Seperate but equal? Talk to your father, babe

The girls and I spend most Tuesday and Thursday mornings with Chrysanthemum and her kids. Chrysanthemum is lucky enough to have one of each, a girl and an alien being from the planet Jane, How does this work?

Rachel is the same age as my Susan (4) and Jacob is the same age as my Spot (2). Rachel is the most placid kid I’ve ever met. Even in the minivan, where she’s exiled to the lonely middle seat while the others ride in the back and watch the movie, Rachel is content.

But Jacob is another story. That boy is not quiet or incurious or eagerly agreeable, if you know what I’m saying.

Things are fine on Tuesdays and Thursday mornings though, when Sally is busy negotiating the social structures of the second grade.

On a fine Saturday morning, however, when we are babysitting while Chrysanthemum and her husband dress rehearse for the church Christmas program, it’s a whole new dynamic.

(And it’s almost enough to make me wish I were at bit more musically inclined.)

Sally is used to being the leader of the little people. She objects to being lumped in with “the kids,” but she condescends to being known as the leader of the little people, despite my sweet mother-in-law’s objection that this might be offensive to the persons in TLC’s Little People, Big World reality TV show.

(I think if you’re willing to be filmed for a reality TV show, you probably won’t get your knickers in a twist over a seven-year old calling her sisters “little people”). (Because reality show stars are big-hearted like that).

This morning Susan shared her paints with Jacob, who refreshed his muddy water at a rate consistent with his fascination for the water that comes out of the door of the fridge. Spot did some hard time in the laundry room after slapping Rachel for breathing on her dolly stroller, and Sally decided, after repeatedly expressing her gratitude, loudly, for not having any brothers, that the fort in the loft is now a Girls Club.

Dick objected.

Dick is, after all, male. Also, his ears were being pierced by the screams emitting from the other male person in the room.

Sally said she would make a separate Boys Club for whenever Jacob is over to play.

This satisfied no one but Sally, Susan, Spot, Rachel, and me. Which is to say that it satisfied everyone but the two male persons who found that to be rather discriminatory. Or, in other words, the screaming from the short male person was not stopped by Sally’s campaign promises of equal facilities and equal opportunities for hiding from the grown-ups.

And I guess I can’t blame Jacob. It probably wouldn’t be any fun to hide out in a Boys Club by yourself. For one thing, one of the main components of a club is the other members, so how could a club of one be even remotely equal to a club of four?

I thought about taking Sally aside for a quick rundown on Civil Rights, beginning with the War Between the States and Brown v. Board of Education and continuing on to Rosa Parks and Caroline Kennedy, who deserves that senate seat even if her husband didn’t cheat on her because DANG she wears pearls well.

But by the time I had prepared to fight this threat to justice everywhere, Jacob had agreed to Sally’s suggestion that they go string bracelets from the plastic bead collection.

Because, you see, there are no girl toys and boy toys, no Girls Club and Boys Club. Only love and harmony and SHARING, at our house.

Yurelli’s Buddy

Sally has reached that age where she will not reveal what she did at school today. Even under extreme pressure from mastermind interrogation techniques (Mom singing the songs from Barbie and The Diamond Castle), she deflects the conversation to her latest drawing of a unipegicorn and, on a weak day, she’ll only confess that “Serenity is my best friend and Emma H. is a little mean.”

But last week she was positively loquacious on the subject of what she would be missing if we were late. (I don’t know where she gets this compulsion to be on time for things).

If we were late, she’d miss DOL and weather and calendar and jobs. Jobs is especially important, because everyone has a job to do to make the classroom work, and it changes every day.

What kind of jobs? I asked (because I’m an interested parent).  Sally said the jobs are like messenger, eraser, line leader, Yurelli’s Buddy, librarian, lunch count. I asked which was her favorite (because I’m also an involved parent). And then I said, Wait. What’s Yurelli’s Buddy?

Well, she said, Yurelli doesn’t speak English, so if you’re her buddy then you sit by her all day and explain everything to her and if you get your work done early, you can take her around the classroom and point things out to her. Miss Thompson put labels on the “door” and “cabinet” and “rug,” and you can teach Yurelli how to say those things.

But you don’t speak Spanish, I said. How do you explain things to her if you don’t speak Spanish and she doesn’t speak English?

Sally couldn’t really explain how this language exchange works, and apparently Yurelli is still struggling with English, but the kids in the class like getting the Yurelli’s Buddy assignment, and Sally likes it when Eurelli plays with her posse on the playground.

Probably the whole class should be learning Spanish (and German and French and Chinese). And maybe Yurelli should be in a special bilingual program that celebrates her unique heritage, blah blah blah, but I think it’s kind of cool that Yurelli gets a new buddy every day and that the kids enjoy touring around the classroom with her.

If we ever move to Italy or Argentina or Tasmania, I imagine there would be tons of kids lining up to be Sally’s Buddy, if only so she can teach them how to draw a pegicornasus.

Jane

Halloween, Seagull Fountain ed.

I’m tempted to give Seagull Fountain a ten in the Halloween stakes, merely because it is the first place we have lived where people walk around with small children asking for candy. Well, people might have done that on our street in Florida, but since it was the drug-dealing capital of the world (after Wasilla), it was hard to tell.

But no place is perfect, and even with nary a princess in sight (we had a witch, a Heffalump, and a ladybug), the coveted 10 of Halloweens is yet to be experienced.

So how did Seagull Fountain do on the individual measures?

(On a Scale of 1 to 10):

Ease of Collection: 7. It was safe; drizzly but not cold. We could use some more streetlights out here in the SF, but the stars are nice in a pinch (and on a clear night).

Friendliness of Fellow Parents: 8. One lady asked who we were, and we started our spiel about being new in the neighborhood. No, she interrupted, who are you supposed to be? Another lady asked if I was a Ninja. No, I said, I’m Michelle Obama. (JUST KIDDING. I DIDN’T SAY THAT. NOT EVEN IN A JON STEWART SORT OF WAY). Dick and I were Egyptians, because we’ve had those costumes forever and they don’t require hair-brushing or makeup.

Appeal of Candy (ratio of name brand chocolate to generic crap): 5. I bought mini candy bars to set out in case my Costco-bulk stuff was bringing down the whole neighborhood. It was not.

Presentation: 7. One family invited us in for a haunted house. Sally was the only one who made it through, and she didn’t like it. Spiders, mummies, witches, and skeletons are okay, but the mist-maker is going too far for an almost-8 year-old.

Also, I don’t know where I was when they passed out patterns for the jack-o’lanterns. Our pumpkins definitely were letting the neighborhood down.

Comparing to Trunk-r-Treat: 6. Spot refused to dress up at the Trunk-r-Treat, but since she looks fairly orphan-like in her daily life, she made a passable Annie.

Dick thinks we shouldn’t make the candy such a taboo that the kids crave it even more. Instead, we should let them eat what they want and eventually they’ll get sick and learn that too much candy isn’t a great thing. Only, THAT STRATEGY HASN’T WORKED ON ME IN 31 YEARS.

Jane

How was your Halloween? Does your neighborhood score a 10?

Sandwiched but not forgotten

During church last Sunday, Dick asked me if Susan has ADD. I pointed out that A) it was 2 pm and B) we were coming out of a long stretch of boring and C) she did just turn four years old.

Other than that, I got nothing.

I told Grandma (yes, that Grandma) about this exchange, thinking that she and I could have a “What do men know? This is how children behave” bonding moment.

She said, “Well, you could ask your dad about it, but we just tend to think that Susan is Susan.”

Now, I am not one to say that my children are extraordinary. Not extraordinarily good or extraordinarily bad, extraordinarily smart or extraordinarily mischievous. I mean, clearly they are well above-average, but nothing is more tedious than a parent who acts as though their child was the first to ever sing the alphabet or to need seventeen timeouts in one afternoon.

But, as Susan turns four and heads off to preschool (Finally! Note to self: Never give birth in October), I’m left to wonder: What exactly makes Susan Susan?

When we visited our friends in Idaho earlier this month, I remembered many meals shared with them during which we played a game with their son called “Trick Jimmy Into Eating.” On one memorable occasion we got him to eat a chicken nugget that he didn’t exactly digest, if you know what I mean.

We have never had to play “Trick Susan Into Eating.” We play “You can have one more piece of bread and then you HAVE TO GO TO BED I MEAN IT” with Susan. My friend noticed that, of all the healthy appetites in our family, Susan’s is possibly the most healthy.

How did she put it nicely? She said: “Wow, you’re lucky that Susan’s metabolism is so good.”

When I picked up Susan after her first day of preschool, her teacher asked if she’s really left-handed. As if she were going incognito and is secretly ambidextrous. Well, we tend to think that she really is left-handed. At least, nothing we’ve tried so far has cured her. No matter the teasing, the portion-control, or the Chinese water torture, Susan still picks up her fork with her left hand.

Dick likes to say that Susan is my double in looks and temperament. To be honest, I have always thought that she might be extraordinarily good-looking. But . . . I was a headstrong, um, vocal, first child. Shouldn’t Susan, as the middle child, be put-upon and down-trodden and obssessed with calf nuts?

And should she be uttering my own favorite teenage-angst questions so early? “It’s not fair!” “You’re really mean.” “I don’t like you any more.” “You don’t understaaaaaaaaaand!”

Oh, believe me, Susan, I do understand. Life isn’t fair, Mom really is that mean, and getting meaner every year.

It would hurt my feelings if I really thought you didn’t like me any more, but since you hugged me and told me that you loved me right before asking for another piece of bread tonight, I’m sure it was just a mood you were having.

Happy Birthday! Mom loves you, and so do your sisters, and so does your dad.

Your kisses don’t make it better anymore; only a bandaid makes it all better.

Usually I like to think that I’m exaggerating when I talk about a fault of mine. No one could be THAT bad a mom or a wife or a school chauffeur-er, but lately I’ve realized that I really am THAT bad, and I can no longer point out that things COULD BE WORSE by pretending that I feel bad that I’m much worse than I really know I am not.

Last week, when school had been in session for approximately ten seconds, the Parents or Guardian of Sally got a very formal letter from the school expressing concern over her numerous tardies and absences. Two weeks of school and she’s already missed too much = A new personal best at Chez Dick and Jane!!

But really, even though Sally is well above-average, a little part of me still worries that if she doesn’t get in the habit of going to school now, she might want to stay home and talk to me when she is thirteen, and then she’ll never have the character-building experience of being asked to return her half of a BE FRI – ST ENDS necklace.

Which is why I thought it would be good for my girls to play with their Princess-Barbie-loving cousins yesterday. That and the fact that Dick had a late meeting and my sister has a backyard, and a fence, and a lock on the sliding glass door to the backyard.

Since Marcy is just getting used to her new apres-marriage house, we slept over. There’s nothing like extra junk and people sleeping in your basement to make a house feel like home. After we got the kids down, I helped Marcy christen the new house with a ritual viewing of the Keira Knightley/Matthew MacFadyen Pride and Prejudice. It was late; mostly we just fast-forwarded to our favorite Lady Catherine lines like “If I had ever learned, I should have a been a great proficient.”

This morning Sally was thirty minutes late to school, which I didn’t think was too bad, considering we had to drive 49 minutes from the wild bachelorette house to get there. And I even made her a sandwich for lunch, though I had to use ranch dressing with the turkey, because Marcy had no idea where her mayonnaise was.

So basically I was feeling pretty swell today, confident in my good mothering skills. I read a bunch of books to Susan and Spot before naptime, including Fanny’s Dream, which proves that even the most excellent of books become slightly less compelling after being forced to nod and smile encouragingly about the “a hat” and the “a dog” on every single page.

A few minutes after Spot fell asleep, I got a call from my mom. Sally’s school had called her, because I forgot to pick up Sally, and I didn’t answer my phone when they tried to call me. The phone that I WAS answering, obviously, otherwise how would I be talking to my mom about the fact that I was thirty minutes late for early-release Friday?

Dick pretended he wasn’t disappointed that I had once again forsaken my oldest daughter for the fleeting pleasures of the internet. He even tried to cheer me up by saying he figured the 30 minutes late for drop-off and 30 minutes late for pick-up should cancel each other out. Good point. Oh, public school. How fickle you are! You’re upset when she’s not there and then upset when she is. Make up your mind, already.

You know what they say: raising children is all about being consistent.

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Unscheduled Blogging Break: the Good, the Bad, and the Still Dirty House

I haven’t posted in nine days, which in blogging terms is closer to seventy-four years. Didn’t plan it, didn’t resurrect posts from my archive (most of which make internet bulimia look good). I don’t really know what happened, beyond your common-or-Dr. Seuss-variety slump.

A few years ago, Angela from New York sent us the children’s book Hurry, Hurry, Mary Dear by N. M. Bodecker and Eric Blegvad. It’s a poem about a woman in New England who has chores galore before winter comes. “Stack the stove wood, string the beans, up the storms and down the screens.” Round and round and in and out she whirls, while Hubs lolls in bed and then waits for his tea in his rocking chair.

Dick isn’t that bad, we live in an apartment, and if ignoring your children were an Olympic sport I’d be the Shawn Johnson of mothering. (Finally a gold in something!). So other than the adequately-helpful husband, easy access to mass-manufactured canned goods, and kids happy to watch movie after movie, my life is exactly the same as the under-appreciated, over-worked Mary Dear.

That’s my excuse for not blogging, anyway. Of course, probably you managed to find other means of entertainment in my absence (Just kidding! — of course you sat and moped while I slumped and Michael Phelps won yet another gold medal. I mean, after awhile, doesn’t all that winning and breaking world records and million dollar bonuses from Visa get just a bit . . . old?).

Have you noticed how many sports have four events or four strokes, or how much better baseball would be if there were only four innings? So I tried to think up four categories for my blogging break, but there’s a reason I’m not an Olympic athlete, despite doing my best to eat as close to 12,000 calories a day as possible. So I fell back on pros and cons:

Seven Pros and Cons of the Blogging Break

(1) Pro: Fun Outings with the kids (pools, dinosaur museums, parks)

Con: Since Susan (turning 4 in October) will not start kindergarten for 734 days, there are more pools, dinosaur museums, parks and McDonald play places in my immediate future than June Cleaver ever imagined.

(2) Pro: All this swimming = best tan of my life.

Con: All this no-routine-in-general, not-going-to-the gym-in-specific = flabbiest stomach since Spot vacated the premises.

(3) Pro: Gorgeous Utah weather — it’s getting chilly after dark now, and we’ve been stopping at parks on our way home.

Con: That’s on our way home from seeing every single (cheap) house, townhome, and condo in a thirty-mile radius. Apparently we are poor, picky, poor, and soon-to-be homeless.

(4) Pro: Quality reading time.

Con: Spending the better part of two days reading Breaking Dawn = “quality” might be a stretch. (That’s nothing time-wasting-wise though — I read Scarlett, arguably the worst book ever, in 18 hours straight).

(5) Pro: More time for “real life.”

Con: The house is still a mess anyway. “Real life” should not include “clean house.”

(6) Pro: Time with good friends from high school and my sister.

Con: Real-life problems like complicated pregnancies and lousy husbands are much harder to cope with that quirky servers and mean Stumblers and feelings of raging blogging-inadequacy.

(7) Pro: If you don’t post, turning on the computer is much less “what-if-no-one-commented-on-my-last-post” angst-ridden.

Con: If you don’t post, getting fewer comments is almost for sure. (Although I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the emails, tweets, and IRL comments; my acknowledgments page is all ready in case I ever write anything real).

If you wrote a great post while I’ve been gone, let me know. I hate it when people say that. Duh, all my posts are great, and if you weren’t such a loser, you’d know that and whenever you come back from a break you’d be camped out at my blog catching up. Right? Well, let me know if I missed your epic/ramble/etc. I’ll stumble it for you! Seriously. Unless you’d rather I didn’t, in which case tell me why, ’cause I’m planning a post on Adventures in Stumbling.

We’re going to my dad’s family’s reunion tonight; back late Thursday. Had to promise Dick I’d do all the laundry this week in exchange for him getting to go on the funnest camping trip ever with the coolest people ever. ! So if you send me a post url after 3 pm today, I’ll stumble it early Friday. I’d really like to read your post, stumble it, and then get some feedback from you as to what sort of response/traffic you get from the experience. Like a focus group, only better.

The Magical Mystery Powers of Swimming Lessons

It isn’t the swimming-learning, though that is coming right along. Sally jumped off the high dive and was queasy for a couple hours after a spectacular belly flop. (My description of “ballerina legs and toes” didn’t help). Spot blows bubbles and can travel along the wall and mostly pull herself out. Susan is a “Monkey, Airplane, Soldier” (elementary backstroke) fiend.

But the best part of swimming lessons?

Don’t forget Things That Must Go this weekend.

Brought to you by Jacki.