Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Birthday, Round 1

We've successfully completed the first task of the birthday season--the Great Big Quadruple Birthday Camping Trip--one weekend, two sets of twins, three families, four birthdays, five kids under four (plus M), six adults (does that sound like a reality show in the making or what?). We had fantastic weather (despite torrential downpours being predicted last week) and the campground was nearly deserted (the weekend before Memorial Day must be the world's best-kept secret).

We celebrated with two cakes Friday night, two more plus presents on Saturday, and lots of playing on the beach (did I mention we camped at the beach?) I made grilled pizza, from Martha Stewart Living, May 2004 (Oh, yes, I held onto this issue for FOUR years, just waiting for the right time to make it). It could have been a total disaster, but wasn't. Seriously, can you think of better camping food than pizza?

Tonight we celebrate with a segment of in-laws. I baked a sheet cake last night, took the kids to daycare this a.m. and went back home, cut it in thirds and tried to frost it. I had just slightly less powdered sugar than I needed for half a recipe of frosting and only half the cocoa powder (I substituted carob for the other half). I thought the cake-in-thirds was a brilliant idea until I found out that frosting doesn't stick to the cut edges. Then I tried putting frosting letters and flowers on the cakes that my mother-in-law made and dropped off yesterday. They kept breaking when I tried to get them off the doily, and I had to turn an "I" into an "E" with flower bits because she spelled one of the kids' names wrong. The results aren't pretty, but it should taste pretty good, especially after the-only-good-pizza-in-town for dinner and Breyers ice cream on the side.

Now I just have to plan a party for a dozen kids this Saturday and then I can start to get some sleep...

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Uphill Both Ways

The aspect of reducing my carbon footprint that I’m having the hardest time embracing is transportation. The only place I can actually walk to from my house is the general store/archery supply, which is fine for those times that I need a twinkies or turkey call, but for my other travels, I’m pretty much reliant on four wheels and an internal combustion engine (we can walk to the daycare center as well—once I was walking M there and we found ourselves surrounded by a gang of five-year olds on bikes who asked us, “Why are you walking? Why didn’t you come in a truck?”)

My neighbors down the road also work where I do, and occasionally I’ve walked all the kids down to the daycare center and hitched a ride with them, but with their kids’ schedules and my kids' schedules and running errands it just hasn’t worked into a regular thing. Excuses. Excuses.

So when Commute Another Way Week came around this year, I decided to plunge in and try alternate modes of travel. I signed up for two days of telecommuting (my two days off—ok somewhat disingenuous, since I drive a lot on those days), two of carpooling and one of biking. It turned out I wanted to pick M up from gymnastics yesterday since it was his last day, and tomorrow I planned to leave early to shop and pack for our camping trip, so I had to postpone the two carpool days (but I’ll do them, I swear), which left only the bike day.

I rode my bike to work several days a week the summer before I got pregnant with M (which didn’t do much for the environment, since C and I carpooled back then, and he did NOT ride his bike), when we lived a bit closer to work. After I had the baby, though, I placed a higher value on staying alive (the route was kind of scary), and I no longer had the time or energy to fit in the bike ride with daycare dropoff and pickup. I went for a bike ride with some friends the summer M was three—before I got pregnant with the twins—and haven’t been on one since.

I carefully mapped out my route while driving back and forth to work over the last couple of weeks, noting the distance (13.5 miles), the terrain (it appeared to be uphill both ways) and the porcupine carcass. I would be following three stretches of winding back roads, a long straight stretch of busy road with wide shoulders, and two more side roads with a short length of dirt path in the middle. I did not get out my bike and try getting in shape—I only wanted to feel the pain once, rather than over and over again for weeks. C got my bike out Sunday and pumped up the tires (when I said I would have to dust it off I was not kidding—the thing had ¼ inch of grime on it). I did not go out and try it out because it was Mother’s Day and I was busy trying to enjoy myself.

I did agonize a bit about what to wear—I don’t have those shiny black biker pants, or one of those bright yellow jerseys that alert traffic 5 miles away that a bike is on the road. This morning I put on a pair of tan leggings from the days when I had time to take yoga classes, with a pair of light purple shots, because no one needs to see me in leggings, and a long-sleeved polyester athletic shirt that C bought for me inexplicably last Christmas. Before I walked out the door, I glanced at the thermometer—42 degrees—and tossed a fleece on top of it all. I figured I could take it off if I got hot along the way.

I had been worried that I might prove wrong the old saying that you never forget how to ride a bike, but I got on and pedaled and balanced all at once. I did forget which gears did what—is the easy one the small to big or small to small? I quickly discovered my derailleur was out of adjustment and I only had about half my gears. By the time I got to the end of my road, I wanted to turn around and go home. But I rested at the stop sign and started up the next stretch, trying to notice the good parts—it was quiet, I could observe flowers growing along the road and hear birds singing. I heard red-winged blakbirds, an oven bird, a robin, something that made a series of bright chirps interspersed with some buzzy sounds, a veery harmonizing with itself in the treetops, and, later on, saw a turkey vulture soaring over a field and watched and listened to the bobolinks and grackles dart from the fences into the fields.

I tried to think about inspiring athletes of my acquaintance. I thought about the guy at work who does the Trek Across Maine on a one-speed bike. I thought about how in college I used to ride up Cadillac Mountain—for fun!—with my roommate, who called me “the tortoise” because she would ride way ahead of me and wait at the pullouts, but I came slowly, steadily along behind and never stopped once all the way up the mountain, because I knew if I did I would never start up again.

I walked up a few hills—and did not even feel wimpy for doing it, because the only people who would see me were sitting on their fat a*ses behind the wheel of a car. I coasted down the hills, taking three deep yoga breaths before tucking in and pedaling down. I wished I had brought water. I never got hot enough to take off the fleece. All that was left of the porcupine was the hide. I did not get run over by a dump truck. By the time I pulled into my office parking lot I felt great. I figured I could do my two make-up commute days by bike instead of carpool, and maybe even bike once a week all summer. I went inside, ate a bagel and chugged water. An hour later I felt light-headed. By lunchtime I wanted to crawl under my desk and sleep for a week. I hope I make it home.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


To Do List, May
Potty train two two-year-olds
Plan camping trip
Three birthdays
Make gifts
Dust off bike for Commute Another Way Week
Take online writing class
Mothers Day—make gifts
Start gardens

My first yoga teacher often told us to “underdo”—instead of pushing yourself to the max in a pose, ease only partway into it, and relax there. Underdo. She suggested we underdo in our lives also. I totally agree with this philosophy, but I can’t seem to institute it. Although I think of myself as a generally lazy person, I have a tendency to bite off way more than I can chew.

Now, I realize that my to do list is totally self-inflicted (except maybe the fact that all three of my kids have birthdays within a three-day time span), and that it pales in comparison to what my friends who are in medical school or nurse practitioner school or post-grad school have to accomplish in a given month and that compared to moms who have children with serious disabilities or diseases or major financial problems, I’ve got it pretty easy. Still, when I mapped out the month in my brain I saw the potential for a minor breakdown.

So last night, as we sat down to dinner, I tried to underdo. I asked M, “You know how we’re having a big birthday camping weekend? And then on the night of your actual birthday, we’ll probably go out to dinner and/or have grampy over for cake and ice cream? Is that enough birthday celebrating?”

He started to agree, but then asked about the big party with all his friends.

“Well I was thinking, what if instead of a big party, we invited one or two friends for a playdate? Maybe a trip to the mini golf course?”

Tears appeared at the corners of his eyes (this kid really knows how to weep) and C piped in, “Why don’t we just have a small party at home?”

I tried to point out that once we make a list of all of M’s friends, it would be impossible to keep it small, and that even a small party requires a lot of planning. He suggested we have his mother plan it. I shuddered picturing kids nibbling on week-old, dried-up pound cake, playing “sit silently with your hands folded in your lap or I’ll smack them with a ruler” and taking home rusty scissors or live chickens for party favors.

“C’mon, how many birthday parties does a kid get, anyway?”

“At the rate we’re going, 21,” I responded, but sitting there, facing them across the table, I could see I was outnumbered….the boys versus the Voice of Reason. Within 20 minutes we had a list of invitees more than 20-kids long, had ranged through party themes from camping to nature to The Dangerous Book for Boys to fighter jets back to nature. We decided on hiking to the stream for an activity (and time-killer) and walking sticks and GORP for take-home prizes. C accused me of trying to keep up with my friend B, but I am perfectly capable of having Martha-Stewart aspirations all on my own, thank you very much. Besides, M has been to some pretty lame parties…where all the kids sat down to watch cable TV for an hour or the parents stood around smoking and drinking beer while the kids ran wild for two and a half hours before anyone made any mention of food, cake or any other party-like activities. I don’t want to underdo quite that much.

P.S. New post over at Capital Walks.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Can someone please explain to me

why "go get your pajamas on" sounds like "keep refining your marble run until you get it exactly right, which should take at least half an hour, and then drag yourself upstairs, where you can arrange 23 matchbox cars on the bed in precisely the order you want them," in the ears of a six-year old?

Or why "good morning, time to get up and get ready for school" really means "pull the covers over your head and close your eyes" and "get up and get dressed now" means go in your closet and make some adjustments in the arrangement of the items on your desk" and "get your clothes on right now and go downstairs to eat breakfast" means "lie back down on your bed and unzip your pajamas at the rate of one zipper tooth per minute"?

And why does "put on your coat and go get in the car" translates to "run upstairs and get just one more thing out of your room...because you really need to take a toy to school today even though the rule is no toys at school...but this isn't really a toy...it's a marble, or a box or a car that you're only going to take out on the bus."

And while you're at it, can you also tell me why this makes me so angry my head feels like it's going to explode? And then I scream and yell and rant and rave, and yes, I have to confess, sometimes spank? And then I feel like a real a**hole, because really, is missing the bust that big of deal? Is staying awake an extra fifteen or thirty minutes all that much (even though that extra fifteen minutes will absolutely guarantee a missed bus the next day)? Especially when the yelling and screaming doesn't improve the outcome--the words translate just the same coming from a loud angry voice as a sweet, quiet one.

And one last question...why do we teach our children to do things themselves, when it would be faster and easier and less crazy-making than doing it ourselves?
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