Advice for a Child’s Birthday Party

After hosting a birthday party for both Mellow and Wildling this weekend, I learned a few things:

  1. Don’t waste time baking cakes.  Kids just want mini-marshmallows. They don’t care that there is a sun and nine planets made out of a variety of delicious cakes – they’ll just eat the mini-marshmallow asteroids that you scattered around for display purposes.
  2. You can work as hard as you want to avoid artificial food coloring.  If you use one thing, just one thing, with artificial food coloring in it, that thing will be the most popular item on the table.
  3. Tang sounds like a fun beverage for a space party, since the astronauts drink it.  It’s not. Or at least, it’s less interesting than bottled water with strangely child-proof lids.
  4. If you make a pinata and expect a bunch of kids ages 2-6 to break it, maybe build some hidden weaknesses in it so that the moms don’t have to bash the crap out of it in order to get the candy (though, truth be told, hitting a pinata is a lot of fun).
  5. Why waste time on games when there is a bunk bed kids can climb on?
  6. Nobody likes gluten-free cookies. Nobody. They are expensive and gross.
  7. When your daughter tells you that she wants a space themed party and you comply, expect that the day of the party she will decide she wants to have a costume party with a wing theme instead and you will find yourself texting friends and asking that their children bring their own fairy or butterfly wings because you don’t have enough for everybody.
  8. Grown-ups don’t really like going to kids birthday parties, especially for their kids’ school friends when they don’t know the parents*.  That’s why it’s important to serve cocktails. Then everybody gets along, which is good, especially when your child goes to a small school and you know you’ll have to see these parents for the next seven years.
  9. If you have an older relative, invite them.  They are likely to worry about messes and, if you’re lucky, they kind of wander around and clean stuff up throughout the party.
  10. Relating to #9, always have trashcans accessible.  Nobody needs to have to work to figure out your child safety locks.

*Actually, I learned this a long time ago, when I first went to an interminable birthday party for one of Wildling’s classmates.  And that’s why we’ve always had something special for the adults at our parties.

Car conversations

This is the conversation in the car every single day after I pick Wildling up from school:

Song comes on the radio (probably Taylor Swift)

Wildling: I like this song.

Mellow: Me like song!

Wildling: I like this song, too.

Mellow: No! No Wi-Wi! No like this song anymore!

Wildling: I do too like this song!

Mellow: NO!!!!!! Wi-Wi no like this song ANYMORE!

Wildling: <shrieking> I can like this song too Mellow!

Mellow: <emits high pitched scream>

Wildling: <crying> Mama, she’s not letting me like this song!

Me: <gritting my teeth> You can both like this song.  You can both like any song. Lots of people like this song, that’s why they play it on the radio.

Mellow & Wildling, simultaneously: <high pitched shriek>

Mellow: No Wi-Wi like this song ANYMORE!

Wildling: She’s still not letting me like this song! Wahhhhhhhh! <dissolves into hysterical puddle of tears>

Mellow: <satisfied> Wi-wi no like this song anymore. Me like this song.

Same conversation, every damn day.

Welcome to the hopefully not-so-terrible twos

Dear Mellow,

You’ve just turned two.  You are amazing.

The last time I sat down to write you a letter, you hadn’t yet taken your first steps.  Now you run and jump and dance and climb (and hit and bite and scratch, but we won’t talk about that).  You are so fast.  Sometimes you hold your arms out behind you and run with your head down, because that’s what you think a butterfly looks like, and you want to be a butterfly.  Sometimes you put a toy or a napkin between your legs and shout “neigh!” and stumble around until it drops because you imagine yourself riding a horse.

I was worried, when you were born, that you might be overshadowed by your big sister.  She takes up so much energy and attention, but you assert yourself and make sure you get your share.  “Look me! Look me!” you call, always wanting to show us something new.  “Mama, put phone away,” you tell me when I’m distracted.  You love for us to watch you and you love to show off, spinning in circles and running fast.  You’re an artist too, and you proudly present me with your scribbles, which you always describe as a snake, a duckling, or an airplane.  That’s what those lines look like in your eyes, and, at least with the snake, you are somewhat accurate.

You and Wildling are not just sisters now, but friends as well.  Did you hear Wildling last night when I asked her who was her best friend? She immediately pointed to you.  You are the Starling to her Robin, the Orko to her Teela, and the Anna to her Elsa.  You never picked those roles (and you aren’t too happy about being Orko ; “No, Wi-wi, no, two Teelas! Both Teela!”), but you follow along because you love to play with her.  I see how you watch your sister and follow in her footsteps.  Sometimes I wish you didn’t, like when she won’t try a new food and says “blech” and you immediately push the food away, even if you’ve already eaten and enjoyed it, and  you say “blech” too.  I wish you wouldn’t listen to her when she tells you there’s a ghost in the room and it’s going to chomp you up, though technically you don’t really listen, since you’ve developed a fear of goats coming into our house to devour you.

You are fiercely independent, and that drives your papa and I crazy sometimes, but we also love it.  I love that you get into the car by yourself (except on days we’re running late, and then I am frustrated with you) and insist on buckling your own chest strap.  I love that I can tell you to go get dressed and a few minutes later you walk out of your room fully clothed.  Granted, your shirts and pants are often inside out and backwards, and sometimes I’m confused by the number of layers you’re wearing.  Fashion tip: You don’t need a diaper and panties and pants and shorts and a skirt and a dress all at the same time.  It’s a bit much.

Sometimes you smile and say “love mama,” and I don’t know if you understand what love is or if you’re just repeating something you’ve heard, but I don’t care, it makes my heart melt and I love you, too.

Happy birthday, Mellow.  You just keep getting better and better.

Love,

Mama

Why I let my children climb up the slide

You know when you go to a park, there’s always that kid who runs straight to the slide and starts climbing up it? Yeah, those are my kids.  They love to climb up slides, and I don’t try to stop them (unless someone else is about to come down, I don’t let my kids act like assholes).

It’s instinct. Slides are shiny and fun, and there are no repercussions if you make a mistake – if you slip on the way up, you just slide to the bottom, which is the eventual goal anyway.

I’ve heard some parents make passive-aggressive remarks to their children about it “I don’t know why that girl is climbing up the slide. We don’t do that,” and “Slides are for going down, I don’t know why that girl’s parents aren’t stopping her.”  Fortunately for them, I normally don’t respond to passive-aggressive remarks.  I tend to ignore those (but make an aggressive-aggressive remark, especially involving my children, and you will regret it).

Here’s why I think those parents are wrong: they are teaching their children there is only one way to do something.  You must follow the pattern, you cannot color outside the lines, you must go up the ladder if you want to go down the slide.  That’s great.  Their children will make wonderful office drones some day.

I’m kidding about the office drone thing.  But I really believe that we need to allow children to exercise their creativity and let them explore their world.  As adults, we know how (some) things work – we’ve had years to figure it all out.  We shouldn’t assume that our children have the same knowledge base that we do – they don’t have years of experience to rely upon, so for them there is not one way to do something.  They have to try different ways and figure it out.

Let your kid climb up the slide.  Let them approach the world differently.

Things I guess I should have learned as a child

My child isn’t even close to her teenage years, but she already thinks I’m a colossal idiot.

Last year, when Wildling turned four, she got to participate in a ritual at her school, one in which the birthday child carries an earth and walks in a circle around a sun to symbolize turning another year older.  Later, when I was telling my mother-in-law about it, Kathy asked what the sun that they used was made out of, and since I didn’t know, I asked.  “Hey, Wildling,” I said, “What’s the sun made out of?”  She gave me a withering look, as though she could not believe she was even related to me, said “It’s a big ball of burning gas,” and turned back to her toys.

Tonight after dinner, Wildling announced that it was ‘Dessert time!!!!”  I hadn’t planned on serving anything for dessert and didn’t know what she was talking about, so I asked “What’s dessert?”  And she responded by explaining the concept of dessert.  Thanks, Wildling.

Be that trusted adult

When I was in elementary school, one of my friends told me about how her neighbor boy had forced her and her little sister to take their clothes off at knife-point.  The boy had told them that if they told their parents, he would kill them.  Years later I realized that the reason she had told me about it was so that I could tell someone.  I think she wanted me to tell my mom, so that my mom could talk to her mom and something could be done to protect her from this predatory boy.  Unfortunately, she didn’t know that I couldn’t tell my mother something like that.  When I was a child and told my mother something, her immediate response, no matter what, was to call me a liar.  It didn’t matter what it was.  I could tell her it was raining outside and she would dismiss it as ‘another one of [my] stories.’  Because of that I never had the confidence that she would listen to me, and I couldn’t approach her with such a serious issue.

As a freshman in high school, a friend of mine brought one of her friends to talk to me, telling her not to worry, that Melinda will know what to do.  That friend-of-a-friend told me that her step-father had been raping her.  I asked her if she had told her mother about it.  She had, and her mother accused her of lying.  She was looking for help, and I couldn’t give it, because if her own mother wouldn’t believe her, I didn’t know who to send her to.  I know now that I should have told a teacher, or encouraged her to do so, but I didn’t because I didn’t know what teachers would listen.  And again, I couldn’t go to my own parents for help.

As a senior in high school, a freshman girl told a friend and I that she was going to kill herself.  At that time I knew a little bit about suicide prevention, and I knew to ask her questions like did she have a plan (yes, to shoot herself), and did she have a weapon (yes, she had acquired a gun, I believe it belonged to a parent).  This time, I knew I had to do something – there was a life at stake.  My male friend and I decided the best thing to do would be to speak to the high school guidance counselors at lunch.  We figured we would hand the burden over to them and they would take care of it.  When he and I approached the lunch monitor and told him we needed to see the guidance counselor, the lunch monitored smirked at us, but let us go.  When we went to the guidance office we were again smirked at by the secretary, and, when we met with a counselor, she was all prepared with information for us on teen pregnancy.  Yes, that’s right, everyone assumed the reason we needed to see a guidance counselor together was clearly that my friend had knocked me up.  And those smirky self-righteous grown-ups were the people we were supposed to confide in.  Fortunately we did talk to the counselor about the actual reason we were there, and the freshman did not kill herself (though she did confront us later and yell at us for getting the gun taken away).

I don’t want my children or their friends to have those kinds of experiences. Wildling and I have discussed it before, and she knows what to do if someone tells her what we call ‘a bad secret.’  She knows that she should agree to keep it a secret and then tell me right away.  If someone threatens her and says that they’ll hurt her if she tells on them, she knows to promise that she won’t tell and then tell me so I can protect and help her. I talk to her about this now (without gory details of what those bad secrets could be) so that I can cement the idea in her head now, while she’s young and impressionable and still likes me, that her mama will be able to help.

I’m not speaking just for myself but for all parents out there: if we want to protect our children, we have to give them the confidence that we are willing and able to do so.  If we react by calling our children liars when they tell us something, they won’t trust us.  If we tell them that secrets are meant to be kept, they won’t know that they should share the bad ones.  This is the kind of thing that they need to learn when they are young, so that when they are older and the real bad stuff starts, they already have a foundation of confidence and trust.

I want to be the trusted grown-up.  I want to be the one that they come to when bad things happen, and I want them to have the confidence to know that I won’t dismiss them as liars and that I will help them.

Things keep getting better

It’s been just over a month since I gave up my office and started staying home with the kids.  In three weeks, pre-school starts again for Wildling.

I don’t really know how to evaluate my time at home.  I’m sleeping more, I’m now (as of a week ago) doing yoga everyday, so I think I’m getting healthier.  I let the kids sleep until they wake up on their own (6:45 for Mellow, usually 8:45 for Wildling), which I think is good for them.  We go to the library weekly and read a lot of books, so that’s good for their development (side note: Parents, the Elephant and Piggie books by Mo Willems are actually funny – if you’re stuck reading the same thing over and over, choose one of those).

The house is gradually getting cleaner and less cluttered.  I have a goal of achieving a base level of cleanliness so that we just have to work on maintenance.  I think the secret to an actually clean house is getting the whole thing clean once and then afterwards just putting stuff away as you use it.  It’s hard to convey that to Wildling, who is so easily distracted and who believes as long as her messes are in different rooms she doesn’t have to clean them up (but Mama, I’m working out here now, so I don’t have to clean the bedroom). We haven’t achieved that base yet, but we’re getting there.

I have been making our bed everyday.  It sounds kind of weird to me, because I’ve always been one of those people who figures I’m going to sleep in the same place and in the same sheets that night, so why bother?  Then I read a couple of articles talking about cleanliness and the habits of successful people, and making the bed kept getting mentioned, so I figured I’d try it.  It turns out that I like it.  It makes the room look neater and better put together.  It’s nice to go in at night and feel like I’m entering a clean and relaxing space.  Plus, it turns out it takes less than two minutes to do.

Wildling and I have been doing art projects.  We painted a bunch of rocks for our fairy village project, which is unfortunately stalled while we look for the perfect clay pots to house the village.  We’ve painted and colored and drawn things and made objects out of perler beads (warning: those things scatter all over the place if you leave them within reach of an inquisitive toddler).  Will and Wildling did a crystal growing experiment, and this week we’re going to tie-dye some shirts. It’s been fun.  She calls herself an artist, and I want to encourage that because I love to see her express her creativity.

Pre-school starts again on the 19th, so things are going to change around here again.  I don’t know what to expect.  I don’t know how much I’ll be able to get done for myself, and I don’t know how Mellow is going to react to not having her sister to play with all day.  It should be interesting.

Barriers to change

When people complain about their lives, they have three things they can do: 1) Make the change that they want; 2) Come to terms with and accept what they have (and seek the beauty/joy in it); or 3) Do nothing to change anything, but keep complaining about it.

Throughout my career, I’ve seen many people caught in a trap of hating where they are, wanting/needing something better, yet when they are given suggestions, they just put barriers in their own way.  You hate your job.  Great, start looking for something better. Oh, you can’t because you lack qualifications? Get qualified. Oh, you can’t because you don’t have time? Stop watching so much television and study instead. Oh, you can’t because you have some sort of emotional connection to your favorite shows? Then I can’t help you, you’re the one putting up the barriers.

I once talked with a woman who hated every single aspect of her life, from her job to her boyfriend, to the apartment she rented.  She even hated her dog.  But she couldn’t give away the dog, and she couldn’t just dump the boyfriend, and she couldn’t move when her lease was up, and she didn’t want to find another job, and and and excuses excuses excuses.  What do you say to someone like that? Nothing, you can’t help them.

When there is something I don’t like about my life, I do what I can to fix it.  Will and I once lived in a city that we hated. We were unhappy there, but that’s where his job was.  So I applied to law school out of state, he started looking for a different job, and, within a year, we were able to move.  Yes, it took time.  Magic isn’t real, time travel, sadly, isn’t real.  It took work.  If we had looked at all we had to do to move (like law school! Seriously, what was I thinking?) maybe we wouldn’t have done it and we’d still be living miserably in a place we hated (actually, no, we’d have moved to California two years ago like all of Will’s co-workers when their jobs moved there – but that would have been us waiting to be rescued rather than finding our own way out).

Will was once in tremendously bad credit card debt.  I won’t write the number here, but imagine a huge amount of dollars and then triple it.  That was his debt.  So what did he do? Did he give up and decide to be in debt forever?  No, he turned his finances over to me and within two and a half years of living extraordinarily frugally and throwing every cent at it, we eliminated that debt.  It was hard. It was extremely hard. But we did it.

Why am I writing about this now? Because I need to – I need the reminder.  I’ve been complaining for far too long that I am out of shape.  I’m not overweight, so you wouldn’t guess how out of shape I am, but I am weak.  I haven’t worked out in a ridiculously, embarrassingly long time. I get winded chasing the kids.  In the winter and spring I was riding the bike a lot, but it’s summer and it’s a billion degrees outside (barrier I’m putting in my way?) and I’m pretty sure the kids and I would die of heatstroke if we attempted to ride anywhere right now.  That was my exercise, and I haven’t been able to do it since the first hundred degree day back in May.

I like to say I just don’t have time, but I go on facebook and ravelry and wordpress, and I browse articles I don’t care about and read about people I don’t even like.  I sit around in the evenings after the kids go to bed, and I tell myself I’m too tired to do anything else.  I have time, I just choose not to use it properly.

I tell myself that doing yoga and pilates at home won’t actually do anything for me and I won’t be able to keep it up anyway.  I know that’s not true.  Just because I’ve quit in the past doesn’t mean I’ll quit again.  I know that I don’t get a rush from exercising.  I know that working out doesn’t help me feel better on the day I do it.  But I also know that the next day I notice a difference.  The day after I work out is a good day.  The day after I don’t work out . . .well, it’s average to poor.  If I feel lazy and unmotivated, a large part of that is a result of my not having physically exerted myself the day before.

I know this about me.  I know that I need to work out.  I owe it to my future self.

I started yesterday.  I feel good today.  I have to stop putting barriers in my way and continue.  I can do it.

I really can.

Knock Knock

Young children, no matter how bright they may be, do not get knock knock jokes.  They just don’t.

Wildling spent quite a bit of time telling knock knock jokes today.  She was falling over laughing at the hilarity. While I’m sure the jokes were uproarious to a four-year-old, I’m also quite certain that they solidly prove my hypothesis – young children just do not get knock knock jokes.

Here’s a small sampling:

– Knock knock
Who’s there?
– Pizza
Pizza who?
– Pizza are you gonna eat me because I’m a pizza?

– Knock Knock
Who’s there?
– Pizza Apple
Pizza Apple who?
– Pizza Apple would you like some water to drink, pizza apple? Oh, you can’t because you don’t have a mouth!

– Knock knock
Who’s there?
– Skeletor.
Skeletor who?
– Skeletor, shouldn’t you be nice to people like Teela who have magic powers?

– Knock knock
Who’s there?
– Sicky
Sicky who?
– Sicky, do you have the flu? Is that why you’re called sicky?

– Knock knock
Hello
– No, Mellow! You’re supposed to say ‘who’s there!’ Try again. Knock knock
Hello
– Not hello! Stop saying hello! Say ‘who’s there?’ Knock knock
Hello
– Fine say hello. Water.
Hello
– STOP IT MELLOW! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO SAY WATER WHO! YOU’RE RUINING THE JOKE!

Talking to children about marriage equality

I have been gratified to see my facebook news feed full of celebratory responses to today’s Supreme Court decision which finally granted marriage equality throughout all fifty states. With a few specific and expected exceptions, my friends and family are excited and proud of today’s decision. Perhaps I just hide in my little corner of the internet with like-minded people, but the only negative responses I’ve seen (other than my two fundamentalist relatives who I only keep on my newsfeed because their political conspiracy theories greatly amuse me) have cited the bible rather than the Constitution, and have only appeared in my view because I have friends arguing with the original posters.

In those few negative anti-equality postings, the concern that people keep repeating is ‘what about the children?’ and ‘now will schools have to teach about gay marriage?’ and the apparent fear that, if exposed to an openly gay person, the gay virus will spread and contaminate previously heterosexual children.  That last one, obviously, is too stupid to waste time addressing.

However, we do need to think about the children.  As parents right now, in this historic moment, we do have the responsibility to tell our children what is happening and what it means for them.  We are the only generation of parents who will have to do so – our children’s children will grow up in a world where marriage between two people who love each other regardless of their respective genitalia will be normal.  Our children’s children will look back on the marriage equality issue with the same ‘oh how quaint and outdated’ attitude that we look back on the ban on interracial marriage before Loving v. Virginia.

So we have this responsibility, and we need to take it seriously.  I’ve already had the talk with Wildling.  It went like this:

Me: So there was some big exciting news this morning.

Wildling: What? Is it something for me?

Me: No, news from the Supreme Court.  You know what the court is, right? [she’s been to the courthouse with me numerous times so she vaguely understands the concept] Well, there’s a really important court that decides the major issues for everyone in our country.  And they decided to allow marriage equality.  That means in all the states, if a boy wants to marry a boy, he can, and if a girl wants to marry a girl, she can, and if a boy and a girl want to marry each other, they can.

Wildling: That’s good. I’m probably going to marry Helena.

Me: I thought she hadn’t been being nice to you lately.  You can only marry her if she’s nice to you and is a good partner for you.

Wildling: Yeah, ok, I’m probably going to marry a boy instead.  I’m going to marry Cortez.

Me: You can only marry Cortez if he’s nice to you and is a good partner for you.

Wildling: I know! You already said that!

Me: Sorry.  But it’s good that everybody can marry the person they want, if that person is a good partner for them, right? So today is a good day.

Wildling: Everybody is going to be so happy today!

Me: Well, not everyone, but we’re not going to worry about those people.