Archive for the 'Parenthood' Category

“Odd and the Frost Giants” by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

As part of my reading of Norse myths and Gaiman after my re-read of American Gods, I read Odd and the Frost Giants aloud to my boys, nearly 8yo Drake and 5yuo Guppy. Read aloud to my boys after reading Gaiman’s American Gods last month. It’s a story (or myth, if you will) based on characters from Norse mythology. In short, a young man named Odd leaves his village and goes into the wilderness. Strange things happen when he encounters a fox, bear and eagle. My appreciation of it was heightened by having recently read D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, which explained a certain joke about a mare among other details. Guppy said he liked it “medium” but Drake really enjoyed it, as I continue to struggle with figuring out age-appropriate read-alouds for these two.

“D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths”

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

I borrowed D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths from the library to read along with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I remembered had a great number of references I wasn’t familiar with. I don’t recall reading the D’Aulaire’s Norse Myths as a child, though their Book of Greek Myths was one of my favorites. The new edition of the Norse myths has an introduction by Michael Chabon (which is also collected in his Maps and Legends) and was such an engaging, fantastically illustrated book with great stories that I went out and bought a copy for our home library. I don’t remember having this growing up, but I want my kids to. It indeed contributed to my enjoyment of Gaiman’s American Gods, as well as his Odd and the Frost Giants, which I just finished reading aloud to my two boys.

“The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

After I finished reading The Mouse and his Child to 5yo Guppy and nearly 8yo Drake, I cast about for another book, and when I said “Narnia” Drake perked right up. I was torn between reading them in the order I read them growing up, which was chronological by publishing date. But I have a hardcover set that puts them in order by the events of the story. Since Drake can be a stickler for things like that, and I didn’t feel like arguing, we started with the book labeled 1, The Magician’s Nephew; the story takes place before that in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

A young boy named Digory moves to his aunt and uncle’s house in London when his mother falls ill. He makes friends with Polly, the girl who lives next door, and they discover that Digory’s uncle is trying to find ways to travel among worlds. The uncle tricks the children into exploring for him, and their adventures include a dying world, a wicked witch, a just-created world, talking animals and much more. Christian allegory, which I didn’t recognize so clearly when I read this as a child, abounds. It is a solid adventure story featuring interesting child protagonists confronted with a variety of moral and ethical dilemmas. There is some humor, but it was more apparent to me, the adult reading the book, than to my young children who listened to it. I enjoyed revisiting the book. Their verdicts? Drake said he liked it and was interested in the next book. Guppy was grumpy, and said he did not, so I may have picked a(nother) book he’s not yet ready for. I’ll keep trying. Next up is Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants.

What I Learned on My Road Trip

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

My family recently drove to Ohio and back. Packing well is the key to making it, which includes both packing food and packing for the trip. The last time we took the car, I thought, “Hey, we have the car! Let’s bring the boys’ scooters, and helmets, and…” The car was full, we could never find anything, and I think we forgot several things when we left. This time, I packed sparingly. Five outfits for 9 days for each of us. No wheeled vehicles. I put a couple dozen CDs is a holder, and did the same with DVDs for the player we got for the boys. And the ride went great. Except for traffic around Chicago, which seems to be a level of hell on earth. On the way out, we went 60 miles in 3 hours. Excruciating. We stopped once about every 2 hours, but never for long. I’d packed enough sandwiches and snacks and filled all our refillable water bottles; we didn’t buy any food going out or back. This is good, because when I get hungry and am traveling, my food consciousness goes missing and I think something like, “Mini can of pringles, grape gatorade and snickers ice cream bar. Awesome!” It’s like I’m flashing back one of the few (no, really) times in my feckless youth that I “ate a sandwich.” Apparently when I travel, I get off my local-organic high horse and put her in the stable while I’m away.

Here, in no order, are a few things I learned (or was reminded of)

1. Ask the kids if they need to relieve themselves BEFORE we pass the rest stop. Nothing like passing the sign and thinking, “Heh, we’ll totally make it another 47 miles.” only to hear a voice from the back seat declare otherwise.

2. Traffic around Chicago is just dreadful. I don’t know what savvy people do to avoid it, as we were driving mid day both ways, but I’m going to research it before we do that drive again.

3. Toft’s ice cream is really, really good.

4. Not a lot of people from North Dakota on the road. Way more people from the south and east coast traveling west. Also, stupid license plate frames make some plates hard to see. We had to look up Great Faces, Great Places on my husband’s smart phone.

5. When I get back to writing fiction (which is supposed to be this fall when Guppy starts kindergarten) and if I ever need to make up character names, I need only consult a map or go on a road trip. The exit-name pairings are a goldmine: Constantine Middlebury, Madison and Dane DeForest, Clayton Trotwood, Phillip Greenville, though some, like Brice Reynolds and Kirk Baltimore, sound like they might have a future in adult films. I may have to do a post just on these, which entertained me greatly.

6. I am unable to see signs for Menomonie WI without singing Mahna Mahna.

7. I am unable to see signs for Rockford IL without humming the Rockford Files theme song.

8. Car dvd players are amazing pieces of technology. I can only imagine how much less pleasant the trip would have been without them for the boys. But I’m so glad I listened to a friend’s advice: put off taking them out as long as possible, or even that magic wears thin.

Losing Yoda

Monday, June 6th, 2011

A friend of my husband, G. Grod, is moving soon. He offered his collection of vintage Star Wars toys to our boys, 5yo Guppy and 7yo Drake. (And 39yo G.) We, of course, accepted this stunningly generous offer with alacrity. The boys have been playing with them for the last few weeks in great delight.

A few weeks ago, in the shadow of some writing deadline, I yelled at the rambunctious boys to go play outside.

“Sure,” responded Drake, instead of his usual begging for television. “We’ll take the Star Wars toys outside.”

No alarm bells went off in my head; I was awash in relief. The boys went to the back steps. I left them playing happily there until it came time to leave for Guppy’s tumbling class. Drake was especially excited to go, as I was going to let him play with the gameboy.

I went out the back door and found the boys in the back yard, not on the back steps.

“Time to go!” I said.

“We lost the toys,” they said.

I looked around our backyard, covered with high grass and higher weeds. I stifled the urge to scream.

“Get down from there and start looking.” I said. “We’re not going to tumbling unless you find them.”

We found eight with relative ease. Walking slowly we (and by this, I mean mostly me) found four more. Only two remained at large, a snow trooper and Yoda.

The time for tumbling class had come and gone. Guppy took it in stride. His older brother, deprived of a planned-for video session, had a meltdown, which I ignored. My husband arrived home from work. I put him in charge of the search party and left for a movie. When I returned home, G said they’d found the snow trooper in the rhubarb. I had figured the snow trooper was going to be easier to spot than Master Yoda, who is green, dressed in brown, and small.

Sure enough, Yoda eluded our efforts to find him. The next day we looked, and I said a prayer to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things. Do you know it? It goes like this:

Tony, Tony, look around
Yoda’s lost and must be found.
Please help us find Yoda.

(Insert lost item instead of Yoda; you get the idea.) But we did not find Yoda. I looked. The kids looked. G looked. Days passed.

Then came a very windy day. The latch on our back storm door was broken, so the wind kept blowing it open and slamming it shut. I heard glass break, looked out our back door, but didn’t see anything broken. I thought the storm door panels were made of plexiglass. But one had been glass, as I found out when G. next used the back door and found the glass on our back steps and in the nearby flower bed.

When I went out the next day to pick up the glass, I cherished a small hope of finding Yoda. I’d be working in the area Guppy said he’d last been seen. I looked from above; no Yoda. I bent at the waist; no Yoda. Only when I crouched down, picking up the smallest pieces, did I finally see him. Master Yoda, lying face up, patiently waiting to be found.

Here’s the close up of where he was. Looks obvious, right?


But what about medium distance? Is he still easy to find?


And now, what about from regular height? Can you find him now? (Hint, he’s a little right of center.)


We rinsed him off and returned him to his carrying case. Then I said thank you to St. Anthony, though I thought breaking our storm window was a little extreme, and decreed that from that day forth, the Star Wars toys were INDOOR toys.

Two-Minute Mothers Day Post

Monday, May 9th, 2011

First, of all, I hope you took time to honor all the mothers in your life. If you live in the US, where it was Mothers Day, or not.

Second, I hope you took time to honor all others who get short shrift this day: those who couldn’t be mothers, those who were but aren’t, those who chose and choose not to be in spite of tremendous societal pressure, single dads, dad-dad families, and anyone else this day. There are many ways to mother, and those whose title it is don’t even always do a good job at it, so we should honor ALL.

Third of all, I’m now up to 4 minutes, and haven’t even written about the lovely day I had yesterday: eggs Florentine and my favorite draft root beer for brunch, browsed at 2 shops full of pretty, shiny things, and got a necklace and earrings. Got a double of passionfruit sorbet and chocolate/amaretto ice cream at my favorite shop, then a macchiato at a new coffee shop, then a nap, then played catch with 7yo Drake and practiced 2-wheeling on his bike with Guppy. Read my book. Went to bed.

I am so, so fortunate and I wish love to you all.

Artistic Envelopes

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Via Bookmoot, a collection of at The Guardian of envelopes by children’s book illustrators to their publisher. I especially love the Satoshi Kitamura ones, as he’s a favorite of mine. This is an image based on his UFO Diary:


Home Alone

Friday, April 8th, 2011

Earlier this week, 7yo Drake woke at 7:30 a.m., said he felt like throwing up, and promptly did. I set the timer for an hour, but he threw up again before it went off. An hour after that, though, he kept sips of water, then juice, then mushy food, then bland food, down when dispensed charily at appropriate intervals. (I am queen of the barfing protocol. I’ve had to be considering what touchy stomachs my boys have. But, knock wood, we’ve never had to take them in for dehydration.)

Tuesday is usually the day I have to myself for writing and making plans, like the tea a neighbor had invited me to. Just before 1 p.m., I weighed my options, then asked Drake if he’d be OK if I went a block away to tea. He said he’d like to come with me, which wasn’t ideal as she had two younger kids at her house that I didn’t want to potentially expose to a virus. I told him he could have an hour of computer games while I was gone. He rapidly agreed to stay home.

We practiced using the phone, both answering and calling. I quizzed him on what to do in an emergency as well as what qualified as emergencies–pretty much burglars, blood, or fire. We discussed trust and responsibility. And then I locked the house and went over to my friend’s house for tea. I called after 30 minutes, though I had to call twice to get him to answer; he said he couldn’t find the handset. And I came home promptly after an hour. To find him in the exact same spot I’d left him in, playing a game called Crazy Taxi.

I’m sure some parents would think leaving a 7yo alone for an hour while I was a block away was no big deal, while others might think I’m shockingly neglectful. I fall somewhere in the middle. I tried it; it went well for both of us. My experiment returned meaningful results, albeit within a particular set of circumstances. I don’t think we’ll need to repeat this on a regular basis, but I thought it was a promising start.

The 5/7 Split

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Four years ago, when Guppy was one, my doctors, therapist and I were trying to manage what turned out to be more than a run-of-the-mill post-partum depression. Instead, a long-standing seam of depression and anxiety had been opened up by the seismic shift of having a second child. As we worked through what was needed for treatment, I was told again and again by friends, doctors and counselors: it gets better. Especially around the time they’re five and seven. Many also admitted to me that they hadn’t enjoyed parenting very small children, and it was only as time passed that they settled into their role as parents.

Four years ago, four years seemed a very long time to wait till things got better. And the time, for me, has not chirpily flown. It has passed, one day at a time. Slower with diapers, bloody noses, fevers, screaming, and each extra syllable added to Mom!” Faster with cuddles, reading aloud and hand-holding. Fastest of all in quiet moments to myself, like the one I’m in now. But it has passed. My boys are now five and seven, and I’m here to testify: it _is_ better.

It’s no coincidence that the shift takes place when the younger is five. They can do many things themselves, especially going to the bathroom, and don’t need constant supervision. They’re able to reason, and play with others. They’ve got some impulse control. And being in school (my younger will start kindergarten this fall; we don’t know yet whether he’ll be in full or half day class) means they get more peer interaction, and I get more quiet time. For this introvert, quiet time on my own is critical to balance and well being.

I’m under no illusion that things will be rainbow and sunshine from here on. Other parents also say that while some things get easier as they grow, others get harder. But I feel much better equipped to handle the current challenges than I did the old ones. So add my voice to the chorus. When the youngest is about five, it gets easier. I’m glad we’ve all hung in there to find this was true.

“Loon Baby”

Monday, March 28th, 2011

My younger son, 5yo Guppy, has recently become enamored of baby loons. He saw a picture of a baby taking a ride on its mama’s back in a book and hasn’t stopped talking about them since. So when I saw Loon Baby, written by Molly Beth Griffin and illustrated by Anne Hunter, on display at Magers & Quinn, I showed it to him and asked if he’d like me to get it for him. I had trouble prying it away from him so the bookseller could ring it up. We read it at bedtime, and he took it to bed with him. You can see the result, above.

Loon Baby
is a sweet story about a mother loon and her baby out on the lake. The mother goes for food, but the baby is too small to dive, so can’t go with her. When she is gone a long time, he worries, then becomes lost. Only when he begins to cry is his mother able to find him and they return home to their warm nest on the lake.

I’m a Minnesotan now, so the setting of a north woods lake fills me with longing for a trip to the shore. The text doesn’t rhyme, but has distinct rhythms that make it a pleasure to read aloud.

Loon Baby waited
and floated
and paddled in circles.
The breeze ruffled his fluff.

The art, a combination of watercolors and ink, is beautifully colored and crosshatched for texture. The baby loon is nothing short of adorable. Or, as Guppy says, “CUUUUUTE!”

It does, however, bear more than passing similarities to other missing-mother-bird stories, especially Come Along, Daisy and Owl Babies, two long-time favorites in our family. The family bookshelf has more than enough room for ones as charmingly told and illustrated as Loon Baby. But could we have a move away from the absent-mother-and-worried/lost-child motif, please?

Two Beloved Books about Eggs

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

Two of my favorite books to read to my sons are about eggs. One is a classic, Bread and Jam for Frances:

It was breakfast time,
and everyone was at the table.
Father was eating his egg.
Mother was eating her egg.
Gloria was sitting in a high chair and eating her egg, too.
Frances was eating bread and jam.
“What a lovely egg!” said Father.

Frances the badger does not like eggs, or most other foods. She asks for bread and jam instead. But when she begins to receive bread and jam at every meal, Frances learns the perils of getting what you want. This book has so many things: charming pictures by Lillian Hoban, an amusing, yet gently instructive tale by her then-husband Russell Hoban, several songs about jam, and (as Kate Moses pointed out in her touching memoir Cakewalk) a story about food and its role in a happy family. My mom read this to us when my sisters and I were girls, and she made up tunes to go to the songs, just as I’ve done for my sons.

The second book was given to us by my sister Ruthie some years ago. It’s the deceptively simple Two Eggs, Please written by Sarah Weeks and illustrated by Doreen Cronin, the illustrator of the Click, Clack Moo books. It’s 2 a.m. in a downtown diner. A brown bear is in the kitchen, a red fox is out front. One by one, customers trickle in; they include a taxi-driving rhino, an upright-bass playing mouse whose band has probably just finished a set when the bar closed, a construction worker ram, and a homeless alligator and his pet snake. What do they all want? Two eggs, please. (And the “please” is pleasingly repeated.) They each get a nice, big cup of coffee but the egg orders are all different. The chef is shown breaking two eggs, one brown, one white, and both the same on the inside. The simple, timeless message told with charming pictures and few words moves me every time, and I only hope its deeper message is planted and growing inside my boys, even as they enjoy the simplistic portrayal of a late night diner counter.

I eat the same breakfast every morning: a cherry pomegranate toaster pastry and a cappuccino. About two hours later, I’m finally hungry for something more substantial, and that’s when I usually cook an egg. As often as we can, we get our eggs from one of Guppy’s preschool teachers, whose grandmother keeps chickens out in the country. Check out this yolk: half as high as a golf ball, and yellow-orange like a hot sun. These are eggs from happy chickens.

Frying egg

And from another recent morning, one of Guppy’s and my favorite second breakfasts: a bacon/cheese scramble alongside toast with a great deal of butter (hat tip, Mercy Watson books):

2nd brekkie: scramble

Note that I’m eating the heels of the bread, as the three other people in this family refuse to. Am I eating their leavings, or fortifying myself with the part of the bread that has the most nutrients?

Happy Birthday, Guppy!

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

This week my younger son, Guppy, turned 5. He is, as I often tell him, a joy and a wonder. He is strong, sturdy, and independent.

Last summer he rode a bike with training wheels, and this summer we’ll try to take them off, and see what happens.

He learned to read this past year, though he often insists if I ask him what something says, “I can’t _read!_” (like the dog in the Snausages commercial).

He went through a “tagging” phase recently, where he wrote his name on things all over the house. Including my library book.

I’m often told he has a very cute speaking voice. His Ls and Rs are still a bit unclear; he tends to roll them, and the effect is sweet and funny, especially on names like Star Wars villain General Grievous. Obi-Wan is pronounced Obi-One, and Darth’s second name is Vater, but I’m sure these will be corrected in all good time.

For his birthday, he got a remote-controlled Hail Fire Droid ship with 18 working missiles, that he promptly figured out how to fire. At his older brother Drake. (It sounds more like Hellfire Droid when he says it, and I’m not sure that’s too far off.)

Like Drake (and because of him, I’m sure) Guppy loves comic books (though he insists he doesn’t like going to the comic shop), television, and video games (especially the Star Wars Lego ones). He is often sweet and affectionate, and is generous with his hugs. He is very much looking forward to day camp this summer, and kindergarten in the fall.

And readers, so am I. I love Guppy, but I also love having time apart from Guppy, and I’ll be interested to see how his individuality grows as he moves further out into the world.

This quote is from Gilead, which I re-read this week, and it reminded me very much of the many fleeting moments I’ll look at Guppy (and Drake, and my husband) and feel so very fortunate, or, in the language of Gilead, blessed:

Your existence is a delight to us.

Against Small Talk and Platitudes

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Oh, first-time parents. I don’t know whether to ruefully smile at your naivete, or smack you upside the head. This morning I couldn’t help but overhear the conversation of a first-time mom and a friend of hers. They were sitting next to me at the coffee shop, conversing at normal, overhearable volume. It took a considerable amount of self control for me not to interrupt them. Their topics were the kind of ignorant platitiudes that drive me up the wall. (Hence this rant.)

1. Kids are going to get sick sometime, so even if they’re babies, they’re just building up immunity.

Why this is ignorant: while technically true, it fails to take into account that babies are smaller and more vulnerable physically than bigger kids. Their lungs are smaller, and ear tubes shorter. The older a kids are when they get sick, the better their bodies will handle it, barring extenuating circumstances. I.e., if a baby and an older kid who get sick at the same time, all other things being equal, the baby will get sicker, and for longer. For example, if a baby gets a cold, it often leads to an ear infection that won’t clear up on its own. A bigger kid might just get the cold, no complications. Also, if your baby gets a cold now, its immune system is depressed, and less able to fight off additional exposure to viruses in the short term. This situation is exacerbated in winter by more exposure to people and less exposure to sunshine (vitamin D) and fresh, copious amounts of air.

My interpretation: no need to be paranoid, but take reasonable precautions to prevent your baby from getting sick. Don’t let a sick person hold them, or at least without washing hands. Don’t take your baby around other kids who are drippy and sneezy. And for all kids, respect guidelines like keeping kids home 24 hours after fevers or vomiting.

2. “You know where your baby is in the bed.” I’ve found this vague defense of bed sharing is ALWAYS voiced in the second person, and followed by a variation on “the only cases where kids are rolled on is when someone is obese, drunk, or both.

Why this is ignorant: _I_ had an experience where I did not know where my baby was in the bed. My elder son was a challenging baby. He cried a lot and slept very little, in spite of swaddling, frequent holding, co-sleeping, and other platitudinal solutions. I was sleep deprived and not recovering properly from the birth. In desperation one night, I took him out of the co-sleeper bassinet, nursed him till he fell asleep on my chest (I was on my back) and fell asleep myself. My husband came in a short while later and woke me. I’d rolled over. My son was no longer on my chest or in the vast expanse of bed in the middle. He was between me and the edge of the bed, face down over the small crevice where the edge of the bed met the co-sleeper. Had the co-sleeper not been there he would have been on the floor. Asleep, _I_ had no idea where my kid was in the bed. I was not obese, or drunk. So taking a baby into bed was not for me, and I didn’t do it again. WARNING. SUPER SAD STORY AHEAD. STOP READING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. A former co-worker of mine took a nap with her new baby. Not obese and not drunk. Woke and the baby was dead, either through SIDS or suffocation. The mother killed herself soon after. (Maybe after hearing someone say “oh, you know where your baby is in the bed.”)

My interpretation: Throughout history, lots of people have bed shared with infants with no ill results. But some babies have died from it–parents drunk, obese or not–and not every single person “knows” where a baby is in the bed, especially when sleep deprived with a newborn. Your experience is not someone else’s, and it’s not a thoroughly researched double-blind study with zero casualties. Sharing the bed with my baby wasn’t for me. Maybe it is for you, but use the first person and don’t generalize.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure I’ve said these things. I’m not immune to small talking; I probably still say things like them. BUT. I have learned that just because I can’t imagine something doesn’t mean it isn’t true for others. Rather, it’s a failure of imagination and lack of experience on my part.

The Emergency Bag

Thursday, January 20th, 2011

This is an uncharacteristic girl-y post, inspired by recent (mostly unsuccessful, or at least incomplete) attempts at organization.

Emergency Bag

I switch bags a lot, depending on where I’m going and what I’m doing, so I try to have a modular case like this to transfer among bags along with my wallet and cell phone. Over the years, the size of the bag has flexed up and down, and the number of items in it, too. This is the result of a recent paring down so it could fit in this smallish clear zip bag, so everything in it is easy to spot. I chose things that were likely to be wanted a lot if suddenly absent. Here’s what made the cut:

chocolate-covered Altoids (mint + chocolate fix = double duty!)
tiny tube of Prada lip balm
lipstick in neutral pink-y brown
packet of tissues
tiny bottle of hand sanitizer
mini pencil
mini pen
nail file
hand lotion
clear pony-tail holders (2)
magnifying mirror
adhesive bandages
antibacterial wet wipes
foam ear plugs
Shout wipe
a pink eyeglass polishing cloth
tiny tin with ibuprofen and a day’s worth of my medication in case I forgot to take it that morning

Holiday Movies and Specials, Again

Tuesday, December 28th, 2010

There is something about watching the same shows and movies every year that is a big part of holiday fun for me. And with DVDs, and no commercials, the experience is easier, and more enjoyable. I did a previous entry on family holiday movies, but we’ve continued, sometimes with all four of us, and sometimes with just my husband. And with It’s a Wonderful Life, it was just me.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation: I’d never seen this before, which is strange, given how many, many times I’ve seen the original recipe. Funny but mostly forgettable, with a very young Johnny Galecki, Juliette Lewis, and a very big-haired Julia Louis Dreyfus.

Holiday Inn. Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire fight over girls. I’m on team Fred. His dancing is way cooler than Bing’s singing. Most famous for its introduction of “White Christmas”, but less famous than the film of the same name, since this one has a troubling sequence in blackface that was interestingly edited out of the version we watched on AMC.

Emmett Otter’s Jug Band Christmas with Jim Hensen’s Muppets. The Russell and Lillian Hoban Christmas book was a favorite in my family, though now out of print. Still available, though, is the DVD of the muppet adaptation, which skews a bit more to the sweet than the bitter; the book was more balanced. Be sure to watch the “out takes.”

Year without a Santa Claus. Heat Miser and Snow Miser. The kids enjoyed this one, and it reminds me fondly of being a kid at Christmas.

The Shop Around the Corner
. MY FAVORITE HOLIDAY MOVIE. Anyone who doesn’t smile and laugh during this romantic comedy is a grinch. There’s sad stuff, too, but really, the whole thing is just lovely. If you haven’t seen it, do.

Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town. This is the one with the penguin and Winter Warlock. It also has some trippy musical interludes, during which 4yo Guppy asked, “Is this still part of the story?”

It’s a Wonderful Life. Only the second time I’ve seen it, I was again struck by the very dark undercurrent that’s easy to ignore with its “happy” ending. George Bailey dreams of getting out of his small town and becoming an architect. Instead, he stays and works at a savings and loan, gets married and has four kids. While I love, love, love the scene when George and Mary are walking home from the dance, the rest of the film is depressing, the more I think about it, e.g., he’s still going to have to pay back the $8000.

I’m going to try and watch Meet Me in St. Louis, and I think that’ll be all for this year. I’ve never yet seen A Christmas Story or Scrooged, and I’d like to see Love, Actually again, so I’ll keep them in mind for next year.

Family Movies: Holiday Edition

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

I have fond memories of watching Rudolph and the other animated specials every year, so I’ve been slowly building up a library of holiday movies for us to watch as a family every year. My husband G. Grod isn’t so into the whole every-movie every-year thing as I am, but we all know he’s not as compulsive as I am, either. And aren’t holiday traditions all about the compulsivity?

We started off with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. This year nearly 5yo Guppy wasn’t scared of the Bumble, and both boys enjoyed it. And on IMDB, I found the answer for why “Dolly for Sue” is on the Island of Misfit Toys: “This gripping debate raged on for decades, until official word from Rankin-Bass recently decided the issue: Dolly for Sue is a “misfit” because she has psychological problems - she feels unloved.” Also, another burning misfit question answered: “When the elf drops the blue train from Santa’s sleigh, he no longer has the caboose with square wheels, the one thing that made him a misfit. Also, the bird who couldn’t fly is shown leaving the sleigh without an umbrella. Though not stated, it could be implied that Santa was able to use his magic to fix the misfit toys’ problems.” And the misfit scene at the end was added on after viewers protested that they weren’t revisited in the original. Nowhere on IMDB does it address why it’s Herbie at the beginning of the show and Hermie later on.

The 1965 A Charlie Brown Christmas was a harder sell. 7yo Drake remembered not liking it, and was bored and flopsy for most of it. He perked up for the 1992 sequel It’s Christmastime Again, Charlie Brown which not only is not good, but contradicts the anti-commercial message of the first one. Inexplicably, the boys preferred the sequel.

Next was The Muppets’ Christmas Carol, with Michael Caine as Scrooge and Kermit as Bob Cratchit and Robin (*cough, cough*) as tubercular Tiny Tim. Guppy had some time behind his hands and under the blanket during the many ghost parts, but did OK. Drake remembered much of it from the previous year. I enjoyed the Marley brothers, Jacob and “Robert” who were surrounded by noisy cashboxes in a tribute to Bob Marley and the Wailers.

I chose Miracle on 34th Street next. Guppy’s refrain throughout was “when is the exciting part?” I told him it was the courtroom scene. He did not agree. Drake was mostly bored during, but enjoyed the ending. I think this is more a grownup than a kid movie, or at least little kid movie.

Last night, we borrowed Elf from a friend. I thought it would be a hit, with its childish humor. Instead, Drake hid under the blanket every time Will Ferrell did something embarrassing (i.e., almost every scene) and continually moaned “I hate this movie!” He did not, though, leave the room though we suggested it more than once, and did cop to liking the ending. Again, not so much for the little kids, and maybe never for Drew, who couldn’t stomach the awkward comedy like that of Will Ferrell and The Office.

Next I’m going for Emmet Otter’s Jug Band Christmas. G. Grod has declined to join us. But I think this will be a bit more kid friendly.

Five Holiday Gifts

Saturday, December 18th, 2010

Hey, I’m posting this four days earlier than I did last year! Woo hoo! For all those other parents who aren’t quite finished buying gifts for their kids, here is the article I love best on what (and what not) to get them.

I’m not sure we or our families have gotten them one gift in every category. For example, they don’t need more toys to love. The plastic Zhou Zhou pets they got in the Burger King happy meal earlier this week seem to have filled that niche quite effectively. (No judgment allowed on taking my kids to BK, as I know some moms might do. It was one of TWO snow days earlier this week, the week BEFORE winter break. We met friends in the play area. The kids played for 2.5 hours, loved their hamsters, and didn’t even eat much of the “food” I got them.)

From the archives, on gift giving for kids:
Star Tribune 12/24/89 - Pat Gardner “Tender Years”

The weeks of hectic preparation are coming to a close. Within days, the magic will begin to unfold for our children and, vicariously through them, for us. Just as we remember those wonderful Christmas Eves and mornings long ago, our children will one day look back on these days. How will they remember them? What are you giving your children this year?

I know one family of modest means that makes a great effort to celebrate Christmas in the best way possible. Their children always find five gifts under the tree. And more than that, the gifts are always accompanied by a parent. Here’s how they do it.

The children always receive a gift to hug and love.
Sometimes it’s a doll or maybe a stuffed animal. Every Christmas each child has something to care for, to carry along and finally at night to share a bed, secrets and dreams.

The wise parents know that the children will themselves learn to care for others by practicing on dolls and stuffed animals. Mom and Dad demonstrate rocking the stuffed bear and wiping the doll’s face. They talk about being gentle and giving care.

More important, they treat their children tenderly. They make a special effort at this busy time of year for a little more lap time, more frequent hugs and all the physical care and attention their young children need.

The children in this family always receive something to read. The parents know that to give them books is to give them wings. The little ones get books, and the big ones get books. Books aren’t foreign to any member of this family. Books are treasures. And more than that, they become a daily connection between parent and child.

The wise parents know that the best way to raise a reader is to read to a child….They share curiosity. They take the time to listen patiently to their beginning reader. They share discoveries. Through books, these parents explore worlds within their home and beyond their front door with all of their children.

The children receive toys and games.
These parents are concerned about each child’s skills and find fun ways to enhance their present capabilities and encourage further development. For a grasping baby, a crib gym; for a beginning walker, a push toy; for a pre-schooler, a shape and color sorter; for a beginning reader, a game of sequence and strategy.

The parents know that play is the work of childhood. They understand that to meet a child at her level of accomplishment is to encourage success in play. Success stimulates motivation and interest in a challenge. So the parents judge their toy and game choices carefully. Not too easy, but not too hard.

They they do the most important thing. They play with their children. The children see that learning is a toy, that it’s fun to challenge oneself, that play can be a very social activity, that it’s OK to win and also to lose and that Mom and Dad wholeheartedly approve of play.

The children in this family always receive a gift of activity.
From a simple ball or jump rope to a basketball hoop or a pair of ice skates, they always have one gift that encourages action.

The parents know that those children who, by nature, are very active may need to be channeled into acceptable and appropriate activities. And they know that those children who, by nature, are very passive may need to be encouraged to move with purpose. But their message to their children is that physical activity is important and good.

These parents make their message clear by joining their children in physical play. They skate and play catch. They’re on the floor with their crawlers and walk hand in hand with their toddlers. They get bumped and bruised and laugh and shout. They sled and they bowl. And many times in the next few weeks when resting on the couch sounds much more inviting, these parents will give their kids one more gift. They’ll get up and play with them.

The children always receive a gift of artistic expression. They might find crayons, paints or markers in their stockings. It might be a gift of clay this year or rubber stamps or scissors and glue. The materials change, but the object remains the same: create with joy.

These wise parents aren’t terribly concerned about the mess of finger paints. They’re more concerned about the exposure to unique sensations. They want their children to use their imaginations. They want their children to approach life in a hands-on fashion. And they want them to express themselves through their artistic activities in ways that exceed their vocabularies.

Finding Time to Write

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

One of my favorite quotes about writing is one I’ve posted before, but it bears repeating, if only for myself, though I bet for many other of my readers, by Lee Smith, for an interview she did at Indiebound:

My advice for young women writers is just do it. Don’t wait for some ideal point in your life when you will finally have “time to write.” No sane person ever has time to write. Don’t clean the bathroom, don’t paint the hall. Write. Claim your time. And remember that a writer is a person who is writing, not a person who is publishing. If you are serious about it, you will realize early on that (particularly if you expect to have children) you can’t take on a high-power career in addition to writing. You probably can’t be a surgeon, and have children, and “write on the side.” (On the other hand, you could marry a surgeon, thereby solving the whole problem.)

I have learned to live with levels of dirt, mess and laundry that I previously would not have tolerated. Writing is on my Maslow’s list of basic needs somewhere after sleeping, eating and reading. I do use the TV as a babysitter. As I write this, my boys are playing Gran Turismo on the Playstation downstairs. But isn’t that fair? I’m having screen time, so are they. Yeah, I’d like to restrict them to an hour a day. Most days I do. But how can I do that when I don’t restrict myself to that, and wouldn’t want to, or even think I should?

I have been writing for years. I’ve been published in other places beside this blog. This year, for the first time, I began to be paid for some writing. I am a writer. And writing with kids is hard. They’re smart. They recognize they’re not getting my attention, and clamor more for it till they get it, for better or worse. A friend of mine had her 3yo throw her laptop on the ground. So I find ways to squeeze it in. While they’re watching movies. Playing outside. My husband and I trade off chunks of time with them so the other of us can work. I trade playdates with other moms on a regular, scheduled basis so I get chunks of time to work; I work better in chunks than in slivers.

I write. I keep writing. Writing begets more writing. It’s a habit, just like exercise. It IS exercise. I’ve put fiction on hold till my 4yo Guppy is in school full time. That may be Fall 2011, or if he only gets into half-day kindergarten, it may not be till September 2012. And for all those platitude-spouting people who say the time goes so fast? I don’t find that’s the case; September 2011, and definitely 2012, feel a long way off. The only time I find going fast is the quiet time apart from kids when I take time to read and write. I love my kids and spending time with them. I am fortunate enough to be a stay-at-home mom by choice. But I also love spending time by myself. And writing.

Two Movies: “An Education” and “Goonies”

Monday, December 6th, 2010

Of the two, guess which of An Education or Goonies we watched for family movie night? Both had their merits, as well as drawbacks.

An Education is the Nick Hornby penned adaptation of a school memoir by Lynn Barber. It has great performances by Carey Mulligan in the lead, Peter Sarsgard as the older man with the shady past, and others. So it’s a surprise that a film full of good performances felt flat to me. Several montages, plus the classical music score that made obvious emotions even more so, made me lose interest in this mostly predictable film. Only OK, with some good bits about it.

The Goonies was my pick for family movie night after 4yo Guppy refused to watch Snow White. Why? “I hate princesses!”

“What about Princess Leia?” asked my husband G. Grod.

Guppy sighed. “_Disney_ princesses.” he said, as if this were obvious. While I’m thrilled to have raised a child averse to Disney princesses (could I have done this with a girl? do I have that kind of power?) I did want to watch our collector’s edition of Snow White. So we went to the video store as a family (because I cannot justify even the lowest level of Netflix given how many unwatched dvds, e.g., Snow White collector’s edition, we own), stood around, picked things, argued, ogled the candy, and all in all spent way more time than we’d planned to there. It was kind of nice; who does that anymore? But I suggested the Steven Spielberg produced, Richard Donner directed Goonies, because I knew it was a childhood favorite of G. Grod’s, and because I’d never seen it. The kids agreed.

The Goonies
is an 80’s movie about eviction, rich kids vs. poor kids, pirate treasure, robbers, and a chained monster who lives underground. It’s kind of like an action/adventure middle-school version of The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo’s Fire. There were a few scary bits beyond my boys’ comfort zone (a corpse and the monster, but the gunshots didn’t faze them), but it was mostly enjoyable for them. The biggest drawback for me was the bad language; these kids were dropping four-letter words like crazy. Nineteen “shits” and that doesn’t count various “asses” and others. While I did the same thing in middle school, it’s not behavior I want to highlight for my kids. In the end they really enjoyed it, so I count it as a win. If you do rent this, be sure to watch the Cyndi Lauper video on the extras. It is jaw-droppingly bizarre, as if a high-school tv class made a video on a Spielberg set that just happened to star Cyndi Lauper, pro wrestlers, and the Goonies kids. And Benihana chefs.

Family Movie Night: A Hit and A Miss

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

As I wrote about recently, I’m trying to start a family movie night tradition. In theory, it’s supposed to be on Friday after pizza, but in practice it’s kind of jumping around a bit and not attached to one particular food yet. But I’ll keep trying.

A few years ago, I tried to watch Mary Poppins with Drake, who was maybe 4 or 5 at the time. He was frightened by the booming cannon at the beginning, and refused to watch again till last weekend. So it was with some hesitation that I popped in the 139-minute movie. But both 7yo Drake and 4yo Guppy were unperturbed, and we went on to watch the first half of the movie, which included the classics “Spoonful of Sugar” and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidicous,” which Drake had a hard time wrapping his mouth around. Funny, how my husband G. Grod and me must have had to practice as children too for it to come so trippingly off our tongues as Drake struggled. We saved the second half for the next night, and it went just as well. The kids were delighted with it. I have been less delighted to find myself with some of the songs stuck in my head this week, but I hope that will pass.

The kids were less delighted when I borrowed John Sayles’ Secret of Roan Inish from the library. They were happy to watch the cute seals, but the long intervals of storytelling and flashback were too much for them. The main character, Fiona, is such a brave, scrappy little girl I think this is a good girl-power movie. But probably for older kids than 7yo Drake.