As a mother I have formed some very deep attachments to some very odd things. Tiny striped washcloths that I used to bathe my babies are still folded in their top dresser drawers, and I can’t bear to part with my son’s beloved red bowler shoes—shoes that he loved so much as a toddler that we had to buy a second pair when he wore out the first. No object, however, defines for me the first few months of motherhood as does my children’s “funny music ball.”
When my son was seven weeks old, my husband’s parents flew across the country to visit us in Portland, OR. My little baby was already cementing his reputation as a squirmy, discontented infant when my mother-in-law returned from a thrift store shopping trip with The Toy. As soon as she pulled the brightly colored Kouvalias music toy out of her bag, my son was enchanted. He instantly stopped his squalling and reached his scrawny little arm out towards the gently bobbing yellow and red balls of the wooden Greek toy. From that day on, whenever the witching hour hit, all I had to do was settle him on a blanket and wind up the music toy. The swaying balls focused his mind, and the haunting melody emanating from the toy seemed to soothe his restless soul.
My son and his younger sister have moved on to other toys and pastimes—we are building towns out of blocks, baking muffins in the kitchen, and making up silly stories for each other. The little music toy, however, still sits on my dresser, and whenever I look at it, I have to smile a bittersweet smile. This little wooden toy not only reminds me of how mysterious and challenging and absolutely puzzling motherhood was at the beginning (and still is), but it also reminds me of just how far my children have come. While it takes a little more than some dancing wooden balls to fully capture my children’s attention these days, the music toy still has the power to make my children smile and laugh. And when I hear my son idly humming the wistful melody of the music toy while he plays with his wooden trains on the dining room floor, my heart soars and my eyes start to tear up just a little bit.
Recently I enjoyed an afternoon at our house with my friends and their daughters. We were 5 girls and 3 mommies. That afternoon is now fondly refered to as Wig Stock. The girls revved up slowly by trying on every dress-up outfit, accelerated quickly with each girl donning a crazy wig, and hit maximum velocity when the girls offered us a Jackson 5 tribute performance in full drag while the mommies drank wine and laughed hysterically. It was adorable, discordant, silly, and fun. When the girls returned to Olivia’s bedroom after several standing ovations their energy became very different and the silence coming from the bedroom was… how should I say… intriguing. We mommies decided to investigate. The 3 of us snuck on tip-toe to the door and tried not to get caught spying in the room only to see the girls were all seated on the floor quietly playing with Olivia’s souvenirs from Saudi Arabia.
I had purchased dolls from the countries we traveled in an effort to create a long-term memory of Olivia’s travels at 4 years old to some spectacular places. I figured if she played with these dolls from time to time she would think of the experience or it might allow me an opportunity to jog her memory about her travels. Not to mention the added very important benefit of having dolls that represent the worlds faces, clothing and cultures. Saudi Arabia had the most wonderful dolls called Arabian Friends. One night in Jeddah we were locked INSIDE Toys R Us during the long evening prayer time (archive post sept 12, 2008) where Olivia and I were elated to see a doll named Dunya that actually looked like my friend named Donya. We had to have it! Needless to say, before we left Saudi Arabia we had been back for the entire set which included Dunya’s friends Amal, Ahlam and Muna. The dolls came with fabulous outfits, shoes, purses and most uniquely important the fancy Abayas and headscarfs.
Our girls were all gathered on the floor with the 4 Arabian Friends dolls and also the Fula doll, a very popular Arabic version of Barbie with a decent outfit. Olivia’s friends loved the dolls with their Abayas. When I told the mommies about the dolls they had to get an up close look at them too and jumped in with the girls to the play circle that had formed. Once I began talking with the Moms about the dolls, it offered opportunity to discuss Saudi culture with the girls in a simplified way. I was able to hold up the dolls clothing and tell our girls that by law in the country of Saudi Arabia every woman must wear the Abaya when they go outside their home and that I thought I personally would really dislike it but found it to be no big deal, it was much like putting on a light jacket and I didn’t mind it at all. I was able to explain the Abaya is part of their strong religious belief and that many women want to wear the Abaya regardless of the law. I wouldn’t have had those views if I had not traveled to that country. I also explained that in Egypt it is not the law to wear the Abaya but many women wear it there also out of choice.
Many people I have spoke with have such strong negative opinions of the culture of Saudi Arabia. They have never been to Saudi Arabia. I love to be able to discuss the culture in a positive way and share the cultural knowledge I gained by having the rare and wonderful opportunity to travel there, see for myself and have amazing conversations with women of all ages. The dolls may feel fun and familiar to my daughter, but they give me a great opportunity for me to share these women’s views.
In the end my mission to expand my young daughters memory, cultural acceptance and cultural diversity extended itself to the four young daughters of my friends. Each time the girls get together their Arabian friends join them. And the mommies loved them too!
From plasticware to shoes, saris and fabrics, vegetables, meat, fish (both live and already processed), live animals, cheeses, grains, spices, stationery, even “American” items like Lucky Charms and Jiff peanut butter.
There are no spiffy clean tile floors, no shopping carts and orderly shopping. There is no hand sanitizer when you first enter, and there is definitely no elevator music to lull your ears while you shop.
There is no mindless shopping here either … you don’t have aisles and aisles and shelves upon shelves to choose from, while on the other hand, there are some instances of MORE than you could ever imagine to choose from.
As you walk through the maze of shops, shop owners call out to you “Need something today, madam?” or “What can I get for you, madam?” It is a noisy experience. Bargaining and negotiation for the best price is a constant.
The smell is pretty hard to convey. Tony had a VERY hard time in this environment because of the smell and the heat. As an adult, I have been able to mentally push past the smells. It is a combination of all of those spices, the fresh meat, the animals (and all that comes with animals in containers), loads of hot/sweaty bodies, and simply the smell of India, etc. all combines for a pretty powerful sensory overload.
As we walked by the chickens, ducks, roosters and fish — the kids said “awwwwww mom … look at the animals!”
Little did they know that if they wanted chicken for dinner, one less “cute little animal” would still be sitting in that cage.
This catfish … was a rather hysterical story. A woman had asked to purchase a catfish … once wrangled out of the blue bucket, he somehow escaped from his plastic bag (en route to be … well … ready to take home for dinner). He flopped around the market floor for what seemed like an hour as all of the shop owners chased him around. The kids found THIS rather amusing.
I’m going to enjoy our times at the markets! I am looking forward to trying out Khan, Nehru Place and Daali Haat (forgive my spelling?) after the kids start school!
What is something “outside the box” that you might try with your children? Something outside of their comfort zone … outside of their bubble of normal?
Posted by: Michelle Collins
Time: 2:56 PM
One of the best things I did this year was to plant a garden. I know I’ve become one of the many millions to create a no-frills backyard garden to help alleviate the price of produce at the grocery store. But sadly I’ve seen very little in the way of crops in exchange for the time, effort and water I’ve invested but I can attest that it has proven to be a great way to help me relax during particularly stressful days.
I say it is one of the best things not because it has eased my stress and made me relax but more for the way that it has proven to be a great tool for introducing vegetables to my twin toddlers.
The other day we finally had a few pea pods ready for picking, the girls were so excited and anxious as they have invested just as much time and care into the garden as myself. On a regular basis they help with the watering, weed picking, and day-to-day inspections. I was shocked when they both insisted on eating the raw peas straight out of the pod. There were a total of five peas for the three of us to divide amongst ourselves and the girls were not satisfied with their measly two apiece. They eagerly asked for more and I was disappointed at the lack of production from the garden, especially when they were so keen to eat something nutritional. Something that I had offered on their plates at mealtime at least 200 times since they started eating solids, the peas were always rejected whether in the mush or solid forms.
While at the grocery store, supplementing my lack of vegetable production, I had the novel idea of picking up a bag of frozen edamame. This was one of my favorite foods while frequenting the sushi restaurants during my previous life as a career woman. I cooked the bag the very same night and placed them into a bowl at my place assuming I would be the only one that would indulge in the protein-filled wonders. But as soon as the girls laid eyes on them they giggled gleefully. Then followed, “yeah we have more peas from the garden.” I thought about it for one short second and decided it wasn’t worth making the correction.
In our travels, we fell in love with the subtle characteristics of Japanese culture. We discovered exquisite vintage textiles in a quaint Kyoto gallery. We met a modest artisan who is revered for his heritage, knowledge and talent. And we became infatuated with small, independent design houses featuring clothes for a relaxed lifestyle. This fall, we’ve created a collection of children’s clothes that expresses the grace and style of Japanese culture, especially the honored use of indigo dye.
As far back as I can remember, I’ve loved the raw beauty of indigo. I’ve watched it age, growing richer in its blue hues, softening to the touch, but retaining its strength. For me, indigo is an emotional inspiration because of its glorious, ancient origins, and how I’ve seen the Japanese render it today into a high quality, casual fashion.
In Kyoto, we visited the Aizenkobo Indigo Workshop where an artist revealed more to us about the dye than I ever knew. In its natural form, indigo doesn’t burn. It is rare to find such textural beauty and strength together. In the 18th century, Japanese firefighters wore indigo-dyed garments because of its protective ability. One of my favorite travel pictures is Laura Boes in the antique firefighter’s coat from the Edo period.
Shibori is another traditional craft that is much like tie dye. Cotton fabrics are soaked up to 20 times, or even 40 times for silk, to achieve the deep blue-violet color. Artists, then, painstakingly string-tie miniscule knots around pinches of the dyed fabric, creating a small-dotted circle shape. Thousands of these knots evolve into a sea of repeating geometric motifs that can cover the entire piece of cloth.
Because of the arduous and expensive process, most of the world uses synthetic indigo. However, a few Japanese artists and designers are keeping the craft alive in today’s culture. We wanted to pay homage to this honored tradition in our boys and girls clothes.
The Indigo Arts Collection includes great back-to-school and holiday essentials such as the Shibori Girl Dress and Top, Takayama Plaid Top and Dress for girls and the Edo Firefighter Pullover for boys . And we are bringing back our iconic Kimono Robe . When I see my son and other little citizens wearing it, I know that they have the softest, most quintessential piece of children’s outerwear for any time of year.
I wish a wonderful fall season to everyone. I look forward to your comments and hope that you will share the spirit of indigo with all who inspire you.
With no fanfare, no streamers, and no cheering, I am happy to finally declare that Birthday Season at our household is officially closed. After the chaotic sprint of birthday-birthday-mother’s day-birthday-father’s day-birthday, I’m done. I’m spent. I’m planned out. I have made more cupcakes that I ever thought possible, I have fashioned more paper pinwheels than is healthy, and I have cut and curled more party hats than I care to admit.
By nature, I’m a pretty lazy person who likes to keep things uncomplicated. Children’s parties for our family involve no games, no decorations to speak of, and typically no outrageous theme. They are actually just get-togethers with our friends and families that happen on or around a child’s birthday and therefore involve cupcakes for dessert. Reflecting on this year’s birthday season, I have realized that most of the parties that I have organized have followed the following set of guidelines hereby known as “Throwing a Good Enough Birthday Party for the Preschool Set.”
1. Take it outside. My kids have the good fortune (from a party planning standpoint) of being born in the warm weather months, which admittedly in the South can stretch for most of the year. All of their parties therefore have occurred outside of our tiny home—on our back deck or in neighborhood parks. Not only can your forego the silly step of tidying your home just to have it trashed by children but the cleanup is so much easier when the party is outside. No worries about spilled drinks if they just land on the deck or the picnic bench!
2. Who needs games when there are bark chips? My kids are still young and really don’t care why their friends or grandparents have come over; they are just excited that there are so many wonderful people to play with. In the absence of adult created games and contests, the kids invariably create their own: How many cousins can fit in a cardboard box? How much bark can we pile onto the slide?
3. Don’t cater to the kids. Who wants to stop and eat when there is so much fun to be had? When my kids get together with a large group of their friends, they seldom stop to eat anything beyond fresh fruit and a birthday cupcake. Instead of planning meals and snacks around things that I know they will safely eat but that I find unappealing, food at recent birthday parties has included things like gourmet pizzas with garlicky spinach and pancetta, orzo vegetable salads, and Asian style cole slaw. The adults are happy not to be dining on hot dogs, and when the kids get hungry enough, you’ll be amazed by what they will agree to eat!
4. Forget the prepackaged theme. Save yourself a lot of time, trouble, and money and resist the urge to deck out the tablecloth, napkins, and party favors with some animated character’s visage. Instead, try decorating around a simple idea like summertime or snowflakes. For my son’s summertime party, we made pinwheels out of brightly colored paper to decorate his cake and used paper goods in primary colors. We let him pick the color for his cake’s icing which resulted in a memorable yellow frosting with an odd shade of puce as the accent color. My clever sister-in-law used the time of her son’s birthday party to create a fun party—she invited kids over for a Donut Party at 9 am and asked kids to come in their pajamas for some tasty breakfast treats.
5. Start your own traditions. Before my children were even a glint in my eye, I had bought a set of wooden circus animal candle holders. I have used these animals on every one of my children’s birthday cupcakes save one cake. And you know what? That cake just didn’t seem right with the little tiger and giraffe on it. Start a tradition with your children’s birthdays, and they will always remember it as will you.
6. It’s not about you. At the end of the day, if the kids have had fun, the party was a success. Keep it all in perspective and have a great time with your family and friends!
Remember all the gifts that flood in after your child is born? There are all the tiny little onesies and the soft Daily Tea. In the midst of the sea of pink we received the sweetest gift that we will keep forever. Olivia’s namesake came up with the ultimate gift for her. A book called My Very Own Name from www.iseeme.com. The title page on the inside cover is printed with a special note to Olivia from Uncle Drake and Auntie Brandi (she’s a fine girl). In the story, the animals are in search of a name for the baby in the bassinet. Each page has an animal that brings a letter to the other animals. For example the Antelope brings an A. One by one the animals choose a name for the baby. In the end it spells out the child’s name and the animals rejoice. The bonus is that the children learn to recognize the letters and spell their names. The bonus for the parents is seeing the pure happiness of your child when they read that the special book is about them. The illustrations are beautiful and now they offer other books which I have purchased for Olivia such as My Very Own Fairy Tale which was signed by the author. I recommend joining their website at www.iseeme.com and watching for specials such as book signings.
What India has already taught me [a.k.a what I've learned during this move to Delhi, and how it relates to marriage as I know it ... a SAHM with two littles and a big kid at home, with a very hard-working husband] :
Let’s face it and be honest … when one spouse is working and the other is at home with the kids, there never really is a “good” time to talk during the day. Truthfully, even when evening approaches, time doesn’t magically make itself available either. Even more damaging to efforts at communication is a 9.5 hour time difference.
I’ve learned that in order for communication to happen, and actually flourish, both parties have to MAKE TIME. You don’t necessarily have to make time … at the same time. But the effort does need to be made.
When you phone your husband, understand that he might not be able to make the time right at that moment. He may be in the middle of changing oil, performing a root canal, negotiating a contract or in the middle of a therapy session (or whatever it is your hubby does). You don’t have any control over how his day progresses or entails, no matter how pressing YOUR issue happens to be.
What you DO have control over though, is making time when HE calls YOU to carve out even 5 minutes to concentrate your energy on listening to what he has to say.
Yes, I know. You might be in the middle of making lunch, homework or refereeing an argument. Even more disconcerting, you may be in the process of herding your children out to the car for an outing. You may have just hung up from an hour on the phone with your electric company arguing about a bill or just finished speaking with a teacher about a behavior issue. There’s also a huge possibility that when he calls that you’re in the middle of a diaper change, cleaning up vomit from one of your pets or knee deep in laundry.
Whatever you are doing, make the conscious effort — if you can — to STOP what you’re doing … and listen. I am still working on learning how to effectively verbalize to Todd that sometimes I really can’t devote any time to a phone conversation (because of circumstances on my end of the phone) … and there are some times when he WISHES I’d just not answered the phone (when the kids are screaming banshees!).
I need to make more of an effort to explain quickly that I will be able to talk … after I finish changing a diaper, or get the kids loaded up in the car. Then I’ve effectively communicated where I’m at in my day and we can hopefully have a good conversation, maybe just a bit later in the day.
Another thing we have learned and put in place – actually long before India came about — is a “two ring system.” If I call him during the day at work and he doesn’t answer, we have put a system into place whereby I call again right away. If I’ve “rung twice,” it means that I need him to call me back ASAP, step out of a meeting, or otherwise make himself available to me.
The conversation that happens in those five minutes can either be positive or negative. Might as well give it a go to ensure that they are positive!
What tips and tricks do you have for making time in your marriages and relationships?