Saturday, September 29, 2012

Choose Your Own Hair Story?

Cal wants to grow his hair out “until it touches his shirt.”

I don’t know how to respond to this. Is this acceptable? Do parents let boys grow their hair out if they want to when they’re three years old? Is that a thing? And also—I cut the boys’ hair. How do I let it grow out without it looking like a mullet and then a homeless person? Does he simply not want a haircut because he hates haircuts? Maybe it isn't fear; I haven't talked about a haircut for awhile.

So I Googled something like “little boys growing their hair out” and promptly spent way too much time reading ridiculously useless message boards. And yet I still don’t have an answer. I emailed a friend of mine whose son has long hair, and I think her advice is probably the only advice that Brian and I will actually pay attention to.

Much of the material I read online was complaints about strangers mistaking long-haired boys for girls(gasp!). Other people said letting a toddler make the decision is fine, some said he shouldn't make the decision at this age. Some asked if the boy in question is rebellious.

Now that I've done so much reading on it, it feels like a much bigger deal than it probably is.
Maybe in a month if his hair is hanging in his eyes he’ll change his mind. It does seem like kind of a fun experiment—to have Cal grow his out and Clark cut his. Then we’ll know what they’d look like either way. Kind of a choose-your-own adventure kind of hair...story.

*editor's note: Many apologies for those of you who read this post earlier in its very rough draft form.
I can't quite imagine his hair long...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why Are Beans Bean and Aunt Bean is a Bean?

We are excited to have my sister here in the DC area for two months while she takes a course and prepares to move abroad to work. She will be splitting time between my brother’s house in DC and our house in the ‘burbs. She’s younger than me by nine years and therefore, to the boys, is nine times cooler than I am.

Ever since she was born I’ve been calling her Bean. She’s my Bean. At first I called her Bambino, then I called her Beano, then shortened it to Bean. All of that happened in the first couple months of her life. Ever since then she’s been Bean. But only to me. No one else calls her that. When Cal and Clark were born and she became an aunt, I asked if she wanted to be called Aunt Bean instead of her real name, and she did. The boys have only known her as Aunt Bean. Yesterday they wanted to get to the bottom of why she is named Aunt Bean.

As we were sitting and eating sandwiches after art class, Clark asked for an explanation. His peanut butter and jelly lines went from ear to ear and his eyebrows were furrowed. “Mommy, why are beans beans and Aunt Bean is a bean? He needed to understand. So I explained the origin of the nickname, and it seemed to make enough sense to them both.

Last night Aunt Bean made delicious black bean burgers (the boys still don’t know they didn’t have meat in them) and did the dishes. Tonight she helped with lasagna and did the dishes. Monday she drove us to swim class, took us grocery shopping where she pushed the squealing boys all over the supermarket in a toy car shopping cart (brand name: Bean) Yesterday she walked with us and helped push the stroller to art class, helped Cal carry back his pile of sticks that he is now collecting every time we go for a walk. I went running with her. We played with cattails with her at Popcorn Ponds. Watched Smokey the Bear public service announcements on her laptop (She’s worked for the Forest Service in the past). She fixed my bike. We showed her our library. Tomorrow we're going museuming with her. It's so fun to have her and to have the boys get to know their Aunt Bean.

Our voices sound alike, which is something we’ve used for our entertainment in the past. Our parents often can’t tell us apart on the phone. The other day Clark was yelling that he was done on the toilet. I answered to wait a minute and he got all flustered. “I’m talking to Mommy, not you, Aunt Bean!” It took some convincing to prove to him that I was answering him.
Overall the past few days have been great with Aunt Bean here. We’re so fortunate to get to see her over the next couple months!

Stalking a bullfrog at Popcorn Ponds

Sunday, September 23, 2012

My Calvin Date

Today Brian and I split up the twins and took them on dates. I took Calvin to the National Book Festival and Brian took Clark to a Nationals game. We've only split them up this way a few times before, but I think it's important to spend one-on-one time with each of the boys. We surprised them. They didn't know what we were doing until Brian dropped Cal and I off at the festival on the National Mall.

It's hard because we don't want to put them in boxes and always assume that Cal will like the more artsy activity and Clark the sporty one...but it's also hard because we know that's what each of them likes the most. Cal is bored after awhile at a baseball game, but Clark knows the players and how to keep score and everything.

The date was rather last minute-- I had thought I'd be going to the festival by myself and so I hadn't paid much attention to the children's authors. I could have checked out books at the library from specific authors and then arranged to hear their presentations after the boys knew the books. That's what I've done in the past for myself. Next year I'll remember.

The author I wanted to hear and meet on Sunday was Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I love her adult book, Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. I've read only one of her children's books, and the boys and I like it a lot (Bedtime for Mommy). So we heard her speak with my friend Missy, who introduced the book to me years ago, and we got to meet AKR. (Missy wrote about our afternoon here.) She signed my book and signed Cal's festival poster. She and Cal talked about superheroes (Cal has named his superhero self "Throthen" and Clark is "Quesadilla"). I told her about Whispers & Shouts and I was even so brazen as to hand her my card when she asked what the name of it is. Maybe she'll read this...

I bought Cal a book written and illustrated by a husband and wife team. You know how Cal loves to paint; I thought he would like to see the person who painted his book as well as the person who wrote it. We watched Erin and Philip Stead read two of their books from the front row: A Sick Day for Amos McGee and Bear Has a Story to Tell. They were charming.

Then we had a traumatic experience with Cat in the Hat and Sid the Science Kid at the PBS Kids tent, a side trip through the insect zoo and bathroom at the Natural History Museum, and a fun time at the Storybook Station before we walked to Uncle A's house to meet the baseball-ers.

The weather was unusually perfect for the festival (I have horrible rain and sweat book festival stories). I also thought it seemed to be organized and managed better than in past years-- it was a smoothly-operating function. What a fun day!

Here is my Calvin date in pictures:

Mommy and Calvy date!
Meeting Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Philip and Erin Stead

He ended up being brave enough for a
quick high five from Sid.

Then Cal stood and stalked Sid.

This is a big place with books and pillows for reading!


Drawing a ceiling fan

I don't know.

Walking back to Uncle A's house

Nats Clinched!

Last night we went to our first Nationals' game since coming back from our road trip. What an awesome atmosphere at Nats Park! It’s such a switch to have an exciting, playoff-bound team in DC.

I like to think that I brought baseball to the area, since I moved here in 2004, when the bids were being put in and when DC won. (Clearly, I was bringing baseball from…Idaho?) Then in 2005 I was there at RFK Stadium to see half a dozen games or so. They actually did pretty well and had a chance there at the end of the season to catch the Phillies. That September was exciting, but nothing became of their run.

They’ve been my team ever since then though. For a few years I didn’t follow them closely, but I followed well enough to know that there were some rough days in the clubhouse and front office. This year they’ve been in first place for all but ten games of the season. The other night they clinched the playoffs—they will at least get a wildcard berth. Their magic number to winning the NL East is now down to six! Our baseball friends to the north are having an amazing year also—the Orioles are only a game back on the Yanks. Maybe there will be a Beltway Series!

We splurged and got cable for the first time mostly just to watch the Nats. We picked a good year to do it! The boys know most of the players’ names and Clark imitates their stances at the plate. He is obsessed with Bryce Harper. Probably even more than your average Washington DC-area teenage girl. Both boys are also in love with the Presidents from the Presidents’ race that happens every game in the middle of the 4th inning. Ever since they were scared of them early on in the season, they’ve started loving them. In fact, word in the hallway is that they want to be George and Teddy for Halloween. We’ll see. That’s seems harder than ceiling fans.

So taking them to a game last night was super fun. They know so much about the game and the team that they understood how cool it was to be there. The only bad part came in the 9th inning when the Nats lost the game. Other than that it was great. I can’t get over how awesome it is to just be able to go to a game whenever we want to—so different than the way I grew up.
If you’re in DC, get out and go to the park! It’s an electrifying crowd that comes out to the games now. Even if you don’t adore baseball like I do, it’s a fun night. Go Nats! Let Teddy Win.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Breaking Up

Dear Facebook,

It’s taken me awhile to work up the courage to write this. I know I should tell you this face to face, but I’ve always been better at organizing my thoughts on paper. Plus, you have so many faces.
We’re through.  

I think you’re great and I mean that. You’ve connected me with old friends and let me share important parts of my life with them for the past four years. You’ve been valuable entertainment. But you’ve also allowed me to know too much about too many people. Superfluous information that is taking up space in my head. For every person you allow me to like more, you make me like two people less. Somehow you convinced me that reading other people’s old mail is an acceptable way to get to know them, and them me. I’d like to offer them a better chance than that. And I hope to be given a better chance.

But here’s the bigger problem: you’re a thief. A nice thief, but still a thief. You steal my time. It’s never a lot at once, but over the course of a day I can’t help but take peeks at you and find myself obsessing over ridiculous things like who else comments on a picture of a sidewalk chalk drawing. The number of Likes for a status update provides me with a healthy dose of self-esteem, and that’s ridiculous. As if I’m so important that everyone needs to know my every move and mood. I have this blog, and it gives me a more controlled place to share my thoughts, while developing my writing habit.
But I can’t blame you. You're just doing your job. In fact, it’s not you, it’s me. Some people are able to balance you better. To not read the updates on that creepy little ticker in the upper right hand corner or click on the little red dot every time it shows up. Sometimes I feel controlled by you, which makes me angry.

I think my life without being inundated by you will be refreshing and freeing.
Let’s still be friends. You have your place, but I need to keep you there. You’re great for promoting my writing, so I’ll keep on as a Page—nothing more. I won’t have the creepy ticker or be able to read about what other people are eating for lunch. I’ll run into you once in awhile and it will be a little awkward at first, but we’ll soon get used to living side by side in a healthier relationship. Plus, I’ll have more time for writing important letters like this. Srsly.


(I know it’s hypocritical, but “Like” W&S to still get links to my blog posts) à

P.S. I hope no one takes this personally. I'm keeping track of email addresses and I will stay in touch that way in addition to the blog and the phone. I do value my friendships. Just want them to be more...real.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

How the Weird-toed Frenchman Was Right

Monday was the boys' first swim class. It was actually even worse than I imagined it would be, even considering their watery past. Cal was brave until Clark's screaming got out of control. Then his lip started to quiver and he started in on the crying. Of course this was the only time in my life that I was punctual. We sat on a pool chair for 20 minutes waiting for class to start. Those shrieks reverberating around the pool walls were downright obnoxious, and I felt bad for anyone who had to listen. I didn't notice any angry faces on the old women in the water aerobics class, only looks of understanding/ sadness/ sympathy, so they must have all had small children at some point.

The boys' teacher might be pushing 21 years old. I was skeptical at first, but he handled the situation better than I expected he would-- what with his sculpted fauxhawk and all. They ended up finally sitting on the ramp with the water up a little higher than their belly buttons, kicking with straight legs. They finally decided they liked the teacher, just when the next two kids got there for their lesson. So then they clung to him, asking him questions about the different floaty doo-woppers he has, and saying goodbye to him. Then I let them kick on the side of the pool for about 15 minutes. They didn't want to leave.

On the bus ride home an older man boarded the bus by a French restaurant, were he was clearly finishing a shift. He brought a cup of coffee for the bus driver (cute) and they started pounding shoulders and talking. (I didn't notice in time to see if the coffee was in exchange for the bus fare, which could present some interesting bartering ideas in my future.)

He sat down and immediately started talking to the boys in French. Which of course confused them. I couldn't help but notice that he had remarkably weird and dirty toes. They looked dead but they were also all different sizes and the nails were all bendy. I kept trying to look away from them. Anyway, he stopped talking in French and starting talking in English and they starting talking to him a little about the fountain that they love more than anything except maybe ceiling fans.

At one point he asked me which one was the artist and which one liked to run around and throw and break things. My first in-head reaction was, “Jerk! You don’t know my kids.” But then I actually thought about it. I don't know that Clark likes to break things per se, but he does like to run around and hit balls with bats and golf clubs and sticks. And it is becoming increasingly clearer which one of them likes art more. Calvin loves creating. Call anything art and he's all over it. He sees beauty in everything. We finally signed him up for art class because one day he mixed all the play-doh colors together and wouldn’t stop talking about how beautiful the mound was. That mound was mostly just making me mad, since I enjoy organizing by color.

The other day Cal worked for at least an hour on his balcony fountain. It started out as a canning jar with acorns and a funnel in it and ended up with things like a wipes box, my belt, a doorframe chin-up bar, blocks, a cup, garden tomato stakes, and a wad of yarn. He only wanted certain things in it—my suggestions were not always welcome. He had a vision.

After the addition of the ball-like acorns, Clark had no real interest in the found-object fountain and went back to reenacting Bryce Harper Clark’s amazing plays in the living room. For Clark, every square, rectangular, or diamond-shaped anything is a baseball field that needs to have home plate, first, second, and third base locations pointed out and then ran on regardless of how small or big said shape is. And he throws. He throws everything like a baseball. And I am not kidding people, the kid can throw a baseball better than many adults I know. You know who you are.

The apartments right next to us are being torn down right now and so the boys are obsessed with construction sites and knocking buildings and “buildings” down. Yesterday it was the TV trays that were buildings. Meanwhile, amongst the rubble, Cal started building a new apartment. A beautiful new apartment building. An unbelievable new apartment building. It was built of the same chin-up bar and garden stakes. He had a place for everyone to sleep. He cried when Clark knocked it over while sliding into home plate. (He was safe.)

Turns out the weird-toed Frenchman was right. We have an artist and a breaker.

Cal's fountain

Construction/destruction site

Cal builds his beautiful apartment.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Go to the National Book Festival!

One of my fall traditions is to visit the National Book Festival, put on by the Library of Congress, every year with my brother. I think there has been only one year in the past six years since he moved here that we’ve missed it. My first year was the fall I moved here—2003—and it was decidedly overwhelming. Of course, part of that may have been because I had just wandered here from a forest in Idaho, but still, it was rather chaotic to me. I didn’t know what to expect. Besides, that was only the third festival and they were working out kinks. Since then I’ve  told everyone who loves books to go, have dorkishly been collecting the festival posters, and have offered extra credit to students who attend.

The festival is coming up next weekend, September 22nd and 23rd on the National Mall in DC. Here is the key that will take it from being chaotic to being awesome and inspiring: Look at the authors, the times and tents for their presentations, and when they will be signing books. And I mean look at them now and plan your visit, not when you walk up. Meandering doesn’t work well there. So, visit the website to find the list of authors and the calendar of events. Here is the website.

Over the past years I’ve been able to hear some inspiring writing presentations from some of my favorite authors. Listening to an author talk about writing a book that I can nearly recite after having taught it in my classroom to hundreds of kids, is just plain awesome. I also have signed copies of books and have shaken hands with some of the authors. It’s a cool connection and a way to see authors in a different light than just reading their biography on a book jacket. When you see one of them hanging out behind a tent with a water bottle, wiping the DC humidity from her forehead, obviously nervous about her book talk, and getting to say hello to her, it just makes reading her work more…personal. I think I might sound like a star-struck fanatic, but I don’t think I am. Not exactly.

So, the moral of this entry is to go the National Book Festival. And if you don’t live near Washington DC, then plan a trip out here to visit me during one of the future mid-September weekends. Fall is beautiful in DC and Virginia, you know.
Sherman Alexie is one of my favorite poets.
So cool to meet him!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Just Tuesday

Lately I feel like I need to plan out a long, extensive piece of writing or a long series of pictures before I post a blog entry. But tonight I just feel like writing about nothing. About life. About unremarkable today and predictable tonight.

This morning we had eggs. Scrambled with cheddar, milk, and butter. In the bath the boys asked me uncomfortable questions. “Do girls have pee-pees?” “Why not?” “Do they grow them?” “Do mans have pee-pees?” “Do girls go potty out the holes in their bottoms?” This was all honest curiosity; they weren’t being gross. They just want to know.

It took us way too long to finally make it out of the house to get to the boys’ first art class at the community center. They wanted to wear their rock star shoes. Could they take their stuffed animal friends?

Artists, ready to go to art class.

This is the only class other than a few Sunday School classes they’ve been to, and they were nervous but excited. I thought it was a class that moms stayed in, but the other moms left. I stayed, trying not to breathe over the shoulder of the teacher. Near the end I went in the hall and talked to another mom and they were fine.

The boys were polite to the teacher. They told her their names and shook her hand. They’re the only boys in a class of five kids. Clark told the teacher that his nickname was Shark because the book she read had a shark in it. Cal then told her that his nickname was Squishy but that only Dad could call him that, not her. Their book was about patterned fish and they used rock salt to create patterns on their watercolor masterpieces. Then they made patterns in play-doh.

After that we had a long visit to the community center bathroom where nothing happened other than Clark singing Cheeseburger in Paradise at the top of his lungs. (Why did another mom have to be in there?)

We had a snack, looked at the fountains and garden pinwheels, played on some of the weird, Reston-y sculptures, and headed home. Cal decided he needed to carry wood home. Yesterday the branches he collected on our walk were wings that he flapped for the last ten minutes before home, as he tweeted and talked in his loud baby bird voice. Today the branches were for firewood for Uncle Pierre’s fire. (“Oh, actually for our fireplace.”)

He dragged those branches for probably half a mile. Meanwhile Clark threw a fit. He whined when I made them get out and walk. Seriously, I’m not going to push them in the stroller the whole time. They’re heavy, but also they’re out to get exercise too. So he was slow because he was crying and threatening to sit down and not walk home. (Fine, see you later.) And Cal was slow because he was being a hunter-gatherer of firewood.
We got home and I put Clark down for a nap. He fell asleep and slept for two hours. Cal dumped the water he was playing with (Do acorns sink or float, Mom?) down between the boards in our balcony onto our neighbor’s balcony.  Great. Then he fell asleep on Brian’s lap while I went running. Running kind of sucked. It was a beautiful day, but I just didn’t quite feel right. Also, on an unrelated note, the 7/11 by our house doesn’t have a public restroom.

At dinner there were several meltdowns over the texture of the corn and the sauce for the chicken. Clearly marinara sauce with parmesan chicken is not as good as ranch dressing.
Then Brian left for flag football and the boys turned the living room into a baseball field with all the couch pillows, and then into a mountain with all the pillows, and then a pool. Somewhere in there I uncorked the wine bottle. Turned on the Nationals’ game. Cal claimed he was scared by his poop and burst into tears in the bathroom. Then they both spent time figuring out how a suction cup works. Somehow I herded them both into bed and am now sitting here, still watching the Nats, whom I love so much, drinking wine, which I also like, and thinking of what a normal day this is, how tiring this all is, but also how much I want to slow down and enjoy these days.

That's about it. Just a Tuesday.

Boys and animal friends, ready for art

Apron-smocks in place, ready to watercolor

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Our Preschool is in Session!

Awhile ago Brian and I decided not to send the boys to preschool. I have the time and I love to teach them things. I also have the opportunity to watch little Alexandra for extra money and to give the boys a built-in playmate and pretend little sister. We’ve had her a few days a week since she was four months old and we are all in love with her. I think the three of them get enough socialization with each other and all the other friends we have. Sometimes it’s so much socialization it makes me want to plug my ears and curl up under my bed in the fetal position, but it’s usually healthy socialization.

This fall many of the boys’ friends are off at preschool, which takes away the option of morning playdates with those friends. Meanwhile, I’ve been looking at a whole bunch of preschool units and activities to use for the boys (and Alex!). Pinterest is brilliant. As I’ve been doing this I’ve also been organizing a bunch of our pictures. I found pictures of the past year and noticed all the ways that we work learning into our days, even without all the museums we visit and not counting our road trip learning adventures 

So far the boys love this. 
We have community center classes starting this week, but I’ve also been doing more preschool-y things with them.  They’re so obsessed with Sid the Science Kid that they’re throwing around words like elasticity, inertia, estimation, and investigation. The other day Clark leaned over toward the toilet and said his poop looked like animal communication. Weirdo. Those 30 minute Sid episodes actually introduce some great ideas for activities to do on the topic. I often pick out library books that go along with something we’ve been hearing about—something that interests us. I feel like this is such a natural way for kids to learn. It is authentic learning. Buzzword.
I’ve been giving the boys reading lessons from the book, Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons. My aunt and mom recommended the book and it’s been great. The lessons are around 10-15 minutes long. I first started doing it with both of them at once, but now I’ve figured out that they do better when I go one-on-one with them. The book recommends starting kids at age five, so I wasn’t sure how they would do since they’re only three. I figured I’d try it out and see. I think it would be too much to do one lesson every day but they do well with having one every couple days and we do repetition of the sounds pretty much every chance we get. They’re interested in knowing what words say—on signs and shirts and packaging. It’s an amazing feeling to see the lights go on when something connects for them and sounds become a word. So. Awesome.
Anyway, I’m pulling out my homeschool preschool for the fall and am excited. I thought I’d share some of the pictures from the spring and some from recently that show what we’ve been up to. Much of this is prompted by what the boys are curious about. Maybe I’ll be a teacher some day. J Wait...
I'm keeping binders with the writing parts of their
reading lessons so we can watch it progress.

They practice their sounds and they're already sounding out words like pros!

Juice-making party

Tracing letters combined with sidewalk art

Physics! (sometimes painful)
Picnic after fountain-running

You would know all your planets if you slept under them too.


Painting their rocket ship birdhouse

Exploring the ponds by our house: Science.
Exploring the ponds by our house while sprinting: P.E.

GIGANTIC flower!

Butterfly-watching at the ponds (Cal said the butterflies
were saying, "Calvin, you need a dog.")

After reading The Busy Tree, I drew a tree and they drew spiders and
squirrels and owls and ants on it...and then...

...we watched water absorption in our celery with food coloring.
Blue celery spots!

Picking things up with tongs: hand-eye coordination
Running in swim shorts in the sunny rain, looking for rainbows

Tracing letters- they love this

Exploring water

Getting set for some experiments

Dumping salt on an ice block...

and squirting watercolors into the salt ice sculpture!


Tracing bodies after reading about body systems

Give Cal anything and he'll paint it.

Going on metro adventures...learning to read maps and navigate

...using Smart cards

Playing baseball with Dad after his games

Activity I tried for a class I took

More color mixing

Painting guitar picture frames

Paper space shuttles

Real astronaut gloves and boots!

Shopping on a $10/each budget

You seriously can't tell what I just drew? Baseball field. Duh, Mom.

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