Big Kid

The second week of September this year was a big one for our family. Lots of “firsts.” First full day of Kindergarten (my daughter). First PTA meeting (me). First lice scare (daughter, son, me and my husband. No one had it). These are situations I would file under: Having a Big Kid.

I went from knowing every move Z made last year at her small, nurturing pre-school with three teachers for 15 kids, to her being one of 22 kids with one teacher in K. I used to get a report about what she did or didn’t eat at lunch and if she went to the bathroom during the day (!) Now, the kids are eating lunch in the cafeteria on their own. They pee with a partner, and no one is making sure they go.

Becoming more independent. Learning to operate as part of group. Following directions and learning consequences. All good things! It’s just … an adjustment … for me.

That first week realizing I had a big kid was a bit jarring. There were lots of afterschool meetings bunched together, with big kid school-ese and information about fundraising and peanut allergies in the noisy auditorium, where the sounds of the principal on a microphone, plus the murmuring of parents, plus siblings of our newly minted elementary students were all echoing off of the walls. Lots of questions from parents of even bigger kids, about middle school and money for school band and lots of politics I couldn’t begin to understand yet. I felt like I had no idea what was going on.

And so the C word keeps cropping up. Control. And by that I mean feeling like I have none. Principals and nurses and teachers and lunch ladies and all kinds of interactions that happen to my child without my sanctioning during the day. I’m getting what I feel is very little information from or about my kid. But is this actually happening, or is it part of a larger realization that the world is moving forward and my big kid is being plummeted in? I’ve been feeling acutely that sadness and pain are now imminent for her. She’ll need to fight her own battles and deal with the challenges of big kid-dom beyond the safe cocoon of preschool. I guess I’m having trouble thinking about all the amazing things in store for her at the same time because I think I’m seeing it from her eyes, and it all seems so, well, BIG.

When we leave her every morning in class, the panic in her eyes seems to lessen each day. Maybe its more of an awareness than a panic — she seems to know that she’s in a new and somewhat uncomfortable situation where people are expecting her to be more self sufficient. We get very little out of her when she comes back in the afternoon after a full day, save for some worksheets practicing letters and notices about a library card and ordering Highlights magazine. I know she’s processing, and can see that she’s proud of her new status as a big kid. Every time another parent asks how its going, I’m forced to say its “going well,” and yet I feel a bit vague on the whole thing. That must be the realization once again, that Control is an illusion.

Kids Musicians: Rock Star Wannabes?

I was looking to hire a musician to play guitar at my son’s first birthday party. I figured it would be fun to have someone sing a Twinkle Twinkle/Wheels on the Bus/Yellow Submarine medley before we plied the kids with cake and got everyone the hell out of our house so that I could take a nap.

First I asked the teacher from the little music class baby M. goes to if she’d be interested. It’s a brand name here in Brooklyn, one of the “cool music classes” with original songs about living in the city, taking cabs, tall buildings. After many inquiries, the lead performer finally gave me a quote: 300 clams. And that just really gave me pause. Sorry,but I’m talking 12 kids under five, maracas, maybe some scarves. Forty-five minutes.

One of the great things about living in New York City is that there are artists everywhere. Creative people who are shrewd and resourceful; they’re figuring out how to play music, act, write, paint – all while surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Many of these folks have realized that parents will spend a ridiculous amount of money on their kids in the name of “enrichment.” That means they can ask a lot for lessons and birthday parties and people will pay it. And then they can afford to play their own music at night, go on auditions between gigs or pay rents on their studios.

If you care about music, you’re aware of how overly cheery and precious some kids’ music can be. And how smart and hilarious and deep the great stuff can be (They Might Be Giants and Gustafer Yellowgold are two bands we love listening to and watching on DVD over and over again). It’s thrilling to see the specific genius of art and music created for a young audience, how elegantly these artists get into the brains of our babies.

Our Brooklyn neighborhood is home to hipsters who project their carefully curated culture onto their kids. These are people who insist that their infants really enjoy The Clash and that their 2-year-olds prefer artisanal popsicles to those freeze pops you can buy at the drugstore. So if your toddlers dance like mad to Yo Gabba Gabba, it reinforces the fact that you, too, are still cool (all bands are excited to be booked on that show).

I am not taking myself out of this phenomenon. I took my kids to Yo Gabba Gabba Live, where I overpaid for tickets and an official Yo Gabba Gabba light stick and watched at intermission as the sponsor of the event (Kia) did a live commercial for a captive audience (of children!). To me, it was an example of Good Indie Cool Thing Gone Bad. Which happens. There’s that line when something is lovely and entertaining and then it crosses into being cheesy and compromised. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but I’d rather not overpay for it.

The irony, of course, is that kids are the most opened-minded listeners out there, especially the younger ones. My daughter could not get enough of this damned Elmo potty video when she was aged two to three, and it mortified me to death. We often think we’re providing them with this awesome, homegrown goodness when really, you could stick them in front of a video for Who Let The Dogs Out? and they would go bananas.

Thing is, I probably would have booked the $300-per-hour musician – mostly because I know the music is solid and that the people who write and teach it actually care about their product being quality. But it took two weeks for them to get back to me, likely because they were busy booking gigs. Or hate doing birthday parties. And by then, I had hired an old friend to come and entertain baby M. and friends – a super talented singer-songwriter who is now working his way up the children’s musician world ladder. He was awesome. And cheaper, almost by half. We sang Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens and some other songs I don’t remember, and clapped and then had cake. And then everyone went home, and we all took a nap.

(Photo: yogabbagabba.com)

One Mom’s Quest For Order – At The Container Store

Forget yoga, acupuncture, meditation or medication. When I’m in need of something to really take the edge off, I visitThe Container Store. It is a most wonderful and joyous place. For those of you unfamiliar, or unlucky to not have one where you live, it’s a home/office organization store devoted to selling boxes and bins of all shapes and sizes to put your crap into. You walk in, and with the help of the least attitudinal salespeople to have ever worked in Manhattan, you can organize your life down to the tiniest, junkiest, scariest drawer in your home. There is a container, or a hook, or a dry erase board, or a filing box that is sure to suit your needs and make you feel as if your life is absolutely not spinning out of control.

The ethos behind The Container Store is either genius or diabolical, depending on where you fall on spending yourself out of a problem.  These days, I’m pretty much for it.

Sometimes I go there just to breathe the lavender and cedar scented air in the extensive closet department, where I can ponder the potential of all wooden hangers in my perfectly edited, sorted-by-color-and-style dream closet (no wire hangers for Mommy!).  I wander the aisles, wide-eyed, present, and pulsing with the desire to de-clutter, snatching random crap that I know will make my life better and make me a super awesome parent and all around person to be envied: gift wrap and tape to always have on hand; shelf dividers so I can see all the snacks in the cavern that is our snack shelf; sensible, dishwasher-safe reusable baggies for school lunches my 4-year-old daughter won’t eat; atchotchke to gather the wires under my desk into a beautiful little bundle.

I even found the tiniest (and cheapest) container in the place: one-inch-square Lucite boxes in an assortment of rainbow colors, which totally delighted my daughter (39 cents!).  But I can’t be sure that my almost 1-year-old son didn’t eat the hot pink one, as I saw him gumming enthusiastically it the other day and haven’t seen it since.

When I was pregnant last summer with my second kid, I was nesting like a meshuganah.  Always a lover of containers, I became frighteningly obsessive, dragging home bins on a weekly basis (and I mean dragging – nine months pregnant and hoisting things home on the subway like a cavewoman dragging home her kill).  The desire to purge and fold and stack was physical, like I could somehow alleviate the anxiety of parenthood by sorting and saving and labeling with my label maker: things to pass on to friends, things to keep for the baby, things to go to storage. My husband joked that he was worried to go to sleep for fear of waking up in a man-shaped bin. I was certainly tempted.

I had then, and still have now, an intense need to put things into things. Bins and shelves and the promise of an orderly exterior somehow make me feel like I can do it, I can handle the intensity of raising these children. I was not always like this! I could let things go – not do dishes immediately or throw things in a heap until later. But now that I’ve talked about it with other parents, I know so many mothers and fathers who crave order in this same somewhat obsessive way. There are so many things to think about that we cannot control, that sometimes it feels safe to fixate about things we can.  Like bins.

I am aware that buying things will not lead to happiness in the long run. But sometimes it seems like if you have theright things, carefully chosen and perfectly curated – like if Martha Stewart were walking beside you in The Container Store, making recommendations on filing systems or giving you tips on the right hamper to fit into your tiny little closet – then maybe, just maybe, you’ll be okay.

We all have our stuff, both metaphorical and physical. No matter how organized that stuff is, or where we put it, it will always be ours.

(Photo: thecontainerstore.com)

Musing On A Past Life, Pre-Kids

I have these moments of intense nostalgia, usually triggered by one of my senses. A summer camp smell, certain songs by Phish, or a glimpse of The Breakfast Club on cable can recall a time and a place when I was a different person. So pure in their ability to create longing for a past life, these moments feel like the impetus for an artistic epiphany or something – like I’m supposed to do something tangible with these powerful memories. But I can’t paint or sculpt or write a song or make a film. I wish I knew how. Or had the time.

Recently I was waiting for my husband to meet me in Chelsea for a friend’s art opening. It was a Thursday, late afternoon, early summer, and the kids were home in Brooklyn with a sitter. I planned to walk around and check out some galleries, since I never do that kind of aimless cultural wandering anymore, but I was thirsty and ducked into an Irish pub instead. I sat at the bar and drank two beers and got kind of buzzed as the place started to fill with people. As I listened to conversations around me, couples and clusters of friends having their first drinks of the night, getting ready to go to a show, a party, a restaurant, I felt a pang of envy for my younger self. There was a time where I regularly sat in bars like this one, alone, sipping a whiskey, reading a magazine and waiting for a friend or a boyfriend. There was nothing this twenty-something unencumbered self had to accomplish, short of getting to my job and doing my laundry. Go to the gym, maybe.

A night like this — the first warm one of summer — would be languid, anticipatory, pulsing with potential. Maybe I’d meet someone hilarious or make out with a stranger. New York, and the world, was open to me. I didn’t know where I would be in ten years. Looking back now, my only anxiety was: who and where do I want to be and how in the hell do I get there?

I wouldn’t have guilt about leaving the kids. Or worry about ruffling a babysitter’s feelings by staying out too late. Or wasting money on a stupid night out. Wondering if I bicker too much with my husband. Or if my kids will be as lucky as I was to enjoy a mostly happy childhood.

I likely know where I’ll be for the next ten years, and most days I feel incredibly lucky. But now I have the worry of staying lucky, not screwing up. Being an example. Keeping my marriage strong. Being a good mom. Trying to enjoy my blessings without the crushing anxiety that can go along with having them. Because at a certain point all that languid, pulsing-with-potential business begins to get tired, and you start looking for the next thing, which begets the next, and the next thing you know you have a mortgage, two kids and four kinds of insurance (health, life, condominium, auto).

So sitting in a bar every once in a while is a definitely a good thing. It’s just a very different thing if you don’t get to do it with regularity.

(Photo: Goodshot)