And we’ll be jolly friends

24 11 2017
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As an example of what I’m saying below, this picture, which is not staged in any way. They’re playing school; one doll is a teacher giving the other a lesson, but they’re trying to settle what kind of lesson. Teacher-Tab suggests flower arranging; student-Ev says that, by kindergarten, she should be doing something more challenging.

“Run,” yells the elder, pink-clad in some school dress she wasn’t wearing when I saw her last, as they scamper down the stairs together deeply embroiled in some imaginary adventure (it’s 7:40 in the morning, but we’re already on at least our third outfit and have already eaten both fruit and pie).  “No,” says the smaller, scrunching her tiny face into a snarl.  “Fight!”   They turn as one to face an invisible foe.  Ev steps forward into a lunge, throws a straight arm forward, and hollers “Blast!”  Her sister capers up to her heels, then grabs her arm.  Some confusion ensues about the hem of Tab’s dress, and then they’re off again, back upstairs to the other setting in their re-envisioned house geography.

It’s growing all the time, this dance of theirs.  This morning, it’s full of synchronicity, complement, harmony.  Two little voices chanting in sweet, perfect unison: “paper, rock, scissors, shoe!”  Two little voices weaving in and out of one another’s, trying to re-remember Moana’s memorized introduction to Maui, which last summer they could have done in their sleep, but it’s winter now, and the sea seems far away.  Two singers at different pitches chanting the lines of “Say Say O Playmate” and flapping their hands ineffectually at each other, since no child of mine (the ten-year-old included) has ever mastered even Patty-cake, let alone a more complicated slap-rhyme.

Right now, they’re helping each other arrange their hair with stretchy headbands to try to achieve some effect seen in a show; in the time it’s taken to type these paragraphs, they’ve already shed the pink dresses and are in white tank-tops and leggings, the same white tank tops I found scattered all over their room last night when I went to get them ready for bed, trying to maneuver around the plastic Christmas tree they’ve already set up in their doorway and decorated with loose beads and pom-poms that will be all over the house by the end of today.  It’s November 24th.  Breakfast was leftover pie, and the chocolate layer might have something to do with how merry and manic this game is, or maybe not, as it’s not that different from most other days.

There are, of course, oil-and-water moments of screeching disharmony, and sometimes those “moments” seem to last all day, Ev roaring “TABBA!” in booming fury when her sister dares to bump her elbow, Tab bursting into tears and fleeing the scene because Ev has put on a necklace she likes to wear herself, both of them kicking each other happily one minute and screaming about never playing with the other again the next.  Now, they’re yelling “hoy-ya!” over and over and leaping around in the foyer, where there seems to be some kind of imaginary-rules karate-derivative-sportsball going on: “No, no, we won, we got one point,” Ev just cried up the stairs, to a Tab who was about to retreat on account of feeling slighted by something.  “Chaa-la!” Tab  just shouted herself, getting back into the game, and then the scamper-rush on the stairs yet again, and they’re gone.

This afternoon, we’ll read another chapter book together, snuggled together on the couch (they’re currently absorbed in Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Fairies), after which they’ll run off to play that, instead, although they’ll probably have a stall at the start while they squabble over who wears which wings.  They’ll be back in another few minutes for second breakfast.  At some point today there will be a fight about practicing piano (Evanny vs. one or both parents) and a fight about choosing a TV show (Evanny vs. Tabitha); over the dishwasher, I can hear somebody keening now, and it’s almost undoubtedly Tab, and she’ll almost certainly be over it before I see her next, although there’s always the chance she’ll be upset enough to run all the way down here, bump me woefully and say “Mama,” whinge through an explanation of how she was wronged, run out of steam before she’s all the way finished, and take off up the stairs again yelling “Sissy!” with renewed enthusiasm. At some point today, there will probably also be a tea party.

“Sissy” might be Tab’s favourite word (that or “coyote”): this morning Ev wedged herself into the bed between Matt and I quietly but forcefully while Tab was a rabid wolverine of cover-kicking on my other side, screaming at me and the blankets and the universe until her father fled the room, disgruntled as usual about the fact that our usual alarm clock is a rabid wolverine.  Once this ousting was accomplished and they had enough room to thrash about the whole queen with only me in the middle, I was almost instantly eclipsed for each one by the other.  “Sissy!” the little one cried, launching herself onto her sister like a whole-body face-hugger, and they giggled and rolled and choked on inhalations of each others’ hair.  When the smaller bonked an ear on her sister’s elbow (or something–they were a blur and it was dark, so I have no idea what was actually bonked on what) and set up a repetitive “AENH, aenh, aenh” sort of wailing, the elder one leapt back in time a day or three to a dinner interaction that had somehow wound up being a game of Tab making that same noise and Ev repeating, in response, the phrase she dragged out this morning, thirty times if it was said three: “Don’t cry about broccoli!”  “Aenh!” “Don’t cry about brocolli!” “Aenh(giggle)!” “Don’t(giggle) cry about(giggle) broccoli!” And thus, voila, they have inside jokes.  Giggle-inducing insider references to their own illogical sources of giggling.  And thus, voila, a magical transformation has taken place.  They aren’t just sisters now, you see, these little people who were not-so-long-ago tiny pink creatures without word or thought or memory.  They became family at birth, the first mine and her father’s and brother’s, the second both ours and each others’, but they’re not just family anymore.

They’re friends.

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The Great Pumpkin lesson

30 10 2017

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This morning, my Montessori-daughters, after entertaining themselves deliriously making video recordings with me of themselves fumbling a slap-rhyme and giggling about it, spent a good twenty minutes completely occupied with the task of washing the paint off a painted pumpkin. This is their schooling in action: Montessori believed that children are happiest doing real tasks instead of pretend ones, and their classrooms have small sinks, rags, and soap ever at the ready. They wash their snack dishes, help younger kids wash snack dishes, and wash any other thing they can get their hands on. Sometimes they spend all morning dirtying a thing and washing it again (which is why Tabitha rarely comes home in the clothes I sent her in: for other three-year-olds, this is commonly a sign of peed outfits, but we’ve had only one of those. Her plastic-bagged clothes boast sticky soap-swirls and sleeves soaked to the shoulder).

It’s also part of a larger story about social learning and friendship for Evanny, though. The pumpkin in question was a “gift” from an old schoolmate, her friend Preston (now in first grade somewhere else, as last year he joined the rock-star cast of “graduated” playmates). (Really, it was a gift from his mother; Preston was tired at the end of the play date when it was acquired and had a little trouble letting go, but he managed to rise to the occasion.). Evanny was charmed enough by the gourd that it had to go to school for show and tell–a pumpkin! During pumpkin season! From Preston! (It was apparently very popular.) And then a few days later, at another play date, her dear friend Nathan, who is quick to catch fire with inspiration, reluctant to ever let a good idea go, and very firm in purpose once he picks a path, announced that they should paint it.

Evanny and Nathan have a complicated relationship. He’s her first love from babyhood, and used to adore her unconditionally in turn. But he’s a year and a half her senior, has an older brother to shadow, has mostly boy friends now, and is particularly taken with Evanny’s brother, so if the bigger boys are available, he doesn’t have much time for her these days. When they aren’t, however, these two are still a happy little house-on-fire of inventing and making, doing and playing, and she treasures those opportunities. She knows they’re a little fragile, though. Which is why, after saying “no” a few times, because the Preston-pumpkin was precious to her, she yielded to please him: because shared projects with Nathan are also precious to her. I could see the reluctance on her face give way to regret as she helped him decorate the pumpkin with craft paint, but I didn’t interfere. There are some lessons in life you simply can’t learn from your mother.

After Nathan had gone home, and Daddy had complemented her on their painting job, and said quietly to me, “Mom, I didn’t want that pumpkin painted.” “I know, baby doll. But did you have fun painting it with Nathan?” “Yeah,” she said. “Kind of.” “If you want,” I told her, “that paint is pretty washable. I’ll bet we could clean it off. Would you like that?” “I think so,” she said, “but not right now,” and off she ran to play. That conversation was a week ago; I hadn’t heard a peep about the pumpkin since. But clearly, it was still in her mind, turning and steeping, and today she made her call.

Ultimately, I’d call it a win for all. She still has the gift-gourd, she got to do the activity with her friend, and she got to share a fun washing-task with her sister. But she also got a hands-on chance to wrestle with peer pressure, and with it a small-scale version of the bad feelings that accompany giving in to something you don’t want to do just to please somebody else. Now if only, if only there were a way to be sure she would carry it with her, like a little emotional flu-shot against too-quick acquiescence to actual bad ideas she will certainly be tempted toward in the future.





Thre(e)shold

20 09 2017
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This smile, we find ourselves believing a little more strongly every day, can (and probably someday will) carry this child through anything.

It’s been a busy, busy couple of tough transition-weeks for this little person who just turned three a few short weeks ago. First, last week, her sister started back to school–Kindergarten this time, which for her wasn’t really anything at all (Primary school in the Montessori model is a 3-year cycle, and since she’d already started a few-days-a-week full-day practice-run last Spring, it was all just going back to doing what she’s been doing for years already: the weeks a little longer, the tasks a little more challenging, the playground opportunities more frequent and reliable, but the place and tools and tasks and people to share them with are all familiar), but for Tab meant, suddenly, every day being sisterless for long, long hours: the span of 8:15 – 2:45 is a long, long time when you’re still small, and it’s even longer when you have to count those hours, minute-by-minute, for seven school days before your own turn comes to start attending!

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Out for a walk with me around Barry Park, my little observer finds a mushroom city, some bright-colored leaves, a mushroom blooming like a feathery flower, and the feathered seed-parachutes of a real one.

There were definitely moments for both of us when those minutes drug, but I tried to keep our spirits up, to overlook how far behind I was slipping with my work commitments and stay present with her, without dwelling on but of course while intensely aware of how her busy anticipatory transition week was my last week at home full day with a small child: already having moved past babies and toddlers, I found myself here all of a sudden, filling the last long days with this preschooler whose name was already on somebody’s roster, printed on folders and cubbies, waiting for her to make herself at home in her own little tree-named “cottage” classroom (Tabitha’s is Oak, where the pale blue paint on the classroom’s walls will soon be bringing her one clear wish to life: when asked which class she hoped to join, with no data of any kind to work with, her heart-felt, identity-defining answer was the same each time. “The blue one!”).  We went outside a lot–the weather being miraculous, a summer revival all week long after a cold snap at the end of August that turned out to have been a total lie.  We read a lot.  We explored a new library.  And I followed a lot of little whims, even though that might not have been the best preparation for her to take on the social responsibility of having to join a classroom community and live in ways that work for everyone, not just herself, just because I could: because, mercifully, I noticed in time that this time was a gift.

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Sunflower morning: reading picture-books on the front step in the sunshine with the company of our favourite cat, while the nodding row of heavy blooms bent toward the ground in anticipation of the coming winter, and the last to bloom argued for the beauty of the liminal, half bud and half already sunburst.

The youngest occupies a weird place with regard to the family’s allotment of time: for years already, and for years to come, because she’s the baby, she gets the biggest portion of Mum-attention, at everyone else’s expense, but that expense adds up.  The Mum-attention the baby gets is almost always tinged with frustration, because whatever Mum is doing for her, it’s detracting from something someone else wants, forestalling somebody else’s wants that Mum would also love to fill: the baby wins the contest, time and time again, so it’s easy to see how and why (and to be frustrated by how) the baby is always spoiled, but at the same time, the baby has never known what the firstborn (and this family has two of them) knew: a time when there was no contest, when Mum-attention was a singular recipient and a singular source, when there was no fight to win it because there was no one to win it from.  Tab has been lucky enough to have gulps and swallows of this kind of time all along, with her siblings being old enough to be ahead in the track of playschool or “real” school to bless her with those private, baby-at-home spaces, but it’s almost over now:

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Sassy miss is determined to become a ladybug, with no regard for my logical explanation that this sort of wing requires the velcro dress; they won’t stick to her naked skin, and she’s not wearing dresses, so it’s try and struggle, hide and fluff her skirt, insist and try again, and then finally throw up hands and decide to be something else instead. Life lessons, kid. Sometimes Mummy does know.

afternoons are busy, and school breaks are school breaks for everyone.  So for this week, I did a lot of following and wallowing, not the weepy kind: the happy-pig wallow in the juicy, wonderful mud, the rolling-around in my littlest’s time and attention and the letting her roll around in mine, while we had the precious chance to do it.

Tabitha at three is my threshold: she’s the last one at the door, the last stop for the blowing straw of time and opportunity for my own work and interests, but the last warm softening of the hearth floor, too.  My littlest, my last one, embarking, changes my landscape in ways I know I can’t yet really even predict.  When I imagine what happens next, I think of it as things changing “back,” but of course they won’t: I’m somebody totally different than I was before I became their mother, all three of these little people, and part-time parenting the lot of them, now that they’re taking on daily away-schedules and obligations of their own, won’t, either, be like going “back” to part-time parenting just the first one, so my threshold challenge is really just to keep my eyes and heart open to how these changes bloom and what they offer.  For her, though: it’s just one path, leading in one direction (forth and ever onward!), but she’s got no comparisons to hold it to.  Walking forward could be like anything.  Siblings to follow offer glimpses but not promises.  So there’s a lot to face, a lot to wonder, a lot to process (screams and tantrums and all), and a big, big world to make room for inside that quick-snap Venus flytrap of a mind.

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Exploring the new DeWitt library, Tabitha enjoys a day of reveling in my total attention while doing all of the toddler things that Montessori school is *not* about: playing with trains, listening to a story about talking animals, building with Duplo blocks, making pretend food in the play-kitchen, being (and giving) a puppet-show, and pouting sleepily in Mummy’s arms.

So who’s this little wild thing going to be? It’s anybody’s guess, and most of all Tabitha’s. She is, to date: an adoring sister, loving daughter, fangirl full of squee for Daddy, loving granddaughter, and curious, just-beginning-to-bloom friend. She’s our first kid to really embrace the tricycle and go riding on her own because she wants to, and this says a lot about her: “on her own because she wants to” may be standard in many ways for three, but it’s a Tabitha description in ways in never was for the other two: Caleb lived and still mostly lives to please, and Evanny balances extrinsic and intrinsic “whys” better than the balance beam, which she rarely falls off of already. Tabitha’s soundtrack is entirely her own, and if whatever thrills her takes her wholly, whatever thwarts her inflames her entire world, so a chunk of that soundtrack is very, very loud. She gets this from me, of course, so while I don’t admire it, per se, it’s hard to genuinely complain, even when my ears are ringing. I don’t encourage it, of course, but I empathize, and I’m on my own daily balance beam, trying to keep empathy from coming off as complicity. It’s a tricky age, three.

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Outside the library, stretching those butterfly wings balancing on a rock wall, finding rainbows in the ornamental grass, then jumping the barricades and heading into the meadow, only to bring back handfuls of flowers for me.

Parts soar-so-high and parts cry on the floor, three is big enough to start thinking, and understanding other people’s thinking, in ways that really let them seem real to adults for the first time: three-year-olds aren’t just cute little creatures, they’re cute-but-challenging humans, and in their humanness we see our own challenges, and cringe at what they say about us in their turn. It happened with all of these siblings, but with Tab I think it’s going to be the deepest, richest sting: while her brother and her sister both share parts of me that I love and some I’m not always proud of, and both walk some rocky paths I know too well, Tabitha’s whole self is a lot, lot, lot like me. It’s going to be an uphill challenge to help her try to make more of her lot than I did for far too much of my youth, preferring to despair and gripe about it instead; if (or, surely, when) I get it wrong, it’s going to spear me through the heart to watch her scrape that sweet little face along the floor. But if we can get it right, o little heart of mine, how high I just might see you fly.





Sometimes the downy birds stir

11 09 2017

Rapid-fire grading of students’ discussion fora (I give them full credit if they do enough writing and it has anything to do with the topic at hand, so a close read isn’t necessary here) always tosses ideas around: little wind-storms of other people’s associations that I try to be responsible about ignoring, because the clock is always ticking, but it doesn’t always work.  Sometimes–at least three or four times per assignment–I don’t even know I’m doing it until, yikes, I have a Google window open and I’m investigating some claim, learning whether an oddly spelled word is really a word (it’s usually a medical term used metaphorically by a nursing major), or looking up a concept I recognize but I’m suddenly sure I don’t know enough about.  This morning, I skipped over to one window to fact-check a student’s claim about the differences in time-spent-talking by men vs. women, found a useful article, linked it to her, graded a few more responses, and was derailed by another woman’s description of how she had a teacher once who was startlingly critical of her “purple prose” and red-marked her papers into poppy fields.  I knew the term (a teen in the early 90s, I think I first researched it in response to that EMF song “Unbelievable”), but I wanted to see what the actual criticism was, what the tipping point was (considered to be) between prose being beautifully descriptive and pointlessly purple.  Of course there isn’t one; like all things artistic, prosody is subjective in its ability to please or aggravate its readers.  But I found the origin story (the clock is still ticking, so I might add it later, but I still have an awful lot of forum responses to read in the next 20 minutes!) and, as I poked around, stumbled into a brief writing-lesson blog post whose writer challenged her readers to write the purplest, prosiest, nothing-happening-est follow-up to “it was a dark and stormy night” that they could manage.  Someone took her up on it, dripping velvet-rich description of a carriage ride with no clear destination over a good two or three pages worth of screen-space, and then a chorus of other writers spoke up to talk about how pretty it was and how much fun to read, even if it didn’t go anywhere, and even if it was an illustration of what not to do, and I stopped skimming, just for a moment, and closed my eyes, and breathed.

“This,” I thought.  I’ve missed this.  Writing for the sake of writing.  Reading/ listening to people talking about writing–not about what’s wrong with their semicolons and whether or not they’re writing a you-centered message that will effectively motivate the audience to whom they’re trying to sell something, but about writing for art, for story, for soul.

I love my family.  I am infinitely grateful for my job.  But I really, really miss that sense of quiet that comes from being able to reflect until the right words come, reflect on others’ words, share words about words, and find those little places of magic that lift you with their transparent tiny wings, wings so small you’ll miss them if you can’t seek out the quiet and just listen, breathe, jot a word or two down, and read.





Blink and (perigee four)

10 09 2017

“And you miss it,” they say, where “it” equals absolutely everything small children do and look like and sound like and sleep like and make you think of and are; it consumes you, and then you blink, and it’s over, and you’re old, and you’re sure it was sweet in addition to exhausting, but you can’t really remember.  Evanny is going to be 5 in two weeks, and two posts down I was writing about her being about to turn 4.  Tabitha has already turned 3; two posts down her sister was still 3, and she was only hovering around the flip to two.  They’re back at perigee, three-and-four, sharing almost as many clothes as they have to differentiate on, forgetting within days whose new toys were meant to be whose, playing and talking together all the time about everything, so far up each others’ grills that it’s no wonder every day is a fast-turning tide of “I love you so much!” (that rich, wet sand ripe for footprints and stick-art and possibility) and “I don’t want to play with you EVER AGAIN!” (the flood, the salt-water-up-the-sinuses inundation of too much, too much, too much).

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Little explorers check out a floating dock, a computer game at a local library, a play-store stocked with plastic “tins,” and the concept of the duet.

Although it didn’t technically start until Tab’s birthday 5 weeks ago, it’s been a perigee summer: the girls, who are referred to as “the girls” as often as by name these days (there are so few occasions anymore when anyone needs or wants to be identified as “the baby”), in addition to doing absolutely everything together at home and on our few small jaunts, shared a class for swim lessons, shared another for gymnastics, and attended a week-long “Princess dance camp” together; next week marks the start of the fall season of Soccer Shots, and this time Tabitha is old enough to join Evanny’s class so they can share that too.  (And yes, dear lord, this is what my life has come to, already: two small girls means a playroom floor littered with dress-up clothes, a bedroom littered with considered-and-rejected outfits, toy-bins full of miniature plastic animals and sparkly miniature combs and hair clips, flip-flop wars, My Little Pony curls snarled into everything, puff-stickers on the floor, foil stickers on the wallpaper, nail polish on the deck, and Princess Dance Camp.)  They have similar roughness-levels of splash-pool play and similar attention spans for zoo visits and museums.  Tab can hold her own as a hanger-on at Evanny’s playdates.  They have similar needs for traveling and similar tendencies to fall asleep in the car.  They have similar coloring skills and interests–Evanny’s ability stretches further, but Tab has the perseverance not to mind. They swap tricycles even though neither one of them can reach the pedals very well; they swap nightgowns and tell me I’m putting them away in the wrong drawer no matter where I put them.  They’re both perfecting their written alphabets (and they both have a ways yet to go). They’re starting, just starting, to have a little trouble folding into the bath together–they love the camaraderie, and the small-toy adventures, and the tidal-wave swimming, but the colt-legs are coming, and all those knees. (This progress, fortunately, is not yet too-too far along; last week they and their basically-almost-cousin Darcy still fit just fine as a criss-cross set of three, de-mudding after a rainy day hike with her family.)

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Baking together at Lola’s house, sharing secrets and penny-wishes at a mall fountain, snuggling in princess dresses in the morning bed, and giggling together in the deck-build doorway.

It’s shaping up to be a perigee year, really.  In all the little ways, they’re very much together lately–they fight over my lap, and then when I move, they fight over how to puppy-pile on each other.  They like and request the same picture books.  They like most of the same foods (Tabitha has recently won Evanny over to the ranch side, which opens up all sorts of possibilities, like eating lettuce). They play with the same toys and embrace the same fandoms and shift easily from one to another, following each others’ whims, mermaids and Star Wars and princesses and dragons, sometimes all within the space of an hour (and at least nine outfits), and the coinciding is lining up nicely with scheduling out-in-the-world activities for the school year: in addition to soccer, when we do the next round of swim lessons, they’ll still be at the same level, and while Ev has bumped up a level in gymnastics, barely, it’s really more like a half-step.  They still have class at the same time and both get their little hands stamped at the end of every session.  Most importantly, though, most-likely-to-be-life-changingly: this will be their one shared year in Montessori school, climbing out of the car together at drop-off every morning, off to Maple cottage, where Evanny will be finishing up her primary circuit, and Oak cottage, where Tab will be starting hers.  They’re both deliriously excited about this, of course, but they aren’t the only ones whose lives are about to change.

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Who follows whom? (The answer always changes) Down the creek, up a tree, across the water wearing practice-wings, and across the new deck to taunt Papa and his promised belly-button tickles!

For the first time since Evanny was an infant, I’m going to try to accomplish my part-time teaching job without hiring a sitter this year, because I’ll have a couple of hours every morning when both girls will be at school and I can work.  Both: their perigee brings them so close together this time that they’re doing the same thing at the same time every day, not just for a weeknight sport or a week-long morning day-camp.  It’s a little change–three consistent hours of morning time to allocate responsibly by my own choice–and so common, and so easy to get caught up in the relief of: this is going to save us money!  And I’ll be able to type with two hands!  And the same time!  And maybe even hold a train of thought for more than two consecutive sentences!  My students will be meeting a whole new me!  But it’s also something much bigger: even as there’s a concentration of their togetherness this year, this same indicator is the start of the slide.  Half-day now, full-day soon enough, after-school activities, sports and parties and school plays–the hours they spend where I’m not are going to start to add up this year, and they will never subtract again. We three will never spend more time together than we did last year, when Ev was still in half-day and Tab only at Katy’s 2 mornings a week.  And then we’ll never spend as much time together again as we will this year, when I still have one in only-half and even the long-day girl comes out tired and smiling by 2:45.

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Enjoying the end of the perigee summer with puzzle games, a giant swing, melty, crumbly lakeside s’mores, and a deck-rail water-spitting contest.

And most significantly, most gather-yourself-in-advance-for-the-heartbreakingly, these social growth-spurts mean that even as they spend this year in concord in so many ways, they’ll never spend as much time together as they did before, when their activities were more like one kid in and one toddler playing catch-up: different classes at school means they’re spending their time in different cottages, establishing different friend-circles (and new school-friends will mandate that the guest-list for their birthday parties are unlikely to ever coincide again, already.  Already.); different interests are sure to bloom soon after.  So close together (oh, my kangaroos) and yet here at their closest, I can see the future reel, and it’s so subtly already starting to widen the circles of their dances, to fling those tiny arms out and away, a little longer every day, a little farther from their centers, and each others’ hearts, and mine.

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Bedtime storytime for two (who still like the same stories).





Little storyteller evolution

28 05 2017

There are a few posts back in the archives of Evanny learning to tell stories, but I haven’t given Tab the mic much beyond the bee-sting tale.  Here’s me making up for lost time with a few copied off of the paper scraps I jotted them on when they happened, one about a month ago and sounding like something she’d have said verbatim this morning (this month has been about other kinds of growth) and one from about 4 months before that, showing dramatic verbal leaps between the two.

Once upon a time, there a tiny girl call Rosabella.  And Rosabella have a tiny, tiny sister names Tabitha.  And they have a tiny Mommy, but not the daddy.  They daddy is big.  And once upon a time they have a dog and dog call Maggie. Tiny Tabitha and Rosabella talk about Evanny and Tabitha and “once upon a time there were two little girls.”

–Tab, 29 months.

Once upon a time you were teeny, and I was the mama, and I loved my teeny, teeny baby, but one day you were scared because there was an ant! And you screamed “ant, ant!” And I came to you and I picked up the ant in my two hands and took it outside.  And you said “Thank you, Mama,” and gave me a big kiss.

–Tab, 33 months.

My favourite things about the first one are the text-within-a-text story-nesting of how the girls in her story tell a story and the fact that none of our princess-or-fairy stories have involved anyone named “Rosabella.”  Ever.  There’s a “Bella” in one story and a “Rosetta” in another, but she created the lovely amalgam herself.  My favourite things about the second are that I get to be kissed and loved and protected, that these are the actions and associations that seem natural to her in her imagined role-reversal, and, of course, the compound-complex sentences.  Effective toddler use of independent and dependent clauses for the win!

And because we don’t want to be leaving anybody out, or losing track of any other evolutions (it’s so easy, when the big is big, to only watch the little, and forget how fast these bigger leaps are leaping!) here’s a contribution from the older sister, in the car on the way home from preschool, free-associating with wild delight:

What if there was a really big thing, like a house, but without any cars, and nobody lived there.  And you could go there, and by it, like in front of it, there was a really big dragon. And when they turned it on, it would breathe.  And if you went in front of it, with your back to it, you’d have to run really fast away from its breath.  And at the beginning, it had a soft claw that came out of it that could go into your throat and take out your voice!  And at the end it would put your voice back, but without any words, so all you could say was “Aggle flabble klabble.” But then they came and got some fire, and shot the fire at the dinosaur, I mean the dragon, and got the words back and gave them back to us.  To me and you, but not to Tabitha.  Everyone in our family got their voices back with their words but Tabitha.  So she could only flap her arms around and make faces to tell us what she wanted.  Like, if she licked her lips and looked really happy, it meant she wanted ice cream.  But if she looked sad, like really, really sad, it meant someone had taken something away from her.  Like her voice!

–Evanny storytelling, age 4 ½ .

There’s so much about this that I love, like the effort to tie it all together, the dividing and specifying what happens to whom, the self-correcting to maintain continuity, but if I have a favorite moment, it’s “Aggle flabble klabble,” which, rather than being the original made-up sound it sounds like, is a direct baby-talk quotation from a favorite book that we haven’t read in months.





It’s because I won’t stop feeding her

21 09 2016

Evanny and I were chatting about her upcoming birthday on the way home from preschool pick-up a few weeks ago (while her sister napped in her car seat): “When I’m four,” she was saying, “and I’ll be almost five–” “Slow down,” I interrupted.  “Do you know that when you’re five, your sister will already be as big as you are now!”  “And don’t you want your tiny baby to be two forever?” she asked, astute about the Mama-plight.  “Oh, you know, honey, it’s so conflicting, really: Mamas love to watch their babies grow and run and play and learn-” “that’s why you keep feeding us!” “–but it’s hard, too.  When Tabba’s three, I’ll never have a two-year-old ever again.  When you turn four, I’ll never have a three-year-old Evanny ever again.  I can’t wait to meet four-year-old you, but I’ll miss three-year-old you, too.  I’ve really liked spending this year with her!”  “But I’ll be the same girl!” she insisted, and I had to concede, although I know she’s only mostly right.

“Jacob’s ladder” staircase, Cheddar, England | Steadfast climber taking a rest in a little sunbeam on our way back down

Three-year-old Evanny felt sometimes like a change-a-minute; every day I heard phrases that sounded more mature (or more noticeably borrowed from her brother) leave her lips, every tantrum drew up a more advanced brand of sass, every foray onto playground territory had her taking braver chances, not so much trying as simply doing things she couldn’t reach to do before.  Her relationship with school (which started in March) has been complicated (in ways that are probably completely normal): she’ll cry in our bed at 6am about how much she doesn’t want to go, then come merrily out to the car at the end of the morning chattering about what works she’s done that day, and her teachers characterize her as almost unfailingly cheerful, always ready to start the classroom day off with a clear plan in mind for what activity she wants to do first.  She tells me to stop it when I point to words in the books I read her, but then picks up the next and pretends to read it on her own.  She was all about writing her “E” on everything last year, but now she rarely does (my guess is she’s waiting to next do the whole name together).

Barry Park, Syracuse, NY | Making the most of an end-of-summer day

Shove park, Camilus NY | Deep in the rock pool at the swimming-hole end of the creek

She now counts to 20 easily and understands clearly how that pattern just repeats, even though she’ll miss some tens when she tries to get to 100 (which she doesn’t have the stamina of interest for anyway).  She has started to notice that the older kids stay for the full day’s lessons, and that full day attendance includes a daily turn on the playground (oh, how this energetic, physically confident girl loves playgrounds), but she still wishes the school week shorter so she could spend more time at home.  “Mummy,” she says, “When I’m bigger, I’m going to stay at school all day too, because they have RECESS.  Maybe when I’m nine.  Or sixteen.”  Playground Evanny still loves to slide and swing–she can’t start the arc herself yet, but if you get her going, she’s got enough of a sense of how pumping works to keep herself going with a strong wiggle.  She prides herself on being able to climb anything, and she’s starting to try to take on the specific challenges of the overhead bars–she still wants help, but less of it, because her brother has conquered the skill, and she sees herself as at most a year behind him in ought-to-have abilities.

own backyard, Onondaga Valley | Elsa-dress, spider-boots, taking on the forest-yard by swinging on grapevines

I don’t know when, for certain, she mastered pole-sliding; for the longest time, since her baby-hands started grasping for the pole out past the end of their reach, I would hold her up and slowly slide her down, and then for a while I would sometimes help her get her grip before I backed off to let her crash too fast to the ground, and then suddenly it was something she was doing on her own, on the other side of the playground, while I was pushing her sister in a baby-swing, sometimes with a “Mummy, look at me!” and sometimes without any announcement at all.  Playground-specific skills and thrills are only a small percentage of the physical challenges she takes on in her wild romp through her world, however; for Evanny, the whole world is a playground.  Ice-cold creek with moss-slick rock-slides?  Playground. Turf-roofed house on an Icelandic moor?  Playground. Miniature sandbox in Papa’s back yard? Playground.  Reproduction Viking ship?  That staircase above, some seven-hundred-and-something steps straight up the side of a (low, rolling) mountain? Playground. Couch and chairs in the living room?  Playground. Mummy and Daddy’s bed, which occupies a treasured place in the kids’ upstairs hallway running circuit? Playground. Slick floors and uncomfortable seating in an airport lounge? Playground. Dangling grapevine in the back yard?  Playground.  A mud-brown marine lake trapping a piece of the Atlantic in a silt-thick cup of sand?  Playground.  The lane-dividing ropes at the post office?  Playground.

family’s backyard, Weston-Super-Mare | Taking a swing at this whole “cricket” thing

But it’s not as if play requires a ground; coming up fast on four, Evanny’s “play” has become a thicket of people to “be,” and this being is as or more important as a set of names and attributes to divvy up as it is an expectation for action of any kind.  This afternoon, strapped in her car seat, she asked me and her sister: “can we play Lion Guard?”  “Go right ahead,” I told her, and she pitched right into “okay, Tabba, you be, what’s the lion’s name, Mummy?” “Kion.” “You be Kion, and I’ll be, what’s the other ones’ names?” Evanny’s favourite people to be are, in a very particular order, Elsa (with or without Spiderman boots), Rapunzel, Ariel, Rey, Merida, Nala, Simba, Kion, Luke Skywalker, and THEN Anna. I cannot for the life of me understand what they all have against Anna, but the three-to-six-year-olds I’ve asked are all solidly in agreement that complainy, sad Elsa is the bomb, and plucky, loving, infinitely forgiving yet no-crap-taking Anna is just a “meh” role they might have to settle for to keep the peace. I mean, sure, everybody wants ice magic and a power ballad, but there’s more to life than a melodramatic coronation and stamping on the floor to make pretty patterns leap across it.

Marine Lake, Weston-Super-Mare, Avon, England | In warm sun and chilly wind, salty water on ice-cream-flavored sugar-lips, with silty toes and sticky splashes, she leapt into the sea

Evanny traveling this past summer was fundamentally herself, just in lots of different places: fearless to the core.  Take-off scared her on the first flight, and landing (& lack of sleep) unsettled her stomach, so on the second of each she insisted on sitting alone and facing what came.  She chased her brother across the Icelandic moors and led the climb to the roof of the sod house, jumped on every hostel & hotel bed we encountered, sampled every kind of food we offered (even while then tending to settle for the familiar), made fast friends with her new-met family & with Matt’s friends’ kids, tried her hand at every game in the barn in Devon and every game on Adam’s Wii that they’d give her a turn on.

family’s floor, Nailsea, Bristol, England | Little shutterbug embracing a chance to play with her grandfather’s real camera–and take about 1000 pictures!

Cricket bat?  You got it.  Brick-stacking with just-met cousin Jake?  Sure thing.  Running off for a good half hour with the expensive multi-lens camera of the grandfather she’d just met that morning?  Yep.  Ziplines, donkey rides, and hundred-meter slides?  Yep, yep, and yep.  Leaping off of sand dunes taller than her father?  Look out below. Dashing, half in street clothes, nevermind the chill wind and likelihood of being cold later, into the sea?  Find a scrap of towel somewhere, because she’s already wet.  No tower was too high to look down from (but the caves of Cheddar, she said, were too dark and scary, although by the end of the electric lights tour we went on with her brother, she was starting to find even that fear fun), no ladder (into Auntie Jackie’s attic, for example) too high and steep to creep up in exploration. Sophie’s birthday party would have daunted any other kid I know, but confronted with the expectation that she join in dance-offs and party games with a huge room full of well-dressed stranger-princesses, most of whom knew each other already, almost all of whom were two and three years older than her, Evanny stood her little ground:

Bantham Beach, Devon, Somerset, England | Cousins, rock-pails, and hand-me-downs make the best and best-outfitted tidepool-exploration team

she said her name into the microphone and showed off her splits when somebody shoved her into the center of the dance-circle. Months after our return, she still tells everyone who asks that her very favourite part of the entire trip was “Sammy and Sophie”–any and all amusements involving her suddenly, magically, bigger tribe of kids was an instant hit and a miracle.  Fearlessness isn’t just about physical bravery or social standing, either; Evanny has no fear of losing. At anything.  To anyone.  She took opportunity after opportunity over the course of our time in England to challenge Sam to footraces, and to my memory she lost every time, but those results are simply not as important to Evanny as her conviction that she’s fast; “you’re faster today,” she’d say to him, “but I might win tomorrow.”

Shove Park, Camillus, NY | Feeling out a path along the cold, sharp stones with those tender little sunny soles

One afternoon, in the middle of a flurry of the boys’ Wii-Olympics face-offs with Uncle Adam, someone gave Evanny a turn, and she “ran” her little character fast and hard almost all the way to the end before Adam sped up and beat her.  Caleb, who had already been nursing his pride about having been beaten himself, turned to complain in her defense–“that’s mean! She’s little.  It’s not fair to do that to my sister.”  “What,” Adam taunted, “beat her?  Know why I did it to her?  Because she can take it!  Wanna go again?” he asked, turning to Evanny.  “Yeah!”

None of this is to say that she’s seamlessly brave and cheerful, not by any means.  When she says no, when she’s not in the mood, she’s gosh-darn not (although she’s far easier to win over to a new mood than her sister, as long as she isn’t desperately low on sleep).  She was too hesitant to touch the manta rays in the petting-tank at the fair, but happy just to watch–I don’t know that I’d even call that fear.  Her biggest fight, her and children everywhere, is not wanting to go to sleep, but when she claims it’s fear of monsters, well, nobody believes that malarkey.

upstairs hallway, Onondaga Valley, NY  |  There are only 2 monsters in this house, and this little imp is one of them.

With me, it’s that she wants me–to sit beside the bed and pat her like I’ve done since she was a baby big enough to say the word “pat,” and it’s very hard when you’re three (we’ll see about four) to wait until your toddler sister, the attention-monopolizing expert, falls asleep on Mummy’s boob before you can have what you want.  So there’s kicking and tossing about in the bed like a fish, and moaning about every possible moan, but eventually (sometimes after I throw her out of the room once or twice), she either falls asleep before I get to her or wins the jackpot of snuggles and whispers and someone to pat her to sleep while she curls on her side or lies on her back with vampire hands gathered in the center of her chest.  She still comes to me most mornings, and not infrequently in the middle of the night as well, wanting to nestle into the space between my body and the edge of the bed, a warm little shadow, my mini-me, my stuffed tiger come-to-life, and when I’m underslept I meet the midnight arrivals with frustration sometimes (especially when she wants to be carried back to bed “like a baby,” which is physically hard and comparatively impossible–that little body I used to sneak back on to her pillow has legs that drag against my knees and arms and hair that loll all over the place, and the position of her sister’s bed means I have to basically throw her back into bed in a tumble that lands her on her face, but she never complains about that part, just whimpers if I try to leave without sitting down for another round of patting), but I not-so-secretly still love it.

Tyntesfield, North Somerset, England | Wrapping up a grounds-and-manor tour with a trying-on of crowns

“Tell me a story,” she’ll whisper into the hush of her quiet little repeat-play soundtrack, and I almost always say no when Tabitha is already asleep, but she’ll try every time anyway (Atta girl, girl.)  When her sister isn’t asleep, sometimes they both get stories, lying together in the dark, but I’m starting to have to field challenges; my rambling out whatever little ideas bloom to mind isn’t enough for her anymore.  She’ll insist, for example, that the characters be human (sometimes stories about mice and ladybugs are allowed, and sometimes they’re absolutely not).  She’ll insist on knowing the names of the stories’ characters, and she’s really only happy these days if their names are “Evanny and Tabitha.”  “NOT a ‘Rose and River’ story,” she had started to qualify, which saddened me a little, because I was liking the invention of the Rose and River world, and I was obliging, but then I realized that she simply hadn’t noticed their names.  When I explained–that her middle name is Irish for “rose,” that a brook is a little river–and said “Don’t you see, you are Rose and River?!” her face lit with delight, and she jumped right back on board.

Lulu’s house, Syracuse NY | Borrowed dress-up clothes and a momentarily moody pause while enjoying a homemade yogurt ice-pop

It isn’t all delight and rewarding recovery, of course; the far end of three, the beginning of four, they come with their own little woes, their struggles, their growing range of pensive moments as the bigness of the world starts to loom a little closer, the wants start outgrowing her reach (and sometimes her articulation), and there are days everything is an Elsa-stomp and a “no!” and a “she’s not sharing!” or “I want to play by myself” or “I just wanted to talk!” (Currently, both girls’ favourite book is a depiction of such a mood that they both identify with, called My ‘No, No, No’ Day.  But she comes around most of the time, and even when she doesn’t, I’ve never loved a sad and ornery person more.

For my little heart, family is a treasured series of joys: with Daddy, she loves such entertainments as dancing, watching sports, running races, going out for haircuts and on shopping runs, watching movies, snuggling, and studying fandoms.  With her Syracuse-local (at least part of the year) grandparents,

front porch, Syracuse, NY | Delighted (and probably nap-overdue) little girl adoring her grand and great-grand.

she’s loving and adoring (and adorable) while learning valuable lessons about playing within the limits of her playmates.  My grandmother doesn’t have much mobility anymore, but she’s plenty sturdy enough to be hugged and clamboured on, so that’s what Evanny lavished on her during her month-long visit early this summer.  My dad is much more spry, but has a bad ankle and usually a dog, so she has to plan her requests for entertainments around reasonable walking distances

MPH family picnic, DeWitt, NY | Evanny and her daddy share a little dinner on the lawn between rounds of wild cavorting in the bounce-houses.

(some days the duck pond is feasible and some days it’s not) and on whether or not the dog (who isn’t allowed at the duck pond and can’t really be walked up to the ice-cream shop by a man with a bad ankle also pushing two kids in a massive stroller), so when she’s not trying to logistically conquer these limitations, she’s rolling with the alternatives: walks into the backyard to balance on logs, splash-pool supervision, endless rounds of role-play direction, book-reading, tea-partying, painting and coloring and quarreling and on occasion, still, falling asleep in his lap on the rocking chair.  When Lola comes to visit, the whole world becomes a princess party of treats and tales, indulgences and curtsy lessons. With her siblings, of course, like siblings everywhere, it’s fight and hug, kiss and tumble, lead and follow, just like you’d expect it to be; they drive each other crazy and miss each other whenever any of the lot is not around.  And with her mother?  Ah, her mother.  They warned us about “threenagers,” and how the tempers and tantrums of three were the best predictor of the kinds of temperament and habit to expect of the teenager a preschooler would someday become, and if Evanny at three is my bellwether, I’m not in for many surprises.  We’ve had stalemates and yell-offs, whines and pouts galore, and an unexpected abundance of ready tears, but also in great supply cuddles and conversations, questions and curiosities, explorations and adventures, like this tired-feet windy walk back to Auntie Julie’s car for a ride to the cousins’ and a fish-and-chips dinner after a day on the Weston beach.  Two was supposed to be “terrible,” and three this endless emotional tumult of head-butting, but they were both, despite small challenges (such as the just-arrived decent of the dreadful “why, why, whys”), by-and-large delightful years to spend with this angel of mine, and at this point, as this Jedi-Rapunzel vine-swings into her fifth ring of the sun, I’m looking through a rain of rose-petals to squint at what the future brings.