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Lost: my voice

Found: two deer ticks, one on Rio and one on me. Happily, the on site doctor let us know that deer ticks have to be attached to your body for at least two days before they can “do any mischief” (ie: transmit Lyme disease). So we all had a thorough “tickle check” before bed, and it looks like we made it out unscathed.

Taken: photos. many, with the amazing new-to-me camera that was placed under my care in the midst of the weekend.

Serenazilla!

Serenazilla!

We’re off to the woods for a weekend of wild childhood. Enjoy yourselves and your loved ones – I’ll be back next week with (I’m sure) lots to blog about after our adventures.

I don’t do bedtimes. A lot of parents talk about bedtime as some of the sweetest moments they have with their children – sharing stories, favorite books from their own childhoods, little good-night rituals.

Me, I am just violently allergic to the whole process. From getting my jeans wet kneeling beside the bathtub to wrestling my toddler into her PJs to reading Another F***ing Clifford Book to lying alone in the dark listening to the same soothing music night after night until my ears threaten to mutiny, bedtime fails to suit me.

Fortunately my girls have a Daddy who loves to read aloud and tell stories and listen to soothing music. He still reads aloud to his teenager on nights he can get away with it. He loves bedtime so much he spends three or four hours every night tucking our little ones in.

Unfortunately, said Daddy is about to leave town for a week. This is great for him, because he’s going to a work conference where he gets to show off the very impressive Science he’s been making all year. It’s kind of great for me because I get to be married to someone who makes very impressive Science.

It’s not great for bedtime.

Daddy recently began taking a Monday night drum class, and I put the girls to bed on those nights. Let’s just say I am not committing to four hours of baths, books and soft music every evening. I work the day shift with the kids; I write in the evenings or go mad. That’s just the way it is.

So this Monday, I said, “Hey girls. Bedtime is at 8:30. When that time comes, I am turning out the lights and leaving the room. If you want me to tuck you in and sing to you and tell stories, you need to get in bed early enough for that to happen.”

Can either of those children tell time? No. Were they nestled all sweet in their beds when the clock struck 8:30? No. Did I leave the room? Why, yes, yes I did.

I’m sure half of you are applauding me for sticking to my guns while the other half are probably echoing Rio’s sentiments when she shouted after me, “Mommy! You are such a bad Mommy for not taking care of us at all! Serena is a little tiny girl! She needs a grown-up to be with her!”

After about five minutes of violent protest, Rio curled up and fell asleep.

Serena, on the other hand, got out of bed and wandered downstairs. I put her back to bed. After a few rounds of this she came down very quietly and climbed into the arts cabinet. I pretended not to see her and carried on with my Adult Work (which at that point consisted of balancing my checkbook. Trust me kids, I’d have preferred listening to your nighttime CD again).

She fiddled around in the arts cabinet for awhile, and eventually climbed down very quietly with a small notebook and a marker. She sat at the crafts table coloring in a picture of a flower for about twenty minutes, then walked over and handed it to me. I took it, and she made the sign for sleep and reached out for my hand. She led me up the stairs to her bed, and signed that she’d like me to lie down with her. I did, telling her I’d be there for five minutes. She nodded, and lay very peacefully, curled up like a flower bud.

Until she chanced to roll halfway onto her stomach, at which point her half-concious body remembered that just a few hours earlier it had learned to somersault. She had to turn several sleepy somersaults before settling back down to sleep.

I’m not sure how the coming week will go, but this was certainly an entertaining start.

Dear Weather,

Ever since moving to Seattle several weeks ago, I’ve found the constant vague, chill, gray dampness conducive to lying in bed reading murder mysteries and eating bonbons, but not to actually living my life. Of course, when I decided to live in the Pacific Northwest I…

No. Wait. Strike that. I never moved to Seattle. I have never even been there. What I mean is: this is New England, not Seattle, Weather. What the f*** are you doing? You are allowed to suck, but you’re supposed to change every twenty minutes.

No love,

Me

Today, Serena and I had a rare opportunity to take a nap together, one I eagerly jumped on. Or, more accurately, flopped on. I quickly dozed off with my sweet little girl snuggled close in my arms. Rio and I used to nap together almost every afternoon, and laying down with Serena brought all that lazy sweetness right back to the present.

Rio used to fall asleep with me, though. Serena lay quietly until I passed out, and then wiggled out of my embrace and went exploring. She can’t climb off the bed on her own yet, but she explored the wide world of my bed until she found my cell phone.

I was not deeply asleep. I knew she’d gotten up, and was sitting quietly on my feet. I heard her fiddling with something.

Still, I was surprised when I heard her godfather’s voice saying hello at the other end of the line. So was Serena. She eagerly held the phone up to her ear, nodding and looking very sage and serious while he chatted with her for a few minutes. “Say hi,” I suggested. She said hi, and hi again, and hi louder. Hi! Hi! HIIIIIII!

Then she moved the phone away from her ear, looking curiously at it. She shook it, turned it over, clearly trying to figure out how John got in there. Finally, she waved bye-bye. “Bye! Bye! BYE-BYE!” Waving enthusiastically at the phone.

I had totally forgotten kids do this. I remember Rio as a toddler, signing to the phone. Of course if they can hear you they can see you, in toddler-logic. This is the same logic kids use to “hide” from adults by covering their own eyes. Gotta love it.

A few weeks ago, I was biking when I passed by a field where a lot of old guys* were playing soccer. I stopped my bike and asked a teenage girl who was watching the game what was going on.

“They just play here,” she said. I told her my husband loves soccer, because he grew up in Argentina and he’s always talking about wanting to play, etc. It was all true: he loves soccer.

“If he wants to play,” she said, “he just needs to show up around this time on a Sunday morning. Bring $5.”

I rode off. A little later I took four little girls to a toy store (because I am INSANE). Rio spent her carefully saved allowance money on a little wooden plaque for her dad, for a Father’s Day Gift. It’s shaped like a princess crown, and she decorated it with pink glitter and plastic gems and little pink sparkly stickers that spell “Dada”. She insisted he put it on his desk at work.

Me, I kept my pennies and practiced the gift of silence. When I got home, I didn’t tell Martin about the pick-up game at the park. On Father’s Day, I told him I wanted to go for a ride with the kids, maybe take a picnic to this park. I secretly packed a tote bag with a water bottle, his soccer shoes, and a crisp $5 bill. We went to the park. As we approached he broke into a grin and said, “Hey, is that a pick-up soccer game?”

I handed him the tote bag. “Happy Father’s Day.”

He smiled. He might have thanked me, but he was moving pretty fast toward the field. It was raining, and the game was underway, and he didn’t care. He put his cleats on and stood by the goal until one of the players invited him to join in. Invited might be an overstatement. The conversation went like this:

“Who the hell is that?”

“Some guy! Says he wants to play.”

“I guess you can have a red shirt. But if you suck, you’re out.”

Thirty seconds later he scored a goal. They let him stay. He’s planning to make a habit of this.

Best Father’s Day Gift Ever. It’s healthy and fun. Granting a wish he’s had for years but been unable to grant for himself. Possibly lifechanging, if he keeps it up.

And it wound up costing me nothing but time. Turns out the first one is free, just like crack.

The Boston Globe today published a detailed, caring essay on What to do if your child has superpowers?, written by an expert in pediatric heroism. While the main goal of the piece seems to be to reassure parents who have recently discovered superpowers in their young children, he does offer some practical tips on the raising of young heroes, like how to handle discipline with children who control magnetic fields.

His best advice for all of us, though, comes in his closing, where he helps us lay aside the natural fear that our teenagers will grow up to be supervillians:

“My experience has taught me that being intent on world domination is a phase that everyone goes through. If these feeling persist, however, consider allowing them to control a small region populated by self-aware robots.”

All parenting advice should be this useful and entertaining. Are you reading this, Parenting Magazine? Less fashion advice, more superheroes!

I have this friend. Let’s call her M. M has a daughter a little younger than Rio, who we’ll call N.

M and I like to do a lot of things together, and one of our favorite games is Bad Plan Theater. That’s when we come up with a plan so crazy it just might work – like flying to California on a whim or walking down the abandoned railroad tracks just to see where they go.

On this week’s episode of Bad Plan Theater, we decided to indulge our daughters in the slumber party they’ve been asking for since last summer. What could go wrong?

So many things. The mamas could be tired and a little cranky. The pizza could be cold. The clean laundry basket could get ‘discovered’ by the kids and turned into a vehicle that spews laundry around the house. Storytime could mysteriously take 90 minutes. Little N could find it impossible to sleep with a guest in her room.

But what actually had us packing our bags at 9:30 at night to head home was Rio, my big, strong, independent child, breaking down into tears for just one little moment in the dark and saying, “Mommy, I want to sleep in my bed! I want my Daddy!”

This lasted only a moment. I said yes, of course she could go home. Slumber parties are never required. I finished the story I was telling to N, while Rio bounced up, said a tender good-night to her friend and fled downstairs. I ran into her at the door, where she was slipping her sparkly-silver-Wizard-of-Oz slippers on over her PJ feet and cheerfully saying goodnight to our host.

“Good-bye, M!” she said. “I’m going to go home and sleep in my own bed. Thank you for the offer, though.”

Thank you for the offer? That child has better manners than I do.

I’m proud of her for being polite and collected and clear about her needs. I am also secretly relieved that sleeping over at a friend’s house for the first time turned out to be a scary prospect for her. She’s so tough, it’s easy to forget she’s also a small girl still. I’m glad she can still be vulnerable with me when she needs to, and that she’s not really 5 going on 30.

Rio's allowance jars

Rio's allowance jars

This post at the Simple Dollar got me thinking about kid’s allowance money. It got me thinking too much for a blog comment over there, so you get to read all about it.

Kid’s allowances are one of my most regular cash expenses, along with groceries and gas for my car. All the frugal living tactics I know of would tell me to cut them out, just like I’ve canceled all my magazine subscriptions and club memberships. They’re a recurring weekly expense that is not strictly necessary, and they’re not helping me pay down my debts. That’s not a line item I want to see in my budget.

But I keep giving the kids an allowance. Why?

I want my children to share in the wealth of the household. Everyone who lives here gets a bed, clothes to wear, food to eat, time and space to do work they love and to pursue a social life, and the loving support of their family members. Everyone also gets a little pocket money, that comes from the income brought in by the adults in the house. I don’t consider this stuff everyone has a right to, it’s just the contract we’ve made within our family about how we run our household.

There aren’t any restrictions on getting the allowance. It is theirs whether or not they do chores, behave themselves, or spend it wisely. Just like the expectation that they will help clean up after meals and treat everyone in the house with kindness is there whether they’ve had a bad day or the other sibling really started it or they just don’t want to. It’s part of being in this family.

I understand that many people also use allowance money to teach kids about how money works, and if mine learn something from getting theirs, so much the better.

Here is how we do it: everyone over the age of 4 gets a weekly allowance equal to one dollar per year of their age. If you are a child, that allowance is divided into four categories: Savings, Spending, When I’m A Grown Up (this is known as Investing to adults) and Giving. Trent from Simple Dollar calls this approach The Money Savvy Pig Philosophy. I first read about it in a magazine where I think it was simply called “a good idea”.

We started giving an allowance to my older daughter when she started asking me to buy things for her that I did not want to buy – in particular a replacement for a pair of sparkly sequined shoes that had been given to her as a gift, and which she wore till the sequins rubbed off and the soles gave out.

When Rio began getting her allowance, she saved carefully for those sequined shoes, and after about two months was able to buy them. She was thrilled to buy them with her own money, but hasn’t saved up for a big purchase since. She has nearly worn out the new pair by now, and has plenty of money saved up to replace them if she wants to.

I got four glass milk jars from a local dairy and labeled them Spending, Saving, When I’m a Grown Up and Giving. Rio helped by decorating the labels with watercolors. Then I began giving her four dollars a week with the caveat that she needed to put one dollar in each jar. Now that she gets $5 a week she can choose where to put the extra dollar. Mostly she uses it to buy bubblegum.

Like Trent plans to do with his son, I started out giving Rio her allowance in Sacajawea dollars, but stopped when she got upset by that and said she wanted to get paid in “real dollars”. I may start again because someone gave her a Sacajawea dollar for her birthday and now she’s fascinated by them.

My teenage stepson also gets $15 a week, one dollar per year of age. This feels like a lot to me, but is also about what he spends on bus fare and a few trips to the cafe around the corner to get some quiet time away from his sisters. Unlike with the little ones, I don’t restrict how he spends or saves his allowance. I do model what I hope is good behavior with money, and talk openly with him about frugality. The other day we built a bicycle together out of spare parts so he’d have a summer ride, rather than buying him a new bike. I think he learns a lot that way.

Is he too old to just be handed money? I don’t think so. Right now he has perfect grades, a weekly volunteer gig and a heavy load of summer reading for his fall classes. I don’t want him to sacrifice any of those things to a summer job because he feels a want of pocket money, so I give it to him. I worked a lot in high school, and I don’t think it taught me anything useful about managing my own money or helped me build any career skills for my future. My time would have been better spent doing more volunteer work and creative skill-building, so that’s what I want my kids to focus on.

Serena, the toddler, got in on the allowance action when she saw me giving money to the other kids. She wanted to be part of that ritual so badly she actually learned to say the word “Money”, or something like it with fewer consonants and more insistent hand gestures.

For Serena, I created a single allowance jar, also using an old milk bottle. I give her a few coins from my wallet each week. We put the coins in her jar together, and a few times a week when she wants to play with it, we take her jar out and she gets to dump all the coins on the floor and carefully pick them up again and put them back in the jar. She gets real value out of the money I give her – as a toy! And she doesn’t feel left out of the allowance system.

I’m sure our system isn’t perfect, but we haven’t run headlong into any big problems with it so far. Except the recurring expense issue, and I can happily afford $20 a week for my kids’ allowances. Because I’ve learned to live frugally myself in so many other areas.

What do you do with kids and money? Do your kids get an allowance? How much? Under what conditions? Let me know in the comments.

Tomorrow, I will be leading a Summer Solstice Festival at the Somerville Growing Center, starting at 4 p.m. We’ll be doing sun-painting again if the weather is good.

Here’s the skinny on the overall project:
A series of family-friendly festivals celebrating the turning of the wheel of the year. Through song, story, art and play we will explore the changing seasons and our changing selves. You are encouraged to bring a potluck contribution and, if you are able, a small donation to help cover costs. Sponsored by Viriditas, a Boston-area Reclaiming group.

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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