Airing My Dirty Laundry

In polite society, we don't talk about cleaning that much. It is something you are just supposed to know how to do, and work it seamlessly into your day, without sweating, on a regular basis so that when guests arrive, there are clean glasses and the sofa is clear enough to offer them a seat.

I bought my first vacuum cleaner on Mother's Day (oh, the irony). It is a Bissell and it sucks up dirt pretty well, as far as I can tell. It's a little heavy, but it has a washable filter and canister and you don't need bags, and the hoses are really easy to get on and off.

At first, I was delighted. We have wall-to-wall carpet upstairs now and a very messy toddler and a cat who sheds. Not to mention all the dirt that gets tracked in from people who spend a lot of time biking around town and splashing in puddles in the park. I never had a new vacuum cleaner before, and I'm now convinced that the hand-me-down ones we always used did nothing except spew dust all over the house.

But recently I started to wonder if a broom isn't faster. I mean, the actual sweeping seems to take longer, but when you are done, you are done. No moving parts to break. Obviously I can't deal with the carpet with a broom, but why do I lug the Bissell all over the house? A broom is lighter. It doesn't take up as much space to store. It doesn't make any noise and you don't need electricity (actually a bigger problem than you might think when you live in a house with original wiring).

Cleaning is different depending on the type of house you live in. Those of you who live in old houses know that ancient dirt creeps up from behind baseboards and out of closet corners where plaster is crumbling. Sometimes we find bits of 75 year old newspapers that were shoved in cracks to prevent a draft. Buffalo nickels emerge from under the radiators.

Some people are very particular about cleaning techniques. They learn from their mothers the "right" way to mop a floor, or clean a toilet. I don't have any hereditary cleaning rituals. I just experiment with what what works best, preferably using baking soda and vinegar and perhaps a little Simple Green when necessary. Some people have special tools...a duster they can't live without, or a certain brand of toilet tank cleaner.

I recently ran across this video, and I'm sort of intrigued by the book, although she seems to be coming from a place of privilege that I can't relate to. I like the images of the "help" scrubbing the tile and changing the garbage can liner. When I was hanging my clothes on the line to dry yesterday, I tried to rethink the act...make it into something pleasurable. And then suddenly it was, the bending and stretching to reach the line, and gazing up into the sky as I did. Lifting up the heavy red bath towels to the highest part of the line. Tiny t-shirts and shorts all waving in a row in the breeze. It went from being something I do because I ought not use the dryer on a sunny warm day, into something that I actually enjoyed.

So what do you think? Should I keep vacuuming my wood floors and stairs, or just stick with a broom?


A really big box...

I remember when my parents got a new refrigerator. I must have been in middle school, on the brink of adolescence, but still in that stage where we played outside during summer vacation, for many, many hours at a time...my sister and brother and the neighbor, Billy. The box was huge, big enough for us to take turns lying down in it and rolling down the hill. We sat in it for shade when the sun got high. When it was finally too mangled to be box-like, we ripped it apart and slid down the hill on the pieces, across the dry grass.

When I dropped Laurel off at daycare this morning, there was a big box in the middle of the floor. Two pairs of tiny legs stuck out the end, and much giggling could be heard from within. This is one of the reassuring things about our daycare. Kids play in sand, and boxes and water, and come home dirty and I once caught the caregivers imagining themselves as bears, right alongside the 2 and 3 year-olds. Kids play, with stuff, using their imaginations.

As a reading specialist, I know that creative play is incredibly important for paving the neural pathways these little ones will need to become literate in the next 3 or 4 years.

As a mom, I simply enjoy talking to Laurel about whatever she has imagined that giant box to be. A house, a kayak, a mouth.


Baby's First Pronoun

It's a just-slightly-uncomfortable summer evening. We have the fans going and cool air is blowing through, but don't try to mop the floor, as I just did to wipe off an interesting mixture of peas and strawberry jam. You'll end up a sweaty mess and mildly irritated at those residents of your house who seem incapable of leaving the dining room without a disaster in their wake. Ahem, Laurel.

I took Laurel down to the river today to meet M and go for a bike ride. They went for a bike ride. I went to the Leaf and Bean and read a book about algebra. (No really, that's what I did with my kid-free hour.) M and L took the bike path down to the fountain near PNC Park and went for a swim. They saw many kayaks and several Ducky Tours. It was an exciting day for Laurel because we took the bus (money bus!) to Oakland to meet Grandma Cake for lunch and a ride on the merry-go-round. I strongly suggest that you ask Laurel about what animal she rode during your next conversation with her. The sound effects are hilarious.

All of these details are the sort that blend into a collective memory of fondness for summer. What I will specifically remember about today is Laurel's use of a pronoun.

On the way home from the North Shore, we drove by the bike track and we asked Laurel what the people were doing. "Riding their bikes," she said, very clearly. A bona fide phrase, with proper use of a pronoun. Only a linguist would get excited over these details, but it's the kind of thing I want to remember. Almost 21 months, and she uses possessive pronouns. She has said "it" for a while. Read it! Eat it! But tonight was the first time I heard her speak and thought, wow, she's going to be fluent in English very, very soon.


Farmers are Crazy

At lunchtime on Friday, we sat at the picnic table under the oak tree, dirty faces, sweat stained clothes...the Farmer, and the four of us who work there in various capacities. We had spent the morning transplanting rows of Swiss chard and lettuce and radicchio and escarole. Two people laid out plants, two followed along covering them with soil. We stretched out irrigation hoses. The Farmer seeded the upper end of the field with her ancient tractor, while we slowly moved from one side of the field to another at the lower end....drop, step, drop, step, drop, step. The temperature was in the upper 90s, the humidity and sunshine and poor air quality alert made it seem at least ten degrees hotter.

And for all that work, the best you can do is pray that the plants will take, that the right bugs will come and the wrong bugs stay away. That your irrigation system won't break because nature has already failed you this dry year. That market day will not be rained out, yet again, when you try to sell your harvested crops. If you're the Farmer that is. The rest of us simply have a newfound appreciation for what it takes to get the food from the land to our plates. I'm a tourist when it comes to farming, but it's a trip I'm glad I'm taking. The Farmer, on the other hand, lives this, day in and day out. That's why I think she's a little crazy. (But I'm very grateful for her beets.)


Not Quite Ready for This...

What do you do when you are not quite ready for something your child is ready for? We're at the brink of potty-training, and I don't know if I should move full-speed ahead and get her all the way out of diapers, or if I should just let it naturally evolve. To push, to strive, or to stand back and observe, watch, support...

Recently, Laurel has been asking to use the potty, and quite successfully at that. I think I used 3 diapers today, including the one I put her to bed in. She shows lots of signs that she's ready, heck she even pooped at my friend's house the other day. She asked to use the potty! (Which was a regular one and not a potty chair. In the midst of all the sugar-balloon-dancing-excitement of a birthday party.) She has trouble getting a cloth diaper off, but she can slide out of a disposable one. She often wakes up dry from a nap or even overnight.

So how can you tell if what's holding you back is your own reluctance to see your child grow up, or if you sense that there's some critical skill that's not quite developed yet. I have a feeling parenting will reveal lots of these kinds of dilemmas over the next few decades.

But seriously, is 20 months too young to be potty trained?



Laurel learned the word "why?"

And she uses it all the time.

Nothing like a constant barrage of "whys" to make you question absolutely everything yo are doing, nature, and public transportation, among other things. Life is good with a going-on-two-year old.


Welcome, Alexis

We welcomed a new baby into our family this week. M's sister gave birth to a beautiful little girl named Alexis. This is Laurel's first cousin, and we went to see the "tiny baby" as she calls her, in the hospital. Laurel made her a card, and it had a lot of snakes and kayaks on it, because this is what Laurel is into right now. Snakes. Have a body. (Do not try to have a conversation with a toddler about appropriate drawings to put on a Welcome Baby card. She will look at you with a blank expression of noncomprehension....why would a tiny baby NOT want to look at lots of pictures of snakes? Oh well, Alexis didn't seem to mind.)

It seems as if Laurel herself was that small, only moments ago. But she towered over Alexis, with her strong personality and toddler body. I remembered Laurel's personality as a tiny baby and how looking back, we could have seen who she would become now as a small girl. She cries the same way as she did in her first days, with great gusto, mouth wide open so you can see the back of her throat. She grins the same way, big toothy, squinty-eyed grins. She constantly moves, even in her sleep. Hungry all the time. Impatient. Eagerly seeks interaction. You can see her personality in her face, over the last year and a half. Laurel is in there.

Alexis is new, but she's not a blank slate. There's a strong, real girl in there and we'll take time to figure her out and get to know her. But before we know it, she'll be a toddler, too.



What is the role in a parent in facilitating play? Are we supposed to provide engaging and enriching experiences throughout the day and do they always involved commercially made toys? Is it better to leave the kids to their own devices and intervene only when there is a problem?

I think having only one little one at home is more challenging than having a bunch. Especially when they are at that busy toddler stage. Laurel can entertain herself for a little while, but she very much enjoys social interaction, and seems to really crave someone else to play with...or better yet, a whole room full of someone elses. I think she misses daycare. I'm enjoying the time off this summer, and definitely feel the desire to just hang out with her and play all day. But it's kind of like when you have a good friend come to town and stay and you spend so much time with them hanging out, loving it, but also ready to drop them off at the airport at the end of the week. I took Laurel to the Friends Meeting in Oakland this morning and she got to play with a group of kids for a little while, much to her delight.

Laurel enjoys coloring with crayons, looking out the window at the traffic, and pushing buttons (literally, not figuratively). Her newest favorite game is to take things out of the cupboards and put them in a basket. And then take them out. And then put them back. And then take them out. And then put them back. Best game ever for during dinner preparation time, unless, of course you happen to need the can of beans that she is using.


Awesome Day


Great Grandparents

L and I took a mini-road trip to Rices Landing to visit my grandparents, Aunt Donna, Uncle Tom and Ryan. Laurel's favorite part of the trip was sitting on the gazebo and a giant bowl of strawberry ice cream, and I enjoyed having a cup of coffee with my grandma and watching my grandpa read a book to her. Here are some photos from the day!


Dude, It's already the 6th....

Happy 20 month birthday to Laurel. Every month on the 6th, I think about her birthday and her life so far, and how much things can change in just a month. Do I change that much in a month? Who would write about me if I did?

I cannot tell you how much she weighs in pounds, only that she's heavy enough that I tell her to hold on tight when I'm carrying her and she wraps her arms around my neck like a little monkey. I don't know how tall she is in inches, only that the 18 month clothing fits but is awfully short and she can now climb out of her pack n play, and reach most anything on the edge of the counters by straining on her tippy-toes.

She sings a condensed version of the alphabet song to herself, when we're on long car trips. "...E-F-G, now I know..."

She talks in her sleep sometimes. She half-woke up in the car today, and started babbling on about bunnies and chickens, laughed to herself and then fell right back asleep. I think she dreams. She gets scared and sad and can say that. I'm sad. I'm scared. I'm tired. I'm happy.

She has this funny way of responding to a question. "Ummm....." she says, and there's this expectant pause, before she either ignores the question entirely, or makes very deliberate eye contact and answers in a serious tone.

She pooped on the potty today. On purpose. She was in the bathtub and said uh-oh, and then potty and I lifted her out, and she pooped. I refrained from taking a photo and posting it here, although I must admit, the thought did cross my mind.

We had to take the side off her crib. Over the weekend she escaped from the pack and play and also figured out how to unlatch the Airstream screen door, so she popped out of the camper, long after bedtime with an excited "hi!" to M and I, as we sat in our camp chairs under the awning. A new era. She's a climber, and she's fearless about falling, and when she gets stuck someplace high, she just flings herself over the edge. Bedtime is a lot more work for me now. She will still fall asleep on her own, but she needs to be really tired, and since we're not waking up at 5:30 anymore, she's not on-the-brink-of-collapse tired at the end of the day now. Which is probably a good thing.

But. It's time consuming.

One more story.

One more trip to the potty.

And that's IT. I mean it.

Stay in your bed.

Ok, one more hug.

Today, she called to me, "Rock!" I went upstairs and she was holding a blanket. "Tuck," she said. She pointed to the glider, which is now in the hallway, in an attempt to baby-proof her room (she likes to stand on the glider and rock back and forth, which has previously resulted in her flipping the entire chair over on top of herself).

Sure, I'll rock you. You will only be 20 months for one month longer. Someday I will be checking on you to make sure you are not hanging out your window smoking pot or something like that. A simple request to be cuddled to sleep is so very easy to honor. So, that is how I spent a good portion of the evening so far.



To M: Happy 15th anniversary of the day we met. You were awesome then, and you are at least 15 times as awesome now. I love you. Thanks for a rockin' 15 years.

Laurel's on this wacky sleep schedule as a result of much traveling and not sleeping in our own beds. So, she fell asleep after the BBQ at Tony's place and woke up around 8:30. We let her come out on the porch where we ate a little snack and watched the fireflies and fireworks. Boom, she said, and slapped her thigh each time for emphasis. You see, while I am a proponent of routine for young children, I cannot resist exposing her to the magic of the longest days of summer. When we finally took her upstairs for Real Bedtime, we read some library books and it smelled exactly like the long summer days when my dad took us to the Carnegie main branch and we wandered through the stacks...that book smell of many different fingerprints, and possibility. I know that all she will remember from these days is a sort of visceral sense of love, but what I will remember is the three of us standing on our front walk watching fireworks burst over the buildings in our neighborhood and Laurel leaning in, asking for a "family hug", and spreading cheese and jam on slices of french bread, and the deep sense of contentment of being Three.

Life is so good this summer. Laurel's first kayak trip at the River House, and watching cartoons with Grandpa Curly. Collecting flowers with Grandma Cake, and swimming in a pool at Yia-Yia's. Camping in our tent, where her tiny body curls up next to mine in the deepest part of the night, after crickets but before birds, when it is cool and damp and silent. Hot days bent over weeds at the farm, and seeking solace in our air conditioned bedrooms in the early evening, building block towers and waiting for the Drring-Drrring of M's bicycle bell as he comes home from work.