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Friday, August 29, 2014

Five On Friday: My Wishes for This School Year

 Hey kids. Make your Mama happy. Here’s what I’d like from you this school year:
1.    No forging of my signature.
2.    If you must commit forgery, spell my name correctly, for Pete’s sake.
3.    No contact from the Principal unless he’s telling me how great you are.
4.    When I go to the middle school, I’d like to be able to look down the hallway and not immediately know which locker belongs to you, G,  by seeing the papers spilling out so much that the door won’t shut properly.
5.    No crying at preschool drop-off.

And here are my promises to you:

1.    If I happen to be driving past the school on a day you’ve forgotten your gym clothes or social studies book, I will drop them off for you.
2.    If I am not driving that way, I am not going to go out of my way and you’re going to figure out how to deal with it. I know that doesn’t sound much like I’m doing you a favor but actually I am.
3.    Yes I want you to pack your own lunches this year (see also: “doesn’t sound like I'm doing you a favor but I am”) but I promise to try my very best to keep the house well-stocked with yummy and healthy options for you to choose from.
4.    I will volunteer in your classes even when it’s a pain to find childcare for your younger sister. They only really ask for classroom volunteers for the younger kids and they're the ones that get a kick out of seeing a parent at school. I am going to take advantage of that.
5.    No crying when you get on the bus and leave me. (Or at least while you can still see me.)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

I Took Five Kids Tent Camping. And I'll do it Again.

Otherwise entitled: Why Camping With Kids is Sort of Like Giving Birth.

It wasn't our most pleasant vacation experience. The packing and preparation for camping is much more complicated and time consuming than for any other kind of getaway. On our first family camping trip three years ago, my husband wondered why we’d need to bring so much more stuff than we go to the fully furnished and equipped beach cottage we normally go to. “Um, we need to bring OUR ACTUAL HOUSE (the tent) with us. And all of our bedding, cooking supplies, eating utensils, food, cooler . . .” The light bulb went off and he called his friend at the car rental agency so we could rent a bigger car for the week.

This time we were only going away for two days so we made it all fit in my clown car (fits exactly the seven of us and has very little trunk space) with only one of the large car top canvas bags being used.

Our campsite was rocky. We could move some loose ones but there were plenty of big ones sticking out from deep in the ground that wouldn't budge so we got free all night “massages”. It rained just enough to make everything slightly damp--including the firewood (even though we purchased it inside the general store) and the towels we brought (that we were hoping to not only use as towels but to cushion our rocky beds with).

It was just chilly enough that I ended up wearing the same campfire-stinky sweater 24/7. On the second night someone in the campground was playing music. It wasn't just loud, it was excessively loud. It was ground-shaking, bass-pumping, pretty-sure-there-was-a-campground-sanctioned-Rave*-we-weren't-invited-to LOUD. Luckily the kids slept through it but Dadddy-O and I both laid in the dark, trying to sleep and quietly wishing the National Park Rangers would show up to “strictly enforce” that ten o’clock curfew as they said they would. As far as we can tell, they never did. The music stopped sometime after midnight.

I forgot to pack potholders. I did, however, pack the propane grill instead of the propane  stove and it was not exactly the same thing (and took up more room in the car). One of the kids had an accident in their sleeping bag in the middle of the night. A lot of campers brought dogs with them and a lot of the dogs were fond of barking frequently at the other dogs.

I wouldn’t say I was miserable, but I certainly could have had a better time. And through it all, do you know what I was thinking about? I WAS THINKING ABOUT GOING CAMPING WITH THE KIDS AGAIN! Because in spite of the noise and the rocks (oh, those rocks), the rain, the chill and the urine-soaked sleeping bag . . . we had a really great time. When taken from the comforts of home, books, toys and electronic screens, five children figured out how to play very nicely together. On the campground’s volleyball court they made up a game called “bad-valleyball” and also did some Sumo wrestling (I don’t question, I just enjoy the sibling harmony). They met some other kids and started a massive game of Manhunt. They hiked  five and a half miles together and found over 130 lizards that they named "yellow-bellied fire spitters." They laughed together as they sang their new camp-related verses to the Diarrhea song. They fetched kindling and jugs of water. They sat around the campfire, united in their desire for “just one more marshmallow!” They took turns sleeping next to one another in the tent. My six-year-old laid his head on his thirteen-year-old sister’s lap near the campfire as she caressed his face and hair and carried on about how beautiful he is. And he let her.

Way back when I was giving birth to my oldest daughter and labor was starting to get really hard, I remember thinking to myself, “Women do this TWICE??” Hours later as I held my sweet baby in my arms and stared at her adoringly, one of my well-wishers asked me how the labor was. “Not too bad!” I answered brightly. My husband laughed at my immediate-onset labor amnesia. (And the labor and deliver nurses laughed to see me back for more a mere seventeen months later.)

Love for your children makes you do that.

And when you see five children ages 4, 6, 8, 12 and 13 play together without toys or screens, you forget all about the rocks you’ve been sleeping on. When the hugging and giggling surpass the bickering and punching, it doesn’t matter how badly you slept. You forget the discomfort and start planning to do it again.


*Do they even have Raves anymore or am I completely dating myself?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Five on Friday: Getting Ready for School

I'm going to leave the getting the kids up earlier for a week in anticipation of school time up to the other parents. Here's how we start to prep the kids for school after summer vacation at Chez Serendip:

1. Z: You need to learn how to tie shoes because you are NOT wearing those velcro sneakers held together with duct tape to First Grade. Sorry, dude.

2. E: "What the crap" doesn't even make sense and you need to stop saying it before it's a habit and you say it in Third Grade and get in trouble.

3. While I'm at it, Seventh and Eight Graders B and G: time to start to laying off the "damn its" and "what the hells" okay?

4. Enjoy sleeping until 10 am, B, because that's going back to being a weekend-only luxury soon.

5. Hey guys! Look who's packing their own lunches this year! Study this list.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Love Letter for My Z-Man

 Dear First Grade Teacher,

This is our fourth child that is going to have you as a first grade teacher. One of my favorite things about having you is that before school even starts, you ask for a love letter about my child.

In a home with five children, it can be a challenge to remember to acknowledge what makes each one of them so unique. I feel guilty at not being able to give all of myself to each one of them. I wonder if I let all five know, individually, personally, how wonderful I think they are. I wonder if I let the world enough how great each one of these kids is for their own reasons and how even though they are often lumped together as siblings, they each shine so brightly in their own right. So when you ask me for a love letter, I am more than happy to oblige.

First of all, let me just warn you: this kid is cute. Heartbreakingly cute. Multiple kindergarten girls lining up to tell me they want to marry him cute. Not only is he physically adorable, he’s incredibly charming.  You’re going to eat him up.

Z is very inquisitive and eager to learn. How are race cars made? Why is popcorn called popcorn? What makes summer end? Can I read “The Hobbit,” too? (“Wow, you’re reading ‘The Hobbit’? What page are you on?” “Twelve. But I’ve only been reading for a few weeks." Oh, and he’s inadvertently hysterical.)

He’s very much like older brother E in that he’s a natural born athlete. He’s fast and strong and loves all sports. If you ever happen to try to pick him up you’ll discover he’s a solid mass of muscle, much heavier than he looks like he’d be (my sister-in-law once convinced we were playing a trick on her by hiding bricks in his pockets or something). We worry about him being labeled “just like his older brother” and being unable to blossom on his own so we’ve encouraged him to pursue his own interests. So he plays team sports with E and rides dirt bikes without him.

Z is our number-one helper. If he sees Daddy getting the toolbox or Mommy getting the mixer, he will say, “Can I help?” I think you’ll see you can rely on him in the classroom to be your right-hand man, too.

He really loves animals. He has a subscription to Ranger Rick, Jr. magazine and reads each issue cover to cover, over and over again. He spends more time than any of the other kids playing with our dog. He likes to walk her but he mostly likes to lie on the floor petting and snuggling her several times a day.

As I’m sure you already know, he needs to go to speech. He didn’t get started until late in the kindergarten year so he still has a lot to learn (or unlearn, really). Most people understand him in spite of his minor impediments and he rarely gets frustrated about it so I hope he can fix them way before the frustration ever gets a chance to set in.

The only problem he has ever had in school is rushing through his work. He’s a very social kid and like most children, really loves playing. It’s hard for him to slow down and finish his work correctly when he’d rather do it as fast as possible in hopes of getting back to playing. He did improve over the last school year but I’m sure after a summer off he’s going to have to relearn this lesson. We will be sure to talk to him about it at home, too.

We were absolutely amazed by how much he learned in his kindergarten year. It’s wonderful to see him reading and sounding words out to write on his own. Over the summer, he has continued adding numbers on to the number roll he started in kindergarten. We’re all excited for him to learn even more in first grade.

It would be easy to get lost in the shuffle as the fourth out of five kids. But this little boy really makes an impression. He is sweet, fun, caring, charming, compassionate, helpful, smart and adorable. I know you’re going to enjoy having him.

I look forward to seeing you again at Back to School Night! Enjoy your last few days of summer.


Friday, August 15, 2014

Five on Friday: One Week of Summer

I keep finding myself the same thing everyone seems to be saying right now, that summer has just flown by. But it's not really true--when I think back to the kids' last day of school it seems like a long time ago. Each day is filled with so much adventure, wonder and fun it contributes to the feeling of time passing quickly. Just in this past week we've had:

2. A fun overnight at the little lakeside cottage that my parents recently bought. My kids love being there. Now all but the youngest can kayak on their own and all including the youngest can jump off the floating dock like a pro. Thanks, Mom and Dad.  

3. Kids discovering wonders of nature everywhere. Z discovered a root that looks like his favorite letter. E captured the world's tiniest toad. They all caught salamanders and this poor guy lost his tail (and weird little A asked, "Can we eat the tail for dinner?")

4. Real girls=real amazing. Local artist and friend Catherine Lent and her daughter decided a new kind of club was needed for girls. (You may remember I spoke at the inaugural meeting on my "one big truth" . . . http://www.sisterserendip.com/2014/06/my-one-big-truth.html and I also led a bunch of fun acting improv activities at another meeting.) My daughter learned so much, got to meet amazing girls and tremendous women and will surely look back upon this summer as one of her most impactful. (She even got to spend a few hours writing, hanging out and playing games with a world famous author who gave a shout out to the group here: https://www.facebook.com/GilbertLiz/photos/a.356148997800555.79726.227291194019670/671669896248462/?type=1&theater) Yesterday was the summer's last meeting and I know next Thursday we'll be missing this group.

5. Free events and family fun time. We heard about this Concert Under the Stars in June and immediately put it on the calendar--a Beatles cover band would be performing. I still can't believe how much fun we all had there, not just our Beatles-obsessed child. The encore was "Twist and Shout" which even our 12 year old non-dancer G boogied down to (thanks to the scene in "Ferris Bueller") The band had a few costumes but the Sergeant Pepper ones were the most fun.

We have thirteen days left until the start of school. Other people are starting to wonder, "how can I entertain the kids another two weeks???" and I'm wondering, "When the heck are we going to pause the fun and go school shopping??"

Friday, August 8, 2014

Five on Friday: Zucchini Abundance

1. Zucchini muffins! Even if you make it all healthy-like with whole wheat and hardly any sugar, you can throw a few mini chocolate chips in and suddenly the kids don't even want to know what the green stuff is. (Shred it and freeze it for making muffins over the winter too!)

2. Sliced longways and grilled.

3. Sliced in circles and sauteed with some onions and garlic.

4. Shredded, squeezed, salted, sauteed with garlic and placed on top of angel hair pasta.

5. Sick of those already? Have no fear. August 8th is "Sneak a Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor's Porch Night" (and I'm not making that up).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Five on Friday: Things I'm Grateful for This Week

1. Clothesline. Less electricity used and sheets smell terrific. Plus it's so quaint!
2. Vegetable Garden. It's my favorite time of year when I can send a kid out to the garden to pick something for dinner.
3. Smart, creative, generally helpful kids
4. Community. I'm so thankful to be surrounded by interesting, artistic and fun people.
5. Daddy-O, for way more than five reasons

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Let Me Give You a Little Advice

Where is that baby’s hat?

The first time you hear it, you’re not sure it’s for real. After all, you’re indoors, it’s 75 degrees, and your baby is perfectly happy.

Welcome to parenthood. Your baby is (apparently) everybody’s business.

As shocking as it is to get that kind of unsolicited advice, it's been equally surprising  for me to be asked for my opinion on child-rearing. I guess now that I've put myself out there as a “Mommy Blogger” (oh god, that sounds worse than “Soccer Mom” doesn’t it? I might have to rethink this whole thing) people are sometimes asking me for advice or what my parenting philosophies are.

I suppose if I had to come up with one, it would actually be based on the three bits of parenting advice I got and did subscribe to (all from people I cared about, not strangers). They were:

   1. “Just love them.” Something I heard my Grandmother Babci say countless times about raising babies. It’s the basis for everything else, isn’t it? 

  2.   “This is YOUR baby, YOU know what’s best for her.”  This is what my midwife told me when I went for my first follow-up checkup after giving birth to my first child. At that point I had been a babysitter, nanny and aunt for over a decade so had a lot of experience with babies and children. Hearing this, though, was a pivotal realization that I was the Mom this time—and that I was the expert on my baby. It was imperative for me to hear that to find my confidence as a mother. She told me that I knew what was best for my baby and it turned out she was absolutely right.

   3. "Never give anyone parenting advice unless they specifically ask for it.” The third one was something my former boss (and still friend) told me. It resonated with me but I didn’t think it’d apply--who’d be asking quirky me for advice? But ask they did! Even before I started blogging! One of my first real Mom friends had a son in between my first two kids and constantly had questions for me, like, “When do they stop pulling books off the shelves?” “When do they sleep through the night?” When, how, why . . .? Surprised as I was to be asked, I always tried to answer the best I could but always with the disclaimer that “they’re all different, what worked on mine might not work on yours!” And it’s really true: I’m on kid number five and still don’t know what I’m doing sometimes. 

   Which brings me to my parenting philosophy, a combination of all three:

1.    “Just love them”. When the tensions are high and so is the yelling voice, give yourself a time out and repeat this mantra.

2. “You’re the expert on your baby”. Listen to your intuition (and if that doesn’t work, consider that sometimes if it doesn’t work, you have to try something counterintuitive. I learned that one when one of my nursing babies used to bite my nipple. Instead of pulling baby off immediately as my intuition dictated, I learned to pull him closer to make him stop. Also applies to showing more love to the child who is acting particularly unlovable.)

3.  “Never give anyone parenting advice unless they specifically ask for it.” Likewise, remember to ask for advice when you need to. Just like you shouldn’t give advice unless it’s asked for, you might be surrounded by people who aren't offering you help because you're not asking for it. Yes, I do believe each parent is the expert on his or her own baby but sometimes a fresh perspective is needed. Sometimes you’re on kid number five and out of ideas for getting the hitting to stop.  Lean on your village. Be part of other families’ villages in return.

So there it is, for those who have asked or were curious: the most serious parenting philosophy I can come up with. Feel free to adhere to, take with a grain of salt or completely disregard. I trust your ability to parent your own child without my input. And if I ever see you out in public with a hat free baby, I promise to not ask where his or her hat is.