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

Saturday, February 21, 2015

33 things about my Dragon Lady

My littlest baby is three years old today. Can I still call her my baby? I can. And I will. She fills the role of the "baby" of this family so perfectly, a role I didn't know she was destined to play until the moment she was born. In that moment of unmedicated-labor-induced clarity, I knew Molly would be our last...our forever Baby.

On this, her third birthday, instead of writing her a letter, I'll simply jot a list to record this moment in time. This moment of her life that is moving and changing so quickly. This moment immediately preceding a time when a potentially fearsome Dragon may rear it's nasty, 3-year old head. It's okay, she's my third. I know what's coming.

Here are 33 of my favorite things about my favorite just-barely-a-3-year old:

1. Her hair. I love that she has such opinions about how she wants me to style it. Most days she wants it "low in a pony." Other days she'll want a head band or a barrette. My favorite days, of course, are the ones she requests either "Elsa" or "Anna" braids (1 or 2, respectively).

2. Her eyes. They sparkle. They are deep, denim blue. She stares into my eyes, inches from my face, her hands on my cheeks. She opens her eyes wide or squints one eye to make a Pirate Face. She rolls her eyes like a tiny, adorable tween-wannabe. She furrows her brow and cocks her head to one side as she asks a million times a day, "But why?"


3. Her laugh. From her adorable little tickle giggle to her full-on belly laugh to her totally fake "innit dat so funny, guys?" laugh at her own jokes...she kills me with her laughter. I'm a lucky mama to be able to hear it every day.

4. She calls bananas "pooblanas."

5. She calls anything small "little teeny tiny."

6. She sighs and says, "Never mind" at completely inappropriate times, like if I say, "Molly, it's time to brush your teeth." 

7. ...and then, if I say, "I do mind, come on in and brush," she'll dramatically drop her arms and say "Rhine!" which is how she pronounces "Fine."

8. I love that when Molly sees a baby, she smiles sweetly and says something like, "Oh, hi, cutie baby!" before running away shrieking, "Ah! That baby's going to touch my stuff!" Like I said, she was born to be the Baby.

9. But her love for her Baby Dolls is unwavering. 


10. She knows exactly what she wants to wear everyday, and it's always a dress. And if she must wear a skirt, it had better be twirly. Bonus points if it's also sparkly. Do not offer her jeans. She will throw them.

11. She knows exactly what shoes she wants to go with each outfit. They are rarely sensible, as she tends to choose glittery, sparkly, strappy sandals or shiny "clippy cloppy" shoes or her red cowgirl boots. If she's going for a hike or to play on the playground and you want her to choose sneakers, make sure you call them her "super cute, super fast, super green sneakers" and she'll allow it...but just this once.


...but, oh, those boots...


12. She's so ladylike that, now that she Uses The Potty, she insists on going to the bathroom even when she just needs to pass gas. She says, "Mommy! Potty! But I jus' need to fawty fawt." And I die every time.

13. Like every other kid her age, she loves Band-Aids. She calls them "Bayn Ayns" and they must have princesses on them thankyouverymuch.

14. When sitting on the couch to read or watch a show, she needs to be on a lap or sitting so close she's touching the person next to her. She does not sit alone.

15. Her sense of humor. This kid is funny. On purpose. She's wacky, and goofy, and clever...although she not above falling back on the old stand-by potty humor for a cheap laugh from her brothers. (Um, and me and Sam.) 

16. She still climbs into our bed every night. 

17. From very early on, Molly had exceptional fine motor skills. I love to watch her manipulate tiny pieces, color so carefully, place stickers so precisely. She loves Small Things...or, as she would say, "Little teeny tiny things." 

18. She's a vegetarian. Actually, aside from the fact that I bake with eggs and she'll eat a piece of pizza occasionally, she's vegan. Other than the one bite of a chicken nugget she accidentally ate about a year and a half ago, she's never eaten meat in her life and she doesn't drink cow's milk. Thank god Evan's nut allergies are not contact reactive...she lives on cashews, peanut butter sandwiches, almond milk, and fruit. She's my little teeny tiny baby bird.

19. "Hol' me, Mommy?" a hundred times a day. Yes, please, Baby.

20. After reading a book together at nap time, I lay with her as she falls asleep. Sometimes she wraps her hand around my neck and twirls my hair, our noses touching...

21. ...other times she turns away from me, as if I'm not there, soothing herself to sleep by singing quietly to herself...

22. ...but she doesn't sing lullabies. The other day, it was Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off." Before that it was "What Makes You Beautiful" by One Direction. She's into pop.

23. Molly has never spent a day of her life in school, but man, is she ready. When we walk into the preschool to drop Max off in the mornings, Molly takes off her coat and makes herself at home. I'm sure there will be some separation anxiety at the beginning of the school year next fall, but I'll be able to handle that knowing just how much she's going to Thrive there.

24. She's a great helper in the kitchen. I mean, really great...like the best kind of toddler helper. She's not the kind of kid who wants to "help" and ends up spilling a five-pound bag of flour all over your pantry or splattering batter all over the kitchen. When Molly "helps," she watches while I do the messy things. ("You do the eggs, Mommy. They're so yuck. And the sugar. It spills all over the place. You do all it, Mommy. I don' want my clothes to get so dirty.") Then she, maybe, sprinkles some chocolate chips on top of the muffin batter. Or not. Maybe she'll be the taste tester. Or not. Really, she just wants to stand there, hanging out, chatting, letting me do what must be done. 

25. She calls cantaloupes "cantamelons" and carousels/merry-go-rounds "merrosels."

26. She has dance moves like Elaine from Seinfeld.

27. She has such a Big, Loving heart. Her brothers push her buttons, as big brothers are wont to do, and she inevitably ends up yelling at them to "Dop it, E'an! Dop it, Mats!" She'll stomp away, often towards me, so she can tell me all about the injustices of being the Little Sister. She'll take a hug, allow me to wipe a tear, then she'll drop her shoulders and look at the floor. She'll walk back to her brother, the one who (it's true, though I say it doesn't matter) started it. "I sorry for yelling at you, E'an," or "I sorry for pushing you, Mats," she'll offer, which usually then elicits a half-hearted apology in response. She'll smile big and hold out her arms, "Huggie?" she'll suggest. Heart of Gold.

28.  She is an absolute Book Lover.


29. She can raise her voice, and hell, when she feels like she's not being heard. She Will be heard. Oh, yes. My little Dragon Lady will Roar. And I'm thankful for that. 

30. She will play any game, at any time, with her brothers. From Lalaloopsies to Lego to Attack of the Zombie Pig-Men from Mars, Molly wants in on the action.

31. She gives great, tight, arms-around-the-neck hugs...

32. ...then she pulls back, puts her hands on my cheeks, kisses me on the lips, and says, "I love you too tight, Mommy."

33. I love the way that, through the very act of Being Born, Molly filled up my heart and our family. She completes us.

Lesson Learned:

And that doesn't even scratch the surface. I love everything, Every Thing, about you, sweet Molly. Happy, happy Birthday. Be nice to mama, this year, okay? I know three is hard. But we can do this. You can do this. [smooch]

Here's a little photo montage of Molly's year. Stay tuned until the end to check out some of those Elaine moves for yourself:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

we're where we need to be

When we moved here, to our new little town, a few years ago, we did so on a whim. Though I had loved living in this area before Sam and I got married, I never looked at it as a Forever Home. Especially after we were married and had our kids, I thought we were settled. I never thought we'd come back to this place I once loved. But Sam had an opportunity to take his job "remote" and set up an office space just about wherever we wanted. We jumped on the chance to, well, take a chance. We found a beautiful neighborhood at the foot of some gorgeous mountains, down the road from an adorable little downtown, in a district where the schools were rumored to be quite good. We were sold.

We didn't realize how important this move would be until recently...after our new house had been broken in a bit, after our new gardens had time to fill in a bit, and after our little family had a chance to make some important connections here. It felt like home, yes, but more than that, it felt Meant To Be.

Though we didn't know it at the time, our move was most important for Max.

I'm not saying that Max, and all of his sparkle, would not have been accepted in our old neighborhood, or in what would have been his school. He very well may have been...we never had a chance to need to know; he didn't express his gender-nonconformity until after our move. But here, in this cozy little place, with familiar faces wherever we go and a liberal, open-minded atmosphere, Max is accepted and adored, just as he is.

But he is about to embark on a new adventure, one that for even the most typical child can be challenging: Max is going to Kindergarten.

Sam and I requested a meeting with the Principal of the elementary school that Max will be attending in the fall. We wanted to break the ice and introduce them to Max, through our descriptions of his personality, strengths, and penchant for all things fancy, beautiful, and twirly. We wanted to express some concerns we had about sending Max, our sparkly little rainbow fish, to this vast and potentially scary ocean of bigger fish. We don't foresee any specific issues--Max is ready for kindergarten academically and emotionally. He is very socially active and will thrive in our school's very creative and play-based kindergarten environment. We just wanted to start the conversation...to be proactive...to advocate for our little boy.

I emailed the Principal an outline of issues we wanted to address during our meeting:

1) Though we would not typically request a certain teacher for our child, we would like Max to be placed with a Kindergarten teacher with a particular personality strength; someone who excels at creating an inclusive classroom community. We want him to begin his elementary school tenure feeling accepted as part of the group.

2) What can we do, as a team, to help ensure a safe school environment for Max and, to a possibly equal degree, for his big brother, Evan?

3) We would like for all members of the staff who will be working with Max (classroom teacher, resource teachers, administrative personnel, support staff, etc.) to have an opportunity to attend a meeting during which gender-nonconformity can be explained and any questions can be answered (either by us or by the administration acting on our behalf). We want Max to start the school year with a team of adults who already understand him and are ready to support him. We would also like these adults to be sensitive to certain situations that could be stressful or confusing for a kid like Max; things like, dividing the class by Girls and Boys or assigning projects or performance roles based on gender.

4) Finally, please let us know if you have any questions about Max or gender-nonconformity.

Sam and I met with both the Principal and the Guidance Counselor and it could not have gone any better. I realized, after the fact, that all I really wanted to hear was, "We understand. We got this. You don't have to worry."

We talked for thirty minutes. I told them all about Max (and stole a chance to brag about what an awesome kid he is). The Principal told me about her previous experience working with kids at virtually all points on the gender spectrum. The Guidance Counselor provided a crash course on the K-2 Guidance Program, which begins with lessons on What Makes Me Different Makes Me Special and broadens to include topics like bullying prevention and building self-esteem. I voiced some of the concerns I had, and they were met with solid plans, for example: there is already a system in place to "brief" teachers and staff on unique student situations, so Max will be on the list. There were a few tears shed...in part because talking about challenges my kids may face makes me emotional...but mostly, it was relief. I had the reassurance I needed: Everything is going to be okay.

As we were leaving, the Principal looked at me and said, "So we'll meet again before school starts. As a Team--the four of us and his classroom teacher--we'll continue the conversation we started today. We'll see where we are and we'll decide how to get to where we need to be. But in the meantime, for the next six months, just enjoy Max. You don't have to worry about Kindergarten."

And now, I won't.

Lesson Learned:

When I was in seventh grade, my English teacher asked us to write down our favorite words as an inspiration assignment for our poetry unit. At the top of my list was serendipity. 

We're already where we need to be.

Friday, February 6, 2015

I Don't Regret My Master's Degree

I’m a stay-at-home mom. I spend more of my time at playgrounds than in meetings. I literally can’t remember the last time I used an iron. The people I come into contact with on a daily basis are very likely to be small and holding a sippy cup. And my conversations with my “colleagues” almost all revolve around bodily functions (“Honey, it really looks like you need to use the potty.” “Come here, baby, let me wipe your nose.” “Mommy, did you know that wombats poop square poops?”). It’s not always glamorous, but it’s the life I chose.

Many of my friends have also put their careers on hold while they stay home with their kids. For some, it’s a decision for life; women who are happy to be at home with and for their families with no desire or aspirations to re-enter the workforce. For others, it’s a temporary arrangement; women who, for any number of reasons, have taken time off to be at home while their children are little, but who will resume their careers at some point in the foreseeable future. For some, being a stay-at-home mom is hell on Earth: “I can’t believe I went to college so that I can sit here wiping butts all day!” she may lament.

And I hear her. Sometimes being at home with small children of varying verbal and interactive abilities, engaging in the same routines day in and day out, can be mind-numbingly boring. Some days, I find myself expending mental energy on such matters as “Which Disney Princess looks the prettiest when I mix and match their princess gowns, Mommy? No, Mommy, not Aurora! It has to be Belle!”

Sometimes I wish for more intelligent, adult interaction in my life. And I’ll admit that I’ve been known to mutter under my breath “I have a Master’s Degree! I’ll be damned if I’m going to be yelled at by some two-and-a-half foot tall tyrant that wants her toast burned but not brown! WHAT THE HELL DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!” But I’ve got to be honest: I don’t regret the time and money I spent on my education for a second.

Here’s why:

  1. Research Skills. My extra years of schooling provided me ample opportunities to hone my research skills, and thank goodness for it. As a mom, I have found myself in countless situations where my questions outnumber my answers and my need for information is real and immediate. For example, if it were not for my impeccable research skills, I may never have known that my baby may have had ketotic hypoglycemia. I mean, he didn’t--it ended up just being a little tummy bug, but WHAT IF?! Okay, so maybe I should lay off the WebMD, but as my kids are getting older, it’s not just my questions that need answers. When my five-year old comes to me needing to know how big the biggest komodo dragon ever measured was, I need to feel confident in my ability to find him that answer. Thanks to my Master’s Degree, I do! Alright, fine, so you don’t need a Master’s Degree to use Google and yes, it’s true that even my kids know how to ask Siri a question, so...Moving on!  

  2. Bragging Rights. I am not the kind of person who would ever just casually work into a conversation that I have an advanced degree. But...I get a little thrill when my Caller ID reveals Unknown Number. It might be a political campaign volunteer who wants MY informed, well-educated opinion! And if it is, the volunteer may ask me demographical questions! And if he does, I’ll get to answer “More than a 4-year degree” when he asks about my college experience! And when I do, he’ll be super impressed! Right? RIGHT?! Come on, at least pretend to be impressed! Damn it. And that was my only adult interaction today.

  3. Informed Judgement. I wrote my Master’s Thesis on the identification of gifted learners and the educational environments that are best suited to meet their unique social and academic challenges. Because of my background in this subject, when that intolerable playgroup mom starts expressing her concerns that the local school system may not be able to adequately challenge her child (who, by the way, is only nine months old, but who is clearly on the Gifted track--I mean just look at her! She’s practically walking and have you noticed how much she loves chewing on books?!), I can roll my eyes With Authority. Hmm. Maybe I shouldn’t admit that one out loud...

  4. How about this: Even though I graduated over a decade ago, I still get to relive my college experience Every. Single. Month...when I mail in my Student Loan payment. Ugh. Nope. That’s totally not it.

Lesson Learned:

So maybe I’m not putting either of my degrees into daily use at this stage of my life. I still don’t regret them and I’m sure there’s a good reason out there why I don’t. Maybe it’s simply the fact that earning a dual degree was a personal achievement that I’m proud to have attained.

Maybe someday I’ll want to re-enter the professional field I left when I became a stay-at-home-mom. Or maybe I’ll just use the degrees and my work and life experience to build my resume and try out a new career. Or maybe I’ll keep writing while my kids are napping, get discovered by someone who wants to pay me to sit at home and write, and I’ll never have to wear Teacher Clothes ever again!!

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Peeling Back the Layers

He came running in from school on Friday, out of breath and talking a mile a minute.

This was not my child.

My child comes home from school and exhales a sigh of relief. Relief to be home. Relief to have some "Alone Time," he calls it, after a day full of people and activity. Relief to be able to just relax.

But not on Friday. On Friday he had something to tell me.

It took awhile; because of his excitement he didn't tell the story in one straight line. He told bits and pieces, revealing more information as I questioned him and as thoughts and details occurred to him. At the end of the breathless release of words from his mouth, this is what I gathered:

Evan and four of his friends are going to perform a play for his class on Monday.

For fun, not for an assignment.

Apparently, Evan had been telling his lunch bunch (a group of kids selected to eat lunch in the classroom as a special Friday reward) about Peppa Pig. [side note: if you guys haven't watched the show on Nick Jr., you might want to. There is no underlying educational value to the program, like a Super Why or Wild Kratts. It's just silly and all three of my kids Laugh Out Loud at the pig family's antics.]

So he was telling his friends about the show, when he started to create his own plot to a Peppa Pig "episode." As the story became more elaborate and more hilarious (by second grader standards), his teacher stepped in: "This sounds like it could be a great play for you all to perform for the rest of the class on Monday."

"So that's why," Evan concluded, as he unpacked his backpack and placed his lunch box on the counter, "I didn't finish my lunch. I was making a Pig Mask! I get to be Peppa!"

Evan. My kid who, as a three-year old, didn't speak or interact with the other children or play centers in his preschool class for the first seven months of the school year. My kid who has come up with coping strategies (which have included "falling asleep," rolling his eyes back in his head, and hiding in his coat or under a table) when attention is drawn to him.

There's also the Just Act Goofy As Hell routine.

My kid who, at nearly eight years old, is peeling back the layers of social anxiety, introversion, and fear, to reveal the beauty and the intelligence and the humor that we, his family, have always known was there in his soul.

This isn't the first time he's felt brave. He's stepped out of his comfort zone in the past, whether to try something new (a new food, a new activity, seeking out a new friend). But it doesn't happen often and it comes in fits and spurts. At the first sign of social growth or bravery or new, I've learned to keep a close watch for more. He gets a rush of adrenaline, I think, as he tests his limits. When he sees what he's capable of, he wants to push that line a little more.

Friday was no exception.

He had no sooner completed his I Spearheaded and am Performing in a Play for my Class story, when it was time to go to gymnastics. Evan has been taking gymnastics, off and on, for about three years. He loves it for the Ninja Moves. He loves it as an individual sport. He loves that his teachers allow all of the students to go at their own pace while gently encouraging them to continue to make forward progress. I love it for all the same reasons. I love that I can sit behind the glass partition and watch his strength and confidence (both in his physical abilities and socially) grow. I don't love that he's now doing flips; actual, physical, real-live, up in the air, chin-tucked, body-rolling, mom's-heart-attack-inducing flips on my bed every night before he takes a shower. I don't love it, but I really do.

At the end of his gymnastics class, as the team was seated for their final huddle, I watched as Evan raised his hand and spoke to his teachers. They nodded and he stepped forward. In front of the whole class he, all by himself, performed a perfect, steady tripod. The class clapped as he, slightly taller, it seemed, headed back to the group. I waited for the next child to step forward to perform their favorite gymnastics move, but none did. The class wrapped up and Evan bounded out of the gym, beaming.

As I was tucking him into bed that night, I asked him about it.

"I saw you do a tripod in gym today, bud. It was awesome! I think it was your best yet."

"Yeah, it was."

"Did the teachers ask if anyone had something they wanted to demonstrate, or did you just want to."

"I just wanted to. I'm getting really good at tripods and maybe some of the kids don't know how to do them yet, so I decided to show them."

For some reason, I started to get misty-eyed and was glad that his face was pointed away from mine as I tickled his back.

"Evan, I'm so proud of you. You're so much like me in so many ways, but--"

"How am I like you?" he interrupted.

"Oh gosh, bud: The way you look at the world. The way you interact with your friends. The way you think and think and think and think about something before you do it. The way your voice is sometimes quiet but I know that hard-working brain is loud with thoughts and ideas."

"Oh. But my eyes are like daddy's."

"That's true. But listen: there's one thing about you that is so different than me when I was your age...and even now! You're so brave, buddy. And I love that about you. Did you know that I have never, in my whole life, done a flip? Ever! And it's because I'm too scared to. But you just do it! I love that! I love that you have the confidence and the bravery to do a flip and to demonstrate how to do a tripod to your gymnastics team and to perform a play for your class. I love it and it makes me so proud of you."

"Don't forget the pool this summer," he said after a thoughtful minute.

"What about the pool?"

"This summer, I'm going to jump off the diving board for the first time ever. I might even do a flip!"

And with that, he closed his eyes: imagining, no doubt, his first jump off the board. He'll rehearse it over and over and over in his head and then, on that first trip to the pool this summer, I have no doubt that he'll climb up that ladder and jump off that diving board. Like he's been doing it forever...

Lesson Learned:

It's taken me nearly eight years, but I'm finally getting the hang of this kid. I'm starting to worry less and watch more. He takes his time, but he always gets there. He's following his own path, but he knows the way.