Category Archives: family

Happy Whatever Day

I was talking with a friend one recent Monday who has 18-month-old twins. She told me that she and her husband had taken these twins over the weekend to a  relative’s home for a belated Father’s Day celebration. “Oh, how fun!” I said, and then I came to my senses. “I mean, geez, I’m sorry. You must be exhausted!”

When my starter child Benjamin was an infant, holiday get-togethers were still something to look forward to. Sure, sure, there was the inevitable crying from being passed around too much, and the seemingly constant need to excuse myself to go somewhere private to feed him. (In fact, I did miss an entire Thanksgiving dinner, start to finish, when he was going through a growth spurt at 5 months old.) But none of that prepared me for the horror of following a curious toddler around our relatives’ homes at holiday functions.

THE SEVEN HORRORS OF TODDLER HOLIDAYS

1)     Naptime. Every holiday function begins right in the middle of naptime. If it doesn’t, then the rule is that the food is served right when naptime would normally begin. Every parent knows that a naptime missed is the opening chapter of an epic tragedy. The novelty of the situation will briefly put the inevitable on hold—but eventually fatigue will win, and the child will stage a dramatic meltdown, the likes of which will leave an indelible impression upon all who bear witness. You’ll feel like people are judging you, and it’s true…they are.

2)     The food. Your child won’t eat any of the food served at the holiday, because none of the dishes are on the list of the four or maybe even six foods the toddler deems permissible. You’ll make a plate for the child anyway, secretly hoping that maybe this time will be different. You’ll present the plate to the child with enthusiasm. “Look what I brought you! Mmmmm!” The child will grimace, maybe poke at a scalloped potato, and then exclaim something along the lines of  “YUCKY! YUCKY YUCKY NO NO NO!”   The older relatives will look down their noses at you for raising such a picky eater. Someone might sigh and cluck their tongue and say, “My kids always ate their dinner…children these days are given too much freedom,” or “My Jenny was always such a good eater that I could take her anywhere and leave feeling proud.” It’ll sting, but keep in mind that their memories have been rewritten by time and vodka.

3)     Knickknacks and/or holiday decorations. Your sweet munchkin will hurl themselves at fragile, precious family heirlooms as they stumble unsteadily through the unfamiliar house. And who can blame them? It’s fun. You’ll lurch anxiously along behind them, crouched down in an approximation of their height and lunging radius, the unnatural posture causing debilitating and lingering back pain for at least a week. The other guests can’t help because they’re busy drinking and eating and judging you.

4)     Diaper changes. There will be a ton, far more than in a similar time period at home. So, let’s say that you normally change 3 diapers between 3:00 pm and 8:00 pm at home? Bring at least 6 diapers for the same time period at a holiday function. The other ironclad rule is that somehow, some way, you’re going to end up getting poop on something important that belongs to someone else, like a white guest towel or a silk throw pillow or maybe even Aunt Betty’s vintage mink coat. You could change that diaper out in your CAR, and I still guarantee someone else’s valuable item will be contaminated.

5)     Which brings me to potty training. Someone is going to see you changing one of those diapers, and they’re going to start grilling you on potty training. No matter what stage you’re at, you won’t be far enough along for them and everyone they know. They’ll recount at least 3 of their friends or family members who did it faster, better, and much, much earlier than you are doing it. You lazy, lazy, incompetent slacker.

6)     And if anyone asks about your child’s sleep habits, I’m begging you to LIE, even though it goes against your truthful nature. Unless the child goes to sleep promptly and independently at 7:00 pm, never wakes up in the night, never gets in bed with you, never gets up at 4:00 am for the day for no good reason, never demands water or another book or more snuggles. If you have one of those (fictional?) children who goes to bed, sleeps all night, and wakes up at 7:00 am rested, cheerful and refreshed, then go ahead and answer truthfully.

7)     But then be prepared for them to say you’re abusive for not co-sleeping. My advice is to excuse yourself from the conversation to go and clean up all that poop.

The good news is that all of those people will forget about how obnoxious your kid was (or they never really noticed or cared in the first place…a lot of those feelings of judgment come from the inside rather than the outside). Or they’ll have toddlers of their own someday, and you can be the kind and generous one who tells them how great they’re doing as their child hurls Great-Great-Grandma Daphne’s one-of-a-kind Austrian crystal vase to the floor, the one that she smuggled out of the old country cleverly baked into a loaf of simple peasant bread.

The Daddy and I are now past this phase, and it is AWESOME. Our kids, now 4 and 7, arrive at holiday gatherings and disappear with friends or cousins, not to be seen again until dinner time. I’m not gonna lie—it is fun to again be able to participate in holidays again.

There is a part I miss, though. It’s the part where I carried a tiny, warm, sleeping babychild into the house after the car ride home, carefully taking off their little shoes and ridiculously teensy-weensy socks before tucking them into bed. Awwwwww.

So cherish that part. All the rest of it is for the birds.

toddler

Advertisements

Gobbledygook is the Technical Term


A recent weeknight, 2:42 a.m.:

My eyes open slowly to the soothing blue numbers on my clock radio. My mind is empty. I see that it’s not time to get up yet – there are several sweet, heavenly hours of sleep left before the morning rush. The whole family is currently at some stage of recovery from the Horrible Flu of 2013, and sleep has proved to be the best medicine. I relax and let my upper eyelids drift down to meet their partners below, and snuggle down into the cozy covers.

As I drift off, I hear Ellie cough once from her bed in the next room.

A single thought inside my mind hears the sound and opens its eyes. It scowls, stretches, and sits up in bed. Then it gets out of bed and starts turning on lights.  It pulls on some pants and grabs a rumpled shirt. It stomps around, looking furtively for a cup of coffee and someone to scold.

All the commotion wakes up a few more thoughts. Before long, about a hundred half-conscious thoughts are lined up and shaking their fists at me, demanding my attention. There’s no choice now. I’m doomed…to start…THINKING.

Ellie just coughed again. When will this illness ever end? We’ve all had it for so long. I’ve missed so much work already, I really can’t stay home with her. (Insert 5 minute work project thought diversion.) The Daddy can’t stay home either after missing so much work when he was sick. I guess I’ll have to take her to Grandma and Papa’s house. Although it would be really dangerous if THEY got this illness – you know all those stories about how the flu really can bring the elderly down…man, they would probably DIE. So if she has to stay home, what will we do? The Daddy and I can’t afford to risk our jobs. God forbid. If one of us lost our job, we’d lose all our savings, and then we’d lose the house. Of course we would! There’s no other way. I guess we could sell it. Houses in this neighborhood are selling well. We certainly wouldn’t make any money since we just bought it last year, but we could probably unload it pretty easily. I guess we could look at the condos near Ben’s school – those are really nice, and they even have that awesome pool! Although we’d need a down payment which we wouldn’t have after losing everything. I guess we’d have to look at apartments. I liked living in apartments. Although Ben & Ellie might have to share a room if we couldn’t afford a three bedroom. Or one of them could sleep on the couch, I guess. Maybe we could get a pull-out couch, or even a futon. I wish I hadn’t gotten rid of that futon we had  when we first got married – that one was nice. It wouldn’t be so bad. But, geez, I can’t imagine any apartments would take a dog as big as Maya. They probably have weight limits, or size limits, or they charge an arm and a leg for deposits and extra monthly fees. That wouldn’t work out. What would we do with her? Maybe someone could keep her for awhile until we get back on our feet? OH GOD EITHER GRANDMA AND PAPA WILL DIE A PREMATURE HORRIBLE DEATH OR WE’LL LOSE EVERYTHING EVEN THE POOR SWEET INNOCENT DOG THIS IS UNBELIEVABLY HORRIBLE AND UNFAIR AND HOW IN THE HELL DID THIS EVER HAPPEN!!!!!

I sit up and try to make the thoughts stop. I consider waking The Daddy up to tell him that Ellie coughed so we either have to 1) callously sacrifice the lives of his wonderful parents or 2) move to a seedy, low-rent apartment and get rid of the dog. He’s sleeping so soundly, though, that it seems like it would be best to save the bad news for morning.

I get up and walk around a little. I get a drink of water and look out the window.  Finally, I wander down the hall to Ellie’s room. There she is, there’s my beautiful little girl, pouting in her sleep a little, one hand tangled up in her silky brown hair. I climb in bed next to her and snuggle close. She finds my hand and laces her little fingers in mine. I listen to her breathing, and I manage to match my breath up with hers. Soon I’m drifting away with her, a stowaway on the peaceful voyage of her dreams.

The next morning, the whole thing was mostly forgotten, as these things usually are. Seems unbelievable, but it’s true. In fact, I didn’t give it much thought at all until my friend at work was talking about being tired because she was up in the middle of the night worrying that she and her husband were going to have to declare bankruptcy.

I said, “Oh my gosh – I hope that’s not really true, is it?”

“No!” she said. “I started thinking about one single bill I had to pay, and it all spun out of control from there. That’s what happens when I start thinking about things when I wake up in the middle of the night.”

SWEET FANCY MOSES! Just how widespread IS this crazeballs disorder? If there are two of us in the same small office, there must be tens of thousands in the general population who fall prey to this nighttime brain gobbledygook business. It only happens to me a couple of times a year – normally I sleep like I’m being graded on it – but my guess is others dabble in nocturnal catastrophe fantasies on a much more frequent basis than that.

If you’re one of them, I wish I had helpful advice, other than snuggling your four-year-old. If you don’t have one of those…well…bourbon? Ambien? Although I understand Ambien can cause unconscious night eating, as in someone I know personally took Ambien and WOKE UP WITH HER MOUTH PACKED FULL  OF CHEWED UP GRAHAM CRACKERS with no idea when or how they got there. (Not to be too graphic, but the texture apparently suggested that the cracker remnants had been there for a significant period of time. Possibly hours! In her mouth! Dangerously close to the neighboring body parts responsible for breathing that must never ever ever be blocked!) That my friends, is a reason not to take Ambien if I ever heard one.

Anyway, here’s hoping for a peaceful night. Sweet dreams to me and all the rest of you crazy demented nutjobs out there! See you in the looney bin.* If you get there first, save me an Ambien and some graham crackers, mmmkay?

*Please forgive me if you feel that I’ve been insensitive here to anyone actually suffering from this kind of thing on a regular basis. It must be AWFUL, and I recognize that I’m only free to be so flip about it because it hardly ever happens to me. And the thing about bourbon being a solution – I was really kidding about that too, it just made me giggle when I wrote it is all, so I apologize if you are struggling with alcohol as a result of anxiety and it seemed like I was making fun.  And if those of you suffering from infertility felt that I was insensitive for suggesting snuggling with a child as a solution, I’m sorry for that too – I’m such a jerk. And to the company that makes Ambien – I did not mean to suggest that your product would cause similar graham cracker capers in other people too, it’s just that it was such a dramatic and amazing side effect that I couldn’t help but mention it. I mean, that lady is probably the only one that ever happened to, even though her doctor said night eating was a known undesirable side effect. But what does he know? In fact, everyone just go ahead and forget everything you read here, okay? Don’t read this blog ever again, and just…don’t even look at me. Look away. LOOK AWAY!

looneybin2

The Great Spider Massacre of 2012

I was playing with Ellie upstairs when I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a small spider on the guest room door. We ran over to assess the situation.

“Ewwww!” she said. She grabbed the bottom of my shirt with one hand and pointed at the eight-legged beast with the other. Hopping up and down nervously, she clearly instructed me to “GET IT, MAMA!”

So I DID. I got a Kleenex out of the kids’ bathroom and squished the spider; then I flushed it as she watched me. “Oooooh! Bye bye, ‘pider!” We waved as the spider was whirled away in the watery cyclone.

Benjamin came over and wanted to know what was going on. “Mama flushed a ‘pider!” Ellie explained.

“MAMA? You flushed a spider down the TOILET?”

I smiled at him as Ellie hugged me. “Yep!” (I am the triumphant spider killer, valiant defender of my family!)

“Why did you do that?”

“Well, we don’t want spiders in the house, right?” (Logic is on my side, boy!)

“Sure we do! I love everything in nature, and spiders are part of nature.”

“That’s true, yes.” (You are correct, son, but I am still way more righter.)

“Did you smush him first, or was he alive when you flushed him?”

“I smushed him first.” (This is the right answer, I just know it.)

“Oh, Mama! That’s so mean. Then he couldn’t breathe!”

“Well, no, but I was thinking that then he wouldn’t drown slowly in the water. This was much quicker and kinder.” (Er…right?)

His little shoulders slumped and he shook his head, suffering incredulous disbelief over my obvious stupidity.

“Mama, that spider probably had a family! Now they’re going to miss him so much.”

“Well, I guess that’s true…” (Smugness…waning…)

“You broke my heart by killing that spider, Mama. You really broke my heart.”

“I’m sorry, Ben.” (Man, I STINK.)

Tears welled up in his eyes.

“My heart is broken. You shouldn’t have killed him.”

“But then he would’ve crawled around in our house and crawled on us while we were sleeping. What would you think about that?” (One point for me!)

“I would like that! It would tickle.”

“But what if he bit you?” (What about that, hmmmm?)

“I wouldn’t care!”

“Really.” (I don’t believe you, but I do admire your resolve.)

“Nope! Would it hurt, though? Well, maybe I wish you’d just taken him outside, then, instead of killing him.”

“My gramma used to do that. She’d scoop up the spider in her hand and take it right outside and let it go in the grass.” (Let’s talk about something else, like how cool my Gramma was!)

“Yeah, that’s what you should do. And then you could just say, ‘Have a nice day, spider!’ instead of making it lose its whole life.”

“That’s a really good point, Ben.” (Good, and also exhausting.)

“Yeah. It was really, really mean, what you did.”

“I’m so sorry, buddy. I’ll ask for your help next time, okay? And we can figure out the best solution together.” (And the solution will be that YOU can pick up the spider! See how brave you are then, Nature Boy!)

“Okay, Mama.”

“I love you, Ben.”

“Love you too, Mama.”

***

I wondered, afterwards, what will happen when if we get a mouse in the house, or when it hits him that he regularly eats a variety of animal products. I sat there and imagined the moment he figures it out. He’ll likely demand that we change our dietary structure immediately, that we all become vegetarians, or maybe even vegans. I’ll heartily agree that it’s a better, healthier way to eat, and come up with vegetarian meal options for the family. (I already did this once, a few years ago, when I got on yet another vegetarian kick after watching Food, Inc.)

The whole thing will probably only last until the nearest Saturday, when he learns that he can’t have…*gasp*…BACON with his favorite weekend breakfast. Because this, folks, is how that child feels about bacon:

Regardless of my premature daydreams of possible bacon deprivation, I’m feeling really happy that the boy feels strongly about all of the world’s creatures. It shows that he’s developing a compassionate and loving heart – and in my humble opinion, there is absolutely nothing that will serve him better in life than that.

Hoochie Mama Princess Party

Smack between Christmas and the New Year is Ellie’s birthday. When I was pregnant with her and realized when she was likely to be born, I knew it would be trouble. Holiday-time birthdays are always eclipsed by someone else’s birthday (I’m looking at you, JESUS).  It didn’t really matter when she was a baby, or even last year when she turned 2, but I suspect age 3 is when they start keeping a mental record of the ways that you’ve failed them. This year, I had to produce A PARTY.

There were a fair amount of mental gymnastics involved. For example, the gifts. What would be for Christmas, and what would be for her birthday? Here was my detailed, insightful approach: I bought a bunch of stuff for her and decided that I would figure it out at the last minute.

But then on Christmas Eve (the last minute!), I realized that if I didn’t put everything I had for her under the tree, the Scales of Christmas Gift Justice would be tipped wildly in Benjamin’s favor. A disgustingly luxurious first world problem, I know. Nonetheless, I couldn’t let it happen, so all the gifts went under the tree and I shopped for birthday gifts after Christmas. There were lots of deals (yay!) on crap that nobody else wanted either (boo).

Next, I went to order the cake, which was great because I knew exactly what to get: The Barbie Princess Cake. I take her grocery shopping with me nearly every Sunday, and each time we have to go to the bakery counter to look at it. I’m sure you’ve seen a version at your local bakery – it’s a Barbie sticking out of a huge skirt-shaped cake. This bakery decorates the skirt area with a cascading spray of delicate pink buttercream roses. For the last several months, she has squealed over it regularly. “Oh MAMA! Wook at da bootifoh pwincess! I have it on my birfday???”

After briefly considering the possibility of making the cake myself, I went to the bakery to order it. Right before I walked away, I thought to ask,

“How many people does the cake serve?”

The bakery attendant referred the question to the stern-faced cake decorator, who replied tersely, “No one knows.”

“What do you mean,  no one knows?”

“Because of the shape of the skirt and the many layers of cake, it’s impossible to say.”

“Surely you must have a general idea?”

“No, there’s no way to say.”

I stared at him dumbly. I considered discussing this with a manager, or attempting to perform a complex mathematical equation, but instead I  just gave up and ordered a dozen pink cupcakes too, in case the voluminous cake skirt was heavy on architecture and light on actual cake.

When the day came, Ellie was wide-eyed and thrilled with everything. My little girl loved it all – the decorations, the food, the party guests, the presents, and ohmygoodness – THE CAKE. It was as delicious as it was beautiful.

Everything seemed so innocently pink and royally wholesome, the doll posing demurely in her cake like a blonde Kate Middleton…

until I released Princess Barbie from her cake-and-buttercream prison. And then several of the party guests, including myself, started to giggle after a brief, stunned moment of silence. Because this was no Princess Barbie after all…this was Princess HOOCHIE MAMA Barbie:

(Special self-congratulatory note: I arranged those flowers. All by myself!)

As you can see, although the picture doesn’t even do it justice, her outfit is something one might wear on their way to work as a “hostess” in a “club,” perhaps a club designated for “gentlemen” somewhere near “the airport.” In real life, the dress is even shorter than the picture makes it appear. It is more like something that someone (not me) might wear as a SHIRT. And it’s made out of shiny plastic, which makes sense because you could just wipe the cake off of it and all, but STILL.

And then, the shoes:

When we saw the shoes, the giggles turned into gales of laughter, which brought The Daddy over to see what our problem might be. Ellie came too, and said, “Oooohhhh, she has a pwetty dwess on!”  Which made us laugh even more.

When I put Ellie to bed that night, she snuggled into me and thanked me for her party. I asked her what her favorite part was, and she said it was her cake. I felt so very happy to be able to make her 3-year-old birthday dream come true.

As for Hoochie Mama, she’ll be undergoing intensive psychoanalysis to deal with her daddy issues and her propensity for exhibitionism. I’ll keep you posted!

Say what? Booty butt.

It all started with Benjamin, sometime last winter. One day, he brought home a fun new word from preschool: BOOTY.

Until that fateful day, booty had not been a standard word in our house. In fact, the rump isn’t something we discuss overly much. “Move your buns,” someone might say. Or “Sit on your bum! It’s dangerous to stand in the tub.”

This is how it all started: Benjamin, a born dancer, goes through phases where he loves to get his groove on. During other periods, you can’t get him to dance AT ALL, not so much as a stray head bob,  or even a finger snap. But recently, he was dancing all the time to the Fresh Beat Band (a kids’ TV show, for those of you not subjected to such things). It’s a little irritating, sure, but it allowed me to make dinner in peace. I’d put it on and he and Ellie would dance and dance, and that part was fun to watch, indeed, in large part because Ellie’s dancing is reminiscent of an injured Clydesdale on heavy narcotics.

So one day they’re dancing, and Benjamin says, “Mama, look at my booty! I’m doin’ the booty dance!” Ellie starts mimicking him, saying, “Booty, Mama, booty! Shakin’ booty! BOOTY BUTT!” Benjamin starts laughing at her, repeating, “Booty butt! Booty butt! I’m shakin’ my boooooty butt!” Soon they’re laughing so hard that they’ve collapsed on the floor, swept away by the kind of hysterics in which you can’t catch your breath, and your stomach muscles get all prickly and weak forcing you to roll on the floor and flail your limbs. (We should all do that more often, no?)

And then, because it was such a funny little scene, I made a big mistake: I laughed too.

Ellie loves nothing more than to make someone laugh. If you laugh at her for something she does or says, you can be sure that she will repeat it ad nauseam. Even at 2 1/2, she  understands that if she’s going to  continue to make someone laugh over the same thing, she needs to add a new twist every so often to make it novel.

The first thing she did was to start saying, “Oh no! I hurt my booty butt!” when she fell down.

When the laughs stopped coming for that, she changed it up. “Mama! I hurt my booty butt! And my booty knee. And look! My booty toe.”

Then: “I ate my booty dinner.”

“Read me this booty book?”

“Good night, Booty Mama!”

*sigh* All I could do was hope that particular nickname didn’t catch on.

Eventually, when the use of the word moved from occasional and funny to constant and irritating, we banned the use of it altogether. Anyone who said booty got an instant time out. It worked for a few days, maybe even a week. We were booty-free for some reasonable time period…and then suddenly it was back. And because it was unexpected when she finally did say it, I LAUGHED again. Because I am essentially immature and lacking in self-control.

In the end, we just gave in and now we all say it. It’s become something of a family joke, and as usually happens when you take the stigma away from something, it’s slowly fading away. “Do you want some booty soup?” I might ask, and she’ll reply, “Mama, it not booty soup. It just SOUP.”

Music to my booty ears.

I’m quite sure it’s not entirely over, though, especially when she finds a new audience. School, for example. I can just hear the conversation at our first teacher conference. “Elise is very bright and awfully funny, but…I have some concerns.”

And I’ll just nod sympathetically and say,  “I already know what you’re going to say, but try not to worry about it, Mrs. Booty Butt. It’s just a booty phase.  Any other relevant concerns, Booty Mama?”

500 Miles to Heaven

Well, hello! I’ve been quiet, I know, but I was on vacation. And then when we got back home, my brain was on the slow setting for at least another week and a half.

Our vacations are typically spent at my parents’ place on Lake Superior. They live in the same state as we do, and yet their place is 500 miles away. 500 miles! In the same state! I’m sure that sounds like loony talk to you east coast people, who can drive through 5 states in 20 minutes. But if you look at a map of Michigan, it will make sense. Michigan is two long gobs of land surrounded by water…not a shortcut to be had. See, look how crazy Michigan is:

We drive from almost the furthest southeastern point on the map (near Detroit) to the furthest location northwesterly (is that a word?) in the fingerlike projection east of Minnesota. So, the northwesterly fingerlike thingy. You see what I mean, right?

Crazier still is making that drive with two little kids and a 6-month old puppy. Before we left, I thought, “Oh, it’ll be fine.. Benjamin’s gained so much maturity since last time, and Ellie…well, at least she’s not a baby anymore.”

Ummmmmmmm. Well.

GAZILLION HOUR FAMILY CAR TRIP LOG:

7:00 a.m. Already several hours behind schedule. Ellie, normally the early chirpy bird in the family, refuses to get up. She actually says, “Mama, you be quiet now so I can sleeeeeeeeeeeep.”

7:30 a.m. Car almost loaded. Children jump around, excited. Puppy goes on one last walk before interminable confinement.

7:45 a.m. Tim Horton’s drive-through. Coffee. Coffee. Coffee. COFFEE.

8:00 a.m. Takeoff! Estimated time of arrival – 6:00 p.m.

8:30 a.m. Benjamin asks how much longer it’s going to be before we get there.

9:00 a.m. I had wanted to save movies for later when things got desperate. As it turns out, we’re already desperate at the end of hour one. I put in the movie Rio.

9:30 a.m. Children quiet, dog crying. Bathroom break!

10:00 a.m. Road trip bliss. Silence from the back. I’m even reading a grown-up book.

10:15 a.m. Movie concludes. Whining begins. Ellie’s diaper has soaked through; The Daddy pulls over.

10:30 a.m.  Back on the road.

10:45 a.m. Children want to see Rio again.

12:30 p.m. We stop at our favorite drive-in restaurant for lunch. Amazingly, Ellie has wet through ANOTHER diaper? Also, only one surly waitress has been assigned to carside service. She ignores us, and then ignores us some more. Finally, a woman in the car next to us takes pity. When the waitress comes to take their order, she points to us and says, “Uhhh, they’ve been here for a long time, much longer than we have.” She sullenly takes our order. When she finally brings the food, she delivers it on one of those window-hangy trays, even though I had told her that we’d need it to go since we’d been there so long (an hour!). I’m afraid of her, but I muster the courage to ask her to bag it up for us. She is furious. I give her a big tip so she doesn’t slash our tires on the sly before we can peel out of there.

1:45 p.m. Finally eating food. No picnic tables available, so we set up lunch on a blanket in the grass. It’s fun! It’s so much fun, in fact, that both children, overstimulated by the wonders of nature, ignore their lunches completely.  I plead and admonish, but no one listens. The Daddy walks Maya in large circles around the park, trying to eat as she alternately sniffs and lunges. Poor guy.

2:15 p.m. Back on the road. Benjamin asks, “How much longer?” and “Can we watch Rio again?” I start listing all of the other movies I brought, but each selection is denied. I tell them we need a break from Rio for a little while and they should just watch the scenery go by, or maybe read a book. Benjamin reminds me that Ellie can’t read, so I suggest that he read to her. He chooses to watch the scenery. Ellie whines.

2:30 p.m. Both children are hungry and whiny. Surprise! I mention that they should’ve eaten lunch, and pass out snacks and juice boxes.

3:00 p.m. Ellie’s whining finally flips my overload switch. I yell at her to quit it already, which makes her cry. The crying is louder and screechier than the whining. The Daddy is wowed by my superior parenting skills.

3:15 p.m. You guessed it….Rio.

3:45 p.m. And more whining.

4:00 p.m. Can’t anyone just take a NAP? We stop to walk the dog again. I get some “coffee” (brown aquarium water?) at a gas station.

5:30 p.m. We stop at Wendy’s so the kids can get out of the car for a while. The Daddy is once again stuck with the dog, although I am beginning to feel jealous of dog duty. We try to order some food, since lunch was so poorly received. Ellie wants chicken; Benjamin wants nothing. Then he wants a cheeseburger. No, he doesn’t. Yes, he does. No. Yes? Oh wait – no. We get to the table, and it turns out that what he really wants is chicken. What I really want is a lobotomy. And ear plugs.

6:00 p.m. Getting closer. I talk the kids into watching Curious George, which is even more audibly irritating than Rio. Ellie says her “bums hurts” and Benjamin says, “Mine too!”

7:00 p.m. Getting closer.

7:30 p.m. Yesssssssss!

So there you have it – only eleven and a half hours. What am I complaining about?

Despite the pain of getting there, the rewards make it all worthwhile. Time spent with my parents is priceless, and they don’t get to see the kids enough. The beauty of the place is breathtaking, and what could be better than having a private place to play and swim, right in your own back yard?

It is simply heaven.

Love, Eternal

Dear Gramma,

I still think of you all the time.

When we were all there with you, those last few days, I remember thinking we should have another family reunion later, when we’re not waiting for something so sad to happen.

I  sat next to you for hours and read as you slept. Your consciousness drifted back and forth between the place we both were and the place you were going next, without me.

You opened your eyes, once, and asked if I remembered my little yellow raincoat, the one I had when I was three. Some time later, you asked if I remembered the time we boiled a clam I found in the lake.

Later still, you said we made a nice family, and I agreed.

***

I don’t often think of those last days, though. Mostly, I think of things you said (“My stars and bars!”) and did.  Things you knitted. Things you cooked and baked. The way you laughed, the way you walked; your snowy hair. The stories you told me as we played cards on lazy Sunday afternoons. Working the crosswords with the big paperback cheat books, as you called them. Listening to you name the flowers and birds as we strolled to the lake. The way some of your teeth came out at night and were left to sleep alone in a water glass on the counter.

I think of the time you found a snake in our basement and killed it with a hockey stick.

I think of how I wrote you eight-page letters as a lonely freshman in college, and how you wrote long letters back. Tucked inside there were always Marmaduke cartoons to make me laugh, and crisp dollar bills so I could buy myself a Coke.

I think of the time we were lost in rural Wisconsin after a cousin’s wedding reception. You guided us home through the inky black night, using only your voice and a map that lived somewhere in the far reaches of your mind.

I think of how thankful I am that I have a picture of us hugging after my wedding. (It makes me promise the universe that I will take more pictures, because every passing moment is a precious one.)

I think of these things, and so much more.

On the worst days, I think of how much I wish I could see you walking with my own two little ones, stopping to show them the Queen Anne’s lace and the devil’s paintbrush, or pointing a long finger skyward at the chickadees and the goldfinches.

Things I can do: Snuggle their little bodies up in afghans that you knitted with your two capable hands. Feed them your baked apples and your schaum tortes. Teach them the card games we played, and when they beat me, I’ll exclaim, “Son of a GUN!”

***

A few days before you died, I heard my mother ask you if you were scared, and you said no. I could tell that you really meant it. Your faith had made you sure of things.

***

Leaving your side to fly back to Michigan was excruciating. I tried to choke out some words sufficient for the occasion of seeing my grandmother for the very last time, but every time I tried, I’d simply cry harder. Then you looked at me and said,

I know you love me, and that makes me happy.”

***

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but I picture you floating on a warm fluffy cloud, laughing and drinking happy hour Manhattans with Grandpa. I hope it’s fun, there. I hope you’re happy.

I miss you.

Love,

Anne

Friday Morning in Four Parts

I.

6:15 a.m. My eyes haven’t even opened yet. I can sense daylight through my eyelids, but I am not yet remotely interested in what time it is. Benjamin is lying next to me. I’m pretty sure he’s sleeping, but then he says,

“Mama, Grandma told me that saying ‘What the…?‘ is fine. There’s nothing wrong with it.”

Here we go again. Keeping my eyes closed, I say,

“Grandma probably doesn’t know the end of that sentence, so she would think it’s fine. But it’s not okay for you to say, because plenty of people DO know how to finish that sentence, and you’re too little to be saying it.”

“I’m listening to Grandma because she’s right.”

“No, I’d like you to listen to me because I’m your mother and I said so.”

“No.”

“Yes.”

I’d type out the rest of the conversation, but it’s irritating and redundant.

Notably, not even an hour later, Ellie peers into her cereal bowl and says, “What the…?”

II.

8:30 a.m. Benjamin and I are in the car, idling in the drive-through line at Tim Horton’s. He’s playing with his show-and-tell item, a skeleton of a Quetzalcoatlus, and is right in the middle of explaining why he needs a chocolate chip cookie. At that moment, out of nowhere, BAM! The lady behind us slams into my rear bumper.

Benjamin probably said, “What the…?” but I didn’t hear it. I pull into a parking space and exit the car. The perpetrator does the same, meeting me between the vehicles to inspect the damage.

I throw my hands up in the air, incredulous. “What was that?” I ask.

She looks at me sadly. “I’m so sorry,” she says. “I don’t know why I did that. I don’t know how it happened.”

My heart rate slows. Who really does know why, when they do something like that? It wasn’t like she did it on purpose. I look at her car and notice a little boy, much like my own, sitting in the back seat. I look for damage and there is very little. “Well, I’ve done plenty of things I can’t explain too.” She smiles. I reach out, give her arm a little squeeze, and suggest we just get back in our cars and get some coffee.

I slide back into my seat. Benjamin says, “Why did she do that to us?”

“She says she doesn’t know.”

“Oh. Well, she almost broke my Quetzalcoatlus skeleton.”

“Boy, that would’ve really stunk.”

“You’re right, Mama, it really would’ve.”

He said I was right about something!

III.

8:40 a.m. I finally make it to the window at Tim Horton’s. Everything about my order is correct, except the part where they downsized my coffee, ensuring that I won’t attain the appropriate caffeine dosage required to fully start the engine on my higher-level brain functions.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOooooooooo!

I mention this to the drive-through lady, and she is plainly uninterested in correcting the problem. “Oh,” she says, “that’s the size they charged you for. Sorry!” Then she adds, “Figures. Goes right along with how the rest of my morning is going!”

IV.

8:55 a.m. Benjamin and I arrive at his preschool. He hands me his Quetzalcoatlus skeleton model and says, “Here, Mama. Hide this behind your back so I can surprise my friends with it. My back isn’t big enough to hide it behind because I’m only little.”

(In case you’re wondering by now, a Quetzalcoatlus is a type of flying dinosaur. And I would be remiss if I didn’t explain that flying dinosaurs are actually called Pterosaurs, as Benjamin announces to anyone who will listen.)

I take the skeleton as he’s climbing out of the car. When I move my arm behind my back to hide it, I feel one of its wings catch on my shirt and then OMG the whole thing just collapses into a million pieces, spread out all over the parking space next to us. OK, so maybe it was only 10-ish pieces, but still, we’d been through so much already this morning, and now THIS.

Benjamin starts to panic. “Mama, all the pieces! They’re all over! We have to pick them up and put it back together! Hurry! Mama! Mama! Mama, mama, mama!”

We scramble to pick up all the pieces before another car comes to park in the space. The problem is, I don’t know how many pieces we should have, because I didn’t put the wretched thing splendid specimen together.

I dump what we’ve got into his booster seat and set about recreating it. After a few false starts, it goes together pretty easily. Benjamin thinks I’m a heroic genius.

“Thanks Mama! You did it! I can’t wait to show it to my friends!”

I tell him I’m not going to try to hide it behind my back again, and he sees the wisdom. We walk into his school, and as soon as his friends see the skeleton, they go bananas. He beams from ear to ear.

On my way out, one of the little girls in his class stops me to say,

“Hey, Benjamin’s Mama, you look really pretty today!”

I smile at her, thank her, and give her all the cash in my purse. No, I didn’t. But who could’ve blamed me?

QUETZALCOATLUS DETESTED FENDER BENDERS

The Trouble With Rex

Several months ago, we lost our 13-year-old Border Collie to cancer. It’s never easy to lose a furry member of the family, and this time we had to try to explain death to Benjamin. When Simon the cat died a few years back, Benjamin was only 2, and we didn’t think he could possibly understand. So our explanation for the cat’s sudden absence was, “He went to visit friends!” But now he’s 4, so we did our best to discuss her death in a way he could grasp. And once he wrapped his little brain around the fact that the dog had died and wasn’t coming back, he said, “That’s what happened to Simon, too, ISN’T IT?!”

Busted.

As the grieving process moved on, we started to feel like we were ready to have a dog in our family again. We took several exploratory trips to the Humane Society to see what was what, and what’s what is that all the dogs at our local shelter were Pit Bulls.

I know there are all kinds of Pit Bull cheerleaders out there who say they are wonderful family dogs with sunshiny temperaments, their reputation is unfair, prejudice is cruel, etc. But with two little kids, I just can’t take the chance that I adopt the one dog that is going to rip Ellie’s arm off for a midafternoon snack.  What my brain has come up with on the subject is this: I’ve had hunting dogs and a herding dog. None of these dogs were expected to hunt or herd, but they did it anyway. They naturally did the things they were bred to do, and Pit Bulls are bred to fight and kill. I’m sure I’m wrong, but I’d rather be wrong than risk being right.

Anyway, hopeful people that we are, we made one final trip to the Humane Society on Sunday. And WAH-LAH, there he was…a gorgeous yellow lab mix named Rex. Everyone who walked by his cage stopped to make some sort of enthusiastic exclamation.

“Oh, what a beautiful dog!”
“Now, that’s a dog.”
“Son, this is what you call a real American dog.” (Notably, this was uttered by a man with a thick Irish accent.)

We asked to play with Rex and they let us take him outside. Then we played with him inside. I liked the way he behaved with the kids. Then we tested his ability to tolerate a cat, which went well after a brief hissy-spitty-growly introductory period. Everyone on staff at the shelter said some version of, “Oh, that’s such a great dog!”

He was gorgeous, fun, widely loved and adored…how could we go wrong?

We decided to take him home and make him part of our lives after a brief family meeting in the reception area over popcorn and M&Ms. After an exhaustive adoption process, during which my brain melted into a quivering mass of gelatinous glop, we gleefully left the shelter with our new family member.

He did a great job in the car on the way home. I’ll give him that.

At the house, we kept him on a leash for the first hour or so. We walked him around the neighborhood. We introduced him to the yard. We walked him around the house on the leash. He met the cat, and they both did very well. “Fantastic!” I thought. “This is going to be great!”

Then I let him off the leash in the family room, which I blocked off from the kitchen with a baby gate. “Better not to overwhelm him,” I thought.

I assumed that the first thing he’d do was eat, but instead, he chose a different path, a bad path, a path that would change everything. Instead of eating the bowl of food I offered, he looked away, watched Ellie intently for a moment,  then chased her down and was…well, he was…inappropriate, if you know what I mean. Inappropriate in a very rude, mannerless, boy-dog kind of way.

Ellie was horrified and startled, and thankfully I was right there to snatch her up and away from the…inappropriateness.

Next he targeted Benjamin in the yard, knocking him over in the process. Then it was me. THEN it was The Daddy, which was followed immediately by a display of lunging and menacing barking at the lawn guy and later, our neighbor.

The Daddy said, “I don’t think this is working out.”

I said, “I WANT A GIRL DOG.”

So, three hours after his joyful homecoming, Rex went back to the shelter. The staff was very kind about it, agreeing that we couldn’t have that kind of behavior with little kids around.

We felt really bad. Benjamin felt really bad. We felt really bad for Benjamin, who had been so excited to have a dog again, especially one named after his favorite dinosaur.

Ellie didn’t care at all, perhaps because she was the first of Rex’s victims. At dinner, she asked, “Where’s Wex?” The Daddy replied, “Rex had to go home.” She looked at him, smiled sweetly, and said “Okay, Daddy!” And she’s right, it is okay, because handsome Rex will eventually find a home, and we will eventually find the right dog to complete our nutty little family. The right GIRL DOG, that is.

NAUGHTY

A Sign of the Impending Apocalypse

I was talking with my mother the other night, as I frequently do, and she mentioned that she was enjoying Steven Tyler on American Idol. “He’s funny!” she said. “And I think he gives good advice to the contestants.”

The fact that my mother even knows who Steven Tyler IS – well, it’s kind of freakin’ me out.

My parents were not at all interested in the music of my youth, and that’s putting it mildly.  (To be fair, my taste was often questionable; does anyone remember Ratt?) My dad used to say that everything that came after jazz wasn’t music at all; it was simply garbage. “What about the Beatles?” I asked, thinking that perhaps since they were essentially his contemporaries, he could muster up an appreciation. I was wrong.

My posters of Bon Jovi and David Lee Roth had to be hung on the INSIDE of my closet door. Now that I’m a mom, I think that was actually an inspired idea.  

I didn’t go to a concert that wasn’t classical or school-related until I was 19 years old and away at college.  I’d occasionally try to play a song for them  that I really liked, even going so far as to point out to them what was so great about it, but the enthusiasm fell on deaf ears. (Ha ha! See what I did there?)

With all that in mind, you can imagine my amazement that they’re even watching American Idol at all. And apparently this isn’t even their first season watching it. What it means for American Idol is that the show has truly saturated every possible viewing demographic. What it means for the rest of us is that the world may really be coming to an end.  I hadn’t imagined that doomsday would involve Steven Tyler, but if you think about it, it’s not all that far-fetched.

FOR MOM
Photo by PR Photos