Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Popsicle Chat

This post is mostly for Grandma, who loves to hear Mattias babble.

We've really discovered popsicles this summer.

[video emoved]

I was so fascinated by Mattias' babble, that I wasn't paying attention to the fact that he was dripping strawberry juice all over everything. Until he drops his popsicle on the floor (at the very end). Now, when I watch this video, I really wonder.  Couldn't I just put a bib on him? We easily own 20 bibs; I'm not sure that I ever use any of them. What do I have against bibs?

As cute as all the babble is, I kind of hope Mattias slows down. Noah talks enough already!  Today, running errands, I decided that driving with my four year old is the equivalent of driving and talking on the cell phone. Very distracting, that is. And unfortunately, I can't just "disconnect" the four year old.

Sunday, June 26, 2011


When Fritz and I started dating, I knew that he was someone I could spend my whole life getting to know. This may sounds strange, but it was amazingly appealing to me.

And so far, both the getting to know and the appealing phenomenon are still true.

He picked up this violin and played it a few months ago. I mean - he played an actual tune! I didn't know he could do that. I asked him later, "Have you played violin before?"

"No, never."

Well, maybe you can guess that from his technique. But I'm pretty sure I couldn't blindly get a tune out of a violin, technique or not.

I have to tell you, I love a good surprise! (Well, sometimes.)

We went out to celebrate our anniversary. Alone. Without piccolini. It's the first time we've celebrated our anniversary out, on the town, so to speak, in FIVE YEARS because of real or perceived problems with finding and accepting babysitters.  (Yes, okay, I do have issues....)

And it was wonderful. And the very expensive babysitter was wonderful. But Mattias still smelled like her this morning, so I know it couldn't have been so wonderful for him - or her. He must have spent a lot of time being held between 8pm and midnight.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Outsourcing Motherhood

We've been quite busy with projects lately. Yesterday, I was talking to a friend about projects and projects with piccolini, and how it's going (or not), and I said, "You can't outsource being a mother."

We both smiled and nodded our heads. But a moment later, our grins faded and it was clear that we were both thinking the same thing:

"Yes, you can! Nannies? Babysitters? Au Pairs?"

Then I felt rather foolish. Because who am I to make such grandiose statements about my value and my worth? Who do I think I am, acting like I'm so special and irreplaceable? I need to get off my high horse.


We had extra dirt. We had A LOT of extra dirt from the planter project this weekend.  I gave it away for free. Because even if it has a fancy name like "Organic potting soil;" in the end, it's still dirt. And it needed to be gone.


One mother came for dirt, with her two kids, about 3 years and 18 months, in tow. She shoveled, hauled, and loaded dirt while I chatted with her children.

"Are you in preschool?" I asked the little boy.
"Yes!" he said.
The mother chimed in: "No, they're both home with me, all the time."


Another person emailed me to ask if she could come in the afternoon.

"I'm taking care of my grandchild in the morning," she explained.


It felt significant to me: the mother, with two kids under 3, tackling a dirt project. The grandmother, waiting until she no longer had childcare responsibilities.

Is there a difference between a mother and a caregiver? Is it significant that the mother does a dirt project with her children while a caregiver (in this case, a grandmother) doesn't?

Fritz would say, "The difference could be personality. It could be generational. The difference could be the age of the kids. This is 'n of 2.' It's inconclusive data."

In short, he would say I'm over-analyzing.

I would partially concede, "there is no significance yet."


Still, I like this version: mothers can seldom afford the luxury of "later, without children," And thus, our children learn to be proactive - our children learn to take action - from life with us, the mothers. Maybe there are lessons from motherhood that can't be reached by outsourcing?

Or maybe I'll still on my high horse.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Making the Deck Float

This week, we started another part of the deck project.  This time, we worked on the edge of the deck, which we had left without a railing.

Because the surface of the deck is no more than 30" from the ground plane, we were not required to have a railing per building code. I really, really wanted NO RAILING. Railings are tedious to build, they generally clutter up the view, and they add a lot of cost to a deck project. So locating the deck 28" above the ground plane was intentional and desirable from many perspectives; but it quickly became clear that it was undesirable from a parenting perspective!
Design concept in blocks.
My father - Noah and Mattias' grandfather - who helped us build the deck, was, in fact, so disturbed by the 28" drop that he offered to make Fritz a railing for his birthday.

But we were firm: No Railings on the Deck.

It was (admittedly) a dangerous precipice for little 14 month olds who believe that as long as they turn around and go backwards, they can go over any edge, at any height.  In case you are not a parent, that's how you teach babies to go down stairs, "Turn around! Crawl down backwards!" Mattias has learned this lesson so well that it's a hazard; "A 28 inch drop? 6 inches taller than me? No problem! As long as I go over it backwards!"

The stair-crawling technique. Stairs designed under German building codes. But the technique still works.
So, in order to save Mattias from injuring himself, and in order to feel comfortable inviting other piccolini over to our house, it was time to continue to the next phase of the deck: the planter.

The original idea was to remove this fence, and fill the space with a wide planter that was just slightly lower than the deck.  That way, the deck would continue to be a platform "floating" in a sea of vegetation (once the planter is full). And the planter protects anyone from falling too far, should they fall.

At the moment of the photo, all the furniture was lined up along the edge of the deck to form a protective barricade for the previously mentioned 14 month old
There's nothing beautiful or terribly redeemable about the fence, as far as I'm concerned, except for the fact that it's only 6 months old and functioning just fine. For some people, that might be enough. But me?I'm a little annoyed at the way it steps down at the corner. (Whose brilliant idea was that? Ugh.) And I think it's kind of clunky, mundanely vertical, and not so elegant.

After a lot of thought, I finally yielded to Fritz on the idea of leaving the fence in and just building the planter (for now). Because frankly, tearing down the fence would open a whole new can of worms, whereby I'd want to replace/change/alter the whole fence. Later. I'll do that later.

There was also some disappointment when I failed to convince a local woodworker to build us a planter made from reclaimed cedar fencing. Mach's nichts! Onto our simplified, and then simplified, and then simplified AGAIN plan: a landscape timber planter, that still maintains the design integrity of deck-floating-in-(future)-vegetation, by locating itself several inches below the deck surface.

Planter. Or playpen since there's no dirt in there.
Or balance beam.
I am sure you are already imagining how great it will be after we fill it with 5 cubic yards of planter soil and plants over the next two weekends.

We gave up on the idea of building this planter ourselves because 1) we were out of relatives who wanted to take a work-ation at our house 2) Mattias is a total handful these days 3) Fritz is very tired after all that drip irrigation remodeling.

Noah was into helping. Here he is in his role as Sidewalk Supervisor:

And after his promotion to Chief Supervisor:

Friday, June 17, 2011

What are you feeding those flowers?

I have no idea. My mother put them together. She says there's fertilizer in there. Novel!
I just add water. Drip irrigation. I set it up myself with the piccolini's "help."  I was proud.
Fritz thought the black rubber hoses were too ugly and replaced them with clear silicon hoses. He also made it look a lot neater. Apparently, you learn these fancy hose secrets when you work in a lab.
It does look better from the back.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Sunscream Eyes

Noah's technique for getting sunscream out of his eyes:

(It involves a toothbrush.)
I look at it this way: the toothbrush may not be the wisest thing to rub against your eye (lid!?).  But being in control of the situation? That does WONDERS for the mind.

Our sunscream adventures this year are here and here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Family Photos

A few weeks ago, we had our first professional family photos taken by Beth Dreyer. Beth is a Dallas based photographer, who, luckily for us, comes to Colorado Springs once in a while. I'd been reading her blog and seeing her photos online for over a year now, and I thought she was a brilliant portrait photographer (as well as blogger). I'd never met Beth before the photo shoot, but she's as cool as her site would leave you to believe.

Fritz was less than convinced that we needed a photographer from Dallas,  "Aren't there good photographers in Denver?"

Um, not like Beth.

What I love about Beth's photography is the way that she uses light and color, the way that her photos are always about the people in the photos, and the way she manages to work the background into the photos (without overwhelming the people).

I think sometimes, in these days of digital cameras, editing software, and iPhone apps there are a lot of us able to fake some cool photography. I count my family in this group. We personally have gigabytes upon gigabytes of photos that we've taken of the piccolini. Fritz has a good deal of technical experience and photographic equipment. I use the word "Photoshop" as a verb, thanks to my days doing architectural renderings. What I'm saying is, I think we can fake a photo with the best of the fakers.

But a true professional photographer? With genuine talent? Awesome.

Did you see the photos? Beth is a photography genius.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Jars - check!

Sometime ago we I decided to replace our drinking glasses with jars because I was sick of breaking the glasses.  I'd like to blame the breaking on the piccolini. But really, Fritz and I are the ones breaking the glasses.

This weekend, Fritz broke our last large drinking glass.  (The small glasses don't break as fast.)

Now that summer is here and we need large amounts of fluid at once, we're using exclusively jars for drinking. It's working pretty well.  Except for the stackability issue - jars take up a lot more cupboard space. But we haven't broke a single jar yet.

Also, it's kind of fun to shop for food based on whether or not you want to reuse the container.  Given ongoing, persistent concerns about BPA in plastics... well, there's another benefit.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

More sunscream

Noah started a 2 day a week camp for the month of June. It necessitated sunscream at 8 o'clock in the morning as well as writing his FIRST and LAST name about 60 times on various items. That's a lot of name writing. This time, I did it myself. (See: this previous "teaching" opportunity and its anticlimax.) You know what, this whole summer thing is killing me this year. Preparing two kids for playing outdoors in the summer feels way more complicated than it is in the winter.

Our house is a few doors down from a public outdoor pool. I'm not a pool person: I'm soooo uncomfortable donning a swimsuit in front of others. But I love the way Noah and Mattias are affected by the swimming pool. In case you didn't know, the equation works like this:

kids + swimming = naps

So. Swimming pool it is. I got both the piccolini some flotation devices in order to manage them both at the same time. This is somewhat against my philosophy: I feel they'll learn to be in the water better without floats. But two non-swimmers and one adult? Something had to give. I'm still quite nervous the whole time. About forty-five minutes is as much as I can handle.

Apparently, I mutter, "this is as much as I can handle," because Noah picked up on it and started asking me:

"Why, Mommy? Why is this 'as much as you can handle?'"

Let's hope I muttered under my breath, even though Noah asked this in a very loud voice, in the middle of the swimming pool.

I also mutter the same thing after about 15 minutes of gardening with the two of them.  Nonethless, we've got the following planted:

  • heirloom tomatoes
  • various types of sunflowers
  • hollyhocks
  • one dwarf european cranberry bush
  • two blueberry bushes and
  • pampas grass
While the piccolini were helping me plant these things, Mattias has eaten about 1 pound of dirt, 2 tablespoons of sunscream, 5 rocks, and a package of hollyhock seeds. Everything except the pampas grass is growing, probably because Noah "replanted" the plant markers while I was prying rocks out of Mattias' mouth. Or maybe I was on the phone with poison control about the sunscream.

And, oh, if you haven't already read enough whining about the sunscream situation: here's another one: Noah managed to get Fritz's adult sunscream in his eyes today.  That was good for about 15 minutes of crying. 

Did I mention I'm starting to hate sunscream about as much as Noah does?

Monday, June 6, 2011

To Label or Not.

Today was one of those days when I couldn't keep Noah busy enough. We've had a lot of those days over the last four years. Like, maybe every single one of them. I don't know what it is. I used to think that kids are simply like that. But Mattias isn't that way. Even at 3 months, Mattias entertained himself better than Noah ever has.

For me, I feel like I am constantly in a position of failing Noah with my lack of entertaining ability, or insensitivity ("No cold sunscream, Mommy!!"), or inability to answer his every "why?" I imagine him meeting with a future therapist and saying things like,

"My mother never did anything with me."
"I was so bored."
"All I wanted was for her to answer me."
"She didn't love me enough."
"I just didn't LIKE sunscreen."

As I cringe imagining this, I vow to do better. I work harder, and failure feels greater. He's insatisiable, from my perspective.

Sometimes, I try to make myself feel better about the whole thing by giving him a label. As a baby, I thought he might be High Needs. I found some websites and took some online tests to determine Noah's needy-ness. I made Fritz to do the same. When you want validation, you want validation, right?

Also, I didn't want to hear any analytical mumbo jumbo debating the merit of my quiz taking from the scientist father. So Fritz really had no choice but to take the tests as well.

We both (repeatedly) scored Noah on the borderline as a High Needs Baby.

Today, while Noah was challenging me, and I was thinking if he's my High Needs Baby Preschooler and I'm a Restrained Caregiver, no wonder it feels like a struggle. I felt a little better when I gave us these labels; I felt a little better because I gave myself one as well. (I borrowed them from Dr Sears, really.) Everything seems a little more manageable and a little less personal when you can read about it in a book and apply it to yourself and your situation.

And then there are the other times. For example, Noah's field trip last month. Like most preschool field trips, it was more of a family field trip, and less of a class field trip. Fifteen preschoolers, twenty-five adults and ten younger siblings wondering around a farm. Most of the preschoolers had minor tantrums, or ran when they weren't suppose to, or wanted to be carried, or cried over some little thing, or pushed and shoved to pet the animals first. But Noah, throughout the whole trip, was remarkably calm and mature.  He actually asked the farmer questions and listened to the answers. He waited his turn, he walked (instead of ran).

When these good things happen - when life with a four year old is smooth(ish) - I wonder how I can possibly even consider doing him such a disservice as to label him.  How dare I? Then I get very self-righteous about the whole thing. I think to myself:

It is MY JOB as his Mother to believe in him. It is my job to support him regardless.  How dare I limit his potential with a label, that may, God forbid, become a self-fulfilling prophesy? High Needs, my foot.

I wonder when and where to draw the line. When is a label appropriate? When does it streamline our ability to handle a situation, and when does it hinder potential?

Do we work too hard to find labels? When I hear all the diagnoses that children have - things that seemed like they didn't even exist when I was a child - I wonder, are we looking for labels? Are we being a society of individuals that collects labels for our sense of individuality? Or importance? Or control?

And still...there's something comforting about the ability to say, "It is this."

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Restorative Home

In our one parent working household, there's a lot of pressure on each parent to do our individual tasks well.

For me, the pressure is on the household: taking care of the piccolini, keeping up with the chores, and protecting Fritz's work time from the volatile nature of life with piccolini.

For Fritz, the pressure is on keeping his job and bringing home mula.

The other day, I read, the measure of a home is how well it restores you at the end of the day. If I'm in charge of the household, is that saying my measuring stick for success? I hope not! Because I'm pretty sure the endless number of chores, the lists of things to do, and the constant state of chaos that is our home is in no way restorative. At least, not for me. I felt slightly ill when I read that. And I didn't read it in a 1950s Good Housekeeping. I read it in the signature file of somebody's email! Am I overly sensitive? (Yes, always.) How do you interpret that text?

I wonder if I would feel less offended if I worked outside of the home? Maybe there's some sort of built-in-excuse the more responsibilities you have. Maybe working out of the home would relieve some of the pressure. Or, as I was pointing out to Fritz yesterday, maybe there would simply be a lot less mess if the boys were in daycare and not at home. Maybe THEN home would seem restorative?

Hey. I'm writing this in the middle of the day because both the piccolini are taking a nap AT THE SAME TIME EVER IN THEIR ENTIRE LIVES. (Normally, Noah doesn't nap.) How cool is that?!? Oh my gosh, I could totally get used to this. How do I make this happen every day? More naps might help make my home restorative.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Okay, here's a question: how do you do sunscreen on your kids? What kind do you use? How soon do you put it on? Where do you put it on (indoors, outdoors?)

When Noah was little(r) I used to put only mineral based sunscreen on him.  Which turned him a nice pasty white color.  Mineral-based sunscreen only came as a lotion, so we'd lather it on right before he stepped out the door.  Mineral-based sunscreens also tend to be a little stiffer than other lotions. Noah screamed through the entire process, so I avoided it whenever possible.

When we moved back to the States, there were fewer mineral-based sunscreens, and they were so outrageously expensive, that I gave up on them. I started using the spray on chemical sunscreens, and even though they'd get ALL OVER THE FLOOR, I doubted they were getting on Noah. So I would spray it on my hands, "fix" spots I had missed, and then I would use yet another sunscreen for his face. Not surprisingly, he hated this process as well. In addition to earlier complaints, something about me pointing a spraying object at him freaked him out. He actually started calling it "sunscream." (At this point, he was between 2 and 3 years old.) When I moved the whole process outside - so that the floors stayed cleaner - I worried about that little disclaimer on the bottles that says you are suppose to apply sunscreen 20 minutes BEFORE going outside, so then we'd go back inside to wait. Also, sunscreen stains clothing - so, hmmm, should we apply this in the nude in the bathtub?

And by the way, do you REALLY want to play outside?

This year, I gave up on the sunscreen spray and bought the old fashion lotion kind. I'm smearing it on, by hand, 10 minutes before we go outside. Noah's handling it a lot better this year.  His only request, so far, is that I warm it up a little bit before putting it on. [eyes rolling] Mattias, at 14 months, seems to enjoy it. After watching Noah get smeared, he's excited that it's his turn.

I'm not sure that this year's method is an improvement. Mostly, I just think the whole sunscreen thing is a PAIN. But it's really not optional in Denver where the sun is extra-strong due to the high altitude. I've already managed to burn the bridge of my own nose and my cheeks. It looks really fashionable on a middle-aged mother. What's that you say? I'm suppose to have already incorporated a sunscreen lotion into My Daily Facial Routine? My what?