October 2

Yesterday I went out with my friend and rode 30 miles on the Butler Freeport Trail. It rained overnight, but by the time we got to the trail just before 8, the skies were clear. We enjoyed fresh air blue sky, and a mostly empty trail, although it was a bit soggy. Our bikes definitely need to be sprayed off. The morning gave me a much-needed break from the kids, and it also felt good to really stretch my legs and get a little bit of a workout.

Life with three kids definitely makes for full days (and nights). Max still requires a lot of help with sleeping at night. I consider it a huge win if I get a three hour stretch and I am mostly not winning. But sleep aside, I really enjoy being with the kids, which was always the part of work that I liked the best. We keep it pretty simple around here....we play in the park, make art, go to the library and build stuff with Legos. I babysit some of our neighbors, and find that more kids are generally easier to manage. As my kids get older, I am starting to have a sense of what the next stage of parenting will look like and coming to grips with the realization that baths and rocking to sleep and wiping butts is probably the easiest and most gratifying stage of this whole gig.

Last night when I was tucking the kids in to bed, I sang the words to Taps (Laurel is in Girl Scouts so our repertoire of songs is expanding greatly).

"....All is well, safely rest...." is one of the lines.

"Not everyone is safe," said Laurel when the song was done. She looked a little sad. I think she was sad because she truly values the feeling of safety and was enjoying some of that in the moment, tucked in with her brother in a great big bed inside a house on a cool, fall night. The realization that not everyone gets what she has is a tough issue to grapple with for six year olds, who have an unusual obsession with fairness.

As she leaves our proverbial nest and her exposure to the world both puts her at greater risk, and offers her a greater perspective, she will develop her own ideas about her place in the equation. And probably do a fair amount of screwing up, hurting other people, getting hurt herself. When I think about this right now, I usually think about Laurel, although of course Marko and Max will shortly follow in her footsteps. I just still have a lot of control and contact with Marko and Max, but Laurel is off doing her own thing for big parts of the day. First grade is basically a full work day, she goes to play dates by herself, etc.

Rather than thinking about what I need to do with my kids (i.e. my "parenting"), I've been thinking about my own actions, activities, and interactions with the world. Those are the things they'll actually take the most lessons from, I think. There are a couple of things we're involved in that we really loved but have turned into sources of tension. I don't have any answers or even cohesive thoughts about them at the moment. I wish I had some more time to read and write, but I have used up all of that time just on this short blog post. Back to wiping butts for now!


Camping with Kids

Each time we go camping with kids, we discover another way to make it easier or more fun. Plus, as the kids get older, there are more activities that are appropriate for us. This weekend we went to our friend Jack's parents' place on the Juniata River. We've been going up there every summer for many years....since before M and I got engaged and that was in 2002! M asked me to marry him there, actually, while we were on a canoe. His parents used to have a house there, but they sold that and kept some of the land next to it. Now there is a pavilion with a fireplace and a bathroom with plumbing, but everyone sleeps in campers or tents. Jack's sisters were visiting with their families as well, so there were lots of kids to play with and it was a really fun weekend.

We still haven't purchased a big tent that we can all sleep in. We have two backpacking tents that are in good shape, and even though we're doing a lot of car camping right now, I think we will probably do more backpacking style camping once the kids are bigger. Right now, M usually sleeps with Marko and Laurel in the tent and I sleep with Max in the truck.

We bought a water proof bag to put on our roof rack and this has made it so much easier to pack. Now we don't have things jammed into every corner and falling on the kids. Plus there's more room to bring various baby containment devices for Max. He's too heavy to hold all the time, so I brought his pack n play. A standard sized crib sheet fits perfectly over the top of it to provide some shade and protection from bugs. Also, it recently occurred to me to pack an EMPTY duffel bag for our dirty laundry. This way it was easy to keep it separate and nobody accidentally put on dirty underwear. Ahem, Marko. I also borrowed my friend's pop up sun shelter and that was perfect for Max to crawl around in when we went to the lake.

Now that the kids are older, there are lots of water activities that we can do. The kids went paddling in kayaks and swimming in the river. Laurel is getting to be a decent swimmer, but I keep her in a life jacket anyway and probably will for a long time (it's the law anyway, if she's in a kayak).  (Also, for PA residents, you have to have a safety whistle in addition to a life jacket now or you will get a fine!) M bought some fishing poles. Laurel is pretty good at casting! Marko likes the idea of fishing more than the actual activity, but he does like hanging out at the river bank.  They only caught one fish, too small to keep, but I like the idea of acquiring a survival skill and maybe getting beyond just fishing in stocked lakes.

As per usual, the kids didn't sleep quite enough, but that was partially due to the fireworks that were going off everywhere. We also did a terrible job of packing food and spent way too much money at Sheetz. However, that's part of the River House fun for us, so I'm chalking it up to passing on traditions to the kids.

We are getting so much better at unpacking and putting stuff away, so most everything is clean and dry and hung up and we're ready for our next camping adventure!


Summer Break: Week 2

I had a better plan this week, which included making advanced preparation of dinners and packing lunches the night before. We also planned in advance for the kids to visit my mom and sleep over on Monday, so the week got off to a mellow start.

We spent a LOT of time in the park this week. Hours and hours at a time. On Wednesday we went out at 9:30 and came back at 3. I finally got up the nerve to let the kids take their bikes out and was really pleased with how well Laurel did. We got her a new bike for Christmas, but learning to use the hand brakes and gears proved to be a little too much for her at the time. After a few crashes, we stashed it in the garage and forgot about it for a while. The Bowling Green area of the park is perfect for practicing because it's fairly flat and there's a pretty big stretch where she can go back and forth without needing to turn around....and I could stay on the picnic blanket with Max and still see the kids. After 3 days of practice, she's so much better. Marko is a speed demon on the strider bike. Some neighborhood kids joined us some days, other days we just hung out on our own.

The other thing that went really well this week was Running Club. At least 20 kids showed up on Thursday and we did a short cross country loop in the woods. The kids liked it so much that some of them did it 3 or 4 times! I was really impressed with their stamina. We also ran sprints and played some tag. My expectations when starting this were pretty loose. I hoped kids would come and would enjoy running around. I want the kids to have a really positive association with outdoor exercise because I think running and walking in outdoor spaces are some of the most beneficial activities you can engage in throughout your whole life. I am also hoping to see the kids start to lead their own games, organize themselves, manage the conflict that arises during competition and make up new games. I could see this starting to take hold and I'm really excited to see where it goes.

This week, we did two food rescue missions. We also got a letter from our friend who went to New Mexico for the summer, so we can write a letter back now. I completely forgot to write down the books we read for the summer reading program, but we did go to the library and get new ones. The kids like getting prizes, but they read no matter what.

There was a little bit of "I'm bored" - but I read that was good for kids and sparks creativity. And sure enough I would soon find them at the Lego table, or getting out craft stuff or playing with the baby.

I did a terrible job of sleeping enough this week so I'm on the brink of exhaustion, but other than that things are pretty great.


Notes to My Former Self

Hindsight is 20/20. Well, this isn't really hindsight since I'm still IN it. Like, way in it. I don't know what day it is but summer vacation is NOT almost over. Max started crawling and my vacuum cleaner has another mysterious clog, a terrible coincidence of events. Nonetheless, if I could go back in time and write a parenting book for my newbie parent self, it would have these tidbits in it....

1) It's always good to have some friends with kids older than yours. The bigger kids will play with your kids in ways you'll never be able to and it's a window to your future. Keeps things in perspective and reminds you that time keeps marching on, even when the days feel endless.
2) Never cook dinner at 5 o'clock. Little children are wild beast demons at 5 o'clock. Big children need rides to activities. STOP FIGHTING FIVE O'CLOCK! It will beat you down every time. Cook dinner at some other time and reheat it. Or have sandwiches.
3) Record your baby's laughter.
4) Seek out wide open spaces. Children do magical things with wide open spaces, and it's good for them to take their conflicts out of your ear shot (they solve their own problems) but still under your watchful gaze (they don't kill each other doing it).
5) Don't spend too much time figuring out when your children will sleep. Instead, figure out how you can squeeze in a solid eight hours in between nursing, nightmares, kids spilling water bottles on you, losing your spot in the bed and wandering the house looking for an uncluttered horizontal surface to fall down on and so forth.


Summer Break: Week 1

2-4-6-8 Running Club is really great!
Week 1 of Laurel's 8 week summer break is coming to a close. She specifically requested "no camps" this summer. I love her school, but the schedule is kind of intense for kindergarten....8:30-3:30 every day and no nap. I can totally understand why she wants some unstructured time. And luckily, I can accommodate that very easily as a SAHM! I knew that I couldn't just let the summer unfold without any planning though, so we made some lists. Summer Reading Program at the library. Running Club (more on that below). A Duckie Tour. Painting on the porch. Visiting every pool in the city. Volunteering somewhere. I made a loose schedule so we could be motivated to get out of the house with enough time to get back in the afternoons for naps for the boys. I thought it would be amazing.

Then Monday happened. It was terrible. 

The kids fought with each other all morning. They only wanted to watch tv. It was hot. Max was having trouble going to sleep or nursing with all the distractions. The house was almost immediately destroyed. They took out all the art supplies and every toy. Marko stole some jelly out of the fridge and was eating it with a spoon but also leaving big sticky globs all over the place until I caught him. I immediately started researching which camps still had slots opened.  Then my mom came to the rescue and picked up Laurel. She had a lovely two day vacation at their house. When I went to pick her up, we left Marko there for a night. It takes a village, people. However, there were some good times this week. On Thursday we launched our Running Club. We do a warm up, stretching, run a course or some sprints and then play games that involve running. Laurel loves to run, but pretty much hates all sports that involve balls and passing them off to teammates. Her favorite thing to do is play tag. This week was the first session and 12 kids came, even though it was pouring down rain. I think it's going to be a big hit this summer. 

Bagel rescue complete!
Another thing we did was visit Creative Reuse to stock up on paper and random junk for crafting. Apparently a science teacher recently cleaned out her classroom because they have a lot of pyrex beakers and pipettes and scales and other fun science-y things for sale right now. Marko and Laurel spent hours on the front porch assembling projects. Max likes to stand in his exersaucer and watch them. I need to add glue - a LOT more glue - to my shopping list, though. We also went to our usual playgroup, which meets outside in the summer. The playgroup is hosted by the pastor's wife at the Pittsburgh New Church and they have a great space outside for kids to play. There's also a school there, so they are very unfussy about kids playing in the dirt and mud, constructing fairy houses, climbing the trees, etc. And on Friday we did our "Food Rescue Mission" and diverted three boxes of bagels to a senior high rise. One of my strongest childhood memories is volunteering for various things with my dad and siblings. We used to go to a nursing home and do crafts with the residents. And finally, we wrote letters to our school friends who went away to New Mexico for the summer. I love getting mail and it's really fun to do pen pals with Laurel now because she can write her own letters.

So, even though there was a fair amount of crying and gnashing of teeth, when I look back at the week and see all that we did, I feel pretty happy. Next week my mom will take the kids for an overnight, and we'll do pretty much the same thing, except maybe add a trip to the creek or to the spray park.


Single Track

I can still hear crying when I lock the door behind me, but M shoos me on. I can actually "hear" it all the way down the street, but at that point it's actually just a noise stuck in my head. Once I turn down the first gravel path into the park, my head starts to clear a little. By the time I get to the single track turnoff, my shoulders have lost their tension and my arms are swinging freely. My breathing slows and deepens. After an hour or so of walking in the park, I feel recharged.

I spend a lot of time with my kids right now. This is not a bad thing, because I have fun with reading aloud and painting and playing with Legos. Poop, pee, vomit and blood do not phase me at all (loose teeth are another story). I have remarkable patience for answering the same question over and over again. I would say that 90% of the time I'm really enjoying myself as a stay-at-home-mom. But still, the twenty-four-hour-ness of the job can be taxing. Taking a break is key. I try to do different things....hang out with friends at a bar, go to the coffee shop to write, or take a yoga class. But none of those are as effective as an hour of walking on single track paths in the woods.

It's rained a bit the last week or so and the trails are very muddy and slick. I like the focus that is required to remain upright with each step. I like how my eyes adjust to the wall of green and brown surroundings and start to pick up all the variations in color and texture. I like how the city noises fade into the background and what I mostly hear are birds and squirrels.

When I get back home, M has generally succeeded in getting all the children into bed and will have a dish towel slung over his shoulder, while he cleans up the dinner dishes. Our evenings together are much more pleasant when I've been walking. My birthday is coming up this week and the best thing about getting older is figuring out what makes me feel good and not worrying about whether it's what I should be doing or getting. Frankly, a haircut causes me great anxiety and a pedicure would probably put me over the edge. Walking in the woods does the trick, though.


Mother's Day

My gift from Laurel. She
was so excited to give it to
me and I love it.
Sunday morning I was awake at the very first light. I don't mean the sunrise, but long before that, before even the first bird songs, when the darkness of the sky shifts ever so slightly to gray, and you can imagine the end of night coming. I was sleeping in the back of our SUV with Max, which sounds horrible to every single person I ever tell, but is actually really comfortable. The seats fold down and it's pretty much flat and firm. M was in the tent with the other kids. We were camping with our neighbors, who have two kids. Other than that, there weren't too many people at the campground this weekend. It rained for a couple of hours in the middle of the night. It was dark, dark, dark.

I spend most nights in the well-lit city though, so even enjoying camping as much as I do, it can be unnerving to experience the darkness of the forest in the middle of the night. Max is five months old today, and wakes up several times at night to nurse, but last night I had no diversions to see me through these night feedings. No Facebook to scroll through, no Atlantic stories bookmarked in my browser. (Once I even placed a grocery order in the middle of the night.)

It's good to have some time to think, and especially on Mother's Day. Motherhood has been this hugely transformative force in my life these last 7 years. It's not easy all the time, but it has become a role that I find deeply fulfilling. And this is perplexing to me, because all the "doing" of motherhood is repetitive, messy crap that gets undone quickly, that mostly goes unnoticed by others and is highly undervalued in our society. The other tasks of raising up children...teaching kindness and empathy and conflict resolution....you can't actually be very successful at them if you set out to them "right." It's actually a lot more effective to just strive to do them well yourself. They will see. They see everything. At the end of the day, I have little tangible evidence of my work. I was me. I swept crumbs. How is it that I am so happy doing it and that it feels so worthwhile to be doing it?

I've written about this before, but motherhood feels like I am on a stage, constantly watched and imitated. As the children gain language they experiment with my phrases, with my tones. Their play mimics my work. My missteps are reflected back immediately by the expressions on their faces. But on the other hand, they are not growing up to BE me. I can't really make them be any kind of way. Admitting that lack of control over them is both freeing and terrifying.

Our camping trip - our first with Max - went well. We found sites at Ohiopyle that had a little creek flowing behind them so the kids had someplace to play. I brought just enough changes of clothes for Marko. Nobody seems to have gotten poison ivy, miraculously because it was everywhere. We had a really nice hike along the river and saw a water snake and tadpoles and tons of spring wildflowers. And my mother's day wish was fulfilled when we managed to get a photo with all five of us in it!


Things That Happened This Week

1) Max rolled. He was delighted with himself. I was slightly less delighted because now I have to be super careful about where I leave him.

2) Marko ran up to me in the schoolyard at pick up time holding a plastic baggie of something brown and said, "Here's some poop, Mom!" It wasn't (I don't think), but still. WHY DID YOU PICK IT UP IF YOU THOUGHT IT WAS A BAG OF POOP, MARKO??

3)  Laurel and I had a Daisy meeting. I am a recent convert to the Girl Scouts, but I love two things about it. First, her Daisy troop is definitely bonding with each other and I think it's cool to have some good friends outside of school. Second, I think our society has degraded into a decidedly uncivil state, and I adore hearing Laurel recite the Girl Scouts Promise and the Girl Scouts Law because it reminds us to be friendly and helpful, honest and fair and so forth.

4) I became obsessed with Property Brothers. This is a tv show where a realtor and a contractor first trick an unsuspecting couple by showing them the house of their dreams...that is way out of their budget. HAHAHAHA! LOLOL. They are always mad. Then they show them ugly houses that smell like cat pee and convince them to buy and renovate. Don't worry, it always turns out great. Neatly wrapped up in 42 minutes. Personally I disagree with the "open concept" obsession. This when all your rooms are open, especially the kitchen. For "entertaining" they always say. I prefer a door, to hide the dishes from my guests. Also, what's the fuss about granite countertops? I'm saving up for butcher block.

5) I planted some green onions. I keep seeing these articles about food you can grow from scraps. We often buy things like green onions, cilantro, or ginger and usually only need a little but you have to buy the whole bunch and then some of it goes bad. Well, it goes into my compost pile, so I'm not totally wasting it, but I've really been thinking about food waste since I did a volunteer mission for 412 Food Rescue. If you are local to Pittsburgh, definitely follow them on Facebook and you too could save some food that is perfectly good, but about to get dumped!


Things That Happened This Week

In no particular order...

1) Laurel had her last gymnastics class for the session and I finally ended up making it to this one. She was bubbling over with excitement. Marko even got to come in and was super excited to scamper over all the equipment and try out the trampoline. I would not have been able to pull this off without the help of my friend, who also has children in this class. We met at the bus stop last year and due to similar schedules, we ran into each other a lot. Our kids play well together, so even though they aren't at the same school anymore, we've kept things going. I didn't even imagine that I would be able to go in to the class and hoped taking pictures from behind the glass would satisfy Laurel, but Valentina appeared, scooping up little Max and singing to him for 30 minutes because that was the only thing that kept him from crying.

2) Marko sneezed while having a nosebleed, spraying blood all over my face, neck and hair. It was like a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie. Oh, sorry, Mom! he said cheerfully, because he gets nose bleeds periodically so they are not a super scary event to him. This was during school pick up and because we live one block from the school, I didn't have a diaper bag. My friend Alison appeared with kleenex and wipes and even dabbed off the spots that I missed on my own neck. Without making me feel dumb at all.

3) The neighbors who borrowed our book on fermentation brought it back and delivered homemade blueberry oatmeal muffins along with it. Muffins are pretty much the best breakfast food ever for my kids so for a change they all got dressed and ready for the day without screwing around.

4) I wrote a complaint email and got a refund. I usually really suck at this so it was a pleasant surprise.

5) My mom took Marko to her house, and with Laurel at school I got a chance to spend some one on one time with Max while he's not just strapped in the back of the car. He's starting to roll over and loves scooting around on his back by pushing off with his feet. I can feel his eyes following me, waiting for me to make eye contact with him, and then he smiles and pushes his legs up and down. He reminds me a lot of Laurel.


Something About Me

It's still February and it's actually snowing today, but it was a spring-like snow. Pretty flakes falling but not accumulating. I like to see the little gatherings of snowflakes on the ground next to the crocuses and snow drops that have started to come up. Springer Fever is hitting us hard.

Compost is my new obsession and we've had warm enough weather that I've taken the boys into our woefully neglected backyard. Max lays in the stroller and looks at the sky. Marko drags every blessed toy out of the garage. And I turn my compost pile. I find it extraordinary that (certain) things we discard can turn into soil given enough time. I'm more pragmatic than scientific about my compost, and pretty much try to create optimal conditions for available materials. I shred up corrugated cardboard and newspaper when I run out of dried leaves to mix with my food scraps.

I feel exceptionally tired tonight, I think because of all the shoveling and pitchforking. I have a new mom friend who has equal enthusiasm for dirt and we even went to an urban farm down the street and voluntarily turned their compost pile, in return for a bucket of their finished compost. I've also procured a BOB double jogging stroller, and have been taking the boys on lots of walks at a brisk pace instead of at a Marko pace. I definitely feel the burn though, pushing that thing up a hill.

And speaking of burn, the other exciting and muscle fatiguing thing that I did recently was go to the rock climbing gym. They have a bouldering section so you don't even need to belay at first. After a brief orientation, they pretty much let you at it. I climbed so hard that I had blisters on my hands and could barely lift my hands over my head. The only downside was the awkwardness of being too old to fit in with all the college kids who were hitting on each other and not old enough to be one of the quirky old people. They really didn't know what to make of me.

I'm writing this down because it's a reminder that even though parenting takes up the vast majority of my time, that there are still things that I do that are about me or for me that have nothing to do with the children and I'd be just as likely to do them if they'd never come along. Of course, I'm delighted that they are here...but I'm equally delighted that I'm still here.