Wednesday, October 28, 2009


While we have studiously avoided as much as possible the Disnefycation of womanhood in our household, it still sneaks its way in through the cracks in our armor. If we are at a friend’s house, Rowan gravitates towards the costume trunks, the fairytale pumpkins, the tiaras. He has dubbed me Princess Snow White, himself Princess Cinderella, and Isaac Princess Rosebud. Rachel, crafty crafty Rachel, has managed to get away with the nickname Alice in Wonderland, even though Alice is technically not a Princess. “Oh, Princess Rosebud,” Rowan will say to Isaac, “do you want to build a fort? Do you need your blanket?” And it’s all very sweet. In a saccharine sort of way.

I mean, on the one hand, I am all for gender atypical play. And so, part of me feels that when Rowan and Isaac gleefully don tutus and run around waving magic wands, I should encourage them.

On the other hand, I mean, princesses. Come on. Disney princesses. If my sons are going to run around waving anything that represents my take on ideal womanhood, it would likely be a sign saying, “Pro-child, pro-choice!” or “When can I vote on your marriage?”

So this little cartoon — combining as it does princesses and critique — made me happy.

Happy, but not hopeful. At least, not in the immediate term. Rowan, thus far, is impervious to societal critique, has an absolutely deaf ear for our earnest political explanations. Take Santa Claus, for example: no matter how many times we explain that jolly old St. Nick is simply a nice story that other people tell their children about the holiday, that nobody — repeat, nobody — is going to come down our chimney and leave presents for him, he’s like that dog in that Gary Larson cartoon who hears only her name, only in this case, substitute “presents” for “Ginger.”

“Some people leave milk and cookies for Santa Claus,” he’ll murmur at the close of one of our diatribes.

Similarly, we keep having talks with him about the fact that we won’t shop at a certain retailer (whose name rhymes with smashmortion, I mean Gallmart) because it treats its workers badly, particularly its female workers. It makes lots and lots of money and yet won’t pay them very much or give them benefits. Rowan listens to all this, and then says, “But can’t we buy Bakugans there? Even if they’re not nice to womens? They have the big case of Bakugans. Please?”

When Rowan asks me if I want to play princesses, then, it’s always a bit of a quandary. Sure, I’ll play princesses, but can we be princesses building a house? Princesses reading books or, I don’t know, going on a peace march?

“It’s just that princesses are only important to some people because they’re pretty,” I’ll try to explain to him. “And women are important for lots of reasons: because they’re smart, and creative, and have ideas and make things and change the world.”

“But Princess Snow White,” he says to me, twining his fingers through my hair, “you’re pretty.”

Leaving me about as speechless as Ariel, the little mermaid.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This post was originally called “Greetings from the basement”

You know, the basement where I slept every other night for a couple weeks earlier this month (or was it September? I can’t remember.) because some toddler who likely won’t remain nameless started waking up twice a night and hollering for stuff. Like water, or apple juice (as in, "Apple juice! Apple juice! APPLE JUICE!"), or cuddles (as in, "CUDDLE ME!"). Or Rachel (as in, "Go away, Susan!").

Trying to pacify him often involved pulling him into our bed, where, inevitably, he would end up lying perpendicular between us, feet on my side. On my head. Leaving me sleepless but unwilling to risk moving him for fear of waking him. Because, when push comes to toddler feet in my sternum at 4:30 in the morning, I’d rather lie there in discomfort than actually have to get up and function.

At least, Christoph Niemann had the good grace to fly in all the way from Berlin and sneak into the bedroom one early morning to do a little sketch, which made me feel so much less alone.

But really, too tired to write about it all again. Besides, now that I’ve actually got around to it, Isaac (see?) is more or less sleeping through the night again. I’m sure I just jinxed that by writing it, but, you know what? I’m so past believing that any particular voodoo on my part — not least what I write about him on the Internet — has any particular effect on his sleep patterns. It’s not me, it’s him, a fact verified by what I heard him chanting in bed the other night as I walked past his door at about nine o’clock: "I’m in charge. I’M IN CHARGE."


The early-morning wake-up calls are still, sadly, the norm. But at least he makes up for them by being adorable a lot of the times. He talks a little bit like a Sprocket, full of slightly odd, almost inappropriate questions: "You want to touch my hair? It nice? It soft? You got soft hair? You got a car? You got money? In your pocket? You being friendly?" And, my favorite, his description of me nuzzling him: "You put your nose in my eye? It nice?" Yes, you crazy baby, it nice. Now go to sleep.

Thanks to M.A. for the Niemann reference.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Transitions are hard, or, Our trip to Duluth

“Hey!” Isaac exclaims every 25 minutes or so, as if struck with some version of toddler amnesia, “Where we goin’?”

We’re in the car, navigating Highway 61.

“We’re going to Duluth!” Rachel or I answer brightly. “For a holiday!”

And then Rowan chimes in: “We’re not going to Duluth! I don’t want to go there!” And drums his feet on the back of my seat in protest.

“I really wonder how my parents managed to get us all to Virginia Beach in a Ford Cortina,” Rachel murmurs, while I breathe deeply and wonder how, precisely, my mantra “It’s the journey, not the destination,” applies to this journey along the scenic north shores of Lake Superior. Because I just want to get there already, to be out of the car, to silence the protests emanating from the backseat. I find myself wishing we had brought the movie player, biting my tongue to keep myself from saying things like, “Well, I guess we’ll just turn around and go back, then,” or, “If you don’t stop that, I’m going to stop this car and you can get out and walk.”

Rowan, it’s fair to say, doesn’t rush in gladly to the unknown. And Duluth, to him, is not yet a place, not even a city, but simply a vast, unquantifiable mass of unknowableness, a break from beloved routine. He hasn’t been on board with this weekend getaway since the beginning, not even with promises of playgrounds and aquariums and swimming pools and restaurants and cable TV and the like — although he warms slightly at the mention of ice cream. He wants to bring the cats with us, our own toilet and bathtub, actually, the entire house in the trunk of the car. We explain and explain, we acknowledge his feelings, repeat them back to him, and, finally, just shut up and stop talking about the trip, knowing that until he’s actually there, at the destination, it won’t make sense.

“Hey! Where we goin’?”

I get it — I do, really, that fear of the unknown. I like to know where I’ll be sleeping at night, hate arriving in darkness to unknown cities. I get how it must feel to be plunked into the car and told, “We’re going. You’re going. And you’ll like it.” Like what?

It’s just that maybe he could chill a little bit.

And he does, in minor spurts, falling hard in love with each new experience and yet seemingly unable to generalize and apply the idea that “new” might not necessarily equal “horrific.” He settles in immediately to the hotel room, jumping with Isaac on their king-sized bed before turning on SpongeBob. But it’s a battle to get him out of the room and onto the street, a battle to get him off the street and into the restaurant where he devours Kraft dinner and red pepper and a tiny ice cream sundae from the kids’ menu. Sunday morning’s itinerary proceeds something like this:

Doesn’t want to go to the Aerial Lift Bridge. Loves the Aerial Lift Bridge. Doesn’t want to leave the Aerial Lift Bridge to see the lighthouse. Loves the lighthouse. Doesn’t want to leave the lighthouse to go to the aquarium. Loves the aquarium. Doesn’t want to leave the aquarium to have lunch. And so on. And by “doesn’t want to leave,” I mean, “pitches a fit when asked to leave.”

Still, by the afternoon, following a swim while Isaac naps, he has mellowed a bit. Is excited from the get-go to go to the Train Museum and the Children’s Museum, and, predictably, doesn’t want to leave either of them, but does not pitch a fit. Tries pakoras and papadums and chicken korma — followed by mango kulfi — at the Indian restaurant we happen upon. By Monday morning, he’s actually thrilled to take another dip in the hotel pool, followed by a visit to the utterly charming Duluth Zoo, where we get to pet turtles and a ferret and watch the bats being fed and get within a foot of a real live kangaroo. At every stop, during every activity, there are moments of pure gold, utter delight: the scale model of the Great Lakes with working locks, an absolute fascination with a 14-ton ship’s propeller and the ancient anchors along the sea walk. “Mom, can you read me the story?” he asks, pointing to each plaque we pass.

Predictably, he’s exhausted by the time we pile into the car for the trip home, and, mercifully, both kids fall immediately asleep for the first hour and a half of the journey home, during which time I try to put as much distance as possible between us and Duluth.

Isaac wakes up first. “Hey! Where we goin’? We goin’ to Doo-loot?”

“We’re going home,” we tell him. But first we’re stopping for a break and a bite to eat in Grand Marais, a tiny, picturesque town about an hour and a bit from Thunder Bay.

By now, Rowan is awake. “We’re not going to Grand Marais! I don’t want to go there!” Drum drum drum drum drum drum drum. After a mediocre experience at dinner, he loves throwing rocks in the water along the beach, jumping from one boulder to the next along the shoreline.

And later, putting him to bed, his own bed, in his own house, with his own cats and toilet and bathtub, I ask him, “Did you have a good time in Duluth?”

“Yes,” he says, snuggling down under his blankets. “Can we go there again?”

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The blogger's dilemma

Saturday, early evening. We’ve had a great day: Farmer’s market in the morning, followed by a hike in the rain at Mission Island Marsh, where we spot too many deer to count and throw driftwood into the stormy waters of Lake Superior. The kids don’t mind the weather: they splash through puddles in their rubber boots and twirl their umbrellas, tearing ahead of us on the trails and the boardwalk, sliding down boulders, making up imaginary worlds.

We’ve spent the day with friends, a three- and five-year-old brother and sister and their parents, who are tag-teaming childcare for the weekend. Their dad accompanied us to the marsh, while their mom took over for an afternoon play date and dinner. Pancetta pasta with capers and cherry tomatoes from our garden for dinner — to be followed by apple-pear crumble made with fruit from I’ve picked myself. How locavore is that? Smell you, Nancy Drew.

The kids eat quickly but heartily, making our hearts swell, pushing away from the table to go play in the basement until dessert, while the grown-ups linger over wine and conversation. Rachel and I are congratulating ourselves on the wholesome choices we’ve made: to embrace the rain and the grey rather than hole up inside with rangy children and DVDs. To feed them local food, healthy food, instead of macaroni and cheese. We are all three express our disdain for the school’s weekly hot dogs and pizza days — is it really appropriate? Have they switched over to whole-wheat buns, at least? We talk about how nice it is to be able to send the kids to the basement while we enjoy adult company. We take the crumble from the oven and serve it up on plates, so that it will be cooled for the children to enjoy.

And then.

And then, we hear Rowan on the basement stairs. “We have a surprise for you!”

I walk toward the landing, just as my sons — my now Day-Glo sons — appear at the top of the stairs. “We painted!” says Rowan, holding up his hands to show me. His hands are smeared with purple and black. His feet are bare, but it looks as though he’s wearing green socks. Isaac is right behind him, his hair a yellow and green mohawk with purple highlights, his hands and feet, his clothes, thickly layered with pigment.


I’m not sure what I said, but I think it might have been, “Oh, crap.”

And then I did what any self-respecting mommy blogger would’ve done. I turned around and went to get the camera.

In the meantime, the other two mothers in the house, alerted to the scene by my tone, showed up to investigate. Our guest descended the stairs first, and then turned to Rachel, who had followed close behind, and said, “Don’t laugh. Whatever you do, don’t laugh.”

We surveyed the carnage. Before I realized the extent of it, I took one picture.

And then I put the camera away.

The four of them had discovered my acrylic paints, left over from a series of art projects, carefully packed away in a cupboard. They opened them, and then they proceeded to coat the entire basement — and themselves — with them. The alphabet tiles on the floor. The couch. Handprints on the chairs and the carpet. The toy lawnmower, the yoga ball, the wooden blocks, the baseboards. The spare bed. Covered. In non-water-based, non-soluble, paint.

(That’s Isaac, at the far right — check out his hair.)

What followed was a flurry of containment and clean-up: children stripped down and thrown into laundry sinks and bathtubs, clothing and sheets and furniture covers placed on rinse and then wash, shampoos and scrubbing, mops and rags and— “Don’t walk on the floor! Don’t go near the white couch! This is so inappropriate! SO INAPPROPRIATE! It doesn’t matter whose idea it was!” Clean clothes found and distributed. Apple-pear crumble dumped, unceremoniously, back into the pan, because none of the adults can fathom tucking into our nice little locally grown dessert after such a display of INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR. So, so, INAPPROPRIATE. You guys should know better. REALLY.

And still, in the face of it all, in the midst of the chaos and carnage, and later that evening as Rachel and I mopped and scrubbed and threw in load after load of laundry, we couldn’t quite stop giggling, whenever we were out of earshot of the kids. “We’ll all laugh about this later,” I whispered to our friend as she scrubbed her kids down in our bathtub (“How on earth did you paint there?”). “We already are,” she whispered back.

I wish I had a picture of four paint-soaked children to show you, but you’ll have to make do with the shots I took after the kids were in bed and Cleanup Part 2 began. Because the last thing I wanted to do was reward them for the destruction of the basement, and it just seemed to me that lining them up for a paint-smeared mug shots would send the wrong message: “Here’s one for the album! Aren’t you cute! Ah, kids and the hijinks they get up to!” So, at least this instance, parental prudence wins out over the best shot for the blog. Just barely.

So, bed without dessert. The next day, Rowan helped me reassemble the floor tiles.

S, R, E, K, C, star, F... Mom? What does that spell? Mom?”