A Backpack For Ryan

I’ve had kids’ backpacks on my mental sewing list for some time. Nathan has one that I made a long time ago from an old pair of Dave’s jeans, and I still like it, but it was definitively figure-out-as-I-go and there are some things I could have done better. And now that we’re going to Free School two days a week again, I’d like to pack their lunches in backpacks rather than the much less convenient bags I made last year.


For this project I turned to By Annie, because I’ve had awesome luck with using their foam instead of batting to give body to bags. Also they have lots of patterns on their site, including one for a mini backpack.

Yes, using a pattern has some advantages. His backpack has pockets in front, pockets in back, and pockets inside — some zippered, some not, one with little credit card sized slots. The whole thing is sturdy and compact and (he agrees with me) pretty cool looking, especially since he got to choose the fabrics.

And now it’s time to work on Nathan’s…

Another Birthday

Ryan’s birthday this year was heralded by his demands — starting in the spring and slowly increasing in frequency as the year progressed — to know how many days it was until his birthday. I have to say that we’ve reached a significant milestone this year, though: he can now subtract. Once we hit September he became very adept at doing the minor math required to answer that question for himself, and his interaction with me was reduced to verifying his accuracy.

I may have let all that anticipation go to my head. On the Village Free School day closest to his birthday I decided to bring a birthday treat for him to share with the school. He loved this; not only did it extend the birthday celebration, but it meant that the whole school gathered in the lunch room to wish him happy birthday, which seemed to produce the same sort of shy pleasure in him that I vaguely remember from being six.

This did mean that I started a somewhat dangerous tradition, of course. Not only did I bake cupcakes (with strawberry frosting, no less!) for his actual birthday, but I baked forty-eight miniature chocolate cupcakes with chocolate frosting and sprinkles for the VFS celebration as well. And with Nathan’s birthday coming up in less than two weeks, I know I’ll be doing something comparable for him too.

Oh well, it was totally worth it.

Fort Stevens

The Back-To-School campout was a last-minute thing; what I’d planned for our second camping experience was a two night stay at Fort Stevens state park, and that has now been accomplished. This was Camping Lite again — even lighter, this time, as we stayed in a deluxe cabin with electricity and a shower. But this made for a very easy couple of days. Other than the fact that the cabin doors had handles rather than knobs and therefore Mica could let herself out, the space was simple and essentially baby-proof. (She discovered her ability to open the doors within an hour of arriving and I must admit that the power rather went to her head.)



Outside was a veritable paradise of woods, a long narrow lake, sandy beaches, climbing-accessible trees, and the ocean. (Also the fire pit, which Mica found fascinating but fortunately also a bit intimidating.) I’d chosen Fort Stevens not only for the deluxe cabins but also for the wide variety of activities available, and it totally paid off. One morning the kids and I took a long walk around the lake, picking huckleberries and climbing a handy leaning tree. We visited both the Russell Battery and Fort Stevens itself, although we didn’t give the latter nearly as much time as it could have warranted. Ryan liked talking about big guns and they both liked exploring dark, echoing spaces.



Visiting the shipwreck of the Peter Iredale was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the trip. The simple and miraculous joining of ocean to land was plenty to entertain the children by itself, but with a skeletal iron structure to climb on, and dodge waves near, and jump off of, they could have stayed for hours more — and that was before they discovered the fun of running and sliding down huge dunes of sand. Mica, after being thoroughly soaked and deciding she was done with the water, spent her time playing in the sand and trying hard to investigate a dead sea bird.

The final verdict was that two days was not enough. In addition to my month and year calendars, I now need to work out a multi-year planning system, so that in a few years I can be reminded to book a more extended stay.

Back To School Campout

Every year the Village Free School does a Back To School Campout, and this year it happened not too far south of us. I hadn’t planned to go at first — what do we know about tent camping anyway? and did I really want to do that with a baby? — but when I mentioned it to Nathan, he was hugely excited by the prospect. Both boys have been looking forward to Free School again, especially Nathan, and since one of my goals this year is to help them integrate better into the school despite being part-time, it seemed as good a time as any to dip our toes into tent camping.

We did compromise a bit on the logistics. Dave was not interested in participating, and I was not interested in managing all three children, so we split the family: Dave kept Mica at home, and the boys and I went on an adventure. Mica and I both found this a little uncomfortable as she is still nursing, but we managed. I did keep having “phantom-baby” sensations — the overwhelming sense that I needed to look around for her, or that I ought to be doing something with my hands. On the other hand, I had multiple long (10-15 minute! sometimes longer!) conversations with other adults, and even spent some time reading a book.

This was possible because the boys, unlike the baby, ended up being surprisingly self-sufficient. Sure, they needed to be fed and given an occasional hug, but otherwise I was astonished by how little effort they required. The camp site we were in was too dry for fires and too far from bodies of water for convenience, which limited the official activities available — basically it was a large field turned into a tent village, surrounded by trees and scrub. The boys hooked up with the other young kids they’d known from last year and would disappear for an hour at a time into someone’s tent, or take turns with them scrambling up into a tree, or… well, I don’t honestly know what all they did. Other than spot checks to make sure they were still alive, I let them go free range. There were occasional larger-scale games, like Capture-The-Flag (including a kids vs. adults round), and when darkness came the entire student population would try to freak each other out playing “Slenderman” (a more recent variation on the eternal bogeyman game) while the adults sat around talking or playing some of the games people had brought.

And for our first tent camping experience, I thought things went well. True, our first night included a pounding storm with one of the most impressive lightning displays I’ve ever seen — I lay awake for an hour or so watching the flashes through the tent roof. But that’s just part of the fun, right?


Early on in my parenting career I was surprised to find that many people seemed impressed by large babies. “What a nice big boy!” other parents sometimes said; one mother would laugh about her peanut-sized babies. I think it’s partly those charts that the doctors keep insisting on showing me at every well-baby check-up — “She’s in the 90th percentile for height,” they tell me, “and the 75th for weight, and her head circumference is…” Somehow those charts trigger a competitive instinct in parents, already gearing up for being proud of future SAT scores.

Even with Nathan I didn’t care much about those numbers, but with my third baby I find them absolutely irrelevant. Sure, keep track so that if her weight drops suddenly we can have a clue that something might be wrong, but as long as she’s somewhere within the range of normal, I don’t care how she compares to other babies.

Well, that isn’t entirely true. With this much parenting experience under my belt, I do sometimes wish I had smaller babies.

Smaller babies are easier to carry around, for one thing, and I need only compare the strength of my left and right arms to prove that I spend a lot of time carrying a baby around. Smaller babies don’t outgrow their carseats long before they’re supposed to move on to the next step up. And, given the uncanny ability of any baby to maneuver, while asleep, to a sideways position on the bed, I have to imagine that smaller babies would have a harder time performing the trick that I like to think of as The Wedge (head against one parent, feet against the other, and push!).

And a smaller baby would not, at barely over a year old, already be able to grab things off the kitchen counter.


Now, a certain amount of chaos is inevitable in a baby-containing household, and of course we don’t expect things to stay where we put them, and we know to always check our shoes before putting them on (Mica loves the Putting Things In game right now). But what keeps the system working is that, while the baby is still too young to exercise appropriate “please don’t touch that” self-control, they should be short enough that most horizontal surfaces in the household are out of reach.

Should be.


Her absolute favorite horizontal surfaces are the computer tables, where there are keyboards to pound on, and doing so sometimes Makes Things Happen. Also there’s the convenience of wireless mice, which means that any unattended mouse can be filched right off and carried around the house, to be set down in a random location once interest fades. A random location like the living room couch, for example. Or under her high chair, where she was distracted by the remains of lunch (also known in Mica-world as a “buffet”). Or in a closed bathroom drawer. Did I mention she likes the Putting Things In game right now?

I know that in future her height will serve her well — I really enjoy being tall, outside of occasional situations like airplanes. But couldn’t she start putting on those inches later? Like, maybe when she’s five?

The Coast

Last week, as we sat at breakfast, Ryan asked me “What are we doing today?”

“We’re going to the coast!” I told him.

“Aw, man!” said Nathan, and Ryan added, “I don’t want to go to the coast!”

Some months ago I discovered that the kids thought they didn’t like the coast. This was so much at odds with our past experiences, not to mention all common sense, that I’ve been unable to do much more than file the notion away in my “crazy things kids believe” file and move on with my life. Getting in at least one day at the coast each year is one of my tacit goals, and even though they both resisted the end-of-school Free School trip to the coast, there was no way they were getting out of our family day.

Accordingly they shortly found themselves bundled, protesting, into the car, and off we went.

We headed for our favorite spot on the coast, Smuggler Cove, just north of Manzanita. It has everything — a short but beautiful hike to the beach, wonderful sand, tide pools when the tide is low, a couple of streams (one of which had spread into a wide, warm pool), and all the usual rocks and driftwood and such to play with, all surrounded by the incredible beauty that is the Oregon Coast. And it may not surprise you to learn that, in spite of their dire predictions, both boys actually managed a modicum of enjoyment.










In fact any disinterested observer, noting the amount of running, splashing and digging that commenced, might have thought they were loving it. In the late afternoon, when we herded three hungry and very grubby children back to the car, their tune had markedly changed. “I want to come back to the coast again,” Nathan told me, multiple times. And then, for emphasis, “Soon.”

Totally Necessary

One might argue that, given the infrequency of my visits to fabric stores compared to, say, grocery stores, a special fabric bag for carrying out my purchases from said fabric stores should not be on the top of my list of things to make. All I can say is that, once I got this idea, it seemed completely, totally necessary to make it.



Dave pointed out that it’s big, and asked if I was planning to fill it up on a regular basis. It is big, and if I did it again I’d make it smaller and with longer handles. And no, I don’t have to fill it completely every time…


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