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affirmative variation

Zion in the darkish bedroom looking at the camera

as he is now

For quite a while after he started talking, Zion didn't say "yes". Not that he only said no to everything, but when he wanted to express his assent he'd invariably use "ah" instead. Or maybe I should render in "ahn"; it's pretty nasal, like the first syllable of "uh-huh". We got used to it pretty quickly; the only problem was how hard it proved to be to distinguish a teary overwhelmed "ah" from any of the other "ahhhh"s involved in his expressions of violent unhappiness. But he cries less now than he once did (and isn't very good at faking it yet), and also has improved in his diction. For a few days his affirmative of chose was "wah", but he's been working on his consonants and now can produce a very convincing "yeah". It's a big milestone!

Speaking of consonants, I seem never to have mentioned in these pages how he tends to pronounce "s" as /w/. When it's in a cluster he leaves it out altogether, of course, so "stop" sounds like /top/ and "spit" like /pit/, but in isolation it comes out entirely w-like. "Wofa" and "wailboat" and, my personal favorite, "woop!" for soup. But even that will soon be a thing of the past; today, playing with his felt Simon the Zealot toy figure (featured—and explained—in this post), he couldn't remember his "wolder's" name (Simon has a sword and shield). When I reminded him, he said, "yeah, Simon the Wolder." 50% accuracy! (on that one phoneme, that is; I won't vouch for the precise accuracy of his /th/ or /l/).

Also somewhat language related, but on a much higher level, he's finally recognized my existence as a caregiver. The other day he was playing by himself and had some difficulty with a toy. "Dada!" he called. "Mama! Dada or Mama!" Be still, my heart.


I just have to share

I was looking up a Bible passage at BibleGateway.com when I received the following http error:

Eight years

Today is our anniversary. Dan and I have been married eight years now.

look how young we look!

We celebrated this morning in true Archibald fashion. I walked into Dan's office and said, "I think it's our anniversary."
"Is it?" he asked, checking the date on his computer. "Oh, I guess it is. Sorry, I didn't do anything for it."
"I didn't either," I said. "I thought I might make you a card last night but then I fell asleep with a headache."
"Well, happy anniversary!"
"It's an easy anniversary — just the way I like it!"

Feel free to accuse me of being unromantic.

Da and I have gone out for our anniversary two times that I can ever remember. On our first anniversary we went to the MFA in Boston. We grumbled over the prices in the cafe and got woefully lost on our way home, and all the while I was fretting over getting to my grad-school class on time. A few years later we went to Water Country for our anniversary. We grumbled over the prices of EVERYTHING and I spent half the time shivering in a towel because (unbeknownst to me) I was pregnant. After that we didn't go out anymore.

Over time I've discovered that the less I try to make things "special," the less I stress out over occasions and the more special our day-to-day life feels to me.

Which is to say I can note the passing of our anniversary with fond awareness that neither of us has to DO anything more than we're already doing. Which today means going to work, fixing the vacuum, plunging the sink, and making dinner (for Dan) and doing laundry, watching the kids, making deodorant, picking up toys and vacuuming (hopefully) (for me).

When we were doing the pre-marriage counseling that proceeded our wedding, the priest asked each of us why we wanted to get married. Dan answered first. "I dunno," he said, "to have someone to do stuff with?"

The longer we've been married, the more I think this must be the most beautiful answer in all the history of pre-Canna. Because our daily life feels so special to me, and all we do is do regular stuff together. When I clean the kitchen after Dan makes dinner, when Dan brings in 9 lbs of tomatoes for me to freeze, when we play with our kids in shifts and stifle our giggles at Zion's mega tantrums, all these times when we just "do stuff" I feel like we are sharing something magical, something beautiful, something that is both special and ordinary and spectacular.

The truth is, if I think about it, that everything in my life is lovely and enjoyable precisely because of Dan's involvement in it. He is encouraging and inspiring. He bears half the load for the things that are hard. He makes us smile when things are boring and he makes us laugh when things get tense. He is 100% wonderful, and I have no idea how I landed him as a husband.

So happy anniversary Dan. I don't need any present today but you. I mean, and I also really need the vacuum fixed.


hard won battles

Harvey sang today in kid's church. When he was SUPPOSED to sing. He sang the song he was supposed to be singing, along with the other kids who were singing. Not only did he sing, but he did the HAND MOTIONS. And when it was time to jump, he JUMPED! He even smiled!

Not to put to fine a point on it, but this is a big deal. Harvey participated in a corporate act of worship. He participated in a group. He followed directions from an adult who's not his blood relation.

I know other kids do this every week, but this is my kid we're talking about here. My kid who is usually so overwhelmed with the number of kids at worship that all he can do is lie on the floor and wait for it to be over. This is the kid who was jumping and singing.

Sitting next to him, it was all I could do to keep myself from crying.

What solicited such a break-though this morning? Was it the year I spent sitting with him in kid's church every Sunday? Was it a sign that his social anxiety dash extreme defiance is just a stage that's running its course? Was it an act of God? Whatever it was, it was absolutely beautiful. More so because he's never been able to do it before.

I spend a lot of time convincing myself that I don't NEED my child to act any particular way. I love him just the way he is, with his unique personality and proclivities. I don't want him to BE a normal kid; I want him to be the person he is.

But deep down, I want him to look good, to do what he's told, to perform for me. I want him to wear the costume, to stand up on his hind legs, to sing when he's told to sing. I sense that this impulse is maybe evil, or at the very least controlling. I spend a lot of time trying to pretend like I don't feel it.

Which is why I'm happy that today, when he sang in kid's church, it wasn't a performance. He didn't do it for me. He did it because (for whatever reason) today he wanted to sing. He wanted to jump. He wanted to (if you can believe it) do the hand motions. It was between Harvey and Jesus, that worship, and the smile on his face had nothing to do with his mother.

Praise the Lord.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. As has just been said: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (Hebrews 3:14-15)


Space Party!

This weekend we went to a Space Party (!) to celebrate Harvey's friend Hendrick's 4th birthday. This was actually the first themed birthday party we ever attended, and I was very impressed with all the Pinterest-worthy details. Space bunting, Mars pinata, space themed party games (which Harvey and Zion only watched, naturally.) Harvey even got to decorate a paper-plate UFO... after all the other kids left the craft table to do something else, of course.

pealing stickers and sucking on a lolly: now that's a party!

I thought I would make a space themed present for the occasion, but it can be hard to think of handmade gifts for little boys. Harvey kept suggesting that we sew his friend a baby doll, and I hemmed and hawed a bit because they don't know each other THAT well these kids, and I want Harvey to be invited back to more age-appropriate parties in the future. So I procrastinated until the week of that party. Then an idea struck me as I was unwrapping a new bed sheet (Thanks to Judy who hears we need a new bed sheet and actually goes and buys us one!) The sheet was folded around cardboard and came in a fancy ziplock bag. I thought to myself: this could be the start of a space-themed coloring set!

total cost = $2 for the markers

I cut out the cardboard pieces with an exacto knife, leaving extra cardboard at the bottom to fold under and make a stand for each piece. Then I outlined the drawings with a sharpie. All in all a pretty low-intensity project, but I was happy with the result. Hopefully it'll be fun to color in for like five minutes.

ready for color!

I don't know if the present was well received or not. The gift time was hijacked midway through when Hendrick opened a Nano Hex Bug. If you have a 4-year-old boy in your life, do not waste time cutting out cardboard; go online and buy him a Nano Hex Bug for his next birthday. Better yet, buy him several Nano Hex Bugs. That way you don't have to retrieve each one when it scurries under the sofa. Trust me on this one. These are tiny robotic bugs that vibrates, and the vibrations make the things wander around when you put them on the ground, as well as really annoy other kids if you put it in their hair. Really, the party theme should have been Nano Hex Bugs. I don't want to try to tell them what to do for next year, but I'm just saying...


gardening and other work

Like spring, fall is a time of year when I want to be in the garden. My favorite plants, the tomatoes, are dying, fighting to ripen a few more fruits before being overtaken by late blight; I really should be out their daily, at least to pull the rotting or blight-damaged fruit to give the good ones more of a chance. It's about the end for the basil too, and the cucumbers. There's not really anything I can do to keep them going, but I want to at least be out there, enjoying the last bit of production from those high-summer crops. Too bad I have to be at work.

It's not that I don't like working. I'm subbing again this year, which is great fun and lets me hang out with kids of all the elementary ages—I've already spent days with kindergarteners and fifth-graders and enjoyed both tremendously. Plus I've taken on a second job, managing the Elementary Kids Church program at our church, which gives me a chance to be in charge of long-term plans and think about big pedagogical questions (think about them in setting where my thoughts can actually affect how things are done, that is—that's the part that's new). Neither job pays a whole lot, but in a better world I'd be happy to do both of them for free, so the fact that I can get paid at all is pretty cool. But it does mean a fair amount of time away from home.

Still, I have more time to garden than most people—not to mention the painting, baking, reading, and hanging out with my family that I manage to squeeze in. So no complaints. And this afternoon as I inspected the blight-blasted tomatoes I picked a good two quarts of perfectly fine cherry tomatoes, so even there all is not lost. And then there's the squash coming in, and a second round of hot peppers, and maybe a first round of sweet peppers if it stays warm a little longer. I can find time to pick those, I'm sure.


what if my children turn out to be awful people?

We've had a hard time with the children this week. They've been acting as if they were raised by wolves. Wolves who are also assholes. Wolves who are assholes but who have nevertheless managed to induce in their children an addiction to apple juice.

Sometimes the children are all sweetness and light, like at a party last weekend where Harvey banged a drum enthusiastically with a kiddie music class and Zion announced, "Where's Harvey? There's Harvey! I love Harvey!"

Other times Harvey is just looking for ways to be bad, like taking Zion's toy out of his hands and throwing it out the door. And then Zion bites him. Which, you know, gets me out of coming up with a punishment.

I don't want this to turn into a discussion of disciplinary methods - I'm perfectly comfortable with mine though I know other people make other choices. But whether you are practicing "love and logic" or spanking or enforcing no limits at all... parenting just sucks sometimes, huh? If any other human being treated you in this way you would stop being around that person. If a spouse screamed "I WANT A COOKIE!" and then hit you, you would try a separation. If a coworker grabbed your breast every time you sat down you'd have him fired. But if your child does these things, and it's only noon, your only option is to continue loving and serving him for the next eight hours.

Your children. Sometimes you love them because they're lovable, and sometimes you love them because it's your obligation.

Because those people who are unreasonably violent? The molesters? They are my actual children, and I am responsible for them becoming different from this. I am responsible for them becoming human beings unlike the human beings they currently are. And while I do this I am simultaneously their victim and their jailer. Their forgiving victim and their loving jailer.

Put this way it sounds like a tall order on short amounts of sleep.


well-behaved again for a holiday

A Bedford minuteman carrying the town flag in the parade

town pride time again

It was Bedford Day today, and we very much enjoyed the festivities. The day started with a family meeting to address certain issues, and since the discussion was well-received we packed up and headed out to the parade. Like last time it was plagued with candy-crazed youths, but once we got a couple pieces ourselves we were able to relax and enjoy the sights.

Harvey sucking on a lollypop as he watches the parade

all is right with the world

Politicians, boy scouts, high school band: all just as you'd expect. This being a liberal Boston suburb, there was also a group of young violinists and a large anti-war group. Alone among that list the violinists failed to throw candy. Of course, not all the candy was appreciated by all the Archibalds.

Zion trying to get tootsie roll out of his mouth

"I can't like it!"

After the parade we headed over the the fair. There were big trucks.

Zion sitting in the bucket of a front-end loader

looking smaller than usual

And rescue equipment.

Harvey in the cab of a fire truck

he can almost reach the pedals

Firemen demonstrated the jaws of life on a poor defenseless car. Harvey enjoyed watching that considerably more than Zion (he wasn't sure if he approved at all) but they both liked considering the end result.

Harvey and Zion saying cheese in front of a car destroyed in a life-saving demonstration

broken car tourists

Mama left at lunch time, after which we boys took in some dancing, a karate demonstration, and a brass quintet. Everyone left the area at the end of the shouting and jumping part, so we were able to get right up close to the horn players.

Harvey and Zion lying on the grass listening to a brass quintet

a small crowd but very engaged

Next we visited the library book sale. I'd given the boys fifty cents each to get a book, but the kids' section was a veritable wasteland; even Zion could see that. So after a pause to read some books and do some puzzles in the library proper, I took them out into the maze of booths to see if there was anything else they could buy. They settled on splitting a $1 brownie, showing excellent cooperation: the family meeting is working!

The only disappointment of the afternoon was missing the balloons. Apparently a bank was giving them out, but by the time we thought to try and get one they were all out. The boys settled for coloring books and crayons.

Harvey and Zion drawing in the playground

a calm end to the afternoon

Besides the balloons I'm sure there was a whole lot of fair that we didn't even see, but we enjoyed ourselves for a good five hours... and of course there's always next year!


The best thing since modern convenience

When we're out and about in the world at large we're pretty recognizable as a stereotypical "hippy" family. There's my hair, sure, and the fact that my children aren't wearing shoes half the time. But even when I'm not tied up in an organic cotton Ergo I've still got a pretty big hippy signifier: a big bag filled with big cloth diapers.

The bag has got to be big, of course, because a clean cloth diaper takes up as much space as five disposable ones, and a wet cloth diaper takes up as much space as a candlepin bowling ball. A soggy candlepin bowling ball. A soggy candlepin bowling ball that may or may not have the distinct odor of feces.

Not to overstate the obvious, but when you're out and about with a dirty cloth diaper you can't DISPOSE of it immediately. So a trip to church may earn me a heavy purse filled with several soggy cotton candlepin bowling balls.

I often think I am a poor candidate for a hippy lifestyle because I have a low tolerance for the disgusting. Yeah I like not washing my hair and not wearing makeup, but mostly because I'm lazy and I already have a poor opinion of my appearance. It's not like I have a "back to nature" aesthetic or anything like that. I hate germs. I don't like the smell of dirty. I yelled at the kids for playing in the water pooled in a public drinking fountain until Dan chastised me for acting crazy.

All that is to say I don't love carrying a purse that smells like crap. I tolerate it because I love the environment, and because living my values is important, and because cloth diapers save like a hundred dollars a month or some similar figure approaching obscenity.

But I gotta work for that extra hundred bucks.

Because when Zion's awake he needs a diaper check every 30 minutes. If I miss a check and he pees twice in one diaper then he'll leak his pants. Or he might drink a big bottle of juice and pee once and leak his pants anyway. On a normal day he goes through about 10 diapers and three pairs of pants.

Yes, I do a lot of laundry.

But this isn't what I wanted to write about. I wanted to write about my hippy holidays. Well, confess really. I want to confess about my hippy holidays.

Because sometimes, when I have a big outing scheduled and morning sickness is more than I can bear I say: "You know what? Fuck it! I'm taking a hippy holiday!" By which I mean a holiday FROM hippiness. Then I stuff my bag with five (tiny!) disposable diapers and throw the kids in the car without a care in the world. Because one disposable diaper? I don't have to check that thing for TWO HOURS! That's ten pounds in cloth diapers candlepin bowling ball years. (Yeah, I know that's a horrible mixed metaphor that doesn't make any sense. But you try sticking your finger in thousands of dirty diapers and coming up with something poetic to say about it.)

Then at the end of the day I feel both relieved and guilty and judgmental. Because yes a break is nice, but what am I, a half-assed fair-weather environmentalist? And seriously, you ladies using disposables all the time? You better be curing cancer in all those minutes not spent laundering urine soaked onesies.

And while I'm setting myself up for pillory here, I have another confession about toothpaste.

About a year ago I stopped using toothpaste. I was frustrated about buying toothpaste, the high cost of it and all, and also by the way it wears down your teeth and makes them sensitive. Really there were a bunch of anti-toothpaste arguments that I can't remember now. I should have written them down at the time. (Oh wait, look I did write about it at the time! EXACTLY a year ago, in fact! Oh I'm good.)

So I started brushing my teeth with only water, but the toothbrush absorbed a yucky mouth taste after a while. The solution I found was to use a drop of peppermint essential oil on the brush. This was highly refreshing, and it took me a year to go through a $6 bottle of essential oil. I'm not sure how much I was spending on toothpaste in a year, but I assume it was at least a tube every two months, at three-something a tube, which means over a year I cut the cost of brushing by 2/3. Not bad!

Then last week I ran out of peppermint. I brushed my teeth with water for a few days, and then I went to Whole Foods and I forgot to put the essential oil on the list. And then I brushed my teeth with water for a few more days and felt REALLY over the yucky mouth taste that had returned to my toothbrush. So I said fuck it, I'm taking a hippy holiday! Isn't there some dentist sample toothpaste around here somewhere?

And low and behold, in the bottom of the cabinet was a small tube of crest something-or-other. I put it on my toothbrush and it foamed up my mouth, and I had this revelatory experience like I was a thawed-out caveman encountering modern civilization for the first time. "This is how people brush their teeth? This is AMAZING! This foamy stuff gets your teeth SO CLEAN! It just goes in there and takes all that food and crap completely off! Like SOAP for your MOUTH!" And here I was flossing every day like a sucker!"

So yeah, whatever, I may look like a hippy but I'm really full of shit. Or to be more precise, filled with lovely, convenient, ecosystem-destroying chemicals.

Okay, tomorrow's Monday so I guess the holiday's over.


What happened to Go Play?

Blog Post Disclaimer: These are the sentiments of a tired pregnant mother with two children in defiant stages. They do not reflect every day of our lives. But they do reflect today.

There is a bucket of clean laundry in almost every room of my house, waiting to be folded. Kids' clothes in the kids's room, adult clothes in my room, dish towels in the kitchen, and a load of diapers in the washer that should have been moved to the dryer 20 minutes ago. I had a thought this morning while I sat on the floor of the Discovery Museum going on the third hour. Well, after I cursed myself for forgetting my knitting, and then for not owning a smart phone, my internal monologue came up with this seemingly sweeping statement:

Something has gone significantly wrong in the evolution of play.

Play, the researchers tell us, is how children learn to do everything. It also served a vital function in the pioneer or even the hunter-gatherer household. If children are happily playing, I posit, it means they are somewhere other than underfoot. Adults are therefore free to do the work that allows them and their progeny to survive. Work like gathering the raw inputs of food and turning them into edible nourishment. Work like maintaining the shelter and addressing needs of basic hygiene. You know, housework and crap. Those things need to get done if the children are to continue living.

And yet, here I am on the floor of the Discovery Museum (because there are no adult chairs, thank you heartless museum designers) and I'm here all the useful hours of the day, away from the laundry that must be folded and the food that must be cooked. I am doing nothing but watching my children play. Why? Because some theoretical meteor has pushed us out of our ancestral equilibrium. Now children's play is a thing that must be fostered, curated, and supervised by actively involved adults.

We have adapted to support the adaptation, rather than letting is support us.

What went wrong?

I may be waxing armchair evolutionary biologist here because I'm reading this book on the history of autoimmune disorders. Specifically, the book explains how environments with fewer bacteria seem to foster more allergic people. Thus, the reason that our kids can't have nuts in school these days is not because parents' over-protectiveness causes psychosomatic symptoms in their children (as Dan might argue). Allergy increases seem to be one result of our over-sterilized modern environment. Processed food inputs, increased vaccination, and less exposure to dirt and animals mean that children' insides do not contain the bacteria, viruses, and microorganisms they've been designed to contain.

Now I'm not prone to allergies myself, but the amount of unfolded laundry in my house seems to be giving me symptoms similar to Hay-fever.

Is there a simple cure to return my children to the self-sufficient playfulness of pioneer life? Is it fewer toys? Corporal punishment? A believable risk of starvation?

I'm tired of begging my kids to let me do housework. I'm tired of looking at them like little walking time-bombs of need. I'm tired of acting like a human television set, reading books for two hours a day, coming up with games they might like or craft projects they could try. I'm tired of packing lunches and snacks and juices and driving to places that hold zero interest to me because there needs to be something stimulating(!) and educational(!) to fill all those hours in the middle of the day. I'm just plain worn-our tired. Can't they just go and play?


Discovery photographs

Here are some pictures of my beautiful children enjoying their childhood at the Discovery Museum yesterday. I was probably a little harsh in my blog post last night... I do enjoy doing fun things with them. I enjoy it more when I've slept and eaten and when I'm not sick. But who doesn't enjoy life more under those circumstances? Plus Dan cleaned the kitchen and folded a tub of laundry after I went to bed, so if I'm still complaining under these circumstances I'd have to be the worst human being ever.

working on a shared masterpiece

sailing the Assabet River

Discovery has a new exhibit on wind where the kids can make foam shapes and play scarves fly in all manner of blowing things. I took so many pictures there I could practically make them a brochure.


so much fun!

This morning I took my kids on a walk to the train-tracks where they played and played, and I watched them and watched them, and I didn't feel that life was as pointless and frustrating as I did yesterday. Not having a fever and a migraine certainly helps, then. One should never discount the obvious.


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