180 days.

Ella will start the second grade on Thursday.  I know I say this about every new school year but…second grade is a big deal. 

She had open house tonight and got meet her teacher, put away supplies and inspect the room.  She found her locker.  Counted desks and compared her new classmates to those of the last two school years.  (Ella plus two other kids have been in class together all three years.)  She has a desk this year instead of sharing a table with at least one other student.  She has been issued textbooks (science and reading and handwriting).  She will have weekly homework and daily reading. 

Second grade is a big deal.

I vividly remember second grade.  I remember bits and pieces of kindergarten and first but I could blink and be back in second grade.  I remember crying.  A lot of crying.  My dad had taken a job with the railroad and was gone more often than he was home.  My mom had just started working outside the home.  It was 1982 and the economy sucked.  It was the beginning of hand-me-down clothes and free lunch and babysitters.  It was also the year that I got taken out of the classroom for reading and sent to the fourth grade room to study with them.  Well played, 1982.  Each of those events marked me for what remained of my grade school years.

I have high hopes for the next 180 school days.  I have every intention of assuring 20 minutes of reading per day and making sure that the piano is practiced before going out to play after school.  I’d like to say that I’ll be home more often that not but it’s not looking like that’s the case.  The trade-off, I hope, is a happy (happier) mama and a little breathing room in the budget.  Maybe not as many hand-me-downs and/or free lunches.  Maybe. 

You’ve noticed the change in attitude, right?  I am unable to describe it right now.  I don’t even have the word.  Okay maybe I do.

Maybe the word is Hope.

Hope, of course comes from Joy and is followed by Faith.  Or, maybe that was just a circa 1982 basement macrame wall hanging. 

I have high hopes.  For the second grade.  For Mrs. H and her seven years of experience and her calm demeanor. 

I have high hopes for our family.  I have reason to believe that the worst, the absolute worst, is behind us.  I can see hope sparkle in the distance where, before, it was inky darkness.  And maybe the sparkle was always there and just needed to be shined up a little. 

180 school days. 

Here’s hoping.

Noise.

Again I will repeat Tina Fey’s prayer, “Lead her not into acting but not so far as finance.”

Whoops.

Seems I have had some influence over my children after all.  Ella got the part in Missoula Children’s Theatre’s “The Jungle Book.”  She was a monkey.  She was one of 16 monkeys, to be exact.  The monkeys were non speaking, for the most part but they had cute little songs and dances.  I, like any reasonable stage parent, stayed out of it.

No, really, I did.  I took her to rehearsals but didn’t stay.  I didn’t quiz her on what they did for two hours every day.  I made sure she had a show t-shirt.  I went to both performances and only cried once.  I got video and elbowed my way to the front of photo call for the perfect shot.

Know what?  She loved it.  She did it all herself and she had a great time. 

In the last few weeks, we have done new things.  We went roller skating.  I made Ella pick out her own school clothes and go into a changing room and try them on.  (Until this point I would buy and she would wear but her little body is changing.  Not in a puberty sense but there are variables in clothing sizes at her age.)  And then she auditioned, got a part in and (if I may say so myself) stole about 30 seconds of the show.

What I have learned about Ella is to just let her do it.  If you talk too much she will tune you right out or your voice becomes part of the noise of her world.

And by “you” I mean “me” of course. 

Keeping with this idea, I registered her for piano lessons and a youth choir.  Mimi will be taking piano as well.  Playing piano is one of the things I wished my parents would have forced me to keep doing.  I’d be great by now!  Okay probably not because I’m terrible at things that require two hands.  Knitting.  Piano.  Single shooter games.  Other two-handed tasks that escape me at the moment.  They’ll come to me.

School starts for Ella in three weeks, for Amelia in five.  I’m starting to really regret my decision to hold Amelia for another year and do preschool again.  I say that because she grew, in more than one way, over the summer.  I feel like if she HAD to be in kindergarten she would do just fine and actually probably better than Ella did.  Not that I would subject Amelia to what Ella had to go through but I do think she would be okay.  So now I’m wondering (and I know it’s too late to change anything so it’s just noise in my head) if I did the right thing and am I doing her a disservice keeping her back. 

It’s one of those things I’ll never know.  Also, one of those decisions I didn’t like making on my own.  Would have been nice to have an after-dinner discussion or a jab in the middle of the night when I can’t shut my brain off.

And, lately, my mind is noisy. 

Funny that.  I mean, the littles have learned to be quiet.  You know, when they need to be.  My life with them is certainly easier than even this time last year.  Then why?  Why do I dream and scheme and worry and create, all after midnight?

Again, I will probably never have an answer to that.  I think I just have to chalk it up to the cycle of things.  Or…or…does this signal the beginning of a new phase?

Inertia.

For the past two weeks, three nights a week, I have been working at our local community theatre (largest in the nation!) and pulling ropes backstage for “Guys and Dolls”.  It’s a volunteer thing but I really enjoy it so I make it happen.  (There’s a blog post about working in theatre coming soon, I can feel it!)

Last night, I was in my show blacks and getting ready to get in the van to leave.  I briefed the babysitter, left a check for the pizza delivery guy and kissed the littles goodnight.  Ella says, “Mama, wait!  I have to show you something.”

Okay but hurry up.  I have to go.

“Watch this!”  Now, I have found that when a kid says the ubiquitous “Watch this!” it is almost always worth watching even if it’s just a safety check.  I do my best to make time to watch.

“Watch this!”  She takes her scooter up the hill to the bottom of the neighbors driveway.  She stops and turns around, kicks off and comes coasting down the sidewalk toward our house at a pretty quick pace.  The scooter hits the grass edge and Ella flies off the side, deliberately and in very slapstick form.  She tucks and rolls and springs up with her arms out wide, sticking the landing like an Olympic gymnast.

With a great big smile she says “That’s inertia!”

She’s not yet seven years old remember.

I had to laugh.  Inertia.  Do you know what inertia means?

“Yep.  The scooter stopped but I kept going.”

That’s inertia.

That’s Ella.

Oh so quiet.

Quiet.

For the first time in what seems like forever, it is quiet.  Relatively.  Outside is lit up every eleven seconds or so with the impending storm but the rest of the house is quiet.

Kitty is asleep at my feet, taking up far too much space on my chair’s footrest.  The dryer has stopped as has the dishwasher.  The littles are tucked into bed in their cotton summer jammies.  The house is closed up and the air is on; everything is very oddly still.  So still that my fingers on keys seem to be an intrusion.

Our last month has been filled with babies.  Two of them joined our daytime lives for a small time.  One was my sweet baby niece and the other was the doll-baby girl of an old friend.  The two babies are six weeks apart, nearly twins.  And now I know why I never got the twins I secretly wished for all these years.  Aside from the near-constant feeding and soothing and holding and diaper changing, there is the noise.  Even when they are not fussing or crying there is always noise.  Television noise because something/somebody needed to babysit Amelia while I tended to the wee babes.  Or the soft little snorts and grunts that are unique to an infant.

I will miss the noise but, oh, the quiet.  I do love the quiet.

Ella’s last day of first grade is tomorrow.  She brought home, what appears to be, the contents of her desk/cubby/locker.  I got a chance to go through her portfolio for the year and writing samples and how she has changed through the year.  I love reading her journal because I am always interested in what is meaningful to her.

“On Saterday I will vizit my grama. In canza sity.” (2-16-11)

“I wocht the Kittin haf tim show and a pupy boll yestaday. it was funy. Thar was all tiny kittys at the show.” (Day after the Super Bowl)

And a poem:

Krazy Cat

My cat aet my feet/My cat aet my seet/My cat aet my meet/My cat ate my sheet/She is a weerd cat.

I do like it that her teacher just let them write about whatever and didn’t go back to correct spelling and all the things that make writing not fun when you are six years old.  She wrote almost half of her entries about our cat or a cat on the street or the steps to get your own cat (steps to get a cat: get mony, get a box with holes in it, get a name, get a guyed (a guide), pay wit the mony, take your kitty home).  The other chunk of entries involved family and travel or people who visited us.  Some were random like talking about a birthday party three years ago but it must have been on her mind that day but isn’t that what journaling is all about?

She has come so far this year.  Some days I don’t recognize this child and other days…well there are days when I feel like I’m stuck in the same day over and over.  And days I don’t want to end.

Like tonight.  It is quiet.

And it’s not just the house and the kids and the blasted cat who keeps stretching and extending her claws and reaching out to my bare leg only to be shocked when I twitch at the little pokes. 

It’s my mind that is quiet.  Last week I didn’t sleep.  I thought it was the quarterly whatever that happens to me.  But it wasn’t.  The tears and the memories and the sights and smells of my past, our past, didn’t show up.  My head was buzzing for the future and considering options and writing thousands of words just before drifting off.  Drifting isn’t a good visual.  Crashed would be better.  Going, going, going.  Gone. 

This week has brought quiet.  It’s brought the feeling that something new is just. right. there.  And if I can be quiet.  Nobody move.  Nobody breathes.  Then maybe, maybe it will find me. 

Quietly waiting.

Spelling test.

Fridays are the universal day for spelling tests in grade school land.  They have been for generations.  Ella is at the point in the year where every word tested on is a review word and, despite the last 15 or so weeks of constant spelling tests, there are just a few she just can’t get.

I’m standing the bathroom this morning, getting dressed after my 4 minute fire-drill style shower.  (I can’t manage to drag my ass out of bed any earlier to make things less crazy even though I know it will help.  This may actually be a personality flaw.)  Ella is still eating breakfast and has been for at least 20 minutes. 

I crack the bathroom door and shout through: Ella!  Spell “when”.

“W-E-N” she says after a second.

With a mouth full of toothpaste I say Nope…try again!

“What?” she hollers.

That’s not right.  Try again.

“A-G-A-I-N”

She wasn’t sure why I was laughing but I’m pretty sure she thought I was off my rocker.

That was the highlight of my day.  Went all downhill from there.

Love you forever.

For years I have been a self-proclaimed book dork.  When I was a kid, I would max out my library card every week and the librarian ceased to be astounded when I returned what I had and came back for more.  I would read the side of the cereal box at breakfast because I could not go without reading something.  Anything at all.

And while my personal reading has ebbed and flowed over the years, I am still likely to have a stack of books waiting for me.  I love a good story, the escape.  I love the moment when you have to pause and re-read because “Did that really just happen?”  I love being in love with a character. 

My tastes are varied.  My current genre loves are mysteries and young adult.  “Twilight” was a gateway series for me for sure.  (And there are SO MANY young adult series better in every way than “Twilight”.)

But this isn’t about me.  Or my book dorkdom.  Or even my spring reading list.

This is about Ella.

Ella is nearing the fourth quarter of first grade.  I had no idea at all that first graders grow and change and learn so much at once and Ella has had an amazing year.  She absorbs, understands and repeats.  Her reading has gone from piecing together sight words to actual story reading.  As in, real books.  Some with pictures and some without.  She has more confidence and is willing to sound out new words.  I’m not in her classroom but whatever they are doing, is working. 

And it’s not just reading.  Science concepts have come home.  She can tell time and count change to make a dollar multiple ways.  She is socially aware.  She is beginning to understand history and the time long before her life, my life, your life. 

Here’s a good Ella story:  At the beginning of February, the girls and I went to see the national touring production of “Mary Poppins.”  We have actually seen a fair bit of live theatre in the last few months, in no small part, due to a multitude of friends who work in the business.  (I don’t pay for theatre tickets. Usually.)  The girls are benefiting from this arrangement.

“Mary Poppins” was staged at the local Orpheum Theatre.  Every town has one.  Or used to.  This particular space has been renovated to the point of absolute beauty.  You can really get a feel for how much pride went into that building and how much pride still goes into it.  It is the same theatre that the opera company used when I worked for them.  I love it.  I have loved it since I first set foot in there as a high school student. 

Anyway, we saw “Mary Poppins” on an unseasonably warm Sunday afternoon so the building temperature hadn’t regulated yet.  It was hot.  Warmish.  Ella was fairly sweaty in her winter dress and tights.  She says she’s thirsty at intermission.  The line to get a $4 bottle of water is so long that I’m not sure we can get one before intermission ends so I direct her to the nearest drinking fountain.  The drinking fountain is made of marble, ornately carved to look like a cherub holding up a basin.  They are all over the building and still functional.

But, they are not refrigerated.  And we are downtown, within a stones throw from the river.  The building is old.  The pipes are probably old.  You can imagine what it tastes like, right?

Ella takes a drink.  Steps back.  Takes another drink.  Uses her sleeve to wipe her mouth (we are working on not using sleeves as napkins).

As she is walking away, she says “That drinking fountain would have had a Colored sign above it.”

In front of a crowd.

When I got over what she said (and she wasn’t saying it to be mean at all), I realized how very smart that statement was.  She took a concept (Civil Rights, MLK, et. al), had water from a drinking fountain that was sub-par and made the association.  That moment opened up a whole month’s worth of discussions about history and politics and emotions and empathy. 

A life lesson.  And really kind of funny given the situation.  Out of the mouths of babes and all.

My Ella. 

My Ella sat on a little stool tonight as I was making pie (and skipping Fat Camp you’ll notice) in honor of National Pi Day (3.14), and read Robert Munsch to me.  He’s a family favorite author because he lends himself to a good dose of humor and repitition and kids being kids.  We own three or four of his books and, when I went to the library this morning, I found three more we haven’t read.

One of the books was, arguably, his best book, “Love You Forever” about a mommy who rocks her baby boy when he is asleep.  And rocks him as an older child and a teenager and a man.  The man, in turn, rocks his mommy (which is a little weird) and then goes and rocks his own daughter.  It’s mostly written for us, the mommies and daddies, I think. 

The mommy repeats, “I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always, As long as I’m living my baby you’ll be.”  Five or six times this is repeated by my growing and changing Ella.  She is reading every word to me, turning the pages, showing the pictures to me.  She hesitates at words very seldom.

I had to take a moment.  I had to turn away and pretend to read the recipe. 

She ended the book, closed it and said “Mommy, don’t you like it that I read the whole entire book?  Mommy?  Are you crying?  Why are you crying?”

Ella I’m just so, so proud of you.  I love it when you read to me.

“You’re kind of like that mommy in the book.  I’ll always be your baby, right?”

All I could say was Yes.

As long as I’m living, Ella, my baby you will be.

(The pie was French Silk and, I’m sorry to say, it was delicious.)

Smothering.

Two weekends ago, Ella came home from school with a raging fever.  This kid doesn’t just get a little fever, it rages.  I wouldn’t have known it but, at supper, her eyes looked droopy and she wasn’t eating.  This is my good eater, not eating.  Red flag!  103.1 should not have been a surprise.  This was a Thursday.  She didn’t have school on Friday and we continued our weekend.  She stuck close to me and that was okay with me.  Not okay with Amelia but she’s going to have to give me up at some point, right?

By Sunday morning, the fever had not abated and her previously annoying cough turned to snotty cough that made her throw up.  I sent Amelia to church with my aunt and took Ella to urgent care.  Bronchitis and a bit of pneumonia in the right lung.  She got a nasty antibiotic and we were on our way.  I made her stay home from school on Monday to rest even though her fever was nearly gone.  I took Amelia to preschool and Ella stayed with me all morning.

Can I just say how much I enjoyed my three hours with my big girl?  We don’t do this often enough.  I mean, it sucks when your kid is sick but it was kind of fun cuddling with her all day. 

I learned something about her too.  She is a giant Taylor Swift fan.  I?  Didn’t know that.  How could I not know that?  She is my kid.  She lives with me.  We breathe the same air, eat the same food.  I had no idea.  We were cruising through the digital channels (I still haven’t been brave enough to cancel cable even though running Netflix through the Wii has changed our lives) (I can’t seem to fathom giving up the DVR) and she saw the beginning of a Taylor Swift tour documentary.  Oh Em Gee.  She bolted off the couch and STARTED SINGING ALONG…AND KNEW ALL THE WORDS!

What?  What happened to my baby?  When did she turn into a real kid?

I’m not against Taylor Swift in the least.  I mean, her songs all sound the same but she appears to be a decent person and she is good to little kids at her concerts.  She seems rather grounded despite being a touring giant.  I can get behind that. 

I am just floored at Ella and how fast she is growing up.  She lost two teeth and her face looks different.  Her questions are very specific.  She wants to know what every word means. 

Ever since that morning…I hold her every chance I get.  Poor Amelia is beside herself.  But I can’t help that I want to freeze her and keep her 6 years old forever.  True, I won’t get grandbabies that way but at least every new book read would be cause for a victory dance and her celebrity heroes would always be young and sparkly and play the guitar.

I may be going too far, wishing for time to stop.  My ever perceptive daughter might have had enough.

Amelia had a very long nap on Saturday so Ella and I were watching some Husker football and sharing a chair, cuddled under the same blanket.  Ella abruptly got up and moved to the couch.

What’s the matter?

“You are smothering me.”

Smothering you? 

“Yeah.  With your LOVE.”  Her eyes got all big when she emphasized the word “Love”.

I can take a hint.  It hurts but I can learn to let go.  Just a little.

Last night she had a bad dream and ended up at my bedside.  I usually march them right back to bed after some discussion and possibly a snack. 

I am usually possessive of my newly reclaimed sleep space.

Usually.

I held open the covers and motioned her into my bed.  I curled around my baby, my big girl, and felt her still so small body relax under mine. 

 And stayed there until the alarm went off.