Thursday, July 29, 2010

crazy hat day

The lovely daycare/preschool that the geekykids attend often has a "theme" day, usually on Fridays. Pajama day, backwards day, costume day, crazy hair day, beach day (where they can wear their swimsuits to school. Great for one kid, Rowan, who wears his swimming trunks most days anyway). Tomorrow is 'crazy hat day'.

I have about a fifty percent record of remembering that it is theme day. Oh, the shame of dropping of an unadorned child when almost all of the others have their hair exotically styled or their spiderman costumes on. My kids never seem all that bothered, to be honest, but I feel bad for them, so obviously the children of parents who don't care enough to put these special occasions on the calender. No one wants to feel left out, and I really don't want my children to be in that situation.

This being a full time daycare, almost all of the kids have two full time working parents, so I can't even pull the "I'm so busy working AND being a mum that I don't have time to remember this frivolousness" card. Everyone is busy. The parents are a pretty amazing bunch of people. I must accept that most parents are just better organized than I am. Mostly the mums, I suspect. Geekydaddy is a truly amazing partner and dad, but he doesn't seem to have the mental capacity for this type of minutiae. If you show me a dad who remembers that it is costume day at preschool, or equivalent I'll send you a prize. I, however am determined to improve my performance in this area.

I got a heads up this week thanks to facebook. A fellow mum posted pics of some beautifully adorned headwear that wouldn't have looked out of place on the catwalk, and though I seethed with envy at her millinery skill, I made a mental note to decorate hats this evening. I had another stroke of luck in that Geekydaddy's friend and co worker just gave us a bounty of old clothes and accessories from her daughter, which included several hats.

I breathed a sigh of relief that I would be able to get hats ready tonight, without having to make any shopping expeditions, then realized that though I had pom poms, glitter, fabric and other decorative items, I had no glue. With a stroke of brilliance I asked daycare to lend me a bottle of Elmer's, and this evening after dinner we had a lovely time selecting and decorating 'crazy hats' for tomorrow.

Pulling this off did cause my professional life to clang up against motherhood again. I don't know about you but despite iPhones and laptops, the only way I can be sure to actually remember something is to write it on the back of my hand. So after a great meeting with my new boss, where I believe I intelligently discussed strategy and science, she interrupted me to say "I'm sorry, but I have to ask, why do you have "hats" and "glue" written on your hand?"

Here are the results. Maybe I'll show my boss tomorrow!

Monday, July 26, 2010

scenes from a hike: a post for the gallery.

A post for "the Gallery"

She suspected the day was going to start badly when she was woken at five thirty by her toddler boy and she knew it when the kids complained about the pancakes. She had woken up optimistic about its potential, so much so that she took the trouble to fashion the pancakes in Minnie Mouse faces, with bananas for eyes and strawberries for mouth and hair ribbons (or should that be ear ribbons?).  Her daughter rejected them, complaining that they were not round, as pancakes should be. Her toddler son followed his sisters suit, so she ate the fruits of her creativity herself.

The children whined through breakfast, and moaned about the planned outing for the day, a hike on a nearby trail. The toddler started to howl as soon as he was removed from his car seat at the trail head. He did not want to walk. He did not like the forestiness of the floor getting in his crocs. He did not want to wear socks, either. He most emphatically did not want to ride in either of the hiking backpacks that his parents were burdened with.

She bundled the wailing toddler into the backpack anyway and hoisted his thirty pounds of misery down the trail. Three verses of "the happy wanderer" later, the wailing did not abet. Despite the racket her daughter chattered on endlessly, ever unsatisfied with her mother and father's responses to her "Mummy can I tell you something...? Daddy did you know that...? Mummy why does...?"

Her dog, who she keeps on leash on the trail, is a sweet obedient creature except when approached by off leash dogs. The dog ran out of patience after the sixth encroachment and terrified a passing fluffball and his owners, Owners who when asked "Please call your dog" replied "Oh, he's friendly", only to hear, over the barking and snarling "Ours isn't". She hates clueless people like that. She tried to blank out the wailing and snarling and incessant questions and recalled fondly the long, contemplative hikes she and her husband used to take back when it was just the two of them.

Even though the kids did cheer up and walk a little, it seemed impossible that they would make it to their intended destination without further meltdowns, so after a quick lunch on the side of the trail they turned for home. It was only about eleven in the morning, but she longed already for the kids to be in bed, so that she could curl up with a good book and a glass of wine.

                   .   .      .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .    .   .    .
Is that how it was? Or was it like this:

She knew that it was going to be a good day when her toddler son was persuaded to go back to sleep for an hour after appearing, big eyed and adorable in the dark, at half past five in the morning, stating, in case it wasn't blatantly obvious "Mummy, I wake up." She marveled at the contrariness of small children as they turned down her beautiful Minnie Mouse pancakes and chose the plain round ones she had made for the grown ups. She and her husband packed snacks, water, sunglasses, hats, sunscreen, camera; miraculously not forgetting anything and "like a herd of turtles", a family joke referencing the speed at which they are able to get out of the house, they jostled the kids  into the car against their objections.

Her daughter was sunny and full of questions as soon as they started out on the trail, the whiny child reformed by a hearty breakfast into a bright and adorable one. The toddler still had other ideas. He stood at the trail head and howled. He sat in the back pack and howled. He tried to walk again, became enraged by the prickles in his shoes and howled some more. Then, as he planted himself firmly on the trail and refused to progress, allowing his parents to get a good thirty feet ahead of him, some passing hikers engaged him in conversation. "Are you hiking with mommy and daddy?" they asked. "No, I NOT hiking", he replied, gazing into the blue beyond. "Are you looking for birds?" they asked him. "No, I look for BUTTERFLIES." he corrected. Then he grinned at them. They looked at us, and with our implicit consent encouraged him to walk on. He did, but just when we thought the day had been saved he stumbled. His sister ran to help him and hand in hand they negotiated the trail.

"He must be about two" the kind hikers said.

I asked them whether it was his height or his attitude that had given it away.

The family dog restrained herself from jumping on most of the off leash dogs that invaded her space, and the one snarling incident that occurred was met with apology from the offenders owners. She sniffed and wagged and spotted squirrels and lizards and had such a rapt expression of doggie pleasure at being out with her people in the woods that it lifted everyone's spirits.

The family didn't get all that far, but there was no real destination anyway. The rocky outcrop where they stopped to eat their sandwiches was as lovely a spot as any. The hot pine scent, the crunch of needles, buzz of cicadas complemented the lunch perfectly. She even managed to take a few photograhs while the children ate their lunch.

Her husband had to carry the toddler in the back pack all the way home, but the little guy was happy by then, pointing out passing birds, bugs and airplanes. She drew the long straw in that her daughter deigned to walk rather than ride, and even held her hand the whole way back. She chattered away about squirrels, and how they hibernate, but do hamsters hibernate too, and what about chipmunks, and what do chipmunks eat anyway, and oh look, people riding horses. She's going to get a horse, a blue horse with a white tail, or maybe just a really dark grey one because horses don't come in blue do they? But she will call it "Blue" instead and what do horses eat, and do they hibernate....

By chance it was the peak of wildflower season. Fleeting and fickle, dependent upon the time of the snowmelt and the strength of the sun, the alpine flowers bloom for just a couple of weeks and then go to seed. The last time they bloomed she was parent to a three year old and a one year old. They next time she sees them she will have a child about to start kindergarten, and a preschooler.

Both descriptions of the day were accurate. Looking at the wildflowers, thinking about the transience of childhood, and indeed of life itself, she chose to pick the second version to store in her memory

Saturday, July 24, 2010


You may recall that we lost one of our family cars in an unfortunate accident a couple of weeks back. We are now in possession of a replacement, but getting to this point was quite a saga.

I learned two important things from the experience.

Used car dealers are crooks and shysters. Even Subaru dealers, who I had thought would somehow be superior to the stereotype, given the wholesome branding of their product.

Beer, sake, champagne and gin do not mix.

Back to the saga. For the first week Geekydaddy dragged about town in a huge, cumbersome Dodge sedan provided by insurance company via a rental firm. He made spreadsheets and calculated mileage and scoured car dealerships and decided to look for a certified used Subrau Impreza. My car is a Subaru, and we have had a great experience with the car, 180,000 miles and still going strong. The certification program is supposed to guarantee the car meets certain standards. Not quite as good as new, but almost. He found a certified used Impreza at a dealer near his office. A spiffy black one with a cream interior, it met our needs so he handed over a check. It wasn't the newest looking car, 2 years old with some scratches on the interior panels, and it was automatic when Geekdaddy was hoping to get a stick shift, but it was the right price. We were satisfied that the hassle of finding a car was over, and told the kids that this was the replacement for the Prius.

That weekend we drove it down to the kids swim class. This was the night after we had seen Idina Menzel at the symphony. Now this wasn't a big drinky night out, but over the course of the evening I had consumed some beer and some sake (with my sushi), a glass of champagne and a gin and tonic. Either my booze tolerance has hit a new all time low, or something about the combination of beverages didn't sit right in my stomach, because on the way home after class and after a nice post swimming sit down breakfast, I suddenly felt queasy. I grabbed a diaper, the most absorbent thing I had handy, but it proved inadequate as I threw up quite spectacularly, all over myself and the "new" clean upholstery.  At home I attacked it with "Nature's Miracle" pet stain remover (every family with children should have some) and a lot of 'febreze', and rolled down the windows, but a faint vomitty smell remained. I was mortified. Geekydaddy suspected it was a subliminal passive aggressive protest against him getting a new car despite destroying our other one.

Driving it about for a few days, though the smell lifted, he noticed a slowness in the brakes and a jerkiness in the shifting, so he took it in to a different Subaru dealer, the one we have used to service our other car for the past 180,000 miles.

"Where did you get this car"? said Howard our mechanic. He said "car", but his tone said "piece of junk". "There is no way this is a certified pre-owned car" He told us. "I don't think it is even certifiable" Apparently the brake rotors were through, all the brake pads needed replacing and he suspected it had been in a shunt that may have tweaked the frame. He didn't  say "and it smells of vomit", though if I was using artistic license here I would pretend that he had!

I guess we were certifiable for trusting a used car dealer. But surely certified pre-owned should mean something? We had a certificate and a warranty from the other dealer, after all.

So back to the other dealer Geekydaddy went. They were suitably chastened at their "mistake", a genuine one, they assured him. They gave him the loan of a very nice new Outback, and set to fixing the other car. But even fixed we didn't feel we could trust them to sell us a truly certified and reliable used car. He asked for his money back and surprisingly, they didn't even hesitate to do so. I suppose we could have sued since we were sold something under false pretenses.

He was about to walk away, then they started to offer sweeter and sweeter deals on a brand new car.  The deal got so sweet that Geekydaddy was really tempted, but he was loathe to give these shysters his money. So he called another dealer. Said "these guys are offering me a 2010 Impreza for xxx, can you beat it?". They did, so he ended up picking up a new car for only a tiny bit more than we paid for the used one.

I do feel a little guilty that some innocent family is going to buy that other one, and that they will always wonder about the faint smell of vomit coming from the passenger seat.

They kids were getting a little confused by the constant turnover of transportation, and are happy to have a new mechanical family member. They were quite fond of the Prius and sad about its demise.

The new Subaru in the family is a sporty silver,  a stick shift, with a slick black interior. And not a trace of vomit anywhere. Yet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Thankyou for the music

This past weekend Geekydaddy and I went to see Idina Menzel singing with the San Francisco Symphony. She is the Broadway star, now best known as Shelby on Glee, who created the role of Elphedra in "Wicked", and also (I learned from my program), the role of Maureen in "Rent". She was wonderful. She's also a new mum, and she sang us a pretty little song that she wrote for her son. I doubt her children will ever say to her "Stop singing, Mummy", as mine do. The symphony is one of my many "reasons to stay in San Francisco". Usually we attend more highbrow classical type concerts, but I saw this one advertised on twitter, and couldn't resist the combination of show tunes and symphony.

My parents filled our lives with music. Mum plays the piano and all three of us kids took lessons, though only my sister had the commitment and talent to actually get good at it. She also played the cello, I played the flute (poorly) and my brother tackled the euphonium (he wanted the biggest instrument the school had in its music closet). We were exposed to an eclectic spread of music. From my dads old 78's (I recall a song called "Thankyou very much for the HP iron" or something to that effect), to Handel's 'Alleluia Chorus', to a sixties folk band called the Spinners, to Danny Kaye and Julie Andrews, through Abba, Boney M, Jaquelin Du Pre, through the entire works of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, and on to Wham, Duran Duran and Oasis and Benjamin Britten, our childhood was full of music. Classical was never considered superior to popular. Mum and dad were always open to new artists. The radio was always on.

I want to pass this legacy on to our kids. They love music, and I used to take them to a music class, but this has long fallen by the wayside. Geekydaddy plays the guitar, he is self taught, and the kids are thrilled to to hear him strum out a bit of Tom Petty or Neil Diamond. I have a nice electric keyboard, an optimistic gift to myself for a pre kid birthday, and in my "spare time" am trying to reteach myself to play so that I can bash out a few tunes for them too. I'm grateful that I can still at least read music, and exercising this rusty skill has made me marvel at the power of our brains to process and retain age old lessons. Like language, this skill seems to embed in the brain.

Translating symbol to sound is a unique human talent, and thinking about the neural leaps required to learn it has made me anxious to expose my kids developing brains to the concept of reading and playing music soon, but for now we mainly listen to recorded music. I have some great kid music (and some dreadful stuff), but in the car I only listen to "my" music. Recently this has been Lady Gaga, The local band "Train". and the hits from Glee. I'm starting to question the wisdom of this though. The kids are very perceptive.

This sensitivity can be charming. Listening to Idina and Michele singing their version of "I dreamed a dream" from the Glee soundtrack, Geekyboy said forlornly "This is a sad song". Geekygirl agreed and has come up with her own version of why it is so sad "They dream about tigers, but the dream doesn't come true" she says, which is quite a reasonable interpretation from the songs lyrics, when you think about it.

There comes the problem though. The song lyrics. I now have a four year old who sings "And she's loving him with that body I just know it " (Jessie's girl; Glee soundtrack), and "I say stop, I say go, I say yes and I say Oh hell no" (Save me San Francisco; Train). I am quite partial to Geekyboys take on Journey's "don't stop believing" retranslated as "don't stop Bleeding", but Perhaps I should stop listening to Lady GaGa in the car before they starts singing something really embarrassing.

Do you vet your music choices for child appropriateness? When will/did your kids learn an instrument? Would love your input!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Who's the boss?

Geekygirl must have overheard a conversation about work, because she asked me the other day "Mummy, what is a boss?" I explained that at work I have a boss, who is in charge of the office and who tells us what to do (My boss rarely tells me what to do, in actuality, but I didn't think it was time yet to talk about situational leadership and management strategy.)

I could see her mind working, and she asked me "Do I have a boss?" The question afforded a perfect opportunity to test her opinion of our family dynamics so I asked her, "well, what do you think, who is the boss in our family?"

"You are" she replied with out hesitation. "You are the boss of Geekyboy and me". "What about Daddy? I asked. She thought for a while and said decisively "Daddy is the boss of Geekyboy and me too, but you are the boss of Daddy".

Later that day she explained to her father that "Mummies are the boss because the mummies have the babies. If the Daddies have the babies then they get to be the boss."

Sorry Dads, but you can't argue with pure four year old logic.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Holiday

Here in the USA a holiday means a public holiday, a day everyone gets free, like today. We got this Monday off work to celebrate the 4th of July. Taking a few days off and going on a trip is called a vacation, not a holiday, so when I saw Tara's Gallery prompt of 'holidays', though it was the long summer caravan trips of my youth that first sprang to mind, I don't have any photographs of those  memorable trips handy, so I thought I would use the American version of Holiday as my theme.

This weekend we are combining the two concepts. Making a vacation out of the holiday. We're up in our mountain cabin, at Serene Lakes. It is as lovely as it sounds. The snow is almost all melted, the beach is sandy and the sun has pulled enough of the chill out of the water to make the lake swimmable.

It takes a while for the mountain magic to iron the city wrinkles out of my mood. At first the packing, unpacking and driving irritate. "Is it really worth the effort?" rattles in my mind, knowing I have brought up two enormous bags of laundry, and that though it is brilliant having this cabin to retreat to, the cooking and cleaning, the wrestling of kids to bed, the incessant wiping of noses and bottoms, all  follow us along.

We had planned only to stay for the three day weekend. Today was to be our last day. I took the kids to the beach this morning while Geekydaddy prepped the cabin for summer, removing snow guards and hanging bike racks. It was a lovely morning. We had put the cork back in our second bottle of Chianti the previous night, so our heads were clear when the kids woke us just before seven. We had remembered to take the frozen croissants out of the freezer too, so the promised special breakfast was created and relished.

At the beach I remembered snacks and reminded the kids to eat them. I remembered the buckets and spades, and the inflatables and waterwings. I played with the children, building castles for stomping on, sharing pleasure in passing ducks, sailboats and butterflies, helping them swim in the lake, impressed with their imperviousness to the rather chilly water.  Nobody got sunburned or bitten by sand flies. Our snacks didn't get tipped over into the sand.  You may observe that I'm trying to notice when things go well, rather than get annoyed with myself when they don't.

We left the beach just a few minutes too late. Geekygirl had found another little girl to play with,  and I dawdled the packing up to go home for lunch, despite Geekyboy giving clear signs that he was tired. When I say clear signs I'm not talking about subtle things only discernible to the 'in tune' mum, I mean that he said to me several times "Mamma, I tired, I wanna go home. I wanna sleep". When I deflated the angelfish rubber ring he finally lost it, distraught that this lovely plaything had been turned by evil mummy into a flabby sack of plastic. I hauled him home, a bawling bag of snot and tears.

When I got back to the cabin, got the kids fed and napped, and sat down for my own lunch I realized that tantrum not withstanding, the pleasure of the morning had won my mind, and I was actually fully relaxed for the first time of the weekend. So we decided to stay on for one more day. Bliss.

I forgot to pack my big camera this weekend, and found that I spent more time just being in the moment, rather than capturing it.

But thanks to hipstamatic for iphone,  and its uncanny ability to throw a mood onto a picture, I do have a nice little snap that sums up our holiday weekend.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Unstoppable force meets immovable object

or, what happens when a Toyota Prius collides with a Cadillac escalade.

Don't try this at home.

This happened on Father's day.

Back in our child free days geekydaddy and I had memberships at various wineries and spent many a weekend tasting wine and soaking up the Napa sun. A hangover from those days was a wine club which was steadily accumulating merchandise. Some of the wines were almost over aged at this point, it had been so long since our last trip, so Geekydaddy decided to take a Father's day trip. A day off. He drove up to Sonoma to pick up the wine.

Waiting for him at home, I got that phone call, the one you dread when your spouse is late. The thought that lurks at the back of your mind almost every evening. I picked up the phone and heard "Honey, I wrecked the car".

 Everyone involved was fine, so really, it wasn't such a big deal, but still, not the most pleasant end to the weekend. The car looks dreadful, and indeed is a write off, but the airbag didn't even go off at the time of impact. Geekydaddy was amazed, after he wrenched the door open, to see the damage. It felt like just a little bump, he said.

I'm sad though. I was fond of the car. It was only two years old. We won't replace it with another Prius, much as we loved the car. The insurance money won't quite cover a used Prius of the same age, they are hard to come by, so we'll get a cheap used regular sedan. I'll miss being part of the self satisfied 'look at me I'm saving the planet' 'Prius club' though, and I'll miss the 45mpg. I'll miss the no claims bonus our previously excellent driving records afforded us too.

Still, at least I can smirk in a self satisfied manner when I recall one of Geekydaddy's wedding vows; "I'll love you however many dents you put in the car". I think I have quite a few dings in hand now.