Ticks: rumors and murmurs

Sipping green tea and thinking how very interesting it is to be a mother of young ones in today’s America. Naturally from here, I could lead this conversation just about anywhere, but today’s circuit of fascination: Lyme’s disease.

If you grew up around ticks, the idea of checking your children for ticks is quite standard, if not a traditional summer activity. But whether you grew up around them or not, the fact is that today’s parents are facing an outdoors full of ticks with epic levels of Lyme infection.

Lyme is one of those things I’ve started bringing up around other moms, casual-suggestively, to learn if I’m missing something. At a book club, sitting around a long table in a lush backyard, I eagerly leaned in as the woman across from me cataloged all the steps she’d gone through after finding three ticks on her daughter. -But what about sending it to one of the websites? I asked. -Practitioners don’t think those are reliable. False positives. False negatives. -But you can’t prescribe doxy…I murmured. -Our pediatrician is prescribing doxycycline.

This was news to me. I’d been told no pediatricians were prescribing doxycycline to children. Amoxicillin only, though it had no recorded success with Lyme. Her doctor’s office was less than a mile away from mine. And yet, different approaches were happening between the two places. to childrenin ways that would affect them for the rest of their lives.

Of course there’s a reason this is on my mind. I found an engorged tick on one of my children that had been on her for three days. Not having peeked behind her ear for those three days was a one weekend slip-up, with the potential of the worst consequences. I pulled it off perfectly, sent it to tickcheck.com perfectly (although, if you are in this situation, I highly recommend paying extra for it to get there as fast as possible), consulted my pediatrician and waited anxiously perfectly…and received my text message that said the tick did not have one of nine diseases it could have had. It did have one, but it was not one that is considered dangerous in our area (borrelia mayonii). My city pediatrician was surprised I had found this website and sent the tick off quickly. The only reason I had done so was because a friend from Martha’s Vineyard told me too, because where she vacationed this was considered standard procedure. Even though just a few weeks later I was told that these private-enterprise-tick dissection labs are not considered reliable, I am still really glad I sent it. If I still had seen a rash on my child, I would have asked for a Doxy prescription. But those results, paired with no rash, no fatigue, muscle aches, and no fever, gave me confidence to set this worry aside.

“On the West Coast, when it comes to natural disasters, they have earthquakes. The heartland has tornadoes. The South has hurricanes. Here in the Northeast, our natural disaster is Lyme disease,” said Kevin Esvelt, who specializes in a field called evolutionary and ecological engineering at MIT Media Lab.” –CNN 

(except, not quite so regional as that, since Lyme infected ticks are rapidly spreading in the Midwest as well.)

For those who study Lyme disease and see patients with Lyme, signs seem to indicate that there is no pinning this malicious insidious disease down. Maybe you’ll get a rash. Maybe you’ll have a fever. Maybe you’ll see the tick. Maybe you won’t. Maybe it will test positive or negative at tickcheck.com or something similar. Doxycycline is the only known working antibiotic for Lyme. Doxycycline is not recommended to be prescribed to children as it is known to affect bone growth and stains their teeth. However, it is being prescribed because practitioners are now feeling that it is better than having the Lyme go untreated.

And a separate branch of this discussion begins right there: the long untreated cases of Lyme that were ignored or misdiagnosed for years. This branch of the conversation is centering around a lonely and grim theory: Is Lyme disease a Feminist issue? Take One, and take Two.

Researchers and insurers have often insisted not only on positive test results but also on the classic signs of early Lyme infection, such as the distinctive bull’s-eye rash and swollen knee joints, even though many people infected with the spirochete bacterium do not present such signs. Some of the symptoms of “chronic Lyme”—headaches, exhaustion, and cognitive dysfunction—have been dismissed as too vague or too similar to those of other conditions to be accorded diagnostic weight. -The New Yorker (see One above)

It feels overwhelmingly like the general knowledge database is broken here. It feels like it is totally on us to know everything we can.

This is when a light blue filter slides into my mind and I begin to see filmy images of the future, Minority Report style….what if playing in the woods soon looks like children scampering around in permethrin lightweight suits? What if we never get a vaccine and instead genetically alter mice, deer, embryos, whatever we can to introduce inoculation? What if the equivalent of giant weekly bug bombs becomes standard treatment for anything out-of-doors? What if tick immune robot cats are the new housecats?

Then I switch back to my admittedly healthy and yellow filter life in happy Massachusetts. I believe children can still play outside. I don’t believe we have to resort to toxic chemicals on our lawns. I believe it’s still safe to have indoor-outdoor pets. I believe we can catch this disease in the act of infection, and we can treat it. But, I believe we should be talking about it.

In this spirit, I want to mention a few homegrown prevention approaches I’ve encountered recently:

  1. Cistus Tea: made from leaves grown in Eastern Europe, rumored to successfully make human and animal drinkers repellent to ticks.
  2. Elevation: No rumors here. There are fewer ticks at elevations over 1000 ft.
  3. Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap: landscapers claim that washing in Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap makes them unappealing to ticks as they hike through the bushes, trimming back overgrowth in yards up and down the east coast. A refreshing soap and a bug repellent? I’ll take it.
  4. Animals: guinea hens (but dang, are they loud!), chickens and possums are all rumored to eat up local tick from your grounds. Whether maintaining these animals as ground control is worth it, is up to you!
  5. Cedar oil: a known effective natural deterrent for household pets, safe around children and pregnant women.
  6. Nightly tick checks for the entire household. Tried and true through the generations.
  7. Insert your tip here! What have you learned?

To close, a link to this excellent recent summary of the options with bug spray, including the general sense that DEET is not so bad after all.

Obvious disclaimers….I am not a doctor, scientist, or professional researcher. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The advice & statements on this blog have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. Any information on this blog is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

 

 

letter from a reader

groupthink

A reader recently wrote me to ask about socialization when staying at home with a three or four year old. Such good questions here that we all tumble through. I thought I would share her email and my response.

Hi Rachael,
I have been reading your blog for a long time now (do all of the emails you get from strangers begin this way? Probably.) Anyway, it’s true. Since before Joan was born!
I’m now lucky to have two girls of my own. 2.5yrs and 6 months, so we are still in the trenches of learning how to handle two kids. 
I’m writing because I’m considering pulling my 2.5 year old out of preschool next year. She has been going to the sweetest montessori program two days a week. It’s been good for her – and good for me to have some time with just the baby. Despite its benefits, T. is clearly exhausted by school. We will likely be moving before the next school year and the only Montessori program in our new town is 5 mornings. I’m not sure she can hack 5 days and I’m not sure I can do the get-to-school scramble 5 days in a row, especially bc Dad travels 5 days a week for work. Okay, enough about our predicament. I’m wondering how you handled socialization for your girls when they stayed with you at ages 3 and 4. Did you opt into specific programs? Hit the library story time circuit? Or just plan play dates? Do I need to join a gymnastics class or something?

Another lurking question re schooling is: do you think the socialization is important for the kid? Or, mostly for mom? Having been home for almost three years, I fully know my needs for socialization and structure but I’m not sure my daughter’s mirror that. Because you’ve been on the other side of 3 years old twice now, I’m wondering: did you see this increased need for socialization?  How did your child staying home blend with the choice of the majority of the families? I guess the bottom line is (and isn’t it always?): if I make this choice primarily for my sanity (not rushing to school 5 days a week), will my daughter be left wanting?

 

Dear A,

I completely relate to your question, and absolute affirm your suspicion that five mornings a week will be too much! The needs of staying home with a 3 or 4 year old is up to the child. The fact that you’re writing at all tells me that your oldest is probably quite social, i.e. if you haven’t made any movements towards going out she might ask, “What are we going to do this morning?” In this situation, which was the case with my eldest as well, I tried to plan things 2-3 mornings a week. Typically I planned these things a week in advance, or over the weekend. 2-3 mornings give you that every-other morning off to stay at home, which is important.

Regarding the concept of/concerns about of socialization as a whole: when Lux was entering kindergarten at age five her new teacher expressed concern that she would have trouble adapting to the school environment. Not because of anything the teacher had observed in her, but because it was assumed if you haven’t been adapting slowly over time, then it’s going to take awhile to fit in. But she adapted immediately, listening with delight to instruction and thriving in the structured environment–both a welcome change for her from home life! She had never had another adult as an instructor, so it was a novelty and she was intent on listening carefully. She’d never had the chance to observe peers for extended periods of time, so she came home and recited all the odd things other children did.

She returned to me in the afternoon exhausted (cranky, snippy), unaccustomed to mingling with her young sisters, and eager for individualized attention. (This compared to what we had before. Our life was outburst free before school-fatigue set in.) “That’s so crazy!” her teacher remarked when I commented on this, “She’s an absolute dream at school.”

Therein lies the great school conundrum. Group-think, traveling as a pack, chatting and running with a gang of children is really fun. But every day for eight hours, it is completely exhausting.

Joan attends a local Classical Conversation group that meets once a week (as they all do). (Find one here by typing in your zip code.) She loves her teacher, her presentation time, and adores her group of seven buddies, as well as her recess time with older kids. She is tired out by the end (1pm) and enjoys the rest of the week at home, asking about her class only one or two days before it begins again. Everything in moderation is the great boon of home life. Had I know about this program when Lux was four, I know that she would have loved it as well.

I remember being at the playground with Lux when she was four and a local day care would show up. She told me she was envious of all the kids running around together. I was sensitive to that longing, but I also don’t think she realized how joyfully she giggled and plotted with her little sister all day, the long uninterrupted moments she spent paging through books on my bed, the stories she quietly told herself as she drew for far longer than “art time” would have allowed.

In my extremely limited experience I have never observed a child who did better because of earlier adaption. Personally I follow research that suggests the more children are one-on-one with adults, the better they do in social settings with their peers. The more they are only with each other, the more unstructured (and natural to their age–selfishly) they behave. (One of the best books written on this idea is from 1989, Dorothy & Raymond Moore’s Better Late Than Early, but you can read some of their ideas in this article as well.)

However, I have seen children who parents are not comfortable with discipline of any kind. They are unwilling to say no to their child and do not follow through with any of their voiced threats/consequences. They are eager for the relief and enforcement of other adults in their child’s lives. In this circumstance, I completely understand that a school/structured environment would return a better behaved child to the home.

Moving to a new town and opting-out of preschool means you will have to be a little aggressive with grabbing folks’ phone number initially. And just shrugging it off when lots of people you meet either work or does not have their child with them in the morning. I promise that there are other people choosing their own adventure education-wise, but it might take some digging to find them. In a new town, an organized class is not a bad idea because you’d have that initial organized chance to meet other moms. However, I find most programmatic things (even library story times) do not offer a chance to get to know other moms. You end up spending the time interacting with/managing your child and their expectations rather than chatting. But a library story time was the place I first met several of my best local mom friends when Lux was little. That was because I aggressively chatted up two interesting women with babies the exact same age, then I suggested we go out for coffee afterwards, and finally one of them said we should trade numbers. We never went to the library together again, instead we met at each other’s houses for the next year.

Ideas of things I would plan, as you feel the need:

-The library on consistently the same morning, probably not the morning of story time (when it is often flooded with people). If I met anyone there, I would say “see you here next week?” or I would exchange numbers, and text the day before, “Planning on the library tomorrow, will you guys be making it out?”

-A standing playdate. These are fantastic because they don’t require planning ahead of time. Ideally you create a loop and host every 3-4 week, but trading off works too. Making coffee and muffins for friends or trying out a craft on a lark is much more fun than by yourself. My friend Noelle–who, it must be said, lives in California–met up at a park with a friend she met via Instagram. They called it Preschool Breakfast. She says…

We would meet once a week at a park (actually the coffee place next to the park first). We would both pack snacks for the kids to share, which they loooved and of course always wanted the other kid’s snack first. Azusa and I would talk about cooking. We would always ask the kids what they had for breakfast that morning, but they almost never remembered. They ended up at different schools now but we still hang out once a week!

-Babysitters: I have always felt best when I’ve had at least one three-hour babysitting session a week. Not for errands, but for adult consciousness things; anything restful and mindful. Reading magazine at the bookstore. Calling an old friend. Writing at the library. Sitting in my car on Pinterest. Take some of the money saved from preschool and put it toward this endeavor. I like coming back just before nap time/quiet time. Emphasize to the sitter that she is not entertaining them but is playing with them, following their lead, stepping back one they are happy enough by themselves. That way when you come home T. won’t act like she just got dropped off after a morning at the fairgrounds. When you hire this weekly sitter, make it clear you will need one or two tasks done during the time as well–all the dishes, tidying the office, vacuuming the living room. This is what you would ask of yourself, so it’s not too much to ask. But it is easiest asked upfront.

-Errand-Coffee-Walk In the words of 600sqfeetandababy, “My cup of coffee is one of the only things I do for myself each day and therefore I love to treat it very seriously.” (I can’t find where she said this, but I love this quote and have remembered as best I can.) If you have a weekly mom-scheduled jotted down, even something of the groceries-coffee-walk variety becomes a “thing” full of the rewards of accomplishment and fresh air.

Please feel free to respond to my admittedly extremely-limited experience with thoughts in the comments. I have some other emails I’m going to dig up and post here as well. If you have a question too, feel free to email me at rachael.ringenberg@gmail.com. x

13 months

13_months

a now, a few notes on Alma before another month slips away:

She still has eczema, especially around her ankles, patches of dinosaur skin that blister red and itch. It’s hard for me to know how much it bothers her. After moisturizing her skin (primarily I use compounds with coconut oil), I pull on socks and then booties, and tuck her pants into those. If I leave her skin bare, she itches it and scratches herself fiercely. But if the skin is covered, she doesn’t seem to notice it.

I miss seeing her bare legs and feet though. Clothes are a poor varnish for babies’ perfect bodies.

Because of the eczema and the potential of food allergies causing it, I’ve delayed weaning her. I’m happy to be nursing a bit longer than I did with the other two, though I think we’ll be done by the end of the month. I sense that she’s weaning herself, and feeling very cuddly as a result, often pulling herself onto my lap to sit, or crawling merrily behind me while I pace (as it must seem to her) the apartment.

She plays by herself the most of all three of them, often crawling into the girls’ room on her own and slowly destroying it. I lean into the doorway and find her settled on Joan’s pillow, her tongue-tap “ta, ta” as she tosses, one by one, a stack of cards over the edge of the bed. She turns to glance at me, grinning. We smile at each other for awhile and then go on with our duties.

She now gets frustrated when she isn’t given something she wants the moment she wants it–like being allowed to climb on the table and pinch cereal pillows out of the girls’ bowls, milk dripping down her arm. She sees my iphone as a possession which we share; she likes to coo at softly while holding it with both hands. Fortunately I have two other children so I know that the cellphone ownership-mimicry gradually fades and it is not an early indicator that you have developed a creepy tech-obsessed enfant terrible.

She is very happy when imitating a pretentious stage reader. She comes upon books left on the floor, and settles down cross legged to examine them. She grabs the edges of the pages and flips at random through the book for several minutes, never looking up, all the while running a loud, low-pitched tone, like an aged generator that happens to drool. She often does this while I’m reading aloud too, perching next to me and nearly over-droning my voice while I read to the girls. If she finds me reading to myself, she grabs the edge of the book and flips through it as if looking for a page number, slowly pulling it away from me. She thinks it is hilarious if I try to read aloud to her in my lap, giggling loudly and then demanding the book for herself.

The girls are extremely indulgent of her and hate to hear her cry. If Lux is sitting next to her in the car, she’ll drape her hair over Alma’s fingers to yank on, sing to her, dig through her backpack to find distractions. Lux’s teacher told me she is often raising her hand and asking “if babies can come” to any school event being announced. Joan will cry ALMA! and dart around the house looking for a toy to give her.

I do find myself often stalling on a request of Joan’s because Alma needs something, which I regret. I’d like to streamline my actions and the household revolutions more cleanly. Right now I’m often feeding one, cleaning up after the other, in endless cycle.

There’s no denying that a thirteen (to eighteen!) month old is a chaotic element for a household. You never know where they are or how they might be attempting to poison themselves. They require constant vigilance, and if I could find a robot to follow her around and undo her every action, that would be fantastic. That said, we are absolutely obsessed with her presence in our lives.

secretly lunchable

I delayed in ordering a lunchbox so long—paralyzed, review-reading indecision—that Lux spent the first four days of kindergarten reusing a takeout container from whole foods. It accumulated food stains and the corners gradually grew crushed and stubby from the rubber bands pinging it together. She never complained about it though, though she did note to me that the loose carrots sticks were dyeing everything a faint orange color.

As I banded it shut one morning, I mentioned to her that I had ordered a new lunchbox. She looked so relieved: “I was hoping you’d say that, mom!”

On Friday her new lunchbox had arrived (I got one of those that weelicious makes look so amazing, the rover planetbox). She was so excited to bring it with her to school. At pickup, she unpacked it in the schoolyard to show me that she’d eaten every last thing out of it. When we got home that night, she insisted on washing it out and drying it herself, and putting it away in its box once again. 

And that is the story of accidentally inspired pride of ownership.

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

a photo an hour

morning7am Alma is up after waking at 11pm last night and 3am this morning. I bring her to the kitchen so she doesn’t wake Joe up, and make tea, one lump sugar, for myself. It’s already snowing, and looking up from our windows, the flakes look enormous.

7:15 Joan appears, sleepy, cuddly, and anxious for cereal. Once we sit down together, she doesn’t eat and just wants to talk. Joe finishes her bowl after she abandons it twenty minutes later.

8:30 Lux wakes up like a languorous lion in the afternoon sun. For the millionth time I note to myself that this time next year, she’ll already be in school. For better and for worse, I think.

8:45 Joe leaves for work. He’s taking the train instead of biking because of the snow.

9:40 We read several Richard Scarry stories on the couch while I nurse Alma. There is a brief standstill when Joan refuses to trade the middle seat when it is Lux’s turn to hold the book. Pondering her sullen mood I remember neither of them have eaten breakfast yet. We decamp to the kitchen for them to eat together.

beach_scene
 11 While I’m doing the breakfast dishes, an elaborate beach scene has been set-up involving at least twenty items from their room. Fortunately other areas of the living room are still clear. I put Alma on the floor to listen to their storytelling.

I begin making Ina’s Weeknight Bolognese for dinner.

doctor12 I was thinking about offering lunch but the girls are still completely engaged in their game. Beach has turned into doctor. I pick up Alma and wrap her up for her nap.These days I never expect her to sleep more than 30 minutes, but at least she always wakes up refreshed.

pasta

12:10 I remember the simmering pasta sauce and check it. Smells so good I want to eat it immediately. Thank you God for sending Ina Garten to this earth.

art_room

12:20 They’ve moved the doctor’s office into the art room. So now it is silent in the kitchen, which is a nice treat. Walking past with a pile of clothes to put away, I hear them sing “blah blah black sheep.” Lux leads the song and Joan repeats everything she says, a half note behind her.

I’m all for art projects but as far as today’s room-tidy-tally the living room is super messy, their room looks like a elephant went through and knocked everything to the floor, and the art room will definitely be trashed. But I’ve still got my room and the kitchen!

12:30 I put on water for hard boiled eggs for the girls and find a leftover burrito in the fridge. I sit on one of the girl’s chairs since my chair is still part of the beach scene in the living room and page through a New Yorker. I used to read this magazine cover to cover but now I just pick one or two articles to keep up with each week.

Alma

12:40 Call to the girls and ask if they’re ready for lunch. “I’m still finishing my monster.”

If I could take a selfie right now, it would be me leaning against the doorway frame of our room, listening to Alma grunt and settle, trying to decide if she’s going to fall back asleep or is up for good.

1pm Hop online and look at my sister’s beautiful recipe for tabbouleh. I want to make it for my friend this Friday. Frown. Why did she sub in quinoa for bulgur?? I’m definitely not doing that.

But I will take this tip about adding sliced almonds.

Hunt for Lux’s ballet stuff in her room. Find some half eaten jelly beans. Possibly this is why “the kitchen mouse” as we call him has been seen headed to their room lately. I discretely bundled up a bunch of things to throw away as I walk out, hiding them behind my leg as I walk past the art room. I set all her ballet stuff by the door.

lunch

1:15 I finally tell the girls they have to stop playing and come eat. The hardboiled eggs are perfectly done, nine minute eggs, but of course neither of the are eating “the yellow parts” these days and miss the beauty of that. Fortunately I am eating them!

I make a cup of tea so I have something to keep me seated with them while they eat. Too often I hop around the kitchen when they’re eating, which doesn’t make for good conversation or time together.

outside
 1:30 Take a photo out the window and begin to get ready to leave with gusto. Strew the girls’ coats and boots in front of the door so they understand what’s expected and don’t try to pull out their “cozy” coats that are useless at keeping them warm.
1:45 Wake up Alma and nurse her. Pull on her wool sweater, socks, booties, and hat. I put on my ergo and clip on the winter-weather cover that my friend Lisa gave me. It’s fleece lined and will keep her toasty without a bulky jacket.
2pm Take the elevator downstairs and make it outside as scheduled!
outdoor_cover
 2:01 Take first steps down the sidewalk and realize Lux forgot her backpack containing her ballet shoes, and somewhat mysteriously, a stuffed turtle. Walk back to the lobby and send Lux up to get the backpack. Joan demands to stay in the alley by herself, which is fine with me.
2:10 Ten minutes later. Joan? I call out. I see a sliver of her hat tip through the doorway into the garden. “Everything ok?” I call. The sliver barely nods, then disappears again. I guess everyone is enjoying their alone time right now.
2:15 Fifteen minutes after she first went up, Lux reappears. “I realized I had to go to the bathroom!” Count myself lucky I wasn’t there for the removal and reapplication of her coat, snow pants, leotard, tights, and undies.
walking
2:40 As expected, eating snow and stomping snow is really slowing us down. But the snow is so darn beautiful! I decide that even if we miss class, it was worth it for the long walk alone.

waiting_for_the_train3pm As expected, the trains are delayed. Lots of people are waiting when we arrive, and we have to wait for ten minutes. Even more people are waiting now. When we get on, two people give up their seats for the girls and both girls immediately start to whine about not being able to see out the window from those seats. Given the twenty adults currently standing, I attempted to silence them with my eyes and mentally add train manners to the list of manners we are currently working on.

3:08 We get off the train. As we wait for the line of Able and Capable Adults to climb the stairs first, I briefly lecture them on the etiquette of train thanking and gratefulness. A guy waiting to go up the stairs says “y’all are the cutest thing I’ve seen all day.” “Yeah,” mumbles the grad student behind him. Thanks, man!

3:15 Three grand staircases later, we are on time for class. Confetti should fall from the ceiling to celebrate this accomplishment, but instead Lux gives us hugs and kisses and Joan and I just walk downstairs.

3:30 Downstairs in the dance hall lobby. Joan laments for the 6th time since Christmas that there are no free fortune cookies downstairs anymore. “Why no treats here today?” I remind her this was a Christmas thing.

3:45 Joan and I walk to the library nearby. I talk with my friend Melissa who is also waiting for her daughter’s class. Her sweet daughter Verity attempts to share a book with Joan. I look over to see Joan respond by sprawling on the floor like a dead spider, staring at the ceiling. Melissa and I continue to enjoy our conversation about kindergarten and upcoming 5k races. Fifteen minutes of adult conversation adds a lot to my day.

walking

4:30 Waiting for the crosswalk after the train home, the cars are roaring through the slush. The girls seem to often choose these moments to ask me elaborate questions, all while facing forward. It is impossible for me to hear them. I respond like myself in sixty years, yelling “What? What? You have to look at me for me to hear you!!”

Alma is over being in the carrier but it’s still going to take us 30 minutes to walk. Oh well.

girls
5:10 Home. I realize my feet are freezing from the walk. Joan is so, so proud that she isn’t cold. I had no idea she noticed that she is usually cold, but Lux and I are not. Today, she wins. I take the pan of sauce out of the fridge and put it on the stove. I add a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
quiet_time
5:30 The girls angle for what we call “quiet time together,” something that sometimes happens on days when Joan doesn’t nap, which means they both get ipads for 30 minutes (usually just Lux gets an ipad for 30 minutes while Joan naps). I settle onto the couch with dear Alma who has been so patient and is so hungry, and give them the thumbs up.
alma
6:15 Joe gets home, hooray! Bolognese is heated up. Pasta noodles are boiled. There is a box of white wine in the fridge. Dinner!
dinner

6:30 The girls eat almost nothing but talk animatedly to Joe about their day. It’s clear the after-dance snack of Milano cookies on the train has filled them up. Or maybe I just over filled their bowls? They both opt to eat a few carrots, Joe and I excuse them and enjoy our dinner. Alma sits in her little blue bouncy chair on the floor, smiling whenever someone looks at her. Or maybe she’s often smiling, but we just aren’t looking. The only time she cries is when she’s tired, hungry, or in a quiet room by herself.

7pm Joe motivates teeth brushing and pajamas to be followed by reading in their room. They are deep into the Chronicles of Narnia’s The Silver Chair, which is one of the ones I didn’t read as a kid. I disappear into our room with Alma to nurse her, swaddle her, and then I fall onto our bed listening to her fall asleep.

Note: I always enjoyed reading these types of posts back when I had just one baby and wondered what the future looked like. It feels strange now, almost misleading, to pick a day and write it up, because every day really feels so different. This was a day when I woke up feeling rested because I went to bed early, and the girls got along wonderfully, but the next day–Tuesday–they wanted to be in the same room with me the whole day, and I barely had a moment to myself!

a few reads

em_emberley crown of Ed Emberley creatures drawn by Lux. 

Start following a few homeschool people on facebook and you’ll be inundated with articles about homeschooling. Here are a few I’ve enjoyed recently…

Confessions of a Former Homeschooling Mom

I think of this one in the morning because she says…

We started every day by snuggling on the couch. There was no yelling at everyone to find their shoes. There was no scrambling to locate homework and lunch boxes. There was no rush. No fuss. No tears. In fact, at the risk of sounding like a homeschool hippie, we started our days in peace and love. What a bunch of weirdos.

Ha! Losing those moments, as it is the same at our house right now, is probably my #1 suspicion of beginning kindergarten next fall.

What changed this teacher’s mind about homeschooling

Having been the only person to be called on for 12 years, she did not use the group’s mass as camouflage, or a barrier, but accepted every question, suggestion, lesson and instruction as her own responsibility.

This one reminded me of myself and how I felt in the classroom, both in high school and college, having been homeschooled up until then.

Haute Home Schools (there seems to be pay block here if you try to read on your phone)

This was just a fun one to read, on the high end of things. You don’t have to build a custom home for it, of course, but Joe and I do talk about hiring tutors for specific subjects that we don’t feel capable of handling ourselves. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Learn Different, on Altschools

This isn’t about homeschooling, but it’s a great overview of where the tech-iest micro-schools are at these days by Rebecca Mead at the New Yorker. The benefits (retroactive omniscience for the teacher!) and pitfalls (tablet frustrations for kindergartners) are just as you might imagine them. Exciting nonetheless.

Reading any good articles lately?

homedrawn calendars

enlarge

Lux and I sit down and make these calendars fairly often. The lines are forever uneven and many times the last few days of the month have to be squeezed into one square due to lack of drafting. The symbols are rudimentary and would be meaningless if she hadn’t been sitting next to me as I drew, and explained them.

They allow for anticipation (the best part of any event!), and also preparation–like in the case of December having far more babysitters than any previous month.

They comprise what I refer to as my growing collection of mom outsider art. Outsider Art is a term I was introduced to by my art-major friends in college. They kindly said it described the charm of my half-life stick people and extremely rustic sketching abilities. As a term it’s not that popular to use any more (it can be seen as needlessly discriminatory–why not just call it art, though it was created in the backwoods of Mississippi?).

And it wouldn’t have applied to me anyway because though I have no skill, I could have been trained, or at least I lived within the potentials of being trained, social-economically, mentally, and geographically.

ANYWAY. These calendars are very helpful to us whenever something is too distant in the future to discuss usefully. Like when was Halloween approaching and I was going to die if I had to tell her one more time how far away it was. So I would simply remind her to consult her calendar and count the days herself. And my plan with “movie day,” was to eliminate all queries about movie watching throughout the week. Friday was decided and marked on the calendar. I made a four day one when we went away and my mom came. And a shorter one for a long weekend when I was out of town.

They content most, if not all, of the repetitive questions that come as a verbal assault on my daily kitchen calm. Lux just asked me to make a brand new one for January, a very apt thing to do in the new year.

 

 

review // Better Than School

better_than_school

This is a nice read from the ’80s that I stumbled on at our library. It was written when homeschooling was just becoming legal in New Hampshire through a complicated approval process. When it was published, my mom was in Michigan where homeschooling was not yet legal, and she was just beginning to homeschool my older brother. One did not call the local school board and alert them of your plan to keep your kids home, fill out the paperwork, and present your case–as Nancy Wallace, our narrator, did. In Michigan, and many other states at the time, one simply stayed off the grid entirely.

The story follows a very relatable progression: parent proud of their kid’s curiosity and abilities, kid begins school, kid becomes anxious/withdrawn, teacher is too overwhelmed to respond, parent is confused but angry, end school.

Nancy documents her concerns as she eases through the process of deciding to school at home, the mental devil’s advocacy that she plays, the dithering, back and forth-ing. It’s always nice to have a narrator like Nancy who likes research, because they dart around in front of you, the reader, looking things up and solving problems. She relays the small troubles and hurdles of shared life. There’s a bit where she shares from her son’s journal about what he thought he was learning; a refreshing reminder of the small parts of a day that stick out as big in kids’ minds. She shares methods that failed for them, or worked well, and then were dropped anyway, replaced by straightforward ones.One of my favorite parts was towards the end, when they decided to move from rural New Hampshire to a busy university town in New York. She had many expectations of how it might change things for her children–more friends, more activities, different interests. A few of her expectations came to pass, many of them did not. Her children turned out to have the same social interests, no matter if they were in a neighborhood of twelve children, or two.

I always read these things with an eye to spot the mom’s own survival secret. In Nancy’s case, every day she’s able to hand both children off to her freelancing husband at 3pm–at which point she spends a solid three hours to herself, prepping dinner at the end of that time. She luxuriates in this fact, though she doesn’t state outright that it is what is keeping her alive. She has two other influencing factors that help her enjoy homeschooling: she’s intrigued by everything her children study, that is, she wants to learn nearly everything alongside them. And she views her time with her children as a precious, ever-shrinking resource as they age.

Better Than School is a soft, memoir-styled read that anyone toying with educating outside the system would enjoy. It’s available used on Amazon for the price of one cent!