Thursday, July 28, 2011

It Could Be Croptacular (Babble)

I do not garden.  I seem like the kind of person who might garden, but no, I should not be trusted with plants.

I like gardens.  I admire people who have the skill and patience for it.  My mom is a spectacular gardener, my neighbor’s yard looks beautiful, but me?  Plants die with me.

I have trouble with tasks that never seem done.  It’s good for my sanity that my husband does the laundry, because it’s the kind of Sisyphean task that makes me nuts.  Even if I’m caught up on laundry I just find myself looking at what everyone has on as laundry yet to do.  Gardening for me is a little like that.  You weed, the weeds come back.  Something always needs tending and it’s just never done.  Violin making may look tedious to people, but at least when a violin is finished I can set it aside and begin something new without fear that all my efforts will have come undone while I was looking the other way.  Gardens just always look like a constant struggle to me.

My husband, however, has had it in his mind ever since we became property owners that he wants to plant vegetables.  I told him years ago that was great but I wasn’t helping.  I’m fine with buying my tomatoes at the store or the farmers’ market.  Periodically he buys seeds and sets up pots and enlists Aden to help him plant and water, but pesky things like bad weather or deployments to Iraq kept thwarting those attempts to grow food.

But now that my kids are all old enough to really tend a garden and would be excited to plant their own carrots and peas I’ve decided to take an interest.  It could be fun!
Our new house is on a corner, so there is a lot to mow and it feels like we have a lot of land to play with, but most of it is shaded by trees.  I’ve been trying to figure out for a while where we’d have enough sun to even make a vegetable garden work.  And I finally figured it out–the roof.

My girls have a good sized terrace off their bedroom.  The terrace makes me a little nervous because the walls around it are not high enough in my opinion, and we intend to get a railing for it to make it safer.  But the terrace is on the second floor and above all the nearby trees.  It’s the one place that gets a lot of sun.  Wouldn’t it be cool for the girls to have a garden right outside their room?  It seems like a good use of that space to me.

So this weekend when we went to the plant store (just because I don’t garden doesn’t mean I don’t like to have pretty things planted around my house, it just means they don’t last long) we spotted a nice vegetable box intended for apartments or balconies and it was on sale.  The only one they had left in the size we wanted happened to be the display model, so we didn’t have to worry about assembly.  We did have to worry about how to get it home.
(Mona–the only child who volunteered to help because she is awesome that way–assisting her dad with twine.)

I’m excited about our new vegetable box!  We plan to seal it and find something to set it on to distribute the wight of its feet better.  Someone suggested some kind of light planting material that isn’t as heavy as dirt, so we’ll look into that.  I have some concerns about creating something that will come crashing through the ceiling of my shop below if we’re not careful, but I think we are on the right track.
It should be big enough for all three kids to plant a little something.  If it’s a hit, we could get more pots for the terrace.

So we’re planning ahead for next spring.  That should give me enough time to research vegetable gardens and figure out what we’re doing.  It will be interesting.  Aden’s thumb is much greener than my own, and she is unlikely to get deployed, so we may have a shot this time.

Any tips or suggestions for our new little garden?

Monday, July 25, 2011

It's Not the Crime, It's the Coverup (Babble)

My kids are very sweet.  They are polite, they play well together, and for the most part they are pretty easy.  For the most part.  But they are messy.  Hopelessly messy.

Now, truthfully, this probably just proves they are mine, because my mom could tell you stories of dishes left for weeks in my room and how seldom we ever saw my floor because it was covered in laundry and books and who knows what.  That’s fine.  I admit to my former slobbish ways.

But where’s the fun in parenting if you can’t enjoy a little hypocrisy learning from your past?  So I keep on my kids about picking up their rooms, at least enough that I can walk in there at night if I need to and not kill myself on something sharp.  Quinn’s room is just a giant dumping ground for toys most of the time, and although I don’t care too much I still occasionally pitch a fit and make them all help get everything off the floor.  But their rooms are their own space, and I only get upset when it’s getting downright dangerous.

The rest of the house, however, is another matter.  I don’t want to live in a pit. I can’t function when things get too messy in the space I use.  I can’t think in clutter.  I also don’t appreciate when my kids are careless and trash things that don’t belong to them.  They don’t mean to be disrespectful of our stuff, but they just don’t pay attention and it’s frustrating.

The family room where they watch T.V. and use their computer gets pretty bad.  They are not allowed to have food in there because it attracts ants, but we find plates and cups and crumbs in there anyway.  They know they are not supposed to leave a mess, but they knock over all the DVDs and don’t pick them back up.  They make projects while they watch their shows and leave scraps of paper and duct tape and crayons and scissors everywhere.  It looks terrible and drives us crazy.

When the kids blatantly break rules like that, they get a boring lecture, they get warnings, sometimes they get yelled at, they have gotten grounded, they’ve had privileges taken away….  They always seem genuinely sorry, they cry, they feel bad, they apologize, they try to make it better, and then they forget all of that and do it again the next day.  It’s baffling, a little insulting, and definitely annoying.  But it’s life with kids, and they do enough things right that the few things they do wrong are just not that important.

Recently we moved their laptop from the family room to the dining room in the hopes that it might be an easier place to keep clean.  We were wrong.  There have been several problems with letting the kids congregate in the dining room, but the worst one was the paint.

The rules about using paint in our house are pretty straightforward.  Tell us when you are using paint, paint stays in the kitchen, put it away when you are done and a parent will even help wash out bushes.  But for some reason that is still unclear to me, Aden brought a set of special (read ‘non-washable’) paints left over from a craft project into the dining room.  Also unclear to me is why Mona opened them.  But she did, and permanent white paint went all over.

It was an accident.  It was a particularly stupid accident, but still, Mona didn’t mean to do it.  We’d have been upset but not crazy upset.

The problem is, Mona was so worried about the idea of our getting mad that she decided it was better to hide the evidence than admit to the crime.  She threw a towel over the paint on the floor and sort of wiped up the white paint on the black leather chairs with her hands and I guess sat over it.  Aden and Quinn were in the dining room too and either didn’t notice the problem or just ignored it.  I’m not sure.  I was at work, and Ian called me to describe his discovery which I didn’t see until I got home.

What a mess.  There were little splatters of white paint on the china cabinet, paint smeared on the seats of two chairs, on top of the table (which we are smart enough to keep a pad on, so that’s something), on the edges of the table, on the floor…. We explained to Mona that if it hadn’t all dried onto everything it would have been a lot easier to fix.  She felt terrible, and it is as pointless to yell at Mona as it was to yell at the pet bunnies we used to have before we had kids, which is to say, you feel like a monster doing it and it doesn’t accomplish anything.  So I explained gently that one, no more paint in the dining room, and two, next time there is a mess she needs to tell us right away.


Anyway, I was able to pick all the paint splatters off the woodwork with dental tools that I happen to keep in my shop (for getting into some odd violin crevices), the chairs will never look quite the same but they don’t look bad.  The floor was the worst because the solvent I used to get up the paint also took up the finish, so I had to find the polyurethane and reseal a large swath of hardwood.

Mona really did want to make amends, though, which I appreciated, so while I worked on the floor I had Mona make blueberry pancake batter.  She was sad at first because she likes to cook with me, not alone, but she was proud of herself for following the recipe correctly, and I told her she was being helpful because I couldn’t do both things at once but with her help I didn’t have to.

(My sweet, contrite Mona)

So the dining room is back to normal.  Aden wrote up a list of rules about using the computer in the dining room without trashing the place, so we’ll see how long they follow it.  The rules don’t look any different from the ones Ian and I came up with originally, but maybe since it’s in her own handwriting now maybe it will be easier for Aden to remember.  Hard to say.  (Now we can just get them to put their bikes away before it rains….)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Report From String Camp (Babble)

I’ve been teaching at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music for about fifteen years now.  When my husband and I first moved to Milwaukee so I could commute to violin making school, the Conservatory was a convenient place to start a new studio because it was within walking distance of our apartment.  The Conservatory is housed in a beautiful old mansion overlooking Lake Michigan and there are some truly fine musicians working there.  The recital hall is decorated with plaster roses on the walls and ceiling so it feels like having a concert in a wedding cake.  It’s a pretty place to work.

While helping put myself (and later Ian) through school, I had a lot of students.  When my husband got deployed the first time I had to cut back my studio quite a bit and teach the lessons at my home because getting out to the building was difficult.  When Ian returned I was able to take a job with the Milwaukee Youth Symphony for a couple of years teaching in a program for underprivileged kids and it was exhausting but I loved it.  With the second deployment I had to resign from that position and cut my teaching back to only a couple of students in music therapy whom I team teach with a colleague.  Currently I’m down to one student, and the annual Summer String Camp.  I miss doing more regular teaching, but since we opened the violin store there just isn’t time.  Maybe one day when my children are grown I will be able to fit it in again, but in the meantime opportunities for me to teach are rare.

String Camp is sort of like the crash course music event that keeps my teaching chops up.  It’s one week every summer where string players from small children through high school aged students gather and do chamber music.  Each teacher gets to coach a small ensemble, and there are two small orchestras, a group for beginners, and a fiddle camp.  One of the downsides to teaching private lessons is I don’t get to see the other string faculty that often, so it’s nice to work with other teachers at String Camp and see them in action.

I also do a demonstration about violin making for the kids to teach them facts about violins and get them to appreciate their instruments in new ways.  Every year at least one student sees all the wood and the tools and assumes they are going to get to build their very own violin in an hour, and I have to explain that no, it takes way longer than that to build a violin.  WAY longer (and please don’t touch those tools they are freakishly sharp).
Every year the kids are sweet, at least one instrument meets with catastrophe (this session I replaced someone’s endbutton on her violin after it blew apart, and adjusted a cello soundpost that had fallen over), some kid cries (I personally didn’t make anyone cry this year but I’m sure there have been tears somewhere), and I get extremely stressed before the concert.

Different teachers have different strengths, and I tend to be good at getting less experienced kids to focus long enough to put a piece together in time to perform in just a few days.  Once the head of the string department gave me an advanced group and I almost didn’t know what to do with them by the end of the week because they had actually practiced and they listened and I didn’t have to repeat myself all the time.  They were great and it was easy.  (The department head told me she thought I deserved a break for once, instead of freaking out about whether my group was going to be able to get through their tune on stage without falling to pieces.)

This year most of my kids were fine, but a couple were struggling, and I ended up having to rewrite parts of the Air to Don Giovanni to remove pesky things like rests and interesting notes or bowings.  (Mozart is dead, so I don’t think he’ll mind.  Besides, I think he’d prefer the edit to the whole thing getting botched on stage.)

I’m always amazed that it works out as well as it does.  The first day is spent simply figuring out seating and which piece to play.  Many young children aren’t good sight readers, so I end up having to teach them the music so we can even hear it, before deciding if it’s something we should keep working on or simply scrap.  The second day we try to get something to sound cohesive, even if it’s just the first line.  By the third day I am in a total panic when they can’t get to the end of the piece on their own without my standing over them clapping the beat and shouting out cues.  The fourth day miraculously things start to hold together.  The fifth day is the concert.  By the time my kids hit the stage I’ve usually bitten my nails down to nothing.  But they always do fine.

Today’s concert was great!  I was so pleased with my group.  They sounded a little better in rehearsal than they did during the performance, but several people told me how impressed they were at how well they played together and their overall sound.  I was very proud.

My own kids came to hear the concert, primarily because they know there are always cupcakes at the reception afterward.  Aden and Mona are old enough they could participate in String Camp if they wanted to.  Currently they just do private lessons and don’t have any group experience.  I was hoping that seeing other kids their age play such fun music in such a pretty environment they might be inspired to try it themselves next year.  I asked them if they’d be interested next summer.  Aden looked nervous about the idea, but Mona seemed game.  She mostly liked the idea of going to the Conservatory with me every day for a week.  I hope she decides to try it.  Some of my best memories as a kid are playing in a group like this one.

But for this year, String Camp is done.  (And now I need a nap.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Really Hard Talk (Babble)

People often refer to explaining sex to children as ‘the talk.’  Parents fret about having ‘the talk’ with their kids and wonder how young is too young, etc.  I’m not worried about talking about sex with my kids.  We’ve doled out bits of information as seemed appropriate and taught our kids the proper terms for anatomy for years.  In my mind there is no one ‘talk,’ there is a process of adding to my kids’ knowledge over time about their bodies and how bodies work.  This doesn’t make me squeamish or nervous.  It’s just simple information.

The really hard talk, as far as I’m concerned, is about evil.  I think our true loss of innocence begins not when we learn how reproduction happens or explaining the connections between sex and love, but how human beings who look and act and talk just like people we know are capable of monstrous acts and unpardonable crimes.  The world can be a horrifying place.  That’s not a truth I’ve looked forward to sharing with my children.   They see so much beauty it’s tempting to never draw back that curtain to expose the horrors that exist in our midst, but not to do so is dangerous at some point.  It would leave them too trusting, too vulnerable, if I let them remain innocent forever.

My children are sensitive.  I’ve written about this before, and how I worry that they will be too fragile if they don’t learn to accept that bad things happen in the world.  But it seems to me that knowledge of evil comes on a need to know basis, and that need to know is determined by how much they are in charge of themselves.  If I can adequately protect them from danger then they don’t need to know about it.  But if I send them off into the world without me, they need to be able to protect themselves.

Aden is nine and a half.  She looks older than she is because she is tall, but emotionally she is a young nine.  She has a soft spot in her heart for animals and she is a deeply sentimental person.  Aden is also capable enough that we’ve started extending her more freedom and responsibility.  We don’t need to walk her down the street to get to her friend’s house.  We’ve been able to leave her in charge of her little brother for short stretches when we need to.   She’s even been able to go down the two blocks to Target for us to pick up milk when we run out.  It’s exciting to see Aden growing up and becoming a more independent person, able to maneuver in the world without our guidance every step of the way.  I’m proud of her for that.

But then I read the news about the killing of Leiby Kletzky last week.  I wept at my bench in the violin shop and hoped no customers would come in.  That is the nightmare that makes loving parents rein their kids in close and not want to let go.  That story is too horrible for words.  What are we to do with it?  There are no lessons to be learned from it, aside from the fact that life isn’t fair and that I will never understand people who can harm children.  I think about that poor little boy and the unspeakable grief his family is suffering and wish it could be different, but I have no such power.  All I have are tears.

So I did what probably many parents did after reading that story.  I hugged my children and sat them down for a review about never ever ever getting into a car with a stranger.  That people who hurt children usually seem very nice but it’s a trick.  That no trustworthy grown-up asks children for help finding a puppy or counting kittens in a van.  I told my children if someone makes them nervous they are to run, and be loud, and to find someone they know.  All the rules about being polite go out the window if something is suspicious.  That if anyone ever tells them to keep a secret from their mom, that’s a warning sign.  They can tell me anything.  I am home base.  I love them no matter what.

These are hard lessons to teach sometimes, because I don’t want to scare my children.  The odds are that nothing will ever happen to them just walking around our neighborhood, or running off to Target for something.  But they still need to understand that something could happen in order to make decent choices and remain out of trouble.  The problem is I don’t want to go into detail about WHY they should avoid these bad people.  I tell them there are people who want to hurt children and leave it at that.

Or, at least, I did until last week.  I ran through the ‘bad people safety review’ and then the kids went off to play and later we went to the Y for swimming lessons.  Quinn and Mona took swimming this summer, but Aden chose not to.  She just played in the small pool on her own or with friends until her siblings’ lessons were over.  Last week as I sat in the pool observing Quinn’s class, Aden swam over to me.  She cuddled close and was her cute playful self, and then she said she had a question.  Aden wanted to know if a kidnapper did get her (and she interrupted herself to assure me that she knew it would never happen, but still….), what would the kidnapper do to her?  What kinds of things do kidnappers do to children?

I debated in my mind what to say.  Do I keep my sweet girl innocent?  Or do I pull back that curtain?  That’s not an easy decision to make.  But I decided she needs to know.  She needs to be aware of why I get scared when she isn’t where I expect her to be when we give her a curfew or if she wanders off on her own in a crowd.

I held her hands and gave her the bare facts of the Leiby Kletzky story.  I did not tell her that the monster who killed him dismembered the body and dumped it in garbage cans.  I said an eight-year-old boy tried walking home by himself, but that he got lost and asked the wrong person for help, and that man tricked the boy into coming home with him and killed him there.  Aden’s eyes filled with tears.  “He was only eight?” she asked.  I told her it was the scariest story I’d heard in a long time and that it made me cry, too.

Aden hugged me there in the pool.  I told her I didn’t know why some people are just bad, but she needs to know they are out there so she can do sensible things to help keep herself safe.  Then Aden realized how upset the whole thing made me, and in typical Aden fashion she decided to balance things out to make me feel better.  She doesn’t want me to be sad.  We read Charlotte’s Web this week for her book club, and when it made me cry she suggested we take a break. 

There in the pool she managed a smile and asked if I wanted to see her float on her back.  I told her of course I did.  Aden floats beautifully.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Rock On, Lobster (Babble)

I could probably just write a whole blog devoted to Mona’s paper creations.  There are too many to show on any given day to have room to write about anything else, but I need to share this lobster.

Yes, I’m an overly proud mom seeing what her kids do through some kind of mom-goggles, but is that not seriously a cool lobster?  That’s darned good for a seven year old.  I’m impressed she can construct a lobster on a whim with no help from anyone.  It’s made entirely out of red duct tape because she wanted it to be waterproof.  Plus she writes on it with regular markers which she can wipe off if she wants to later.
Of all three of my kids, Mona is the only one who I don’t think tests accurately.  Aden scores about where I would expect her to score on things like the ‘MAP’ and other standardized tests the school has the kids do.  She shows signs of being like I was in school, where tests reveal potential in all areas that doesn’t always get realized along the channels teachers are hoping for.  She’s smart, but only interested in doing what she wants to do.  Quinn is already reading and adding numbers in columns and he’s not even going to be in full day kindergarten until fall of 2012, so he will test fine when he gets there.  He’s smart in a way that will be easy for a test to measure because he has an excellent memory and an orderly mind.

Mona is brilliant in unconventional ways.  If there were a standardized test that asked children to build an entire zoo out of scraps of paper and some chewing gum she would leave her classmates and most of the school district in the dust.  On normal tests she scores very middle of the pack, even though hers are the kinds of skills that got the Apollo 13 astronauts home alive.  But schools don’t administer MacGyver exams.

I’m not worried about Mona, because I know whatever she chooses to tackle she will do well.  I wonder more about what kind of institutions and educational or work environments might miss out on seeing what she has to offer because the tools used to measure her abilities may not capture what she knows.  She is creative and funny and makes awesome pancakes.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Fine (Babble)

Ian’s at Ft Knox this week.  He has a week of Army training to do, then he’ll be home for a bit, then two more weeks of training somewhere else.  How are we doing?  Fine.

We’re coming up next month on the one year anniversary of Ian’s return home from Iraq.  The nicest part about reaching that milestone is that we get to start repeating things, by which I mean as we cycle through the normal parts the year our memories will include Ian again.  Currently when we do something, like celebrate the 4th of July, we look back to last year and remember that Ian wasn’t with us.  Last 4th of July was an exhausting mess.
Mona wiped out on her scooter and scratched up her face, Quinn had a major meltdown, and I was at my wit’s end for most of the day. 

This year with Ian home again it was wonderful.  With kids it’s particularly helpful to remind them of how we did things the last time–what our holiday traditions are, how we prepare for school starting up again, anything that repeats needs review.  For a year now that review has been a reminder of their dad’s absence during his deployment.  Now we get to move on to something better.

For myself there has been a vague sense of panic anytime Ian has had to leave this past year.  Nothing terrible, but not comfortable.  It brought back too many memories of a difficult time.  I think I’m over that.

I’ve had to arrange for a sitter to watch the kids for a couple of days while I go to work, but if that falls through they can all just come with me.  It’s not ideal to have them all at the violin store, but I know how to handle it and still get my work done.

And the truth is, far from feeling anxious that Ian is away, I’m kind of enjoying it.  I miss him of course–life is always better with Ian here–but I can do some things better when he’s not around.  I’m not in the house as much since I returned to work, and I like to get things cleaned and organized.  I can’t really do that the same way when Ian is home.  When I feel productive in that way and I’m bustling about whipping things into shape it can make Ian feel a bit guilty or criticized since it seems like a reflection on his own abilities to run the house.  I don’t mean it that way, I just have a different preference for how I like things to be, so I wait for him to leave to accomplish certain tasks.

It’s nice to have some long stretches of time in the house again.  I’m excited to be getting to certain projects, mostly things that bug me but that I’m too tired to do when I get home from work.  For instance, today I finally organized the linen closet.  The other thing that’s nice about doing something like that with Ian gone is I don’t have to feel like I should consult him about it.  I can just do it my way and it’s faster.  (If he doesn’t like what I did he can change it when he gets back, but in the meantime I like it, and I think he’ll like it too.)

I love spending so much time with all the kids again, and they seem happy to just be kicking around the house with me.  It’s familiar and it’s pleasant, and this time it’s minus the old stress.  It’s nice.

I feel as if I’m past the trauma of the deployment.  It’s not easier running things alone, but it’s just for a week, so it’s no big deal.  I didn’t realize I missed being the one who is in charge of the meals and the upkeep of the house so much.  I’m even trying to buckle down and edit my first novel and send out query letters so that I might finally find an agent and do more serious writing.  It’s hard to make myself do that when Ian is home because I’d rather hang out with him.  If deployment teaches you anything it’s that time with the people you love should not be taken for granted, so just doing nothing in the same room with Ian has more appeal than leaving his side to do my own things sometimes.  If I can’t be spending time with Ian right now, I may as well be productive.  It makes all the difference with Ian away not to be worried about his safety.  I’m home.  We’re happy.  He’ll be back soon enough and can be happy with us.

Once upon a time the idea of a week alone with the kids would have sounded complicated and stressful.  But I’m good.  I know how to do this and it’s not bad.  I know what worse looks like.  This?  This isn’t just getting by.  This is fine.
(Our neighbor, Julie, with Mona, Aden, Ian and Quinn, welcoming Ian home from his first deployment back in 2007.)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bikes, Elvis, and a Whole Lot of Flags (Babble)

I love my country, and I’m glad to be an American, but when I write things like this, and this, and this, I know there are people who would doubt my patriotism.  I don’t care.  Part of why I love this country is I am allowed to voice criticism of it and admit to discomfort with certain elements.  I don’t have to be anyone’s idea of a traditional American in order to be a real one.

But one of the ways I am almost ridiculously traditional is in my love of the 4th of July (even if I don’t own a flag).  It’s a terrific holiday.  A national event to commemorate the signing of a powerful document; not a date about war, or a specific person, or a religion, but of an idea.  About beginning something new and daring that has evolved and grown into something remarkable.  Plus it comes with ice cream and fireworks.  It’s awesome.

The wonderful thing about 4th of July in Milwaukee is that in our own local park within easy walking distance of our house there are events all day.  It begins with a parade and ends with fireworks, and in between there is a doughnut eating contest and dog dancing and buggy decorating and children’s races and clowns and a talent show and more things than we ever get to.  And the beauty of it is it’s all corny and done without a trace of irony.  It’s genuine and it’s fun and everything you ever pictured a traditional 4th of July celebration should be.
(List of park events)

We’ve lived in our neighborhood long enough that we’ve come to expect particular things from the parade.

Regular features include the antique cars:
Soldiers (some with noisy guns):
What my husband refers to as the lazy band:
And many baton twirlers of varying ages, politicians throwing candy, and of course the giant sausages.  (What, your town doesn’t have giant sausages of different ethnicities running around?  Huh.)  Usually we only get a few of the sausages (who run races in between innings at the baseball games at Miller Park) because I think they spread them out to other neighborhood parades, but this year we got them all.  Mona managed to high five the Mexican one and this Italian guy:
After the parade I managed to lose Quinn in the crowd for about a minute that felt like forever (although not as bad as losing Mona in Central Park a couple of years ago, or both the girls in Ikea, or Mona after the school pasta dinner fund raiser….  Dang, I need to start paying better attention apparently or get tracking chips put in their ears).  Then Quinn and I headed home so he could count his candy.  (He made an adorable chart on the dry erase board of how many Tootsie Rolls he got, versus lollipops and ‘Frooties’ that I didn’t get a picture of in time.)

I love that with Ian home we can accommodate the kids better by splitting up if we need to.  The girls wanted to see the clown show and run the kid races, so they stayed with their dad in the park while Quinn and I walked home.  4th of July is definitely something that is easier with two parents.

After lunch we all headed back to the park to register Aden and Quinn in the bike decorating contest.  (Mona didn’t participate because she uses a scooter, not a bike, and didn’t realize that no one would have cared if she’d entered that instead until it was too late.)  The good things about the bike and trike and buggy decorating contest are that it is adorable, every kid gets some kind of ribbon or certificate and a little prize, and they are excited about getting to be up on the big outdoor stage.  The bad things are that the winners are always kids who obviously had a LOT of help from their parents, and the older people who run the judging are often tired and cranky.  I could totally make the coolest patriotic holiday bike ever, but the contest is not for me, and I’m proud of my kids for doing everything themselves even if they never ever win because the four-year-old’s bike looks like a four-year-old decorated it (because a four-year-old DID).

Here are some of the bikes lined up for judging (with Aden’s front and center, and a mysteriously well-constructed float-like bike just behind hers in the next row):
Quinn looked so proud biking across the stage!  His bike was ranked last but he was pleased to get a ribbon:
Aden paid attention to details like making sure her blue streamers were decorated with exactly 50 stars done in crayon:
But here was the kicker about Aden’s moment to participate in the bike parade:  She was not one of the top three winners, so after those little awards were given out, the lady running things looked wearily at the remaining kids and said something like, “Well, I guess the rest of the girls should just come across the stage.  There’s some kind of consolation prize for you down there somewhere.”  I couldn’t believe it!  And everyone else I talked to who heard it said they couldn’t believe she was so dismissive of all the other kids either.  The event barely qualifies as a competition, it’s purely for fun, so why would you make anyone feel bad?  Good grief.  Luckily Aden was happy with her certificate and some of the little prizes in the consolation bag, but it got both my husband and my neighbor, Julie, saying they really should sign up with the neighborhood association so they can get in there and move some of the crankier people aside during the kids’ events.
After the bike parade we headed home and hung out with some friends and ate a bit of the red-white-and-blue-trifle I made the night before:
It came out pretty!  And it tasted good, but you can’t really mess up berries and whipped cream and cake, and I threw in some pudding somewhere in there too.  (I bought that trifle bowl years ago and I think this is the first time I’ve actually dragged it out to make a trifle in it.  But it was a hit so we’ll probably do it again before the summer is over.)

We had a nice cookout on the deck (that included grilled zucchini which might be my new favorite thing) and then relaxed a little before heading back out to the park to listen to a band on the stage, eat ice cream, then lie on a blanket and watch the fireworks.  In past years a random sampling of my kids at any given time has been sensitive to the noise (which has not always made fireworks a universally popular activity) but they all seem to be over it.  Frankly, I’m over it too.  I used to hate the noise and this year I noticed that it doesn’t bother me anymore.  Quinn sat in my lap and said things like, “That one looked like jewels!  And that one looked like sparkling rain!”

It was an excellent day.  The only thing that might have improved it would have been a nap in there somewhere.  (And not losing Quinn briefly.)  I keep trying to sell my extended family on how much fun 4th of July is in Milwaukee and that it would be the perfect time for a visit, but no takers yet.  I just hope they all had as much fun where they were.  (But I doubt it!)

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Return of Neighborhood Recess (Babble)

Last summer some socially adept neighbors invited us to join their Neighborhood Recess gathering in the field behind our house.  It was a wonderful idea, and Aden enjoyed it a great deal, but I usually had to stay behind with Quinn who found it intimidating, and sometimes Mona if she wasn’t feeling up to it.  When Ian returned from Iraq he was able to enjoy a few rounds of Neighborhood Recess before it ended in the fall.

About a week ago Aden and I were talking about it, and wondering if we should take up the initiative ourselves this year to get Neighborhood Recess going again because we missed it.  But as it happens, the neighbors who put it together before emailed me the next day saying they were ready to do it again, and did we want to join them?  Of course we did!

Neighborhood Recess is a gathering of kids and their parents to play games in the field behind our house for an hour in the evening once a week.  Anyone can join, even kids who happen to be wandering by and just think it looks fun.  It’s informal and silly and a nice way to get to know other families in the neighborhood.

The field isn’t directly behind our house, it just seems that way.  There is a parking lot between us and the field, but since nothing obstructs our view it feels like it’s right outside the back gate.  Here’s the view from the terrace outside my girls’ room.
That’s our garage with our ‘Welcome Home’ mural (for when Ian came back from the second deployment), and beyond that is the field.
And here’s a (not great) zoom in on the crazy game of “Bear, Salmon, Mosquito” going on.  I love games that don’t take any equipment or props, but simply people willing to move.  One of my favorites (and a good way to wear kids out before bedtime) is called “Everybody’s It.”  Just like it sounds, everybody is it.  When the game starts you try to tag as many people as you can.  If you get tagged you sit down, but anyone else who feels like it can tag you again and get you back up.  The game continues until either there is one person left standing or everyone gets too tired to play anymore (which is usually what happens).

We also played a name game, animal races, and poison dart frog.  That one was new to me, and it’s kind of like ‘Murder!’ for the kid crowd.  A detective stands in the middle of the circle of players and tries to figure out the identity of the poison dart frog.  The poison dart frog is a person who sticks his or her tongue out at other people in the circle causing them to fall over dead.  (The best moment was when the little boy chosen to be the frog announced loudly to a kid across the circle, “I killed you!” which made the detective’s job that round rather easy.)

Last year Neighborhood Recess was primarily Aden’s thing.  Mona was nervous about it and just skirted the edges of the activity, and Quinn wanted nothing to do with it.  This year at the first gathering Mona was all over everything right along with her sister, and Quinn, after initially staying glued to one of my legs, eventually warmed up and let go of me long enough to do the animal races.  He was always the last one to get across the field moving like a frog or a kangaroo or a salamander, but he was happy.  Quinn’s a shy little fellow, so I was glad to see him throwing himself into the crowd for a change, even if that crowd was pretending to be monkeys.

I admire people who are able to organize successful events.  We get so wrapped up in all of the activities in our own house we have trouble remembering to look up and invite others in as often as we should.  Things like Neighborhood Recess make me glad I live where I do, and that we were able to move into a larger house without changing who our neighbors are, because we are surrounded by awfully nice people.  I’m glad Neighborhood Recess is back.