Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Keeping Mama Sane Oops I Mean Keeping Small Children Entertained

A friend of mine is struggling with keeping her 4-year-old entertained on the mornings her 3-year-old is off at preschool. Now, I'm no expert, and BELIEVE ME, I have plenty of days when my version of "keeping the children entertained" involves tearing out my own hair, threatening extra naps, and humming loudly while studiously ignoring the whining, but you may remember I did once write a weekly feature on this blog all about, uh, keeping small children entertained. So I may have a few ideas. And I'm sure my friend isn't the only mama trying to occupy a preschooler on at-home mornings.

I can't stress enough the brilliance of having your preschooler do your chores, housework, and cooking tasks with you. THEY LOVE THIS, PEOPLE. Now that Julia's in kindergarten every morning, on the days that Genevieve is home with me, we do this all the time.

Of course the key is presenting these activities in such a way as to make them seem Extremely Exciting and Helpful, and things that only Big, Important Children Can Do. A peppy, gleeful tone of voice is a prerequisite. Interestingly, pinning the idea on another mom that the child knows and loves seems to work especially well: "Do you know what great idea Lucy's mom does with her girls sometimes? It's SO neat." And then you describe something totally mundane that you need to get done anyway, like sorting out your children's summer clothes for packing away, and putting out the fall/winter clothes in their place. (Hint: let your child be in charge of emptying each dresser drawer for you, and have her sort out the summery things for storage ["Find ALL the tank tops and shorts, and put them in a big pile for me."].) Genevieve loves to help me dust. I give her a damp rag and tell her she's in charge of dusting her toys and anything low, and I can get the whole house done this way. Sweeping/swiffing is good too. I'm not saying preschoolers are especially good at actually cleaning, but if they can happily do their own version of whatever chore you need to get done, you can cross it off your to-do list and know that your kid has had fun, too. I give Genevieve our Swiffer (which is broken, so the handle is conveniently short and just her size), and I use the broom at the same time. She's just having fun, but I'm actually cleaning the floor.

But my personal favorite is cooking with my children. This morning I stood Genevieve up on a chair at the counter and together we made lentil-vegetable soup, cranberry biscuits, and super-healthy multigrain apple muffins, and voila!--my entire dinner is ready for tonight (the soup and biscuits; we have leftover steamed edamame from our CSA farm to go alongside), plus an entire week of breakfasts in the freezer. How sweet is that? To me, all that cooking was a necessary household task; to Genevieve, it was a special kid activity that she got to do one-on-one with me. Win-win!

(Hint: for potentially difficult recipes like homemade soup, put your child in charge of scooping up the chopped vegetables from the cutting board as you go--with clean hands, of course--and placing them in a bowl or large Pyrex measuring cup, for later dumping into the pot. This step isn't necessary, of course, but Genevieve didn't know that, and it gave her something to do besides the adults-only steps of chopping and stovetop cooking.)

It's amazing how much joy and interest small children can get out of simple household tasks. Sure, sometimes you'll be busy reading books, going for walks, and doing art projects with them. And sometimes you can set them up with an activity to do on their own, while you sip coffee and read the newspaper oops I mean wash the dishes and do the laundry, but sometimes you just need to get things done, and you also need to entertain your kid, and guess what? That can be the same thing more often than you might think.

Good luck, mamas!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Autumn Leaves with Three and Five

Ah, autumn. Stunning clouds, crisp wind, swirling leaves, cool temperatures. What's not to love? Well, aside from the fact that where I live, this transitional season--in all its refreshing, amazing glory--is heartbreakingly brief, and leads all too soon to five months of winter. I try not to think about that, though, on days like the ones we're having now, full of nature-walking and apple picking and alpaca farm visiting and pumpkin gathering.

Oh--and cookie baking:

Why yes, I DID tint three bowls of cookie dough with separate autumnal colors and roll them out in a marbled pattern to make mixed colors for miniature maple-leaf, pumpkin, and apple cookie cutters, what did YOU do yesterday?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sorry I Don't Have a Picture of the Pizza.

Yesterday I spent the entire Quiet Time, and then some, making a needlessly complicated and time-consuming recipe for dinner just because I happened to see it in a magazine that morning and it looked like something my kids would like and it called for tons of vegetables and we were swimming in farm produce, having just picked up our CSA share on Friday afternoon. It was like a pizza, only it was rectangular and had a giant crust with the perimeter stuffed with cheese* and hand-crimped shut, and the middle was piled high with six kinds of vegetables that I had sauteed in two batches in a skillet on the stove. The crust was homemade, and not the no-rise, quick-making kind, either, but the regular homemade dough that requires kneading for eight minutes and rising for an hour in a warm place and punching down and rolling out and all that. I used homemade roasted tomato puree from our freezer for the sauce. It was basically a veggie pizza. That took half a day to make.

So anyway, after all that labor Julia woke up from her nap and proceeded to throw a giant fit of disobedient sass--not to mention tears, screaming, and foot-stomping--in my direction, the kind that makes me wonder what the teenage years are going to be like if she's already, at five years old, saying things like, "NO! I am NOT doing what you say, I am doing what I want, I am NOT TALKING TO YOU ANYMORE!" and then pushing past me to do exactly what I just forbade her to do.

Later on, after a visit to an alpaca farm and a romp in the lovely, windy, autumnal countryside, we sat down to eat the dinner I spent half the day making beforehand, and she said, "You've outdone yourself, compliments to the chef, and this is the BEST DINNER EVER."

So she sorta fixed it in the end.

*[Edited to add: I feel compelled to note, for anyone who might decide to try this recipe, that I used less than half the listed amount of cheese--the recipe called for 4 cups and I used 1-3/4 cups--and the pie turned out perfectly delicious.]

Friday, September 25, 2009

Spotlight, Please

So today when I got home from a Tupperware party that I attended with my toddler while my five-year-old was at kindergarten (for reals! I feel sooooo retro!), I found out that I'm today's featured writer in the "author spotlight" section of the website for P.S. What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, a.k.a. the anthology just released by Seal Press that includes awesome essays by 36 incredible women writers (and I'm not just saying that because I'm one of them; well, maybe just a wee, wee, tiny bit).

It would be awesome if you clicked over and read my essay excerpt. And then bought the book. And then bought ten more copies for all your Christmas presents this year. And then recommended the book to everyone you know. Thanks!

Nice Try.

At lunch the other day after both girls had been at school in the morning:

Julia (in her usual sweet big-sisterly way): What was your art project at nursery school today, Genevieve?

Genevieve (scowling and yelling at the top of her lungs): I don't KNOW!!!!!

moment of silence....

Julia: It really hurts my feelings when you yell at me like that, Vivi.

Genevieve (shrugging, all singsong-y): Dat's da way my body works!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Have a Good Weekend

"I will always be your buddy, Mama." -Genevieve

Just taking a little break from all things publicly-broadcast and Internet-related. Leaving you with this cute photo and quote from one of my two best buddies.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My Mojo is Napping.

I figured out where my exercise mojo went.

It's fast asleep. It's tired! After all, this is the first time since Julia was an infant that my days are pretty much nonstop from 6 a.m. on (she was a terrible napper; as a newborn she hardly slept at all). Sure, it's AWESOME to have Genevieve conk out at 7 p.m. and go to sleep without an hour or two of crying every night (and Julia's so tired from kindergarten that she goes to sleep then too), but with no naptime break my daylight hours are a total marathon. Some days the only time I sit down is the 15 minutes it takes to eat a lunchtime sandwich with the girls (if you count getting up every 30 seconds to get something for someone "sitting down to eat a sandwich"). By the time Christopher comes home from work and dinner is on the table, I'm so tired I can hardly stand, let alone go for a run. And that's WITH going to bed at 9 every night, people!

It's been three weeks since we eliminated naptime in this house. I hope I survive the transition with my runner's legs intact! It's looking a little dicey, to be perfectly honest.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

And Now For Something Lighthearted

Conversation at dinner:

Julia: What did you have for lunch, Daddy?

Christopher: A club sandwich and some spinach-mushroom soup.

Julia: Oh, yuck, I don't like mushrooms.

Genevieve: But Julia, you like mushrooms in hot cocoa!

(confused pause by all involved....)

Me: Genevieve, that's MARSHMALLOWS.

Genevieve: Oh! Yeah. Marshmallows.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Caffeine, Please

"Quiet Time" (as opposed to daily afternoon three-hour-long naptimes) continues to kick my ass. Sixty to 75 minutes, during which--now that we need to eat dinner at 5 p.m. in order to get the kindergartner to bed at 6:45--I generally spend most of my time cooking? Uh, no. Not restorative. Not helping my coma-like exhaustion.

Particularly when, in recent days, I've been awake at least once from THREE A.M. ON worrying about finances, the economy, my psychologist's license, and the future of my career. Yeah, that's not tiring AT ALL.

Good thing my devoted friend MNMom is loaning me her stovetop espresso maker later today, until we replace our burned-out espresso machine. Because people, this kind of existence is UNSUSTAINABLE.

I'm Tired Just Thinking About it. But That May Be Due to My Crushing Insomnia.

So, now that we're (almost) a week in, how does Julia like kindergarten, you'd like to know? She likes it fine. Quite a bit, in fact.

She likes her teacher and her Disney Princesses backpack and riding the bus. She likes the new school playground (even if she's only been out on it once; sob sob--gone are the days of nursery school, when you go outside to play every day, damn you public school system!). She likes morning greeting and Line Basics and the visit from the god-like principal to teach the kindergartners about the School Rules and the Secret Kindergartner Wave for When They Potentially See the Principal Around Town Like At the Grocery Store or Target. (Julia told me this in a whisper, and when she oh-so-seriously demonstrated the Secret Wave, a three-fingered waggle at chest-height, it took all my motherly willpower not to bust out laughing, it was so incredibly hilarious and cute. She is Very Serious about the Secret Wave.)

But, like all new adventures, beginning kindergarten has its own challenges: the wily snack-break milk carton, so unwilling to be opened successfully by tiny fingers, so spillable, so heartbreaking. The lack of toys and time for free play. (To be fair, she does not actually complain about this, but it comes out later when she cries over not having enough time to play at home between nap and dinner, or between dinner and bed. Girl is used to hours and hours of playtime, and she's down to a fraction of her former schedule.) More than anything, the utter exhaustion. Julia is now in school for 15 hours per week, with extra time tacked on for riding the school bus--which, when you're five and have never done it before, requires mental stamina and concentration and just a great deal of good citizenry, all of which is tiring--and this is fully twice the amount of time she has ever spent at school in the past, even when she was in the Fours class at preschool (three mornings a week). Poor honey is tired.

She comes home from kindergarten and collapses in a heap on the sofa while I make lunch and Genevieve energetically does their "Baby Dance" DVD. She falls asleep during "Quiet Time" and sometimes does not wake up when I rouse her. We're forced to eat dinner at five, and we cannot get the girls to bed early enough: 7 p.m., 6:45--it's all too late. She's tired. She'd fall asleep at six if we tried it, only we can't, because you just can't do dinner and bath and the requisite small bit of playtime and stories, all by 6 p.m.

There is a lot I don't know yet about kindergarten; it seems crazy how much I clearly don't know, how much goes on in her morning world that she does not yet tell me about but that I catch snatches of when she mentions them in passing: the way they have to sign their names every morning, the way their teacher says, "1, 2, 3, eyes on me!" and "Freeze, please!" to keep them in line, the way she has to rush to keep up and one time didn't get to dry her hands after washing them in the bathroom because the rest of the class was lined up and leaving the room to go outside.

There's a lot I don't know yet. But I do know this: kindergarten is TIRING, people. Do you remember?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Taste of Late Summer: Homemade Roasted Tomato Sauce

Our CSA farm--the co-op from which we get fresh, locally-grown, organic produce all summer long--has had Sungold cherry tomatoes on unlimited "U-Pick" for the past month or so, and our family has picked about 20 quarts in all. We eat them as-is for snacks; they're sweet as candy and so perfectly portable and bite-sized. I've frozen some whole, both fresh and after roasting, to use later this year in chilis, soups, and casseroles. The regular, large tomatoes are abundant now as well, so we've been bringing home giant yellow Heirlooms and fat Red Slicers, several pounds at a time. All of which means that, sadly, Genevieve's gastric reflux has been acting up (a toddler with heartburn is soooooo sad), but also that, happily, I've had more than enough tomatoes to make homemade sauce. And I've discovered the best homemade sauce recipe in the universe. Seriously, the first time I tasted this stuff, I wanted to pour some into a bowl and eat it with a spoon. (I didn't. I froze it in 1-cup portions for using on pasta and homemade pizzas this fall and winter. But I will have to limit the amount Genevieve is allowed to consume.)

I can't take credit for this recipe, but it's so incredible I just have to pass it along. It's from writer-mama Catherine Newman's stellar--and always entertaining--cooking column over at But I'll lay it out for you here as well, in case you don't feel like going over there (though the photos there are lovely). This sauce is not only delicious, but super-easy as well. So what are you waiting for? I'm sure you have some garden-fresh tomatoes lying around somewhere.

Easy & Delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce
makes approximately 4 cups, depending on size/amount of tomatoes

3-4 lbs. fresh tomatoes, stems removed
1 medium onion, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
ground black pepper (to taste, optional)

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Slice tomatoes lengthwise and place cut-side down on a large rimmed baking sheet. (You may also double the recipe, use 2 baking sheets, and switch the pans around halfway through cooking time for even roasting.) If using cherry tomatoes, no need to slice; just spread in single layer on pan, as many as will fit.

Scatter onion slices and minced garlic over the top of the tomatoes, then drizzle with oil. Sprinkle with salt, sugar, and pepper.

Place in oven and roast approximately 1-1/2 hours for large tomatoes and perhaps 45 minutes for cherry tomatoes, or until tomatoes have collapsed and are browned in some places. (You may need to check occasionally to get the timing right; it varies, but do not let it worry you too much. Just don't let it all burn into a black mass.) Do not be concerned if partway through this cooking time you see the pan fill up with juices; this will cook down.

When roasted, carefully spoon/pour contents of pan(s) into blender (or food processor, if you have one, but I don't, so bear with me), including all juices. Puree until smooth. Taste and add more salt and/or sugar if needed. Either use immediately for pasta or pizza, or let cool completely and then spoon into 1-cup containers to freeze. When frozen solid, you may turn out the blocks of sauce and place together in a labeled Ziploc freezer bag, which saves space in the freezer and frees up your containers again.

Trust me; you'll think you've died and gone to heaven when you taste this sauce. Don't you feel sorry for Genevieve?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Well? Was it the Right Decision?

Oh my goodness, cutest baby girl in the universe, if I do say so myself.

For those of you who have followed along during the whole decision-making saga, Genevieve went happily right into preschool this morning for her first "real" day (on Tuesday it was a short session with parents there for part of the time, so today was the bigger test), not a tear or a wobble or a chin-quiver in sight. Gave me a big grin, a kiss and hug goodbye, and sat right down to do the puzzles her teacher had put out especially for her. Came running over to Julia and me upon pick-up, beaming with excitement and pride, saying, "We-cool [Preschool] is FUN!" And got mad when Julia mentioned at lunchtime that SHE gets to attend kindergarten every day, but preschool is only twice per week.

Genevieve has always kept me guessing, has been a mix of contradictions all along--willful and clingy, independent and babyish, confident and shy. But in the end she started preschool as if she were made for it, despite being the second-youngest in the class (there are a couple of children nearly a full year older than she is; one classmate turned four yesterday). She knows that school well; she learned to love it through Julia's attendance there the past two years. She was ready to be there today.

I guess I DID know, deep down in my heart, what to do about preschool.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Quote of the (Second) Day

At dinner tonight:

Julia (apropos of nothing): Raise your hand if you know what a "Line Basic" is!

[Note: Apparently it's a basic rule for standing or walking in a line at kindergarten, i.e. "keep your hands to yourselves," or "use quiet voices."]

Beginning Kindergarten (Mom Version)

Me: Oh my goodness, I am NOT liking this business about having to be up, dressed, and appropriately groomed by 7:55 a.m. for the kindergarten bus stop.

Friend: What? YOU don't have to be ready for the day; only Julia does. You can go back inside and get ready after the bus leaves.

Me: No. I'm out there with my neighbor, who is always totally dressed and looking nice, obviously ready to start her day. I can't be out there at the bus stop in my pajama pants and bathrobe with uncombed hair and no makeup! You want me to be THAT mom?

Friend: I should be your neighbor! I'D be that mom, and then you wouldn't care about being outside in your bathrobe on the sidewalk with your neighbor!

Me: Ha! But you're not.

Friend: I guarantee, in one month you'll be over it. You'll be out there in whatever, coffee cup in hand.

Me: You're probably right.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

First Day of School 2009

The short version: no tears (not even from me, since I had too much going on to have time to cry), a lot of excitement, happiness all around. Please everyone take a moment here to heave a great sigh of relief.

Also: Julia was so exhausted from kindergarten that during quiet time I had her take a nap for the first 30-45 minutes. Then I woke her up, told her she could play with her "quiet time activities" in the room until quiet time was over (planning on another 30-45 minutes, maybe more depending on how well everyone was doing and how tired they all seemed). Went back in an hour later (oops! cooking! phone calls! watering the flower beds! going through school forms!) and GUESS WHO WAS TUCKED BACK INTO BED SOUND ASLEEP? With all the toys and books totally undisturbed? Oh boy. I guess kindergarten really WAS tiring!

Here are some cute photos for you all. If you're not a grandma, grandpa, real or honorary auntie, or close friend, you may not find these interesting. But here they are anyway:

We went outside bright and early to wait for the kindergarten school bus.

The school bus is here!

Genevieve in front of her nursery school locker.
Julia wore this same dress for her first preschool orientation in September 2007.

I could not be prouder of my two girls. They both embraced gigantic new experiences today with bravery and enthusiasm. As for me, I did the same.

Plus I was awake and fully dressed/groomed earlier than I have been since my last day of work before going into labor with Julia in 2004. I AM DEAD SERIOUS, PEOPLE.

AND our espresso machine broke (this time REALLY broke) the day before! Now if that's not asking a lot of a mama, I don't know what is. Lord help me, I need to go to Target with Genevieve tomorrow while Julia is at kindergarten, to shop for espresso machines. Because we can't have THIS going on all school year, now can we?

Quote of the Day

11:45 a.m.:

Julia (slumped like a rag doll in the velvet armchair): Mama, you have NO IDEA how TIRING kindergarten is!

The Book Came Out Early!!!

As of today, P.S. What I Didn't Say: Unsent Letters to Our Female Friends, edited by Megan McMorris and including my essay "The Mommy Wars Killed Our Friendship," is now available for order on!!! It should arrive in regular bookstores shortly. I haven't received my own contributor's copies yet--should come sometime next week in my mail--so I have yet to lay eyes on the final product, but this news of its early release is pretty exciting for me. Go on, support a mama-writer (me) and buy the book. It's cheap. It's good for the economy. You know you want to read what I have to say.

The Conversation at Playdate Last Week Went Something Like This

Me: So Genevieve starts preschool next week, Tuesday and Thursday mornings.

Full-Time Working-Mom Friend:
Wow! That's right! You'll get five hours per week without kids at home! Oh my gosh, that must seem like a dream after five years of small children attached to your hip every waking moment!

Well, actually, Julia's school gets out a half-hour earlier than Genevieve's so it won't actually be five hours without kids...

Oh. OK, so...four hours per week.

It's actually down to more like three.

What?! Dear God, why?

Eh. A complicated set of factors related to the school bus drop-off schedule and Genevieve's preschool pick-up time. I've got to pick Julia up at the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I mean, I know that's still a one-hour-and-forty-minutes-or-so block of time alone two times per week that I've never had before so I shouldn't be complaining, but...

Are you kidding me? It is physically painful to hear that kind of subtraction math! That time is like gold!

I have a feeling an hour and a half--or whatever--will fritter away in the blink of an eye and all my plans for what to do with that time will disappear. I mean, you come in from preschool drop-off, you switch the laundry over, grab your second cup of coffee, answer a phone call, check your e-mail, clean up from breakfast, and poof! It's time to head out to the elementary school. I love being with my daughters, but I have personal goals I was hoping to start working on during that time.

I think your personal goal should be to walk in from preschool drop-off, proceed directly to the nearest chair, and sit there. The entire time. Resting. In silence.

I don't think I know how to do that.

GOLD, Shannon. GOLD.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Last Hurrah of Summer

On Saturday, our family finally went on a little "field trip" I'd concocted in my mind way back in June: driving up to a swanky, uber-yuppy-young-family neighborhood in southwest Minneapolis near my two former offices in order to take the girls to a unique and much-beloved children's bookstore there, and then around the corner to one of the best ice cream shops in the city.

We met friends at the neighborhood park/playground first for a picnic lunch, then our two families walked to the shops. Between us, we have four daughters ranging in age from five months to five years. We parents go back nearly a decade, and used to do all sorts of fun things together pre-kids--things that involved eating yummy foods, ingesting beverages made from alcohol, staying up later than 9 p.m., and completing entire conversations uninterrupted. Conversations about things other than potty training, sleep schedules, and preschool registration. Thank goodness we all have kids now, so we're all equally boring and yet none of us thinks we are.

The day was picture-perfect, just how I'd hoped it would be when I first came up with the idea to go.

I continued my Summer 2009 pattern of marveling at how cute Genevieve is despite her incredibly stubborn temperament,

spending nearly every daylight hour in close proximity to playground equipment,

remaining as pale and Scandinavian-looking as possible even at the height of sunny summer,

unsuccessfully trying to keep Julia from sucking on her fingers,

and negating all previous 30 Day Shred workouts by ingesting as much ice cream as humanly possible, while making last-minute vows to run like a fiend all autumn long to undo the damage:

Yum. It was a good day.

Summer with my girls is done. We had a lot of fun, and I hope in years hence I remember the good times and not how much I raised my voice to them, how impatient they made me feel, how many weeks we struggled over sleep issues. I hope I recall the joyful evening runs I took and not the way I ate too much sugar to gain energy I didn't have or to distract myself from feeling like a bad mom for raising my voice or being impatient. I hope my girls remember the picnics, bike rides, playgroups, pool visits, backyard doll tea parties, sidewalk chalk, and farm trips, not the way I seemed crabby pretty much every morning and they didn't know why. It was a good summer and a hard summer all at once. I can't really explain why it was so hard; I guess because the girls were two and barely-five, and one of them hated sleep and screamed a lot and threw tantrums every day, and there's no one nearby to help on a regular basis, and I felt beaten down by day after day of doing all the never-ending cooking and cleaning and child-wrangling and bedtime-battling. Maybe because it's hard to feel alone in the middle of young-child full-time mothering, it's easy to feel like you're working really hard but hard to feel like you're doing a good job. Maybe that doesn't sound like reason enough, but it was.

I hope next summer we go to Wild Rumpus bookstore and Sebastian Joe's ice cream shop an extra time or two. I hope we eat the ice cream guilt-free.

I hope this fall is a happy, exciting one for my daughters and a productive, creative one for me. I'm busy trying to figure out what exactly that means and what's in store for me.

Friday, September 04, 2009

I Did Not Sleep At All Last Night. NOT AT ALL.

All dressed up and excited for the kindergarten Open House, September 3, 2009

I'm going to try to stay as positive as possible here, because I know Julia's new elementary school is relatively small (a good thing in my book), beloved in our town, and of very high quality, and I also know she's going to ultimately love kindergarten and will no doubt have a great year. But yesterday was the school's Meet-the-Teacher Open House, and as a new-elementary-school mama, my head is spinning just a little bit.

I hate to say it, but my first feeling entering Julia's kindergarten room yesterday afternoon for the Open House--I mean, after the sense of overwhelmedness that began when I realized that the ENTIRE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL was coming to this Open House and that it was therefore clearly going to be a giant mass of teeming families clogging every hallway and classroom, and hmmmm, mightn't there be a better way to welcome shy little new kindergarten children and their families to grade school?--was sadness. It was striking, the difference between her preschool classroom of only a few months ago and this new kindergarten room.

When I was in kindergarten, more than 30 years ago, there was a play-house corner, with toys and dolls. There was a little loft for playing and reading. There were giant blocks. It was still a room of play and young-child toys. Well, guess what, people? Kindergarten has changed. Julia's school room this year isn't decorated with bright toys and posters and pegs of dress-up clothes. It's not cute or particularly engaging; there was nothing there that elicited a gasp of joy or excitement from my daughter. It looks like big-kid school, like serious learning--not play. Which is what I thought was supposed to happen in first grade, but I guess kindergarten is the new first grade, and preschool is the new kindergarten.

Frankly, it makes me sad. She seems so little to be out of the playroom and into a room with computers and plain tables and chairs. Would you be moved to skip excitedly into a room that looked like this, if you were five?

That's me with Julia in the bottom left corner, surveying the scene.
Notice the fingers in the mouth.

The Open House was all right. It was overly crowded, chaotic, and overwhelming, but I guess that's how things are done. Julia was cheerful upon arriving, but quickly became subdued and nervous. She didn't seem excited about what she saw of school, unlike her reaction when she first saw her old preschool room at age three (and again at four). She sucked on her fingers the entire time. She seemed bewildered about the school's size, all the older children running around, and the many hallways and classrooms, even though I reminded her that she'd be with the kindergartners, in her own little room, with her teacher, and not roaming the entire school with big kids.

I tried not to wonder if we should have taken the time to consider, long ago, the local charter school, the one with the tiny classes and the individual attention and the teachers you stick with for more than one year. But it was so far away and the buses don't come to your house for that school.

I tried to wrap my brain around the fact that once I walked out of there at the end of Open House, I wouldn't see the inside of Julia's kindergarten room again until late-October parent-teacher conferences. How weird is that, to a first-time kindergarten mama, used to walking her child INTO a preschool room every day, chatting with the teacher every single time? To go visit once, shake a teacher's hand, and then be done for six weeks? To hardly know the teacher, to hardly be known by her? Crazy.

During the Open House, I was too busy (forms! paperwork! more forms! places to put your school supplies! nametags! scavenger hunt! noisy noisy busy!) to get too emotional or overly concerned about details--which was probably the whole point for us new-kindergartner parents--but there was one part of the kindergarten room that struck me. The teacher had put up a bulletin board of pictures made by last year's kindergartners for this year's incoming class. Each child's painting had some words of advice from the kindergarten graduates for the new five-year-olds starting this year.

Most of the pictures said things like "You will get to read books!" and "You will learn to write!"

Then there was this one, that made tears spring to my eyes and forced me to stop reading it aloud to Julia because of the catch in my throat.

"Don't be scared."

Thank you, Annika, whoever you are. You are a sweet first-grader.

Sigh. Onward to next Tuesday.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

September Hair

The girls' new beginning-of-school haircuts:

I wish I could just bottle up their little-girl luscious cuteness and save it forever and ever...

A Small Note to the School District

In an ideal world, Kindergarten Open House (remember: brand-new five-year-olds who have never been to elementary school before) would be its own event, at a DIFFERENT TIME from the grades 1-5 Back-To-School Night. Because OH MY GOD CROWDED CRAZY OVERWHELMING ALL-SCHOOL CRAZINESS WITH A MILLION KIDS AND PARENTS PACKED IN EVERY HALLWAY AND CLASSROOM, GAH.

Ahem. It went fine, if by fine you mean hot, crazy, and crowded (but fine).

Sweet photos and poignant comments soon to come.

A Short Update

Eliminating afternoon nap in favor of a short stint of "quiet time" has definitely been worth it overall--no more bedtime tantrums! Children asleep by 7:30! But I have to say, the period between 4 and 7 p.m. is sort of like the end of the world. High drama, weeping, gnashing of teeth. Oh, the exhausted misery! Wails result if someone glances in the wrong direction or uses the wrong word. Frankly, it's probably a taste of what life will be like in this house in about ten to twelve years. But like I said: still worth it. Even if I don't feel that way at 4.

It occurs to me that I may be doing the not-yet-mothers of the world a disservice by dwelling disproportionately on the trials of parenting small children as opposed to what makes it all worthwhile. For example, I'm pretty sure I'm almost solely responsible for the fact that Lori is terrified of having children. (I'm exaggerating. I don't really have that inflated a view of myself. Really, it's me AND Elise who are responsible.) In an attempt to rectify that a tiny bit, I will now tell you that my girls were so cute and sweet when they got their back-to-school haircuts yesterday at Family Hair that an elderly woman waiting for her appointment felt compelled to tell me how adorable they are. She may have repeated it three or four times. Also, as I type this, they are putting on a show by dancing in the living room to "Rise and Shine" by Raffi. The sweetness could put you into a sugar coma. Lori, I wish you were here.

Lastly, on tap today: Kindergarten Open House. Even though it does not start until 3 p.m., Julia is already dressed in an EXCEEDINGLY fancy hand-me-down Easter dress. She looks like she's going to be a flower girl in a wedding later today.

Pictures and details forthcoming.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Poem Made Up for the Hair. Pretty Much.

As some of you may know, I'm lucky enough to be able to call writer, teacher, and fellow at-home parent Rob Hardy a personal (as well as Internet) friend. He even lives in my town! And has baked me bread. And has the nicest wife. And they invite us to cocktail parties and let us bring our toddlers along. You're envious, aren't you?

Last summer, at the height of one of my hardest periods of parenting thus far (in my family, we like to refer to it as "The Summer Genevieve Cried So Much That Mama Eventually Lost Much of Her Hair From the Stress"), he even wrote a poem for me--now how many people can say that?--and he just got it published! SO INCREDIBLY AWESOME.

Congratulations, Rob! And thank you for writing me a poem. Parenting is hard; having friends who also live and understand the intimate joys and struggles of parenting is invaluable.

First You Need a Learner's Permit

One day last week, after serving Julia a half-sandwich (her usual portion) as her lunch entree:

Julia: Mama, when will I be big enough that I need a WHOLE sandwich for my lunch?

Um, I don't know exactly honey, I suppose when you're a little older and need bigger portions at meals.


Julia: .... Is there a law?

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Moving On

This afternoon after a sunny walk on paved paths around a nearby marsh, I threw the stroller--brought along just in case the three-year-old's legs got tired halfway around--in the back of our SUV and realized with sudden clarity that I've very nearly jumped the divide from one mama demographic to another.

Though I'd like to think it otherwise--and often do, in that oblivious way one sometimes doesn't realize one's own shifts and changes until far past the point when outside observers already have--I'm not really a part of the stroller set any longer.

My kids are walkers now, hikers, dancers, leapers, bikers. The stroller is a safety on longer jaunts, and before too long will be unnecessary altogether. Today Genevieve tripped and fell and scraped her already-scraped knee, and therefore had to ride the rest of the way around the marsh; but mostly? Mostly I've moved beyond that stroller-pushing stage of life, an entire slice of stay-at-home-momhood that means far more than just a means of conveyance. I still see strong, active moms striding down the streets of my town in the middle of the day with joggers or sidewalk strollers, and identify with them. Then I realize they're the me of two, three, and four years ago. They don't identify with me; I've got a kindergartner as of next week, and a toddler who's no longer a baby. I'm in the phase of motherhood they're looking at next. So how come it doesn't really feel like it yet?

Maybe next week, when my five- and three-year-olds are at kindergarten and preschool. Maybe then I'll realize I'm not a member of the stroller mom group anymore. I wonder what's next for me?

OF COURSE. Of course!

Yesterday I finally, finally, finally got the official information about the kindergarten school bus for Julia. (Note to school and bus company: school begins in one week. It would be nice to know about MAJOR DETAILS LIKE THE SCHOOL BUS SCHEDULE a bit earlier, thanks.)

Turns out that, even though all last year our kindergartner next-door neighbor came home on the bus at 11:10 a.m., what would have been a perfect time for me to pop Julia into the car and zip on over to the nursery school to pick up Genevieve at 11:30, THIS year (since the number and location of kindergartners changes each year) Julia will be dropped off at our driveway at 11:23 a.m. Plus, the bus company lady warned me that "it could be later, especially in the first few weeks when the kindergartners are just learning about where their stops are and how to gather their belongings and exit the bus by themselves." Did you get that? 11:23 or later.

People, people, people. As if I need anything more to be awake at night worrying over in regards to sending my girls off to school this fall. Seriously.

ARRGHH! GAH! Headache.