Tag Archives: Ithilien

Small Victories

This afternoon, my family took a moment to celebrate.  Full-voice whoops of excitement, high fives and tens all around, jumping and spontaneously dancing to no music at all, running around in circles at high speed.  We had just done a dry-run install of the baby‘s car seat, and found a way to get a safe and correct install of all three kids’ seats in the back of our entry-level sedan.

And yes, it absolutely is a red-letter day.

This is what my life has come to.

So, I made a list of similar occurrences.  Because lists are a major part of how I cope, obviously.

Major but Trivial-Sounding Victories of Our Early Parenting Years:

  • Númenor’s feet were finally long enough that storebought newborn socks didn’t have ridiculous-looking empty heels flopping around halfway up his calf.
  • I found a stain-fighting solution that took out Númenor’s iron supplement.
  • Ithilien slept through the garbage trucks coming down our street.
  • I modified a recipe for a breakfast cookie so that it met all my criteria for a young toddler’s diet and didn’t taste like crap to me, either.
  • Númenor and Ithilien sat through a whole Chekov play without being disruptive.
  • I said “Well, it’s up to you.” and I meant it.
  • Ithilien decided that yes, sitting on your butt and scooting down the stairs WAS something that he could survive.
  • Númenor went a whole week with the same sheets on his bed.
  • Ithilien didn’t mind that his orange shirt with the monster on it was now too small for him and wanted to make sure we would put it into storage until the baby was big enough to wear it.
  • Númenor “read” a book to Ithilien so I could take a quick shower, and they were still “reading” together when I got back.
  • Ithilien spent a whole car ride talking about the interesting things outside his window instead of screaming hysterically for unknown reasons.
  • We invented the high-pitch OR high-volume rule.
  • Númenor chose to go back to his own bed in the middle of the night instead of coming into our bed.
  • Ithilien let me brush his hair, even though he had some tangles that needed working out.
  • I found a way to fit both small beds into the nursery in yet another house.
  • Númenor turned off the nature documentary he was watching and went outside to play.
  • Ithilien put his dishes in the sink immediately after he finished eating.
  • Númenor sat still while I dug a deep and painful splinter out of his foot.
  • Ithililen asked for more salad.
  • Númenor said “Can it be bedtime now?  I am tired.”

It really is the little things that make life worth living, isn’t it?

15 Truths About Parenting Little Kids

http://explosm.net/comics/3814/

You never, ever sleep alone, or a full night.  How would you know it was 3am if somebody hadn’t wet the bed?  How would you know it was 4:30 unless somebody had snuggled in next to you and miraculously managed to occupy 85% of the bed with a body 25% the size of yours?

Every meal is worse than water torture.  Forget getting them to eat the damn food, how about deciding what to make for them– when making plain pasta is UNACCEPTABLE and making sauced pasta is UNTHINKABLE and presenting them with either dish a personal insult, what is it that they want us to do?  How about bribing/threatening/manipulating/whatevering them into letting you prepare what they’ve demanded in peace, if they ever do decide on a single demand?

Your war cry is “Just a minute!”  They want fifteen totally contradictory things, surrender is not an option, and you’re just trying to get through the hour without having your head explode when they suddenly barrel in out of nowhere, shrieking and crying at you in the resonant frequency of your skeleton, and you know full well that they will show you no mercy if you ask them to slow down or start over.

Reason is not an option.  No, they don’t understand that if they would just hold still you would be done by now.  They don’t seem to hear you when you say that violence begets violence and remind them to use their words, and then they somehow conjure up surprise when they are in pain.

And yet, you are expected to know the explanation for everything.  “What does ‘solitary’ mean?” “Why do birds have feathers?” “What do tarantulas eat?” “Why are oil molecules slippery?” “Why do they call it ‘French’?” “What kind of spider is that?” “What is that dog’s name?” “Why are rocks hard?”

You have memorized what tracks of what CDs are “robot songs” or “hey! songs” or “na-na-na songs.”    You are secretly pleased that they like “Hey Jude” and “What I Like About You”, but you’re kind of embarrassed that they know so many words to “Domo Arigato Mister Roboto,” and you really hope they never sing “Centerfold” at Grandma’s house.

Movie nights are an unparalleled source of déjà vu.  Yes, they want to watch it again.  Even though they just watched it yesterday.  Even though they can recite every line.  Even though the songs have been stuck in your head for three months.

You don’t bother to guess what artwork is supposed to be.  To you, it’s clearly a scribble surrounded by irregular boxes, but this is a heretical thing to suggest to the beaming illustrator of, apparently, a Star Destroyer attacking a baby echidna in a robot suit with the laser guns going pew pew pew and a spider web catching the laser blasts so they can be recycled at the depot and made into force fields red force fields.

All of your household rules can be expressed in pithy soundbites, the better for yelling across the playground like an idiot.  “Be gentle and kind!”  “It’s his body, so he gets to decide!” “Everyone has their own imagination!” “If you don’t have consent, it’s not a game!”  “Use your words, and then get help!”

Sometimes, when you give advice, they listen.  Maude and all the Golden Girls be praised, y’all, it’s a Bastille Day Miracle!

Getting into the car seems to take every muscle in your back and most of an hour.  Address nudity, send to the toilet, help with shoes, maintain pace and stay on target, unlock door, demonstrate how to open door, wait, lift child, bend over, buckle, buckle, buckle, check shoes, check provisions and possessions, distribute car toys, defuse fighting over car toys, get in car, buckle, start engine, “rocket ship blasting off” countdown, drive away.

You no longer understand comedy.
They say: “Knock knock.”
You say: “Who’s there?”
They say: “Chicken walking across the road.”
You say: “Chicken walking across the road who?”
No answer, just hysterical, rolling-around-on-floor laughing.
What.  Just.  Happened.

History doesn’t seem to be the way you remember it.  “When I was a baby, I just went into the ocean with my robot swimsuit submarine and saw a shark and I said ‘good mornden, shark, I want to be your friend’ and the shark said ‘no I will eat you’ and then I was eated up and I died.” — Ithilien, apparently still alive and uneaten

Context is a luxury.  “Remember when we saw a movie at the drive-in lasted night, with the many women and the one woman growing a baby and one woman with black eyes and the white men driving-racing with a truck with monster-truck wheels and all fire and a sand cave full of ice and sand and there was an explosion?” –Númenor, describing Mad Max: Fury Road, which we saw six weeks prior

It’s a sacred and awe-inspiring occupation.  Every day is a fresh adventure, and they learn and change so fast you can barely keep up, but they still need their scrapes and bruises kissed and want to snuggle when they are tired.  They have sweet, baby-round cheeks, and long, strong limbs that carry them far and fast.  They worry about impossible things (like teddy bears coming to life and starving because they have only stuffing and no digestive organs) and inevitable things (like their own death).  They have tiny, mad, whirring, working minds, and the verbal skills to let you peek under the hood.  They love to give presents and have parties and prepare for holidays months in advance.  They tell you they love you, and they mean it.

Expectant

“Mommy, is you going to snuggle us’s new baby?”

Ithilien is always insistent about having real and prompt answers to his questions, so of course I say yes.  But he has more to say:

“Babies need thems mommies to snuggle them and give them milk or they die.”

Oversimplified, but true enough for mammals.  I tell Ithilien about the wonders of lactation– breast milk is full of antibodies, and even stem cells, and babies get everything they need from it.  We talk about how fragile babies are when they are still growing inside of somebody else, how the directions for building them that they carry inside their cells can be wrong or broken or missing steps, how teeny-tiny and tenuous that new life really is.

And every time Ithilien wants to talk about it, I have to face the hard realities that expectant parents try to ignore: that miscarriage is common, that stillbirth happens, that prematurity is surmountable but damaging, that sometimes there’s no good reason for a child to die or a pregnancy to end but it happens anyway.

I try to take a moment to really feel the powerlessness and the fear during these conversations, no matter how strongly I want to deny it and how harshly I want to reject the possibility that the child I carry now could come to harm.

Because I know that it’s possible.  I have walked that road before, and as distant as its horrors may seem when I’m ankle-deep in splashed-out bathwater and contemplating walls that have been fingerpainted with tomato sauce, I will never be able to forget.

So, as I knit and sew and write and organize in preparation for this new baby, I do so with the understanding that hit might never wear these tiny clothes or be wrapped in this beautiful blanket.  I watch the clean, pure wood emerging under Robert’s knife, and I envision the crib he’s building, and then I picture packing the crib away, still unused, and being too worn out by my grief to even summon tears.

Sometimes I have to put an overwhelming amount of effort into remembering that the most likely thing that will happen is that I will give birth to a living and healthy tiny human this winter.  I reassure myself daily that pregnancy loss after this point is extremely rare, that stillbirth and perinatal death and neonatal death are all unlikely, that infant death is not commonplace in my society.  I try to believe, to truly expect.

It’s not easy to have hope when you have known utter despair.

But I am trying.  Some days it feels like I’m tricking myself into thinking we’ll have a new baby, artlessly attempting to hide the inevitability of my bereavement.  Some days it feels like part of me does expect a new baby, and the rest of me holds that naive part in simultaneous awe and contempt.  And some days, some precious days, some few precious days, I really feel myself to be an expectant mother.

Those are the good days.  Days when the baby is kicking and rolling and generally making hits presence felt, and I’m just sick enough to believe that I’m pregnant without being miserable, and Númenor and Ithilien say sweet things about their plans for being big siblings and ask to put their heads on my belly to talk to the baby.

“Hi, baby.”  That’s how Númenor starts all of these conversations, which can, depending on his mood, be quite long and wide-ranging.

“I love dyu, baby.”  That’s all Ithilien ever seems moved to say.

And that’s perfect.

Because, thankfully, babies don’t expect you to have all your shit figured out and your baggage neatly unpacked through years of psychoanalysis and personal growth.  They aren’t born demanding quarterly statements for your investment account or even the car keys, although I understand that does come up eventually.  They don’t care about whether you finished all the projects on your nesting list or why you’re moved to tears to see their tiny squinting faces.

They don’t need anything but love.

And snuggling.

And milk.

And those are things I am totally comfortable holding in expectation.

Find the Magic

We spent our weekend (our WHOLE weekend, friends!) cleaning and reorganizing the house.

Yep.

That means there was plenty of dust and laughter and reminiscing, and lots of frustration and more than a little yelling, lots of going up and down stairs and hefting and hauling, some sadness and some serendipity, and the smell of vinegar and the sound of the Pandora station I created to bridge the gap between Robert’s taste in work music and mine.

It also means that the smalls spent the weekend Being Tested: listening, following directions, performing difficult tasks, staying focused, managing their compulsions to derange sorting piles and run around unaccustomed places, being responsible for their choices, and proactively communicating their own needs.

Unsurprisingly, then, today everyone woke up feeling pretty grumpy and low-energy.

On grumpy, low-energy days, even ones that you have earned by dint of hard work and awesomeness, it can be difficult to find the magic in your life.

But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.

So this afternoon, while I was feeling like ugh and yuck and blerg and blah, I walked around my home and captured these little bits of magic:

artwallAn updated art wall (now with figural art, perspective cues, symbols, and some child-written labels!).

knitting in progressA big project edging toward completion.

soft toys in a rowRe-discovered pretend friends.

new saltNew salt, white and pure and beautiful.

lettuceLate-planted seeds racing toward the sun.

garlic harvestThe first garlic harvest of the year, laid out to dry.

toys put awayCreative tools ready for new inspiration.

took and henhouseA laying flock.

reading nookA quiet, comfortable hideaway for book lovers.

spring raindrop baby dollSweet reminders of a spring well-spent.

blackberry blossoms and ripening fruitAnd the promise of blackberries to come.

Happy summer to you and yours!  May you find the magic wherever you look!

 


Stay tuned for more on the knitting!

Soft toys from L to R: homemade rocket ship (following this tutorial), sea turtle, warty pig, trilobite from PRI, and manatee from Sea World (from a trip I took in my childhood; I would NEVER go there by choice).

Toys from top L, clockwise: train, dragon, bushel basket, American maple hardwood school blocks, rocket ship, homemade storage cubbies.

Reading nook: The Hare and the Tortoise, Goodnight Oregon, C is for Cthulhu, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.  Basket is an old one from Ten Thousand Villages, shark bean bags are homemade based on this photo.

Spring raindrop baby was homemade, inspired by the work of a now-retired Etsy seller.

 

Where We’ve Been

We traveled the state, learning to spell all the important words and breathing the sea air and feeling the cool dappled forest shade and biking unsteadily along the rivers.

We played in the rain.

Ithilien plays in the rain

We got haircuts.

We spoke the most important words in the world daily, hourly, sometimes more than once a minute: love, you, have, eat, hold, go, kind, wash, sweet, listen, look, yes, gentle.

We learned about cell division, human reproduction, essential vitamins and minerals, volcanoes, colonial encounters, death, weather, sharks, sea lions, shipwrecks, and salmon.

Númenor and Ithilien looking up at an exhibit at the aquarium

We sat in the sun and laughed with friends.

We celebrated the end of a teaching year, and witnessed the beginning of a marriage.

We played music with our speakers and made music with our voices, our hands, our hearts.

We ate strawberries and asparagus, brie and mustard, chocolate and almonds.  We drank hibiscus tea and lemonade and milkshakes and mead and plenty of cold water.

We heard the cicadas.

We told stories late into the night.

We went to the drive-in.

We danced in the car, and on the deck, and in the kitchen, and at the beach, and while pulling weeds, and to music we were hearing for the first time, and to songs we know by heart.

Númenor sifting sand at the beach

We boiled salt.

We scrubbed socks.

We compared tan lines.

sparse clouds in a blue sky with some fir tree branches

We read books and magazines and blogs and Wikipedia, and we read aloud and read along and laughed and cried and were transported.

We saw a coyote, and a falcon, and a snake, and dozens of butterflies.

We baked bread and we bought bread and we ate bread and we fed bread to the chickens.

We treated our wounds and checked on their progress in healing.

We made popsicles and transplanted seedlings, we smeared ourselves with lemon balm and watched spiders, we fixed things long-broken and made new starts.

In short, we made, we learned, and we lived.


Where have you been these past few weeks?

Toys with SOUL

Lately I’ve seen several blog posts about taking away your children’s toys, and how much they benefit from the freedom and lack of distraction and clutter.

But I’ve noticed that nobody actually takes away ALL their children’s toys.  And for good reason!  Play is the work of childhood, for one thing, but more importantly, where would you stop?  Cardboard boxes are toys.  Craft supplies, board games, playing cards, books, sticks, rocks, recycling materials, pillows, and furniture can all be part of a game, too.

Obviously there is wisdom in limiting the playthings available to a child to what they can reasonably use and enjoy– too many toys cause chaos and clutter instead of fostering learning– but I don’t think it’s really necessary (or desirable!) to take ALL, or even most, of a child’s toys away.

Instead of taking things away, I focus on having the best things in the first place.  But that presents a problem of definition: how do you tell if a toy is really the best it could be?  Is it about carbon footprint?  Price?  Ethical manufacture?  Subject?  Do you follow Montessori guidelines?  Waldorf?  Froebel?  What about that pesky cardboard box?

Robert talks about measuring the usefulness of toys in milisticks (one-thousandth the usefulness of a stick), as if you could calculate such a number.

I once tried to make a list of Platonic ideal toys, not unlike Friedrich Froebel’s list of gifts:

  • The stick about as long as your arm and two fingers thick (toy swords, magic wands, hobby horses, and fishing poles also fall into this category).
  • The collection of smooth pebbles that each fit nicely in the palm of your hand (marbles, small beanbags, little wooden figures).
  • The piece of string about as long as your armspan (dress-up belt, horse reigns, garland, necklace, clothesline).
  • The bit of wood about the size of your hand (the toy car, the bathtub boat, building blocks, play food, small board books).
  • The scarf big enough to wear as a cape (dress-up cape, doll blanket, fort-building sheet, bag).
  • The box just big enough to sit inside (rocket ship, car, cave, fort).
  • The avatar (doll, action figure).

But then how many of each is appropriate?  And is that really an exhaustive list?  And is there an advantage to differentiation– is it better to have a wheeled car AND a bathtub boat rather than just a block of wood that you could pretend is either a car or boat?

After a few years of trying to verbalize what the difference was between toys that were “good”(perennial favorites with the smalls, pleasing to me) and those that were gimmicky or just not well-designed, I finally came up with a satisfactory method for screening our collection.  All our toys have to have SOUL.

Playthings should be:

Simple:  A minimum of fuss, function, and automation.  Ease of production, repair, and disposal should also be considered.

handmade soft mouse toys and sleeping bag

Operational: No missing parts, not broken, not too complicated for the children to use at their current stage of development, not too dangerous/limited for use in the area where it is found.

wooden train built from colorful blocks

Useful: Strengthens a necessary skill through play (e.g., lacing cards, button snake), or provides an outlet to explore something of unlimited interest (e.g., dolls), or can be used in infinite ways (e.g., blocks, marbles).

Númenor assembling a tinkertoy creation

Loved: If your child wouldn’t miss it, your child doesn’t need it.

Ithilien with his favorite toy, "Bitey" the plastic shark

Simple.  Operational.  Useful.  Loved.  SOUL.

Full disclosure:

  • Yes, sometimes they talk about wanting a specific toy.  They aren’t often exposed to ads and we don’t go to toy stores or toy departments (talk about a mecca of the pink/blue dichotomy), so this usually takes the form of Númenor rattling off a list of specifications for a hypothetical toy he would like to have.  My answer is always the same: How can you make a toy like that for yourself?  Sometimes I offer suggestions for materials or offer to help him design or build.  Sometimes it’s as simple as pretending one of the simpler toys we have already has those advanced features (lights up, fires lasers, etc.) with the help of sound effects.
  • Yes, we do limit toys coming into the house.  We ask for very specific things for the children for gift-giving occasions, only about half of which are toys, and we intercept and donate or return unacceptable things before they are added to our collection.
  • Yes, I do sometimes pick up the toys for my children.  But more than 90% of the time, we work together to do it or I supervise while they do it.  We have built the habit of helping to put their own things away correctly and cheerfully since they were babies, and now it is second nature and I only have to step in when a tantrum or an unexpectedly early bedtime interrupts the usual night routine.
  • Yes, sometimes my children do squabble over turn-taking related to toys– but sometimes they squabble over turn-taking for sticks, rocks, or bits of recycling they have made into playthings.  Anyone who tells you that their kids never fight about turn-taking now that they don’t have storebought toys is being less than truthful or has alien podlings instead of human children.
  • Yes, every few months we rotate the toys that we have out, and as part of that rotation, we pull out toys that are outgrown, broken, or don’t adhere to the SOUL criteria.  But I don’t feel burdened by using half an hour of my time every three months and couple of 18-gallon storage containers in our garage to make our toy collection manageable.
  • Obviously, as with all parenting advice, this is simply what works for us, and it might not work as well (or at all!) for other families.

 

 


 

 

The soft mice and their sleeping bag were handmade by a member of my extended family, the train is from Melissa & Doug, the rods and connectors are Tinkertoys, and Bitey the plastic shark (currently Ithilien’s favorite toy) was a gift.

 

Storm

It starts subtly:

A flash in my peripheral vision,

and then a distant growl.

The air pressure slowly builds, and I become more and more sure that the intermittent flashes and the far-away rumbles are lightning and thunder.

Finally I admit defeat, and the smalls and I turn off all the devices in the house, clear walking paths through the morning’s play mess, grab flashlights and snuggle up under a blanket to watch the storm roll up the river.

Lightning stabs the mountains, Oregon and Washington side alike, the border meaningless.

We count, breathlessly, in anticipation of the rumble and roar of the thunder through the clouds– ten seconds means about two miles away, about as far away as Robert’s office.  A new flash of light, and we count again– eight seconds, about as far away as the first park we discovered when we moved here.  Then a long pause.  Stillness.  A drizzling rain.

I take some food scraps out to the chicken yard and do some quick weeding on the way– a handful of stray grass and a big curly dock plant from the skullcap bed– the chickens love weeds, and the clumps of soil clinging to their roots often hide woodlice and centipedes and other protein-filled treats.

And then, another flash of light over the river.  I count silently to myself as I take off my yard shoes and open the bathroom door– five seconds, about a mile away.

Ithilien is scared of the “monster sounds” of the thunder.  He stands close to me and puts his arms around my legs, shivering in a way that is mostly theatrical– he’s genuinely frightened, but the trembling is a voluntary affectation to communicate to me how scared he his.

We sit in the corner of the library and I hold him.  I tell him that thunder is just a sound the air makes when lightning moves through it, and he is very safe from lightning inside the house.  Númenor says that people build houses to keep their babies safe, an oversimplified version of a fact we’ve discussed before.

The lightning flashes.  We count again, but I’m still saying the word “four” when the thunder rolls and crashes like a turbulent sea above our heads.  Now we’re all under the blanket again, and Númenor whispers quietly, “Four means less than one mile– like maybe zero miles.”  Ithilien buries his head in my shoulder, and says, in a small voice, “Zero means none, Mommy.”

Suddenly the sky opens, and rain pours down, with a rattling, chasing sound that– for once– actually might be approximated by rice falling through a maze of nails inside a hollow tube.  I can see the chickens through the window, huddled in the door of the henhouse, this downpour too much even for them.  They twist their heads up occasionally to catch and drink the drops of rainwater collecting at their rooftop eaves.

The rain changes to hail, buckshot-sized and coming down so thick and so fast that for a moment I think it might be snow.  Another flash of light, and this time the bullwhip in the heavens cracks immediately after, before we can even start to count, rattling the windows and shaking the trees.  The hail intensifies until I can’t see the back fence through it.  Another flash and crash, directly overhead.  The chickens wait patiently, their heads ducked inside the henhouse now.  Ithilien whimpers quietly in my lap, and Númenor asks if the hail will kill our carrot seedlings.  I tell him that I don’t know.

And then, just as quickly as it began, the hail is over.  A few straggling stones send up miniature showers of their older siblings as they crash into the layer of ice droplets on the back deck.  We open the back door to pick up a few hailstones with a spoon and look at them.

As the rain tapers off and we hear one final peal of thunder rolling away to the east, Ithilien is the first to pull on shoes and dance in the wild-scattered whiteness.  He squeals with laughter as he slips and skids across the usually-unremarkable wooden slats of the back deck.

ithilien dancing in the hailstones left behind on our deck

I peek into the containers of carrot plants, and am relieved to see their ashy-green fronds, beleaguered but mostly unbroken, among the sprinkles of already-melting frozen cloud.  The chickens gobble up the scattered ice pellets with apparent delight.  Númenor collects a bare handful of hailstones and gives a surprised yelp– “They’re so cold!”– as he casts them away.

hailstones in númenor's hand

The smalls hurry into jackets and hats and unseasonable mittens and race out into the yard, climbing to the top terrace to survey the damaged dandelion “wishes,” giggling at the greedily-pecking chickens, shaking the lowest branches of the trees to create their own tiny stormlets of concentrated raindrops and melting ice.

And thunderous laughter.

And flashing life.