[narcissism, vanity, exhibitionism, ambition, vanity, vanity, vanity]


A Public Service Announcement by Jane

"Resicle! The Erth needs us. If you resicle your not just helping resicle your helping Trash Ilind. Do you wont anumles to be helthy or not? Think ubawt the anumles fish skwid and meny uthrs."

Yeah. What she said.



Guys and Dolls

I have grown mighty tired of books written for children. Magic Treehouse, I love you, but I just can't read any more saccharine escapist fantasies involving magic wands and wizards.

So MJ and I have switched Jane's bedtime reading to something edgier.

Damon Runyon's Omnibus, in fact.

This decision has not been without consequences.

Tonight, while we are eating dinner, MJ asks Jane about a new teacher at school. What's she like? Is she tall or short? Mean or nice? Old or young?

"I will give you a hint," Jane says, in a tone that I can only call Runyonesque. "She is not young."

And I realize that, in Runyon's sentences, "you moron" is the perpetual unspoken subordinate clause.


If I have all the tears that are shed on Broadway by guys in love, I will have enough salt water to start an opposition ocean to the Atlantic and Pacific, with enough left over to run the Great Salt Lake out of business. But I wish to say I never shed any of these tears personally, because I am never in love, and furthermore, barring a bad break, I never expect to be in love, for the way I look at it love is strictly the old phedinkus, and I tell the little guy as much. -- Damon Runyon



Reasons, Claims & Warrants

Jane is just out of the bath. MJ is braiding her hair.

"L and I have arguments at school," Jane says.

"Oh?" I worry about this. Arguments between first graders can be brutal. "What sorts of arguments?"

"Well, L says we have to do one thing, and I say we have to do another. And that is the argument."

"Hmm. That sounds more like a disagreement to me." Another teachable moment. I have already admitted my weakness for these things. "If you want to have an argument, you have to provide reasons for what you want. And reasons for those reasons."

Jane looks at me quizzically. "Reasons for the reasons?"

"Those are called warrants. Like right now, Daddy is braiding your hair. Why are you doing that, MJ?"

"So it doesn't get tangled while Jane sleeps."

"So that is your reason. But why," I press, "is that important? What is motivating your argument?"

"It will take ten minutes tomorrow morning to brush Jane's hair if it is not braided, and it will hurt. So we are saving time and aggravation."

"So those are your warrants."


Jane thinks it over. Then she burps.

"That," I say, trying not to giggle, "was unwarranted."

"No, it wasn't," Jane retorts. "I made you laugh, and when someone laughs, that is the end of the argument."

So there.



Enough Web 2.0!

"No more facings. Or bookings." -- Jane



Jane's First Thank You Note

"Dera mommy

"THANK you! for being my mothr. And your grat abilitys to kar for me"

Aw. Makes me smile, every day.



Jane Phones Home

Phone rings. Unknown caller.

"Hello?" I say.


A single syllable in a high-pitched voice that might be Jane's, or maybe not. I've never had a conversation with her on the phone that wasn't prefaced by some statement that let everyone know the score (e.g., "Jane, put down that cupcake/cowbell/kittycat for a minute and talk to your mother.")

In the ensuing silence, we both learn something about telephony. And the limits of maternal mind-reading.



Preliminaries established, there follows a conversation about a forgotten pair of swim goggles. Can txt be far behind?

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Should We Kiss?

Jane is playing with two paintbrushes. One is topped with a flat half-moon of bristles; the other is straight up and down. She brings them close, and closer.

"Should we kiss?"

There follows a silence in which my heart beats madly. And I am only overhearing this.

"I don't know. What do you think?"

"It will be okay."

"Oh, well. All right."




Compound Words

We are sitting around MJ's office and it's very exciting because he's just got home late from the train. Jane, who is up well past her bedtime, is explaining that today's reading lesson involved compound words.

She and I had discussed this earlier.

Beanbag, I said.

Weekend, she replied.

I thought we understood each other.

In the office, MJ says to Jane, "So, give me a compound word."

Beanbag, I think. Weekend.

"Batshit," she says, giving me a significant look. "Completely and totally batshit."



Ruder Ditty

It's dinner time, and we're talking about the rude ditties Jane learns from her friends at school.

"I made one up today," she says. "Want to hear it?"

"Sure," I say. I don't think I have much choice in the matter.

Jane sings: "Garbage is worth nothing til you give it away, give it away, give it away."

"Well, I guess that's fairly rude."


"POOP is worth nothing til you give it away, give it away, give it away..."




Jane's teacher asked her, What do you want to be when you grow up?

"A scientist," Jane said, "who paints pictures and writes about what she does."

She also plans to adopt a passel of children for me and MJ to raise ... but we shall not speak of that.

In other news, a fresh list is up at Metrotwin, celebrating NYC's annual sacres du printemps.

I love New York in June, how 'bout you?



The Littlest Astronomer

Tonight, Jane explained heliacal rising to me on our way out of the car.

"How do you know all this stuff?" I stammered, after picking my jaw up off the driveway.

"From myths," she says.

I doubt I could have provided such a succinct demonstration of the de Santillana-von Dechend thesis. Those old stories were more than just entertainment.



Blonde Ambitions

Jane assigns ambitions to her Barbie dolls and posts a sign:

"Tyty wd loyk
to be a mom.
Joy wd loyk
to thiic abawt it.
And the last wun
is a mar [mayor]."




Pulling into the driveway, MJ sideswipes a snowbank. From the back seat:




Because One Renovation Wasn't Enough

Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
With the help of a brilliant friend, today Jane and I made a gingerbread house.

I think this is the most ... normal ... thing I have ever done. "Normal" meaning: the sort of thing some people just do, and enjoy doing, as part of a certain tradition at a certain time of year.

It felt weird.

It was fun.

It might have felt weird because it was fun.

Then again, maybe not.

I was not, I hope, too obsessive about the roof tiles.

It tasted good, though.

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Some Good News

USA Book News selected Samuel Shem's THE SPIRIT OF THE PLACE (which I reviewed here) as the best book of 2008 in the general fiction category. Hooray! It's great to see a book get the attention it deserves. I'm also selfishly glad about this, because I loved the book, too, and it's nice to have one's passions confirmed. It is the sort of thing that makes crazy love seem not so crazy after all.

Sometimes I think publishing just is passion.


Another book on the list, First Snow in the Woods, which took first place in children's books, is on its way to my house as I type. At least from the marketing material, the book seems to fits with some (still vague and ill-formed) ideas I've had lately, about kids and nature, and overparenting as a form of neglect.

This has something to do with the development of a capacity to be "at home" while "away," to be at home in the world; and also, just as crucially, especially at mid-life, the capacity to feel like home can still be excitingly undiscovered territory. (This is harder than it sounds.)

The poet and animal trainer Vicki Hearne talks about the necessary and reciprocal and mutually enriching relationship that can obtain between "home" and "away," the quest and the hearth. It seems to me that one could make a good case for hothouse kids as one symptom of a larger, related poverty, a poverty of epic, in our ideas of the good life. More specifically, I mean a lack of resources that would help to make sense of perfectly ordinary but underappreciated qualities that one often finds in "unruly" or difficult-to-domesticate personalities, which is to say in people with affinities for epic, like sincere enthusiasm and largeness of heart and vulnerability to being impassioned.

Shem's novel has much to say about this as well, but in an more complicated way -- how sometimes leaving home can (alas) be pretty much the same as not leaving, and how sometimes coming back can precipitate a greater revolution of consciousness than going away.

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The Littlest Derridean Strikes Again

Today, Jane's teacher emailed to report Jane's first extended metaphor: "I'd like to marry a book. That way I could read my husband."

I don't know where to begin, really.

Taking no responsibility whatsoever, MJ bellowed: "YOU have reproduced."

At least he didn't say: You have been reissued. In a new, updated edition.

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Humility Is Another Big Word

In kindergarten, Jane learns a new fancy word every week. Last's week's word was hyperbole.

"That is a fancy word," I say, when Jane tells me about it. "What on earth does it mean?"

"Let me give you an example," Jane says. "'My parents are the best parents in the world.' That's an example of hyperbole."




Jane Sings in the Shower

I have a simple life....
I have a simple liiiiiiiife.
Come home, give momma a big hug, go upstairs and watch TV.
Have dinner, go upstairs and watch TV
Take a shower, go to bed.
I have a simple life.
You know I have a simple life.



Making Friends, According to Jane

Tonight, Jane told us this story: "Once upon a time, there was a red cat and a blue dog. They were neighbors. The cat was very afraid of the dog. So, one day, she climbed up the fence and peeked over it, at the dog. And then she dug a hole under the fence with her little claws. She ran through the hole and jumped on the dog, who was drinking a martini! He spilled his martini all over himself, and that's how they became friends. The end."

"Should Mommy blog that right now?"

"No. You should tell it to your psychotherapist."

"Mommy will blog that right now. Yes, yes, she will."



Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious

I am making dinner for Jane and talking at the same time, which is never a good combination. Sure enough, I say one thing and mean another. Jane calls me out on the error.

"I'm sorry, Jane. I misspoke."

Jane says, "You can say that again!"

I laugh. Jane repeats herself. Five times. After the fifth iteration, I say, "You know, Jane, a joke's not funny if you keep repeating it."

"Can you say that again?" she asks. The minx. Eyes like the sea, glittering.

"You're so funny," I say.

"Tell it to Dr. X," she says. Meaning, my psychotherapist.

I am living with the world's smallest Derridean.



We Do Good Breakfasts

This morning's breakfast conversation began with Jane's question: Why did we go to Iceland if we are not Icelandic?

From there followed a consideration of language, culture and history, culminating in readings from Layamon's Brut. We touched on the Norman Conquest, the Vikings, and why "medieval" does not mean purgatory or, "middle evil." We did not, alas, get to Dante. My wonderful professor Elizabeth Bryan would smile, and cringe -- in the funny way that she has, where she just does manage to do both at once -- at the damage done by the years to my pronunciation of Rather Olde English. Oh well. The point was not to impart information so much as simply to be enthusiastic. I love this kind of conversation, the sort that sends me running to the library, plucking books off the shelf. Making discoveries.

I may not be the world's greatest soccer mom, but all that time I spent in school has certain advantages. As a wise person once told me: Play to your strengths, y'all.

Aside: When Jane plays concentration and she flips the same card over and over, she says, "That card is my Waterloo." To which I can only say, yes, that's our kid.

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Molding Young Minds Before 9 AM

Jane's on a big Malvina Reynolds kick, which has opened the way for some interesting conversations. Take these lyrics, from "Little Boxes":

Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes all the same


And the people in the houses
All went to the university
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same

Jane likes this song a lot, but it confuses her, too. Obviously Malvina is not a big fan of "going to the university," but of course going to the university is something MJ and I hope that Jane will someday decide is a worthwhile thing to do.

So, this morning, it fell to me to explain.

"Conformity," I say, "is a bad thing. That when everyone has to do the same thing, say the same thing. That's what Malvina's getting at."

"Comformity," Jane says, in her irritated-at-her-stupid-mother tone.

It occurs to me that she knows exactly what she is doing.

"You got it in one, kiddo."



Everything I Know About Parenting...

...I learned from the Hobans' Frances books.

"How much allowance does Gloria [the new baby] get?"

"She is too little to have an allowance. Only big girls like you get an allowance. Isn't it nice to be a big sister?"

"May I have a penny to go along with my nickel, now that I am a big sister?"

"Yes," said Father. "Now your allowance will be six cents a week because you are a big sister."

"Thank you," said Frances. "I know a girl who gets seventeen cents a week. She gets three nickels and two pennies."

"Well," said Father, "it's time for bed now."

-- From A Baby Sister for Frances (1976)

(Mother is in the other room, giggling.)



The Language of Pingu

I note, with nervous amusement, that the language spoken by the characters in the Swiss claymation Pingu series is not babble -- that's merely what it sounds like -- but reflects a calculated decision on the part of Pingu's creators to make the show as distibution-friendly as possible. Pingu does not need to be translated.

Thus ... Pingu's Penguinese is a market-driven dream of a universal language. But when Jane listens to Pingu, she learns something else. If Pingu can speak his own language, which sounds like no other language on earth, then Jane is entitled to her own language, which she makes up as she goes along. (That's not so strange. How would YOU make up a language?) Unfortunately, I am required to converse with her in this new "Jane language," and alas, my linguistic talents are not up for it. She is happy to correct my mistakes, though.

Part of growing up is figuring out all the ways you might fit into a world that you didn't create and over which you have only limited control. Pingu is definitely not teaching any lessons in this regard. On the contrary! Pingu's creator, Silvio Mazzola, reflects on twenty years (!) of Pingu's development: "His adventures are still the same everyday stories and he has not learnt so much that he has had to change his character or his behaviour." In other words, Pingu is Pingu-Pan -- he never grows up. For that reason, he is infinitely merchandisable. Mazzola brags that "MIGROS, the largest retailer in Switzerland, has fallen in love with PINGU and is offering an incredible range of food and non-food products. Soon PINGU will be as famous as Swiss watches and Swiss cheese."

Well, there are some growing pains: "PINGU has reached a size that requires a lot of administration. The trademark has to be registered and protected, the partners have to be monitored, the proposed items have to be checked in a short space of time, the finance of the administration and the protection of the rights require high capacities." Hmm.

Later. Mazzola muses, "Perhaps PINGU will start to speak." By this, I think he means, perhaps Pingu will start to speak in a language someone else might understand. But frankly, I'm not optimistic. He reminds me of the wild boy of Aveyron. I hope Pingu is saving his money. He's going to need a lot of expensive psychotherapy.



Who's Dr. Pepper?

In line at the sandwich shop, Jane asks: "So, um, Mom?"


"Who's Dr. Pepper?"



Pictures in Her Head, & Mine

Early this morning, Jane stirs beside me. She is crying.

"What is it?"

"I had a bad dream!"

"Oh, dear... What happened?"

"I was dreaming of cats..."

That's funny, because I was dreaming of them, too.

"Me, too," I say. "They were doing funny things."

Which they were. In my dreams, cats always do funny things.

"My thoughts are pictures," Jane says.

"Yes," I tell her. "Mine are, too."

She turns over. Laughs. "That was a funny one!"

"One what?"

"Picture. The cat stuck her tongue out at me," she says, drifting back to sleep.



Working on Her SAT Vocabulary

In the rue de Vieille Temple, as I am gawping at the merchandise at the Marvelous Shoe Store, Jane says, "I bet you don't know what bats eat."

"No," I say absently, because I am converting euros to dollars and the result is incroyable. "What do they eat?"

"Mosquitoes, and other assorted insects."

"Oh! How useful. I love how you use the word 'assorted,' by the way."

"Thanks," Jane says. "I've been working on it for a while."

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Ma fille, avec biro.

Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
A cafe, a pen, a notebook. That's my kid, all right.

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A Different Time

Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Gryphon at Notre Dame: a suggestion of hell in stone.

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Tucked in an Alcove at the Hôtel de Ville

Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
The historian Jules Michelet, a guiding spirit. "There I walked, from age to age..."

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Popping Up

First Flower
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
The spring's first flower in the backyard. Jane is five years old today.

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Jane is wiggling.

"Go pee," MJ says.


"Jane, you are wiggling so much it is making me uncomfortable."

"Well, maybe you should go pee." Pause. "So I'll be more comfortable."

Oh, adolescence is going to be fun.




It's 7:30 AM. I'm in the middle of a pleasant dream, in which a cherished person grants me a wish.

Jane wakes me. She doesn't want to go to school. She wants to go out for breakfast, wants a pain au chocolat, wants above all for me to do this special thing with her.

Honestly, selfishly, I want to go back to my dream.

"Sure," I tell Jane, pushing myself out of bed. "Let's go."

I got a wish and gratified one. But this was not a two-party transaction. It was neither tit-for-tat, nor win-win, but something else entirely. A little like paying it forward.

Now the whole world seems wonderfully bewitched, pregnant with magic. My next book might just be possible after all, and today might be a great day to begin!

I should stop here. There's a nice aesthetic quality to this conclusion. But it's too neat. And it's untrue. The truth is, I immediately cast a rather liverish eye on my own exhilaration, telling myself that maybe it is just a fantasy of omnipotence fueled by my own grandiosity.

Or, what the heck, it could just be hope.

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The Lion and the Crown

[a story by Jane]

"Once upon a time there was a king who didn't have his crown, because one day a lion came and stole his crown while he was sleeping. The lion came for dinner. Because he was a very nice lion and he didn't have any food in his cupboard. And because he took the crown, he wanted it for his best friend, Tiger. And that's why the king was mad. But his dear wife did not know about it. You see, that's how it went in that castle. Until one day, someone came and took the queen's crown. And that someone was ... her sneaky friend, Sneaksnock. And Sneaksnock was a very sneaky tiger. Oh, that Sneaksock, he was sneaky. But then, he gave the crown back to the queen, and for a little money, she gave her husband to buy a new crown. And that's how it went in that castle. I don't know the rest. But I think it's time for the end of this story. THE END."




This morning, we were playing soccer in the backyard. Jane scored a goal, high-fived me, and then, curiously, stopped playing in order to stand under the apple tree.

"What are you doing, Jane?"

"I scored a goal. I'm waiting for my gold medal."



Not So Much A Name as a Function

When Jane needs something and neither of us is in sight, she calls out "Parents? Parents?"




"What do you want for breakfast?"



"What do you think you'll actually get for breakfast?"




On Our Own

Last night, it was just me & Jane, and we had the best time. We went out to eat early at a fancy restaurant where we had the usual: Jane had buttered cappellini, and I had tomato soup. Then we went to Whole Foods in search of marshmallows. At home, we impaled the marshmallows on chopsticks and roasting them over a candle. Then a friend stopped by, in desperate need of black Mary Janes, and Jane graciously offered hers. (Well, more or less graciously. I'm still really proud of her, though.) We watched TV until really late and then we went to bed.

And then, this morning, I caught Jane sitting on the floor of her room, writing in her diary.

"Whatcha writin?" I ask, and then regret it, because I don't want to be intrusive. But I have to say something...I'm so charmed to see her sitting there, lost in her own world, scribbling like you-know-who.... Could it be? Is she writing ... A poem? A novel? The Next Great American Novel? Is she, at this very moment, penning the Elusive Giant Squid of American Literature?

"D-O-G," she says, matter-of-factly. "Dog."

Oh. Yes. Gotta start somewhere.



Forget Monster.com

"Today I was the snack helper. We all voted and lots of people voted for me, so that's how I got that job."



"Grandma's scrambled eggs are delicious. Your eggs? Well, I don't know about your eggs."



Playing Princess

Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
"Want to play 'princess' with me?"

"Princess" is a dreadful game in which two plastic Disney Princesses say mean things to each other, do handstands, and change into different dresses. It is not so much a game as a ritual. Jane reserves the right to make all the rules, to change those rules when she likes, and to make up all the dialogue.

"Okay," I say.

She hands me Sleeping Beauty. "Now I am Cinderella, and you are Sleeping Beauty."

"Yes. I think Sleeping Beauty needs some coffee to wake up."

"NO! You say..." And Jane tells me what to say.

"Jane," I say, "if you are always telling me what to say, playing 'princess' is not very much fun."

She looks at me blankly.

"For me," I clarify. "Not much fun for me."

"But you are supposed to say..." And I get the same instructions again.

"Sleeping Beauty is sitting down," I say. "She is resisting your orders. I can't make her do anything."


"That's right. This princess is so stubborn, I can't believe it."


"She says she is engaging in a form of nonviolent protest against a despotic regime."

"Tell her to say..."

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Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Even at 7 AM, we are busy busy busy...


Stinging Caterpillar

Stinging Caterpillar
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
This morning's drawing. The caterpillar is walking on stones inscribed with words from "Jane Language." The drawing was inspired by pictures in an old entomology textbook that I found on the street in Brooklyn.


Drawn From Life

Drawn From Life
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Jane's rendition of the flowers on the table.


The Work Table

The Work Table
Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
The flowers were a big win.


Mama-School, Day Three


The idea of writing before Jane wakes up and after she goes to sleep is proving untenable.

Not writing, I am a grumpy terrible person. I am pretty sure this is not simple cussedness on my part. I understand the world through writing things down. It is like living in a dense fog, not having the time or opportunity to put things into words. My head hurts from the effort of not writing. Even as I write this, the phone rings with some inessential communication. I only have a few more minutes before Jane gets bored with what she's doing and needs me to redirect her (more on this below). Gah.

We could homeschool her if it came to that. But I would need a cook, a housekeeper, and an IT person on call (my printer is on the blink, I don't have time to fix it, and that is another source of blockage, not being able to move things from screen to paper, where I can revise them).

I also need an hour sometime during the day, just to bathe and take care of personal stuff.

MJ is traveling, which makes this whole experience much more demanding than it would be otherwise.

Some other thoughts, scribbled down randomly:

- I did not include enough down time in my plan. Jane is napping two hours solid (hooray) every day, but she requires 45 minutes just to settle down and by the end of that process, I am exhausted. It is worth it, though, because she is much less whiny and difficult in the evenings, and physically much less uncoordinated as well. Which translates into better safety, because she's less likely to stumble, for instance, on the stairs.

- I did not include time for reflection in my plan, either. I should have.

- Bedtime is still a major battle.

- Rigidity. When she starts to get bored, her play becomes very rigid -- she sings the same nonsense over and over, increasing the volume each time, until someone (me) has to intervene. ("No shouting, please.") Staving off the boredom = noting and naming it ("You seem bored") and redirecting her or (more recently) encouraging her to redirect herself ("what do you want to do next?") Lesson: annoying behavior = boredom and stuckness, not being able to figure out what to do next, how to go on. There is a language aspect to this, on some level, too (Wittgenstein). Want to think about it more.

- Whining, much improved.

- Still need to work on awareness of other people. She gives me orders ("make breakfast, make me a cup of tea") and then, as I am working on this stuff, she demands my attention for something else. I want her to understand that people cannot be expected to do more than one thing at once. There's a lot to this: turn-taking, patience, self-control. Also observation -- when is this person's attention going to be available? What is the best time to "interrupt"?



Mama-School, Day One: Science

"What do you want to do this afternoon, Jane?"


Oh. Hmm.

"Let's pretend to be scientists," she says.

"Okay. Are we in our lab?"

"Yes. We're having our coffee."

She is closer to reality than she thinks.

"What are we doing now?"

"We're mixing colors. Red and white makes pink. Red and blue makes purple."

This goes on for a while. Mixing, talking about colors. There is a pause when we exhaust the combinations we know about.

"Jane, what is science?"

"Science is when you mix things up and you don't know what's going to happen."

"Oh. So, what's not science?"

"When you mix things up, and you do know."


Mama-School, Day One: Anthropomorphic

"You be the mama kitty."

"Okay. I'm the mama kitty. Meow!"

"I'll be the baby kitty. Meow!"

This goes on for a while. Then: "You're an anthropomorphic kitty."

"What does that mean?"

"You're a kitty shaped like a person."

"What if I were a person shaped like a kitty?"



Mama-School, Day One: The Animated Alphabet

I give Jane a Sharpie and some paper.

"I'm going to write my name," she says.
"It doesn't matter if you don't do it right." Implicit in her tone: Does it?
"No, it doesn't."


"Want to see some funny letters?" I grab a copy of The Animated Alphabet. She loves the letters shaped like animals. Something clicks, and suddenly her letters are covered with embellishments, and she's good for at least an hour, scribbling away, making up stories about her letters, which turn into tigers, which turn into letters again.

Need to find some alphabet soup for lunch. And animal crackers. Put them in the soup...



How to Catch a Glimpse of the Perseids

A how-to guide. Doesn't sound hard.



This schedule might work:

6-8: Writing time for DG

8-8:15: Outdoor karate time
8:15-8:45: Breakfast
8:45-9: Clean up
9-9:30 or 9:45 Free play
9:45-10: Snack
10-11:30: Two 45-minute structured activities (art, patterns, cooking etc) OR field trip
11:30-12: Lunch
12-12:30: Reading time
12:30-1:30 Nap, quiet time
1:30-1:45 Snack
1:45-2:30 Free play
2:30-3:30 Playground
3:30-5 Play date, unstructured play, whatever

5-6: Dinner (probably take-out)
6-9: Bedtime (writing time for DG)

If I can actually write in the mornings and evenings, this could work. Cooking and cleaning will definitely fall by the wayside for two weeks. On Tuesdays & Thursdays, I need an hour and half to visit my mother. So, things to think about...


Two-Week Homeschool Experiment (Notes)

Jane will be home -- no camp -- for two weeks starting the week after next.

Having her home should be okay. I think she needs the break. It has been a crazy summer -- there were the vandals, then the clean-up, the move, and a problem at camp that resulted in her being switched into a group of older kids, which was good for her in the way that challenges are generally good for people, but also, well, a challenge.

I noticed her development slip back a little this summer, though it has surged ahead in the last couple of days. This is her normal pattern -- a little regression, then a big leap. This time, the regression was social and physical: she was more like her three-year-old self, wiggling and whining. Then something consolidated, and now she talks, acts, and moves like a patient, self-aware six-year-old. Which isn't bad for a kid who's four. So, that's all good.

Now that the social and physical glitches have worked themselves out, perhaps it's a good time to work on the cognitive stuff. Strengthening her reading skills; playing math games; and especially broadening her vocabulary. She is hungry for new words -- yesterday's was "annelid" -- and very interested in dictionaries. She likes looking up words in French and practicing Chinese phrases in preparation for our trip to Beijing in the fall.

The keys to making these two weeks work, I think, are: learning by doing, lots of practical stuff. Keeping sessions short and switching activities a lot. And building in a lot of unstructured time where she can choose among different activities.

She likes to paint ceramic pots, so I think we'll do some of that, & experiment with ways to fix the paint (glazes). There's a throw-your-own pottery store not too far away... Maybe we could paint some Chinese ideograms on the pots...

She likes to dig in the dirt. Maybe we can do a little backyard archaeology, coupled with a trip to the recycling facility...

I want to take her back to the natural history museum, where there's a glass-enclosed Langstroth hive that might spark some ideas about nonverbal communication (the glass sides of the hive make it possible to watch the bees waggle dancing).

A bookmaking project would be fun. Printing with stamps, maybe even carving out potatoes to make our own stamps; binding with whatever we have -- elastic bands and twigs, maybe. (A nature book!)

Cooking: homemade bread, ice cream. Projects with lots of measuring, pouring, mixing, dynamic ingredients (yeast) and state changes (freezing).

Computer skills and pattern-matching: Isermann's magic carpet game.

Photography: Jane likes taking Polaroid pictures and she's amassing a large collection of snaps. We need to make an album -- maybe out of recycled material, using hand-binding techniques ...

More pattern play: Jane really likes Colorforms. We've been talking about Mondrian and thinking about what makes his work so special. We could play with tesserae, too.

Field trips: natural history museum, recycling facility, RISD museum, Ladd Observatory (it is Perseid season), the make-your-own pottery studio down the street...

Free-play activities that she could choose from: more colorforms, dress-up, "writing corner" (paper, markers, tape, scissors), blocks, playmobils, water play outside (mud pies, etc).

Physical stuff: trips to the playground (of course) and maybe MJ will take a little time each day to teach her some karate. She's big enough now.

And, of course, reading time and quiet time and lunch and snack and nap...



Hand-Washing Haiku

preschooler wash hands
river rushes into sink
leaves puddle on floor


We Requested a Carrot with Dinner

"I feel like a rabbit," she said, waving the carrot over her head, and it was almost as if someone had been eating the carrot very slowly, all the while holding forth on: carrots, the length and width and straightness thereof; the question of whether rabbits eat broccoli as well as carrots; whether carrots are useful in dancing, or as an interview tool thrust in somebody's face; dancing at the table, which is expressly against the rules; dipping carrots into ketchup and writing on your hand; waving your arms around; the use of a carrot to dislodge something that has become stuck in your ear, or way up in your nose...



Tillie Olson's Reading List

In Silences, Tillie Olson lists a bunch of books by women writers, many of whom I hadn't heard of before. I decided to make a project of reading the whole list, starting with Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook and, with Jane, the Little House series by Laura Ingalls Wilder (which I had read before, many times, in my childhood). I'm going to blog about this reading now and then, and I've created a rather prosaic tag to keep track of those entries. The point, originally at least, was to read with an eye toward figuring out just what causes periods of silence (sometimes prolonged, sometimes permanent) in women writers especially. But I think I already know the answer -- childrearing, domestic responsibilities. There is more to it, though. I'm interested in articulating this "more" and fleshing it out, putting words and images to this vague feeling of foreboding that I have when it comes to sitting down with my own writing, especially lately. The other point is to expose Jane to these writers as early and often as possible, to normalize (if not erase?) the category of "woman writer," & eliminate the residual peculiarity that's still associated with it. My thoughts on this subject are irritatingly vague and unformed, though. All I can say is, bear with me. Maybe all this reading will change that somehow.

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That's My Kid, Yup

I am writing in my notebook at the kitchen table. Jane climbs into my lap.

"I like to watch you write," she says. "I catch the spirit of writing from it. I get the spirit of writing other things."

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Originally uploaded by quiet.eye.
Been growing these in the window since January. I'm glad I don't have to live on what I grow.

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My Daughter, aka "Greased Lightning"

Last day of a three-day weekend, 6 PM rolls around, and MJ and I are noodles.

Because, you know, there is no school on a three-day weekend. No eight-hour periods in which to do things that people who are not parents take totally for granted, like, say, completing a thought. Or a sentence, without being interrupted ("Why aren't you talking about me?")

Jane woke up this morning ready, as MJ put it, "to eat the bum off a bear." This was hysterical at 7 AM. Twelve wiggly, fidgety, whiny, and argumentative hours later, we are hysterical, and the joke is not so funny.

Now, bear in mind, we are not keeping this girl cooped up inside. She got two hours of playground time this morning and another hour or so of gardening in the afternoon, plus various walks down the street, etc.

Nevertheless, at 6 PM she is still bouncing off the walls. MJ suggests a trip to the track. Where our daughter, now known as Greased Lightning, runs three quarter-mile laps at full speed. Barefoot. And she still didn't fall asleep before 9 PM.

I need new running shoes.



Caterpillar Rash

Looks like I have to retract my skepticism about the caterpillar rash J mentioned yesterday. Turns out that caterpillar rash is real. I now also have confirmation of a prejudice of my own: "eating caterpillars may cause an upset stomach." Fortunately, even if one does contract a caterpillar rash, the prognosis is "generally very good, and death is exceedingly rare."



Thank God I Spent All That Time Teaching Logic & Rhetoric

"Caterpillars can give you a rash."


"Yes. Those black ones we saw the other day? They can give you a really bad rash."

"Oh." Pause while I grok this. This is not what I know about caterpillars. But what do I know about caterpillars?

What does anyone know?

"Um, who told you that caterpillars will give you a rash?"

"C did. At school."

Now we're in more familiar territory.

"Well, what does he know about caterpillars?"

"He knows they give you a nasty rash!"

"Well, that is what C told you. But how do you know he's right?"

J mulls it over.

"I know because I also think caterpillars give you a rash."

"A ha." This is a teachable moment and I shall seize it, come hell or high water or plagues of caterpillars. "So you share his belief about caterpillars. That is not the same as knowing. All it means is his belief confirms yours. What you share is a prejudice about caterpillars."

I am sure my look, at this point, is quite self-satisfied.

"Well," Jane says, "Actually."

Uh oh. "Yes?"

"C. said he knows this because he picked up a caterpillar and it gave him a rash."

And that's direct experience, which we all know can't be gainsaid. Gotcha.



Breakfast With Jane

I am one-third of the way through my first cup of coffee when Jane announces: "Cinderella isn't real."

"No. She's just a story."

"When I turn five, I want to visit Cinderella's castle."

When I hear "I want," I think: Run Default Child Deferral Module #244: "We'll see."

I don't think anymore. I just reflexively "parent." Jane calls this "mommying."

"But she's not real."

"Who's not real?" The coffee is slow to kick in this morning.


"Oh! Of course. I guess if she's not real, her castle isn't either."

"No." Jane twirls her hair. "That gives me an idea."


"It starts with Once upon a time..."

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Used Books Are Nice

Jane is flipping through my latest purchase, Roger Chartier's The Order of Books: Readers, Authors, and Libraries in Europe Between the 14th and 18th Centuries.

She points to a page on which the book's previous owner underlined a sentence in pencil. "There's writing in it."

"It's a used book," I tell her. "That's part of the charm."

"Used books are nice," she says after a moment. "They remind you of other people."

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My Funny French Tutor

"Mom, do you know what ma cherie means?"

"Of course not, ma cherie. What does it mean?"

"It means ... little cabbage."



Parents 2.0

Jane sings a complaining song:

My parents are great
But it's time for new parents
Like Grandma
And Grandpa...



Where The Wild Things Still Are

We threw a party this weekend for all of Jane's school friends because I was tired to meeting her classmates' parents in the parking lot after school and not having time to say anything other than a quick "Hello!"

Twelve kids in the house is a lot of kids -- and a lot of kid energy. They pull strings I didn't even know I had. I had the strangest dreams afterward, primitive and weird.

Like the man said, Wo Es war, soll Ich werden. Sooner or later, anyway.



My "Day"

1. Sometime in the AM: Husband removes self from bed, replaces self with kicking child.
2. Sometime later: My eye begins to itch.
3. Later still: I fall asleep.
4. 6 AM: MJ leaves for someplace. Child asleep in bed. Eye not so itchy. "Bye."
5. 8 AM: I wake up. Child is still asleep. We are late for school. Eye itching outrageously.
6. 8:05, child wakes up: "You have pinkeye, Mommy!" Indeed, I do.
7. Guess who still doesn't have a doctor.
8. 8:10 AM: I dribble Jane's old tobrimicin drops in my eye. Itching stops.
9. 8:15 AM: By mistake, I pour too much milk into Jane's pancake mix. Now there are pancakes for six, and no milk for coffee. Peering out the window, I notice there are two cars parking me in. I swallow my vitamins & anti-depressant, then I make an executive decision: We are not going to school today.
10. We do, however, need to get to the grocery store. Because there is no milk for coffee.
11. 9:15 AM: There are still two cars parking me in.
12. 10 AM: Jane finishes her breakfast. We are showered, dressed, and ready to go. The cars haven't moved. I park Jane in her car seat, leave the engine running, heat on, window cracked. Despite these precautions, I am sure the car will burst into flames or something while I am moving the two cars parking me in. I can't decide if this is a crazy thought or a normal one, probably because I still haven't had any coffee.
13. 10:05 AM: Cars are moved. We are ready to go. I put the car in reverse and...
14. 10:06 AM: Oops.

15. 10:15 AM: I am tempted to jump off the roof. Instead, I go back upstairs and get some tools

and then I employ an assistant

to help me "fix" the car, meaning "affix" the broken mirror to the car door with duct tape, like this

16. 10:45 AM: We finish our shopping with no new mishaps. That is, until I load the groceries into the trunk, whereupon I drop a cardboard box full of chocolate milk boxes onto the bag containing the bread. Now we have pitas.
17. 11:00 AM: Coffee break.

Day is not even half over yet. Excuse me while I put some more drops in my eye.

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Jane's Take On Homeland Security

Tonight, while MJ gives her a bath:

(coyly) "Dad?"


"Will you accept bags that don't belong to you?"

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Her Dress Matches Her Antibiotics

Amoxicillin is the new black. Pearls go with everything, of course.




MJ was in our only bathroom, and Jane needed to go. But since we are working on not shouting in the house, another means of communication was necessary.

She slipped it under the door. She is three years and ten months old today.



Jane Reassures Her Breakfast

Jane is putting syrup on her pancake. "The syrup is nothing to worry about," she says reassuringly. "Besides, you're a pancake!"


How To Ask For What You Want

Jane and Grandpa are having breakfast.

"Gimme some water," Jane says.

"Is that how you ask for what you want?"

Jane shakes her head. No.

"How do you ask for what you want?"

A pause.




School Time

I spent part of the morning working on a new short story. Another one from a child's point of view.

I was in this mode, thinking of kids and their views of the world, because I'd done a little reading at JJ's school (we read "A Present for Toot" by Holly Hobbie). Watching JJ and her classmates afterward, I was struck by the extreme polarity of school time. Either the time passes so quickly you don't notice it, or the day never seems to end. A feeling I remembered strongly from my own childhood, too.

The feeling changes quickly but it is always intense. JJ shifts from intense boredom to intense engagement to intense boredom again. But it is intense all day. No wonder JJ is so worn out in the afternoons.



Stories Without Words

From a review of new and recent children's books in the NYT:

"Wordless books, it turns out, have their own tyrannies. Take Good Dog, Carl, the realist Rottweiler version of The Cat in the Hat. It is a book of few words: 'Look after the baby, Carl. I'll be back shortly' at the start, and 'Good dog, Carl!' at the end. Liberating? No. The tale can be read only one way, and you have to fill in the narration yourself: Mommy is leaving the house. Oh, that dog and baby are making a huge mess. Uh-oh, Mommy will be home soon. Better clean up, Carl. There's Mommy!

"At one point Carl pushes the baby down a laundry chute. He has no choice. He must push the baby so that the plot can survive. As Roland Barthes wrote of another plot and another character in his book S/Z, 'the character's freedom is dominated by the discourse's instinct for preservation.' In other words, the show must go on..."

[Well, this reading is funny but it may not give enough credit to readers, especially those who aren't overly impressed by the forward motion of a strong narrative. Jane routinely makes all sorts of interventions in her books, interrupting the storyteller, inserting new words or making major editorial changes, e.g., all male characters must be changed to female. And she has lately discovered post-its, which have plenty of interesting possibilities... Later: MJ reminds me that Jane also has inserted her foot into an open book and insisted that the characters adapt to the change in the story ("What is this giant foot doing here?")]

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If I Bring These to Jane's School...

...will I win Mommy of the Year?

via Boing Boing, recipe from eGullet

"Finger" Cookies (use them for air quotes!)
makes ~ 5 dozen
Yield: 5 dozen
Please note, this is not a nut-free recipe!

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 egg
1 tsp almond extract
1 tsp vanilla
2 2/3 cups flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup whole blanched almonds
raspberry jelly

In bowl, beat together butter, sugar, egg, almond extract and vanilla. Stir dry ingredients together, then add to wet and stir thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Working with one quarter of the dough at a time and keeping remainder refrigerated, roll a scant tablespoon full (I used a 1 oz. cookie scoop) of dough into a thin log shape about 4" long for each cookie. Squeeze clost to center and close to one end to create knuckle shapes. Press almond firmly into the end of the cookie for nail. Using paring knife, make slashes in several places to form knuckle. You want them a bit thin and gangly looking, since they'll puff a little when you bake them.

Place on lightly greased baking sheets (or use silicone sheets or parchment); bake in 325F oven for 20-25 minutes or until pale golden. Let cool for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, melt jelly over low heat in a small saucepan.

Carefully lift almond off of each finger, spoon a tiny amount of jelly onto nail bed and press almond back in place so the jelly oozes out from underneath. You can also make slashes in the finger and fill them with "blood.

You can also form toes - just make the cookies shorter and a bit wider and only add one joint instead of two. No almonds for these, just indent where the nailbed should be and add a bit of melted jelly to highlight once they are baked.

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The Gashlycrumb Tinies

Jane wasn't herself today at pick-up. She whined and complained that I picked her up, instead of MJ ("I like Daddy so much better") and went on about how she thought I was okay, but she really did love Daddy so much more.

Oh dear. Well, over dinner, we discovered that it had been a rough day all around. Y did not share her toys, R ruined the afternoon walk, A couldn't button her jacket and no one would help her, L refused to wipe his bum at potty time.

He presented it with a length of string, and passed on to the statue of Corrupted Endeavor...

If you'd spent your day with these people, you'd be a little frazzled by the end of the day, too.