Monday, November 30, 2009

Tree House? Conquered!

Connor and Helen often play at the neighbor’s house – after all, it has a great swingset, cherry tomato plants that they’re allowed to pluck from freely, a hose that Helen uses to wash those tomatoes she plucks, and a tree house.

During the open house for our home—as we were deciding whether to purchase it or not— Connor ran over to the neighbor’s house, and promptly climbed up the ladder into the tree house. And then he asked if we could buy their house instead of the one we were looking at. We knew right away that the folks next door would be great neighbors because the mom came out to tell us how great the neighborhood was, and as I apologized for my then three-year-old’s trespassing, she said in her fabulous Wisconsin accident “Oh, no problem at all—he can come over anytime! I have three boys myself. Looking at houses must be awfully boring for him.” We chatted a bit more, and Ed and I went home and decided to buy the house.

When we moved in, our neighbor reiterated that the kids were welcome anytime, and I had to tell her “I’m from Kansas. When someone says we can come over, I take them at their word. If you’re just being polite, feel free to say that you’d prefer we knock on your door, or set any other rules. It would be completely fine with me.” But instead, she assured me that she was Midwestern too, and it really was no problem. Naturally, we extended backyard privileges to her boys as well. The boys love playing with Connor’s toys and on the basketball court in our backyard—and if we ever get the ground to harden up enough that the sand truck can dump its 3.5 tons of sand in our sandbox—I’m sure they’ll enjoy the sandbox as well.

And so it is that the five children run pretty freely between the two yards, and occasionally we knock on their door to make sure Helen is inside their house when we can’t find her outside, and we holler out our door when we see our neighbors looking around for there motley three when they’re playing inside our house. Connor seems to be the only one to remember to always tell me if he’s planning to go inside their house, and he rats out Helen fairly reliably as well.

A little over a week ago, I got home with the kids from the nature center and they wanted to run into the neighbor’s yard. I told them I’d be inside putting dinner together. Ed arrived a few minutes later, and the last I’d seen of Helen, her feet were planted firmly on the ground as she stared up the pretty big ladder leading to the tree house. I figured she was ready to go for it. By the time Ed got home, we looked out to see this:

See that little pink shirt and red pants? Helen is about two steps from the very top. I don’t know if Connor had to help her get inside, but by the time Ed got out there with the camera, Helen was triumphantly inside the tree house with Connor, having a grand time.


Sunday, November 29, 2009

Well Rested!

Did I hear someone mention that tomorrow is the last day of NaBloPoMo? Oh, right, that event where friends of mine (usually including me) post daily in November (and my hearty congrtulations to all of you who met the challenge). Did you think I forgot? Well, I didn’t forget last Saturday, but I was in Puerto Rico getting lost briefly in San Juan before getting turned around and arriving at my condo. this is the prize I 'won' at Connor’s school’s silent auction a little over a year ago. It sits directly on the beach – and pretty much across the street from the rain forest. I thought about posting, even tried, but do you know how awesome this condo is (besides the location, of course)? Super awesome. NO INTERNET. This is absolutely the first vacation I have taken in as long as I can remember where I answered NO work email, NO personal email, and did NO posting. I haven’t lived this long without a computer since college, and damn was it good. Of course, my companions noted that the world could have collapsed and we wouldn’t know it – because we didn’t even turn the television on, save for a quick glimpse of the weather (gorgeous – it didn’t even rain on us in the rain forest!). But what did I care? I was on the beach, loving life. World be damned! And that was it. On Sunday, I thought briefly about writing posts and uploading them when I got back, but I decided to revel in Connor half-running, half-skipping whenever he got near the sand. Monday, I was busy hiking in the rain forest and riding an electric boat through a forest of mangrove trees to see the bioluminescent bays, and I swear, I did not even think about blogging. And that was true every other day of vacation as well. Last night, I plowed through personal email and got most of the way through before deciding to do my part for the school newsletter. And today? Well, as usual for November, blogger is slow, so there are no photos, just a note to say that leaving the internet behind can be incredibly refreshing. And I’ll post the traditional Thanksgiving post and monthly letters in the upcoming days.

I'm hoping to get to some fun places in the next few days because Flat Stanley has come to visit my home, and I hope to show him around before sending him to someone else. Drop me a note or leave a comment if you want him to visit you. Absent another response, and Therese's agreement of course, I plan to send ol' Flat Stanley her way so that she can encourage him to do a little international traveling. Let me know if you don't want him, Therese.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Happy Birthday, Dick!

Just pretend they say "Grandpa" instead of "Mommy". They're not always easy to manipulate into performing exactly as directed.

Hope it was a good one! Elaine, Ed, Connor, and Helen

Monday, November 16, 2009

Mud huts

I almost never write about my care-givers, but I'm breaking the rule today. When I got home from work, Connor was just waking up from his nap. Normally, Connor goes completely nuts to see me. Today? He excitedly told me that he and Tiny (our au pair) we're going outside to make a mud hut. How awesome is that? They made the mud and the first two rows of bricks for the hut. They collected pinecones for the hut earlier in the day, and Connor and I plan to acquire bamboo for the roof. It's going to be awesome.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Work Vacation

I've been away at a work conference these past few days. I explained to Helen and Connor that I was going on a "work vacation", which was a concept they could both understand. Naturally, Connor requested a gift, and I decided to bring him a gift that simultaneously qualifies as the most fabulous and worst present ever - shredded money from the Federal Reserve Bank. Obviously, it is a mess, but Connor and Helen love playing with it, and their laughter is almost - almost - worth the many extra trips across the floor with the vacuum it inspires.

For those who find themselves at the Fed someday, let me warn you that what looks like a fairly small bag of shredded currency can turn into an ENORMOUS pile when freed from the vacuum packed bag. WOW.


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Laundry Kids!

A few nights ago, I sent the kids into the bathroom to get ready for their bath. This is what I found. They're sitting in the dirty laundry bag.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Daylight Savings Time

Dear Helen,

Remember all those times I told you how awesome you were because you knew about and seemed to enjoy sleep? You surely remember all those days that I had to wake you up before I went to work so I could feed you. Well, I suppose payback is hell. Almost two weeks into Daylight Savings Time and yet you still refuse to acknowledge the time change. I love you dearly, but I would really like you to sleep until at least 6:30 each day. And please tell your brother to do the same.


PS: I wrote this post on Wednesday night, prior to going out of town on a business trip. I was confident that I did not need to set an alarm that night, so I didn't. I woke up at 6:37. My cap was scheduled to arrive at 6:50. Not good. I woke Connor up on my way out the door to say good-bye and left Helen sleeping.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Always Helpful

An important thing to consider when raising kids, is trying to imbue in them a keen sense of wanting to take care of others. After all, they are your best shot at not sitting in a nursing home somewhere drooling on yourself with no one to wipe it away. Though you might still be drooling on yourself if your children are caring for you, hopefully they'll feel like wiping your chin.

At this house, when things are important, we start early.

Now, for anyone who believed Helen had an object in her hands that could make Ed bleed, please smack yourself. We are most definitely lax parents in some categories, but Ed leaves the plastic cover on when someone besides him is in charge of the razor. We don't want to be raising a little Sweeney Todd!


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Climbing Wall

Yesterday, I took Helen to her music class at an indoor playground. Before class, we were running around like crazy people, because I believe in wearing little people out before naptime! At one point, we had this conversation.

"Take my shirt off, Mommy."
"Because I need to climb up the climbing wall." A wall, I might add, that is about 10 feet tall and designed for someone age 4 - 8.
"I don't think having a shirt on will hinder your ability to get up the wall, Helen."
"TAKE MY SHIRT OFF", stomping foot.
And I did. And she proceeded to climb up the wall - sans assistance (because I do not provide assistance in situations like these) - about one-third the way up the wall. She performed this ritual twice.

I learn things from my children regularly. Yesterday I learned that maybe it is necessary to go shirtless when climbing up a rock wall.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wildlife in my home

For Helen's birthday, my parents gave her a set of three stuffed rabbits that come in a cute little box she can open and close. Helen liked the gift from the start - and Connor very nearly claimed it as his, which is usual modus operandi when it comes to gifts of Helen's that he likes.

A few mornings ago, she decided that she would be a rabbit, and get in the box. Only, the box is not big enough, nor strong enough for this to happen. So Ed found a new box for her to use, and this has been, by far, the most popular toy in our home these past few days.

Ever since that box appeared, it seems that whenever I'm not a looking, a turtle will sneak up on me.

And if that turtle is not careful, a certain mischievous someone will sit on his shell.


Monday, November 9, 2009

Why childhood IQ tests are completely bunk

Connor has been participating in a study at the National Institute of Health. The initial step was having a very detailed MRI, which required him to lay still for about an hour. This was an unqualified success, and he ranks as the youngest participant in the study. Apparently, it is very difficult to get a four year old to lie still for that long, in a giant machine, that makes tons of sound. The secret? Connor doesn't watch television, movies, etc. The MRI machine had a DVD player in it, and it played some show that was obviously new to him, and he was rather impressed with it. He actually did so well, that they begged me to allow him to have another MRI for a corresponding study, this one being just a relatively quick one which would take about 30 minutes. This machine did not have a DVD player in it, but Connor took the test after participating in the second part of the first study (described below) and was without a nap that afternoon. He fell asleep during the MRI, which the researchers totally loved.

Stage two was an IQ test - and if they get any result at all, I would question its validity. Connor was happy to participate for a brief time, but then he got bored. At one point, the psychologist asked him "Can you tell me about a shoe?" and he responded "I don't know anything interesting I could tell you about a shoe". The psychologist blinked, I held back laughter, and then she prodded "is there anything at all you tell me about a shoe, even if it's not interesting?", and Connor proudly announced "it's a shoe". And he would absolutely not say anything else. Then she tried to ask him about several other mundane objects, and he would repeat back the object's name. That's it.

During another portion of the test, she asked "what does a bottle do?" and he announced "it holds liquids". So she asked "what kind of liquid?" and he looked her right in the eye and dead panned "any liquid", as if she were asking him a totally stupid question (which she was). And it was at this point in the test that I had personal confirmation he was my child because I hate it when people ask me stupid questions - and yes, no matter what you were told in school, there are stupid questions - and I took this as a sign that Connor does not like them either. He was a little more cooperative during this test, but at one point he decided to torture the research by delivering a brief soliloquy about the importance of shoes, and many random facts about shoes such as the materials they can be made of, the colors they can be, why you can't wear them inside at home, etc. The researcher, doing her best to hide her annoyance, looked up and said "so you do know about shoes?". He said "nothing interesting".

He thought the putting together of red and white blocks to match patterns was pretty fun, and there's one part of the test where he was supposed to fill in different lines, based on symbols and a key. I thought he was going to really dig this, but instead, he sailed through the practice portion really excited, and then when the researcher went to time him, he did about a row of these things, and then just scribbled all over the entire paper, which about killed the researcher. She would very calmly stop her watch, and explain to Connor that he needed to do one at a time, and that it was hard to see what he was doing with all the scribbling. I knew Connor had checked out by this point, so I don't think I even tried to get him to do it.

So...the NIH has allegedly awesome photographs of Connor's brain and who knows what for the IQ portion of the test - and Connor has $225. I'm not sure who came out ahead on this one, but it did satisfy Connor's desire to be in a study "just like Helen is".

Sunday, November 8, 2009


Connor is, by far, the hardest working person in the house. In particular, he loves his yard work. The dude is dedicated. This weekend, in particular, he showed up everyone else in the household.

On Saturday, Ed was busy installing a light that should've taken - oh, I don't know - thirty minutes. But, naturally, because we live in an old house, it took several hours. I was also catching up on chores, and eventually Helen told us she wanted to go outside. Connor decided to go out as well. They got their shoes on, and went out back. The next time I looked out the backdoor, Helen was busy fighting imaginary fires and Connor had taken the liberty of getting out the leaf blower and was busy blowing all the leaves off of our new grass. And he did a good job. He raked them into a pile, and at some point used a plastic baby carriage to move the leaves to the garden. It was definitely impressive work.

Later that night, I asked the kids what they wanted to do today. Helen said she wanted to go the zoo, and Connor said he wanted to do some work. And he wasn't kidding. This morning, as I was prepping to go to the zoo, Ed thought that perhaps he would stay behind and get caught up on a few odd jobs. Connor volunteered to stay at home with him. So Ed decided to go to the zoo. But on the way home, Ed mentioned he needed to do some yard work and Connor let out a yelp of glee at the prospect.

When the time came to do the yard work, he was no less enthusiastic and even recruited the three boys next door to help out.

I only hope his passion for yard work never wanes.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Life, according to Helen

"Helen, what did you have to drink for breakfast today?"
"Apple SPIDER!"


"We weren't able to finish because someone was a little bit stubborn."
"I am NOT LITTLE! I'm a big girl."


"I'll help you clean up your toys."
"I too tired to help clean-up toys. I need to rest."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Please put your shoes on

A couple of months ago, I heard a snippet of a parenting lecture that completely revolutionized my thinking about how I communicate with my children. At issue? It makes me nuts to ask Connor or Helen to do something, and then watch them not do it.

For example, I might have said to Connor or Helen:

"Please put your shoes on. We are going outside."

Connor would either:

(1) hop to it
(2) look up from what he is doing and slowly wind around an imaginary path that detours through every possible space in our house before he gets to the shoes, sometimes veering so far adrift that he forgets what he started out doing
(3) not even look up, as if he is so engrossed in what he is doing he can't possibly be bothered with being aware of the rest of the world.

Helen would:

(1) stomp her foot and shout "NO!".

Assuming Connor went for option two or three (the norm), I would then have responded in a louder, firmer tone:

"Please put your shoes on. We are going outside."

Because seriously, he must just not hear me, or he must just need a reminder.

And Connor would respond by:

(1) Acting surprised and annoyed that I had interrupted his daydream
(2) Continuing to ignore me.

Helen would

(1) stomp her foot more firmly and shout "NO!!".

And this could go on indefinitely, until I finally said, in an exasperated tone "if you don't put your shoes on right now we are going to have to stay in this house for the remainder of your lives - which might be suspiciously short - because I am going completely insane", or something akin to that.

But then, as I mentioned, I listened to a snippet of a lecture and the lecturer said "do not repeat things to your children. All it does it teach them that you say a lot of very unimportant things each day and they don't have to be concerned until you start threatening them or screaming at them."


She followed that advice up by saying "after you ask your child to do one thing, if they do not do it, simply move to them, take their hand, and guide them to do what you have asked them."

And it almost totally worked. Within a few days, when I would ask Connor or Helen to do something, they would just do it. And I patted myself on the back for being a total rockstar mom. And life was, indeed, easier.

But Ed? He has a more direct approach to the problem.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Prep Work

Paint was recently on sale at a store a few blocks from my home, and I LOVE a good bargain. So I purchased 8 gallons of paint. GALLONS. EIGHT OF THEM. This will (hopefully) allow me to repaint the dining room, kitchen, sitting room, upstairs landing and hallway, and Connor's room. Left to paint (since after the purchase was made, I also decided to have Ed rip many, many shelves out of our home) will be the office and main floor hallway and entry. EGAD!

I am definitely in over my head.

So I've smartly decided to delegate a bit, and lucky for me, Connor and Helen had the opportunity to paint another house as practice.

The project appeared a bit daunting at first, but Connor dove right in.

After a while, he took some time to consult with staff. And for the record, staff was happy to be consulted.

And from there, the two never looked back.

I'm just hoping they remember these skills when I finally bust out the paint. I'm sure I'll be able to use the help. The only issues I'm having trouble resolving is that the practice run was with washable paint and that is not the case with my new paint.


Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Oh how sad it can be, an off-year election in Virginia

Prior to having children, I was quite interested in politics. In fact, some of my college friends would've pegged me to run for some small office at some point - and occasionally I entertain the notion of figuring out how to run a successful school board campaign simply because I care quite deeply about the education of children. But I don't care deeply enough to bankrupt my family in the process, so probably it will never happen.

I also used to be quite informed about politics, and I cared deeply. Largely stemming from an intense 5.5 years in college debate - 3.5 as a debater followed by two years of coaching - I knew what was happening in the world of politics. I can still defend every time I've voted for Ralph Nader (seriously, Bill Clinton, if you would've just allowed gay marriage instead of punting it to the states, I might not have started down this path - and I cannot even believe that you are only now announcing to Anderson Cooper on CNN that you believe gay people ought to be able to marry) and I will not apologize, even though it causes a lot of hard feelings among close friends. In my lifetime, I have gone from telling a friend our teacher would think we were dumb if our fable allowed Mondale to beat Reagan (because, geez, Lisa - Reagan is A.W.E.S.O.M.E, your hippie parents don't know anything) to realizing that there is no nationally viable candidate that will ever really represent me. Sure, I like Obama, and I'm still thrilled he won for lots of reasons, but I consider him to be solidly to the right of where I stand on most issues; most people are.

And while I can still hold my own in any conversation involving tax policy for low-income families (a product of my work), or why I believe in a safety net, or why I believe people ought to marry who they want, or why I believe we ought to think peacefully and act that way, or a number of other liberal causes the pique my interest regularly - I am sadly uninformed about local politics. It's to the point of being embarrassing when my neighbor, who is the democratic coordinator for our area, walks over to say hello. As I see her approach, I rack my brain for ways to steer the conversation away from politics so I don't have to admit how little I know.

There were times when I didn't get why my mom wasn't really into politics - THIS IS LIFE, MOM! And why my dad clings to an arcane belief system - LOOK AROUND YOU - that he will staunchly defend, but never to my satisfaction. But now I totally get it. You see, for better or worse, I have largely dropped out of politics. The practicalities of my life get in the way. Connor needs to point out the two enormous squirrel nests in the tree next door that have been revealed by falling leaves in the past few days, Helen asks "can you read me jus' one book" and says "hold me mommy" and really, it takes a heart of stone to resist these requests - especially in favor of reading the Washington Post, a newspaper that is easily accessible, but annoying because it's so conservative. Schedules need to be coordinated, children need to be fed on time and put to bed on time and work needs to get done on time. And reading the newspaper or one of the million bits of media available on the web? It largely doesn't get done.

But I think I reached an all-time low this morning when I got to the subway and a man tried to hand me a piece of political literature as he asked me if I had voted. Voted? Today? Are you kidding me? This, after Ed reminded me last night that there was an election today AND there was at least one green party candidate running who I had expressed an interest in at some point. No, I have not voted. And yes, I had forgotten today was an election day in Virginia. Hopefully I'll remember this as I ride my bike home from the subway tonight and I detour to stop at the polls.


Monday, November 2, 2009

Sometimes, it's fun to save the best for last

As a child, I loved Halloween. My mom would typically make me some sort of fabulous costume, which usually involved some cursing at an uncooperative sewing machine or a hard to follow pattern and a few late nights before the big day. We'd have a Halloween party at school, complete with a parade to end the day. Then as soon as it got dark, it would start raining, and my sister and I would trudge off to see what sort of booty we could acquire. At the end of it all, we would dump all our candy out in the living room, and the trading would commence. Two twizzlers for some M&Ms; gross candy like black licorice to the Dad pile; things with coconut to the Mom pile. And that was pretty much Halloween. After that, it was business as usual. Candy in the candy cupboard couldn't be consumed too close to dinner, but Maybe it's just my kids, but now rather than Halloween being one day, it lasts for a week. Seriously. The week before Halloween, Helen's playgroup had their annual Halloween party. For this event, Connor chose to wear his firefighter outfit, and carry a hatchet (a nice touch suggested by Ed). In preparation, Helen alternated between being a firefighting bumblebee and a plain bumblebee - the difference being the addition or subtraction of a red firefighter hat. At the actual party, she opted to be Helen. That evening, we went to Boo-at-the-Zoo (BATZ), a fundraiser for National Zoo - second only to their adult fundraiser that takes place in the summer where a bazillion fancy restaurants descend on the zoo and serve bite-sized portions of incredible food. There came a point in that event when I had to impose a rule "no more food that had to be chewed". I was open to the idea of more wine, beer, and soup - but I simply couldn't put in the effort that chewing would require. At BATZ, kids walk around the zoo collecting treats ranging from ice cream to potato chips - and there's usually at least one table with apples on it. Connor again dressed as a firefighter - only this time his outfit only made it about halfway through the night, and then he was just a kid dressed in a rainsuit with a great hat. The next weekend, Connor and Helen attended a morning costsume birthday party (plain bumblebee and firefighter), followed by an afternoon costume birthday for Connor (firefighter), and a neighborhood Halloween party (plain bumblebee and firefighter). Despite some talk of Helen donning the monkey costume, it seemed as if the costumes were pretty entrenched. But as is often the case in parenting, as soon as the kids appear to be acting in a predictable manner, everything changes. And true to form, when it came time for the big event - Helen thought about being a scary bumblebee. But in the end, Helen busted out a dance costume I wore when I was 5 or 6 and Connor decided to be a transvestite Home Depot employee. Didn't see that last one coming, did you? The bottom layer of Connor's masterpiece was a sweatshirt and jeans, topped by a green and gold costume my sister wore, an apron from the Home Depot kids workshop, and then as a last minute item, he decided to hang his treat back over his head, which I appreciate because a key element to a good Halloween costume is the ability to drink freely. The still shot was taken prior to the HD apron being donned, but the video captures the whole outfit.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Conversations by the swingset

Helen: Take me to Amy and Wally's to ride the swing. I'm goin' to ride the big swing, not the little one. Don' push me. I can do it by self. I ride on my tummy.

You ride on dis swing. Wait a minute. I take this leaf off for you.

Me: Are you sure you don't want me to give you a push?

Helen: I no need a push. I need my privacy.