Monday, August 29, 2011

Eight is Great

Dear Muggy Moo,

Yesterday you marveled, "sometimes I think that I am only dreaming myself and this life.  But then I remember you have to be real to dream, so I think I really am alive." 

You are eight today, and about to enter third grade, the grade they tell me marks the loss of innocence.  The grade they tell me when "kids change."  I squint my eyes and hunch my shoulders and flinch at the possibility that fairies and magic and wonder and pigtails will be abandoned at the side of the road of your growth and evolution.  Yet, because you're you, and always will be (part of being you is your trueness to yourself), I believe in your enduring sense of enchantment with the world. 

You're our "game" girl, up for almost anything:  hiking, bike rides, sailing your own sabot, cooking, gardening, researching, exploring.  You'll balk at the beach with its pesky sand, but at the end of the day you beg to go back.  Your curiosity is among your most gratifying qualities.  We had to pull you away from exhibits at the science museum yesterday; you introduced us to plant species you recognized during a hike in the desert last month.  This summer you learned to dive, weave a lanyard, swim backstroke, play piano, Google, hold your breath (sometimes) before barking at your sister, scramble eggs, and catch and throw a ball with a lacrosse stick. 

We love you for your loyalty to friends and family--you seem to enjoy nothing more than being with your grandparents, cousins, aunties and uncles.  You show them how important they are to you.  You are forgiving and generous with the benefit of the doubt; we hope you sustain your reluctance to disparage people (besides, ahem, your little sister).  No one can make you laugh (or fume) like your Little Sis.  But lately you've been reading books with her aloud at night, snuggling and giggling and sleeping under the star lights together. 

For everything you share out loud, you keep a lot inside, craving time to yourself to read, draw, and play with your dolls and animals.  You enjoy making tea in the morning.  You won't wear a skirt or dress without leggings.  You love soup, mangoes, soft bread, pickles, and tomatoes from the garden. 

If someone asks, you say you want to be an artist someday.  You already are, our little birthday girl.   Dance on, sweet dreamer.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Facebook Followers

What's on your mind?

Just because I don't copy and paste or repost status updates doesn't mean I don't love my mother, breast cancer research, our troops, gay marriage, children with special needs, my beautiful daughters, my friends, the USA, my husband, the earth, baby seals, or you. I love recycling but not as it relates to posts. Let's see who truly reads my status. If you comment, you MUST post an original, authentic sentiment as your own status. Don't spoil the fun! 93% of you will ignore this and do your own thing. Are you brave enough to be in the 7% that follows instructions?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

List: Bookstores I Have Loved

Jon Stewart did a segment on the closing of bookstore chain Borders' retail outlets last night on The Daily Show.  It was funny, of course, but more like a satirized memorial to an endangered species.  Once vilified, even the mega-bookstores aren't immune to consumers' shifting focus to electronic media.  And while I am increasingly "guilty" of downloading books to read on my iPad, I can't imagine a world without bookstores.  Feeling bummed about the closing of our nearby Borders, where the girls and I often went for afternoon field trips of perusing books and selecting birthday gifts, I thought about the bookstores that have been there for me through my various stages of development. 

1.  Perkins Bookworm:  The bookstore in my hometown growing up. We could bike there and grab Baskin Robbins on the way home.  Perkins also sold tapes and records, but the kicker? The bookstore was a Ticketmaster outlet, making it the site of my first concert ticket purchase, for a UB40 show. 

2.  Upstart Crow:  The bookstore "across the bridge" that my best friends and I frequented in high school.  With a cafe and tables in sweet nooks scattered around the shop, it was a great hangout for chatting, conspiring, and journal writing. 

3.  Atticus:  The bookstore/cafe in my college town that I loved so much I thought I wanted to work there.  After a few months of 4 PM-to-midnight shifts on Fridays my freshman year, I reclaimed my social life.  Lesson learned: don't ruin a favorite haunt by working there.

4. Kramerbooks & Afterwords: The iconic Washington, D.C. bookstore in Dupont Circle was a mile-walk from my house and convenient stop on the way home from a night out. Who can't like a bookstore that serves beer? If Kramer's ever closes, it will mean the world is ending.

5. UCSD Bookstore: A huge store with awesome school and office supplies and an amazing selection of books. My favorite bookstore for poetry volumes. College bookstores feature arcane academic works, to browse.

6. Bay Books: My local bookstore, where I order our book club selections and they sell them at a discount. Where my former students work. For a relatively small store, it boasts an impressive magazine selection. Staff recommendation cards there have led me to some terrific reads.

7. Yellow Book Road: A perfect name for a perfect children's book store. Authors hold workshops for children, and the shop offers summer literacy camps.

8. Used Bookstores: My favorite places to peek when I am traveling; I relied on one to keep me busy reading in Florence when I studied abroad in college. Used bookstores have rare treasures and represent the culture of their environs. I chuckled as I watched the clerk at a shop in Half Moon Bay this summer transcribe the titles of each book I purchased into a black-and-white marbled composition book. Time stands still in used bookstores.

9. Borders: I know it's a major chain store, but I will sorely miss our local Borders Books. The franchise connected with the community, holding kids' poetry readings and hosting local musicians. I loved the music section, with a wide variety of CDs to sample through headphones.

Ultimately, bookstores support libraries and communities of reading, and I predict individuals will have a more narrow exposure to new works available without them, as our electronic media preselects readings based on our interests. Bookstores' book displays and groupings entice us into new worlds in a way online browsing never will. We do judge books by their covers, and jackets, and heft. Bookstores gave us permission to sample and fondle the goods.

I don't think there's any other kind of retail experience more satisfying.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Belay

The last time I was strapped into a harness, I cried.  I had spent three years teaching in Washington, D.C., and had returned to my hometown from a year in Kenya.  I scored a new job at my own middle school and the staff development "bonding" activity was at a ropes course.  Adventurous Me was up for anything.  Afraid of Falling Me was excited to conquer her fears.  Meeting New Colleagues Me wanted the impression I made on others to be Fun Team Player.

But wasn't long before I would be lowered face down into the wood chips below, trembling and simultaneously sobbing and laughing after freaking out on the Team Tightrope Walk.  I was never so happy to be lying on the ground, where I remained limp for a good five minutes, kissing the dirt and recovering from one of the greatest frights of my life.  

A manufactured fright, with no real danger, mind you.  No amount of that awareness, Mind Over Matter, or desire to not make a fool of myself was making it better, however.  Turns out I am pretty good at freaking myself out, and an expert at it when there's a potential to fall down.  

I am famously reluctant to stand on chairs or ladders, walk down stairs without clutching a railing, or climb over fences.  The latter presented real challenges in college, when our freshman quad was locked up at midnight, leaving early-morning revelers to scale the scarily spiky Gothic wrought-iron gates.  I required a team of supporters, boosters, and spotters to make it safely over, and perhaps the assistance of the residual effects of the reasons I hadn't made it back to campus on time in the first place.

Then there was the time more recently when I went running a little too close to a rocky border on a paved path.  I fell down and skinned my knees and hands.  About a month later I ran the same route, and approaching the spot of my recent fall, I thought to myself, Hey, that's where I fell down!  And then I tripped and fell down.  Again.

I sort of come by my fear of falling honestly, though I know that it is often my anxiety which precipitates  shaky legs and bad balance.  And I try mightily not to project my fears on my daughters.  Last weekend while camping, though, I had a minor Freak Out when the girls were climbing rocks too close to a scary ledge.

You can imagine my surprise that I scaled a rock-climbing wall on Friday night.  It wasn't technically difficult, but it was tall.  I didn't freeze and I didn't lose it.  I think it had a lot to do being strapped into that harness and feeling the reassuring tugs of my belayer.  If I let go, I wouldn't really fall. I trusted that and him implicitly.

I trust myself in the real world less.

So while I am excited to go rock climbing again, I retain my fear of falling.  The real world doesn't reassure us with an encouraging "Climb on!" and there are no padded floors and tight knots and safety harnesses.  When we take risks, we often fall down, and it hurts.  And some risks aren't worth it.

At the climbing gym, we watched a woman practice deliberately not clipping in her harness at the top of the wall, and letting herself fall.  She screamed the first few times.

I suppose this is what we do with our kids--gradually loosen our reins and challenge them to take the safer risks, while talking them away from the scary ledges.  Avoid freaking them out with our own phobias.

And hope they'll keep letting us know when they're "climbing!"

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

List: Signs of the Times

I was watering the backyard the other day noticing the artifacts of childhood abandoned here and there, and thought to myself, there will be a lot to miss about this special time.

Among the clues that little imaginations are hard at work here:

1. Colorfully-painted nasturtium seeds among decorated pebbles and twigs outside
2. Plastic horses with folded-fabric saddles rubber-banded to their backs
3. Complex ribbon Polly Pocket pulley systems hanging from bookshelves
4. Track numbers from the Taylor Swift CD, listed on scrap paper in order of performance in the most recent "show"
5. Cups of food-colored ice in the freezer, "for a frozen castle, Mommy"
6. Paper-clip chains
7. Half-assembled forts
8. Drawings, paintings, doodles of fairies and mermaids
9. Habitats featuring an amalgam of Legos, dollhouse furniture, and Little People accessories.
10.  Strings of letters spelling gibberish, diary entries, love notes to parents, menus, and recipes.

Squinky Village

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Ain't Over

I head back into the office next Tuesday whilst my children wait another month for their new school years to begin.  Some of you have weeks remaining of travel!  Entertaining children!  Sunburns, late-to-beds, sibling squabbles!  Family get-togethers!  I am vowing not to let work kill my summer mojo.  Summer shall simply commence each day when I drive away from school.  Plenty of daylight hours left for sandcastles, picnics, zoo trips, sails, and cartwheels in the backyard.

We've traveled quite a bit this summer and made it a goal to be out and about in our hometown.  But some quieter days at home have been an important part of free time, too.  We've made pies.  Forts.  Elaborate fairy jungle gyms.  Mostly, we've painted:  rocks, glass stones, paper, shells, faces, and ourselves. 

If you have some summer left, I recommend getting the paints out and letting your kids decorate a cardboard box/house.  I splurged for the castle (below), but my mom had a box at her house that lasted months of kids drawing on and playing in it.  Even the nine-year-old nephew had a piece of that timeshare.  Everyone can claim a side and be design king of that section. 

What projects are keeping your kids busy?