Tuesday, June 5, 2018

End of Preschool

Somehow Alden has come to the end of preschool and will be starting TK (Transitional Kindergarten) next month.  It hardly seems possible that two years of preschool is already over.  Alden has thrived at school.  He was looking at his class picture this morning and reflecting on how much he loves his classmates.  In particular, he was missing Sophie, who transferred to another school last fall.  He was wishing he could see her again.

We missed Alden's preschool graduation, but his teachers gave us the book that they gave to all the graduates.  It's a copy of "Oh the Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss.  In it, there's a certificate that included the question: "what I want to be when I grow up" and Alden answered, "I want to be a daddy when I grow up."  He would certainly be a great one.

Each of his teachers wrote something about him:
  • "Alden, you will have an amazing time in TK.  We will miss your ear to ear smile here.  Toodle-loo kangaroo! - Love Denise"

  • "Alden, you will love TK.  You have grown so much in just a year and a half. - Rainee"

  • "Alden, you are going to be amazing in TK.  You ask so many good questions and always want to learn.  I'll miss your sweet smile. - Deanna"

  • "Alden, you've grown a lot these last couple of months.  I hope you only grow more throughout the years to come and make many friends along the way. - Robert"

  • "Alden, I'm going to miss you sooo much.  But, I know you are so ready for your upcoming adventures at TK.  I remember when you refused to nap and now you are the first to sleep and the ast awake!  LOL!  It's been so much fun watching you learn, grow, and play, Alden!  Have a great summer.  Love, Eramiste"

  • "Alden, I can hardly believe how much you've grown since you started at Discovery.  You were only two when you arrived and now you are leaving for TK.  You are cheerful and love to be silly with your friends.  It's so nice to see you running through the yard with your blond hair, smiley face and bright colored clothing.  I hope you are always light-hearted and joyful! It's been so nice having you with us, Alden.  I hope you love your new school! May you be happy.  Joan"
Big smile, joyful, full of questions, silly, and playful.  That's our boy!  I cannot wait to see what you do next, Alden.  We love you!

Finding Her Talents

Kailey won a big award at school recently for her writing.  Every student had to write an essay about traveling back in time to the Governor's Mansion in 1903.  They had to describe what they did during the day and their impressions of the Mansion and time period.  There was an assembly at school where they learned about the time period and the Mansion specifically.  Kailey was really into the project.  She wrote multiple drafts over Spring Break.  She did some independent research and learned that the Governor's daughter had raised money for the Sacramento Children's Home, and Kailey used that for the basis of her essay.  She wrote about traveling back in time to visit the Governor's daughter where they trained her pet lamb, ate cookies, looked through the things in her Hope Chest, and then went into the basement of the Mansion to meet with the other girls that were part of the secret society that was raising money for the Sacramento Children's Home.  She rewrote the essay three times and incorporated a lot of detail into it.

One student from each class was chosen as the winner -- and Kailey won for her class!!  She came home with the biggest smile on her face.  Everyone at school had been congratulating her.  And, she got to attend a special awards ceremony at the Stanford Mansion where she got a framed certificate and a golden coin.

Kailey is an excellent writer.  In part, this is because she is an excellent observer of the world around her.  And, she has a very creative streak that goes well beyond the written word.  She is constantly creating.  The other day she made viewing glasses that had a landscape within them (you looked in the glasses and saw this miniature landscape she had created).  It was ingenious.  She loves creating and writing and drawing.

But, Kailey would tell you that she doesn't want to be a writer.  She's convinced that she wants to be an actress when she grows up.  I think this might be the culmination of a creative mind and seeing what, in our society, is viewed as the highest status position in the arts.  Actresses and actors are the most high profile.  There is a whole team of writers, costume designers, set designers, sound technicians, and other creative minds behind those individuals -- but the people every one sees and knows are the actual actors.

When I asked Kailey why she wanted to be an actor she said because it was challenging and she really likes being on the stage.  I think that's true.  She does enjoy it.  But, she is also very self-conscious about being in front of people.  She had to submit a video for her Shrek Jr audition (she'll be doing a three-week acting camp this summer culminating in the performance of Shrek Jr -- it's with the same organization that she did Alice in Wonderland with through her school).  She didn't want anyone watching her make the video and, even without an audience, just stood stiffly and said the lines without really acting.

It's interesting to watch her work through her interests and talents.  Every morning, she sneaks into her art room when she is supposed to be in the kitchen making her breakfast.  She is always trying to finish a project (or start a project).  She loves designing and creating.  She writes endless scripts with her friends -- she loves writing and coming up with parts for everyone.  If you ask her to perform, she clams right up.

It's not that she couldn't develop a real affinity for acting.  She certainly could.  She's only ten.  And, it's clear she has a deep interest in creative pursuits.  I want to see her challenging herself and trying things that she admires even if she isn't naturally inclined towards that pursuit.

I am also glad to see her being recognized and rewarded for things where she is naturally gifted -- writing, drawing, creating, and designing.  I think it is important for her to become aware of a broader spectrum of possibilities.

Keep writing and creating, Kailey.  I can't wait to see what you come up with next.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

My Brother Jeff

It's strange -- I wrote that last post thinking more superficially about the boy and girl distinction, but my larger point (which I'm not sure I articulated well) was that societal expectations and norms can extinguish a person's light over time.  I was thinking, of course, about Alden and Kailey and how the constant devaluing of things and characteristics that are considered feminine impacts them in different ways, and especially how it impacts boys.

And then the next day, I got word that my little brother Jeff had died.  He turned 38 on May 20th and died in a car accident on May 21st.  We think he had a seizure while driving.  He had a couple of seizures in the recent past, one of them quite serious.  The doctors had run a ton of tests and hadn't found anything -- so, he was cleared to work and drive.  But, we all think something was missed.  And, it's horrible.  He was only 38.  He was married and had two dogs.  He had a newish job at a restaurant called Hopsworks that I believe he was really enjoying.

When Jeff was little, he had such a spark.  He was full of life and humor.  His smile lit up his entire face.  And, he could make us all laugh with his impressions and his quick wit.  He had whole movies memorized and could perform every part, doing the voices spot on.  It was hilarious.  He could get us all laughing so hard, we'd have tears running down our faces.

Alden reminds me so much of Jeff in these ways -- they both have these huge, expressive faces and are so eager to please. They are both so incredibly funny.   Alden has the same love of movies and throws lines at us at the most opportune times in ways that totally floor us.

When I heard Jeff had died, I burst into tears. Both kids were standing right there, and they were alarmed.  They grabbed onto me and wanted to know why I was crying.  Death is so abstract to children, so they didn't understand what I was saying.... especially Alden.  But, they were worried and stuck close to me.  A little while later, in the car on the way to the airport, Alden started singing a nonsense song that he had made up.  He paused and said, "Mommy, are you happy now?"  I told him I was still sad and he resumed singing.  Then he paused again and said, "Are you happy now?  I'm going to keep singing until you are happy."  I told him I was happy now and he said, "Oh. That was fast.  I thought I would get to sing a little longer." That made me laugh.  And, it made me think of Jeff.

Jeff could do that -- he could make anyone laugh in any moment.  And, he always drew people to him.   I remember a trip to Universal Studios when we were kids, and they were picking kids out of the audience to be in the show.  Jeff wasn't supposed to be able to do it.  He was only 2 or 3.  He was too young.  But, the rest of us had been picked for parts, and Jeff was soooo unhappy.  And he was so cute in his unhappiness -- he was irresistible.  So, he got called onto stage.  And he hammed it up -- answering all the guy's questions and making everyone laugh.  So, he got to be in the show. He was the littlest one but he stole his scene, in his little cops outfit that was four sizes too big.

Jeff also was willful and stubborn and lost in a crowd of siblings that were also willful and stubborn in their own ways.  And, I think he struggled with expectations that were put on him, from small to large.  That was really what I was trying to write about with my post yesterday -- those expectations and the way they can wear on a person over time.  The affection, love, exuberance, and nurturing natures of little boys that we (society) put out.  Girls are allowed to retain those elements even as they move into more masculine spaces -- and, in fact, are really encouraged to retain those more feminine characteristics and avoid being overly aggressive or assertive.  And, of course, in many ways, this is a double edged sword because even as girls are permitted to be in more masculine settings, they are expected and assumed to be more nurturing and less logical in ways that are unfair and untrue.  And when girls assert themselves, they are often unfairly judged.   So, it cuts both ways.   But, I think we (society at large and also the individuals interacting with that person) drill the spark right out of some boys.  I think we did it to my brother.

We didn't get along at all when we were kids.  I think we were too similar in our personalities.  And because I was older, I had the upper hand. I bullied him somewhat relentlessly.  I think that behavior at home combined with all the expectations and not always getting to really be exactly who he was and wanted to be -- it extinguished his spark.  At least, it extinguished it at home.  And, then he had to find it again in his own life -- and, I think he did.  Not right away, of course.  He turned to religion for awhile, but I don't think he found that satisfying in the long run.  He was far too intelligent and critical in his thinking to be content with organized religion for long.  He joined the military, but that really wasn't for him.  Talk about taking away a person's spark.

Jeff and I reconciled as adults.  I apologized for all that had happened when we were kids.   And, we spent a few years trying to really know one another.   We did quite a few things together for a few years.  We visited him in Los Angeles several times when he lived there.  He came with us to the Election Night party in Las Vegas in 2004 and brooded with us when we lost that election.  We invited him to things we were doing.  I remember a Thai dinner at Amy and Dave's house when Jeff inadvertently ate one of those really hot red peppers.  He popped it in his mouth and then just stood up and walked quickly out of the room.  No one really noticed but me.  I knew something was up and followed him.  He walked straight into the kitchen and stuck his mouth directly under the faucet.  He couldn't talk for 10 minutes.  When he finally could, he choked out "what the fuck was that?"

He invited us places.  The coolest ever was he scored tickets to one of the premieres of the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King in Los Angeles....and he invited us along.  We were so excited!  I ditched law school so we could drive to Los Angeles.  He knew how obsessed I was with the LOTR movies.  And, I was so thrilled to get to see the final installment a few weeks before it was released for all audiences.  And, I was so touched that Jeff thought of me when he scored those tickets.  We had such a fun weekend, meeting Jeff's friends, going to the movie, and just hanging out.  

We reconciled, and then we grew apart again.  At the point we grew apart again, Jeff was struggling a bit.  Although, that's not why we grew apart.  There was no falling out between us.  I loved the moments I got to spend with him, even though they were fleeting.  He was just busy working and figuring out life, as was I.  I was starting my law career and then starting my journey as a mom.  And, maybe ironically, Jeff moved back to Vancouver and somehow being closer in proximity to where he grew up made him pull away from family.  He distanced himself from the entire family.  I've also distanced myself from family quite a bit over the years.  I think your childhood family is often a hard place to be yourself -- at least, I've found that to be true.  I think Jeff did, too. 

This last weekend was Jeff's Tears and Beers party (Angela coined that term and it seems more than appropriate) and I got to spend a lot of time with his wife, Tara.  I really enjoyed spending that time with her -- it made me feel closer to Jeff. And, it gave me some peace.  It is so clear that he did rekindle the spark that he always had as a kid in his own community and with the love of his life.  He found it in his relationship.  Tara and Jeff clearly were the yin to each other's yang.  True kindred spirits.  They cocooned themselves into their world together and enjoyed each day together.  Tara talked a lot this last weekend about how Jeff lived every moment.  He did that as a kid, too.  And, I'm so glad to know that he was out there, living his life, enjoying the moments that he had.  I just wish I had gotten another couple of those moments with him.

Jeff was pure love and joy as a child -- and meeting the people who knew him most recently, it is clear that he carried that pure love and joy with him.  He made time for the people he met.  He took time to connect with people.  That is a hard thing to do.   He met some special needs youth through his work at GameStop and he came to befriend them and spend time with them long after he left that job.  He cared deeply about his community and the people in his orbit.

I hadn't seen Jeff in quite a few months.  It may have even been over a year at this point.  That makes the loss of him harder in some ways.  I'm incredibly saddened by the fact that I'll never see him again. That feeling is more acute after spending this last weekend with Tara and others who knew him.  I'm so saddened by the fact that his spark -- his glorious, bright, funny spark -- is not accessible to me and all the others that loved him anymore.  I'll nourish that spark in my own son who reminds me so much of him.  I'm thankful for that.

We went to a bonfire at Tara's house after the Tears and Beers party and the next morning, when I woke up, I realized my jaw hurt from laughing so hard.  Sitting around that campfire, we told stories and laughed.  The kind of laughing I've only found possible with the rarest of souls in my life. Jeff was one of those people.  And, it was like he was there with us that last night in Vancouver.  Not every story was about Jeff.  Some were just stories about life.  But, they were the kinds of stories that Jeff would tell.  We were channeling Jeff and it felt like he was with us, around that circle, spreading joy.  I really enjoyed sharing that last laugh with him through the people he loved.  

I love you, Jeff.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Growing Up Boy

Four is one of my favorite ages.  Of course, I've only had one other four year old.  But, she was amazing at four and, so far, Alden is also a fantastic four year old.  They just seem to finally get control of their emotions and become much more masterful at communicating needs, wants, and feelings. 

I have also been reflecting recently on raising boys versus girls.  Eric and I don't do anything differently when it comes to Kailey or Alden -- we actively try to avoid the idea of "girl" things and "boy" things.  But, what that has also meant is that we cannot influence them to choose things that we consider gender neutral either. We did  this a bit when Kailey was little -- when she was a baby, we dressed her in neutral colors and didn't really get many "girlie" things.  But, it became clear as soon as she was old enough to choose that she would like what she likes and be who she is.  And, I've often felt sort of silly for trying to avoid those things at all.  The idea that the "girl" stuff is somehow lesser is also just buying into the notion that "feminine" is somehow lesser.  It's making an issue of something that, truly, is just an aesthetic.

Kailey went through a huge phase of loving pink and ruffles and dresses.  Once it was clear what she liked, we never tried to dissuade her.  We embraced her style right along with her.  We went as far as buying her a castle bed!  We bought her dresses and tutus and let her be who she wanted to be.  And, she outgrew it all (and that bed was a ginormous waste of money).  And, I love her style now, too.  I love how it has evolved over time.  Mostly what has stayed the same is that no matter what the ultimate style, it has to be SUPER comfortable and avoid most all seams.  Rough fabric is definitely a no go.  Not for Kailey.  She is not someone to have style trump comfort.

Alden loved blue for a long time.  That was his one and only color.  So, we let him run blue (meaning everything was blue for awhile).  Now, he loves rainbows.  He has rainbow shoes and his favorite outfit is purple shorts and a tie dye shirt.  He likes looking like a rainbow. I think this is fantastic, too.  But, he has gotten a few comments.  Of course, no one ever commented when Kai was going through her colorful ruffles and  tutus phase.  It was simply adorable -- nothing to be commented on. But, Alden gets looks and comments.  His teacher said, "I just love the way you dress him" -- which I know she meant as a compliment, but which I also know she is commenting on because of his difference and also because she thinks we're making some kind of statement on Alden's behalf (I say that from two years of knowing her).  Alden picks his own clothes and shoes.  Another friend at school told him that his rainbow shoes were only for girls.  Alden came home upset and we talked about it.  I asked him why he liked the shoes and he said, "because they are beautiful."  I agreed that they were and asked him, "can boys have beautiful things?"  He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "YES!"  I agreed again and said, "well, then those shoes are for boys or girls."  He nodded and went about his business.  He's never questioned his choice of shoes since and wears them proudly every day (in fact, he's worn them to shreds... he is SO hard on shoes.  The Velcro doesn't attach anymore).

(he doesn't look happy in this picture, but this is the favorite outfit)

Alden and I went on the annual Mother's Day Picnic at his school and we walked to the bus stop with two of his buddies.  All three boys are four and they were holding hands with each other.  Suddenly, Weston turned to Peter and said, "Peter, I love you!" Alden chimed in, "I love Peter, too!" Then Weston said, "I also love you, Alden."  Alden replied, "And I love you!"  It was the cutest thing.  And it got me thinking about how boys are not encouraged to continue these outbursts of love and affection -- and yet, watching young boys, it is so clear that it is as natural for them as for any girl.  When Cormac showed up at Alden's birthday, they embraced each other so hard -- so excited to see each other.  I've noticed how these displays of affection make some of the parents uncomfortable (generally the sort of parent we don't associate with much).  But, it always strikes me as odd that little boys telling their friends they love them and giving them hugs would be perceived as anything but awesome.

Four year olds have such vivid imaginations.  Alden and his friends go from playing "rainbow lizards" to "rainbow butterflies" (they like rainbows... or, Alden does, and he is good at convincing the other children to go along) -- they are constantly transforming into new animals and personas.  I love listening to them play pretend together.  And, of course, there are lots of battles and swords and play fighting. 

These days, girls are encouraged in all directions.  They are encouraged to get dirty, to wear whatever they want, to play with whatever they want.  Most parents I know actually want their girls to be a bit of a tomboy or to pursue things that are more "boy"-like.  But, they are also not unhappy if their girls gravitate towards dolls, dress up, make-believe, costumes, etc.  I think this really does a disservice to boys and girls.  It's still sending a message to everyone that, ultimately, the things that are considered for "girls" are not as highly valued.  It's just more acceptable if you're actually a girl.  It is girls that have the broader range of choice.  For boys, I think the choices are even more constrained.

We've tried to counter this a bit in Alden's environments --we've tried really hard to have Alden in environments where he is encouraged in all aspects of play, too.  I am no more interested in seeing the traditionally "girl" things devalued than seeing the traditionally "boy" things overly encouraged (for the girls or the boys).  Quite frankly, it seems like we should be able to encourage all aspects of play -- there should be no distinction. Little kids love it all.  At his current preschool, all of the children can frequently be found in costumes -- and I totally get that they all gravitate towards the brightly colored dresses, scarves and tutus.  They're pretty! All the kids love playing house, and Alden especially loves playing the role of the baby.  He is infinitely fascinated with babies and loves to be around them.  There is an outdoor kitchen, music area, doll house and messy materials area at his school -- and there seems to be equal numbers of boys and girls in all the areas.

I really appreciate these things about his school, even as they do weird things like have parent meetings to discuss the role of the male caregiver or have Mother's Day picnic (where all moms take the day off work) while they just provide the dads with donuts on their way to work.  The contradictions seem lost on most of the staff at Alden's school -- but, I am certain they are not lost on the children.  Kids pick up everything.  They get right away when the moms are treated differently than the dads, even if they cannot articulate it.  And, I wonder how those macro things end up influencing the micro play and dress and expression of oneself over time.

So far, it seems like Alden is just being Alden.  He has asked on occasion if there are "girl" things or "boy" things.  He has tried these ideas out on us.  It's clear that the notion is in his world, even if it is on the edges. 

And, I suppose there's no way of ever really knowing how the convergence of various influences really plays out in a person.  Right now, I'm just glad to see Alden enjoying his imaginations, his rainbows, and having friends he cares so deeply about.  I love to watch him jump up from the table to give everyone a hug (even though I suspect he's just trying to get out of eating his dinner).  I love watching him play pretend and act out all the different animals and people he has met over time.  I love watching him build and take things apart (except when those things are my kitchen tools).  He seems to be very well-rounded -- which is what I want most for both kids.  He's such a creative, insightful little boy.  But, I suspect that growing up boy will have many of its own challenges.  Hopefully we can help him be whoever he wants to be as he continues to make his way.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Birthday Blow Outs

I could write two separate posts about the birthday parties of the last month -- but, both kids have such fun at each other's parties -- it will be nice to get the full post in each of their birthday books (since, in another 20 years they likely won't remember these crazy birthday extravaganzas!)

I love their birthdays -- that much is obvious.  I did some very poor planning when it comes to the timing of their birthdays.  March and April are my busiest months of the year.  They are beyond insane.  These are make it or break it months of someone who does policy work -- it's when your bills gain or lose traction and sets up the rest of the year.  And yet, they are also the months that we plan not one, but two massive birthday parties.

Luckily, we bought a house that is made for a party. And, Eric spent the last year making the yard into a work of art.  We had a dirt pile in our backyard for a year.  But, Eric has vision and staying power.  He dug out every blade of nut grass, planted a new area of grass, leveled off a beautiful, winding path, reinforced the playground, bought bark and decomposed granite, took out trees, tidied up the flower beds, and leveled the back area outside the guest house... and now our yard is embarrassingly awesome.  We live in a park.  Both Kailey and Alden agree.  And, it is truly a yard worth sharing and celebrating.

And, we've done just that in the few weeks since that path has been completed and the grass has filled in and the flowers have bloomed.  We started with Alden's party -- aka the bash!  We invited his whole class, hired a petting zoo complete with a pony ride to come out to the house, bought one of those pop up tents to house the little zoo, made a rainbow cake, bought an extra cake and pie, made lots of other treats and snacks -- and lucked out with the best weather.

Alden had a total blast.  One of his best friends, Cormac, transferred schools this year and Alden and Cormac don't see each other nearly as often as they'd like.  Cormac was not among the first arrivals to the party and Alden was busy petting the baby animals when he arrived.  He saw Cormac and darted out of the petting zoo area and they gave each other a HUGE hug  Then, they started rolling around on the ground like puppies.  And they spent most of the rest of the party chasing each other around on the grass, so very happy so be together.

Erasmiste, Alden's favorite teacher who has been out on maternity leave the last couple of months, came to the party and Alden was also thrilled to see her and meet the new baby.  It was a perfect day outside -- no wind, high 70s, and not a cloud in the sky.  Everyone stayed well after the cake cutting (the universal signal for when you have the go-ahead to finally leave a child's birthday party).  But, the kids were having so much fun playing on the swingset, running in the grass, playing on the rope swing, and playing with the toys that no one noticed with the hour that the party was intended to end came and went.  The party was on a Sunday and preceded a week of utter chaos and insanity at work -- but, it was still a perfect way to spend a Sunday.

Alden also had great fun opening his twenty plus birthday presents.  Oh how four year olds love birthday presents.  It's not the gift so much as the opening.  One of the moms came up to me as she was leaving, and before we had opened any presents (we did that after nearly everyone was gone) and said, "I have no idea what I bought for Alden... I asked Lexie what he wanted and she told me it was this Paw Patrol thing.  It's pink and purple and I have no idea if he really wants it... but, she insisted."  I laughed and told her I was sure Alden would love it.  Later, he was tearing through the gifts, barely taking note of the actual present as he unwrapped them as quickly as possible.  Except, he got to Lexie's gift and unwrapped it and then SQUEALED.  He held it up in excitement and hugged it against his chest.  Indeed, it seems to be exactly what he wanted. Even as I write this, I have no idea what it is exactly --it's some transformer like space ship thing that has a little pink paw patrol puppy inside it and is pink and purple.  But, Lexie and Alden spend their days at school chatting about toys and birthdays -- and, she knew.  And she was right.

As another one of his friends was leaving, he turned to his mom and said, "can I live in Alden's house?" His mom laughed and said, "I think Alden lives here -- so, no."  He insisted and said, "no, but when Alden is DONE with it?  Can I live here?"  It was so cute -- and a real testament to the work Eric put into the yard.  I was so glad all the kids had such a fun time.

And, I liked that I didn't really do a theme for Alden's party.  He said he wanted rainbows, so we made a rainbow cake and I bought rainbow lollipops for the kids' gift bags and a rainbow table cloth.  But, it wasn't really over the top.  For food, I just put out cold cuts and stuff to make sandwiches.  I made a couple of big fruit salads and had some veggies and chips.  I made a punch.  But, it was all stuff that required very little planning.  The morning of, I bought a bunch of rainbow gift bags at the party store down the street and stuck a lollipop and a little stuffed animal into each one.  The yard was the main attraction and we didn't really do much decorating.  We hung the lanterns that we got when Alden turned one -- and they still look so awesome.  Unlike the Harry Potter party -- which I planned for MONTHS in advance -- this one I did very little for until the day before.  I reserved the petting zoo and sent out invitations.  Eric worked on the yard.  And, then the Saturday before the party we bought food and made cakes.  Our friend Sarah came over to help -- and it was really fun to do the prep together.  It all felt fairly relaxed given that we had about 60 people at our house . And, it's nice to be able to throw such a fun party without having it impact your work week leading up to it.  I think after a decade of this birthday party thing, we may be getting the hang of it.

Kailey's party was a couple of weekends later and a very different affair, but still centered around the yard.  Kailey is beyond the age where everyone gets an invitation to the party.  And, this has been a hard friend year for Kailey.  She transferred to Crocker with two friends from Courtyard.  At first, the three of them stuck together pretty tightly; although, Kailey did quickly identify a few other girls that she really liked.  But, she didn't spend recess with them -- she'd stay with Abby and Justine, playing on the bars.  She'd often come home from school complaining that they were being mean to her -- threesomes are so hard, and Kai was often the odd girl out.  We told her to focus on her other friends, but she kept wanting to stay true to Justine and Abby.

Then, she got into the after school program in February, which is something neither Abby or Justine go to.  In other words, she was in a recess-like situation without her old standbys.  And, she really started to identify and play with a new group of girls.  By March, she was playing with them during the school day as well and realizing that she had more fun not being ostracized by Justine and Abby.

We had been talking about having a backyard campout party for Kailey's tenth birthday since last summer.  And, in mid-March, Kailey declared that she wanted Felicity, Aaliyah and Aamirah at her party -- and not Abby or Justine.  I panicked a little.  She had only really started to bond with these three girls fairly recently.  Aamirah had been a friend most of the school year, but we had been unsuccessful in all prior attempts to get her over for a playdate so I was beyond skeptical that her parents would let her come for a sleepover.  It was MID MARCH -- her birthday was a month away.  And, it was really throwing the gauntlet down to not invite the friends she had had since the first grade -- friends she had been through the rough transition to Crocker with and that she had gone to the birthday parties of just a few months earlier.

We talked to Kailey extensively about the decision to exclude Abby and Justine and were clear that it couldn't become a moment of revenge, retaliation or bullying.  In other words, she couldn't talk about the party at school.  She couldn't invite one of them but not the other -- because it would get back to the one not invited.  And, she needed to realize that if they did find out about the party (and they probably would) -- they likely would be very hurt and may not ever want to be friends again.  We talked about how friendships change over time but that making those transitions in ways that still show kindness and respect to the person you've grown apart from is of the utmost importance.  We talked it all through and she was firm in her decision.

That left me to fret about how to get these three girls -- that I had never met -- to come to our house for a sleepover.  ACK!  The week of Alden's party -- which had been delayed until April 9th, we realized that we could invite the three girls over in order to (1) give Kailey someone to play with; (2) meet the parents of these other girls; and (3) let them see our house and get to know us a little bit.  I sent the invites and emails inviting them to come and, luckily, they all came.  We spent time with each group of parents and talked about Kailey's intention to have a sleepover in a few weeks, so that it wouldn't seem out of the blue when I sent an invitation for the backyard campout.  We also just chatted with them to get to know them -- which was really nice.

A week later, when I sent out the three invitations to the backyard campout they all said yes.  I was so relieved.  It's one thing to send out an invitation to an entire class -- you know a good number will not show, and you're beyond OK with that.  But, if there are only three people on the guest list -- you really want everyone to come!!

We bought an ice cream ball to make homemade ice cream at the party and some carbineers and bumper stickers that say, "Yay Camping!" Kailey was SO excited to have her new group of friends coming over.  And, it was a wonderful party.  The girls came in the late afternoon and they did art projects followed by a huge water balloon fight.  After drying off, they made lemonade and then helped gather firewood for the outdoor fireplace.  They pitched the tent and played in the tent endlessly.  They roasted vegan hotdogs and ate dinner.  Kailey opened presents in front of the fire.  They wrote a skit and performed it for us at night, with the lanterns lighting up the night sky.  We ate key lime pie and sang happy birthday to Kailey then trooped outside to roast marshmallows and make s'mores.  We sang songs and told stories.  They are still young enough to let us be part of the festivities, but old enough that they are not complete spaz attacks the whole time.  They climbed into their tent after s'mores and watched shows on one of the girl's phone and told stories.  I had to go outside and tell them to quiet down a bit after midnight.  And again at 1 AM.  They finally fell asleep and woke up at 6:30 AM and started making necklaces.  They played all morning and Kailey was beyond sad when it all came to an end.  It was so different from the parties of the past with 20+ kids, but more magical.  It was just her closest friends and it was clear how much these girls care about each other.  It was fun to listen to them talk and to see them interact.  And, they all had such fun camping out and being together.  It was truly a perfect way to say goodbye to the last decade and get a glimpse of the decade to come.

Happy Birthday to Kailey and Alden -- my 10 year old and 4 year old -- I love celebrating with you both!

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

She's Ten!

Where does a decade go?  Just a moment ago, I was in denial that I was having a baby two months earlier than anticipated.  A moment later, I was rocking her in the NICU and singing her songs of strength and growth.  And, then she was home with us -- and I was running to the baby store every day to weigh her and staying up all night to listen to her breathe.  And then I stopped worrying quite so much (still, a lot, just not quite so much).  I started to settle into the rhythm of being a mom, even though the transition was nothing I could have ever anticipated.  A moment later, I was back at work and learning how to be a working mom.  Then she was one, and we had the biggest party I'd ever thought imaginable (only to outdo myself year after year as the birthdays continued to click by).  She walked.  She talked.  We transitioned from her being cared by Doug to going to Lauren's house and then Spanish school.  Then we had the dramatic first year of elementary school.  Her brother was born.  We moved to Sacramento.  And, somehow, we've already been here four years!

From that first moment, Kailey has been determined and resilient and feisty.  She is an artist to her core, taking in the world around her and constantly analyzing and examining everything. 

She's ten already.  In another ten years, she'll be halfway through college.  I can't quite wrap my head around those two realities. The truth is, Kailey has been talking about being ten since she was two -- and, now she is ten!  I blogged on her 4th birthday about how she always starts sentences with, "when I'm TEN..."  Well, now she's going to have to start planning for when she's 20, I guess.

With her 10th birthday comes the 10th year of this blog (a bit more -- since I started it when I was pregnant with her).  10 years of chronicling her journeys around the sun.  She and I read all her birthday posts from the last 10 years together the other day and it was so fun to relive them all (and, for her, to learn about those birthdays for the first time since she hardly remembers the early birthdays!). When she was looking at the pictures from her 1st birthday, she said, "that seems like quite a set up for a one year old birthday."  Ummm... are you just now realizing that your birthday celebrations have largely been over the top?!

She loved reading all of them with me and it was fun to relive all her birthdays.  We've had a few mellow years (her 2nd and 6th birthdays were not nearly as extravagant as some of the rest).  And, she's had some blow outs (the reptile party and Harry Potter party come to mind).  But, what's really fun about reading the posts is seeing how she changes with each year but also stays the same.  

I couldn't imagine the last decade when we started it or the many ways that Kailey surprises me and delights me and challenges me.  I never thought we'd be in Sacramento or in this house.  I wasn't anticipating a second child when we had our first.  I didn't foresee so many transitions in schools.

It's all so unexpected and yet exactly what I always hoped for (even if I could not have foreseen the path or the details).  I'm lucky beyond belief to have Kailey as my daughter.  She still wants to cuddle up next to us at night.  She misses us when she's at school during the day.  She is eager to share her fears and successes and frustrations.  She's short-tempered but so incredibly reflective that she can usually walk herself back from the edge (or, climb back up if she goes over for a moment).  She cares deeply about her friends and family and the world at large.  

I know few nine year olds that have the conviction to radically change their diets in the name of animal rights -- and to do so with a quiet, determined passion.  There is no proselytizing for Kailey -- she isn't trying to convert those around her.  She is trying to be true to herself.  She didn't change her diet to fit in with those around her -- and she didn't mind when it made her stand out.  But, she didn't try to draw attention to herself, either. It's just a decision she made -- that she has stuck by -- because it's what she believes in.  I came to that way of being in my twenties.  I didn't have that grace in my convictions when I was nine.  One of the teachers at school has nicknamed her "Avocado" because she brings whole avocados in her lunch.  Now some of her friends call he Avocado.  I love that.

So, my Avocado, here's to the last ten and looking forward to the next.  We cannot predict what that decade will bring -- but, I know that whatever it is, you'll have the grace, strength, courage, determination and good nature to meet the future with everything you've got.  I love you so very much and am beyond proud to be your Mama.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Beach Day!

As long as we are on vacation, I may as well do a little extra blogging!  Yesterday we packed some picnic lunches and got all our beach gear together and headed out for the day.  I'm not sure that we've ever spent a full day at the beach together since Alden has joined our family.  We did have about a half day at the beach last year in San Diego -- which is probably the closest we've come.  Yesterday, we had everything we needed with us -- blankets, food, water, lots of sand toys, a kite, swim suits, towels... we were all set for a full day in the sun (and I do mean full day -- we are all a bit sunburned now.  We did have sunscreen. But, obviously didn't use it as liberally as the weather required).

It was a gorgeous day.  Just enough wind to fly the kite without also kicking tons of sand up into our face.  70 degrees -- which is enough to feel warm without feeling like you're roasting.  We found a spot near a big piece of driftwood and Kailey, always the inventor, had the immediate idea of using the driftwood as the base of our sandcastle.  We dug a huge hole and buried the top of the driftwood in the hole so that the gnarly roots stuck out of the ground and gave us a place to build on and around.

Our beach day was a perfect example of Kailey and Alden's different styles.  Kailey worked on that castle most of the day. She took a couple of breaks to check out the waves, eat lunch, and go on a little excursion down the beach to look at a little inlet that flowed into the ocean and play on a log that spanned the running stream.  But, other than those little breaks -- she was working on that castle.  She always has big visions for projects like that and is very diligent in seeing them through execution.  We had some left over Styrofoam discs after a recent school project she did and she spent days turning it into a two layer cake, complete with decorations and a birthday plate that she decorated, cake cutter, and candles.  Then she worked hard to make sure that you could actually cut a slice out of the cake using the cake cutter.  The sandcastle was a bit like that.

It's difficult to do these projects with Kailey because she is so insistent that everything be her way and according to her vision.  Eric is more patient with her than I am and also better at pretending to go along with her vision and just doing his own thing until it gets to the point that she realizes what he is doing works, too!  We got Kailey's report card the other day and she was marked as needing improvement in the area of group projects and collaboration.  I can't say I disagree with that assessment.  I appreciate the strong vision and artistic sense that Kailey has and her persistence and determination to see things through to completion.  I also know she is a bit of a perfectionist and doesn't like other people to mess up the things she is working on.  But, collaboration is an essential skill in life -- and the truth is, almost any vision or idea is improved with the input and insight of others.  It's taken me decades of working in an area where there is no choice but to be collaborative to see the immense value of collaboration (even though the process of working with others can often be the most aggravating and frustrating process imaginable).  But, the end result tends to be something that works better and avoids unintended consequences.  Of course, I'm speaking about the process of making laws -- maybe art is different.  But, what Kailey was doing was something merging art and construction.  And, in building design, I think the same principles apply.

The other thing I really love about Kailey is that she listens and is so self reflective.  She started yelling at me about something I did to the castle and I reminded her of the report card and her need to work on collaborating with others and she paused, thought about it for a moment, and took a different approach.  She decided to listen to my idea and then, once she really listened, realized that it would be OK and we continued to work side-by-side.  When you are as strong-willed as Kailey is it is difficult to stop and really listen and to admit, particularly after you've taken a stand, that it might be OK to proceed on another path.  But, she did it.  She needed reminded to do it --but, that's all it took.  That's not to say that she was OK with every idea we had -- but, she was much more willing to listen and to compromise the rest of the day.

And, the end result was a beauty!

While Kailey tolled away on her project, Alden spent the day deep in pretend world.  He pretended he was a lemur when we found the log laying across the stream.  He pretended he was a seal and splashed around in the waves as the crashed onto shore.  He pretended he was some kind of fast animal (I forget which) as we attempted to run away from the waves.  He played with his trucks and his animals and would be digging, scooping, pouring and talking, talking, talking to himself as he invented and reinvented the stories in his head.  Alden is a keen observer of the world around him and incorporates it all into his games and make believe.  He talks about different types of animals, in the most detailed ways, because of the books and videos he's watched about those animals.  When we went to the zoo the other day, we saw some sort of lizard and Alden knew exactly what kind it was (I have already forgotten).  I looked at him in amazement and said, "how did you know that?" and he looked at me like I was crazy and said, "from my books!" He's been into his animal encyclopedia recently and also loves the show Wild Krats, which contains all sort of interesting information about animals.  While he was playing on the beach, he incorporated facts about the super powers of these animals into his games.

And, of course, the other thing Alden loves to do at the beach is run!  He and I had a great time running away from the waves.  He was laughing hysterically every time we got away and then would jump up and down while pumping his hands and yelling, "yeah, boy! let's do it again!"  It was a blast.  He was desperate to go swimming but we only let him dunk up to his waist (while being held).  We've got to find a beach that is less steep so he can wander in a bit more on his own.

Both of our kids are total beach kids.  They love sand, sun and water.  They are California children through and through.