Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy Month 79 Months, Connor!

Dear Connor,

Oh boy, do I have some explaining to do. Seems as if my hiatus from monthly letters for you has been even longer than for your sister. The last time I wrote a letter to you, you had just turned 6. And now? You've left 6.5 in the dust and are cruising to 7.

When last we touched base, I was thrilled to be dumping the "teach Connor to read" job off onto a professional. It has worked. You are a reader. You've finally made it through the stage of "do I have to?" when it's time to read to the stage of having multiple books on your nightstand with bookmarks in them. It's not all that uncommon to see you reading when you're waiting on something. And occasionally, you try and read by nightlight. If you didn't share a room with Helen, I'd designate some before sleep solo reading time for you, but I can't figure out how to make it work with her in the room.

You love your sister, but you also enjoy testing out unkind acts on her. You'll use a very stern voice with her. You'll make rules for games that make it so she cannot possibly win. You've even been known to push her on occasion. But still, she has a great memory for all the nice things you do because she is the first person to step to your defense. She always wants to share with you. And clearly, she adores you. I would still rate your relationship better than most, but wow does it hurt my heart when you're not nice to her.

For the most part, you're cruising through the year. We hit a rough spot a couple of months ago where you clearly felt like you never got to do anything you wanted and you were always being told what to do. This is hard for me, Connor, because I know how truly easy your life is. But your perspective is different than mine, and we seem to have found a nice compromise. Naturally, you showed none of this side of yourself at school. I know, because I asked. Predictably, your teacher was absolutely shocked when I told here you were driving me crazy. Because you? You are the sweetest boy in the world.

You still love math, and you love your extra math class at school. You do not, however, love it enough that you will be enrolling in the summer program that your teacher is recommending you for. I've heard mixed reviews about the level of fun vs. academic structure and I think you're better off running around this summer than doing anything else.

You are the chief pizza dough roller, which is a super useful skill. Helen pats the dough into a circle, and then you take a small wooden roller and roll perfectly delightful, thin crusts. We then pile on sauce and whatever else we can find in the refrigerator and pizza is born. A few nights ago, you surprised your dad by rolling out extra pizza dough into flatbread. It was delicious.

Soccer has captured your attention and you've started learning how to play t-ball on a team. The team is mostly younger children because it's for either Kindergarten or first-timers. I guess most people start t-ball in Kindergarten. It seems like the coach is interested in having fun though, so this should be a good time. You can now throw a ball accurately more than half the time. However, you had a "great idea" a couple of weeks ago and told me you didn't need me to practice baseball because you could just throw a ball at the screened-in-porch and it would bounce back to you. Thankfully, you told me of your discovery before ruining our porch.

You enjoy sword fighting and love the nerf gun your grandparents bought you in Utah. For the record, they did call me when you fell in love with this toy to see if it was OK. I felt you needed a "win", so you got the gun. Not surprisingly, it can cause trouble, and as I type, the gun is resting after a particularly troublesome display a few weeks ago.

You've settled into a nice group of friends and seem to look forward to seeing them. I think it's nice that your class seems to have bonded so well. You've also announced a few times who you will marry. She's a nice girl, but I'm guessing you'll both change and grow a lot over the next 20 years.

For the most part, you make good decisions. And that is a very comforting thing for me. If you run ahead of me, you stop at the corner. Occasionally, your dad or I send a treat in your lunch and you always eat the rest of your lunch first, often bringing the treat home for after school saying you didn't have time to finish it.

Board games and other games with rules are still a big hit. I get a little fatigued from these games, but maybe soon you and Helen will learn how to play bridge. That would be fantastic.

You're my charming little guy and it is nearly impossible for me to believe how much you are changing and growing. I wouldn't trade you for any other. We were meant to be together.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Boy Scouts

Some morning last week, Connor crawled into my bed and announced that the boy scouts were having a banquet, and I was invited. I told him I wasn't going because I didn't like the boy scouts. He thought I was kidding. You can read this post, authored by my friend Jean, to understand why I wasn't kidding.

In disbelief, Connor asked me if I really didn't like the Boy Scouts and I told him I really didn't like the boy scouts.

Helen chimed in "I know why you don't like the boy scouts. It's because it's for BOYS, right?". Because that is why Helen doesn't like the boy scouts. She doesn't like anything that excludes her.

I resisted letting Helen and Connor know why I don't like the boy scouts, and I told Connor that of course I would attend his banquet, but only because I love him. I even silently promised not to protest them. I did, however, leave the banquet a little early because that was the night I had planned to do 108 sun salutations at a nearby yoga studio, and I was not going to miss this incredible opportunity for the boy scouts.

By the night of the banquet, Helen had decided with the right outfit, she could probably join the troop. Can you spot the impostor below?

On my honor, I have no idea why my mom actually hates the boy scouts, but when I find out, I promise to start a revolution from within. Yeah!

Look for me at your next camp-out, boys!

Connor has now graduated from being a Tiger Scout to a Wolf Scout. Here's him getting his patch that I'll have to sew on at some point.

Woohoo! Another patch! Awesome!
For the record, I only missed the portion of the event where boys walk over a bridge to some new level of scouting. I was there for all of Connor's awards. Also for the record, I completed my sun salutations and it was as fantastic as I thought it would be, even though my thigh muscles were sore for a few days. It was the perfect way to welcome Spring!


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

We were leprechaunED!

A week before St. Patrick's Day, I suggested to Ed that we do something funny for the kids to mark the event. Since leprechauns don't make the cut on things that get discussed at a Waldorf school, this was Connor's first exposure to the idea. I presumed his class would do something and indeed, they were busy setting traps and talking about all the messes the leprechaun made when I came to volunteer on Friday.

Connor was definitely excited. I had suggested he write a note to the leprechaun to see if the leprechaun would come to our house for the first time ever. We talked about the note, but I don't think it ever got written. Missed writing opportunity! Crap!

On Friday night, I went out with some friends, and Ed came up with a game for the leprechaun to leave for the kids. Then, Saturday morning, they built traps all over the house. Finally, on Saturday night, Ed set up the game and all that was left was all the laughing that ensued on Sunday morning. There was so much laughter, in fact, that Ed didn't take advantage of his sleep-in day and instead came out to see the fun.

Here is the leprechaun game that Ed created. Helen and Connor had to figure out the word in ALLCAPS. Although only Connor could read the clues, Helen deciphered a fair number of them. They had a great time.

Ed cut out paper clovers, and wrote the following poems:

You and I will have good times.
To follow a clue, pick a word that rhymes.

Then, he sprung one of the leprechaun traps. I sewed a tiny shoe and left it in the trap to make it look like the leprechaun had just barely gotten away.

You can't catch me, I'm much too quick. 
To find a clue, look on the porch for a (STICK).

OK - on second thought, starting the game by giving your children a big stick may not have been the best idea.

The next clue if really grand.
I love to play and dig in the (SAND).

Helen was going to beat that little booger if she got close enough.

You have almost found my treasure.
Next look in the place where your height we (MEASURE).

At about this point, Connor looked at me and made me tell him I had nothing to do with all this fuss, and indeed, I didn't!

You can't trap me, I'm much too wee.
Next look in the bathroom at the place you (PEE).

(This clue really sealed the deal for Connor that I was not involved because he knows I would never write such crass language. At least that's what I have him believing! I was suitably disdainful of the word choice.)
Will you ever find me? Well, maybe.
Look in the bed of a small (BABY).

The next clue is really neat.
Look under a booster (SEAT).

You can't find me, you are too slow.
To find some gold, look near the rain(BOW).

Our players were really stumped by this clue. I have lots of glass stars hanging in our dining room / play area windows, so Connor posited that we'd have to wait until the sun was shining through them to see the rainbows. 
But with a little prompting, Helen remembered where we have a rainbow at all times in our house.
Gold dollar coins! Woohoo!

The leprechaun also peed green in the toilet which is funnier than you can imagine, and also not that noticeable to a 6 year old boy since Connor actually flushed without noticing it, so Ed had to remake the water green.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, everyone!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gardening - Week 1

A couple of years ago, I spent the day double-digging my very large vegetable garden, with only the taste of all those fresh veggies as motivation. Unfortunately, critters got to the table first, and my dreamed-of bounty turned into a small pittance - some lettuce, a few green beans, and a melon or two. I spent the entire summer running out to the garden and getting annoyed that my not-quite-ripe fruits and vegetables had teeth marks in them. It was very stressful.

At the end of the summer, I begged Ed to dump grass seed on the garden so that I would not be tempted to plant it again. Because when a hobby becomes stressful, it's not a good hobby. I lived happily throughout the winter, with nary a thought about Spring vegetables. But damn if those seed catalogs didn't hit my doorstep right after reading Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. I resisted mightily, tossing them quickly into the recycling bin as they pounded on my door daily. And then I found myself at a garden center and walked out with several seed packets. It's my weakness.

Connor planted bush beans amidst the front landscaping, and we have an odd square that's about 4 feet x 4 feet in the front of our home that we've used to grow basil in the past that I double-dug and then planted with lettuce, kale, brussels sprouts, carrots, and a few herbs. So far, no sign of life. But I've been preparing myself already for the rabbits and birds to feast, and have vowed to not get annoyed.

I also have a new fig tree and blackberry bush.


Connor, doing the digging for the new fig tree, something I've dreamed about since moving into this house 2.5 years ago.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Craft Room

The previous owner of our home is an opera singer. When an addition was built onto the home, he needed a practice space, so he had a fairly small sound-proofed room sandwiched between the master bedroom and another small room. The practice room and small room were connected by a doorway.

As with most of our home when we purchased it, both rooms were loaded with shelves. One wall-filling set is in good condition, and is quite useful. The rest basically looked (and functioned) as if I'd given Connor a hammer and no ruler and told him to build something. Also in this room was an uncomfortable couch that had been built by the previous owner, which may have also functioned as an uncomfortable bed. Beneath it were falling apart drawers. The fabric on the couch could only be described as gross (though Helen and Connor insist that they need it).

Almost two years ago, our au pair at the time took a design class, and decided the craft room would be her project. For that effort, she removed many shelves from the walls, applied stick-on tiles to the floor in the practice room, and painted the walls pink and yellow. It was a huge improvement.

Still, the space was barely above awful. The two rooms did not function well together, and importantly, there was not adequate horizontal space for both Helen and Connor to be working on projects. If I wanted to paint with Helen, we had to go to the dining room, which is not my favorite thing to do. And, if someone left a project out, it was sure to be messed with by the other party.

Since the space serves as Connor and Helen's designated craft space, a lot of crap tends to land there and not move (yay for closing doors). Over time, this became a huge problem.

The space was such a disaster, that I have no "before" photos. I think I just couldn't bear to record it! This, however, is a half-way photo where all the shelves, except the one decent set, have been removed and my nieces are helping Connor and Helen paint the walls before the carpenter arrives.

I'm not sure what inspired it, but Ed and I decided it was time to fix this room once and for all. We had the wall removed (which was somewhat scary since it is load-bearing - the original back wall of the house), had a second window installed, had the super disgusting ceiling replaced (it was previously yellowed and cracking), had two overhead lights installed with real switches (where previously we had rigged up a power strip with a switch that Helen could reach), and then Ed built two desks from The Container Store, a recommendation from my friend, Ellen. We also had a closet installed so that this room can now be considered a bedroom for re-sale purposes, which seems a lot better than a random ill-defined space that it was prior to this renovation. For my part, I hauled out probably a full can of trash / abandoned art projects, and organized almost everything into small boxes that could sit easily on the shelves. I had the walls painted lime green which makes me smile every time I walk in the room.

I need to hang the print sitting by the (freshly painted) radiator and make curtains. But other than that, we're in business!

Key points of the remodel were:
  • Defining separate workspace for both Connor and Helen, to avoid interrupted projects.
  • Clearing out all the clutter and organizing the items that were left so that they are both accessible and usable - including my stuff!
  • Providing each child with a plastic shoe-box for "in process" project tools. This will hopefully control clutter in the future.
  • Having horizontal spaces that can be raised and lowered over time as Connor and Helen grow.
  • Having horizontal spaces large enough for painting boards, and having vertical storage space for the painting boards.
  • Installing desks that did not have to be screwed into the walls. The desks are stand-alone, which is important, because the plaster walls in this room were riddled with holes from all the previous shelves, so it took a substantial amount of effort to make them nice. I didn't want to immediately disturb that.
  • The addition of a window means the space has much more natural light.
  • Long-term planning. This room will be able to function as a homework space in the future. And, in the way beyond future, it will make a great nursery for whatever young couple buys my home from me in fifteen years.
Let the creative juices flow!



I learned a very important parenting lesson when Helen was 2. Another parent was cool as a cucumber when Helen laid a kiss on his baby and rather than freaking out at the potential germ transfer he said "Everybody likes to be treated nicely.". And while it seems like such a simple lesson, I feel like some folks make it so hard.

A few nights ago, I was busy knitting at the PTA meeting, when the subject of the school dance marathon came up. The person running it gave a brief overview, and noted that teams needed to get registered soon.

Another parent noted that sometimes in the upper grades, navigating the social ins and outs of putting a team can be difficult, and asked if there was any plan for what to do with kids who didn't yet have a team.

The person in charge of the dance said that while anyone could attend "we won't make them go home", prizes could only be awarded to a pre-registered team. I get that she's put a lot of time into this fundraiser, and I suspect she's a very organized person that doesn't like surprises. But let's face it, this is an absolutely ridiculous position to take. This is a fundraising event at an elementary school. This is not "Dancing with the Stars". But, because I know how unhelpful comments late in planning can be, I kept my mouth shut.

To her credit, the principal stepped in and said maybe as children came in the night of the party without a team, they could be formed into an ad hoc team, and there appeared to be general agreement on this.

While this was going on, all I could think about was how the daughter of the woman running the dance marathon has probably learned from her mom that it's appropriate to create arbitrary rules that everyone has to follow that make her own life easier. And when they don't get followed, the appropriate response is to exclude, rather than include.

What I wish the mom were teaching was that "everybody likes to be treated nicely", even if it is sometimes inconvenient.

In our own house, Connor did not wish to participate in the dance party when I initially brought it up. Then a buddy's mom in his class sent me an email letting me know a team was forming and asked if Connor wanted to be part of it. The next morning, I said to Connor "remember how I told you about the dance party at school and you said you didn't want to go?" "Yeah, I don't want to go." "OK - F's Mom sent me a note and wanted to know if you wanted to be on a team with F, D, etc." Connor did a complete 180 and exclaimed how he had "always wanted to go to the dance party - that it was his most favorite thing in the whole world - and that he definitely, definitely did NOT want to miss it".

Thank you, moms in Connor's class, for including him. Because just like everyone else, Connor loves being treated so nicely.

We have the power to change the world. I'm not even exaggerating here.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Happy Month 53, Helen!

Dear Helen,

Someday, I suspect you will start going through this blog, and realize that I used to be quite good at writing monthly updates. I loved those, Helen. It was my moment to sit back and reflect on your development. Sadly, I haven't prioritized that, so there are many, many missing months. I'm sorry. But I promise you, I was doing the best I could. If you ever become a mom, you'll totally get this.

Helen can now reach the window control in the car. That is most fantastic, in case you couldn't tell.

The last time I drafted one of these notes, you turned 4. I must say, you came through in spades with my wish to have an easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy six months with you. By the book, my friend, you have spent the past 5 months embracing everything you do, smiling, laughing, and generally being a pleasure to be around. I realize I might be cheating the fates, but just to put it out there, I am totally cool with you spending the whole year like this, rather than deciding to struggle into 5 for six months.

Of course, you have also shown your stubborn streak, are becoming a master story-crafter (and not always in a good way), and can stomp your feet with the best of them.

You still find yourself incapable of walking anywhere. You skip. You jump. Sometimes, you hop on one foot and point out that you are doing something "really amazing". I think your feet might have grown though, because you seem to be constantly stubbing your toes. You also seem somewhat accident prone in general. A few days ago, after calling your Uncle Bill for advice on whether I should take you seriously when you were screaming about your head hurting from a rather dramatic fall earlier in the day, I told you that you'd be wearing a helmet from here on out if you had one more accident. You thought I was kidding.

Helen was surprised by something at my office children's holiday party.
Mostly, you're a pretty independent little gal. We moved a bunch of cups to a drawer so that you could get your own water and in the morning when I'm with you, you're happy to pour juice for you and Connor. So long as the container isn't too full, the juice lands mostly in the cup. BONUS!

Everything you do seems to be exaggerated. When you sob, you sob loudly. When you are excited, you cheer. You choose outfits with pop and on the rare day that your clothes do match, you don a crazy hat before you head out of the door. You love the attention it all brings.

Just chasing pigeons in New York City.
Troubling to me recently is your insistence these days that you can't do certain things because they are "too hard". What? From my child who can tackle anything? I don't believe it. Not for a minute.

A few months ago, I decided that I needed to run again. Rather than leaving you with your babysitter, you insisted I bring you along with me. I dusted off the jogging stroller, inflated the tires, and set off. Although you only weigh about 27 pounds, that's a lot uphill. At the start of our jog, you insisted I was going too fast and you had to put your notebook away because it was too bumpy. By the time we got to a hill, you shouted several times "are you sure you're still running back there?". Yes, Helen, I was still running - or at least not letting you cruise unassisted to the bottom of the big hill.

You occasionally declare that you will be a meat eater when you grow up and that may well be true. For the most part, you still embrace food - except for sauce on pasta. You have decided that you do not like sauce on your pasta, and let me know regularly. You do, however, still like kale chips, so you get a pass on several other items.

Why yes, that is a balloon taped to Helen's head. And yes, she is the only one on the mountain that looks like this.
 You still adore school, and that's such a treat. On my drop-off day, you sometimes don't even hang out long enough to tell me good-bye. You've got pirate adventures and police and babies and oh so much more to attend to.

You have taken on the task of answering the phone. As soon as it starts ringing, you dash to it and ask "who are you" and then, if you know the person. you'll chat with them for a bit before bringing me the phone. Several times, a telemarketer has called, and I will hear you say "Do you KNOW my mom? Are you her friend?". By the time I get the phone, they seem as confused about calling me as you are about them calling me.

You've recently gone back to your insistence that you need a "real person" to sleep with. One night, I gave in, and this turned out to be one of my more brilliant parenting moves. You fell ill with some nasty virus in the middle of the night. You pretty much puked all over me, which I realize sounds like a bad thing. But the alternative? Way worse, I guarantee, so I gave myself a pat on the back and ran to the bathroom with you several times that night. The next day, you were not in very good shape, but after about 24 hours of keeping not even a few swallows of water down, the pox left our house. I credit my constant hand washing and sanitizing that day for saving the rest of the family from your fate.

Just taking a swig of pickle juice.
You love your ballet class, and it's caused me to learn one of your more freaky talents. At the age of not quite 4.5, when most children do not have a proper "r" sound, you can imitate many french ballet terms perfectly. You can also tell me how every child in your class says your name. It's pretty funny. Given your love for talking, I should be putting you in child theatre. But I think we both know that's not going to happen.

You have suddenly become aware of your size, and you check your clothes each day to make sure you are wearing a 4T. On the days when you put on a shirt that's a smaller size, you will remark with amazement that it still fits. Your underpants are 2T, and you regularly say in disbelief "Are you serious? I'm wearing a 2T?". Trust me, friend, someday you'll appreciate you small sized bottom.
If I'd known how much joy you would bring into my life, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have been so nervous about you coming into it, Helen.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Connorspeak: Sampling Error and Elections

Connor has been learning about famous Americans at school, and among these are several Presidents. It got Connor to thinking about elections, so he asked  me this question while I was preparing for dinner.

"What happens when there's a tie in a Presidential election?"

I responded that it had only really come close to happening once, and in that instance the Supreme Court stepped in and made an incorrect decision. And that's how George Bush became President the first time. This, naturally, confused Connor. I get it. The whole thing confused me, too!

Connor sat there trying to digest and sort out what I had just told him, and then followed up.

"Is it because they drew a bad sample? You know, like they had a big handful of ballots, maybe 20 or so, and those said that George Bush should win but really, if they'd correctly counted everything, the other guy would've won?"

I told him that he had a good case, but that wasn't exactly what happened. Then I told him he'd be learning about that election for years to come, and that I didn't fully understand everything that went on myself.

In case there was any confusion, I believe he has confirmed he is in the right house.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Making the World a Little Bit Better - Connorstyle

I dream about the day my children discover how they're going to make their mark on the world. I'm hopeful that they'll leave this Earth better than they found it. I'm not necessarily expecting huge things, but a small gesture here and there would make me feel like this work of raising children was worth it.

In this week's Friday Folder was this gem from Connor.

"I have a dream. My dream is: [for] Glebe to be a better place."
"I can help my dream come true by: eating lunch fast so I can tauc (talk) a lot"
His teacher called it one for the "saved papers folder". I called it "one for the blog".


Friday, March 2, 2012

I Survived First Grade Boys' Night - and So Did All the Boys!

About a month ago, I had the great idea that Connor could invite the boys in his class over. Because we're new at the school, I'm never quite sure if my ideas are good or odd, so I asked a super nice mom in Connor's class what she thought, and she said 'go for it'. She also noted that Saturdays work better because kids get so tired from the long week of school. This all made sense to me, but before I got around to organizing the evening, every Saturday was booked.

Thursday and Friday were days off from school this week, so I decided Thursday would be the day (because it's kind of like Saturday when you don't have school on Thursday and Friday, I reasoned). Thankfully, it was gorgeous outside, and even though Connor wanted to play xBox (an item we won a while back, that I recently broke out to entertain visiting neices) the boys were happy to run around in the backyard. Sadly, they wanted to play football, which is a game Connor doesn't know how to play. He can play soccer, but it took a while to convince the others that soccer should be the game of choice. Tears were involved, but not too many. They also played in our neighbor's treehouse and played capture the flag before spending about a half hour in front of the TV playing games we borrowed from our neighbor. Did I mention I have the best neighbors in the universe?

There was one injury - but thankfully it was the child of a mom who stayed to help out and she took care of it. The kids ate the pizza, downed some juice and water, and played hard until their parents arrived. At one point, Ed did a quick head count to make sure we hadn't unintentionally lost anyone, and luckily we did not.

All children were returned to parents that appeared to know them.

SUCCESS! But for the record, I was totally lucky that the weather was nice and that half the boys were traveling over the long weekend. It was a bit ambitious to think I could entertain all of the first grade boys!


Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Golden Diner

Connor is not very fond of writing, so I try and trick him into doing it whenever I can. I suggested he create a diner and told him I would serve as cook some evening. Since Connor's favorite meal is breakfast, he naturally chose a breakfast theme. Little does he know that there are diners everywhere with an identical motif. Some day, I'll take him to one just to blow his mind away.

First, he designed the menu. I'm not sure what the top picture is, except maybe a dinosaur eating a train? The bottom panel is a picture of happy diners and me, the chef, flipping pancakes to them. I have mad cooking skillz, I assure you, but the evening didn't go down exactly like this.

Next came the inside of the menu. Can you tell what Connor likes to eat? Hint: it starts with "J". We

"DINNER: Pancakes Jelly; Waffles Jelly; French toast Jelly; BlueBerry Muffins; eggs; Sausage"
Then, it was time for the helpers to come help. Helen stirred pancake / waffle batter while Connor carefully wrote down each order.

Then Connor tasted the first pancakes and deemed them good and ready to serve.

Mmmm...first plate at the Golden Diner is served!
Once Helen's stirring duties were over, she became our server. No plates were dropped, which I think makes this effort a huge success.

Bon Appetit!