Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Clio turns 6, in pictures

Eleri Turns 4, in pictures

A letter to my future birthday-planning self

The girls have started planning their birthday parties. Tonight, in great detail, Clio described the "face cake" she would like to have, and Eleri has been putting items on her birthday wish list since, well, the day after her birthday.

 Enough time has passed that I am not so emotional about it, but this year, like last, the girls' birthday parties were a disaster. Not for them; and not, perhaps, in the end. Just for me. In the planning and the doing. And because enough time has passed, I both understand how trivial the "disasters" really were, and have forgotten just enough of it now to know I will forget completely by next year if I do not write this note to myself.

So here goes.

A letter to myself on the future occasion of my children's birthdays: 

Your children do not need a big event. They do not need a special venue or fancy invitations or to invite every child in their class. Your children very much want an event on (or as near as possible to) their actual birthday with a few of their favorite people. They want an event that celebrates them but does not pressure them. You can accomplish this by simply being thoughtful.

Your children know what they like to eat, and they sure like treats. They know what the party food should be, and how the cake should look, including the geometric angles at which the color-block frosting should meet. Listen to them.

Your children are not greedy, but when all of the presents are opened, they might look for more. Don't make them feel bad about it--it's no big deal. And if they don't love a present and don't hide it very well, just remember that you don't really want to teach them to lie anyway, and that your lessons in manners will sink in someday. It's okay if today is not that day.

Your children do not need a "big" present, from you or anyone else. When they are small, they do not know the relative (money) value of presents. But your children do like big gigantic things, and they very like teensy-tiny things. By all means give them presents at either/both ends of a physical or emotional scale, but leave the monetary one out of it.

Your children do not need fancy favors or decorations or matching anything. But someday soon, ask them if they would like a theme. Whatever it is (and it will probably be weird) ask them how they would like to decorate. Follow orders. Don't worry about all those beautiful parties you see on blogs, and give pinterest a rest--fun isn't often as pretty as all that.

Your children will want to spend time with all their friends, but they want you to celebrate, too. Go easy on yourself. The food doesn't have to be perfect. Nothing has to be perfect. Just make sure you are perfectly present. The only (other) perfection you should go for is in the way your child feels on this day, but do know that you can't control that. Don't be disappointed in them if they have disappointments this day, like any other.

Also. Maybe your photo-loathing children won't appreciate it now, but try to get a picture of your family on this day. Yes, all of you. More than anything else, they may thank you for that one day.

Sincerely, Yourself

p.s. If you want one practical bit of advice? With holiday-time birthdays and an unreliable school directory, next year, for goodness sake, send printed invites and follow up with phone calls a week before the event. If you thank me for nothing else, thank me for that one.

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Letter From Your Mother on the Occasion of Your Fourth Birthday

Eleri bellery pudding and pie,

Eleri belle, belle-belle, baby noodle, noodley toodles.

Today you are four years old.

You're a funny girl, did you know that?  You have this amazing natural comic timing that makes us all laugh.  To be honest, half the time I'm not sure you know why it's funny, which part was the punchline, but of course you love cracking us up just the same.  Your silly faces and crazy dances.  Your jokes--it feels like you have been telling honest-to-goodness jokes since you could speak.  Remember the one about the eyeballs?  I think it was one of your first full sentences.

When you are not being silly, you are working with laser focus.  You are so deep in concentration (or in your own little world) that it can take physical intervention to get your attention.  Just saying your name is not enough: we need to put a hand on your shoulder, brush back your hair, lift your chin to make eye contact.  Then you can hear us.

You continue to do things all in your own good time.  And let's be honest, your speed settings do not include "quick."  In your end of school report, your teachers wrote that you understand the rules of the community, but take your own sweet time complying.  We are no strangers to this at home.  When you change outfits a million times a day, it is because you are "too sweaty."  When you do not want to pick up toys (and really, do you ever?), "Clio left it out."  But when you want to help, oh you are marvelous.  Scraping carrots (to their core.)  Mixing batter for cake or muffins (and licking the beater as reward.  Did I ever tell you that you got your chin stuck in one of those once?)  Watering the plants or folding napkins.

You are also stubborn, and will do it your way or not at all.  Luckily, your way is usually agreeable.  But not always.  You sure do know how to stonewall your sister.  In the car on the drive to school, you often want stories.  You two never, ever want the same one on the same day (even though the list we choose from is only  4 or 5 long.)  You would rather have no story than not-your-story, and compromise often means Clio caving.  At night, too, when you each choose songs, you are not very diplomatic if you don't like Clio's choice.  You will simply shriek over me singing.  The solution has been for me to whisper-sing Clio's song right in her ear, and since she loves this, it works out just fine.  But why does it need to be this way, my dear?  And really, enough already with the shrieking.  I have had to pull the car over and park until you stop.

You are fond of "trickin."  (Clio is too.)  Like pretending to suck your thumb pretty flagrantly until we tell you to stop, and it turns out you were just pretending, your thumb tucked inside your fist.  You use "trickin" as an excuse sometimes, too.  You do not like washing your hands, and sometimes after you use the bathroom you lie and say you have; when called out, you say you were "just trickin."  We got good smelling soap now, so the new drill is to let us smell your hands for proof.  Now when we ask and you have perhaps misled us, you just say "oh, I forgot" and wash 'em up.

You hear everything.  Yesterday, walking to your birthday party, I heard you saying "god dammit god dammit god dammit" under your breath, just totally matter of fact.  You must have heard me say this (probably in the car under poor driving conditions) and you were just testing it out.  Right?  But it was somehow so endearing, and also funny, and we often have to remind ourselves not to laugh at things we don't want repeated.

You (still) don't like change.  At the beginning of the summer program, when the class size is down and the groups get mixed, I walked you to another classroom and you just pointed at yours and burst into tears.  But maybe, as things change less for you and you gain a sense of security, this will begin to ebb. Tomorrow you will go to summer school in the school's new building, and when I mentioned this yesterday your response was unbridled (and uncharacteristic) enthusiasm.  We'll see what tomorrow brings.  This fall, though, you will return to the same class and the same teachers as last year.  With four different classrooms under your belt in four short years, I think this is the year where you finally get to really settle in.  I'm curious to see what that will bring for you.

As I think about it, four may also be the last year that is sort of "simple," from a parenting perspective.  This is the funny thing about parenting: the second time around, we recognize our own phases, not just yours.  Perhaps this means I will remember to slow down and enjoy it just a little more.  I can't wait to spend it with you.

Happy Birthday, big four year old.



A Letter from your Mother on the Occasion of your Sixth Birthday

Dear Clio,

We have been playing this little game lately, you and I.  You tell me you have a birthday coming up, I ask how old you will be, and when you say "six" it is my job to fall of my chair in shock.  Six!  Impossible!  Aren't you turning five?  No?  Then you must be just about four.  Right?  No?

You love this.  Love it disproportionately, actually, and the funny thing is, despite all those tropes about time flying and how it all goes so fast, you are, indisputably, ready for six, and I think we are too.


I think, the bigger you get, the harder these letters get.  When you were little, writing them was a way of creating or preserving memories when you would not have so many of your own.  As you grow, you will remember more, and I think my job is more and more about sharing just this one unique perspective, the mom's-eye view of Clio.  Sorting out what I want you to know about how I see you at just-six is not an easy task, like choosing which of your drawings to put in the box that you will inherit when you are grown.  But all I can do is share what seems important today.  In no particular order, some things I want you to know:

Your creativity knows no bounds.  In your mind, a bunch of toilet paper tubes are far too valuable to be recycled or tossed out.  In your hands, they are kittens, mountains, self-portraits.  An old spool of green ribbon had about 100 uses and counting.  I have started taking books of crafts out of the library and you want to do them all, will do them all, without supervision if that is what it takes.

You are a generous teacher, showing Eleri how to do your projects, reading books to a group of younger children.  Sharing is rarely a problem.

You are a collector.  You love boxes and containers of all kinds, and filling them up.  Cardboard boxes covered in stickers and glitter pom poms, filled with Littlest Pet Shop.  Small bowls filled with shells.  Stacking containers with plastic fruit.  You taped together two cups to collect seeds and pits and things that grow.  The cup contraption is called "Mr. Seeds" and you are intent on feeding him regularly.

You are a gardener.   This is your thing, yours and Daddy's.  Nothing excites you quite like the micro lettuces you have grown in the raised bed, the blossoms that herald the arrival of squash, the tiny yellow tomatoes you eat off the vine.  When anyone comes over, you want to bring them out to harvest raspberries and check for the tiny alpine strawberries that taste so sweet.

You are a voracious reader and a lover of stories.  After your discovery of a certain wizard, each morning began with one demand: "Read Harry Potter."  On your actual birthday, when you got to decide how to spend your day, half of it was devoted to reading, as your dad read you many chapters over the course of 2 or 3 hours.  If the house is quiet and we haven't seen you in a while, your nose is in a book somewhere,  breathing in the adventures of Ivy and Bean or Junie B Jones, or plowing through the recent haul from the library.  You keep your children's dictionary in my car for the not infrequent occasion that you would like to look up a big word (yesterday it was "awkward").  You love movies, too, and demand stories told in the car.

You are a natural athlete.  You are tall and swift and lean.  You run fast enough that it is common to hear people say we should put you in track, fast enough that I might sometimes call you my little Olympian.  You can swim to the bottom of the pool and from one side to the other, and I think you might be happiest in the water.  Slippery fish.

You question everything.  It is exhausting.  But I applaud you and will encourage you to continue.  Seriously: ask as many questions as you need answered.  Fight for what you want.  Think about why you want it.  Also--this is key-- know when to let it go.

You love me to the ends of the earth.  I don't always feel like I deserve it.  Truly, I am bringing out all the cliches now, but you make me want to be a better mom.  It is difficult, motherhood.  If you choose this path someday, you'll see.  If I read back through these annual letters, I know I will see themes, these things that make you who you are, that have been in you since birth.  That is what it is: it won't change.  (If I have learned anything, it is that people don't change.) So I hope I can encourage pride in the good things and acceptance of the things you don't love about yourself.  It's no use to pretend: we all have them.  By the time you read these letter, you will probably have a list forming somewhere in your mind.  The things you wish were different.  At six, I see a tiny bit of it already, the way you try on other traits, talk baby talk with certain friends, try to repeat the funny things that your sister does even when you don't totally get the joke.  So I tell you today, I don't love you in spite of those things and celebrate you for the most wonderful things you are and do.  I love you for all of it.  All of you.  Even if some day you make me crazy. And if you ever feel like you are forgetting that other list, the list of all the terrific things you are, I hope you will come back to these letters and see what I see.

I love you to the ends of the earth, and back again.



Thursday, June 7, 2012

I am Clio

Billion Books Bash

Bright Water had an excellent goal this year: A Million minutes of reading from the children in the school community.  All year, we tracked out minutes and handed in the numbers.  (Some of us more regularly than others.)  All yea, we watched the volume grow in a special sign at school.

Last night, we celebrated the accomplishment of exceeding this goal.

Clio chose to dress up as Trixie and Knuffle Bunny.

There are many beloved books around these parts, and yet, when asked to dress as her favorite character, Eleri suggested "That Barbie from the first Barbie book?"  I suspect she just wanted to wear a fancy dress.  We compromised on Sleeping Beauty (At least this was a fairy tale before it became a Disney movie, and we have on occasion read the story.)

Dave and I even got in on the action (but luckily I was not photographed.)  I was this:

But most people thought I was this:

Can you guess who Dave was?

If you guess Bartholomew Cubbins, you are correct.  Most people did not guess this.  It was amazing to me how many people didn't know books so familiar to us, and how many children brought favorite books to the event that I had never heard of.  We each have our own family canons, I suppose.

At this point in the year, it is fun to see the girls so comfortable at their school, and so cemented in some relationships.

Eleri sticks to Adele like glue.  (She has been saying she wants glasses, which I thought was because of Clio's glasses.  But then I heard her ask Adele, "how did you get your glasses?")

Clio has become very close with Elizabeth and Ophelia this year.  Both girls dressed as Dorothy, which may explain Clio's original plan to dress as Toto.

Sometimes I get overwhelmed at school functions.  Even though I know many of the families and most of the staff and administration, the noise of the gym and chaos of so many kids at an event can paralyze me.  I had been feeling sort of squinchy all day, and leaving the party in a sunshower broke me out of it.  The resulting full rainbow completely made my day.  We pulled into the dollar store parking lot on the way home to be sure everyone could see their fill.

The Graduate

Tomorrow is Clio's last day of Kindergarten.

On Tuesday, she participated in the flying up ceremony.  (We only just made it: diagnosed with strep and impetigo on Monday, her antibiotics took effect just in time.)

Tuesday evening, at swim lessons, she also graduated to the next level of swimming.  While you have to be 6 to move in to level 3, it is also a skills based move, and Clio's new classes will be longer, and in the "big pool."

That was a lot of growth recognized in one day.  Hard to believe how big and smart and creative and talented this kid is.


The girls continue to create all kinds of innovative art projects.  On Tuesday morning, waiting out Clio's contagion before heading to school, they wanted to use the tempera paints.  Because we only have the primary colors, we mix our own secondary colors on makeshift palettes.  This morning I improvised and cut squares of cardboard.  One thing led to another and suddenly the palettes were being pressed to the giant sheets of paper.

I explained about monoprints, and we cut many "plates" from cardboard so they could print more.

Eleri, in particular, was quite methodical about painting her plates.

Later, they put all the painted cardboard into plastic bags and drew them out one by one, asking me to tell them what I saw.

A sunset.  A rainbow.  A red planet.  Hot lava cascading down a mountain.  A giant chick hugging a girl.  A forest fire.  An oil spill in a puddle.  A slice of a mask.

So many beautiful things.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Clip on earrings

A while back, we took the girls to the mall with the idea of spending a little bit of Christmas money on something they picked out for themselves.  We went to the dollar store with the idea that it would be easy to pick things out with that kind of price equality, but as they grabbed for all kinds of crap, I wondered if it wouldn't be better for the to understand the value of choosing just one thing that you really wanted.  Quality over quantity, you know.  (I'm sometimes still learning this myself).

Clio had been wanting earrings, so we set out in search of clip-ons that were $5 or less.  We found some--faux pearls, so funny for a 5 year old--at The Rack, and of course they promptly broke.  Plus they hurt her ears.

Fast forward to this week, when Nonny revealed herself to be an excellent source of clip-ons.

Clio, naturally, refused to be photographed, but Eleri was happy to model her score with the Nonners.

Nature Center

One of the "Great Gatherings" offered at the recent Bright Water fundraiser was an afternoon at a nature center with a naturalist, who happens to be the father of two of our girls favorite girlfriends.

With a trip to the family day at the Walker preceding our bug-finding fun, some of us were pooped out.

Nick Universe

My mom's friend Florence gave her a ton of tickets for Nick Universe, the Nickelodeon-themed amusement park in the middle of the Mall of America.  When we realized that the tickets were about to expire, we ended up with not one, but TWO outings to the mall for unlimited rides and the glories of the food court.

Eleri had very specific ideas about the rides and refused to go on most of them.  She did, however, spend a lot of time watching the huge rollercoasters in fascination, and my theory is that the baby rides are beneath her, and she's just waiting until the day she is big enough to ride upside down.

On the first day, we barely got her on the balloon ride. (doesn't she look contemplative?)

On our second trip, she went on the kiddie rollercoaster--and loved it.

Clio was more adventurous, especially on round two when Lucia was with us, too.

I have to tell you, as a rollercoaster and scary ride lover, part of me was proud that Clio was showing a real aptitude for the big guns, but as a mother, I will admit to slight terror.

This thing, which I rode with her the second time around (and which was SCARY--I am clearly out of practice-- and which I kind of can't believe she wanted to go on again) goes VERY high in the air and then drops you mercilessly to the ground.  Oh, my stomach.

Oh, yes, for the second round, Dave was there, too.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Art a Whirl

Too many times this spring, I find myself referring to events as "you know, that thing we meant to do last year but didn't.  I can't remember why."

I'm trying to remedy that by actually getting activities on the calendar and then sticking to them, weather, naps, or traffic be damned.

Yesterday we hit art-a-whirl, the open studios weekend in northeast.  We chose the Casket Arts building--smaller than Northrup King, larger than California, and, not coincidentally, right next to Find Furnish, a favorite mid century furniture shop.

It was just the right size: four floors of studios for artists working in paint, print making, tile, furniture making, mixed media, and more.  There was just enough to keep the girls going: snacks in almost every room and the occasional hands-on activity.

Clio got to run a card through a letterpress

Both girls made their own little hand held mirrors

(And got lovely new necklaces like the one Eleri is wearing here--thanks Nonny!)

We also saw art that got us inspired for our own projects

And art we might actually purchase and bring into our house.  Like a giant jellyfish (not pictured).

I love showing them something of the artist's life, and the idea of buying art from an event they attended.  And it was great to see the outpouring of support for this event--so many people from all walks of life!