Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Writing Again

It's been nearly three years since I blogged.

In 2010, after my last post, my obstacle was my lack of confidence.  I was home then with my three kids, ages 12, 9, and 1, and I had plenty of time to blog.  But I had no ideas.  My days were a blur of feedings and naps and trips to the playground and the soccer field and the horse barn.  I was happy in my motherhood -- enormously blessed in my beautiful children -- and terribly stunted in my own sense of myself as an individual.  My therapist at the time had a great name for this state.  "You're in the hallway right now, Kelly," she'd reassure me.  There were lots of doors sitting there, waiting to be opened, but in 2010, I was not yet opening doors.  And somehow, there wasn't a lot to write about in the hallway.

I spent the first half of 2011 turning forty (Quelle horreur!) while immobilized with a catastrophically broken ankle.  I'd fallen down the stairs carrying 18-month-old Erik Allen and landed on the concrete garage floor sparing his head and busting my bones.  I had time.  Boy, oh boy, did I have time.  My anger, though, was too close to the surface to dare writing.

In August 2011 Erik Allen turned two and I went back to work.  Since then, I've been teaching at a neighborhood high school in Baltimore.  I'm a working mother.  I love my work and am fulfilled by the relationships and challenges it brings me.  I love my children.  They are smart and funny and creative and fill our home with so much love.  I watch the mommy wars with amusement because I do have it all.  For the first two years of this, though, my head has been spinning.  Personal reflective writing has not made it onto the short list of time allocation priorities.

But last week I attended a College Board Summer Institute in preparation for teaching AP Language and Composition next year.  We spent a good portion of the week writing and reflecting on our own writing.  I realized how much I missed the quiet moment of putting thought to page.

I am no longer in the hallway.  So now, I must write.  There is so much to write about.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Next Food (Network) Star

Having missed the Survivor, American Idol, and Project Runway bandwagons, the kids and I have entered the 21st century and become fans of a reality show! This warrants an exclamation point because, until now, the reality show offerings have not really appealed to my television-f0r-family-viewing standards. They are too harsh, too vapid, too, well, stupid. And they tend, I gather from previews and the Washington Post Style section, to illuminate the worst in human behavior.

But our new favorite show, The Next Food Network Star, is different. The contestants say nary a word against each other. The challenges, while contrived, are really hard. The failures are real, as when Aria forgot to salt the potato gratin. And the victories are inspiring and delicious. Who doesn't love to see a beautiful shrimp curry from an untrained cook impress Bobby Flay?

Yep, my foodie kids and I are hooked.

At the root of this, of course, is the centrality of food in our lives. I have a post on this blog entitled "Butter and Such," indicating our familial devotion to (read: obsession with) food. But I mean this -- this notion of food being central in our lives -- in a broader way. Food is sustenance. Food is energy. At its best, food keeps us healthy and strong. Food is yummy and fun. Food is culture. For a mommy, food can be a daily chore. Food is what our bodies miraculously make for our babies as we hold them to our breasts, and food is what we obsess over as our children learn to eat peas and pears and chicken. Food is what we send with our children to school each day, a little taste of home in a colorful lunchbox. Food is celebration and tradition and holidays. But it is also a bowl of instant oatmeal at five-thirty in the morning when you've been up half the night with a fussy baby.

I grew up in a culture where, when someone died, the ladies made hotdishes and Jello salads. They brought their offerings of sustenance and support to the family and to the church basement for the funeral luncheon. They fed their neighbors and friends, bodily and spiritually.

There are many parts of my original culture that I have shed. For instance, I do not make hotdish with cream of mushroom soup and I do not make Jello anything. But today I did cook for a dear friend and her family. When her mother died yesterday, I cried with my friend, and held her hand, and didn't know just what to say, and assured her that her mother knew she loved her, and told her that I love her, and cried some more with her. Having lost my dad last summer, I remember too well the shock and pain, the exquisite pain, of the loss of a parent. As more friends arrived to offer their condolences, I slipped out, came home, and made a menu. It is, after all, what we do when someone dies.

This is what I love about The Next Food Network Star. The contestants cook because they love food and they embrace the challenge of making food interesting, beautiful, tasty, and representative in some way of their own identities. Sure, they want to be TV personalities. But I like to think that they compete in the contest to hone their skills in the ministry of food, too.

Saturday, October 24, 2009


My earliest memories are of Dad reading to me. He was a great reader to children—expressive and dramatic. And he was patient. When Mike and I were stuck in the ruts of toddlerhood obsession with one book (for Mike it was Katy and the Big Snow, for me, 'Twas the Night Before Christmas, year round), Dad read us those same books, over and over, playfully changing words to challenge our memories but providing the comfort for us of the same story, the beloved story, again and again. The gift of reading is one that both Mike and I passed along to our own children. It is a little piece of Dad's rich legacy.

As I struggled with his illness and anticipated his death, I sought comfort in words. Although Dad was not a poet or, for that matter, much of a fan of poetry, that is where I turned, to the art of words, to remember him, to honor him, to wrap my mind around my loss of him.

I started my search for a poem representative of my remarkable father where I was emotionally—focused on his end, his death. I considered the heavy rhymes of John Donne. His Holy Sonnets—“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee mighty and dreadful”—came to mind. But that was not right for Dad. Dad was too casual, too spontaneous, lived too much in the moment, for Donne's formal structures to speak for him.

I read Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose words were lighter, more celebratory. But Emerson felt a bit too proud, almost a shade pompous. And that, certainly, was not Dad, whose humility and life of service to others we remember today.

The Bronte sisters were too romantic. Dad was a man of fewer words, simpler words. He was straightforward, honest, and many times told me the truth when I didn't necessarily want to hear it.

My search for the right poem for this occasion ended with Carl Sandburg. He is a Midwestern poet who uses direct and descriptive language to create poems that celebrate humanity. They don't rhyme. They flow.

The Sandburg poem I chose for today is not about death. Instead, it is about the journey of life. And, as we all know, Dad's life was quite a journey. Whether he was travelling to Omaha or Baltimore to visit the grandkids, or to Tanzania to help build a hospital, or to Jamaica to work with orphaned boys, or to a youth group mission trip in Vermont, or from Orlando to Boston to deliver a bone marrow donation, Dad's life was full of roads travelled literally. But beyond that physical travel was the meaningful stuff of his life—making relationships, helping, serving in communities far and wide. We all know that about Dad. That is why we are here today.

This poem is a lovely representation of that duality—the literal journey from point A to point B and the more subtle one of relationship and meaning. This poem is called The Road and the End.

I shall foot it
Down the roadway in the dusk,
Where shapes of hunger wander
And the fugitives of pain go by.

I shall foot it
In the silence of the morning,
See the night slur into dawn,
Hear the slow great winds arise
Where tall trees flank the way
And shoulder toward the sky.

The broken boulders by the road
Shall not commemorate my ruin.
Regret shall be the gravel under foot.
I shall watch for
Slim birds swift of wing
That go where wind and ranks of thunder
Drive the wild processionals of rain.

The dust of the travelled road
Shall touch my hands and face.

Dad's journey surely was not without pain or regret. Disappointment and loss are essential elements of the human journey, and like any man, Dad experienced them. But in his travels, in his relationships with each of us, he had a full journey. And he finished his journey as he would have wanted it, with the dust of that travelled road, the dust of Christ-like service, the dust of commitment to marriage, fatherhood, and friendship, thick upon his hands and his face.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Counting on Baby

Ethan is thrilled to be getting a baby brother. At dinner a few weeks ago, when we were sharing our anticipations about baby's arrival, Ethan shared this plan.

"Mom, I'm going to teach the baby everything I know about math so that when he goes to Kindergarten, he will already know everything I know," he said.

My heart swelled. Ethan loves math and is intuitively good at it. How sweet that he wants to pass on to his baby brother his passion. Of course, I also felt compelled to point out to Ethan that he will start high school on the same day the baby will start Kindergarten. (Dwell on that for a moment, mommy.)

But he was nonplussed. "Okay. I can do that." Such confidence. I asked him where he'd start.

"With multiplication facts."

Hmm. I asked him, "Buddy, do you think there is something the baby will need to learn before he tackles multiplication?"

"Like what?" he asked with wonder.

I suggested that maybe addition and subtraction may precede multiplication.

"But mom, you don't learn addition and subtraction, you just know it!"

I took a deep breath and shared the truth of infancy with him. I slowly explained that the baby will need to learn what numbers mean before he adds or subtracts or multiplies or divides. We will have to teach him what numbers mean, I told Ethan, by showing him groups of objects. We will have to teach him to count. We will have to teach him to recognize the Arabic numerals.

And for once in his life, Ethan was speechless. His expression told all. Mom, his face screamed, what kind of a moron are you giving birth to?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

La Troisieme Fois

Tout le monde connait la tour Eiffel. Elle est une icône de la ville de Paris et un monument de modernité.

La tour Eiffel a été construite de 1887 à 1889 pour l’exposition universelle pour célébrer la centenaire de la revolution française. Gustave Eiffel, l’entrepreneur de la tour, a imaginé une structure qui refléter l’âge culturel, scientifique, et artistique. C’était l’âge de Freud, Rodin, Jules Verne, un âge d’invention et d’avances techniques..

La tour fait 324 m haute et a 1665 marches. Chaque année, plus de 6 millions de visiteurs visitant la tour.

Moi, j’ai visité la tour Eiffel trois fois. En 1985, je l’ai visité avec ma famille. Mon frére et moi, nous avons désiré monter á la troisieme plate-forme. Mais ma mere, elle, elle ètait très effreyée. Donc mon frère et moi, nous ne sommes pas montés.

En 1989 j’y suis retournée. J’étais resolúe à monter la tour. Mais ce jour la, il fait chaud et la tour, il y àvait beaucoup de gens. Ils me pressent et moi, je me suis évanouie. Deux ratés!

L’été passé, avec ma propre famille, j’ai visité la tour Eiffel la troisieme fois. Mes enfants, eux, ils ont demandé de monter la tour Eiffel. J’ai dit, “Vous allez monter avec leur père, parce que maman est effrayée. Puisque j`ai suis plus âgée qu’eux, je suis effrayée des élévations!” Eleanor et Ethan, ils ont dit, “Mom, tu nous dois y aller!”

Donc, mon marie a fait une réservation sur le Jules Verne, le resto très élégant au deuxieme étage pour déjeuner. Il m’a donné beaucoup de vins. Et après une bouteille et un repas extraordinaire, avec mes enfants très jolis, j’ai saisi l’occasion et j’ai pris l’ascenseur au pinnacle.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Oh, Baby!

I do not believe in fate. I do not believe in astrological signs, star charts, destiny, or luck. I do believe in god, but I do not believe that god has a plan for me. She may have a will, but she certainly has bigger issues to address than my weird career trajectory and my suburban ennui.

But in the wake of the indefinite postponement of our move to Belgium, my dearest friends assured me that a wonderful path awaits me, with or without the European adventure. Their confidence that this would turn out for the best, that the universe knows what it is doing, did not dimish my sadness. Many dear friends have said, "Kelly, everything happens for a reason. You may not know what that is now, but you will, and when you do, it will make sense."

It didn't exactly comfort me to hear this because, as a guiding principle, I reject it. But boy, did it make me laugh. For despite my belief in reason, in science, in math and probability and free will and plain old chance, I did have a good reason to believe that this change of plans may be convenient.

We discovered two days after our move was postponed that we will be welcoming a baby into our home in mid-August. How about that?

Would we have made a transatlantic move with a baby expected? Yes, most assuredly. We moved from San Francisco to DC when I was six months pregnant with Ethan, and we made that move without the conveniences and budget the Belgium move would have offered. Seasoned movers that we are, we would have been fine. (Our parents, though, may have disowned us or preemptively sued for custody of the new grandbaby.)

Does the excitement of a new baby mitigate my disappointment, my suburban stuckness? No, not entirely. It remains a heartbreak for me every day.

But the joy of anticipation that Scott and I share for a child we have wanted for a long time is a wonderful thing.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What to Write About?

I have a long list of things I don't want my blog to be.

For starters, I don't want it to be a mommy blog.

I have nothing against mommy blogs. Indeed, there is something admirable about taking the time to document the life of the family in the midst of the raising of said family. And some of them make for enjoyable reading. I think I don't want to write one for the same reason that I don't send a holiday letter. Because while I love getting other people's letters, I cannot bring myself to assume that anyone wants to know so much about my family's goings-on. It's certainly not shyness that drives this. It's rooted, rather, in a fundamental distaste for the listing of the accomplishments and the cataloguing of the ailments. So while I may some day envy those mommies who blogged the details of their family lives, I will not do it.

A mommy writer could always engage in the mommy politics. But the meat of the mommy matter -- breast v bottle, work v home, cloth v disposable, jars v ice cube trays full of home-pureed carrots -- doesn't engage the full me. I am a breast, home-except-when-I-was-working, disposable, ice-cube-trays-with-the-first-kid mom by instinct, by choice, by judgment, but I don't want to write about it.

I also don't want to have a casual blog. Posting too frequently, without attention to quality, is not my style. (If you think this reads like the ultimate cardboard justification for my infrequent blogging, feel free to judge me. Really.) I want my posts to be thoughtful, important, and meaningful. I want each to contribute to the whole. And I want to work around a theme.

Could I write about politics? Sure. I certainly have strong opinions, a relatively well-informed set of positions, and plenty of material to work with. Especially now. But I count on Eugene Robinson, Paul Krugman, Hendrik Hertzberg, Ruth Cohen, Maureen Dowd, and the Davids (Brooks, Broder, and Ignatius) for the best of this kind of writing. In short, I want to read it, not write it.

The central struggle of the blog is that I had a theme. I was going to blog about the experience of an American mommy living abroad. My discourse would touch on parenting, but with a turn toward the consequences of the cultural choices we make for our children. My posts would engage in American politics, but from across the sea and with a nod toward the global perspective of one little household. My words would not document the lives of my children. There would be no soccer scores or club initiations or academic honors. But my words would record the nature, the rhythm, the flavor of our international family life.

What to write about now?