Sunday was warm–sometimes too warm–from the oven being on and all the bodies squished around the table reaching over one another to fill plates.

Sunday was filled with laughter.

Saturdays were slower and quieter. The table was small and round with a lace overlay and a green leafy centerpiece. It was comfortably warm with the smell of fresh coffee. Sometimes a radio played quietly, but not always.

Visiting on a Saturday felt special. My mom and my Grandma would sit at the table cradling mugs of coffee as they talked about work and sisters and cousins and acquaintances. I would sit quietly–or not so quietly–swinging my legs gulping my juice or soda and munching a cookie.

These visits weren’t about me–my mom would go with or without me. But being there meant that I had proven that I could behave that day. That I could be a partner for my mom for “running errands.” It was something special that I got to do with my mom and with my grandma. Even though I was usually just sitting there while they chatted, they were allowing me to be part of their visit.

*************

When I was little, sometimes my dad would take me along with him to pay a visit to my Grandpa and Grandma. My grandparents were very routine about their coffee breaks. There was one in the morning and one at 3pm. They drank coffee all day, but those were the times they would sit down with their coffee. So that is when we stopped by.

My dad would lean back in his chair and talk with my grandparents about our small town and the people and doings in it. Between the three of them it seemed they knew everyone in our town and all the history behind it.

Grandma always had a cookie jar with Oreos. She always had chocolate milk–the kind you make with whole milk mixed with Hershey’s syrup. The best kind.

The kitchen wasn’t fancy; there wasn’t a table cloth or silverware out. But there was still so much to look at.

The window sills were filled with knickknacks of all shapes and sizes.

There were pretty colored vases and glasses in the window by the sink that caught the sun.

In the fall there was always a turkey in the window behind my grandpa’s spot at the table.

There was a huge jar in the corner for spare change.

It always smelled like food and coffee–like someone was about to get a delicious meal, even in the middle of the morning on a Saturday.

Again, these visits rarely focused on me; I was just there because dad let me be his sidekick for the day. But they made me feel special, like I was getting a history lesson about my own town and family. Occasionally I would inject a question and my dad or grandpa would look up, squint a little in thought, and begin to discuss possible answers to my question, which would send them on a whole other tangent.

It was where I learned to appreciate coming from a small town.

*************

I visit my mom and dad often. I’m not sure when it happened, but at some point I didn’t like going for too long without seeing my parents. My mom and I exchange emails about something or other about once a week, but if it starts to feel like I haven’t seen her in person for awhile, something feels…off.

When I have nothing pressing on a Saturday, I’ll throw a kid or three into the car and head over to see my parents.

Every single time I drive up my parents’ long, winding, gravel driveway, it feels like coming home. How  many times have I gone up that driveway by car or by foot or by bicycle?

At the top of that driveway is the house I grew up in; the house my parents still live in. And inside that house, when my mom knows I’m coming over with a kid (or three), she has baked something. Usually. Not always, but lately yes. This weekend it was fresh gingersnaps to bring to my grandpa and because she knew I was coming over for coffee and would have Charlie and Alice with me.

My dad always razzing the kids making them overly hyper and hiccuppy from laughter. My mom always has coffee because they drink it all day long. She even buys creamer because she knows I like my coffee as non-coffeeish as possible. She encourages my second (and third) cookie that I help myself to.

Charlie finds my brothers’ old matchbox cars; Alice finds my old dolls and strollers. They wander in and out of our conversations.

I wonder what they will remember about visiting grandma and grandpa.

Now that I am an adult, I know taking me along when they visited my grandparents was because grandparents love to see the grandkids, but the visits themselves were for my parents. Somehow we don’t grow out of needing our parents.

Those Saturdays of visiting my grandparents were really laying the groundwork for me for what a parent/child relationship could be once both the parent and the child become adults. I’m grateful for that, because I very much enjoy the relationship I have with my parents now.

And I hope I am making warm memories for my own children with these visits.

Left to right: My Grandma Jo (my mom’s mom). I’m the one on the left in the braids. My Grandma R (my dad’s mom). I’m the pre-teen mess on the left. My parents with all seven of their grandchildren last Christmas (Charlie is next to my dad; Eddie is in the front left with Alice in his lap)

Beyond Cartoons

With Eddie turning eight this summer, we are finally seeing the light at the end of the Kiddie Shows Years. Don’t get me wrong, with an almost-two-year-old who is very interested in everything Mickey Mouse–and who puts her hand to her mouth and says, “Oh Tooooodahs!”–we are not exactly out of those years, but we are starting to have more than just animated shows and movies on our TV screen.

While Alice and Charlie still enjoy shows like Curious George, Octonauts, and Little Einsteins, Eddie is ready for something aimed more at his age group. When we get home from school, we have about an hour before his brother and sister get home. In that time he likes to watch a lot of anime–which admittedly is not my favorite programming, but he likes it and most of it is really Ok as far as content, so whatever floats his boat…er…catches his Pokemon. Am I right?

There have been a number of Netflix movies that our family has found to enjoy together, most notoriously Zootopia. However even that has started to lose Eddie’s interest. He would rather watch Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which is boring and a little freaky for the little kids.

So we are getting into that space of life with Littles where it is hard to please everyone.

This month, Netflix released the first season of Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate EventsI admit I have never read the books, however they always seemed like something I would have loved as a child. Eddie is still a little young to have read the on his own, however he had heard of them. So one day after school, I showed him the show knowing he liked darker stuff (like our buddy Willy Wonka).

He was immediately taken by it. Neil Patrick Harris is an awesome Count Olaf and Patrick Warburton (aka David Puddy on Seinfeld and Cronk on The Emperor’s New Groove–also a Netflix fave back in the day) is a ridiculously perfect Lemony Snicket. It’s just dark enough, but not so much so that it is scary.

A Series Of Unfortunate Events

Eddie binge-watched all the episodes without me.

Another family-favorite movie is Home. Netflix now has an animated series based on the movie. It’s pretty cute and all three kids like it, so it’s a win here!

Eddie also discovered that now there is a “recently added” row of suggestions under his profile. This is handy because it helps find stuff that he might not otherwise watch. Like a show called Precious Puppies which my puppy-lovin’ kid watched.

And saw puppies being born.

His reaction? “It was so gross…and kinda cute at the same time.”

This is why we love the individual profiles…that could have been a WHOLE lot worse if his profile wasn’t catered to his age group.

Thanks, Netflix.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. Netflix provides us with a year’s worth of streaming and devices to watch it on. All opinions are our own..

Sorting Words

I’m not sure what it is I want to write here in this moment. I don’t really know how to organize my thoughts in anything cohesive about what is happening in our country right now.

Ever since the day after Election Day, I have been promising myself I would put something here. Something so my kids look back, read my words, and know what it was like to live in this moment. I have failed at that because I truly don’t know what to point my words to.

************

Do I focus on my distress, worry, and anxiety about our new president?  Because I am filled with distress, worry, and anxiety. His campaign was filled with lots of yelling, making fun of people, tweeting tantrums, cozying up to Russia, horribly misogynistic rants, racism, xenophobia, and more. I’m sure when my kids are old enough to read my writing, they will be old enough to read what our new president has said. Maybe.

The Preamble to our Constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

See that bold part (that was my emphasis)? That means that our Constitution was put in place to make sure our citizens are ALL cared for, and that our citizens are ALL protected from unjust laws and a tyrannical government.

Our new president has nominated people to fill top leadership roles in our country who notoriously have worked against the very department they are supposedly going to be in charge of.

His chief adviser is a known racist.

We are being told that things that we hear and see with our own ears and eyes did not actually happen.

We are told that our president doesn’t lie, but gives “alternative facts.” (Pro tip: those are called lies).

I honestly haven’t been able to have a single day since he was elected that I could get my thoughts in order about how I wanted to write about this because every single day more news broke or he tweeted that people were mean to him or that Saturday Night Live made fun of him.

It’s enough to make my head spin.

This past weekend was the inauguration. So it’s official now.

This is what I know to be true right now: I do not trust our president.

I also know that I don’t want him to fail. Our country has a flawed system because humans are flawed. I don’t thin our current president is the one that is going to fix that, but I don’t want him to crash and burn because that would mean so very much pain for our country. Even more than has already been inflicted.

My prediction is that he won’t make it through his first term. At best he will be impeached, but then we have his VP to contend with. At worst…well…there are a lot of worse case scenarios and they all include someone’s bloodshed. That is unacceptable.

I don’t really want any part of my prediction to come to fruition. I would love to come here in four years and say, “man was I WRONG about that president!” I want someone–anyone–to get into his inner circle and help him be a leader who doesn’t hurt the people he is leading–someone who will help him do no harm.

Yet, he has already done harm. He has already marginalized.

I keep a small, match-sized flame of hope glowing, knowing full well that as a middle-class white woman who has insurance through her job that it is my privilege to be able to hold onto hope. And yet, how do we get through a day without some hope?

*************

Do I also focus on the protests? That is something my kids will surely learn about in history.

There were Women’s Marches this past weekend as well. All over the country. Actually all over the world. Women (and men) came out in droves and created what is now officially the largest inauguration protest of all time. There were lots of reasons people protested our current president, but they all boiled down to ALL of us having the SAME rights.

The march made me happy on Saturday as I watched the photos flood my social media. It gave me hope to see so many–millions!–come together to protest and have their voices heard!

We need to take action. Showing up is an action.

Yet I’ve seen some negative posts about march. It makes me sad. It seems that other people are still unwilling to listen to others. People are still trying to tell others that their feelings are wrong. “No, you don’t really feel oppressed because I don’t feel oppressed.”  People are still unwilling to accept that someone else’s reality and experience may be different than theirs–and that both can happen. And that alone is inequality. Why is it that a largely white crowd is a “peaceful protest”, but a crowd made up largely of People of Color is seen as a “riot”?

Our system is broken.

*************

Do I focus on what I am doing right now?

There is no question in my mind that we have to act. We have to raise our voice. We have to be the change. We can’t be content to write and share blog posts on social media, we also need to DO something.

As someone who is battling a really hard case of anxiety/depression this winter, probably in part to our current political situation, I have chosen to write my reps in congress and in the senate. I have chose to email and tweet them.

I have also chosen kindness. Our country needs kindness–humanity–right now. We need to be reminded that we are connected with each other even if we are different.

One thing we did this winter was actually Eddie’s idea. He was watching the news and saw a report on homelessness–specifically children who didn’t have winter coats and hats. He remembered this when I was packing up all the coats and hats that don’t fit anyone in the house anymore and asked me if we could give them to someone who didn’t have one instead of bringing them to GoodWill. We ended up taking a collection at church and taking the entire haul to Community Action House.

I have given money–be it small because that is what I can afford–to organizations that help educate people about cultural awareness and also go directly to help fund research and work in minority communities. My donations have gone to Being Black at School which helps educate and implement programs in schools to reduce the effects of systematic racism.

And of course I am trying to fight racism, tyranny, misogyny, and the rest with books. Research shows people who read fiction are more empathetic. Reading makes you a successful, smart person, yes. But way more importantly it makes you a good person. If you haven’t read The Giver, The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, or Animal Farm, you should. Fiction writers have long been writing about worlds where tyranny rules and what that would mean to humanity.

 

************

I am not doing things perfectly. There is more I could be doing. There is better I could be doing.

I am listening, I am staying vigilant, and I am spreading kindness.

What I Read in 2016

I had this lovely goal of writing something super poignant for my first post of 2017, but man. I am so busy that my brain doesn’t have a lot of space for poignant. So instead, I thought I would do my yearly “What I Read” post.

I took the GoodReads Challenge again, but I set my goal for 35 books. In 2015 I set my goal for 25, but ended up reading 35, so I figured I could do it again. I surpassed the goal handily by reading a total of 44 books! It helps that I love Young Adult Lit and some of those can be read super fast. In fact, it’s only January 6 and I’m already on my second book of the year.

What I Read

Anyway, this is the list of books I read last year in the order I read them. The ones in BOLD are the ones I recommend (although there were only a couple I was “meh” about, so go ahead and check them all out and let me know if you read them and what you think. The ones wit (YA) are young adult lit. (P) are novels that are written in verse/poetry. (N) are nonfiction.

  1. Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson
  2. An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (YA)
  3. Rush by Jonathan Friesen (YA)
  4. Looking for Alaska by John Green (YA)
  5. Somewhere Safe with Someone Good by Jan Karon
  6. Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
  7. A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park (YA) (N)
  8. Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick  (YA)
  9. Climbing the Stairs by Padma Venkatraman (YA)
  10. The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle (YA) (P)
  11. My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson (YA)
  12. Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert (YA)
  13. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (YA)
  14. Letters for Scarlet by Julie C. Gardner
  15. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (N)
  16. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
  17. Parrot in the Oven by Victor Martinez (YA)
  18. A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer (YA)
  19. Send Me Down a Miracle by Han Nolan (YA)
  20. What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman (YA)
  21. The Long Season of Rain by Helen S. Kim (YA)
  22. The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte by Jennie Goutet
  23. Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman (YA)
  24. Reading Unbound: Why Kids Need to Read What They Want to Read and Why We Should Let Them (N)
  25. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (YA) (first in a trilogy)
  26. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  27. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (N)
  28. Homeless Bird by Gloria Whelan
  29. Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (YA)
  30. Reading Ladders: Leading Students from Where They Are to Where We’d Like Them to Be by Teri S. Lesesne (N)
  31. Godless by Pete Hautman (YA)
  32. Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson (YA) (first in a trilogy)
  33. Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin (N)
  34. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz (YA)
  35. Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King (YA)
  36. La Línea by Ann Jaramillo (YA)
  37. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (YA)
  38. Dumplin’ by Julie Murphy (YA)
  39. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (YA) (N) (P)
  40. Autobiography of My Dead Brother by Walter Dean Myers (YA)
  41. Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai (YA) (P)
  42. Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina (YA)
  43. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  44. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (YA)

For Christmas this year, I was given a few gift certificates for books with explicit instructions to spend them on books I want to read for myself, and not necessarily something to add to my classroom library. It’s so hard for me to choose to spend my money on adult contemporary or nonfiction knowing that while I might enjoy it, it probably won’t interest my 8th graders enough to put in my classroom. But there are lots of books I want to read that fit these categories. So I did it. I went out and bought five books (and was gifted one) that are just for me. My goal is to roughly go every-other with YA books and adult or nonfiction books.

Of course there are still YA books I would LOVE to add to my classroom library, so if you are feeling generous, you can always check out my classroom library Wish List that the students and I create.

I set my 2017 GoodReads goal to 40 books. I realize maybe I should take a risk and set it at 45 since I read 44 this year, but I tend to be conservative in my risk-taking. Like I said, I’m already on book number two for the year. I have to read just over three books per month to make my goal. I think I can do it!

Tell me, what should I add to my 2017 To Read List?

One More for 2016

I think it’s easy to say “Man. 2016 sucked,” and just leave it at that. But this year was so much more complicated than a mere label of “sucked” or “rocked”.

I started the year deciding to use the word “pause” as my focus. To be honest, I forgot about choosing a word; I only remembered when I went back to my January posts. Although I forgot about it, I must have subconsciously applied it anyway. I feel like I’ve cut way back on my knee-jerk reaction to yell at my kids, and have done a better job asking, “What just happened?” I’ve also allowed myself to just sit and watch my children interact with each other and play on their own. I notice them more and make more of an effort to know them as individuals.

2016

Since the political situation has been so dividing this year, I have really had to bite my tongue and sit on my hands to keep from spouting off my own opinions–which would have only further divided and antagonized rather than bring understanding or love. I’ve had to pause and really think about saying things, sharing things, or even “liking” things.

March brought some changes to our lives: Alice turned one, Charlie turned four, and we had to change daycare moms since ours decided to pursue a new career opportunity. I also turned thirty-eight. I did a lot of reflecting in March especially about having a daughter. Cortney also told me that I needed to either “shit or get off the pot” about pursuing a PhD. He did the math and by the time I applied, was accepted, and enrolled, I would be starting in the fall of 2018…when I am forty. It’s time to get moving.

April brought us spring break. We took the boys to the Chicago area for a fun night in a hotel and a trip to the Lego store.  We can call it fun now, but at the time I thought Cortney’s head would explode. The boys–Charlie especially–did not do super awesome. There were tantrums. I also took Charlie to the doctor during spring break because he had stopped eating and was losing weight. I’m still not 100% sure what was wrong, but after that doctor visit and having him hear how important healthy food was to his body, he has been a great eater! He even found he likes roasted asparagus! Plus his tantrums have reduced to close to none.

In May I was part of the Southwest Michigan Listen to Your Mother cast. That was a HUGE accomplishment and honor for me.

June was a big month: our 11th anniversary, Eddie turned seven, my high school diploma turned twenty.  Plus summer break started. My wonderful, supportive, loving family also did the Climb Out of Darkness “climb” with me.

2016 was the first summer in a LONG time that I didn’t look forward to school starting. Not that I don’t love the start of a new school year–I totally do–but this summer we found such a good balance and I was able to enjoy my kids and the routine we happily fell into. We went to the library, the Farmer’s Market, and lots of parks. We did crafts and played outside and sat around. There were days where there was far too much screen time, but there were also days where we splashed at the splash pad or played with cousins on the beach.

We had the right amount of together time, alone time, and road-trip time. I had two days a week when the kids went to daycare which gave me much needed time run errands and clean solo…and also to get some rest. They were able to play with friends and have a change of scenery and get away from each other if they wanted. We went to the cottage with my parents as a family, but Cortney and I also went to Chicago to see Pearl Jam by ourselves.

In August, I had surgery to repair a hernia. That was dumb. The hernia was dumb, the surgery went well, but recovering was dumb. It put me out of commission for longer than I would have liked, but at least we have the insurance to cover it and I was able to get it done without having to miss work. But it was dumb.

September brought the crazy of all the things starting again: school, church stuff, scouts. Eddie chose not to do soccer this year and while I was bummed, I didn’t miss spending Saturday mornings in the rain and cold to watch him whine about running. Eddie started 2nd grade this year and Mr. Charlie Bird started preschool! Very exciting to have two-thirds of the Sluiter kids in school!

The fall also brought some of the worst anxiety I’ve had about politics and society in ages. We had a racist incident happen at a home football game where I teach, and I stood up and said something on Facebook. I got shamed and belittled by the other schools parents and students. They claimed because it wasn’t their intent, our saying it was raciest (it was not just me, but of course they used me as a scapegoat) was ignorant, wrong, and making them look bad. It brought to light just how far we still have to go as a society to recognize that other people’s feelings aren’t wrong, and good intent does not equal everything being honkeydory.

As the fall went on, we were busy, but good as a family. However it felt like our nation–and maybe the world–was falling apart. We kept reading, and going to school, and scouting, and loving each other. Cortney was nominated and confirmed as a deacon in our church. I took on the position of Religious Coordinator for Eddie’s Cub Scout Pack. I attended and presented at The Michigan Council of English Teachers annual Fall Conference.  I also flew to Atlanta for the National Council of English Teachers conference (where I presented) as well as the Assembly on Literature of Adolescents of the NCTE.

I didn’t blog much this fall. To be honest, as a family we were doing really well, but man. We have been busy. And my brain just hasn’t been able to get all the stuff out of my head and onto this space.

In November I voted for a woman for president for the first time. The next day I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest. I have been having anxiety and issues processing what a Trump presidency will look like. To be honest, I am scared. I think that is all worth it’s own post, but while we gave thanks in November, I also found myself worrying about my students, my family, and my friends who are not straight, white, rich men (so almost all of us). As Eddie became more and more interested in the news on TV, I found myself answering hard questions about the kindness of leaders and why it’s hard to completely trust any of our leaders.

This month has been a mix of anxiety and hope.

I feel a new wave of troubling emotions each day over our President Elect, but I also have been quieter and more joyful with my children. I have been watching them play alone and with each other. I’ve been trying to hug them and listen to them more.

I feel more hope than ever before when new babies are born to friends and family (we welcome a new nephew in November!)

This year has been good to the Sluiters, but it’s also shown us how much hate, racism, and injustice there still is out there. So while we have been happy in our own little house, we are well aware of how terrible this year has been out there.

For Christmas, Cortney gave me this ring. It could not be a better symbol of hope to take with me into 2017.

I don’t know if we are going to get some sort of beautiful miracle in 2017 or if nuclear warfare will break out. Or something in between. What I do know is that the Sluiters will be doing what we can to put in the work to make the world a little bit better.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Goodbye, 2016.

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