• Life Story

    It’s a…

    ringenbergs_jared_fry

    I keep forgetting to mention! It’s a girl. We found out two weeks ago (at 20 weeks, the day before this photo was taken). Good thing I’ve saved everything. And you know what? This makes me really happy that I bought nicer things for the girls here and there, like Hunter rain boots and good winter jackets. Cause I loved them once, loved em twice, and now I get to love them a third time. So you should go push BUY on whatever you have sitting in your zappos cart right now.

    I DID want them to say it was a boy, I admit. Because: sons. They seem like a good thing. They contain within themselves less feral mother-daughter drama; like say a dog compared to a cat. They seem blindly loyal, like a hometown sports fan. And also: brothers. They don’t seem like a good thing for a bit of your life, and then: they’re the best. And you realize how much you learned from them all along….obviously there’s many things I could say in favor of the gender that makes up half our human race. Anyway.

    But now that I know it’s a girl, in the sense that the girl already exists and it’s no longer anyone’s guess, I’m very happy.

    We’re pretty into our spider-catching duplo architects. Our bunny lovers who usually prefer to “roar like a t-rex.” Our dance-adoring pink appreciators who could pick a good twirly dress out of a deep six rack of boxy shirts. Our rain-walk loving, silly screaming, someday-dreaming, fresh white paper hogs who have scribbled every last crayon down to its tattered stub and spend afternoons “just painting with black today.” We can’t wait.

    food and family photo from happy Maine by our friend Jared.

  • Essay,  Life Story,  Life with Two

    teaching gratefulness

    day_out

    In between forgetting to slather on sunscreen and forgetting to comb anyone’s hair, I can’t get this thought out of my head—how do you teach gratefulness?

    I’m not expecting them to grab the spray bottle every morning and clean the floors but the four year old also doesn’t have any specific daily tasks assigned to her. More often it is a request to “run and grab your water bottle for me” or “help Joan move the chair over here” which she does very willingly.

    I also ask Joan, the two-year old, to pick up things or put something back after she drags it out. Usually she frowns at me and says, “nocan’t.” “Why can’t you?” “Still reading,” said while she stares vacantly off at a wall. “Mama do it.” 

    Her young knack of disregard, the blithe ease with which she shrugs off my request makes me half-smile for a second and then feel overwhelmed with annoyance.

    Sample day of the girls’ last week: wake up, eat breakfast, and a friend comes over. Pull out all the dress-up stuff, play dress-up changing clothes every 15 minutes for a couple hours. Share mini-ice cream cones. Have lunch, share another mini-ice cream cone. Make art in the art room with washi tape and pastels. Have a quiet time where Joan naps and Lux gets to watch her favorite 25 minutes of Octonauts. Wake up, help mom make chocolate covered strawberries for a friend, snacking all the while. Play in the living room alternating their fighting/sharing/loving/complaining song-and-dance while mom makes more food and does all the dishes. Mom packs a picnic and head outside for the last couple hours of the day, armed with food, balls, and a picnic blanket. Come home, read stories, go to bed.

    Are things getting too idyllic? Am I a flourishing event planner with a preschool speciality–a flare for the lighthearted and festive? This is not an exceptional day in the life of the Ringenberg girls. I could pull from any other day of that week and list the pleasures—activity, food, activity, game.

    As a stay-at-home mom in the city equipped with modern conveniences in my home, I am free to do this stuff with them. If we do laundry on the weekends, I clean for roughly thirty minutes of every day, and I cook for maybe an hour (but that’s by-myself-time in a good way). Are there so few demands on my schedule that I’m turning their daily lives into some kind of bucolic Disneyland? (Bucolic is the very word doesn’t apply though. They are not running in the fields picking wildflowers and chasing cow tails. They are gently fingering flowers grown in window boxes hanging over the sidewalk, reminded to touch, but not pick.)

    face_painting

    But no matter how idyllic, I still have a four-year old who complains to me about her day. She asks “But mom, why can’t we go on the merry go round again?” “Why no lemonade/candy/ice cream today?” It must seem to her that we could do anything, if only I would just set my mind to it. And largely my explanations aren’t logical, they must seem almost whimsical to her—we aren’t having ice cream because we’re having dessert tonight. We don’t buy lemonade every day, only some days.

    Isn’t her approach a little of what we encourage in Americans, especially American consumers? Ask for more, see what else you can get, fight for what you deserve–a refund in full, receipt be damned. I wonder how many times a day I model those values to the girls instead of Christian ones: love all, the last shall be first, put others before yourself, come humbly before God.

    A few days ago, while washing dishes, I examined the contents of the sink and realized I could probably teach Lux to wash the morning load with a few tries. Later, when Joan was napping, I heralded it with trumpets as a new project and Lux took it on cheerfully. The floor was doused with soapy water and it took twenty more minutes than it would have taken me, but it was entirely successful.

    But then I haven’t remembered to follow up and ask her to do it agin in the days since.

    I dug out the letters my mom wrote to me on my birthday each year (I know! another post for another time), and found the one from when I turned four. She writes that my older brother and I were talking turns emptying the dishwasher and setting the table at that point. I was the second born so she had more time to figure it out, just as Joan has more expected of her than Lux did. (Mostly socially though—she’s expected to apologize, to share, to take turns. Things I didn’t ask of Lux at two.)

    But gratefulness is such an undercurrent in a personal ocean. Its presence is so easily overpowered by the waves of needs and wants that lap steadily. It’s hard to feel its tug, even harder to distill it, and show it to another.

     

  • Baby,  Life Story

    Third pregnancy is

    third

    Third pregnancy, first trimester is: I wake up feeling nauseous and it stays with me. I’m feeling so tired and overwhelmed by the girls. I feel like Lux must be bored with me all day, and has nothing to look forward to every day. I hate making food. The smells in the kitchen gross me out. The trash and the fridge both smell awful from a distance. I feel so tired at night that I’m sad. I’m so tired that I feel darkly about how the day has gone. Joan wakes up so grouchy that it immediately discourages me when I encounter her. I feel surrounded by women who are making things and creating; and I’m just making a baby. And feeling sick the whole time of it. And that’s how the sentence rings in my head: just making a baby.

    but then, finally, second trimester:

    Third pregnancy is your midwife telling you to just skip the next appointment.

    is feeling a little dismal about the lack of attention you’ve given your body in between babies. Like it’s the closet that didn’t get sprucing last spring. Like it’s the shoes that are cracking when you really need them. They’re still yours, but you think maybe you could have treated them better.

    is your friends who “are done” joyfully trying to give you everything and anything baby-themed in their homes.

    is not thinking about being pregnant once all day, and then thrilling at a tiny kick.

    is being happier about how your oldest reacts to the news than anyone or anything else.

    is knowing more women who are fighting infertility than you’ve ever known. Feeling like the one with a sandwich in a room of hunger. Wishing you could share. Wishing you could fix it. Wishing pregnancy was infectious via hugs.

    is wondering how soon I should ask our beloved sitter how she feels about three.

    is grinning when you get an email from your doula because it’s the only thing you’ve done for this one of your kids in weeks.

    is your four-year-old, at a dinner party, loudly whispering “your belly looks really big” at 16 weeks.

    Third pregnancy is laughing at how clueless you feel about how much your life will change soon. And how it doesn’t matter.

    photo by Lux
    .
  • Life Story

    Joanie’s wedding photos

    thegirlsinfront

    For those of you who asked for more photos of my little sister’s dreamy wedding last March, there are lots up at the blog greenweddingshoes. They remind me that standing on the stage under those green ivy balloons felt like getting lost in the prettiest sky-jungle!

    Every month or so I find myself wishing we could relive that week. The family-celebration endorphins were super charged! But then I chat with my contentedly newlywed sister, with her frozen Trader Joe’s dinners and their frequent nights out on the town with friends or spontaneous movie dates seeing the absolutely hippest movie that I haven’t even heard of,  and it makes me so happy.

    (and…perk of a big family, we’re already looking forward to my little brother Wilson’s Alabama wedding next summer!)

    vibiana walking group joans crown girls bridesmaids family(me reminding Lux that the people with big cameras are in charge and to do what they say. Flower girl territory. )joanandcale joanbea family

    photos by Luke and Katherine Griffin from Max and Friends

  • Life Story,  Life with Two

    night detective

    volcano

    It feels as if every night our household is given a measured sand sack  of sleep, and one never knows how it’s been divvied up until the sun rises. Lux is murmuring to herself late into the night, then sleeping late into the morning, complaining if someone wakes her up before 9am. Joan is a wreck at 7pm, weeping with fatigue as we tuck her in, and waking like a clock at 5am. She gets out of bed, walks into our room, creeps up close up to our bed and whispers “cereal” in the direction of my pillow.  

    Occasionally Joan wakes at 2am or 4am and takes up the blanket that I tucked her in with, after she was asleep, that is NOT her usual blanket. She walks into our room and throws it at me and walks back to her bed. 

    It’s just a suspicion but I think I’m getting the lightest dwindle of sand, just a sweep over my eyelids every evening. It fascinates me that I wake up to Joan’s vindictive blanket walk no matter what time of night. The soft swish of her diaper and the pad of her feet on the carpet in our room. I appreciate that motherhood has cracked the vise grip sleep-adoration once had on me. It doesn’t hold the same promises it once did, a cure-all soother that could go on forever. But just how lightly am I sleeping that I can wake up to those soft footfalls, I wonder to myself. Does lightly even mean poorly to me anymore? 

    I used to aspire to family dinner, like people putting food in their mouths at the same time at the same table, and I think I used to aspire to family sleep. Or couple’s sleep. It was on my fairy tale list of demands that Joe at least pretend to fall asleep with me. But now he basically tucks me in and gets back to his life of productivity, and I’m used to it. I wake up with Joan and it takes him hours to join us. Lux wanders out even later. 

    Recently, I’ve been forced to disregard all personal thoughts that occur after 8pm. I’m so tired. Did I do anything right today, I wonder to myself. Was anything easy? Did the girls have a good day?

    Naturally these thoughts are occurring at a time of day when all is murky, I’m not even sure if I remember what we did that day anymore, much less can offer an analysis of it. I am a once-nimble detective examining my evidence with bleary eyes, rifling through my nonsense notes to self, scribbling down clues to malfeasance. No, I finally conclude with a sigh, better simply to fall asleep and examine the postmortem where I find it in the morning. 

    Naturally in the morning all evidence of misbehavior has disappeared from the scene. “Cereal” and a vague plan of action that sounds fun for our day is forming in my mind. Both girls are grinning at me with an odd infusion of cheer. The fridge does appear relatively full after all, and it looks a bit like the sun might be coming out. 

    Finish every day and be done with it. 

    You have done what you could.

    Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in;

    forget them as soon as you can.

    Tomorrow is a new day: you shall begin it serenely

    and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

    -Emerson

    Photo: I made a volcano because Lux digs them these days, using Oh Happy Day’s printable photoreal mountain box.

  • Life Story,  Using technology

    things lost

    The melancholy passage of the years tends to change our values as we age, and the awesome backflips of 13 don’t hold the magic they once did; not when compared to the image of a loved one who has since gone absent, say. If I’d had a smartphone with a video camera back in my early adolescence, I doubt that I would have trained it on the things that matter to me now, like the sight of my mother reading in her blue armchair, underlining passages from Proust.

     

    I’m still thinking about this quote buried within a mostly anti-technology essay by Walter Kirn from a few weeks ago. I didn’t find most of the essay interesting, or perhaps I just didn’t want to hear it. But since I just finished putting together a book of photos from our little family’s last year, I can’t help but wonder how many times I took the pretty photo, instead of the one that will mean something to me in the future.

  • Art,  Life Story

    for richer for poorer

    flower_girls

    Call me a scrapbooker but I want to post my Maid of Honor speech for my sister. It’s such a wild honor to get to speak at your sister’s wedding. Sort of bizarre, no? Why do we hear from a random person and not the bride? Why do the new in-laws have to hear from a wandering relative when they want to get to know the lady herself?

    Well, because I know the lady herself better than she does. And it’s not a funeral is it? I’ll see her again. But really, it’s one of the few chances you get to publicly say how much you love someone. We don’t toast enough these days.

    Of course I was all sorts of anxious before this. I love public speaking, not that I do it anymore (miss you, college!). But it’s a boat of a different sort when you’re totally adrift on a sea of confusing emotion–elated for love, sad for the past behind, proud of her, overwhelmed by the power of 100 humans you love being in one room. I was nervous and not eating my food, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for my moment coming just after the second course, crying when it came anyway. I felt the weight of all my siblings when I wrote it. My brothers didn’t get a speech, after all.

    anyway, here it is…..
    For much of her life Joanie has been an outlier. And I mean that in the flattering, Malcolm Gladwell sense of the word. At the youngest age of anyone in my family, Joanie thanked my mom for her good work and bid adieu to homeschooling. Later, after trying out school for a bit, she realized our putzy Michigan high school wasn’t up to her standards she found a school in the Bahamas instead.  She was the first one in my family to pick California for college and to declare she always wanted to live here. Now that I’ve brought my family our from boston and spent a week here, I think she might be the first one who has truly seen the light.

    Although this isn’t an award my family actually gives out, she would win most frequent communicator. Despite the long distance, she is an outlier within my siblings for how often she calls and keeps up with my parents.

    She has always been pretanaturally stylish. It feels like for years she and I were picking out clothes alongside each other. Then suddenly she began selecting the things that looked crazy in the store and one week later became elegant and cool. She is fearless in the face of understanding a new trend. In the old saying you are only as strong as your strongest member, for my brothers and I, in our younger years we have only ever been as stylish as Joanie deigned to guide us to be.  And she has always deigned to guide, I’ve never seen her down turn down someone’s request for help and advice with what to wear.

    This city of angels is actually a city full of artists. These artist may feel valued, or probably instead often do not feel valued, or not even noticed until they’ve worked for a very long time. Living as they do in this city, I so admire the way Joanie and Cale value each other’s art and the hard work behind the art. I love that Joanie tries to get to a movie at least once a week with Cale and keeps up with his conversation about his passion. I love that Cale admires Joanie’s taste and thoughtful presentation of herself. Although….I think some of that support might have turned to concern when as a kind of modern day hope chest, Cale realized all those clothes are coming to a closet near him.

    They can both talk to you at length about their favorite restaurants in the city and why they love them, or the very best pour over coffee, the coziest breakfast, their favorite walks to take together, until you get the feeling that they’d better go ahead and write a Happy Couple’s Guide to Los Angeles. These are good things in life they can share. These things also ebb and flow, as they said in their vows, for richer for poorer.

    And that is why it is truly wonderful to notice that the things they value most in each other are kindness and sensitivity of each other’s hearts. They are givers, of actual physical gifts, but also of words and thoughtful observations. As I stand before so many already married people here, I know we can all speak to how incredible valuably these abilities are.

    I speak for all of my siblings when I say Joanie, beautiful, talented, gracious Joanie is an incredibly vital part in our family. We take our cues from her in so many ways. We are so excited for Joanie to have find this matching soul, and I am delighted today to cheers this Union. To Joanie and Cale.

  • Essay,  Life Story

    Six years

    six

    Six year anniversary for us this weekend! It’s much more satisfying to look back on a marriage and see how far you’ve come than to look back on oneself, and wonder why you were so annoying. I get a little flustered looking back at old me–gosh she was whiny! But looking back on our early marriage years well, things have come along way. I’ve always wondered if a marriage might end because people forget what it’s like to do things by all yourself–get an unexpected bill in the mail by yourself, arrive at a new airport when all the taxis are gone, by yourself. I don’t take those things for granted and I never mean to, but I can read this article about masters of marriage and know in a split second what he means by “little bids for one another’s attention.” They happen all day long and it’s easy to decide you’ll catch up later and explain yourself. Nope. It’s a challenge for me now and I imagine it will be challenge next year too; I know what I’m up against.

    We only have one tradition and it’s a bottle of Veuve. :  ) Easy, delicious, and no guess-work about reservations or the right gift. We caught the golden hour last night after lumping the girls into bed like quick-scrambled eggs and scooting up to the roof.tradition

  • Life Story

    pocketful of sunshine

    outside_oonaswatching_tvProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Processed with VSCOcam with p5 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

    My younger and only sister Joanie came to visit last week (we have five brothers, but just each other, sister-wise). She knows me like no one else and even though she used the word “exhausted” to describe me four or five times, I love her. Her advice is like gold to me, other than when she tells me about movies because I only see one once every three months or so and she has five to recommend at any given time (yeesh, LA people! I tell ya). She did dozens of dishes, complimented my granola, didn’t get annoyed when Lux woke her up at 7AM (4AM Cali time), brought in cheese and champagne for dinner, hauled groceries back up the hill, taught Lux to say “where’s my money?” and watched a few too many Daniel Tiger episodes for my taste. Aunts. What rascals they are.

    We went vintage shopping at Oona’s in Cambridge and she loved it like I hoped she would. (Joan says cable knit sweaters are about to have A MOMENT which, of course they are, because I gave mine away to goodwill oh, six months ago. Like clockwork, those trends and my closet clean-outs. But honestly mine was scratchy and didn’t fit well in the shoulders.) We ate burgers and skinny onion rings and drank Crispin ciders in the basement of Tasty Burger. She read books all morning to Lux so Joe and I could go get waffles at Beacon Hill Bistro. One morning I did errands like a CHAMP, paying off ten bucks in library fines (HERE THEY ARE AT LAST, I screamed as I threw the board books down on the counter. Not really, of course. I meekly doled it out and the kind man even knocked ten cents off my bill), mailing a few things, consigning a pile of clothes.

    sigh. It was lovely. Visitors make the week go by so fast and adventurously.

  • Baby,  Essay,  Life Story

    alienation in the first year

    Recently I’ve started feeling that I only need to get Joan to age two and then I will hand her off to Joe for her further education and edification. Joe says he’s in the “newborn disenfranchization” period with Joan. A period that we blessedly now know is short and temporary. He says that, before Lux, no one told him as a new dad that he would feel helpless and alienated from his child for a good while, that the first time he held her it wouldn’t necessarily be like a light-switch of bottomless love was flipped.

    hello_bunny

    There’s a few things dads can do with young babies—get them to sleep occasionally, offer a bottle here and there—but overall for the dad who really wants to be involved, it can feel like he’s not wanted. Sometimes I exhaustedly hand Joan off to him and she just cries harder for the five minutes he’s holding her. That brief respite for me is life-saving in the moment, but there’s no moment of engagement in return for him. He’s merely an extra set of hands helping his wife.

    There’s science behind the breastfeeding success rate for women who breastfeed within two hours of the baby’s birth. Scientists believe the hormones that are released in the woman’s body by breastfeeding create feelings of connection and intimacy with this newborn. Feelings that will propel her to pick her up when she cries, to carry her around for hours, to feed her every three hours for almost six weeks before the mother might get anything in return, such as a smile. There’s no doubt that it can take a little boost from nature to assure the mother of their connection. Dads don’t necessarily get that.

    But now that Lux is long-since through that stage, it’s amazing to see Joe and Lux together. Despite the time he’s gone each day at work, they still get in countless games of “ghost tent” and “fly bear,” bike rides, and drawings. Before bed they talk through tucking in each of her 8 stuffed animals. He seems to read aloud at least 10 books to her every Saturday. They share their cereal bowl in the morning. He’s the only one who can get her to both try the new food on her plate and love it. If she and I find anything broken throughout the day–a ripped page, a cracked egg, a plant knocked down on the sidewalk, a creaky door–Lux declares, “Da-da fix” with a confident nod. In the last hour before he gets home from work, she walks dolefully around the apartment, looking at me like I’m some kind of CSPAN to Joe’s Disney Channel.

    IMG_7315 - Version 2

    Sometimes I get annoyed that on the scale of self-sacrifice, I feel like I’m at an 8 and Joe is at a 3. Sometimes I feel like saying, you are a child compared to me. The things you’ve given up, the frustrations you encounter, they are so petty compared to what I do everyday. You thought that was frustrating? Try that times two, at three times the volume, then multiplied by three hours. The first week postpartum with Joan I remember saying you do realize I’ve sacrificed my body on an alter to our family, right? We laughed (that was the first week, of course. I felt much much better exactly seven days later. Worry not.). I think about him going to the gym a couple times a week and spending an hour in pursuit of nothing but a better physique, walking out to buy lunch in a cute cafe and eating it at a table by the window, having a meeting over drinks in the evening. I am almost aghast at the differences in our daily lives right now. Remember when we were dating? Remember when we were all matchy-matchy, and both liked spending an hour at used bookstores, and both liked buying scones on a morning walk, and both liked seeing indie movies at the theatre every week? I wonder, will he ever catch up to me? Or will it have just been me all these years, becoming infinitely more patient, or more beleagured, as the case may be?

    I think I spent a whole week being simultaneously jealous of Joe and Lux’s evolving relationship—that she doesn’t need me wholly and comprehensively anymore—and wearied by the very same needs from Joan.

    IMG_7316 - Version 2

    Then I think of something my friend Kellyn said to me when Lux was two months old. We went out to visit her on Nantucket and one day while I made lunch, Kellyn held Lux, showing her around the cottage.

    “Lux only smiles like that when you walk into the room,” she said. “She doesn’t smile like that for anyone else.”

    Oh the gravity of a compliment.

    To hear a baby cry, to pick her up, to feel her relax against you in contentment. To whisper a request in your toddler’s ear and have her to do just what you asked. To have your children turn away from a stranger and search for the safety of your hand, the beat of your heart, the back of your legs.