Collapsing beneath the weight of kindergarten details

Lily making a "family tree" banner at a school picnic, where - wait for it - I got MORE forms that I didn't read until the night before her first day of kindergarten. Mommy FAIL.

Lily making a “family tree” banner at a school picnic, where I got even MORE forms that I didn’t read until the night before her first day of kindergarten. Mommy FAIL.

I stand on the cusp of a big day in my life as a parent – Lily’s first day of kindergarten – and I’ve been tossing and turning in bed for a few hours now.

This stems, at least in part, from my usual half-assedness. After Lily fell asleep, I skimmed through the bulk of what has been a growing stack of school-related packets and forms, including a calendar of daily activities to do with your child over the summer to prepare her academically for kindergarten (oops!).

And while this last oversight could be forgiven – Lily will shoulder the worldly burden of homework soon enough, so why not let her enjoy a carefree summer? – what’s less forgivable is the realization that, because we’re all so susceptible to the trap of our own experiences and memories, neither her transportation nor her sustenance has been arranged.

Yes, because I so vividly remembered just walking up my street to get picked up by a bus (no registration with the transportation department required), and bringing either my usual peanut butter sandwich/apple bag lunch or cash for hot lunch, I assumed, in the back of my little head, that things would be that simple for Lily, too.

They’re not, of course. Continue reading

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Ice cream and existentialism with my 5 year old

icecream1While walking Lily to a nearby ice cream parlor for an after-dinner cone this evening, her words took me by surprise twice.

Once, because I heard a sentence I might utter, word-for-word, coming out of her mouth.

Let me back up for a second. Lily had been a couple of months overdue for her annual check-up, and Neve was due for one as well, so I made a dual appointment for them at the pediatrician’s this afternoon. Weirdly, they assumed each other’s personas when the doctor arrived in the exam room: Neve was a distracted, restless chatterbox, and Lily became watchful, quiet and serious. (It was a bit like “Freaky Friday,” with both body-changers being kids.)

Because I’d noted this, I asked Lily, on the way to get ice cream, “You seemed nervous at the doctor’s office. Were you scared of getting shots?”

Lily nodded, and then, she added, “Well, I wouldn’t say I was nervous. I was more” – she paused as she considered her word options – “concerned.”

Oh. My. God. It was like she’d turned 32 in front of my eyes. (Which was only too fitting, given the conversation that followed.)

I was reeling a bit from this little-sage pronouncement when she followed up with, “I wish babies could stay babies.” Continue reading

The curative power of little girls, ducks, and evening walks

DEARTH OF DUCKSI love working in a newsroom. I really do. The people who work there are generally quick-witted, articulate and intellectually curious, and when news big and small (and sometimes absurd) comes over the transom, the place pulses with a vibrant electricity. It’s a fun place to be.

But on days of national heartbreak – which have become too common lately, with the Newtown shootings in December, and the Boston Marathon explosions on Monday – it becomes a place where these same great people must work to do something productive with the harrowing news that we’re all receiving simultaneously. And while there’s something inspiring and impressive about this act, the consequence is that there’s no escaping the story, on our screens or in our minds, since we’re all constantly tuned in for updates and information.

So days like Monday are hard. You feel angry and frustrated, because even though the statistics still stand wildly in favor of your family’s safety, you can’t rid your mind of that infinitesimal possibility of sudden destruction and loss. (You reflexively want to gather your family in your basement and only occasionally come out for food.) Such thoughts consumed me when walking my little daughters to preschool three days after Newtown. And now I’ll feel this during my next run through our neighborhood, and my next 10K race.

Right now, people are pledging to run to honor today’s victims, wearing old race T-shirts, changing their profile pictures on Facebook, and giving (online) voice to a collective sense of sadness and fear – all of which reflects a populace struggling mightily to find a way to respond in a positive way to the violence.

And while the cynical part of me thinks these symbolic gestures will do nothing to prevent these tragedies from happening again, I have to remind myself that there’s really nothing substantive any of us can do – writing my Congressman with a request to “get Americans off the crazy-train of violence” doesn’t seem particularly useful or effective, either – and that these small acts aren’t necessarily about solving the problem, but about grieving the loss, honoring the victims and survivors, and reflecting on the value of life. And most of us would rather do something than nothing – so we run, we pull on a shirt, we update our status, we virtually rend garments.

Still, as the clock inched toward five o’clock on Monday, I locked up the house, as I do every day, and I walked down the sidewalk toward the girls’ preschool.

Once I got there, things were chaotic, as usual – Neve was crying and desperately pulling me toward the door that leads to the playground, while Lily was throwing every item from her cubby onto the ground and obsessing over some “bracelet” she said her teacher was supposed to put there – but as unpleasant as this push-and-pull phase of multi-child parenting can be, the girls’ micro-drama nonetheless forced me to focus solely on them, solve (or at least distract them from) their problems, and exist only in the exact time and place I was occupying.

That’s something you hear a lot about if you practice yoga – being present and all that – but there really is something to it. In yoga, it’s because if you’re not focused on what you’re trying to do, and how you’re approaching it, it won’t happen. You have to focus on various parts of your body and the teacher’s voice. And that’s one of the main things I’ve always loved about the practice: it gets me out of my neurotic little head for an hour here, an hour there, and then everything else that worries me doesn’t seem quite as tragic or awful. Continue reading

“Lily, please don’t lick your baby sister.”

Believe it or not, I actually had to utter this hilarious sentence quite recently, during one of Lily’s many affection-fests with Neve. (The sentence was punctuated, for good measure, with, “That’s gross.”)

For while I was initially terrified about Lily feeling pushed aside and/or threatened by Neve’s arrival, Lily has instead been quite obsessed with the baby – to the point that the problem is now about finding a balance between bodily protecting the baby and not completely dousing Lily’s enthusiasm for her beloved sister.

Lily always wants to hug Neve, and she’s a bit aggressive in doing so, squeezing the stuffing out of Neve, or yanking Neve’s head up from her seat so Lily can wrap her arms around her neck; Lily often kisses Neve all over her face, even when Neve is recoiling in overwhelmed confusion; Lily likes to rock Neve roughly in her bouncy seat, and playfully poke her in the face with her finger, and force toys into Neve’s tiny, curled fingers; and more than anything, Lily wants to carry Neve, at every minute, and no matter the circumstances (sitting in a chair, walking down stairs, walking from pre-school to our house, etc.).

To her credit, Lily – after about a million admonishments from us to be “gentle!” and “careful!” – has gotten better with time. She actually does a pretty good job of holding/carrying Neve now (though we still constantly shadow the pair, with our arms ready to catch Neve at any moment); and she’s gotten better about her hugs.

But something Lily still struggles to understand is our repeated pleas to not wake the baby. (This is particularly a problem because Neve is, by nature, a baby that likes to sleep quite a bit.) Lily just can’t quite contain herself when the baby’s in the room. She’s always itching to play with her and shower her with affection.

It never occurred to me for an instant that our situation would take this turn. In a sense, it’s a good problem; I’d much rather have Lily wild with love for her sister than slyly trying to harm her, or telling us to take the baby back for a refund. But a good problem is still a problem.

For there’s still a lot of anxiety in the room, as a parent, when you’re trying to keep your one child from literally smothering the other with love. When it gets to be too much, we try to lure Lily toward another activity (making dinner with Daddy, watching part of “Sesame Street” or a favorite movie, etc.), and this usually works.

But then, you also have nights like the one when I called out to Joe every five minutes, “How long until dinner?”

I of course hope that Lily always has a spirited, affectionate love for her sister, and that they grow to be friends in the years ahead.

I just have to make sure that Neve survives babyhood so that maybe SHE can enjoy the relationship, too.

Birthday party burnout

Lily, having her cake and eating it, too

It’s been more than a month since I last managed to get something up on this blog, and a big part of the reason for this lag is not just preparation for Lily’s birthday and party on May 14 – and the subsequent, still-not-completely finished (of course) “thank you” notes that follow – but the five additional birthday parties (and a dear friend’s wedding in Minneapolis) that we’ve attended since. (It’s been a cake and goody bag marathon that’s convinced me, on the basis of a ludicrously small sample, that the bulk of the world’s current pre-schoolers were born between mid-May to early June.)

Now, Lily’s had fun at each party, but Mommy’s feeling a bit beaten down – perhaps in part because this onslaught has coincided with the infamously fatigue-plagued third trimester of pregnancy. Regardless, I’ll need to buck up and get used to this, since I have years of the same ahead of me.

For Lily and two of her cousins, who now both live in the area, were born within a 13 day span in 2008 (which seemed a strange coincidence, but kind of neat, too, at the time); plus, an older cousin also has a May birthday. And while an appealingly pragmatic thought that briefly passed through my head was, “What if I suggest throwing one big, collective birthday party for all the 3 year old cousins?” I was too scared to even suggest it out loud. For I could hear, and feel myself also giving voice to, the inevitable BIG objection as soon as the idea flashed in my mind: Shouldn’t each girl have her own special day/party, where she didn’t have to share the spotlight?

Again and again, the right answer seemed to be “yes.” But as we all know, doing the right thing is often a huge pain the tuckus. Continue reading