30 December 2007

Like Glitter Falling in a Snow Globe...Except Noisier

It has been an utterly exhausting week. Of course, with Christmas, and visits to family, and visits from family, and all manner of joyful mayhem, it was bound to be exhausting. I feel 2007 limping to a close, and I'm thankful to get out with some semblance of my wits about me. One of my New Year's resolutions is to locate the rest of my wits and reinstall them: we'll see how that goes. In the meantime, here are some highlights from our past week.

We found an absolutely AWESOME professional easel for Vincenzo's Santa Claus gift, and we found it on Craigslist for about 75% less than what we would have paid for it at an art store. It's beautiful; looks like this. We couldn't have been more tickled with our find. And Samuel's godparents gave him a DVD of Hamlet, the Kenneth Brannagh version (you can read more about Samuel's continuing Shakespeare obsession in this previous post).

So, after the obligatory chaos of everyone opening presents and colorful wrapping paper flying everywhere and Dad warning people not to lose the small parts of their gifts (he hearkens back to a painful childhood memory), I went to the kitchen to make breakfast for the troops, leaving the kids to dive into a favorite gift for awhile.

A little while later, I had the occasion to ask Rick: "Now how often does this happen? Our nine year old is watching Hamlet and our seven year old is painting at his easel ON CHRISTMAS MORNING?????" No matter that Elizabeth was most likely screaming at someone, Tallulah probably needed a diaper change, and Lola was in all likelihood changing clothes and leaving a trail of detritus in her wake... the boys were awash in culture and all seemed right with the world.

Both of our families got the kids the most thoughtful and wonderful presents: my kids are certainly some of the luckiest and most blessed in the entire world. I hope they realize this as they get older...


We also made snow globes this week. I will be posting pictures of these once we work out the kinks of the process: this was our first time, and while they are delightful, we are having a few technical problems with them and will be re-doing them. Look for pictures sometime soon. But during the snow globe fiesta, we did have one particularly exciting moment.

Grandma Lola (and her fun little dog Tommy) were visiting, and she and I spent the better part of an afternoon buying supplies for the snow globes. (Note: when people tell you glycerine is easy to get at any drugstore, do not believe them: call ahead to make sure and save yourself some pain and suffering...) We arrived home to an anxious and hungry crowd, ready for some crafting. Grandma graciously offered to buy everyone some dinner from our favorite Mexican restaurant, and she and Rick went to go pick up the food. This left me home with the masses, preparing the snow globe activity.

Imagine the scene: figurines spilling all over the place...children laying claim to the "best" jars...mom trying valiantly to remove the gummy leftovers from a stubborn jar label...Christmas music playing...children finding themselves strangely attracted to the big jars of white and silver glitter that lay on the table...and all of this amidst a house that is just plain messy. Like FEMA-level messy. No room for anyone to work, let alone think, but I had promised snow globes, and time was a-wastin'. No one was interested in me cleaning up first.

I say all this by way of setting the scene for what happened next. It was pure mayhem, and I was trying just to forge ahead without letting the mayhem distract me. Until Vincenzo said: "Mom, look at Tallulah!" And there she was, doll that she is, sitting on her little bottom in the kitchen, feeding herself Tommy's dinner that had been left out on the floor. Displaying some pretty advanced small motor skills in the process, I might add.

I screamed, I swept her up, I gagged. The kids screamed, they laughed, they made disgusting noises. It was nuts...I tried sweeping her mouth of as much dog food as I could manage, but apparently she'd been at this for awhile, because there wasn't much left in her mouth, and not much in the bowl either. Totally and completely disgusting. After cleaning her up the best I could while holding her at arm's length because the stench of the dog food was making me heave, I brushed her teeth and gave her a big bottle of water. HOW GROSS IS THAT? Luckily, Grandma Lola buys very good dog food, so it was actually the kind with real food in it...but that's mighty small consolation when you find yourself picking this "real food" out of your 16-month old daughter's teeth. Eeeeeeew.

We did manage to get an appropriately appalled response from Rick and his mom when they returned and Vincenzo said: "Grandma, the good news is that Tommy's bowl is finally empty; the bad news is, he's not the one that did it!"


And on a more serious note, this week I have been pondering the "long haul" nature of parenting. I think because we have had so much going on this week, so many packed days, I have really been struck by the impossible nature of the task before us: Raise five kids while keeping the house together, the kitchen stocked, the laundry folded, the checkbook balanced, the neighbors happy, the clients happy, the marriage solid, and the soul grounded. I have had many chances this week to reflect on how much we – I – need to keep in mind that parenting is for the long haul, and that the lessons our children most need to know are ones they will not learn overnight. We won't have the satisfaction of seeing them in the moment realize the truth of what we tell them. Instead, we need to trust that our words and deeds will stay with them, will root in their minds and hearts, and that someday they will know we were telling them the truth.

I'm not talking about the kind of cynical seasoned parent who says: "Just wait until you're older, then you'll know what life is really like." I'm talking about the hard lessons we would love for them to know now, the lessons Samuel would like to know now so that he's ready for the future. And I need to remind myself about the crucial need for patience. I need to be patient with them to have the lessons we teach them slowly sink in over time and with lots of gentle repetition. I find myself getting frustrated that I'm yet again trying to coax this child out of hurt feelings or that one out of a screaming tantrum. And yes, there is a place for not letting them "get away" with manipulation. But what they need more than a hard ass is someone to gently, firmly, hold the line and hold it with love, patience, compassion and understanding.

This might not make sense without the particulars, but the particulars are, I think, private for each of my children. But maybe it does anyway, as I'm guessing we can all relate to the experience of wishing we had more patience; it seems as universal as wanting our children to have a coat on in cold weather.

I am not a person who makes New Year's resolutions. It has always seemed false to me to pin all of my hopes on a date on the calendar. Instead, I seem to prefer setting myself up for resolution disappointment multiple times, all year round. But since these reflections are coinciding with the New Year, it seems fitting to shape them into a resolution – a prayer – for 2008: In this New Year, I hope I find the strength and patience to teach my children well, with love and kindness, the things they need to know to be happy. And I hope I teach them not to eat dog food.

23 December 2007

Before, After, and In Between

Christmas is upon us. Practically sitting on my chest, in fact. And Christmas is heavy.

It's been a noisy week in Lake Alatorre. We've had the school Christmas Program, a Basketball Tournament (we're in the Final Game! Yeah! Mixed Blessing!), baking til 3AM, last day of school, school parties, a birthday party invitation to honor, shopping, gift wrapping, decorating . . .

I am continually amazed at the ebb and flow of chaos and order around here. One minute, the dining room looks like this:

And miraculously, after a little elbow grease, it looks like this:

Lovely, isn't it? Lasts for about 10 seconds before it spontaneously combusts into mayhem once more.

There is so very much to do at this time of year. We are notoriously bad at taking care of things ahead of time, so we are once again down to the wire on a few gifts, important ones, too. Each year, I vow to start earlier so that I can spend these last few days before Christmas enjoying family and friends rather than shopping, baking, and running around like a maniac. I was unable to keep that vow this year, but I am yet again vowing to do better in 2008.

And even though we are last minute once again, we actually don't do THAT much shopping, so it's not so terrible. I have spent very little time in stores this year, and have been quite happy about that. Stores at Christmas make me anxious. There is, quite simply, too much stuff to take in and most of it is pure junk. Well, I suppose that depends on where you shop. I went to Target tonight, not a place I frequent usually, and found precisely what I needed very quickly. I then spent the rest of the time marveling over how much junk there is in the world. I was looking for a gift for my 1 year old. Now, she doesn't actually need a gift...she won't really care if she gets fewer gifts than her siblings, and we already have a nice pair of PJs for her. But I thought I'd just look around and see if there was anything relatively affordable that I felt like she would really have fun with. What I found was tons of cross-promoted toys from the past six months worth of kids' movies, lots of Bratz doll stuff, lots of plastic and electronic "educational" toys. It didn't take me long to remember that Target is the wrong place to shop for creative, well-crafted gifts for children.

I always chuckle to myself when I walk into Target. The doors of the store have a sign posted that says: "Distraction Free Shopping." This is the distillation of Target's policy preventing anyone from standing in front of their stores and asking for donations or signatures or anything else. No Salvation Army bell-ringers at Target: too distracting to the customers. So yes, the experience of walking through the door is free of that particular kind of distraction. Never mind that walking through a Target store is an exercise in being distracted, by banners, ads, displays, music, lights, buzzing, bells, and all manner of "Come Hither" attractions. I think the sign should be changed to read: Distractions-Not-Intended-To-Make-You-Spend-Money In-This-Store Free Shopping.

Anyway, the good news is that while we may have left many things for the last minute, we have also spent more time with the kiddos. We have been making ornaments for the tree, wrapping presents together, singing lots of Carols (mostly in the car going from activity to activity), and generally getting excited about the approaching day of gifties. Lots of talk about the baby Jesus, including a question from Vincenzo: "Why doesn't anything rhyme with Jesus?" Apparently, he was trying to make up a little song, and couldn't finish a couplet that included a line ending in Jesus. So we all joined in and came up with this:

"Christmas is all about the Baby Jesus,
And eating great food like crackers and cheeses!"

And then Elizabeth came up with this version of her "Family Love Song," a favorite of hers:

"I love my Grandma Rose,
And I love Samuel's nose.
And I love Vincenzo's toes..."

We have, in short, been enjoying ourselves. We are spending the days preparing for Christmas and the birth of Christ. We are getting ready to give gifts and watch people smile. We are ready for Christmas, even if the to do list isn't anywhere near finished. And who needs a neatly crossed-off to do list when you've got a cute little angel in the house??

11 December 2007

Tell Me Everything I Need To Know

Yesterday at school, Samuel went to the "Santa Sale," the annual opportunity for kids to buy cheap stuff for their families for Christmas. He bought some things for his brother and sister, and then apparently gave some of his money to his classmates. One boy told Samuel that if Samuel gave him some money, he would stop being mean to him. Well, we had to explain to our darling son that this wasn't OK, and that he should not have given money to the other boy just so he would be his friend. And that the other boy -- and anyone else he gave money to -- should not have asked.

Rick explained that this is what's called "buying friends," and we had to have a conversation about how this isn't appropriate, etc., etc. Samuel is pretty sensitive about things, and he felt really terrible about this. Unfortunately, he felt like he had done something very wrong, despite our efforts to reassure him that it was not his fault, that this was something he just didn't know about beforehand.

I tried to make him feel better. I said, "Samuel, there are lots of thing in life that you just don't know yet, and there's no way for you to know until either we tell you about them, or you experience it on your own first. It's not your fault if you do something and you don't understand what it means or why it's not appropriate; mommy and daddy will try to explain things as you are growing up. Please don't worry about things you don't yet know or understand, sweetie!"

His slightly teary response: "Can you just tell me everything I need to know now, so I'll be ready in the future?"

If only life were that simple...

10 December 2007

Fun Monday Ornament

Today's Fun Monday is brought to us by kaytabug, and here is her assignment:

In the spirit of the season I would like to see your favorite Christmas tree ornament. Not to be confused with the WHOLE tree. I want you to zoom in and show me one or a few(you know I can't choose just one!) of your favorite ornaments. If you don't decorate a tree, show me your menorah or dreidel, Kinara, or Yule Log. I want to see your favorite decoration for this holiday season.

* * *

Once upon a time, there were two young people who were very much in love and had recently gotten engaged. They were carefree, full of hope and anticipation, giddy...clueless.

One of my favorite Christmas ornaments captures the clueless joy of my then-fiance and me perfectly, and I must thank my wonderful mother-in-law for making this ornament and giving it to us.

I love looking at this ornament and laughing at how much I didn't know then, and wishing for a little of that innocence today. Twelve years and five children later, we are no longer that clueless. We have been through miscarriages and labor. We have endured mind-numbing sleep deprivation. We've had our share of financial challenges. We've lost members of our extended family, one at far too young an age. We've changed many, many diapers. We've been to Back to School Night three times now. We've cleaned up after sick children (just tonight, in fact! Rick actually hosed off some bedding in the street tonight...it was just too much stuff for the washing machine.) We've looked at each other in quiet amazement that yes, in fact, all five of them can cry, whine, complain, and yell at the same time. We've looked at each other in quiet and not-so-quiet amazement that this child performed Shakespeare! This one drew a beautiful picture of Mary and Joseph on the road to Bethlehem! This one eats steak, and salmon, and raw garlic, and spicy salsa, and sweet and sour soup! We've raised these five kids each and every day of the last several years, and been through all of the highs and lows that we all get to experience as parents.

We are older and wiser now, not so giddy anymore. But now we get to be something better than giddy: now we get to be that kind of happy that is deep and tired, hard won and hard kept, sometimes shabby like the Velvetine Rabbit, always abiding deep in our hearts. And we are still achieving this kind of happiness. We've still got the teenage years ahead of us to really test our mettle.

Who knew that happiness was scrappy and messy? Not those two kids in the ornament picture. But when I look at that picture, I realize that this is the very lesson I am learning every day, and I smile because I miss those early days and because I wouldn't change places with that girl for all the gold in the world.

03 December 2007

Fun Monday: I'm A Novice, so Bear With Me!

I have noticed that everyone else linked back to our gracious host, and included her text of the assignment this week. A day (almost) late, I am doing the same now:

Today’s Fun Monday host is Robinella. Her assignment is this:

“In honor of exhaustion, color and self-love, I present you with this week’s assignment. I want you to dig through your blog files and show us your best effort. Why you consider it your best is up to you. C’mon, you know you have a favorite - show it to me one more time”.

Fun Monday: One of My Favorite Posts

Today I am participating in a fun blogging thing called Fun Monday. The idea is that one blogger hosts, and picks an assignment for others to do if they choose to participate. The assignment this week was to pick a favorite blog post and simply repost it. This is the first time I've done Fun Monday, and it's nice to start on something simple! So here, without further ado, a reprisal of one of my favorite posts, from my not-yet-well-established blogging habit.

Just Another Fun Filled Day

Monday morning: Get up at 5:45 to make it to the grocery store when it opens at 6, because there isn't enough "lunch box" type food in the house for the school day. Stop on the way out the door because the baby has woken up. OK, so feed the baby first, drop her on the bed with dad, and off to the store. Think vaguely about what to make for dinner...give up on that one. Expend brain cells trying to balance nutritious lunch items with items the children will actually eat. Give up on that one, too.

Get home, make coffee, go to the dryer to get the uniforms out for the kids. Discover that the uniforms are still waiting to be transferred from the washer to the dryer (we can talk about whose fault that was later). Hastily pile the uniforms in the dryer; look at the clock: 50 minutes until we leave for school, 45 minutes to dry if we're lucky. Back to the kitchen; make school lunches and realize that I actually bought enough food to feed 3 classrooms instead of three children. (Will come in handy for the rest of the week...)

Get children up. Feed them the frozen waffles I uncharacteristically, but thankfully, impulse purchased. At the last viable moment, hustle the kids into dry (or dry-ish) school uniforms; stifle any complaints about damp socks. Pile everyone out the door and let dad take them to school for once. Back in; change the 2 year old and 1 year old. Clean the kitchen. Speed clean the rest of the house (ie., set the time for 20 minutes and do as much as possible in that time and then CEASE ALL CLEANING.) Call the doctor to make an appointment for the 1 year old (likely ear infection) and the 8 year old (should we have taken him to the hospital for stitches for the gash on his head when a metal basketball hoop fell on him last night? or was the butterfly bandaid enough??). OK, appointment scheduled for much earlier than hoped for...shower REALLY FAST while baby cries in her crib and the two year olds "plays" with her. Pack diaper bag, shoes for the 2 year old (who won't put shoes on unless she's in her car seat), remember the bill that has to be mailed, don't forget wallet, cell phone, sense of humor. Pick up 8 year old from school and go to the doctor. Yes, the baby has an ear infection (as if the incessant screaming and ear pulling wasn't enough confirmation); and yes, we should have taken the 8 year old for stitches. Great. No mother-of-the-year award for today, I guess. Make mental note to add money to the childrens' therapy fund.

Take the 8 year old back to school; off to Costco because we really can't exist without the following depeleted items in our home: coffee, parmesan cheese, a Y2K supply of cinnamon. Run through Costco with the 2 and 1 year olds. Off to the pharmacy to fill the antibiotic prescription for my adorable little screaming mimi. Get there right after the pharmacist has left for lunch. Decide that pharmacists should not be allowed to eat.

Home in time to pay a couple of bills on line, make a couple of phone calls for the family business, put away the perishables from Costco.

Back in the car to see if the pharmacist has decided to stop eating long enough to fill my prescription. Answer the phone while in the drug store, only to learn that the 5 year old Kindergartner has a fever of 102º, and can I please come and get her? Pick up the prescription, head to the school. It's close enough to the end of the school day, so bring everyone home at once to start the kids on their afterschool routine:

1. Put away your lunchbox; change your clothes and hang up your school uniforms; put your backpack on the vent in the hallway.
3. Homework Time
4. Playtime
5. Dinner
6. Chore
7. 15 minutes of clean-up
8. Shower or bathe for either boys or girls (depending on day of the week)
9. Quiet activity time

While making dinner, keep stepping over the 2 year old, who has fallen asleep smack dab in the middle of the kitchen because she missed her nap today. Somewhere beteen dinner and bedtime, perform nurse duties as follows:

• Give the 8 year old head wound some ibuprofen;
• Give the 102º fever some tylenol;
• Give the 1 year old antibiotic for her ear infection and tylenol for the pain (because a muzzle isn't appropriate for such a small child).
• Give the 2 year old ibuprofen for the multiple bruises on her leg, sustained when she catapulted backwards off the couch and landed on the wooden castle.

Clean up the dinner dishes while the kids do their 15 minutes of clean up. Divide bedtime reading duties with husband. Set firm boundaries: 2 stories tonight, then teeth brushing and bed! Four stories later, enforce the teeth brushing bit. Coerce, cajole, and physically force children large and small to GO TO BED.

Pop open one nice cold Lagunitas Ale and fall on the couch.

At 9:15, before surrendering completely to exhaustion, congratulate the 2 year old who has emerged from her room, wandered into the living room, pointed proudly to her nose and announced: "Look! No boogers!"

30 November 2007

Snack Time

Yesterday, while I was cooking dinner, Lola wandered into the kitchen and asked for a snack. Before I could say no, wait for dinner to be ready, she specified the snack she wanted: a clove of garlic.

So, being the nice mommy that I am, I peeled a whole clove of garlic and handed it over. She proceeded to munch away happily.

Dad's response? "Keep doing that when you're in high school, sweetie!"

Of course, she almost knocked me over a few hours later when she put her adorable little face in mine for a kiss...whew!

29 November 2007

London Calling

Consider for a moment the very first task I must complete on a daily basis: GET FIVE CHILDREN OUT THE DOOR AND TO SCHOOL/DAYCARE ON TIME. It's a big job. Getting all five of them "processed" (fed, clothed, shoe-ed, equipped with lunch and ready to go), is enough to send me back under the covers pleading for the impossible: extra sleep, more time, and a magic wand. Some days, everything just clicks. I've learned that I don't have much control over when those days happen. It's like the Morning Gods just randomly decide that everything will go smoothly, no one will spill anything, shoes will appear exactly when I need them, no one will have a last minute library book to look for. Then there are the days when nothing goes smoothly.

Yesterday began shaping up to be one of those days. In particular, getting the boys up was monumentally difficult. Sometimes, it takes me 20 minutes just to get them to lift their heads off of their pillows. They can devote another 15 minutes to complaining about how cold it is. Another 10 to weeping about missing shoes. Another 5 to questioning WHY I have to be so mean to them when they are tired. It's messy.

But back to yesterday. Yesterday, I found a magic wand, or I should say, it found me, in the most unlikely of places. Samuel has discovered The Clash. This discovery is thanks to Daddy, who I'm sure did his share of the 1970's version of moshing to Clash music. On Tuesday evening as Sam and Dad were driving to basketball practice, father introduced son to the song London Calling, and Sam has been WAY into it. So yesterday morning, after an excruciatingly difficult process of getting the boys up and dressed, all of the sudden I could hear London Calling blaring from the stereo in the living room. I was about to put a stop to this nonsense, when I noticed that everyone was moving a bit faster and had a bit more bounce in their step with the music on. So instead of making him turn it off, I had him turn it up.

The baby sat in her high chair smiling, swaying and clapping; Lola started spinning around in circles, Elizabeth did her version of dancing, which is about as funny as any 3 year old "rocking out," Vincenzo started doing some kind of air guitar, complete with a bank bend all the way to the floor, and Samuel sang into a pretend microphone with surprising ferocity. And in the midst of all of this, they actually started doing exactly what I asked them to do. Elizabeth rocked herself in my direction and let me change her, as long as she could pump her legs at the same time. Vincenzo got his stuff together, doing some kind of marching/stomping thing around the house to do so. London Calling did the trick: it motivated everyone to get their butts in gear and get ready. Thanks to The Clash, I didn't have to resort to my usual 15 reminders to get their lunchboxes, coats, backpacks, etc. Everything clicked. Or rather, everything rocked.

And once in the car, we rocked out to more Clash tunes. Spanish Bombs was a particular favorite; Brand New Cadillac ranked high. We all arrived at school invigorated.

No more Raffi for this mom! I have found my magic wand, and it rocks.

27 November 2007

Family Photos

While we were away for the Thanksgiving holiday, we took the kids to a school near Grandma Lola's house to play. It was great. Without the distractions of home, and work, and chores, and the next activity to get to, the only thing to do was play. Grandma kept Tallulah home, and the rest of us spent a few hours swinging, running, digging in the sand, spinning (and getting dizzy), playing soccer, and just generally enjoying the sunshine. Here, mostly for the benefit of our extended family, are some pictures of the kids:

Through My Daughter's Eyes

Lola's teacher told me yesterday that the class was talking about Mary, and how hard it must have been for her to make the journey to Bethlehem being 9 months pregnant and ready to drop. She (the teacher) described how it must have been very painful and difficult to ride the donkey while basically in labor. Lola piped up with something like: "My mom could ride that donkey; nothing hurts her, and she never got hurt with babies in her tummy!"

While I would like to think that this is evidence that she thinks I am superwoman, I'm sure she has heard me tell people how easy my pregnancies were for me. This has translated into "pain free" for her. Should I tell her now, or let her have a rude awakening sometime in the distant future? I believe this goes in the category of Things No One Ever Told Me And It's A Good Thing They Didn't Or I Never Would Have Done This.

This reminds me of the time, a few years ago, when in the space of one week, Lola's perceptions of me were a little more disconcerting. While looking at a photo album from our wedding, Lola pointed to the BRIDE and said: "Who's that, Mommy?" Not three days later, she saw a magazine lying around our house with one of those cartoony images of a 50's housewife on the cover (I'm looking for one to link to this post, for the full effect, but no luck yet), and said: "Look Mom! It's YOU!"

One needs to have a very strong self-image to be a parent; the little monsters seem predisposed to attempts to rip one's self-esteem to shreds. But then, along comes a day when she describes me basically as a "stronger-than-Mary" super woman. How those little brains work will forever be a mystery to me.

20 November 2007

I'm Not Buying It

It's the Holiday season. One way I know this is that people are already wishing me "Happy Holidays!" Well, not people so much as companies. While I haven't started hearing this from individual folks, I have heard it from Honda of San Francisco, Lucky's Supermarket, and Rubio's.

I'm not buying it. I am not purchasing a Honda this year or patronizing Lucky's for the majority of my Holiday food shopping, nor am I believing that these companies are truly wishing me well. I think they just want my money.

And speaking of the Holidays: I know the secular trend over the past several years has been to refrain from saying Merry Christmas, to use the more generic Happy Holidays instead. Do the politically correct-os out there realize that they are actually saying "Happy Holy Days?" So while Happy Holidays may in fact be broad enough to include all of the religiously based celebrations at this time of year, it still conveys that these days are, in fact, holy.

Maybe these observations are too cynical. I am cynical about the Holidays precisely because they are so important to me. The coming days of Advent and Christmas are truly Holy for me and for my family, and yet, each year, I struggle mightily with the prevailing consumer culture that assaults us at every turn and transforms such a Holy time into a virtual pressure cooker for imperfect families. In other words, for all families.

So about this time each year, I start trying to think of ways that I can wage my own personal battle against the forces of popular culture that would otherwise ruin Christmas for me. I am not always successful in this effort. I take it as a sign of hope that I keep trying! Here's hoping that my family's Christmas this year can be peaceful and joyful, and that we can do this in spite of the way Christmas is happening all around us.

17 November 2007

I Want My Children To Be Happy

Oh, how I wish this were as sweet a sentiment as it sounds.

In actuality, it couldn't be more selfish. I want my children to be happy purely so I won't have to listen to fighting, yelling, and whining.

Last night, beginning in the car on the way home from the 3rd grade basketball game, and continuing throughout the bedtime ritual, my children fought or yelled about the post-game snacks, who was sitting where in the car, how unfair it is that the 2nd grader can't be on the team, how unfair it is that next year is "1000 days away," how unfair it is that mom was hugging the howling 2nd grader and not "me," and a few other things my brain has no more room to contain. The experience left me weak and listless on the couch.

On the bright side, the cacophony did not start until the van door was safely shut, thereby creating the illusion that my children are really peaceful, loving people. That's at least something to be thankful for in this month of Thanksgiving.

And the heap on the couch? Recovered after a wee drink and a good night of sleep. OK, a night of sleep. Bring on the day!

14 November 2007

Stealth Parenting

If there was one thing I could change about what kind of mother I am, it would be how I feed my children. At least that's what it would be this week. I am one of those mothers who -- gasp! -- tends to cook one meal for the grown-ups and one for the kids. I am not proud of this. I am convinced that all those mothers who are able to get their kids to eat whatever they have prepared are miracle-workers, and am secretly afraid that the fact that my children do not eat the taco casserole or the baked fish or the lemon chicken pasta means that I am a bad mother.

Plus, this is one of those things that has an aura of shame around it, so much so that a "dig" at that kind of mother made it into the movie Dan in Real Life, which Rick and I got to see last weekend. (A great movie: go see it!) The main character is a guy who writes a parenting column, and at a family dinner, someone derisively referred to a woman as a short order cook for her family. I cringed inwardly. I can't actually bark out to the family: "What am I? A short order cook?!?!?! No way, buster, you're eatin' what I'm makin'!" because I am, in fact, often a short order cook, in a family bigger than the mid-morning crowd at many a greasy spoon. It's pathetic.

But I can't quite break the habit. Honestly, I just don't have the energy for that particular fight. I can't quite muster up the courage to lay down the law and demand that they eat the casserole. But oh how I wish I could have the satisfaction of making a meal that everyone in my family would eat. Notice, I did not say enjoy, just eat.

ALL of my kids were great eaters as babies, until about age 2. They ate avacados, and broccoli, and chicken (lots of chicken); they ate fruit, meat, hummus, veggies of all kinds. It was great, and I thought I was looking forward to a lifetime of enthusiastic eaters. So what the hell happened? How did I go from that, to a bunch of kids who subsist on carbohydrates, apples, and cheese?

Well, somewhere along the way, after too many fights with stubborn three year olds, after their taste buds seemed to inexplicably change right about the time I was having another child and my energies were directed towards breastfeeding and surviving, I ended up buying Y2K supplies of pasta and Parmesan cheese and giving up on having adventurous, well-rounded, or even obedient eaters.

OK, it's not as bleak as all that. I must say that we've been good (and lucky) when it comes to green vegetables. They may not always like them, but most of the time they actually do, and they will always eat salad. They happily eat raw spinach, which is our salad of choice, green beans, broccoli, edamame. They will not as happily eat asparagus, zucchini, and chard. It's main dishes that I have trouble getting them to eat. (Except for Lola, who eats EVERYTHING. Or at least will try everything, and while she may not want to eat something one day, will devour it on another day; she is a dream eater for a parent. She is so fun to take to a restaurant. One of the great joys of my life is to watch her suck down sweet and sour soup at our favorite Chinese food place...)

But the boys, and Elizabeth? Fuggedaboudit. They won't eat anything "mixed." That means no sauces on pasta, no casseroles, no burritos, no oatmeal with yummy things mixed in, no rice and [fill in the blank], no nuthin' if it's more than one ingredient. They like plain everything.

It's maddening. It's annoying. It's embarrassing. And it's got to stop!

So tonight, I engaged in a little stealth parenting, or stealth cooking. Dinner tonight was homemade pizza, which is very popular around here, and a meal that I can justify making differently for different eaters. Since I have to make three pizzas anyway, it's no big deal to make a couple of different kinds. But the problem with pizza is that the boys don't like red sauce, or anything else on the pizza: just crust and cheese. Aside from being incredibly boring, the cheese-only pizza is woefully lacking in nutrition and in heft. So a few weeks ago, I finally tried to hide a little extra something in the pizza and it worked like a charm (other hiding attempts of mine have never worked). I did it again tonight. Underneath a layer of shredded cheese, I loaded on a nice layer of shredded yellow squash. It was perfect. The pizza was delicious, as was the whole experience of tricking them into eating a pizza that packed a bit more punch than usual. Add some asparagus and green beans, and score one for mom! I got the satisfaction of watching them eat a meal with enough nutrition to ensure that they will grow up strong enough to move out one day.

This is, of course, a minor victory, and does not solve the bigger problem. I'm workin' on it. I've been better about insisting that they at least try whatever it is I've made. They've been better about eating new things.

Even still, I'm a long way from hanging up the short-order cook apron. I'll get there one day and will hopefully still have enough brain-cells left to enjoy it.

08 November 2007

Shakespeare Days

My 9 year old son is obsessed with Shakespeare.

Now, I know that's not something you hear everyday. It's not something I would have expected. It's a wonderful thing that we are having a spot of trouble managing.

Before I paint the full picture, let me also say that Samuel is obsessed with having his own cell phone, playing video games, playing sports, Captain Underpants, and various other very typical 9-year old boy stuff.

But this past summer, we enrolled him in a 2-week Shakespeare theatre camp, and life has not been the same since.

For about three days a few months ago, every chance he got, he would pull out the full text of King Lear, put the audio-version on our CD player, and follow along with the words. Not having 3 hours in a row to devote to this activity, he asked me to bring it along in the car, so he could listen and follow along as we drove around doing errands. When we got home, he would immediately put the CD in the home stereo and disappear behind the book. It took a few days, but he listened to the entire thing.

King Lear is the play he did over the summer, with the California Shakespeare Theatre. Three very enthusiastic cheers to this amazing company, both for their productions at their Orinda ampitheatre and for their excellent kids' camps. The camp experience captivated Samuel. For two weeks of full days, he attended text classes, drama classes, rehearsals,...and soaked it all up completely. Since then, he has read through the full text a couple of times, watched a video version with us, and now, he is getting ready for his very own directorial debut, and is organizing his 3rd grade class to perform King Lear...in my living room.

This is where the difficulty managing his obsession comes in. Before we really knew what was going on, Samuel had put together a cast, designed a script book, "hired" a co-director (who, despite signing a contract, has unfortunately already quit, so he's looking again...), and started making a list of props he will need. Here are just some of the challenges:

  • He wants to do this play at home. We have a tiny house.

  • There is one particular scene that involves a significant amount of blood and violence -- Gloucester gets his eyes gouged out -- and Samuel is intensely mulling over how to pull this off. He was thrilled to find two chocolate eyeballs in the bag of Halloween candy. Now we just have to tackle the problem of how to make it all realistic without terrifying the director.

  • He wants to do the ENTIRE play, not just excerpts or scenes like he did over the summer. "But I've never done the whole play before!" goes his lament. Never mind that his classmates don't know Shakespeare from Dr. Suess...or that he doesn't have an entire team of knowledgeable people ready to help him with this large scale project.

  • He wants to have rehearsals twice a week.

  • He wants the performance to be in about a month.

  • He comes at us with a list a mile long of all of the ways in which this production is shaping up in his mind, and we must navigate our way through encouraging him in this truly great idea while reigning in what is not possible. Last night, he got so upset that we were suggesting that he do excerpts rather than the whole play that he threw up his hands and announced "I QUIT!"

    He did calm down after that. And he and his dad spent some time looking at the website of the Folger Library in Washington DC, which has some great resources for kids. Among other things, he found a character identification quiz. He took this quiz, and Rick and I just sort of sat there amazed and incredulous; he knew lots of the answers.

    So our challenge is to nurture this exploding interest. Not so easy when he is exploding with a kajillion and one mostly impossible ideas. So our guess our challenge is really to figure out which impossible ideas we need to find a way to make possible for him.

    How nice that all of this is happening right as the Holidays are launching...I was looking for something else to do these days.

    But of course, it's delightful, inspiring, and amazing to watch unfold.

    05 November 2007

    And the Rap Sheet Gets Longer...

    Her criminal behavior continues. However, I now think that rather than reading about her in the crime blotter, I'll hear about her in those "Not-The-Brightest-Bulb-Criminal" stories that go around. Today, my lovely Elizabeth was sitting next to me...right next to me, in fact...when at a certain point, she covered her whole self with her blankey and proceeded to unwrap a package of whoppers.

    (Some of you may rightly be asking, "Why hasn't this woman hidden or gotten rid of all of the candy yet?" I keep asking myself this same question. But then, I inevitably answer something along the lines of: "Because I like the chocolate, too, dammit, and because yes it's a 5 minute job but if you could see my list of 5 minute jobs you would understand that I could spend the next 10 years trying to cross off everything on that particular list and moving the candy just doesn't rank! Having enough socks for 14 feet ranks! Finding my hairbrush ranks! Moving piles of laundry ranks!)


    Anyway, yes, there was Elizabeth, underneath a blanket, apparently thinking that if I could not see her, then I could not hear her either. Taking just a little bit of delight in catching her, I oh-so-slowly lifted the blanket and unveiled a very cute and very guilty looking little mug. She gave me her absolute, 100% best kilowatt smile ever. I completely cracked up -- which both made her laugh and led her to believe she could keep the candy. Sorry, little lady, not true.

    This reminds me of the story I've heard from my family, of my brother getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar and flashing a smile to daddy with a "Hi Daddy, can I have a cookie?" He got the laugh, but not the cookie.

    I got a good hearty laugh from Elizabeth's foiled stealth, but broke her little heart when I took the whoppers away from her. She's so darn cute.

    But then, later in the evening, not only did I catch her trying to climb up to the candy bag, I also had to intervene when she bit her brother and when she tried to pull her sister down off of the bunk bed ladder. Force of nature, indeed.

    I have been thinking about her for the past few days, because we joke about her frequently, about how stubborn she is, how mean she can be to her siblings, how recalcitrant she is these days (like the past year and a half...). But on a serious note, I'd like us to stop talking like that if she might be able to hear; I want her to hear how smart, strong, sweet, kind, generous, and beautiful she is. I want her to become more of what she really is, instead of becoming what she hears us laughing about. She's such a bright spot, so uniquely her own little extroverted person...she is, in a word, delightful. A delightful little law-breaker. Here's a photo of her in her younger, less tainted years. Isn't she lovely? Well, she was, is, and will continue to be, I'm sure!

    And please, no comments on the mullet; suffice to say that I am banned from cutting her hair myself ever again...

    03 November 2007

    You are SO Busted

    Our good friend Eric once remarked about Elizabeth that she was destined either to go to prison or become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company (also allowing for the possibility that she could be a CEO who goes to prison).

    Based on her behavior over the past few days, we seem to be leaning definitively in the direction of incarceration.

    The night after Halloween, during the bustle that is our home each evening, Elizabeth was strangely silent. She crawled under the dining room table with a couple of toys to keep her busy, and remained there for a surprisingly long time. As Rick and I hurtled through the house processing people for bedtime and generally doing what we do, I glanced every now and then over her way. Her back was to me, and I thought, "How cute...she's really enjoying some little make believe game!"

    A little while later, here she was, out from her hiding place...and smelling like candy! One look under the table: THOSE WEREN'T TOYS SHE WAS PLAYING WITH! There, discarded on the floor, were an empty peanut M-n-M wrapper, an empty Whoppers wrapper, and an empty Twizzlers wrapper. (At least she didn't take any of my Snickers!) What followed was an attempt to get her to admit to stealing and eating candy when she was not supposed to. She kept smiling and shaking her head. I was still debating how to encourage her to fess up, when Samuel says to her: "Elizabeth, how did you get them open?" She smiled at him, lifted her hands, and proudly made little tearing gestures. Like, "See? Easy!" Thanks to Sam, she was busted. Timeout, and forfeit of the next parent-sanctioned candy time.

    Fast forward to the next morning. Once again, Elizabeth had disappeared. And the way Samuel tells it, he was sitting at the table eating breakfast when he heard the tell tale sound of wrappers crinkling. Further investigation revealed Elizabeth, crouching behind the couch, stuffing her face with chocolate. BUSTED AGAIN!

    She's headed for a life of crime, and Samuel is practicing to be the law enforcement officer who brings her down.

    This is a version of what I imagine I will see someday in the paper:

    01 November 2007

    Halloween Madness

    My goodness, who knew that Halloween could be so exhausting? I've been through a few of these holidays over the past five years, but apparently, I wasn't prepared. I don't mean the costumes -- those I had taken care of, or enough that I didn't have much to do the day before Halloween. Let's see, Tuesday had me making a fancy gold "R" bling necklace for my Brazilian soccer star, gluing Cinderella medallions on a pair of cloppy shoes, cutting the feet out of a 9-months monkey costume, so it would fit my 13-month-old, making a pirate flag...and a few other things I can't remember.

    But that's not what did me in. What did me in was the Halloween parties at school, the over-the-top excitement in anticipation of trick-or-treating, the scheduling -- who is taking whom where and when do they need to be picked up -- the trick-or-treating, and finally, attempting to combat the sugar high of four hyped-up, strung-out candy junkies. Oh, and then being there to pick up the pieces when the high ended and the four little junkies crashed in various piles around the house. One little junkie just stood in the bathroom openly weeping because he was too tired to brush his sugar-crusted teeth.

    My well-trained children have been handing over all of the Snickers bars to their mother, proof that I must be doing something right!

    And here they are:

    We start with Ronaldinho, perhaps the greatest soccer player in the world. He's a Brazilian futbol celebrity, not, as this picture might suggest, a 10 year old named Tiffany from Connecticut:

    Next, we have Jack Sparrow, albeit not the one from the Disney store (or whatever company makes it). Cenzo told everyone he was dressing up as Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Carribean. He got suspicious when his best buddy at school came to the parade in the "official" Jack Sparrow get-up. He mulled that over for a few minutes, until his buddy handed over some extra beard for Cenzo to tape to his face. It's amazing what a little facial hair will do for a young boy. Or maybe any male, actually.

    Next, we have Cinderella. This girl is a stud. Not only does she look fabulous, she wore shoes that rubbed the skin off of two of her toes, and yet, she refused to take them off. After all, they did have Cinderella medallions on them: she was not about to abandon them. She only stopped trick-or-treating because her bucket got too heavy, not because her toes were bleeding or anything.

    And finally, little ladybug. Most of the day, she carried her costume with her, so stroller-treating was a step in the right direction.

    No photo of the monkey. We had a diaper malfunction which rendered the costume definitely un-photograph-able. I came this close to cutting the damn thing off of the child, rather than wrangle with what she did to it. Gross.

    At the end of the evening, I was so tired I felt like I'd been hit by a mack truck. Next year, I'm trick-or-treating with a flask. Why should the kids have all the fun?

    Quilting Pride!

    My aunt (and Godmother!) Carol is an amazing quilter. Actually, she's amazing at a number of sewing crafts -- she's made many wonderful gifts for my family, from dolls, to quilts, to stuffed animals, to afghans...she's very talented. And now, that talent has her competing for a $100,000 prize for a truly beautiful and intricate quilt that she first made as a gift for my uncle (her brother) and his wife.

    The national contest she entered is called The $100,000 Quilting Challenge, and the goal is to showcase the best quilts in order to inspire and educate others about quilting and to promote quilting as a unique art. Carol once explained to me the dizzying process of qualifying, and passing through various stages of judging, and believe me, it's quite a process. I don't even understand it all, but I do understand that Carol's quilt has landed her in the running to be the Grand Prize Winner! WAY TO GO CAROL!

    And here's where we all come in: WE CAN VOTE FOR HER QUILT! I plan to vote at least once. (Just kidding, they only let you vote once...) So I am encouraging everyone I know to go online and vote for her as well. (Well, technically, I guess you can go and look at all of the quilts and vote for the one you like the best, but since hers is (a) the most beautiful and (b) the most impressive and (c) HERS, then I'm sure you'll vote for it.) To check out all of the quilts and cast a vote, click here. Her quilt is called Neutrals.

    This is very exciting for our whole family -- and I am thrilled for Carol, and for the attention she is getting for her talent. Carol, I only hope that I can learn this craft from you someday, just as you did from my grandmother. Not quite sure when I might be able to do that...I'm busy stitching together skinned knees, sibling spats, and meals from nothing at the moment, but when all of that is finished, I'm comin' over.

    Congratulations Carol; it couldn't have happened to a nicer person!

    26 October 2007

    How To Be a Cool Third Grader

    1. Get a cell phone.
    2. Get to school on time.
    3. Get MacDonald's.

    Apparently, life is about "getting."

    Samuel brought this list to me this morning, right after I told the kids that I thought we were probably going to be late for school. I had decided that being late was preferable to stressing out the kids by rushing and yelling. I was just going to take it easy and not ruin everyone's morning by attempting to blast through breakfast, getting dressed, packing backpacks, etc. But I had not considered the cool factor, so it's good he brought me his list.

    I thought the on time part was odd...because we are never late for school. Maybe he was building a list with at least one thing that would qualify him as cool, because he sure as hell knows by now that numbers 1 and 3 are pipe dreams.

    At the risk of sounding like every generation of parents that can't believe the things kids are into "these days," I would like to know why cell phones and MacDonald's = coolness. Oh, wait, that's right: I think it's this thing called advertising, that industry in service to the greatest form of government economy in the world! Well, ad execs of America, you can rest easy tonight, knowing that you are doing your job; your strategy is working. Your ads are making my children ask me for things, things they do not need, things I do not want them to have, things that are not good for them, lots and lots of THINGS.

    But hey, that's what living in a free society is all about, right? The freedom of a corporation to make parents' lives difficult in order to increase its own profits. The freedom of children to be convinced that they need Happy Meals. The freedom of a mommy to take the Happy Meal and run over it repeatedly, crappy toy and all. Just a fantasy of mine.

    I go a little crazy sometimes, contemplating all of the messages my kids are getting from the "great big world out there" that run so contrary to the way I want them to grow up. I'm swimming against the current in so many ways, and dragging the kids with me, mostly against their will (he really wants a cell phone). If I could get back the minutes lost to conversations with my children that end with "Because I Said So!" I would probably have enough time on my hands to figure out an exit strategy for Iraq. But I can't devote my time to that, because I'm too busy explaining to my boys why they can't see Spiderman 53, why they can't eat MacDonald's, why they can't wear their jeans with the waistline around their bums, why they can't chew gum (yes, I'm one of those moms), and why things that look so good on TV are really evil. Sometimes, it feels like this country just doesn't care about children. If we, as a country, truly cared about kids, then the choices that surround them would be mostly things that are good for them.

    Maybe Sam's Cool List would look a bit different. Betcha cell phones would still be featured prominently, though.

    The good news is, he's still 1/3 cool; we made it to school on time.

    25 October 2007

    Haiku for My Children

    Crying in the night,
    Heart sinking at losing sleep.
    Catching up with you.


    You: force of nature,
    Caught in rare quiet moment.
    What is it you see?


    Evening windows up.
    Kids playing, shouting, running.
    Neighbors hurry by!


    Soccer game muddy.
    Gives me dirty laundry, and
    Boys that smell like earth.


    Escape to shower
    Revel in water, steam, warmth.
    Can still hear mayhem.


    23 October 2007

    Requiem for Elmo

    Parents everywhere, prepare yourselves and your little ones. I am sad to report a tragedy, one that will cast a pallor over many a small heart.

    I entered my daughters' room this morning only to discover that beloved Elmo had passed. Lola had, carefully, thoughtfully, tenderly, laid him out in repose, almost as if she intended for family members to come and pay their respects.

    Still to be determined is whether or not beloved Elmo's passing is the result of natural consequences or foul play. Perhaps he fell in Dorothy's bowl when no one was around. There is a rumor that Mr. Noodle has a dark side, and an investigation will need to take place to rule out any crime.

    One only wishes that muppets could actually close their eyes; perhaps the scene I confronted would have seemed less gruesome if they could.

    Please join me in a moment of silence for dear Elmo.




    I am having trouble "moving the body," so to speak. I would like to clean up a bit in there, and put the toys back where they belong, but it seems...disrespectful to just pick him up by a leg and toss him in the toy box.

    I'll probably get over it, but for now, I'm somber.

    22 October 2007

    Questions, Questions

    This whole blogging thing is harder than I thought it would be! I haven't had any time in the past few days to post anything. We've had a busy, but relatively unexciting weekend of soccer games and general playing; Rick worked a long day on Sunday. Before I knew it, that time I was carving out to write got eaten up by feeding, cleaning, playing, and various other activities.

    But this whole idea about kids playing on their own, or discovering the outdoors, well, it's just been in the news these days, hasn't it? Yesterday's Chronicle had another article about kids being unused to -- even uncomfortable in -- the great outdoors. Another good read. Rick and I wish we could pick up and move somewhere rural and quiet and conducive to hours of outdoor play. Maybe we will someday...


    And here's a small list of the questions I got yesterday from my oldest, after he and his brother spent time with some friends, two boys about their ages. These are kids we really like, and we really like their mom, but MAN! One afternoon yields all of this?????

    What is humping?
    What does f*** mean?
    Why does Joey call his dad's girlfriend's daughter his sister?
    Did you know that Joey's mom smokes?
    Do you want to hear the bad words I listened to in some music today? (What mother would say no to that?)
    Joey said his parents didn't get along; what does that mean? Why don't they live together?

    All the more remarkable because we really do like this family. They are certainly living in a vastly different world than my kids are. While I don't want them exposed to so much all at once, I'm savvy enough to know that we can't pick and choose when our children will have tough questions. I would prefer fewer questions all in one day...but I don't get to make that decision either, I suppose. My informal poll of a few friends tells me that 3rd grade is a pretty normal time for all of the questions about sex. I guess I'll be going back to my friends who have already had that talk and saying "Now, how did you do that, again?" (You know who you are...)

    On to another day...

    19 October 2007

    Overprotected Kids?

    I just read this article on SFGate.com (website of the San Francisco Chronicle), and it goes well with my musings on when to let the kids play outside.

    Our next door neighbor gave Samuel a copy of the book the article refers to, The Dangerous Book for Boys. Now we have to make the time and space for the kids to actually do some of the things in the book.

    Next challenge: Fearless parenting.

    18 October 2007

    Freakin' Mom

    I sent my kids to their after-school care program the other day, which we don't do that often so they aren't that used to it. When I walked in, Samuel came running over shouting "FINALLY!" over and over and over. It was a little touching and a little overwhelming.

    Later that evening, he said to me: "Mom, when we were waiting for you to pick us up, I was wondering why you were taking so long, and I meant to say 'where's my crazy mom' but instead, and I don't know how this happened, it just came out, but I said 'where's my freakin' mom." He was bothered by this, because he knew he had said something approaching a swear word. (Is this a swear word? I think so...but I'm not really sure...)

    Now, I could spend time and brain cells trying to trace back where he picked up this jewel -- I would admit to it if I thought he got it from me, and I don't really think this is one of his dad's preferred curses -- but I was sufficiently impressed that (a) he had some awareness that it probably wasn't such a great thing to say and (b) he told me about it very openly. So I just laughed a little, asked if anyone else had heard him (would I be hearing about this from a program staff person? Apparently not, he had just said this to himself, out of earshot of anyone else...whew!), and moved on.

    It was cute. I didn't know that swearing could be cute. But there you go, yet another example of how much parenting teaches me! Here's my lil' truck driver:

    17 October 2007

    Craving Independence

    As the kids get older, they, especially Samuel, are craving little opportunities to exert their independence. Sam wants, for example, his own cell phone and an ipod. Yeah right. Don't hold your breath, kid. He asked me how old I was when I got my first cell phone: I had to break the unfathomable news to him that I was around 28, and that there were no cell phones when I was a kid. (As if from a script, Vincenzo used the opportunity to ask if "they" had electricity when I was little.) So these are the no-brainers: sorry Sam, you have to wait until you are older.

    But there are other things that Rick and I are struggling with whether or not to let them do. A boy from down the street knocked the other day and asked if the boys "could come out and play." Sounds like the quintessential childhood question. But I didn't let them go. We know the boy a little bit, not well, but well enough to know he's a sweet kid, very friendly and polite. But we don't know his family; I wasn't even sure which house he lives in. So there's that. The boys across the street often play in front of their house, riding bicycles or playing catch in the street. We live on a corner lot, and the drivers around here can be completely NUTS. It's pretty scary. We've lived here for almost 10 years, and we've seen more than our share of bad accidents on or near our corner, usually due to speeding idiots. (The kind of idiots that make my husband remark, as the too-loud engine fades into the distance, "I wish they'd get in an accident -- not bad enough to really hurt them, but enough to scare the **** out of them." I get it.)

    The boys are also asking for permission to walk around the block by themselves. Scary. So basically, the question is, should we -- can we -- let them play outside with other kids from the neighborhood, or walk short distances from our house on their own?

    Here are the issues: First, they are pretty clueless. They don't exhibit great signs of awareness when they are walking near cars or having to negotiate people. We have real doubts about whether they are "up" on safety issues, so we need to address that. Second, there are random dogs in our neighborhood. Scary dogs. Without owners. Not often, but not unheard of either. Third, we don't live in the greatest neighborhood; in fact, our city in general has been experiencing a heightened level of violence these past few months. Most of the incidents have not been near us, but a few have. And the local park, a mere two blocks away, is known as teetering between being kid-friendly and being drug-pusher-friendly. I'm not sure which way it has been leaning lately.

    Add it all up, and you come to the same conclusion we have always come to: Like hell they can go around the block or play with the boys across the street or do ANYTHING that does not involve our watching them every minute.

    But then, we come up against the reality that they need to learn how to be in the world without us around. They need to be able to play without being watched all the time -- it's what we all did when we were growing up, and it's how we learned to figure things out for ourselves. These kids look to us for so much -- too much, sometimes -- because their lives take place always in our eyesight and earshot.

    I don't want this for them. I want them to be able to walk around the block, play with the neighborhood kids, get to know the families up and down the block. Just today, Samuel had a bummer day at school (subject for another day), and he was pretty out of sorts on the way home. He asked me if I could think of something to make him feel better. After saying no to his suggestion that he get to watch Tom and Jerry, ( do they ever learn to ask for things that have better than a snowball's chance in hell of happening?) I almost told him that today could be the day he gets to walk down to the other end of the block by himself. Knowing, however, that Rick would prefer to be consulted on this decision (I made the mistake of letting Samuel have 30 minutes of computer time without consulting my husband; note to self: do not make child-related decisions unilaterally.), I decided to wait. So I talked to Rick about it when he got home. But, as it turned out, Sam got interested in some other things and it never came up. The possibility did, however, give us the chance to talk about the struggle that is this decision.

    When do we let him do these things that we wish he could do, but that scare the hell out of us? Shortly after we talked about it, we heard some fool screech down the street, so loud it made us start, and we were reminded why we have such reservations.

    And yet, even with all of the reservations, we find ourselves on the brink of giving him -- them -- permission to do these small, independent things that pretty much give us heart palpitations if we think too much. Yet another example of what I know to be true: Parenting is not for the feint of heart. No sissies allowed. Waffling discouraged. Because guess what? Tomorrow morning, chances are very good that one of those little people will ask me for permission to do something that my entire being wants to absolutely NOT let him do but that my heart and soul know he should someday -- and soon -- be allowed to do.

    15 October 2007

    Blog Action Day: Slow Food!

    Today I am participating in Blog Action Day. As some of you may know, today is the day that Blogger has set aside for bloggers to write about THE ENVIRONMENT, as it pertains to their life and blogs. So here's my contribution.

    I have become more and more interested in the Slow Food Movement. This is the movement devoted to getting people more aware of and involved in the way food appears on their table, and how their personal choices about food consumption impact the community and the world. Slow Food means local food: buying your food from local growers and farmers.

    At our house, one way we have switched to "local food" is by purchasing an organic veggie box from River Dog Farm. I absolutely love this box of veggies. My kids get excited about going to pick up the box (it's dropped off at a central site for local subscribers to pick up from), and often, the fresh bell peppers do not even make it back to our house. We get green beans, potatoes, onions, garlic, eggplant, greens, squash, melons,...many wonderful organically grown products. I like the fact that our dollars are supporting a farm that is only an hour and a half away and is family owned, that supports its workers and uses environmentally sound farming practices. I love that each box comes with a little newsletter featuring great recipes for using the contents of the box. This is especially helpful to me: I wouldn't have known what the heck to do with the turnips the box contained earlier this summer, but thanks to the newsletter, I enjoyed some incredibly yummy turnip-potato latkes. Dee-licious! This is money very well spent, and reduces the amount of money we spend at large grocery stores that ship food from all over the country and the world. So today, I am encouraging everyone to do two things.

    First, check out the Slow Food Movement, USA website, to learn more about how you can get involved. There are many things to learn about slowing down our food, from shopping to preparing to eating, and this website is a great resource for getting started.

    Second, learn more about Community Supported Agriculture: that's the phrase used to describe farms that sell veggie boxes directly to consumer-subscribers. Here in the SF Bay Area, River Dog Farm is just one of many farms that provide this service. Google CSA's in your area to find one local to you. Look at the River Dog Farm website by clicking here.

    That's it! That's my plug for the environment: give your money to CSA programs instead of to large, conglomerate food producers that use ecologically-damaging (or at best, questionable) practices, waste fuel resources on transportation, waste paper resources on packaging, and line the pockets of mega-food production companies at the expense of small farmers and their families.

    Go forth and eat organic veggies!

    14 October 2007

    NPR Envy

    Every mother has a secret life.

    The one she would rather be living on the days when the kids are fighting too much, when there are too many dirty dishes, piles of laundry, diapers to change, problems to solve. In other words, every day. This secret life is the one that looks fabulous, meaningful, and thrilling. Here is mine:

    I want to be Linda Wertheimer. Or Michele Norris. Or Nina Totenberg. I want to be a correspondent for National Public Radio. Of course, this fantasy comes partly from an intense desire to do something OTHER than the many tasks I have to do each day. Here are the things that I am sure are not on the job description of an NPR correspondent:

    1. Field the following questions: Why is she looking at me? Where is my yo-yo? Can I have ice cream for lunch? Why does he get to do all the fun stuff? Why don’t you let me do anything fun?

    2. Spend the majority of your day cooking three meals for ungrateful and frightfully picky eaters; follow up each meal by cleaning up after said ungrateful eaters

    3. Troubleshoot all mechanical and emotional breakdowns

    4. Willingly allow your body to be used as a jungle gym; do not stop; do it again. And again. And again. (Once, when I was really tired of swinging my daughter around, I told her to stop saying "again." She complied. She switched to: “Once more! Once more! Once more!”)

    Here are the things I am certain ARE on the job description of an NPR correspondent:

    1. Spend leisurely hours learning about really interesting people and topics

    2. Convey your unique brand of confidence, expertise, and humility in fascinating stories you’ve whipped up while listening to classical music and sipping on lattes

    3. Travel to exciting places without having to strap anyone into a car seat


    I listen to NPR all the time. So much so that I can soothe a crying infant by humming the theme song from All Things Considered. You know the theory that babies actually hear in utero? I think it’s true: my babies all seemed mesmerized by the sound of Noah Adams’ voice. I spend a good deal of time with small children, so often, NPR is my only adult interaction, even it’s just between my ears and my radio. In the evening, when I am finally around another adult, my husband hears many a sentence that begins: “I heard on NPR today…”

    I’ve gotten pretty good at tuning out the kids so that I can hear just a little bit more of Terry Gross (uh-huh, uh-huh), or Brooke Gladstone, or Steve Inskeep. The children, on the other hand, have begun to groan and say, “not the news!” when I turn the radio on. NPR is my lifeline to the world, my source for news, my place to learn new things. I have grown to trust and admire many of the correspondents; hence, my secret fantasy to actually BE one of them.

    But lately, a little bit of jealousy has been creeping in. They’re all so damn wonderful and insightful and fascinating. It’s easy to be all of those things when your brain cells have not been decimated by too much Dr. Suess and too many potty jokes. So really, I can’t decide whether to hate them or dream of being them.

    We’ll see. I’m not sure I have time to attend journalism school anyway, what with all the playdates and soccer practices I currently have lined up. But then again, I can’t even get someone from Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me to return my emails and let me be on their show, so maybe I’m just not NPR material.

    12 October 2007

    You're Going to Do What?

    These are the words that would go with this face, if she knew what I am contemplating:

    I am about to wean her from breastfeeding. Half by choice, and half by circumstance, and 100% a big deal for both of us.

    It's just happening naturally, between her sleeping through the night, mornings getting crazier, needing to put her down before the older kids go to bed, having her at daycare three days a week...the opportunities for regular feeding times have dwindled. Yesterday, I did not breastfeed her at all; that was a first. It just happened that way.

    I am mourning a little bit about this; I will miss her little warm body curled around my middle, her little fists beating my chest to make the milk flow faster, her sweaty head growing heavy with sleep crooked in my arm. I'll miss the sound of her little gulps. I'll miss the feeling of the milk flowing out of me and into her. I will, in short, miss having a baby. It seems that once they stop breastfeeding, they start growing up with alarming speed. She'll walk one of these days, and she won't stop walking until she's walked right out of the house, never to return. She'll talk soon, and someday will use her words to curse me high and low.

    From the day she was conceived, she has been growing away from me. Choosing to stop breastfeeding is like saying: "OK world, she's yours!"

    Well, perhaps that's a bit dramatic. Suffice to say it's a moment for pause and a moment for reflection.

    reflect reflect reflect

    The bright side? NO MORE NURSING BRAS!

    10 October 2007

    Homework Hell

    I am a reasonable, intelligent, dare I say compassionate person. I have the ability to tackle new projects, organize events, and guide small children through a long day. I know how to bandage a scrapped knee, make toast, resolve an argument, write an email and get dinner started ALL AT THE SAME TIME. I am, in short, capable of many things.

    Then why, oh why, is it utterly impossible for me to be patient with my son when he is doing his homework???? As I write this, he is doing math at the table next to me. And I am trying desperately not to scream and jump out of my skin as I watch him day dream, pause, get distracted, take off his shoes, put them back on, adjust his paper, sharpen his pencil, take a drink of water, and generally STALL. I WANT TO SCREAM. We have been doing homework for 1 hour and 15 minutes so far, and he still has 10 math problems to do. He's gotten through two other assignments and half of this one in that time. The poor kid HATES doing homework, and I do not blame him. He's at school for 6.5 hours a day (today, thankfully, he had a half day, so at least we aren't right up against dinner/bedtime for once) and he needs to play. There are kids in his class who can do all of the homework in about 30 minutes. Unfortunately, he is not one of them. He is a bright little guy for whom homework is utter, complete, total torture. And we get to experience that torture each and every night.

    A friend of mine, who runs her own school, has made this book, The Case Against Homework required reading for her teachers, and I am definitely going to check it out. The premise is basically that homework is actually doing more harm than good. Here's a quote from the website:

    The truth, according to Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish, is that there is almost no evidence that homework helps elementary school students achieve academic success and little more that it helps older students. Yet the nightly burden is taking a serious toll on America's families. It robs children of the sleep, play, and exercise time they need for proper physical, emotional, and neurological development.

    I got one thing to say to that: Right on!

    Hopefully, reading this book will give me some good insight into the entire issue and help me help my son deal with it. If I weren't so busy trying to help him get his homework done, maybe I could go to the bookstore and pick it up.

    So, all you parents of school-age children out there: HOW DO YOU HANDLE HOMEWORK? WHAT INCENTIVES, THREATS, STRATEGIES, BRIBES, OR THEORIES DO YOU EMPLOY so as to not have homework ruin your life and the lives of everyone else in the family? My blood pressure rises, my head feels as if it's going to explode, my nerves shred to bits... and here I sit, sucked into the vortex that is Sam's homework and minutes turn into hours, and I still need to make dinner, put sheets on two beds, get one kid ready for soccer practice, get one screaming baby up from her nap, and drink one large glass of wine. I feel helpless, completely in the grip of this mean, pushy, screaming mimi mother who cannot muster up enough patience and compassion to help my son get through math homework. ARGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.





    OK, 110 minutes later and we are finished for tonight. And I was actually somewhat successful at faking being patient, if not actually being patient. Can't wait to go through it all again tomorrow, when we get to throw soccer practice into the mix as well!

    And this is what happens when you devote this much time to one child and let the others explore the house on their own:

    I'm exhausted. Now, on to the list of tasks that has grown over the last hour and a half. I think I'll start with the wine.

    05 October 2007

    Here Kitty Kitty

    When I was a kid, so the story goes, I would pretend to be a cat, and my mom would put bowls of milk on the floor for me. I would only come to "Kitty." At least, this is what my babysitter, who wrote a paper about me for her high school child development class, claims. I do not remember this. I think it's very neat that my mom played along with the bowls of milk and all. And mom, you'll be happy to hear that the practice is alive and well at my house, only I have both a cat (Lola) and a dog (Elizabeth).

    Reminder to self, and to anyone else who would like to learn from my mis-steps: When attempting to settle your squirmy children down for bed, best not to give in to the temptation to be silly, as I did this evening. What possessed me? I do not know. For some unfathomable reason, when I was getting the boys to brush their teeth, I decided to do so in a French accent: "Take your teeeeth into zee bathroom, and brush them." Which then, getting sillier, became, "Get your butt into zee bathroom and brush your teeeeeth." Lots of giggles. Then I overdid it: "Which is not the same thing as getting your teeeeth into zee bathroom and brushing your butt!" Why did I say this? Well, probably because it's fun to make them laugh. What price did I pay? Oh, only about 20 extra minutes of extreme hilarity, hyperactivity, REPETITION of the inane thing I had just said, and a kajillion requests to "say that again, Mom!" In other words, a steep one, at the end of a long day when all I want to do is have a beer, make a sweet pepper and feta cheese omelet for Rick and me to eat, and enjoy some non-kid quiet time.

    Oh well. They loved it. Bonding with my children through potty talk: I hardly recognize myself!

    03 October 2007

    Childhood, Brought To You By...

    I worry about the impact of commercialism and consumerism on my kids. Actually, I worry about it a lot, and I don’t think I worry about it enough. The older ones especially are very aware of and intrigued by brand names, logos, companies that seem “cool.” Lots of people will say this is just normal. But it’s SO prevalent these days, and SO insidious, that I suspect that we don’t even know what damage is being done.

    Since pretty early on, we have talked to the kids about commercials. While they don’t watch any regular programs on TV, we do watch sports. Soccer especially, lots of baseball, basketball…and the commercials for sports are fairly intense. My then 6 and 4 year olds had a conversation in the car one day about what make of car is the best, and I know they were basing their opinions on the ads they have seen. So we tried explaining to them that a company will make its car (or whatever) look absolutely great in a commercial, because the people who own the company want you to buy what they are selling and help them make money. And while they can’t lie, they won’t tell you everything about a particular item in 30 seconds, nor would they want to. “You have to make up your mind for yourself, instead of just believing what the commercial tells you.” “Commercials are designed to make you want to spend your money on what they are selling, not on providing something to you that you truly need or want.” “Everything looks good in a commercial; real life is very different.” This sunk in enough that Sam, when he was around 5, remarked with considerable disgust after seeing a bottled water commercial, “Why are they trying to sell us water? They know we’re going to drink it anyway. They’re wasting their time!” The foundation for the media-savvy consumer is laid. We can talk about industry competition when he's a little older.

    But my children are subjected to far more ad-pressure than I was when I was growing up, and it’s absolutely everywhere. The local grocery store recently put TV screens at every check out line, where the captive audience has no choice but to absorb the messages from the screen, 90% of which are ads, and 10% of which masquerade as “community service” messages. The sides of buses, the cereal box on the breakfast table, the flyers that come in the mail, the magazines they get, the stadium where they like to watch the Giants play baseball, the inserts that come with any toy they get, it’s EVERYWHERE! Of course, this makes the job of parenting that much harder. They want everything they see, and who could blame them when it all looks so wonderful, and the people using all these fantastic products look so happy, so much happier than we seem to be on a day-in day-out basis. This is tip of the problem I think: that the kids are constantly being shown false picture of what happiness is and how to achieve it.

    Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a debate going on about whether or not the Golden Gate Bridge should accept corporate sponsorship, which would mean displaying some kind of corporate sign at the bridge site. Many people are extremely opposed to the idea; they believe that it would detract from the beauty of the bridge, and they don't like the mix of commercialism and landmark. I completely agree. But I wonder why we only get appalled at the big things, like the bridge, but we don't mind the thousands upon thousands of other ways in which commercialism seeps into our lives and exerts an influence on us. And I wonder how long we can sustain a society in which our national treasures can only be supported by corporate involvement. When beauty and art and human achievement can only be celebrated if someone is making money off of it, I think it's time to worry. Are we there yet?

    I am convinced that linking consumerism with nearly every experience that our children have is detrimental to their development. They cannot imagine a world in which movies are not cross-promoted with toys and fast food. For them, banner ads and corporate logos are 100% normal and "baseline." Samuel wanted me to add a corporate symbol to a shirt I made for him -- because that's what they all have, right? So on some level, a thing is not legitimate, not complete, unless it's got a corporate logo, unless it's an advertisement for something else, unless it's encouraging us to spend our money and increase the bottom line for someone or some company. How do we help our children enjoy an unsponsored life? While the unexamined life may not be worth living, I believe that the unsponsored life is absolutely worth fighting for; I just have to figure out how to raise non-consumers in a pro-consumer culture. I'm not talking about taking them out of the culture. I'm talking about raising them to put consumption in it's proper place, with the right perspective and the true understanding of what exactly is going on.

    It's a tough one. Yet again, I feel like I'm battling the larger culture, which would like to raise my children quite the opposite of how Rick and I are tying to raise them. David and Goliath indeed...

    28 September 2007

    For Lack of a Better Idea

    I've been trying to think of what to write about all morning, and I'm coming up with nothing. Probably because I'm not having such a great day...kind of blah and blue and uninspired. So I decided just to tell a few stories. These are a random bunch, with no particular connection except that I hope I remember them FOREVER.

    Story #1:

    Back in the day when we were a family of four (or maybe five, I do sort of lose track), we were experiencing some pretty gnarly sleep deprivation. Which, if you have experienced it -- parents, medical professionals, POW's -- you know how disorienting it can be. We were also being subjected to Raffi music in high doses, which, now that I think about it, could also be used as a strategy for wearing down POW's. Our boys LOVED Raffi, and we did too, at first. But there are only so many times a parent can get excited about "The more we get together, together, together..." Conversely, there is no end to how many times a small child can hear the same music. Thankfully, some kind soul gave us a new CD as a gift, thereby introducing us to Dan Zanes, and his collections of children's music, and he has since become a true favorite in our house. Rick and I were marveling about just how much better it was to listen to kids music that adults can also enjoy, and my dear husband said (you'll have to use your imagination here):

    "I like it a lot better than that f***ing R-A-F-F-I."

    I stared at him in disbelief, which prompted him to look at me like I was being completely unreasonable. "What? I spelled it!" He had spelled the name Raffi, protecting little ears from its horrors, while failing to spell what is, for many people, the most offensive swear word in the English language. He was tired. He was spent. He was a dad who knew vaguely that one should spell things when one is going to curse; he just got a little mixed up about what exactly he should spell. I pointed out to him, through clenched teeth, "YOU SPELLED RAFFI!" That was a pretty long time ago, and I still laugh like a hyena when I tell the story. Classic.

    Story #2:

    One weary evening several years ago, I was bathing my two sons. When it was time to get out, one of them complied and went into their room to get dressed. The other would not budge. This had been a trend of late, and I was just plain tired of the battle. So while I kept trying to encourage him to come on out and get wrapped up in a towel, while he ignored me and played with the bath toys, my brain was working hard to try to come up with a way to convince him that it was HIS idea to get out of the tub (a strategy I use ALL the time). I let the water drain out. Still no movement. I started to yell a little bit. Caught myself. Was just about to give up, when I said, one last time: "Please get out of the tub, now." Son's reply: "OK, but can I bring my penis?"

    Well, that was the best deal I could have hoped for, so of course, I agreed to it immediately. Out he jumped, into the towel, and I was on my way to other things!

    Shamelessly, I did in fact use this during subsequent bathtimes. "Come on, honey, it's time to get out, but hey -- why don't you bring your penis?"

    You'll notice I did not name said child. Some of you have heard this story, so you know who it was; but since a blog is rather public, I have decided to protect the, uh, innocent, and just let you speculate.

    Story #3

    Just this morning! Vincenzo has a set of frogs that show the various stages of frog, from egg, to tadpole, to adult frog. He also takes religion class at school, goes to Mass with us on Sundays and with his classmates during school, and has learned about the Stations of the Cross. So it all got jumbled up in his head, and today he announced that he was bringing his "Stations of the Frog" to school to show his teachers. Who knew frogs could be so holy?