Monday Musings: Xacto Knives and Happy Medium Land

Monday, October 20, 2008
Yesterday I found myself in a very familiar predicament: It was 10 a.m., both kids were up and active and fed, we had already gone to the park--and yet it felt like the whole day stretched ahead of us. I bemoan the lack of quality time with my kids as much as the next person but, tell me you know what I mean--those days that just feel like they are going to go on forever? I didn't want to pack up the kids in the double-stroller and do our usual walk downtown because I would end up buying a pair of earrings/shoes/purses(!) I don't need. Breakfast was done, so no need to brave a restaurant. Last I checked, it would have been inappropriate to trek my kids to the movie theater to see "Blindness" or "W" (I miss the movies!). We needed a project.

In the last 3 years, I have tried many of the activities that moms and babies are "supposed" to do. "Music together." Mommy-and-me yoga. Gymboree. I have always left these sorts of things feeling pretty much like a tool, and, more often than not, severely bored--in general and of the person I am in such places. Plus, thus far, my kids just don't seem to be that into any of these activities (go ahead, get out the armchair and the psych book: "projection projection!") I think the problem is trying to shoehorn myself into a mom that I just may not be. Obviously my kids are still pretty malleable and if I forced "Music Together" on them over and over again, they would likely get into it. So, clearly, the problem is me. Problem Mommy.

Yesterday I thought about doing the "supposed to" activities. Going to the children's museum. Reading lots of silly books. Checking out the puppet show at a local bookstore. I have done all of these things before. And, yes, I have enjoyed them sometimes, as have my kids. But it was one of those days where the effort to be "that mom" seemed Herculean. So something altogether different transpired. As I was going through the bookshelf, looking for something to read to my 3 year old that wouldn't make me fall asleep, I found one of my absolute most treasured possessions: A frightening looking book called "Clowns Do Happen," given to me as a gift from a college friend. It is a "secret book"--completely hollowed out--that she made herself. When you open it, in my friend's Unabomber handwriting is scrawled: "Place Treasures Here."

I decided we HAD to make a secret book. Immediately. My kids were very amused by "Mom On A Mission." This was, in part, because I made us all wear tinfoil hats as I gathered the necessary materials, and who doesn't like tinfoil hats? This is what you need to try this at home:

-A hardcover book, at least 1 1/2 inches thick
-Elmer's glue
-Some sort of container to mix glue and water (I used an old bowl)
-Xacto knife
-Painbrush
-Ruler
-A way to silence your mother's voice in your head telling you that books are sacred (they are) and that you shouldn't deface them (you shouldn't--but sometimes rules need to be broken).
-These clear instructions


For three hours, my 3 year old sat mesmerized--truly mesmerized--as we cut paper, glued edges, and sang at the top of our lungs to Bob Dylan (Secret Book not contingent on musical selection--but there is something pretty amazing about hearing a child attempt to sing Subterranean Homesick Blues). This is a child who spent 2 months of Music Together, literally--literally--running in circles. My younger one rocked happily in his little chair scrunching the discarded paper in his hands and playing peek-a-boo with it. My toddler didn't ask for "Fireman Sam" or "Thomas the Train" once which I consider one of my proudest accomplishments thus far, not only as a mother but in life. The day became one of the memories of time with my kids I will file away and take out when I'm frustrated that they won't sleep, that they're constantly making messes, that they have so many needs. It was simple, and it was so me--plus children. And the silver lining is that I didn't have to make forced funny faces or otherwise act like a buffoon.

Our energy is contagious. As much as my love of eccentricity wants me to believe otherwise, I am pretty sure my 3 year old wasn't half as excited as he seemed by the prospect of making The Secret Book. I think he just liked seeing me jump up and down, get excited myself, not nag him to eat his "tree" (decoder ring: "tree"=broccoli). It's easy to forget this sometimes--to forget that the authenticity, the sense of ourselves that we have lived our lives building and striving for still serves us well in this new adventure of parenthood. It's almost impossible not to get bogged down with the "supposed to" and the "shoulds." But there is of course a happy medium, and in Happy Medium Land live Secret books currently filled with the candy that I don't let my kids eat. In Happy Medium Land lives Happy Medium Land Mom, snuggling with her kids and watching Colin Powell finally saying what somebody should have said so long ago, (making my kids watch tv, for once, even though they are too young to understand how amazing his words are), having the epiphany that, sometimes you gotta do the Xacto knife activity instead of the trip to Tiny Gym...you just do.
12 comments:
blue said...

You should check out Storybox. They are great for Kids aged 3-6 and have a drawing competition on this month!

Lynn said...

Nice way to start the work week! I would love more ideas on unique things to do with my three kids all under 5. We like some of the "packaged" activities...but a person with a brain can only take so much!

Saaima said...

Haha, this was hilarious and i am totally stealing the tin foil hat idea. i can imagine tin foil hats making many things fun. the secret book seems too hard but i really want one! can you buy them anywhere????

Ashwin Sodhi said...

Energy begets energy, silliness begets silliness, and Deepa, well Deepa begets lots of little Deepas! And that's a lot better than begetting "Joe Plumbers."

Suggestion: Scrap the Christmas carols in favor of Ice Ice Baby, a la Babies with Rabies...

Anonymous said...

My favorite line: "I have left these sorts of things feeling like a tool"--I completely relate! It's like trying to fit in in a palce you don't even really want to be! I think we are all so worried about providing our childrne with "enriching" activities that we forget that a pot and a spoon is fun for them and way more fun for us too. of course you have to get out of the hosue sometimes right? any suggestions for what to do then?

Anonymous said...

Death to Music Together!! Haha!

Sita said...

that dylan video is cool, i had never seen it before. any more non "crafty" craft suggestions? i am play-dough-ed out!

Anonymous said...

Love it!! always wated a secret book!

deepa said...

Lots of love for the Xacto! Fantastic! Thanks, Blue, for the suggestion--Storybox seems like it provides activities I can do with my kids without wanting to, um, vomit...! Saaima, I am pretty sure you can buy almost anything with the help of google but I promise it's really easy to make a secret book yourself! Sita, I am going to come up with a list of some more not-absolutely-lame projects...stay tuned. And Ashwin--will keep your Xmas suggestion in mind!

Anonymous said...

Funny post and I too like the idea of hats for no occassion!

ma said...

Um, I don't have kids and I'm inspired to make a secrect hollow book!

Andrea Behr, SF Chronicle said...

Hello Devis, I am a first-time visitor via Sepia and I could not locate a "contact" tab on your site? This post is wonderful and resonates on so many levels. What is your re-publication policy?

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