Friday, August 29, 2008

Maybe He Needs A Map

The other night at dinner, Andy was asking Hilary about her reading - a topic he talks about a lot these days, because he's so impressed with the fact that Hilary is reading chapter books and she hasn't even started kindergarten yet. (Me, I'm a big believer in the theory that reading is genetically pre-programmed, and that it's not necessarily a predictor of anything. Take Jonah - he was reading at four, before he could talk, and he was completely self-taught. We didn't even know he could do it until he started writing in chalk on the driveway. I mean, of course I'm proud of Hilary, but I'm not sure her skill reflects any particular initiative or effort on her part.)

Anyway, I digress.

So, Andy asks Hilary, "Where is your Wizard of Oz book?"

Hilary says, "In my room."

Andy asks, "Where in your room?"

And Hilary, mishearing him, tells him exactly where her room is: "Next to the twins' room."

Matty, Keri and I laughed so hard I don't think we actually made any noise. I mean, are there so many kids in the house, and is the house so much of a labyrinth, that Hilary could possibly think her father would forget where her room is?

I guess so!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

They Do! They Do!

After 2 years of positing the question, "Who else wants to live in my house?", someone finally accepted. No, Amy's not pregnant again. Family friends just bought a house close by and are staying here while the house is renovated.

For those keeping track at home, that's three moms, three dads, six girls, four boys, and the usual three cats and one dog. Though we briefly considered having some of the parents double up (anyone else watching Swingtown?), in the end we decided to donate Molly's room to Patrick and Rhea and have their daughters, Jazzy (8) and Sophia (4 1/2), bunk with Erika and Hilary.

It's only temporary (or so we keep telling ourselves). Hey, that sounds familiar...

Yes, we've reached maximum capacity. Yes, we're crazy. And yes, it will be fun. Look out for a special guest post in the coming weeks.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back From Family Vacation

Last week, Andy and I took Erika, Hilary, Aaron, Gretchen and Oat down to the New Jersey shore for five days of family bonding. We had an ideal set-up: a friend of Andy’s from work has a house in Margate that he let us use for free – plus, we miraculously found in the back of our minivan about two hundred dollars worth of two-year-old tickets to one of the amusement piers in Ocean City. All we really had to shell out money for was pizza and salt water taffy, which pretty much comprised the kids’ daily diet for the five days we were down there.

(And breakfast bars. Boy, did the kids enjoy breakfast bars every morning! Sometimes they even had two!)

This was Aaron and Gretchen’s first time at the beach – I didn’t take them last summer because I couldn’t deal with the prospect of spending the entire time scraping sand off their tongues (i.e., “Aaron, stop eating sand! Gretchen, stop eating sand! Aaron, don’t you know by now how gross that sand is!). But now that we’re successfully past that important sand-eating stage of development, I was excited to see how much the twins would love the beach.

Well . . . let’s just say they didn’t get it, not at first. Every time any part of Gretchen touched the beach, she would shriek, “Ahhh! I dirty!!!!!!!” It wasn’t until our second or third day that they were truly able to embrace the scratchy, itchy, gritty existence that is a day at the beach. After that, though, they had a great time – all the kids did. They loved the ocean, even if the water was freezing. They loved eating junk food on the Boardwalk and going on rides – boy, did they love rides. I think Aaron went on the carousel 25 or 30 times. No matter what you asked him all week – “Aaron, do you want to go to the playground?”; “Aaron, did you brush your teeth?”; “Aaron, can I have a kiss?” – the answer was always, “I want to ride the big horse!”

The kids had such a great time, in fact, that I can’t imagine taking a vacation any other place than the Jersey shore for the foreseeable future. I mean, sure, Andy and I have plans for grand family vacations – including a safari in Kenya, exploring the national parks, touring through Israel – but I can’t imagine actually embarking on an expedition like that until the twins are way less annoying – I mean, labor intensive. Until then, it seems like we can have a lot of fun while avoiding troublesome situations like long car or airplane trips and inconvenient accommodations (not too many hotel rooms sleep 7) if we just keep going down to the shore. And Jonah loves the beach and the rides even more than his brother and sisters, if that’s possible – so it really is the one vacation that’s equally appealing to all five kids.

Does this make us boring and predictable? I guess. It might even make us intolerably lowbrow – at least to our friend, Hylton, who hates the Jersey shore and all the sticky, sweaty crowds it draws. But at this point in my life – with two-year-old twins, an autistic son who is quite firm about what he likes and doesn’t like, and two other girls who are determined to claim their fair share of our attention – keeping it simple seems like the right strategy. At least for now.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Make New Friends, but Keep the Old... or Just Look Them Up on Facebook in 30 Years

I'm addicted to Facebook.

I know I'm not the only one. I can see all my friends constantly update their status with ever more clever and witty comments. I get bombarded with emails to install the latest gizmo that my friends have installed.

I found groups for my elementary school (Bluefield) and summer day camp (Blue Rill). I found people on Facebook that I went to kindergarten with. Kindergarten! That was 30 years ago! These people look old. Some of them are bald. Some are chiropractors. Some both. I have vague memories of playing with these people, running wild through our apartment complex, playing hopscotch until dusk.

I'm excited when I find these people, or they me, and I pore over the few remaining class pictures I have, trying to match the face to the name, the face then to the face now. And we exchange pleasantries, one sentence updates--I'm a food writer in Philadelphia with three kids. You?--and then... that's it.

There's a reason it's been 30 years since we all spoke; we've all grown and changed and moved on. We're not the same people we were at 5. Now most of us have kids who are 5.

Last week in the car, I told Declan that his friend Josh wasn't going to be in his class this year. Declan didn't respond, and when I turned around I saw him sucking his thumb and silently crying. Declan and Josh have been in school together for all of their short school careers--more than 2 years. I'm sure Josh's mom and I will do our best to schedule playdates and possibly joint after-school activities, but soon both Declan and Josh will move on and find new friends. And Declan will struggle to remember exactly who Josh is...

...until 2038, when they find each other on Facebook: "I'm a pirate in Ireland with 5 kids. You?"

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Son, the Model

It's weird enough having a not-quite-4-year-old son who's more into fashion than I am. It's even weirder to have said son work the camera like nobody's business.

While at the Baltimore Zoo last week, Declan lagged behind the others so he could climb up on some rocks. Great, I thought; a nice boyish activity. But he wasn't looking to climb and jump and possibly scrape his knee. He was looking to pose:

Back at home, when Daddy wanted to take some pictures of Declan to forever immortalize his first (of many, I'm sure) black eye, Declan took it as an invitation to work it:

I've been reading a lot lately about gender confusion; I've even contributed some of the reading myself (see the Little Boy Pink essay I wrote about Declan's princess phase last year). But I think the so-called gender confusion is displaced; our kids aren't confused, but maybe we are.

I remember when Erika was 2, the height of her girly-girl stage. She insisted on wearing dresses all the time, preferably garish and pouffy dress-up dresses. She would no sooner play with a truck than she would an electric fence. She was a girl to the extreme. The exact opposite of Amy.

I, of course, found this hysterical: here was Amy, who basically lived in track pants and oversized t-shirts (she's a little better now), with a daughter that longed to teach Amy a thing or two about fashion. Erika was the last thing Amy expected.

Then there's my cousin Darlene, who's pretty girly herself. Her first daughter, Nancy, however, preferred football to fancy dresses. Nancy, I'm sure, was the last thing Darlene expected.

I think it's only natural for us to have certain expectations of our children. From the moment we find out the gender of our child, we start to fantasize about his or her future, try to picture what he or she will be like as a toddler, a teen, an adult. And even though I consider myself fairly evolved, when I pictured Declan's future it wasn't as a fashion designer or male model. But why not?

Now, Erika has shunned dresses for jeans and is happy to play pirates with the boys or pick up frogs outside (something her macho father refuses to do). Nancy (willingly) got her hair and make-up done for her aunt's wedding, though she still spends Sundays at Giants games with her dad. And Declan loves to pose for the camera. And bake cookies. And he can't wait for gymnastics class to start in a few weeks. But he also loves swords and jumping and wrestling with his brother.

I know I harbor misguided expectations of my boys, and I'm trying really hard to let them go. I'm trying hard not to see Ronan, my rough-and-tumble tough guy, as a footballer. I'm trying not to be so surprised when I find out that little tough guy loves to draw, and at 2 1/2 can already draw representatively.

When I look at Molly, I try to see a blank slate. And it's working. I can't quite see her future yet, or even know what I want for her. Just happiness, of course. And that's gender neutral.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Just the Two of Them

Amy and her brood are enjoying a little R&R "down the shore," leaving us with our own mini vacation here. Without their usual plethora of playmates to choose from, Declan and Ronan are resorting to playing with each other. Sometimes that's fun...

And sometimes it's not...

Yes, Ronan gave Declan his first black eye, but not quite in the way you think. They were jumping on the trampoline and discovered the hard way that Ronan's head is harder than Declan's cheek. Is it wrong that I'm a little bit proud of Declan's bruise? Probably. Especially since he got it so innocuously.

We've managed to keep busy over this first week of "vacation," one of three before school starts up again. We baked cookies and cupcakes, saw a few of Declan's girlfriends, and managed trips to the Academy of Natural Sciences (aka the Dinosaur Museum) and the zoo (where the "Beavis and Butthead" photo, above, was taken).

Today we'll bake banana bread with all the rotting bananas, and hopefully find something to do with 5 gallons of milk (we still got the usual 7 gallon delivery on Monday even though two-thirds of us are away).

Only two more weeks until school starts!

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Last Day of Camp... So Sad

Today is the last day of camp for Hilary, Declan, and Ronan. Amy's got lots of fun stuff planned for Hilary--farm camp, a trip to the Jersey shore next week--but I've got nothing. Three kids and nothing to do for almost a month, until preschool starts up again.

Most women do this on a daily basis. Matty could do it in his sleep. But I am not most women (not as patient and coordinated) and I am certainly not Matty (I'm prettier).

The problem is that I don't really like to hang out with the kids at home by myself. Frankly, I get bored. I don't know how to play with 2- and 4-year-olds. I like planned activities, trips to the museum or library. But that's also hard--how do I nurse Molly and still keep a tight reign on the boys? A friend of mine uses a leash for just this purpose, but I just can't do the leash. But I also can't be sure that Ronan will stay with me when I tell him to. We're close, but not quite there yet.

So what's a mom of 3-under-4-years-old to do? How do I make being at home more tolerable for all of us? I'd love to hear some ideas.

Monday, August 4, 2008

VIPs in Manhattan

Last week, I took Erika and Hilary to New York City to see the premiere of "Fly Me to the Moon," the new 3D kids' movie I kept referring to as "Bugs in Space," because I could never remember the real name. I got the tickets when the manager of Strollerderby - the Babble blog I write for - sent an email to the listserve asking if anyone was interested in attending the event and reviewing the movie. Even though I will be paid the impressive sum of $10 for this post (assuming it doesn't get a thousand hits, which seems unlikely, given that it won't possibly include any dead babies or aggressive breastfeeding propaganda) I jumped at the opportunity. I thought it would be really fun for Erika and Hilary to go to a movie premiere, and to see the stars on the red carpet (we only saw Buzz Aldrin, since Kelly Ripa made a quick, early appearance minutes before we arrived). But more importantly, I wanted them to go to a movie premiere with Mommy knowing it was for her work.

The kids see me in my capacity as Mom - getting them up and ready each morning, chauffering them around, snuggling with them at night, etc. They see me dashing off to tennis or to the gym. But I really want them to see me as a professional person as well, especially the girls. I want them to grow up expecting not just to be mothers, but to have careers as well.

Maybe all girls today have that expectation. But I can't help remembering, when Erika was about three years old, and she said she wanted to be just like me when she grew up. I asked her what that meant, and God help me, I can't remember exactly what she said, but it was something like, "I want to play tennis and have nice jewelery."

But I think I accomplished my mission. I took the girls to the nail salon the morning of the premiere, so we could all get mani-pedis for the big event, and while Erika was drying her nails the nice lady next to her asked if she was getting primped for a special occasion. Erika said yes, that her mother "wrote for the computer" and had been invited to see the very first showing of "Fly Me to the Moon." Which, I have to say, is a lot nicer to hear your daughter say about you than that you play tennis and have nice jewelry.