Two photos from making cookies at Christmas from my mom, who finally got around to posting them. This was Minna’s first time using her new rolling pin. As you can tell, Ollie’s used his a lot!
Awhile ago I read Tom Sawyer in large part because I wanted a window into how kids, and boys in particular, used to live. I know it’s a work of fiction, but I figured it would still provide insight into what was expected of kids more then a century ago, and what they were capable of. I loved it, and now don’t feel so badly about giving my kids a bath only once a week, if we’re lucky. Now as Ollie and I read together, I’m struck by the world children used to inhabit.
In 1962’s The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, Peter wakes up to a snowy morning and goes outside to explore, all by himself.
At the end he goes home and tells his mother about his adventures outside, but the key thing is that he’s had them unaccompanied, all by himself. And he’s pretty young, because he’s not able to join the big boys in a snowball fight. Maybe the whole thing’s supposed to be a fantasy. Maybe when it was written young boys didn’t go outside alone for snowy adventures, but I don’t think so.
In the 1972 book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day clearly things are different. There are obvious technology differences, like going to school in a car with no booster seats (and the mom’s not wearing a seat belt and there’s a child in the front seat, no air bags!!), but also Alexander and his brothers are left all alone, out on the street.
By the looks of the picture, they’re even in in the street. I don’t need to tell you the plot point is not that their mom is irresponsible and the children should be taken away. At school, Alexander’s friends have sweets and candy (“a Hershey bar with almonds”!! NUTS!!) for dessert. Do you see what kids climb on during recess?
And have you read The Tale of Peter Rabbit? Their mother leaves all the children alone to go off to the baker, even though the very farmer who killed her husband and baked him in a pie is close by! While the daughters eat blackberries, Peter gets in all kinds of trouble by himself and is almost captured by the very same farmer.
I don’t read many contemporary children’s books, so I can’t tell you if they’re filled with helicopter parents shuttling kids to music lessons and soccer practice, or if they tell the story of kids trapped inside watching videos instead of dragging sticks through snow. But the more stories I hear of kids living without the opportunity to explore and play and be kids, the sadder I get. Every time I read one of these books to my kids, I want them to experience more than just a Very Bad Day, or a snow day, or a garden adventure. I want them to see what kids used to do and to know they still can.
I love giving books as presents and lately I’ve been really into older children’s books (more on this in another post) so I figured someone had a list on Amazon of all the Caldecott Medal Winners, right? Easy ordering for all your gift-giving needs! But I only found a Caldecott Winners Gallery 2010 to 1971. So I created a list of the rest: Caldecott Medal Winners 1938-1970.
Looking back at the covers was especially fun, as I had many of the winners from the seventies and had forgotten all about them! And the illustration/design time-travel scrolling through the covers is fascinating too.
We don’t let Ollie watch any TV and his computer/iPad/iPhone screen time is regulated. But when he gets the iPad, one of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos, which he picks from ones I’ve favorited. At some point I favorited a video of a woman making a fire truck cake because it’s similar to the one I made for Ollie’s 2nd birthday. He’s watched this one, and many related cake-making videos, more than anything else. Often he mentions “Laurie Gaylin” when we’re in the kitchen, and I had to ask, “Who’s that?” Turns out she’s the woman making all the cakes in his videos. Here’s the fire truck cake:
So Sunday morning I was running around the house, trying to get stuff done before friends came over to watch the Super Bowl. Talking half to myself and half to Ollie, I said, “I’ve got to find my pastry bag!” because I wanted to pipe the deviled egg filling into the whites. (This may seem like overkill but it’s way easier and faster than trying to get that yolky glue off a spoon.)
Ollie casually says, “Or a freezer bag.”
“What?” I ask him, not understanding what he’s even talking about.
“Or a freezer bag,” he repeats to me. “Laurie Gaylin says you can use a pastry bag or a frosting bag or just a freezer bag.”
Fellow bakers, your mouth must have dropped when you read that sentence, as mine did when he said it. The kid is really learning something from all those videos.
(Turns out her name is Laurie Gelman, and she’s the host, not the baker. But who quibbles with a three year old?)
My freshman year in college, a former rower stopped by our boathouse following the birth of her first child. At that point in my life, and in the lives of all the women I rowed with, a 2000 meter race was the most intense pain any of us had experienced. We were quite certain nothing could top it, though some workouts and erg tests came close. So of course our first question as we huddled around her: “Was it as painful as a 2000 meter sprint?” I’ll admit I was pretty sure she was going to say no.
She replied it was much worse.
Worse?! You could just see the fear on everyone’s face, the quick dashing of plans for children in that very moment.
In the years that followed I carried that information with me, along with memories of rowing pain. There were times in some races where I was quite certain I would die, right there, on the spot, and fall out of the boat. I remember thinking, “I guess I’ll keep rowing because everyone else is still going, and I don’t want to let them down and if I die, I’ll just die. And then I’ll be done rowing.” And that thought seemed pleasant.
Over the ensuing years I’ve done physically grueling things: hikes, weight training, intense spin classes, swims in a rough ocean, even a marathon. Nothing comes close to the pain of rowing. Nothing.
So when I got pregnant with Ollie I knew I wanted a natural childbirth with no epidural. After all these years, I’d be able to see how something could possibly be more painful that rowing! Because Ollie was overdue, I was induced and I managed 13 hours on Pitocin, all through the night, in agony, before I succumbed (in tears) to an epidural. Ollie was born two hours later.
With Minna I was determined to avoid that situation, and worked with a midwife throughout my pregnancy and planned for a home birth. I labored in my living room, watching the Giants vs Cowboys, then paced, breathing and counting. The counting’s a holdover from rowing, when we’d do “10s” for power, or technique, and you’d just do ten strokes to focus on pulling ahead of another boat. I do 10s when I run, or whenever I face a physical challenge. I count through the pain.
Jason filled the birthing tub and after a few hours I decided to get in. Instantly the contractions slowed and the water felt fantastic. The midwife had arrived and the three of us actually just hung out and chatted, and I’d pause to do some deep breaths when a contraction arrived. Since Ollie’s birth had taken so long, I assumed I had hours to go in the tub when suddenly I felt the baby and needed to push. I gave two excruciating pushes. My midwife checked the progress.
“Do you think it’s five more pushes?” I asked her, hopefully.
“Oh I’d say two, maybe three.” she replied.
My heart leapt!
“Well I can do five!” I said, in some kind of crazy counting birthing delirium.
I didn’t need to. Minna popped out after two.
In my list of pain, it currently stands:
1. Minna crowning. Intense but very brief.
2. Ollie labor on Pitocin. Hours of long immobilizing agony.
3. Crew race of 2000 meters. Intense. Horrific. Still the worst concentrated seven-to-eight minutes of my life.
Way way down that list, everything else.
In rowing we used to always throw around the saying, “Pain is temporary, pride is forever.” I get to look at my two great kids every day. In a box in the closet is my gold medal from the 1992 New England Rowing Championships. If it wouldn’t be weird to wear it around, I probably would.
Somewhat proven theory: Including kids in the food process creates good eaters. I often take Ollie to the supermarket with me and I let him pick out all kinds of things to buy. Last week he really wanted to get something from the fish counter, and he picked New Zealand cockles. I broke my “keep it local” rule because when your kid asks for cockles, how can you say no?
When dinner rolled around, I made a linguine with tomato sauce, olives, and capers and cooked the cockles in the sauce. Ollie had fun eating them out of the shell at the table, using one shell to pluck the meat out of another, just like when we eat mussels. He was pretty excited to eat them.
I also include him in the cooking as much as possible, so that he’s part of the whole process. Does this make him a better eater? Hard to say with my limited data set (my daughter eats anything, like she’d eat a raw piece of liver off the floor if you let her). But I do know that including him in the shopping gets us eating things even I wouldn’t think of buying (like cockles!) and broadens the palate of our entire family.
I keep a list of things I want to write about on this site because I’ve had lots of ideas lately but not always the time to write the whole post. I recently came across this note to myself: “Babies so hairy length of body hair programmed for adult scale human.” I don’t recall what prompted this thought, maybe I discovered a giant hair on Minna? I guess it makes sense but really it’s not seeming like something I feel like writing a whole lot more about. So if you have a baby and find him or her covered in long hair, just think about how that hair follicle is designed to grow a grown-up sized hair, and that some day it will seem normal.
A little back story: in the early nineties, when I was in college, I went on a ski trip to Colorado. We have relatives who live out there and at the time of our visit, a young cousin was training as a ski jumper. We went over to the practice hill to watch him. He wasn’t doing anything like the 90 or 120 meter hills you see in the Olympics, just 20 meters.
It looked like fun, and I wanted to try. I built up from the 5 meter hill to the 10, then 15 and finished with one jump off the 20 meter hill. The measurement denotes the inrun, or how far you go straight before launching off the end into the air. 20 meters, more than 60 feet, was pretty scary and after I landed I decided I’d had enough ski jumping. Still it was great fun. When I got back to school and told my rowing teammates about it, they were very upset. I could have gotten hurt! I could have been out for the entire spring racing season! Etc. etc. None of that had occurred to me, of course. It just seemed really cool to go off the jumps and fly (a very little) in the air.
The present day, Ollie’s getting pretty good at skiing, and he likes to find jumps. So this past weekend I’d find little lips and ridges on the trails and tell him to follow me. One had a backside of ice, which I only realized after I skidded across it. Ollie slid and fell. Another apparently was too big for him, because my mom saw him approach and then decide against it, even after I’d gone off. But there were plenty that were great for him, and he got a little air and the thrill of jumping.
Maybe I’m reckless and dumb. Maybe I should be more cautious. Maybe I could have gotten hurt going off the 20 meter ski jump at Winter Park and ruined the spring racing season for myself and my crew. But I guess I don’t think that way. And more importantly, I don’t want to think that way. I don’t want to be the kind of Mom that’s always worried, saying “don’t do that!” The stereotype is the mom has the common sense and it’s the dad that’s pushing the kid to do the crazy stunts. Maybe it’s some weird rebel/feminist thing I’ve got, but I want to be the bad influence mom. In the best way possible, of course.
Here’s Ollie going off a jump at Mad River on Sunday:
I couldn’t be prouder!
Here’s a video of Ollie skiing last weekend up at Mad River Glen. It’s not very good because I was skiing behind him and it’s hard to film and look through camera and follow him and try to ski all at once. I need to practice more!
Jason’s got a nice little write-up about Ollie’s digital camera use. Of course when he writes “we” gave him the camera, and “we” set-up the Flickr account, and “we” hooked up the Eye-Fi card, dear reader, you can insert “Meg”, for accuracy’s sake. It’s been a great little present for him and I’ve also been enjoying another way to experience his world.