Thursday, September 29, 2011

morning commute

Thank you, September, for bringing cooler morning temperatures. Finally, we can emerge from our air conditioned hibernation and enjoy a little sunshine and fresh air!

I often post funny quotes from B on The Daily B's facebook page (scroll down & click "like" on the right and you can go check them out). What I haven't mentioned is that most of those quotable moments happen on our daily ride to her preschool each morning. The journey is just a few blocks. 10 minutes, tops. But, man, do we pack a lifetime of memories into that commute. It's a precious, precious gift to walk beside her as she pedals those little wheels and chatters away.

Today: Expansive commentary on the phenomenon of "bed head" and who of our friends has the craziest looking hair. The winner? Oliver, my dear friend Jes' 2-year-old son. "Oliver's hair is crazy, Mom, but I still want to share my toys with him."

I reminded her that her brother's hair is pretty crazy too, as is hers at times. "Yeah," she said. "No matter how your hair looks, you should always be happy with yourself."

So true.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

family room before & after

Another business trip for Kris. Another mini makeover for the house. You'd think I'd take it easy while he's gone...solo parenting is challenge enough! But instead, when the hubs is away I keep myself as busy as possible. I think I miss him less that way? Time flies when you're over-scheduled? Or, he can't object to my paint color choices when he's out of town. ;)

We've lived with this purple accent wall behind our fireplace since we moved in. I love eggplant. Just not on my wall. It looks black at times and gives our downstairs space a cavernous feel. The wall is the focal point of the room and it's opposite the kids' play area, which is so much more cheerful. Eggplant just doesn't fit.

I put off painting over it because I couldn't decide what color I wanted. Ideally, I'd like to get rid of the accent wall and paint the whole downstairs one color. I'd also like to change the fireplace facade. But that's not in our budget right now (we want to hire professionals due to the sloped/vaulted ceilings and drywall).

Also, that couch on the left is in sad, sad shape. The quilt is hiding years of wear, dirt, and liquid stains from the kids' leaky sippy cups. I recently had the couch steam cleaned, and the cleaners shook their heads in defeat. The upholstery can't be rescued. 

But hope is not lost. Here is what I was able to accomplish on a tight budget:
(click "read more" to see the After photos)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

waiting for friends

I love this series of photos. This summer we were meeting up with dear friends we hadn't seen in months. B really, really wanted to see Tenny, her adventurous, imaginative buddy. I watched B's face as she saw him coming up the sidewalk. Her expression is so lovely. Pure joy.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

daughters and body image

This week, during preschool drop-off, one of the other moms was dressed in workout attire. B noticed and asked, "are you going to the gym?" The gym is part of my weekly routine, so B picked up on the similarity in this woman's clothes and my gym clothes.

The mom let out a big sigh and replied solemnly, "yeah, I have to go to the gym."

B asked, "Why you have to go to the gym?"

The mom said, "I have to work out so that I can eat junk food and still wear a size 8."

Anyone else shocked by that statement? I was too surprised to say anything in the moment. Too slow to cover B's ears. I expect to have to shield my daughter, to help her process negative messages regarding body image. I just wasn't expecting it at age 3.

This mom is a nice woman, good intentioned, but I've witnessed her several times making self-deprecating comments in front of her daughter and mine. I've heard her say jokingly, "I hate her" about women she perceives are younger, thinner and more beautiful than she is. She's asked me blatantly about my dress size. Not wanting to have that conversation openly on the playground, I told her "it depends on the brand of clothing."

Later on this week, when I was dressing to go running, I asked B, "do you know why Mommy goes to the gym?"

I explained that I like to exercise because exercise makes us healthy and strong. "Moving our bodies feels good," I told her. "I enjoy running and listening to music, just like you enjoy dancing and riding your bike." Also, at the gym, we see lots of friends. We go swimming. It's fun!

She seemed to understand what I was saying, but I wondered, am I saying the right things? Am I saying too little? Too much?

I was just assigned a magazine feature about body image, and as I delve into the research and interviews, I'm feeling pretty discouraged. Eating disorders are not only on the rise, they're appearing at younger ages. Once source, a psychiatrist and author on the topic, said she counseled a (healthy, thin) 7-year-old girl who obsessed about the "points" value of everything she ate. Guess whose mom was on Weight Watchers?

That's not a slam against Weight Watchers. And it's not to say daughters whose mothers do Weight Watchers (or any other diet plan) are doomed. The psychiatrist just cautioned moms: your daughter is tracking you like a hawk. What is she seeing? How do you interact with food in front of her? How do you treat your body? Do you celebrate its strengths or are you critical? Dads, what do you say about Mom's body in front of the kids?

I don't weigh myself or talk about my size. I don't diet (partly because I grew up with a mom who dieted constantly, and I saw how unhealthy it can be). I do avoid sugar and limit the sugar my kids consume, because I've noticed a strong mood connection (too much sugar has a depressing effect on me, and it makes the kids grouchy). I hope the general message I'm sending to my kids is that exercise and good foods make us feel good, they give us energy and make us strong. Treats are just that: treats. We enjoy them sometimes. Not every day.

I just wonder if the positive messages we present at home (overtly or subliminally) are enough to counter the barrage of information the kids will receive outside our home--from media, their peers...and, yes, other parents. The experts I'm talking to seem to agree: We can't avoid bad messages about body image. We can't realistically put our daughters in a bubble so that they never glimpse a magazine, see an ad featuring a too-thin celebrity, or handle another Barbie doll ever again. It comes down to setting examples at home and learning to reframe our thinking when it comes to our bodies. Filter the messages you receive. Teach your daughter how to filter them. Sons too. They're not immune. (Note: The article I'm writing is geared toward men and women. When it's published, I'll link to it here.) UPDATE: HERE

I haven't decided if I'll say anything to this other mom at preschool. I don't know her well, but I see her several times a week, and I genuinely wish she could be happier with herself. There are days she oozes self-contempt. I'm caught between feeling deep compassion for her and wanting to avoid her entirely. I don't know if there's anything I could say to change her attitude. But I could ask her not to discuss body image/body size in front of my kids. Does that make me a self-righteous jerk? Or a protective mom?

Have any of you encountered body image issues with your young daughters? With other parents? How do you handle it?

UPDATE: See part 2 of this discussion here. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

DIY layered skirts

I hated dressing up as a kid. Jeans have been my wardrobe staple for as long as I can remember. B, on the other hand, has probably only worn jeans a handful of times in her life. She is actually the one who's helped me realize that you can effortlessly wear skirts and casual dresses around town, on the playground, or kickin' around the house. Skirts don't have to be fussy. You can get them dirty. Run in them. Bike in them. Bonus: They're oh-so-breezy in hot weather. 

Before school started in August, B asked me to sew some skirts for her. I'd never tried it, but found a couple of tutorials for layered skirts that looked pretty simple. The first skirt is made from fabric of my choosing. The second skirt is fabric that B chose.

The skirts are a little longer than I intended, but I figure they'll fit her all year :)

I really love that B was so involved in the project, picking out fabrics and helping me cut the pieces. She told everyone at school that she made the skirts herself :) Maybe one day soon, she will.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR OWN: If you're familiar with sewing, the basic idea is this: Cut strips of fabric that are twice as long as your daughter's waist. If you want it more frilly, cut longer strips. Less frilly, shorter strips. But a safe minimum is 1 1/2 times the length of her waist.

Sew a basting stitch at the top of each fabric strip (tier of the skirt). Pull the basting stitch to gather the fabric, then sew the tiers together (lay the right sides together, and sew a zigzag stitch along the inside of the basting stitch to maintain the gathers). Once the tiers are all assembled, fold the skirt in half, right sides together and sew up the seam. Then finish the hem. The waistband is just 3/4 inch elastic. You can see how I sew a waistband HERE. 

If you're like WAH? Basting stitch? HUH? Never fear. You can follow some easy tutorials HERE and HERE. 

Each skirt took me about 45 minutes to make. I'm thinking I might need to sew one for myself...

Sunday, September 11, 2011

mug shot

Friday, September 9, 2011

the shirt

Parents: Do you ever develop a sentimental attachment to clothing your kids have worn?

I love owls, and when B was about a year old, I saw this adorable owl print shirt at Target on sale for $3. I snatched it up and dressed her in it often. It wasn't fancy. Not handmade. It was just cute and simple. It reflected the cuteness of my 1-year-old and the simple pleasures she enjoyed.

When we moved and I went through all our old baby clothing, I donated that shirt and immediately regretted it. I actually missed the shirt....or at least I missed the time that shirt represented, that transition from babyhood to toddlerhood.

So, imagine my delight when I was at a garage sale with a friend and saw that same shirt sitting on top of a clothing pile. I picked it up and looked at the tag. Size 4T. Perfect! I paid 25 cents and brought it home for B. She took one look at it and said, "Mommy I love that shirt! It's so beautiful."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

trucks, Mama! trucks!

4 trucks + 1 digging crew + 5-ft-deep trench = big entertainment for toddlers.

And I will not ever take for granted again the beauty and privilege of flushing a toilet or doing laundry or washing my hands without incident. Nor will I forget the pain of flushing our entire savings account. Happy anniversary, honey. I got you a new sewer.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

silver linings

This Labor Day weekend, we tried again to escape the heat (and also the memories of last Labor Day weekend.) I'd say we were moderately successful in that:

1) We did escape the heat by camping up on the Mogollan Rim.
2) We escaped the bad memories of last Labor Day by replacing them with a few new, bizarre memories. Namely, the place we chose to camp--an idyllic, remote area in a national forest--somehow drew crowds of drunk hooligans. Our scenic campground was violated by the sounds of gunshots (no joke), country music, chainsaws and various all-terrain vehicles tearing up the forest. Oh, and there was an ambulance, sirens blaring. We assume they had to evacuate someone who either fell off an ATV or accidentally shot themselves.

That said, the kids had a blast, and we savored the cool weather. But after two sleepless nights, we left early on Sunday to escape the other campers and enjoy the rest of the holiday weekend by our swimming pool.

Then, Sunday evening, as I was doing laundry, I heard a strange gurgling noise coming from our downstairs toilet. When I went to investigate, I saw dirty water seeping from the base of the toilet and flooding the tile floor. I stopped the washing machine and yelled to Kris, who plunged the toilet to no avail. He ran the sink and flushed an upstairs toilet to see if the problem was just the toilet, or the washing machine or the main sewer line.

It was the main sewer line. Stinky water flooded half our downstairs. We used every towel in our linen closet to sop it up, and then the shop vac, and then called an emergency plumber (our usual plumber not available on a holiday weekend, of course). Within an hour, a plumbing truck arrived and two guys snaked the line about 100 feet out beneath our driveway, but then they realized the problem was bigger than their equipment could handle, so they called in reinforcements. That's how we found ourselves Sunday night at 8:30 (did I mention it was our wedding anniversary?), two plumbing trucks parked in front of our house, the news wasn't good. Tree roots (yes, in the desert, tree roots from the ONE mature tree in our yard) penetrated our sewer line. They cleared it temporarily, and today they'll come back with a camera to assess the damage. 

This comes on the heels of our air conditioner breaking (on a 115-degree day), my computer crashing and our Subaru threatening to die for good.

Let's just say we're hoping for the best...whatever that means. In the meantime, I went through my photos of our camping trip and found several that make me smile. I look at how much fun the kids had playing together outside, how much fun I had watching them play, and realize it wasn't a failed adventure after all.

Also, unlike last year when I felt really alone, this year we have so many friends and neighbors offering support. Last night while Kris cleaned up the water and dealt with the plumbers, the kids and I crashed our friends' dinner party...except, they made it seem like we'd been invited all along and they sent a plate of food home for Kris too. I'm so very very thankful for friends like that.

And, dear readers, I'm thankful for you too. I was overwhelmed by the Facebook response to my last post and thankful for everyone who clicked that "like" button to share it with friends. So often, when you blog, you send your words and photos into cyberspace and you never know who reads them and who was touched by your stories. I'm always grateful when you share these posts and comment. Thank you!

Friday, September 2, 2011

light and love

The dawn is just edging its way past our white curtains, and already I hear them. Thunder roaring down the hall. They tumble into our bed and vie for the best spot. If I’m lucky, they won’t fight for me. One will nuzzle beneath my chin and the other drape across Kris’ broad chest. And together we’ll snooze another 20 minutes.

But today, I can tell, they’re too awake, giggling and unable to settle.

“Smell my feet, Mom,” she says, and I crack one eye open to see pea-size toes staring me down. And yes, they do smell. I tell her so. She responds with big, heaving belly laughs.

When did this happen? Babies don’t act like this. Kids do. It’s sad that those toes are less kissable than they once were.

Another foot whacks me in the ear. “Smell. Feet, Mama. Smell.” His are not much sweeter. But his breath is. I pull him close and accept a sloppy kiss on the lips.

Kris grumbles. It’s too early. He acts genuinely surprised by their presence every morning. Like this is supposed to be the day they finally sleep past 6:30. Like, remember that time? When we were on vacation and they slept until 9? We had coffee and read the newspaper.

If he was more awake, if I was more awake, I could remind him that they slept late because we were in a different time zone. I could remind him that someday he’ll miss this.

He knows. Things are changing. We all can sense it.

B says in one breath, “I don’t ever want to get bigger,” and in another she pines for the privileges big kids have. She knows she is funny. She's discovered the art of the joke and the allure of mischief.

Last week at lunch, she tried “dammit” on for size. “Dammit, Mom, I said I want milk!” And immediately she repented. She knew it was not the right thing to say, but a boy at school said it, and she wanted to say it, to see what I’d do.

It made me sad to hear that word from my baby’s lips, and I told her so. There are words that just make people feel bad….and truth be told, “damn” isn’t always one of them. But it was the realization that this is where we are. She is in the world, hearing things she’s not used to hearing, exposed to things she’s not familiar with.

Later that same day I heard her in the playroom. “Dammit, where’s my pony?” And this time I laughed, because, well, she had “dammit” down pat. She used it in context, and that makes the writer in me proud.

We talked about it. No anger. Just conversation about words and how words can make people feel, including the person who speaks them. It was a surprisingly intellectual conversation for an almost-4-year-old. And she hasn’t said “dammit” since. 

rock family, pine cone family and seed family. see all the baby rocks?

There’s a mental spiral I start to go down when I think the kids are growing up too fast. I begin to imagine them two years from now, then five, then ten, and I fear I will wake up tomorrow and they’ll be out and gone. I feel it when a stranger approaches me in a store and comments on how cute they are and delivers that cliché that so many seasoned mothers do, “enjoy them! It all goes by so fast!” Though I can see the sincerity in her eyes. Hers are teenagers now. Still, I despise those words.

My advice is to be present today and write it all down. As much as you can. Write. And tell the stories to the people in your life who keep your stories safe.

I’m learning to dig my heels in and remember that this is just today. Things are changing, but it’s not linear and it’s not exponentially fast and today is still one day. I can’t slow them down, these babies kids of mine, but I can slow down and savor it. Stinky toes and all.

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