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Last week was Spring Break here in Oregon, and it coincided with the week that had the most snow and some of the coldest weather of the entire season. The winter season, that is. So a fun time was had by all.
I like weather, except when it’s really hot and sandy. So I didn’t mind the afternoon snow showers that of course didn’t stick, the huge fluffy flakes falling wetly past the window. I didn’t mind the hail crusting round the pink hyacinths and golden daffs, or the enormous blue and grey clouds floating up and up.
Saturday, we went to the Avalon with some friends. The Avalon shows 2nd-run movies, has a nickel arcade, and costs $2 to get in. We went there last summer, and signed up the kids for their birthday club, expecting nothing, so we were pleased to receive a card good for free family admission to the arcade and 100 nickels, all thanks to Ilsa. Abel, her twin, who signed up at the same time, didn’t get anything. Maybe they thought I was trying to cheat them and making up names, but if I was going to do that, wouldn’t I have changed their birthdays? Yes, I would have.
We saw National Treasure 2, which was every bit as good as the first, assuming you liked the first. I found it all right, but my kids LOVED it, which was the point, really. Then we spent several hours playing arcade games. We bowled, we rode motorcycles, I learned that I fear the time when Ilsa drives an actual car. We spun wheels of fortune and tipped balls into holes for points. It was lots of fun.
Certain games give you tickets. You collect them and take them to the front counter, along with many other small children, and then you can choose your prize based on how many points you get. The prizes are, of course, cheap and funny, but the kids had a blast anyway. Ilsa got a camera that shoots water; Elliot got a little ping-pong table. Abel got a miniature pool table and a glider which broke instantly. Van, another little boy, got a flashlight which shocks you when you turn it on. I don’t quite get this, but everyone else finds it hilarious.
When we finally emerged from the Avalon, there was a dusting of snow on the ground. Weird. We hung out with friends for the evening and then came home.

It was Ilsa’s turn to put away the dishes:


Here she is on a rainy day when told to do some sit-ups and push-ups for PE:



She does like to read, in the way that normal people like to breathe.

Yesterday, I found out that I have earned $1.60 from Amazon! I’m rather excited at my newfound and amazing sales skillz, but they won’t actually pay me till I get to $10. So I thought, why not exploit my daughter again and get her to review some books she’s read recently? I’m sure you can see why she is uniquely qualified to share her views on books.

So, if you’re looking for some good reads for your tween-age kids, here are some suggestions. I could force more out of her, but she’s–you guessed it–reluctant to stop reading long enough to tell me about them.

Inkheartis a really good book. It’s about a girl named Meggie and she has a dad called Mo. It turns out that her mom disappeared into a book called Inkheart when he was reading it out loud to her. Meggie was 3 at the time. And then the bad guys of the book appeared and for 9 years, he hasn’t told her but they have been on the run. One day she finds out and they go on an adventure and get her mom back. They meet this lady called Elinor (Meggie’s aunt) who is funny to the bad guys.
I recommend it to anyone who is 11 or older, because it’s a long book and you have to stay focused. It took me a while to read it. It is a great book.
The book is by Cornelia Funke, who also wrote Dragon Rider, which I also love. I have that book in storage in Mauritania.

The Book of Story Beginnings
This is a book about a boy named Oscar who was 14 when he disappeared into a sea surrounding his house in Iowa. This happened because he wrote the beginning of a story into “the book of story beginnings” and it comes true. He is the boy in the story. His little sister sees him leave and tells everyone but no one believes her as there isn’t an ocean in Iowa. Nearly 100 years later, he reappears because he drank a potion that his great-niece’s (Lucy) dad made. (He had been a cat. It’s a little complicated.) They go on an adventure to save her dad.
This book is really fun. I liked the whole thing. One of the best parts is when Lucy talks to Oscar for the first time and finally figures out what had happened to him.

More reviews to come.

Suburban Correspondent linked to a fascinating article, in which someone finally articulates my own philosophy of parenting–the Idle Parent. (Read the entire article–it’s worth it, especially for the Manifesto at the end) Kids thrive when parents leave them alone, says author Tom Hodgkinson. They don’t need to be shuttled back and forth from soccer and piano lessons to Latin tutors and horseback riding instruction. That’s too exhausting, and not just for the parents. They don’t really need Baby Einstein and Mozart in utero. Paradoxically, argues Hodgkinson, the idle parent is actually the responsible one, raising children who are independent, self-sufficient, self-entertaining, imaginative, and all sorts of good things. These parents are thrifty, sociable, and anti-materialistic.
Best of all, idle parents get to sleep in.
Can I get a hearty AMEN here?
I first realized I was an Idle Parent (without exactly putting it that way) the year we lived in France. I had already been training the children–from Day One really–to let me sleep in. When Elliot was two and had switched from a crib to a toddler bed, he’d bounce into my room every morning and announce at the top of his healthy lungs, “Five more minutes! Five more minutes!” “Yes,” I’d mumble. “Just five more minutes,” while keeping my eyes firmly closed. Of course he had no idea what that meant, and would usually bounce right up in bed next to me (often landing on one of the twins, gone back to sleep after that darn early morning feeding), but still. This shows that I was working on the concept.
By France, they were 8 and 6; good ages to grasp the concept of Not Disturbing the Parents. On Wednesday mornings and the Saturdays that they didn’t have school, they learned to get up on their own. Anybody can fix cold cereal if they’re hungry–none of this hot-breakfast-every-day for offspring of the Idle Parent. They would carefully close the door to the combined kitchen/living room and turn on the TV. Elliot wanted to fix us coffee but we were a wee bit uncomfortable with that, so instead we’d get ourselves up round 9:00 or so, when the cartoons were ending. Sometimes we’d even send Elliot across the street for croissants, which are as special and meaningful as pancakes any day.
Although my friend Heather might not be the person who would spring to your mind (assuming you actually knew her, which you don’t) when you think of Idle Parenting, when our family inevitably end up spending weeks and weeks in their basement during our visits home, we do practice it together. She and I spend hours in the kitchen, talking and talking, while the children swirl and flow and eddy around us, moving outside and in, demanding and being satiated in turn. So that I told her the other day, “I don’t really know your boys–I just see them in passing.” And when we’re here, I don’t see much of my own children either.
(However, Heather is not very good at being Idle. We were room-mates in college and I noticed in her then a tendency towards hyper-organization and a mania for cleanliness. I just wanted to get that on the record, in case you do know her.)
But here I am, staying at her house again. She and her husband have been going through a rough time lately, and a friend gave them two nights away at a nice hotel, and she asked us to stay with their kids. Today, three women, friends of theirs, stopped by to do yard work as a surprise for them, spending a cold March day pulling weeds and filling bag after bag with yard debris. (Don’t they have terrific friends?) These friends brought their kids, and their kids’ friends who were staying with them (it’s Spring Break in these parts), and there were a lot of children here–16 if you count the baby, which I very much do since I’m in charge of his general feeding and changing and happiness and things like that.
But I held true to my newly-articulated philosophy. I mostly ignored them all, and they did great. They held fantastic battles in the tree house, played bumper-cars with scooters in the driveway, pushed the two-year-old on the swing for hours, and allowed me several uninterrupted minutes to blog in peace. Amazing what can be accomplished.
Although I’m still glad that we’re back down to 9 kids in the house now. Which is normally rather overwhelming, so I guess I’m making progress.
Are you an Idle Parent? I’d love to take a poll. If you are, share your most proud Idle Parent moment in comments. Here’s mine:

Last school year, we had Idle Parenting Mornings down to a science. We had only one alarm clock, next to my side of the bed. It went off at 7:00 a.m. “ELLIOT!” I’d yell across the hall, and I’d wait to hear his answering, “Ok Mom!” Then I’d happily roll over and go back to sleep.
The kids would get up and go downstairs, where they’d make their own breakfasts, eat, get dressed, and brush their teeth.
By 7:45 I’d be up to check that they had everything and that their clothes didn‘t clash too horribly, and I’d brush and braid Ilsa’s hair. At 7:50, another American named Todd would pick them up and take them to school (we car-pooled). After seeing them off, I might shower and make coffee, or I might go back to bed for another 20 minutes. My classes never started before 10:00 so I had some time.

Looks like Elliot had it right, when he accused me of inactivity.

Elliot has only 3 1/3rd months to go until he’s 13, an official teenager. In his mind, he’s been a teenager for 2 or so years already, as is evidenced by his comments like, “We teenagers…(fill in blank).”
He looks like a junior high kid. His voice is husky and cracks; his feet stink. His hair went from curly to afro. Best of all, from his point of view, is the faint ghost of a moustache beginning on his upper lip and the patchy, itchy dots on his jawline.
He likes girls, it’s obvious, but he won’t admit it. The other day, one of the leaders of his youth group sang a song at church. I leaned over and began, “She has such a pretty–” meaning to comment on her voice, but he interrupted me with a shocked “MOM!” (Oh and what were you thinking?)  If I ask him the name of some girl his age, he never ever knows.
He’s awkward and obnoxious–standard for junior high. But he still likes it when I come up to say goodnight, still pulls me down for an extended hug. It’s not much longer now, but for the moment, he’s still my little boy. He still hugs frequently, asks our advice on things, likes to talk to us.
I’m not one of those women who adore children indiscriminately, especially in large numbers. I knew I wanted kids, but had no idea what it would be like.
So I was pleasantly surprised at the fierceness of emotion that overtook me when Elliot was born. And I have to say that I have loved every single age. I loved newborn, when my babies were tiny, and I didn’t even mind when it took the twins 3 months to get to 10 pounds because I loved how teeny their onesies were, and their skinny little legs (plus, it made carrying two car seats around a bit easier). I loved 15 to 24 months, when they really started talking–even when they wouldn’t shut up. I loved having little kids. I loved having older kids.
Believe it or not, I’m looking forward to this next stage. My confidence comes not just from having enjoyed it all so far (okay not ALL of it), but from the fact that older kids are fun. They are more independent–they can bathe themselves, if forced to, and can do dishes, and can make sweeping motions with a broom across the floor, even if they leave so many crumbs in their wake that it’s basically an exercise in futility.
Best of all, at this age kids are fun to talk to. They have thoughts and opinions on things. They hear things and begin to form their own outlook on life, but still check back with their parents to see what they think.
So I’m not afraid of the teenage years, although I know it will involve a fair amount of eye-rolling from everyone involved.

To completely change the subject, I do realize how much I’ve been neglecting my blog lately. My goal is to post more frequently, starting today. So check back–you never know.

Today I was looking through the stacks of coupons that come with the Sunday paper. In the middle of colourful ads for Campbell’s soup and Chex cereal, right below one for Frigo cheese, there was one for a paternity kit.
Is it just me or is that an odd thing to buy at Rite-Aid?
“For Questions only DNA can answer” reads the tagline.
Um… I’m guessing this isn’t for that question of “are my twins actually identical?” that I’ve known several mothers of twins who obviously ARE identical to ask.
It would make an interesting addition to any conversation. Should you be in the habit of discussing disputed paternity, that is.
Kind of makes the whole “Who exactly DOES that baby take after?” question a bit scarier.

The kids are all making lunch–each one having something different. Abel is eating hummus and bread, to be followed by fried eggs and toast. Elliot had a quesadilla with, I am ashamed to admit, salsa and ketchup on it. Ilsa and Hali, a teenage friend who’s staying with us for a while, are having grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Donn and I are having bagels with hummus, or possibly hummus and tomato sandwiches or scrambled eggs with chives and rosemary and cheese on bagels. We haven’t decided.
You don’t care, but you should. I’ll tell you why. You may be thinking that it is indicative of a recent grocery shopping, or a lazy mother who would rather type on the computer than make lunch for her kids. Both these things are true, but it also represents something else to me–the plethora of choices that makes up life in America.
Example 1: I have 30 minutes of free time. Should I blog–my connection is good; I‘m in the US. Or should I read the New Yorker? Or a book? Which book? Or the newspaper? Should I call a friend and go for coffee? I don’t have time! AUGH! The variety of options, even for something that simple, is overwhelming.
Example 2: I’m IMing with my friend Michelle in Mauritania, doing Spanish with the kids, chatting with my brother on the phone and writing a blog post, all at the same time. My head is spinning and I’m not too sure about my spelling. But what a great way to get lots of things done at once so I can go to the gym with a clear conscience!
It’s strange. Overseas, you might be busy, but people always have time. Donn would take our car to the local gas station to get the underside sprayed with diesel fuel (to prevent rust), and it would take 3 hours–because people stop to have tea, to chat with an unemployed friend who walks by, to admire German tourist’s camper-van (a travelling tent–what a brilliant idea!), etc etc. After many many rounds of tea, when he’d gotten to know them all, he was more comfortable leaving the car there and walking home occasionally, but that’s not always a good idea. We had a friend who left his car overnight at the mechanic’s, and someone took it out for a drive and wrecked it. And of course, once he knew them he was expected to stay for those endless rounds of tea.
Now, we schedule people weeks out. Want to come for dinner at the Nomads? Mondays and Wednesdays just aren’t good; weekends book up quickly. Days are busy with school.
It’s not that we didn’t have jobs and commitments in Africa. Thesis student time was beyond hectic; during juries, I would spend all daylight hours locked in a tiny library at the university, trying to remember what I’d read in each paper, and then go home to read more papers until the wee hours of the morning.
But people, spending time with them and being available to them, is always a priority.
I’m adjusting just fine–so fine I’m worried. It took years to not go insane with those long trips to the gas station or the post office. Now, I zip in and out–in a rush, gotta be somewhere soon, a flip “have a nice day!” flying off my lips along with a backwards wave if I run into a friend pushing a cart round Fred Meyer’s.
How will I do when we go back? It’s scary to me; how this American life has become so normal.

CCE at MadMarriage has tagged me for a meme, a perfect thing for a rainy Monday when I don’t have much time to write. This is a meme that asks me to look back at my old blog posts and tell you my personal favorites.
Isn’t a good writer not supposed to have favorites? I did a post about that, but I’m not going to include it in the list.
I am actually biologically incapable of choosing favorites, but I figure it doesn’t really matter, does it? The point is, you can read some things about me. Me! The whole point of a meme, which, of course, you have noticed is basically me to the second power.
I actually quite like this meme. Normally I protest memes because I can’t imagine that people want to really know about ME. But this one is about my blog. If you’re here, you must care about my blog. Right? Right.
I’m supposed to choose an old post about each of the following: ME! (well obviously), family, friends, things I love, and a wild card.

I spent way too much time on this last night, rereading old posts, reliving old memories. I don’t think this meme is supposed to be quite as much about navel-gazing as I made it. Worst of all, I had a hard time picking. Am I that arrogant? *goes into falsetto*–oh they’re just all so fantastic! *makes depreciating hand gesture with wrist.*

Yeah. Apparently.

I like to think that it’s really the memories I’m reliving. How do I choose, for example, between making you read about our camping trips in the Sahara (and which trips? The crocodiles? Part two of the crocodiles? Or the baboons?) For the one about me, do I tell you about the university? You’ll be pleased to know that I relived all the memories in choosing, so now I’m wallowing in nostalgia.

Ok, here we go. I will be serious now.

For family, choose one of the following: Ilsa the Spy, Donn’s return, or the shark. Discuss your choice in comments.

For friends, I have to write about Aicha. But now I feel unsure–should I have done one of the weddings? Present the pros and cons of each.

For the wild card, I pick my “favorite” (clue: when favorite is in quotes, it means it’s opposite) thesis student, Romeo. Discuss: can the author change the meaning of terms by the simple use of quote marks?

I can’t think of posts for things I love or ME!, but that’s okay, since I’ve already chosen more than I was supposed to.

Don’t worry–we both know you’re not going to go back and read my old posts, and that’s ok–I already did! But at least I posted.

I tag Veronica, Beck, Pieces and Meredith, since I would love to reread those posts they consider their favs and see if they’re the ones I would have chosen.

The last crumbs of cake have been swept up; the last of the balloons have popped; the new gifts have finally all made it upstairs to bedrooms. A trip to Build-A-Bear, a gift from a beloved aunt and uncle, has been completed, and 3 new animals added to the collection (Abel decided he wasn’t a “stuffed-animals-wearing clothes kind of guy”, so he got 2 animals instead and was very happy).

The party was definitely loud. By 2, our not-that-big house was overflowing with screaming children, and there was already a fierce competition started over which side, girls or boys, had more people present. My friend Sarita had agreed to play La Diamant Rouge, international jewel thief, and she showed up all in black, with crimson lips and nails, a beret, and black-and-white spotted glasses (frames only). I was wearing all black myself; swishy linen pants, burgundy lipstick, high heels. I completed my outfit with a “diamond necklace” (glittering rhinestones) which drew envious stares from the mothers dropping off their children. Actually the stares were more incredulous, prompting me to murmur, “Mild-mannered suburban mother? Or…international jewel thief?” Surprisingly, no one seemed to want to stay.

Donn and his friend Ed, who was dropping off his two kids, hung out making coffee. I was tempted to bag the whole theme and just drink coffee and let the children run screaming through the house until they left, but Sarita had gotten all dressed up and didn’t actually want to stay longer than she had to, so I slapped a sticker on the back of each child with a famous movie character. The idea was that they could only ask YES and NO questions of each other to figure out who they were, and the broader idea was that they’d all get to know each other a little bit, since these children represent various parts of our lives and many don’t know each other. One little brat went around telling people who they were, rolling his eyes at the game, but others got into it (especially the girls, who were NICE). While they were occupied, I ran upstairs and hid my necklace and left a fingerprint…in blood? Or lipstick?…on the little partition that divides off my grandly-named “Laundry Room” (actually a tiny corner that only fits the two machines). Then, as the game was winding down and most people had figured out who they were, I suddenly clutched at my neck and shrieked in my best movie-star manner.

The children clustered around me, wide-eyed. “It’s not funny,” I told them. “It’s gone! Help me look for it!” They believed me for a minute. I found a fingerprint or two, and they all trooped behind me up the stairs, at which point the penny dropped. “You’re a good actress,” one or two of them told me.

Thence commenced the hunt, following clues. In retrospect (I HATE hindsight! I really do!), I can think of many ways I could have made it cooler. The clues led one to another, when really they should have pointed to a person. But give me a break–I wrote them all the night before when Abel’s cake was in the oven.

The clues led upstairs and down, then up again; the goal being to wear them out. But there were a couple of mishaps. For one, we had 14 screaming children rushing up and down, and our house is actually not very big; I can stand in Ilsa’s room and touch her bed with one hand and her dresser with the other. Once a clue had been figured out, everyone would rush together and we had some pretty serious bottlenecks in the hallway. People couldn’t get close enough to see the clue and get to figure it out, and I think they got frustrated or bored; at least a couple of girls drifted downstairs to sit it out on the couch. Matters weren’t helped by the Case of the Disappearing Clues, which occurred when Elliot decided to see if he could solve the mystery himself, found a clue and thought it was trash, and threw it away. Yeah. I was a little annoyed. It was a corner of one of Ilsa’s schoolbooks (which of course led to the box in the kitchen where the schoolbooks are kept), a scrap that said “CNED: Ilsa, CM2.” I had hidden it under her glitter lamp. But when a search revealed nothing, the kids turned her room upside down, emptying out her jar of glitter, which made for a fun game of vacuuming later. I had to TELL them the clue.
Finally, a scrap of an Australian map fluttering on the car’s windshield led to Abel’s koala bear puppet, with the necklace tucked up inside him.

But who had hidden it? There was a greasy, smudgy lipstick fingerprint on the largest stone, but still. They all began to check each other’s fingerprints. Then Sarita grabbed the necklace and took off towards the door at full speed. They tacked her, which I felt a little bad about…I didn’t realize they would take her down! She was a very good sport about it though, even making a second run for it, then flinging the necklace into the bushes and leaping into her car!

Then we had cake and ice-cream, etc, then I made them all go play outside, which I think was the best part of the day. They came in again for presents, and then parents came and almost everyone left. The few that remained watched the new Pink Panther movie, the one with Steve Martin in it, and ate pizza and Welsh cakes. It took me two days to recover, but I’m getting old.

In conclusion, I think the idea wasn’t too old for them, but there were certainly ways I could have made it go better, more smoothly, and involved them a little more.

Too bad I’m never giving another birthday party ever.

March 2008

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