Life in a Northern Town

The Family that Bikes Together

I’ve been all worried about my own balance, but we’ve achieved some very important OTHER feats of balance around here:

I'm beating you Wyatt!

Rory and Wyatt are both officially bike riders.

This is big news in a family where biking counts. The VT 50 for Rob (50 miles of mountain biking). 50 in the Prouty for me and Sam, once with him on a tagalong and this year, I think, with him on his own wheels. Last year he did 35. Mountain bike camp for Sam. Road bikes, mountain bikes, in-between bikes–we even have the double tagalong for two to ride:

The Family that Bikes Together

I hate pulling the double tagalong, actually, but it’s better than not riding.

And I always want to ride.

I won't go out unless it's at least 40 degrees, though.

Biking is maybe even stupid important in our lives. To me, and to Rob, biking is what proves that we can have four kids and still do everything we want to do, even though we patently can’t. This leads us to do extraordinarily stupid things, as when we returned from China on, I think, a Wednesday and rode 25 miles in the Prouty (which is a ride in support of cancer with a variety of routes ranging from 200 miles down to 19) on Saturday–with Rory and Wyatt in the baby bike trailer (we didn’t have the tagalong yet, and they would have been too small anyway).

We did this because we are stupid, and because we are stubborn, and because we never miss the Prouty, never, and everyone said we couldn’t LEAVE Rory, not so soon after we got home, so we handed her a bag of Doritos, buckled her in next to Wyatt and left them to battle it out. One or the other of them was screaming for about 19 miles. There are no pictures of that. Because it was stupid. Did I mention stupid?

We were even stupider (I know, more stupid, but if you’re the stupid one, I think stupid is a fine word) two months later when, after acquiring the double tagalong, we implemented it in a 19 mile “Tour de Taste” for Rob’s birthday. Rory rode solo on the single tagalong while Rob pulled the double with Lily and Wyatt, and she—still exhausted on a daily basis just from the stress of dealing with us, and English, and life in general—was good for about fifteen, because she is a really good sport. Then she fell asleep, on the tagalong, over and over again, with us waking her up and hollering and pouring water on her and just in generally being the worst possible human beings because we somehow felt we had to complete our circle instead of, duh, having Rob ride ahead and come back with the car.

We thought she’d stay awake after the water.

She didn’t.

She fell off.

We don’t have pictures of that, but we do have this lovely one of what Sam looked like after Rory fell off and so he rode ahead trying to catch Rob and get him to turn around and help me—and then he fell off.

Rory's wounds were all on her leg and hands. She still has a scar.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt like a worse mother. I’ve tried to moderate my idea of what I think will be big fun for the whole family with what’s really possible for the whole family now, but I don’t always succeed.

And yet we still bike. And Rory and Wyatt are determined to keep up. Rory rode to victory first (hardly surprising, given her amazing balance) and Wyatt could not let her beat him. And once they took off, they kept going.

It's a mountain bike, right?

Even with all the disasters, all the kids clearly think of themselves as once and future cyclists. They caress the bikes in the bike store with passion. Turn the pages of Bicycling Magazine. Beg for more and longer rides.

Even after you fall off and get back on (although we did NOT make Rory or Sam get back on after their double crashes that September), biking is fun. Maybe it’s the falling off, surviving and getting back on to bike another day that makes it fun. The picture with all of us, above, is us doing that same ride the kids fell off during the year before, and not one of us, not once, suggested not going. For last year’s Prouty, it rained so hard a friend’s kid wore swim goggles—and all four of us who’d planned to ride slogged along for 35 damp miles.

There’s something about a machine you power with your own legs and effort, something free. And there’s something about doing it together. And there’s something about just keeping doing it, no matter what, about having fun and keeping going under any and all conditions. (Although I am trying to bring a little balance to that one.) I hope that’s the lesson the kids take away from all this two (and three) wheeled craziness: that no matter what happens, you can nearly almost always get up and ride.

Not only that, but you can ride just about anything.

KJThe Family that Bikes Together
read more

The Success of the First Semi-Official Day of Summer Depends on Your Perspective

It’s not official (this according to Sam) because “we never have school on Saturdays.”


  • Planned a summer vacation.
  • Cleaned the playroom.
  • Built a giant fort in the clean playroom.

    This is either the best fort ever or a huge mess. So many things depend on your perspective, don't they?

    • Made a headband from the official American Girl Doll “have-your-mommy-make-you-a-headband” kit.

      I learned how to make a ruffle. Very educational.

    • Had a thunderstorm.
    • Put out a sprinkler and our sad excuse for a wading pool (the former Little Tykes frog-shaped sandbox. I’m getting complaints).
    • And wrapped up with a styling session:

      I love Rory's expression here. She's thrilled.

  • Was it an awesome day? I’d say so. Sam would say so too, now, but he did earlier say something along the lines of “I have to remember that some days of summer are going to be really exciting and we will have a lot planned, but not all of them.” Because there is perspective and perspective, and Sam seems to have been born with perspective.

    Rory had an awesome day when Lily poured the full sunshine of her attention on her, and when she got to watch “Dora Superbabies” with Wyatt (who often pretends this is too babyish for him).

    Lily had a playdate and a birthday party and a visit to the swimming pool and thus a totally different day than that of the three who never left the house.

    Wyatt got sent to his room for throwing a lacrosse ball at the screen door right after his daddy told him not to, and right after the (expensive, elaborate) patio umbrella collapsed (dramatically and with the breaking of a four-by-four post) in the winds of the impending thunderstorm. That’s not about perspective, it’s about timing.

    The plan tonight is to sleep in the giant fort, (not me, for God’s sake, them) and if I am feeling really, really good mother-y, I will let them stay up late and go outside and catch the abundance of fireflies I spotted on the edge of the woods last night. I note here that in this my definition of a “good mother” differs from the one that, I think, plagued my own mother: she would have let me catch fireflies but felt that, because I was not in bed at the right time, she had failed to meet the “good mother” standards her own mother set. Again, perspective.

    I think I would meet my own mom’s “good mother” standards if I just drank a glass of wine and let them get on with it instead of worrying about it so much. Because I have an awesome mom. And so I am going to go uncork my favorite. Ah, summer!

    KJThe Success of the First Semi-Official Day of Summer Depends on Your Perspective
    read more

    Luckiest Day Ever

    Scientists say we all believe negative things happen more often than they do because we remember negative events more clearly and assign them more value. This is why everyone in your town believes that each one always choses the longer line at the grocery store even though that cannot be true, and is where all those heavily sighed “this always happens to me” for which teenagers are renowned come from.

    The cure for this comes in celebrating the small good things in life, and on a grand scale of small good things, my day rocked. I set out for Boston with the intent of getting my hair cut. I purchased my ticket the night before. I arrived in a timely manner and set out for the cab stand after a solid two hours of work on the bus (perhaps the longest stretch of writing I’ve done in months) but en route, I had a moment.

    A moment. The kind of moment where you realize that what you have with you is your laptop bag.

    And yesterday, when you last used your wallet, you were not carrying your laptop bag, but a random tote bag with cheerful green and purple flowers on it which is still sitting on the floor of your bedroom.

    This is not typically what you would consider to be a good moment. I clutched my mobile. I contemplated. I started dialing, only to realize that my dearest Boston friend was in Alaska and probably not even awake yet. I paused. I tood a couple of cleansing breaths. This is difficult to do in a bus station, but the one is Boston is really quite nice as these things go.

    And I remembered that as I walked out of the house, Rob had handed me a new credit card, sent to us to replace an old one, and said he’d activated it for me. And rather than put it in my wallet, I’d just dropped it into the bag over my shoulder.

    This bag.

    I started emptying, carefully. It was not in my New Yorker. It was not in the small notebook I make lists in. It was not in the large notebook I take book notes in. It was not in O. But it was tucked up under the power cord to my laptop, winking at me.

    The cab took it. The stylist (in her much less snooty new digs) took it. The second cab took it. The new grilled-cheese-fast-food place took it. (Cheeseboy, not gonna be my favorite.) And then I was back on the bus and home again.

    Where, as I stood at the pizza place paying for the pizzas for the lacrosse team with, yes, the credit card, it occurred to me after I’d done it all that I wished I’d gotten myself a drink, but I didn’t really have time to go back and have them run the credit card again–and someone walked up and handed me the five dollars she owed me. I’m just glad I didn’t wish for a pony.

    But I should have bought a lottery ticket.

    So, what good stuff happened to you today that you’re suppressing to support that negative illusion?

    KJLuckiest Day Ever
    read more

    The End of the [Year] is Nigh


    Whose idea was it to pack June so chock-ful of events and then send them rocketing at me so fast? These two:

    Just the human two, not the dog.

    Had, of course, a concert. The night before Lily’s birthday party (I have never, ever been so happy to pay exorbitant-sounding sums of money for cupcakes in my whole life; it was worth every penny). They sang their hearts out for 12 songs (which was short, by Montessori standards) and are still singing them pretty constantly, especially the serious earworm one about the donkey in the black bonnet and the lit-tle pur-ple shoes.

    This one had an Egyptian Museum:

    Lily explains Egypt's crown to Rory and Wyatt.


    For which I signed up to provide “decorations,” only to realize, later—what? What constitutes an Egyptian “decoration” and did I think I had some sort of stash of mummies and sphinx somewhere I’d forgotten about? In addition to a small cactus (think desert, but not too hard, please) we provided our new friend:

    Lily and her classmates supplied the baby crocs.

    Today was Lily’s field trip (sunscreen! bug spray! be early for school!) and Sam’s butterfly garden creation (I can bring compost! and Echinachea! (I can bring that, but I cannot spell it.) And verbena! And mint, dug up from our garden, yes, please, take it!). Also, apparently, Sam’s class picnic, for which I promised Rice Krispie Treats, but wrote them on the calendar as for Lily’s class, and then didn’t do that because I knew that couldn’t be right, they were on a field trip… I thought I had the day wrong, but no, I had the kid wrong.

    Tomorrow is Rory and Wyatt’s class picnic and Sam’s field trip (ditto the sunscreen et al and an even earlier school arrival. Then they start messing with me on dismissal times, and Rory and Wyatt are done, and I don’t THINK there are any more anythings for which I have promised anything but God only knows at this point, because I sure don’t. Oh–pizza for Sam’s LAX team, Wednesday night. After I’m back from Boston. Because, what’s one more thing to forget at this point?

    KJThe End of the [Year] is Nigh
    read more

    The Traditional Birthday Tantrum

    This is the birthday girl.

    This is the party.

    First of all, let me say that I angsted over this pinata. I don’t even like pinatas. I mean, I did, when I was little and lived in San Antonio, where some kids had pinatas hanging in their rooms from trips to Nuevo Laredo (in more peaceful times). Me, I had a large ceramic piggy bank I believed was decorated in traditional fashion. No one I knew had ever had a pinata to break, although we had heard of them. I kind of think I was at parties where a home-made one, of paper mache, was broken, but not a real one.

    Now, of course, they’re expected at every party within 20 miles of a party store, and doesn’t that pretty much encompass the entire country?

    I almost didn’t do it. But yesterday, or maybe the day before, Lily said, in reference to her Fantastic Water Party, “but what will my pinata be?”

    Now, you can see the party, above. (it doubled as a massive BBQ for a bunch of friends and an end-of-school year celebration). Here are the party favors:

    Max Liquidators!

    Obviously nothing more was needed. But I was at the (damn) party store, and there was this awesome luau pinata. I loved him. ANd he has huge and would hold lots of candy for all of Lily’s classmates and siblings, and I thought she might be disappointed if there was no pinata.

    We hung it from a tree in back. Sam produced a bat to hit it with, which Rob confiscated, on the theory that one hit and that would end it. And Lily, who had been on the edge from the first minutes of this party extravaganza, lost it.

    Mistakes were made. Truth be told, Lily does not WANT big massive parties. She thinks she does, because she gets lots of gifts, but she does not. What she really wants is for about four little girls to come over and do EXACTLY WHAT SHE WANTS for a couple of hours. Instead, everyone descended on her! With their siblings, because if you’re going to rent a giant water slide like the above, you want everyone to enjoy it! And they had water guns! And they were shooting each other! Before Lily said they could! And going in the playhouse! And not paying attention to her!

    We got through that, but the pinata, with 20 kids lined up to whack it, was too much. Lily REALLY wanted to break it herself. It was never going to happen. So:

    This is not a love-fest.

    Lily wrapped her arms around the pinata and declared that no one could hit it. She wailed. She fell on the ground and rolled around. Shew said she had never wanted a pinata, that she hated pinatas, and that i had ruined her party by getting a pinata. As all but one of her classmates, and their brothers and sisters, stood in a line watching and waiting. One called out, helpfully, “Lily, I’m getting tired of you!”

    Probably she should have been removed screaming from the whole scene. Or have no presents. Or no party next year, or–I don’t know. I have no idea. I have seen a zillion birthday tantrums. and I have never yet seen one handled right, because I have no idea what “right” is, and neither, apparently, does anyone else.

    What did happen? We shamed her out of it. Someone produced a nerf bat, and she tried it, then used a stick. About ten kids later, Luau man was in pieces, and we found that all the candy dropped basically into the laps of the first five kids on the scene and no one else, including Lily, had any. There were tears. But these are gently raised kids, and there was some amazing sharing. One little boy gave Lily nearly all of his candy (I cannot imagine why). Then Lily gave some of hers to a smaller child, and all the parents stood around, shaking our heads, just glad that the whole thing seemed to be over.

    Then they ate candy in the grass.

    Later that night, Lily said “This was my happiest birthday ever!”

    For her sake and mine, I hope she’s wrong.

    KJThe Traditional Birthday Tantrum
    read more

    In the Garden

    I love to grow food.

    I’m pretty indifferent about flowers. I mean, flowers are nice. I like it when there ARE flowers. But there’s a limit to how much time and effort I will invest in flowers, and I generally reach it about the moment when I get to the farm stand, note the huge selection and decide to go get a coffee. (Good thing the farm stand has coffee!)

    But growing food–whole meals so local we are talking steps to the backyard? An entire summer of nearly no substantial grocery shopping beyond milk and, well, chips? Just the fun of saying “we grew this whole salad?” I’m into that. Sam, Lily, Wyatt, Rory–they’re into it too, at least kind of. They’re into the fun part. The work part? Not so much. And much as I enjoy the Little House on the Prairie family work ideal (Laura! Mary! Plant those peas or we will all starve this winter!) I don’t think any child who’s actually been to the grocery store is going to buy into the urgency. So it becomes more of a question of how much is gardening a chore, and how much is it a pleasure, and how much do I force it on the kids?

    This weekend, this was the chore in question:

    That's me, hunched down on the side.

    Note that on the paths, we are growing a substantial quantity of grass. That’s not so bad now, but in a month, it will be an thicket of grass and weeds, unpleasant to walk through and blowing its seeds right up into the bed. I’ve tried a series of mellower weed-staunching ideas out on these paths. There was the newspaper the paths over the winter, mulch them in the spring idea. The let’s-just-weedwhacker-the-grass idea. The straw-down-over-last-year’s mulch idea. None worked, although the small chunk where I used cardboard boxes that wintered down into the ground and then mulched over those came close. Mostly, though, I had this really nice raised-bed garden with awful weedy paths. And it bugs me.

    I think you could make an argument for weeding the paths before you put down the weedpaper, but I didn't.

    So I decided I’d lay down weedpaper, staple it to the beds and then put mulch down over THAT. This took some time.

    Look, in this bed we're already growing a hefty crop of ... weeds.

    Sam: "The weeds don't stand a CHANCE."

    I did enlist Sam for some help. He stapled one row. With, as you can see, great enthusiasm. It is a good thing I ran out of weedpaper at the same time I ran out of staples and had to get more of both.

    But then Sam got sick of it. The weeds in the path meant little to him, and the satisfaction of a job well done was apparently just as elusive. The plants will grow just the same whether there are weeds in the path or not. It was a long, tedious chore. I made him finish the row he’d started, and then I let him go, and when I picked the work up again later, I didn’t bring him out, except to take pictures for me (I now have 50 identical, slightly blurry pictures of me crouched down stapling paths. You got to see the only one that isn’t of my butt.)

    Wyatt spread some mulch, as did Lily. Wyatt and Rory also both put in some weeding and cleared, between them, most of a bed (spring is a GREAT time to have kids weed–because it’s all weeds! Go to it!). Actually, now that I think of it, they really did help, but not much, and not past the point where they lost interest, and not until it was done, which is the moment that you earn. But I was unconvinced that they’d really feel it if they didn’t care that much in the first place.

    Here’s the result:

    Ahh...I really hope this works.

    Just looking at it makes me feel soothed and calm, which is just the way I want to feel in the garden. I will not feel that way if the dandelions spring up through it all—but I keep telling myself none of them had gone to seed, so they should just die. (DIE! DIE! DIE, WEEDS, DIE!) I need a few more bags of mulch (and it would probably be even more calming if i had bought all the same KIND of mulch, but they were low on the cheap stuff and I didn’t want to wait), but the stapling and papering is done. A little weeding, and we are ready to plant. That, the kids want in on.

    So I don’t think we built much character today. I did keep thinking, you know, should I be making Sam and Lily, at least, slog through this? But I’m telling myself there will be plenty of time to sweat in the garden later (and there will).

    KJIn the Garden
    read more

    What Lily Does on a Rainy Day

    Crafty Lily

    Originally uploaded by kjda

    Lily has crafty instincts in more ways than one. By all rights, today should have been soccer. Normally, we play soccer in the rain around here. We do not let a little 50 degree weather or drizzle stop us! In fact, we have, and have had since Sam was this age and playing in this particular soccer (a spring fundraiser for the Dartmouth men’s and women’s soccer teams), special soccer gloves.

    Well, they’re not really special soccer gloves. They’re stretchy gloves, the kind you get at the dollar store, that say “soccer” on them. But around here, that makes ’em special soccer gloves.  And they were ready to go today.

    But the field was not. The field was wet and muddy after a long day of not-exactly-drizzle style rain (although not really ark-worthy, either) and I was pretty happy to see the email cancelling (all of two hours before we were supposed to go, and whether that’s because everyone in the world is supposed to have a mobile phone, or because the given assumption here is that a parent will be the one taking you to soccer (not actually a mom, it’s probably about 80-20 with soccer) as opposed to a babysitter or a carpool, I don’t know. Last week, it was indeed a babysitter taking Lily, Wyatt, Rory and Lily’s buddy B to soccer. But this week, it was me. Or would have been. And I was all revved to sit in the damp and cold and watch! I totally was! I was not even thinking of bagging and spending the afternoon at home, because what kind of an example would that set, to let a little wet stop you when we have special gloves and everything!

    But they cancelled. And Lily, Wyatt, Rory and B entertained themselves, with no help from me, all afternoon in the basement. I was working on something, and I could hear Lily’s dulcet tones drifting up periodically through the heater vent.


    “WYATT! NO!”

    “But when I ask you to do something I expect you to DO IT!”

    I do not know where she got that last one, not at all.

    But eventually, after B went home, Lily emerged with three “backpacks” made by her, her pile of felt and her fantastic little low-heat glue gun (which it occurs to me I should go make sure is unplugged). This one’s hers, and she’s pretty miffed that her homework folder won’t fit in it.

    Crafty is Lily’s thing. She’ll scrapbook any time I’ll get the stuff out:And who can forget her Valentines? Certainly not her classmates. Or, probably, their parents. We don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying that she’s not sufficiently creative.

    But what I do worry about is that they’re not really getting the hang of this whole “contributions” thing–which around here we call jobs. Indeed, everyone has jobs–the personal jobs of packing and unpacking one’s lunch daily, and putting one’s own things away, and one’s laundry, etc., and the larger job–dinner helper, say, or trash-taker-outer. And they do do these jobs, without a WHOLE lot of complaint–but only if reminded. And kind of slapdash and half-assed. We are often so busy that on some nights there really isn’t time for jobs, or even to do your own lunch, and it seems to me that on the one hand, they need their sleep. (Because it’s healthier for them, and they’ll do better in school. Really. It isn’t because if they’re still awake after 8:30 I begin to slowly start plucking out my own eyelashes.) But on the other hand, they should know that some things, you have to do know matter what. And they should know how to do the things, and not be completely stymied by the idea of figuring out how to wipe a counter with crumbs on it without resorting, minutes later, to the vacuum.

    So tonight presented a good opportunity for that form of training. Plus we have ants, which, history suggests, will soon be followed by the fruit flies (must be Spring!) both of which always inspire in me great heights of clean countertops and even greater use of bleach wipes and whatnot. And tomorrow, which features only one brief activity for one child and should have us all home shiny and happy by 4:45, could be another! We could go on, actually managing to have the kids actually do what are meant to be daily chores!

    Until next week….

    KJWhat Lily Does on a Rainy Day
    read more