Sunday, August 26, 2012

So Long, Suckers!

Tomorrow is the first day of school! I love, love, love my boys, but I am so excited for tomorrow that I can hardly contain myself!

And while there are lots of things that I wish we had managed to pack into our summer, we did a whole lot together (more posts on that coming soon) and had a whole lot of togetherness. We all laughed, we all cried, we all ate way more snoballs than any human should.

I will not miss the fighting, the whining, the complaints of boredom and brotherly abuse. I will not miss that stretch between 4 and 7PM when the lose their minds and run around like crazy people. I will not miss bedtimes that come after 8PM. And I will not miss my children.

I'll think about them lots, but I will not miss them one bit.

He's starting first grade tomorrow.

He's starting his second year of preschool.

And he's stuck at home with me for at least another year.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Quickie Science Experiment and a Dud

As summer has started to wind down, we've been overwhelmed with a list of things that have to be done before school starts- haircuts, doctor appointments, trips to the zoo- and haven't had a solid week to do another Science Camp. But we've managed to fit in a few experiments here and there.

The first of the two I'll show you here was super simple and the kids really liked it. The second was, um, well, you'll see.

Today's experiments both come from this book. A-Train has had this book for a couple of years and occasionally gets a little obsessed with it. Now that he's old enough to read and actually help out with the experiments, rather than watch me do them, it's become a lot of fun to get ideas from the book.

Here's what you need for our first experiment. We actually ended up using a second can of Sprite, but I don't think that's absolutely necessary.

First, have your minion pour the clear carbonated drink (I'm guessing seltzer or tonic would work as well as soda) into a tall clear glass. Then put in a few raisins.

If, like me, you are working with a heavy-handed preschooler, you may end up with a few more than a few raisins in your glass.

And then you watch! I used my phone to make a video of what we were watching, but for the life of me can't get it to upload to this blog, so you'll have to make do with a few pictures. Just scroll through them really fast and it will seem like video!

The science here is that the raisins sink to the bottom of the glass where the bubbles of carbonation attach to the them and they begin to rise. At the top of the glass, the bubbles burst and the raisins sink and the whole process starts again.

This was pretty mesmerizing to A-Train and me. Big D was all done watching after about 12 seconds. After 10 minutes or so we put the glass aside, but when I checked back an hour later they were still rising and falling. And when I checked back about six hours after that, it was still happening. By the time we got up the next morning, all the raisins were still- no more free rides!

Experiment #2 was not nearly as successful. But, in case you want to try it for yourselves and prove me wrong, here's what you need:
That's a couple of balloons, some sharpies and a sweater.

The first step is blowing up the balloons. If you've got little kids, you know the amount of spit that one kid can get inside a balloon before he hands it to you so you can tie it for him. If you don't have little kids, let the idea of a handful of someone else's spit serve as birth control for you.

Next, decorate the balloons with the Sharpies. (This part is optional, but if your experiment turns out like ours did, it may be the highlight of the whole affair.) Big D and I drew faces on ours.

Great picture of me, huh?

A-Train drew a Yeti.
I know, I didn't think so either, but that's what he said it was.

Next, have an unwitting assistant don a hand-me-down sweater.

Then, commence rubbing your decorated balloons on the sweater for one minute.

Now, according to The Big Book of Science Things to Make and Do, you can put your balloon against the wall and it will be held in place by the magic scientific powers of static electricity!

Because it's hard to hold a balloon up to a wall and take a picture of yourself doing it at the same time, I only got pictures of what happened when I let go of the balloons.

Yeah, that's my floor.

We tried again, but instead of rubbing the balloons on the sweater, we went with A-Train's idea.
I don't even want to talk about the tangles that had to be combed out after 180 seconds of rubbing latex orbs on The Boy's head.

And there's the result. On the floor again.

This experiment was a dud!

Now, I'm no sciencetitian, but if I had to guess, I'd say this experiment didn't work in August in the South because it's so darn humid. If memory serves, dry weather makes for better static cling.

Now you'll excuse my while I go wash A-Train's hair with Downy.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

It's in the Genes

See that sweet face up there? That's a face that makes strangers stop to tell him how handsome he is- not cute, but handsome. Kind of an unusual compliment for a three-year-old.

And there's no question where that face comes from. That is 100% Cap'n's face. That mop of unruly, thick, dark brown hair- that's Cap'n's hair. The way the eyes close up into tiny slits when he gives a big smile- just like Cap'n's. Even the eyebrows are Cap'n's.

If A-Train is my mini-me, Big D is Cap'n's.

But if my memories from high school biology serve, he must have inherited something from me! Sadly, it wasn't his boyish charm, but rather one of the qualities I'd most like to change about myself.

He's a worrier, just like his mama. Mama is the type of person who, if she sends someone a text and hasn't heard back within 10 minutes, imagines the worst! Mama gets that from Grandma Jinx.

He carries the weight of the world on his almost-four-year-old shoulders.

We both have our birthdays coming up, so aging is on his little mind. Last week he told me that on my next birthday I would die. Because, according to him, I would be turning seven and when you turn seven, "you get died."

Yesterday, he worried that Mr Butler would get "runned over" as we stood in an empty parking lot.

And today, when asked what he wanted for his birthday he said he wanted "a pink bunny that is so, so cute." And then worried aloud, "but what if you can't find a pink bunny that is so, so cute?"

He worries about the dark and zombies and vampire bites. (I attribute all of those to having an older brother.) He worries about touching anything red- because it might "explode you." He worries that nearly every bug he sees is poisonous. He worries that his friends will get sick and won't be able to come to his birthday party. He worries that Dinah the cat will get stuck outside in a rain storm. And on and on.

I'm still trying to keep him away from the real worries of the world- turning off NPR whenever he gets in the car- so that I don't have to explain about war and famine and hate and disease. He's not ready to have to deal with those things at almost-four, and neither is his mama at almost-thirty-six.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

It's Tricky

It's hard to believe that the same little boy who wanted to carry this pencil bag
into his first day of first grade

also chose these
for his classroom shoes (My apologies to the diminutive grandpa who can't find his bedroom slippers!)

and these for his outdoor shoes:
I'm pretty sure he picked those up at Rev Run's estate sale.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

On Top of Mount Washmore

**WARNING: This post contains graphic and highly embarrassing pictures of my laundry room. If you're unable to hold back judgment, please click that little X up in the corner.**

**And also, this post has almost nothing to do with parenting. Except that if you're a parent you've got kids. And kids wear clothes.**

Ah, laundry. It comes with a whole host of problems, not one of them the actual washing part. The washing is easy, seeing as how a machine does that job for me. It's all the other stuff that I hate- the sorting, the folding, the putting away. Oh, and the remembering to move the clothes from the washer to the dryer. I tasked Cap'n with figuring that one out- more on that later.

And it doesn't help that, until recently, I despised my laundry room. It's a small(about 5"x6")windowless room painted in dingy Builder's Beige in an upstairs corner with just enough space for the machines, a little trash can and standing room for two average-sized people. And because it's so conveniently located in an out-of-the-way spot that guests and visitors never see, it had also become a place to toss things when you didn't know where else to toss them.

Then one day about a month ago, I'd had enough of the laundry cave. I knew I wanted to make some changes, but really had no plan in mind other than a fresh coat of paint. I went into the room to really look at it and see what I had to work with. What I had was a mess! Not just a less-than-desirable space, but a huge amount of stuff that had to come out.

Here's what I was dealing with. Again- NO JUDGMENT!!

A new washer and dryer were not in the plan. Yes, I may be the only person alive who still has a top loading washer with an agitator, but I'm kind of fond of the ol' gal. I like to think of her and the dryer as an old married couple who bicker a whole lot. Besides, they work just fine and I take a certain sense of pride in using things (from shoes to appliances) until they lay down and die.

And there were no plans for structural changes or for hiring anyone to do anything. Any changes in this room were going to have to be done by me and me alone (with JBB holding a flashlight as necessary).

Oh, and did I mention that I'm cheap? Yeah, I'm cheap.

After removing every piece of trash, uselessness and ugliness from the room, it was pretty much empty except for Ma and Pa Washer-Dryer and a big pile of stuff that was going to have to get itself organized before I could wash another load.

Off I went to the home improvement store where I picked up a quart of paint. (By the way, one quart was not enough. It would require approximately one quart plus 1/1000 of a quart to cover the laundry room walls.) Because the pictures in this post were taken in such a tiny room with such poor lighting, it's hard to tell, but the color is a dark grayish purple called Silver Service. Whoever named it should be fired. If my silver were this color, I would not be amused. That is, if I even had silver!

Next, I had to find a way to corral all of those linens you see on the shelf in the picture up above. They couldn't move into the linen closet because that's chock full o' towels we aren't using. So I tossed any sets with missing pieces and kept only what we really need.

Here's our sheet situation now:
Those baskets used to sit on a beautiful changing table we bought when I was pregnant with A-Train. We used it to change approximately four diapers before we realized that the floor is the ultimate changing table.

And a closeup of one of the baskets:
I just printed the sheet size on card stock, cut them out with my paper cutter and laminated them with my new handy-dandy laminator. (Thanks Grandma Jinx!)

No more digging through a precariously perched mountain of sheets in search of a matching set in a particular size!

In the before picture you can also see that there's a wire shelf on the right side from which I used to hang anything that couldn't go in the dryer. There were a couple of problems with the shelf. First of all, it was too high. It was just low enough that I (as a pretty tall person) was able to fling stuff up there in unruly piles, and just high enough that I was never able to get anything down.

Now the idea that I could hang things there to dry was a good one. And hang them I did. Put them away once they had dried, I didn't. This led to a whole lot of mornings of standing in my closet wondering what on Earth had happened to that blue dress. And why I could never find a nightgown. And what kind of weirdo had broken in and stolen my underwear.

The system was not working.

So the shelf came down. (Digging out wall anchors with a pair of old pliers is not glamorous work.) And I decided that all hanging-to-dry would happen in my closet. That way when my clothes dry they're already almost-away and I can get dressed without wandering through the house looking for my clothes.

Then a new shelf went up.
This one is the right height for putting things on and getting them down! Now all detergents have a place to live that isn't on the floor! This shelf is my favorite part of the makeover because it's so darn functional.

The next picture is awful, so remember not to judge.
That's a super-el-cheapo shoe hanger that I got at, where else?, a discount grocery store. It's hanging on the back of the laundry room door holding things like measuring tapes and notions and the manuals to Ma and Pa and other random stuff you need to keep in there. Sure, it ain't pretty, but who sees it anyway?

This thing makes me happy in a way that only a sarcastic, eye-rolling, ten-loads-of-laundry-a-week-doing mama can understand.
It makes me scrunch up my face and mumble "yeah, right" and then it makes me smile and put in another load.

And speaking of another load- I've always had this general idea that if I could do one load of laundry- from start to finish- each day, everything else would fall into place. My kids would be well-behaved, my legs would be shaved, a dinner featuring at least two of the food groups would be on the table each night.

And I've frequently made a mental schedule for accomplishing my load-a-day-to- happiness goals. But, it's hard for me to do anything that I haven't put on a physical list. Even then, the odds that I'll be able to find the list are not good. And so I made this:
A piece of foam core, card stock, scrapbooking paper and Modge Podge. I plan to frame it, but for now it's just stuck on the wall with some poster tack. And it actually seems to help keep me on track. Though, sadly, it doesn't keep my legs silky smooth.

And that's it for the Laundry Room Makeover.

But wait, what about that other problem- the one with moving the clean laundry from the washer to the dryer?

After some extensive research, which is to say, asking four or five of my mom friends, I learned that I'm not the only one who sometimes finds fetid, once-clean laundry hanging out in my washer. It's easy to get distracted and forget that you put those towels in until it's too late. And then you have to wash them all over again, this time hoping you remember to move them to the dryer.

Since Cap'n is an A #1 software developer and all around nice guy, he built an app for me! Well, for anyone who wants it and also owns an iPhone. This app is beautiful in its simplicity! There's a one-time set up feature where you tell it how long your washer cycle is and from then on, you simply tap the app (as if to open it) and a timer is set for your pre-selected wash time.

Forty-five minutes (in my case, because I have the dinosaur washer) later, an alarm sounds reminding me to put the clothes in the dryer! If I can't do it right then, I tell it to remind me again in 15 minutes. It's freaking awesome! (Not that I'm biased or anything!) Check it out HERE!
Hopefully it can solve your stinky towel problems, too!

Happy Laundering!!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Fluffy Kitty or Silent Assassin?

When you're expecting a baby, everyone tells you how having a newborn changes your life. Most of this wisdom revolves around sleep and the lack of sleep.

Sleep now, you won't be getting any rest when the baby comes.
Sleep when the baby sleeps.
You'll never get another good night's sleep until the baby goes off to college.

And it's true, raising infants, babies, toddlers, and even preschoolers is a physically exhausting job. The parent's body is rarely at rest in those early years. But, demanding as it may be, parenting of such small people isn't exactly rocket science. Child is hungry, parent feeds child. Diaper is dirty, parent changes diaper. Cup is empty, parent fills cup. And on and on in an endless list of baby minutia.

What no one ever mentions is how hard it will be to parent an older child. Once a child can meet most of his or her physical needs, the parent's body gets to rest. But the parent's mind and heart are just beginning a gut-wrenching journey.

And that brings us to last Saturday afternoon.

A-Train had recently received the list of school supplies he'll need when he starts first grade in a few weeks. Most of the items are very specific and pretty boring- not a lot of room to express one's six-year-old individuality. But, on the list was a pencil bag or box, and I wanted to let A-Train choose something that he liked and would be excited to bring to school.

We entered a large office supply store whose name rhymes with an Italian city. After getting the boring supplies: scissors, pencil sharpener, erasers- it was time to move on to the pencil bag/box. The first few we saw were fine, but nothing special. So we headed to the seasonal school supply section, and that's where A-Train spotted this:

And quickly declared that this was the pencil bag for him.

I should tell you that I wasn't all together surprised by this. Since A-Train's birth Cap'n and I have made a concerted effort to not impose gender roles and stereotypes on him. (Except for washing dishes. Washing dishes is man's work.) He has always had dolls and play kitchens as well as balls and trucks. When he's asked, I've happily painted his finger nails the shade of pink typically reserved for the lips of Barbie dolls. And he can throw a baseball with startling strength and accuracy. As for hairstyles, here he was a few months ago awaiting his first big haircut.

All of this is to say that A-Train couldn't see any reason why this would not be the pencil bag for him.

Standing there with him, my heart started to ache. This is first grade he's going into, not preschool where things are fun and kids are quirky and no one really seems to care, but FIRST GRADE-where kids are aware of differences and exclusionary and sometimes downright mean!

And this mama had to make a quick decision: hurt him with the truth right now or let him hear the truth at school from someone who doesn't love him like I do. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Are you sure that's the one you want?

A-Train: Yeah!

Me: OK, if you really want it, you can have it.

A-Train: OK! I really want it!

Me: But first I have to tell you something.

A-Train: (Looking wide-eyed and expectant) What is it?

Me: (Trying to lead him to the conclusion) Who usually has pink stuff with kitties on it?

A-Train: I dunno.

Me: Usually it's girls, right?

A-Train: Umm, I guess so.

Me: Yeah, usually it's girls. I don't care about that at all and it's great if you don't care either. But other people do care. So if you chose to have that bag, some of the kids might think it's weird that a boy has a pink, kitty pencil bag and they might make fun of you and tease you.

A-Train: (The joy having escaped his eyes) Oh, OK.

Me: So let's look at all the choices they have here and if you still want this one, I'll get it for you.

A-Train: OK.

And as I turned to lead him away, the tears started streaming down my face. Tears of doubt in myself, not knowing if I'd said and done the right thing- afraid that I'd persuaded my sweet, innocent six-year-old to give up a piece of himself in order to please his peers and escape their taunts. Tears of pride in myself for having raised a boy who doesn't see gender the way his peers do. And tears of sadness that we live in a society that doesn't allow people, even the littlest ones, to be themselves.

And then it happened, the tears dried up when we both spotted this:
It was perfect! (OK,it was actually a little on the small side and it may well violate the classroom rule about not having any characters on your school supplies, but in that moment, it didn't matter.) My boy was happy, the pink kitty pencil bag fading from memory as he opened and closed the clasps on his LEGO Ninjago pencil box.

And while I was happy in that moment, I carry with me the knowledge that more moments just like it, and some that will be much, much more challenging, lie ahead of us.