Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Children's Museum That Wasn't

By Kelly

Imagine with me, if you will, a children’s museum built out of steel, concrete and hard lines. Almost everything is gray, so as not to intrude on a child’s sense of imagination, and the sparse displays are abstract, so as not to dictate to the child what to think or see.

Oh. Wait. You don’t have to imagine. It’s in San Diego.

Before I continue with my rant, let me say unequivocally: I love San Diego. My husband and I lived there for almost a decade, and in many ways, I left my heart there. (I considered leaving it in San Francisco, but it’s too foggy for my sensitivities.) San Diego is a wonderful spot to raise a family (if you can afford a house, which is getting easier all the time), thanks to its you-can-always-go-outside weather, its stay-and-play-in-the-sand beaches and its hey-dude-no-problem people.

But its children’s museum? Pleh.

We visited on a rainy Tuesday in February. Thanks to a reciprocal agreement with our beloved Minnesota Children’s Museum (which I wrote about here), we got in free. We figured we’d spend a couple hours exploring and playing, then hit up Phil’s BBQ or Miguel’s Cocina in Point Loma for lunch.

We were shocked to walk in and discover a mostly empty steel warehouse with concrete floors, odd-angled windows and very little for kids to do. There were a few art stations, with scraps of recycled paper and glue sticks to make cards, or maybe popsicle sticks and felt for shadow puppets. There was a climbing wall covered in graffiti. (Of course.) There was a cavernous room in the basement flashing larger-than-life-sized videos on the concrete walls, while techno music played in the background. (A rave for the toddler set, I guess.)  There was a pillow fight room (sounded fun), but you had to wait in line for roughly 30-45 minutes to get in.

Our kids kept running a little ahead of us, looking around the corner, hoping for something fun – not hip.

They left disappointed. And a little annoyed, to be honest. (“I thought you said this was a fun place?!?”)

My husband and I left flabbergasted. And more than a little happy that we didn’t just spend $50 on admission for 30 minutes of bewilderment.

To me, it’s the perfect example of what happens when adults design a place (or a toy or a bedroom) for the way they want kids to be, not the way kids actually are.

As I walked around the New Children's Museum that day (yes, that's really its name), I could almost hear the team of earnest designers, fresh out of grad school, discussing how the building would be “industrial” and “modern” and filled with “clean lines” and “space for unstructured play" and (the kiss of death) “urban.”

But when seen through my kids’ eyes, it was just gray and empty and unfriendly and (the kiss of death) boring.

I understand the designers’ dilemma, to a degree. Before I had kids, I envisioned how my life would look as a parent. Rarely did it involve a living room with more brightly colored plastic than comfy chairs or a kitchen where my best whisks were commandeered to be “bad guys.”

But I’ve learned that kids are who they are, not who I want them to be. Real kids like comfort, not elegance. Real kids are energetic, not contained. Real kids get dirty and spill milk and put back the honey bear when he’s sticky and track Moon Sand into every room of my house.

The best part? Those real kids are teaching me to be a real, too.

It’s messy and loud and slobbery and I tend to fall into bed each night, exhausted.

But I’m also smiling. Because there’s nothing gray or boring or clean about this kind of life.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well, as long as the keys on her computer aren't stuck together with peanut butter.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Happy Winds-Day

By Kelly

It's an afternoon worthy of Pooh -- blustery and wild.

The clouds, puffs of translucent white, scuttle across the sky.

They seem to be in a rush, racing across the turquoise canvas, casting a swirl of shadows on the baby grass outside my window. (Grasslets?)

I wonder if they see the glory surrounding them.

I wonder if the frenzied pace they are keeping distracts them from the sunlight which makes them sparkle as golden as the sand.

Hurry does that, you know. The destination is the prize, not the journey. There is no room for purposefulness when you are pushed along at the whims of the wind.

The clouds, these vaporous whispers, these creations of God, they don’t know that I’m studying them through the glass. They aren’t aware that I’m watching their breakneck tumble.

But I do.

And I am not unaware of the urgent winds which push and pull me.

I wonder how much glory I miss.

Oh bother.

Kelly also blogs at Love Well.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Great Expectations

By Kelly

If you want to know what kind of day I’m having, you need ask only one simple question: Has the baby napped?

If yes, then I’m having a glorious day, abounding in productivity and sprinkled with  sunshine and rainbows.

If no, then I’m having a frustrating day, thick with clouds and whining. Of course, it goes without saying that I’m not getting anything done with a cranky toddler grasping my knees, so you might as well expect leftovers for dinner, because who can cook with Her High Grumpiness at the helm?

At least, that’s how it used to be. But after months of living at the whim of a baby, I decided to take back control.

I acknowledged I couldn’t control Teyla’s sleep – but I could control my attitude. I decided to make peace with my inefficient life and forget about having a chunk of “me” time each afternoon. I downsized my To Do list. I slowly learned to expect less from my day and much, much less from myself. And with my attitude thusly adjusted, I found life to be joyful again. When the baby woke up after another 20-minute nap, I would sigh, shelve the frustration and resolve to enjoy the baby.

Behold, the power of expectations.

When Corey and I were newly married, most of our fights would end on the battlefield of expectations. Seems I had them for our relationship, and I held him responsible for meeting them. Problem was, I never communicated them. Or so he claimed. My response tended to be: How can I communicate something that is so ingrained I don’t even know it’s there? My expectations only materialize to me when they aren’t met.

Still, it’s not a fair thing to do to another person, expect them to meet an expectation you can’t even verbalize. Ever since, I’ve tried to do a lot of introspection when I get frustrated or hurt or angry. Is it truly someone else? Or are my expectations slightly out of whack?

Thankfully, I had a few years to practice this before we had kids. It’s proven invaluable in parenting. Thus, when the baby makes it a practice to avoid taking naps, I try to adjust my expectations and hopefully, reap a happier mental state.

But darn it if those initial expectations don’t just keep coming back. Which is why I was annoyed this weekend when Teyla didn’t nap, even though she’d only been consistently taking real naps – which are defined by baby sleep experts as naps that are at least an hour in length; any less, and the baby’s brain doesn’t have time to reboot and renew – for a week. A week! And already my expectations about what my life should look like have reformed.

This parenting stuff. It’s hard work. Especially when the baby doesn’t nap.

I’d love to write more, but my husband’s home, and he expects dinner.

Kelly always expects to blog daily at her personal blog Love Well. But if the baby doens't nap, she expects to put the writing off for a day or two.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Eating Out, Minus the Eating

By Kelly

I distinctly remember my birthday last year.

Teyla was just four days old. We had only gotten home from the hospital the day before. But since it was my birthday, and a Sunday, my husband bundled everyone up and took us to a fabulous brunch at a quaint, old inn near our house.

It was a perfect morning. Teyla slept in a cocoon of fleece. The older kids colored quietly on their menus and ate more caramel rolls than usually allowed. Corey and I drank coffee and sipped mimosas and shelled jumbo shrimp while we talked. (We also ate more caramel rolls than usually allowed, but it seems more romantic to leave that part out.)

When babies are young, eating out is simple. You eat, they sleep, end of story.

But now that Teyla is 15 months old, eating out is akin to torture. Or maybe sumo wrestling, if sumo wrestlers were 20 pounds of twisting, contorting muscle who defy all attempts by normal high chairs to restrain them.

I should have remembered this phase, but it always seems to sneak up on me. Just a few months ago, we were able to spontaneously take the kids to a nearby restaurant and make it through a meal with nothing more than a bottle and a few Cheerios. Then, overnight and without warning, our formerly tame infant, who used to sit contentedly in the sticky high chairs and bang on the table with a spoon while we would eat our salads, morphed into an irascible toddler, who will not sit still in a restaurant even when tempted with M&Ms.

The last time we ate out, Corey and I took turns following Teyla around the tiny lobby of The Roman Market, snatching jars of marinated olives out of her hands, making chit-chat with the grandparents who were casting us sympathetic smiles. Occasionally, we would try to sit again, but Teyla would magically make all the bones in her body disappear while simultaneously twisting like a candy cane.

I took my margherita pizza to go. It was cold. And my abs were bruised.

For now, we’re eating in. So I can actually eat.

I estimate we'll be out and about again by 2011. Maybe we'll go to brunch for my birthday.

Kelly also writes about her family, her life and her eating habits at her personal blog, Love Well.