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S’mores Represent Everything Great About Camping #CampBondFire #smores

Mention going camping and JavaGirl will inevitably ask, “Will there be s’mores?” The two are inextricably intertwined in her mind and I fear the day when she encounters a camping trip without that marvelous, gooey treat. The disappointment is sure to involve tears brimming in her big, brown eyes while trying to put on a brave face — a look so pitiful that it breaks the heart of any grown man within a 50-foot radius.

Her association is not unique. I, too, can’t imagine a campfire without s’mores. In fact, I love all campfire cooking. S’mores were essentially the gateway to teaching me all about the joys of harnessing the raw power of fire to produce cooked food out in the wilderness.

Don’t get me wrong. I covet my air conditioning and California King pillowtop bed as much as the next girl, but I appreciate how empowering camping feels and I am dismayed at how often I see families shy away from it. Both JavaKids are in scouts and when their organizations have family camping trips, I’m astonished and disheartened by the number of  families who choose to come for the day and not stay overnight. We switched JavaGirl from one troop to another and one deciding factor was an insistence of one of the organizer that camping trips be catered. What?!

Most of my camping growing up was done as a Girl Scout, with my church youth group, or at summer camps. Through these experiences I learned:

  •  everything from how to pitch a tent to how to make an emergency lean-to;
  • not to be afraid of spiders (okay, sometimes I still am, but not as much);
  • that I can cope with scorpions, leeches and ticks (not that I want to, but I can);
  • a little bit of rain isn’t going to kill me;
  • going to the bathroom in the woods is also not going to kill me (even if the cow who snuck up on me and mooed almost gave me a heart attack);
  • I am capable of paddling a canoe for 20 miles;
  • I can build a fire;
  • I can use a pocketknife without ending up in the ER;
  • you can wrap just about anything in tin foil or put it on a stick and it will taste terrific when cooked on a campfire;
  • and most importantly — you don’t need electronic gadgets to have a good time and nothing is as beautiful as a starry sky on a cloudless night when you are far away from city lights.

As parents, we hear so much about self-esteem. We are bombarded with media reports with interviews of “experts” telling us what we should be doing to build up our kids’ self-esteem, what tears it down. What causes bullies, what is media doing to this generation’s self-esteem? Are we eating dinner together enough as a family? Are they watching the right shows, the wrong shows? In the right sports? Are we praising them correctly?

And then we refuse to spend a night outdoors with them? And teach them some basic life skills? Really?

It may not seem like much, but give a kid a stick and a marshmallow and watch his face. Why is he so delighted? Do you think it is really just the sugary snack? I mean, yes, I think s’mores are a slice of heaven — the honey-crunchy goodness of the graham cracker and just-right softly melted chocolate with the ooey-gooey marshmallow. Pure bliss! But what your kid is thinking is, “My mom just handed me something pointy! And she is letting me step next to a FIRE! And wow, I can transform this marshmallow! COOL!” Watch how your kid experiments with the different ways to cook the marshmallow — holding it close to the fire, further away from the fire, actually setting it on fire. Call it science if you want to (and indeed, it is!) But part of it is also esteem-building. A sense of control. No, the cavemen didn’t have s’mores, but imagine how they felt, experimenting with fire.

When I’m in charge of the s’mores supplies (and I usually am, because I don’t want to disappoint JavaGirl!) I like to mix things up a bit and prepare a s’mores buffet. For the last camping trip, I brought chocolate marshmallows, jumbo marshmallows as well as the standard ones. I provided chocolate graham crackers and the usual honey ones. Because kids often dive into s’mores like locusts on a fresh crop, I like to prepare plates with the crackers already broken into half (s’mores sized — although now you can also buy some already in squares), the marshmallows in bowls, and the chocolates already portioned in bowls. A trick I’ve learned is that you can also use the snack-sized Hershey’s chocolate bars rather than breaking the large ones — I go with whatever is the best price at the time.

We have amassed a collection of telescoping campfire forks over the years. It began with our wedding registry when I saw some for the first time at Crate & Barrel and just had to have them. People thought we were crazy and they were one of our most remarked-upon registry items (but we received them!) Since then, we’ve managed to acquire more and now bring extras with us to every camping event. For some reason, this “civilized” way of making s’mores appeals to the non-campers and we’ve noticed that the adults are willing to jump in on the s’mores making if handed a telescoping fork.

When everyone is nestled into their seats, munching on their s’mores, I try to engage them in conversation about other campfire foods. Banana boats, hobo hamburgers, hobo omlettes. Recently I’ve acquired some pie irons and am itching to make some mountain pies. My kids started with s’mores, but have now learned to cook other foods as well.  It was the food that lured JavaGirl into being willing to try camping even though she wasn’t sure if she wanted to stay in a tent overnight. And now she’s a tent-sleeping, frog-catching, s’mores-cooking camper, just like her brother. Looking forward to the day when she’ll get her own pocketknife so she can try her hand at whittling like he does. It is my hope that by getting other families to see that campfire cooking is fun, they will then be willing to give up a night of air-conditioning to try out sleeping in a tent and discover what else camping has to offer. Frankly, s’mores are the universal lures of campfire cooking — not everyone likes hot dogs!

Yes, we can make s’mores on forks or in foil packets on the grill. We have an indoor s’mores maker with a sterno pot. Now you can even make them in the microwave. But there’s something to be said about instilling the love of the old-fashioned way – around a campfire with your friends, just before retiring to your tent filled with the memories of a day spent outdoors and the confidence that can only be gained by doing things yourself and knowing that if you ever really did have to rely only on yourself, you could.

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Disclosure: National S’mores Day was Friday, August 10. But who needs a special day to enjoy this awesome treat? My kids’ first experience with s’mores was not on a camping trip, though I highly reccommend that if you can!  Find a time this summer or fall to spend some time outdoors with your family around a campfire roasting some marshmallows. I had the pleasure of riding the Hershey’s #CampBondfire sponsored bus home from BlogHer ’12, which inspired this post.  Hershey’s and Walmart  provided me with a ride home from BlogHer, two scrumptious s’mores kits, and some “welcome home” goodies from Walmart.

Drinking, Driving and Motherhood

Woman with wine glassSome posts are simply harder to write than others. They roll around in my brain until they are ready to be written.  The topic of drinking and driving is easy — in my reporter days that was standard fare for the holiday season. Gruesome as it is, I’ve covered so many drunk driving fatalities, I no longer remember the total body count. 

But drinking and motherhood, that’s an entirely different story.

Because drinking and motherhood is the dirty little secret of suburbia. Even though it’s not really a secret and generations of women have turned to alcohol and sedatives as a coping mechanism for the stresses and isolation of motherhood, it is still a topic that is tough to talk about.  Especially as a mother myself. 

Motherhood and Getting Drunk: A Bad Mix

So it made for a slightly uncomfortable brunch at the Sofitel in Washington DC when a group of women, some from The Century Council, an advocacy group funded by distillers to fight drunk driving and underage drinking, and some from the media, got together to listen to data about the 36% increase in arrests of female drunk drivers over the past decade and the personal journey of Baby on Bored blogger and Sippy Cups Are Not for Chardonnay: And Other Things I Had to Learn as a New Mom author Stephanie Wilder-Taylor as she shared her story of realizing that her nightly drinks went from “taking the edge off” to a drinking problem. Because all of us were mothers and and all of us were left to look inward and ask, “Have I ever crossed the line?” And if so, just how often?

Motherhood is hard. Yes, maybe I should say parenthood, but I know more about motherhood than fatherhood. It is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I was an on-air television reporter and anchor, and I feel more under a microscope as a mother than I did as an on-air personality. If a dad screws up (for example, when I went off to an early meeting, despite a closet full of clean, adorable clothes, my husband once sent our daughter to school dressed in a navy blue satin nightgown with strawberries, thinking it was a dress), he tends to get a forgiving chuckle and an “at least he was helping” atta boy.  If  a mother screws up, it feels like she’s a step away from being reported to Child Protective Services for the most minor of infractions. (Are you aware your daughter is wearing white socks with two different kinds of ribbing?  Your son was upset because you sent in a packed lunch and it was the Thanksgiving Feast in the cafeteria today.  Why haven’t you volunteered for everything we’ve asked you to? Don’t you CARE about your children?) 

If you are used to being a career woman and switch to being a stay-at-home mother, it can become extremely isolating in the early days and there is no way to prepare for the complete lifestyle shift no matter how many books you read. Add in some post-partum depression and no wonder so many women hit the bottle. Even though I’ve never been a big drinker at any point in my life, I, myself, have found that some days, I looked forward to my husband coming home so I could fix myself a mixed drink or go out for a celebratory drink with some girlfriends after a day of endless grilling with impossible-to-answer questions, being splattered with other people’s bodily fluids, and the general sense that perhaps the kids really would be better off being raised by PBS and Baby Einstein than by me (fortunately those days got fewer and further between the older they got). I think for women, part of it is the relaxing effect of alcohol, and part of it is the reminder of our younger, carefree days — a little bit of of Carrie from Sex in the City going out for Cosmos with the girls. For some, that occasional desire becomes a lifestyle.

Stephani Wilder-Taylor

Author and blogger Stephanie Wilder-Taylor stays behind to autograph books and talk to the audience after sharing a very personal account of her journey from drinking "to take the edge of" to realizing she drank under the influence to now not drinking.

That’s exactly what happened for Wilder-Taylor. “I noticed that as a new mom my drinking became more pronounced. It was how I dealt with stress.  It was how I dealt with the transition  from being a  fun career person who was on my own and independent and all of a sudden I had this new baby, it was a lot a lot of stress, a lot  of work, it was  very demanding and having a glass of wine at the end of the day was helpful to me and to a lot of my friends… Alcohol helped me take the edge off and unwind and I found that I was drinking more and more and that was one of the only coping skills I had, opening a bottle of wine at the end of the day…  It is kind of  isolating being a new mom, so sometimes the only social interaction we have is being with other moms, and we like to get together and have a little something to drink,” said Wilder-Taylor.

Drawing on her comedic skills, Wilder-Taylor turned her coping skills into a successful blog and then the book, Sippy Cups Are Not For Chardonnay (and later, three more books!)  But soon, her drinking became less funny.

“As time went on and I had two more kids and I had a lot more stresses and a lot more time at home I was drinking more and every single night… I was on a playdate with some friends and we were drinking martinis… I would’ve told you that I wasn’t drunk.  I would’ve sworn to you that I wasn’t drunk. I felt fine. I got in the car was with two of my kids, one was 16-months-old, one was four-years-old, and I drove home.  I’ll tell you why I drove home, because it  seemed more shameful to call my husband and tell him I was too drunk.  Thank God I got home alright. Thank God that was the wake up call I needed. And when I got home, my husband was appalled.  He was shocked and horrified and angry. And it took that to realize that if I couldn’t tell that if I couldn’t tell that I was too drunk, that I didn’t have a good gauge, to realize I had a problem. Most people don’t — most people are offended if you try to take their keys away… I tend to drink too much under stress,  and I now have learned other coping mechanisms, and no it’s not a bath with rose petals!” 

Thankfully, Wilder-Taylor’s wake-up call came before there were tragic consequences, but not everyone’s does. For example, the 2009 fiery crash of Diane Schuler, a mother who had her childre her children and three nieces with her while driving the wrong way on New York’s Taconic Parkway for two miles and then crashing into an SUV and killing eight people, is still an oft-cited example of an impaired mother driving. 

Traffic fatalities are ugly sights. Shattered glass, twisted metal, often the smell of spilled gasoline and other car fluids mixed with the distinctly acrid scent of burned rubber from skid marks. Aside from what human gore may remain, there are the eerie details that stay behind long after the ambulances or coroner have left that let you know someone was in the middle of their life and suddenly everything went horribly wrong. A sneaker in the middle of the road. Music still playing on the stereo. One accident I vividly remember, it was the fishing poles and tackle boxes, flung all over the trunk of the car, which had popped open in the crash. It is even more gut-wrenching when you see a child’s toy, an abandoned car seat, or the carcass of a car that had to be cut open with the jaws of life.  Walk to the other car and you will often see bottles or cans rolling about the floorboards, the stench of alcohol reeking even without the driver present. Sometimes the accidents are so bad, you can’t tell where one car ends and the other begins.

“Even worse than the scenes are being at the hospital and to make a notification to a family member,” said Assistant Chief Patric Burke, DC Metropolitan Police Department. “That’s the stuff that is etched in your brain.  To talk to a parent who has lost a child is just a horrific thing.”

I can tell you that to hear the screams of a parent who has lost a child is something you never forget. There is a guttural sound to pure agony that is like no other. I may not remember all the names of the car accidents I’ve covered, but I’ll never forget the screams. 

Profile of a Female Drunk Driver

Not all female drunk drivers are mothers, but as a society, we often pay more attention to those who are because the idea of driving drunk with a child in the backseat is more shocking; somehow, and unfairly, even more shocking than the idea of a man driving with a child in the back seat.  However, as Wilder-Taylor brought up, there is a very public “Mommy needs a drink” culture going on — wine at playdates, mothers drinking every night at home, tweets about coveting a cocktail while waiting for husbands to get home. Whether there is actually more drinking going on in this generation or it is just more publicly discussed is unclear. But many times, these alcohol-charged social outings involve someone getting in a car to get home, often a mother, and sometimes a mother with a kid in a carseat behind her.

The Century Council presented its commissioned report, State of Knowledge: Female Drunk Drivers, with literature review and research conducted by the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF),  on Capitol Hill to the Congressional Stop DUI Caucus and media last month.  According to the report, women were “most likely to be diagnosed with a primary problem with sedatives or opiates” as opposed to their male counterparts who were more likely to have a primary issue with alcohol or marijuana.  This goes hand in hand with the finding that “diagnoses of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder are common among female drunk driving offenders.”  Apparently significantly more so than compared to the male profile. So we’re not just talking about drunk women, we’re talking about drunk and drugged up women driving.

What needs to be done? It’s a complex issue, according to The Century Council. It involves looking at why women drink, why they drink and drive, and how they are treated once they are convicted so they get the kind of treatment they need to deal with mental health and substance abuse issues, and also have support systems in place including transportation and child care to get the treatment they need.  In other words, there is a lot more research that needs to be done to gain a better understanding of the issue of female impaired drivers.

“A lot of people who don’t look like they have a drinking problem and don’t look like they drive drunk are, and they may need help and that doesn’t mean they are a bad person or a bad mother, so we need to make it less shameful for them,” said Wilder-Taylor.  She does her part via speaking engagements and her Don’t Get Drunk Friday feature on her blog.

Why Are the Numbers Increasing?

It’s not as easy of a question to answer as one might think.  Several theories from research review indicate it can be because women are on the road more than they used to be, more women are in law enforcement so the laws are more evenly enforced to both genders, and that lowering the blood alcohol content limit to .08 had an impact.  At a pre-briefing brunch in a casual conversation, several bloggers and representatives from The Century Council also discussed the recent trend of drunkorexia — a practice of eating less in order to “save” calories for drinking alcohol, though this was not covered in the report.  I, for one, have been at a Weight Watchers meeting where the idea of saving up calories to enjoy drinks while on vacation was discussed by several women. It’s not just college girls who are counting up how many calories are in a margarita!

Does Mommy Really Need a Drink?

Though Wilder-Taylor made a few jokes about the new coping skills she learned to deal with the stresses of parenting, ultimately it all boiled down to learning how to make time for herself. Exercising, getting out of the house (not so easy when she had one child and then twins), and learning how to cut herself some slack. Drinking and sedatives often become the shortcuts women take to allow themselves to keep pushing themselves harder and further, thinking no one really notices. Heart-breakingly, it is often the children who notice, but they don’t have the words to say so. Friends either don’t know what to say or may be in the same boat. Spouses often turn a blind eye, hoping there is really not a problem. If you’ve found yourself moving from the occasional drink to not being able to cope without a drink, take the time today to open up to someone you trust about it, before it turns into a tragedy.

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Disclosures:   As part of the media I was given a complimentary copy of Wilder-Taylor’s book.  There is a link to Wilder-Taylor’s book to Amazon and I am an Amazon Associate, if you purchase the book through this link, I may receive a teeny-tiny percentage – one day I hope being an Amazon Associate will buy me a cup of coffee. In three years of being one, it hasn’t.  Photo credits:  Photo of woman with a wine glass from Microsoft clip art gallery.  Photo of Stephanie Wilder-Taylor is my own.

Legos: Organizing the Obsession

Legos seem like they’d be the easiest thing to organize (they snap together, so modular, so neat!) and yet they are the cause of so much playroom clutter, both by my own informal visual inspection and according to online anecdotes.  Somehow they morph from the initial single bin or box into overflowing containers, toppling towers of boxes, or complex filing systems of kits or worse — a floor littered with teeny, tiny (and painful to step on!) Lego pieces.

Since JavaBoy had acquired several kits between Spring and Summer, in the grand back-to-school room cleaning, I sought advice via my personal Facebook page from friends about the One True Solution for organizing Legos, and found there really wasn’t one.  But there were several good ideas.

The Great Kit Debate

One of the first things to decide when organizing Legos is your kit philosophy.  Do you think those kits with their zillions of tiny pieces (perhaps I overstate) need to remain intact?  Or are they put together once and then disassembled and the pieces should join in with the rest of your Lego collection?  This is not a simple question.  My Facebook thread on this became quite heated.  There were those who felt it was essential to keep kits whole and even this group divided into those who believed in building once and never taking the piece apart and those who believed in building something and taking it apart but keeping the pieces in a single container together (the original box, a Ziploc bag with the instructions, etc.)  Then there were those who felt that the kits stifled creativity and that the whole point of Legos was to dream up your own creation.

After much thought and internal debate, I came to decide that I liked that the kits taught JavaBoy how to follow instructions, how to visualize both the small parts and the big picture, and even taught him the simple basics of construction and architecture and that by doing so, he was then learning valuable skills for planning and building his own creations with the “loose” Legos we kept in another container.  In other words, I see value in the structure of the kits and I see value in the freedom of unstructured play with Legos.  This means I’m going to be spending a lot of money on Legos.

Bins, Drawers, Cases, and Bags

sorting LegosNow that I had our philosophy down, just how was I going to organize all that stuff?  My friend Daisy had a beautiful system for the kits.  “Large freezer (like these because they are thicker) ziplock bags for individual sets with large numbers written in permanent marker on the bags. The large numbers correspond to a Lego 3-ring binder that has pages laminated with pictures from the cut up boxes for individual sets with each set page labeled to match number from ziplock bag. The ziplock bags in turn are combined together in larger clear rubbermaid storage boxes by similar themed sets. If sets get mixed up, I don’t fret as the kids can look at the pictures and simply find alternative pieces to make up sets. I like encouraging as much creativity as possible and my boys seem to prefer this too.”

Well, we haven’t quite gotten to that level of organization.  The kits were mostly still in their boxes with *most* of their pieces in the boxes, but the boxes were taking up too much space.  We spent some time putting them into plastic bags and trying to see if we had all the pieces but haven’t finished that project yet.  I would say it is about 85-90% done.    Other things like our beach trip, school starting, soccer starting and so on have taken over, but I consider it a good start!

We store our “loose” Legos in an Iris cart drawer, as I use Iris carts for Tinker Toys and Lincoln Logs as well — no more stacked up bins to deal with, easy to open and close and they can roll out of the way if I need them to.  This works great for those regular brick pieces, but the itty-bitty pieces and specialty shape pieces tend to get lost in a big drawer.  Which is why I adore a tip from my friend Susan, “I use a few of those divided notion-sorters from the sewing aisle at Wal-Mart to sort all the tons of little pieces that you end up with… that way it’s super easy if you need to go back and find a specific piece. I use the same kind of divided container to sort lego figurine pieces (each piece in its own section: heads, hair, torsos, legs, accessories, etc). I found that the boys enjoyed playing with legos much more after doing this… they love making their own characters.” 

Brilliant! 

I immediately ran out to our closest Michaels art supply store and in the beading area I found that there were different sizes of divided containers (and different prices — the ones that were perfect for our needs were actually the really cheap ones) and we turned sorting the pieces into a family project.  JavaBoy LOVES having the little Lego bodies sorted.  He also liked having the small pieces sorted out such as the “one-bumps” and “two-bumps” and so on.  These boxes then fit into the Iris cart drawer, so it didn’t create any space issues, just made it easier to find the smaller pieces.

Why Does It Matter?

After I straightened out the Legos a bit, both kids had renewed interest in the Legos.  In fact, it reminded me that we had the large base plates and since JavaBoy has a Lego table in his room, I took those base plates and put them on the table in JavaGirl’s room so she now essentially has a Lego table in her room.

More importantly, Legos are the ultimate toy.  Both low-tech and yet highly-linked to generating interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), Legos are toys that turn grown-ups (notice I didn’t say just men) into kids again, and stimulate the logical and creative sides of the brain.

The only people I know who hate Legos are people who have to clean them up!

So I wanted an easy-to-maintain system so that JavaBoy (and as she gets more obsessed with them, JavaGirl) can pull them out and put them away as he wants to and I don’t have to worry about lost pieces or injured bare feet.  And most of all, I wanted to be able to encourage the kids to play with them instead of relegating the Legos to the basement because I was sick of dealing with them.  They are just too good of a toy to hide away.

A Few Fun Things to Know About….

  • Lego Stores Monthly Mini Model Build  Lego Stores have a time to when kids ages 6-14 can build mini-kits for free (these kits are not for sale).  The McLean store does this after 5pm on the first Tuesday of the month, check your local store for details.
  • You can have a birthday party at the Lego store — contact your local store for details, but it includes a little Lego kit for the attendees.
  • There are programs intended to get kids interested in science, technology, engineering and math that begin as early as age 6 and continue on through high school.  They begin at age 6 with Jr. FIRST Lego League and increasingly move from working with Legos to working toward serious robotics.
  • The National Building Museum in DC has a special exhibit (meaning you have to get tickets for it — and they sell out, so get tickets early) called Lego Architecture: Towering Ambition  featuring 15 world famous buildings recreated in Lego bricks by Lego Certified Professional Adam Reed Tucker.  Not only is it amazing to look at the buildings, but the room immediately following the buildings is a Lego free-play area where kids (and grown-ups) are invited to create their own masterpieces at what I can only describe as a Lego bar!  Our entire family enjoyed this, in fact it overshadowed seeing the rest of the museum.  Tickets are $5 each and the exhibit is here until September 5, 2011 (yes, NEXT year.)
  • There will be more Lego fun to be had at the Lego booth at the USA Science and Engineering Festival in DC October 23 and 24.  (If you happen to go there, please also stop by the booth for the Children’s Science Center!)

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Iris, Lego, Lincoln Logs, Michaels, Rubbermaid, Tinker Toys and Ziploc are trademarks and/or registered trademarks of their respective companies.  I am affiliated with the Junior League of Northern Virginia, a major contributor to the Children’s Science Center.

Silly Bandz — Giving In To A Fad

Before I knew what happened, Silly Bandz, those shaped, silicone “rubber band” bracelets that are the hot new fad item, swept into my life.  My kids are not usually into fads — in fact we were probably one of the few families not looking for ZhuZhu Pets this Christmas — and they are quite young (4 and 6) so I was blissfully unaware of these items until a few weeks ago when I was the helping mom at my daughter’s preschool and noticed several kids wearing them.  One of the boys in the class had apparently given them out to some of the other kids and my daughter showed some interest in them.  When I saw a package of animal-shaped ones at a local bookstore for $4.50, I bought them and both kids gleefully split them up — JavaBoy informed me they were very popular in Kindergarten.  So imagine my surprise when their college-aged babysitter showed up wearing an armful of them as well!  Wouldn’t I have loved to have been the marketing genius who could come up with a fad that appealed to ages preschool – college!

I picked up JavaBoy from school early today to take him to a doctor’s appointment and noticed older kids at the school with LOTS of Silly Bandz on — 20 or more per wrist.  Both genders.  Apparently trading them is all the rage as they come in lots of different shapes and when I checked out their web site, some styles have already been retired.

But the real kicker came for me when JavaBoy had to get a shot at today’s visit and in order to quell the tears that started to well up in his eyes, the nurse promised him…not a lollipop… but his choice of a Silly Bandz.  Wow.  (It did the trick, by the way, JavaBoy was thrilled — apparently one of his bands had broken.)

JavaGirl is quite proud of her Silly Bandz…because they are “like my brother’s.”  I see where this is headed.

As for those ZhuZhu Pets?  Yeah, JavaGirl got one for her birthday and JavaBoy got one as well because Toys R Us was having a BOGO sale.  And they love them.   They never even asked for them before, but apparently after so many Show And Tells at school, they decided they’d really like them, so when they saw them, they did ask.  We got the hamster ball too — as most of our house is carpeted, but that’s where our ZhuZhu investment will end.  Seriously.

So much for avoiding fads.

First Wheels

As a mom, there are some things that come naturally, and there are some things that definitely do NOT.  Teaching my kids to ride a bike is one of those things.  I wasn’t even aware I was supposed to be teaching my kids to ride a bike yet.  For whatever reason, my parents didn’t teach me to ride a bike at the “normal” age — I didn’t learn until 5th grade.  Now, this may have something to do with the fact that my mother is a bit legendary in her klutziness (which I inherited) and I have a searing childhood memory (prior to my sister’s birth, so I had to have been a toddler) of me sitting in a seat on the back of her bicycleand her running us along a chain link fence and me having a very painful, very bloody knee and screaming and crying inconsolably on a sidewalk somewhere.  That could have something to do with it.  A little.

No, I stuck to my tricycle and my Big Wheel and I think I was quite happy in my non-bicycle-riding status until two things happened.  1) There was going to be a bicycle rodeo in the fifth grade. 2)  All my girlfriends were starting to ride their bikes to Woolworth’s to buy lip gloss.  Neither of these activities were things I wanted to be left out of.  At this point my parents were separated but I believe my mother decided my father had the responsibility of teaching me to ride my bike.  This was probably wise on her part because my memories of it are awful.  It seemed to be a series of collisions and bruises and scabby knees and moments where I was certain I would die.  The only positive part was my pink Barbie bike with a banana seat, pink and white streamers, and a basket.  Which I am sure would mortify any self-respecting fifth grader these days.  I don’t think they even make banana seats any more, do they?

The point of this bit of self-revelation is to show you just how ill-prepared and how emotionally scarred I was in this area when it came to the chapter of parenting called Teaching Your Children to Ride a Bike.  JavaDadwas no help.  According to him, he just woke up learning how to ride a bike at some age.  Big help there, buddy.  So a couple of years ago when my son’s preschool teacher’s end-of-the-year scrapbook included pictures of four-year-olds riding bikes, I came home and said, “Oh my goodness honey, we’re supposed to be teaching him to ride a bike!!”  And JavaDad rolled his eyes at me as if I said, “Oh my goodness honey, we need to do the chicken dance!”

Because I somehow became Her Royal Highness, Purchaser of All Things, I had to select the bike, though my husband was probably much more qualified.  Since it was consignment season, I thought how easy, I’d just pick a bike that looked high enough at the next sale, and get it at a good price.  I had no idea there were different wheel sizes for goodness’ sakes!  I was looking for a blue, green, or red bike about yay high.  Yay high being a technical term, of course.  Some wheels were gigantic, some were itty bitty.  Some bikes had training wheels, some did not.  I finally settled on a blue bike that had little wheels but I hoped not too little, and training wheels.

JavaBoy was ecstatic.  He couldn’t ditch the trike fast enough.  Pedaling down the cul-de-sac was great, pedaling back up (hill) not so much.  But he was determined.  Sadly, it was tough for me to keep up with him (I was so worried about the multiple driveways) and also entertain his sister, two years younger, who didn’t want to be pushed along in the Kettler tricycle, didn’t want to pedal a tricycle, and didn’t want to just run back and forth behind him (neither did I, really, but that’s beside the point).  So his bicycle lessons were few and far between.  The logistics were too tough and weekends always seemed so busy or the weather wouldn’t cooperate.

Flash forward to today.  On a post-birthday visit to Toys R Us, we took JavaGirl to redeem a gift card, when we wandered by the bike section.  “Let me just try something out,” I said to JavaDad.  ‘I just wonder, maybe she’d do better on a bike instead of a tricycle…”  And so we tried her on a few bicycles and once we found one the right size, although she struggled, indeed, she pedaled it with more enthusiasm than she did the tricycle at home.  JavaBoy, meanwhile, whipped around us in loops on a larger bike.  We finished what we came to the store for, but at home, we reassessed the bike situation.

A neighbor had given us his son’s bike — a larger two-wheeler, which we had been hanging onto for when JavaBoy was ready.  JavaBoy is not yet ready to have the training wheels off, but was definitely ready for a larger bike.  Would our daughter go for his smaller, blue bike?

At first she was a little afraid, but she actually pedaled it better than in the store.  Better than JavaBoy did when he first got the bike, even though he had been the champion trike pedaler.  She could do it, but she almost seemed reluctant to.  I knew just what would make her heart sing — a bell.  Since I had to go get training wheels for the other bike, I had already made up my mind to get her one when she sidled up to me and asked, “Mommy, can I have a ding-ding bell?”  I leaned down and kissed her and told her I would go to the store right now to get her one.

JavaBoy accompanied me to the store.  We picked out his training wheels, a bell for his sister, two cup holders (as I have grand visions of all of us biking to the library and the pool), and then a bell that he could earn as a treat for “when (I) learn to ride without training wheels.”  He proudly carried his bell to the register.

Once everything was assembled at home, JavaGirl announced they were having a bike race and took off, not even waiting for her brother.  Ding-ding-ding. You could hear it going up and down the cul-de-sac as her brown hair flew under her pink helmet.  Sure, she still gets stuck, but she’s got her brother to help her out.  Two kids, learning to ride their bikes together.  No bloody knees, no terrifying memories.  Maybe it’s not quite “on time” but they’ll get there and they’ll have fun doing it.  Once they have the hang of it, I’m going to get myself a bike again.  Probably not pink.  And I guess it won’t have a banana seat.  I suppose I’m too old for streamers now.  But  I’m definitely getting a bell!