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Summer 2021: How to Stop Time

Monday, September 13, 2021

It was one of those mornings in Georgia where something about the light and the air makes you think it's chilly out and you'll need to put on a sweater. But alas, it's in the 80s today -- and likely will be into October. Nevertheless, I made both Joe and me pumpkin spice coffees this morning to feel just a hint of the fall we're not yet experiencing. 

It's not secret that I love to read. And while I love to read all year long, there's something particularly special about summer reading. Because I had Hank in June, I didn't get to read as many books this summer as I usually do, but I still got a decent amount of reading done, and for that I am grateful. 

As we close out summer reading for 2021 and look towards fall, here is sample of books I read this summer between Memorial Day and Labor Day, with some of my favorite quotes from each. I'd love to know if you read any of these or if you plan to! 



The Midnight Library by Matt Haig 

"Never underestimate the big importance of small things," Mrs. Elm said. "You must always remember that." 

We don't have to do everything in order to be everything, because we are already infinite. While we are alive we always contain a future of multifarious possibility.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner

His favourite moment, even more than the sweets shop and the single large jawbreaker she would occasionally buy for him, was the chance to look at the children's books at the library and find something new to borrow. Because -- and he still did not understand how people like his brothers could not see this -- inside the pages of each and every book was a whole other world.

"We love Jane Austen because her characters, as sparkling as they are, are no better and no worse than us. They're so eminently, so completely, human. I, for one, find it greatly consoling that she had us all figured out." 

"And that's exactly what Austen gives us. A world so part of our own, yet so separate, that entering it is like some kind of tonic. Even with so many flawed and even silly characters, it all makes sense in the end. It may be the most sense we'll ever get to make out of our own messed-up world."

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

If it were up to me, every child would have a year in the library before they went to school. Not just to read, but to roam. To befriend a librarian. To bash their fingers against the computers and to turn the pages of a book while making up a story from their superior little imaginations. How lucky the world would be if every child could do that.

The Switch by Beth O'Leary

"Whereas dating, dating is full of hope. In fact, dating is really one long, painful exercise in discovering how disappointing other humans are." 

She looks expectantly at me, but I haven't a clue what I'm meant to talk about. It's easy talking to Grandma, she's Grandma, but actually I don't really know what chitchat with elderly people entails otherwise. (<- If you know me, you get why I love this.)

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

I should also say, in case it needs saying: I don't know for sure that the words I write were the words that were actually spoken. They probably weren't. But this is how I remember these things, and all we can ever be is faithful to our memories of reality, rather than the reality itself, which is something closely related but never precisely the thing.

I loved her instantly. Of course, most parents love their children instantly. But I mention it here because I still find it a remarkable thing. Where was that love before? Where did you acquire it from? The way it is suddenly there, total and complete, as sudden as grief, but in reverse, is one of the wonders about being human.

It is a popular modern idea. That the inner us is a something different to the outer us. That there is an authentic realer and better and richer version of ourselves which we can only tap into by buying a solution. This idea that we are separate from our nature, as separate as a bottle of Dior perfume is from the plants of a forest. As far as I can see, this is a problem with living in the twenty-first century. Many of us have every material thing we need, so the job of marketing is now to tie the economy to our emotions, to make us feel like we need more by making us want things we never needed, to feel poorly travelled if we have been to only ten other countries, to feel too old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren't photoshopped and filtered.

Whenever I see someone reading a book, especially if it is someone I don't expect, I feel civilisation has become a little safer.

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

When you think about it, isn't a person just a structure built in reaction to the landscape and the weather?

Occasionally, though, the worst version of someone was the actual version of someone, but it was difficult to know if one was in that situation until after the fact.

"Because the things we don't have are sadder than the things we have. Because the things we don't have exist in our imaginations, where they are perfect." 

... I am a person with an interior world you know nothing about.

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin

After all, the only way to absolutely ensure things will go badly is to be late.

Margarettown by Gabrielle Zevin

And isn't love just curiosity at the beginning anyway? What makes a person keep reading a book? First sentence? Not bad. Chapter one? All right. By the time you're almost at three, why not keep reading? 

"I could listen to this song the rest of my life," she said. "Every time I hear it, it's different somehow." 
"Or maybe you're different?" I suggested. 

In life, Jane reflected, the most interesting things tend to happen when you are on your way to do something else.


My picks of the summer:

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig (Just a beautiful, beautiful read.) 

Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin (No one writes a character like Gabrielle Zevin!) 

The Switch by Beth O'Leary (A fast, fun, happy read.)

Elsewhere by Gabrielle Zevin (A great young adult book. Read if you want to cry!) 

Uniquely Human: A Different Way of Seeing Autism by Barry Prizant (A must-read if you are close to someone with autism.) 

Oona Out of Order by Margarita Montimore (An intriguing concept, executed brilliantly.) 

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James (A great pick for lovers of history and thrillers.) 

One by One by Ruth Ware (Another great one by the prolific Ware.) 

See my Summer 2016, Summer 2017, and Summer 2020 lists. And remember, you can always find an ongoing list of all my book recommendations here and here

What's in a Name

Monday, August 30, 2021

One thing I really love hearing about is why people decided to name their children what they did. Truly, naming a child is a stressful experience because there's so much to consider: initials, monogram, any weird nicknames, how it sounds with your last name. And if you're a teacher, then there are also so many names that belong to former students, and that brings up a lot of its own feelings. And if all this is not stressful enough, consider that I read somewhere once that when you name your child, you are giving them the name by which God will call them for all eternity. 

Oh, okay, cool. No pressure then. 

Today I thought I would share with you why we decided to name our children what we did, and I hope you will share, too! 

Robert David
Being our first child, this was the first real chance Joe and I had to share with each other what names we liked. As you can imagine, there were names he really liked where I was like "Ehh," and there were names I liked that he wasn't too thrilled about either. But one thing we both agreed on was that we loved our grandfathers. My maternal grandfather is Robert (still living), and Joe's maternal grandfather was David (he has died, and he was a wonderful man). I honestly don't remember exactly how or when we came up with Bert, but one day we just realized that was an awfully cute nickname. We liked that it was uncommon but not weird (because it's not 1950). And we thought it would suit our son more than the more common nicknames for Robert, like Bob or Robbie. The only thing holding us back from this name was that there is a slightly more famous Robert Kraft already. But we love my grandfather more than we cared about that, so Robert David "Bert" it was. 

Henry Joseph
This is probably a good time to mention that there are FOUR girls' names that I LOVE. But then I had to come up with another boy name! This time, along with all the other considerations relating to a child's name, we also had to consider how it would sound with Bert. Once again, Joe and I went back and forth, sharing our suggestions with each other, but nothing sounded right. I can't quite remember exactly how or when, but the name Hank was suggested. We loved how it sounded with Bert, and we also loved that, like Bert's name, it is uncommon but not unusual (again, because it's not 1950). Although Hank was the name we wanted, we also wanted to give him a "real" name and not just name him a nickname, so Henry is his real name. After thinking for a while, we decided to give him the middle name Joseph because Bert's name has such a strong family connection, we wanted Hank to have a connection, too. So we gave him the middle name Joseph after Joe, and we also thought it was fitting because in the Catholic Church, this year is the year of Saint Joseph. 


So there are the stories of Bert and Hank, two boys who are aptly named to spend their senior years drinking .50 coffee at McDonald's at 6 a.m.!

Some funny things:
- While I remember that Bert's real name is Robert, I am not joking at all when I tell you that 99% of the time I completely forget Hank's name is actually Henry. 
- The week we decided to name Bert Robert Kraft was the same week that the first Robert Kraft was arrested for his indiscretion, and the week we decided to name Hank Hank was the week Hank Aaron died. So if we have another child and you're a celebrity with the same name, you might want to watch out! 

Human Development

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

The other day I saw something that made me think: what have I been doing? Let me explain. 

I have been staying at home with my children for the past three school years (this is the third one) after deciding that would be best for our family right now. I really, really miss teaching and school, and it's a sacrifice for me to stay home, honestly, as much as I'm glad I can be here for my children at this time. But when I look back over the past two years, I honestly wonder: what have I been doing?

I see other stay at home moms starting Etsy shops, learning lettering, getting certified to teach yoga. I look at myself and think, I haven't done anything like that. I haven't learned to knit or gotten an advanced certification or restored any furniture. 

But then I realized two things:

1. Staying at home with my children is a difficult, full-time job, regardless of what literally anyone (and everyone) says to the contrary, and 

2. There is something I have been doing (outside of caring for my children) that is incredibly valuable

It's the second point I want to talk about today (and I'm sure I'll address the first one another time). 

I admittedly spend a lot of time on Instagram. Several months ago I began thinking about this and wondering if I spent too much time there. But then I took a closer look at the accounts I was following and what I was reading about all day, and I discovered something: 90 percent of the time I spend on Instagram is spent reading about connected parenting, gentle parenting, attachment, child behavior, fostering a healthy relationship between children and food, mental health, the foster care system, disability, and neurodivergency. 

Since Bert was diagnosed with Cerebral Palsy, I have sought out not only credible CP organizations to follow and learn from, but, more importantly, adults with CP whom I can learn so much from. I have learned the terminology they prefer, the books they recommend, the suggestions they have for parents of children with CP. This has led to an even wider education about disabled people in general and their preferences when it comes to language and terminology, the struggles they face regarding accessibility, and the history of disabled people in the United States. 

I also have a close friend who has a son she believes is autistic, and she's in the process of having him evaluated now. I wanted to know more about that, so I read a book she suggested, and I also followed a few accounts on Instagram that she suggested would be helpful in learning more about autism. 

I know several people who are foster parents or who feel called to foster, so I began following some foster parenting accounts to learn more about the foster care system, and, more importantly, how I can best support foster parents, bio parents, and children in foster care. 

While it might sound like all of this following and reading would only directly benefit my own family and friends, I truly believe that what I have done over the past couple of years is put myself on a path to becoming not only a better mother, but a better teacher, a better friend, and a better human being. Furthering my knowledge on gentle parenting techniques, attachment, child behavior, the foster care system, disability, and neurodivergency will directly benefit my future students, my own children, my friends, new people I meet, etc. because I now have a much broader and wider understanding of people in general. I believe it has made me more understanding and compassionate. You may not be able to quantify or monetize this, but I feel I couldn't have spent my time doing anything better. 

I am no longer looking at my Instagram time as time wasted on social media, but, instead, as professional and human development. 

Instagram accounts to follow:





Bert in Space

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

One of the most fun parts of preparing for Hank's arrival was setting up a new room for Bert! Although Bert is still sleeping in his nursery while Hank bunks with us in our room, we had to get Bert's new room set up early so we'd have a closet and a dresser to store his clothes in so we could put Hank's clothes in the nursery. 

We knew we wanted to give Bert a space-themed room. Joe and I both love space! We love talking about space, reading about space, watching documentaries about space. We think space is really fun, and we hope Bert will love learning about stars, planets, and black holes, too! 

I also think that Bert's body would move in space the same as everyone else's, and I love picturing him up there, floating with his fellow astronauts, moving exactly the same as they, not confined to the ground with his stiff and painful leg muscles. 

I am by no means an artist or decorator of any kind, but man did I have fun making this room for my son. We lucked into a great 50% off kids' stuff sale at Target, scored some fun wall stickers on Amazon, and randomly found a constellation clock at Home Goods. Our neighbor offered us some great wall art for free that her brother had made and she had no place for, we went through our collection of children's books and found some great space-themed ones to feature, and my brother and sister-in-law gifted Bert some night sky art before they even knew we were planning a space room for him! Since I didn't have a nursery to set up this time around (Hank will be moving into the current nursery, which we made before Bert was born and is Peter Pan-themed), I enjoyed spending the last part of my pregnancy with Hank putting this room together for Bert. I hope he will love it! 





I absolutely love hanging things from the ceilings of the kids' rooms. I think it adds some interest and depth. My favorite hack? Party decorations! That "To the Moon" banner as well as the planets, star, moon, and rocket decorations hanging to its right all came in a pack of party decorations at Target for $5. They're all too high up to reach, so they'll last! 


That "Explore" sign? Target dollar spot! And the picture below it was a gift from my brother and sister-in-law, Bert's godparents, and shows the night sky at the time he was born. 


We adore this Rocket tent! It's so fun and was the perfect way to complete this corner. It was purchased by Bert's grandparents after we found it on Amazon


My neighbor knew were giving Bert a space room and asked if we might be interested in having this art her brother painted but she didn't have a place for. We sure were! It's perfect for over the dresser. 


Some great books: My Very First Space Book, I am Neil Armstrong, and Rocket Manual for Amateurs (which I actually bought for Joe years ago at a used book sale.) 


We love this astronaut lamp! It was half off at Target when we found it. (I don't see it on the website anymore, which is probably why it was so cheap, but this one would also be so cute in a space room!) 


Target artwork with the constellation clock Joe randomly found at Home Goods. 


I don't know what the deal is, but it is so hard to find a kids' hamper that is sturdy! We looked and looked in person and online, and finally Joe had the good idea to just buy a trash can. I mean, hampers are just basically clothes trash cans, right? We bought this plain black one from Target and jazzed it up using wall stickers we found on Amazon. 




Toy storage is WalMart for the win! 


Wall stickers are from Amazon (same pack that we also used on the hamper). The bed is from Amazon and was suggested by Busy Toddler. The blanket and pillow were found for 50% off at Target! (I can't find either on the website anymore, and, again, probably why we got them so cheap!) 


The constellation rug was purchased by Bert's grandparents after we found it on Amazon! 



Advice if You're Close to a New Mom

Monday, August 23, 2021




It’s all about preserving relationships.

A couple of weeks before Hank was born, a woman at church told me she wanted to talk to me about something. She and her husband will be new grandparents in September after their son and daughter-in-law welcome their first baby. She wanted to know, as a first-time grandparent invited to see the new baby, my advice on how to be the best mother/mother-in-law she could be in the situation. I appreciated her asking, and frankly I feel that the fact she asked means she’s going to do great. Nevertheless, here’s what I’ve got for any grandparent (or anyone) who is close to parents with a new baby. I also talked with a couple friends to get their input. I truly believe that these guidelines will lead to a peaceful, tension-free time for all. Graphic one is dos and don’ts for newborns, and graphic two is dos and don’ts if the parents also have an older child.

***

- Remember that you have no “right” to see the baby when you want to. If your child/child-in-law are letting you come to their house, that’s a gift, not a right. Along with that, if they ask you to delay your visit, accept that.

- Remember you are not there to hold the baby. The mother can give the baby everything he or she needs. You’re there to help. If you want to make dinner, grocery shop, or do laundry, visit. If you just want to hold the baby, delay your visit.

- If you want to do something with the baby, ASK. Don’t just say “I’ll hold the baby.” ASK THE MOTHER if you can. It’s just simple respect.

- Do not post pictures of people’s children on social media without their permission. I don’t care what your privacy settings are or how many friends you have. It’s incredibly disrespectful. And I mean ask every time, don’t just ask once and think it applies every time moving forward.

- Don’t share your problems with the mother. Her hormones are all over the place. She’s sleep deprived, emotional, and trying to hold it together. Even if it seems like she’s “okay,” still don’t. She doesn’t need the extra emotional burden of your problems at this time.

- If the parents have an older child (or children) and have asked you to be the caregiver for this child, listen to, care about, and follow any instructions or information the parents provide. No one loves grandparents more than I do (I still have a set of mine, and I adore them and have always done), and I understand grandparents spoil and indulge. They should! But there’s a time and a place. And a time of intense transition and upheaval, such as when a new sibling arrives, is not a vacation. The parents have asked you to help keep their older child’s life moving as smoothly as possible, so if you can’t respect that, or, more importantly, don’t want to or don’t think you should have to, delay your visit and allow them to ask someone who can.

- The absolute worst thing you can do is offer unsolicited advice. I don’t care how many kids you have, how great of a parent you think you are, or what your experience is, DO. NOT. OFFER. UNSOLICITED. ADVICE. of any kind, for any reason. I know you think you’re being helpful, but actually it’s insulting, and it’s hurtful. The parents also may be choosing to do things differently than you did. It doesn’t mean you did something wrong; everyone does the best they can with the information they have at the time. If you’re not sure if what you’re about to say is unsolicited advice or not, it probably is. When in doubt, keep your mouth closed. Practice saying “How can I help?” and “You’re doing great.”

Other parents, what would you add?

(Dedicated to Kathy, who breastfed five children but then accompanied me to a hospital lab waiting room where I struggled to breastfeed a 3-day-old Bert and sat there watching until I finally snapped, “Could ya help me?” at her. That’s how committed she is to not giving unsolicited advice. More importantly, I learned that the things above are as important as they are because she worked hard to do the “this” columns. Mom, your efforts did not go unnoticed.)

The Paperclip

Monday, August 16, 2021

I want to tell you a little story about a paperclip. 

It's not a particularly special paperclip; it came in one of those desk supply kits you can get that also contain binder clips and sticky notes. Truth be told, in the role of paperclips in the traditional sense, it's not that great. It's small, it's coated in plastic, and it's easily bent. It came in a collection that also housed pink paperclips, so, being gray, it's not even a great color. 

But while it is lacking in its ability to, you know, clip paper together, it has proven to shine in another area: constancy. 

I bet you didn't guess I was going to say that. 

You see, several months ago now, the small piece of plastic that was the outer button that allowed us to turn our baby monitor on and off broke. Broke beyond repair. However, we could still turn the baby monitor on and off if we could find a little item to use to press down on the inner mechanism. I told Joe I had a glass jar full of paperclips that used to sit on my desk at school, so I ran upstairs and grabbed one out of the jar. 

That's where the journey of this particular paperclip really began. 

For a while, we clipped it to the back of the monitor. Until we found out -- or, more accurately, Bert showed me one day -- that the metal paperclip would stick to the front of the monitor like a magnet. It wasn't very strong, but it was convenient, and it did the job. 

Then one day, Joe was like, "Where's the paperclip?" We discovered that somewhere between upstairs and downstairs, the paperclip had gotten lost. Truly, we were surprised that flimsy thing had lasted as long as it did. It spent overnights charging upstairs and daytime performing its duties downstairs. Up and down it was carried -- in hands, in pockets, in laundry baskets. Losing it was inconvenient, but I figured I'd just get around to picking another one out of the jar. 

But I didn't have to. 

The next day I was pulling laundry out of the dryer, and guess what I found just laying there? The paperclip! I showed it to Joe, and we were both amazed that somehow that little thing had turned up. We stuck it back on the monitor where it went back to doing its job. Until it got lost again. 

For months we have been in a cycle where we have lost and then found this one tiny gray paperclip. It has turned up on rugs, under the couch, under a dresser, in the middle of our bedroom carpet. After about the third time of losing it, the next time we lost it, I just said to Joe, "I'm not worried. It'll turn up." And it always has. Whether it takes a day or a week, I never replace the lost paperclip because inevitably, we will always find it. It turns up every time and keeps turning up. At one point in late May as we were waiting for the arrival of Hank and going through a lot with Bert, we found the lost paperclip yet again, and I said to Joe, "This paperclip is the most constant and dependable thing in our lives." Even now, sometimes, when I'm feeling a little lost or defeated, I think of that little paperclip and how it just won't quit, and I'm like -- okay, paperclip. You keep showing up, and so will I. 




I Walked In

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

As I walked in, I thought to myself: how many times in my life have I walked into a dance studio, tights rolled up to my calves, leotard on, dance bag slung over my shoulder? I walked in as a five-year-old, a new girl in a new town. I walked in when I was 10, to the same studio building but a new dancing school after my teacher retired. I walked in when I was 13, excited to see my three best friends after spending the whole school day away from them. I walked in when I was 17, knowing the clock was running out on dance as I knew it as I would soon be going off to college. I walked in when I was 26, newly back in my hometown.

I’ve walked in on happy days, excited to gossip with my best friends. I’ve walked in on sad days, after particularly hard times in middle school. I’ve walked in worried about a physics test, and I’ve walked in worried about finding a job. I’ve walked in as a Gingersnap, and I’ve walked in as Clara. 
And tonight, I walked in again, a 37-year-old mom of a toddler and a newborn, the leotard a little tighter, the nursing bra feeling strange and unwelcome underneath. But the fundamentals remained the same: leotard, tights, shoes, dance bag. And Anna. 

As I began my first demi pliĆ©, I looked in the mirror and saw how terrible my turnout is. As I went to hold arabesque, I realized how off my balance is. My turns were sub-par, my promenade shaky. 

And it felt great. 

When time came for grande jetes in zig zags across the floor, I barely made it off the ground and was particularly poor on my left side. So when we lined up to leap from the other side, I made a decision: no mirror, just dance. My jetes weren’t any higher or more graceful, but man, for one split second I was Clara again. 

As I drove away from dance tonight, I realized that for the first time in a very long time, I had just spent the last hour not worried about anything but my turnout and balance. I didn’t worry about Bert’s health. I didn’t worry about Hank’s development. I didn’t worry about our house or bills or appointments. For one whole hour, I was 17 again, doing what I loved, carrying the spirits of those I used to love to do it with. 

Dedicated to the best friends a girl could have at a time when best friends were all that mattered. The four of us: Catherine Daniel, Jenny Leidy, Kristin Williams, and Anna Lafferre. With love. 


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