Spring is in the Air

Yesterday, Marko met a little girl and apparently they hit it off quite nicely, because he came over to me to say "I'm going with my friend, mom, BYE!" before running off to the field with her. They played some kind of game that involved picking dandelions and running around and rolling in the grass. I'm guessing his friend was about 4 and I would have loved to hear their conversation, but I was trying to give him some space.

The playground after school on a nice day is a mob of kids, babies to fifth grade. The kids are delighted to break all the normal recess rules for the playground equipment and therefore perform death-defying tricks, launching themselves off the top of the slide and dangling on the outside of the play structure. The parents don't notice, or pretend not to. Nobody wants to be a helicopter parent. It's a really great set-up, actually, with a wide, gently sloped lawn out front. The whole block is fenced. There are shade trees and little bushes that the kids disappear into.

And this is Pittsburgh, so on a nice day, people have a real appreciation for the good weather. And if the weather is not so nice, we sort of pretend that it's better than it is, and pull our jackets tighter, or ignore the rain drops until the last possible moment.

I'm looking forward to summer, and being home with both kids. The longer I stay at home I realize the need to be a little organized and to at least have a loose schedule or plan. We have a museum pass and I'm going to get a pool pass. I think we'll spend a lot of time on the bike trail and looking for good climbing trees. I want Laurel to stay in touch with her buddies from school, so I'm going to set up some play dates for her. I think I would also like the kids to engage in some sort of service. When I was a kid, my dad used to take us to a nursing home and we did crafts and exercise classes with the patients.



Last week, my mom took Marko to her house for an overnight visit. I cut my foot badly enough to need a few stitches and was having a little trouble walking, and therefore keeping up with a busy two year old. That night, M and I had dinner at home with Laurel. Nobody screamed, we talked about our days in fully formed sentences, and at the end of the meal, there was no food on the floor.

Every so often I get a glimpse of what it will be like once our family is passed the young children phase. When they are little, so much of the day feels like treading water. You cannot see where you are headed, just stay afloat as best you can.

On Sunday we went for a bike ride, with Laurel riding solo for the first time on the trail. Bike riding has turned out to be an unexpectedly sentimental experience for me to witness. It feels like such a transitional milestone. When I think of kids riding bikes I remember my own experience as a kid, how it expanded my range out our backyard. I now have this very vivid image in my mind of the back of Laurel's head. As if from this point on, she will be moving ever-further away from me.

Of course, once we saw how awesome she was doing, we immediately began scheming about overnight trips on the GAP this summer.


Because I Wanted To

Yesterday I took the kids to the Andy Warhol Museum. An art museum is a risky move on a Thursday after school, but I figured if we went during the last hour of the day at least it wouldn't be crowded, plus I had to be downtown later that evening and planned to pass the kids off to M when he was done with work.

Frankly, I didn't care whether they got anything out of it. I wasn't interested in visiting the kid-friendly areas, or teaching them anything about Andy Warhol and objects as art. I just wanted them to be well behaved long enough for me to check out the Corita Kent exhibit.

It's easy to slide into a space where you forget about what you want when you are a full-time caregiver for your kids. It can get relegated to every other Tuesday when you go out with your friends, or maybe a few hours a month when you go to yoga. Blogs advise to wake up before your kids do to get your time, and some parents are adamant about the hours they are afforded after a strict early bedtime. And while I agree that time away from your kids is pretty important to maintaining sanity, I have found it very rewarding to prioritize my needs and interests and make them come along with me to something that I want to do. Sometimes it backfires, like the time I took Laurel to my neighbor's concert where he demonstrated his amazing opera singing (opera pieces turned out to be a bit long for her attention span that evening).

But other times, like yesterday, they rise to the occasion. Also, I promised to take them to Chipotle if they were good. We practiced walking through the art gallery without touching stuff. Sitting on the benches to get a good long look. Keeping our voices low to preserve the piece. When we got to the floor with the Corita Kent stuff, my kids gravitated towards an interactive area which was way above their abilities. They parked themselves at this table and asked me to read the prompt, grabbing sketch paper and pencils. And then they got busy and I had a solid half an hour to look at the exhibit, while they wrote poems inspired by ads in magazines. Well, Marko drew "ovals" and Laurel wrote words about what she saw. Poetic in their own way. I was really happy to be able to genuinely thank them for coming along with me and I'm now scheming up all kinds of things we can do this summer.

Corita Kent was an activist/artist/art teacher/Catholic nun/designer/feminist. The exhibit is running at the Warhol until April 19, and I totally recommend checking it out if you are in Pittsburgh.


We Walk

It snowed overnight but the sun came out the next afternoon, melting all of it and revealing the green tips of daffodils, tulips, crocuses everywhere. We took the long way home, stopping at the library on the way. Laurel eased her way in to another mother's read aloud. Marko found the pop-up books, and sat there paging through one after another. Nobody needed anything from me, so I read my book.

Sunday night, they couldn't fall asleep, so I resolved to make them walk more this week. After the library we hopped on a bus that let us out at the gate of the park, instead of the one that drops us on our corner. Their pockets were filled with many little rocks and bits of mulch by the time we got through that stretch. Every time I turned around, one of them had stopped to bend over and examine something interesting on the path. I would walk past all of it, if not for them. They make it look not only interesting, but important. Worthy of study.


The Long Game

Last night I went to a dinner party at my friend's house. A real adult dinner party, as in we ate late and long, and I had marvelous conversation with people I had never met before.  Part of the reason for the gathering was to celebrate her son's 18th birthday and I thought it was a really neat idea that she had us gather in a circle and each give him a bit of advice. The advice people gave really reflected their most formative experience or their biggest challenge in life. Having friends with older children is so helpful to me...not only in hearing their challenges from various stages, but also seeing how both the parent and the child have grown as a result of their relationship. Sometimes parenting books for little kids make it sound like a one-way street....you apply certain techniques to your child and sort of mold them. But the only strategy I have found that consistently works is taking a second to walk in their shoes and imagine what they are thinking or feeling.



Days like today are why I like this city best of all. The cyclical changing of the seasons. That first day when you bundle up or strip down. How 65 and partly sunny is all we need to reset from a too-long winter.



Honey, we're going to travel, she says to him. They pile into the play car at the playground. Do you want music or talking on the radio? Ok, first you drive, then I'll drive. 

They play, acting out all the mundane and fantastic scenarios from our life. They use our words and add their imaginations.

The hotel they dream up today has a robot who will check you in. Breakfast is at nine. Are any of you vegetarians? They spend a lot of time fiddling with an imaginary lock on the imaginary door. Marko builds a vacuum cleaner out of a stick. 

Then suddenly, it's time for school in this fantasy world. I'm the principal. Laurel sends Marko. He has a red smiley face, she says, grimacing. He was not resting peacefully.

Kids reveal everything in their play.y You know what they've heard and how it makes them feel.


Snow Day

There really is nothing
cuter than a small girl
using trek poles. 
It's March and I have Springer Fever. Not to be confused with Spring Fever. It is probably highly unpleasant for any thru-hiker starting out in Georgia this week. M and I spent only a few unpleasant days breaking trail on the AT and it was exhausting. And cold. Do you know how hard it is to stop and pee in snow? Nonetheless, I do have that urge to start walking and keep walking. I've been watching this movie on Youtube while I wash dishes. Daydreaming and scheming. Anything is possible. In the meantime, we live near a 500 acre park, and Laurel's school was closed today. When I am working, snow days are the pits. Two hour delays, too. That's one thing I think a lot of working parents don't budget for...the layers and layers of backup childcare you need to keep your days flowing. And when you don't have anyone to cover you? Then comes the laughable "work from home" scenario, in which one attempts to follow conference calls while on mute because, while your children are mesmerized by Wild Kratts 99% of the time, the ONE time you need them to shut up, they refuse to watch it, and instead insist on wrestling around at your ankles. But I digress. Today, the snow day was cause for celebration and some much-needed outdoor time. It was really cool to hear the spring songs of some of the birds who have started returning.

Dress for success. Layer it up.

 Last week I read this article about German parenting, taking special note of the following quote: “there is no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing.”
I disagree with the Germans to some extent, or perhaps we actually have crappier weather than they do, but if it is below 10 degrees or freezing rain or lots of ice on the ground, we stay inside and watch Netflix all day. (But also, if we just had heavier coats, ponchos and crampons we probably could go out then.) Balaclavas and windproof/waterproof gloves have been key in taking our outdoor comfort to the next level. I haven't found good gloves in Laurel's size yet, so I just carry a spare pair in my pocket so she can swap her fleece ones out when hers get wet. There was a lot of ice underneath the snow today, so we took trek poles. Marko rode in the backpack. We headed through the park with the plan to obtain a few groceries and stop by our usual Thursday morning playgroup. Having everybody bundled up is very important because kids walk slow and want to stop and look at a lot of stuff. Therefore, you can't rely on body heat to keep you toasty, the way you might if you were just going out running or something on your own. 

We saw several people cross-country skiing in the park, as well as a few hard-core dog-walkers out. Everyone who was outside today seemed to be very happy to be outside. "Lovely day!" neighbors called to us as we passed. The woods were serene, with all the branches covered in snow. Every sound was muted. Our stop at the neighborhood store warmed us up. Maggie gave us free samples of the wedding soup and she put on a fresh pot of coffee for us. 

A few people have recently asked me about our ability to get up and out of the house in time to do morning activities. For instance, I regularly take the kids to Phipps before school starts, when there is a two hour delay. We also walk or take the bus a lot of places, which takes some added time and so people see us out and about, throwing snow balls and playing tag. They admire our lovely Facebook photos of Quality Family Time. It is true...we really are having an awesome time together. But I must dispel the myth that we must be superhuman, super organized, or have super well-behaved children. It is just a matter of prioritizing. When you prioritize, something gets neglected. In our case, we tend to just leave the house a total wreck and worry about it later. I feel bad about our filthy habits. But not enough to sacrifice my outdoor time to actually clean up before we leave. You can't have it all, friends.

I'm assuming no children were harmed
in this toppling of the high chair. If they
were, they did not tell me about it.
This doesn't actually look too bad, but it illustrates my point. If you zoom in, you will see sandwich crusts everywhere, and smears of what is hopefully peanut butter. Notice the toppled over high chair. We are the type of people who will pick up the high chair the next time somebody wants to actually sit in it. Until then, it will remain tipped over as if our house is part of a wax museum display about an earthquake that suddenly struck and caused the residents to flee. The dishes have been cleared, but unfortunately they are sitting in a half-full dish pan. Not pictured, because it's disgusting. The kids got the memo to put their dishes in the sink, but not to scrape them first, so when I return home, there's always a pan full of disintegrated bread and yogurt cemented onto cereal bowls. I curse myself and swear that the next day I will wash the dishes before we head out, but....yeah, it never happens. 

Also, we miscalculate sometimes. Stay out too long. Read the wrong weather report. The kids cry. Marko was out in a sleet storm without a hat the other day, super miserable and with good reason. They get hungry and we don't have a snack with us. They have to pee and there is no place to go. They fall down and we don't have a bandaid. Nosy old ladies admonish us for their snotty noses and red cheeks. Every moment is not magical. I just don't usually pull my camera out then. 

I only put this out there because some moms feel bad when other moms are doing awesome things. They worry that there is something wrong with them because their day unfolded differently. No you aren't doing it wrong. Jealousy is a misguided beast. Usually when that feeling tugs on my heart, I realize that the person who has something I want, has given up something else to get it. 


Marko learned to talk, Laurel learned to read

In two weeks, they both blossomed, Marko looking more and more pleased each time his request was intelligble to us. Laurel prolific from the backseat, cranking out pages of cartoonish, captioned drawings. A girl crying because she lost her hamster. Aliens, no kids dressed as aliens, but in a real spaceship. A map of our neighborhood. I wonder how much of my recognition of each small milestone helps propel their development.

They spend a lot of time wrestling, though. Dumping stuff out for no reason I can figure out. They yell at each other and tattle. Which is why this moment of listening to recorded books and coloring felt so unexpectedly peaceful.



Sometimes things don't go as planned.

It is winter, though. Not totally unexpected. But the ice/snow/rain today offered up the opportunity to check out the aquarium in Chattanooga and it was awesome. When we get home, I'll write more on the jellyfish exhibit, Montgomery, AL's Venezuelan restaurant, jalapeƱo sausage Po'boys, and how two small children can utterly destroy the backseat of a car.