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Five Winnie-the-Pooh Moments that I Refer to in Real Life

A special edition of My Life in Picture Books to celebrate (admittedly a few months late) the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh’s introduction*!

Some classic children’s books aren’t necessarily uplifting to read, like Mary Poppins (spoiler alert: in case you don’t know, the Disney version of the character is sugary-sweet by comparison to the real MP).  Some classic children’s books are problematic due to racism or sexism or imperialism, like…well, anything written by Rudyard Kipling.  Some classic children’s books are difficult to read aloud because of language or dialect issues, like The Wind in the Willows.  Some require a LOT of background information, so much so that to read them to a modern child is to give line-by-line commentary, such as the Little House series or the All of a Kind Family series.

And some classic children’s books are every bit as sweet and charming and relate-able as you remembered from your own childhood, like Winnie-the-Pooh.

Christopher Robin Milne and Edward Bear (aka Winnie-the-Pooh) c.1927

Here are a handful of vignettes from the classic books about the stuffed animals that live in a fictionalized version of Ashdown Forest that have become part of our personal Darmok in the Surton household:

1.  “Really as blue and as bracing.”  We use this phrase to mean “it was all it was cracked up to be” or “it was even more wonderful than I expected/remembered”.

Piglet wasn’t listening, he was so agog at the thought of seeing Christopher Robin’s blue braces again.  He had only seen them once before, when he was much younger, and, being a little over-excited by them, had had to go to bed half an hour earlier than usual; and he had always wondered since if they were really as blue and as bracing as he had thought them.

2.  “French word meaning bonhommy.”  An exclamatory phrase used to explain that a word or phrase is difficult to define or untranslatable, or is so obvious a cognate or etymology that it stands for itself.  Eeyore is perhaps the oldest inhabitant in the forest; he has the sarcastic and cynical attitude of a teenager at least, whereas the other characters behave like little kids.  When the other animals forget Eeyore’s birthday and he is trying to get Pooh to ask why he’s upset, he is in rare form.

“Nothing, Pooh Bear, nothing.  We can’t all, and some of us don’t.  That’s all there is to it.”

“Can’t all what?” said Pooh, rubbing his nose.

“Gaiety.  Song-and-dance.  Here we go round the mulberry bush.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.  He thought for a long time, and then asked, “What mulberry bush is that?”

“Bon-hommy,” went on Eeyore gloomily.  “French word meaning bonhommy,” he explained.  “I’m not complaining, but There It Is.”

3.  “Aha!”  The other animals kidnap baby Roo and leave Piglet in his place.  Piglet tries desperately to carry out Rabbit’s plan (everyone would say aha! to Kanga so she understands that Roo has been kidnapped and will only be given back once she agrees to leave the forest forever).  We use this phrase, and its repetition, to indicate that a Cunning Plan has come to fruition and we want other people to notice.

“Aha!” said Piglet, as well as he could after his Terrifying Journey.  But it wasn’t a very good “Aha!” and Kanga didn’t seem to understand what it meant.

“Bath first,” said Kanga in a cheerful voice.

“Aha!” said Piglet again, looking round anxiously for the others.  But the others weren’t there.

4.  “I think the bees suspect something.”  From one of Pooh’s most famous escapades, in which he dresses up as a cloud and rides a balloon up into the sky next to a beehive in an attempt to steal some honey.  We use this phrase pretty much exactly as Pooh did– for indicating that someone has caught on.

After a little while, [Pooh] called down…

“I think the bees suspect something!”

“What sort of thing?”

“I don’t know.  But something tells me that they’re suspicious!”

“Perhaps they think that you’re after their honey.”

“It may be that.  You never can tell with bees.”

5.  “Spotted or Herbaceous Backson.”  A phrase used to stand in place of bullshitting.  Poor Owl, who can’t really read or write but is far too proud to admit it, is presented with a note from Christopher Robin, who is just learning to write (“Gon out, backson.  Bisy, backson.  C.R.”), and tries to pretend he can both read and understand it.

“It is quite clear what has happened, my dear Rabbit,” he said.  “Christopher Robin has gone out somewhere with Backson.  He and Backson are busy together.  Have you seen a Backson anywhere about in the Forest lately?”

“I don’t know,” said Rabbit.  “That’s what I came to ask you.  What are they like?”

“Well,” said Owl, “the Spotted or Herbaceous Backson is just a–”

“At least,” he said, “it’s really more of a–”

“Of course,”  he said, “it depends on the–”

“Well,” said Owl, “the fact is,” he said, “I don’t know what they’re like,” said Owl frankly.

Many happy returns, silly old bear!


*While A A Milne wrote several stories and poems about childhood and his young son and even Edward Bear in the late 1910s and early 1920s, the first story about Winnie-the-Pooh was published in the Christmas Eve edition of a newspaper in 1925.

100

This is my 100th blog post.

Rather than trying to write meaningful content here about self-reflection and intentional living, I’m going to instead post this list of 100 books I’ve read in my lifetime.

Because I am so very pregnant, and therefore I have no brain for words right now.

A Partial Annotated Bibliography for My Life

Books I haven’t read since I was a child, so I don’t trust my recollection of them, but I loved them at the time:

  1. Amelia Bedelia by Peggy Parish
  2. Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery by James Howe
  3. The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks
  4. Galax-Arena by Gillian Rubinstein
  5. The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder
  6. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary
  7. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
  8. Onion John by Joseph Krumgold
  9. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
  10. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
  11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  12. Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter
  13. Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
  14. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  15. 20000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Books I read as a child and re-read as an adult and still like, but now find problematic, largely for reasons of racism or misogyny:

  1.  Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald
  2. Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers
  3. All-of-a-Kind Family by Syndey Taylor
  4. The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
  5. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  6. Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  7. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie
  8. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
  9. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  10. A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

Books I read as a child and re-read as an adult and still like, and would recommend:

  1.  Winne-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
  2. The House At Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
  3. Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
  4. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien
  5. The BFG by Roald Dahl
  6. Matilda by Roald Dahl
  7. The Witches by Roald Dahl
  8. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
  9. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
  10. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Frequently banned books I have read and don’t think actually earned the negative attention:

  1. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
  2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
  3. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
  4. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
  5. Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix by J.K. Rowling
  6. The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman
  7. Then Again, Maybe I Won’t by Judy Blume
  8. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume
  9. Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
  10. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  11. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  12. And Tango Makes Three by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell
  13. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
  14. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
  15. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Banned or controversial books I’ve read and found deeply disturbing or challenging, and would highly recommend:

  1.  Beloved by Toni Morrison
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  3. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  4. 1984 by George Orwell
  5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
  6. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
  7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  8. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
  9. Animal Farm by George Orwell
  10. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
  11. Story of O by Pauline Réage
  12. On the Road by Jack Kerouac
  13. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  14. The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel
  15. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

“Classic” or highly-esteemed books I’ve read and thought were totally overrated:

  1. The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
  2. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
  3. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  4. Death be not Proud by John Gunther
  5. The Song of the Lark by Willa Cather
  6. Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
  7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  8. The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Lesser-known books I have read and thought were brilliant:

  1. The Pearl by John Steinbeck
  2. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

Non-fiction books that have been pivotal in my life:

  1.  A Child is Born by Lennart Nilsson
  2. The Way Things Work by David Macaulay
  3. Globalization and Its Discontents by Joseph E. Stiglitz
  4. The Origins of Intelligence in Children by Jean Piaget
  5. Silent Spring by Rachael Carson
  6. In the way of Development: Indigenous Peoples, Life Projects, and Globalization by Mario Blaser, Harvey A. Feit, and Glenn McRae
  7. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
  8. Working Cures: Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations by Sharla M. Fett
  9. Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin
  10. The Saga of Chief Joseph by Helen Addison Howard

Books I’ve read in a foreign-to-me language and highly recommend:

  1.  A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
  2. La Symphonie Pastorale by André Gide
  3. El amor en los tiempos del cólera by Gabriel Garcia Márquez
  4. La casa de los espiritus by Isabel Allende
  5. Murambi, le livre des ossements by  Boubacar Boris Diop
  6. Disparition de la langue francais by Assia Djebar

Books I’ve read in more than one language and highly recommend:

  1. El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes
  2. L’aventure ambiguë by Cheikh Hamidou Kane
  3. La Chute by Albert Camus
  4. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

The last five books I’ve read:

  1. The Comanche Empire by Pekka Hamalainen
  2. For Her Own Good: Two Centuries of the Experts’ Advice to Women by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deidre English
  3. The Morbid Anatomy Anthology edited by Joanna Ebenstein and Colin Dickey
  4. Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, from birth to Tween by Melissa Atkins Wardy
  5. Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

 

It occurs to me that I am setting a dangerous precedent for future milestones, but as I’m sure you know, I am an adrenaline junkie who lives her life on the razor’s very edge.

Thanks for reading!

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.

Waterproof

a toddler Ithilien steps outside on a rainy day

One of the first things I noticed when attending college and living outside Oregon for the first time ever in my life was that I had a very different approach to rain than everyone around me had.

In case you don’t know, Oregonians are not bothered by rain.  In other places I understand rain forecasts affect voter turnout and box office sales and stuff, but if people in western Oregon cancelled their plans and stayed in every time there was possible rain in the forecast, we would still be trying to schedule a vote on whether to join the Union.  People go to the zoo in torrential downpours and wait in line outside downtown theaters in moderate rain wearing evening dress.  An umbrella is just another thing to accidentally leave on the MAX, and how are you supposed to use one on a bike?  Sure, you might cover your head if you’ve got a long walk ahead of you, but that’s why you’re wearing a hoodie, obviously.

My East Coast college campus, on the other hand, positively sprouted umbrellas when the sky was overcast, like they were some kind of bizarre poly-nylon mushroom.  I saw grown adults wearing rain boots– the chemical-smelling pull-on rubber things my mother used to buy for my siblings and me at the feed store when we were too young to dress ourselves– at the slightest hint of rain, presumably by choice.  People took dry, folded umbrellas to class and to club meetings, in case it rained on their 5-minute walk back later.  Some particularly deranged individuals even used umbrellas and slickers in the face of fog, snow, and other distinctly not-rain-like forms of dampness.

I told Robert, “It’s like they don’t know that people are waterproof.”

We joked many times over the years we were living in our little Finger Lakes college town– “Well, we’re Oregonian, so we’re waterproof.”

So naturally, when we had tiny, New-York-born toddlers who balked at the rain, we assured them “It’s just rain, and you are waterproof!”

Númenor latched onto the idea of waterproof-ness when he was two, and suddenly he went from asking “What’s that?” to asking “What’s that?  Is it waterproof?”

Yes, we said, you are waterproof.  Ithilien is waterproof.  We are waterproof.  The dog is waterproof.  The trees are waterproof.  The playground is waterproof.  The car is mostly waterproof, and some cars are totally waterproof.  Your cup is waterproof.  Yikes– no, the book is not waterproof!

But we didn’t realize how seminal being waterproof was to our children’s sense of security until the day Ithilien finally got over his fear of the bath, and his lisped, wide-grinning, 21-month-old comment on the event was “Odderpoof!”

And so, we had developed the first of our major teachings as parents.

Here’s the whole list as it stands now:

Big Lessons for Small Children (and the adults they will become)

It’s just rain, and you are waterproof.

You’re stronger than you think, and you can withstand the quotidian misfortunes of life.  It may seem frightening out there, but if you keep your wits about you and make sure you have a way to get safe (or warm and dry, as the case may be) later, you’ll likely benefit from the adventure.  It might even be fun.

Almost everything can be fixed, but virtually nothing can be made new again.

Between a needle and thread, a crochet hook, wood glue, and some simple know-how, we can fix just about everything.  Furniture can be fixed.  Your blanket can be washed.  We can add a patch to cover that torn knee.  We can rub a walnut into those gouges.  It can be fixed.  This is true of relationships, too– no matter the misstep, there’s almost always a way to make a repair and keep going if you’re willing to put in the effort to fix it.  But don’t expect that it’ll be like it was before it was broken.  Thermodynamics doesn’t allow for that, and neither do people.  You might like the mended version better– sometimes it’s stronger, or prettier– but chances are that you’ll always be able to see where something has been broken.

Use your words, and if your words don’t work, retreat and get help.

Language is a big part of what makes us humans and not just frostbitten apes.  Learn to set boundaries and express your needs and expectations now, and it will save you years of therapy as an adult.  Say it with an I-message if you can, and if you can’t, at least try to remember that arguments aren’t about being declared right, but about working out how to live in a world where you don’t always agree with everyone.  If somebody isn’t respecting your boundaries or you can’t find a way to understand each other, the best thing you can do is get help from an appropriate source, whether that means asking your mother to arbitrate turns with a toy truck, filing a restraining order against someone scary who won’t back off, or going to couples’ therapy.

Even a hug is mean if it’s not wanted.

Negotiate consent in your everyday life.  Ask before you hug, always know whether you’re playing flag or touch or tackle, offer a high-5 but don’t get strange with the exchange if the other guy leaves you hanging!  Some people won’t want to be touched, and that’s their right to decide.  Some people will be okay with the game until they’re on the receiving end of the tackle, and it’s their right to withdraw or renegotiate the rules, even then.  Understand that people cannot be obligated to do things they don’t want to do with their bodies, not even if they promised, and not even if you already went first and it feels unfair, and not even if it would benefit somebody else.  If it’s not safe, sane, and consensual, it’s not okay.

You don’t have to help, but you may not hinder.

Respect other people’s work and leave it alone if you can’t find a satisfactory way to collaborate with them.  Don’t yuck somebody else’s yum, even if you don’t share their tastes.  Food you don’t want to eat is not disgusting, you just don’t want it.  A game you don’t want to play is not stupid, you just don’t want to play it.  Everybody gets to decide for themselves, which means it’s fine if you don’t like something that somebody else likes, but don’t be a jerk about it, just decline.

Families work together.

When a group is working on something for everyone’s benefit, everyone is expected to contribute however they can.  You can negotiate your role, and feel free to be creative about finding one you like, but if you don’t find a way to contribute, don’t expect to benefit.

That bug is not going to hurt you, so leave it alone.

Treat other lifeforms with respect.  Don’t waste food, don’t step on ants, and leave those chickens alone– everything that’s alive is striving to be so, and life is hard enough without capriciousness or cruelty.  Work to preserve nature in every way you can.  Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to kill something in order to thrive yourself, and that’s acceptable, as long as you’re respectful about it and don’t take lives thoughtlessly.  Remember that someday, you might be the freaky thing crawling across somebody’s bathroom floor, and choose the cup and the paper over the sole of the shoe.

There could be zombies on the other side of that door.

A closed door is a mystery and you don’t know what’s on the other side, so be prepared before you open it.  Don’t assume that since it was the UPS driver the last four hundred times, there’s no way it will be a zombie now, because that’s how people become the teaser fatality in somebody else’s show.  Expect the unexpected.  But, that said, do understand relative risks and prepare for potential dangers proportionally to their risk– it’s fine to open the door a crack and see who it is before you unlatch the chain, but it’s probably a bit paranoid to refuse to answer the door just because you can’t put your hands on a ready-made device designed for crushing the skulls of the undead.

Nobody else can draw the spaceship you want.

Do things for yourself, even if that means doing them imperfectly.  Take the chance.  You will make mistakes; that’s part of learning.  Keep trying, because so is practicing what you want to become.  Don’t be afraid to fail, because failure is a wonderful teacher.  Keep trying, because nothing will destroy you so utterly as an abandoned dream.  You can’t wait around for someone else to deliver on your vision.  Nobody else has your brain– you are the unique product of millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of human society, and your insights and ways of thinking are yours alone.  Follow your passion and share your vision with others, even if you don’t know yet quite how you’ll make it work.  Do something creative every day, even if nobody else ever sees it and you can’t leverage it into a living wage job.  Never be ashamed to do what brings you joy, even if you know for sure that someone else makes fewer mistakes at the same activity, because vicarious pleasure over someone else’s perfect product is no substitute for your own joy in the process.  They can be better at drawing than you are, but they can’t be better at your drawings.

Listen to your body.

Sleep when you’re tired, and eat when you’re hungry– that much is obvious.  But your body gives you more subtle signals, too.  Trust your instincts about people and situations, because your brain, like your family, would rather see you safe than perfectly rational.  Know what it feels like to be getting sick and take it as a signal to go easy so you can get better again faster.  Know that a fever and a runny nose are your body’s way of making you well again, and focus on supporting your immune system instead of suppressing it and feeling oppressed by it.  Your body is your most valuable tool– use all its functions, from sensor to computer to creator to athlete.  Push your physical limits, but respect your body’s expertise when it starts to push back.  Remember that growing is hard work.

Autumnal Equinox

Fall is my favorite season.  Warm during the afternoon, cold enough at night for thick blankets and snuggling, the sharp smell of frost and the organic hint of leafmold (even if it does make me sneeze), the turning and turning of the compost pile, covering up the garden beds to rest for a season…all those little signs that we’re moving from the languor and overabundance of late summer to the relief of cold, and rain, and eventually frost and snow.

I’m especially glad to see the weather starting to change this year, because as the rains move in, the wildfire season will finally come to a close.  We’ve been surrounded by fires all summer, and while I celebrate the role they play in rejuvenating the wilderness and keeping the forests healthy, being pinned down first by the Rowena fire and now by the one in the Mt. Hood National Forest has made me a little uneasy.  Thankfully we were never really in harm’s way, but with the crisis in funding and the drought, wildfires have been even less predictable and manageable than usual, and there’s nothing like seeing an edge of a big fire up close to give you that visceral sense of vulnerability.

On a more human scale, I’m enjoying moving back to inside work and warming activities.  It’s knitting season, and wooly garment season, and snuggly toy season!  We recently boiled down the salt from water we collected at Newport in July, and melted down our stash of broken crayons to make new ones, and poured a few new candles.  Soon it will be time to make soap and beeswax food wrappers, to bake with figs and mill applesauce and make quince paste, and to Eat All The Butternut Squash.

But this weekend we’re doing the semi-annual dance of the hand-me-downs, which thrills my little type-A heart to the core because there is organizing to do.  Unfortunately, I think I’m the only member of my family who looks forward to this ritual– Númenor gets weepy and bored after half-a-dozen wardrobe changes, and Ithilien is highly skilled in the art of running around at top speed to express the sheer joy of nudity.  But it is still time for the dance.  If you have small children, you may recognize the steps.

Dance of the Hand-Me-Downs

  1. Gather the child’s current clothing and make a huge pile in the middle of the floor.
  2. Strip the child down and have them try on a few things.
  3. Try not to freak out when the child loses all grasp of How to Put on a Shirt and tries to put their arms through the sleeves elbows-first or to take the shirt off by pulling the neck hole down under their arms.
  4. Attract the child’s attention back to the task at hand.
  5. Bribe the child to try on more clothes.
  6. Sigh in exasperation.
  7. Practice numeracy skills (“Okay, there are only three more shirts.  Can you count them as we try them on?”).
  8. Run after and catch naked, squealing children who want to PLAY and have them try on just one more pair of pants.
  9. Declare that your child’s favorite garment is too small, because you are the Cruelest Parent in all of Meanville, and not at all because putting it on involves a moment where the child in question can’t breathe.
  10. Unfeelingly give the child’s outgrown clothing to their younger sibling, who seems more taken with that glow-in-the-dark bunny shirt than seems tactful given the circumstances.
  11. Break for snacks.
  12. Break for trips to the toilet.
  13. Try not to break anything else.
  14. Get out the bin of clothes for the oldest child to grow into, and repeat steps 2 through 8.
  15. Remember after you’ve told your children that we’re done trying on clothes that you haven’t checked coats, shoes, socks, gloves, sweaters, and hats.
  16. Swear.
  17. Apologize to children and say that they have to try on just a few more things.
  18. Watch children spontaneously try on all of their outerwear with the greatest of delight and voluntarily bring you the outgrown pieces without complaint.
  19. Wrestle piles of clothing going into storage out of sight before they get too played with and disorganized.  Cry about at least one of those things being outgrown, because you remember how tiny your oldest child was when they first wore it, and the progression of time is so disrespectful of your feelings.
  20. Realize that you haven’t done laundry yet this week, and therefore the dirty laundry is full of outgrown but untested clothing.

Yes, it is a glorious season.  It’s my favorite.

The Kids are All Right

Seriously, folks, can we all stop panicking about our children?

Let me level with you: there are many things about your children and their experience in life that you will never be able to control or prevent.  You have the most ability to control their lives and experiences when they are tiny babies and even then?  Yeah, you’re not actually in charge.  But most of the time it turns out okay, anyway.

Things in Your Children’s Lives that You Cannot Control

  • When they wake up and fall asleep.  I know that the parenting books promised you otherwise when you were reading up on the importance of “routine” and “structure” in anticipation of your baby’s birth, but they lied to you.  Parenting books lie all the damn time; get used to it.  You can’t control when your kids wake up and fall asleep by any method short of pharmacological– you can make suggestions, you can provide conducive or non-conducive environments, but you are not in control.
  • When, what, and how much they eat.  I know, parenting books again.  You can model eating habits, you can shape diet by what foods are available, and you can make suggestions about mealtimes, but the fact is, kids won’t eat if they don’t want to eat.
  • How they feel.  Nope.  You just can’t.  You can’t control how anyone feels, not even you.  Feelings aren’t subject to logic and they certainly don’t respond to what other people wish they were.  Yes, that even means that you can’t control whether your child is sorry for his misdeeds or whether hit likes your weird relatives.
  • Who their friends are.  See above.  You can’t control how they feel about other people, not even their peers.  And unlike some of the other items in this list, you can’t even really make suggestions.  Because as soon as you say “I don’t want you to spend so much time with Ashley”, guess who is suddenly your child’s BFF?  You can say things like “I wouldn’t want to spend much time with somebody who said things like that to me” but only if you’re very cautious.
  • Who they fall in love (or like) with.  See above.  You can’t control it.  You can’t.  Stop trying.  The harder you try to shape your child’s relationships with others, the more dedicated your child will be to proving you wrong.
  • When they start dating, wearing makeup, etc.  Your child will lie to you, sneak around, steal, and cheat to do things they feel they must do.  If you forbid it, they MUST try it.  If you say they aren’t old/mature/experienced enough, they do it to feel grown-up.  If you say it’s not safe, they do it to prove that they are strong!
  • Whether they encounter “bad people”.  Pedophiles, rapists, violent abusers, and serial killers exist in the world.  And obviously, until they are caught, they are at large.  They could be anyone!  Nothing short of raising your child in total isolation from all other human beings will protect them from bad people, and if you did that, the child in question would likely end up pretty bad hitself.
  • Whether bad things happen to them.  If nothing ever happens to them, nothing ever happens to them.  Not much fun for little Chico.  If good things happen to them, bad things will, too!  You can’t keep your children safe from everything.  You can’t.  You can help prepare them for things that might go wrong by warning them that they might need to stand up to a friend because something isn’t safe, or talking about bullying behavior and how to recognize it and defend against it, or by making sure they know how to swim, etc.
  • Whether they tell you things.  I would think this one was pretty obvious, but I hear parents say things like “If my teen got pregnant, she would tell me!” or “If my child was gay, I would know!”  Bad assumption.  You can’t force people to be open and honest with you, not even your children.
  • Whether they are happy.  Go back and re-read the one about not being able to control their feelings.  Happiness is a feeling.  You can’t control it.  You can create conditions that make happiness in others more or less likely, but that’s about it.
  • Whether they experiment with sex, drugs, rock and roll, and other things.  You can’t control this.  Remember that the parenting books lie.  If you literally locked your teenagers up in chastity belts and they wanted to experiment with sex, they would become infamous in their peer group for oral skills or date cute locksmiths.
  • Whether they make stupid choices.  Life is riddled with stupid choices, and a big part of childhood and especially adolescence is making mistakes.  Offer your advice, unsolicited when they’re too young to ask and then only if solicited once they’re older, but resign yourself to the fact that these are not your choices to make, and act accordingly.
  • Whether they are interested in math, or are gay, or want to go to college, or vote Republican.  Children are their own people.  Sometimes you’ll agree with them, sometimes you’ll see yourself in them, sometimes they’ll exceed your expectations.  But sometimes you’ll be surprised or maybe even disappointed when you don’t recognize some aspect of who they are.  Take deep breaths and accept your children as you find them, because you can’t control who or what they are– that’s an emergent property of their entire lives from the moment of their conception to today’s lunch.

 


 

“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” — Princess Leia, unwittingly giving awesome advice to parents of teenagers

Five Things I Want my Children to Outgrow NOW

Screaming and telling me they are “whistling.”

I know this is a common one, but I’m tired of it now.  I overheard Robert demonstrating that, actually, blowing through pursed lips SILENTLY is closer to whistling than screaming is, but they aren’t buying it.

Making gagging sounds in an attempt to burp.

On a related note, my smalls have recently discovered burping, which they understand to be an essential part of digestion and therefore try to force themselves to do every time we have a meal.  There are some moments when I regret teaching them anything, which I think is inhumane treatment of a parent.

Waiting until there is literal leakage before admitting that they need the toilet.

For real, child?  I know that you know better than this because I can see you doing the dance.  When you’re wiggling and jiggling and grabbing at yourself and I say “Run and use the toilet!”, freaking DO IT.  “There’s no urine coming out!”, the child insists, which is when I say, in my best not-yelling-yet voice, “YES THAT’S THE POINT. TO GO BEFORE ANYTHING ACTUALLY COMES OUT.  GO NOW.”  My genius is unappreciated in my own time.

Inconveniencing me for snacks they have no interest in eating.

I am happy to stock my kitchen with snacks the smalls can help themselves to, and I am even happy to help small children if they are frustrated by, e.g., attempting to peel open string cheese or trying to find the carrots in our overloaded crisper drawer.  But I am NOT amused, especially when I interrupt what I’m doing to help in the acquisition phase, that I keep finding carrot stubs and half-sticks of string cheese around the house.

Actually getting SLOWER when I point out that we need to hurry.

A long-haul battle, I know, but I just cannot logic with the frequent choice to distract themselves playing loud, running-based, yelling games that involve the entire house as a response to my statement that if they want to go [fun thing x], they need to put their shoes on right now.  I just don’t get it.  I know they want to do the fun thing.  But somehow between the information leaving their language processing centers and signals getting to their feet that is transformed into a desire to waste time so that they miss out on the fun thing.  What the actual heck, small children?

La vie en J800

IMG_2065

When you have small children, picture books can be the bane of your existence.

And I don’t just mean the “No, MUST you read it AGAIN!” kind of bane.

I mean the oh crap, having kids has completely killed my brain, these children have taken over my life, why can’t we ever have nice things, MAKE IT STOP kind of bane.

I have no fewer than eight picture books committed perfectly to memory.  I can, and have, recited a work by Mem Fox at my cranky toddlers in the dark, on a road trip, in a desperate attempt to convince them that really, it was okay to fall asleep in the car rather than continue to make everyone miserable.

With not-twins straddling the ages of 3 and 4, illustrated books about kindly bunnies and space-exploring robots define the mythos from which I draw daily metaphor.  At first, that doesn’t sound so bad, because all the English teachers I have ever known had this soft spot for a clever comparison of Shakespeare and Seuss, but it’s more than that.

I have quoted a book about a talking hedgehog while in bed with my partner.

And if you have small children, I bet you can understand how that might have happened.

So, in honor of how completely picture books have subsumed my life, I present the first installment of what I hope will become a regular feature:

My Life in Five Picture Books

IMG_2060Noisy Nora by Rosemary Wells

There is no surer method of engendering chaos in our house right now than using the word “Wait.”  I was really hoping this was a threenager problem, but Númenor is 4.5 and it’s not getting any better.  Send chocolate.

IMG_2064ishby Peter H. Reynolds

Númenor is a budding perfectionist– and that means he’s ALWAYS miserable about his work and how it has fallen short of his inspiration.  It breaks my heart, especially when he is excited working and then he stops to look at his progress and he just melts.

IMG_2072Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak

So, when you have little kids, they spend a lot of time justifying their actions to you in ways that simply do not compute.  You say “Those aren’t for throwing, let’s get out the soft toys to throw.” and they say “I was just throwin’ it at the window!” and you say “Yes, that’s the problem, the window is glass and glass is fragile.” and they say “I was just thowin’ it gen-ta-lee to not break the window!”…and then, dear reader, you might be tempted to say something like “I don’t care how gently you throw it, those are not okay to throw.”  If you make this miscalculation, your 3-year-old may well latch onto that little phrase and come to believe that “I don’t care” = “screw you and your way of doing things”.  And then you will hear your darling child respond to you saying “come here” by screaming “I DON’T CAY-YUR!”  Send a lion.

IMG_2063Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

If you know one thing about the Gorge, you know that it’s windy here.  If you know two things, you know why this book made the list.  It’s August and my back yard is pretty much just one huge dirt bath for chickens and children alike.  The smalls came in from the yard yesterday and it was like the scene from the Disney version of Mary Poppins where Michael almost gets past Mr. Banks because he’s so caked with soot his own father doesn’t recognize him– they had little circles of basically them-colored skin around their eyes, but everything else was alien terrain.  We had to drain the water and run a new bath TWICE before the description was ameliorated to “dirty”.

IMG_2066Mama, Do You Love Me? by Barbara M. Joosse

Three mornings out of five this summer I have been awakened by two enthusiastic little humans jumping on my bed while insisting that they are, contrary to all appearances, baby dragons.  At first, I responded to this in a sane way by saying “Okay, but please be gentle, because only gentle baby dragons are allowed in my house!” which inevitably made the situation worse.  And then, this week, I hit upon “If you are baby dragons, I am your mommy dragon!  I am big and fierce, but I will be gentle to you because you are my babies.”  DING!  Winner!

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