Here are some questions to which the answer is no:
- Am I at all prepared to go on vacation?
- Have I done any further research on Ellis Island stuff?
- Have I had a minute to call my mother in, like, a month?
- Is my phone working properly and efficiently?
- Do I want to be awake right now?
- Is The Who easy to be with from 5-7pm?
- Was I able to clean up all my painting supplies without spilling the cup of dirty brush-water?
- Am I well again after nearly a month of illness?
And here are some questions to which the answer is yes:
- Am I looking forward to evening out my ridiculous camp-tan?
- Am I delighted by the return of Project Runway?
- Am I irrationally excited about visiting the new Legoland Discovery Center?
- Am I cooking an entire main dish right now at 11:15pm?
Finally, a few bullets for your reading pleasure:
- Tomorrow is tie-dye day at camp. I need to not only remember to send The Who’s plain white tee in, but I also need to remember to wear stainable clothing and to say goodbye to my clean hands for at least a week.
- I have been averaging 40.4 mpg on my to-and-from camp commute. I want to average higher, but I have neither the mental acuity nor energy to manage my acceleration and coasting ratios. Hopefully in September.
- I have been trying contacts these past couple of weeks with mixed results. Sometimes comfortable, sometimes sticky and weird. Never any close-up clarity. Cute sunglasses, though.
- I have been rocking a visor all summer. I kind of enjoy it.
There are plenty of things that I didn’t really care much about before he came along that I now love. Like fire engines. And Legos. And Muppets. The Who has taught me about all the names of the various Lego pieces, how they fit together, what kinds of structures can be made with which pieces, and has incited a real love of construction in me. His infectious excitement around sirens and emergencies has in turn made me excited about the same things. And I’ll tell you what: though I am a child of the late 70s and 80s, I care more about Kermit and Miss Piggy and that damn endearing Animal now than I ever did growing up. And lucky me, as The Who gets older, I am finding that many of the things I adore are things that he now loves, too. It’s a beautiful friendship we’ve got going on.
Broadway. We have Uncle G. to thank for this one. He took The Who (and me) to his first Broadway show (Annie) and The Who was smitten. Since then, we’ve been lucky enough to be treated to two more shows (Aladdin and Cinderella) and in the pre-show studying we’ve done (soundtracks and stories) I’ve discovered that The Who loves instrumental music and is incredibly skilled at gleaning the emotion in it — better than I am even. This year, we watched the Tony Awards together (DVRed, the next morning) and celebrated the wins of some of our favorite and most memorable characters.
Writing. It’s no secret that The Who was an early talker and an early reader. He’s always got a story going on in his head and late last year, he took it another step further when he submitted an original story to Story Pirates and was one of three selected out of a pool of 300. Since then, it’s just been story after story after story. Sometimes he just tells them to me out loud during our long commutes to and from camp, but more and more lately he’s been writing them down and illustrating them. His use of inventive spelling charms me and every time, it makes my writer-heart swell with pride (to say nothing of my mama-heart.)
And speaking of illustrating — Art. I consider myself to be a decently skilled artist, but it is clear to me that the trajectory of The Who’s artistic ability is already set to surpass mine. He has an eye for shapes and color that I have rarely seen in kids this little. I remember that my nephew showed similar ability when he was this age and I see what he is now drawing at age 13, which is amazing in detail and shading. Some of this can be taught, sure, but obviously most of it comes naturally. And because of The Who’s innate love of art and color, we are able to mutually enjoy art museums and public displays of art (like the Magic Gardens and the Mural Arts Program.)
Teaching and Learning. As I am a natural-born teacher, I am lucky that The Who is a natural-born learner. He asks questions and sucks up information like a sponge. Maybe it’s unusual for a 5-year-old to have a working knowledge of abortion rights, the Holocaust, The Beatles, and reproduction, but he asks and I answer. Yesterday, at the orchestra, I taught him about the first-chair violin, the different sizes and sounds of string instruments, and the ways in which the sound changes as the conductor varies his posture and baton movements. This morning, while watching a movie, he excitedly identified one of the instruments he learned about yesterday.
I read recently that ages 5.5-6.5 are especially difficult ones as kids adjust to full-time school, amp up the things they are learning and integrating, gaining more independence, and dealing with the transition from young childhood to middle childhood. The Who is no exception to this rule. We struggle constantly with his emerging sass-mouth, his demands, and his incessant chatting. But at the same time, this age has brought with it so much companionship for us — so many shared interests and activities that it makes it worth it.
Camp, I have to say, beyond the first few terrible weeks, has been going pretty well. My art projects have been pretty fun and the kids, though antsy and stinky (4th-7th graders in 95º heat?) are all pretty engaged. To my complete surprise, they have all been really into the “Zentangle” project, during which I enforced a “low voices only” policy and played an Enya station on Pandora. It was downright peaceful in that room damn near the whole day.
The Who, for his part, is loving it as much if not more than last year. I signed him up for some extra swim lessons this month and despite having to change in and out of wet clothes on his own twice during the day, he is psyched. “I even did two sinkies today!” he reported on our way home. (From what I can gather, sinkies are like rings that you have to fetch at the bottom of the pool.) He’s working hard and diligently working on getting his entire head wet (problem solved by him: “I can jump in from 4 feet because I am only 3 feet and a some inches tall!”) and floating on his belly. He’s motivated by the promise of a “hundred dollar” Lego set if he gets his entire head wet (his biggest fear at the start of the summer) 35 days out of the 39 we are at camp. He is well on his way. I should start saving.
Every day yields a thousand new pieces of art coming home in his backpack — not counting the ones he creates in the car on the way to and from camp or the ones he makes in my art room for me or for other people. I wish I took a photo of the Muppet picture he drew, complete with “Crmit” “Pigy” “Anamul” and “Gonszo”. I need to start Artkiving again. I can’t possibly keep up with everything he brings home. Not to mention the science projects and other random oddities. The other day I found a bag of grayish slime, which I finally figured out was a sample of the oobleck he had made.
Yesterday was “Crazy Hair Day” in which he wore four ponytails, each one wrapped with a coiled glitter pipe cleaner. (They’re called “chenille craft sticks” now — ostensibly because they’re used more for crafting than for cleaning pipes. Whatever. They’re totally pipe cleaners.)
Then, today was “Pre-K Day” — a morning event to which parents are invited. I forgot all about it last year, but this year the timing was right for me to slip out and visit for a while. This is arguably one of the best parts of this job: getting to see him for little snippets during the day. A kiss or a high-five, usually. Sometimes a bit of a longer visit at lunch and then sometimes — like today — a special event. It’s a definite perk.
We’ve got one more week and then a break and then one final week. It’s hard to believe this summer is nearly over. For all my complaining, for all of our collective exhaustion and gnat-swatting and Keens-tans, I’m enjoying myself. And so is he. And now if you’ll excuse me, it’s 8:30, which is my new summer bedtime.
I am a little over this day.
Really, let’s back up. If you’ve been playing along at home, you already know that I’m sick. The coughing, despite the course of antibiotics, has amped up, so it’s probably viral, which means it’s going to be around for a while. Sleeping has been a challenge the past couple of nights and last night, to add insult to injury, The Who joined me in bed for a few hours. I finally woke enough to send him back to bed when my own coughing woke me up (and probably him, too.)
Ok. Wait. I skipped ahead again. Go back to last night — before bed. On my way home from an appointment, in the dark and in the rain, I cut a right turn too tightly and blew out the tire on my brand new car. 9:30pm. Ultimately, the solution was easy. I stayed up an extra half hour and made all the lunches for today so that when I woke up at 5am (after that horrible night’s sleep) I could call AAA so they could come and put my donut on. Which I did. And which they also did. (Stop it right now if you’re thinking of commenting on how I could have changed the tire myself. Because a: no. And b: fuck no.)
I snatched The Who from his bed (Ok, not really. But I did allow him to not only wear his pajamas to stand in the driveway watching the guy change the tire, but also to the tire store and then to camp. I got him changed in a hurry right in my art room as soon as we got there.) Luckily, I had located a tire place right on the way to work and leaving at 6:15am (with a quick stop at the scene of the crime to search for — and retrieve! — my hubcap) got us there just as they opened at 7. We even had enough time to spare to get a donut. (See what I did there? I used both spare and donut in the same sentence.) Amazingly, I made it to work in time for the 8am meeting. I even surprised myself.
On our drive home, The Who had a complaint about some pain. It seemed non-emergent, yet still worth a look sooner rather than later and since his pediatrician agreed to stay late for us, I shot him over there. In a downpour. Through power-outage-non-working-traffic-lights traffic. I love his pediatrician so much. Not only because she called us personally and then stayed at her office late for us, but also because of the respect with which she approaches his care. Talking to him and asking permission and explaining everything. (Final diagnosis, likely minor skin infection. Antibiotics if it’s not better by morning.)
We finally got home at 6:30pm after having left the house 12 hours earlier. I am a little over putting out fires and handling unexpected mini-crises. I am a lot over coughing. And I am completely over complaining about it all here. Things are about to look up; I know it. And as soon as they do, you’ll be the first to know. Swear it.
It is my job to feed our family. That includes grocery shopping, meal planning, meal prep, and meal delivery. Although on weekends, it’s a free-for-all for breakfast and lunch, dinner is still my domain. During the “school year”, this is a challenge for me. I don’t ever know what to cook, I don’t plan ahead often enough, and I end up at the grocery store (one of the three I frequent) every other day. It’s neither cost nor time effective and I exist in this sort of constant state of stress and anxiety.
Because our summer days are so long, we knew I’d never be up for cooking dinner on the weeknights. Still, y’gotta eat, right? Last summer, I tried a weekly meal-planning thing where I wrote out the meals for each night, did the grocery shopping on Sunday, and then attempted to cook at least one of the meals before the week began. This left me cooking something mid-week (or hoping to, anyway) and it was a system that was hard to maintain.
This summer, with the help of a new app that includes a huge database of recipes and adds the ingredients directly to my list, I’ve been able to maintain the meal planning and prep for going on five weeks. It helps that I have an incredibly flexible wife who is happy to eat almost anything I prepare (with some parameters that I’m well aware of) and that I’ve let go of the full commitment to make The Who eat what we eat. Summer is its own beast. Weird bedtimes, weird wake times, weird meals.
The new routine is a full grocery shop at one store (maaaaybe two) on Saturday (best case) or Sunday and the prep of two full meals on Sunday that will last us through the week. Obviously, if I am only cooking one night to last us all week, it’s not going to be fresh fillets of fish or darling little fork-twists of spaghetti with chiffonades of basil. Instead, around here, it is the Summer of the Almighty Casserole.
I’m trying to keep it above a certain level of casserole. For example, one of the tastiest things I’ve ever eaten was a “tater tot casserole” that someone brought to a “comfort food potluck” I once hosted at my house, but it’s not exactly what I want my family to be eating all week. So, I look for ways to elevate the casserole if I can. Some weeks I am more successful than others. (Like, for example, the “Thelma’s Chicken Spaghetti Casserole.” Not so very elevated at all. The ingredients are pretty much creamy soup, cheese soup, cream cheese, and cheese. But it was damn tasty.
Do you have any favorite casserole recipes? I’m all ears over here. At least for the next four weeks.
Summertime as a relax-by-the-water-day-tripping,-sunday-kinda-love season is not anything that rings true for us here at Chez Who. It used to be that way — back when The Who was taking a 3-4 hour midday nap and we had a working outdoor grill and a membership to the community pool. But since we started at camp (he, going and I, working) summertime has been a too-little-sleep-long-commuting-completely-tapped-out kind of season. I regularly bemoan my lack of free time, my unappealing farmer’s tan, and the long, incessantly chatty commutes.Plus, this summer, there’s the added delight of a head cold that rapidly descended into my chest, landing me at urgent care, nebulizing on a work day. (I’m not going to lie; though I could do without the illness — including the antibiotics and 4x daily inhaler — I did not mind the day “off.” I spoke to nearly no one all day and took a nap on the couch while The Who was delivered to and from camp by a friend.)
Despite all of this, though, the silver lining is bright. The upside to The Who and I spending so much time stuck together like glue is that we are tighter than ever. He looks for me throughout the camp day, blowing me kisses and giving me high-fives when we pass in the hall. I look forward to our quick lunchtime visits. I make him little surprises in my art room. And then, at least four days a week, when I unpack his backpack, I find some sweet drawing that he has done for me during his day.
We’re like BFFs. (Except we’re totally not. Because he’s 5 and I have my own friends and that’s kind of creepy. But you know what I mean.) We’re on the same wavelength. We know the same things — the same people at camp, the same silly little songs, the routine. It’s kind of sweet.
I don’t know if I’ll do this again next year. (Of course, I don’t know that I won’t, though, either.) There’s a lot of sacrifice for a very small financial gain. But then there’s also this. This sweet connectedness that comes from spending so much time together. It’s sort of like attachment parenting — five years late and without the family bed.
Oh, friends. This was not the best day. On the surface, there wasn’t a single thing wrong. It was one of those days that, when detailed on Facebook, makes it looks like our life is all rainbows and cotton candy. It started with a family breakfast of homemade gluten-free waffles and applewood smoked bacon. “This is the most delicious brunch you ever made, Mama!” Practically cherubic. Then I did the dishes and The Who and I headed out for a couple of errands, including a car wash and a trip to the farmer’s market in the homey little college town nearby, but not before spending some time in our little garden, weeding and watering and sampling the sweet snap peas that we harvested. Then we hit the Lego Store after grabbing a quick lunch in the food court. We played for a while, stopped into the tea store to get an infusing carafe, and then zipped back home. I dropped The Who off with m*, did a solo grocery-shop, and came back to an already-fed boy, quietly watching a show. No camp = no bath, so it was a quick brush and floss and then off to bed. On paper, it sounds so perfect, it should almost have been in black and white.
Yeah. Well. Here’s the non-Facebook version:
That breakfast? It was made well before 9am, which is not at all what I intend for my weekends. In the summer, I am up at 5:30 on weekdays and I look forward to sleeping in as late as I want on Saturdays (and nearly as late on Sundays.) I am lucky enough to have a gracious wife who, without complaint, spends hours on weekend mornings playing with The Who and never gives me any crap about sleeping in, no matter how late it is. But this morning, when I rolled over at 7ish, intending to go right back to sleep, I caught a few snippets of the morning play conversation from downstairs and I could sense that something was off. (I later learned that m* had had a terrible night’s sleep and wasn’t feeling well, which explained the exhaustion and frustrations I had heard in her voice.) I realized that instead of the leisurely, snoozey Saturday that we had last weekend, today I’d be on-duty, so I started planning some activities. When I ran my suggestions by The Who for his consideration, he approved them all and added homemade waffles on top. So, yeah. Waffles.
Making the waffles went as well as could be expected with a new-to-me waffle iron and a gluten-free recipe that called for egg whites beaten into stiff peaks and yielded a runny batter that spilled out onto the countertop with each batch. They were the thinnest, flimsiest waffles I’d ever seen, but they tasted good. So, at least there was that.
The garden part? Well, that actually was as idyllic as it sounded. Sunny and harvesty and it made me feel like a good mom to have my kid in the yard watering the vegetables we had grown from seedling. Plus, and also: hose-drinks.
The car wash. Well. You know, the car wash was fine at first look. But the whole day was peppered with so much whining and short-fused reaction (on both of our parts) that even an activity that is usually simple and fun for both of us yielded complaints, injuries, and threats. I apparently nearly “sucked up his sneakers” with the vacuum. He refused to move out of the way. I moved the front seat forward too quickly and he bumped his knee. I didn’t let him help enough. He didn’t want to have to do it all. He was thirsty, he informed me, “but not for something that has no taste.” It occurred to then that maybe he was hungry, even though we had just finished breakfast not long before and he had an interim snack. I asked him if anything hurt, flashing back to last July 4th when he spent a week whining and then busted out a few days of an inexplicable fever. He said nothing hurt, though he did cop to the hunger, which is why we drove across town to the farmer’s market in search of lunch.
But, the farmer’s market was a complete waste of time. Four or five little stalls with nothing terribly exciting, save some beautiful-looking beets that I contemplated bringing home, but didn’t. It seemed to me that the last time I was at this market, it was huge. Full of vendors and people and activity. This is not late-season. This is prime. Where was everyone? It was practically deserted. So, with Sir Whinesalot in tow, we walked hand-in-hand up the street for a coffee and a juice. This is when the “why” questions hit fever pitch. M* reminded me tonight, as I recounted the day, how he defaults to “why” when he is tired. And how my tolerance for them disappears when I am tired. It was a bad mix and we should have stayed at home in our jammies — except I’m not sure that would have been any better.
In the car after the market, we tried to hammer out a deal. I would strive to be more patient and kind and he would try to do less pushing of my buttons. We always work to come up with solutions like this when our day is falling off track and usually it works. Not talking about it is like ignoring the elephant in the room. He knows I’m not fun to be with and I know that I don’t want to hear one more single word out of his mouth ever. Generally doing a record-scratch stop-and-reboot can turn the whole day around.
Not so today. (Despite a valiant effort on both of our parts.)
At the Lego store, I discovered that they had taken the little chairs away from the build table because they were a “tripping hazard.” It’s very hard to be a tall person building at a short table, which meant that I couldn’t do much playing there, despite his pleas for me to join him. I leaned down a few times, tried to chit-chat about the pieces, and helped him search for some, but it was uncomfortable at best and I just counted the minutes until it was reasonable to leave. Also: the lights in that store blazed overhead in low-hung chandeliers and it was hot. Who ever heard of a mall-store being hot in the summer? Aren’t mall-stores kind of known for their practically offensive overuse of air conditioning in the summer?
The rest of the day’s events went pretty much the same as the first part’s. Although I dropped The Who at home and grocery shopped solo, I was still not on my game. I had to call m* from Aisle 4 because I couldn’t remember if she liked hot or mild peppers after ten years of buying the same thing. I visited and left and visited the same aisle three different times for three different things because I kept forgetting all that I needed. I looked at a bag of “Fried Pork Skin” and read it quickly as something much more graphic and disgusting by swapping the beginning letters in my delirium.
And then when it was finally time for bed, even the tooth-brushing and pajama-donning was fraught. There was more whining. There was the threat and then follow-through of the removal of a bedtime story.
And then there was talking after we said our goodnights and our I-love-yous. “Mama, I am tired but I can’t sleep.” Try counting to 100. “Mama, why am I wearing underwear to bed instead of jammies?” You’re not. “But it looks like –” You’re NOT. I started to have my years-old Personal Parental Violence Fantasytm (snapping his arms off and stuffing them in his mouth) but lucky for him: a) I would never do that (duh) and b) m* fielded the rest of his questions while I just sat there and seethed at life.
I am a big believer in tomorrow being a better day. I am an optimist and I always believe in turning things around. And although I had a moment of dread as m* got ready to go to bed, thinking about doing it all over tomorrow, then I remembered that tomorrow I will be with three friends and their kids. And sunshine. And a swimming pool. And I flashed on these tiny moments from earlier this morning. Even in the rain, there can be a rainbow.
Here’s to a better tomorrow.