Showing posts with label sisterhood. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sisterhood. Show all posts

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Twinkle, twinkle, little star

She sparkles in the lamplight.

I asked her last week if she's excited to begin her last year of preschool. Yeah, she said absentmindedly, busy rearranging her second skin of stickers across her leg. And then: wait -- it's my last year?

She is so self-contained, this one. She only knows as much about the world as she notices and we only know as much about her inner life as she feels like sharing.

I spend a lot of reflection on how we're parenting her. She's a different creature by far from her sister, but her sister, who came first, molded us reflexively - and she with her fantasies - I can't always tell if we're meeting her where she needs us.

I took the girls to Noodles today for lunch. She needed to use the bathroom and wanted to go by herself. Her sister doesn't want to go by herself at almost two years older. So I said to them, "go together." E is so cautious that I know she'll bring them both back safely. L is a friend to everyone and she'd unhesitatingly climb into a stranger's van to pet a puppy. Puppies are great conversation starters, right? But together, even if I don't know what to do for either of them, I know how to bind the sisters to care for each other.

We're spending a lot of energy in our house on the change that is 1st grade right now, so I wanted to give honor to her last year of preschool. She won't have nerves but it will be different. Her two favorite boys are leaving her for kindergarten. She'll be queen of the class, I tell her, but I think she always has been.

She's so sure of herself, like her father. I don't understand it because it's something I've never felt, constant confidence, and I marvel at her like some mysterious wonder of the galaxies.

Maybe it's because we always put our love up past the Milky Way.

None of this is hyperbole, though, another mama waxing on the passage of time, swiftly flow those years. A few weeks ago she was making potions in the backyard. She picked up an empty glitter vial leftover from some art project I had insisted be executed outdoors and she filled it with water. Look, Mama, I'm magicking myself! she cried, as I turned just in time to watch her pour it on her head.

Now you know no glitter vial is really ever empty. At least a dozen shampoos later, she really does to this day sparkle in the lamplight.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Three years old


We celebrated your birthday this weekend. You turned three on Saturday but because you moved to the Threes classroom in October, you've insisted that you're already three. Okay, we said, we'll celebrate again.

You didn't complain.

You don't complain much. You argue a lot. You disagree, push back, ignore that which you don't like to hear, but you don't complain. You are mercurial and vehement and your smile dazzles with intensity.

You shine it on your baby dolls more than us, sometimes, but I understand the work involved in being a devoted mama, and you are one.

But love, your baby dolls look a little homeless. Are they ever allowed to wear clothes? Take a bath?

You like them naked and you've developed your own distaste for underpants, too. It's a good thing your tushie is so cute but as you plot your Naked World Takeover, let me caution you that past a certain age, not all nudists are as adorable as you.

I love to hug you and kiss you and squeeze you and beg, "stay with me forever!" because it makes me smile broadly to hear your enthusiasm when you say every time no! I can't! You have many places to be and so few of them are holding still or in my arms. Your spirit is adventurous and confident and unshakeable. It's impressive.

Your interests are just wide of girl-conventional, and it's so fun to nurture you through your passions. You've spent most of this year obsessed with firefighters, and we saturated you this birthday with firefighter wonderfulness. You couldn't be happier and you've already spent hours playing with your new fire station and fire trucks and beloved fire fighter figures. If this is more than a childhood fascination, if you aspire to heroism, you certainly have what it takes.

You emulate your big sister whenever you're not purposely antagonizing her and you love your brother with great dedication. You squish his cheeks and call him Chubbers and although I keep thinking you're hurting him, he laughs at you perhaps more than at anyone. He'll be lucky to grow up emulating and antagonizing you.

You love your friends fiercely, from the two-year-old girl you left behind in your old class to the nearly-ten-year-old boy you call Mine! every time you see him or hear his name. And you love my friends, too. You have no hesitation around adults. You'll march into homes you've never seen, find their kitchens, open their refrigerators, and ask them for a snack. You do it everywhere I take you and these adults, once they recover from your gall and your moxie, they give you anything you seek.

You do love your food. You have an unparalleled sweet tooth and a thirsty carnivorous appetite. You'll eat anything if I call it meat, and just meat. As long as I never say ground beef or London broil or skirt steak or stir fry or a large roast or hamburgers, you're there and you're hungry. It's what's for dinner, indeed. And then you always, always justify dessert.

You know I love you unconditionally though sometimes you make the returned feelings quite hard-won. You are a challenge, unpredictable, very loud, astoundingly inconsistent in what pleases you and insanely vocal with what doesn't. I say this not out of complaint, but instead because every so often, right at the brink of what we're sure will set off a meltdown, you'll lucidly look at one of us, shrug your shoulders and say simply, okay. Those moments: we cling to them. Because as much as I have held on tightly and enjoyed the roller coaster ride of getting you safely to age three, I'm just beginning to think there's a rational being nestled somewhere deep inside you. As we shepherd you now towards age four, please know that I say this with great love and respect: that rational being? I'm looking forward to making her acquaintance.

I love you all the way to the stars,
Mama Pin It

Thursday, November 18, 2010


Sometimes, we can be very cruel. Tonight was one of those times. We got home and no sooner than we began climbing up the steps into the house than L asked, can I turn on the TV?

I answered, "you girls can watch a show but L, first you have to sit on the potty."

I'm so mean I even scare myself. L burst into tears. These were the tears of not hearing what she wanted, tears of not always wanting to be a big girl. She told us earlier in the week, I'm tired of using the potty, and she meant it. She is not such a fan of the responsibility and the remembering and the always sitting, always trying. But these were also tears of being at the end of the day, of being tired and most likely hungry, of thinking she was ready to play and relax and encountering yet one more impediment. She burst into tears and for good measure, flung herself on the floor.

Let's be clear: what happened next does not always happen. But tonight love steered the stars and E came to the rescue. L, E said, would you like me to take you to the potty? 

I think E really wanted to watch television.

L's cries stopped. She sat up, wiped her tears with both sleeves, and wordlessly nodded. Come, E said, and held out her hand. They walked hand-in-hand to the bathroom, where E turned on the light and put the foam toddler-tushie seat insert on the regular seat. She very solicitously continued to minister to her sister. Would you like me to hold your hand while you climb up? L nodded. Would you like me to hold your hand while you pee? L nodded again.

(Is that weird to you? They hold hands all the time when one of them uses the potty...especially if the user hasn't, um, eaten enough fiber recently.)

L has a habit of stripping entirely when she climbs up on the potty so it wasn't a surprise to hear E next say, L, would you like me to help you put your underpants back on?

We heard a flush and the sounds of washing and and the two emerged hand-in-hand, walking in a straight line toward the television's "on" button. E sported a triumphant smile and L, well, she was sporting backwards underpants and a deep cotton wedgie. Pin It

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Reviving Ophelia

In the bath tonight L wanted to be done quickly. She circumvented our routine and began pouring water over her head.

I was impressed, and said so. She poured the water and it ran down her face and trickled across her eyelashes and she brushed it away with a casual turn of her wrist. She could hear her daddy and brother playing in the hallway, and she wanted to be finished and out there with them.

There are so many ways in which I'm automatically cautious with L because of how her sister would react in a similar situation, and I often don't even notice them. But L is a different creature and in this past year she's made that readily apparent. She didn't flinch at water on her face and she'll taste new foods and when E needed to hyperventilate for ten minutes before agreeing to get the nasal injection of the flu vaccine, L stepped up to the nurse and snorted.

E has decided she doesn't like crusts on her bread. L says to E, If you see a piece of crust, show me and I'll eat it for you. She says to us, You don't have to cut off her crusts. I'll eat them for her so she doesn't have to be sad.

L models fearlessness for her older sister. Sometimes the result is a little violent. Sometimes it's just the boost of confidence (or jealousy) that E needs to overcome an inhibition.

Often, I think the greatest gift we've ever given E is that of her younger sister.

L's shampoo quickly washed away and in just a minute, she was gone. E sat, thinking. I don't know if the true impetus was the realization that L survived the water, or the jealousy over my casual praise, or her fierce sense of competition. Suddenly, she was pouring water over her own head and letting it trickle down her face.

She didn't like it and reached often for a washcloth with which to blot her eyes. But she continued until her hair was wet, and under my gentle encouragement, she even cleared the toys and practiced a little floating.

All summer long I waited to write a post that never developed an ending. All summer I dragged E to swim lessons. Her beloved babysitter was the instructor. She was in safe, trusted hands. She couldn't overcome her fear of getting her face wet. At the end of the summer she accomplished an expertise only in bubble blowing and dog paddling.

Portrait of a beautiful summer day and a freaked-out E in the arms of her swim instructor.

It was frustrating but we tried to display only patience. Only her own inhibitions were in her way. Next year, we told her. Maybe next year you'll be more ready. She quickly agreed, relieved to be done with the ordeal.

And then tonight she lay in the water, hair swirling around her head, cautiously letting the surface creep up her face. I was reminded of the Millais painting, but of course this Ophelia didn't drown.

Instead she popped up and giggled with pride at this small but mighty accomplishment. She reached for her towel, asked me to wrap her like a burrito, and bounded off to play with the rest of her family.
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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Hollow eyes

Ever since we went pumpkin picking, the girls have been begging to carve a jack'o'lantern. So the other night, we did. Here's how it went down:

1. Mama, please can we carve a pumpkin? PLEASE CAN WE CARVE A PUMPKIN??!!??!!??!!?

2. "Don't bump me. This is a huge, very sharp knife."

3. Ooh, slimy!! I'm not touching that!

4. Ooh, super duper duper DUPER slimy! I'm not touching that, either!

5. "Draw together on paper to figure out what it should look like, ok? Remember we're just doing one pumpkin so you have to agree."

6. I want a round eye in another eye.

6a. "Huh?"
6b. A round eye in another eye!

7. But I want an oval eye.

6c. "What does that mean!?

7a. Mama! I want my eye oval. Did you hear me?
7b. "Yes, love. I'll try to make the eye on your side an oval."

6d. An eye in an eye. Are you listening to me?
6e. "Oh, I'm trying, love. Can you draw it to show me?"

8. I want a square nose.

9. Well, I want a triangle nose.
6f. See my eye?

10. "I'll make a crooked nose that's a little square, a little triangle, okay?"
6g. "I'll try to do that. Be patient with me, please."

11. I want a friendly smile.

12. I want a scary smile.

13. "What do you think?"

14. Let's light it!

15. What's that?

16. "It's a battery-operated light to use instead of candles. It's supposed to be safer."

17. I don't like it. It's not very bright.
17a. Yeah! It's not bright at all!
17b. It's supposed to be bright.
17c. "I'll get a candle."

18. "Good night. Go to sleep. I love you."

19. "Good night. Go to sleep. I love you."

20. Why does my skin itch so much?
Oh. There are dried pumpkin guts on my shoulder.

 (Happy Halloween!) Pin It

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bosomy maternal instincts

Ready to play, L? Okay. Here's what you do.

Take all the kids and line them up. You line your up; I'll line mine up.

Now! Take all the mommies and line them up behind the kids. The mommies stay with the kids and keep them safe. The mommies are the tall ones and the kids are all the short ones.

Now. You can move the kids, and when you move the kids move a mommy with every kid, because the kids like to keep their mommies with them. So move that one, good, L! Now move his mommy, too, because he needs his mommy.

Yay! Now I'll move my kids and my mommies.

See, L? We're playing! We're doing a very good job.

This is how you play CHEST. We're playing chest together!

November 29, 2009
Portrait of two little girls of partial-Russian extraction, showing absolutely no aptitude for this game whatsoever, but compensating with cuteness.

"It's not chesT, love, it's chess. CheSSSS."

Oh! L! We're playing cheSSSSS! Can you say cheSSSSSSSS? We're playing cheSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Pin It

Friday, August 14, 2009


Every morning L manages to wake up before the rest of us, before the sun, before the worm put on this Earth to nourish the early bird, before rational thought brews its first pot of coffee.

(See my tag line? Seriously, kids. We set it. You know. For just in case. It's a built-in redundancy, I assure you.)

We say hi to her, we dress her, we let her putter around the house while the rest of us tend to acknowledging the day's existence and the hygiene- and wardrobe-related activities related to that exercise.

And may I take a moment for a tangent: some moments in noteverstill history are still woefully undocumented because I haven't always blogged. But did I ever tell you why we started the potty-training process with E? Because she kept grabbing my underpants out of the laundry pile and pulling them up over her diaper. I think it was because of the shiny fabric, the vibrant colors, but I just didn't need my Second Skin Satins getting such a public viewing. We bought the kid her own unders and she wore them over diapers for a good six months before she started losing the diaper layer of tushie-wardrobing.

We got the girls ready for school and I drove them and dropped them off. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until we got inside. Then L ran into her class room and yelled Look ME!!!! as she pulled up her dress and flashed all her friends and three teachers.

Under her dress, over her bloomers, the sneaky thing had worn a pair of her big sister's bright pink underpants to school. Her friends giggled and the teachers giggled but E, who had followed us into her class, screamed and burst into angry tears. Those are MY UNDERS! Why is she wearing MY UNDERS! Mama! Get my unders off of her!

I don't have a sister, myself. So when Ms. W spoke, I recognized an Unseen Truth that I was going to have to Confront and Acknowledge:

"Oh, E, you know when you have a little sister it means a whole lifetime of her trying to take your clothes."

This only made E cry harder, and I felt a shudder of cringing and resignation at the additional burden of mediation I now needed to recognize in my future.

But if there's something you can rely on with toddlers, it's the regular pooping. So very soon Ms. W took L for a diaper change and she retrieved the contraband undergarments. E was informed of the confiscation. And all was a little better with the world.

But this story would not be complete without a True Confession: because L has a habit of wandering through the house in the mornings as the rest of us go about our routines, I don't know where L found the unders in question.

I don't know if they were clean or dirty. Pin It

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


There is a certain ritual in our family. We do this daily, sometimes twice, and I perpetuate the falsehood.

I listen for my cues. I play my role. And the world rolls by.

I hear the sound. In the back, the elder child is removing one shoe. She has figured out, this impish force of will, that if she is barefoot and stretching she can reach the button for the power window.

She controls her window; she controls her destiny.

The tinted glass disappears and the panorama comes alive with noise and wind and smells.

I hear the echo, pushed around the circumference of the car and to my ears in the front by the hot gusts of wind visiting our skin and hair. In the back, the younger child is removing one shoe. She has decided, this determined-to-compare competitor, that if her sister can do something, she can do it, too.

But her toes can’t reach the button.

And so. And so I time my movements. I glimpse back and see her still-pudgy little footsicle on the console of the door. And from my own door panel I push the button that lowers her window.

The tinted glass disappears. Veteran winds from the right crash with new winds from the left. Our hair blows in circles and city sounds convulse in stereo and behind the kinetic cacophony, a small sound: a little girl claps her hands. Yay.

And vividly, the world rolls by.
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Friday, July 17, 2009


I have a friend who had her first daughter about a year before I had mine. When her daughter was about L’s age now and mine was learning how to crawl, she told me about her daughter’s kisses. “A___ loves to kiss on the mouth,” she told me. “And half the time she doesn’t remember to close her lips. So I get these full, open-mouth kisses from her all the time. And I know it’s gross. But I love them.” Um, yeah, I thought, sounds gross. Sweet, sure, but still gross.


When L goes upstairs to bed at night it’s usually her daddy who takes her up. So before she goes she kisses and hugs E, kisses and hugs me, walks away, turns back for one more wave, then disappears. For months she’d go willingly with her father. Then she caught on that E wasn’t going upstairs, too, and now she doesn’t want to go. So the lovely husband bribes her. He holds out a pacifier, dangling it in the vicinity of the hallway. Yes, the pacifier we ought to be taking from her by now – but it works so well. She collects her paci, kisses, hugs, kisses, hugs, waves, walks away.

Recently M attempted to streamline the process. He asked L to distribute her goodnight wishes to us first, and only then collect her paci and walk upstairs. L nodded and began to oblige. She hugged her sister. She tried to kiss her sister. No!! E yelled. L, I don’t want a kiss like that!

The outburst surprised all of us and L looked confused. I gave L extra hugs and kisses and once she had left the room asked E what prompted her denial of smooching. I only like kisses from L when she already has her paci in her mouth. Otherwise she sucks a little on my lips. And I realized: it’s true. L is now that purveyor of the open-mouth kiss.


When I was maybe six and my brother was maybe four we had a babysitter named Ellen. One winter night she took us downtown for the Festival of Lights. I don’t know why; maybe she wanted to spend her Saturday night chasing small energetic monkeys in the frosty air? The walking paths were crowded with twinkle lights and people and cigarette smoke and roasting-peanuts-smoke and ahead of us I saw a thick link chain stretched between two concrete posts. Without word or warning I left Matthew and Ellen behind and sprinted towards the chain. I saw a hurdle and I wanted to jump it. I heard Ellen scream. “What are you doing? STOP!! STOP!!” but my brain didn’t listen in any manner that elicited a response. My brain wondered, “why?” I ran and I jumped and I cleared that hurdle and I landed on the other side. Triumphant!

And then I saw I was standing not on another walking path, but in the middle of Rainbow Boulevard. To my left, a light had changed and a hundred headlights were approaching me at good speed. “Oh,” I thought, and ducked back under the chain.


Forever now, when we walk out of daycare at the end of the day the girls break into a run. So forever now, I break into a yell: “Girls! Stop at the tree!” Because two feet beyond the tree is the curb. And just beyond the curb is the driveway of a large government building, upon which 1,000 employees in 1,000 cars are pulling out of the garage at high speed towards their personal lives, towards an evening’s freedom. And not even a chain link separates my girls from all that tantalizing open space where unannounced drag races commence in spurts.

So they each hurl themselves towards the tree, one arm out, and slingshot themselves around and back at me. On days when the magic is right, they slingshot around simultaneously and into each other’s arms, a four-way embrace of trunk, girl, girl and giggles. And so it has come to be that we cannot get in the car until the girls have hugged the tree.

Daycare traffic density being what it is, sometimes I cannot get a parking spot right near the tree. There are days when we might have to walk the length of four or five cars to reach our own chariot. Down the length of this driveway there is not just the slingshot tree; trees are planted at about every ten feet. And so it has come to be that we cannot get in the car until the girls have hugged each tree along the distance to our car.

One evening this week, L, who so strongly associates hugs with kisses, slipped a little tongue to the bark of the last maple. She began to wail, a funny open-mouth wail, a wail that had her fingers wiggling across her lips. Yuck! she bawled. Mouf! (That would be ‘mouth,’ for those of you who need a translation from One-ish to English.)

I wiped the grit from her mouth and tongue and knelt on the sidewalk to pull her milk cup out of her backpack. E’s contribution to the recovery effort was better, though. She took both her sister’s hands in her own. She looked her eye-to-eye. And she passed on some sisterly wisdom: No, L. Trees are not for kissing and hugging. People are for kissing and hugging but trees are just for hugging.
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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sisters: past, present and future

L used to say more? more? when she wanted a bite of food. Sometime this weekend, she switched it up. Now she asks some? some? and the crazy thing about it is that is just how E would ask. She's the Ghost of E Past, using the same vocabulary, the same little girl/emphysemic husky voice, the same angle of head tilt, the same inflection. She's muddling my memories of 2007 with my days of 2009.


We went to a music class yesterday. E jumps around. The teacher looks at her with playful astonishment. "Did you just touch the ceiling on that jump???" With wide-eyed pride she nods. Yes.

L wants to jump but doesn't yet know how. So she claps to the beat and lurches from one foot heavily to the next. She looks like she's performing a Tongan tribal dance. I have no doubt she will one day be an enthusiastic chest thumper.


I'm big, and L isn't big, says E. "But she will be," I tell the elder sister. "One day she'll be as big as you, but by then you'll be even bigger. That's your job--to grow and get bigger." How will L be a big girl? she asks. "Well, remember last summer we took down your crib and put you in your bed? One day we'll do that for L. That's one way she'll be a big girl. Probably next summer. We'll take down her crib and buy her a new bed." No! I don't want that! "Well, honey, she's going to keep growing, just like you," I say, clumsily misunderstanding in that inadequate motherly misunderstanding way. No! When she's two, I don't want you to buy her a bed. I want her to share my bed. When she's old enough for a bed we can sleep together for every, every night. Pin It

Monday, May 25, 2009

Watching the grass grow

May 25, 2009
Portrait in position.

We heard the landscaping truck off-load outside. The guys on their riding mowers, they cut their lines in our neighbors' yard across the street first, then they take care of our next-door neighbors' grass, and they cut across their driveway and over our front yard. When they started, the girls climbed up on stools to be ready to watch for their appearance in the back.

They're wearing matching underpants. We bought E her first underpants just before she turned two. It's hard to find underpants that small, but I was motivated. She had begun wearing mine. Every pair of my unders that she found, she'd pull them on. She'd go in my drawer for unders. If I slipped a pair off in the bathroom as I got ready to shower, she'd find my dirty unders and pull them on. So we got E her own unders, and she wore them every day, right over her diapers and eventually right over her pull-ups, until the day came that she wore them for what they were and not a layering accessory.

Now L seeks out her sister's unders at every opportunity. I don't know if she pulled these from a pile of clean laundry or of dirty, but she looked at her sister's tushie and a knowing came over her face, a recognition. Next we saw her, the matching unders were across her diaper like a sash. Maybe it's almost time to get her her own. Time to go digging through the handmedowns bag.

In this moment when the girls stood on the kitchen stools, for L it was about the underpants, about being like her Big Sister, about dressing like she does, climbing up like she does. She sets her future by her sister's present. For E, she saw her future on the other side of the window.

With wonderment in her voice she mused quietly to nobody in particular:

When I grow up I'm going to be a grass cutter. Pin It

Thursday, May 14, 2009

First aid

This isn't turning out to be a week where I can legitimately claim to work a full-time job. Mid-afternoon today I got The Dreaded Call. Guess who has a fever? No, not L. She hasn't suffered a relapse since Monday. E, who may I remind you has been on strong antibiotics since Tuesday, courtesy of her ENT, somehow in defiance of modern medicine developed a fever of 102 and her eyes looked watery and she was complaining of a stomach ache. Oh, and for gravy? M was in Atlanta.

It was too early to take L home, also, and let her sister reinfect her with two hours of extra play time. It wasn't really early enough to go home and come back for L. And E, of course, was still wildly active. I suggested we go to Target and buy some Tylenol to pour down her, and maybe pick up some yummy juice for her to drink tomorrow. She loved this, of course, and she got a few more things, too. Look, Mama! Hello Kitty bandaids! We NEED those! Look! Horsie stickers! Mama? Could I have chocolate milk? I'm really, really, really thirsty.

Of course, she refused to drink the Tylenol. I just want it at home. But we're not going to be home for a while. We have to get your sister first. But I'll just have it at home.

So we drove back towards daycare, fighting traffic currents I don't normally navigate. I could see in the rear-view mirror that E was getting uncharacteristically tired, which proved that she was actually sick, something I might not have entirely believed aside from the fever.

We went inside and I reminded her that we were going to collect her sister quickly, and not play with her friends, and not give them hugs, and not take a long time because I wanted to get her home to the Officially Endorsed Tylenol Bottle.

We did okay. The girls were cooperativeish and we were successfully leaving in a fast-moving rhythm when L walked quickly a little too enthusiastically - and mere steps from the car, she stumbled and fell.

I scooped her up in my arms and swept her into her carseat so I could grab a tissue and wipe the blood away. E scrambled into her own carseat and in a blink dropped her Woe Is Me demeanor in exchange for her Mama's Helper persona. Mom! Mama! Mom, remember? Remember we bought bandaids?

I pulled the little box out of our Target back and E asked if she could put the bandage on her sister's knee. With a look of concern she climbed out of her carseat and sat carefully in the space between the girls' two chairs. In gentle and deliberate motions, she wiped her sister's knee with the tissue I had pulled out, and all by herself she slowly affixed the bandaid.

The saga of sicknesses this week, the traveling husband, the simultaneity of the sicknesses and the travel - I had felt so tense. And my muscles viscerally relaxed when I watched the generosity of the older sister setting aside her own discomforts out of concern for the discomforts of her younger sister.

May 14, 2009
Portraits of my baby and her boo-boo.
Foreshadowing my most sacred dream, that they'll always care for each other.

And of Hello Kitty herself, who would never risk her reputation by coordinating with L's ensemble less than perfectly.

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Summer reruns

This weekend I washed and put away all of the girls' summer clothes. E's new wardrobe came from a combination of new items on hangers in her closet and the big bag of handmedowns collected from friends and marked "SUMMER 3T." L's came exclusively from a big bag of handmedowns. She inherits from her sister.

This bag, this season, particularly - L's new clothes were so evocative of the life they already draped once before. Maybe because that summer between age one and age two is when I first really understood E as not just a baby or as my daughter, my charge, but as a person. She talked that summer. She formed opinions and expressed disapproval and learned the first foundations of humor. She emerged from generic fat rolls and the smell of diaper cream - and really, we love them all, but aren't all babies to a degree interchangeable? - to be her. E.

I found the dress E wore to the petting zoo on the day my grandma, for whom L is partly named, died. That frock is tonight going in the giveaway pile on the front porch to be picked up by charity tomorrow because I don't want its tainted associations on L's silky belly. I found the outfit E wore on the day we took her to the Bronx Zoo, the day she pointed and yelled loudly enough for dozens of people to hear: Look! Camel POOPING! I found the shorts she wore the day after we moved the first piece of furniture into the newly finished basement and discovered just how exciting a very large cardboard box could be.

The metaphor usually tossed out (sing it, Disney) is The Circle of Life. Life isn't a circle, I think. It's a spiral, a snail shell, growing slowly on itself and outward. This spring is this spring and also the spring of last year and also the spring of 2007 when E was the age that L is now, and L was a kumquat tucked safely behind my belly button.

This picture, again, from this past Sunday:

And two pictures from May 25, 2007, when E was just two weeks older than L was on Sunday:

So this summer, in these clothes, under the spell of her sister's presence and the afterimage of her sister's once-was, L will become Somebody. What a thing to contemplate. Pin It

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Portrait: On the catwalk, yeah, I shake my little tush on the catwalk

For weeks L has been dragging things behind her with the determination of a second sibling who really, really wants to look like her older sister, who parades about with her backpack on wheels.

So L finally got her own backpack on wheels. This is her on her first day of wheelie-backpack-ownership, chasing her sister up the long walk to the doors to daycare.

February 25, 2009.
She's rolling, rolling, rolling.

And wouldyalookatthat, hey! There's one less heavy thing in my arms every morning.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Going tubing

Sisters. What they won’t do for each other. The lengths they’ll go to, just to make everything a shared experience. Usually, I think it’s an enviable bond.

E’s ear infections haven’t cleared up, even after
atomic-bomb level prescriptions were deployed. And L’s eye is, as predicted, dacrostenosically still gunky.

So: ear tubes under general anesthesia on March 9th, and eye tube under general anesthesia on March 11th. Mark it on your calendars: party week (with a moment of silence for my sick leave) at the noteverstill house! For a rehearsal dinner, they’re sharing a pre-op visit to the pediatrician on March 2nd, where we’ll play that oldie-but-goodie party game known as Whose Goo is Greener? And if time allows, maybe we’ll also squeeze in a quick round of Pin the CVS Scrip on the Oozing Orifice. Prizes will be awarded.

When we were at the grocery store last weekend E successfully negotiated a new box of Dora the Explorer bandaids but from what I gather they’re not very good at covering tear ducts or ear drums or parents’ emotional scars, so I’m not really sure why we needed them.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009


The pleasure of the second child is that each stage brings two joys. It’s the achievement of this milestone, yes, but it also refreshes hazy memories of this miracle wrought once before. Like scanning an old photograph whose colors have muted, and with one click: voila! ah yes, remember that afternoon on the veranda? You were smoking that pipe and I laughed at all your jokes. And you laughed at mine and we danced until dawn, out there on the veranda.

The pleasure of the second child is the opportunity to revel in the details we might have been too busy, too uncertain, too tense with am-I-parenting-right? to find revelatory.

The pleasure for the first child is that All the World’s a Game of Follow the Leader. Need an audience? Convince your parents to have another kid.

The pleasure for the second child is that The World is Your Oyster, Already Spread Across the Family Room Floor. And the Kitchen Cabinets. And Waiting in Large Bags in Your Closet. Ready for the next size socks? More stimulating toys? Books just the size of your hand? We have them, pre-gathered, kid-tested, Sister-approved.

L discovered lift-the-flap books this month. She carries them around, little square things of cardboard, and as soon as she corners you you know you’ll be reading the same eight flaps over, and over, front cover to back and flip it over again. I remember how her sister loved these books. Reading them gives me delight just as it gave me delight with E, but I don’t remember taking the time to be aware of the delight with E as I am doing now.

Behind each flap is an animal. As we await the surprise, no matter what we’ll find (deer, frog, rabbit), L makes one of two sounds: oooh!, learned originally from the owl, or quaah quaah, from the duck. So this is what the L soundtrack for “reading a book activity” sounds like: Oooh! Quaah quaah. Oooh! Quaah quaah. Oooh!

And we have book club, where we discuss what we’re reading.
Me: “ ‘Who’s jumping in the stream?’ Let’s lift the flap. Look! ‘A frog.’ A frog says ribbit. Can you say ribbit, L?”
Her: Quaah quaah.

But I love these stupid little cardboards now, because of how much E once loved them, because of how much L now loves them, because we’re very satisfied to find our children loving books as much as we do, and because of the overblown maudlin sentimentality so physical I see it wrapping like gauze around any object that has meant something to both of the girls.

Still, you should have seen the four of us loose together in Barnes & Noble this weekend. E had a gift card from her birthday to spend there. We told her it would buy (more or less) two books. She made her selections considerately, slowly. Once satisfied, a little desperation crept into her eyes as she realized that her selection of two books meant there were still thousands we weren’t taking home with us. I really, really think we should get L a book, too, she said, her eyes sagacious and serious. And since bookstores are like candy stores and I was deep in the thralls, I thought, sure, doesn’t she deserve at least one little flap book that’s new to her? E and I picked out a little animal book with a sheep on the cover. We handed it to L, who clutched it tightly and said Dis? Ooh! in excitement. And then, noticing the three-dimensionally fluffy sheep, Quaah quaah!

The pleasure of any young child is in bringing delight to her face. So we ourselves our responsible. We set up these loops. I’m sure, by now, L could say ‘ribbit,' or something like it. But she loves the exasperation in my expression. She squeals at it, and I exaggerate my features, and she squeals some more. It will be a disappointment to her tongue, now, to utter the sound of any creatures neither owl nor duck.

We set up these loops. She knows how cute most adults find her. She often waves at strangers, not, I’m sure, because she’s so inherently extroverted, but because she knows what grand reactions she’ll elicit. It was both amusing and a little heartbreaking yesterday while we were at breakfast to watch her wave, furiously and determinedly, at a table of soulless businessmen who never returned the greeting. But she should know, I thought, that it’s not the job of every human on the planet to find her smile-makingly endearing. But why would she know that, I thought, when nearly every person out there does reward her waves with exaggerated enchanted reactions. We’re all complicit. We set up these loops. Animal behavior is all we are made of, all we have to teach, to mimic.

The loops we establish were on my mind when E took her icky ear-infection medicine this morning, for which she is bribed rewarded with two M&Ms after she swallows it. Blue and brown! she asked as she walked over to me, outreached hand already open in front of her. From nowhere, her mini-me fell into formation a step behind, arm outreached. We create and reinforce these loops, and because it’s easier not to face her tantrums, every time L’s noticed E receiving her two M&Ms she’s received one, too (but usually orange, because we have a glut of them). Nevermind that it was still 7:something AM and that those chocolates were the first food to pass their lips today. I looked at them, big and little, marching through the kitchen, and half expected that phrase I heard teasing me all weekend:

Quaah quaah!

And though it never came I watched their toddly maneuvers, their undulating path around strewn toys and large furniture and shoes not yet on feet, the one happy to be in charge and the one so happy to chase, with their same faces and same shoulders and same tushies and same gait, and they reminded me strikingly of a book we amazingly don’t have.

They are a living re-enactment of Make Way for Ducklings.

I’m not raising a family. I’m raising a flock.
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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The secret life of sisters

We're in the most ordinary place. We're in the family room; we're on the couch. They're nose to nose. They're conversing, even though only one of them really speaks. I'm right here, I'm fundamentally part of this triad, but I'm an outsider. L is nursing (from me). But her sister, who's sitting just next to me so we're touching in a line from our shoulders to our knees, she's L's focus. She's L's pillow.

They're nose to nose. They're the goblet illusion. A Rorschach blot. A double helix reflecting pool: forehead, nose and chin. L's eating, but it's the game they're playing that immerses them. E lifts the blanket over both their heads. They giggle and I can't see them. She drops the blanket and they giggle again. It's not a peekaboo for my benefit; so often their games have a two beat pattern -- up beat Action, down beat Look Up for Attention. But in this game they don't even look at me at all.

They make sounds to each other, not words, but certainly talking. They have so little need of language with each other. Yet they are deep in soulful conversation. I feel like a trespasser, like I'm watching a foreign language movie, but nobody ran the English dub reel.

They're tented under the purple blanket, and when E unveils them I ask what game they're playing. She speaks to me patiently, bemused, a little frustrated I've broken the spell, but with a worldly understanding, it seems to me, that I'm forgiven for not having been able to help it. I'll never shed my outsider status, and so she doesn't hold the Charter of the Sisterhood against me. But her answer illustrates what in that moment I was already reminded, anyway: it's a special world unto them and I'm consigned to a residency on the other side of the looking-glass.

We're having a tea party in our tree house.

It didn't make any sense to me, but obviously, I had to console myself, it wasn't supposed to, since it wasn't meant for me at all. Pin It

Thursday, October 16, 2008

A measure of devotion

L was crawling around our bedroom floor this morning as she does so many mornings while I get dressed. She'd been awake for almost an hour and for a good part of that time I'd been encouraging her to be quiet so she wouldn't wake her sister but the time was approaching that I really needed her sister to wake up so I played silly face games with her to pull some more squeals into the morning air.

It works every time. E is an obstreperous little creature if one of us dares to go in her room and wake her up but if she believes she's waking up of her own volition she's a ray of sunshine befitting the hour of daybreak. L and I hear her commentary (to whom? to nobody? to Hudson? to the anteater at the foot of her bed? to herself and the characters in her head who live her daily life in her company?): I think I hear somebody!!! And I'm waking up, guys!!! L, I'm awake!!!

L and I watch from the doorway of my room as E comes running out of her bedroom away from us, directly into L's room. She heard her sister, and she wants to find her sister. "Over here, love!" I call to her. She runs back into the hall, and a reunion commences at the halfway point: L starts crawling westward and E jumps eastward. One falls to her knees and the other balances up carefully on just knees and they both giggle. L looks up, expectantly. E wraps her arms around her for their unskippable morning embrace. And in case I've somehow missed it, she yells to me: Mama! I'm awake! And I gived L a hug!!

They love each other fiercely. It's easy right now, because the competition between them is still very limited. It's of the benign sort, and it's one-sided: I want to sit on your lap! She's touching my things! Take me out of the car first and then get L! I know their relationship will become more complex when L finds her own voice. Right now E stage directs every detail of both their lives: I will have purple and L gets pink!! There might be a day when L declares she hates the pink, she's tired of the pink, she never wants to see pink again and will E stop trying to be the boss of her. She wants the yellow, jeez, oKAY? And on that day, E will have to redevelop her entire perspective on world order. For a girl who loves control, ceding some to the sister she loves, but also loves to dominate, will be a profound change.

Recently I dropped the girls off at daycare and customarily we go together to L's room to get her settled first but we were later than usual. E's classmates generally begin their day in the 3-5 year olds' room, where all the 2 through 5s eat breakfast together. However we had arrived at the end of breakfast and many of E's friends were already in their own class so E wanted to join them. We went to unpack E first, and so I put L on the floor in E's room to crawl amongst the bigger kids' toys while I unpacked my own bigger girl. Suddenly a swarm of children were surrounding L, cooing "hi, baby!" and touching her face. Audrey, Liam, Sonya and Ciara were all reaching for the attention of L, who was smiling wildly and trying to use each of their little frames as a tool for standing up. Five children were made happy by L's temporary presence in that classroom but I looked over to find E visibly upset. NO! she screamed a second later, thrashing her arms against her friends. THAT'S MY STISTER! THAT'S NOT YOUR STISTER! In her school crowd E is the only older sibling. Her friends are enthralled by a baby; but E felt very protective. And possessive.

The possessive: its intentions are noble, even if its manifestations can be a little obnoxious. The protective, though: that's pure love.

Which: brings us full circle to the anteater at the end of E's bed. The anteater is a holdover from a little summer project of E's in which she tried to collect as many different purple animals as she could beg extended relatives to buy for her. As it happens, also this summer we had a bit of an ant problem in the kitchen. This is not too shocking, with two small children and no dog, but it's been a minor nuisance. One night it almost became a major nuisance. E woke up to nightmares. She had a bad dream that ants were trying to get her; that they were crawling in her bed. Do you know that feeling of self-satisfaction mixed with relief mixed with gratitude when all powers of logic and reasoning don't fail you at 3am and you can identify the problem before you, conceive of a solution, and locate the tools for that solution fast enough that the night's sleep is not altogether lost? With the greatest of casualness I reached into E's toy bin, felt around for the anteater and said, "well, it's a good thing you have an anteater, then, isn't it?" We stationed him at the foot of the bed by the germ-catchers and one interesting little overactive imagination was convinced of the security of an insect-free slumber.

Over time all guard duties have transferred to the anteater. He is now Bouncer Extraordinaire, denying entrance to all ants, germs and nightmares.


Under the protection of her purple corduroy bodyguard E has been sleeping well again. Her sister has not, however. This has nothing to do with ants, germs and nightmares, and everything to do with teething, separation anxiety, and general stubbornness. However, L's sleeping problems had been troubling E enough to think up a solution.

Mama, I think you should buy L a anteater.

She's looking out for her sister. She's a clever one, no? And relentless. After being pestered after the morning hug for a report on L's night, and pestered again at bedtime, did I buy "a anteater" yet, and pestered and pestered and pestered, meet the newest member of our family, who also can't help with the kitchen infestation.

You'll notice he's pink.
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Monday, August 18, 2008

Compare and contrast: the genetic edition

L has been having a horrendous time sleeping. We've been blaming it on teething, and while she does have as many as four teeth possibly working their way out into the world, her pediatrician reminded us at her eight-month check-up last week that she's also at the age of awareness, of separation anxiety. And with a rush I remembered the absolute frustration we went through with E at this age, the hours of rocking and shushing and swaying and begging to please, just SLEEP already! that somehow I had completely erased from memory. And how at that time the routine of bedtime was able to incur such dread and anxiety, all the baby books, the sleep books, the pacifiers and black-out curtains and humidifiers for white noise and how this was the most frustrating thing we'd experienced yet as parents (little did we know what would come!). So now each bedtime with L brings an odd mix of stomach-acid deja vous and calm confidence of the this too shall pass sort.

But the bouncing patting shushing -- the sleeping infant whose eyes sproing open as soon as her body touches crib -- even the sound of the overtired cry -- it's the exact same.

When M took L for her check-up last week I had him ask the pediatrician, too, to compare L's stats at this age with E's. L feels so different in my arms. E as a baby felt little, but so dense, like some extra-planetary material capable of absorbing extra gravity. L feels like a silk worm, all long and fluid. (True confession: I have no idea what a silk worm looks like, nor have I bothered to find out. She feels like a silk worm of my mind, okay?) I was curious to know how their respective measurements compare. My silk worm and my moon rock are the same. L is only an inch longer, and only 4 ounces lighter, than E at eight months. Head diameter: 4 millimeters bigger. The inch means nothing, because E kicked so terribly at all of her infant appointments that all lengths recorded were estimated. The ounces: negligible enough to be the difference between daily peeing schedules as interrupted by cold white scale. And 4 millimeters: accountable by L's actual ability to grow hair. Essentially, they're the same baby shape, my moon rock and exotic larva.

The hair. There is a difference. L has some. E was bald until forever. She's still never had a haircut. Maybe the girls will share First Haircut Day together. That will probably make them happy, and since we break out the video camera so infrequently, there will be so much less pressure on us. Also, although it's too early to tell definitively, I think L's hair will be straight like mine, while E's has loose waves like her Daddy's. As an infant E's nubbin hairlets angled in all different directions. L's are unidirectional. Also I think L's hair will be thick like her Daddy's, while E's is thus far very fine like mine. With their similar faces, perhaps it will be their very different hair that will set them apart.

Hair was what made me first marvel over their similar takeaways from the genetic roulette wheel. In the tiny peach fuzz hairs across their foreheads, the invisible unmeasureable goosedown, they have the same whorl above their left eyebrows. I love to stare at E's when it catches the sunlight, to trace its pattern with my not-blue eyes. When L was born and I saw her whorl, the same whorl, that's the part in the birth story where I gasped out loud.

And they have the same fourth toe. E, L, how did you possibly end up with that toe? When you read this years from now, please don't envy my perfectly straight normal toes. We love you just the way you are. Go make Daddy take off his socks and talk to him about this. And remember the power of cute shoes.

Their ears angle differently, as do their noses, but that difference thus far is more subtle. Their big eyes are a feature of mine, but they get the beautiful gray tone to their blue from their Daddy; mine are more greeny-blue, or yellowy-blue, if that's allowed as a choice. On both of them, their lips are all mine and their calf muscles are exact copies of M's. E's hair is a little redder, L's a little darker. They were both born with hemangiomas: E's on the back of her left knee, L's by her left nipple. Both are fading and will exist only in my mind. Their personalities: looking pretty different, but both love a reason to giggle.

E crawled back out of her bed three times tonight after bedtime. I finally got her close to sleep by snuggling with her for a few minutes in her big, comfy bed. I thought she was asleep when she startled me by whispering. Mama? What, love? I asked. Mama? Sometimes? Sometimes our eyes have trouble staying closed. And sometimes we have to close them for them but sometimes they open again. Because sometimes they have trouble STAYING all the way closed like that.

That they also share. Pin It

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Because as subject matter, these tushies never get old

So look:

August 6, 2008, 6:45 am

Portrait, morning homage to Sol Lewitt

That older sister insisted last night that they wear the OTHER pair of matching pajamas.

Here's the thing. I don't go for the matchy-matchy. I wouldn't do this to them. I think it objectifies them. It labels them each half of a pair. Salt and pepper. Salt 'n' Pepa. It doesn't identify them as the individuals they are and as whom they deserve to be recognized.

But. But. This sisterhood of theirs. Well, the younger is still just along for the ride but that older one? She's digging the matchy-matchy. And I've always said I won't do this to them - but if they request it, I'm not going to interfere. Interfering doesn't make any more sense to me than endorsing this little bit of micro-branding. We've now run through the sum-total two pairs of matching pajamas we have. But look what that clever monkey pulled out for them to wear to school today.

August 6, 2008, 7:15 am

Portrait, morning homage to Bridget Riley

They are E. And L. And the matchy-matchy, to me this looks like one E&L. But for now, at least, that's how they like it. Some tushies, huh?

And now, a public service announcement:

Attention Grandmothers Getting Notions: do not plan any shopping expeditions based on this post. Do not rearrange tomorrow evening's schedule to fit in a run to the mall. Even without limitless matchy-matchy outfits, these girls will survive. They have too much clothing already. Do not add to the laundry pile. Thank you. That concludes this message.

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