Sunday, December 23, 2012

sleepless complaining about gravy

It's 6:30 am and I've had two hours of sleep: 1:30-3:30. I'm too anxious about what I have left to do for christmas preparations/gifts/laundry/holiday-video/packing-for-the-trip so I'm up doing laundry and working on the video. It seemed more productive than just lying in the bed with my eyes open. Though the argument could be made that sleepless rest would be better than laundry for warding off the crippling disease the kids have contracted and I'm desperately trying to avoid. I can't avoid it; who am I kidding? I'm fairly resigned to the idea that I will be in the throws of a 103* fever on the flight down to North Carolina christmas eve. Yeah baby.

Last December I had all sorts of plans for activities to do with the kids and I ended up with both bronchitis and pneumonia at the same damn time and nothing at all happened except I lay on the couch, operated the remote, and periodically crawled to the kitchen to put pretzels into bowls for the kids. I had to simply give up my ideas of crafts and baking and holiday fun.

This year it's the kids who have gotten sick. First the stomach flu, followed 10 minutes later by what is apparently The Flu - super high fever for now 7 days running. Frances's fever has dropped to 100 and she says she feels great, thinks she is well. Her yardstick is temporarily broken. Which is as much of a pain in the ass as 103 frankly, because she's up hopping around and wrestling and is also more quick to be defiant and get offended and scream in her brother's face. And she's MUCH more sensitive to physical pain. Having her (very very long) hair accidentally pulled causes tremendous trauma and wailing. I had to remind myself today that this is not the child I usually live with. Thank the lawd.

So, again, not many activities done. We were moving right along with salt dough ornaments and had gone so far as to even make salt dough figures for a nativity scene (very comical and more on that later if you're lucky), but now many are languishing without paint or modge podge or glitter. Some are half done, some just need ribbon for hanging (the ornaments that is). We never got to the gingerbread houses at all (oh I really wanted to do those!). I have one more day before we leave for NC and still need to get presents plus pack: myself, the kids, presents for family members and from Santa too. Dear god I hate christmas.

I've got to get my brain around the idea that none of this is really truly important. Death is important; love; kindness. Having gifts ready is just gravy. Nothing to stress about. Okay, so I know that with my rational brain. Somebody needs to tell my limbic system so I can get some sleep.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Our cat died. He was the family cat, but really he was my baby; mine. I got him from a FreeKitten box in the Boise farmers market on my 30th birthday, brought him home to Mitch, to whom I was engaged, and Mitch frowned at me and shook his head. But Mitch came to love that baby, who wouldn't? even though he swore he was not a cat person. Bosley was his name, perhaps the most personable cat I've ever met.

He'd been perfectly normal that morning. He ate his breakfast and meowed at the door to go out, then later he sat on his scratch pad while I gave him some catnip. He wasn't sick; he was just fine.

It was after school, and the kids and I were sitting down with a new stack of library books. We had just opened the first one when we heard a strange sound. At first I didn't know even where it was coming from, but it was the dining room, Bosley lying in his regular spot on the heater. When we got to him I was so confused. Why wasn't he getting up? Why was he yowling? I thought maybe his collar was caught and he needed help. I picked him up and he was limp in my arms, paralyzed. But he stopped crying while I held him, seemed to calm down a bit. His breathing was odd and raspy and I held him close. Then I realized things were bad, really bad, and I panicked, said out loud, "I don't know what to do!"In a moment I was able to collect myself enough to quietly soothingly shush him. Then he just died. Just like that. The whole thing was probably less than one minute.

There was one odd thing at the end - after he went still I exclaimed, with more than a little shock, "Oh my god. He died," and I looked up at the children's blank wondering faces. The kids began to creep forward, and then Bosley took one loud final in breath that startled all of us. The kids actually screamed and leaped away. I paused to watch and see if he really was dead, then I bowed my head and began to sob, and Clark across the room began to wail too. Frances was just perplexed, and later she asked Clark, "why did you cry?" I knew why he had cried. It was all very odd and confusing and sudden. I don't think it was because he loved the cat, but because he had no freaking idea what was going on.

I've been grieving and grieving. I loved that cat so very very much. Frances is worried about my grieving, keeps giving me hugs and kisses and wanting me to be ok. I keep telling her I will be, that it's all right for me to be emotional about it. On one hand I wish I could hold off my most intense grieving until she is not around, and on the other I see nothing at all wrong with her witnessing it, that maybe it's even good for children to see. See the grieving and then see that we are all right afterward. Frances asked me, "Mommy, would you be more sad if Bosley died or if I died?" See? It provides opportunity for these kinds of questions.

Frances always wanted to carry Bosley around, all 18+ pounds of him, which was a feat. I taught her how to hold him on her shoulder and support him under the rump, and she had learned how to carry him like a baby without his being too upset. Almost every night she carried him from his spot on the couch up to her bed where he snuggled up next to her. That day he died, around bedtime, she got sad. She said, "Mommy, my eyes are watering but I'm not crying." Little tears were running down her cheeks. I wonder if it was the first time she had cried without sobbing or wailing, as children do. She drew a picture of him and put it on her bed where he used to sleep.

Earlier she had written a goodbye note to him to put in the box with his body, as well as a picture she drew. On everything she wrote or drew she added the date. So interesting - I don't know that she saw that somewhere - I think it was just her instinct to memorialize it.

We had a funeral the next day, complete with bell ringing and a candle and prayers and a goodbye note Frances wrote to Bosley. He was in a box, and the kids had put his toys in with him, and some string because he loved to chase string, and notes. I asked Clark this morning if he thinks about Bosley at all, and he said "all the time," which surprised me though I don't know why. He's much more internal than Frances, I'm coming to realize. I asked him what he thinks about when he thinks about him and he said the funeral. He said he doesn't think about when he died, but about putting the box in the ground. It is a strange thing - to lower someone into the earth. He said he feels sad. "I really liked Bosley. Sometimes I see the speaker under the coffee table (one of Bosley's sleeping spots) and think it's him."

I'm glad this is their first real experience with death, and that it's an animal and not a person. I'm glad that they actually witnessed it rather than our finding him dead. Death: it's just a thing, just like other things in our strange beautiful confusing brutal world. It's an intense thing, and it was particularly traumatic for me not only because I loved him so very much, but because I was holding him when he died. I'm glad that I was, grateful that we were home so that I could hold him and provide him comfort. Still, a lot for me to carry in my heart.

Monday, December 10, 2012

this crazy year

Here I am again, in the garage while the ever faithful sitter Liz bathes the kids and puts them to bed. It's cozy in here - I have my water and my phone and therefore music, and it's not too cold to type. (We're about done with garage-blogging weather up here in the snow belt, however. Where will I hide then? The basement? I wonder if I have any gloves I can type in? Hm....) The downside is that both lights bulbs have burned out so I can't see a thing except this glowing screen. But I did bring a flashlight! Any event is more enjoyable if you attend to the details.

So. I haven't been here on the blog in a while. I've been trying to get here, longing to come visit this page, but life is, you know, doing that thing it does. I mentioned before that I have one kid in school in the morning, the other in the afternoon. I have about 25 minutes from the time Frances gets on the bus until I leave to pick up Clark. Someone is with me always. In some ways it reminds me of when they were so little. Someone who always needs my attention, never being able to finish a task (laundry, dishes) to completion, these ideas of fun projects (gingerbread houses, paper snowflakes on bunting) swimming around my head and never any time to fit them in, though it's unclear to me where the time actually goes. The biggest difference, besides the amount of contact I have with fecal matter, is that I no longer schlep things. As we were all leaving the house the other evening for Irish Dance I was acutely aware of my lack of preparedness with snacks and drinks. Then I remembered the diapers and wipes and burp cloths and changes of clothes of yore. My body does feel much lighter than in those days.

(This is actually a big point. I think when I was physically more involved in parenting - holding, carrying, lifting, rocking, wiping, schlepping - I was desensitized to the contact. It's these days that I get touched out, when I feel the need for physical space. Interesting.)

(By the way, this blog was created out of that experience - diapers and wipes and burp cloths and changes of clothes. And I've finally realized it really is time to be done with this blog. That doesn't mean I will quit writing. It's time to move on, another blog awaits. It's brewing. It's not ready yet. But just to keep you updated about that issue...)

By the time the kids are (finally) in bed I just don't have the energy for creation (meaning: blogging, or sewing, or painting, or often even email). Or for returning things to the mall. I could this minute go to home depot for lightbulbs and a new toilet seat for instance, but I just don't want to. So I'm here with you instead. A place I'd much rather be.

Anyway, busy schedule. Plus kids in Karate 2x a week and all that. So it's hard for me to get to the page. It's hard for me to catch my breath. I'm trying to figure out ways to make it work, to get the support I need so I can fully enjoy what there is to enjoy about this nutty schedule. I have another au pair situation with a college girl I adore but it's only a month while she's off for break. (but she gets here this Friday yayayayayyaay!) During that month I intend to find something more long term. (Please contact me if you have any leads.)

Even amid all that is frantic, I am also very present and aware it's only one year. It's a unique year, different from all the rest to come. It's hard for me, this year. I'm trying to let go of the dishes and of dinner (thank goodness for the new Trader Joes), and instead do puzzles and play Uno and make Magi out of salt dough as I did today. Next year Frances will be in school full day but Clark will still be home half day. The year after that they will both be gone full day. Oh my.

But I also love these days. I love having time alone with each child. I love running errands with them, letting them color or play around me while I cook dinner (at 10am because when else is that going to happen?), I love waiting for the bus with Frances and the ritual the bus adds to our lives. I love packing her snack in her backpack, love the way when she gets home she bounds off the bus with a smile, turns and waves, then runs to me. I love hearing about her day that is so foreign and completely separate from me. On days when Mitch takes Clark to school, I love that Frances and I walk the dog. We have a route of our own that involves a high wooden swing, and then we come home for hot chocolate without marshmallows because it is 9 am after all.

I love it. I love that Clark is learning to play by himself, entertained with his own sound effects, a lot of swooshing and blasting and kabooming as he zooms various cars or figures through the air. I love going to the library more often because I go with them one at a time rather than together. I am acutely aware that these days are but a moment in time, this year something that I will look back on.

Which is why I need support. Because I don't want this year to go by in a blur of dishes and laundry and rides to karate. I want to have enjoyed it, and to have paused and seen it. I want to feel it fully, and I want to be a good mom. In order to do that, given the set up, I need help help help. It's good to know what you need.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

household help!

So. Ahem. Let's chat about headaches, shall we?

Frances had one a few months ago, did I tell you that? It was at bedtime. She said her forehead hurt, then she writhed on her bed for some time, and she sometimes liked the cold cloths I put on her head and sometimes pushed them away in pain and frustration. Suddenly she said, "I've gotta throw up" and we made it to the bathroom just in time. A full heaving episode, all her pasta dinner in case you wanted details, and then she felt much better, just exhausted, and fell into her bed and immediately passed out. She was fine in the morning.

But actually, since I go in for the navel gazing full on, I wanted to talk about my headaches.

If you're recently joining us, I have a chronic migraine disorder and have pretty much all my life. I was SO hoping my kids wouldn't get it, but it does run in families - my dad has it too, and my grandmother - but Frances's recent brush with the fabulousness that is migraine is seriously dampening my hope. When untreated I can have 3-4 massive migraines a week, but in the last few years by seriously limiting my diet, taking daily preventative, exercising like a crazy person, and (now!) having botox injections every 3 months, I average one every couple of weeks, and still have low grade headaches pretty frequently. The botox (for those of you who previously overlooked my sincere endorsement) is the only thing I've gotten real relief from but the effect wears off over time. The last few weeks of my treatment cycle the frequency is back up, sometimes daily low grade ones.

Anyhoo, Karen the au pair arrived here 4 weeks after the last round of injections. She was here 2 months, the last of which I should have been having full on headaches since my next treatment was on the very day she left. But in that 2 months she was here - are you ready?? - I only had three (3) headaches. In two months. It's unheard of.

When I told my neurologist, just as she was getting ready to stick my forehead with a needle, she said, "when does the next au pair come?" I told her it was just me again, just me. She paused, looked at me blankly, and she said, "It seems to me that if there's there's a problem that can be solved by throwing money at it, and you have the means, you should throw money at it." Hm.

I don't think it was just the extra pair of hands, though I'm not sure that help can be calculated. I think it was also the adult interaction, the waning of that lonesome feeling.

But now the headaches are back. Hello old companions.

Then! In my brainstorming about a solution to stay-at-home-mom fatigue, I decided what I needed was help with the house rather than the kids. So I gave up one sitter night and instead asked a sitter if she would be interested  in coming two or three evenings for just an hour, and for household help rather than kid entertainment. (When the kids were babies and I so needed a break, I wanted to sitters to entertain them so I could be not be touched for longer than 60 seconds. With Karen here I realized having house help freed me to roll on the floor with the kids or do puzzles or participate in tea parties without stressing that I should be emptying the dishwasher. It made me a better parent.)

Let me tell you, this solution is genius. I am SO pleased with myself for making this happen. Two extra hands for an hour seem like way more than two extra hands. She does the dishes, folds and puts away the laundry, drags the cooler or cat litter (or whatever) down to the basement, generally straightens, and - my favorite - turns down the beds. (hotel turn down service is one of my favorite things ever. It gives me large amounts of pleasure to walk into a room already appropriately lit and ready.)

WE NEED MORE SUPPORT AS PARENTS THAN WE GENERALLY GET!! There it is again, my refrain. Did you know in Europe nurses come visit the home several times after a baby is born, to see how the mom is doing, to check on the baby, to offer any advice or know-how or general encouragement? Here in America, once you leave the hospital, you are on your own. (I'm not going to be on my soap box long here...) The result of this for the US is a much higher maternal mortality rate, did you know?? Not to mention the ridiculous 6 weeks a mom gets for maternity leave here, compared with 12 months there. Really.

Okay, I'm done.

Will see how the household help (plus adult company!) affects the headaches. Right now I'm not seeing magical improvement, but we've just begun.

Friday, November 16, 2012

return of the nap

Clark's decided to take up napping again. I don't really know what's going on. It's not a growth spurt because he's not particularly hungry. It feels more like emotional tiredness and I know all about that. Maybe he's still adjusting to his new school - that's a real possibility.

He'd been talking about his old school since school began, and last week I told him we could go visit. I hoped hoped hoped it was not a mistake. When we pulled into the parking lot Clark said, "This place is familiar. I know this place." Well, yeah. I was so surprised that he didn't remember it more specifically; thought his memory was more long term than I guess it is. He is only four and a half. Four months to him is a lifetime, I suppose.

We got there during Lunch Bunch and he was shy in the hallway, not wanting to go into the classroom. He warmed up as all the teachers and director came out one by one to hug him. Eventually he came into the room, and he played and had a grand time. It was interesting - he played for a short while with two of his old friends, then he sort of went off and played with the toys by himself. He seemed enamored of the toys themselves, like being in the bedroom of a rich kid.

After lunch they have enrichment activities for which you can sign up your kid - cooking or yoga or hebrew or dance - and the day we were there it was the alphabet. He wanted to stay for that and I let him for the first half. When we left he was mad at me and kept telling me he wanted to stay longer.

But since those few moments just after we left, he hasn't brought up the school at all. In fact, later on that evening he told me things about his current school, just little tidbits of his day, more than he usually says.

Still, this past week he hasn't wanted to go to school. He hasn't said he wants his old school instead, as he was doing before; he's just wanted to stay with me, or have me stay with him at school. He's been pretty attached to me overall, in fact.

So - maybe all the activities I have them enrolled in? Maybe.

The verge of a developmental leap? Quite possibly. In the last 3 months or so I've noticed a big shift in his ability to understand things. He's not a baby like he was before, and he's able to understand more and more nuances. Kids are rather amazing creatures.

The attempt to figure out the cause is an attempt to know how to help him, but since I can't figure it out, I think my best approach is to honor it. I've decided to let him sleep during the day as long as he wants rather than wake him in the fear of his sleeping too long and then not going to bed at night.

Today was the first day I let the nap go on forever. And now it's 10pm and I just paused in this blog post to return him to his bed for the 3rd time. Sigh.

As a mom, you really really can't win. That's what makes being a parent such a comical endeavor. We never have a clue what's actually going on, and in trying to respond to something we can't comprehend, we just talk into the wind. Blah blah blah.

Blah blah. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

extracurricular overload

We are enrolled in too many activities.

Aren't we?

I've always erred on the side of too few, have in fact sworn not to have more than one per kid at any given time. I've wondered at friends who are activity-full. So - how did we get here? It's uncertain, and they each are good ideas individually. Thing is, now I don't know how to undo it, or - interestingly - if I even want to.

On one hand, it keeps my house straighter. This is actually a huge plus for me, not just a nice side effect. When the kids aren't here to dump entire bins of superheros on the familyroom floor, we come home in the evening to clutter free-ish, which makes for a much calmer mom. Clutter makes me seriously anxious. There have been times when I've felt anxious and have wondered what in the world I'm anxious about - there was nothing obvious. Then I just straightened the house and the anxiety went away.

My husband doesn't see the clutter. He's not a hoarder or anything, he just isn't bothered by random clothing items heaped on the recliner. Once the piles grow to a certain size he would clean up I'm sure. But even the small ones make me nuts. I don't have many knick knacks, don't collect things, pass on books when I'm done with them unless they are signed or inscribed or something, but there's this pile of papers on one counter that grows like a mold. When the au pair was here she kept the dishes and obvious things clean, so I was free to deal with this asinine pile on the counter and others like it. One of my theories about my crazy happiness when she was here has to do with the decrease in clutter alone.

My newest idea is to drop one of my evening sitters and turn that money into one person who comes for maybe an hour 3 days a week.

But that's a different subject.

First both kids were in tennis because it was convenient. Then Frances added Irish Dance and that seemed reasonable. Then Clark wanted Karate and that also seemed fairly reasonable except that it's twice a week, but he's so absolutely nuts about it that I thought we would squeeze it in somehow. Then Frances wanted (at my suggestion) to try out Karate too, and she of course loves it because who wouldn't. And since Frances tried his class Clark thought he would try hers and now they're both in Irish Dance - both in all four activities each week. And one night a week they go with their sitter to her parents house, where they are regular members of that family.

All this leaves little time for the kids to argue (which makes me an insane person), or to wrestle until someone whacks their head on the floor (which makes me an insane person). It channels energy. This is good.

Plus I get to sit and read my book, as well as observe my children from afar, both of which are things I enjoy. And which help keep me sane.

But I'm aware that avoiding their conflicts is just convenience on my part, a sort of laziness. It's admittedly easier to keep them busy than to deal with the hollering and crying - the conflict that helps them learn how to deal with conflict. The only way to the other side is through, right? Is this why so many parents load up on the activities? Because - what it really comes down to - it's easier? It's like never taking them with you to the grocery. I have a friend with four boys and she takes all four of them with her on grocery trips. On purpose. She believes it's important for them to learn how to deal with boring everyday details like groceries, and that they need to learn how to behave in public, and it's okay for them to not always be entertained. The reward she receives for persevering with all four boys in tow is children who are pleasant to be around, and less work teaching them to behave later on.

At the same time, a sane mommy is a good thing.

It seems to me - logically - that it's really a toss up. That this decision for this minute of their lives really doesn't matter. But it sure feels like it does. Maybe that's just the obsessive mind talking.

Will see what happens. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

yay storm day!

We're having a hurricane! Hoping for the best of course, and we are many miles inland so everything should have settled down by the time it gets here, including hopefully the hysteria I witnessed yesterday in Pittsford Wegmans where people were knocking each other over to get to the three cases of bottled water left in the shelf.  

We didn't have to buy water at Wegmans but did have to put up with the insane crowd. We, in fact, already have water stored, cuz that's the way we roll. We also have flashlights and candles ready, as well as a lengthy (written) plan for no-school-storm-day today (the official name is Yay Storm Day) that includes - among many other things - a game time, dance time, a puppet play, and hot cocoa. Unless we have no power, and then there'll be cool cocoa. But the chances of that look slim since it's not even raining right now. Good thing they called off school. (Mitch says, after closely observing the weather channel on his Ipad, that this is the calm before the storm. Will see.)

Let me, in fact, detail the schedule for today. It is ordered numerically thus: 

1. Breakfast (which we just finished and which was yummy gluten free chocolate chip pancakes)
2. Free play time
3. Take dog for walk and look at the storm. 
4. Hot cocoa. 
5. Game time. Princess Yatzee, UNO, Candy Land, whatever  they choose. 
6. Story time
7. Baking time (of course dependant on the power situation. They're really talking a lot of big talk about folks losing power.)
8. Lunch while zucchini banana bread bakes. 
9. Song and instrument playing time. 
10. Tea party with our warm baked goods and hot tea.  
11. Dance time. 
12. Take photos of the storm
13. Craft time: either collages or draw-the-storm. 

We will see where that gets us. I assume it will be dinner time by then. A very packed schedule. Do you think we can stick to it? Frances is pretty excited about checking things off, the organizer she is. Here we goooooo!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Clark for President

Yesterday Clark had a nap. He was falling apart completely over - actually, I can't remember: something minor like the inability of his spiderman figure to bend at the waist, and he wanted his blankie, which was momentarily missing. I went to find the blankie and when I came back he was in his bed under the covers. "I'm just resting, Mama," he said.

The nap was lovely. I slept with him, a warm and cozy afternoon rest, and in the background through the cloud of sleep I heard Frances from her room singing Coming Round the Mountain, Itsy Bitsy Spider, and Simon and Garfunkel. She apparently was performing; the crowd cheered after every song.

Because of the nap, Clark was not at all tired at bedtime. So very not at all tired that after the presidential debate was fully under way, around 9:30, he appeared in our family room. Mitch and I were too engrossed in the debate to take him back upstairs, so we let him sit with us while we watched. Among other things, Clark decided he's going to be a president for Halloween. He wants a suit and shirt and tie, and a little american flag pin on the lapel.

The rule in our house is that after 8pm is grown up time, which means if you happen to still be up, it's not playtime. You have to sit on your bottom rather than fling yourself over the back of the couch, and no toys. Clark was left with studying Obama and Romney, which he found pretty interesting. Here's some of his running commentary:

Does everyone get to be president when they grow up? I want to be a president.

I'm already a kind of president because I almost know everything. Do presidents know everything?

I might not do what they're doing. Because they're fighting. 
I might want it to stay the same president. Til I die.

Mommy? I might be on Barak Obama's side. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

drama trauma

I'm having a nervous breakdown over here. Sudden sobbing, unexpected hollering, weeping in the cereal aisle at the grocery, general disinterest in showering or dessert. And dessert is important.

Karen's leaving has been pretty traumatic for me. She was so lovely and easy to be around, an actual adult in the house for company, and she became a real part of our family. But also, I don't think I can overestimate the help she was to me as a parent. WE ARE NOT MEANT TO PARENT IN A VACUUM, THE WAY WE DO. I think it's as simple as having support - when she was here I had regular daily support in parenting, and that's gone. Gone gone gone.

Still, I was doing pretty well, enjoying having the kids one on one and getting into our rhythm. Then. This:

Frances and I are leaving at 6 am tomorrow for a funeral in Tennessee. My great uncle just died - fungal meningitis, can you believe? He had a steroid injection in Tennessee, clearly from the contaminated batch of steroids; have you been listening to this mess in the news? He was perfectly well 2 weeks ago. Even though I hadn't seen him in years, the sorrow I feel is tremendous. It all seems so pointless, so useless - to die from medicine you take to help, medicine that is supposed to be relatively innocuous, medicine that is contaminated by some stupid fucking error. I can't stand it.

It's all just so stupid and unnecessary and tragic.

He was the youngest brother of my granddaddy, and my grandaddy was the oldest of ten kids, which is to say my uncle was about 20 years younger and not too much older than my mother. (following?) His kids are my age and they were the cousins I played with when I visited my Grandparents in the summer. His dying is the end of a generation, and that makes me profoundly sad. So Frances and I are leaving on a flight so early tomorrow tomorrow that it might kill me. That's all the bereavement fare would offer. Leaving before dawn, coming back at 11pm Sunday night.

I hope tomorrow morning I'm not so off balance. I kept having to apologize to the kids today for my hysteria and ensure them that it was okay, it was okay for me to be crying like this, I was okay. What will it do to them to see me like this, so completely out of control? Don't anybody answer this.

Interestingly, the thing that pushed me over the very tippy edge was the arrival of new furniture. I bought a dining room table! And 6 chairs although I probably eventually want 8! And a bed frame for the master bedroom! It looks like adults live here now. And somehow this was just too much for me. Plus of course the guys were supposed to be here between 9 and noon and didn't actually arrive until 12:20 when I was supposed to pick up Clark at 12:30.

All right. I have to go to sleep. I'm setting my alarm for 4 tomorrow. Ugh. I hope the weather in Tennessee is lovely.

Blessings to you all. Kiss your loved ones.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

material joy

For Frances's 6th birthday I fear we climbed a pennicle that will never again be crested. All other birthdays may pale forever in comparison.

There were two sets of grandparents here, much doting, you can imagine. Plus a big gathering for dinner plus a lit and glowing cake that she helped decorate plus a trip to the pet store for fish and a little fish tank with a light. It was a big day. 

The biggest thing, though, was the American Girl doll. It goes against so much that I believe in - predatory marketing, consumerism as status symbols, questionable manufacturing practices. Yet yet yet.  Yet practically the only thing she has talked about daily since her last birthday is an American Girl doll. Maybe literally. 

I made her a lovely and sentimentally valuable Waldorf doll who wears the same size dresses as the AG doll. Over the past year we talked about the RIDICULOUS price of the commercial one, and then compared that price to all sorts of other things that same money could buy. It was a good math exercise. Did we learn anything from it? I have no idea. 

But oh the joy when she opened the package. Many parents need it like a fix. They go to crazy lengths christmas after birthday after christmas to see that response on their child's face. It captures something we've mostly lost as adults, some kind of faith that we can be fixed, that joy is pure, that our wishes can indeed be filled, that we can - in the end - be happy. 

And since, of course, the doll was all she wanted, everyone else got clothes and accessories to go with it. We filled her every single wish, mostly because her wishes were so few. And because I am a sucker. 

It sure was fun. 

Saturday, September 29, 2012


(I wrote this a few days ago - just found it and it made me smile. Still intend to write more soon about the gift and what it means, and perhaps what it doesn't mean.)

It's 2 am and I'm awake because Frances had a nightmare that I wouldn't talk to her. She wept and wept, and then she would quiet, but the memory would come again and up came a wail that broke me. I'm right here, I said over and over as I brushed the hair off her sweaty face. I will never not talk to you. I will always be here for you.

6 years ago this minute I was strapped to an IV spittiing out pitocin, laboring hard, miserable. I think it was about this time that I freaked out and turned off the machine myself, told the nurse to unhook me because I was done; I was going home.

That didn't happen.

And now there's a box at the foot of my bed, wrapped and bowed, with an american girl doll inside. It is going to make one 6 year old very very happy.

I still have all kinds of reservations about (and some outright hostility toward) that particular company, but I've chosen to let that fall away for the moment in the service of giving her what may be the only material thing she really wants on this earth.

That will be in the morning. Six years ago when morning came there was no baby, and wouldn't be for a good while yet. But tomorrow morning there is a family here where there was none. Six years. Is that a short time or long? Both, I think.

birthday drama

Well, I'm not baking the crazy fancy cake this year. I have a much more brilliant idea: decorate your own cupcakes! How's that for getting out of it? Let's hear it for cutting stress! I am quite excited.

I already made the cupcakes, as well as the cake that was for the family gathering on Frances' actually birthday (Wednesday), but the latter was simply decorated like a regular birthday cake, lavender frosting with trim and writing. For both the cake and the cupcakes I used a very risky blend of whole wheat and gluten free flours. Vanilla. She wanted vanilla with vanilla frosting. Tastes pretty good, so good in fact that I threw the rest of it in the trash last night because I could not stay out of it.

Two sets of parents were here for the actual birthday and in the 36 hours before they arrived I moved nearly every piece of furniture in this house. Shifted everything around. Clark got a new room in the process. It's like having a whole new house!

......Aaaaand I lost an entire post. I had written at length about the controversal gift we got Frances, many paragraphs examining my motives and ideas, and now there's a blank page below these three paragraphs above. Very frustrating. Will have to recreate.

But not this minute. This minute I am recovering from the kid party this afternoon. More on it all to come. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

insight from the girl

My cousin's child C started kindergarten this year in North Carolina. The teacher - check this - uses a star reward system. If you don't get in trouble all day you get a green star at the end of the day. If you were put in time out once you get a yellow star, and you get a red one if you were in trouble lots. Apparently C was put in time out two days in a row for not raising her hand before talking. Not raising her hand! (So... what? The child has to endure the humiliation and punishment of time out as it's happening, and then again at the end of the day? How is that a good idea? Way for the kids to leave with a good taste in their mouths.) I was telling the au pair about this and Frances overheard us and wanted to know why the teacher would act like that. She kept thinking about it, kept asking over and over, "why would she do that?"

"It doesn't seem very kind, does it," I said.

"No," she said. "I mean, why would she do that?"

"Why do you think?"

"I don't know. I mean, why would she act like that?"

"Maybe someone told her it was a good way to teach kids how to behave."

"Maybe." Pondering. "But why was she like that?"

"Why do you think?"

She paused, and this time really thought about it. Then she said, "Oh, I understand. I know why."


"Maybe that's the way the teacher was to her when she was little."

I tell you, if she knows this already about the world, and Clark knows that you still miss the old thing even when you enjoy the new, they are both going to be waaaay ahead of the rest of us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


Ok, so the last post really just caught everyone up on the facts. And facts are important, right? I suppose so. But the real truth I need to express - and that all those facts were supposed to express - is that right now, for this sliver of time, this very moment, things are GREAT.

I read another blog post about an email the blog author had received, and the email asked, among other things, "...DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR PEOPLE LIKE ME WITH BABIES OR PERHAPS REFLECTIONS OF HOW YOU GOT BY WHEN YOUR KIDS WERE BABIES?  HOW DID YOU NOT JUMP OFF A CLIFF?  ..." I remember those days. I remember wondering how any moms were standing upright, because I certainly felt any uprightness of mine was a trick of light. 


It all reminded me of the first few months, or perhaps years I suppose. 

A friend of mine has a 5 year old and a 9 month old and always feels like she should be accomplishing more than she is. When she's at my house and our daughters are playing together, she's always offering her help while I'm fixing snacks for them, as if she isn't already trying to keep the baby from killing himself by swallowing legos. I mean - really. She has enough to do. Recently she said, "How long will I be tied down like this?" I had enough presence of mind to remind her it's until the kid turns 3. "Oh right," she said. "That's about when I started to feel out of the weeds with the first." So funny how we forget. This forgetting is necessary for survival, I'm certain. 

But Frances will be 6 next week, and Clark is 4.5. I am officially out of the weeds. I still have to tie shoes and sometimes chase and tackle a naked one who's refusing to put on jammies, but really - I'm not in danger of cliff diving any longer. 

Of course, now that I'm out of the weeds, being back in them seems awfully attractive. Thankfully I have reasons not to do it again. The main ones are my age (too old for sleep deprivation), my migraines, and the medications I'm on to control them. Good reasons. But the real reason, when I'm being honest with myself and my brain is functioning well enough for me to remember accurately, is that having a new baby is hell. Hell. Those of you who are saying, "Oh no, it wasn't that bad," are suffering from a case of Refusing To Remember. (It's also Amazing and Wonderful, and thankfully we don't forget that part.)

So here is where I am. Here, where my kids dress themselves (mostly) and feed themselves, though they do not yet fix the food and put it on plates. They can (sort of) clean up messes, and can (generally) quiet down when asked. I can leave the house (with them of course). I can shower without interruption. I can eat an entire meal sitting down. 

Great. That is how I'm feeling. I'm slightly worried that this feeling greatness is due to the help I'm receiving at home with the au pair here, and that when she leaves in 2 weeks I will be feeling a lot less than great. I tend to anticipate the worst that way. I'm trying my best to simply enjoy the weather and the wonderfulness of this place I am in for but a moment. Because it always changes so fast, doesn't it? Whatever the stage is, it will pass. Fabulousness and all. 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

big changes afoot

Everyone loves school! We are a success! What a relief!

I haven't written since Karen the german girl arrived. She's here not to go to school, but on her break between semesters. It's a kind of language emersion for her, an extra family member for us.

When she first arrived I was in heaven and meant to write a post saying only that, but I never sat at the computer. She does the dishes! All the time! I fix food for the kids, turn around, and the dishes are already done! It's like magic.

The second week I had a hard time adjusting to having someone else around all the time. I kept thinking I needed to entertain her, thought of her as a guest. It was funny - we are putting her up and feeding her but since I'm not paying her for babysitting I kept feeling I couldn't ask for her to watch the kids while I went out. And she felt like we were going so out of our way to provide for her that she owed us as much help as she could be. So for a while both of us were working our asses off, neither of us taking a break.

Not long after she got here we loaded everyone up and traveled to Washington DC and that was nice, and back home Karen came along with me on some adventures with the kids, and that was wonderful. Now that school's started we've gotten into a rhythm and I'm really feeling it. It seems like she's been here forever and I honestly don't know how the adjustment is going to go for me once she is gone. I'm rather in love with her company and she's an ENORMOUS help around the house and with the kids and oh my goodness what am I going to do when I'm alone again??

Here's what's the what on school:

Both Frances and Clark are at schools new to them, whole new worlds. Clark had tough transition, missing his old school and friends, and my heart felt for him. He loved his old school, knew the rules and the expectations and the people, and he loved those people. At the new school (the Waldorf school Frances went to the last 2 years) he felt so shy. Shyness is painful, and who wouldn't want to end that feeling by running back to that other thing you already love and feel close to? Why take a risk? Thing is, he didn't even realize it was a risk, didn't realize there was possible gain on the other side. He just did it cuz mom made him. Still, I knew he was going to fall in love with it. The first day when I picked him up his shoes were completely and totally covered in mud and sand. They had been buried. I had to take off his shoes and socks and rain pants and let him walk barefoot to the car. (It's amazing how those rain pants keep everything dry underneath. Clark was amazed too. His feet were soaked through but his shorts were completely dry. "Look at that!" he said.) The Waldorf school is a place where that kind of activity is expected and even encouraged - sometimes when it's raining only lightly out they go to this hill nearby that's more dirt than anything else, and they take turns sliding down on their butt. In the mud. He's going to be in heaven. I love Waldorf because it is this joyous celebration of the earth and the natural world, a kind of love affair. You can't help but respond.

Mitch told me on the way to school yesterday Clark said he loves his school. When I asked him about it Clark said, "yes, I LOVE my school." "What do you like about it?" I asked. "The whole thing," he said. There's so much motor skill activity - grinding grain on the mill, churning butter, chopping veggies, sweeping, balancing on logs and climbing swinging ladders - all stuff that will please him at a deep physical level.

Frances is thrilled to pieces with kindergarten. She wasn't nervous to go, didn't seem apprehensive at all, and loves everything about it. The first day I walked her to school and I hope I remember that moment always. She was so happy and excited and the weather had been perfect but a storm was coming so it was cooling off. We stopped at the corner and chatted with our neighbors in their pool, then went on. After dropping her I walked home while the gray clouds gathered. It wasn't until I was on the sidewalk right in front of our house that I felt the first drop. And then the downpour. It was all very symbolic and lovely.

The interesting part is that Clark is in school in the morning (Tuesday - Friday) and Frances is in school in the afternoon. (I wrote about this here.) So far I'm in love with the setup. Of course, Karen is still here, which means I can leave Frances with her in the mornings while I take Clark to school or go to the gym or the grocery. When I'm on my own again the lack of a break may be trying, but I'm trying to enjoy the moment. Having the kids each alone is SO DIFFERENT. They are civilized people! And when Frances gets home from school at 3 they are so happy to see each other and they play so well together, since they've been apart all day.

My challenge now is to enjoy them each and not spend all our time running errands or doing dishes or laundry. Which means this school year I may not get much done. I'm trying to be okay with that. Trying to spend my time sitting on the floor playing old maid and doing puzzles. Frances will be in school full day next year, then Clark the year after that. It's all coming to a close, this time of our lives. It sounds so dramatic when I say it like that, but it's true. That full time baby-toddler-preschooler segment of my life is nearing an end.

When Clark said he loves his new school he also said he still misses the old one. I told him it's that way with a lot of things in life. Including this one for me. I'm excited to move on to the next stage - with activities and no naps and the ability of children to become hungry without turning into screaming maniacs. We can travel! And go out to dinner! And talk about issues! Frances is already there, and Clark is mostly close, and I can see the bright lights glimmer. Still, I'm aware I'm going to miss this. This time when I am their world, when they rely on me for so much, and when they give so much love. It's a sweet time, something I've looked forward to my whole life. That it is ending is why the baby urge strikes now, I believe. Still, the shine of what is to come lures me more. I don't want to stay here in baby land. (I mostly don't. Except when sometimes I do.) In any case, I'm still here now, and I plan to cherish it while it's happening.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Fairy cake

I'm starting to think about Frances's party this year, a month away. I don't think I ever posted a picture of last year's fairy cake, so I'm doing that now. Cuz it's lovely!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

traveling trials

It's been a busy summer. Lots of travel, which I'm coming to realize is going to be the theme of our summers for some time now (various reasons for this). That's okay I think. But it does wear the kids out, so I'm going to have to be more strategic about the schedule.

A short recap of the summer thus far:

Clark's school finished a week before Frances', so he and I had a week to hang out with not much to do. Then immediately after Frances' school ended, the kids did 2 weeks at a summer day camp (with which I am in love). The next week my mom and aunt were here, then a 2 day break before my dad and his wife came, then 3 days before we packed up and drove to Michigan to stay with Mitch's parents.

Then, as I have mentioned before, something extraordinary happened. Mitch and I drove back to Rochester without the kids. I've been away from them a good bit, but always when I've gone away, and not for almost a whole week in my own house.

It was a very quiet week. And when I straightened things up, they stayed straight! Magic! One of the first nights we hung out with some friends at the pool, then decided (impromptu!) to go out to a nice dinner. (The restaurant was crowded so we sat at the bar and I realized the folks all around me were folks I never ever see in this town. They are at work when I'm out and about, and they go out while I do bedtime routines at home. It was like a secret glimpse into another planet.) Then we had to drop something by a friends' house and they invited us in and we stood around and talked as long as we liked! It felt so... odd.

It's a funny thing, this having young kids. Because they move so fast and need you so much, it's very hard to look around and get a lay of the land. It's like a sport, an intense physical activity. Focus focus focus. But with a sport, the game ends and you get to relax. Not here, as anyone who has done this knows. Because the focus is so honed and because there is so little relaxation, your brain becomes confused, and you sort of forget that you're doing anything unusual. You start to think this crazy pace is normal. And you certainly lose any conception that it will ever ever ever be different.

So being in Rochester without the kids was very good for me, gave me a moment to see the forest from above rather than simply dodge tree after tree. What I discovered is that I am closer to the end of the forest path than I had realized. This knowledge renewed me immeasurably.

Which was good, because that next weekend we met Mitch's folks and the kids in Ohio for a family reunion / wedding reception / memorial service (all in 2 days). We arrived home from that on a Sunday near 11pm; Monday I unpacked and did laundry and repacked, and Tuesday morning I loaded the kids back up and drove to the Adirondacks for a Quaker retreat. Without Mitch.

When I drove off for the retreat I knew I was asking a lot of the kids. I wasn't sure how it would go, but it was important to me for us to be there. They had been away from home for 2 weeks solid, had tons of activity during that time, and were away from mom and dad the latter part, which I know is stressful for them. Yet, the retreat was going to have so many activities they would love: a 1/2 day summer camp filled with other children, plus a beach, plus archery and crafts and boating etc etc. There was a good chance it would go swimmingly.

It did not.

Clark, I suspect, had reached his limit before we even got in the car. Both he and Frances had moments of fun at the retreat, but both were also tired and Clark was very difficult. He refused to go to the morning camp (crafts! playground! giant bubbles!), which meant I had to take him with me to the discussion groups (which, let me remind you, are Quaker and therefore spend at least 50% of their time in silence).

Frances, I have to say, was a gem. I LOVE this stage she is in. She is cooperative and good humored (for the most part) and helpful and charming. Unfortunately, this too will pass.

By Friday, though, I couldn't hold it together anymore. I wept pretty much through the entire morning discussion group. I tried to do it oh so quietly, but Clark, on my lap, kept turning around to look at me with slight alarm. Then he would say in his loud 4 year old voice, "why you crying, Mommy?" Afterwards I gratefully allowed one family to take Frances with them to the boathouse for singing, another to take Clark to the library to read, while I, all alone, paddled a kayak onto the bay. When I reached the middle, I lay the paddle across the boat and floated there. It was so quiet, the other boats far enough away that I couldn't hear their motors, mountains all around. It was wonderful.

I almost left a day early. I felt I was just asking too much of the kids, that they needed to be at home with familiar things and some kind of routine. I felt bad that I had put them in this position in the first place. While I wept into my plate during lunch, one of my friends commented that we don't know what our kids' limits are until they tell us. Yes, that's true. We do our best to read them and know what they can handle and what they can't, but it's not really until we give them a chance to show us that we know for sure.

I think these trials are worth it, weeping and all.

And now - now! - an german university student / au pair arrived a few days ago. More change! She's here for 2 months. Her arrival certainly warrants its own post and maybe will get one (who's to say?) but the abbreviated version is that it caused me more adjustment than I expected, and Clark lost his mind.

The reason it was hard for me is that I'm so used to doing everything on my own, to managing juggling fielding every. single. detail. every morsel the kids put in their mouths, everyone's safety-behavior-schedule-rest-cleanliness-overall mental and physical health, and I couldn't even tell her how to help me out. I couldn't stop long enough to figure out what would even be helpful. But we've gotten used to each other, and she's starting to understand how things go in the house and jump where she's needed. Plus, I had an appointment yesterday and left her alone with the kids for a couple of hours. PLUS her jet lag is waning. I kept reminding myself that, as much adjustment that her presence was causing me, she was most certainly more disoriented.

Clark - the poor guy just needs some calm and some normal. The au pair will eventually become normal of course, and then she will leave and everything will be adjustment and chaos and hollering again. So it goes.

I have some anxiety about the loneliness to come when she goes back to germany. They way I'm dealing with that is to remind myself that I could be smashed flat by a semi at any moment and there's no use being anxious about something that may never come to pass. In the meantime, I plan to be only thankful for the sudden two extra hands.

Friday, August 3, 2012

good feelings

Yesterday Frances (age 5 1/2) wrote a book for me. She's written books before - have I talked about them here? Her first was about a princess who had everything. Then a robber came and took her things, and then she had nothing. She was sad. Then she had an idea. She would go to the robber's hideout and get her things back. But first, she had to get her equipment. She got her stuff back.

There were pictures for every page. Her equipment was her purse.

The book she made for me yesterday didn't have any pictures. She told me that's because it was for adults. While she was making it she asked me how to spell many words but not enough so I knew what she was writing. None of the lines came from me, certainly. All her words.

It's called Good Feelings, and when she gave it to me she said she thought it could help me if I didn't know what to do. Here it is:

You should spend time with your family and not just hanging around. You should play with them and talk with them tell jokes and go places with them. 
And have fun with them. 

With boys you should wrestle and tell them to push things and tell them to kick a pillow. 
With girls they just will draw a picture. 

And with grown people they will keep a eye on themselves but under the age of 16 you have to take care of them.

The people are all different.
Some are rough and some are gentle. 

Oh my goodness. Oh the joy it brings me.

The german university student arrives Monday. The kids are so excited. We skyped with her a couple of days ago and the kids love her to death already. I am hopeful it will go as well in person.

It's the heat of summer here and we have no air-conditioning. I love it. I love it as much as I love the deep snow, and both of these things are probably my favorite about living here. (no sarcasm) In the south the heat is so staggering that you can't not live in air-conditioning. And you have to carry a damn sweater with you although it's a thousand degrees outside because every restaurant / grocery store / indoor-facility-of-any-kind is kept at 50 degrees. Right now as I write this all the windows are open and the crickets are full on in the dark. I hope our German friend doesn't wilt up in the attic bedroom. But never to fear: we provide fans.

Full service, that's how we like to think of ourselves.

Friday, July 20, 2012

afternoon kindergarten

Got the letter yesterday from the public kindergarten Frances will be attending in the fall. The letter that tells us whether we've been assigned to afternoon or morning kindergarten. Around here everyone wants morning, which means that some people who request morning are not going to get it.

Kindergarten in our town is TWO HOURS LONG. I frankly don't know what that's about except maybe the economic and social breakdown of the district, and the fact that nearly all the kids have been to some kind of preschool and come in already knowing their letters at least. Whew, got those out of the way. Let's just cut a couple of hours off the kindergarten day since we don't have to teach them that! I'm told social skills are the things best imparted in kindergarten here, and I suppose two hours is plenty for that. Though, it seems to me, all they actually have time for is the teacher to take each kid to the bathroom once. Then it's time to go.

I wanted morning kindergarten because Clark (age 4) is going to be at the Waldorf school Tuesday through Friday mornings. If Frances were in school then also, I would have FOUR WHOLE MORNINGS with only me to keep track of. That alone time is something I've been waiting for. Waiting, holding out, hanging on. A time for me to find my own work in the world. (which brings us to the subject of a post soon to come: one's work in the world. My husband has his work, my kids (of course) have theirs. Mine of late has been helping the kids to do theirs best, but I've neglected my own work in the process.)

So when I got the letter - the one that said Frances had been assigned to afternoon kindergarten - I sat down and had a good cry. A really good cry. Then I went upstairs and threw myself across the bed and sobbed into the bedspread. I cried and cried, and then I plotted about who to speak with to get this changed.

In the next day or so, before I had a chance to call the school district, something interesting happened. I thought it through. I thought about literally what it would be like to have NO TIME TO MYSELF, to always have a kid with me, every day, morning and afternoon. Frances with me in the mornings, Clark with me in the afternoons. And what I saw was a door in the wall I hadn't seen before. What I saw was the experience of having an only child, which is a thing about which I have fantasized from time to time. And it's even better than that - it's two different only children! Variety! This way, I could actually do activities with Frances I've so wanted to; activities like baking bread and crafts projects. Plus being solo with a child provides opportunity for a kind of conversation and intimacy that's not possible when you're the shepherd of multiple.

And something else - my headaches creep in the afternoon. (sometimes they assault with heavy artillery rather than creep, but again, usually in the afternoon.) I'm much better in the morning. Frances is better in the morning. She and I can hang out together during the time when we are our best selves!

Suddenly the afternoon assignment sounded like a blessing. Besides, she will be home on the bus around 3 in the afternoon which means there will be plenty of afternoon left for Clark and Frances to have time to themselves. I did wonder about that - they are such close playmates; what was it going to be like for them to be apart so much? But in the end, they will have a couple of hours every afternoon to play Baby Sam and Sisters.

Sisters is the newest game. They both dress up in Frances's clothes and have tea parties and go on vacations and cook dinner and put their babies to bed. The story line does seem to come out in Frances's favor, which is interesting. They never play Brothers, or Knights, or Pirates.

But I digress.

In addition to alone time with the kids, I think the schedule is going to help me maintain a rhythm (at least in the mornings) better than I have been. We will do the same things each week. For example, Mondays we go to the gym (and they go to the kid play area), Tuesdays grocery, Wednesdays can be bread day (in order to keep to some of the waldorf schedule and activities, we will make bread), Thursdays library and errands, Fridays crafts. Or something like that. I don't know that the afternoons will be so orderly - will have to see.

I'm actually excited about it. How funny. How funny it is when we think we know what we're going to feel. It's for one year. I wonder if at the end I will wish it could go on like this?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

summer fever

We are in Michigan now, staying at Mitch's folks' house. They live on a beautiful little lake with a pontoon boat and a paddle boat and a tire swing and hammock and a little beach with a dock to jump off and a whole lot of outdoor loveliness. It's pretty cool that the kids get to visit their grandparents here.

We've all been here together since Tuesday - 5 days ago - and the plan is that tomorrow Mitch and I will go home and leave the kids here.

When we made these plans I was so excited to be at home with my husband and no kids for the better part of a week. He'll be working, of course, but in the evenings we can go out to dinner if we want, at any point in the evening. We can sleep in! Nap mid afternoon! Run spontaneous errands! The plan, of course, is to get some projects done around the house.

But tonight I feel funny about it. I've been away from the kids before - many times - but always when I've gone away for a trip or something. I've never been away from them for any length of time when I was at home. I'm going to miss them.

And Frances is sick. Friday morning we went to see a play, and in the theater she was so cold she was shivering. (Luckily, as a holdover from my living in the south where summer means 50 degrees inside any building, I had a sweater in my bag.) That afternoon she slept and slept and when she woke her temperature was 102.

That was Friday. Today is Sunday, and her temp is still 102. She's a trooper about it, I have to say. We took her to urgent care yesterday to get a strep test, but it seems to be nothing more than a virus, so we're waiting for the fever to pass.

[If I may take a soap box moment here: I've stopped treating fevers. The fever is, after all, the body's way of killing the virus, so letting it run is best, the literature says. Unless it's crazy high, of course. In addition to that, bringing a fever down means the kid feels again like having pillow fights with her brother, so in addition to helping the kid heal, leaving the fever alone helps her get rest. Yet somehow the pharmaceutical companies and the doctors have most folks convinced that a fever gets tylenol immediately. Ridiculous what a hold they have on us.]

I've never before missed them. This has in the past disconcerted me a small bit. Funny - I've had the baby yearning so badly lately, but when they were babies I felt only relief about being away. Now, now that they are big and don't need me so much, now I will miss having them with me.

Perhaps it's all about my not having my own thing, which I definitely need to find. Who will I be if they're not with me?

Will be interesting to see how it goes, how I feel about it once we get back to NY. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

how to get along with your brother

I taught Frances to say to Clark, "Let's not fight." She likes to be in charge of things, you know, so she likes to be the one to make sweeping statements that get results. She's tried it several times now, and generally when she says it Clark turns, leaves the room, and slams the door behind him. But it does end the argument. Once last week when she said it Clark just said, "Ok," and that was that. I wonder when Clark's going to start saying it to her?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

world waldorf

As an addendum to the last Waldorf post I must add this photo of my daughter. It was taken the last week of school when someone brought a BABY FREAKING LAMB to school for the children to pet and eventually pose with for photos. I love how Waldorf this photo is - the colors, Frances's bonnet, the adorableness of that animal on her lap. Sheesh. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

reading the kid

This is a post I wrote in the beginning of June, right as school was ending. I don't know why it didn't get posted, as it was supposed to appear before the last one. Well, here it is.

June 9, 2012

The thing we worry most about with Frances is that she's pretty controlling. When she plays with Clark or has friends over she announces what the play is going to be and assigns the roles. She's pretty good at it, and the kids mostly go along with it - interestingly. The problem is that when other folks don't want to play the same thing, she gets manipulative. Her teacher talked with us about this at the mid-year conference and we tried to figure out what was going on underneath that made her feel the need to control, but it was beyond me. 

Then, yesterday, after her not being nice to Clark all week, I had a little breakthrough.

The end of school is an emotional time for everyone. Clark's last day was last Friday, and I cried when I gave the director her little sea salt chocolates present, as we've been there three years now (one for Frances and two for Clark) and we're moving on. Clark has been sad, telling me outright that he wants to stay at his current school rather than move to the Waldorf school where Frances has gone for the last two years. There's a post about that to come.

Yesterday was Frances' last day of school. She has been a little off all week, mostly being unkind to Clark. Also, Mitch is out of town at a conference, which was unfortunate timing. Yesterday morning when we hung up from a phone call with him, Frances clawed at Clark because he was the one who got to push the button to turn the tv off. I sat down beside her and said, "I'm thinking you might be feeling a little anxious because school is ending." She immediately teared up. I talked on for a while about how it's okay to be both excited about her school next year (which she is) and also sad to leave this one, and how it's confusing to have different feelings at the same time, etc, etc, and she just sat there listening to me, tears running down her face. Then I said something about how the reason we feel sad when something ends is because we love it and don't want to let it go, and she really started crying then. Poor girl. Afterwards she seemed much calmer and the trek to school was fine. 

I talked with her teacher that afternoon at the school picnic. Her teacher told me that for the past week or two Frances has been playing school during free play time, being the teacher and taking care of the students. She has been (of course) organizing the play, but it's been good, not at all manipulative. But then today during free play time, Frances wanted to be the baby, wanted to have the other girls take care of her. 

So it occurs to me that all this controlling is really her trying to control her own emotions. It's a transfer for some emotion she's trying to suppress. And it shouldn't surprise me - one of my biggest limitations is knowing what I'm feeling when I'm feeling it. She's an awful lot like me, and suppression could be her most logical approach. I hope I can find a way to help her with this. I forget to scan the playing field, forget that it's helpful if I have my eyes open for the trauma coming. I just forget. I'll forget again, but perhaps I can recognize it as it appears. And each time, I suppose, I'll get better at heading it off, at teaching her how to head it off for herself. Onward we go. 

Thursday, June 28, 2012

waldorf, quakers, and us

My head hurts. Funny - I thought this blog was done, but here I am in the middle of my stuff. It seems just posting after a month unlocked the door, and now I've got a couple of posts halfway done, a couple more in my brain. I thought I didn't have anything to say, and now I've got plenty. For the moment, anyway.

How do we make decisions for our children? How much latitude do we give them to make decisions? At what age? Research (and common sense) tell us the brain isn't fully developed for a loooooonnng time after they seem pretty functional (like age 21 or something) and the young brain's judgement simply isn't able to distinguish blue from yellow.

When my son was two I sent him to a lovely Jewish preschool nearby - the same place Frances had been for her three-year-old year. I love this place; it's very sweet and warm and caring and it has a lot of integrity. I love that my kids learned a Hebrew prayer for before meals. I love that they brought coins and dropped them into a tzadaka box to give to those who have less.

We are not Jewish. I am a Quaker, and by extension my children are Quakers. (Super Cliff Note Description: derived from Christianity but only loosely connected now, Quakers have no ministers, no songs or readings. We sit in silence for an hour, believe strongly in "that of god in everyone," in the power of silence, and are probably most well known for our political stance on nonviolence. Here's more.) Mitch agrees with all the basic Quaker philosophy but can't get on board with the quiet, and he uses Sunday mornings to work. (He's chasing tenure - sneaks in hours at the office whenever he can find them. Ugh ugh ugh.)

Mitch and I had no problem sending our kids to a preschool of a faith different than our own. We liked that it opened up the conversation with the kids about how different people believe different things, and Hebrew is a pretty cool language to learn.

The school wasn't a perfect fit, however - I posted about some of that here - and while Frances was there I started looking around. What I discovered was Waldorf education, about which I am known to rave endlessly but won't this minute. So Frances was only at the Jewish school one year. When she turned four she started at the Waldorf kindergarten.

** I guess I need to pause here for some Waldorf details, to catch you up in case you're unfamiliar. Really, this should point to another post where I wax on, but I don't have one already written, so what you get are random details to give you some sense of the landscape. In no particular order.

  1. At the Waldorf kindergarten the kids make bread every Tuesday: grind the grain, kneed, grease pans, churn butter, chop apples for apple sauce. And that's what they have for snack that day. 
  2. They spend a half an hour outside first thing, and then go out later for an hour and a half every day - rain, snow - and let me remind you that last year we had 120 inches of the latter. We parents just make sure the kids are in appropriate clothing.
  3. There are chickens in the back yard. 
  4. They don't play on playground equipment, but take walks to the woods, or to a nearby park that's hilly and good for sledding or rolling down hills. 
  5. The children aren't allowed to wear characters on their clothes or lunch boxes or whatever. A generic cartoon princess is fine, but a Disney one is not. 
  6. Frances is often returned to me covered in mud. 

I always assumed Clark would go to the Waldorf kindergarten, RiverNorth, as soon as he was old enough. But this year he wasn't, so he enjoyed himself very much at the Jewish preschool.

In addition to the kindergarten, this past year RiverNorth did an afternoon program once a week. The kindergarten ended at 12:30 and the afternoon program started at the same time and began with lunch the kids had brought from home. On those days Frances also stayed for lunch (There was no way she could have been a part of the afternoon program - that would have meant she would be there 8:30-4:30 and whoa that would have done her in.) When Clark and I came in to pick her up on those days he got to play some with the afternoon kids who were already done with their lunch. One day as we were getting ready to leave Clark asked if he could stay for the afternoon program. I knew a slot had opened up, and the question made me pause. He was now old enough for the program - had turned 4 a month earlier. I thought it might set him up well for school next year, get him used to the space, maybe a small feeling of ownership of it, and the transition in the fall would be smoother. It sounded like a good idea.


It was a good idea in theory. In practice it was a disaster. Afternoons in general are hard for him - he's just so tired. His allergies are terrible and I'm sure exhausting, plus he's in that stage where he really needs his nap, but if he has one he stays up til 10pm. After his first day he said he didn't like it. Among other things, he said he sat in the loft by himself and didn't play with anyone, which wasn't at all true; when I talked to the teacher she said he played the entire time, seemed completely engaged, was seeking out other kids, and they were seeking him out too. But clearly he felt lonely. I get that. He was walking into a social group that was already established, friendships already made. What was I thinking?

In any case, his three afternoons there left him with a bit of a bad taste in his mouth. And at the end of this school year Clark said outright that he didn't want to go to RiverNorth, that he doesn't like it there, that he wanted to stay at the Jewish preschool, that his (adorable, sweet) friends were important to him and that he likes it better there anyway.

For a couple of days I was all twisted around, thinking that maybe temperamentally the Jewish preschool is better for him, and wondering if the gain keeping his friendships outweighed my reasons for wanting him at RiverNorth. Besides, was I just trying to fit him into my view of what's important to me? Was I trying to make him someone he might not be? (And yet, let's not forget that he is FOUR. Who is to say who he will become?)

In my confusion I wondered if Waldorf early childhood education is geared a little more toward the strengths that are girls', that maybe he really wouldn't thrive in that atmosphere. I talked with the moms of the boys in Frances's school and I thought hard about the activities they do. Things like dying silk capes and finger knitting definitely lend themselves to Frances's temperament more than Clark's. But there's so much large muscle movement - big heavy wooden blocks that they use to build walls for their imaginative play, rocking boards, logs to heave and move, wheelbarrows and shovels and push brooms, and all the outdoor play, which around way up here in the snowbelt  means a lot of sledding and snowball throwing. He would love that. I have no question.

Then I tried to think about my role as a parent. What I came to is that what is important to me is not beside the point, but is perhaps exactly the point. My role is indeed to shape the glass through which my children view the world. To show them the world's Truth as best as I am able. The issue is not where he will be more comfortable, but what experiences do I want him to have, not just for enjoyment's sake or attachments's sake (though both have their place), but because each experience influences the person he is to become. Turns out it is my job to make those choices for him at this age.

Of course.

And THEN it dawned on me - all at once in a rather dramatic and comedic realization - that we're not Jewish. Oh right! In fact, we are Quaker, and the Waldorf approach jives completely with Quaker beliefs, with the core of what I believe to be True. Why would I not send him there? In addition, because Waldorf aligns itself so well with Quaker values, I can use Quaker language to talk to him about why I want him there. This is who we are as a family, as a people. It is my job to frame that for him. When he's grown, he's free to convert to Judiasm, but for now this will be the view out his window.


I haven't wavered a bit since that moment of clarity. And now that I've got it straightened out within myself, Clark seems to be settling into it as well. Although I know his adjustment this fall may be hard, and he may not like it at first, coping with change is a good skill for kids to learn. He will be fine.

The blessing Clark learned at the Jewish preschool is in Hebrew, and is beautiful. But the one that Frances says at RiverNorth is

Earth who gives to us this food
Sun who makes it ripe and good
Dearest Earth, and Dearest Sun
by you we live
our loving thanks to you we give.
Blessings on the meal

This is who we are. This is the world I will offer to him. 

Monday, June 11, 2012


This parenting gig is emotional business. I dropped both kids off this morning for their first day at camp - Frances went there last year but this is Clark's first experience - and I almost wept watching them go off with their group. They were so big; they were so little. My heart was so full it ached.

And why? Why is it all so emotional? I suppose because we know we can't hold it, can't hold onto it, these moments. Can't hold onto them and their babyness.

I've been feeling the baby pull again lately, but I think it's nothing more than the longing for all of this to stay. It's the desire to hang onto the time when they need and love me so desperately. It's amazingly satisfying to be needed by another creature so completely. But, if I think back with honesty, being needed so is also extremely taxing and sometimes resentment making. Which is why I'm trying to keep my head about this and know that another baby is not the answer to the question.

The answer to the question is for me to get off my ass and go get something of my own.

The kids are signed up for this camp this week and next, 9-1 each day. This is the first time EVER that I've had both kids in activities all morning for FIVE WHOLE DAYS IN A ROW. I almost don't know what to do with myself.

My joy over this limited freedom makes me know that the answer to the question is not another baby, but me me me. What do I want to do in this world? How do I want to spend my time, my energy? Do I want to write? Paint? Organize food drops for a homeless organization?

I read a quote recently that said something like: midlife is when the universe takes you by the shoulders and says, stop fucking around and use the gifts you've been given!!

It's less scary to turn back to what we know - which for me these days is certainly babies and little children. But that's not the best reason to do it. Especially when I struggle with post pardem depression, etc. No, I need to go forward, into the world, not retreat from it to care for an infant. It is time.