Tuesday, December 24, 2013

My daughter the skeptic and Santa Claus

I believed in Santa Claus until I was at least ten years old or maybe even eleven. My disillusionment occurred swiftly, in one fell swoop.

My cousin who is six months older than me seemed to have absorbed all of the mysteries of life in one jam-packed playground tete-a-tete and excitedly shared her newfound news: there is no Santa Claus, no Tooth Fairy, and no Easter Bunny, and then proceeded to share the facts of life including a detailed description of menstruation. It was a bit overwhelming to have all of this information revealed at once. Although I had reason to believe the Easter Bunny did exist for a couple of years more, her information about Santa Claus proved true when I found the "gifts from Santa" stored in our basement weeks before Christmas morning.

I think that Clara, who is just five years old, has almost figured out the ins and outs of Santa all on her own.

The first clue came a few weeks ago when we were singing, "Santa Claus is coming to town." She noted that it seemed unlikely that Santa would be able to watch what every boy and girl was doing at all times while simultaneously making toys and supervising the elves in the North Pole. It seemed to be too much multi-tasking even for Santa. I didn't know quite how to respond, and so I suggested that she ask Santa that question when she saw him.

Since last year, Clara has been very suspicious of the different Santas we see at shopping malls or holiday events. "I don't think that's the real Santa," she reminds us at nearly every stop.

Luckily, the Santa at a local holiday event did look real to her, and she sat in his lap with excitement and a sense of wonder. Until he started talking. 

"His breath smelled," Clara said. "And he said my favorite color is pink, and it's not really. My favorite color is purple or every color of the rainbow." "And he said that he wanted us to leave baby carrots for his reindeer because the big carrot we left last year was too hard for Rudolph to eat, but we didn't leave a carrot last year!" Hmmm, I thought, maybe Santa should stick to listening rather improvising small talk.

Then, yesterday, as we sat surrounded by wrapping paper, wrapping Papa's presents, Clara looked straight at me with her Robert DeNiro death stare. She likes to imitate his Meet the Parents "I'm watching you" expression ever since one of her older schoolmates showed her how to do it. 

"I think you are hiding presents from me right now. Where are my presents?" Her gaze was unrelenting. I laughed nervously and agreed that I had some presents for her but reasoned that if I gave them all to her now then she wouldn't have them on Christmas. She kept staring. I felt she was one sentence away from asking if I was Santa before I quickly changed the subject.

I admit that it has always felt weird to me that one of the biggest holidays of the year is focused upon the lie of Santa Claus. As a Christian, there's already enough challenging ideas to explain to my daughter in this season like the virgin birth and returning to your birthplace to be counted for the census. It can be confusing to keep up with all of the Santa statistics in addition. But, don't worry, if Clara figures out that Santa is not real, I will make sure that she doesn't tell your kid. I'm not a fan of spoiling the magic for others.

Despite Clara's consistent skepticism about some of the details about Santa, she is, for now, still a believer. Whatever her concerns are about Santa, she did wholeheartedly believe in the Gingerbread Baby, a runaway book character who was eating candy in the gingerbread traps she and her classmates left around the school. Each day, she came home from school, with another exciting addition to the saga of the runaway Gingerbread Baby.

What I most want is for Clara to have a sense of wonder and awe around the beauty of Christmas and about life in general. So, I won't be terribly disappointed if she figures out the Santa ruse, but I hope that she knows that there is more to life than logic and reason and intellect. I hope she always maintains the ability to believe in wondrous things beyond our understanding.


Friday, November 22, 2013

Sweet Potato Casserole for Thanksgiving

Most of the dishes at our Thanksgiving table are the traditional turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, orange-cranberry relish, and pumpkin bread recipes that have been passed down for generations. One of the newer additions to our family's table is this Sweet Potato Casserole recipe from my stepmother.

It is one of my favorites because the addition of the orange juice gives the sweet potatoes a sweet and tart flavor. I like that the potatoes aren't mashed in this recipe but have some firmness to them because they are layered in slices. I usually make this dish the night before Thanksgiving and refrigerate it overnight, and then bake it in the morning.

6 medium sweet potatoes
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup raisins
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup maple syrup
4 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Boil sweet potatoes about 40 minutes until tender. When cooled, peel and cut into 1/2 inch slices. Place in dish and dot with butter and raisins. Top with salt, cinnamon, and syrup. 

Drizzle with juice and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, sprinkle marshmallows on top and bake for another 5 minutes until marshmallows have browned. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families!


Thursday, November 21, 2013

What do you want to be when you grow up? Why not an engineer?

When shopping online for Lila's Christmas gifts, a quick internet search for "girl's toys" yields results such as: Fashion Headbands, My First Purse, My First Sewing Kit, Barbie Glam House, Disney Princess Hair Accessories, Disney Princess Dress Up Trunk, Disney Princess Castle... Princess, Princess, Princess, Pink, Pink, and more Pink! I've written about my frustrations with the on-going gender stereotyping that my own daughter has experienced- Not all girls want to be princesses!

Thank goodness for a breath of fresh air- Goldie Blox: Building games for girls to inspire future engineers. Debbie Sterling, engineer from Stanford, is the founder and CEO of GoldieBlox. Inspired by her math teacher to pursue a career in which women are underrepresented, Debbie explains that she would've never known what an engineer was if her teacher hadn't suggested it. How would she when toys designed  for girls to explore "grown up" roles are generally restricted to domestic tasks (cooking, cleaning, taking care of babies) or beauty and fashion (dressing up, styling hair, putting on make-up). With these limited options, what messages do our daughters receive about who they are and who they can become? I love it that Debbie Sterling is totally "disrupting the pink aisle" with toys that inspire young girls to bust through these archaic barriers. The Goldie Blox kits include a story book and construction set that allows girls to utilize their problem-solving skills while learning principles of engineering.

Like most, I discovered Goldie Blox through their highly successful commercial that has been circulating all over the internet. Moms are sharing and talking and giving each other high fives. The demand is there. We desperately want more toy options for our little girls beyond the "pink aisle."

I'm super excited that Lila will have Goldie Blox under the tree this year.




Tuesday, November 19, 2013

My five-year-old, the wannabee teenager

My daughter is five years old, but if she could be any age, she would definitely choose to be a teenager.

Clara's eyes glow and her voice gets shaky with reverence whenever I mention someone who falls into the prized category of teen.

When we recently met a new person of said age, Clara turned to me whispering, "So, you're saying she is thirteen years old. So, that makes her a... teenager, right!?" as though being a teenager is the most magical thing one could be.

I am not sure what caused this absolute adoration of anyone between the age of 13 and 19. Perhaps it is because I teach teenagers. Perhaps it is because being a teenager is just close enough to her age that it seems a reasonable reach, more attainable than adulthood. Whatever the reason, Clara is absolutely hooked on the idea of being a teenager.

At some point about a year ago Clara and I witnessed a situation where a teenage girl was being rude and dismissive to her mom. I mentioned to Clara that sometimes teenagers think they are "too cool" for their parents and try to separate from them. I was trying to teach Clara that this is an annoying but necessary and natural stage of development.

Instead, Clara took my use of the word "cool" quite literally. She believes that spouting the word "cool" must be said in direct proportion to the number of times that "teenager" is said.

Whenever I mention someone who is a teenager, Clara turns into this valley girl teen from the 80's spouting phrases I haven't heard in twenty years: "Oh my gosh, like, wow, this is so cool." "Cool, man!" "That's cool, right, mama?"

Clara took me for a trip down memory lane this week when she asked, "Mama, were you cool when you were a teenager?"

"I was well liked. I had friends."

"That's not what I'm asking. Were you cool?"

I did not consider myself to be a particularly cool teenager. I was cool in the sense that I was an individual and followed my own passions. But I wasn't cool like the goth girls who went to raves every weekend or the preppy girls who had their hairs teased to the sky with their matching plaid pants rolled up at the bottom who met up with the boys from the football team on the weekends.

I racked my mind for something that might represent coolness.

"Um, do you know what a prom is? It's a big dance where everyone gets dressed and at the end everyone votes for the prom queen and king."

Before I could finish my story, Clara interrupted, "And you were the prom queen, right, mama? So, you were cool."

"Well, normally the prom queen is the most popular girl, but in my case, I was running against all the popular girls and their votes got split, so I won more by being the nice girl than the popular girl."

"So, you were kind of cool?"

"OK, I guess I was kind of cool."

Clara seemed satisfied with the knowledge of having a mom who was semi-cool as a teenager.

I am still struggling to find the words to explain to my teen-dazzled daughter that sometimes being "cool" isn't actually the point. I want Clara to know that being cool is relative and temporary. As she gets older, I will remind her that being cool as a teenager is usually based upon other teenagers' views whose motivations are often full of insecurity and judgement.

To current and future Clara, always remember that the coolest thing to be is to be yourself.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Conquering the morning & bedtime routine

Towards the end of a fun, impromptu play date at Clara’s house, I start the 10 minute count down, as I always do.
Me: Lila, we have to start wrapping up to go home.”
Lila (not looking away from the TV): Why?
Me: Because it’s a school night and we have to get back to our routine.
Lila: What routine?
I smack my own forehead, speechless.
Ah, yes. The bedtime and morning routine— the two-headed monster I’ve been battling day after day, night after night. Apparently, he’s an imaginary monster whom only I can see… and feel… and agonize over. This is my own personal battle. When my sweet, well-meaning husband tries intervening with a “perhaps I could offer a different approach” I wield my sword toward him—“NEVER!!!”  I shall conquer this monster with my mighty mommy powers!!
Uh huh. Yeah. I have no idea what I am doing.

First, it was the night time routine.  Somehow I was stuck in the routine of staying in the bed with Lila until she goes asleep. This results in me falling asleep in her bed and then waking up in the middle of the night to stumble back into my bed to my now sleeping husband. Needless to say, I have little to no downtime for myself or the hubby. (Not healthy.) My attempts to wean Lila off of having me in the bed have been met with tears and pure manipulation
Lila: Mommy, why don’t you want to be with me???

(How in the world do I answer that question?)
Me: Of course, I want to be with you but…

And, I’m back in the bed staring at the glow-in-the-dark stars on Lila’s bedroom ceiling. Lila’s fast asleep with a subtle grin. (You have won this battle, but the war has just begun, my sweet.)
Out of desperation, despite my husband’s silent protest, I brought up my dilemma at a parents' meeting at school. My story conjured up lots of emotion with the other parents. (Phew! I was not alone.)  I was given loads of advice, empathy, and well wishes. That night I faced the monster (aka the bedtime routine) with a renewed confidence.
Me: Lila, we had a talk at your school and they said you are too big now to have your mommy sleeping in the bed with you. So, starting tonight, after story, I am going to say good night and leave.
Silence... The jig was up. I have not slept in Lila’s room since.
That was seriously too easy. After all of those nights, that was it. Success! But it was not a total victory.
The morning routine was still rearing its ugly head.
At school in the morning Lila is expected to do 3 things:

1)      Put her folder in the homework basket.

2)      Place her “book buddy” folder on the shelf.

3)      Hang her jacket and back pack in the locker.
Classroom rule- Parents are not to intervene. Parents cannot do these things for their child. It’s all about building independence and responsibility and blah blah blah, I know, I know. I get it. It is just sooooooo frustrating when on "day 34" of the school year, kids are coming in and out, doing the routine 1-2-3, and your little one is in La La Land! Jacket on the floor… folder falling out of the back pack… 10 minutes later, still in the classroom… And I can’t help but wonder, “what am I doing wrong?!?!”
My husband’s interpretation is that I "baby her too much" and I need to "just drop her off and leave." Maybe there’s some truth to that (whatever), but I just can’t handle leaving with the image in my mind of Lila and her stuff all over the place. “She needs me” I convince myself. "She can't do this alone." I lose sleep thinking about it (making the newly accomplished night time routine a mute point—I’m not sleeping anyways)!
But, this morning in the shower it came to me! To the melody of Oh My Darling, Clementine
"Homework basket, homework basket, homework basket, book buddy.

Hang your back pack and your jacket,

and then you’re ready!"

I came running down the stairs, dripping wet with my towel, where Lila was eating breakfast and watching TV. I proudly sang my tune. Lila smirked and amazingly, it worked! This was the very first morning that Lila successfully completed her routine without assistance.
The song was brilliant!
Lila: Mom, please DO NOT sing that song in my classroom!

Me: I won't unless you need me too, Sweetie.

Hey, whatever works... {Insert evil laugh here.} Mommy wins!


Friday, October 11, 2013

Popcorn and Kale Chips

Movie nights are a regular occurance in our household. Usually on Friday night, it's our way to unwind from the hectic week and relax as a family. Being a family of foodies, the snack is usually more important than the movie itself. Here is one of our favorites-- Popcorn and kale chips.

  • Popcorn Kernels
  • Olive Oil
  • Cooking Spray
  • Sea Salt
  • A large bag of fresh Kale
  • Seasoning (we use Old Bay)
The Popcorn:
  • Cover the bottom of a medium sized pot with olive oil.
  • Grind or sprinkle in some sea salt.
  • Add a layer of popcorn kernels on the bottom of the pot.
  • Cover and turn the heat to "high." Continually move the pot back and forth until you hear the popcorn begin to pop. Remove from heat when the popping slows down. The lid will usually start to rise up due to the popcorn.
  • Pour into a large bowl.
The Kale Chips:
  • Throughly wash and dry the kale. You may want to remove some of the stems if they are really thick.
  • Line a cookie sheet with foil. Cover with cooking spray (or use an olive oil mister).
  • Arrange the kale on the cookie sheet. Drizzle a little more olive oil. Season.
  • Bake at 350 for about 15 minutes, until they become crispy.
Let the kale chips cool and then combine them with the popcorn. Enjoy this healthy, savory movie treat! It's one of Lila's faves.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

There is a Mouse in our House

   “I know why people make movies,” Clara declared definitively.
   “Really? Why?” I asked, curious about how she might define all filmmakers’ motivations in one succinct statement.
   “To show things that can’t ever really happen in real life.”
   “Like what?”
   “Like in Curious George when the tiger went in the house in the little boy’s bedroom. That would never happen in real life. Tigers don’t live in houses, right?
   “Right,” I concurred. “Where do tigers live?”
   “In the zoo.”
   “Yes… sometimes. Where else do tigers live?” I was a bit dismayed that I was raising a child who only saw animals in their relationship to humans and not in their natural habitat.
   “In jungles. But, we don’t have any jungles near us. We just have ants and spiders and mice in our house, right?”

Unfortunately, Clara was right. For whatever reason, perhaps because we live in an older house or perhaps because we live across from a small wooded area, our house seems to be a hang-out spot for local wildlife.

To be fair, I am probably not helping the matter by my no-kill policy. From an early age, I taught Clara that we don’t kill bugs in the house. We carefully trap them with a cup on top and a thin piece of paper on bottom and bring them back outside.

All of this goodwill came to an end last week when a very friendly mouse decided to make a residence in my bed. Yes, in my bed.

When I think of mice, I think of scared, little creatures scurrying across the perimeter of a floor in the middle of the night trying desperately not to be seen by humans. Our Toddler Mouse was no such mouse. My husband dubbed him the Toddler Mouse due to his petite size and his toddler-like physical movements, jumping and stumbling through our house with a spunky independence that seemed newly discovered. Clearly, the Toddler Mouse’s mommy had not yet taught him to stay away from humans or to stay hidden away until nighttime.

The Toddler Mouse’s first appearance came when he decided to jump on my husband’s knee as he sat at his computer and then scurry quickly down his leg. For as much as I love animals, mice have always creeped me out, so it was with some amount of pride at my calm self-restraint that I stayed in the area in my bed reading despite the fact that a mouse was loose in the house.

When my husband asked if I was OK, knowing about my distaste for rodents, I said I was fine and then inquired how exactly the mouse incident happened. He explained that there had been a rustling sound nearby and before he knew it the mouse was on his lap. I took note of the circumstances and felt secure under my covers on my high bed.

Almost as soon as we finished our discussion, I heard a rustling sound from directly under my bed. Before I could react, I heard the disturbing sound of little mouse feet climbing up the corner of the bed, onto my pillow and scurrying across my hair! The sensation of feeling a mouse crawling along my hair while in my bed definitively ranks as one of the most skeevy experiences of my life so far.

   “Ahhhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhhh. Ahhhhhhh!” I leapt to my feet, jumped up and down, reaching quite impressive heights in between my screams.

Clara never heard me scream like that and her initial concern about my well being quickly turned into delight that she had found something that could really get a reaction out of me.

For the past week, Clara found great joy in coming up from behind me and tousling my hair while saying with a straight face, “I think I see a mouse in there. Really, mama, a real mouse!”

In the mornings, she nestles in next to me, and softly squeaks as a smile stretches mischievously across her face. “Squeak. Squeak. Squeak. I think I hear a mouse in here,” she warns.

Yesterday, she decided she wants to be a mouse for Halloween. She is relentless.

My no-kill policy ended this week. The Toddler Mouse may or may not be gone. My husband set a trap and did indeed catch a mouse. I asked if it was the Toddler Mouse. He said it looked to be the right size but rigor mortis set in and even in mice, death does strange things to one’s appearance, so he can’t be sure.

My mom says that one seen mouse represents approximately fifty unseen mice that are hiding somewhere else in the house. This is a disturbing thought. I prefer to believe that we had one spunky, loner, adventurous Toddler Mouse who just toddled on into our house all by his youthful self.

In the meantime, my little Clara-mouse continues to keep the Toddler Mouse’s memory alive to my great chagrin and her great amusement. My hair still feels itchy just thinking about it.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Mama, you lied to me

We pulled into the hospital parking lot with “Little Bear,” Clara’s stuffed teddy bear carefully tucked under her arms. The teddy bear’s name was a misnomer since he was not in fact very little, almost as tall as Clara’s torso. Clara and her bear had been anticipating this afternoon’s activity for several hours, and she had already dragged him with us to church, and she kept him on her lap throughout brunch, occasionally whispering to him reminders about what he could expect at the doctor’s office.

A local hospital offers an event called “Teddy Bear Clinic” where real doctors volunteer their time to help treat kids’ stuffed animals with bandages, x-rays, shots, stitches, and other remedies. The event is supposed to foster good will between children and doctors while educating children about the different departments in the hospital.

As I finally rounded the corner into the parking lot, I saw… absolutely nothing. No cars. No people. No doctors. No teddy bears. At first, I thought I had the wrong address, but when I checked online, I realized that the problem was instead the date. The Teddy Bear Clinic was scheduled for the following Sunday and I had mixed up the dates.

      “I’m so sorry, Clara,” I said, “but I got the date wrong. It is next Sunday, not today. We will have to come back next week.”

Understandably, a look of disappointment fell quickly across Clara’s face. “But a week is too long. I can’t wait that long,” she protested.

I tried to assure her that a week is not really that long, but she was not listening to any of my attempts at reason.

      “I’m sorry,” I said again. “I made a mistake.” I reminded her of the saying her teacher taught her last week about making mistakes. Clara recited her teacher’s quote about mistakes frequently during the week.

      “Do people make mistakes sometimes?” her teacher would ask and then there was a long pause until she bellowed, “ABSOLUTELY!”

Clara inevitably laughed every time she said “ABSOLUTELY.” I was hoping my reference to her teacher’s quote would help her to laugh a little.

     Instead, she turned even more serious. “This wasn’t a mistake, Mama, you lied to me.”

I was taken aback. I had never heard Clara use that word before, and I certainly did not want her to perceive me as a liar. I explained that I was not lying to her because I did not have the intention to mislead her. I, too, was shocked and disappointed to find an empty parking lot instead of dozens of doctors carefully tending to fluffy teddy bears.

Even though the context of this conflict was about a seemingly silly teddy bear event, it felt significant to me. It was the first time that Clara shared her disappointment about me as a parent directly. I remember the shocked feeling, especially, in my youngest years, at realizing that parents really don’t know everything and that they will make mistakes and disappoint, intentionally or not.

It annoyed me that Clara’s first disillusionment about my parenting happened at something as trivial as a teddy bear event and when I wasn’t even really lying. I think I would have felt better if she caught me in some grand, life-changing lie so she could really have something spectacular to share with her therapist years down the road.

Clara was quiet as she contemplated our conversation. She decided it was time for a confession.

     “I lied once,” she offered softly from the back seat.

     “Really? When?”

     “Remember last year when I told you that I didn’t put M&M’s in my ear AND I told Natasha not to tell any parents what we did? Well… we did put the M&M’s in our ears.”

I vaguely remembered this situation. Mostly, I remembered that the fine line of green chocolate circling the inner part of her ear gave away her first lie before she could find the words to confess. Although I had not thought of this incident for more than eight months; clearly, this lie was still lingering in Clara’s conscience.

As we drove away from the empty hospital parking lot, I saw in the rearview mirror that Clara was whispering again to Little Bear. I asked her what she was saying. Clara giggled softly as she explained that Little Bear was scared about going to the doctor and was grateful for one more week to work up the courage to go to the Teddy Bear Clinic. At least my mistake made Little Bear happy by biding him some time. 

And so it was that some M&Ms and a teddy bear clinic revealed Clara's first lie and my first taste of what it feels like for my little girl to lose just a little bit of faith in me.

I made sure that we DID make it to the Teddy Bear Clinic the following week. And it was pretty incredible if you are into medical interventions. Little Bear received surgery, respiratory treatments, a shot, a cardiology exam (see above), a trip to the maternity ward and many other treatments... all to treat his cold!


Friday, September 20, 2013

Failing at Foreign Language in Three Parts

I studied French in Middle School and High School for a total of seven years. Sadly, the only French word I remember with certainty today is pamplemousse (grapefruit). 
I can also recite the Pledge of Allegiance (to the American flag) in French.  This is a skill that I am sure will come in handy in no other situation other than the one in which it was practiced. My French class happened to be scheduled for first period in Middle School and so when the Pledge of Allegiance came roaring over the loudspeakers, the faithful Francophones in our class stood up, hand over heart, and slowly recited the pledge in French. “J’engage ma fidelite des Etats Unis…”

My aptitude for foreign languages has not improved with time. Despite the fact that I married into an Italian family and have spent several months visiting Italy, I am still limited in vocabulary and comprehension. 
This is sad to me because I would very much like to be someone who speaks multiple languages. We were recently at a birthday party in the United States where an American mother talked to her daughter solely in Italian. It seemed exotic and impressive. It reminded me of friends from high school who were native Italian speakers. They spoke English most of the time, but it was always clear when they were gossiping because they would quickly switch to speaking Italian so they could exchange juicy tidbits in a privately public way. 
Clara recently asked me how many words I know in Italian. I think I could count them on two hands.
Cappello...Naso... Occhi (I learned these body part names while watching Clara's Little Pim How to learn Italian DVDs.)
Prego...Grazie (Please and thank you are always important words to know)
And then a lot of food words: Mangia-Zuppa-Cannellini-Torte-Pane-Prosciutto-Vongole (I could go on for a while with random Italian food words. I really like Italian food).
“That’s a lot of words to know,” Clara assured me. She was genuinely impressed and felt that the number of words I know in Italian are quite sufficient.
In Kindergarten, Clara has the option to study Spanish, French, or Chinese. You already know my track record with French, so that was out of the running. We seriously considered Chinese, but ultimately, Spanish won since there are several people in my extended family who are fluent Spanish speakers. I thought this would give Clara lots of practice partners.

Even though I never studied Spanish, I felt more confident with this language than the others just through sheer immersion. I have watched Dora the Explorer on occasion. I grew up in an area where many people speak Spanish. I honestly thought I could help Clara with at least the first week of Spanish studies in her Kindergarten class. But...I was wrong.
Yesterday, Clara comes home happily singing a song she learned in Spanish. I was impressed by the gusto with which she sang this song, but when I asked her what the song meant, she said, "I don't know. It's in Spanish!"
Here we were week one of Spanish class and both of us were lost in syllables and sounds that we didn't quite understand. After listening a few times, I could figure out about every other word of the song. Que means what. Tiempo means time. I thought the song was about telling time until she got to the last line of the song which Clara was confident meant "It's sunny."
A call to my cousin and multiple renditions of the song later, we finally got the translation down. Ah! Languages and their multiple meanings. It turns out tiempo could mean time... or weather. So, I am already beyond my ability to help after week one, but fortunately Tia Christa and Tia Sandra are willing tutors. 
I think I need a Spanish vocabulary children's picture book to try to keep up.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The first day of school!

We all experienced mixed emotions sending our not-so-little ones off to their first day of kindergarten. We are pleased to announce there were no tears-- the mamas really held it together! It was bittersweet to acknowledge this major milestone. No more daycare or preschool for these girls. Kindergarten is the real deal! Each attending different schools (private, public, and parochial), the girls made us so proud as they embarked on this new experience with such ease and confidence. Many adventures are sure to come!

-Tara, Annabelle, Lisa & Ellyn

Elisa on her way to school, so happy for her big day!

Lila getting right to work.

Clara enjoying Orientation Day.

 Sarah- so excited to take the bus like a big girl.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Top 10: Fun (low cost) things to do on staycation

This summer we had no family vacation plans, but I did have two fabulous weeks off with Lila. After a busy semester and summer session, I was definitely in need of a break and some real quality time with my girl. I was thrilled not to have a plan or a schedule. Every day we would wake up, get ready, and hit the road. I decided we would act like we were on vacation and enjoy all the little things there are to do near home. We had a great time! Here is our top 10 list of easy and fun things to do on staycation:

10) Have a picnic in the park. Lila and I share a love for picnics. It is a wonderful way to lounge and enjoy the weather on a beautiful day. The fun starts with preparing the lunch, which I let Lila take the lead on (after all, she is an aspiring chef). We usually pack PB&J, fruit, and other snacks, grab a blanket and head to our favorite park (or even just stay in the backyard).

9) Visit a mall in another city. We live down the street from our mall, so we tend to go there often. We have our regular routine-- we'll usually get a truffle from Godiva, sample various teas at Teavana, test out cool gadgets at Brookstone, flip through a few books at Barnes & Noble, and Lila runs around the kids' play area for a bit. We did this, as usual, during our staycation, but we also took a trip to another mall further away. It was kind of exciting to check out different stores and a new play area. This one even had kiddie rides!

8) Make s'mores. Whether you make them over a fire or pop 'em in the microwave, s'mores are just pure, messy fun. We sometimes like to treat ourselves to the s'mores at Cosi. Roast the marshmallows over a tabletop fire pit, assemble them with all the fixin's, and enjoy!

7) Paint your own pottery. We spent one afternoon with a friend at a local ceramics/pottery studio. You could pick out a piece of pottery ranging from $5-$50, choose your colors, and paint to your little heart's desire. Both adults and children can have fun and be creative. When you're finished, they will fire and glaze it for you to preserve your unique piece of art. Lila made a pretty trinket bowl for her dresser.

6) Thrill ride at your local amusement park. The merry-go-round, the "whip," kiddie coaster, giant slide, cotton candy, funnel cake, ice cream... need I say more?!

5) Check out a free (or low cost) movie. In the summer, Bowtie Cinemas offers free kids' movies on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. They also offer $6 movies all day on Tuesdays. Regal Cinemas offers $1 kids' movies also on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings and $5 Tuesdays all day.

4) Surprise dad on his lunch break. My poor husband had to work all during our staycation. Boo! One day Lila pointed out that "daddy's missing all the fun." So, to brighten his day, we popped in to take him out to lunch. Lila was a star at her daddy's office and got lots of attention (and a lollipop). It was great to sneak in some QT during his workday.

3) Keep cool at the pool. We were invited by friends to hang out at one of the public pools in their area. We had a blast in the lazy river and splash playground and enjoyed a picnic lunch.

2) Browse your local farmer's market. This is a weekly ritual for me and Lila (and sometimes dad). Lila, being a miniature foodie, is like a kid in a candy store at the farmer's market. She always gets her gourmet olives and mushrooms (which barely make it home). We stroll through the market to sample delicious fruit and veggies and we always come home with a bag of goodies. YUM!

1) Be a beach bum. As mentioned in a previous post, Lila is a total beach baby. We are so fortunate to live near the water (and that Grandma has a place on the beach). I feel like the water and sun have healing, rejuvenating powers that allow me to return from "staycation" totally relaxed and refreshed.


Monday, August 12, 2013

The Wonder of Summer Camp!

When my husband first suggested that Sarah attend summer camp full time, I baulked.


Not stay home with me? That’s just crazy.

Beside the outrageous expense of a full-time summer camp program in our area, she would be so tired. I just couldn’t imagine my girl handling the demands of such a long day. Of course, my husband knows me better than I know myself at times and suggested that I think about what I would do with the free time. With such an inviting demand for self-reflection and the prospect a few spa days thrown in, what could I do but sign her up and hope for the best.

Put this in the record books – he was right!

Once I got over the initial sadness of watching her load the bus on her own, without a tear, I eventually reveled in hearing about her adventures each day. Sarah grew exponentially at camp! She rode the bus without fear, running up to the door in the morning and bouncing down the steps each afternoon, waving at her new friends or high-fiving the camp counselor who accompanied them each day. She came home with art work, friendship bracelets and tie dyed shirts. AND, she learned so many new things . . .swim without a floaty, dribble a basketball, hit a baseball, run the bases, play gaga (a politically correction version of dodge ball), make up a cheer, swing across all the monkey bars without help and spit out watermelon seeds and plethora of new nature facts . . . to name a few small milestones!

I learned it was time for her to begin developing her own life – that spanned far beyond the walls of our playroom.  As a result, she is ready and excited for kindergarten, plays school nearly every day with her spotless new backpack and regularly asks how many days remain before she can go. I couldn’t have asked for more. I realize that she and I both needed to grow in our independence, and now our quality time is even more high quality as she leads the activities and teaches me new things. These are the exact big-girl adventures we’ve been preparing her for, and I’m so proud of both of us!


Thursday, August 8, 2013

A cute care package from your "aunt flo"

I know this is a loooong time off for us but when you have a daughter you know that "the talk" is inevitably in your future. I never really had "the talk" with my own mom, so I'm not quite sure what I will do when the time comes. I remember my information came from Catholic school health ed class (cringe), my peers who knew just as much (or as little) as I did, and one of my all time favorite books, Judy Blume's "Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret." Classic.

When I came across the commercial on YouTube hailed as "the best tampon commercial ever," I had to check it out. It is brillant!

The commercial is for an online company called "Hello Flo" (adorable!) which sends care packages for girls when they have their period.

Each care package contains:
  • Light and regular tampons
  • Pads and liners
  • Get Ready Guide for Parents
  • Get Ready Guide for Girls
  • A canvas pouch for carrying supplies
  • A Do-it-yourself Feby Kit (Female Empowerment Bracelet)
  • And other surprise gifts and goodies
What a super cute idea!! I am totally keeping this idea in mind for the future. For my mama friends with tweens and teens, this is for you!


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

I am never ever going to die... right, Mama? (1 of 2)

I don’t know when I thought the right time to start talking about death with my five-year-old would be, but I wasn’t expecting it to happen in the deli line at Whole Foods.
As the deli worker weighed the pound of turkey we just ordered, Clara asked in a clear and much louder voice than usual, “What happens when we die?”
The woman to my side looked over, curiously awaiting the answer. The deli guy looked bemused, spending a few extra seconds at the scale as he listened in to the conversation.
I paused for a while. This felt like an important question and it seemed like I had an audience of at least three awaiting my verdict.
Finally, I employed one of my favorite tactics as both a mom and an educator. When someone asks me a tough question I turn the tables and ask the asker the same question.
“Well, what do you think happens?” I asked.
“I think it’s dark like when you close your eyes,” Clara said, closing her eyes to demonstrate.
“That’s a good guess. It’s interesting that you chose darkness because other people describe heaven as being very light and white. There are lots of different ways to think about what happens when you die,” I said.
I was gearing up to say more, but Clara just shrugged her shoulders and said, “OK”, satisfied with these two scenarios of death as complete darkness or complete lightness, and asked if she could have some ice cream.
I was relieved that this conversation was short and to the point and figured that we were done talking about death for a while.
I was wrong. The next day at home, as we were making cards for Papa’s upcoming birthday, Clara began a more sophisticated line of questioning about death.
“I’m never ever never going to die. Right, Mama?” Clara looked up at me with wide eyes, so hopeful that she would be the exception to this thing called death that maybe just happened to other people.
My throat closed for a moment. As a mother, every day, I help Clara in practical ways like giving her food, getting her dressed, and driving her places. I help her in psychological ways by helping her to grow as a person, to believe in herself, and to dream big. And yet, sometimes I feel like I am no different than a cave woman mother from thousands of years ago with my main mission, underneath all of the modern responsibilities, being to just keep my child alive, to protect her from death.
For some people, I imagine death seems like a far away something that will happen someday way yonder in the future. To me, death has always felt tangible, present, as though it is lurking just around the corner. On a regular basis, I find myself murmuring a prayerful plea, don’t die, in situations big and small. When I was nine months pregnant, and there was a day that I couldn’t feel Clara kicking. Don’t die. When she was two years old and swallowed nearly an entire bottle of Tylenol. Don’t die. When we crossed four lanes of highway traffic in our car and almost crashed. Don’t die.
And so when she asked in her little plaintive voice about her own death, every part of me wanted to scream, “No, no, my dear, Clara, not you, of course you will not die.” And yet, I knew I had to tell her the truthful answer as much for her as for me.
“Yes.” I swallowed. “Some day a long time from now, you will die. Everyone dies. When you go to heaven, you will see all of the people you love.”
“Well, if I have to die, I’m not going to die until I’m like 40… or 100,” Clara said with the assurance and confidence of those ages being far away in the distance.
I mention that there is a big difference between 40 and 100 and reminded her of some of the people we know who are 40 years old. I tell her that it is more common to die closer to 100 years old than 40 years old.
“Alright, she says, I choose 100 years old then. I will die when I am 100,” she decided.
Wouldn’t it be nice if death felt like a choice, a decision that we could make with assurance at age five? As someone who likes to have control in my life, death has always felt like the biggest unknown. I remember reading “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” in high school and resonating with a passage where Tess wonders what day her death will be. We celebrate our birthday every year, but our death day passes us by unknowing. I was surprised when Clara asked me last week what day her death will be. It seems that like her mama, she might prefer to have the date and time self-selected in advance.
How do you tackle unknowable or uncomfortable topics with your child? How do you handle questions of life and death with your child? 
What would you say if your child asked “I’m never ever going to die. Right, Mama?”