Is it me, or...

... is it impossible to find a raincoat in kids' size 5 or 6? Other than a $65 Marmot one from REI, I mean. I haven't spotted a single used one this summer, and Target has cute ones up to size 4 and then ... nothing. Is everyone supposed to stay inside when it rains now, or just roll up the sleeves of Mama's Mountain Hard Wear and waddle around like E.T. as we did this morning?

... are these a little odd? Granted, I wet the bed until I was old enough to write a five-paragraph essay (oh, and I spotted them while shopping for diapers for my three and a half year old to poop in) but I am weirded out by the teeny bopper marketing.

... is something off with Google Reader? It keeps showing old things as new, no matter how many times I click 'mark as read' or whatever. It's a pretty interface, but, grrr, I'm about to go back to bloglines.

... is it really, really dark in the morning all of a sudden? The girls are getting up at about 6, and it feels like night then, and continues to feel like night until after we're done with breakfast. I'm ordering the light therapy box today.

... are freshly roasted pumpkin seeds with lots of salt totally, totally addictive?


Self-Congratulatory Monday

The entire world is apparently falling into financial and political ruin, but at least I'm finding a lot of reasons to feel good about myself—beyond even the pipe cleaner sculptures:

Yesterday Ingrid pulled out her new favorite trick: "But Daddy does it that way!" And we had a conversation about how different people have different ways of doing things, and this is the way I do it, so when she's with me we will do it this way. She thought for a minute and then said, "When I grow up I'm going to do things like you." And I was able to pull myself out of my sick little moment of ego glow and say, "You know, when you grow up you'll probably do some things like Daddy and me and some things in your very own special Ingrid way."

Iris had her lead level rechecked at her one-year appointment, since we live in an old house in the city. And it came back? One. One! After spending the summer eating sand and dirt! Clearly I am a fabulous housekeeper, swabbing down the floors many times a day with clean, wet rags.

The biggest pat on the back I'm giving myself (and if you are a single parent, feel free to throw up and / or slap me right now because obviously this is small potatoes in the big world of solo parenting) is about how things are going here, on day eight of fifteen (or maybe more) days of A being gone. Things are fine. We get up, we have breakfast, we have our little routine for getting us all showered and bathed, we do stuff, we weather tantrums, we procure and eat food, and it is all fine. I've had lots of help: in-laws, friends, the babysitter for that poetry class (which went smashingly last week, both the class and the scene at home). But beyond that it somehow feels like things have clicked into place. Like instead of barely surviving, at this moment I am somehow now the strong, clever mama I hoped I'd be, getting the daily stuff done and even—slowly—inching us a tiny bit at a time toward a world of more creative play, cleaner closets, and a creative life for me. Yay.

Feel free to congratulate your own self in the comments and I will virtually pat you on the back. It's Monday, after all.


Generation Gap

This morning my father in law—Grandpa Gary—accompanied us to our first Mu*sic To*ge*ther class of the fall. He loves to sing and was thrilled to have the chance to dance around a little room with a dozen or so under-fives, his adorable (and adoring) granddaughters among them.

Everything was smooth until "She'll be comin' 'round the mountain." The teacher led us through several of the traditional verses. She'll be driving six white horses, we'll all run out and meet her, etc. etc. Then (in that weird sing-talking that the music teachers I guess are trained to do) she asked the swaying, dancing group for suggestions for the next verse.

Rollicking right along, Grandpa Gary made his forearm into an axe and shouted, "Kill the old red rooster!"

The teacher inhaled quickly. Everyone stopped dancing for a second and watched her try to decide what to do. "Should we really sing that one?" she said very quietly, looking at the ceiling and forgetting to sing.

"Or 'eat a little tofu?'" I offered in a small voice.

She finally collected herself, skipped the butchering, and led us into "We'll all have chicken and dumplings," followed closely—and cunningly, I thought—by "She'll have to sleep with Grandpa."

Fortunately, my father in law thought it was a hoot. He grew up chopping the necks off of poultry and not knowing any other path to chicken and dumplings, and he's broad-minded and big-hearted enough to laugh gently at small clashes of perspective, especially when country meets city.

Without him there, I wouldn't have noticed the absence of that verse, which is indeed a traditional part of the song. But, in honor of Grandpa Gary, I'm going to throw it in occasionally when we sing it at home. We eat some meat in our family; there's no point in being squeamish about where it comes from.

How are things at your house? Do you kill the old red rooster?


My friends, I made these out of pipe cleaners.

Now try to tell me I don't have some kind of future in the visual arts.

And feel free to call my bluff the next time I tell you I've got a "really busy" week ahead.

Less Stingy (apologies to William Carlos Williams)

This is just to say

This morning I used up
two half-full boxes
of baking soda
and a whole bottle
of organic white vinegar
making volcanoes with Ingrid
in the sandbox.

Forgive me.
She loved it, and it smelled
like childhood.


Best Laid Plans, and Where on earth does she get that syntax?

Friday I took the day off work, hoping to catch up with the various things I'm really behind on. A is out of town this week and next, and I thought it would be great to get a little on top of things before the inevitable crazy couple of weeks.

Instead, we woke up at 7 Friday morning to a baby completely covered in vomit, and I spent most of the day sitting on the kitchen floor nursing Iris, holding her while she dozed, and/or pointing her in the right direction as she threw up. Poor thing. It was a short sickness, and we had a nice Saturday, visiting a public garden we'd never been to. Then Ingrid came down with the crud at bedtime Saturday, and A and I pretty much both got up for each of probably fifty vomits. After a while I stopped going back to bed and just curled up in my bathrobe at the foot of her bed.

A, somehow, took care of just about everything Sunday while I tried to catch up on sleep. The theory was that he'd be able to get more sleep near the beginning of his trip, while I'd need all the reserves I could gather during this 15-day solo stint. After hours of napping (and feeling a bit under the weather myself) yesterday, I feel relatively human today (day 1 without A). I hope things are going as predicted on his end.

This week has all kinds of nuttiness in store, including several weirdly overlapping work commitments, plus the start of my poetry class, during which Ingrid's old day care teacher is babysitting—great for Ingrid, but I'm imagining Iris may cry the whole time and wondering what on earth I was thinking to set this up.


On a whole other subject, I've really tried to give out more popsicles in the past week. The other day Ingrid asked for one after dinner, but in a whiny voice, and I was in the middle of changing Iris's diaper so I told her she'd need to ask in a nice voice when I was finished and then we could talk about it.

As I pulled Iris's pants up, Ingrid gave me the most earnest look ever and said, "Mama? Let's talk about this popsicle problem."

I gave her a popsicle.


Another political post or two and I'll be qualified for the vice presidency.

My friends and family and I spend a lot of time het up about Those People on the Other End of the Political Spectrum. What are they thinking? They must be brainwashed. They are inhabiting some weird alternate universe.

I just stumbled on Jonathan Haidt's What Makes People Vote Republican? (linked to from—and pointedly summarized in—this great Judith Warner editorial, which is sort of funny), and it's the most thoughtful approach I've seen to this problem of alternate universes. Leave it to an anthropologist to reveal righteous indignation as just another form of incomplete understanding. Academic and thick-ish, but very, very worth a read.



Yesterday’s primary election here was not suspenseful. None of the races, within my party and precinct, at least, were heavily contested. I voted out of habit, and to make my mark for a couple of the school board candidates.

Our polling place is the middle school five blocks from our house. We stopped there on our way to the library. Iris wiggled in the backpack, grinning at the officials and peering around at our neighbors. Ingrid held onto my leg, and I knelt down to show her my ballot.

“We vote to decide who gets to do certain important jobs,” I told her , “like being in charge of the schools, and making the rules for the country. Everybody gets to vote to help decide these things—all the grownups in this country. And whoever gets the most votes, gets to do those important jobs.”

I choked up, saying this to her. Explaining our complicated—and, lately, ugly—system of government in so few words was like trying to tell her about a bird by presenting her with a sun-bleached pile of strong, elegant bones. Here is what holds this all up, I was saying to her. Here are the ovals we fill in with a pen.

I couldn’t believe how hopeful I had to make myself to say those things, and how readily she accepted them. There was no room for election fraud, electoral gerrymandering, or smarmy campaign strategies. I didn’t talk about how my grandmothers, at her age, weren't certain they’d grow up to vote, or how, as adults, they couldn’t tell their own little daughters that all grownups in this country help choose our leaders. After paring all that away, what remained was the most fragile kind of hope: This is where we can all say what we think is best.

The lump in my throat will be even larger in November. So much rests on the outcome, I don’t know about those thin, light bones. The people who do those important jobs will decide whether there’s war or peace in this world. They’ll decide what kind of country my little girls grow up in. They’ll have the chance to chip away at—or make worse—the great mountain of suffering—human and otherwise—on this planet.

When a weird sideshow full of meanhearted digs, irrelevant personal details, and cheap, illogical appeals to our most selfish impulses can rile so many into bizarre devotion (even as the rest of us retain the taste of throwup in our mouths for weeks), how much do I trust my neighbors to vote what is right? How much can I trust that the simple act at the core of our country’s being will move us any closer at all to where we ought to be?

Voting feels a greater honor than ever—the chance to elect someone who can really lead and inspire, can pull us out of the financial and social and spiritual mire we’ve made for ourselves. It also feels more an act of faith than ever: I fill in a circle, and, through some kind of alchemy, someone new—or not—appears at the helm of (still, arguably) the most powerful country in the world. There’s more than voting, of course, that I can and should do to make the world I want. But, still, so much rests on it, that inky spot on a sheet of paper, the whirring machine I feed it into. I don’t pray often, but the thought of all those ballots in November is enough to make me whisper, God, if you’re there, please make this work the way it should, the way I’m telling my daughter it does.


Stingy Mama

A year ago, on one of our first outings as a mama-and-two-girls trio, we went to a big giant craft store and bought three bottles of poster paint. Red, yellow, and blue. For kiddie painting projects.

In June, I found some all-natural, juice-only popsicles at the co-op and bought them. For treats on hot summer days. I bet there were 16 in the box.

Ingrid loves to paint, and we do it often, and I'm in charge of doling out the paint. I squirt it onto a piece of cardboard, she uses it up and asks for more, I squirt out a bit more, feeling a little antsy all the while about wasting paint.

It probably goes without saying that she loves popsicles. Who doesn't love popsicles? I heed the limit-the-juice warnings, though. I give her one on an especially hot day, or at a special time. More often than not the "don't spoil your child" devil sits on my shoulder as she slurps away, and I slap it back: just this once, I say.

But know what I've still got? Three bottles of paint that are less than half used up, and a good three quarters of the box of popsicles still in the freezer.

I am stingy. With art supplies. And hippie popsicles.

Goal for the new (school year): Loosen up. Objective A: Be extravagant with the art supplies. Objective B: Be more generous with the popsicles.


An Improvement?

Today after school:

Ingrid, cheerfully: [Name of Wyoming Town] didn't hit me on the head today.

Me: Well, that's good. It sounds like he made a better choice today, (blah blah blah about hitting and how it hurts, etc. etc.)

Ingrid, interrupting, still cheerfully: Today he poked me in the eye.

Other than that, she seems to have had a fine second day. Her teacher commented on her sense of humor, saying she giggled all day long. She made a fabulous piece of art out of large amounts of glue and glitter.


Chewing as fast as I can.

Iris is so cute these days it is almost unbearable. She has ringlets! Red ringlets! And she staggers around the house clutching a tube of toothpaste or a plastic lid in one hand and waving the other arm wildly over her head to maintain her balance. She articulates new words every day, with such adorable deliberation and glee: Ba pa (backpack). Bap-pul (apple). Keekeepat (kittycat). She is fearless, now, about wanting to join the world of the big(ger) people. She climbs into Ingrid's chair. She lunges for my glass of beer, wanting a taste. She is full of pride when she scoops up yogurt with a spoon and reaches her mouth with it.

Ingrid is interested in coloring all the time, and her drawings have begun to take on new characteristics—instead of monochromatic scribbles, there are patches of color, or squiggles almost like writing, each with a different crayon. She'd be happy if I spent the whole day playing pretend games with her: school, camping, putting the babies to sleep and then being really quiet. She wants to be able to cut a perfect arc with scissors. She is all of a sudden a crackerjack trike rider, speeding down little hills and around corners and stopping expertly at intersections and alleys. She is interested in growing up. The other day she asked me, "Mama, when I grow up can I have a permanent pen?" A frequent conversational topic is "When will I be big enough to drive the car?"

And me, I am in the middle of just about every project I can think of to start. Our garden is half harvested, and we seem to have hit a break between waves of ripe tomatoes. I have two simple baby blankets I want to sew for friends, and a zillion essay and poem ideas, most scribbled in the notebook I jam into my purse for when I have a minute. Add to that (work thing A) and (work thing B) and (long-term career planning thing C), plus my pipe dream of clearing out half of our swampy basement to create a sewing and writing studio slash Reggio Emilia style atelier for Ingrid and me, and there's a whole lot in the works.

I'm taking a poetry class this fall, which starts next week, along with an early childhood class for the girls and me, plus a low key parent-child soccer thing at the park, and a music class for either A or me to take the girls to Saturday mornings. The summer has been so idyllic—the hours at the park, the evenings in the backyard, all the lazy walks to the coffee shop in the mornings—that in a way it seems like a shame to begin all this. I want to relish more days of not having to be anywhere and not having to coax Ingrid through anything too hard (e.g. speaking to human beings other than family members).

But as the weather gets colder I know we'll want these activities on the schedule, these appointments to hang our routine on when "wading pool visit, followed by picnic, followed by giggling sisters pushing each other on the swings" is no longer feasible. It's September, and it's time to start on all of these things, and to keep harvesting tomatoes, pressing flannel, writing poems, and clearing the stuff we no longer need out of the basement.