I’m almost never up before Noah on school days. In fact, most mornings he’s the one waking me with a gentle shake, fully dressed, breakfasted, and bookbagged, to kiss me goodbye before disappearing into the dark outside for the 6:45 a.m. bus. Today though, I crept into his room while the house still slept, beating his 6 a.m. alarm to its pre-dawn punch.
Good morning, 10-year old.
He blinked and stretched and craned his head toward the clock. “I’ve been 10 for twelve minutes,” he said. He closed his eyes again, half-smile on his face, and slung an arm around my neck. “And now you’ve been a mom for 10 years.”
Happy birthday to you, kid. Happy birthday to us.
All of his birthdays have felt momentous, but this one especially so. Maybe it’s the double digits. Maybe it’s because he’s my first kid. Maybe it’s the word decade. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m 36. Maybe it’s a lack of sleep. Maybe it’s Maybelline.
I wonder sometimes if I became a writer the day Noah was born. I remember sitting in the recovery room that morning, not able to take my eyes off the bundle of blankets and baby in my arms, feeling the weight of everything I’d done up to that moment come crashing down like a big heavy truth. It was right and it was scary and it was overwhelming and it was exhilarating all at once. This is forever, I remembered thinking, like I’d only just learned the word two hours before.
Since then I’ve been chasing words, hoping to create sentence time capsules to hold all my big heavy truths.
At the beginning of her memoir Having Babies, Irish novelist Anne Enright says:
“I also have to apologize to my children for writing about their baby selves; either too much, or not enough, or whatever changing way this book takes them, over the years. My only excuse is that I think it is important. I wanted to say what it was like.”
Noah (and his sister and brother after him) made me want to say what it was like.
This Thursday, Noah will compete in the school spelling bee. Every night for the last few weeks, we’ve snuggled up in bed, or sprawled on the couch, or faced each other across the kitchen table, firing words and letters back and forth to practice. On the list is the word nostalgia, which Noah kept spelling n-a-s-t-o-l-g-i-a, until I started saying “NO, you don’t start NOstalgia that way” to make him laugh, and also to help him remember how to spell it.
The word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos, meaning “return home,” and algos, meaning “pain.” The year I was pregnant with Noah, Luke and I saw the movie Garden State, which we both loved. (To this day, if I hear any of the music from the soundtrack, I can see a tiny baby Noah with newly-minted dad Luke doing “exercises” on the floor of our tiny apartment to the beat of the songs.) One of my favorite quotes from the movie is “Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.” Last year when Noah turned 9, I realized that—assuming he goes away to college at 18—he’s halfway through the years he’ll live in our home with us full time. Which means: We are in the midst of our family’s imaginary place.
I already have nostalgia for it.
The night before Noah was born, I ate chocolate cake. Went out with friends for dinner and a movie, then settled down for the night with books in bed before turning out the light. But the light never went out that night. Instead, with a pop and a gush, I catapulted into motherhood before the sun had a chance to rise on the next day. At 5:42 a.m. Noah arrived with arms outstretched, hands reaching toward my shining face. Neither of us have been the same since.
On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins
The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light-
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.
You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that it is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.
But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.
This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk thought the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.
It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.
Happy birthday to my Noah. Beneath your skin will always be light.
January 12, 2015 7 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
POP POP POP
KLOPP KLOPP KLOPP
DIBBLE DIBBLE DOPP DOPP
Mr. Brown can do it. How about you?
Runner up: Dr. Seuss’s ABC Book—I count it as a particular source of pride that I can recite this book from memory from start to finish. #mompartytrickshayyyy
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.”
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.
November 17, 2014 15 Comments
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.
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:
1. Variety is the spice of life.
2. Your opinion matters.
3. Be the color you wish to see in the world.
4. Dress for yourself.
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.
7. Confidence is key.
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.
As for how to do it, here are a few things I would suggest:
• 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.
November 12, 2014 4 Comments
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.
October 31, 2014 5 Comments