Archive for September, 2011

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Sneaky: How we get our girls to read books we recommend

September 29, 2011

My husband and I went to the library last weekend (or was it the weekend before that?)  It was a beautiful day – crisp, cool air, a lovely breeze, and I dragged him by the hand to go for a walk.  We went to Starbucks for some green tea, a park to sit on a bench and enjoy the cool air, and then to the library.

We’ve both been a little sad lately, because as the girls have gotten older, their reading has dropped off a bit.  School is more challenging, extra-curriculars are more consuming.  They both often have a book in-hand, but they’re either re-reading things, or reading well below their reading level.  Or, in Mouse’s case, they pick up a book, read a little bit, and then just wander away … for good.  [I do not get that.  I suffer through even the worst book rather than walk away before finishing.]

Lemon has been driving me particularly crazy lately, as she has been re-reading the ENTIRE Harry Potter series.  I don’t know why it bothers me as much as it does (oh, yes I do, because I fear she’s being immature).

But while we were at the library, WD and I went to the book sale.  While WD often is looking for books for the girls as his first priority, I tend to be more selfish, looking for ME ME ME.  But this time,  I was scanning, mostly for the girls (since I prefer to read on my iPad since I got it, and the library – as far as I can tell – can’t help me there).  I found a couple of books that I thought Lemon may enjoy, and we bought them ($.50/pop – why not?)

When we got back to our house, the girls weren’t home.  I was about to take the books and put them on Lemon’s bed for her to find when she got home.

“No, you can’t do it like that.”  WD said, stopping me.

“Huh??”

“You have to put them on her shelf when she’s not looking.  Then when she goes staring at her shelf for something to read, she finds it and thinks, ‘hey – what’s this?’ Without commentary from us to rebel against, she reads them.”

I trusted him, because she does rebel against ANY recommendation I give her.  Any and all.  (She’s missing out on a lot of great books this way … for now.)

I left the books in WD’s charge, and kind of forgot about them.

The other day, I went into her room and saw he’d put one of them on her shelf.  I also saw she was (FINALLY!!!) almost through the last Harry Potter book.

This morning I was slow getting to work, and she was languishing in bed (it’s Rosh Hashanah – schools in our town are closed), reading one of the books!   I said nothing, but remarked she should be getting in the shower.

Ten minutes later – still reading.  Completely engrossed.  I had to (again) shove her toward the shower.

After her shower – she’s sitting on the edge of the bed, drops of water still on her, wrapped in a towel — reading the book!! She could NOT put it down.

And so, WD’s plan gets gold stars.  I am excited that I can anonymously recommend books to my kid.

Curious, though, what HER view is of that bookshelf.  I mean, she’s not stupid.  She knows they’re coming from somewhere.  She has our larger family bookshelves completely memorized.  She notices if we move a single book out of the order it was in the day before.

Maybe she just accepts it as her own private Narnia of Books.

We’ll have to figure something out for Mouse, too.  But she’s still too busy reading the script for her play, over and over and over.

 

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The Drama May be the Death of Me

September 29, 2011

Yesterday was the first rehearsal of our school musical.  The first rehearsal is when the kids find out their parts.  Mouse had been very anxious leading up to what we call “Parts Day.”

I also was anxious and stressed leading up to the day, because I am producing the musical, and had a lot of variables to put in place to get the production up and running.

In the end, everything went great.  Mouse is no longer anxious, but instead frantically reading the script over and over, doing her best to memorize her lines.  I am content knowing that our pieces did fall into place, and now that the production period has begun, I can slip into the background while the directors work their magic.  Of course, there will be a few things I need to take care of here and there (along with my co-producer), but all in all – until we near show weekend -I can relax.

BUT!!

Before Mouse got her part, and while she was still chewing her nails in anticipation – Lemon came home with the announcement that the high school has revealed its musical choice, and auditions are 10/3 and 10/4.

Groan.

Here we go again!

The high school musical, though, is pretty different from the 7th/8th grade musical.  The main difference being that in 7th and 8th grade – everyone can act in the show.  If you audition, you get a part.  There are questions and anxieties about which part.  About whether or not you’ll be in the same cast as your friends (we have such high participation rates, we always have 2 casts).  But you never have to worry that you won’t get a part.

Not so in the high school.  In fact, Lemon knows very, very well that an audition at the high school does not mean you are guaranteed a single thing.  She auditioned for several things last year.  The freshman play, the improv troupe, an acapella group and the Shakespeare Play.  She didn’t get into any of them.

Poor Lemon.

She is the reason that I am a producer of plays, and I think she may have something to do with her sister’s theater bug.  Lemon was in her first musical the first year we moved to this town and it was an option – she was in 3rd grade, and she was in the chorus.  (I must say, that was kind of painful.  Lemon isn’t good at sitting still, and she used to be very, very bad at keeping her fingers out of her nose.  So by “being in the chorus” she was “sitting on the bleachers squirming to the point of almost falling off and picking her nose” for 2 hours. )  As soon as she could, she auditioned for acting parts.  She loved it so much, we signed her up for a community theater group as well (also not competitive).  She loves to sing, she loves to act.  She has never had stage fright in her life.   For quite some time, she was thinking about what college has the best theater program.  This is a real love of hers.

Fortunately, she is a very resilient kid.  She didn’t get into the high school productions in her freshman year, but still doesn’t hesitate to try out for the next one.  “I’ll take drama as an elective next year, and get stronger, and then I’ll get in.”  She happily filled her time with sports during her freshman year, and didn’t seem to linger over the rejection from the theater department.

[Although she may be lingering in her head, and just not telling me.]

Now it’s time for the musical auditions.  She really wants to be a part of this musical.  She didn’t try out last year, because she didn’t think she’d get in, and so instead focused on the Freshman Play (and didn’t get in).  So this is her first time auditioning for the musical.  This year’s show choice is one that allows for a big ensemble, so she does have a decent shot.  But she is also kind of rusty, especially vocally.

To help her with her confidence and rustiness, I have done something I never pictured myself doing before — I set her up with voice lessons to prep for this audition.

It feels so stage-mom-like.

I’ve never put money into prepping either kid for an audition before.  They have always had fun, and been relatively low-key.  Lemon has had voice lessons in the past, but at her request and in line with her hope to one day have some involvement in music.  Those lessons stopped at the end of last school year because her voice teacher moved out of our state.  I had intended to get her a new voice teacher (again at her request), but she’s immersed in fall crew, and we really haven’t had time.  If she already had a voice teacher, she would work with that person to get ready for this audition, so maybe I shouldn’t feel strange.  But I kind of do.

This morning, before her first prep session (she’ll have 2, I think), she went to the library to look for music for some of her favorite musicals.  We have a few other books, thanks to my involvement in the elementary school plays, and she has some ideas.  I just heard that the library trip was not fruitful, so I’m glad we had the back ups, which she’d already been through and chose some possible songs from.

In the meantime, WD has been helping her with the required monologue.  He found her some collections of comedic monologues (what they prefer), and she is working through those, too.

I’m usually pretty good about keeping my life separate from my kids’ lives, but Lemon’s auditions tend to have me on the edge of my seat.  I think I will have some anxiety leading up the auditions, and waiting for the results.  This anxiety has, in the past, manifested itself in such a way that I received the following text from Lemon:  “Mom!  You texted me in the middle of a math test! And they haven’t posted the list yet!”

Oops.

 

 

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Happy Birthday to Her

September 25, 2011

Lemon is (finally) 15 today.

I have this annoying, inherited habit, wherein I start to call my children the age that they are GOING to be, starting around their 1/2 birthday mark.  So, in my mind, Lemon has been 15 since March.  Makes for rather anticlimactic birthdays.

Our plans for the day are pretty low-key.  She’s in bed now (duh, it’s not 11 yet). Then she wants to “hang out with friends.”  We will have her chosen meal at dinner, her chosen cake afterward.  We will bestow gifts upon her.  But the gifts, too, are anticlimactic.

I bought her tickets to see How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.  But the tickets are for a show in January.  Why so very far away? Someone may ask.  Because that is when Darren Criss will be standing in for Daniel Radcliffe.  She is a huge fan of Criss’s work on A Very Potter Musical. (Only available on You Tube, and therefore very annoying to watch.  She’s made me watch it.  Or, rather, the first act.  She hasn’t been able to twist my arm through the second act.  While I find the show clever and fun, it really doesn’t come close to my still-favorite Harry Potter You Tube Spin Off.  Yes, I’ve linked to it before, and I promise you, I will again.)

His work on Glee, however, has brought ME into the Darren Criss fan club.  (It makes me very sad that I cannot find a link for his version of Pink’s Raise Your Glass, because it’s my real favorite.  “Baby it’s Cold Outside” is a very close second.)  Also – his theater work and career trajectory is a fun one for my very theater and performance-interested child to admire.

We will likely see at least one other show while there.  But these tickets are (symbolically) her birthday present.

Writer Dude is working toward another of her latest obsessions – photography.  She is saving up for a digital SLR camera, and is looking to spend more time taking photos.  She took photography in her freshman year, and is taking Photo II this year in the spring.  She’s really enjoying it, and really wants to do more with it (although crew and its intense time commitments YEAR ROUND have made it tough).

She’s already gathered up a few hundred dollars toward her camera.  He found her a few books/manuals to contribute, and will add a little money to her pot.  My mother is also going to give her some more $$.  So is the Ex.  But I still don’t think it’s enough.  If she can be patient, though, she’ll have enough after Christmas gifts roll in.

Mouse is going to find something TODAY to add to the pile of gifts (or, rather, cards).  She wants to find something Harry Potter related.  Dunno what, though.

And – that’s the birthday.  I think some of the friends she wants to hang out with have little gifts & trinkets for her, but it’s not a “party.”  Maybe they’re too old for that?  I am not really sure.  I know both my girls go to less birthday parties, and the “birthday parties” have been changing dramatically.

I just hope she feels special all day.  Because she really, really is.

a week old

A week old (and even though I looked 12, I was 23)

3 month old Lemon

a favorite photo ... One year old

3 years old.

8 or 9 years old

First Day of Sophomore Year

 

And now, 15 years old.

 

Happy birthday, sweetie – love you lots & lots.

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Today is my “ahhh” day

September 21, 2011

This is THE day this week that I do not have school-related things on either side of my work day, and it’s bliss.

Last night, I had 20 people in my house.  TWENTY!  We all sat in my dining room.  This dining room:

My dining room, taken 2 years ago when we first moved in. Only slight variations since.

How?  I’m not sure.  We have 8 dining room chairs, 4 kitchen island chairs, my office chair, Mouse’s desk chair, 2 desk chairs in Lemon’s room, plus 6 deck chairs.  So we made a BIG circle around the table, and it worked.

The meeting was of fellow parents in Mouse’s grade.  I’m a huge proponent of what we’ve deemed our “Parenting Exchange.”  The entire grade is invited to each meeting, which we have every 6 weeks.  The meetings are relatively formal – we have topics chosen ahead of time, and we have a facilitator (just a parent – rotates around the group) who keeps things on track, both topic- and time-wise.  We really only use the meeting to check in on what other kids are doing, what other parents are wrestling with, how honest are kids are being when they pull out the inevitable “but all my friends are allowed to!”

We started when they were in 6th grade, and the town started having dances, the kids started asking if they could walk further and alone (our town is conducive to that), the homework started to get harder, etc.

There are some parents who never miss, but others come only occasionally, and others still have been only once.  It doesn’t matter – we still invite everyone every time.

I find it invaluable not only because of the actual conversation or things learned, and not only because of the connections that we truly do make with other parents that we might otherwise not — but because our kids watch us. They know they do this.  They know we talk.  I don’t only talk to my friends – I talk to my entire community.  So if they want to skip a class and wander around our village with their friends – they can’t think “pfft, mom’s at work, she’ll never find out.”  They have to worry about EVERY mom.  EVERY dad (we often have as many dads as moms, by the way).  That is my favorite part.

And my kids aren’t even sneaky.

But having 20 people over made for an insane day.  I left work early to come home and prep the house.  WD pitched in x10 (as usual), so I didn’t need as much time as I took.  We also had to find Mouse a place to go, because that is one of our “rules” – the kids should not be home when we meet (so they don’t learn things they have no business knowing).

After everyone left – by 9:15, I had to fight with one of my children.  Because life’s not complete without at least one argument per day when living with 2 teens.

I asked Mouse to find a place to go from 7:00 – 8:30.  We have friends who live steps away in 4 different directions.  Literally steps.  Literally across our small street in 2 directions, plus around a very short block corner.

But what does she do?  Knowing she has (a) homework, and (b) the messiest room in the universe that MUST be clean by Thursday a.m.?  She makes plans with a friend who lives the furthest away, starting right after school.  WD negotiated with her for some time after school – reminding her that if she hangs out all day long, using “Mom said I have to go somewhere” as the excuse, she’d have to come home straight after school tomorrow to clean her room and do homework, and she’d have to clean her room that evening, even though it means she cannot watch Glee.  She said, “Awww.  But okay.”

Guess what the fight was about?

Not so much that she could not watch Glee, but more that Lemon and I were daring to watch it anyway!!

What??!!  That’s not fair!  You never watched it with ME last year when SHE couldn’t!

But that was because she was doing her homework, not hanging out with friends.  You made your  choice.

It’s not because I was hanging out with friends!  It’s because YOU are making me CLEAN MY ROOM!! 

See how I made her letters red?  To convey her anger?

We also had a lot of bickering about the meaning of the word “grounded.”  Saying that she has to clean her room by Thursday (housecleaning day), and that she has to be in the house in order to clean her room, does not mean she is grounded.

Yes it does! because I can’t go anywhere!  That’s being GROUNDED!  

No, that’s telling you that you need to clean your room.  Which is in your house.  If you finish at 3:30, you can do something else.

What am I going to do at 3:30?  There’s nothing to DO at 3:30!!!

Whaaaa?

Fortunately, she finished off her hissy fit with lots of energy that she put toward cleaning her room!

If only she skipped the hissy fit.  It would have been nice.

Although I did feel bad for her, because (a) Glee featured a song from her play this year – the song she auditioned with (Anything Goes), and (b) her sister, out of habit, hit the “delete” button on the DVR when we finished watching.  Oops.  Thank god for Hulu.

 

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Ornery

September 17, 2011

Today is a bad day.  There are three reasons:

1)  My mother appears not to be speaking to me;

2)  I’m pretty sure Lemon isn’t, either; and

3)  We’ve had a second unexpected change in our directing staff for the school play I am producing.

I’m also in the midst of an over-stuffed weekend — plans all three nights — which I do not like.

Saga the first — My Mother

There is a cabin in Vermont.  I have been going to it since I was 2.  With my parents.  Since I moved back to the east coast, I have been revisiting the cabin.  Sometimes with my parents, sometimes just with my family.  My dad’s boss owns the cabin, and he and his family use it primarily for skiing.  We have always used it off-season from them (because we don’t ski).  I worked for my dad’s company for years, so it’s not that awkward that I use the cabin sometimes now, as an adult.  The owner’s grandson and I used to work together in the company, and now he’s the one who manages its use, and it works out well.

We tried to go to this cabin for Mouse’s birthday (with lots ‘o girls), back in May.  It didn’t work out.  But now Columbus Day weekend is coming up.  Enough kids on Mouse’s soccer team were going away for the weekend that their soccer game was postponed.  We had toyed with going to Niagara Falls over this weekend, but when push comes to shove, it just seems too far.  Eight hours of driving on either end of even a long weekend seems like too much.  Especially since we all still have our hours of driving during vacation on our minds (which went well, but it isn’t yet far enough in the past to have triggered our driving “reset” button).

I brought up the cabin in Vermont.  WD said, “Wow, that could be 10 kinds of awesome.”

Vermont?  Peak foliage?  Alpine slides? Amazing independent bookstore that somehow swallows the girls for hours on end just like it does their parents?  Rushing river in the backyard?  Decent restaurants nearby?  Only a 2.5 hour drive from home?  And did I mention — FREE????

I emailed my friend-of-old to see if it was free, offered to pay some $$ for the privilege (refused), chatted a bit about how the town we’re headed to was “destroyed” by Irene (why?  why did she have to wreck EVERY SINGLE PLACE we want to go???)

I told WD, “you know my parents are going to want to come?” He said yea, but that’s fine.  They can come along with the things we’re doing, or they’ll go do something else (i.e., my mom’s knees aren’t in good shape, so a hike wouldn’t work for her).

I emailed my dad, told him what were doing.  He was happy for us.  I said, “do you think you guys will try and visit during some of it?”  He said “Eh, we’re traveling the weekends on either side, and we’re probably on call. But maybe we’ll try.”  Seemed fine to me.

But then later, I get an email from my mom.  “What do you think we if invite your brother and his wife and their 2 kids, too?”

Wait.  Wait.

No!!

First, the cabin is not that big.  Two of the three usable bedrooms are open loft rooms.  So when the toddlers (2 and 4) need to go to sleep at 8 or something, what do the rest of us do?  Well, I guarantee you that we’ll be told by my very demanding brother that we will be SILENT.  And because he has a temper, woe to the person who disobeys.

And then, in the morning?  What happens when the teens are looking to sleep in past 6 a.m., and the toddlers are squealing and screeching?

And did you see what I said up there?  3 usable bedrooms?  I didn’t mention 1 usable bathroom.  There’s only one usable bathroom!!!

So you take a family of 4, and you put them in this quaint cabin.  They have a blast.  The girls can share a room if they want, they can refuse to do so if they want.  You then stuff SIX MORE PEOPLE in, and you know what?  It’s kind of not fun anymore.  Especially if some of the personalities in the over-stuffed cabin are not easy ones.  Not flexible ones.

My mom’s email also said, “I haven’t said anything to them yet, so if you want to say ‘no’, that’s fine.”

So I did.  I said no.  I said I was sorry, but it really changed the weekend in a way that we weren’t up for right now.  To have a break from the busy-busy-busy is a treat.  That having mom and dad come is one thing, but another family of 4 with their very different needs and schedules is a lot to stuff in the cabin.

But really – the biggest problem is that my mother can’t just let me make plans.  She has to co-opt things.  To decide the right way to do things, and then push until her version is what happens.

Knowing this, I should have known better.  I should have known that she didn’t MEAN that “if you want to say ‘no,’ that’s fine.'”

Because she’s now not speaking to me.

2)  Lemon is a Sourpuss

Less of a big deal.  She was rather rudely demanding a ride to crew, instead of her riding her bike (like she does every day).  I said no.   I had things to do.  The play (see #3), dinner company tonight, etc. WD said no.  He was on his way out for a run, and he’s the cook for the dinner party tonight.

Everybody said no.

Therefore, Lemon was a tearful martyr.  Then an angry martyr.  I was not amused.

But for a little while, she wasn’t speaking to me. Fortunately, she came home with apologies.

3)  The play. Which is not all fun & games, but rather – work.

Last year, I think I refrained from blogging about it too much, out of fear of being discovered, and making things public that didn’t need to be, we went through HELL with this play.

We hired a director for our fall play in JUNE.  I, as the producer, was in touch with him throughout the summer to confirm his continued availability.  A group of us met in August, to get the process started.  We worked together in September, to do auditions and casting.  He started the rehearsal process in early October.

After the third day of rehearsal, he wrote me an email that was a very formal – yet unexplained – resignation letter.

Unheard of.  It’s a 10 week process.  We were 2 weeks in. And he quit. Contract be damned, kids be damned, commitment be damned.  He was gone.  He didn’t respond to our emails asking he finish out the week.  He didn’t return our phone calls.  He didn’t give a single reason for his abhorrent behavior.  (We can imagine some reasons — but none of which should have been unexpected when directing a play in a junior high school … they are very typical.  Parent-issues, principal issues, volunteer issues.  He had experience working on school plays.  This should have been anticipated.)

Fortunately, we were able to pull things together and get a new team in place (including moving our Assistant Director up to Lead Director).  Some things were rocky going forward:  The first (loser) Director had chosen the show, and the new directing team didn’t love it. The first Director cast the show. The first Director edited the script (or didn’t … in this case … leaving very age-inappropriate material in the script).  But we pulled it together.  We had a great show.  Things were fine.

This year, we are having odd shadows of what happened last year.  Our lead-director called right before our start up meeting and asked to switch places with the Assistant Director.  It was fine.  They are both well-qualified.  I had a moment of hyperventilation, after last year’s trauma (it was horrible, you know), but I knew it was going to be fine.

But then today – another phone call!   The now-assistant director got an acting gig, starting 2 weeks before our show.  Which is dress rehearsal week.  Tech week.  PERFORMANCE WEEK.  And the now-assistant director is ALSO the choreographer.

This, too, will be fine.  The rug is not pulled out from under us (as it was last year).  We have time to figure out a transition and coverage over the last weeks.  But it’s still not what I would have chosen to happen today.  On top of the other stuff.

The rest of the day was full of frantic emails trying to get the audition schedule squared away, juggling kids’ conflicts and preferences, working on getting all the kids registered, and generally fussing through the details.

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School Year Start Up Insanity

September 17, 2011

The beginning and end of the school years always feel like the craziest.

Then I always have to go and do things to make them even MORE crazy.  Like volunteer a lot.

It’s play time at Mouse’s school.  And I’m producing again.  We have been gearing up, getting materials ready, putting our ducks in a row.  Monday is our audition day, and then there will be even more work to get done as the directors do the casting, and edit the script as necessary (for age-appropriate content, appropriate number of cast members, etc).

This week is particularly hairy:

  • Auditions on Monday
  • Pre-school play meeting on Tuesday
  • Parenting Group Meeting at my house on Tuesday (me)
  • Sophomore Parent Meeting at the high school on Tuesday (WD)
  • Nothing on Wednesday … ahhhh
  • 8th Grade Open House on Thursday
  • Book group on Thursday

Then, I think I can rest.  Friday, I’ll be asleep by 7:30.  Unless I have to work until 11:30, to make up for all of the above time missed!  I plan to work from home for the early part of Monday, and then to check out for the afternoon, for the sake of auditions.

Lemon’s birthday is next Sunday.  We have ZERO plans.  She can’t make up her mind about what she wants to do.  We’ll have our usual “you pick a dinner and dessert” with the family, but it’s the friends-party she can’t pinpoint.  She has lots o’ friends, and they’re in a few different social “groups” – I can’t let her have 40 people over.  So she has to make decisions, and can’t.  So, that’s up in the air.  Which is fine, because she has been to many a birthday party MONTHS after the child’s actual birthday.

Personally, I could be done with birthday parties.  But I do think 16 is a big deal, so I’m giving her this one, and then that one next year.

For now, we’re planning on doing something.  But not next weekend.  And that is FINE with me.  There’s enough going on right now.

 

 

 

 

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Remembrances

September 11, 2011

Yesterday afternoon, I had some friends over to play mah jongg.  Lemon was home, working on her homework.  She came out onto the deck where we sat in the late summer sun and cool breeze, and asked us, “Do you mind if I interview you guys about 9/11? It’s my homework.”

That’s how on the day before 9/11, Lemon and three of my friends ended up spending the afternoon talking about that day.  The days after.  The years after.

One of my friends was in New York, and had to call her husband who was going to go into work late that day (in the World Trade Center) not to go. The other two were here in the Boston area.  I was in California.

Lemon remembers the morning, too.  Her memory: “I thought you guys were watching a show.  I didn’t know it was real.  And I was mad, because I wanted to watch Sagwa.”

Because we were in California, we were asleep at 5:45 a.m. when the first tower was hit.  We found out what happened when my father called us:  “Sue! We’re at war!  The United States is being attacked!  You need to come home!”  [I was 28 years old, 5 years married, and he still felt that I needed to come home.]  I spent the next hours, t.v. on, looking out my window at my [obscured] view of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, looking for our plane. Would one hit here?

Politically, I’ve not agreed with many of the reactions to the events on 9/11/01.  I’m not happy about the current wars.

I thought that would lead me to feel jaded on this anniversary.

But I don’t.  I feel sad.  And I feel it’s important to remember.