Wednesday, May 29, 2013


Some of my favorite parenting moments happen when my kids accomplish something in a big, rapid leap, catapulted by a lucky confluence of circumstances There are times (fewer of them after the first two years or so of each kid's life) when Cook and I are able to provide the right object/idea/strategy/whatever at the right time, when that the kid is really ready for it, physically and emotionally. Usually, of course, we don't get the timing quite right, or we offer the wrong object/idea/strategy/whatever, and that's okay; it's just life. We do miss some of the optional windows entirely, but the stuff that really needs to happen usually happens eventually. When it all falls into place at the right time, though, it's great fun for everyone.

This weekend, we had one of those moments. Duchess got a new bike,* and we subsequently happened to drop by the home of the Blond Family, who keep an armada of bikes. Skipper mentioned her jealousy over Duchess's upgrade to Papa Blond. She was promptly given a bike (the Mudshark!) that L and R Blond have outgrown (though they were still using it to do wheelies and such, because that's the sort of thing the Blonds do on an idle afternoon), and she insisted on taking it to the nearby playground that very afternoon so she could learn to ride. 

Everything came together just right. Within ten minutes, she was pedaling around the playground. Cook and I were a little taken aback, since it took a LOT more pain and time to get Duchess riding a pedal bike by herself. Duchess started learning to ride a bike when she was older and quite a bit taller, on a bigger bike. Skipper wants to learn, she has seen other kids and adults riding a lot (and spent a lot of time in a trailer watching me and Cook pedal), she's nailed down the balance bike thing, and her center of gravity on this tiny bike is about 14 inches off the ground.

Skipper could not be prouder. She's not ready to go pro, having not yet mastered the management of pedals,** but she's looking pretty good. So here are your videos of one of the great achievements of Skipper's life so far, featuring wedgie-picking,** weird distracted narration by me, and nauseating camera movement.

* An old but decent bike in reasonably good shape, miraculously procured off craigslist for $25 in one of those great deals that we almost never manage to land. We had a pretty excellent weekend.
** Her feet slip off the pedals, and she keeps accidentally braking (while never remembering to brake when she actually needs to).
*** I asked Skipper if she really wanted to ride a bike while wearing a dress and rainboots; she felt it was an ideal outfit.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I ate this book

For a while, I volunteered doing "story times" for kids in a Head Start program in Oakland. In order to qualify for what turned out to be a terrific volunteer gig, I had to attend a training led by a commensurately terrific children's librarian. We had to introduce ourselves and say something about ourselves, and when my turn came, I was so excited that I got up and said "I EAT books!" and then had to inarticulately explain that I am not a crazy person, and I meant that I LOVE reading and I tend to get absorbed by the world I'm reading.  I'm a Method reader! I mean, I don't dress up or anything, but I'm definitely right there with the characters.

I just finished reading a book that I totally ate. Part of what sucked me in* is that it resonates strongly with my personal sense that bad things are just a breath away all the time. The protagonist of this book keeps dying and then living her life again, avoiding by luck or by her own efforts whatever it was that killed her last time around. The first part of the book is all about children dying unexpectedly (and escaping death during the next go-round and then dying some other way). You can see how it snagged my attention, given that I think of my kids (and life in general, actually) as simultaneously tediously indestructible and terrifyingly vulnerable. 

Anyway, it's a good read. You should take it on your next plane trip. Get your own copy, though, because I ate mine.

*I read this thing all day. I propped it up next to the sink and the cutting board and the frying pan, and I ignored the actual human beings in my life all day. When Skipper and I left the house (late) to pick up Dutch from school, I tried and failed to remember the experience of dropping her off that morning; apparently I had been thinking about the book more than what I was doing. Thank goodness I don't have a job.

The future

Eating lunch at the table with Skipper today.

Skipper: Mom, do you remember Pitstock?
Me: No. Who is Pitstock?
Skipper: Pitstock, the unfortunately cool guy I'm going to marry.
Me: ... Pitstock ...the unfortunately cool guy ... you're going to marry?
Skipper: Yes.
Me: ?
Skipper: When I come and visit you when I'm a grownup, Pitstock will come with me.
Me: ?


Skipper: Well, I would like to marry somebody named Pitstock.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ground Control

One of the things I've been enjoying about my involuntary unemployment is the opportunity to get to know Skipper a little better. Only a little, because she's still a mystery. While both my kids are a mystery to me, Skipper has always been a bit more opaque. I can't say I'm really getting a grip on who she is, but I'm getting something. Today I had the pleasure of seeing her face when she heard somebody on television say the word "gutsy" * - she totally cracked up. She thought that was the funniest word she had EVER heard. Gutsy! Hah!

We watched NASA TV on and off on Monday, monitoring Chris Hadfield's trip home from the International Space Station. NASA TV is fairly (no, extremely) boring, but Skipper hung in there for a surprisingly long time. It turns out that I shouldn't have been suprised - apparently she had thought that Chris Hadfield was making all those videos just for us, so of course she's invested in his adventures. I was slightly concerned that the Soyuz would crash and then she'd have to go to therapy for years, but everything turned out well. We even got to watch him get extracted from the capsule in a weird parody of birth, and be propped up, pale and wobbly-looking, in a camping chair. Welcome home, Chris! We'll be expecting your visit soon!

And this is a bonus photo of Duchess and O Blond reading a graphic novel on the porch. I think they're both wiping their noses with their hands, which makes it a rather less charming moment.

* Yeah, my four-year-old was watching "The Voice" with me. So? Shouldn't preschoolers get to hear the wisdom of Shakira?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Us Updates

1) Skipper got a green flag from a speech therapist, who concluded that there are no issues with her speech that won't be cleared up by a few more years of growing and talking, and surmised that the issues with her comprehensibility mostly stem from the speed (rapid) and volume (low) of her speech.

2) My housekeeping is lagging behind. There's so much to do! And it's so boring! And I have blog posts to write! However, things are noticeably (to me) cleaner around here, though I'm not going to win any prizes, or even impress anybody unfamiliar with my previous practices.

3) I'm doing a lot of volunteering, and it's totally compromising my ability to get housekeeping done. Dang.

4) Skipper is getting excited about her Japanese schooling adventure. Because she loathes transitions, we're trying to get her as comfortable as possible with this one. We walk past the school at every opportunity to watch the kids at recess* and talk about what's going on in there. We've been giving carte blanche to visit the school after the schoolday is over and before the secretaries go home, and we'll do that a few more times before summer starts. Skipper has already started contributing part of her allowance to her "Summer-After-5th-Grade-Trip-to-Japan" jar.**

5) Tomatoes are planted! It's been hot here, and summer feels moments away.

6) I've planned out the entire summer. Duchess will be doing swim team and a couple of cool camp-y things, and Skipper will be doing a few activities, too. She wanted to sign up for a lot more, but I argued that her history of non-participation suggests it would be best to start slow. I'll let you know how that goes.

7) Duchess has signed up to do a science fair project testing how changing different variables affects the strength of a homemade electromagnet. I'll let you know how that goes.

8) Duchess is testing this weekend for the next level of her martial arts program, and has been invited (along with a couple of her classmates) to join a class for 10-12-year-olds, taught by the woman who runs the school. She's excited to be testing, and very proud to have been recognized as a serious student. Whatever else the faults of this particular martial arts studio, they are really good at making students feel like part of a loving, supportive community, and when Duchess walks in their door, she feels like it's her place.***

9) Antarctic Uncle, aka The Best Houseguest Ever, has left for another year.

10) We did successfully refinance (did I ever tell you that?), consolidating two loans and saving ourselves some money. Hurrah! The house also appraised 20% higher than we paid for it, which is nice.****

That's the news, mostly.***** All is well.

*If anybody was going to report a slack-jawed preschooler and a frumpy lady wearing socks with sandals to the police, I'd be worried that they'd call us in as stalkers.
** Duchess is already very jealous that Skipper gets to do an immersion program (and I share her regret, as Duchess has a knack for language, and would kick ass at learning in two languages), and almost blew off the top of her skull when she heard that Skipper would have the opportunity to actually go to Japan. We promised her that we'd save an equal amount for her to take a trip of some kind, too. Thank goodness we only have two children.
*** Another small sign of how parenting goes to weird places. I never thought I'd have a kid doing martial arts, given that I never liked them myself. I see why she loves it - the community feeling, the rules, the clear protocol for improvement, the uniform - it's all stuff Duchess loves dearly - but I didn't see it coming.
**** Though I'm left to imagine how much higher it COULD have appraised if I'd ever washed the windows.
***** Cook has all sorts of work and extracurricular excitement going on; I'm leaving him out not because he's boring, but because he's private. 

Friday, May 3, 2013

Skipper feels that it's warm enough for "swimming." Duchess disagrees.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Other Skipper news - she will be enrolled this fall in the preschool program at the spiffy public school near our house, which is a Japanese-language immersion program. She'll spend half of every school day* being taught in Japanese.

Admittedly, I never expected that I would have a child learning Japanese, of all languages. But I'm still cautiously optimistic. The school is relatively well-funded and seems well-run, and bilinguality of any kind is good for your brain! And the Japanese immersion program appears to be the easiest of all the language immersion programs to get into, probably due to the relative uselessness of Japanese, as well as the closest immersion program to our house.

Duchess is very, very jealous, which pleases Skipper enormously.

I think it'll be good for them to have separate schools, though I would prefer there to be greater parity. I think Skipper will thrive in a school where nobody knows her as Duchess's sister. Not that the teachers will expect her to be just like Duchess,** but she needs to have her own place in the world.

So I have to learn some Japanese. Skipper and I watched a brief Japanese language instruction video online that left me feeling a little unsettled. Everything about the language is entirely unfamiliar (unlike Romance languages that I might be able to muddle through, or even Scandinavian languages that I've heard before), and my aging brain can't hook onto anything. I remember only the pronunciation of "arigato," a word I had heard (apparently mispronounced, unless there are supposed to be variations) and seen before. Skipper is going to be entirely on her own for homework.

*Starting in kindergarten. In preschool I think they maybe learn some colors and numbers and a few other words in Japanese.
**I've spent enough time in the school to grasp that teachers really do know quite a bit about personality, family dynamics, psychology, and sociology, among other things.

Well Child

Skipper is well. She's smallish (33 lbs, 38 inches), but trotting steadily along the growth curves she's been on all along. As expected, I had to answer a questionnaire screening question about whether or not she could draw a person with three body parts, but the doctor said not to worry as long as she seems to have hand-eye coordination and is interested in engaging with other human beings. Which she does and is. We left with prescriptions for dealing with nasty eczema flare-ups,* and a referral to a speech therapist.**

Skipper was much more cooperative and cheerful about the whole thing than I expected, right up to the vaccinations, but it was still exhausting. I have learned over the last four years that it's very tiring thinking about your child's health and development when it isn't going textbookishly perfectly. It's always a tiny glimpse into the experience of parents of kids with real problems.

*This kid really loathes the texture of all creams and lotions, which is problematic when you're trying to keep her skin from drying out.
** For a screening, because she's hard to understand. I actually can't tell if she's speaking unclearly on purpose. I assume a speech therapist is qualified to figure that out.