Halloween, sugar, community

Today being Halloween, I rearranged my teaching schedule so I could be home by 6:30 for Trick-or-Treating with my family. I think in future years I may just take the day off to make it easier. We have a family-dense neighborhood, though, and it was fine to go a bit later. There was certainly still plenty of candy to be had! Hazel had been looking forward to this for days, of course. I love that some adults in our neighborhood get dressed up too, and there are very inventive displays, costumes, and general celebration. Having turned into a curmudgeonly person, I don’t love that kids hardly even say hello, let alone “Trick-or-treat” or anything else. I think that the holiday should be about more than just grabbing loot with no interaction, no eye contact, and no conversation at all.

Nonetheless, seeing everyone out and about makes the idea of community come alive, and puts a smile on my face. I wish we all came out of our houses more often. I do love this holiday, and our summer block party for that reason.

As for the candy, we offered Hazel a deal: she could choose 4 pieces of candy (one per year of her age), or a whole dessert from a local joint we love (and used to patronize, sigh). She wavered, but chose the candy. She gets to eat it all tomorrow. Ted will take the rest of it to work with him tomorrow, and other people can poison their immune systems with it. (Ted likes to call it writing hate letters to your pancreas.) Yeah, we’re killjoys, we are. We have the zeal of the recently converted (to Paleo).

So here is my official apology to whining so vociferously, year after year, to my parents that they wouldn’t let us keep all our candy. Now I understand. You were right. I’m doing the same thing with my kids you did with us, so now it’s my turn to be the mean mommy.

That said, Hazel accepted the deal pretty graciously. After we got home we spread it all out on the kitchen table, and talked about what was what and what she wanted to keep. There was a certain amount of deliberation, and she wound up with a packet of M&M’s, a grape lollipop, a packet of Swedish Fish, and a strawberry Laffy Taffy. I am a bit in dread of tomorrow, post-candy consumption. I think I will take her to the zoo and let her run around for a couple of hours afterwards.

Ted and I broke our Paleo rules and split (in thirds with Hazel) a Reese’s peanut butter cup. Then I wanted to eat everything else, but I resisted and had some pear instead.

The kids were all dressed up: Joanna was a peapod, Emily a tiger, and Hazel a monkey. So fun.

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Memory, positive thinking

The steel beam is going up tomorrow in my basement-studio-to-be. I think that means that the temporary walls will come down before I leave, and that’s cool, because I’ve been eagerly awaiting the day when I could see the room coming together. I am very excited.

Today we took the twins to their swimming class. Joanna was very wiggly, almost trying to push off from whomever was holding her. It reminded me of when Hazel used to do that, wanting to swim on her own but of course totally unable to do so yet. Sometimes I wish there was such a thing as an enormous printer that could be hooked up to your brain and then produce the reams and reams of memories, stories, experiences, impressions that you’ve got stored there, but have completely lost conscious touch with. Of course, they would range from terrifying to amazing to mundane to sentimental to embarrassing to incomprehensible, and there would be plenty you wouldn’t actually want to see (or share). But every time a Hazel story emerges through an experience with the twins, I think of all the stories of my kids’ childhoods that will submerge and be lost, because I will forget them, and I feel some sadness and wistfulness.

I don’t have a great memory. When I attended my 20th college reunion a couple years ago, I was astounded by what I had forgotten, including people, names, and an entire year that I lived in an off-campus house with a friend. I regret it, because I have felt so out of touch with my own life, and because it’s harder to practice appreciation when so much is lost.

This is not to say that I can’t enjoy the moment, be present in it and live it to its fullest. I just wish I’d hung on to more of my own narrative, good and bad.

At the same time, it is interesting how we store memories and impressions in other ways than direct mental narratives. While at the reunion, I ran into a guy at an event and had an immediately strong positive feeling and wanted to hug him, even though his face was barely familiar at all and I had no idea who he was. Turns out we’d spent part of one year having really wonderful, meaningful, and sometimes intense conversations, having met in a production of a Gilbert & Sullivan opera. With some prodding of my memory, a few images surfaced. But my heart and body had recognized him even when my mind didn’t. We haven’t kept in touch, but I (may) remember his name when/if I see him at another reunion in the future.

Part of the reason behind my shaky memory, though, is a lack of focus on the positives here and now in my life. Negatives stick more easily: in order to hold onto the positives, I have to notice them with intention, appreciate them, and make a place for them in my mind and heart. I am trying to do that these days by deliberately cultivating gratitude for what is positive each day. Each night we go around and say our highs and lows for the day, and that does help. This blog helps. My Facebook entries help. And ultimately, a stronger focus on the positive will make more room for happiness in my life, and that is a good thing.

kittens, cooking, climbing

Today I took Hazel to a local cat shelter to see kittens. I asked her beforehand if she was going to be ok with walking away without having adopted a kitty. She said yes. We got there, I filled out their paperwork, and was told that in order for us to adopt kittens they’d have to clear it with a manager since we have small toddlers in our house.

I am pretty confident we could handle that situation. The babies were already learning to be gentle with Satchmo and Chester. They had a strong tendency at first to pull and tug, but we have been successfully training them out of that. We did so with Hazel when she was really little, too. “Open hand, open hand,” was our refrain. I think the other important thing when you have cats and kids is to have plenty of vertical escape routes for the cats. As much as she might want to, Emily will not be able to climb our cat towers.

Once I’d filled out the paperwork and had a little interview with the staff member, we were allowed into the cat and kitten rooms. It was lovely. I sat down on the floor and kittens came running to sniff and explore. Hazel petted them, played with them, and after a while, picked one up to snuggle. There was one fluffy grey kitten in particular who was super friendly. He settled down in my lap and purred. The kitten energy is so different from that of old cats, it felt like a totally different thing from being with Chester and Satchmo. I had a harder time with the older cats. What I came away with from the visit (not kittens, darn it) was the knowledge that if we were to adopt adult cats I would have to wait a while longer, or at least would prefer to wait longer. Kittens are a different experience. I enjoyed being with them so much that if I weren’t soon heading out of town for a week I would have been strongly tempted to attempt talking Ted into adopting two today. As it was, both Hazel and I left the shelter saying that we wished we could take all the kitties home with us.

The Mommy-Hazel time was good, too. We got to share something we both love, but to do so individually. We got to walk around outside on a gorgeous sunny day. We got to share sadness that we couldn’t take kitties home with us, and that we’re looking forward to doing so in the future. It was a nice way to cultivate positivity after yesterday’s challenges.

This evening before I left for my writing group, I prepped the remaining veggies from our CSA box to be cooked in the wok. When I got home Ted had stir-fried them, and it turned out to be a fortuitous grouping, because the dish is delicious! It’s a combination of golden beets, mushrooms, broccolini, chard, and escarole, cooked in a bit of coconut aminos, the Paleo alternative to soy sauce. Yum yum!

The other big event of the day was that Emily learned how to climb all the way up into her high chair by herself. I was sitting at the table talking to a friend on the phone, and I realized that her head was up higher than anticipated. Then I realized that she was reaching for the seat with her knee. Then I realized that she was hanging onto the back of the chair with her feet completely off the footrest below. I was astounded. This was a moment (and there are so many) in which my kid did something so far outside what I’d considered to be within her capability that it had never occurred to me that she’d do it. When I picked my jaw up off the floor I reached out to help her knee contact the seat, and that was it, she was up. I lifted her down, and she repeated the process, sometimes with my help and sometimes unaided.

I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified, a state I find endemic to parenthood.

Go, Emily, go!

parenting challenges

Today my nanny told me about an incident last week (on my birthday, while I was off teaching) in which she came down from grabbing her phone and baby clothes upstairs to find Hazel about to clip the back of Emily’s hand with the nail clippers. She grabbed it away, and put Hazel in the playroom by herself in a time-out, during which she howled and screamed and only calmed down when the nanny said that her timeout would get longer if she didn’t calm down. She hadn’t had a chance to tell me (though she’d told Ted) about it, so we had a conversation about it today. I asked if she thought Hazel hadn’t known what she was doing. She said she wasn’t sure, and that Hazel had immediately gotten a guilty look on her face when our nanny came through the door.

I have felt at a loss in dealing with situations in which I cannot tell if Hazel is telling the truth or not. She is only 4.5, and I don’t really know what are developmentally appropriate expectations. I do know that I haven’t handled those times particularly well, given that I feel somewhat at sea.

This afternoon, thinking about Emily with a bloody hand and screaming and in pain, I overreacted, and lectured Hazel for way too long. (She finally said, “Mama, I don’t want to discuss this any more.”)

This evening, though, Ted and I had a good talk about it, and decided that rather than punishing Hazel, which is useless, we need to come up with a solution to the issue that helps all of us. And that is, we’re going to stop unsupervised sibling time until we’ve had a chance to coach Hazel further in how to treat her sisters, and are feeling reasonably confident that she’ll stay within the safety parameters we set. We also need to commit to making sure that stuff that’s not baby safe is out of reach not only of the babies, but of Hazel too. Once we’d had that conversation we talked to Hazel and gave her three main points. 1) She has to ask the babies if she can pick them up, hug them, or move their bodies, just the way we ask her. We’ve taught them that lifting their arms means being picked up, and they’ll respond to the question, “Do you want to be picked up/Can I pick you up?” by either lifting their arms or not. It’s pretty clear. Same with hugs (outstretched arms), and holding hands (hands out palms up). If she can’t ask them in a way she can’t get a clear answer, then the answer is no. 2) She can only play with them with baby safe toys. Once the basement is done in a couple weeks it will be easier to again separate out between the living room and the playroom toys that are not baby-safe from those that are. 3) If she’s not sure if a thing or action is safe for the babies, we want her to ask an adult. Ted had the good idea of asking her to repeat those points back to us. She did with the first two, and we reminded her on the third.

We also need to ask more questions so we can find out what Hazel is thinking rather than just giving directions. This is something I’ve been attempting to do, and need to get better at. We want Hazel to be willing to talk to us about stuff, and if we’re just issuing commands and/or making her feel bad, she won’t want to.

Having a clear conversation with her tonight helped a lot; she stopped acting out and we all felt better for being on the same page, I think.

While I’m out of town we are all going to read, “Positive Discipline”, and having a meeting about it after I’m back. We all feel we could use some more expert information in this area.

Concert, trip prep, food, birthday dinner, life and gratitude

Today the other two members of my trio came over for a pre-concert rehearsal, after which we went to grab lunch, make a couple of page-turn-avoiding copies at Kinkos, and then head off for our gig. The concert was in a church that’s very reverberant, so that, coupled with the fact that we were sitting quite differently than we do in my tiny little studio (have I said I’m really looking forward to having a bigger space??) meant that playing there was quite a different experience than the one we’ve been having. I think we did pretty well given the number of rehearsals we’ve had. We have an opportunity now to deepen and polish our understanding and presentation of the movement, given that we’ll be performing the whole piece in a few months. In the car ride on the way back we talked about things we want to work on, including intonation, vibrato, articulation, and phrasing. We have very distinct styles as musicians, and learning to play together as a cohesive unit is something that takes time, intention, and work. I am deeply grateful to have this chance to spend several months working on one piece with a chamber group. My individual goal is to make sure, though personal practice, that every note I play is beautiful. Beyond that, I want to get better and better at hearing the other voices within the ensemble, and finding the right balance in my conversation with them.

When I got back I reserved a snorkeling trip for my friends and me for one of the days we’ll be in HI. That was a pleasure. This week I need to start thinking about logistics, how I’ll get to the airport, what I’ll bring. Even that feels like fun right now.

This evening we had a birthday dinner for me at a local small restaurant with a bunch of friends. This was one of our monthly off-plan meals, and so I ate some things I won’t usually be eating now that we’re on a Paleo diet. Nonetheless, I stayed gluten-free, and had only a tiny piece of chocolate from the top of the tiramisu the waiter brought me as a birthday dessert. This is not to brag about self-control, because that’s not how I’m experiencing it now. I have made a shift from looking at what I eat as a matter of controlling myself sufficiently to prevent myself from eating a whole range of things, restricting myself, to a place where I feel much more confident in my choices, and happy to eat things that are healthy for me. That feels really good, after a lifetime of a not-great relationship with food.

The evening was really wonderful. I’ve known some of the people around that table for over 25 years, and the roots of our conversations go back a long way. Topics of conversation ranged from handling the passing of loved ones and the subsequent dealing with stuff and childhood houses, to cultural differences between Brazil and the USA (one friend has been living there for a few years), to jobs, some politics, family, books, music, food, and more. It was one of those occasions where, to me at least, the affection and good will in the air was palpable. People came to enjoy themselves, to be with each other, to celebrate this community and set of connections. I am so grateful for my friends. It is a gift to have a circle (or several) of friends who are simply glad that you are alive, and who are glad to come celebrate the fact of your existence at a birthday party. It reminds me of a verse from the book “On The Day You Were Born,” by Debra Frasier.

“On the day you were born
the Earth turned, the Moon pulled,
the Sun flared, and, then, with a push,
you slipped out of the dark quiet
where suddenly you could hear. . .

. . . a circle of people singing with voices familiar and clear.

“Welcome to the spinning world,” the people sang,
as they washed your new, tiny hands.

“Welcome to the green Earth,” the people sang,
as they wrapped your wet, slippery body.

And as they held you close
they whispered into your open, curving ear,
“We are so glad you’ve come!”

My darling children have been born, not just into our family of five, but into a larger family of many people who love us and them, our families, our friends, our communities. I am glad to be alive, and that our girls came to us. On the one hand, the number 45 causes my eyes to widen, my lip to twitch, and my inner obnoxious teenager to say, “Oh My God, you are so OLD!” I figure that’s ok, as it is just a preview of what I am sure we will hear from all three kids over the years. But I say to her, “Yes! I have gray in my hair, I’ll need bifocals sometime sooner than I’d like to admit, and I’m regaining a regular cycle just in time for menopause. But I can sing, I can dance (badly), I can enjoy the light of day on my face and the silver of the night sky, and I can love better, more cleanly, and more fully than I could before. I am still growing, changing, learning. I am grateful.”

Concert, family, piano playing, sleep

At this afternoon’s concert part of our group did the Stravinsky piece called “L’Histoire du Soldat”. Here is a recording (though it’s much more satisfying live). It was an absolute pleasure to sit in the audience and listen. In a fairly long musical career, I haven’t ever actually heard the piece, and it is wonderful. There are so few members of the ensemble, and the performance space in which we play is such that you could hear each musician very clearly. The ensemble consists of violin, bass, clarinet, bassoon, trumpet, trombone, and percussion. Balancing all those instruments takes skill. They were all rock solid, and the ensemble cohered fabulously. That was a high point to my day.

Tomorrow we’re doing another concert, at which my trio is playing the first movement of Beethoven’s Op. 9 No 3 String Trio. There will be a different group playing another Beethoven piece, and the Stravinsky group will perform again. I’m looking forward to a second hearing.

After the concert my sister and niece came over. We were intending to carve pumpkins, but we wound up going out to get dinner, going to the park, and then just having the kids draw on the pumpkins. With kids it’s always a matter of balancing plans with current state of mind/body, and making decisions on the fly, with the intention of avoiding catastrophic meltdowns or huge conflict, or even just kids that are too tired to enjoy themselves. Hazel and her cousin love each other, but they also tend to wind each other up. They love to tell each other what to do, but they each hate being told what to do. But it was a nice time, and tomorrow Hazel and Ted can carve her pumpkin. We might even roast the seeds this year.

There was one lovely moment where my niece was holding Emily, who was giggling and gazing up at her. My niece bent and kissed Emily on her cheek. So sweet.

Tonight, as Ted and I were finishing up various things in the kitchen, Hazel went into the studio and started playing piano. I LOVE that she does that on her own. She played all her old songs, and then I went in and asked if she wanted to do the new ones with me. We worked on a couple of songs. I am really trying to strike the right balance between making it fun for her, and also helping her to learn her tunes the right way. My attitude makes all the difference in the world. Counting in funny voices, saying, “Uh oh!” and laughing, and pointing out that I made a mistake (I don’t play piano, so playing the teacher line is a challenge for me) are all things that help lighten and motivate her, and we’re able to get a fair amount done. We had a good time.

Then it was bedtime, and the three went down reasonably smoothly tonight. (fingers crossed). Ted hopes they will sleep well when I’m in Hawaii. I hope so too!!

Now we’re finishing up some cooking and cleaning, and are going to head for bed an hour and a half earlier than the 11:30 pm time we’ve been heading upstairs lately. The last week has been one of donut-hole sleep nights for me, where I wake up 2 hours after I go to sleep, and am then awake for at least a couple of hours. That makes for a tired, cranky, and easily distracted me. I need to sleep tonight, because I need my wits about me tomorrow for the Beethoven!

missing sweet tooth, Aquarium, piano, busy weekend

Well, well. I made the Paleo caramel/chocolate brownies. They were good. But I have lost the taste for sweet, apparently. I will be interested to see if I somehow crave them over the next few days, given that I am very aware in this moment that I don’t really want them. What a strange and wonderful shift I have experienced! In the old days I would either have gobbled half of the batch in one sitting, or least been strongly tempted to do so. Now, after having two small ones, that’s enough. That’s more than enough. It doesn’t feel like real food any more. Good to know! So, I think we’ll save them for tomorrow, to see if my sister and niece want them, and then we’ll ditch the rest. No point in having them in the house and making ourselves eat them just because they’re there.

This morning my friend A accompanied the girls and me to the Aquarium. That was fun. We got to see the seals being fed, having their teeth brushed, and doing a few circles, flips, and jumps. The babies were fascinated by the jellyfish. Joanna made her happy giggly sounds watching fish swimming around in the main observational area, and Emily motored around, climbing stairs, coming down stairs, looking at fish, looking at people, and generally having an excellent time. She’s so little that she catches people’s attention when she’s walking; her feet seem too small to support her. But off she goes! She can cover a lot of ground quickly.

This afternoon we went to see the piano of a friend’s relative who passed away recently. We’re going to buy it. It’s a nice Schimmel, and now that Hazel is taking lessons I want to have a better piano than the one we’ve got. It’s about 20 years old, so a lot less expensive than a new one, and after we put some work into it will sound wonderful.

Then Ted ran off to the store to do the week’s shopping while I practiced (and finished making the brownies), and then I had a rehearsal. Tomorrow: soccer, piano practice, dress rehearsal, concert, spending time with my sister and niece. Sunday: dress rehearsal, concert, birthday dinner. *whew* It’s all good stuff, though!