Today I looked around the house and found it was covered with notes and posters and lists, all labeled with various forms of L-A-U-R-E-L, and then maybe another random word. Like hello. Or camel. Laurel is just on the brink of learning how to read and write. She can do her first name by herself and can write most letters of the alphabet. She practices a lot, on her own mostly, because I am cautious about meddling. I realized too that she's started choosing at least one "baby" book each night, the sort with very few words, that she can read to me or to the stuffed animals lined up next to her pillow. It's wild to me, this effortless shift into literacy, because I spend all day at work moving mountains to make it happen for other kids. Today at training one of the Reading Warriors lent me a book to read. I've noticed this start to happen - kids trading paperbacks and making recommendations to each other. But never have they had the confidence or awareness to give me something to read. When children's books were mentioned many of them even jotted down the title and author. Tiny victories for my cause. But then at home, where literacy isn't a cause, just a thing we do, the victories are tiny as well. So maybe there aren't any mountains to move after all.


Some Days...

Some days I get a little too optimistic with my list of errands, and parked in the garage underneath the Target, I realize there are not one, but two sleeping children in the back seat. Unplanned naps, a little too close to dinner. I immediately wish for a service you could call, where someone would come and watch your car for you while you picked up two things at the store...just two things is all. Instead, I pull out my phone and try to answer emails, update my calendar. The connection is too slow. I think about taking a nap myself. Check the clock. Only 14 minutes until we pick up M.

Some days dinner just doesn't get made and everyone snacks on peanut butter sandwiches. Some days the sink is backed up again. Some days Marko manages to sneak into the hall closet and take little nibbly bites out of every roll of toilet paper before I catch him, and scoop him up into my arms, twirling around in the hallway while he giggles.

How is it possible that there are so many dishes when we didn't even cook dinner? Why is it that I haven't spared a minute to call my friend - didn't even think about it - until her husband pedaled past me this morning while I sat at a traffic light?  Whatever happened to origami night?

It's not an unhappy existence. Mostly, I'm filled with gratitude and joy. But the relentless cycle of chores done and then immediately undone that is so much a part of parenting young children, well, let's just say, some days, it gets to me a little bit.



IMG_4263You know M & K are always up for a road trip. Luckily, Laurel shares M's love of Sheetz MTO's and Marko doesn't mind riding in the car, so family trips are pretty fun. This weekend, we took off for Ohiopyle. It was warm enough that we could have camped, but we had a camping cottage. I am a huge fan of the camping cottage. So much less wet and muddy than camping. The one we stayed in had heat, electricity, and furniture - including a picnic table on the porch, and bunk beds, and table and chairs inside. No bathroom, but the bathhouse was toasty warm and had hot showers and was just down the road. We brought bags full of books and puzzles, ingredients to make cheese sandwiches and coffee and chilled out all weekend. M and I both actually finished books, we went on a nice hike from the campground into the town of Ohiopyle and did a little drive to Mt. Davis - high point of Pennsylvania - on our way home.

We've been trying to really prioritize these last few months, and one thing that keeps coming up is going to the mountains and spending time with our little family of four.  I just took on a full time job (Assistant Director! Ooooh, fancy!) and M continues to be busy with Co-op board work and working on the farm, in addition to his full-time job. I know both of us are grateful for all of the "work" in our lives - we are blessed to be doing things that we enjoy and believe are worthwhile, but still, sometimes you need a little time away.

Check out our pictures from the weekend here.



The lady in the cafe asked her how old she was and she said, without hesitation, "I'm four. I just had my birthday." And so here we are. Now that the excitement of the many birthday parties is over, four means an obsession with making lists and naming letters and My Little Ponies. Four is I can leave you to play while I take a shower, and you are going to fold your own clothes and put them away now, and mommy-daughter dates to the Conservatory on Sundays. We ordered lunch at the Cafe and made conversation while we ate.

Yesterday I had training with the Reading Warriors and we read this article on the word gap. Aside from the fact that articles from the Washington Post are really hard for 10th graders to wrap their heads around, it went pretty well. The part they latched onto was at the end, about the eggplants.

One telling anecdote recounts a late night visit to the grocery store, where the teller observed three moms interacting with their children about a pile of eggplants. Pointing to an eggplant, the first child asked, “What is that?” The mother replied: “I don’t know. Shut up. Don’t ask me any questions.” The second child posed a similar question and his mom said, “It’s an eggplant, but we don’t eat it.” Then the third child asked the same thing, and her mom replied, “It’s an eggplant; one of the few purple vegetables we have. Look at its smooth and shiny skin, its exterior. (…) Let’s buy this eggplant, take it home, slice it open and see how it looks inside.”
Every day I'm reminded of the juxtaposition between my kids, and those literally 5 blocks down the street, on the other side of the train trestle. I research and plan and model ways to have eggplant conversations with the children in our after school programs. Laurel is hungry for information, for making sense of the world, just as all the children I work with are. But our eggplant conversations with Laurel feel effortless...in fact, it would be hard to stop them at this point, because she expects big answers from us. In contrast, trying to get after-school program staff to talk with children about something of substance has proven challenging.

Today, as we left Phipps and walked down the sidewalk, Laurel paused to pick up a few leaves. "These don't look like leaves I've seen before," she said, "Let's take some samples home and look it up in the tree book."

Laurel learned to identify maple, oak, buckeye and sycamore leaves a while ago because those were the trees we passed on the way to and from daycare each day. She made collections over and over again, stuffed them in her coat pockets and gave bunches of them to neighbors we passed. I suppose in a way those walks were a big time investment in her learning, although it could also be said that we were simply making the best of only having one car.

When we got home, I showed her how to page through the beginning of the book to match the outline of the leaf. We decided it was a ginkgo. I knew these leaves for the stinky berries that fall from the same tree. They are planted all over Pitt's campus. But I learned something new as we read the description together....they are considered a "living fossil." Laurel lost interest before I even finished reading the complete paragraph, but later when when she was out in her front yard, she discovered more ginkgo leaves and traced them to the row of bright yellow trees that line the block on the other side of the street from us.

The whole ginkgo conversation was maybe 5 minutes total out of our day. How many other similar vocabulary-enriching interactions did we have without even thinking about it? Curiosity begets curiosity. It's just hard to get it going in the first place sometimes.



The anticipation of four is almost better than the actual birthday. She's been talking about it since just after she turned three, and inviting everyone she meets to her birthday party. Four became this dividing line between present and future. She would be brave when she was four, and sleep in her own bed. (She has since revised this plan to occur when she is five). She would learn to read. She would be a big kid in her class.

Four years, we said to each other, drying dishes and packing lunches in the kitchen after the children were asleep, have we really only been doing this parenting thing for four years? It feels like forever. It feels like always. The other day, we stopped at the car wash. A year or so ago, Laurel freaked out when I went into the car wash - full on tantrum, crying, terrified. Since then, we had honored her request to avoid it. (Also, you know, we suck at remembering to do things like wash the car.) But recently, she got over it, so there we were on a beautiful sunny autumn day, music blaring, etc. When we pulled up, she got very still in her car seat and held onto a stuffed animal. Her eyes were focused on something else - maybe on Four - and she whispered to herself, "that is a machine to wash cars. I am not afraid." She willed herself out of the fear and in that moment I saw so much of myself in her, and remembered why I have never been happier in all my life.

Being a parent to small children is a series of ridiculous anecdotes. Someone is always shitting their pants or throwing up on you. Things are tossed out the car window. You get soaking wet at bathtime every night and sometimes eat leftover baby food for dinner. Your house is always littered with blocks and pacifiers.

But being Laurel's mother has also forced me to answer hard questions, to be more honest than I am with nearly anyone else, and to say I'm sorry. Laurel coaxes out the Me that was always in there. She convinces us to take pleasure in an ice cream cone, finding acorns in the woods, and bedtime stories. She calls us out when we do something stupid or mean. She can be very wise. It's like being on stage in front of an audience of psychotherapists 24-7. She tests limits, she screams loudly when she is disappointed or angry. She cries, hard. She asks us for what she wants. She asks everyone for what she wants.

We are going way overboard with her birthday, in a way that is rather uncharacteristic of us. She's getting three parties, lots of gifts, too many sweets. I'm blowing up dozens of balloons and running out to the grocery store twice a day to prepare for the various meals we're cooking. But I can't stop. She delights in every little bit of it, from the card that arrived from my grandmother with two dollar bills in it, to the balloons hanging on the wall.

So, happy birthday, Laurel. Happy Four.



The trees that line my street are a brilliant yellow-gold. Such a deep color that it seems sunny outside even when it's not. For this one week, I see beauty instead of speeding cars and a gas station parking lot filled with used condoms and cigarette butts. As a season, fall stretches out from the first cool night in August until December, but the moments that make it feel like fall are fleeting. A rainbow of colors one day and then the next, bare branches and a pile of wet, rotting leaves to scoop out of your gutters. When we left for school today, it was quite windy, with leaves swirling around our driveway, fluttering down like fat snowflakes. Laurel immediately started skipping and singing, "Fall is my favorite season!"

Marko is now officially 9 months old. Seventeen pounds, if you like to hear stats like that. He babbles and crawls, pulls himself up on the furniture and stairs. He likes to eat cheerios and graham crackers. We wonder what his first word will be, and not sure if we should count his calls for "Ummma ummma mama mama," when he's looking for me. He knows the sign for milk. He waves goodbye and mimics our sounds. He's starting to get object permanence, and I swear he hides things for later...little bits of paper he finds or a stale cheerio.

November brings change. A new job for me. We will have a four year old in the house by this time next week. M is winding down his weekly trips to work on the farm. Every surface of the house is filled with harvest bounty - things are drying and fermenting and waiting to be blanched and frozen.