31 July 2008

I'm Raising Brainiacs

Since Shakespeare Camp started on Monday, Sam has been regaling me with all of the details, from the silly theatre games, to the real stage he'll get to act on (last year he was in a gym), to the snacks in the snack dispenser. And he's asked me a bunch of times: "Do you want to sit in the balcony when you watch the performance? It's really cool, and I think you should, and will you? Huh? Will you will you will you? I don't know how you get up there, but maybe you could ask when you drop me off, and don't you want to sit there? Why aren't you excited about sitting there? Don't you think it will be cool? Did you ask the Camp Staff yet? You're going to sit there, aren't you? How are you going to get up there? It's so cool!"

Ack...he couldn't reduce me to a more complete state of incapacity if he jumped up and down on me and whacked me repeatedly with The Complete Works of Shakespeare.

So today, after a long tiring day, Rick and I are lying somewhat comatose on our bed, and Sam is downstairs playing soccer...in our living room...thanks Dad for teaching him that oh-so-enjoyable way to drive mommy to the looney-bin...and all of the sudden he screams out:

"MOM! I FIGURED OUT HOW TO GET TO THE BALCONY!"

Me: "Oh?"

"YEAH! THERE'S THIS DOOR WITH A SIGN ON IT THAT SAYS 'BALCONY'..."

So I guess I'll be sitting on that balcony next Friday afternoon...nothing gets past that kid.

30 July 2008

Summer Goofballs and Water Babies

They are growing so fast, I hardly recognize them.




We've had a lot of dance parties this summer. Not as much swimming as I thought we would do, but we did get to go to the pool today. Tallulah loved it:


Oh how I wish summer could last forever...and I'm not the only one in this house who feels that way. I saw school supplies on sale today and stifled the urge to scream and run the other direction. The horror, oh the horror!

28 July 2008

The Little Negotiator...and Further Reflections

"Mom. You need to give me ten bucks, because I buckled my car seat myself today."

OK, dear, you are 3; here's the deal. I will not be paying you anything for buckling yourself in your seat.

"OK Mom. How about 5 bucks? You need to give me 5 bucks."

No dear, I do not. Hard lesson, isn't it?

***

What a day. This one rivals this one, although it doesn't quite rise to that level. However, it did include, among other things, one lost and very needed camp binder with much searching high and low and so far no success, one bird flying through the house and getting stuck in our dining room, one trip to Costco with four children, two bank jobs (errands at two separate banks), and 45 minutes on hold with one of our lovely creditors trying to fix an error on our account.

It also featured an absolute highlight of the summer: Today we went to Jazz Art, a twice a year event sponsored by the Berkeley Civic Arts Commission. Picture one cool jazz cafe, a professional jazz trio, and art supplies. For free. With kids and adults, and all kinds of people just drawing to their hearts content while a fantastic trio played jazz loud enough to make conversation not possible (hallelujah!). I dropped Vincenzo and Lola off here, went to pick up Samuel at his first day of Shakespeare camp, and then brought him back and enjoyed another 45 minutes of drawing and jazz.

It also featured, as mentioned above, the first day of Shakespeare Camp for Samuel. I have documented his love affair with Shakespeare here and here. We are so happy that other people get to manage this obsession for the next two weeks, for his sake, of course. (wink) Sometimes, I am just not up to the task of planning full scale productions of King Lear, complete with calvary, staged in my back yard. Go figure.

A full, full day. As I was driving down San Pablo Avenue, captive to the noise in my car (I often feel like the Grinch when he complains of "the noise, oh the noise, oh the noise NOISE NOISE NOISE!") the thought crossed my mind that this must be what people are thinking about when they look horrified at the number of children I have. The sheer volume, the sum total of all the voices and laughing and shrieking and yelling and fighting and singing -- it can be downright oppressive.

But in the midst of having far too much to do, far too little sleep, and far too many needs to respond to, I do get glimpses of who I am and who I want to be. For a long time now, I have felt nothing but overwhelm, nothing but struggle. For a long time, I've felt like I'm trudging through the thickest mud, and making very little, if any, progress. I have been trying SO hard to keep my eyes on the prize, so to speak. I'm not even sure what the hell the prize is, but I'm trying to keep myself focused on what I can do in waking hours and how I can approach the tasks at hand. It's a balancing act, to be sure. It's not just a matter of balancing competing responsibilities; what's harder, and more important, is balancing my thoughts and emotions about all of those responsibilities and how I am faring at meeting them.

I want to work hard, play hard, enjoy life, and let the small stuff go. I want a house that is comfortable, not necessarily spotless, I want clean socks in their sock basket, I want happy children. I want the bills paid, the refridgerator full, and happy children. I want to talk to friends, enjoy cooking sometimes, and happy children. I want to be reasonable, playful, sensitive, happy, and maybe not so tired. And I want to achieve all of this without feeling like a failure when things don't work out the way I planned, without ripping myself to shreds when I screw up, and without regard to small losses. I guess I want quite a bit.

But mostly, I want to approach my days like I somehow was able to today, with energy and enthusiasm for the things that were enjoyable and with patience and detachment for the things that sucked. (A word I do not let my children use, but one that is oh-so-apt right there at the end of that sentence.) That spirit, that approach to life is elusive. Where did it come from, and where has it been these past several weeks and months? Will it be back tomorrow? What can I do to bring it home permanently, to have it unpack its bags, take up residence, and settle down for a good long time?

The hardest part of parenting is the consistency. And that goes way beyond whether or not I always put a miscreant child in the appropriate length time out for a misdeed. It has to do with that balancing act of keeping myself alert and ready, being gentle with myself and family, facing daunting and mundane tasks with matter-of-fact attention, and doing what needs to be done.

Today, my kids were happy. For the most part anyway. Today, I enjoyed being a mother who has way too much to do. Tonight, I am still a puddle on the couch, ready for a nice cold beer.

I wonder what tomorrow will be like.

26 July 2008

Seeking Inspiration

I am facing a long day in which I must get many loads of laundry done, find a place for many precious pieces of art that came home from art camp yesterday, pick up many items and find their homes, feed many picky eaters, and keep many people from spending the day whacking each other.

I feel like I am preparing for battle. Steeling my reserves. Shoring up my defenses. And getting ready for disappointment.

The basic conundrum: How do I get through the day and at the end of it, feel good about what I was able to get done and how I managed to mother my children all at the same time?

I will attempt to practice heroic levels of detachment, keep my chin up, keep my feet moving (except when I need to sit and have a glass of water), and let the little stuff drift away from me.

Life requires more optimism than is reasonable, don't you think?

I Just Can't Help Myself

I must post this picture of my daughter.

Thank you to Nicole for this picture, and reminding me that childhood beauty can simply take one's breath away. Too often I get caught up in the rush and tumble that is our daily life and I do not pay attention to the boundless beauty, joy, love, and goodness with which I am surrounded. Faced with this picture (and the others Nicole took of my kids at a local park on a wonderful summer day), I can't help but be stopped in my tracks and forced to notice.

She is, as has been documented here, a force to be reckoned with. Today at the grocery store, I braced myself for the usual fight. She has had trouble relinquishing the front seat in the cart to her baby sister. Said sister is almost two, but Elizabeth still has trouble with this. She always "calls" the front seat, only to be disappointed that it cannot be as she would wish. This little song and dance usually leads to tears and yelling. From both of us.

I had both of them at the store today, and as we were getting out of the car, she said: "Who's going to sit in the front seat?" I told her that her sister would be sitting there and braced myself. At moments like this, I always have this mental image of me, standing with my feet planted firmly, holding an umbrella up and against an impending storm, waiting for the impact to hit. And fully expecting said umbrella to turn inside out and blow away.

Her response: "And I'm going to sit in the back. Because I don't want to complain and I want to have a great time in the store!"

No need for the strong wind, you could have knocked me over with a feather duster.

I LOVE THAT KID!

18 July 2008

Beatles: 1, NPR: 0

I made one of the best decisions of the summer this morning. I turned off NPR and turned on the Beatles. Blasted it really loud on my way to work, sang like a fool, and percussed on my steering wheel.

Self-professed NPR junkie that I am, I realized that all thinking and no singing makes Mommy a very dull mommy indeed.

Need an infusion of energy? Looking for a new perspective on the daily grind?

Take a break from filling your mind with important social, political and cultural content and get your groove on!


13 July 2008

The Talk

"The Talk" is looming at our house. We even have a cool book called What's the Big Secret that we are consulting. Well, it's on our dresser anyway, although I have yet to look at it. (Thanks for loaning it, Erika!)

But the talk is on its way. There are many signs that tell us that the time is right: questions about things he hears at school (and there have been some doozies), movie scenes with kissing (ugh!), questions about babies...

Indiana Jones has become really popular with the boys, and Rick and I have enjoyed revisiting these old favorites. (How come I never noticed how cheesy they were? Especially the third one!) Anyway, Sam and I were watching the 1st one the other night. Remember the scene where Marian (IJ's love interest) and Bellach (bad guy archeologist) are in a tent where the Germans are holding her hostage and Bellach wants to put the moves on her? He hands her this fancy white dress (because archeologists digging for the Ark of the Covenant in the middle of Egypt always carry one with them) and says: "I would very much like to see you in it." She takes it and goes over to the other side of the tent to put it on. Bellach spies on her with a mirror and watches her change, catching a lovely glimpse of her bare back in the process.

Sam says: "Why is he doing that, mom? Is he making sure she doesn't escape?"

Me: "Yup!"

OK, so we really need to have the talk. Rick? Hello? Hello? You're up! He must be somewhere reading that cool book...

11 July 2008

I'm It!

Running down a gravel path today, two beautiful girls spilling ahead of me. The older one, out in front, joyfully shouts: "I'm the leader!"

Not to be outdone, the younger, equally joyfully, shouts: "And I'm the rotten egg!"

You must admire such exuberance.

09 July 2008

Why Do I Wait

Why do I wait to do things?

Why did I take two months to finally empty that tote bag that went on the outing so long ago, that as it turned out, contained my favorite brush, the same brush I have been suffering without lo these eight long weeks?

Why did I take six months to throw that diaper bag/backpack in the wash? I finally washed it the other day, and now that it's bright and clean, I remember how much I love it. E and T can go to daycare in high fashion now.

Why did I put off taking care of that traffic ticket, only to go to court on the last possible day (today), without someone to watch the girls, so that I and 60 or so other hapless individuals, plus the judge, the court reporter, the bailiff, and the Spanish interpreter had to endure 2.5 hours of Tallulah? The child actually bit me -- HARD -- at one point. She, the wordless wonder, spoke a near complete sentence, motivated by the sheer unpleasantness of having to be in the courtroom for way too long: "Mama, GO!" Said while lunging from my arms towards the door at the back of the room. I've never made a room full of people happier to see me go. Or at least, I sure hope not. She screamed, she wailed, she lashed. She stomped, rolled, kicked, and generally did her impression of Carrie for much of the time we were there. It was one of those bone-crushingly weary moments of mommyhood.

Why do I wait until 5:15 to think about what we are having for dinner?

Why do I wait until morning to make sure everyone has clean socks and skivvies?

One word: Tallulah. I have decided to place the blame for my procrastination squarely and firmly on her tiny shoulders. Based on the strength of her temper tantrums today, I think she can take it.

A basic tenet of my happy marriage is this: Place blame, early, often, and on someone else. In this case, she'll do.

I have not always been such a procrastinator, so in casting about for some reasonable explanation for my behavior, I've arrived at this: the fifth child, the lovely Tallulah, is my tipping point, my appointed place for abandoning the organized person I once was and surrendering -- hopefully temporarily -- to living with this waiting disorder.

Hopefully temporarily, I emphasize. I have big dreams that I will one day return to the prepared and organized woman of my previous life and embrace her fully. For now, I can only lament: Why has it taken me so long to share this picture with the world?

07 July 2008

Contradictions

When I first started this blog, I wrote about wanting to blog as a way to make sense of the contradictions inherent in raising a family: the love and the anger, the joy and the despair, the exasperation and the exhilaration.

Contradiction is a compelling idea to me. I am fascinated by the way people actually live their lives, by the way people act differently than they truly believe is the right and good way to act. There seems to be some essential truth there, some kernal of meaning in the constant presence of two seemingly opposite things. I have come to believe that I am supposed to pay attention to the clash, to sit with it, wrestle with it.

And the more I pay attention, the more I see these contradictions all around me. They certainly are not limited to parenting. They are found in politics, art, education, the justice system...everywhere.

I am reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, and enjoying it immensely. He is a wonderful writer. Having heard him speak, I recognize his voice on the page, and it is at once intelligent, warm, thoughtful, funny, and personable. I am a fledgling "slow foodie," and this book makes a compelling case for the need for a smarter way to raise, process, sell, purchase, and eat food than we currently have in this country. About half way through the book, at the close of chapter eleven, I had a strong emotional reaction to the following passage, describing one incredible grass farm in the Shenandoah Valley and its particular attention to the health of the land on which its animals are raised:

I'd always thought of the trees and grasses as antagonists-another zero-sum deal in which the gain of the one entails the loss of the other. To a point, this is true: More grass means less forest; more forest less grass. But either-or is a construction more deeply woven into our culture than into nature, where even antagonists depend on one another and the liveliest places are the edges, the in-betweens, or both-ands. So it is with the blade of grass and the adjacent forest as, indeed, with all species sharing this most complicated farm. Relations are what matter most, and the health of the cultivated turns on the health of the wild.

Here it is again: that state of contradiction that also produces the fullest, healthiest, most vibrant life. Relations are what matter most...even antagonists depend on one another...the liveliest places are the edges.

Pollan is describing a farm, but I see my family in this evocative description. The antagonists? Well, as I type, my husband is trying for the umpteenth time tonight to get my 9-year old to go to sleep. And as has happened to us both so many times before, he is trying to be firm, yet gentle, is getting exasperated and infuriated in the process, all while my son is being completely unreasonable (at 9! imagine that!) and argumentative and defiant and miserable and weepy and angry. It ain't pretty. But here it is: antagonists (two people who want opposite things) depending on each other to find their way through the messy parts because yes, the child needs to go to sleep, but relations are what matter most.

Pollan closes this chapter with a quote from farmer Joel Salatin of Polyface Farm, which I will adapt a little, as I did when I read it, and my mind held an image of this amazing farm at once with an image of my work-in-progress family: "One of the greatest assets of a family is the sheer ecstasy of life."

I love that the either-or construction is not borne out by nature, by grasses and forests and animals. It strengthens my conviction in the power of learning to live amidst contradiction, and to find the liveliest places to call home. And I find comfort in knowing that in my house, the cultivated and the wild are most definitely vying with and strengthening one another.

06 July 2008

She's Freaking Me Out


Hardly had I clicked the PUBLISH button on my last post about Elizabeth when she added another charming moment to her history.

Picture me in the grocery store, four kids in tow, all of them squirrely. I parked the cart in front of the centrally located tomatoes, and sent the older ones to get a few veggies while I selected avocados about 10 steps from the cart where Elizabeth and Tallulah were squabbling.

Picture a little sour old lady waiting to get to the tomatoes and finding it impossible with my offspring in her way.

I hurried over and apologized and tried to move the cart. Little sour lady wouldn't back up, and I was pinned in by two other carts as well, so I had to stand there for a little while apologizing and trying to move, while the veggie seekers came running back with their finds, further clogging up a very small area. Little sour lady would not return my attempts at civil, polite conversation; she just seemed utterly annoyed by my children and my cart. This little rendevous lasted long enough to become pretty uncomfortable. Finally I was able to move, she was able to move, and the entire thing would have receeded into the background, except that Elizabeth, who had been watching the proceedings with her highly developed observational skills, started repeating in a quite loud voice: "THAT GIRL IS FREAKING ME OUT! THAT GIRL IS FREAKING ME OUT!" She got to about the fifth repetition of this before I could get around the cart to where she was and shush her good. "THAT GIRL" turned out to be little sour lady, as I had feared, and the only response I got from my daughter to my attempts to fine tune her behavior was: "BUT SHE IS!"

Completely inappopriate behavior, completely rude...and yet...completely honest too. Again, they cry when they are sad, they laugh when they are happy, and they tell you exactly what they do not like, including when people freak them out.

03 July 2008

Fasten Your Seatbelts, She'll Be 13 Someday

My three year old is quite something.

The other day, I overheard her playing with her big sister, and heard her say: "My boyfriend is 8, and he doesn't even drive yet."

What is that?

This is the same little bit who turns her backside to her older brothers, pokes her little bottom towards them, and says, "I'm shaking my booty at you!"

The same girl who refuses to hold my hand across a street, insisting that she will "hold my own hand" instead. Picture a stubborn little peanut holding one hand in the other, chin up, marching across the street.

The same girl who said to me today, in response to my telling her that she could not play in the fancy new dress a friend gave her, "I'll just sneak in my room and put it on when you aren't looking." I kid you not, that's what she said.

The same girl who, when she kisses her father, I feel the need to tell her that he is already married. (She likes to give him what she calls "Ratatouille Kisses," from the Pixar movie, the scene where Linguini and Collete finally smooch on the street. This involves lots of head movement.)

She has perfected the "Hmpf!"...she puts lip balm on her eyelashes...she channels Hannah Montana (which, I feel the need to say, she has never watched under our roof, and yet she does a mean Rock Star dance routine)...

She also does an amazing impression of our neighbor performing a kareoke version of Nirvana; few things are more hilarious in life than my daughter doing Ted the neighbor doing Kurt Cobain.

Start praying for us now; we have 10 years before she turns 13.