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DOUGH DATE + ARTFEST

Posted on: February 26, 2014

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Sometimes, when winter just begins to outstay its welcome and the entire city feels like an endless ocean of filthy slush, smoggy drizzle, and icy sidewalks, you look out of your window and want nothing more than to hibernate until the arrival of the spring equinox.  But instead, you lace up your boots, strap the babies in the stroller, and begin digging your way through Brooklyn, in search of fun and friends, and... donuts.

We met our favorite gang of Brooklyn Mama's at the absurdly delicious Dough.  The kids were more interested in looking out the window and counting passing umbrellas than in the actual donuts, which was okay with us because that meant more pastries for us and less sugar for their little teeth.  The things we do in the name of playdates.. :)  They found one particular spot just beneath the coffee creamers where they could all squeeze side by side under the counter and get a good look out the window- a makeshift toddler fort.  We stood back, eating their donuts (dulce de leche, creme brûlée, and salted chocolate caramel for us me... next time I'm trying the hibiscus!) and watching them carry out their little date without us.

Lately, when I've taken Biet on her playdates, I've felt more like an observer, a third wheel of sorts, standing against the wall and watching my kid hang with her friends.  My own interactive position as activity-leader has morphed into quiet sometimes-referee, and I find myself lingering in the shadows in case the kids need me to help with a game or to resolve a dispute.  She laughs, and creates, and fights, and makes up with her friends, and it blows me away every time.  I stand back watching this little firecracker of a girl who've I've known for nearly three years really begin to show the rest of the world who she is.  Soon, I imagine, she won't need me there at all on her playdates.  It's such a bittersweet stage to be going through, but then again, aren't they all?

We left Dough and made our way, a brigade of stroller-pushing city Mamas, through the ultra-slushy sidewalks and puddles of BedStuy to meet more friends for "naked toddler artfest".  At one point, after nearly tipping my double stroller (or "minivan" as my lovely friends like to call it.. very funny, ladies!) over, we ended up having to walk in the middle of the street because the snowbanks were too ridiculous (this cascade of snowstorms we've been experiencing is no joke).  Finally we arrived to the warm apartment for our much anticipated artfest. We stripped the kids down to their diapers and underwear, taped some butcher paper to the floor, and let them go to town with a rainbow palette of paints.  I don't know why we never tried this before.. it was a huge success! Naked artfests are definitely our new go-to rainy/snowy day activity!

So if you ask me, springtime still can't come fast enough, but we're definitely making do in the meantime. :)

WHY CHILDREN'S BOOKS MATTER

Posted on: February 20, 2014

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"If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales.  If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales."    - Albert Einstein

A few months ago, out of the blue, a torn and tattered paper package arrived in the post, labeled for me.  When I unwrapped the frayed edges of the paper I smelled a familiar scent, but I could not quite place it.  Then I saw the cover of the book, and a thousand memories flooded into me at once. "The Story of Babar," it read, and I knew the whole tale before I opened the first page.

When I was young,  a wee little thing, Babar was my friend.  He was my accomplice, my advisor, and my advocate.. and he always knew what I was going through. When the foster care system threw me and my sisters in and out of courtrooms and families and cities and states... he understood.  In case you haven't read the story (and I highly recommend that you do), Babar's elephant mother is killed, and he escapes to the foreign world of the city.  He learns to thrive there, with the help of a loving benfactor, and eventually returns to become the king of the jungle from which he was from, with his beautiful wife.   I used to request the story of Babar every single night, for many months, after my mother passed.  Then one day we were swept away in another move, to another home, and the book was left behind.  And with it, sitting on a dusty shelf, all of the promise and wanderlust of Babar's world remained, for two decades, just like that.  It was forgotten.

Until a few months ago, when it was returned to me.  And in an instant I realized how much children's books really do matter.

My long-lost cousin had tried to mail the book to me three times, originally as a baby shower gift for Biet, now almost three years old.  After navigating around misspelled addresses and unforeseen moves, it finally arrived to our Brooklyn home.   I opened the package and my heart flooded over: love, memories, forgotten hope, fantastical  dreams.. it all came forth.  It was like coming home after two decades of being away.  The smell, the words, the delicate illustrations- I knew them all, but then again, they seemed foreign.  I had to work to remember the story as I turned the pages, but when i did, it was magic.  It made sense.

I took Biet to the public library the other day to experience the exhibit, The ABC of it: Why Children's Book Matter.  I knew why they mattered.  I knew of the importance, the hope, and the promise that they lent to children.  I knew of the way in which a simple book could prepare you for the whole world.  I knew of the magic, the glory, and the shameless imagination that a fairytale could inspire in you.  I knew, and I wanted her to know.  And as she made her way through the life-size storybook exhibitions and listened to the excerpts in the wall-mounted recordings, I knew that she would understand their significance one day.  She would find the words and the pages that she needed to help make sense of her world, just as I had.

I now keep my copy of Babar- the same copy that I begged my caregivers to read me as a child, the same copy that instilled hope in me so long ago, up high on a bookshelf, a relic of magic and loss, thoughtfully preserved.  I will read it to Biet one day, when she is ready.  For now, we peruse the books at the library and make up magical tales on our own.  We pause at the end of the marble library hallway to introduce ourselves to the woman sitting there who sketches in her sketchbook the leaves that she has collected from parks all throughout the city .  We take a moment to grin in silence with our best friend, and stand together upon the windowsill, looking out at the whole world bustling below.

Reading fairytales to my babies will help them to make sense of that big, bustling, frenetic world outside.. in time.  And I'm honored to be the one to be reading now, as my children listen in wonder.




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