Friday, March 30, 2012

The Red Taxi

Because of the length of this letter, I am just going to write a few excerpts that really touched me. It's something I've been struggling with, and it was exactly what I needed to hear. Beth Ann tells us she grew up in the Girl Scouts and had tremendous pride about her earned badges and achievements. She longed for Wednesday nights when she would receive her next badge. She hurried home to sew on the perfect patches to her perfect uniform. She was OCD, a perfectionist, a planner. Sound familiar? After revealing these things about herself, she had my full attention.

I was just telling Chad last night that I have resigned myself to the fact that our perfect stainless refrigerator will ALWAYS have fingerprints on it. There will always be a few dishes in the sink, laundry to be done, toys on the coffee table. We have to let it go. So what if MaryCollis and I are on the couch watching Bubble Guppies instead of mopping the floor? If all we do is work, cook, clean, meetings, yardwork. Lather, rinse, repeat. What's the point of this life? We have to take the red taxi sometimes.

It wasn't really until my first year at the University of Arkansas that I began to see how tidy and corrupt my poetry was. The poet Jack Gilbert visited the M.F.A. program, and he told me a story. It went like this: in Amsterdam, because of the many curving roads, sudden canals, and one-way bridges, it's difficult to get to know the city. So difficult, in fact, that it takes a taxi driver five years to earn a license. Because of this, sometimes there's a taxi shortage. Once, jack Said, the shortage got so severe that the city came up with a plan: a passenger could take one of the regular black taxis, pay full fare, and get to the destination speedily. Or, a passenger could take one of the new red taxis-in-training. These taxis were cheaper, but when you got in one, you never quite knew what you were in for. You'd get to your destination, sure, but you might take a few wrong turns, might get a little lost. Who knew what you might see along the way.

After telling me this, Jack Gilbert paused. "Beth Ann," he said, "take the red taxi."

In my next poem, I stopped steering. The poem took a detour and ended at a destination I didn't even know I knew. It was fun. I tried it again. And gradually I learned to give up control. To, sometimes, at night, on a country hill, take my hands off the wheel and turn the headlights off just for the prickly thrill of it. There's an old workshop adage that still holds a lot of truth for me: "No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader." I was surprised by what I contained, by what we all contain. What mysterious creatures we humans be.

Around the same time I was learning to let my poems discover what they wanted to say, I was falling in love with cowboy-booted, country-talking Tommy, at Arkansas to study fiction. And he did his part to mellow out the Girl Scout badge-earner, who, after all, was a rather unhappy little overachiever. Being with Tommy softened me. Love can do that. I went from being an anti-TV, near-vegetarian, cultural snob to a woman who would spend Saturday mornings in bed with Tommy watching Cheers reruns and eating BBQ while he stroked my hair. Also, all the anger I'd been stoking inside myself and directing at men - anger that stemmed from my father's alcoholism and sordid death - puttered out in the fresh wind of his loyalty and affection.

Looking back, I see how both poetry and love prepared me for raising Claire. The Girl Scout I'd been would have cracked after a month of motherhood. One can't grimly check off the requirements and bump the child from stage to stage. There's so much instinct involved, so much trail and error. Everything is contextual and often cloudy. I established a rule about Claire eating at least a bite of each different food on her plate, for example, and try to stick to it - then one day she's sick or upset and I see what she really needs is to feel she has a little control over her fate, is able to say "no" and have Mommy listen. I've learned to let her be messy and silly, because it's a way of being creative. Learned to let her put the black stripes on the orange-frosted Nemo birthday cupcakes, even if that means no party guest will discern the shape of a fish. I've learned to watch and react to her, instead of steering her to the conclusion that I preordained best.

I signed Claire up for Kindermusik when she was a year old because she's always been musical, always loved to sing and clap. But she was the youngest one in the class by several months and didn't have the motor skills necessary for some of the songs. Also, she didn't have the maturity yet to wait like the older children for her turn at the zither. The Kindermusik teacher spoke sharply to Claire when it was time to crawl like a bear and Claire was still hopping like a kangaroo. I began to sense the teacher didn't like Claire, perhaps didn't like children. And one week when I was getting Claire ready she said, "No go, Mommy," so we didn't, and we forfeited our fees (and our graduation diploma!), and Claire and I stayed home banging pots and pans with wooden spoons to our raucous delight. I can't always take the red taxi with Claire, but I've learned there are times she needs me to. Times when we both need to.

Ah, poetry and love - you found me and prepared me, you drilled me on the skills of ingenuity and risk taking, and so you readied me for the radical nature of motherhood. Motherhood, for you I gave up guarantees and road maps, for you I traded my plaid uniform skirt for a cardboard rocket ship. For you, I have appeared indecorous, and, more than once, worse than indecorous. Yes, I have been downright foolish. And it would seem you give so little in return - no patches! No gold stars! Not even a sash! I cannot fully predict or perfect you, I will spend my life attempting it, and I will fail, I will fail because I know that ten lifetimes aren't enough. And that is both my sorrow and my deep, thrumming joy.

Beth Ann

*Taken from pages 78-80 of Great with Child: Letters to an Young Mother by Beth Ann Fennelly. Copyright 2006 by Beth Ann Fennelly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

No More Children. But. But. But.

April 6, 2003
Dear One,

The wife of one of my colleagues in the English Department is pregnant and I can't keep my eyes off her. At the department potluck last week, I had to remind myself not to stare. I'd watch her pass a plate to someone, then I'd follow her hands as they unconsciously returned to her belly. I remember toward the end of my pregnancy that the side where Claire's back was curled would be warmer than the other side. Often, I could feel the firm curve of her little butt, the size of a doorknob, just to the right of my belly button, and it filled my palm perfectly. No matter what else I was doing, I'd also be touching her. Whether teaching or walking or eating an apple, some part of me was musing on our mystery, the love that felt ageless and wise. Such a laying on of hands, such a daily walking embrace.

I can't stop watching this pregnant woman because I'm looking to her as a tuning fork, trying to sound out my heart to see how I'd feel if we didn't have another child. The truth is, Tommy and I have wondered whether we will. We've been trying for almost nine months now, and it keeps not happening. Partially this is due to our travels - often one of us is out of town during my ovulation. So it's not so much that I think we need a fertility expert as I think we need to decide how much we want to make a sibling for Claire.

Every month when I get my period, I have a conflicted mess of emotions, because while it's true that I've always envisioned myself as the mother of more than one child, it's also true that as the months roll on, we've really hit our stride with Claire's routines. I almost wrote "we've gotten our lives back," but that makes it sound like what we've been doing hasn't been living. Not so! But we're less frantically baby-centered. We've added back into our schedules things we had to drop for a while. Even something as simple as writing you several times a week isn't something I could do with a newborn in the house. Recently I read Elizabeth Bishop's collected letters and found that there were days when she wrote forty of them! Bishop had no children. If we have another child, I won't be writing letters or poems or much of anything. I'll have to reintroduce myself to the privation of the mind in favor of the body, at least for most of that first year. I can't manage to forget the devastating equation a female writer once announced to the class I was taking in grad school: each child you have equals two books you won't write. The poet Keith Waldrop put it even more succinctly: "Keep out of reach of children."

When I recall Claire's early months, the terrible mind-numbing fatigue, how very stupid I felt all the time, all poetry and clear thoughts receding like an archipelago of islands on the horizon, I'm not sure how eager I am to go back to that shore. What baby-crazed night was it that I woke to feed Claire and woke again to calm her crying and woke again for the same reason, and at last I sat rocking her, eyes closed, mumbling a few songs, and I realized that the ABC song and "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" had the same melody? I swear, it seemed like I'd discovered gravity.

A few years later I learned doctors actually have a term for this: placenta brain. Apparently, many new mothers suffer a short-term memory loss for facts that have nothing to do with their infants, while retaining a better-than-usual short-term memory for baby-related data. It's nature's way of ensuring a baby's caregiver is paying attention. How I wish I knew back then that my stupidity was a common reaction; I thought I was losing my mind. How comforting! A name! What I had had a name!

So there are moments in each day when I'm sure: no more children. But. But. But. I'm seized with incredible longings to hold a newborn again. When I think that I would never hold another child to my naked breast - never walk to a child's half cry and lift it to my pillow where it rolls toward me and with a frantic mouth begins unwinding the skein of warm milk, gradually losing the jerky anxiousness, quelling toward calm, the tiny fist-buds unfolding, the eyeballs rolling back in drunken bliss - I feel tremendous sadness. And of course there's Claire's desire, although she's just started to voice it, for a sibling. How lonely family vacations might be without a conspirator to share the backseat, bisected with its imaginary line that neither can cross. I also imagine a future in which Tommy and I are old and sick and the burden of care falls on her. I see her standing alone before a grave, and I want to paint in a brother or sister to put an arm around her.

And when I read these words of Anna Akhmatova, I yearn to say them and have them be true about me as well: "The secret of secrets is inside me again."

Beth Ann

*Taken from pages 44-47 of Great with Child: Letters to an Young Mother by Beth Ann Fennelly. Copyright 2006 by Beth Ann Fennelly.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

May You Live in Interesting Times

Erin let me borrow a book called Great With Child: Letters to a Young Mother, and it is exactly what I needed to read. It's a book of letters from Beth Ann Fennelly to her friend who is expectanting her first child. She tells her expectant friend the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm only about a quarter of the way through the book, but it is real and funny and honest and touching. I'm going to be sharing a few of the letters over the coming weeks as I come across ones that speak to me.

March 29, 2004
Dear K,

I'm writing you in a disco. Okay, it's not a disco, it just feels like one, because Claire has discovered that if she climbs on top of my file cabinet, she can reach my light switch. On, off, on, off, it's like living under a strobe light. And now that I think about it, living under a strobe light is a pretty good metaphor for life with a toddler. Although I play with her, dress her, feed her, bathe her little body every day (well, almost every day), each time I look, she seems in a different place, almost a different person, without any kind of transition, like a dancer under a strobe light.

At night before turning in, either Tommy or I check on our sleeping child. When we do, sometimes what we find is not the infant that we rocked to sleep but a large, gangly, grown-up girl. Gone are the days when we'd have to scan the crib until we found her, no bigger than a pair of rolled-up socks in the laundry basket. Instead, she's stretched from end to end of the suddenly cramped crib. I call my husband. "Look," I whisper. "She's huge!" He shakes his disbelieving head. We've been similarly stunned to see her in the tub and find that sleek seal body has replaced the fat-creased infant we expected, reminding us of those "magic capsule" sponges that swells one hundred times its original size.

And it's not only physically that she seems to leap without transition - it's emotionally and cognitively, too. First, she's Mommy's baby, and when she wakes up, only Mommy can get her milk, only Mommy can change her diaper. But then without reason or warning, she's Daddy's girl. She will brush her teeth only if Daddy holds the brush. She will eat only if Daddy makes the pasta. Mommy feels left out and rejected. But Daddy's a bad cook! Mommy wants to shout. No use. If Mommy wants to help, she can clean around the high chair, from which Claire flings coins of hot dogs like the queen of Mardi Gras.

Then the week comes when Claire regresses, stops potty-training or feeding herself and refuses her formerly beloved task of pressing down the Velcro on her sneakers. The next week, however, she screams if we don't let her dress herself, and I wheel her through Kroger in her nightie, winter boots, swim floaties, and cowboy hat. Even with Claire's imagination, we can't keep up. She tells me, "I the baby, you the mommy." Okay, I think I can handle that. Then she decides she's the mommy. I cram my thumb in my mouth obligingly. Then Daddy wants to play. "Who's Daddy?" I ask Claire. "Scooby-Doo," she says. "Am I Shaggy?" I ask. "Cinderella, pay attention," she warns, "or you'll get a time-out."

Why, I wonder, are toddlers like this? It's enough to drive me crazy. More than once it has. Like this morning, when I've run too many errands before taking Claire to the park. We're both tired when we get there. I hand her a few Gummi Bears, but she flings them to the ground. "Orange and yellow! Bad bears!" I'd forgotten, Claire was only eating green food today. I fish a few green ones out. "No! Now the green ones are dirty!" I blow on the green bears, rub them on my skirt, but by now she's so worked up that when she reaches for them she knocks them into the playground mulch. And begins howling. I'm tired, I'm annoyed, I'm mashing a Gummi Bear against my daughter's clamped teeth, yelling, "Eat it! Eat it, you brat!" And then I stop, look up into the blue, restrained sky, and laugh a little. I hug Claire, who, after all, is simply trying to impose rules on a world of flux so she can have a sense of control.

There's a Chinese curse that says, "May you live in interesting times." With toddlers around, times are always interesting. As adults, we change so grudgingly that daylight saving throws us off for a week. But in Claire's world, she can reach the faucet today only when yesterday she couldn't. And she learns a new word at a minimum of every two hours, according to language theorists. Her progress is not all linear, though, because suddenly she can't remember what the animal doctor is called and her fingers can't pinch the marble from the cup and pee-pee is running from her big-girl panties into her Dora sneakers. It must be terrifying to be so interesting.

One of the hardest things about parenting toddlers is that we have to live in flux again. On good days, I adopt an almost Zen-like stance, and content myself with immersion into the Now. On bad days, I feel almost betrayed, panicky that I can't stop her passing from phase to phase even long enough to fully appreciate each one. But of course if we could stop the journey, it wouldn't be so compelling, so consuming.

Now Claire pauses at the platform at the top of the jungle gym - she hasn't gone down the big-kid slide before. She looks at it, holding her breath, and I expect her to grasp the rails and back down. I find that I, too, am holding my breath, hoping that she'll grasp the rails and back down. But this is the whimful toddler world, and I'm along for the ride. "Mommy," she calls, "I'm a big girl now." And with terrible speed, she hurls her precious body down the slide.

Beth Ann

*Taken from pages 37-40 of Great with Child: Letters to an Young Mother by Beth Ann Fennelly. Copyright 2006 by Beth Ann Fennelly.

Monday, March 19, 2012


After MC's 18-month checkup on Friday, we took off for Oxford. Since Lauren (MC's godmother and my dear friend) always comes to see us, we decided it was time for us to go see her.

18-month appointment

MaryCollis only napped for 30 minutes on the way up, so by the time we got to the other side of Jackson she had just about had it. We stopped in Madison, where we stretched our legs and I changed her diaper. Then it was time to get back on the road. When I opened the back door to put her in, she stiffened her legs and arched her back and said "Nooooo!"

I finally got her in the car seat, and I knew it was going to be a miserable 2.5 hours if I didn't make her happy somehow. So I did what any Mother of the Year candidate would do.... I gave my screaming child a sucker. And I let her lick on that thing for the next 30 minutes until she was covered in sugar and smiling in delight.


When she finished the sucker, she was content for about 10-20 minutes. Then she saw my "cow" (I have this app on my iPhone that is called "Toddler Flashcards" and it has everything from numbers to animals to the solar system. Her favorite animal is a cow, and that's all she's really interested in looking at on the flashcards so she calls the phone a "cow"). "Cow! Mmmmmm.... cowwwwww! My cowwwwww!" Great.

Once again, I did what any MOTY candidate (that's what we call ourselves) would do. I gave my child my very expensive mobile device. I let her rub her sticky sucker hands all over it until we got to Batesville. Then she was just over the whole thing in general. She fussed for the last 30 minutes, and I just turned the radio louder and louder. Once we got there, she sat up camp right in front of the TV and ate goldfish until it was time for dinner.

Setting up camp at LaLa's

She went to bed and slept like a champ, so we all woke up refreshed and ready for the day. We had an awesome day Saturday. We ate at Two Stick for lunch, painted our toenails while MC napped, shopped on the square, got yogurt at YaYa's and popped into Proud Larry's for a mid-afternoon drink. I downloaded MC's flashcard app onto my iPod touch so she could have her very own "cow," and she wore the battery slam down.

Lunch at Two Stick

Yogurt at YaYa's

Shopping at Nielson's

Enjoying her new items from Square Books Jr.

The ride home Sunday was horrible. Excruciating. Stressful. Just awful. I put her in the car seat, and she was asleep within the first 2 minutes. But she only slept 30 minutes. So the entire rest of the trip (3 full hours) was filled with screaming. Not fussing. SCREAMING. You know, if you're traveling with a toddler by yourself there's no one to hand her crackers or water or pick up the toy she dropped or put the cow game back on when she's pressed the wrong button. You need a partner. It's a team effort. Having said that, I will never again travel with a child by myself. Ever.

When we got home, she sat on the couch for 30 minutes without saying a word. Just staring at the TV. This child never watches TV but something about The Cleveland Show really caught her attention.

Friday, March 16, 2012

18-Month Checkup


MaryCollis' 18-month checkup was today, and it went really well!

Weight: 24 pounds
Height: 32.5 inches

I seriously can't believe how much she changes every single day. She says at least 5 new words per week - nearly one every day. Her newest are Matthew (a kid at daycare), choo choo, ready (as in "I'm Ready!"), okay and tuba (we have NO idea what that one is yet).

She loves animals.

Thursday, March 15, 2012


My mom and I took a trip to Gulport yesterday in search of summer clothes. Last summer I stocked up on shorts, jeans and tops from J.Crew but I was still carrying some extra weight. I've been wearing those clothes, which are 2 sizes too big, for long enough. I decided it was time to treat myself (at Chad's expense). :)

I was kind of hoping I'd get there and they wouldn't have much selection (so Chad wouldn't kill me), but that didn't happen. They had everything.

I got these shorts in khaki and white, this top and this top, this skirt (adorable!), this oh-so-comfy button-up, these linen pants, these cropped slacks for work and these and these shorts. But my FAVORITE purchase was this zipper-backed Jenny dress in ivory. I so wish you could see it in person. That stupid white mannequin does not do her justice.

There were so many things I wanted but ended up putting back... like this embroidered tee and this graphic tee, this blazer (swoon!), these trouser jeans, these black shorts for dressy summer nights and this fedora.

The only thing I wasn't able to find was a swimsuit, which I desperately need. I'm really crushing on this one and this one from Urban Outfitters... but THIS one is my favorite from UO. And if I had a million dollars, I would splurge and buy every single one of these:

Holy crap. I've always been a sucker for retro swimwear but now that I actually need something that will cover me up to my belly button (to cover the stretch marks), I love them all the more. Have y'all had any luck with swimsuits this year?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ana's Birthday and Kate's Shower

Ana is 3!
Ana's birthday was last week, so we scooted over to Andrea's house for an impromptu party Tuesday night. It was the cutest "30 minute party" I've ever seen. Strawberry milk in champagne glasses, a Cinderella cake, and princess wands and crowns as favors!

This was just before John Brooks said, "Excuse me. Could you please get all these babies out of here?" Ha!

She loved this "choo choo" so guess what we went home with? Thanks, Andrea!

Keenan is on his way!
We hosted a shower for our friend Kate at my house two weekends ago, and I just had to show off some of the photos. 

MC loving on Kate

Blue hydrangeas.

Cookie favors

MC eating cucumbers - there's a first time for everything!

Great shower for a great friend. I can't wait to meet Keenan!

Spring Break To-Do List

I have been on auto-pilot for so long now. Since we bought the house in November, I have been just going through the motions. I decided that Spring Break was my chance to do a lot of catching up on life. I planned on putting up winter clothes and replacing with spring ones, DEEP cleaning the house (like baseboards and everything) and trying to relax a little.

Here's my list:

Sweep everywhere
Mop kitchen, den, sunroom, foyer, bathrooms (x3), 3rd floor
Vacuum den, library, formal, foyer, dining
Window seals

Wash sheets
Clean washer/dryer
Fix MC’s bow
Organize 3rd floor
Organize MC’s closet
Put up winter clothes
Organize spring/summer clothes

Take clothes, etc. to storage unit
Put all numbers on Do Not Call List
Chad’s pants hemmed
Back up computer/photos
Finish FBC handbook
Organize photos
Fix sheets (sew)

It doesn't look like I've gotten much done but it took 5 hours just to wash all of my bedding (sheets, duvet, quilts) and remake the bed. Seriously. Hopefully by making this list public, I will be held accountable and actually finish the list. So much for relaxing!

Monday, March 12, 2012

New Orleans

My parents and Chad and I took MaryCollis to New Orleans last weekend, and it was definitely in the top 5 trips to NOLA for me. MC has been to NOLA before, but she was just a baby and she didn't stay overnight, so this was her first real trip.

Friday evening we strolled all the way to the end of the French Quarter in search of Louisiana Pizza Kitchen. We found it nestled on the very last corner past the French Market. My friend Andrea told me it was a great place to eat - with our without kids. (We have several stand-by restaurants that we MUST eat at before we leave, but we also try to squeeze in at least 2 new restaurants every time we go. We've been doing this for years and still haven't made a dent in our list).

So this time we tried Louisiana Pizza Kitchen, and HOLY COW! Great wine selection, fabulous brick oven pizzas, great salads and to-die-for pasta dishes. My recommendations: The wild mushroom fettuccine and the jerk shrimp pizza. Simply amazing. MaryCollis' recommendation: Stick with the frozen cheese pizza she loves from the local grocery store. :)

Afterward, we walked the short distance from LPK to Cafe Du Monde for beignets and coffee. MC loved it. Then we walked back to the hotel and got MC ready for bed. I was kind of nervous about sleeping in the same room with her because she sleeps 12-13 hours per night, and I just knew that she wouldn't sleep well with us in the same room. But it went really well!

Cafe Du Monde

I put her in her pack 'n play around 7:30, then Chad and I turned the TV on low and watched for a bit. She didn't make a single peep for 30 minutes but then she started a cycle of sitting up, standing up, sitting down, laying down, sitting up, standing up, sitting down, laying down. She still never said a single word but we knew then that she wasn't going to sleep until we went to sleep. So Chad turned off the TV, and off she went. She slept until 6:30, when Chad's alarm woke everyone up. We put her in the bed with us, and she went sound asleep. We finally had to wake her up at 8:30 to go eat breakfast.

We strolled down to Johnny's Po-Boys, where Chad once had a chicken biscuit smothered in white gravy (!). Oh. my. gosh. That was the best dadgum biscuit I've ever had. For real. Flat Stanley loved their breakfast too. For those of you that don't know, Stanley is a young boy who was flattened a bulletin board. He makes the best of his altered state by traveling all around the world by being mailed in an envelope. A child at my school mailed me a Flat Stanley, so he's been hanging out with us for weeks now!

Flat Stanley at Johnny's

While Stanley was posing for a photo, the rowdy guys at the next table said, "Hey! Flat Stanley!" So we absolutely had to get a photo with our new pals.

Flat Stanley with our Texas buddies

After a HUGE breakfast at Johnny's, we caught the trolley toward the zoo. Flat Stanley and MC both enjoyed the ride!

We walked through the zoo's park to get from St. Charles to Magazine Street, and it was one of the most relaxing, most beautiful places to get some exercise. MC thought so too.... for she was asleep by the time we reached the zoo's entrance. Perfect timing as usual. By the time we made one loop around "Asia," she was awake. Here's our zoo trip in photos!

We took the very crowded trolley back down St. Charles, and along the way we met a sweet lady from Michigan. It was her first time in New Orleans, so we told her all the best places to eat and all the things she had to do before going back home. She said she has 5 grandsons and wouldn't know what to do with a little girl but by the time she got off at Canal Street, our sweet baby girl had her wrapped! We also met a young girl that was taking the trolley to the Cheesecake Bistro, where she was the pastry chef. I've never been to the Cheesecake Bistro, but now I can't wait to try it!

We were so tired by the time we got back to the hotel, so we all laid down for a bit (i.e. Gamma and Doc read in their room, and Chad played on the computer in our room while I chased a very busy little girl who wanted to go back and forth). I finally declared that if we didn't go do something soon, I was going to fall asleep so we took off for Mother's (one of our stand-bys). MC had not napped that day (other than the short 10 minutes at the zoo), so she was asleep by the time we got there. We gorged ourselves on jambalaya, fried shrimp and oysters and their fabulous potato salad.

Asleep at Mother's

When we stepped onto the street, we realized there was an American-Italian parade going on. So we watched it pass by as we walked back to the hotel.

We all slept really well and woke up to the time change. I couldn't wait to take my parents to Cafe Fleur de Lis - our FAVORITE breakfast spot. We all ordered the same thing: pancakes with a side of hashbrowns. 

It was a great weekend!


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