Family communication, zoo

This morning when Ted and I were trying to figure out what we should do today and how to do it, and being constantly interrupted by Hazel, I had an idea. On the strength of it, we tried something new. And that is, each of us (from the familiar subset that can talk, that is) said the thing we most wanted to do this morning. We took turns: Ted went first, and said that he really wanted to (where wanted = needed) clean the garbage bins; Hazel said that she wanted to paint something on my face; and I said that I wanted to go pick up a hook from which to hang our brooms, etc. We then figured out how to fit all of those things into our morning. Then we repeated the process to figure out the afternoon. This time, Ted wanted to get all the stuff out of the garden shed we’re going to have to take down tomorrow prior to the Rat Man’s arrival; I wanted to install the hook; and Hazel wanted to go to the Zoo (after we vetoed her first choice of the Aquarium, which is just too much of an expedition for this weekend).

Our conversation went so much better, because we deliberately included Hazel. We were all happier, and I felt much more relaxed at the end of that process than I had felt going into it. Hazel’s old enough to have her opinions included in discussions of this type that affect the whole family. It felt good to honor that.

So, while Ted took the babies for their morning walk/nap, Hazel and I painted each other’s faces, and then went to the store for the hook, and dropped off the breast pump I’m no longer using. This gave us some Mommy-Hazel time, which we both enjoyed.

When we got home it was time for lunch and nap. Ted graciously took them all down so I could catch up on the business end of my business, which is now quite a bit harder to keep abreast of, what with twins and feeding everyone and all that other time-consuming and necessary family business.

After nap one of our friends came over to accompany us to the zoo. It was a pretty hot day, but we had a good time wandering around seeing lions, flamingoes, and other zoo denizens. After that, he and we needed to go to the grocery store, so we wound up there together, shopping more or less in tandem. At the end the twins started getting fussy, so I got them out of the stroller and jiggled them for a bit while Ted was buying our items. Together, they’re up to 36 or 37 pounds now, so I can’t hold them at the same time for a long time anymore. Our friend was in the next lane over, and Hazel running back and forth to talk with him and then us, so it was a bit of a family circus. Hopefully we were more entertaining than irritating to other customers. At least the babies weren’t crying. (It’s all about keeping standards and expectations helpfully low, right?)

When we got back it was far too late for other tasks, so we’ll have to punt those onto tomorrow’s list. But tomorrow we’ll have childcare all day, and that helps immensely.

At the end of the evening a friend came over who’s going to do some house/cat/plant sitting for us. We were explaining x, y, and z to her, and Hazel kept wanting to jump in and tell her what to do. It was obvious at times that she didn’t actually have anything in mind, was in fact standing there trying to think of something, and just wanted to participate in giving instructions. I found myself telling her to be quiet too much, and it occurred to me that, just like this morning, we need to find ways for Hazel to join the conversation so she doesn’t feel as much that she has to butt in. And of course, sometimes it’s just time for adult talk, and there’s no place for her. And she’ll have to learn that too. But Hazel’s not someone easily suppressed, so I think we need to get more creative in giving her more channels for her energy, communication, activity, engagement.

My grandmother apparently used to say to her kids when sufficiently exasperated, “I hope that when you grow up you have six just like you!” I won’t have six, but I certainly think Hazel has inherited certain characteristics (desire to get her way, willingness to argue, very verbal and articulate, perception, stubbornness) from me (and possibly from other people in my family and/or Ted’s) such that I have an interesting mirror in the person of my daughter. And Emily and Joanna can’t talk yet. It’ll be even more interesting when they can…


compound rhythms, swimming, and childhood memories

This morning I practiced while Ted took the kids for a walk. I’m working on the repertoire for the last concert of this latest batch. I spent a while working on a four against three section. This is called a polyrhythm. It’s like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, but more so. For those of you who are not musicians, here’s an exercise to try to give you the idea: walk in place, counting with your step, sets of 3 (1,2,3, 1,2,3, etc.); then add clapping, and clap four times for each three that you step; your first clap and first step of each set should line up. I’ll wait…. Good! Now get off the floor and try again. Here is a clip of a drummer demonstrating this rhythm. If you listen to it, you’ll notice that the two beats played together produce a rhythmic pattern. That’s also called a compound rhythm.

In the piece I’m working on the section is simple. The notes are straightforward, pretty easy. They’re the 4 against the beat, which is the 3. What’s fun is to play the passage while counting the beat out loud, particularly when sight-reading. It’s a nice way to mess with the brain.

After that we all had lunch, and then I went off to my rehearsal. It’s finally summer here, and today was hot, for where we live. We had the door open and a fan going, but I was still fairly sweaty by the end of the session.

We’d been planning to go the zoo afterwards, but we wimped out. The afternoon was challenging, with a kid who, like clockwork, was doing the opposite of what she was told, and snappy parents. We decided to break up the energy by going swimming. The ride up to the pool sucked, babies crying most of the way. And when we got into the pool Emily was promptly splashed in the face by an inconsiderate kid (who then spent the rest of the time we were there pushing Hazel out of the way when he wanted to go down the slide first). Anyway, getting a face full of water first thing, Emily cried, and the first few minutes were rocky. But then we settled into a quieter spot in the shallow side of the pool. Joanna happily kicked her feet and splashed with her hands. Emily looked around and held a ball for a while. Hazel worked her way from not wanting to go down the slide, putting on a life jacket and going down the slide (her idea), to taking off the life jacket and going down the slide. As she said, “again, and again, and again, and again.” She had the biggest smile on her face. I love seeing her so happy in the water.

This pool has a bucket that dumps a ton of water every couple of minutes. I think the parents like it even more than the kids. Ted held the babies a few times so I could go stand under the waterfall. That was great. There was another woman who was obviously digging it too. She said she was from El Salvador, and where she grew up the water would collect in buckets, and sploosh down on delighted kids. Standing under the bucket reminded her of her childhood. It’s nice to share things like that with people you meet. Those moments of connection help renew hope and appreciation for our species.

We had a snack when we came home, because we were all ravenous. Tomorrow, for the first time in ages, we have no specific schedule, nothing we have to get up for. Here’s hoping we’ll have a good night and a relaxed morning.

PT, kids’ clothes, laundry

My physical therapist taped up my knee during my session this morning. It makes a big difference! My kneecap isn’t tracking properly. When it’s taped suddenly I feel a solidity there I haven’t in months. It’s not completely all better, but the difference is remarkable. He also gave me a couple more exercises I can do when I’m with the kids. And that, I think, is the answer to my PT dilemma. Rather than setting aside discrete times to do the exercises, I can mostly do them when I’m with my kids. I can stand on one leg, do clamshells, etc. There will be commentary, and it might be harder to do a bridge with a single leg lift when I’m laughing, but that’s ok. It’s a risk I’m willing to take for the good of my knee.

This morning I took the kids over to a used clothing & kid paraphernalia store to get summer things for Hazel. We have been able to get away with not buying her new sandals thus far, because it has been fairly cool here in the Pacific Northwest. Soon, though, we’re going to be on the other coast, and she’ll need lighter clothing. Shopping is a bit more complicated when you’ve got twins in a stroller whom you’re trying to keep happy while also picking out items for your four-year-old who really wants to play with the toys in the store. Though the latter helps, because that means that, at this stage of the game anyway, I can just go through the offerings and make choices as quickly as possible. A helpful store clerk found the one pair of shoes that would fit Hazel and was not pink. I found a few sun blocking clothes for the babies, and we were off.

This afternoon our nanny took the kids to a spray park to enjoy the water while Ted and I finally folded the Everest of laundry that’s been sitting on various surfaces in the various rooms on our second floor. We also did 90% of the packing for our trip. After our experiences in St. Louis and Boulder, in which it took us over two hours to get out of the airport, we’re taking as little as possible this time. We’ll have a total of two regular roll-on carry-on suitcases, two backpacks, Hazel’s carry-on, and possibly a diaper bag, and that is it! We’ll have to do laundry several times while we’re away, but that’s ok. This way we can get in and out of the airport much more efficiently, and that will be good.

It is a sign of how busy we are that Ted and I just realized tonight that our anniversary is Monday. That is the day that the Rat Man will be working on our house. I have students in the morning and evening. So, before our nanny left I asked her if she could stay three hours longer than usual. She could. That means that in the middle of the day we’ll be able to sneak away for a celebratory lunch.

Working on self-care and life balance

I went to the dentist the other day, and after decades of pretty healthy teeth, discovered that I have a bunch of small cavities that he wants to fill. I am not happy about this, and am going to wait until August, after the current craziness has died down, to start the process. In the meantime, I have a (less than pleasant-tasting) wash I have to use twice a day, a special toothpaste, and I need to make sure to use my electric toothbrush rather than the standard one.

The list of small things which I need to do a better job of fitting into my day seems to grow ever longer. My parents, my mother in particular, have always seemed effortlessly healthy. They never seemed to be troubled by cravings, they were never overweight, and they always genuinely enjoyed salad. And since my dad is now on a very restricted diet, they eat a very tiny amount of fat. I, on the other hand, have always struggled with the various health-related things I need to do routinely: eating “right”; not eating too late; brushing and flossing; exercising; sleeping from 10 pm to 6 or 7 am; doing whatever physical therapy or other similar exercise I might have.

For the last few years I have been attempting to wrangle my days into a healthier shape and rhythm, with uneven success. I no longer routinely stay up until 2 or 3 am, so that’s an improvement. I eat more vegetables than I did before I had kids. I’ve discovered that I actually like to exercise, and before I had the twins I was at the gym a few times a week. I have even stopped reading the blogs I used to check every night. Instead, I write my own nightly post, play a bit of Scrabble, and get in touch with feeling tired.

Nonetheless, my day seems to me to be like a basket that’s full to overflowing, and when I try to stuff something else into it, no matter how small or innocuous it seems, something gets pushed out.

Sometimes I fall into the trap of wishing, in a general sort of way, that I was a better person. Or I promise myself I’m going to try to be a better person. This is not useful, or course, because I just feel very anxious and inadequate after making such a tenuous and overarching commitment. It’s fairly laden with judgment, too. Or, I’ll promise myself that I’m going to *do* better, which is more helpful, but only just. The lack of detail leaves a troubling amount of room for all sorts of projection and self-castigation.

Then I remember that it’s all about what works and what doesn’t work. It’s about paying attention, staying present and focusing on my feelings, needs, and goals. And it’s about compassion and forgiveness, without which I seem to be almost incapable of making a lasting change.

The other day I noticed that one of my students seemed slimmer. I asked her about it, and she said that she had, very slowly, lost some weight using a free app called LoseIt that she downloaded to her phone. She said it was helpful to be able to track what she was eating so she could eat more mindfully. I have not only gained a fair amount of weight in the past several months, but have also gotten myself seriously hooked on sugar and carbs again. If I eat a dessert, I just want another one. I don’t like being in this place, so I got the app on my phone, and tried it out today. Consequently, I was more careful about what (yummy food!) and how much (a reasonable amount) I ate, and it gave me the boost I needed to get out for a bike ride with Hazel when I got home from work.

I called up the nanny and asked her to ask Hazel if she wanted to go out in the Madsen with me, and since she did, to have her ready when I got home. We went out and tooled around for just under a half hour. It was enough for some conversation, neighborhood sight-seeing, and a lovely exercise-fueled mood boost. That helped me to feel good enough to brave all the new dental stuff. The only thing I haven’t done is my PT exercises. I’ll work on getting those in tomorrow.

So, this has been a long, journal-esque post. But everyone I know struggles with finding and maintaining balance. And everyone I know has their ups and downs in that process, (even my mother, who makes it look so effortless). And we all deserve compassion and support in our efforts to find what works for us.

I am glad to be making some progress.

US news, Satchmo & our vet

There is so much going on right now in the US. I am grateful and happy that DOMA has been struck down. I am enraged, baffled, and terrified by the destruction of the Voting Rights Act. If you need any more proof that we have a judicially activist Supreme Court, you wouldn’t believe it if it were offered. I am thrilled and inspired by Senator Wendy Davis’ epic filibuster preventing this round of anti-choice legislation in Texas.

It’s hard to take it all in.

This afternoon I was brought back to our own private family life when I opened a package that had arrived in the mail. I lifted the card out. It read, “In memory of Satchmo, from your friends at *** Vet Center”. I called Ted in, and brought out of the box a stone that had been carved with our kitty’s name and a paw print. We both cried. We miss Satchmo so dearly, but it is such balm to feel the love and support of our vet and her practice. It is a priceless gift. We will probably add that stone to his grave, but for now we’ll keep it in the house. Hazel has been carrying it around. When we showed it to her she said, “I didn’t want Satchmo to die.” The stone will be a way for us to remember him, and to support each other as a family. Hazel gently traced the letters with her finger and said, “I loved him.” He was a great cat. And our vet is the absolute best.

parenting, rats, and Buffy

I got out on the wrong side of bed this morning, apparently. I was in a bad mood all day. It was one of those days in which I would have preferred to be alone, but instead needed to interact for hours with a person who (sometimes) gets really upset when she doesn’t get to open the door first, go downstairs first, have a specific plate and fork combination, etc. Hazel asked for frozen strawberries in her oatmeal this morning. Because she loves to mix things up herself, I put a bunch of them in one bowl and her oatmeal in another bowl and set them at her place.
“I wanted raspberries in my oatmeal!” was her wailed complaint.
I was exasperated. I told her that the appropriate response to me giving her the oatmeal and raspberries she’d asked for was, “Thanks.”

Here is my goal. I want to focus on telling Hazel what I want rather than on telling her what to do. In the moment, I struggle so much. I now understand why parents tell their kids what to do all the time. The first three years were easy for us. Now, attempting to cultivate my daughter’s many strengths while also setting reasonable boundaries is a huge personal challenge. There are plenty of times I think I cannot manage it.

I am coming up against how hard it is to act upon my own philosophy, that I want to root my actions in my values rather than my emotions. Damn hard when emotions are so strong. And kids are genius at tapping parental emotion.

One day at a time, I guess.


So, the Rat Man came today. He found various points of entry, including the chewed-on lintel of the basement door. He is going to install a tough sort of mesh all around our porch. This is going to require the digging of an eighteen inch deep, foot wide trench. This in turn will require the uprooting of a bunch of roses, one of which is climbing on a trellis. He is also going to plug a couple more entry points, set traps, and put out a few bait stations on our property line. His price for all this work is pretty reasonable, though we’ll get someone else to dig the trench for cheaper than he’d do it (his recommendation). He will come back after a week to empty the traps. We will continue the bait stations for a while to “thin the population”. We will wear masks when working in the basement, and spray Lysol about to prevent rat poop dust, and use a Hepa filter in our shop vac. Joy. But we will get rid of the rats, and we will be very motivated never to allow the conditions to pertain again which encouraged the rodent presence in our yard and house. We will be more responsible.

In conversation with Hazel about this topic, she said, “So it’s good that the Rat Man can come kill the rats so we don’t have to.”

Amazing how kids can get to the heart of a matter in absolutely no time at all.

Her quote from a bit earlier (after Ted had said he’d heard noises downstairs, and wondered if we had rats, but before we’d confirmed it): “If there’s a rat, just tell me and I’ll run and put on my boots and squish it.” As our nanny says, she seems firmly on the side of the Rat Man.


I reflected on my way to my writing group this evening that perhaps a Pollyanna-type perspective is not so bad after all. I’ve been feeling pretty stressed out by the rat situation. However, if we had no rats and were merely facing emptying out our basement, sorting the contents, and preparing for the building of my studio, I would still be feeling stress, and might not appreciate how much better that circumstance was compared with having a rodent infestation. So saying, “Yay, I’m glad it is not worse!” actually made me feel better. And it made me laugh to consider all the (sometimes extreme) ways in which that could be true. You can take that line way too far, of course, but right now, I’m just glad we caught it before the rats had invaded our living space.

For whatever reason, typing this brought back a memory of a Buffy The Vampire Slayer episode called, “The Wish”, in which Cordelia finds herself in an alternate universe where Buffy doesn’t exist. She finds out that the greenness of the grass doesn’t compensate for the presence of evil, after all. So if Cordelia can learn to appreciate Buffy, I guess I can learn to appreciate the presence of the Rat Man in our lives.

Since I am now clearly writing nonsense, I will sign off and perhaps return to some semblance of sense tomorrow.

Clearing the back yard, cello lessons, babies’ development, baseball

Today our landscaping neighbors came over and rescued our back yard. They finished the root barrier trench we started literally years ago, redirected the end of it to where we wanted it to be, cut down all the blackberries & other big unwanted growth, took the vines off the fence but saved my clematis, mowed (with a weed whacker since the grass was rather too high for a mower), and generally created a useable space where there had previously been grassy chaos. It doesn’t look lovely – we’d need actual landscaping, new grass, a border, etc for that. But it looks tons better, and is now functional. We can take blankets out back and sit outside with the babies without fear of someone falling in the trench or eating nightshade (which had also taken root back there.) Eventually there will be more to do: we want to get rid of the old garage, re-grade the yard so that there’s a higher portion by the house on which we’ll have a stone patio, chairs, a bbq, and a lower portion where we can have grass on which to play, as well as raised beds for veggies & herbs. Oh, and we’ll probably want to take out the old oil tank too. So there’ll be some significant outlay of $$, so that will be another year (or three).

Also today a student who’d taken a hiatus had his first lesson in a year. It was good to see him, and enjoyable to start some new music. After the lesson he came into the kitchen to meet the twins. He said hi and they promptly burst into tears, first one and then the other. They have been a bit unpredictable of late with their reactions to people they don’t know. It’s sad when you get the chorus of wails, but next week their response to him might have changed.

Emily has started playing peekaboo. She’ll hold a receiving blanket up in front of her face and then drop it and grin. The first time I thought it was just chance, but she’s repeated it several times. I wonder if she’ll start playing that game with Joanna. She is also starting to take a couple of side-steps when holding onto something like a couch. I had forgotten the rapid rate of change in babies. It is amazing to see them develop day-to-day. It seems like magic, like one has acquired the ability to see plants grow.

This evening after my middle student’s lesson was over and we were packing up his things, he started regaling me with baseball statistics. He’s six years old (or maybe seven, I can’t remember) and was rattling off numbers like a pro. He explained that he’s both a Cubs and Cardinals fan, since his mom grew up in Chicago (I can’t remember why he’s a Cardinals fan too). I think that statement must upset some delicate equilibrium somewhere, however. I didn’t really think that baseball rules would allow such a condition to pertain.

It just occurred to me that we can now play soccer with Hazel in our back yard without hazarding blackberry brambles or hidden trenches. She was given a soccer ball recently, and loves it. She did a pretty respectable series of kicks in the house recently. Now if we can move that activity outside, even better.