Monday, October 27, 2008

Fourth birthday party this weekend!

I’m like a bride fretting about rain on her wedding day.

In our foolishness(?) hope (?), Husband and I booked Bean-girl’s fourth birthday party at an outdoor venue.

A year ago, I would have scorned a mother who fretted so about her little one’s birthday party. “Just let them eat cake!” I would have said. And then I would have ranted on about the overly elaborate birthday parties of today’s suburban, middle-class preschooler. After all, there were no party favors and “goody bags” (filled with plastic junk) during the parties of my and Husband’s childhood. No elaborate craft projects and entertainment. We had parties at home, maybe played pin-on-the-tail-on-the-donkey (I actually do have a vague memory of that), ate cake and opened presents, and everyone went home happy. See—there’s a picture of me in my parents’ photo album right there, blowing out candles. I look happy, and all the guests do, too.

But times are different now. And this year, Bean-girl started the preschool birthday circuit.

She’s only been to two parties, but one was at the local children’s museum, and the other was at the zoo. And so now she thinks (reasonably so, I give her) that birthday parties are functions that occur outside the home. Whenever I asked her, “Would you like to have your party at home, Bean-girl?” she would emphatically respond, “No way!”

Luckily, though, she’s pretty easy-going about where exactly outside the home to have her party. And I admit that I was not looking forward to cleaning my house and having 7-8 little girls and their parents running about in the small living room. Call me lazy that way.

I had a brainstorm. What about our favorite toy store? They have a wonderful craft studio, and there’s an adjoining cafĂ© perfect for the cake and refreshments. “Would you like to have a birthday party at that toy store, Bean-girl?” I asked. She jumped up and down. “Oh, yes!”

We went to the toy store, talked to some people, planned out a lovely day. The managers said they would check with the store’s owner to make sure nothing else was scheduled on Bean-girl’s big day, but it all seemed perfect. Then we got home and a got a phone message: Sorry, but there was actually a huge store event on Bean-girl’s birthday. Would we like to reschedule?

So then I gave in to the Children’s Museum. “Would you like to have your party at the Children’s Museum?” I asked Bean-girl. She jumped up and down and said, “Oh, yes!”

The Children’s Museum got back to me after two days (you have to leave a message for their event planner). They were sorry to report that they would be closed that weekend for renovations.

The zoo, Husband and I thought desperately. Outdoors, yes, but their website said they had an indoors party facility, too. I didn’t tell Bean-girl about the zoo this time. After about a week, the zoo got back to me. Party already booked that day, they said.

By this point I was kicking myself over not planning Bean-girl’s party two or three months in advance, like any respectable mom. What about an apple orchard? Husband suggested then. There are only, like, a zillion apple orchards/farms in our area? And most have hayrides, petting zoos, restaurants, etc.

Eureka. And so this is how we ended up scheduling Bean-girl’s Nov 1 birthday at an apple farm. If all goes well, she and her guests will go on a hayride to a pumpkin patch, pick pumpkins (there’s the party favor), then have cider, doughnuts, and cake outside near a bonfire (to keep us warm). There’s a petting zoo, corn maze, and bizarre little story tent on the grounds, too.

If it rains/snows, we’re in trouble. The farm has table and chairs set up in a drafty old barn, but the seating space is small, and it won’t be too fun if the weather’s cold. Actually, I’m imagining sunshine but twenty degree weather and the kids all sniveling with red noses and frozen fingers and the parents quietly damning us under their breaths for dragging them out into the cold.

If it does rain/snow, we’re moving the party to our house. I’ll have to clean this place just in case, and then maybe I will have seven 3-4 year old girls running rampant in my small living room. The preschool craft project seems an essential part of this birthday ritual, so I’ve bought a bunch of miniature pumpkins for them to decorate. Of course, I’m not sure how to decorate them, and I’ve yet to buy the decorating supplies. Bean-girl still insists that a party at home will not be fun or “inresting” (interesting), but she seems mollified somewhat by the prospect of painting pumpkins.

A year ago, I would have never dreamed that I could work myself into a tizzy about something like this. Parenthood is full of suprises.

Friday, October 3, 2008

At home again

Last Thursday we flew to Denver, the “Mile High City.” We stayed with my husband’s sister and her family. She She did everything to make our family feel right at home. Bean-girl had an absolute blast playing with her triplet cousins. And on Saturday morning, my husband and I got up and drove two hours to Vail for a wedding. We left the our girls in someone’s care overnight for the first time in their (and our) lives.

Some pictures from Vail. I should have taken more pics!
The wedding was beautiful—one of the last people in my husband’s circle of friends to get married. It felt so strange to be away from the girls; we kept talking about them, and I kept daydreaming of Legume’s fat baby cheeks. But of course it was also lovely to be alone together, in a romantic setting. That night, before turning in, we watched a bit of CNN. Now that doesn’t sound romantic, I know, but after a steady diet of children’s cartoons, I must admit that cable news is quite enticing. As was reading the New York Times in bed the next day. Of course, we did engage in other adult activities in between…

The bean girls did GREAT in our absence. I think Bean-girl scarcely even cared that we were gone, she had such a great time playing with her cousins. When we got back the next day she ran up to greet us, and then was gone a minute later to continue her play. Baby Legume was fine, too. Their aunt, uncle and cousins had tired them out the day before with a trip to the zoo, a trip to the mall, pizza and a stop at the mall’s Build-a-Bear workshop store (but Bean-girl politely declined an offer of a teddy bear. She can be weird like that). The kids were so exhausted that they quickly and without fuss fell asleep that night. . . for nine hours straight. My sister-in-law is gifted.

This week my Bean-girl asked me to please stop changing my work schedule. “I don’t like going to school so much,” she said. “I think it’s too much school.” Ouch. I cuddled her in bed and said that there would be only one more schedule change. I am starting full time in two weeks. Yes, ouch, five straight days a week of daycare/school. I explained that she would still have “mommy days”, two days a week. That two days of the week, Saturday and Sunday, would ALWAYS be mommy-days, no matter what. This seemed to satisfy her. Perhaps she was afraid that every single day would be a school day? It’s a lot for a little girl, I know.

I know that there are many people who would not approve of my choice to go back to work at this time. And it really is a choice for me—my family does not need my income (nearly half of which goes to daycare costs anyway). I was amused to get my first troll comment on this blog about it. More hurtfully, I sense doubts on the part of members of my own extended family. But I don’t do well staying home full time with young children. I just don’t. Things may change in the future; perhaps, as they enter the demanding pre-teen/teen years, I’ll feel the need to step back and make more time for them at home again. Maybe this gig won’t go well, and I’ll feel the need to step back or quit six months from now. Maybe I’ll be in a position to negotiate a work-from-home or flex-time schedule in the future. The truth is that the job is quite flexible right now—I haven’t given up the flexibility of research academia (nor the jeans and sneakers dress code!) But I was not happy at home, and I had to make this change now. My mother was not happy as a stay-at-home mother, and it was something that I could see even at an early age. My mother has confirmed this unhappiness to me herself. And my witness to her frustration and boredom has colored my own thoughts, my plans and hopes for motherhood/career from the very beginning.

Things at work have actually slowed now, and I’m a bit at loose ends there. My PI finally came to his senses last week and realized that he was in no position to submit an RO1 this grant cycle. We’ll submit it for February. He wanted to submit a big program grant for next month, but the program goals for this program grant had changed considerably since the last funding announcement, and his projects are no longer suitable for the grant. So. . . I guess it’s a bit of laid-back reading and polishing of the RO1 until the PI returns from his overseas trip and some more substantial projects come my way. Not a bad life, for right now.