Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Dream Dates

Julie and Steve fishing date
Once in awhile, someone will ask me the secret to raising five relatively normal, happy children. "Go out on lots of dates!" I always say. No, not the kind of dates involving sitters (though you need some of those too if you want a relatively normal, happy marriage). Instead, I'm talking about dates with your kids.

Early on, shortly after Evan arrived in fact, it became clear that Sheridan was going to lose 50% of our attention, and that figure would go down as more sibs hit the scene--and that would be true for the rest of them, too.

And so began the Seyfried tradition of individual outings with each parent and each child, every so often. Steve would take everyone out on their own for a "date" of their choosing, and I would do the same.

There was the afternoon at Funland when I almost sacrificed a thumb for PJ. We were playing Whack-a-Mole, and I was bent and determined to win my little love a prize. The whistle blew. I whacked away with the mallet. And whacked. And whacked. And finally dealt a stunning blow to my right thumb. Instead of a big stuffed elephant, poor PJ ended up with a sobbing, bleeding mother.

On another date, Sheridan accompanied me to a Philadelphia Orchestra concert and to dinner after. We ate Thai beef curry and glazed duck, 6 year old Sher chowing down like a pro: another diner actually stopped by our table to ask his age and marvel at his sophisticated taste. My Mr. Music politely said thanks, and added that we had just heard Brahms' Second Symphony. Fellow diner walked away, shaking her head (either impressed or disbelieving).

Evan was into a lot of action, which delighted Steve but challenged me. We usually compromised by going to an action packed, alien-filled movie, giving Ev at least vicarious thrills. Rosie was my shopper, so a trip to the mall was always the ticket. Julie and her dad bonded with afternoons at the water park. The kids always kept track of exactly who had taken who where, lest any of them miss out on parent-time. Steve and I felt like movie stars in those days, let me tell you, with our clamoring public!

Incredibly, even in their teens they asked for one-on-one time (albeit somewhere their peers were guaranteed not to bump into us). These were the rare, golden days when secrets were shared and future hopes discussed.

Evan and Elise, Kaneohe Bay, Oahu
Nowadays, the dates continue whenever possible. And, often, the kids now treat us (in Hawaii, Evan took me out to a lovely dinner every night). As a mom, I’ve made boatloads of mistakes--just ask my offspring. I yelled too much and expected too much and relaxed far too little. Regrets I have aplenty. There were so, so many times I wished for a do-over, and there are no do-overs in life.

But I think we got the “date” thing right. And that comforts me. I highly recommend them.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Scouting it Out

It's  Girl Scout cookie time again! I personally never eat a Thin Mint without reminiscing about Scout Days--my own and my children's. Given they inherited my genes, it's no big surprise that the little Seyfrieds bombed out of Scouting. We were, all of us, seduced by the spiffy uniforms. We were, none of us, prepared for the badges, and the great effort needed to earn them. Or the cookies/popcorn, and the great effort needed to sell them. Darn those spiffy uniforms! 

My one and only year as a Girl Scout, I was in third grade and still living in New York City. By April, my sash was still bare, as my fellow GS's busily sewed ’em on at quite a clip: not only did I not earn any badges, even if I had there was no one to sew them on--my mom Joanie proved that the day she subbed for our regular Scout leader at a meeting. We were working on a joint sewing project, and the fabric was spread across our laps. Mom chatted animatedly as her needle plunged in and out. At snack time, she arose, with the entire cloth sewed securely to her skirt. 

My other memory involves our "campout"-- in Brooklyn. We were staying in some park that had a large cabin--outside, the big city bustled. When it came time to forage for sustenance, we ventured out, compasses in hand, until we reached Gristede's supermaket, where we marched in (teamwork!) and surveyed the wilderness for edibles, which turned out to be Ring Dings and Coke.  Even in third grade, that seemed a little lame, so that was pretty much it for me. 

Sheridan and Evan both decided to try Cub Scouts, and good sport Dad was one of their leaders. Steve endured a series of meetings where the little hooligans raced around making ungodly noises, as the adults vainly attempted to restore order. They were worse at their campout—much worse. The bonfire? A great chance to play with flaming sticks! In the end, Steve decided he'd rather take his own, well-behaved, boys camping than babysit a bunch of zoo animals. Farewell, Cubs!

Rose and PJ skipped Scouts entirely (Rose had a brief--very brief--stint as a YMCA Indian Princess) but Julie wanted to be a Brownie. Tough year. I remember we were assigned Willow Grove Mall to sell cookies with another mom and daughter. This woman screamed at the girls to follow people who passed our table, begging them to buy. Longest few hours of my life.

Today at church, Parish Hall was packed with Scouts racing their cars in the Pinewood Derby. Every few years we know someone who makes it all the way to Eagle Scout. This program clearly works for some families. But not for us. And you know what? We’re all OK anyway. We may never get a badge in bugling, or pulp and paper (?) or first aid. 

Sher and Ev at the Pinewood Derby
But we can still eat the cookies, right?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

This Old House

Stuyvesant Town in Manhattan--where I probably still belong
I have no business owning a house. Especially an old house. Everything about its upkeep irritates me, and I resent every penny spent on it (and that's been many a penny). Nothing interests me less than cleaning, unless perhaps it's gardening, so our property is pretty neglected both inside and out. Sometimes I picture trying to sell it, and the look of utter horror on the realtor's face as she takes the grand tour. Yes, the mammoth 40 year old air conditioner is still in the family room (we only turn it on when the temperature tops 90 degrees, because when we do it shakes the whole place and makes so much noise we have to shout to be heard). Yes, we still have only one (scary-looking) electrical outlet in the dining room, have never replaced our drafty windows, and we have been planning to refinish the living room floor since 1993. And yes, we're still living with tiny closets better suited for Tom Thumb's wardrobe. Our ideal buyer would arrive with a sledgehammer and just start from scratch.

Part of the problem, granted, is our ridiculously tight budget, but that's not all of it. I just really don't enjoy home ownership. My early years were spent in a New York City apartment, and as I recall it was heaven. Nothing to maintain, one quick phone call would get anything broken repaired. Best of all, when it was time to move, we could just close up shop and walk away. As I grew older, we began relocating frequently, living in three houses (New York, Massachusetts and Georgia). My parents were truly dreadful homeowners, like me, but we never lived in one place long enough to do much damage.  Our happiest times were spent in recently built apartment complexes, where you could even call someone to come change the lightbulbs (Mom actually did that). Atlanta was especially great because EVERYTHING there was new—new expressways, new mega-malls, new office buildings.

My dislike of old things is at the heart of it, probably. I see no value in antiques or vintage clothing, and while I appreciate what occurred at historic sites back in the day, I’d enjoy them more if they were, you know, less dusty.

So here I am, saddled with a house of a certain age. A house that, slowly but surely, is falling down all around me. A house that, now that I think of it, is a mirror image of myself—getting old, poorly maintained. Soon it will be AARP and senior discount day at the grocery store for me, and I hate the thought. When I’m in shiny new spaces of stainless steel and glass, I can forget for awhile that I carry quite so much history inside me. I can wipe the slate clean and start again.

This Old House
I’ll keep yearning for that sleek high-rise (and that sleek young Elise), but for now this old house is my home. Time to start taking care of us both.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Read to Me

"Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away..."

And so began the sleepytime ritual for five children of a certain age. They would toddle over to the bookshelf, pull down the volume of choice, and snuggle up for a story (or three). I will never forget the coziness and special-ness of those moments. I introduced them to the classics--Rosemary Wells, Dr. Seuss, Arnold Lobel--and loved every second of the telling. Not so much? When they would haul over the humongous Richard Scarry book of Cars and Trucks and Things that Go, endlessly poring over the big pages looking for the hidden Goldbug, or when they went on a Disney book jag (note to whoever penned these over-long and atrocious treatments of Walt's movies--101 Dalmatians was 101 pages at least--I hid your books and pretended to have lost them!)

 I figured once they were in school, that would be that. They'd learn to read and would need me no more. But (whew) they still loved being read to. Julie in particular had a favorite favorite series, Junie B. Jones, the adventures of a precocious--some might say obnoxious--young lady. I used to "do" all the different character voices, and for some reason Jules was charmed by my rendition of Junie B. So much so, that she asked me to come into her class and read from those books right up through 3rd grade. Don't know if the other tykes got quite the charge that she did, but everyone was always very nice, and asked me to come back with more tales of Junie and friends.

Since I was pretty young myself, I always LOVED to read aloud. Vivid memories include reading my sisters (then 10 and 13) Gone with the Wind in its entirety, on the back deck of our house the year we lived in Massachusetts. Took weeks. Lost my voice in the end. Well worth it.

When Evan was a freshman in high school, he began to get headaches, just about every day. It was hard for him to concentrate on schoolwork at all, reading in particular. I felt for him, but wasn't sure what I could do to help. Finally one day, it dawned on me: read to him! And so began another marathon Gone with the Wind performance (accents, differentiated characters and all). Every night, I opened that much-loved book and began to tell the next chapter of the story. My poor kid lay on the sofa in pain, but listening, always listening. As I would discover, Rose and PJ, in an adjacent room, were listening too. When the indomitable Scarlett intoned, "Tomorrow is another day!" I closed the volume reluctantly. I knew it marked the end of my read-a-thons with my children, and it hurt.

Today, they are all avid readers, so I guess my job was done well enough. But who will cuddle with me tonight, when this baby-sick mom reaches for Goodnight Moon one more time?

Elise reading "Jolly Mon" to Rose (and Julie if she's listening:)
Steve reading "Just Dad and Me" to Sheridan

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Dear Ben and Te-Ping,

Happy Wedding Day! So funny to think that you were in first grade, Ben (and I was your mom’s 35-year-old friend) just last week, but here we are. I LOVE weddings, and am really looking forward to yours. It will be bittersweet because you two are headed off to a new life in Hong Kong, but what an exciting future you have ahead of you! 

I’m sure you’ve been getting heaps of advice from all kinds of people about navigating married life, and since you have been together awhile you already know each other very well too. But perhaps no one has touched on the following nuggets of wisdom, so I’d like to pass them along to you.

1)      There will come a day when you may need bifocals. All the better to see each other’s wrinkles. You’ll wonder at the fact that wrinkles are suddenly so attractive. 

2)      There will come a day when one of you will forget the anniversary of the first time you went out for coffee. The other one will still remember, and a tear may be shed. Don’t worry! Eventually, you will both forget, and go on to forgetting where the car is parked, your children’s ages, and where your bifocals are (check top of head). 

3)      If one of you is skilled in a particular area (handwriting, say) and the other is deficient, the skilled person’s abilities will decline over time until it’s chicken scratch for both of you. This is called compatibility.

4)      You are both extremely intelligent, launched on wonderful careers. This means you will often be tired, and perhaps a wee bit cranky. When that happens, you may engage in some barbed badinage: “Why, beloved, after a plethora of admonitions, do you persistently neglect to transport your dish and utensils to the washbasin in the scullery?” Perfectly normal.

5)       You will experience many moments of telepathy, when one of you knows exactly what the other is thinking without uttering a sound. When gazing into each other’s eyes at a romantic dinner out, for example, you will suddenly realize that your loved one is concentrating on the fight at the next table, or figuring the tip. It’s uncanny.

6)      If you have markedly different tastes in, say, movies or music, that’s OK. You’re both entitled to your opinion, as long as you remember that Ben’s is wrong and Te-Ping’s is right.  

7)      There will be good days and bad days, good years and bad years. Married life, like all of life, is a wild rollercoaster ride—but think about it: what’s the fun of riding a rollercoaster alone?

Wishing you a beautiful celebration today, full of joy and laughter. More than that, wishing you the happiness Steve and I have found with each other for the past 35 years, cranky, distracted, stubborn, and forgetful as we both can be. 

So go ahead, climb aboard. Hold onto each other’s hands, and enjoy the ride. 

Love, Elise