rivka: (Alex at five)
My favorite moment of the Halloween party technically came afterward, when the remaining kids were all running around outside and the remaining parents were relaxing.

Alex and her friend Benji came in and strode over to the bookshelf.

"Let's look in the dictionary," I heard her say. "We'll check in the I's."

"Alex, what are you doing?"

She looked up from the page that she and Benji were studying. Both of their faces were serious and intent. "I say it's invulnerable, but Benji says it's invincible."

...So they looked it up. I love so much that Alex has found friends like herself.
rivka: (Default)
In a fit of madness - it did make sense at the time, I swear - I told Alex a while back that she could throw a Halloween party in the new house. I thought I was being clever, because it would force us to unpack.

Now, tomorrow, we have sixteen (!!!) of Alex's closest friends showing up for some Halloween fun. Or possibly eighteen. Holy cow, guys.

I am freaking out about whether we'll have enough food. I'm serving cupcakes, pumpkin spice cookies (mostly intended for the parents; they're flavored for adult palates), white chocolate-covered frozen bananas made up to look like ghosts, "goblin fingers" (baby carrots with sliced almond "fingernails") and dip, green slime punch, and hot cider. I guess I can put out pretzels and a big bowl of apples, too? I didn't want to get the kids maxed out on sugary junk right before Halloween.



I have some party games, but I've never tried to run party games with SIXTEEN KIDS. And did I mention that thirteen of them are little boys? Not to be sexist.

I guess I don't need to worry anymore about homeschooling destroying all of Alex's opportunities for a social life, huh?
rivka: (Alex at five)
Six years ago today, my amazing daughter was born. As I cradled her tiny body that night, I remember how impossible it seemed, that such a perfect separate creature could have come from inside my body.

Yeah. I still find it kind of hard to believe.

a year of Alex, in pictures )
rivka: (books)
I know that there are some parents of early readers on my friends list ([livejournal.com profile] naomikritzer, [livejournal.com profile] wiredferret, [livejournal.com profile] kcobweb...) and also some librarians. And of course probably most of the people who read my LJ were early and omnivorous readers yourselves. I'm looking for some suggestions.

Alex's reading has taken off in a big way recently. (Most frequent phrase out of our mouths these days: "Put down the book and [wash your hands for dinner/brush your teeth/put your coat on/eat your lunch/etc. etc. etc.]")

She's got her own children's-easy-series books that she's tearing through independently and in a hurry: Magic Tree House, Disney Fairies, Secrets of Droon, et cetera. But she's also now capable of reading what I think of as "regular" chapter books: books which are just there to tell stories, instead of being explicitly constructed to have a limited vocabulary, simple sentence structures, and lots of repetition. For example, Toys Go Out and Toy Dance Party are current hits (and much recommended).

Here are the characteristics I'm looking for:
  • Good books of reasonable literary quality, at roughly a middle-elementary reading level. Toys Go Out is rated at a fourth-grade reading level, and it seemed to be about right. Something she might need a bit of help with is fine.

  • Either fiction or nonfiction is good. Alex particularly loves history.

  • Content appropriate for a five- or six-year-old. This means, on the one hand, an absence of long elevated descriptive passages, and on the other hand, an absence of socially realistic depictions of child abuse, romance as a main theme, scary violence, etc.

  • Not excessively focused on social conflicts between kids and the social milieu of school. Alex might read like an eight-year-old, but she is squarely five on a social level, and she just doesn't get books that focus on girls being catty to each other and school playground dynamics. Which a lot of contemporary books at this level seem to do.

Thanks for any suggestions you can give me! Books which aren't Important Children's Classics are particularly welcome, because I've already gotten a bunch of suggestions from lists that focus on that type of thing.

Edited to add an additional characteristic I'm looking for: Because Alex is a fairly new reader, I want to avoid heavy use of dialect ("Hit's an 'orse, guvnor!") and weird language use for now. We can deal with that sort of thing in read-alouds, though.

Also edited to compile a list of particularly likely suggestions:
Farley Mowatt: Owls in the Family, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be
Ransome: Swallows and Amazons
Grace Lin: Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
American Girls series
Joan Aiken: Arabel and Mortimer
Kate Di Camillo: The Tale of Despereaux
Michael Bond: Paddington Bear
Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle
Encyclopedia Brown
Clyde Robert Bulla historical fiction
Astrid Lindgren: Children of Noisy Village
Mordecai Richler: Jacob Two Two
rivka: (alex & colin)
We had the kids' pictures taken for Christmas. They turned out really well.

get ready for the magnificence to blind you... )
rivka: (books)
I'm reading A Little Princess to Alex right now. If you don't know the book, the rest of this post won't make any sense to you, but I feel compelled to post it anyway.

Apparently, at some point in the past I gave Alex a brief plot synopsis of the whole book so that she could decide whether or not it was too sad to read. It's the only thing that kept her going through today's chapter, "The Diamond Mines Again," in which Sara is orphaned and impoverished in one stroke.

She sniffled a little as she leaned against my side. Then she looked up at me trustingly. "Mom? When Sara's father's friends come to find her in the end, do they kill Miss Minchin?"

...It occurs to me that she may not feel that my promise of a happy ending holds up.
rivka: (for god's sake)
How could I forget the cardinal rule of children's literature:

The beloved pet always dies in the end.

In my defense, I would never have dreamed that that trope started as early as the I Can Read series. But it does.

Alex sobbed. "Why would they WRITE a children's book like that?" she demanded. Um. Not sure. In middle grades novels, the dog dies to symbolize the lost innocence of childhood. But I-Can-Read books are for little kids.

Worst. Mother. Ever.
rivka: (travel)
So I went camping with the kids this weekend. And survived! It was fun. Read more... )
rivka: (Alex the queen)
Happy birthday to Alexandra Calvert Wald. Today you are five.

the now-traditional birthday photo montage post )

Five seems like such a significant birthday. It's a real kid age. There's nothing of the baby left at five.
rivka: (Alex the queen)
I have my flaws, but sometimes I think I get the mom thing right.


Alex is having a Fairy Tale Princess birthday party this afternoon.

Five or six friends will be coming over dressed in their finest princess gear. Michael and I are also dressing up in costume as the King and Queen.

I got plastic wine glasses at the party store, which the children will decorate with stick-on jewels (I decided to go for "easy" rather than "permanent") to make themselves royal goblets. We're also planning to play three games: The Cinderella Relay, in which one shoe from each kid is piled in the center of the floor and in relay teams the kids run to the middle, find their shoe, put it on, and race back to their team; Musical Sleeping Beauty, which is just like musical chairs except that instead of chairs there are beds made from baby blankets, and when the music stops the kids need to find a spot to fall asleep for a hundred years; and The Queen Says, which is a royal version of Simon Says.

Alex has been watching out the front window for her friends since right after breakfast.


Apr. 4th, 2010 05:27 pm
rivka: (motherhood)
I am crazy exhausted and overwrought.

Something is up with Colin. He hasn't been eating much and has been sleeping like an amphetamine addict on payday. Last night he went to sleep promptly at bedtime, and then was up mostly screaming from 10:30-11:30. I still haven't the faintest idea what was wrong. He was just miserable.

He is still going strong with the night waking. I am going to have to come up with some sort of plan for nightweaning and/or sleep reprogramming, because This Is Not Working for me.

Also, he figured out how to take the childproof cap off a pill bottle. Fortunately we were all right there in the same room and he didn't get any of it in his mouth before we noticed that there was Claritin all over the floor. But WTF, if he's going to be this awful couldn't he at least be dumb so I have a chance to stay ahead of him?

He was up at 6:30 this morning. I'm supposed to get to sleep in on Sundays, but it was Easter and Alex woke right up excited about egg hunting so I had to get up or miss Easter.

Colin has been clearly exhausted all day. He went down for a nap at 9:45 and I said I would just miss church and stay home with him but then at 10:15 Alex decided to play the fool and run away from Michael, who was trying to get her dressed, and then she jumped out and yelled "Peekaboo!" at top volume right at the foot of the stairs leading to the baby's crib. And he woke up, and I couldn't get him back to sleep.

This is of a piece with Alex's general heedlessness and disobedience, lately. Friday night I said "anyone who isn't working needs to get out of the kitchen now." Alex: "But I'm working!" She kept on with what she was doing, which turned out to be trying to pick up a jar of baby food with my long-handled kitchen tongs. A glass jar. Guess what happened.

I know she's only (almost) five, but for God's sake why can't she just do what she's told for once without looking for goddamned loopholes?

Anyway, back to today: I missed most of church anyway because Colin was on the move, and too noisy for the sanctuary.

I tried twice this afternoon to get him down for a second nap. He is so, so tired. He almost drifts off, and then pick two of three: screams/bites/laughs, and he's up again.

I have no patience for either one of them, or for anything else in my life right now.

I keep thinking that surely more sugar will make me feel better. Surprise surprise, it isn't working. But I keep trying anyway because I am not very bright.

Michael took them out after the second failed afternoon nap attempt. They've been gone for an hour and a half. It's absolutely silent in the house. I am enjoying being quiet and not touched and responsible for no one too much to go to sleep. I am starting to regain some sanity.

ETA: Michael just came back. Colin fell asleep on their way home from the playground, just a few minutes ago. The parents here will know just how fucked a 5:30pm nap is going to make us. But he's basically unrousable.

I don't know. At least they're cute?


rivka: (alex & colin)
Things at work are... interesting. And so you guys get a post about my kids!

The Colin version: Michael is allergic to oranges, so we didn't let Colin try them until he was a year old. The other day I set out a snack for the kids to share: clementine segments and graham crackers. Colin was thrilled. I didn't realize quite how thrilled, until he toddled over with cheeks puffed out like a squirrel in November and, with difficulty, extracted two segments from his mouth and put them back on the plate. He still looked a little funny after that, so Michael made him open his mouth. Two more segments were still in there. At least he seemed to have those two under control. Michael urged him to chew and swallow, and Colin looked at him blankly: Why would anyone want to stop having oranges in their mouth?

Perhaps ten minutes after that, he came over and tugged at my sweater hem. I picked him up to nurse. It felt distinctly strange. So I unlatched him and poked my finger in... and tucked against his gum like a plug of chewing tobacco? One last orange segment.

"You can't nurse with food in your mouth," I told him, and put him down. I don't know which one of us was more surprised that I would make a rule like that.

The Alex version: Alex has two passions right now: Disney movies and the Middle Ages. Guess which one I am enjoying.

During the Snowpocalypse we started burning our way through Edward Eager novels, which have held up remarkably well considering their age. She loved Half Magic and liked Magic by the Lake, but Knight's Castle has woven together her love of Robin Hood and princesses and noblewomen and castles and magic in a very satisfying way.

One of the things I love about Eager is that the characters are so passionately devoted to stories. When I read Knight's Castle as a little girl it made me desperate to go out and find a copy of Ivanhoe. Alex, too. Fortunately I was able to find an excellent, illustrated, considerably abridged version to read to her. (Yes, yes, I know, abridged books are evil. Except that this one removes the anti-Semitism as well as the excessive wordiness, so I can't be anything but grateful.) Alex, probably like generations of little girls before her, admires the dashing Rebecca and can't imagine what Ivanhoe sees in Rowena. Me either. Maybe that part got left out of the abridgment.

Two other books I particularly recommend, if you are looking to either stoke or satisfy a child's love of all things medieval: Margaret Early's beautifully illustrated retelling of Robin Hood, and Castle Diary: The Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page - also vividly (and amusingly) illustrated. That one's a wee bit educational, but still very fun to read and examine the pictures. (Oh, yikes! Apparently they've taken most of the pictures out of the edition I linked to. If you look for this one, get a big illustrated version from the library.)

It's funny to see how factual bits of medieval history get woven together with fiction and with Ye Olde Disney Fairytale Past in Alex's mind. One minute she's defending some implausible detail because that's how it was done in Beauty and the Beast - and yet the next minute, she's correcting me for referring to Jasmine's home as a castle. ("Jasmine lived in a palace, Mom." "And what's the difference?" "A castle can be defended.")
rivka: (motherhood)
Alex came to the table tonight with navy blue marker all over her lips, eyelids, eyebrows, and finger and toenails. "Makeup," apparently.

We told her she could have dinner after she'd washed all the marker off. Michael helped her get set up with the water (which can be hard to turn on) and her stepstool and a hand mirror to check her progress, and then came downstairs to eat his dinner while it was hot. She cried when she heard us sing grace without her.

I went up after a while, because she was begging for help. Her hands were cleanish but no other progress had been made. It turned out that she hadn't been using soap on her face, so I made some suggestions and came back down to finish my dinner. When Michael and I had both finished eating, I went back up and washed the rest of her face for her. I really had to scrub her eyelids, which was unpleasant for both of us. They still have a bluish tinge. I explained to her that makeup is special because it can go on your face without hurting you, and that isn't the case for random coloring things.

When she was finally able to come down for her dinner, she was distraught to find that we had not waited for her, and that in fact, we were finished. How tragic to be asked to eat alone! She cried again.

She claims not to have had any idea that we would be upset that she colored all over her face with marker. Uh huh.
rivka: (Alex the queen)
They did a really nice job with Alex's haircut.

When we were talking about going to the salon, she said she wanted it really short, like to chin length. I suggested that we start with shoulder length, and promised her that she could go back to the salon to get it shorter if she wanted to later on. And sure enough, when she looked in the mirror after the cut she decided that it was plenty short.



I tried to take a picture of the, ah, partially-cut version for you guys, but the pictures didn't turn out. With hair as long as Alex's was, it's hard to get a good visual of one missing chunk.

But for comparison, this is how long it was:

rivka: (Alex the queen)
Okay, actually, upon sober reflection it's not as bad as all that.

She cut it at school. She didn't give herself a full "haircut" - she just took a big chunk out of the right-hand side, just below the shoulder. She claims that she was curious about what it would be like to have shorter hair, but I think it probably had more to do with the dangerous combination of scissors and poor impulse control.

It will have to be cut. But, you know, it was going to have to be cut at some point anyway. The bottom is straggly and uneven and the lower half is prone to developing horrible tangles which are awful to pick out. And she sheds all over the place.

If she really wanted shorter hair, at any point, I would have been perfectly willing to take her to a salon for a haircut. It's her hair. She is old enough to make decisions about how she wants to wear it. But I'm sad that she chopped at it in a moment of half-assedry, because I don't think she really wanted it to be short. Every time we've talked about it (and I have offered her the opportunity to get a haircut), she's said that she wanted to keep it long.

So I'm shocked and a little sad, but, you know, it's just hair. And it really is one of those iconic childhood moments. My mother once cut off her entire braid at the root.


Jan. 22nd, 2010 05:39 pm
rivka: (WTF?!)
rivka: (Alex the queen)
Some of you will have already seen this on my Facebook, but I had to share it here as well.

One of Alex's nursery school teachers occasionally has the kids tell her stories for her blog. She posted (with our permission) Alex's account of the universe yesterday. I really like it.

"The universe is made of tiny round cells and the magic is how our cells join together. There is nothing in the space between the cells. Then they bump together and get stuck together and it continues until they are tiny animals like jellyfish and plants.

The first people on Earth were made from apes. I came from my mom. My mom came from my grandmother. My grandmother came from my great grandmother. My great grandmother came from my great great grandmother and so it is for all of them. But my great great great great great great grandmother was an ape. But actually it’s really disgusting. We come from sperm.

I was born from my mom’s tummy in 2005. It felt… strange. I used to be in the darkness there and then I came out and it was so bright I screamed. I wanted to come back into the dark because I thought it was the light. I don’t want to go back now because I don’t need to be in the dark anymore.

When you die you just stay dead, you return to the dark. My babysitter thinks that when you die you become the trees or something. I think when you’re dead, you’re dead.

In the darkness of death, there are lots of stuff. My opinion is, that in the darkness of death everything is possible. It means you can do every single thing. But in the light of being alive you can only do a few things.

We are made of the stuff of the universe because we’re made of cells and cells are part of the universe. All cells are the same. One last thing I’m telling of, is that there is lots and lots of stuff.

My foot is starting to hurt.”

(She walks away)

I quoted the whole thing, which is not good blog etiquette, but I wanted to have a record of it in case she ever takes her blog down. Click through anyway to read other fascinating stories, like "The Love of Hearts When the Dinosaurs Were Made."

I really wonder how she elicits material like this from the kids. I recognize some of the source material from Alex's story - we've been reading a fantastic picture book about human evolution called Our Family Tree - but the metaphysical cast she put on it really startles me.
rivka: (books)
Alex just read aloud an Art Spiegelman graphic novel.

No, not that one.

This one. Jack and the Box, a graphic novel for emergent (i.e., beginning) readers. Which just happens to have been written by Art Spiegelman, Pulitzer prize-winning author of Maus. As you might expect, it's a somewhat unsettling story with dark notes under the surface. But engaging! Alex seemed to find it less creepy than I did.

Spiegelman's wife Francois Mouly is in charge of a new line of comics/graphic novels for very early readers. As far as I can tell, Spiegelman's only written one of them so far. I've listened to a lot of early readers lately, since Alex has been on a learning-to-read kick, and man are most of them painful to sit through. This one was cool.

I like this quote from a Booklist review: "It’s one of those be-careful-what-you-wish-for moments," says Spiegelman. "After years of saying comics are not just for kids, we sort of have to say, 'But wait, they’re also for kids!' "
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
So the church Christmas pageant has three Sunday morning rehearsals followed by an evening dress rehearsal the night before Christmas Eve. Only this year we got about 20 inches of snow the day before the last Sunday morning rehearsal, which meant that it didn't happen. Instead, on Wednesday night a bunch of excited hyper pre-Christmas kids showed up for the first rehearsal with costumes (which weren't done, incidentally), the first rehearsal in the sanctuary (which always leads to insane aisle-running), and the first rehearsal without scripts (which was supposed to have happened that missed Sunday).

They had done a surprisingly good job of learning their lines, but everything else about the rehearsal was pretty awful. It's hard to nail down a lot of the blocking before you have the sanctuary to work with. The kids were pretty crazy. I honestly left the rehearsal expecting the performance to be a disaster.

Christmas Eve I was so flustered that we were parking outside the church when I realized that I was still wearing a pair of jeans and a grungy brown wool hoodie over a faded red T-shirt. "I forgot to get dressed!" I wailed to Michael. He looked down at his own jeans and sweater. "...So did I." It was 5pm. I had told the kids to arrive no later than 5:10. I was planning to be onstage for much of the pageant.

We dashed in carrying the last few props and an eleven pound ham. Threw the ham in the oven in the church kitchen and asked someone who happened to be in the kitchen to put the brown sugar glaze on it at 6:30. I took both kids with me to the sanctuary while Michael ran home to change and bring my clothes. The majority of the kids didn't show up until sometime after 5:30. We had no chance to rehearse, but we did go over my list of Important Last-Minute Reminders: Everyone speak LOUDLY and SLOWLY. Face the audience when you speak. When the Herdmans are being bad kids, they shouldn't actually make any physical contact. When the Herdmans are in the pageant-within-a-pageant, they stop goofing off and take it seriously. Angels and shepherds need to be quiet when they're onstage.

Also in this time period, one of the mothers went to town on the Herdmans' faces with a mascara wand to make them appropriately grimy and smudgy. They were all thrilled to be at church in their oldest and most awful clothes. I did not tell them how adorable they were, because they would've taken it the wrong way.

Ten minutes before the service was supposed to start I herded all the kids out of the chancel to the robing room. No, they were too loud to be there. To the little entryway behind the robing room. Still too loud. To the upstairs hall. I tried to engage them in conversation about Christmas to stop them from shouting and chasing each other. Michael brought me Colin to nurse at the last minute before church. I kept on chatting with the kids on my end of the hall until I looked over and saw a few of them at the other end of the hall looking at me like this: O.O O.O O.O "It's just how babies eat, guys," I said and hoped that I wouldn't be hearing from their mothers later on.

6:05. I marched the kids down the stairs, through the entry, through the robing room, into the chancel, and down the steps to the front pew. There was a welcome and a chalice lighting and then we were on.

And the pageant went beautifully.

We had some luck with the play-within-a-play format, because I could stay on stage the whole time (as a parent helping out the pageant director, very realistic) and move people into place if necessary. But the kids needed very little help. They said their lines beautifully and with feeling. They were mostly in the right place at the right time. They did not burn down the church when I let some of them hold candles. They looked fantastic, even the ones who were in totally makeshift last-minute costumes. And they had the pageant spirit, just beautifully.

Afterward during their shaky and confused bows [livejournal.com profile] acceberskoorb swooped down on me with a bouquet of white roses and, um, something else pretty. I don't know flowers.

And then we went to the Christmas Eve potluck. Last year there wasn't enough food and Michael didn't get any dinner. (That's partly why we brought a ham this year.) This year there was plenty, and we feasted on turkey and ham and smoked gouda mac and cheese and horseradish scalloped potatoes and tzimmes and all kinds of miscellaneous side dishes and desserts. And Alex actually ate food instead of just running around being hysterically excited. (Colin had a jar of pureed turkey-apple-cranberry holiday dinner, because I fall for marketing tricks like that.)

And we went home and put the kids to bed and hauled presents out of hiding places and wrapped a few things and hung candy canes on the tree from Santa and I lost one of Colin's stocking presents. And poured ourselves glasses of red wine and curled up on the couch to watch the first-season West Wing Christmas episode, "In Excelsis Deo," except that Colin kept waking up and finally we went to bed without finishing it.

Christmas Eve was good. The pageant was wonderful. We have amazing, amazing kids at our church. Is it too early to start worrying about what story we'll do next year?
rivka: (Christmas hat me)
For those who celebrate, a Merry Christmas from our family to yours.



more pictures )


rivka: (Default)

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