Monthly Archives

August 2015

Skool Daze

The Worst First Day

The girls and I attended a concert the night before school started.

We anticipated there might be some problems.

Thus–

Before we left, we laid out clothes, turned down beds, and loaded school supplies into knapsacks.

We packed the first day’s lunches and slid them into the fridge.

We agreed to go easy on one another in the morning.

And we headed off.

I felt good about the next 24 hours.

 

I must have been nuts.

At 7:30 the following morning, no one would get out of bed. My tween begged for more rest, rolled over, and went back to sleep. When our kindergartener finally awoke, she yawned and asked for French toast. When I brought buttered toast instead, she said she hated me, and then refused to put on pants. During her wardrobe malfunction, the dog ate the toast. The child cried.

When we finally dragged the eldest out of bed, there was another school supply meltdown, roughly the fourteenth of the week.

The first time we shopped for school supplies, we could not find a plain green, wide-ruled, non-perforated spiral notebook. So we bought a college-ruled one instead.

The second time we shopped, we still could not find a plain green, wide-ruled, non-perforated spiral notebook. So we bought a green-patterned notebook instead. Just to be safe.

The third time, we learned we had been using the wrong school supply list. We had inadvertently purchased materials required at an identically named elementary school somewhere in Vermont. We had not needed four reams of notebook paper after all. Only one. We did not need red marking pens. Or index cards. Or a pocket thesaurus. Or even a plain green, wide-ruled, non-perforated spiral notebook.

We needed a blue one.

The store was all out of those.

We found a black notebook to add to our previous attempts, and I thought we had a Band-Aid fix. We even joked about how seriously everyone takes school supplies, and how we knew the teacher would be happy if everyone just did the best that they could.

But when confronted with fatigue, first-day jitters, and the weight of these myriad sub-par notebooks, the child crumbled to the floor. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth, and a brief but spirited argument about potato chips.

It was at this precise moment that I remembered my own recent goals regarding ease and wonder, and extending a mellow summertime vibe into the otherwise stressful school year. I began to laugh.

This did not help things.

Both kids were late–LATE!–for the first day of school.

In the 10 1/2 years that I have been in possession of children, we have been late to movies, restaurants, play dates, a hockey game, a cross-country meet, a wedding, the circus, airports, bus stops, every soccer practice that we have ever attended, and church. And, of course, we have been late to school. But never, never on the very first day.

We had to return to the house when the now pants-clad kindergartener realized she had forgotten her backpack. And then we went back again to retrieve her shoes.

There was no parking at either school.

We snapped no photos in front of any Welcome Back! sign.

We delivered no inspirational remarks about the promise of a new year, and said nothing about our hopes and dreams for them.

I forgot to hug my fifth grader, and the kindergartner pushed me away.

We had anticipated that there might be some problems that morning.

We were right.

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***

One of the only things we are any good at in this family is the bounce back. In an attempt to blot out the horror that was the beginning of our day, after school, we tried again. We set out tomorrow’s clothes, packed lunches, and turned down the beds. But instead of getting in them, we drove to the beach where we took a family back-to-school photo.  In the golden wash of the setting sun, we splashed in the salty surf, breathed in the cool air, and told the kids that tomorrow is another day, full of promise and opportunity, ease and wonder, another chance for their dreams to come true.

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Awesomeness

Growing Up Swiftly

So we went.

On the night before school started.

In the worst seats in the house.

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[That, my friends, is the back wall and ceiling of the Staples Center. No seats behind us. The only folks above us were working the lights.]

In – as Katie assured me – some of the least-stylish outfits ever seen.

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[“Mom, couldn’t you at least have worn your hair down? And why does Lizzie have so many holes in her pants?”]

To a venue that sported even more concert-going families than The Wiggles tour back in ’08.

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As a parent, I had my reservations. I did not love the midriff-baring costumes, the repeated mixing of love and rage*, and the strange need we have to up, up, up the sex appeal of even the most innocuous female singers – from catwalk choreography to sequined body suits.

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But my kids were in heaven.  I am not sure I have ever seen them dance or smile quite so much.

Between songs, Taylor talked about how writing music helped her through her teen years. She said all of us have baggage, and we sometimes get so wrapped up in worrying about what others think that we forget to value what we think about ourselves. We should see mistakes as opportunities to be born again, to do things differently the next time around.

Most of the things Taylor Swift said were not terribly original or wise. But they were coming from Taylor Swift.

And when I saw my 6- and 10-year-old nodding in agreement, I knew that — despite the thigh-high black boots, garters, and crotch-hugging white underwear shorts — Taylor was still in there, somewhere, and she still takes this idea of connecting with her fans very seriously.  She does not just want to entertain, she wants to soothe, and maybe even heal.

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She did that for my quarrelsome kiddos.  She brought down the house on a flying catwalk singing “Shake it Off,” and we road the tidal wave of bubbly sentiment all the way home.

You won my girls’ hearts, Taylor.  I want to believe I can trust you with them.  

Thanks for a good show.

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***As a parent, I know it was fantastically inappropriate to have Alanis Morissette join Taylor Swift on stage to belt out “You Oughta Know” — the f-bomb! the theater trick!  But as a college student of the 90s, man, it was SO COOL to see one of my music idols up there jamming [in jeans and a button down shirt BTW].  Way to bring it, Alanis!

Skool Daze

Summer Back to School

I have always loved school supplies. Notebooks right-angled and full of possibility. The gritty smell of freshly sharpened pencils. Rainbow boxes encasing crayons with all their points.

But this year, the provisions are giving me heart palpitations. I know what is coming. Gone are the lazy summer mornings. Instead, our days will begin with hurried toast, scrambles for homework and ponytail holders, and the incessant packing of those damn lunches.

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I know we can’t summer all year long. That would be like eating ice cream cones every single day. Eventually, even that cool, perfect sweetness would get tiresome. We would miss apples, broccoli, and vigor.

But there should be a way to learn from summer, to take heed of its knowledge, to pocket a little of its wonder to sprinkle on ourselves all school year long.

Here’s how we intend to summer this fall:

Slow down. There is no need to triple stack my kids’ days. They do not need to tear from school to piano to basketball practice, or awaken to a Saturday piled with three different sports. We love summer because of its pace. It allows us to possess both ease and curiosity in equal measure. We are going to get more out of this school year by scheduling less.

Go outside. My grandmother raised ten kids in Northeastern Ohio, and she made them all play outside for at least 20 minutes every day – in rain, snow, or sunshine. Even the baby. We love summer because the weather is nice. But fresh air and physical activity are even more important. Gather sticks. Kick a ball.

Eat fruits and veggies. This summer, my five-year-old and I baked a peach pie from scratch — filling, crust, all of it. My ten-year-old made homemade apple cider for the neighbors. We baked kale and tossed salads with greens straight out of our garden. But for some reason, food during the school year takes a more industrial bent. Chicken is nuggeted. Veggies are chipped. Sandwiches come de-crusted, pre-jellied, and out of a bag. I loathe packing lunches. But I am in charge of what goes in there. Good food=good little humans.

Skip school. The kids and I already have a San Francisco trip on the books for October. We might extend Thanksgiving break by a day or two to visit the Grand Canyon. My girlfriend has been after us to pop up to Seattle in the spring. One of summer’s best selling points is that there is no school. I think it’s okay to replicate this school-less-ness for family time during the school year.

Look. Laugh. Listen. Love. The kids and I laughed this summer. We talked. Not just “uh-huh” conversations when I was checking my cell phone for PTA meeting times or what new dinner I could make with chicken. But actual talk. We weren’t always running late or juggling car seats or play dates. I was more present with them. I listened to their ideas, and adjusted plans when they had ideas for how a day might go differently. Sometimes that was as simple as looking at them when they spoke. Sometimes it was making sure I hugged each of them every single day.

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This summer I was more the mother I wanted to be.

This fall, I am pocketing a little summer to continue that trend.

Birthday-mania

Happy Banana to You

As is her custom, Lizzie-mouse asked for a pie for her birthday. Homemade. Preferably pumpkin. This was not an unusual request. Or even particularly taxing. The kids and I bake pretty frequently. We had a crust in the freezer and a can of pumpkin on the pantry shelf.

Except it has been a bit of a week.

We are moving house. Just across town, not cross-country like the last time around.  But somehow the close proximity of our new home to our old flummoxed me utterly. When the gentlemen arrived with the second truck — after the first one rather cartoonishly rolled away — we had only packed three-and-a-half boxes. We’ve been busy summering — pool dates, beach trips, ice cream. I guess I figured that when the time came for the actual move, we would just “throw everything in laundry baskets.” Except I have only four laundry baskets. Five if you count the suitcase in the corner not yet unpacked from our trip to Cleveland five weeks ago. And as it turned out, I was not able to fit the entirety of our household possessions in these five containers. Thus, what followed was the most slip-shod, haphazard relocation project I have ever participated in. It topped the great dorm room debacle of ’94, when my roommate Meg was left to contend with the crusty macaroni and cheese dishes, the myriad holes in the walls, and the rotten pumpkin on the balcony. It topped the Ohio move when my friend Debbie, upon seeing the extent of my packing fiasco, voluntarily loaded her minivan with my trash bags and recycling. And it surpassed the chaotic 2002 move from Washington State when the cleaning crew we hired never showed up, and my best friend Jen, who just came to say good-bye and drop off some sandwiches, ended up washing our dog-slobber encrusted walls and windows with my husband’s old t-shirt and a bar of soap.

Last week’s move was like all of those moves combined.  Except without the assistance of all of those friends.  Without pals, packing paper, and you know, planning, we ended up rolling glassware in sweatpants and interspersing muffin tins with socks. I used the kids’ underwear to cushion coffee mugs. Trashcans were moved with the trash still inside. We had four days to finish this godforsaken move – eons in moving time. But the first day was the killer truck incident and the last day was Lizzie’s birthday, and all that happened in-between was a blur.

So long story short: I forgot to make the pie. I thawed the crust. Unearthed the pie pan in a laundry basket full of sweaters. But then never gave it another thought. It was as though I subconsciously believed those two preparatory actions would finish the job on their own.

At 9:30 on the night of her birthday, Lizzie said, “Mom, aren’t we going to sing to me?” Candles will not stand up in tomato soup (her birthday dinner), and they look sad in an empty pan, so I scurried around the kitchen looking for something else to light. That’s when I saw the banana. I crossed my fingers, stuck in the candles, and turned off the lights. We sang. Lizzie made her wish. And she blew out her banana.

For a few moments, I felt like a jerk. Who fails to make a kid her special dessert on her birthday? It’s like the only day a parent is required to produce a baked good. But when I looked at Lizzie’s face, as she laughed at her candles and peeled her banana ‘cake,’ I knew that this kid was okay. In fact, she was more than okay. She was delighted.

Kids are more resilient than we think. They fool us into believing they want comfort – the same chicken nuggets when we go to a restaurant, that particular stuffed animal when we tuck them good night. And to some extent, my kids are reassured by such routines. But they also love to be silly. And I think they love it even more when Mom and Dad are the source of the zaniness. When I brought out her flaming banana, I feared Lizzie might cry or pout because it was not, in fact, anything even resembling a pie. Instead, she smiled and laughed. She blew out her candles and even asked to make an extra wish.

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If the wish was for pie, it worked.  We ate one for breakfast the following morning.

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And another one the next day just to be safe.

Happy Birthday, Lizzie.  May the bananas always be with you.

 

Parenting, Uncategorized

From the Daddy Archives . . .

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It usually happens like this: I am sitting in my chair, quietly typing, as my daughter Katie “plays” in the next room. The next moment, she is gently tugging my sleeve. I glance over the top of my laptop and smile, oblivious.

“What is it, Bear?”

“Daddy,” she says. “Everything is going to be fine.”

By this point, it is too late. I slam the laptop shut. I am no longer Daddy, but Dad. I rush into the playroom to find my dog painted blue.

When Katie was born, I spent the first 2 nights by my wife Annmarie’s side, half-sleeping in a half-reclining hospital chair. We were both exhausted, yet filled with awesome anticipation. I remember a few specifics. The TV stuck on the shopping channel, the smell of antiseptic, the little pink hat on Katie’s head. Mostly, I remember emotions. An intense devotion to my wife, and a looming doubt. I did not know if was up to the task of raising this child.

Katie came home on the third day. It took us a full 15 minutes to strap her into the car seat. We wanted to do everything perfectly. To swaddle her just right, to change her often enough, to cradle her like we’d been taught. Over the next few nights, none of us slept much. Annmarie breast-fed every few hours. Whenever Katie made a sound, however insignificant, I woke up to make sure she was alright. Whenever she seemed too quiet, I woke up to make sure she was still breathing.

Katie is now 6 (6-and-a-half, she insists). There are times I think back longingly to those nights of invented worry. Especially when Katie empties all of the shampoo bottles onto the bathroom floor. Or cuts the sleeves off of her 9 favorite dresses. Or dismembers her mother’s string of pearls.

Still, there is something wonderful about the chaos. When I take the time to play with Katie, totally uninhibited, I feel a version of that anticipation from the night she was born. Who knows where our next game will take us? A beauty salon for plastic ponies? Pirates in space? With a few stuffed animals and a cardboard box, a rainy Saturday becomes a raging storm at sea. All hands on deck! Being a father is the best — perhaps the only — excuse a man has to be unabashedly childlike.

After Katie’s original blue-dog moment, I wondered why she had done it. She said she wanted to play ‘Blue’s Clues,’ after the TV show with the blue dog. Apparently, she had asked me to join her several times, but I was too busy. So, she enlisted the dog.

Of all the excuses not to play with my kid, being “busy” is the lamest. Too often, I do not play because I have forgotten how. The other day, Katie asked if we could make a fishing stream in our kitchen. My first thought was “No, that is impossible.” I considered the engineering challenges — levy construction, hatchery management. Both seemed beyond my expertise.

But when kids ask grownups to join their games, they expect us to leave our grownup rationalism behind. So I overcame my doubts. I said, “Sure, we can catch fish in our kitchen.”


“Being a father is the best — perhaps the only — excuse a man has to be unabashedly childlike.”


For the next 20 minutes we searched for supplies. Katie found old strips of greenish drywall in the basement and dragged them out. We arranged them like a stream. For fishing poles, I used a pair of chopsticks, some string, and 2 magnets. We made fish out of construction paper, folding a flap at the bottom so they would sit upright. With a couple staples punched into their top fin, they were catchable.

We built a bridge with 2 chairs and a leaf from our dining room table. Dangling magnets from our chopsticks, we caught fish until Mom came home. Then Katie taught Mom all the tricks of kitchen fishing. By the time we were done, the kitchen was strewn with crumbling drywall scraps and loose staples. But what a magical day.

The peaceful home is a trap. Whenever Katie is quiet for too long, especially with friends over, it is time to worry. But that is not the worst thing. Even when I am cleaning toast out of the DVD player, even when I regret not making time for my daughter, my biggest fear is not that she will repeat one of her misadventures. It is knowing that the day will come when I no longer need to worry. I will not check her in bed to make sure she is breathing. I will not grow suspicious at the sound of nothing. My little girl will grow up, and I will not need to play with her.

One day, I will be sitting in my chair, typing away, and realize that the quiet I hear is no longer an indication of mischief afoot, but a sign that blue-painted dogs and gentle tugs on my sleeve are gone for good.

From Fatherly.com (originally featured on Huffington Post).

Kitchen Apocalypse

Eating with the Fishes

I am about finished with dinner

I don’t mean tonight’s dinner. I mean all dinners. Finished. Kaput. No más.

Because it is a scientifically proven fact that children suck at dinnertime.

6 o’clock at our house looks one of two ways:

  1. I cook what’s good for us. I massage kale. I roast beets. I dice cucumbers. I pan sear a nice piece of fish. When we sit down to dinner, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. The children maybe eat the cucumbers.

OR

  1. I cook what they want. I open a box of nonsense. Microwave some chicken. Maybe slice a cucumber. When we sit down to dinner, there is jubilation. I am the best mom ever. I curse and eat the cucumbers.

Either way, dinner is a wash.

From here on out, I’m cooking breakfast* and maybe making sandwiches for lunch.

But from this point forward, dinner will be cucumbers.

 

*Unless breakfast is gluten-free.  Because if we are still giving up gluten, folks are gonna be on their own for that meal, too.

 

Um, does anyone have a recipe for gluten-free pancakes that doesn't, you know, suck?
Um, does anyone have a recipe for gluten-free pancakes that doesn’t, you know, suck?