Monday, October 24, 2011

you can ring my....

... Belle

Belle stories - we've got 'em. Oh boy have we got 'em!

Belle stories are a year old now and a staple of our bedtime routines, but they've evolved over the course of the last year.

Two "horses" galloping at the beach

These stories started as simple, ~5 minute tales about 2 girls (coincidentally named K & L) and a horse named Belle who followed them home one day. The girls want to keep the horse, and their parents think it's imaginary (though this is a subtle touch that seems to have passed over the heads of my usual listeners) so they say "fine." And the girls get to have a horse in the house. That was the beginning.

I'd already been contemplating writing a couple of short stories like this, when, a year ago, we were in the final hour of a 5 hour drive back from Walla Walla and the girls were done being in the car after being in a hotel room for 2 nights, and I started telling them about these 2 girls and a horse named Belle, and they wouldn't let me stop for the remainder of the ride. I think we did 4 or 5 different stories that first afternoon.

Since then, the stories have become a vital step in the bedtime process, coming immediately after toothbrushing which follows jammie-getting-into which follows bath.

The stories evolved into a more complex formula with 2 horses (Belle and Delilah, coincidentally sharing names with 2 of the Saddle Club horses) and a stable that was first in the backyard and then later moved up onto a hill behind the girls' house. They also grew from the original 5 minute tales to something over 20 minutes and occasionally more than 30 minutes. Various humorous and not-so-humorous happenings happened, including sleepovers, trailrides, encounters with other animals, horse shows, etc. Not so oddly, many of the supporting characters shared characteristics with Saddle Club characters, but I did my best to steer things toward new story lines and a new character or two.

We had a standard starting point each night: One morning K&L woke up and went to the window to see what the weather was. (The weather was generally dependent on our actual weather, but not always.) The girls get dressed and slip out of the house, early on with their dog, and later, after Lucy's death, on their own, and go up to the stables.

The girls, and K especially, insist on hearing a story every night. The nights I paddle are hard because she knows there won't be a story that night (though M has started telling stories about when she was a little girl, or when K or L was a baby, and that seems to be an acceptable substitute).

Over the last year, K's interest in Saddle Club and in horses in general has moderated a bit, and now there's a new focus on mermaids and so the Belle Stories have evolved into stories focused around a mermaid named K and another named Cassandra, and a third who is named L but who wanted to go home to her parents so isn't often included. There are no horses (excepting a seahorse that I, very creatively I thought, developed from Belle who needed to be turned into something sea-related when K turned into a mermaid from a little girl), and there is absolutely nothing named 'Belle,' yet these stories continue on as the Belle Stories.

Our bedtime routine lately has shifted: first I tell a story about something that happened to me when I was a boy (recent examples: when I went "scoopa" diving with sharks, getting my dog Debbie (best dog ever!)) - this is primarily a story for L, so she can then fall asleep during the Belle story, which she rarely has any interest in hearing, then books, usually one per daughter, then L curls up against me and sometimes falls asleep and sometimes just snuggles in (either way, I love this part of the evening) and I tell a Belle story to K, who is almost always interested and sometimes quite upset when I finish it up for the evening.

Things I've learned over the course of the last year of story telling: 1) just because I think I know where the story should go, this doesn't mean it's going to go there, 2) trying to resist the girls' ideas about where the story should go is futile, 3) letting the girls have some control (asking "what was K wearing?" and "what did L say?" "No, I'm Barbie, not L!" "Ok, what did Barbie say?") goes a long way toward keeping them engaged, and 4) sometimes the least expected turns end up being the most enjoyable/fruitful/interesting.

We're still refining the process, obviously, and I can imagine that L might decide she wants a different type of story tailored for her interests, now that Belle has become a variation of "Mermaid Island," though there are enough differences in personality between the girls that I wouldn't be shocked if L didn't follow K's lead regarding stories. (L is the one who likes to take books off by herself and "read" them aloud: "And then the bird said 'You can't go there because you can't go there and so you can't go there. And the bird didn't go there." Maybe she'll be my writer?)

Some evenings I dread the story telling. I don't particularly want to talk about mermaids, I don't want to have to come up with a story line that doesn't make narrative sense to me. And then I remember that all of this is a passing phase in this thing called life and I think about lying in the middle of my bed after dinner with one daughter on my right side and the other snuggled in on my left and I realize that it's just about the best place in the world I could be right then.

And so we start:

One morning, K was swimming in the lagoon with Cassandra as the sun made sparkles in the water, and Cassandra said to her, "Come, I want to show you something" so they ducked down and swam through the underwater tunnel with the dolphins and the seahorse until they were out beyond the island where the water was blue and clouds were white in the sky, and Cassandra pointed down and said "If we swim down there you'll see something you've never seen before...."

Monday, October 17, 2011

... oh we're going...

... to try out our new grass skirts....

I was recently on Maui, and while there, bought 2 gen-u-ine Hawaiian "grass" skirts, made in the Philippines and sold in a tacky tourist shop in Kaahumanu Center. But what the heck.

K&L were thrilled, at least for a few minutes, during which I managed to capture this short video:

Near the end of it, you'll see L beginning to have a collapse of some sort (not sure what it was about - after all, if I cataloged every collapse, my brain would overflow in a matter of hours - but it, combined with the general analysis that the grass was "pokey" meant that this was the only occasion they really spent much time in their outfits. Which is fine. Expected even.

Maybe next time I'll bring home one for M...

For comparison and contrast, here's a photo of my grandmother (Mom's mom) in a grass skirt, not having a breakdown, in front of a palm tree:

This would have been on Oahu, probably Waikiki in the early 1920s (other photos of her with my grandfather, both of them looking quite stylish and dashing in riding outfits, are dated 1924), and as a grandson all I can say is that the woman I knew never seemed the sort to try on a grass skirt, much less pose for a photo. Who knew!

Which only goes to underscore just how little we understand/appreciate our elders when we're little. Which is another way of saying that I'm sure there are photos K&L will find that will open their eyes about their parents and grandparents.

At least I hope so.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

... it's too late baby, now it's too late...

Note: I'm posting this from Haiku, Maui, where I'm taking care of some family business and generally not taking advantage of the tropical environment (though I did go paddling last Weds evening!). Which is to say, I'm missing M and the girls, and I found this, unposted, so decided to go ahead and use it. Nothing new here, but nothing out of date either.


One of the most amazing things about parenting is just how freakin' quickly the world changes, and when I say "the world" I mean the immediate world surrounding you. In other words, your children.

Sisters, First Day of School
Sept. 7, 2011

Which makes blogging a near-perfect technology for writing about parenting, because it allows you to change directions quickly, to post short, insightful tales, to keep up with the speed of change.

At least as long as you write and post your observations.

Unfortunately, to do that, you have to actually WRITE and then POST. Up with which I've not been keeping. So this is an attempt to catch everyone up.

Since the last significant post of any length, the girls and M have been to Birmingham (AL) and back, having spent a wonderful week+ with their grandmother and cousins. And from all accounts, it was a good visit that included a fair amount of swimming, some mani/pedicures that lasted through to their returns, a visit to the zoo, movies with the cousins, a brush with head lice and strep throat (neither of which seems to have made the trip back!), and a tropical storm that dumped enough rain that Grandmama's yard was under 15 inches of water. As I said, all in all a successful trip.

And one aspect of the trip that was especially heartening for me (and M, I'm sure) was that K and L were in good form, well behaved and charming. K is blossoming into quite a girl, at times becoming nearly responsible and considerate. At times. And L seems to be entering a phase of somewhat moderated tantrums. In fact both girls seem to be in pretty good "places" at the moment. Which makes life easier for M and me.

Except that I had a great, a witty and heart-warming and poignant post written up about how awful K was behaving towards her little sister. A post no one will read since it is now out of date. And will be until the next phase of the cycle....

Also since the last major post - school has begun, and we now have both a kindergartener and a preschooler. Both girls in school. Which, believe it or not, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it's... sharp(?) because they're both in school all morning. And o the other hand, it's ... also sharp(?) because L is only 1/2 day, and thus, instead of 2 drives of 40 minutes total each, there are 3, the dropoff, the pickup and the secondary pickup. Still, it's pretty exciting to have them both in school. And we have the Montessori bills to prove it!

At the moment, the major news for me is K. She's somehow managed in the last couple of months to almost grow up. She looks and acts and sounds like nothing so much as a young girl who's .... well, growing up.

She helps her sister out, she offers comfort and reassurance, she watches over her (she's nothing if not an eldest child!) and does her best to keep her out of trouble. Except when she's stirring the pot herself, which she also does. But overall, she's lots of fun, and according to M, she was a joy to be around for much of the Alabama trip.

L too is growing up, though for the time being, the gap between 5.5 and 3.5 seems larger than it has before. L still seems like a toddler, and is responsive to the vagaries of toddlerhood, just as K was. She's easily frustrated (more so than K was, perhaps, because she sees no reason why she shouldn't be able to do exactly what K is able to do), loving and volatile, sweet and mean. She's exactly what she's supposed to be, in other words.

First Day of School
Sept. 7, 2011