Just the Basics

July 22, 2011

We leave for Michigan tomorrow.
Today we pack.
Little Red got his backpack and loaded it up.
With books.
I love that child.
(But I took the books out. Airlines are picky about weights these days, and I think that clothes are important.)


Cookies (empty calories to replace real content)

July 19, 2011

When it comes to cookies I approve. I love all cookies. I will eat all cookies. I will exercise zero self-control with regard to cookies.

Even though soft, slightly undercooked cookies are far superior, I don’t want to hurt the feelings of the others,;I’ll eat them too, and try to not think about how I wish they were …  undercooked and soft, yielding to my mouth.

When it comes to chocolate chip cookies they must be soft. The chocolate chips must be abundant in the final product, which really comes in handy for me. Because when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, raw is best, and without the chocolate chips.

Lucky for me Paul suggested we bake up the rest of the dough he made this weekend. I offered to do it. These cookies will be very chocolately, and he won’t ever have to know how much of the dough I consumed.


When Do You Introduce Harry Potter to Your Children?

July 15, 2011

My children haven’t read a single word in any of the Harry Potter books, nor have they seen more than a couple of trailers for any of the movies, yet they have a surprisingly good sense of the characters, setting, and plot thanks to some pretty impressive marketing campaigns. Little Red has been identifying himself with the Weasleys for a couple of years. He speaks of the locations and people as though he knows.

Which he doesn’t, of course. Nor will he for a while.

It’s not that I have anything against the books. I have thouroughly enjoyed the stories and I look forward to sharing them with my children. I look forward to the book talk and recreating the scenes in play. But those dreams of mine will have to wait a few more years.

The rule for our home is that you must be at least the age of Harry in the story you’re about to read. When he is eleven he may read the book about when Harry is eleven and he may afterwards watch the corresponding movie. When he is twelve he may read the book of when Harry is twelve and may afterwards watch the corresponding movie.  I certainly forsee some wiggle room as he progresses through the series, but in the beginning I’d like him to step through the stories with the protagonists.

It isn’t just because the stories go from benign to dark at an exponential rate. It isn’t just that I want to preserve his youthful innocence as long as possible (can he read the entire collection of Magic Treehouse stories before losing interest? Why aren’t there more A-Z Mysteries?) It isn’t even only because I’m afraid if he’s marathoning the books he’ll fall straight into the torture scenes before he has the emotional maturity to separate fact from fiction or discover too early that the world is not as rosy as he thinks. It’s also because I want him to get the most out of the books.

I want him to wait because he’ll appreciate it more. The children who were at reading age when the books came out literally grew up with Harry. They had to wait for each installment (and as a result they matured, better prepared for the next one.) No one ever died from anticipation, but they did read and re-read, and deepen their comprehension of the previous book. In each book Harry matures, and his relationships with his friends evolve, and his tasks get harder. I want my children to always feel like they can relate to Harry, that they are the fourth member of his group, that they are in the middle of it, and I can best help that happen if my children, when reading the books, are similar in age.

It isn’t just that I want to shelter them from the scary stuff for as long as I can, it’s that I want them to reap the benefits of all the good in the book, too. I want them to be successful readers of the books. I want them to love the stories as I do (or more.)

Let’s discuss: When do/did you introduce Harry Potter to your children and why?


Book Talk: “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls

July 12, 2011

Unlike everyone else in my book group, I didn’t first read “The Glass Castle.”  Instead of reading “Half Broke Horses” to explain the first book, I read it, the story of the grandmother, first.  It’s not that I insist on chronology, but they read “The Glass Castle” during the school year and I can’t keep up with book club while balancing pta and piano lessons. 

I was incredibly struck by the main character, the author’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  Born in the same century as I, her life could not have been more different from the life I know.  She was born in a mud dugout on the side of a river.  When she was fifteen years old she took a month-long journey on horseback for her first teaching job.  She spent most of her life without indoor plubming or electricity.  She also felt she was clearly better off for her experiences.

I found it interesting, after finishing the book, to reflect on the reasons she, her mother, and her daughter had gotten married.  Her mother married her father around the turn of the 20th century, and did so thinking she was raising her lot in life to marry a landowner.  She married when she found someone with whom she would be equal, and they worked side-by-side their entire lives.  Her daughter, headstrong, impulsive, and artistic, married someone whom she found exciting; a reason that retrospect often tells us wasn’t strong.  It made me think of my generation, one removed from that, and why we chose to marry.  Our world is so different from that of a hundred years ago when women married men based primarily on the material lives they would provide.  Certainly Lily Casey Smith was an anomaly of her time, but I’m sure many women during her era were looking to find their own footing.  As our society evolved and included more conveniences, then women starting looking for more fun and excitement in their marriages and less for traditional stability.

Best quote of the book:  “She might not have turned out like you planned, but that don’t mean she turned out wrong.”  Isn’t that exactly why we read?  We read to learn about different people, different lives, and to find the good in them.  I’m not explaining it well, but that line particularly resonated with me.

What struck me most in this story was the concept of happiness.  I don’t think Mrs. Smith once asked herself if she is happy.  She worked hard and found great satisfaction in her tasks, and she certainly chose tasks she knew she could accomplish well.  She made wise choices, but then she dedicated her life to doing things.  She didn’t take the time to stop and ask herself if she was happy, and she suffered no existential stupor of thought.  She simply lived her life and devoted her whole self to it.  Therein lies, certainly, one of the keys to happiness. 

Stop worrying about whether you’re happy and just live your life.  It’s a good lesson for us all.


Learn to Play

July 11, 2011

“Please come over and swim in our pool,” our friends asked us. “Our children are so bored, they really need a playdate.” We did not need to be asked twice, and we went over that afternoon. I watched the baby, naked, in the floaty, content to putter around and watch everyone. I watched the eight-year old dive a swim, a veritable fish she was. I watched the middle child lay out on a towel because he didn’t want to swim. My children, fresh off successful swimming lessons, went straight in to practice their new skills, show them off to Daddy, or play on the floaties. What was I to do? I did one thing I know well to do, and one thing I don’t.

First, the eldest got a ball and asked me to play with her. It’s a simple thing, really, tossing a ball around in a pool, and it’s fun. It was also the last thing I would have thought of doing. My problem is that in the pool, as in most other social settings, I don’t know how to play. I know how to stay on the side and chat with my friends (at the pool, at the park,) and I know how to supervise/help/teach the children nearby (that’s my go-to behaviour in a large group. People think I’m just being a really good -or oppressive- mother, but the reality is I do it to avoid social situations in which I am not comfortable.)

Much of the time I spent in the pool, especially in the first hours, was helping Boy Blue. He wasn’t quite able to touch the bottom in the shallow end, and wasn’t going to just monkey crawl around the edge of the pool. For me, that was fun. It allowed me to be in the water, in the middle of everything, doing the only thing I knew how to do: teach a child.

I’m not this way only because I have young children and have had to do this out of necessity for the past half dozen years. I’m this way because I have been all my life.

So which came first? Was I first socially unsure so I sought out the one thing I knew? Or did being with the children become my safe place because it was the one in which I was thurst so very young? I don’t think I’ll ever know the answer to that one. In the end it doesn’t matter, so long as I recognize it, and don’t allow it to be my crutch. My children are getting older and I want them to know how to play, not just how to do tasks.

Last week at our friend’s home, I ultimately spent the time teaching the middle child some basics of swimming. Boy Blue had coaxed him into monkey crawling around the pool, and once he realized how easy that was, he wanted to do some of the other things he saw Boy Blue doing. According to his parents he is now “a different child.”

My boys had such a great time playing in the pool with their friends and I felt so good with the success I’d had with the middle child that it took all my good manners to wait until Sunday evening before sending them a note and asking when we could next swim at their pool.

We’ll be there this afternoon. I will spend most of my time with the four-year olds because they will need my help. But I hope I also spend some time with the eight-year old because I need her help. I need to learn how to play.

ps:  today is free slurpee day at 7eleven stores!  I may not now how to play, but I do know that a free slurpee on a summer day = fun.