Sunday, January 26, 2014


I took Duchess shopping for shoes this weekend. I had ordered her a pair of Toms (which all the cool kids wear, so she really wanted a pair) with that lovely holiday gift certificate, but they turned out to be much too big, so I took her to the local store to exchange them. And then it turned out that Duchess has very narrow feet, and Toms are the wrong shape, so she can't wear them in any size. So she was faced with the task of picking out another pair. The last time Duchess was in a shoe store, she was five. Her shoes are purchased used, off eBay or at thrift stores and yard sales. She has no experience of browsing a variety of shoes all of which can be purchased in her size. (I did restrict her choices to only shoes that she can run in. While this is entirely sensible, because she is nine and still actually plays on the playground, it is also aligned with my own, very simple personal fashion guideline, which is in turn aligned with my generally fear-based approach to life; if it limits my ability to escape a disaster, I'm not wearing it.)

Duchess had a very hard time choosing, and it quickly became clear that it was a much bigger decision than just choosing footwear. She was choosing how she wants to present herself. She wanted a pair of shoes that were socially acceptable but also expressed a style of her own, and she didn't really know what that style might be. She is not interested in fashion, and has no particular style. (Bear in mind that she was wearing blue corduroy pants with polka dots, too short in the ankles, with her beloved, omnipresent swim team sweatshirt.) She wants vaguely to wear clothes like the cool girls in her class, but she does grasp that what works for the third grade's queen bee, a small, elfin girl with wispy white-blond hair, might not work for her.

She tried on a pair of boots and a pair of mary janes, both styles that she has admired, in keeping with her liking of prim, classic clothes. She wasn't excited about them once they were on, much to my relief. Duchess isn't really a crisp, classic clothing person, even when you make an allowance for her age. The salesperson, who seemed to have her pretty much dialed in immediately, got her to try on a pair of converse hightops, which I thought were perfect. They're long and thin, like her, and interesting without being too strange. But Duchess felt she would be mocked for wearing them at school. She ended up choosing a pair of bright blue athletic shoes. Duchess and I poked around the clothes department a bit, once she had her new shoes on, and as she mused about what she likes, I could hear her crystallizing this identity. Sporty, colorful, comfortable. We'll see if this identity sticks.

New shoes all around

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Getting dressed

Skipper just got brand-new shoes, courtesy of a generous holiday gift certificate.

Me: Hey, it's time to get on socks and shoes to go get Duchess.
Skipper (sprinting away from me to fetch her shoes): OH! I will put on my AWESOME socks to wear with my AWESOME shoes to go with my SPECTACULAR outfit!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Old dogs

I've been reading a lot of books and blogs and magazines and whatnot on my tablet. Last night, I was reading a real magazine, a paper one, and I finished the page. I absent-mindedly put my finger on the page, and I swiped it, as if it was an electronic touch screen. Apparently, thirty-six years of turning paper pages have been overruled by one year of electronic pages.

Learning how to learn

Duchess learns best in a social environment. (The internet tells me that she has an "interpersonal" learning style.) Put her into a group of any size, and she is galvanized, becoming engaged, focused, and motivated. Take away the human interaction, and she loses interest. She'll still plug through whatever she's required to do, but there's no joy in it and no spark. She comes up with ideas for projects and activities all the time, but she doesn't follow through with them unless she's able to engage somebody else.

As Cook and I have increasingly recognized this, we've been thinking about ways she can leverage this tendency in herself. (Study groups! Team sports!) One thing that has surprised me, possibly because I'm extremely old, is that she can feed off the social interaction even when it's not in person. She has been working on a few projects in Scratch, a simple drag-and-drop programming language, on the MIT site, which encourages users to share their projects. Cook and I have encouraged this, because we want her to be able to get a job. The first time she worked on a Scratch project for a few hours, I was baffled by her persistence.  Then she begged to check the Scratch site that evening to see "how many pageviews" her project had gotten, and I realized that the social element of working on a project in the cloud is enough to keep her rolling. Yesterday (home with a bad cold) she was delighted to find that other people had starred her projects, and one person had "remixed" one of her projects. She spent several hours working on a new project, and we had to pry her away to eat dinner and then to go to bed. I never, ever thought that I would have to pry Duchess away from coding. From coding!*

This is a mystery to me. I'm pretty much a social learner myself, but while I love having my blog posts viewed and commented by people I know, and I enjoy interacting with strangers in real life, I have no interest in interacting with strangers on the web. The privacy settings on my various social media accounts are set fairly restrictively. I don't use Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram.* Duchess doesn't feel this way. She's a modern person, and she's going to grow up interacting with strangers on the web. She's going to be posting tutorials on YouTube any minute now. This is probably a good thing for a person who learns socially, but I'm doing a little mental scramble to try to catch up.

At Duchess's kung fu program, she has a little clique with two other girls her age. They act like a parody of nine-year-old girls in a clique - they shriek excitedly when they see each other, and hold hands and jump up and down. She lights up when she's with them. A few months ago, she and her favorite clique member did a "holds" form together for a tournament, and they got together for a practice session at the studio on the weekend, in some unused practice space. They had no coaching, but they didn't mess around, they worked hard on what they were supposed to do, and they had so much fun together. It was a pleasure to see. I hope that Duchess is able to deploy that joyful collaborative approach throughout her life. Even if it is sometimes online.

* Admittedly, I have no delusions of privacy on the web, and I'm fairly promiscuous about handing my credit card number over to strangers over the web.
**Though, to be clear, she's not exactly engaged in knotty programming problems. She mostly creates narrative stories, and spends a lot of time trying to decide what costume the character should wear.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Our normal routine is fully launched, and it's pretty busy. Duchess continues to do extracurriculars up the wazoo - basketball, kung fu, Mandarin, and swimming, to the tune of eight hours a week - and wrassle with social weirdness at school, plus pending adolescence. Skipper's also taking swim lessons (during Duchess's swim team practice) which she likes, and is more comfortable at school every day.* Cook is juggling work and some volunteer cartographic geekery on the side. I'm trying to find a job, not get oversubscribed in volunteering at the schools, and be a decent person. Busy!

*We have begun a regular schedule of after-school playdates with her best friend, a ridiculously adorable boy who lives not far from us and shares Skipper's tendency toward shyness combined with loudness. They take turns bossing each other around. Cook has taken to calling him "Pitstock."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

I splurged on a temporary subscription to Hulu Plus. This means I can watch television on the tablet, and it makes me feel like I'm living in The Future. I am holding a movie in my hands! Anyway. This is Skipper watching television* in bed. Because that's what we do in The Future.

*She watches Caillou. Neither of my kids like to watch scary stuff, but Skipper prefers to watch only the most unthreatening viewing material.  Caillou makes her feel safe. I do understand the appeal; one of my favorite movies for rewatching is Dave, which is pretty much the adult equivalent of Caillou.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Skipper's first sentences of 2014

1) I have to poop.
2) Mom, what's a flea collar for?