Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Swimming, Shivering, and Sobbing: Summer Fun!

Julia started summer swimming lessons yesterday. You may recall that she is scared of swimming, which is why we keep insisting she take swimming lessons. So far she's had two bouts--one week last August of daily one-on-one private lessons, which was relatively expensive and somewhat intense for her, and six weeks of once per week group community-ed lessons last winter, which traumatized her the first day but which after that she enjoyed. Her current class is a repeat of the winter class, only in the summer it's held every day for two weeks, and meets outdoors at the city pool. Only yesterday at 9:15 a.m. when her lesson began, it was 60 degrees, overcast, and very breezy. In other words, freezing to death. Julia stood shivering and blue in the shallow end of the pool with her ten or so other four- and five-year-old classmates, and cried. A lot. It was a bit of a nightmare. Even worse, we have to go back today. And tomorrow. And the day after. You get the picture.

I feel terrible making her do something she's so scared of, but I know it needs to be done. She has to learn to swim at least passably, for safety reasons. And it's total hell growing up in outdoorsy, lake-y Minnesota if you can't swim. Plus, there's P.E. class later on in middle and/or high school, when you do a swimming unit, and if you're one of only two people in your class who can't swim or dive, uh...."total hell" does not even begin to cover it. I know this from experience, people.

I've heard and read that it's best to start lessons around age four, even if they're scared; it gets harder the older they get if they haven't been exposed much to water. Sadly, we can't afford to go to our city pool often enough for Julia to get used to the water on her own, and we don't own a lake cabin (note to non-Minnesotan readers: having "a cabin"--a cottage on any one of the states many thousands of lakes, for summer/weekend getaways--is ubiquitous around here). All I ask is that she learn to put her face in the water, float, and at the very least manage a dog paddle, water treading, and/or a passable swimming stroke of some kind---anything to eventually be able to stay afloat and move around in the water in a safe way that does not require a parent to be at her side during every moment of recreational swimming.

In order to get her to stop worrying and whimpering enough to go to sleep last night, I promised her that if she went to her lesson today, we'd go to the local indie bookstore Monkey See Monkey Read (which has a very cute children's corner in the back) to look at the books and toys. (Not necessarily to buy, but to look, read, and play.) She then added a request to bake homemade brownies. With sprinkles on top. Looks like I'd better get busy thinking of a bribe for every remaining lesson! (Note: it is FIFTY-EIGHT DEGREES OUTSIDE RIGHT NOW. I would not want to go swimming either!)

In other news, I've done two days of the 30 Day Shred and it feels like 20. Whose crazy idea was this, anyway?

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Oh Good Lord That Was Hard

I know I'm late to the party, but today I started doing the 30 Day Shred. Do you know about that? It's a fitness DVD by the hardcore trainer Jillian Michaels (of NBC's The Biggest Loser fame), and it's been all the rage for, like, a year or something. (I don't really know.) It's supposed to kick your ass, but it's only 20 minutes long. So, you may feel like you're dying, but you know that in less than 20 minutes you'll either be done, or dead, so...you can do that, right?

The gimmick is that you DO IT EVERY DAY FOR A MONTH. Every day, people! Wow. Are you wondering what is wrong with me? Well, I've been working out twice per week (in addition to my runs) to the same strength-training DVD for a year and a half. Before that, I worked out twice a week to my other strength-training DVD for a year and a half. Can you see how I might be a bit bored? I've been meaning to buy myself a new workout DVD for a long time. Now, since I'm in the throes of toddler-bedtime-routine-hell and have been missing most of my evening runs, it seems like an advantageous time to commit to an exercise program that is short, at-home, and--to stem the tide of flabbiness that occurs when you miss all your runs for two weeks and spend most of your evening hours sedentary on the nursery-hallway floor--requires daily effort. So, yes, I may be crazy, but I'm good for a solid try. I figure I can do the DVD every afternoon when I put the girls down for their naps.

You won't mind if you see me later in the day and I look a bit....disheveled, will you? Because I can't promise, after getting my ass kicked on a daily basis, that I'll have the energy to actually pull myself together again afterward. But hey! In 30 days, I'll be able to carry both girls at the same time (a combined 63 pounds), while also running around the block and kicking a soccer ball. Not that I would ever have any reason to be doing that.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tantrum Nation

Yesterday I determinedly woke Genevieve up two hours into her afternoon nap rather than the usual three, so suddenly motivated was I to experience a toddler bedtime that was earlier than my own. It didn't happen, but I figured it would take a few days to catch up with her, and that if I keep limiting her naps to some duration shorter than what she normally takes on her own, eventually she'll give in and get tired at, say, 7 or 8 p.m. rather than 9:30. Keep the faith, mama.

Except today she threw such a raging tantrum at lunchtime--triggered by her demand for a PB and honey sandwich for lunch after I'd already made three fried-egg sandwiches, thank you very much, and quickly joined by her big sister's likewise tantrum over the fact that Genevieve got a PB and honey sandwich (I gave in, attempting to pick my battles) but SHE still had to eat the egg sandwich [note: Julia had already had PB for both breakfast and preschool snack, so cry me a river], and resulting in me actually picking up my plate, leaving the table, and going upstairs to eat my lunch alone sitting on the cedar chest at the foot of the guest room bed, accompanied the maniacal soundtrack of preschoolers screaming from the lower level of the house, because why? Why should I sit at the table with two banshees screaming bloody murder right in my face about their egg sandwiches; Why?--that, well, I'll be damned if I'm going to wake ANYONE up early from nap today.

You all just sleep the rest of the afternoon, babies. My shift starts again at 7 p.m. and I'm agitating to unionize. These working conditions SUCK.

Get Ready, Get Set, Sleep-Train

This is almost freaky, this essay coming up on Babble.com today, right in the midst of my household's latest Toddler Sleep Drama. But it's also freaking HILARIOUS. I have never read anything, before this, that so well explains the modern parenting culture and norms around babies/children and sleep (note to my parents: See? This is just how it is these days), nor that cracks such great jokes about the sleep-deprived-parenting life. Oh my. The part about no one feeling sorry for you if you have the Bad Sleeper, but instead secretly judging you for not being strict, disciplined, motivated, or smart enough to train your baby right? So true. The part about the nursing pillow keeping your hands free for eating or crying? SO TRUE.

Go read the essay and get a good chuckle out of it. I know a whole lot of you will totally relate.

Oh and by the way, as I wrote this up, Genevieve was in the background crying herself to sleep for nap. So, you know--I'm living it.

Summer Recipes: Bok Choy Soup, Avocado Soup, & Crunchy Lentil Salad

I've been getting some recipe requests lately, so today I'm going to set you all up. Now, I'm sorry I do NOT have photos of these dishes (I know! Sorry!), because I was not planning on blogging them. But then a bunch of people asked me to post the recipes, so I'm obliging, even though I'm photo-less. Just know that the soups (one hot, one cold) are both green--the first a bright, luscious jade and the second a lovely pale shade--and the lentil salad is, well, hearty-looking.

All are delicious--unless you are two to five years old, in which case they may make you say, "Uh...this is a bit strong for me." (Or, alternatively, "Yuck! I not yike dis!") Do not give up. Last summer Julia ate all sorts of things just like this with abandon, and she was only four at the time. Toddler tastes can be whimsical; my philosophy is: cook healthy, expose them to everything, don't make separate meals for them, and eventually they may very well come around. After all, my girls eat plain (unsweetened) yogurt and raw veggies of all sorts and chickpeas and soybeans the way other kids eat chicken nuggets and Gogurt, simply because that's what they've been given. I'm not saying they're not ever picky--Genevieve still prefers bread and butter to most things--but I believe wholeheartedly in always giving recipes like this a chance with small children. You never know what they might learn to love!

(*Note: The choy soup recipe is adapted from Farmer John's Cookbook; the avocado soup and lentil salad recipes are from Jeanne Lemlin's Quick Vegetarian Pleasures.)

Creamy Bok Choy & Potato Soup
4 servings


1 T. oil
1/2 cup chopped scallions
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. chopped fresh ginger
approximately 1 lb. bok choy, roughly chopped (I used 2 bunches of baby bok choy from our farm-share)
1 large potato, peeled and diced (be sure to peel; otherwise the color of the soup will be "off")
3 cups vegetable stock or water
3/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/8-1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional--I omitted these for Genevieve's sake)
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil (the dark kind from the Asian-foods section of the supermarket)
2 T. sour cream or plain yogurt, for garnish

1. Heat oil in medium pot over medium-high heat. Set aside a couple of T. scallions for garnish, then add the rest of the scallions, the garlic, and the ginger to the pot. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2. Add the bok choy and the potato, then the stock/water, salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes if using. Increase the heat and bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and cook until potato is very tender, about 20 minutes. Remove pot from heat. Stir in sesame oil.

3. Transfer soup to a blender or food processer, working in batches if necessary, and puree until smooth. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with scallions and a dollop of sour cream or yogurt. Serve immediately.

Chilled Avocado Soup
4 servings


1 medium ripe avocado
2 cups buttermilk
2 T. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt
Few dashes of cayenne pepper (I omitted this for Genevieve's sake)
1 medium tomato, chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced

1. Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and discard the pit. Using a teaspoon, scoop the flesh out of the skin.

2. Combine the avocado flesh, buttermilk, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Pour into a medium bowl.

3. Set aside about a T. each of the tomato and scallion for garnish. Stir the remaining tomato and scallion into the soup. Cover the bowl and chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

4. When ready to serve, ladle into bowls and garnish with reserved chopped tomato and scallion.

Crunchy Lentil Salad
4-6 servings


1 cup dried lentils
5 cups water
1 bay leaf
1 celery rib, finely diced
1 large carrot, diced
1/4 c. finely diced onion
2 T. minced fresh parsley
1/4 c. olive oil
2-3 T. lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. dried cumin
salt and black pepper to taste

1. In a medium saucepan, combine lentils, water, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes or until lentils are tender but still a little crunchy. Pour into a colander and discard bay leaf. Drain lentils very well.

2. Place lentils in serving bowl and gently stir in celery, carrot, onion, and parsley.

3. Mix together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, thyme, cumin, salt, and pepper. Pour onto lentil mixture and carefully toss. Serve at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

She's Pretty Wise for a Stubborn Little Baby

Today Genevieve and I once again brought Julia to preschool "summer school" (four mornings in a row of special nature-themed "day camp" activities). Of course, preschool--the question of whether Genevieve is big enough to go--has been on my mind. This time Genevieve herself commented on it, murmuring, "Dat where I go to 'chool in the fall! Weschool [preschool]!" Then, before I could respond, she said, "I know--there no mamas at weschool. It OK, Mama."

So. It's OK.

(Note: recipes coming soon, for two luscious green soups and a yummy lentil salad for perfect summer suppers. Check back later this week.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Data Collection

Yesterday, as usual, Genevieve napped from 1 to 4 p.m. I woke her up at 4, or she would have slept later. Since Christopher was going out that evening, the girls were well-rested, I had some things to do (I like how basic personal upkeep like SHOWERING currently falls under the non-urgent category of "things to do," don't you?), and bedtime is pretty much a big disaster anyway, I decided to let the girls stay up late. They got into their beds at 9 o'clock. I sat in the hallway, as I do every night now (again), and waited until Genevieve was quiet. She didn't cry, but she likes to fuss and make noise and call my name and make sure I'm still there, and if I left the hallway after 5 or 10 minutes like I once did, she'd cry for sure. So, I sat. It only took half an hour. But that means it was 9:30 p.m. when I was done for the day, at which point I went to bed.

Some people have suggested I perhaps shorten or eliminate Genevieve's naps to see if she then goes to sleep easier at night. Of course, Genevieve has been a bedtime hellion for some 13 months now, no matter how long her nap is or if she has even taken one (she used to skip her nap fairly regularly), but, OK, there is some merit to this line of reasoning. Perhaps if I only let her nap an hour, or refused to let her nap at all, she'd be so tired by evening that she'd conk out in her crib at 7 p.m., grateful to be there. But because the thought of having no naptime each day during which to catch a break from all-day childcare makes me want to lie down and cry, I decided to practice denial, avoidance, and procrastination, and instead make up a little chart for recording Genevieve's sleep pattern for the next week. I'm going to write down what time she wakes up each day, how long her nap is, what time she goes to bed and what time she actually falls asleep (is quiet), and what her mood is like. I'm hoping to be able to get a better handle on how many hours of sleep she actually gets in each 24-hour period, and whether it's enough, more than enough, or if there are any obvious patterns (i.e.: shorter nap, earlier to sleep?). Maybe this will make it easier to make some wise decisions about Genevieve and bedtime. (Full disclosure: this was a smart friend's idea.)

Today when I put Genevieve down for her nap, she yawned several times and said, "I tired!", so it's hard to imagine refusing to let her take naps anymore. But I know what you all are going to say: After a few days of being very tired, she'd probably succumb to going to sleep much earlier at night, thus getting enough sleep for herself eventually. It would be easier to consider doing this if Julia didn't still take a solid afternoon nap. If both girls were up, at least I could argue to myself that now we could plan all sorts of non-schedule-dependent afternoon outings and activities--the zoo, the pool? But no. It would just be Genevieve and me, sitting downstairs playing with toys. I know there are worse things. I do.

In other news, I am absolutely agonizing about whether to send Genevieve to nursery school in the fall. She says she's going, she talks about it as a done deal, but whenever I see her next to the little buddies who would share her class, she looks like a true baby/toddler next to their little-kid-ness. She's shorter and smaller than everyone. She's still got those round baby cheeks and curvy baby eyelashes. She says "wib" for crib and "waffer" for cracker--and a whole lot of other baby words no one else is going to be able to understand. She still wears some clothes that are size 24 months/2T. She still plays with Peek-A-Blocks and busy-boxes. (Another full disclosure: she also wears 3T, and she can do puzzles for five-year-olds.) More than all that, she's my baby, and she's not three until the end of the summer. What to do? I want her to have two years of preschool, not one (if she waited to start preschool until she turns 4 and still went to kindergarten as a super-young five-year-old) and not three (if she starts preschool this year but is not ready for kindergarten at newly-five). How can I know what will happen? How can I know what choice to make?

The other day we were driving past the preschool and Genevieve said, "Dat my 'chool!" We talked a little bit about who would be her teacher, what friends would be there. To get her used to the idea, I reminded her, "And remember honey, Mama would bring you there and drop you off. Mamas don't stay for preschool. Mamas go, and come back later." Since Genevieve still refuses to stay alone with the other moms she knows best while I do things like use the bathroom during playdates, I worry about her reaction to this scenario and often talk to her about it. This time Genevieve sighed and said wearily, "I KNOW, Mama." Then she added cheerily, "I not mind!"

But she's still awfully little, and she IS my baby. Surely you moms can understand. In the meantime, I'll be in the hallway, hunched over my paper, making notations on my little chart, attempting to manage my anxieties through hard data. I guess I'm still a social scientist after all.

Father's Day Cake

On Saturday, my daughters and I made a special cake to give to Christopher for Father's Day. I had found the idea in Parents magazine two years ago and saved it until the girls were old enough to help. It was a baseball mitt and baseball, which to me seemed self-explanatorily dad-ish--you know, don't dads teach kids how to throw and catch a ball? doesn't it sort of seem like sports in general are a dad "theme"?--but I think confused Christopher a little bit. (He's not on a baseball team, nor has he watched a Twins game in an awfully long time.) Also, when I piped on the red baseball stitching and we took a look, Julia said, "Mama...that does not look like a baseball."

But anyway! It was fun! And cute! And the girls were VERY proud of themselves! See for yourself:

Something Like That

Yesterday morning Genevieve and I were talking about her crib (or "wib," as she calls it). I asked her if, when she turns three in August, she'll be ready to sleep in a toddler bed instead.

Me: Your crib turns into a little bed, just your size!
Genevieve: It does???
Me: Yup.
Genevieve: But how?
Me: Oh, I don't know. Daddy will have to do it. There's an instruction book. He'll have to use some tools.
Genevieve: Like....a wand?

Friday, June 19, 2009

My Week

A selection of thoughts that have been occupying my mind this week:

*What on God's green earth I ever did that was so bad that it requires me to suffer through yet another attempt to sleep-train my toddler, as some sort of maniacal payback karmic torture.

*That no, I am not being melodramatic or feeling overly sorry for myself. I'm sitting outside the nursery door again for hours every night, thank you very much. You see how YOU feel about it after spending all day taking care of two children under six years old.

*That the floor in the hallway outside the nursery is a very uncomfortable place to try to sleep. Even if it is carpeted. And that the background noise of a two-year-old whimpering, "I don't think Mama is in the hallway! Is Mama in the hallway? I don't think so!" is not exactly soothing, either.

*My Lord, that child can scream. I believe my eardrums have ruptured. What?

*That Julia is a poor honey saint of a sister to share a room with this screamy von screamster.

*How much it would cost to hire a nanny.

*Can our neighbors hear this screaming? Good Lord. They must hate us.

*The complete mystery of what could be so terrible about bedtime, to a nearly-three-year-old? It comes every single day; one should be used to it by now! It's not as if the sun does not rise again the following morning!

*What movies might be playing in the towns north and south of me. Could I drive to one of them now, buy popcorn, and just not return for a few days? Would I get arrested for that?

*That doing the bedtime routine interferes with both my running schedule (I hate running before sunset in the summer when it starts getting hot and humid) AND my yearly devotion to So You Think You Can Dance. So unfair!

*The way in which overeating Oreos and ice cream, while also not running and spending long periods of time sitting motionless outside the nursery, results in fatty von flabberton. Nice.

*Huh! She's screaming again! Even though it's the middle of the goddamn night! Imagine that.

*What's this about *&*!!@# Father's Day coming up? I can't hear you over all the screaming.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Conversation After the Window-Washer Guy Left Our House

Julia: What was that guy wearing?
Me: The window washer? A red polo shirt and khaki pants.
Julia: Was that his uniform?
Me: Well, yeah. It was.
Julia: So, you have to wear a *certain outfit if you're a window washer?
Me: Probably.
Julia: Well then, I'm not going to be a window washer when I grow up.
Me: .....
Julia: Oh yeah! I'm not going to have ANY job when I grow up. I FORGOT.

*Subtext here: an outfit someone else dictated you must wear? That you did not pick out yourself? So that therefore it might not involve sparkles, sequins, or the color pink?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Baby Words

More of Genevieve's adorable baby words:

"wet-woo" for pretzel

"pokey-pine" for porcupine (This reminds me of how Julia used to say "dip-dip" for ketchup; I love when toddler mispronunciations are super-evocative of the meaning of the word itself.)

And best of all, Genevieve says "alligator" for elevator. Especially cute when she says, "I scared of the alligator!" (About which Christopher commented, later, "And who wouldn't be!")

Saturday, June 13, 2009

First Farm-Share Meal

For three years, Christopher and I waited to get into a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) farm in our area. This year, we're off the waiting list and into a farm-share! To start off our CSA adventure, this summer we're splitting the share with some friends, in order to get a feel for the amount of produce provided, how much our kids will eat, and how best to prevent fresh vegetables from rotting away in the crisper drawer before we can get to them. But I imagine this is probably the first in a long line of CSA summers for our family, and no doubt as the girls get bigger, we'll one day buy our own full share for the summer and easily consume the bounty.

Last Saturday I prepared our first farm-share meal of the season: Crustless Greens Quiche, herb oat bread, and a spring mix salad. As early shares are mainly greens, lettuces, and salad fixings such as scallions, salad turnips, and radishes, we're concentrating on leafy meals these days. But that's OK; it's what the land dictates we eat in early summer. Later on, we'll be up to our knees in berries, tomatoes, peaches, peas, and beans. All in good time.

I know I posted this recipe once before, but it's worth reprising for any new readers. The quiche is wonderfully easy and tasty, although I will warn you that, while last summer my girls wolfed it down, this time neither would eat it. So I can't guarantee the kid-friendliness of this particular dish. However, it's mainly eggs and cheese, so if your babes can get beyond the dark green leafy vegetables enveloped inside, they might gobble it up. As for mine, I'm hoping they'll come around. Note: you can make this quiche with any cooking greens: Swiss chard, beet tops, bok choy, kale, spinach, salad turnip greens, etc. They are generally interchangeable. (I used a mixture of bok choy, turnip greens, and mizuma.)

Crustless Greens Quiche
Serves 4 (can easily be doubled and baked in 2 pie plates)

1 tsp. olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 bunch cooking greens (Swiss chard, kale, beet greens, bok choy, mizuma, tatsoi, etc.)
1 to 1-1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (adjust amount to own taste)
4 eggs
1 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Wash/dry greens and cut off any very woody stems. Roughly chop the rest. Heat oil in wide skillet; add onion and greens. Saute until stems are tender (roughly 5 minutes). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Whisk eggs in a large bowl. Add milk and shredded cheese. Fold in vegetable mixture. Add additional salt and pepper if needed. Pour into oiled pie dish and bake 35-45 minutes, or until top is golden brown and no liquid seeps out when poked with a knife.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Kids' Activity: Make a Nature Collage!

Yes, yes, I know: this feature used to be on Wednesdays, and had a snappy little title (What-to-Do Wednesdays). I'm not that organized these days, but the girls and I did have a fun time the other day doing this activity. I like it because it combines outdoor active play with indoor artiness, but you may like it just because it fills the time. Either way, toddlers/preschoolers think it's awesome and fun, so get to it. Summer's a great time to get out and enjoy nature. And then pour Elmer's glue all over it.

In order to make a nature collage, of course you first need to get out into nature, so get ready for your nature walk. Don't forget to bring along a bag with which to carry the treasures you find. You need to have some way to get them back home for the art project. When Julia, Genevieve, and I went on our walk last week, we collected pebbles, dandelions, leaves, blades of grass, seed pods, clover, pinecones, bark, sticks, and unidentifiable weeds. (We also ended up with a fair amount of tagalong ants, but that was unintentional.) They loved every minute of it, and we probably got a mile's walk out of the whole endeavor.

Once home, I spread our nature specimens out on an old cookie sheet.

The girls each got a piece of construction paper and a bottle of glue.

They glued the leaves, twigs, and grass to the paper to make their own designs.

The finished products:

Easy, outdoorsy, fun. Go to it!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

June Images

New bat and ball:

She's tiny.

Flowers picked from a garden by small hands, just for me:

I love June.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Next Time I'm Going to Shut my Trap About How Great my Summer is Going.

Laid off from my awesome writing job AND being forced to sleep on the floor in the hallway outside the nursery at 4:30 a.m. in order to quell intractable hysterical toddler crying, all in the same 24- hour period? To quote Homer Simpson, did we lose a war???

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

All in a Day's Work

Ah, yes. Remember just yesterday, when I waxed rhapsodic about my lovely summer life set-up, including on ongoing gig as a monthly columnist and blogger for the web start-up PriorityMe.com? Well, it turns out that the second I realized how great everything was, things changed. Today I got word that I've been laid off, along with other contracted writers, from my writing job at PriorityMe. Managment is rethinking the business model and hopes to redesign and be able to move forward to bigger and better (i.e., more revenue-making) things, including rehiring everyone in a few months. But in the meantime, my freelance gig is on indefinite hiatus. Sigh.

If you are so inclined, this might be a good time to go over to PriorityMe and e-mail management about how much you love those awesome advice columns by Shannon, and also the Living Well blog, and how much you sincerely hope to see more content by me over there as soon as possible, because it's your favorite part of the site. I'm just saying.

Heating Up Milk With My Third Hand

I missed hearing this on Mother's Day, but during the Sunday, May 9th, airing of Weekend Edition, NPR's Scott Simon read a humorous, endearing essay he had written about his wife, a stay-at-home mom to two young children. It's cute and funny. You can read or listen to it here.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Yes, I Realize There's a Lot of Summer Ahead

Julia's only been out of preschool for just under three weeks, but I am loving summer so far this year. It's amazing how much more time I have in each day, in the absence of the morning get-ready-for-school routine and the preschool drop-offs and pick-ups. Most days we wake up around 7, eat a leisurely breakfast, and then after Christopher leaves for work the girls and I sit amiably side by side at the table in our jammies, them playing "Activity Lottery," me drinking coffee and surfing the Internet, catching up on news and e-mail and mommy-blogs. Eventually we'll make our way upstairs to brush teeth, wash faces, and get dressed, but usually not until a time at which we'd have been leaving for school during our pre-summer life. The girls play elaborate pretend games--cooking for teddy bears, fairy-tale-princess scenarios--while I pull myself together, throw in some laundry, do the breakfast dishes. Later on, they watch a little PBS Kids while I do the rest of my household chores; they have a little snack and we decide what to do for fun that day: picnic? park? bike ride? play in the patio sand table? water the flowers? hopscotch? and off we go. The days are easy, unscheduled, and relaxed. I cook in the afternoons while they nap, wiped out from hard outdoor play. I'm not in a hurry; I have enough time.

But it's not just preschool being out. I'm done volunteering for the nursery school, so that chunk of monthly busy-hours is gone. I cut out some of my regular blog reads, because, while interesting and entertaining, they sucked away my valuable time. I've recently cut down on my running; initially motivated by fatigue and over-training, I discovered I kind of liked the extra time in my week that came from reducing my mileage. (Not sure if that's a permanent change, however. I love my long runs, even if my almost-forty joints do not.)

After having one essay accepted for fall publication in an upcoming Seal Press book and another under consideration for a second anthology, I've tabled all other for-submission writing for awhile; I'm not frantically trying to churn out writing and find places to sell it, which takes up a LOT of time. With an ongoing freelance gig as a columnist for a commercial website under my belt, I'm no longer spending hours each week trolling the freelance-writing job listings for leads. With a potty-trained toddler, I'm not spending any time changing diapers. Nor am I sitting for hours by her bed at nighttime anymore (the sleep-training has not been foolproof, but she's a lot better than she used to be).

In other words, I feel, in the best possible way, like I've suddenly got a lot of time on my hands--which, in reality, is pretty funny--because any busy mom of multiple small children will tell you that "a lot of time" is a very relative concept. When you're home full-time with two children under six and amidst the parenting and playing you're also cooking from scratch and keeping the house clean and managing the family schedule and exercising regularly and writing part-time and doing a bit of private-practice consulting and trying to organize an idea for a book--and when your spouse is working one full-time job, one part-time job, and one freelance-consulting job, and is also volunteering and occasionally traveling for work, well..."a lot of time" might mean, like, enough time to both take a bath AND paint one's toenails in the same evening.

But it's an improvement, people, it really is. As much as I miss the summer I had babies who were just-turned-three and not-quite-one--those days free from tantrums and sleep-training, those days of stroller walks and the easy transport of a baby on one's hip--I know deep in my mama heart that the only way a mother crosses that threshold into a bit more time on her hands is for those babes to get a little older, a bit more independent, able to pull up their own pants and put on their own sandals. It also doesn't hurt to just say no to volunteering.

And so I'm ready to enjoy every free-and-easy moment of this current summer. (Even the moments--sure to come--that aren't so free-and-easy.)

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Just Two Examples of Why Julia is the Only One Who Can Invariably Understand Her

Genevieve's word for "squirrel" sounds exactly like "whoa."

Last night she requested some Peanuts-character fruit snacks for an after-dinner treat by calling them "Noopy woot nack!"

It's so adorable, but you can see how I might doubt that her preschool teachers would be able to understand a thing she says.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Tears and Fears

My baby girls, May 2009
[Note: Julia wore that same skirt above when she was 2-1/2 years old,
and the blouse on her first day of preschool two years ago at age 3.]

Today I took Julia to the pediatrician for her 5-year-old well-visit. They should really just call this check-up The Traumatizing Kindergarten-Shots Visit. Oh my, the tears and wailing and trembling and trauma! So sad. Julia had brought along her tiny pink Care Bear, and Genevieve and I both promised to hold her hands, but even so those awful shots were a total nightmare. Julia screamed and tried to roll herself off the examination table, and poor Genevieve gathered up all her wits and determination and willed herself to be the strong one, even though I could see her wincing in Julia's direction and furrowing her little toddler brow. Afterwards, Genevieve gave Julia a big hug and kept repeating in her little baby voice, "It OK, Doo-we-a! It not hurt a yong time! I hode yo' hand! I hug you!" So sweet, but small comfort to the five-year-old, who then had to go down to the lab for a finger prick to test her iron level as well. I swear poor Julia thought turning five was becoming the biggest rip-off imaginable. Three painful shots AND a finger prick? What the hell?

It's all okay now, though, because to make her feel better, I promised the girls we could have a picnic lunch outside when we got home, and that instead of regular cups of milk I would make them a smoothie drink with fresh strawberries and milk. Plus, later today we get to visit our CSA farm for the very first time and pick up our first farm-share box of vegetables, and the girls are super excited about that.

In other newly-five news, at Julia's check-up this morning I found out that my once-giant baby/toddler--bigger than all her peers back then, in the 90-some percentiles from six months on--is now a mere 35 pounds and 40-1/2 inches tall. That means she's at the 17th percentile for weight for her age, and the 15th for height--a peanut compared to all her little classmates.

I'm not used to having small children, but suddenly it's all making sense to me--scattered, unobservant me, who truly never noticed she's grown (ha! no pun intended) so small compared to her peers: the way her classmates all grew out of their nursery school t-shirts this year and hers still flaps below her fingertips; how she only recently mastered the two-wheeler-with-training-wheels and hanging upside down from the bar at tumbling class; how it's hard for her to run as fast and jump as far as other kids she knows; the way her grandparents buy her size 5T clothes and they're a mile too long; the fact that a friendly acquaintance we ran into recently mistakenly assumed she was still a year away from kindergarten.

Ah well. I don't mind her being small; if nothing else it keeps her in her clothes a heck of a lot longer and thus saves me money at Target. I just hope she can keep up with everyone else on the playground at kindergarten.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

True Story.

Several years ago, seven or eight at least, when I had recently finished working my ass off for six years post-college to earn a doctoral degree in a super-competitive field and had burned my brain and ambition out into a hollow shell of their former selves, when I was working my first post-graduate-school job and despite my Ph.D. was earning a crappy salary that barely paid my student loan bills, and when Christopher was searching high and low for a faculty job in a history department somewhere, I had this fantasy about how one day he'd be a history professor at a liberal arts college in a sweet college town, and I'd quit work to stay home and raise babies, and on nice summer days I'd bring the babies to campus and we'd meet Daddy at his work for a picnic lunch on the grass under a big old college-campus tree. I had this vision of the perfect retro stay-at-home-mom faculty-wife life, and whether or not it was fueled by a decade of nonstop, hard-core intellectual and career-driven work (opting out, anyone?!), it sure sounded good to me.

Well, here it is 2009 and a few of the details are wrong (Christopher works for a college, but he's not a professor; I'd always envisioned us in a big old charming Victorian house within walking distance of this imaginary campus in my mind, and little did I know that by the time we actually did move to a sweet college town, his college-staff salary and the sky-high housing prices in said town would make that detail impossible), but the details don't really matter. Because you know what I did yesterday? Brought two small blonde daughters to a picture-perfect liberal-arts college campus, where we met their daddy and had a picnic lunch under the trees on the college green.

Life is sweet--and sometimes downright amazing.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

5th Birthday

Six weeks ago I wrote the following post about Julia turning five, which happens today. In thinking about what I could possibly say about Julia's 5th birthday, I realized I can't really say it any better than I did back then, so I'm re-publishing my six-weeks-ago post here today. I'm also spending the day shaking my head in disbelief, trying to wrap my brain around the notion of being a mom to kids older than toddler-age, and giving thanks that I survived the week of June 3, 2004. Sixty hours of back labor, people. SIXTY HOURS.

Monday, April 20, 2009

My firstborn daughter's fifth birthday is six weeks away, and I've recently begun to consider some birthday party plans. This means I've had opportunity to muse on this whole notion of five years, that my first baby could actually almost be five years old. Five years! How can it be? Is that even possible? I sit here and think about how big she is, how long five years really is, and truth be told, I can hardly remember the actual details of her infant self, of how she felt on my shoulder or how she looked in her crib. You think you'll never forget these things, but you do.

A lot happens in five years! You can go from total neophyte parent, completely ignorant of all things baby, steeped in the kind of naive idiocy you can hardly fathom now--
How could we have been confused by the introduction of solid food? Why did it seem so complicated? Or, Can you believe we didn't know we'd never really sleep again?--all the way to experienced mother of two, with the rhythms of baby/toddler-parenting so ingrained in your existence that when a childless friend asks you, "How does a person know she's ready to give up all her selfish needs, her freedom, and have a baby? How do you even stand that kind of sacrifice?", you actually give some surely incomprehensible response about it not being that hard, really, about how when it's your own baby you just do it and it's fine in the end. It's as if you don't even remember, or any longer experience in a visceral way, the years of sleep deprivation and fatigue-induced panic, the hours of colic-crying, the months of nursing every two hours around the clock and a baby who wouldn't take a bottle, the times you went for weeks without speaking to another adult during the day, just paced back and forth across the floor with a fussy infant, wondering what you were doing wrong and how you'd ever survive it. You look at your nearly-five-year-old daughter now and you think, Well, here we are, and look at this big kid I've got here, with her jokes and large vocabulary and ability to brush her own teeth. You don't think about how when you first brought her home from the hospital she cried every single night from 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. for the first four weeks of her life.

Except when you do. And then five years seems so, so short--just a flash, really.

The other day I was talking to a friend of mine with kids my girls' ages, and we were bemoaning the usual minor conundrums of preschooler-parenting life--what to bring for school snack, the healthy option or the cheap one--and I said to her, "Just think though: in ten years the things we'll be concerned about will be things like missed curfews and dating and keeping them from alcohol and drugs and having sex too soon, and we'll look back on the question of preschool snack as the ultimate luxury when it comes to parenting worries. We'll want to cry!
Oh, if only our biggest concern was how healthy their preschool snack is!, we'll say to each other! Remember when our biggest worry was preschool snack?!"

So there you have it. Five years is really short. And also really long. And then short again. And sometimes long.

And I have a feeling that's how it's going to go for the rest of life.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Priorities, Babies, Veggies, and Work

Lots of writing news today!

Over at PriorityMe.com, the women's website I write for, my latest advice column is up today. This month I'm talking about weathering life's tough transitions. PriorityMe.com is a fun site dedicated to helping all women take better care of themselves and enjoy life more, which I think we could all work on, so go check it out! You can also get the PriorityMe newsletter, including my advice column, delivered to your e-mail inbox every month by subscribing at PriorityMe.com (click on Newsletters to subscribe).

In addition to the Ask Away advice column, I also write the Living Well blog for PriorityMe, which is all about "mind/body/health/balance." I've got a new post up over there today as well, writing about my family's entry into the world of organic produce this summer, via our first membership in a CSA farm. Intrigued? Read more here. (In case you missed it, my previous, very first Living Well post is here.)

In other news, Genevieve is successfully daytime-potty-trained, Julia turns five tomorrow, and tonight I begin a very small, short-term stint of psychotherapy private-practice work for the summer only (something I have not done since the summer Genevieve was born). I've also been busy second-guessing my thoughts about sending Genevieve to preschool in the fall, and quelling my occasional irrational yearnings for a third baby (preferably one who is about 9-12 months old) by telling myself that I could only survive another baby if it did not involve any night-wakings; therefore, no baby for me. (See, that was easy!)

More details on everything coming later. Check back soon.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Birthday Party

On Saturday, Julia had her first (very small) drop-off kid birthday party. (Her actual birthday is in a few days.) She requested my specialty homemade chocolate layer cake with pink icing, as befits a princess party. I threw all caution to the wind and went ahead and made the Magnolia Bakery buttercream icing recipe which includes a pound of butter and SIX TO EIGHT CUPS OF CONFECTIONER'S SUGAR. Yes, yes I did.

And it was dreamy.

The almost-officially-5-year-old princess agreed.

Four little girls--ages two to six--came over at ten, and the six princesses (including baby sis, of course) played old-school backyard games (Gray Duck, obstacle course), colored princess pictures, and filled miniature flowerpots with soil and their own little petunia seedlings to take home.

Julia doesn't actually turn five for a couple of days, but five years ago at this time I'd already been in labor for a day or so. I had no idea what was ahead of me--a total of 60 hours of back labor, culminating in 3-1/2 hours of pushing and a seriously traumatic delivery--and it's a good thing too. Five years have passed since that awful, wonderful, fateful week, which--I'll just go ahead and say it--I CAN HARDLY BELIEVE.

The princess party was joyful, fun, giggly, and pink: the perfect way to celebrate my firstborn daughter, dramatic entry into the world and all.