Wise beyond her years

Phoebe watched me mop the kitchen floor. "What are you doing, Mommy?" she asked.

"I'm cleaning the floor," I replied.

"Oh. Mecause it's dirty?" she asked.


"Oh." A pause. "Won't it just get dirty again anyway?"


Wish it were Nov 5 already

"America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can't just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose - our sense of higher purpose. And that's what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don't tell me we can't uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don't know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America's promise - the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

. . .

Instead, it is that American spirit - that American promise - that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It's a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours - a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln's Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could've heard many things. They could've heard words of anger and discord. They could've been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead - people of every creed and color, from every walk of life - is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise - that American promise - and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America."


The Pheebs

When Phoebe was a few days old, Mallory introduced her to someone by saying, "This is my baby sister. Her name is Phoebe, but we call her 'The Pheebs'." That wasn't strictly true, by the way, and it has nothing to do with anything I'm about to relate, it's just a random funny memory. Ha! Ha!

So, Phoebe at preschool. Here she is before we left. Note the jewels:

She was happy enough when we got there; she dove right into setting up a tea party for the baby dolls. However, this was her expression whenever her teacher or another child addressed her:

The only word she spoke the whole time was "no." Miss K, the assistant teacher, asked if Phoebe would like to draw a picture. "No." Then Miss K asked if she had brothers or sisters. "No," said Phoebe. Miss B, who overheard, said, "Phoebe, I think you do have a sister. She was in my class a few years ago. Her name is Mallory." Phoebe said, "No." So, um, good luck to Miss K and Miss B!

I think she'll be okay. She's a tough little thing and she can handle herself fine. I just hope that eventually she opens up and lets everyone see her true self...

...because underneath that shell, The Pheebs is a pretty cool little kid.



Phoebe's first day of preschool is tomorrow, sort of; she's just going in for an hour, with me, to meet her teacher and figure out the lay of the land. I'm supposed to write down my "goals" for Phoebe and give them to her teacher, and I'm having a hard time with that. Would it seem totally unambitious of me to say, "I just want Phoebe to be safe and happy for three hours, three days a week"? Maybe I can add that it would be nice if she could learn how to use scissors, or how to hold a pencil correctly. Maybe I'd like for her to become more confident around people she doesn't know very well. I don't know, she's so little, she just turned three. I don't care if she learns her letters this year, or how to count past fifteen. Then again, she's always going to be one of the youngest in her class, so I guess she needs to start catching up as soon as possible.

I feel like I haven't written much about Phoebe lately, although I certainly haven't lacked material. She's kind of taken on the role of Family Jester, presumably because the role of Family Drama Queen is being filled by her sister. At mealtimes, especially, she is full of jokes and funny faces. She rarely walks; instead, she runs, or skips, or hops, or hops sideways, or jumps. Her "pretending" monologues are a thing to behold and can go on for upwards of thirty minutes. She, very helpfully, chimes in whenever we are discussing things with Mallory ("Mallory, Mommy says that's not nice. That's not necessary, Mallory. Mallory, why are you so rude?"). Both girls have become huge tattletales, and Phoebe always follows up her tattle with the plea to "Tell Mallory don't do that anymore!" She says "mecause" for "because" and "esterday" for "yesterday" and "wallemon" for "watermelon," but I can't think of very many other words she doesn't say correctly. We've had a bit of a breakthrough lately in that she will occasionally wear something other than a fancy dress. She gets very, very sad when Mallory goes to play with friends without her. The other day a commercial for Visine came on; she watched it very intently and then turned to me and said, "Mommy, does that stuff really work? Mecause sometimes my eyes hurt." She is, in other words, growing up.

The biggest difference I can see between my two daughters is in the social realm. At this age, Mallory was asking me if she could go up and hug every child we saw at the store or at the park or anywhere else, and couldn't understand why I would say no. Mallory still has an intense need to find and make and spend lots of time with her friends, and my main worry is that she's so desperate for friendship that she lets other kids walk all over her. (For example, last night she mentioned that her best friend was her "boss." Then she said that all the other girls in her class would take turns being the boss, but that she herself would never be the boss because she was the youngest one. I said that she actually wasn't the youngest girl in the class, and that she should take a turn being the boss if she wanted to. She replied that she didn't want to be the boss, that she liked being told what to do. I'm not sure what being a boss entails, but it seems to me that Mallory's being taken advantage of somehow.) Phoebe, on the other hand, although she likes playing alongside Mallory and her friends, doesn't seem interested in other people or other children at all; she's very shy around people she doesn't know well and doesn't seem to crave the company of others that way Mallory does. Maybe that will change when she gets a bit older, but I think she's going to be my introvert. If she's like me (and if she's lucky), she'll make one or two good friends in school and be satisfied with that.

Anyway. Phoebe. Preschool. Tomorrow. Yikes.



First grade seems to be going well for Mallory so far; her only complaint has been that she was the only girl in her class who did not have a Hannah Montana water bottle and all the other girls made fun of her, so could she please have a Hannah Montana water bottle? I told her no, that the water bottle she had was perfectly fine and phooey on the other girls and she saw the light and agreed that from now on she will stand firm against both peer pressure and consumerism and...oh, you know that I bought her the water bottle, right? Which leaks, of course.

I've been getting up at 6:00 every morning to walk/run. (I'm doing the Couch to 5K running program, in which you do gradually increasing intervals of walking and running; the idea is that by the end of 9 weeks, you'll be able to run a 5K. I think it'll take me much longer than 9 weeks to be able to run that far but we'll see.) It's completely unlike me but I have to say, I'm enjoying it. It's nice to be able to exercise without first convincing my children that they can't come with me, or leaving them at home crying for me. It's nice to have 30 minutes of "me" time before the day gets started. It's nice to accomplish something before the sun has even come up completely. I don't know exactly what I'm going to do as the days get shorter and it's still pitch black at 6 a.m. Get one of those dorky reflective vests, I guess.

Happy anniversary to Aimee and Seth!

There was something else I was going to tell you. Something, something, something...I forgot. If it comes to me I'll do an update. I'm sure you're all waiting with baited breath.


First Day of First Grade

Snippets of conversation as we embarked on our new school year:

Me: Phoebe, it's time to get up now.

Phoebe (as she opens her eyes): Yes, but I need to wear my Tinkerbell underwear and my polka dot skirt today.


Mallory: Are we going to have a party with presents for me after school today, to celebrate being in thirst grade?

Me: No.

Mallory: Well, Mommy, do you know who made school? God. And do you know who made me? God. So don't you think God would want me to have presents?

Me: No.


Me: Phoebe, do you want butter on your waffle?

Phoebe: What, Mommy?

Me: Do you want butter on your waffle?

Phoebe: Yes, but you're not Mommy, actually, you're my Grannie.

Me: Okay. Do you want butter on your waffle?

Phoebe: Yes, but I'm not Phoebe, I'm Baby Violet.

Me: Baby Violet, do you want butter on your waffle?

Baby Violet: No.


Mallory: Oh geez, I just got sneeze on my uniform.

Baby Violet: Bless you!


Mallory: Phoebe, don't you wish you could come to school with me?

Me: Mallory, hush!

Phoebe: Yes, but I'm Baby Violet.

Mallory: Baby Violet, don't you wish you could come to school with me?

Me: Mallory!

BV: Yes, I want to go too!

Mallory: Sorry, you can't.

BV: Waah!

Me: Just get in the car already.


Mallory: Are we late?

Me: No, we're right on time.

Mallory: Won't my teacher be proud of me for not being late!

Me: Only if we continue the trend.


And...pictures! Here is Mallory at her locker. She has to share her locker with another child. I hope she has a better experience than I did. Phoebe was not supposed to be in this shot, by the way. Figures the one time I get her to smile for me is in a picture that is not about her.

And, just for comparison, here she is on her first day of Kindergarten:

and here she is today:

That's the exact same uniform...you think she's grown any? Look at her shoulder in relation to the doorknob. Wow. I don't know why she seems to be unable to stand up straight for a photograph. I acknowledge, by the way, the rather unkempt appearance of her hair. She is determined to grow her hair out to be just like Hannah Montana's. In the interim, she refuses to use any kind of containment device (headband, barrette). We're going to have to have a serious hair discussion soon.

Oh, and yes, Mallory has persisted in saying "first" with a th- sound -- thirst grade. I suppose my goal for this year of school is for her to learn how to say it correctly.


Sleepy Tuesday

Too drowsy to post anything worthwhile, although I've been a bit neglectful of the old blog as of late. Do tune in tomorrow for the First Day of School! post (although, it may not say much more than: First Day of School!).

I do want to point out, in case no one has noticed, the bookshelf to your right...it's where I'm displaying my most-recently-read books. I've read a lot of good ones, lately too -- especially Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout, In the Woods by Tana French, and The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff. Excellent reads! So, uh, go read one of those books instead of my blog!


In hopes that it wasn't a prophetic statement

The other day, the girls and I were exiting the library with the normal amount of fuss: Me, heavy leaden with books, trying to keep the doors from scraping the children's sandal-clad toes, exhorting them to wait for me and not run out in the street, etc. A tween-aged boy was standing by the curb, also weighed down with many books. He wore glasses and plaid shorts. As we stumbled by, he turned to me, nodded at the girls, and said, "They're very promiscuous, aren't they?" enunciating the word very carefully, making it clear that it was a word he had just learned.

I laughed in the polite way that you do when a stranger says something weird to you, but it wasn't until we were halfway across the parking lot that I realized exactly how weird it was. Promiscuous? I do not think that word means what he thought it does, obviously, but it made me wonder exactly what meaning he was trying to convey, what other multisyllabic recently-learned word he should have said instead in reference to my children. Ebullient? Perspicacious? Obstreperous? All of these would have been a better fit.

As I was loading the insert-your-own-latinate-adjective girls into the car, I saw the boy's mother come out of the the library. They walked to the car together. I toyed for a moment with the idea of shouting, "Hey! Your son called my daughters promiscuous! It was both rude and inaccurate!" but I felt that nothing would be gained from that. I just hope this kid learns the real meaning of the word before he says it to someone else, someone less-kind-hearted than myself.


You go, girl

The girl who was mean to Mallory a few weeks ago knocked on the door last night. Mallory seemed happy enough to see her, so I let her in. They went upstairs to play, and Chris overheard this conversation:

Mallory: So, did you ever apologize to me?

Girl: What?

Mallory: Did you ever apologize to me, for that time you and Other Girl were really mean to me?

Girl: Oh, yeah, I forgot about that.

Mallory: Well, did you ever apologize?

Girl: Um, no, I guess I didn't.

Mallory: Well, I think you should.

Girl: Oh. I'm sorry.

Mallory: Okay, thanks.

She makes me proud.


Stupidity in the presence of greatness

The university at which I studied abroad hosted, during my time there, a lecture series featuring some of the finest contemporary novelists of the day – Julian Barnes, A.S. Byatt, William Golding, Joyce Carol Oates, Iris Murdoch. I learned more from those six or eight lectures than I did from either of the professors I had that semester. What did I learn? Well, I’ve forgotten, but it was awesome to be in the presence of these writers nonetheless.

Each writer stayed to sign books following their lectures. The only eligible book in my possession was The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch – I would’ve loved to have Julian Barnes sign a copy of Talking It Over, or Byatt a copy of Possession, as those were then and remain now two of my very favorite books, but alas, I did not own copies then and books were really expensive in England. But I did have the Murdoch book, so I stood in line for ages in the university bookstore, and it was only when I reached the table and handed the book to her that I realized that I was going to have to speak to Iris Murdoch.

I found myself unequal to the task. She smiled at me and asked who to make the book for. “Um. Krista,” I said. “Ah, Krista. Sanskrit?” she asked. “Um, I, I think my parents just liked it?” I said, in the form of a question, and I forgive myself this part because that was a weird thing for her to say. Krista is a German name. And I don’t look remotely Sanskrit. (If it's even possible to look Sanskrit. I confess I don't know.)

She signed, and handed the book back to me. I screwed up my courage. “This was really good I hope to write one of my own someday,” I mumbled, and stumbled away, my face afire. Nothing like being inarticulate in front of someone who’s won the Booker Prize, after all.

Why am I reliving this obviously painful memory? Well, because tonight I’m going to a reading by another favorite author of mine, and I’m going to buy her brand new book (in hardcover! Even in these trying economic times), and I may get it signed. (It depends on the crowd and the length of the line – I feel bad staying gone too long tonight since I didn’t see my kids very much yesterday). So I need to think of something clever to say. Actually it doesn’t even have to be clever, it just has to be non-humiliating. The pressure!

(The author, by the way, is Haven Kimmel, and you should read her books right away. Her memoirs, A Girl Named Zippy and She Got Up Off the Couch, are amazing and hilarious, and her first novel, The Solace of Leaving Early, is simply wonderful – as soon as I finished it the first time, I turned right back to the first page and read it all over again.)

Wish me luck!


Little sisters

Mallory was invited for a sleepover tonight; this morning, as she was packing her suitcase, Phoebe came in and said, "Me too!" When Chris found her suitcase, and gently told her that she wasn't invited to the sleepover, she cried for an hour.

I think I'll always have a special sort of sympathy for Phoebe, my second child, because I was the second child too*. (And it's odd, because although I have younger siblings as well, I always think of myself as a little sister, or as the younger older sister, if that makes sense. I think that's because Jana, my big sister, was so good at being the oldest, responsible and, uh, authoritarian, and I am, well, fundamentally irresponsible. We all bowed to her! In a good way. I could never live up to that.) I often feel sorry for Phoebe, left behind while Mallory goes to school all day, because I well remember the long, lonely boring days I spent waiting for Jana to come home from school (not counting the days I spent playing in her room and eating her secret stash of candy. Which was a really bad idea, by the way).

But, because I do have a point in here somewhere, I was especially sympathetic about Phoebe's sleepover sorrow, because I also remember the first time Jana went off on a sleepover. I was devastated, I was so upset. My mom promised me that, as a consolation, we'd do something special together. All day long I waited, and somehow I managed to convince myself that what we were going to do was to build a dollhouse together. As it turned out, we made banana pudding. Which may not have been quite as exciting as a dollhouse, but let me tell you this -- every time I see a box of vanilla wafers, I remember that banana pudding, and how my mom made me feel better about being the little sister.**

*This reminds me that my grandmother always told me that she always felt a special bond with me because I was the middle child. But my grandmother was the oldest child in her family.

**This is one of those stories that sounded good in my head but kind of fell apart in the typing. I could spend the time to make it better but I think I'll go to bed. Or do something else because there are no children in my house tonight! Because Phoebe got a sleepover after all, at Chris's parent's house. But I thought adding that would spoil the whole banana pudding thing, because as it turned out, it wasn't ME who helped her feel better about missing the sleepover, it was her grandparents. If I was a better writer I'd have made all this much more seamless. I wonder if there are any vanilla wafers in the house right now.***

***There are! But they're very stale. Sigh.


WWJD, redux

Today was Mallory's first day at Art Camp, a day camp sponsored by our town's parks and rec department. She's been looking forward to Art Camp all summer. When Chris picked her up, she said she had fun; they learned about the color wheel, she made a friend named Teresa; the teacher was nice. But tonight at bedtime, Mallory said she didn't want to go back tomorrow. It was vacation bible school all over again: the other kids were mean, they scribbled on her papers, she didn't have any fun, she wouldn't go back.

I don't know what to do. You may be thinking: Just make her go! But I can't make Mallory do anything; she has a will of iron, a stubborn streak a mile wide. I can no more convince her of something she doesn't want to be convinced of (that she should go back, that she will learn a lot and have fun) than I can make the sun stand still. (It is my honest belief that she was so afraid that airplanes would make her ears hurt that she brought a double ear infection on herself this Christmas. Mind over matter in a cursed kind of way.)

It feels wrong to make her quit. It also feels wrong to make her go. I remember how nervous I was at the camps I went to when I was younger, how terrified I was that no one would like me, how hard it was for me to fit in. If that's the source of her reluctance, then I have no desire to force the issue. She's only six; I forget how young six is, sometimes. There seems no reason to make her miserable for a week just to prove a point about stick-to-it-iveness.

And yet...well, I'm just worried about her. She seems full of anxiety, this summer. She cries every day when I go to work. We have to go through this elaborate goodbye ritual every day -- I have to kiss her hand, and then hug a certain stuffed animal, and then write my phone number and "I love you Mallory xoxoxo Mommy" on a post-it note, and then tell her how many hours it will be until I come home -- every day. One morning last week I had to take Phoebe to the dentist, and Mallory and I had this conversation at least ten times before I left: Mommy, can I come with you? No, you can't. Why not? Because of reason A and reason B. But are you bringing Phoebe back here when she's done? Yes. And will I see you then? Yes. And will you give me a hug and a kiss goodbye? Yes. Over and over again, the same questions and the same answers and the same need for reassurances. And then she stood on the garage steps and sobbed as I drove away.

Is this normal? I've never had a six-year-old, I don't know. I guess maybe it's just her normal -- but it seems that it's very hard to be Mallory, lately, and it's certainly hard to be her mother. I don't know how to help her. I don't know how much I need to help her, or how much she's going to have to figure out on her own. Here's my ridiculously cliched conclusion: Parenting is hard.