Tag Archives: parenting

Portraits of Gratitude 2013


There’s a certain degree of perfection that people try to attain as the holidays approach. The perfect Thanksgiving meal, the best presents, the ultimate in outdoor Christmas light decorations. And I’ll admit I fall prey to it just as much as the next Joe. I find myself lured by the Siren’s call. The one that insists that everything must be homemade to be acceptable. Make your own butter! Needlepoint that pillow! Craft your own Thanksgiving centerpiece from fishing line and dried cranberries! And sometimes I succeed, patting myself on the back as I create my own Thanksgiving table runner from ribbon and construction paper. And other times I fail miserably, as evidenced by the burnt homemade granola bars now lining the bottom of my garbage can. And the pressure of being perfect, of creating the ultimate moment for your family is, dare I say, exhausting. And virtually impossible.

As Thanksgiving approaches, I feel like there is also tremendous pressure to be as grateful as you possibly can. Of savoring each and every moment of the past year and never, ever forgetting to be appreciative and humbled by the bounty of our lives. And as much as I wish I could, I just can’t seem to find the energy to be grateful all the time. I mean, I wish I could. I wish I could be one of those amazing people who go through every second of every day soaking up the wonder of life and saying little prayers of gratitude to every flower, every tree, every moment of sweetness. But I’m tired, people. And I find it almost impossible to feel grateful when I’m scraping doggie doo-doo from the bottom of my son’s tennis shoes. “Isn’t it wonderful that he had so much fun that he walked though poo without noticing! I am grateful for those small moments of happiness!” Nope. It’s just poop on a shoe. I don’t mean to say that I don’t experience moments of great thankfulness, in which I am literally overwhelmed by the beauty and sweetness of my life and the people in it. I do. And I cry over it quite often. But it’s just not every second of every day. At some point I think you have to put the grateful voice on mute in order to get the laundry done , pluck the gray hairs, and start all over again tomorrow. And that’s OK. It’s OK to be tired and cranky and ungrateful…just as long as, occasionally, you turn the volume up on that little voice that’s telling you to stop and put down the fabric softener and the tweezers and remember that even though we may be baffled by the complexities of life, at the rhyme and reason for the events that unfold before us, we can be mindful of the wonder inherent in the journey. My life is messy. It’s loud and frustrating and beautiful and sad and outrageously funny. And I wouldn’t change anything about it. But in loving my life as much as I do, there comes a freedom to be irritated by it. To loathe making lunches every morning. To cringe at the urine lurking behind the boys’ toilet. To roll my eyes each and every time my husband rearranges the dishwasher with the precision of an engineer. I think we work hard enough that we’re allowed to sigh occasionally out of complete frustration, while never forgetting how lucky we are to be irritated by anything at all. For it is in loving something so completely and so generously that we are able to feel the flip side of it, and yet still continue making the lunches, and cleaning up the pee and watching the gray hairs accumulate like a badge of honor.

That said, and in the spirit of last year’s post, I give you my 2013 Portraits of Gratitude…

I am eternally grateful that I married this guy…

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And that I can easily drive and see a place that looks like this:

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That, despite the distance, my children can have friends like this:

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And that this coffee mug exists…

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For letters like this (please note President Taft trapped in the bathtub)…

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For these two amazing, funny, crazy, inspiring boys of mine

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Who send me texts like this

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And for people who write books like this

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And students who make art like this

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And this

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And who never let me forget that I am learning from them

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For a small Beastie

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And a thespian

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That this guy picked me up from the airport

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When I got to fly across the Pond and drink tea with my dear friend

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And go back to the one place in my life that truly changed who I am

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For mother and grandmothers all rolled up into one

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For furry things

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And furrier things

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I am grateful for kitchens

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And for the friends who cheered me on as I read my heart out

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And for jumping in, white bra and all, without a single moment’s hesitation

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Let’s all give ourselves a break this Thanksgiving and aim less for perfection, and more for perfect chaos. For though we grumble and grimace, our lives are full of everything we can handle. And with each new memory, whether joyous or heartbreaking, comes a firmer ground on which to stand. (Hopefully with no dog poo on it).

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Installing the Compass


Installing the Compass – my latest from the Stanford Alumni blog…

my second grade class picture

Seems you can’t read a newspaper or listen to the radio lately without seeing or hearing about Amy Chua and her Wall Street Journal piece “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior”. I firmly believe that quite a bit of Chua’s goal in writing the article and in including such incendiary comments, was to create a stir in the press (which she did with flying colors). And whether you find yourself agreeing with her or nodding along with David Brooks who, among other things, said that Chua may be putting her children at a disadvantage not because of her strict parenting but because he wishes she “recognized that in some important ways the school cafeteria is most intellectually demanding that the library” (hear! hear!), I think the take-away from both of these pieces is that it has opened up a worthwhile dialogue among parents. How we parent. How we discipline. Are we too easy on our kids? Too demanding? Do we expect enough of them or are we praising them into complacency? And while I do not think that there is one common denominator in parenting – no magic bean that anyone can plant to grow the perfect child – I do think that it is an absolute necessity for parents to sit down and talk about how they want to raise their kids.

 

My husband and I have never been parenting book types of people. Yes, we bought “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” (mostly because we were told it was a vital part of the birthing process…like an epidural) but we’ve never really taken advantage of the many parental self-help books available. And I’ll be the first to admit that part of this hesitation stems from an inherent distaste for the genre. Please don’t get me wrong. Books are wonderful. They are vital to life. And self-help books offer much-needed assistance to millions or people worldwide every day. And I do believe that out there in the publishing ephemera, there are many really fantastic and legitimate books that can solve many of the problems of the world today. That said (phew!), I’m just not one of those people who wants to be seen on the Bart reading one. I find the majority of them preachy, even overzealous – as if by following “these six easy steps!”  you’ll have a life of eternal happiness and peace. Maybe I’m missing out. Maybe I’d be a walking-talking bastion of self-love with one on my Kindle, but it’s just not my bag.

But, in a moment of weakness and curiosity, we did recently read “”Bringing up Geeks: How to Protect Your Kid’s Childhood in a Grow-up-too-fast World” by Marybeth Hicks. And, amazingly, I was kind of hooked. It was a bit like red licorice at the movies – you like it well enough and then before you know it you’ve eaten the whole box. Suddenly, I had finished the book – and could actually see a bit of myself in it. So, the introductory gist of the book is that the word “Geek” can be seen as an acronym for “Genuine, Enthusiastic, Empowered Kids.”  Admittedly, this turned me off. Seriously, we need to turn “geek” into an acronym? But I stuck with it. And, despite a few meanderings into religion which I secretly skimmed, I fundamentally agreed with most of her points. Those being:

  • imbue a love of learning in your children and it will stay with them forever
  • let your child be “uncommon”, meaning let them be who they are and embrace the many facets of their emerging personalities as unique and special
  • don’t be in a rush to have your children grow up too fast – and adopt behaviors before they are ready

and, perhaps most importantly,

  • don’t fall into the trap of letting making your child care about what is “cool” instead of what is “right”

That last one really stuck with me. And I think it’s an idea that needs more fleshing out, more dialogue. This whole idea of coolness filtering down into our children scares the living daylights out of me and we see the repercussions of it daily in the news in terms of bullying, teen depression, violence, suicide….Already in my sons’ elementary school I’m seeing the distinct patterns of cliques and groups and posses and have overhead some pretty mean things being said between different types of kids. And these are GOOD kids! With great families and support networks and afterschool activities. And still the cool factor is wrecking havoc on their minds and hearts. It worries me because I have been privy to quite a few parenting decisions being made on the basis of “cool” versus “right.” Even growing up, there were those parents who seemed to be almost proud or titillated by the antics of their children. “Oh, Danny stole the car last night and ran into a tree? Har de har har. Boys will be boys!” or “So, Suzie came home last night at 3am! And her curfew is 11pm! She’s just like me at her age! Ha ha!” And deep within those disturbing statements is the feeling, on behalf of the parents, that it’s better for their kids to be cool than uncool. Better for them to be stealing the car with the posse than be the kid who’s reading in his bedroom.  Better for them to break curfew with the cool kids than come home at 11pm like they’ve been told. And to this, I say “no.”

Granted, parents make decisions for a wide variety of reason and I don’t claim or care to make severe judgment calls on another’s choices. All I can do is work on my own family and infuse ideals and values that make sense for us. And, for me, I’d rather my children be whimsical and imaginative and self-assured and utterly individual than cool. Because who dictates what is cool? Can’t my son, who can quote entire lines of Roald Dahl and announced to me yesterday that he wants to be a college professor of history so he can write a book about JFK, be the cool one? Can’t my younger son who sings Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” at the top of his lungs at all times of the day and who chooses to do math problems for fun be the ringleader? Can’t we turn “cool” on its ear and open up the doors of coolness to not just imply a certain stereotype? Let every kid be cool in his or her own way and define that coolness by their individual talents and interests. Let their rebellions come as a means of expressing themselves and with the necessary repercussions to remind them of what is right and what is wrong.

Now, I’ve never been much of a rebel. I did go along rather unwillingly in high school to steal a license plate in the middle of the night during a sleepover, but I honestly hated every minute of it and I was that kid who kept saying things like “don’t you think we should go back” and “i think i hear a siren”…I didn’t drink in high school and had my first drunken moment as a freshman in Branner during the ubiquitous “progressive” on the 3rd floor. After the fourth Sex on the Beach, I leaned up against the wall, slid down to the floor and announced to my friend Karen that “everyone looks really attractive to me.” I’ve never been tattooed. Never bungee jumped. Never took off in the middle of the night on a motorcycle with nothing but a change of clothes in a backpack. I did date a guy with a motorcycle once upon a time, but when he took me for a ride along Highway 1 I spent the entire time singing Amazing Grace at the top of my lungs to avoid certain death. And the one and only time I tried to smoke a cigarette, I didn’t know how to hold it (up near my head, or down near my legs???) so I held it midway and consequently burned the back of a little person’s neck at the bar. And if that isn’t a sign to lead a nicotine-less existence, I’m not sure what is.

All this is to say that my rebellions were relatively tame and came later in life. I wasn’t necessarily the cool kid in school. And I wasn’t perfect, either. I had teen angst. I wrote bad poems. I quoted DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Price on occasion, telling my parents they just didn’t understand. And yet I always, always knew what was right and what was wrong. My husband and I have talked about this quite often, for he, too, felt the ever-present moral compass in his own heart growing up. And we ask ourselves, how did our parents encourage that? How did they manage to instill that sense of decorum within us while still allowing us to become who we are? And I don’t think the answer is easy. I don’t think we can turn ourselves into Amy Chuas, nor do I think we can just cross our parental fingers and hope for the best. I think we, as parents, need to be present and be able to admit that there is not only one definition of cool. Not one stereotype you must inhabit to walk proudly through the world. That we are all cool and all geeky at the same time. And that we, as parents, are more vital to the emotional well-being of our children than any paperback self-help book or convenient acronym.  We need to be aware and need to be willing to perform the sometime painful operation of inserting that moral compass within our children. For despite the side effects of such surgery, the outcome is good.

 

originally published January 19th, 2011

https://alumni.stanford.edu/get/page/blogs/post-view/?ciid=25253&success=true)

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The Road Not Considered


My latest from the Walnut Creek Patch…originally published January 4th, 2011.

There seem to be a lot of people in the world who list high school as the happiest time of their life. And while I certainly loved riding in the back of Phil’s Volkswagen bug with six other of my fellow Lincolnian newspaper editors in the middle of the night to get Mongolian barbecue, I’m not sure high school was it for me. College perhaps? Of course, Stanford was fantastic. Surrounded by really smart kids in my penny loafers and blazer and dancing to House of Pain’s “Jump Around” as if I had any business dancing to House of Pain’s “Jump Around.” Studying literature at Oxford? Dreamy spires and Guinness at the ready and fulfilling every Anglophile fantasy I’d ever had? Priceless. Living as a single gal in Washington D.C. with my dear friends and late nights at Millie & Al’s with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” on the jukebox (So Good! So Good! So Good!). Perhaps. But not quite.

Thinking back to the jobs I’ve held in my life, I have to laugh. My first real job was writing newsletters for home owner’s associations, reminding residents “please do not allow your children to enter the hot tub wearing diapers as they are prone to dissolve in the hot water.” Which is, of course, valuable knowledge to have. As an intern at the Sierra Club in Washington D.C., I was on a team of people responsible for conducting a “21 Chainsaw Salute” on the lawn of the White House in protest of the annihilation of the Northern Spotted Owl. What could be better? After graduate school, I moved to Washington D.C. again, this time for real, and got a job with a think tank. Sounds rather intellectual, don’t you think? There I was, little Katie with dreams of clandestinely spreading the message of Democracy and a liberal social agenda within the walls of a conservative think tank. What they didn’t explain to me in my interview is that one of my tasks would be to follow Robert Bork around with a battery-operated ash tray to ensure that he did not drop his cigarettes on any of the carpets in the foyer. Fulfilling? How could it not be? Later, as a public relations professional, I got to come up with taglines for a new condom called…wait for it…EZ-On. Could life get better than that? The answer is, yes, as I was later allowed to don a 70′s style aerobic outfit, complete with leg warmers, and visit local Bay Area radio stations with the latest offerings from Hot Pockets. Jealous, are you?

And then, after many years of taglines and product launches and press releases, something miraculous occurred. I gave birth to my first son and went on maternity leave. Wait, let me back up. My son was two weeks overdue and my nesting instinct was in overdrive. Bored with watching ER reruns on TNT and unable to walk across the room without hyperventilating, my husband suggested that I revisit an old talent and take out some construction paper, scissors and a glue stick and creating artwork for our baby-to-be. And what began with hormones and a glue stick has turned into k.t. blue designs (www.ktblue.com), my handcut paper artwork business that is now going on eight years (and another son) old. You see, after I finally gave birth and friends came over to see our new little one, they’d see the big personalized collage I had made and, by some stroke of sheer luck and wonderment, started ordering them. Since then, I’ve created wall art for nurseries, living rooms, children’s rooms and kitchens from California to Virginia and lots of spots in between.

I started out specializing just in handmade, personalized framed artwork, featuring a child’s name and likeness. I’ve now grown to offer a wide variety of artwork, stationery (including, note cards, notebooks, magnets and other cute items) and apparel (children’s tees and onesies). I’ve made dogs and vacation homes. Created artwork based on heartbreaking quotations and love songs. I’ve even made Burt Reynolds atop a bearskin rug. (Don’t ask.) And in the last two years, I’ve been fortunate enough to share my love of art by teaching art appreciation classes for children both privately and as after school enrichment classes at my sons’ elementary school. And this amazing new turn my life has taken has been both unexpected and expected. I’ve always created art from paper – my friends from college can tell you that in between studying Charles Dickens and Jack Kerouac, I was always making cards for someone with paper and scissors. But my degrees in English Literature didn’t necessarily get me here. Nor did my expert handling of that ash tray. It was just a road that I didn’t know I would travel, and that, luckily, I was willing to read the road signs towards. Thereby traveling the road not considered.

To be completely honest with you, I’m happiest now. A wonderful husband, two beautiful sons, the best neighborhood in the world, filled with friends I adore. But what makes it so good, as compared to the other points in my life, is that I finally feel like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. And not only in terms of being a mother, which is, by far, the most wonderful, utterly overwhelming, challenging, rewarding, heartbreaking, fulfilling job I’ve ever had, but because in those quiet moments when the children are at school (or watching Scooby Doo – why is it a favorite? Are there subliminal messages?) I get to cut and paste paper into artwork that people actually purchase, I get to teach children about Haring and Kooning and da Vinci and marvel at the fact that they actually remember what “sfumato” is…and, most of all, I get to write, which has always, always, always been my first love. I write in the form of these columns for The Patch, as a blogger for the Stanford Alumni Association and through my children’s book recommendation site, My Mama’s Goodnight, in which I share one favorite children’s book per day with my readers. And the fact that I get to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) every day and share my thoughts with an audience as varied an interesting as ever, is a gift I’ve given myself.

I remember an interview with Meryl Streep long ago in which she said that she’s always felt like she was 40 years old, so that by the time she hit 40, she felt confident and sure of herself. While I’m not 40 yet, I’m getting remarkably close and I think I understand what she’s saying. I feel now, at this point in my life, that I am who I was meant to become. That every experience I’ve had in my life has led me to this point and the culmination of that knowledge and those experiences makes me happy in a way I haven’t been before. At this time of my life, I hold the best job in the world. And while I, at times, reminisce fondly about Robert Bork’s ash tray and Northern Owls and Dissolving Diapers and Mongolian Barbecue and Neil Diamond, I wouldn’t trade any of those for what I have now. So Good! So Good! So Good!

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Mama the Spy


Few and far between are the moments when a mother gets to be a fly on the wall. Seems like we’re either in it or out of it. We’re either in the room, covered in spit-up and dirty diapers and that toothless grin that makes you melt, or we’re hearing about the horrible thing that so-and-so said on the playground and wishing we were there to squeeze that kid’s face till his cheeks deflate. But rarely are we there, behind the scenes, able to watch our children navigate through life without them knowing we’re there. If your children are like mine, they can smell me a mile away. Hopefully I smell like White Linen and Ivory Soap and fresh-made snickerdoodles. It’s as if my sons have a radar built in their very souls that beeps when I’m near. They can spot me from a mile away – still with a big wave and a smile, thank God.

But today, I was given the Holy Grail of motherhood – the chance to watch my older son eat lunch with his friends.  Like Harry Potter in an invisibility cloak, I somehow defied detection and was able to sit there, in my car, like some sort of private detective, seeing my son just be.  My son’s second grade class is lucky enough to still be able to eat outside what with all the glorious Indian Summer weather we’ve been having. I could see him, lunchbox in hand, walking toward the outdoor tables with three of his friends, talking and laughing and swinging their lunchboxes high into the air and my son leapt. Literally leapt with a giggle and a smile and I just about cried. He was so unabashedly happy – so in his own world of friends and juice boxes and the knowledge of one little Hershey’s kiss at the bottom of his lunchbox .

I’ve never been so proud and delighted and awestruck by this little person who came into this world almost ten days late with a stork bite on his forehead and collected milk in the folds of his neck. And now he’s leaping and laughing and becoming his own person right before my eyes. And I know there will be hurt and moments of insecurity and times when he might not see me and wave with a smile, but for that moment, undetected and silent, I watched my son – walking around like my heart on legs – and I’ve never been so proud to be his mom.

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let’s hear it for the boys


boys...copyright k.t. blue designs 2009

When I was pregnant, the question du jour was commonly “When are you due?” or “How are you feeling?” or, for those challenged in the ways of subtlety, “How much weight have you gained!?!?” As a new mother, I sometimes got “Is it a boy or a girl?” or “How old is he?” or, you guessed it, “Have you lost any of that pregnancy weight?”

Now, as the mother of two boys, I am constantly asked, “So, are you going to try for that girl?” It’s most often a question posed by, what I call “glamorous grandmas”: older women with manicures and upswept hairdos who seem preoccupied with the gender split of my family. “Oh, two boys,” they say, their multiple gold bracelets rattling together. “Now it’s time for a girl!” And they say this with a sly grin, as if they are about to reach into their Dooney & Burke purses and pull out bottles of little girl elixir for me to drink. Increasingly frustrating is the implicit disappointment I see in these women’s eyes when I tell them that my husband and I have decided to not have any more children. At the bookstore recently, I actually had a woman in a cream-colored pantsuit say, “No more babies? But you won’t get to plan a wedding without a girl!” I should have a child so I can plan a wedding? Planning my own wedding was enough for me, lady. Why would I need to procreate purely so that I can experience tulle for a second time?

This gaggle of woman that I have repeatedly encountered have different faces…are of different races. And yet, one common thread exists: the implication that without a little girl in my life, I will be incomplete not only as a mother, but as a woman. As if in order to fully experience and understand motherhood and all its joys, I must create at least one female offspring.

It goes without saying that my two boys are the lights of my life. That I love them to the very depths of my soul and would change nothing about them. Not their sex. Nothing. (Well, maybe their collective fascination with the insides of their own noses, but that’s a different story.) And i would have loved them just as much had they been daughters. I just get furious when I come into contact with this blatant disregard for what kind of babies I was meant to have. I’m not an overly religious person, but in terms of things that are completely out of my control, I believe that God or whatever higher power you might subscribe to, gives you what is meant for you. And I was meant to have boys. I was meant to have two children who are dynamic and beautiful and powerful and vulnerable. And to insinuate that my life would be any more fulfilling with a girl in it is to undermine the wonder of what my body created.

I am an only child. My mother is an only child. My father had two sisters. We’ve definitely had our share of girls around here. Let’s hear it for the boys.

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