Thursday, March 24, 2011


Three days a week, Berit and Marta go to school.
They start at 9:30 or 10 a.m., and I pick Marta up at 1. Berit stays for preschool, which lets out at 3. I feel like that's a really long day for both of them.
I originally had intended to only send Marta, who was desperate to be like her big sis and go to school, for two hours two days a week. But every time I arrived to pick her up, she begged to stay. So now we're at three or four hours, three days a week. It's nice for me, because I've jump-started my writing career and now can handle a few magazine deadlines a month, plus some fun writing just because. 

But I still worry. I worry that they're having a hard time, that they're missing me, missing our routines. I know, when I let myself go there, that with their many hours at school the routines are actually coming from there. That I'm the one changing things around. 

When they're home they play so well together (most of the time). They make up elaborate games and stories and shows. They go on for hours. I feel like they each have a little cloud of numbers and letters and magic happening over their heads when they do this - like inspiration is just following them everywhere, like their minds are switched onto Creative Play. I know this is a byproduct of school, with their ages and abilities as part of the recipe. 

Yesterday I had food poisoning and was in bed all day. Trevor stepped in and somehow made lunches, got them to school and home, made dinner (Dora Soup, YAY!) and got them to bed, all while fielding his own calls and meetings. When I hobbled downstairs at night, so I could watch TV while listening to the monitors because he had gone out to finish working, I realized that while he might qualify for Sainthood based on his care-taking role, he would not be elected Housekeeper Of The Year. The entire house was a MESS. Food everywhere, dirty clothes, dust bunnies (which I attack daily), school stuff, toys, everything, everything. 

Of course I didn't mind. Thank God he can stay home when needed. Thank God he's such a good dad and husband. I don't mind cleaning up after him, or them.

But I knew what today would hold: Dishes, laundry, mopping, bathrooms, sterilization. So I said, "Kids, would you rather stay home with Mommy today or go to school?" And when they cried "SCHOOL!" I was both a little hurt and a little happy. I'm glad they have a place that they love and where they thrive. But can it possibly be as fun as me?
While dropping them off today I hung out a bit, talking to their teacher. She and I chatted and the kids evolved to two sides of the room - Berit and three others to a shelf of toys, where they built stuff and made up games. Marta and four kids went to a more open area and set up chairs. The teacher, Ms. Jamie, said, "Now watch this. This is something they came up with entirely on their own, and they do it every day." The kids took turns standing in front of the others, sitting in their chairs, which were lined up next to one another. The kid in front did something - pretended to give each one a check-up with the doctor kit, danced, read a book, etc. And the others participated, listened, watched. Ms. Jamie said that sometimes they called it Book Club, sometimes it was Show. 
I thought about what we would have done today at home together - of course we would have played, but there would never have been this group of kids, using their minds and with great big smiles for one another, encouraging this creativity. What a charm, what a delight to be a part of. I felt really, really lucky for them, and for us as a family. And I did not feel so sorry to leave them there today, as I left with kisses and big smiles and waves, and requests to stay a little longer this one day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Same Interview, Age 5

Favorite food: Spaghetti
Favorite vegetable: Celery
Favorite fruit: Strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and grapes
Favorite drink: Juice and water and milk
Favorite cereal: All of them (Island Vanilla, Cinnamon Crunch, Honey and Nut)
Favorite books: Carols of Princesses, Rosie’s Walk, Madeline (all), While We Were Out,  Belinda the Ballerina, Fancy Nancy, Tiki Tiki Tembo, Listen, Buddy!
Favorite music: Princesses, Polka
Favorite color: Green
Best friend: Marta, Samantha, Peyton, Lyla and Ariana, Mom and Dad, Annie and Jemma
Favorite thing to do in the whole world: Go to the park and swing
Favorite place to go: Disney World and the carousel
What do you want to be when you grow up? Ballet teacher
What does your daddy do when he leaves the house? Go work. 
What does he do for work? He builds houses.
What does your mommy do when she leaves the house? Work.
What does she do for work? Writes.
Who is your favorite person to talk to on the phone? My mom and dad, grandma and grandpa.
What do you do to help your mommy and daddy? Clean up my room and clean up the playroom, every room.
What do you dream about? Sometimes I dream about me at the ball. 
What do you do at school? Learn.
Favorite TV show: Chloe’s Closet and Super Why, Gullah Gullah Island and Dino Dan
Favorite toy: Ellie the Yellow Elephant, Ana B., Blanket, Barbies
Favorite game: The Purple Party Game
Favorite restaurant: Big Boy
Favorite animal: Dinosaurs that are not alive, they just have bones.
If you could change your name, what would you choose? Princess Karisa (Ka-Ree-Sa)
What do you love about Daddy?  The way he plays with me. The way he dances with me.
Mommy: When we cook. When we dance with each other. When we feel funny. And when we have a race.
Marta: The way she shares. The way she plays with me. And I like to go swimming with her.
Mosey: When we snuggle with him. When we have races with him. 
Where would you like to go on vacation? To a very fun place. The museum.
What are some of your wishes? I wish I could fly. I wish I was a fairy. A little, tiny fairy. I wish it could change spring really fast, if I said, “I want spring to come here.” 
What do you want for your birthday: A new princess Disney World movie. A 7-year-old bike. A bike that goes really fast when you pedal, and you never fall off the bike when you go up hills. That bike is going to be so fun. 

Friday, March 11, 2011

This Is The Face Of A Reader

A few nights ago I promised the girls 15 books before bed. We settled down early in pjs and scrubbed faces. They each chose two and I surprised them with the rest. Marta handed me a library find by Blues Clues - not my ideal reading material, but it's theirs of the moment. In this book's text are pictures of a few familiar things, which urge kids to "read" them. Pictures of a familiar character or a carousel, for example, within the story line. This particular story line was about the whole Blues Clues gang at a fair.

So I let the kids take turns telling me the first few pictures on the first page while I read the text. Berit was up first on the second page, and she said, exasperated, "Mom, I can read all of it." And: she did. She read the whole damn book.

I remember the first book I ever read on my own. In fact, my mother kept it, and now I have it in storage. It's called "I Need," and is simple and small. As Berit read her own first book, through my significant pride and happy tears, I realized that I would need to buy this Blues Clues book from our library.

Berit was proud, and her impressing smile got bigger each time we turned a page. She knew then, too, the leap she had just made on her timeline of life. There is before reading and after reading. My girl's gone ahead and learned to read, all on her own. This is about to get very, very fun.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Just Words

I've recently been filling out kindergarten forms for Berit, and a teeny, tiny little voice in my mind has been nagging me about her reading skills. I haven't worked with her on reading outside of generally reading a lot of books and asking her to finish my sentences. I have a Hooked on Phonics set, and I thought that I might get that out and make it my mission to have her reading by the end of the summer.

When my sister-in-law was here with her family for the weekend, we talked about what her oldest daughter, age 6, is reading for fun. Ramona, Boxcar - she's a girl after both of our hearts, and I felt a little swell of excitement that Berit might read these titles soon enough. I mentioned my anxiety over B's lack of skill to my sister-in-law, a former elementary teacher, and she set my mind at ease. She gave me simple ideas to promote Berit's enjoyment and comprehension, but suggested I don't forge ahead with my summer mission. 

Then yesterday, after a friend was here for the evening, Berit disappeared for a few minutes and emerged with this note, composed entirely unaided:

"Dear Gigi I lovd plaen (playing) wit you Berit"

I think we're going to be OK.


Ah hah winter, we can't see you! It was 44 degrees today! We've left you behind!

We honored you with ice skating this weekend...
We pulled our cousins into the snow for a snowball fight...

We had an overindulgent amount of Jolly's Chocolate-Chip-With-Sea-Salt Cookies and hot chocolate...

And then we went inside, and danced...

And we put you to bed. Goodnight, winter!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

It May Just Be Singing To You...

While Marta rides around the arena in circles and plays games as she rides the pony, I sit on a freezing cold bench and bite my nails in fear of her falling and being trampled. Last week a kind woman stopped her magnificent horse in front of me and said that Marta reminds her of her daughter, now a young teen, who took to horses naturally and was riding by age 3. She went on to say that she herself had never even considered riding until her daughter asked for a riding partner, and got on her first horse at age 40.

When her daughter began riding, she and her husband had had some misgivings about the cost and practicality, which sounded a lot like what Trevor and I discussed about a month ago. But when she researched the effect of horseback riding on young girls, she was glad to find statistics showing that girls who grow up riding and caring for horses have more confidence, take less gruff from boys and have lower rates of premarital sex and poor behavior. They have higher grades and spend most of their free time volunteering at stables.

This woman said that her daughter is small for her age, but has grown up to be a strong girl who sets goals, works hard and doesn't "take any gruff" (she was fond of this phrase).

I believe it. Marta, who is knee-high to the pony, brushes Daisy, cleans her shoes and leads her around. She rides her, yes, but also learns responsibility and respect for a living creature. And that's not even the best part. She spends the entire time that we're there in the company of strong women. These ladies are aged 20-80 with horses twice their height, and there is no fear here. There's a strong sense of getting things done and taking care of animals. They exercise horses in therapy, they teach their horses techniques and coping strategies. They help one another with positive criticism and stall duties. They boost Marta's confidence by talking to her like she knows what she's doing, by showing her new things (even though they're not her teacher) and by complimenting her skills while she does them.

I was struck by this empowerment today while watching two of the young ladies do laps around the arena with horses who were recovering from injuries. Marta was there with her pony doing their own slow circles, and through the horses' snorting and the sound of the rough dirt flying, I heard Marta, all the way across the arena, singing.

Berit is our show kid. She'll sing and dance for anyone. But Marta feels like she doesn't sing well, a sentiment that makes us sad and worrisome about how it got in her head in the first place. We often cheer her on and tell her how great she is at everything, singing included, and it works sort of. But it's still hard to get her to sing anywhere but in front of us.

And yet, out in the arena, surrounded by horses and these smart, talented, athletic women, Marta was singing. Not for anyone at all, but because she felt like it. When she was done the ladies congratulated her on a great song, and she wasn't giggly about it - she just said thanks, and asked to play another game with Daisy.

I wanted to tell the girls there about her typical intimidation, about how doing this has brought out so much love that she's singing, but I didn't want to bring it up in front of Marta, especially because I knew there would be a few tears shed in the explanation.

This might not be Marta's passion forever. But today, she needed to be there.