Thursday, August 30, 2012

Things Jemma Says: Counting

I'm so grateful for the special little one-on-one times I've snuck in with my girls these last weeks, especially with Jemma. I expected to have another year of half-day school for her, and this full-day kindergarten schedule has me the tiniest bit weepy. Annie and I did some school shopping on our own and read in cozy, companionable silence together one day while Jemma was at a friend's; yesterday Jemma and I found ourselves at the pool for an extra hour when Annie went home to play with Lucy for a bit. We splashed around and pretend-fought over a yellow ring, bobbed in the deep end, and jumped in holding hands so many times I'm sure the lifeguard was sick of us splashing him. We finally got out, sat side by side on our chaise lounges, and Jemma said, "What do you want to talk about?" like we were old friends.

Today Annie was at a pool with a friend, so Jemma and I walked to town to get frozen yogurt. We sat on a bench and ate it, slurped great quantities of water from the corner drinking fountain, and then headed home. She skipped ahead of me on the sidewalk, her skirt flouncing in the breeze, and then she started counted by twos. "Two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve . . ." she hesitated, but she kept going. I thought she'd get to twenty, maybe. She got a bit farther than that, encouraged only by my large smile and big eyes and nodding head.

"Ninety-four, ninety-six, ninety-eight . . . I don't know what comes after ninety-eight," she said.

"Hmmm," I said. "That is tricky."

"It's not ninety- nine."



"Nope. One hundred," I told her.

"One hundred!" And she skipped off ahead to home, where we read four Mo Willems books and watched Curious George until Annie came back. I'm going to miss this little one next week something fierce.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Possible Solution

Since we moved the girls' bedrooms upstairs this spring, they've had a bit of a problem staying focused and under control when I send both of them upstairs to do something - namely, to get dressed and ready in the morning, among other things. (I originally typed "we've had a bit of a problem" and then I became indignant: No! It's not MY problem! It's their problem! You'll see where this is going in a minute.)

During the remainder of the spring school year, what I tended to do was have Annie get ready first while Jemma ate breakfast, take Annie to school, and then have Jemma get ready. Since Annie naturally gets up much earlier than Jemma, and since Jemma's preschool started half an hour later than Annie's school last year, this solution worked. This summer, I've been sending one of them up to get ready while occupying the other with some type of activity, then having them switch. And that's worked, too, because we haven't often had to be anywhere at a very early hour, so we had the luxury of letting the tasks of getting dressed, making a bed, brushing teeth, and brushing hair take an hour total.

Starting next week, we aren't going to have that kind of time. So this morning, while the girls ate their breakfast at the kitchen table and I sat on the floor in my underwear, drinking my heavily-creamed coffee, I brought the subject up. What, I asked, were we going to do? How, I challenged them, did they want to solve this problem? They looked up from their breakfasts, eyes still round with sleep and hair a fuzzy wreck getting in their milk, and they acted casual. Oh, they said, we'll cut that silliness out. We'll make a new chart for the front of the fridge and we're bigger now and we'll cooperate and remember how to get ready without becoming a sprawl of hysterical, fighting, naked bodies who have forgotten how to make any kind of forward progress.

Great! I said. Sounds good! I sent them directly upstairs to get ready before we went to the farmers' market. Show me how well you can get ready together! I yelled after them. OK! they yelled back, scrambling up the stairs.

I stood in the kitchen, drinking my coffee, perusing a catalog, feeling smug. Three minutes later, Jemma came downstairs.

"Annie took Chicky Baby away from me!"

"Why are you even playing with dolls? Remember what you're supposed to be doing right now up there?" Blank look. "GETTING READY." She trotted back upstairs.

Three minutes later, Jemma came downstairs crying, alleging hitting. I marched upstairs, facilitated the necessary Tell-her-how-that-made-you-feel/Would-you-like-to-apologize routine, and marched back downstairs with Jemma, defeated in my goal of having both of them get ready together.

Later in the day, when the heat of the moment had passed, I brought the subject up again. "Seems like you two still have a problem getting ready upstairs together," I said, as though it's not MY problem, as though it doesn't drive me completely crazy on a daily basis. "How are you going to solve your problem? What ideas do you have? Even after our talk this morning, it was still a problem." There, I thought. I'm giving them ownership of it, letting them figure out a solution themselves.

Annie piped up. "I have a solution," she said.

"You do? What?"

"Have Jemma go to another school besides mine, one that starts later."

Yes, Annie, that's perfect. We'll send Jemma to private school for kindergarten - maybe every year, who knows? - and when people ask why we aren't sending her to the public elementary that we love, two blocks from our house, we'll explain, "Well, see, the girls couldn't get ready at the same time in the morning, so we thought the best thing to do was to spend thousands of dollars and transfer our younger daughter to a different school. You know. All so they could each get ready in peace."

I. Am. Sure.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Read Elsewhere: 180 Things to Be Happy About

Spied over at Mighty Girl, this list is bound to make you happy. It strikes me how many of these happy "things" are actually very cheap or free and very tactile, sensory, everyday pleasures. I'm inspired to cram a bit more happiness into this last week of summer vacation.

Vacation, Sponsored

We're back from a marathon family vacation on Glen Lake (and a tacked-on weekend in Petoskey), and I could't be happier at how it went. The weather forecast before we left looked iffy, so we mentally prepared ourselves for lots of indoor games and maybe a trip into Traverse City for a movie. But we got lucky and found ourselves in a 1970's-style cottage (original carpeting, curtains, lamps, dishes, appliances, furniture) on a week during which not a single drop of rain fell. We hiked, we kayaked, we swam, we caught frogs and crickets, we watched sunsets and made campfires and had s'mores and just generally loved almost every second of being in such a beautiful place.

So thanks to our sponsors, which include
Petoskey stones, found everywhere we went

the giant dune climb


bitty babies and their jammies

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

daily hikes

this tape, found in the cottage, and specifically "Elvira," listened to daily

the Tooth Fairy

Cherry Republic


Jason's guitar (and time for playing it)

Cheryl Strayed, Anne Lamott, and L.M. Montgomery

Joe's Friendly Tavern

a 500-piece puzzle

Otter Creek

nightly family happy hour, featuring local beer, Izze, cheese, and the game Shutbox

drip castles

frogs, crayfish, snails, and crickets - several of whom gave their lives for the cause

Moomers ice cream
the green frisbee, and games of monkey in the middle with it
Also: Glen Arbor Farmers' Market, mint Oreos, my Nikes for my daily four-miler, the Weber charcoal grill we used nightly, and the in-laws, for putting up with us when we swooped into town on Friday afternoon, said, "Here are our children, take them please," and escaped for a much-needed grown-up dinner at Chandler's, complete with sushi and martinis and dessert.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Read Elsewhere: Fiction

From Keith Ridgway in The New Yorker:

And I mean that—everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events. Your conversations are fiction. Your friends and loved ones—they are characters you have created. And your arguments with them are like meetings with an editor—please, they beseech you, you beseech them, rewrite me. You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.

Read more

The Calm

This weekend we were mostly at home - filling a rainy day with puzzles and art projects and books, having guests for dinner, celebrating a good friend's birthday with a night on the town, running the lake Saturday morning, and spontaneously driving to Saugatuck to hike the dunes and grab dinner on Sunday afternoon. It was cool and quiet in the woods, and as I watched the girls run down a dune toward the lake, I realized it's basically impossible for me to be unhappy there, and I wondered if this should be a major goal in life: to realize where your happy places are, and then to arrange your life so as to spend as much time in those places.

This week feels like the calm before the end-of-summer, start-of-school storm. I made this excellent salad, the girls spent an afternoon at Gymco, Jemma found the first fall leaf, we're still eating peaches and blueberries and cherries every single day, and we did art projects around the dining room table before dinner tonight. We have one last hurrah of summer ahead of us, then one last week of unscheduled time, then school. School. I can hardly believe it.

Annie has a very loose front tooth. I can't stand for her to lose it, because after that she'll look so much less like a little girl. She spends half her time with her nose in a book: in the car, on the stairs waiting to leave the house, on the couch in the morning before breakfast, sometimes even while walking down the sidewalk in Saugatuck on a Sunday evening. She desperately wants a hamster for her birthday.

We have an ongoing family gratitude chalkboard wall near the old back door. Every once in a while, I instruct one of the girls to go write one thing on it - whatever they want - when they're hanging around in the kitchen. This week Jemma wrote "SNUGGLING." She made me a marshmallow-toothpick sculpture today, then got into an argument with me because I said No to watching a show for the 47th time.

Right now the windows are open. I hear the crickets, the ice-cream truck playing Popeye the Sailor Man, Jason making the coffee for tomorrow morning. I'm reading Anne of Green Gables, checking to see if I should read it aloud to Annie next week or if she needs another year before meeting that red-headed sprite. I'm writing something long and hard - a shitty first draft, as writing idol Anne Lamott is known to say - and I'll share it here eventually, maybe. I'm going to go get in the hot tub and talk to my husband for the first time today.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Read Elsewhere: God

From Ann Napolitano's A Good Hard Look:

"If Flannery had been able to speak, she could have said, I disagree with you. I disagree with where we're going and why we're here. She could have said, I believe that God is present everywhere - in every tree, person, and pebble - whereas you and the other ladies on this tour believe that God tends to spend his time in churches, especially the nicer, older churches with Renaissance art. She could have said, I put no stock in solicited miracles. The idea that someone can line up to bathe in a particular bathtub and expect God's healing seems a bit like putting a quarter in a pinball machine and expecting the same. God is not here to be demanded of, begged from, or criticized. He hands out burdens to those who are strong enough to carry them, and I feel profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of lining up with the other invalids and asking for mine to be alleviated."

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Cottage Weekend, 2012

We spent the weekend at a friends' cottage, where the weather and the company were magical and perfect. No, really. They were. I'm not sure if it's because our families don't spent a ton of time together during the school year or if the all-boy family meets up with the all-girl family and cancels out the excesses of each, but it was literally three days of gloriousness. Excellent moments and miracles included:

  • All five children sleeping in a room together with nary a peep after bedtime. (Well, except for that second night, when we got cocky and tried to put them to bed a little earlier, thinking they must be completely exhausted, and then we got them back out of bed to see the complete double rainbow happening over the sand dunes. Other than that, no peeps.)
  • An hour or three in the hot tub with my BFF, where we talked about every possible topic and I saw a shooting star. For real.
  • Lots of boards: stand-up paddle board (hard), a cheese board for grown-up cocktail hour (yum), and boogie boards for all on Sunday, when the waves were oceanic in their height and none of us could resist the water (awesome and exhausting).
  • Two families sitting down to eat great meals together, with a little prayer beforehand and lots of armpit farting during.
  • Getting the kids up on skis when the water was calm, and how encouraging, brave, and proud they all were.
  • Throwing little wads of children high into the air and watching them land with a splash, go under, and come up, big-eyed, to say, "Again!"
  • Watching the sunset, watching kids slingshot rocks from the deck into the water, watching the Olympics, watching five blonde heads crowd around to play Angry Birds and Bayblades after breakfast in the morning.
We came home sandy, happy, and tired, and with a ton of laundry and cooler-cleaning to do. Worth every minute.