The things we do for our children

I slipped a 14-year-old CD into the disk drive (is that what they’re still called?) in the car. The CD was homemade by five gals who once belonged to a groovy chick group called the SixPack. My sister Liz was one of the Six. When she turned 21, her sisterhood presented her with a CD called “Liz’s Last Night Out”.  I don’t understand why they called it that because she had just turned 21 and isn’t that really supposed to be one’s First Night Out?

Among the several groovy tunes one immediately caught my boys’ attention.

Ice Ice Baby

by Vanilla Ice

I know you remember it.

So picture this. We’re blasting Ice Ice Baby because the boys are loving it, literally bouncing in their seats, and we roll up in our hybrid car into the enormous parking lot at Costco.

I glance over at my husband is who is cringing openly and smiling broadly. He tolerates a bit of children’s music, and he deeply appreciates quality music of many genres… jazz, blues, bluegrass, industrial, classical. I lean over to whisper:

Think back to when you met me. Did you ever in a million years dream that one day we’d be rolling up into Costco (a huge warehouse store that he also hates) with two kids in a Prius rocking out to Vanilla Ice?

Maybe you had to be there, but it was really really funny at the time.

He shook his head. The things we do for our children – indeed.

Were it not for the fact that I opted to sit by him in a lecture on Dominican food, everything may have turned out so differently.

Next weekend we’re going camping in a remote part of Oregon. Our music will include the soft breeze shuffling through the trees and a coyote crying in the woods. Birdsong will be our alarm clock.  I hope we meet a gentle deer foraging for food as the sun slips beneath the horizon. I hope my kids will sleep for twelve hours, tucked into bright orange sleeping bags, each wearing a headlamp. By day’s end, we will be marshmallow sticky with windtossed hair and suncolored cheeks.

I expect the experience to be far superior than a morning spent pushing a gigantic cart at Costco.

Teaching Children Gratitude

Today I am delighted and honored to guest post at the World Moms Blog!

The theme of my post is teaching children gratitude. Please click HERE if you would like to read it.

After you’ve read the post, you may be interested to know that my eldest son has voluntarily told us what he is grateful for just before our evening meal for the past two nights. Last night he was grateful for “my sword and treasure and birthday parties and this awesome meal and my Dad and Mama and my brother”.

The awesome meal, if you care to know, was a big green salad and frozen chicken taquitos and black beans. Ha!

Have a great day, readers.

Sucker punched

I am sitting in the airport reflecting on the senseless bits and pieces of the day thus far.

This morning my eldest and I rushed into the classroom to check on the baby chicks that began hatching two days ago in an incubator in his classroom. A small group of students was huddled together reading books with their teacher.

One of the girls immediately announced that a baby chick had died.

The teacher shook her head.

All of them, she said.

All of them? I repeated, incredulous.

One I can understand. I almost expected one not to make it given their vulnerability and diminutive nature.

But all fifteen?

I felt sucker punched when I realized that this engaging and heartfelt project had ended so abruptly and harshly.

Like the children, I thought “it’s not fair!” and “why did they die?”

There is no good reason.

My son was angelic as he kissed me goodbye, but not before insisting I stay to look at a dinosaur book for a few minutes. His eyes were wide open when he was told that the fledgling chicks died, and then he changed the subject as we left the room. I inquired about how he was feeling, but he wasn’t ready to go there. So we read the dinosaur book and I headed to the office.

I was too distracted to listen to the morning story on NPR, but I did check my Twitter account at a stoplight.

Today is not only the First Day of Summer, it is Daylight Appreciation Day.

I know this because Ellen DeGeneres tweeted about it this morning (and yes, I follow Ellen because she is awesome and I have a crush on her and no, she is not yet following me).

Ellen thinks it’s really silly to have Daylight Appreciation Day, but I think it’s wonderful. Ellen has obviously never endured 40 consecutive days of rain and gloom and clouds like we do in the Pacific Northwest. The power of the sun is like nothing else. Sun increases our productivity and intellectual capacity, boosts the immune system, and reduces anxiety and depression.

The sun is a hurculean presence in our lives.

If I had known it was Daylight Appreciation Day, I would have done something special to celebrate!

The good news is that I still can.

I recently discovered a marvelous blog called Inherit the Spoon that weaves together tales of food, food justice, and family. I couldn’t resist clicking on the link called “Good Night Gorilla” because that is the name of one of my youngest son’s favorite books. We call it the “Banana Book” because he likes to point out the sunshine-colored fruit on every single page. It turns out I’m not alone, because somebody else’s kid loves it so much that he is addicted to this book.

I love it when unexpected commonalities refresh my own experience in parenting.

and

I hate it when unexpected loss darkens my day.

Today I will appreciate the daylight till it disappears beneath the horizon, and I will mourn the gentle spirits of the baby chicks.

I am filled with gratitude because I have two children for whom I can find the strength and patience (most days, anyway) to read and re-read Good Night, Gorilla at least 32 million times before crashing into the sofa with a glass of wine and a book.

Enjoy the light, readers.

You are my sunshine

Two nights ago I nearly tossed my youngest into his crib!

Now don’t go calling Child Protective Services yet. I didn’t really toss him (though he’s a string bean and light enough so I could if I wanted to). I gently held him, rocked him a bit, and placed him in bed — against his wishes.

He was mad.

It was past bedtime by about 30 minutes. I was tired. He was tired. I felt bad that he wasn’t ready – emotionally – for sleep. But physically we were both spent.

I told him night night and I love you.

I closed the doors, expecting screams.

There was a brief cry.

In 15 seconds, all I heard was silence.

Amazing. He really HAD wanted to go to bed. But for a half hour he sang out a high-pitched mantra of “no bed! no night night! NO NIGHT NIGHT!”

and I remembered, I AM the Parent. I KNOW when it’s time to tuck the tiny people into la-la land. They do NOT know, or at least they will not EVER acknowledge  when they are overtired and donewiththeday.

While not a sleepy love story of a bedtime with books and hugs and snuggles, it was still in its own way sweet. Moving on to the big brother was a piece of cake. Teeth brushed, pjs on, potty used, he requested and received a “snuggle party” — a two-minute snuggle in his bed and a song. Generally I sing “Mockingbird”, but sometimes, “You Are My Sunshine”.

Tonight I sang both.

Eyes closed, he was pretty much out before I closed the door.

It was his last night as a four year old.

Welcome, Five Year Old.

I am so very happy to meet you.

Sweet beginning of summer time

They are running and diving and shrieking. A menagerie of children scrambles up a small hill, eyes bright and arms open wide.

The youngest discovers the scooter, all smiles as he explores and tests his balance.

The lone girl is a sassy combination of tough + sweetness. Her eyes tell you that she can hold her own in this group of rough and tumble boys.

We hover, ready to catch and quick to release, then step back as our confidence in our children’s ability to play on their own grows. These young independents are intensely focused on getting the most of out each minute of the day.

The grass is freshly mowed, the skies are blue. I sense angels tumbling across soft patches of white, their joy palpable and contagious.

The sun drops a little lower in the sky.

The transition to indoors, a time of baths and books and bed, draws near, but we linger, tasting the wine, savoring the quiet wildness of a backyard gathering.

Friendship among families, moments of gentleness intermingle with tears and tumbles as the children stretch and reach and climb.

And we say no to more brownies, and yes to more strawberries.

We dissolve into laughter as we head out into the night, having successfully navigated the bumpiness of a family day again. We made it!

By the time we reach home, they are sleepy and willful, resisting the disappearance of the day.

I understand. I, too, regret the night’s approach, thinking about all that we have done in these days away from school and work.

The sweet beginning of Summertime softens and paints our world with wide brushstrokes.

We tint our own reality in a rainbow of colors. Summer brings the red, white and blue, and I tuck away the gray for the season.

Good night moon

It’s 8:20 pm. I listen closely outside the door of  the boys’ room.

Blessed silence.

Drill Sergeant Mama arrived on the scene at my house tonight the moment dinner ended. She allowed a tolerable amount of playtime, negotiated dustups as they arose between brothers, ushered children into the bath tub, supervised a dance party, worked a puzzle, and then began the great attempt to wind them down for books and bed.

Yeah right, like this happens easily.

The boys rock out to Mary Poppins’ chimney sweeps singing “Step in Time”, and then we head downstairs. Pajamas. Glasses of water. They are completely wound up, their little minds active and awake.

Let’s. Read. Books, she said nicely, gritting her teeth.

Am I the only parent who when, as the hour approaches 8 pm, feels like she is just completely, entirely done?

I am not with my kids all day because I work full time, and  I treasure my time with them. The problem is that nearly every hour of my day is devoted to a) kids or b) work, thus leaving c) me or d) my partner and me conclusively out of the picture. Instead of winning a $640 mega-million lottery, I wish for a mega-million hour day (although both would be fabulous).

I don’t mean to be the cranky mama. But when I left the daycare tonight with the littlest screaming bloody murder in my arms – every other parent in the parking lot’s eyes on me – it didn’t bode well. Here’s how my evening played out.

We arrive home. One kid is happy. The other is still mad that I made him leave his big brother’s super fun and fascinating preschool classroom. They are both hungry. I scramble to put out veggies and crackers and throw something frozen in the oven.

We go outside (it’s not raining, so we cannot resist). Everyone is happy now.

We admire tiny ants crawling on trees and pick up dog poop (this is really fun for the littlest).

We look at more tiny ants. We march around in the muddy yard and admire the small starts on the garden beds. Littlest child takes off boots to walk around in muddy socks.

Eldest child climbs tree. Finds more ants. Littlest child yells for Mama to pick him up so he, too, can see the ants.

Dinner might be burning.

Where is Daddy?

Eldest and littlest are convinced to come inside to eat. They both eat good dinners – leftover pasta with red sauce, raw veggies, and frozen artichoke puffs that contain mostly cheese and a little spinach.

Daddy arrives home. Everyone cheers.

Let’s return to the concept we call Bedtime.

In philosophy, an important distinction is whether an object is considered abstract or concrete. Unfortunately, my young philosophers prefer to define the concept of Bedtime abstractly, while Drill Sergeant Mama insists Bedtime is a concrete activity that results in real, live sleeping children.

I give up briefly and leave the imps children on our king-sized bed to begin the wind down routine with their father while I drink a glass of wine I toss soiled clothes into the washer and fold a gigantic pile of clean clothes.

Before heading to the laundry room, I give strict instructions. Brush teeth. Read three books. Be quiet. You may snuggle under a blanket if necessary.

Moments later, crashing sounds and peals of laughter resound above me. Tickling fights on the bed ensue. Both children are now jumping as high as they can while their father eggs them on. I can’t quite tell, but I think they are pretending to be pirates on a sinking ship.

This is Not.Winding.Down.

But Daddy did get their teeth brushed.

Drill Sergeant Mama returns to the scene to announce darkly that there are now seven minutes remaining for books, and then it’s Time For Bed.

Chagrined, the boys actually settle down for a few minutes, and the eldest picks out the book that I least enjoy: a preschool friendly book filled with images of gigantic spiders – bigger than lifesize. The photographs are blown up to frog, no, cat-like proportions, and are seriously creepy. As we read, both boys take turns pretending to be attacked by spiders, be spiders, or transform into enemies of spiders who prevent attacks with their “force fields”. Never mind the littlest can’t talk much. He is totally into this.

When I drag them away from the spider book, we read Byron Barton’s Planes and Mama, Will It Snow Tonight? by Nancy Carlstrom. We are transitioning into a wonderful moment where both boys go to bed at the same time. In the same room. As you may imagine, it’s not going over so well with the eldest, but since he gets to wear a totally awesome headlamp from REI and take a notebook, books and a pen to bed, he concedes.

Ahhhh. Good Night Moon.

Good Night Moon

 

Saved or stolen?

This week I was asked to write a fiction or creative non-fiction piece about a time someone crossed a line, legally or ethically. I could have explored vigilante justice or another sort of line crossing. 

She walked slowly through the building, taking in the intense scene surrounding her. Blood was spattered in some places across the walls and they screamed for fresh paint. Large buckets of soapy water stood at the threshold of the hospital. In each room, cots were arranged side by side. Some had mattresses and sheets, and others were bare but were at least up off of the filthy cement floor. The heat was stifling; she covered her nose with a crumpled tissue dug out from deep inside her backpack. Small fans offered weak ventilation, a small comfort that kept most of the flies away from the weeping eyes and mouths of the patients. The laborious moans of the women made her heart heavy, and worried. The cries of hungry babies would not sound the same as they would when she became a mother nine years later.

Was there nothing she could do?

A sweet nestling lay dying in a young girl’s arms. A girl, not a woman, had given birth alone hours ago to a cherub. This perfect baby boy struggled and stretched, tenderly wrapped in used cotton bunting, an old T-shirt beneath his legs to catch the dampness.

Would he make it?

Would she?

A woman approached her quietly and quickly explained the situation. It was her baby to lose at that point. Failing to consider legal consequences, she attempted to do what was right, and found she could not.  She had to take the child away from this sour place, where the conditions were passable at best, hellish at worst. It was time, the woman insisted. Make a decision. You look like his mother, she said. You have brown eyes, brown hair. Not too tall.

While reason fled her heart grew weak.

If she didn’t take him, the child would certainly suffer. Maybe die. The mother had no milk. No money. Nothing.

If she did, she was breaking the law.

A wave of nausea nearly made her keel over. The stench of blood and other fluids mixed with a cheaply watered down bleach solution was getting to her.

There wasn’t much time.

She made her choice, and walked out the door into the hot sun, cradling a tiny bundle in her arms.

A few of my favorite stories

We are in the season of fall. Some of us call it Autumn. The air is cooler and the wind’s picked up. Crimson leaves dance across the yard, drying in the breeze. While I almost always reserve evenings (that brief, quiet period after the boys’ bedtime and before mine) for reading, this time of year truly longs for it. Settling into a half-finished novel with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and wrapped in a fleece blanket, I am content.

I’ve written a little about story telling before, but if you’ll indulge me, readers, I’ll reflect a bit more on the art of story and some of my favorites.

I am a reader. My best friends are readers. We read good stuff: classic literature, new and prize-winning novels, and serious non-fiction that addresses important and timely issues. We read pop fiction (which is not trash, ahem), occasional chick lit, mysteries, and an amazingly addictive category called YA.

Young adult literature is cutting edge, compelling, and right on, even if I am close to 20 years past the target audience. Run to your nearest library or bookstore to pick up a copy of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games if you are skeptical of the quality of this genre. 

And let’s not forget kids’ books. Here are a few of my favorites for the toddler sector (age 0-2):

  1. Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. This book has very few words and tells an easy to follow story for the little ones. We call it the “banana book” because my youngest son likes to point out the banana in each of the pages.
  2. About Birds: A Guide for Children by Cathryn Sill and John Sill. This gorgeously illustrated book will delight your littlest birder. It will also educate their older siblings age 3 – 8.
  3. Busy, Busy Town by Richard Scarry. A classic book filled with colorful characters and concepts. Never gets boring.

For the preschool crowd (age 3-5), I recommend:

  1. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. Also a classic, this charming tale of wild things and far off lands ends back home in the sweet comfort of a little boy’s bedroom.
  2. The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. Written over 40 years ago, this story always makes me a little sad. We own it in English and in Spanish (Arbor Alma). A touching tale of the relationship between a little boy and a tree with a message open to interpretation.  
  3. Froggy Rides a Bike by Jonathan London and Frank Remkiewicz. The Froggy books are a fun series whose main character is easy for kids to identify with (especially boys). I also like Froggy Plays Soccer.

I’m excited to have just accepted a book reviewer position for www.luxurybooks.com. I am always grateful to friends who point out a great read, and I hope to do the same for them.

My favorite writers include Isabel Allende, Ann Patchett, Lisa See, Laura Esquivel, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Paul Theroux. Who do you read?

I’ll close this post by listing a few of my absolute favorite grown up books.

1. The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje

2. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

3. House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

What are your top three?