Thursday, July 22, 2010

summer rain

We woke up to darkening skies and imminent thunderstorms this morning. After all the warm, sunny weather, a day of rain should have felt like a nice change (it's certainly good for the garden), but instead it made me a little sad. For one thing, we missed the last day of swimming lessons. We probably could have made it since the thunder stopped in plenty of time, but when it's already cool and drippy outside, that kind of sucks the joy out of being in the pool. We stayed longer at a playdate instead, so the morning wasn't a total loss. Still, we've been at swimming lessons nearly every day for the last six weeks, and I'm really going to miss that routine the kids and I have set for ourselves - setting up the bike trailer, changing into swimming clothes, packing a lunch, biking to the pool, seeing the excitement on their faces when they spot their teachers, then 15-20 minutes of lap swimming for me, and afterwards playing in the wading pool before a quick shower and picnic lunch. We come home pleasantly tired and ready for a little rest before the remainder of the afternoon.

It's a little more than just a missed day at the pool, though. Something about the cool, wet weather has filled me with melancholy, like a vague sense of homesickness, but I'm not sure for what. For time passing too quickly, perhaps, or for things that aren't over yet, because I know I'll miss them. Summer isn't over, but it's passing by much too fast. And my kids are still so little and sweet. Yes, they frustrate me, and I catch myself thinking several times a day "I can't WAIT until they're older because..." but we've had a lot of good moments lately, too. The other day on a walk, Daniel said to me, "You know, I won't be your little boy forever" and I replied, "I know, and that's a good thing, but I'll miss it, too." And he said "Why?" and I couldn't really answer him.

I'm a little homesick for my family today, too. My little brother turns 30 today (Happy Birthday, Joe!!) and he just moved into a new apartment with his girlfriend, and my parents were there to help, and of course I couldn't be there. It's just too far to travel. (I'm not done making his birthday present yet, either - Joe, you'll get it soon, I promise - but the kids sent him a little something that will hopefully arrive today.)

Monday, July 19, 2010

anya's fashion sense

We went to Opera in the Park Saturday night. Boy, was it good, totally worth later bedtimes for the kids. Stuart took them home at intermission, but it was still 9:30 before they got to bed. I stayed for the whole thing, and I'm so glad I did. One section of the second half was a special tribute to The Sound of Music, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Let me tell you, there is nothing quite like listening to 14,000 people (that was the crowd estimate Saturday night) hum along to Edelweiss . It's like an involuntary reaction to sing along with that tune, you know?

On a completely unrelated topic, I went to the mall yesterday. I hate the mall. I loathe the mall. The worst is walking by Abercrombie and Fitch, where it's dark and creepy inside and there is loud music pounding and the very strong scent of spicy cologne. The last time I went inside that store (at least a couple years ago) that awful smell gave me a headache. Anyway, I went to the mall because my cousin is getting married in less than 2 weeks and I don't own a dress. Not a single one. Or any appropriate wear for a wedding, for that matter. I have a few black outfits for performing and a couple of skirts that are actually too fancy (one is floor-length and formal, the other is covered in large sequins that would most certainly get yanked off by little hands). I thought about making a dress or a nice skirt but the reality is, I just don't have time or space to do much sewing, and the likelihood that I would screw it up is rather high anyway.

The amazing thing is that I found a dress at Ann Taylor for twenty bucks on the clearance rack. Daniel doesn't have anything nice to wear, either, and I found him a button-down plaid shirt and navy shorts for less than ten dollars total (also on clearance). I couldn't believe my luck. I think I used up all my shopping karma for the next decade. I hope this dress lasts me a long while.

So I continued on to Target to find Anya some shoes. She has a very cute little sundress my mom bought her, but the only shoes she has are not very dressy and quite scuffed. I found some dark fuchsia mary janes to match the dress. When I brought them home she immediately tried them on:

The mis-matched clothes are normal for a two-year-old, and the sunglasses are no surprise since yesterday was hot and sunny, but the mittens? I have no real explanation for those. She wore them for a good part of the afternoon, and we even played an entire game of Candy Land before she took them off. I wonder what she's going to want to wear ten years from now?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

water balloons

It's warm here. I know the weather we're having is far better than the fry-eggs-on-the-sidewalk heat wave you poor folks on the East Coast are having. But still, we're making good on the pool membership this year and finding other good ways to play outside without roasting. Going to the park early while there is still shade over the playground, painting with water, drinking cold lemonade in the late afternoon.


Last summer, a babysitter brought over one of those attachments you put on the end of a garden hose for filling up water balloons, and Daniel thought it was the best. thing. ever. So yesterday I biked the kids to the hardware store and bought a package of "water bombs". Endless fun, these things. It's fun to fill them up, it's fun to pile them in the old ice cream bucket, it's fun to roll them down the slide, it's fun to throw them against the big tree at the end of the driveway and at the sandbox lid. It's even fun to find the ones with holes that leak because then you can aim the spray at someone (if they agree to it) or into the potted herbs on the deck.

Less than 24 hours later, we're out of water balloons, and it's a warm weekend in store for us. I think I'll have to go get some more.

(By the way, I make absolutely sure that the kids pick up the bits of broken balloons after they burst. Balloons are extremely toxic for birds.)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

the boy scout motto and how it applies to motherhood

I find it rather ironic that my father, an Eagle Scout and devoted volunteer for the Boy Scouts of America, who so perfectly embodies the motto "Always Be Prepared", by which I mean he can nearly always find within arm's reach or at a moment's notice, a pen, a band-aid, a tube of Neosporin (or the generic equivalent!), a tissue, a tape measure, a pocket knife, a scrap piece of paper, a flashlight, a bottle of water, a bottle of Tylenol, an emergency blanket and an extra pair of socks - I find it ironic that he managed to raise a daughter who often forgets to bring along The Most Important Thing when leaving the house with small children.

I do try, you know. While I don't like to load myself down with a huge diaper bag every time I leave the house with the kids, I try to always have the basic essentials: emergency snack (granola bar, fruit strips), hand sanitizer, tissues, an extra diaper. Sometimes, if I'm going someplace I know the kids might get bored, like waiting for a doctor appointment or meeting my grown-up friends at a knitting shop, I pack a bag full of toys and activities that may or may not successfully entertain. I often forget the one thing they most want, like a particular kind of crackers for snack or a favorite toy truck. But I never forget that extra diaper. I keep one in my purse, one in the small backpack I carry for these longer outings, one in the car, one in the swimming bag. For some reason, however, I don't carry an extra diaper in the bike trailer. (This will be important later. Keep reading.)

This afternoon I took Daniel and Anya to see a very good friend of mine, Dr. Julia, who is in town for a couple weeks visiting her parents before she goes back to Florida where she's a small college professor. It's fun to take the kids to her house because Dr. Julia has a little dog who is gentle and sweet and Daniel and Anya love to play with her, and Julia's mom (the very same who told me about the water painting, actually) had some puzzles and sidewalk chalk for them to play with as well. But knowing the kids might need more to keep themselves occupied, I put some art supplies and toy cars and other things in a backpack. I also brought my cell phone and wallet and snacks, even though both kids ate a big snack right before we left, and I even packed something new they'd never seen before: a little book of instructions for folding different kinds of paper airplanes. Fun, right?

I thought I was prepared. I thought I was ready. But in my haste to get us going to Julia's, I neglected to throw a diaper into the backpack, and that was a mistake. I biked the kids to Julia's house, you see, and Anya had been wearing the same pull-up since right after swimming lessons this morning. Those things are pretty absorbent, but still. You have to change them every once in a while. And after we'd been there for a while, over an hour, I think, Anya had had enough of that pull-up. Julia and I were sitting on the front porch watching Daniel and Julia's mom toss a paper airplane back and forth - an airplane, I might add, that it took the two of us at least 20 minutes to fold correctly - and Anya started to cry and yell that her diaper was full and that she wanted. it. off. now.

So she took it off. There was no stopping her. Off came her pants, off came that soaked, swollen pull-up and I had nothing to put on in its place. She was standing on the front porch, triumphant, wearing only her shirt, bare-assed and free. I took her inside and sat her on the toilet for a minute, hoping that if anything needed to happen, it would happen in there, but of course it didn't. I briefly considered asking Daniel to give her his underpants so there would at least be an extra layer, but decided against it and instead regretfully announced that we should probably get going before Anya had an accident in their house.

A minute later, Julia's dad appeared in the doorway holding a package of diapers. Doggie diapers! I didn't know there was such a thing, but I wasn't too surprised. I quickly assessed the size (about right - Julia's dog is pretty little) and gratefully accepted one.

Here's the thing about doggie diapers, though. There's a little hole with a flap to allow the tail to come through, and that hole is placed so that if you guess wrong and put it on the kid the wrong way, she might as well not be wearing a diaper at all. Before I put it on Anya, I had to decide what was most probably going to happen next: #1? or #2?

This story would be much funnier for you and much more humiliating for me if it ended with Anya pooping out the tail-flap of that doggie diaper. I'm happy to report, however, that nothing of the sort happened. We went home soon after without any major incident, and the rest of the evening went as smoothly as it possibly could have with two hot, tired kids and dinner ready late.

I think I'll start packing diapers in the bike trailer from now on, though. You never know when you're going to need one.

Monday, July 05, 2010

strokes of genius

My heavens, is it the middle of summer already? It seems we wait so long for summer to come, and then it just flies by so fast. This morning began a new session of swimming lessons. Anya went in the water with an instructor, for the first time. She lasted 10 minutes or so, which was better than I expected. I hope by the end of the week she enjoys the whole 25-minute lesson so I can go swim laps.

I've got a whole list of neglected projects I swore I would do before the summer's out. Most of these involve cleaning and re-organizing, as well as some major yard work. I am loath to pay someone or a landscaping company to do the work that needs to be done, but there is a lot to do, and I haven't found time or motivation to do all of it.

The kids have been bitten by the Boredom Bug, too. A few days ago, though, I was visiting a friend of mine, whose mother told me that when they were little (there are 3 adult children in this particular family), in the summertime she would give them buckets of water and large paintbrushes and tell them to go outside and paint the driveway, the sidewalk and all the rocks in the yard. I tried this with Daniel and Anya over the weekend and it worked like a charm. Stroke of pure parenting genius! I think I should thank Mrs. F in person for this idea.

It worked so well, in fact, that they requested to paint with water the next day, and also this afternoon. I think it's so appealing because they are allowed to paint anything they want - the house, the deck, the sidewalk, even the car. Just not the screen door, please, or any open windows. And if the water spills, who cares? If they want to "paint" my legs, so what? It's just another way to keep cool in the muggy summer air.

Who'd have thought painting with water could be so much fun?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

independence day

I'm not sure if I consider myself a patriot or not. I am certainly not patriotic in the traditional flag-waving with-us-or-against-us sense. But I do love my country, and I am deeply committed to doing my part to make the U.S. of A. a better place to live for me and my children and generations of the future. A few years ago, I decided to do away with the cynicism and negativism many of us lefty liberals feel so keenly on Independence Day and just enjoy the holiday. Yes, I'm still opinionated, very much so, about politics and policy regarding just about everything...but I do love grilling, parades, fireworks, and my husband getting a day off of work. It doesn't hurt to find an excuse to celebrate, especially these days when there is so much cause to worry.

I also love how so many communities, large and small, put on fireworks displays for public viewing. It's unfortunate for those who don't enjoy the bangs and booms, of course, but for the rest of us, it's fun. There's something so festive about dozens or hundreds or thousands of people walking in the muggy, summer evening, spreading out blankets and eating snacks like chips and hot dogs, swatting at mosquitoes with their children in their laps (or cans of beer in their hands...or both, as often happens) and waiting for nightfall, when bright explosions light up the sky to collective oohs and aahs.

I took Daniel to see the fireworks at Elver Park last night. It was really and truly a last-minute decision. I had thought all the neighborhood fireworks displays would be on July 4 (Rhythm and Booms is always the Saturday before the 4th, and it's really, really cool, but it's just too big an event for me to contend with the traffic and crowds, at least while he's this young yet), but it's likely to be storming on Sunday, so when I discovered one happening on Friday the 2nd, which was a beautiful clear day, I decided to go. Knowing how crowded Elver was likely to be, and knowing how awful the parking was guaranteed to be, at 6 in the evening I called a friend of mine who lives within spitting distance of the park and asked if I could park in her driveway. Being the kind, generous person she is, she said yes and then invited us to stay and sit in her front yard, and while she was at it she gave us cupcakes and milk and the use of her bathroom (so much nicer than the port-a-johns, you know). It was just lovely. I think I owe her a jar of freezer jam. We curled up on a blanket, Daniel and I, and he fell asleep leaning on my lap just before the grand finale when the whole sky lit up with lights and drifting smoke.

(Getting out of that neighborhood to get home was another story. It took 3 tries and 20 minutes, but we made it, and Daniel was snoozing in the back seat the whole time.)

I think I'll end this post with a quick list of some of my favorite pieces of American music. Not to get all esoteric on you, or anything, though I suppose a lot of musicians reading this will immediately recognize most of these.

1. Aaron Copland's rendition of Simple Gifts. Here's a youtube clip of the arrangement played at Obama's inauguration, which got me all choked up just now when I watched it.

2. Aaron Copland: Hoedown from the Rodeo Suite. You know, the music from that stupid "Where's the Beef?" commercial. It's been overused, but I still like it. Such an invigorating bit of music.

3. Lee Hoiby: From Iraq: Last Letter Home from Pfc. Jesse Givens. This piece is the saddest thing I have ever heard. Go watch the video (scroll down to the bottom); it will break your heart. It's a setting of a letter a soldier wrote home to his wife before he drowned in the Euphrates River, a casualty of the Iraq War. I had the great honor of sitting next to Lee Hoiby himself as he accompanied Andrew Garland, the amazing baritone who premiered the piece, in concert. I was turning pages. The concert was in celebration of Hoiby's 80th birthday. He played the piano so beautifully, and during this piece, he wept and wept (and didn't miss a note). I had a hard time keeping myself together, but I had to because I was sitting on stage. The next time I heard it was with a different pianist, but the same singer, and I just sat in the audience and sobbed and sobbed. As did everyone else. It's that powerful.

4. Samuel Barber: Knoxville, Summer of 1915. I particularly like Dawn Upshaw's recording. I see on wikipedia that she won a grammy for that in 1989.

5. George Crumb: Apparition, for soprano and piano. I know this doesn't scream Americana! like the rest of the pieces on this list, but this is a wonderful piece. It's all settings of poems Walt Whitman wrote after Lincoln's assassination (which devastated Whitman), so I think it's appropriate.

6. Paul Simon: Graceland, and I mean the whole album. Daniel found it the other day and put it on at about 6:30 in the morning demanding a dance party. It sounds obnoxious, but it was just what we needed to wake up and get ready for the day. Funny that I should think of this as an American album since it was supposedly so ground-breaking in bringing world music into pop culture, but whatever. It's a classic, and I never tire of it. I particularly like Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.

7. John Williams: The Star Wars theme. I don't like the movies much, but the music is fun. I always thought it would be a better choice for graduation ceremonies than Pomp and Circumstance, too. Don't you agree?

Well, there you have it - my list of random favorites on a Saturday night. I'll probably think of a dozen more tomorrow. What about you? Do you have 4th of July favorites? Great American music you'd like to share?

Friday, July 02, 2010

kill your tv

Sometimes I think we'd be better off without the television. It's a love/hate thing. Stuart and I always watch TV together in the evenings after the kids are asleep. When you've been running around with the kids all day, or, in his case, at work, and then dealing with the evening chaos of dinner and clean-up and bedtime, by 8:30 the only thing either one of us wants to do is whatever takes as little brain power as possible. Plus, we're enjoying Star Trek reruns; Patrick Stewart has such a commanding voice, and we often mock the spectacular costumes and vintage special effects. It's just fun.

Daniel and Anya love watching TV. I know this is normal - most kids love TV - but I've allowed more than I should lately. It's just too easy to come up with an excuse for allowing it, like if the weather is bad and we're cooped up inside, or if someone isn't feeling well and doesn't have the energy for normal play. Or if I'm tired and desperate for a chance to drink a cup of coffee and check my email sans interruption. Also, preschool is out for the summer, so it's just me with my children all. day. long. and I just run out of ideas from time to time. I need a little break every now and then, so I don't mind if they watch a little television - the operative word here being little.

Right now they really like the Curious George show on PBS, which is harmless and entertaining enough. The problem is that I've noticed too much TV (or screen time in general, because they like the PBS kids website, too) makes them difficult. They whine more, they fight with each other more, they are much less creative with their own playtime, they don't play independently very well, they are more demanding with short, their attitude sucks, and it's not as though Curious George is a bad influence. Curious George is playful and amusing and often just misunderstands people's instructions, which leads to hilarious consequences and at the end of the episode we all learn about how canals work or how to build a sand castle or why it's important to follow the recipe for making muffins, or whatever.

No, Curious George is not to blame. I am. It's the whole idea of passive entertainment and how it just not an acceptable substitute for all those other things we do. Reading books, for example. Lately, getting Daniel to sit down for story time is like pulling teeth. He goes through these phases and it's not like I'm worried he'll be illiterate (he can already write and spell, just not read), but it's important to read to your kid, you know?

So the last two days I've just said NO to television or computer time. It hasn't been easy. I've been tempted to allow just a little bit, enough so I can get a good start on fixing supper without interference, or do the dishes after lunchtime. But I'm sticking to this, and despite the constant "Mom, can me and Anya watch a little TV?", which quickly disintegrates into whining when I say "No, not today," I think it's helping. The vague promise that maybe, perhaps, I'd allow just a little bit at some point in the future was enough for them to help me clean up the living room this afternoon. They've been getting along a little better, though not spectacularly (again, this is normal), and just now I managed to read a few story books until they fell asleep on the couch.

I'm not sure how long I'll keep this up. I still don't know if I should save TV for "special occasions" like a rainy day, or allow just a little bit back into the daily routine. Sometimes that's the only way I can get dinner on the table in a timely manner, after all. I'm not really philosophical or dogmatic about this issue; I just don't like the attitude I'm getting, especially from Daniel.

You other parents out there, what do you do about TV?