Tuesday, August 31, 2010

From Left to Write Book Club: Cowboy & Wills: A Remarkable Little Boy and the Puppy that Changed His Life, by Monica Holloway

I suspect every parent worries about their child. Some of us have teeny-tiny children, so we worry about growth charts. In fact, if I had a dollar for every time I cried or stressed about Connor's weight when I was a new mom, I might have been able to take an even longer maternity leave. And if it's not the weight and height we're worrying about, it's those damn milestones. Except for moving, ahem...Helen, Ed and I have been lucky on the milestones. Connor and Helen pretty much kick them to the moon.

Yes, Connor most certainly has OCD along with every other toddler/young child, and yes, he has a penchant for memorizing and repeating, but there's never been cause for worry.  (I think.) but what about when that's not the case?

What about when you start noticing small things that just seem different about your child, and in a potentially worrisome way? How do you react as a parent? How do you react as a friend? These can be really difficult situations.

In the book, Cowboy and Wills, Monica Holloway documents the discovery of some of these things that are different about her son - her son who would ultimately be labeled as having high functioning autism. The book recounts the journey the author takes with her son, as she helps him figure out how to maneuver through this sometimes difficult world. It's something we all do as parents, but something that's probably a lot more difficult for parents who know their children need things just a little bit (or a lot bit) different.

The thing I love about this book? Monica Holloway loves animals, and she and her son, Wills, decide to get a dog. This is one of those incredible stories about how a dog becomes a family member. In some ways, I think you have to be a dog person to really appreciate this relationship, and I am not a dog person. Yes, I grew up with dogs. And yes, I liked having a dog to cry to when things didn't go quite right. A dog, I might add, that was always willing to sit and listen as she was patted. But I don't need them in my life like my sister does. I do, however, appreciate how incredible it is when a parent finds exactly what a child needs, provides it, and in so doing, makes life just a little bit easier. That's pretty magical, and this book documents that magic.

Will we ever have a dog in our house? I'm leaning towards no, though certainly stranger things have happened. Do we have magic in our house? Sure. It's second hand to not let Connor see when we throw something away that he might think still has value. We have lots of objects of comfort around that ground both Helen and Connor. Ed and I know when Connor needs to vent about the unfairness of life and Helen needs someone to note that imaginary injury. We also know that both Helen and Connor have an innate need to get outside, to run, to swing high, and to find pebbles, pine cones, and all matter of seemingly insignificant things on walks. We know they need to explore, ride fast on the merry-go-round at the nearby park, and try to run faster than they ever thought they could.

And the magic returns a thousand-fold when eyes twinkle, laughs ring, and stories come rushing out so fast they are almost incomprehensible. The road differs for everyone, and I love it when I see a parent connect with their child as perfectly as this book details. May every child and parent have lots of these moments.

Elaine

Disclosure: As a member of the From Left to Write book club, I received a free copy of this book. I was not obligated to write about the book, but I do recommend reading this book. I really enjoyed it. Thanks for the book! I'll be passing it along to a friend.

Patience in the form of a Pez candy dispenser

Connor has always been enamored with Pez candy, or as they're known in our house "candy-maker candy". Recently, he set his own rules with regard to the candy-maker candy. He decided one night for treat to get a package of Pez candies. Rather than eating them all at once, as Helen chose to do, he ate exactly one. Then, he took the Pez dispenser up to his room and decided he would eat one piece each day.

And he does this.

About once a month, he comes downstairs and requests a new package of candy-maker candy, which he then dispenses to himself on a once daily basis.

He's very strict about his one per day rule. Yesterday, he took a piece of candy from Helen, and I told him he needed to give Helen one of his. He protested vehemently explaining that he had already had is piece of candy that day. Whatever. I went and got one anyway.

I find the dispenser under his pillow often. Ed leaves it there. I move it to a shelf beside his bed. Ed figures Connor falls asleep dreaming about the one piece of candy he has allocated himself for the next day.

Ed and I had a good laugh about the Pez dispenser recently. We figure Connor is working out boundaries, and how much he can get away with. He knows, for example, that if he came down daily asking for a new package of candy, he'd be denied. He also gets to have the feeling of "getting away with something", which probably makes him feel weirdly empowered.

I have to admit, I am tempted to give him 365 pieces of candy and then check on them regularly to see if he continues to dispense them out so slowly.

I have to hand it to Connor, this shows a lot of self  control.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

My CSA is Causing Me to Sneak Around

For the past several years, our household has participated in Community Supported Agriculture - CSA. First, we were members of Great Country Farms and for the past two years, we've been members of Waterpenny Farm. Over the years, we've had a lot of fun visiting our CSA farm.

Our current farm plants loads and loads of tomatoes - and we love that. It's among the reasons we're at Waterpenny this year rather than at GCF (last year, we had half-shares in both farms). The produce is fantastic at Waterpenny, it is exactly the kind of family farm I want to support, but it has one problem. Besides tomatoes, their second bumper crop is squash. I don't actually like squash. I eat it every week because I like throwing food away even less than I like eating squash.

A few weeks ago, I decided to turn that squash into zucchini bread, except I knew it would not be well received labeled that, so I called it cinnamon bread instead. Connor and Helen love cinnamon bread, particularly Connor. Last time I made it, I just dumped the squash in without Connor taking note. Today, Connor and Helen were both helping me when I added the "secret ingredient". I had pureed the squash a couple of days before, and Connor and Helen definitely did not recognize it. I tossed it in the batter, telling them it was time for the secret ingredient to be added.

As expected, Connor is dying to know what the secret ingredient is. But I'm scared to tell him, because I'm pretty sure as soon as I do, I'll be eating those three dozen frozen muffins and two loaves of bread by myself, since Connor will surely reject them.

And so it is, that I am grateful to have used up all of this week's and last week's squash, but I'm feeling very guilty about sneaking it in on Connor, when he would most definitely object.

I'm refusing to tell him what it is for the good of the Earth, I swear.

Elaine

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Cupcake Wars: Next Stop "Frosting - A Cupcakery"

We found another winner a couple of weeks ago. I had a coupon that essentially allowed me to bring home a dozen cupcakes for the price of six at Frosting, A Cupcakery in Chevy Chase, Maryland. We were the only customers in the store at the time, which really allowed us a lot of time for drooling. This store is lovely. And the person working there explained that it was the brainchild of a recently married couple. This is a fantastic idea on this couple's part. First, it's a great shop. Second, whenever they have a crappy day, they can blame it on the store, rather than each other. This is very similar to what Ed and I did. In mid-May, 2001, we got married. We purchased a house two weeks later. A house that tried to kill us. More than once. Which we were thankfully able to unload onto someone else, eventually. Anyway, all the minor problems with that house were really blessings because whenever something went wrong, we blamed the house, rather than the marriage. I can only assume that's the reason two newly married people would start a business.

Anyway, this cupcake store smells and looks heavenly. It is straight out of a Martha Stewart catalog. Trust me. I have many years of back issues of this magazine.



Connor went for the traditional vanilla with vanilla icing, and Helen chose something chocolate, decorated with something pink! Of course! I chose ten others that were each awesome in their own way. I was hosting a dinner that night at my house, so I shared my loot, and no complaints were heard. I definitely recommend this store and hope it outlives the cupcake fad.


Helen is definitely softening on this whole rating thing. She gives the store one thumb up and one thumb down.


Connor went with his standard two thumbs up.

I rank this place up with the big boys of Cakelove and Georgetown Cupcake. Check it out. You won't be disappointed.

Week whose counting anymore?: Cakelove (Arlington, VA)

Week 1: Georgetown Cupcake (Washington, DC)
Frosting, A Cupcakery (Chevy Chase, MD)

Week 3.2: Daddy Cakes (Topeka, KS)
Week 2: Bakeshop in Clarendon (Arlington, VA)
Week 3: Smallcakes (Overland Park, KS)
Week 4: Woodmor Pastry Shop (Silver Spring, MD)
Week 5: Sugarbakers









 

Friday, August 27, 2010

Helenspeak: Cape May

*Background: Last year when we were in Cape May, cousin Katie was eating a funnel cake. A sea gull swooped down and tried to steal her treat, but instead of making off with the fried treat, it bit Katie's thumb. No one in my family actually witnessed the attack, we have just heard numerous retellings by Katie and her parents. This year was no exception. After listening to the story, Helen told her own.

"I did not go to Wildwood. And I did not eat a funnel cake, and I did not get my thumb bit."

And for the record, when we did go to Wildwood this year, neither Helen nor Connor had any interest in the funnel cakes. They are clearly not interested in putting their own digits in danger.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kudos to Single Parents

Once upon a time, a dad went to enjoy a baseball game on a lovely evening in August. That left the mom and her two energetic children at home alone for dinner and bedtime, which isn't actually a big deal, but it is unusual.

The three of them sat down to a dinner of salmon, tomatoes, cucumbers, and mashed potatoes.


Dinner ended for the albino mommy (she got that way from being under flourescent lights regularly at the office) and the spotted son. But, per usual, the pink daughter had spent so much time talking during dinner, she wasn't quite done. Even though the mommy knew the children needed to be outside playing after dinner, she decided to indulge the son in a game of Mousetrap while the daughter finished up. Loudly.



The daughter joined them shortly, and then they all went to the "dinosaur park". The children ran, and ran, and ran. The mommy did too. Everyone was tired. It was time for bed.



The mommy brought the children home, gave them a bedtime snack, and then tried to brush their teeth. The pink dinosaur was still a little punchy, and decided rather than brushing her teeth, she would attempt to bite her mother. In all fairness, she went for the mommy's shirt, and it was definitely part game - but she had the same look in her eye she did right before she used to bite people when she was little. Her mother was not impressed.

They all went upstairs, and the spotted son went right to bed after a book and a story. The pink daughter decided to roar a little bit more, and plotted her strategy of extending bedtime. The mommy took a deep breath, and discussed the pink dinosaur's options with her, which were few.


Finally, the pink dinosaur dropped off to sleep.


The mommy went downstairs, advanced the laundry, and reminded herself how grateful she was that typically, she didn't do this job alone.

Elaine

The dinosaur figures are from the book "Dinosaurs on the Move: Movable Paper Figures to Cut, Color, and Assemble" by Cathy Diez-Luckie. Connor has been working on putting these together with both Tiny and Ed. I'm personally thankful that Helen does not have teeth like this Baryonyx, which had 96 serrated teeth. The instuctions in the book are easy to follow, but the cutting is pretty advanced and definitely designed for an older child. Unfortunately, they don't stand up on their own. I think I'll add paint sticks to their backs to turn them into puppets. Connor is definitely fascinated with them. I received the book free as a member of the From Left to Write book club.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rollerskating

When we were at Cape May, Grandpa Dick busted out some rollerskates for both Helen and Connor (on loan from cousins Katie and Sam). Helen was delighted to be included in the fun, and showed some restraint by not trying to roll unassisted. (However, I have to point out here that her toddle is almost gone so soon I will officially not have a TODDLER in my house, which breaks my heart.)

Connor went a few steps on his own, and declared that he would like Grandpa Dick to get him his own pair for Christmas. Helen would also like a pair, but frankly, Helen will covet and adore whatever gift Grandpa Dick gives her. Helen adores the man.



Elaine

Monday, August 23, 2010

Buried Alive at Cape May

Two weeks ago, we spent the week with Ed's parents and his brother Rick and his family. We stayed at the Periwinkle Inn for the second year in a row, and had a blast. The hotel is located across the street from the ocean, providing easy and quick access and also has a swimming pool and play area for kids in the courtyard. It's an easy vacation, for sure.

Connor and Helen love the ocean. They love the sand, the waves, and Helen loves her "cheesy poofs". The big trouble with the ocean is that it's endless. Literally. Which means that I cannot sit and read a book, like I might prefer, once the kids are settled into their own projects. There's always the chance someone will decide to head toward the water, and obviously ocean water is not safe for children. There's also a chance that a particular someone (who is often spotted wearing pink) will wander off.

I think I may have found a solution to this mobility problem though.






Elaine

Sunday, August 22, 2010

God Calls All to the County Fair

Almost every Friday, the kids and I hang out together. Sometimes we meet friends, and sometimes it's just the three of us. Always, we do something fun.

This weekend, the Arlington County fair is in town. Three things are true when it comes to the fair. First, it's always freakin' hot. Second, weekends are super crowded. And third, Ed has a talent for picking the winning pig in the pic races. This last thing is good to know, just in case he ever loses his day job. Long ago, when Ed and I went to the fair, we were actually offered jobs doing take-down by a friendly ride operator, but we're no longer that cool. Toting two kids around, the ride operators know I'm not interested in such a fine opportunity.

As Ed was leaving for work, he told the kids I was going to take them to the fair (allowing me to miss the long lines, since nobody tends to go on Friday morning). One of them instantly cried "I'll only go if there's bibles!". This is because when we went to the Chincoteague carnival over 4th of July, the Gideons were kind enough to send each child home with their very own New Testament.

I'm happy to report, neither Helen nor Connor were disappointed. And, the Gideons in Arlington must be fancier than the Gideons in Chincoteague, because their bibles came not just with an orange cover (like the ones in Chincoteague), but in a rainbow of colors. Connor lit up when the man holding the stack of bibles came near him, and Helen almost did a little dance. Helen chose orange. Connor chose brown.

While we were in Chincoteague, the kids would pull out their bibles and read them while they were on rides (which was actually a good strategy with how old some of the rides there are). Here, they waited to bust them out until we were home, and then they both read me several poems from them. The poems sounded strikingly like Mother Goose.


Note the direction Connor holds his bible.



To be fair, right after I took the picture and laughed, Connor realized he was reading upside down and switched the orientation of the book.

Elaine

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Connor Dives off the Diving Board

Connor loves jumping off the diving board. But, apparently he's getting a little bored with his standard jump, because he's started adding a few "tricks" to his repertoire. He started out by doing some twisting or turning once he hit the water. Then, he decided to try jumping off the board backwards (and almost clipped his chin, and I am not looking forward to another trip to the ER). Finally, he decided he was going to dive in. Only when he tried to dive the first time from the board, as was completely predictable, he performed a belly flop instead of a dive (ouch!). Luckily, he was wearing his standard wetsuit*, which probably makes it hurt a lot less, but he still decided not to try that again for a while.

A few weeks passed, and he decided to attempt a dive off the board again. Now, mind you, he doesn't bother telling anyone he's going to try this, he just gets this impish grin on his face and goes for it. So no one ever has the opportunity to provide him any helpful tips. And besides, we're parents, and it is already clear to Connor at times that we have nothing to add. The second attempt was actually much better than the first, but his hands weren't together, so his big head hit the surface of the water first. Ouch, again.

He studied the diving lessons going on one day while we were at the pool pretty intently, and I asked him he wanted to take a lesson so that the coach could show him how to dive without it being painful. He thought that was a good idea. The coach suggested he join a group lesson that started in a few days, but I thought five days in a row with kids who probably knew how to dive might be pretty intimidating. Plus, I didn't know if Connor would actually like diving once he tried it (he is, after all, related to Aunt Linda - see below), so I wanted him to have the opportunity to try it once and walk away without it being awkward. I asked the coach if Connor could have a private lesson instead. The coach was happy to do this, it just wouldn't be as economical as the group lesson. It was the end of the diving season, and the coach's schedule was busy, and then we were in Cape May, and finally our schedules met up last Friday, and Connor went to his diving lesson.

Coach Bobby Meeks is fantastic. He started the lesson by watching Connor jump off the board a few times. Then he showed Connor how to really bounce on the board. After that, he showed Connor how to dive forward, backward, and then do a roll off the board. Connor then talked the coach into showing him how high he could dive, and then begged the coach to give him just 8 more minutes of a lesson, or maybe 16, please, please, please!! (And yes, Coach Bobby did indeed stay a little late with Connor - who could resist, really?)

My very favorite part of this video is about 10 seconds in when Connor struts out to the board to do his first dive. He is completely confident, and definitely ready to impress.
After his lesson, Connor asked me if he could have at least twenty more lessons, a number he revised to 100 shortly after I agreed that yes, in his lifetime, he could surely have twenty more lessons.

video

Congratulations, Connor. Your Aunt Linda might fall over when she sees this video. Although Aunt Linda ended up being a very good long distance racer, my whole family remembers the two or so years it took her to learn to dive. I have to say, though, the people teaching Aunt Linda how to dive totally sucked compared to Coach Bobby. If she had been taught by him, she would've learned the first day, just like you did.

*We've learned that in diving nomenclature, a wetsuit is a "smack suit". As in "Wow! He must be getting ready to do something really cool. Look at that smack suit!"

Friday, August 20, 2010

Our Children Shouldn't Have to be "Waiting for Superman"

As DC students get ready to head back to school, and many schools across the country have already started, I can't help but think about a movie I saw a preview viewing of a few weeks ago - "Waiting for Superman". This documentary could rock the education world - and I hope it does.

I spend a lot of time thinking about early childhood education. Not only is it near and dear to my heart because of my own children, but I am constantly trying to reconcile my belief in public education with the fact that I am choosing not to send Connor to a public school next year, though he is eligible to attend. I am a product of public education, as are nearly all of my friends, and I have many fond memories of it. But when I was thinking about what Connor would do in the Fall, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to keep him at his Waldorf school. Sending him somewhere else was more than my psyche could manage.
When I checked out the trailer to "Waiting for Superman", I knew I was going to love it. What I didn't know is that more than once, I'd find myself in tears (and no, I am NOT pregnant!) over the children in the film. These are real people facing terrible schooling situations. They rely on lotteries to get out of their inadequate neighborhood school, and the odds of getting out are slim.These kids are going to schools where one-third of the students will leave proficient in Math and Reading. ONE-THIRD. Or less.

This film makes a fantastic case for the need to improve our public schools. There are some truly awful ones out there; a lot of them. Michelle Rhee, chancellor of DC public schools, is featured in the film. And if you have a child that will attend a DC public school, you should definitely go see this film to see what Rhee has to say about the school system. She's clearly working hard to make big changes, and she's been successful at some key reforms. These include trimming the bureaucracy so she can spend more money on students and revising the pay system and tenure system for DC teachers. I believe she cares, and I believe she's doing her best, but while parents wait for results and reform, more and more children are getting what she terms "a crappy education". At some point, it has to stop. Or at least I hope it does. Education reformer Geoffrey Canada points out both in the film and after the film as he led a discussion, giving principals the ability to get rid of ineffective teachers is essential to the success of our schools. In the case of children, we just can't afford the dead weight. Eric Hanushek makes the same point based on research he's doing. In fact, Professor Hanushek's research shows that if we got rid of the worst 10 percent of our teachers, our students would rank amonst the best in the world, rather than falling embarrassingly below averages in other countries. My friend Marya is an absolute expert in this stuff, but I can never get her to indulge me as much as I want because um, it's her job, and when she goes out to dinner, she is a normal person who likes to talk about things other than her job. But I've learned A LOT from her. She should've been in the movie. And that's my only criticism of the film.

So why did I cry? I cried because I cannot believe that in this country we are allowing children to attend subpar schools. We know that these children may never learn to read. We know that they may come out of high school without the skills to succeed in college. We are, in effect, deciding that some kids just aren't worth a decent education. And I think that's sad. The problem is, we know the answer is to get good teachers in every classroom, but as a society, we just can't seem to get that done.

It's time to redouble efforts and figure it out. And in the meantime, our failure to make change effects real people who will ultimately have a very small shot at a good education. Let's stop spending time dickering about curriculums and whether they should contain teachings on evolution. Let's spend that energy getting good bodies into these important jobs. But don't believe me on this one. Go see the film. And take a look at test scores from public schools near you.

Honesty Clause: I received a free ticket to attend a preview showing of this movie. I was not asked, nor required, to write about the film. The opinions expressed here are my own. Many thanks for the ticket. It was an evening well spent.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Happy 34 Months, Helen!

Dear Helen,

Your 34th month has been so much fun, though Connor definitely took center stage with his big birthday. You were extremely happy to celebrate with him, and still like to play birthday often.

You became the queen of dress-up last month. In part, I suspect this is because I made the dress-up clothes a little more accessible. In part, I think you just decided that you needed to accessorize more. The way you piece outfits together is nothing short of fantastic.



Clearly, you deserve a mom with more flair.

Your laughter is contagious, and you find a way to be laughing most of the day.



You prefer to dance as a way to get around than walk in a straight line and actually, I'm not sure you could walk in a straight line. All that energy is hard to contain!




You show extremely good taste in chocolate, often asking if I will take you to the "fancy chocolate store" because you know they always have samples. I probably shouldn't have let you taste your first one, but I did, and so we indulge together on occasion. Our favorite store is Artisan Confections. Yum, yum, yum.

You also love to grocery store with your dad, and I can only imagine what a hoot it is for every person in the store when you go toddling along beside him with your little shopping cart requesting he put important items in the cart like ORANGE cheese, instead of his preferred WHITE cheese. (That's just one of the many differences between East Coasters and Midwesterners. In the Midwest, we like our cheese orange. I'm glad to see you picked that up from me.

You still fear all loud noises, and love to crawl in bed with me or Connor when you hear a raindrop hit your window.

You also have a crazy talent for describing things you don't know the name of with words you do know. The example that sticks out the most for me this month is your use of the term "hard money" versus "soft money". In a vending machine, you need "hard money". You do this all the time though, and I wish I remembered more of them.

Your dad noticed that the gender neutral term for you is "she". Everyone is referred to as she, in the abstract. Mostly, it applies to stuffed animals, but also when you are referring to anyone by occupation. Let's hear it for feminism, darling.

You still adore babies and cats, and when a friend of our brought over their very adorable nine month old, you were delighted to help her walk around.


You did think she needed a little more dressing up, but I'm sure that will come soon enough.

You are very excited that your birthday is coming up. Grandma Carlene and Grandpa Rodney are planning to stay with us for a few days to celebrate, which will definitely make the party a fun one. I'm thinking it'll be a dress-up party, but maybe we'll have tea instead.

I cannot believe you will be THREE soon. After that, I'll have no toddlers soon. We start school in a few weeks, and I'm really looking forward to our morning each week together in class.

Love,
Mommy

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Great Obstacle Course Birthday Party

Dear Connor,

For the past five years, Daddy and I have been alternately creating and running obstacle courses. We started out creating them. We went from our simple life of hanging out in Adams Morgan, entertaining at home, and seeing tons of incredible live music. A particular Wolf Trap experience with Bruce Hornsby playing piano might possibly have restored my belief that God does, in fact, exist. And then, five years ago, we started jumping over hurdles that we never even imagined in our pre-kid days. It started with figuring out how to feed you, how to get some sleep, and then we mostly sat back and watched you knock down one milestone after another. We’ve had a totally lucky run, and Daddy and I both know it. I often think I’m the luckiest mom on the planet, although it didn’t feel that way when your sister was spitting everywhere and you were trying to see how long you could go without sleeping or eating.

But these days? Connor, you are a mostly reasonable person who I enjoy being around. And you always wear your hat without complaint, and I appreciate that. It’s fun to hear you propose solutions to problems (many of which make at least some sense), to watch you swim around the pool playing games, and to watch your many puppet shows (although this last activity would be a lot more fun if you focused on PLOT as much as you focused on SETUP).



I don’t particularly enjoy all the rules you have for EVERY.SINGLE.SITUATION. I met a guy in the lap lane the other night while I swam during safety break. He was very intent on (1) telling me how I had violated lap-lane etiquette by joining him and another swimmer without confirming “circles” or “sides”, (2) describing in great detail what exactly lap-lane etiquette is, ad naseum, and then finally (3) nearly refusing to let me leave his presence because he had a lot more to say about the rules. I (1) apologized, (2) listened for what seemed like way more time than the conversation was worth, (3) asked him what exactly he wanted me to do now, and then (4) joined the lane next to me instead, much to his chagrin - because it wasn’t supposed to be as easy as just asking the lady next to me who was gawking at the ridiculous conversation I was in if I could join her and the other dude in her lane. I was supposed to know some secret handshake and write “I understand AFC lap lane etiquette” on the board 200 times first. Before I just switched lanes, what I wanted to do was (1) tell him to suck it, (2) let him know that you can’t split a lap lane in half with three people, you HAVE to keep to the right in a “circles” formation, and (3) offer that if he wanted rule-making time to equal swim-time, he should go talk to you, since you seem to really enjoy the making rules portion of life. I can almost imagine the debates the two of you could have. Unfortunately for him, you’re smarter than he is. But seriously, I hope you don’t get to be his age and still think that discussing and making rules is the best use of your time. As I often tell you, sometimes you just have to live life!

About ten months ago, I read a post about an obstacle course birthday party that a friend was having for her son (though at the time, I hadn’t yet met her). I knew then that this was the perfect party for you because you love to run races, and you love having rules to follow (see above). I tucked the idea away in my brain so far, that when it came time to plan your birthday party this year, I came up with the idea of having an obstacle course birthday party, knew it would be perfect, and patted myself on the back when Ed bought into it completely. Only later, when Ed and I were thinking about the design, did I go back and read the post referenced above, and realize that I had actually left a comment for Stimey telling her I was going to steal her idea, unless she became a party planner in time for Connor’s birthday. She didn’t, I did. And even though it turns out to not be an original idea at all, it is still a good one. Behold, the power of the internet!

A week before the party, your dad and I built the obstacle course, with your help. It was immediately apparent that you loved it, and the boys next door loved it as well, which gave me a good feeling about the whole thing.

I also baked a vanilla cake with cream cheese vanilla filling (which was fabulous), and then frosted the cake to look like our backyard, with the obstacle course set up. Several adults at the party recognized what I’d done. And I can thank the ladies from Georgetown Cupcake for teaching me that trick to make grass out of icing. Ed took a very nice, very fuzzy photo of the decorating phase to commemorate our work together, which almost ended in a big pile of unrecognizable goo when you saw we had left-over frosting. You immediately said “let’s put big globs of frosting all over the cake”. Absolutely not. Next idea, please.



You clearly love being five. Your party with friends was held a few days before your actual birthday, and you let everyone know you were still four. But when you came back in town after a vacation in Cape May where we celebrated on your actual birthday, the first thing you said to a friend of yours when you saw her was “I’m FIVE now!”. She was freaked out enough that she immediately reported the news to her mom, who took it in stride.

As a five year old, you have decided that you would like a position on “the committee”. At present, the committee is composed of two people, your dad and me. Whenever a decision needs to be discussed, it gets referred to committee, and an answer is given after the committee has time to meet. I regret to inform you, but there are currently no available positions on the committee, so you’ll have to apply again at a later date. You asked if you could join the committee when you were eleven and again, I let you know that you would be told if any committee positions became available, at which time it would be appropriate for you to put in an application.


You passed your eye test at the doctor’s this year. I believe this means you have better eyes than me, because I don’t think I would’ve passed an eye test at age 5. I know I didn’t pass it at age 7, when I got my first pair of glasses. Up until that point, I had no idea that anyone could see what the teacher was writing on the board and that it was possible to see individuals blade of grass, instead of one big fuzzy field. Last year, you failed your eye screening, but I didn’t believe it, so I took about 10 months to get you an appointment with an eye doctor, and then you ended up being totally fine. But your eyes could go South at any moment, warned the doc.

But...back to the obstacle course.

This was, by far, the best party your dad and I have ever planned. We tested the course the week before the event,  and the your dad remembered to mow the lawn a couple of days before the event. I got to show off my mad obstacle course running skills as I demonstrated the course to onlookers.


The course started with a balance beam, then a bar to jump over, and then a slide down the ol' slip-n-slide.


Then, folks had to climb a little plastic play structure that's about 4 feet tall, and reach over and bang a coffee can. That coffee can was a stroke of brilliance from you dad.


There was more over and under, through a pool, and tossing a ball. Everyone completed at least most of the course, with several people completing it several times.

After that, we tossed water balloons and tried to fill a bucket of water with a teeny, tiny cup.


If I were on the verge of sending you to a new school, I would be totally flipping my lid. But, because you'll be staying at your current school one more year, I'm going to save all the worrying for a year from now.

We're having too much fun, Connor. More than we deserve, I suspect.

Love,
Mommy

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Happy Birthday, Connor!

Dear Connor,

I'll write you a longer letter later, but for now, Happy Birthday! It's been at times a very long five years, and at times, I could hardly keep up with those days that often pass so quickly. I cannot believe how much you've grown some days, and other day, I'm so happy that you're still so small.

You opened lots of presents this week. At one point, you looked at your dad and remarked your birthday presents "were horrible! Horribly good!". Ten points for five year old humor.

Love,
Mommy

Monday, August 9, 2010

From Left to Write Book Club: The Stuff That Never Happened, by Maddie Dawson

I loved reading “The Stuff That Never Happened”, by Maddie Dawson. It was suitably juicy story – girl meets guy, marries him, following him across the country, falls in love with someone else — it made me want to figure out the ending, and there’s a birth in there which, while not a necessary component to favorite books of mine, definitely doesn’t hurt. This birth reminded me that while I still don’t think babies are good for marriages, births, most definitely, are. Part of the book is about figuring out who the protagonist loves, and if it’s possible to love more than one person. It made me think of the concept of soul mates – that person whom each of us shares a deep and natural affinity for.

Many years ago, Ed and I were sitting in the Drafthouse watching a movie in Arlington, Virginia. Ed makes two distinct remarks every time we go to this theatre. First, “the service sucks” and second, the pizza crust tastes like “fuckin’ Bisquick”. The first comment can be interpreted as, “the waitress didn’t take his beer order fast enough”, and that’s a matter of judgment. It really isn’t worth discussing. We like the place because you can watch a cheap movie while enjoying dinner and a drink. It seems like a much more social way to see a movie than the traditional sitting next to each other silently.

The second comment is a little harder to understand. As a former New Yorker, Ed cares about things like pizza crust. I’m from Kansas, so not only do I not really care about pizza crust, I don’t take it as an insult when it is compared to Bisquick. As lobbed by Ed, it most certainly is an insult. And yes, there are other items on the menu, and yes, since we last went to this theatre on any regular basis, the menu has been revamped entirely.

During this particular visit, the lights went low, and in walked two women, who sat next to us. It was dark, we really didn’t get a good look at them. As these women waited to place their order, one of them muttered “the service sucks”. Finally, her order was taken and as soon as her food was delivered, she bit into her pizza and practically spat out “this pizza crust tastes like fuckin’ Bisquick”. I nearly fell off my chair I was laughing so hard. So I sat there, telling Ed “OMG – DID YOU HEAR THAT? DID YOU, DID YOU?” and he laughed a little, but mostly took it as validation for his own ridiculous comments, remarking along the lines of “see, I TOLD YOU SO”. I told him right there, “clearly, this woman is your soulmate. You cannot let her leave the movie theatre without asking her out on a date. Please, do not let me stand in your way.” I am confident that we were not yet married, I’m not sure if we were engaged, but I know we were living together so there was some pretty significant level of commitment between Ed and me.

The movie credits started playing, and just as I was preparing to lay eyes on Ed’s soul mate, she disappeared from the theatre under the cover of darkness, just as she had entered. Despite my urging, Ed did not go chasing after her, and he never did discover who his soul mate was.

Sometimes when Ed is in a particularly grumbly, New York state of mind, I like to remind him that he could’ve run off with his Bisquick Hating Pizza Crust soul mate and they could’ve spent their lives complaining about ridiculous things, making each other happy in that “only happy if you’re miserable sort of way”. But of course, Ed knows better than that, and the hallmark trait of a soul mate is probably not a complaint in common. Which is why, next month, Ed and I will celebrate 12 years of being together. Happy almost anniverary, Ed.

Love,
Elaine

As a member of the "From Left to Write" book club, I was given a complimentary copy of this book. I was not required to write about the book. I enjoyed reading the book and am now passing it along to my friend Thrift Store Mama. I loved having the chance to record this story for Helen and Connor to laugh at later.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

On Turning Five!

Possibly the best thing about preparing for his birthday party on Saturday is that Connor gets to run out of bed each morning and shout how many days left until his party.

This morning, he followed it by asking about the cake, which he knows I've been baking. At this point, it's a round cake with green frosting that looks like grass. His words?

"That looks awesome!"

Thanks, Connor.

Elaine

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Monday, August 2, 2010

Adventures in Mouse Catching

Saturday morning, I went downstairs to toss a load of laundry in the washing machine (yes, Wednesday failed as my laundry day this week because I was busy at Wolf Trap's Theatre in the Woods rather than being with my washing machine, as I have been every Wednesday when not on vacation for almost a year now!). As I stepped out of the basement playroom into the laundry room, I noticed a very small pile of beer-making ingredients on the floor, next to a bag with a hole about the size of a thumb.

In my heart, I knew right away what had caused that damage. But, I held onto the belief that maybe, maybe, Ed had started to open the bag, punctured it with his thumb (though it was a ziploc bag), decided to go somewhere else, dropped the bag of ingredients on the floor, and then watched them pour out onto the floor without cleaning them up, before forgetting about them. A few months ago, this might have been a reasonable hope, but really it's not these days.

I waited for Ed to awaken, and then I asked him if he happened to spill some beer-making ingredients the night before and forget to vacuum them up. He stared at me blankly and I headed for the hall closet to procure the vacuum. I then went downstairs and cleaned it up while Ed assured me that there was no way possible he had done that, and we must have a mouse. Or mice. But let's go with "a mouse" for now, because that sounds a lot less horrible.

Now is probably a good time to point out that I live in an old house, with LOTS of nooks and crannies, and really, many mice could live down there and I'd never know, so long as they didn't disturb my laundry.

After I had vacuumed up the small pile of grain, Ed and Connor dutifully set a trap. They opted for a catch and release trap, which in theory might seem humane, but the last time this trap was used, the mouse it caught ended up dying in the trap before Ed discovered it was there. Bet that cagey mouse is sorry he didn't just run in the trap on days 1 through 5 when Ed and Connor checked it regularly. But that was a long time ago, and Ed promised it wouldn't happen again.

Sunday morning, I slept in. And when I say "slept in", I mean I REALLY SLEPT IN. I slept past 8:30, which is freaking unbelievable. The kids were up at 7:00, and normally this would mean I would be up, but rather than coming in to "lay with me" which is code for "pretend Mommy is a jungle gym and climb all over her" until I get out of bed" the kids were totally occupied with Ed. You see, on their very first night, they had caught the mouse. And yes, as of this writing, I'm holding onto "the" as the modifier, because I am totally willing to believe that this mouse traveled alone. He seemed stealthy like that.


Connor and Helen spent an hour and a half arguing about whose mouse it was, and who got to hold it (in the glass jar), etc. Thankfully, both of them knew from the start that any mice caught would be escorted to a nice meadow about a mile away.

If I had my druthers, they would've excorted the mouse to its new home before I woke up, but both children very much wanted to show me their booty. I only jumped a little when Helen came at me with the jar.


For its very brief stay in our house, that mouse was loved, though I suspect it wasn't all that thrilled with its lot in life. A good old fashioned public shaming was probably not what it was planning to do when it went into Connor and Ed's very cleverly placed trap baited with peanut butter. I guess that mouse didn't know that in MY house, you don't leave crumbs all over after you have a midnight snack and expect to get away with it.

It was hard to get Helen to give up the mouse when it was Connor's turn to hold the jar.


But eventually she did, and Ed headed off to the meadow with the kids while I took a shower. Alone. With no children interrupting me. Now that's what a call a good Sunday morning! Although the price of having to have a mouse in my house may be a little steeper than I'm willing to pay in the future.

When they got to the meadow, Connor used his height to his advantage to hold the mouse a little bit longer.



Then, Helen and Connor set the mouse free.


No mouse was found in the trap this morning, and I'm hoping that trend continues. Importantly, I have also not found any mouse dropping or any other sign that mice inhabit my home.
Elaine