Thursday, May 26, 2016

Dear Mia, Part 17

You are five now. Five. You are a kid now, not a baby, or a toddler, or even really a preschooler, but a kid. When people say these years go by in a flash, I never could have believed how true that is.

You graduated from preschool yesterday, and I was completely taken off guard by how SAD I am about it. Your preschool experience has been really wonderful for both of us. Your teachers and your classmates recognized how special you are. I got to help in the classroom and get to know your peers and their parents. I got a front row seat to your school experience. I am going to deeply miss bringing you in three mornings a week and standing out in the hallway before school started, watching you greet your friends with whatever news you had from the past few days apart. You were always so excited about school and bounced right in to the classroom, and I'm so glad I got to be a part of that. Some mornings I was frazzled and frustrated that you and your sister weren't moving fast enough, and now realizing how much I'll miss those moments, I wish I'd savored them more.

For five years now it's been you and me (and Gracie) every single day, and when you go off to kindergarten that will all be changing. You'll be going off (mostly) on your own, and oh, it is so hard on my heart. If you ever wonder about my decision to be a stay-at-home-mom (and I know it's not right for everyone, and may not even be right for you), know that it was absolutely the right choice for our everyone in our family, and I've never (not one time) regretted it. I would relive the past five years over and over, if I could.

For your birthday you and I went on a road trip. We went to visit my friend Pam and her daughters for a night, then we went to Schenectady to see The Lion King musical and spend a night in a hotel. It was a memory I will keep close forever. You've loved The Lion King movie for a few years now, and I've always wanted to see the show. It was like going on a trip with a friend, we had so much fun. 

I took you to the doctor for your five-year well-check last month and when the doctor came in she said, "Let's see how Mia is growing," then she reviewed your height and weight and your growth curves and said, "Well, Mia is a giant." You are in the 91st percentile for height and the 83rd percentile for weight and you look like an adult compared to most of your classmates. You lost your first tooth in November and your second a month later, and if I didn't birth you myself I'd start questioning your age. The dentist said once your front teeth come out you should stop sucking your thumb, but we're all a bit in denial about that. To me, it is your last hold-over from babyhood. You started sucking your thumb when you were 15 weeks old, and I almost fell over dead from the cuteness. I think I will be really sad when you stop. 

You are also reading chapter books and doing a first-grade-level math workbook your dad bought you. You are brilliant and always desperate to learn more more more. You want to know everything there is to know about everything. 

We got a puppy in March. You had been begging to get a dog for about a year, and for some silly reason your dad and I agreed. We went to the animal shelter and you and your dad fell in love with this scared little Australian Shepard mix that you named Clover. She is the sweetest dog, and you have been so good about taking her outside and taking her for walks.

You had your end-of-the-year dance recital last week, and you just love performing. Your teacher had repeatedly told the class to practice outside of class, but I didn't try to force it on you. You wanted to practice over and over again. Then you wanted to relive the whole thing the day after the recital. You are a star, kid. Whatever it means for your future, whether you end up performing for a living or simply lighting up every room you walk into, you are a bright and shining star. 

We registered you for kindergarten in March. Soon enough you will have a school life entirely separate from me. As I can see this on the horizon, I start to feel apprehensive and scared for all the messages and information that will come at you when I'm not around. Obviously, this is a part of growing up. I can't always be there to filter the world for you, but, for five years now your dad and I have been the main influencers in your life. Next year we probably won't be anymore. 

You've been having a tough time at school with your friend Johnny. You think he is just the coolest, and he might be a bit more lukewarm on you. You want to play with him all day every day, but he sometimes tells you he doesn't like you or doesn't want to play with you, which makes you sad. This breaks my heart, not only because he doesn't see how wonderful you are, but because you seem to let his nastiness affect you so much. We've talked so much about how every other child in the class loves you and would love to play with you. We've talked about standing up for yourself and telling him he makes you feel bad. Last week when we said these things to you, his mother was helping in the classroom and heard. She told you, "he didn't mean it," and "boys just act that way," and "boys just do that for attention," and I got very prickly when I heard all that. I'm sure it was just a flippant remark from a mom wanting the conflict to end, but I hate the message it sent, and it seems obvious he acts that way because he's never held responsible for his actions. We talked a lot about how not all boys are mean. You have many male friends and cousins who are kind and sweet and would never say anything mean to you. 

I've spent five years going out of my way not to label people. You've never heard me call someone "fat" or "ugly." You've never heard me say anything was specifically "for girls." You'd never even heard someone called "black" until a few months ago. I think often when we label people we are also subconsciously defining these labels as "good" or "bad." I do this, not because I think I can shelter you from all of this, but I hope by the time you go out into the world you'll have formed your own opinions and have decided that these labels are mostly "indifferent," and say more about the person doing the labeling then about the person being labeled. Recently you said mater-of-factly that you'd noticed a girl in your class was "chunky." I very delicately asked you about it. "Does that matter?" Nope. You were just noticing, as you would notice the sun in shining today. 

As the responsibility of raising two daughters in today's society falls hard on my shoulders, I find myself becoming an aggressive feminist. I find myself dreaming of what kind of women I hope you and your sister are someday, not so I can mold you to some ideal, but so I can help guide you with what I believe are the skills and traits you already have.

I hope you are assertive and fierce, but still warm and kind and nurturing. I hope you stand up for yourself and never back down when you know in your heart you are right. I hope you are not jealous, there is enough success and beauty and confidence to go around. Just because another woman is moving mountains does not mean that you can't do the same (but it also doesn't mean you have to if you are not so inclined). I hope once you've reached great heights you turn and lend a hand to the woman behind you. I hope you turn heads with your confidence. I hope you know that you can do any job a man can do, and you deserve equal pay and equal recognition. I hope you don't accept stereotypes. I hope you surround yourself with people who build you up because you don't deserve anything less. I hope you fall in love and that person sees wonderful nuances in you that you didn't even know existed. 

This is very very important, because it's something that only hit me recently, when I really stopped to hear these words and what they mean: I hope your self worth is not defined by how you look. A man does not go out into the world expected to be treated differently if he is having a bad hair day or if he's not wearing make up or if his clothes are not flattering to his body type. Those thoughts have never even crossed a man's mind. I don't know that I can hope they never cross your mind, but I hope it's rare. You are beautiful, but you are so many other things. 

Mia Jane, I stand constantly in awe of you. You are so different from me. You are the type of girl I would have wanted desperately to be friends with. You are amazing, and I hope you always know I think so. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Books 2015

1. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch
Funny. Several chapters seemed to come directly from her blog, but several also had my laughing out loud.

2. Testimony by Anita Shreve
Meh. I don't know. Entertaining, I guess. 

3. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
I enjoyed this one. It was an interesting way to find out the story along with the main character. 

4. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Loved this. I wanted to keep reading about Ifemelu and Obinze after it ended. I kept forgetting I had finished it and wanted to pick it back up to keep their story going.

5. The Girl on the Train by Paul Hawkins
A good thriller, can't wait to see the movie. 

6. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Meh. I loved We Were Liars so much I thought I'd go back and read an earlier book. I might have loved this in high school. The dialogue bothered me a lot. No one talks like that, especially the popular guys in high school. And it ended basically by saying "hey, maybe Frankie's a psycho narcissist," which was not my takeaway at all. 

7. In the Woods by Tana French
Meh, again. The writing was good, sure, but I so hated the narrator. And ((SPOILER)) the one line in the book that really bothered me was when the narrator says something like "Rosalind fooled me, but then the fooled you too, didn't she?" But she didn't fool me! Not for one second! Give me some credit, author/narrator!

8. Euphoria by Lily King
Apparently I like reading about anthropologists studying river tribes (like State of Wonder by Ann Patchett), because I loved this. 

9. The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Way too long. I hated all the characters. Kind of upset I wasted like 2 months pushing through it because it was described to me as "a slow burn." I would say it had NO burn. 

10. The Vacationers by Emma Staub
Bleh. Boring. All the characters were terrible, not fleshed out. 

11. The Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
 I enjoyed it, but seeing it compared to Gillian Flynn novels was kind of its downfall for me. It's more like chick-lit with a bit of a dark side. And I was waiting for an even bigger twist/mind-fuck (that was hinted at) at the end that never materialized. 

My two cents: Worth the read, but not as good as I thought it would be. Not as suspenseful as I thought it would be. More chick-lit than I thought it would be

12. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Loved. A very interesting take on a World War II story. 

13. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
I have many thoughts... some of them may be spoilers. 

I probably would have given this 3.5 stars, but I'm feeling generous because the first half was outstanding. Sarah's story was so hard to read, but I'm glad I did. And for the first half of Julia's story I felt I could relate to her. Of course she wants to find out more about what happened in the apartment. 

The second half when it becomes all told from Julia's POV is when I got frustrated. I hated the character of Bertand and not just because he's unlikeable, but because the character was not fleshed out or realistic. First he's sexy, then he's a terrible husband, the he's depressed, then he's a cheater and still a terrible husband. I got whiplash from a character who did nothing to move the story along. I think the whole book would have been better off without him. 

Then I just got annoyed with Julia. The act of finding Sarah and then her son just seemed so selfish. And then the last several chapters set in 2005 felt like an epilogue where she just defended herself over and over. Ugh, it really lost me there. I won't even get started on the sexual tension between Julia and Sarah's son. 

Another tiny complaint - Why was it necessary for Julia to be constantly mentioning like 10 close French friends by name, some of them I don't even think ever came into play? Rosnay needs to learn about writing realistic secondary and tertiary characters. 

The first half was historical fiction with some suspense and a touch of chick-lit and I dug it. The second half was more chick-lit than anything else, and not particularly good chick-lit. 

To wrap up: I'm glad I read it. For the first half I thought it was a slam dunk, a new favorite. The second half: not so much, but not enough to ruin it.

14. Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill 
I remember this was short and written in a stream-of-conciousness kind of way, and... that's all I remember. So I can't really recommend it. 

15. Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell
Oh I just loved this. This is what every book about a dysfunctional family (see: The Vacationers) wishes it could be.

16. The Daylight Marriage by Heidi Pitlor
Meh. Another forgettable book with no likable characters. 

17. The Book of You by Claire Kendal
I'm starting to think I'm too tough a critic on thrillers/suspense, and if it doesn't live up to Gillian Flynn, I'm disappointed. This book was way too long. I enjoyed it, but as it dragged on it was harder and harder to sympathize with Clarissa for not telling anyone about her stalker. And I felt like there were loose ends, like the Lockyer trial. And it felt strange when Clarissa's friend (Annie, I think) randomly warned her about Robert because there had been no foreshadowing up until then that he wasn't genuine. And then I thought there was going to be some crazy twist at the end that I couldn't see coming, but there wasn't. And there were too many characters with similar names. And Clarissa had all these friends and acquaintances that she mentioned by name but never really factored into the story and I couldn't keep them straight. And and and. It just felt a bit unedited to me.

18. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
In a word: devastating. But I gave it 5/5 stars. Beautifully written and I think sheds light on what goes on inside the head of someone who is depressed and/or suicidal. 

19. The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison
Again, I'm possibly too critical of suspense books, but I was "meh" about this too. I... honestly can't remember how it ends. Maybe when the movie comes out I'll be surprised all over again. 

20. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum
I HATED this. I HATED the main character, and not in a good, interesting way. I figured out how the book was going to end a few pages in, and wished it would just get there already. 

21. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
LOVED. I LOOOOOOVE Paula McLain. She writes so beautifully. How someone can write historical fiction this way is mind-blowing to me. She really takes you there with such beautiful detail, and this review is definitely not doing it justice. Her books are definitely not page turners, but I want to read them slowly to digest every word. 

22. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Loved it. 

23. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This was good, something I wish I had read as a teenager. I just had a hard time reading it at this particular time in my life, it was too heavy.

2015 in Review

1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before? 
Took my kids camping, watched Mia in her first dance recital, got Mia's ears pierced, watched Mia learn to read and ride a bike. Took Gracie on an airplane (which was exactly as terrible as I thought it would be). 

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? Last year I said, "I want to continue getting in shape and losing weight, and I HAVE to be more frugal, there's no more trying." I am definitely (endurance and strength-wise) in better shape than I've been in years, but the scale hasn't moved much. And we are a few months away from paying off some major debt, so I think I was pretty successful there too, but there's always room for improvement. In 2016, I still want to lose weight and continue to get in better shape. I also want to be a better saver (with money). I want to spend less time staring at my phone and more time engaged with the world about me. And I'd like to get a start on figuring out what I want to be when I grow up (i.e. when the kids are in school full time).

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?  
Jeff's cousin had a baby in March, and Jeff's brother and sister both had new babies in September. 

4. Did anyone close to you die? No. (I always feel too superstitious to answer this question before January 1st)

5. Where did you travel? We went to Florida in February with all of Jeff's co-workers and their families - it was great because it was -3 degrees here. Also trips to Syracuse and Buffalo and a fun weekend camping trip about an hour south of here. 

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you lacked in 2015? Last year I said "I'd like to have more clarity about whether I want to grow our family or whether I'm settled with 2 children." And I finally feel like I have stopped debating this in my head multiple times a day. Two is just right for us. In 2016 I want a new family room rug, and possibly a dog to ruin said rug. 

7. What dates from 2015 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? 
September 13, birthdate of our new nephew and September 30, birthdate of our new niece. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? Out of the whole year I don't think I went a whole week without working out, most weeks I worked out at least 3 times. I can run 4 miles in 38.5 minutes. I don't think I've been this strong since high school. I was terrified of falling into a depression/anxiety-spiral last winter, especially because it was one of the coldest and longest I ever remember, and working out regularly definitely helped me stave that off, big time. 

9. What was your biggest failure? Any time I lost my temper at my kids, and now seeing Mia mirroring my short temper and the snotty way I talk when I'm frustrated.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury? 2 sinus infections. 

11. What was the best thing you bought? I really didn't buy much this year, trying to be frugal. We had to spend a lot of money on maintenance things around the house - landscaping, a new dishwasher and a boatload of money on insulation in the attic. For Christmas I did get a new kitchen table off of Craigslist which I refinished and LOVE. 

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?  I think I usually say my husband, and that holds up, he has to deal with my crazy ass. 

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? Mass shooters and terrorists. It's a scary world. 

14. Where did most of your money go? The mortgage and groceries.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? My parents moving 15 minutes away. I love seeing them whenever I want and having babysitters nearby has been Life. Changing. 

16. What song will always remind you of 2015? Bad Blood (Taylor Swift),  Shut up & Dance (Walk the Moon), and Uptown Funk (Bruno Mars).
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? About the same - happy
b) thinner or fatter? About the same, but stronger 
c) richer or poorer?

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Hmmm, I honestly can't think of anything.
19. What do you wish you’d done less of?  Stared at my phone. I'm working on it. 

20. How did you spend Christmas? Christmas Eve we went to my parents' church service then had dinner at their house. Christmas morning was at our house and my brother and parents came for breakfast. Then we went to Buffalo to Jeff's parents', his sister's, and his aunt's houses. 

21. Did you fall in love in 2015? It's always the same answer, more and more with my family.

22. What was your favorite TV program? The Good Wife, Homeland, Orange is the New Black, Life in Pieces, Making a Murderer

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year? Donald Trump

24. What was the best book you read?  I read a lot of good books this year, nothing that was far and away the best. My favorites were probably Americanah (Adichie), The Girl on the Train (Hawkins), All the Light we Cannot See (Doerr), Instructions for a Heatwave (O'Farrell), A Little Life (Yanagihara), and Circling the Sun (McLain). 

25. What was your favorite music?  I mostly listened to pop music this year because that's what the kids like to listen to, can't say there was anything new. A lot of Taylor Swift. 

26. What did you want and get? I finally got a mantle (and a new fireplace screen) for my birthday! 

27. What did you want and not get? Same answer as last year - a new living/family room rug. Also, a smaller waist-line.

28. What was your favorite film of this year? I think the only movies I saw in the theater were American Sniper, Pitch Perfect 2, and Minions. Also loved Boyhood and Chef, and enjoyed Trainwreck and Whiplash.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you? I turned 33 on Labor Day (and it was 90 degrees out). A few nights before Jeff and I went out to dinner and had drinks, then on my birthday my parents came over for Indian food. And Jeff and his brother made and installed my mantle. 
30. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? Same as last year - If my husband's old company had sold so we could cash in on all our stock options.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2015? Jeans and tees and sweaters with boots or flats. I don't think I'll ever be a fashionista. 

32. What kept you sane? Sunshine. Exercise. Coffee. My family. Good books. Good food. Fresh Air. Podcasts. Cocktails. Date Nights. Netflix. Chocolate. 

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Jeffrey Dean Morgan

34. What political issue stirred you the most? Gun control, good Lord, gun control!

35. Who did you miss? I miss my older brother, sister-in-law and nieces and nephew who moved to Connecticut in June. We were sooooo close to having all of my family living in one place at one time for the first time in 18 years. I'm still bummed it didn't happen and so sad that Mia and Gracie don't get to grow up close to their cousins. 

36. Who was the best new person you met? My new niece and nephew, new mom friends at Mia's school.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015. I rarely have an answer for this.