A few good gems

Welcome to Friday, the gateway to the weekend! It's sweltering here in Australia so we've been finding ways to keep cool, which mostly means standing in front of the air conditioner and chain eating cold grapes straight from the fridge.  And scouting out some cool things on the internet, just for you:

London-based photographer Chino Otsuka's "Imagine Finding Me" double self-portrait series (also published in a book) is delightful. She's digitally inserted herself into her own childhood photos; the result is enchanting and poignant. She says "the digital process becomes a tool, almost like a time machine, as I'm embarking on the journey to where I once belonged and at the same time becoming a tourist in my own history."  (I want to do this!). 

1982 + 2005, France

1982 + 2005, France

1975 + 2009, France

1975 + 2009, France

This article on how to handle the chaos of family life as an introverted mom had some good things to say: "I'd offer the same advice to an introverted mom that I would give to an introvert in a chaotic office environment: Make sure to schedule recharge time every day."

Jauntful is launching a fantastic new idea: a site for shareable, printable guides to the cities you love. I can't wait to try it--for sharing my favorite suggestions and haunts in places I've lived and visited AND (especially!) finding others' best picks. I've just signed up for the preview when they're ready and you can, too (via Swiss Miss).

photo via Jauntful

photo via Jauntful

I  adore the huge monthly calendars and New Year's resolution posters Brittany (The House that Lars Built) created and posted for downloading (they're free!). Brilliant and big enough for all and sundry appointments, etc. I just sent the first couple of months to the printing store here.

Photo by Trisha Zemp via The House That Lars Built 

Photo by Trisha Zemp via The House That Lars Built 

Send a traditional, classic telegram! I love this idea for when you can't make it to the wedding or graduation or family reunion. Also cool for a memorable Valentine message. (They also have invitation telegrams for mass mailings for weddings and parties. Love it.) I just wish the cute little hatted delivery guy brought them still.

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I posted this on our Facebook page [insert unabashed invitation to come join our Facebook page here] yesterday but I'll repeat it here: I really liked what Glennon had to say about asking the right questions to improve our relationships. I think it's wise advice for any relationship but ESPECIALLY with big kids and teens. 

In my ears:  How Come You Don't Want Me (Tegan & Sara), Let Go (RAC & MNDR), Riptide (Vance Joy), and the Fare Thee Well cover from Inside Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac, Marcus Mumford).

On my nightstand: The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt), This is the Story of a Happy Marriage (Ann Patchett).

Have a great weekend, all! See you back here on Monday.

"How shall this be?"

Happy Boxing Day, web-world! We're still enjoying the season's abundance and togetherness around here but the empty boxes, the carpet of crumpled wrapping paper, and the perpetual snack grazing are all starting to feel past ripe. I'm fighting the need to gather up all the holiday over-the-top-ness and revel in the stark simplicity of starting over. (Just me?) Anyway, one last holidayish post before we head into the flurry of the New Year.

Annuniciation, Dante Rossetti

Annuniciation, Dante Rossetti

She cowers on the bed as a young girl would, introduced--by an angel, no less--
to an overwhelming assignment/challenge/blessing.  I feel for this Mary, the initial weight of the impossible evident in her slouch and gaze. 

Moments later she straightens her posture and says “be it unto me” and “behold” but I love that the artist* paints this humanness of Mary’s initial “how shall this be?”

Every year I find something different in the nativity passages of the New Testament to identify with: the seeking wise men, the dazed shepherds, the distracted inn keepers. This year I’ve lingered over the figure of that young Mary and her “how shall this be?” keeps ringing in my ears.

I have had several “how shall this be?” moments in my life.  They happen (for me) in that margin between the advent and the acceptance of a challenge or opportunity, especially when things don't go according to plan. Part wonder and part panic, these thoughts are evidence of the gap between my faith and knowledge, the difference in perspective between the microscopic view and the vast one. 

There are times when I simply can’t see how shall this be.  And really, doesn't being a parent sometimes feel like one big universal how shall this be proposition, from the moment the little quick pregnancy test stick says "+" to beyond those moments when our kids pack up their things, wave goodbye, and transition into their adult lives? Every day is a how shall this be?

Each holiday season nudges me to learn it again. That’s why I love this young, pausing Mary—she’s at the brink of realizing how wonderful and weighty it really shall be.  It's the just-right bridge for me between Christmas and New Year's Day for me, too, as I turn my thoughts to possibility, change, and the hopeful audacity of resolutions. [Finish dissertation? How shall this be?] 

.  .  .

*By the way, the artist Dante Rossetti used his sister Christina as the model for the painting of Mary above. And Christina Rossetti was a writer in her own right and wrote In the Bleak Midwinter.

Looking up

Hello! I'm waving to you from the wintry north, happily hunkered down with our little family in a cabin in the woods--which completely makes up for all the flight delays (including one particularly deflating 24-hour delay) on our journey here. And I ran into my brother Chris in the LA airport of all places! Neither of us knew the other was traveling that day...such a happy serendipity.

Anyway, here we are. We have been making the rounds--catching up with family, unpacking, stocking up, and doing holiday things. No Christmas tree yet, no decorations, and a significant amount of shopping still to be achieved. In the midst of that bustle, I was reminded of something I wrote a few years ago and decided to look it up and post it here, mostly to nudge myself to try to take a deep breath, relax the grip on the to-do lists, and enjoy it. 

Pieter Brueghel, The Census at Bethlehem

Pieter Brueghel, The Census at Bethlehem

See that woman in the middle?
The one alone
With the white hat and broom
Head down, sweeping
Or digging, maybe.
That has been me.
Focused on the depth of snow in front of me
And my need to dig out.

To the boisterous gathering over there
And to the snow-stuck wagon behind me,
Where my broom could be put to better use.
Unaware of the simple miracle
Of a young woman on a horse,
Almost hidden by winter clothing
And seeking a place,
The holy significance lost in favor of
Bristles and snow.

I’m putting down the broom
And looking up.
Join me?

. . .

It’s easy to get caught up in the “doingness” of the season. What are your traps that prevent you from experiencing what Christmas has to offer? Is there a certain work of art, literature, or music that is especially speaking to you this season?


Alternate title: Stop. Collaborate and listen. 

I'm enchanted by this post by artist Mica Angela Hendricks, an illustrator and graphic artist. Her 4-year-old daughter wanted to join in drawing in a special ordered, newly arrived sketchbook. In spite of her inward groans (and rather hoping it would be a short-lived sharing) Hendricks reluctantly gave in and let her go to work on a page where she had been sketching a face from an old Hollywood black-and-white still.

Mica Angela Hendricks & daughter |  via

Mica Angela Hendricks & daughter | via

And so a collaboration was born, producing uniquely creative mash-up art together that draws on both the experienced mastery of the artist mom and the unabashed creativity and go-for-it-ness of the artistic daughter. (They're even selling some of it here.) And I love what Hendricks said about what she learned (go read the whole thing; it's all good!):  

"Try not to be so rigid...The things you hold so dear cannot change and grow and expand unless you loosen your grip on them a little." 

"If you have a preconceived notion of how something should be YOU WILL ALWAYS BE DISAPPOINTED.  Instead, just go with it, just accept it because usually something even more wonderful will come out of it."



As I do with most things I come across now days, I wonder about how this might translate into our mid-stage parent lives with teens and big kids?

Is there space in our territories of expertise
(be it in running
medical research
or anything else, vocational or professional)
where our mastery might fit perfectly with our older kids' novice enthusiasm & creativity to create something almost inconceivably wonderful? Or where loosening our grips might give permission for some incredible and unexpected results? 

On the other hand, maybe this kind of mashup is more rare because necessity doesn't require that we share our (metaphorical and real) sketchbooks with big kids. Or perhaps they don't ask or aren't around to see them in the first place.  Or maybe now we're the ones begging them for collaborating space on their canvases! Either way, what's your experience with teaming up with your teens and big kids?

Matinee dates and other riffs

G and I have found it increasingly tough to get out together on a Friday or Saturday night. Those precious weekend evenings seem to fill up with our kids' events & social lives and the accompanying chauffeuring they require. Or, now that there are just two kids at home, often one of the kids has plans and the other doesn't, which leaves us feeling awkward and loathe to leave just one kid behind all evening to fend for his/herself. (It makes me almost long for the days of yore when we just called a babysitter and the kids had no after-dark social lives--or, even better, when Candyland with the babysitter ranked high in their social lives. Almost. If it ever had been as simple as "just" calling a babysitter.)  

Anyway, we would go months without a just-us-two night on the town. Then we realized: who says it has to be a night? Who says it has to be on the weekend? 

Liberated from our stringent definition of a date, we've come up with really terrific work-arounds. Meeting midweek for lunch, for example. And Saturday afternoon dates. The luxury of spending midday hours with my guy! Decadent, I tell you. Last weekend we saw a matinee movie and went to Costco together to look for a patio umbrella (hey! It counts.). Two weekends ago we had lunch by the lake and headed to the National Gallery of Australia to see the visiting Roy Lichtenstein exhibit. 


I felt like I had a compatriot in Lichtenstein as I admired his innovative riffing and reinventing and reconceiving. The guy had no problem with changing things up, fusing images in unexpected ways, experimenting with printing techniques, and bringing pop art into the established art realm.

I left thinking about our changing, growing-yet-shrinking family and how we all have similar license to shake things up now and then as our families and our needs evolve. Of course there are non-negotiables: love, support, structure, and learning will always stay a priority no matter the family stage. But still. There are ways to riff, play outside the lines, and reinvent.

There's a prevailing concept in the business world of disruptive innovation. A new idea comes along, turns conventional wisdom on its head, and succeeds in a whole new way, usually by serving a whole new set of customers or finding novel ways to address new needs.  I think this happens in families, too, as we come up with new traditions sometimes accidentally) and hit new stages, with epiphanies like:

  • Who says I need to do all of the family laundry now that we're all old enough to understand how to do it well ourselves? 
  • Who says date night has to be at night or on the weekend?
  • Who says you have to have a big traditional Sunday dinner when Thursday nights work better? 
  • Who says (as Sarah mentioned yesterday) that you can't have a family night with teenagers?  Or that you can't reinvent the form into a weekly book group, cooking lesson, or dance party?

 . . .

What work-arounds or innovations have you made to better address your family's needs, philosophy or stages?  What "who says" epiphanies have you had (or do you want to make)?


Where am I?

The postcards tacked above my desk have been taunting me a little. They're kind of a strange little audience, this eclectic collection of images I've gathered over the years from museum visits here and there. I tend to look at them when I can't think of what to write (which is sadly and alarmingly often). Lately I've been seeing them with new eyes.

Realization #1: Apparently I really love depictions of motherhood in art. Go figure. I've unintentionally gathered a gang of mothers who look down and supervise my daily typing. Most of them are fairly idealized (which, on the wrong day can be admittedly a bit deflating...I mean, where's my halo and rosy-cheeked cherubs?) but there's something comforting about looking at paintings that give a nod to motherhood. I can see myself there.

Or I used to, anyway. Realization #2: I'm actually not up there at all, at least not anymore!  Last week I realized these art mamas are all mothers of infants and very young children--preoccupied with nursing, swaddling, cuddling littles on laps.  So I started searching for more seasoned motherhood in art and...it turns out there really aren't many pieces of art showing motherhood past young childhood. Come on, artists of the ages, where's the art showing mothers with adolescents or older children? (Yep, adolescence is a relatively newfangled invention historically so it does make sense. But still. Scroll through the images in this book. See? Mostly babies.)

I was intrigued.  After scrolling through several more on-line collections of "mothers in art" to no avail, I decided to consult with my cousin-in-law, who's a professor of art history. I asked Monica if she could think of any good examples of art depicting scenes of mothering with older children (excluding portraits and besides the Pietas, which are in a category of their own). She suggested I start with these  (thanks, Monica!):

  • Alexander Roslin's "Before the Debutante Ball" seems relevant (assuming that it is, in fact, the debutante's mother and not a maid or sister): 
Before the Debutante Ball by Alexander Roslin

Before the Debutante Ball by Alexander Roslin

Simone Martini's "Christ Discovered by his Parents" was new to me but I really like the depiction of Christ and his parents. And his intransigent adolescent expression is a little familiar to me, how about you?

Christ Discovered in the Temple by Simone Martini

Christ Discovered in the Temple by Simone Martini

There's also this mother reading to a slightly older girl  in George Dunlop Leslie's "Alice in Wonderland." (And, Monica pointed out, George Dunlop Leslie does have some other domestic scenes that could qualify, too.) 

It's a good start. But I'm still curious: where am I, art-wise? 

As you can tell, I'm on a bit of a treasure hunt. Can you think of any other depictions of mid-stage motherhood in art? What do you think about being (mostly) left out of the whole shebang?

Some days are hard

A triptych of memories, circa 2008:

Lauren chose 9:30 p.m. on a Sunday night, the last day of February break, to bring us the sheet of paper.

Modigliani's Woman with Red Hair

Modigliani's Woman with Red Hair

"I'm supposed to have a conversation with you."

Distracted by Jon Stewart's Oscar banter, I faintly register her request but fail to respond.
"Like, by tomorrow. It's due tomorrow in Health."
"Okay...let me see what it is."

The form lists five questions that students are supposed to discuss with parents about sex and birth control: How should teenagers show affection for each other? Should a couple have sex if they love each other and are going to get married? If a teen is sexually active, what kind of birth control should she use? Etcetera.

This is not the conversation I want to have, on demand, on Oscar night at 9:30. Keep in mind we have had nine unscheduled, unhurried days of vacation before this. I sigh.

"I already know the answers to most of these. We've talked about this before" she says hopefully. "Maybe we don't need to talk about it and you can just sign the sheet."
This is true, although we haven't explicitly discussed birth control. I imagine a pregnant child, blaming her parents' cluelessness: They couldn't be bothered. The Oscars were on.

So we talk, our glances not quite meeting for most of it. One commercial break, Greg screamingly silent on the other sofa.
As she heads for bed, she says "don't worry, I'm not planning on doing anything like this anytime soon."

Silence in the wake of her departure.

Greg asks, "Did she say 'not anytime soon'? Because I was hoping to hear 'not planning on anything like this ever'." I'm just thinking why didn't I turn off the t.v. and spend a little more time? What's so difficult about that?

. . .

Most of my interactions with Sam are still instrumental.

Bruegel's Child's Games

Bruegel's Child's Games

Where are my church shoes? What are we having for dinner? Will you help me with this song? Will you play a game with me? Comb my hair? Check my homework?

These things I can do, can check off as positive indicators for the parenting balance sheet.

Although yesterday, when he hollered up from the kitchen "Can you cut my bagel for me?" I admit I actually weighed the probability of a lacerated palm (if I had him try it himself) versus a few more peaceful moments of reading before I replied a delayed "okay." Even the simple things are hard some days, their grinding dailiness overpowering my ability to rise to the occasion.

. . .

I wake up to a small sound at midnight, my Miss Clavell-like mother sensors detecting something is not right. There it is again--a soft sniffle, a low moan. Is someone crying? I shuffle into the hallway, blurry from the scant hour of sleep and still half in my dream.

Michelangelo's Pieta

Michelangelo's Pieta

Maddy is crying--a soft, forlorn sob that breaks my heart.

I scoot her over a bit to make room for myself under the covers of her twin bed. I fit my legs into the angle of hers {and note fleetingly how her legs have stretched longer in the last few months} and wrap my arms around her. She spills out her worries and disappointments that have been building under her cheerful 12-year-old exterior. Loneliness, jealousy, fear, nostalgia already for her simpler elementary school days, friend troubles, sister troubles, dashed expectations for the glorious experiences she thought would be hers at 12--these are all soured by their proximity to each other and by the late dark lonely hour.

There was a time when my midnight ministrations were easier, when, blurry eyed, I could provide milk and nearness and that was enough to satisfy her nighttime needs. Now my role isn't resolving or satisfying but simply witnessing & waiting while she resolves for herself.

Yep. Some days are hard. While Nest & Launch is mostly about emphasizing the enjoying part of life with big kids and teens, we also want to be clear: some days are just breathtakingly, bone-achingly hard. We won't dwell there but we won't shy away from that reality either. Two-year-old tantrums somehow seem cuter than 13-year-old ones. Big kid problems--hey, even just the moments of basic mid-stage parenting--feel more personal and seem to carry higher stakes.  I get that. 

Looking back on that week in 2008, I want to put my arm around that anxious, melancholy Annie and say, "Breathe, sweetheart. Lighten up on yourself. And them. It'll pass. That's the bitter and the sweet news of all this. It'll pass." 

Yesterday Cathy Zielske talked about the challenging parts of parenting teens.  Now it's your turn: What challenges do you find unique to mid-stage parenthood? What would you tell the five-years-ago version of yourself now that you know what you know?