Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Boredom

We're still almost one week away from preschool starting and you know what? I'm really ready for summer to end. Noah is, too.

One of the things we've learned this summer is that boredom does (in fact) do the imagination good. Noah has really made some big steps in learning to play by himself, as well as learning to play with Mattias. It's neat to see Noah becoming more independent.  Yesterday, he played with play dough for almost 45 minutes while I put Mattias to sleep and puttered around cleaning up. This level of attention is something that really didn't exist (at all) before this summer.
Another cool thing about Noah this summer? The activities he's doing and the observations he's making are things I remember from my own childhood. For example, he's started drawing floor plans on the sidewalk with chalk. It's notable, not only because of the way it mirrors my own childhood sidewalk play, but because Noah's pretty much gone from scribbling 'holes' to drawing walls.

"This is the door and this is the ramp to get inside the house, Mommy," He tells me. "And only Mattias and I can go inside." I'm allowed to stand in the bushes. As a child, I also drew houses and castles and towns on the sidewalk with chalk. (I drew a lot of rocket ships, too. But he's not doing that yet.) I limited access to my creations from my brothers or my parents. Even then, finding my own space was really important to me.

To end here, to write that I remember doing these things, however, under represents the experience I am having as his mother lately. I also remember how it feels to be bored as a child, how it feels to be frustrated by things like my mother doing the dishes AGAIN. I mean, did she really HAVE to do that? Why couldn't we just go outside and play RIGHT NOW? It drove me crazy as a child to feel that I had so little control.

When Noah's frustration has peaked this summer, I've tried to find ways to make him feel in control. But the fact of the matter is, I simply can't follow his every whim. And at four years old, there are a lot of whims. That's a hard lesson to learn. I'm pretty sure I learned to deal with my frustration as a child by playing A LOT of make-believe. Noah is heading in the same direction.

I feel lucky to have these memories of my own childhood.  I feel lucky to be able to sit next to Noah and talk with him about what he's feeling. I also feel lucky to be on the other side, living vicariously through Noah.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Becoming Bilingual

This post has been kicking around as a draft for MONTHS. I'm finally just letting go of it and hitting publish. I guess I feel if I can't do something well, I should at least write well about not doing it. Sigh. Always fighting with myself, the perfectionist.

Lately, I've been thinking about the 6 year hole in my résumé as The Years I Spent Learning German (and having kids). Nobody ever asks me what its been like to learn another language. A lot of people in the States seem intimidated or threatened by the fact that I do speak another language. Sometimes, I find it really difficult to write - or talk - about aspects of myself that might be intimidating to people. I think this is a ridiculous way to feel - I think a man wouldn't feel this way! But I do. And I'm still learning German, so I'm especially, well, sensitive about it. Nonetheless:

What have you learned learning German so far? 

1. I'm wrong! A lot!
Speaking German has taught me how to be BAD and how to be WRONG. And, more importantly, how to proceed and continue even when I suck at something. I've had to accept the fact that I'm simply not good at this language learning business and THEN I have to keep doing it anyway. Perhaps that sounds ridiculous or worse, arrogant, but I never learned that lesson in school or in college because everything I did - no, everything I chose to do - came relatively easily to me (or else I quit.) Learning late(r) in life has been so frustrating and hard for me that I feel more strongly about raising the boys speaking German than Fritz does.

2. Shyness is counterproductive. 
Learning German has put my shyness in perspective. I used to dread phone calls. I hated to make appointments or file complaints. I avoided talking to other people whenever possible. (God forbid I didn't have a book during airline travel!) I off-loaded socialization or sociable responsibilities to family and friends as much as I could. Then, I moved to Germany and I was forced to do all those things - IN GERMAN BY MYSELF - suddenly, doing them in English didn't seem so bad. This was a very healthy lesson for me. I'm no longer quite so inhibited, especially in my mother tongue!

3. It only hurts in the beginning
Speaking two languages on a daily basis is all about multitasking - something that researchers have found bilingual speakers do more effectively than monolingual speakers. Generally speaking, I'm still a pretty terrible multitasker, but in the earlier days of learning German, I remember how my head used to hurt after a few hours in a German language environment. And I do mean that it literally HURT, throbbed, just like a migraine. These days, I don't have that problem anymore. Somehow, the German began to process at a subconscious level.

When I started to subconsciously process the German, we were still living in Munich. Riding the subway became a lot less cool when I understood the conversation of the men standing beside me was about how drunk they were the night before. When you don't understand the language very well - ignorance can be bliss - or at least, intriguing. And the ability to NOT understand? That's actually a nice ability that eventually goes away if you're heading towards bilingualism. I didn't appreciate it until it was gone.

SIGH. The world can seem like a very glamorous place when you have no idea what anybody is talking about.

I've mentioned before that Fritz speaks German to the piccolini and I speak English.  There are basically two broadly accepted models for raising children bilingually; our model is One Parent One Language. The other doesn't have such a widely used name, but it's basically Major Environment Minor Environment. We're limited to OPOL by my (still lousy) ability to speak German. And living in the States, I don't end up speaking very much German at all. But I am constantly processing and reacting to Fritz's German. And my brain has finally stopped hurting.

I'm not sure that raising the piccolini bilingually would work if my German wasn't good enough to understand Fritz's German. In other words, Fritz may tell Noah, "No bedtime story tonight if you don't brush your teeth" and I need to understand enough NOT to say, "Hey, Noah, let's go pick out a bedtime story like Daddy just said!" See? Inaccurate translating could be dangerous. These days, I'm still learning German, even if I'm barely speaking it myself.

4. Don't take it personally

(Here's where you get a good idea of my ability.)
Language trainers sometimes describe this phenomon as the ability to understand humor, 
    You're from the Big Potato State? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
    Get it? 
    Exactly. Humor for a German.
but in practice, this level of language acquisition is broader than just humor. Being sensitive to the multiple meanings embedded in words is a widely used skill. In English, I spend SO MUCH TIME reading WAY TOO MUCH into everything in English. I analyze and analyze and analyze what was said and what was meant. In German? Can't. I simply don't have the cultural knowledge to do so. I'm forced to take things (mostly) at face value. This can be awfully heathy. In fact, I wish I could transfer this ability to English. However, my guess is that this is a short-lived phenomenon (like #3). Ie, the more time I spend speaking German and living with a German, the more I know, and the less objective I'll be (in German).

5. Names and 'truth'
One more step for me in learning to speak a second language has been to stop equating names with truth. I was going to quote Juliet of Romeo and Juliet here, but I'll spare you. Let's just say it how it is: the exact same name, with the exact same spelling can sound completely different in another language.  Does that deprive the name of meaning or truth? For example, 'Michael' in English sounds more like 'mish-ay-el' in German, although the spelling is the same. Is it a different name? What about Mary and Maria and Marie and Maura? Different, or not? Pronunciation, spelling: where does one draw the line? Must one draw a line? Based on my experience with other bilingual families, I think everyone answers this question differently.

I let go of the idea that names and truth are the same. It's probably one of the reasons that I didn't really blink about giving my family pseudonyms for this blog.  I think of it as...another language. A language for the internet.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Parking Spaces

Here's an idea I love: close-in parking spots reserved for parents with children.



About six months ago, Fritz had an outpatient procedure at a hospital. I picked him up afterwards, since he was pretty out of it and not ready to drive a car or negotiate the buses home. Both Mattias and Noah were with me. It was impossible to get parking next to the hospital; faster cars driven by single, able-bodied people kept beating me to freshly available spots. I was kindly told to park about 2 miles away and take the shuttle. Which might have been okay, were the parking spaces not half a mile away from the shuttle stop. Mattias had fallen asleep so I ended up carrying him in his car seat, with Noah tagging along behind me, complaining that he couldn't walk any farther. Seemed like a lot of effort for a 1 minute pickup, which involved me putting my signature on a piece of paper proving Fritz had a safe way to get home.

These situations aren't unusual - every parent deals with them. Other countries (like Germany, above) have addressed these problems. Isn't there a lobbying group for parents? Because I'm starting to compile a list of improvements for zoning and building codes.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Play with Me

Q: Why is Noah incorrectly quoting and then translating meaning?

A: Grandma gave Noah a new book that uses lots of idioms. He's been trying to learn expressions like, 'it broke my heart' and 'give me a hand.' He's still trying to wrap his head around (!) the concept.


The Conversation:
Noah: Not by the hair on my tinny tin tin.  Mommy, do you know what that means?

Me: No, what does that mean?

Noah: That means, "I'm sorry to hurt your feelings but I like to play with Grandma more than I like to play with you."

Me: Oh. Okay. (At least he's sorry he hurt my feelings, right? I mean, he expressed it well...I think.)

Noah: Not by the hair on my tinny tin tin. Mommy, do you know what that means?

Me: No. (Maybe it changed?)

Noah: That means, "I'm sorry to hurt your feelings but I like to play with Grandma more than I like to play with you."

Me: But do you still like to play with me sometimes?

Noah: Yes. (Pause.) What does 'sometimes' mean?

Me: Well, that means, not all the time, but maybe a little bit here and there.

Noah: Not by the hair on my tinny tin tin. Mommy, do you know what that means?

Me: Yes! That means, "you're sorry to hurt my feelings but you like to play with Grandma more than you like to play with me."

Noah: Yes.

Me: But you'll still play with me sometimes.

Noah: (Pause.) No.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Flip Flop

This week, the boys and I are in Rhode Island, visiting my family: a fact I decided to share since poor Fritz returned to Denver to guard over the homesite earlier in the week.

We're taking a nice, luxurious two week trip because I'm a Stay at Home Mom. I figure long vacations are one of the possible perks and I should take advantage.

Also, August is a really weird month. Camps are few and far between, no swim lessons and while some schools start, they don't start until the middle of the month AND Noah's school doesn't start until September. In short, it felt like August was going to be a limbo month. And a HOT limbo month. Out of town and into the cooler weather seemed like a good idea.

Yesterday, I left the boys with Grandma and headed out to shop for me, all by myself.  I'm relishing the fact that I was able to write that sentence, by the way. There's no grandma in Denver. And the last time I went shopping for me and without the boys was when I was pregnant with Mattias. (Woe is me.) So, it's been a while.

One night, just before leaving for Rhode Island, Fritz wanted to go out and grab a bite to eat - boys in tow, of course - and I said, "Yes, sure! Let me just change into something without stains all over it!" and I bopped into our bedroom, pulled out every single piece of CLEAN clothing in my drawers, only to discover that even the CLEAN washed clothes have stains. I confess to being very casual - maybe even lazy - about clothing.  But I fear the lack of clean clothing without stains crossed a line.

Maternity fashion being what it was in 2009, and other recent shopping trips dating back to 2006 and 2007, I was VERY pleased to discover that short midriff-y-ish tops are really, finally, GONE. Why, yes, I do live under a rock! Low cut jeans? Fewer and farther between. That makes me so happy because I look horrible in those styles. I don't know why the fashion industry insists on changing clothing styles all the time. (Okay, that's rhetorical, I DO know why.) I sure I'm not alone when I write that most of us have imperfect bodies that look decent in one or two styles of clothing. Really, style should change with BODY TYPE not with the YEAR.

Post shopping trip I have some clothing without stains. They are in styles that work with my body type. It was hard to resist buying clothes that I would deem more appropriate for someone with a paying job. Of course, there is always that little voice in the back of my head saying "WHERE do you think you are going to wear THAT?" I'm not talking about anything dramatic here - just things like, lined pants, you know? I really liked and wore lined pants once upon a time. Well, whatever.

Obviously, the whole experience made me feel empowered, because I'm about to ask for something more: this fall, can we finally pack up our flip flops for good? I'm prejudiced by the fact that my own feet are ugly and I've always felt left out on this trend; but really, most of us don't have particularly nice feet, even with a pedicure. In flip flops, our feet get covered in dust and dirt as we walk around, we make slappy noises that announce our comings and goings, we shuffle awkwardly instead of walking confidently, and we're much more likely to trip and fall and injure ourselves. Flip flops really don't present our better selves. Surely there are other affordable options? Like ballet flats? Can we please, please say goodbye to flip flops and move on? Without noise, dirt, sloppiness, and bodily harm?

I know, I know, who does that mom in the stained clothing think she is?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Not so Piccolo

Yesterday, at the wholesale warehouse, I realized that Noah is officially too big for the shopping cart. It says on it 'for children up to 35 pounds or 48 months.' Noah is past both of those markers. I was a little miffed. Although truthfully, I've been ignoring the fact that his legs have become so long that he can barely get into the cart anymore. Because, well, it's just so much more convenient to have him in the shopping cart, and generally, he is willing to be there.

The cart is especially nice at wholesale warehouse, where they have supersize, two-children-seat-carts and he can sit right next to his little brother where I can see both of them.  Containment. Also, shouldn't the wholesale warehouse, of all places, have stronger carts able to seat bigger children? Do they really want him running around trying all the samples?

Noah needed to use the restroom while we were there. Standing at the door, he asked me, "Can I use the Men's? All by myself, Mommy?"

I was totally unprepared for that question. I just stood there blinking. At what age is the right age to use the public restroom alone? As I was trying to process the question, one adult man walked out and two more adult men walked in. We had only been standing there about 10 seconds; 3 adult men seemed like a fair amount of traffic. If needed, I thought, I sure wasn't going to be comfortable poking my head in the door. So I suggested the Women's room, and we compromised with me staying outside of the stall, while Noah locked it from the inside. And he took FOREVER, which made me really glad that he wasn't in the Men's room where I would NOT have been able to confirm his continued existence by watching his feet kick around.
Growth: 1.5 inches in 5 months.
I think maybe 7 is the right age for using a public restroom alone. Or am I being overprotective? And it seems like a different thing to let a girl use a public restroom alone (say she's with her father), then vice-versa. Fritz suggested that I let Noah use the Women's public restroom alone. That might be a good compromise for the next three years. If we need to compromise.

Then again, maybe it would seem strange to me if a 5-6 year boy came wondering into the women's room alone while I was in there. Hmm. Pre-Mommy Me would definitely have raised eyebrows.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Slinky

I loved playing with the Slinky as a child on my grandmother's steep staircase.

Slinky doesn't work on our stairs. Is it possible that building codes have rendered Slinkies incompetent? As in, the stairs treads are too deep for Slinky? Can't someone just redesign Slinky for current stairs / building codes? Can't building codes - standardization - benefit Slinky? Will Slinky work (once again) if they just make Slinky bigger?


Now that I think about it, probably not. I think the ratio between the depth of the stair tread and height of the riser is all wrong. No, I don't think a new and improved Slinky size will help.

Too bad.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Routines

My mother told Noah that when we do things other than the routine, that's called 'vacation.'

The longer I am a mother, the more I think routines are very important. They make life with the piccolini so much easier. If I could figure out a routine for everything with the piccolini beforehand, I think I would do a lot more. I wonder if that includes going on vacation? Is it NOT vacation if we make it a routine?

Fritz wanted to go to the beach.

Fun. For the first hour. Exhausting. For the second hour. Fritz declared this beach more crowded than Mallorca. That analogy didn't do much for me. But I assumed it's a pretty bad thing. That assumption was confirmed when he used the word 'sardines.'

Anyone have a routine for the getting back in the car without several pounds of sand? If we had a desanding routine would it still be vacation?


Two hours playing in tide pools was much less exhausting. Although I'm not sure why. Somehow, a dozen snails made it into Noah's water bottle. Hmm. Am I starting to get a hint of how buggy the next few years of life may be?

Am I okay with this?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Outdoor Space

The piccolini and I are playing pretend today. They are going to pretend a nanny is taking care of them. And I am going pretend I'm a practicing architect who has been designing a big, important deck and yard project. This also gives me a chance to insert lots of photos I've been taking over the last month or so. Also, just to clarify, it took me so long because usually there's a lot of mess lying around that I didn't want in my big, important yard and deck photos.
I posted about the deck itself a while back, but I thought you might like to see the continuation of the project - and how the space is being used.

When I'm working on a design, I'm always interested in how the space will be used. Now, I never worked as a residential architect, HOWEVER, in residential architecture I would ask questions like, how much time do you spend indoors and outdoors? Do you take your shoes off when you come inside? Do you watch television? Do you like to be near the kitchen when you watch TV? Really? Do you like to be able to see the refrigerator?

(Oops, sorry, minor tangent here: I have a personal test that I call the View of the Refrigerator from the Sofa test. Basically, one should never be able to see the refrigerator from one's sofa. Need I say more? A surprising number of new construction houses fail this test. A View of the Refrigerator from the Sofa must be something that lots of people like: because these builders do their research! As for me, don't worry, I'm not planning on becoming a residential architect or interior designer anytime soon. That's why I have no qualms about suggesting that you cover your refrigerator in children's artwork if your house fails this test.)
View from the kitchen sink.
One of the things we really liked about our floor plan was the ability to integrate indoor and outdoor space. From the kitchen sink, I can see the whole deck. I can almost see the new sand box along side the stairs. And I can definitely hear what's going on outside. I can be out the door, surveying the situation, in a matter of seconds. That's important to me as a mother of young kids. I keep joking with Fritz that I'm going to add a convex mirror at the end of the deck so that I can see the rest of the yard as well.
The sandbox is still in progress - from both our perspective and the piccolini's - there's no bench (yet) on the sides.
The drawback to our indoor/outdoor integration is the wood-floor-destroying sand that is being tracked directly into our dining room. We've put down an indoor/outdoor carpet and industrial-sized rubber mat. Which help. And look ugly. I tell myself it's temporary.
Before the carpet and after. The design idea concept of integrating indoor outdoor was a lot clearer before the carpet went down.
Another minor failure of the current integration between indoor and outdoor space is that I can see a lot of the neighbor's houses from the kitchen sink. What can I say? It's a small, corner lot. We've started a plan for remediating that situation: essentially, a large planter filled with bamboo at the end of the deck. I'm nostaglically calling it the 'bamboo grove' and it's essentially meant to be a vegetation screen.You can see more photos of the planter here.
Nowadays, falling off the deck means falling into the bamboo.
Check back in the spring to see if it does what it's suppose to do: grow like crazy to a height of 10-12 feet over a period of 60 days. Fingers crossed, Daumen gedrueckt. In these photos, it's about 4-5 feet tall.  We've taken the recommended planting precautions given the invasive nature of bamboo. Although, I've had a difficult time finding people with first hand knowledge of bamboo in Denver's dry, cold climate. Everyone, however, has lots of scary second/third/fourth-hand anecdotes from elsewhere. We shall see.
View from the second floor.


We've done a lot of middle-size outdoor projects ourselves on the weekends: like building more planters around the deck, adding some landscape/rock filled steps, filling the planters with dirt and rock, planting the bamboo, building a sandbox, and building raised vegetable beds.

The original plan didn't include these steps, but when we decided to keep the fence, we added them. I actually like the contrasting landscaped look; but it still needs some rock-friendly plants, or something.
Most of these projects involved hauling around large amounts of dirt or rock or sand. Our wheel barrow broke multiple times this summer. I suggest NOT buying the second cheapest wheel barrow at Home Depot if you plan to haul 8 cubic yards of dirt and 5 tons of rocks. Do you think Home Depot will take it back?
A modified raised bed planter from Sunset Magazine. We used leftover redwood from the deck, made it taller, added a "bench" for ease of tending, and cut the pieces a little differently. Yeah, actually, it's almost nothing like the original.
Colorado is relatively dry and getting a conventional yard started requires a good number of sprinklers. We became sprinkler and irrigation experts. We added drip irrigation on the front porch flower boxes, as well as the 'bamboo grove,' 'vegetable garden,' and multiple potted plants. We've been shocked to discover how much water our sprinklered grass uses. Didn't pay attention to that stuff as a renter. Even the water-intensive bamboo grove is less of a water hog because we are able to use drip irrigation on it. In retrospect, we would have less lawn with grass than we do now, if we had to do it over again. Although, admittedly, it is nice to have some GREEN considering that trees are all still so small.
Some Before and Afters Nows: (because they're fun, right?)
Before
Now (I think we'll plant some more trees. Next year.)
Before

Now - with vegetables and strawberries!


Before. Hot and sunny and dusty.

Still pretty hot and sunny, but not so dusty. We'll have to address shade in the near future.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Amplified

The piccolini are amplified these days. As in, happy to the extreme and getting along so well. And then, suddenly, they are frustrated and bored and getting along so poorly.  I'm feeling amplified, too.  Even the weekends seem to offer little relief.

Can you stand one more blog post about a mom being ready for summer to be over?

I didn't think so. But that's all I've got.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Just one little hop...


I'm not really sure what's crazier here: the fact that Noah is this close to a grasshopper OR that fact that squeamish me is this close to a grasshopper.

And when it did hop away - a gigantic 6 foot high hop straight up - I realized nobody is safe from a grasshopper.  Not that I'm scared of grasshoppers, or anything. That time I found one attempting to hop around in the bodice of my dress in the middle of a church service? That was, like, 25 years ago.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Welcome to Home Ownership. With Kids

If you were two piccolini - what fun things would you find to do in this area?


Would you:

a) build something with the 'big blocks' of wood?
b) turn over the tan and red sandbox and fill it with rocks?
c) play on the disassembled (green) fiberglass slide that your great aunt found at a yard sale?
d) drop rocks into the venting pipes for the furnace and hot water heater?

The answer?
d!
Drop rocks in the venting pipes for the furnace and hot water heater! Yay!

The really great thing about this type of activity? Return On Investment! A few minutes of plunking and rolling and rocks clinking together and THEN you get to spend Sunday afternoon watching Mommy and Daddy attempt to fix the problem.

Just in case anyone is interested: we ended up turning off the furnace and hot water heater, disconnecting the pipes in the basement (the only place they could be 'easily' disconnected), and then vacuuming out the pipes by duct taping an extra long hose to the shop vac. It made a HORRIBLE noise, but managed to remove all 60-80 rocks.

The backup plan was to run water from the exterior, down the pipes and into the basement. Thus, flushing out the rocks. I'm glad we didn't have to do that one, because the idea of me standing in the basement, water pouring out of the pipes, trying to catch it all in a trash can, yelling at Fritz: "Okay! Okay! Stop the water! Stop now!"?

Not so funny.