Category Archives: parenting

the little gray hoodie on the hook

We wear hoodies in our family, all 4 of us. I am the mother of 2 young children, one a little boy. He probably has more hoodies than the rest of us, in a range of colors. He even has a gray hoodie, one that we got during our visit to my husband’s high school for a reunion a few months ago. Each day when we send him to his pre-K class, we have to send him in with a sweater or sweatshirt. Even on hot summer days, since New England weather can turn quickly, or the air conditioning inside can be excessive. This past week, I have found myself consciously avoiding that gray hoodie. I see it hanging there on the hook on the back of a door, along with the yellow hoodie and the blue one with the prints of cars.

I look at that little gray hoodie, and my heart hurts. I can’t even bear the thought of posting a photo of my little boy in his gray hoodie, because of the association with the vulnerability of being a target. Because of the association with a boy who lost his life, and a mother who lost her child.

One day my little boy will be the same age as Trayvon Martin was that night last year. He will be a teenage boy, with the range of moods and sometimes unpredictable behavior that come with that stage. He may be an honor student, or a rebel, or a little of each. He may choose to behave exactly as Trayvon did, buy the same candy and sugary drink. Want to walk out in the rain to get away from adult company. He may be the same height and build as Trayvon. He may choose to dress exactly as Trayvon did. And yet I also know that he will never be a target in the same way that Trayvon Martin was. The privilege of white skin will give him license to wear that hoodie, to walk in an unfamiliar neighborhood, to shop in a store, without being profiled by default as a potential threat.

The discourse of the past 2 weeks reminds me of the privilege that I have and that my family has. The fact that I can be reminded of my privilege is itself a hallmark of privilege: I have the luxury to be able to regularly forget. Where I live, I can drive around my town, I can walk through my neighborhood, shop in any store, without once wondering if the color of my skin will attract negative attention. I know that I don’t entirely fit in where I live, and my hairstyle and clothes mark me as a bit different. But never in a threatening way. I can dress like a slob without worrying that it reflects badly on my heritage. I can drive a nice car without raising any eyebrows, or drive a beat-up car without people assuming that I am poor. As a white female, people make lots of assumptions about me, which may or may not in any way reflect who I am. But none of the assumptions put me at higher risk of being stopped by the police, or worse, someone like Zimmerman: highly armed but poorly trained, full of anger and self-righteousness and fear.

I have been feeling heartsick since Zimmerman’s acquittal. The messages I read from that verdict and some of the ensuing discourse just drive home to me how far our society has yet to go to achieve equality. I have the sense that this country is divided: those who see the systemic inequity and the harmful biases, and those who are unwilling or unable to see them. I know that I live in a society that continues to have systemic racism. I am ashamed to sometimes see evidence of that racism in my own thoughts, my own assumptions. Much as I sometimes find my thoughts reflecting sexism, ablism, agism, classism and so many of the other isms that are part of our society. But I call myself out. Sometimes I even have the courage to call out others when I see it.

I have had conversations with close friends and family members, and feel lucky that those closest to me see things much as I do. But I am realizing that these private conversations with like-minded people are not enough. I need to make a public stand, even if in my small way, by writing here. I know that people who are blind to what I see, to both systemic racism and the privilege that allows them that blindness, are not necessarily bad people. I know people, some of them even friends or family members, who fit into these categories. Even thinking about starting conversations with them about race and privilege exhausts me. But I am thinking about these things, and with this post, I am showing that I am willing to be part of this conversation.

I have been reading posts and articles every day since the news of Zimmerman’s acquittal. I have spent a lot of time reflecting. I have felt outrage and deep sadness, but also great hope that this conversation will continue, and will bring progress. I am busy and am protective of the time I need to spend on my work and family obligations. However, this conversation is too important to me. I need to be part of the conversation because I want my children to grow up in a world where no child’s life is cut short by others’ assumptions about race.

I want to live in a world where a mother’s worries about her son’s choice to wear a hoodie when he goes out on a walk will never be about anything more weighty than whether that hoodie will be warm enough.

I have recently read lots of post relating to the death of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman’s acquittal, and privilege. Here are some of the ones that have stuck with me:

If you have written things about these topics yourself, or read things that moved you, please feel free to share links in the comments.


With the start of summer comes the end of structured school days. While there is lots of fun to be had, I still need to squeeze in time for my work. Picnics and visits with friends and fireworks and trips to the zoo don’t mean any less cooking, or food shopping, or laundry, or cleaning, (and in fact often mean more) and there are days when I find myself feeling squeezed. I optimistically promised my advisor that I’d get him a large chunk of writing done while he was away on vacation, but I foolishly did so without looking at my calendar, and observing the small number of child-free hours on it in those 2 weeks. When I find a 4-hour chunk of time to focus on my research, my thoughts start to get organized, but then comes the next over-full day and my thoughts scatter. Really, I’ve been enjoying the summer fun, and the extra time with the kids, but just now find myself wishing I could just do one thing or the other for a sustained time. Today I have maybe a 6-hour chunk to do squeeze out as much writing as I can while both kids are out of the house. (Just now I am trying to squeeze out this blog post as the kids eat breakfast. I have only been interrupted roughly 14 times.)


Starting next week, the kids will both be in camps and childcare more-or-less full-time, so hopefully the squeeze will feel less tight. But if I’m actually going to finish this degree, I have to be prepared to keep on the tight squeeze, long-term. (Hold me.)

Quick Home Organization Projects from American Hovel Magazine (with before and after photos!)

It’s been some time since I’ve posted content from American Hovel Magazine, the magazine dedicated to lowering neatness standards in the American home. The publishers have graciously granted me permission to reproduce one of the features from the upcoming June, 2013 edition.¹

Quick Home Organization Projects
Other popular home magazines are full of helpful hints on getting organized and staying clutter-free. The photos from these beautiful homes suggest lives of calm and beauty in which calm and beautiful people live and exude calm and beauty from their very pores.

People who live with Real Families and Real Clutter™, however, often find those home organization projects to be completely out of reach. After first sighing in envy at the neatly partitioned closets and gleaming clutter-free surfaces, real people will choke back sobs of despair when looking up at the disarray of their own home. They will then tear the pages out of the offending Magazine of Impossible Ideals, stomping them into a crumpled mess on the floor, and then drink vodka and/or eat chocolate until they pass out under their kitchen table.

We here at American Hovel know that feeling well. After recovering from our last magazine-shredding-chocolate-eating-vodka-drinking rampage, we solicited photos from our readers on their own home projects. You will agree that the scope of these projects is far more attainable. Share in the joy of being able to see a project from concept to completion in a matter of minutes, leaving you much more time to enjoy your vodka or chocolate with self-satisfaction instead of self-pity.

Project 1: Kitchen Counter
Competent cooks know the importance of clear work space for creating inspired and wholesome meals. This is why you so often have cereal for dinner.

Before: It’s covered with mismatched containers and lids, tools, toys, swag, and a basket full of lord knows what other crap. Problem: you can barely tell what’s what, let alone find room to make lunch.

After: Putting the dinosaur toy front and center focuses your attention on the dinosaur toy. Look at the dinosaur! Dinosaurs are cool. Raawr!

Project 2: End Table:
End tables can be beautiful accents to a living space, giving room for guests to set a drink. Assuming that you ever have guests, or that they could find room to set a drink.

Before: This end table is an elegant antique piece. The lovely wood surface is visible between sketch books and art supplies, various toys and craft projects (is that a paper Tardis?) and whatever the hell else is all over it. (Is that a jar of foot cream?) Problem: there is no real focal point. All you see is pile.

After: The robot Matrushka doll has been turned around and given a prominent place, using the lantern as a pedestal. The owl craft is now on top of the paper box. What once just said “pile” now says “pile with Matrushka robot doll and cheery owl.”

Project 3: Kids’ Toy Corner
You live in a reasonable sized house, without a dedicated play room for the kids. What you have is a living room which has a lot of toys in it. Often all over the entire floor. Sometimes the toys get “put away” into a corner like this one.

Before: The toys are vaguely sorted into bins and stacks. Some might find this level of chaos distracting,though, with all the clashing colors. Problem: There is no unifying theme.

After: Covering the pile with a throw quilt from a nearby couch turns the chaotic pile into a lump of pleasing simplicity. Further, it adds a feeling of warmth and comfort to the room. (Quilts are warm and comfortable, you know.)

Bonus idea: Put a stylish pony on top and it’s now Imperial Fantasy Mountain, a home suitable for the Princess of all the Ponies.

Project 4: Kids’ Craft Corner
Your kids love to do art, and you have amassed an enormous collection of craft supplies, not to mention a never-ending flood of projects and papers coming from their schools. You’ve started tackling this roughly 27 times over the past 3 months, using boxes to sort artwork, schoolwork, and other miscellany, but have been interrupted each time. The pile has seemed to explode and expand daily whenever you look away. (You look away as often as possible).

Before: A massive, heaving, seething pile of headache. Problem: the throw quilt from the couch is already in use in the living room, plus it’s not nearly big enough for this pile. Your king-sized comforter would do, but you’d have to go upstairs to get it, plus you’d be cold tonight.

After: Move a couple of things around and call it a day. Then stop looking at it. You have more important things to do. Go have some good quality chocolate or a strong drink.

Can you spot the difference?

We hope you have enjoyed this American Hovel Magazine feature. Please feel free to contribute your own organizing project ideas and tips.

¹Note: American Hovel Magazine is a completely fictitious magazine that exists only in my head on and on the pages of this blog. I was flattered to hear that a friend of a friend actually once hunted for the magazine at news stands a few years ago, after seeing my cover. Perhaps the magazine will come to life one of these days, but for now I will just have to live the dream of living in that dream world of clutter. For back issues of American Hovel Magazine, please visit the archives:

I am weary

The past few weeks have knocked the wind out of me. I hardly know where to begin, there is so much to say. The biggest news, at least for my family, was that John’s father died. It was not unexpected. It was not fast. It was also not easy.

Just over 2 weeks ago, we got the call that John’s father was not expected to survive the night. As you might imagine, there was much travel, and rearranging of plans. John was able to travel to New York to be with his parents for his father’s last few days. I stayed home with the kids. Things were complicated by Theo having a fever one day, then getting pink eye the next, which meant missed school for him, missed work time for me, and more trauma than I would have expected dealing with the medication. (This was Theo’s first sick visit to the doctor, which itself was remarkable.) Phoebe managed to pick up her first case of poison ivy, a bad one, including welts on her face around both eyes. This led to a doctor’s trip and missed school for her, too. Then there was the funeral. Phoebe ended up missing a whole week of school. This week is her school vacation. And did I mention the stomach bug that hit Phoebe Sunday night?

These were the weeks that I was supposed to be working intensively to make a last push to try to finish my degree. Time is limited before my subject pool, the BU undergrads, is taken away by finals and the end of the term. I have now lost 2 full weeks of work time. The only day that was not taken up by sick kids or travel or memorial services and time with extended family was one that I spent shopping for something to wear to the funeral.

My days are eaten up. My energy is eaten up. My motivation and momentum for my research have all but left the building. I have been trying to push through, in the windows of time that open up here and there.

But next comes a terrorist attack in Boston, and the wind is knocked out of me again. I was not there, but I am shocked and grieving. 3 dead and over 170 injured in a blast at Copley Square, a place I know well. The news that one of the dead was a child of 8 hit hard. The news that another was a BU grad student hit hard again. The realization that my friends and family from far away might be worried about my family hit me again. We could have been there.

I am steady in times of crisis. Strong and reliable, I keep pushing through. I know that I have to keep going until the crisis time is over. But I am strained and drained. I am edgy and touchy. I am slipping.

This is not the worst crisis I can imagine. This is not even the worst crisis I or my family have lived through. I remind myself every day how lucky I am to have John and my children here with me, safe and (largely) healthy. My mother and my sister and her family are safe and well. I have financial stability, a home, and wonderful friends. I am very, very lucky. But I admit that I am tired, and I just wish I could have a few days to catch my breath. At this point, I’d settle for one.

I don’t remember growing older

Today I registered Theo for kindergarten. Come fall, we’ll have two elementary school students in the house. I feel a bit sappy and nostalgic (my baby!), but I am also really looking forward to the easier schedule we’ll have when the bus comes to the house to collect both children. (The pick up and drop off at Theo’s preschool take about 45 minutes on either end, what with the 15 minute drive plus the time it takes to deliver or collect. It’s like I have a commute even on days when I work from home. I can’t seem to manage to get Theo to his preschool and be back before Phoebe’s bus, so I don’t get back home to start working until around 9:30. )

My post title is, in case you don’t recognize it, a reference to “Sunrise, Sunset” from Fiddler on the Roof, which has been running through my head much of the day. Of course, I feel like I’ve just grown older tonight, as in the course of choosing a photo to go with this post, I managed, with the help of a very annoying bug, to completely screw up the keyword tagging system I’ve been using in iPhoto the last few years. I’ve noticed that a bunch of my keywords were showing up on photos that I hadn’t tagged as such, and in the course of “fixing” some of these, I witnessed the bug in action. As I watched, I saw keywords getting applied to thousands of photos that shouldn’t have had them. So now those keywords are completely meaningless. Years worth of tagging rendered useless. So, you see, I can measure my aging by means of the technology that torments me. Why 10 years ago, I didn’t even have a digital camera of my own, let alone a digital photo library of many thousands of photos to mismanage.

In other (less cranky) news, the wave of nostalgia triggered by getting ready to send my baby out into the wild world led me to go poking into my blog archives from the time when Theo was a new arrival. In addition to finding the expected ramblings about having a new baby, I also found this other post, which (if I do say so myself) is quite entertaining:
Advanced Topics in Procrastination. If you are a procrastinator, you should definitely put it on your list of things to do later on.

pushing buttons (friday foto finder: buttons)

Little kids love to push buttons, and my children are no exceptions.¹ Whenever we ride elevators with the kids, we have to give each one a chance to push the buttons. One will get to push the outside call button, and the other the floor selection. There have been moments of great disappointment when other elevator passengers have helpfully pushed a button for us.

Here is Theo pushing a button at the Boston Museum of Science, which is a great place to take kids who love to press buttons. Not only do they have more than one elevator, but they also have a number of exhibits with interactive displays that involve pushing buttons. This photo was from September, 2011, when Theo was 3 years old.

This week’s friday foto finder theme is “button.” Go check out the fff blog to see what other sorts of buttons people have found.

¹ Remember that time Phoebe called 911 as a toddler? I do. Grammy & Grampa’s phone had a big, pretty red button on it.²
² My kids have also been know to press each other’s buttons, but those moments don’t tend to make the best photo ops…

fruit salad with raspberries and doldrums

Some friends invited us over for a pre-Thanksgiving pot-luck feast this evening. (Well, the feast was this evening. They invited us a week ago. Really, it would be a poor plan to invite people over for a spur-of-the-moment pot-luck. You’d probably end up with a lot of crackers and cereal. Probably many fewer casseroles. Which could actually be a good thing, depending on how you feel about casseroles.)

Anyhow, since we didn’t have to go scavenging through our cupboards, and were able to plan ahead, we went with several dishes. (Dishes containing food, even.) One of these dishes was a fruit salad prepared by Phoebe. She had the idea to make one, and even mentioned this before our trip to the grocery store. She worked really hard on it, spending close to 2 hours on it. She included raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, apple, pear, clementines, grapes, banana and mango. She did almost all of the cutting herself (I helped halve and core the apple and pear, as well as pitting and peeling the mango, since they were trickier.) I was very proud of her for seeing this task through from idea to finish. And I was proud of myself for minimizing my micromanagement. I let her decide which fruits to use, and let her decide how to cut things. Mostly this hands-off approach of mine was because my own hands were busy cooking the other dishes. (Or the other food things that we put in the dishes.)

The results of all of this included a salad that was both beautiful and tasty, and a Phoebe with a sense of accomplishment.

Phoebe’s phenomenal phruit salad.

As for the doldrums, they are all mine. I was on quite a roll with the daily posting, but I seem to have fallen off my roll. Probably because I spent many hours today cooking and socializing, and now I’m tired. It got to be after 11, and I found that all my post ideas of the previous days seem to have evaporated. (Well, some haven’t evaporated, but I need more time to write them than is available before midnight.) So I went for the low-hanging fruit salad.

a little batty

A couple months back, Phoebe and I discussed what she wanted to be for Halloween this year. I was determined that we’d get things worked out well in advance, and that I wouldn’t turn into a costume-crazed working on things last-minute. (Not that anything like that would ever happen. Nope.)

Anyhow, Phoebe said she wanted to be a bat, a plan both John and I heartily endorsed. She also wanted to make her costume, and I figured we could swing it.

A couple of weeks ago, I stopped by a fabric store to get some black cloth. The store also had a selection of costumes, including, as it turned out, a bat costume: a black cape with a zig-zag bottom, and a hood with ears. It beckoned. (It was, after all, a finished costume. Also 60% off, as it was getting close to Halloween.) I was so very tempted. (Last year, Phoebe wanted to design her own witch costume. But when I found a finished witch costume in the second hand store, complete with sparkly, fluffy embellishments, Phoebe was more than happy to give up her own design plans.)

I eyed that finished bat costume, hanging there in all its $5.99-sale-price polyester glory.

And I moved on.

After all, making such a thing from fleece would be a snap. Possibly a stitch or two needed here and there, but no major sewing or engineering.

Come last week, we still hadn’t found a chance to work on it. Our schedule is rather packed what with school, work and after-school activities. But there was a Halloween party coming up on Friday, and a Halloween-themed birthday party on Saturday, so on Thursday night, it was well time to tackle the bat.

I got out the fabric, held it up to Phoebe, and described what I imagined: wings draping down from her arms, much like a cape. Phoebe was not happy. This wasn’t what she imagined. After various rounds of her trying to explain what she wanted, and even a trial version of making a mini bat costume for a doll with some stapled rags, I finally got Phoebe to draw for me how she envisioned the wings. Here’s what she drew:

Not draped. She wanted her arm to go through some straps on a wing shape, which would extend up above the arm.

There was much back and forth that followed, with me saying we couldn’t do it with fleece, at least not without something stiff to hold the shape. She wanted to make something much more complicated than I felt was necessary. (I have no idea where she gets this. No idea.)

Happily, I remembered that I had some bits of upholstery foam left from when I made a spider costume back before Phoebe was born. More remarkably, I was able to find them.

The result was that I managed to make something that was in between our two original visions, with the wings extending up over her arms, and then with the fleece draping down behind.

Wings down.

Wings extended.

The ears are just cat ears, but they worked well enough for a bat. The rest of the costume is just various articles of black clothing she had.

Here is Phoebe swinging at her friend’s party on Saturday. (I don’t know how I managed to get photos with just Phoebe, as it seemed like the swingset was swarming with costumed first-graders.) The foam and fleece combination was flexible enough that she could still easily play in her costume.

This photo shows a bit of the foam peaking through. I had it sandwiched between layers of fleece. If I’d had more time, I probably would have fixed this. But it only showed when her arms were in certain positions.

You can’t see the costume especially well here, but Phoebe is so dang cute. This was during the parade at her school gym Halloween morning. Wow, that was only yestereday. It’s been a crazy stretch.

So, there it is. The bat costume that was going to be simple, but ended up more complicated than expected. (Yes, I should have expected that.)


I was at a conference, and the family came on the trip with me this time. I was at some sort of event that involved mingling, perhaps a coffee break, and having some in-depth discussions about some aspect of the phonetics of intonation. John and Phoebe were off somewhere together, but Theo was there with me, and getting bored and impatient. I suggested he go back to the hotel, and continued my conversation.

A bit later, after the discussions had wound down, I realized that I had sent Theo, barely 4 years old, off to wander the streets of some strange big city. Of course he didn’t know how to get back to the hotel by himself. I had no idea which way he’d gone. I started to look for him, and in the flexibility of dream space, I looked on many streets, in many directions. I asked countless strangers if they had seen a little boy, walking by himself. I became convinced that I would never find him again and fell apart. Not only had I lost Theo, but it was my fault. It was through my carelessness and inattention and self-absorption. My worst fears had been realized. I cried and moaned in my panic and grief.

I woke up in the dark, at home in my bed, my heart racing. My throat felt tight as if I had indeed been shrieking. I’m pretty sure I hadn’t actually made the loud noises I remembered making, that I still heard echoing in my head, as John was there asleep next to me. I curled up towards him and let myself go back to sleep.

When I next woke up, there was light coming in under the window shades. This is never a good sign, as the alarm typically goes off at 6:00, while it is still quite dark out. Last night we’d had a power outage, and while I had correctly set the alarm on our ancient radio alarm clock, I had managed to set the time wrong. By 12 hours.

It was 7:30. Happily, there was still time to get Phoebe ready for the bus. I could take Theo to his preschool after the bus instead of before. We should have rushed, since time still tight, but I climbed into Theo’s bed and held him close, curling myself up against him, warming his cold feet. I called Phoebe down from the top bunk to snuggle, too, and we snuggled, the three of us, until the bickering over who was taking up too much space and the jabbing elbows got the better of me. I got up, got the kids up, got dressed, and started the rush to get breakfast, finish packing lunches, and get us out the door.

I should have felt more rested today from having gotten that extra sleep, but I’ve been feeling shaken by my dream all day. I know that I would never really send Theo off by himself like that. Or Phoebe either, for that matter. (Though there was that one time that Theo did wander off outside by himself, while John and I were engaged with Phoebe, arguing over a lollipop. Theo had followed some friends who had visited our house and left. Our friends noticed him following them, and walked him back. And there was a time at the beach a couple of weeks ago when Phoebe wandered off looking for shells and got disoriented in the crowds of people and umbrellas. She couldn’t find us, and we couldn’t find her, for far too many minutes.)

My dream shows me that anxiety about separation is still rooted in my mind, planted there by too many health scares and nourished by so much time spent lately trying to focus on my work and school. With so many things going on in my life and in my head, I clearly sometimes worry that I will lose hold of what is most important to me.