Category Archives: things to do

Why Do So Many Children’s Librarians Hate Children?

“Don’t worry. The children will never find us back here.”

Tell me: is this a New York City thing? Because it’s true that libraries here are different breed than those shushy places I grew up with – our dim little branches vibrate with screamy computer games, noisy kids (often mine), homeless-ish eccentrics waiting for their computer time and sharing theories on where the anti-Christ lives. (Brooklyn, I heard recently.) And oddest of all: the child-averse children’s librarians. What gives?

I love the library. I always have. I used to work in a library, for goodness’s sakes. I think they are so super duper important to civilized society and for that matter life in general. I go to the library several times a week; Harper shrieks and claps with delight at each fresh stack of new reading material. I’m writing all this so I don’t seem like a library curmudgeon. Because really, I’m annoyed with my local library right now, for there a grumpy librarian hath committed an act most foul: she snubbed my son.

Ollie’s obsessed with trains lately, so because I am attentive mother who wants to encourage my kids’ interests, the other morning while Harper was at school, I took him to the library. On the train! We took the train there. See, it relates. We took this most-fun-transportation-ever-invented to the shiny new Kensington library branch at 18th Ave, which I will take a moment here to recommend, in theory, because it’s actually the most gorgeous branch library I’ve ever seen. Two stories, a lovely atrium, eco-friendly tables and chairs in the kids’ section and an amazing selection of all brand-new books, plus a special kids’ activity room with bright, friendly Marimekko-esque wallpaper and an assortment of wooden toys – it’s a dream of a library. So I was excited when we got there for tot storytime. And I was greeted by the children’s librarian who said, “Welcome to you and your beautiful child!” JK, she said, “You’re late.”

“Oh!” I said, smiling, super pleasant, making nice, sending the brain message, Don’t be mad at me, lady. I am your people. I am bookish. I am the most bookish. We are allies. “I’m sorry. I thought the website said it was at 11?”

“That one is for babies.”

“Oh, I’m sorry. I thought it said up to 18 months.”

“It does. How old is your – is that a boy or girl?” (ed note: Ollie is dressed in blue jeans, black and white sneakers, a blue button-down shirt, and is holding a train toy. Yes, he has luxurious curls, it’s true, but give me a break.)

“My son is 18 months old.”

“Sure, sure he is. That’s what everyone says. You may stay if you understand it is for one time only.” This, leaning close, a touch menacingly.

What a welcome! So I thanked her and told her it was a really beautiful space and we were excited about it. She sniffed and mumbled something about trying to keep it that way and then scurried around kicking families out of the room, because that storyplaytime was over and the next storyplaytime was about to begin. A few parents asked if they could stay and she assured them they could not, and that they didn’t want to anyway, because it would be the same stories again. I think this was probably an oblique, playful reference to the classic novel Catch-22, because similarly to that novel’s central catch-22 (war is insane, you’d have to be insane to want to go to war, but if you’re insane you can’t go to war, etc), it didn’t make a lick of sense. Why did it matter what age anyone was, if both programs were the same? Why couldn’t people stay? Why couldn’t the toys stay out? Because the room had to be cleared for the 2 babies who were reluctantly approved to stay for storyplaytime 2. One of which was Ollie.

Now the babies were told to sit on tiny chairs, and scolded when they moved, which makes for a very enriching educational experience according to the most up-to-date parenting trends of 1840, I’m sure. They weren’t even making any noise, these wee people, I swear! Just moving around. The librarian said to me that if Ollie couldn’t sit still, “There’s a beautiful park – Prospect Park – nearby, and luckily we don’t live in the arctic!”

So I screamed, “Are you kidding me? There’s a PARK?! How come no one told me?!!!” JK, I creepily-calmly said, “So you’re saying that because my 18 month old doesn’t want to sit in a chair while you mumble-read a picture book about planting bulbs that’s clearly for 6-year-olds, I ought not to take him to the library at all, but belong only in the park on a freezing winter day? Lady, do your job and I’ll do mine!” JK, I mumbled, “Hm, yeah.” Because I’m a glutton for punishment, I didn’t stalk out until 5 minutes later, when finally Ollie started protesting the banishment of all those delightful toys.

Anyway, if anyone is still reading this, thank you for indulging my therapy session, whew, and my point is: WTF. Why be a children’s librarian, why be the storytime lady, if you clearly are disinterested in kids, in the funny squirmy ridiculous kidness of them? If you clearly have nothing but disdain for parents? I recall one storytime when Harper was a baby when a hilariously misanthropic librarian visibly shuddered at a toddler’s touch. Why?

My real question ought to be why I keep dragging my kids to these things. Harper flat out refuses library storytimes of any kind. “I don’t think that lady likes doing storytime,” she said after a particularly lackluster session at a different branch this summer. This is a kid who loves books and stories and telling stories more than any kid in the world. She just got a storytelling medal at playschool! A medal, I tell you! And she hates storytime. Poor thing.

Okay, so I guess I don’t completely un-get it, now that I’ve had some time to cool down from the horrific outrage of subpar toddler storyplaytime. I mean, these people have the jobs they have because they love children’s literature, not children. It seems to me that these ought to be connected, but I understand that they might not be. I loved reading Gone Girl and that doesn’t mean I want to hang out with sociopaths. Fair enough.

PS: 3 notable exceptions to the child-hating librarian rule: the storytime ladies at the Central Library and the Cortelyou branch were pretty baller last I checked, and Miss Cindy at our own Windsor Terrace branch is completely amazing, what with her ukelele and all. So I probably shouldn’t complain so much.

But I’m just so good at it.

20121129-230509.jpg “Mama, not only are you going to get chided for taking this picture, I don’t even want to be here. When do we get back on the damn TRAIN ALREADY?”

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.

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

Mastering the Kid/Baby Combo Outing

Pier 6

The path through Pier 6 park. Talia guides Harper while Alton sweats on my chest, never being photographed.

Forget everything I said about the importance of white space in the day of the wee. Harper’s painstakingly giving up her nap, and oh but the days are long when a 2-year-old never sleeps, rendering herself too tired to really properly entertain herself in ways other than, oh, say, experimenting with opening the oven. I’ve been sort of torturing her with nonstop fun, with the goal of keeping her occupied and tiring her out so completely that bedtime’s a snap.

The real challenge is finding just the right outing for a 2-year-old and a 4-month-old — and I imagine this will only get more complicated as Alton learns to do annoying little brother things like “walk” and “have opinions.” So what are we supposed to do all day? (As Harper asks me every morning, “We going somewhere Mama? What we doing today?”)

The playground is pretty annoying when you have a sweaty babelet strapped to your chest and can’t follow the tot up onto treacherous play equipment.  A playdate at someone else’s place is pretty good, and you might even get to go pee by yourself. The pool is near impossible. A picnic in the park is tough – too many places for big kid to run. The Brooklyn Children’s Museum is a good option, since it’s so contained – you need a place where it’s really really hard for the older kid to harm herself while you’re distracted or nursing or sneaking a drink from your flask – but you have to pay and stuff.

This week’s real winner was Pier 6 — good thing, as I was developing a real complex about how we hadn’t been there because I was such a lazy and incompetent mother. We finally went yesterday, and you know, it’s not a bad baby/tot outing. I give it a B. The Water Lab is lovely, really engaging, pretty contained, and none of the water deep enough to be worrisome if the ambulatory child wanders off a bit. That said, Harper did suffer a minor head injury, refreshing her perpetual black eye, but that’s to expected from any really fun day.

Anyway, the park is beautiful, and I’m so thankful that our friends Kim and Talia escorted us there, since I was a bit intimidated by the idea of getting there. In the end bus ride was actually fun, too, if a little complex with the stroller/kid/baby combo. Harper and Talia were super into watching out the windows, and when we got off the bus at the park Harper literally wept.

Thank goodness for friends, really, who make it possible for us to go places other than our living room. Or the Y. No offense to the Y.

Kid Art Projects: Clean, Messy, Messiest

I have to admit that the quality and complexity of our household art project ambitions have really taken a nosedive since the new guy moved in. Poor Harper! But I mean, it’s hard to craft a play-dough baby while holding an actual baby  (though not, as I’ve learned, impossible). Still and yet, there are still rainy days, and beautiful days when Mama cannot emotionally handle the stress of the playground, and thus: art projects. A clean one, for the very lightly-functional days, a messy one, for when baby’s studiously drooling on the exersaucer, and a REALLY messy one, for when baby’s solidly napping and daddy’s home just in case.

First, the clean one: painting with water on a chalk board. This is a great little trick I stole from, where else, The Artful Parent. Love her! It’s a super-easy, zero-mess project a 2 year-old can do “all by herself on her own,” as is Harper’s way. All (well, most) the satisfaction of painting, but if this “paint” spills, the floor actually gets cleaner.
painting with waterpainting with waterpainting with water

Next up: play-dough. I also got this play-dough recipe from The Artful Parent. I should note that mine was a bit messier than necessary. Turns out if you don’t include as much salt as the recipe calls for it actually makes a difference! So it was a little mushier and softer than it should have been, which actually made for a very enjoyable sensory experience but also more little schmutzy bits everywhere. We made lots of different colors. It was Harper’s innovation to run little trains through them. Bonus points if you wear only a bathing suit that you call a “play suit.”

play dough
play doughplay doughplay doughplay doughplay dough

The smushing-play-dough-on-the-chair move is a good one too. I call it, “Why not to have fancy furniture.”

Finally, the mother of all messy art projects: finger paints. That’s right, I went there. Harper saw an art project in her beloved High Five magazine that involved cutting vegetables and making stamps to use with finger paint, so we tried it (finally, a use for that wilting orange pepper!). After some initial hesitation – “I’m a little worried the paint will fall down,” she said, and the process-oriented creativity-advocate in me said, “That’s ok! Get Messy!” as the mother-who-was-about-to-have-finger-paint-all-over-the-kitchen said, “Huh. Wait what?” – she was OVERJOYED. Again Harper whipped out the little Ikea trains and I realized she’d gotten the idea from the wonderful Julie Brunner, aka Miss Julie, who teaches the wonderful Get Messy art class at our local Y that we go to when it’s not so crowded we can’t get in (!). Miss Julie is so smart!

Anyway, the vegetable stamps turned out not to be as exciting as the glorious goopy paint itself, which of course was not nearly as exciting as washing hands/playing in the sink. Here the orange pepper (and Harper’s shoes) became buckets, and the red paint became medicine for some hypochondriac plastic polar bears. Good times.

finger paintsfinger paintsfinger paintsfinger paintsfinger paintsfinger paints

Red Hook Pool: Police State of Fun

red hook pool

Brooklyn, New York. Pool at the Red Hook housing development, circa 1942. They used to charge 9 cents but now it's FREE, BITCHES! Take that, inflation!

I tend to like rules. Except of course when they are applied to me, in which case I find them restrictive, unnecessary, and mildly insulting. Still, there is an uptight little teacher’s pet in me that thinks chaotic New York could use some lessons from, say, uptight Japan, where people line up to get on the freaking subway trains. This part of me loved our recent visit to the Red Hook Pool, where recreation meets rules. (I’m going to propose this to the NYC Parks Department as a potential motto.)

Here’s how it works. You get there when it opens, if you have any brains at all. You wait in a line, or alternatively, on a line, should you actually be a native New Yorker or trying to pass as one. As you file in, a lady checks your combination lock and your child’s swim diaper. Don’t even TRY to pass off a non-swim-diaper as a swim-diaper! JUST DON’T EVEN. THEY HAVE SEEN IT ALL. You file into a cavernous locker room where your bloated diaper bag is crammed into a locker and locked up with aforementioned lock. You shuffle in your bathing suit and flip-flops, with your single towel and bottle of “sun scream” as Harper calls it, past the check-point where TWO GUARDS check to make sure you’re not smuggling in something awful like a gun or a pool toy. And then there you are, at the pool, where the air is filled with the birdish chorus  of forty-seven highschoolers in day-glo lifeguard trunks, blowing their whistles at everything at all times. No running! No horseplay! No piggy-backs! Sometimes, I suspect, they were just whistling their whistles the way dogs chained up too long outside bars bark, just to remind themselves that they are still alive.

I only wish every park in New York had so many rules and so many people enforcing them. Just imagine — a playground where a guard collected all the dolly strollers at the gate, so that none of the children could fight over them! Sprinklers where roving herds of Big Kids were not allowed to suddenly gallop through, frightening delicate toddlers!

Anyway, it was a lovely outing. The kiddie pool is great — a large, shallow wading pool forested by stands of sprinkling devices — not that this fooled Harper and her buddy Hayden, who were distracted by the awesomer attractions of the big pool and the DRINKING FOUNTAIN which emitted a tiny trickle of warm brackish water WHICH WAS SO AWESOME. There’s no shade, which is a bummer to the shade-obsessed like me.  And it was an outing, I should note, that was only possible because we met Hayden and his lovely mother Lara there, and she graciously spun Harper around the big pool while I watched from the edge, Alton sweating away in the Beco. There are some outings that are just real tricky with the tot/babe combo! I’m still figuring that whole situation out. But that is a topic for another post, perhaps.