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!