Playing House

the path to domesticity is paved with good intentions…

Rachel This Summer

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If I don’t write this down, I’m afraid I’ll forget.

We are having a magical summer.

I cannot believe how much you are growing and changing and becoming a very real small person.  I cannot believe how much you know and how much you can do. 

What are we doing this summer?  Making new friends, eating frozen treats, making and breaking routines, singing along to songs, trying (and sometimes liking) new foods, drinking our weight in Capri Sun.  Among many other things.

I’m tickled at times by the things you say. You are a very good conversationalist. I’m amazed by your inflection and tone.  “You thirsty, mom?  How is your ice tea? I’m drinking water.”  Sometimes I’m taken aback by your thoughtfulness and curiosity.  Despite your little voice, you sound so mature.

Two bigger examples: Recently we were at a cookout…Fourth of July, I think…and you sat in a room filled with old friends, some newer friends, and a handful of people we might call strangers except for the great time we were currently having.  Maybe a dozen people all together.  You took the floor (as the spotlight so easily shifts toward you) and you pointed to each person, calling them by name, “Emily, Uncle Iowa, Lisa…” and so on, and we all marveled at this exercise of remembering.  Then, you finished naming everyone and declared in a speech-making voice: “These are all our friends.”  So true.

Even more recently, we hosted friends for brunch, a couple expecting their first child this winter.  After talking about baby stuff and silly pieces of parenting advice, you interrupted and said, “Laura is a mother, and Mike is a dad…just like my dad.”  I’m not sure, but it might have been the first time anyone called them a mother and a dad, and it was certainly sentimental.

You are emphatic, so sure of what you say…even if it’s made up.  “We’re not having pizza tonight, Rachel.  Let’s have pizza tomorrow,” I’ll tell you.  “Not tomorrow, TO-NOW,” you respond. 

“More ice cream?” you ask.  “No way, Jose,” dad will say.  Then you look at him with your big brown eyes and say, “Yes Jose?”

We don’t just make up words anymore. We make up entire scenarios, and I love this pretend-play phase.  We go shoe shopping in the living room.  We build snow men there too, then head “inside” to the back hallway for hot cocoa.  When I can’t get you into the bath we pretend we’re in a fancy salon and I wash your hair as you stand on your stool in front of the mirror.  We get water all over the floor, but who cares.  When you’re trying to fall asleep we sometimes pretend to blow bubbles together.  The little ones pop quickly on your tummy and your arms.  The bigger ones pop on your knees, your eyelids, your forehead, gently, slowly, until you drift off to sleep.

Your hair, Rachel.  Your hair is getting looong.  You have many “looks” now, thanks to one of your preschool teachers.  Pigtails, a braid, a sweet, rolled up bun.  I never know what to expect and am always pleasantly surprised.

Some things we can always agree on: ice cream, water ice, berries from the garden; The Violent Femmes and Prince; your purple shirt with a blue skirt.  That one’s always a winning combination.

We are savoring this summer- the time with dad on break from school, the long hours of sunlit sky, and all the heat-beating treats we can stomach.  I watch you eat your water ice: You use a straw and a spoon, to guarantee you’ll get every bit of slushy goodness, and it reminds me that there are a lot of things that you will teach yourself how to do in this life.  I am grateful for that and kind of in awe.  Of all the things I’m responsible for teaching you, from using a potty, to being selfless and kind-hearted, I can go ahead and scratch off the list: the perfect way to eat water ice without spilling or missing any of the good parts.  That one you’ve got down pat without my help.  And I’m sure there will be others along the way.

We are having a magical summer, Rachel.  I don’t ever want to forget it.  I want you to know how lucky we all are.

Rachel’s First Movie Going Experience

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As a grown-up, I’ve kind of looked down on going to the movies. It’s so expensive, and I think it’s so weird that they show commercials (not just previews) before movies now, and you know, it’s not exactly an interactive activity. But, let’s be honest. I love going to the movies- despite my boring adult-like views. I grew up in a small town so there was never a lot going on and driving a few towns over to see a movie was in some ways a great escape.

And going to the movies holds so many fond memories for me. It might be a passive activity but it really is an opportunity to bond. When my mom and dad celebrated their anniversary each year, they chose to do so as a family, by seeing a movie and going to dinner together. If I try really hard, I can tell you each movie we saw from Gladiator (2001) to Benjamin Button (2008).

During Christmas and summer vacations, those rare occasions when all of us cousins were out of school and together, my dad would always, always take the big group of us out to a movie. We always had to pick something that was suitable for the whole age-range of kids and I will never forget seeing The Cat in the Hat, gosh, maybe in 2003, and how I was so not into the movie, but so very into sitting with my cute kindergartener cousin who had just discovered that her entire fist could fit into her nacho cheese cup.

So. Last Saturday it was 110 degrees, and we all know that the best way to beat that kind of heat is to veg out in a super cold movie theater. I decided to take Rachel to see Brave. (Aren’t the people at Pixar pure geniuses?) We got there early enough to beat the rush of families that would inevitably show themselves later, and this way Rachel got to totally savor the experience. Without the pressure of lines that needed to move along, or crowds that needed to be navigated, she got to tell the woman at the ticket window what movie she wanted to see, she got to give our tickets to the usher (“We got our tickets!” she said as she handed them over), and she even got to place her order at the concession stand. (When the concessioner asked if she wanted a small, medium or large popcorn, Rachel put her finger to her chin and said, “Large!”)

Our girl was so patient as she waited for the movie to start. She ate from her (small) popcorn bag and just waited. Total shocker. She was just so excited for what she knew she was about to witness.

The movie itself was so sweet, essentially about a mother-daughter pair who don’t see eye-to-eye, but due to a series of mystical, magical events are forced to renew their connection. It was a really charming legend of a tale.

By the time it was over the popcorn was gone and Rachel was perched on my lap. More than once she looked up at me and said, “Mom…I like this!” I grinned and nodded then put my finger to my lips. I certainly felt a special bond between us. What an experience to share.

We Did Not Buy a Zoo

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I must confess that for every adventure I plan to take Rachel on, I’m never really sure if she’s going to be into it.   I always wonder if it’ll be age appropriate, if it’ll be worth the money or effort involved.  Partly, this is why I try to choose free events, and I always make sure there’s an easy exit plan.  In advance of the adventure, I try to get Rachel excited.  I try to explain where we’re headed and read books or watch movies on the subject involved.  Sometimes, by the time the adventure rolls around she’s totally game, and sometimes it’s a total flop.  At the end of the day, at least we got out of the house, which both of us find far more exciting than anything else.  We get stir crazy, me and Rachel.  We really do.

To “prepare” for our recent trip to the Zoo I rented the movie “We Bought a Zoo,” and we watched it about 75 times.  (Rachel was feeling under the weather, so there was not much else to do anyway – don’t judge.  We played with zoo animal puzzles too!)  And every day when we drove by the zoo, I would tell her, “That’s where we’re going on Saturday!  She was super pumped.

We went with a group of families from her new daycare, which means when we got to the zoo we waited a while for everyone in the group to show up.  Waiting=not a great way to start the day…and I’m talking almost an hour here.  However, there was a small water fountain near the entrance that kept Rachel’s attention while she waited…but then, somehow she fell under the impression that this trip to the zoo was about seeing interesting water features, not animals. 

It didn’t help that most of the animals were asleep until about noon.  The flamingos looked cool, but who wants to watch a sleeping bear?  Rachel was also in a bit of an I-wait-for-no-one mood.  It sounds really bold and whatnot, but it really means that I spent the whole time chasing her. 

“Look, the zebras!” I’d say.

“NO!” she’d shout back, and off she’d run down the slope and towards the next water feature/ice cream stand/cooler slope than the first slope.  You get the idea.

It may sound like I’m complaining a bit, but you know what?  We had a really great time.  I found myself smiling from ear to ear all day long, just taking it all in.  There were tons of families around, parents begging kids to stay close by, groups of cool dads waiting for their wives and kids to get off of the carousel, a few young couples channeling Rocky and Adrian (Why didn’t Jim ever take me on a zoo-date, I wondered), and plenty of tweens exercising their independence.  It was a true cross-section of Philly too, because who doesn’t love the zoo?

We will definitely go back, perhaps in the fall.  A few notes-to-self (mostly for my own benefit, but maybe you’ll find them helpful too): Next time, go early for good parking and fewer crowds (but with a small group+no waiting!).  The animals that are outside will be sleeping, so hit up a few indoor exhibits, then the rides (shorter lines!), then lunch in the Picnic Grove, then go see the outdoor animals while they’re awake and playing.  Finish the day with ice cream and a stroller ride to the car, and then, hopefully, a nap. 

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Finally, I have to add right here that the Philadelphia Zoo is nothing like “We Bought a Zoo.”  Matt Damon is nowhere to be found, and the “enclosures,” well, they’re totally different.  Bigger, boxier, sometimes involving painted backdrops.  I have to tell you, one of my favorite moments was spotting this peacock gone rogue.  Look at it.  It’s totally going for a stroll down the sidewalk thinking, “Screw you, enclosure.”

She’s the Apple, I’m the Tree

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With each phase Rachel enters into, I enter a new phase of self-doubt as a mother.  Right now Rachel is in a bit of a rebellious phase.  Her response to everything is “no” and it’s not just a matter-of-fact “no” – it’s a much more emphatic “NO!” that translates to “I-hate-what-you-just-said-or-did!” She has an opinion on every detail of the day, and it’s almost always contrary to mine.  (The exception to this is ice cream.  We always agree on ice cream.  Which means, of course, that we’ve been eating way, way too much ice cream lately.)  Irritated, I ask myself how can she even have so many opinions, how can she be so argumentative

I get it, I get it…She’s the apple, I’m the tree.  Still, I roll my eyes and struggle to bite my tongue.  I’m a generous, loving and fun mom.  Why am I met with so much resistance?!

I wonder if we’ve done something wrong.  She’s really good at daycare.  Maybe she’s mad at us for not giving her enough structure at home.  Maybe she sees her grown up teachers manage her day so well and she resents us for not doing the same.  Not that I can change any of this, and not that I’d really ask her for her honest opinion.  I’m partly afraid of the truth, but mostly afraid of the power of suggestion.  Maybe these crazy ideas in my brain never occurred to her – I don’t want to be the one to plant the seed. 

Kids don’t really think their parents are incompetent, do they?  They trust us, and maybe that’s the scariest part of all.  This phase, whatever it is, is just a phase, and she trusts me to help her through it.  I just don’t know if I trust myself.  What if I fail and she’s a bratty, demanding, contentious person for the rest of her life?   What if we have several mini-arguments a day, every day for the rest of her life?

I realize this is likely (not the part about her being a contentious brat…the other part).  And I suppose this is part of the fun of raising this person, my child.  I get to share my life with this amazing, passionate small person, and she doesn’t judge me or doubt me (just yet).  Maybe I’ll learn to give myself that same courtesy.

Month in Review / Stuff I Forgot to Mention

So many things I never got around to telling you about this month.

  • Rachel loves her new daycare.  We are calling it preschool, because she hated daycare so much last year.  (If we even drive down the road that leads to the daycare she gets a little antsy.)  Before her first day at the new daycare we kept telling her that it would be so much fun and that she would make new friends.  It’s now quite endearing when we’re hanging out with grownups and they ask her what she does at preschool all day and her response is, “Make new friends!”  Her teachers are so loving and the facility is top notch.  It couldn’t be a better fit.  Rachel’s favorite day so far was “pajama day,” because she finally got to wear her Tinkerbelle top to school.
  • Jim and I celebrated our wedding anniversary.  It was a simple celebration, which I think is the best kind.  It involved candles, Tastycakes, dill pickles, havarti cheese, and red wine.  Oh, and flowers.  Can’t forget the gorgeous flowers.  And lots of reminiscing about our awesome wedding.  (The vase pictured above is a “gurgling cod.” Have you ever heard of these?  Very New England, I’m told.  It was a wedding gift from Jim’s aunt and when I opened it up at a wedding shower in Massachusetts, I kind of made a confused face then I heard a collective “ahhh” from the women attending the shower, followed by, “very traditional gift.”)
  • I helped to host a baby shower for my very best friend.  I never thought I would say this about a baby shower, but it was truly delightful.  The other women who planned the activities and such simply nailed it.  (I stuck to handling what I know, which is food.  And incidentally I now know how to make the silkiest, melt-in-your mouth quiche, ever.  Use this recipe.)
  • Our garden plot is thriving.  Our two plots I should say.  I upped the ante this year and asked for a second plot, and thankfully an extra one was available.  I cannot say enough about community gardening.  I’ll definitely share more in a separate post.
  • I am running a lot these days.  Just saying that makes me nervous for some reason…like I might jinx it or something.  I am taking it way easy half the time, and mixing in interval workouts the other half of the time.  I think this is helping me not to push myself too hard every single day.

That just about catches us up, I think.  I’m so excited that it’s officially summer.  We’re planning trips, and adding summery recipes to the must-try list, and getting excited for pool/beach season.  How ’bout you?