Category Archives: Blind Squirrel Parenting

Golden Moments

Yesterday was one of those crisp September mornings you could bite into like a perfectly ripe Macintosh apple. My youngest son, having started first grade the day before, was off for the Jewish New Year holiday. It was too good an opportunity to miss. We grabbed our cameras and headed out to our local stretch of the Appalachian Trail.DSCF0381DSCF0377

Our first leg of the trail runs alongside a dry summer meadow filled with purple aster and golden rod. My son marveled at the insect orchestra. I pointed out the different pitches and rhythms of the grasshoppers and crickets. We watched goldfinches flitting from seed head to seed head, stuffing their beaks. Trios of cabbage white butterflies danced around a mud puddle. A monarch flapped and drifted, seeking out the last flowering heads of milkweed. The air was sweet with the scent of virgin’s bower, the native wild clematis.

When we reached the woodland, the dirt path was packed, dry clay. But pushing up through the leaf mold, we spied several species of toadstool. When I told Milo about the extensive mycelium network that spreads underground from a mushroom colony, his imagination ran riot. He began inventing Rube Goldberg machines powered by mushrooms that sent secret messages down these connecting tubes.DSCF0370

We reached the boardwalk over the marshes and marveled at the variety of late summer flowers—turtleheads, purple loosestrife, jewelweed, bursting pods of milkweed fluff. At the suspension bridge we gazed down into the slow moving depths of the Pochuck Creek, looking for small trout. I think the herons had got there before us, but we did find an owl pellet stuffed with hair and delicate mouse bones.

At Turtle Bridge we counted nineteen Eastern Painted Turtles, and a water snake.DSCF0367

As we walked back through the woods, it dawned on me that at exactly this spot, six years ago, it had finally sunk in that I was going to have a baby—my youngest son. At 41, with two almost teens, the thought of another baby had been far from my mind. And yet, here he is, six years later, my late summer golden moment. What a gift.

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How to painlessly get your kids ready for school (and college) in half an hour a day.

My husband and I had just brought our first newborn home from the hospital. Honestly, I couldn’t believe they’d let us walk out of the place with her—didn’t they know we were completely clueless? The first diaper change was a fiasco that reduced us to helpless laughter. We were woefully unprepared. The fact that our daughter had DSC_0095showed up a couple of weeks early didn’t help. In those first few days, we walked around in a zombie-like state. One afternoon, while I was napping with the baby, my husband slipped out for a breather. When I woke up, he was back with the first gift he would ever give her—a collection of children’s books that he had loved as a child.

That very day, he propped her warm, saggy little body into the crook of his arm and read her The Lorax. And so began our favorite childhood routine. We read morning, afternoon, and night. Basically, anytime there was a bed involved, and frequently when there wasn’t. In the beginning it was all about indulging our own memories of books. But soon we discovered wonderful new classics of children’s literature. And it didn’t take long before the Ikea bookshelf in her shoebox-sized room was overflowing. When her brother arrived eighteen months later, our days revolved around the park, the bookstore, and the library. He even took his first steps, staggering, giggling, through the stacks in the children’s section of the Brooklyn Public Library.

Shortly after that, our book collection—children’s and adult’s—forced us to beat a retreat from city life. Our drafty old Saltbox was soon insulated with a solid six inches of books.IMG_0083

Toward the end of our second summer living in the county, an event loomed that left me full of dread. Our daughter was off to kindergarten, and the prospect of upsetting our leisurely morning routine—lounging in bed, gasping at the grossness of a Roald Dahl story, or laughing aloud at Shel Silverstein poems—was dismal. I knew that trying to get a cranky, uncooperative kid dressed, fed, and ready for the 8:15 bus was going to put us all in a major snot. Add to that, my determination not to give up our precious morning reading session. Like all good drill sergeants, I came up with a plan. Surprisingly, it worked so well, it became our new morning routine.

The night before I would pull out the next day’s gear (thankfully my kids were never fussy about what they wore). Then, half an hour before I knew the kids needed to be dressed and shoveling food into their faces, I woke them up. This sometimes involved picking them up, semi-conscious, and depositing them in our bed, along with an armful of clothing, various must-have soft toys, and a stack of books. As they snuggled back under the covers, I began to read to them. After about five minutes of a rollicking picture book, guaranteed to capture their attention, they’d be wide-awake. I’d read the next installment of whatever chapter book we happened to be reading—Little House in the Big Woods, The BFG, Harry Potter. Just when I reached a particularly juicy part, I’d pause and say, “Time to get dressed.” Rather than eliciting groans of despair, the kids knew, that was the signal to quietly drag on their clothes, while I finished the last few tantalizing paragraphs. Violá! I had a fully awake, fully dressed, happy crew, ready to face the day with their heads already bulging with stories, and their imaginations firing on all cylinders. An added bonus to all this was that my kids learned to read relatively painlessly, acquired a vocabulary that stopped adults in their tracks, and best of all, a love of books.

I would be fretting about what to do with the Alexandria-sized stacks of children’s book we’ve accumulated over the years when my daughter heads off to college this fall. But lucky for me, my six-year old has allowed us to indulge our morning reading routine just a little bit longer.

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Letting Go

You’re a write eejit when you treat your manuscript like your baby.
I’m not the overly sentimental type—or at least I do a good job of hiding it. I wasn’t the one blubbing like a baby at “Mary Poppins” (not looking at anyone in particular, man-mate!) But I confess, when I put my youngest on the bus to kindergarten for the first time, I did feel that mother-child bond stretch out like an over-zealous rubber band, and it brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye. That wee one that had been clamped to my hip and shin for five years, had just blown me a kiss from the other side of the road and hopped merrily on the bus without a backward glance.

Okay, okay, I hear you groan—not another Mommy blog. Well, yes, but just this once, and only to make my point. (I’m not above exploiting my kids.)
So it’s with trepidation that I prepare to send premier child off to college. What if I didn’t get it right? What if I read all the wrong child-rearing books? (Actually, I don’t think I read any.) But what if I didn’t feed her enough kale or Vitamin D. Maybe I shouldn’t have had her vaccinated, and maybe all those fluoride treatments were a mistake. I didn’t teach her to ride a bike. I didn’t talk enough about sex, or maybe I said too much. I showed, but didn’t tell. Maybe I suffocated her character—didn’t let it evolve naturally. Should I have insisted she not swear so much?

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And then I pull myself up short, because I’m being as neurotic about my parenting of my daughter as I am of my books. Can you parent a book? I hear you ask. Yes, most definitely, yes!
You have sleepless nights while it’s in the newborn phase—lying awake for hours wondering if you’re doing it right. You can’t imagine how your baby can ever grow up and demand less of your attention. And then slowly you hit your stride. Sometime you’re cruising along taking every corner like a pro. Other times you’re flailing around like a one-legged roller skater. Sometimes you get to the stage where you just want to throw up your hands and yell, “I quit!” But you can’t. You’re in it for the long haul. And then there are those few and far between days when every, just every little thing, is bloody brilliant.
And as with parenting a child, there comes a time when you have to push that offspring out of the nest. No more editing, looking for stray commas, dangling modifiers. You’ve given it a good talking to and told it to do its best, and never go home with a guy who’s weirder than its brother, and . . . It’s all about giving it wings and letting it fly.

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Photo by Peter Barron

 

You’re a write eejit . . . if you think you can keep your writing and family life separate.

Here’s a typical afternoon in my house.

Okay I just have time to edit—

“Mom! The cat’s playing with a half-dead chipmunk and my soccer coach is going to bench me if I turn up with only one purple sock and by the way I flunked my Spanish test and what’s for dinner and did I tell you Tim is staying over and why is child no. 3 allowed to watch Halloween, Part 8 you wouldn’t let me see that when I was five?”

. . . now where did I file that synopsis and was it the short one or the long one? And did I send the critique of that sex manual to—? Oh god, the school guidance counselor is going to think I’m a sex addict when he finds it in his inbox. He’ll probably call child protective services and . . .

“Mom! I’m scared and I just know I’m going to have nightmares and can I sleep in your bed tonight.”

. . . what was I making for dinner . . . and oh, there are my glasses, in the fridge with the deli slices . . . HAS ANYONE FED THE CATS? . . . must remember to clean up the chipmunk guts from under the . . . oh, that gives me an idea—where’s a Post-it note . . . credit card bill, hoped I’d lost that . . . glass of wine . . . aaah!