What stupid looks like


Dear Duncan,

If you read this someday you may find the title of this post with its accompanying photograph a tad harsh. Please remember that I am making the tired but important distinction between you and your behavior.  You are not stupid; unfortunately your behavior was.

Oh my fair one–you of the white and freckle-prone skin, you of the multiple grandparents who have battled skin cancer, you of the lifetime slathered in sunscreen, oh what were you thinking?

Your Mama didn’t tell you to wear a shirt in order to harass you; your Mama told you to wear a shirt because she loves you.  You chose the path of disobedience.  You reaped the whirlwind of scarlet skin, blisters, and the oozing, raw aftermath.  Your Mama would have undone the price of your misbehavior for you if she could–but she couldn’t. However, your suffering did give Mama hope.  Hope that you would know better in the future, not just about your skin but about the law of act and consequence.

So, today when Mama  saw you outside with your still healing blisters exposed to the sun, scrambling to re-don the shirt only when you saw her, Mama felt sad for her boy. It looks like there are blisters ahead–and not just for the skin. Not connecting the act with the consequence–that’s what stupid looks like.



It’s beginning to look a lot like Halloween

Halloween treat: Lizard FabricsIt’s that time of year when expectations (the children’s) are high and I have to keep reminding myself: I don’t sew.  Then I gravely, carefully, explain to my babies that alas, I don’t sew, and that this has important (and likely negative) implications for their costumes.  Still, fanciful notions of many-headed hydras dance in their heads.  For some reason, these sweet babies believe that if you can imagine it, you can build it.  At one point, Duncan (age 6) was going to be a bat and due to my lack of catching the vision, he was going to make the costume all by himself.  All he wanted from me was some scissors, some fabric, and a grant of complete autonomy.  

That crisis averted, I now find that Amelia is in her last year of trick or treating and hoping for a costume whose awesomeness is equal to the weighty importance of that graduation.  Even holiday scrooge Moms (that would be me) can get sucked in by things like this.  I won’t list here the various holiday things I don’t do and how my children pine for them (or miss out on them with no idea of what they’re missing, as the case may be), but trust me, costumes are the Achilles’ heel of my cold Scrooge heart.  At breakfast the other day I found myself listing the various things Amelia has been for Halloween over the years: a clown, a raccoon, a flower garden, an elephant, Cinderella, a voting booth, a cave girl, Alice in Wonderland, and now ???  They are all sweet memories–possibly with the exception of the storebought Cinderella dress.  That wasn’t special.  [This is, of course, not a judgment on the Cinderella dress you bought for your daughter--just as you don't judge me for my lack of wreaths, Santas and Easter Bunnies, right?  We all need to find special traditions for our own families but we don't all need to find the same traditions special].  

I love looking at the pictures of our past Halloweens and reflecting on why we settled on the costumes we did and how we pulled them off.  I even enjoy some knowledge gained from experience.  Namely: 1. Costumes that feature sweats (e.g., flower garden or elephant) are warm and comfy.  2. Costumes built around boxes (e.g., voting booth) are uncomfortable and difficult to trick or treat in.  Now that it is past, I consider the travail that brought each costume forth fondly.  That is why I embrace the costume challenge despite my lack of skill.  Experience suggests it might all work out in the end anyway, and if prior results are a predictor of future returns, it might even be a lot of fun. 

So: it is beginning to look a lot like Halloween at my house.  The madly optimistic purchasing of supplies is almost at an end (surely Stitch Witchery will compensate for my lack of skills, and if I buy three different types of glues one of them will surely successfully bond styrofoam cones to fabric–right?) [ Lis saves money making homemade costumes. I spend it.]  The anxious, yet thrilling!, spray painting, cutting, gluing, and assembly is just beginning.  Don’t worry.  If our ambitions fail, I have an awesome spider costume back-up plan.  A request: if you happen to see Amelia this week, could you spare a few words in praise of spiders?

Halloween sewing cheats

Trick or Treat

Chocolate invention

Amelia’s school assignment: “Invent” something using chocolate.
Her mother’s intervention: How about chocolate-covered brown rice balls? (What was I thinking? Umm, Nestle Crunch, but healthy?)

Amelia: Thirty minutes before school, Amelia is fighting tears. Up far past her bedtime the night before, rolling balls of sticky rice and sushi rice in chocolate [no brown sticky rice was for sale at the Asian market, rats!] she now tries one. And they are peculiar. Peculiarly awful. There is no time to concoct a new chocolate invention. If she doesn’t take the balls to school she will get a bad grade [in Amelia's mind = death]. If she does take the balls to school, she will have to “sell” them to her peers [in Amelia's mind = death by humiliation].

Mother’s intervention: “Amelia–you’re just like Thomas Edison! You don’t think the first filament he tried for his light bulb worked, do you? Invention is about trial and error. Just take the balls to school to show that you did it and tell everyone you’ve experienced the “error” part of invention.”

Amelia: Rolling of eyes, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth. [I exaggerate, but you've got the idea]. Amelia prepares to toss the hated chocolate balls.

Duncan–to the rescue: Duncan breaks into tears. This is teacher appreciation week. He would like to give his wonderful teacher chocolates. Voila! There is a tray full of beautiful chocolates in the kitchen! But his sister is horrified at the thought of him giving the chocolates to his teacher. Worse, she keeps threatening to throw them away! He tries a rice ball and insists that it is delicious. If she is going to just throw them away, he wants the balls for his teacher!

Amelia: Ten minutes before school, Amelia continues to protect little bro by prohibiting him any access to the chocolate balls. She packs them for school instead–still quite upset. “What am I going to do? What if someone tries to buy one?”

Duncan: One minute before school, Duncan runs crying to the school bus, stung by life’s injustice.

Six hours later (testimony that prayer works–pray over your flocks, pray over your chicks): Amelia nonchalantly climbs into the car for the ride home. “A couple people bought them. It was no big deal. I marketed them as ‘trick chocolates.’”

Chocolate invention bagged for transport to school<

Books for Girls and their Moms

I haven’t blogged because I’ve been busy planning a mother-daughter book club.  I was hung up on the guest list–not wanting to exclude anyone who wanted to be included, but worrying that it would get too big, worrying about different girls’ different reading levels, little sisters, etc.  My new plan: I’ve simply invited every girl (and her mom) from Amelia’s fifth grade class and not any others.  This way, they are all the same age, they all read on an advanced level, and no one is included or excluded on the basis of popularity.  

I've been feeling like the library's best customer recently . . .

I've been feeling like the library's best customer recently . . .

I assume that not all 12 girls and their mothers will want to participate, but a group with 12 mother-daughter pairs would be too large anyway.  I think just 4 mother daughter pairs would be enough to make it a success, so I hope we will get that many. 

If we were a well-established book group, I think it would be best to have the girls help choose the books.  But since this group is just meeting for the summer at this point, and we need a jumpstart, I decided to just pick the six books (we will meet twice a month this summer) and let the girls and moms sign up if they were interested in reading those books.   

I was surprised how difficult it was to pick the books! Each book needed:

1) to be relatively short, because we are meeting every two weeks

2) to provide good material for discussion

3) to be interesting and well-written

4) to be in print and available at both our local library and as a cheap paperback at Amazon

5) to include only material that was appropriate for 11 year olds to read and discuss. 

(A further stumbling block was that my 11 yr old didn’t want me to plan any books she had already read–and she has read a lot.  I ended up planning to read The Giver despite her wishes for new material).

The mix of books I came up with is heavily weighted toward realistic fiction; I struggled to find fantasy and science fiction books that met all of my criteria.  These books have some challenging (yet appropriate) topics, but they won’t be a challenge in terms of reading skill.  I figure it is better to err on the side of too easy rather than too difficult.  These books are also a little on the heavy side–you can’t escape the “life is full of adversity” message in these books–I’m not sure if that comes along with the “good material for discussion” criterion or if the list turned out that way by chance.  

Anyway, drumroll please!  Here are the books I selected:

Listening for Lions                    Gloria Whelan (National Book Award winner), 2005

Rachel has lived in British East Africa her entire life, but when the flu epidemic of 1919 leaves her an orphan, she is forced to leave the only home she knows.  Scheming neighbors coerce her into  pretending to be their deceased daughter and send her to England.  Can she undo their web of lies without hurting others?  Will she ever be able to return to Africa?  Will the mission hospital her parents worked so hard to build ever reopen?


Cousins                                              Virginia Hamilton (Newbery Medal winner), 1990

Cammy loves her  brother,  mom and  grandma—but has a father she doesn’t know and a cousin who is an enemy rather than a friend.  She makes a terrible wish that she doesn’t intend to come true, but when it does, her family must help her learn how to heal. 


The Breadwinner                            Deborah Ellis, 2000

Parvana lives under the harsh restrictions of Taliban rule with her family in AfghanistanWhen her father disappears, Parvana is the only one able to get food for the family, but she must transform herself into a boy and risk her own safety to do it.     


The Bomb                                          Theodore Taylor (author of The Cay) , 1995

Sorry Rinamu lives on Bikini Atoll at the end of World War II.  The Americans liberate Bikini from the Japanese, and life is good until the Americans select Bikini as the best place to conduct atomic tests.  Sorry and his fellow Islanders are asked to relocate.  Will they? Can the tests be stopped?


Out of the Dust                                  (1998 Newbery Medal                       Karen Hesse, 1997

This novel is written in free verse.  Billie Jo lives in the Oklahoma Dust Bowl during the Great DepressionHer father’s crops fail again and again, dust seeps into their food, their truck, and their piano, and it seems like things can’t get any worse.  But then an accident takes her mother and baby brother and Billie Jo’s hands are left burnt and useless.  How will she and her father find hope when life seems hopeless?


The Giver                                           (1994 Newbery Medal)                            Lois Lowry, 1993

In a world with no poverty, no crime, no sickness and no unemployment, and where every family is happy, 12-year-old Jonas is chosen to be the community’s Receiver of Memories. Under the tutelage of the Elders and an old man known as the Giver, he discovers the disturbing truth about his utopian world. (Summary from Amazon.com)

Duncan and the Ants!

Duncan discovered the crevice from which the ants emerge. 

What do you do with a 6 year old who believes ants are worthy of encouragement? 


Ants on Corn Chips

This is not a spill.  It is a pile of chip fragments strategically positioned next to the crevice.  A carefully arranged path of chips led from this crevice to under the dining room table.   

Duncan has lost his chip eating privileges.  Any other suggestions?

Haircut Horror!

1) Yes, I know she is (still) adorable.

2) Yes, I know it will grow.

3) Yes, I know it will be easier for me to take care of.

But I am still sad.  I don’t know how this happened. I took her in to get a little trim to tidy things up a bit. I thought maybe they could undercut it a little to make it turn under at the bottom. How did 5 inches off and full layers happen?!

Spotlighting the Twerp

Alternate title: Don’t get out much?

Duncan’s answers to his kindergarten spotlight form:

My favorite place to go is “the grocery store with cars attached to the cart.”

[Please don't waste your time worrying about his deprived life.  In the past few months I have taken this boy to the library, This is the Place State Park, the natural history museum, the Bean Museum, the art museum, the ocean, his grandma's houses, two different swimming pools, and several different parks.  But dedicated as I am to child self-expression I dutifully noted down his answer.]

I am “happy.”

My favorite color is “shiny red and shiny yellow.”

I like to eat “Lucky Charms.”

I like to “run.”

My favorite candy is “marshmallows.”

My favorite toy is “Lightning McQueen.”

My favorite restaurant is “The Golden Corral.”

My favorite holiday is “Christmas.”

I have 5 people in my family.

They are “not very nice.  I wish I lived by myself.”

[Actually, despite my aforementioned commitment to child self-expression, I declined to write that down.  Was that the wrong move? I pointed out that his class would be hearing this and waited.]

They are “The nicest of all is my Daddy.”

Did I mention that I took him to the grocery store that has cars attached to the cart yesterday?  But I didn’t get the cart with the car attached because it is too difficult to maneuver?  Daddy, I was told, always gets the cart with the car.  Do you think this could be related?

Milestones: K-garten and 5th Grade

For my journal:

Tomorrow is Duncan’s first day of kindergarten.  He turned 5 1/2 years old last week.  He is not nearly as emotively expressive as his older sister, but I think he’s quietly excited. Not that he’s quiet–this is hard to explain.  I was trying to mark the occasion and make it special.  We had pie and said several rounds of “hip-hip-hooray for Duncan’s first day!”  He was very loud.  When I say he’s quiet about it, I mean that he doesn’t talk about how he feels about kindergarten much.  People ask him if he’s excited and he says, “yeah” with a little smile and then turns away from them.

Duncan and Amelia, August 2009

Duncan and Amelia, August 2009

In preparation for the grand day tomorrow he picked out a green sweater he feels handsome in and asked me about soccer:  “Amy [the pet name Amelia insists he and no one else call her] says that all the boys at my school play soccer.  Do you think that’s true?”  [I don't think Amelia was trying to make him feel negatively about his school; she thought her observation might help him to keep playing soccer]. 

[And then, because he doesn't like soccer:] “Mom, do they have any trees in the yard at my school?”  “Yes, Duncan, they do,” I said.  “Do you think a boy can ever just sit under a tree?”

With no prior prodding or interrogation on my part, Duncan told me today what he wants to be when he grows up.  He told me he had four ideas, but he could only remember three of them: 1)Train Engineer, 2) Artist, 3) or a Person Who Makes Cool Stuff.

Meanwhile, Amelia has already started at her new school.  So far, she seems to love it.  Her 5th grade teacher is “her favorite so far.”  The homework load at this school is a bit terrifying for the parent of a daughter who will allow any task to expand to fill all available time (plus more), but five days into it, Amelia herself seems to be enjoying the challenge.  I hope that will remain true in the months ahead.

Pdad gave her the standard “a new school offers the chance to be a new person” spiel.  I was a little hesitant because I didn’t want her to think we weren’t happy with the person she was before.  But his spiel was aimed squarely at her stalwart dress-wearing ways.  Amelia has consistently worn dresses daily [except under duress] since the beginning of first grade.  She gets quite a bit of attention for that from her peers, as you might imagine.  Since she reacted with disdain to the idea of buying some pants for school, I figured she had chosen to travel the same path as before: soft cotton one-piece dresses with no buttons or zippers, difficult fasteners, or offensive textures of any kind.  It’s not so terrible!  If her clothing choices make her odd, they also make her modest, feminine, and age-appropriate.  How much can a parent complain under such circumstances?

But look what I saw when I asked her to lay out her clothes for the first week of school:

Amelia's first week clothing picks

Change–”Ready or not, here we come!”

She’s “goge,” how can we help?

Goge Kate

Kate tells us that she is “goge.” Now, in general, her speech issues seem to have really improved. Her vocabulary has expanded considerably. She has even blurted the occasional five word phrase. Hooray! Articulation, however, continues to be a struggle. Our new problem: Kate is constantly “goge” and we don’t know what that means.

Here’s what we’ve figured out so far:

a) Goge is not good. You do not want to be goge. If you feel goge (or is it goke? goque? gogue?) you also want to whimper.

b) Goge is related to cold. When Kate fills her cup with ice and holds it for a while (she adores ice), she becomes goge. She will tell you that her hands are goge. You can verify this by feeling them. Yep, they’re cold.

c) Goge is not the same as cold. Temps have been hitting 80s and 90s here and Kate is goge inside the house (too much airconditioning?) and outside.

d) Kate is most likely to be goge when she does not want to nap.

e) Boredom and feelings of dislike can also trigger goge-ness.

e) Hands, teeth, bottoms, all sorts of body parts can be goge.

f) “Me goge” should not be confused with “Me gog.” “Me gog” means that Kate has transformed into a four legged creature who “oofs” and hops across the floor. Being gog is apparently very funny, being goge is nothing to laugh about.