Friday, April 29, 2011

Yes, I'm Comparing My Girls to the Duchess of Cambridge

Because I had to tear myself away from all the glory and splendor that was the wedding-across-the-pond (and yes, the scones were awesome, thankyouverymuch), my bleary-eyed self took the girls to their music class today. After all my immersion into the vicarious world of fascinators and morning suits and open-topped carriage rides (did you notice how Catherine--sorry, the Duchess of Cambridge--bowed her head every time her husband saluted? How often did they have to practice that?), it took me awhile to adjust to all the freedom and joyous do-what-you-will that is Music Together on a Friday morning.

I've been taking Saoirse--and now, the mighty Quinn, too--to this class since she was about a year old. It's more of a music appreciation program, and quite honestly, I break a sweat every time I write the check for it, because it's that expensive. But I can't stop signing 'em up, even if it we can't make our electric bill that month (no, I'm just kidding. We just stop using lights after 8 pm to compensate. Ha! Gotcha again). I've seen SK grow up in this class. There's nothing like witnessing your daughter start to identify different instruments, and make up her own lyrics to songs, and boogie her little socks off like they do. There's a new mom in this session who reminds me of how I was when we first started--a little self-concious about all the silly dancing, a little unsure. This mom asked me the first day after class, "Is it always, uh, like this?" What she meant was casual, and laidback, and free. And she wasn't so sure if she liked it. I said that yes, it is. That that's how the teacher wants it. And that the kids absolutely eat it up.

She'll see. I do when Iook at my kids. They get to run around in circles if they feel like it (well, SK, I mean. Quinn still sort of just scoots and headbangs and claps). They can jump, and sing, and make up silly words. They can wiggle, and who, frankly, sometimes just wants an excuse to wiggle? At the end of every class, they rush to hug Miss Kathy, their teacher. And the whole time, they're learning. Absorbing and processing and figuring it all out. And now, if at home a song pops on the radio, Saoirse can identify an electric guitar, or drums, or even maracas (not that Dave or I listen to a lot of music with maracas, but work with me, here). How cool is that? 

I swear I'm not advertising this particular class. Honest. And it's not even about the class. It's about how freedom can still exist in a structured environment. It's about how children are their best selves when they can explore the world on their own terms. Watching the wedding this morning (I promise you, I'll stop going on about it after this. But did you see her dress? I know, right?), the commentators kept talking about how Kate Middleton is very much her own woman. And isn't that the point of it all, why we're here--to be our own individuals, learn at our own paces, run around in circles if the mood catches us? In 1855, Walt Whitman wrote about sounding his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Walt, Princess Catherine, these kids in music class: they're all onto something, I'm telling you. Now, go ahead, get to it. Wiggle your socks off. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

How The Royal Wedding Makes Me Want a Sandwich

I turned on the TV today so SK could watch a little Clifford. I must've hesitated a bit too long on coverage leading up to the royal wedding, because SK finally turned to me and said, "Mom, are they married yet? Why not?" I guess Wills and Kate have been a part of the household conversations more than I'd like to admit.

I just finished reading Peggy Orenstein's Cinderella Ate My Daughter, which is all about the effects of the girly-girl culture--with all its princesses and glitter wands and glossy perfection--on girls growing up today. It basically reinforced every fear both David and I have had about the "girlie" stuff and validated my defensive pride when SK opts for Lightning McQueen instead of My Little Pony. I am a modern woman, I think, and therefore an aware mom. Yes, my daughter asks to paint her nails, but by golly she'll go kick around a soccer ball before the polish has dried. We are rising above, dagnabit!

Please. I'm so full of baloney that you could make a sandwich out of my contradictions. I hereby admit that I've become totally fascinated by all this royal wedding hullabaloo. And I can't even try to pretend I'm merely interested in the, let's say, social dialogue prompted by this event. Pshhh. I want to see Kate's dress. I want to see how her hair is styled, and--gasp!--if indeed she has someone else do her make up. I admit it. The pageantry, the horses, the excited crowds--it all has sort of swallowed me up in it's out-of-the-ordinariness. Mostly, though, I think of how it's going to be for her to approach that church. Dave and I kept our wedding to 100 people, and even then, I was so out-of-my-mind nervous about walking up the aisle in front of all those people that I thought I was going to pass out:

So how is the future Princess Catherine going to handle all of this, with a third of the world watching? I'm willing to bet that other people are wagering that she'll upchuck as soon as she steps out of the car. But I digress. I know, I don't want my own daughters growing up thinking that all they have to do is be pretty so that some Prince Charming can sweep them off their dainty, polished feet. But I do have to admit that, when faced with two baskets full of laundry to fold and diaper pails that need to be emptied--all while wearing a ponytail because even the very idea of actually drying my hair seems like too much effort today--it's kind of neat to wonder what it's like to wear a diamond tiara, if just for a few hours. 

So that's how I qualify it. There's a part of me who truly hopes that these two people I don't know really will love each other forever. The other part is just giddy that I get to have a quiet house to myself for a few hours, wonder how much her dress cost, and ooh and ahh over all the flowers. So if you'll excuse me, I have some baking to do. If I'm going to be eating my words at 5 tomorrow morning, I'd like some scones to go with them.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011


We made three visits to the doctor in 28 hours this weekend. I don't recommend this for a fun time, especially when one of those visits is on Easter Sunday morning and involves my dear 3-year-old being the only patient to ever visit a normally closed pediatrician's office in an Easter dress, an eye swollen half-shut, and a date for mass in an hour...At the end of an all, the tally is as follows: two cases of walking pneumonia (me and the Mighty), two ear infections (the girls, and the reason for Saoirse's fight face) and a sinus infection (me, just to throw a sick momma into the mix to even things out). As I type this, David has sealed himself into a bathroom and is bathing in Purell. I fully expect him to emerge in a biohazard suit...No, just kidding. He's been awesome. But still. Good thing he washes his hands a lot. A whole lot.

So, with all the syringes and open medication bottles, our house looks like a New Jersey beach circa 1987. Quinn does a lot of sleeping--unless it's 8 p.m, then she just wants to cry till she gets some cuddle time. SK is catching up on her Toy Story sequels (if you knew how much we limit tv around here...well, you'd know how sick we are). And Momma is scraping together the lowest-maintenance meals she can find so she doesn't have to lift her pounding head too high above horizontal (leftover hardboiled Easter eggs? Breakfast! Toast and yogurt for lunch? Why not?). Have I mentioned that the weather outside has been absolutely gorgeous? I noticed this from my spot on the couch, surrounded by tissues and empty mugs of tea, when SK, through her runny nose and coughing, asked to go play.  

These awful sicknesses. I feel like when--if?--we're all finally well, we'll emerge from our house like hostages of some underground cave, what will all the squinting in the sunlight and learning how to communicate with society we'll have to do. It's like we've stepped out of the world for a few days...and I think we're all anxious to step back in. Me, especially. There's only so much toast a girl can eat.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Procrastination as Meditation

Because it is Good Friday, and because I'm trying desperately not to get all anxious-pants about the to-do list I have before me, I'm taking a moment to ponder a little some of the good bits in my life. And because you read, so I share:
  • A husband who cleans bathrooms. Even if he weren't cute and smart and charming and funny I still would've married him on this alone.
  • House plants that are brand spankin' new. I so enjoy them for the week I have before I neglectfully kill them all dead.
  • Books. Except for the one I'm reading right now, because it's terrible. I will not trouble you with its title. These were pretty good, though:
  • A sweet daughter who says "wack-oom" instead of "vacuum." And "lel-low" instead of "yellow." And "boo-ful" instead of "beautiful." 
  • A home with blue walls and lots of light.
  • Chocolate-chip-cinnamon sugar banana bread, eaten by the fistful, preferably with milk.
  • A beautiful baby who, at almost 11 months old, wears 24-month clothes, has no teeth and cannot crawl. And because of this last minor inconvenience, this particular baby does a mean scoot-to-belly-flop maneuver that makes us laugh...and also shows us that our idiosyncrasies are the best stuff of us.
  • My camera, because in about 10 years I get to remind the girls of how much they used to love to play together:
  • Easter. For its pretty dresses, and happy mass, and family around the dining room table. For the Easter bunny, and treasure hunts in the backyard, and Cadbury eggs. For the reminder that love conquers all, hardship is temporary, and that sometimes we just have to wait and see what good stuff is coming around the corner.
Good Friday, indeed.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

I Yam What I Yam, After All

I was at Saorise's MyGym class today feeling a little frazzled. We're all getting over a hurricane-force cold, and now that I can move my head about without weeping from the pressure, I'm realizing that Easter is in a few days, and spiritual readiness aside, I've got cleaning to do. And shopping. And cooking. get the idea. Especially if you've ever hosted a major holiday get-together for your family when you have teeny tiny children running about (or scooting, or nursing, or napping when you need to be shopping...), you know that even if you're the most laid-back of individuals (secret, please?), there's some work to be done. 

Unless you're this very nice woman I know--I'll call her Nancy. She's the mom of one of the boys in SK's class, and I know her from the gym (my gym, not MyGym). Nancy was telling me today that she's all ready for Easter, though there "are some last-minute things" that will need to be done. But she has the children's gifts bought and wrapped (how many gifts are they getting,I wondered? Eek). Food's ready, house is ready (she has four children, count 'em--four. I quake in awe in the presence of her peace of mind). Then we got to talking about our gym (again, our gym, not MyGym. This can get confusing, especially when our gym is only two doors down from MyGym.). And Nancy just happened to joke about how she takes a morning class, zips home in enough time to take a quick shower at 10, then hurries to dry her hair and get ready before her son's 10:30 class. My mouth may have dropped open when she said this. You don't understand. I've always admired how well Nancy is always so put-together. Make-up done. Hair blown out and styled. All in a matter of sheer minutes. Did I mention that she has four children? I realize that I will never be of the cool-calm-and-collected type (did you ever watch Popeye? Can't fight your personality, man), but I have to admit I felt a little uncoordinated and unorganized by comparison. 

See, I had managed to shower this morning, but that was a minor victory. No gym (my gym, not MyGym)--that'll be tonight, if I'm not dragging with exhaustion after the kids go to bed. I spent the morning getting breakfast for the kids and preparing food for our sick elderly neighbor, which took way more time than it should and involved enlisting David's help to clean and season a dead chicken, and shuttling the largest spider ever seen in the mid-Atlantic region out our door (that was after the cooking part, don't worry). And as I stood there, with Quinn strapped to my back in her carrier (not convenient when the dear baby weighs 23 pounds), watching SK throw herself into the ball pit, I was very conscious of my appearance: jeans (I won't tell you that this is the 3rd time I've worn them). Notre Dame football t-shirt from 2008. Damp hair that I yanked into a bun right before we stepped out of the house. I did manage a little make-up and some earrings, but let's be serious--it wasn't my best look. Oh, well, I thought. Some days are better than others. 

About 10 minutes later, someone new to this particular class approached me. "Hi," new person said. "Are you these girls' nanny?" Oh, gosh, no, I replied. I'm their mom. "You're kidding me!," she exclaimed. "You look so young to be their mom! I never would have guessed you were their mother." I smiled, uncomfortable, and patted my hair self-consciously. The lady was very nice, mind you. But I did not take this as a compliment. How can I not look like a mom? Do the dark circles under my eyes not give me away? Oh, dear, I thought. It's because I look like a college student who barely made it to her 8 a.m. class. So now I'm thinking that the next time I leave the house, I may try to spend a little more time in front of the mirror. But if not, what can you do? Some days are better than others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

As Simple as It Gets

I'd been reading a book on the living room couch with the girls. We're all miserably sick--snotty, hacky-coughing, bleary-eyed, swollen-faced (pretty image, I know) messes, and we were experiencing just a little window of contentedness before the next round of nose-blowing and tissuing began. Then Quinn threw up all over Saoirse's book ("It's ok, Mom. I'm not upset. Quinn just had an accident"). As I was salvaging what pages I could, Quinn somehow managed to grab the handle of the mug sitting on the end table and emptied its (thankfully room-temperature) contents all over herself, the couch, the rug, and a couple of other pieces of furniture. Good times. So I set Quinn, now weeping because she wanted me to hold her, down on a clean part of the carpet and went to grab some towels while SK sat right where she was, happily reading as though the room didn't reek of a poor man's coffee shop.  

A couple of minutes later found me on my hands and knees blotting Earl Gray out of the (again thankfully, beige-and-tan) rug while SK paged through her book. I remembered that one part of the book depicted a school, and the following conversation ensued:

Me:  "You know, I used to be a schoolteacher."

SK: "Hmmm. You're not a teacher anymore?"

Me, grabbing some more towels:  "Well, not right now. One day again, maybe."

SK: "Why? Because now you're a mom?"

Me: "Yes. When I became a mom I decided not to be a teacher for awhile."

SK: "Do you like being a mom?"

Me, taken aback: "Why, yes. I love being a mom."

SK: "Good. Because if you were a teacher I would miss you."

It was the strangest, most adult-ish conversation. This is the girl who used to think teacher was synonymous with grown-up: "No, I don't want to take a shower. I'll take a shower when I'm a teacher." Do you like being a mom, she asked. Yes, darling, I like being a mom. Even if it means scrubbing spit-up out of the pages of a children's book at 11 in the morning. Even if I'm too absent-minded to move the tea out of a determined baby's reach. Don't you worry, because I get to keep having conversations like this. I like being a mom. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Okay, Then

When my grandmother passed away this past December, we prepared to take the girls to Maryland for her wake and funeral. Saoirse just happened to have a doctor's appointment around this time, and I asked her pediatrician for advice on explaining what we were about to do. He told me simply, "You don't have to explain anything to her. If she asks, just tell her that Grandmom went to heaven." I remember looking at Saoirse, then back at him. But she's only three, I told him. Isn't that sort of an abstract idea for a three-year-old? The good doctor shrugged before he replied: "Isn't it an abstract idea for any of us?" 

Flash-forward to today. We were at Arlington National Cemetery paying a visit to the grave of my dear dad (who's parked right next to the visitor's center, by the way. Cannot imagine a more appropriate place for my ΓΌber-friendly father). Saoirse spotted the powerful Air Force Memorial as we moved through the cemetery. "I remember that!," she exclaimed, eyeing the soaring spires. "What is that?" It's a monument to honor the people in our country's Air Force, I told her. Your granddad was in the Air Force. Saoirse appeared to think for a moment, and then it came: "Where is Granddad?" Dave and I flashed one of those Oh, crap! looks at each other. We've been able to avoid this question up to this point. Alas, I gulped, took a deep breath, and in my most almost-normal tone of voice told her, "Granddad's in heaven, Saoirse."...and waited for her response. "Oh," she said, and that was that. Easy question, easy answer. Which makes me think: maybe it's all not so complicated after all. 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Three Years

It was three years ago today, around 4:16 in the morning (yes, 4:16 on 4/16. We really should play that number in the lottery) that my father died in an ICU at Hershey Medical Center here in Pennsylvania. I don't say "passed away" or "passed on," or some other tidy little term for the ending of his life, because he didn't just fade away. He died. Pancreatic cancer got its gnarled, evil hooks into him, and even though he fought it--fought it hard, fought it gracefully, fought it with more strength and class than I can wrap my head around yet--the cancer won. I watched my dad die. I wouldn't recommend it. It was kind of hard.

I miss him. Every day, miss him. My dad and I butted heads a lot (any of my family reading this right now probably just snorted their agreement), but my gosh, I loved him. He was my go-to guy for books, for talking about writing, for cooking. I remember what a hard time he had when I decided to turn vegetarian at the age of 12--he'd grown up on farms as a very poor foster kid, working harder than I ever have, slaughtering his own dinner. What was this nonsense about not eating the damn hamburger sitting on my plate?--but within years he was digging up recipes for tofu and urging me to try this stuff called Quorn he'd heard about as a meat substitute (Bless my dad's heart, but Quorn is gross. I tried it, for him, but uhh). When he died, I felt like an extension of me just kind of fell off the planet. Not a good feeling, that.

Now, three years later, his first granddaughter Saoirse has entered the "Look at me!" stage. "Look at me, Mom!" she calls out as she does jumping jacks in the living room. "Look at me, Dad!" we hear, as she climbs up the ladder to her swing set. And I've realized now, as the children are getting older--as I'm fully and completely becoming an actual grown-up parent--is that the "Look at me!" stage never really ends. I see how well the girls behave while out shopping, and I think, Look at this, Dad! Look what I can do. I make a chocolate and wine beef stew (gagging all the while, mind you) for a Sunday night meal, and think, Man, Dad would've loved this. I write these very words and wonder what he'd think of them. 

It doesn't end, does it, that desire to make the people you love proud? I think Molly Wizenberg said it best in her memoir A Homemade Life, regarding her own father's death from cancer: "He could have taught me a lot of things," she wrote. "We'd hardly begun." Tomorrow we'll take the girls to Arlington to visit the grave of a grandfather they'll never know. It would've been fun, seeing the girls climb all over him. He'd be beside himself that I was packing away filet mignon and cheesesteaks when I was pregnant. And I seriously have a list of books that I wish--wish!--I could get him to read. It's just, I haven't gotten used to him being gone yet, and honestly, I don't really want to. Because if I get used to him being gone, then that means that part of me is sort of lost, or not cemented, somehow. And I still need him here, in this world, with me, even if all I have left is a memory. Look at me, Dad. Look what I can do. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

From Battle Sites to Baby Names

My brother sent me a link from today that had me thinking about our girls' names (I realize that I think about their names often, but this time I mean think-thinking about them--you know, really thinking, not just calling out a name when I need someone to grab a baby wipe). Apparently there are tours being developed of the hot spots and murals that came out of the three decades of fighting during "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. That's right, folks, just like at Gettysburg, you can now trace the steps of a revolution...even if those battles didn't work out quite so well for the ones revolting. If we can learn anything at all from witnessing this particular battle site (Cemetery Hill, say) or that riot (Bombay Street,1969), then by all means let's keep that vigil. But I'm not here to talk about wars...

...because as usual, I'm talking about my kids. More specifically, my babies' names, which is why you're reading this in the first place (right? Or did you google "Civil War" and somehow land on my blog by accident? Sorry, man. But hey, thanks for reading!). I knew a girl in college with the name Saoirse. She was super proud of the name to the point of defensiveness (which I guess is to be expected when you have to spell it out every time you make a dinner reservation). She told me that it was pronounced "SEER-sha," though in my house it usually gets abbreviated to "SEERSH," and that it was the Irish word for "freedom"--and because of that, pretty political. Well, I'll be, I thought. The name stuck with me, and when David and I found out we were having a baby, Saoirse ended up being one of the names to which we kept coming back. It was just so pretty, and doggoned powerful. Freedom. What a gift, we thought, to give our child such an honorable name (are you laughing? That's not nice). Wow, we thought. We're sold.

And then our beautiful daughter was born, sweet and lovely, with a big bruise on her head from her tortured attempt to get out of her Momma and a husky cry that was, I daresay, actually pretty (even at 2 a.m. we still thought this, so that's saying something). We hugged  her, we smiled at each other, and when the doctor asked what we were naming her, we froze. Could we do this to her, we asked? Would she hate us for giving her a name that people would pronounce "Say-oh-I-arse?" So the poor kid hung around the hospital for a couple of days nameless. Our family and friends would come into the room, all giggles and sighs, pick her up and coo, "Well, hello there, um,!" We kept second-guessing ourselves, but at the end--two days later, when the blank birth certificate arrived at my bedside, waiting to be signed--we said, yes, we can do this. She can handle this. She's strong, and new and obviously massively intelligent even at the age of two days (That's new parenthood for you) and worthy of the responsibility of that name. So we named her Saoirse. And gave her Kate as a middle name just in case when she does turn 13 and hates us she can decide to go with the easier moniker so her shady, not-smart-enough-for-her boyfriend can spell it out in the lousy love songs he writes for her.

So that's the story of Daughter the Elder. With Younger, Quinlan was a name that we'd tossed around as a possibility for a boy when I was carrying soon-to-be-Saoirse (oh, maybe I shouldn't write that. Quinn's going to be sooo angry with me when she reads this one day). We'd forgotten about it until it popped up again when I was watching Glee one night, of all things. Yes, I fell in love with my future daughter's name after viewing her fictional snotty, pregnant, mean, ridiculous cheerleader namesake on tv. I didn't say I was proud. But I loved it. Dave liked it. We went back and forth about it (Quinn or Quinlan? Give her a nickname as a full name, or give her a full name and call her by a nickname? Oh, heads of state should have such decisions) until I hefted my swollen belly into a church for Confession one Wednesday before Easter. Lo and behold, my priest, with his lovely Irish accent, was named Father Quinlan. Hallelujah! I mentally shouted. It's a sign! I went racing home and burst into the house to tell my non-Catholic husband how a priest just inadvertently named our baby. He was a little skeptical, but the meaning of those names won him over: Intelligence. Strength. It looked like we had ourselves a name to compete with all the glory of Saoirse. Amen.

I bring all this up because on page 6 of that CNN link is a mural entitled "Saoirse." (As Paul said, our eldest daughter would sure be popular in half of Belfast) And while, yes, the picture depicts the faces of the 10 Irish Republicans who died on a hunger strike, and yes, emaciation and defiance aren't exactly the images that spring to mind when I think of my dear little girl, it was neat to see her name plastered up on a wall as a statement (because you know we're never going to find pencils or key chains with our kids' names engraved on them). So there you have it: just like that girl I knew 15 years ago, I'm proud. We gave our girls names to live up to, to embody, and it was worth all that back and forth to get there. Just don't ask me what we would've done if we'd had a boy.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Slow Down, Will You?

"Hey, Saoirse, could you please go to the bathroom and wash your hands?" I'm changing Quinn's diaper as I say this, getting the girls ready before I set about doing the peeling and chopping of wee bits, gathering of yogurt (I think there's a small farm somewhere in Vermont specially set up just for our family's consumption of dairy. I should probably start sending regular tips in the mail) and other assorted yes-it's-healthy-but-man-it-takes-forever-to-prepare items we call lunch around here.  Saoirse's lounging in the glider, feet propped up on my leg, talking to me about Blanket's latest adventures. This, as one would expect, is way more fun than going to the bathroom. "Noooo," she says, with a slight, defiant whine to her voice. "I don't waaaannnt to." 

"Saoirse," I sigh. "We're eating now. I need you to get ready." Off she trudges to the bathroom, eyeballing Quinn and me the whole way to ensure we're not doing something gloriously fun while she takes care of business, then emerges again entirely too quickly. I inspect her hands, sniffing to find they smell faintly of soap and are still damp. Since everything appears to have gone right in there, I shrug and we make our way to the kitchen.

A little later, over another decadent meal of peanut butter sandwiches, pears and cheese (oh, don't be jealous. It's yours to have 4 or 5 days out of the week if you'd like to pop by. Unless you happen upon hummus-and-carrots day...), Quinn was trying to feed me her piece of toast, as 10-months-old like to do (trying to share her treasures, you think, or attempting to pass off yet another crappy lunch? I haven't figured that out yet). I laughed and told Saoirse that she used to do the exact same thing to me when she was Quinn's age. At this, Saoirse squinted at Quinn, appeared to think for a moment, then asked, "Mom? Can I be a baby again?" No, I told her. You're growing up, I said. "Oh," she replied. "Why?" And I told her that growing up was a good thing. Now she gets to run around, and eat ice cream, and slide down the slides at the playground--all the fun stuff Quinn can't do yet. I didn't tell her that after that stage comes schoolwork, and curfews, and forced Family Nights because she's spending too much time out with her shady boyfriend. We'll get to that in a decade or so.  

So, after lunch, as I'm changing Quinn's diaper again (have you been around babies lately? They pee. A lot), I ask Saoirse to go to the bathroom before nap time.  As she starts to walk away, I call her back.  "Hey," I say, as I crouch down to her level. "I just want to tell you that I'm really proud of you for going to the bathroom by yourself, and wiping, and washing your hands like a grown-up. That's a big deal. I'm proud of you." She tilts her head to look at me, gives me a little smile, then heads off to the bathroom.

When I walk into that same bathroom after she's safely in bed, there's a good chance I'll find the hand towel in the toilet, or the contents of the soap dispenser emptied onto the counter top. Today we had to change her pants because the front of them somehow got soaked with (what I hope is) water. Growing up. I think about how quickly she went from wearing diapers to emptying entire rolls of toilet paper into the pot in one sitting. But this is how it's supposed to happen. Saoirse being able to handle herself means I'm doing my job. Yes, I think, as I wipe water off the mirror. I want you to be a baby again. She's growing up. And as I wash my hands with what's left of the soap, I know that's a good thing. I think I just want a little more time before that happens.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Next Time I'm Just Turning on Clifford

David and I have made a conscious effort to not book our children for every class, program and flying trapeze seminar that's offered in our area. Honest. When I taught, I saw firsthand how a jam-packed life could stress out a young person. And in the last couple years, I've seen two-year-olds who are cranky, overtired and whiny because they're being rushed from one class to another to preschool to Target, then back home just to do it all again after nap time. It stressed me out just typing that. So with our own girls, we've been walking on the more relaxed side of the calendar-keeping. They each do an activity a couple days a week, and the rest of the time is free for getting together with friends, or running errands, or--gasp!--just hanging around the house, playing. Our bank account certainly prefers it this way, and I'd always assumed the girls, especially Saoirse, were happy, too.

Until today. Actually, it's been often lately I've noticed Saoirse becoming (dare I say it?), well, bored. Yes, she'll play around the house while Quinn naps or I do all the unending little chores ("Hey, Mom?  You gonna fold laundry again?"). She'll read books to herself or draw or dance around with the dog--all the usual little kid fun stuff. But it's happened a lot lately that if I'm not with her, she's just lying around, clutching that daggone Blanket.  She begs to watch Clifford or Sesame Street: "TV is fun. I like TV. Can I watch some TV today, Mom?" 

Today was one of our "free" days, and we had to ditch a plan to run to the mall this morning because Quinn slept late and the sky suddenly started pouring rain (we have no garage. Instead, we have a pool. A pool. Isn't that fantastic, three months out of the year?). When Quinn finally--finally! Rip Van Winkle had nothing on this one--woke, I came downstairs to find Saoirse lolling about on the floor, feet propped up on a toy, just staring at a piece of lint.  Hoo, boy.

Fast forward an hour: every single square inch of kitchen counter space is covered with dishes. There are open bags of baking supplies, a stand mixer caked with flour, a jar of peanut butter (that was for lunch), some peels from an overripe pear, a disturbingly large amount of spilled cocoa powder and an empty carton of milk. Because what do you do when your 3-year old is bored? That's right: you make cookiesSo now, as I sit here, exhausted, on the couch, I stare at the crumbs on the dining room table, at the splatters of batter all over the kitchen sink and realize that I'm going to clean up this mess just in time to start another for dinner. And I think, you know?  Maybe having to leave the house every morning isn't such a bad idea after all. Possibly, quite possibly, our fears that our children will be stressed out by planning their lives too much are amiss. Because at least then they won't be bored. It's something I might have to think about on days like this. 

Now, if you'll excuse me. While one daughter happily naps and the other reads quietly in her bed on this rainy afternoon, I have to go scrub chocolate frosting off the cabinets.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Yard Edition

David and I are in the middle of gutting our landscaping.  Are you jealous?  Yeah, I didn't think so. We live in an older home (we throw around words like "character" and "charm" a lot when we talk about the house, so you can probably guess the age of it...). And I think when you buy a house with some years behind it, you have to be prepared that the yard might, well, soon be in desperate need of a face lift. But five years ago we were new homeowners. To say we weren't prepared is like suggesting that someone who can't ride a bike should probably rethink that triathalon. And besides, I sort of hesitate to use the word "landscaping" when I talk about our yard. Wanna know why? Example A: the previous owners had stuck little black wrought iron fences haphazardly around the front and side yards and then had the audacity/funny idea/sadistic nerve to surround them with daylilies.  Mound upon mound of daylilies which multiplied so quickly that by our second summer in the house we were weeping bitter tears from allergy-swollen eyes into our hoes and shovels. (Seriously, what's their secret to breeding like that? And why do they smell so, so bad?). Add the stinking (literally, figuratively) lilies to the overgrown, dying-from-the-inside-out shrubbery to the forsythia bush that has two vines growing out of it that are so strong and thick and scary-looking I'm willing to bet the Neanderthals used them as lassos, and we had ourselves a fine mess.  

So, needless to say, after a few little nips and tucks here and there, David and I are going full makeover on this yard this year.  Right now we're in the ripping-out stage, which David has had the brunt of, because one tug at some of this stuff in our yard and I swear I cry for mercy (Okay, I work out and all, but something like this calls for Xena). And my dear husband suspended his own gym membership, because he's going to have muscles like the Hulk after all these weekends of wrestling with decrepit tree stumps. It's awful (the ripping, not the getting ripped). It swallows our weekends. And the yard looks golly-awful.  We, for lack of a better word, hate it.

Everybody but Saoirse, that is. We hand that girl a trowel and she acts like we bought her a pony.  She spent two hours out there with her dad today (I was on sleeping-baby duty and got to stay inside and drink coffee. Shh. Don't tell David). Apparently digging in the dirt (yeah, the Peter Gabriel song just popped into my head, too) is like going to Disney World for the preschooler. It was cold, but she puttered on, with her four layers of clothes and ruddy cheeks. She scolded Luca, our dog, to stay out of the road, and marched behind the wheelbarrow as Dad unloaded the ripped-up roots he keeps finding. She refused water, food ("No, Mom! It's not lunchtime yet! It's not early."). And when she did finally tumble back into the house, mud on her face, hair that looked like it'd gotten into a fight with a squirrel, she was yammering away about the "snake" she'd uncovered (it wasn't a snake, don't worry. Just a salamander) and how strong she was. And David, the proud papa, said that when he went back out later to work by himself, it was a lot lonelier. She made it fun, he said. He has a point. We spend our weekend mornings digging in dirt and pushing around wheelbarrows. That's every kid's dream, I suppose. Do you agree?  Well, you're more than welcome to send over your kids if they'd like to help next weekend. We'll be inside the house drinking our coffee.

Thursday, April 7, 2011


I sat down, all set to tell you about something entirely different tonight, when we heard Quinn wake up, crying. Well, yelping, is more like it, and she'd been doing it on and off since we put her down for the night. We thought we'd finally gotten her to go off to sleep, but alas, the neighbors called to tell us the baby was crying. No, I'm just kidding. But the girl really does have some lungs on her.

This was way out of the ordinary. Usually we read her a book and place her in her crib at 7, she sucks her thumb, she goes off to sleep. Easy breezy. So to hear her cry (oh, who am I kidding?  She was full-on, sirens-blaring wailing like one of those car alarms that get set off when a dog sneezes) like that sent me upstairs faster than you can say "paranoid." David is our family's go-to get-'em-to-sleep wonder-worker, but I practically leap-frogged over him (have you seen how tall my husband is? I was on a mission) to get to Quinn's room.  

By the time I got to her she was doing that air-gulping thing little ones do when they're really upset. It took me a while to calm her down, but by golly--and singing, and rocking, and holding--I thought I did it. Go us, I thought, happily sitting with my quiet daughter in her warm, dark room. We rested there sleepily for a bit, and just when I thought it was safe to put her back in her crib, it happened: I felt her hands start pat-pat-patting my arms. She started talking to the wall ("nya...nya...ha-pbbbhph!"). I put her on my shoulder, desperately hoping she'd doze off there, but it wasn't meant to be. Next thing I know, I was getting giggled at. Wet French kisses were being planted on my nose, as the dear baby is wont to do.  Then Quinn started talking to me like it was 11 in the morning, and grabbed my glasses off my head just to make sure I knew she was awake. At that point I wondered if I'd be getting to my own bed at any point this evening.

Yet after a while, I kissed her, then gently laid her back in her crib. She whimpered, then wailed, then found her thumb and fell back to sleep. And I left her room no wiser as to why she woke up in the first place. Maybe she's getting sick. Maybe she'll wake up tomorrow with some teeth. Who knows? All I know is that this is the way this child-rearing thing sometimes goes. Sometimes we can plan our evenings, and other times we spend our hours quieting sadnesses we don't understand.  And on those nights whatever it is I was going to tell you about will just have to wait till tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Toast and a Sippy Cup

Went to dinner last night.  David, me, Daughters Elder and Younger, that is, along with my mom and brother.  We wanted to do something to remember David's dad, who passed away two years ago at the age of way-too-young.  In my family, remembering means eating, so eating we did (quite honestly, it also involves drinking--a toast, as it were--but not nearly as much as the eating).

I kind of have to chuckle at how we're still adamant about trying to--at least occasionally--combine our old, young-people-about-the-town personae with our present family.  Like last night, for instance, we went to a Belgian restaurant because David's dad was of French descent, and Belgium was about as close as we could get.  We were surrounded by tables filled with couples, girlfriends, work buddies--all adults--and, of course, drawing attention with our two small--albeit awesomely well-behaved--girls.  David and I barely exchanged two words with each other, what with all the cutting of food, ordering of milk, wiping of spills.  But, by golly, we did it.  Just like we still went out to celebrate St. Patty's Day.  Granted, all we did was go to dinner again--at 4:30 p.m., no less--and I had to wait to drink my solitary Guinness at home after I'd nursed Quinn for the night, but dum-da-DAH!--we celebrated with the best of 'em (sort of).  Take that, settling down!  Power to the pooped parents!

We usually live and breathe by our children's sleep schedules (which is why you'll never see me gallivanting around town between the hours of 1 and 3 in the afternoon.  No, sirree.  That's nap time, silly), but still try to enjoy the world we used to know (and its really good food and well-crafted beer) as much as we can.  We want our kids to know how to behave in a restaurant, how to use manners in public, feel comfortable with new foods and activities that aren't necessarily geared toward the lil' folk.  We're trying.  And the girls are doing well.  If Pop were still with us today (oh, how I wish), I think he'd be nodding in approval.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Hypothermia as Bonding Time

It's with a small amount of motivation and a big ol' dose of sheer guilt that I drag myself and the mighty Quinn to her swim class every week.  It's painful (for me, not Quinn, of course.  What kind of mother do you think I am?).  All the swimsuit-ing and flip-flopping and toweling just to splash around for 30 minutes in water with a temperature I'd imagine is comparable to the insides of the ice cubes in our home freezer.  In each class, we do the Hokey Pokey.  We pretend to drop the babies off the ledges into the water (what does Quinn think the whole time I'm doing that, by the way?  Whee!  I get to play in the bubbles! or Holy crap, what's my mother trying to do to me?!).  We walk up and down the length of the pool a few times while our babies chew away at mildew-filled rubber duckies.  And then we turn ourselves around.

Now, I realize that there are better swim lessons out there.  But the lassie's only 10 months old, you know.  And really, the only reason I'm taking Quinn to the classes is because I took Saoirse at her age.  And even though I know she's not actually going to learn to swim (again, she can't even crawl yet...), and all she really does is the same kind of play she'd normally do, just immersed in 60-degree liquid, it's our time together.  It is the one half-hour a week (well, hour, if you count how long it takes me to wrestle both of us out of wet swimsuits and into a dry diaper--again, just Quinn.  Not me) that I get to focus totally and solely on her.  I'm comfortable because her big sis is at our house with her Gram, and I get to just concentrate on Quinn and every single "ya-dah-dah-DAHHH!" that comes out of her mouth.  It's some kind of precious time together.  Even if our lips are turning blue in the process.

The first time around--when Quinn was just a soul in God's hands, and Saoirse was the one I was dunking up and down in a pool on Monday mornings--it was my first mommy-and-me type of class.  I was just dipping my toe into the (Careful:  massively obvious metaphor coming up here) waters of full-time motherhood, and that class was a chance to meet some new moms and make some friends.  And I did.  At the end of those weeks I exchanged contact info with two women with whom I'm still close.  I was lucky, and that first swim class served its purpose, both for Saoirse and for me.  But this time around, I chat with the other moms, smile at their children, but really--and maybe selfishly--I just want to focus on Quinn.  My only goal is to soak her up, learn all these new sounds and expressions she's been trying to show me.  I don't have to worry about anything else but her during that time, and I protect those moments greedily, territorially.  Even if it means I'm not seeking out another goose bump-covered momma to ask her how old her baby was when he first started saying "dada."  

So that's the way it will be this time around.  I groan each week at home as I pack up the over-large tote bag with towels and swim diapers.  But after each class, I often find myself buckling Quinn into her car seat with a dopey smile on my face.  Sometimes the momma guilt can be a good motivator, I guess.  I doubt I'll walk out of the last class with anybody's email this time, but that's okay.  I only planned on getting to know one person during these classes.  Even if we are shivering as we do.