One hour a day, for one more year. Making make-believe a priority.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

I Love a Parade

Today two of my favorite parents in the world gave their son, Diego, a parade. That's what he wanted for his fourth birthday, and that's what he got. We all met at a park in North Park here in San Diego. Some (including Kicky and Esmee) came in costume. Others were given hats. All were provided with tambourines and sliding whistles and other instruments. After a brief water balloon fight, we lined up on the parade route (the walkway that circled the small park), and Diego (dressed as Spiderman)led the way. It was crazy. It was ridiculous. And it was a blast. Other people at the park waved and cheered. And about half-way around, Diego seemed to realize that his dream had been realized. His birthday wish granted. At the end, he stood on the picnic table and thanked everyone as he clacked a pair of castanets.

And once again here is a new lesson learned. It's important to teach your children that no dream they have is silly; your job as a parent is to help them make their wishes come true.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Whirling Dervishes

Too busy playing to post lately...but I swear, we're busy little bees here at the Stewart Playground. Since spring break ended, it's been harder (as expected), but we've still managed to do lots of projects here. Sun prints with Esmee's first grade class (which will ultimately, hopefully become a quilt for the school's silent auction in a few weeks), Easter eggs and a carrot shaped cake, Peter Pan at Junior Theatre, and some recycled art projects inspired by an exhibition at The Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff.

And we also discovered the dog likes to chase bubbles.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Holy Roller Coaster

I used to love rides. I distinctly remember one that was resurrected each year at the county fair that looked and felt like some sort of medieval torture device. I think it was called the Rolo-Jet or something like that...and I could not get enough of its whiplash-inducing, stomach-churning, goodness. I loved the Sizzler, the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Himalaya. I find myself writing about the county fair in nearly every novel I write, drawn inexplicably back to the sawdust covered midways of my youth.

But something has happened to me in recent years. Where I once used to love flying, I now have to pop a couple of Xanax (and go through some pretty seriously involved OCD rituals) just to get on a plane. I get dizzy easily. And I don't do rides.

Yesterday, I was a chaperone for the third grade field trip to Legoland's Aquarium and Amusement Park. The aquarium was fabulous...I even touched a sea star. But when we headed to the amusement park, I started to get nervous. I kept thinking that I was, as a chaperone(and in the spirit of play), going to have to get on one of those godawful rides. But, guess what? I've got a kindred spirit in Kicky. She thought of about a thousand reasons why we shouldn't go on the roller coaster. She was eating her lunch, it was too hot, she had a bit of a stomachache, etc... And I was more than happy to keep her company as we watched the other crazy masochists from the sidelines.

We both enjoyed the boat ride very much though, thank you.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Last Call

There are exactly ten minutes remaining of spring break, and the girls are playing "Alice in Wonderland" in their rooms. It seems very elaborate...there are fake tears and singing as well. I was outside vacuuming my car for tomorrow's field trip (Legoland and the aquarium) only to hear Kicky screaming, "Off with her head!!" Needless to say, this has been quite a playful week and I am exhausted (though it seems they are not).

Today the girls finished their eggs. Mine was the unfortunate casualty of a popped balloon. Kick made an awesome trompe l'oeil on hers, but Esmee got frustrated with hers and quit half-way through.

The dog got sick again which meant she wasn't allowed to play with her infected toys...I've never seen such a sad dog.

Anyway...we all survived. Back to work/play: field trip, making sun prints with the first graders Tuesday, Junior Theatre starts Wednesday, and then driving across the desert for the Northern Arizona Book Festival on Thursday.

And now I go to sleep.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Play Waylaid

Sometimes it's fun to cancel plans. Last night Esmee had a friend sleep over, and today we had plans to go to the zoo. But it's crappy out. Really gloomy. Chance of rain: 45%. Energy level: 0.

So we stayed home. And played.

I think we might venture out for cheeseburgers later, but maybe not. Maybe we'll just have PB & J.

Sometimes the best day are the days where you don't have to do anything you planned to do.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Dinosaurs and Dogs

Every first Tuesday of the month, San Diego residents get free admission to a number of the museums at Balboa Park. Today we decided to go to the Natural History Museum. Spoiled by the Smithsonian, my expectations were low. But I was really pleasantly surprised. It's a very hands-on museum, with lots for the kids to do. And on the upper levels were some beautiful aerial photographs as well as an exhibit of water photos. Something for all of us.

Afterward, we wandered around Balboa Park for a bit, through the artists little village, stopping into a shop where a man decorates real eggs. They were amazing...and a good inspiration for the girls' egg project.

We ended our visit with a spin on the carousel (well, Esmee anyway). Kick is not wild about rides.

Feeling happy and impulsive, I called Patrick and asked him if he'd like to join us (with Phoebe, who he'd brought to work this morning) at Shades in OB for lunch. Shades is on the beach and they have a special "Fido Menu." And so Phoebe had her first fine dining experience.

Really, really enjoying having these long free days with the girls. Tonight Esmee is having a sleepover, and tomorrow we're going to the zoo...and then maybe the Farmer's Market.

Monday, April 4, 2011

National Library Week

In honor of National Library Week (April 10-16), will you pledge to spend one hour of your time at the library with your kids?

Papier Mache(te)

What do you do with the balloons you used to fill a bath tub on April Fool's Day? Why, you use them to make enormous papier mache eggs for Easter. At least that's what we do at our house.

Now, I have not made anything out of papier mache since I was about seven. And for some reason I forgot how MESSY it is. A paste made with flour and water, strips of newspaper. What could be messy about that? Luckily, we've got a nice big backyard. And it's only flour and water, right? Tell that to my pants.

What I should have been more concerned about was Phoebe's own project inside the house. I think she calls it papier machete.

Anyway...Step 1 is done. Hopefully they'll be dry enough tomorrow to paint. Do you suppose we should let Phoebe paint as well??

Sunday, April 3, 2011

In Memory of Rodney P. Backer

When Patrick and I met, eighteen years ago, it was late spring in Flagstaff. My grad school classes had ended, and I was working (very) part-time at a coffee shop. I was a terrible, but happy barista. Patrick drank my lattes, without mentioning once that I'd burnt the milk. I had just moved into an apartment downtown near the library, and he had just moved into a house on Aspen St., only a few blocks away. We quickly discovered an alley-way shortcut connecting us within just a couple of minutes. I remember there were crickets that would leap at our ankles and lots of yellow and purple wildflowers along the way.

Patrick lived in the upstairs hallway of the house with several roommates. They had a huge overgrown yard which functioned as a second living room, complete with a couch through which more wildflowers poked their pretty heads. There was always music in the house. The soundtrack of that summer was an eclectic mix of Prince and Earth, Wind, and Fire and The Specials and Squeeze and Ween. The Phoenix Suns could not lose that spring.

All of us seemed to have flexible jobs, mostly at restaurants (except for Steve who put on a uniform every weekday and headed off to a grown-ups job). What this meant was that most of our time was spent playing. I was twenty-four and falling in love.

The recollections of that summer are crystalline. The world belonged to us. We roamed the empty rides set up downtown for a carnival at night, we hopped into our cars and went to Vegas just because. We got drunk and went bowling. We went to the movies together, we threw parties (a pretty big reggae band once set up and played in the living room in exchange for a place to stay). We spent entire days in our pajamas. We got dressed up in our fanciest clothes and went to the cowboy bar to play pool. We were young and invincible. We were all in love with our lives.

Rodney, who lived in the bedroom off the kitchen, came up with the idea of creating The Aspen House Newsletter, to document our play. We must have known even then that this kind of playful bliss couldn't last. Not technically living in the house, I was a correspondent for the newsletter. In one of my contributions, I talked about the "extended recess" we all seemed to be enjoying from the grown-up lives we all were on the verge of. But we all knew that eventually the bell would ring, that recess would end.

And, as expected, it did. I graduated, and Patrick and I moved to Seattle. All the other tenants moved out and moved on. Years passed. We got married, we had kids. We got jobs. We lost touch and then found each other again on Facebook.

Then last week, we got a message that Rodney had passed away. Suddenly and without warning. He was forty-three years old. Rodney, the ring leader of our antics. The brilliant, sarcastic, and somehow both cynical and absolutely optimistic, Rodney. Our fearless leader. Our friend.

Patrick is in Phoenix right now for his memorial service, staying with many of our dear friends from the Aspen House. He said that last night they stayed up late, remembering Rodney. Playing together like kids, I suspect. I really wish I could have been there. For me, here at home, I will remember Rodney like I remember everything else about that summer. He was a magical person, and that was a magical time. And he taught all of us the importance of taking play seriously.

May you rest (and play) in peace, Rodney. You will be missed.

Friday, April 1, 2011

April Fool's Play

The last April Fool's Day that I remember playing a prank was when I was ten years old. I switched the salt and sugar, and I recollect my father was not a happy man when he took his first bite of cereal that morning. It haunts me. Thanks, Dad :)

But how can I in good conscience commit to being more playful and not play some pranks on April Fool's Day? What holiday is more playful than April Fool's Day? Labor Day? Arbor Day? Nah.

So last night the girls and I set up some pranks to surprise Patrick this morning. Including:



We topped it off with a bathtub filled with balloons.

But what they weren't expecting was this:

Ice cream mashed potatoes, peanut butter and coconut fish sticks, and candy peas and carrots. April Fool's!!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Uncley Wiggily

Just discovered that a boring game of Uncle Wiggly (or Uncley Wiggily, as Esmee calls it) is really, really much more fun if sing the words of the instruction cards. (Rap, country, and opera all work well, though I'm partial to Esmee's soprano.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Playing with Fire

Warning: there is a lot of diarrhea in this post. one day into the new play year and guess what happens? First, the dog gets diarrhea. Second, the school calls to say that Esmee has a stomachache and a fever. And it is only noon. Feeling playful yet?

So, I get Esmee, drag her back to the school two hours later to get her sister, and keep worrying about the dog's bowel movements. (After we're all home, I am able to do much research about dog diarrhea -- and inadvertently finally learn how to spell diarrhea while I'm at it.)

We have to skip gymnastics (because of the stomachache, not the diarrhea), and my writing group (for fear that stomachache may ultimately turn into diarrhea).

And somehow, despite everything, while I'm still trying to diagnosis the dog (trying to save her life for all I know), Esmee is feeling well enough to engage in a huge argument with her sister ending with, and I quote Kicky, "Fine! Then I will never help you again! Not even if you're strangling on a stick over a fire pit!"

Scrabble anyone? Diarrhea on a triple word score is worth 36 points.

Addendum: You know what can save a day like this? Curling up on a giant stuffed dog together and letting your children read to you. All is well. And I think the real dog will be okay too.

Monday, March 28, 2011


Three years ago, while we were in Vermont, a small tiger-striped cat with enormous paws came up to us at the boat access area and convinced us to bring him all the way back to D.C. with us. At least that's how I remember it.

The funny thing is...there are never cats at the boat access area in Vermont. Another funny thing is that my grandfather, who built the cabin on the pond loved cats despite a nearly deadly allergy to them. I couldn't help but wonder if maybe he'd somehow sent that big-pawed goofy cat to find us. Later, when we found out from the vet that he had likely been born that March, the girls wanted to give him a birthday. We decided on March 28th. Grampa's birthday.

Today Max is three. He's grown into a bit of a curmudgeon, but he still hasn't grown into his paws. Tonight we threw him a birthday party. I can only imagine what he wished for...though I suspect it has something to do with Phoebe.

Play it Again, Sam!

On March 28th, 2010 I made a resolution to play with my two daughters for one hour a day for one year. We had huge successes and cataclysmic failures. But mostly, we played. And, most importantly, I became aware of how very much my time means to them. I am not a perfect mom, by any stretch of anyone's imagination. But I am always trying to be the best mom I can be. On that note, it was simply too fun (and too important) to stop at one year, and so we will start again! Wahoo!

I think the emphasis will be on creative projects this time around. One thing I learned this year is that I, personally, engage more when the "play" revolves around some sort of creative activity: arts and crafts, cooking, writing. (Do you think Esmee will notice if I hide the Uncle Wiggly game??) I put together a "Play Book"...a place for us to keep our ideas. Kicky and I plan to write the book (about a little girl named Dizzy McPhee and her jazz musician dad) we've been dreaming and scheming to write. Esmee is also learning how to play Chess, and I vow to learn how to play with her. We will continue with theatre (after school and a two week summer camp). And we will make our annual road trip to Vermont...back into the real Tulgey Wood.

I hope you will all come along for the ride!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Game Over?

Today we were supposed to have guests, but they had to cancel their plans at the last minute, so we decided to use the day to (what else?) play. We had challah bread French toast for breakfast to make sure we were properly nourished. We followed this with a trip to Michael's where we got an Easter foam cottage kit thing-y that Kicky has had her eye on (all sparkles and bunnies and eggs). We also got some paper designed to make bracelets (remember those gum wrapper bracelets from when we were little?). Esmee also got a very stunning (and practical) foam visor to decorate. Later, as we were assembling the sparkly Easter Bunny cottage, it suddenly struck me how ridiculous it was to get so upset by the comments made about the UT article. But if there's one thing that cuts to the core is anyone criticizing your parenting style. And all of a sudden (fingers coated in glue and glitter), my heart leaped out to that poor Tiger Mom. Practically the whole universe has something to say about her parenting. Can you imagine? People have threatened her life over that stupid book. I think maybe we're more similar than different, she and I. We are only both trying to be the best moms we can be. To make our children's futures the brightest they can be.

Last night, I watched "Away We Go" again. I just love this's about a pregnant couple searching for home. They visit several friends with kids in several cities...each leaving them more and more bewildered about where they belong. My favorite couple is the professor (Maggie Gyllenhaal) and her husband in Madison, WI. You'll have to watch the movie to see why.

Anyway, today is officially the final day of our "Year of Living Playfully." I am absolutely stunned by how quickly the year has gone by, though it ultimately proves my point, right? Time is slipping and slipping fast. Better hold on tight...that's all I've been saying all along. On that note...I don't think I can possibly end this project now. I truly feel like I've only gotten started. So stay tuned for the next will be awesome!!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spring, Sprang, Sprung!

I don't know what it is about spring, but every year around this time, I get this burst of creative energy. I am busting at the seams with ideas. Kicky and I have decided to finally write the book we've been talking about for over a year now. We've decided to use Esmee's Friday afternoon chess hour to work on it. I am also prepping to work on the first grade art project for the fund raising auction. (Each child is going to make a sun print fabric square, and then I'll assemble them into a quilt.) I spent an hour at the fabric store this morning. So many possibilities! This morning I put together a three ring binder to keep kids' project ideas and started going through a whole bunch of old magazines to start filling it. (Our own Play Book.) As I was doing this, I came up with the BEST summer plan. I think I'm going to find a used video projector and turn our backyard into a theatre. I don't think it has to be too expensive, and how awesome would that be? I have visions of the girls and their friends camped out in the backyard under the stars watching movies. Our own little drive-in theatre. many ideas to put down.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Let Children Play

Check out the article/interview about our play project at this fabulous play-promoting website!

Let Children Play: Into Tulgey Wood : A Year Long Venture into a Life of Play

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Defense of Play

Yesterday, the San Diego Union Tribune published an article about this project. With only a week remaining of our "Year of Living Playfully," it was a lovely tribute to everything I've been trying to do this year as well as my beliefs about parenting and (perhaps more importantly) about the preservation of the magic of childhood.

What I didn't expect were the nearly 75 comments following. And while many were articulate and supportive, others were judgmental, even hostile, making a whole lot of assumptions about not only me but my daughters as well. I refrained from commenting on the UT site, but I could not resist responding here...though I suspect most of those naysayers won't bother to actually look at the blog about which the article was written.

First of all, I have not read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. I am aware of the controversy, but this project was in no way a response to that book. I began this project because I wanted to be a better mom. It had nothing to do with Amy Chua. It, honestly, had nothing to do with anyone except for my daughters. I kept the blog because the mothers that I know and care about feel the same frustrations, and I thought this might provide some inspiration.

Next, a lot of those responding brought up economics. Some figured I must be wealthy with too much time on my hands. Another worried I might have all this time because I was relying on public assistance. Neither is true. And the beauty of this project is that it isn't about money. It's about time. Granted, because I work at home, I have what many perceive as more time to spend with my girls. And that is absolutely true. I do have more time to offer. But I am only talking about an hour a day. One hour out of twenty-four. A gift from me to my children -- just a sliver of my time. Isn't this something that all parents, rich or poor, at home or at work, should be able to find?

Also, what the article did not mention (because I did not tell the journalist) is that my daughters both excel in academics. The older has tested in the GATE program (the younger will be tested next year). They have both been recognized at their elementary school for leadership and academic excellence. They each have one extracurricular activity they have pursued since they were in pre-school (ballet and gymnastics respectively). We are not "soft" parents...not parents bulldozed by our whimsical children. There are rules in our house which promote respect, honesty, kindness, compassion, and hard work. There are immediate consequences when rules are broken. The girls have both rights and responsibilities in our home. Simply because I decided to interact more with my children, to allow their imaginations and creativity to flourish, does not mean that I stopped disciplining them. (I think these people are imagining some sort of feral kids running wild in our house!) It also doesn't mean we don't care about their academic education. I have two Masters degrees...of course I value education!

From an early entry in the blog:

Every creative impulse I have today I can directly attribute to my parents' encouragement of imaginative play when I was growing up. I remember writing my first "novel" when I was nine years old. My father was the one who dragged the clunky old electric typewriter out of the closet for me, plugged it in, and gave me paper. I wonder if I would have become a writer if he hadn't let me sit there banging out words on that typewriter instead of studying flashcards.

I make my children sit down every day after school and do their homework. I am the overseer of the homework packet, the iron fist of cut-n-paste. But if my husband and I expect to raise children who make and appreciate art, isn't it our responsibility to emphasize the value of their imaginations as well as the value of phonics and multiplication tables?

Lastly, I think the argument played out here is primarily about how we define "success." Here is what I know: Patrick and I are happy people. We have good friends, a close family, and jobs that we are proud of and love to go to every day. This is primarily due to the fact that our own parents supported our passions as kids and taught us the value of following our dreams. As a university instructor, I have taught the proverbial Tiger Moms' kids. They are disciplined, smart, talented, and driven. They will likely find lucrative careers. But they are also the ones whose dreams are not their own.

I am pleased that the article sparked a discussion, and hopefully even those whose gut-response was so negative stopped for a moment to think about the last time they sat down and played with their children.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Baby Big Blue

Part of this project has also been to really limit how many scheduled activities we have for the girls. The exceptions have been for one physical activity each (ballet and gymnastics respectively) and after-school theatre...mostly because they love it, and because I am able to participate with them as a volunteer. Our weekends (other than one hour of ballet) are sacred. And so I was a little torn when we decided to sign Esmee up for an after school chess club on Friday afternoons. Who wants to play chess on a Friday afternoon?? However, her first grade teacher has been extolling the value of chess for young children, and this was the first time that a club like this has been offered. And she really, really wanted to go. So on Friday Esmee had her first meeting, and she loved it. And what I loved was the hour that I got to spend alone with Kicky, brainstorming ideas for the book we've decided to write (more on that soon). I also loved that when Esmee came home, she wanted to teach her sister how to play chess. For nearly an hour, Esmee got to be the expert...not something Kicky usually tolerates. I think it's so important that the girls have separate interests. I'm hoping it will not only free them from painful rivalries but also allow them to share "their" interests with each other.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Beauties and the Beast

We just finished our most recent session of Junior Theatre...ending with a terrific production of "Beauty and the Beast." This time around I painted the sets for the girls, which was really fun. Being a part of this has been such a terrific way for me to both actively participate in this program as well as observe as the kids work as a team to put on a show. I'd forgotten how strong the bonds are that are formed during projects like these. It is so thrilling to see how even first graders rise to the occasion, supporting each other. And unlike team sports, where winning is the ultimate objective, these kids are working together to make something beautiful.

Bravo cast!

Next Stop: Peter Pan!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Bored Games

How is it that sick days almost always start out as a teensy bit exciting only to wind up being the most boring days ever? Endless hours of TV, naps on the couch, and so much soup. Today Kicky stayed home sick for the first time in ages. I decided to try to make it as special a day as possible, because she'd the kind of kid who NEVER calls in sick. We got an individual microwaveable cup of chicken noodle soup, a whole box of oyster crackers, French toast bread and a bottle of Triaminic. There was napping, there was couch time, there was lunch and then there was Scrabble! I realized that it's been nearly a year since our last failed attempt at playing Scrabble. There have been a whole lot of third grade spelling lists between games. We didn't keep score (because really, when you're sick -- who cares who's winning), but let's just suffice it to say that I had a Z left at the end and Kicky used every single letter.

There's something about board games that forces you to slow down. After the constant motion of Wii , there's something so very peaceful about a game which forces you to think, to ponder, to ruminate. I think getting sick sometimes forces you to do the same thing. Today was the first time in more than a year that Kicky has taken a nap. And I certainly haven't seen her sit still for nearly as long as she has today. Yay for winter colds and Scrabble. And for French toast bread.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Dog Days

During the middle of another school year, struggling to meet the next novel's deadline, feeling overwhelmed, under-appreciated, and like this whole play project has been a bust, our family made a decision which has reminded me -- on a daily basis for the last five weeks -- that some creatures simply cannot live without play.

Enter Phoebe.

Phoebe is fourteen weeks old now. Her day is still much like a very young child's: She gets up early, pees and poops (sometimes on the floor), puts bad things in her mouth, eats and eats and sleeps and sleeps. She cries sometimes too. But mostly she plays. And I'm not talking about a refined game of chess, here. She runs until she slams into the wall (and then keeps running), she leaps in the rain (eating the raindrops from the eaves), she chases anything that moves (kids and cats are both fair game), and she likes anything that squeaks (again, toys, kids, or cats -- she does not discriminate).

And so, now when I'm feeling buried alive under my own work, the girls' homework, all of our obligations, I've been trying to look at Phoebe and remember that play is not optional. It is necessary to our well-being.