Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Let's (Not) Talk About Sex

Yesterday, while checking in on that spectacle-in-motion known here as the Mamaworldforum, I came across a question that left me feeling a bit, well, dirty. Not sexy dirty, but more like Maybe If I Scrub My Brain Long Enough I Won't Be So Disgusted dirty. I'm not even going to provide a link to the post here, because dear reader, I don't want to put that special Ick into your brain which was put into mine.

Let's just boil it down to this: after an introduction, which was an abhorrent attempt at cutesy euphemisms, the "question" was the equivalent of a straw poll of this lovely topic: "Do you do it when you're on your period?"

Need I say more?

Am I missing something here, some new "oh,we are so liberated by Sex and the City" sort of thing, where we all sit around and discuss the intimate details of our personal lives with Total and Complete Strangers? This is something we all have our personal feelings on, as are many aspects of sexuality, but frankly, I don't want to know anyone's answer to this question but my own. It's none of my business, and it was none of the business of the person who posted the question.

Yet, time and time again, women posted personal replies. Some even disagreed with my polite assertion that this was a "bit of an intrusive question" to be asking on this forum. "People ask questions about sex on this site all the time" some defended. Yes, they do. And while I'm not particularly upset by questions regarding "how to get my husband interested in more than football, hey hey" or "How long after baby before we can resume intimacy" or even "What should I expect when I resume sex after birth?", I didn't think this question qualified. Those other sorts of questions are par for the course of a new mom's group; this one in particular, I don't believe, would ever be broached in that sort of setting.

For me, all of this begs the question: Where has our sense of decorum gone? When did we all decide this was okay, to ask questions online one would hardly ask amidst the girlfriends? I'm hardy a prude: I've had women's health issues over the past several years and have had to be pretty candid with my health care providers. After I had my son, some of the usual questions did come up, and even there, I limited asking advice about these issues to one peer mother whom I trust very, very much. I am not ashamed of sex, nor of my body. Nonetheless, I find that when it comes to talking about matters of an intimate nature, the person I should be most interested in talking to is my partner.

Perhaps this is way too old school for this newer world of people who trumpet their most recent hookups on their Facebook page and seem to have no problem oversharing about every little thing. Maybe sex has become just another topic of conversation for a lot of people out there, and so that's why these women have no hesitation when it comes to telling all with their name attached above, for all the world to see, as well as a link to click on their photo and profile. I see this as a folly of a sort, because none of this ever goes away. Marketers use this information we post to collect a profile of us. People who know us read this information and make their own decisions about what we write, and what they think of it.

Even in pleasant conversation with the girls, we might be extolling the physical attributes of our favorite screen gods-- or even recounting a hot scene in a movie-- but somehow we are able to pull on the reins before letting the horses run entirely free. We understand that we don't need to tell each other every little thing. Those moments are a sweet, precious secret between ourselves and our lovers. A funny anecdote now and then is fine-- like when one girlfriend and her husband were almost caught by her mother-in-law-- but overall, we just don't need to know that about each other. I don't think we even want to know that about each other.

Or is it just me?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Quiet Play Time

Twenty minutes of quiet play time. Okay... so Mama fudged a bit with the timer, and it's actually 25 minutes, but you aren't going to tell him, are you?

Each day is so different. We've had a wonderful morning, Kiddo playing with his Tinkertoys and working with markers while I folded laundry and washed up dishes. He helped playfully, handing me things from the laundry basket, and waiting until I was finished with one thing before I fulfilled his various requests. Thelonious Monk played in the background, performing with a Big Band and I wondered what our day held.

Kiddo drew me to the window. "Look, the moon" he said, pointing to an overcast pearl sun. It was due to rain, yet I still felt compelled to get outside. Took a shower and then asked Kiddo what he'd like to do today. "I want to go to sushi." A boy seriously after my own heart. It was misting when we left, and steadily raining when we walked into the restaurant. Both of us were wet, but it just didn't matter. We sat side by side, the easiest way for me to sit with Kiddo when we're out, and ordered a feast of super eel roll, miso soup, rice and edamame (the first two for me, the last two mostly his), then washed our hands and played with foam beading pieces while we waited. Eating wasn't the messy endeavor it usually was --only three edamame beans hit the floor this time. Kiddo was pleasant and relaxed. Our trip to the store afterward was an easy one: salmon, carrots, pitas and a muffin all procured with no fuss. This was sooo not the experience we'd had here the time before, when Joe had to take him out to wait for me in the car because Mama Doesn't Play That whole flopping around thing.

Maybe my being consistent with follow-through influenced today's cooperation, but I think it's also the coming back to Earth after the distractions of the holidays. The first day of being Mama's only companion after days of Daddy being home and having to share her attention with him. It doesn't matter to me what's made today so nice, really.

After we got home from our outings, wet and cold and happy, we went into his room and set up his little tent on his futon. I used string to restrain the tent at all four corners, so it's tied to the frame and can't slide off. Kiddo hung his little lantern his Aunt Chris and Uncle John in Pennsylvania had sent for Christmas. "I love my little lantern" he told me in a cute, happy voice. "You be the lying down one and I'll sit up. I'm Santa Claus and here's toys." He offered me a basket of bristle blocks. We worked together, adding pieces to each other until the panoramic 'city' suddenly looked to Kiddo like a train, so we added wheels and carefully laid our creation in the basket.

I made a snack for him to enjoy in the tent and set the timer. Guess where he is right now? Three feet away from me, under the laundry basket, asking for "pet food" and "I want to set the timer for your twenty minutes" and when I tell him I'll help him get pet food when the timer goes ding and that it's still quiet play time, he says "no, it's quiet playtime for you". So I'll keep on here with my quiet time while he backstrokes all over the kitchen floor with an empty laundry basket held over his head. It's someone's quiet play time, that's for sure. I'm not sure if he's going to ever learn what the word quiet means, besides when he's sleeping. But this will work for now.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Striving for Balance

Sometimes, even the most well-intentioned Alfie Kohn-inspired parent needs something more than just talking it out with the kids.

Let me explain: Kohn's right on when he says we've got to give our kids information, instead of just punishing them or expecting them to 'be good'. Trying to reason with them is good, really. But when, as parents, do we decide that we've had enough conversation and now, it's time help our kids do what needs to be done?

I struggled with this one. I like Kohn, and he has a lot of great principals, but what does unconditional parenting look like in action? Especially when some things in life are non-negotiable? What about when we just don't have all day--or all night--to explain things enough to make our kids feel good about them? Especially when they've dug their heels in and don't want to feel good about them?

Going to bed is one of those times in our house that I wish I wore a wig, because it really makes me want to tear my hair out. A few weeks ago, Kiddo fell into a habit of becoming a big, uncooperative goofball around changing into his pajamas. Now, before you start asking me if I've asked him how he felt about his pajamas, let me reassure you: he has no problem with pajamas. In fact, some mornings, he's in his pjs forever. It's just that when bedtime comes around, he's reluctant to change clothes, period. And he plays hard all day, so I'm not letting him go to sleep in dirty clothes. But this habit of taking 20 minutes to change (throwing pjs while laughing gleefully, sticking his legs into the armholes of his pajama top, sticking both legs into one of the leg holes...you name it)... well, we'd decided enough was enough.

What was important in this picture? I asked myself this and decided that on two things. First, we are adherents to a seven o'clock bedtime for Kiddo. He needs the sleep, and we don't jerk him around on this, even for our own convenience. Special occasions, certainly we're flexible, but by and large, and most especially on those nights before preschool, 7pm is our target. Second, Joe and I need to have the downtime in the evening. To decompress, to reconnect with each other. It's important for parents to have some face time, and I know we'd be upset if we compromised this due to Kiddo's being uncooperative.

So, with the 7pm time in mind, we began to decide how we were going to help keep Kiddo on track. Helping him dress was counter-intuitive: it gave him more attention for these undesired habits, and this is an area of development he really does have a grasp on, so let's not move backward. So we explain, now, at the beginning of our bedtime routine, that we need Kiddo to be in bed on time. He regularly has three stories at bedtime, and can have all three, provided we get our jobs done so we have time for them, because his sleep is important. Then, we set a timer for five minutes at the start of the dreaded pajama time. Kiddo knows now that he must be changed before the timer goes 'ding', or we lose the time for one of those stories. What happens if he isn't dressed, or wants me to do it? Well then, he's trading Mama a story for the service of dressing him. Uncooperative with brushing teeth? Well, if it takes a long time, we then don't have time for all three stories.(He does it himself in the morning, and we assist at night so he's not going to bed with a bunch of junk still left on his teeth.)

Now, ideally, we'd have him start all these activities much sooner. But I don't live in a perfect world. Kiddo eats dinner between 5:30 and 6, and usually gets his clothes dirty doing this. We also have toys to clean up, which is important. In short-- I run out of time to be an ideal parent in this area. I could be, if I was willing to have a child who could delay bedtime for his convenience, and if I was willing to deal with the morning meltdown of getting him to preschool without enough sleep. I'm not. I think that actually, I would be a worse parent for letting him stay up and be exhausted the next day. There's no way I'm doing that.

Are these "consequences"? Punishments? I don't think it's a punishment, but a very natural and instructive consequence. For the next 15+ years, he's going to have to get himself ready for school and be other places on time. He has to learn now that when we don't get things done promptly, we may not have time for other things. The loss of stories isn't to make his actions come back to hurt him, but to help him understand that there is an order about our day, and that there are times for being a silly goofball-- most of the day, as a matter of fact-- and there are times that we just need to do our job of getting dressed or putting on shoes or brushing teeth without a lot of cajoling and explaining. And we aren't mean with him about not having time for all three stories, it's just told to him as a matter of fact. Sometimes he petitions for all three, when he's been told we only have time for two, and then we just say "Oh, yes, you spent a lot of time getting your pajamas on, so we don't have time for all three. Tomorrow night, you can get dressed right on time, and then we'll have time for three stories." It's not a forever consequence, tomorrow night he gets a second chance to do it right, and we knows that we believe that he can do it right.

So maybe it's not perfect, but finding balance is sometimes all about tipping back and forth until we hit center. I feel good that we aren't getting upset with him so much anymore, and he's not being indulged, and our evening isn't being thrown out of whack. For what it's worth, I still think it's pretty damn unconditional. We're all still learning, and I think we've got a pretty good way of going about this for now.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Just Chillin'

Now that I've had a few non-school days under my belt, the Holiday Break Chill Out is setting in. We're blessed to be in our cozy house, the woodstove cranked up and curry simmering on the stove. If it sounds like I'm trying to make everything as hot as can be, yep, you couldn't be more right.

Friday afternoon, I'd picked up Kiddo from school and--in a rather optimistic mood, I should add-- we took the bus and MAX up to the zoo. When Mama's got a plan, she's not as quick to wise up as she should be, because when we got up there, it was cold. I wish there was a font that actually shivers, so I could accurately express how cold it was. Arctic Blast cold. Even with Kiddo in his fleece suit and a lined wind-breaking jacket, it was just too much for both of us. I'm actually pretty phobic about being cold...there's nothing that hurts more and I absolutely hate it. But I was also trying to get past myself, so after the warm break of the restrooms, I decided we'd fortify ourselves with fries in the restaurant before venturing further.

Once we went wandering in, Kiddo spied one of his favorite sights: the blowhole by the tidal pools. Want to see Mama move fast? Watch her yanking Kiddo away from the spray before it descended on his little head. This act of mercy was lost on him. "Want it to spray on me," he told me, Party-Pooper Mama. "Oh, look at the lights!" I countered, with a quick Distract and Redirect. We moseyed down to see the primates, Kiddo stopping to peer into each outdoor exhibit. It took all my parental propriety not to tell him there was no chance that any orangutan was going to freeze his monkey ass outside in this weather, which obviously made them smarter than we were.

Let's fast forward: after stopping at two restrooms primarily to warm up, gawking at some of the Zoo Lights (which were pretty awesome, hafta admit it) we decided to do an about-face and head back downtown to meet Joe at his office and catch a ride home.

Somehow, between Friday and today, I don't think I really ever chased the chill from my bones. The weekend brought our Letter to Santa ritual and a Christmas Tree came into our lives, via the Montavilla Co-op lot. Cold activities, both. Even the Jet Li movie we watched that night (oh gosh! love those fight sequences!) couldn't warm me up. Monday night I met with my mentors over a cold beer followed by a hot toddy, and discussed a decision that will be changing my family's lives in the next year. Still.Cold.

So that brings us to today. The first day I really felt not-cold. The living room is balmy like the South Seas, a lovely 81 degrees. Move away from the woodstove, though, to the kitchen where I sit, and it's more like 75 or so. Still, finally, not hurting and shivering inside, invisibly. Instead, I'm awaiting some veggies and tofu simmered up spicy, and looking forward to Joe coming  home with a dozen and a half of his coworkers fresh-laid organic eggs, so I can make Kiddo a little scramble, because his palate doesn't yet include the really good, spicy stuff. It'll be fun if he one day likes all my favorite hot foods: kim chi, tapatio sauce, pickled golden hungarian peppers, but for now, he can eat what he really likes.

I'm just happy to be warm.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Creeeeping Toward Christmas

Tomorrow is a personal liberation day of sorts. It's my last day of my preschool year, and while I will miss those sweet kids while we are on our winter break, I am very excited to get to get my Yuletide Merriment on.

Saturday is the big start: we finally get to find the wee tree of our dreams and put it up in the house. We'd been waiting on the tree for space reasons, so it didn't cramp the preschool's style. Add to that: there's already enough wacky excitement around the holidays anyway, and I like the kids to be focused on our school goings-on while they are here. They can get nutty about their own trees at home; I'll be plenty busy with the excitement Kiddo will supply. We'll do our tried-and-true method of putting the not-so-precious ornaments within reach and save some of the more delicate pieces for another year...say 2020.

There are other happy holiday traditions I look forward to. Celebrating the Winter Solstice by candlelight is always fun and meaningful for me. Looking forward to the lengthening of days and crossing my fingers for more sunlight, of which we are in constantly short supply until July. And around this time of year, I'm fond of renting that Jimmy Stewart classic...no, not "It's a Wonderful Life" but "The Shop Around the Corner", an Ernst Lubitsh film from 1940 which casts Stewart opposite Margaret Sullavan. I like this more than Capra, and here's why---"The Shop..." requires less boo-hooing and Kleenex on my part, and it's just sweet, not trying to be meaningful and no grand sweeping themes. Happy holidays, they call them, right? Just trying to live up to the moniker.

This year is a Stay-At-Home-Go-Nowhere Christmas, which is my all-time favorite kind. Each family has their own traditions, and our's is no exception, excepting the fact that they might not look like your grandma's. Tapioca pudding made with Silk soymilk for the lactose-intolerant Queen of the Castle is a treat this time of year. Our favorite Christmas dinner foods are either a cold feast of smoked salmon, dolmas, olives, cheese, good bread, apples and some other tidbits, or hot, roasted winter veggies with kalamatas and mandarin oranges and some salmon. The former is especially good eaten in front of the woodstove, with some good dark beer, or barleywine and the latter, at the table with a glass of full-bodied red wine. Kiddo will be elated to find a few fortune cookies in the stocking, too.

Our letter to Santa hasn't happened yet, and I've been suggesting to Joe that we avoid 'the list' and just give Mr. Claus a couple suggestions. As of today, Kiddo has been talking about asking Santa for "a welding torch". I have a feeling that the elves would not approve....

Best of all, I'm looking forward to having two weeks with Kiddo to myself. He's been just wanting to rock out with the Tinkertoy guitar, 'make a spark' with the equally-Tinkertoy welding torch, or crush things with his Tinkertoy impact hammer. Good thing we are getting him a new set for this year, because the old Tinks are so used that they aren't staying tightly together any more. Kiddo is also hot to use our Atlas hand-crank pasta maker, and has been asking to for the last few days. I have a feeling we will be tangled up in fettuccine noodles before it's over.

Two of my favorite treats this year are childhood delights we picked up on eBay: a vintage Forest Friends game--as cute as cute can be-- and Dean's Book of Fairy Tales illustrated by Janet and Anne Grahame. If you've never seen this book, well, it's amazing. Fairy tales most kids have hardly heard of are illuminated with amazing illustrations that put modern children's books to shame; I received this book for Christmas when I was nine and pored over it for years. Currently out of print, we've seen it sold for up to $70+; lucky us, Joe scored a last-minute bid and picked up a mint copy for about $32 dollars. I can't wait to get my hands on it, and then to share it with Kiddo when he's old enough to take good care of it. For now, the stories are too mature for him, so it will hang out upstairs with his copy of Treasure Island, which I am also playing steward to until he's plenty older.

Other than that, it will likely be pretty low-key, and at least one or two trips to Peacock Lane are in the offing. To walk, and breathe the car fumes? To drive in the heated car and wait in that dreadful line which will paralyze Belmont Street for the next two weeks? Ah, the choices, but it's surely a "can't miss" in our family on Christmas Eve, even if we have seen it all before. Then we'll toodle on home, throw on our James Brown Christmas cd and thank heavens for a little funk and soul while we put on Kiddo's pajamas and remind him that "tomorrow morning... it will be Christmas." Kiddo makes Christmas most special for me, and boy, what a year it's been.

Happy, happy holidays to you and yours!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tummy troubles? Slippery elm!

This last week has been a tough one. Kiddo had caught some terrible lower GI bug which started giving him trouble last Saturday night. He managed to look like things were better, but then again, oh no, they weren't. After all the fluctuations and a visit to the pediatrician, I did a bit of reading. It turns out that Slippery Elm Powder really helps. It's a demulcent, which means that it creates a film that coats mucous membranes, which is why Slippery Elm Lozenges are so popular with voice professionals and singers. It also soothes poor little inflamed insides. The book I have* recommends making a paste of this powder for children over 3 years of age, and suggests 1 teaspoon per day for kids between 3-6 years; children between 7-12 years can take 1 teaspoon, two-three times daily. The powder has little taste and can be mixed with a little apple juice or applesauce into a paste. I chose to give Kiddo some in about 3 ounces of apple juice; it's like dutch powdered cocoa in consistency, so you do have to add a little liquid into it at first to get it to mix in, but it's worth it. I tried a cup myself, and it's wasn't bad. I felt a little better, too, and after 2 days of it, Kiddo is right as rain. I think the bug had worked itself out anyway, but we'll keep up the Slippery Elm for a couple more days, just to speed up the healing. It works!

Just for the record, I am not a doctor and this is not meant to be medical advice. Always consult your child's pediatrician before administering any herbal medications. There. Now don't sue me.

* "Smart Medicine for a Healthier Child: A Practical A-Z Reference for Natural and Conventional Treatments for Infants and Children" by Janet Zand, LAc, OMD; Rachel Walton, RN; and Bob Rountree, MD.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Cup of Tea, Santa and Me

A wintry afternoon, the wind blowing the rain everywhere. I've a cup of Yunnan Fancy at my right and the woodstove aglow and in my sights. I almost let the fire die earlier today and I'm out of newspaper now, so diligence is due, but I still want to write, so I sit at my short little school table and tap it out.

Santa. The Holly Jolly Fat Man is under attack these days. Which, in rereading that last statement, seems a bit ridiculous outside of a B movie. "Santa Claus and the Martians", perhaps, but "Santa Under Attack"? By whom?

Well, there is that whole group who decries our Jolly Old Elf with the "Santa spells Satan with just one letter changed, so he must indeed be The Horned One". Well, damn, now there's some logic you can't argue with, but it also holds true with the words "Dog" and "God" and I'm pretty sure either item is not the other. What sort of miserliness of life would make this the reason to upset Santa from his throne as Benevolent Supernatural Creature who brings a little nice something to children? There is an omniscient mythology about Santa, true, but he's not saying "Worship Me", just "Maybe, If you get a chance, some cookies and milk would be nice". Santa's not asking for 10% of your income, nor are Santa's believers trying to create legislature to overrun other people's civil liberties. I do think, too, that this extremely vocal group of non-Santa-believers are trying to spread the flavor of mass dissent to the argument, but that they are likely in the minority, even with all that yelling about "standing at the gates of judgment" and being held accountable about having lied about Santa to our kids.

I have to say, if this is the Big Trauma in my son's life, I will be so grateful. Truly.

Reading that lovely Mamaworldforum, more and more often I see posts from parents considering calling foul on Santa. "It's a lie" they say. Yes, and probably one of the most benign lies we will ever tell. I don't believe that every parent is 100%-All-the-Time completely honest with their children, because it simply wouldn't be good parenting. We shield them from traumas (lie through omission), our knowledge of their failings, our disappointments in them and for them. We do all this because we must be the adult and contain some of these situations. We do this because there is so much we don't need to tell our children. How many times have we deceitfully distracted our kids while they were watching us as we tried to sneak the chocolate bars into the cupboard up high, or hand off a desired item to someone else on the sly when baby wasn't looking? Let's not all get on our high horse all at once.

What about the morality of Santa? I like Santa. He's an equal opportunity present-giver. As a character, aside from the pre-scripted "Lives in the North Pole, brings presents late on Christmas Eve" stuff, families can create their own Santa traditions. In our home, we write a letter to Santa every year and mail it at the big mailbox, then celebrate with slices at our local pizza place. We've been coaching our son to ask Santa for very modest things, like seedpods (last year) and bath toys (this year). We add a couple fortune cookies, his favorite, and he's completely delighted. Joe and I trade stockings, usually filled with chocolate and good beer. Simple, and this will be easy to continue over the years. Plus, Santa brings children what he wants to bring them, and so maybe it won't be something on the list. This is a good lesson that we don't always get everything we want. In our house, there is no discussion of 'deserving' Santa's gifts--he's just a really unconditional guy.

This is why I love Santa. You can make him to be anything you like. So, I guess if someone wants to make him the devil, well, it is their choice.

Nonetheless, I just can't imagine anyone getting this worked up over the tooth fairy.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Competing With the Media...

After my  post on all the kid-directed goodies and gadgets, my sister Amanda presented a challenge to me in her comment:

I'd like to hear your ideas about how to compete with these techy gadgets, as I'm sure your other readers would. I'm learning that the sweet out of doors compete well, as does reading and good old fashioned "work" for kids.


Competing with instant-gratification has to be just that: gratifying in some way. Thus, homework or taking out the trash isn't going to cut it. Like anything else designed to change some habits, preparation and good strategy are your two best allies. Here are some fun ideas for the stimulus-hungry:

Scavenger Hunt: When I was 10, there was nothing that would have been more exciting than a scavenger hunt. Any halfway-observant parent can trick this game out to suit their family. For younger children, I propose using a list of pictured objects to hunt for in your neighborhood. Older kids can have more sophisticated items to hunt for, with coded clues or use a camera to document what they've found. This can even be tied into their own interests or favorite places. And for an added twist, older children can help to create scavenger hunts for younger siblings. Having a "prize" at the end is fun too, whether it's a little sweet, a packet of stickers, or new packs of play dough (which is another great 'immediate gratification' activity, by the way.) Even a bowl of popcorn at the end is a marvelous treat.

Hot Wheels/Racetrack Challenge: Fun for any kid who likes to build or race cars. Use index cards to come up with several challenges in building a race track according to your child's level of ability. This can be anything from "make a track with two bumps" to "using a protractor, build a track with at least one 30 degree incline. how will the car make it up the incline and continue?" and other ideas of this nature. Challenges for the "shortest completed lap track" or 'steepest', or even 'track most covered by tunnels or other enclosures'.
The sky's the limit....

Paper Dolls/Making Doll Clothes: Boys aren't the only kids who need alternatives to television and video games. Depending on their ages and abilities, girls can have a lot of fun drawing a girl onto stiff card stock and cutting her out, careful to make sure there are shoulders to support the tabs which will hang the clothes, and use the body to make the basic template for the clothes. This can be as detailed or as simple as you like. I've made paper dolls with children who were happy to decorate the clothes once they were cut out with watercolors or sequins and trim glued on, and other children were able to do most of this themselves. Providing a variety of papers and materials only makes it more interesting and complex. Likewise, if you have some scraps of fabric, doll clothes can be created with a few folds and stitches---even simple robes and tunics can be devised for baby dolls; more advanced sewers can attempt clothes that are a bit more sophisticated, depending on the level of help the parent can provide. I'd also say that simple knitting and sewing projects like little purses can fall into this category.

Treasure Hunts: Who doesn't like a treasure hunt? You can use simple or challenging clues, even incorporating math ("Add the ages of yourself and your friend. Now take that number of steps down the hall...and look up. Your next clue is waiting nearby for you.") If you can prep ahead of time, and compose several games, this is a perfect 'inside on a rainy day' game. Just make sure the treasure is for everyone to enjoy. It could even be a new book about maps or something great for story time or another activity, like a new game, waiting at the end, to lead your kids onto the next fun thing.

Paper Airplanes:I've had great luck with this one! Bring out lots of paper, a few sets of instructions for paper airplanes (you can find them online easily), a roll of masking tape and a tape measure. Let the kids roll out a length of masking tape onto the floor wherever you plan on flying your planes. Hallways and long areas work well. Then, have them use the tape measure and a pencil to mark out 6" increments, labeling the 1 foot measures as they go. Then, let the airplanes fly! You can make it as simple as a contest to see whose plane goes farthest or something more experimental, using graphs and charts to measure which designs of planes are most effective and fly the longest most consistently. Kids can also fly them from opposite directions to try to 'crash' them in mid-air, if this appeals, or you can hang a target from the ceiling--even a crumpled ball of foil or paper plate are perfect for this, and let those paper planes fly!

Beading Kits: I can't say enough good things about beading kits. What first comes to mind is necklaces or jewelry, but a few twists can provide some added fun. Magic Wand: buy some wire, go for a walk to find a 'magic wand' (a nice stick off the ground is fine, just clean it to their satisfaction...some mosses and lichens are really neat), twist the wire around one end a couple times and then let them add beads and wrap the length of wire around the twig just as they please. This can also be done on the neck of a bottle to make it a vase. Otherwise, a simple needle and some good beading string (even dental floss will work in a pinch) is all you need for some fun.

Origami: Most packets of this beautiful square paper come with directions, otherwise, you can check out everything from beginner to advanced books at your local library, and they can also be found easily online. Note: be sure to practice some of these projects first and make notes to avoid trouble spots when you are ready to do it. Also: younger children can enjoy this too; help them fold the paper into quarters and let them cut 'snowflakes', then tape them up in a window. Perfect for this time of year.

Challenges: There are some bright, inquisitive kids and parents in this world. If you want something a little more engaging for both of you, check out Mensa for Kids  for ideas. Also check out rules online for challenges like the Egg Drop, where kids try to package an egg within certain guidelines so that, when the box containing the egg is dropped, the egg stays intact. I watched two 12 year old girls spend a morning very happily with this challenge.

Letterboxing:  I read about this in a magazine a couple years ago, and while I haven't yet gone on our first letterboxing adventure, everyone I know who has--well, they've just loved it. Letterboxers either hide a "letterbox", which is a little case containing a logbook and homemade stamp, in a public place for others to find, or they search for another person's letterbox and leave their own stamp in the logbook, while stamping their own logbook with the unique stamp found within the letterbox. Too cool, or what? Use this link to get started on this special sort of treasure hunt. One more reason to play in the great outdoors.

You might have noticed that several of these proposed activities present challenges to be overcome. I think this is important in showing our children that they can be good at more than video games; they can be thinkers, solve problems, create, and often, have something to show for it. As I said before, preparation and forethought is necessary in wooing our children's attentions away from all the mind candy, but once you have a few activities prepped, you'll see how easy it is to use these ideas. So when they ask for games or tv, having something immediately fun on hand to distract them with will have the desired effect. And once you've done them a few times, they'll have something new to beg you to do. "Mommy, can we pleeeease do a treasure hunt?" certainly sounds more enticing to a parent than "Can I sit on my bottom all afternoon and stare at a screen, and then get upset when I have to stop before completing Level 2000?"

Have fun!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Artichokes

Today I had the most splendid morning. After saying goodbye to my son at his preschool--he who could not simply take off the shoes and put on the slippers, but had to toss socks to friends and flop the slippers around-- I met my dear friend for a walk. The early day was lovely; the sun was out, and even in the cold, it just felt good not to have a ceiling of clouds overhead. We headed out for a loop around Laurelhurst Park and then some, and chatted about life. I love being outside with her--she's the kind of friend that stops at houses and looks into them, scopes out pretty things and makes you look at them, appreciate them with her. When you stop to smell the wintersweet, she knows what a gift that moment is and breathes the fragrance in with you, smiling. I am so blessed to have her.

After saying goodbye to her back at her house, I took a stroll over to Movie Madness to pick up some dvds. We made a concious decision as a family to support the local video store instead of going with Netflix. Sure, it's not as convenient as mail, and yes, I know it costs a little more, but it provides more spontonaiety and it's local. I like being able to get something that took no emissions to transport...just my own two feet.

Feeling hungry, I stopped at a food cart plaza right nearby for a veggie dog. Not imaginative, but I wanted something to take with me, so a veggie dog was procured and I wandered home to the real prize of my morning: my artichoke.

Surely, this felt a little excessive food-wise, but I didn't care. Yesterday, the artichoke had been purchased with hopes for this exact moment. The time when I could eat it and No One Would Ask Me For Anything.
I was home, completely alone, with my just-rented season 3 of Arrested Development. I was making this artichoke. Nothing was stopping me.

The secrets to steaming an artichoke in decent time are simply this: trim it well and use hot steam right off. I cut down just as far from the top as I can without taking off too much of those crown leaves, and used scissors to trim the tops of the other leaves, working from top to bottom. Cut the stem and trimmed off the tougher outer parts that were scarred up or frostburnt. This is part of my artichoke ritual, and I enjoy it, truly. It's part of the anticipation, preparing the sacred flower for becoming food. I opened up the artichoke as far as possible, fanning out the leaves and making as much space between them as possible, and rinsed it with fast-flowing cold water. Pop it upside down on the steam basket; the heat gets right in there and the artichoke cooks faster, which was what I needed. Sure enough, 35 minutes later it was perfect and tender. Lemon butter and salt and oh! what goodness! I spent the next 20 minutes happily celebrating the time alone and the end of my week. Walking back to the preschool to pick up Kiddo was easy because I'd spent some time on myself this morning, and I could feel its good effect.

Today I had the most splendid morning: an artichoke lunch morning. It's splendid because it really doesn't happen everyday. These little moments are a respite from the daily hoo-rah of being a working wife and mother.  There's a whole spectrum of lofty moments and crushingly stupid drudgery and everything in between that we experience as parents, and overall, I'm glad to do it.

So, as long as I can have an artichoke alone from time to time, I'll be okay.