Dear Ma–

Today, you would have been 62.

It’s been a little over 6 years since you died. I recently had to tell your oldest niece on Dad’s side that you were gone. We got back in touch, and although someone had told her you were sick, I’m not sure anyone told her you’d died.

She still calls you “Jeannie.”

I miss you a little all the time, and more on some days than on others.

I wanted to call you the other day when your grandson’s tiny voice piped up behind me, one beat after me, and said, “Sthit.” Twice.

I wanted to call you last week to tell you that L quit smoking! Oh, you loved that boy. He’s lovable on his own, but he was also a most excellent friend to me during a pretty crappy time, which made him irresistible to you. (The irony of not getting to share this news with you because of smoking is hard to swallow.)

I really wanted to call you in November when I found out that Angelo died in 2012. He wasn’t just a lovely father-in-law — he was also particularly gracious and kind to you. He and Rose were so touched by your efforts to include them in the wedding shower that they cut their vacation short and jumped through hoops to accept the invitation. When the rehearsal dinner came along, he invited you and Chris to sit at their family table…which was just like him, really. He never treated me as anything less than a daughter, and he decided you were family, too. When his sympathy card arrived, the first of so many and not two weeks before my alliance with his son was officially severed, I wasn’t surprised, and couldn’t have been more touched.

(And, you know, not everyone accepts that you can still care about a family that you opted to leave. Am I allowed to mourn someone whose son I divorced? You would have understood that.)

I wanted to stay at your house in July. Boy, that would have been easier! The logistics for visiting Vermont are harder now, or we made them extra hard by trying to get Dad and Chris there, too. On the other hand, I don’t know if our trip would then have included the Cape, and that truly was a treat. But a week of time for you to play with Grayson would have been hard to cut short.

I wish I could fly you out here for his 2nd birthday.

I wish you could know your grandson. You were right — we do make pretty babies. He’s a handsome little devil, and he’s whip-smart and very, very funny. He informed me the other night that he has “TWO eyes.” He’s started climbing up on the changing table when he would like a new diaper, telling us “peepee” or “poop.” (This is not always accurate, and yes, we have a potty on standby.) He knows who’s in his family: “Mama. Daddy. Brah!” (Brah! is Rodney. That was one of his first words, and it’s never changed.) He is also a bossy little monkey…I mean, he demonstrates leadership qualities! He has recently learned the power of “please” and knows it as The Magic Word.

He is so helpful and kind for an almost-2-year-old. “Can you help So-and-So?” is almost always the best way to get him to do something, or to distract him from some minor distress. We got him to be more careful about dropping (/throwing) food on the floor by explaining that Rodney would get a booboo in his belly if he ate food off the floor; now he chastises us if we drop anything. (“Brah! Booboo. Ow.”) When he was fussing about our plumber being in the house, we said, “Kristen came to fix our toilet. Can you help her find it?” Off he went — he grabbed her hand and escorted her to the bathroom. And so far, he remains inappropriately okay with sharing.

I think he probably gets this from you. You helped everyone who crossed your path, if you could.

Last year, your youngest niece on Dad’s side decided on a cosmetology track for her final year of high school. This would have delighted you, and I told her so, even though she doesn’t remember you. And her mom chimed in and said, yes, you would have been tickled and “would have helped any way you could.”

Truer words were never spoken.

I wish I could talk to you about some of the friends we’ve made here. You would LOVE, in particular, the amazing women on my rowing team. When I’m at practice, I wonder sometimes if this is how you felt about softball. (I don’t wonder about bowling. I have my own bowling memories.) And I wonder if watching Grayson grow up around the kids from our Mom Sorority is a little like what Sunday afternoons were like when we kids were all small and tumbling around.

When we were back in Vermont, I meant to get a picture of Peyton, Grayson, and Calvin together, too — they’re closer in age than even Bri, Steph, and Chris were. Alas. Toddlers.

I wish you could know me as a mom. I like to think it would look a little familiar. It feels familiar sometimes, like when Grayson chokes on some water and I immediately ask if it’s got bones in it. Things just come out of my mouth sometimes and Graham does a double-take — why would you ever ask a child if his water has bones in it?

Because that’s what you asked us.

I frequently wish I could talk to you about this mom stuff, because I know you loved your career. I know there were long hours. I often find myself wondering how you did it, and then I remember that, when we were little, Grand was next door and Steve and Donna were over the hill and Memere and Pepere were, what? 3 miles away? And your commute almost never involved parking lots with time-based limitations…or more than 2 stoplights. And we didn’t even have call waiting until I was 10 or so, to say nothing of Twitter (and it’s best we say nothing of Twitter).

I’m having a harder time with your birthday this year than I had with the anniversary of your death last November, and I have no idea why. I think, maybe, that grief is a lot like an unset boat. Whether it’s by a wake or a wave, sometimes you just wind up with salt in your eyes.

Happy birthday, Ma. I love you.



2015, this is your word.


I’ve loved this print since the first time I saw it on rightbrainterrain.com, and it’s lived in my home office since 2008. It sits, framed and ready for hanging (after I make a painting decision), on the floor behind my desk, one of the first (and few) pieces of art to which I’ve managed to commit.

Last year was a year to restore, reevaluate, and reset this little life, and it feels like that happened. Like, for real. I settled in to being a mom. I chose the next branch on the twisted path that is my beloved career. I tried rowing and freaking loved it. I had to get over some fears (OMG 8 PEOPLE ARE STEPPING INTO THIS SKINNY-ASS BOAT AT THE SAME TIME WTF WAS I THINKING?!?) and take a few leaps and figure out Who I Am and How We Do This.

Which brings us to this year.

Who am I? I’m Grayson’s mom and Graham’s partner. I’d rather go to the park than blog about it (maybe not all the time, but most of the time). I’m a reliable and mostly consistent novice rower. I’m a content strategist who makes a living asking questions and working to Make It Better. I’m an Autodesker…which means quite a bit to me — I like the people and the mission and the work. I’m an apologetically inconsistent friend and more uncompromising when it comes to my kid than I expected. I take responsibility, but probably more than I deserve and less gracefully than I would like.

How do we do this? Carefully, and with some help, a lot of luck, and the occasional, mildly reckless decision to just DO something already. Is it the best time in our lives to have both of us engaged in a sport that’s more lifestyle than activity? Maybe not, but the benefits have far outweighed the absurdity. Can we really afford to have someone come in and clean every 2 weeks? Barely, but we have her focus on the areas that stress me out — not having to vacuum or clean the toilets is worth more to me than we can pay her. Is it a good idea to have painting projects going in 3 rooms at once, plus an old door that’s getting painted and sealed and turned into an outdoor easel? Hell, no, but there’s a method to my madness, I promise!

Also, Zillow thinks our house value has gone up $100k since we bought it, and Zillow hasn’t even seen what we’ve done with the place (hint: we did NOT spend $100k on it). So…long view, right? (Coming soon: Light fixtures that actually light rooms!)

So! Time to zero in. FOCUS. What does that mean for 2015?

1. Focus on being a rockstar at work. I’ve loved my work for years, but it’s been a while since I’ve faced a challenge that really engaged me all the way to my Puritanical gut. This is my (current) dream job, so now it’s time to zap the low-hanging fruit and set up some goals for the next year or so,

2. Focus on making this home our own. We’ve been coasting a bit, taking care of things that couldn’t wait (or shouldn’t) and putting off the things that make a home a comfortable representation of the family that lives in it. We bought the appliances and got some painting done. We futzed with furniture, but not that much. We hung up about half of the pictures in our collection and prioritized the tech that supports telecommuting and not having cable.

It took us a while to get used to the idea that this is a bit more than a starter house. We’ve done the math — this is the most house we will ever own here. We’ve done the research — there really are some good schools in our little piece of Oakland. We’ve settled in more in the last 6 months than in the first 18…mainly because PREGNANT, then NEWBORN, then WORKING MOM + SAHD WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING?! This is now our home, not just the house we bought, and it’s time to make that come through better.

3. Focus on fitness and form in the boat. Reintegrate rowing into my life after a big holiday derail. Practices are in full swing and sprint season is looming, and my goal remains clear: Train to row well in any seat, and be the person everyone’s glad to have in the boat. That doesn’t mean being the strongest or the leanest or the tallest. It means working together and making the boat go. (So far this year, I’ve rowed with every squad but the men’s team, so…this work has already begun, apparently.) It means being quick, finding the rhythm, anticipating and matching stroke seat (or sitting in it, depending on the day), and giving everything I’ve got. When I lose focus, I flail.

These look like resolutions, but I promise I’m still just doing a word. No big Life List plans, no major travel, no looming decisions or moves…

I’m building up the foundation that holds the rest of me together when things fall apart a little bit.


2014: Reset

2013: Family

2012: Home

2011: Courage

2010: Whole

Boxing Day 2014

[Trigger warning: There are pictures of the injuries after the jump, including some shots from the ER. If you got here from Facebook, the expanded content may appear by default. Proceed with caution if you would rather not see that kind of carnage.]

Well. Writing is how I process things, and I would be lying if I said this wasn’t keeping me awake at night. (Graham, too.) It’s not every day you watch a dog try to rip your family apart.

On December 26, Graham, his dad, and I took the dogs and Grayson for our usual morning walk. The dogs were leashed, as always, and I had Grayson in the stroller. The morning walk is the long walk for us, and the route doesn’t vary. Graham’s mom was back at our place, getting ready for that day’s family gathering at 2:30.

Between 8:30 and 8:45, we were about to cross Brookdale Ave., the last side street on the route before turning down our own street. On the south side of Brookdale (3100 block), I saw a guy yelling at two dogs the way a lot of people in Oakland yell at dogs. (Oakland has a huge problem with people who get dogs for protection and then neglect or badly mistreat them.) The dogs looked like pit bulls from where I stood…also not uncommon around here. One was completely unrestrained, and one was on a rope “leash.” Neither dog, we would learn, had a collar or tags.

After we crossed Brookdale, the unrestrained pit charged from half a block down and went for Rodney. Graham’s parents’ mini schauzer, Maggie, was slightly ahead, and Graham’s dad was able to pick her up. I was a few steps ahead with Grayson, and the stroller was pointed away from the scene. The owner (who claimed he was not the owner) ran after his unrestrained dog…or was dragged by the one he had on a rope. Couldn’t tell you which, honestly.

can honestly tell you that I might recognize the dogs in a lineup, but couldn’t tell you anything about the dude who was with them. Male, for sure, but white? Hispanic? Not even sure.

Before the owner reached us, the unrestrained dog was going for Rodney’s throat. Our dog is alive today because Graham’s left index finger was between the attacking dog’s jaw and Rodney’s windpipe. Rodney’s wounds speak to the determination of that pit — he had deep punctures in both shoulders, some in the face, one on the top of his head, and numerous lacerations under his legs and about the face.

Graham still has a left index finger because the pit didn’t manage a “death shake,” a term that’s a lot funnier when you’re describing what a terrier does to a toy. But it was close quarters. Graham’s dad also sustained a bite on the back of his left hand trying to pull the dog off while also holding Maggie out of the way. I got hands on the scruff of the attacking dog a couple of times, but was trying to stay between the dogs and the stroller. The rope-leashed dog was agitated, but didn’t get into the fight. The presumed owner of the two dogs (because I do not believe they weren’t his) was utterly useless.

I could be generous and say he was trying to keep the other dog out of the fight, or I could point out that he thought kicking the dog with its teeth sunk into my partner and our beloved pet was an effective tactic (it was not). Both are true.

It felt like it went on forever, but the attack lasted somewhere around 48-60 seconds. Graham figured that out by counting how many obscenities I screamed at the dogs’ owner and estimating about 4-5 seconds between them. It sounds like a joke, but it’s true, and I’m still dealing with the realization that I completely lost my shit. My voice got even shriller when Graham said, “He’s got my finger.”

We don’t know what finally made the dog let go. By the time he did, I didn’t know whose blood was whose, but it was dripping on the sidewalk and looked pretty bad. Graham was already in shock and had a hard time standing up. A neighbor we often see and say good morning to (but don’t really know), appeared to silently hand us some paper towels, then faded back. The dogs’ owner took the dogs, crossed the street, and headed north on Brookdale, never to be seen again.

There were two other witnesses — they came from the other side of Brookdale, but at least one of them was hella stoned, and the other was on his phone. The hella stoned guy walked with us up to our street — he lives down here somewhere and I’ve seen him before. He was all “You should get that guy’s contact info. You should call the police.”

And he was partially right. I made a split-second decision on the street, one I’ll probably continue to question for a long time, even though, intellectually, I know I’d probably do the same thing all over again. I wanted the guy to get in trouble. I wanted the dogs taken away (even though I know what that means). But what I wanted most was to get everyone wrapped up and over to the vet and the ER, respectively, and I was the only driver left uninjured. So I let the asshole with the out-of-control pit bulls get away and headed back to the house. I took Maggie’s leash, Graham’s dad carried Rodney, and Graham stumbled along as best he could.

Point of order: This dog attacked a smaller dog and also bit a blind man carrying a white cane and a senior citizen. Imagine if Rodney were a service dog…?

Once home, I got the humans cleaned up and wrapped up as well as I could. I called the vet and freaked the receptionist out; Rodney is a favorite over there, what with his temperament and the frequent fructosamine/glucose checks. I took Rodney first because it was fastest and because I didn’t think I could patch him up.

Also? Graham had just put himself between Rodney and a pit bull. I didn’t ask, but I knew he wouldn’t go to the ER before Rodney was safe at Oakland Vet Clinic, anyway.

Dr. Dorsey was on duty and they took him right in. She said they’d clean him up and take care of the wounds, feed him, and do his insulin shot, and that I could call for an update as soon as we had the humans settled at the ER.

“Which ER would you recommend?” I asked.

“The closest one?” she responded.

Fair point well made.

I went back to the house and got a few things ready for Graham’s mom to watch Grayson whole we were gone. (He’s still a smoothie-a-holic — feeding him is a pain in the butt sometimes.) We also had her call the family to cancel the gathering that afternoon. We went to Alta Bates and were in triage by about 10am.

Pro tip: The ER is mandated to report dog attacks to Animal Services. This does not mean that the report will reach Animal Services, exist in their files, or prompt any action from that agency.

Additional pro tip: California is a “No free bite” state. Animals with even just one bite report are put down…if they can be found.

Triage was fun. The nurse’s name was Graham. While he got on my Graham’s case about still not having a primary care doctor (he does now), I called the vet and found out we could pick Rodney up anytime, especially if he might eat better at home. He still hadn’t eaten breakfast, and no food means no insulin. On the flipside of that, hey, at least he was already at the vet if his sugar went out of whack. But they’d patched him up, given him an antibiotic and two pain meds, and tested his levels — he was clear to go home.

Which was a huge fucking relief.

The triage nurse convinced us that no one was going to need emergency surgery, and the dog was okay, relatively speaking, so we decided to call Boxing Day back on. Because we’re idiots, maybe, but also, and mostly, because Graham’s family doesn’t get together much — Boxing Day has become the one day we can all count on and plan around. So we called one aunt and put her in charge of calling the other aunt. (It’s a small family.) We just put it off until 4.

After triage, we waited another hour or so to get into Urgent Care for treatment. There, they cleaned everything out, administered tetanus shots, hooked Graham up to an IV with antibiotics and then a painkiller, and x-rayed Graham’s hand to see if there was a break under the swelling (there wasn’t). Eventually, they sent father and son away with prescriptions and bandages.

No stitches. They leave dog bites open to decrease the risk of infection.

(FWIW, it’s apparently very unlikely to get rabies from a dog in this town. They run periodic tests, and it’s Oakland bats you have to worry about, not Oakland dogs. I know this because the only Urgent Care doctor on duty took the time to go google the stats or something while Graham was bleeding onto an absorbent lap blanket. Weird.)

While they were waiting for the x-ray, I went home for a bit after getting them some food (they hadn’t had breakfast and needed to eat before taking antibiotics). I confess that I went home to make sure Grayson had a nap. His nana could manage lunch and playing, etc., but he protests naptime, which includes the pre-nap diaper change — dude can go all WWE on the changing table. Our son is really strong, and his nana is 75.  Indeed, she’d tried to put him down and he wasn’t having it, so…

I got the baby down, got a few things set up for hosting Boxing Day (seriously, almost everything was already staged), and sent Nana off to nap with the baby monitor. I picked up the guys, dropped off the prescriptions, picked up the dog, and got everyone home. And then I disappeared to roast meat or get the table leaves or cut up some cheese or whatever. Family came. Food was eaten. Presents were opened. And then prescriptions were retrieved and everyone passed out. I think.

The following week, Graham rested and took meds and I took full-time baby duty and wound care. I can say that the house didn’t fall in and the garbage got put out, but it’s nearly February and we have not de-Christmased. But Grayson and I had a lovely time hitting up some local parks each afternoon and playing with all of his Christmas presents.

Rodney felt like his old self the very next day and tried to chase a squirrel in the backyard when he went out to pee. This is likely because I misread the directions on his anti-inflammatory/pain med and he got a double dose every day until it ran out. We kept old t-shirts wrapped around him, and we coned him to discourage head scratching and feet licking. He had no walks for a week, then had short ones. We managed our first morning walk on the usual route two weeks later.

Graham’s hand hurt. A lot. Like, here’s-your-prescription-for-narcotics a lot. But we could see the swelling going down slowly, and his mobility improved every day, so we were hopeful, even though the wounds were gross to look at. Seriously, I’m good at first aid and not afraid of blood, but I’d never treated dog bites before. We followed all of the discharge instructions, including getting in to see a hand specialist the week after the attack.

Just making that appointment took an hour. Literally. Stupid holidays. But we’ve been happy with Dr. Josh Richards at Webster Orthopedic. He and the scheduling staff really went out of their way to get us on the calendar as soon as possible. His exam showed no obvious lasting damage — the tendons and nerves had been scraped, maybe, and that hurt, but nothing was severed. Surgery was unlikely. He gave Graham a exercise to stretch out the tendons as they heal, said, “It’ll hurt and you’ll hate me, but it’s the most important thing you can do,” and sent us home.

He also cleared Graham for diaper duty, which was awesome, and said the finger would be sore and annoying for 3 to 6 months, but that Graham could probably get back to rowing in a few weeks.

The second time we saw Dr. Richards, he was really pleased. The mobility improvement was excellent — there’s no better patient in the world when it comes to following orders about stretching exercises. He gave Graham another stretch to do and gave us the option of coming back in two weeks, but said we could cancel that appointment if progress continued. He also confirmed that there was no “too much” with the stretching and regular use — pain was okay as long as it didn’t increase.

So, yay! Everybody’s okay!

As for the attacking dog and his owner, we’re keeping our expectations low. We never got the call we were told to expect from Animal Services. I tried calling them and leaving a message, but nothing came of that. I called OPD’s non-emergency line to follow up, and they put it (back?) on the screen for Animal Services to follow up. Since then, I’ve gotten a call from AS, during which I had to retell the whole thing yet again — they had no report from the hospital and no notes from my OPD call. I offered to send the injury pics, and they asked me to fax them (to the 1990s). Graham’s gotten a voicemail from them.

That’s it, though, and this is why I keep second-guessing the decision to let the guy go and just go to the hospital. We have no info. I’ve driven around looking for the dogs since, but I haven’t found them. I did call the daycare on the south side of the 3000 block of Brookdale, though. Every day, parents park at that corner to drop their kids off, and this dog attacked a group with a toddler in a stroller.

Fall out

Grayson was facing away and, as far as we know, didn’t see anything. Still, there’s a solid chance that hearing me screaming on the street shocked him a bit; he was fine that day, but clingy for some time afterward. Then again, the thing about toddlers is that there’s 106 reasons they could be clingy on any given day, and at least three of those were in effect for most of the weeks following the attack. So…no way to know.

He has been very careful, for the most part, with Daddy and Rodney, and he knows they have booboos (“Ow,” he says solemnly). One afternoon last week, he came across the plastic bin we’d been using to soak Graham’s hand. He took it into the bathroom, put it in the sink and said “wa-wa,” then brought me the peroxide bottle that he found on the sink.

Kids, man. They don’t miss a trick.

It took us both several weeks to be able to sleep at all well again without reliving the attack when our eyes closed. After 10 days, we took Rodney back to get his two stitches out. As we sat in the vet’s waiting room, a couple brought in a HUGE German Shepherd (or related breed) — leashed, but barely under the control of the owners.

I got twitchy. I picked up the baby and asked if we could wait on the other side of the door, by the cashier. I needed a barrier between my family and a dog that I didn’t know, one that was clearly antsy and could get away from his keeper.

This…is unlike me. There’s a reason we avoided naming the breed of the attacking dog for a while — I’m not fond of breed-haters, and I’ve always loved big dogs. I have an especially soft spot for Rottweilers — the bigger, the better. (Ours was 175  lbs. and goofy as hell. My brother’s was slightly smaller, but considered himself a lap dog.) And I have friends who are responsible owners of pits and other “aggressive” breeds, and their dogs are amazing.

And here’s the thing: I’m still not mad at the dog. Years and years ago, that might have been my reaction, and I wondered if I might, eventually, blame the dog despite knowing better. But no. The blame lies squarely with the owner…and maybe a little bit with OPD, which tells worried citizens that their best defense against burglary is a big, scary dog. (It’s not.)

But I am…twitchy. I pick Grayson up around unleashed dogs of any size right now, or at least steer him in the other direction, even when they’re playing fetch in the park, even though I know a dog whose owner takes him to play fetch in the park is not the one likely to harm my family. Nothing I know about dogs and people has changed, but I remain twitchy.

Being twitchy around less stable dogs is not a safe position to assume. It’s also not fun.

I’m sorry, dogs of Oakland. I can’t trust you right now. I don’t know how long it will take to deal with this fear, but I’ll work on it. It’s not your fault. It’s entirely the fault of negligent jackass owners who don’t deserve you, but it’s going to come out at you. Forgive me, puppies. I’m going to need a little time.

Pictures below. Rodney’s pics are from after he was cleaned up and only show the topside injuries. Graham’s are from the ER. :::

Continue reading

In review: 2014

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before? Rowed crew.

2. Did you keep your New Year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year? The word for this year was Reset. I’m comfortable with how that came out, mostly as a result of rowing.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth? Yes! I don’t expect this answer to change for a while. (Welcome, JD and Brady and Sam!)

4. Did anyone close to you die? No one close to me, but I found out that my ex-father-in-law died two years ago, which was more of a blow than you might expect. He was a very, very lovely man, and the best sort of father-in-law to have. Of all the people I lost in my divorce, I think I missed him the most.

5. What places did you visit? San Diego, Vermont, Cape Cod, and Nevada.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014? A bit more financial stability.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why? December 26. It was the day of The Boxing Day Dog Attack, which deserves its own post, probably.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year? I took on a new sport (OMG, I do sport now), began competing, and, in true masters novice fashion, remain undefeated after my first season. (It’s true that this is normal for novices. It still feels awesome.) Not sucking at this has lifted me up quite a bit this year.

9. What was your biggest failure? I seriously lost my shit and screamed obscenities on the street during The Boxing Day Dog Attack.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury? I got sick more often — and more disgustingly — than I have in years. I blame the baby and open-air office spaces. Rowing came with all kinds of new blisters and bruises, but nothing serious.

11. What was the best thing you bought? A metric ton of spandex.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration? Graham’s, once again. There’s the full-time baby wrangling to consider, and then he literally saved Rodney’s life before the year ran out.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed? The owner of the dog that attacked us, mostly, and some other folks who consistently miss or ignore opportunities. Life’s too short to let so much of it pass by uncelebrated.

14. Where did most of your money go? Aside from the house (what’s up, new toilet and copper water line)? Rowing.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about? A new job! I love that I get to keep pursuing the career of my dreams with a company I love.

16. What song will always remind you of 2014? The entire “Escalator Music” CD by the Stanford Harmonics. Grayson is addicted to it and still demands to listen to it in the car. EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:

a) happier or sadder? Happier.

b) thinner or fatter? About the same, but stronger.

c) richer or poorer? Poorer. Running was cheaper than rowing, even with good shoes.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of? Cooking.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of? Commuting.

20. How did you spend Christmas in 2014? Watching Grayson play with his new ball pit, tricycle, airport, etc., then cleaning wounds (human and canine) for the rest of the holiday break.

21. Did you fall in love in 2014? Does rowing count?

22. What was your favorite TV program? Dr. Who, Downton Abbey, and, oddly, Survivor.

23. What did you do for your birthday in 2014? We were at the Cape, and it was lovely.

24. What was the best book you read? The Boys in the Boat.

25. What did you want and get? That new job I mentioned.

26. What did you want and not get? A bigger car.

27. What was your favorite film of this year? N/A

28. Did you make some new friends this year? Yes! See also: Rowing.

29.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying? More defined financial security. We’re doing okay, but I don’t always feel the truth of that.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2013? Gym rat/tech chic. I did take up with StitchFix, which has added some actual style to my utterly predictable (and fraying) wardrobe. Also! I got better at scarves.

31. What kept you sane? Rowing. For real. I missed nearly a month due to illness and the holiday break, and after the first practice of the new year, Graham said, “You sound better. A lot better.” Apparently, teamwork and smelly water enhance the effect of endorphins.

32. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most? Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and President Obama.

33. What political issue stirred you the most? Institutional inequality.

34. Who did you miss? My mom. She would really, really like her grandson.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014. Get in, sit down, shut up, and row. Broadly applicable, if you think about it.

Also: “No one ever says, ‘Well, stroke pair won that race.'” ~Graham Harper. Teamwork and trust FTFW.


(Photo credit: Carla Jourdan)

Recap: Masters rowing, season 1

I think I can say that my first season was undefeated. I don’t really know how that terminology applies for masters rowing, but each boat I was in brought home gold from each of our three head races this season. The lineups were slightly different each time and I don’t think “undefeated masters novice rower” is a resume bullet, but I’m definitely proud of those medals.int-novice-8-launch

That’s me in 6 seat at last weekend’s Head of the Lagoon. –>

Every picture of me from the regatta shows a scowl of moderate to upper-moderate intensity, but I swear I was having a great time. Race face, they call it. I try to save the competitive streak for when I’m on the water. No Cobra Kai jogging around the other crews, obvs.

Also, I seem to have grown a competitive streak. Who knew?

Unlike Head of the American last month (where we still won, but by the skin of our teeth), the conditions, race time, and lineup were right on the money for me last weekend. I love 6 seat. I love the stern pair in this boat (too bad for me, as our stroke for this race is closing out her novice period). I love races that end in time for us to help with re-rigging and get home before the baby goes to bed. I love the food that the juniors’ parents bring to the tent.

Also, I love my team.

It’s been an unanticipated theme in my life to be surrounded by amazing women who are older than I am. When I turned 21, my roommate was turning 30 the same week; we partied together (a lot) and 30 didn’t look like such a bad deal. When I was in my mid- to late-20s, I worked with a cadre of women in their early 30s who were…honestly? Probably a lot like my mom was when I was a kid. My favorite memories of her are from her mid-30s, when I thought stealing her clothes was the BEST. But those work friends were definitely Grown-Ups — they had houses and kids and responsibilities, but they also had a lot of fun and some of them cursed like sailors. I learned from their example that taking care of your needs, even when you’re a grown-up and a mom, is critical. (I forget from time to time. I think we all do. But I don’t let myself feel guilty about doing things on my own to maintain my health and sanity.)

And now I’m 37 and part of a rowing club with women ranging from their mid-20s (maybe 5 of them?) into their 50s, 60s, and 70s.

(The thing about masters rowing, though, is that guessing someone’s age is impossible. Everyone I row with looks at least 5 years younger than she is. At LEAST. I cracked up when my stroke from this last race told me how old she is. And my I-got-carded-again stories have increased dramatically since I took up this sport; I’ve been mistaken for younger since 25ish, but the ID requests for wine purchases had died down in recent years.)

It’s not just that these women are active. Lots of women are active throughout their lives, especially here. My teammates are athletes. Part-time athletes, to be sure, but erg scores don’t lie. And it’s not that they’re nice and they care about each other. That’s also true for a lot of people, whether they’re work friends who hold baby showers or a running club that trains together.

I think it’s that everyone there has chosen to train in a sport that they can’t win on their own (we mostly race 4s and 8s). There’s something in that, in the accountability to your team and the trust in your boat that feels different from training with a club to run a marathon, or playing basketball twice a week. Rowing, at our level, doesn’t have much space for stars. That erg score shows potential, but not value. You still have to move the boat with 3 or 7 other people, in sync and with run, and while you do it, even if you’re in stroke seat, you are not calling the shots. It feels like a bigger trust than you might put in a teammate to set you up for a lay-up — maybe because we go backwards?

I’m still new here, but what I’ve come away from these first months and this first season with is this: “Stars” aren’t stars in our club. The stars on our team, looking up from the bottom of the roster, are the women who can confidently row any seat, cox any boat, find the missing hardware, bring the wine to the holiday party, cheer for every boat and every lineup, pull in the launches, and talk this overzealous novice through erg tests. They’re the ones who learn people’s names and stories, who remember injuries and anxieties, and who show up when a teammate needs support off the water. When someone catches a crab, even during a race, the stars on our team are the ones who say, “Nice recovery! Way to power through it.”

Not a bad lesson to learn at 37. I like these ladies, it’s true, but I also like how they Adult.

So here’s the deal, crew: I’ll keep rowing my face off (and keep screwing up your age handicap for regattas), and you keep showing me how to be. Sound good?

Month 18

Dear Grayson —

Boy, you are on FIRE. I don’t even know where to start, kid, so let’s just bounce all over.

At 18 months old, you are all toddler, and your tantrums are usually short and sometimes hilarious.

14mos-CapeYou’re still pretty much always in motion. You can get up and down stairs on your own, but you will always take a hand if it’s offered…or grab one if it hasn’t been offered yet.

You’ve figured out that you can open the gate at the top of the stairs. This would be scarier, but this one time, you opened it, closed it behind you, and went downstairs to play. Silently. We thought about being terrified, but apparently your careful efforts re: the stairs have paid off. Baby snuck down stairs without falling = parenting WIN.

Also, you usually check in with us when you want to open the gate. Sort of.

Mostly, when it comes to the babyproofing, you’re a conscientious partner in managing your own safety. You don’t dig into the garbage can — you direct our attention to the unlatched lid and try to help us lock it back up. It is also your job to lock down the toilet lid if you follow us into the bathroom.

Hey, everybody’s got chores, kid.

At the same time, you typically have one speed, and that speed is FAST. Which means that you’ve already experienced skinned knees (boy, do you hate that Bactine bottle…) and more bumps and bruises than I like to think about. Just when we started working with you on watching where you’re going, you started walking backwards, just because you could. You remain utterly delighted with the whole experience. The other night, you started to go up the dog stairs BACKWARDS, standing upright.

Because why not?

You do show some pretty good judgment, though. When you can’t find a banister or something else to hold onto, you will back down stairs on your knees. I like to reward this decision with the same back-it-up beeping I do when you walk backwards. Making Mommy narrate your actions (or crack up) is one of your favorite cause-and-effect games.

…On the other hand, you have also been practicing stepping off the couch onto the floor when our backs are turned. You watch us (when you should be watching where you’re going) and glow with mischief when we catch you stepping over the edge.

For the record, you are not able to successfully step down to the floor from the couch. But you take the fall well.

16mos-climbingYou climb. I think you have always climbed. I honestly don’t know why you haven’t climbed out of your crib yet, but I’d be thrilled if you could continue to not do that. You can climb into your high chair, and you have generally heeded our advice about going up the front instead of the side…after trying the side route once and taking a pretty nasty fall. You attempt or pretend to attempt to climb up the appliances or cabinets when you’re pissed off at us for being in the kitchen when you want to be somewhere else (usually outside or in the living room). You used to climb up the futon-type sofa in the family room, but now you scale it with a running leap.

You love to move all the chairs around. (You get this from Nana, whose favorite pastime is rearranging furniture.)

You have a hard time being gentle, especially when you’re really excited, but you have a very tender side and will often give Rodney kisses unprompted. You also LOVE to share; you’ll offer toys to others (including Rodney — you know just which wooden blocks he likes to chew), and you love to feed people. I have no idea if your increasing toddlerness will override this; for now, we just encourage the hell out of it.

Lately, one of your favorite games is to act like a puppy. We’ll ask you what Rodney says, and you’ll throw yourself to your hands and knees and crawl around making growling sounds. This prompts you to try to play with Rodney the way puppies play, chasing and head-butting and rearing up. Sometimes he loves this and you guys play for a while; sometimes he’s grumpy and runs for shelter. Sometimes he doesn’t like it, but after you get pulled away against your will, he changes his mind and undermines our authority. And when you’re mad at us and looking for attention, you know that the fastest way into the tight embrace of a “Time In” is to try to kick Rodney.

17mos-backpackTo be fair, you’ve never tried to kick any other animal, or other kids. I think Rodney is your canine “home base” the way I’m your mommy home base. You’ve never tried to bite anyone other than me, either (that was a short but worrying phase).

Daddy and I started talking about and working on a form of discipline somewhat early. You’ve always been pretty headstrong — and body-strong — so evidence of the so-called Terrible Twos long in advance of your second birthday was not a surprise. It’s not your age so much as your stage. You understand SO MUCH and can say so few words…it must be very frustrating to be you. (I have started spelling out words. Telegraphing certain things before we’re ready to do them invariably causes a meltdown.) You jabber on and on, point, take us to where you want to go…and sometimes we still don’t get it.

Also, you’re on a constant mission to control your world and get really mad at us when you don’t get your way immediately.

Reasonable explanations work more often than I’d have expected. “Grayson, we’re going to get in the car and go get groceries, but first we need to change your diaper” will send you toddling into your room as often as not. Reinforcing it with “If you want to go get groceries, you need to have a clean diaper” helps, too, but we say it as an explanation (with a calm, sensible nod) rather than a threat of not going. (You love going grocery shopping. SO MANY THINGS TO SEE! AND GRAB! AND ALSO THEY HAVE BALLOONS THERE!) It seems bananas to say that we reason with you, but…sometimes we do. We’ve been narrating/explaining what we’re doing to you for a long, long time, and it does seem to sink in. Eventually.

17mos-Gville-watchfulAnd you’ve picked up that sensible nod, and use it with an air of gravitas:

Me: “Grayson, did you pee?”

You: **nods with deliberate certainty**

(You never nod about poop. You always, always say no about poop, and you are almost always lying.)

In the last six months, we’ve taken you to Vermont and Cape Cod, to the North Bay, and to Nana and Papa’s house in Nevada. Auntie Lilly took care of you while we rowed in Petaluma, and you had a great time playing with your cousins. Nana and Papa stayed with you for the second race of the fall, and Auntie Grace called dibs on the last one, which is coming up.

About New England — You had a blast, for the most part. You were a dream on the red-eye from SFO and a nightmare coming back from BOS (Daddy thinks some other kid on the plane woke you up). You did as well as we could possibly hope for a kid who thrives on routine; we did our best to keep mostly to our routine, but you were pretty overtired and DONE by the time we got down to the Cape.

Anyway, we played with all of your second cousins (once removed? whatever — mommy’s cousins’ kids) and you absolutely adored your cousin, Peyton. You met almost all of your great-aunts and -uncles, as well as the only great-grandparents you’ve got, and Grandpa was able to hang out with us for almost the whole week!

You and I went in Aunt Joy and Uncle Butch’s pool, and you were thrilled…until we had to get out for the thunderstorm. (Thunderstorms don’t bother you. You are clearly my child.) You really didn’t want to stop playing in the pool, though, so we decided to do a round of baby swim “lessons” when we got home. (Those were not nearly as fun.)

14mos-sailWe had a wonderful time with everyone, and I got the impression that you didn’t care about adults when there were other kids around. Honestly, you’ve never met a cousin you didn’t love right away. They get your best smiles.

Which is as it should be. (You did play peek-a-boo with your great-aunt Jane, though!)

You and Daddy both had your first sail on Shamrock, which put you straight to sleep…sitting up, in your little lifejacket. You stayed asleep on the beach and we left you in the capable hands of Aunt Marianne and Uncle Andy and took a walk by ourselves. You were pretty mommy-centric throughout the trip, so the walk was really, really welcome.

“Home base,” indeed.

Let’s see, what else? You understand boo boos enough that you kissed a band-aid I wore over a blister on my hand, and you know where the band-aids live. (You know where almost everything lives.) When you fall and I ask if you have a boo boo, though, you point to your knee, even if you’ve whacked your head. A skinned knee was the first boo boo we really discussed as such, so…points for trying, kiddo!

You eat new things every now and then, but only on your own terms. Meat that isn’t in nugget form is an absolute no. When we have our wits about us, we give you what we want you to eat first. You’re more likely to try something new if we’re in the car or eating out or at someone else’s house. You’re still growing out of all your clothes on the regular, though — mostly on smoothies made with yogurt, pouched baby goo, and milk — so we’re a lot less concerned than we we used to be.

Re: language — You work harder on words that are particularly important to you, like “ice,” or words that you seem to find amusing, like “eggs.” (You don’t want to eat eggs, but you do like the word.)

We think your first “sentence” was probably “No walk!” but these days you say, “I did it!” after you complete some task or figure something out. It seems a lot more intentional than the other. Sometimes, based on timing, I think you say, “Thank you.” But it sounds a lot like “I did it!” so it’s hard to tell.

You like to sing the E-I-E-I-O in “Old MacDonald…or the “Way-o, way-o” from “Walk Like an Egyptian.” We’re not always sure which, but it’s adorable either way.

18mos-in-pumpkinYou love to point out planes, buses, garbage trucks…all things that go. Cars and trucks go “VROOM VROOM,” but you keep your lips shut when you do it. You know the names of lots of body parts and you like to play “This Little Piggy.” We start with “This little piggy went to Trader Joe’s,” though, because “market” means nothing to you, but Trader Joe’s…that’s practically Mecca.

You love, love, love your stuffed lion…which is actually my stuffed lion — a gift from your Uncle Chris and the only stuffed animal left from the menagerie of my teens and 20s. Asking you to “snuggle lion” is often a good way to get you to calm down when you get squirrely before bed. You can also make a lionous roar…but, again, with your lips shut.

You have a few favorite toys, but really, nothing occupies your time more than reading. We read book after book, over and over. You’re pretty hard on your books, though…much like your clothes and certain toys (seriously, kid, those wooden puzzles are supposed to be indestructible). And we love your Pavlovian response to “Jamberry;” when we get “Strawberry ponies / strawberry lambs / dancing in meadows of strawberry jam!” you get up and do your little jig.

Every. Time.

You’re pretty good about sleeping. You get really upset when it’s time to stop playing and go to bed, but by the time you hit the changing table, you’re usually like, “Bring me mah blanky.” We have bad patches here and there, such as when you’re cutting teeth, but you typically sleep about 10-11 hours at night — sometimes 12! — and hover around 2 hours for your one daily nap. And you almost always wake up in a good mood, at least in the morning.

You’re a riot, little guy. I’m not gonna lie — you do wear us right out. But the truth is that we love you an awful lot and like you more and more as we get to know you, and as you get to know you, too.

And the books…buddy, you couldn’t have picked a more direct route straight through my heart.


First race, first place

Hard work:




Wine Country Rowing Classic
Petaluma River
5 October 2014
1st place
Net time: 20:43
Raw time: 21:20

I’m fourth from the left — 4 seat for this race. Graham thinks my sunglasses are goofy. I think they’re perfect for what I need on the water…and I brought home a medal, so phthphthbbththtt.

We beat the only other boat in our category by 1:28…and we passed them on the course, which was really fun (they started first). Our scores were low for the women’s masters 8s across the board, for which some have credited the tide; it was in our favor, although we rowed against it to get to the start.

I’ll take a little help from Mother Nature, but I won’t take any credit away from this crew. We had two rows together before the regatta, one of which was with the excellent cox we had for the race, and it was a strong, solid boat. We came through the chute at 30ish (and with a couple of hoots — sorry, race fever!), and stayed at or above 27-28 for the whole course with some sub-2:00 splits in there. Coach was expecting 26 with some bursts at 28.

Not bad for novices.

Next up:
Head of the American
Lake Natoma, Sacramento
October 25

Continue reading


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.