Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Good Things, July 2012

At this point in the summer, I feel depleted. And then I feel guilty for feeling depleted, for wishing it away, for failing to take full advantage of every! single! minute! Nine times out of ten, especially during summer, I am in favor of shrugging off the tiredness and the mess to embrace the action and the fun. But that takes its toll, and I honestly wouldn't mind another rainy day or two here and there in the mix for August, days where I can legitimately declare we're "being cozy" for the day: bake, read, play, nap, clean, rest. In looking back at July, I can see why I'm feeling so tired. It's been jam-packed:

::catching minnows

::learning to dive

::sittin' on the dock of the bay

::loving the sunshine on Lake Michigan

::stripping down to undies to splash in the water




::boating on Walloon

::Brandi Carlile at Meijer Gardens on a hot summer night with old friends

::backyard art


::Anthro shopping and sunglass-trying-on

::backyard smores

::boogie boarding

::morning play time

::a piano concert that rocked

::gazpacho for lunch

::a rare unplanned Saturday night

::getting taller by the minute

::post-library book dump


::slushies on a hot afternoon

::family trip to get frozen yogurt with (ahem) interesting toppings

::morning snuggles in our bed

::after-dinner sprinkler action


::cousins for dinner  . . .
 . . . and watching the Olympics together before sleepover bedtime

 . . . and swinging at the park bright and early the next morning

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Jason's Proudest Moment

The conversation at Annie's play date this afternoon:

L's mom, opening something with her teeth, "Annie, don't tell your dad I'm using my teeth like this."
A, giggling, "OK."
L, "Why?"
L's mom, "Because Annie's dad is a dentist."
L (who came to the rock concert and saw a mohawked Jason playing electric guitar to Journey's Don't Stop Believing, among other things), "Oh. I thought he was a rock star."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Read Elsewhere: What To Do

Anne Lamott, on Facebook, in response to the senseless violence in a movie theater in Colorado:

All I can think to do is what we've always done. We work towards peace and non-violence. We register voters. We create art and music in the face of madness. We light candles. The praying people pray: Lord have mercy. The meditating people meditate. We create Love and beauty as radical acts. We take care of the poor, and teach people to read and write. 

Summer, Halfway

It's six weeks down and six to go and I'm sitting outside with a Left Hand Milk Stout thinking that seems just about right. Jason's on a ride and the girls are freshly tucked in bed after a day that included both slushies and the new fro-yo spot in town, which also somehow seems right.

One of the fifteen new arborvitae in the back yard has died. Just one. Jemma bit my shoulder today when I lifted her into the house for a time-out, wet and dripping from the hot tub, and then she drew me a picture and wrote, "MOM IM. VORE SORRY. I LOVE YOU MOM. JEMMA."

The girls did a couple of pages in their workbooks this morning, but my early summer fantasy of languid, coffee-drinking mornings with the three of us working happily at the dining room table has proved to be exactly that: a fantasy. The girls spend much of their time outside (they are brown, despite the sunscreen I slather on them daily), creating elaborate fairy houses or homes for caterpillars and roly-polies they dig out of the mulch.

They cannot both be upstairs together at the same time, a situation that will have to change when school starts. When I send them both up to change clothes or get an item to bring wherever we're going, there is inevitable prolonged nakedness, followed by laughing wresting, followed by crying wrestling, followed by looks of stricken confusion when I ask what is taking so long. They forget why they're upstairs at all. Jemma threw a twenty minute fit about getting dressed yesterday morning, and Annie and I had this conversation when it was her turn:

A: So can I get a pedicure?
Me: What?
A: Can I get a pedicure as a prize for getting dressed?

You can imagine she didn't take that very well.

(I wondered today while I was driving whether, if a parent raising girls mapped out these particularly hysterical days on a calendar for a period of several months, the parent would eventually, in seven or eight years, come to see that the particularly challenging periods were occurring in, say, some sort of monthly pattern. (No reason at all! Ahem. Just wondered.))

We took a family bike ride tonight. We can do that this summer sans bike trailer, Jemma pedaling her little heart out, the bright pink feather in Annie's hair left over from the rock concert peeking out of her helmet. (She wishes aloud that there could be a rock concert every night. She is learning the guitar now, too, from Jason.)

My favorite photos of the summer so far are mostly the ones of the girls, really close up, eating something special: ice cream, s'mores, corn on the cob. Also the ones of us around any kind of water: boating on Walloon, spending an afternoon at the beach with friends, wearing goggles in the hot tub or at the pool, my toes on the dock. (Jemma wanted to take the swim test at the pool yesterday but was a little nervous. Annie offered to swim next to her the whole way. They made it all the way to the other side.)

Everyone asks me lately what I'll do in September when both girls are in school all day, and here's my standard answer: I don't know. Some days, that's a Zen, the-universe-is-unfolding-as-it-should, calm "I don't know;" other days it's a wide-eyed, nervous-laughter, slightly panicked "I don't know." Either way. Both. I've got a few ideas, and in the meantime, I'm trying to be okay with not knowing, and with six more weeks of summer.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Read Elsewhere: More About Extra-Curricular Craziness

From Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison (It's like she time-traveled, read my last blog post, and then returned to 2000 to write these words!):

Is this what we mean today by family life? Is it really the way any of us want to live? I think not. Why, then, do we try to do so much? Why, as one friend put it ruefully, are we "dervishing through life"? And why do we allow our children to fall victim to the same kind of over scheduling that keeps us from enjoying our own lives? I am convinced that one reason we try to do so much is because we are afraid.

What if my son falls behind his tennis-playing peers? How can I show the world I am a good bother if I don't volunteer at school? What will people think if I don't appear at that party? What will we be missing if we stay home? There is fear behind all this frenzy, fear that we, or our children, will somehow fail to measure up. But just whose expectations are we trying so hard to meet?

These days I find myself pondering another question: What do I lose when I try to do too much? The answer is simple: Balance. For me there is nothing worse than the feeling that a day has flown by without any moments of real connection between me and my husband, me and my children, me and my own inner self. Yet how easily that happens. We want so much to do for our children, to give them every opportunity to learn and grow and succeed. At the same time, we want to live our own lives fully, to be productive and creative and useful. Sometimes, though, we lose touch with our need to feed our inner lives and with our need for solitude, silence, and time together. 

Surely there is no one raising children today who has not paused at times to wonder: In our efforts to provide for our children, are we losing sight of what is really most important? Have our activities crowded out the kind of simple, spontaneous moments that truly make life worth living? Each and every child I know could use more of these. We adults need them, too . . .

 . . . Like all mothers, I harbor dreams for my children, and sometimes I fall under the spell of my own aspirations for them. We want our children to do well! But when I stop and think about what I truly want for them, I know that it is not material wealth or academic brilliance or athletic prowess. My deeper hope is that each of my sons will be able to see the sacred in the ordinary; that they, too, will grow up knowing how to "love the dailiness."

From Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety by Judith Warner:

The Mommy Mystique tells us that we are the luckiest women int he world - the freest, with the most choices, the broadest horizons, the best luck, and the most wealth. It says we have the knowledge and know-how to make 'informed decisions' that will guarantee the successful course of our children's lives. It tells us that if we choose badly our children will fall prey to countless dangers - from insecure attachment to drugs to kidnapping to a third-rate college. And if this happens, if our children stray from the path toward happiness and success, we'll have no one but ourselves to blame . . . We are convinced that every decision we make, every detail we control, is incredibly important.

Entire towns turn themselves inside out for a spot in the right ballet class. Parents prostitute their souls for spots in private schools. We read about how our children can't get into good colleges unless they are superhuman. We know that our public school systems ca't provide an education in superhumanness (much less basic well-roundedness, in many places). Without a good education our children won't be able to get jobs, won't be able to buy a house or have the middle-class existence our parents seemed to find easy but that we can barely sustain. Ergo: soccer and violin and public service and weekends of baseball practice become vitally important because if we don't do everything right for our children, they may be consigned, down the line, to failure.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Under Pressure

It seems like half the conversations I've had lately center around children's schedules and extra-curricular activities, specifically the sports they'll be doing come fall. Now, it's only mid-July, so I don't yet want to think or talk about our fall schedule, but there are decisions to be made. Child X's parents gave me a card at the playground the week school got out for the club soccer team that involves tryouts, twice-weekly practice, and Saturday games that require travel. The dance studio sent me the girls' end-of-year "progress reports"and wants their registration, with $50 deposit, by August 1. Child Y's mom texts me to ask what I'm putting Jemma in this fall (a fall that will include full-day kindergarten, by the way, and probably the accompanying meltdowns and 5:30 p.m. weeping that I enjoyed when Annie began full-day school) and I tell her, guiltily, "probably nothing." This week's tennis instructor talks up the fall tennis clinic at the gym. Annie turns a billion cartwheels in the lawn and nags me every day to sign her up for gymnastics. Church wants Sunday School forms returned. Piano lessons continue unabated through the summer. And the Parks and Recreation fall brochure hasn't even come out, with its pages and pages of yoga! and swim lessons! and drawing!

And even as I participate in it, it drives me crazy. Here's why.

Last fall, Annie - who had been enrolled almost continuously in dance classes since the minute she turned three - decided she wanted to take a break from dance and try tennis instead. Fine. So I signed just Jemma up for dance on Thursday afternoons, and Annie and I used the forty-five minutes outside Jemma's class to work on homework projects, enjoy a snack together, and read aloud if there was time. It was a nice break, and at the end of it, Annie decided she wanted to take dance again beginning in January.

Because none of the classes offered for that semester at our parks and rec. department worked with our schedule and because I had decided that, if Annie was to continue dance, she should probably start going to a studio, we signed up at a new place. The instructor - a very nice person, obviously, with lots of talent and experience - had the girls come try out a class before letting us sign up. Jemma was immediately put into the age-appropriate class. After watching Annie (who, remember had taken several continuous semesters of dance but hadn't danced since the previous spring because of a summer off and not enrolling in the fall), the instructor recommended that Annie take a few private lessons before starting in the 7-year-old class. She was behind.

That's when I knew. And even though Annie took two private lessons, subsequently enrolled with her "cohort," and enjoyed the spring semester of dance with the talented instructor at her studio, I learned the lesson that every parent attempting to retain a semblance of a normal childhood learns. I learned that we must constantly keep up with an activity or else we risk being left behind completely. Worse, I realized that this is the case with every single activity that kids participate in, and it begins at least by age seven, when the pressure begins to change from participating in lots of things all the time, to the pressure to specialize in AND BE AWESOME at something.

Already, that dance instructor wants Annie to audition for the studio's ensemble, which would require her to dance two afternoons and one Saturday morning per week. Already, the local parks and rec. soccer is badmouthed by parents in the know, and we're encouraged to sign her up for something more organized and ambitious. Already, there are children in her tennis class who have clearly taken tennis every week of this summer and who are worlds better than her. Already, a parent talks about how frustrated her son is to be on a baseball team with kids who are "just trying baseball for the first time" and how kids like him (the good kids) get singled out for the All-Star team, where they can really play without the newbies dragging them down. (This same parent talks about how her "entire life is for the kids" these days; these two topics seem to me to be related.) Already, Annie has friends who are in year three of competitive swimming, so that each year that Annie does not swim on a team that practices three days a week and competes in meets is another year that the possibility of her EVER being able to swim on a team like that grows smaller. Already, there are not enough days in the week for Annie to keep up with the things she enjoys, not to mention to try new things that she hasn't yet dabbled in. Already, there is very much the feeling that she must PICK SOMETHING NOW and STICK WITH IT FOREVER and have it be HER THING, and that if she doesn't - if she keeps trying to dabble here, enjoy there, try this, take a break, take up something new - she will not be good enough at anything. (Also: "good enough" to . . . what? Make the middle school team? Play varsity tennis? Get a soccer scholarship to college? MAKE AN OLYMPIC TEAM?) WHAT IS THE GOAL HERE?

Are those kids going to be happier? More successful? The most in-shape adults? What? (Tangent: Most adults I know who took this path - crazy travel soccer, psycho swimmer, college athlete, etc. - don't even participate in the activity as an adult. At all. Ever. Huh.)

She is seven. SEVEN. She enjoys - and is fairly good at - lots of things. And I want her to be able to keep doing them: because she loves them, because she is good at them, because it is good for her to grow her skills, because I want her to be well-rounded, because they are fun. But it's clear that we're reaching a level where there aren't enough days in the week, where it's less possible to do things in a casual, low-committment way, where the cost and scale and intensity of each individual activity goes up, where she (and we) are going to have to choose. And I wish that I could put that off for a few more years. I wish, like a funny and wise friend said a few months ago, that we could all collectively just agree to not do this with our kids. I wish that I could remember that Jason, who is playing electric guitar on stage next week, didn't start taking guitar lessons until he was in college, and that I hated track in high school but went on to run a marathon at age 26 and my fastest 5K ever nine months after Annie was born. I wish I was surrounded by a few more sane voices shouting for moderation. Mostly, I wish I could figure out a way to let my girls pursue their passions with a little lot less pressure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Right Now

A little snapshot of July 2012 for me. Right now, I'm:

:: trying my hardest not to let all our newly-planted landscaping die in this never-ending drought, and spending a great deal of my time spraying things down with the hose twice a day.

:: loving night runs, zucchini bread, smoothies with fresh berries, hot tub conversations after the kids are in bed, Hendrick's gin and tonic (with cucumber!), watching the girls play tennis every morning this week, and our lazy afternoon today: art easel outside, books scattered everywhere, dinner in the backyard.

:: noticing that every single throw pillow in the house has been commandeered for doll bed construction projects in the upstairs playroom.

:: relatedly thinking that the tough thing about having a weekly babysitter at your house is that you can't pretend that this mess or that rotten tomato or that pile of laundry just happened. She was here last Tuesday; she knows.

:: cracking open a window in the living room so that the fairies can get in and spend the night in the elaborate house Annie and Jemma have spent parts of the last three days making. (Also sprinkling glitter and chalk dust around the front steps as proof that they came.)

:: loving that they still really, truly believe in fairies.

:: feeling grateful that the girls have been playing together so incredibly well these last few weeks.

:: trying to start keeping a gratitude journal - just a few short lines each night right before bed - and encourage the girls to keep them, too. (This has actually happened on two of the last nine or ten days, but! two is better than none.)

:: being amused at the phone conversation I had a few days ago where, when I called a source for an interview for an article I'm writing, I was told there was a "new media policy" and the source "couldn't talk to the press" about this issue. Gosh, am I The Press? I was thinking I was just a mom at her dining room table with a laptop while her daughters were at tennis for an hour, but I guess I sort of am. Hee.

:: feeling a little sheepish that two separate people commented incredulously on the stack of library books I was checking out this morning, one of whom was the librarian. "Wow! Going on a trip?" she asked. "No, that's just my normal." What can I say? I am a nerd. (In the stack: Mitten Strings from God by Katrina Kenison, Perfect Madness by Judith Warner, Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell, The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller, Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, and a few more I chose at random and can't remember offhand.)

:: having the first, sneaky thoughts about fall, but still trying mightily to block them out.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Blessed and Lucky

It was July 2nd or 3rd - who knows, I'd lost track of days anyway - and I was kayaking along the shore of Walloon Lake by myself, blatantly staring at the cottages I passed and noticing the boats docked out front, wondering idly what I'd name a boat if I were ever to own one myself. (I don't actually want a boat at all, ever, but I would like to have a friend or neighbor with a boat that I could ride on whenever I wanted.) Jason and I had recently seen an enormous one in Saugatuck named "Boat," which I loved, but I think I'd name it "Blessed and Lucky." Because, as Annie said to me a day or two later, snugged beside me as we rode on a family friend's borrowed pontoon for the entire afternoon, "It's super-lucky if you have a house on a lake where you can swim off the dock and catch toads and grasshoppers." Indeed.

Our 4th of July getaway up north was basically perfect, minus the fact that we were missing a chunk of family who up and moved downstate a few days before. Aside from missing them, we crammed in all the usual traditions, made a few new ones, reveled in the picture-perfect weather, swam every day, slept in a little, and celebrated a lot. There was a bike ride to Charlevoix to wade in the bay, pie at Jesperson's, a bath in the lake with peppermint soap, night swimming after fireworks, beer on the dock, a long run, steak, a hot and sticky parade, a box of Tom's Mom's cookies shared around a blanket in Harbor Springs, plenty of ice cream, some morning tennis, and swimming. Lots of swimming. Annie learned to dive off the dock, and we introduced the girls to "super diapers," where you put your legs into the arm holes of the lifejackets and float aimlessly in the lake.

We came back, reunited with cousins at Lake Michigan the very next day for some exhilarating wave-jumping, and caught Brandi Carlile with old friends at Meijer Gardens as the sun set on Sunday night, her lovely and impressive voice sending us off into real life again with a Hallelujah encore that gave me chills.

Blessed. Lucky.