Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Is It Preschool Time Yet?

Ah, Summer. You are sweatin' me like a dog. Is it September yet? When do the doors of Kiddo's preschool open? I'll be first in line.

Some summer days, those yummy days when the sun is out but mild and the child has loads of happy curiosity and enthusiasm... wow, I love those days. Bottle'em up, dump'em in a tub and let me soak in them. Those are the popsicle days, the ones where nothing seems to disturb our little tempers and there just seems to be a constant giggle in the air.

And then, there are those other days. The kind that make you think that "summer vacation" is vastly overrated and that preschool can't start soon enough.

This morning was one of those times. Actually, up until ten minutes ago, when Kiddo's little friend arrived to play, I've had a mostly grumpy, complainy little boy in my midst. Picture, if you will, our time leaving the grocery store. The walk up to the store was fine, if a little whiny, but the time at the store was pleasant enough. Kiddo picked out some peaches to share with his friend in a day or so, when they're ripe. As we were leaving, he asked to sit in one of those horrid, ubiquitous car-carts, and that was fine--for a few minutes. Then when I asked him to come along, he didn't say anything, just sat in the middle of the seat and stuck his feet out spread eagle, one shoe poking out of each side window. Defiant body and face, wee pout that we've learned from a friend because he thinks it's cute. Me? Not so much.

We had to meet someone back at the house, and frankly, I just wasn't having any of that. Matter of factly: "You have a choice. Either you can get out of the little car right now on your own, or I will pull you out and it will be pretty unpleasant for you."

Well, at least I get points for not being afraid to discipline my kid in public, right?

He got out on his own, and the rest of the walk home was a mantra/song of  "I'm tired of walking/You need to carry me/Carry me now Mama". Have you heard this tune before? I have it burned into my brain. I'm a firm believer that a little exercise never hurt anyone, and frankly, there's something about a four year old that has to ride in the stroller everywhere that is rather unappealing to me. Certainly, if you have two kids or more to manage, or need some containment, fine, but there's something about pushing around older children as if they are potentates because they just don't want to walk that just bugs me. Kiddo obviously disagrees with this concept, but I'm not looking forward to pushing a five year old around everywhere, so I'm setting some precedents now. The walk to the store isn't long, either. We save the stroller for longer outings, but this is within reason.

This summer has been a lesson in being the mother of a four year old. The little moments of dishonesty have begun, and I'm all for holding him accountable. The fibs are always small, little conveniences. Many times, he says he's done something that he hasn't in order to get a desired something (moving onto play, getting some attention). I call him on it. I ask him to double check that he's done his task, then remind him that "If I come in and it's not done, I'm going to need you to take some time on your own. Do you need another minute before I check on that?" Often, he takes me up on the offer to make sure things are done and says yes to more time. Big cleanups, I'm happy to help with, but little things like getting clothes to the washing or small self-care jobs, I believe he needs to be able to do without a lot of validation for dragging his feet.

Of course, there are the days when we are legitimately sad about some thing or another and I am a good sport, but days like today seem to drive me up a tree. Consequently, he was offered several times today that he could "use a pleasant voice like this (as I work to keep my own voice modulated and pleasant), or you can go into your room if you want to use the complaining voice. I don't like to hear it where I'm working."

Being a mom can make me feel like such a bitch, sometimes. Some days. Some days, I read some article about the joys and fleeting preciousness of our children and think "Please stuff it somewhere. It is not all roses and deep heartfelt moments. The parenting thing? Not enjoying it so much today, thanks." I thought this while working in the front garden this morning, pulling stubborn weeds and doing some serious grunt work. Kiddo was pounding chalk chunks with a good hefty rock, making a mess everywhere and yet complaining. All I could think was "Seriously? I am working my ass off and smell like a mule right about now. Please take your grumbling elsewhere."

Although, there was a lot of grumbling, so I can see how he couldn't take it all with him. Tee hee.

He's happy now, for the moment, and I'm feeling sapped out. Hard work and heat do it to me, and I'm so grateful that his little friend is over. Don't think by my typing this out that I've escaped my parenting duties; I've always got an ear out for voices, for stress and for too much quiet. In any case, the thought that preschool is only about a month away is both a balm and bittersweet. It means that he's going to keep on growing, growing up and growing away. He's going to be one of the 'big kids' at his school, a returnee. And after that, kindergarten won't be too far away. So, even on days like this, while I want to send him off to someone else's care for a few hours, I also want to hold onto him just a bit tighter, keep him a little longer. This sort of nostalgia plays mind tricks on parents all the time, and I'm sure that when the friend goes home, we might likely be right back where we started. But for right now, I'll have this soppy, soupy, goopy mama moment. For today, it's what I've got.

Monday, July 25, 2011

"La La Means I Love You"

Saturday night found me with my mouth agape. I'd clicked onto OPB and found a recast of the 2007 Rochester Jazz Festival and there was Bill Frissell, closing out the show with what started out as a sweet, intricate version of "La La Means I Love You"  and then ended up with a beautiful burning down of the house, or my brain, still not sure. (Yep, that's a link, because your life will be better if you check it out, and use the good speakers, not your crappy laptop speakers, otherwise, what's the point?) So good I had to share. Watch as Frissell loops himself and the drummer turns into slow-mo. I saw Frissell years ago at the Aladdin in collaboration with PICA and was amazed even then.

And if you need a hit of Old Style, check out the Delphonics singing "La la...". In the words of Eric Cartman, "Super Sweet". (and be sure to check out the comments for this YouTube selection. Quite candid!)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Are You Sure?

I go online this morning and flip through my email. Five messages in the SPAM hopper, which I always check because occasionally a legit email gets stuck there. I peruse the senders: some king from a fantasy land has selected me to entrust with a preposterous amount of money, but first I need to send some of my own to his agent, acting on his behalf. Both Mexico and Canada are offering me a fantastic choice of pharmaceuticals to help with 'Lift Off" (nudge nudge wink wink). And I always look for my favorite spam from "Sexy Time"; the subject line asks "Do you want Sexy Time?",  and this reminds me of an SNL skit centered around the idiosyncratic use of the English language by non-native English speakers, which is why it is my silly favorite.

Checking all the boxes, I hit "delete" and am met with this question:

"Are you sure you want to delete all five messages?"


These sorts of queries are almost confusing. Should I not be sure? It's spam, right? I checked the box specifically so that I could delete those specific messages. Wait, are they implying that I should be sending money to the King of Nowheresland's agent's private off-shore account?  In my haste, am I missing a great deal on Levitra, something we most certainly do not (yet) need? What about Sexy Time? Maybe my life would be better if right now, at 7:30 in the morning, I did want Sexy Time after all?

Too much consideration about nothing. But the same can be said for the library website. I adore our library, but its website is also alarmist in its warnings. The library computer is kind enough to send me an email every so often, letting me know that materials will soon be due and that I can renew them online. This is lovely, and I do take advantage of these services. However, after a recent update of their system, for a while every time I went to renew books, I encountered three different screens. The first screen shows the materials and their original due dates, and it is on this screen that I hit the "renew all" button. It used to be that a second screen asked "Renew All will renew all items. Do you want to renew all items?" Are we serious? If confronted with this option, is there anyone who stops and thinks "You know, on second thought, I'd better not. Think I'll make life interesting and chance the over dues!" So then, I press "Yes", because that's a hoop we now have to jump through, making a decision twice by formalizing the first request. I am compelled to wonder how it came to this. Were there long, heated conversations with library patrons? "I did not want to renew this book! Why did your computer program say I renewed it when I had no intention of renewing?! Please, let me pay the fines I didn't get to accrue!"  Not me. Renew them all. And give me an extra extension if possible, please.

So, this weird second-guessing feels like nutty caretaking from a dotty grandmother. "Do you want a sweater? No? Are you sure you don't want a sweater? Take a sweater, you might need it. I think you might need that sweater, dearie." All I can think is "I don't want the sweater. It's 90 degrees outside, Granny, so we can talk this into circles, but I'm leaving now, without the sweater, and you can lay an 'I told you so' on me later."

In the meantime, I will keep doing risky things like deleting with impunity, "Renew All"-ing and "Navigating Away From This Page". From my perspective, if we are smart enough to be operating a computer, are these warnings really necessary? Maybe. After all, maybe I'm not all that bright if I keep passing up offers for Sexy Time....

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Summer Sell-Out

Summer. Ahhhh, summer. Time to sell out my brain for some mindless distraction.

Somehow, perhaps from those 13 years of school--oh too long ago-- my brain has been programmed to be slightly turned off once July rolls around. I'm trying not to think too hard about anything, hence the email I sent to my girlfriend the other night:

re: Colin Firth Alert

Bridget Jones' Diary is on at 8 on channel 32. Just thought you'd want to know.

Now, where did I stash my drool cup?...

If you want to know what that last squiggly thing is, I've now created an icon for drooling over Colin Firth. You may use it if you need something handy for any other hotties as well.

As you can see, my brain is not pondering anything too thinky, but just enjoying cute guys and other silly distractions. TV has been one of them, as well as a few tasty morsels. Come along and tour my Land O' Vices...

First off, The Legend of the Seeker gave our summer the right kind of start. Based on Terry Goodkind's "Sword of Truth" series of fantasy novels, Seeker is perfect entertainment for the D&D crowd, which is why I bought it for my husband. (If there were such a thing as a "card carrying" D&D enthusiast, he'd have a stack of those cards.) Why did I enjoy it so much? It just kicks all sorts of ass. If you liked Sam Raimi's "Zena" or "Hercules" franchises, you'll likely enjoy this. Laden in its own mythology with attractive lead characters and an undeniably sexy villain, along with decent storyline to take you along for the ride, Seeker is great for chillin' out on a summer evening. They wrapped the show up after two seasons, but we're hoping for a season three someday. Never say never. Richard Cypher, The Seeker himself, wouldn't.

Now, for something completely more drecky: "How can you watch that crap?" states my dear friend Kathee, but really, once Hell's Kitchen comes on, I just can't help myself. I'm not even adding a link for this show: either you know it and love it or you probably just don't care. Culinary enlightenment is a great excuse for watching Gordon Ramsey get all bitchy with the wannabes, who sometimes wholeheartedly deserve the criticism that comes their way.  I also admit to enjoying Master Chef (which Ramsey hosts and co-judges), even if another dear friend does accuse Joe Bastianich of being a total bastard (and at times, on the show, he does seem to be one, so I'm not arguing there)... he's often right in his opinions. And no, I'm not sorry for the contestants. They all owned televisions and knew what they were in for-- it's not the first season of either show. However, on MC I am rooting for Allejandra, whose spicy combinations are usually creative and interesting. Her recipes seem individual and interesting enough to garner her own cookbook, which is part of the prize. I'd never go on the show, because I'd get flayed. Gotta be smart enough to know one's own limitations, and this totally fits the bill for mindless entertainment.

Another summer love is Annie Chun's packs of Sesame Seaweed. I can eat a whole package of those seaweed squares (okay, they're rectangles, but it just doesn't sound as good) and the total caloric intake is probably 3 calories. They're incredibly addictive...if you are the kind of person who can get hooked on seaweed. I am.

Trader Joe's Savory Thin Mini Rice Crackers Multiseed with Soy Sauce: If you like those little oriental rice crackers they sell, but are tired the ubiquitous 'chili bits', these are a delight. Same awesome taste with seeds, which are a good source of ALA Omega-3s. I could eat these by the bowl-full, they're that good.

Tanqueray Gin and Tonic (tonic? preferably Schwepps). Seriously...Do I need to say more?

Graphic Novels: I'm loving the 'reading but not reading' vacation of the graphic novel. Thus far this summer, top hits have been "The Imposter's Daughter: A True Memoir" by Laurie Sandel and "Hey Princess" by Mats Jonsson. Both showcase lead characters trying to find what it all means in a fluctuating world', the former, of her father's making, the latter, of his own. Also to add to the list is "With the Light" by Keiko Tobe, a 15 volume manga series which follows the lives of a mother Sachiko, her autistic son Hikaru, and their family as Hikaru grows up in contemporary Japan. Tobe wrote the series, inspired by a classmate of her son's, to raise awareness and educate the public about autism. Up next on my shelf is Kevin Sacco's "The Plane Story"....  looking forward to this 'lighter' reading.

The other things I love about summer are all to be found outside: the daisies and alstromeria and gaura blooming like crazy in the front garden; carrot fronds waiting patiently to get big and bushy; fresh shucking peas, zucchini, and the promise of tomatoes and green beans, their dainty flowering vines curling up the poles they're planted on; lavender bringing the bees; the Japanese anemones budding, future white flowers hidden inside; the rock garden full of sedums in blooms of yellow and pink; the nasturtiums finally popping out a few apricot yellow flowers and the zinnias growing steadily.  Sandbox play, bees everywhere, ladybugs all over the place (I loves you, you ladybugs you!) and sometimes, we even get some sunshine. Time to go pick a few golden raspberries and call it a day. Enjoy your summer too, and if you have any favorites, share them with us. I can't believe anyone else's list could be sillier than mine... we won't laugh at you, I promise!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Dinosaur Deal...and Then Some

For the past few weeks, Kiddo has been asking for some bigger dinosaur toys. He's got a couple handfuls of the mini ones, and has recently enjoyed some fun times playing with other people's big dinos, especially his cousin Eli's while camping and those in "The Cave" at Fossil Cartel. In preparation for the garage sale I offered him an opportunity: he could sell some of his toys and then use the money to buy some dinos he wanted. Sounds reasonable, right?

It sounded reasonable enough to Kiddo. He agreed to this idea, and kept asking when we'd get his dinosaurs. He's four, and a wait time of a week can be tough--for everyone, I was beginning to realize. The more I thought about this, the more I could see the wrinkles in this idea. What if there weren't a lot of takers for toys at the sale? What about the experience of having "x" amount of money to spend at a toy store without the math skills to back this adventure up? He's just learning about three fingers on each hand together making six fingers total. As I thought through this more and more, other aspects stood out as problematic. At four, I'm not sure it's right that a child's expectations hinge upon the market. It didn't seem quite right for him to wait all week for a lot of possibles. Truthfully, too,  I did not want to do the complicated math shopping trip to the toy store with him. With all this in mind, I came up with a more age-appropriate and far simpler idea:

Kiddo would trade us his toys, pre-sale, for two dinosaurs. This seemed more cut and dry and we could get said dinos and move on. Joe and Kiddo agreed, and so our plan was set into action. Last Saturday,  Kiddo had scored big-time at a garage sale with the purchase a styracosaurus for a dime. On Sunday, we asked him to chose two companions for "Styro", he wanted an triceratops and a Tyrannosaurus rex. Monday lunchtime, dear Joe was kind enough to run to the toy store: triceratops was waiting, but the only T rexs were those of the elite German Schiller descent and very expensive, so he settled for an Allosaurus. Kiddo was delighted; he didn't care that his creatures were from different periods (the ceratopsians are Lower Cretaceous; allosaurus is Jurassic), he was just so happy. From that point on, a lot of inter-period dino combat has been happening in our house, which sounds like this:

Allosaurus: I'm going to eat you.
Styro and Triceratops: Uhhhhhaaaooooohhhhhhh. (the sound of bellowing dinosaurs) Poke! Poke! Poke!

Two against one for poor Allosaurus. He's totally out of his period and now he's cornered by two roaring creatures who gore him constantly....and yet he doesn't run away. Maybe not all that smart, huh?

It is also now a house rule that we cannot play "Dino Fights" until every member of the family is awake.

Well, the universe took to spoiling my boy a bit, because yesterday during the garage sale, I gave him three dollars to go buy rocks with at Fossil Cartel, which Joe tells me he held onto in awe for the entire car ride.
As my friend Kathee and I tended our sale, Joe called me from downtown. Not only had Kiddo purchased two rocks (agatized coral and turtilla fossil jasper), but Joe had taken him to the toy store and bought him a parasauralophus. "Sucker!" I gleefully chortled into the phone. "Now you have to stop by your work so that 'parasauralophus can go to the office'." This is a nonsense rhyme question that we ask each other from time to time, and yes, yesterday, parasauralophus did indeed go to the office. Then back home to make friends with Allosaurus, who was likely delighted to have some not-too-threatening and period-correct prey.

Lastly, as my dear friend Lissa came to clear out our leftovers to sell for her church's Missions fundraiser sale*, she brought along another friend and his daughter, a playmate of Kiddo's. Said daughter brought Kiddo three more dinos to add to his collection because she had moved on past them...but she had no problem giving them a 'bath' with Kiddo, in pans of collected rainwater and stirred around with sticks, as if they were being made into dinosaur stew.

So, all that to say that within a week, we have become rich in dinosaurs. The garage sale went well; all of Kiddo's toys did sell, and most of our stuff went away forever. A few things did return to the house to be sold later (cds will head to Music Millenium, our old coffee table and funky lamp will be making an encore appearance at a Vintage Sale next month) and I think we've decided to keep the lava lamp. Silly us, but it's somehow blobby and enjoyable and we all like it. It's a little weird pretend prehistory in a glass tube, but we like it all the same. And it kinda goes with the dinosaurs, if you know what I mean.

* If you live in the Portland/Gresham area and love a good sale, or just have some things in your own house that need to move on, please come to the BRING and BUY Sale on August 6th. This is a fundraiser for East Hill Foursquare Church's mission trip to Esperanza Viva Home for At-Risk Youth in Puebla, Mexico. There will be a great selection of books, clothes, house wares, furniture, toys, games and many other items for you to purchase. Come shop for things you need or fun finds! All proceeds will help team members minister to kids in need in Mexico.

Please bring your used items in good condition to donate to the sale as well!

What: Bring & Buy Sale

Why: Fundraiser to support East Hill’s Mission Team to the Esperanza Viva Youth Home in Puebla, Mexico

When: Saturday, August 6, 2011 from 9am to 6pm

Where: Grassy area behind the East Hill Office Complex (near N Main Ave & NW 5th St in downtown Gresham)

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Weird Guy

There's something to be said for not letting kids in on what's going on, especially when it's only likely to raise fears or anxiety.

Last weekend, an awesome woman I know had her house robbed. If this has never happened to you, be glad. Having your home broken isn't just horrible, it is terrifying in that it can totally destroy your sense of security, even if only temporarily. Someone's been there. In your house, in your room, in your drawers, in your kids room. It goes beyond invasive. However, what seemed most incredible to me was that she and her husband had managed to contain the situation so well that their four year old child had no idea anything bad had happened. Their upset, anger and fears did not overwhelm their parenting choices and their son had come through this event with his sense of safety and security intact. This must have taken a remarkable amount of forethought and self-discipline on the part of everyone in their small world, and what a lovely amazing gift to her child.

Yesterday, this came to mind at a helpful moment, when I needed it most. Kiddo and I had taken a walk to a place we call Quiet Park, which is the playground of a former elementary school that now houses a Head Start program. The park is nearly always quiet; people pass through with their dogs to the off-leash area, or use it to cut through to the neighborhood below. At the top of the park sits the playground and an open space ringed loosely with tree, but going down the hill, there are larger trees, more lush and beautiful, and at the bottom, a walkway between two openings in the fence. After a few trips down the slide, Kiddo wanted to see all the trees at the bottom, so he took my hand and led  me down the hill. We stopped and marveled at a fat bumblebee nuzzling the white clover blossoms, then watched the graceful aerodynamics of a swallow or two, flying crazy and low through the air, hairpin-turning and awesome to watch. A woman quickly ran down the path, like she was late for something, and we talked about the flowers growing on the trees.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man climbing a fence a the lowest point of the park, near one of the hospital parking lots. This raised a red flag; the entrances weren't that far away, why would he go to the trouble of jumping the fence? He disappeared, then reappeared, and something just didn't seem right about him. By this point, I'd already turned ourselves around to head back  up the hill to play, but something just kept nagging at me. I'd see him, and then.... he'd be gone. He was working his way up the hill toward us. We'd just reached the play structure and Kiddo wanted to play some more, and I felt terrible for saying no, but now this guy was in sight again. He'd apparently found a plastic hoop from the preschool and was banging it on a fence near the school building. I kept walking, Kiddo protesting. He didn't want to go, he wasn't done playing. What should I say to him?

This was when my friend's actions buzzed in my head. "He doesn't need to know about this weird guy, he just needs to move past the moment." Suddenly, it all seemed simple and clear: give him his two bits of empathy, and this was the right time for a distraction bribe, which I usually reserve solely for shots. "You know, Kiddo, I made us leave without giving you time to do your One Last Thing*. Thanks for coming with me. Would you like to have a little ice cream when we get  home?" No explanations, just something to look forward to. My beating heart eventually slowed to its usual pace and the rest of our walk was quite fun; we got the treat of spying a crane working at the hospital, so we hunted it down and watched it work for ten minutes or so, then found an excavator too, and finally headed home to a bowl of berries topped with ice cream.

Kiddo never knew what happened, and because of this, we didn't introduce one of many of the scary things in this world that can make both children and their parents feel helpless. I'll never know if the weird guy was actually being a sketchy character or just plain old weird in a harmless sort of way. My take on it is this: erratic behavior is erratic behavior. Some people have no problem controlling their actions, some may have mental or intellectual issues or disabilities which seem outside the norm but are harmless, and I also know enough that there are some people with whom it is very difficult to conventionally reason with. I can't honestly say that even if I'd been solely with a group of adults, I wouldn't have suggested leaving or cutting a wide berth. I just knew this person's actions appeared to be unusually  unpredictable, and my mama-senses said to go, so I left. That's what instinct is for. I'll never know what was really up with this guy, and Kiddo---well, he'll never know what went on at all.

*At the park or other fun places, we give Kiddo a warning that we'll need to leave and then he gets a final warning of "Go do your One Last Thing". He wasn't out of line to protest leaving -- he hadn't been given his usual transition cues, and because I needed to waver from the routine, I needed to acknowledge it.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Garage Sales: The Price of the Past

Sometimes, something which seems simple is so much more complex than one could ever think.

This week, along with various dinosaur duties* and other quotidian tasks, I am preparing for a garage sale. This should be simple, right? Pull out a bunch of stuff, pop on price stickers and stick them into a box to wait for the weekend. It sounds so easy unless you decide to have a sale not to sell, but to purge. Our house has been holding a super-sized amount of certain items: glassware, bar ware (we have enough martini shakers to get a small army drunk), kid's toys, and cds are the most egregious offenders of our space. The cds, especially. We have at least a couple hundred copies of cds, nevermind the actual "in the jewel case with the packaging" stuff. I have a stack of nearly 200 for Joe to sort through tonight; I've kept all of our 'for sure' favorites, but honestly, I can't remember when I've ever heard him play some others and they have the dust to prove it.

Organizing a garage sale with another human being can be mindnumbingly frustrating. I'm more methodical; grab up one type of object, pack them in boxes so that like things are stored with like. While the old Betamax machine and the corresponding Beta tapes are nicely boxed, Joe's pile in the basement is just that-- a pile. I'll amend that, actually, and say it's an Ugly Pile. Old games (a Simpson's Game, anyone? We've never played it....why would you?), some shoes, some other crazy stuff that I haven't yet identified because I am waiting for the pile to be brought upstairs by the man himself... this is stuff that might be best presented in one of the Free Boxes. We'll have at least 2 or more, because when you are purging, there's nothing better than the stuff just being Gone.

That's the promise we've made: he'll pull out stuff he feels good about letting go of, and he has to let me price them and It's Not Coming Back Inside. A friend has been alerted to my scheme...she can haul stuff away for her missions fundraiser for next month, or it goes to the Goodwill that evening. "After the sale, this stuff shall not again cross the threshold!" I declared this to my husband like a priest at an exorcist--once this stuff is gone, it stays gone.

But what price to put on memories? Sentimental value is inflation at its worst. Looking philosophically at garage sales, here's my perspective: I really dislike going to garage sales that don't price things to move. Three bucks for a bucket of glitter glue pens? Well, okay, yeah, it's cheaper than the store, but not a garage sale bargain, in my opinion. For me, if I'm going to try making some money back on items I'm selling, I'm probably going to scare people away. Cheaper is better for us.  Being able to have all of the cds contained in one area of the house is far more important than making money back on them. Having formerly worked at a record store for nearly ten years, I am quite familiar with the folly of this thinking.

Garage sale pricing is about understanding that, while you may have had an awesome time in Europe wearing that jacket, your prospective buyer is just looking for a cheap jacket-- the experiences of Paris or Barcelona don't come with it. I price with the understanding that these objects have yet to accrue sentimental value for someone else. I have a beautiful fluted glass bowl, purchased for two dollars at a garage sale in San Francisco, in which I force paperwhites every winter. There's no way you could have sold it to me for more than four or five bucks at the time of purchase, but now I have the good memories of visiting my dear friend Jen in SF, over 10 years ago, and the bowl has become a meaningful player in how we celebrate the winter, priceless to me at this point.

I am looking forward to Saturday, to letting go of so much and saying goodbye to it once and for all. The profit that come from this will first go to pay for the Dinosaur Deal (which will be the next blogpost) and then the rest will be gravy. And perhaps buy us some dinner out on Saturday night, because we are going to be beat. The real payoff is the space we'll have, hopefully not to be filled in with more clutter. More space to breathe. I have a vision for our home, eventually, and want to keep working toward it. In the meantime, it's all priced to move...

*If you were wondering, Dinosaur Duties includes making sure they have a place to sleep at night (near the bed, on their own little bed and covered with a blanket), making sure they all make it indoors after being buried in the sandbox, and getting to dry them off after their baths in the bin full of water, stones and marbles. Last night all of the dinos were washed and we read their bellies for their names and thus began the chant "Allosaurus, Made in China... Triceratops, Made in China... Edmontosaurus,Made in China".  Now Kiddo thinks everything is made in China. Not true, but those German dinos are really expensive!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Leading by Example: Around the House

Lately, I've been keenly aware that Kiddo is watching every little thing I do and listening to every exclamation and exhalation. Yes, even the sighs don't escape his notice. "Mama, why did you go 'hmmmm'?" I am wary of complaining, lest I teach him discontent, so often my answer is more reflective: "Oh, I'm just thinking about something" or "Oh, I'm just working out a problem right now", which seems more progressive than griping.

I am trying to get into the habit of not complaining and to instead focus on solving the problem at hand, the source of my own discontent. Complaints and grumbles seem to stay in the air and have no good purpose. Staying positively focused feels far more empowering when one is faced with the daily trials and tribulations of endless housework... the dishes that seem to reappear from nowhere; the piles of dirty clothes that seem to clone themselves just when my back is turned. Dust bunnies which regenerate at what seems like lightning speed. And let's not forget the toys, which have been possessed by the spirit of Manifest Destiny. Some days, I'm pretty sure I can hear them strategizing: "We've made it this far, to the edge of the carpet. Let us go forth and populate the fertile ground of the living room, and then let us stretch out further beyond, into the forbidding orange Formica plains of the kitchen. We shall meet a terrible foe there, the one the child calls "Mama". She shall hurl us backward, but have strong hearts, we will do our best to trip her up and vex her before she banishes us from the land there."

Having a good sense of humor helps, considerably. This summer, as I spend long day after day with Kiddo, I work to be thoughtful about modeling a pleasant attitude and willingness to do things I don't particularly want to do. Let's be honest here, not every day is a shout-out success. But being mindful of what I say and do, and the messages those words and actions send, does make things easier in the long run.

At the table: This is the first area of self-restraint. I am careful not to mention foods I don't like and not to draw attention to them. Out and about, it's easy to ask for "no lettuce, no onion" on my veggie burger, but at home when Joe's eating a salad, I keep my mouth shut. Or if someone offers something I don't care for, a simple "no thanks" is all that's needed. We have made a habit, long ago, of simply saying "oh, I'm not fond of" such and such, instead of vehemently stating how much we "hate" something, or using other descriptions of dislike. We don't force Kiddo to eat anything he's not interested in trying, and we certainly try not to set an example of unwillingness, so if we don't care for it, we don't talk about  how revolting we might find it, even if it is revolting. Everyone in the world eats different things, and I want my son to taste new foods without preconceived ideas.

The same can also be said about junk food. We do have our nights of eating chips in front of the tv after Kiddo is asleep, just like most couples, and we do try to make the healthier choices in front of Kiddo while he's at the table with us. If he's watching us eat junk food on a regular basis, that's going to be what he thinks grown-ups do. By serving healthy meals and smaller sweet treats within reason, and drinking lots of water, we show him what a healthy plate looks like.

Doing our Work: The act of living inside any dwelling, even the most basic, requires work. In "On the Banks of Plum Creek", Laura Ingalls Wilder recalls how Ma Ingalls swept the dirt floor of their dug-out home every day. That takes discipline, in my opinion, sweeping a dirt floor. Having a time to do the jobs required to keep the house running smoothly requires a lot of explanations to Kiddo when he asks "Why won't you play with me?" If I mope and gripe, chances are he will think these tasks are indeed onerous and boring. Instead, I try to give simple explanations: It's nice to have clean dishes or clean clothes. The kitchen looks so good when all the dirty things are washed up. We have room to play or cook now that a space in the house is clean. Making our beds makes the rooms look more comfortable; picking up our toys allows us more room to play with the ones we want to use now. We feel better in tidy rooms, and while I'm nowhere near done on making our house tidy, the progress that is made helps.

Likewise, working in the garden requires a lot of time and dedication. With the summer heat, many mornings find me watering the garden before I've had a cup of tea or breakfast. Kiddo is invited to help, and once again, the tasks are presented as helpful. The flowers look so cheerful when they are watered, the zucchini, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes and peas all need tending so that we might have good food. Keeping the weeds at bay is important, and so some of my time is spent not playing outdoors, but working to make sure our plants have a good growing season. Best of all is when we might bring the bounty indoors; grilled zucchini for dinner, a freshly pulled carrot to chomp or an arrangement of flowers to brighten up the room. Noticing the good things that come from our work brings a spiritual aspect to the nurturing work of tending the garden, or even taking care of the cat, who hasn't yet grown thumbs and can't feed himself.

You Do What I Do: Let me say that this is one of the areas in child rearing when leading by example is so important. If Kiddo needs sunblock on, I must wear some also. If he must brush his teeth, I'll often brush mine at the same time. Wearing a sun hat, even when I'd prefer not to, is something I must do so as to teach good self-care to my child. All of those aspects of good hygiene--washing one's hands, bathing, making sure our hair is combed and untangled--all this must be modeled by myself and my husband if our son is to develop good habits on his own.

This modeling also extends to other aspects of life. Returning library books in a timely manner shows good stewardship and that we are willing to take our turns and live by another's rules. Limiting my own screen time shows my son that there are more important,  better things to do during the day. Getting exercise by taking brisk walks or hikes puts a priority on moving one's body, and sitting down to read and relax daily honors the needs of the body to rest for a while. Using a quieter voice in the common spaces or waiting for a conversation to finish instead of interrupting, being considerate when someone nearby is on the telephone shows children that they are part of a world bigger than just themselves and their own desires or agenda. Others around us need special considerations from time to time; it's not all about us.

At the end of the day... bedtime is a time for restful talk, reading books and relaxing before sleep. Our routine starts with the usual self-care tasks--changing into pajamas so the clothes we wore all day don't dirty the sheets and bed, the brushing of teeth, face washing and using the bathroom-- all these come first. Then, there are the stories, and lastly, the most important time of all, our gentle review of the day. "What did you like doing today?" I always ask Kiddo, and he never answers directly, but always turns the question back to me "What did yooooou like doing today, Mama?" And so a litany of the days activities begin, with one exception: I don't focus on the harder spots, unless he brings them up himself. Instead, it might go like this:
"Well, PeaPod, I liked watering the garden with you this morning. I liked picking peas with you, and bringing in some flowers. I liked when we walked to the store and stopped to look at the ladybugs on that leaf. I liked when you took a bath and how you made your dinosaurs ride in that plastic tub for their boat. I liked when I did the dishes and you worked next to me in the bubbles while I did the washing up in the other sink. And I liked how you got your pajamas on the right way, the first time I asked, and that you picked a really great book for story time, because I love that one too. And I love you."

Never underestimate the positive power of this sort of reflection. Even when the day is rough and we've had to use a lot of discipline or do a lot of problem-solving, right before bed is the time when he might bring those hard moments up, but not me. I'd prefer us to end the day feeling closer to each other, for him to feel secure in my love and esteem for him. Even in the midst of the daily challenges and small failures, he is still lovable, and that my first thoughts to him are not of his mistakes, but of moments he can feel proud of himself in. I believe that as long as we are giving guidance and addressing the challenges and behavioral issues 'in the moment', that the end-of-the-day positive feedback isn't a whitewash, but something that conveys trust. I know who Kiddo really is, and acknowledge who he's capable of being, and he falls to sleep, knowing he has the power to make a positive impact on our lives as a family. Loving him just for being there with me.

This has a trickle-down effect, too, for when I am ready to turn out my own light, I might be exhausted, but satisfied that we had some good moments and that tomorrow holds more opportunities to do it all over again. Some of those tasks will make me sigh, but the day will have purpose and meaning, and the next night offers up again that quiet, loving space between Kiddo and I, where we have peace with each other. It makes leading by example worth so much more than just showing him how to do what I want him to do, because I am also living the kind of life which I value for him. We mothers often put ourselves last. Leading by example put us in a loving parallel place, where we value and care for ourselves as we do our child. The goodness of our positive actions goes beyond the teaching of our youngsters, and carries over to the good which is done in our own hearts and lives.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Parents: Lead by Example

A hot day in Portland, and Kiddo and I have set off on yet another Fountain Adventure Day. We stop first at Portland State University to see some small decorative fountains which can't hold much more than the pennies we toss in.  Then we press on to some of the city's larger fountains, Lovejoy Fountain and Ira's Falls, respectively. At the first, a man resembling a bowl of lumpy gray oatmeal is cooling his legs. Kiddo asks to go into the water, and I tell him that we can't, but not because this guy is funky: there is a sign just a couple yards away which specifically tells people that the fountain isn't intended for wading or water play. The second large fountain we walk by used to be a popular summer swimming and wading spot when I was in high school, and it still is, despite an identical sign posted prominently. Here, it is harder to explain to Kiddo that we can't wade. The smell of chlorine is thickly present, as mothers wade with their babies and older kids swim and dip their entire bodies underwater in the large pockets and pools of the fountain. "Are they being bad people, Mama?" Kiddo asks me. Instead of giving a complex answer, I suggest a great place that is okay for wading; we just have to walk a little farther. With that said, we trudge onward to Salmon Street Springs  (a sanctioned waterplay fountain on the waterfront) and my sense of having done right as a parent is intact.

So, what's the harm of ignoring the signs? To the passing glance, everything looked safe enough. Then again, there was water deep enough for a person to submerge, and no lifeguard present. Toddlers waded in their Pull-Ups, so "ewww" on that one. But the biggest harm is that one day, when Kiddo can read and sees me ignoring signs, he's going to think that he's exempt from the rules too.

I have to lead by example, and believe me, it's not always most convenient choice. Yet part of being a parent is growing up enough to put our own convenience and preferences aside for our children's betterment. Most parents would agree that being intoxicated in front of the kids is a big no-no, but there are many other things adults might do that are still just as dangerous or negatively influential as having had one too many. Some people joke that rules are made to be broken, but when some rules are broken, the results can be tragic and permanent.

Here are some areas in which we parents can positively model behaviors that might actually save our child's life:

Buckle Up. It doesn't matter if you are only driving the car into the garage, buckle up each time. Our family's practice is that the car doesn't start until we're all strapped in. When parents show the importance of this simple act, we set the example that our children should do the same. Each and every time, anywhere you go. If you have to unbuckle someone for a minute, pull over.

Hang Up That Phone on the Road. Here in Oregon, a driver must use a headset or another hands-free device to talk on their phone. This law is a joke to many drivers and is more or less routinely ignored. Worse yet, we've been told time and again that distracted driving is just as bad or perhaps even more dangerous than driving under the influence of alcohol, yet still people feel this impairment doesn't apply to them. It's other people that are more at risk, those less-experienced drivers. Above it all, are we? Do your kid (and perhaps someone else's) a favor and pull over to take that call. It only takes a minute and you might save a life...even if it's the life of your future teen driver, who will remember that "we don't answer the phone while we're on the road.".

Wear Your Own Helmet. I can't stress this one enough. If you don't wear a helmet when you are on wheels, why should your kids? Your head isn't any stronger or less vulnerable. On a recent camping trip, a father and his kids were playing a game of chase on bikes; only one child was wearing a helmet, and it was in the 'fashion-hat' position, on the back of her head so that her forehead was exposed. You might think that because you didn't wear a helmet as a kid (and you turned out just fine!) that you don't need one now. Let me ask: do you plan on the kids driving you to the ER? Don't put your children in the position of having to witness their parent seriously injured. And no, even close to home isn't an excuse. There's no invisible cushion protecting you or your children just because they're in the neighborhood or right in front of the house. This is magical thinking at its worst. Get yourself and your children a correctly-sized helmet and wear it properly. Just pack a cap in your bag if you are worried about "helmet hair". Frankly, I'm more worried about my child having a disabled or dead parent than I am about my hairdo. And for the sake of water safety, you have to wear your own life jacket, too. They're not just for kids. In bad conditions, age or experience won't prevent you from drowning. No one plans for accidents to happen--they just do.

Obey the Traffic Signals. You might be in a hurry, but jaywalking is still a big no-no. If Jenny and Junior know that mom sometimes crosses against the light because "it's fine" and she's in a hurry, they are more likely to do it too, when adults aren't present. The same goes for that already-yellow light; do you want your future teen driver blasting through 'pink' lights, risking their safety for an extra few seconds? When we slow down, we send a message that the safety of ourselves and everyone else around us is most important.  We do even better when we teach our children to routinely use hand signals when biking and to mind traffic control signs. That stop sign posted over on the right isn't just for cars, so while they're young we can instill the good habits of stop, look, and listen, on foot, on the bike, or in the car.

Notice Other Signs, and Heed Them. Do you expect your children to follow the rules all the time, or only when it works for them? Older children who can read notice when we don't follow the rules ourselves. Whether the signs say "no food or drink" or "DANGER--STAY OUT" we are setting the life example that when rules are posted, we follow them. It's good to point these out to our kids, so that they know that the rules apply to everyone, even adults. No one is exempt, even if no one else is watching. Obviously, kids aren't always ecstatic about having to follow directions or rules, but if they see Mom and Dad also complying with those posted expectations--even when it might not be 'necessary' or 'convenient', they have a powerful message that those instructions are to be heeded, every time. When Mom and Dad show that they themselves aren't above the posted guidelines, it does make a good impression.

When we take a moment to make the right choices, even if it means taking longer to do something or having to jump through an extra hoop or two, we are modeling not just 'how to be' in the world, we are teaching our children how to be considerate citizens as adults. Something many of us wish more adults were. We can start now. Read the signs, heed the signs, think about what our kids are seeing from us. It's one of the smartest things we parents can do.

Monday, July 4, 2011

All-American Work Ethic

This Independence Day is being honored at our house not with shows of red, white and blue patriotism or fireworks, but with a day focused on the uniquely-American phrase muttered by those with determination and a heads-down work ethic: "Git'er done".

I've been at it since 2:30 this morning, when Kiddo woke us up. "Mama," he called, "there's something stinky in my bed!" Aside from the fact that this is something no parent wants to hear at any time of day, I trudged down the stairs and into Kiddo's room. A bleary-eyed survey of the room showed no trace of anything really bad (namely, poop), the sniff test revealed nothing. I sent Kiddo to go potty and then lay down with him.

"Mama, there's something stinky." he said, face to face snuggled up with his arm wrapped around my neck.

Yeah, dude, it's your breath, I wanted to tell him. Instead, I reminded him that it was A Sleeping Time and I Wanted To Sleep. So, he nodded off and I woke in fits and starts and he drilled into me with his hard little head or ground his elbow into my ribs. At seven thirty, when he finally woke, I headed back upstairs to catch up on a little peaceful sleep, newly thankful that in our land of large and excess, king-sized beds did actually exist.

Up again and busy an hour or so later. Played puzzles with Kiddo while I drank my tea. Watered the garden, showered, made some tabbouleh for dinner (because nothing says "Fourth of July " like tabbouleh, right?), made lunch, then researched clocks for Kiddo. I've wanted one of those "Okay to Wake" clocks, with a colored light clock face that changes color at the waking time. But besides the fact that they are so ugly and received marginal reviews, the price and the shipping time were both deterrents. Nothing like a little necessity to inspire a little creative thinking, so after lunch we headed to the store for a 24 outlet timer and a blue night-light bulb. Bingo! Foolproof, other than now we will be even more cranky when Kiddo wakes us in the wee hours because of bad breath. "Do you SEE the blue light on? No. Go to sleep." stomp stomp stomp back upstairs to our own beds.

As I type, I am still in the process of turning at least 2 quarts of cherries into sauce. Rinse, sort, trim off the bad spots, pit, mix with cornstarch, sugar, lemon juice, brandy and water and bake in the oven forever. And I've still got eggs to boil for the macaroni salad. Joe's been busy, today too, picking cherries, cleaning out a problem-room of his (you know, one of those places where it all gets dumped and then forgotten), and doing dishes when my own dishpan hands look like wrinkled raisins. All this cooking requires the dishes to be washed again and again.

So, this is my snack time, sipping an iced tea with fizzy water and thinking about the spirit of the day. The United States wasn't  founded on star-spangled songs or dyed-daisy flower arrangements, but on a strong work ethic. We've had to 'git'er done' for a long, long time. Today was just one day, but it's been a busy one. I'll be glad at eight tonight when the last dishes have been washed, my stomach will be full with good salads and smoked salmon, and I sit around watching something silly and enjoying the rest of the day. Oh, and eating some vanilla soy ice cream with cherry sauce. If that isn't wonderfully red and white, well then I don't know what is.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Cool Fun in the Summertime

Now that it's actually starting to look like summer, what's a stay at home parent to do? Some of us don't actually want to be out in the stinkin' hot heat of the day. Some of us have more moles than a hillside in England, and so we're hoping to stave off the melanoma monster. My sister's dermatologist says that 10 a.m. to 2 pm are the times to avoid being exposed to sun on a hot summer day.

So how do we have it "made in the shade" for a chunk of time every day? Here are some ideas.

1. Buy a canopy cover for the sandbox. Or any other play area where kiddo is going to be spending some quality time out of your hair. Last year, my dad gave us one he picked up at a garage sale. This year, it sits squat over a sandbox filled with Tonka construction equipment, glass 'gems' (left by the elves), various scoops and shovels, dimetrodon and spinasaurus and weird little bugs as its only inhabitants. I built the legs about 2' shorter and so the canopy is perfectly kid-sized to provide better shade. This will cost you less over the summer than a babysitter or mother's helper. What a bargain.

2. Search the kitchen for supplies. After bringing back a couple of bags of colorful river rock from our camping trip, I put some into a plastic bin with water and marbles, and let Kiddo play with this. Add another container, and some tongs-- we have an activity we come back to over and over again. Even after the water was emptied out and the marbles moved along to the marble run, the activity of using tongs to move the rocks has been big time fun. Strainers and plastic beads or small pebbles, those small pseudo-chopstick tongs and a plastic art palette with little wells for paints... all can provide loads of fun.

3. Be a nature parent. Old Mother Nature is a provider of many treasures, all the better when the kids find them on their own. Taking a walk in a shady park, on a forested path, can be a great way to spend time outside and collect supplies later for time inside. My sister Amanda makes "woodsies" critters with her boys, using a hot glue gun to add googly eyes to assemblages of pine cones, leaves, sticks, rocks, etc. Until Kiddo mellows out, I'm more of an Alene's Craft Glue kind of gal, but having the kids find those little bits by themselves is a fun activity all on its own. Even if you don't make anything fancy from their materials, give the kids a pie pan or paper plate and good old Elmer's glue if they like, and let'em go to town.

4. Puzzle it out. This Tuesday, I wanted something to do with Kiddo for the day. Besides making currant pancakes -- a favorite at our house and a good 'time-user'-- I also picked up a five dollar puzzle of an open-mouthed Tyrannosaurus rex, 100 pieces. Now, Kiddo is not going to be able to do a hundred-piece puzzle on his own for quite some time, but I think of it this way: $5 kills two birds with one stone--it's something engaging enough for me to want to do with him and it's less expensive than a trip to the coffee shop. I'm thinking of getting an Ocean Reef puzzle the next time. And maybe a bigger 300 piece one for myself.

5. Get artsy. Or rather, get some art supplies. Play dough comes in bags, and you can make it at home, for not too much money either way. Let them mix the colors, too. Playdough is no fun if you have a lot of rules around it, and your kitchen is full of supplies for the dough play. Check out JoAnn's, where there are plenty of assembled craft wood items kids can paint with simple watercolors, for about a buck a piece. They also have loads of bead and other niceties you might want to do something with. The Dollar Store (click to read Robyn's hilarious send-up of the place over on Dim Sum and Donuts) has craft kits galore, so even if you don't want the picture of a flying flower troll with a unicorn horn on your kids wall, you can gut the kits for cheap supplies. Garage sales, too, are a good place to find the weird odds and ends your kid might like. Who knows what they can do with half a skein of polyester yarn in Harvest Gold?

6. Chill out. Smoothie popsicles, anyone? By the time they've helped to wash and cut up the fruit (totally unnecessary, but good cutting practice on softer items and a good time-user), they'll be excited to press the buttons on the blender. I use frozen berries, eliminating all the ice work, and just add enough liquid to make sure it all blends. Fill up your popsicle mold and then give them the leftovers in a cup with a spoon. Better yet, send them outside with the cup o' smoothie and let them drip under the canopy or in the shade outside. Then you might get the added entertainment of bugs or ants, coming to the 'drip site'.

7. Keep Your Cool Too. On hot days, 'Quiet Time' is a must. Some downtime in the afternoon is going to save your sanity and is much needed. Whether it's Quiet Book Time, or just shrugging your shoulders and putting a video on for a while, kids need a rest and so do we. If you can, escape to another room with something good to read and a glass of your favorite iced beverage. I like to make two cups of tea in the morning; one to wake up with, one to save for later in the afternoon.

8. Limit the Mess. There's nothing worse than trying to enlist hot, tired and cranky kids in cleaning up their stuff, so two things: make sure you do your cleanup at least twice a day, and get the 'extra' toys out. You know which ones the 'extras' are: they come out almost daily but aren't really played with. Have your co parent/partner/babysitter get the kids out for an hour and remove those pesky multi-piece extras to the basement or another cupboard. Out of sight, out of mind. Then, when they do want those items, they have to ask and make a choice about cleaning up what's already out before moving on. Rotating toys is good, because they become magically new again and you don't have A. too many choices or B. everything out on the floor of their room. Keep it manageable for yourselves and them.

Do you have a suggestion to share? Send it to me via comment and I'll add it in. Unless you are suggesting a nice cold drink after the kids are in bed-- I'm one step ahead of you on that one!

Friday, July 1, 2011


Today, Kiddo and I went to a friend's birthday party at the Belmont Historic Firehouse. Small group. The firefighter doing the public ed piece was very sweet with the kids, friendly and authoritative. His jokes were probably aimed at elementary school kids, so the preschoolers didn't get it and the adults were a more hardened audience, but he made me chuckle a few times.

The sense of humor is back!

Kiddo went down the fireman's pole three times. Three! I couldn't believe it. He had a great time. When our guide challenged the adults not to let the kids get  the best of them, I decided I'd do it. Slid down a real fireman's pole--likely from a height of 5 feet, but it still felt like a ways down to my sense of vertigo. Just went for it-- I now have a little pole burn on my forearm.

Otherwise, what sweetness. Kiddo played for over a half hour this morning with his dinosaurs; his larger wooden tyrannosaurus laid eggs (hazelnuts) on a nest and then out came all the baby dinosaurs, his little 85 cent ones. He then had the a bowl of 'food' for them to eat: beads, small acorns and pieces of a plastic straw he'd cut up. Too cute.

Glad the day is wrapping up this way. I'm happy with my boy, and Mr. "Mama can I hold your hand?" is pretty happy too.