by the twentieth of August

note: I’ve simplified the comment form. it should be much easier to comment now–no need to log in. so sorry to you kind ones who’ve had troubles in the past.

In the morning one tiny ant bravely tugs a speck of bread off the table, in the afternoon there’s a carnival of them celebrating under the lavender planter, a feast of popcorn kernels and graham cracker sludge arranged around the edge like banners.

With three children about me now, the fun has accelerated. But so has everything else. Time is passing in a terrifying, groundless way. I have been given nothing but an accumulation of wonderful experiences and yet, I long for more. I long to exist inside of each day of the last five years at the same time.

Feeling cheated by the passing of time, I begin to feel cheated by everything. An experience not had. An afternoon that was not perfect. A recipe I haven’t made. A lake I’ve never swam in.

I am greedy for all of life’s pleasures; and it feels like I deserve them. I’m like a drunk bidding on eBay for the goods of carpe diem and all the auctions are ending tonight.

peach_crisp

It’s the baby Alma that’s rubbed off on me. “Babies are born hedonists” says the Happiness Scientist. The day was meant for pleasure. Skin is meant to be grazed. If we sit next to each other, she worms her way closer to me until our arms are brushing. There can never be too much stretching and grabbing. Nor too much napping. Nor staring into stranger’s faces, but only if they are pleasant or, we might say—handsome. Nor too much chewing on golden ripe slices of mango, with the peel attached. She is so certain that everything placed within in her field of vision is for her that she grabs at each new thing with authority. 

At night I try to organize files— I know I’m only going to stay awake for twenty minutes, why not do something purposeful and minute—and I click into a grainy near-dark video of my oldest playing peek-a-boo in Rome in front of the Pantheon. If the water was rippling in the right way, her face, at that age, would be a be a reflection of Alma’s. I feel that no time has past from then, and yet I finally got Lux to a dentist this week and she found cavities and examined me with a shocked expression that this was Lux’s first visit. From a certain tiny tooth’s perspective: five long years of decay!

Every year that has ever passed suddenly seems like too much. No more years, no more months, please. This must be women why become witches. Ever notice it’s always a woman who offers the chance to control time in those old fables? There was one I used to love—she gives out a glossy ball of string, it’s your lifetime wound up like a yo-yo. Tug it slightly and the moment will fly past, tug it more, and the year with a bad bully at school is over. No rewinding though, as our heroine soon learns.

I can’t seem to teach them enough, but then they mimic me and cry “look!” at every dropped leaf and I also wish they would be quiet. I want to read them books all day but I also wish they would stop banging the wall with their knees rhythmically while we do. They try. They forget. I wonder if I am as moody as they are; I think I might be.

We need no agenda, it seems just a shady tree would satisfy us all day. Then the next day, an agenda and lots to do. I rush them from pleasant spot to pleasant spot, feeling validated by the quick pace of our shoes on the sidewalk.

she’s going

Days and days of jungle humidity ninety-degrees here. Summery groceries: 1/ lemonade 2/ melon, tomatoes 3/ cold chicken, roasted in batches in the morning 4/ good cheese.

Unfairly to you my friend reader, I have gone from talking about homeschooling here to talking about the fact that big fish (Should I start using pseudonyms for the girls? They’re getting old for this, aren’t they.) is going to school.

The first thing that happened: back in March, I called the appropriate public school number on the appropriate day and they muttered over the phone to me that we got into the school we hoped to, but had always assumed we wouldn’t. Several of our neighborhood friends did not get spots, so believe me when I say we really didn’t think it would happen.

Then we started engaging with the school: a five day, 8:15-3pm program (those hours! heart stop). The meet-the-parents events, the meet-the-principal, visit the playground, etc. Then Lux started counting the days until kindergarten, and began telling me, every morning, how many days remain.

It started to feel like a great experiment, if not a great idea.

Maybe because homeschooling has always been an assumption for me, it was an interesting twist to consider public kindergarten instead. Underneath my curiosity about the program there was the shift at home too. Lux has been home with me every day for the past five years; it feels like I’ve watched in near slow motion as she changed from a quiet being who wanted to be only with me and resented intrusions to a girl who loved activities and became drawn to big groups with leaders.

It’s exciting to think how much she might enjoy the structure of school.

I ordered $300 of crisp, warm, adorable navy and white uniform clothing for the year. With the discount that Land End’s seems to circulate every other week or so, it was actually $200, but I’m putting it in the books as $300. 

Like a farmer muttering “Lord willing” over his crops, I’m remain internally watchful of it not working. My friends have warned me that there will be at least four weeks of exhaustion and adjustment. I get that, and I’ve got plans for our post-school afternoon relax and destress sessions, namely: begin with cookies and end with yoga stretches.

But the changes I’m watching for, that I would view not just as difficulties but as deal-breakers are: 1/ whether she became a poor playmate/partner to her sisters at home. 2/ if she became less curious in engaging new ideas than she is now. 3/ whether she becomes a shell of herself for the time she is with us—tired out, cranky, a slumped pile of oreo crumbs and uncombed hair awaiting the next morning’s challenge to begin again.

And perhaps most inconceivable, to me—if it was November, and she was asking not to go to school the next day, every day that week, we would be done.

And yet, I remain expectant l for it to be totally delightful. I think she’s going to find a gang of friends immediately. I think she’s going to love seeing them every day. I think she will laugh a lot. I think she will run victory laps around the playground. I think she will fall in love with her teacher and come home quoting her. I will hear confusing retellings of once factual stories. She will eye me with a worried eyebrow when I mention morning errands that we did without her. She will discover interests that we’ve never even thought to suggest. She will smile benevolently at Joan and the pudgy chocolate chip cookies Joan will offer her from our morning. She will take on school spirit like a new cape to be buttoned around her neck. Alma will keel over with delight when Lux walks back in, as she does now, even though it’s only been five minutes.

When she goes in September, I imagine it feeling like turning off half the lights in the apartment, and then going on with our day.

I hate that when Lux asks about fall habits—will we go apple picking? Will we visit that farm again? I’m thinking mmm…probably not. Joan maybe, but you won’t. But: perhaps Joan’s current three-year-old moody emotional spiral might be buffered with more of my patience to go around? Perhaps Alma will have a real afternoon nap and Joan will enjoy a quiet time again?

And the school itself, Joe characterizes it like Sesame Street—solid and urban, but soft around the edges. Worn-in bricks, stately fence, 70s tile cafeteria, the tricycles lined up in the hallway ready to race out into the playground. Amazing teachers, devoted parents, incredible principal. Who wouldn’t want to help their daughter engage with their city on that level?

Night Sky Party

joe_ringenbergstar-party-frontjoe_ringenberg_star_party

a star party, for our girls who love the moon, constellations, and the stories behind the constellations. ^^ invitation postcard, back and front. Designed by Joe, and the included star chart is really useful to have! ^^

July has been beautiful in Boston, but the night we chose for the outdoor in-the-park party was cloudy and cold. I had visions of a quilt of blankets in the Public Garden, children with flashlights weaving through the trees, but oh well, maybe next year.

We stuck with the special post-dinner time, but moved it indoors.

starry_night_room

A few photos, all taken before the party started, of course…

Joe and Lux gave their finest effort to making moon pies for the evening, but the recipe was junk and they turned out like so. I think the idea of moon pies popped into my mind from one long ago teenage summer spent reading Ellie’s Peopleyoung adult novels set in an Amish community. The story’s characters were always going to picnics, building barns, and looking forward to moon pies. (it turns out the Amish moon pie is different from what I imagined, it is similar to an apple hand pie.)

moon_pies

After the moon pies crashed on us, we turned at the very last minute to an icebox cake made with chocolate wafer cookies and whipped cream. I’m so happy we discovered this dessert because it’s incredibly easy to make and the girls ended up making their own with the leftover ingredients–it is really so fun. I put it in the freezer the day before. Frozen it tastes like a cake version of cookies-n-cream ice cream, and it was delightful to share the icy slices in a warm kitchen with our friends.

icebox-cake icebox_cake_2moon_cyclespopcornfoodicebox-cakemarshmallows

We dimmed the lights, and put little ikea lantern lights in the dark stairwell. Joe helped the kids make a star can, something we use frequently for indoor star shows. Buy a tin coffee canister, empty out the grounds, and use a can opener to cut off the bottom. Cut out the inside of the plastic top, leaving the edge. Cut out circles of paper, punch the holes for the constellation pattern (the big dipper being the easiest of those, looks similar to this) and put the circle of paper under the lid. Then shine a flashlight through to project the constellation on the wall. We’ve also made fun, non-constellation shapes like cat’s faces and bunnies.

starry_lights

Lux originally fell for the stars peering out of her bedroom window at night, during the very-early-dark winters we have here in Boston. She could see just a few constellations, and it so happened that Lepus, the bunny constellation, was one of them!

I don’t know if it’s something about this age, the amazing brains of five year olds!, but we also attended a friend’s five-year-old Rocket Ship Party, and I’m loving the photos from Hudson’s Astronaut Pool Party. Interestingly, our girls aren’t really interested in the gear/gizmos of space travel, just the planets and stars of space.

Our two favorite books on the stars are H.A. Rey’s The Stars and Find the Constellations. And we’ve saving up for one of these incredible constellation quilts from Haptic Lab.

 

Beckoning

three

It is a punishing habit of mine to check before reading a Curious George book if the book is actually by H.A. Rey & and his wife Margret. If I’m paging through one it’s because Joan handed it to me, so of course I am already committed to reading it. But just to know what I am getting in to, I check the author byline before. Because of the insatiable nature of publishing children’s classics, and the fact that the Reys only wrote seven George books, most of the bright-yellow flap books you find on shelves today are not by them. They are in the style of the Reys, or based on the characters of, or however they choose to word their copyright ripoffs. Even without checking the byline though, you can tell a few pages in. There is a blissful simplicity to Reys’ narrator-driven style, a complete lack of anxiety or social pressures, and an emphasis on the adventure of the day. George does whatever the hell he wants, and the man with the yellow hat wanders cheerfully to the scene in time to let things really get mucked up before he gets there.

(truly does it get better than innocently floating away with a fistful of balloons, and then having the adult make sure the balloon man gets paid?)

But the versions beckoning to children these days just don’t carry the tone. More characters are loaded in. Instead of a narrator guiding us through a foolish yet thrilling caper, there is dialog burdened with the tiresome troubles of “George’s friends.” Betsy, a somewhat-timid character that the Reys introduced in Curious George Goes to the Hospital, shows up regularly, beset by interior anxieties and fears that George must solve. There is even Curious George’s Easter, a boring and confusing story that is difficult to imagine George’s Jewish creators ever writing.

I know this might sound exhausting but I’m a tad obsessed with tone and children. The other day we were at a museum where children’s psychology grad students had set up a booth in the corner. They asked if the girls could be part of their experiment, and of course I said yes. The experiment was to watch how the kid handled something once it broke. Did they try different methods to fix it? Or did they keep trying the same thing? Joan tried different methods, at least ten times. Afterwards the graduate research student brightly told me this was great—“most kids her age just do the same thing again and again.” But I had watched from afar, and I was frustrated how the experiment had ended: after letting Joan try to fix it using all different shapes to get the faux-machine to turn on (in fact the student was turning it on and off herself), the research student then “fixed it” for her using one of the shapes Joan had already tried (and simultaneously flipping a switch under the table). Joan trudged over after the experiment, downtrodden. “It was broken,” she said. “Looks like you solved it!” I said hopefully. “No,” she said, “the girl solved it.” And so ends my forays into other people’s research projects involving my kids.

I know the grad student thought the two-year-old would just be pleased to see the kaleidoscope light spin and turn on again, problem solved, bye!, but that’s just not how it works. (And I know I should have told the grad students how I felt, in person, but you will understand that I was barely surviving this museum trip at all given that my stroller had been left in the lobby and I had forgotten my baby carrier and Alma had fallen asleep into my elbow.)

And to be fair to these ghost in-the-spirit-of-the-Reys authors and hapless broke twenty-somethings grad students, let’s turn the lens on myself for a moment. These last weeks I’ve been asking Joan “will you let me help you?” as she fruitlessly jams her right foot into the left shoe or attempts to hole in six buttons on her pea sweater. The question felt right and I put my best mama-loves-you tone behind it. But the other day my friend pointed out how un-empowering the word help is to Joan.  Every time I said it, I reminded her that she couldn’t do without it me. This week I think I’ll experiment with “Could I do one shoe and you do one?” or “I wonder if it would work if we did it this way?”

xo

That First Year

on the occasion of our 8th anniversary

Rachael.Joe 

I remember the overwhelming satisfaction of moving into an apartment that was only for us. We firmly believed it was a perfect apartment. Each guest that came to visit, we waited for them to observe the perfection aloud (many of them instead noted the petite bathroom). The curtains we bought for the bedroom were the wrong color, the shelves Joe built in the kitchen were exactly right. The insanity of the wedding gifts, how amazing all those things were! We were given a beautiful, enormous wooden salad bowl that June. I found it bizarrely large, couldn’t seem to fit in anywhere in our apartment, couldn’t imagine making a salad that large, and I returned it.

Now, age-old-like-cheese me, longs for an enormous wooden salad bowl.

I don’t remember the quarrels, but I remember we had them and that they seemed Very Serious. Perhaps it is age (again) but based on how rarely they happen now, I feel sure they were nothing but the mumbo-jumbo of believing all of your emotions deserved to be said aloud.

It must have taken a year, maybe two, to discover was how to motivate each other. There’s a theory that you give the type of love you hope to receive (debatable), but certainly you encourage in the way that encourages…you. For me that is soft phrases implying the work has already been finished, I need only to do a bit more to dust it off. Even better if it is implied that the work doesn’t need to be done at all, but if I cared to, well then, it would be nice. For Joe, what wakes him up in the morning are stark roadmaps that give way to how much still needs to be accomplished. The sight of a nearly-burned-out building, for him, is just the thing to set to work on.

The metaphor carries easily to housework—I keep up with tasks like clean countertops, a full fridge, and the constant reincarnation of dirty dishes. Joe prefers overhauling the bathroom or vacuuming the entire apartment after five wool blankets were dragged over the carpet.

But mostly I bring up encouragement in the meaningful adult sense—ideas you want to pursue, important shifts in your habits, projects at work, projects for yourself. Encouraging each other in these areas is one of the best elements of marriage.

My parents asked us to take a financial course within our first year of marriage. The sessions ironed out most wrinkles in our mental wardrobe of crumpled habits. (We had revealed a few subliminal expectations already through reading the book Saving Your Marriage Before It Starts which suggested asking about things like do you always order dessert? and, when you stop for gas, do you buy a snack? The book is not amazing, but it did have its moments.) The course encouraged a joint bank account, something that we would have done anyway. It required that we document, on paper, all spending for three months. First month: document. Second month: document, set a goal, but go easy on the slip-ups. Third month: document, set a goal, do your very best to reach it.

We tracked ours on a small library card tacked to the fridge, his and her handwriting marking small deductions by turn. When you do that you encounter the thrill of marking down something you were excited to buy together, but also the sapping drag of a purchase already you wished you’d skipped. Three digit bills seem enormous, but endless tiny ones add up as well. Without noticing, you began to value the days you didn’t have to write anything down.

I remember grocery shopping and not knowing what to buy; me in the aisle with my hand hovering before a box of crackers wondering do we both like these?

I wanted to be impressive in my capacity to cook well, but spend little. But I believed true couples’ cooking was Cook’s Illustrated recipes—expensive meals, perfectly executed, preferably heavy on the carbs. I wanted to make only new things. It took us a year, at least, to pin down that we usually wanted to eat different things. Joe wanted chicken breast and a vegetable. I wanted four cheese pasta. We both wanted tomato egg sandwiches, caramels from the shop around the corner now and then, and in the summer–peaches and cottage cheese for dinner.

(Though I remember cooking a garlicky shrimp pasta from the tomes of Cook’s Illustrated for a classmate of Joe’s. And as he ate, he sighed and quietly said, like a restaurant.)

invite the kids!

kids_candy

Last week I wanted to hear Lucy Keating speak at the athenaeum, a library and event spot up the street from me. Lucy wrote dreamology a fantastic and fun young adult novel set in Boston. I loved the writing and admire Lucy for writing such a lighthearted and inventive novel. The event was at noon, so I needed to make a plan for all the three of the girls to attend with me.

The situation reminded me of one my favorite kids-tag-along hacks that I learned from my friend Ashley. Ashley brings her daughter to ballets, plays, and events of all sorts. She buys special candy treats, and then, puts the candy into new bags. The plastic that candy is packaged in is quite possibly the noisiest thing on earth, times ten if you’re in a silent symphony hall. But if you decant the candy into new disguised bags, like the girls are holding above, not only will your children be able to eat silently, but also only a few people will even notice you are bribing them! Win win.

The talk was a real treat for me. And I loved the chance for Lux to see a young woman (Lucy is my age) author up front, talking about her writing process. Lux picked up phrases here and there and would look over at me and smile in recognition. Joan and Alma were rather oblivious but happy to not be at left at home anyway.

Do you have any favorite tips that makes it easier for kids to join adult events?

the first hot weekend

houghton's pondhoughton's pond

I found a drawer for the sunscreen, sun hats, sunglasses, sun shirts, and the bright bathing suits that pile together like fresh picked wildflowers. I can’t wait to use it every day.

sweaty hikeshut

We all have sandals but I’ll probably order another round just to be safe. Sandals are the ninety-nine problems shoes, in my experience. It would be better if we could apply a seasonal permanent sole to the children’s feet. Easily removed with mineral oil, come autumn. Young corked, or maybe, rubberized feet would be a small price to pay not worry once about the buckles, the velcro, the pinched toe, the rubbed heel, the way they slide a bit when they’re wet, the way they don’t fit now but will in July, the way one falls off under the restaurant chair and both fall off in the car.

But of course I would never go for this because, aside from feeling squeamish about plastic adhesive surgery on the very young, the truth is I love all their sandals. I love how they show the toes, love how their texture is faintly squishy, love how they cut around their ankles so prettily, love how once discarded, in the sand, they look like oval lollipops.

hikers

This weekend we went hiking, a hobby that has unexpectedly become an interest of ours, though ideally not launched on a day, like Saturday, forecasted to be ninety degrees. My friend suggested the Blue Hills, a convenient half hour drive. The Blue Hills website is what really wooed me–the old fashioned list layout, with photos!–was ideal for finding the hike we wanted. After a sweaty thirty minute hike, blessedly circular, we picnicked on sparse provisions that I had thrown together before we left and then searched for a place to put our feet in water. Only a seven minutes away was Houghton’s Pond, clearly no secret as approximately two hundred other people had already thought to visit that day. There were small grassy hills with shade, a playground, a large bathroom facility, and parking.

The pond itself was fresh water, lukewarm and sandy-dirty. The girls got in with just their underwear (bathing suits having been ignored in their new drawer-home) but it felt wonderful and from there we could walk to a small snack shop for syrupy slushies.

gazebo light

 

20 / 52

20 joan 20 lux 20 alma

joan: turning 3 in two months. Lately she says “I can’t read this” when she looks at books and packaging of any kind. She’s mystified that she can’t read yet. 

lux: turning 5 in two months. Looking through a book from the Finnish Moomin series. 

alma: chewing on her fingers, self-soothing like a genius baby.

Chai and good books

chai_2

Two birthday gifts above–a package from Bellocq tea and a new mug. The Bellocq tea parcel and elegant tea strainer tugged me back into the romance of chai tea making, something I loved experimenting with awhile ago, and then forgot about (one good place to start, if you’re interested, is this food52 discussion on masala chai). Mythological chai seems to crest on milky sweet and spicy flavors with the tannic black tea filling in the rest of the wave underneath. No matter which path you choose–boiled milk, added sugar, extra spice–it takes time to make, so you anticipate it all the more, and sip it all the slower. (And for decaf fans, there’s a rooibos blend.)

I’m in so deep with the amazing Italian Elena Ferrante novels. Should you be so lucky to have not encountered these yet–the delight you have before you now!–you might as well buy them now en mass and mark off the next week or two of consciousness to read them. There’s no use putting yourself on the library waitlist because there are four volumes and once you finish one, it’s all you’ll think about until you have the next one in your grasp. I’m tempted to say that everything people like about tv shows like the Bachelor is in these books–heartache, affection, friendship, ambition, betrayal. That sells them short, they are so much more than that, but it also sounds right.

Beach read as a term doesn’t make much sense for me because I’m terrible at reading in direct sunlight, but let’s interpret it to mean you can leave off the page and start back up again in a moment. These books are absolutely that.

I’m reading all of them on my kindle, which allows for a few pages before bed and a few more pages in the morning light (I have the kindle voyage, with adaptive lighting) before anyone else wakes up. They have consumed my last few weeks.

Ferrante describes feelings through faces–the characters’ skin, bones, and eyes reflect their inner feelings. One day a hustling teenager may look like a weary old woman, another day an old woman will convey the joy of a carefree youth. I think this is true in everyday life, but rarely do you encounter an author who can describe it so exactly.

The fact that they were translated from Italian by New Yorker editor Ann Goldstein–and that she learned Italian later in life–is making me want to pull out my old Italian texts from my semester and summer abroad. Funny fact: because of the history of the neighborhood Lux’s kindergarten is in, all students take weekly Italian classes. I wonder if she’ll remember any murmurs from visiting at age 2.5. We’ll have to plan a celebratory return trip after her first year.

nearly every week

The way Lux blew off my requests for help, and yelled at me in the park that evening. Then, when I explained there would be no ipad during quiet time tomorrow as a consequence, she said “you’ll forget you said that.” The way she didn’t blink when I then told her she was going to bed early. Joan, wide-eyed in the face of her audacity, but huffing and nodding her own disapproval at my decrees. How Lux had declined to use the bathroom fifteen minutes earlier but now she had to go, thus we couldn’t stay out in the golden light any longer.

I was annoyed at myself for once again taking her at her word that she didn’t need to go, and now the result that I had to pick Alma up off the green grass where she’d been lolling in the soft evening light, the sun casting just enough shadow over the side of her face.

I texted Joe that they would absolutely both be in bed by 6:30. So there! I said to myself. It’s so sad, we’ve worked hard, and yet, here look: raised such terrors, I said to myself. Dramatic texts are a trademark release of mine. After we got home, I asked them to help me tidy the apartment, they refused and I said they were welcome to sit in their room then. Behind their door I heard the contented murmurs of duplo-construction and shared blocks. I relaxed at bit in the silence and felt–perhaps they hadn’t been that bad? Thinking of my text to Joe, I realized I had probably exaggerated my case. When exactly had it started to feel like too much? 5pm on the dot? Nearly all of it was an ivy of reactions tethered to their fatigue, a tiredness I had been fully aware of, a soft vine working slowly across our day.

I remembered that morning unexpectedly seeing Lux flit by my door at 6am, nearly two hours before she’s usually up, already in a princess dress with a crown on her head. She was playing some game that involved secrecy and light steps, and I was only awake because Alma had woken up. Then Lux woke Joan up to join her, an hour or so before Joan would have woken up on her own. Soon I saw them both flitting by, Joan blurry and barely tracking what was going on, but devoted to the imaginary heist, dazed as she was. 

I had left Alma on the bed next to Joe and went for a run in the perfectly cool morning air. The world for thirty minutes was cheerful running music and a steady chain of joggers keeping lines on the sidewalk along the river. I came back certain that the thing to do was for all of us to head straight outside. But it was two hours before we got out, between feeding Alma and doing the breakfast dishes, after they opened a package of saltines with their scissors, cheerfully munching and chatting like old friends at the golf club lunchroom, absentmindedly scattering half the contents in the form of crumbs on the floor—a ready picnic for the ants I’ve been trying to keep at bay.

Finally we got outside before lunch. Then everything was so beautiful and finally sunny after a week of rain, the park grass seemed cleaner and greener than ever—the gazebo, the coffee shop, the merry-go-round, the playground, everything beckoned—that we stayed out too long, deep into nap time.

On the walk home Joan sat down on the corner of an intersection and mumbled to the bricks that she couldn’t walk anymore. I smiled sympathetically and shrugged my shoulders at her, what I could I do? I couldn’t carry her. I sensed a message in the glances of the people skirting our scene: how’s she gonna handle this? She’s carrying a baby and now the little one is sitting on the ground. Naturally it did no good for me to repeat aloud that this was why I had said we shouldn’t go to the playground after all. Nonetheless I too murmured it to the bricks, and the girls looked at me, mystified at my evoking a conversation from an hour ago—nearly ancient history! If I had known that going in—why had I let it happen? Why hadn’t I insisted we head home when I knew the time was right? Because it was so beautiful out, Lux was begging to go, and I loved the idea of the girls running and climbing for just a few more minutes. Finally Joan hopped up and started walking again,and we made it back.