Max in the middle

On Max’s second birthday, we gave him the family tricycle, which was first put under the Christmas tree by my grandparents for an almost-2 Noah, and then resurrected for Rosie when she hit the two-year mark. This is one of the advantages of having kids 3.5 years apart—toys can be regifted with the recipient being none the wiser. “Look at your new tricycle! Hang on, let me get that spider nest off it real quick.”

Max is more physically … something than the other two kids at this age. Aware? Astute? It may be just because he has two siblings to observe and mimic, or it may be a trait associated with the genes for blond curly hair and blue eyes, but I’ve seen him sink a toy basketball into a wall hoop mounted six and a half feet off the floor three times in a row, swish, swish, swish. And when we presented him with the trike, he climbed right on and attempted to pedal. He would have been successful, too, if it weren’t for a missing inch of leg. Instead, he sat on the top step behind the seat and scooted himself around the house at his pleasure, cornering his ride like a pro within the afternoon.

Today as I sat semi-working, semi-cooking (waiting for water to boil), Max rolled past me on his chariotrike. Every time he crosses my path when he’s riding some toy through the house, he stops and says, “Hey, Mama.” And every time, the familiarity and contentment that radiate through those two words fill me from head to toe with tingly pleasure, like I’ve been lowered into a nice warm bath. “Hey, baby,” I always reply. (Once, I said, “Goodnight, Max,” as my answer, and that displeased him greatly. “No! Hey BABY!” he reminded me. And so forevermore it shall be.)

After our usual exchange, he held out his hand, palm up, and he lowered his voice to a whisper, “Wook,” he said, hushedly. “Wooka DAT.” I peered at his outstretched hand, but couldn’t see anything, awe-inspiring or otherwise. He’s been known to pick up microscopic pieces of detritus off the floor and carefully transport them to me so I can “fro it inna trash can,” which I dutifully do, but this time I didn’t see so much as a speck. “Oh!” I said. “Look at that!” He looked down intently at his fingers with a reverent gaze.

He is settling more and more into himself these days, like 2 is exactly the age he wants to be right now. Rosie always (has) had  an air of impatience with the limitations of her years, and Noah, the scout of the Ellis children, maintains a hint of timidity as he charts new responsibilities and experiences on which his siblings have yet to embark. Max, though, Max is all about the here and now. He arrived into a mix, and the mix is what he loves. If the gang’s riding scooters, he’s gliding right alongside. If chase is the game of choice, he’s always in third, only a slight pause behind runners one and two. When you ask him how old he is, he says, “I be TWO! I be OLD.”

Except he’s not old to me—he’s Just Right. My baby, but not a baby. Funny and stubborn and round-bellied and captivating. And captivated with the two kids whose shoes made the first scuff marks on the well-loved tricycle he uses to follow them from room to room with hearts in his eyes. Max in the mix.

So when he presents me with his invisible offering atop dirt-lined, still-chubbed fingers, I accept it solemnly. “I got it,” I whisper. He nods, satisfied that I recognize the importance of what we’ve both held there between us.

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May 28, 2014   3 Comments

Is, was, shall be

Last week out of the blue, Noah decided he was going to start walking to school solo. We live within spitting distance of the building, but up until that point, despite our encouragement on the matter, he had been steadfast about maintaining a Noah-parent cohort for his block and a half jaunt each morning. I had been insistent he try it without us a few times, thinking his autonomy was “better” for him and for us, until finally Luke pointed out that it was likely Noah was clinging to the one small shred of one-on-one time he could still claim during that walk.

Which, of course he was. And when I looked at the calendar and realized how few days he had left at a school we could see from our front lawn if we strained our necks, I started clinging to it, too.

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It’s not that he doesn’t want us to walk him in the mornings any more. He’d probably be happy to accept company. But he’s always (always) ready before we are, and I would bet money he’s one of the first kids through the front doors of the school. He loves arriving early, beating his classmates to the punch/seat. Some days I feel like I’ve barely been out of bed before he appears before me, bookbag slung over one shoulder (“Someone told me only nerds carry their bookbags on one shoulder. I don’t think he’s right, but … I just want to, anyway.”), ready for the hug he gives me every morning without fail.

And so it looks like we’ve arrived again to the in-between place.

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When he wakes in the morning, sleep-lined cheeks reminiscent of a 2-year old face guide his 12-year-old sized feet to the kitchen where 9-year old savvy helps him pour milk into a bowl containing enough cereal to feed a 15-year old breakfast.

He needs no assistance to ready himself for the day, often reminding me of permission slips and lunch money and school events that start at 8:30, Mom—so you may want to walk over at 8:25 to get a good seat. He’s careful to comb his hair, slicking down the cowlicks. He helps his brother put on pants. He rolls his eyes at his sister. He flops down on the couch and picks up his book, starting it where he left off, on page 432.

He helps in the kitchen. Scrambles eggs. Sets the table without asking. Brings the recycling bin in from the street. Sweeps.

But at night, before sleep, he still wants us to tuck him in.

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Tell me stories from when I was little.

You used to call rakes “brakes.” You hated it when cars parked on grass. You were scared of the hair dryer. You slept with a Matchbox car in each hand every night. You made the funniest face ever when we fed you peas. Once you fell and chipped your front tooth and I cried. The first time I ever saw you, you reached your arms straight for me, like you knew I was the one who wanted to hold you most.

Once you asked us to walk you to school, even though it was only a block away.

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May 21, 2014   4 Comments

In sickness and in hoops

Last Friday, I was presented with the chance to score (<—see what I did there?) a free, full-sized basketball goal to come live permanently at our house. Noah has fervently wished we owned one ever since he joined his first basketball team at age 7, but we knew we wouldn’t be granting that wish any time soon because A.) they’re expensive B.) we had nowhere to put one, and C.) see point A.).

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But when this offer popped up, I happened to be home, and the lure of freeeeeee was too strong, so I walked outside, surveyed the possibilities around our house, and walked back inside a few minutes later with a harebrained idea.

Let it be known that in this marriage between L and I, I am the cockamamie idealist. Viva la projects! Viva la change! Viva la new and different! My ideas, of course, are not always good ones. Some people might even say my enthusiasm overrides my good sense from time to time. L is steadier, more practical. And probably the reason we are not all run ragged and flat broke. He yins and I yang. I zig, and he … thinks of reasons zigging is not the best plan. We complement each other in this way. This sometimes infuriating, sometimes hard-to-navigate, I-wish-you-could-just-see-my-side-of-it way.

So when I called him, in the middle of the workday, to share my plan to break down, transport and assemble a basketball goal that I was only 65% sure would fit into the space I planned to put it in, I knew there was a strong chance he wouldn’t be for it. But I dialed the number anyway. A practice, it seems, is at the heart of what’s good about a partnership: being able to dial the number anyway.

“So, I have this harebrained idea …”

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^^^^^

One particular night of despair after work about a month ago, I was unloading my woe over the dearth of un-busy time in our life and the speed at which our day-to-day seemed to be whizzing by in a blur, and when I finally paused long enough to take a breath, L said calmly from his spot beside me on the couch, “So, when can you quit this job?”

Coming from anyone else, that kind of question would be just one of those things you say in a conversation. Sounds tough—you should change things! But L is far from anyone else; aside from the fact that he shares the life that is afforded, in part, by the paycheck I bring home, he is and always has been someone who does not take decisions lightly or make them quickly—and I knew that. (And he knew that I knew that.) (And I knew that he knew that I knew … Etc.)

But there they were: seven words, offered freely, pricking a small hole into the pent-up balloon of my stress. And with them, I was released.

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^^^^^

We hauled the hoop in the back of our car and wheeled it down to the place it would live, having hacked away at the surrounding bush like jungle explorers all afternoon, rolling away the ground cover blanketing the driveway like a carpet. What was (in my mind) to be an hour-long escapade was turning into two hours … and then three …

L stood atop a step stool, 10-pound 35-pound (ED. NOTE: L read this and asked me to more accurately reflect the situation—though I gave him a little pushback about changing it to 400 pounds) backboard raised high above his head, beads of sweat rolling down his face, while I fumbled with nuts and bolts, weakly spotting his attempt, and tried to keep Max from swallowing the rest of the hardware, or throwing it into the backyard.

“The post won’t … fit (shove) … into (shove)… PLACE (SHOVE).”

“How can I help?”

“I don’t know. I’ve lost all the blood in both arms, and possibly my brain.”

“You’re the best for doing this. Really.”

“Yeah. And, bonus, now Max knows three new curse words.”

“… really grateful. Like, so, so grateful.”

In the end, the post did go in. The free throw line was established, the slam dunk ledge proclaimed. And now, in the afternoons, once Noah and I return home after our stroll back from school, the postlude to my work day is the sound of a bouncing ball, reverberating off the back siding of the house. It’s only a two-day old soundtrack, and already I know I’ll miss it once the kids who shoot the ball are grown and gone.

L, thanks for losing the blood in both your arms so I can miss that soundtrack one day. And thanks for always being on my team.

(You know I know you know what I mean.)

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May 6, 2014   1 Comment

One bird by bird at at time

Hoo boy I’m rusty at this. I’ve gotten uncomfortably comfortable at just posting tiny snippets on social media outlets (Instagram pic + Emoji caption, hayyyyyy) and now that I’m faced with

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… well, it’s a little intimidating.

That’s actually really why I blogged every day before. Just gotta keep your fingers moving until something comes out that makes sense. Threading together thoughts into a cohesive whole—does anyone ever really feel like someone who can do that reliably? When do writers finally feel like they can call themselves a writer? I still have trouble with it, even though I’ve been paid for several years now to do exactly that. (It’s not dissimilar to my position re: adulthood. I’ll let you know when I start to feel like a legit one of those.)

Yesterday I was at a coffee shop, as I am wont to be these days, and inexplicably, someone was conducting a job interview at my table. Like, I couldn’t have been more than five inches away from the interviewee. The interview went on forevvvvvver, to the point where I felt like I should jump in, maybe contribute some questions, or at least volunteer as a character reference. (“Smells really nice, but has a tendency to talk way too loudly.”)

When the interview was finally in the wrapping-up phase, the interviewer asked nice-smelling, loud-talker lady what her personal motto was. (Raise your hand if you hate interview questions like that. Yes, I see all your hands raised. That’s what I thought.) Anyway, she went on to explain how Anne Lamott had this amazing book that had always spoken to her, and in it Lamott tells a story about her brother trying to complete a project about birds for school. He got frustrated, like elementary school kids learning about Doing Actual Work do, and his dad helps motivate him by saying “One bird at a time.”

Here is what happened in my head when she said that: IT’S BIRD BY BIRD, BUDDY. BIRD BY BIRRRRRRRRRD! NOT ONE BIRD AT A TIME SOMEONE STOP HER OH GOD ASKLKJF:EOIFJE:OIF:ELKF

Because no for real.

Later, though, after I had gotten over myself, I thought about how that was actually kind of an apt lesson for me as I was struggling over every sentence of yesterday’s post right beside her. I am in desperate need of putting butt in chair and going bird by bird right now, but I worry so much about Getting it Right that I’m left paralyzed and wordless. I end up with no birds.

So perfumed job candidate lady got the quote wrong, who cares. (Although, it’s the TITLE OF THE BOOK, you guys! Ok no really I’m done with the judgment.) She answered the question full steam ahead, and extrapolated from that (incorrect) quote an eloquent analogy for her life and how it would apply well to the position she was interviewing for. After hearing that (and 1.5 hours of the rest of her answers), you know what? I’d hire her.

Anyway, like I said. I’m out of practice at this, so I don’t have a nice bow to wrap it all up in. But look, here’s today’s bird*! Next week I’ll have a few more.

*No, not that kind.

May 2, 2014   1 Comment

Preludes to two

One week before Noah’s second birthday, I walked into the office of a very important and busy associate dean at the school of medicine where I was enrolled as a first year student, and informed him I was peacing out of medical school.

It was one of the first times in my adult life when I wasn’t sure whether what I was choosing to do was actually the right choice. Previous Big Decisions included: College? (This one’ll do!) This guy for my husband? (Duh.) Career? (DR. RACHEL TO THE RESCUE!) But quitting med school? That was a choice that was not about what I wanted, but rather what I didn’t.

It was an abandonment of a solid plan. A jump off a commendable cliff whose summit I had spent months upon years climbing. Leaving meant shutting (or let’s face it, slamming, ’cause ain’t no going back to an MD after you say goodbye to that track) a door with nary an open window in sight.

There were several factors that had been shoving me toward that precipice—at one point I was spending more hours of the day with dead bodies than with my very much alive kid, for one—but at the root of it all was an unwavering and irrepressible longing to be present in my life in a different and better way. (Remember that, it’s a theme here.)

Medical school wasn’t the ultimate goal, I knew that. But I couldn’t continue to slog away at the ultimate goal beyond that without sacrificing some very real and important parts of my life in the present, and part-time effort towards either was not an option.

So I changed course.

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After leaving med school, I floundered. I worked at a coffee shop, slinging espresso beans part time for a meager salary and tips. A few months later, when steadier work was necessary, (and with a tuition discount for a 2-year old as incentive), I came on staff at a mother’s morning out program, caring for the wee babes in the nursery.

A year after that, Rosie was born, and I lugged her along with me as I wiped other kids’ noses and changed diaper after diaper, growing more and more dissatisfied by the day.

I felt aimless, like everything I was doing was a default. I was with my kids more, sure, but the me that was with them wasn’t a very good me. The Work/Life pendulum had swung sharply back from Work, whizzing right by that mythical center “balance,” and was sitting like an elephant on the Life side, too weighty a load to bear.

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So once again, I jumped off a cliff. Said goodbye to the preschool gig (with nothing lined up to take its place) and began the job hunt. It was a different transition—more exciting, to be sure—but still full of risk and unknowns. What did I want to do with my life? I had no idea.

All I felt qualified for was a hill of (espresso) beans. I couldn’t even figure out the best approach to take when marketing myself: “Hi, I’m Rachel, and my skill set includes cadaver dissection, sub 30-second diaper changes and quitting things.” Predictably, those descriptors didn’t seem to be steering me toward any specific categories on the job posting sites.

Except, along the way, this place had begun to develop. Yestertime was born right after the coffee had cooled on my barista career and baby-watching had become my game. I’m not sure why, but from the very first post I decided I would write something every single day, including Saturday and Sunday—a discipline I’m convinced now that ultimately led to the work—and now, career—I enjoy. Silly daily words with no real purpose led to daily words (and photos) more deliberately crafted, which led to words printed in a magazine, which led to a job at a magazine.

I started three weeks before Rosie’s second birthday.

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So much about that job was it. I fit into the culture and the work like a hand in a glove. Something inside me hummed with recognition every day as I walked through the door and took my seat at my desk. I realized this wasn’t just a job—there was a career taking shape.

Two years passed. I was commuting an hour each day to the office, belly expanding with baby number three, and then after maternity leave, with my breast pump hooked up to the car’s power outlet, collecting for the bottles that would feed the kid who was spending up to 10 hours in daycare each day.

A niggling dissatisfaction was worming its way back in to my everyday thoughts.

It was hard walking away from a job that was fulfilling both creatively and interpersonally, but my sanity was suffering from the hours and miles I was spending away from the heart of my life. When I heard about a job less than five miles from my house—a dependable, respectable, solid job—it seemed like a no-brainer. I applied, interviewed, and was hired.

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I should have heeded the small flag that went up in my head when I asked during my initial interview whether or not the position could eventually move to a 30-hour a week schedule. (Not immediately, but maybe someday, was the answer.) I knew that was where I needed to be—less work, more life—but this opportunity was ripe for the taking. It seemed like the obvious move.

But the dissatisfaction didn’t go away. In fact, it intensified—the work was not as creatively fulfilling as what I had been doing at my previous job, and I was gone almost as many hours as I had been before. Driving less was a perk, but I left every day feeling drained. The kids were in two different places for pickup, and after school activities were at an all time high. The job started feeling like one of those puzzle pieces you think you’ve fit into the right spot, but upon closer inspection you realize: the picture on top isn’t quite lining up.

You can probably guess what happened next. As of two weeks ago, I am no longer a 9-to-5er. I’ve launched into the (somewhat unknown) world of freelance writing. Here we go again. Geronimo.

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What this means: I’ll be home more, able to pick up Noah and Rosie from school, start dinner before bedtime, take care of sick kids on a week day (now with less guilt!), solve the national deficit problem … the list goes on. And of course, there are risks to accompany these rewards. (One does not simply make a decision like this while married to L without talking about the risks.)

But you know what I’ve decided? All this leaping I’ve been doing since medical school, it hasn’t been off cliffs. It’s been from one rock in a stream to another. Some rocks have been wobbly (so I hopped off quick). Some were firm and sure, and leaving them took courage. But they’ve all been in the same direction downstream.

I have no delusions of a perfectly still pendulum, resting on the centered middle between work and life. But I do think this will slow down the swing to more of a sway. And that’s pretty darn good.


I’m not sure what will become of Yestertime. I intend to continue writing about my life (slash start writing about my life again), but it may look different. It may live somewhere different. Or not. I’m still thinking it through. Either way, I plan to be around somewhere, tapping the keys, writing the words.

In the meantime, I’ve got a second birthday to plan.

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May 1, 2014   9 Comments