The Artist

I don’t know what sort of child I thought I’d get, but I figured she would be a regular child. Sort of good at lots of things, sort of interested in lots of things, sort of unremarkable in all those things. After all, I was that child – smart but not a scholarship winner, a strong swimmer but not olympic quality, a good enough writer but not a prodigy. My parents encouraged me to play the piano (mediocre) and go to ballet lessons (I’m more elephant than gazelle). They said my writing was strange and they didn’t come to swim meets. I was a regular child who was regular at things and I don’t feel badly about it.

RR is not a regular child. She is okay at many things and she’s moderately interested in lots of other things. Mostly, she is a talented artist. Very talented. She’s not nine yet (as if that were a magic number) and she’s in an oil painting class for the first time. She’s rolling out painting after painting. Every week I’m increasingly struck by her talent.

Let me reiterate, she’s eight. I haven’t done anything in my life as well as RR paints. It’s possible she’s mediocre and my parental blindness can’t see it but I’m pretty sure she has something special.

I don’t know how to nurture this except to keep her in art lessons. This wiggly, mischievous, scamp (she’s the very definition) is perfectly happy to paint in silence for two hours every Sunday, to endlessly practice digital drawing, and to perfect a parade of novel My Little Pony characters in her room on scraps of paper. And, of course, I stand in awe when she’s not looking.

And You Get A Trophy, And You Get a Trophy…

I have opinions about participation trophies. Not that I’d begrudge a kid a little trophy for showing up, I just haven’t particularly supported that approach as a way to motivate or reward them. You know the arguments – hard work is the reward, they won’t value real trophies, it dilutes the work of the kids who deserved them, etc. As with everything parenting though, everyone has an opinion and everyone is right.

RR received a trophy for swimming this summer. She had just barely graduated past Flailing and Sinking when we signed her up. We didn’t put sign her up for meets at the start since it wasn’t at all clear she’d survive the experience. Thank goodness for lifeguards. I was also concerned that swimming would go the way of soccer where we spent most of our time watching her pick flowers and pass the ball to friends who hadn’t had a turn yet, her team or not. Or perhaps ballet, where she spent her time gazing in the mirror. I wasn’t at all confident this would be a success.

But she liked it. RR, who spends a lot of time being neutral about things, actually liked swimming. So we signed her up for swim meets. And she liked those too, once she got over the disappointment of it not being a swim meat.

RR: Mama, what kind of meat will it be?
Me: A swimming compitition, where you race the people next to you.
RR: Yes, but what kind of meat will they put in the pool? Pork? I’m hoping for pork.
Me: …

She wasn’t good at swimming and she didn’t win a thing. In fact, she mostly kept other little girls from coming in last. But she went to practice everyday. She tried hard. She coped with the weekly disappointment of not getting a ribbon and of not coming close to winning, even in the slowest heats. She has even been enthusiastic about the idea of continuing over the winter.

This weekend we had the awards ceremony for the close of the season. The look on RR’s face when they called her up was priceless. She was amazed and shocked and grateful and overwhelmed. She kept holding it above her head as all the kids came to the front, bouncing with excitement. She high-fived her friends (RR has friends!). She was breathless when she came to the back to show us. I had no idea that a participation trophy could make such a big impact on a tiny person. She was so proud of herself and it was clear – that little gold swimmer packed more motivation to try harder and get better and go faster than anything anyone could have said to her.

So here’s to yet another milestone: participation on a team and motivation to do it again.

Welcome Fairies

RR loves a fairy. I suppose it’s only fair here to note that I still believe in fairies because life is magical and just because I haven’t seen them doesn’t mean they aren’t out there somewhere. That’s fine. You can still like me for my other qualities. Don’t let fairies come between us. Camp is teaching RR lots of things, things I wish they hadn’t, things I wish I’d thought to teach her first, and things I’m hope to hope Montessori knocks clean out of her.

Fairies though, that’s fine. And so when she came home from what must have been a particularly delightful art session (only so noted because it’s the only thing she’s ever talked about enjoying. once.), and said that all you have to do to get a fairy to move in is:
make a fairy a welcome mat
close your eyes
cross your fingers
say “I wish a fairy lived here” three timesI sincerely hope that such a pattern can’t be used on all magical things because I sort of superstitiously quiver to think you can just invite…things… in. Again, we can still be friends, you and I, even though I am admittedly a bit to the left of just-like-you.

And so RR rushed to make a welcome mat, and I’d like to say for the record that it was my wife who indulged her in this endeavor, did the requisite crossing and muttering, and dictated a note just to be perfectly clear to future fairy residents that they were quite welcome.

And so I drew her a tiny door. Because wouldn’t you?


She was over-the-moon delighted. Since she hadn’t seen the fairy she commented that it must be coming at night and, since it was on the wall adjacent to the yard, it must be a Nocturnal Mushroom Fairy. No artistic rendering of the fairy is available at this time. And wouldn’t you know, a giant toadstool grew out of the yard not too many days after, just across from the tiny door where the tiny Nocturnal Mushroom Fairy comes and goes. I’ll let you imagine just what happened when RR saw that.




Yesterday, my daughter skidded her scooter to a stop next to me and said, “Mama, I gave myself a nickname.” I, of course because that is the best, said, “Oh? What is it?”

“I call myself RR the Explorer!” she announced. If she could have leaned on some reverb, I assure you she would have.

I melted then. I want this small person to be curious and a discoverer and investigate, but all too often it seems that she takes the status quo and settles comfortably into it.

There’s a dinosaur in the dining room, you say? Please give it some breakfast, too.
Hmmm. For some reason my room is blue instead of yellow. Well, that’ll do. Or even,
I’m really unhappy with the choices you gave me but since those are the choices, oh well.

When she was small she used to yell at us  THOSE ARE NOT MY CHOICES! but apparently we’ve either learned to offer the correct choices or she’s becoming complacent. In fact, at mealtimes when offered any sort of choice, she usually says “surprise me!” It’s sometimes exasperating to constantly watch her opt out of making a decision but I console myself with the fact that she accepts whatever you give her so at least she’s not picky about her surprises. This nickname though, it’s an excellent development.

Also, can I add that my daughter was riding a scooter? Because, you guys, that child can do a cartwheel off of a balance beam but she can’t ride anything with wheels. God forbid you ask her to pedal. It’s like you’ve asked her to put each of her markers into the fire one by one. A scooter! We’ve reached the big time!

And Now We Are Six


She is turning six tomorrow.


Also, you know how you think, oh, I wonder what she will look like when she’s older? Pretty much exactly like this. So I’m still wondering what she’ll look like at 15, 20, 50 but I’m thinking much of that little person is here to stay.


But now, she does this:


And this:


And this:


In fact, she mostly does that.

So six it is. There are a few things I thought she’d be doing at six that she still isn’t (riding a bike, asking where babies come from) but lots of things that I never really internalized would happen someday (making up jokes, reading, actually reading, asking about death and dying). She’s nervous about first grade, she bites her nails, her best friend is Meemo, the bunny she has slept with her whole life, she wants a scooter and a light up mermaid for the bath for her birthday (check and check), she can flip over the bar in gymnastics and do cartwheels, she is as kind as she is beautiful.

Debra and I still get frustrated that she has accidents and that we can’t save her from them. We hope she will grow out of it. This year will be hard. She will probably lose some of her pets and her grandfather. She will have a new school, friends, and teachers. She will encounter big girl expectations and consequences. She will find she can’t always bat her eyelashes to get out of them. She will face the pedals on a  bike and overcome them.

But she will also make it through a whole week and realize she hasn’t had an accident (please let this be true) and she will find that her remarkable empathy, coping skills, and deep personal relationships with adults and children will hold her up when I’m too mired in grief to truly help her. She will swim to the other side of the pool and laugh in triumph as she bobs in the water. She will read a whole book to herself in her room and open a secret world neither Debra nor I are privy to. She will find independence she didn’t know she had and successfully push for more. She will relish six, fully and completely. She will bask in its opportunity.

So happy birthday, baby. Welcome to a new world.



Grounding Our Fairy

RR has a lot of things going for her. She’s everyone’s friend, she charms adults, she got a fair shake in the genetic lottery, she’s strong and fast and coordinated, she reads and writes, she’s funny, really funny, she’s thoughtful and kind, she draws like an artist.

She still isn’t fully potty trained. She walks on her toes.

So far we’ve gotten by on the doctors’ assurances that:
1) There are no sensory issues.
2) Many kids struggle with toilet training through 5.
3) Her toe walking will abate.

Our wonderful doctor once wrote:
“Given how utterly fabulous, active, creative and intelligent RR is I do not believe that her tippytoeness is indicative of anything other than her wings not being fully developed yet. Fairy wings don’t typically develop fully until the age of 7, and she is just compensating because she is ready to fly NOW.  I would only pay attention if you see her leave the ground, and then only to make sure she doesn’t take flight before she’s mastered it fully and can do so safely.”

You guys. Do you not just love her?

But in a visit today we talked about the two issues combined and tried to zero in on what might be causing them and whether they are related. She thought that a visit to a developmental pediatrician might shed some light. Debra and I have been cautiously watching the (lack of) development in these areas and with a new camp and new school coming, I’d like to make sure we’re doing everything we can to ensure her body supports her development rather than hinders it. Still though. I hoped it wouldn’t come to this point.

It’s unlikely we’ll get in quickly so there’s no point in worrying now. I’m hopeful that they can help bring her back to earth and more hopeful that another doctor will have a breakthrough suggestion on eliminating accidents. And, of course, that nothing else needs attention.


Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, and…Roosebelt

You guys, I’m off being an adult by myself in an airport. I spent a lot of time in airports in my 20s – enough that I still have that layover mentality. Where is a window? Where can I stretch my legs? When to seize the outlet opportunity? Fast forward and I’m usually with my charming child who has had explosive diarrhea, licked windows and tile floors, and danced on moving sidewalks perilously close to the end in more than one airport. I’ve been that parent that makes other travelers cringe. It’s okay, I paid my dues back in 1999 on a 14-hour flight to South Africa when a toddler dumped a bottle of lavender oil down my chest.

I do miss my family though, even though I’ve barely left. They are fun, yes, but I admit that I rely too much on my wife to be an anxiety cushion. I let my independence go too much, perhaps, so this is an excellent lesson that I’m actually LESS anxious without them and so I can certainly try harder to be less anxious WITH them. I’m capable, is what I’m saying. At least in the contained environment of an airport where the default is that the unexpected is, well, expected.

So I miss them but I don’t miss the routine of the morning. RR is in a Surprise Me stage (did your children do this?). She’d like every snack to be a surprise. She’d like you to pick out her outfits to surprise her. She’d like you to do something silly, charm her, make-up a new song, do some disco moves while buttering toast. She doesn’t need entertainment. She’s looking for a good time. She IS a good time.

When we aren’t living a life of constant delight and variety, she’s off working by herself. I’ve noticed that she breaks out into vigorous humming every time she hits her groove. You can always tell that she’s immensely satisfied to be focused on a task, whether it’s drawing a new picture or putting away her laundry. She hums when you ask her to help unload the dishwasher. She hums while putting on tights. She hums when she’s dusting. To be fair, she particularly loves to dust. She asked me if she could just dust a little more last week.

Last night, she and my wife investigated pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. How much is each worth, what do they look like, whose face is on each coin. Once establishing everything there is to know about each coin, they laid one of each on the table and Debra grabbed a little doll from the donate pile (see: Toys My Daughter Has Never Played With Except Now When We’re Giving Them Away) and charged her six cents for it. RR started humming faster than you can say “Roose-belt” (gracing the dime). She produced the other 4 members of the family and paid Debra over and over – 26 cents, ten cents, 15 cents, 30 cents, 11 cents, and so forth.

I assume she has learned this at school (math, Roosebelt, the fact that the dime is “small like Pluto which used to be a planet but they decided it isn’t because it’s so itty bitty”) and I love it when the Iron Curtain drops long enough for me to get a glimpse into her mind. The Iron Curtain is an entirely different post.


It feels like we’re so very far away from the days of wondering whether or not she’s sitting up on schedule, or when teething would begin (or end already for god’s sake); waiting for her to talk, to eat solid food, or for her hair to grow in (and we waited, and waited); checking off the first steps*, first somersault, first swim. Now one milestone bleeds into the next with far less anticipation or comment.

Oh look, honey, she’s showering alone!
Did you hear? She just sang that whole song and she only heard it once!
Shh, listen, she’s telling a story to herself!

I suppose I could feel guilty that we don’t chronicle milestones anymore. We notice. We even marvel. But the accomplishments come so quickly and we’re self-conscious about making her self-conscious so we mostly keep our amazement and wonder to ourselves. But I can tell you guys, because come on, it’s either that or cancer.

We recently finished Marvel’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, the original Oz story told in graphic novel form. I wasn’t sure she was up for the grown-up language but she paid rapt attention. Emboldened, I decided to take on a book without many pictures – Neil Gaiman’s Fortunately, The Milk. She got through it, but wasn’t bowled over. Which she should have been. BECAUSE IT’S AWESOME. I decided to dare Alice in Wonderland. Our version, which was my mother’s, is falling apart, is daunting to look at since it includes Through the Looking Glass, and has only a few line drawings. Surprisingly, she has stuck with it even though Alice is kind of a pain in the ass.

I read Alice in Wonderland to her while Debra was still pregnant. I rested my head on Debra’s belly and RR kicked me each time I repeated “Who are you?” My baby is old enough to understand Alice in Wonderland. My baby!

Tonight she hit two more milestones. She stormed away from the dinner table shouting, “AND I’M NEVER HAVING SUPPER WITH YOU AGAIN!” and, while we did take it seriously, it was a teensy bit amusing to hear her try to leverage her delightful presence at the table in order to get a popsicle instead of pot roast. She also took a scissors to her own hair. Fortunately, she’s so proud of herself when she does something new independently, that she cut one piece and immediately went to find Debra and show off her new skills. Even more fortunately, she cut a lovely face-framing piece rather than shearing a clump off at the scalp.

Tonight she read Where is the Green Sheep to me. She got it. She gets the concept of the silent e and how it changes the vowel before it. She’s reading. And this milestone, like so many of the others, sidled up on me and slid right past. She has been reading, hasn’t she?

I remember sending her to daycare and thinking (okay, sobbing) that I was going to miss her first rolling over, first crawl, first everything. But the milestones are so fast and furious that all I’ve ever been able to do is hold on tight and watch. It turns out, I haven’t missed a thing.


*how on earth did I not write about first steps? Oh that’s right because 2011 kicked my ass.


RR and the Spider

We don’t get to hear much from RR about her school day. Sometimes we trick her by saying that we know she did X today and she’ll pipe up that she, ACTUWALLY, MAMA, did Y. She’s no fool, though, and we can only get away with that particular ploy every so often.

Yesterday we found a large spider doing some serious spidering on one of our bushes. She was cleaning up her web, folding it up and tucking it away and we stood and watched, late for everything. RR jostled around, trying to get closer, both fascinated and cautious. I’ve never seen a spider so industriously working before. So fast. You got the sense that she could spring out and spider you and you would open your mouth to scream and you’d be all webby.

barn spider

Since we’ve been doing a lot of talking about barn spiders. We encouraged RR to check out the spider book at school and this evening at supper the words came spilling out. “And I looked in the books and there were five different books and we found the BARN SPIDER and the spider was so pretty and fuzzy her whole head was fuzzy! and then I did a picture of her and Callie and I talked about her and them I wrote a story about her and she has eight legs one two three four five six seven eight!”

Let there be no doubt that my child’s kindergarten experience is perfect for her so far. From being able to take 10 minutes to watch a spider taking in her web before school, to having a teacher who encourages curiosity and investigation, to the resources to draw and write about her discoveries. She is very lucky. We are very lucky. The barn spider is very lucky… that it didn’t try to spider me.

First Day of School

Here’s your first day of school picture: wild hair, a dimple to spare and a fat lip, running in a white sundress at breakneck speed to the car and then headlong into kindergarten. I’ll give up the front stoop shot in favor of watching her shed her pajamas in five seconds flat so that she can come with me on a morning walk. I tried to slip out quietly, heard a shuffle behind me, turned around and found the backend of a naked child bolting down the hall for her shoes. The dog was already waiting at the door.

I’ve been trying to capture a bit of peace of mind lately. Its a hunt, a chase, it’s rummaging and sifting. It’s turning over mossy rocks and flipping up corners of carpets. It’s dusting cobwebs from corners and scrubbing the sinks. It’s checking the mail two, three times before remembering I already brought it in, through the house, and left it on the deck in the rain. It’s eating a cupcake before supper and an eclair after. It’s trying to take a walk by myself. It’s reminding myself not to try to control anything and feeling like what I do is control everything.

Everything except the windblown, laughing, devil in the middle of the road with her feet planted wide and her face tipped up to the clouds. That’s a practice in self-control. Not to lecture, or scold. To keep my voice quiet when I warn of cars around curves. To take a deep breath when she rockets over uneven concrete and into the house out of my sight. To remember that she is five and not three or two or a baby.

A baby who fell asleep as I sang and rocked her this evening. One minute it was wide eyes and Winnie the Pooh and the next it was the quiet creak of the rocking chair and a heavy girl in my arms. The peace of mind I was looking for (at least for today) was in the place I would have tried to escape from as soon as possible. I assumed what I wanted was in solitude but it was tucked in with my daughter and her too small christmas pajamas.

Not bad for the first day of school.