Monday, December 24, 2012

Do They [need to] Know it's Christmas?

Who remembers this BandAID video from 1984?*  The sentiment is fine, but nowadays even the question "Do They Know it's Christmas?" feels so so very Americentric. I can pretty well guarantee that, in Ethiopia, they do not know it's Christmas.

I say this with some authority because I am right here *in* America, smack in the middle of America in fact, in my messy American kitchen this morning, here on Christmas Eve day, and planning not one single Christmassy thing for the two kids in this as-Jewish-as-it-needs-to-be household.

No tinsel, no lights, no glitter. No racing downstairs with the dawn on Christmas morning. No lifting the plump heavy stockings down from the fireplace, or -- even better -- happily cradling them in two hands because they are too plump and heavy to keep hanging and have been thoughtfully laid on the hearth. No candles on the buffet. No traditional Norwegian foods, no songs, and certainly no tree.  None of the Christmas joys with which I was so lovingly raised.  We've chosen to partake of a different tradition.

Some would argue that it's a more tenacious tradition. Some would argue that a December Dilemma choice for Hanukkah instead of Christmas -- as opposed to "both" or "with grandparents" or "hybrid" or any of the other impressive number of holiday permutations and workarounds -- represents the choice between mellow gold versus glittering brass; deep diamond versus flashing cubic zirconia; subtle harmonies versus trumpet fanfares. OK, in fairness, I don't think my kids would say that if you dangled a sparkly tree and a pile of presents in front of them, but they had a terrific Hanukkah, spearheaded by my amazing sister who is a Village unto herself, and I am great with that.

So, no, my kids don't know it's Christmas, any more than most Ethiopians.

That said -- and before I am accused of sociopathically missing the point of BandAID's hard work and Christmas as a whole -- I don't think my kids need to know it's Christmas. Because shouldn't Christmas be every day? Peace on earth? Goodwill to men? In America, Ethiopia, and Israel too? 

I'll share a little sumthin' sumthin' I've picked up over the last few years: the Jewish faith celebrates Christmas every week. And, what's more, the Jewish people are exhorted and commanded to celebrate Christmas every day, all day.

How's that, you say? Well, every week, there is a day set aside to light candles, give thanks, eat a special meal, bring strangers into your home, give comfort to those who are alone, give charity to those in need, and live in total peace with yourself, God, and others for just one day. Every week. They call it Sabbath.

Imagine if everybody did that? All the time? Every day? Or even for one special day each year? Gee, that day would be starting to look a lot like Christmas . . . and, some Jews believe, that day would herald the arrival of God's kingdom on earth. Sounding familiar?

I am posting in haste and without much proofing because I was just now interrupted by the pittypat of little feet in pink tights and a blue sequined swimsuit cover-up. "I yam all dwessed!" she announces. "I weah this shirt two weeks evewy day!"

But if I don't get back to making a lump in my own throat on this happy day and magical night and the following holy-day, God bless us, every one. Peace on earth. Goodwill to all men.


*OK, I am probably just a little sociopathic because I can't thinking that BandAID probably raised more money for men's hair products than for the famine in Ethiopia. Check out those stylin' styles.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My Preschool Hanukkah Lesson

To celebrate the 2012 holiday season, we are moving into a new house, balancing a four-month-old and a four-year-old, emerging from a scary bout of croup, participating in a co-op art show, and planning three (3) major December trips, one of them outside the country. 

Accordingly, Five Kids Is a Lot of Kids's "When Good Enough Turns Out to be Good AND Enough" has hit me right in the necessaries. This concept deserves lapel pins, colored ribbons, and an Awareness Day.

My Good Enough this month: preschool Hanukkah. As the parent of the only Jewish kid in the class, I was approached for a Hanukkah Day contribution. I tried not to look too deer-in-the-headlights as the teacher enthused over past years' activities.  In one banner year, apparently, a Mama appeared with a frying pan and cooked latkes right there for all the kids. The word "latkes" was, in fact, tossed around several times during the discussion.

Now, although I am committed to raising Jewish children, I have never in my life made a latke. And I didn't think that my first time should involve 15 preschoolers and a vat of hot oil. So I cheerfully agreed to do something, then went home and cast about for an alternate activity.

Idea #1: maybe we could make sufganiot! (Wait, that falls into the "preschoolers and hot oil" category.)

Idea #2: ok, what about baked donuts? (Oh. "Preschoolers and hot oven" is not really better.)

Idea #3: let's make little oil lamps! (Right, yes, mixing preschoolers, hot oil, and fire.)

The class is already doing marshmallow menorahs. Hunh. Those clever teachers snapped up the easy one.

More Googling ensues, landing me eventually at the story of Yehudit, which is suspiciously similar to the story of Ya'el, but who cares because it does not involve hot oil. Instead . . . cheese!

Down the cheesemaking rabbithole we go, desperately searching for a no-cook recipe. This, as those in the know will know, is a good challenge. But I found one, and the next day buttonholed the teacher with a full report:

Me: " . . . and we'll have to edit the story of Yehudit some, because in the real story she cuts off the general's head and we don't want it to be gory so instead we can just say he fell asleep and . . ."

Teacher: [cautiously] "Well, you know, it should be simple, or else they lose interest . . ."

Me:  [frenzied babbling] ". . . so that's the tie-in to the cheese, and then it's a combined snack and a craft, well, we might not be able to really make cheese, but that's okay, because it should be quick and not too much mess, and we can use the sink right? but we won't have to cook anything . . ."

Teacher: [edging slightly away] "Maybe you could just bring some cheese?"

Me: "and I could bring cheesecloth so they'd each have their own little . . . wait . . . did you say just bring cheese?"

Teacher: [clearly used to dealing with irrational four-year-olds] "And maybe a book?"

Me: ". . . a book? To read? Just a book?"

Teacher: [gently] "We even have Hanukkah books, if you don't want to bring one."

Me: "Bring cheese? And a book? And that's it?"

Teacher: "Well, if you have some of that flat bread, they might like that, too."

Me: "Matzoh? Sure, yes, um, I can bring cheese and matzoh."

Teacher: [probably greatly regretting the whole conversation and greatly relieved to be shut of this crazy-eyed Mama] "That would be great, just great, and you could maybe read a story to them during snack time. They would love that."

So I was off the hook, right? No fancy combined-craft-and-snack activity required. No best-ever Hanukkah doings expected. No adaptations of gory Bible stories. No homegrown cheese recipes.

You would think I could be content with that and move along. But even so, I didn't feel it was enough. It seemed totally inadequate for the Hanukkah Day activity provided by the Mama of the Only Jewish Kid In The Class. So inadequate, in fact, that I even crazily attempted to crap out at the last minute:

Me: "He'en, how would you feel if I just sent the snack tomorrow?"

He'en: "But? But you are com-een, wight?"

Me: "Well, I thought maybe I would not come to class. But you would have your snack."

He'en: [tears begin to flow] "But! But you are com-een to cass, wight?"

And that's where I realized, Duh!

DUH, Mama!

It's not about the Hanukkah craft or activity or latkes or anything else.  Duh! It's just about com-een to cass. Little He'en just wants to show off her Mama to the class and provide a snack. Of any kind. Duh!!!  I don't know how I missed that. It's just been such a month, I guess. But DUH.

So the Good Enough Preschool Hanukkah, in the end, included:

NOT a cleverly adapted Yehudit story. Just me, ol' boring Mama, reading aloud a whopping two pages about Hanukkah from A Mouse in the Rabbi's Study.

NOT matzoh. Couldn't find it this time of year. Instead, crackers from Walmart.

NOT Hanukkah gelt. Walgreens was sold out. Instead, stocking-stuffer chocolate coins.

NOT re-enacted handmade biblical artisan cheese. Instead, oh, I can't even type it:

That. I did that. To 15 unsuspecting preschoolers. For Hanukkah. If Judaism had hell, I would be going there.

But you know what? It didn't matter. The kids happily listened to their excerpt. They cheerfully ate their crackers. They delightedly savored their "gelt."

And afterward, my child -- the Only Jewish Kid in the Class -- was beaming with pride and delight.

It was enough.

And it was good.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Stories: Princess Helen and the Red Dress

He'en no longer asks for this story. It saddens me, because the Princess Helen stories are some of my favorites, and this is my favorite of the short-lived series.

Once upon a time, Princess Helen lived in a castle high in the mountains. She loved her subjects in the village below, and they loved her back.

Princess Helen's favorite color was red.* She had red everything. Her bedroom was painted red. She had a red rug, and red curtains, and a red bedspread.  "Red, red, red," she would say, "Red is my favorite color!"  And of course all her dresses were red. So, every day, Princess Helen would wear a red dress.

The people in the village below noticed that she only wore red dresses. "Wouldn't you like another color?" they asked. "A purple dress, or a blue dress, or a pink dress?"

"No, red is my favorite," said Princess Helen.

But the villagers didn't believe her. They thought that another color would make her happier. So, one night, while Princess Helen was asleep, the villagers snuck [N.B. - sneaked?] into her castle and took all her red dresses out of the closet. They took them all away. They replaced them with orange dresses, yellow dresses, green dresses, purple dresses, pink dresses, grey dresses, and dresses in all the colors of the rainbow. They were beautiful dresses, but they were not red.

When Princess Helen got up the next morning, she went to her closet and found that all her red dresses were gone! There were beautiful pink dresses, purple dresses, gold and silver dresses, and dresses in every color of the rainbow, but no red dresses at all.

Princess Helen was so sad, because red was her favorite, and she had no red dresses to wear. So, what did she do?

Little voice: I daw-no!

Did she sit down and cry?

Little voice: Yes!

Well, she did for a minute, probably, because she was sad. But does sitting and crying solve anything?

Little voice: Nooooo . . .

That's right, sitting and crying doesn't solve anything. So Princess Helen had a good cry, and then she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. And then she got up and found a pair of scissors. With those scissors, Princess Helen cut up one of her red curtains and . . . made another red dress!

Then she left the castle and went down to the village, wearing her new red dress.

When the villagers saw her wearing a red dress, they realized that red really was her favorite, and that she was really happy wearing red and not some other color.

So the villagers said they were sorry. And they came up to the castle and took away all the pink dresses and orange dresses, all the blue dresses and white dresses, all the gold and silver dresses, and they gave back all Princess Helen's own red dresses.

And everybody lived happily ever after.


Should you ever use scissors to cut clothes or curtains?

Little voice: Nooooo....

That's right, it's just in the story.  You cut only paper from your craft drawer. And you always tell Mom first that you're going to use scissors, right?

Little voice: Wight.


*Although He'en's actual favorite color is "pink! and puhpoe, and sio-fer, and gode!", the Princess Helen story has always been about the color red and does not change. I dunno why. I'm just the Mama.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sweetly Tangled

Dragon Girl is overdue for a post. She's staying with her wonderful auntie, so I even have time to do the post.  With Child #1, I had lots of time to send detailed emails to my family outlining when Child #1 napped, what she wore, how much she was eating, &c., &c.  Poor Dragon Girl, Child #2, just gets some formula whenever she cries, a clean diaper, a cute outfit if I'm exceptionally well-organized that day, and away we go again.

But, at 4 months, she is now doing stuff.

The 4-month mark is my biggie. Some plump for the 3-month mark, but I can't say that was a milestone around here. At 16 weeks on the planet, however, Dragon Girl is a delight.  We're through the floppy alien-eyes stage and she is "home" nearly all the time now. There is very little eye-rolling and much more focus. There's a little person looking out of those eyes, in fact.  I figure she has at least as much processing power as the average housecat and probably much more than our famously stupid dog. She knows that the microwave "beep" means imminent milk, and she greets me with a smile from her crib in the morning. She will even giggle at a funny sound or a tickle on the changing table.

Of most interest, she is making her hands work for her. I can tell that she enjoys it.  She will reach for her Ladybug toy and handle it for a long time with a satisfied little dolphin smile on her plump face.  We passed through the swatting stage pretty rapidly; she is now reaching and grasping with pretty good accuracy. I forgot that they don't develop 3D processing for a while. She will try to pick up the tree branch printed on my coffee sleeve. We got a lot of mileage this weekend out of the crinkly envelope window on a piece of junk mail.

And, best of all, she gets all tangled up in Mama.  Often after feeding her, I will get ready to put her down and find that her arm is stretching like a strand of mozzarella, because she's fallen asleep clutching a little handful of my shirt collar or bathrobe. She is happy. I am happy. I love being sweetly, sweetly tangled with this little Dayenu girl.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Draydoh, Draydoh, Draydoh

He'en's preschool Holiday Program is approaching. This one sandbagged me, and I am triple-booked for the day. Fie upon't. With Sister's able assistance, I probably can rearrange things enough to get there. After all, He'en is approaching the age where she just might remember if I attended or not.

I would ask DH to cover, but I'm keeping a low profile about the Holiday Program.  I expect it's the usual mishmash of Christmas traditionals, a token rendition of "Dreidel Dreidel" for the two Jewish kids in the school, and then the rest are about what Sister calls, "Reindeer songs, a totally gray area."  Maybe they've included something Kwanzaa-ish if they are really ambitious.

To my lapsed-Lutheran ears, this all sounds pretty harmless, but DH could have a differing opinion and I don't want a tussle.  We don't have time for a tussle, and we don't have any options anyway. There is no Jewish preschool within an hour's drive, so our religious homeschooling, such as it is, falls on my patently unqualified shoulders. For four years, I've been limping along with the help of, and since He'en can recite basic table grace in Hebrew, I think I am doing pretty well. For eleven months of the year, I am doing pretty well.

For the twelfth month, oy vey, enter the Christmas season.  It's such a widespread problem that there is a catchy catchphrase for it, and if you Google "December Dilemma" (hereinafter "DD") you can read more than you ever wanted to know. Here's one to get you started. Here's another, this one by a rabbi.

Everyone approaches the DD in a different way, according to the mandates of their hearts, faiths, and families. When DH and I decided to raise the kids exclusively Jewish, my parents were incredibly sporting about the DD. Without a fuss, they converted their Christmas presents to Hanukkah gifts. They even have accepted the absence of the grandkids on that great glittery day. Instead they welcome me, staggering in solo every year for Mom's Week Off, Oh, and Christmas, Too, and sleeping for 12-hour stints blissfully alone in a hotel room - O Holy Nights indeed!).

But no matter what you choose to do with your kids, unless you live in a seriously Jewish community, it's just plain tough to say to a four-year-old, "Those 14 aisles of glitter in Target are for other kids, not you. You get this blue-and-silver endcap with the menorahs printed on the napkins. And we light some candles. But don't feel marginalized!"

He'en, however, seems to be quite competently working through the theological difficulties on her own.  This morning, she was singing a little wheedly song into her egg.  On closer listening, I realized it was "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel." *Except that He'en is working on the letter L, still, so "Dreidel" rhymes with "Playdoh.")

She is so happy and content, meandering through this simple little song, and then she launches into "Jinguh Beyos." Then she abruptly stops.

"MOM!" (Every "Mom" lately is smartly spat like the "Sah!" on a Marine's first day of boot camp.)

"Eh? What? Yes?"

"You kin cewwebwate [celebrate] Kwistmas and still be Dewish, right?"

"Little one, you certainly can."

"Becoss I am Dewish no matter what, right?"

"Yes, you are.  No matter what."

I think she has summed it up nicely.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stories: How Maleficent Got her Castle Guards

[N.B. - The Maleficent Stories are getting more simple, but He'en is still buying them, so we carry on. This one requires appropriate sound effects, indicated in caps. In this regard, it is helpful to have only a preschooler for your audience. They will appreciate it. Others may not.]

Once upon a time, Maleficent was flying around the kingdom, making mischief --

Aside: "What does that mean?"
Little voice: "Making twubble. Because she iss twubble."
Aside: "That's right, she is trouble."

-- and a thought came into her head. And the thought was, "I think I would like some guards for my castle." [See How Maleficent Got Her Castle]

She knew she would need lots of guards, so she looked for lots of something. She flew and she flew until she found a field of dandelions.

"I will have those for my castle guards," she said. And in a POOF of green smoke, she turned all the dandelions into castle guards. But because they were --

Little voice: "DAN-de-yions!"

-- right, dandeLIONS, the guards all started to ROAR!


"I do not want a castle full of guards saying ROAR," said Maleficent. So in a POOF of green smoke, she changed them all back to dandelions.

Maleficent flew on until she found a field of bluebells. "I will have those for my castle guards," she said. And in a POOF of green smoke, she changed all the bluebells into castle guards. But because they were blueBELLS, the guards all started to go DING-A-LING-A-LING!


"I do not want a castle full of guards all going DING-A-LING-A-LING!," said Maleficent.

Little voice: [giggle]

So in a POOF of green smoke, she changed them all back to bluebells.

Maleficent flew on until she found a field of crabgrass. "I will have those for my castle guards," she said. And in a POOF of green smoke, she changed all the crabgrass plants into castle guards. But because they were CRABgrass, the guards all started to go SNAP SNAP SNAP with their crabby claws!


 "I do not want a castle full of guards all going SNAP SNAP SNAP!," said Maleficent. So in a POOF of green smoke, she changed them all back to crabgrass.

Maleficent flew on until she found a field of pigweed.  "I will have those for my castle guards," she said. And in a POOF of green smoke, she changed all the pigweed plants into castle guards. Now, pigweed is very strong and sturdy, and so were the castle guards. They were made from PIGweed, so once in a while, they said SNORT and OINK. But they were very good guards.

"These are the guards I want for my castle," said Maleficent. So in a POOF of green smoke, she magicked them all to the castle.

And that . . . SNORT . . . is how Maleficent . . . OINK . . . got her castle guards.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Brewster's Thousands: A Love Story

Remember the movie Brewster's Millions? IMDB sums it up nicely, thusly: "A minor league baseball player has to waste $30m in 30 days in order to inherit $300m; however he's not allowed to tell anyone about the $300m deal."

I basically have the same challenge, except that a) the numbers are more reasonable, and b) I am allowed to acquire assets. Well, Stuff, anyway. We're moving forward toward the new house. Closing is set. We're waiting for a final word from the bank.

This is the Dream House, the aerie for our baby eagles, our home base for the next 20 years or so. It's also substantially larger than our current rental, and so Stuff is needed. Stuff and More Stuff. And, oh, after so many years of pouring every penny into the business, please please let it be Pretty Stuff!

To his everlasting credit, DH has declared that Pretty Stuff is in order at last, and he has given me a generous nest-feathering budget. I still am Midwestern enough to want a bunch of bang for my buck. I've created Pinterest boards for each room of the house, and I've had an absolutely lovely time playing "high/low" with furniture.

But here's the catch:  DH is an entrepreneur's entrepreneur. If there's money sitting around, it squeaks in a Jiminy Cricket voice, "Invest me! Invest me!" until it gets diverted into a new venture. Accordingly, if I do not feather this nest just as fast as I can, my nest-feathering budget will turn into a portfolio-diversifying budget.*

There's another catch: DH, reasonably, wants a say in how his nest is feathered. Here's where I learn that I could never be a designer: you pick out everything, and it works perfectly, and it's all in budget and set for on-time delivery, and then the damned client goes and has opinions. What the what?!

Psst . . . okay, don't pass this around . . . it is lovely that he has opinions. It's nice to be working together again on something, anything.  For a decade, we pulled side by side at the very heavy wagon of a busy law firm. Those were largely harmonious and happy years, surfing the monster waves of a real estate boom and a two-lawyer lifestyle.  All we did was make boatloads of money. We ate a whole lot of take-out. We paid a terrific guy named Wes to walk our dog, tidy our house, and pick up our dry cleaning. We barely fought at all. When we did, it was about making bigger boatloads of money. (Make no mistake, those days went out with Bush II. Do not write to me for cash).

Then came children.

Now, children are a blessing; we'd never go back; they give new meaning your life; radda radda. It's all true.  I also am sure that having small children brings some couples closer together. Somewhere in the universe, surely there is a closer-together couple with kids under five who are cooing about how the night feedings, baby drool, shrieking time-outs, diaper changes, preschool runs, and whack-a-mole bedtimes raised their marriage right up to the next level of intimacy.  Somewhere. In the universe.

When you find that couple, I want you to send them right to me, so I can make a zillion dollars off their Oprah and Ellen appearances.

With saintly patience, therefore, I accept and even cherish DH's decorating vetoes.  I appreciate that he realizes there's a house that keeps the rain off the Stossel.  I also appreciate that he's willing to bankroll a decorating project. I appreciate that a whole lot.

So I strive for good cheer while watching my carefully selected designer-copycat rooms disintegrate into the "collection of stuff we just plain like" style of decorating. At the most extreme our new home will look a lot like our preschooler's outfit from this afternoon's walk: pink and lavendar glitter shoes, white tights, black tulle dress with a leopard print bodice and pink trim, red sweater, pink hat with sequins, purple mittens. It's a total fashion mashup, and she's happy, because it's all stuff she likes.

Mashup or not, it's all good.  The last five years have been a very rolly rollercoaster.  I feel -- and am truly lucky that -- we've made it to the rollout, a long clankety place where I can slow down a little, breathe a little, and relish the mundane-but-not-simple task of picking out furniture with my husband. For the nonce. Until he finds a new capital-intensive venture. Spend! Spend like the wind!


* Lest you think I joke about allocation of resources, when we owned our last house DH bought an airplane while I frittered around delaying the kitchen remodel until a cabinet door actually fell off in my hand. Although I have never claimed to be the brightest bulb on the tree, I don't intend to make this mistake twice.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Mountain Chic and Other Myths

After a week of vibrating like a violin string from a virulent combination of sick kids, moving boxes, bank loan activity, and a family pre-Thanksgiving celebration (the only bright spot in a dark week) -- all of which may be the subject of future posts, so stay breathlessly on this channel -- I have settled down to the challenge of Packing for the Big City Trip.

Why, may you ask, am I Packing for the Big City Trip when said trip is thirty days away? Yes, you may well ask. And I will answer: in the next twenty-two days, we are closing on a new house, moving to a new house, traveling for Thanksgiving, and sending DH off on a series of business trips that will leave me largely single parenting, albeit with Sister's able and faithful assistance.

The upshot: I am using this calm before the storm to get my Big City gear fitted out and dry-cleaned before I forget something. Like underwear.

The Big City Trip will include a stay at one of the region's sniffier lodgings (where women weren't even allowed in the door until our generation), luncheon with a notable Ivy League professor, a cocktail event, and a black-tie wedding, plus assorted gypsying-around-the-Big-City activities.  All of this requires clothing.

"Oh," says DH, "Just throw a few things in a suitcase." Um, yeah.

The black tie event turned out to be the easy part.  I found a formal gown in my closet to fit over my lumpy Mama-body. (Miraculous. Let's hear it for hoarding.) And the thrift store, on command, coughed up a vintage opera coat, like this, but black velvet and ankle-length. Who knew, right? Apparently when you shop at the Christian Outreach Benefit Thrift store, prayers get answered. Anyway, I can rock that look.

The luncheon and gypsying activities are much, much more difficult. You'd think, because we live in a mountain town, that I could portage my Mountain Chic look over to the Big City without any effort whatsoever. But it turns out that Mountain Chic is not really what you wear in the mountains. You don't wear blazers to the grocery store in three feet of snow, even if they are tweed, and especially not with shorts. And the Fall 2012 collections have, in my opinion, gone completely off the beam with stiletto hikers.  If I scuffed these boots on a fallen log, even assuming they could be worn anywhere outside a limo, you would hear me screaming all the way to Milan's Spring 2013 Fashion Week. Which has already happened. So it would be a time-traveling scream.

Ergo, although I have lots of mountain gear, I am not Mountain Chic. I have flannel shirts (from my favorite consigment shop). I have skinny jeans (even one pair that's not maternity). But the look somehow does not approximate this Michael Kors combo.  I know my limitations. I could buy a nice sofa for that amount of money.

Off to glare the closet while Dragon Girl sleeps. I will report more soon.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Sweet Peace, Bitter Guilt . . . Oh, the Heck with the Guilt

I was just thinking that I haven't used the "momguilt" label enough lately. It's a lovely late-fall afternoon. Snow is melting off the trees. Turkey soup is underway on the stove. Challah dough is obediently rising, and in a few minutes I will collect He'en for the braiding.  I will go shovel the porch in just a moment. Probably.

Dragon Girl is napping in her bassinet after a happy day of snuggles and play with her beloved auntie. He'en is in her room with a new My Little Pony, enjoying her time of snuggles and play with her beloved auntie.

And I, am I holding either one of them? Playing with either one of them? Oh, no. I am sitting in the kitchen nibbling cheese and crackers, perusing other momblogs.

On the one hand, I want to defend myself and say "Well, I had all night with Dragon Girl, and a cozy morning snuggle, and we'll reconvene this evening for the night shift."

As to the older child, I want to defend myself and say, "I took He'en to the thrift store, and we sewed together on her Halloween costume, and we made challah dough together and we will soon perform the happy daily ritual of braiding it."

Those things sound good. But they do not a full day constitute.


20 calendar days later:

Pfft, what was that? I am so over the guilt. Those things do damned well a full day constitute.  About six seconds after I sat down to write the above post (completing only what you see), Dragon Girl woke up and demanded milk; He'en emerged from her room and demanded everything; the dog arose from her cushion and demanded pets, treats, and in/out/out/in activity, and everybody generally required a bit ol' slice of Mama Pie.

Accordingly, I post the above and this coda as a reminder to Mamas everywhere, and myself, too:  carpe the heck out of those precious me-moments. You never know when they will appear, and they are fleet fickle little suckers.

Now here is He'en, announcing that she has goosebumps and crawling into my lap as I type. I must go debump my kid.


Three minutes later:

Goosebumps soothed, He'en announces calmly, "I'd yike honey on my Cweam of Wheat. Oh. And yast night I peed in my bed an' my jams."

Oh indeed.

Now, what I was I saying about seizing those little moments?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Whaddaya Want for Breakfast? v.1

When I was pregnant with #1, I had grand and firm ideas about parenting. I would do thus-and-so. I never would do this-or-that. And, though the merciful heavens know that I don't like to judge, any parent who does such-and-such is clearly off the rails.

Fast-forward nearly five years, and I have managed some thus-and-so, but also fallen into some this-or-that, and have participated in an embarassing amount of such-and-such.  The reality of kids is just a different animal:

Eating in the car?
Before kids: "Never! Have some respect for the vehicle!"
After kids:  Cheerios everywhere.

Food bribes?
Before kids: "Pshaw! Those parents are smoking crack!"
After kids:  "If you're good for just five more minutes, just five, okay, two, okay, one, okay just put that down and we will have a treat at checkout."

Before kids:  "I will always make sure the child is decently dressed."
After kids: Have bodily carried into an airport carried a screaming, thrashing child wearing a Tinkerbell nightgown and no underwear. (In my defense, we managed to negotiate some coverage in the rental car return bay).

Lest any nonparents doubt, I am having an apple core shoved in my face as I type with the announcement, "Yook how much I ATE! Now YOOK how big my bey-ye [belly] is, do you see?" with a cheerful display of preschooler skin over the pajama waistband.

Yes, pajamas. And, yes, it's 4:30 p.m. I told her to change clothes after preschoool and she did. Pajamas are clothes, right?  I guess so.  I am not about to quibble over the choice of clothing. This is how low we go.

*** time warp to the following morning ***

But the ground I have held, and still hold, is the one marked with the big neon sign that says I Am Not Running a Restaurant Here. This morning provides a perfect example. I am cracking eggs into a bowl and I ask He'en if she wants White American or Cheddar in her eggs.*

Mom: "Would you like White American or Cheddar?"
He'en: "Um, I wan' a dip-dip egg in-stead."

"Dip-dip egg" = over easy. Unfortunately for He'en, I had already started to scramble the eggs in the bowl.

Mom: "Sorry, sweetie, I am making scrambled today. But you can pick your cheese."
He'en: [welling up] "But! But! But I really wannnn-ed a dip-dip egg!"
Mom: "Tomorrow you may have dip-dip egg. Today is scrambled."
He'en: [spilling over] "But I wan'ned it to-DAY!"
Mom: "Yesterday you were very upset that you didn't have raisin bran. So this morning you have raisin bran. In the same way, I will make you a dip-dip egg tomorrow."
He'en: [unable to speak through stormy fake sobs]
Mom: [wearily] "Go ahead to your room until you can get ahold of yourself, honey."
Foley: little feet trotting off, then a fair SLAM of a bedroom door.

I continue scrambling eggs, with White American cheese, because that sounds sorta good to the Mama this morning. After a decent interval, I hear a rustle from the living room.

From the living room:
He'en: [cough, cough]

In the kitchen:
Mom: [scramble scramble]

He'en: [cough, cough]
Mom: [scramble scramble]
He'en: [cough, cough]
Mom: [scramble scramble]
He'en: [cough, cough]
Mom: [scramble scramble]

She blinks first and edges into the kitchen.

He'en: [cough cough] "Mom? I fink I am sick."
Mom: "Oh, you do? Too sick to eat breakfast?"
He'en: [clearing throat] "Yes. I fink I just need some med'cin."
Mom: "So no breakfast. Well, that's a shame, because I just dished you up some mandarin oranges."

This was straight-up dirty pool: mandarin oranges are her particular favorite. And, in this case, as they have so many times before, they triggered a miracle cure. Next frame: Happy He'en, cheerfully eating her mandarin oranges, raisin bran, and scrambled eggs with White American cheese.

It would really have been easier to just ask her, "What do you want for breakfast?" But, as I said, I'm not running a restaurant here.

*I know that some parents -- my own mother possibly among them -- would wonder if this choice of cheese, standing alone, gives too much leeway. But Sister says, and I agree, that a) kids need to practice making choices and living with consequences, and b) there is so little that a 4-year-old can control in her world that it's healthy for them to get choices whenever practical. Note those last two words: wherever practical. That means practical for me, the Mama.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Undaunted, or, The Backfire

Helen is contentedly eating her pink-dyed, flower-shaped, Sunday morning pancake when I discover the counter graffiti:

Mom: "He'en? What is the rule about markers on the counter?"

He'en: [pausing a mouthful of pancake with a guilty start] "Um . . . I'm sawwy?"

Mom: "I am sure you're sorry, but what is the rule?"

He'en: "No dwaw-een wifout assking."

Mom: "That's right. This is permanent marker. That means it's very hard to get off. After you eat your egg, you will help me scub it off."

He'en: [cheerfully, through a mouthful of egg] "O-kay!"

After a decent interval, He'en is installed with sponge, soap, and a mandate to scrub until the black mark disappears. She sets to.

He'en: [scrub scrub] "I yam skwubbing."

Mom: "Yes, you are."

He'en: [reflectively] "I am do-ween Miss Tina's wuhk."

Mom: "Well, Miss Tina's work is cleaning and tidying, and that is everyone's work, all the time. But she does the very best job of it."

He'en: [scrub scrub] "Whew. Diss is HAWD."

Mom: [with an unlaudable level of parental satisfaction] "That's right, it is hard.  Keep scrubbing."

He'en: [scrub scrub] "Whew. I am TYE-yud!"

Mom: [firmly] "That's right. And when you draw on counters, and places where you shouldn't, Mom and Miss Tina get tired because we have to work hard to clean it up."

He'en: [contrite] "Eye unna-Stan."

Mom: [inordinately pleased with the outcome of this object lesson] "Let me see . . . nope, no more is coming off. I will try Comet later. You can stop scrubbing now."

He'en: "Iss oh-kay. I will keep skwubbing."

Mom: "Okay, if you want to."

Time passes. I wash dishes. Scrubbing sounds and the occasional gasp of effort emanate from the other end of the kitchen. Until:

He'en: "Mom! Yook!"

She has worked up a half-inch layer of soapsuds and now waves the sponge as if she's conducting Ride of the Valkyries.

Mom: "Oh, that's very . . . um . . . don't throw soapsuds, honey."

He'en: "I haff made a Y! Two yines up, and one yine down!"

She points, then adds another little flourish with the sponge. Suds cascade off the counter and onto the floor.

Mom: "That's very nice. Um . . . the counter . . . could . . . oh, never mind . . ."

I throw a dishtowel on the floor in the general direction of the soapfest.
He'en: "Come see! I am vewwy fast, so you can' see me goin'!"

Mom: "Yes, that's a very nice Y."

Scrub scrub scrub scrub . . . scrub, scrub. Suds are now ghosting around the kitchen like snowflakes.

He'en:  [joyously] "Now I haff made an H! It goesss two up and one acwoss. Come see!"

Mom: "Come see your H?"

He'en: "Yes! Okay!  I am done wiff dis counter!"

Shedding a small flurry of soap bubbles, she slides off her stool and brandishes her sponge with a bright sparkly look. Suds and water run down her arm. They puddle on the floor. Her bathrobe arms are sodden. She never has looked more cheerful. I am certain that she has no recollection whatsoever that this delightful morning activity began as a punishment.

He'en: "Dat countah is ALL clean!  Now what else kin I skwub?"

Her lack of remorse powers her through the other two kitchen counters, the microwave, a set of cabinets, the front of the fridge, and the stepladder before her arm gets tired.

I am filing this one under "Father's Gene Pool."

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween: The Reawwy Scawwy Dwagon (or not)

I picture Momblogs all over the world hissing and cracking with febrile Hallowe'en posts. This is a kids' holiday like no other, and the obligations are substantial:

1. Costume for preschool costume party (simple and washable)
1.a. Class treats for same
2. Costume for trick-or-treating (preferably a weather-responsive update to preschool costume)
3. Decision about trick-or-treating: downtown or local Treat Street?
3.a. Travel for same
4. Selection and purchase of pumpkin
4.a. Decision about same: grocery store or pumpkin patch?
4.b. Travel for same
5. Carving of said pumpkin

Even Hanukkah is easier:  hit Walgreen's for 8 days' worth of little gifts, pick up a package of odd-sized candles, and yer done.  Shalom.

But Hallowe'en is a lot of parental work, and I am sometimes tempted to declare the whole holiday Satanic and just forbid the kids to participate, like my parents did. (As a parent myself, I now wonder if that was a totally religious decision, or did they just perhaps get the tiniest bit tired of dealing with the whole shebang?)

But, that rant ranted, I enjoy the ramp-up to Hallowe'en, and I particularly enjoy making the costume. My parents made our costumes before Hallowe'en went Satanic, and I remember with great joy the painting of cardboard boxes for a robot, stretching fabric over chicken wire for an ice cream cone, and selecting princess dresses for the obvious. He'en also is highly tolerant of Mommy's dress-up fixation.  So, when it came time to start dressing my child for Hallowe'en, I was On It.

The first year, she was a tiny buffalo complete with a faux-fur hood and hump, felt hooves, and little felt horns. The next year,  I made a frog costume with a yellow felt tummy and glitter-glue spots. (That year, we hastily trick-or-treated in an unfamiliar town due to a surgery in the family and the costume didn't really get good air time).

Last year, she expressed preference for a Pink Cat costume. I found a pair of plus-size pink fuzzy leopard print pajamas (I know, right?!) and sewed a tunic out of them. Added black tights and eyeliner whiskers:  win-win. She helped a little and has joyfully worn the Pink Cat for dress-up all year.

This year, we flirted with Princess, briefly discussed a couple others, and then He'en announced "Oh! I KNOW, Mom! I want to be a . . . Reawwwy . . . scawwy . . . DWAGON! Wif' gween eyes! Yike Maweficen'!" Yes, of course, like Maleficent. I should have known.

I launched the project with great enthusiasm, recycling the barely-used Frog costume by sewing a little silver lame quilted dragon belly. There was much painting of foam and fitting of wings. The horns were duly affixed to the mask.

All was in order. A very happy He'en trotted off to yesterday's preschool party, flapping her wings and roaring all the way.  She came home apparently delighted with both the costume and the whole experience.  I started to think about adult dragon costumes for DH and me, which I'd vowed were Just Too Much this year and which in the last 24 hours have become the subject of crippling momguilt.

This morning, however, He'en announced her decision to trick-or-treat as the Pink Cat again this year. "I wan'," she reflected, "to safe da scawwy dwagon for somefing REAWWY spessul."

I wonder what that "something really special" would be, if not the event of her escaping a motherly strangulation on Hallowe'en morning?

But it's not worth a throw-down because Hallowe'en is for happy. And, in all honesty, it's a lot easier to whip up some adult cat costumes than some adult dragon costumes by 4:00 p.m. today. 

So we looked up some cat makeup over breakfast, and that wandered us over to YouTube for some songs from Cats, and we had some fun while she ate her egg and apple. It was a serendipitously great morning. 

I will therefore conclude that Hallowe'en is not Satanic, per se, but it can be sneakily devilish.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stories: The Boastful Shark

Once in a while, Helen requests a story with a "mowwa." It took some drilling-down to realize that "mowwa" translates to "moral." So here is a story with a mowwa, which she will occasionally entertain as a variation on the Maleficent Stories.

Once upon a time, a shark lived in the light blue waters of a reef. He was a very nice shark, except for one thing: he tended to boast.

Mom: What is boasting?
Little voice: I doan' know.
Mom: Boasting is when you say something about yourself in a way that makes others feel bad.

Well, this shark liked to boast about his teeth. "I have the biggest teeth on the reef," he would say.

He swam up to a barracuda and said, "I have the biggest teeth on the reef!" But the barracuda only smiled with his sharp pointy teeth, and said "That's very nice," and swam away.

Mom: When someone boasts at you, that's what you do, okay? Just say, "That's very nice," and walk away.
Little voice: Okay.

Then the shark swam up to a grouper and said, "I have the biggest teeth on the reef!"  But the grouper only smiled with his tiny sharp teeth, and said "That's very nice," and swam away.

Little voice: What iss a gwoopa?
Mom: A grouper is a very tasty fish, but very smart, and some of them are bright pink and have spots.
Little voice: [cheerfully] Okay!

Then the shark swam up to a parrotfish and said, "I have the biggest teeth on the reef!" But the parrotfish only smiled with his little parrotfish beak, and said "That's very nice," and swam away.

Now the boastful shark had nobody left on the reef to hear his boasting. So he started to swim.

He swam through the light blue waters of the reef.
He swam through the medium turquoise waters of the deeper ocean.
He swam to the deep dark waters where the whales live.

And there he swam and he swam until he found a pod of . . . orcas!

Little voice: [deliciously fearful inarticulate squeak]

And that boastful shark swam up to the biggest orca and said, "I have the biggest teeth on the reef!"

Well, the biggest orca didn't say anything at all. He just smiled.
And he smiled.
And he smiled.
And he SMILED, bigger and bigger, until the boastful shark could see that the orca had . . .

"Oh, my!" gasped the boastful shark. And he turned around fast fast and began to swim as fast as he could!

Back through the deep dark waters where the whales live!
Back through the medium turquoise waters of the deeper ocean!
Back to the light blue waters of the reef!

And when he got back to his reef, panting and panting, the boastful shark didn't boast any more. In fact, he was quite nice to live with after that.

Mom: And what is the moral of the story?
Little voice: [with great satisfaction] Dere's always someone wiff a biggah set of TEEF!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lest We Get Too Smug . . .

Kids keep you humble. This morning, I packed up:

- the show-and-tell items
- the snacks for preschoool
- plates/cups/napkins/forks
- the go-bag with a change of clothes and naptime items
- a nutritious lunch complete with vegetable
- a well-fed preschooler
- with teeth brushed
- and a nice hairclip.

I schlepped it all to the car. Plus the baby:

- fed and happy
- wearing a clean diaper
- dressed in a super-cute knit union suit
- with a clean blanket.

I found the car keys without too much searching.
I found clean clothes for myself.
I am even wearing a swipe of BB cream and mascara.

Riding the Supermom high, I gushed to He'en as I strapped her into the carseat, "Well, you're all set for an awesome day! You have your show-and-tell stuff, a great snack to share, and we're even on time! Your life is pretty awesome!"

She thought about this for a moment, then judiciously observed,

"Well, but I doan' have a pet butterfye."

Can't win them all.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A Good Dose of Guilt

Last week, I started my day with a good dose of guilt. Parenting offers near-unparalleled opportunities for guilt. In fact, the more I think about it, I would say "unparalleled opportunities" without qualification . . . so much so that I am today starting a "mom guilt" label.

This particular packet of Guilt is hanging out with its good friend, Shame. Last week, I watched a huge semi truck back in to the grocery store loading bay. I mean, this truck was massive. The driver handled it like a surgeon's scalpel and edged it into the bay, next to another truck, with literally inches to spare.

Enter self, in the Huge Silver GroceryGetter, at the library this past summer. We are backing out, and I am dutifully resting my chin on my shoulder, looking behind me but talking to He'en at the same time.


Mom: "!@&&##!"

He'en: "Mom? What wass DAT?"

Mom: "Um, that was Mommy bonking into another car."

And that word you heard Mommy say, I hope you never repeat that. Or, if you do, say that you didn't learn it in this house.  I wouldn't mind cussing like a trucker if only I could drive like a trucker.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Banana: A Tragedy

Driving home from preschool, apropos of [I thought] nothing, the following issues from the carseat in a piping soprano:

"Mom? When we git home, kin I haff a ba-nana?"

Well, glory be, the child actually requested something healthy.

"Yes, dear child, of course you may have a banana."

But it's not that simple.

He'en: "Wiff a cut on da side? So I kin peeel it?"
Mom: "Sure, we can cut the side."
He'en: "An' I kin peeeel it?"
Mom: "Yes, definitely."

This already has gotten complicated enough that I know some further clarification is required.

Mom: "Now, do you mean, cut into pieces and then with cuts on the side so you can peel the pieces?"
He'en: "No, a hoe [whole] ba-nana."
Mom: "Ok, a whole banana. With a cut on the side so you can peel it?"
He'en: "Yess."
Mom: "You do know that I will have to cut a little around the top, to fix the banana so you can peel it."
He'en: "Oh."
Mom: "So is that OK?"
He'en: "Yes."
Mom: "A cut at the top. Then a cut down the side."
He'en: "Wight."

OK, this sounds simple enough, by He'en standards.  We arrive home. I pack He'en, school bag, lunch bag, today's craft, and a plastic fire helmet all up the stairs (leaving a peacefully sleeping Dragon Girl in the car, because Dragon Girl is Child #2 and we do things like that). An immediate round-trip secures Dragon Girl in her little lounger chair (I add that for those who are reaching for the phone with Child Services on speed-dial), and then I get about the business of the banana.

Mom [holding the banana and demonstrating]: "So, a cut here, and here?"
He'en: "Yes."

I make the careful slits in the peel.

He'en: "No! Moa cuts."
Mom: "Um, where?"
He'en: "Dere. And dere. Yike Brandon's mom cuts his ba-nana in his yunchbox."

Oooh, like Brandon's mom does it. Yes, of course. Now we get to the heart of the matter. I had no idea that yunch envy started so young.  This is now completely out of control even by my flexible standards, but I got myself into it, and the only way out is through. So I soldier on, although I cannot help thinking that Brandon's mom must be a very patient person.

Finally I have the banana skin slitted to specification. I hand the banana to a very satisfied He'en and dash off to -- at last -- use the bathroom.

Sweet peace reigns for about as long as it takes to say three-two-one-MELTDOWN.

From the kitchen:  "WAAAIILLLLL!"

From the bathroom, sotto voce: "Name of God, now what?"

With visions of knives and skull injuries flashing into my brain, I dash from the bathroom to the kitchen. "He'en?! He'en, what is wrong?"

She is sobbing over her banana, which reclines, vivisected, on the counter in a sodden nest of peelings.

He'en [gasping with grief]:  "It isss cut all da way fwew."

Stifling the urge to make banana paste out of the whole thing with one swift hand movement, I hug her instead and carefully inspect the offending banana. It is, indeed, cut all the way through. When I scored the skin, I cut too deeply, and the banana fell into neat sections as soon as she took off the peel.

After kissing and comforting with small effect, I remembered a trick from my own mother, bless her. I dished up a little sour cream and dished up a little brown sugar. Then I showed He'en how she could dip her poor battered banana wedges first into the sour cream and then into the brown sugar.  This adequately mollified/distracted her.  I turned to kitchen cleanup quite pleased with my mad mothering skills.

Until I heard, with a residual sobbing hiccup:

"Pease can I haff anuzzah ba-nana?"

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stories: How Maleficent Got Her Crow

[N.B. - This was the second of the Maleficent Stories. Accordingly, it's a little more elaborate than subsequent Maleficent Stories. I started to scale back the complexity once I twigged that He'en apparently was going to request a "New Mayefficen' Stowy!" every single bedtime until she left for college.]

Once upon a time, Maleficent was flying around the kingdom, making mischief --

Aside: "What does that mean?"
Little voice: "Making twubble. Because she iss twubble."
Aside: "That's right, she is trouble."

-- and a thought came into her head. And the thought was, "I think I would like a companion."

Maleficent thought a bird would be a good companion. So she found a hummingbird, because hummingbirds are very fast and good fliers.

"I challenge you to a race," she said to the hummingbird. "If you win, I will give you gold and riches. But if I win, you have to be my companion."

"Very well," said the hummingbird.

So they came to the starting line. "One, two, three, GO!" And away flew the hummingbird, ZING, fast and far!  But Maleficent cheated. In a POOF of green smoke, she magicked herself to the finish line. When the hummingbird arrived, she said, "I win! You have to be my companion."

"You cheated," replied the hummingbird. "I will not be your companion." And ZING, away flew the hummingbird, fast and far.

Well, Maleficent could not do much about that, so she looked for another companion. And she found a dove. Now, doves are not very good fliers, but she challenged the dove to a race.

"I challenge you to a race," she said to the dove. "If you win, I will give you gold and riches. But if I win, you have to be my companion."

"Very well," said the dove.

So they came to the starting line.  "One, two, three, GO!"  And away flew the dove (but not very fast, and not very far). Again Maleficent cheated. POOF! In a puff of green smoke, she magicked herself to the finish line. And there she waited. And waited. And waited. But the dove never showed up.

So Maleficent went back along the racecourse, and she found the dove sleeping in a tree.

"You are too lazy to be my companion," she told the dove.

"Very well," yawned the dove, and flew away (but not very fast and not very far).

So Maleficent kept looking for a companion, and she met a crow. Now, crows are very smart, and they are excellent fliers. So Maleficent challenged the crow to a race.

 "I challenge you to a race," she said to the crow. "If you win, I will give you gold and riches. But if I win, you have to be my companion."

"Very well," said the crow.

So they came to the starting line. "One, two, three, GO!" And away flew the crow, fast and far!  Maleficent cheated again, and in a POOF of green smoke, she magicked herself to the finish line. But when the crow arrived, before Maleficent could say a word, the crow turned around and flew back toward the starting line.

Well, Maleficent was so surprised that she couldn't catch up. So she magicked herself back to the starting line, where the crow was waiting.

"You cheated," she said to the crow.

"No, I didn't," said the crow. "You didn't say whether it was a round-trip race."

Maleficent and the crow glared at each other. Until, finally,

"I like the way you think," said Maleficent.

"I like the way you think," said the crow. "I will be glad to be your companion."

And that is how Maleficent got her crow.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Turning In

Last night, feeding Dragon Girl in the quiet darkness, I welled up with a moment of pure gratitude at how lucky I am to have small children. And while this sentimentality might well be extremely short-lived -- say, until breakfast -- and was certainly triggered by sleep deprivation, I did think:  how lucky are we to have time with these new lives, a time in which where the home is their whole world, and a time in which to reassure them that they are always loved.

At our last visit with Dragon Girl, my pediatrician mentioned the following study findings*: when a mother picks up her baby, some huge majority of the time -- let's say 87% for fun -- she holds the child turned face-inward, close to her, sending the message this is your world; you are safe. When a father picks up his baby, an equally huge majority of the time, he holds the child turned face-outward, facing the room, sending the message this is your world; explore it!

As a family, definitely are turning inward this fall. DH has been furiously spinning plates on the end of sticks for most of this year, and has been running even faster since Dragon Girl's arrival. His nesting instinct has seriously kicked in.  And he finally has succeeded in making two huge business deals. We are not really celebrating until all the checks clear and closing concludes, but DH is optimistic enough that he's pulled the trigger on a huge, massive, major project:  Looking at Houses. 

We started on Monday, and accordingly Dragon Girl is not to blame for all of last night's sleep deprivation. I had a squiggly-Christmas-morningy vibe going all last night about today's lineup of viewings. Five! We will see five maybe-homes today!

Ooooh, a home of our own,
to paint as we please,
to plant as we please . . .
. . . and, since we're not first-time homebuyers, I must add from experience . . .
to fix when it breaks . . .
to rebuild what we hate . . .
but ours, our own!

I am so excited to have a "growing-up home" for our girls, a place of goings-out and comings-in, and a cozy space for Dragon Girl that is more than a bassinet in the TV room.

So last night in the wee small hours, in the cozy dark when I really should have been sleeping, I planted and re-planted endless herb gardens, elk-proofed them, and re-planted them yet again; excavated a fire pit; painted the girls' rooms walls four or five times; ordered new furniture for same; stripped that headboard; ordered storage for the mudroom; and had two very firm discussions with DH about his penchant for wildlife artwork and heavy Victorian furniture.

It's time to turn in. Winter is coming. The air is honeycrisp at night.  The porch plants have been taken in. Our neighborhood mama bear is perched atop the neighborhood dumpster every night, trying to get fat for the winter. Nuthatches are fluttering over the feeder. Chipmunks are fat-cheeked with thistle seed. It's time to turn in.


*OK, it made for a nice introductory paragraph, but between us, dear reader, I have some serious questions about this study. For example, did the designers statistically adjust for the fact that fathers -- around here, at least -- seem to live in utter fear of getting spit-up on their shoulders or piddle on their shirts? Or that fact that the female is often feeding the baby either by breast or bottle, so why pick up the child face-out only to twirl them around for a feeding?  Plus, if Dragon Girl is any indicator, the parental message has a pretty narrow channel of travel. So far, the only messaging that Dragon Girl seems capable of processing is "I'm being held! Yay!" or "I'm NOT being held! Dammit!"

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Superheroes, Take 2

My previous post by the same name got derailed. Another thought wanted to be thunk, apparently, so I thunked it, posted it, and now return to drafting the post originally designated for this title.

As the mother of two girls, I thought it would behoove me to spend some time digging around on Miss Representation's website. This indie documentary, in the words of its own website (a new quote, germane to this post, as compared to Superheros, Take 1), "challenges the media’s limited and often disparaging portrayals of women and girls, which make it difficult for women to achieve leadership positions and for the average woman to feel powerful herself."

I can get behind this one hundred percent, but my still small inner voice is compelled to ask whether girl-children inherently suffer any more than boy-children from the urge to be something more than what they are?

Case in point: when dropping He'en off at preschool last year, I noticed one of her playmates leaping around the room. He would leap, then freeze, crouch, and glare at me. He did this six or seven times.

I confess that I sort of glared back, which must have disconcerted the kid's mother because she tossed me one of Those Looks from across the playroom and said with a little fake laugh, "Oh, he's just pretending to be Spiderman!"

It was on the tip of my tongue to say, Well, tell him not to be Spiderman near my daughter, because it's damned creepy. Instead, of course, I gave a little fake laugh back and weakly chirped, "Awwww, how cuuuute."

So here we are, browsing Netflix on Roku last week [Roku = best $90 a parent will ever spend], and He'en asks to watch the animated Spiderman. I told her nyet. Instead, I said, she could pick a new Barbie movie. Is this because I am trying to drive my daughter into an eating disorder? Hell, no. It's because I don't want my daughter leaping around the room, freezing, crouching, and glaring at strangers! 

Plus, in the wake of the horrible Aurora shootings, I am really hesitant about exposing her to any superhero franchise before it's absolutely unavoidable.  Barbie may not send the absolute best messages for girls, but at least I know that nobody will be beaten up or explode on-screen into bloody goo.  Additionally, He'en is sick of Little Einsteins and refuses to watch Sid the Science Kid because the first episode she watched was about getting shots at the doctor and she is terrified of reliving that experience.  We've watched every episode of Doc McStuffins at least twice. (For those who don't wish to follow the link, this animated series features a female child "doctor" to her stuffed animals, whose mother also is a female doctor, and whose dad is a SAHD. Awesome.)

In real life, I've switched to a great female pediatrician in part because I think she's a terrific role model for the girls. Her professional staff happens to be all-female as well.  And I try to "deprogram" in real-time when I read He'en the books that I had as a child:  "Can girls be firefighters? Of course they can! Can men be nurses? Of course they can! Our neighbor Mister Colin is a nurse. He was the one that you watched using the chainsaw to cut up that tree last summer, remember? Well, his job is helping hurt people get better. Someday Mom will teach you to use a chainsaw, by the way."  And so forth.

I think Miss Representation's messages and goals absolutely are in the right place. But I cannot feel overly guilty about fanning the flames of the Barbie franchise, either.  The raising of girl-children is an exercise in complexity. It's often an exercise in choosing the lesser or least of evils.  All you can do is your best, which I submit is a good and positive message regardless of whether it comes from Mom, Barbie, Doc McStuffins, or Condoleeza Rice.

Superheroes, Take 1

In the local news -- which I read about every third day if I a) am lucky and b) remember to take the phone into the ladies' room -- I recently read about a screening of Miss Representation. As the mother of two girls, I was interested enough to visit the website and read a little more about this indie movie, which, in the words of its own website, "explores how the media’s misrepresentations of women have led to the underrepresentation of women in positions of power and influence."

Um, okay, but I don't think we can blame the media for every woman's position.  Take me, for example, 'cause it's my blog and I can:  of late, I've been patently un-powerful and un-influential. As I type, baby snot is drying on my right forearm. I changed my hair color from platinum blonde to light brunette four days ago; my husband still has not noticed. And a piece of dried fetuccine fell out of my bra last night when I was getting ready for bed, which occurs in the guest room so that Dragon Girl's nocturnal antics -- she still is taking 3 night feedings -- do not disturb DH who is working across three continents and trying to close three or four deals-of-a-lifetime in the timespan of 14 days of one lifetime.

And, let's note, said bedtime is only kicking off the night shift, which begins when I am done with a 12-hour day of providing cheese slices, making sure the Correct Top is on the Correct Sippy Cup, and pretending amazed delight at my preschooler's prowess at jumping onto her beanbag, each time accompanied by a commanding squeal of, "Mooom! WATCH what I CAN DO!"

Yep, definitely exploring the bottom of the "power and influence" heap nowadays. 

According to any major indicator, I shouldn't be. I have a full-time nanny in the wonderful personage of Sister Mine. I have an advanced degree and professional licenses in two jurisdictions. I was #2 in command of a multimillion dollar service business in Florida. I had direct paths available into politics, law, and the judiciary.

But I took none of them and here I sit, baby snot and all, honestly quite content with my life.

I wish I could say the media talked me into this fast slide to un-empowerment, but I'm pretty sure it had more to do with an excess of Christmas 'nog and that cozy B&B suite in Madera Canyon back in 2007.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Stories: How Maleficent Got Her Castle

[N.B. - This was the first of the Maleficent Stories. Accordingly, it's a little more elaborate than subsequent Maleficent Stories. I started to scale back the complexity once I twigged that He'en apparently was going to request a "New Mayefficen' Stowy!" every single bedtime until she left for college.]

Once upon a time, Maleficent was flying around the kingdom, making mischief --

Aside: "What does that mean?"
Little voice: "Making twubble. Because she iss twubble."
Aside: "That's right, she is trouble."

-- and a thought came into her head. And the thought was, "I think I would like a castle."

So Maleficent flew and flew until she saw a castle that was just right. It was shining gold and silver and perched high up on a great knob of rock.

"What a beautiful castle," thought Maleficent. "I will have it for my own."

So in a POOF of green smoke, she flew down to the castle and knocked on the door. But nobody answered. That didn't stop Maleficent. She pushed open the door and went inside.

Aside: "Should she have done that?"
Little voice: (emphatically) "No!"
Aside: "Right, but she did it anyway, because Maleficent is not polite."
Little voice: (with great satisfaction and a little snuggle) "Wight."

And inside the castle Maleficent saw. . .
. . . a dining room, with a dinner all laid out,
. . . and a game room, with games all ready to play,
. . . and a bedroom, with a bed all made and ready!

She walked all though the castle, but nobody was home. So Maleficent . . .
. . . went to the dining room and ate the dinner,
. . . went to the game room and played with all the games,
. . . and went to the bedroom and crawled in the bed to sleep.

But no sooner was Maleficent asleep than the castle's *real* owner came home! He was a magnificent dragon, with red and orange and gold scales and golden eyes. And his name was Firebrand. 

Firebrand walked into his castle and said,
"Somebody's eaten my dinner!"
Then he walked to the game room and said,
"Someone's been playing with my games!"
Then he walked to the bedroom and said,
"Someone's sleeping in my bed!"

But as soon as he said that, Maleficent woke up! And with a POOF of green smoke, she cast a spell on Firebrand and imprisoned him in his own dungeon! And not only that, but she made Firebrand work very hard. She used his firey breath to . . . heat her bathwater.

Well, Firebrand didn't like this at all. So one day, he was looking at the small window of his dungeon cell and thought, "I'll bet I can get out of there." So he used his firey breath and with a great blast melted the bars on the dungeon window. And he gave a little
. . . mmf . . .
and an
. . . oompf . . .
and a big
. . . ungggh wiggle . . .
and POP, he was out of the dungeon!

Firebrand flew away as fast and as far as ever he could. And while he flew, he said to himself, "I don't want anything more to do with HER. She can KEEP that castle!"

So that is how Maleficent got her castle. But, because she was evil, it didn't stay gold and silver and shiny. It turned black and purple, and green clouds swirled around it.

And THAT is the castle you see in the movie.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Maleficent Stories: Introduction

Sister Mine and I debated over whether He'en was ready for Sleeping Beauty. After all, Maleficient had deeply moved both of us in her time. Sister Mine says, "She scared the bejabbers out of me."  I suppose that Maleficent scared the bejabbers out of me, too, but, as my coping mechanism, I channeled Maleficient and went around for quite a long time in high school being all sweepy and dramatic. The villains always had the best makeup.

Because He'en had sailed through Bambi, however, with only some minor discussion about out-of-season hunting -- we'll save the harsh reality of doe permits for another year -- we decided she was emotionally prepared to handle Maleficent in all her wonderful awfulness. So Sleeping Beauty was duly purchased, and it was duly watched, and although I had to sit with He'en during a couple "scawwy pawts," we thought that she had managed just fine.

Well, she had . . . but as soon as the closing credits concluded, she attacked me with a rabid case of the curiosities.
About what, you may ask? 
The good fairies?  Pssht.
Aurora? Take a number.
Prince Philip?  Yawn.

No, no, my daughter wanted to know everything, and I do mean absolutely everything, there was to know about Maleficent:

How did Maleficent get her castle?
How did Maleficent get her crow?
Why are there green clouds around the castle?
Was Maleficent good once before she was evil?
Where did she get her castle guards? (Seriously.)
And on.
And on.
And on.
And at bedtime, no less.

In answer to this dire dearth of information, the Maleficent Stories were born. They have grown so numerous that I've started to forget them, so I will here record them from time to time both for reference and posterity.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I'll Take the Tea Set

My mother recently asked what He'en might like for her birthday. Feeling quite cheerfully smug, I whipped out my Magic Phone, activated the Memo app, and rattled off the list that I've been keeping thereon.

When I got to "Tea Set or Similar Pretending Toys," my diplomatic mother paused and delicately posed the question, "Now, are you sure you are good with her having a tea set or, er, a pretend kitchen stove, or things like that?"

This brought me up short. Well, of course little He'en could play with a tea set!  But then I realized that this question was justifiably loaded.  I had been quite a stinker about waving the Women Can Do Anything banner in my teens and twenties. I also probably had been quite a stinker during the same timeframe about my mother's choice to be a stay-at-home-mom.

Now that I've checked out of the rat race to spend my own days cutting sandwiches into triangles and stringing Cheerios onto necklaces, I have a completely different perspective . . . and here proffer public apology to my mother, who was a terrific SAHM.

So I mused over her question and concluded that, yes, I was OK with He'en playing with a tea set. After all, as I told Mom, I spent nearly ten years playing with my Little Lawyer Activity Kit and found it sadly wanting:

One (1) law diploma
One (1) bar admission card
One (1) very heavy desk
Forty-two (42) partially-written letters, briefs, and motions
Two (2) computers

For all this, you pay only $140,000.  Expansion items in the same set, sold separately, include:

Crazy Opposing Counsel Talking Doll:  threatens sanctions when you pull a string in its back!

Grumpy Judge Action Figure:  lifts and lowers a magazine during hearings and repeats, "Denied."

Assorted Business Cards

I know every generation needs to find its own way. But since I've been asked my opinion, I'll say, for the love of God, yes, please buy my daughter a tea set.

Sleep Junkie

"Anything else I should know?" asks another angelic nurse as she arrives for shift change.

"No . . . oh, yes, I am due for Percoset in another two hours."

"Okay," she chirps, marking the chart, "I'll be back in two hours! If you need it sooner, we can do that a half-hour sooner, so just let me know."

Off goes the nurse, and into the resultant void comes a husbandly grumble: "I'm not sure I am too thrilled about you asking for painkillers."*

"Well," I sighed, "with the last C-section, I was all trying-to-be-brave and I was absolutely miserable. And since nobody handed me a medal for that, I am taking all my painkillers on schedule this time."**

"That's drug-seeking behavior," declared DH, unmoved.***

But he ain't seen-ed nothing yet. Two months down the road, I am in full-on sleep deprivation mode. Dragon Girl is still taking three (3) night feedings, at three (3) hour intervals. Occasionally we get lucky and stretch to four hours. That is a banner night. We remain, however, nowhere near the blissful five hours that He'en enjoyed like clockwork the moment she got home from the hospital: the ones that had me smugly thinking, "I don't know what everyone's complaining about. This newborn thing isn't so hard." (Isn't it great how the universe rubs your nose in snotty comments like that?)

Enter the sleep addiction. I crave sleep. I seek sleep. I stash sleep. I've fallen asleep on the exam table at the doctor's office. I was actually excited to get a filling because I could lie horizontally in the kid-free dentist's chair for an hour.

I sneak a catnap wherever I can. In classic addict style, I'll even fib about it, "Nope, wasn't sleeping," when DH finds me prone on the couch with the preschooler in a Barbie movie coma and the baby firmly tucked into my armpit.

Likewise classically, I am ruthless in my treatment of those who may interfere with my next fix. Poor He'en has only heard half the words of "If I Ran the Circus" because I skip from couplet to couplet on the fly at bedtime.  Even the baby has suffered, since I gave up pumping breastmilk at night to eke out another hour of sleep in the small darks.

In 30 years, at the request of their therapists, I will let my kids read this entry. Until then, they are stuck with a sleep junkie mama.


* DH is charming this way. He isn't too thrilled about my drinking coffee (caffiene), and he has extracted from me a promise never to give the kids soda (chemicals).  Once, in a strange city, I saw him reduced to steering-wheel-pounding fury by my search for a Starbucks: "An entire nation of people! My God, all of them addicted to this stuff!?" I think he did accept a sip of latte when we got there, however.

** Second best advice I ever got: take all the drugs they give you after a C-section. (The first best advice was, "He is gonna propose and you are gonna say yes. You can always change your mind later.")

*** My sister's response to this story was to ask, with deeply gratifying exasperation, "Did you tell him you were twenty-four hours out of abdominal surgery? Of course you are engaging in drug-seeking behavior! You'd be crazy not to. Man, I would have taken those painkillers and then crawled out of that bed and smacked him one. Next time let's take out his appendix and he can lie there with you and we'll see who's asking for drugs! Pffhht!" (Sister Mine is pleasantly sparky.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Party Girl

I have promised DH that I will not expose the children to hip-hop or rap. Stated mildly, DH does not care for these genres of entertainment (he will not deign to call them music).  Even though He'en writhes in her carseat protesting she does not "yike" the classical music on the radio, he persists.  His kids are going to get some decent cultchah come hell or high water.

In this, I fear, he finds me a sloppy ally. For several years now, I have been carefully avoiding the issue of whether "club" falls into the "hip-hop or rap" category of child-poison. 

Poor DH. When he met me, he thought he was getting a refined intellectual type who would be a fit mother to his heirs. I had a reasonable command of current events, a bluffer's knowledge of opera, several years of ballroom dance experience, a basic ballet vocabulary, and enough classical music moxy to prove acceptable to a man who had grown up with the kids of Philadelphia Orchestra musicians and had studied piano at a conservatory in his youth. Little did he know that, ten years down the road, his wifely prize would disintegrate into a 40-year-old hip-hop-loving mall rat. 

The warning signs were there, of course. During our early dating days, we had some stellar squiffs over my tendency to be unavailable on nights when a good drag show hit Fort Lauderdale.

"You can come," I cheerfully invited him by phone between applications of black-cherry lipstick.

"Go there with you? I can't believe you would go to those . . .  things!" he huffed. "What if you want a judicial career someday? Someone might see you!"

"If they see me," I would counter, holding the phone with my chin to tighten my leather dog collar choker, "It would be because they were also there."

Well, we never did really resolve that issue. We just moved away from the scene, settled into quiet coupledom, and then I got too old and too busy for such delicious pursuits.  Days turned to weeks, then months, then years, and along came Offspring #1, which permanently ended any chances for such foolishness.

When Offspring #1 was about six weeks old, I wistfully noted that the last time I saw such early-morning numbers on the clock, I had been clubbing in Miami. 

From my mouth to God's ears: Offspring #2 was inconsolable tonight until I moved her into the kitchen and put fired up my "Shakira Channel" on Pandora.  As soon as the dance beats began, she quit thrashing in her lounger, spit out her pacifier, belched peacefully, and settled into a blissful sleep.

That's my girl, my little party girl.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Power of "Gleep"

Early this evening, I bathed poor scrungy Dragon Girl*. There isn't much of her. It takes about six minutes, once everything is set up. (I don't know why baby-bathing was an hour-plus project with infant He'en. I guess I am reassured this time that a postage-stamp-sized washcloth is unlikely to harm a critter that's built to pass through a birth canal.)

After her bath, I brushed her auburn hair with the little plastic brush that the hospital sent home. With each feathery stroke, I sang a tuneless "brush, brush, brush."

And darned if she didn't smile at me, not once, but three (3) times! Plus, she expressed her appreciation with a little "gleep."

This is a huge deal, because I mostly handle night shifts while Sister Mine handles day shifts. I am not sure how such a tiny scrap of humanity can keep two competent adult females in a state of near-total collapse, but she does, so that's the division of labor.

On the night shift, Dragon Girl often is less than delightful -- although in fairness, I probably am less than delightful myself -- and our conversation is limited to:


Me: "Blurg..."

or, sometimes:

Me: "...mumble...diaper time."


It's not what you'd call a great date.

But, oh, tonight, one precious "gleep," and a promise of more to come.  Those are the moments that keep a new mama together. Thanks, Dragon Girl.


*The baby is so nicknamed because she was born in the Year of the Dragon. Marvelous Tess at Tree Top Thai says that children born in the year of the dragon demonstrate vim, vigor, and lots of go, because, she says, they have hands . . . and feet . . . and wings. With this one, I believe it. I had to pause this entry's development about six times to dance the child around the kitchen. Bless you, Pandora. She particularly likes Depeche Mode.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

A Long Night's Journey Into Day

This will happen:

One night, you will tenderly feed your offspring in the usual way, at the usual time. You will then blunder to bed (couch/cushion/futon/nest of your choice) and tumble into your usual non-REM sleep of black and utter exhaustion.

[N.B. - of late, I've been waking every two hours for feedings with one eye dry and itchy. This means I've been sleeping with an eye half-open. Yes, that tired. Grossy-gross.]

But this will happen:

When you wake, it will be light outside. Birds will sing. Traffic will rumble. You will look at your clock. A blast of adrenaline will momentarily paralyze you, utterly, utterly. Oh, God, it's morning. You are the world's worst mother. You have slept through all the night feedings. Your offspring has starved, pitifully crying, abandoned, alone, in the cold dark hours.

You will then levitate yourself into furious action and rush to your offspring's side (leaping stairs four at a time if you have stairs in the house). Whereupon you will find said offspring . . .

. . . probably with a pretty squishy diaper . . .

. . . peacefully sleeping . . .

. . . not missing you one little bit.

Behold, a new era has begun.

This hasn't happened yet in this house, either. But it will happen. Hang tough, mamas everywhere.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Arsenic Hour

It's 6:00 p.m., the apex of a time called, variously, "arsenic hour," the "five o'clock jits," or -- of my own devising -- "why, yes, they are for sale; just name your price." He'en is fake-crying in her room, where she has been Time-Outed for unthinkingly spitting on me (2 minutes), plus slamming her door in response to the spitting time-out (5 minutes).

I tried to turn this into a Math Lesson Teachable Moment, but her receptivity was not high. Minutes before, she had added one (1) egg plus two (2) eggs preparatory to making cupcakes, and on her own she had proudly cracked three (3) eggs into a bowl without any shell. How swiftly we plummet from the mountaintop to the laundry, poor kid. Wail! Lament! Occasional pitiful cry of "MOM....myyyyyyyy!" (Beseech me not for help.  Who do you think put you IN there?)

The coked-out hound is throwing herself against the door in a barking frenzy, trying to bite the glass to gain re-entry to the house. She was exiled to the porch after we returned home from the grocery store to find shattered glass all over the kitchen floor. The dog is not in Time Out, per se, but I put her out there so that she didn't run through the glass and cut her pads, and leaving her there seemed a good idea for the nonce.

The baby is the best of the lot, sitting in her little lounger with a friendly blank look, blowing bubbles and waving her limbs in a slow kelplike fashion. Soon, I expect, she will get bored and add her voice to the throng, but for now I've attained a small island of peace. I wonder how long I can leave everybody locked in / locked out before someone calls Child Control and Animal Services . . . or is that Animal Control and Child Services?

Actually, either is fine. Just name your price.

A Beautiful Reversion

Sister Mine has observed that, when you have kids, you discover a bunch of latent things that you suddenly want to pass along. For some, it's a newfound concern with healthy foods or family relationships. For others, it's a near-forgotten coin collection or a near-dormant religion.

With me, apparently, it's playing dress-up.

Long, long before this blog -- which makes it long, long ago indeed -- I was profoundly committed to a closet full of flowing capes, poet shirts, funny hats, full skirts, and scrunchy boots. Of course, that was the 1980s.

Fast-forward through 20 years of very boring suits and heels with matching scarves and bags, and here I am in Mommy-land with the freedom to do, and to wear, whatever I want.

So, with this insane freedom enfolding me, I find myself now profoundly committed to dressing up He'en and dragging her to every Renaissance festival in the tri-state area. Who knew?

He'en loves it, of course. We have much preparatory talk about "Peay Desses" (pretty dresses) and hearing "max" (music). She knows what "road trip" means. And the other month she lisped out - to my heart's delight - "Mommy sooo HAP-py! Mommy go wenfest!"

Yes, Mommy is so unspeakably happy to go to Renfest. We've bought pastries and facepaint. We've ridden elephants. We've tried on endless little princessy hats. She has bumbled around to bagpipes, hopped to hammer dulcimer, and lyrically twirled to lute. I have one great mental picture of her - because I wasn't fast enough with the camera - in her tiny brown-and-red tabard dress, standing in the lanes and staring up from knee-height in delight at six or seven huge barbarians costumed in furs and leathers.

As I watch my little one taking such joy in all this music and motion, I remember who I used to be. It's a chance to remember the good parts without all the angst and squick: the creativity, the colors, the joy of sharing a good day with like-minded people doing something slightly bonkers.

I thought once that I was not ready to stop and be still for a child. Now that I actually have a child, I realize that I haven't stopped at all. Well, I have. But in a good way. It's a stopping of meditation, of examination, of being rather than doing.  It's a stopping, and a quiet backward-moving, in a gentle eddy of life's emotional river. It's a fleeting time and an amazing gift.

And maybe there is some divine forgiveness at work here, too, in the form of a grace-full and entirely unexpected chance to wear Peay Desses once again.

[N.B. - This musing, with an original drafting date of February 26, 2011, seemed a perfect sourdough starter for the new blog.]