Category Archives: budget

The School Bus 3rd Birthday and Flower 5th Birthday Mashup Party, Or the Reason Why I am Late on All My Deadlines Right Now

A while ago I asked the kids what they wanted to do for their birthday party this year, just to feel it out. After all, maybe we are past the point of the scrappy apartment shared party? Maybe they have noticed that even though their birthdays are 2 weeks apart, most of their friends don’t have to share birthday parties, so what the hell, they want separate sleepover-at-the-museum parties?

But no, this thought had not occurred to them. Without hesitating, Harper rattled off the ingredients to a perfect party: “Chocolate cake, a pinata full of candy, goody bags with candy — do NOT try to make them healthy [this in a warning tone] — music, dancing, our friends, flowers, NO GAMES, and don’t forget the candy.” Ollie added: “School buses!” Adam had his own list culled from this one, which included name tags (because dads don’t know anyone’s names), lots of beer (or as Ollie put it, “beard for the grownups”), pizza, and a 2-hour window — people were welcome to stay longer, but we served cake like an hour in, so as not to have one of those situations were you are being held hostage by a kids’ party for your whole day. What I learned from doing pretty much this same party last year (when I was also about to have a book release!) and the year before (when we had just moved into our apartment that month!) was that Sunday afternoon parties are the easiest on Mama, because then you have all weekend to pull together all those cute decorations you pinned on your damn Pinterest page and so on.

It was relatively short and sweet, the kids had fun, their friends went home with huge bag of candy and plastic crap including whistles, so now we don’t have to worry about ever having a party again because I’m sure everyone hates us. It was fun for the grownups too, or at least it was for us, which meant we kind of forgot to take pictures of the actual party, but you can imagine how it went down: lots of kids racing around and creating a huge yellow balloon rat-king, smashing our poor beautiful pinata, and Harper and Ollie sneaking off into the other room to salivate over the presents. And now I wash my hands of kid parties until next spring. Good family-planning, us!

Puppets, Finger Paints, and the Jackson 5: Our Year In A Co-op Playschool.

Harper got her diploma from playschool yesterday. I arrived to pick her up a few minutes before the end of class and could hear Cyndi, their awesome teacher, calling their names to get their certificates, and I thought about how the school year was over, and how our little dudes had just completed their first school experience, and how hard we all worked to make the school happen, and how we’d talked so long ago about what we wanted it to be and then made it just that, warm and nurturing and imaginative and positive, and how they loved it so much, and what a nice group of increasingly civilized little beasts they were… I really was about to tear up – and then Kim, the mom who was the helper, popped out of the school room with some empty snack cups, a harried look on her face, and said something like, “Oh man. They are so baaaaad today.” Oh well. That’s kids for you. Just when you’re so full of the purest love, so full you think you’ll float to the ceiling and then burst, they act like total dicks and just chew on your heart for a while. It’s probably for the best. Otherwise we’d be so lovey and goony and overly permissive and we would never let them sleep.

I feel so thankful to have gotten connected with all these awesome families and kids.  And I’m so glad we did the co-op. Harper definitely was ready for something schooly, and really has thrived with the structure and socialization and color freeze dance. The half-day ended up being perfect for her, too – she’s pretty strung out after those three hours, and basically unable to deal with anyone other than Murray for a while. (Murray who has been stomping into the apartment and threatening to steal princess bandaids, by the way — what a jerk of an imaginary friend he is sometimes.)

The Best Things About Greenwood Playschool:

1)   It is the prettiest playschool in the world. I mean, if you were 3, wouldn’t you want to go to school in a lovely house with a yard full of play equipment and fluffy hydrangeas? And, ah, across the street from a cemetery? OBVIOUSLY YES.

2)   Circle time. Harper rushed home to play circle time with her cubbies every day after school for about the first four months. (Now they’re more into this psychedelic mashup of ballet, Cinderella, getting married, and Miss Spider’s tea party.) Sitting on the adorable quilted spots our host mother (that makes us sound like leeches, which we are…not?) made, fighting over the pink one, discussing various topics of great importance like the color of the week or the weather, and hearing a story? Does it get better? I ask you.

3)   If you ask the kids, the answer to that last question would be: yes, it does get better. AT SNACK TIME. These kids, several of them avowed non-eaters, get crazy with snack time. Snack time is the greatest thing ever. It’s like the toddler equivalent of going for drinks with friend; they all get happy and solicitous all the sudden. It’s funny to me now at first we marveled that they sat at the table and ate their crackers and drank water from their cups without lids. That just shows me how far they’ve come, that in September that seemed impossible. What monsters!

4)   Music. Whether it’s free time, dance time, jump-up-and-down time (an important part of the curriculum particularly in those wilder times of the first semester), or that precious color freeze dance time, these kids regularly rocked out to The Ramones and The Jackson 5.  And that is a Brooklyn playschool co-op for you right there.

5)   Cyndi. I mean, she made this school what it is: fun, playful, high energy, imaginative. Every time I was the helper I was amazed at her patience with dickish kid moves that made me immediately slip into pissed-mom-voice. She’s so good at what she does. And obviously she’s also a comic, a puppeteer, and fluent in Spanish. And she thinks of really good art projects.

Which makes me extra happy that we are rebooting for next year.  I can only assume that our experiences with Brooklyn pre-K, public schools and beyond will be just as sensitive, imaginative, nurturing, and joyful.  Rrrrrrrright?

The 2-for-1-Special Springtime Birthday

One thing you have to admit for our family planning, we are really going to save money on birthday parties. Man, have we beat the system!

Last year I was convinced Alton was going to be born on Harper’s birthday, and so we had her tiny tea party a little early, but he had the good manners/laziness to be born weeks later. That was fun! I’m kidding, it was miserable! Anyway. So their birthdays ended up being two weeks apart, in different months even so they each get their own little sector of spring, but close enough that for the next few years anyway we can force them let them share a birthday party.

I decided a spring theme made sense, which meant some fake cherry blossom sprigs, some springy bunting, and two cake-foods. For the Harper side of things, dainty pink cupcakes with gum paste cherry blossoms that I lovingly crafted by hand. Come on, my kids eat nuggets every night. I ordered those suckers online. And for the Alton side of things, a chocolate cake that looked like mud, which is to say, slathered in chocolate pudding and crumbled cookies and gummy worms and slugs. For some reason, some of the guests found this to be off-putting. There was pin-the-tail-on-the-robin, but more importantly, tons of balloons. And that was it. We played records. We gave the grownups mimosas and bagels. Alton wandered around like a puppy, climbing into people’s laps and stealing their food. Harper occasionally reminded her guests not to take home her presents. Murray got shy at the last minute and stayed home with all his cats in Paris. It was really so much fun, and we felt so thankful to all the friends and new neighbors who came by, and very house-warmed and heart-warmed.

Here are some photos Adam took. And you can also get a peek at our new place, which we are semi-settled into. So without further ado, here is why is my novel revisions are not into my editor yet:

McMe-Time With Fries

They made me do it.

I am writing this blog post on my phone, in my parked car, having just participated in one of the most salacious, shameful activities in my mom-repetoire, so embarrassing that I feel compelled to immediately share with the world. It involves… sleeping children. And… fast food.

But before I dive in, let me just provide some context– after an exciting morning of having a cavity filled (honestly, the most restful moment of the day), I spent an hour getting the kids ready to go to the doctor. This had me a little anxious already; last time we went to the doctor’s Harper distinguished herself by shouting,  “I’m not listening to you! I’m going to escape!” and running out of the room. This morning she is being especially contrary, vetoing the sweater I offer, turning down the suggested boots with disgust, really wanting Special Baby to go in the car seat instead of Ollie. (How do you argue with something like that?) Getting downstairs takes cajoling, getting across the street to where the car is parked takes threats, by the time I’m trying to get her in the car seat she’s kicking at my face (“I want to do everything all by myself on my own!”) while Ollie watches the show, and I’m yelling at her there on the avenue for all to see. “Stop kicking me!” I add as I shut the door, just in case any disapproving eavesdropper needs to know why I’m spewing venom at a sweet-faced little blonde clutching her dolly.

So. Then, the doctor’s office, where Harper repeats her trickery despite not being the one being examined at all, pushing at the doctor’s chair experimentally and whispering, “No doctor for me OR Ollie.” One shot and one screaming baby later, we are headed home. “I’m going to be a doctor when I grow up!” Harper announces as we get back in the car.

Now, we don’t drive often. This used to be because, hello, we live in New York City which is where people live when they are superior beings who walk places and frequent local shops. Now I admit, it’s mostly because finding parking in our neighborhood is an exercise in futility, so that my outings are all coordinated with alternate side parking, when the streets miraculously clear for the street sweepers, only to have every spot filled the instant it’s legal again. So driving is a little bit of a novelty for the kids, and for me, and so I am unused to this weird phenomenon of the kids both falling asleep in their car seats on our way back from anywhere.

Car naps used to disturb me because I used to care about “junk sleep” and “nap schedules.” Then I had another baby. Now I take what I can get. And when both kids are asleep at the same time, it’s like a spa vacation. In my car. So you know what I do?

I drive to McDonalds. I do. And I go through the drive-through. I do! McDonalds is so evil and disgusting! I, who used to be a vegan who lectured people on how supporting companies like McDonalds was destroying the earth and making angels cry! And… “Ah, can I get an iced coffee? And, like, a grilled chicken sandwich? Do you have something like that? A grilled chicken sandwich?”

“A McChicken?”

“Um, is that grilled?” I hear how ridiculous this sounds and correct myself, “Yes, please.” (It is not. It is a big chicken finger covered in greenish ribbons imitating lettuce and something like mayonnaise.) (It is DELICIOUS.) “Is the chicken organic?” I’m kidding, I don’t ask that. But I do think it. Oh, and can I just say that the sandwich, coffee, and fruit thingy that I get all cost $5? Do people know about this? That’s amazing!

And then, there I am, parked on a tree-lined Park Slope street, my kids snoozing away in neck-kinking slumps, sipping a McDonalds iced coffee (the medium is large enough to kill a horse — what is wrong with this country?! — oh, and delicious), and you know what? It’s the second-most relaxing moment of my day. After having my cavity filled.

PS Read more about how deeply, embarrassingly imperfect of a mother I am over at an even-more public forum here!

The Dance of the Sugar-Crazed Fairy

gyo fujikawa

Image from Gyo Fujikawa's Night Before Christmas

I’m so behind on my to-do list these days that I’m starting to get out-of-season — I have potentially great blog posts that have remained entirely in my head and soon will be putridly out of date, like a Shamrock Shake you find in your fridge mid-June, unspeakably furzed. All these cute seasonal things have been happening — an attempt at candy cane playdough in little babyfood jars as presents to Harper’s classmates (it looked really cute but ours was a weird gelatinous mush the next day and I fear everyone else’s was too — I bet that never happens to The Artful Parent lady!), a day devoted to making salt dough ornaments, which were a big hit with Harper and infected our apartment with a plague of glitter.

And, also, I took Harper to see The Nutcracker, an outing I’ve been looking forward to since Harper was the gestational age of approximately 20 weeks. We went with a local, kid-friendly version — Lincoln Center is for the reliably potty-trained, I think — at Brooklyn College. The good people at the Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts have put together a sweet, family-friendly version, including a voice over explaining the trippy things occurring on the stage. That said, the thing is still 2 hours long and, as I’d forgotten in the 25-odd years since I last saw The Nutcracker, kind of creepy.

Also, taking a two-year-old to the ballet is akin to walking a bull with a time bomb strapped to it through a crystal palace. The best part was just before the curtain went up, when Harper was perched on the edge of her chair, her hands clasped, saying, “Oh, I’m just so essited for the ballerinas!” I almost floated our of my $7 seat, I was so charmed by her essitement. As soon as they dimmed the lights, however, she started saying she wanted to go home. I spent the next half-hour or so whispering answers to her many questions as quietly as possible and bribing her with M&Ms.

At one point she announced she was going home and took off, so I slunk after her, inwardly pouting about missing the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy. In the lobby, Harper stopped to stare at a ballerina on a television screen before saying, “I want to see that!” “That’s what’s going on inside the theater,” I said in a very nice and not at all annoyed voice. “Let’s go!” she said brightly, bounding back towards our seats.

By the last third or so of the ballet,  though, I did one of those Parenty Things you think you’ll never do and truly don’t understand until it happens to you — that is, I realized it would be easier to get out of the parking lot if we left before the show ended. Away we went. In the car Harper sighed dreamily. “Did you like it?” I asked her. “I did,” she said, “I really liked those M&Ms.”

All in all, a cultural triumph.

Now there are presents to be wrapped, and tomorrow, cookies to be made. (Harper was very concerned that Santa would eat her Hanukkah cookies, so we decided to make some just for him.)  There will be a walk in the park, since global warming’s fucking with our sledding tradition, and then a delicious Christmas meal (delivered by Fresh Direct, of course), and then I am staying up to catch Santa.  Dear blog people, happy holiday of choice, and to all, a good night.

(PS Check out my post on creating holiday memories over at the Redbook Motherboard blog!)

gyo fujikawa night before christmas

Images from Gyo Fujikawa's The Night Before Christmas

Simple Pleasures: Cloud Dough and the Blue Ball

Sometimes Harper is very good at entertaining herself and will be busy playing school or changing her dollies’ diapers or bossing around Murray and the Big Kids  or “reading” or cutting holes in her socks for many blissful minutes. Others, not so much. And what with this other kid around, I can’t always get into the elaborate art projects and such that we so favored last winter. This week, though, two amusements reminded me of how simple a thing can be and still capture her interest and imagination.

Item 1: Cloud Dough.
The other night all the co-op moms had another awesome meeting to discuss how our awesome playschool’s going (awesomely), and as always happens at these things I came away with lots of ideas for fun things to do with Harper other than just saying, “Go play! Scat!” We were talking about sensory-integration-fun when one mom suggested cloud dough, for which I found a recipe here.

Harper reported that cloud dough felt

Like most fun things, a big mess.

cloud dough

Cloud dough + Mum-mums = entertained children.

We tried it out one chilly, rainy morning when both kids were up BEFORE FIVE and we really needed something, well, soft and tickly. Big mess, but also, big fun.

Item 2: Blue Bouncy Ball.
It’s a real hassle when kids start having a lot of opinions about everything, has anyone noticed this? Today I was determined to get to Tumbling Tots, which is a very enriching class at the Y that involves waiting for a ticket so that you can go into a big padded room and let your kid run around on some sweaty floormat, but for some reason Harper wasn’t into it. She wanted to walk around and look for puddles instead. Fair enough. We stopped at a little drug store, and just as I was feeling bad for having such a boring morning, Harper spotted a bouncy ball that she felt she and Murray really needed. We bought it, stopped for a ride on the ancient motorcycle ridey-thingy outside, and then went to park. And guess what? Harper and Murray had a great time with this ball. It was super bouncy. And that was the morning. And that was more than enough.

Malka’s Miniature Room

The other day Harper declared Malka to be her best, best friend. This was after some quality time spent engaged in Harper’s favorite friend-activity, namely, holding hands and running and falling down. Just like true best friends, they spend a lot of time being sort of awful to each other. But lately an amazing thing has happened. On a playdate Malka’s mother (the accomplished poet and YA author Carley Moore, who also makes a killer smoothie) and I realized we hadn’t heard from the girls in a while. After a moment of cold dread, we found them happily playing together in Malka’s sweet little room. After two and a half years of parallel play interrupted now and then by knock-down-drag-out brawls, this is a very thrilling developmental milestone. Malka is an older woman, having already turned 3, and I think her maturity might be rubbing off on not-quite-two-and-a-half Harper.

I believe the sweetness of Malka’s room has something to do with their congenial play. There is just something about this room (and the whole apartment) that feels like home, that reminds me of what I loved about being a child and my own room growing up– a relaxed, homey warmth.

Here’s what Carley has to say about the 9×12 room and how it came together: “My mom, Judy Haller of Jamestown, New York, made both of the quilts.  The purple one she made for Malka when she was born and it’s made from fabrics that we’re designed to look like childrens’ fabrics from the 1940s.  I love some of those patterns–the tiny kittens and the hearts, very retro.”

” The second one (the red and blue one), my mom made last year for Malka at Christmas.  I love the reds and blues and that there is a different panel for every month.  I come from a long-line of quilt makers–most of the women in my family quilt (my mom, my aunts, my grandma) so it’s special to have these in Malka’s room.  Plus, they are so one-of-a-kind–the quilter’s vision is always so interesting to me, kind of like a writer’s voice.”

“Shells–Malka loves shells and jewelry.  We try to arrange those on her dresser, and she rearranges often.  She sometimes tries to sleep with her shells she loves them so much.” [Ed. note: Also My Little Pony! Hello, wave of nostalgia! YES!]

“The new bookcase.  It’s a piece of crap from Ikea–a Billy to be exact.  I don’t want to knock the Billy though.  We have many of them in our house full of books.  I always say that I won’t buy another, but they are so cheap and they fit a lot of stuff.  Now Malka has some bins for tiny things like cars, paper dolls, and beads, and all of her books and puzzles fit in one place.  Yay!”

“Matt’s father made the Malka collage when she was born.  He’s a painter and collage maker.”

I think it only fair to note that this room was spic-and-span when we arrived, but the girls immediately pulled down one of the toy bins and got to work making music and playing. I’m telling you, this room WORKS!

You know what else I think helps make this home so cozy and warm? The excellent design choice of cats draped luxuriously here and there.

Also, Malka has a kick-ass doll house that really reminds me of the Fisher Price one I used to have.

So there you have it. And now, let us hold hands and run in the fields together. Metaphorically, I mean, of course.