Friday, April 29, 2011

Good Things, April 2011


Ice cream after a hot, sunny day in the ocean;


 the $2.99 Target floaty that spent hours in the ocean with Jemma and Grandma;


 Skyping with cousins to show off a first lost tooth;


 dyeing Easter eggs;


and creating full-of-sugar Easter treats;




dress rehearsal for tomorrow's spring dance recital;


sunshine and yoga this morning; watching part of the royal wedding of William and Kate this morning with two very curious little girls; brand-new running shoes; an accepted offer on our South Haven house (!); Annie's shockingly good spelling skills; homemade cucumber-mint-basil sodas; an old-school mix CD from a friend, full of The Decemberists and Mumford & Sons, that made a rainy day better; Annie's written declaration that I am a good mom for her "because she smells like me and because our hair matches."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Florida, Seven Ways

It's sometime after midnight and I hear a clunk and then a cry from the bedroom where the girls are sleeping, so I roll myself off the pull-out couch and run across the cold tile to find her, disoriented and on the floor next to her twin bed.  I pick her up, tuck her back in, try to rig pillows all around and shove blankets into corners before kissing her forehead and going back to the couch.  At 3:44 a.m. she falls out again, poor thing, so I pick her up and carry her to the couch, clutching her blankets and Dumbo and water bottle, and settle her in next to me, shove a chair from the dining room table up against her side of the sloping, lumpy mattress.  She turns her body perpendicular and thrashes her feet against my torso until I spoon her, stroke her forehead with my fingers, whisper shhhhhh.  At 7:30 a.m. I open my eyes.  My parents and Annie are staring at us and the sun is coming up.

*****

It's Saturday morning going on noon and the girls and I have been in the pool since 9:00 a.m.  The ledge next to the pool is littered with our things:  iced coffee from the store down the street, goggles, blow-up floaties shaped like turtles, sunglasses, sunscreen, hats, water.  Annie is balancing on as many fun noodles as she can commandeer until the imbalanced flotation sends her tipping sideways and under the water.  The girls talk my dad into getting in the pool with them, and they spend an hour chasing him, making up games, stealing fun noodles and racing him to the other side.

"You know why they're called fun noodles?" Jemma asks me.

"Why?" I say.

"Because they're shaped like noodles and they're fun!" she says.  She kicks away from me, balancing on two of them, as the sun blazes down from above and the chameleons seek shade in the crevices of a palm tree.

*****

We have just plopped all our things down at the edge of the ocean and already the girls are heading into the water.  "Wait!" I call helplessly after them, but they are already charging into the surf, so I take off my cover-up and follow them out, grabbing Jemma's hand when I catch her.  We are jumping the little waves when we see it:  a fin, slicing through the water just yards away from us.  I am pretty sure it is a dolphin, but I am not a hundred percent, and I haul those girls right back to the sand as fast as I can while they yell their protests and questions at me the whole way.

We stand at the shore and watch the fin cycle in and out of the waves.  We see a wide, flat tail flap the surface and a cute bottled nose and I breathe again, let the girls go back in to their knees, talk about how special it is to see a dolphin right up close like this, practically swimming with us.

*****

"What can we set out for the Easter Bunny to eat?" Annie asks earnestly.  I look in the fridge and find a stray, leftover ear of corn on the cob, which my dad confirms that bunnies love to eat.  We set it on the dining room table and put the little felt baskets I have packed on either side.

Annie gets paper, a pencil, writes a note.  "Dear Easter Bunny, I hope you like the corn on the cob.  We did not have any carrots or celery.  Love, your friend Annie."

In the morning they cannot wait to emerge from their room to find the plastic eggs full of jelly beans and baskets full of bubbles and Zhu Zhu Pets.  The corn has bunny-sized bites out of it, too.

*****

We walk down to the beach to watch the sunset, our bellies full of ice cream and our noses a little pink.  The girls race ahead, then turn around to run back to us, then race ahead again until they reach the edge of the shore.  The sun is almost dipping below the horizon and for one minute they stand still, struck by the orange beauty of it all or maybe just tired from all that running, and they reach for one another's hand.

*****

Every time we enter or leave the condo, there is an elevator ride involved.  They fight and negotiate over whose turn it is to push the buttons.  Every.  Single.  Time.

They brush their teeth at night, watching their warm faces in the mirror.  Annie turns her toothbrush to a new angle, reaching her back teeth, and Jemma does, too.  "You're copying me!" Annie calls out.

On the beach, they craft villages out of drip castles and shells.  Jemma stomps hard on all the piles of sand when she tires of the project.  Tears ensue.

*****

Our flight home takes off just after 7:00 at night.  Jemma takes pictures out the window of the sun setting through the clouds, of the airplane wing, of the palms and the ocean below.  They draw, eat pretzels, watch the beginning of Toy Story 3.  Soon, Annie is asleep with her head on my lap.  Jemma balls up her blankets, makes a pillow to put on Annie's butt, and lays her head down.  She reaches for my hand and drags my fingernails lightly across the underside of her forearm, then her cheek.  She falls asleep, too, and this is how we arrive home, happy to see Jason's face when he pulls up to get us at the curb late on an Easter Sunday night.

Easter Weekend






Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Desperate Times (Call for Desperate Measures)

It started, as these things often do, with the desperation born of too many 42-degrees-and-rainy days stuck inside, wondering when, WHEN spring would ever come.

It started, actually, when my parents booked a condo for themselves for a few weeks in Florida and casually, generously said, "Come down if you want!"  No expectations, no guilt, no badgering.  Just an invitation to share their space, if we wanted.

It started with a weekly travel deals newsletter landing in my in-box on a rainy Wednesday night.  Jason was reading next to me in bed, half-asleep already.  I elbowed him.  "Look," I said.

"Go," he said.  He'll stay here, working, catching up, squeezing in some mountain-biking and jaunting off every night to sing in the seasonal Easter choir, good Catholic boy that he is.

I called my parents at 11:00 p.m.  They were wide awake, like I knew they would be.  They were ecstatic.  I bought the tickets.

I told the girls this morning.  They squealed. "Tomorrow!" I said.  We packed tank tops and sunscreen.

It's 37 degrees here right now.  Last night a thunder-sleet bolt hit a tree in the front yard of a house a few blocks away and blew the front door right off the house.

It's going to be 89 degrees there.

I think it was a good call.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

How To . . .

I'm feeling moderately bossy today, so following is a list of some of the life "rules" that make life at this particular stage work for me.  I stink at the normal amount of things (volleyball, confrontation, estimating volume), but I think I have a few things figured out.

How to Make Great Hamburgers on the Grill:  Mix a little Ranch dressing in with the ground beef before grilling.

How to Keep the Weight Off:  Don't bring the junk into the house.

How to Keep From Bringing the Junk into the House:  Do your grocery shopping while imagining that you are about to run into someone (ex-boyfriend, healthiest person you know, mother, boss) who would critically survey the contents of your cart.  Bonus tip:  Live in a small enough town that this does often happen!

How to Cook Dinner Most Every Night:  Sit down on Sunday evening and plan out the week's meals, jotting down needed ingredients on your grocery list as you go.  Shop on Monday morning, then return to the grocery store every other day or so because you forgot something or because the plan has changed.  Occasionally abandon the plan and eat waffles and scrambled eggs with cheese.

How to Stick to an Exercise Routine:  Find something you truly enjoy doing and build time into your life so you can do it regularly.  Run, walk, swim, yoga, Zumba, cross-country ski, mountain bike, jump rope . . . it doesn't matter what it is, but it has to be something you love, not something you dread.  Bonus tip:  Find another person or two whose company you enjoy and plan to work out with them.  Your affinity for them will prevent you from slacking even if you want to.

How to Manage Laundry:  Keep the laundry segregated.  Give each person in the household a basket, and when their basket is full, throw it all in on cold.  This way, when it comes out of the dryer, you dump the whole (clean) basket on their bed, fold, and put it away right in one room.  No sorting.  Yay!

How to Make Your Husband Happy:  Learn his Love Language and speak it.  The five Love Languages are Physical Touch, Words of Affection, Gift-giving, Acts of Service, and Quality Time.  Most people have one or two major languages that they use to express love to others.  Figure out what your husband's language is by noticing how he shows his love to others around him; this is the way to his heart.

How to Get Your Husband to Make You Happy:  Don't be afraid to identify your own love language(s) and inform your husband.  There is no way he's going to read the book, so go ahead and tell him.  (Ahem.  Gift-giving-and-quality-time.)

How to Teach Your Children Well:  Consistency.  Set up routines that work for you and follow them EVERY SINGLE TIME.  Breakfast must be eaten, teeth must be brushed, clothes must be on, bed must be made every single school morning before there is time for playing.  No exceptions.  We read every night of the week right before bed.  When the girls ask me a question, I think about it, give an answer, and NEVER CHANGE THE ANSWER.  It might turn out badly, the answer might be a mistake, and we will eventually talk about that, and I might give a different answer the next time they ask, but once I have decreed that something is so, IT WILL BE SO.  When you follow things 100% of the time, people stop questioning because they know it is futile.  If you follow something even 98% of the time, your kids will know that there's a 2% chance of you caving in and they will beg you incessantly to see if they can get it to happen.

How to Keep Your House Clean:  Hire a cleaning service.  In between the times they come, ignore the mess.

How to Maintain Your Friendships:  Show up.  Call.  Write.  Laugh.  Ask.  Make dinner reservations.

How to Read a Ton of Books Every Year:  Only turn on the TV for the shows that you actually enjoy and intentionally plan to watch.  Be an anxious person who must read for at least an hour to silence the worry before going to sleep each night.  Bonus tip:  Be an insomniac!

How to End Up with Enough Money Eventually:  See what you make, and save a minimum 10% to invest conservatively.  Leave it alone.  Period.

How to Remember Things:  Write them down.


Leave your bossy life rules in the comments!

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tooth!

Going . . .


going . . .


gone!


And the note she wrote the Tooth Fairy to accompany the tooth when she puts it under her pillow tonight:

Monday, April 11, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Tina Fey's Take on Motherhood

"Of course I am not supposed to admit that there is triannual torrential sobbing in my office, because it's bad for the feminist cause.  It makes it harder for women to be taken seriously in the workplace.  It makes it harder for other working moms to justify their choice.  But I have friends who stay home with their kids and they also have a triannual sob, so I think we should call it even.  I think we should be kind to one another about it.  I think we should agree to blame the children."

Things Jemma Says: Lunchtime Conversation

J:  Tell me a choke.

Me:  Why did the chicken cross the road?

J:  I don't know.  Why?

Me:  To get to the other side!

J:  Mommy, that's A True!  Tell me a choke!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Suddenly Summer

Yesterday morning, that of the glorious run, it was 37 degrees as Sarah and I made our way around the lake.  This afternoon, it was 84 and sunny.  Michigan is weird.

I made cinnamon rolls for breakfast and we lounged in our jammies for an hour or so, e-mailing Jason and playing with babies.  Then we got dressed and headed to the track for an impromptu workout, running sprints and bleachers with a few dips and push-ups thrown in for good measure.  I timed Annie's 400 (1:58) and she timed mine (1:32), and I have two things to say about this.  One, it is not going to be much longer until she is faster than I am.  Two, running that six-minute-mile that's on my Life List is going to be quite the challenge because there is NO WAY I could have run three more laps at that speed.

(Jemma sat on the track and complained about being thirsty, so we did not time her.)

We came home, shed a layer of clothes, hauled the art easel outside and spent the next two hours drawing, blowing bubbles, and riding bikes.  These are the things we do all summer long and I know that by September I'll be sick to death of sidewalk chalk and bike helmets, but today it felt like we could have done those things for weeks and not gotten sick of them.

Nobody wanted to go inside, so we ate a picnic in the front yard and finished up with ice cream.  (Ice cream two days in a row?  Yes.)  We made a feeble attempt at some indoor reading/quiet/rest time, but my heart wasn't in it so we were back outside after I snuck in a shower and threw in one load of laundry.  I'm suddenly remembering why the house never gets clean in the summer:  because I'm never inside it to clean it!

We hung out with some neighbors down the street for a while, happily sharing their sunscreen and lemonade until we came back to our own yard and busted out the water toys.  We started out only squirting the driveway and the flowers, but that lasted for about five minutes and before I knew it we were all so wet we had to come in and change clothes.

We walked to get Rose's Express take-out (pizza two nights in a row?  Yes.) and brought it back home to eat before heading BACK OUTSIDE to meet some new across-the-street neighbors and frolic with the next-door ones until we absolutely, positively HAD to come inside and get in the tub.

Tomorrow, there will be school.  There will be thunderstorms and chilly temperatures and hurried breakfast and grocery lists and catechism and cleaning.  But I am just a little sunburned and my feet are just a little dirty right now and today was totally worth it.





Chicago: Annie's Take

Remember back in February, when we took the girls to Chicago for the weekend?  Things we did in a 48-hour period include:


  • taking the train, the el, and cabs
  • going to the Lincoln Park Zoo
  • ice-skating at Millennium Park
  • going out to eat multiple times
  • swimming in the pool and the hot tub
  • shopping
  • tea at American Girl Cafe
  • bath bombs in the hotel tub
  • seeing the play "Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus"
We returned late on a Sunday afternoon.  On Monday morning, Annie went to school and, as she does every Monday morning, she wrote in her journal about her weekend.

When I went to Annie's conference a couple weeks ago, her writing journal was out for my perusal.  I paged through almost a year's worth of Monday morning writings, noticing with equal parts horror and amusement that it seemed no matter what kinds of fun we had packed into any given weekend (and we do tend to pack a lot in, most of the time) Annie almost always wrote something like, "My sister and I watched a movie in our sleeping bags and ate popcorn for dinner."  Which is true, as far as it goes, except that she never said, "We also made banana bread and drove to hike the dunes and rode bikes and played at the park with friends and went to the art museum."  So that's great.  Her teacher thinks we let our kids watch unlimited television and eat junk all weekend.  Whatever.

ANYWAY.  I get to the entry Annie wrote on the day after she returned from our jam-packed Chicago weekend.  Here's what she wrote:


To recap:  We did one thousand fun and exhausting things, and Annie wrote extensively about how Jemma screamed in her sleep (which was apparently "very boring") and then threw in one sentence about what I bought her at the American Girl store.  And then she drew this picture:


Chicago!  Where you'll lie in a hotel bed with a squiggly frown on your face all weekend long!

Then, a few weeks later, Jason and I went back to Chicago without the girls for a single night.  When we returned, we found this note on my pillow:

So . . . I guess she wants to go back anyway.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Redemption

Spring break redeemed itself a little bit today, thanks to:

-a running partner whose nice husband was willing to watch my two still-jammied kids for an hour so we could run the lake first thing this morning and who cooked us up egg-white omelets and toast when we came back in the door.

-the girls spending nearly an hour cozied up in Annie's bed, reading to each other.

-my parents coming over for lunch, then all walking to get ice cream at Jersey Junction after.

-Jemma riding her new, big-girl bike with training wheels all around the town.

-sunshine and sixty-degree-temperatures this afternoon, allowing the kids to run wild with neighbors right up until dinnertime.

-windows open, birds chirping as I lie in bed typing this.

-Jemma's newfound love of skipping, which she does literally any time she needs to get from A to B.

-a stack of delicious books on the nightstand right now, including Tina Fey's new memoir, Bossypants, my favorite chapter of which so far has been the one about her father and which includes this excerpt:

"How can I give (my daughter) what Don Fey gave me?  The gift of anxiety.  The fear of getting in trouble.  The knowledge that while you are loved, you are not above the law . . . When I was a kid there was a TV interstitial during Saturday morning cartoons with a song that went like this:  'The most important person in the whole wide world is you, and you hardly even know you.  /  You're the most important person!'  Is this not the absolute worst thing you could instill in a child?  They're the most important person?  In the world?  That's what they already think.  You need to teach them the opposite. They need to be a little afraid of what will happen if they lose the top of their Grizzly Adams thermos."

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Muddling

I hear them in the playroom right now, accusing one another of wrecking the fairy house and arguing over whether or not someone apologized appropriately.  Someone has said, "Hey Mom . . . ?" approximately 847 times in the last five days.  There is a pile of clean laundry on the bed, waiting to be folded and put away (ugh).  Outside, it is still 40 and rainy and I actually cannot remember a time when the weather was anything different.  Jason has been working non-stop for the last three weeks (except when he was sequestered upstairs all weekend, throwing up), and tonight he's getting on a plane to someplace sunny and warm.  Without me.

It's Thursday of spring break.

I'm dreaming of tulips and sand toys, of impromptu neighborhood barbecues and runs around the lake wearing only shorts and a tee, of bike rides and flip flops, of windows open and coffee on the front stoop, of driving with the windows down, of sunscreen and swimming outside, of planting the third annual vegetable garden, of birds and crickets and leaves on trees.

Instead, it's long-sleeved fleece winter jammies, blowing my nose 7 times before breakfast every day for two weeks (and trying to get certain someones to stop picking their noses and eating it!), wearing gloves to ride bikes.  It's Jemma eliminating yet more foods from her already-sparse diet (after two years of eating it daily:  "Mom, I don't like peanut butter any more.  I just want bread with jam.").  It's Annie asking daily to get her hair dyed permanently pink.  (No.)  It's Jason flailing into the house forty minutes late, bolting his dinner, and heading upstairs to his office.  It's 40 and rainy.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Time Warp

It was chilly and rainy on Saturday and half the town has headed to Florida for spring break, so we did the only logical thing, which was to spray the girls' hair bright pink with silver glitter and take them roller-skating at the very rink Jason grew up rolling around.

Things were (almost) the same as we remembered from our elementary school skating party days:  Def Leppard and Michael Jackson "Thriller" blaring under the disco balls (mixed in with a little Katy Perry); "slowing things down" with a couples' skate (only this time, Jason backed around the rink holding hands with Jemma and I teetered backwards while Annie pushed me); cold fizzy drinks shared from a waxy Pepsi cup; setting out orange cones for the races (Annie got right out there and skated her little heart out!); scanning the rink while we skated, looking for that special someone, only this time it was our little pink-blonde daughters skating non-stop.

Jemma fell down countless times, got right back up, and skated on - no tears, no tiredness, no holding her hand.  And Annie . . . well, after two Saturdays in a row at the skating rink, Annie is a pro on rollerblades. She jumps.






I don't want to talk about the rest of the weekend (Jason coming down with the stomach flu, the weather an ungodly mix of snow, hail, sleet, rain, and thunderstorms), but Jemma did declare, upon leaving the rink, that skating is "the most fun" and, also, that I am "better than chocolate cake" for bringing her there, so.

Friday, April 1, 2011

On Hard Work

Last night I lost an hour and a half of my life to a battle with Annie over putting laundry away, and it's all the roller rink's fault.

See, last Saturday, Annie attended a super-fun birthday party for one of her classmates at the local roller rink.  Never really having skated before, she was understandably a little nervous, so I promised to stay for the first hour of the party to help her and watch her as needed.  She chose in-line skates to rent, strapped them on, and shot out onto the rink, then promptly bailed on its slippery surface over and over.  Her little friends were all adorably helpful:  those girls who knew how to skate were holding hands and supporting the ones who didn't; the new learners were falling and bravely getting right back up and trying again.  When I left, Annie was happily ensconced in a skating threesome, zooming around the rink to Justin Bieber, hardly falling at all.

When I came back to pick her up, she was breathless from happiness (and from skating her butt off for almost three hours).  "Can we take these home?" she asked as I knelt down to unstrap the skates from her hot, sweaty feet.  She talked non-stop on the drive home about how much she loved skating and about how some of her classmates have their very own skates at home.

I was proud of her for so bravely trying a new skill and for practicing something hard - for falling over and over until she got better and faster.  So before we left for our party, I looked up some skates online and found a pair that looked decent.  They were $60.00.

"It's not your birthday or Christmas coming up, and Daddy and I aren't going to just buy you expensive skates for no reason.  If you want to have these to use this summer, you're going to have to do extra chores to earn them," I said.

Annie nodded solemnly.  On Sunday, we brainstormed a list of chores for her to do around the house, and she eagerly checked two or three off that very day.  By yesterday afternoon, only two items remained:  setting and clearing the table, folding and putting away laundry.  After dinner, she brought the dirty plates from the dining room into the kitchen, checked the chore off her list, and went to her room where a pile of clean laundry waited on her bed.  It was 6:00 p.m., and that's when the fun began.

I loaded the dishwasher and then went in to check on Annie.  She was sitting on her bed on top of the pile of clean clothes, playing with a stuffed animal.  She had folded three things.  "This is TOO HARD," she said.  "I don't want to do this!"

"That's fine, but then you won't earn your skates."  I tried to keep my voice as neutral as possible.

Her voice went up an octave.  "I want the skates!" she said.

"Yes, well, then you have to fold the laundry," I replied.

"This is HARD," she repeated.

"Yeah, work is sometimes hard," I agreed, "but you can do this.  Want some music on?"  I reached down, turned on her CD player, and pressed play.  "Good luck!"

But even as I walked out the door, she was wailing at my back.  "Come back!  I want someone to help me!"  And every five minutes or so, she'd come out of her room, repeating:

"This is boring!"

"This is taking forever!"

"This is too hard for me!  I can't do it!"

"I want someone to help me!"

"I'll just buy them MYSELF!"  (This one was silenced pretty quickly after we invited her to count the spending money in her wallet, which totaled $5.13.)

Jason and I took turns repeating little pep talks and her choice:  either do the chore or don't do it, with the consequence of earning or not earning the skates.  When it wasn't our turn to repeat, we would go into our bedroom, fall backward on the bed, and mutter, "For the love . . . this is ridiculous . . . stupid skates . . . never again . . . " while staring at the ceiling and blowing our nose.  (Maybe that was just me.)

Jemma took a bath, brushed her teeth, had a story, went to bed, and still Annie labored through the task, folding one or two things, wailing about the unfairness of it all, going back in to do a little more.  Finally, at 7:30 p.m., a full hour and a half after she started, Annie had folded and put away a single load of her own laundry.  (And I use the term "folded" loosely, but I wasn't about to talk about quality control with a hysterical six-year-old.)

She shut the dresser drawer and flopped back on her bed as dramatically as possible.  I went and sat on the bed's edge and looked her right in the eye.

"Annie, was that hard work?" I asked.

"Yes."  She rolled her eyes and sighed.

"But did you do it all by yourself?"

A small, reluctant smile.  "Yes."

"Next time," Jason said from the doorway, "I don't want to hear that complaining.  If you do that again, the chore isn't going to count."

I handed her the marker and told her to go check the last chore off her list, thinking that we have a long way to go before she makes the generations of hardy Dutch farm stock in her family tree proud of her work ethic.