My childhood friend, Laura Ingalls

August 29, 2010 at 12:34 am (Family, Parenthood, WJ) (, , )

laura ingalls

In an effort to spare Willa from sharing her sibling’s frustrations in navigating through their third year with little spoken language, I’m on a campaign to jabber incessantly to Willa from birth. I have no proof this will help, but it can’t hurt.  Seems like the worst thing that could happen is creating a non-stop chatterbug with a big vocab.  Not having had one, I find those kids unbearably cute.  Words spoken in conversation seem more likely to hardwire the brain’s language synapses (though I have done no actual research on about how people learn to speak).  But again in the philosophy of “the more, the better”, and since I like to do it, I’ve been reading to Willa while she nurses to sleep.

All four other family members have separately walked in on the two of us, cuddling and reading, and expressed wonder about who I’m reading to.  The answer seemed obvious to me. I know I’m far from the first person to come up with this idea.

I decided to start with the Little House books, since they have simple language, good for my purpose. And I had wanted to check out their suitability for read-alouds to the older kids.  Laura Ingalls and I have a long history. They were the first chapter books I read myself, and pretty much the beginning of my life as a bookworm.  My parents listened when I suggested “Laura” as the name for my baby sister, so that shows the degree we enjoyed her books!  I have a distinct memory of wanting to know what happened next with Laura, but also wanting to participate in recess activities with my classmates. I solved the problem by turning jump rope while reading.  Talk about nerdy!  Picture me with my oversized brown plastic-framed glasses and my straight bangs with a perm in back, and you’ll get the full nerdy effect.  This is still kinda how I interact socially in large groups.  I want to watch and feel involved without actually talking.

Growing up I read the whole series Little House series every year or two when I’d run out of other material.  My copies are dog-eared and pages are falling out.  These days I’ve been known to start a book, only to discover a chapter into it that hmmm, I think I’ve read this before.  Unlike now, every passage of this series is comfortingly familiar.  But I last visited the Big Woods over a decade ago.  I hadn’t quite realized how many of the themes I now disagree with, or how profoundly some of these negative themes had been ingrained into my thought processes and affected my life.

In the first few chapters, different characters get a good thrashing, their jackets tanned, and a spanking.  [Is there a difference?- I don’t want to know.]  It’s hard to argue that physical punishment wasn’t effective in keeping children “in their place”- safe, helpful, and undisruptive to adults.  It’s not the method most parents I know use today, though, and makes me cringe. 

On the other hand, from a mother’s perspective I am a bit envious of how nicely behaved Laura and Mary seem.  One day, they have been traveling by covered wagon all day (no DVD player, folks!) and Laura (understandably) says “I want to camp now!  I’m so tired.”  All Ma has to do is say “Laura” and the whining stops.  I can tell you, I wish I had that power over my kids.  “She did not complain any more out loud, but she was still naughty, inside.  She sat and thought complaints to herself.”  My whole family would be better off if we complained only to ourselves, I think!

I had a therapist ask me once if I was Catholic, because I have that famous Catholic sense of guilt.  No, I’m not.  But I can still find a way to find guilty about just about any action.  I honestly think my natural proclivity to guilt was enhanced by adopting Laura’s guiltiness, after reading her so often.    Poor Laura is chided for being greedy after she spends a happy day collecting so many pebbles by a river that she rips her pockets.  Today most parents would be carrying the pebbles for the child.  She spends the ride home feeling shame at not being “good and sweet” like her sister Mary.  Laura is a fun-loving wild girl, the one I’d choose to play with.  But she spends a good deal of her life feeling guilty for who she is- her very nature.  She wishes she was different- less “naughty”, not brown-haired, more ladylike.  She is a human case of nature vs. nurture- a constant internal struggle between her innate tomboy nature and her upbringing by a strict schoolmarm.  A child like Laura today would have adults worried about her low self-esteem.  I recall wanting to slap good little Mary myself, reading as a kid.  Now I just want to give Laura a hug.  Motherhood gives a different perspective.

I have no problem modifying younger children’s books as I see fit.  I usually read Mommy as Mama, for instance, because that’s what I like them to call me.  And I often read only the first sentence on a page with more, if it’s more consistent with the child’s attention span- or my tiredness level!  But “chapter books” seem sacred.  Can I really just edit them as I see fit?  First of all, my boys are getting close to literate enough to notice.  Certainly if I skip a whole passage.  But it’s more than that.  It’s not my writing.  To edit is to tamper with the author’s intent.  If I omit reading the admonishment that it’s shameful to cry, is that akin to putting underwear on David?  Some ideas present themselves as good opportunities for historical discussion.  Why Ma says she hates the Indians, for instance.  The Little House books have more ideas that need further explanation than I remembered.

When I began re-reading them, I thought I might forego reading them aloud.  After settling in, I know I won’t.  They contain more good than bad.  Throughout the extreme hardship of pioneer life, she conveys a simple contented happiness that I still long for.  They work hard, then play the fiddle.  They love each other.  And, if I ever need to make a door solely out of oak and leather, I’m set.

I can’t resist quoting this to end:

“They were all happy that night.  The fire on the hearth was pleasant, for on the High Prairie even the summer nights were cool.  The red-checked cloth was on the table, the little china woman glimmered on the mantel-shelf, and the new floor was golden in the flickering firelight.  Outside, the night was large and full of stars.  Pa sat for a long time in the doorway and played his fiddle and sang to Ma and Mary and Laura in the house and to the starry night outside.”

Now who can resist spending a moment putting oneself in that idyllic space?  Even if washing clothes in a tub and butchering a hog isn’t your cup of tea.  And now, back to Memphis Beat


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a beachy ten things

August 28, 2010 at 6:39 pm (Family, GOJ, WJ) (, , )

Inspired by SouleMama, ten things that are bringing me great joy right now:

◊ this weather: partly sunny, highs in the upper sixties

Car Talk

◊ twenty-four hours alone with my girls

◊ observing the last minutes of Willa’s night sleep, as often as I can.  She stretches her tightly-closed fists as high as they will go.  Which, in a baby-proportioned body, is an inch or so above her head.  She wiggles her head side-to-side.  Finally one eyelid parts slightly.  “Oh, you’re here”, she seems to think.  “Hi Mama.”  Both eyes open slowly and she starts to coo.  Telling me her thoughts.

◊ an almost-three-year-old girl whose language is blossoming.  “Sorry” has finally entered her vocab!

◊ the independent spirit of that same three-year old.  This is where she spent most of our last beach trip, off by herself, enjoying the sand.
The old and the young at the water

◊ my brother-in-law Justin, an awesome uncle.  The only adult in our family willing to brave the Pacific Ocean above his shins…
It takes dedicated swimmers

…and throw a few boys around.
Uncle Justin is a great uncle

◊ the success of my latest I-need-some-help-around-here plan.  I (un)imaginatively call it Half Hour of Work.  Every day my six-year olds and I set a timer and choose jobs off a post-it list until it beeps.  Then we do something fun.  Before-hand I’ve gone around and determined what things need doing that are six-year-old appropriate.  It is A-MA-ZING how much we can get done.  Thursday, for instance, the entire downstairs was picked up and vacuumed, clean laundry was hauled upstairs for folding, a couple of weeks worth of socks were matched, and the dishwasher was un- and re-loaded.  More importantly than the actual work is the improved moods all around.  You’d think they’d grumble, and they do, a little (and in one instance a LOT).  But it has ended up improving everybody’s day immensely.  I feel supported, and more able to devote fun time to them afterwards.  Their moods have improved and even fighting has decreased.  I know they like the attention afterwards and that’s most of the change.  But I think deep down (perhaps waaay deep down) they like the feeling of having done a job that helps the family.  I had expected the physical result of a cleaner house but I seriously had no idea how much it would affect family relations.

◊ knitting again (I wonder for who?)
Apple blanket

◊ Shutterfly and the completion of a family memorabilia project I’ve been working (ok, postponing) for close to two years.  Haven’t seen the finished product yet but I have high hopes.

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What we’ll do for our children, and what we won’t

August 7, 2010 at 1:25 am (Family, Parenthood, PJ) ()

Having a new baby invokes new reflection about one’s parenting.  Even when it’s one’s fourth.  This is the first of some “Am I doing this right?” posts.

When they were a month or two old, I first noticed the difference in my boys’ reactions to Mark and I.

Dad got a lot of early smiles, and later, giggles. Dad = Excitement, then and now. For babies, Daddy brings goofy games, tosses into the air. For two-year olds, flying kites emblazoned with the character-that-shall-not-be-named-but-is-beloved-by-our-two-year-old. For six-year olds, launching model rockets and experimenting with dry ice.

Mama gets smiles, too.  Less, though.  Mama = well, Mama.  For babies, Mama brings milk, contentment in a liquid, and “rock rocks” to sleep.  For two-year olds, hugs and Band-aids when you fall daily, and water play while Mama does the dishes.  For six-year olds, continual pick-up-after-yourself reminders and a new world of chapter books read aloud.

Lest this post come off as Woe-is-me, I wish I were the daddy, let  me reassure you, Reader, I do not.  But I do wish sometimes I could manage to bring a little more fun into parenting.  I used feel fun, back when I was a cool babysitter that played My Little Ponies or read stories for hours and hours (and hours).  When I was the older cousin that had infinite patience to make sugar cookies all. day. long.  It’s one of life’s ironies that during the parenting stages you’d like most to savor and remember, you have the least energy to provide the wondrous experiences you imagine, back when you were a childless parenting expert.

My children lo-oove the attention of other adults.  Parker, especially, basks in the attention of adults, and has special friendships with at least five- our family friend Randy, my sister’s almost brother-in-law Tucker, Mr. C’s dad, a co-worker of my sister’s Whitney, and my cousin Joel.  Essentially, any adult that will pay attention to him.  They all provide something that Mark or I don’t- imaginative stories on the spot or copious running around, or just special attention that a child with at least his fair share of siblings doesn’t always get.  None of Parker’s adult friends are currently parenting young children.

My three oldest went away to my mom and dad’s the last three days, who invited Cousin Joel over for dinner.  (We aren’t, by the way, so redneck that we actually call him Cousin Joel in conversation.)  I am always so thankful to the adults that humor my children’s every whim, as was the report from both my mom and the kids.  What a nice guy he is to follow them on a long tour of all the best kids’ spaces in the big backyard, and to run races around the house with Greta on his shoulders, cackling like the goofy girl she is.

I struggle with the line of how far I’m willing to extend myself beyond my comfort zone, or simply beyond my likes and dislikes, in parenting.  I know I can’t be EVERYTHING for my kids; it wouldn’t  be healthy for me or them.  I figure if that was how humans were designed to work, we’d live in dens with our cubs only, and not socialize with the other bears.  Sometimes I want to be a part of everything though.  I look out at them playing soccer in the backyard with their dad while I clean up dinner, and I’m jealous. 

But then I realize, after caring for them all day, I’d RATHER be loading the dishwasher.  Sick as that may sound.  Sometimes I wonder if my line is too far away from trying to be everything, towards “mamas don’t need to do that”.  I make an effort to play soccer sometimes.  But I do have a longstanding rule that I don’t read books about things that need gasoline/diesel.  I was beyond tired of reading bedtime books about bulldozers, garbage trucks, and jackhammers.  Since they have someone [Dad] who actually likes these books, and hides my favorite tender Mole and the Baby Bird because “it’s stupid” so he doesn’t have to read it, I don’t feel too bad about this rule.  I know there will be a time that somebody has an interest in an activity that both Mark and I don’t.  If Mark is even less interested than I am, than I’ll be spending some Saturdays attending professional wrestling matches.

What about you?  What do you do let someone else do for your children, and what do you bedrudging do?

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One year

August 2, 2010 at 11:29 pm (Daily Criteria, Family, Parenthood) ()

All of the sudden, I’m coming up on a year of working exclusively as a SAHM.  At least, apart from a 3 day a week stint taking care of Mr. C.  And growing a new baby.  [Sidenote- I think growing a baby could be counted as a full time job.  Even though I’ve done it while working full time, and I’ve done it while taking care of three and four kids, I still don’t know how women do it.  Compared to the hell of bedrest or constant nausea or threatened miscarriage, I have an “easy” time growing new people.  But I would not say I ever feel like I’m “glowing”, as they say.  Mostly growing a new human seems like a continuous extra load to carry.  People say “Keep the baby in as long as you can- it’s easier to take care of inside”.  I disagree.  Give me a sweet newborn who eats twenty minutes every hour and won’t be set down without crying any day.]

A year ago, I naively came up with a list of daily goals.

If I had a boss tracking those metrics, pretty much every day would generate a “needs improvement” rating.  Today would come up as ~√, -, –, ~√, -. 

Criteria 1:  moving towards an organized home, not away from it.  The boys and I did pick up the main areas of toys, but I was grumpy, and I was annoyed it took so long, and I was annoyed at how I spoke to them to get the job done.  Doesn’t it seem like 6 year olds should be able to separate a floor pile of books, cars, and LEGOs into their respective homes without direction?  It does not seem so here.  Every time we pick up (I’d like it to be every day, but in reality it’s every few days or weekly) we dedicate somebody to books, somebody to LEGOs, etc., until it’s done, and the method still seems mysterious. And, I was asked if they could be paid for it.  We have been giving quarters for help with certain tasks around the house.  Tasks above “regular duties” like clearing your plate, cleaning your own room, setting the table.  I find I’m getting frustrated by the question “can I get paid for that?” for the tiniest little niceties.  I explained that one does not get paid to pick up your own messes that could be alleviated by cleaning up as one went along.  But grudgingly, I admitted if they helped clean up a bunch of messes created by their sister, that might deserve a quarter.  Then from another room I heard them explaining to Greta that she should pick up their stuff and they’d pick up hers, so all the kids would get paid.  Um, points for cleverness, maybe?  But, really?

Criteria 2: Physical activity for all.  Not unless you count walking a couple blocks between our minivan and a Starbucks.  The boys were outside briefly, and I watched them lounge conversationally on the deck.  Cute but not physical activity.

Criteria 3: Homemade food.  Uh, no.  We ate pizza at the mall for lunch, and take-out Chinese for dinner.  I just DO NOT have the gumption to cook these days.  Even the effort to make sandwiches for lunch seems like a big burden.

Criteria 4: Quality time with the kids.  I think I would count the half hour I read “Stink and the Incredible Super Galactic Jawbreaker” to them.

Criteria 5: No major injuries.  I guess it wasn’t major, but the boo boo ice did come out twice, when Parker get a bloody lip during a light saber fight, and when Auden tripped down the stairs.

Here is where I intended to review my year of taking care of my children full time, and discuss a modification of my earlier lofty goals.  But that will have to wait for tomorrow, as my baby is calling me. Happy World Breastfeeding Week, btw.

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