Friday, July 31, 2009

Another view

I love seeing pictures of my kids that I didn't take- it gives me such a different perspective. I think this is partly because other picture-takers may prefer different angles or simply have a different style with the camera, but also because our kids look at us differently than they do other people.

Our friend Agnes took this picture with her phone while we were all at the playground this morning, and I was so surprised when I opened it- I've never seen Clio stand this particular way, and the expression is new to me, too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Public Service Announcement

If you allow your child to behave thus at the beach:


you may discover that sand does come out the other end the following day.

(thanks for capturing Eleri in her full glory, Martin)

Friday, July 24, 2009

Overheard

"Elsie is my friend. We suck our thumbs and say "cody cody*" to Elsie's daddy, Martin."

"Now it's time to honk shoe."
Lies down in bed, gets under the covers
"Honk shoooooe. Honk shoooooe."

Upon watching Kayla's solo on So You Think You Can Dance:
"Mommy, where's her Prince?"

"Puppies, kittens, and rainbow ponies are my favorite."
Puppies, kittens, and rainbow ponies?
"Yes. And sharks."

* there seems to be a coded language at day care these days, largely comprised of the words "tootie" and "cody." As in, "see you later, tootie-cody."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Things My Mother Never Told Me

When I worked at Real Simple magazine nearly a decade ago (as a photo editor), a writer was assigned a piece called "Things My Mother Never Told Me" for the May issue; it was an interesting way in to the subject of motherhood on the occasional of Mother's Day, but the writer fell short in the editor's eyes, and while the piece ran, it ran under a different title. Before the issue went to press, the editor had mentioned this to me and I got it into my head that I would write the piece and have it published in the magazine; I didn't, it didn't, opportunity lost.

I was reminded of this not long ago when my dear friend Marni brought her first son into the world, Daniel Bing Schapiro; when I got to the hospital, their small room was filled with family, yet Marni's first words when I entered were, "How long until my vagina feels better?" Without missing a beat, I said "About a week. Depending on tearing." Our mothers were part of a generation who were not respected for their role in the birth process, when the rise of the Birth Industry privileged science over nature, the father over the mother: like so many women in the 60s and 70s, my mother had three scheduled c-sections despite her youth and health; before the first operation, the Doctor asked my father whether she wore a bikini- this determined the direction of the incision (horizontal: she was, indeed, a sunbather). I remember after Clio was born how strange it was to think that my experience of birth was so different from my own mother's, and that because of this she could not answer questions like Marni's.

Mother memory is short. At the hospital, Marni's mother, Max, asked me how much newborns cry in the first few days. Because we are one of history's oldest generations of mothers, there is often a gap of three or even four decades between our mother's infant experience and our own, and they can't possibly remember these things. When Clio was 6 months old, we went to the Bronx to visit friends with a 5-week old, and Dave and I marveled at how much we had already forgotten: the mustard-like poop, the newborn wail, the floppy neck, which milestones happened at what age. Mothers keep on being mothers even when their children are grown, and the details of their parenting evolve to homework and boy trouble and college decisions and weddings. When people had very large families and started them young, like my father's family, the youngest may have been in diapers when the oldest went off to high school, keeping the mother much more present in the broad range of milestones that pepper our lives. But those mothers were also, by necessity, more absent in the details (my father is one of a dozen or so kids): they relied on their older kids to raise the younger ones. Now, I keep reading articles stating statistics like the high percentage of today's mothers whose own infant is the first they've ever held; and hearing anecdotal evidence from mothers whose kids' diapers are the first they've ever changed. Mothers also live further than ever from their families, and the community of women--mothers, aunts, sisters,cousins--who once taught the basic skills of diapering, breastfeeding, bathing, are now only available by phone, and motherhood is a hands-on job. While I started babysitting at 11 and remember changing my infant cousins' diapers as a pre-teen, when I was pregnant with Clio I refused to hold any baby because it had been so long and I was afraid that I would be expected to display motherly instincts that I feared I might not have. Last week at the playground, I encountered a nine-year old who had come alone with her one-year old sister, presumably to help their mom out. Recently, a Montana woman was arrested and prosecuted for child endangerment after sending her 3- and 7-year old kids to the mall in the care of her 12-year old daughter and a friend.

There are such conflicting messages here: birth has become medicalized, but motherhood is still expected to come "naturally" to women who have never so much as held a baby, yet giving pre-teen or teenage girls the responsibility to care for their younger siblings makes a mother a criminal. This is insanity. Without support and education for a natural birth process, without some empathy and understanding (as well as resources for skill-building) for the challenging early days of motherhood, and without ongoing support from a community of friends in an era where women live far from their families, how can we expect women to come into their own as mothers? Marni's struggle to adapt to her new life brought it all back to me: the hormone imbalance, the sleep-deprivation, the guilt I felt that I was not immediately overcome by a sense of unconditional love for my child, the sense of incompetence or inadequecy, the occasional wish that I could put the baby back inside, where caring for her had been easy. In sharing this with Marni, I realized something even more critical: we have been silenced, and that silence does other mothers a disservice. When I told Marni about my own experiences, she asked me why she'd never heard this before? Why no one had told her how hard it would be? I found myself saying, because we're not allowed to talk about it. And even if it didn't break the social code to admit just how very hard it is, by telling anyone that we are having a hard time with motherhood admits failure where failure is not allowed, and opens us up to judgment where judgment already thrives. Mothers are "supposed" to know, in their blood, what to do, and they are "supposed" to do it with grace and joy. What the world has forgotten is that, like anything, motherhood is a skill. Only we are now hard pressed to find mentors, and the working conditions for on-the-job training are less than ideal. The woman in Montana writes about her struggle with her arrest from a place of sadness that her instincts have been so thoroughly questioned; she refuses to plead guilty for a suspended sentence (the easiest path) because that admission of wrongdoing would undo her as a mother, something that no mother can afford.

Enough of the time, I take joy in parenting my girls, and all of the time, I love them. But it has been (and will always be) a long journey, and I wish more people had told me more of the time that I was doing a great job, or--even better!--that it was okay to do just a passable job.

We all have different experiences as mothers, and there's plenty that no one can tell you--both good and bad--about what you will experience. There is more information about pregnancy and motherhood available in the mainstream than ever before (I remember watching Knocked Up and being surprised that a mucous plug would now be common knowledge), yet that information is often not from what we would call "trusted sources," and with so many different opinions out there, it can be hard to know what to listen to. I count myself lucky that my boss told me about the squirt bottle you use in lieu of toilet paper in the first days following birth; that a friend of a friend sent me an email with "the ultimate baby list" with the minimum supplies needed; that I found a peer group of moms at the same stage as me to relate our ongoing questions and concerns about motherhood; that my own mother could hop on a plane and be here to support me days after the birth of each of the girls; and that I was available to pass on some of my own hard-won knowledge when Marni needed it.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Menu

Several people have asked for different recipes from our picnic birthday party, so I'm just posting them all here:

White Bean Dip with Rosemary and Sage, and crudite

Pasta Salad with Asparagus and Lemon
Tomato and Cantaloupe Salad
Roasted Broccoli with Garlic and Red Pepper
Roasted Garbanzo Beans with Garlic and Swiss Chard

Yellow Cupcakes with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
Oatmeal Cookies (on the top of the oats container- the classic!)

Peanut Butter and Jelly Station
String Cheese
Fruit Leather

YUM!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Play Doh Petersons

On a happier note, Clio got all kinds of wonderful arts and crafts for her birthday, which she is thoroughly enjoying. Last night we made "snowmen" out of play doh; she decided to make a while family of play doh snowmen in our likeness.

The yellow one is Dave, the little one hiding is Eleri; but I'm not sure if I'm red and Clio is blue or vice versa.


Clio did not want to dismantle them, but I suggested that we take some portraits as a way to hold onto them, and she agreed that would be okay. Also a sneaky, sneaky way for me to take her picture, since the photo ban is on again.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Status Update

Panic.

For all of you have remarked at how calm I am about this whole move thing, how zen, well, the moment has come: I'm freaking out. So there you go. I'm human.

Last night, Dave and I were trying to sort some details about actual, specific, move logistics (like who is driving what vehicle from Brooklyn to Boulder), and I got butterflies in my stomach and tears in my eyes and when I was finally able to speak again I said - well, first I said "I can't talk about this right now" and left the room to do some laundry and cry in private- but then I said, "I'm sorry- I think it's just hitting me."

"That we're moving?" Dave asked, and laughed. Which is fair because really, it is a little ridiculous. Especially since I have always been the future-oriented part of this pairing. And since I have been pushing for a move for at least 2 years.

"Not that we're moving- What that means," I said. And he didn't know what to say to that.

I think what has happened is this: for several months now, I have gone from one deadline to another, just making it, under the wire, in the eleventh hour: from the two books to the trip to Boulder to the lease on a new rental and contract at a new school to our first Open House to the girls' birthday parties. And now all of that is behind me and as the air clears.... I see a much bigger, badder, scarier deadline looming and suddenly it is so very soon and there is way too much to do and we have so little control over so many big things like selling our house and finding me a job in a city where I have no connections and it is pushing my boundaries waaaaaaaaaaaay beyond my comfort zone. Have I ever mentioned that I am a control freak? That I am terrible at anticipation? Yes? Okay. Well, both still true.

Meanwhile, at the birthday party this weekend, I actually saw friends. Lots of them. And I remembered that I like them a lot. That even if I do not have family here, I have an important support network. I mean, who's going to loan me their card table and grocery cart in Boulder? Who would help us carry all of our party supplies back to our car- if we had anyone to host at a party in the first place? I am at that point where I can look at the calendar of the time we have left all on a single page. Where my days are so finite that I will no longer be able to do everything and see everyone I want to before we go- it simply won't be possible. And I hate this sense that somehow I let time slip away, that I should have managed better, chosen differently, re-prioritized. Of course, having kids just highlights the passing of time because they change so much so quickly- and visibly; last week, my best friend had her first baby, a beautiful boy named Daniel Bing, and while I am so glad that I got to meet him in his very first hours, I am also aware that I won't be here as he gets big and sits up and learns to crawl, or while Marni grows into motherhood. Daniel is a bittersweet reminder of all that I am leaving behind, and I am afraid with the knowledge of how easily we can forget, move on, live our lives isolated by the moment.

I take some comfort in knowing myself well enough to know that once we get to Boulder, I should be fine: I don't do well with arriving; I'm much more comfortable having arrived. But I also know that in a way, because our whole time in Boulder is designed as a transition, we will actually spend our next year or two in a state of arriving; I am trying to be excited about that, but I'm also a little nervous to willingly put myself outside my comfort zone for such an extended period. So no, it's not just hitting me that we are moving in physical time or space; but I am just starting to wrap my head around the distance I am asking myself to move on the less tangible scales of measurement.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Eleri's Birthday Cake




A letter from your mother on the occasion of your first birthday

Dear Eleri,
Oh, my glorious second child. It's days after your birthday and I'm finally getting to this letter. There was a party to plan, and on your actual birthday, after we served you a wedge of Clio's birthday cake with your own candle stuck in it and put you to bed, I just wasn't feeling it. But there is something to be said for being a second child: you get in on the traditions earlier. I started these birthday letters with Clio's second, but here I am, commemorating your first.

You're a funny little girl. You like to drape things around your neck, scarf-like (the long handles of fabric totes, strings from Clio's lacing work). We got you a little bus for your birthday, and you have taken to hiding all of the people under one of the living room chairs. Lately, you love to climb the stairs; you get yourself onto the landing, rise up on your knees, then reach one hand out to whoever is near and make a noise that says, let's go? You crawl with tremendous speed. You have super-baby strength. (Clio gets upset when I marvel at this, says "I'm strong, too." But I will say here, you are strangely, powerfully strong; the rest of us, relatively speaking, cannot compare.) At Day Care, they all call you "Pretty Girl." At home, in one short year you have earned three totem-animal names. For your tendency to bend forward or throw yourself down, forehead to the floor, in any and all unhappy circumstances, we call you The Ostrich. For the alarming way that you chew through cardboard--boxes, book spines--and gnaw on wood--blocks, your crib rails--we call you The Beaver. And for your cutest-ever fatty thighs, we call you Chunky Monkey.

Monkey, too, for the way you shriek. Just the other night, you let out a howl (accompanied by flailing hands and shaking head) so loud and prolonged, your dad, sister, and I were all silenced over dinner. When we looked at you, agape, you showed your teeth and laughed. If it weren't for that laugh, and the fact that you seemed perfectly happy, I might have called what had transpired a tantrum. It's happened more and more often since then (we reacted too well, didn't we?); and perhaps it is, in fact, frustration. At your one-year checkup on Friday, the pediatrician asked about language. "No words yet, but she communicates with me," I said. "No words?" she asked, and I shook my head, unconcerned. "Usually by one they're at least saying Mama and Dada." And she gave us a prescription for reading aloud to you (tricky when you'd rather eat the book) and labeling things repeatedly. I was not concerned, but perhaps you are: last night, when I gave you a bottle (BOTTLE. BOTTLE. BOTTLE.), you smiled delightedly, pointed to it, and repeated something that passed for two syllables and seemed to start with the letter b. I guess I forgot that you're not just going to learn it all on your own. At day care they claim you say "ja ja ja," the Spanish expression for "enough!"

As I have written here, you are adventurous. You love to jump on the bed, and you tend to throw yourself backwards, without looking; sometimes this ends badly, but your tears don't last long. You give big bear hugs. You play peekabo with me, grabbing my long hair and pulling it, like a curtain, in front of my face. You are independent- yesterday, at your birthday party, you hung out on a blanket with a changing stream of babies and adults; you just scavenged for fallen crackers and took it all in.

Sometimes I worry that we are not serving your particular needs well enough, partly because you are completely undemanding (except for that outstretched hand asking us to take you upstairs again), and partly because you are a second child, with a sister more capable of voicing her desires. You get dragged along wherever we take Clio, even if it means you must ride in a stroller or carrier instead of participating. But you know what? You always seem happy in the stroller, swinging your legs, once again taking it all in. On your actual birthday, I finally took you to the tot lot, the little playground in Prospect Park built for little ones like you. Mostly, you just wanted to pull yourself up and stand at the rail of the slide platform, calling out to the rest of us, or crawl after someone else's ball, but somehow you seemed to think the whole thing was great.
You're a pretty easy baby. So far. Thanks goodness for that!

What do most want you to know at one? Your greatest gift is that you make people feel good. When I get you up in the morning or following a nap, you give me a big hug and we look at ourselves in the mirror, cheeks pressed together. There's lots of change ahead, and we'll do our best to tune in to you. For now, let's get you talking so you can tell us what's on your mind yourself.

We love you,

Mom.

The Aftermath

We're still recovering from Clio and Eleri's double-birthday fiesta yesterday, which was lots of fun and LOTS of work!

Case in point, please view our house before:


and after:


And we have realtors coming tomorrow!

You can see why blog posts may be slow in coming.

I know: Excuses, excuses.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Vital Stats

Check ups today.

Eleri Ruth:
22 1/2 pounds
29 1/2 inches
(apparently most kids go down in weight from 9 months to one year becaue they're so active; not Eleri, she's been working hard to keep up the size of her thighs)

Clio Grace:
First off, let me remark that she has reached the point where we no longer talk about her height in inches, but in feet.
3' 1"
31 pounds (give or take- the scale turned out to be such an ordeal that we had to weigh me (while the Doctor held Eleri) then weigh me holding Clio, then do the math. And by the way, I did not need to know my own number, thanks very much.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Cake

Clio cared about the birthday dessert this year. A lot.
For her party at the Museum, she chose cookies with red frosting. Dave obliged with star-shaped sugar cookies, and Clio helped me frost.

For her birthday dinner, she chose cake. I made this one from scratch, with frosting to match the aforementioned birthday dress.

She loved it.
A lot.



This is right about when she said "and after I finish this, I will ask for some more."
And we, mean parents both, told her firmly that the answer would be no.

She didn't seem to mind even that.

The Festivities

For Clio's birthday, we went to the Brooklyn Children's Museum with her friends Elsie and Isabella. They saw a LOT.



In fact, looking at the pictures, it's hilarious to see how much they "traveled" over the course of our four-hour stay:

After hopping on the bus



(and getting behind the steering wheel)



the girls visited a bakers



a grocery store



a stream



a beach


and many other environments.

They held hands



and drew pictures



and towards the end of the day, they discovered the world of dance. There's this great exhibit with a large screen that plays footage of different culturally-specific dance performances; kids can perform on the "stage" in front of the screen for an audience on the other side of the curtains. The girls loved the Irish step dancers in particular, and the grown ups loved the chance to sit down for a few minutes!




(As a related aside, I will mention that Clio loves So You Think You Can Dance. On the morning of her birthday we asked if she wanted to watch some special fireworks (we taped the Macy's display the night before); she watched for about 2 seconds and then announced, "I want to watch the dancing." So far, she prefers ballroom and ballet to hip hop and contemporary, but any girl in a pink costume wins her over promptly.)

Speaking of pink dresses, please note Clio's darling tennis-inspired Ralph Lauren number; a gift from my mother, Clio wore this for three days straight (I didn't let her sleep in it as desired the second night, but got it into the washing machine instead!)

On the way home from the museum, Clio conked right out in the car. I'd say a good time was had by all!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A letter from your mother on the occasion of your third birthday

Dear Clio,

Today you are three years old. I remember, before your sister was born, meeting a couple on a plane who had two girls two years apart, which they said was great because the older daughter couldn't remember a time without the younger. Sometimes I feel this way about you: of course I know that I spent 3 decades without you, before you, yet it's difficult to look back and remember my life without filtering it through you and the experience of having you.

Last year, I think writing this letter was simple. There were plenty of things I wanted you to know, a clear image of who I wanted to remember you being at just-two; but in the past year you've grown complicated, and this writing is hard. Two becoming three is a difficult age; I had heard this as we went in (lots of people said things like "you think two is bad; wait until she's three!"), but it has been an interesting struggle to live through it with you. I have thought a lot about the "terrible twos" and, as much as this phase was labeled by adults because, I suppose, they feel it is terrible for them, I think the truth might be that two is terrible for the two year olds: everything is changing; you are somewhere between being a baby and being a kid. Even the names for this are awkward: you are preschoolers outgrowing your toddlerhood.

You have tested a lot of limits this year. You have shed a lot of tears--real and crocodile--and whined way too many requests, barked a few too many orders, demanded time and again that we do it for you, though you take such great pleasure (ultimately) in doing it yourself. You have been to school, and thrived there. You have developed real friendships, with Lydia in the neighborhood and Haley at school and, especially, Elsie, Isabella, and Deston at day care. You are a loving and caring friend, giving kisses, saying I love you, doing a wonderful job of sharing, taking turns, and following the other kids' lead. You are also extremely sensitive, and while you are quickest to laugh and be in on the joke, you are also quickest to dissolve into something else. A drama queen. Stormy weather.

Last year we sort of missed your birthday as we waited for your sister to arrive. This year, for the first time you are really aware of birthdays (you tell anyone who will listen "My birthday is 5 July") and, I think, you were really looking forward to a celebration. And we wanted to give you one; it was really important to me that it be special, and that it be all for you, and about you. Lately, you seem a little unsure of things where Eleri is concerned, a little threatened, maybe. Sometimes when she does something funny you repeat it many times; or when we play a game you want the same treatment as her, even though she's so much smaller. I hate to watch this struggle, because you are so funny and so charming and so lovely in your own ways; I hope you will remember this, or learn it, and that you will carry that knowledge forward. I wonder how we can help. The other day, we were walking down the street and out of the blue you asked, "Mommy, are you proud of me?" And my heart nearly broke. Of course I am proud of you; you shouldn't have to ask. You make me proud every day, even if you also make me crazy. I think for you and I, these will be the two sides of the same coin: complicated, see? For me, the lesson to carry forward will be making sure you feel my pride in you, right to your very marrow.

We do this thing at night before bed called Big Day, in which I recount for you the events of your day (every day is a Big day for you). It is an opportunity for me to reinforce good behaviors, to praise you for the things you have done well and to give you gentle reminders of the things we'd rather you not do. For some reason, you love this routine; I'm not sure if it's because your days feel so big that you want to remember and savor them before submitting to sleep, or if you are truly just stalling a little more. What sorts of things do we recount for you? Places we go: the aquarium still seems to be the favorite, though you also love the Children's Museum and any playground. Things we do: you can write your name and identify all the letters (you actually signed some of your birthday thank you notes "MOM"), string beads into a necklace, recite many of your books by heart, sing all of your bedtime songs (including big songs like "Maybe" from Annie and "Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music), put your shoes on yourself, help set the table, pour the milk into your cereal, help with your sister. Things we're working on: potty training (you've been diaper free for months now), not sticking out your tongue (this drives your father crazy).

You are learning about independence. Right now this mostly means you resist things we ask you to do; we have to count to 5 a lot to get you going. But it also means you want to choose things. You've been choosing your outfits forever. You often ask me to give you "options," for dinner, for books, for bedtime songs. Often, you choose some secret option number three that I have not listed. That's okay; I guess you just need some ideas to get you going. You say quite often "Mom, it's not a competition," something you must have picked up at day care; you'll often say "I won you" if you finish eating first, or get your socks on quickly. You haven't quite grasped the concept--you were devastated last week when you didn't win a cupcake at Titi's house because you didn't fall asleep first at nap time--and I hate that it is in your vocabulary at all. All of this makes me feel like you are twelve, that other painfully in-between stage. I am looking forward to putting you in a Montessori school full time next year. You can be susceptible to your peers, and I think you will take to the independence required of you in this new environment as you see your fellow students getting their own work, cleaning up after themselves. I am eager to see you continue to discover how much you are capable of. I am thinking about ways that I can help. So often with positive reinforcement you do not resist; you say, so nicely, "okay Mom, I will."

Lately, your dad has taken to calling you Little Bear; your sister, Little Bird. At first I thought this was backwards: you have the delicate sensibility, the love for singing, the tendency to flap your wings or twirl around as if you might like to take flight, while Eleri is grounded, rumbling in her crawl. But you are also ferocious. Protective. You love us fiercly; you continue to mother your dolls, your animals, your sister. You give the gentlest, tiny little kisses on my arm, my knee, my cheek.

I think I struggle with this letter because I, too am sensitive; I, too thrive on positive reinforcement, and I worry that you will read this letter and feel slighted. That you will see only negative here. And maybe because it is not always easy to be honest with myself, I hope someday you will understand that it is my gift to be honest with you. We're struggling a bit right now. But we love you so very much. We love having you in our lives, even if sometimes you make things more complicated, slower, harder. It's our job as your parents, and we take that job seriously. We love the joy you open us up to; we love watching you take pleasure in small things, like your birthday cake with the pink icing (half way through your piece, you told us, "and when I finish this, I will ask for more.") When you laugh, it's infectious. When you twirl around in a skirt, I want to be three, too. Your dad and I often catch each other's eye over your head and smile at something you have said, or done. Let's focus on that.

Happy birthday Clio.
I love you so much,

Mom

Three!

video

Music: Woody Guthrie