Saturday, December 21, 2013

Be Still, and Listen

The long winter nights this month have invited me to lie quietly in the morning, listening to the dog snore, watching the room gradually lighten . . . and grinding my molars in anticipation of Dragon Girl's first YOWL of the day.

She doesn't hold back, this second child of mine.  Dragon Girl is not the super-sleeper that her sister was at this age. She has a lot to get done in this lifetime, and nobody is going to slow her down, including the Mama. Accordingly, she wakes with the dawn, and usually a bit pre-dawn for good measure. If I am lolling about in bed and not getting a head start in the Good Morning race, that first wail generates a huge flack pattern on the Mom Radar. It also jolts my adrenaline production in unpleasant ways.

So here I am, waking up cranky and/or way too early, scheming and dreaming about getting that child to sleep longer, when I ran into these Midday Mussar notes from our rabbi.

Of course, I can't make it to the Midday Mussar meditations, because . . . right . . . kids. But I think I might really need the Midday Mussar meditations, because . . . oh, right . . . kids. So -- blessings on our clergy's technophilia -- I scrape the notes when I get a chance. They are just notes, but that's good, because then my mind can go a-wandering between the notes while I wipe the highchair tray and find the Roku remote yet again.

Reb Jamie has written about grieving, but -- as his comments on duality observe -- the very same mediations are deeply applicable to all the BUSY! NOISY! NEW! LIFE! in this house. The Jewish appreciation of duality is just so spot-on:

Our sages teach that during sleep we go through a (1/60) fractal of death. Thus every morning present[s an] . . . opportunity to practice the rouse ourselves from “mourning to an ecstatic dance…that chavod might sing you out [of bed] and may not be silent [like death].” (Psalm 30) With the words of this daily psalm, a melody, a tear, a cupped hand, or the mental image of a small cave, we can begin each day with a reminder to journey through the land of humility [chinah] to engage all life with chavod, beginning with your own.

-- Rabbi Benjamin "Jamie" Arnold

The "cupped hand" reference contemplates a discussion earlier in the same entry here.

Very little silence finds its way into my world of late. Stillness is not popular, either. And some days I am patently lacking in either humility or engagement. Some days it seems that everything around here is noisy, furry, drooly, squirmy, yelly, demanding, wanting, needing, messy, hungry, and/or some combination thereof, and that I am the one-woman service industry for all of it. Some days, I need to work really hard on being present in this parenting endeavor, and not just mentally checking out while I dice up yet another peanut butter sandwich.

Thus, when the factory whistle blows at 5:45 a.m. in the dead dark, I am trying to view that first baby cry as a new life that is "singing me out of bed." It helps. Sometimes it works. At the very least, it makes me feel guilty about being cranky and try hard to cheerfully greet the baby and do better for the rest of the day (my perfect synergy of humanistic Judaism and guilt-ridden Protestantism). 

Tonight, at my amazing adopted shul, Rabbi Jamie is leading a Winter Solstice service. Again, in his words:

The Service will feature simple melodies, rich silences, and subtle teaching to turn our hearts to the expansion of light that is coming, enabling us to align our inner cycles (of darkness and light) with the wondrous symmetry and balance of forces in nature -- sun, moon, earth, and soul.

A perfect way to enter the Winter break -- with Shabbat, and community.

 Shabbat Shalom

I won't go, of course, because . . . oh, right . . . kids. But I will try to honor the solstice by sleeping, waking, and celebrating on this day and this night. And maybe with a little stillness here and there.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Halloween. Is Over.


For the last three blankety-blank months, every day on the way to school, the carseat has chirped, "Mooom? How yong until Haw-o-ween?"

And for the last three months, every day, I would calculate the countdown. My number would be met by a big sigh. "But dat is sooo yong!"

Not long enough for me, I would think but not dare to say.

This year, we had several parties and several changes of costume. "We" were, variously, (1) a figure skater, (2) a Really Scary Dragon, (3) a Vam-Pie-Uh, (4) a Wicked Witch (twice). I was prepared for this, and unlike Halloween 2012, I totally softballed the costumes this year. Mostly I just dug in the dress-up bin and applied eyeliner in creative ways.

We had a requisite number of meltdowns and a predictable amount of candy rationing. He'en and I went 'round about a haunted house at one party. ("But it's NOT scawwwy! Reawwy!" she protested from her hands and knees as she peered under the partitions. "I don't care. Mommy gets migranes in those things," I announced. Thus, we did not attend.)

But the spookiest, the scariest, the most-anticipated, and the most parentally horrifying, was the Great Pre-K Class Party. I am a Co- Room Mother this year -- the background on that whole deal is quite another entry -- and in conjunction with the other Co- Room Mother we had organized four crafts and a godawful pile of candy. Multiple emails were sent about the party. The teacher said there would be a song, a story, crafts, and treats, in that order.

On the Big Day, DH dropped He'en at school in costume. She could have flown her own broom, she was so excited. Dragon Girl was sick, so I stayed home as long as possible to let her sleep a little. Then I heartlessly bundled her up in a sweater, stuffed some Kleenex in my pocket, strapped her into the front-pack, and got to the school at 10:40,  for the 10:30 party start. I figured they would just be settling down to the craft tables and the real help would be needed about that time.

Boy, did I figure wrong. As I walked in, about 15 parents were just getting up from their seats.

Yes, right, seats.

The "story and song" apparently had been a "Halloween Program" and, crappity CRAP, I had just missed it.

A red-faced, teary little witch appeared at my knee with a deeply trembling lower lip: "Mooom! You are YATE. You missed the WHOLE SONG."


And *&^^ too.

The last-minute run to the thrift store, the triumphant acquisition of the Just Right striped tights, the careful application of eyeliner makeup this morning, and even permission to bring a broom to school, all blown away. Gone. Vaporized in one great Mom Failure for which I will never ever be forgiven. Did I learn nothing from last year's Hanukkah escapade?

We were saved from total disaster when another (better-organized) mother tuned into this exchange at just the right time. She had taken a video of the program and gave her phone to He'en for sharing. He'en and I twice watched the video. Then she still clearly had not forgiven me, but she was mollified enough to decorate a cookie and make a treat bag at the craft tables.

We both made it through the rest of the party but I left the school at lunchtime wrung out and awash in Momguilt.  I shamelessly signed up Helen for Extended Day on my way out the door, figuring that for our hefty tuition dollars the afterparty sugar crash could be somebody else's problem for a couple hours.

When I picked up Helen in the late afternoon, she was notably more cheerful. But on the way home,

"Mom? I had a sad day." Sniff sniff.

"Oh, honey, I am so sorry." GuiltguiltguiltguiltGUILT.

"Yah. Dake teased me." "Jake teased you? Oh, I am sorry to hear that."

"Dake teased me, but 'den I told him iff he could be nice den he could sit wiff' us at yunch. So he was a yiddle nicer 'den."

"Well, good for you, that is good to hear, that he was nice."

"So den' I wasn' sad anymore," she concluded.

Hmmmm. I could not resist asking --

"And was that the bad thing that happened today?"


Craftily and carefully -- "And your day was good after that? Nothing else bad happened?"

"Nope!" She swung her feet with cheerful emphasis as she contentedly bit into a candy corn.

Off the hook. Yessss.

This morning, I tossed a kid-sized costume onto the bannister for transport down to the playroom. Then another. Then a third. And I realized that I had been chanting, with each toss, "Done. Done. DONE."  So yes. Done. DONE, I tell you, for another blissful blessed year.

I'm off to go raid her candy.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Striving for Sisterhood (Now a Trio)

This Matt Walsh Blog post -- note, the responsive comments outnumber the population of my hometown -- has me lately thinking about the sisterhood of motherhood.

First case in point:  I was crouching on the floor at Target, agonizing over whether I should buy Size 9 or Size 10 purple fuzzy snowboots, when a button nose peered down at me, topped by the tiniest pair of Clark Kent glasses I ever have seen.

"I'm reawwwy FAST," the owner of the glasses announced over the edge of the shopping cart wherein he was riding.

"I'll bet you are!" I automatically looked up with a grin.

"I'm faster than the Fox!" the little Clark Kent continued with great pride.

"Are you faster than all the superheroes?" I temporized, with a cautious glance at the Mama pushing the cart. Because you don't want to be thought creepy for having an extended discussion with somebody else's kid. Even if you are looking at fuzzy purple snowboots yourself at the time. And you don't know if superheroes are okay in somebody else's house, and so forth, and so on. But the Mama is grinning at her child as he continues.

"I'm faster than [mumble] and I run really good, and I have sheets with [mumble] on them but now we live with Grandma so I don't have my sheets all the time . . ."

The cart-pushing Mama interjected with, "Um, she doesn't need to know all that, honey -- "

While little Clark, who has taken a huge shine to me, is informing me that " -- I had to leave them at our house and we live with Grandma now because -- "

Whereupon the Mama got pretty "UHM!" with the kid and he subsided into the cart.

"Oh, they'll tell you everything about everything, won't they:? Mine's five, and she will tell you everything," I blathered, trying to set her at ease.

"Well, yes," she said flatly, "but you don't know me or anything about me."

I paused a second from my vantage point at her knees, still smiling up at her. "Well, I know you are a mother, and I am a mother, and that's enough to know."

Later, loading my purple fluffy snowboots into the car, I so wished that I had added, "And you're clearly doing a great job, if your terrific outgoing little kid is any indication!" Because I have a feeling she might have needed to hear it. So I was not, in Target, the sister I should have been. But, cart-pushing Mama, I am thinking of you and your cute little kid, and hoping that it all works out for you.

That said, and I am sure my own sister will agree, "sisterhood" does not always connote "solidarity."

Second case in point: I am driving through the Starbucks and staring absently from my car window into the outdoor seating area. A Mama is outside, enjoying her coffee. She has three (3) boys in tow: probably ages 2, 5, and 7 or thereabouts.

The boys are all dressed in darling little outfits with sweaters against the summer breeze. They are ranged around the table, swinging their feet and smiling while Mom drinks her coffee.  Charming. I glance back at the carseat, where my own offspring has stopped howling only because she is now happily pouring milk onto her seatbelt and watching the drops soak in.

Even more tooth-grittingly, the mama is tanned and toned, wearing a poppy-colored ribbed tank top and a breezy peasant skirt -- in white -- with a big floral print. Her long dark hair is effortlessly tamed in a messy French twist. She is wearing big hoop earrings and carrying some sort of painfully simple hobo bag that is painfully perfect with the whole ensemble.

I turn around to dig out my wallet -- reminding myself to just be grateful for the resources to buy this latte even though I will undoubtedly spill a bunch of it on myself and therefore I have no white breezy skirts in my personal future -- when I hear a wail from the Starbucks courtyard.

All three boys have popped off their chairs and are rampaging around the gated seating area.  Two of the three are in complete meltdown mode.  The smallest one is under the table, minus his sweater and a few other articles of clothing, drumming his heels and shouting, "I HATE my hat! I HATE my hat!" The whole Starbucks yard sounds like the aviary at the zoo. The Mama, clearly a pro, continues to sip her coffee. The mien that I had previously taken for "smug and haughty" now reads more like "zenlike resignation."

I don't want to wish her ill. We are, after all, sisters in the cause.  But I collected my Starbucks and drove off feeling just a little bit better about my own day.

Then there is the third case: Ourselves as Others See Us. I was wandering around Old Navy with both kids in tow (why? I really cannot say). We were having a good day. Dragon Girl was squirmy in the stroller, and He'en wanted the coloring table instead of the leggings selection, but I cannot fault either of them for that.

As we chased around looking for some new He'en pants, I caught the eye of a mother with two girls who were maybe 9, either twins or sisters close in age. I smiled at her and we smiled at me:

I grinned at the mother and asked cheerfully, "How old are your girls?"

"Oh, 9 and 10," she smiled. "They are only 15 months apart."

"Wow, that must be fun!" I said, as I bumbled my bags-kids-stroller-pilfered-crayons load into the dressing room behind her.

Thereupon followed the predictable two-kid dressing-room experience: chirpy discussions with He'en, the baby trying to crawl under the door, trying to hold Dragon Girl while buttoning Helen's pants for her, flicking dustbunnies off of everyone because of course we had all landed on the floor, and so forth. It was all basic Mom-stuff, and everybody was cheerful throughout (except maybe Dragon Girl, who rather fiercely wanted to investigate the loading bay and wasn't shy about expressing it).

Still smiling despite the light sweat, I got everybody out of the dressing room and pretty well lined-up for the checkout. I was feeling mighty smug that we had not only gotten pants, but that everyone had a good time at the store.

At the checkout, I got in line again between the nice mom with the two girls. They were loaded with cool neon sweaters and one had a jazzy pair of horn-rimmed glasses. "Looks like you found some great things!" I said.

"Well, we did, but you, now you sure look busy right now!" she smiled.

"Yes, well, it's the busy time," I smiled back, prying something shiny out of Helen's hand with a no, we're not buying that whispered aside, simultaneously shoving DG gently back into the stroller where another concerted escape attempt was in progress, and digging for my wallet with my third hand.

"It gets so much easier. I promise," she assured me. She just oozed warmth and empathetic concern. Like . . . oozing at the level that might have been appropriate if I'd been whacking one of my kids in the dressing room and she wanted to give me one more chance before calling Child Services.

So I gushed and smiled and thanked her, but I drove home checking the rear-view mirror for frown wrinkles. Her heart was totally in the right place. I give her full credit for proper sisterhood behavior. But . . . do I look that whacked? Or maybe I look like a good Mom who just needs Botox?

"If there is a single point," my own sister said as I discussed this post with her, "It's simply that we're all in this together. Every mother everywhere." And, yes, that's all I really had meant to say.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

On Being a Good Sport

Today’s soccer lesson really started last night. “I don’t WAN’ to go ta sawkka tomowwow,” with a little chin-quiver.  I thought she had rallied by bedtime, when she tucked her pink blanket under her chin and announced, from under her princess canopy, “Tomowwow I yam goin’ to take da ball AWAY fwom dat tall girl.”

But the morning did not begin well. Exhausted from three days of nonstop fun with her grandparents, she overslept and wasn’t hungry for breakfast. She was cold. She didn’t want a sweater. I found her new Spyder fleece with the glittery spider on it. That was much better. And so forth. And so on.  Although I allowed gobs of extra time, we still barely made it to the car.

Then, as we were in the car, waiting for DH to join us, he opened the door and growled, “You’re on your own. We have a broken water pipe. The basement’s flooded.” PLOMPF went the door and away went DH.

“I don’t WAN’ to go ta sawkka,” He’en writhed in her carseat.  She probably thought a basement flood sounded a lot more exciting. Truth, I did also by that time. But we had a deal: she had begged and pestered for soccer, so she must attend at least three of the five lessons. I reminded her of the deal – more chin-quivering – and off we went.

She grumped and fussed in the car. She dragged and scuffed into the school gym. She drooped and hid behind me as the other kids found soccer balls and did warmups. But! After securing my ironclad promise to participate during the parent-participation portion of the lesson, she seemed to rally.  With good cheer, she marched in the little line of kids around the perimeter of the basketball court (designated today as the soccer field).

At this point I breathe a little inward sigh of relief and pick up my phone as the kids begin their first drill. I hear He’en snottily complaining to the coach about how she can’t find her ball, and some other kid took the red ball, and God-knows-what-else, but I just open my Kindle app and pretend she’s somebody else’s kid.

About four sentences into my Lindsay Buroker e-book, however, I hear a sustained wail and glance up to see He’en flat-out on the floor. She apparently collided with somebody during the Red Light.  I pause a moment to see if this is standard He’en-drama or something more meaningful, but the other kids have cleared the floor and now I will look like a real wanker if I just let my kid lie there and/or yell, “woman up!” from the sidelines. Plus another little girl is in tears, apparently being a sympathetic type, and is running to He’en to comfort her, so now we have wailing kids littering the field and the lesson at a standstill.

The other mom scoops up her sympathetic bundle and gets her off the field. So I, with an over-the-shoulder apology to the coach, likewise scoop up a sobbing He’en and carry her out of the gym with hot tears seeping into my neck.

Outside the gym, we try taking deep breaths.
“Are you hurt, honey?”
“My fin-gah,” she gasps between sobs. I covertly peer at her finger and it indeed is very red and angry-looking. Damn. Don’t be broken, finger.

“Ok, let’s walk outside and look at the trees and take some deep breaths of the cool air. We will find a rock to sit on, and I will look at your finger.”
Nods and sobs.

I take her outside and we find the promised rock.
“Now, put your hands out like this. Can you spread your fingers apart? Can you make a fist?”
To great my relief, she does all of that, albeit gingerly.

“Ok, let me touch your finger.”
She allows that too and I carefully manipulate the suspect digit. Thank God, not a broken finger.

“Did you get the wind knocked out of you when you fell?”
She doesn’t know, so I tell her about how it feels to get the wind knocked out of you and then imitate that first breath you take when you can breathe again. She almost giggles at the goofy noise I make. She almost looks sane again.

“So let’s go back in there.”
Flinch. Quiver. “I don’t WANT to play sawkkah. I want to go HOME.”

Well, heck. I don’t want my kid to be a quitter, but the odds of having a good lesson after this are nearly nill. And, yet, she has to learn to power through a bad day. I think and think. Again, I earn the big bucks by deciding where to push and where to concede.

“You don’t have to play, but I want us both to watch. There may be skills that you can learn by watching. You can sit in my lap if you want.” 

She consents to that, and we trail back into the gym. “We’re just going to watch for a while,” I mouth to the coach. She, having made a career of dealing with other people’s children, nods in perfect understanding.

We watch a few exercises, and then He’en tugs at my arm and whispers – as I had hoped -- “Okay. I wan’ to play again. But only if you come WIF’ me.” Fine. At least she is on the field.

Happily, we are just in time for the next exercise: Clock Soccer. Parent-volunteers stand in a circle, each with a child or two behind them. The kids run once around the circle and then stop behind their parent. After a couple dry runs, it is attempted with soccer balls.

He’en does not run the first time. She is afraid of falling, she says, and huddles behind me with her face buried in the back of my shirt. On the second drill, she listlessly trots around the circle and then comes back and attaches herself to my pants pocket. I bat her away in time for a third drill (with a soccer ball). Sulking over being pried loose, she refuses to participate. On the fourth drill, I make her stand there with the other parents and I dribble the ball around the circle myself, trying not to knock over any little kids. On the fifth and final drill, He’en takes the ball four steps and then returns to hanging on my pockets. Again, I detach her, making me her most unfavorite person.

The next drill is one-on-one.  He’en has been dreading this for two weeks: in her first lesson, a taller, stronger girl scored three goals on her in quick and fierce succession. He’en is still not over the indignity.  “I ohn-wee [only] want to play if I can be da Bwankos,” she announces to me. Then she trots up to her coach and asks if she can have one of the orange jerseys. (I sneak back to the sidelines and resume pretending that she is not my kid.)

The coach puts off her request until the end of the team selections. But, at that time, she gently and wisely hands He’en the coveted orange jersey and matches her against a little girl who is similarly sized and has been intermittently refusing to play unless one – and sometimes both – of her parents is on the field with her.

Clutching the jersey but still not entirely appeased, He’en comes off the field to me with her chin again a-quiver.

“You said YOU would pay wif’ [play with] me.”
“And I will, Helen, when they call our numbers.”
Glower. “But you don’ haff . . . you need . . . but you are not a Bwanko.”
“Well, I know I am on your team, honey. I don’t need an orange jersey.”

He’en is in a fierce mood today, however, and this simply is not tenable. Before I can say, “that’s not my kid,” she is back at the coach’s knee, plucking at the coach’s shirt and demanding a jersey for “my mawm.”  Unbelievably, the coach has an extra orange jersey in hand and ready. It is four-year-old sized, however. “I usually just tuck it in my pants,” the coach advises me over the kids’ heads. I nod and begin to follow suit. But He’en is having none of it.

“You have to WEAH’ it,” she hisses.
“But I will wear it here on my pants . . .”
“NO! You SAID you would pay and WEAH’ it. You POM-issed.”  A little tear rolls down one cheek.

I hold up the jersey and stare at it. It’s still four-year-old sized. I am seriously wishing I’d taken up Helen on her demand to go home ten minutes ago. But I hadn’t, and now I am stuck with my own stupid lesson about good sportsmanship. So I stuff the jersey into my bra on top and into my jeans on the bottom. It covers my front like a lobster bib.

“How about that, Helen?”
She nods with grudging satisfaction as the other moms behind me – those with normal kids, apparently – launch a patter of appreciative commentary along the lines of, “You go girl!”
“I checked so much dignity at the door of that delivery room,” I sigh back to them as He’en and I jog toward the “field.”

He’en is matched three times in one-on-ones against her opponent. The first time, we run onto the field together and He’en gets the ball away from the other girl, who is a beautiful fragile sylph of a creature with long black hair and big dark eyes. Giggling maniacally, He’en kicks a goal . . . into her own team’s net.

“That’s great,” I encourage her, “but you need to try for the other team’s net – that one down there.”

He’en instantly stops on the field and runs to the sidelines as the other little girl intercepts the ball and starts to nudge it downfield with the help of her own mother. The coach whistles our match to a stop and I join Helen on the sidelines. She has a choice few words for me.

“I yam not goin’ to play again. I don’ wan’ you telling me what to do.”
“But, Helen, the game has rules.”
“I kicked da ball into the goal. I got a goal.”
“Well, you did. But it was your own team’s goal. If you want me to play out there with you, we’re going to play by the rules and try for the other goal.”

She doesn’t have the vocabulary for “the hell we are,” but I can see it in her eyes. And, sure enough, the next time they call our number, she refuses to take the field.

“Number fives!” the coach carols.

I pause on the sidelines and look back at Helen.

“Number fives?”  the coach looks questioningly at me.

The other little girl and her father take the field.

“Helen, that’s our number; are you coming out?”

“No,” she growls, folding her arms.

“It’s . . . um, it’s just me this time,” I call across to the coach.

Undaunted, the coach carries on. She probably has seen it all. “All right then! Number fives!” and TWEET goes her whistle.

I play a little gentle dribbling with Helen’s opponent and then -- of course -- let her score a goal against me. Delighted, she grins at me and then heads upfield with her father. Helen glares from the sidelines. I surrender the field without making any eye contact with my churlish offspring. Take that, crabpatch.

On the third and final round, Helen is ready and willing to play again. With no help from me, she channels all her frustration into snatching the purple soccer ball from her tiny opponent. She dribbles it down the field and smacks it into the correct goal. The other little girl, defending, bursts into tears. He’en shoots a triumphant glare at me with a smile that I do not like at all.

I turn He’en around by the shoulders and make her say, “good game,” to her sobbing opponent, and I remind her how she felt last week when the tall girl took the ball away three times. I am not sure any of it makes a dent. I feel bad for the other little girl; the orange jersey is starting to itch; I was really over this whole thing twenty minutes ago; and whose freaking idea was it anyway that four-year-olds should be capable of competitive sports?

With my last reserves of patience, I accompany He’en through the last drill. The coach saves “kicks on goal” for the end. Each team lines up in front of its own goal, and the kids take turns sinking that ball into the net. Everybody gets at least one goal if they have to throw it in. I look forward to this moment with great joy, primarily because I know the end of this soccer hour is near.

After several goals, the kids are all smiles again, and the coach calls for her jerseys.

“Better get out there, Helen. She has stickers,” I counsel with blank exhaustion. Maybe there will be one bright glimmer in this dark morning.  I peel off my itchy lobster bib with great relief and He’en surrenders it for me. The kids collect their balls and gather around the coach. They exchange high-fives with the other kids in the class.

Just as I am zipping my purse and wondering whether it’s really déclassé to bring a flask to next week’s session, I see Helen angling toward me with an air of great purpose. She comes right in to hugging distance and starts to pluck at my shirt.

“Helen . . . ” I am just about to chide her for picking at me yet again when I look down and realize what she is doing.

“Dere,” she smiles, affixing a neon-pink smiley-face sticker to my shirt collar. “Dat is your sticker. You did a gweat job today, Mom.” She received two stickers and has given me the big one. For herself, she has kept only a small pink star.

I am drained, frustrated, cranky, and deeply moved.  I want to say that she did a great job, too, but a) that would be a total lie, and, b) I can’t get the words out anyway because I am weeping a little. So I just hug her and hug her. Oh, this child, this child of my own.

I had no idea it was so hard to be a soccer mom.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Culture of Children

Our preschool day has ended. I am dragging into the house the smaller child, the lunchbag, the go-bag, assorted crafts, an empty milk carton, a Starbucks cup for the recycling, &c., &c., when DH emerges from his downstairs office.

He surveys the bright pink rubble lining our entryway and immediately inquires:  "Why is there a dried-out pork rib bone in her go-bag?"

(Oh, we had carrion in the go-bag? I hadn't noticed. No, really. I hadn't.) 

"Uh . . . well . . . I don't know, honey, but we'd better leave it there. I am sure there is a good reason, and I am certainly not going to be the one to -- "

At this juncture, He'en bursts in from the car, utterly aglow and caroling:  "MOM! I found a DINAH-soah bone! Inna SAN-box!"

Aha. Told you so.

We lovingly installed her archeological triumph on the porch. It sits right on top of the giant petrified tree trunk that my husband bought several months ago through Craig's List. That, also, lives on the porch. With the recent addition of a Magical Bubble Making Machine, the porch is getting very exciting indeed.

Nothing prepared me for -- and nobody warned me about -- the culture of children. By "culture," I do not mean (only) the runny noses, grubby hands, and general petri-dish-ification of your entire living space. I mean the separate universe inhabited by people who undertake to breed.  Travel is not the only way to broaden the mind; you can stay right here and embark on a 20-year cultural journey with new language, new foods, different clothing, and an entirely separate gestalt from the cheerfully child-free family living right next door to you.

I recently read an Architectural Digest profile of a designer couple's weekend home. They flee the maddening rush of the Big City to spend time together, they say, listening to classical music, shopping at the farmer's market, and cooking Moroccan food.

Yeah. I remember those days. I can even say that I miss those days.

But I'll bet their porch is achingly devoid of magical bubbles, fossilized flora, and real live genuine DINAH-soah bones.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Time for the Little One

I am almost giddy with freedom, having dispatched He'en to day camp, DH to an overnight business trip, and Dragon Girl to her crib for a morning rest. I hear a few warbles from upstairs, so we will see if that last . . . well, lasts.

With Sister away on family vacay and Dragon Girl not yet eligible for any summer camps, I've enjoyed spending more time in my house and with the kids. I feel that the littlest one has been getting the short end of the stick lately, though.  So often, we are running from one activity to the next, or I am circling the house trying to chip away at whatever chunk of the local chaos has lodged into my path that particular moment.  And because DG is so good at playing quietly with her toys, she is most often left to her own devices to do that if we are at home.

This morning, however, was a special morning. He'en was eager to go to camp. She got up early, ate, dressed, and strapped herself into the car seat. Woot! Teeth and hair both went un-brushed, because I was not about to harsh that mellow by prying her out for personal grooming. I hurriedly put the breakfast food away and tossed Dragon Girl into the car, still in her pajamas. Per her usual, DG was fine with that, chirping happily at He'en and drinking her morning milk on the drive.

With that hasty departure behind us, Dragon Girl and I found ourselves at loose ends after dropping He'en at her camp. It is a perfectly gorgeous Colorado summer day complete with light cool breezes and sparkling sunlight. I realized that I had a change of baby clothes in the car, so we went straight to the park. After an in-car change and some sunscreen, I bundled her little warm squirmy self into the baby swings and we had a very giggly interlude of swinging. Such fun to tickle her feet when she swung toward me! Unlike He'en, Dragon Girl has loved the swings from the first moment she saw one.

When swinging paled, I toted her around the park and we landed under the play structure, where the wood chips were still pretty dry after last night's rain. I found a little purple bucket and a fat pink plastic hoe that another child had left lying around.  She merrily landed and put chips into the bucket, then out of the bucket, then more into a bucket, then found some very large chips and burbled at me while waving them in the air: "See what I have?" She tried putting the end of one in her mouth, then hurriedly whipped it out with a little grin and an "uh-UH!" when she saw me watching.

"Yes," I grinned back, "I am watching YOU!" Giggle. Crawl. Giggle.

Wood chips were good for nearly a half-hour, after which we had another swing session (this time sitting in the big swings on my lap). More giggling. Then a big yawn broke up the giggles, so we headed to the car. She cheerfully accepted the carseat and a little scrap of milk left over from the morning commute. All the way home, I heard quiet sucking noises and the occasional shuffle of a bare foot on the carseat fabric.

She was dozing by the time we arrived home. I lifted her out of the seat and she snuggled onto my neck with a good strong clutch of soft baby arms. Then to the crib, where I deposited her with kisses and cuddles. She lofted her rump into the air and started to close her eyes, then opened them again and looked at me from the mattress. A big smile lit her whole face, and she floundered up to a sitting position, cooed at me, then snuggled down into her mattress again.

My littlest little bit! I am working out our fall schedules and I will have to schedule times like this with her. They are precious; she is precious. I don't want to miss a moment.

Monday, May 20, 2013

I Am Toast

This morning, while feeding children and dogs, I popped a piece of toast into the toaster for myself. I did this with rank and unfounded optimism. Yet, I felt, my new strategy gave me a chance at getting hot toast. I set the toaster to 3, which is "barely warm." This is Opportunity #1 to get hot toast.

Didn't make it. The baby needed her strawberries minced up, and He'en was frittering around with her egg and needed a timer set in order to finish it. So passed Opportunity #1.

After getting the baby washed up and settled, and He'en dispatched upstairs for preschool clothing, I punched the same slice down again and hit the toaster button again for Opportunity #2. This would produce reheated golden crispy toast but it's better than no toast. It might even be hot.

But the baby took off climbing the stairs, and the kids' dishes had to be rinsed in the sink, and by the time I made it back, the toast was indeed golden-brown but stone cold. So passed Opportunity #2.

I had just retrieved the baby and was checking the go-bag for He'en's preschool (field trip money, show-and-tell item, change of clothing, coat-hat-gloves in case it was cold, extra shoes in case they got wet) when DH breezed down to the kitchen freshly showered and cheerful. He had finished his morning round of phone calls and was ready to attack the breakfast part of his morning.

"Are you going to eat that?" he asked, espying the golden slice still in the toaster.

"Nope, go right ahead," I sighed, scraping minced strawberry off my arm. It is foolish to resent somebody for having a shower and smelling good. There is no reason to be small and deny him a perfectly good piece of toast. So passed Opportunity #3. Exit the golden-brown slice of toast.

But! He'en had eaten only half of *her* toast slice. Aha! There was still some toast in the kitchen. It, too, was stone-cold, but it was toast, so I headed for that. I cut the piece in half and set it aside for a scrape of peanut butter from the almost-empty jar that I could not bear to throw away with a teaspoon of peanut butter still inside.

But then He'en needed her teeth brushed and decided, in the middle of hair-brushing, to rub a washcloth all over her head and then hide under it. So passed Opportunity #4.

"Fine, brush your hair yourself," I said to the washcloth.

"Noooo!" the washcloth screamed. Then the washcloth was thrown across the bathroom, which resulted in a wild-haired Time Out, category Attitude.

During the false lull of Time Out, I hitched the baby up on my hip and headed for the kitchen for my quarter-piece of stone-cold leftover kid toast. Mmmm.

But the quarter-piece was gone from the cutting board. I looked around the kitchen and saw it nowhere. The dog, however, had incriminating crumbs in her whiskers and was cheerfully snarfing an extra drink of water. So passed Opportunity #5.

I am not sure why the dog took one quarter-piece and left the other. But the other was still there. At last, I was able to smear a teaspoon of peanut butter scraped from the bottom of the jar onto the quarter-piece of stone-cold leftover kid toast that had been rejected or overlooked by the dog. Yum.

Clearly it was a Mama who coined the phrase, "You're toast." Yes. Yes, I am.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Every Party Needs a Pooper

Taking He'en to birthday parties now is akin to taking our barely-subclinical hound to the dog park. Socialization is important. You want to be a responsible parent. You start with the best of intentions. But, before you know it, somebody has a punctured ear and you're apologizing all over the place.*

On a recent sunny Sunday, I loaded both kids into the car for the New Best Friend's birthday party. I like the New Best Friend a lot. She is a sweet cheerful little girl. Her parents are gracious and mellow. I really wanted to further this relationship. I was carefully pressed and dressed in my best Mom Jeans. He'en was sporting a freshly washed dress.  She had wrapped the present three days in advance. We happily drove though the spring afternoon and arrived at the house awash with glittery anticipation.

All was sweetness and light as He'en disappeared to play with the birthday girl and her preschool friends. I plopped Dragon Girl on the floor of the great room, where she set about charming every mother present by cooing and giggling over a huge purple balloon. Eventually the parents announced "Games!" and a flock of delicious little girls swirled in from the other room.  We were off to a great start, I swear.

Then came Hot Potato Dress-Up. The music plays and the kids pass a ball. When the music stops, the person holding the ball has to close his/her eyes and draw a dress-up item from a giant flour sack. The game continues until everyone is wearing something goofy. Sounds great. And it was great. Until the kid next to He'en drew a plastic alligator head.

The next thing I know, He'en had broken from her place in the circle and was literally crawling toward me, wildly sobbing. I was so nonplussed that I think I mouthed the words, "What the ... ?" to another mom over my kid's head as I wordlessly patted Helen's back, trying to figure out if she'd sat on a thumbtack or something.

After riding out some intense gasping and hacking, I finally ferreted out the words, "I wanted the alligator head!" (Try this with a sob between each syllable and no letters "t," "r," or "l," and you will see why it took me so long to decipher.)

I sent her back into the ring with gentle words but scant sympathy.

By this time, the game had moved along. When she finally got her turn to draw an item, I sighed with relief . . . briefly.  She dove headfirst into the flour sack like a released gamecock and thumped about in there until the other kids started to shout "Don't look! You aren't supposed to LOOK! Come on, pick!"

She stonily ignored their cries and emerged in her own good time with a very fancy purple-and-silver Hawaiian lei.  On any other day, this would have delighted her, but not today. She wore it with white-lipped resignation for the rest of the game. I saw her twice try to negotiate a trade for the alligator head. But she didn't come back to my lap, and as Hot Potato Dress-Up mercifully drew to a close, I had hopes for a full recovery.

Well, the parents were no rookies, so they moved the games right along with bright cheer into a "freeze dancing" round. He'en tried a couple dance moves but then came to bury her head in my lap, clearly still smarting from the dress-up trauma.

I sent her back into the ring again. She was none too pleased with me but willing to be distracted by a third game that we'll call Paper Plate Prizes.

This is a cute little game where numbered paper plates were strewn about the floor. Music plays, and the kids hop from plate to plate. When the music ends, everyone puts one foot on a plate. (The smart parents had provided one plate for each child). A winning number is drawn from a hat, and the person whose foot is on the matching plate gets a small gift. The game continues until everyone has a gift. Good stuff, right? Yes, you would think so.

He'en couldn't even make it onto the dance floor. She melted down so hard  -- I never did catch the reason -- that I had to usher her out of the room.  Another mom kindly watched Dragon Girl while He'en and I had A Little Talk.

"I'm just TYE-uhd [tired]," He'en sobbed.

"Well, you don't have to play games, that's fine. But you may not cry and make scenes at somebody else's party."

"I want to yie [lie] DOWN," she pleaded.

"Absolutely not. If you're too tired to sit quietly, you are too tired to be at the party and we will leave."

She could tell I was serious. "Don' WANT to yeeve [leave]."

"Then woman up and get back in there with your game face on. One more meltdown and we're leaving. We will say we are sorry, and we will say goodbye, and we will get into our car, and we will go. Is that very clear?"

Our hostess (the birthday girl's mother) came in during the tail end of my little pep talk. God only knows what she thought. I apologized and she said it was fine, really, and led Helen off to get a little face-painting. As I glared from the doorway, He'en was an angel. But as soon as the mother finished painting a cute unicorn on Helen's tearstained cheek, Helen was right back at my side, tugging on my jeans pocket.

"I want to dance," she insisted, pointing to the Paper Plate game that was still in progress.

"Great," I agreed, "go and dance!"

"I want to dance with YOU," she insisted, lower lip quivering again.

"No, there are no other mommies on the dance floor. You need to get out there if you want to participate."


We had officially crossed the event horizon for this particular party. 

So I marched Helen back to the other room again and sat her down with Very Clear instructions to sit Right There while I collect our things. 

"Noooo! I wan' to DANCE!" She tried to tear away from me and stagger, tear-blinded, back to the dance floor.

I caught her in a straitjacket hug. "You're in no shape to dance. You're crying too hard."

Then . . . "Oh. I get it. You want to dance so you can get a gift."

She nodded, wordlessly sobbing.

"Helen . . . no. I am very sorry for you. But I am not sending you back out there. You are not going to be the kid who ruins your friend's party by crying the whole time."

I gave additional Very Clear instructions along the lines of Sitting Right There.  Then -- trying to act simultaneously grateful and sheepish -- I collected Dragon Girl from the mother who had been holding her.  As she graciously smiled and handed over my baby, I recalled that Helen had also had a meltdown at her child's party a scant three months ago. Yeah, dammit, great, now we're that kid.

I am honestly getting pretty angry myself at this moment.  But how much is me, and how much is He'en?  Even as I force-buckled a hysterical Helen's shoes while trying with the other hand to keep the baby from eating the birthday girl's coloring books, I had to wonder. Am I overly cranky about this? Isn't this just a tired four-year-old being a tired four-year-old? Is it really a reflection on my parenting? Am I mad at my kid because I think she just made me look bad? Gosh, I hope not.  I mean, we've all been there, right?

But these are questions for another day. No amount of self-doubt or Momguilt was going to persuade me to allow Helen back into that room. I left her in a complete hysterical puddle, tucked Dragon Girl onto my hip, and went to find our hostess to make apologies.

"Are you sure?" she said, kindly handing me a My Little Pony gift bag brimming with party favors.

"Very sure," I groaned, and thanked our hostess for a lovely afternoon.

Total party time: 40 minutes.

And if you think He'en cheerfully trotted out to the car and obediently climbed into her carseat, I want to come live in your reality. But we made it, and nobody hit anybody else (although some of us certainly thought about it).  I crammed down the urge to launch nine versions of the "How Could You?" lecture and contented myself with driving, with only some white knuckles on the steering wheel to belie my truly staggering self-control.

After an impressive amount of sobbing, kicking, and hiccuping, He'en fell silent for a while.



. . . "Yes?"

"I diddun' effen get any CAKE."


*Apropos of watching our neighbors' five (5) dogs play together, He'en and I were discussing the different "talents" of dogs. "Some dogs are bred to stand guard," I explained, "and that's their talent. Some dogs are bred to run around and keep cows or sheep in a group. That's their talent."

He'en: (delighted by this idea) "Dogs haff TAL-ents?! Yike faeries?!"

Mom: "That's right! Now, what do you think our dog's talent might be?"

He'en: (long pause)

Mom: (prodding) "What is Kira really good at?"

He'en: "Um . . . fighting?"

'Nuff said.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Just Plain Hard

It's just plain hard to be four (4) years old. I don't remember it well myself, but I can tell by watching He'en. Great joys are abundantly counterweighted by great tragedies. Although "bounded in a nutshell," still her world entertains infinite emotional space.

Case in point: the garlic. A couple weeks ago, we read about seed-planting in her High Five magazine. She was taken with the idea. Magically, I had everything on hand to create two seed incubators:  paper towels, black construction paper, and clear plastic cups. Into one incubator, we lovingly placed a peeled garlic clove. Into the other, after much discussion, we lovingly placed a cube of potato with just exactly the right number of eyes. Several rejected potato cubes became part of that night's soup.

It is wonderous that both garlic and potato did not go non-viable from the sheer intenstiy of the inspections they endured for the next few days.

First, I had to talk He'en out of chucking the whole experiment when there were no immediate results. By "immediate" I mean "within three minutes."

Next, we had to check the incubators at bedtime, morning time, and several times per day thereafter. Intermittently, I had to remind Helen to add water . . . and intermittently I had to pour off the results of over-attentive watering.

But, thank goodness, the garlic cooperated. Within 24 hours, the bottom started to look a little hairy. Then a stripe of purple appeared at the top. Then, glory-be, actual roots appeared, along with an actual sprout. He'en was delighted.  She moved it from the bathroom into her bedroom. It didn't mind the change.Clearly having no idea what was in store for it, the garlic continued to flourish and sent out a gratifying tangle of white roots and a nosegay of six-inch green leaves. Fantastic! 

At this point, I found other things to occupy me, and I largely forgot about the garlic except to give it an occasional drink at bedtime.  (The potato never germinated, but we leveraged the failure: on the way to the trash, we had a mini-lesson on mold spores.)

Today, He'en came downstairs cradling the young garlic plant. It was notably shorter. The roots looked a little dry. One leaf was crooked over at an inauspicious angle.  "Issss not good," He'en sighed, stroking the droopy leaf.

I forebore to lecture her on the dangers of over-petting garlic. That ship obviously had sailed. But I have great faith in the self-healing power of plants, so I suggested that she get a little nice dirt into the incubator cup and we'd try moving out from the paper towel into a real house. She immediately brightened and began charging around the house to gather shoes, digging implements, and the like. I sent her outside with sprout and cup.

After a short time, she returned, glowing, and presented me with the garlic plant snuggled into a half-inch of dirt. "That's really really good dirt, honey," I praised her.

She poked a finger into the cup with great satisfaction, modestly confessing, "It hasss a few yiddow woks [little rocks]."

"Well, you can pick those out. But how about this: find a little more good dirt just like that, and snuggle the whole thing into the dirt just like you would pull blankets up to your chin at night."

"Snugg-ow it?"

"Yep, plants like to be snuggled, right up to," -- I pointed -- "about here, where the green starts."

"I will snugg-ow it," she agreed, stepping outside again. I returned to the dishes for six seconds until a high-pitched yawp brought me back to the window.

He'en had either stumbled or dropped her cup. However it happened, both cup and dirt were on the ground, although He'en was standing. She had rescued the spout from the carnage and stood clutching it, sobbing and raspberry-faced.  I watched a second (callous me!) to see if she would recover on her own, but the grief was too great. Staggering through her tears, she was headed for the door cradling the now-naked garlic sprig.

Hugs and petting followed, along with an unnecessarily -- but reassuringly -- thorough inspection of the garlic. See? It still has the top and all the leaves are there. See? The roots are not broken. See? It's all in one piece. Where did you find that good dirt? Do you think there is more good dirt over there? Are you sure? Okay, let's go see. Wow, yes, that is really good dirt. &c.

Sniff.  But back onto the pony she climbed, and she returned with a cup full of dirt and the garlic sprout "snuggow-ed" nicely into it. She perched on the kitchen stool and poured water over the whole thing, very pleased.

Then followed the search for a garlic permahome. She wanted to return the garlic to her bedside table. Eyeballing the muddy sloshy mixture, I vetoed that idea.  I suggested several alternate spots. This led to a go-round on how much sun it should get. "Dose windows haff sun," she argued, pointing to the southern breakfast nook.

"Well, that might be too much sun," I temporized, envisioning sauteed garlic.

"How about heah?" she suggested, clambering up to the dining room table. Biting my lip, I watched the muddy garlic cup travel up the ivory leather chair.

"Um, yes, that would be fine. It's near the other plant."

But she was not satisfied and clambered down. Undaunted, she tried again: "I want it in my woom."

"Um, no. But let's see . . . " I hauled a little bench to the dining room window. "It can be here! In a special place all its own! And you can sit on this loveseat and visit whenever you want."

She was not persuaded by my false enthusiasm and reached for the cup to move it again. "I wan' it in my woom," she asserted. But the cup chose this moment to tip a little, splashing a few tablespoons of mud slurry over the table and onto the floor. "Oh, oh, nooooo . . . " she started to well up again.

After another round of it's-fines, we agreed that the garlic would, indeed, live in the dining room in the special-place-all-its-own.  I am going downstairs now to beam positive energy onto that durn thing.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Seeing the Pretty

I’m not sure why I buy toys for He’en when there’s a perfectly good supply of leptoglossus occidentalis crawling around whenever the weather gets above freezing. This afternoon He’en announced from the bathroom, “MOM! Dere is a STEEN-k-buhG on da faucet.”  [Henceforth I will will use the traditional spelling, but you, gentle reader, must promise to pronounce it, in your head, “STEEN-k-buhG.”]

I sighed inwardly and shifted Dragon Girl onto my hip.  “Okay, should we put him outside?”


Thence followed a one-handed search for an appropriate buglift. We concluded that a paper Dixie cup would do the trick. “I wan’ take him out my-SEF,” He’en insisted.

“Okay, but stay on the porch, please.” We are enjoying a mild day after the recent snowstorms, so I released He’en and her Dixie cup onto the front porch.  She sat there for a while, turning the cup this-way and that-way, examining its inhabitant. I settled down to feed Dragon Girl, which was just foolish, because Helen immediately reappeared inside, still cradling both cup and cargo.

“Please can I yook at him on da utha pawch [other porch]?”

Sure, why not. So I relocated both He’en and stinkbug* to the sunny south porch. She sat out there for quite a while, lifting and turning her hands in the mellow afternoon light while the stinkbug climbed up and down her aqua sweatshirt with the sparkly butterfly on the front.  (Being no idiot, the stinkbug had, by this time, abandoned his Dixie cup for warmer climes.)

I watched through the window, wondering if stinkbugs really do stink. I figured we would find out pretty soon. Helen’s outdoor mania regularly requires me to research things that hop and crawl; I knew the bug wouldn’t bite or sting.  I frankly was more worried about the bug than my child. Helen’s ROR with insects has, in the past, resulted in more than one mortally crippled fellow-traveler and subsequent mercy killing.  But she was very gentle with this one.

After a time, she re-entered the house with the stinkbug perched on her wrist like a microscopic falcon.

“He’s pwiddy,” she announced.

The stinkbug twitched an antennae in cheerful agreement.

Surprised, I agreed as well. “Yes, he is pretty. What is your favorite part of him?”

She raised her wrist to her nose, went a little cross-eyed, and decided, “Da gode [gold] on his back.”

I took a closer look myself. Indeed, he had a beautiful pattern on his back. “I like his little stripes. Helen, it will be a great gift to you, your whole life, if you can see something pretty where other people can only see an icky old bug.”

She huffed a short laugh, a disconcertingly adult sound from a four-year-old.

“I can see da pwiddy,” she assured me with total confidence.

May it always be so.
Photo courtesy of University of Rhode Island, R.A. Casagrande.
*It's actually a Western Conifer Seed Bug, not even related to the true stinkbug. It may get stinky when nervous, but it eats only tree sap.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


DH drives a 1999 Jeep Wrangler Sahara. He drove it when I met him, and he has continued to drive it through all his economic upturns and downturns. 

The Jeep is, hands-down, my man’s best friend. The dog can’t even compete. The Jeep has taken DH to federal court, to multi-million-dollar real estate closings, to private airfields, and out mud-running.  It has effortlessly clambered up and down mountains, through lightning storms, over blowdown trees, and into gullies that would puzzle a bighorn sheep. In one surprise blizzard, the Jeep led a conga line of 4WD vehicles up the freeway shoulder to freedom while the drivers of more ecologically responsible cars had to sit in gridlock and shiver. “That thing grips like a slug,” DH chuckled with great satisfaction, kicking snow off his hiking boots. A law firm client even gave the Jeep top billing during his company’s Christmas party: “Our lawyer is a complete Renaissance man: he’s not only handling our merger, but he flies airplanes, climbs mountains, and drives a Jeep!”

The Jeep failed us only once, through no fault of its own: we tried to drive it through a thigh-deep flood to evacuate from a Florida hurricane. The Jeep cheerfully went forth, but its unmodified exhaust pipe was blowing bubbles from twelve inches underwater.  Rather than swamp the exhaust system, we chose to abandon the evacuation and sit out the hurricane in the house. (This was the fourth evacuation of that year, which accounts for the cavalier attitude. Frickin’ frackin’ hurricanes. Note that we no longer live in Florida.)

When not saving humanity, the Jeep acts as DH’s portable Man Cave. It harbors an interesting welter of drywall mud, tow ropes, paint sticks, tile samples, Home Depot receipts, sturdy gloves, earflap hats, water bottles, reading glasses, and camping gear. When I occasionally drive the Jeep, I have a nice smug feeling that if civilization imploded somewhere between preschool and the dry cleaners, the Jeep would either get everybody home and/or sustain us in the wilderness until we could flintknap our own spears.

The Jeep stays largely devoid mommy-litter and kid-litter, except for last week. For reasons too long and boring to list here, DH and I swapped cars for a few days, and I shoehorned both carseats into the back seat of the Jeep.

 The kids are flatly delighted by this turn of events.  He’en can see everything out of the full-length rear window and keeps squealing with delight on the turns, crowing about “how FAS! we awe [are] go-ween!” Dragon Girl is less vocal but equally pleased. Her rear-facing bucket carseat requires me to stand on the back bumper and hoist her through the rear window for exit and entry. She thinks it’s great fun and giggles every time at this peek-a-boo game. Once underway, her ladybug toy merrily jingles over the bumps and she watches the scenery out the giant windows with an occasional softly delighted “Ah-glurrr!”

Where two-girls-under-five go, however, pink sparkly things go a-with. Thus follows the Glitterfication of the Jeep. After a mere four days, DH’s formerly fine and manly vehicle acquired a dried yarrow flower on the dashboard, a smattering of pastel terrycloth socks, a plushy blanket with green and pink flowers, and a liberal sprinkling of glitter from He’en’s “Pink and Purple Mermaid” art project.

I feel that the Jeep is comfortable with this.  Like a man who is secure enough to cheerfully escort his girlfriend to a drag show, the Jeep knows that it will be back in its rightful place in good time.

DH, however, is going to realize an unexpected benefit. Since the birth of Child #1, I have been harping at him to buy a more baby-friendly vehicle.   I now have resolved to stop.   In a world increasingly slathered with pink tulle, rhinestone tiaras, Barbie dolls, pastry sprinkles, beads-glitter-feathers-sequins-rainbows-sparkles-ponies-ribbons, it’s clear that DH’s last bastion of manliness should be preserved. I think that even the dog would agree.

[A special shout-out for this entry goes to my AOL-customer-support alumna sister, who found a way to make my computer talk to the Internet again.]

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Four-Minute Shirt

This probably will be a four-minute entry about the four-minute shirt. You know those speed writing exercises they give you in college? Yeah, come to my house for the "two kids under five" exercise. As my NANO-winning sister will attest --  for three years running, people! -- this place ups our game by factors of magnitude.

Anyway, the four-minute shirt. When your little bundle of joy arrives, you cannot conceive of the laundry it will generate. Pound-for-pound, they generate laundry at a minimum 3:1 ratio. For example: baby pees through a onesie, which soaks the bedding and later the changing pad. Here's what you have to swap:

1. The onesie, duh.
1.a. Any pants that accompanied the onesie.
2. Crib pad.
3. Crib sheet.
4. Changing pad.
5. Blanket on top of changing pad,

and, if you are like me and cannot securely hold a baby without getting all scrunged up yourself,

6. Your own shirt.

This last necessitates putting down the baby so you can change with two hands, and there is a risk of starting the whole thing over again.

The four-minute shirt happened thusly: I was going about my day wearing a nice comfy black sweater that puddled nicely over my Mama-belly. I bathed Dragon Girl and the sleeves got sopping. It was too wet to wear, so I changed it out for a black T-shirt.

I didn't like the black T-shirt because it was tight, but I figured I would not wear it long. I was right. As soon as I went down to the kitchen, I moved a dish in the sink and splashed half a baking bowl full of chocolatey water onto my Mama-belly. Then I shook up a warm bottle for Dragon Girl and sprinkled formula all over my sleeve. While still sighing over that, I picked up a hollering Dragon Girl and fed her. Seconds thereafter, I hoisted her onto my shoulder where I heard a liquidy little "glurp" followed by a cascade of the same formula, now at baby-belly-temperature, onto my left shoulder.

Four minutes. Seriously. And people wonder what a Mama does all day.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Whaddaya Want for Breakfast? v.2

Well, here's another thing nobody tells you about parenting: as soon as the child can articulate a desire, you, the parent, will be wrong all the time. I had not anticipated this at all. It's laughable on a good day and crushingly exhausting on a bad day.

Example: I had loaded both kids into the car to go [somewhere that is now a blur]. He'en had acquired a stalk of grass with seeds attached and was busily shredding it, waving it around, generally fiddling with it, and getting grass seeds all over the car. 

My new low standards didn't even take notice of this until she began to bounce it around near the baby's face. Then I tried some distracted remediation while reserving most of my brain to arrange purse, car keys, water, snacks, wipes, and God-knows-what for this trip to [somewhere that is now a blur].

Mom: He'en, please don't bounce that near the baby's face. I don't want her to get a grass seed in her eye.

He'en: [instantly outraged] I'm not bouncing it!

Mom: Okay, well, don't wave it, please.

He'en: I'm not doing that eeefer!

Mom: Or poke it at her? Or what? What are you doing?

He'en: I'm showing it to her.

Mom: Oh. Well. Please don't.

After a short pause, in a very quiet voice and tone I cannot really describe as other than smug:

He'en: I aw-weddy did.

I'm trying to remediate some of this, by the way, with a new household collar-tightening program based on 123 Magic Parenting. We all could use a refresher now and then. It's like training a dog. The problem usually is not the dog.

Moving along . . .

It's 7:33 a.m., blissfully late by two-kid standards. I haven't started Helen's breakfast even though I know that my computer's wakeup chime is like a four-alarm fire to the kids. I don't know how they can hear it through two closed doors, but they can.

Breakfast. Breakfast. Argh, yet another breakfast. I used to wonder how my mother developed such a distaste for cooking. She was an adventurous cook in the early 1970s and a member of the local Gourmet Club.

Well, there's one more "you were right, Mom!" Fast forward 30 years and I am totally sympathetic. Ten years ago, I used spend all weekend in the kitchen procuring five-course Indian meals and haunting the local Asian markets to seek out the correct ingredients for authentic Chinese.   Nowadays, if DH comes home to a plain roast chicken, some boiled potatoes (mashing is too much hassle) and anything green, I am beaming with pride like I just beat Deep Blue.

Breakfast. Argh.

The breakfast formula is "protein / starch / fruit." With those three categories in hand, I usually get something on the table of which I am not ashamed.  But I totally understand the urge to ask the kids, "What do you want for breakfast?" Even though I am not running a restaurant, I am so tired of being wrong about breakfast. Wrong egg: tears well up. "I wann-ed a dip-dip egg!" Wrong carb: tears well up: "I wann-ed waisins in dere." She doesn't ask for these things. I am just supposed to know. And when my clarivoyance fails, a meltdown follows, and I don't have a whole lot of tolerance for meltdowns when I am still on the wrong side of that first cup of coffee.

Now I hear Dragon Girl, so I am going to stagger to a halt with this entry. She, at least, is easy. What she wants for breakfast is a) milk, and b) cuddles. And she loves the same thing every single day. Bless her!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Stories: The Pirate who Fell in Love with the Mermaid

During a three-hour road trip this winter, I spun off about six "Pye-witt" stories. Two survived.  This is my favorite, probably because there's a grown-up moral or two buried herein.  He'en prefers The Talking Treasure Chest, which will follow when I get a couple more free fingers for typing.


Once upon a time, there was a pirate. He was the roughest, toughest, meanest, dirtiest, and smelliest pirate in all the world. He loved only one thing: treasure!  He didn't love anything else in the world. So of course nobody loved him back.

Because he was so rough and tough and mean, and because he was always trying to steal other people's treasure, this pirate was always getting into fights. In one of the fights, he lost his leg. In another, he lost his eye. He was so grumpy about losing his leg and his eye that he spent all day stomping around his pirate ship. When he stomped, his wooden leg would bang. So it sounded like this: step-STOMP, step-STOMP, step-STOMP. And that sound made him even grumpier.

One day, the pirate was sailing his ship far out at sea, looking for treasure. As usual, he was in a grumpy bad mood.  Step-STOMP, step-STOMP, step-STOMP, he stomped around the deck of the ship.

Far below the waves, in the deepest brightest blue ocean where the mer-people lived, a mermaid heard the funny noise from above:  Step-STOMP, step-STOMP, step-STOMP! She was a very good mermaid, very lovely with pale skin and long dark hair, and very curious.  "I wonder what that noise could be," thought the mermaid.

The noise didn't stop.  Day after day it continued -- Step-STOMP, step-STOMP, step-STOMP -- until it nearly drove the mermaid mad! 

"I have to find out about that strange noise," she told her mer-friends. "I will swim to the surface and find out!"

"Oh, no," said her mer-friends. "The surface is much too dangerous! You can't go there!"

But the curious mermaid was determined to go. So early one morning, she swam up-up-up through the blue water. She swam far and she swam fast, following the step-STOMP sound. And when she reached the surface by the grumpy pirate's ship, it was dawn. The sun was streaming over the water. The curious mermaid was swimming so fast that she burst out of the water and into the air like a rocket! Water splashed and sprayed everywhere until it looked like a shower of diamonds in the bright morning light.

"ARRRRR!!!!" shouted the grumpy pirate from the deck of his ship, where he was awake early and step-STOMP-ing around. "TREASURE!!! Look at all those DIAMONDS!"

The curious mermaid splashed down into the water again and bobbed her head up. "Those aren't diamonds," she said, "it's just me. Are you the one making that wonderful step-STOMP sound?"

But the pirate wouldn't answer. He was too grumpy and too distracted, thinking only of treasure. "Diamonds!" he shouted at the mermaid. "Give me those diamonds!"

"Really, there aren't any diamonds!" protested the mermaid.

The pirate still didn't believe her. "Give me those diamonds or I will come TAKE them from you!" he shouted. And no sooner did he shout that, then he dove over the side of his ship and into the water, trying to grab the diamonds.

Well, but once he was in the water, the pirate couldn't swim, having only one leg. And he couldn't see, having only one eye. So he started to thrash around and flail around and started to sink.

The curious mermaid felt very sorry for the pirate (even though he had been extremely rude and greedy). She couldn't return him to his pirate ship, so she did the next best thing. With her mer-magic -- because all mer-people have at least a little magic -- she changed that pirate into a merman!

His wooden leg floated away . . . and his remaining leg turned into a tail! He still had his eye-patch but it turned into a giant pearly fish-scale held on by a strand of golden and silver seaweed. [He'en insisted on this detail.] And after a good dunking in the ocean, he was much less dirty, and he wasn't smelly at all.

But was he grateful? Oh, no. 

"ARRRRGH!" cried the pirate, "Ye silly mermaid, what have ye done to me?"

"I've turned you into a mer-man so you wouldn't drown," said the curious mermaid, who wasn't about to put up with any more nonsense or rudeness. "Now come with me!" She took his hand and they swam down, down, down to the deepest brightest blue ocean where the mer-people lived.

As they swam, an amazing thing happened. The pirate saw treasure everywhere!

In the splashing water, he saw blue sapphires and aquamarines.
In the shining scales of fish, he saw silver and gold.
In the tiny bubbles all around, he saw crystal and pearls.
In the shining coral, he saw red rubies and purple garnets.
In the waving seaweed, he saw green jade and emerald.

"Treasure," he gasped, "Everywhere around me, there is treasure!"

At last, the pirate had found the one thing that made him happy. And in time, with enough treasure to satisfy him, he found that he wasn't so grumpy.  He didn't miss his leg, because he had a fine new tail. He didn't miss his eye, because he could see very well underwater.  As the days passed, the pirate found that he wasn't so rough, or tough, or mean.

In fact, he turned quite nice. And he fell in love with the curious mermaid who wouldn't put up with any of his nonsense. And they got married. And they lived, deep down where the mer-people live, under the bright blue ocean,


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Yep, Mamas and Spiders

DH and I were looking at nanny advertisements to survey the local pay rates. "I can't believe," I fumed, "that the market says somebody who helps raise your children deserves only $10 per hour. What the what? For two kids? What more important or difficult job is there?"

"Well, don't take this the wrong way," DH ventured, "but it is basically unskilled labor."

[N.B. - The gentle reader is here welcome to pause and send me a small monetary bonus for not busting him in the teeth with my laptop. Eight years of marriage has significantly mellowed me. Or maybe just scrubbed me into submission.]

In any event, I think we all can agree "unskilled" does not mean "easy." It's a shame that inborn parenting instincts have no market value. Just like spiders, Mamas get very little appreciation for the amazing daily miracles we do. So I'll just appreciate myself a little bit here, e.g., this morning:

"Mom?" After a nice wake-up, a nice breakfast, and a cheerful dispatch to her room to begin dressing in outdoor clothing, He'en now is visibly trembling and mincing down the stairs in nothing but a pair of Cinderella undies.  In a choking sob, she announces, "Mom? Mom . . . I don' wanna go ice skay-ting."

My first instinct is flatly Dickensonian: to grab the child by the ear and march her upstairs while firmly pronouncing that "we'll have no such nonsense."

OK, admittedly I don't deserve to get paid for that one. The second Mom-instinct is why I deserve the big bucks. This is the instinct that takes her hand, walks with her back upstairs, sits on her bed and snuggles her into my lap, wraps her in the favorite pink blanket, and asks,

"Why don't you want to go ice skating, honey?"

"I . . . I jus' doan." Tears have overflowed out of her neon-blue eyes and her superlong lashes are wet and spiked.

"You don't. Okay."

Pause. Hug. Thinking thinking thinking fast and especially thinking that I am sure-hell not about to get all aw-honey-you-don't-have-to-go after spending half of yesterday running all over town for the lesson registration, a pink-and-purple helmet, and a pair of itty bitty used figure skates (omg, so cute).

Further, and piffle on the foregoing:  DH has agreed to take the child ice skating, every Saturday morning for a month, at 8:00 a.m. Is that enough italics? Can you see the Grinchy grin on my face from where you are sitting?  Oh, yes, that child is going ice skating if I have to send her in nothing but Cinderella panties and a stocking cap.

Pause. Hug. Thinking thinking thinking.

Then I noticed the thermal tights on the floor. Next to those, a pair of pink sweatpants. Both are crumpled. Aha.

Sniff.  My offspring nuzzles her drippy little nose into my shoulder.

This is the gift of mothers and spiders: we can discern and track a trajectory that we didn't know existed four seconds beforehand. In this case, she had too much time to think. She got wound up in the gear. Excitement, which in my side of the family is never more than a breath away from apprehension at the best of times, had mutated into fear.  Argh, I should have gotten up here sooner.

Pause. Hug.  Then, very gently, "Is there something you are afraid of, about the ice skating?"



"Can you tell me what it is?"

Pause. Sniff. Then,

"Fawwing. I doan' wan' to faw."

Thank God she is still 4, and I hope to have about 10 more good years during which she will still tell me what is wrong.

So here's Part II of why Mamas deserve executive salaries: you are not out of the woods at this point because you can't belittle the fear. That gets you nowhere. And my husband has on his parka and is jingling his car keys, so time is ticking away. I don't know why Harrison Ford gets millions for pretending to defuse bombs under hot deadlines when Mamas do this every day.

"Falling. Well, that's very normal to be scared of falling. Falling is scary. I fall when I am ice skating. Even your dad falls."

Sniff. "Effen Dad?"

"Yep. We both fall. And do you know what?"

A glimmer of interest has emerged. "What?"

"At this first lesson, they are going to teach you how to fall. Isn't that silly, learning how to fall? But they will teach you how to fall so you don't get hurt."

Sniff. "When I yam skiiing, I fall on my bottom."

"Well, I don't know if that's how you fall when you are ice skating. It may be different.  You will have to find out and tell me. Do you want to find out? And tell me?"

Pause.  Sniff. "Okay."

Mama thinks:  "YAYYYYYY ME!!!!!"
Mama says:  "Okay, that's my good girl. So let's get on your tights."

She and her father left about a half-hour ago, all smiles. Yay me. Yay spiders. Yay instincts. Yay Mamas everywhere. Generous bonus checks will be issued to everybody.