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Summer Camp Blues


“I think it’s a preemptive strike for starting Kindergarten.”

My husband gave me a doubtful look. All three of us were snuggled on the bed, with the Boo nestled as close to me as he could get. He’d been tearily bemoaning this week’s summer camp experience: There are different teachers! Different kids! I really missed you Mama and then I was just really sad! He told me he was sad until they went out to the playground. That’s two solid hours of sadness. He told me he couldn’t stop crying and I cringed as I told him I still remember how scary that felt to me as a kid. 

His deluge of emotion took us by surprise because he’s going to summer camp at the preschool he’s attended for the past three years, and he has several close school buddies there with him. But then I thought, maybe he’s practicing for Kindergarten by going through all the same mechanisms he’ll need to cope with that sea change in a few months. Kind of like anticipatory grief, a recognized syndrome that I experienced when my dad died, slowly, following a massive stroke. 

The Boo is keenly aware that his school days are on the horizon — he enjoys looking at the calendar to see what’s already happened and what’s coming up, and his first day of school is already marked in red Sharpie. We’ve visited the school for his skills assessment (!) and we drive by to say hi to the building every now and then. 

When I told him they have a preview day so he can meet his teacher and find his classroom, he said, “Why would I want to do that?” When I asked if he wanted to shop for a first day of Kindergarten outfit, he shouted “No!” in an offended tone and then asked why I had suggested it. 

Thinking back, these are telling reactions, and classic kid strategy: If I hide my face, you can’t see me. If I refuse to acknowledge the idea of starting school, it won’t happen. I can’t hear you, LA LA LA! Kindergarten starts in roughly eight weeks, and there’s so much he doesn’t understand about it that it may as well be a trip to Mars. But summer camp is happening right now, providing a handy proving ground for What To Do When Things Change. 

My child’s strategies this week have consisted mostly of what I think of as the Velcro Goodbye. On Tuesday morning he begged to stay with me; I nearly had to drag him out of the car. In the classroom, he needed at least a dozen hugs and snuggles and kisses, asking for “one more” over and over through near-sobs. I wiped his tears away and then put a tissue in his pocket in case he needed it later. The whole process took about 15 minutes (whereas last week he turned to play 30 seconds after we walked in). I managed to hold it together while I was with him, but fell apart as soon as I walked out of the building and spent the rest of the day wandering around in a headachey daze.

Wednesday morning was better, but he was still teary and wanted me to stay in his classroom to cuddle with him and then give him umpteen hugs and then wipe his tears and then give him a tissue to put in his pocket. 

Thursday morning, I had to scurry back to the house for an appointment, so I prepared him for a shorter Velcro Goodbye. He wasn’t happy about it, but he did it. No tears, maybe five minutes of cuddling and five hugs (we counted them down together) and then he turned to play with another boy as I was leaving. 

All week, I’d been giving the Boo pep talks and telling him I know he can handle this challenge. I was honestly a little frustrated that my brainwashing wasn’t working. But now, because he did the grunt work of getting through it, he knows he can handle it.

State of the Boo: Five

You are a natural born maker; this is a recent creation.

You are five years old.

You make emphatic gestures with your hands when you talk about something that excites you.

You love watching This Old House with Daddy and have a hard time understanding why there isn’t always a new episode to watch.

You also love watching car repair videos posted by Chris Fix, and consequently you recently asked Mama if she had a closed system transmission, which made her laugh, which made you a little bit angry.

You enjoy saying “wonky.”

You adore visiting Menard’s and Home Depot to spend quality time with the grills, snow blowers and washing machines. Halfway home from our last such excursion, you got upset that you forgot to visit the giant saw they use to custom cut lumber.

You insist on Mama chanting “happy dreams” right before she leaves your room at bedtime.

You want to know about how family and friends have died. Consequently you know what a stroke is, and that cancer is largely a mystery.

You love going to the symphony, and tried playing cymbals the last time you went.

You recently told Mama to use her words instead of yelling. Mama replied that she tries very hard to do that every day, but when she’s been asking the Boo to get his socks and shoes on for ten minutes, well…

You are already sad about leaving your best friend behind when you go to kindergarten.

You once again requested cake, and family to share it with, for your birthday party.

You get mad if we don’t let you help do things around the house.

You know the names of our both our old and new presidents.

You needed new shoes the week before Christmas, and were delighted to be able to look for, choose, and order them online.

You like watching Design Squad Nation, where teams of teenagers compete to solve specific engineering challenges. You were shocked to learn that the teenagers are not grownups, and you are quick to notice which teenager has an attitude problem.

You enjoy cooking with Mama, and increasingly want to be completely in charge of the process.

You know what “mise en place” means.

You spend a lot of time at your work table, often pretending to run experiments you’ve seen on Bill Nye the Science Guy or mumbling things about how to fix an engine.

You still enjoy a largely beige diet, though you are now more willing to try new things.

You shocked the pants off Mama by insisting on bringing broccoli for the class snack. You were upset that one kid told you never to bring it again; you haven’t.

 

You are five years old, and your curiosity knows no bounds.

Why so stingy with the writing space?

1. It is entirely possible to overbrine a bone-in turkey breast. Some call it curing. I call it too salty. Try 12 hours next year. 

2. Half a recipe of stuffing will be more than enough for three adults. We’re not THAT much of a carb family.

3. Maybe skip the mimosas, they made you really tired when it was crunch time. 

4. This chocolate pumpkin pie is a keeper. We did half a recipe and used 1/8 t. cayenne. Oh, and just pitch the four ounces of leftover evaporated milk, because nobody is going to touch that nasty stuff. 

5. This apple-sausage stuffing was really bready and bland. Start with Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix next year, and reduce the amount of bread. 

6. The pumpkin cinnamon rolls were tasty and easy (can’t find the recipe online, weird, oh well) but need a bit more punch. Add brown sugar and chopped pecans to the filling, and use orange juice and zest for the glaze base (though using heavy cream was very tasty). And look how pretty:

7. Put your Virgo issues in a drawer and let the kid make a mess when he helps cook. The beams of happiness are well worth a few minutes of cleanup.

8. The holiday tablecloth is in the linen closet, but it might be hidden under a stack of towels. But hey, if you want to spend half an hour looking for it in other places, go right ahead. 

9. Stop, look, feel, absorb. This day is magic. Bottle as much as you can. 

10. Turn off the Macy’s parade after the Rockettes; it’s just a three-hour commercial for Broadway and TV shows. With 8,000 commercials between the segments. Which are… commercials!

11. You were so right to decide against dusting. Nobody noticed, least of all you. Well done, you.

12. Exchanging breakfast pastries with a neighbor was really nice. Do that again.

13. If we settle on that Valpolicella next year, open it an hour before supper — it needs at least that much breathing time. 

14. Lactose intolerance never takes a day off. Pick up some Cool Whip, which you like anyway. Also, research substituting coconut or almond milk for the milks in the pie. Maybe do a practice pie just to be on the safe side. 

What I Learned in India

Mosquito nets: less romantic than you think.


I’ve been to southern India five times in eight years (my husband is from there), twice with a small child. I learn a few new things each time; here’s the baker’s dozen list for this trip.

1. If you bring white linen pants to India, you will look fabulous for approximately five minutes. Then you will look like a wrinkly, dusty mess. But if you’re willing to put in the necessary time hand-washing them, then by all means, bring your silly white linen pants to India. 

2. Bring the extra bottle of insect repellent. Indian insect repellent products are stinky and/or less effective than what we brought (and ran out of). 

3. I no longer get culture shock here, though I’m still curious about cultural differences — and I still get homesick. 

4. Divali in India is very fun, and very loud. Bring good earplugs and a large bottle of Benadryl, or be prepared to stay up all night watching/listening to fireworks go off way closer than seems safe. 

5. Oatmeal, peanut butter, almond milk, wheat bread, Dove soap galore, and Sensodyne toothpaste are available for purchase in southern India. Graham crackers, Cheerios and NutriGrain bars are not available, so pack what you need if you bring a picky eater (ours tried new foods there, but didn’t fall in love with anything substantial).

6. Indian bananas are divine. So many different kinds, and they all taste different. It’s almost a fair price to pay for three weeks without a crunchy vegetable. 

7. Watching the light in an Indian person’s eyes as they greet a child is a transformative experience.

8. The closeness to the natural world can be gross to Western eyes (so many bugs in the house!) but it’s also one of the loveliest things about the country (my mother-in-law feeds a chipmunk and a crow every day, and they yell at her if she’s late).

9. Bottles of makeup must be “burped” before opening mid-flight. Unless you want foundation on the only pair of pants you brought on board. It’s up to you. 

10. Leaving the house/hotel? Bring hand wipes, tissues/toilet paper, snacks, and water. Every time. 

11. Explaining that you can’t have milk/yogurt/paneer because of lactose intolerance will get you some very funny looks. Also responses like, “But we boil our milk!” and “But it’s yogurt!”

12. Taking a preschooler to India is both delightful and nervewracking, especially if the child isn’t good at looking where s/he’s going. 

13. I will probably never be able to decode the various looks I get here. I’m not okay with that, but I’m trying to accept it. 


You went to India for three weeks in October-November 2016.

You did very well with international travel once again, though your increasing independence made it tougher to keep you close by as we waited in security lines, boarding lines, and immigration lines. 

You asked Mama to read you the safety card in every airplane we were in. We were in 10 airplanes. On one of them, we bought you a reusable shopping bag printed with the plane’s safety information.

You watched far fewer cartoons on the planes than you did during the same trip two years ago, and slept less.

You ran straight to your Avva (Indian grandma) at the airport, and gave her a big hug. (Two years ago, you burst into tears when she said hello to you.)

You were again fascinated by the light and fan switches in every house we visited, and figured out that you could only reach them if you stood on a chair. Thus, you started asking for a step stool in every house we visited. 

You asked Mama why you had to use your right hand to give someone a gift. She told you it was the tradition in India. 

You were told the story behind the leopard your great-grandfather shot (it was a maneater and he was the chief conservator of forests for the state of Madras). The animal’s skin lives in a storeroom in your Avva’s house, and you had a lot of questions about it. 

You loved all the Divali fireworks you got to see and help light. Somehow, you managed to fall asleep with thunderous booms happening all night. Mama brought this up when you said you couldn’t fall asleep on a plane because of a crying baby. 

You woke up sick the day after Divali, first saying “my tummy is tickling me” then going back to sleep only to wake up vomiting. True to form, you puked for a few hours, slept for a few hours and were fine by that afternoon. A doctor who lives across the street came to check on you three times, which made us all feel better. 

You met Daddy’s cousin and her family in Chennai, and enjoyed playing with the daughter in the family. You had a great time asking questions about the switches, “helping” make dosas, and playing with a neighbor boy your age. 

You came down with a cold when we came back from Chennai, but it didn’t slow you down. 

You spent a lot of time at your great aunt’s house (next door to Avva’s house), doing exciting things like sweeping, washing pots, and going over the details of how her well pump works. You pretty much bounced between the two houses all day, running in and out through perpetually open doors. 

You discovered a cartoon called Chhota Bheem, which you watched devotedly even though you didn’t understand the Tamil dialogue. You also liked Tom and Jerry, which was also in Tamil.

You had a great time at the beach in Chennai, where you ate ice cream, played in the waves, rode a horse (with Mama), collected shells, rode a hand-cranked merry-go-round, and shot balloons (with help from your cousin).

You said you missed your Grammie (American grandma) two weeks into the trip.

You had a lot of questions for the guy who came to service the battery for the back-up power system. You also got to see the system in action during a six-hour scheduled maintenance outage. 

You developed a taste for oatmeal (plain, or with a little salt) and appalams about two and a half weeks into the trip. You were willing to try Indian sweets exactly once; other than that you stuck to your old pals, Milk Bikis and vanilla ice cream. 

You claim that this stove lighter was your favorite thing about India:

But we’re pretty sure pushing switches was your favorite thing, just like at home. 

Image courtesy of MoWillemsDoodles.blogspot.com

It’s rare that I find a book I have no quibbles with, but this one is damn near perfect. I had no idea it existed until it called to me, loudly, from the Staff Picks shelf of my favorite library branch. 

You may know Mo Willems as the author of the super funny “Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus” and associatled children’s books. Turns out he’s been publishing small runs of sketchbooks every year for over 20 years. This coffee table book contains 20 of them, with cartoons ranging from hilarious to heartbreaking. There are also essays from his famous friends, but those don’t hold a candle to the simple genius of the man’s work. 

If you are an artist or writer, this book is for you. If you are a doodler or noodler, this book is for you. If you love cartoons, like to laugh or prefer your comedy smart, this is definitely the book for you. 

You get the idea. For more info, go here: http://mowillemsdoodles.blogspot.in/2013/05/dont-pigeonhole-me.html?m=1

First of all, if you need a mile-long title to hook a reader, that’s a bit suspect. Secondly, the Kennedys? Really? Aren’t they done to death at this point? But hey, both the mile-long title and the K-word intrigued me enough to give this book a shot. 

I had never heard of Kathleen “Kick” Kennedy, and the blurb made her out to be ahead of her time in terms of political savvy and ambition. Unfortunately for a feminist reader like me, her ambition seems to have been mostly focused on bagging the man with the biggest fortune and wheedling favors out of her well connected father. And unfortunately for a picky reader like me, the author’s voice was alternately breathless and ham-fisted. I prefer a more neutral, journalistic tone in my biographies, thanks. 

On the plus side, the detailed account of Kick’s adventures among the upper-crust set of pre- and post-WWII Britain appealed to my love of English-accented costume drama. While I skimmed a lot of the sections describing who attended this or that fabulous house party,the machinations of the blue-blooded kept me intrigued enough that I stuck with the book to the end.

So if you’re looking for a true story about an ambitious/manipulative debutante written by someone who is unabashedly in her corner, this is the book for you. But if stories of the self-obsessed rich and famous leave you cold, leave this one on the shelf. 

I'm over 40. I'm at home with a preschooler. Hear me roar.

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