Life, liberty, and the pursuit of feliz-iness

Almost every day as we’re walking the block and a half home from school, Rosie tries out her newest Spanish word or phrase on me.

“Mama,” she’ll say with a conspiratorial smile, “Are you sorprendido, feliz, or enojado?”

I tell her it depends on which one means “hungry.”

I have known easily less than half the Spanish words that glide off her tongue during these sidewalk vocabulary lessons. Once, at the beginning of the year after she inquired if I was muy vien, I explained to her that it was actually “muy bien” with a b, chuckling at her adorable Kindergarten mispronunciation. Later that night as I was relaying the story to Luke, I was gently schooled in the existence of and proper use of the Spanish soft b. Which sounds like a v. And is totally used when asking someone if they’re muy bien.

Well, then. Color me sorprendido-ed.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 10.48.56 PM

Kindergarten Rosie is so much different than Kindergarten Noah. The contrast between the ways they have each experienced the world since birth would make you think they live in alternate realities. Noah met Kindergarten with wide eyes, quietly followed rules, and a solemn, deep reverence for the noble pursuit of knowledge. Rosie hit the school door from day one with wide open arms, squeals of delight, and BFF necklaces for all.

But also: a solemn, deep reverence for the noble pursuit of knowledge. A common thread woven through two cloths of a very different color.

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 10.47.49 PM

The most recent unit of study in her class has been all things America: the Statue of Liberty, the American flag, the National Anthem, the Washington Monument, bald eagles, etc. Like a budding patriot, Rosie has absorbed this USA info with vigor and reports to me any and all facts about our country she thinks are important, which is all of them.

She is fascinated with the National Anthem, and I don’t know exactly what she was taught about it, but I do know that if you attempt to sing it in any less than a reverent tone, she will gasp and admonish: “Mama. Don’t sing like that! That is our national anthem.” Noted, Betsy Ross.

IMG_1089

When I used to imagine Rosie in a structured school setting with homework and behavioral expectations and morning assemblies, I couldn’t quite picture how it would go. She’s a little bit of an enigma—I know how she is, but don’t always have a good grip on how she will be. School was a big question mark in my mind when I tried to predict the Rosie forecast. But now as I watch her weave every morning through a sea of puffy-coated children to find her seat in the auditorium before school, hugging friends and waving to teachers whose names I don’t even know, I feel that question mark straighten itself into an exclamation point. She’s got this. Assignments on lined paper and book fairs and quest to end each day on a “green light” and pledges to flags and foreign languages and all.

So, to answer your earlier question, Rosie Mae, I am pleasantly sorprendido-ed. I’m also muy feliz. And next time I sing the National Anthem, it will be hand to heart, in my very best voice.

November 20, 2014   No Comments

All I read is the rhythm divine

I wish I had some kind of algorithm for calculating the number of books I’ve read out loud to my kids in the last 10 years. (And let’s time out for a second and recognize the staggering, unbelievable fact that in two months I will have been a mom for ONE DECADE, holy cow. OK, time in.) I don’t even have a ballpark number, but I know it’s a lot of books. I remember reading to Noah in utero (oh, adorable pre-kid me) and then later to weeks-old lump of Noah, who could barely see 6 inches from his face, much less the book I was enthusiastically flipping through in front of him as he waved his little baby arms uncontrollably.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 11.35.36 PM

I am a children’s book enthusiast, to be sure. OK, I’m also a little bit of a children’s book snob, if we’re being honest here. There are books I don’t care for that are deeply loved by many (Love You Forever is one of them—I KNOW, I’M A MONSTER) and there are some that I’m gaga over that other people probably feel deeply meh about. Some children’s books just endear themselves to me, and others fall flat. And others (oh so many others) are just plain terrible, no matter how you slice it.

Tellingly, there is a high correlation between the books I find endearing and the books my kids adore. Do I think Fancy Nancy is a masterpiece of child literature, to be lauded through the ages? No, no I do not. But the fact that Max requests Noah read it to him on a nightly basis, and does so in some weird accent he decided was appropriate for saying Fancy Nancy (“Fawn-cee Nawn-cee”) is going to keep it safe from our “donate” pile for a good long time.

Screen Shot 2014-11-16 at 11.38.56 PM

One thing that really seals the deal for my kids’ book hall of fame is a solid rhythm and rhyme scheme. Now, there are plenty of kids’ books that are considered rhyming reads, but they ‘rhyme’ about as well as Kraft Singles pass themselves off as sharp cheddar. If I can’t make it through a page without tripping or awkwardly pausing, or shifting around where the beat hits in a sentence, it’s no good. And I’m talking about during the first read through. These are strict criteria, I realize, but to be a well-worn book in this house, you gotta rise to the (rhyme) occasion. If the words are catchy enough that they become an earworm, and I find myself tapping my foot to a two-line phrase in my head while I’m driving down the road or standing in line for coffee—well, that’s good rhyme writin’ right there.

I have a mental list of these very kind of books, some of my tried and true, toe-tappin’ jams. So I decided I’d share them here, because who doesn’t need good-writin’/good-readin’ children’s book recommendations? No one, that’s who. So here, in no particular order, and from me, who has no actual authority or expertise in this area, are five of my all-time favorite rhyme and rhythm reads for kids:

IMG_0934

1. Trucks: Whizz! Zoom! Rumble! by Patricia Hubbell

We got this book as a gift from a good friend’s mom who also happens to be an elementary school principal, and let me tell you, that’s who you want buying you books. Elementary school principals know what’s up. This one’s been a steady pick off the shelf since Noah first cracked the spine in preschool. It’s so rhythmic, it practically reads itself. (Also highly recommended, its counterpart Trains: Steaming! Pulling! Huffing!whose rhymes actually sound like the rhythm of a train chugging down a track.)

Old trucks, new trucks, going-to-the-zoo trucks. Red trucks, blue trucks, bringing-toys-to-you trucks. Trucks that rumble, roar, and shriek. Trucks that putter, groan and creak. 

IMG_0933

2. Sandra Boynton’s books. All of them.

OK, maybe not ALL of them. I get tripped up on the ones that have singing, if I haven’t heard the song before. (Although I have pretty mean musical improv skills, not gonna lie.) But other than that, I would have to hail Sandra Boynton the Queen of Rhyme (paired with Dr. Seuss, who is King). Her books are clever and funny and bop from page to page without a hitch. Actually, I’m not sure why we don’t own all of them. Why do we not own all of them? Hmm, this is a problem.

Top picks:

The Going To Bed Book:

With some on top and some beneath, they brush and brush and brush their teeth. And when the moon is on the rise, they all go up to exercise! 

Barnyard Dance!:

Bounce with the bunny. Strut with the duck. Spin with the chickens now—CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK! With a BAA and a MOO and a COCKADOODLEDOO everybody promenade two by two!

Other particularly rhyme-worthy faves: But Not the Hippopotamus, It’s Pajama Time!, and Fifteen Animals!

IMG_0932

3. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss

Ain’t nobody do it like Seuss. Anyone who makes up words is the bee’s knees to me, and Seuss is the original wordmeister. Just like Sandra Boynton, I could probably list all of his books, but this one is SO satisfying to read, I feel like I’m Bernadette Peters as the witch in Into the Woods doing the “Greens/Witch’s Rap.” Not only does each page hum along effortlessly, he combines the rhymes of the previous pages as he goes, tacking them on to each other neatly, and then puts all the noises of the whole book on the last page in one giant finale of syncopation. Oh Teddy G., you and your rhyme-crafting are so dreamy.

Oh the wonderful things Mr. Brown can do!

MOO MOO 
BUZZ BUZZ
POP POP POP
EEK EEK
HOO HOO
KLOPP KLOPP KLOPP
DIBBLE DIBBLE DOPP DOPP
COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO

Mr. Brown can do it. How about you?

Runner up: Dr. Seuss’s ABC BookI count it as a particular source of pride that I can recite this book from memory from start to finish. #mompartytrickshayyyy

IMG_0935

4. The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman

I reviewed this book once for an online family magazine some years ago (pre-Max), saying:

“Both my kids sit enraptured while I read this whimsical tale of a mom trying her best to feed her seven finicky kids, easily drawn to the effortlessly flowing rhymes and rich illustrations. Every word in the book has a logical place and purpose, and the narrative comes together seamlessly, complete with happy ending. I love books that I can read like a song, and this one definitely fits the bill — there’s no stumbling awkward prose to be found.

And bonus: The underlying message of the story is that compromise can be a beautiful thing. For a mom who’s dealt with her own picky eaters from time to time, that’s a message I can get behind.”

Yep, that’s pretty much it in a bag. This is a good one.

A year rolled by.
The children grew.
“They really are a splendid crew,” 
Sighed Mrs. Peters, pinning pins
And diapering her brand-new twins:
Little sisters, quick and smart,
Impossible to tell apart;
But Flo liked poached eggs, Fran liked fried.
If she mixed them up, they cried.

Tired to the very bone,
Mrs. Peters groaned a groan.
She’d take the eggs down from the shelf
And whisper weakly to herself,
“What persnickety young eaters
Are all my seven little Peters.”

IMG_0936

5. The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

You knew this one was coming, right? I mean, come on. It’s my all-time favorite. (In case you haven’t seen it the 32 places I’ve posted it before, here is 2-year old Rosie, reading this book in a very 2-year-old Rosie way.)

“ROAR!” said the Cranky Bear. “ROAR ROAR ROAR!” He gnashed his teeth and stomped his feet and chased them out the door. 

***

Clearly, five books does not a comprehensive list make, so I want to hear some of your favorites so I can be educated in more radical rhythm and rhyme. (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. is one I considered including, but we don’t own a copy, so I can’t speak to its standing-the-test-of-time-edness.) I mean, gosh, if we found new favorites, I suppose we’d have to … buy more books? I guess we could prolly get down with that.

1509727_10100576196175067_2964988606689578312_n

November 17, 2014   15 Comments

Through the WardRObe: An Epiblogue

thegreatwardRObeexperiment

The week before she turned 6, spurred by a comment about a “sad, old” shirt I had on delivered with a sad voice and dejected posture, I decided to let my daughter Rosie choose the outfit I would wear every day for seven days.

I would make no suggestions about or adjustments to her choices—whatever her heart desired, I would put on, willingly. I figured I didn’t have anything to lose—I work from home, or in coffee shops, so there was no dress code to hinder us; Rosie was a big fan of clothes in general, and “fun” clothes in particular; and there were very few situations in her life that let her be the boss of me (or anyone, for that matter). Plus, I figured it would be good for a few laughs. I’m always down for a few laughs.

I laid out rules for myself in the beginning: The only reaction I could make was to ask if I the outfit was complete and if I was wearing all the pieces of it in the way she wanted. (I did reserve the right to do my own hair, and we would talk about the weather for the day before she chose my clothes, to make sure I wouldn’t be inappropriately hot or cold.) If I got comments about my outfit in public, I wasn’t to mention my 5-year old had dressed me.

I was pretty confident she’d be into the whole thing and we’d have a good time, but if there’s one thing I know for certain about Rosie Mae, it’s that you can never to be too certain about Rosie Mae. This time, though, my instincts were on: She took to the project completely, like it was her job. Rosie Mae, Head Stylist, Wardrober-in-Chief.

She’d get home from school, grab a snack, and then we’d head to my room where she would rummage through my drawers with purpose, occasionally stopping to drape things on me like I was a department store mannequin. I’d try everything on and she’d give me a scrutinizing once-over, occasionally swapping out an element or two. And then, finally, she’d give me a definitive head nod as if to say, “It is finished.” Then she’d ask to watch TV.

IMG_0340

It didn’t take very far into the week to realize what I probably could have predicted, had I thought about it much beforehand: This was turning out to be about more than just clothes. Submitting to my 5-year old’s whims as I dressed every day was a lesson in humility, confidence, self-expression, and perceptions of style. And it was teaching me a lot about who Rosie is, encouraging me to listen to her in a way I typically don’t. Turns out she has some pretty great things to say.

Here’s some of what I learned by being wardRObed:

IMG_0339

1. Variety is the spice of life.

“I really like shapes. I wanted you to have lots of shapes, and you do! You have dots and stripes and cheetah. That makes it good.”

2. Your opinion matters.

“I always try to do my best, so I just pick what’s perfect. I love blue and black, they go just right together. And high heels. High heels are the best.”

3. Be the color you wish to see in the world.

“I like this stuff because it’s not that boring. That’s why I choose these outfits. I think you should always try something new, things you haven’t done before.”

4. Dress for yourself.

“Soft is important. Clothes shouldn’t feel funny or bad, because it will make you get frustrated.”

5. Wear your favorites. (A lot.)

“Some people might want you to wear different clothes every day. But I do what I do and I am what I am. I just pick out my clothes because I pick out my clothes. It doesn’t matter! If you wore different clothes every day, then some people might not see the ones that are your favorite.”

6. Look for diamonds in the rough.

“I wanted to pick these same colors because you can make patterns with same colors when you put them over and over again. Plus, sometimes I like to pick out cool things.”

7. Confidence is key.

“I think the whole outfit looks good because I pick out outfits that look good on you.”

8. Spread your joy.

Rosie Mae, your cool is contagious. Six looks good on you, girlfriend. And six is looking pretty good on me, too. Keep on spreading that fearless flair—the world is a better place, colored with your special shade of Rosie.

****

On letting your kid call the shots: Some tips

During the Great WardRObe Experiment, and several times since, people have said to me, “I want to do this with my daughter/son!” And to all of you, and the people who just thought it in your head, and even to the people who didn’t, I say: DO IT.

Do.

It.

Doitdoitdoitdoitdoitdoitdoit.

As for how to do it, here are a few things I would suggest:

IMG_0212

• Ask them first (duh)—Not every kid is going to be into picking out their parent’s clothes. So, obviously, step one is to ask them if they’re interested in participating in that particular activity. If they’re not, then they’re not. Making a kid participate when they have no interest totally negates the point, for sure.

Figure out how it will work best for your kid—If they say no to outfit-picking, or you know without asking they wouldn’t have much fun choosing your clothes, think about what they might be able to be in charge of that’s similar. Maybe they could choose the dinner menu for a week? Decide the route to school every day for a week? Pick out the art that will hang on a certain wall in your house? Fix your hair for a week? (This one will take some definite bravery, methinks.) You know your kid—what would bring them joy to be in charge of? Springboarding off their natural interests is a great way to start.

Decide on the rules before you start—This is for their sake, but really it’s for your sake, too. It was immensely helpful for me to have “the rules” in mind before starting the week with Rosie, because it helped me approach it with cheer, knowing I had removed some potential obstacles (shorts on a 30 degree day, for example). I had to commit, otherwise things could have gone south quickly. If you decide you’re going to do it, DO IT. Really give them the reins. Wear that rayon blouse you meant to throw out in 2003, and wear it proud. (If you’re worried, you can always give your drawers a once-over before starting to make sure there’s nothing scandalous/ripped to shreds/so hideous you couldn’t show your face at the grocery store, etc.

Take pictures and write things down—You don’t have to share anything publicly if that’s not your bag, but half the fun is documenting the process with pictures and words. Make sure to ask why your child picked out the things they did and why they think it’s a good outfit for you (piece of art for the wall/meal for the night/hairdo for the day, etc).

Have fun. Have fun. Have fun. Have fun. Call it off early if you want to. Definitely call it off early if they want to. The goal is to enjoy yourselves. Period. If you’re not enjoying yourselves, it’s not worth it.

Go forth and get fashioned by someone you think is fabulous, friends. (And totally show me/tag me/message me, if you do.)

As for me, I’m thinking about doing some Fashion Fridays with Rosie. My wardrobe’s definitely been a little sassier since the Great WardRObe Experiment, but I’ve been missing our outfit-selection sessions. Plus, it’s always fun to see what Rosie’s got up her (my) sleeve.

IMG_0308

November 12, 2014   4 Comments

Thrill-o-ween

I’ve always been sort of meh about Halloween.

I have no problems with dressing in costume … if someone tells me what I’m going to be. And hands me my getup already assembled. And does my makeup. However, candy. I like candy. But the decor and overall sentiment of the holiday … I mean, it’s fun, sure. I guess I’m Just Not That Into You, Halloween. No offense.

The actual day of Halloween has traditionally been one of the most stressful days of the year for me, especially when a full-time job was a part of the equation. The pressure to find costumes for two (and then three) kids by October 31 starts the stress-meter running, and then Halloween itself requires carb-loading and at least one 5-hour Energy drink just to come through standing at the end.

The Halloweens in my more recent parenting life have involved: leaving work on Halloween day early enough to do two (and then three) pickups, attempting some sort of dinner-ish type thing, costuming all trick-or-treaters (this part takes at LEAST an hour and one of the 5-hour Energy drinks), trudging door to door around all the blocks of the neighborhood, usually holding someone feeling apprehensive about all the masked-ness of the neighborhood (seriously, kid with the werewolf costume, can we not this year?), cajoling exhausted, wide-eyed, sugar-jazzed children to stop accepting free candy and walk home, de-costuming three kids (takes less time than costuming, but often no less sweating), containing the epic sugar rush and eventual crash that come post-bucket raid, getting three kids to at least go in the general vicinity of the place where their bed is, and then cleaning up while pausing to answer the doorbell and give out Tootsie Rolls (always last in the bowl, amirite?) to 6-foot teenagers with beards with fake blood somewhere on their body.

Anyway, It’s not my favorite.

It is getting easier, and more fun, as the kids get older. I have high hopes that being home for most of the afternoon before Trick-or-Treat o’clock will help it not feel like such a mad, crazy dash this year. (Don’t let me down, hopes!) I am even committed to wearing a headband with cat ears on it, so look at me go! I’ll have a fake fog machine in my yard and costume with full face makeup in no time.

All of that is to say—this is hands down the Halloweenest thing I’ve ever done voluntarily. Please to enjoy. We very much did.

Thrill-o-ween from racher on Vimeo.

October 31, 2014   5 Comments

WardRObed: Bonus birthday edition

thegreatwardRObeexperiment

My 5-year old daughter is dressing me for one week. Today is the final day.
(Day 7Day 6 / Day 5 / Day 4 / Day 3 / Day 2 /  Day 1)

With shades, stripes and swaths of swishy fabric, so ends the Great WardRObe Experiment.

IMG_0305

Five years ago, on Rosie’s first birthday, I wrote this:

Rosie rules. She is spunky, she is scrappy, she is hilarious, she is punk rock, she is beautiful. She will CUTCHEW if you take something from her, but she’ll also give real kisses, right on the mouth, complete with smacking lips. Her devotion to Noah is unwavering, and “Da!” is the first word on her lips in the morning. When I come in a room she reaches for me, arms up and head flung back in joyful anticipation of the flight to my hip. She sings along to sound, be it radio or vacuum, and she is fearless in ways that make me enormously proud and terrified at the same time. She came into this world kicking all kinds of ass from the start, and I love every spiky hair on her head.”

All of that (save the hip-holding and “Da” calling)—rings just as true today as it did then. Her hair may no longer be spiky, but I still love every one on her head.

IMG_0294

IMG_0274

There are a few more things I want to say to wrap up this week of being WardRObed (and some outtake shots to share), but right now, I have a 6th birthday party to plan.

IMG_0302

IMG_0298

Rosie Mae, your cool is contagious. Six looks good on you, girlfriend. And six is looking pretty good on me, too. Keep on spreading that fearless flair—the world is a better place, colored with your special shade of Rosie.

IMG_0306

IMG_0307

Love, Mom

IMG_0308

October 29, 2014   1 Comment