Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Stupid Valentine

Sara was making a Valentine.

But it was all Wrong.

Her hearts looked like bananas.

Her flowers looked like radishes.

Her lettering was sloppy.

Sara snarled. “STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!”

Her big sister, Penelope, was making a Valentine.

Penelope’s Valentine was perfect.

Her hearts were bouncy.

Her flowers were frilly.

Her lettering was lacy.

Sara snarled. “STUPID! STUPID! STUPID!”

“What is wrong with you?” Penelope asked.

“My Valentine is STUPID!”

Penelope held it up to look. “OH.”

“See!” Snarled Sara, “It’s stupid!”

Penelope placed the Sara’s Valentine next to her own. “I see,” she said, “it is kind of stupid.”

Sara scowled. “You’re not supposed to say stupid.”

Penelope patted Sara’s hand. “You copied my Valentine. You should do what you love to do, not what I love to do, silly.”

Sara scowled.

She watched Penelope draw a perfect rainbow.

Sara scowled.

She snatched up her stupid Valentine and folded it into tiny squares.

Sara gripped the scissors and sawed away at the paper, muttering. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

She dropped the pieces on the table and threw herself on the floor.

“See!” said Penelope. “It’s genius!”

Sara looked up.

Penelope held open the stupid Valentine.

It wasn’t like Penelope’s Valentine at all.

But it was Perfect:

A perfect snowflake Valentine.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

This week's favorite author and illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Picture Books

This week, following Peter H. Reynold's speech at the NESCBWI conference, I went on a wee binge. I scooped up nearly all of his books from my school library and brought them home where I demanded my 9 year old read them. Then I read them aloud to the 6 year old.


The crop I brought home did *not* include The Dot or Ish, for which he is justifiably well known. These are my three current favorites:

The North Star, written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

This book is about following your own path. This sound pretty simple as a theme, but I love how Reynolds includes distractors: the people who, with all good intentions, let you know you need to catch up, you're falling behind. I love that when our hero helps another character, his own path becomes more clear. I love the frog who tells him that he likes living in a bog. He's a frog. It makes him happy. I found this one pretty inspirational, and quite frankly, helpful. I'm not sure if it is a hard core repeat reader, but I like it very much.

I'm Here, written and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

I began reading this with one of my older preschoolers. He wasn't in a good place, and I quickly determined he wasn't interested in reading it right then. But I wanted to get back to it right away because I suspected something that turned out to be true: it was a book that was about a child like him. A child who is left out and doesn't know how to make friends. A child on the spectrum, overwhelmed by sound and crowds, but still wanting to belong, to be accepted.

This squeezed my heart. I'm trying to write a novel for emerging readers that gives a similar approach to describing a child on the spectrum, so perhaps I'm biased, but I love this book.

Someday, written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds.

Someday is a list of wishes a mother has for her new child, following her through her life, until she is a young mother, and an old woman, reflecting back the love she has for her own child and her own mother.

When Peter Reynolds spoke about this book on Saturday, he had to pause, choked by emotion.

I understand completely. Someday was given to me when my daughter was born, and Monday night was the first time I managed to read it aloud without my voice breaking into a sob.

This one I fiercely love.

My daughter's birthday is next week. She will reap a crop of Peter's books: The Dot, Ish, and Sky Color, along with water color pencils, and sketch pads.

I can't wait.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Life Imitates Art

Is it just me?

Here is Maurice Sendak's cover:

Here is Noodle, age 18 months:

Here is the Pre-Raphaelite painting, "Flaming June" by Fredrick Lord Leighton:

And here is Noodle, age 5, this afternoon:

Monday, June 25, 2012

Why My Dog Needs Single Payer Health Insurance

My husband and I used to happily comment that we loved other people's dogs.

We don't need one ourselves.
So much work.
They're like another kid.

Now that I have a dog, I realize, I was absolutely right.

Except for the bit about needing a dog.

Little Sebago.

She's a great little dog. She learns fast, is quiet and mellow, great with the kids, and falls asleep about 8pm every night.

A month after we brought her home, she broke her knee. Running around the house as if it were a NASCAR track. A month to heal while we kept her "quiet".

That was a little problematic.

A few months later, we enjoyed an early spring. J and the kids took the dog to a park to run around. She found something to slash open her front leg with. Initially the vet thought it wasn't that bad a cut, but it went all the way down to the bone.

Being an incredibly persistent dog (perhaps that's why I empathize with her?) she figured out how to use her Cone of Shame to gouge and scratch at her wound.

We called this the Elizabethan Embarrassment. It worked briefly. Then she figured out how to get her muzzle under it to pull off her bandage. Much to our great relief, once she was able to lick the wound, she left it alone more and eventually it healed.

On the first really hot day of the spring, I took her to play with a dog friend. They found some water and Sebago emerged with her front leg bleeding. Again. This time we were thrifty and bound it up ourselves.

She pulled the bandage right off. We replaced it. She removed it. I mentioned she was persistent, right? It managed to heal without a vet visit.

About a month later, J asked me if Sebago was limping. I watched her at the dog park. Yes. On the leg she'd broken. Then on the other leg. I got cross eyed watching.

The vet agreed. Both legs. An x-ray the next week confirmed that the pins and wire put in to hold her knee together had shifted as she grew into her full size. It evidently cut off circulation to a small bone in her knee and it disappeared. Yes, disappeared.

The other back knee has its own problem, which the vet explained along the lines of bones failing to fuse, which it should have done at her age. At least that's what I think he said. He used terms like "OCD" and "osteocircumpherence" and "arthriticular" in contexts that I didn't understand. I began humoring him after a while, "Oh, right." "Of course not." "Will she need anti-anxiety meds for her OCD?"

I didn't say that last part. He clearly had no idea what OCD means to the rest of the world.

His real answer was: he has no idea what is going on there. We agreed the best treatment would be to give her the dog version of Tylenol every other day.

This was very liberating. I was feeling great about my limpy dog. I even started to call her Limpy affectionately, like the characters in 'Fried Green Tomatoes' call their kid 'Stumpy' when he lost his hand in an accident. Or maybe it was 'Lefty'?

Yesterday she stopped wagging. Entirely. I felt her tail. There seemed to be a bulge followed by a limp tail. Speaking of Limpy. It just dropped to the floor when I let go.

I felt sick. We broke her tail. One of us must have stepped on it. Or shut it in a door. Or the cat finally had her revenge and gnawed on it when Sebago was sleeping and it has gangrene.

I posted my newest heartbreak on Facebook. A friend responded with a cheap diagnosis ("Swimmer's Tail" which I keep typing as "Swimmer's Tale"). A google search confirmed that since she learned to swim the day before I noticed the problem, most likely she strained her butt muscles. Treatment: the same pain killer she uses for her gimpy legs.

I happily anticipate that she will be the butt of many a joke for the next few weeks.

Today she wagged at me.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tranquility and Coyotes

After dinner, I manage to persuade both kids to go for a walk with me. I precede our walk with the lecture on, "Remember how you whined about how far it was last time? If you don't want to go, that's fine. But I don't want whining."

Bizarrely it worked. Noodle didn't complain about the distance even once.

About half way through our walk, there is a lovely little waterfall with a bridge. It's been dry lately, so the waterfall is just hypothetical, but the kids like to teeter on the guardrail like the illustrations from Madeline's Rescue from my childhood. (Right before Madeline plunges into the Siene and is saved by a pregnant golden retriever.)

This is the same idyllic scene where I asked Q to kindly walk more quickly so Noodle wouldn't fall, evoking his hubris, causing him to run, in flip flops, and naturally slip and scrape the inside of his thigh in a manner which brought to mind road rash. Not even chocolate could comfort him. Although for reasons beyond me, Q doesn't like chocolate and the melty pieces from my back pocket that I'd saved as a treat for the kids was apparently less than motivating, much less a treat. It tasted just fine. I don't know what his problem is.

So this is where I am walking, yet again, with my children.

I try to not watch to carefully because it just invites disaster. I'm afraid of heights and nothing makes a kid wobble like someone saying, "Be careful!" They might fall the 18 inches to the ground and require carrying the half mile home up hill.

I glance back at Noodle. There is a large ant walking on the rail toward her.

I suspect that large ant has a mother on the ground covering her eyes and muttering something about 'Don't come crying to me when you fall 18 inches to the ground,' which in the ant world must be 18 stories.

Noodle has no perspective. She sees the ant scampering toward her pink sandal and screams, "Mom!"

I watch her wobble and try to decide if telling her just to stamp on the darn thing is heartless or practical.

Noodle decides this is the perfect time to panic. She lets out a scream so loud and shrill the neighbors are going to flood their yards expecting to see a coyote attacking a small child. I scoop her off the guard rail and deposit her on the ground. She examines her sandal suspiciously, then walks down the side walk unphased by her near death experience.

I look around to explain the situation to the neighbors, but not a single person is on their lawn.

And that is what is wrong with America. Coyotes can attack small children, ants are dying, and no one even pulls up a lawn chair to watch.

Also we saw a small bunny.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Furniture Migration

I am more than delighted. We have finally separated the two children into their own bedrooms, complete with fresh paint jobs and an enthusiastic attempt to organize their toys. I think they are both sleeping better and arguing less.

Q's new room

Noodle's new room

Unfortunately, we did not build a room onto the house, so we had to mash our bedroom down the stairs, through the living room and into the former den. To make room for our bed, we shoved the futon couch (ie: Luxury Guest Bed) into the living room, and piled bins of items we can't bear to throw away but don't know if we really like around the bedroom so it will feel cozy.

We have kind of a hoarding issue. Some of the problem stems from being scavengers. And when I say, we, I mean "I". I don't like leaving anything I can get for free that looks remotely useful. I also hate throwing anything away that might be useful in the future. This results in saving some really crappy stuff. Jonathan is an advocate of ditching crappy stuff, but our problem is that we disagree on which items are crappy and we need a UN certified mediator.

This whole rearrangement is about as interesting as listening to someone you've never met gush about their grandchildren, but it's key for understanding the following conversation which I had yesterday morning.

I bought an Ikea Poang chair for Father's Day. We couldn't afford the matching footstool, so we borrowed the footstool from the fake fancy name swivel easy chair that Jonathan loved until it collapsed on him. That chair moved to the workshop until we can drag it to the dump.

"I'm going to take some things to the Essex Recycling Shed." I say this quietly. If the kids hear me, they will first beg to come so they can salvage other people's crap to come rot in my house. Then they will realize I am trying to ditch beloved toys and immediately play with every ignored toy in the house.

My beloved understands these facts without reviewing them. Further validating my unspoken concern, Noodle enters the room.

"What are you planning to bring?" He matches my tone and I watch Noodle out of the corner of my eye.

"The C-A-S-T-L-E and the D-O-R-A H-O-U-S-E."

There is a long pause as Jonathan makes his way through my spelling. I do a mental spell check. I can't really spell out loud which it makes it much harder to communicate by spelling.

He nods. "Got it."

"Would you like me to take anything else?"

He raises his eyebrows. "Do you have something in mind?"

"One of the things cluttering up your workshop?" I am trying to be nice. Honestly.

"Like....?" His tone implies I should be careful.

"Maybe the chair?"

"But I'm using the footstool that goes with that chair."

We look at the footstool that nearly, but not quite, matches the Poang chair.

"Okay. I'm not suggesting we get rid of the footstool. Just the chair."

"But they go together."

I bury my eyes in my hands so I won't roll my eyes. Rolling your eyes is really bad for your marriage.

"If you bring the chair to the recycling shed, no one will know that it had a footstool. They'll just say 'Cool! A chair!'"

Jonathan, plaintively, "But the chair is so much more comfortable with the footstool."

I stifle a sigh. I'm very patient. "Okay. We take them to the shed together and you can use the tapestry footstool."

He shakes his head. "No. No, it's not the right height."

I abandon my suggestion. Jonathan distracts Noodle as I lug the large plastic castle past her out of the house, return for the large Dora House, lumbering in a tiptoe. I am a ninja of plastic house removal.

En route to the toy store where Q will spend his birthday gift card, I stop at the Essex recycling shed and drop off the two houses. Q emerges with a remote for an antique vcr that has dials. I think this is an excellent trade. Maybe Q will take it apart, figure out how it works and become the next Bill Gates. I green light the addition to our home junk.

After subtracting the mobile homes from the hoarding stash, I can nearly get to the other side of the laundry/sewing room/treadmill room/dog's bedroom/closet. Noodle has not noticed the loss of her plastic doll houses yet, so I feel smug.

(Laundry and Miscellaneous Room - See how much larger it is now that I've removed the plastic real estate?)

The really good news is that I am an early morning ninja and Jonathan hasn't noticed the missing easy chair.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Balmy January

You see here the aftermath of Christmas. Within a week, the sturdiest stuffed dog toy we could find Sebby had been methodically dismembered (all parts still squeaky!). A month later I disposed of the last eviscerated chunks of poor beloved Skunk. It kept her fairly busy and was a lot of fun, but an empty milk jug plus a few small dog treats inside (Q's invention) is an equal amount of bang for the buck. (Those don't even last a full day, I admit.)

Our post-student teaching routine is starting to fall into place. Here you see Noodle baking with me. She follows Q's pattern of loving the measuring, the stirring and the licking of spoons, and the complete evacuation once the mixer is turned on.

I am so delighted to have Wednesdays to spend relaxed time with her again. She has picked up some excellent manipulation lingo and now directly tells me, in a voice full of pathos, "I need some attention."

Much of my own new routine involves wearing out the dog. Three days a week (when possible and I don't oversleep), I take Sebby to the unofficial dogpark in Essex. Sebby tears around with her new dog pals, and consistently loves each and every dog she meets, even if they tell her rudely that her desire to groom their teeth is going to get her face ripped off. The dogpark wears this dog out better than my new four day routine of walking and running a 2.5 loop in Chester with her before work.

Last week Q asked to join me on my Wednesday morning dogpark routine. We bargained for full school preparedness before leaving home, and it worked out beautifully. I've really missed our Wednesday morning breakfasts together, so I'm hoping we might combine the dogpark time and our Wednesday morning tradition to carve out our special time together each week.

One of the most surprising aspects of the dogpark, is Q's response to the hordes of running dogs. Not only has his mild (and unconfirmed) allergy to dog spit disappeared, Q has entirely turned around his fear of dogs. Since my job is to keep an eye on Sebby, I often turn around to find Q chatting up other dog owners and giving what one of them described as, "a running commentary" on the dog behaviors and interactions.

All things change, but as I drove to work the other day, I recognized that this is what happy feels like.