Sunday, February 13, 2011


To my dear, sweet, son:

I have been obsessing about this post, and dreading this post, for a few months now. I have tried to start it more than once--to at least start a bullet-point list of the things I want to say. To make a list of all the things I don't want to forget.

Tomorrow is your fourth birthday. The first birthday you can count to. The first birthday when you understand the age that came before and the age that will come after. (Please stop reminding me that you will be five-years-old after you are four-years-old. It's giving me panic attacks.)

I have been dreading this post because I know that words do not do justice to who you are.
Hello up there
Deep thoughts. Strange goo.
Or who we are.
Red River Zoo
(I love this zoo. The animals seem very happy and have a lot of space.)
Zoo in Wahpeton. (Bad zoo. Ugly cages. Sad animals)
Or who you are becoming.
Zoo in Wahpeton
(I hated that zoo. Even the monkeys were depressed.
But the colors were pretty.)

Fort Abercrombie
I am afraid that I can never truly capture the joy you have brought me. You have made my heart grow and swell, the same way my body grew and swelled while pregnant with you. My heart expands to the point that I am sure it will explode. But it doesn't. And then it stretches a little more.
First day of preschool
You had a hard time going back to preschool last September. For several months, over the summer, you often climbed into our bed in the middle of the night, and I never turned you away. You were home with me all day, every day, in July and most of August. When you went back to school, it wasn't easy for either of us. I mean, sure, it was nice some of the time, but not 30-hours-a-week of the time.

One night, you asked to go to sleep in the big bed. I thought it would be for a night. Maybe a few nights.

You haven't slept in your bed for even an hour since.

It's okay, because it turns out that it's easier this way. You go to bed more quickly. You sleep more soundly. You sleep MUCH later in the morning. We hadn't coslept regularly before because I thought that it robbed me of sleep. True, you sometimes kick me in the face. Or ribs. Or cough in my face. Or get drool on my pillow. But I don't have to get out of bed to soothe you if you wake up crying. In fact, you rarely wake up. You talk in your sleep, but you rarely seem to have nightmares. Sometimes, you wake up and can't get back to sleep, but it's rare.

I was not opposed to cosleeping. I just thought it wasn't "for us". I wanted you to go to sleep in your own bed, even if that meant that you crawled into bed with us later. Turns out that it's easier for me to just let you fall asleep in the big bed. And it turns out that for some reason--maybe due to some extra boost of night time oxytocin--I have more patience with you. I always felt I needed that "break" from you and that sleeping separately allowed for this. I find that I like you more. This may be, in part, due to the fact that we are away from each other for several hours a week. Whatever the reason, I have grown to love the "family bed". It makes me sad to think of a day when you will sleep in your own bed again.

To be perfectly honest, I often let you watch cartoons in bed for 30 minutes to an hour before turning on your rain sounds (white noise) and telling you to go to sleep (if you aren't asleep already). But you don't fight going to bed. You don't fight going to sleep. Occasionally you will say you need a snack. Most of the time you actually eat it :0)

Also, if I am perfectly honest, you watch a lot of TV. Not really TV--we don't have cable. You watch DVDs or Netflix videos. Thus, we are not subjected to advertisements. You also play video games. Some of it is not age-appropriate--it's geared for children who are a few years older than you. I had a lot of guilt about this, but you're not having nightmares or hitting other children, so I'm just going to let it go. There's a long list of things I said I'd never do as a parent that I turned out to be totally wrong about. This is just one more thing.

You rode your first carnival rides this summer by yourself:

You got your first fishing pole and went fishing. We didn't catch anything, but had fun anyway.
Turtle River
You are funny. In the last few months, you've started to sing and dance. Many of your dances are best categorized as dramatic interpretations. I say this, because they are a combination of goofy, muppet-like dance moves and play-fighting choreography.

You are sweet. You are kind. When I am sick or have hurt myself, you stroke my face and say, oh honey, are you okay? It will be okay.

You are inquisitive. You and your dad went to AZ for a few days last May. While there, your dad stopped to visit his brother's grave (the uncle for whom you are named). He tried to explain that F was dead. You said, Oh, F is dead? It's okay. We can go to the store and get a new F. You said this because when a battery is dead, we buy a new one. (Well, we try to recharge it, but some batteries don't have rechargeable versions.) If only human batteries were so easily replaced...

You had your first "very own" pet this year. It was a beta fish. You named him "Moinxie". He died about 10 days after we bought him. This was a few months after the visit to F's grave. I'd like to think that this taught you about death, but I know that you are still too young to really understand.

You want to be a "cooker" when you grow up.

You learned to ride the neighbor-boy's mini-quad.

You learned to ride a bike. You are learning to catch a ball. You are learning to ice skate.

You planted a flower garden. Your flowers were beautiful. And so are you.

You like to eat fresh peas out of a pod that have just been picked from the garden. You like to eat summer squash, zucchini, carrots, broccoli, and tomatoes straight from the garden. You won't get near any of these vegetables once they are cooked. One more reason to garden.

You like fish oil capsules; you chew them up and swallow them. You like sardines; you eat them straight from the can.
You build things. Fantastic things. Cities.

Play-doh monsters. This one is from last summer. The most recent ones have several arms. Or tentacles. Or eyes. Or heads. The lighting in this photo is terrible, but your expression is adorable.

Bristle-block aliens.

You had your first "real" Halloween this year. As in, you picked your costume. You joined a trick-or-treating mob. You trick-or-treated until you could barely stand up. You are the Wall-E in the middle.
Beware: Child-mob ahead
This year, we had the first Christmas that was "our" Christmas. We stayed home. We didn't visit family. It was the first year that we bought and decorated a tree.
You had been asking for this robot since last May. Santa brought it to you for Christmas.
You starting drawing things in September. It has been the single best thing that has come from your preschool experience. At a few points during the school day, you have the option of doing "books, puzzles, or journals". Essentially, it is semi-structured free time. At first, you didn't want to draw, because you couldn't make things "perfect". Now, you draw all the time. I don't want you to be a perfectionist. It is a crippling trait. It makes you afraid to try new things. I hope you grow up thirsty to try new things.

You are also learning about yoga at preschool. I love your teacher so much for that.

First, your drawings were heads with legs and arms coming out of them. Then, robots (but not humans) had bodies. And very long fingers. You drew a robot for Santa. The stuff in the body is all of his doodle-oodle-oop, which I think translates to buttons.

You built your first ice-cave-slash-igloo this year.

You had your first dentist appointment this year. You liked it so much, you wanted to go with me when I had to go back in to get a filling.

You had your first round of antibiotics. It was for a sinus infection. Then you had another round of antibiotics for a nasty case of strep throat that involved puking up mucus and a full-on scarlet fever rash.

You can put away your own clothes in the right drawers. You can pick out your clothes for school. You can mostly dress yourself now.

You had your first school "performance" last spring. I was worried that you would cooperate when it was time for your class to be on (the little, only slightly elevated) stage. I was worried that you would just stand off in a corner and/or pout. Boy, WAS I WRONG. You stood right up there in the middle and sang and danced. You were a total ham. Pure awesomeness.

You gave up naps this year. At least, you gave them up at home. You still take them at school, sometimes. And every once in awhile, you'll let your guard down and fall asleep during the day.

You started using the potty this year. We used a token economy because I am, at the end of the day, a behaviorist at heart. To be a behaviorist is to believe that we are all unique individuals and that change is always possible.

You still wear a pull-up at night time. We tried just wearing underwear, but one night you had an accident and quietly changed your underwear and pajama pants and climbed into my bed. You didn't tell me you'd had an accident, and seemed embarrassed the next morning when I found the underwear. I decided pull-ups were better than feeling bad about wetting the bed. You just aren't ready yet.

You had your first boba tea in Fargo one day after we went to the (incredibly charming, non-stifling, animals-seem-geniunely-happy) Red River Zoo. You still remember the names of the men working in the tea shop. Now, every time I mention going to Fargo, you want to go to the tea shop. When winter is officially over, I will totally make that happen for you.

When I asked you what kind of cake you wanted for your birthday, you said raspberry. Not strawberry. Or cherry. Or chocolate. Or vanilla. Raspberry. With chocolate frosting. I asked if you wanted a train cake like last year, or a heart cake. I was hoping you would say heart, because the train cake takes a LONG time to decorate. Also, I don't think I have many years left before someone convinces you that hearts are "for girls". You said you wanted a love-you cake. You like to refer to hearts as love-you's.

(Psssst...The cake was actually vanilla butter cake, but there was raspberry jam in the middle, and those are real raspberries around the edges. Raspberries that have been rolled around in sugar. The cake and frosting were made from scratch. And oh yes, that pink frosting is chock full of red dye. You only live once.)

People say I'm crazy for making the whole cake from scratch. What they don't understand is that the whole time I was making it, I was meditating on the day we found out you were coming to join us. And the day you were born. And the days that fell between. And all the days that have come since.

Happy 4th birthday, my sweet little boy. Every day, you make me want to be a better person than I was the day before. I am so glad you are my son.

I love you,

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Intimidating? I hope not.

This post was inspired, in part, by the delightful "midwives chatting" posts over here and the Facebook Q&A's that Barb has been posting over here. It was also inspired by this post by MB that has crossed my mind repeatedly since I read it last July. I was struck by her honesty and my realization that a lot of people grow up poor and many of us carry it around like a dirty secret.

When I was an undergraduate, I was terribly intimidated by my professors. These were people who had their shit together. They were smart. They were funny. They had P. H. D.'s!!!! They knew stuff. They were way more cool than I would ever be.

I grew up poor. I remember when my parents crossed the poverty line. I was 9 or 10 years old. I remember how excited we all were when my parents had saved enough money to buy a trailer that was large enough that my brother and I would each have our own room (which I now realize is TRULY a luxury that some children will never experience). I was the first in my family to get any kind of college degree. On either side. Not only were we poor, but we were completely dysfunctional and my home life was an emotional trainwreck. I still get nervous when I have people over because I feel like I have something to hide. They will find something out about me. They will see that I am not perfect. Please, if you are my friend and you have never been to my house, you should know that I love you, but that I am just scared to have you over.

For years, I was terrified when I ate in fancy restaurants--terrified that someone would know that I was an impostor. Terrified that people were secretly laughing at me.

This feeling of being an impostor followed me into graduate school. I was terrified that at any moment, someone would realize that she doesn't belong here. Over time, I realized that this is a very common feeling. Some of the people I respect very much have said that the hardest part of your first job is getting over the "impostor syndrome." I lucked out and found a job in a department where I'm comfortable with my colleagues and enjoy their company, so this feeling hasn't plagued me like it did in graduate school.

As a side note, I didn't feel comfortable in fancy restaurants until I got a Master's degree. I guess that having a fancy title somehow makes up for growing up poor. So what if I use the wrong fork? I have the money to pay for my meal, I LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE good food, and I tip well.

Many of my students come from rural areas. Beyond rural areas. Towns of less than 200 people where the closest hospital is far, far away. Grand Forks is a HUGE city to them. I'm sure that some of them grew up poor. I'm sure that some of them grew up strangled by dysfunction and violence. I hope they are not afraid of me. I want them to respect me, but I want them to know that I'm just a person too (even though I do want them to use my title when addressing me--not because I'm "better" than they are, but because I earned it...AND I allow them, even encourage them, to call me "Dr. T." because it is less intimidating and sounds more fun).

I get frustrated by genuine laziness or a lack of initiative in some students, but I otherwise enjoy talking with them and I like to know who they are outside of my class. I realize in retrospect that many of my professors were totally approachable and they probably would have loved it if I had stopped in and said hi during their office hours.

This recent string of conversations from Facebook is a nice illustration of the fact that (most) academics are not scary. At least, not the ones I affiliate with. In fact, in my experience, the truly scary ones are just assholes. Most of us are kind of funny. We don't bite. And apparently, we have a deep appreciation for the therapeutic effects of alcohol:
Me (assistant professor, psychology): Still gets nervous on the first day of class.
(I know someone who has been lecturing in VERY large classes--400+ students--for almost a decade now. He is a born performer and a pleasure to watch and listen to. He is funny, charming, and ridiculously attractive. Last semester, he posted a FB update that HE still gets first-day jitters. I find this oddly comforting.)

JL (assistant professor, sociology): Me too.

AC (associate professor, psychology): I would too if I didn't drink so much before the first class. 
(I am 97% sure this person is kidding, but is also a very real possibility that he is serious. Also, I took courses from this person in graduate school and consider him to be one of my mentors.)

Me: @AC, I DID drink a lot. Unfortunately it was coffee.
RR (assistant professor, law school): yep.

KSA (retired journalist, married to assistant professor of journalism): That's because y'all are GOOD.
(Does being nervous mean that your are more likely to be awesome? Maybe so, because it means that you actually care.)
MB (currently dissertating and also an instructor in English dept.): Make sure your zipper is up (my personal super-fear)!
AC: Drink gin dumbass.
(This is an good example of his fine mentoring skills, right here.)

Me: @MB ~ that totally happened to me last year. I realized my fly was wide open midway through class, and I was wearing a rather short shirt. I check it obsessively now.
@AC ~ Vodka. It has no scent. Duh.
(The zipper thing totally happened, and I couldn't figure out why a couple of the students were stifling laughter. I'd been lecturing for 20+ minutes. I had white granny-panties on. Thank God there were no holes in them. Also, I have never drank vodka before lecturing in a class. However, I may have utilized it in other settings. Maybe.)
SC (doctoral candidate, quantitative psychology): It says a lot about you that I both think you are a professional and mature educator and researcher AND *totally* believe you about which booze to drink and conceal it.
(Strangely, this is one of my favorite compliments I have ever received. It means that I, too, am capable of some fine mentoring.)

Friday, January 07, 2011


December 3 – Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). 

We had a garden last summer. A big garden, and half of it did well...the summer squash and green beans went crazy. I had no idea how satisfying it would be do grow our own food and eat it immediately. Admittedly, my husband did most of the growing and tending, but I cooked what he harvested.

At one point during the summer, I was also house-sitting for two friends who had a garden. I harvested a few tomatoes while I was over there watering, and they had an amazing mess of herbs growing on the patio. I grabbed some thyme, basil, oregano, and marjoram from their herb garden to accompany the tomatoes. The only herbs we were growing were basil and cilantro. The cilantro grew with gusto. The basil not so much.

We had some summer squash, zucchini, and green peppers from our garden, as well as two tiny heirloom eggplants and a few more tomatoes. We also had onions and garlic on hand (not from our garden, but grown locally and purchased at the farmers market). Thus, I had a pile of vegetables, most of which had been harvested within the last 24 hours, and they were the perfect pile to make ratatouille.

Have you seen the movie Ratatouille? If you love food, you should see it. If you have already watched it, you should be familiar with the scene that my husband and I refer to as "The Ratatouille Moment," wherein the bitter food critic bites into the lovingly crafted dish and is immediately transported back to his mother's kitchen from his childhood. It makes me cry every time. Every time.

I decided to make ratatouille, which I had never made before. I sauteed the onions, added the garlic and peppers, then the squash and eggplant, and finally the tomatoes and herbs (except for half of the basil that went in right before serving). I let it stew for about 20-30 minutes and added a generous drizzle of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper when I plated it. I served it with crusty olive bread from a local bread shop. The mix of colors on the plate was beautiful. The smell was divine.

When I took that first bite, it was a flavor explosion. I was overcome with bliss. I was filled with such joy that this perfect dish in front of me--a little taste of heaven--came from our humble garden and the garden of friends.

All that energy, captured in this lovely, simple creation. It filled my soul to the brim. It made my pagan heart sing.

It was a plate full of summer. A plate full of childhood. A plate full of hope. A plate full of love.

It tasted just like the sun. It tasted like life.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


December 2 – Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it? (Author: Leo Babauta)

The thing that I do each day that doesn't contribute to my personal writing (i.e. this blog) is that I spend a lot of time aimlessly trolling Facebook and obsessively checking email. I have ideas that I'd like to write about, but they seem overwhelming and like it would take too much time to write them "perfectly". One thing that I am doing to overcome this is using prompts to focus my topics and my energy. I also worry that no one is reading and that I am wasting my time. I have to remind myself that the process is what matters and that I should be writing first and foremost for myself.

With regards to my professional writing, I fail to stick to a schedule. When it comes to writing journal articles and technical papers, "inspiration" is far less important than perspiration. The best way to get writing done is to make a schedule and stick to it, and not let other people steal this time. I get caught up in meetings and talking with colleagues and students when I should be writing. I had a schedule last semester, and was very productive for the three weeks I actually stuck to it. I have put a schedule into my calendar for this semester, and I AM GOING TO STICK TO IT. I will close my office door and write. I'm going to guard this time as if it was class time. I always find time to teach. I don't fail to show up to lecture because I got distracted by something else. I don't miss meetings. I need to be as committed to my writing time as I am to the time I have committed to others. I am sitting on piles of data from several studies that no one will ever know about it if I don't write the articles. Doing research is fun. I've learned to love analyzing data as well. The writing part is not fun for me, but the rule in academia is publish or perish. I'd rather not perish.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

One Word

I started and then dropped the ball on Reverb 10. I also didn't realize that I was supposed to sign up to participate. Oops. However, I like the idea and the prompts so much that I'm going to start with the December 1st prompt and (eventually) work my way through them, even if it's a little late and takes far longer than a month.
Prompt (December 1st):

One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you? (Author: Gwen Bell)
The first word that came to mind was change but then I reconsidered. There have been many years in the last decade that brought with them more change than 2010. There was the year I got divorced, started graduate school, and moved four times during my first four months as a graduate student (2002). There was the year I met my dear husband and my doggie soul mate died (2003). There was the year I got married and then cared for a friend who moved in with me after she was left disabled in car accident on her way to my wedding (2005). For the record, that was a disaster and it ruined our friendship. Sometimes, trying to do the right thing turns out to be the wrong thing for everyone involved.

There was the year that the disabled friend went home (and we were no longer friends), I got a Master's Degree, I got pregnant, we bought a house, my father got in a motorcycle accident and spent 6 weeks in the hospital (and we didn't think he was "coming back") and my brother-in-law committed suicide (2006). There was the year I had my first (and currently only) child (2007). There was the year I finished my dissertation, moved to North Dakota, and started my first real job (2009). Compared to these other years, 2010 doesn't seem to be very filled with change.

I thought about other words to describe the last year: Turmoil. Anguish. Relief. Acceptance. Awe. Community. Satisfaction. Contentment.

Turmoil and anguish when I thought my marriage might end. Relief than my marriage didn't end. Acceptance of my husband for who he is, my career for what it is, my family for who they/we are, my son for who he is, and myself for how I mother. Awe that I could fall in love again--with my husband, my child, my career. Awe that I could trust--other people and myself.

I found community where I least expected it, and for the first time in my life feel truly connected to the people who live within a 5 mile radius of me. I specify the distance because I feel connected to other women for sure--you crunchy mamas and besties know who you are--but all were/are so spread out from each other that it's hard to physically connect. Here, we've had spontaneous potlucks with neighbors. Last summer, there were several days where we just threw together whatever we all had to contribute to dinner and we ate at the picnic table that sits between our front yards. I have people to watch my son in a pinch that I trust and they live on my street. We spent Christmas dinner at a friend's house. She and her husband are (were?) journalists and their son is grown. Theirs is the same house where we celebrated Thanksgiving. She was delighted that I brought the boy to Christmas dinner in his pajamas, and that she had a little boy and a grown boy at the same table. I was delighted to feel like I have a soul family here. I go out with the people in my department because we genuinely like each other. We go to drag shows some nights and have research meetings (with wine!) other nights.  One of my good friends and mentors is a (gasp) Republican, but I respect him because he's neither crazy nor mean-spirited (i.e. fiscal conservative, social liberal) and we can have conversations about politics that actually make sense where I feel like I've learned something. Plus, we both LOVE to cook and talk about food and we bring in leftovers to work to share with each other now and then. The person who is probably my best friend is a single mother and colleague who I thought hated me until I realized she was just reserved...until you get to know her. We go to drag shows together and write papers together. Our sons have birthdays two weeks apart (her son is actually a leap-year baby born on February 29th and mine is a Valentine's baby), and we're having a joint birthday party this year. I am totally stoked!

My father and his girlfriend came to visit and I actually introduced them to some of my friends, instead of being ashamed of my roots. This community looks nothing like the community I envisioned when I was younger. That community involved lots of property and trees and free-spirits (and pot! lots of pot!) and people with ideas and opinions just like mine. I know that I am not the only one thinking about community and what it is and isn't what we thought it could and would and should be. This community is made of people who disagree with one another but still respect each other. It is neighbors clearing snow for each other. It's neighbors coming over, literally, to borrow a cup of milk or sugar. It's a neighbor who is watching my son texting me to tell me stay out with my husband as late as we want and the boy can just sleep at her house since he's watching Muppet Babies with her kids and half asleep on the couch already. I never lived in a real neighborhood growing up. My parents didn't have regular friends that came over. We were very closed off from other people. This life, my neighbors, this town, is what I saw on TV when I was younger and wondered why I didn't have it. I actually get choked up about it sometimes.

I gain satisfaction through the work I do and the students I teach. I am content because this family my husband and I have created is not without its quirks and challenges, but it is beautiful and fun and crazy and we laugh a lot and sometimes yell and I have learned so much more about myself than I ever thought possible. I have loved so much more than I ever thought possible.

Perhaps the word that best sums up this year, for me, is change after all. Not because there were big external changes like jobs and moves and marriages. Not because there were changes that would be noticed by an outside observer. This was a year of change for me because I changed on the inside. I worked, for real this time, to cast away old relationship patterns (though they sneak up sometimes), to cast away old grudges (for the most part) and to cast away the notion that I can "fix" other people. I stopped feeling guilty for being happy and I cast away the burdens of what an "ideal" mother does. It feels good.