Random Thoughts: The Day After My Favorite Day of the Year Edition

Yesterday, it was 61 degrees and sunny.

Breakfast with Dan, Kate, and Michael was blissfully uneventful. Until I spilled Dan’s to-go cup of coffee in the parking lot. (Sorry about that, babe.)

Kate received a glowing evaluation from her pre-k teacher. My favorite line: “I know you liked the Catholic program she was in, and I’m sorry it closed, but I’m so glad I have had the chance to teach her.” Kate is a bright, cheerful, enthusiastic child, which of course I know, and I was pleased beyond words to know that she is thriving and that her behavior in school is excellent.

Lunch with Flora was just as fun. We each ate our sandwiches and shared dried mangos; she showed me around her classroom, and was cheerful and chatty. She, too, is clearly thriving in school, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the Catholic school community our family is part of.

I decided not to shop, although I ran a couple of relaxing errands. (When you have time to run errands, they are relaxing! Who knew?) I had a beer at Bocktown around 3 p.m., and read the Stephen King book I got for Christmas. I went home, and made TWO dinners — one for tomorrow night. That seldom happens.

And I got message after message wishing me a happy birthday (including calls from my two best friends, my ILs, and my dad).

Say what you will about the Internet and social media the rest of the year: parenting wars, high school pettiness, yadda, yadda, yadda. On my birthday, it made me feel warm and fuzzy. I know that writing on a Facebook wall isn’t sending a card in the mail (where would they put the check?), but it’s still 10 seconds out of someone’s day to think about someone else and wish them a happy day.


I know it’s not cool to like your birthday. It’s especially not cool because I’m “of a certain age”, and a woman to boot, but you know what? I still like my birthday. Yesterday was just delightful. I am ridiculously blessed.

My dad called when I was in the grocery store buying my birthday cake. As we were hanging up he said, “You keep getting older. That’s your job.” And he’s got a point. I want to keep having birthdays. I want to raise my kids, and have adventures, and explore new things, and learn something every day. I can’t do that if I stop having birthdays. And when I’m 91, or 101, or 121 (medical science makes advances daily!), I hope I can embrace my birthday with the same level of joy as I have for most of my life.

And, you know, eat some cake.

Weekend Update: Skating Edition

On Sunday, we attended a birthday party for Niece and Nephew at a local roller skating rink.

This was the first time (to my knowledge) that my girls had been on roller skates. I felt a little bad for my husband because he was going to have to help them around the rink with no backup help from moi.

But the girls surprised me. After a couple of times around with Daddy (and after we traded Kate’s regular roller skates for those plastic ones you can put on with shoes), they went off on their own. I think for most of the second hour we were there, they made their way around without adult help. (Except for the guy who has to help Flora up in the first video.)

Some things I learned:

1. My BIL-IL can skate backwards. I didn’t even know he could skate forward.
2. Nephew, in his own words, “is like a cheetah out there on my skates.”
3. Aside from the music, roller skating rinks have not changed in… oh, 30-some years.
4. My children can limbo on roller skates. I don’t know where they picked that up.
5. Kate is unstoppable. I mean, I knew that, but she demostrated it in spades on Sunday.
6. Even being afraid of falling and hitting her head did not stop Flora.

Sorry about the crappy camera work, but I think I managed to capture the fun and delight of the experience. I couldn’t exactly run (or skate, obvs) alongside.

I really could not have been prouder of the girls. They dithered at first, and Flora was whining a little bit when she first started, but once Dan & I explained that skating was something they had to learn, that they wouldn’t be able to do it without some practice, they got into it.

Now they want to know when we’re going back.

Learning to Read

When I was a child, my parents read to us every night. I distinctly remember Richard Scarry books — anyone else remember those? — and putting my fingers on things, looking at the black marks beside them (refrigerator, stove, strawberries). Learning to recognize them.

We also watched Sesame Street and The Electric Company.

And, in the days before pre-k, or nursery school, or even daycare, that’s how I learned to read.

By the time I was 5, I was reading on my own, in my head at least. I don’t know how one “learns” to read, per se; I’ve heard tell of “contextual” learning, and of course, phonetics.

I can tell you, for much of my early childhood, I thought when you were very tired, you were fa-ta-goo’ed; and for the longest time “sat-is-fi-ca-tion” meant to be content. (As to the first, I read a lot — and I mean a lot — of Nancy Drew; that red-headed girl detective was always fatigued at one or more points in her adventures.)

And now, I read to my children every day. Whenever they want me to read them a book, I indulge them. I don’t adopt silly voices or act out the stories; that would make me feel too self-conscious. But I read with a lot of inflection and emotion (sometimes Kate asks me to tone it down; “Don’t say it like dat,” she pleads). I always read them a book before bedtime.

For months now, both my girls have taken books to bed with them. Kate will page through hers and narrate the action, usually starting, “Once upon a time…” I have come upstairs after putting them in bed to find Flora intently paging through whatever book she has with her. (Kate is usually passed out by the time I come back upstairs to check on them. That girl likes her sleep.)

For Christmas, we got Flora the LeapFrog Tag reading system.

She loves that thing. (And thanks to everyone who told me about the storage case. We’d have lost the ‘pen’ by now without it.) She recently took it to preschool for show-and-tell as her favorite Christmas gift.

Last night, Flora declared, “I can read Olivia. Look I’ll show you.” (Olivia is one of her Tag books.)

And she got it out and read it to me.

This is the first book that Flora has “read” to me (and Kate). She is very proud of herself (I’m a little proud, too). I know she is doing what Dan referred to as “sight reading”; there were words in the book that she forgot, and other times she asked me to help her. I’d like to start teaching her to sound out the words and letters. I’m treading a little lightly here because Flora becomes frustrated so very easily. And I don’t want her to become frustrated with reading — it’s so very magical.

I’m obviously taking a very low-key approach. I want reading to be a wonder, not a chore. I’m not the type of mom to crack out the flash cards (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Have you ever taught a child to read? What’s the best way to get Flora “really” reading, rather than “sight” reading?

I’m not really concerned about her ‘mispronouncing’ words at this point. I did that for years (reading aloud in class was always pretty interesting; thank goodness for very nice grade school teachers; I’ll never forget the first time I learned “satisfaction” only had four syllables), and I love to read. I want to instill in Kate and Flora the same love that I have for it.

I’m pretty sure we’re on our way there. But if there’s a nudge I can provide, I sure would like to know what it is. And if not, well, we’ll just keep on doing what we’re doing.


Updates: Through the efforts of many, many people, the women in charge of the BRESMA orphanage are getting aid, but there is plenty more you can do. Updates can always be found at Jane Pitt’s Twitter feed (she took her blog down for now; too much coming in, methinks). CNN did a story about the situation; as did local papers (Post-Gazette; Trib-Review). Thank you for all your support. I hope you keep these women and the children in your prayers.

Oh, and I gave $50 to the Red Cross this morning. THANK YOU!

Snippet: Sweet

As is noted, the Halloween extravaganza has begun. As a result, the girls have some candy already.

Yesterday I packed them each a 3 Musketeers “fun size” bar in their lunches. Flora saved hers — my children often “save” a part of their lunch to eat on the ride home…because it’s such a long 5 minute ride.

So yesterday when I got them in the car, Flora opened her lunch pack, and got out the chocolate bar. She opened it, broke about a third of it off and handed it to Kate.

I hadn’t asked her to share. Kate hadn’t asked her to share. Just, “Here, Kate. You can have some of my chocolate.”

Although I was utterly flabbergasted, I simply said to her, “Flora that was a very nice thing you did. You’re a good big sister.”

Sometimes, my kids just blow me away.


Flora is fascinated by spelling out words. A piece of paper, a marker, and a willing adult, and she goes to town.

“How do you spell dog?”
“How do you spell cat?”
“How do you spell Nonna/Bella/Pap-pap/Tadone?”
“How do you spell May I please?”

On her own, she can spell her name, Kate’s name, and Mom and Dad. She puts these words on almost all of her school paper work. Also: Boo.

Yesterday, she asked about another word. And she’s putting that on a bunch of papers now, too.

The word? Love.

I think we’re doing a pretty good job.

Okay, It Didn’t All Suck

The weekend was another stressful one, and yesterday got off to a real rough start. But there were some good things that happened.

1. Saturday, the girls finally unwrapped their gifts from Aunt J, and those flashlights with Halloween-themed lenses saved my sanity that morning. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Aunt J. I actually have an excuse to lock my children in a dark room now — they ask me to!

2. I made the executive decision on Saturday to not use my kitchen for the rest of the weekend. Fortunately, I had Bocktown gift certificates thanks to ClumberKim, and through some Twitter activity, she and I even made arrangements to meet for dinner, with the children. Dan was also able to join us. It was probably the highlight of my weekend.

I called Bocktown to find out what the wait was like on Saturday around 5 p.m. I was going to have some hungry kids in tow, and all the coloring books in the world would not stop a meltdown if a significant wait was involved. Since it was not terribly busy and we would be there in about 20 minutes, the kind staff set aside a table for seven (with two booster chairs) for us. The hostess with whom I spoke told me they didn’t normally do call-ahead seating, which I know to be true, but I was grateful they made an exception for us.

The children got along like a house on fire (I’m not sure why this colloquialism connotes a positive thing, but so be it). Eleanor and Kate peaceably shared finger puppets; Oliver and Flora checked out baseball scores on Kim’s iPhone (well, Oliver used the phone while Flora looked on); they also shared coloring books and markers. We adults were able to converse with minimum interruptions, and although Bocktown does not have a kids’ menu per se (which is not a sin), they were more than willing to accommodate us with extra plates to divide up meals. The whole table shared the pretzels and beer cheese appetizer — the crowd favorite by far — and my girls had the cheese ravioli.

Halfway through her third cheese ravioli, Flora declared, “This is better than a toy store!” As I was busy inhaling the portabello sandwich, I could do no more than nod to agree with her.

Someone else noticed how well-behaved the four children were during the meal, and complimented us on it as they were leaving! Yes! This is a huge parental victory, and Kim, Dan, and I all deserved it.

3. Kate is starting to pee regularly in the potty. She even asked to go to the bathroom at Bocktown. Dan was holding her in his lap at the time, and he said, “You can just go pee in your diaper.” I was like, “No, no, no! I’ll take her! If she wants to use the potty, she’s going to use the potty!” Kate is well on her way to earning lots of M&Ms.

4. My Sunday trip to Costco was nearly short circuited by the fact that I forgot the coupons. I was so frustrated! It was apparently excellent customer service weekend, because when I mentioned something to the cashier, she said she could give me credit for the products anyway. I said, “But I didn’t grab any of them because I didn’t have the coupon book!” She checked her line, and checked my list. She sent another employee for four of things I wanted, and went for the diapers herself. She was an angel, saving me another trip up to The Pointe. And a few bucks.

5. Monday was salvaged by Starbucks coffee and a pumpkin scone, the Vegetarian Times one of my co-workers left on my desk, and the fact that my husband went to Flora’s school to pick out a picture package and give them money. I had called him sobbing from the car. I didn’t call him because I wanted him to solve the problem; he made that call on his own. I just called him, really, because I wanted a hug. Unfortunately, I had to settle for the scone.

I’ll collect on that hug later, babe.

Progress II

Wednesday evening after dinner, the girls helped me wash the dishes.

If you don’t know this already, when a child helps you do a chore, that chore will take anywhere from two to ten times longer. Accept this now, and don’t let it stop you from letting your child(ren) help you.

It took me awhile to figure this out, and it lead to some frustration on my part. I am a slow learner. But then it clicked, and I embraced it. And here’s a few reasons why.

First of all, like many other WOTHMs, I don’t get to spend a lot of time with my children. Since days have grown shorter, my children have started going to bed earlier. I pick them up at the day school at 5 p.m. (or later), and they hit the hay around 8 p.m. That is a scant 3 hours, and that time is filled with feeding, cleaning up after, and bathing them. If they are “helping” me, it’s not a chore, it’s quality time together.

Second, it’s less time they spend in front of the television.

Third, it teaches them responsibility. (You probably already figured this out.) Meals have to be cooked, dishes have to be cleaned (and dried and put away), clothes have to be laundered.

Fourth, it’s fun! Watching Kate intently wash the same spoon for 15 minutes was hysterical. Flora spent a lot of time washing one of my travel mugs: she would put some water in it, submerge the sponge, take out the sponge, put more water in the mug, submerge the sponge again, lather, rinse, and repeat until she got to the point that submerging the sponge made the water overflow the mug. And then she would empty the mug and start over again. (She may have been learning applied physics for all I know.)

They were wholly absorbed in this “chore”, standing on kitchen chairs I had pulled over to the sink (with a towel spread underneath to catch the inevitable spilled water). In the meantime, I was getting the other dishes done, dried, and put away.

By the time we were done, Kate had probably washed three pieces of silverware (quite thoroughly); Flora had done both travel mugs and a couple pieces of tupperware; and I had taken care of all the dishes, one pot, and one pan. Also, Kate was soaked from the neck down, the chair she had been standing on was soaked, and the half of the towel under her chair was — you guessed it — soaked.

But the girls were also ridiculously pleased with themselves. I handed Flora a towel to dry the chairs (Flora, incidentally, was dry except for the very tips of her sleeves), she happily declared, “I’m going to help you every day all day.”

And that’s just fine with me.

(I would normally have just put everything in the sink until the girls were in bed, but we are still having a major issue with fruit flies. Nothing we’ve tried to date has completely solved the problem. And besides, now that I know how much fun the girls find washing the dishes, there’s no reason not to do it together!)


You know what kind of blog post I would love to stumble across?

A post about well-behaved children in a restaurant. And I don’t mean 10 and 11 year olds — I mean a post about a mom sitting with her almost 5-year-old and 2.5-year-old, and how very well behaved they were.

I would like this post to be written by a server in said restaurant, or by another patron, one there without children.

The post would extol the behavior of these two girls. It would describe how they sat in the booth, coloring (“What a smart mom, for bringing something for her children to do while they waited for their food,” this poster would write), drinking their lemonades without spilling them (“…and the restaurant did not have plastic kid glasses with lids! Just straws.”). Our observant, uh, observer would note that the children did not run around the restaurant. They did not scream, and when they got a little loud, how the mother leaned in and quietly reprimanded them, asking them to use their “inside voices.” And how well the children responded.

This on-looker would note other remarkable things, such as:

“Even though the wait for food was long, in toddler terms — about a half-hour for vegetable lo-mein and tofu with mixed vegetables — the children did not get out of hand. When the mom, a very striking red head who could not have been more than 32-years-old herself*, noticed her younger daughter getting bored with the coloring book, she pulled out her iPod® Shuffle™. She put one of the ear buds in the child’s ear, and the other in her own (no doubt to make sure the song was suitable listening for a little one).

“Her daughter was instantly fascinated. The older daughter wanted to listen, too, and walked to her mother’s side of the booth without fuss. The mother had her listen for a bit, but the girl was, eventually, more interested in going back to her own seat, and the book she had been ‘reading’ beforehand.

“I believe I overhead the mother tell the younger girl that she was listening to Coldplay’s ‘When I Ruled the World’. How nice to know that parents expose their children to more than toddler tunes or the tinkly sounds of classical music redone for babies.” [Little would this person know that the next song was Rihanna’s “Breaking Dishes”, which caused a little seated booty wriggling.]

And then the observer would exclaim over the fact that the girls ate their dinners with minimum fuss.

“When the food first came to the table, the older daughter balked at what the mom was calling ‘Chinese spaghetti’ (pretty and clever! what a lucky man her husband is). But the mother assured her that she did like it, and put some on her plate, along with rice and some broccoli from the tofu and mixed vegetables. The mom doled out similar amounts to the younger daughter, who also wanted some of that baby corn in the tofu dish. I think the younger daughter actually ate all the baby corn she could find!

“And after sampling some rice, both girls tried their ‘Chinese spaghetti’. The older girl’s eyes lit up. ‘Hey,’ she told her mother, ‘this is good! I love it!’ Both girls proceeded to have two more helpings of the lo-mein, plus rice and vegetables. Being more familiar with kids who won’t eat much more than hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and mac ‘n’ cheese, I was amazed at the adventurous palates of these two cutie pies!”

That’s the kind of thing I would like to see on-line. Instead of people bitching about how their dinner was ruined by rambunctious kids whose parents let them run rampant; instead of servers complaining about clueless and inattentive adults who let their kids get away with the equivalent of (in a busy server’s mind) murder.

But it’s like a-hole protesters or loudmouth, rude celebrities getting media attention. People don’t cover the good news, all the planes that land safely.

Which if you think about it, is encouraging. Maybe the ill-behaved kids are noteworthy but more rare. That way of thinking is probably either hopeful or naive, I know.

This is all a round-about, fanciful way of saying: My children were angels the other night when the three of us went out to dinner. And I hope someone other than me, their ridiculously proud mommy, noticed.

*Hey, it’s a fantasy.