Monday, September 30, 2013

Apples & Pumpkins & a Princess

This Saturday we went apple picking at an orchard about half an hour from our house. It was a beautiful fall day, and the girls were thrilled to see bins of gourds, a pumpkin patch, shelves of Indian corn, and other seasonal treasures. There were lots of farm animals to greet and watch as well. It was a lovely morning.

On Sunday, we went to a birthday party where Ariel made an appearance. She put princess dresses on all the kids (pirate costumes for the boys) and painted their faces. Lucia hung back at first--but then she overcame her reluctance, even sitting next to Ariel and surreptitiously touching her sparkly mermaid outfit. They loved it, though Greta lost interest after a while and wandered into the playroom in her Snow White getup.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Letter to Greta: 23 Months

Dear Greta Banana,

Two is just around the corner, and you're changing in ways that continue to surprise me. All along you've been brave and bold, outgoing and cheerful, always eager to greet strangers and run into the mix. Over the past couple of weeks, however, you've exhibited a new caution, even shyness. You and I are doing a Music Together class once a week while Lucia's in preschool, and when I signed you up I felt confident that you'd love it--you sing and dance constantly; any snippet of music compels you to bend and bounce. And yet last week, and this week, you cuddled in my lap during class, even hanging around my neck and burying your face in my shoulder. You seem unnerved by the whole thing--yet as soon as class is over, your usual self returns, and you wave and say "Bye!" to the teacher and other kids. I suspect this is partly your age--this new hesitation--and partly the fact that you've never done anything without Lucia. You are used to having her around to watch, and you take your cues from her; if she were with us in class I think you'd be much more comfortable.

On the playground, too, you're doing more climbing but are also uneasy once you reach wherever it is you're going, often reaching down to be lifted back to the ground instead of heading to the slide or the steps to come down yourself. All of it is surprising and shows a growing sensitivity, and watchfulness, that I hadn't expected.

Besides music class, you and I have an hour or so afterwards to wander around and have some one-on-one time. I've been letting you wander at your own pace, which you don't normally get to do, and I'd forgotten how slow-going it is to walk anywhere with a near-two-year-old. You stop to collect leaves and flowers. You climb up and down stoops. You look at your reflection in shop windows. I've been encouraging our babysitter to take you outside for walks during the mornings she's with you, because I do feel like you've gotten cheated out of this part of your toddlerhood--the time, and independence, to just walk and look and explore. It's hard to do that when there's the competing interests and goals of your sister to manage too.

You are finally sleeping through the night, and sleeping in to a very leisurely 7am. Your eating has come down a notch, from amazing to just regular good eating. You're refusing more meals, however, usually breakfast and sometimes lunch, which I attribute to both two-year molars and a general inability to focus on eating when there are so many other things to do.

You are still only saying one syllable of most words, though your vocabulary is large--and you're putting two words together in new ways. "Ma fee," you'll say, pointing to my coffee. "More chee," you'll say. More cheese. I'm not sure how concerned to be about your inability or unwillingness to catch all the syllables; we'll talk to your pediatrician about it next month.

You are wearing 3T and size 8 shoes. Growing like a little weed.

Favorite toys/activities: Squinkies, your doll, My Little Ponies, stickers, markers, coloring books, throwing things away in the trash can, chalk, collecting "pretty" weeds in a bucket, climbing the stone walls in our yard, stealing Lucia's scooter to ride

Favorite books: The Jolly Barnyard, Goodnight Gorilla, Elmo's colors, At the Pond One Day, Oh My Oh My Oh Dinosaurs, Barnyard Dance, Runaway Bunny

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Letter to Lucia: 47 Months

Dear Lulu,

Almost-four is a funny time. Every day you seem to get more grown up, chattering away and getting wrapped up in whatever game you’ve imagined. You’re picking up funny phrases now, from me and Daddy and from TV shows. “Mama, here’s the deal,” you’re fond of saying, or, “But the point is…” Today you enjoyed yelling “What the heck?!” at the top of your lungs for no discernible reason. You also frequently sigh in exasperation when we’re trying to get you to do something and say condescendingly, “DADdy, I’m just doing my job.

You are a total girly-girl. You love dresses, and dressing up, and wands and tiaras. You pick out your clothes on your own each day. Your all-time favorite activity right now is painting your nails, and Greta’s nails, with Disney Princess nail polishes. It washes off with soap and water, so often you’ll paint your nails five times a day.

You started your second year of preschool this month, and so far you’re thriving. The class is large, but by all accounts you are doing fine, and the teacher told me you have two little friends you hang around with. There hasn’t been even one tear at drop-off time, and when I arrive to pick you up, you are always excited to show me the art project you did that day. This class is called the three-year-old class, though you’ll spend most of the year as a four-year-old; you’re older than your classmates by four or more months. This is how it will always be, you with the mid-October birthday, and I think it will be okay.

The final vestige of babyhood with you is the pull-up you still wear at night. This irks you, and you seem determined to reach the goal of dry pull-ups and, subsequently, underwear at night. You’ve surprised us by beginning to get up to go to the bathroom during the night—never once have you called us, and we did nothing to encourage or promote it. Sometimes you even change your pull-up if it’s wet. All very quietly by yourself, in the darkened upstairs.

Favorite toys/activities: You are fun right now because there are so many things you love doing and playing with. Stickers, coloring books, markers, Ariel, princess anything, wands, tiaras, dress-up clothes, jewelry, talking about your haircut, your doll, tea parties, Memory, exploring the “forest” (the tree-filled area beside our driveway), balloons, stringing beads

Favorite books: Ladybug Girl, Beautiful Yetta, Play It Again Rosie, Room on the Broom, The Little Mermaid (Disney Little Golden Book), Chloe

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Post 1,000

This is post number 1,000 of Skipping Town. That seems momentous, and I wish I had something momentous to write about to mark the milestone, but I do not. In lieu of extraordinariness, I’ll give you this conversation I had with Lucia yesterday, which is pretty representative of how things are right now in the Littell Land of a Four-Year-Old, minus a ridiculous amount of independence-seeking and power-struggling:

[Dinner time for the girls.]

Lucia: “Mommy, what are you having for dinner?”

Me: “Daddy and I will eat later tonight. We’re having shrimp bisque.”

“Shrimp BISQUE?”

“It’s soup. Would you like to try some?”

“NO. I don’t like shrimp. What IS shrimp?”

“It’s a kind of fish. It’s pink.”

“But where does it come from?” [accusing, suspicious tone]

“The ocean.”

“But it’s all SALTY.”

“Well, when the shrimp come out of the water, they’re not salty anymore.”

“But it’s all WET. The shrimp is all wet. We can’t eat it like THAT!”

“When the shrimp go to the store, they get dried off.”

“But how do they dry it off?”

“Towels. Big towels.”

Perhaps this is true. It probably isn’t. I really don’t know. What I do know is that most days I feel very clearly that I know far, far less about anything at all than I did when I started out with post number 1 of Skipping Town.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

First Day of Preschool

Preschool, year two: the three-year-old class (in which Lucia will quickly turn four). She picked out her favorite dress, was excited to go, and said "Bye, Mama!" with barely a look back. She painted a picture of Greta, which she excitedly showed me at pick-up time, and said her favorite part of her first day was the snack. What a little cutie.

Monday, September 09, 2013

One More Trip

We managed to squeeze in one final trip this summer—we spent last week in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, in a rented beach house with Andrew’s family. We were there to meet Andrew’s sister Katherine’s new baby, Thomas, as well as get in some beach time with the girls.

The trip down was rocky. As Lucia will probably be glad to recount for the next ten years, she got sick five times on the two flights that took us from Newark to Daytona Beach—at least two of those times, she threw up on Andrew. (Greta was on my lap; we were spared.) It was terrible. It’s Dramamine for her from here on out.

Lucia was so sick she didn’t even get to have the bag o’ fun I made for each girl, full of stickers and markers and stamps and notepads and Littlest Pet Shop sea creatures. Greta was silent the entire second flight, covering a Littlest Pet Shop shark with sparkly fish stickers.

The girls adored the beach. A pile of beach toys from Andrew’s parents made things even better. Getting the girls ready for the beach was a feat, though. We went out twice each day—in the morning till lunchtime, and then after nap/quiet time until dinner. Each time required long chases and whining protests as we slathered them with sunscreen; and then, on our return, much protesting as we hosed the sand off of them and maneuvered everyone, dripping and still somewhat sandy, inside. Still, it was worth it. Both girls loved the water, and it was interesting to see how their age difference played out—Greta was reckless, running at top speed into the water, heedless of how little she is and how strong the waves were. Lucia understood (mostly) the danger and was much warier; she never went in very far and dashed out when she saw a wave approach. She was actually very hesitant on the second day to get into the water at all, admitting finally that the water made her dizzy and she didn’t want to be knocked over by a wave. She got past it, luckily, and from then on had a great time.

Greta’s favorite thing to do was to wade into the water just where it was washing up onto the sand; as soon as she felt it cover her feet, she’d dramatically lie down and lean all the way back to trail her hair in the water, lifting one leg up daintily, as though posing for a movie-star spread. She also liked having us make dinosaurs and other animals with sand-molds from Andrew’s parents; she’d admire them and then stomp on them.

Lucia most loved dancing and singing in the water, as well as digging large “swimming pools” at the edge of the water and making witches’ castles with the wet sand. I was always the mean witch demanding more shells to decorate my castle; with enough shells, I became nice. Lucia was totally into the game, addressing me as Witch and adding her own narration. Whenever I spoke, Lucia would add, “…said the witch.” “Lucia, my pretty, what a lovely shell!” “…said the witch.” I’m not sure exactly what was going on here—was she in a storybook? was I? was she reading it?—but she was fully absorbed.

Thomas, at seven weeks old, was too little to be on the beach, but since Katherine’s still home she spent most of each day at the beach house with us, so we got lots of baby time. The girls seemed mildly interested in the baby but Lucia was definitely more enamored with her aunt. And Greta, when she awoke from her nap one afternoon to find me on the couch with a napping baby on my chest, looked at me with a heartbroken expression on her face, her lower lip sticking out and quivering, and began to cry as she lurched over, arms extended, and more or less forced Thomas onto someone else so she could take her rightful place on my lap.

The low point of the week: my evening spent on the couch, dizzy and nauseous, from dehydration and/or heatstroke. After lots of water and Gatorade and a 10pm bedtime, I was fine by the next day.

A lovely week all in all, and no sickness from Lucia on the way back thanks to the miracle of Dramamine. And finally our summer draws to a close. 

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Bread Loaf 2013

So I went to Bread Loaf, and we all survived. From the moment I applied way back in March, the idea of actually going seemed far-fetched, even ludicrous; and it seemed that way even when I got accepted. But then it started seeming crazier not to jump at the chance, and in the end I did.

It was the right decision. My ten days in Vermont reactivated parts of my brain that have been dormant for four years, possibly more. Instead of starting each day with spilled Cheerios and diaper-change chases, I had breakfast and then went to a lecture—one day Charles Baxter talking about request moments, another Robert Boswell discussing authorial custody; another day James Longenbach breaking down language into its most elemental forms. The days galloped along, with workshops and craft classes and countless readings, all of them instructional and inspiring. There was a visit to Robert Frost’s cabin. I walked in the woods by myself one afternoon, down to a creek, and laid on a rock, looking up at the trees and the sky—I felt outside of my regular life all week, but maybe most so during that half-hour.

I missed Andrew and the girls, of course, and around day seven I felt like I was ready to get back—but still, coming home was difficult. After being immersed in a world of writing and reading, I was back in real life, with barely time to drink a glass of water let alone apply some of the things I’d learned to my own work. It was frustrating, and still is, since those ten days seemed to build up a good deal of momentum that I’m now unable to follow through on. But, as before, I’ll make use—good use—of the time I have. Being around like-minded people, all toiling away (some in obscurity, some not), was motivating.

I wouldn’t have been able to have this experience at all if it hadn’t been for Andrew and my parents—the girls were, perhaps, sorry to have me return after all the fun they had. I still miss “the mountain,” but perhaps I’ll be lucky enough to see it again one day.