"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, August 31, 2014

2.5

This is the third (and final) time I'll say this, but here goes:

You guys: I LOVE two-and-a-half years old.

Can you blame me?


It's the blossoming independence coupled with the naptime snuggles.
It's the "I want to be so brave," but taking baby steps to get there.



It's the little, developing personality starting to shine through coupled with the "I Do It, Too!" copycat mentality.

Yes, Molly. You can stand in Max's First Day of School photo.


It's the way they still look so cute when they cross their arms and furrow their brow when they're Seriously Expressing their Discontent.

It's the "I still look like a baby when I'm sleeping" coupled with "I can have a full and coherent conversation with you when I'm awake."

***

Molly's language right now is Booming.

She is a pretty quiet kid, taking more after the first of my boys rather than the second, but when she talks, she sure has a lot to say.

The other day, though it was 90 degrees outside and dripping with humidity, she asked to wear her ballerina tights. I obliged, of course, because I don't fight over clothes. As soon as we pulled them up and straightened her dress, she clasped her hands below her chin.

"I look just like a ballerina, Mommy?"
"Yes, baby. You look just like a ballerina."
"I'm a ballerina!"
"Would you like to take ballet classes and be a real ballerina?"
"Um, yeah. When I'm a big girl."
"Okay, maybe when you're three?"
"Um, yeah. And I do this?" (She twirls.)
"Yes! You'll twirl like a ballerina!"
"And I do this?" (She leaps.)
"Yes! You'll leap like a ballerina!"
"And.....I....frog jump?" (She frog jumps.)
"Uh...sure! You can frog jump!"
She casts a sideways glance at me, then a smile creeps across her face.
"Mommy! Ballerinas no frog jump! Frogs frog jump!"

Then we laughed and laughed and laughed....

Oh, this girl.

My little mini-me; babywearing. Just like her mama.


One way we're not alike: She has such an opinion about her clothing and, mostly, her shoes. (I shop at Target and wear Toms almost exclusively.) I love watching her decide what to wear in the mornings....and do I think it's an unhealthy obsession with appearance and/or vanity? Hell, no. It's decision-making! It's confidence! It's an expression of taste and style! 

And, it's adorable.


She runs after her brothers in the yard, playing her own game, but keeping up with the big kids.


She is an Expert at play. And I love to watch her. 

Here, she set up an apartment building for her Littlest Pet Shop toys.

Though she's expressing some interest in using the potty, shopping for her Big Girl underwear at Target the other day was met with a general sense of malaise and the literal dragging of feet.


Afterward, she felt the need to decompress in one of the "Get Dorm Ready!" displays.


Two-and-a-half is convincing Mom that she's big enough to climb up the big ladder "All by mysewf," and then celebrating with a hearty "I did it!" I-told-you-so.


But, then, two-and-a-half is also swinging lazily in the Baby Bucket.


Two-and-a-half is loving, sweetly...gently, on her Baby Cousin, then curling up on Mommy's lap and saying, "Goo goo ga ga! I'm a baby!"


Lesson Learned:
Sweet Molly, you'll always be my Baby.

Monday, August 25, 2014

DIY: How To Build a Playhouse

About six and a half months ago, Sam dropped the bomb:
"I'm going to build a playhouse."

I was excited...for the kids...and for Sam to have a project....
but a playhouse?

Um. Shouldn't we practice our building skills on bird houses or doll houses or...I don't know... 
something small and flat and on the ground that our kids won't be in and on and jumping from?!

But Sam was determined.

So he headed on over to YouTube and taught himself how to build a playhouse.

The posts were cemented and the foundation was built really quickly...like over the course of one weekend in late February.


But then, it snowed.


A lot. 


And construction came to a screeching halt.

Once the spring thaw finally arrived, it was Back to Work.


Before we knew it, it looked like a real, live play house.
And the kids started using it, and loving it, immediately. 
They didn't care that the walls were rough, the railings were nonexistent, and that they were playing in a muddy, weedy dirt patch.

They were in love with this playhouse. 
And I was blown away by their dad.

You guys. 
He built this thing with his bare hands.

He used power tools and brought loads of lumber home from his many trips to Home Depot.

He measured and cut and built and painted and
there were no instruction manuals.

Sure, it took six months...but I didn't mind. 
He never let His Project interfere with our schedule or family plans. After the kids were in bed he'd hang out in the garage, assembling the frame indoors while his foundation lay buried beneath the snow. He'd work an hour or two at a time, or for as long as the kids were happy to "help" him. He'd come home on his lunch break to put up a few boards of siding.

And then, all of a sudden...

The Playhouse was Finished.


There's still some landscaping that needs to be done,
but let's take a tour, shall we?

A sweet little paver and "steppable" groundcover path leads to the main entrance. 
There's a mailbox there, of course, for letter and package delivery.


The interior will be a work in progress.
So far, the kids have each painted a tile...


and we made a tic-tac-toe board that should stand up to the elements.


There is seating indoors, as well as a grill/cooking area (not pictured). There are paint brushes and containers of all shapes and sizes for cooking and collecting and organizing.

There are bug bins for "pets" and wooden blocks (building scraps) for...well, they've been used as canvases, tower-building, packages for delivery in the mailbox... 


There's a peek-a-boo window on the side wall with a cool little telescope. 
I'm pretty sure squirrels have been spotted, although there are unconfirmed reports of invading armies and unicorns in the area.


And this afternoon...
the finishing touches.



My favorite (though I do love that door bell I found at World Market...) is this horseshoe. 


When we arrived at this house, our Forever House, for the first time, this horseshoe was sitting on the island in the kitchen. There was a note from our builder: "Found this while excavating the property. Hope it brings lots of luck in your new home!"

We hung it up over the Escape Door.


Kids, as you escape down your get-away slide in hot pursuit of scurvy pirates or space invaders or to introduce yourselves to the friendly mermaids who swam up to say, "Hello," may the luck of the found horseshoe be forever on your side.

Lesson Learned:
This amazing playhouse was worth the wait...and delivered just in time for the start of the glorious month of September, during which nearly all of our waking hours will be spent outside. 

And can I get a Hell, Yeah for Sam?! Dad of the Year, you guys. Dad of the Year.

Oh, and if you were here looking for actual instructions for your own DIY playhouse, check out the videos on YouTube. I hear they're pretty helpful.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Make Better Choices

As a Mom to three little, developing people, I sometimes find my role to be overwhelming. There is so much for me to teach my children so they grow to be responsible, respectful, caring, and Good people in this world. Because they have so much to learn and I have so much to say, there are days in which I feel like all I do is talk. I remind, describe, negotiate, teach, referee, define, explain, and yes...I lecture. I hear the words spilling out of my mouth even as I see their little eyes glazing over.

Is any of it sinking in? As our “conversation” drones on into the fourth and fifth and tenth minute, have I completely lost them? Have they moved on to thoughts of Legos and Lalaloopsies? Of course they have.
But I’m their Mom! I will send them out into the world: It’s my responsibility to prepare them to be forces of good within it! Even despite the glassy eyes and gaping mouths, I continue to talk.

As my kids get older, the conversations start feeling even more important and the time I have in which to instill these values feels increasingly short. I’m learning to choose my words more carefully; and most of the time, I find less is more. I’m paring down my Life Lessons into simple, easy-to-remember phrases that I hope will float through their brains when they need them. These quick little mantras encompass just about every situation we need words for now and hopefully will grow with my kids as our conversations continue to change.


The phrases used most often in our house are “Be Kind,” “Think of Others,” and “Make Good Choices.” These are general, universal virtues that seem to fit naturally into the situations that require the most Talking. Sibling squabbles? Be kind to your brother. Using a disrespectful tone with me? Speak with kindness in your voice. Not sharing? Think of your sister’s feelings before you tell her she can’t use those crayons. Going out to play in the backyard with the neighborhood kids? Make good choices!

We still have those big, situation-specific conversations when they’re needed, during which these mantras are explained and examples of what it means to “be kind” or “think of others” are given. Having these three simple statements in my back pocket, though, gives me a few parting words to share with my kids before I send them back to the playroom or off to school. And I’m hoping that the repetition of these most important keywords help them to stick long after the conversations end.

It makes me feel better, as though I’ve done my part to raise responsible, considerate human beings. For that moment, at least.

Despite its general usefulness, I’ve been thinking about that last phrase a lot recently: Make Good Choices.

I do want my kids to make good choices, of course, but often, there are more than two choices to be made and not all of them fit neatly into the Good box or the Bad. Most of the time, there are the obvious choices to avoid, but when it comes to making a good choice, sometimes there’s an even Better choice to be made; even a Best choice.

Do I expect my kids to make the Better, or even the Best choice every time? No. Sometimes, making the Best choice is really, really hard and I don’t want my kids to think that the only good choice to make is the Best Choice. If fear or intimidation prevents them from making the Best choice, they might think they may as well not do anything at all. If making the Best choice feels impossible, then make the Better choice, or even the Good choice. But don’t do nothing. You have more power than that. And you can use that Power for Good.

For example:
My 4-year old, Max, is playing with his brand-new Lalaloopsy mini doll. He saved up his own money and just bought it yesterday. Of course, as soon as she sees it, 2-year old Molly wants it. Now. The obvious choice for Max to avoid is to scream, “No! Molly! This is MINE!” as he pushes her out of the way. The best choice would be to smile cheerfully and say, “Sure, Molly! You can use it!” as he hands over his new toy, but that’s highly unlikely.

If making the best choice is too hard, don’t immediately call for Mom to step in and solve this Little Sister problem. You can handle this, Max! A good choice would be to calmly explain to Molly that he is not ready to share his new Lalaloopsy toy while handing her the Elsa and Anna figures from the princess bin. But! There’s an even better choice to be made, which isn’t as impossible as parting with a new toy, but that shows more kindness and love than distracting his sister with some other toys: Perhaps Max can offer Molly some of his other, older Lalaloopsy mini dolls and invite her to play with him. Kindness and generosity for the win!

Or maybe my 7-year old, Evan sees his friends teasing a new kid on the playground. A good choice would be to walk away and immediately go tell a grown-up. Arguably, the best choice might be to intervene: Tell your friends to stop, befriend the victim, and include him in a new playground game. I can’t imagine my 7-year old actually doing this, though, and it wouldn’t be because he doesn’t know that what he’s seeing is Wrong. 

It would feel impossibly difficult for an introverted, quiet kid like Evan to act as boldly as standing up to a bully, even if that bully is a friend of his. I wouldn’t want him to think that, if he can’t stand up to his friend, he might as well just not do anything at all. He could do more than just telling someone about it...so maybe a better choice would be to tell a grown-up and later, privately, invite the new student over to play. My son would be demonstrating compassion and inclusion, and perhaps even a new, better friend would be made in the process.

In the heat of the moment, with all of the social and emotional pressures bearing down on him on that playground, even just getting a grown-up to put an end to the bullying is an acceptable choice. But maybe knowing that there are more than just Good and Bad choices will empower him to try to step outside of his comfort zone a bit and be an even Better friend.

So we’ve changed our vocabulary a bit:

Be Kind.
Think of Others.
Make Better Choices.

It’s the kind of lesson that I hope will grow with my kids…

At a party and your buddy wants to drive home after drinking?
Bad Choice: Allow him to drive home.
Worst Choice: Allow him to drive YOU home.
Good Choice: Take your friend’s keys away from him and tell him to spend the night at the party house. (Then call us to come and get you.)
Better Choice: Call us to come pick you up from the party as soon as you realize that you’re in a situation in which you’d rather not be...preferably before the drinking begins. We will come, every time. No lectures. (But, maybe, a conversation...)
Best Choice: Skip the party altogether. Stay home and watch movies and play foosball with your family. We will have so much fun, just you wait! You can invite all of your friends!

Let’s face it, our kids aren’t going to be at their Best all of the time, because growing up is hard. Life is hard. But we can equip our kids with the confidence that, even when being their Best feels impossible, they can still choose to be Good...and, maybe, even Better.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Another First Day, Another Lesson Learned

There were nervous tummies yesterday, 
the day before the first day of school,
 so we all did what we did best. 

I made him a Lucky Rock...
one that he could keep in his pocket 
and give a squeeze to if he needed a touch of home.


He....played with Legos. And refused to talk about the inevitable....

I wanted to talk.
I wanted to fill his head and his heart with words of love and support and 
Second Grade? You Can Do This!

But that's not how he operates.

He worries.

He thinks.

He keeps it inside; 
safe in his head and safe in his heart.

But ultimately?

He's got it under control.

I'm not sure that's just a Brave Face. That smile?
That's all him.

After breakfast this morning, with several minutes to spare before he was needed at the bus stop,  Evan retreated again to his cocoon of Legos in the playroom.

"I want to go in there," I told Sam. "I want to give him a first day of school pep talk! I want to tell him that I'll miss him but that I'm so happy and excited for him! I want to tell him to be brave, and have fun, and meet new people, and try his best, and have a good attitude, and be kind...."

Sam's response was simple and to the point: "Don't." But I finished his sentence in my head: 
"Don't make this morning about YOU. This is HIS first day of school."

And so I didn't. 
I left him to his contemplative construction of Star Wars battleships 
and I didn't say a word. 
(...Out loud. But, man, did I send up a novella of thoughts and prayers to the Universe.)

Just before the clock struck Go Time, he came out to the family room and
curled up in a tiny ball in the corner of the couch.

I took my cue,
snuggled up beside him and....
kept mum.

Then, we headed out for the obligatory First Day of School pictures.

He's a big kid now. Look at this boy.

Last hugs at the bus stop...


And then, he was off.


Like a pro.
Like a second grader.

Lesson Learned:
I'm not sure why his introspection and quiet retreats into his own thoughts continue to surprise me. He is so much like me in so many ways...and in this way we're practically the same person. As much as I wanted to play the role of the Mother Who Had All The Right Words this morning, that's not really who I am. And it's certainly not what my sweet boy needed from me. And so, as much as it felt like something was missing this morning, this quiet, thoughtful morning was actually Just Right. 

And that boy of mine? He is, too.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

in another life, I was a teacher

There's something about August.

For five years I spent these hot and hazy weeks in a tizzy of nervous, excited anticipation. A new school year! A new group of students! New lesson plans to try out! Brand new boxes of perfectly pointy-tipped crayons just begging me to doodle a bit!

In some ways, I'm still the same person I was all those many years ago...before kids and sleepless nights and crinkly lines in the corners of my eyes. I still get the urge to clean, purge, and organize at this time of the year. My kids' closets are ready for fall, though the weather will keep us in shorts for another two months. My pantry has been redesigned in anticipation of busy mornings when snacks and water bottles and lunch boxes need to be readily accessible. The storage room in the basement has been cleaned up; "new" toys coming back into the rotation while old favorites of the summer have been packed away for the time being.

But, beyond that, I don't even recognize that person I was when I stood in the front of the classroom. Beyond the tiny humans in my house, the sleep deprivation experiment I've been conducting, and the wrinkles, there's more that separates these two phases of my adulthood...

When I was a teacher...
I had 25 5-year olds in my care for six hours of each day. I was responsible for their education, yes, but I also contributed to their social and emotional development..in addition to keeping them safe. Sound familiar Moms and Dads? I taught at a school in which most parents worked (and many worked more than one job). Many didn't speak English and few participated in programs at the school. When it came time for field trips, I was lucky if one parent volunteered to be a chaperone. Often, it was just me and the kids...all 25 of them (some of whom had a significantly limited understanding of the English language)...at the zoo, on a hayride at the pumpkin patch, jumping (jumping!) from "lily pad" to "lily pad" across the pond (the pond!) in the Japanese gardens in the local botanical park. Can you imagine watching your five-year old, 25 kids back in a long line of dawdling kindergartners, leap-frogging across concrete platforms above a pond full of 2-foot long koi fish? And not a single kid had with him a change of clothes in case he didn't stick the landing. I didn't think twice about it! Oh, the innocence of youth.

As a mom, the mere thought of a trip to Target with my own three (native English speakers) sends me into a cold sweat. And when we do set off on our voyage to the store, I carry in my diaper bag enough (snacks, diapers, spare underwear, and Band-Aids) to sustain us for a three day camping trip.

When I was a teacher...
I had to perfectly plan my bathroom visits around my lunch and Resource periods. I became an expert in Holding It.

As a mom, I can use the potty whenever I damn well please. The caveat is that someone's usually watching me or calling my name.

When I was a teacher...
I thought I had seen it all in terms of a child's misbehavior. I've had students refuse to follow directions, talk back to me disrespectfully, and lie to my face. I've had to call parents because their kids were kissing on the playground, stealing from his peers, or defacing school property. I had to explain to a student that, despite what happens at home, we do not use the word "f*ck" in the classroom. And once, I was kicked and spat on while a student hurled racial obscenities at me. He was five.

As a mom, I have seen nothing that even comes close to some of the behaviors I witnessed in the classroom. But, somehow, from my own flesh and blood, even the most innocuous behavior: a rolled eye, a muttered "last word," a slammed door, a disrespectful tone, an unkind word to a sibling...can elicit stronger emotions from me than I ever felt towards my students. I was such a calm, cool, and collected teacher....

When I was a teacher...
I had all the answers. Literally: Teacher's manuals. Besides, my students were five and six years old. I could handle whatever they threw at me during the school day. What rhymes with tree? No problem. If you have two cookies and your sister has three cookies, how many do you have all together? I got this. What animals live in the Arctic? Easy! [Don't say penguin, don't say penguin, don't say penguin...]

As a mom, four words: Thank god for Google.
How long is the longest whale shark? How did people first walk to America from Europe? So what is 'plate tectonics'? How fast does a chicken run? So then how fast does a roadrunner run? What does a gila monster eat? Why did I like this watermelon yesterday but not today? Just tell me how evolution actually works. That's all I'm asking. 

And that was all before we'd even finished breakfast this morning.


Lesson Learned:
I may not be setting up a classroom, or getting ready to meet the 25 new faces who will become my class, but there's still something about August....I'm full of nervous, excited anticipation for the new school year...but I'm still not ready for summer to be over.