Why Legos Suck

In other words, this blog is not endorsed by Lego.  Besides the fact that they are a big Waldorf no-no (pretty much the exact opposite of a Waldorf toy), there are plenty of reasons why you want to avoid bringing Legos into your home.

Now, I was a girl raised in the eighties and early nineties and so, though my brothers played with Legos, I myself missed the boat on them and was instead engrossed in all kinds of “girl” toys like Barbies and My Little Ponies and Care Bears and all that useless middle class plastic tripe.  I “never liked them”, “wasn’t into them”, and no one questioned any of that.

Now, I have a daughter and two sons and some of you probably know that I have come to loathe gender stereotypes in my adulthood and make it my personal mission to raise my kids with as little of their influence as possible.  It’s harder than it looks.  I’ll be damned if I sit back and let society tell my kids who they should be, what they should act like, and what they should play with based on their gender.  I.  Will.  Be.  Damned.

So, it’s no surprise then that a toy that was off limits to me as a child is one that I feel especially compelled to bring into my home and introduce specifically to my daughter.  That and I feel that Lego somehow weaseled its way into the public mind as being tied to math and engineering skills.  I vaguely remember my elementary school using Lego sets at one point or another to teach us…I dunno, spatial awareness or something.  Nicely played, Lego, just offer every elementary school in the country free Lego kits for their classrooms and you just bought yourself a ticket to ride.  (No, I’m not cynical at all:)

Well, we’ve been living with Legos amongst us for a few months now, cohabitating with them, and I can tell you, its no bed of roses.  There are a lot of terrible things about Legos and lots and lots of reasons NOT to even open up that can of worms for yourself.  Please learn from my example.  Here are the reasons why you should NOT get your kids Legos.

1. They are expensive!  To even buy the smallest possible set for like a little car or something, you are going to be dropping 12-15 dollars.  But they are not going to be satisfied with the smallest set or one or two sets.  Once they get a taste for Legos, they start wanting the big sets and lots of sets.  It begins to add up very quickly.

2. The mess.  This category should really be expanded to have a bunch of subcategories because this cannot be understated.  So much of each day now is dedicated to picking Legos up off the ground.  Legos are like magic.  You pick up the last one and suddenly ten more appear.  As a side note: this might not be so bad for those with older kids.  My oldest is six, so not so good with picking up after themselves yet.

3. Choking.  My older two are fine.  However, Miles, the baby, the insatiable floor-scrounger, is another story.  If I had a dime for every Lego I pried from his little drooly mouth…

4. Frustration.  Again, this is really a younger kid thing, but my kids really are not old enough to play with Legos.  They don’t have the dexterity, patience and spatial intelligence to put together Lego sets or to fix them when they break, which is often.  This ends up causing a lot of tears (emotionally immature) and yelling.  And in my home we already have enough of those things.

5. Losing.  Despite all of the time I spend each day picking up Legos, Miles is much faster at throwing them and so many of them simply get lost.  So it shortly becomes impossible to re-construct the sets after one time.  I actually got a set or two at Christmas that I think never got built in the first place before a lot of the pieces got misplaced.  I try to have a special drawer for all of the instructions but good luck with that.  Now we have basically a giant basket of all of the Legos and just basically end up constructing our own Frankenstein versions which, believe me, are not pretty.

So, in conclusion, Legos suck for various reasons.  The end.

(I should put a disclaimer here, though, that I think by the time they are 10 or 11, they would have the skills to construct and fix their own Legos.  Also, if you have a real good system in place where you keep each set separate with its own instruction book, in like plastic containers or something, Legos might be ok.  Maybe.)



Living the 1980’s Sitcom Life

Hi, I’m in my thirties.  Which means I was born and basically grew up in the eighties and early nineties.  Anyone else born and raised at that time knows that, during those years, sitcoms were king.  Before the days of massive cable and then digital TV overload, pre-youtube and online show-viewing, American families gathered together night after night  to watch sitcom families act out our real life problems for us in neon-colored and stone washed eighties clothes and perfectly teased and crimped big eighties-style hair.  I know I’m  not alone in feeling almost a familial affinity for these actors.  They were surely a part of our home life.  They felt part of our family.  Sure, things always had a way of working out and looking so much brighter on these shows than in my real life sometimes, but still.  These people got me.  I got these people.

Life was much simpler back then.  At least it seemed so to me as a young child and this view was backed up by the always goofy, never super-serious way that problems were handled on these shows.   Ah, life in the eighties.  There was no recent economic depression, people hadn’t really started to freak out yet about the environment, the cancer rate.  We didn’t yet realize all of the stuff we were eating and living amongst was slowly poisoning us all.  Parenting kids was just something you did with the least amount of effort possible.  People still had the idea that kids were resilient, you couldn’t mess them up too bad no matter what you did.  Everyone had yet to be really aware of the massive social issue that is now known as “mental health”.  The mommy wars hadn’t really started in earnest yet.  Neither, it seems, were people too fussed about the state of the school system like they are today.  Before the dawn of the digital age.  Life was just peachy.

These were the days when my brothers and mom and dad and I would sit guffawing at the screen, each with our own predetermined “spot” on the living room furniture, eating snacks and nicely contented in our own tiny suburban world.  Video games hadn’t even really come onto the scene in any real way yet.  How innocent and naïve we all seem looking back on those days.  We didn’t know our entire world was about to be kicked into overdrive and split wide open.  The earliest dawning of the global age.

Life now seems to move at a much more harried pace.  I, along with everyone else, have been kicked out of my bubble and have been forced to see a much broader view of the life I lead.  This is a good thing, mostly.  Progress, right?  Still, call me sentimental or behind the times, but I can’t shake the urge to get back to that slower pace, that more locally and real-time based existence we all led back then.  I am always looking for ways to cut out excess chaos and clutter and noise in my kids lives.  I’ve ditched my cell phone.  We don’t have a TV.  We have fires, with real wood, and sit around them in the evenings, just talking.  We read the “Little House” series instead of play video games.  Mostly, the only “entertainment” my kids have is what they can create in their own minds.   And I can’t lie, part of the reason I want to homeschool is to keep my kids away from the consumerist culture as much as possible, though good luck with that.

Imagine my delight, then, in something that has taken place all on its own in my very own neighborhood. ( Side track: that word, neighborhood, used to mean something.  Now people are more and more isolated in their own homes, it seems, and scarcely even know their neighbors.  When I was a kid, if my mom didn’t want to run up the phone bill, the neighbors were the cheapest way to get something off your chest and commiserate on life’s trials and tribulations.  They were also the most interesting things around to watch, as daytime TV sucked).  About a year and a half back we got new next door neighbors, three young girls, one just two years older than Ruth.  At first, we didn’t see much of them but then something happened.

The weather warmed up last spring and Ruth and Joel wanted to go outside in our yard.  I wasn’t going many places (and still don’t, really) because  Miles was a baby and I now had three kids and no way was I breaking my back to leave the house with them.  The girls were out in their yard.  Their family only has one car which their dad uses for work so they are pretty much homebound.  Little by little, over the summer, the kids, and especially Ruth, started spending more and more time outside with the neighbors.  It finally got to a point where she would be gone from about noon, the time when the girls would come outside for the day, until dark every day.  Instead of worrying that she wasn’t getting enough socialization, I found myself worried that she was spending too much, all of her time, socializing.  I felt like I barely saw my own daughter any more.

The summer passed, as summers do, the weather turned colder and the girls went back to school.  Our life has moved mostly indoors these days and Ruth and Joel now play mostly with each other again with Miles toddling along after.  But this is an old suburb and the houses are mere feet away from each other.  It just so happens that the neighbor girls’ bedroom window is right across from our living room window, and only about ten feet apart.  So, if you tap on our living room window, the girls next door can hear it from their room.  And vice versa.

I guess that’s how this new phase of winter playing got started.  At certain points on the weekends or after the girls are home from school, one of them will come to the window and Ruth will see them from our window and immediately start pulling on her boots and coat and asking if she can go outside and talk with the neighbors.  I am usually more than glad to break up the winter monotony that has settled among my home and readily agree.  At first she would just pull a chair over to the window which is about 4-5 feet off the ground and talk while the girls stayed in their room.  It wasn’t long, however, before I looked out to check on her and saw her dangling half into their room and half out.  Then the next time I looked, she was all the way in, sitting on the window ledge with just an arm sticking out.  Then she was all the way inside playing with the girls in their room.  I feel ok about it because I talked with their mom on the phone and she’s ok with it and if I want to check on Ruth, I just knock on our window and she hears it from their room and comes to the window to smile and wave.

I have to say: after all of the fretting I did trying to get Ruth to participate in kid activities when she was younger and to befriend the kids of my friends and all the worry and wondering, I am just tickled pink that here, on her very own, she has found her own friends.  Eighties style.  The kids next door.  And, like something out of Full House she climbs into her best friends’ window to play.

The term free range childhood comes to mind.  Also the word quaint.  Just living in our own personal sitcom.  Tune in next week, kids:)

adventure walks

wow.  it has been a week since my last post.  haven’t done that in a while.  my only excuse is my newly reignited passionate relationship with sleep.  sleeping too much, infatuated with my sleep.  therefore, no time to myself away from ruth, a.k.a. time to write this blog. if you want more posts, you should ring my doorbell a bunch of times at 6 am, then run away giggling down the street.

when i was younger, i had a dad.  i had the sort of dad who was a self-employed carpenter. a throat-clearing, flannel-wearing unabashed salami-lover.  a loud-music listener, sound-wave-absorber.  a slow-pacer.  a thinker-walker.  maybe this is why my brain works best when my feet are moving.  if my brain is the light bulb, my feet are turning the pedals, creating the electricity, moving the rusted gears.

one thing about parenting a toddler is that so much of your day is not self-directed.  sure, you can make suggestions of activities, print them out on a card and place them in the suggestion box that is ruth’s mind, but more than likely, they will be ignored. mostly, i try to politely oblige ruth’s initiative and go along with her agenda.  sometimes, though, politeness must be thrown out the window in order for sanity to be preserved.  like yesterday.

i have talked with other stay-at-home parents who agree that there is a certain after-nap-funk that overtakes the young ones and can be as difficult to shake as dog fur from a black pair of pants.  pretty difficult.  i can only empathize as i hate to nap myself and always wake up feeling something like someone waking from a month-long coma might feel: like i’ve lost control, am out of touch with my life, missed something vital.  the time after after nap and before bed is, unarguably, the longest, most difficult stretch of the day.  ruth got up from her nap with a scowl on her face, her lip curled, which is never good.  “ok,” i said, “let’s go for a walk.”  and before she could protest, i had thrown my coat and shoes on, grabbed my phone and keys and stuffed ruth into her coat and boots before running out the door as though from some invisible demon, whose name is monotony and is never without his buddies, frustration and self-criticism.

it took about a block to begin to shake the agitated feeling that had been coming over me, and just the mere act of walking was serving to calm my vibrating, strung-out nerves.  ruth looked at me like, “do i need to call someone, mom?”  which is a look i fear i will probably need to get used to.  i put on my biggest fake smile and commented about the birds nearby.  i’m sure i didn’t fool her.  she can read my moods and thoughts like a book, damn her little perceptive self.  it’s pretty bad when your not-even-two-year-old is looking at you like you’re crazy.  i took a moment to berate myself for being such an imperfect role model, but that, too began to fall away as we continued our walk.  i had a destination in mind, sort of.  something i had noticed before while driving.  there was a bridge over ford road to the other side down one of these side streets, and we were going to find it, and walk the bridge.

“we’re going on an adventure.” i said to ruth, as she kept her skeptical gaze upon me, holding my hand, half-running to keep up with my anxious gait.   “here we are!” i said a little too exuberantly as i began tugging her up the steps.  once we were up and began to traverse the bridge, i looked down and realized that this bridge was pretty frickin’ scary.  it was all janky and rickety as hell and you could look down through it to the traffic speeding by below.  i ignored the feelings of panic that were overtaking me as right before we got on, a few elementary-school-aged kids crossed over with ease, and i kept going.  “isn’t this fun?” i asked ruth without slowing down.  we reached the other side and went down the steps.  immediately, i breathed a sigh of relief.  there was something symbolic about crossing ford road, leaving one side, getting to another, that made me finally feel calm.  as though my problems were still trapped on the other side, too afraid to walk the bridge.  “chicken.” i said in a taunting voice under my breath towards the other side of the street.

“c’mon, ruth. let’s go see what’s over here.”  at that moment, it was like my dad talking through me, with my voice, and all of the “adventure walks” we had gone on with him when we were younger came back to me.  it was the first time i wondered if this was what he had been doing all of those times, walking to shake off problems that weighed him down like a heavy cloak, to calm his reeling mind.  for a moment, i embodied him, and i paused to let the feeling sink in and linger a minute longer.  “is this what you were doing, dad?”  i wondered what invisible demons he had been trying to shake.  part of being a parent is finally seeing things from your parents point of view, stepping into their tattered slippers for a spin around the block, or over a walking bridge, on an afternoon when you are crawling out of your skin.

ruth and i continued on towards the park for an evening of playing, now that the wind had whipped our hearts clean and the walk had invigorated our blood.  stay tuned for more adventures of the thinker-walker.

bridge to escape from problems. just don't look down

dusting off my imagination

where did i leave that?  oh, here it is on the top shelf of my closet right behind my ambition ( a teeny tiny box) and dignity (also a small box) with a thick coating of dust on it.  the kind that resists wiping off, that has grown sticky and actually has the ability to stain things.  where is my paint scraper?  turpentine?  this box is much bigger than the other two, worn and at one time, well-loved and used often.  a toy box full of personalities, plot lines, and disguises.  it’s heavier than my christmas decoration box (this is saying something) and smells like spring ( a mix of dirt and changing air) and sounds like guffaws, chuckles, and joyful exuberant screaming into twilit skies, wind burnt cheeks blazing.

“mama!”  ruth calls to me.  she wants me, ME, to play with her.  the compulsive duster?  the bill payer, check-inscriber?  the laundry-folder, sink-scrubber, toilet bowl freshener, list-writing, purse-carrying, respectable-dressing meal-planner?  hold on a second while i climb off of the couch, bend down to sit on the ground next to her.  my knees creek a little but are still relatively well-lubricated.  then she places a toy in my hand and looks at me expectantly.  “what do i do with this?”  once i had the power to infuse a toy with life, a history, a purpose, even a personality.  can i still do it?  no one told me this was part of the gig.  aren’t i just supposed to look on from a distance as my daughter buds and grows and plays in an idyllic, somewhat blurry setting?  i’m supposed to be baking bread with an apron on, or at least having a cocktail with my feet up.  no, she wants me to play, needs me to, in fact.  suddenly, i realize, it is my responsibility to show her how to play.  like so many other things that i am her first exposure to (just add on more pressure, why don’t you?).

i clear my throat.  “ahem!”  i give the toy horse in my hand a voice and he speaks.  it starts coming back to me, picks up slowly and goes from there.  yes, i remember this.  playing.  go figure.  like riding a bike.  fun.  pure and simple.  nothing to do with productivity, purpose, obligation, social pretense, politeness, courtesy, responsibility, and all of the other reasons i do things now that i am grown.  just for shits and giggles.  it’s been so long since i’ve had those.  ( who knew you could laugh so hard without booze involved?) adult laughter is different than childhood laughter.  adult laughter is witty, well-timed, a bit subdued.  the laughter of childhood is mad.  out of control. contagious.  a bit too loud for libraries.

as one who thought that i was resisting growing up pretty well, i am surprised by all of the things that i’ve forgotten about that have begun to come back to me and by how rusty i am at them.  i had forgotten what it felt like to run around outside.  i was chasing ruth around our garage in an attempt to expose her to fresh air, and i got caught up in the moment.  it feels good to run for no reason.  i’m not talking about putting on your spandex jog pants, i pod and ear muffs before stretching and heading out for your two-miler (target heart rate achieved).  i’m talking about running like a fool around a garage, hiding at the corners, tip-toeing through leaves, jumping over the drain pipe, playing.  the other day, i was swinging next to ruth on a swing and i suddenly kicked off with my feet on the back swing, something i had forgotten that i used to do, something i haven’t done in fifteen years or more, a physical memory, an impulse.  being with ruth has reconnected me with some part of my brain that has been cut off from the rest of me for years.  neuron paths, old and worn, are being traversed again.

sure, accuse me of having peter pan syndrome.  in the meantime, i’ll be relearning how to skin my knees, blow bubble gum bubbles and sweat with abandon.