I’ve made a conscious decision not to get Roy hooked on music I find annoying. I’ve heard too many horror stories about parents being held hostage to grating cartoonish singsongs in the car because the only other choice was “screaming toddler,” demanding aforementioned songs.
While Roy digs all of the above, his first real band crush was Wilco. Clint and I bought the latest CD, The Whole Love, and listened to it way too often in preparation for the concert. Pretty much constantly. Roy loved it. He couldn’t stand the silence between songs. As soon as one song finished, he’d pipe up from the back seat: “More Wilco, Mommy?” Oh, there was always more Wilco, I tell you. Always more Wilco.
Then one day, while Wilco was playing in the car, Roy began crying. Sobbing. When I asked him what was wrong, he kept repeating something that sounded to me like champagne. Now, it’s not unfathomable that any child of mine would, at the age of 1, cry for champagne. Not unfathomable, but still. Unlikely. He kept repeating it, and finally a light bulb went off: Not champagne. John Prine. Our marathon listening session had left the poor kid completely Wilco-ed out. He’d currently prefer the musical stylings of John Prine, thank you very much.
Clint’s a big JP fan and had obviously introduced his music to the boy. The Missing Years was waiting in the changer, and when I turned it on, the crying stopped. Now, nearly every time we get in the car, the request comes: “John Prine, please?” If I sing along? “No, Mommy. Let John Prine say it.” In the silence between songs, “More John Prine,” or, my favorite, “Please, Mommy. I need more John Prine.”
We’ve got a John Prine addict. I’ll take it over condescending puppet-voiced baby bubblegum any day. Here’s how we start our drive to daycare each morning:
Any other tolerable child-friendly recommendations? What does your kid dig?
Who doesn’t like winning something? Nobody, that’s who. Since there are lots of really cool contests going on here at Parents & American Baby, I thought I’d spread the love by corralling them right here, thus making it nice and simple for you to click and win, win, win. I won’t even consider asking you to share your loot with me. You are so very welcome.
OK, first up we have the American Baby Cover Contest. It’s just what it sounds like, people: Your very own Cutest Kid in the World on the cover of American Baby magazine, for all to coo over. The contest runs until Saturday, November 26th, but there are weekly $250 giveaways leading up to that deadline, so the sooner you enter, the better. Click here to learn more about the cover contest, including how to enter.
Aaaand last, but in no way even close to least, the Parents 2011 Best Toys of the Year Sweepstakes. Just in time for the holidays, right? Five winners get one of five prize packages made up of toys from Parents’ hand-selected 2011 Best Toys of the Year. Each package retails between $350 and $500-ish bucks. For this one, you can enter daily, and the contest ends next Sunday, November 13th, so get on that. Click here to learn more about entering the Best Toys of the Year Sweepstakes.
So there you go. Enter away! Good luck. And know that in my book, you are all winners. (The prize for that one? A warm, fuzzy feeling. Enjoy.)
We got off to a rough start. Too much excitement. How can one toddler be expected to sit still in a bee costume on a lovely fall day in a yard littered with toys and uncle and auntie and Bubbe and nice, crunchy leaves?
Cousin Arlo, on the other hand, posed happily on the lawn like a very well mannered shark. Candygram.
We managed to get one passable shot of them together. For posterity.
Finally, Roy gave in and rode in the wagon. When the sun began to set, we said goodnight to Arlo and family, then visited the houses of our most familiar neighbors, as well as those with the best “spooky stuff.” Roy happily trudged up to each door with his big pumpkin and said, “Trick or Treat,” on cue.
Of course we lingered at Neighborhood Grandma Jackie’s place, where there were hay bales surrounding the bonfire (and a special light-up firetruck for the little bee’s pail). Under the sliver of waxing moon, passing pods of costumed kids, we made a slow loop around just one block, arriving home happily pooped, with a pumpkin over half-full of treats. It was a picture-perfect Halloween night.
(My brother B.J. gets photo credit for those middle ones.)
Admit it. You’ve considered it. Chucking it all and taking off, kids in tow, the world your classroom? I sure have.
Travel writer Jennifer Wilson not only considered it, she saved her pennies and did it, abandoning her cushy Iowa life for the tiny Croatian mountain village her ancestors fled decades earlier.
She chronicled her family’s adventures in “Running Away to Home,” just published by St. Martin’s Press. Wilson agreed not only to a frank Q&A on her family’s sabbatical, including tips on how to take your own, she’s also promised a signed copy of her book to one lucky Love & Diapers reader. (Details below.) Her graciousness may or may not be attributed to the fact that we’re friends—she comments here at L&D under the handle anti-jen.
A story-setting excerpt from the book:
“Jim and I looked at each other across the shopping cart one Saturday afternoon, both of us holding the Starbucks that accounted for $150 of our monthly household budget, SUV idling in the parking lot, kids grousing that the Lego set they’d chosen was somehow lacking, and asked ourselves: Is this the American Dream? Because if it is, it sort of sucks.”
L&D: Did you at all feel somewhat loony, lifting your family up out of its comfy Midwestern existence and plopping them into a relatively desolate Croatian mountain town?
Jennifer Wilson: Often times, yes! I appreciate how delicately you put that, Berit. We were at a point in our lives where we had everything we supposedly wanted—good jobs, nice house, sweet kids—but things felt weird. We didn’t feel very connected to any of it. I think we spend a lot of time talking about what we want from marriage, from work, from friendship. But how often do we talk about what we want to be as a family? We wanted a time-out to recalibrate, and frankly, the fantasy of the Croatian mountain village just hit at the right place at the right time in our lives. And off we went for some family recalibrating!
How did the kids feel about that?
Weeeeeell, my son Sam, who was 6 at the time, flat-out refused to go. We had to blatantly bribe him. Zadie was almost 4 and had no idea what “going to Croatia” meant. So of course she agreed—she’d be spending all her time with her family, and so it was awesome!
What was the reality of village life like?
The village was small … and quiet … and that intimidated me a lot at first. I describe it in the book as a handful of gnome houses in the crease between mountains. The backyards all melded together into giant fields and meadows, and my kids got to run free all day every day for the first time in their lives. For them, it was heaven, from climbing trees to eating wild strawberries in the field. They were more independent than they’d ever been, and I realized just how much face time parents and kids are forced to have these days. Sam and Zadie really thrived with the freedom, knowing that we were always close by if they needed us.
Sounds as if you hit the jackpot in the simplicity department. Was it the cure-all you hoped it would be?
Having a much smaller place was great. We live in a big renovated house here in Des Moines, and it can be a bear to keep up. So having just one big dorm-like space was pretty heavenly. It was also great to have our own schedule—no playdates, no practices, no real work deadlines. The simplicity of time was so freeing in that way. Our time was all our own. It made us realize how much we sort of manufacture our own schedules, and how overscheduling separates us from connecting with each other.
On the other hand, simplicity can also be a nice way of saying “boring.” Having huge tracts of uninterrupted time was weird for me. The kids and Jim relaxed right into it. Sam and Zadie were so happy to have nowhere to be, ever. When Jim got bored he’d pick up the atlas and plan a drive, or embark on an epic cooking adventure, or just accept the boredom. One day he decided to make burgers, and it took him all day just to find all the ingredients.
But for the busy mom here, huge tracts of do-nothing time made me feel almost agoraphobic. I am the captain of our home schedule, and when nobody needed my services anymore, I didn’t really know what to do. I admit I had my fair share of panic attacks at the beginning. But the more we became enmeshed in the village, the more things I had to do: Learning old recipes with the neighbor ladies, interviewing people about history, learning how to be really good at hanging up laundry on the line, sleuthing down old family members. Still, this experience made it very clear that I’m the restless one in the family. I don’t do downtime very well. It’s just my nature.
In what ways did these revelations change your family life back here?
It’s more of a priority to stay connected, as a family. We still have activities and tend to run around, but I’m quicker to put on the brakes and make everyone get in pajamas to read “Hatchet” together on the couch. Being present with each other is a daily priority.
Being connected to our food source has remained a priority and gotten more important. We eat clean local food as much as we can. We have our own garden and chickens. We buy fresh food daily, in season. Although the kids won’t appreciate that lesson ‘til they’re older—they want junk, and can’t figure out why we have to eat things that look so close to original form. So we still take plenty mac and cheese or fast food intervals.
Any advice to a family thinking of taking their own similar type of time-out?
Also, take a scouting trip first if you can. See the lay of the land, make some contacts that you can email with questions, whether it’s the tourism person or a landlord or friends you meet while visiting.
Last, prepare for a challenge. A family sabbatical isn’t for the weak of knees. As with all travel, it’s 90 percent work, 10 percent glory. And of course, buy “Running Away to Home” to get some idea. I write about the good, the bad, and the in between. I don’t sugarcoat it, yet you’ll get an idea of the unique beauty of taking this kind of leap with your family.
Win your very own SIGNED copy of “Running Away to Home” byleaving a comment below by the end of the day on this Friday, October 28th. Anonymous comments and those without a valid email address will be disqualified. The winner will be chosen at random, then contacted via email. If I don’t hear from a winner within five days, a new one will be chosen. Please enter/comment only once. Good luck!
So you know how when your toddler says something incorrectly, you’re not supposed to outright correct, but rather to repeat what he or she said, demonstrating the proper pronunciation? That’s the advice I remember, anyway. It makes sense. It’s positive and kind and responsibly educational. Perfect. Except that some words are just too cute to correct.
So cute that I find it’s not good enough to simply leave them uncorrected. I irresponsibly promote their use, keeping the proper pronunciation from Roy like a secret. For example, I desperately wanted him to make it to preschool, at least, calling pizza peetzi. It was the way the word first slipped out of his mouth once it’d had a chance to knock around in his developing brain, and it killed me. Especially when spoken in his squeaky toddler dialect, which pounds every word into a compact question. And so pizza was banned under this roof. Peet-zi? was the new house pronunciation.
Only, somehow, Roy adopted the true version. Dammit, daycare and its promotion of proper diction and whatnot. I held out for a week or so, hoping he’d switch back, which succeeded only in my sounding like an overinvolved kindergarten teacher on Valium. Peet-zi? is now simply part of on an ongoing list, including cuckoo? (cookie) and didi? (Nico, our dog), that we’ll lovingly trot out when he’s teenager, despite any eye-rolling. Or perhaps because of it.
Currently, I’m safeguarding roni-pepper? (aka pepperoni—I swear we have a diverse diet over here) and payter? (caterpillar) while Clint’s doing his part to prolong doh-doze? (bulldozer). We can dream, anyway.