Birthday Gift for Myself

“I celebrate myself, and sing myself”

Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself”

A few months ago, I decided what I wanted to give myself for my birthday. It was…a bit radical for me. Despite my liberal beliefs, I am a bit conservative in some areas.

But once the idea took hold in my head, I couldn’t get rid of it. I wanted…no, I needed to do this. I made a goal to have it by my birthday, but it wasn’t possible. However, one week later, I did it. I fulfilled my birthday gift to myself.


I honestly never thought I would get a tattoo. I admired them, but I never thought I would get one. However, like I said, over the summer, the idea took hold in my head, and I wanted to do it.

I know a phoenix is a little cliche and possibly trite, but it spoke to me. What better symbol of rebirth could there be after one’s spouse dies and you are forced to figure out a new reality and existence? Plus Harry Potter.

And I love it. I do. I could not stop grinning for hours after I received it. It’s such a small thing, but it felt so transformative. So symbolic.

My tattooist was great – I think he is in his 80s based on what he said, but he has had a very colorful life (and I think he is libertarian based on his comments. That or slightly conservative?!). He had on classic rock in the background, and we had some good chats about the music. It also made me think of my father.

I’m not going to lie. It did hurt. About 75% of it was bearable and mainly resembled a lot of acupuncture needles being placed at the same time. The other 25% caused me to clench my jaw and grip the pillow. But it took only an hour.

I don’t know if it makes sense to be proud of myself for getting a tattoo. But I am. It felt like a radical act…for me.

I know we all likely know this line from Mary Oliver (and I’ve used it in this space before):

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

I want to live. To find me. To be me. And this tattoo felt like the first step in that direction.

Happy Birthday to Me.

Lustrum, Pentad, Quinquennium

Sweet Boy,

Lustrum, pentad, quinquennium…those are fancy words that simply mean five of something, and I used them because you have 5 of something: you have five years. You turned 5 on Monday, and I hoped all week to write something about it but as happens too often lately, life has been wild for our little household.

We are so proud of you. You have worked so hard this year in Pre-K and have learned so much. You are soooo close to reading, and each week daddy and I have marveled over the weekly work sent home. Last week you came home and informed us that your favorite planets are Mercury and Neptune. You ask questions about everything, with “Why?” being your favorite follow-up to any answer I give. You have learned a lot about religion this year. Last week you asked me why the soldiers hurt Jesus as I chugged my coffee. Today you told daddy that Jesus would help you find the missing Lego piece you sought. We might need to work on this.

You still love garbage trucks, but you have broadened your interests to include any construction vehicle – our kitchen looks like a Bruder factory exploded in it. Earlier this year, you put together your first Lego set (a garbage truck, naturally), and now the kitchen overflows with Lego trucks of all kinds. When you started building the Lego sets, daddy helped you quite a bit but now it is amazing to watch you follow the instructions and put them together with little assistance. I have a feeling this is only the beginning of a Lego phase, which is great except that Legos tend to go everywhere. I even found a tiny one in my bed. I felt a little like the Princess and the Pea that night.

Your imagination is growing by leaps and bounds. Your starfish talk – quite sassily (and loudly)! You’ve given your trucks and Legos creative names, most of which we have no idea where they came from. You still dislike your name and want us to call you something else, something that changes frequently: weekly, sometimes daily. You rename us too. We had to draw the line at renaming the cats because something in the house has to remain consistent. There are days I can’t remember what my name is! It isn’t unusual for you to turn the couch into a pretend garbage dump or to see your starfish, trucks and Toy Story figures playing together. You love Toy Story and Jessie is your favorite. I like to think it’s because she looks like me, but that’s kind of Oedipal, so I’ll stop.


Sweet Boy, you are full of sass & stubbornness & curiosity & humor. You make us laugh every day. Earlier in the week, we had to avert our faces because you declared “whatever” with enough attitude that we had a peek into your teenage years. You have a hearty laugh, and your guffaws are rich.

You are also sensitive. When you are chastised, you hide your face, and it breaks my heart. You find so much beauty in our world, be it weeds or trash. To you, everything is a treasure as you demonstrated last weekend when you wanted to water all the weeds. We struggle how to reconcile your love for every living thing while we tell you that things like weeds will not be allowed to survive.

Recently you have started making friends with the neighbor children in the houses closest to us. It has been quite a process and your anti-social parents have experienced lots of anxiety. But it has been great to hear you refer to them as “my friends.” And I promise that daddy and I will back off one day…when you are 20!

I don’t mean to imply that there weren’t hard times because there were. No one is perfect. I swear you talked non-stop in January and February. There were tantrums and stunning selective hearing and infuriating defiance. Sweet Sir, you have a stubborn streak that has been evident since infancy if not before!

I think the bottom line is that I can’t believe you are 5. FIVE!! How did that happen?? Five truly is a milestone year. Age 5 makes me think kindergarten and the final removal of baby things. You will start your elementary school journey in August. College feels only minutes away.

And I hope that we are good parents to you. We try hard, but I worry it is not enough. As time goes on, I begin to accept that you will likely be our only child and worry that I haven’t done enough or been there enough. And I worry that every decision is wrong because there will be no do-over.

Whew. Feels like a lot of worry and doubt to place on your small shoulders. Sweetheart, you are awesome. So many people love you, and I cannot wait to see how you develop even if it is bittersweet.

Happy Birthday, Sweet Boy



We leave for our second week at the beach in a few hours. It’s a beautiful day here, and I hope it’s as beautiful at the beach. It feels decadent to be able to spend a second week at the beach; some years we didn’t go at all. As with our first trip, our plans are minimal: relax, play, enjoy.

My 36th birthday is tomorrow. Last year, I felt like my 35th caught me in a bit of an existential crisis: who am I? What do I want to be?  What do I want to do? This year, I feel rather nonchalant about adding another year to my tally.  Maybe it’s because there is an evenness to 36 that feels more stable than the angular, pointed 35. Maybe it’s that 36 is firmly on the other side of the symbolic 35. Or maybe, it’s because we are so busy that I barely have time to think about personal existential crises. Parenting a 4-year-old and working will do that.

I’m not saying I’m at peace with the pesky gray that is consistently infiltrating my hair or the under-eye bags that grow more prominent (especially the one under the left eye. Nothing like uneven under-eye bags) or what I optimistically call crinkles at the edges of my eyes that are more accurately called wrinkles.  I wage war with creams that I suspect delude me into a false sense of well being. I’m just not ready to do anything more permanent about these mile-markers of my time here. I hope to one day be as sanguine and appreciative as Arch Mama is about hers.

35 was a year of up and downs, highs and lows, but couldn’t that be said of any year? A few months ago, I worried that perhaps I had peaked. Maybe I reached the zenith of my achievements a few  years ago, and that thought depressed me. I don’t feel that way now. I’m hopeful that Marty and I will produce a second year of Listen to Your Mother.  My 4-year-old, my chance at immortality, delights and infuriates daily. Jimmy and I have found time for wonderful late-night (if 9 PM is late!) conversations on the back porch. And Fall is coming.

So, 36, I welcome you. Or at least, I don’t fight you or deny you. Tomorrow I will spend the day on the beach, reveling in the salty air and the gritty feel of the sand. Making sand castles. Finding star fish. Maybe being squirted by a water gun. Eating great food. And not being at work!

As I slowly feel the rejuvenation the ocean brings me, I’ll think about how something so old can still be so beautiful and powerful.

Four is…

Daniel turned 4 almost two months ago, and I cannot believe I didn’t write a commemorative post (that sounds odd) or a recap of his birthday party or anything. June was a busy month, and the entire summer is zooming by.

Daniel’s birthday party went very well. Eight preschoolers jumped, climbed and bounced to their hearts’ content, and then we threw pizza, cake and ice cream at them.  Daniel was thrilled with his garbage truck cake, and he, Jimmy, my mother and I were all exhausted when we got home (although no naps were had by anyone).

I feel like I need to knock on wood as I write this, but age 4 has been so much easier than age 3…so far. I wrote several times last year how unprepared I was for the huge changes and challenges age 3 brought almost overnight, and we’ve been waiting and watching, but so far, so good. I’m not saying it’s an easy age.  Age 4 has its own delights, but we can reason with him and are beginning to be able to use logic. We can have conversations with him and that helps SO much.  He’s funny and sweet and delightful and infuriating, often simultaneously.

Four is Inquisitive

Daniel: Mommy, do starfish have toes?

Me: No, they have feet but no toes (according to our starfish book)

Daniel: Why not?

Me: I don’t know.  That’s just how they were made.

Daniel: You do to know.

Me: ????????????

Four is Inquisitive and Chatty

Daniel: Mommy, what’s your favorite color? Do you like garbage trucks? Do you know I like Word Girl? What’s that, Mommy? Do you like Thomas? Do you like Percy? Do you like…<insert every train he owns>? It starts from the moment he gets up, to the moment I pick him up, until he finally lays his little blond head on the pillow and falls asleep.

Four is Inappropriate

Daniel: Mommy, do you wear underwear?

Me: Yes

Daniel: Mommy, what do they look like? Are they pretty?

Me: ummmmm we don’t really talk about our underwear


Daniel: Daddy! What’s in your pants? (reaches hand down Jimmy’s pants)

He was actually referring to what Jimmy had in his pocket, but we weren’t sure at the time.

Four is Bossy

Daniel: Mommy, do not argue with me. Do not say that word. Do not call me that name. I must be first! I own purple!

Four is Sweet

Daniel: Mommy, who am I married to?

Me: I don’t know?

Daniel: I am married to you, daddy, and Word Girl (he blushes a bit and my heart melts. I also suddenly hate Word Girl)


Four is Infuriating

Me: You need to finish your green beans.

Daniel: No.

Me: Yes, you do or you won’t get dessert.

Daniel: But I waaaaaaaaant dessert

Me: Well, who controls that?

Daniel: You.

Me: No! You do! (suddenly feeling like I’ve lost control of the conversation). Just eat  your green beans!


Four is Sensitive

Daniel: I’m a robot

Me: Are you like one of Toby’s robots? (from Word Girl. Toby is a bit of a punk)

Daniel: (chin quivering, face crumbling,  tears falling) I AM NOT TOBY. I AM NOT ONE OF HIS ROBOTS. HE’S A BAD BOY. NO ONE IN THE FAMILY IS TOBY OR ONE OF HIS ROBOTS.

Me: OK, OK, OK! (Maybe it’s time to teach him about similes)


There is never a dull moment around our house; that’s for sure.

35 Years and 1 Week

I made it.  I survived my first week as a 35-year-old, and I thought I better chronicle it before my memory begins to slip now that I’ve entered my dotage.

September 8

I commemorated my last day as a 34-year-old by doing glamorous activities like mopping my floors.  It’s amazing how much you can sweat pushing a mop around.

Clearly aging gracelessly. Fare-the-well, 34.

September 9

On Sunday, my actual birthday, we celebrated by eating Mexican, my traditional cuisine on my birthday.  Why?  I don’t know.  I think it’s because I am seldom able to eat Mexican and figure no one can deny me a birthday wish.

After eating chips, salsa, fries, grilled chicken and fried ice cream, Daniel began to refer to it as his birthday.

Chips and salsa rock!

Gimme that ice cream!

No outing to a Mexican restaurant on your birthday would be complete without the waitstaff serenading you while you wear a sombrero and try not to blush out of mortification. I failed. I always thought I looked pretty good in a sombrero, so it could be worse I suppose.

A sombrero should become a regular part of my wardrobe, right?

Oh, the sugar is kicking in, and this no-napping little boy has little patience for a mommy who wants to cuddle.

Let go, Mommy! You’re smushing me!

September 11

Week two of soccer! Daniel continues to excel at running in the wrong direction, picking flowers, putting the cones on his head and rolling around in the grass.  I predict a glorious career in soccer for him!

Why am I here again?

September 13

I finally met Laura in person after trying to plan lunch for a month.  She was lovely, and I think we could have chatted all day.  Sometimes you meet someone and you know instantly that you have met a kindred spirit.  I don’t know if she felt that way, but I did! Less happily, the garlic and other spices from lunch at La Shish lingered the rest of the day, gifting me with horrific breath no amount of tic tacs would tame.  The food was great, so I suppose the dragon breath was worth it.  She suggested that I sign up for the Fall Mondo Beyondo course, and I did.  I’m excited to see what I discover about my dreams.

September 14

A few coworkers and I traveled to Edenton for a meeting, leaving Raleigh at 6:45 AM.  I thought we were going to Elizabeth City, which is a bit further away, but it turns out our destination was Edenton.  See?  My mind is going already.  I have pretty awesome coworkers, and the 3-hour trip each way was made tolerable by gossiping, doing each other’s hair (not really), sharing our mutual dislike and making fun of The Sound of Music and stopping for peanuts.

My meeting was about 500 feet away. What a view!

Bertie County Peanuts; Made in NC of course!

September 15

Despite our ongoing battle with carpet beetles (seriously – it’s still ongoing), I thought it would be a great idea to take Daniel to BugFest at the Museum of Natural Sciences.  Bugs!  Bugs everywhere!  It was fun even though both of us refused to touch any insect.  I did glower at the beetle exhibits and noted that carpet beetles were not represented.  Can I tell you how happy I am not to live around the equator?  They have HUGE, terrifying insects.  I would faint if I ever saw a beetle or cockroach the size of some of the ones I saw.  Even their moths and butterflies look like they could carry off a small child.  It reminds me of the ant scene at the end of 100 Years of Solitude.

Later that evening, the three of us got gussied up and met my parents at The Angus Barn for my official birthday dinner.  Steak, shrimp, crackers, pickles, wine, dessert and cappuccino served to us by a former student whom I student taught back in 1998.  Yikes.  She recognized me, so I must still resemble my younger self a bit.   Daniel behaved beautifully because we had promised him chocolate, which he began to demand loudly as soon as he declared himself finished with his dinner.  Happy to reward his good behavior with sugar, Jimmy and Daniel were able to go to the kitchen so that Daniel could make his own sundae.

Dapper Daniel ready for a night on the town

Let me eat in peace!

Full of sugar and no nap, Daniel fell asleep on the way home, cuddling his new stuffed kitty.

September 16

And on this day, we rested, too worn out to do anything productive.  The weather cooperated by being chilly and rainy all day.

I can nap here, right?

Being 35 hasn’t been so bad.  Or maybe I just don’t remember.

35 Candles

Today, September 9, is my birthday.  It’s kind of a milestone birthday in that I turned 35.  I’ve been a little uncomfortable with this birthday for a while.  Part of it has to do with the fact that I cannot fathom how it can be September 2012 already. Mostly it has to do with how 35 feels.  I’ve been telling people that I’ll be entering middle-age with this birthday, and I’m only partly joking.  I see the crow’s feet.  The bags that seem to inflate exponentially.  The gray hair that makes it an exercise in careful camouflage if I want to scrape my hair off my forehead with a barrette.

As Prufrock says, “I grow old…I grow old…”

Thirty-five sounds solidly old in that the excesses of your youth should be behind you lest you become that embarrassing person at the club dressed in age-inappropriate clothing about whom everyone whispers, “she should know better.”  At thirty-five, you should know better.  At 35, you should be solidly middle-class with a house, children, job and pets, happily putting their needs before yours because you had  your shot. And like Prufrock, 35 feels ineffectual and paralyzing, full of doubt and insecurity, especially in a society that worships youth.

I have had a lot of self-loathing and doubt this year.  It’s probably obvious in my posts in that I’m a worrier.  And I’ve worried about everything.  I haven’t felt good at anything: parenting, work, relationships, identity or appearance.  I’m always my own worst critic.  I’ve felt like I’ve been floundering this year.

It’s understandable considering what the past few years have brought: catastrophe  upon catastrophe.  Death, death and more death.  Job uncertainty and the threat of relocation. Infestation.  Hard truths realized.  Why would I feel good about anything, including myself, when my life has been pretty shitty?

Thirty-five also finds me goalless.  The first part of your life is all about striving: graduate high school, get out of the house, college, career, marriage, family.  Thankfully, I’ve achieved those milestones.  What’s left?  The slow descent to retirement (What retirement? I expect to die on the job)?  I don’t do well without a goal, but the primary ones are behind me.

But lest you think this is going to be only a bitchy post about how I am sooooo freaking old at 35….

I’ve noticed a few bloggers love the poet Mary Oliver.  I had never heard of her before, which probably makes me a shitty English major since that knowledge comes with the territory.  I have no excuse except that we didn’t get far with 20th Century writers, and I’m not a huge fan of poetry.

The Mary Oliver line that is quoted often is this:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

How profound.  Each of us has a wild and precious life, and I think the crux of it is that at 35, I don’t know what I’m going to do.  Is doing anything with my wild and precious life beyond me at this point?  Have I missed my opportunity? Is my wild and precious life now slumbering, having been tranquilized into complacency?

I don’t think so.  Jimmy and I are still watching Breaking Bad and last night we watched Walter tell Hank about how scared he had been all of his life.  Scared to do anything radical or other than the right thing, and I identified strongly with that (NOT SELLING METH!).  I have always been a good girl.  A rule follower.  The one who felt crushing guilt if she dared step a toe outside of the line.  Yet 4 years ago, we took a deep breath and started down a path that seemed ludicrous and strange but yielded us our son.  After facing infertility and pursuing surrogacy, rules don’t look as rigid or scary any longer.

We took a few days off this week to do some serious house cleaning, and I had a lot of time to think and reflect as I was pushing around a mop and scrubbing baseboards (I’d say I spent the weekend on my knees but you might get the wrong idea).  After those days off, I found myself no longer flinching when I thought about my birthday. I felt…calm. At peace.

I’ve always felt older than I was for most of my life.  Maybe I have an old soul.  I’ve never felt comfortable in my body or in control of it either.  Clumsy, heavy, ungraceful.   I often wondered if maybe I had been given the wrong body and that somewhere out there was my correct body, and its occupant and I could trade, rejoicing in finally feeling coordinated and whole.

I’ll never be coordinated probably (I’m a huge klutz), but I feel more at home in this body than I ever have.  Yes, I’m carting around 15ish extra pounds.  Yes, I hate the gray hairs and the wrinkles.  I feel centered and connected, though, and that realization surprised me.  I feel like I know stuff.  I feel like I have the age & experience to lend heft to what I say at work.  I can give my opinion strongly in a meeting and not really care if someone thinks I’m mouthy.  I’ve earned it, and that’s a heady notion.

A few paragraphs above, I lamented that I no longer had anything for which to strive.  At the same time, that’s a joy!  I love that Daniel is here and finishing grad school last year was wonderful.  I am FREE! For the first time in years, I have a tiny bit of free time, free time that I can gleefully embrace.  I can read books.  I can read bad Trixie Belden fan fiction. I can watch series about meth.  I can make jam (we plan to for Christmas).  It’s wonderful.

All this “free” time means I can also focus on another mystery: me.  I have so enjoyed the outlet this blog has provided me, and it’s been an important one.  I spend a lot of time in my head, and I often think about random stuff.  I so appreciate having this outlet to ponder whatever is in my head.  And now I’m wondering who I am.  Who is the 35-year-old KeAnne?  What interests her? What’s next?

What am I going to do with my “one wild and precious life?” I don’t know, but I hope to explore it and I hope you’ll come along for the journey and help me.

So happy birthday to me.  Thirty-five now seems like freedom or at least only a number.  I’m excited to see what  happens.

The Cardinal

Credit: All About Birds

Credit: All About Birds

I was in the dining room yesterday — cleaning up cat hair most likely — when I looked out the bay window at the huge butterfly bush that camouflages part of our house from our neighbor’s.  In the summer time, the butterfly bush is lush, filled with purple flowers that attract fluttering butterflies of a variety of hues and sizes.  Right now, though, it’s barely spring and the bush is still mostly bare.  Birds like it, though, and thanks to our neighbor’s bird feeders, a lot of birds make it over to our yard.

A red cardinal had landed in the bush, and we looked at each other.


After my grandfather died, a cardinal started hanging out around my house.  And by hanging around, I don’t mean it sat placidly in a tree or bush doing whatever birds do.  This bird made itself known.  It flapped at the window every day as if it wanted to come inside.  After a few days, I made a mush of bread and milk in a tin pan and took it outside for the bird.  Would a bird eat that?  I don’t know.  Those were the days before the Internet and to my 8-year-old self, it sounded plausible.

My parents and I sort of joked that maybe that cardinal was my grandfather, returning to tell us he was ok.  Except that we weren’t really joking and being predisposed to fairy tales, ghost stories and other mysteries of the world, I believed it.  After a month of daily visits, the bird vanished one day, and I’ve never encountered another bird as tame, as insistent as that cardinal.  That story became legendary in my family, and I’ve always associated cardinals with my grandfather and father sort of as if it were our family bird.


I called over Daniel, picked him up and pointed out the bird.  We looked at it together and then some noise, maybe something on the tv, made me turn away.  When I looked back, the bird was gone.

My father’s birthday was yesterday.  He would have been 68.

Maybe, just maybe…

Our Two-Year-Old

Love my letters!

Daniel turns 2 at 6:48 AM on June 2, and I’m amazed. I’m wondering where the last 12 months went. I know, I know–the older you get, the faster time flies, and it is sadly proving true. The last 12 months have been difficult and complicated with family issues, but he has been the bright spot for our entire family.

Daniel is most definitely a little boy now. Nothing baby about him. He’s so tall! I’m not a good judge of age when it comes to children, but I think he looks older than he is. We joke that he doesn’t know how to walk, but it’s true: running is his preferred speed. He is so sure on his feet, much more coordinated and confident at 2 than I am at 33.

Despite the need for speed, I’ve noticed that he has started to slow down and focus on one activity for longer periods of time. He loves the alphabet and can spend 15-20 minutes happily playing with his magnetic letters. He knows them all and at our house, “V”, especially his purple magnetic “V,” is his favorite. When he sees it on his easel, he happily cries, “Vuh!” He also loves his Thomas trains. Santa brought him “Gordon” for Christmas and from that first train, his collection has grown to include James, Thomas, Percy, Emily, Hiro, Whiff (aka “Momma” because he wears glasses) and Victor. Sometimes we’ll build bridges out of blocks for the trains to go under. Happily, he also loves books. While he loves us to read to him, he enjoys looking at the books himself as well.


It’s great seeing him have these little bursts of independence, but it’s a little sad too because it’s a reminder that as time goes on, he is only going to become more and more independent. And we have to be ok with it because that’s what needs to happen, and it’s our job to nurture it.

Daniel truly has a wonderful personality. He is typically in a good mood and calm though the tantrums are coming more often. Lately he has become super affectionate. He’ll hug and kiss us repeatedly, giving us big ol’ bear hugs that truly are the best hugs in the world. At other times he’ll gently caress our arms or hands. He even kisses his toys, books and on rare occasion, a kitty he has managed to catch. He’s also mastered making faces at us-what a comedian!

In the last year he has learned to walk (run), graduated from high chair to booster seat, graduated from booster seat to regular chair, moved from crib in our room to a mattress on the floor in his own room, increased his vocabulary, been to the beach twice and sadly, lost two grandfathers.

It’s been an eventful year, and while it’s bittersweet to pack away all the baby paraphernalia bit by bit, I love the little boy with whom we have been blessed. Watching him discover and explore the world is rejuvinating, and his energy is boundless. It will be interesting to see what changes are in store for my 2-year old. Daniel will start preschool in late summer, and I can feel us taking the first step on the path that leads to elementary school and beyond.

Happy Birthday to our Doodle Bug. May it be a wonderful day full of all the Oreos you can eat and a great year.

Post-bath silliness