Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I'll take this as a New Year's Sign

Ever since I landed my new job in July, I have been trying to figure out my commute. The school is only 1.86 miles away from our apartment and given that we have prided ourselves on being a one-car, OK, a one minivan-family, I was brainstorming ways to get to school without using the minivan. This summer worked out well when it was just me going to school--I simply put on my running shoes, charged my iPod, and walked. I often packed a different pair of pants along with work-appropriate shoes, and would change in my office after wiping down the sweat.

When school started however, I knew that the walk would just be too long for the boys. I am also realistic that they just could not ride their bikes yet. While they've become quite proficient on their two-wheelers and love going on New Haven's bike path, the commute to school is just too urban, crossing far too many busy streets, to make it doable for them (and surely instead of a healthy way for me to get to school, I would be filled with incredible stress and angst the whole way). A friend who lives on the Jersey Shore sent me this eBay link-- she had been considering buying a pedicab/rickshaw. The price was right, but when she brought the listing to her local bike shop, the owner totally balked, thinking that putting it together would be a nightmare. I suddenly seized on this pedicab idea though, surfing the web, trying to see who on the East Coast builds such contraptions. Mostly, I found that these are used for commercial reasons in cities bigger than New Haven: New York, Miami, Chicago. I tracked down a few cool sites selling these big tricycle carriers, but like this one, they were all overseas. I guess we Americans were far more focused on making bigger and bigger SUVs with names like Yukon and Escalade than cool cargo bikes, and we all know how this turned out for us.

Anyhoo, September rolled around and school began and so did the car commute with the boys. I did love that P commuted with F by bike to preschool and P was using his bike to run errands around town, head to his Sunday internship, etc. but I was still unhappy that we were driving. I noticed the families in our school community who came by bike. Mostly, the kids were older and their route different than ours, but still I greatly admire the moms and dads that strapped on their helmets, accompanying their kids by pedaling in what I see as a great life lesson-- one of those even bigger than school can teach. There is a family from our neighborhood that commutes by bike. Dad is a downtown lawyer, and he clips up his suit pants as he has the family toddler in a kid front seat on his bike and the first grader on one of these back attachable thingamagigs that I totally admire but don't work when you have twins. I flirted with the idea of a back trailer, but I really am uncomfortable with having the boys sit so low behind me on the streets we need to travel to get to school so nixxed that as well.

In October, I enjoyed a weekend getaway with my friend Andrea from Maine who is not only a momma of three boys including a set of twins, but also is the person who walks the talk of environmental responsibility more than anyone else I know. In our conversations around life with three boys and work and school commutes, I explained my ongoing pursuit to figure out a no-car solution. "Get a Bakfiets," Andrea responded.

"A what?" came my response. Andrea went on to explain these Dutch cargo bikes and I had her write down this strange word on a slip of paper so I could investigate it when I got home. Back with the Internet, I suddenly became a woman possessed as I looked up these most wonderful bikes. They are far from inexpensive, but I figure with gas prices surely on the way up again and if it helps us avoid a second car (and insurance)-- it will be well worth the cost. I found cool mama bloggers willing to answer my questions about their Bakfietsen, including Jessica in San Francisco who then led me to Lex in not-too-far-from-me Northampton. I loved learning that Lex was also a momma of three boys, yes--including a set of twins, and she offered me a test drive on her Bakfiets next time I am in Northampton. I have yet to get there, but her bike testimony definitely sealed the deal for me. I was going to take the Bakfiet Plunge and began contacting dealers. Our local bike shop didn't know of any East Coast dealers nor could I find any via the web on this side of the country. The closest I could find was a Seattle-based company's brand-new shop in Chicago, but the shipping cost would be the same as the price from the Portland company I contacted and where Lex and Jessica got theirs. Side note: Of course, I realize that it is insane about cost and fuel needed to ship one of puppies from the Pacific Northwest (via the Netherlands?!!), but I don't think I am quite ready to kick in my entrepreneurial skills and open my own local Bakfietsen dealership on this coast.

So now this conversation has now turned from not what? but to when?. Since I really settled on the idea in November about purchasing the Bakfiets, the weather was just turning in New Haven. I wondered the smartest time to buy-- not really about cost but more about practical things about when I could use it and where I could store it once winter weather really was upon us. I live in a rented apartment and we have no garage. I hated the idea of my brand-new cargo bike sitting forlornly out in the snow and our side of the porch just won't be able to accommodate such a wonderful beast along with our other bikes and scooters. I decided that February would be right--I guessed it would take time to ship and when it arrived, the weather would just begin to encourage a bike commute.

And then yesterday-- the sign of confirmation! Sitting in a downtown coffee shop, my three boys became entranced with a stranger with a bright green fold up bike. As I cleaned up coffee cups and crumbs, the guys surrounded this kind woman as she, upon-request, unfolded and folded her bike a couple of times and answered the many questions of my interested sons. As soon as I walked over to the four, I immediately noticed the stencil on her cool bike-- the Portland, OR company I had decided to purchase my Bakfiets. Elly, the cool woman with the cool bike, handed me her card and posted this about us yesterday. So check out Elly's (from blog.

And I will let you know about our big 2009 purchase....

Monday, December 29, 2008

Six-Year-Old Fantasies

C: Sometimes I wish you were my servant.

Me: Well, I sort of am your servant.

C: But if you were really my servant, I could ask you for ice cream in the middle of the night.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Here is a snap of our annual tradition-- the only time I dress my boys alike.
Our Waiting For Santa PJs 2008:

Merry! Merry one and all!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Snapshots from the week

I drive down the street, frantically looking for an open space. I flip the minivan around and pull up to the curb on the side where I cannot stay, thanks to street cleaning and vigilant tow trucks. I get out, slide open the doors, deftly unstrap the car seats and free the boys. As other families scramble to the front door of the school down the block, I make the choice: I will send the boys off to the door by themselves-- for the first time all school year, while I wait for a legal parking space to open from a departing family. C and S happily scurry off as I climb back into the running car, blinker thrown already. About to make a sharp left, I glance up to the corner, just in time to see a flash of olive green tumble. I see feet flip up in the air and I hear the high pitch wail of my son as outstreached hands scrape the concrete.


"Mom!" , "Mama, Mama!" The shouts envelope me as I step through my front door after an evening faculty meeting. Clad in fleece pajamas, feet toasty in fuzzy slippers, my sons jump from their positions on the couch to greet me. Their wet hair is neatly slicked to the side, reminiscent of boys in 1950s photographs, but rarely like their hair in daily life. They lead me to the couch where they retake their places, renegotiating blanket wrapping, making room for one more-- me. I am in time to hear the Christmas story, a part of our December countdown. Twenty four books were wrapped and stacked in a basket, sitting underneath a handwritten calendar marked with the boys' names. Each day the 'assigned' fellow picks one book and the five of us huddle in to read it together. I rest my head against the leather couch, happy that P is reading tonight. F upsets the blanket to climb into my lap. We wrap up again, one boy on me, the two others leaning into me on my left and right. I pick up my head to nuzzle my nose into my youngest's ginger-colored hair, sniffing the surprisingly spicy scent of the boys' new shampoo, and just breathe.


Twenty minutes into the service, the pew is strewn with crayons and books. I shift, finally trying to settle in, quiet myself a bit after the morning race to get the three boys fed and wiped and dressed and bundled and strapped into car seats and through the tall church doors-- all by myself as their dad is off serving at another church. After a year of enjoying the playroom downstairs, F has decided that he has had enough of being separated from his brothers now that he unhappily is forced to on school days. The older two can negotiate the service: they know when they must attend to what is happening and when it is OK to turn to their books and drawings, when to stand and sing, and when to turn to their neighbors and shake hands enthusiastically, offering 'peace.' The three-year-old fidgets. He grabs at his brother's book. He sits on the ground, splays his legs, and promptly bangs his head against the wooden pew in front. I lean over and grab him under his arms, hefting him up, as I simultaneously try to shush him and comfort him. He leans against my chest and I lay my cheek against his head, turning my head to do so and notice the seams on my sweater-- the one I obviously have been wearing inside out all morning.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

To Hover or Not to Hover

that is the question. I am not talking about every moment of the day, helicopter parenting. I am simply wondering about my role and responsibility at birthday parties.

Driving home from the birthday party of a good friend of S & C's (I am good friends with his mom, too), I realized that I spent much of the festivities hovering around my guys, trying to head off any potential crying fits, meltdowns, screaming, and the ilk. I actually didn't hover the entire time. When the science lady was doing her fun schtick, playing with dry ice, making alien goop, etc., I huddled tables away from the kids, chatting with another mama. I suspected that the fellows would be excited by her program and would pay attention-- so much so that I did remind them to be good listeners when they first sat down. Is that too much? I know as audience members they often like to ask lots of questions, comment frequently, and generally narrate what is going on as they did with yesterday's magic show. I didn't want to stifle their engagement in the science show or dissuade them from asking questions, I just wanted them to make sure they didn't dominate the scene and let the lady do her gig. Too controlling?

It was during the physical part of the party that I stepped up my surveillance on the boys. At first, jumping in the two large bouncy houses was exhilarating and kicking around the numerous balloons strewn around the floor exciting, but at some point, the kids turned this combination into a competition-- collecting balloons to capture in 'their' bouncy houses, striving for a larger number than the other bouncy house crew's. Suddenly, pushing, clawing, and blocking got thrown in the mix, and I stepped up and stood behind one of the bouncy structures, peering through the black mesh, and prompting my sons to remain in control.

There had already been a few tears shed by S at the start of the jumping, accusations of elbows thrown, an ankle stepped on. I started to have flashbacks of two past birthday parties: one at a kids' gym where C fell apart so completely that I became so out-of-sorts, completely unsure how to parent in the moment (still so traumatizing--for me-- that I have yet to write about it) and the second in a karate place, where some of the party goers became so frenzied by the action, the instructor lost all control of the scene and two boys ended up in fisticuffs--so much for karate teaching discipline.

C and S behaved mostly well at today's event, but as some of the action ramped up, I began imagining the past party scenarios. I asked them to leave the bouncy house, sit for a bit to the side, and got them juice. They didn't protest, happy--I think-- for a drink and a rest. When one of their friends came over and asked if they were allowed to play more, I nodded my consent and off they went, back into the fray. I again positioned myself on the periphery of their chosen bouncy house, suddenly aware that most of the parents were hanging out at the tables. I was one of the few standing, totally following the action at close range.

And I can't help but wonder-- Am I too controlling? Do I not let my guys cut loose and just have fun? I know that I have stricter standards of behavior that I expect from the boys than it seems that some others do, but this doesn't bother me. My folks were stricter than many other parents and I think my siblings and I all turned out well. So while I don't want to spoil my sons' fun, I do want them to be polite, well behaved, and considerate of others. I am just not sure of the line of appropriately vigilant and over-the-top, crazily involved and controlling....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Way Better Than Jewelry

I am not a big jewelry girl. I tend to like chunky silver stuff, some cool wrist cuffs (never worn together), and my necklace with thin tags stamped with my sons' names. Long before I ever watched Blood Diamond and was horrified by the diamond trade depicted in that film, I just never really 'got' diamonds. I don't go around sneering at other people's jewelry choices like I may about their parenting choices (hee-hee). OK, I only may sneer on occasion if the piece is so ostentatious it's meant to be noticed by others, even while sitting on the other side of say, a baseball stadium from said finger wearing said ring. And truthfully, I'm just not around folks with that kind of taste... or money.

I've heard these stories about women who just wouldn't even consider marrying a guy if he didn't get her the 'right kind' of rock or even these so-called "push presents," some strange custom of giving a new mom expensive baubles for, uh, how to explain. OK, here's a quote from the New York Times: “'It’s more and more an expectation of moms these days that they deserve something for bearing the burden for nine months, getting sick, ruining their body,' said Linda Murray, executive editor of “The guilt really gets piled on.'" I just don't relate. I wear a plain white gold wedding band that first belonged to my husband's grandma, and I certainly didn't expect anything material-wise for having carried our children. What I did expect was a full partner in the parenting department: someone willing to take on as much of the care of the babies that I did, not championing the 'aren't I such a great dad for changing one diaper.' And this partner I got fully in P. Here's a guy who gave up a great career in NYC, running an amazing organization with numbers of staff people working for him, to take on a job in rural Maine with no prestige and no retirement account, where he answered fully to two cranky and demanding bosses, a.k.a. one-year-old twins.

So I don't want nor do I get jewelry from my husband. But let me illustrate what I do get. Tonight at 10:45PM, P announced he was exhausted and going to bed. I just got home at 9:45PM from a meeting and was still looking for some down time before sleep. He went into our room, slipped into bed on my side, and will sleep there until I'm ready to climb into bed. I'll nudge him a bit and he'll roll to the right, his designated territory. He does this, starting out on my side, totally unprompted, because he knows how much I hate climbing into a cold bed. And that act, my friends, is so much more precious to me than any gem-studded piece of metal.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Three is a Uh.. Magic Number?

I have an incredible fondness for Schoolhouse Rocks. I find these clever educational cartoons from the 1970's focusing on grammar, multiplication, the electoral college, energy etc. to have withstood the test of time-- I loved them as a kid and I love them now. When teaching middle school language arts, I would cue up the specific part of speech we were studying and even my too-cool-for-school students would get excited, singing, "Verb:That's what's happening!" and "Interjections show excitement or emotion..." Just over a year ago, my three sons discovered our 30th Anniversary DVD of these favored Saturday morning jingles and soon became addicted. They particularly like "Interplanet Janet," "Electricity," and "Naughty Number Nine."

While I've collected no hard data to support this assertion, "Three is a Magic Number" is among many from my generation's most remembered and favored from this collection. Blind Melon covered it in the mid-90's and more recently Jack Johnson put his own spin on the song with updated lyrics about reducing, reusing, and recycling, gathering a whole new fan base for the tune. I like the song a lot, but lately I've been thinking of it in less fond terms. OK, I get the stuff about tripods, tricycles, triangles and even faith, hope and charity. However, as a person who had twins her first go-around, I never could quite relate to the verse "A man and a woman had a little baby. Yes, they did. They had three in the family. That's a magic number" since P and I immediately jumped from two to four in our family. And truthfully, that's not the part that's been bugging me these days.

I have two complaints with this three-as-magic idea lately: 1). I have a three-year-old 2). The dynamic of three boys is anything but magic in our home right now. Now, I'll be the first to celebrate the fact that F's threeness has led to the albatross of diapers being lifted thanks to his recent potty training success. Yet I am finding the other aspects of three-year-old behavior to be less celebratory: the screeching, the insistence on doing everything by himself, the general crabbiness, and grand drama when his parents say no. All of my friends who are parents agree-- it's really not the terrible twos; it's the threes that get you. I had to laugh when I saw the book title for this age range in the book series by Louise Bates Ames about children's developmental stages: Your Three-Year-Old: Friend or Enemy.

When we learned I was pregnant with F and he was a boy, we were thrilled. Even though I grew up with five sisters, I never felt the burning desire to raise a girl. Of course, we would have been perfectly content with daughters, but we got three boys--so right on. We were in the boy mode. And adding a third child to the mix in general didn't seem overwhelmingly daunting. Yes, we had to reconsider our car size to accommodate three carseats, but other than that, we felt totally outnumbered with the twins so didn't see much of a difference being literally outnumbered.

Lately though, having three boys has become more complicated. The energy, both positive and negative, can reach overwhelming levels quite quickly in our two bedroom apartment. Yet more than that, F has reached the age where he is acutely aware that his brothers are doing things that he is not, and he wants to be included--all the time. He must be included or he will shriek, and throw himself on the ground, and fuss, and make anyone in his general vicinity wish he came with a mute button. And while I can empathize with being the younger sibling wanting to do what one's older siblings can, I can't help but wonder if the twins plus a singleton complicate this dynamic even more. While S and C are certainly not always a united duo, they do tend to do much together and F clearly feels like a third wheel, left out, left behind, and boy, he'll let us know how this displeases him. We've made some adjustments to our routines to have him feel more included. For instance, even though the boys attend different schools and need to be there at different times-- technically, the twins need to arrive earlier than F-- we all now leave the house together, bringing F to school first in order to avoid an ugly morning scene (on top of the chaos of just getting out in the morning, dressed with lunchboxes in hand). Of course, there are plenty of situations where all three cannot be doing the same thing. We try and treat S and C like individuals so they don't always get the same thing. F, his own person, doesn't, can't, and frankly, shouldn't always get what his brothers do.

Our latest dilemma: C and S were asked to participate in P's divinity school's Lessons and Carols which is a big deal because they will surely be the youngest participants. They will read one of the lessons, and we were careful to split the reading right down the middle so the two have equal parts. However, as we've begun to practice for Wednesday night, F has made a louder and louder stink about his part or lack thereof. And while the older boys practice reading aloud, standing behind a makeshift podium created from two stacked ottomans, I can just picture the scene in the chapel when they get up to read and F gets left behind in the pew. Or if we just let F stand with the two of them at the lectern that evening, with all his three wiggliness-- surely the lesson would not get heard. Tonight's new idea: teach F the line, "Thus ends the lesson" so after his brothers finish their reading, he can chime in. Three's just not feeling so magical.