Two poems (or one poem, in two parts) . . .

Two is 

 

taking a break from coloring

to smell

the markers by putting them 

into

one’s nostril

 

then taking a break from smelling

to unzip

one’s pajamas

and color

one’s belly

 

 

Four is

 

suggesting to one’s two-year-old 

(and sadly unenlightened)

sister

that if she cannot 

leave the park, like she is 

insistently and vociferously requesting,

 

she should climb into the bike trailer

and PRETEND

to go somewhere else

Spring things . . .

Some photos from the early spring. . .

Lou on a visit to Whitaker Ponds (not from from our house in NE Portland)

A boy, his sister, a box, and some grapes . . .

My two little volcanoes (Atticus' idea)

Lou getting ready for spring, wearing my gardening boots

Birthday cake for my sweet, sweet spring baby . . .

Birthday girl!

Atticus and Lou having a moment at the Farmer's Market (our first visit this year)

Little boy in a yurt

Little girl in a tree

And a link, to a lovely blog post by another mama.  Happy Spring!

On staying . . . and liking it

Every once in a while, one of these pops up . . . or these . . . or this one (which is probably the most well-known and has always struck me as a bit staged) on the internet and I’m given a reason to reflect on the choice my family has made over the past five years to have a parent (me) stay home with our young kids instead of returning to teaching, my (used-to-be) job.

When I read the articles mentioned above, I can’t help but think of the days that are really tough (like the first article), the days that are a bit boring (addressed by the second), and the perceptions of others that my life is awful/boring/meaningless/miserable/unproductive (#3).  And then I think about a day three years ago when I was getting ready to head back to work part-time (ironically pregnant with my 2nd child) and I had a little whiny moment on facebook about how much I would miss my son and how I wasn’t ready to leave him and I couldn’t imagine not spending all day without him and a childhood friend posted something on my page.  She did so out of kindness, but if I were a different person, I could have been offended.  The article was about a woman who had gone back to work and discovered that her grieving the end of staying-at-home with her kids had as much (or more) to do with the end of a lifestyle that she had really enjoyed as it did with spending time with the children.  When I read it, I felt this little twinge of indignation–”How dare she suggest that I like this because it’s relaxing and enjoyable and fun?  It’s not all about me!”  But then, after thinking about what life was like when I worked (challenging, interesting, exhausting) and how life had changed, I realized that the author was dead on.  It wasn’t all about my son at all, or even about the home full of love and nurturing that I had tried to build around him.  Life may have been better for him in some ways, but it was really, actually pretty damn sweet for me, too.*

So, given the possibility that I’ll return to work this coming fall and choose someone else to “stay” with my kids, I’m thinking/writing about my lifestyle . . . the one I would grieve the loss of, the one that I feel entirely at home in for now, the one that doesn’t feel boring or burdensome or chaotic.  I’ll call this a sort of meditation on living in the moment, on appreciating what I’ve got, while I’ve got it.

I get more sleep as a stay-at-home mom than I would if I was working.  For example, my daughter woke up at 5:55 am this morning.  If I were working, that would be five minutes before I left for work.  As it is, I had a quick chat with her about how it was still nighttime and she needed to go back to sleep.  I fell back to sleep and awoke at 7:30.  My daughter was downstairs with my husband, my son was still sleeping.  I don’t know if little girl ever did go back to sleep, but I have the luxury of a spouse who understands that we both need as much sleep as we can get (and was up anyway!).  I also get in the occasional nap during the day, which is especially helpful when one of us is sick.

Both my husband and I work out more with me at home.  I’m not the kind of bad-ass mom who runs with her kid in a stroller every day, but because my schedule is flexible, I can work out in the morning before my husband leaves, at night when the kids are in bed, or (if I’m feeling extra tough), in the middle of the day with a kid or two in tow.  I also walk the dog (and the kids) every afternoon and often frolic in the park . . . when it’s not raining.  I’m training for my first 1/2 marathon and am probably in the best shape of my life.

My family eats healthier food with me at home.  I have time to grocery shop the way I want to and plan meals that are healthy and plentiful (so we have healthy left-overs for lunches).  I also have time to garden and grow my own fruits and vegetables to eat.

On the not-very-frequent occasions that we travel, we are ready to go without a late-night scramble to get packed.  I spread out the packing (using ridiculously anal lists) over several days.

My kids are good sleepers with me at home.  We have a routine that I’m pretty religious about and I work hard to keep things predictable and peaceful.

I write, read, and research while I’m home.  The first two are for pleasure, but the third is something that I know I would struggle to find time for if I were working.  When behavioral issues appear/evolve and we find ourselves floundering as parents, I have time to read books and look for information on the internet.  I formulate a plan, talk to my husband, and we usually get things addressed within a couple days.

I relax.  Because I grocery shop, tidy up, and take care of odds and ends during the week when my husband’s at work, our weekends are free for time spent together as a family and projects that make us happier and healthier (like the garden, hiking, adventures in our city, etc.).  I read books and watch some TV and look at silly celebrity websites and catch up on the news and keep in touch with friends.  I would find ways to do all this if I were working, I know.  But it’s easier now.  I sew and do some minor decorating, organizing, and yes, even some occasional cleaning.  I choose how to spend my time.

I make plans.  When I want to get together with a group of girlfriends who DO work, I’m the one who makes the arrangements.  I have more free time.

I don’t see myself as being at odds with moms who work.  I have wonderful mama friends who have chosen to work for all sorts of reasons.  I admire their ability to stay organized and relaxed and still have time for me.  I understand that some people think that I’m strange for enjoying this life.   I know that it may seem like I have stalled out or checked out.  For me, I see it as having checked in somewhere else.  I know that for some families, having only one income wouldn’t work.  We’re lucky that we’re okay with being on a budget, putting off big purchases, living with second-hand or aging stuff, traveling less, saving less, and accumulating debt.  We try to be careful and realistic, but we also believe that the simple, pleasant, quiet life that we lead right now can’t be quantified.  I love being a teacher and I’ll do it again some day, but I firmly believe that I am learning and growing and evolving even as I stay home.  I don’t feel like what I’m doing is the right thing for everyone, but it is the right thing for us, for right now.

When the time comes for me to go back, my family will adapt and find ways to protect what we deem most valuable.  Having more money may even feel satisfying . . . heck, none of us would mind winning the lottery.  And a return to teaching will always be a return to another passion, another source of joy, and a use of what I consider some mad skills.  But for now, I feel like we have a good thing going here.  A set-up that is rich with peace, love, joy, and health and profoundly free from chaos, boredom, and feelings of guilt.  Also . . .  free from grading papers!

When I read those articles, I can’t help but think that being a stay-at-home parent doesn’t have to be complicated and chaotic and difficult.  I don’t feel exhausted and cut off and used up.  If I did, I think I would change something.

If I had to sum it all up, I’d say that being a stay-at-home mom is a pretty good gig.  And it’s really not just about the kids.  A lot of what I do is for them, but there’s something to be said for the fact that I’m able to write, read, cook, work-out, snuggle with my husband, walk my dog, and grow food in my garden.  I’m busy . . . but it’s a healthy, happy busy that feels like it feeds my soul and the sweet little souls of my kids.

*As mentioned, I did go back to work part-time for part of a school year (until I had my daughter) and my son started at a preschool that he LOVED and that I also have loved because of all they offer him that I may not.  He’s still there and will go to kindergarten there as well.  Had I not returned to work, he would not have had this great experience and would not be the same kid he is today.

On hibernating (and incubating?) . . .

I’m going to start saying that the reason I haven’t been writing is that I’ve been incubating.  There are a lot of other reasons, of course.  They are more concrete and take up actual time and space in my life, but what I’d like to say is that ideas have just needed some safety, warmth, time to stew in the juicy caverns of my brain . . . 

That said, when I write, I want to write more.  The ideas flow more easily.   And I’ve been thinking about writing for about a month, but nothing was inspiring me, nothing was coming.  Nothing was stewing.

So, all that stuff about incubating?  Well, not exactly accurate.

Hibernating, on the other hand?  That, I’ve been doing.  Though, I shall proclaim today that hibernation must end.   Because Daylight Savings Time is here, because the garden is trying desperately to peer up out of the earth, because my online class has ended, because the cherry trees have blossomed, because my baby turned two, because summer is nigh . . . 

And it IS.  But in Portland, you have to just know that and not count on too much actual proof.  This morning we woke up to snow and it actually stuck around for several hours, which means it was COLD for Portland.  I actually wore gloves and a coat to my early morning class at the gym, instead of throwing on my dirty sweatshirt and counting on being HOT from the workout when I left an hour later.  I was hot, but not hot enough to brave the cold and wet!!

So, since I’ve debunked the incubation theory/lie and since I’ve decided that I’m done hibernating, here’s a quick list of things I’m doing/thinking about/liking:

1.  The garden!  Radishes and spinach are sprouting, kale, chard and parsley made it through the winter and are tasty as ever.  Garlic is in and . . . doing nothing at all.  Peas are ready for this cold snap to pass.  The backyard is a mess, but the non-grassy bits have been weeded and have a new layer of compost (plus a couple new plants, including a Winter Daphne–have you ever smelled these?  They are intoxicating!). 

2.  This cookbook:  Super Natural Every Day.  I won’t go on and on, but it’s almost all amazing and the couple of things that haven’t been amazing were probably my fault.  Her website’s pretty great too.

3.  This book and this website:  The Bucolic Plague and Beekman 1802.  Read the book first.  Or not.  I found it entertaining, especially because my family lives right down the highway from the farm and I drive through Sharon Springs, NY every time I go visit my grandparents.  

4.  My daughter.  She’s two.  She’s a monkey who climbs out of her crib every chance she gets, but (we discovered) she can’t climb out of the travel crib!  Ha!  She’s the best hugger in town (or the WORLD) and I’m so lucky.  

Image

Here she is playing the recorder she got from a friend for her birthday (seconds before she chucked it on the floor and it broke)

5.  Putting some words down on virtual paper.  Man that feels good.  I’m navigating something of a crossroads right now, trying to decide what my next move is career-wise.  But writing something, even a little ol’ bit, helps me back to the moment and reminds me to appreciate all the goodness I have surrounding me.  

 

Keeping it simple (or trying to) . . .

Here are a few ways we are trying to keep our lives with two young kids simple . . .

  1. Limiting the amount of stuff (specifically toys) we accumulate and giving away old stuff whenever we do get new stuff.
  2. Having one parent at home. As that parent, I can say that life at home is not simple minute to minute, but that the arrangement helps keep things less complicated overall.
  3. Very limited involvement in organized activities (sports, clubs, classes). This is very much a product of our personalities, but because we value all the time we have together for other things, we are reluctant to change things and add a lot more to do, places to be, things to plan for, etc.
  4. Growing food at home when we can and having a “grocery plan” for all the other food we consume. We know where we feel comfortable buying our meat (when we buy it), our veggies, our bread, and other products. We think about where each thing is sourced, whether it’s organic or not, if we’re supporting local businesses, etc. Sounds complicated as I write it, but I think it makes life simpler because we aren’t worrying about what we put in or on our bodies.
  5. We try and try and try to stay healthy because having sick kids and being sick ourselves makes life so very, very UNsimple. The kids take probiotics every day (as do I), we get vaccinated, we get outside every day for fresh air and exercise, we wash our hands a lot, and we talk about how to stay healthy and happy. All that said, we get sick. Elouise is sick right now. Luckily it’s just a cold, as usual, which goes away within a few days and presents only a few complications. I wish we had a perfect formula for always-healthy, always-happy kids and parents . . . we try.
  6. Routine. Are we slaves to it? Maybe. But sticking to our routine keeps our lives simpler.
  7. Trying to take a moment every day to look around and recognize how truly wonderful life is right now . . . even if it’s just for a second and the next one finds one of us cleaning up a huge, gooey mess. Again.

A recent afternoon snack-time . . .

Hope your new year is off to a happy, healthy, simple start.

On sheltering and being sheltered . . .

Wow, even writing that word twice, two different ways, makes it sound awfully strange to me.  And indeed, sheltering my little ones is kind of a strange dance, considering that I want them to be educated, curious, worldly, aware, and compassionate while at the same time protecting them from having to bear the weight of adulthood too soon.  My husband and I had reason to think about one kind of sheltering we do recently, which led me to think about the whole act of insulating my kids . . . from certain aspects of life that we find to be too confusing, too painful, too heavy for their little hearts to bear, too complicated for their little brains to make sense of.

Last week, we took my son (my daughter stayed home with her grandparents) to a movie at a regular movie theater.  The movie, by the way, was The Muppets, so the outing was admittedly self-serving.   E and I had wanted to see the film, watched the TV show when were kids, and both feel pangs of nostalgia any time we see images of Kermit the Frog or hear the opening bars of “The Rainbow Connection.”  Atticus, being 4 1/2, seemed to be of an appropriate age to go to a movie and it was a great opportunity to shower him with a little love without his sweet, but persistently present, little sister around.

Our only past experiences going to the movies have been at The Kennedy School, where you can watch a movie while sitting in a comfy couch and eating pizza or tater (tator?) tots.  There are no previews and the only commercials are silent slides that advertise other McMenamins establishments or events.  We saw Toy Story 3 there and Atticus and I went on a mother/son date to see Tangled a few months ago.*

But, going to a “real” movie theater felt more momentous to all of us, with the bigger screen, the fancy seats, the multiple movie options, and of course, the higher price.  Expensive popcorn was purchased, just for the experience, and homemade treats were smuggled in.

Atticus was giddy, as were we, as we chose our seats in the completely empty theater.  And then the commercials began.

I have to preface this section by saying that our kids do watch TV.  I know the statistics about screen time and my husband and I have made an educated choice about letting our kids watch limited amounts of carefully chosen television shows, almost exclusively aired on OPB, our local PBS station.  Occasionally, they will watch a Pixar movie, but again, these have been chosen/pre-approved by my husband and I.  The beauty of this limited access is that our kids are not exposed to commercials when they watch television.  They are not being preened and prodded to want certain products (well, except a Buzz Lightyear action figure, which Atticus asked for from Santa this past Christmas) and are not being asked to grapple with exposure to all of the shows, stuff, and ideas that they would be exposed to if they were watching the kinds of commercials that air on regular television.

Until now, I had always really thought of the ads before movies as annoying but innocuous. That would probably also apply to the previews.  And while the previews and ads were geared to children and therefore not terribly traumatic or terrifying, my sheltered kid was exposed (over the course of 20 or 30 LONG minutes of waiting) to the following:

  • images of soldiers brandishing large guns and aiming them at unknown targets
  • images of whales trapped under ice and people weeping with despair at the knowledge that the whales would probably die
  • images of dozens or products, including several video games made for children, one of which involved a boy neutralizing “bad guys”
  • images of candy and soft drinks that he does not know exist and does not get to eat
  • copy that indicated to my kiddo that he needed . . . to see these films, eat these foods, play these video games, and ask his parents to buy these products, even though we ALL know that he doesn’t actually NEED any of that.
 . . . among other things.
All this is to say that I was a little naive as I skipped into the mainstream movie theater with my 4-year-old.  It is obvious to me that the foggy, innocent memories of The Muppet Show and going to the movies as a kid (oh, wait a minute, I usually went to the one-screen movie theater on main street of my very small Colorado hometown) left me misinformed when it comes to that which my kids are/will be exposed to, even when their exposure is limited and controlled.
I’m not going to blame the movie theater or the writers or the companies that make the films, products, and commercials . . . I think they are all a little irresponsible, but in the United States today, we don’t really hold our companies accountable for their actions.  We expect parents to make these choices and to, well, shelter their children to the degree that they see fit.  And I have.  And I will continue to do so.  But sometimes, I am surprised by a) how much I feel the need to shelter them from and b) how much I think about it and/or already DO shelter them and c) how little other children are sheltered from things that I deem so damaging or scary or unnecessary.
Like I said before, it’s a dance.  And as I fumble through the steps, I realize that I am a sheltered parent.  The fact that so much of what I experienced at the movie theater surprised me and made me uncomfortable is proof enough that I have also insulated myself from certain kinds of media and certain experiences.  Maybe this makes sheltering my kids a little easier . . . there is not a lot I need to hide from them right now, at least not in my own life, home, world.
In my original, lost post, I wrote a bit about how it is ironic that I shelter my son from certain things considering how incredibly curious and passionate he is about some pretty adult, serious things.  Like space travel.  On our coffee table right now is a book that is huge, heavy, and called Space Flight: The Complete Story from Sputnik to Shuttle–and Beyond. If you know anything about the history of aeronautics and space travel (which I do, because I have read this and many other books several times now), you know that a lot of people have been hurt or killed.  At first, my husband and I skipped the parts about Apollo I, the Challenger, and the Columbia . . . but our kid, who is on the verge of learning to read, knows when we skip things and so, we started to NOT skip them.  Sometimes, now that he knows, he actually requests that we read ONLY those sections.  He is alternately a little somber and, like a lot of kids his age, not somber at all.  His understanding of death is limited.  “It’s too bad they got dead,” he’ll say.  Which is true, of course.
So am I noble because I won’t let my kids play violent video games, but let him read books about astronauts who died horrible deaths?  I doubt it, but I’m figuring out these steps as I go and trying to maintain some sense of reverence for humanity, human life, peacefulness, and compassion.
And, let’s be honest, I keep him sheltered partly for selfish reasons.  I don’t have a clear plan about how to talk to him about death or religion or global warming or politics or war.  Those topics come up now and then and we do our best, but in truth, I want my kid to spend a little more time being blissfully safe and, I guess, a little on the ignorant side.
So, we’ll all remain sheltered for a little longer.  And I suppose we’ll thing twice about going to a regular theater again any time soon.  Or, if we do, maybe we’ll have a lesson on being “media literate” first.  The truth is that my little boy (and to some degree, my little girl) is already educated, curious, worldly, aware, and compassionate . . . but only in certain ways, about certain topics, and through the lens of certain sources.  I think that it’s my job as a parent to be choosy about these things, especially when the media as a whole does not seem to be.
And now, it is clear to me that I am rambling and even verging on starting a whole new post/rant about the media’s responsibility to our children.  Not good writing etiquette, Andrea!
Happy new year and bye-bye!

*McMenamins Kennedy School theater, along with the other McMenamins theaters, restaurants, hotels, pools, etc. are nifty, kid-friendly places to spend some time if you are ever in the Portland or Seattle area.  There are MANY of them and while I wish their food was either a little bit better or just the same, but cheaper, I feel lucky to live so close to one and recommend outings to friends with or without kids all the time.  Seeing a “mommy matinee” movie while eating pizza and drinking a pint of Hammerhead, all while your newborn sleeps (or cries) on your chest, is a singular and delightful experience.

Merry-making . . .

A few photos from our December . . .

A strange photo (I know) from the lighting of the Star Trees (5 big sequoias at Willamette University--our alma mater--in Salem, OR)

Atticus and his buddies riding the MAX train to the zoo . . . trying to catch a glimpse of the tunnel.

Elouise enjoying Zoo Lights at The Oregon Zoo

Elouise NOT enjoying her visit with Firefighter Santa

Atticus and his buddy heading out to find a Christmas tree (toy chain saw)

The kids watching their dad cut down the chosen tree at a U-Cut farm near Gales Creek, OR

Trimming the tree with my boy . . . we seem to have a mutual love for this part of Christmas!

Still to come:  our annual neighborhood brunch and gift exchange, a ride on The Polar Express, and Christmas day cinnamon rolls . . .

I seem to be hearing it everywhere lately:  many adults experience a sort of Christmas renaissance when they have kids and those kids reach a certain age.  It’s true for me and my husband.  Christmas has never been a religious holiday for me, but has always provided a small dose of magic and wonder that feels really good in the midst of winter’s cold and short days.  Especially here in the northwest where we don’t get the added bonus of a beautiful snowy landscape, Christmas offers such a warm and wonderful opportunity to be with family and friends, to anticipate togetherness and the demonstration of love and appreciation through making food and giving gifts and joining together.

Like many parents, I try to be aware of where celebration ends and a tendency toward greed and materialism begins . . . we have yet to begin the tradition of participating in community service as a family, which feels important and imminent.  With my son out of school for the next 19 (make that 18 1/2) days, we should work together to use what we have to help others in need and talk about how it feels to give to others.

In the meantime, I’m trying to appreciate that Christmas feels calm and peaceful and festive . . . just as it should.  That I have healthy children with open hearts and vivid imaginations and excitement for life.  That we have gathered around us a network of kind and generous friends and family to celebrate and celebrate with.  This indeed makes me merry . . .