Monday, June 15, 2015

Gimme A Break!

        School is out and Kiley and Mackey are gone for the summer. I miss them already. It's sort of like the same feeling I had when my kids went off to college. Between now and when school starts back up I will take them for one day a week just to soothe my aching heart. Even so, I can't tell you how incredible it feels to be without responsibilities for the whole summer. That part is great! I feel like I did when I was a kid and school had just let out for the year. In fact I feel so free and summer lazy that I think I am going to take full advantage of the situation and throttle back on the blog writing until the girls come back to me at the end of the summer. I have written a little essay on babysitting every week for the past sixty-seven weeks and, sometimes, it was a chore to come up with a subject. Trying to come up with something to write about now when my charges aren't here to provide me with inspiration is difficult to say the least. Maybe I'll work on my novel – psych! I may throw in an offering or two if the girls do something noteworthy on the one day a week that I have them, which I am sure is more than probable. Otherwise, see you in September.


Monday, June 8, 2015

Big Girl Too

        Like I said last post, Kiley is a "big girl", as she is so fond of reminding me. That "big girl" status has become very important to her and is a big part of her self-image. Mackey, on the other hand, is a little girl. If you doubt that just ask Kiley. But what is the difference between a "big girl" and a little girl? What makes a girl "big" as opposed to little? Well, I guess those questions can be answered by comparing Kiley, a bonafide and self-proclaimed "big girl", and Mackey, a little girl.

Kiley is a year and a half older than Mackey, so of course she has greater abilities. She has greater physical and mental abilities, greater verbal skills and emotional control. She is potty trained, which earns her the honor of wearing "big girl pants". She sleeps in a "big girl bed". When we go to the grocery store Kiley will often walk the aisles rather than ride in the cart. To cut it short, Kiley does a myriad number of things that set her apart from little girls and that she believes earns her the coveted status of "big girl" that she is so proud of.

Mackey, being a year and a half younger, is much less accomplished. Her physical and mental abilities lag far behind her sister's. Her verbal skills are rudimentary though increasing rapidly and I must say that her talking abilities are quite advanced for a twenty-two-month-old and, in fact, are noticeably greater than Kiley's were at that age. She is not potty trained as yet though she gives it a try now and then. She sleeps in a crib. In the grocery store Mackey rides in the cart (this is a must if we are to finish shopping in any reasonable amount of time). Her emotional control is practically nonexistent; she cries at the drop of a hat and flies off the handle at the slightest provocation, often merely for affect. In the final analysis, however, none of these abilities, or lack there of, a "big girl" make. Being a "big girl" is not defined by a set of accomplishments or skills. It is not a certain stage of development. Being a "big girl" is merely a state of mind, one that Kiley has adopted and Mackey, as yet, has not.

Exhibit A in the Big girl/little girl debate: Notice the ice cream eating styles of a big girl vs. a little girl. The big girl confidently eats her cone with a little mess, while the little girl worries for the safety of her cone and has ice cream up her nose...

You see, maturity, "big girlhood", is a relative thing that is constantly expanding in each individual. It is not a goal to be obtained or an aspiration to be achieved. This fact is a secret that we adults keep from little girls. In fact we teach them the exact opposite. We create in their minds the alluring concept of the "big girl". A state of being that is profoundly to be desired. We then use the longing we have created for this mythical state, to both elicit desired behavior in little girls, and to coax them into striving toward desired milestones of development. "'Big girls' don't wear diapers." "'Big girls' don't use binkys." "'Big girls' don't cry when they don't get their way." Deceitful though it may be, using the mythical concept of the "big girl" is a convenient and very effective tool in shepherding our little girls toward greater self-reliance.

Kiley has embraced this fabricated concept and is, therefore, a "big girl". Mackey has not. In fact, at this point, Mackey is not yet aware of the wondrous possibility of becoming a "big girl". That marvelous prospect has not yet even entered her mind. Mackey, therefore, dwells blissfully in a condition of sublime ignorance, happily inhabiting the carefree and breezy world of the little girl. For becoming a "big girl" is not easy. That process, based on a myth though it may be, is a stressful one filled with difficult transitions and seemingly insurmountable expectations. ("I have to do what?!") But eventually Mackey too will be introduced to the concept of the "big girl", and rather soon I'm afraid. She already aspires to be like her big sister so the transition to full "big girlhood" should be relatively easy. Just a few subtle suggestions planted in her pliant mind will ignite in her the innate human desire to be greater than what we are, and compel her to strive to be abler, better, "bigger". The first order of business will be to convince her to stay on the potty until she is completely done. Hopping off in mid pee-pee and spraying my newly mopped floors as she runs down the hallway is unacceptable behavior. "Big girls" don't do that.


Sunday, May 31, 2015

The no post post.

        I am sorry to say I had no time to write a post this week. My youngest daughter's wedding was this weekend and it was such a hectic week that I had no time for anything but Kiley, Mackey, and wedding preparations. The wedding was great! I drank too much, danced too much and everyone had a great time. See you next week.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Big Girl

These are the kind of fashion decisions 'Big' little girls are apt to make...

        Kiley is a “big girl”, as she reminds me at least a thousand times a day. She wears big girl pants (not diapers), sleeps in a big girl bed, and rides a big girl bike. She even uses the big girl potty (not the potty-chair), though I must admit she is barely big enough to accomplish this and is perched quite precariously on the edge of the seat when she does. (There have even been a couple of incidents where she slipped off of the big girl potty in mid-process, resulting in an unpleasant situation, and recriminations from me about her being more careful and from her about me being more watchful. One of the many hazards of being a big girl I’m afraid.)  Because she is a big girl, she can’t understand why she is not allowed to do certain other things that big girls do. Things like ride in the front seat of the car, use a metal knife and fork, or go out front by herself. At three years old, this longing to do what she is not yet mature enough to do will be a perpetual condition that she will struggle with for at least the next eighteen years and even beyond. “Stop treating me like a child” is the universal demand of all those who are still children.

Being a big girl is like being married; it’s not a destination it’s a journey. Big girlhood is a relative condition that slowly evolves over many years and even decades. That is hard for a three year old, sixteen year old, and sometimes even a sixty year old to understand. So I suppose it can be quite frustrating for the big girl in question when she has achieved big girl standing and yet does not fully partake in big girl privileges. This can be exhibited by minor or major divergences between big girl status and big girl abilities.

For a three-year-old, the minor divergences between desires and abilities are legion and are the kind that makes a caregiver give pause and contemplate whether the big girl in question is ready for that particular step. (Managing a big girl, of any age, is an art. It’s kind of like fishing. If you give them too much slack they spit the hook out and are gone from you. If you don’t give them enough slack they break the line and are gone from you.) Sometimes, however, what your big girl believes is within her power and abilities is so far out of the realm of possibility that it’s ludicrous, (like the sixteen-year-old who thinks she should be able to go to Cancun with her friends for spring break.)

Just the other day we were out on the deck when I suggested that it was lunchtime. Mackey, my “little girl”, immediately chimed in with: “Nuggets and fries!” Inspired by this suggestion, Kiley added, “Yeah, let’s go to McDonald’s!”  I was in a good mood and both girls had been angelic all day, so I acquiesced to their demands and we all piled into the car. On our way to McDonald’s the “big girl” in the back proposed: “Just drop me off at Friendly’s. I’m going to get some ice cream.” This from someone who is firmly strapped into a car seat, by the way. I briefly entertained the idea of dropping a three-year-old off at Friendly’s with a five-dollar bill in her hand but decided that was probably not in her best interest. “No, we’re going to McDonlad's”, I replied. This instigated a discussion reminiscent of many debates I’ve had in the course of raising three teenage girls and ended in similar fashion: with me laying down the law and her feeling that she was the victim of unjust oppression.

Such is the condition of the “big girl”. It has always been thus and always will be. We, none of us, are ever as big as we think we are. From the toddler learning to walk, to the teenager learning to drive, to the mother of grown children learning to “let go”, one hallmark of maturity reached only leads to another milestone yet to be conquered. That is only as it should be. For in the final analysis, Kiley becoming a “big girl” is nothing more than her growing beyond what she already is. And if any of us stop doing that then it’s time to pack it in.


Monday, May 18, 2015

The Outback

        Spring is finally here and it’s about time. It was another long and brutal winter where I live. April was disappointingly cold and it seemed like fair weather would never come back. But it has. I have been absolutely pining for spring. Not just for myself but also for the girls who have generally been cooped up in the house for the cold months and desperately needed a change of routine and scenery.Now, with the weather warm and sunny, we can all spend time in the fresh air. These past couple of weeks, having been blessed with especially pleasant weather (sunny, with temperatures in the seventies and sometimes eighties), we have spent the majority of our days outside enjoying it. And when I say “outside” I mean that sublime suburban oasis, that Eden of middle class life, that perfect combination of nature and artifice known the nation over as “the backyard”. “Come on girls. Let’s go out back.”

The girls cannot get enough of “out back”. They want to spend all day every day out there in the sun. The minute they walk into the house they want to know when we are going out back. This being May, the mornings are still a little damp and chilly so I have to fend off their desire for out back until mid-morning when the dew is mostly gone from the grass and the air has lost its crispness. Then I can finally acquiesce to their demands, open the backdoor (they always insist on helping with the back door), and usher them into paradise.

Our backyard is a typical suburban retreat. Most of our modest, quarter acre, lot is in the back surrounded by a six foot privacy fence. There is a deck that my husband built when we first moved in twenty-five years ago. It runs the length of the house and is adorned with a pergola at one end, the grill, and the usual deck furniture. There is a paved walkway that leads from the deck to a patio in the south side of the yard, under a maple tree. My husband and I built the patio and walkway several years ago and my muscles still ache (stone work is hard). Past the patio, in the south corner of the yard, is the “Secret Garden” that we made for the girls last year. The “Secret Garden” is entered through a little gate in a vine-covered arbor that we hope will be covered with blooms this summer. Inside there are a multitude of flowers (Mackey would pick them all if you let her), garden sculptures, and a little bench just big enough for the two of them. The rest of the yard is grass and flowers and bushes and trees.

Out we go into this quiet retreat and the girls head right for the swings. There are two swings hanging from the pergola, one for each girl. Up until last week there was only one swing but that had become such an object of dispute between the girls that a second swing became a necessity. Both girls love to swing, but especially Mackey. She is a swing addict, and will swing, literally, for hours. That, of course, requires me to push her on the swing for said hours, since her less than two year old legs have not yet acquired the ability to pump. I push and she swings, back and forth, and gradually enters into what seems to be a transcendental state, her eyes glazing over and her body becoming so relaxed that she’ll sometimes fall asleep to the soft rush of air and rhythmic squeak of the swing.

Kiley likes to swing too but it holds her attention for a shorter amount of time than it does for Mackey, then she’s off to some other endeavor. Kiley is a true summer girl. She wants to feel the wind on her face and the grass between her toes, and she roams the backyard like a woodland sprite, her feet bare and her long, curly hair wild and unbrushed. She moves from one activity to another – swinging, hitting the T-Ball, kicking the kick ball around the yard, watching the ants on the patio, riding the big wheel on the deck, blowing bubbles, or relaxing in the secret garden. When Uncle Tom comes out she always wants him to help her climb the maple tree by the patio (when Mackey sees this she wants a turn too.) Uncle Tom had recently made the mistake of climbing into the maple tree himself to show off for the girls. They had been so impressed that climbing the Maple tree became one of their most desired diversions. They also like to watch Uncle Tom cut the grass, or split wood, or rake leaves. Anything Uncle Tom does seems heroic to them.

There are several types of wildlife that frequent the backyard. There are the birds, of course, which we feed, and the squirrels, which we also feed and who have become so accustomed to us that they are willing to share the back yard with us, as long as we don’t get too close. There are rabbits that live under the deck and a ground hog who lives in the yard next door and makes an occasional appearance through a hole he has dug under the fence. One day last week we were treated to the spectacle of a small flock of sparrows noisily ganging up on a large hawk that had invaded their territory. Butterflies abound (Kiley is afraid of them for some reason, in fact, she doesn’t like bugs in general.) There are also a number of carpenter bees which have bored a nest into the deck. They are big, the same size as bumble bees, and are strange creatures that hover buzzingly in front of your face, but appear to be merely curious rather than aggressive. They seem willing to share the deck with us without any real friction. Google says the males have no stingers but the females do, though they rarely use them and must be extremely provoked before they’ll sting. Uncle Tom is fond of the carpenter bees (he admires their curiosity and willingness to live in harmony with humans) but the girls don’t trust them and “raise the alarm” whenever they spot one. I, myself, am not fond of any bee that big, friendly or not, and since they upset the girls (and are probably doing irreparable damage to our deck and possibly house) I have begun a campaign of systematic extermination (don’t tell Uncle Tom.)

For now the back yard is a pleasant place to relax and play but, like all things, it will eventually become ho-hum to the girls who constantly need new kinds of stimulation to keep them interested. Of course, by then it will be time to break out the baby pool, sprinkler, squirt guns, and water balloons.  Summer!