Light one candle …

… and then another, and another, and another after that.

On this final day (and after the final night) of Hanukkah:

Light one candle for the strength we all need
To never become our own foe
And light one candle for those who are suffering
The pain we learned so long ago

Here’s to lighting candles in the dark, and believing in miracles, and all the ways we all have in us to continue spreading light in this world now that the candles have burned down.

Diversity and the stories we tell

Recently, in my search for diverse picture books and especially for books where my child could see other children who look like her in the illustrations, I came upon Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes. This beautifully written and illustrated book, for those who haven’t read it, introduces babies from around the world and of many races with the refrain:

And both of these babies—as everyone knows—had ten little fingers and ten little toes.

The strength of the writing and illustrations meant that it took two or three or maybe five readings (because no one reads any picture book only once to their child) for it to hit me that that well-crafted refrain … wasn’t actually true. That the very book I’d bought to help my child celebrate her diversity and the diversity of all children was not about all children.

Because somewhere out there–many somewheres out there–there’s a parent who saw this book that was trying to be about all babies and set it aside because it wasn’t about their baby. Maybe this parent’s perfect, beloved, amazing child was born with polydatyly, or with a limb difference–yet here’s this book about how perfect, beloved, amazing children all have one thing in common–that they aren’t anything like this parent’s child.

At first I thought I was overthinking things. And then I thought I wasn’t. Intersectionality is tricky. It’s easy to say that no one book can be about every child and move on, but really it’s so much more complicated than that.

And this post isn’t about this one (otherwise lovely) book, or about any other one book, though I fear it will be taken that way. It’s about how I then thought a little more deeply about what the stories I tell mean for my child, who I want to embrace diversity not only when it’s about who she is, but also when it’s about the wide world she lives in.

I tell my child hundreds of stories every day, and not all of them come out of books.

Shortly after we finished the second or third or fifth reading of Ten Little Fingers and Ten Little Toes, my child handed me her stuffed bat, which had recently lost an eye. She pointed to the spot where the eye had once been, asking without words for an explanation.

I almost went for the obvious story–that yes, the toy was broken, and yes, I could fix it. Then I realized there was another, truer story I could choose instead.

“You’re right,” I told her matter-of-factly. “That bat has one eye. And you have two eyes.

“That’s because everybody’s different.”

“And here we are waving Brenda and Eddie goodbye …”

Department of revising my Long Island childhood: ranking all 121 Billy Joel songs. (Via lnhammer.)

“The Falling of the Rain” gets a bad rap (for all that it’s not like anything else of his and very not Long Island), and “Only the Good Die Young” an over-generous one (good-kid me used to hate that song, and adult me still thinks Andrew Marvell did it better hundreds of years earlier), but he’s dead right putting “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” at number one, as well as ranking the post-apocalyptic “Miami 2017” in the top ten.

Onward, into the mist, the future, the new year

Toddler was up before well before dawn this new year’s morning. We encouraged going back to sleep (and succeeded), but if we hadn’t, we realized later, we just might have seen snow falling to the desert floor.

As it was, what we saw was still more than worth getting up a little past dawn for.

[Sun on desert snow]

Any year that begins with desert snow has to be all right. Here’s to a good one for us all.

On why I won’t be doing much mommy blogging

There’s so much I want to tell you about our child. Small things, big things … for more than two decades I’ve been sharing and processing life experiences online. Doing so has become pretty instinctive for me, and becoming a family is pretty much as huge a life experience as there is.

I could probably do a pretty decent job blogging about this new journey. Writing is, after all, the thing I’ve spent the past couple decades living and breathing and learning. If I chose to tell our family’s and our child’s story online in the years ahead, I would do it well. A part of me wants to do just that.

But there’s one thing I can’t do well: tell that story in my child’s voice. This journey isn’t just my journey, after all.

There are parenting bloggers out there doing a good job, bloggers whom I’ve read and learned from, so I can’t quite take a hard and fast stand against all parent blogging. Many of these blogs work hard to maintain anonymity, too, which I think is the very least one must do when talking in any depth about children too young to give informed consent. I also know that there’s a difference between sharing trivial surface observations about things common to most children and sharing the intimate details of of a specific child’s specific life, and I’m not drawing so firm a line as to say I’ll never do the former.

It won’t be often though, and when I err, I hope to always err on the side of protecting my child, rather than of entertaining or bringing insight to readers. This post is, on one level, a simple reminder of that commitment. Young children can’t weigh in about what they do and don’t want shared, so it’s up to us to hold their experiences close and safe for them.

There’s also a larger issue here that’s more adoption specific: that adoption journeys are already too often framed in terms of the perspectives of adoptive parents instead of those of adopted children. I see this in adoption picture books that emphasize parental longing over the child’s emotional journey. I see when people tell adoptees they’re “lucky” to be in a family (as if complete strangers have the right to tell them how to feel or where their gratitude should be placed), or worse, that they’re “lucky” to be loved (as if adopted children don’t have the right to take love as much for granted as any other child, and also as if they didn’t receive and give love before they ever came to their final families). I see it, as I work to become a better and better listener, in the communities where adoptees are speaking up with increasing frequency about feeling like their own voices are far too often considered the least important voices in discussions of their own lives.

There are so many reasons to err on the side of protecting all our children and their stories until they can tell them for themselves, especially when speaking in public places–and a blog is just about as public as it gets. For more than two decades, I’ve been living a part of my life here and in other online places. Now, I’m reminded that there are parts of life that need to be lived offline, too.

So that’s what we’ll be doing.

While posts about writing, the Arizona desert, and any number of other things will, of course, continue as they always have.

On hesitance and power and apologies

First, Melissa Marr talks about emails that start by apologizing for asking questions: “Please don’t apologize for being inquisitive or for having opinions. Be proud that you’re curious and clever. It’s good to have thoughts & questions. It’s just one if the many ways that people can be awesome. Be assertive. Admit to yourselves that you do, in fact, kick ass.”

On her email page Tamora Pierce says the same thing, only differently:Please don’t refer to yourself or what you say as ‘pathetic,’ ‘boring,’ ‘stupid,’ ‘ordinary,’ ‘insignificant,’ ‘weird,’ ‘strange’ … In this wonderful world, there will be people lining up to put you down, belittle you, and treat you badly. Please don’t give them a head start by talking that way about yourself.”

Then Idina Menzel talks more about why women tend to hide their power and retreat behind apologies: “… where Elsa and I meet, is wrestling with being a strong, powerful, extraordinary woman. Also, we worry about having to hide that, in fear of hurting other people. I understand and relate to that. I think as women, the smarter and more powerful we are, the more it can be threatening and alienating to other people … It’s not until now, and in the past 10 years, honestly, that I’m finally not apologizing for all the different things that I do.”

For many women, not apologizing for our opinions and our power doesn’t always come easily, what with the people on the one hand who tell us (directly or indirectly) that we’re getting above ourselves and those on the others who tell us that we’re hurting them by being too forceful. But being confident doesn’t make us unkind or uppity, and neither does owning the things we’re genuinely good at without apology.

I know too well that it takes work not to apologize for the many things that don’t require apology (existing and taking up space at all being not the least of them), what with all the training we get to apologize at every turn. But these habits can be unlearned. It takes work, and it’s an ongoing process. But I believe, strongly and without apology, that it’s worth doing.

A tent, a trail, and a book

Back from a week of hiking, camping, and reading in southern Utah. (Specifically, at Arches National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, and the banks of the upper Colorado River.)

There is something in me that needs wild places–places where I can just be–to remember who I am.

Pictures later, maybe. For now, I’m ready to return to the final note-addressing/read-aloud pass through the raven book, now with the working title Nevermore.

The thing–a thing–about stepping away is, the work feels lighter and more joyful when we return to it, after the time away.

Though with all the ravens that accompanied our travels, perhaps I was never fully away. Ravens love cliff country, and they never seem as joyful to me as they do when they’re flying them.

Intelligence, effort, and talent followup links

Specifically, some followups/tangents spinning off from this post.

Some thoughts on the 10,000 hour/10 year rule that I’d thinking about as I wrote the above. Specifically, on the idea that those considered unusually brilliant in a field all tend to have one thing in common: that they’ve put in roughly the same amount of time.

Two new things this article adds to my understanding: First, that the 10,000 hour rule tends to apply to cognitive tasks more than physical ones. And second, that having 10,000 hours to put into something is a sort of privilege, and often requires outside support. Which gives clarity to the conflict between my sense that insisting “anyone can do it if they work hard enough!” was simplistic and even unfair, and my sense that most people really can do most things if they put in the time. The latter is true, but the resources to put in that time aren’t equally available to everyone.

Marissa Lingen on why while effort is worth praising, it’s also important to develop the skill of knowing when not to do your very best. Or, as she puts it, why “… figuring out what to do your best on and what to half-ass is a major adult skill.”

I have been making a lot more excellent breakfasts this summer. I have been making a lot more breakfasts that wow me. But I am also noticing the effort that takes, and even those wow breakfasts are not always new wow breakfasts. Because going the extra mile every day (or, more realistically, every time I’ve used up the previous wow breakfast) is just not possible. I am not writing a breakfast cookbook. I am not running a breakfast restaurant. Sometimes it’s a good idea to strive for just that one step better, for a variety of breakfasts that are better than just okay. But there are other things on the list, and there always will be.

In a world that values full-on intensity and all-or-nothing measures, learning that it’s okay not to go full-out at everything is valuable, too.