Thursday, October 29, 2015

Lucia's Hypotheticals

Lucia is just too funny these days. She's learning so much and all her new knowledge--from the bus, from her new friends, from her teachers, from her six-year-old life--sometimes filters out in hilarious ways. Two examples from today and yesterday:

At the dinner table last night, I was talking to the girls about the wedding this weekend, instructing them on good manners and etc. Greta announced that if the bride approaches our table during dinner, she'll give the bride a big hug. Lucia thought about this for a moment, then said, "But what if Greta hugs the bride and she has SAUCE on her hands???" Too funny.

Today, in the car, Greta was having a four-year-old moment and kicked my arm as I reached back to unbuckle her seatbelt. When I suggested she apologize, she refused. Then Lucia said, "What if, instead of saying 'Sorry,' you say 'Sorry, buster!'" I'm still laughing over this one. I have no idea where she got that. Sorry, buster!

Lucia also told me this week that she has two boyfriends, and "One of them, like, LOVES me." She knows this because when she walks into the room they smile at each other.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Letter to Greta: 4 Years Old

Dear Grets,

Happy birthday! You're four! Four seemed so huge when Lucia was marking this milestone--but you are still undeniably my baby. You've been awash in birthday celebrations for two weeks now, and your birthday and Lucia's birthday kind of blur together since I just split up a lot of the gifts between the two of you. Nonetheless, today was your day, and it was a fun one.

You got to open one present this morning, a large plush Princess Luna (Lucia got one too). I was the helping parent at school, and you wore a sticker announcing your birthday and also announced it yourself as each of your classmates arrived. I brought cupcakes for your class, and everyone sang to you.

This afternoon, once Lucia got home from school, you got to open the rest of your gifts. Your favorites were a tiny sleeping Applejack in a bed and a variety of blind bag ponies. At your request, we had waffles for dinner, and then a cake you'd picked out from the grocery store (which, tired and overwhelmed by that point, you didn't eat). We took a fairly hilarious video of you at your tiredest, done-with-birthday moment, when you gave each of us an emphatic "thumb's down" and declared you WERE NOT four and that your name was "mister." Faced with your own absurdity, you then suddenly lost your bad mood and began laughing hysterically. The whole video--a minute, two minutes tops--perfectly showcases the insanity and hilarity of you at four years old.

I think four will be good to you. You had a rough start to your preschool year--lots of tears at separation, much hesitation at the whole school idea--but each week you seem more and more comfortable. There haven't been anymore tears since an absolutely insane day where you so violently resisted going to school that you actually drove ME to tears in front of teachers and other moms. That was fun. But that was also a turning point, and you've been fine ever since.

And now--your new year awaits. Four!

Favorite books: Hubnuckles, Too Many Pumpkins, Snow White and Rose Red, Fancy Nancy

Favorite toys/activities: all ponies, all the time. Blind bag ponies, plush ponies, other ponies. Crystal ponies especially. Rainbow Dash. Coloring. Princess plush dolls.

Letter to Lucia: 6 Years Old

Dear Lucia,

This is a two-weeks-late letter, better than no letter at all. The start of school made September a blur; I'd counted on getting my footing in October, but the insanity of your birthday and Greta's birthday back to back makes October pretty crazy too.

But: you're six! Five was a watershed birthday, but six is showing even more transformations, coupled as it is with the start of kindergarten. You've become such a kid these past two months, and you were beyond excited about your birthday. Daddy was in Germany on the big day, and he hated not being home to celebrate with you. But Gra and Pop-Pop came to NJ for a few days, and I can safely say you had a wonderful birthday.

In the morning, I gave you one present before you left for school--a large Princess Celestia plush you'd discovered when we were in Ocean City, MD, and which we secretly bought for you (and Greta). I was a lunch helper at school, so I got to see you during the day--you were wearing a paper birthday crown and sat surrounded by your new friends, giggly and happy and instructing me to do my job and help kids around the cafeteria whenever I hovered behind you too long. I brought cupcakes to your teacher to give to your class, which you were very excited about. You were very excited about a birthday pencil your teachers gave you.

You bounded off the bus that afternoon, and we rushed home for the long-awaited present opening. You tore through everything in five minutes flat, barely registering what was beneath the wrappings. Among your gifts: a Rainbow Dash Equestria Girl, some blind bag ponies, an Applejack barn, Fashion Plates, Uno. (When Daddy came back from Germany, he gave you and Greta a rainbow set of crystal glitter blind bag ponies. Thrilling.)

You requested pancakes for dinner, and then we had cake and sang happy birthday. It was a fun, simple birthday and you loved it. And now you're six! With a jack-o-lantern smile, one tooth gone.

Favorite books: it's funny--with you gone most of the day now our long reading spells have fallen off. You recently liked George's Marvelous Medicine.

Favorite toys/activities: ponies all the time. Blind bag ponies and plush ponies. Crystal glitter ponies. Equestria Girls. Halloween decorations.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Lucia's First Day of Kindergarten

Huge milestone last week: Lucia's first day of kindergarten. It seems like we've been preparing for this for over a year, and in many ways we have--with Lucia nearly six years old, her pre-K program last year focused intensely (well, intensely but playfully) on kindergarten prep. Writing, counting, reading readiness, kindergarten routines. She was so well-prepared that by the time the big day arrived last Thursday, she felt fully ready. When I tried to give her some last-minute instructions, she said, "Mommy, I already know that from the pre-K 5's."

She was excited, and, as she admitted, "a little bit scared," mostly about the bus. And it's really a big deal, the bus--she gets on, gets to school, gets back on the bus, and has to get off the bus on her own. There's no one announcing the stops, or calling names, or making sure all the kids who are supposed to get off the bus do, indeed, get off. The day before her first day, we took a walk to the bus stop and I showed her what to look for out the bus window so she'd recognize her stop. In the morning, we made sure she met the other kids at the stop, especially the older ones (first- and second-graders) who knew the ropes. And then--we had to let her get on the bus, on her own, where she sat with a first-grade neighbor girl and waved to us through the window. No hesitation, no tears.

Except Andrew's. I was fine--excited for her--but as soon as the bus pulled away, Andrew began openly crying. Of course she doesn't know that, and it wouldn't mean anything to her anyway if she did; but one day she'll know how lucky she is to have a daddy who cries when he says goodbye.

Once the bus set off, we got in the car and drove to the school. We'd received copious instructions about meeting our kids behind the school, on the blacktop where they line up each day, and then accompanying them to their classroom. Andrew dropped me off and went to find a parking space, but when I got to the blacktop, to Lucia's line, there was no Lucia. She wasn't in any of the lines, not even when her line walked into the school. She wasn't in front of the school, or in the school, and everyone kept telling me to just go find her line. As I moved through the insane crowd outside, I felt a tug on my dress--and there was Lucia, calm and amused, wandering loose through the enormous crowd of kids and parents, identifying me by my dress. Ack.

We took her to her classroom and hung out there just for a bit, and then said goodbye. Again, no tears from Lucia, and more tears from Andrew in the school hallway. Poor Andrew! I can't imagine how he would have fared if Lucia was newly five instead of nearly six.

The big wild card, of course, was the bus ride home, and we were so relieved when Lucia got off the bus, smiling and happy. She had a great first day and was so excited about the whole thing. So excited to be in kindergarten. She told anyone we met that day--"Today I started kindergarten." It is such a big deal, so important.

She had a good second day, too, except for the bus ride home. She came off the bus crying, scared because she thought she'd missed her stop. But she's been fine ever since, and the past couple of days she's climbed off the bus all smiles, so proud of herself, and chattier than I've ever seen her about her new friends, and the things they did at school that day. So far, so good!

She already seems more grown up.

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

The End of the Summer

Tomorrow is our last day of summer vacation. On Thursday, Lucia has her first day of kindergarten. Next week, Greta begins the three's class at preschool. Although we have Labor Day and many school holidays coming up, it still seems like tomorrow is significant: the last truly free day we'll have for a while.

I've been acutely aware this week that the summer is ending, and acutely aware of how much things will change once Lucia is in school. Don't get me wrong: I'm not mourning the end of these three months of unstructured time, and once Greta starts preschool next week, I'm going to relish the quiet, productive solitude. Still, I am very protective of the girls' playtime--guarding it even when it drives me crazy to be with them all day, every day, hands-on, responsive, mediator/cook/activities director. Their play has ascended to new levels this summer, and they are completely in tune to each other and the robust imaginary world they return to again and again. They are interested in anything and everything, ready to engage at a moment's notice with something new, or something familiar they pull down from the shelf. They are never bored. They move from one activity to the next effortlessly. They collect acorns, run to the swings, have their ponies swim in the wading pool, ride around the driveway on their scooters, arrange fairy furniture around the trees.

Today, after quiet time (which they spent building with Magna Tiles, playing with ponies, and coloring mandalas), they came downstairs and somehow stumbled upon the Quirkle game I picked up at a yard sale earlier this summer. They dumped out the tiles and immediately began sorting and arranging them by shape and color--they'd been en route to get a treat but forgot all about it as they worked.

Later this afternoon, we went to the pool, and though I'd planned to get home to cook dinner, I couldn't bear to make them leave--by 6pm, the pool was nearly empty, and they were immersed in a game involving their diving rings, "pool Barbies," and various buckets they'd found.

And they're always together. That's the thing. They're free, and they're together. I think Lucia will be swept away by kindergarten, thrilled by the world of school; I think she'll happily and easily return to her creative play whenever she's home, but she'll be too busy to actively miss it when she's gone. But Greta--of all of us, I think Lucia's launch into kindergarten will be hardest on her. She holds her own in their playing--she has an imagination beyond description--but she definitely relies on Lucia to direct their days. She's going to be at a loss, for a little while, until our new routines settle in.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

For the Love of Ponies

I just wanted to post once more about My Little Ponies, and the serious, exhaustive way they have infused our lives. As the summer draws to a close, the ponies have become vital components of each and every activity the girls engage with. Bike riding around the driveway: bikes must first be "decorated" with blind bag ponies. Building with Magna Tiles and blocks: the structures are homes, castles, and barns for ponies. Playing with tiny Playmobil stuff: the small foods are for the ponies. Coloring: they're coloring pictures of ponies. Playing on the swingset: the ponies are always on the swings or in the playhouse with them. Going to the playground: ponies accompany us. Going to the pool: ponies accompany us (though I make the ponies stay in the car). Fruit picking: ponies accompany us. Painting clam shells on the porch: the ponies have to be forcibly distanced from the paints. Reading books: reading to ponies.

The girls' love of these ponies is intense. They both know the names of every one of their own and each other's blind bag ponies, a total of 40+ ponies with names like Sugar Grape, Flower Wishes, Apple Bumpkin, Button Belle, Ribbon Heart, and Lyra Heartstrings. The ponies have personalities and talk through the girls. Their voices and observations are urgent. "MOMMY. MOMMY. MOMMY. I HAVE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING." "Yes, Lucia?" "Luckette doesn't like her name and wants to be called Bon Bon!!!"

Unlike everything else in our lives, L & G don't want the same ponies: part of the fun for them is choosing different ones. They don't like any "boy" ponies except for Cheese Sandwich (yes, that's a pony). They have names for the different styles of pony molds: there are ponies with curly hair (curly ponies), and ones with hair that kind of flips up (swoosh ponies). (Today we debated whether they'd choose "crystal swooshes" at Target.) They want to have all the ponies with them all the time. Getting out of the house is a real trick because I limit the number of ponies they can bring to two or, if I want to thrill them, three. Then there's a painstaking process of choosing which ponies get to come. Then we get in the car and spend the entire ride locked in the turmoil of dropping ponies on the floor and begging me, the driver, to fish around for them at stoplights.

Still. They've never loved anything like they love these ponies. I will continue to enable them, without hesitation.

Lucia's pony-and-tiny-eraser arrangement from today's quiet time. Note the perfect symmetry of the ponies' poses and pairings. Note also that this is only a small selection of her pony collection.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Summer in PA

We started the summer with a week in PA, and we ended it that way, too. We drove in last weekend and packed the next nine days with lots of local fun. Molly and Luca were there, and the kids all played in the garage (their favorite 'indoor' play area) with Mom and Dad, and even watched My Little Pony and Equestria Girls together. We took all the kids to the Youngwood Pool--a new thing for us--and had a great time there. We all enjoyed hanging out at a friend's lovely yard, with a magical playhouse and a 35-foot wooden swing that really makes you feel like you're flying. Andrew, Molly, and I went to Lynn's for some late-night fried food. And Andrew and I even had a double-date night in Pittsburgh with friends.

We also went to the Pittsburgh Children's Museum; shopped for cement yard statues at Marcel's; had nice meals at Randall's and Eat N' Park; and went to a Finley's Fighters fun walk, where the girls got their faces painted and had pink feathers woven into their hair while Andrew and I walked on the Yough River Trail. I did a lot of school shopping, bringing home piles of clothes for the girls to try on since their sizes are all over the map these days. And we capped off the week with a wedding in Pittsburgh, with a reception at Phipps.

It was a full, busy week, and now that we're back in NJ, the end of summer is really upon us. In a little less than two weeks, Lucia will start school. In the meantime: there is more summer fun to squeeze in. Of course, a highlight of our PA trip were the Equestria Girls dolls we found at Gabe's and gave to the girls to ease the insult of being left with a sitter all day on Saturday while we were at the wedding--and now we've kind of lost them to the pony/girl insanity. All they want to do is sing odd songs about a battle of the bands, and they're calling each other Sonata Dusk and Aria Blaze consistently. It may take some doing to drag them away from those toys.

Mt. Washington, after our cousin's wedding

Sisters at Phipps

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Heart of the Summer

It's mid-August. This month, our crazy summer has finally slowed down, and for the past few weeks we've been home: all four of us, no more no fewer. No one visiting, no one traveling. (Well, Andrew was away all last week, so I guess I mean that I've consistently been here. He's mostly been here.) June and July were packed with activities, and now--a break. Of course, this was the part of summer I looked to with some measure of trepidation, since there's no way to get around it now: it's just me and the girls, all day, every day, for 12+ hours of unstructured time. 

That's daunting. The only comparable thing is snow days, which always seem like the most heinous affront to a SAHM: a whooollleee daaaay insiiiidddde, alooooone with the kiiiids. Minutes seem like hours. Thankfully, this summer isn't quite this bad. First of all, we're not stuck inside. Second of all, we're not stuck inside in the basement while doing dishes in the laundry sinks with the cave crickets, as we were all winter during our renovation. Third, and most importantly, summer time seems different somehow. Maybe it's because, with days on end of unscheduled time, the time doesn't drag on so much as it does when we have a sudden, jarring spell of it, like a snow day. Each day kind of gallops along. 

Most people around these parts, even the stay-at-home parents, send their kids to camp for the entire summer, or at least many weeks of it, and we didn't do that. I probably won't ever do that. Yes, there are some really cool camps we could dip into here and there in the future, if the girls are excited about it (pony-riding camp, insect camp, farm camp, gymnastics camp, nature camp...). But besides the four days of preschool "camp" we did immediately following the school year, I just can't get on board with the all-summer choices. It's my luxury as a fulltime SAHM that I can make the choice, I know--it's me, not my office-work obligations, that dictate my summer plans. I'm sure the kids in these camps have fun and do fun things and make fun summer memories. And yet. I see the camps around town now and then, herds of kids in matching tee-shirts being escorted to the park or pool or zoo with their very young counselors, and all I can think is how much I as a kid would have hated every second of it. Hated hated hated it. And maybe it's unreasonable or unfair to transfer my own ingrained introversion onto my kids, but I can't help it. They'd rather be here. This much I know.

So what do we do instead, here together for days and days on end? We've been to the zoo a few times. We've been to the pool nearly every afternoon. The girls play in the yard. They bring out all manner of stuff--wooden blocks, dolls, ponies. We read a lot of books on the front porch. They ride their scooters in the driveway. We sometimes go to Target. (And we've developed an unfortunate habit of buying blind bag ponies each time, which has the fortunate effect of deterring me from making nonessential Target trips.) The girls play with their Legos a lot. 

I can't really account for 100% of our time, because the girls are just...playing. Just doing stuff around the house and yard. Their time is fully their own, and they are never at a loss for how to fill it. They never play with the iPad or watch TV (besides an episode or two of My Little Pony while I make dinner.) This is their natural, preferred state--unstructured, complete freedom. And yes, there are days that absolutely ruin me--too many requests, too many squabbles, too much stubbornness, too much mess, too many things to pack up and carry and remember to bring home from the pool, too many things piled in their laps in their carseats; when these full days of fulltime parenting are, fully, too much. I'll be glad when school starts and we're back to days with actual schedules, with periods of time when the kids are actually not in my care. But for now--summer. Trying hard for the idyllic free days I used to have myself as a kid. 

If I can refrain from killing them, our summer will be a success.

Friday, July 31, 2015

The Pool Report 2015

If you had to track my parenting evolution with one single experience that recurred year after year, I think the most illuminating piece of my life to look at would be our time at our community pool. This is our fourth year as pool members, and it's always been a blessing and a curse. Here's a snapshot of our pool experiences to date:

2012: (ages 9 months and 2 years) New to town, I talk to anyone I come across who seems to have kids the same age as mine. My arms nearly fall off from holding nine-month-old Greta for the duration of our pool visit. I live in fear of diaper incidents. Lucia brings a million toys to the baby pool and I nearly lose my mind trying to keep track of them in the free-for-all that is the baby pool toy-sharing/stealing culture. Putting sunscreen on a baby and a toddler is a $%@&*& nightmare every single time. I haul Lucia and a beach bag and Greta in a stroller. I bribe Greta with snacks at departure time so she'll get into the stroller without a meltdown. I am in the water every single second. We stay exclusively in the baby pool.

2013: (ages 1 and 3) Ditto everything above, except that Greta is walking now, which of course means she's more likely to drown. There are some difficult potty encounters, wrangling three-year-old Lucia's wet swimsuit up and down in the restroom while not losing track of Greta. Ick to wet pool bathrooms. Ick ick ick. Andrew attempts to take Lucia to a swimming class, and she refuses to participate every single day. I am still in the water every single second. We are still pretty exclusively in the baby pool.

2014: (ages 2 and 4) With the exception of the sunscreen nightmare, things are a little better this year. Both girls love the pool. Both girls hate/fear other kids, which is pretty difficult to sustain in the ant colony of the baby pool, but somehow they do it. They do a lot of painting with water, poolside. They get the annoying habit of running up and down the grassy hill when it's time to leave. Greta spends a lot of time refusing to move from the tiny fishpond, making it impossible to watch both kids at once. Lucia assents to a few private swim lessons with a lifeguard. Sometimes, when the stars and moons and planets are aligned, I can actually sit on a chair by the pool while the girls play in the water (two feet away from me max). Still exclusively in the baby pool.

2015: (ages 3 and 5)

Suddenly, OUR POOL WORLD HAS EXPANDED. Buoyed (figuratively) by months of swimming lessons and (literally) by puddle jumpers, both girls want to be in the middle pool--which, at its deepest point, is at their necks. Lucia gave up the puddle jumper pretty quickly, and her already well-developing swimming skills took off dramatically. Now she's swimming on her own, raising her head to take a breath, and swimming with her goggles to find diving toys on the bottom of the pool--then trying her best to dive down to get them. (She's so tiny she has a hard time sinking to the bottom.) Lucia just swims about, dashing from one end of the pool to the other, throwing toys to herself and retrieving them endlessly. It's pretty amazing to watch. Greta is a little moody with the pool, loving it some days, whining on other days. They like playing on the entry ramp in the biggest pool; and they also like returning to the baby pool now and then to play with kickboards or mermaid dolls.

A new dynamic has emerged: when Lucia runs into friends from pre-K, she likes to play with them, swimming and diving for toys; Greta, left behind, is visibly saddened when this happens. The difference right now in their skills--physical and social--is vaster than it's been since Greta was a newborn, and it's new territory to navigate for all of us. I signed both girls up for a week of pool swimming lessons, which wasn't so great: not challenging enough for Lucia, and Greta refused to even get in the pool for the duration. But Lucia came away from her lessons with two new friends, whom she ran into and played with in the days that followed. Playing with kids her age is appropriate and great. But poor little Greta is definitely used to having Lucia's undivided attention and companionship.

I am still in the pool pretty much every second, bobbing along with Greta, throwing diving toys to Lucia, waving underwater while Lucia swims to me. Sunscreen for Greta is never fun, but not the disaster it used to be. In short: the best pool year yet. I'm not one of the moms sitting with a book in the shade yet, and I'm not able to leave the kids to do some actual swimming in the big pool, but I can see it in my future. One of these days I'll smugly lift my New Yorker and laugh quietly (in commiseration, of course) at the flustered moms of babies and toddlers, doing their time in crazytown, done with mine.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Brief Moment of Silence, for Naptime

It should come as no surprise that Greta has officially dropped her nap. She napped more or less every day for 1.5-2 hours all through the winter and spring; I often had to wake her up to avoid sleeping too long. She needed it, little baby. I tucked her into her bed, sang her songs, turned on her white noise and nightlight, and she slept. That she kept her nap that long is remarkable, since Lucia stopped napping before she was even two and a half years old. Greta napped on for a solid year longer.

The nap started falling apart when Greta became more aware that not only was Lucia not napping--Lucia was having a grand time having "quiet" time in her room. Selecting toys to bring upstairs, playing with her ponies, singing and having tiny tea parties and coloring. For a while, I'd let Greta select toys to bring upstairs, but I could convince her to keep them on her bureau. Then she kept the toys in her bed. Then she played instead of napped, often sneaking into the hallway to play since her room was dark. I'd look out my office door and see all her plush princesses lined up by her door. Still, she was quiet, and Lucia was quiet, and the quiet part of quiet time was still sacred. (One afternoon, Lucia was in the bathroom and I suddenly heard her calling to me in a stage whisper--"There's nooo morrrre toooilet paperrrrrr.")

Then came the fateful day when Greta turned on her lights and opened her curtains, and the nap was no more.

Greta can play endlessly with whatever toys (ponies, tiny Playmobil animals, Legos, princesses) are in her room. Lucia has always occupied herself similarly, with an added focus on creating elaborate, symmetrical setups and meticulously color-coordinated organizations of things. Sometimes, now, the girls have quiet time together, playing in one or the other of their rooms. I try to enforce the calm, restful nature of their quiet time hour, and they seem to get it, but there are other days when they stampede between their rooms, laughing hysterically about something.

Still, quiet time exists, and they sometimes ask for "short quiet time" but usually don't resist it at all. And this leaves me in an unexpectedly okay place now that I'm in that dreaded new world where neither of my kids naps. There was always an element of crazy stress around naptime for me--I've always desperately needed that break (for work and for sanity), and with both kids I religiously arranged our entire mornings as one long leadup to naptime, stressing the whole time about whether a nap would happen, and what it would mean if it didn't. But now--I can choose whatever time I want for quiet time. We can push it earlier or later depending on what we're doing. If Greta is exhausted enough, she still falls asleep now and then. And if we're out and about and we have to skip it entirely, I don't have to freak out with worry that I've upset the routine and will never reestablish it the next day.

And the most important thing is that thanks to quiet time, I still get that break. I heard a podcast of Cheryl Strayed talking about how she got stuff done when she had young kids, and she talked about closing a door and telling her kids that unless they were on fire, they shouldn't bother her. This is pretty much how I feel about quiet time. Sure, they wander into my office now and then with various questions or comments, but mostly they know that quiet time is a break for all of us.

And so, a moment of silence for naps. But a round of applause, too, for my successful institution of quiet time. Come fall, our routine will change again, but for now, shhhh. It's Mommy's quiet time.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Letter to Lucia: Last Day of Pre-K / 67 Months

Dear Lucia,

You've finished preschool last week! Three years--done. This was by far the hardest year to say goodbye to, for me at least. You had a pre-K year that was wonderful beyond words. Exceptionally warm and talented teachers, supportive and welcoming preschool community, lovely classmates and families, activities that fully embraced both fun and kindergarten prep. We couldn't have asked for more.

On the way home from your last day, I asked you how you felt, anticipating sadness; but all you said, happily, was, "I feel like kindergarten." You loved this year but are eagerly anticipating the next big thing, which is as it should be.

Month by month, you're becoming more of a five-year-old, curious and funny and so much yourself in ways that--I have to admit--have little to do with me. You still love reading books together, and your interest in identifying sight words is growing--my ambitious goal for the summer is to get you even closer to reading. When I raise my phone to take your picture, you instantly strike a glamour-girl pose that I definitely didn't teach you. You wear dresses almost exclusively. You still love your bibi, little more now than a series of ragged knots. You know to hide it in your bureau drawer when the housekeeper comes to clean, because it looks like something that should be tossed away.

But by far, my favorite thing about you right now is that you can--and do--laugh yourself to tears. Greta is almost always the instigator, and she knows her power, pulling out silly tricks to send you into hysterics. This weekend in New Hampshire, you had a laughing fit the likes of which we'd never seen before; later, calmer, you told me, "I laughed so hard I think I went pee-pee in my pants!" Indeed. There is little I love more than sisterly hysterics, and I'm so happy you and Greta have this dynamic. For the record, your laughing fit was brought about by Greta riffing on a family joke--Daddy insisting on calling one of your My Little Ponies "Big Mandy," which isn't any more ridiculous than an actual pony name but which enrages you when he insists on using it. Daddy made a reference to Big Mandy being at your preschool camp, which you of course adamantly denied, and then Greta said, "Big Jack? Big Emma?" and went through all your friends at school. This struck you as the funniest thing ever. "I'm crying!!" you said at one point. It was something to behold.

And thus--we're closing the preschool chapter. Onward to kindergarten, after a summer of fun.

Favorite books: Magic Treehouse books, Alice & Greta, various Disney Wonderful World of Reading books from the 1970s, Poppleton books

Favorite toys/activities: My Little Pony (as intense as ever), plush princess dolls, arranging your Legos in perfectly symmetrical patterns, scooter riding, drawing perfectly symmetrical pictures, chalk, tea parties with water on the patio

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Letter to Greta: Last Day of School (2 1/2-year-old class) / 43 Months

Dear Grets,

Well, you did it: you made it through your first year of preschool. It started off dramatically, with so many tears and so much clinging and sadness. I'll never forget peeking into your classroom after your first day of school, expecting a happy, proud baby, and seeing instead your sad, tear-streaked little face, lips quivering, barely holding it together--and then you losing it completely when you finally caught sight of me. I don't think you've ever sobbed so tragically. We started your preschool experience by sobbing together as the other kids and parents milled about.

Happily, things changed for you. For a while, you cried when I left, and I spent the first two weeks of school hanging out in a nearby meeting room just in case you needed me (you didn't). Eventually, you gave me sad, worried looks, but no longer cried. And then--it all clicked for you. You gave me a hug goodbye and traipsed into the classroom with nary a backward glance. I won't go so far as to say you became outgoing--but you had fun, and made some little friends, and finally understood that preschool was okay.

Now here you are, your first year of preschool behind you. So much drama, for so little time--just two mornings a week, 2.5 hours each. Truly, no time at all, but to a tiny baby like you it really must have seemed so big, so daunting. But you did it. It's hard for me to imagine you two years from now, doing the stuff Lucia's doing in pre-K, but you'll get there.

Funnily enough, as much as you've changed, your love of My Little Pony remains as strong as it was on your first day of school.

Aside from school, OH MY LORD have you become a holy terror. Mercurial, naughty, hell-bent on making routine tasks as difficult as possible. It's like living with an insane person. Yesterday, I called you and Lucia to dinner--Trader Joe's tortellini. You stood in the living room and screamed "NOOOO! NOT TORTELLINI!! I HATE TORTELLINI!!" and mustered all your energy to produce a few forced, hysterical sobs. No whining, no protesting, just full-on dinner meltdown--eyes squeezed shut, tears streaming down your red face, the world was ending because of the cheese tortellini on your plate. I chose not to engage, told you that this was dinner but it was your choice whether to eat it or not. I then suggested you eat just the white tortellini. "Oh! Yes!" you said, brightening, and you skipped over to the table and declared, "I will eat the orange tortellini. I will eat all of them!" Then cleaned your plate. Seriously--an insane person.

Combing your hair is the bane of my existence. The only thing that seems to work--when it works--is my telling you that if I don't comb your hair, it will become a nest, and I'll have to cut it "short like a boy." This hits home for you. You still writhe and scream, but you'll let me do it. Except on the days you don't. You had a near-dreadlock forming on the back of your head a few weeks ago--I thought I was going to have to cut it out. Sigh. You have thick, curly hair--my legacy. Forgive me, little one.

You are also reveling in your ability to make Lucia freak out. You know exactly what toy or object to grab and run with, holding it tight to your chest like a football and just running for dear life, often screaming, "Try to catch me!!!" You don't negotiate, you don't bargain, you don't respond to threats or ultimatums. You...just..annoy. You have discovered your power, and it is something to behold.

You're three and a half! Help us all. Good thing you're cuter than cute, little beauty.

Favorite toys/activities: playing on the patio, My Little Pony, Playmobil animals, magnetic dress-up dolls, painting with water, collecting stones etc

Favorite books: Alice & Greta, A Little Princess (easy reader), a book in Spanish Andrew brought from Mexico, princess books

Friday, May 29, 2015

Magic Word

ME: Girls, would you like a snack?


ME: Greta, that's not a very polite way to ask. How should you ask?


ME: What's the magic word?


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Yard Sale Report

Had some decent luck with yard sales today. Not my best haul, but it was a rainy weekend and I got to only a couple. My bounty:

Lego mosaic set ($2)
feathered headress for dress-up bin (free!)
Lilly Pulitzer capri pants, like new ($1) (I actually find them quite hideous, but I couldn't pass them up)
two bracelets and a necklace ($1/each)
three kids' dresses ($1/each)--one's an adorable corduroy jumper in exactly the style I love for my girls

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Mother's Day

Mother's Day was a lot of fun this year. There was a lot of buildup and celebration at the girls' preschool, and I got to attend a Mother's Day party in each girl's class. On Greta's day, she served me strawberry shortcake and pink lemonade for a snack, then gave me my gifts--a marigold in a decorated cup, a card, and a hand-painted necklace made from a metal washer. Lucia's pre-K class went all out, preparing fruit-and-yogurt parfaits, a rendition of "You Are My Sunshine," a "Mom rocks" cheer, and a painted and bejeweled clay necklace, plus card. The kids were soooooo excited about their presentation. They also made little lists that answered questions about their moms--Lucia declared my favorite food to be "salad" and said I look pretty when I "go out to dinner with Daddy." Too cute.

On Sunday, I went to yoga, and Andrew took the girls out to buy my Mother's Day treats, which they excitedly presented to me when I returned: donuts, served to me in bed with coffee, and a bouquet of flowers from each of them. Andrew gave me two books and a necklace with the girls' initials on charms, and the girls each made me a card. Then I got some alone time while Andrew took Lucia and Greta to Lucia's ice-skating lesson, and then we reconvened for a relaxing afternoon and a delicious dinner of shrimp, with carrot cake cupcakes for dessert. A perfect meal, a lovely day.

And then--Happy Mother's Day!--Andrew promptly left for Mexico City for the entire week. I've been up since 3:00am today, after a cranky, inconsolable Greta woke screaming and continued to scream and cry for the rest of the night, claiming ear pain. Of course I took her to the doctor right away this morning....only to find out nothing is wrong. Sigh. Reminding myself how much I love, love mothering by writing this post belatedly, today.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Power Elsa

Bath- and bedtime continue to be times of high-energy, high-hilarity, and high-chaos around here. We're all so tired by 7pm that it kind of falls apart for all of us. Right around then, Power Elsa usually pays us a visit.

Power Elsa is Greta's alter ego. She created it herself, and when the mood strikes, it transforms her. The crucial prop is her hooded bath towel. As soon as her bath is over and her hooded towel goes on, Power Elsa appears with a grand announcement--"POWER ELSA!" Greta then sprints for the bathroom door, naked but for the towel hanging from the hood over her head, and then she stops--hand on the doorknob, one leg in running motion behind her, other arm raised high...and she looks back over her shoulder with her Power Elsa face, a mixture of a grimace and a cry of triumph, and she pauses there as though on a television show's opening credits when her character's name appears in text on the screen. Then she's off again--"POWER ELSA!"--dashing somewhere else in the bathroom or the hallway, always pausing in mid-action so we can fully take in her powerful poses and her action-packed expressions.

It's impossible to fully describe how funny this is, how completely overtaken she is by this persona. It usually has Andrew, me, and Lucia all laughing, which of course is Power Elsa's fuel. Greta never makes those faces or does those particular poses at any other time--they are specific to post-bathtime, and to Power Elsa. Like everything else, she'll stop doing it one of these days, and something else will take its place. We'll miss Power Elsa when she goes.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Rummage Sale Season

It begins! My favorite time of year: rummage sale season. There have been some here and there the past few weekends, with last weekend bringing a huge cache of Playmobil sets, a rare find (Sphinx, Egyptian temple, vet clinic, fairyland, some random figures and pieces). But this weekend the sales were going on in force. I came away from three days of sale-ing with these treasures:

--more Playmobil sets (seal feeding pool, underwater, and burning building--I need to cut myself off)
--big container of Lego-compatible building bricks (the hit of the weekend)
--6 pairs of princess dress-up shoes
--4 sparkly dress-up outfits
--2 plush panda hats for next winter
--6 Corningware mugs
--retro Corningware baking dish
--4 mini Corningware baking dishes
--10 cookie cutters, including a unicorn
--box of vintage yellow Fiestaware (Andrew found it shoved underneath a table!)
--a handful of wooden pegs for peg dolls/gnomes
--2 Zhu Zhu Pet strollers with a total of 2 pets and 4 baby pets
--1 Princess Luna pony, new in McDonald's packaging (will hoard until I score a second one)
--3 wooden chairs (for fixing up for the kitchen)
--2 snow-brick molds
--4 clear plastic shoe boxes
--2 umbrellas
--a bunch of small random toys purchased to keep the kids excited about yard-saling

So, so fun. I've built up a healthy hoard of diversions for long summer days, and it's only May. The best part of Saturday was that the girls were so excited--our neighboring street was having a street-wide yard sale, and Greta was sprinting ahead, yellling, "I see a yard sale!!" Lucia was in full treasure-hunting mode as well. How could Andrew do anything but succumb to our yard-saling ways?

Thursday, April 16, 2015


We have groundhogs. For a while we've noticed large holes/tunnels under our porch, and commented idly, "Huh. It looks like something's living under there." And several weeks ago, while Andrew was out of town, I was sitting in the living room and smelled skunk so strongly I was convinced a skunk was inside the house. Last week, walking around the house with a landscaper who's going to work on our backyard, the landscaper saw the holes/tunnels, announced we had groundhogs, and gave us the card for a wildlife control company.

Today, a wildlife guy came over and confirmed it. We have groundhogs. A lot of them. The skunk I smelled was probably startled by one of them. He won't kill them, but we paid a hefty fee for his services: constructing metal barriers underground all along the porch, putting in a one-way door that the groundhogs can use as they emerge to find food and water, and then returning to seal up that door once all the groundhogs are gone. They're being evicted.

Greta was very alarmed by the idea of groundhogs, almost insulted that they'd be in our yard. But the wildlife guy won her over immediately, presenting her with a small toy skunk when he arrived, as well as a chapstick. I feel bad for the little groundhogs, but the spectre of massive flea and tick infestations is enough to make me certain they need to find another home. Ah, homeownership.

An aside: earlier today, while Lucia was at school, Greta finally learned how to pedal a bike. She rode up and down on the street in front of our house, pleased as punch. Little miss!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Letter to Lucia / Letter to Greta

Dear Girls,

Another catch-up letter, and I've lost track of how many months each of you are, and one of these months I'll do the counting and get back on track. But it's better to write than not write, and it's fun to write about you both right now because we're in a stellar period of cuteness and hilarity. Lucia, at 5 1/2 you're the reigning big sister, eager to "help" Greta whenever you can--even, sometimes, announcing you're going to be the one to help Greta get dressed in the morning. But Greta, you hold your own--you idolize Lucia and look up to her and strive to emulate her in every way; but you don't hesitate to stand your ground and assert yourself.

The big sister / little sister dynamic was on charming display this week, since you had your first swimming lesson together. Greta has been watching Lucia at her swimming lesson for the past three months, and finally you're in a class together. Lucia, you led Greta to the side of the pool, arm around her, guiding her to the place where she was supposed to sit; and you introduced her to your teacher. You made sure she followed all the directions during class. It was so very cute.

You're of one mind these days, lost in your own sister-world of My Little Ponies, princesses, and Legos. You play together tirelessly from the moment you wake up in the morning, breaking only for school and (reluctantly) for nap- and quiet time. Your play is exhaustive and inventive. You're thrilled that we can be outside finally, and even though our post-renovation backyard is a mudpit full of metal detritus, you love to play there. I'm so excited that by the end of May our backyard is going to be a place of childhood wonder--we're moving forward with some big backyard work, including a patio, new leveled lawn, paved driveway, and a large, fantastic playset. You girls are going to love it.

Greta, we had you evaluated again today to see if we needed to start up with speech therapy today, and you passed handily--no therapy required right now. You sat calmly and cooperatively during the hour-long test, cheerily pointing to pictures and naming images. One of the mistakes you made was actually very cute: prompted with an image of a telescope, you called it an "I spy." Too cute.

It's fun right now. Five and three.

Favorite books: multiple books from Disney Wonderful World of Reading, fairytales from my vintage fairytale book (especially Hansel and Gretel and Jack and the Beanstalk), Moon Rabbit, Ladybug Girl, Where the Wild Things Are, Three Little Pigs

Favorite toys/activities: Legos, My Little Ponies, and princesses. That's it. They've taken over. Greta is rarely without her Princess Celestia, and Lucia brought four ponies in when it was her turn for "Share Chair" at school. Also, of course, riding scooters and playing outside.

Sunday, April 12, 2015


We journeyed to Connellsville for what turned out to be a fun and eventful holiday. The day before Easter, Andrew and Molly both ran the Connellsville half-marathon; we met them at the finish and celebrated at Valley Dairy. Andrew shocked everyone by ordering a club sandwich consisting of a burger sandwiched between two grilled cheese sandwiches. Later that day, we celebrated Luca's third birthday with a cake Molly created, consisting of small cranes scooping crushed Oreos from the top of a chocolate cake, which was a huge hit all around.

On Easter morning, the kids came downstairs and found their Easter baskets, which was thrilling. (Lucia had claimed she was going to stay up all night, or at least get up really really early, but everyone slept until a very humane 7am.) Lucia and Greta each got a plush Rapunzel, tiny plush bunny, M&M necklace, butterfly headband, a small mini-golf Lego Friends set, and a Frozen Lego set (impossible to find except for the fact that one week at the culmination of our kitchen renovation I found myself at Target every day for five days--on one of those days, two Frozen sets had emerged. Pure luck, coupled with excessive Target shopping). They they went outside for an egg hunt. I hid over a hundred eggs, and all three kids were very focused and excited about finding them. "Eggs!!" Luca says in a video Molly took. "So many!!" Then they opened them up: chocolate eggs, chocolate bunnies, eraser animals, tiny flocked bears, rainbow hair elastics. All fun.

Molly and Luca headed home after that, but the rest of us went to church, where the girls were more or less calm and quiet. The day was beautiful, and they spent the afternoon riding their scooters up and down the sidewalk with their new Rapunzels.

It's always fun to have a Connellsville getaway. Andrew and I got in a Gabe's trip, too (and I snuck back for a second go-round with Molly and Mom). A few $1 sweaters, Lands End flats, some earrings, tank tops, garden gnomes, a pair of jeans, a couple of head wraps that Andrew despises, some nailpolishes. An eclectic and fun selection.

Spring Sickness

We greeted our long-awaited spring by having both Lucia and Greta contract a stomach bug. It hit Lucia first, around 6pm on Thursday; she had a rough evening and night, and needed Friday to fully recover. At 2:30am on Friday night, Greta woke up crying about her stomach hurting; a second later, she vomited all over her bed. Charming. She was sick the rest of the night and up till noon on Saturday.

Lucia, at five and a half, knows enough about stomach bugs to understand the idea of leaning over a trash can. She also gets really upset and angry about it, wailing "I hate being sick!!!" after each bout. She understands that when she's sick she gets to watch a lot of TV, but also that she has to rest and nap. Greta, on the other hand, had to be physically corralled into aiming for a trash can, and her anger over being sick was laced with stubborn three-year-old-ness. She'd cry about her tummy hurting, I'd ask if she was going to throw up, and she'd say furiously, "I'm NOT! I'm NOT!" She'd heard Lucia's wails and imitated them, with pitiful moans of "I hate being sick!" This was all very sad and heartbreaking. Then the active sickness lessened, and extreme monster-crankiness took over.

It was a long week.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Lucia's Style

Lucia's been choosing her own outfit each morning for well over a year now, nearly two years, and lately her outfits have gotten particularly interesting. Her choices are always bold, and she cares little about matching in the traditional sense, but what's pushed her to new levels of inventiveness is her burning wish to wear her summer clothes. I got her a few new things recently at Target, and of course the temperature dropped back to winter levels, so her pretty new clothes have been sitting in her drawer, unworn. She finally just couldn't take it anymore. She cut all the tags off herself, and they're now part of the rotation.

This morning, she wore a white long-sleeve t-shirt with gold stars, tights with fox faces on the legs, rainbow biker shorts over the tights, and pink-and-silver striped leg warmers over the tights and shorts. Silver sequined shoes and a bouncy ponytail pushed the cuteness further.

After school, she immediately changed into a pink, purple, and teal striped ankle-length sundress, the fox tights, a cardigan sweater over the dress (at my insistence), the silver shoes, and various bold accessories: a blue headband, a dramatic amulet necklace, and multiple bead bracelets. It was really too adorable.

She's also apparently having a growth spurt and now hovers several inches over Greta, whereas just a couple of months ago they were nearly the same height. She's been eating like crazy, too. And oh, the funny things a five year old says. When I asked if she'd like leftover quiche for lunch today, she said, "Of COURSE I want quiche. A princess LOVES quiche."

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Goodbye Pacifier?

Greta's transition to a bed has been more or less smooth. She doesn't stay in bed flawlessly, but she doesn't run around, and she and Lucia don't meet up in the hallway to squeal and wreak havoc. Of course, earlier this week when I went upstairs, I found both of them in the bathroom--Greta on the potty and Lucia holding her pacifier "so it doesn't fall into the potty." They were both being perfectly quiet, just sisters helping each other out when they were supposed to be asleep.

Greta's nap has been hit or miss the past couple of days, but it's always unreliable on the weekends. Even if she doesn't sleep, she stays in her room, playing and talking to her stuffed animals and dolls, so I'm banking on a viable transition to Quiet Time when she does eventually give up her nap.

What I hadn't foreseen with the big-girl bed switch was that Greta would take the initiative to give up her pacifier, her beloved pa-pa. Although she's closing in on three and a half, Andrew and I haven't had the heart to take it away from her. I've made occasional comments about how big girls don't need pa-pas, but I've put zero pressure on her to give it up. This week, however, Greta decided she doesn't need it anymore, and she's been leaving it on her bureau when she goes down for her nap and at bedtime. "I don't have my pa," she always points out. "I don't need a pa anymore." A couple of times she's retrieved it during the night or if she wakes up very early in the morning, but it really seems like she's making the break on her own--just as she basically potty trained herself. Easy little baby.

So I SHOULD be thrilled that this is going so smoothly--no hysterical bedtimes, no desperate bribes or hopeful rewards. Just a little girl growing up at her own speed. But I'm kind of horrified at the whole thing. She's my baby, and she's not supposed to be so self-sufficient. She's supposed to need a pacifier and her bibi and lullabies to fall asleep. She's supposed to be a tiny infant. Yet there's my little Greta, dashing from basement to attic in a dress-up dress, a plastic crown on her head, playing with Lucia in her bedroom with the door closed, having an elaborate tea party of some kind and talking in "pony voices," without one iota of need for me. (Though she's still pretty cuddly. She does love a good snuggle.)

So no, I'm not so happy that she's giving up her pa-pa, because I'm not ready for her not to be a baby anymore. Little-girl Greta is an adorable riot, so fun and funny and just too too cute, and of course I hold no nostalgia for, say, last winter, when most days I was driven to tears by a crazytown two-year-old thrashing on the floor and refusing to put on her shoes and winter coat. But seeing her in her big-girl bed, all tucked in without a pa-pa, wearing her My Little Pony pj's and snuggling a plush Elsa, is kind of too much to bear.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

St. Patrick's Day

I love preschool for so many reasons, but I appreciate it particularly on St. Patrick's Day: the school did some fun things to mark the holiday, which is pretty much the only one of the year that doesn't get any notice whatsoever in our house. (Andrew brought home a six-pack of Guinness last night, as a gesture.) The girls both wore green today, and rainbow necklaces. The kids all had some Irish soda bread and green snacks. Lucia's teacher went all out with the festivities, and Lucia came home bursting with news about the mischievous leprechauns who left footprints in their classroom, made a mess, hid the lunches, left gold coins, and more. Lucia led Greta in some "leprechaun hunts" later tonight.

Greta was mostly concerned with whether she could wear pink again tomorrow. She was not happy at being forced to wear green.

Greta's transition to a bed has been going okay. She stays in bed at night, not running around, which is what I feared. She's been napping more or less as usual. Of course, today, I went downstairs for a minute after I put her down and found her door open when I got back upstairs. I found both girls in the bathroom, Greta on the potty, Lucia holding her pacifier so it wouldn't fall in. They were both mouse-quiet. In the morning, Greta gets up by herself and comes into our room (Lucia just calls us when she wakes up). So far, so good. She looks very cute and tiny in her bed, and says often how much she loves it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Letter to Lucia and Greta / Catching Up

So I've fallen way, way behind in blogging over the past couple of months. Trying to go back and catch up on all the posts I should have been writing is daunting, so I'm just going to throw a whole bunch of things down here and start being more timely from here on out. In no particular order, some bits of our life:

Box Houses

The kitchen appliances all arrived in February, and Andrew and I turned the boxes into box houses in the basement for the girls. Each girl had a large room and a small room, and their houses were connected by a door. We hung twinkle lights. The girls decorated their walls with stickers and markers. They filled their houses with stuffed animals and blankets and Legos. The houses got me through a few days when Andrew was out of town, which is really the best thing a box house can do. Today, mid-March, we finally took the box houses down. I hope the girls remember them. I still remember the box houses Molly and I had when our kitchen was being redone decades ago.

Baby Clothes

I've been getting rid of baby clothes, finally. I've had no good reason for holding onto them this long. We know (well, I know) we're not having another baby, and most of the clothes have been worn--hard--by two kids. The huge plastic bins have been building up and building up. I think there were eight of them in the attic. So, this month, I finally pulled them out and started going through them. I'm not sure why I kept some of the things I did--leggings with holes in the knees, summer capri pants blackened from a hundred Brooklyn playground afternoons, t-shirts stained from acrylic paints. A lot of clothes I barely remembered the girls wearing. It was easy, in the end, to put aside the things that were too precious to throw or give away, and triage the rest. Donate, sell, give away. I'm not done, but I'm getting there. And I do feel some nostalgia at some of the outfits, especially for some reason the little clothes Lucia was wearing that summer I was pregnant with Greta, when she and I traipsed (well, I inched painfully) to Prospect Park almost every day to splash in the fountains and idle away the mornings. The one thing I can't get rid of: any of the sleepers. But we have a large attic, so there's no real reason to force it. The sleepers can stay.

So Much

One of the cutest things Greta says right now is "so much"--adding it onto ordinary expressions of appreciation so that she sounds like the most excited, appreciative three-year-old in the world. "I love these SO MUCH." "I love oranges SO MUCH." "I love hot chocolate SO MUCH."


We signed Lucia up for swimming and ice skating lessons this winter, and both have been going well. She enjoys both activities, but she loves swimming the most. She wishes she could swim every day. She's pretty fearless, too: going fully underwater, jumping off the side, jumping off the diving platform. She's happiest on swim lesson day.


There has been too much snow this winter. Too many snow days. And for much of this winter the snow has been too hard and icy, and the temperatures too cold, to even do much playing outside. Somehow, we've emerged into near-spring. I will say, however, that snow days were a lot less nightmarish this year thanks to Lucia and Greta's astounding ability to a) play together joyfully with only occasional attempts to kill each other; and b) amuse themselves for long stretches of time doing just about anything. Last week, in preparation for Mom and Dad's visit, they "decorated" the guest room with all manner of toys and junk, even putting colored pencils and paper on the bedside tables so Gra and Pop-Pop could color. "They'll love it so much they're going to cry!!" Lucia kept announcing. Greta will play with absolutely anything; Andrew gave her a bowl of garlic cloves the other day, and she amused herself for over forty-five minutes. So we never lacked for things to do. I brought out some of my snow-day stash here and there, but mostly they just played. On the last snow day, we made Elsa and Anna braids to pin into their hats.

Big Girl Bed

Tonight, March 14, we finally transitioned Greta into a big girl bed. She wasn't climbing out of her crib (although she can, and has done so), but she is so tall that she was looking more than a little squished. And it was just time. We switched Lucia to a bed right around this same time when she was almost three and a half, so it seemed reasonable to do it now. Greta seemed excited, and she looked so cute all tucked in. But I'm going to miss my little Miss in her crib, sleeping there like a tiny baby. I feel a bit sad. The crib is all in pieces now, ready for the attic. And Greta is surrounded by her entourage of stuffed animals and plush princesses, asleep.

Favorite toys/activities:

My Little Pony, Magiclip princesses (princesses are having a resurgence around here), Legos, dressup, coloring and drawing, Frozen, watching movies, gnomes

Favorite books:

Golden Books of all kinds (especially, unfortunately, the Disney movie adaptations), My Special Day

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Solo Weekend

Andrew was gone this weekend, from 6am on Saturday until midnight tonight. He took the car to the airport, so the girls and I were homebound. It was also freezing and raining, so we probably wouldn't have gone anywhere anyway. Still, staying home alone for two full days, with no human contact (aside from the sort-of human kiddos) or scheduled outside activities, is not easy. Yesterday seemed to last a million hours. The girls had little interest in any structured activity, though we did do some Sculpey (tiny pies, tiny fruits) in the morning. Otherwise, we just hung out in the basement. We made a long banquet table out of Keva planks and arranged all our tiny foods on it, for the enjoyment of Playmobil pandas and other animals. We built stuff from Magna Tiles. I was frequently ordered to "be Princess Celestia" (a My Little Pony) and talk in my "pony voice." The day. Dragged. On. For. A. Million. Hours. After a full day in the basement I felt as torpid and foggy as if I'd been poisoned by carbon monoxide. Maybe I was. We do, after all, spend most of our time within three inches of the boiler.

Today was better, lasting maybe fifty hours instead of a million. First thing this morning I broke out an as-yet unopened Santa present, a "science" kit from the Dollar Tree that involved a packet of tiny round specks that would supposedly grow into "water marbles" or, as the girls eventually called them, "gel balls." We filled a few containers with water on the kitchen table (in the basement, of course) and poured in the pebbles, and waited. It didn't take long for them to start morphing into bumpy things weirdly encased in clear slime. The girls loved them. They played with these "gel balls" as they continued to weirdly grow, eventually becoming pleasing, smooth, round, squishy balls that floated and bounced and squipped through their fingers. We had out tea sets and glasses and tupperware containers. We put the balls in an empty bin; we put them in a water-filled bin. Their entertainment value did not diminish the rest of the day. We had a break for a snack around 10:30, and a break for lunch and naptime, but otherwise the girls played with the gel balls. (When Lucia went up for quiet time, after being told she couldn't bring the gel balls with her, she told me she would just lie on her bed and think about them.) I finally had to force them to clean everything up so we could have dinner.

And yes, water was everywhere, and gel balls will be in our basement corners forevermore, but you can't ask for more from a $1 item, especially because the gel balls seem like they'll last awhile. This weird activity saved me today. (And I was reminded of an important parenting tenet: when in need of diversion, fill a shallow storage bin with water, provide cups and bowls and spoons, and just step aside.)

Letter to Lucia: 62 Months / 63 Months

Little Lulu,

Combining letters this time since I wrote a lot about Christmas, and that was really the focus for most of November and all of December. I have to say this was the most fun Christmas with you yet: so much giddy anticipation; a real awareness and understanding of Santa; an exciting wish list; and little of the worry of prior years of mid-day meltdowns. Five is a good age. A fun age. We're still exploring a lot of the new things from Christmas as we get back into our regular routine.

You're still loving pre-K, the best thing we've ever given you. For future decisions, I need to remember how much sleep I lost this summer, doubting my decision to switch your preschool and enroll you in this class, with its longer hours and unfamiliar teachers and classmates. And yet--what a fortunate thing it is that I didn't let those doubts rule my actions. I feel lucky every day that you're there. Now I worry about the year ending; you say frequently that you want to go to kindergarten, but I think you'll feel the end of your pre-K year as a real loss. You'll miss it. I know you will.

You can count to 100 now, with minimal prompting. Your writing is improving. You're trying to spell, but not yet reading. Your drawings are becoming better; your people still lack necks, but your flowers now have petals, and your trees have branches and fluffy heads of leaves. Rainbows continue to be your favorite thing to draw.

You're straining for more independence, and I'm trying to keep up. On your own, you've started setting the table for each meal (you initially called it "separating the table") with cups of water, napkins, plates, and silverware. You sometimes wipe off the table after we eat. You sometimes clean up your own room in anticipation of the end of quiet time. You've been influenced by one of my favorite childhood books, My Special Day, which I unearthed during my massive attic cleanup in Connellsville over Christmas. In the book, the little girl does everything she wants for a day, which includes making her own breakfast and lunch. Once our new kitchen is done, I can imagine what was once unimaginable: having cereal and a small milk pitcher at your level so you can prepare your own breakfast. (You sleep till 7:30 or later most mornings, though, so the once-delectable idea of avoiding 5am wakeups has dimmed.)

When there are conflicts with you these days, it's at bedtime--the second we head upstairs, it's like a demon-child overtakes you, and even if we've had the nicest day, someone always ends up yelling (me/Daddy) or crying (Greta) or trying to slam a door in someone's face (you). It's bananas. We don't know how to fix it. It's the weak link in our daily routine, the part of the day I dread the most. It shouldn't be that way.

Favorite toys/activities: Magna Tiles, My Little Ponies, Strawberry Shortcake dolls, Frozen, necklaces, drawing, stickers, glitter glue, tiny foods, Lego Friends, eating popcorn on "movie nights," marshmallows

Favorite books: Cat's Colours, My Special Day, Goodbye Tonsils, Donald Duck and the Magic Mailbox, Balloonia

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Handmade Gifts

As always, our handmade gifts were the best gifts exchanged this Christmas. The lineup this year: personalized letterpressed notecards from Dad; aprons for adults and kids from Mom; tiny notebooks made from Vera Bradley playing cards from Molly; and tiny Sculpey pies and cakes, with a glass cake stand, from me. 

When, you might ask, do I have time to make tiny cakes out of Sculpey. The answer is: the girls got crafty this holiday season. We did so many things together, holed up in our basement while chaos reigned above. Greta made a snowman from cotton balls and construction paper. We made clove and orange pomander balls. We made snow globes from mason jars and bottle-brush trees. We made handprint-painted ornaments for Christmas gifts. We did a lot of foam stickers. We did a few Christmas craft kits from Michaels. We cut snowflakes from coffee filters. We made salt dough stuff and painted it. We made Santas out of corks. We glittered.

And we did a lot, a lot, of Sculpey. The girls were so excited about making tiny pies in bottle caps that they began demanding that Andrew drink more beers. We spent many afternoons with nails, beads, bottle caps, and clay, sitting for an hour at a stretch, making pies and cakes. Waiting for the cakes to chill in the refrigerator before slicing was a time of great anticipation. 

Pomander balls, accompanied by Christmas songs on the computer. In the basement, of course.

Representative fun with stickers / foam shapes

Cork Santas, a lot cuter on Pinterest

The annual batch of salt dough

Coffee filter snowflakes

The small plates are about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Bottle cap pies

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

More Christmas

We were in Connellsville for nearly two weeks this holiday, and Andrew and I packed a lot into our stay. Christmas festivities took up the first part of the trip, but after that, we had great plans. Gabe’s again, of course. Wings at Lynn’s. Those are standard fare for any Connellsville visit. There was New Year’s Eve, as well, which we spent with friends in Pittsburgh who were brave enough to host a party that involved seventeen kids under ten years old.

This year, we added something new to our Connellsville time: touring residential and commercial properties with a realtor, with an eye toward possible investment properties. Well, one eye was turned toward that; the other eye was simply curious to see what was behind the doors of some of the stately old homes whose faded grandeur seems mismatched with their $30K prices. We saw some interesting things. At one apartment, the door fell off—just pushed over and fell down flat—when the realtor went to unlock it. At a house, though the realtor made a big deal about calling to get the code for the lock on the back door, the front door was hanging wide open and askew. Holes in the floor were common. More interestingly, one house had a tunnel in the basement leading halfway across the street outside—its original endpoint a mystery to all. We went into more than one turret, with beautiful light and views. But much as Andrew and I love decrepit old houses, we weren’t charmed by these places. We were, however, intrigued by the possibilities of a commercial property—no hidden tunnels, but potential for a nice little side business of landlording. We shall see.

We also spent a morning wandering around Rural King, checking out piles of bags of Deer Corn and camouflage office chairs.

On our final day, we along with Mom and Dad went into Pittsburgh to Phipps Conservatory, to see the Winter Garden and its lovely lights. It was so much fun—the girls were on their best behavior, and we all loved walking around. It was a perfect end to our trip.

It was disheartening to come home, with our house still a construction zone, nary a morsel of nourishing food in sight. A stray half-bag of egg noodles had been emptied by some creature apparently living in our basement. 

Christmas: Tidbits

A few additional tidbits from our Christmas vacation:

The Crib's Death Knell

Greta decided Christmas vacation was the perfect time to refuse to sleep in a crib. She and Lucia were sharing a room, with Lucia in Molly's old bed and Greta in a pack-and-play, and for the first time Greta seemed to realize that Lucia had something she wanted. There was nowhere else for her to sleep at night, so she had to accept her fate, but she slept in the bed for her naps. It was about 50/50, sleeping vs. playing. I peeked in one afternoon and saw her trying to climb onto an old exercise bike that's in a corner of the room. Other days, she did nap, adorably tucked under the covers. She made no effort to hide her ability to climb in and out of the pack-and-play with ease. Since returning home, she hasn't protested her crib, but its days are probably numbered.

Lucia and Her Snugs

The girls got a lot of plush things and dolls for Christmas: plush Anna, Elsa, and Olaf; giant teddy bear (from Uncle Don and Aunt Joanie); Strawberry Shortcake dolls; plush Rudolph purses. And Lucia found a deep enjoyment in arranging them all on a chair and asking that she be photographed with them. She was very, very particular about how these pictures were to be. If one doll or animal's face was hidden, she'd rearrange everything, and another picture would be taken. I love how happy she looks in all her five-year-old splendor.

Jingle Bells

Molly taught Lucia how to play Jingle Bells on the piano by putting smiley stickers on the piano keys and writing out the "music" in stickers on a sheet of paper. Lucia was beyond thrilled. She also loved singing Christmas carols with Mom, especially Up on the Housetop, Frosty, and Rudolph. Both girls are still singing Suzy Snowflake, with hand motions.

The Earring Incident

We had one unpleasant episode while in Connellsville, involving Lucia's earrings. I hadn't pushed her to change her earrings for several weeks--she was wearing sparkly pink flowers, and wanted to keep them in--and somehow, through a combination of earring design and the tightness of the backing, her ears had become painfully irritated. When Mom and I finally insisted on taking out her earrings, it was a difficult and painful process, and bloody. Lucia was, understandably, very very upset. After a day of rest, we knew earrings had to go back in, lest her holes close. Lucia was nervous and scared, and my first attempt--with her crying and writhing away from me--was bloody and unsuccessful. We despaired. Then I opened up a bag of marshmallows--Lucia's favorite candy--and told her she could eat as many as she wanted while I put in her earrings. I'll never forget the look on her face when I put the open bag on the table--stunned disbelief. As she shoved marshmallows into her mouth, barely stopping to breathe, I was able to put both earrings in with no problem whatsoever. Now, back home, a couple of times she's tried to get a repeat by saying, "Mommy, I need to change my earrings today. I think I'll need some marshmallows."

Warm Weather

The weather was so mild during our time in Connellsville that the kids got to play outside almost every day. On Christmas Eve, Lucia, Greta, and Luca found endless imaginative possibilities with Molly's car, turning it into a kind of Polar Express (assisted by some silvery paper "tickets" from Dad). At one point both Dad and Molly were in the car too, along for the ride as Lucia screamed "ALL ABOARD!!" for the millionth time.


We had a really fun Christmas this year. Both Lucia and Greta were incredibly excited about Santa Claus, and we even made out lists to mail to the North Pole (courtesy of a local shop with a “Santa” mailbox outside). Andrew and I were excited for a different reason: we were heading to Connellsville for nearly two weeks, which meant a blissful escape from frozen/boxed food and an increasingly dirty, chaotic, unpleasant, renovation-inundated home.

Molly and Luca were in Connellsville with us for the first week, and Luca, Greta, and Lucia happily played together, running around the house, piling into beds, screaming “Snowman!” and dashing around manically. They all enjoyed watching Rudolph, accompanied by popcorn and hot chocolate. We left all the kids with Mom and Dad to go Gabe’s shopping, where Molly and I brought home a wonderful haul reminiscent of the Gabe’s of yore: among much else, we both got $200 Seven for All Mankind pants for $3, and Molly got a shirt for 50 cents. Andrew, too, got a bag or two, including $12 snow boots and a bunch of $3 ties.

Molly had bought little mailboxes at the dollar store, and each day left a tiny, handmade Christmas treasure inside: snowmen, Christmas stones, small notebooks with covers made from playing cards. Lucia, in particular, anticipated her daily “mail” with great excitement.

On Christmas Eve, we joined the annual Orlando party, with an appearance by Santa, who brought Lucia and Greta each a plush Rudolph purse, and Luca a plush snow monster from the show. (The back story of these toys deserves a note: the girls’ interest in Rudolph appeared just a few days before Christmas, along with their fervent wish for Santa to bring them a Rudolph doll, which, of course, was nowhere to be found that late in the season; I found one at our Target, and then called every Target along our rote from New Jersey to Pennsylvania to find another one, finally securing one in Mechanicsburg; Luca was besotted by the snow monster the day before Christmas Eve, and I steered Molly to a Connellsville Rite Aid to try to find one, where, lo and behold, there was one snow monster on an otherwise empty shelf, for 50% off—a Christmas miracle, surely.) The kids all had fun at the party, mostly playing out on the sun porch.

And then Christmas morning arrived, with all the splendor of the day—the Santa gifts laid out on chairs for each child, piles of presents to open, an enormous, delicious Christmas dinner. The day slipped by happily, with no meltdowns or problems; and the kids all seemed to love their gifts. The biggest hits for Lucia and Greta were their Strawberry Shortcake dolls (they each got three); Anna dresses; plush Anna, Elsa, and Olaf (the Olafs were from Gra and Pop-Pop); necklaces; a marble run, and Lego Friends sets. They also got Magna Tiles, Keva planks, Elsa dress-up shoes, kinetic sand, art supplies, giant teddy bears (from Uncle Don and Aunt Joanie), and so much more. The three kids came together to play with their sticky wall-climbing ninjas from Santa (Molly), throwing them against the wall and screaming as they slimed their way down.

It was all great fun, and a memorable Christmas all around. And it was funny: even though I was the one who planned what to get the girls; even though I was the one who bought the gifts, sometimes going to ridiculous lengths to find the must-haves (Mom and Dad might never forgive me for all the urgent quests I sent them on); and even though I was the one who arranged the gifts on the girls’ chairs, and stuffed the tiny treasures into their stockings; I still felt a giddiness as I followed them downstairs in their little fleece nightgowns on Christmas morning, as excited as they were to see what Santa had brought them.

Wearing new aprons from Grandma

Rudolph toys

Grandma, Lucia with new toys, and Greta, who seems to have forgotten how to smile on demand