Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In This Moment

Some days are hard. Sometimes, it's hard to be at peace in the moment. Some days, there's one meltdown after another. Some days, I'm exhausted and just want everyone to be quiet. 

Eno River
So often, in the grind of work and tending little ones and tending to a home and adults who need feeding, too, it's easy to get caught up in what isn't going right—no nap, not enough time for yourself, not enough time to do everything, no way to do anything with two cranky three-year-olds. And then there are other days, days when even though one kid doesn't nap and it's hot and I'm tired we somehow manage to putter along happily all afternoon. Those days, I'm living as much in the moment as my kids are. I'm able to feel contented with this moment, with this life, with this place. 

What happens when he's having a hard time sleeping.
Usually, that feeling of ease emerges when we're able to spend the afternoon oscillating between backyard and kitchen, when I'm able to accomplish something I need to do, but not under pressure to do it all. When I'm able to pay attention to what the boys need, able to be unruffled. The backyard is a naturally peaceful place, full of birds chirping, soothing breezes and an unending variety of creepy-crawly life. 

Checking out some worms.
I have a master plan to plant a bunch of stuff in the yard, which is at this moment a total blank slate. But a knee injury has had me sidelined since February, and while I'm almost all healed, I'm still not up for digging a bunch of grass up for hours every week. 

Yep. The whole yard looks just like this.
Still, dirt is good. Soil on your hands is grounding (ahem). I want to say something profound about how slowing down and working with the earth and watching plants grow makes me a better mom and a better person. But I've kind of said that already, before kids. So, I found a few pots at garage sales, and spray-painted an old file cabinet that our neighbor was giving away. The afternoons that we've spent loading dirt into pots, planting, and watering have been absolute bliss.

Not shown: sleeping brother.
We dug together, planted together, and now I look outside and can enjoy the sight of things growing.


Gardening with my kids is much less stressful than cooking with them. No matter how patient I try to be, I can only cook with the boys about once a week before I get frustrated with the legos in the batter and the hands in the raw meat. Outside, there isn't much harm they can do aside from too-vigorously separating root balls or overwatering. Outside, where nothing can break or spoil, not really, is heaven. 

Maybe it's their wonder at the green and growing world.
I am happy to make the shift from grass to garden one day at a time, to stretch out the hours my boys and I spend digging and patting and tending and exploring. I miss our old garden, but this new space gives us the infinite promise of tomorrow's work. We have plenty to do. 


Friday, April 11, 2014

DIY PVC Play Palace


We had an alarming number of snow days this year, our first winter on the East Coast as a family. From what we hear, the weather we've been enduring is unusual. But we still had to get through it one way or another. I am passionate about getting my kids outside, but only so long as I am also comfortable. And I'm not yet comfortable for more than around 30 minutes in the cold and snowy.



This combination of circumstances led to a huge number of hours spent holed up at home over the winter.

Fortunately, Pinterest came to the rescue. I found too many fort ideas, but then stumbled on this one. I thought, hey, I can do that! Except instead of a square, I wanted a rectangle that could fit over a toddler bed so two guys could play in it, and so the bed would still be available in case Dash ever wanted to sleep in it (short answer: no, he'll never want to sleep in it. It's a train/trash truck/rocket, not a bed).

Armstrong and Aldrin on their way to the moon.

So I modified the plan and measured three times and then I went out and bought materials. In a downpour. At a Home Depot where most of the power was out.

And then we tried to follow the directions. And it turns out that (as I look back at Pinterest and peruse more designs that somehow didn't come up in my earlier searches) all good plans require some extra pipe. Or these things, but I couldn't find any at Lowe's or Home Depot around here. So we built a roofless fort and put it over Dash's bed, with curtains along the sides to make it feel enclosed.

The guys played "Buster Keaton" for a couple days on it (somehow, I failed to take pictures). Then they demanded that we take it down.

Last Saturday, we stayed in all morning for no real reason. So we re-worked the design with pipe cutters and extra fittings.

This is what our corners now look like: a three-way, 90-degree joint connecting to a 90-degree joint turned on an angle to connect with the roof. Above, a three-way, angled joint forms the corner of the rectangle.

The complete skeleton.

Roof joint.

The beam that runs across the roof has to be a few inches longer than the beams on the long sides to accommodate for the extra pipe on the ends. We had a lot of pieces of pipe hanging around, so we just trimmed one to fit and used a spare connector to attach to the longer pipe.

With roof.

After we'd constructed it, we moved the palace where it belongs, on top of Dash's bed. Now the fellas retreat there regularly with flashlights and toys to play all sorts of games. Total success (except when they wake up at 3AM to play there).

Permanent home.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

It's Working.



I am not perfectly good at all the stuff I am constantly advocating for—mindful, positive parenting, being patient with my toddlers' dawdling, not getting upset when they do something I think is wrong, like hit each other. But I practice and practice and practice (thankfully we have a lot of chances to practice around here!).

This is something I say over and over: "You're disappointed/frustrated/upset. It's ok to let your feelings out. When you're done, we can talk about it. I'm right here. I will listen to you."

We've been struggling with naps for about 8 months now. Nick needs a nap; Dash sometimes doesn't—he tells me he's "having a hard time sleeping" and refuses to lie down, much less sleep. One of the pieces of advice we've gotten is that when the nap doesn't happen (or even if the kid in question doesn't hold the "quiet time" quietly), whatever outing we were planning on after nap can't happen. This is partly because the non-napper inevitably falls asleep in the car, thus creating havoc at bedtime and making for a very cranky kid when I wake him up after a 5-minute snooze. So we mostly stay at home or just go places where we can walk on days when naps don't happen.

What gets us through no-nap time? Smoothie and markers for D, coffee for me.
The other day, we were planning to go to the library after nap. I told Dash that if he didn't nap, we wouldn't be able to go because he'd fall asleep in the car and would be too cranky. He didn't nap. When Nick woke up from his nap, Dash asked if we were going to the library. Of course, I said, "no, you didn't nap." And he was furious. But I held the line, listened to his feelings, gave him space. He likes to stomp off into another room and cry in there; after months of trying to get him to let me hold him, I've learned to just go check in on him periodically. So I let him do his thing for a while. And then I checked in with him. He wasn't ready to talk. I checked in again. He said, "I'm crying right now." I checked in again. This time, our conversation went like this:

Me: How are you feeling now, Dashie?
Dash: I'm all done crying now. We didn't go to the library because I didn't nap.
Me: You feel better now?
Dash: Yes.
Me: We'll go to the library tomorrow.
Dash: Ye-eah! I want to play with trucks now!

It is so hard to listen to our kids cry when they don't get what they want. It is so worth it.

And yes, we went to the library the next day.