vacation day, new family room

Today we had a long, slow, lazy morning. This is something that is rare in our current lives for obvious reasons. Ted took the twins downstairs at 8 am and played with them. I woke up and came downstairs at 9:30, incredibly late for these days, and Hazel didn’t come down until 10 am! When she did she got in my lap and we snuggled for another hour until we decided we all had to eat breakfast. Having the expanse of a day in front of you with nothing at all on the schedule, nothing required, is an incredible luxury. We were all more relaxed. There was a lot of joking and giggling around the table.

When we were done eating we took everybody down to our developing family room in the basement. Hazel brought down a bucket of Lego’s for the twins, and then I set her up to paint at the desk that’s been awaiting its role as the kids’ desk for many years since we first bought it during my pregnancy with Hazel. Meantime, Ted and I did various tasks in the room. That chunk of time plus the others we spent down there today marked a new stage in our family interaction. The twins are starting to be able to self (and other) entertain more now, and so they were pretty content to play with Lego’s while periodically coming over to check on what either Ted or I was doing. Hazel happily mixed paints and covered several pages of her drawing book. Ted and I did projects either separately or together, and made some really good headway while also being able to stop and tend to the kids when we needed to. It was enjoyable, satisfying, and productive.

One of the reasons we wanted to set up our family room downstairs is that there is no room on the main floor that’s big enough to easily accommodate the activities that babies/young toddlers, preschoolers, and adults want to do. We wind up having to stop Hazel from doing a lot of what she’s interested in, because there’s no way to make it safe for the babies. Downstairs that won’t be an issue. Being in the same room and doing the things we each wanted to do gave us the flexibility to work and play together or separately as we wanted. I am very pleased that it’s turning out so well.

We took breaks for other things. At one point Ted took the twins for a walk while Hazel and I went to the park together and had a bit of Hazel-Mommy time. During the kids’ nap, and tonight after they were in bed, we did the things we didn’t want to attempt with them present like moving bookshelves and the like.

So now there are areas of the house that are utter disaster, but it’s totally temporary, and will be fixed tomorrow. And there are other areas that are coming together so nicely, better than we even imagined.

One’s physical space really does impact the ease of play, of work, of having places for privacy and togetherness within something that is shared like a house. We love where we live, don’t feel the need to “upgrade” to a big house with a very expansive, modern open floor plan, but I know we are really going to enjoy being able to expand our living area down into the ground floor.

And now there’s a pleasant warm spot with a desk in which Ted can work when he needs to work from home. He used to huddle on a couch in the cold awful basement, surrounded by all our crap. This will be an improvement of many-fold.

Systemic vs individual change

Today I read this article, seen on my Facebook news roll, posted by a couple of friends. It started out well, but once he started arguing against the problem he’d stated at the beginning of his post, my first reaction was to wonder why Mr. Kristof is trying to make his point about the need for compassion by trading on tired stereotypes. It has been shown over and over again that poverty is the biggest predictor of challenges in school, in work, and in life in general. Why add to his argument the image of, “a stressed-out single mom who doesn’t read to you and slaps you more than hugs you”? Single moms are demonized in our society, which creates a layer of stress that has real consequences in their lives and the lives of their children. In his very next sentence, Mr. Kristof says, ” One University of Minnesota study found that the kind of parenting a child receives in the first 3.5 years is a better predictor of high school graduation than I.Q.” So why point the finger at parenting, at the implied lack of love and responsibility that the kids he’s citing are suffering from? The real problem is poverty. It is our systemic lack of compassion, not just on the part of individuals for individuals, but a terrible lack of support, understanding, and valuation of the lives of those who are in need by our society and its institutions.

A person’s survival shouldn’t ride on the compassion of individual Americans, though of course that lack of fellow feeling is terribly important. But Mr. Kristol shows its inevitable limitations in his article when he chooses to highlight the consequences to poor innocent children who shouldn’t suffer as a result of their loser parents’ bad choices.

Compassion cannot be limited to people who have made choices that are adjudged not too bad by other people who have the money, power, and influence to determine what everyone else in society should receive. I do, of course, believe that children of people in trouble need to receive all the help they require to survive and have a chance to thrive. But people in trouble also deserve that help. Everyone deserves help. Everyone is human. Everyone deserves society’s resources. Everyone makes mistakes, sometimes horrific ones. And sometimes one is saved from gigantic consequences of one’s mistakes by pure luck. Maybe you made a bad driving decision, and you just missed a head-on collision by a fraction of an inch. Maybe you were so brain-fogged after months of no sleep that you almost forgot your infant in the car, but remembered when you were several yards away and went running back to your vehicle. Maybe, in the midst of an emotional storm of betrayal, anger, and grief, you wrote that email that could destroy relationships, tear apart families, but your email program had a glitch, and by the time you woke up shaking with fear and remorse the next morning you were incredibly relieved to see it still hanging out in your outbox, unsent. Maybe you got addicted to some sort of drug, and your need for it eclipsed everything else, but you happened into some sort of program that helped you out before you lost your job, your relationships, your children, your life.

I believe that this lack of compassion isn’t actually so new in our country, but I think it’s been significantly exacerbated by an economic picture in which the gap between have and have-nots has widened until that wealth disparity is greater than that found in Egypt. More and more people are feeling very significantly economically challenged, and are not responding to their fellow human beings with grace and openness. They are afraid. And they are lashing out.

We need support. We need single payer health care. We need jobs. We need a real social net that doesn’t depend on someone’s definition of who deserves help. We need to teach compassion as we model it. Lecturing others for their lack of compassion and blaming systemic problems on individual people doesn’t advance us very far or effectively to the stated desired goal.

We need to excise the idea of winners and losers from our calculation of what people deserve.

We need to require equal access to society’s systems for all people. If we were all valued, individual compassion would be an easier coin to come by and to spend.

Thanksgiving, holidays, Hanukkah

Our house is going to be a mess tomorrow when my sister and niece arrive. I am not going to stay up late tonight cleaning. I am going to practice letting go of worrying about the state of the house. There will be food – the turkey is brining, and will be roasted tomorrow. There will be stir-fried chicken with broccoli and mushrooms. There will be roasted beets, roasted cauliflower, roasted parsnips, and roasted carrots. There will be apple cider, pumpkin custard, and ice cream. There will be food!

There will also be hanging out, talking, watching the kids play, and otherwise sharing time together.

Meanwhile, today we put the carpet into our new family room downstairs. At some point we’ll set up the full bed that’s going to be our daybed downstairs from which we can watch the occasional movie. We’re also, irony of ironies, going to move the heavy work benches back into our basement, and in fact put them right back where they were before we took them out. Shhhh, don’t tell our friends A and S. First, though, we’ll have to put some air in the tires on the upright dolly, as otherwise they’ll whimper and flatten if they get anywhere near those pieces of old hardwood.

I put up some holiday lights tonight, outlining the front porch. If no one looks at the contents of the front porch (a whole lot of stuff that needs to be trashed, recycled, or given to Goodwill), we actually look like we’re ahead of where we were last year. And of course, we are.

Tomorrow is also the second night of Hanukkah. I am looking forward to lighting candles with Ted and the girls, as well as my sister and niece. I have always loved watching the candles burn down. Sitting in the dark and watching those little flames tends to lead to a peaceful sort of contemplation, and I like to share that with family.

A busy, productive day

This afternoon I asked Hazel if she wanted to run errands and go to appointments with me, or go home after her vaccine and take a nap. She chose to stay with me, so together we went to the kitchen store to buy various things including baking sheets (ours are ancient, crusty, and unappealing), roasting pans for veggies since we seem to be doing that every week and I broke our glass pan this week, and small custard cups for pumpkin custard for Thanksgiving. When we were on our way Hazel asked where we were going. I told her, and she started giggling over the idea of a store where you could buy a kitchen complete with food. We had some fun with that. Then I had a chiropractic appointment. The practice has a kids playroom which Hazel loves, and she entertained herself with new friends until it was time for us to leave and rush over to my next appointment, which was PT, to which my Pilates teacher also came so she could meet my PT guy and get a feel for what we’re doing. That was Hazel’s favorite: she had big balls to play with, a bike to ride, and cups of water to fill.

Once we’d gotten home, Hazel reminded me that we needed to do a piano practice, so we went downstairs to the new piano and worked on her two songs. I was starving and feeling impatient, so had to keep reining myself in internally so that I could help create a positive atmosphere for Hazel. It gave me a little inkling of what it might be like down the road when I’m helping her with homework. I won’t always be in the mood.

Then Ted and I ran off to Home Depot to get some plywood with which to make a temporary wall in the basement between our storage area and new family room. This morning I got the carpet remnant ordered, and tomorrow I’ll pick it up. Once that’s in, the baby gate is installed, and various things have been moved into the storage area from the family room area, hey presto! we’ll have another space in which kids can play. Then we’ll have a play area on every floor. And the living space will increase as we go through the stuff in our storage area and get rid of as much as possible of it. Progress!

Tonight, after the kids were asleep, Ted and I put up holiday lights to brighten the pathway to the studio, as well as making it more festive. Those led lights work! I think we’ll be able to use them as a cheap solution until we can get more permanent lighting installed on the side of the house. We have one more string of lights to put up out front. I told Hazel we’d wait to do that until tomorrow, when she can help me with them. She was excited by that idea.

Before we came back upstairs after installing the plywood, Ted turned on the two arcade games to check them out. They both still work. I anticipate much fun being had playing them. The sounds are nostalgic for us old fogies, that’s for sure. That room is also going to have a spare bed, so when we have guests to stay we can offer them a room that’s on a floor away from the main family action that also comes complete with its own entertainment.

A nanny-less day

Prep for Thanksgiving has begun. I went shopping tonight, and between what I got at the store and our veggies box that will arrive Wednesday, I think we have what we need. We’ll cook in the morning, and my sister and niece will come over for several hours during the day.

Unfortunately, I strained my wrist while moving all those boxes in the basement last night. It was pretty sore today. It’s had some attention from someone qualified, but I do have to be careful with it for a while.

Today my nanny couldn’t come, due to being ill. That made for quite an adventurous day, full of ups and downs. I had four appointments, lots of things to juggle. My morning student brings her daughter, and so between her daughter and my three, we had a full house. The kids all did well, as did we. It was a productive lesson. I had at least two of my kids in my lap for the duration. Emily watched my student play for quite a while.

Then I had to run off to a chiropractic appointment, from which I was late getting home so that my friend A could take Hazel to her swim lesson. I had assumed (bad idea) that her suit and towel were still in the swim bag from last time, and found out the bag was empty when I picked it up to send it off with her. That was the point, after getting the kids in and out of the stroller and car repeatedly with my injured wrist for the morning walk and my first appointment of the day, that I lost the plot. It was embarrassing and unnecessary, but there it is. I was anticipating the rest of the day, which was going to get steadily more challenging.

I decided that from now on we need to get swim suits hung up immediately upon arrival at home after the lesson or class, or swim. I am not interested in any more frantic, last-minute searches for swimwear. My friend A innocently asked, “Does Hazel only have one swim suit?” and I wanted to bite his head off.

So, A and Hazel headed off for her swim lesson. Then I realized that of course I could take the babies to my next appointment, but it was during their nap. This is obvious and elementary, but it had gleefully escaped my notice until 15 minutes before said appointment. After hemming and hawing and more stress, I decided to risk it. I fed them lunch and popped them in the stroller. They were asleep in seconds. I made it to my appointment about 20 minutes late. The babies slept through the majority of it, achieving a 45-minute snooze. A and Hazel met me after the swim lesson and my appointment, and we headed back to the house.

At various points throughout the morning and afternoon, after I’d discovered that my nanny wouldn’t be coming, I attempted to line up alternate child care and received and made multiple phone calls in pursuit of that end. Nothing worked out.

After A left we hung out for a few minutes, and then I packed them all into the car to head off for my fourth appointment (to look at my wrist). That is not a baby-proofed environment, but we managed. I should have brought toys and books with me, but honestly it did not occur to me.

Due to traffic coming home, I was about 10 minutes late for the evening’s first lesson. However, I could go over, since my second student had cancelled. I taught two very good and productive lessons, and then it was time to play with the kids before bedtime.

Once they were down I made a list and escaped to the grocery store to shop, alone.

Once I was home I did a bunch of planning for Thanksgiving, including printing out of recipes.

And now, to bed. I hope our nanny can come tomorrow! (I know, I know. It’s totally a first-world problem. I acknowledge that. Nonetheless, hauling three kids around all day was not my idea of fun!)

Beethoven trio, basement org

This morning Ted took the kids to the zoo and I had a marvelous trio rehearsal in my new studio space. We worked on the slow movement of the Beethoven. As we gain more experience playing together it’s easier to fix entrances, to get phrases right together, to catch each other in the right places. That is deeply satisfying. I have had the melodies running through my head all day.

We also read through the last two more movements for fun, including the schizophrenic third movement with its abrupt dynamic and character changes and super long hemiolas, and the finale with its frenetically fast triplets. All movements in this trio other than the first end very quietly, though you’d expect the last movement to end with a bang. I never get tired of Beethoven.

In the afternoon Ted and I worked on the basement during the time we had childcare. When he and friends moved all our stuff back downstairs it wasn’t in any particular order, and the shelves were all right next to each other making it impossible to sort through their contents. Having looked fruitlessly for various tools in the past month, we decided to rejigger that arrangement, plus fixing up the remaining third of the basement into a useable space. It all took rather longer than anticipated, of course, but we now have pairs of shelves back to back, with aisles between each pair, and everything is accessible. Ted labeled almost all of the boxes so that we now have a reasonable chance of finding anything we’re looking for.

We’re going to build a half wall out of plywood and add a baby gate, and then we’ll be able to let the kids play in the other part of the basement without worrying about them getting into the storage area, which is most definitely not baby-safe.

In the other third we’re going to have a daybed, a TV, a desk, a workbench area, and Ted’s two 80’s arcade games (Crystal Castles and Tempest for those who are curious). It will be a place we can retreat to individually or together, to do some work, or to watch a movie (or to play the video games). Ironically, I think we’re going to wind up bringing two of the old workbenches we’d taken out into our yard (and on which there was decades of sawdust) back into the basement. It’s always good to have a work area. And in that living space we can lay out track for trains, or matchbox cars. We can play games, set up the water table for the kids to play with, or do big art projects.

It’s nice to feel the house expanding, as we make more of it usable.

And yesterday I did a bunch of cooking, so we even have food today. Score!

Sick kid, Microcosmos, kids and media

Last night managed to ratchet up the stress level in our family. I woke up with a migraine around midnight, and Hazel developed an earache around that time too. She was up crying for a lot of the night. Luckily I had some migraine medication around and was able to get rid of the headache and go back to sleep with the aid of that and an ice pack, and got enough sleep, even though it was broken up, to feel more reasonable this morning.

We’ve gotten various great ideas from my brother and his family over the past few years. Their oldest kid is the first one of our kids’ generation who arrived in our family – now there are six cousins between my sister and brother and I. When I was pregnant with Hazel I got a lot of equipment ideas from his wife and him, and we have continued to have good conversations about parenting over the years.

One thing we share is a desire to keep our kids away from screens for a while. I’m not sure what the age is at which they plan to introduce TV, but we’ve decided on seven years old. We want our daughters to be old enough to have conversations about content and context of what they watch. And we want them to develop an attention span free of the influence of the TV shows and movies. We also believe that consumption of media tends to contribute to the acquisitiveness that seems so common nowadays, the attachment to stuff which is hawked 24/7 in every possible venue. I grew up without a TV at all (when I was a kid there was graphic nightly coverage of the Vietnam war, and that was one reason my parents decided to steer clear.) In fact, they didn’t get a TV until my brother gave them one perhaps a decade ago. They fairly rapidly replaced it with something better, and now they often watch movies in the evenings. I must admit that I found that development side-splittingly hilarious when it occurred.

But I digress.

Despite the almost total prohibition on TV, however, my niece is allowed to watch a particular movie, “Microcosmos”, when she is sick. Today, because Hazel had had such a bad night, she needed to have a restful day in which she could recuperate. I remember the hideous boredom I used to suffer when I was a kid sick in bed. I also remember the non-stop pleading and demands I aimed in my mom’s direction. Hazel doesn’t yet know how to read (she’s only 4.5 after all!) as a self-entertainment activity, and so Ted and I talked it over and decided to let her watch the movie. It’s about bugs, and has practically no narration. It’s actually quite beautiful, very dramatic. One of my favorite scenes shows a water spider collecting air bubbles that merge to create an air pocket below the surface in which it lives. There’s also, among many other things, incredible slowed down footage of rain drops striking and bouncing, knocking a lady bug off its blade of grass. Here’s a preview of original French movie (there is also an English version).

Ted took the babies out for a walk, and I put the movie on for Hazel, after which I went into my old studio upstairs and practiced for a while. Eventually Hazel came in and asked if I would watch with her, said it was a bit scary. I think probably for someone who’s not really ever seen a movie, the imagery and sound track is a whole lot of input. So, I took a break from Beethoven (Op. 9, Trio 3, Adagio con esspressione) and went to watch the world of bugs with my daughter. After about half the movie she said she was bored and wanted to do something else. I texted Ted, and we shared an electronic giggle that after all the build-up she got tired of the movie before it was done. Nonetheless, she did finish it later, and watch it again in chunks.

It’s a lovely piece of work with spectacular photography and beautiful accompanying music. I did some searching on the internet, but could find nothing else similar. We are going to re-watch “Winged Migration” (by one of the directors of “Microcosmos”) tonight to see if it would be suitable. If not, Hazel will be stuck with bugs as her sole cinematic entertainment for the next 2.25 years. There are worse things.

Putting the kids down for the night went quite smoothly this evening. Here’s hoping the night is better than last night, too.