Hiding the Mess

I forgot to tell you about the funniest part of Niska-Day!

Okay, I’ve said that I invite people over to watch the parade, right? And we usually bring our outdoor table and chairs into the front yard so that people can snack on something breakfast-y: sometimes people bring muffins or donuts, and we have stuff, too. And perhaps I’ve mentioned that now that we have hammocks, our front yard sometimes has a bit of a vacant-lot-at-the-trailer-park feel. Well, about twenty minutes after the parade ended, not one but two different people approached our house, assuming that we were having a garage sale! It was completely understandable. We normally have a red bench, two hammocks, and a little cafe table with two chairs in the front. Right after the parade, there was also that table and chairs as well as scooters, bikes, Ripstiks, and sweatshirts littering the lawn. I had to wave the people away and explain, “No, sorry, we’re just a mess because we’re partying over the Niska-Day parade!” Then I got the kid who’d left her bike to move it into the backyard just in case, since our neighborhood has been known to fall victim to scavenging. All in all, it was a great motivational tool for getting the kids to clean up. “Kids, people literally think that I’m selling your stuff, so if you don’t want it sold, you’ve got to put it away!’

Ah, good times.

I’ve begun to emotionally check out of school for the year. In September I’m eagerly packing nutritious lunches in the morning and pouncing on the shiny red folders filled with school information and completed worksheets in the afternoon. I realized that I hadn’t checked and signed J’s assignment book for at least a week on the same day that I stumbled downstairs in the morning to discover that J had made herself a breakfast of Buffalo Chicken Dip and chips and was watching it in front of the tv. That’s right, folks. Someone hand me the Mother of the Year sash and tiara.

J, however, is still all in. That poor little dumpling is working like a dog. At our school, fourth grade is widely considered the most challenging grade, followed by a relative coast through fifth grade. Honestly, M pretty much coasted through all of elementary school, enjoying a unique combination of character attributes: she’s a smarty-pants, she’s very disciplined, and she cares, but not all that much. So she’d get all of her work done with a low level of drama. J is just as much of a smarty-pants, but she is cursed with a perfectionism that can be almost disabling. The fact that it’s within the realm of possibility that she will Fail To Achieve Greatness on any given project makes it difficult to start or continue any project. I was super-excited when her Susan B. Anthony project was done. I was ready to let her coast for a bit. But instead, there was another project, an entrepreneurship project, that they jumped into almost immediately.

So days after the big New York State Spotlight shebang, she was laboring over her business plan and resume. Basically, writing and writing, then looking up to wring her hands as if to say, “I’m ten years old, and what have I really accomplished in my life?” And then writing some more, with occasional pleas for help.

“What jobs do I do around the house? I don’t do any jobs around the house!” she half-wailed.

“Yes, you do, honey,” I answered. “You keep your room clean and you put away the laundry and you help clear the table, and you and your sister are responsible for keeping your bathroom clean and the playroom clean.”

“But I’m terrible at all those jobs!” she protested. “My room is a mess right now!”

“Well, it’s true that you could do better at those jobs. But that’s what resumes are. You’re not obligated to tell the whole, entire truth: don’t lie, but focus on the positive.”

At which point M chimed in with a real-world example from our school board election. But that’s water under the bridge, the election’s over now.

Niska-Day Fatigue

We pretty much exhausted ourselves this weekend. It was Niska-Day, aka the girls’ favorite holiday after Christmas.

I’ve said before: I love the Niska-Day Parade. It’s such a terrific neighborhood celebration. We love seeing friends and the kids love running wild. I’m always full of neighborhood-love this time of year, with the flowers blooming and the leaves coming out to form tree tunnels over all the streets, and the love hits its peak during the parade.

But by the end of Niska-Day, I am toast, and this year was no exception. M had a tremendous run of some of the Most Fun Ever. On Wednesday, it was a marathon trip to New York City with her school chorus, where they watched Aladdin, which M said was awesome, and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, which M said was terrible, as well as walking around and touring Radio City Music Hall. On Thursday it was an outing with friends to see Pitch Perfect 2. Then she and her friends cooked up a Fun Marathon for the weekend. On Friday, she hosted a sleepover for a few girls—

–Wait a minute, did you catch that? My daughter invited friends over. I know, right? For those of you who don’t recall, M hardly ever invites anyone over. I’m not sure why. She hasn’t hosted a birthday party since the 4th grade. In fact, Niska-Day is one of the days that I can still manage to get her to invite people over, because it’s the parade and we’re right on the route. So having friends over felt like a major score. They ended up doing a backyard campout, and I bought a ridiculous amount of junk food and everything went fine with no drama. So yay. Anyway. . .

So, the sleepover, followed by Niska-Day shenanigans, followed by (wait for it) another sleepover at a friend’s house and a soccer game on Sunday. M was actually much more pleasant on Sunday than I anticipated, given what must have been quite a bit of exhaustion. Actually, she got a decent amount of sleep because she takes after Cute W, who was always first to fall asleep at any sleepover. When I picked her up, the hosting mom joked that M was her favorite. Anyway,  she was a superstar at getting down to work on Sunday afternoon, because she had plenty of  homework. Personally, I believe that Niska-Day weekend should be homework-free, but I am not in charge.

Meanwhile, J had several friends over for parade-watching, and then a bunch of them played in our basement playroom. She spent much of the afternoon frolicking at our block party, then headed to the Niska-Day late. I think that next year I’m going to try to plan a little better for her. She’s getting to the age where she wants to be with her friends, but she’s not quite at the point where she plans it all herself, either. So there were some communication/planning snafus. She was also completely exhausted. Between the block party and heading to the carnival I urged her to take a little rest, and she headed down into the playroom to eat some ice cream and lie down. Halfway down the stairs she burst into tears, “Oh, why is it so messy?!?” she wailed. Never mind that it was she and her friends who’d trashed the room. She was almost comically pathetic: so beside herself that she couldn’t eat her ice cream, so she just cried and fell asleep. But later she was rejuvenated and able to go to  the fireworks with a friend.

Usually Cute W will take the girls to see the fireworks, but he’s been sick, so after watching the parade, he retreated to the couch.

By nightfall I was ready to join him. Every morning I love Niska-Day, but the truth is that by night-time I hate it just a little bit. It takes a full night’s sleep before I’m ready to look forward to next year again.

M’s Dream Comes True

I’ve updated the events page.

I’ll also be on WNYT Newschannel 13’s Live at Noon today (Thursday) talking about weekend fun. In fact, I should probably be taking a shower right now. In a couple of minutes. I realized  yesterday that I’ve been posting so infrequently that we have a LOT to catch up on.

So, one big deal: M finally has a phone. You might remember that she’s been asking for one for years, and she even made a phone out of cardboard last year in a desperate attempt to elicit a generous reaction from her parents:

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Pitiful, right?

Well, she was literally the last of her friends to get a phone when she finally received one for Easter. Even a couple of my mom friends who were hold-outs had caved. She was thrilled. She’s still thrilled. Sometimes she’ll just say, “Oh, let me get MY PHONE. Did you see that I have A PHONE?”

There were some tactical errors, I think. We had actually intended to get her a phone by her birthday this June, but the fact that she didn’t have one started to drive me crazy, too, honestly. I love the idea of her having independence and being able to walk with friends for pizza and things, but when she’d check in, it would be with a random friend’s phone. Also, her soccer team had a group message going that her “antiquated” iPod couldn’t access, so when all the girls were reminding each other what jerseys to wear, she’d miss it. At one team event they all discussed how no food was going to be served, and we missed it and sent her hungry. So by the time she did get a phone, I was feeling almost as desperate for it as she was. Nah. She was way more desperate.

But, in any case, we weren’t about to just randomly gift her with a phone. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they cost a lot of money, and I’m the master of turning things-I-need-to-buy-my-kids-anyway into gifts. That’s particularly true of the Easter Bunny. You may not believe this, but for the first several years of the girls’ lives, they would receive fluffy stuffed-animal bunnies or chicks that would mysteriously disappear over the summer and get recycled into Easter baskets later on. Then we moved on to bikes and scooters: if it was a spring must-have item, it was in the basket.

In this case, M’s desired phone (Apple iPhone 5c 16GB (Green) – Unlocked) literally cost twice as much as my new phone. So there were some negotiations in which she agreed that she’d chip in a considerable sum. This was discussed and agreed upon twice, but I should have gotten it in writing, because later M claimed no recollection of this agreement. M’s argument for years has been “Other people’s parents just buy them a phone,” and while I understand her frustration, she is stuck with this set of parents, who have their own special charms, even if she doesn’t recognize them. So when it comes to her outstanding balance, she keeps not bringing it up, hoping that I’ll forget, and I keep not bringing it up but silently docking her money that she normally would have received, like her first-ever paycheck for helping me table at KidsOutAndAbout as well as her allowance. This collection service is effective but dysfunctional.

So, I regret that I didn’t do an actual phone contract, like many conscientious parents do. Part of this was because it was a rush to get the damn thing, and then we were traveling over Easter. Also, I know–yes, I know–that J doesn’t really believe in the Easter Bunny anymore, but I didn’t want to make it completely obvious by having a parenting discussion about what was in the basket with chocolates. J’s in that “don’t ask, don’t tell” stage of belief where she pretty much knows but chooses not to know. And I don’t want to force disillusionment on anyone.

So far the whole phone thing has been. . . fine. We had one scare where we thought that the phone was lost when it was in fact in M’s backpack on her person, but besides that, we’re golden.

So, M’s thrilled, I’m more happy than not, and maybe we’ll do a better job of implementation with J. But not for years and years.

Friendships

I think, sometimes, that I’m not very good at friendship. Part of this is circumstantial. We moved often enough as I was growing up (preschool, 4th grade, 9th grade) that childhood friendships just didn’t stick. I remember that before that last move, I’d just settled into a group of girls I loved. I have this group shot of us  (that I can’t find right now) and I remember that I was so, so happy being with them. That day we danced around the pool singing along to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” and I totally felt the love. And it was really real, just like the song said. Shortly after that, we moved away. I don’t keep in touch with any of those girls. I can’t even remember all of their names.

I think falling in love so young wasn’t great for making and keeping girlfriends, either. Cute W was my friend for a year and a half before there was any kissing involved, but once there was, it was all over. I don’t think that having a romantic relationship has to destroy your friend prospects, but I do think it makes it tough when most of your friends are still single. In college, Cute W and I knew that if the two of us were alone at a dining hall table, no one would ever join us. We’d have to move over and jump in with our friends who’d discreetly avoided our Beautiful Couple Meal Time. Later, working in an office, friends assumed I’d rather go home to snuggle on the couch instead of out for drinks with a side of flirting. I used to visit family near an old high school friend once in a while, and I’d call to see if she wanted to meet up until I sensed that my spontaneous invitations were irritating her.  I think she attributed my lack of planning to a belief that she didn’t have anything better to do, without  a husband (and then a baby) like me. But really, I’ve just never been a huge planner. When she seemed downright angry at an invitation, I said to myself, “Well, I’m clearly bugging her, so I’ll let her call me next time.” And we haven’t spoken since.

Working from home is wonderful and flexible, but it can be pretty lonely, too.

And, of course, my lack of planning, my aversion to the phone, the fact that I am constitutionally incapable of doing things like posting Facebook pictures of adult-me with a pack of women and ardent, emoji-filled captions. . . well, that doesn’t help, either.

This topic has been knocking around in my head so long that I had to do a post about it, but I’ve been reluctant, too, because I know: it sounds pretty pathetic. Part of the problem is that I’ve been re-mourning my neighbor, Mary, now that her husband has moved away. Having him next door helped keep her present. If he were here right now, we’d be talking about how much she loved to smell our white lilac tree at night. I can tell you all, too, I suppose, but you can’t smile back fondly at the downright rapture that evening scent inspired in her.

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Ugh, now I’m getting maudlin. Truly, I’m not as tragic as this sounds. I have excellent friends. Cute W really is my best friend, and my cup runneth over with sisters, too. You don’t have to feel Morally Obligated to comment your Undying Girlfriend Love to me.

In fact, I’ve been “working the problem,” as Cute W would say, by trying to connect with people in a more intentional way.

To that end, last weekend I went on a road trip to meet a girlfriend from high school I’d seen only once in the last 25 years.

For most of high school, she was my best friend. We wrote crazy, marathon notes and recorded mix tapes for each other. She brought me along to do musicals at the school where her mom was a teacher and girls were scarce enough that we could nab parts. I’d sleep over at her house, where we’d scrawl graffiti on the walls of her unfinished basement.  We’d polish off leftover Chinese take-out from greasy cartons and swipe a bottle of Asti Spumante from a case her parents had stored away and forgotten, pouring it into jelly jars full of ice to drink it as we lazed on the cast-off furniture.

Then, senior year, she started melting into a brittle bobble-headed doll. I remember the school nurse asking me if things were okay and I covered for her, because the nurse had never bothered to talk to me before. But it only got worse. We friends monitored, observed, questioned, and conferred. We set shards of evidence next to each other and built a picture that was too scary for us to handle.  So we decided to talk to her parents. Our delegation was an uneasy alliance between me and a frenemy, my rival in all sorts of affections, the girl who’d taught my friend how to purge in the first place. She provided eyewitness accounts of behavior that only troubled her because it had moved beyond recreational use, while I provided the prim, stifled panic.

If this were an after school special, talking to Responsible Adults would result in swift action, effective treatment, friend reconciliation, and hugs all around.

I wish.

Instead, my constant harping against self-destruction earned me a cold shoulder, and so we were out of touch through her decades of struggle with one thing, then another. It was good to see her finally healthy and well. It was good to talk with an old girlfriend.

But it also brought back old pain. All these years later, I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. My extreme honesty was clearly a tactical error, but I just didn’t have the wisdom to know that you can’t save somebody without their help. Losing her friendship crushed me, and yet I can’t be angry, because running from me hurt her so much more than it ever hurt me.

And all of this is happening as I see my daughters’ friendships shifting and changing, so it makes me re-consider everything in terms of how I’d advise them. Things like maintaining your own integrity even if it means losing a friend, considering that even the best relationships can have unintended consequences, and valuing and loving your people the best you can right this minute without thinking too much about forever or even tomorrow. I have all this friend wisdom that I’ve been acquiring for decades, ready to share with them. Except that they probably won’t really believe any of it until they’re my age.

 

 

 

 

 

Current Pastimes

Can you believe this streak of weather?

Weather ForecastGlorious! I took that picture from weather.com days ago, but once again I’ve been shuffling a blog post to the bottom of the To Do list. It’s amazing how often an afternoon that sounds like it’s going to easy gets overtaken by homework drama, household incidents, or various other curve balls. For example, I just finished an activity that leaped out of nowhere onto the agenda:

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That’s right: I’ve spent the last hour buying and then writing inspirational messages on bananas. J and M have their Girls on the Run practice 5K after school today, and no one had claimed these refreshments as of this morning. But they’re cute, right?

We’ve also all been spending a lot of time outside playing 2-Square or 4-Square. Only Cute W calls 4-Square “Daddy’s Home Square” because he’s a massive trash-talker. I vaguely remember playing 2-Square and 4-Square when I was a kid, but I can’t remember it being so complicated! Now, before someone starts, they might call “Bus Stop. . . Popcorn. . . Double Touch!” and I’m saying “What. . . ?” while the ball bounces between my legs. But whatever: it’s good clean family fun.

When she’s not outside, one of M’s favorite hobbies these days is painting with nail polish. It’s funny, actually, because I remember that at Christmas she was interested in all sorts of rainbow colors of nail polish, and I was baffled. Because she never paints her nails. And of course, they were colors that I’d never choose, but I chalked that up to her being 12 and me being much older than that.

Turns out, she has no interest in painting her nails. But her alarm clock is another story.

 

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She also likes re-vamping Altoid tins–cute!

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In fact, now I try to keep my mints hidden. Not only do the kids like to eat them, but they’ll gorge on them to get more raw materials for crafting. Maybe I should start getting them to paint bananas instead?

Getting Better

Okay, it’s improved. Look at that sky!

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And better than that, the leaves are coming back to the trees. It’s about time. Today I put a few flowers in our front planter and in the hanging pot in the screened porch. This is partly because it was a beautiful day for outdoor chores and partly because Cute W has been fretting that our house is an eyesore that will prevent people from buying our next door neighbor’s house. He’s impatient for flowers. So rather than waiting for the perennials, I bought some annuals to spruce us up. I always end up doing this before Niska-Day, anyway, because we’re on the parade route and we get an annual letter which politely reminds us not to embarrass ourselves or our community. Not in those words, but that’s the jist. But I was also trying to make Cute W feel better about the house.

Actually, come to think of it, everyone’s down on the house lately. That’s partly because the girls have been watching House Hunters. In fact, we were talking about it, and one of the girls said, “I like that show, but it kind of makes me feel like we live in a dump.” I laughed and agreed, and I said that that was why I sometimes avoided shows like that. Then I pointed out that if they were watching people shop for small, crappy houses, it would be not as fun and possibly depressing. “It’s just like how, when you watch tv shows, everyone’s weirdly and unbelievably attractive–have you noticed that? It’s considered more entertaining.” They agreed that this is probably true, but they’re still watching. I’m fortunate: I tend to not notice all of the glaring deficiencies that Cute W sees, and when I’m feeling annoyed that, say, my kitchen cabinets are ugly and don’t close all the way, I can just look at pictures of our old bathroom and suddenly I’m filled with gratitude for what we do have. But poor Cute W has a long list of things of more substantial fixes and improvements that the house requires, and I am not competent to do most of them. But I can put in flowers! And I’m sure I could do other things, but then I wouldn’t be doing them exactly right and I would just make Cute W crazy and he’d have to do it over again, like how I rearrange the table after he sets it. Better to stick to flowers. So now we’ve got some in the front to go along with our smattering of daffodils and hyacinths

I’m also super-excited that it looks like it’s finally warm enough to put some of my house plants outside. This is always a gala event for me, because our house is small and I’m not good at pruning back the plants. So it feels like they take up way too much space inside. When spring comes, I think we’re all happier. The plants get a nice little hose-down and some unfiltered sunlight, and the rest of us get some breathing room.

J’s finally turned in that dang school project. It seemed particularly cruel that the kids had the pile of homework this week, when the weather was so awesome. In our school, the reputation is the 4th grade is challenging, culminating in this project, and then 5th grade’s a breeze. So I’m hoping that J can go into coast mode. I was also thinking that, just like winter’s extreme weather can mean that kids are treated to a snow day, it would be great if spring offered a reprieve, too. I’d love it if teachers would cancel homework on extremely warm and beautiful days.

 

Not My Favorite Week Ever

It’s been a gloomy week. The weather has not been helpful. It is almost May and I would like some balmy weather. The cold is bringing me down. And yet there’s enough blossoming now that I seem to be suffering from seasonal allergies. Most mornings for the past week, I’ve woken up with a pounding headache and a phlegm-inspired sore throat, and then I wouldn’t feel good enough to go to my SJCC class, and then I wouldn’t feel great because I hadn’t exercised, and then it became a vicious cycle, pretty much, for the whole week.

I don’t even remember getting allergies when I was younger, so part of me wonders if it’s another fabulous aspect of the aging process. Plus, I’m pretty sure that I’d be doing better if I were eating a more Plan-ish diet, but I’ve pretty much fallen off the Plan wagon. Which really means that I eat Plan foods about three-quarters of the time, but that’s not enough, dammit. The Plan really demands the kind of constant vigilance with which I’m not motivated enough to comply. My arthritis is still better than it used to be, but the exciting side-effect weight loss has pretty much reversed itself. So that is. . . not awesome. And yet not so terrible that I can bring myself to say, “No thanks, I’ll just wait to go home and re-heat some vegetable soup” when I’m at a Chipotle counter. Sometimes it feels like the universe is conspiring against me. Like, one weird non-Plan-friendly-food-that-seems-like-it-would-be-healthful is turkey. For Easter, I had enough grocery points to get a free ham or a free turkey. Neither of them are Plan-ish, but they were free. I’m pro-free. I should have just donated the damn thing to a soup kitchen. Instead I opted for turkey. My whole family likes turkey, and they particularly like it when I serve Thanksgiving-style dinner. Everyone was happy with dinner, but then no one wanted the leftovers. I have no idea why. I really hate to waste leftovers. It’s a trait I inherited from my father. I’m always the one who’s saying, “No, no, that cheese isn’t bad! Cut off the mold and the rest of it is fine!” or “Ignore the expiration date! If it smells fine, it’s fine! They’re just trying to cover their booties by being overly cautious!” So the damn turkey just sat there, and it was making me crazy. I spent quite a while cutting off convenient slices and separating the yucky stuff for the cat, and I still couldn’t move the merchandise. Then I got the clever idea to make a pot pie, because my kids love chicken pot pie. They seriously got all excited, and then, like an idiot, I said that it was turkey pot pie, and everyone was like: never mind. What’s the problem here? You like turkey. You like pot pie. You should like turkey pot pie. No dice. Cute W is avoiding gluten to try to sleuth out his own stomach issues, I don’t think J even tried it, and M grudgingly had some when she couldn’t think of anything better to eat. This damn thing has been sitting in my fridge all week, and today I gave up and had some for lunch, making any other good choices today entirely worthless.

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Meanwhile, another sign of aging? I got my first prescription for bifocals! Whoop, whoop! Strangely, I was pretty pleased about this. I feel like I’ve been squinting at labels for a while now, and so confirmation that I could use a bit of help was validating, somehow. Plus we had a bunch of use-it-or-lose-it money to spend, so I splurged on multi-focus Transitions glasses and burned through the budget. I haven’t gotten the glasses yet, but I hope I like them.

With the kids, this whole week has been rough because J is struggling with a school project. It’s the same problem as usual: when she has a project designed to be creative and fun, she spends about 85% of her time wringing her hands about how it might not fulfill her perfect vision because she’s unequal to the task, 5% of the time actively sobbing, and only 10% of her time working on the project. So I’ve been prompting her constantly to try to stay on task and actually do something instead of fretting about it. I hate nagging. And having to factor in all of the extra fretting time, it is way too much work. It also hits a little too close to home, because just as she is practically my physical clone, we share many personality traits. At some point during the week I had the revelation that, lately, I share pretty much the same approach when it comes to writing. It was what a former professor used to call “an epiphanic moment” for me.  A while back, I stepped back from blogging with the plan that it would allow me to devote time to other, more creative writing, but the truth is, it hasn’t. Before, blogging was a must-do almost every day, so I wrote almost every day, even if sometimes it was just me whining or sharing links. Now writing is at the bottom of an on-going list of things to do, and after cooking, laundry, driving kids places, doing KidsOutAndAbout stuff, nudging kids over homework, cleaning, and running out for last minute birthday presents, I never actually make it to the bottom of the list. So I feel like I made a tactical error, but I’m not sure how to fix it. I’m feeling stuck. Since I made the connection between J’s and my anxiety-prone, perfectionist-induced paralysis, it’s made trying to get her through the project even more unpleasant. Here’s Susan B. Anthony in front of her work-in-progress courthouse to commemorate when she was found guilty of the crime of voting. J’s opinion: “I think the bricks look too modern.”

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On Friday I got Facebummed. This is a word that I just invented, but surely the phenomenon isn’t unique to me? J lasted for about two and a half minutes in Girl Scouts, but pretty much all of her friends are Girl Scouts. On Friday night, my feed was full of smiling girls in lovely dresses with their proud dads for the Father-Daughter Dance. Now, M’s actually attended this annual event, and even when I had a kid attending the dance, mine was the one who insisted she was wearing shorts and a t-shirt and only grudgingly changed in the parking lot when she realized that her mother was right and everyone else likes to dress up once in a while. And I know that it ends up being a clump of men standing around, checking their phones, while the girls are off, not necessarily doing much dancing. And yet, seeing all of them looking so pretty and excited, I felt sad that J was missing it, sad that she’d left Girl Scouts, just plain sad. I know the same thing will happen in another month when everyone starts posting their dance recital photos. Sigh.

Yesterday we said good-bye to our neighbor, Mary‘s husband, Gene. He is not well, and his family decided that he should move in with his son, far away. The swiftness of the transition took us all by surprise, and we almost missed saying goodbye to him at all. It’s awful to see him go, and we’re still not over losing Mary, so Cute W and I are sad.

Today I pretty much lost it on each of my kids. J was making me crazy over her project. I came down this morning and she was busily cutting cardboard and I thought, “Phew! She’s finally getting something done,” and then she proudly showed me that she was making a cat toy mobile. Terrific. Then there was Soccer Laundry Drama which involved jersey armpit-smelling and vehement disagreement about stink levels. I ended up fleeing the house to take a walk, we bought dinner instead of cooking, and I still have less than zero patience. The girls just had one of their perennial disputes about who should turn off the tv, and I am ready to turn off the tv by ripping it from the wall and smacking it onto the floor. But that would be expensive, so I’ll just imagine it and hope that I can maintain my composure until they are asleep.

 

Carrying the Kids

It doesn’t seem possible that I  can keep it up much longer, but I still carry my kids.

Okay, granted, with M it’s a bit of a joke. We pride ourselves on being strong, so it’s a challenge when she says, “Mom, carry me,” and latches her arms around my neck.  I’ll support her back with one arm while she drapes long legs over the other arm, and then I stand there while we see how long I can keep her aloft. Or I’ll play the old trick from when the kids were little and drop my arm from behind her back quickly, so she’ll fall backwards, gasping, and I’ll catch her before her head smacks. I’m pretty impressed with myself that I can still do it. And just like when she was three years old, it still scares her every time.

With J, every once in a while, I still carry her upstairs. This is ridiculous. For the last year, each time I carry her upstairs, I think, “This is almost impossible and potentially dangerous and probably the last time I’ll ever do this.” In fact, it’s been years since I started a schtick where, when someone would ask to be carried upstairs (usually because they were half-asleep on the living room sofa), I’d answer. “I’ll carry you. . . emotionally.” What this entails is me walking alongside the sleepy child, possibly while holding hands or pressing a palm against someone’s back as propulsion. Which is partly just a joke, of course, but I remember being a little kid and having to go up those stairs all by myself, and I hated it. There’s a wide gap between my three older sisters and me, so it felt like I was always getting sent upstairs to sleep when all the fun was just beginning around the kitchen table.  Bedtime meant being exiled, and I’d sneak to the top of the stairs and strain to  follow the too-grown-up-for-me conversation.  It feels like walking upstairs takes a bit of the sting out of that. So that’s what started me on the “I’ll carry you emotionally.”

Carrying kids is tough, but not carrying them is pretty hard, too. Children growing up and away from us is such a literal metaphor. The idea that my children were once contained entirely within me would be unfathomable if I hadn’t lived through it. And then, once babies are born, they’re still attached in the most literal sense, rooting and grasping or nestling themselves into our folds and spaces. That’s the way it should be with a newborn. I remember when M arrived and was put into the NICU, the forced physical separation made her birth feel more like an amputation, leaving me to press against a plastic box, empty arms and swollen breasts tingling like phantom limbs.

As a new parent, I’d see enormous, elderly children climb up onto their parents’ laps and I would inwardly roll my eyes at the weirdness of it. I always thought Robert Munsch’s Love You Forever was creepy. And actually, I still think that lady’s a stalker, coming in while the kid’s asleep as a teenager. But I’ve come around a bit. A few years ago I posted about cuddling with big kids, and while some of that’s been outgrown, most of it hasn’t. I’m thinking, now, that we might never outgrow it.

The truth is, even as a grown-up, sometimes I’m half-asleep on the couch, and I wish that someone would carry me up to bed. Since nobody can, I have to just suck it up.

Destination: Girl Power

At J’s school, they make a big deal about the 4th grade’s “Spotlight on New York” project. Each child researches a different New York-related person, place, or thing, culminating in a big display of their research with papers and tri-fold presentation boards and the occasional sculpture or diorama. When M did it, her topic was Ellis Island, and we’ve still never been to Ellis Island. It is three years later, and I regret that I didn’t make time to go to Ellis Island for her research project, especially after I overheard the school librarian talking about how great it is to go visit whatever topic you’re researching. Talk about a guilt trip.

It feels like only a few years ago, I was much less inclined to take road trips. I hate driving and I have no sense of direction, so I’ve always been reluctant. But in the past year, between far-away soccer tournaments and gymnastics meets and a one-day round trip to Cape Cod, I’ve become much more easily reconciled to the idea of jumping into the car and going somewhere. And I like it. I feel like, as a family, we are way too apt to just slob around if we don’t have a specific plan in mind.

So when J arrived home and announced she’d been assigned one of her top choices, Susan B. Anthony, as her topic, I figured that April break was a great opportunity to take that Girl Power Road Trip that I’d  been thinking I should do for a while. It was particularly well-timed, because I’d just finished Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony: A Friendship That Changed the World, which I really loved. I loved the portrayal of their friendship, including some fun quips and the two of them complaining about women fighting against the right to vote, calling them jackasses. It was a very accessible history, so much so that now J’s reading some of it.

Anyway, on Tuesday we drove out to visit the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House, spent the night there in Rochester, and then headed home by way of Seneca Falls, home of the first Women’s Rights Convention and the Women’s Right National Historic Park.

I thought that I’d be very clever and get the girls prepared by having them watch Not for Ourselves Alone: The Story of Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony
during the drive west. This turned out to be a miscalculation. The girls thought it was too slow-moving, and then when we arrived at our destinations, much of the information was repeated, which detracted from the tours. It was a good try, though.  A better idea was to Yelp it up in search of fun food, and we arrived in Rochester just in time for lunch.

Okay, so what’s the deal with all of the Ethiopian restaurants in Rochester? I don’t know, but we’d never tried Ethiopian food before, so we headed to Zemeta to give it a shot. Following the advice of reviewers, we ordered the vegetarian combination, which was huge. Here’s the platter:

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There’s some green salad, a couple of different kinds of lentils, some potatoes, some green beans, some spinach, and much more, all served with rolls of injera, a squishy-spongy, sour bread. We also tried a chicken dish, and a lovely beef dish that looked like a floral bouquet:

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The forks are deceptive in that first dish, because you’re supposed to eat with your hands, so that was new for us. There were tons of different things to try, and between our three dishes, the girls and I all found things that we liked, and we ate until we were slightly too full. Will Ethiopian supplant our ethnic favorites (Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, & Mexican)? Umm. . . no. But we were glad to have tried something new.

Then it was time to head to the National Susan B. Anthony Museum & House. This is one of those historic houses that you can only walk through with a tour guide, and there are no pictures allowed, so here’s your one-and-only photo:

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I actually forgot all about the blog while we were there, and I just took a bunch of pictures of J for her project. But if you look at this one closely, all three of us are in it: there’s the top of J’s head, then a reflection of me with my camera in the window next to her, and M’s reflection in the next. The tour was pretty good, and the staff were supremely friendly. They had a special packet full of information that they gave to J when they learned that she was working on a school project. It was cool to see historic photographs of Miss Anthony (as they called her during the tour) in her home, knowing that we were standing in the same place.

After the tour, we went just down the street to check out the sculpture of Miss Anthony having tea with Frederick Douglass.

 

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After that, we were craving a little good old-fashioned comfort food after our lunch of Culinary Adventure. We headed to Hedonist Artisan Ice Cream, where the girls had chocolate that they both declared the best chocolate ice cream they’d ever had, and I ate some salted caramel that was almost too salty for me.

Then we headed to the brand-new Hilton Garden Inn Downtown Rochester. This was fun because they’ve only been open for a little more than a week, and I got a tour of it so that I could write up a review for KidsOutAndAbout (and yes, you can read it here).

I loved the elegant Tiffany lighting throughout the hotel. Seriously, if I ever win the lottery, I will find a designer and say, “Bring me light fixtures like the ones from that Hilton Garden Inn!” I couldn’t stop taking photographs of it, which wasn’t particularly relevant for the review, but here are a few:

Pretty, right?

Before our trip, we had made Yelp plans to head to SEA Restaurant for some Vietnamese food, and we weren’t feeling particularly energetic after a museum tour, ice cream, and some hotel pool swimming. . . but we rallied. And I’m glad we did, because it was yumma. I particularly appreciated that there were plenty of vegetables in all of our dishes, so it felt pretty light. . . .

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Which was good, because after my tour of the hotel, I felt morally obligated to try the homemade potato chips because. . . well, because a good reviewer who hears about homemade potato chips must order some. It was, like, a sacred obligation. So we had a late-night snack.

In the morning we headed back east to Seneca Falls and the Women’s Right National Historic Park. Honestly, a visit during the summer would have been better timing, because there are a cluster of different places to visit, and they weren’t all open in April (like Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house). But the National Park Service’s Visitor Center was absolutely worth the trip. There were a tons of exhibits. Because Susan B. Anthony wasn’t at the first women’s rights convention, there wasn’t too much about her, but there was enough to keep J happy. She liked standing at the pulpit, imitating Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

 

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They’ve got a nice space for little kids, too.

 

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And there are a bunch of exhibits on a variety of topics, like women and girls and sports, with stories from long ago as well as more recent history.

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And they do a terrific job of drawing parallels between distant history and issues today, like uncomfortable corsets and current fashion trends.

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Another part I liked was a spot where there were face holes that you could look through and into the mirror, so girls could envision themselves having different jobs, like a construction worker or President of the United States. You can’t be what you can’t see, right? J was inspired, too: she wrote on the chalkboard:

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“I don’t want to be first lady. I want to be PRESIDENT.” Hmmm. . . sounds like some other woman I know.

Before heading back home, we stopped at the statue along the river commemorating the first time Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton met, when they were introduced by Amelia Bloom (note the once-scandalous bloomers that they’re wearing–which reminds me, I put all this history to use in a letter to the editor, smacking down a woman who said that girls should stop whining about inequality and just be grateful that no one’s throwing acid in their faces. And then I was annoyed, because the Gazette put out a tremendously irritating editorial about how parents are mindless sheep following the lead of the self-serving, conniving teachers’ union, but someone else is going to have to write to them about that, because I was just in the damn paper. Incidentally, checking those links made me realize that the last few letters critical of the governor regarding education “reform” are ending up online only instead of in the paper–coincidence?).

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The girls were excited to see this in person, because I actually have a photograph of it at my desk. We took some more pictures where it looks like they’re all hanging out together.

And then it was back into the car and home on Wednesday, with just a bit of spare time to tidy up the house for the second half of our spring break, a visit from Grandma and Grandpa!

Easter Weekend

Happy Easter and Happy Passover, everybody!

We went on a quick road trip over Easter weekend.

On Saturday, we headed down to NYC to see the art show that my little brother was in. Man, he’s adorable. I know that he’s a grown man and all, but seeing his art spirals me into time warps, back to when he was a little kid painting at our kitchen table, or a bigger kid who drew so well that everyone thought he was tracing.

My little brother John, who's currently studying painting at Yale's School of Fine Arts

But meanwhile, present-day John is on a completely different artistic intellectual plane, well beyond my understanding. Years ago I visited the Musee Picasso in Paris, and I really loved how it was organized chronologically. You could see Picasso’s evolution, what interested him, what he was working on, and how one phase of work followed from and built upon another. And I remember that, during my visit, I walked through one of the galleries of Picasso’s work while he was in his 20s, and I realized, he’d lost me. Or, I guess, I lost him. He moved on, and I stopped grasping what he was doing. I feel a little bit like that with John. He’ll explain why he used a particular material, or that he used one piece to create the other piece, or that he is using a sculpture to create the sort of images that you’d normally see in paintings or paintings in a way that makes them sculptural, and I can follow it. . . mostly. But to explain with any kind of depth, he needs to reference artists, writers, and whole cultural movements with which I am wholly unfamiliar. He’ll say, “You know . . . ?” and I’ll shake my head, mute, and then it happens a couple more times. He is passionate about important artistic problems that have bypassed my life–let’s face it, most people’s lives–entirely. And yet there’s a brilliant, super-artist segment of the population to whom his work speaks eloquently.

So it is almost comical to walk around looking at his art, because he’s used to critiques where artists challenge each other on every choice that they’ve made, but instead he’s walking around with his big sisters who are saying things like, “I like how that part is swirly” and “this one’s my favorite.” He digests our comments with just as much earnestness and sweat on his brow as if we were making well-founded arguments about his approach that he’ll need to take into consideration to Grow As An Artist, when really it’s all just code for “We love you! We’re so proud of you! Look at how great you’re doing!”

John art

We had a fabulous Yelp day in New York, starting it off with super-delicious pizza from Isola and finishing with margaritas and Mexican food at Casa Mexicana, where we feasted on guacamole and margaritas, and I had some shrimp.

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We were fortunate to have a little bit of extra time to walk through Columbia University and peek inside the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Now, I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before, but I went to graduate school at Columbia. I didn’t enjoy my time there: I’d say most days ranged from tolerable to abject misery. But the bright spot was being a docent at the cathedral. I love that place. If you’ve never visited, you should. So I was practically skipping around the cathedral, pointing out stone carvings and stories in the stained glass window. I really wish I’d realized that we were going to go in, because I would have looked at my old notes. I only took a couple of photos while we were there, and that when I noticed that the 20th-century niche for the “person of the century” series had been filled in since I’d stopped volunteering there. If you look below, you’ll see (from right) 17th-century Shakespeare, 18th-century Washington, 19th-century Lincoln. I used to ask my tour folks who they thought should go into the blank space. Now it’s filled in, but they clearly couldn’t make up their minds, because it’s a crowd: MLK, Einstein, Susan B. Anthony, and Gandhi. This got me very excited because J’s doing a project on Susan B. Anthony. I went looking for her and found her slouching on a chair, clearly not as jazzed up about the cathedral highlights as I was. Yes, she’d heard about the statue. What? Oh, yeah, she’d grudgingly come with me to see it herself. But she was clearly ready to move on to ice cream.

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We spent Saturday night in a hotel since we had plans to rejoin most of the family at my sister’s house in New Jersey for Easter afternoon. This presented a bit of a logistical problem for the Easter Bunny. Traditionally he hides the Easter baskets somewhere around the house, but there’s not much you can do in a hotel room. Well, that bunny is awesome, because he came up with a clue note treasure hunt that took the kids from their hotel room to an upstairs ice machine to the lobby, an outdoor courtyard, the fitness room, and the lobby again before looping back up to the hotel room where the baskets had presumably been hiding all along. What a great bunny!

 

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The only complication was when the girls were led to a planter by the lobby’s front door, where there just wasn’t a note. This was odd. Our hunt took place at 6 am, and my bet is that it was at least 10 pm when the notes were left. If I know this particular bunny, I’d say that the bunny likely explained what was happening to the attendant at the lobby’s front desk so that they would leave the notes alone, and, for good measure, each note read, “Please do not remove.” So it was peculiar when my children were searching the planter for an extraordinarily long time as Cute W and I made confused hand gestures to each other. Finally, someone at the front desk signaled to me and quietly placed the note on the counter. So, what? They saw it, took it away, but didn’t throw it away? I wonder what harm they thought a small pastel note hidden behind a planter could do to the other guests? In any case, it was fortunate that they hadn’t ripped the note to pieces or anything, because we went with the time-honored “look again” strategy, and just like the tooth fairy’s money, it seemed to appear magically where we could have sworn it wasn’t a few minutes ago.

After the gala basket hunt, Cute W consulted Yelp again and found Montclair Bread Company for some traditional Easter donuts. Yes, your eyes do not deceive you: the donut in the lower-left has a maple frosting garnished with small slabs of bacon. But those weren’t even the most decadent choices: the swirly ones contained enough Nutella to supply your entire days’ worth of saturated fat. Lenten season, be gone!

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The afternoon was beautiful, and the kids were very excited to hang out with their cousins and frolic in one of the coolest backyards ever, complete with a two-story treehouse, a zipline, and more.

Then it was home again and a day of rest before our next road trip, which I’ll tell you about next time.