Monday, November 29, 2004

Extracurricular Activities

I finished another book! (Pauses for modest applause.) It's not that impressive a feat, though, since I started it about 6 months ago. Nevertheless, Einstein Never Used Flashcards can now be added to the big ol' list of books I've read (yeah, I really do keep a list).

I found this book fascinating. The basic premise is that young children are much better off playing than engaging in highly structured educational activities. But it's not so simple as setting your children on the floor amidst a pile of blocks. What's key is that you foster an environment of creative learning within the context of play. There are plenty of mathematical concepts, for example, that can be taught with everyday household objects. Playing with your kids is important, and encouraging them to use their imagination is crucial. Shuttling preschoolers back and forth to a zillion activities may not be the best approach to raising happy, healthy, emotionally intelligent children.

I like this message, especially because I am the lazy sort of parent who doesn't look forward to the frenzy of activity expected of school-age children these days. Until stir-craziness sets in, as it inevitably does, I kind of like hanging out at home with my kids. I warmly welcome any evidence-based books that support this tendency!

That said, last winter and spring we enrolled Sean in a Gymboree class and a toddler music class. We were seeking something fun for him to do for that long cold stretch when playing outside isn't an option. I really don't think that these were necessarily educational programs (I'm quite dubious that jumping on the parachute at Gymboree or banging on percussion instruments at age 2 will translate into higher SAT scores at age 16), but for Jeff and me that was entirely not the point. The classes were, simply, a lot of fun for Sean. Even someone as naturally mopey as I am didn't mind the high-spirited, chirpy Gymboree teacher. Well, not that much at any rate.

It's been easy to resist the pull toward overscheduling so far. Sean is only two and a half, so the real test is still to come. I'm not sure how firm our resolve will be later. Who knows, in 2 years maybe Sean will be yet another preschooler juggling soccer, piano, art class, swimming, and yoga (which he'll need in order to decompress after all that other stuff).

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Fond Thanksgiving Memories in the Making

Well, we did it---we survived another Thanksgiving dinner with our two young ones. My sister hosted again this year, and from what I've heard the meal was splendid.

I wouldn't know, since I managed to eat about four bites of food. Immediately upon being seated in her highchair, Allison turned into Leona Helmsley. She SHRIEKED throughout the entire meal because the two seconds between bites of food was entirely too long for someone of her exalted status to withstand. If she could talk, I imagine she would have been saying, "WHERE IS THE TURKEY? No, not the turkey on my tray, you silly woman! The OTHER TURKEY! The one that's on your plate! Yes, I know I'm still chewing . . . Hey, lady, let's pick up the pace a bit. I need squash NOW NOW NOW! And potatoes! Now pick up my cup that I've pitched onto the floor!"

Meanwhile, Sean was happily consuming his dinner---traditional Thanksgiving waffles, just like our pilgrim ancestors ate that cold fall day long ago.

I wonder if we'll be invited back again next year.

Monday, November 22, 2004

One More Thing to Be Thankful For

Whoo-Hoo! I just won 50 credits on Blog Explosion. I suppose it's indicative of the rather narrow circumference of my life that this event made me just a teensy bit gleeful.

Feel free to congratulate me on this unexpected good fortune :) (My God, is that an emoticom I just used?)

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Back to One of the Ostensible Topics at Hand

Apparently this blog is also supposed to discuss books. No, really---it says so right at the top of the page.

I could, of course, post some pretty cogent analyses of The Little Engine That Could or that other classic, Squirt the Fire Truck. When you read a certain text over and over again, and then some more, the insights you glean can be eye-opening. For example, why are all the big, tough trains in The Little Engine male and the small, weak trains female?

As I may have whined about before, though, my time for reading grown-up books continues to collapse in upon itself.

But now, I can proudly announce that I have finished a whole entire book! Two nights ago I wrapped up The Buffalo Soldier by Chris Bohjalian. And guess what?

I have NOTHING to say about it---I can't even muster up a pithy criticism. It was that bland. This makes me cranky. If I'm going to devote 10 minutes a night to a book, it had better be pretty darn spectacular. Perhaps I should not have stuck with it, but some perverse tenacity compelled me.

Do you commit to finishing books that underwhelm you?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Thanks, I Think

I get weak in the knees when Sean says, "I love you so much!"

But perhaps I should be taking this with a grain of salt when he goes on to say, "I love my dumptruck. He's the best guy!"

I guess in the eyes of a truck-obsessed toddler, mom and a dumptruck are pretty much on equal footing.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Family Love (Sorry, Even More Disjointed Than Usual)

I love my family!

Not exactly the stuff of which juicy blogs are made, I admit, but there you go.

My sister's visit was everything I'd hoped it would be. I was so eager to see her and my niece and nephew and for them to get to know my kids better. The last time Beth saw them, Sean was just learning to talk and Allie was still in the throes of colic.

Now Sean prattles ceaselessly (I say this admiringly) about his every move, and Allie has shed her crankiness. And this weekend, they pulled out every cute trick in their collective book.

[A sort-of-unrelated but somewhat relevant aside: To the casual observer of this here blog, it might appear that my children are nothing but a source of consternation and anxiety. (I think part of my tendency to write about the more exasperating aspects of motherhood stems from a desire to avoid the sort of gushing prose that sinks immediately into cliché. I'm not skilled enough a writer to navigate that territory without sounding like a Hallmark card.) That's really not the case, though. Most of the time my children delight and amaze me, fill my soul with such profound joy and happiness that I don't even know how to articulate it.]

This weekend, everything clicked. Sean and Allie were insanely adorable, and Emily and Jeremy were thrilled to play with their little cousins. We all spent some dedicated time with Emily and Jeremy, and Beth and I marveled at having a solid three days to catch up on a year's worth of events. Well, maybe not exactly solid, what with the intervening chaos of four kids under one roof, but the whole was definitely greater than the sum of its parts.

Over the years, my mom, my sister Kathie, and I have all gotten used to Beth's living far away, but now that I have children the distance seems more painful. Saying goodbye on Sunday was particularly difficult. I wish they lived closer to us so that we could all share our lives, and our children's lives, more directly than we can now. At a minimum, I'm hoping to corral the kids for a trip north sometime during the spring. Perhaps by then Allie will acquiesce to sitting in her carseat for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Kind of Like a Taffy Pull, Except, Umm, Not So Sticky

Somewhere there's a prize for Dumbest Metaphor just waiting for me to claim it…

I was planning on writing this post last night, but the extended bedtime hijinks left me too debilitated.

When I found out I was pregnant with Allie, I oscillated between excitement over our new baby and fear that our special relationship with Sean would be diminished. Sean was too little to understand who this new interloper in his life was, but for the most part he acclimated well. By now, I think we're all quite settled into our little party of four.

And yet.

Will there ever be a time when I am not simultaneously pulled into two opposite directions by children with equally compelling needs for attention? Take last night's examples.

I love to read books to Sean. Allie is too young (and active!) to sit still for this yet, and she makes her displeasure at Sean's and my book group abundantly clear. I always start off with both of them seated next to me; within 3 seconds Allie has ripped the book out of my hands and is either tearing the pages or eating them. I give her a "safe" (that is, unrippable) book to look at, and this placates her for a while. Then she tries to climb into my lap and, you guessed it, rip the book out of my hands. Meanwhile, Sean grows frustrated that his story is continually being interrupted. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We also played hide and seek last night. It's quite fun---Sean counts ("Eight, nine, twelve, firteen, fourteen, readynot here I come!") and then looks for me. Each time he finds me, his joy is palpable. The game's a little lopsided, for Sean has absolutely no interest in hiding himself. All well and good, but since Allie doesn't like to be apart from me for too long, I take her with me when I hide. This does not go over well with Sean. "Put Allie down," he tells me. "She go play with something else." If I don't put her down, he cries; if I put her down, she cries.

See? Taffy pull.

I want to meet both their needs, and I don't want to foster any resentment that Mommy pays more attention to Allie, or to Sean. I almost never feel that either of them gets the attention that they deserve. I also sometimes feel that my attempts to split my attention make me seem frantic and wired. So unlike the calm Zen Mommy that I want to be!

If anyone reading this has two or more kids, how do you handle this situation?


On an unrelated note, I will be checking out of the blogosphere until next week. Tomorrow my sister and her kids are traveling from their home in Massachusetts for their first visit in a year. I am so excited!

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Has Your Blog Exploded?

Anyone stopping by from Blog Explosion? I'm curious to hear what people think about the ratings switcheroo---first they were anonymous, then the curtain was pulled back to reveal the rater and the rating, and now we're in the dark again. Has anyone experienced any retaliatory low ratings? Do you think the open system stifles the possibility of honest ratings?

Just wondering---comments welcome.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Lofty Discourse

More or less a continuous scene, with just a few intermediary events snipped:

"Sean, sweetie, let me see your face. I need to wipe your nose. There, that's better.

"Allie, no steps! Please come over here. Let's play with the blocks. Oh, okay, we can play with Mommy's shoes instead. No, they don't go in your mouth. Here, give those to me. Let's play with something else.

"No, honey, Sean is playing with the cars. Please give that back to him. Thank you. No, please don't take that car, either. It’s okay, Sean, here you go.

"I don't know where the black police car is, Sean. Here's the blue one, though… . Okay, okay! I'll go look for the black car. Don't get upset, sweetie, we'll find it.

"Allie, give that car back to Sean! Sean, you DO NOT shove your sister. You can use your words to tell her to stop, but it is not okay to shove.

"Allie, get down from the steps, please. Sean, please do not swing between the couch and the coffee table."


"Sean, I think you need a diaper … Allie, please do not touch the diaper. No, no, wipes, either. NO, NOT THE DIRTY DIAPER! Sean, stop kicking please. Sean, STOP KICKING. Allie, give me those wipes.

"Allie, I will be right back! Please don't cry, honey---I'm just going into the bathroom for a minute. Oh, hi, Allie. Nothing exciting to see in here, really. No, let's not play with the toilet paper. Here, give me that. I'm sorry, honey, but you can’t climb into the trash can. What do you have in your mouth? Toilet paper? Let me get that out, and no biting!"

8:30 a.m., and the fun's just beginning!

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

The Aftermath

I have made a vow to move beyond bitterness and disappointment and somehow accept the election outcome with a tiny measure of grace.

I'll work toward that goal tomorrow. Today, I'm just despondent.

Down a Domestic Spiral

Much to my chagrin, I've discovered that houses do not, in fact, clean themselves.

Even before I had kids, I'd never been obsessive about cleaning. "Reasonably neat, as long as you don't look in the corners and don't open the closet doors" is a pretty fair description of my domestic philosophy. I neatly arranged the clutter, made sure there were no obvious signs of neglect, and called it a day.

Fast forward two and a half years. My laissez-faire approach has spiraled downward into an attitude perilously close to that of absentee landlordism. What with the dust, the debris, and the pieces of paper, you’d think the horizontal surfaces in our house were somehow being deliberately protected from direct contact with the air. I walk around the house, grimly observe the mess, say to myself, "I need to pick that up," and then pass right on by, usually to tend to the kids.

When I was pregnant with Sean, I often said that our house would not become the repository for molded plastic toys. Yes, I really said that. Take a moment to laugh---I'll wait. There, feel better?

It doesn't matter that Jeff and I purposely have not bought Sean and Allie a lot of toys. Everyone else has, and thus the toy empire has spread from the initial confines of the family room to pretty much every room in the house. Maybe a stronger person could have set some boundaries, could have stood firm against the toy onslaught---unfortunately, I am weak in the face of generosity.

From time to time I do step back from whining about the cleanliness status of my house to assess the bigger picture. In a situation quite analogous to my feelings about grocery shopping, I feel that complaining about TOO MUCH stuff is, what's the word, outrageous. Poor Suzanne, too many toys for your kids? Cry me a river, honey.

In my more sage moments I concede that there will be time later for cleaning. For now I'm learning to sidestep the mess, kick the blocks and cars and puzzle pieces aside, and play with my kids.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Don't Believe the (Halloween) Hype

Unlike my husband, the Halloween Grinch, I've been looking forward to Halloween this year. This was the year that Sean would be able to grasp, albeit incompletely, the concept of FREE CANDY in return for minimal effort.

Last Halloween, Allison was only a few weeks old, and Sean was really too little to understand the holiday. So I dressed him as a tiger for a mini-parade my sister had for Sean and the other kids she watches, and he wore the costume while I handed out candy at our house. Allison rested in the Snuggli, wearing a fetching pumpkin hat.

Ever since then, I'd been eager to see how excited Sean would be about Halloween this year. I had it all planned: He'd be a firefighter, Allison would be a sheep, we'd go trick or treating on our block, and the Cuteness Quotient would buoy us throughout the neighborhood.

I switched on the All Hallow's Eve hype machine about a week ago. I showed Sean his costume and gave him an overview of the trick-or-treating process. Until he overcame the linguistic hurdle, he told us that he'd be saying "Turkey treat!" He seemed excited about being Fire Fighter Chief Sean.

And so we come to the Big Day 2004. All morning we talked about trick or treating. Late in the afternoon, I dressed Allison in her costume; Jeff and my mom began trying to get Sean ready. Allison was remarkably compliant---she didn't even seem to mind her little sheep's cap.

But Sean? Well, you can see where this is going. He would have none of it. Despite all our cajoling, he wanted only to continue playing outside with "my friend Daddy." He balked over getting dressed and then, after grudgingly donning his rain slicker and hat, wouldn't stay still for pictures. Then he took the costume off. Then he started crying.

After convincing him to put on the costume again, I wound up having to carry him to two of our neighbors' houses. Then we went back home.

The End.

2005 will be the year for sure.