Friday, September 1, 2017

My Review of the Neato Botvac

As I'm sitting down to write this evening, Cinderella is cleaning my floors.

No, really.  Allow me to explain.

A while ago my husband received some extra and unexpected money, for which we were very grateful.  It came with a note saying it was hoped it could be used "for rest and relaxation."

And not long thereafter, Nathan and the girls were out running a few errands one morning, and came home with a surprise for me: the ultimate, most long-lasting form of rest and relaxation one can procure.

A Neato Botvac.

What is a Botvac, you may well ask?

It's like a Roomba, only {sorry, Roomba users} better.

* * *

The Botvac has an app you can install on your phone, which allows you to name your robot and then to operate it from your phone, which is very convenient and also fun.  It also means your phone will receive alerts if the Botvac gets stuck somewhere or needs the dirt bin to be emptied, and an alert when it finishes cleaning.  You can also access a map of the most recent cleaning, which usually shows quite accurately the areas the Botvac has cleaned.

A map of a recent cleaning.  Since our home has two rooms that are down steps, she doesn't do those rooms unless I move her in there and run a specific cleaning in either of those spaces.  So you can see on the map how her lasers plotted some general sense that those spaces existed, but she kept herself from going off the ledges into either of those rooms.

Our girls, as you may have guessed, immediately clamored to name our Botvac Cinderella, and so, we did.  {I initially wanted to name it Carson, to tell the truth, but the girls won out on this one!}

Her notifications are always charming and polite, such as, "Thank you for emptying my dirt bin."  You're welcome, Cinderella.  It's the least I can do.

* * *

The Botvac uses lasers to scan the rooms and create a map of your house (or whatever floor of your house it's cleaning) as it goes.  It will then plan the most efficient path to use to clean.  I find that it tends to find and clean perimeters of rooms first, and then go back and do the middles in very systematic rows back and forth.  It easily slides under our living room couch and big chair, so for the first time in, um, ever, those places are routinely clean, which is pretty amazing.

It can be used on both carpeted floors and wood floors, so Cinderella happily roams between the living room rug, the wood dining room floor, the vinyl kitchen floor, and the carpeted family room without missing anything.  And you know what I'm not missing?  The old days of wrestling with changing attachments for our old vacuum between the wood floor wand and the carpet attachment!

We do find that she gets a little perplexed trying to go under the dining room table amidst so many chair legs to navigate, so we usually flip the chairs, restaurant-at-closing-style, onto their seats on the table before running Cinderella.  I guess flipping all the chairs every evening is a teeny bit inconvenient, but when you consider that a small magical device is going to clean beneath the table, I guess I can deal with it.

A before and after of the floor under my three-year-old's chair at the dinner table.  This is pretty much the situation after every single meal, every single day.  A woman with more time on her hands might sweep and mop or wipe it up on her hands and knees.  Nowadays I pick up the largest things, let the rest dry out, and run the Cinderella.  Voila!
It has a small round side brush that it uses to sweep along the very edges of floors to bring things into its suction reach.  And as you'd expect, the Botvac can sense ledges such as small drop-offs between rooms or a staircase, and will not go over a ledge.  It also senses furniture and other large objects and circumvents them.  If the Botvac's battery runs low in the middle of a cleaning, it will return to its charging base until fully charged, and then "remember" where it was to resume cleaning once it is charged.  It also has a nice feature to run a "spot clean" in a given location, which I've found handy for our entryway rug.

* * *

My immediate response to Nathan's gift was overwhelming happiness.

A few moments later, guilt set in.  I actually felt like if we just worked harder to keep the floors cleaner we wouldn't need this exorbitant, luxury lifestyle item, and that Nathan getting it for our home meant a personal failing on my part.  I also felt guilty about the cost of it, because I have a tendency to be frugal to a fault in some regards.

While I was bemoaning my guilt about his purchase, Nathan set up the Botvac and started it running. The girls cheered as "Cinderella" vacuumed our downstairs for us.  And I stopped feeling guilty and started feeling exceedingly happy again.

* * *

I've noticed several unexpected benefits of having a Botvac aside from the quite obvious fact that, you know, she cleans my floors for me.

First of all, it's quite motivating to the kids to know that a robot vacuum, for whom they have a mixture of love, admiration, and fear, is about to be unleashed on the house.  They are not altogether aware of her size limitations in terms of what she can actually vacuum up, and in their minds, she's going to eat all their belongings.  So, they are very motivated to clean up their things.  If I'm running Cinderella in the evening, before bedtime I'll just give them a warning about it and they're very good about picking up all their stuff so it doesn't get "eaten."  If I've skipped an evening and decide to do it the following morning, we'll work together on getting everything ready, so they can pick up their toys while I flip the chairs and move the kitchen garbage can, etc.

Secondly, it's motivating to me to know that I'm always pretty close to having the floors clean, and if I can just pick up things, close a couple of closet doors, and flip chairs, I'll then be one push of a button away from having Cinderella clean all my downstairs floors for me.  Suddenly those tasks seem very manageable, and very worth it.  Instead of getting the kids to bed and wanting to immediately crash in exhaustion (well, I still want to do that sometimes!), I'll find myself thinking, It's not too bad; if I load the dishes into the dishwasher, a machine will wash them for me.  If I gather laundry and throw a load into the washing machine, it'll be clean by morning.  Likewise, if I pick up the stuff on my floors, a robot will vacuum them for me! If Ma Ingalls could do all that stuff by hand, I can manage to do the preparations for my magical machines to do their work!

Thirdly, I've realized how much happier I am when my floors are really clean on a daily basis.  I love not feeling little bits of grit or crumbs under my bare feet when I'm walking around in the house.  And I've noticed I can let go a little bit of my frustrations with how dirty the kids get playing outside when I know that despite my best efforts, they'll be tracking a lot of that dirt back into the house.  It's really nice to shrug and say to myself, I'll be running Cinderella this evening!

* * *

And speaking of dirt in my house, you would not believe the amount of dirt this Botvac cleans on a daily basis.  At first we kept saying to each other, "Wow, this is both incredible and disgusting!  But she must be lifting dirt that's been settled into the carpet.  She won't keep getting this much every day."  But the weeks went by, and she kept filling that dirt bin every. single. day.  We are flabbergasted.  Horrified.  Gratified.  All at the same time!  It's amazing.  I'm so happy knowing all that stuff isn't on my floors.

Yes, this is after one cleaning.  I'm as horrified as you are, believe me.
I really believe these brilliant little things should become standard in most homes.  Anyone who has even a little disposable income even occasionally should get one.  {We are not, I might add, usually the kind of people who can drop a large chunk of change on something like this, but in retrospect, even aside from receiving some unexpected money, I would do this again in a heartbeat!}  If you think about it, almost everyone has a dishwasher.  And the Botvac is to your floors as a dishwasher is to your dishes, or a washer and dryer is to your laundry, for that matter.

I'm a mama to three small children, and I work anywhere from 15 to 40 hours in a given week.  Part of my work actually involves other people's young children traipsing in and out of my house throughout the afternoon.  In other words, in my life right now, the level of messiness is high and the amount of spare time is low.  So, having Cinderella "join our family" has been saving my sanity in a big way lately.

Is the Botvac perfect?  Well, no.  She does seem to get "stuck" from time to time in a place where she's not actually touching anything, so she's clearly just become confused.  {That's OK, Cinderella... I get confused sometimes too.  Where was I going with this kitchen towel? Is it clean or dirty? What am I doing?}  And once or twice I've seen her keep trying to go up against a closed door, back and forth, over and over - not banging into the door or anything, just sort of perseverating about a certain general direction.  And I must admit that our baby swing really confuses her; the base of it is just high enough for her to get stuck in but not high enough to keep her from trying to go over and into it.  So, that's another thing we're picking up and moving before running the vacuum most of the time.  But aside from a few quirks like these, I would have to say she's pretty near perfect, she does a fabulous job cleaning, and I love her.

* * *

The bottom line is this:

If you want to experience true and lasting joy, you need one of these.

If you'd rather keep cleaning your floors with the waters of your own miserable tears, I guess you don't need one.

Cinderella charging at her little station after cleaning my floors last night.
*Disclosure: I am not a fancy professional blogger, and this review was neither requested nor paid for by anyone.  However, if the creators of the Neato Botvac see it and would like to send me another Botvac for free, I will receive it with tears of gratitude and utilize it to clean my second floor on a daily basis, and I will thus most likely achieve Nirvana.*

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Molly at five months

Five months old, with the longest wisps of dark hair on top and in the back, and the bluest eyes you ever did see.  She weighed in at about 15 pounds at five months old, and while she's still fitting into her 3-6 month clothes, it's clear that those outfits' days are numbered.  

She's my first baby ever to suck her thumb, which is, as you might have anticipated, the cutest thing ever.  She doesn't do it continually or regularly manage to find it when she wants to soothe herself, but she does it often enough that I think we might have a genuine thumb-sucker on our hands.  

Princess of the 40 Minute Daytime Nap, and instigator of 2:00 or 3:00 am middle of the night parties lasting an hour and a half or more, this sweet babe is leaving her mother less than well-rested.  {My own tendency for insomnia to rear its ugly head once I'm awakened hasn't been helping matters any!}

But she has so many smiles for us all day long, and flaps her arms with glee, particularly enjoying the feel of scratching her fingernails against her own diapers and any other interesting surfaces they may encounter.  And she has the best laugh.  And she's even begun reaching out to grab my face from time to time.  

So, sleepless wonder that she can be at times, we'll keep her.

She's learned to easily grab whatever is within her reach, and grab things she does, usually for the purposes of putting them straight into her mouth.  So we've brought out the baby toys for a third go around, and Molly explores them with glee.

This sweet wooden rattle was made for a baby Nell about five years ago by Grandma and Grandpa.
Her drooling abilities could test the limits of any bib known to man.  I wipe, and wipe, and wipe that chin and neck, and moments later you'd never know the child had anyone to care for her hygiene, poor thing, and she sometimes gets a rash in her neck folds despite my best efforts.  {Isn't it glorious how one can talk about a baby's neck folds?  I have a feeling if I developed a rash in my neck I wouldn't talk about it quite so openly.}

She vocalizes loudly in squawks, squeaks, coos, and forced little croakings that seem to amuse her the most of all.

She's stopped protesting diaper changes, and instead views them as a highlight of her day, a particularly fine time to grab her toes and shove them into her mouth.  {This classically babyish trait has made a few conversations with a certain three year old necessary about how no, you may not put your toes in Molly's mouth, yes, I know she puts her toes in, but that's quite different, because her toes are cleaner, yes, even though you just had a bath, it's still different, because it just is, and GET YOUR TOES OUT OF THE BABY'S MOUTH RIGHT AWAY PLEASE!}

In a sweet vintage bonnet given to her by a friend. 

Dear Molly,

You are sweet as sugar, did you know that?  

Your sisters adore you, and I'm grateful for that numerous times a day when you can turn their frowns upside down with one smile, or even a bestowed glance in either of their directions.  

Your Daddy proudly calls you "the best baby yet" {never mind that he felt equally proud and biased about each one of our girls as babies!}, and is pleased as punch that sometimes when I'm trying to settle you down, all he has to do is hold you in his lap for you to calm right down.  He can put you to sleep bouncing you gentle in the Ergo in the evenings as he watches a Red Sox game, and I'll hear him say to you as he buckles you into that carrier, "Ok Molly, it's the top of the fourth and the Sox are leading..." and you happily grin up at him as if he holds the moon and the stars.

My dear daughter, a forty minute nap three or four times a day is not enough time for me to get anything done, really, and furthermore, since it's not enough rest for you, you awaken too cranky for me to do anything in between these short naps, either.  I love you a hundred million billion, as I've always said to each of my girls, but Molly Moe, let's see if six months can be a turning point for longer naps, shall we?  I'd like that a lot.

In any case, you sleep pretty well at night {even when I don't do so well at going back to sleep!}, sometimes only waking once or twice, which, while not as glorious as the days when you were three months old and slept through the night, are still pretty glorious, I say. 

You just took a -- you guessed it -- forty minute nap as I was typing this blog post, and now you're up again, so I shall end this here and go snuggle you, you sweet little girlie.  We love you.


doting kisses from Ree
silly faces all around

Friday, August 18, 2017

Charlottesville and Little Children

Like most of America, I've been dwelling on the events that took place in Charlottesville this past weekend.  Pondering them in my heart.  Reading about them in what little spare time I have to do so, with three small children and a part-time job on my daily plate of responsibilities.

It seems that there's almost a requirement these days, when anything particularly horrific or offensive or tragic occurs, to take to our individual social media platforms and make known where we stand.  I have seen more than a few people declaring that "If you aren't speaking out against ______, then your'e part of the problem."   "Your silence is deafening," they say.

And yet, I don't actually think that everyone who isn't posting about this on Facebook is a racist, hateful, bigoted whathaveyou, of course.  There are other options, aren't there?  That one doesn't have words, perhaps, or that one doesn't feel compelled to add to the noise of social media, or doesn't believe it helpful, or simply feels called to act in a different, more personal or tangible way.

Myself, I have found myself wondering if the best tactic might not be to just ignore these crazy people so filled with hate.  Why are we giving them media attention?  Why are we giving them a platform for their absurd ideologies?  If we don't meet their protests with counter-protests, who will they hurl their hateful rhetoric towards?  If we completely and utterly ignore them, will they go away?

And then I thought of my young children.  And I thought of the long-standing conventional wisdom that to make tantrums or other bad behavior stop, parents should just ignore it.  And I remembered just how much I've always disagreed with that approach.

* * *

Yesterday, after a long afternoon of playing in the yard, Nell was helping me clean up.  Suddenly frustrated, she began to wail loudly: "MAMA!  I'm doing all this cleaning up and Ree isn't doing ANYTHING!"

For a moment I considered pointing out factually that Ree was picking up the orange peels they had scattered across the lawn, or logically arguing that Nell is five and Ree is three and the expectations are different, or even just saying flatly that life isn't fair and I was too tired to argue about it.  I even considered ignoring her outburst and simply not responding.

Then I tried to see past her yelling.  I got down at eye level with her, and I said, "Nell, I see you.  I see how much you help me around the house.  I notice your hard work and your helpful, kind heart.  I notice the way you try to help so I don't have as much work to do by myself.  I'm so grateful to have a daughter like you.  I really appreciate your help."

I didn't say a thing about Ree.  I didn't say anything to feed into the endless comparison trap.  I just looked at Nell, my Nell, and told her that I saw her.  I let her know that I appreciate her.  You see, I had a feeling that it was never about the work or even about the fairness of it.  Sometimes a person just wants to be seen and loved and known and appreciated.

And do you know what?  Nell happily smiled at me and said, "I'm sorry for screaming, Mama.  Actually I do love helping you!"  She picked up the books and the rubber balls.  And she went over to Ree and said encouragingly, "Marie, you're picking up too!  You're getting bigger and learning how to help!"

* * *

You can't live through teenage years without the realization that people who don't find love and acceptance in healthy places will find it somewhere.  The evidence is all around: gangs, cliques, self-harm, teen pregnancy.  We all need to be seen and loved, and will even go to extreme lengths to find our place in this world.  Even the most marginalized will always find someone; the magnetic human need for connection is just that strong.

Hate-filled groups like ISIS and the KKK know this, you know.  They prey on the lonely, the isolated, the vulnerable as they scour the internet or their own social circles for new recruits.  An angry person who feels marginalized or disenfranchised makes the perfect target.  If you're selling the age-old lies that there isn't enough to go around, that someone else is trying to take the happiness that's rightfully yours, well, in a lonely or hurting person you've just found a potential buyer.  

* * *

It's not so different from toddlers and young children, I think.  They, too, are apt to think that there isn't enough to go around.  They, too, are quick to claim what they deem rightfully theirs.  "Blood and soil," they might chant if they thought of it -- I was born here in this house, and these are my toys, and if other children come and try to play with my things, well, it's just not okay!

The trouble is that ignoring it will never work.

Children need to work through this long, dark tunnel of turbulent emotions sometimes.  They need to be heard and loved, even when -- especially when -- they're angry.  They need connection, not isolation; understanding, and rarely harsh judgment; empathy and common ground where it can be found.  You can't reason with them all the time.  You can't out-argue them.  You can't order them to stop feeling the sometimes silly things that they feel.   You can't meet yelling and acting out with yelling and acting out of your own.

I have attempted to make a verse from Romans my parenting vision: "The kindness of God leads to repentance."

I've found that my children are not so unlike I am: they want to be good, and will do so to the best of their abilities.  They want to please their loving parents, and to learn to subdue their own tempers and willfulness and overcome their temptations for naughtiness.  But they can only do these things within the limits not only of their prefrontal cortexes but also of their humanness.  What is it Paul wrote?  "...I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing."  

And so, I kneel down beside them and give words to their very big feelings: "You were playing with that toy.  She took it.  That's so, so hard.  You're really upset.  You weren't done playing yet!  You wanted more time."   And the wronged child feels my empathy as I share in the injustice of it all.  She nods, and wipes her tears with her hand.  "I'm really sad!  And my feelings are hurt!"  She's said it now, and she already feels calmer.  So I ask, "Can you think of a way we could work it out?  Can I help?"  But she's already running back to play again, and I overhear: "Hey, when you're done, can I have a turn again?  I wasn't done yet.  And next time, can you not take something when I'm playing with it?  You can ask me first!"  The younger one, perhaps caught off guard by the way the anger has dissipated, agreeably says, "Oh, okay!  I'm sorry!"  

They didn't even need my help this time, because we've done the hard work of reconciliation so many times together before. 

* * *

I'm ashamed to say it, but I don't have to look very far to find hate.  It's in my own heart.  It's in my own home.  Being an adult and a parent is more complicated, more confusing, more difficult than anyone can ever warn you it will be.  I find myself wanting to roll my eyes when my five-year-old stubs her toe for the sixth time in one afternoon and wails so very lengthily about it.  I'm frustrated with my baby who won't nap.  My three-year-old is driving me up the wall with the distinctively shrill timbre of her frequent screaming.  And my husband just left his candy wrappers on the counter twelve inches away from the garbage can for the seventeenth time this week.

If I can't abolish the anger from my own heart, how can I expect the wider world to be loving and tolerant?  

It is perhaps the simplest commandment, and it's also the most difficult: Love one another.   Did you know it can even be difficult sometimes to love your own flesh and blood?  That they can bring you to the very edge of your patience and fray your very last nerve?

Love them anyway.  Love them extravagantly and fiercely.  And if they need to be loved more, love them more.   Love them when they're angry.  Love them when their actions are ugly.  

And pray for the grace to keep on loving. 

{It also helps to clean dirty faces and comb disheveled hair, because that makes the loving slightly easier.}

* * *

I have a vivid memory of an exchange I shared with my Dad when I was a kid, maybe five or six years old.  He was standing over the bathroom sink early one morning shaving, and I looked up and asked him "Dad, would you still love me the same amount if I had been born with Down syndrome?"

He thought for a moment before answering.  "No," he said.  I must have widened my eyes at that answer -- it wasn't what I expected.  As children tend to do, I had asked a question to which I thought I surely knew the answer.  

"No," he continued thoughtfully, "I'd probably love you more."


"Because the rest of the world might love you less."

I've thought about that exchange a lot over the years.  The wisdom there, and the glimpse I saw of his depth of feeling for those who were hurting, for anyone who might ever be treated as less valued.

Today I thought of his words again, in the wider context of every different, hurting, disabled, marginalized, victimized person in this wide country of ours.  

If some in the world are going to love them less, then we need to love them more.  

Black, disabled, Jewish, Native American, and all the others who are afraid, or hurting, or angry right now.

Grumpy children.  Babies who won't nap.  Toddlers who act out in every way imaginable.

Even the Klansmen.  Even the Neo-Nazis.  

Because the only thing I can think of or imagine that could draw a person away from hate has got to be love.  

In The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare's Shylock delivers the eloquent lines:

"He hath disgraced me and hindered me half a million, laughed at my losses, mocked at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies – and what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge."

But then there was Jesus, who said, 
"You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.'  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."
* * *

I wish that ignoring terrible, hateful behavior could be sufficient.  I wish it could be enough.  Because the truth is that love is hard work sometimes.  And meeting hate with love must be the hardest of work a person could do, I would think.  I don't pretend to know -- after all, I'm a middle-class white American woman.  But I can imagine that if I find it hard even to love my own tyrannical toddlers in moments, well, there are other kinds of loving that are much, much harder.  

But ignoring bad behavior doesn't work.  It doesn't work with toddlers, and it doesn't work with teens, and it won't work with angry, hateful, racist groups of people.  We have to meet it with love.  


Easy for me to say, I know.  

I keep trying to think of a way that I can help, of some small thing I could do.  I haven't thought of much yet.

But in the meantime, I'll be here, trying to love my children.  Seeing them, hearing them, kissing their owies, empathizing with them.  Guiding them through the dark tunnels of big feelings and out to the light awaiting on the other side.  Because there is light.  The light shines in the darkness.   And the darkness has not, and will not, overcome it.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Molly at four months

Sweet Molly at four months weighed 14 lbs, 11 oz. and was happily drooling massive quantities all over her 3-6 month clothes.

She stopped taking glorious 1.5-3 hour naps and started taking 40-45 minute naps.  She stopped sleeping through the night and started waking 1-3 times a night.  She fussed intensely every time I put her down.  She was in the midst of a classic "wonder weeks" leap, it would seem, and she made it known!

She continued to make it a goal to shove her entire hand in her mouth, with the wrist as an acceptable substitute when she miscalculated.

Her smiles could light up a room -- and she generously bestowed them on nearly anyone who would pause to chat with her or smile in her direction.

She drooled so much she made a mockery of any bib we put on her, and laughed in the face of the burp cloths we'd use to keep her chin wiped clean.  She got a rash in the folds of her sweet little neck, cried when I'd wipe it clean, and then just kept on drooling.

"who, me?"
She started grabbing onto things placed in her hands and could hold a few toys, with a little help getting started.

Her little legs got stronger and stronger, and she'd stand on my lap for long periods of time holding onto my thumbs as I held her wrists.  She decided she didn't mind riding in a baby carrier after all, as long as she could look around and not miss a thing until she was good and ready for a nap.

Molly even had a few weeks of a quasi-nursing strike during this past month -- not a full-on strike, but still, enough screaming and refusing to nurse that I was nearly at my wits' end on more than one occasion!

Molly adores her Daddy, and there have been a few times when I absolutely couldn't help her stop fussing; then I'd hand her over to Daddy, and she'd immediately beam at him and sit quietly in his lap.  I could imagine her saying, "Ugh, Mom, stop trying so hard.  I just wanted to watch the Sox game with Dad."

* * *

 "Tic, Tac, Toe, three in a row," I like to say to these three girlies.

Molly's not sure how she feels about being the "toe," perhaps.

Smothered with love, and shrieks of affectionate, high-pitched utterances of love from her big sisters, while Molly may be sometimes overwhelmed, she is usually delighted by their attentions.

And she's already practicing to join in on the silly faces her big sisters love to do.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Nell: Interview With a Five-Year-Old

Nell turned five in May, which seemed like a good opportunity to ask her some questions and jot them down for posterity.

{Photos taken Easter 2017}

What's your favorite color?
"Pink."  {of course}

What's your favorite food?
"Noodles.  Pasta.  And macaroni and cheese.  And I love cookies and olives and sour green apples and potatoes and eggs and bacon and English muffins and blueberries and strawberries."
{She loves pasta so much it's worth being thrice redundant!  It's true!}

What can you do now that you're five?
"I might be able to ride my big girl bike now that I'm five.  And I can... wear bigger clothes."
{A day will come when that prospect is not nearly so enjoyable as when one is newly five, I have found... speaking as one recently postpartum!}

What do you like to wear the best?
"Dresses and sparkly things, and I like to dress up in my dress up dresses and dance in them."

What are some of your favorite things to do?
"Ride my balance bike.  Play with Wilbur {her stuffed pig}, feed him his bottle like Fern. {We read Charlotte's Web back in January or February, and it was a big hit.  A very big hit!}  Dance to ballet.  Play my violin.  Do swimming lessons.  When can I do swimming lessons again?  I love to hold Molly.  I love to snuggle, color, make cards for you and draw pictures for you, paint things, draw things."

What's your favorite music to listen to?
"The Nutcracker.  Bach.  The Mozart Adagio {in E Major for violin}.  The Brahms Sonata {in G Major, the first movement}.  Eine Kleine {Eine Kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart; she loves the slow movement}.

What do you like to watch on the television?
"The Ballet." {A production of The Nutcracker they like to watch on YouTube and dance along with}  "And I like to watch This Old House with Daddy.  And Chip and Joanna!" {Fixer Upper, another thing the girls watch along with Nathan occasionally when I'm teaching violin lessons.}

What is your favorite animal?
"Pigs.  And bunnies."

What's your favorite book?
"Happy Little Family. {by Rebecca Caudill}  The Hundred Dresses. {by Eleanor Estes}  Charlotte's Web."

What's your favorite toy?
"Slides and swings.  My dolls."

Who's your best friend?
"Aunt Hannah, and Ruby Grace, and Auntie Cara, and Marie, and Molly."

What do you want to be when you grow up?
"A ballerina!"

And the funny face outtakes:

Nell seems so grown up to me lately.  And I suppose that being half a decade old is pretty grown up, after all.  At five years old she is already so many things I wouldn't have imagined a five year old could be: thoughtful, empathetic, and kind.  Genuinely helpful.  Generous and caring, endlessly creative, always forgiving.  Her remarkable memory never ceases to amaze me, as she correctly recalls details from when she was two years old.  She narrates entire memorized stories to herself softly sometimes, or draws her sister into acting them out with her as they play together.

She's a big idea girl, and hardly a day goes by when she isn't presenting me with a long list of plans and ideas for the new day over breakfast in the morning.  "Let's read Ramona today, and finish the book!  And I'll do my own reading practice!  Maybe I'll finish learning to ride my big girl bike!  And we could go to the farm and play and pick peas!  Let's make cookies or something today!  Let's dance ballet and play dress up, and can you do my hair in a bun?  Can I wear a twirly dress?  Can we read the Brambly Hedge book too?  Can we go on a nature walk and do paintings in our nature journals?  Can I help you do some gardening?  Let's go to the beach, too!"

Thankfully, she's been understanding thus far about the fact that her mother isn't Wonder Woman, and we're lucky to get just a couple of her dreams and goals accomplished on any given day.

Keep planning and dreaming, sweet Nell.  You are the best.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Ree: Interview With a Three Year Old

Back in May, Marie turned three.  She is capable and increasingly independent, while always eager to have a good snuggle with me.  She loves music, dancing, singing, being read to, and playing imaginatively all day long.  She sleeps in a twin bed and goes to sleep quickly and easily each night, for which we are very grateful - and when she has a nightmare, she calls for Daddy, saying, "Daaaaaaddy!  I shared (scared)!"  She will turn up her nose at biscuits and gravy, but chomp away happily at sticks of raw zucchini or a kale salad.  She likes to creep into my bed in the early morning hours and offer to scratch my back or "braid" my hair.

In case you thought it was all rainbows and roses around here, the truth is that Marie loves to hate her long-suffering big sister Nell, and makes comments like, "I love Mama and Daddy and Molly and me but not Nell!" or "You bad, Nell!" just to try to get her poor sister's goat - and she's usually successful, of course.  But then she turns around and plays with Nell all day long: dancing and twirling in tutus and dress up clothes, building towers with blocks, cooking in their play kitchen, pretending to teach one another violin lessons, "conducting" and singing together, taking imaginary trips in their wooden rocking boat, etc. etc. etc.  There is really no end to the imaginative things they come up with to do, and they often keep one another entertained almost all day long, for which I am exceedingly grateful. They're never too far away from a squabble, but they're also never far from a good old fashioned twirling session together.

I decided that being three years old made for a good opportunity to ask Ree some questions:

What's your favorite color?
"Um, two kinds.  Purple and pink."

What's your favorite food?
"Grapes.  And olives.  Blueberries and strawberries.  And salad!"

What do you like to wear?
"I yike to wear my fwirly (twirly) dresses, and wompers (rompers)."

What are your favorite things to do?
"Go outside.  Ride my bike.  I like to snuggle with you.  And pretend to talk on the phone.  I yike to dress up in my dress up clothes.  I yike to yook at books, and sing my singing books." 

What do you think three year olds can do?
"Play.  And snuggle.  That's all my things I did for one day!"

What kind of music do you like?
"The Wheels on the Bus.  And finkul finkul yittle tar.   The Mister Moon song.  And The Happy Farmer."

What do you like to watch on the television?
"The ballet." (A video production of The Nutcracker)

What are you good at?
"Doing pictures like cards for you and Vamma and Vampa (Grandma and Grandpa), and coloring, and singing, and jumping, and snuggling."

What is your favorite animal?
"Cows.  And my stuffed vaffe (giraffe).  And ephanants (elephants).  And porcupines.  And hot dogs!"

What is your favorite book?
"The Humpty Dumpty books!" (Our nursery rhyme / Mother Goose books)

What is your favorite toy?
"Molly is my best toy to play with!"  (And how does Molly feel about this, one might reasonably wonder...)

Who is your best friend?
"Mama."  {Well okay kiddo, you've got me firmly by the heartstrings with that one!}

What do you like to do outside?
"Dig in the dirt, and help Mama water the plants, and play in my sandbox."

What do you want to be when you grow up?
"A ballerina.  I want to be a pumpkin.  And a bunny.  Or a girl named Helen Pelen." {I have no idea.}

And the outtakes: the silliest of silly faces.  {One of which is truly frightful, I might add.}

I showed Ree these pictures, and she laughed with glee. "Yook at dat funny face of mine!  Yook at dat one!"

Oh, Marie.  Her screams when she's frustrated or angry have a certain timbre to them unparalleled by my other children (at least in my recent memory).  She's a bit of a ham, a bit of a character, a bit of a handful, and I can't imagine our family without her!  But I have a feeling life would be a lot quieter, Nell would have fewer opportunities for growth in the face of being provoked, Molly would be less frequently squashed with over-zealous love, and I would have a lot more personal space.  But personal space is over-rated, anyway.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Molly at three months

Little Miss Margaret has been three months old for almost a week now, and I'm convinced she's the sweetest three month old in the world right now.  She's solidly grown into her 3-6 month clothes, weighing 13 pounds even.

Nicknames: Molly, Molly Moe, Moe, Molly Malone, Mol, Screech Owl, Chubby Wubby

Expertise: Bubble blower extraordinaire.  Drool queen.  Can nearly fit her whole fist in her mouth, and attempts this skill frequently.  Rolls from tummy to back!  Is trying out something resembling a laugh -- which is THE BEST!

Aspirations: To refuse the bottle every time it is offered!  {She's successfully taken it only two or three times in total, but I have a few summer gigs coming up, so we shall keep trying.}

Loves: Her big sisters cooing and chatting to her in the highest voices imaginable.

Hates: Outfit changes.  Pooping herself awake during much-needed naps.  Overly-enthusiastic hugs from a certain sister.

The Jury Is Still Out: This may possibly be my first baby who doesn't always like being worn in a carrier!  With utter disregard and ingratitude for the way my ring sling was her one and only happy place for the first two months of her life, Molly now fusses in the sling or the Ergo, and unless she's ready to go right to sleep, she prefers a better view of the world and likes to be held facing out much of the time.

Like any baby, Molly has her fussy moments or difficult days, but for the most part she's so content and happy that it's hard to imagine those first two colicky, miserable months she had.  She's content during diaper changes (although she still hates being dressed or undressed!), and smiles at me happily on the changing table.  She even rides in her car seat without screaming most of the time!

Sometimes while I'm putting away laundry or getting the bigger girls ready for bed, Molly will lie in her crib happily on her back and stare up at the sailboat mobile her Grandma and Grandpa made, playing with her own fingers and looking around quietly for quite a long while.  She also doesn't mind sitting in the swing while I do chores or snuggle with her big sisters a little bit here or there.  Sometimes she comes out to keep us company in the yard while the big girls and I do some gardening, and she hangs out in the Rock N Play and gazes at the trees.

She's the sleeping queen right now, but I must confess to a sense of foreboding about this situation: all Nathan and I can remember about Marie is that she was undoubtedly The Most Terrible Sleeper In The History Of The World until she reached the age of two and a half.  But upon browsing the archives of this blog, I see that she was sleeping marvelously and napping well at three months of age.  So I can only imagine what may lie ahead for us with Molly.

We are enjoying the good sleeping while it lasts, though!  Not only does Molly take at least one good solid 2.5-3 hour nap each day, along with a couple shorter ones (sometimes two long naps a day -- once last week she took a 3 hour morning nap and a 4 hour afternoon nap!), but she also usually sleeps 8-10 hours at night without waking, usually from 7:00 to 3:00 or 4:00.  And unlike my two previous babies, she sleeps those hours in her own crib!  It's pretty surprising to me, but she seems to prefer it and sleep better alone now.  She even falls asleep in her crib more easily than in my arms most of the time, just wanting a little back- or bottom-patting and "shh-shh-shhhh"ing.  I had always heard that these kinds of babies, for whom holding or co-sleeping was almost too much stimulation or too disruptive, existed, but I'm not sure I really believed it until seeing Molly as she currently is.

The flip side of this good sleeping is that she often wakes for the day around 6, and when she's up, she's up for an hour before she's ready for her first nap, by which point everyone is good and awake.  I sometimes miss the days of having just one baby who I could snuggle and nurse back to sleep, and buy myself a nice long morning sleep-in when I needed it.  These days everyone is up early around here, and that is... not my favorite.  But if I must be up with the sun, I've been trying to make the best of it by getting going early, and trying to be ready to squeeze in a little exercise a few mornings a week during Molly's first nap.   Gotta shed that baby weight if I can, so that when people think this girlie resembles me, it's not the double chin they're noticing!

"Excuse me, has anyone seen my neck?"
Dear Molly,

Summer weather is here, and with it the unspeakable joy of your sweet chubby baby thighs resting against my arms as I carry you about.  You bestow so many smiles upon us each day, often big smiles that involve your whole body as you draw your legs up or arch your back with glee.  Your sweet cheeks are so kissable and smooshable that your three-year-old sister Ree keeps trying to squish them into a fishy face.  The word "gentle" doesn't seem to be sinking in for her, though, so we have to keep a close eye lest she injure you with her love and adoration.

When you were a newborn, I felt a little sad and sentimental to know that time would fly by and you'd grow up so very quickly.  But I must have forgotten that as much as I do love a sweet newborn, a three-month-old is so very lovable, too.  I love these days just as much as your newborn days, and maybe more.  You seem so much happier these days - sometimes you even stop in the middle of nursing just to grin up at me before resuming your eating.  I love that!