Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Things They Say: Listening to "Santa Baby" Edition

Jemma:  This girl is silly, because Santa is not a baby!
Annie, matter-of-fact:  Well, he used to be.
Jemma:  Yeah, and when he was a baby, he lived on our street!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Animated With a Love

It was a magnificent weekend. It was the kind of weekend where you laugh until your sides hurt, revel in the crisp air during a hilly early-morning trail run, listen to little girls play incessantly, find the perfect small things while shopping, have real conversations with well-loved people, and find yourself saying grace around a Thanksgiving table that's full of magically perfect food.

We spent Thursday and Friday up north, where it was warm enough that all the girls could hopscotch their hearts out in the driveway while they burned off their Thanksgiving dinner but cool enough that they warmed themselves around the fire when they came back inside. Watching the four of them together - now swathed in Mimi's scarves, now dancing a polka around the living room, now working on an art project with their blonde heads bowed in concentration - gets me every time.  One our drive home yesterday, Annie lamented that her beloved cousins don't live closer, and I could only agree with her lament.

Jason's grandparents were there this year, too, and though they are not as young as they were when I met them, they still bring a sturdy love with them everywhere they go. They watched the action with smiles on their faces, full of praise and encouragement for us and our lives, full of pride in the "smart, beautiful" little ones who love their custard pie and their Slovak nursery rhymes.

We headed home yesterday, stopping en route to make our traditional pilgrimage to The Corner Bar and Hart's Christmas Tree farm. For the first time we can remember, there wasn't a speck of snow on the ground when we combed the fields for the perfect Frasier Fir. We wandered a bit more this year because of the warmth, and the girls spent all their pent-up energy hopping from tree stump to tree stump and searching for milkweed pods.

Last night, after unpacking the family wagon and dragging the Christmas decorations upstairs and the tree into its stand, we kissed the girls good-bye and went out on the town for a night, first to meet up with my extended family for drinks and then to have sushi with JT, Di, Chris, and Sarah. The six of us took down a huge table of some really beautiful food, and - true to form - Jason ordered something new and absurd, which this time happened to be a roll that came to the table wrapped in foil and lit in fire while we all watched. (It was actually delicious.)

Today was rainy and dreary, and we were all about a fire in the fireplace, hot cocoa, and putting all the decorations on the tree and around the house. Jason took the girls to the pool this afternoon while I did laundry and got groceries for the week, and then our foursome ate dinner in front of the television for our annual viewing of Elf, which is perhaps my very favorite Christmas movie.  Watching Annie and Jemma watch the silly parts is almost as fun for me as watching the movie itself. Almost.

They're in bed now and the fire is dying down. I'm on the couch with the computer, planning the week and making lists, trying to keep track of Christmas gifts and travel plans, and Jason's folding laundry and watching Home Alone. The fridge is full, the clothes are clean, and we're fortified by four full days together. We're feeling (briefly, I'm sure) ready for the holiday season and all the accompanying joy and chaos, appreciative and aware of all the animated life in our life right now.

"We are to be animated with a love which embraces all, of every rank and character. A love, which forgets divisions and outward distinctions, that breaks down the old partition walls and seeks a divine spark in every intelligence. Love which longs to redress the existing inequalities of society, which substitutes generous motives for force, which sees nothing degrading in labor but honors all useful occupation, and which everywhere is conscious of just claims and rights of all. Calling upon the mighty to save, not crush, the weak. And a love, which in a word, recognizes the infinite worth of every human spirit." - William A. Channing

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Don't Do It

This morning started out fairly well: coffee with peppermint creamer; the girls playing checkers on the iPad and then creating some sort of secret project in Jemma's bedroom; Annie helping me make homemade cranberry sauce and giggling about every pop! the berries made; sunshine and playdates and bread-making ahead.  Jason had headed off to an early meeting, and I felt like a pretty great mom, if I do say so myself.

Then I pushed my luck and dared to leave the house.  Why not, I thought, go to the library and exchange books and movies so we'd have brand-new, fresh ones for this weekend's road trips?  And, because it's sunny and because we're eco-friendly and fit, why not walk there?

Big mistake.  HUGE.  The girls fought the whole way there about who should be carrying the books and about how many movies we could check out and who would pick them.  They fought while we were there over who got to check the items out, then fought about who got to push the automatic door-opening button on the way out, and I abandoned thoughts of running into the grocery store for the single thing I needed.

Worse, Jemma began to cry the minute we stepped out of the library's doors on our way home.  "I don't want to waaaaaaaaaaaalk!" she wailed.  I tried optimism:  "It's so short! We'll be home in five minutes!"  I tried cajoling:  "How about you race Annie to that pole?"  I tried mirroring:  "You're tired.  You don't want to walk.  I hear you saying you wish we had driven."  Still she wailed, and I tried tough love:  "Jemma, I don't like to listen to you cry.  I'm going to walk ahead and I'll wait for you when you calm down."  She wailed some more, Annie and I walked ahead, and then she started calling for us.

"Wait for meeeee!" she cried desperately.  "Mommy, wait!"

Aha! I thought.  "I'd be happy to wait for you if you're done crying," I said, pleased that my plan had worked.  We were almost halfway home; we'd just have to make it a block or two more.  Annie and I stopped and waited the few seconds it took for Jemma to catch up with us.  As soon as she did, she started having a fit again.

"I don't want to waaaaaaalk!  I'm tired of walllllllllking!!!" she trailed along behind us, then sat smack down on the sidewalk and screamed, much to the amusement of the college-aged neighbor and her mother out for a morning walk.  So again, Annie and I walked a little ahead, trying in vain to outrun the screaming, and again Jemma called for us to wait, and again she ceased crying right up until the second she finally caught up with us.  Don't do it, I thought, don't do it, don'tdoitpleasepleaseplease and "WAAAAAA!"

We finally made it home and I marveled that in less than an hour a place that had been the setting for such an idyllic morning had been populated with a four-year-old screaming about nothing, a mother with a tight-lipped mouth slamming peanut butter on the counter, and a seven-year-old who used the opportunity to sneak off with the iPad again.  It reminded me of a passage that made me laugh with recognition in When Did I Get Like This? by Amy Wilson:

Me: What kind of bagel would you like, Connor? We don't have any raisin, but we have plain and sesame.
Connor: Why didn't you get me raisin?
Me:  They didn't have any.
Connor: But I really wa-anteddd . . . rai-sinnnnn . . .
Connor: (breaking down) Why couldn't you - just get me - a - raisinnn - baa-aa-gell . . . I wanted - it - so - MUUUCHHH AHHHH . . . .

This is the point where I bodily carry/drag him to any part of the house in which I cannot hear him, or at least will hear him only faintly, banging his fists on the wall and crying out to the gods that this "always happens to" him. I am not sure if ostracization is the correct disciplinary technique here, but I am sure it is better than the Saying of Things Mommy Might Regret, or worse.

After a while, silence.  Connor reemerges, sniffling, clearly attempting to function rationally.  I, modeling coolheadedness, act as if nothing had happened.

Me:  Hi, bud.  Are you ready for breakfast now?
Connor:  (lip quivering) I am.  But, Mommy.  Really.  I just have to ask you one thing.
Me: Don't do it.
Connor: Why didn't you-
Me: I'm warning you.
Connor: - buy me a -
Me: I'm begging you.
Connor:  - raa-hay-hay-zinnnn BAAAAAA-GELLLLLL . . .

Later, I find the patience to build a Lego house with them, we bake rolls together for Thanksgiving, and we sort Annie's laundry in quiet peace.  But that moment on the sidewalk, when I was loaded down with library books and movies (for them) and Annie was furious at her coat (that I bought her) and Jemma, almost five, was determined to ruin what could have been a perfectly pleasant quarter-mile walk, I fantasized for a minute or two about being the mom of the college-aged daughter.  For the love, Jemma.  Just stop crying.  Don't do it.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Six Things Now

I keep trying to write some sort of coherent post, but it's not happening.  (This afternoon, while I had a little time to write because Jemma was napping?  I took a nap.  So.)  Instead, this:

1.  Sometimes I wonder why the moms I know seem to be just as busy and frantic as our own mothers were.  At first glance, this seems to not make sense, since my generation tends toward fewer children, more modern conveniences, and more helpful spouses.  Do you know what I think is causing this problem?  EXERCISE.  We do it, our mothers generally did not.  And it takes up a lot of time, what with the working out and the post-workout showering and the workout-clothes laundry.  I am not sad about this, I am just saying.

2.  Things I have been requested to bring to Thanksgiving:  rolls, cranberry sauce.  I have never made either thing, but I do love a challenge in the kitchen, so there are two bags of cranberries and a new 3-lb. bag of flour in my kitchen right now.

3.  I have read Three! Books! In a Row! to which I have assigned the rare-but-special five-star rating on Goodreads.  They are Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach.  Go.  Read them.  And tell me what I should read next.

4.  I have begun stockpiling Christmas gifts for the girls in the basement since our house is old and lacks sufficient closet space.  I warned Jason the minute that I started this:  "I'm putting Christmas presents downstairs.  Don't let the girls down there from now on."  I didn't think it would be a problem, because the basment is unfinished and creepy and the only things down there are the Costco overflow groceries, the laundry room, Jason's "workbench," and the hundreds of empty beer bottles our teetotaling Baptist-ish contractor was able to see multiple times last week.

On Sunday, I took the girls down to the track to do some bleachers and sprints with me, which they participated in surprisingly well, and when we returned home I promised them Gatorade.  I left the kitchen briefly and when I came back, Jason was alone in the kitchen while the soup simmered on the stove.

"Where are the girls?" I asked, though I already knew the answer.

"Getting Gatorade in the basement," he said, and I ran down the stairs like a crazy person, where I found the girls adorably trying to figure out how to un-shrink-wrap the case of Costco Gatorade . . . about three feet away from a giant shopping bag full of most of their unwrapped Christmas presents.  Luckily they had no idea, but you can bet someone got the stinkeye when the three of us emerged from the basement.

5.  I went to Trader Joe's last weekend and have since become obsessed with their mini peppermint waffle cookies.  I bought two packages.  I ate the last cookie today.  (Today, with its napping and its cookie-eating, really makes me look good, no?)  Why, WHY can there not be a Trader Joe's in this town?

6.  Jemma celebrated Thanksgiving today at preschool with a "feast."  She now knows a fair amount about the Wampanoag Indians and how to make butter from cream by shaking it while you dance.  She was able to choose her Native American name, which is Princess Love Dancing Sunlight.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Thankful . . .

 . . . for shopping road trips with friends when the car looks like this on the way home;

joyous moments in leaf piles on sunny Sunday afternoons;

the side ponytail and the modified side ponytail;

Barkeep's Friend, for when you burn dinner like this because you're out raking leaves;

parent-teacher conferences where the teacher wishes aloud for "a classroom full of Jemmas" (we think she's pretty great, too);

the "Thankful for . . ." tree we're adding to daily at our house, and the fact that Jemma's contributions so far (here, at school, and at Sunday School) to this and similar projects have been cats, colors, and my carseat.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Read Elsewhere: Odd Girl Out

"Girls describe their social communities as worlds in which unresolved conflicts hang like leaking gas in the air, creating a treacherous emotional terrain in which discord is rarely voiced and yet may explode silently with the slightest spark.  For many, if not most, girls, every day can be unpredictable. Alliances shift with whispers under cover of girlish intimacy and play. Many girls will not tell each other why they are sad or angry. Instead, they will employ small armies of mediators, usually willing friends who are uncomfortably caught in the middle or eager for moments of intimacy that result from lending a hand to someone in trouble.

Alternative aggressions, and the nonassertive behavior they suggest, are as embedded in the daily lives of girls as makeup, boys, and media. A girl learns early on that to voice conflict directly with another girl may result in many others ganging up against her. She learns to channel feelings of hurt and anger to avoid their human instigator, internalizing feelings or sharing them with others. She learns to store away unresolved conflicts with the precision of a bookkeeper, building a stockpile that increasingly crowds her emotional landscape and social choices. She learns to connect with conflict through the discord of others, participating in group acts of aggression where individual ones have been forbidden."

"Our culture has made truth telling and anger, indeed, everything that is "not nice," feel very wrong to girls. We have been taught that the right answer is the one that hurts the least. As Brown and Gilligan have shown us, it is critical that girls learn how to expose their most uncomfortable feelings to 'the air and the light of relationship.' For at the core of us are natural feelings of anger and desire, the messy, uncomfortable truths that make us, our relationships, our friends and lovers, imperfect.

Denying those feelings locks us away from ourselves and so from authentic relationships with others. Denying those feelings doesn't make them go away but somewhere else, leaving the people around us unsure of what we mean, who we are, and how we feel."

-from the book Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Of Waffles and Pillow Fights

We headed out of town at the break of dawn on Friday morning to do a fun mini-vacation with the girls to the east side of our fair state. We made it to Ann Arbor in time to have breakfast at our old favorite Saturday morning spot, Cafe Zola. It was just as cozy, delicious, slow, and overpriced as it ever was, and the girls loved it. Jemma couldn't believe her life that we let her order the Belgian waffle a la Gabus, which comes drizzled with Nutella and raspberry syrup and also comes topped with two scoops of ice cream. FOR BREAKFAST.

I would have been happy to sit there for hours, our table covered with fresh-squeezed orange juice, cappuccino, and a mess of crayons, but there were adventures to be had.

We bundled up and wandered around downtown, then spent over half an hour in Peaceable Kingdom, where we knew the girls would love the enormous table of little tiny treasures and toys. We let them each choose one. Then we hiked to campus, with the girls peppering us with questions the whole time: What was that building? Did we eat at that restaurant? How much farther? Was Annie in my tummy when we lived in that apartment? How much farther?

We passed the alley where we always used to see Michael Jackson's doppelganger dancing to Beat It and we ventured inside to marvel at the graffiti until Annie pointed out that it smelled like pee just as Jemma bent down to pick up a penny off the ground. GAH. One gallon of hand sanitizer later, we were in the middle of campus, checking out fountains and bell towers and the dental school, which Jason was eager to show them and about which they couldn't have cared less.

In the afternoon, we grabbed lunch downtown Birmingham and spent the rest of the afternoon at Cranbrook Science Institute. We had the place to ourselves, and the girls ran from exhibit to exhibit, learning about viruses and evolution, water molecules and pyrite, T. rex and woodland trees.

We checked into our hotel and promptly went swimming, which Annie professes to have been her favorite part of the whole trip, and then we dried off and went to an old colleague's home for dinner.  Though we've added two children, one dog, and seven years to our respective lives since we last spent time together, it was as though no time had passed at all. The girls played happily with an old stash of Legos, the adults drank wine and ate shrimp and grits, and we floated off into the night so grateful for time spent laughing with old friends.

There was blamming of hotel doors into the wee hours of the night and the world's most uncomfortable pull-out couch shared with a very wiggly Jemma. On the bright side, though, there was a pillow fight

and happy snuggling the next morning

and then we went our separate ways yesterday, Jason to bring the girls back home after one last swim and some playing at a park, me to meet up with good girlfriends for a lucky day of IKEA and shopping, a night of dinner in the lounge at Toast and too much wine while watching Oprah Lifeclass and telling stories, a Sunday of leisurely breakfast and Trader Joe's and driving back home to a little blond girl waiting for me on my front lawn this afternoon. Just like always, it's good to go away, and it's good to come back again.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Girls After My Own Heart

Annie gets to check out a library book from school each week and at least half the time, she chooses a cookbook.  Last week, she chose some sort of Betty Crocker Fancy Party Treats and begged and pestered until I took her to the store for the necessary ingredients to make chocolate cupcakes in teacups with marshmallow frosting.

We finally made them on Sunday night and ate the last ones after dinner today, which was appropriate, because they looked like nothing so much as little cups of hot chocolate with insane amounts of sprinkles, and guess what it did today?


So we switched up our tradition of having hot cocoa on the first day of snow and had hot-cocoa-looking-cupcakes-in-mugs instead.  I don't think they minded.

Jemma had the day off from school yesterday because of conferences, so she spent a chunk of the morning doing this

(and then spent the afternoon being a total whiner, just so we don't paint too cheerful a picture here).  Annie, on the other had, had the day off from school today, so we ran errands together and snuck in a stop at the bookstore, where I gave in happily to her request to purchase her own copy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.  It joins an ever-growing pile by the side of her bed, of which I am more than a little proud.

But maybe not as proud as when I catch this happening just before bedtime at night

or this

or this

on a Saturday afternoon.

After we'd been to Michael's this morning, and the bookstore and the grocery store, we had almost half an hour before we had to pick Jemma up from school.  And since we were juuuuuust across the parking lot from my new favorite store, I told Annie we were going to go in.  "It's beautiful," I said.  "You'll love it!"

Annie disagreed.  After learning that they didn't sell "things for kids," she insisted she was staying in the car.  I dragged her in, and we spent fifteen solid minutes oohing and ahhing over the obscene variety of gorgeous drawer pulls and the floor-to-ceiling display of embroidered kitchen towels.  We smelled every candle, touched every soft sweater, tried on sample Lolla hand cream, and chose imaginary Christmas gifts for nieces and grandmas and ourselves.  There is a gorgeous bed in the middle of the store, and just before we left, Annie looked at me and said, "I want to sleep in that bed and live in this store forever."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Things Jemma Says: Little Words

  • "Patt-er-en" for pattern
  • "Unrase" for erase, and "unraser" for eraser
  • "three-year-older" when describing last year's pre-school

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

You Got the Poison, I Got the Remedy

I still - still! - don't feel completely well, in spite of it being nearly two weeks since I began feeling yucky and in spite of the antibiotic my nice husband magically procured for me once the yuck began manifesting itself as a sinus headache and congestion so profound it made my teeth hurt.  But my strategy since about last Thursday has been to basically ignore being sick.  To focus instead on the good.  To take some ibuprofen and go out to dinner, take some ibuprofen and go to hot yoga, take some ibuprofen and go to the fancy school auction where my husband gets up on stage with the live entertainment when they sing Dead or Alive because he just can't help himself.  To think about how it might be amusing to make a pile of used Kleenex from just a single hour of morning nose-blowing and take a picture of it.  To take other pictures instead, mostly with my phone or my mental camera, of Annie's hair in a requested side-ponytail, of the cupcakes we made that were truly cakes in cups, of Jemma and I wearing rain boots to run into school and vote for a friend who won a great victory tonight, of the new, much-beloved Anthropologie that is only minutes from my house, of the dinner out at Grove with friends, of the stellar report we received at Annie's parent-teacher conference (the word "spitfire" was used zero times!), of the textbook fall day we had on Sunday and the giant piles of leaves into which the girls jumped as I raked the yard in the sixty-five degree sunshine, of yet another brand-new pint of Jeni's Salty Caramel ice cream in my freezer right now.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Pessimist's Litany

Today began, as certain Wednesdays apparently must, with Annie having a meltdown at 7:00 a.m. sharp because Jason was refusing to let cheese bunnies be a breakfast option.  Just before he headed out the door for the day, he informed me that we'd overdrawn the checking account due to my hasty bill-paying without letting him know to transfer more money from account A to account B.  "Bye!" he yelled as he pulled the door behind him, and there I stood, my wet hair in a towel turban on my head, two children crying about breakfast and one lunch to pack.  My throat was sore for the seventh morning in a row and I clutched a snotty Kleenex in one hand.

I fed the girls and dressed the girls and brushed the girls' teeth.  Jemma and I walked Annie to school and then Jemma (who woke up at 5:30 a.m. for the day, claiming, "I didn't even sleep at all last night!") began to whine to be carried back home.  When I refused and tried to hold her hand instead, she stomped away and sat down defiantly on the sidewalk, trying to muster up the worst insult she could think of.  "You're dummy!" she yelled.  "You're . . . super, SUPER DUMMY!"  I had to turn my face away so she wouldn't see me laugh, though I wasn't laughing much ten minutes later when the grumpiness hadn't subsided.

After preschool drop-off, I forced myself to go to yoga for the first time in a week even though the NyQuil hadn't totally worn off and I very much wanted to take a nap.  The man two mats down from me was a grunter, and made loud grunty noises during every single exhale.  Zen moment, ruined.  Throat, still sore.

Jemma went to play at a friend's this afternoon.  My head was pounding so I made some tea and decided to lie down in lieu of showering (priorities!), but between the phone ringing and the shop-vac and the leaf-blowers going on all around our house, it wasn't very restful.

I spent over an hour making a dinner that nobody in our family especially liked, including me, and about which Jemma actually pounded her fists into the table, so fierce was her anger at homemade spaetzle with squash, and at the fact that Jason and I are not inclined to peel her apples for her anymore.

I am not saying there weren't bits of good today (new Modern Family! sunshine and sixty-two degrees! hugs and snuggles from Elsa! Annie proclaiming at the dinner table that the Star-Spangled Banner is her "favorite country song" (get it?), finally half an hour to talk with my husband for the first time this week), but my throat is still sore.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Things Jemma Says: Lay/Lie Edition

Jemma:  "Why do they call it the living room?"
Me:  "What should we call it?"
Jemma:  "The laying room, because we lay down on the couch."