Never sign your children up for anything

 photo IMG_3561_zpsbd50760d.jpgThe biggest mistake I’ve made as a parent is that I started a playgroup for my firstborn when she was four months old.

FOUR MONTHS. Think about this: Why the heck did she need a playgroup at four months of age?

Let this be a cautionary tale to you new parents. Because, after a few months of pleasant chatting with other moms while our babies kicked their chubby legs on blankets spread carefully over the rug, the little buggers started reaching out and taking each other’s toys. I later remember the three little boys and three little girls all lurching around on unsteady legs, so excited to have someone their size to push over or hold onto when the world got spinny.

And, just like that, my daughter had a social life. And she knew there was a world “out there” that she wanted to explore.

So explore we did.

We went to “mommy and me*” gymnastics, swimming, and music classes that consisted of her swinging a tambourine around in my lap while we sang the most godawful tunes. As she got older, we added art classes, dance instruction, the “everyone gets a trophy” soccer teams, and group nature hikes where we drove twenty minutes to collected the same leaves and acorns I could collect in my backyard.

The whole time, I thought I was so smart. We weren’t overdoing it. Even as she got older, her activities never became of the “five day a week” variety like I saw with some of her peers.

But, I kept having children. And they too learned about playgroups and gymnastics and art classes. Last year, they even took indoor rock climbing classes!

Because I apparently forgot the whole mathematical rule that says (and I paraphrase): If you keep having children and keep adding activities, the cumulative effect will be that you will become batshit crazy. Or X + Y = *(@)#&!(*!!!!!!!!!!!!

This year, when I tried to assemble our jigsaw puzzle of a schedule using a color-coded spreadsheet, I had a revelation that I shared with Liz: “NEVER SIGN YOUR CHILDREN UP FOR ANYTHING.” Because now that they are 8, 10, and 12, they know there are so many things out there to do, and the world is their oyster.**

As homeschoolers, I could have had three children happily whittling away on the porch, who later go off to tend their backyard garden, or who retire inside to knit and read. I could’ve smugly laughed at all those parents who need color-coded spreadsheets to keep track of the days. They could’ve been hermits, and not even lonely hermits, because they have each other. And the squirrels in the back yard.

Instead, I’ve become that person in a minivan driving to the performing arts school, dropping off two kids so I can then drive the third to swim lessons, before picking up the other two, and rushing everyone home for an 8pm dinner.

It all started, I swear, with that playgroup when my oldest was four months old.


*we live in a more enlightened time now where these classes are called “parent/child”, but back a dozen years, things weren’t so politically correct

**provided their parents can afford it; horseback riding lessons, hockey, and skiing are still on the back burner for that reason

Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker: Another reason to love the holidays


Photograph by Gene Schiavone

A few years ago, I started taking the girls to see The Nutcracker. They were both studying ballet, and their friend was in a local production. Plus, I was really, really curious to actually see the ballet in its entirety, having grown up as one of those poor, underprivileged children who never got to get dressed up to go with Mum to the famous ballet each December.

I’m not sure it’d feel like the holidays now without The Nutcracker. Back in November, I start to get excited to bring the girls to see their friend who, this year, is playing Clara in her dance school’s production.

But when the Boston Ballet asked if I’d like to check out their newly revamped version of  The Nutcracker this past weekend—along with a tour backstage to see the brand-new sets—I leapt (and pirouetted) at the chance.

I chose to bring Jilly who studies ballet herself, and the two of us headed up to Boston’s Opera House which deserves its own paragraph of “wow”, “gorgeous”, “stunning”. All dressed up for the holidays in gold and red, it felt like we’d stepped onto the set the moment we walked into the lobby.


Upon arrival, we were given a “goodie bag” for us bloggers and media folk who had been invited to attend. Inside, Jilly found something that may rank up there with her favorite gifts ever: A pair of used pointe shoes from one of the soloists, Ashley Ellis.


Broken-in (and autographed) pointe shoes? This is what dreams are made of.

As for the production itself, there was plenty to awe us both. I had read of Artistic Director Mikko Nissinen’s decision to completely redo the sets and costumes (created by designer Robert Perdziola), as well as add new choreography and characters. I never had the chance to see previous years of the Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker for comparison, but, wow, I loved so much about this production.

The sets have an old-fashioned storybook feel to them, with so much detail incorporated into them, they would actually make a gorgeous picture book if they were ever shrunk down and bound between covers. Let’s make that a pop-up book, okay?


Photograph by Gene Schiavone

So much glitters in this production that it really adds to the feeling that you’ve entered a dreamland: from the sparkly costumes to the shimmering snow and the pretty silver sleigh led by silver reindeer, it’s all very magical whether you are 9 or 40-cough-something. And Mikko Nissinen has a great eye for cool special effects like the huge shadows the mice cast which makes them seem so much more threatening, and the took-my-breath-away moment when the towering, glittering Christmas tree grows to over 40 feet in size.

Though it is the dancing that really makes this show worth the drive into Boston and the higher-than-your-local-dance-school’s prices. The quality of every dancer on stage is so high—-from the adorable little polichinelles that spill out from under Mother Ginger’s skirt, to the gorgeously athletic leaps and dizzying spins of the soloists. It has us all breaking out into spontaneous applause throughout the show. And, the young girl who played Clara was so beautiful and expressive on stage, I could tell exactly her emotion from 20-or-so rows back.


Photograph by Gene Schiavone


The best thing about it all though was turning to my left and seeing how excited and energized Jilly was by what she was seeing on stage. I know The Nutcracker’s story line can be a bit confusing and–well–odd, especially if you haven’t seen it several times. But, armed with the scene-by-scene synopsis in the program book and charmed by this spectacular performance, this may be one more holiday tradition to look forward to each year.


Jilly. . .someday?

Are you a Nutcracker family? Do you take the kids to see if every year too?

You can find out more about the Boston Ballet’s The Nutcracker on their website. Also, go here for details on half-priced tickets. 

Thank you to the Boston Ballet for providing us with tickets to the ballet and the memories to go along with it. All opinions are my own.

The older mom

I met her years ago, briefly, in our town’s library—the children’s section of course—while her three children browsed for books, and I ran around trying to keep my toddler son, D, in control as he was trying to litter the floor with board books.

Her kids seemed familiar, but they were not. It’s just that she had two older girls and a younger boy, just like me. We spoke for a few minutes and I discovered that they were spaced similarly to my three: about two years between the girls, and then—whammo—a short 18 months between the middle girl and her son. Though, they were not peers with my brood: Her kids were about three years older than mine, making her son about five that day in the library, and her girls around seven and nine. They seemed so much older.

We didn’t talk long. I remember that we laughed about how crazy my life was right now, and I’m pretty sure she reassured me that it would get less hectic.

I’m sure I’ve met other moms like this over the years, but this one has stuck in my mind for years. Maybe it is because her kids kind of looked like mine—-especially her little blond son. Maybe it’s because I hoped I’d look like her in a few years—slim, blond, dressed in non-rumpled clothes that didn’t have food stuck on them. Maybe it’s just how memory works—for no reason at all, I could still pick her out of a crowd in about 10 seconds.

I see her in town every year or so. At first, I’d say hello as we passed, but when I realized she has no idea who I am,  I stopped. But, I can’t help myself: as soon as I see her, I quickly scan the area and try to spot her kids which isn’t easy since I don’t really know what they look like. But, recently, I saw her son standing by her side—still blond, handsome, and almost as tall as her shoulder. Too old to be holding her hand, but not too old to keep his distance from his mother. This made me extraordinarily happy.

I think what is happening is that I feel like I am looking into a mirror—–one that shoots me forward three years—-whenever I see her. Truthfully, it’s not her I’m looking at though. In fact, she may be younger than I am—I have no idea. But, looking at her kids who I see so infrequently, reminds me of how quickly my own will be that age, that size.

I’m sure that someday  in the next few years, I will see her walk into the supermarket with a young man who towers over her and still calls her “mom”, in a deeper voice that wasn’t there before. I hope she doesn’t see me tear up as I walk past.