Friday, June 24, 2016

Home from St. Louis

We just took a vacation.  The first of two planned for this summer!  Wild, I know.  We spent four days down in St. Louis, MO, and it was a wonderful time.

Sunday we traveled.  Packing up the kids to get out of the house for something like this always takes twice as long as I think it will.  It didn't help that the kids had made no fewer than 30 Father's Day cards for their dad, all of which had to be opened before we could load the car.

It's a 5 hour drive, so we stopped at a playground for a picnic lunch at about the half way point, and rolled into St. Louis around dinner time.  We walked around the famous Gateway Arch, although it's a major construction zone right now, and then went out for mediocre pizza and excellent beer.

We stayed at an Airbnb.  It was our first experience doing so, and we were delighted.  It was so nice to have a kitchen.  I didn't really cook, but I prefer to slap together quick and easy meals than to take three kids out to eat twice a day.  Also, it was awesome to have multiple rooms.  One night L went to bed in the big bedroom, V went to bed in the little bedroom, Z set up a nest in the kitchen, and Husband and I stayed up late chatting in the living room.  All for 2/3 the price of a single hotel room.  I'm hooked.

On Monday we went to the St. Louis Zoo.  It's consistently rated as one of the top five in the country, and it was easy to see why.  They do a tremendous job balancing the need for animals to live in somewhat natural environments, the need to keep people and animals safe from each other, and the desire of zoo visitors to actually see the animals in the zoo.  There were quite a number of "talk to the keeper" types of experiences all throughout the day.  Also, the garden plantings were gorgeous.  I know nobody goes to the zoo to see the flowers, but these were truly exceptional.  To top it all off, the zoo has free admission!

We tried to cram it all into one long day.  In retrospect, it would have worked better for our family to plan an extra day in town and spend two long mornings at the zoo, followed by lunch, naps, and playground time.  We missed quite a few animals, and everyone was exhausted and cranky by the time we got back to the Airbnb for dinner.

Tuesday we went to the City Museum.  It's like nothing you've ever seen.  I keep calling it a recycled junkyard art installation playground.  There are enormous slides, a three story rebar climbing maze jungle gym, ball pits 15 feet square, a rabbits' warren of caves constructed from concrete, an indoor skate park with no skateboards, a tiny circus, a Ferris wheel on the roof, and more.  The whole place is eye-popping, weird, and exciting.  Z, V, Husband, and I loved it.  L is two, so his experience was more mixed.

His comment after riding the Ferris wheel was, "I not crying."  He rode the tiny train, but at the end of his first lap he said, "I no like it!"  He then proceeded to wail "I NO LIKE IT!" during the entire second lap.  The ride operator let him out after that, so he didn't have to do the third lap.  He told me, quite seriously, "I no like it" as soon as I picked him up.  He slipped on a slide and scraped his ear.  He was scared of the circus.  He didn't like when other kids were in the ball pit with him because they kept bumping him.  And he got lost for a few minutes in the caves.  He really did enjoy exploring the rebar maze, the tree house, and the caves, though, as long as I stayed right behind him.

Wednesday we spent a few hours at the Science Center and Planetarium.  To be honest, we were all tired, so half a day of half-hearted looking was enough.  We drove home with movies and snacks to placate the masses.

It was a wonderful vacation, all things considered.  I'd recommend St. Louis if you're interested a not-too-stressful trip with your kids.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Coloring Books and Kids

The Artful Parent, a delightful blog on parenting kids with an eye to creativity and particularly the visual arts, recently published a post called Why I Don't Buy Coloring Books For My Kids.

I totally love her suggestions for coloring book alternatives.  I am all for kids using their creativity and imagination to create their own art works.  I will admit that I've never bought a coloring book for my kids, either.  I think that there is definitely a place for coloring books, though, and I haven't gotten rid the coloring books that have been given to me.

Given the wide availability of adult coloring books, it seems that the general public has become at least somewhat aware of the benefits of coloring: stress relief, relaxation, mindfulness, and the pleasure of making something.  Yes, creating from scratch can provide all of those benefits and even many more.  However, free artistic expression also comes with potential negatives.

Facing down a blank page with only your creativity to guide you is challenging.  Even prompts like the ones The Artful Parent suggests require a certain amount of personal investment.

What if the things a child has to express from inside himself are uncomfortable: confusing or painful emotions, traumatic memories, or worries and fears about the future?  It's important for children to address those uncomfortable things, true, but that doesn't mean they have to be the focus of their energies at all times.  Mindlessly coloring a dinosaur outlined by an anonymous adult gives a child the opportunity to relax and live in the present moment.

What if a child has been working hard on creative play, social interaction, or developmental learning for a long time?  Most kids have only a few self-directed task that they have mastered to come back to as a break.  Scribbling over a picture of a princess is simple, easy, and familiar.  It offers a moment of respite from the challenges of learning.

While I think that forcing kids to sit down and complete a coloring sheet is nonsensical, offering coloring sheets as one of the options from which children are free to choose is perfectly reasonable.  I'm keeping my coloring books.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Things that Make Me Feel Virtuous

A list of ten things that make me feel virtuous, despite the fact that they probably shouldn't.

1. Fermented vegetables.  Eating them, making them, and even just observing them as they reside in the fridge.

2. Having all the laundry clean.  It doesn't have to be folded and put away, just clean.  If there's no pile of dirty laundry lurking in the basement, the laundry is "done!"

3. Reading nonfiction.  True, the book may have no literary or educational merit, but if it's nonfiction junk, it's surely better than fiction junk.

4. Letting my kids get muddy.  God made dirt and dirt don't hurt.  To be fair, no dirt doesn't hurt either, so it would be an equally valid choice to ask the kids not to ruin their clothes.  That isn't what I do, though, so I applaud myself for messy kids.
5. Wearing anything other than jeans.  Fancy!

6. Cleaning off the kitchen counter.  The presence of this item on this particular list should tell you exactly how often I complete the task.

7. Sending out my children's thank-you notes.  This is ridiculous for several reasons.  First, the notes get written, but not in a timely fashion.  People regularly get Christmas thank-yous in February, for goodness sake!  Second, because most of the people to whom the kids write either don't care or actively don't want the notes.  Third, everyone knows who's orchestrating things, and it sure isn't the 7 year-old.

8. Not having Facebook on my phone.  I'm a compulsive Facebook user, so having it on my phone would be a terrible decision.  I did not, however, make a decision not to download the Facebook app onto my phone, it's just that I don't have a smart phone, so there's no way for me to use any apps.

9. Showering without soap.  It's a hippie thing: avoiding messing with your skin's natural chemistry and oils.  Is it terrible?  It's probably terrible.

10.  Winning things that aren't really competitions.  My kids finished the library's 1000 books before kindergarten in less than 4 months!  That's faster than everyone else!  They were the first kids in the whole town to finish!  We're the winners!  Nobody else thinks this was a competition.  There is no prize for being first.  Nobody cares.  We still win.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Nicest Compliment

Husband: Thank you, babe.  Do you know how much I appreciate everything you do?

Me: I know you appreciate what I do, to the extent that you know about it.

Husband: No.  I appreciate the stuff I don't know about just as much as, or maybe even more than, the stuff I do know about.  Because the fact that I don't know about it proves that you've got it under control.  You've handled it so well that not only do I not have to worry about it, but I don't even have to think about it.  You're amazing.

And that, dear friends, is one of many reasons I love that man.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

In Which Shopping is a Traumatic Event

I finally did it, folks.  I went to Target and bought myself some real bras.  (If you're my dad or brother, you can stop reading now.  The rest of the post isn't going to get any better.)

I've been pregnant or nursing for more than 8 continuous years now, and my nursing bras are all dead.  Every last one has developed fatal flaws.  I did not, however, want to pay for nice bras, because I am actually still nursing L.  The trouble with a nursing toddler is that you never know when they're going to quit, so it doesn't make sense to me to shell out big bucks for nice bras that fit my nursing-a-toddler boobs.  There's also literally no way to know what my no-longer-nursing-anybody breast size is going to be.  Apparently it can take a whole year for one's body to arrive at the new normal after the last nursing session, too.  All of that conspired to send me shopping for a comfortable, cute, and inexpensive bra.  I left the house feeling like this was a "pick two" situation, but I was determined to try anyway.

First things first, everybody says more than 80% of women are wearing the wrong bra size.  I have no idea where that statistic comes from, and neither does anyone else, but my anecdotal experience is that, yeah, if you're wearing a bra, it's probably the wrong size.

To start with, you probably put it on wrong.  Now, don't tell me you've been wearing bras for years and there's no way you could possibly have been putting them on wrong this whole time.  Have you seen the shoe tying video?

This woman is happy to explain and demonstrate one technique for getting a bra on properly.  I prefer imagining my breasts are soft-serve ice cream, and my bra cups are, well, cups.  I bend at the waist, pour myself into the bra, hook it closed, stand up, and give a little jiggle to each serving, like this fancy lady.

Ok, so your bras suck.  How do you find ones that are the correct size?  You could go to a fancy bra specialty store to get fitted, and then use European sizes, which are standardized unlike US sizes, to ensure you shop for the correct size at other stores.  But even that won't guarantee every bra in the right size fits properly, because there's more to boobs than just cup-to-band ratio!  There's also fullness, projection, and overall body shape to consider.

I spent probably 6 hours researching at ABraThatFits.  They've got a beginner's guide which includes determining size, determining shape, shopping tips, and trouble shooting fit.  It's amazing stuff, and well worth perusing, especially given how much time most women spend wearing bras.

Truthfully, I don't expect anyone to wear a bra.  If you're happy hanging loose, more power to you.  If you like sports bras, shelf bras, or soft bras, wear them in joy and peace.  If you want to wear a bra, though, I want you to wear one that fits right, feels good, and makes you feel lovely.

The whole of my story is that I spent 90 minutes trying on every brand of bra in my local Target.  I gave myself numerous pep talks.  I may have cried a little.

That's 60 minutes worth of bras.  I refused to hang up one bra properly, because it was on a hanger with the wrong label, and I almost cut off circulation when I put it on.

In the end, though, I found a single bra that fit.  It is nice.  It is comfortable.  It is actually a plunge push-up, because apparently no normal bras fit my particular boob shape.  It is only available in lacy and leopard print, so I bought both.  In honor of a successful day, here's a selfie with Z.  Hooray for boobies!  (What am I doing with my arm?  Too weird.)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016



In my home, there are two girls.

I have a daughter.
She is four years old.
She is interested in anatomy and astronomy.
She has a picture book filled with fantastic painted planets and poetry about each one.
She loves YouTube videos in which cartoon characters explain how the body works in simple language.
She draws hundreds of pictures of planets and people.  Bodies and stars.
She signs her name to each one in big wobbly letters.
When she grows up, she thinks she might want to be a nurse or an artist.
She knows how to pump herself on the swings,
How to ride a bicycle without training wheels,
And how to mix the batter if we have waffles for breakfast.

I have a foster daughter.
She is four years old.
She is interested in Frozen, the Disney movie musical.
She has a lot of little Anna and Elsa dolls.
She loves to hear Let It Go and Do You Wanna Build a Snowman?
She imagines power and magic and a real sister who lives at Mommy's house forever.
She picks out the letters of her name from street signs and the covers of books.
When she grows up, she thinks she might want to be not so afraid all the time.
She knows how to pump herself on the swings,
How to ride a bicycle without training wheels,
And how to microwave her own popcorn if nobody comes home.

In my home, there are two girls.
They are both four years old.

Monday, April 25, 2016

You can make your own (bad) decision

An open letter to my precious child:

I love you, and I want to keep you safe.  I know, though, that I can't protect you from every bad thing in the world for your entire life.  Some day you're going to fall down and get bruised.  You're going to have your heart broken, if only a little bit.  You're going to fail, get hurt, and struggle.  Everyone does.

Even if I could protect you from every hurt and pain right at this moment, I don't think it would be a loving thing to do.   There are lot of lessons in life you just have to learn the hard way.  You can't learn resilience without failure.  You can't learn to apologize without being wrong.  You can't learn to keep on keeping on to do hard things if you've always had every obstacle removed from your path.  You'll need those skills for the road ahead.

Because of this, my little one, I've decided that you can make your own bad decisions.

I try to be wise as I let you choose.  While I know getting hurt is inevitable, I don't want your body or your spirit to be damaged beyond reasonable repair.  I will ask myself if you will need first aid or the emergency room, and if it's the former, I'll let you decide.

I will use my extensive life experience to help guide you and to inform you of likely consequences.  I will say things like, "If you play there, you might get hit by the swing."  And, "If you buy that, you won't have money for the other thing you want."  And, "She's not nice to you in person, I'm worried what she'll say behind your back if you hang out with her."  Then I will let you go ahead and stand there, buy that, and hang out with her.  Later when you are crying, I will hold you and help you recover.

I will not say, "I told you so."  I will, however, hope you've learned something, and the next time a similar situation arises, you can look back on your own bad decision and make a better one.