Marry the kind one

29 January 2016

I’m working on June’s birth story, and it seems all other posts have gotten backed up while I work on that one. However, I couldn’t let the eleventh anniversary of my and John’s first date pass without a bit of notice. There’s just one thought I want to share at this juncture, and that is: for a happy life and marriage, marry the kind one.

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The one who has never met a cat he doesn’t love, or a cat who doesn’t love him back. The one who will spend hours with your sister helping her set up a budget and cheering her on in her savings goals – and let her tag along on dates in high school. The one who records “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” on the guitar and sends it to his niece for her birthday. The one who walks through his day whistling, who hauls brush at your family’s cottage while on vacation without complaint. The one your parents love. The one who will be off like a rocket at your request for more water, apple juice, jello, popsicles while in the hospital. And the one who, as my friend Rhiannon said, will smile at you like you’re the most beautiful person in the world while you’re wearing mesh underwear and holding a crying baby at 4am a few hours after you give birth.

Yep, that’s the best advice I’ve got :)

Marvelous Mama Amanda

22 January 2016

Today’s mama is very, very special to me. I met Amanda – back then she was Miss Olsen – my first day of high school. She was my ninth grade English teacher, and I was immediately captivated by her. Invariably, I would come home and report some insight she had shared or hilarious thing she had done every night at the dinner table. I had her as a teacher several more times over my high school career (and even “took” English 9 at least twice more as her intern) and am so grateful to now call her a treasured friend. Amanda is without a doubt my most important mentor – there is no one aside from my parents who has shaped my character or personality more than she has. She is funny, fun, extremely smart, a gifted writer, principled, tough, thoughtful, creative, eloquent, and many other wonderful things. I am so grateful for her, and so excited to share her thoughts on motherhood!

P.S. Her “day in the life” is a bit long, but I think one of the most fascinating parts of these interviews is the mundane details about jobs and days – I hope they’re interesting to y’all, too!

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From my high school graduation, with Amanda and another dear friend (circa 2005!)

Name: Amanda Fagan
Occupation: High School Principal
With whom do you live? I live with my husband of nine years, Tim, our three kids Boden (7), Declan (5), and Hope (3), plus our big, dumb dog Levi and two beta fish named Rainbow and Bluock. (I know. Bluock??)
What does a day in the life look like for you? My alarm goes off at 5:30am on a typical day. Sometimes that’s when I get up… and sometimes that’s when I begin the process of hitting snooze repeatedly, even though the seven additional minutes associated with each snooze are not really worth it. Shower, get dressed, do make-up, and then bask in the sweet, sleepy kid process of ‘good-byes’ to my babies, all three of whom are still in bed when I leave each day.

They have their own little routines they like to do with me, most notably being Declan, who, as I kiss him and whisper, “Bye, buddy. Have a great day. I love you,” bursts passionately out of sleep and exclaims, “I have to say my things!” His “things” are the following, recited largely without expression but in the same order lest there be a catastrophic meltdown at having forgotten something: “Bye, Mommy. I love you. Drive safely. Don’t let the car bugs bite. Have fun driving. Sweet driving. Have fun working. Sweet working. And can I wave to you from your window?” I back out of the garage, careful to scan all of the windows to look for last minute waving, and if little faces are there, I roll down the window to hear all the “bye! I love you!” exclamations again. I stop by Dunkin for a large tea (two teabags, one equal, and skim milk) and get to school around 7:00am.

My workday is different every single day. In the hallways to greet kids, observing classes, attending or facilitating meetings, answering or composing tons of emails (I spend far more time that I ever expected to, sitting at my desk, typing away madly at my computer), working with guidance or our school psychologists around a student in crisis, working with the Assistant Principals on a disciplinary issue, interviewing students to find out more information about some disruption to the learning environment, planning programs (faculty meetings, leadership team meetings, school-wide assemblies, advisory lessons, etc.), speaking to parents on the phone or in person, signing checks, answering questions from teachers, guidance counselors and secretaries who regularly pop in to my office, and just generally bouncing from project to project to project.

I leave school at 4:00pm and drive to day care (about 25-30 minutes away) to pick up Hope and hear from her and her “daytime Mommy,” Miss Alison, the recap of her day. Sometimes she is delighted to see me and runs, smiling, to leap into my arms. Other times she wants nothing to do with me and must be gently coerced to leave Miss Alison. Together, Hope and I drive to the boys’ school to pick them up from after care. They are typically immersed in some grand Lego construction activity or craft project, so we help them clean up and head for home. It takes me about an hour to an hour and 15 minutes to get from school to home each day with the pick-ups.

Most days, we have an activity to get to after pick-ups are complete. For example, in the fall it was swimming for Declan and Hope on Monday, swimming for Boden on Tuesday, soccer for Declan (and me, his coach) on Wednesday, and soccer for Boden on Thursday. Tim rolls in just after we get home (or we meet at the parking lot of the pool), and we divide and conquer. Usually I do the activity because Tim cooks dinner and packs lunches for the next day.

We eat as a family every night. It’s a priority we hold really dear and hope to be able to maintain even as our children get older and more heavily scheduled. At 7:00, everyone heads upstairs for pajamas and toothbrushing. In the winter, we shower the crew on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights. In the summer, it’s almost every day because they are sweaty, dirty, and covered in sunscreen. We read bedtime books together… and now we are in a place where Boden, who is in second grade, will read the bedtime story to Hope, snuggled into her bed with her. Everyone is in bed with lights out at 7:30.

Once the kids are in bed, Tim and I clean up the kitchen from dinner, finish up lunches, and pack the kids’ backpacks and school folders for the next day. Usually by 8:00pm I can sit down to start whatever work I brought home, and I usually work through until about 11:00. Some nights, I have an event at school, so I don’t come home in between… or I come home to do the pick-ups, get the kids settled with Tim, and then head back to school. Other nights, I don’t work at 8:00, and instead Tim and I watch mindless HGTV until bedtime. Those nights are rare once the school year is really up in full swing.

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Amanda is now the principal of the high school from which we both graduated. It has an extensive agricultural program, leading, on occasion, to some unexpected activities for her during the day!

What do you eat for lunch? Dinner? My packed lunch every day is the same thing: Progresso light chicken corn chowder, carrots, grapes, a Dannon Greek yogurt (vanilla or lime), and a kiddie Clif bar. I rarely have time to get to all of that, and certainly not in one sitting. I often eat the little things first because they are quick and transportable. Tim cooks dinner every night (I know; he’s amazing.). We use a lot of Weight Watchers recipes that seem to be heavy on vegetables: chicken stir fry. Beef and broccoli. Garden vegetables in pasta. Grilled chicken or steak with green beans and brown rice.
Netflix obsession: Truly, we are not much into television and go to the movies maybe once a year. This is life with three small kids. I did binge watch the entire first season of Madame Secretary recently. It’s the only show I watch religiously, on time, when it’s aired. While I realize being a high school principal is not exactly the equivalent to being Secretary of State, I really identify with her struggles to balance work and home, to be seen as a strong woman in a man’s world/job, to work through frustration when others who don’t/can’t see the bigger picture criticize decisions, to dare to be vulnerable when she is supposed to be strong, and to solve countless crises (big and small) on any given day.

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Words you live by: I’m not sure I have a true life motto. I have different quotes I go to for different contexts. One of my favorites has always been, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” (Emerson) Another one I’ve adopted recently came from a man named John Driscoll, who is one of Tim’s dearest friends. He was a school administrator and was working as a principal when he was diagnosed about two years ago with glioblastoma multiforme. It’s a terminal form of brain cancer. He is fighting hard and is anchored by faith and gratitude. I don’t know him well, but I admire him tremendously. He was honored by his own high school, St. John’s Prep, where he was later an administrator. They noted that each morning on the announcements, he would always end his remarks with, “Try hard. Have fun. Be nice.” It’s so simple but genuinely distills everything we each need to do every day. I’ve been using it at work and have it posted on the slides that circulate through our TVs in the cafeteria and the main lobby.
Why did you decide to have children? I don’t know. I don’t feel like it was ever a question for me. I was one of four children, and Tim was one of five. I think both of us just associated being a grown up with getting married and having a family. My entire life was shaped by having had older brothers, and I believe many of my best characteristics were refined through my interactions with my family. Resilience. A sense of humor. Silliness. Love. Gratitude. Giving. I appreciate my family even more now that I am a grown up… it’s so neat to spend time with my siblings and their wives and kids now. As much as I mourn the thought of not having my little kids once their grown, I do look forward to interacting with them as adults.

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What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? I think the best thing for me was just talking with Tim. We talked about what we were looking forward to and what we were nervous about. That good communication before Boden was born helped us to support one another when we brought him home.
What is something related to kids you were not at all prepared for? Honestly? How mean I can be. How quickly I can be frustrated and lose my temper with the tiny people I care most about in the world. I work really hard to remind myself that they are only 7/5/3, and they are doing their very best. I wish every memory of theirs that is related to me would be positive and perfect and loving, but I fear that they will have semi-comical (in the future) memories of me being nuts.
What is your parenting philosophy? The catchphrase we use with the boys, who are school aged, is, “You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to try your best.” We try to apply that to just about everything: school work, sports, interactions with one another, chores at home.

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Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. I’ve got two lessons. First, you will become the reflection of your own parents. It’s just a given. All of the things that drove you crazy about them when you were little, you will come to understand now that you are parents yourselves. Second, kids will do as you do, not always as you say. I see that truth reflected in the behaviors—both the sweet and the cringeworthy—of my kids every day. They learn by watching us, which is magical and terrifying at once.
Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. My favorite family traditions are continuations of traditions my mother began with me… reading together at bedtime, carving pumpkins, dying (and hunting for) Easter eggs. One that I particularly love is that we burn our letters to Santa after we write them. We always did this with my mom, and I never questioned it. Of course the smoke carries your wishes to the North Pole, and of course the magic of the place reassembles the letters once they get there. In our first house, we didn’t have a fireplace, so we would bundle the kids up and take them outside to our little fire pit, all of us sheltering the letters from the winter wind as Tim lit them to the sky.

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Favorite book(s) to read with or to your kids: The Otis books by Loren Long. They are about the cutest little tractor and the things he gets up to with his pals on the farm. The Bear books by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman. The illustrations are darling, and the stories are really cute. The Elephant and Piggy books by Mo Willem. At first I thought they were annoying and didn’t quite understand the hype, but now that I’ve read them a zillion times and listened to my kids shriek in laughter, I see the draw. Others we’ve been stuck on at times include The Penny, Blueberries for Sal, Corduroy, Harry the Dirty Dog (probably my favorite… I remember it from my own childhood), and Mike Mulligan and his Steamshovel (that’s another one I love from my own childhood). I could go on and on. We have a staggering number of books.
One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: There is much that is the same: sitting for dinner as a family; insisting upon good manners (please, may I, thank you) and good table manners; enforcing an early-ish bedtime; encouraging them to be involved in sports and activities; sharing holiday traditions… As for what’s different, it’s less philosophical than practical. I think Tim and I both are parenting much like our parents did, but there are things that are different because of the changed times, such as our reluctance to just having them go outside and play unattended and out of sight for hours on end, or letting them ride bikes without helmets.

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What is your favorite part about having children? Parenting is a tsunami of emotions. I’ve never known such worry, such frustration, such exhaustion or, above all, such love. I think my favorite part, daft though it may sound, is the love. The physical manifestations of it—snuggling them at bedtime or in the morning, feelings their hands in mine, holding their sleeping weight as I carry them to bed, washing them, tickling them, doing Hope’s hair, feeling their feet tucked under my legs as we watch a movie together on the couch, hugging away their hurt feelings or scraped knees—take my breath away. Every night of their lives, I have gone into each of their rooms before I go to bed each night. I listen to their breathing, put my hand on their chests to feel their tiny beating hearts, and kiss their foreheads, thankful each time for the miracle of their lives while whispering my love into their ears. I love hearing them say, “Mommy, I love you so much.” I love it when they run to me at the end of an absence. I love it when I meet their eyes across a room, and they smile. Having children has filled my life with love and gratitude, and that’s a really nice way to live.

One of my favorite lines: “I believe many of my best characteristics were refined through my interactions with my family.” I know exactly what she means, and think the same is true for me!

Thank you, my dear AMOF!!

Champagne bar with tinsel stirrers

20 January 2016

One of my very favorite weddings from the latest issue of Southern Weddings is on their blog today! Elyse and Jack, who began dating when they were 16, blew me away with all of the thoughtful and sentimental details they packed into their celebration. (See: the ways they incorporated Elyse’s “xoxo” sign off, Jack’s proposal and their subsequent catering choices, and their confetti bar!) And yes, this wedding holds a special place in my heart because I got to play a small role in the decor, providing the tinsel stirrers for their cocktail hour champagne station. I don’t think I’ve ever seen my sparkly creations look better!

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Tinsel stirrers are available here. All photos are by Greer Gattuso – visit Southern Weddings to see the rest of this wedding, including more images of the stunning cake below!!

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The meaning of June’s name

18 January 2016

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The first name I can remember wanting to bestow on my future daughter was Lemonade. This was probably around age four or five, maybe at the height of my driveway entrepreneurship.

The next name that came into favor was Scheherazade, in elementary school. Scheherazade was the name of my favorite horse at my aunt’s farm. She was a beautiful dapple gray, and I was in love with her, so obviously it made sense for my future child to share her name.

Later, I fixated on the name Ava. My aunt was pregnant, and if it was a girl, they were going to call her Ava, and I fell in love with that name alongside them. They ended up having a boy, and Ava ended up becoming massively popular, so it eventually lost its luster for me.

The next and final name I fell in love with was June, sometime in high school. And, well, here we are. There’s no grand story of why I love this name so much, or why it’s stuck with me for so long, but there are many smaller reasons:

I love that it’s sweet and feminine without being saccharine.

I love that it’s simple, everyone knows how to spell it, and everyone is familiar with it, but it’s not that common.

I love that it’s a little old-school without sounding too hipster-ish.

I love that it works for a little girl as well as a grown-up lady.

As an adopted Southerner, I love that it has a light Dixie flair, thanks to June Carter Cash — and that I now have my very own Johnny and June :)

I love that John, who loves summer more than anyone I’ve ever met, will always have a little piece of sunshine in his life.

And finally, I love that I’ve only known one other June, and that I’d be proud if our daughter were to share some of her characteristics. She was a fairly distant relative (the grandmother of my fourth cousins), but one I grew up seeing every summer. That June was strong, courageous, gracious, smart, a loving wife and mother, a woman of faith, a talented piano player, a beautiful singer, and a true Southerner. We didn’t name our June after her, but I’d be proud for our girl to take after her.

Which brings us to her middle name, which actually was chosen because of a relative – John’s mom. My sisters and I all have family surnames as our middle names, and though I hated this when I was younger, I now, of course, love the tradition and want to continue it. My mother-in-law’s maiden name is Chen. She was born in China, then, under pressure from the communist party, escaped to Taiwan with her family. She immigrated to America in her 20’s and went on to earn her Ph.D. Aside from honoring Mama Jean, a fantastic lady, John and I love that our June’s middle name will speak to the larger story of the hope, possibility, freedom, and opportunity that’s always been found in America. We want her to know the power of that story, the power of resilience and hard work, and that she has the ability to make her life all she wants it to be.

So far, it seems to fit :)

Marvelous Mama Samantha

14 January 2016

I can think of few better people to kick off our Marvelous Mama series than my dear friend Samantha Terhune. Of course, I adore all the mamas that will be featured, but to me, Sam is in many ways the quintessential mom – sometimes I even feel like she’s a mom to me! :) She has taken to every stage of motherhood so gracefully, and it’s as easy for me to picture her as a mom of an elementary school student, a high schooler, or someone with their own babies as it is to see her as the mama of the two-year-old she has now! I knew I would love her thoughts on being a mama, and I do – especially what she had to say about “happy tears” and why she was crying them in the days after Perry’s birth. I have already experienced this, too, and though it’s a little heartbreaking, I think it just adds to the preciousness of the whole parenthood experience. Friends, please welcome Samantha!

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Photos by Anna Routh

Name: Samantha Terhune
Occupation: I am the associate director of a food studies program at UNC-Chapel Hill. I am also the second half of Graham Terhune Photography, and I accept a limited amount of calligraphy projects throughout the year.
With whom do you live? I live in Chapel Hill with my husband, our son, and our puppy (who is really getting to be quite an old lady, but she will always be a puppy to us). Graham and I were married on June 18, 2011 and we welcomed our baby boy on November 25, 2013.
What does a day in the life look like for you? Our days tend to look quite different depending on the day of the week. Our mornings always start around 6am when either Graham or I head downstairs to get Perry and bring him into our bed. We all enjoy a good family snuggle before carrying on with our day. During the school year I work Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Graham and I spend a great deal of our Saturdays photographing weddings. On the days we work, Perry is in a Montessori school program during the mornings and spends the afternoon with either his grandmother or our wonderful nanny who has been with us for over two years. I always take a break in my day to be the one to pick him up from school. I love chatting with him about his morning, what he had for snack, and his friends. Perry takes a long afternoon nap giving me additional working time or time to clean the house or squeeze in a Pure Barre class. After nap, Perry spends a lot of the afternoon outside building forts, playing in the mud, or throwing rocks into the pond. I always emphasize the importance of family dinners and try to include Perry in part of the cooking process. After dinner, it is bath, stories, prayers, and lights out, and then Graham and I spend some time catching up on our days and finishing any remaining work we have. I always find time to soak in a lavender bath and read a few pages of a book before bed.

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Words you live by: My dear friend, Ellie, always says that with parenting, “mothers make the best decisions we know to make with the information we have.” These words give me the confidence to know that my instincts will always be for the good of my family.
What was one of the best things you did to prepare for having kids? We built our foundation by loving each other well and learned to talk with one another rather than at one another. We learned to work through our disagreements and disappointments and understand the importance of cheering one another on in all things.
What is something you were not at all prepared for? Everyone always told me that it takes a village to raise a child, but I think deep down I had this fear that if there were too many people to love on my child, then perhaps my love would get lost. I’ve realized now that there cannot be too many people who love your child. Our village of family, friends, babysitters, teachers, and random people who smile really do make an impact on the way Perry views the world as a place where he can feel safe to learn and thrive and grow. This realization has allowed me to graciously ask for help and accept support in many different facets of our life.

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What is your parenting philosophy? This is a short season of our lives and I am doing my best to embrace every day and every new milestone. Some days feel really long and hard, but for the most part, I spend my time thinking how special this time in our life is and I know that one day when our children are grown I will look at these messy years of life with stars in my eyes. Anyone who knows me knows that I am a big worrier and I ask a lot of people for advice when I make a decision, but I’ve completely surprised myself with how relaxed and confident I am with parenting. I tend to let Perry have a lot of personal space to figure out things on his own and I think that level of mutual respect has really worked for our relationship.
Where do you go for parenting advice? I always talk to my mom, who is a super listener and great at only giving her advice when I ask. She has an amazingly calm approach to parenting. I also ask my mother-in-law who has raised boys and always has thoughtful wisdom, and my sister who is currently pregnant with her fourth little girl! We are also a recent Montessori school family and therefore I spend a lot of time reading Montessori articles.
Best tip for a new parent? I have two. Take time to write and preserve your memories. The weeks pass by with record speed and little ones grow and do new things all the time and as much as we think we will remember, unfortunately, we do not. Second, learn to accept free advice graciously. It will be given to you, and sometimes it will make you want to scream, but try to accept it from a place of love and not view it as an attack on your parenting.

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Tell us about a few of your favorite family traditions. We love family dinners and treating each day as a celebration. We love talking about our days, singing our family prayer, and saying a cheers. We also love hosting people in our home for meals. We love celebrating Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter with special morning breakfasts and long family walks. We love traveling together and exploring different places. We keep a family journal when we travel so that everyone can add their thoughts along the way. And when we travel, we try to spend a lot of time outdoors, eating delicious food, and soaking in all that a place has to offer. It has certainly been more work traveling with Perry, but the experiences have been so worth it.
What is your favorite part about having children? Many, many, things, but if I had to pick one I would say that staying up late on Christmas Eve with my husband and doing what parents do to prepare for Christmas morning has been one of my favorite parts so far. It seems to summarize how I feel about being a parent and encompasses my delight at doing something purely out of love that will make their corner of the world safe, happy, and magical.

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One thing you are doing the same as your parents and one thing you are doing differently: My parents divorced when I was very young and it certainly shaped the way I grew up. I’m grateful I was always given an incredible amount of freedom to make my own choices, and I hope to empower Perry with the tools he needs to be autonomous and make good decisions, too. With that, I think one thing I will do differently is never waiver in my commitment to being a united team with Graham. Although we’ve only been parents for a short while, we’ve learned so much about each other and the things that matter to us most about parenting. There have certainly been times where I would have handled a situation differently, but the bottom line is that we are always seen as a united and supportive team to our children.
One thing that has fallen by the wayside since having kids and one thing you’ll never compromise on: I used to care a bit more about my appearance before I left the house, but this has fallen a bit by the wayside. It’s a luxury to shower, wash, and dry my hair, and I often leave the house feeling less put together than I would like; however, I think in a way it has helped me become more confident with who I am and understand that everyday I put on my “mom uniform,” and it is the greatest one I get to wear. I do try and find a quiet time once a day to take a lavender soak bath, which helps me relax and gives me time to reflect. It also eases achy muscles from carrying a toddler!

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Photo by Meredith Perdue

How do you keep communication lines open with your partner? I’ve been thinking about this particular question a lot lately as Graham and I are entering into a phase of parenting requiring a bit more thought concerning Perry’s behavior. Graham and I often differ in the ways in which we would handle particular situations, but what we’ve learned is that you have to take time to discuss the things that matter to you most. For example, Graham gets frustrated easily by messes, loudness, and throwing things in the house. Those are his non-negotiables, and I have had to learn that although they aren’t necessarily the behaviors that irk me the most, I have to respect that we are a unit and must function as a team on all levels. I think it’s good to have upfront conversations about particular behaviors that you want to keep out of your home. Often parenting seems to be about picking your battles, and we’ve found that setting clear boundaries together partner helps this tremendously.
Tell us about a lesson you’ve learned since having kids. In the early and very emotional days after we brought Perry home from the hospital, I spent a lot of time crying tears that I declared happy tears. However, I was actually crying because I was mourning the loss of a day with a tiny baby that was aging beyond my control, due to my obsession with not wanting Perry to change or grow but stay my tiny newborn forever. It sounds a little silly as I type, but at the time, it was a very real challenge. I talked to many people who told me that “it just keeps getting better,” and finally, as my hormone levels evened out and my emotions came under control, I realized that that is the truth. A very wise friend also told me that God does this amazing thing when we have children: he erases a little bit of our memory of each previous phase so we don’t dwell on missing it and instead can love the current stage.

Thank you so much, Sam! We love you!!

P.S. If you’d like to hear more from Sam, I loved her interview on Map & Menu about traveling with kids!