Just like every other preschool morning, M was standing next to me as I packed her lunch today. As I shimmied the last container of fruit into her lunch bag–which, when fully packed, looks part Tetris game, part Jenga–she said to me,
“That’s Mommy magic.”
I must have given her a puzzled look because then she said,
“When I try to put everything back into my lunch bag at school, I can’t get it to fit.”
Maybe she came up with that phrase, though I’d wager that one of her teachers said it to make her feel better as they helped her piece it all back together after lunchtime. I can just picture her sitting there with empty containers scattered before her, feeling a bit deflated and not knowing how to get them to fit back into the bag.
The phrase made me smile. It made me stop and think about how something so seemingly simple to me like organizing various Lilliputian sized storage containers into a lunch sack or drawing ice cream cones in sidewalk chalk or even making soup on the stove is still akin to a magic trick to her. It reminded me of something that my own mother did often for us when we were little that seemed like “mommy magic”: peeling oranges for a snack. Not exactly rocket science either, but when you’re little, that kind of stuff is HARD. So when your mom does it…it blows your mind. At least until you can do it yourself.
It also reminded me of the time when I was in college and I had another encounter with “mommy magic”. I had called my mom to get her lasagna recipe. She was like “it’s no big deal” and just started rattling off the ingredients and the layers, and I was like, “whoa, whoa, WHOA!” I needed written instructions. A recipe on a card or from a book. I can’t do this without a concrete plan! She was confused. To her, there was nothing hard about it. But to me–at that time still a novice cook–that kind of stuff was HARD. So, as I asked her to repeat what she just said, I scribbled it down onto the world’s tiniest ruled notebook that happened to be near the phone. To this day, even though I’ve made it probably a hundred times since college, I still cannot make lasagna without first looking at that tattered scrap of notebook paper (note to self: find someone with a laminating machine!). Sad but true that the link between me and a really great pan of baked pasta measures just six square inches. My mom must think I’m crazy.
Some days, this mommy magic tends to lead to an inflated sense of self. Like how I was feeling pretty awesome that I just blew the mind of a four year old with some smoke and mirrors and a forgiving hot pink nylon lunch bag. Maybe it’s just because I haven’t had a boss or clients to pat me on the back for the past six months to commend me on every job well done, but it is funny how I feel more meaningful in the art of lunch bag feng shui than I ever did with my law degree.
But if she thinks jamming a lunch bag full of cut veggies and a sandwich is impressive, then
once she gets over her aversion to ricotta cheese I can’t wait to show her what I can do with 13 by 9 inch pan of tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese, noodles….oh wait, or is it noodles and then the cheese….??
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
About a month after M turned 4, we decided that she was old enough to now occasionally indulge in watching some movies, age-appropriate of course. Up until that point, she had seen a grand total of two movies: The Little Mermaid and Winnie the Pooh while on vacation earlier this summer. Wait, make that three movies — she had also seen a Shirley Temple movie this summer as I was testing out our streaming Netflix options. But that one was definitely more for me than her! I admit it – I got sucked in by those bouncy curls.
Our plan was to allow her to watch one movie every other Sunday. A family movie day if you will. It felt like the right time given her age, the selection of movies that (we feel) are appropriate for her to now watch, and, as a practical matter, because the long, cold winter months are now upon us and she has not yet fully embraced the idea of learning how to snowshoe as a family this year, so I expect there will still be a lot of indoor moments on weekends when the weather is particularly brutal.
And I’ll admit it: there’s certainly also a small part of peer pressure playing into this, because it has become quite clear that she is one of the last kids in her group to have not seen a lot of movies that several of the kids often talk about. I sense that she is somewhat being left out, or at least less than informed, about some of the dramatic play that her peers engage in, if only because she does not know some of the story lines yet. When we can, we’ve read some of the books (at least the ones I can tolerate), but sometimes the movie really IS better than the book.
I did a little research and came up with a decent list of about 20 or so titles that we could explore over time, movies that seemed (at least based on the descriptions and reviews) to be age-appropriate, had good storytelling (rather than just fodder for buying related toys) and that didn’t wade too deeply into themes that we did not want to expose her to just yet. Some of the movies on the list are Disney movies, but most are not. I really just wanted to find a good balance of movies for her to come to love over time. I think it’s harder to find non-Disney movies for preschoolers, but they do seem to exist.
With our list in hand, we figured there would be movies that we could borrow from the library or stream from Netflix, and occasionally buy outright if it was a particularly cherished and oft-watched flick. Oh how naive we were! Our library’s offerings in movies is paltry at best, if you can even get your hands on them. Netflix does not stream that many movies geared towards M’s age, and virtually none of the ones I had on my list. And just to show you how uncool M’s dad and I are when it comes to this kind of thing, we did not know that you can’t just go out and buy a Disney movie if the moment strikes (thanks a lot, Disney, for making me scramble last minute because we could not buy M a copy of The Little Mermaid for her mermaid themed birthday!). All of these forces together almost made me miss the video store.
But luckily, we serendipitously discovered that M’s Auntie MJ has quite a large collection of children’s movies. She graciously let us borrow several movies from her collection.
And, of course, despite the wide range of choices before her, the first one that M wanted to see was Disney’s Cinderella. By now, she had already read at least three different versions of the Cinderella story, one of which was Disney’s. She had been to Storyland in Glen, NH and met Cinderella herself–three times! All of M’s friends had seen it, or at least talked about it a lot and had the clothes and gear to back up their devotion. So it was no big surprise that this was going to be the premiere for our Sunday matinee that would kick off “family movie day”.
Cinderella screening, take one!
M lasted only about 10 minutes into the film before she said she didn’t want to watch it anymore and came up the stairs to tell me (she had been watching it with her dad since I was just getting back from an outing with her Gramma) that she was scared because Lucifer (the cat) was chasing the mice. It upset her. This scene was absent in all versions of the book, so it undoubtedly took her by surprise.
Cinderella screening, take two!
Much to my surprise, M requested another go at Cinderella. She made it through the whole movie this time, but she was certainly visibly upset during the cat-mouse chase scene again, and even more so when the stepsisters tore away at Cinderella’s dress. She also asked me why, unlike one of the non-Disney versions she had read over the summer, Cinderella did not invite the stepsisters to live with her in the castle and marry other sons of the king. That version in particular struck a chord with M because the message was that despite the way the stepsisters had treated Cinderella while growing up, she offered forgiveness and welcomed them to live with her in royalty. We can argue the merits of whether that Cinderella was acting like a doormat or not, but if nothing else I was happy that we had taken the time to read different interpretations of the same story because it at least gives M some room to choose what kinds of stories she wants to read and watch going forward, rather than be forced to adopt the version that mainstream media tells and sells.
Cinderella screening, take three!
Just like books, it seems, preschoolers have a tendency toward repetition with movies too. M definitely appeared more confident about how this story will ultimately shake out now that she knows what to expect and when. She started to ask many questions throughout the movie to confirm whether her hunches were true about the “character” of the characters. It was then that I noticed the shift from ingesting to digesting the themes of the story and this movie, all of which have now surfaced during her pretend play, whether it’s alone with her dolls or when she’s making her dad or me be the “mean stepsisters”.
To my surprise, it wasn’t the prince/Cinderella dynamic that she focused on, at least not these first few go ’rounds. That was the theme that I was actually worried about–this whole idea that a man needs to come in and save you, or that you can fall in love based on a fleeting moment and looks alone. I know, I know, it’s just a story…but this message is undeniably pervasive in some of the media marketed toward girls, and so I am sensitive to how much of it I want M to see at just four years old.
Instead, it was the dynamic between Cinderella and her two not so nice siblings that was the takeaway theme for M. Victim vs. aggressor. Interesting. And what surprised me even more is how M chooses to be the more demure Cinderella when we’re playing with her, yet she will quite adequately portray the harshness of the stepsisters if playing alone. It’s like she doesn’t want to test out that position of power in a real mano a mano scenario, even though it is with someone safe like her parents. Even more interesting. Perhaps she will change the roles and get more comfortable as time goes on, but my gut tells me that there is something about mild-mannered, well-behaved Cinderella that M identifies with more and so she will likely be choosing to play that role more than any other, even though to me it would seem like it would be more fun to play something you’re not.
Considering some minor issues that have been happening recently with one of her fellow (slightly aggressive) classmates at preschool, it is also not surprising to me that she is looking toward this movie for some answers on how to manage always being the “good girl” despite the continued bad behavior that, in her eyes, seems to be tolerated by others. At least the story of Cinderella does a good job of showing that even though you may have to wait patiently a bit, eventually (and hopefully) good will trump evil somewhere down the line. Though it would be nice if Disney could throw in a scene for their next release (which I WILL be ready for!) where Cinderella kicks Drizella and Anastasia’s butts. Just a little bit.
My guess is that she will keep choosing Cinderella as her bi-weekly matinee until she gets bored with it. If she starts gazing out her bedroom window looking for Prince Charming, perhaps we’ll return the movie to Auntie MJ. But for right now, this movie, and the glass slipper, seem to be the right fit for M.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
Two nights ago we dusted off a book from the shelf in M’s room that we hadn’t read in quite a while, Hungry Mr. Gator, by Julie McLaughlin. It was a gift a few years ago from M’s grandparents living in South Carolina, where the author also happens to be from. We had put it on the shelf for a while because at the end of the book the alligator eats a bunch of fish. Because the book does not mince words, the fatal ending does kind of take you by surprise, considering it’s a kid’s book and all. Not that we try to shield her from the nitty gritty of nature, but at the time she had received it, she was a bit young in our eyes so we shelved it for a bit. But she’s not too young anymore.
Still, I was curious about what her reaction would be at the end of the book, especially considering she recently tried to watch Cinderella but got afraid in the first ten minutes when Lucifer (the cat) chases the cute mice. At worst, I was expecting a brief pre-bedtime slumber discussion about alligators eating fish. I was ready for it.
This is the conversation that ACTUALLY took place, both out loud and in my head:
M: [A few pages in, M notices a colorful frog] You can’t touch the colored frogs because they have poison. Why do they have poison? (I’m thinking to myself, oh! that’s great — they must be learning about frogs at preschool. How cute.)
Me: It warns other animals not to eat them because it might make them sick. (Hmm…guess her preschool teacher didn’t get that far into the lesson plan…)
M: Do people eat frogs? (Fair question. She’s so inquisitive! Can’t wait to finish this book so I can go have a glass of wine….)
Me: Some do. (No sense in sugar coating survival of the fittest now…)
M: Do people eat sheep? (OK….there are NO sheep in this book…where is this going??)
Me: Some people do. (For the past couple of years, we have not eaten any chicken, turkey, beef, sheep or any other kind of animal except the very occasional piece of fish, so maybe she just doesn’t yet realize that the majority of people in the world do eat these things on a regular basis. No worries! I’m happy, delighted even, to have this little opportunity to the highlight the culinary diversity that is all around us.)
M: How do they fit the sheep in the pot? (Wait, what? OOOOOKKKK….this is NOT where I thought we’d end up with this book! How did we go from poison frogs to sheep in a pot in 30 seconds?)
Me: Well, they have to cut it into smaller pieces, kind of like the fish you sometimes eat. (My lame attempt to put it into relevant terms….and REALLY hoping that she moves on.)
M: How do they cut it up? (I give her a brief blank stare…)
Me: Well, they first need to make the animal stop breathing. (Is it getting hot in here??)
M: How do they do that? (Cue the images I already have stored in my brain from various animal welfare groups…and where is your Dad right now? Oh, great, he’s already asleep on the floor, or at least pretending to be so that he doesn’t have to answer these questions!)
Me: Well, there are different ways… (NO idea where I am even going to go with this at this point…)
M: [interrupting me before I can even finish my answer] How do they make chickens stop breathing? (OK so she DOES know other people eat chicken…gee, silly me….)
Me: Well….(again, still playing the loop of footage in my brain of how this usually goes down for most birds…) they put them in a bath of water that has some strong electric current going through it that makes them stop breathing and living.
M: Oh….OK, keep reading, Mommy.
And here I was worried about the alligator eating some silly old fish.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
As some people know, a few weeks ago we had an unwanted visitor in our backyard in the wee hours of the morning. I was awoken to the sounds of very large dogs barking, a few distant gunshots and a grown man screaming “Oh my god! Somebody help me!”
2:31AM to be precise.
Although I did not know it at the time, it turns out that he was someone who escaped from the hospital at the end of our street, which is probably not more than a few hundred yards away. My understanding is that that hospital is where a lot of drug addicts and psychiatric patients are brought since there are no other adequate facilities nearby. My guess is that he was one of those patients.
I’ll be honest….looking out my bedroom window and seeing that man standing in our backyard, hearing him panting and screaming nonsense after he had scaled the 20 foot granite ledge and our six foot high stockade fence to hide in our backyard … it scared the crap out of me. It’s been only recently that I can tell the story without getting goosebumps on the back of my neck. And because I knew that the police were already hot on his trail and in the neighborhood and because I could hear the K-9 dogs barking in search of their prey, I wasn’t necessarily scared about what was going to happen in that moment.
It was the series of “what if’s?” that got the better of me later on. What if I had not heard him and he tried to take cover in our backyard porch? What if he was motivated enough to climb onto the roof of our porch in order to hide, leaving a mere few feet between him and M who happened to be sleeping on our bedroom floor under that window that night (he had already scaled a rock face so it’s not like he couldn’t)? What if this happens again with another patient? Or some other lunatic for that matter? And on and on.
Anyway, I’ve largely (almost) let it go as a once in a blue moon kind of thing, but I’d be lying if it did not make me wonder whether we should move to someplace less urban (our city has 90,000+ residents). The fact that I am a homebody by nature and that we haven’t found a similar convenient substitute for M’s little girl pals that lived across the street but moved away this summer wasn’t helping my state of mind. I was feeling sorry for myself and for M that we might be raising her to be isolated in a child-free neighborhood that is running rampant with psychos. OK, that might be a bit extreme, but it was where my mind was at at the time.
I thought about this the other evening as I was walking on one of the last warm weather nights we will see for many long months. Where would we move to? No place is immune from the potential for coming across jerks, people who need some kind of help, thieves or another “bad man” (as M calls him). At least so long as I cannot afford to re-locate myself and my family to some remote island that I’ve purchased in the middle of the ocean…and even then…PIRATES!
It has got me to thinking about where I grew up, a very small town in upstate New York. I think a large part of me romanticizes where I grew up, as most of us do the older we get. My memories are of a tight knit community where everyone knew each other, moms didn’t hesitate to tell kids other than their own to behave, kids played outside well past nightfall, and I was able to ride my bike alone to the drugstore to buy candy.
I was young when I lived there too, having moved there when I was about 4 (M’s age now) and leaving to come to Massachusetts when I was around 12. When I have those pangs of “maybe we should move”, the kind of place I envision is much like the town I grew up in or where my husband is from.
But then a few more small memories about my childhood town trickle in. Like the time during the gas crisis when people down the street were having gas siphoned and stolen right out of their cars. Or the man who pulled up in his car beside my friend and me right in front of my house, and asked us to come look at the toys he had in his car. Thankfully, my friend and I had the smarts to book it and run away, but I still remember that creep in the car as if it were yesterday.
If M’s present unwillingness to go alone into any room that faces our backyard or her ongoing references to that night with the “bad man” continue, I imagine that M might also have some long-term memories about this uncomfortable event too. Though I hope that over the long haul, the good memories will far outweigh the bad much like my own childhood memories.
So in my heart of hearts, I know that moving is not the answer to solving the world’s creep problem. They’re everywhere–small towns, big cities and everywhere in between. As reflect on it now, I think that it was not so much the small-town, physical environment around me in New York that made it such a great place to grow up–although it certainly was beautiful in its own right–but rather the people who made up our community and immediate neighborhood.
Indeed, while it would be nice to go back and see the house that I grew up in and find out whether it is much smaller or bigger than what I really remember it to be, what would be missing is the friends and neighbors who were part of our daily comings and goings. Without them, the visit would necessarily be quite short if only because there would be no one to reminisce with. To me, those are the take away memories of childhood. It wasn’t the backyard wooded fort that I built with my best friend, but the fact that we made that in an elementary school-aged rage against our parents who were telling us we couldn’t do something. It wasn’t the specific slope of our neighbors’ driveway that mattered, but that my pals and I perfected our “Dannon Body” (yogurt) rollerskating moves there. It wasn’t the types of trees growing in our yard or the layout of the quiet neighborhood streets but rather the bunch of us who gathered nightly to play kickball or ride bikes. It wasn’t the novelty of living off of a dirt road at the edge of the woods, but the crunching sound of gravel and sand drifting in through my bedroom window as my first real crush rode his BMX bike home on summer nights. It was the people, not the place.
As I neared the end of my walk the other night, on the way back I was feeling a little more energized and less pessimistic about our choice to set roots in this City of Presidents. Perhaps it was the fresh fall air or a much needed dose of activity-induced endorphins. But as I rounded the top of the hill on the last quarter mile home, a familiar looking little girl on her tricycle caught my eye. It was one of M’s preschool friends, living not even a two minute walk around the bend from us. I had no idea. Although I’ve only known her for a few months since she only recently started at M’s school, turns out they’ve lived there for about as long as we’ve owned our house too. And they love going to the park that is conveniently located in between both of us.
I think I just felt our roots grow a little deeper.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
You know how you will occasionally borrow a book from the library and it ends up being a found treasure, such that you reluctantly return it (and, in our house, usually a week late!) and realize you just have to have it for your own collection? Well, Red Sings from Treetops: A Year in Colors, written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski, is one of those books, and it will soon be added to M’s collection.
As a side note … when I take M to the library, she can take out several books at a time and I give her free range of picking out whatever might strike her fancy. But, after going a few times, I realized that one of two things usually happened: she would spot the “Dora and Thomas” shelf from a mile away and would want to take out only those books, or she would take the first five or six books she sees as we walk into her section and then run off to play with the wooden puzzles. Unfortunately, that meant that we were stuck for a whole week reading “CAN YOU SAY BACKPACK?” and “SWIPER STOP SWIPING!!!!” ad nauseam –it’s not just me that feels like Dora talks in all capital letters, is it?–and never got to know authors whose last names were after Ab-Af.
I’m sure with time M will be more interested in actually combing through the stacks, but until then, I now usually go with a short list of titles I’ve heard about or authors that we’ve liked in the past so that I can balance out the borrowed book stack. But I had no intentions of borrowing Red Sings… before we got to the library. It was just one of the books featured near the librarians’ desk among a display of books related to the seasons. It was the cover that drew me in, but since I was in a rush I just added it to our short but heavy stack of books to check out and hoped for the best.
If there was ever a case to be made for judging a book by its cover, this is it.
It is easy to see why this book is a 2010 Caldecott Honor Book (among many other distinctions). It is not only beautifully illustrated, but beautifully written. And since it is more poetry than straight storytelling prose, I was excited to read this one many nights before bed because each time I noticed something different in the illustrations or took away a different appreciation of the language that was used by the author. I think that is often hard to do with books written for preschoolers/kindergarten aged kids, where you not only have a very short story you’re reading given the kids’ attention spans, but also when the book is requested night after night after night after night after night . . . .
The colors of the seasons have never quite been so accurately captured by words and poetry that, while simple, speaks to both children and adults. When you are reading the poems–there’s one for each season, spanning several pages but using tight, descriptive prose and imagery–you really start to wonder whether the scent of fall leaves is actually wafting through your window.
Using a cardinal and his surroundings as the common thread to tie the seasons together, the author describes colors in a way that is not limited to noting the standard ROY G BIV that preschoolers (and the books written for them) tend to focus on. Instead, Ms. Sidman includes colors like cerulean and pink among the palette, and incorporates them into descriptions that beckon all five senses, particularly sound and touch. The result is a multi-sensory experience based in color and expressed only through the written word. That is not an easy job to do, particularly in a children’s book where the text is usually limited and the readers’ attention spans even more so.
M is certainly on the younger end of the intended audience, but she definitely liked looking at the illustrations and the topic lent itself to questions from her during and after the book. The pictures were all filled with rich colors and contained enough detail to hold her interest, yet were simple enough that she could pay attention to my reading simultaneously without being distracted while trying to decipher the illustration. Despite being poem more than story, M understood the main themes, one of which was noting how vastly different the same landscape can look from season to season. Living in Massachusetts lends itself well to seeing a similar story unfold outside our very own window each year, but it’s always nice when I can relate things back to a book that M has read.
And! I did not know this until preparing this post–Ms. Sidman even has a reader guide for Red Sings… The guide is for grades 1-4 reading this book, but I can see there are at least a few exercises that could work with a preschooler as well. Bonus!
All in all, it is the kind of book that, over time, I hope M and I will read again and again and get something different from it each time. To me, that is the hallmark of a well written book or poem.
Overall rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Copyright (c) 2011-2012 by Kristen M. Ploetz. All rights reserved.
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