Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Lemonade Season

Nick has a lemonade stand. He and the neighbor boys have done this off and on for a couple of years now, and every now and then they make a little money. This weekend, though, Nick got ambitious. He made up some flyers using ComicLife, named the stand (NCL, for Nick's Corner Lemonade), and printed up a price list. He and I looked up a recipe for lemonade in the Joy of Cooking and we made up a big batch, with about eight lemons. And today he dragged a chair and a crate outside, set up the stand, and waited for cars and walkers to stop.

Mark and I tried to talk him out of it. It's a weekday, it's hot, no one will be walking by, we said.

$14.95 later, we are forced to eat our words. The ice is all melted, the lemonade all sold, and Nick is one happy guy. I have a feeling we'll be doing this a lot this summer. Or, to be precise, he will.

[edited to add: you can click the picture to make it bigger and read the text. He did it all himself. Also, the lemonade was selling for only 25 cents a cup, but people are often generous with the tips.]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Breaking up is hard to do...

So I mentioned a while back that I was decaffeinated. I meant to get back to that.

About two weeks ago I went in for my annual check-up. I saw a terrific nurse practitioner who noticed my knitting and we spent a lot of time chatting about that. She knits, too, but can't do complicated patterns because she does most of her knitting while waiting with laboring mothers. (Hmm, what's my excuse?) Anyway, during the course of our chat she mentioned that caffeine is a culprit in, among other things, heart palpitations, which I've noticed occasionally. So I thought maybe I could stop drinking coffee. [Aside: she said tea and chocolate didn't seem nearly as problematic, which made the prospect of going coffee-free seem much easier. She did laugh when I asked her about chocolate, though.]

I switched to decaf the next morning. I really only drink one, maybe one and a half, cups of coffee a day, so I thought it would be easy. I gave up coffee entirely during both pregnancies with no problem. And for a while all seemed well.

Now, coffee and I, we have a history. It began in high school. Seniors had the privilege of drinking coffee and chatting with teachers in the headmaster's study after lunch, and I got in the habit of downing two or three heavily sugared demitasse cups every day. At some point I noticed an inverse relationship between the number of cups I drank and the number of minutes I could sit still in my afternoon classes--but that was a long, slow realization, and the after-lunch conversation seemed more meaningful than the late afternoon classes anyway. (Ah, the rationalization, it starts early!) In college I began to be a coffee snob, bringing my own French press to the dining hall filled with my own grounds so I could brew it fresh rather than drinking the dining hall swill. When Starbucks became ubiquitous I found it rather too easy to spend over two dollars on a cup of hot steaming liquid. It just tasted so good!

But I'm not such a coffee snob that I can't just brew my own delicious decaf and take it from there. So that was the plan: decaf all day instead of just after lunch, a change I made years ago to stave off insomnia.

As I said, at first all seemed well. Nick's illness, our trip up north, all passed uneventfully--at least on the coffee front. I just drank decaf, or (for a few mornings) tea. I vaguely expected a headache or two from the withdrawal, but nothing. I was smugly congratulating myself.

Until Friday, when I had a splitting headache all day. I put it down to aftereffects of travel--my sunglasses are a little too tight, the drive had been long, I was finally home and able to relax, which is sometimes when stuff like that kicks in. That was all.

Until Saturday, when the headache persisted. Tylenol had no effect. A glass of wine with dinner did nothing. This morning I had two more tylenol before breakfast, but nothing changed.

Until lunch today, when I poured myself a cup of coffee, drank it, and about an hour later noticed the headache was gone. (And, yes, for the record: it did taste better than the decaf, too.)

So now the question is: can I drink one cup of coffee a week to stave off the headaches? Do I need to taper off more slowly? Was this just a coincidence?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Follow Up

So remember I said Nick was sick? Turns out he had pneumonia. So that was fun.

To backtrack: it was a big family weekend. We had a wedding on Saturday in Massachusetts, so a long drive Friday. In fact that's really why I took Nick in to the doctor on Tuesday; it felt a little like overkill, but with a trip coming up I wanted to get him checked out. The doctor didn't find much going on, and said there was a virus going around, so told us to take him home and let him rest, and bring him back if the fever spiked.

It did. Wednesday night it hit 104 and he developed a cough; that made me nervous enough to call the on-call doc, who prescribed a tepid bath and more ibuprofen. We took him back in Thursday morning, when a quick blood test showed no bacterial infection but the doctor now suspected pneumonia so gave us amoxicillin. He said it was fine to travel, but if the fever persisted until Saturday we should find a doctor in Massachusetts.

You've already figured out where this is going. As soon as the bride and groom had said "I do" we were on our way to the emergency room with Nick's temp at 102+. (Luckily the wedding was at their house and it was easy enough to get where we needed to.)

After an hour or so in the waiting room (and another dose of ibuprofen--or was this one tylenol?) Nick's temp was back down to only 99. [Aside: While we sat in the ER we watched a parade of mostly young men come in with various head and arm injuries: arm caught in a rope swing, head bump, arm possibly broken from falling off swing, etc. Fun Saturday in the country!] Nick sat quietly in a chair, leaning on me and watching golf on TV--a sure sign that he wasn't fully well. When we finally got in to the doc, the chest x-ray did show the pneumonia our pediatrician had suspected, and we got a new antibiotic and some further reassurance.

Best exchange with the ER doc:
Mark: So I shouldn't worry if he still has a fever?
ER Doc: You're a parent; you're going to worry. I want you to worry. But, yes, he will still have the fever off and on for a few days.

Best exchange with the ER nurse, who had just asked Nick to take his shirt off and put on a gown:
Nick: This is the second time today I've had to take my shirt off!
ER Nurse: Well, at least I'm not asking you to take a bath!

Thankfully corporate America (today masquerading as CVS) knows us, so it was an easy matter to get the prescription filled. Rather than return to the reception, we headed back to our hotel, stopping for fabulous organic pizza and home-made ice cream on the way. Nick's energy was low for the next three days, but he's definitely on the mend. And we were able to spend most of the next day hanging out with the bride and groom, as well as with other assorted relatives, so missing the reception was no biggie. Nick and Mariah played Guitar Hero and other video games with their cousins, Mark went fishing with his brother the groom, and I chatted with in-laws and knitted. There are worse ways to spend a day, certainly--though I'd rather not repeat the ER visit any time soon.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day

I spent a surprising amount of my childhood hoping to be my dad when I grew up. Oh, I didn't want to be a boy or anything -- having two brothers pretty much dispelled any mystique of masculine superiority -- but I did want my dad's job. It looked like a pretty sweet deal to me: a little telling people what to do, a little dressing up, a little singing, and a lot of reading, writing, and being at home when other people's dads weren't. Yes, he did have to work on Sundays, but then again he was home at least one day during the week to make up for it.

Read the rest here...

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Nick is sick. He's been achey and feverish since Monday night, waking up drenched in sweat and terrified at odd hours. He's in good spirits, but I know he's frustrated to be missing these last, "fun" days of school. His class is working on a poetry project: each kid writes some poems, edits them (with adult help), copies them neatly into a bound blank book, and illustrates them. I was the adult helper for an hour or so last week and these kids are really writing some great stuff, from the ode to snot by one somewhat mischievous kid, to the acrostic commemorating a lost friend, to the shape poem elongating the child's b-o-r-e-d-o-m with the SOLs (VA's standards of learning tests, for those who don't know). They worked with focus and enthusiasm even though they had a sub running the show and didn't really know me.

In fact, the last time I worked with these kids I was wrangling them backstage at their big dance event a few weeks ago, and I was not their favorite person then. One pair of boys was misbehaving over and over again, and I finally looked one in the eye and said,
"Do you know who I am?"
Nervous nod.
"I'm Nick's mom."
"I know."
"OK, so if you know that, I'm sure Nick has also told you that I'm not very nice. In fact, I'm kind of mean. So you want to do what I say, OK?"
Another, more energetic, still nervous nod. And, for what it's worth, good behavior for the next quarter hour or so.
Given that history, I was glad no one ran screaming away from me. In fact, they brought their poems to me gladly and accepted my corrections and comments gratefully. I felt bad when I had to make corrections--as if correct spelling were the most important thing about their work. (Truly, by the time they're in college, many of them will believe that, or a version of it.) I tried to praise the energy, the idea, the form, first, and then move on to how "tragedy"* is really spelled, or why "putteet" isn't the same as "petite." They nodded and went back to work, hunching over their desks intently.

So that's what Nick is missing this week, though I'm hoping he'll make it in tomorrow. The idea is that he'll take cupcakes in, in the time-honored tradition of celebrating summer birthdays before the end of the year.

Oh, and the title of this post? I'm doing all this--helping out in the classroom, staying home with a sick kid, planning to bake cupcakes--without caffeine. But more on that another time. This has gone on too long already.

*I believe this poem was about being buried by paperwork. It was one of my favorites.

[edited to add: Nick has liked this project so much--and, to be fair, is so bored at home--that he just asked me to go in and pick it up for him so he could work on it at home.]

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Things I've Learned Lately

  • When I began the 48-Hour Book Challenge I piled up the recent library books on the stairs and just pulled volumes off as they appealed. One that I had also picked up, not for the challenge, was Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitting without Tears. It's one of those books that you hear about all the time. It's not one of the pretty new knitting books with lots of pictures; it's all just practical advice. And I learned that not only did I learn to knit wrong, I purled wrong as well. This sort of makes sense, as she explains it. Somehow my "German" needle-holding technique led to the wrong-way purl, which makes the wrong-way knit almost necessary. So now I know how to purl the right way, it makes knitting the right way easier. Sometimes the secondary technique is actually the one that matters.
  • I'm not good at following the rules right now. So while I did indeed start the notebook described here, I have not yet used it in the way she describes.
  • I think the not-following-rules thing is a function of age. It began just as I entered my forties. I remember one morning standing up to Nick's preschool teacher, who didn't like how long it took us to say good-bye in the mornings ("Y'all linger," she said disapprovingly). I ignored her, figuring I could take as long to say good-bye to my baby as I --and he-- wanted. That didn't bother him, but he did get upset with me when I didn't cross the street at the crosswalk and backtalked the security guard who gave me a hard time about it. I was ok with Nick wanting to follow the rules--that's appropriate for a four-year-old, after all. But I sure wasn't going to let a guy in a uniform tell me I didn't know how to cross an empty street, holding my son's hand.
  • The thing is, I was like Nick long into my adulthood. Rules matter. I like rules: they tell you what's expected, they simplify decision-making, they provide order and continuity in what can be a disordered world.
  • But maybe what I really like--and certainly what Nick liked at that age, and still does--is ritual. The calming certainty that things will be done the same way as before. Nick's good-bye ritual at age three was a fascinating thing to behold (and worth its own essay, another time); one of my favorite things about it was that it seemed such a child-sized reflection of my own need for order and consistency.
  • I've become one of those people who says "when I was your age" or "when I was younger" even "at my age." This, too, is obviously a function of age (middle).
  • When I was younger order mattered to me more. I need to think about this for a while, but I'm seeing the signs everywhere--not just in petty defiance of preschool functionaries, or the refusal to follow directions in a writing book. In unpaid bills and missed deadlines (not so good); in messy creative re-thinkings of previous projects (maybe ok).
  • At a party the other evening I found myself saying "at my age" and being called on it. Turns out no one there believed I was over forty (or at least they were really really flattering me, for no particular reason). I think I might start telling people I'm fifty just to hear the flattery. (Yes, I'm aware of how this one might backfire. So probably not.)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

MotherTalk Blog Book Tour: Writing Motherhood

I began reading Writing Motherhood on Monday evening, and Tuesday morning I went out and bought the notebook I'd been eying for months. I had a little notebook in my purse already, but it's littered with to-do-lists, dimensions of the refrigerator we replaced last fall, lists of books to read, knitting patterns, the model numbers for the bionicles Nick most wanted for Christmas—well, you get the idea. It is, in fact, a mother's notebook par excellence. But it's—mostly—missing what I most want to have in it: my writing, daily reflections, ideas for further exploration. Inspired by my reading of Lisa Garrigues' new book, then, I got a bigger one, one that can hold all I'm already carrying around and my own words as well.

The Mother's Notebook is only one of the helpful ideas in Garrigues' new book, but it's probably the central one, the one on which everything else depends. Once you get the Mother's Notebook going, you've got invitations to write, inspirations from other writers, reminders that you're not alone, and suggestions for ways to share your writing. It's almost a parent-writing class in volume form: just add students and stir. That's not surprising, as it comes out of Garrigues' experience as a teacher and workshop leader. It gives the book a useful structure: one really could just work through it, preferably with a group, and jumpstart a writing practice that had gone stale, or get one off the ground for the first time. But it can also be a useful reference tool, a resource like other writing books, to dip into for inspiration and useful reminders. The writing prompts Garrigues crafts—she calls them "invitations," which makes them sound, well, more inviting than "prompts"—are mostly linked to motherhood, but little in the book would be foreign to any writer, especially any writer who does something else, whether paid or unpaid work. (And, really, how many writers don't do "something else"?) What motherhood adds to the writing process, then, in addition to great material, is a sense of balance: other writing books may assume all you do, or all you want to do, is write, but Garrigues knows you've already got a lot on your plate. Fifteen minutes a day is all she asks, for starters; then she adds play-dates and time-outs as well as regular writing group meetings, making it all seem manageable and even fun for a time-pressed parent.

Here's what I wrote in my notebook:

Tuesday morning, conversation w/Nick, ruling out causes for his stomach ache. I ask if he's pooped lately. Yes—so no constipation, I say. "If you got constipated, would you throw up, or would you just explode?" he asks. Much hilarity.

Ah, potty humor. It never loses its appeal. Maybe that's not the most interesting conversation we've ever had—indeed, I know it isn't. But it is representative of our conversations lately—equal parts true curiosity and nine-year-old gross-out. And I know I wouldn't remember it if I didn't write it down.

Will it ever make it out of the Mother Notebook? Well, it just did, didn't it? But no, I doubt I'll use it in a story or essay. Garrigues reminds us, though, that writing begets writing, and that paying attention is one of the skills both writers and parents need to cultivate. I may not need to remember our conversation about constipation, but I do need to listen, and writing things down helps me do that.

Now that I've finished reading the book I want to go back and reflect on it as well, pay attention to the parts I read through quickly, make a plan for how best to use it. This book came to me at a great time: as summer begins I'm thinking already of how to jumpstart my writing, and I have several projects I plan to work on through the next academic year. Inspired by Garrigues, I'm thinking of trying to get a small local writing group going (leave me a comment if you're in central VA and think that might be fun), and I'm making a resolution to write in my notebook every day.

Check out the conversation with Lisa Garrigues here, and the other posts in the blog book tour here.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Kindergarten readiness?

(Cross-posted from the other blog...)

Lots of posts out in the world today about yesterday's NYT article on kindergarten readiness. The take-home lesson I got from it was that if you can afford to think about "red-shirting" your child (keeping him--and it's most often him--home for a year when he's technically eligible for kindergarten), then whether you do or not, he'll probably be fine. That is, school "success" is primarily a socio-economic, not an age, issue. If you need the free day-care, and your kid isn't really ready for school, you'll send him/her anyway and s/he may not "succeed" as well as one might hope. If, on the other hand, you don't need the free day-care, you can probably provide what your kid needs.

Yes, this is reductive. But note that all the "red-shirt" success stories are from people who didn't need free day-care.


I was a young starter: with a February birthday I should have started kindergarten at five, but since I knew how to read, I started at four. (I was briefly "held back" when we moved, but then started first grade--in another school--at five.) At my recent college reunion I kept reminding people I was a year further away from fifty than they were. Nice. (Hmm, maybe those social skills still need work?)

I probably should have taken a gap year between high school and college. My parents wanted me to, but I was academically ambitious and up for the challenge. Emotionally/psychologically, maybe not so much, but I got by ok and I don't feel scarred by the experience. As a nerdy kid, I was used to being a bit on the outskirts of things socially anyway--I'm not sure age had a whole lot to do with it. I did take three years between college and graduate school, and that was an absolute necessity, in my case. I think grad school would have chewed me up and spat me out at 21, but at 24 I had supported myself for three years, moved across the country, and figured out that I was both employable and at least marginally date-worthy. I no longer thought my only successes would be academic, and that made grad school's pressures much easier to bear.

Mariah, with her December birthday, is one of the older kids in her grade. One of her best friends, three months older, just graduated from high school; Mariah's got another year. She's academically at the top of her class and seems to be holding her own socially/emotionally. She could have skipped at one point, but we opted for a multi-age grouping (in a Montessori middle school) instead. She doesn't seem to have any regrets, and is considering taking a gap year between HS and college even though this would have her turning 20 as a first-year college student. (I wish all my students would take a gap year...)

Nick, with his early August birthday, is one of the youngest kids in his grade. He's not markedly smaller than other boys--this is the year some are shooting up and some aren't, and he's still right in the middle--nor is he particularly delayed socially as far as I can tell. (He does sometimes cry more easily than other kids, but is that his age or just his temperament? Hard to say...though it's true that his mother was a big cry-baby in elementary school.) Academically, he's doing more than fine. According to "conventional wisdom"--which is that boys mature more slowly, so should redshirt if anyone should--he should have been held back and Mariah sent ahead, but we actually did benefit from the free day-care (public preschool at age four) and never really thought seriously about holding him back. Will he struggle in college? If he's like his sister, maybe we'll suggest a gap year at that point. Right now, though, he's fine.

One more anecdote: when my younger brother was tested for kindergarten, he was asked to draw a man, but drew something else--maybe a table?--instead. He was a bit young (November birthday) but pretty bright. The teacher or principal or someone called my mother and said he wasn't ready, he couldn't draw a man. My mother, though, talked to my brother who said he just didn't feel like drawing a man--and convinced the school administration to take him anyway. Years later he admitted that he really couldn't draw a man--but he did know how to game the system!

So there are my anecdotes. I find myself wishing more and more for flexibility in schooling, for some kind of readiness-testing that looked at the whole child rather than just the age or just a test or two. Obviously that's what home-schooling gives people, and that's absolutely what's most appealing about it. But for those who can't or won't take that option, for whatever reason--what to do?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

knitted wire bracelet

This is a gift for a dear friend's daughter, the first of our cohort to graduate from high school. It's knitted out of 28-gauge wire with glass beads strung randomly on the wire. Easy and fun.

Saturday accomplishments, family edition

  • One batch of chocolate chip scones, made and partially eaten
  • Three SAT II tests, taken
  • Two hours of club penguin, snuck in there before I noticed
  • One cd collection, cleaned, dusted and organized
  • 18 songs, burned to the "Nick's favorite hits" cd
  • Two bathrooms, cleaned
  • One water-damaged wall, partially restored
  • One picture, reframed and hung
  • (assorted kitchen equipment mildly damaged during picture restoration)
  • One graduation gift, completed (photos above)
  • One trip to the pool, planned for noon, accomplished by 4:30
  • Six chicken thighs and assorted summer squash, marinated, cut up, and grilled
  • One family, reasonably satisfied with the day