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Serena, sleeping, originally uploaded by MzMuze.

Has it really been two years since you were born? It’s hard to imagine a time you weren’t here. And yet so much has happened: how did we cram a move and a career change and school and travel and nibbling your cute little cheeks into just two years?

Finally sweet pea, you are still a baby. I know you’ve long since given up diapers and morning naps and crawling. More and more of your babble is becoming intelligible. You’ve moved into your own bed to sleep in, and recently started dressing yourself (I love the backwards bathing suit look, and the two-legs-through-one-pant-leg approach is charming).

But as long as you’re made of dimples and golden curls and big blue eyes you’ll be my baby. I hope that’s a good long time.

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“Bedtime”, that lovely two hour span after dinner before anyone actually gets into bed, is not more fun than I expected it to be. But between camping and sleepovers, we’ve only done it here twice, and for one of those times I had an assistant. Yes, that’s cheating. No, I don’t care.

But after bedtime, there’s the quiet space where they really fall asleep, and that happens with or without the hours-long ritual, whether or not I stay to see it unfold. Tonight I did.

Watching Rio’s face sometimes I see glimpses of her adult face peeking through, the clear set of her eyes around long cheeks. It’s a face very different from what I imagined on her. More of her father than I see in her now, as a kid. Quiet, serious, focused, but also joyful and deeply grounded. I’m wary, of course, of projecting my visions of her future onto the soft clay of her childhood, but it’s nice to imagine her strong, free and different from who I thought she’d become. Especially as I watch her drift helplessly into sleep, clutching her baby doll under her chin, losing her way mid-sentence as she tries to demand another bedtime story in sign language.

Serena is growing up too. Tonight she finished nursing (finally! Who knew there was an end?), and then rolled and flopped and wiggled and turned. Eventually she sat straight up in bed, looked around for a moment assessing the situation, and began very earnestly pushing me off the mattress. She’d pick up my knee and give it a shove, then start pushing my belly…I got the message and moved to the rocker. From there, I watched her writhe and wiggle and sigh and tuck herself under the covers and then kick them off and then pull them back up until finally she so very slowly dropped her eyes shut and was gone to dreaming, hands folded behind her head as if napping on a sunny beach.

Good night girls. I’m glad we had this moment together. You’re beautiful. I do love watching you grow, even if I’m grouchy about how long it takes some days.

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!

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.

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.

IMG_4206.JPG, originally uploaded by MzMuze.

Serena, like most toddlers, loves to mimic everything Mommy does. Especially the things Mommy does that are not generally available to toddlers. Like operating a spray bottle full of cleaning chemicals, or using the garden tools.

Today was her day to do it all, just like a grown-up. A few of our plants are infested with aphids. The cure for this, according to our Wise Gardening Neighbors? A very diluted solution of Dr. Bronner’s soap. Another neighbor gave us a big bottle of it, which I watered down and poured into an old 7th Gen spray bottle.

Toddler toy, meet pest control. How often do you get a chance to put those things together in a good way? Serena was delighted. This photo captures her focus and determination. She must have spent an hour carefully spraying everything in the garden. Those aphids and their ant farmers have met their match!

I took a lot of photos in the garden today, as well as some jammaking ones. They’re all up on my Flickr if you want to see more of what the girls and I got up to.

The scene: Serena is sitting quietly on the couch, playing with a basket of dolls. I am sitting on the floor nearby, trying to sweep up the carnage of broken crayons, doll parts and torn paper flowers that Rio and her playmate have left in their wake. Picking through the trash I’ve swept up, I find a few dolls that belong in Serena’s basket.

Casually, I toss one into the basket. A few seconds later, it comes flying back. I look up and Serena is staring at me in open delight. She picks out another doll and throws it at my head, then waves her hands happily.Let me translate her shrieks of joy for you:

“Best game ever, Mom! I had no idea these things were for throwing at each other! Love it!”

*Zing* Here comes another one. Fortunately I was already hanging my head in shame, or I’d have caught that one square in the face.

Serena is powerful beyond measure

Our whole weekend was bliss-full in the way I imagine every weekend to be, but few of them truly are. There was a surfeit of sunshine, birthday parties and love. Very few tantrums, none of them thrown by me. There were many long bike rides, and most of my waking hours were spent outdoors lolling in the shade of one tree or another. I spent too much money on silly things, but if $20 misspent dollars is the worst of my troubles, life is pretty fine.

All the photos in this set (taken by our lovely and amazing friend Molly) are beautiful. This one is pure magic.

Serena has been sneaking up on having a two-year-old temper.

This afternoon, she pitched a ferocious wobbly, at the height of which she maliciously (yes, maliciously, with clear intent and an evil gleam in her eye) peed on a book in the middle of the living room floor because I would not let her use her outdoor potty indoors. The outdoor potty is a potty seat with no bottom, so the result would have been the same if I’d caved, only possibly not with her aiming at a book.

The book, which I threw out after attempting briefly to rescue, was a collection of sappy poetry titled, “My Daughter, My Joy”.

Serena has started prowling around my legs going “meow, meow, meow” when she wants water. I assume she learned this from the cats. Just now, Rio came up to her with a glass of water saying, “Look, Serena, I have your meow-meow.”

Flickr Photos

A little bird told me…

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