Category Archives: play

Recipe for a Good Day

20140221-205917.jpg

The funny thing about parenting is that just when you think you have it all figured out, a kid stops napping or starts biting, or schedules change, or you change, and it’s almost like you have to start all over, figuring out how to have a good day. That’s my goal lately, a good day. It’s hard to think bigger than that, and when I start considering Childhood or Theories of Brain Development or What Kind of Parent One Ought to Be I get really tired and need a nap. But my kids don’t nap. So I can’t. Instead I spend a lot of energy trying to make each day good. Not perfect, but good. Each day with little kids is a marathon and a lifetime and a work of art and a mess. Inevitably.

Because I seem to have to relearn this every day, I am writing this to remind myself what helps, at this moment in time — as the kids are almost-3 and almost-5 and still home for most of the day and at the end of a long long winter — for a day to be a good one.

1) Stay busy but flexible. This is a real SAHM thing, to be sure. Maybe it’s because my kids are so, how you say, batshit crazy, it always helps us to have a Plan A and a Plan B and a Plan Z. In this matter give them pretend choices. “Do you want to do X or Other X, both of which I have pre-approved?”

2) Remember to take breaks. Book time in bed. Juice breaks at playdates. Bench-sits at museums and parks. You actually have to make it happen and it actually makes a huge difference. There is no nap anymore. Get over it. Remember that some minutes playing math games on Starfall will not suck their imaginations out of their heads. Chillax, Mama. Break time = important.

3) Invest in healthyish convenience food. Because I am sorry, but few things are as enraging as involving the kids in menu planning and grocery shopping just like the thingy you read said to, spending an hour cooking with “helpers” wobbling on chairs in the galley kitchen, all Montesourri-like, only to end up with a huge mess and food that the kids just look at and cry. Try again with the real food in a year. Until then, fuck it, how bad can Annie’s Mac and Cheese every night be? (Do not read the story about the girl who ate only chicken nuggets for 17 years. Do not hang out with the mom whose kid eats bell peppers at the playground like they are apples. Do not click on any BuzzFeed thingies about any kind of food.)

4) Get out everyday. If nothing else, walk to the mailbox or invent something you need to buy at the store that can be scooted to. Even in the winter. Even when they’re sick. Even when the bundling up takes longer than the outside time.

5) See other grownups/text your friends/look at twitter just enough so you stay sane or at least remember that all the parents are feeling crazy.

6) Keep the ratio of art project setup/cleanup to actual kid-entertainment potential in mind. No wants to clean up fucking cloud dough all night.

7) Remember Pinterest is a liar. Most of the internet is a liar. And nothing entertains kids for hours. Nothing.

8) When possible, don’t react. To hitting, to whining, to acting out. Remember Amy Fusselman, who writes in her memoir 8 that when you are parenting small children, you are a robot. When not reacting is impossible, don’t beat yourself up about it. Tell yourself some shit about how it’s good for kids to see you get mad and calm down or something . That has to be constructive somehow, right? Because you’re not actually a robot, are you? And just imagine how entertaining it must be for your neighbors down the hall to hear you yelling “I SAID STOP BITING YOUR SISTER’S BUTT!!” and how pleasant for them to get to feel kind of superior to you. That’s a great gift, really, that you are offering them. You’re welcome, them!

9) Leave the kids alone. I mean not alone alone but they can play together, and they can be screaming one second and resolve it the next, and you will surely be alerted if the skirmish is unresolvable. You didn’t have 2 kids to have 2 people to have to entertain constantly. You had 2 kids so they would play “kid/grownup” long enough for you to tap out a blog post on your phone!

10) Don’t clean up after they are in bed. Make them help even though it sucks and they do a crap-ass job of sorting the toys into the appropriately-labelled bins so that their room looks nothing like the ones on your really excellent Kids’ Rooms Pinterest page, which remember, is a liar anyway. Or at least let the kids see you do it. After they are in bed, that is your time. A coworker once told me, “I don’t have a clean house. That’s the new feminism.” Take out the trash and load the dishwasher and then read that New York Times article about how a clean house is a sign of a wasted life or just skim it and then read an amazing book instead, or make some art, or call someone, or do something crazy like talk to your husband. Fuck cleaning. Seriously. Unless you like it. In which case you’re crazy.

11) When all else fails, look at the kids’ baby pictures together. They love it, you love it, it helps put everything into perspective.

12) Don’t forget the 3:00 pm coffee. That’s the one that makes it all work.

13) Inevitably, on a crappy day, an old lady will stop you on the street and tell you to enjoy every moment. This is crazy of course and only possible to even consider if you’ve completely forgotten what little kids are like. But you can enjoy one moment. There is one magical moment in every shitstorm of a day, and you’ve got to enjoy the hell out of that moment. Remember, if you can, if for only that one moment of the day about all the wonder. All the goddamned crazy this-is-your-life wonder.

20140221-204837.jpg

20140221-210427.jpg

20140221-210457.jpg

(top image from Emily Winfield Martin’s DREAM ANIMALS.)

The Read Balloon: Winnie-the-Pooh, The House at Pooh Corner, and Harper’s first serious crush

A Map of Prospect Park.

Tonight at dinner-time I read the kids the last installment of The House at Pooh Corner, Chapter 10, in which “Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There,” which really ought to be subtitled, “Fuck You, Mama’s Mascara.” Ollie has not been privy to most of the Pooh-readings (for this concludes our first reading of the entire series) but for some reason I felt he should be there for this story, snortling into his macaroni, maybe to protect me, the way Harper always squeezes his hand and tells him she’s helping him to be brave when she’s afraid of something. “Christopher Robin was going away,” the story begins. That was about when I started crying.

This all started because of a bookmark. Harper and I were whiling away an Ollie-nap by going crazy on Mr. Printables, an amazing site full of adorable (free!) paper dolls, coloring pages, and lo, bookmarks. Harper wanted to know what they were, these mysterious bookmarks, and what kind of book you would need to keep a place in, and I explained, and she asked if we had any chapter books, and I said that we did, and that we could read a chapter of one if she wanted and then hold our place with the bookmark, and she felt extreme enthusiasm about this concept. She’s very into accessories.

So that night at bedtime we began reading the first Winnie-the-Pooh story. I approached the familiar stories with some cautious optimism, not quite sure she was ready to listen to so very many pages with so very few little scratchy pictures. But man, was she. She is now obsessed, with the wonderful, all-consuming Harper-passion that has previously been directed toward The Ballerinas, Charlie and Lola, Special Baby, Murray, and other luminaries. I do believe she is in love with Christopher Robin.

I’m so glad she wants to read the stories all again, as she has announced, but there was something really special, like Special Baby special, about that first time, about hearing her crack up at the funny parts, and furrow her brow and ask for clarification regarding all the spelling jokes, and exclaim, “Oh, Christopher Robin!” when he’d do something terribly kind and wise, as he tends to. I keep catching her poring over the illustrations, studying Christopher Robin in particular. In the middle of nowhere she’ll say, “I think Christopher Robin might be a tiny bit older than me,” or, “Wasn’t that so funny when Christopher Robin said x?” She’s been wandering around the apartment or community garden or park or wherever we are, whispering to Christopher Robin about this or that, and singing Pooh-inspired “Tiddly-Pom”s as she goes.

Look, the real, original Pooh, Piglet, Kanga, Tigger, and Eeyore! Guess where they live? THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY! Even though this is, as Harper says, “very far away in Manhattan,” I’m thinking field trip.

First we read through Winnie-The-Pooh, and then one day last week I got The House at Pooh Corner from the library when Harper was at school. She walked into the living room, saw the book lying on the couch, screamed, clapped her hands, and did a somersault. I’m not kidding. We’ve since gone on Winnie the Pooh-themed picnics in the park. (I asked Harper if she could find the Hundred Acre Wood and she assured me it would be easy, and it turned out it was.) Actually, everything has been Winnie the Pooh-themed.

My point is, this child lives in an enchanted world, in which she is most happy when play-acting some private story. So this last Pooh story, about Christopher Robin leaving the forest, seems custom-built for stabbing me in the heart. How long do we have? How long can she play, completely unself-consciously, in these elaborate worlds, populated by imaginary people and her “cubbies”?

Christopher Robin, according to Ernest Shepard

Toward the end of the last story, Christopher Robin and Pooh are lazing about in the enchanted place when Christopher Robin says, “’I’m not going to do Nothing any more.’

‘Never again?’

‘Well, not so much. They won’t let you.’”

Directly beneath this is an illustration of Christopher Robin lying on his stomach, kicking his legs in the air, studying something on the grass in front of him: that pose of relaxed, busy, focused nothing that is I think the essence of childhood. It’s just such a heartbreaker. And even though Harper’s not setting off for English boarding school anytime soon, it’s inevitable, the Growing Up.

Ugh, so what I’m saying is, read these stories to your magical little preschooler. Read them on a day when you’re so tired from all the early waking and tantrums about shoes and sticky floors and more tantrums about other shoes that you have been praying for the era of Full Day Kindergarten or even fantasizing about English boarding school, when the drudgery of all the work that comes along with them has momentarily clouded the sheer ridiculous shiny glory of their mysterious, curious beings. Read them to your children while they eat dinner so that you can get all weepy and when they both refuse to eat the macaroni and cheese they demanded and request little cups of applesauce instead you won’t even care and you’ll uncharacteristically let them have them and it will seem suddenly beautiful and not maddening the way they shriek with excitement and set about smearing the applesauce across the table like adorable monsters, and you’ll think, Yes, cups of applesauce are totally completely the most thrilling things on earth! Read them before they’ve seen the cartoon versions. Read them in an enchanted place, if you can find one. And then read them again.

Christopher Robin, according to Harper.

 

Kitchen Table Math Drop-Outs

Another rigorous day of G&T test-prep!

In the process of creating and maintaining our amazing, spectacular, splendiferous playschool co-op, the mothers of Greenwood Playschool (nee Tomb Tots) and I have had the good fortune to have several meetings with Peggy Reimann, an education consultant with a passel of brilliant ideas about nurturing a love of reading and even encouraging an understanding and sense of friendliness with – gasp – math. She urged us to quit cold turkey anything like flash cards, and the strange but common process of quizzing little kids about books, i.e.: “DO YOU SEE THE COW? WHERE IS THE COW? WHAT DOES A COW SAY? GOOOOOOD A COW SAYS MOO!” Rather, she urged us in her gentle and wise manner to look at pictures with our kids, to move our fingers across the page, to talk about what we see together — and this process seriously changed completely the way Harper and I experience books and images and was utterly amazing.
So, now that Harper is a sage 3.5, I figured it was time to dive into Peggy’s math curriculum.

All summer I tried to introduce pattern sorting. I’d put Ollie down for a nap, make us some milky tea, and set the scene for something VERY SPECIAL. There – the paper with the circles on it. There – the colored pieces, in our case buttons. The idea is that you make it a kind of a game to make patterns together, to sort out the colors, and eventually start talking about quantities. “So!” I’d say brightly, like Peggy instructed, “I’m going to put the blue button here.” “Okay,” Harper would respond. And then, having found the thimble among the buttons, she’d switch into a high-pitched fairy-voice and offer a button some tea out of the thimble, and then the button would squeak, “Oh, yes please!”

And so on.  Pasta-shape-sorting turned into an elaborate story-play of Jack and the Magic Pasta-Seeds-Beanstalk. Absolutely everything becomes a game of pretend with this kid, even bath time turns into a 3-hour-long sessions of making bath-rice-pudding for bath-Foofa’s birthday. Of course I find this to be wonderful, and in my sick writer’s mind can’t think of anything better than an almost-absolute break with reality. But still, I really like the idea of appealing to some other corners of her busy, buzzing mind. And in classic parenting “it’s actually my issue not yours” fashion, I am eager for her to avoid the gut-wrenching math anxiety that to this day has me reacting to the words “fraction” and “division” with an outbreak of hives.

So today I tried an activity that looked so cute on Pinterest (I could probably just copy-and-paste this every night “It looked so cute on Pinterest but didn’t quite work out as well for me…”) : writing numbers (or I also tried dots) on craft sticks, and then sticking the numbers in order into a big snake of playdough.

First: excitement. “What’s this? A project?” My explanation was met with a “talk-to-the-hand” type gesture. “Nah, let’s make these sticks into people!”

“But, it’s a cool project!” I tried changing my tactics. “It’s a really fun big-girl activity. Um, it’s a game. It’s a puzzle.” Nothing. “You know what this is? It’s math!”

“I DON’T LIKE MATH! I ONLY LIKE DRAWING PEOPLE!”

And that, folks, is genetics at work. So much for instilling an early love of numbers. One thing I really feel that I have succeeded at, though, is encouraging an early love of tea parties, fairies,and flitting around singing little nonsense songs, all of which are sure to be very helpful in really any field Harper chooses to pursue.

Things We Now Know About Murray

Taking Murray sledding.

I always wanted an imaginary friend. Only as I type that sentence does it strike me as a little sad. Why in the world didn’t I just imagine one?  I guess it never occurred to me, and so clearly I did not deserve such a companion. So anyway I’m happy for Harper that she has her dear Murray. Murray has been with us for about 7 or 8 months now, having arrived on the scene as soon as she saw Sesame Street for the first time and forged a deep connection with the muppet Murray. Pretend-Murray, as he was originally known, made the leap from screen to home, and has since become a near-constant presence. No one can say for sure why Murray, the loud, friendly, floppy show host with the underbite and devil-may-care attitude captured her imagination so much more than, say, Elmo or Abby or some other carefully engineered tot-buddy. And yet captured her imagination he has, so much so that she doesn’t even want to see actual-Murray anymore because presumably he messes with the pretend-Murray in her head.

All of which is to say, Murray has been especially busy lately. Allow me to share some tidbits.

1) Murray is 18 years old, which means he can drive a car and chew gum.

2) Murray lives in Mexico with many cats.

3) Murray has a new baby arriving soon, sometimes a brother, sometimes a sister, sometimes a “other brother.”

4) Murray is prone to terrible stomach troubles due to his habit of eating old strawberries off the floor. This results in frequent doctor visits, but he rarely fusses and almost never kicks the doctor.

5) Murray is fuzzy, like Sesame Street Murray, but instead of orange, he is yellow.

6) Sometimes Murray is a baby and nurses and bites or nibbles. I don’t know where she gets this stuff.

7) Murray often squeezes toothpaste on clothing, creating the need for outfits to be changed post haste.

8) Murray is sometimes sitting on the toilet when I’m asking Harper to try to pee, so she can’t because she doesn’t want to smush him.

9) Murray usually stays home from parties or outings because he’s feeling shy.

10) Murray has more than once pushed Ollie down or thrown toys at him, and needs Harper to explain to him that Ollie is just a baby and needs to be treated gently.

Oh, Murray!

ETA: I cannot BELIEVE I forgot about one of Murray’s most definitive characteristics, which is that he is often accompanied by The Big Kids. This is an amorphous group of age-shifting children. Inquiries into their ages, genders, names, and other characteristics are always deflected. But there they are, on the couch, or at school, or causing some sort of mischief. “Oh, that’s the Big Kids’ snack, you have to leave it out,” or, “Murray and the Big Kids decided to draw on the wall.” Adam finds The Big Kids to be somewhat creepy, and I have to concur — they sometimes seem to operate kind of like a Warriors-esque gang, a cohesive group of themed folk who seem playful at first but are, it is soon revealed, unstoppable. You didn’t think Murray traveled without a posse, did you?

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.

Hello, Greenwood Playschool, How Are You?

I was sitting here thinking of how to write this post and experienced a brain-montage of “talking! doing! making!” moments. Listening to a friend talk about how she’d started a playschool co-op for her daughter. Sitting on the bench in front of the bakery, casually mentioning the idea to another mom-friend. Gathering notes. Trading ideas. Meetings and playdates along the way with various baked goods in tow (this, before the second children started to appear). Interviewing teachers. Having sample lessons with teachers. Running up all those steps. Wait. That last one maybe wasn’t us.

Anyway, here it is, it’s started! We’ve had two-and-a-half weeks of playschool (we have to call it playschool or the accredited-preschool cops will bust down Beth’s  beautiful door). It’s been, honestly, better than I ever imagined. The kids are so READY. When we started talking about this process, many of us weren’t sure 2-year-olds even needed any kind of school, which was part of what made paying 8 zillion dollars for a Park Slope Sprouts Something feel silly.  Now that they are all two-and-a-half or thereabouts, they are just so ready and so into it.

Our teacher Cyndi is amazing — smart, funny, easy-going, creative, and so energetic I think she might not be actually human. I was the TA on the first day, and it was too rainy to really play outside much. Cyndi took one look at the bouncing bunch and announced that it was jumping time. And then they sang a song and jumped up and down.  Over and over. It was amazing. They are also doing schoolier stuff too — learning days of the week and talking about weather and sitting nicely for snacks and reading stories and having choice time and doing art projects…it’s so cute I might explode.

Impressively, everyone’s done really great with the separation. Harper freaked out a little the first time I left but since has been completely fine. Every morning we go over it. “And then you come back?” “Yes.” “You’ll come get me?” “Yes.” “Is Ollie going to be there?” “Ollie will stay with me and we will come pick you up.” Then she asks me what color Cyndi will be wearing. “Will it be purple Cyndi or orange Cyndi?” “I don’t know.” “Because why?” “Because…um…get your backpack.”

Harper loves the routines. She comes home and immediately commences to play school like it’s her job. Which it sort of is, I guess. She doles out spots. She sits down cubbies. She sings the hello song and goodbye song in an endless loop. She only answers to the name “Pretend Cyndi.” It’s all just a very satisfying response.

If anyone is interested in starting a co-op, or wondering how to go about it, or has any advice for us as we proceed through our school year, let me know! I can’t say how pleased I am with how it’s going. I feel so lucky to have found this group of moms and kids, too.  Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s choice time. And my choice is always to read. (By which I mean sleep, obviously.)