Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Great Law of Change

Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the cool freshness of the air that brings to mind a satisfying bite into a crisp apple. I love its latent symbolism: the earth calls out for change in its loudest voice, through reddening leaves, cooling temperatures, and shortening days.

This year in our house, fall is anticipated with equal parts excitement and doom. Eleanor will start kindergarten in a few short weeks. She recently disclosed that she feels excited and nervous "all at the same time." Earlier in the summer, walking hand-in-hand on an errand, Eleanor told me, "If the school bus leaves without me, Mama, you can just look for me at the hydrant that's closest to the school." I explained that school buses don't leave until all of the students are aboard, that her teacher will make sure she gets on the right bus. She listened intently, then replied, "Yeah, but just in case, just remember, Mama, I'll be waiting for you at the hydrant."

That girl. She knows how to plan.

Then there's the bitter little taste of kindergarten social drama that I witnessed at the park yesterday. Eleanor made a new friend on Monday named Ria. Eleanor attended Children's Garden camp during the afternoon, along with Ria and several other heretofore undiscovered friends. After camp Eleanor spotted Ria at the park, and they played nicely together for an hour and a half.

Tuesday was a different story. After Children's Garden, Ria went to the park again. But this time she'd already arranged to meet her friend Natalie there for a playdate. Eleanor approached the two girls, ready to take part in whatever fun they had planned. She came to me later, choking back tears, saying, "they said I can't play with them." Determined, Eleanor approached them again. This time they filled up buckets with water and chased Eleanor away.

Eleanor asked me for help, saying she really wanted to play with Ria and Natalie. "Hmm. I wonder what ideas you have for solving this problem," I said. "What choices do you think you have?"

"I already tried to talk to them but every time I try to talk they try to dump water on me," Eleanor said. "That's true," I said, "but what else could you do?" I asked. Knowing I was fishing for the answer, "Go play with someone else," Eleanor cut to the chase: "But Mama, I really want to play with them." "Hmm," I said. Soon Ria and Natalie came close to me, saying "there's Eleanor" in their best "SEIZE HER" voices.

I decided it was time to intervene.

"Hi girls. Eleanor's been telling me that she'd really like to play with you," I said to them, "but I think maybe you've been too busy with your water to hear her words." Incensed, Natalie hissed at me, "Well, this is a club! And to be part of this club, she has to let us put water on her head!"

Really? Has it come to this already?, I thought, You're only five.

I turned to Eleanor. "I'm not sure I'd want to be part of a club like that," I said. Eleanor's brain came to the rescue. She addressed the girls, her hands on her hips and jutting-out jaw proclaiming her ferocity, "If that's the rule of your club, how come you aren't pouring water on eachother's heads?"

Aha! Take that!

As if someone had snapped a finger, the mean-girl spell was broken, and Natalie invited Eleanor to play. They sprinkled water on each other's heads to signify the new-found grace of their friendship. Later Natalie's mom approached me sheepishly. "Hi, are you Eleanor's mom? Natalie says she won't leave the park until she gets Eleanor's phone number so she can play with her again." Um, okay, so Natalie's in charge of you as well, I thought, I wonder if you've been inducted by water baptism, too.

Is this the oily social jungle gym that Eleanor will have to climb at kindergarten? What happened to the Peacefulness Corner at preschool, where kids went to solve their disputes, passing the talking stick back and forth, the beads of mutual respect collecting in the air?

Then there's this change: My Sylvia is turning 4. Oh four, how I love thee! Oh three, how you stink! In our prior experience, four brings about a huge change, turning an overgrown, whining toddler, into an independent, articulate preschooler.

Already I'm seeing the power of four in Sylvia.

The power of her concentration is growing like a Chia Pet on Miracle Grow. This week at the park we had the good fortune to happen upon a broken water main, which was spewing water like Old Faithful, flooding the grass of the park. (Oh, the thrill!) When the Parks Department Super Heroes arrived, wielding long metal tools and wearing official uniforms, the children of the park gathered on a nearby fence-ledge to watch the action.

Sylvia sat on that ledge for almost an hour. Just watching. Taking mental notes in case she's ever in charge of water-main repair. This from a girl who daily sinks her incisors into the word squirrely just to taste its flavor. I'll repeat: oh four, how I love thee!

Meanwhile, Eli is morphing from baby to toddler, as surely as the leaves turn color. He declares "OUTSIGH" (meaning outside, his most favorite place) as the first word of the morning, and as his last-word bedtime benediction. Despite the fact that he's still nursing (just twice a day-- at wake-up and tuck-in), we abandoned him, along with the girls, to the loving attention of my parents, while we ventured to Chicago to see some beloved friends. Gone four days, Eli rewarded our return with smiles and hugs, saying nonchalantly with his eyes, "Oh hi Mama, you're back!" That night, he settled in for nursing as if I'd never been gone at all.

I'm puzzled whether the addition of new tricks to his nursing repertoire signals impending weaning, or if it's part of his master baby-plan to keep it entertaining in order to do it forever. (Bwah ha ha haaaa! This boob is mine! All mine!!!) He flings the dangle on my necklace over my neck, momentarily pops off my breast, and asks--his palms facing up, the corners of his mouth upturned in the smile of an inside joke-- "where go?" Tonight he snuggled in with a toothbrush ferreted in one hand and a bubble wand in the other. He touched his wand to my mouth, cheeks, chin, and forehead, like a miniature professor mapping out Modern China with a laser pointer. He took breaks: gnawing on his toothbrush, then his bubble wand, then returning to me for more milk. All this while tucked safely in my lap, in the shrinking arms of my rocking chair, which can no longer contain the astonishing length of his legs.

Speaking of me lugging around an extra 30 pounds in case Eli needs more milk from me, I'm reconciling with my body after a substantial period of alienation. Inspired by Seattle Mamacita and Tricia, who recently completed a triathlon, and by Little Monkies, whose hot-stuff recently visited Seattle after shedding numerous pounds, I've made a deal with my body: I will exercise and feed it well, and it will shrink. I said, SHRINK! That's right, we have an agreement. A contract, some might say. (You shut up, growling stomach! I banish thee!)

Monday night, I reintroduced myself to the treadmill ("Hellooo, treadmill," I said, taking on the tone of Seinfeld greeting Newman). I'm sure it won't surprise you to hear that I had to dust off the cobwebs, quite literally.

And what should a smart Mama do, in order to encourage herself to exercise? Well, I'm glad you asked. She must build in an incentive. To wit: instead of getting up early to run, or running after the kids are in bed, she must run sometime during the evening while the hubby is home, thus eaking out a few precious minutes of alone time whilst simultaneously improving her health. And if she has a little TV installed in the garage in order to get the evening's news while she runs, then she should consider it a three-for-one deal.

Ah, but these plans are always so much better in theory. The First Evening of the Plan, Eleanor hound-dogged me around the house as I got ready, watching wide-eyed as my muffins overflowed into the tin of my undersized sportsbra. She acted as if I were leaving for a months' vacation rather than a 30 minute jaunt to the garage.

She followed me to the garage door, begging to watch me run. (I mean, I'm sure it is a sight to behold, what with the 30 extra pounds flapping around like jello in an earthquake.) Banished, she settled herself into the branches of the tree outside the garage window, pressing her face up against the glass, periodically attempting muffled conversation. "ARE YOU STILL RUNNING, MAMA?" was all I could make out.

Tonight she asked me what she should do if she needed to tell me something while I was running. "Well, looks like you'll need to save it until I'm done," I told her. "But I won't be able to remember that long," she said, and I thought, right, because I'm running oh, sooo long on Day Two of the Plan. "Maybe you could write it down so you don't forget," I offered helpfully. "But I can't write very fast, and by the time I try to write it, I'll forget it," she said mournfully. "Hmm, maybe you should record it some other way," I suggested.

And so it was that today while I ran on the treadmill in the garage, receiving the days' news like a weary traveler slurping hot soup, Eleanor sat on the tree-branch outside the window, speaking into a miniature tape-recorder. Just so I wouldn't miss anything. (Reminding me of the employee's retort in the movie Office Space when he's accused of missing too much work: "Well I wouldn't say I've been missing it.")

This doesn't feel very much like alone time. It's more like Alone-Except-For-That-Pesky-Stalker-Time.

And so it is. While some things change this fall, it looks like a lot will stay the same.

We must all obey the great law of change. It is the most powerful law of nature. --Edmud Burke

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Non-Posty Post*

Because a couple of you have commented things like, "Hey! You still alive over there in Seattle?," I am writing this here non-posty post just to answer that question.

I am alive. And well.


I have had many, many houseguests over the past 2 months. And I have had little time for writing blogs, and have fallen woefully behind on reading yours as well.

So, to keep you from forgetting about me (e.g., you check my site faithfully for a few weeks, maybe even for a month, but then you get weary of seeing the same old post, stale and mildewing like bread gone bad, and you summarily delete me from Favorites, and move on with your other blog lovers who treat you better), I will share this secret: a blogger's best friend is Google Reader.

Oh The Joys knows it. She mentioned it once a while ago when I was new to the blog scene and it soared with a whooosh, right passed my brain, failing to hit target.

But, in perfect timing, just as I was getting overwhelmed with all of the blog bookmarks I'd created-- the constant checking and rechecking for new posts from all of you-- Little Monkies told me about Google Reader. You "I attended Blogher" uber-cool types will no doubt think this old news. But for the one starfish that I throw back into the sea...

Go to http://www.google.com/reader and type in your google or G-mail password. Then you can start adding blogs by pushing the "browse" button. If you're savvy enough to even have a blog, it will take you 30 seconds to figure this out. Once you've put in your favorite blog buddies' addresses, save Google Reader to your desktop as a shortcut. This way, each time you open it, it will sent a million little internet people out to each site and check it for new content. If something new shows up, it will be marked unread just like email. If not (LIKE MINE HAS BEEN), it will just wait patiently for the guests to leave so that it can mark something-- ANYTHING (even a non-posty post about Google Reader) for your fans.

Now, if anyone out there can tell me how to keep this dorky blogspot editor from adding tons of paragraph breaks each time I add photos to a post, I'd be most grateful.

(*Complete with updated kids-with-sunglasses photos for your viewing pleasure. I know, I've gone all out!)