Nadine Warner was hunkered down in a St. Louis hotel room, absorbing that singular type of heat that radiates from a feverish kid on your lap, in this case her 3-year-old son, Gabe, while the rest of the family was outside exploring the city.
I've never met Warner, but I know her story. Stories, really. She writes about life in Rogers Park with her family: her partner, Lori, and their three kids: Gabe, Nick, 7, and Olivia, 1 1/2 — for her blog, A Life More Ordinary (nadinecwarner.wordpress.com), and for audiences that gather to hear her read her words aloud. On May 5, she'll be among a group of women sharing stories at an event called Listen to Your Mother (listentoyourmothershow.com) at the Athenaeum Theatre.
Through her stories, I've become completely charmed by her wit, grace and infectious delight in mothering and I wanted to know how she juggles it all.
Without, of course, asking how she juggles it all.
Tina Fey famously put that question in its place in her 2011 book, "Bossypants." "What is the rudest question you can ask a woman? 'How old are you?' 'What do you weigh?' … No, the worst question is 'How do you juggle it all?' "
It's problematic for a few reasons. It implies there is some simple formula that the person in question has discovered. Some trick that makes this juggle possible.
The truth is that she or he is, at all times and in all places, sprinting, multitasking, scheduling and backup planning to keep the balls aloft. (All the while wondering, "How do I juggle it all?")
No secret. No trick. Just good old-fashioned, all-consuming effort. (A much better question: "How can I help?")
Anyway. Warner. Her tales are open and joyous and honest. She talks about the stumbles as freely as the triumphs. And she's hoping to expand her family. "We're ready for more — more laughter, more stories, more hugs and more love," she writes on the portion of her blog titled "Help us adopt a baby!"
I didn't ask her how she juggles it all. But I did ask her how she juggles being completely gobsmacked in love with her kids and weaving beautiful narratives about them for all the world to read, at a time when a national debate rages over whether she's a fit parent.
The same-sex marriage arguments in front of the Supreme Court have quickly veered into gay parenting, with the question being posed whether raising kids in a single-sex household is "harmful," despite research showing that, nope, it's not.
Parents get used to dodging the "harmful" accusation pretty early. Formula, co-sleeping, vaccines, working moms. We're all, in someone's eyes, endangering our kids pretty much around the clock.
But a Supreme Court case and its trickle-down dialogue strike me as weightier. When you've got the most powerful court in the land weighing in (plus child psychologists, researchers, authors and people on Facebook) the stakes seem higher.
Are Warner and her partner following along?
"We are monitoring the debate but are not emotionally attached to the outcome," she says. "I would describe us as pragmatic optimists. We will be pleasantly surprised if same-sex marriage is recognized in our lifetime."
And does that bug her? "I don't think the law — any law — is going to change people's minds," she says. "If they are prejudiced — from religion or upbringing or just plain old ignorance — they will continue to hold these prejudices long after the law has gone into effect. Unless they have some sort of direct experience that changes their mind.
"This is one of the reasons that I tell stories about my family life," she says. "Sure, we're an Afro-Caribbean and Chinese lesbian couple with two African-American kids and one Afro-Latino kid, all adopted. And that family composition may be completely foreign to many. But our day-to-day lives are very ordinary. People can relate to that and connect with our experiences on a very basic human level."
And as any juggler will tell you (the ones who juggle actual balls), your focus is key. Lose that, and stuff starts falling.
"Our dream for our children is that they will be good citizens of the world," Warner writes on her blog. "Honest, caring and strong of heart, spirit and mind."
As we contemplate the explosions in Boston and follow the missives to hug our children a little tighter and wonder, truly, what kind of world we're handing them, Warner's focus seems impeccable.