May 30, 2016

Community Garden Love

Smith has this little stuffed fox, 'super foxy' or just 'foxy' for short. He carries him everywhere and also sometimes accidentally leaves him behind to spend the night abandoned in a playground or grocery store... still we somehow always track him down (so far, knock on wood!). I think about how many toys and stuffed creatures I have carefully chosen for the kids over the years, some hand made with loving care and hefty price tags, and yet it's this synthetic Ikea fox, thoughtlessly added to the cart in an effort to buy me some extra shopping time, that has won his heart. I never would I have guessed that we would be retracing our steps and making late night phone calls to track down that $2 mass produced toy, but Smith loves him, and so now we all do too. It's funny the things that wind up being critical to finding personal joy.

Our community garden is a bit like that fox for me. Six years ago, when we first scored our plot, it was just a way to bide my time and get my fingers dirty until I could move back to the country. I never imagined that 400 square feet of sun soaked earth would play such a big role in our family's warm weather rituals. James was initially ambivalent about our plot, and these days he is often the one dragging us all there, weeding and watering at the end of long work days. The kids have grown up with our garden as a major feature of their lives, and despite our move last summer, this patch of land, connected to a community and not a set of house keys, has remained a constant for them both.

When we were looking to buy a house, several friends made comments assuming we'd give up our garden, because we would want to start one in our own yard, or it would be too far away. But we actually made proximity to the garden a key factor in our buying process, and we are definitely keeping our plot! 

True, it does require more effort to pack up the kids and drive just to do a little gardening. I am sure that if I could swing open my back door and poke around, everything would be better maintained. But it is so worth the added work. It's wonderful to walk around and chat with other gardeners, sharing tips and seeds. I love that we were able to stay close to the city, and all of the culture and excitement it has to offer, choosing a small and shady lot without sacrificing sun loving veggies in the process. Best of all, our garden happens to be nestled in a nature preserve, which means our non-country-kids get to kick off their shoes, run through fields chasing butterflies, toss stones into streams, and generally experience much of the freedom my country-kid childhood afforded me. 

I love you community garden, you have given our family so much more than we can possibly return. Never outgrow us, and we promise that we'll never outgrow you.

May 23, 2016

As Told by an Only Child

I often think that being an only child, who is raising a couple of kids, is like living in a suspended state of puppy love. That idealistic giddiness that comes with the first true crush, the starry eyes that no sour reality can penetrate, we are closing in on three years of siblinghood in this family, and I still can't contain the daily swells of happy tears when I watch simple interactions between my children.

They fight, they torture each other, they defend each other, and give rough embraces that send them both crashing to the ground... it's all typical stuff, but these moments are my favorite part of each day. Even when they are driving me nuts and I lose my temper, I take comfort in knowing that they can help each other navigate my special brand of crazy.

For every set of siblings that stay thick as thieves through adulthood, there are likely many more that never get along, drift apart, or just never relate to one another. It doesn't always work out, and there are often good reasons for the distance. But being an only child, I can ignore possible future realities, and just glorify today's head-locks as character building, and embrace the squabbling as a welcome soundtrack to the 'big family' life that I always imagined.

One of my greatest hopes for my children is that they will always be there for each other, and that they will genuinely enjoy and respect one another as adults. Of course, much of that is out of my hands. Still, I do believe that parenting plays a substantive role in setting the tone for long term sibling love, and we're doing our best to lay down that sturdy foundation. Knocking on wood, and sentencing them both to a life of shared bedrooms and late night whispers. Like it or not!

This is tough to understand, but I just love it when they plot against me. I'm looking forward to their future memoirs detailing the lives of a brother and sister, raised by a sappy only-child mama.

operation rescue from Mama Smith on Vimeo.

p.s. there's obviously a lot of good that I could say about being an only child, and being raised by a single mother, and on and on. I suspect we all yearn for pieces of what we missed out on, while also honoring the beauty in what we did have. hopefully that comes through in this journal, as a whole. I know there are a ton of awesome only-children coming up in this world, without question!

May 15, 2016


warming up frozen pizza with a side of sunshine new lunch location daffodils to cure a lousy day wallpaper test run nap-time bits morning view rainy morning routine girls' lunch afternoon activities catnip and lavender barbershop and lollipop meals to beat the rain favorite jacket  new bed slumber quiet time with 'foxy' 'dusting'

I had my final evening of classes for this semester last Wednesday and, coupled with several days of our first real taste of summer weather, I am feeling almost giddy. The past month has seemed a haze of exhaustion and rain. There was so much to do, so many late nights and early mornings, sniffly noses and coughs, day after day of clouds and rain, and way too much 'screen time' and fast meals for the kids. We weren't in our typical (or preferred) spring rythm. But after some planting in the garden and a few sunny days this week, I finally feel like we are pulling it together! 

We have been slowly (well, by my standards!) working to make some changes in Smith and Roo's shared bedroom. We hung back up a few prints tonight, and it's pretty much complete. I know I shift their room constantly, and yeah it's a mild obsession... but I really think we almost have it right now! I can't wait to get a moment to take some pictures and share the progress. It's such a fun space, and truly reflects each of their personalities. There's nothing that beats a great kid's room, right?!

Another big push has been in preparing for Smith to enter kindergarten next year. It has been a substantial effort, mentally and emotionally wrapping our heads around the idea that he is old enough to even be entering a full day of real school, plus dealing with all the conflicting thoughts around public school in general, and the transition from his current Reggio Emilia based preschool. I've been attempting to get him ready for 'expectations', working on fun ways to spark his lagging interest in letters and numbers (building off his love of science and nature, as best I can). And then there's all the logistical issues and paperwork that come with pushing through an existing speech IEP (for those of you who know what that is!), switching districts... There have been a lot of late night talks with James, my mom, just to myself over all of this. We've had last minute debates on private schools, and a million second and third thoughts. But I do think we've chosen the right course. And if not? Well then we will just make a change. I have to keep reminding myself that nothing is irreversible. And of how fortunate we are to live in an area with impeccable public schools, something I certainly don't take for granted.

So that is some of what we have been up to since my last visit here. Seeds have been thrown in the gound, house projects have been completed, forms have been filled out, screens have been temporarily banished (well, for the kids anyway), and I have that super optimistic high that comes with the promise of every new season. There may be a frost warning tonight, but I've committed to sandals and packed away my winter coats. It's time!

*I always feel slightly sheepish to return to this space with a collection of week-old snapshots from my phone. There just hasn't been the time, or interest, to pick up my camera in the last month, and I find that the more regularly I get on here, the more I want to keep it up... so I'm just going with it!

April 27, 2016

Boy's Gone Wild

In the last few months, I've discovered that having a five year old is a true revelation. I am certain that all mothers feel vitally bonded with each of their children, and my connections are not exceptional... but the relationship I have with this boy, my first baby, with whom I've shared each and every day of the last five years, feels remarkable. Seeing so many of the quirks, that were trademarked in his infancy and toddlerhood, feed into the personality of this wholly formed and articulate human being, is wildly surreal.

It seems as though I know everything about him, all his sensitivities... how he'll be bold and confident, but then suddenly shrink when confronted with an unfamiliar person or challenge, that when faced with a decision, he will always make the opposite choice first and then self impose a crisis before settling on his second pick, that asking him something head on is the fastest way to make him shut down. I know that he is surprisingly adventurous in exploring the world, climbing high and straying far, but that he can be trusted, always. He never gets himself stuck out on a limb and forever amazes me with how clearly and unconsciously he understands the edges and dangers around him. He's exceptionally tuned into his environment, yet often exceptionally tuned out to the people within it.

In the last five years, I've started to form my own narrative of the person he is, and as I am sure is true of many parents with kids that could be described as 'shy' or 'sensitive', I have also imagined how we will help him navigate the challenges that may emerge as he makes his way through the impending school years...

... So now here is the twist; yes he is shy and sensitive and a loner in many ways, and yes he is a very small kid, scraping the bottom of the height and weight charts since birth... but he is also a wild, silly, social, and increasingly aggressive boy. I have spent so much time imagining how I will defend him against the 'mean kids' of the world, that it's been more than a little disarming this year to get the teacher updates wherein he has pushed an unsuspecting kid, or to hear him make fun of the boys in his class who like princesses and 'girl stuff', or to listen in on the general tone of destruction and violence that prevails over all his imaginative play. I had a few weeks of crisis this past winter where I thought, 'what happened to that sensitive geek I have been raising, and who is this alpha male that's replaced him?!'... I'm sort of kidding. But there's a giant helping of truth in there too. 

Lately he seems to have mellowed out some, and I am seeing what I hope to be a healthier balance of wild and sensitive. Still, five has been a big reality check for me. As much as I think I know my child, and with everything that has been ingrained in him since birth and still persists as part of his character, he is obviously finding himself, testing new ideas, growing, and changing constantly... and sometimes radically. I'm bracing myself for decades of surprises from my predictable, routine-loving boy. 

*it's been a tough month, but i am still doing this! my sweet and faithful blog readers... this blog is happening this year (but just let me finish out the semester ;)

April 1, 2016

Easter at Home

Easter is that holiday, where every year I have visions of boiling red cabbage to dye eggs and personally felting special toys for each of the kids... then the inevitable smash cut to wandering the aisles of Target the night before, trying to piece together meaningful trinkets, and in an outright verbal battle for the final two wooden crates (they were entirely out of baskets- how?!).

This was our first Easter at home in many years, and I was really worried it would just be boring for everyone. I loooove (there can not be enough 'o's there) a quiet Christmas, but spring and egg hunts just seem to require family and friends. Spoiler alert, maybe we now have a big enough family of our own to carry that weight of fun. We missed hanging with our loved one's, but we truly had a great celebration all on our very own... thanks to Twister, fondue, and of course, Target.

We did actually use natural dye on our eggs, because we love eggs and buy them with care, and after reading a few articles on the typical egg dye not being good to consume, I got myself all freaked out. Still, there was no way I had time to peel a dozen onion skins or boil berries (all this might sound nuts to anyone not versed in Pinterest and Instagram, but I promise that everyone under the sun is all about that natural dye!). We cheated and bought our's from Natural Earth Paint, and having tried several other brands, this one is definitely my favorite. The colors are pretty. A bit muted on brown eggs, but the kids were pleased, and I felt good feeding them every last egg. 

The biggest key to our holiday's success, and Smith proclaiming it, "the best Easter ever!", was the bunny leaving a treasure (aka egg) map. James was initially skeptical in the late hours of Easter Eve, when I put on the pressure to hide real eggs inside, hide candy stuffed plastic eggs outside... and oh yeah, draw a treasure map indicating each egg. After some whining about my making 'too big a deal out of everything', he pulled out that pen and totally got into it. I knew he would! In the end, I think we could have skipped noting the actual location of the eggs, because the kids just ran around searching randomly for them... but oh my, they were impressed by that map.

Smith is already an 'eagle eye' by nature, and spotted a bunch of eggs out his window before we even let him leave his room, in the early hours of morning. I had to stand on his bed and crane to even see where he was talking about. The kid is intense. Roo is a little less 'gifted' in egg sighting skills, but made up for it with candy enthusiasm. Together they were quite the pair, racing around our tiny yard to uncover every egg. The final treasure was hidden in their tee pee tent in the basement, a big crate full of board games and craft activities. I have to take the credit for that idea, and it really was perfect. We spent the rest of the day playing twister and beading necklaces... trust me, it was more fun than it sounds.

We ended the night with fondue, which is becoming a favorite celebration meal for our little family. It's so easy and there's a bite of something to suit everyone; winter veggies, spring veggies... every season tastes good dipped in cheese!

The kids actually cried on Easter night, wishing that we could do the whole thing again the next day. Five and two years old really seems to be the sweet spot for maximum magic and appreciation for these holidays. I'm trying to invent a few more, just to relish the moments. It's really good right now, and I'm soaking it all up and putting these memories in the reserves to get me through those impending preteen years. Maybe they will just stay sweet like this forever, but sleep more? Here's hoping.