It’s short and sweet and goes like this:

Once there was a girl named Mitzi, and she had a little brother named Jacob. They slept in the same room and in the same big bed, each sprawled on her or his own side. Mitzi usually hugged the edge of the bed, teetering on the edge, and usually teetered on the edge of sleep, too, holding out as long as she could. She wanted to snuggle her mama as she went to sleep, lying on her right side with her left arm wrapped around her mama’s left arm. Jacob wanted to put his head on his mama’s right shoulder and snuggle his mama to sleep, too. They’d often drift off grudgingly, as if unwilling to give the day up without a fight. That day would never come again, and who’s to say those few last minutes weren’t the most important?

Tonight – this night – was different.

Tonight Mitzi and Jacob snuggled their mama, snuggled their daddy, and giggled and talked together, making the final moments important in a new way — and then went to sleep all by themselves.

“Good night, Mitzi,” whispered her mama and daddy in wonder. “Good night, Jacob,” whispered her mama and daddy.

And then they stayed up to do exciting things like put cardboard in the recycling bin and fold laundry, and then they all slept happily ever after. (At least I hope that’s how this one will end!)

“Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.
     “Later I will,” said her mother. “Now I’ve got a headache.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother, “Mommy, now is it later?”
     “No,” said her mother. “It’s still now.”
     In a little while Martha asked her mother if she had a headache.
     “No,” said her mother, “Why?”
     “Tell me a Mitzi,” said Martha.

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So begins the second of three stories in Lore Segal’s* Tell Me a Mitzi, a picture book with a frame story (in italics) with a family with a daughter named Martha (as seen in the story intro above) plus three stories (in regular font) about the heroine, Mitzi, and her little brother, Jacob.

Mitzi is an independent girl with independent ideas, so while she depends on her mama to help her when she’s sick (like in the second story, “Mitzi Sneezes,” she also dresses herself and her little brother in the first story, “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” in order to set off into a New York morning to head to her grandparents’ home. Not much taller than the stroller herself, she’s bold and gutsy and not afraid. In her world, adults help children, and children try and do things that they might not ordinarily do, like say hello the the President.

Martha, the frame-story girl, wants attention and focus from her parents, and she gets it in the form of three stories: “Mitzi Takes a Taxi,” “Mitzi Sneezes,” and “Mitzi and the President.” The first and last highlight the independent Mitzi, perhaps to nudge Martha towards independence herself; the middle one shows the Mitzi who needs love and attention and comfort to get through a cold, just as any child like Martha does. Families provide for their children’s needs in these stories, whether it’s in the form of a story, orange juice and soup when sick, or gum and a parade. Who doesn’t love a parade?

No matter which Mitzi you get, your children will be delighted. Mine were. Girl and Boy both relish the stories, and they especially enjoy “Mitzi Sneezes,” with its twist on what happens when the caretakers need care themselves. The stories are accompanied by Harriet Pincus’s charmingly weird illustrations, which are reminiscent of Maurice Sendak’s: the children are like small adults with grown-up faces who populate a brightly-colored world filled with kindness. You receive the help you need, even if it’s not always the help you want. You get a story when you need it.

When it’s done, you may find that you want to be told another Mitzi, too.

**********
Segal, Lore. Tell Me a Mitzi. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux: 1970.

* For more on Lore Segal and her interesting history (plus more on the history of the book and the illustrator), check out this article by Marjorie Ingall.

Let me say this first: I should be packing. Tomorrow is the big day – finally! – and we’ll be moving. That overstates it, really: we’ll make the first big step in moving and we’ll sleep in the house tomorrow night. The big stuff goes; lots of small stuff is already in our storage/shipping container, and lots more small stuff will trickle in over the next week. We’ll figure out what to do with the big things that don’t fit (seeing as how we’re moving into a partially renovated work-in-progress house that’s just across town), right?

As much as it’s been taxing for us, the grown ups, with the craziness of two houses – our rental, which we’ve lived in for over four years, and our own house, which we’ve owned for nearly nine months but have yet to sleep in (although Matthew’s put in more-than-full-time hours there most weeks, often working double shifts and never getting time and a half), it has to be more stressful for Boy and Girl. Our rental is the only house Boy has ever known, and while it’s the third house Girl has lived in, we moved in when she was just two, so it’s really the only house she remembers. We’ve all had a long time to get used to the idea of moving and have spent plenty of time there, but it’s been like a playhouse, a place to visit but not a place to stay. On top of that, we’ve also had lots of false alarms; we’ve switched move-in dates half-a-dozen times. After all that, I think it’s going to rock their world to actually be moving.

So at dinner tonight, likely our last meal in our Brick House, I asked, “How do you feel about moving?” Girl said, “I feel a little excited and a little down.”  She said she’d miss the blackberries, the big backyard (even though she acknowledged that the other yard is bigger), and “the circle of trees.” Our Brick House is ringed by trees, with sky and clouds just over the house, a little window into the heavens. This makes the backyard shady much of the day in the summer, which is good for kids who like to play outside in the summer. (Of course, this also means more ticks, I imagine, too.)

Boy didn’t say anything about moving, but then, he doesn’t have to: he’s been needier and clingier than usual. Our attempts at having him go to two days a week of preschool (which I felt uncertain of, too) haven’t gone that well; he said, “I wasn’t that excited about preschool today” and returned home with Daddy one day last week, and yesterday was a no-go, too. If he’d been a cartoon character, he would have been made of rubber and, as he clung to sofas and doorframes, his arms would have stretched like a piece of chewing gum. He played happily at home while I packed. Today, he went into near-hysterics when we took Girl to gymnastics; I went into the bathroom with her to help her change, and he walked into the room and took some pretzels (without telling us where he was going; I thought he was playing at the end of the hall). He didn’t know where I was, and even though he knew the teacher and at least one parent in the hallway (and the Community Center is someplace we go almost weekly), he sobbed. This was no mere sniffling but body-wracking. Sometimes words will do the job, but sometimes, you just have to be really, really sad. Moving is chaos and upheaval and major, major change (even on this scale).But it’s not all bad (and, coming from a person who has loathed moving her entire life, that’s saying a lot) – the house already has many charms and will have more the further we get into renovations, and it is our own!

As for Girl, when we talked about how the extra open space at the Bluestone House would both let us see the stars better and allow us to have a garden, she got excited. She loves to plant things. But she also made it clear that she’d feel better with her swingset there. We hope that having that there will convince Boy, too, that life will be OK.

And this is where we are. We’ve been caught between two worlds for too long, it seems, and I hope it will make all of us feel whole to be in one house all the time. Now, to figure out how to get that swingset moved…and get back to packing.

The school year’s begun – we’re nearly three weeks in, and starting first grade has been a little trickier than kindergarten. There were some early stomachaches and reluctance to walk into the classroom; even before school started, Girl said she was nervous (not that you can tell from her smile).

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When we asked if she had butterflies in her stomach, she said she had butterflies, birds, and worms. No wonder her stomach bothered her – she had an ecosystem inside her!

Things have mostly settled, as most things do. The only sign of homework was a reading log, which made me happy. In spite of my many years of teaching, I have some strong feelings against homework now: with only two fifteen-minute recesses (if it’s not raining and if no one has majorly misbehaved), there isn’t much free or outdoor time. I like to see her in the afternoon (or let her be involved in activities) without the extra pressure of homework. Besides that, Girl LOVES to read, and filling the log would be no hardship.

I asked her, then, if there would be other homework.

“There will be homework soon,” she said.

Tactlessly, I followed up with, “That stinks!” Not, perhaps, my best parenting moment.

“No!” replied my daughter. “That means learning and figuring it out.”

Ah. Yes it does. I think parents hope that they set the stage for a better life for their children, that their children will surpass them in all sorts of ways. I just didn’t know that it would start so soon.

School’s out, and the days yawn, tantalize, or drag on, depending on whether they’re filled with packing and errands or play and pleasure.

For the pleasure-filled ones, however, we are most grateful. Here are our greatest pleasures, of late:

  1. Picking blackberries. The patch down the road is in the slow-rolling ripening stage. We’ve been checking for weeks, smelling the white-blossomed flowers, watching the blossoms transform into green berries, then noticing the green-to-pink development. This week, we walked down and found that, in a few cases, the transformation was complete: blackberries! (Never mind that they’re really a deep purple and not really black.) Weeds and flowers rise among the brambles, and the snags on clothes and hands (or hair, arms, legs…) are just part of the price of picking. Girl enjoys picking them perhaps more than eating them, but Boy eats all that he picks, and when I put a handful into his cup, he upends it, and the berries roll down into his mouth, warm, plump, and sun-warmed, making the eating-berries-in-the-berry-patch experience at least twice as good as eating the same berries at home. It is completely glorious.
  2. Sitting on the front porch. Shaded from the near-summer’s heat, we do all sorts of things: Trim nails. Draw with chalk. Listen to – and watch for birds (especially pileated woodpeckers – those that Woody Woodpecker was based on. I think our local pair had babies!). Eat popsicles (homemade from grape juice, most recently). Eat blackberries. Snuggle on the bench. Read books. We finished Edward Eager’s Half Magic, a book I remember loving from my own childhood. Even after an adult read, I love it still. The possibilities in a world of magic! Something I appreciated, too: Jane remembers her father, who died, and while the book is about adventures and misadventures with a magic charm, the family matters add a little weight, bringing the book down from airy fluff to something more solid and earth-bound. Girl was engrossed, and we’re eager to continue reading his books.
  3. Playing with water. It’s hard to beat the joy a pool brings, whether we enjoy a friend’s pool or go to a public pool with friends (or make new friends while there). Girl’s swim lessons/swim team practices aren’t a chore but a treat. A puddle, real naturally running water – we should get out and enjoy more of that, too. Goodness knows Boy enjoys having his shoes off as much as possible! The hose at the Bluestone House is a big draw, too: arcing it to see rainbows, splashing water on the cars, watering the clover so it will grow – until they use up the water, of course (the ease of the plumbing manifold system – we can turn off the water supply to the outdoor faucet when needed!). I’ve even gotten them to paint with water on the driveway a bit, like Emily and I did when we were kids.

What are your greatest summer joys? For now, we’re looking forward to more blackberries!

March 6, 2016: A week or two earlier, Girl had been complaining that her tooth hurt. Given that brushing her teeth is not her greatest strength, Daddy postulated that she had a cavity and told her so, telling her to be sure she did a good job brushing her teeth. Days later I was looking in her mouth, and lo and behold, a new tooth, jagged and large, like a new mountain, was rising behind her right lower middle tooth. No cavity, but a cavity-making situation. On March 6th, she woke early – 6:20 on a Sunday morning. I told her to close her eyes, she wiggled her tooth, and all thoughts of sleep were gone: the old finally gave way to the new, and she’d lost her first tooth! The tooth fairy visited, bringing one Tennessee quarter and one Smoky Mountains National Park quarter.

June 4, 2016: The mountain range was growing. Behind her left lower middle tooth, a new tooth was rising as well – and the old tooth had been loose for weeks. While reading Anne of Green Gables that night, I said, “Why don’t you try twisting it, too?” She did, and out it popped!

June 12, 2016: Since her last dentist appointment in March, I’ve been flossing Girl’s teeth and helping her to use a fluoride rinse six times a week (she gets to choose which night she wants off). I noticed a discolored spot on her tooth that didn’t scrub away. Uh-oh.

June 13, 2016: After a visit to our very patient dentist (she was not keen on having an x-ray, saying that the little winged film hurt her mouth – he had to stay in the room and hold the film in her mouth while his tech took the x-ray!), it’s certain: there’s a cavity. *sigh* We’ll be on our way back to the pediatric dentist in roughly two weeks to begin the process of fixing that. Better fixed than made worse…but if it was that difficult to get that one x-ray, how will the rest of this process go?

I’d told Boy that if his diaper was dry for three nights in a row, he could sleep in undies instead of a diaper. In early December, we’d go two nights and have a wet diaper the third. Good rule, I thought, patting myself on the back. Glad I hadn’t set the bar at two nights!

For weeks now, his diapers have weighed the same in the morning as they did at night. Due to a rash, we’ve had to have a dalliance with disposables after more than two years of cloth. They felt so foreign, so wrong, so wasteful…so easy. I’d touch them to see if they were dry – they sure were! Of course, I couldn’t tell if they were dry from being dry or dry from being disposable. With cloth, you know – even if you have a AI2 and have to reach inside to check. I wasn’t about to cut his diapers open to feel the magic beads or whatever lives inside the diapers (small, inflatable fairies? They’d have one of the worst jobs ever!).

I decided I’d try the switch to underwear on a Friday – no wet bed to contend with on a school night, if it all went wrong. And it didn’t.

I might be a bit sadder about leaving this stage behind if it were the cloth diapers I was giving up now. However, in these use-it-once-and-move-on diapers, there’s no nostalgia, no “remember when’s.” We’re disposing with disposables, and I’m glad. I just hope that the rest of the nights are as dry as last night.

 

October 6th, Tuesday. Boy had his first car ride (and out-of-the-house trip) in underwear. He stayed dry, which the car, the Piggly Wiggly, and I all appreciated. Woo hoo! Within two or three weeks, he had fully transitioned to underwear during the day. Celebration!

October 6th, Tuesday (same day). Boy had his first real experience throwing up. There was a lot of orange food involved: cooked carrots, raw carrots, goldfish – so as you can imagine, this was quite the first. Sadness.

This was also Girl’s full week of fall break, her first real break from kindergarten (excluding Labor Day). She, too, spent it sick. Pretty much the whole week, between them. We each had a turn. Not the most fun we’ve ever had.

November 13, Friday. Yes, that’s Friday the 13th. No, we wouldn’t have picked it that way. Today, the house that Boy and Girl have dubbed “The Bluestone House” finally became ours. Their very own home – it will be Girl’s fourth home of residence but only Boy’s second.

November 30, Monday. Girl first tried and subsequently succeeded at tying shoelaces. Hooray! (And did you know that one method involves making two loops, not one? And apparently, it’s easier??) At school, beginning on December 1st, kindergarteners could get into the Jingle Bell Club. Once they showed their teacher that they could tie their shoes, they got to wear a jingle bell necklace every day at school for the rest of the month. Her entry into the club didn’t come until roughly two weeks later, but she’s now a confident shoe tie-er – not bad for someone who still has no shoes with laces.

December 9, Wednesday. Girl, Boy, and I all got haircuts. For Girl, it was her first time donating hair (two of the cutest little braids). She was delighted to have chin-length hair and never once thought she’d made the wrong choice. I donated mine, too (yea!). For Boy, it was his first not-at-home haircut. All the same, I think I’ll be cutting his again next time, which should really be today!

December 22, Tuesday. After going to the public library for an ornament-making craft, Girl got her first library card and checked out her first book: William & the Missing Masterpiece by Helen Hancocks. She was so proud of herself!

December 25, Friday (Christmas at the grandparents’ house). Boy was given his first pack of gum – Glee Gum, just like Girl got for Christmas when she was two – and chewed up a storm. Glee covered how he felt about it. (Sure, he swallowed a good bit, too…maybe we should call it “swallowing gum” instead of “chewing gum”!)

December 27, Sunday (our bonus Christmas at home). Girl received her own mug, “I (heart) Cupcakes!”, and was delighted. Sometimes, it’s the funny little things that are your own that become special.

January 2, Saturday. Girl read two books all by herself. I think she just holed up, snuggled in, and lost track of time. (What a great way to spend a day!) She read a Magic School Bus Chapter Book, Rocky Road Trip, and a Geronimo Stilton book, A Cheese-Colored Camper.

January 9, Saturday. Boy and Girl got to make pasta with their Auntie Lou. This was a first, and they enjoyed cranking the machine and helping to pull the pasta out. Family visit: yea!

After Matthew came home from a conference in Seattle (his return is always like a gift for the kids, whether it’s after a trip or just a morning at work), he unpacked his sack, Santa-style. (He should have laughed “ho-ho-ho,” too!) Among the goodies was a gift rolled in newspaper for Boy. He unrolled and unwrapped then said in high-pitched delight, “My very own mug!” His says “Seattle” and has one scene with a blue sky, clouds, and folks covered by umbrellas and another scene with a grey sky, clouds, and folks covered by umbrellas!

January 10, Sunday. Our first snow of the season that stuck. There was a little snow in December, the kind that decorates the air but not the ground, but this was enough to make a heavy powdered-sugar showing. Delight again! “I bet the house is wearing snow!” said Boy, upon seeing the snow on the ground, trees, and playset.

January 11, Monday. My first blog post in too long, my first reminder of the year of the many kinds of things that happen and pass all too quickly (or, in the case of stomach bugs, not quickly enough!) in the lives of small children.

Happy New Year, 2016!

His hair shone like sunlit wheat in the light of the lamp. Flecks of dirt dotted his scalp, remnants from a dirt-tossing frenzy before his bath, small points to ponder, periods to bring your complete thoughts to a close. Across his nose and cheeks, more flecks danced, freckles not to be washed away, not even with a better scrubbing than he got at bath time. His mouth was shut, and his breathing was so quiet as to seem silent. Partially open, his eyes registered nothing. Heavy and still he lay cradled against my chest, so different from the dirt tossing, somersaulting, climbing-wall climbing, swinging, book studying, block building, sister taunting, sister loving, pea throwing, noodle eating boy of his waking hours.

This peaceful boy, who both is and isn’t all those things, sleeps.

Miniature Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups were sailboats on brownie cupcake seas. Nearby, small polar-bear bags enveloped chocolate chip cookies – two, the number of cubs to which a mother polar bear usually gives birth. Above, Sriracha cheddar angels flew near gluten-free cheddar bats, blurring the line between visions of darkness and light. Heavy and earth-bound, pound cakes, crusty and golden, kept company with a moist yellow cake four layers high frosted with deep chocolate, covered in swirls pulled down from Van Gogh’s Starry Night.

Sailing the seas of brownies

Sailing the seas of brownies

The combination bake sale and lemonade stand to raise money for our local park was a delicious scene, crafted with care by all sorts of local parents. Children, including mine, crowded nearby, helping to attract customers with their sheer exuberant presence – or their sign waving and instrument banging/shaking/clacking. WIth faces painted, they helped the crowd attract a crowd. They meandered down to the as-of-yet-unimproved playground, swinging and running and playing. They were semi-autonomous children in a small town, fulfilling their right to loose supervision. They were happy.

The fiercest tiger grins

The fiercest tiger grins

We were happy, too, but it wasn’t the best part of yesterday – even when we found out that we’d raised over $1500.

The first shift

The first shift

After the sale was over, we headed down the mountain for a birthday party at a local gym – and in this case, I mean a gymnastics gym, one filled with joy-inducing equipment like a long trampoline, like a runway for kangaroos, and bars, which, yes, might be good for a monkey, and a ball pit, which would get any self-respecting dog drooling. There was bouncing and climbing and crawling and pizza eating, all with friends, and present opening (we gave the gift of Press Here by Herve Tullet, a favorite at our house), and when it was all done, we were sent on our way with goodie bags.

This, too, was a good part of our day, but it wasn’t the best part, either.

The best part waited until we were home, our little family of four, with goodie bags opened and scattered: long balloons, good for making animals (the house specialty: a snake, no twisting required), with a hand-held pump, and two glow bracelets apiece.

The balloons were a little bit of magic, like children, growing quickly before our eyes.

But the bracelets held even more magic.

I pulled up Girlpool’s album Before the World Was Big, and we turned off the lights, the better to enjoy the glow of the bracelets. Boy put a bracelet on an uninflated balloon, and they took it from there. He twirled the bracelet, and it glowed, a shining light in the darkness. Girl tried it with two, and with Girlpool’s spare guitar playing and singing, sometimes in harmony and sometimes in a single line, the web was spun. It was magic, and I was caught. The lights spun and twirled, and, with only their imaginations to limit them, Boy and Girl continued to spin their ephemeral web of light. Small circles, large circles, pairs of bracelets or one, just alone, attached to a balloon, rope-like – I could have watched until my eyes grew heavy or until Boy and Girl fell into a heap, joyful and spent.

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As it was, the album ended, the spell was broken, and Daddy turned on a light in the kitchen, the better for eating snacks. Regular life always hovers at the edges of the perfect moments, waiting to intrude, often with great impatience.

But it was there. Rather, they were there: the perfect moments, the perfect children, the perfect light, the perfect darkness, the perfect family. Maybe it doesn’t matter if they’re ever perfect again; maybe it’s enough that it could happen, and that it did.