Even though I think a little boredom is healthy and helps foster creativity and independence, I'm always looking for fun activities to occupy my time together with the littles. I want them to be self-sufficient, but I also don't want to be driven round the bend more than two or three times per day because they are squabbling over some inane toy that neither of them really cares about, just because they don't have anything else to do.
So last weekend we spent a very enjoyable several hours at the Bass Pro Shops, practicing archery,
shooting the laser rifles at the target range,
watching the giant fish in the pond, and marveling at the taxidermy.
What? You've never marveled at taxidermy? Then you've never been to a place with a giant bear at the entranceway,
badgers hanging out atop clothing racks, and enormous bucks, deer, fox, ducks, and who knows what else, arranged in a huge waterfall scenario. (If you think I'm exaggerating, watch the slideshow here. You will be amazed and horrified all at the same time.)
Admittedly, it's not a store for the faint of heart. There was a point at which Husband noted with a wry smile that we looked like "the poster family for the NRA," which, if you knew us, would make you howl with laughter.
I'm pretty sure that point was right after this photo was taken:
Want to know the best part? This was all free. That's right, all the fake shootin' you can handle is at your fingertips, if you can stomach the hundreds of antlers suspended from the archway over the entrance, and the sign that tells you that all rifles and cross-bows must be checked before you proceed into the store (and they aren't kidding either; there's actually a staffed gate you have to walk through; these hunters don't mess around with safety).
If imagining yourself cozied up with a laser rifle isn't your idea of a fun Saturday afternoon, I don't know what is. But just in case it isn't, may I suggest another fun free activity we recently discovered?
There's a great program called, conveniently, Kids Bowl Free that gives kids under 18 two free games per day every day all summer long. One game of bowling is ten frames times two balls per frame = twenty throws of a very heavy ball if you are three years old = one very happy mama with tired children at the end of the day. Two games would probably take my two kids nearly two hours to complete, if they ever had enough energy to do that much bowling at a stretch. I still had to pay for shoe rental (discounted from the regular rates), and our local alley limits the free-game coupon use to noon-midnight on the weekends and noon-6pm on weekdays. Those aren't exactly very restrictive hours.
Want to know the best part? You too can have this for your nearly-free entertainment. All you have to do is sign up, and they email you coupons on Sunday to print out for the week. Couldn't be easier. There are participating alleys in multiple cities in 41 states. Check here to see if an alley near you is participating.
How did I find out about these fabulous activities involved giant moose heads and heavy balls? Through my all-time favorite site for kid activities: Go City Kids. This site, through some miracle of interneticity, compiles activities for hundreds of metro areas, big and small, across the country. If you live in Michigan, for example, everything gets listed from weekly story times at Border's Bookstore to the Detroit Jazz Walk to the Target sponsored book festival (which is a completely free carnival with a bouncy house and rock-climbing wall at a giant local park). Entries contain links to the theater, festival schedule, or venue website. Listings tell you about special exhibits at museums and all the places that it might occur to you to take your children, but they also give you all sorts of great ideas for things you never knew existed. If you live in New York or some other more cosmopolitan place, I'm guessing there's not a whole lot of Family Summer Camp at the Bass Pros Shops to wade through before you get to the cool independent art gallery kids days or the free lunchtime concerts in the park. (But if you live in Michigan, you get to choose! Lunchtime concerts or Hunter Safety Classes, take your pick!)
So, if you're starting to feel the burn of the long long days of summer stretching out in front of you, take a gander at Go City Kids. I swear it will become your new favorite one-stop shop online for fun activities.
To be clear: No one at any of these places even knows I exist, let alone approached me to write a post. I just know that the level of whining over "what can we do today?" plummeted dramatically after I discovered Go City Kids, so I thought I'd spread the word. Not all activities listed there are free, but I have yet to hear about a gallery, theater, book reading, street festival, store craft project, or any other fun thing to do with the kids that was NOT listed there.
Happy Summer Exploring!
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Even though I think a little boredom is healthy and helps foster creativity and independence, I'm always looking for fun activities to occupy my time together with the littles. I want them to be self-sufficient, but I also don't want to be driven round the bend more than two or three times per day because they are squabbling over some inane toy that neither of them really cares about, just because they don't have anything else to do.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
The children's menu contains a big drawing space, at the bottom of which is a double turntable. Son picks up his red crayon and draws a stick figure that I later learn is himself. He has on giant headphones, and both hands have fingers splayed out across the turntable. "Oh look," I say when he holds up his picture. "You drew a DJ!"
He looks back at me, confused, "What’s a DJ?"
"It’s a guy who spins records," I tell him, not sure how he could draw someone spinning records if he's never seen the image before.
"What’s a record?" he responds.
* * * * *
Daughter, anxious to get in on the conversation, offers me a prompt. "How was my day? How was my day at school?" she asks in a pleasant, curious voice.
"How WAS your day?" I reply dutifully, even though she did not go to school but spent the whole day with me.
"Good," she says, closing her lips tightly.
"What did you do today?" I ask, try to engage her.
"I can’t tell you. It’s a very secret," she says, and turns back to her food.
* * * * *
Having asked for a glass of water, now that he’s finished his milk, Son looks confused as the waitress walks away. "How come she is going to get a new cup?" he wants to know, pointing to his empty one.
"Because that one had milk in it."
"But she should just rinse it out," he says. "That’s wasteful."
* * * * *
On the way home from the restaurant, Daughter exclaims with delight, "Daddy, look. I found another key. Look, Daddy, LOOK!"
"Honey, he can’t look," I say. "He’s driving. He has to look at the road."
Son interjects, "You could tell him which way to go."
"No," I say. "He has to look where he’s going; otherwise, it's very dangerous."
"Well," says Daughter. "He could just go this way [leaning to the left], that way [leaning to the right], port side [left], starboard [right], over the deep blue sea."
* * * * *
Getting out of the car, back at home, Son announces, "Let’s have a race!"
Daughter, already many steps ahead of him, replies, "Okay. On your mark, get set, go!" and starts running.
"No! Wait! I wasn’t ready yet," Son shouts after her.
"I said go," she responds, still running.
"Okay," he concedes, and takes off. With his much longer legs, he manages to pass her about halfway down the driveway. As soon as he does, she turns around. Reaching the top well before him because she only went half the distance, she announces triumphantly, "I won!"
"Noo!" he protests, still running. "You cheated. You didn’t go all the way to the end of the driveway." Thereupon reaching the top, he announces, "I won!"
* * * * *
Watching them develop their conversational skills, trot out ideas I didn't know they had, amaze me with their thoughts has struck me with this: children listen, they really listen, when you tell them things. They don't always listen to the things you want them to hear, but they hear everything. It's good to keep that in mind.
Friday, June 26, 2009
What do you call that person who does not like the idea or book or movie that everyone else in the universe is LOVING right now? It's not exactly a party pooper; that's more of a person who brings down a group of shiny happy people with a drawn-out story about her latest infected hang-nail. No, I'm talking about the person who looks at the current rage, the hottest fashion, the summer must-read, and says, "Um, yeah. No thanks. Not for me." Or, even worse, who says, "Yeah, I read/tasted/wore that and it was boring/gross/unflattering."
I don't know what to call that person, but I'm about to be her. Fair warning.
So today, on summer reading lists everywhere: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.
It's a hilarious premise. Genius actually. It has a few moments of brilliant execution, where only a couple of words in a given passage have been changed from the original, so that some Benett daughter or other is lamenting some boy or other, and it becomes clear that the reason she'll never appeal to him is not that she has no fortune (which she doesn't) but that she can't stop hiking up her skirts and showing off her zombie-killing prowess, which really is not quite ladylike enough and is somewhat intimidating to all the male less-proficient zombie killers near Lonbourne.
But, New York Times bestseller list notwithstanding, it's a little bit of a one-trick pony. Mail delivery is slowed because mail coaches are invaded by zombies; the odious Mr. Collins marries Charlotte Lucas and is so obtuse in this, as everything else, that he can't see that she's been infected and is turning into a zombie before his very eyes. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, so sure of her superiority over everyone else, obviously has a dojo full of Japanese ninjas and some mad zombie-fighting skills herself. Elizabeth gets to kick Darcy in the jaw -- which is the one moment in the novel where anyone who's ever read the original will jump up and shout with glee because, honestly? Darcy has been deserving that kick for a solid 100 years.
But the zombies and any mention of them disappear for at least 75 pages or so, long enough for a reader to think, okay, enough with the romance and endless gratuitous mentions of vomiting, already, where are the zombies? And also long enough to think: really, what's the point of zombies in this book anyway?
On the other hand, it's hardly meant to be serious reading of the Great Literature variety, so one might call it successful at meeting its objectives. It's not an utter waste of time, although I do think that my friend pegged it when he said that, in the end, the people who love classics will only have so much patience for the zombie intrusion, and the people who love zombie lit will only have so much patience for the stilted language of the romance. Were the marriage of genres more deftly handled, this objection might be overcome. I'm not one of those purist naysayers who claim this book is a heresy. I think, quite frankly, it needed a bit of shaking up. But I think the addition of the gore could have been done with a bit less mash-up and a bit more finesse.
To my mind, more than half the delight in this hyrid novel comes from the brilliant absurdity of the premise itself. Which is why my friend and I had a great time a while ago trying to think of other old novels that might be usefully spruced up with the addition of a few zombies.
D.H. Lawrence's books might become more interesting: Sons and Lovers and Zombies or Lady Chatterly's Brains, for example, might certainly keep me awake better than the originals. I personally wouldn't add zombies to anything by James Joyce because those novels are already out there enough. Adding zombies might be enough to make readers' heads explode. (Which, come to think of it, would be exactly what zombies would like. What a great way to turn a classic modernist novel into an interactive post-modern one, assuming there are real zombies out there to partake in the feast produced by readers of Ulysses and Zombies, of course. And now, this has become an aside that the Bloggess could certainly write better.)
We decided Dracula didn't really need zombies added, though Friend suggested that it might be improved through the addition of the Hardy Boys. In fact, the bumbling band of boy/men who hunt down Dracula could easily be the progenitors of the Hardy Boys, so that could be an interesting re-write.
See? Try it yourself. Nearly as good as reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is thinking of other books you'd personally like to zombify. Or enhance with a band of boy detectives. Your choice. What's on your list to be the next great best-seller?
Thursday, June 25, 2009
It's no secret that I'm not the most fastidious housekeeper in the world. I am a piler. I have piles of papers, files, books, folded laundry, and bills to pay in various corners of different rooms. I don't like them, but I have generally had the attitude that there was simply not enough time in a day to keep my house immaculate, play with my children, and do all the reading, writing, prepping, meeting, and grading necessary for my paying job. I picked the house to be the thing to suffer.
But a few weeks ago, I just couldn't stand it any more. So I decided this summer I was going to work through the rooms of our house systematically and purge them. I call my little game with myself, "Pretend We're Moving." We're not moving. But I am slowly making my way through the house and pretending we are, and either throwing out or donating every single thing that I wouldn't pack to take with us if we were moving. Things are starting to feel so much more open and free around here as I'm finally getting rid of clutter and finding proper places to store things.
I've also started a chore chart for the kids that involves putting lots of daily check-marks down for every element they contribute to household upkeep. If they get enough check-marks, there is the promise of a weekly addition to their slowly-accumulating tally of "chips" in their Good Behavior containers. The reward system is totally working. After just four days, they are already getting better about picking up after themselves. Yesterday, they both followed me into the kitchen as I started to get things out for dinner and offered to help. We had a great time cooking together, and it made the pre-dinner melting-hour completely disappear.
Interestingly, this whole check-mark-chore-chart-chip system has also had the inadvertant consequence of making Husband better about picking up after himself too. Seriously. He's been making our bed every morning! His dirty laundry lives in the hamper! It's the weirdest thing. I haven't said one single word to him about his habits, but I think he decided that if the kids were going to be on a system, he'd better set a good example. I feel like a huge weight has lifted from my shoulders.
And now we come to the reason I started writing this post in the first place. In the process of all this cleaning and purging, I've been keeping my eye out for excellent organizational strategies, gems of child discipline, basically, anything that I could cobble together into a system that would work for our family. No idea or gizmo is too big or too small to be (potentially) useful.
Until I saw this advertised -->
ScotchBrite Ultra NailSaver Sponges.
That's right, a brand new dish sponge contoured so that you can tuck your fingernails in and never have to fret about your French manicure again when you wash your already-clean wine glasses.
Because the very first thing that most of us think about when the children are losing it, the floor is gritty (as Daughter announced last night "couscous sure is droppy"), bedtime is imminent, mama is tired, laundry needs folding, the dog needs walking, and someone needs to remember to mail the bills tomorrow, is "oh, no, what if I chip a nail rinsing the couscous off these plates before shoving them in the dishwasher!"
But now, for a mere $2.50 per sponge, you never have to worry your pretty little head about that pesky couscous again.
Honestly, I just can't figure out why anyone who really cares about her manicure would buy insanely expensive sponges when she could spend $1.99 on a pair of sturdy rubber gloves that will last months, protect her nails, and BONUS! keep her from getting chapped hands from all that hot water and soap.
Am I missing something here? I think I am supposed to see these sponges and think, "Ooooh-la-la! Look at those luscious curves!" But all I can think of is that old Saturday Night Live commercial for a razor with eleven close-shaving blades, which was quite possibly the best ad ever for a useless new product.
Sadly, my two minute search on YouTube did not turn up that ad for your viewing pleasure. But you get the point.
So tell me this: would you buy these sponges? Or tell me this: what's the dumbest product you have ever purchased, thinking it would change your life, only to find out it was useless? (For me, the answer to that is an In/Out box for our kitchen. It's typically shoved full of junk and sits idly by mocking its own intended purpose and laughing when the bills fall on the floor.) Or tell me this: what should I really get to keep some tiny aspect of our house organized?
Basically, any advice you have that will get me through the next six days to Clean House Paradise (aka the day when my parents arrive for a visit) would be much appreciated. Or make me laugh. That will help too.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
This is what happens when you dress up a five year old for his uncle's wedding.
Which is obviously preparatory for some kind of spy mission. I didn't ask what kind. I thought it was better not to know.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Maybe it's the long years I spent in school -- not just college, where "fancy" decorating meant buying that expensive silly-putty-like stuff to hang your posters, instead of using plain old tape -- but graduate school, where I was ready to be a grown-up but still pulling in a measly and uncertain salary. Maybe it's my own personal competitiveness with myself: "THAT looks like a fun new project to try. I'll bet it's not that hard." Maybe it's just that I'm cheap. Whatever the underlying reason, my philosophy about most things in my life has long been: "Why would I buy that when I could make it?"
In house-ownership this has translated to countless hours of stripping our own wallpaper, filling holes, painting, retiling bathrooms, installing new vanities, putting up a fence, swapping out impossibly ugly light fixtures for bearable ones, experimenting with crazy techniques like faux finishes with paint, fixing leaky faucets, and generally being really stubborn about not hiring anyone to do work inside our home. (With the one quite reasonable exception of paying someone to install 400 sq. feet of hardwood floor, ditto of tile, and four bedrooms worth of carpet when I was 8 months pregnant. Not that I could have done the wood or carpet un-pregnant. But I might have given the tile a go...)
One pleasing side-effect of this is that if I don't like something I can either re-do it or shut up. I only have myself to blame. Case in point: the tile guys did an absolutely ABYSSMAL job in our kitchen; the tiles keep cracking, and I am bitter bitter bitter about the fact that they wouldn't listen to me and put down concrete backer board. If I'd done it myself, there's no saying the tiles wouldn't be cracking. (Face it: they probably wouldn't; I'd have used concrete backerboard and way too much cement in which to set the tiles, and those babies wouldn't have been able to move a millimeter.) But even if they were cracking, if I only had myself to blame, I couldn't really grumble. The paint in our bedroom is peeling because I was a novice at 1970s wallpaper paste removal and thought I'd gotten it all. I hadn't. It looks ugly, and one of these days we're going to have to hire someone to put a nice skim coat over the whole room (the one thing I think no amateur can do properly is plaster/drywall mud) so we can paint it again, but at least I learned from my mistake, and none of the other rooms in our house have that problem. The kitchen, on the other hand? That floor makes me NUTS every. single. day. Because seriously? What professional tile person lays tile on 1/4" plywood? Only an idiot. Even I know that.
The major downside to this stubborn sense that I can figure out how to do almost anything required in our house (I draw the line at replacing gutters -- ours are extremely high -- and anything involving gas lines) is that sometimes projects take a little longer to finish what with the fact that they have to be squeezed in amongst all the real obligations of life like a full-time job and raising two children.
So, for example, the kids' bathroom is all redone except for one wall where we intended to rehang the giant over-sink mirror, only once we got the new vanity and light fixture in, the mirror was too high by two inches to fit into the old space. So the ugly wall, with its lumpy bumps and wallpaper remnants -- all of which was supposed to be covered by the mirror -- is just there. Ugly. With a very pretty antique hanging over it. But I haven't gotten around to hiring a drywall guy to fix it. *sigh*
This past weekend, I finally got around to a project I've been meaning to do for about six months. I found out last year that I'm allergic to dust mites, and so I had to lose my beloved down comforter. We had several (ugly) fiber-fill comforters left over from our college years, so I didn't technically need to buy a new one. But the old ones were U.G.L.Y. and too small for our bed. My plan? Buy a king-sized gorgeous chocolate brown duvet cover on clearance, sew together the two smaller comforters to make one thicker, larger one, and then use that inside the duvet cover. This would cost me about 1/4 of the price of buying a new king-sized fiber-fill comforter in a pattern I really liked. Obviously, since I was capable, I was too cheap to do anything else.
But this past weekend, I finally got around to actually doing it. I even got ambitious, took apart the two king-sized pillow shams (we have no king-sized pillows), reassembled them in a pleasing manner to make one giant pillow sham for our body pillow, and now have a lovely bolster of a pillow across the whole top of the bed to match the duvet.
It looks serene and beautiful in there now, instead of like a mish-mosh of covers. Every time I walk past the door, it makes me smile.
There is something a little bittersweet in that Dog used to jump into our bed as soon as we left the house and burrow under the covers -- rendering it impossible for us to have really nice blankets because she'd just muck them up. And now, we can finally have our pristine bed because she can't jump that high anymore. But, honestly, she's holding her own, and I so love having my own bed back, that I'm okay with even that.
There is something so very empowering about DIY.
Even if it does emanate from a place of cheapskatery.
Only tangentially related because I also did it this weekend: please tell me that I'm not the only one who has to scrub food splatters off her kitchen walls six feet up, even though her tallest child is only four feet tall.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Son never found a lovey he loved until he was nearly two. We were staying in a hotel between Christmas and New Year's, and when they delivered the little crib in which he was to sleep, it came with a soft, golden brown teddy. Later christened Teddy, full-name Tederrific Ted, (aka Fritz Mooker, Amish Super Spy), this bear is a must-have for nightly sleeping even though Son is now five and a half.
A few nights ago, Teddy was missing.
There were tears and lamentations. There was much hunting high and low. But no one could find Teddy in any of the usual places (under the pillow, on the floor face-down next to the parents' bed, or sitting on the breakfast table). Finally, heart-broken, Son had to go to bed alone. The rigmarole continued the next night to no avail. However, both children, high-strung from the weeknight treat of eating out in a restaurant, managed to stay awake until nearly 9:30pm -- a full two hours past their ideal sleep times.
On night three, after a long day of hair-trigger sensitivity caused by being over-tired (what does it take to make a child cry at this point? just look at her cross-eyed), bedtime was slated for early o'clock.
Enter a thunderstorm.
And not just a run-of-the-mill rain storm. Oh, no. This one kicked off with a burst of lightening and a crack of thunder so loud that I leaped out of my chair in anticipation of Daughter's panicked shrieks before they'd even fully developed.
Of course, the calming and soothing of nervousness, the repeated discussions of the storm, lasted until very very late o'clock.
And then there was the little matter of Teddy. Still unfound. Whose loss was now beginning to feel monumental. "I won't even have him for Christmas," Son said mournfully, beginning to tear up. I tried to reassure him that some time in the next six months, Tederrific would certainly turn up. He wasn't buying it and went back to his lonely bed to cry.
Five minutes later, Daughter popped up from her bed, dashed in to me at the computer, and nearly shouted in her triumph, "Oh, OH! He's in a bowl. Teddy's in a bowl!!" I looked at her and said, "Let's go tell your brother. He will be so happy that you remembered where to find Teddy."
She ran into Son's room, and broke into hysterical tears as she said, "Teddy's in a bowl, Brother! He's in a bowl downstairs!"
So we all trooped down, while Son and Daughter tag-teamed their sentences explaining that the other day they had found Teddy and Hello Kitty and put them into a silver bowl to pretend it was a boat, and Son remembered that they had done that, but didn't know where the boat was, and... And then Daughter led us straight to the bowl, pulled out Teddy, and handed him to her brother. And he smiled with shy delight, reached into the bowl, pulled out Hello Kitty and handed her to his sister. And then they both hugged their respective "guys" tighter than tight, and climbed up the stairs, and got into bed.
And stayed there.
And it was only 8:54 pm.
Friday, June 19, 2009
1986. A teenager in an overly loose shirt and brightly colored shorts lies on her stomach on bottle-green carpeting, her head mere inches away from the stereo speaker, her chin cupped in her hands. She listens longingly to Madonna crooning "Crazy for You" and remembers The Boy she met on the family road trip to Canada. The Boy who, with his trench coat and rumpled black hair, reminded her of dreamy John Cusack. The Boy who seemed to be flirting with her all evening and yet did not, at the crucial moment, kiss her. With a sigh, she picks up the arm of the record player and replaces the needle at the beginning of the song. She crosses her arms on the floor and buries her face in her elbow. Wondering if ever, anyone, any boy, ever will kiss her.
2009. tap tap tap The woman swats aimlessly at whatever is summoning her out of her sleep. tap tap tap The quiet child, impatient to tell her all the Transformers he knows, insists she must wake up. Rolling over, the woman relinquishes the dream she had been enjoying. Smiling sleepily at her child, she caresses his face, pulls him close, asks him if he slept well, and listens to his excited prattle. Later, in the shower, she recalls the sensation from her dream--the feeling of eyes watching her, the quiver of longing that is the prelude to a kiss. The Man in the dream had no face; he was merely an embodiment of desirability, a stand-in for Attractive Man Attracted To Her. She realizes, as she washes her hair, that that whole-body-humming sensation which marks a first kiss will never again be hers.
Talking with a dear friend recently, I have come to see that we who are that woman quite often find that the full ramifications of our choices burst upon us unexpectedly as we near forty. We have willingly exchanged the thrill of caresses from potential new loves for the almost impossibly sweet gestures of adoration that come from our children. We have left behind the flutter of anticipation, deep in our guts, that comes in that moment before a first kiss, in favor of the warmth of familiarity, the security of enduring love. The only new hands touching our cheeks in gentle sweeps that feel like kisses are the new hands of the children we have borne.
These are deep and abiding kinds of love we experience now: the light in our children's eyes, the ways their happiness consumes us. But those moments, tender though they may be, do not make us feel alive with the thrum of our own desirability. Those beloved creatures paradoxically both affirm that we are appealing to the opposite sex and deny it. They mark us as having once been desirable, and they remind us that now, perhaps, we are past "desirable" and have moved on to "mom."
And thus we awaken to the fact that our bodies, whose limits and powers had become quite comfortably familiar, have gradually aged and acquired new boundaries. We face a sudden onslaught of questions: What exactly is my relationship to my body? If my body has always been about attracting other people, how do I understand and embrace a body that no longer has that job description?
You may argue that women don't (or shouldn't) need someone else to confirm that they are successful or happy. I will help you argue that any day of the week you want back-up.
And yet, the thing is, I think it is hard-wired in human beings to seek approval of our external appearance. It is a requisite for the successful propagation of the species that many of us find a mate and a mutual attraction. Much as we know that life-long matches are based on far more than looks, we still have the urge to know that we are appealing.
Hence, on the one hand, we deeply desire that our daughters learn not to judge their worth by their physical appearance, not to assume that their bodies carry the whole of their identities. And on the other, we decry our own frumpy mom clothes and the tiredness that makes us unable to change them. We lament the rounded softnesses that child-bearing left behind where once we were toned and firm. We fret about that elusive perfection; we want to be thinner, more photogenic, more this or less that. Even those of us with a healthy body image and strong sense of self esteem get anxious about whether the new person we are supposed to meet for work or the long-lost friend we will see again soon will think we look good enough.
Good enough for what? One might reasonably ask.
I think the answer lies in the precisely the same place as the solution to the riddle of why women nearing forty suddenly start having the dreams of high school girls.
It lies in the matrix of every tiny lived moment since our childhoods when validation was conferred upon us in terms that signaled attractiveness. It lies in the sense of self-worth that develops over time, as we compile external validation of our brains, our brawn, our looks and turn that into our sense of self. It lies in the anxious uncertainty that results when our brains, our brawn, and our looks, having been tested and proven, suddenly have their equilibrium unbalanced. Having landed us a mate, a job we love (whether that career is Vice President of Something Vital or Mother Of Someone Magnificent), and the security that comes with no longer being Too Young To Know Better or Care, we find ourselves forced to redefine our bodies which are no longer required to attract. If they need not attract, we secretly wonder, does that mean they repel?
We, so many of us who are approaching or just on the other side of forty years old, have had two decades or more in which we have faced the media barrage of images of feminine perfection, succumbed to or fought the fashion industry's dicta, experimented with and experienced intimate physical connections with (an)other human being(s). Despite sporadic doubts about whether we live up to impossible standards of feminine attractiveness, the process of our lives has carved out our own understandings of the most deeply personal portions of our selves. We have had to decide who we were as embodied (not merely sexualized) creatures, and we have had to figure out how to incorporate that part of ourselves into all the other parts.
If we are proud of our legs, how short do we wear our skirts so that we are rightfully understood as self-confident, powerful women rather than misinterpreted as floozies who are trying to use their bodies to get ahead in the workplace? If we prefer to be the quietest woman in the room, how do we convey that we are not "frigid"? If some of the men we know socially and professionally have only one mode of interaction with all women, and that mode is flirtation, how do we maintain our integrity without losing our friends or colleagues? Somehow, we negotiate the answers to these and myriad other, semi-unconscious questions of the relationship between our largely private selves and the women we are in public.
Many of us, by our late 30s and early 40s, have largely come to terms with our images of ourselves. We know who we are, and we have cultivated a balance between desirability and professionalism, sexuality and practicality. We have come to appreciate the continuum that is banter-flirtation-consummation, and we are good at keeping ourselves in the right places on it in our various relationships. But in the process of figuring this out, we have come to assume that our physical appearance matters, that our bodies and the reactions other people have to them, are part and parcel of who we are.
So that on the day that our preschoolers wake us up just before The First Kiss in the dream, we are not simply struck by the fact that we will always and forevermore be on the same place in that continuum, that we will never pass "banter" again except with our spouses. We also, and more powerfully, fear the loss of that part of our identities. What if the fact that we aren't eligible to be the object of some hitherto unknown person's desire means that we are no longer desirable? What if the permission slips and late-night battles with stomach flu, the carpooling and home room duty have dulled some portion of the essential core within us? What if, having spent more than half our lives trying to figure out how to separate the boys/men who really liked us for who we were from those who just wanted to get into our pants, we no longer have that problem? What if no one, ever, wants to kiss us anymore?
Of course, our husbands want to kiss us, but that's not the point. The point is that what for men might manifest in the mid-life crisis that leads to absurd exercises in proving virility may not be about bravado for women. But that doesn’t mean there is not a sort of crisis at stake.
I think that many women respond to their passing youth by panicking at this unexpected need to renegotiate themselves. We become overly self- deprecating. We turn inward with sorrow. Or we think, as I fear perhaps I have been, that the solution to this growing feeling of not knowing precisely who we are is to get into a new relationship—one predicated not on romance but on caretaking: we consider having one more child to fill a void that is really not about children at all.
The trick, I think, to renegotiating one’s relationship with one’s own body is to embrace the sorrow without letting it become all-consuming. To face the realization that the old relationship we had with our bodies may be ending, but that does not mean that our bodies are merely old. To ask ourselves hard questions about what we really want from our bodies and then listen, really listen, to the whispers that come back in answer.
I am not sure yet what those answers will be. But I am hopeful now that I can move beyond panic, sorrow or the disorienting feeling that the familiar part my body has played in my life so far may be changing. I begin to feel that what lies on my horizon may be not sorrow but tribute, and that the woman I am becoming will be embodied in a way that embraces what is past even as it forges a new future.
Thursday, June 18, 2009
GET A CLUE!
Who do you think are the primary watchers of daytime TV? Sure, I know that there are a lot of people who are on mandatory leaves from their jobs right now, and there's a good contingent of retirees, and probably a goodly batch of teenagers gleeful about school just having ended. But I think it's a pretty fair bet that if you put all those demographics together, they do not form a group larger than the irate mothers of preschoolers who are desperately trying to start Wall-E with lightening quick speed navigating through the 27 menus required to make the movie start because in that little preview box that sits at the top of the menu screen, you are currently running clips that feature a young girl who is a witness to a triple murder. And the phrase "gruesome triple murder" is spoken during this preview. And the cute little blond girl keeps saying, "Mommy, I see something" while the camera splits back and forth between shots of her sweet face and blood spatter. And my children, like all children ever born, instinctively are riveted by the faces of humans around their own age, so they sit quietly and absorb this preview. I am livid. And horrified.
I am not sure this preview is worse than the one that featured a short, crisp dialogue between two men a year or so ago, "Where is your wife now?" one of them asked. The other (I think it was Anthony Hopkins) replied with sinister calm, "I killed her."
It may not be worse than the ones that feature wartime violence, machine guns, and ferocious faces craving bloodshed.
It may not be worse than the sexy ones in which someone appears in lingerie and someone else looks all ready to jump her bones.
But it's certainly not BETTER than any of those.
Here's a little tip, if you want to keep subscribers: run previews that are rated "G" during the day -- especially in the witching hours of 4-6pm when it's time to cook dinner, the children are melting, and the TV may be desperately necessary for half an hour or so.
I just want to put "George and Martha" on for my kids. They don't really need to learn new words like "sexy" and "homocide" in the bargain.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Makes you want to hum "Girls Just Wanna' Have Fu-unnnn...." doesn't it? (To achieve this fabulous look yourself, just let your toddler wear her braids in the bathtub, and then don't bother to take out the braids before she goes to sleep. Comb it out in the morning, and Voila!)
Not used to me being "wordless"? Don't care about the dearth of words, but really really want $30 off some new sheepskin (ugg) boots for yourself? Click on over here.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Recently, I swore off carbs. It lasted two days. Then, I decided to make over my attitude instead of my diet.
The short version of what I think about low-carb diets is that they are not fun. Many of my favorite foods are carb-heavy: homemade macaroni and cheese, fresh cookies hot from the oven, Thai pan-fried noodles. Although I love fresh fruits and veggies, and we eat piles of them in the summer, I find it difficult to get my head (let alone my mouth) around the idea of seasonal stir-fry without any rice at all.
Husband and I, in the clueless energy of our youth, once tried the Atkins diet. I was such a serious grouch for the initial two weeks that I am surprised he could stand to live with me. Don't know the rules of the Atkins diet? Basically, the first two weeks, you try to eat NO CARBOHYDRATES AT ALL. This means, in addition to the obvious no rice, no pasta, no bread, no potatoes, you also get no sugar/desserts, no fruit, no milk, no vegetables high on the glycemic index (corn, sweet potatoes, carrots, squashes). Basically, you eat a pound of bacon for breakfast, a giant hamburger with lettuce on it for lunch (no bun, no ketchup, slather on the mayonnaise if you like, but only if it is NOT the fat-free kind, since they always add sugar to that), and half a grilled chicken with a few green beans for dinner. If you like your meat with a side of meat and some melted cheese on top, Atkins is the diet for you. If you prefer not to drag yourself through your day as if you are wearing concrete shoes, and you don't enjoy headaches and mood swings towards Plant Cranky, however, I cannot recommend this diet.
Older and more sensible, we turned to the South Beach diet a few years ago. This, I think, is actually a healthy diet. You do a few weeks with no bread/rice/pasta/potato/sugar, but you eat any fruit/veg you want, dairy, etc., and then you start working the starches back into your diet in small doses. The book explaining the diet has six weeks worth of recipes in it, so you don't end up grasping exhaustedly for more bacon for breakfast because you can't think of anything else to eat that doesn't involve starch.
Even while South Beach is more satisfying to the palate, and less likely to make me crabby and sluggish, it still means that there are things I just shouldn't eat. And while I'm all onboard with being healthy and eating well, I don't really like being told I can't have certain things. Also, I try extremely hard to get the kids to eat broadly and eat the same things we do, so the thought that I would be purposefully making two different dinners each night because of my restrictions was more than a little galling. How exactly do I convince them that "this is what's for dinner, honey, so this is what you need to eat," if I'm not eating it?
So I began thinking hard not just about what I eat but about why. Now, you may think that why we eat is obvious, but I actually think that why is a lot more complicated than most people realize. On the most basic level, we eat to stay alive because food fuels our bodies. But it doesn't only fuel our bodies. Food is also a pleasure, an emotional crutch, a means of control and indulgence, a social occasion, a way to unwind, a memory. For many people, food is intimately tied to all the best and worst, highs and lows of our lives. It is the thing that helps us cope when we are blue, the centerpiece of celebrations, the reason we feel guilty, the excuse to bring together some friends, the bane of our existence, the marker of our cultural heritage.
All of which explains why I hate diets. Being told I can't eat something I want is, for me, tantamount to telling me that I am not allowed to be happy today. I don't want to go to an impromptu after-dinner bonfire at my neighbors' house and drink water while everyone else is sipping sangria. I can't smile contentedly and join the witty banter if everyone else is eating s'mores and my hands are empty.
So I've made myself a new diet, what I call an un-diet. The rules are simple: I can eat whatever I want, whenever I want with just a few caveats.
First, I have to ask myself if I'm actually hungry. If the answer is yes, then the next question is whether the food I'm about to eat is really the best choice to fix that problem. This simple pause before I open my mouth and start noshing on something has already helped me remember to reach for the healthier snacks: an apple with a bit of peanut butter, raw carrots with hummus, a bowl of strawberries, a yogurt.
If I'm not actually hungry, but I find myself standing in front of the pantry, then I try to figure out what the real problem is. I'm bored? I'm feeling sleepy? I have been sedentary for too long? Often, if I've been working at my desk for a few hours, I go for something to eat not because I need food but because I need a change of pace. So now, instead of eating something, I make myself a cup of hot tea, or I walk to the mailbox, or I call a friend for a few minutes. Something to recharge my mind is all I really need.
The general principle of eating only when I'm hungry is keeping me from nibbling up the last four bites of mac-n-cheese on the kids' plates, from eating out of boredom, and from snacking late at night while I'm working. All of these are easy ways to cut unnecessary calories from my day without actually feeling deprived.
At mealtimes, I have rebalanced my plate. At least half of the dish has to be covered in veggies. I serve myself half of what I normally would have chosen of whatever starch is in the offering, and a reasonable serving of protein. This way, I don't feel like I'm not eating the things I love. And if I don't love them, I don't eat them.
We aren't a big desserts family, and we don't tend to keep chips, sodas, and other junk foods on hand anyway, so that's not a big problem here. But sometimes you just gotta' have a cookie, you know? So I do. When I'm eating socially, I will have desserts or nachos, margaritas or b-b-q, basically whatever's in the offering. I just try to be conscious of my principles (am I hungry? have I balanced my eating, so that there are lots of veggies here? do I really need seconds of dessert? am I paying attention to what I am eating?). The other night at the neighbors', I spent a long time perfectly toasting a marshmallow so that it was all-over golden brown, puffed and melty. I put it on top of half a graham cracker, and then topped it with a large hunk of good chocolate. I didn't bother with the final cracker lid, since I've never really liked that much graham craker on a s'more anyway, and I'd rather eat more chocolate. The whole thing was sticky, melty, and delicious. I felt satisfied with just one.
I think this is pretty much the same as the much-touted "French diet" that people have been talking about. The French eat whatever they want and seem to stay very slim. Soft buttery croissants are hardly low in calories. But they walk a lot, and they eat small portion sizes, and they make food fun and social, always eating meals slowly and savoring the goodness of the flavor and the company.
So that's the last piece of the puzzle for me: enjoying what I eat. I try to sit and eat not too quickly. I try not to nag at the children to sit up properly (I usually fail spectacularly at this part) and instead ask them what their favorite parts of their day were. I try to have a conversation, really taste what I am eating, and pay attention to the food itself. I find that if I eat more slowly and more mindfully, I eat less and enjoy it more.
For someone who always had a fast metabolism growing up, who could start exercising after a winter of sluggishness and be in shape a mere three weeks later, the hardest lesson has been that I simply don't need THAT much food anymore. I love to eat. I love the flavors and textures, the combinations on the plate, the social occasion, the comfort of making--on a cold winter's day--some recipe that was my grandmother's. For me, the issue of proportion is the biggest hurdle to get over. But I've decided that this is the challenge I will face, rather than condemning myself to weeks of pretending I'm a rabbit or that I'm in training for a meat-eating contest. I would rather eat a little less of everything, eat only when I'm hungry or truly in the midst of a social gathering, and be mindful of what I'm enjoying than come up with a list of off-limits foods.
Because, honestly, a life without chocolate is not a life well-lived.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Theater people are a little kooky. They are intensely connected to each other, forming deep bonds with the others who work in their theater. They are ostentatiously, sometimes prolifically, demonstrative. They are not without their streaks of crudity and slap-happiness. In short, they are precisely what you might expect--if you stopped to think about it--of people who spend 12-16 hours a day holed in up windowless spaces doing repetitive tasks such as hammering endless nails, hemming eighteen skirts for the chorus number, each hem thirty feet in circumference, or rehearsing the same set of lines over and over again, "this time with more feeling."
Theater people thrive on mixing the absurd with the serious, taking their craft immensely seriously at the same time that they, who realize they are stared at and judged on a nightly basis and twice on Saturday and Sunday, can be hilariously self-deprecating. They will do things like play Stage Tag during a half-empty matinee of a Shakespeare comedy. What's Stage Tag? You pick a word, typically one syllable, sometimes nonsense, sometimes not, and you pick someone to be It. The person who is It has to work the word into a speech at the precise moment when he or she is touching someone else. The person touched then becomes It. The loser is whomever is It when the play is over. The trick is making it so seamless that no one but the group onstage notices any monkey-business going on with the dialogue.
Theater people will concoct traditions: You are really a member of this company once you spend a night up in the gods (the uppermost part of a theater; in this case, the system of rigging and narrow walkways above the stage and house, from which lights and sound equipment hang). Or they will spend entire sunny Saturdays in a basement costume shop, sitting on top of the cutting tables, stitching, and playing "Would you rather..." One person asks a question: "Would you rather eat a live snake or a dead mouse?" and the next person around the circle has to answer and explain why, then ask the next question. This is not a G-rated game, or even a PG-rated one, the way theater people play it. But it does while away the hours.
Another thing about theater people? If they get bitten by the bug early, the disease never fully goes away. Sure, they may grow up, get jobs completely unrelated to the theater, get married, have children, and have nothing to do with the production of a show for fifteen years. But that won't keep them from missing the theater, thinking nostalgically about those stolen nights hiding from the security guards in the gods, giddy at the closeness of their latest crush, or reminiscing about that zipper they replaced between the end end of one song and beginning of another so that Pontius Pilate wouldn't have to go back onstage holding his robe closed with one hand.
And then they will start trying their best to turn their children into theater people.
I have discovered that small children, in fact, adore the theater. I'm not one of those crazy stage mothers or anything. My kids, despite their solid comedic timing, ability to burp on demand, and near-perfect recall of vast quantities of story books about dinosaurs, have never been in a production of anything. But I do love to take them to see shows. It started when Son was not even two. We saw a university musical production of Pinocchio, and he was riveted for two whole hours. He cried when it was over because he didn't want it to end. I've taken them to productions put on by local women's groups and traveling puppet troupes; they've been to the circus, Disney on Ice, and outdoor theater in the park. Basically, I'll take them anywhere I think the venue/time/show is suited to children. My one caveat is that the performance can't be so expensive that I will prefer torturing the people sitting near me with a melting-down child rather than miss ten minutes of the performance myself by removing said child.
And so, it's perhaps not that surprising that when we were in New York recently, we took them to a Broadway show. Although I adore theater and go to see plays every time I'm visiting a big city, I'd never been to a big-budget Broadway musical before. I figured I was missing something, but I had no idea just how much I was missing until I saw a production for myself.
Seriously, there are not enough words to do it justice.
The music! The choreography! The costumes! The special effects! The set. Oh. My. Stars. The SET. It was a stroke of design brilliance and a masterpiece of execution. Having worked on a lot of shows in my time, I have some sense of the complexity involved in staging, and the staging of this production was nothing short of miraculous as far as I was concerned. It's not just that it looked good. It was three dimensional in all the best possible ways. Pieces of the stage rotated; they rose and fell; they turned into hills and giant confusing forests and castles. It was sheer magic.
Now, you may laugh at me when you hear this, but we saw Shrek.
I loved the movies, and so did my kids, and I figured they would have a great time seeing the characters come to life. But seriously, I had NO IDEA what a truly incredible thing a first-run Broadway show can be, and now I feel like I want to become some kind of Broadway spokesmodel or something. Because honestly, there is simply no describing the level of being transported into another world, swept away into the funny, and impressive, and poignant, and how did they do THAT?! universe of Broadway theater. Finally, finally, I get it.
When I was in college, I had a brief but mortifying fling with the notion of getting into musical theater. I can dance. Not that I'm classically trained or anything, but I'm pretty good at picking up steps, and I love to dance. I thought that if only I could get over my stage fright about singing, I could audition for chorus parts in college musicals. I have no qualms about standing up in front of hundreds of people talking, whether making toasts or reciting lines; I can take pratfalls; I have a hoot of a good time practice stage fight scenes. But ask me to sing something in front of anyone over the age of five, and I turn into quivering jelly.
To conquer my fear, I took a singing class as an elective in college. During the final exam, in which I had to sing a song in front of my classmates (all five of them), I got so nervous that I irretrivably lost my place, began shaking uncontrollably, and nearly started to cry.
Needless to say, I have never had a part in a musical.
But, having grown up on movie musicals (The King and I and The Sound of Music were favorites), I still have a soft spot for them. Broadway, I have learned, is the place to see them.
Now any of you who live in New York are probably rolling your eyes at me and saying "DUH!" And those of you who hate musicals (I'm aware there is a lively contingent of such; I blithely do not care) are rolling your eyes at me and saying, "SO WHAT?" But if you like theater, even if you're not sure that you like musicals, please, do yourself a favor once in your life, and go see some big-budget, up for a few Tonys, extravaganza of a production on Broadway.
You will never, ever EVER forget it.
And neither will your children, if you take them.
I guarantee it.
Of course, you can trust my judgment. I am, after all, some kind of half-cousin to theater people. As long as you're willing to count my past in my favor.
Full disclosure: I won the tickets to Shrek in a giveaway. But you didn't have to be a blogger to enter to win, and there were no stipulations that you had do anything more than use the tickets if you won them. And, quite honestly, as expensive as a Broadway show is--which makes me unendingly grateful to have won the tickets--I would have bought four tickets in a heartbeat if I had really known what I was in for. You can be sure that the next time we're in New York, we will partake of another bit of Broadway magic.
Friday, June 12, 2009
Sometime in the middle of this past (exceedingly long) winter, we decided to start having a movie night once a week. We would pick something everyone would like, pop a giant bowl of popcorn, and all snuggle together under a blanket on the couch. We watched Wall-E and Kung Fu Panda and then realized that we were going to have to expand our horizons beyond animated films if we were going to keep this up. After all, as great as Toy Story is, there are only so many times a grown up can watch it. So we moved on to kid-friendly dramas like Fly Away Home and classic musicals like Singing in the Rain.
At some point, we realized that we were running short of options through our OnDemand cable programming. Some of the movies listed there under the "kids" section are shockingly inappropriate for young children (think PG-13 violence, bawdy innuendo, and swear words).
(Time for an apparently unrelated, but have paitence, we'll get there, digression.)
Once upon a time, long long ago, in a land far away and fairy-tale-like...Husband and I were poor graduate students living in a the top two floors of an old house. What had once been the home's attic had been converted into a large airy room with thickly padded white berber carpet, white walls, and tons of windows. It was light and bright. It was also the only room in which we had air conditioning (courtesy of a window unit) during the famous Heat Wave of '98. It was a sweltering 100 degrees for over a week, humid and oppressive. We hid ourselves in our room, with a futon bed in one alcove, a desk and computer in another, and our living room furniture in the main part of the room.
We read books that would help us think cool thoughts. We were so hot that Into Thin Air (the tragic story of pushing limits too far on Mount Everest) seemed appealing. And we exploited our Netflix subscription like nobody's business. That was back when Nextflix was basically free: I think it was $5 a month for three movies at a time. We watched movie after movie, and essentially pulled the summer version of hibernation until the heat had passed.
So, having learned our lesson all those years ago, we checked out Netflix to see if it might help us out with family movie night. Score! The prices had gone up so much all those years ago that we'd abandoned them, but now they're back to cheap cheap cheap. It's $5 a month for one movie at a time, but there's no limit to how long or short a time you can have the movie. We've created a list online of movies that we want to watch, and when we return one, we automatically get the next one sent out. The dispatch center that sends us our movies is only about 90 miles away, so we can mail one back on Monday and have the next movie no later than Wednesday.
In short, we love Netflix and have even expanded our horizons to include renting movies for the grown-ups on the house to watch after the kids go to bed. Now, you can too. I just found a flier they sent us offering four free one-month trials of Netflix to anyone we want to give them to. The key is, though, that you have to sign up for your free month by this coming Monday, June 15th. So I figured what better way to share than offer them to you.
If you'd like a free month of Netflix, just leave me a comment below saying so, and including your email address. My favorite would be if you would leave me a comment suggesting the next family movie we should watch, preferably one that is NOT animated, since I'm pretty sure the entire Pixar ouvre has been watched out in our house. I'll randomly choose four people, and email them tonight at 9pm EST with the codes to sign up.
(To clarify: Nextflix didn't approach me to write this post or anything. I just love them. And the deal of four free one-month memberships for friends and family is something they sent out to all their members, as far as I can tell.)
Even if you don't want the membership, would you suggest your favorite young-kid-friendly movie? We desperately need some new ideas! Happy weekend.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
You know that goofy thing that people sometimes say to mothers pregnant with twins -- that having two children will be "so much easier" than having just one because they'll keep each other occupied? And maybe it's true once they get to a certain age, but, as my sister used to say, when you've got two infants who aren't exactly changing each other's diapers, it seems pretty ludicrous. Well, I wonder about that sometimes with siblings who aren't twins too.
Sure, as they grow, there is ample evidence that they love each other. One zings into the kitchen asking for "two smarshmallows, peez" and promptly adds that she will also need "two for Brother." One cries and cries and bedtime, and the other shepherds her back to her room, helps her into bed, pulls the covers carefully up to her chin and over her stuffed snuggly puppy, and kisses her goodnight.
But as they get a bit older, twins or not, the siblings also start to bicker over things. Most recently, we had a fight to the point of tears and wailing lamentations over who had or should not have eaten the last of the invisible food that they two of them were pretending to hold in their hands while riding in the car. They nearly came to blows over this.
"I just ate the last bit!" [insert sounds of slurping, satisfied smacking]
"NO!! You CAN'T!!! It's MIIINNNNEEEE!!!!!" [insert shrieks which fade into a whimper] "See, there's one more bite for me."
"No there isn't. I ate it all. It's all gone. Ha HA!"
"Keeping each other company" in this manner is likely to make mama's head burst into spontaneous flames. Which would probably only produce a bickering conversation about who had more pretend water to throw on her and who should be allowed to go first in putting out the fire.
Don't get me wrong. My children are also perfectly capable of playing nicely with each other. They will color, climb things, build forts, do puzzles, cooperate, soothe each other's boo boos. But invariably at some point during the day, they begin to melt a little around the edges. The shiny impervious crust of well-rested happiness wears thin, and they begin to badger and prod, each sensing weakness in the other, each fueled by his or her own tiredness, low blood sugar, or sudden boredom into trying to produce a reaction. It's as if they simultaneously become fragile and spawn a blood-lust for exploiting fragility.
The moments are cyclical. We will have some time of contented play, then an implosion that I must help negotiate. After time to diffuse (which often means separating their play briefly and strategically, not as punishment but as creating a space for mental regrouping), they can play well together again. The stretches of good play tend to be longest in the morning and mind-numbingly short in the late afternoon. The purposeful antagonism coupled with utter inability to take in return the same as one is perfectly capable of doling out follows the reverse pattern.
In short, I go from Quiet Reminder-er in the morning to full-blown Referee in Uniform by afternoon, and I find the latter role more draining than any other work I've ever done.
But here's is something fabulous I have discovered: if you add one child into the mix who is not a sibling, magic can occur. Suddenly, they do keep each other company for insanely long stretches of time. Miraculously, the squabbles are reduced. Inconceivably, three children is a more consistently pleasant number than two. At least, in our family this seems to be the case.
I suspect it has to do with the "outsider" reducing the instinct of my two to needle each other because both are enjoying playing with the third. Although everything one reads about children and play suggests that three is a bad number because one child is always left out while the other two take over, I have found that for my kids, adding a third can create perfect dynamics. Of course, there are still occasional squabbles over who had what toy first and whether sharing is possible. But in the main, as I found at a friend's house the other day, while her older child played with my two, three can be bliss. (To be clear: they weren't cruelly leaving out the younger child; he's only 8 weeks old and really has little interest in toy money or blocks.)
It would not surprise me to hear that if you have three children, it takes a fourth to reach that stage of playtime bliss where the children can be sent into another room to amuse themselves and not recalled until lunch time -- and in the interim whole sentences, nay, entire paragraphs!, of conversation can run uninterrupted between the grown-ups. It also seems obvious to me that once the littles hit a certain age (7? 8? 34?), the number of them becomes of less consequence, and they are simply a self-sufficient bunch.
But, sitting as I am on the cusp of Ultimate Neediness, so close that I can still find the occasional unused diaper stashed in a bag I haven't carried for a few months, still involved intimately in their daily ablutions, still their one and only Best Witness to What I Just Did All By Myself, still their favorite playmate, still the desperately needed referee, I am in awe of the mere fact that there can be untended moments of play. That children, MY children, can get together in a space, and make up some games, and laugh and converse and have a good time with a friend without requiring my interjections, approval and warnings with relative frequency.
I realize that I am still all starry eyed over the fact that my ability to talk uninterrupted with another adult while our children played in the other room will only increase from here on out. But I do wonder, on a deeper level, what you think about the whole play dynamics thing. Is it the number of children that matters most? Or is it their ages in relation to each other? Or is it whether they are siblings or not? Or is it mostly a factor of the individual personalities of those in the little group?
In short, what do you think is the perfect mix that creates the bliss of "keeping each other company" and mutes as much as possible the amount of time that mama has to play Referee?
Monday, June 8, 2009
I am very fond of home made fried chicken. Not that I make it that often (it's time consuming), but it's oh-so-good. Sometimes I cheat and make the easy kind, with speedy breading, using boneless breasts and making what amounts to home-made chicken tenders. But yesterday, I made a vat of the real stuff for a potluck picnic with a bunch of friends.
I won't say that mine is perfect, and I still haven't figured out how to keep the coating super-crispy once it cools (any ideas?), but I do have some tips for making pretty darn good fried chicken. Here's what you need:
1. Buttermilk: skin the chicken drumsticks, then soak them in buttermilk and red pepper flakes overnight, or at least for a few hours, to keep it particularly moist.
2. Double coating: dip the buttermilk-soaked chicken in flour that's been salt-and-peppered, then in egg, then in well-spiced fine bread crumbs (use cumin, thyme, salt, pepper, garlic powder, etc, to your taste). The double dipping creates a nice crunchy coating, in substitution for greasy skin.
3. Chicken legs with four "sides": fry chicken legs on one broad side until the coating is mahogany colored before turning; turn once and fry further. (Turning too soon means the coating is more likely to come off.) Then prop them up on their narrow sides to fry each of those before removing from pan, to ensure you've cooked them through.
4. Oil, carefully monitored for temperature: the oil should be hot enough for the chicken to bubble pleasantly when you first put it in the pan. The oil should not be smoking. Medium heat should maintain the nice sizzle without actually appearing to boil with large bubbles. If you cook it too hot, the coating will burn before the chicken cooks through. If you cook it too low, the coating will get greasy.
5. Air space: be sure there's a little space between the chicken pieces in the pan. If they touch, the coating won't crisp up nicely.
6. Patience: it takes time to fry chicken drumsticks all the way through. This is no rush meal. I would say something like 30 minutes of total cooking time is about right, but you need to monitor carefully, turn the legs as little as possible. Pierce one with sharp knife to test for doneness; juices should run clear, not pink.
Yum! Happy summer.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
"Ahh-ha-ha-ha-ha!" Daughter forced a laugh, pointing at Dog, who was comfortably curled up in the old arm-chair this morning. "She licking her leg!! Ha-hahahahaha!"
Son looked at her slightly condescendingly. "That's just how dogs' lifes are," he said, with heavy emphasis on the "f" in "lifes."
Daughter didn't respond.
So he tried again. "That's just how dogs' lifes are."
"Do you know what 'life' means?"
Still no answer
"Okay, you don't. You don't know what 'life' means. 'Life' means how you live." He waited a moment for that to sink in. "Do you know what 'how you live' means? 'How you live' means how you are." He looked in her face to see if she was comprehending all of this. "Everyone is different," he added helpfully. He allowed for another pregnant pause.
Then, satisfied that he'd explained with some useful precision why dogs lick their paws, he began clamoring for some breakfast.
Daughter still said nothing.
I pondered: paw-licking isn't funny because that's just what dogs do. Their lives are made up of little oddities like that. They lick all kinds of weird stuff. That's just how their lifes are. Of course, everyone is different, which neatly negates that generalization about dogs lifes.
But it doesn't change the patience with which he tried to explain what he assumed were difficult concepts for a three-year-old to grasp. Given that yesterday was a festival of willful not listening at our house, I'll take kind disquisitions on a dog's life quite happily as a start for the morning.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
I just got the most fascinating scam email this morning.
It's based on one I'm sure you know well. You know the model: someone in Nigeria has a bank account just teeming with unclaimed money that threatens to overload the bank vault and go spilling out into the street unless you, kind Good Person, can do the right thing and take some of that pesky cash off his hands. All it will take for you to be vastly wealthy is that you reply quickly to the email in question with all of your personal identifying information, including, of course, your social security number and a bank account into which a deposit may be made, in order to verify that you are who you say you are.
There is the implication that the money itself is blood money, given that it is sitting there because the executor of the estate of the man whose account holds the money has unfortunately to inform you that the wealthy man in question was overthrown in a coup, and all his family was very sadly killed.
But that should pose no problem to you, Enterprising (but dumb) American, since you have no moral qualms about spending the money of now-dead, once-corrupt African politician. After all, HE doesn't need the money any more, so why shouldn't you be the next logical choice in the succession of inheritance?
Signed cordially yours, with lots of bad grammar, non-idiomatic phrasing, and odd spelling choices, etc. etc. etc...
So, I'm wise to all those Nigerian scams, which landed in my email inbox at the rate of about four per week for a year or two (yes, we clearly have fabulous filter software where I work). And I, clever girl, never replied to any of them, tempting as they were.
Today I got one with significantly less detail but somehow of more interest. Here it is:
I have a proposition for you, this however is not mandatory nor will I in any manner compel you to honor against your will. Let me start by introducing myself. I am Dr.Carl Chang Director of Operations of the Hang Seng Bank Ltd,Sai Wan Ho Branch. I have a mutual beneficial business suggestion for you.
1. Can you handle this project?
2. Can I give you this trust ?
3. What will be your commission?
If you can sponsor this transfer Consider this and get back to me as soon as possible.
Obviously, it's not an email to which I want to respond.
On the other hand, there is something oddly appealing in its inadvertent suggestion that the entire proposition can be dictated by me. I get to decide whether I can handle this project (project itself not named; I must intuit said project and determine my own competence to complete it). I get to decide if trust is well placed in me (yes, it is! with certainty! especially concerning super secret projects). I get to choose my own commission ($millions, obviously).
The philosophical suggestion that I should "Consider this" without knowing what "this" is, that I should, in short, consider my own sense of self-worth, honor (obviously this proposal will not go against that foremost quality), competence, and trustworthiness has given me pause. I have no idea what it would mean to be "compelled to honor against my will" but it certainly sounds like a tremendous puzzle in abstract understandings of the self.
I am sure it's not at all what this scammer was hoping for, but I suspect I will be wandering around for the rest of the day, pondering precisely what projects might define the outer limits of my honor and whether I could be trusted to carry them out.
It almost makes me feel like a philosopher.
Or a super spy.
[voice over]: This message will self-destruct in 5-4-3-2-.... *bOoM!*