Three Girl Pile-Up

…adventures of our homeschooling family

Month: October, 2009

Every fairy needs her dagger.


The girls have so far enjoyed having coordinating costumes (last year it was a spider queen and her web), and this year settled on Tinkerbell and Peter Pan.  And in case you were wondering, this is Tinkerbell dressed up for a fairy dance, which is why she is wearing pink instead of green.

My kids–especially Anna, but both of them really–are big fans of the Disney fairies.  I admit that I was reflexively resistant to this line of uber-marketed Barbie-ish creatures.  But I’ve softened.  First of all, we read the first two Disney fairy books (“Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg” and “Fairy Haven and the Quest for the Wand”), which are actually two very nice books written by Gail Carson Levine.  She spins tales of Neverland fairies with different talents, creating a detailed fantasy world that has totally captured the girls’ imaginations.  There are then dozens of shorter books about individual fairies; we’ve read many of them, and they are a favorite of Anna when she’s looking for an audiobook.  I still wish that the illustrations didn’t have them looking like friendly Bratz dolls, but I can live with that.

So, Tinkerbell and Peter it was.  Maggie has been really inspired by the Peter Pan musical of late, so she was excited to dress up as Peter Pan.  Anna–of course–wanted to be a fairy, and loved the idea of complementing Maggie’s Peter.  So I gathered patterns and fabrics, sewed and altered and assembled.  I was pleased that well ahead of Halloween, I had the costumes finished.

Or so I thought.

“Oh, Mommy, my costume is soooo beautiful.  Everyone will love it!” Anna gushed.  “But there’s one thing–I need a place to put my dagger.”

“Your dagger?” I asked.

“Yes, of course,” she answered.  “Tinkerbell always carries a dagger.”

“Really?” I asked dubiously.  I turned to Maggie, seeking some back-up.

“Of course, she does, Mom,” said Maggie (being no help at all).  “Tinkerbell is very fierce.”

So, we borrowed a dagger and decorated it with jewels.  And my fierce little fairy headed out in miles of tulle and satin–carrying a sharp weapon.  Sounds just about perfect.


Thankful Anyway Thursday

Thankful Anyway Thursday

Yes, it’s Friday.  Which is appropriate given the couple of weeks I’ve had.  Actually, I tried to post this last week but didn’t make it.  Lots of not making it around here lately.  Well, not making it on time, anyway.

Early last week, I noticed that I was feeling much more fragile than usual.  Fairly minor frustrations  were reducing me to tears.  And most noticeable, it seemed impossible to keep up with much of anything.  I would wake up in the morning with a modest mental list of things I wanted to accomplish, but by the end of the day I had managed to do exactly none of them.

And then I realized.  I haven’t been sleeping!  Well, not with any regularity.

Now, this is hardly a revelation–Anna has never been much of a nighttime sleeper, even as she approaches her fifth birthday.  But over the past few months, things gradually started to improve.  As often as not, I would be awakened at 6 or 7 in the morning by Anna crawling into bed with me after having slept through the night.  Or she would crawl in with me in the middle of the night, snuggle up against me, and go back to sleep until morning.

So the fog began to lift.  I was actually able to get through the day without resorting to caffeine or an emergency nap.  My brain felt a little sharper and I was more capable of getting things done both for myself and for the kids.  And while I wouldn’t describe myself as either super-productive or well-rested, the tide turned.

And then, just as gradually, it turned back.  Anna started waking earlier, and more frequently.  We’ve had lots of nights where she is literally restless for hours, climbing on me (or, thankfully, her dad) but not able to resettle.  And before I even realized it, I was back in sleep-deprived survival mode.

I’m tired and often short-tempered.  I am having a hard time accomplishing what I need to do. I am not being the mother, friend, or employee that I would like to be.

But I’m thankful anyway.

I’m thankful to be part of a community where responsive nighttime parenting is the norm, so I can get compassionate and appreciative support for the challenges of my little waker.

I’m thankful that Anna is growing and learning and her little brain is full of so much stimulation that she just can’t slow it down, even to sleep.

I’m thankful that I have a kind and supportive partner who always has my back.

I’m thankful for those moments when I have the self-possession to surrender to our time in the wee hours rather than resenting it.

But most of all, I’m thankful for Anna.  For passionate, high-tempered, exuberant Anna.  For the way she crawls into bed with me, curls into my arms, and sighs, “Mama….” like she is in the best and happiest spot in the world.  It is so clear to me that these particular challenges are just part of being the mama of this spirited little person.  And I wouldn’t trade anything–even the hours of peaceful uninterrupted sleep that I dream of–for that.

From a favorite poem, by Vilma McClure, in The Tao of Motherhood.  It’s about infants, but I think it applies equally well to children of all ages.

Who, then, is the doer?
Is it the infant, who brings the mother through the veil of self-concern into limitlessness?
Is it the mother, who chooses to hold sacred her infant’s needs and surrender herself?
Or is it the One, which weaves them both through a spiraling path to wholeness?

Sweet dreams, everyone!

Self-inflicted haircut #3

This one was pretty tame compared to the last two.


(that is a happy face, in case you can’t tell).

This self-cut was a specific attempt to style her hair.  Although she decided some time ago that (like Maggie) she wanted  to grow out her bangs, Anna was getting frustrated with them always falling in her face.  So she decided to trim them.

The reason you can’t see them in the picture is because they are really, really short.  As in about an inch long.

I admit, I had a shocked and dismayed reaction (my baby! her beautiful hair!), but honestly it doesn’t look that bad.

And when I was able to take the time to reflect, I realized that cutting her own hair is just so very Anna.  I’m sure that in the future she’ll take scissors and hair dye and who knows what else to her hair.  She’ll be experimenting with make-up and fashion and generally using her body as one of many canvases for self-expression.  And my, oh, my–that girl certainly has a lot to express.

The writer at work, in her own time.


Maggie, my early and enthusiastic reader, has been much slower to write.  There are a combination of factors at play, I think.  For one thing, her early reading seemed to thwart her rather than help her, since her ability to form written language was so far behind all her other language skills–and she knew it.  She always resisted any kind of inventive spelling, and was frustrated with getting things “wrong.”  And like many lefties, she has found the simple mechanics of holding and pencil and forming letters to be challenging.  So while we’ve made some strides over the past months, Maggie has continued to feel like writing isn’t something that she’s good at.  We’ve had some success with dictation, so she can focus on storytelling and leave the lettering to me, but my instinct has been that she could use some sort of support or push or encouragement that I wasn’t providing.

So, on something of a whim, I signed Maggie up for a writing workshop for homeschoolers.  I wasn’t sure how it would work, but she was interested, so I thought it was worth a try.  I had a promising conversation with the teacher, so I signed her up, set the alarm clock (!) and set out for the class on Monday morning.

Maggie emerged telling me that it was “awesome.”  The teacher had given her some practical tips, like writing smaller and writing “messy,” i.e. not worrying about making beautiful letters.  She was thrilled about her homework, and tackled it with abandon.  Then she turned to the story she started yesterday, and began writing.  And writing.  And writing.

In the hammock…


In the chair…


and at the counter.


She spent literally hours bent over her notebook, working on her story.  I had to drag her away from it to finally feed her some dinner at 7 p.m.  She returned to it after bath, and her last waking activity was to read what she had written (the first chapter!) to her dad.

Sometimes, I am just astonished at how dense I am.  At how hard it can be to trust that she will learn what she needs when she needs it.   I admit it–I’ve been fretting more than a little about how to support my young writer.  But when I was watching her tonight, poring over her story, I realized that we’ve already been down this path so many times.  With swimming.  With piano.  Maggie really needs to come to things in her own time.  Now, I admit that the timely support of adults has also been important, but I seem to have to learn over and over that given time and support, it really will all come together.

In fact, I blogged about almost exactly this same thing just about a year ago.  Apparently it hasn’t quite sunk in yet.  I guess Maggie’s not the only one who needs to come to things in her own time.

A delightful mess


Late night cooking with Maggie, making Vegan Pumpkin Pie Brownies for the next day’s fancy tea party with friends.  Delayed bedtime, lots of dirty dishes, and sheer magic.  Truly, it doesn’t get any better than this.

4 things I wish I’d known about breastfeeding

Welcome, Carnival of Breastfeeding readers!  This post is part of the October Carnival of Breastfeeding, “What I Wish I’d Known About Breastfeeding.”

nursing nose

My time as a breastfeeding mother is winding down.  My youngest is five years old, and though she still nurses a little, it is literally for a minute or two each day.  As I look back on my eight-plus years of consecutive nursing, it’s interesting to reflect on those early days, when I was still figuring out what breastfeeding was all about.  There was so much that I learned along the way–that breastfeeding was so much more than food, for example.  But there were a few things that I wish I had known from the beginning –I would have saved myself a lot of grief!  Here are the top four:

1. Many breastfeeding moms had a rough start. We really struggled at the beginning.  My daughter aspriated meconium, so she was deep-suctioned and sent to the NICU.  We didn’t even try to get her latched on until more than 12 hours after she was born–and she wouldn’t have any of it.  It was more than a week before she really latched at all, and in retrospect we didn’t really get into a groove until she was about six months old.  Although I knew one person who also struggled with breastfeeding, she eventually gave it up.  So it seemed to me that everyone around me was able to breastfeed easily, and somehow I just didn’t have the right chemistry with my baby to make it work like they did.  Thank goodness I finally went to a La Leche League meeting!  I had been avoiding them, because I thought it would be too painful to be around lots of moms who were nursing easily.  Instead, I made connections with many moms who were having their own struggles, and yet still making it work–just like me.

2.  Babies nurse really really frequently, and this is totally normal. Like most newborns, Maggie nursed all. the. time.  Less typically, she nursed in very short bursts.  Honestly, I thought that she just wasn’t very good at nursing.  Luckily, when she was a few weeks old, I spent the day with two moms from my childbirth class.  I knew that breastfeeding was going very smoothly for both  of them.  And guess what?  Their babies nursed all the time, too!

3.  You don’t have to pump and give your baby a bottle. From the beginning, I assumed that pumping and bottle-feeding was just part of breastfeeding.  How else would I be able to leave the baby?  How else could I feel sane?  Ironically, we did bottle-feed Maggie a little at the beginning, when breastfeeding wasn’t going well.  But later, when we tried to give her the occasional bottle of pumped milk, she refused entirely.  It honestly never occurred to me that I could just let it go; after all, I wasn’t going back to work, and had no need to be separated from Maggie for any length of time.  As time went by,  and Maggie never did take a bottle, I realized that it really wasn’t necessary.  For me, it worked to limit my separations from her to the length of time she could go without nursing.  Before I knew it, those times got longer and she was starting to eat solid foods.   Obviously, this isn’t a solution that would work for everyone, but I do think it’s worth realizing that it is one option.

4.  The best way to get large-sized nursing bras is to order them from England. (I realize that this doesn’t apply to everyone, but figuring this out really improved my life as a nursing mom.)  I had a hard enough time finding bras to fit before I had a baby, but once I was nursing, it was nearly impossible.  I spend my first year of motherhood wearing ill-fitting bras.  It was hard enough adjusting to my new mama body without feeling dumpy because of my bras.  Around Maggie’s first birthday, I found these wonderful bras, which run into cup size K (!), give great support, and look good under a t-shirt.  Turns out, the English have large breasts, so it’s the place to get large bras.  Bravissimo is an English company specializing in large size bras, and they have several nursing bras, including this one.

It seems like a million years ago that I sat in the NICU, wondering how in a million years that I would get that little baby to latch on and nurse.  Thankfully, I was lucky enough to have many people to help us as Maggie and I tried to figure out breastfeeding.  I look forward to the day when all of us birth our babies and are filled with wisdom about breastfeeding and the confidence that we can do it–because it’s what we’ve seen all around us, in our communities and in our families.  In the meantime, I hope these little tidbits can help new moms get breastfeeding off to a smoother start.  Visit the other carnival participants to glean some other wisdom from mamas who’ve been there:

Sarah Fancy Pancakes: Wish I’d Heard More Good Things
The Milk Mama: When breastfeeding begins badly, and what I should have done about it
Hobo Mama: What I wish I’d known when I started breastfeeding
My World Edenwild: What I Wish I’d Known Then: A Poem
Happy Bambino: I wish I had known then that it wasn’t up to me alone
Birth Activist: What I Wish I Would Have Known About Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Moms Unite!: You Don’t Have to Grin and Bear It
Momma’s Angel: What I Wish I’d Known Then: My List For Next Time
The Starr Family Blogg: I Wish I Would Have Known
Whozat: If I’d Known Then
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives: What I wish I’d known back then about breastfeeding
Fighting Frumpy: When Breastfeeding Feels Wrong
Breastfeeding Mums: 15 Breastfeeding Facts I Wish I’d Known as a First Time Breastfeeding Mum
Cave Mother: Nursing Wisdom
Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Trust Yourself and Your Bod
Mum Unplugged: Breastfeeding: What I Wish I’d Known Then
Blacktating: Breastfeeding is Life-Changing



Around here, we try not to distinguish between pre-reading (looking at books, telling stories from the pictures, etc.) and “real” reading (decoding text and extracting meaning from it).  After all, those are all on a continuum and part of the same learning process.  It’s important to me that we value all of those steps along the way.

But it’s hard not to be excited as the transition into actually reading text starts to happen.   Books are such a huge part of our family life, and give us so much joy.  I’ve already had the pleasure of watching one of my girls turn into a reader, and it’s fun seeing the next one follow in her footsteps.

With Maggie, I spent much of her early life automatically assessing her skills and knowledge, and trying to provide her with support and stimulation to keep moving forward.  With Anna, I’m still so often trying to keep my head above water that she has received much less scaffolding for her learning.  Having an older sister, she probably lives in a more stimulating environment overall, but there has (understandably) just been less individualized attention in all areas.

One of the results of this has been that Anna keeps surprising me.  We didn’t ever specifically given attention to learning letters, but one day I realized that she knew them all.  Same with numbers.  And early addition and subtraction.  And, it turns out–reading.  It’s such a powerful demonstration of the ways that kids naturally learn so much when they are in a rich environment.

This morning’s surprise?  I walked toward the family room and saw the floor strewn with books.


Now, this in and of itself it not an unusual sight.  More unusual was Anna sitting in a chair, reading book after book aloud to herself.


So as Steve and I puttered about the kitchen, we were serenaded by that sweet voice reading one book after another, adding to the pile on the floor as she went.

It can be hard sometimes to see my baby getting bigger and bigger, but moments like this make it easier.  Let the reading adventures begin!

The Empress of the Sky

It was a busy weekend around here.  Perhaps Maggie’s favorite activity is Young People’s Performing Company, and her class put on a play this weekend: “The Stonecutter and the Tiger.”


Maggie played the Jade Empress, Empress of the Sky.  The pictures are kind of terrible, since I couldn’t use a flash, but it’s fun to have even some blurry images of the kids doing there thing.

The company’s costumer was on vacation, so I jumped in at the last minute to help out a little.  We brought that big piece green fabric and I whipped it into a dress for the Empress (thank you, serger!).  It wasn’t perfect, but it worked.  And I feel like I’ve gone through some sort of parental milestone, staying up late finishing a costume for the next day’s play.

The best part of all of this is Maggie’s joy.  Again, kind of a terrible picture, but that big smile says it all.


Fun with yarn and pipe cleaners

We love yarn and pipe cleaner crafts.  At one point, we were going through packages of pipe cleaners at a breakneck pace, but we haven’t had them out in awhile.  Earlier this week, though, my friend Nancy sent me a list of links that enticed me to lay out pipe cleaners and yarn and wooden beads and fabric–basically a big pile of old favorites.

We made yarn pumpkins and witches and brooms and ghosts.


(In case you can’t tell, that’s a witch and a ghost, carrying a pumpkin, riding on a broom.  Anna carefully attached them with pipe cleaners, aka “safety belts.”)

My kids seem to find pipe cleaners a very satisfying material to work with.  It bends and cuts easily, and we have lots of colors.  Maggie made a little basket and a black cat to go along with her witch.


No question, though–Anna’s favorite part was cutting the witches’ hair.  I started one with very long hair.  Once Anna got done with it, here’s what she looked like:


So much to love–the yellow safety belt, the sunglasses.  My favorite part, though?  Listening to the girls play with their witches–there was a pumpkin contest of some sort, and a lot of flying.  And Anna insisted that her witches flew the fastest because of their short hair.  Long hair slows you down, don’t you know?

Three cheers for smoothies

These days, we’ve been drinking smoothies a lot.  I’m not sure how we got on this latest kick, but it’s popular all around.  Smoothies are one of those rare food home-runs.  Maggie–who has a relatively short list of foods she will eat, most of which are entirely unadorned–loves them.  Anna–who eats a wide variety of foods, but routinely refuses things that she happily ate the day before–never turns them down.  And I love their simplicity and the fact that I can fill them with fortifiers ranging from flax meal to fish oil; it feels like a good boost of nutrition when it seems like the girls are living on cheddar bunnies and air.   Not to mention that I love that whenever I say, “Do you guys want to have smoothies?” there is invariably a chorus of “Yes!”

I don’t have a set recipe that I use–a little of this, a little of that.  Frozen fruit, orange juice, homemade yogurt, agave nectar, and a few nutritional boosters.  I’m still kind of amazed that I’ve been able to get away with adding cod liver oil, even if it is strawberry flavored.  Today, as I was making smoothies for breakfast, I thought I might try some powdered greens….


Our beloved ivy cups are perhaps not typical for smoothie-drinking, but we cut down the straws and they worked just fine.  The fancy china added to the festive feeling of the morning.  And the smoothies helped make up for the decidedly sub-par batch of scones that I had also whipped up.


At some point, I figured out that the leftover smoothies made great popsicles,  so I’m usually able to make a few from each batch.  They make a great breakfast–a healthier choice than fudgesicles, but almost as fun. And perfect for girls who just can stop playing to eat a meal.