Friday, May 29, 2009

Hilary's Retro Party

When Hilary's birthday, May 13, was still a couple of months away, I asked her what kind of party she wanted. Did she want pony rides and farm animals, like Erika had when she turned 6 (and 7 . . . and 3)? No. Did she want a dance party? No. Did she want a magician, a musician, a puppet show? No, no, no.

Apparently, what Hilary wanted was for her friends to come over and play games. Crazy, huh?

Keri thought so. She brought home the card of a dance instructor who had facilitated a party Declan attended, as a not-so-subtle suggestion that I hire someone to run the activities. But, I kept repeating, how hard can it be?

And you know what? For once, I was right.

After all the money I've spent hiring entertainers for birthday parties, I have to say this was an enlightening experience. It turns out that kids are just as happy clambering over our playset, jumping on our trampoline, playing with balloons, and playing the exact same games we played as kids (sack races, egg relays, Simon Says) as they are with entertainers that cost two hundred dollars for a 45 minute show.

I do have some suggestions, if you're considering a party like this:

1. Six is really the perfect age. You want the kids to be old enough to dependably follow directions, and young enough to still think keeping a balloon up in the air with their elbows is really thrilling.

2. Avoid relay games. Although the sack races were hilarious, it was just too difficult to break the kids into fair teams given the age ranges we had. Also, as soon as you mention the need for teams, you risk having your party derail into a cacophany of, "I want to be on X's team!!" as every kid demands to be with his or her best buddy. Better to stick with individual games. One game we didn't get around to playing but that I think would be great is the one where you have the kids try to pass a frozen orange or tennis ball around a circle using only their chins.

3. Make a list of more games than you could possibly have time to play, just in case an activity or two falls flat. Other games I'd like to try include Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Red Rover and Freeze Dance.

4. Have enough back-up so when one of the adorable boys at the party pushes another boy into the noxious, overgrown fish pond, there's someone to take the soggy guest back to the house and, fortunately, find some only slightly large replacement clothes in the closet of the birthday girl's older brother.

We ended the party with, what else? Retro loot bags, with yo-yo's, balls and all kinds of cherished candy from my childhood: candy bracelets, candy buttons and Lik-Em Sticks.

Now, time to plan the twins' party!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Mr. Sensible

I don't know how it happened, but Declan has become the most sensible person in our family. He reminds me that he needs to brush his teeth in the morning and that he needs to do his homework in the afternoon. He is the only child in the household who hangs up his backpack and jacket in the coat closet every day, empties his lunchbox and restores it to its proper place in the kitchen, and brings me all of his drawings, painstakingly smoothing out any wrinkles that may have occurred in transport.

He attempts to make his bed each morning, and carefully places his pajamas at the end of the bed if they're clean enough to be worn again. He then combs his hair with water to tame any flyaways.

He even takes pains to ensure that his t-shirt and socks match his pajama pants.

He's no angel--he still fights with his cousins and doesn't always listen and needs to be encouraged to eat his dinner and asks to watch TV incessantly--but he has definitely earned his new nickname: Mr. Sensible.

Actually, Matty and I just call him that behind his back. We don't want to give him a complex (not that there's anything wrong with being sensible).

The funny thing is, if you asked us when we were kids whether Amy or I would be more likely to have a child nicknamed Mr. Sensible, I think we both would have answered, "Amy." Somehow, over the past 30 years, Amy has gone from being an over-achieving do-gooder to being a completely disorganized procrastinator. (Erika's teachers, while praising her bright mind and likability, often point out her amazing lack of organizational skills.)

But if it's true that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, then where on earth did Declan fall from? I was hardly a sensible child, unless you call terrorizing your older sister and lying for attention sensible. Nor was I sensible during the, er, excitement of my 20s (I'll leave it at that).

I guess with kids you just never know how they'll turn out. Who would have expected that sweats-loving Amy would beget girly-girls with passions for pink? Hilary, an imaginative child and voracious reader, is clearly Amy's child, but how did Andy, a self-proclaimed former bully, produce Aaron, the most sensitive little boy you'll ever meet? Ronan's wild ways are clearly reminiscent of Matty's own unorthodox upbringing, but Declan... he's just not like us.

Which is good, I think. Without the Aarons and the Declans of the world, everyone would be remarkably similar from one generation to the next. And we, as parents, would remain steadfastly static.

So maybe Gretchen will help Amy get in touch with her girly-girl side, and Aaron will bring out the sensitivity in Andy. I can say with certainty that Declan has already made me a more sensible person. Now I remember to brush my teeth every morning.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Advanced Studies In Twin Development, part XXIV

Aaron and Gretchen, as members-in-good-standing of the Terrible Twos Club, are both prone to irrational, persistent tantrums. However, I've noticed that they never actually pitch fits at the same time. To steal "Law & Order" jargon, their fits are consecutive, rather than concurrent.

Could it be they've figured out that if they both unleashed their impressive arsenal of shrieks, sobs, and dramatic collapses at once, I would be forced to retreat to my bathroom with a bottle of Bacardi Dark and a handful of Jonah's Xanax, and I wouldn't come out for three days?


My current theory is that the twins' tantrums are polarizing - the farther one retreats into the dark depths of hysteria, the sweeter and sunnier the other becomes. And I didn't arrive at this conclusion from any serious application in child psychology. Both Aaron and Gretchen take great pains to point it out to me, i.e.:

Gretchen (flailing on the floor): No, Mommy! I don't WANT big-girl cup! SIPPY CUP! No, Mommy!! SIPPY CUP! SIPPY CUP SIPPY CUP SIPPY CUP SIPPY - "

Me: Gretchen, we don't scream at dinner. If you're going to pitch a fit, I'm going to take you out of the kitchen.

Aaron (proudly): I not pitching a fit, Mommy.

I'm always unsure how to respond in these situations. I know you're not supposed to compare siblings to one another, because it makes them self-conscious, paranoid and anorexic. But Gretchen's tantrums are particularly shrill. So I usually respond something along the lines of: "That's right, my good, sweet boy. You're not pitching a fit! See that, Gretchen? See what good, compliant, quiet children get - candy! hugs! toys! Good boy, Aaron!" (I'm paraphrasing here.)

I'm interested to see how this dynamic evolves as the twins get older. I'm hoping they'll up the ante, and instead of trying to impress me with an absence of problem behavior, their friendly competition will spur them on to greater and greater achievements: straight As, scholarships, lucrative patents, presidential commendations, those sorts of things.

Hey, whatever works.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Will You Play with Me?

Yesterday Declan came into my office after school, looked up at me with his big brown eyes, and plaintively asked:

"Will you play with me?"

I think it might have been the first time he ever asked me that.

Between school, activities, and assorted cousins, caregivers, and friends, Declan always seems to be heavily occupied. He's never needed me to play with him before.

Of course, I do try to make it clear to him and Ronan that when I'm in my office I'm working, and that I stop around 4:30, though then I usually make dinner and perform other random household tasks (the other day I cleaned out and reorganized the pantry, which held, I kid you not, a can of Creamora that had expired in 2001).

It's not that I don't want to play with Declan, it's just... okay, it's just that I don't want to play with Declan.

Don't get me wrong; I love spending time with Declan, and would actually choose to bring him along on a day of errands or to go out for coffee and chitchat. I love taking him to the movies and on our weekly weekend outings to the zoo or aquarium or such.

But I'm just not good at the "playing with kids" part.

Declan likes to play games like "Pirates Kidnap a Princess and a Group of Sled Dogs" or "Robin Hood Fights the Mean Guys and Performs Magic Tricks." He's the poster child for imaginative play. Me? I'd rather write about it than act it out. I guess as an adult I've lost the freeing inhibition of childhood, the one that allows you to jump around pretending to be a sled dog without feeling stupid. I'm so glad Declan still has it. But I can't say I'm too sad to have lost it.

So of course, I caved to those big brown eyes and said yes, of course I'll play with you, and braced myself for the complicated world in which I was about to enter.

"What do you want to do?"

"A puzzle?" A puzzle! I can do puzzles! I guess Declan knows as well as I do that I would make a terrible sled dog.

So we sat at the kitchen table, I helping him with his puzzle, he helping me make dinner. And we were happy.

And the second Erika got home, he raced off to play with her, to an elaborate world of royalty and animal husbandry.

And we were happy.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Aaron (excitedly): Look, Gretchen, I did it! I did it! (points to puzzle he finished).

Gretchen (practically yawning in boredom): Yes, you did it, honey (one of my pet names for the kids, the other being 'monkeys').

Me: Did you just call him 'honey'?

Gretchen: laughs hysterically

Wow. And I thought the kids couldn't tell when I was dialing it in. Guess I need to work on my enthusiasm!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(How's that for a start?? 33 exclamation points, that's enthusiastic, right????????

Friday, May 1, 2009

Our Multicultural Easter

I know what you're thinking: You guys are raising your kids Jewish! Why the heck are you celebrating Easter???

(Actually, what you're probably thinking is: It's freakin' May already! Why the heck are you posting about Easter now??? But I'm going to pretend that you're thinking the first thing.)

Well, we started out the morning as many Jewish families do when Easter happens to fall in the middle of Passover: we ate matzo for breakfast. Again. Maybe we wouldn't have been so sick of it if Keri hadn't started buying it three months before Passover, because back then it seemed like a treat. By the time Passover actually rolled around, the seasonal excitement of eating matzo with cream cheese had definitely peaked.

Later that morning, we loaded up the big green van and headed out to Northeast Philadelphia to celebrate Thai New Year with Oat and her friends at a Thai temple complex. The kids got to see gold Buddhas, and monks in orange robes, and sample the incredible free buffet of donated Thai food (and, inexplicably, a tray of spaghetti and meat sauce). Unfortunately, the festivities mostly took place outdoors, and it was only about 50 degrees outside, so the kids especially were pretty chilly.

That failed to diminish their enthusiasm, however, when we headed over to our friends (and former housemates) Patrick and Rhea's home for an Easter egg hunt. This was the first egg hunt for my kids, but they caught on quickly. I thought Rhea had a clever strategy to deal with the broad age range (and scavenging ability) of the hunters: she hid eggs in different parts of her yard for the different age groups. The eggs for Aaron, Gretchen and Ronan were prominently placed in conspicuous locations. The ones for the intermediate group were slightly more obscured, and the ones for the older girls were shoved way back under a pricker bush, submerged in a drainage ditch and tucked into an abandoned bird's nest fifteen feet off the ground. But the kids found every last egg.

I suspect that, between the matzo, the monks and the eggs, we succeeded in covering the bases, religiously speaking.

But more than that, I love how many different cultural influences are kids are exposed to in our house alone. Matty is Irish. Oat is Thai. Marina and Iza (our housekeeper) are Georgian. Aaron is learning to eat with chopsticks, Erika sings Georgian lullabies, and Declan can let us know exactly who, or what, is giving him "the pip." From a very young age, our kids understand what a big world we live in. Unfortunately, Gretchen still believes it revolves around her, but we're working on that.