Paige’s Birthday Interview, Age 5

Posted: February 15th, 2013 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 17 Comments »

I’m worried about how Paige is going to handle turning 30. If how she dealt with her fifth birthday is any indication, 30 will be a doozey. With the amount of discussion, processing, anticipation, and anguish that’s consumed her over this five-fingers-old b-day, you’d think she was in the throes of a mid-life crisis.

A few weeks back Mark was bathing Paige after dinner, and from my perch folding clothes on the couch I heard her start crying. This is not a terribly unusual occurrence, since by the end of the day exhaustion can get the better of Paige’s amiable disposition. I had no idea what she was bawling about but assumed Mark had it under control, so I forged on with my folding.

Five minutes later a toweled-off but still-wailing Paige dashed into the living room to find me. She was buck naked, her hair a mass of dripping wet, matted curls.

Ma-maaaaaaa,” she blubbered red-faced. “I don’t waaaaanna turn five! Everything’s gonna be different!”

“What do you mean?” I asked, wrapping her up in my arms.

“I don’t wanna leave my school! I love my teachers and my friends!” she wailed. It dawned on me that she thought she might be shunted directly kindergarten upon turning five. But before I could open my mouth she bellowed, “I don’t know how to do math! And I don’t even KNOW what P.E. is!”

Is it wrong to laugh at your sobbing, inconsolable child?

One thing Paige did embrace this year for her birthday—aside from her animal-themed party, which she counted down to starting some 20 days out—was her birthday interview. Yes the annual talk we have that I share on this very blog.

Here’s the transcript of our conversation:

Me: Do you feel different now that you’re five?
Paige:  Yes.
Me
: How?
Paige: 
Why is it called an interview?
Me
: Why do you think?
Paige: 
Because it’s interviewing you?
Me
: Well, yes.

Me: So how do you feel different now that you’re five?
Paige: 
It feels like I can do more things by myself.
Me:
Like what?
Paige:
Um. Hmmm…. Write!

Me: What do you like most about preschool?
Paige: Drawing.
Me
: What else?
Paige:
Play with my friends.

Me: What do you like to do most when you aren’t in school?
Paige: Read. Read Jack and Annie.
Me
: Do you know how to read the words?
Paige:
I am just doing it in my mind. I look at the words and I make them up into one whole words. That is how I read. Like w-x-n and z—but that doesn’t really make a word. That is how I read.

Me: If a genie could grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Paige: Having a house with dogs and cats allowed. Having a dog.

Me: Where do you think you’ll live when you grown up?
Paige: In… [long pause] Japan.
Me
: Why?
Paige:
I just do. I wonder what it’s like in Japan.

Me: Who do you think you will live with?
Paige: My kids and our father.
Me
: Like your husband?
Paige:
My husband.
Me
: Do you have any idea who that’s going to be?
Paige:
No. Well—I do have two ideas. I might marry two of those guys.
Me
: Who?
Paige:
Jonathan or Elliot. I mean Jonathan or Ezra!
Me
: Why them?
Paige:
I don’t know. I just like them. Jonathan isn’t into marrying me. He’s maybe going to marry Ania, one of my friends.

Me: Do you think you’ll want to have children?
Paige: Nah. I don’t know.
Me
: Well you were saying you were going to live with them so I assumed that meant yes. But you’re not sure yet?
Paige:
Not really.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them? Do you have a best friend?
Paige: Well, not really. But I do! It’s Jonathan and Ezra.

Me: What do you think are the biggest problems in the world today?
Paige: That is kind of a hard question. Making a trap.
Me
: What do you mean by that?
Paige:
It’s the hardest thing to do today. Like a mouse trap. Well it’s not exactly a mouse trap. It like catches bugs and things like that.

Me: What would you do if you were the president?
Paige:
Um. I would live with all the kids that I like. Yeah I would I would I would I would I would!

Me: Would you do anything to help people in the world?
Paige:
Help kids—like things they can’t do and reach. And teach. Teach kids how to do things like swim.

Me: What do you think you are an expert on?
Paige:  On the swings. Because I can go really high on the green one, not super duper high on the blue one. Just medium on the blue one.

Me: What do you want to learn more about?
Paige: Science and spies.

Me: What have you done that you’re really proud of?
Paige: Going to swimming today and going underwater.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Paige: An acrobat.
Me
: What do they get to do?
Paige:
They get to go on trapezes and do all fun stuff. And they’re freeeee!

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Paige: I’m lucky.
Me
: That’s cool. Why?
Paige:
Because I have a safe family and I have a house and toys.

Me: What songs are special to you?
Paige: “Super Trooper,” “A Sun of a Mass of Incandescent Gas,” and Phineas and Ferb songs. [Looks up at a poster] And Pinkalicious songs! No more songs that are special to me.

Paige: When is the boyfriend one gonna come up?
Me:
The boyfriend what?
Paige:
The boyfriend question? Meep.
Me:
What is the boyfriend question?
Paige:
It’s when you ask me if I have a boyfriend or if I want one.
Me:
Do you want to answer that?
Paige:
Yeah.
Me:
Are you going to?
Paige:
Yeah.
Me:
Okay, so what’s the answer?
Paige:
I want a boyfriend.
Me:
What would you do with a boyfriend?
Paige:
I would play with him.
Me:
Anything else you want to say about that?
Paige:
No.

Paige: Mommy you are just making up questions to me.
Me:
That is what an interview is.
Paige:
So you’re really doing it?
Me:
Doing what?
Paige:
Um. Making up questions.
Me:
Yeah, well I had them written here. Do you think I should have done it differently?
Paige:
Yeah.
Me:
How?
Paige:
Are there more questions?
Me:
Yeah.
Paige:
Oooooh!

Me: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Paige: I would go to Hawaii to see the hula dancers.

Me: What are some of your favorite places you’ve gone to?
Paige: Rhode Island. New Yowk. Where else have we went to?
Me
: Minnesota.
Paige:
Minnesota! Where else?
Me
: Ohio, Kentucky…
Paige:
Ohio!
Me
: Not every place has to be your favorite place.
Paige:
[quietly] I really want to say Kentucky…

Paige: Is the interview done?
Me
: Almost
Paige:
Yay!

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Paige: Ice.
Me:
What do you mean?
Paige: Freeze bad guys.
Me: Then what would you with them?
Paige:
I don’t know. I would be Freeze Girl!

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Paige: Um… John. The ghost of John. It’s a ghost named John. This is its song: [singing] Have you ever sawn the ghost of John? Long white bones and nothing left. Oooooh. Wouldn’t it be chilly to have no skin on?
Me:
[laughing] Where did you learn that?
Paige: A book.

Me: What makes you happiest?
Paige: Going to the ice cream store.

Me: Is there anything else I should be asking you for this interview?
Paige: What is my favorite movie. Um, what is that movie that we watched where the girl is the lead and there’s a bad girl? It’s something like Fiona? Where she gets a horse in the end?
Me:
Oh, what we watched last night? Flicka?
Paige
: Yes, I love Flicka. Flicka. Flicka.

Paige: Is my interview done?
Me: Yes. What did you think of it?
Paige: Good. It was a little different.
Me: Than what?
Paige: My other interviews.
Me: How?
Paige: I didn’t like what I said.
Me: You can change any of your answers.
Paige: Okay, what should it be?
Me: What answers should you change? I don’t know. I liked your answers.
Paige: Okay. I won’t change any.

Happy happy birthday and huge big love to you, dear Paige. This mama wouldn’t change a thing about you.


17 Comments »

Lucky Number Seven

Posted: September 30th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, Birthdays, Eating Out, Kate's Friends, Milestones, Miss Kate, Parenting | 5 Comments »

I used to have a flat stomach. I even got cat-called about it once. I was on a beach in Cancun and some dude walked by and shouted something at me in Spanish. My sister told me that plano meant flat, and explained he was referring to my midsection.

I honestly haven’t thought much about that incident—though I realize that mentioning it now, years later, does seem somewhat tragic. These days someone would be more likely to use the word plano to describe my nursed-two-babies boobies.

Anyway, seven years ago I gave up that tidbit of flat-stomach glory when I grew a little human in my body. When it came out we named it Kate. And even though I can’t rock a bikini like I used to, she was totally worth it.

At least most days I think so.

Every once and I while I see the full length of that girl in the bathtub and realize how damn big she’s gotten since that day they plunked her on the hospital scale like she was a quarter-pound of Black Forest ham I was buying at the deli counter at Safeway.

She’s grown in other ways too. Much of this Big Girl maturity has taken place this year. Like, ask her a question about school, and she gets this pursed-lip smile and tucks her hair behind her ears. Then she does that wretched California-girl up-speaking thing, where everything she says sounds like a question.

“My teacher? His name is Rick? And he’s soooo great. He’s got this pug? Named Nadia? And he takes it on field trips with us! Nadia. Is. So. Cute.”

At Kate’s sixth birthday we had a backyard bash with a magician who looked like Magnum P.I. He did tricks with silk scarves and colored balls and a big stunt hairbrush that made the kids giggle. He pretended to botch his routine which slayed the kids.

This year Kate restricted the guest list to her besties—three girls. Using pink netting, rugs, and overstuffed chairs we set up an outdoor nail spa where they mani-pedied each other. They drank sparkling cider from plastic champagne flutes and nibbled chocolate-dipped strawberries.

No scarves were stuffed in tubes and turned into stuffed animals. The word pinata was never uttered.

For her family celebration we went to an old timey ice cream shop for burgers and sundaes. Another twerp had a birthday there that night too. When the wait staff gathered around him, rang a cow bell, then bellowed to the place to sing “Happy Birthday,” my seven-year-old super-extrovert slunk deep in her chair.

“DO NOT,” she said clutching my arm, “let them do that to me.”

It seems that someone is becoming a bit self-conscious. Or just more self-aware.

Of course, she’s still happy to strip down at the beach to put on her swimsuit. (And would happily stay naked if I let her.) She’s still doll-crazy, throws tantrums, happily holds hands with her parents, and has to sleep with certain stuffed animals every night.

But she’s also fascinated by make-up, has a crush on her classmate Nathan (who IS quite cute), and is begging desperately to get her ears pierced.

I’m in no hurry for my little girl to grow up, but like it or not, she IS taking up more space in the bathtub as the years go by. I can’t wait to see where this lucky seventh year will take her.

In keeping with tradition, I interviewed Kate on her birthday. Unlike last year, I even did it pretty close to the actual day.

Here’s that chat:

Me: Do you feel different now that you’re seven?
Kate: No. I don’t feel different.

Me: What is the biggest difference between first and second grade?
Kate: Second grade you get homework. And you have to be picked up later.

Me: What do you like most about school?
Kate: I think I like… P.E.
Me: Why?
Kate: Our coach. He’s very silly and loves to play around like I do.

Me: What do you like to do most when you aren’t in school?
Kate: I like to work in my science lab.
Me: What do you do there?
Kate: I am working on making paint without chemicals in it. [She IS?! This is excellent news. Mark: Retire now. WE'RE RICH!]

Me: If a genie could grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Kate: To have an American Girl mansion.

Me: Where do you think you’ll live when you grown up?
Kate: I think I’ll live in this exact house because I love it so much.

Me: Who do you think you will live with?
Kate: I don’t know. Oh—a dog!

Me: Do you think you will want to have children?
Kate: Yeah. But I don’t want to go to college. Wait, don’t write that down. I just don’t want you to write that down. [Sorry I couldn't help it. She didn't say anything about it being "off the record." I'm running out right now to spend our college savings on shoes.]

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Kate: My beset friend’s Lily because she’s really nice.

Me: What do you think are the biggest problems in the world today?
Kate: I don’t know. Maybe homework because it’s my first day today.
Me: Your first day of homework?
Kate: Yeah, it could be super hard.

Me: What do you think you are an expert on?
Kate: Um… I think making little perfumes. Actually I think–ART! Yesterday I made some really—we were using air-dry clay in art and I made a really beautiful face and gave it to the teacher.

Me: What do you want to learn more about?
Kate: I want to learn more about how all the oak trees came here in Oakland and who ate the first avocado. Me and Alden both want to learn who ate the first avocado.

Me: What have you done that you’re really proud of?
Kate: Well, I think helping a third grader read a word.
Me: Do you remember what the word was?
Kate: It was “exasperating.”

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Kate: I want to be [long pause] a guitarist.
Me
: Tell me about that.
Kate: I just think it would be fun because my dad was a guitarist when he was younger and at school I asked [my teacher] Paula what she wanted to be when she was younger and she said she wanted to be a teacher like her parents. And her parents really helped her to get along in the world if she copied them.

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Kate: [smiling, pauses] I don’t know. I’m good at a lot of things but I don’t know…

Me: What songs are special to you?
Kate: Songs that I’ve performed in plays. Like “Sounds a Little Fishy to Me” and “The Great Kapok Tree.”

Me: What books are special to you?
Kate: Ramona.

Me: If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go?
Kate: Mexico. Actually… Australia.
Me
: Why?
Kate: It just sounds like an interesting place to visit.

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Kate: Being a friend to animals.

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Kate: Black Widows.

Me: What makes you happiest?
Kate: When I spend time with my friends.

Me: Is there anything else I should be asking you for this interview?
Kate: When I was four you asked me if I thought I would have a boyfriend which was really freaky to me.
Me: Yeah, I took that question out this year.


5 Comments »

Slugs and Snails and Puppy Dogs’ Tails

Posted: August 20th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Babies, Birthdays, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Miss Kate, Preg-o, Sisters, Summer, Travel | 4 Comments »

During my first pregnancy I was convinced I was having a boy. I was of “advanced maternal age” so I had tons of testing, prodding, and scanning. Through it all I never wanted the doctors to tell me the gender of the baby.

Because I knew anyway. I mean, I was having a boy.

If I weren’t so convinced on my own, my notion was confirmed by everyone whose paths I crossed. A coworker accosted me in the office bathroom investigating the color of the veins in my arms (green not blue). My drycleaner clucked over the shape of my belly. And my pulse kept no secrets from my massage therapist. They all agreed: boy, boy, boy.

When that baby finally finally emerged—9 days late, 4 1/2 hours of pushing and one C-section later (though who’s counting)—Mark took one look at it and said, “It’s a… girl?” As if he wasn’t quite sure he could believe it himself.

With Baby #2, same routine. I was at that point an even OLDER mother. I was tested ad nauseum (pun intended). And despite how handy folks insisted it would be for us to know whether we should  let go of or launder all of Kate’s girl clothes, we were steadfast in not knowing the kid’s gender ’til birth.

Besides, we KNEW it was a boy. (Ahem.)

Enter Paige Victoria.

Clearly our daughters were setting us up for a lifetime of pulling fast ones. Yes, the unpredictability of women is something I always reveled in personally, like some license to live impulsively and erratically. Until I became the mother of two girls.

A couple weeks ago while in the car—the setting for ALL awkward questions, right?—Kate said, “So Daddy said he wanted to have a boy.”

Oh, MARK. You and your honesty. Some day, when it’s much too late, I will teach that spouse of mine to lie to the children.

I nervously looked in the rear view mirror at Kate and said, “Well, no. Well… yes, Dad did. Well, I wanted— I mean, you know? When you’re having a baby all you really want is a healthy kiddo. We love having two girls. We couldn’t imagine it any other way.”

In fact, I was scared to death of the thought of a having a boy. Me, the youngest of four girls. What does one DO with boys? How does one play with boys? What do boys even wear? (The first thought that comes to mind is Toughskins, but I’m guessing they don’t even make those any more.)

For a while my oldest sister wiped her toddler-son’s boy parts with toilet paper. This, the innocent mistake of a woman who’d never encountered the task before. Then my brother-in-law passed by the bathroom one day and caught her in the act. He sighed, intercepted, closed the door, and showed my nephew the ropes, boy style.

Later, when my sis would grab T.P. by force of habit my nephew would bellow, “NO! Daddy says SHAKE it!”

Who knew “shaking” was part of the male tinkling process? For all I know, you probably don’t even say “tinkle” when you’re a boy.

One of the best parts of our summer in Rhode Island was spending time with my glorious friend Story. She is as lovely, creative, and unique as that most-excellent name of hers implies. Plus she’s an uh-mazing cook—even with this raw food kick she’s on.

While I was making girl babies on the West Coast, Story was populating the East Coast with boys. With two boys, that is. But when you consider the size of Rhode Island, that’s nearly impressive.

Anyway, one day last month when we were at Story’s hipster house, her boys were outside playing with plastic machetes of some sort while my girls were clinging to us in the kitchen like mewling kittens. After lunch Story promised to show Kate her craft studio, an oasis of fabulous vintage fabrics, various paints and papers, and nests of knitting stuff. A bunch of her tote bags and pillows were lying around and I made a fair number of if-you’re-looking-for-someone-to-give-this-to kinda requests.

Kate was in HEAVEN. She was wide-eyed, running her hand down the project table like it was the fender of a cherry red Porsche. I could’ve left her there for months and she wouldn’t have even noticed I was gone.

In a reverential whisper she asked Story, “Could we—could I—do some watercolor paint?”

Next scene is Kate set up in an adirondack chair in their large lovely yard, painting en plein air. Paige is tootling around the vegetable garden spritzing the veggies and flowers with a spray bottle. And Story is on their heels with her camera, capturing every second.

Me? I’m on the hammock with Story’s two boys. Not ON it, necessarily—more like hanging on it. We’re taking turns pushing each other, wicked hard. We’re giving that hammock a work-out, cushions flying, stomachs churning, and shouting, “HARDER!” as we clutched the rope mesh (and each other) for dear life. Every once and a while a plastic light saber gets in on the action causing Story to look up from Kate’s butterfly painting to yell cautions to her youngest.

But we are FINE. Better than fine. In fact, I’m making a mental note to schedule more roughhousing in my life.

Last week was my friend Mary’s son’s b-day. You know, Mary who did the awesome guest post on her summers in Maine. I am SO BAD at buying presents for boys. I have no idea what boys like. All I know is Star Wars and Legos, but any Legos set that seems worth giving is far outside my birthday budget.

Mary’s son was turning seven. Seven, seven, seven, I thought. The fake electric guitar we got him last year will be hard to top.

Then it struck me–what every young boy wants and every mother fears: a SKATEBOARD. As we picked it out at the store I texted Mary. “Don’t be mad at me for what I’m getting Will.”

And thankfully, she wasn’t. Which is good because, for the record, I really only ever wanted to have girls, but every once and I while I still like to invoke my role in the village and pitch in on raising my friends’ sons. Or at the very least, do some roughhousing with them.


4 Comments »

No Gifts, Please

Posted: May 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Drink, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Holidays, Husbandry, Sleep | 17 Comments »

I had a hangover when Mark asked me out on our first date. To be clear, I didn’t get it as a result of going out with him, but at the time he asked me out I was nauseous. I was headachy. I was leaning against the wall to remain upright. My pallor was a sickly shade of green.

And yet he looked past my bloodshot eyes and potential for rampant alcoholism and found me desirable! What a keeper.

We were at a Christmas party, hosted by dear friends of mine. And even though I’d spent the day in bed, moaning, drinking water, and shying away from bright lights and loud noises, I knew I had to make an appearance at this shindig.

So I moved through Elizabeth Kubler Ross‘ Five Stages of Hangovers:

#1 Guzzle Water

#2 Down Advil

#3 Eat a Greasy Breakfast

#4 Return to Bed

#5 Attempt to Shower and Dress [Note: This should not be done prematurely, or could require that you repeat steps 1-4.]

My plan was to spend 20 minutes at the party. Tops.

Not long after my arrival Mark appeared. Charming and friendly. And although my senses were dulled, I thought I  discerned an air of nervousness about him. In the kitchen we chatted for a bit over the butcher block island, as I rummaged through its drawers for more Advil.

And then as I made my farewell sweep through the living room, he stopped me.

“I um, actually have something for you,” he said. And pulled out of—okay my memory fails me here—his pocket? a man purse? the hands of a bikini-clad assistant who was standing beside him? Anyway, he pulled out of SOMEWHERE an envelope. And handed it to me.

Inside were a bunch of magnets. And I think some stickers too. They all said ChickenCandy.com.

Chicken Candy was this wacky website idea I’d been ranting about when I’d met him once before. It was the Internet Boom, and nearly any URL you could conjure was already taken. And somehow we’d gotten to talking about the idea of candy that was made out of America’s favorite food—chicken!

I know, it’s odd. I don’t really remember how we got on that topic—and I know right now you’re thinking that I seem to have blacked out a lot during this time in my life, and maybe you should be finding my email address to send me a kind but firm message encouraging me to seek treatment for my drinking problem. (Here, let me make it easy on you. It’s kristen at motherloadblog dot com.) But really, I assure you that my poor memory has more to do with—I don’t know, genetics—than it does with

Oh, sorry, where was I? Just had to top off my glass.

Anyway, so here’s Mark handing me these magnets. He’d designed a logo and there was even a little picture of a chicken on them. And it was a really funny and creative thing for him to do. I mean, how often does a guy A) listen to something you said, B) remember it, and C) do something original with it?

Right, not often.

Some time you should have Mark tell you about his internal dialogue as he handed that envelope to me. It went something like, “What the fuck have I done? This is not cool. This is the most insane stalker-ish move I could ever make and she is totally freaked out by me right now.”

I did find it unusual, but in a flattering way. I was generally at a loss for words—for everything that night—but I somehow managed express to him the wonderfully thoughtful and whimsical nature of his gift.

And I did not puke on his shoes.

Later, on my way to the coat closet he sought me out again, and nervously, shyly, asked if he could take me out to dinner.

The rest, as they say, is history.

My birthday was five months after our first date. And, this being The Olden Days before cell phone texting, Mark and I would chat online using AOL Instant Messenger. And sometimes we sent carrier pigeons.

It was almost like Downton Abbey.

In fact, I saved and printed out all our epic IM conversations since they were so damn clever and cute and we were both trying so hard. I knew even then that they were part of some history in the making.

On the morning of my birthday Mark texted me a link that said, “Click here.”

It’s okay, you can go click on that yourself. Check it out, then come back and I’ll be right here.

Okay, did you look? Did you click into the site? Did you read the About Us (I love that part)? And the Gizzard Truffles? Wait, what was your favorite product? You know, I didn’t even know what schmaltz was at the time.

Yes, the gift he gave me was the ChickenCandy.com sticker taken to the Information Superhighway. He made a whole damn website for my pretend Chicken Candy company. And gave it to me for my birthday.

And it was hilarious.

I showed my boss at the agency where I was working and she wanted to hire him on the spot.

Anyway, I’m ten days shy of my next birthday. Twelve years later, that is.

And I actually woke up pretty hung over this past Saturday. I swear this is a very rare occurrence, but I do understand if you still feel the need to contact me directly with your concerns about my drinking. (Again, it’s kristen at motherloadblog dot com.)

For this hangover, Mark let me sleep late. He got up and fed our daughters breakfast and shushed them when they started talking too loudly near our bedroom door. When I finally woke up he brought me a glass of water and an Advil, and asked me what we should do as a family before he went to his 1:30 tee time.

And then the girls ran into the room screaming and fighting and jumping on the bed and handing me pictures they’d drawn and asking if I would read them a book and could they please have some of their Easter candy?

Ah what a difference 12 years makes. And I wouldn’t change a single thing about them. (Except that I should’ve drunk more water—or less wine—on Friday night.)

Thank you, Mark, for being an exceptionally funny, smart, handsome, handy-around-the-house, IT savvy husband. (And no, I’m not going to say “and friend.” Or “and lov-ah.” But hell, now that I mention it, those things too.)

Happy very-soon birthday to me. I am the luckiest gal in the world. You and the girls—and the vast pretend proceeds from Chicken Candy World Enterprises—are all the presents I need.


17 Comments »

Paige’s Birthday Interview: Age 4

Posted: February 11th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Preschool | 6 Comments »

We recently had an all-girl bring-a-doll tea party for Paige’s fourth birthday. We set a long kid-sized table with nice linens, plates with doilies, and a remarkably-nice-from-the-grocery-store bouquet of roses. We cut PB&Js into animal shapes and grilled cheese into little squares, and stuck toothpicks with pink ruffly tops into pieces of fruit. We arranged everything on cake pedestals and fancy platters.

But the best part? Mark wore his tux and served the girls. He poured dramatic high streams of cocoa from a silver teapot into teensy china cups. He bent crisply at the waist to take in whiny requests like, “I want MORE mini marshmallows!” He returned folded napkins to girls when they came back from “the potty.”

It was a hoot.

Especially since Paige’s homies aren’t exactly the Fancy Nancy set. They enjoyed themselves, but were hardly holding their pinkies up or sending mini bagels back to the kitchen for more cream cheese. They were more like a soup kitchen crew, muttering incoherently at times, grabbing food off each others’ plates, and occasionally burping and scratching their crotches.

Good times.

Anyway, after Mark’s stellar performance I thought of a new standard us gals should set for selecting a male to breed with. Will the guy be game for catering to the needs of a gaggle of four-year-old girls with the grace and proficiency of Carson from Downton Abbey? If so, ladies, grab that man and drag him down the aisle.

Kate reminded me this morning that I haven’t interviewed Paige for her birthday yet. It’s so helpful having her around as a second-tier mother.

So this morning, in keeping with my better-late-than never approach to birthday interviews, I sat down with Paige and asked her a few questions.

Me: If a genie could grant you one wish, what would it be?
Paige: Flying.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Paige: A mermaid. [Pauses, thinking.] I need a tail.

Me: What kind of job do you want when you grow up?
Paige: Be a nurse.

Me: What do nurses do?
Paige: Give shots.

Me: Where do you want to live when you grow up?
Paige: Penn-siv-vania.

Me: Do you think you’ll have any animals?
Paige: YEAH!

Me: What kind?
Paige: Camel.

Me: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Paige: No.

Me: Why not?
Paige: Because I’m going to be a mermaid.

Me: Do you want to have children?
Paige: Yeah.

Me: How many.
Paige: Seven. That’s a lot of kids.

Me: Do you feel different now that you are four?
Paige: Way older. Way way way way.

Me: How so?
Paige: Because I’m almost 8!

Me: What is your favorite color and why?
Paige: Turquoise, pink, and purple, and violet. Because one is that turquoise is the color of the sea, and one is that pink is the color of the sunset. And purple when you mix it up with pink it makes violet.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Paige: Penny. [A girl who used to go to her preschool who she hasn't seen--or mentioned--in months.]

Me: Why?
Paige: Cute.

Me: Now that you are four, do you think you’ll have a boyfriend?
Paige: Yes. [Giggles.]

Me: What do you think about world peace?
Paige: World peace? I love you! [Laughs.] I said I love you. I love world peace.

Me: Do you know what it is?
Paige: No. That’s why I said I love you!

Me: What is your favorite TV show?
Paige: What is that polar bear movie?
Kate: Knut.
Paige: I love Knut. And Sponge Bob Square Pants.
Me: Huh. I’m pretty sure you’ve never seen Sponge Bob.

Me: What’s your favorite thing to do that’s not TV?
Paige: Have candy. And do cartwheels.

Me: What’s your favorite activity that’s not about candy?
Paige: Painting and drawing. And getting candy.

Me: What do you like most about school?
Paige: Learning about dinosaurs.

Me: What have you learned about dinosaurs?
Paige: The way how they roar.

Me: What do you like to do in your free time?
Paige: Play mermaids. [Really? I have never witnessed this. If we were on The Newlywed Game my answer to this question would be "look at books." And we'd get in a fight later back stage that she came up with "play mermaids" totally out of the blue, leaving that other couple to win the new bedroom set.]

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Paige: [Incredibly long pause to think] I like peacocks.

Me: What is your favorite song?
Paige: [Thinly singing] Ba ba black sheep do you have any wool? Tell me, tell me… Wait. [Walks out of room.]

Me: Where are you going?
Paige: To get a songbook. [Returns with a binder of her preschool artwork.]

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Paige: Being a super girl.

Me: What can a super girl do?
Paige: Have power. And have a cape.

Me: What is your very favorite thing to do?
Paige: Make a cake.

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Paige: Bumble bees.

Me: What about them?
Paige: They have stingers.

Me: What is your favorite thing about me?
Paige: I love you. I love when you read.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Daddy?
Paige: I love you.

Me: Okay, but what is your favorite thing about Daddy?
Paige: He can read.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Kate?
Paige: She can read.

Me: What’s cool about her?
Paige: I like her.

Me: Why?
Paige: Because she can read!

Paige: I don’t want to do this any more. Can you just read?

I finally did relent and read to the gal. Even I can take a hint.

Happy birthday, dear Paigey. I love you more than you’ll ever know.


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Belated Birthday Interview

Posted: November 9th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Miss Kate, Parenting | 5 Comments »

Our friend Adam’s father used to interview him every year on his birthday. Even better, he recorded their conversations, and Adam now has all the tapes.

I absolutely LOVE this idea. I was dead-set on doing this with my kids. But along with my intention to make elaborate photo-filled scrapbooks of each of their lives, and to never feed them frozen chicken nuggets—let’s just say my plans changed.

A few days ago I was reading Millions of Miles, the blog of a lovely woman named Megan who I met at BlogHer this summer. She posted a interview she’d done with her son on his fifth birthday. And I thought, “By gum, I can do this! IT IS NOT too late!”

Sure, Kate turned six about six weeks ago. And there are those first five years that I totally missed. But instead of kicking myself that it wouldn’t be perfect, I decided to just start now.

And no, I didn’t record it. In fact, I didn’t even write the questions myself. I hope Megan doesn’t mind I ripped off her questions. If I decided to write my own, another year might pass by.

Me: If a genie would grant you only one wish, what would it be?
Kate: To only eat bubble gum.

Me: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Kate: A ballet teacher.

Me: Do you want to get married when you grow up?
Kate: Maybe.

Me: Do you want to have children?
Kate: Maybe.

Me: Do you feel different now that you are six?
Kate: Yeah.

Me: How so?
Kate: I’m taller. Way, way taller.

Me: What is your favorite color and why?
Kate: Turquoise because sometimes the ocean is turquoise.

Me: Who is your best friend and why do you like them?
Kate: Lily. Because she’s so nice.

Me: Now that you are six, do you think you’ll have a boyfriend?
Kate: Uh-hmm.

Me: What do you think about world peace?
Kate: It should always be nice and calm around the world. No wars.

Me: What is your favorite TV show?
Kate: [pauses] Let’s see here. My favorite? Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Me: What do you like most about school?
Kate: Free time.

Me: What do you like to do in free time?
Kate: Drawing and writing.

Me: What is your favorite thing about yourself?
Kate: I like to eat bubble gum.

Me: That’s your favorite thing about yourself?
Kate: No! I’m good at drawing.

Me: What is your favorite song?
Kate: Fireworks

Me: If you could have any super power what would it be?
Kate: Turn into mermaid and breathe under water.

Me: What is your very favorite thing to do?
Kate: Color. Art projects!

Me: What are you most afraid of?
Kate: Wolfs [sic]

Me: What is your favorite thing about me?
Kate: Cause you love reading to me. We love reading together.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Daddy?
Kate: He’s such a good doctor when I have boo-boos.

Me: What is your favorite thing about Paige?
Kate: She’s so fun to play with. [pause] Can I do an exclamation point after that?

Happy birthday, sweet Kate. Here’s to hoping I remember to do this again next year.


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Oh Danny Boy

Posted: October 6th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Birthdays, Friends and Strangers, Kate's Friends, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Parenting | 1 Comment »

I screwed up my very first relationship at age six.

We were in the line to go the bathroom at school. Boys on the right. Girls on the left. And Danny Palumbo leaned over and whispered in my ear, “You’re my girlfriend.”

This news came as a surprise. I mean, I wasn’t totally clear what being Danny’s—or anyone else’s—girlfriend really meant. But I assumed that if I was someone’s girlfriend, I’d at least have known about it.

So, with the defiance of a budding feminist, I put my hands on my hips and leaned back towards the Boys’ Bathroom Line to inform Danny, “I am NOT.”

Then I spent three years consumed by a crush on him. Ah, the power of suggestion.

Danny had glossy black hair, worn in a bowl cut. (This was a fetching look back then.) It was very Moe from The Three Stooges. And where I was a good girl—walked around by my teacher to the other classrooms to show off my handwriting—Danny was a bad boy. He had a sidekick, Les Dunbar, and their antics no doubt sent teachers home desperate for a drink at the end of the day. Once they went to the bathroom and put on all their clothes backwards. This created quite a ruckus when they were called up to write on the chalkboard. Good times.

The way they rolled was the second grade equivalent of driving motorcycles and smoking unfiltered cigarettes. And I loved it.

Anyway, after much reflection I decided that if I could have a do-over, I’d respond to Danny’s claim on me quite differently. I’d gently help him reframe his statement. “Danny, are you trying to tell me you’d like to be my boyfriend?” I could say. I mean, if it weren’t for my knee-jerk feminist slap-down—I am SO not your chattel, dude!—we might’ve trooped off happily in our respective bathroom lines with the magic of romance tingling in the air.

Well, my little Kate’s in first grade now. Last year everyone in her class was matched up with a second grade “partner pal.” Throughout the year these pals do various projects and activities, in the hopes that their pre-fab friendships will generate some inter-grade community love.

And it totally works. It’s a sweet program. Very smart of the school to do.

For a long while I knew little to nothing about Kate’s partner pal. She told me he was a boy, and I sometimes heard about their craftsy collaborations. Like, Kate mentioned they made masks together at the school’s Festivus party. (What? Your kid’s school doesn’t celebrate Festivus? Weird.)

And for some reason I had the fleeting thought that because Kate’s partner pal was a he, he might not be down with having to hang out with a kindergartener. I hoped—for both their sakes—that their enforced times together weren’t too weird or awkward.

Then, at a school event half-way through the year, I finally met the kid. And in no time I realized that he and Kate certainly are pals. In fact, when she saw him that day she ran up to him and hung on him like those monkeys with long arms that they sell in the zoo gift shop—the ones where you Velcro their hands together and can loop their limbs over something like a lasso.

Although it pained me to see how annoyingly in-his-face Kate was, it seemed that this boy was either impeccably polite, or not annoyed by her attention. Or both.

Perhaps he was more sympathetic to my kindergarten daughter than I thought he might be.

We’ll call him Ted. Kate calls him Ted-Ted. Yes, apparently Kate’s one of those females who’ll call her boyfriend “David” when everyone else on the planet calls him “Dave.” Or worse, she’ll call him some wretchedly-personal pet name for all the world to hear. So I’ve got that to look forward to.

For Kate’s birthday party she made up a list of guests. When given this opportunity she thankfully doesn’t go overboard, wanting to invite 300 of her closest friends (like I do). Instead, she included her besties from school, a couple neighborhood chums, some close family friends, and Ted.

I wasn’t sure whether I should discourage this. He was, well…. older. And Kate’s a young first-grader. Would he really be keen on the scene at a sixth birthday party? For a girl no less?

But I saw his mother—a super friendly, down to earth mama—in the schoolyard the next day. I sidled up to her and mentioned that Ted made it onto Kate’s party list. Then I found myself trying to convince her that it wasn’t weird Kate wanted him to come. “There’ll be a couple other older boys there,” I stammered. “And we’re having a magician—so it won’t be all girly.” Finally I shot out, “I mean, if he doesn’t want to come, that’s totally fine too.”

But she smiled her down to earth I’m-so-centered smile and put her hand on my arm, “Ted is comfortable around kids of all ages.” She scratched her address on a post-it, and handed it to me. “I’m sure he’d love to come.”

These days when I drive Kate to school, if she sees Ted walk by she frantically screams to him from our closed-windowed car, “Ted-Ted! Ted-Ted!!” as if she’s warning him a tidal wave’s about to crash over his head. When I pick her up, if I stop to chat with another parent she’ll sometimes ask if she can hang out with Ted until we’re ready to go. And thrillingly, Ted did come to her party. He was the oldest child there by far, but his mom dropped him off happily, and he was totally comfortable in the scene. He even engaged in brilliant banter with the magician.

Some little part of me still frets that Kate’s annoying this chap. That her unbridled adoration is getting old. That he’s on the brink of getting some playground restraining order on my naive young daughter. But when I emailed his mom to ask for her address (again) so we could send them a thank you note, she mentioned that Ted had a great time at the party. She even commented on how much she likes the “sweet friendship” they’ve formed.

Which just goes to show that my ability to understand the elementary-school male is still apparently broken.

I snapped out of my neurotic mama mode and realized that it is sweet. This Ted fellow is a genuine, friendly, nice boy. Hardly the rogue-ish Danny P. of my younger days. Why wouldn’t he like hanging out with my genuine, friendly, nice daughter?

If anything, I should probably be worried that my assertive girl has leaned this lad’s way and claimed with an air of authority, “Ted-Ted, you’re my boyfriend.”

And for all I know, he’s said, “That’s right, Kate-Kate. I am.”


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How Much is that Guppy in the Window?

Posted: October 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Discoveries, Miss Kate, Parenting, Shopping | No Comments »

Karma’s a bitch. Here I was lacking a plan, so I took the easy path. And where did it lead me? Hell. Specifically, pet hell.

I’ll explain. Kate recently turned six. And Mark was away for work the 10 days before her birthday. So I planned the party, and shopped for the pinata, and food, and decorations. I came up with activities for the kids, hired a magician, attempted to gussy up our yard. I scoured social media outlets, cookbooks, and the Inter-Web for the most succulent, moist chocolate cake recipe in all the land.

Then one night, toiling over a hot laptop and reviewing my gift purchases on Amazon, I lamented that I hadn’t ordered a special present for Kate. So I emailed Mark.

“What do you say we buy her a fish?” I suggested. “I mean, just write a promissory note, then we can all go together and she can pick it out.”

From Down Under, hours later, Mark received the email and shot back, “Great idea.”

I brushed my hands together with the smug satisfaction of a mother who had in fact done it all. Easiest. Present. Ever.

That must’ve been when the gods looked down at me and shared belly laugh. “Foolish mother!” they chortled. “She thinks it’ll be easy, does she?”

Then, to put my all my perfect party planning to shame—to show how powerless I truly was—they cursed me with overcast weather on the day of the party. It’d been in the low 80s and gloriously sunny for over a week, but the day of the party—the outdoor party in our backyard—was bleak and chilly. The Bay Area’s legendary Indian Summer let me down.

Had I only known that the gathering of gray clouds that day was a foreshadowing. Oh, the party went off without a hitch, weather aside. But the next day we piled into the car, the girls chanting “Fish! Fish! Fish!” and Mark and I smiling at each other from the front seats, smug with the sweet knowledge that we were doing something wonderful to enrich our darling nuclear family.

Hey, we were hardly buying the kids a Labrador Retriever. But, you know, baby steps.

Mark had sussed out fish stores online and took us to a place two towns over that was supposed to be “the best.” The squat, windowless building was covered with a mural of tropical fish, and I delightedly sing-songed to the girls as we pulled up, “Guess which place we’re going to?”

It was all so thrilling and wonderful. I took a history-capturing photo of Kate, arms and legs stretched wide, in front of the mural before we entered the building. Mark gallantly held the door open for me and I smiled as I slipped in. A happy young family on our way to add a fishy friend to our ranks.

Inside, the walls gleamed with rows of brightly lit tanks. Within them stirred all manner of colorful, flowy-finned fishies with green sea grasses swaying. The girls ran from one tank to the next. “Nemo!” Paige squealed. “Whoa, look at these guys!” Kate yelped peering into a tank of small silvery fish glowing with purple iridescence. “I want them!”

While the kids and I explored deeper into the store’s back rooms, Mark got the attention of a young Asian employee—a collegiate tattooed fish geek—who we eventually met up with at the front of the shop. I pulled out a scrap of paper from my purse and recited to her the amount of space we had for a tank. (I had every detail figured out.)

Okay, so tanks. Fish Geek Girl started reeling off statistics about cubic something-or-others of water, and pointed to a wall full of spankin’ new, unoccupied fish homes. “This one’s a little smaller. It needs a light, but it’s got the filter built in. Now for a little more you can get this larger tank, with the light and the filter, but the lid is sold separately. This one is a kit and where you think it would be the best deal, you’re actually better off buying a light from these people, and a filter which will last you three to four years, then get the tank over here from this other vendor but they are totally compatible—as long as you make sure you’re getting everything in the M Series.”

The wall of tanks started to swirl together before me. Like fly-vision I was seeing hundreds of identical images. Despite how dazzlingly confusing just picking a tank was, there also seemed to be some digital ticker tape of the cost of all this flashing behind Fish Geek’s head. The numbers multiplied the more she talked.

At this rate we’d get one goldfish and have to decide whether it was Kate or Paige who we could send to college. I was starting to wonder whether we should’ve gotten pre-approved for a loan before entering the fish store.

I swallowed hard and looked over at Mark. Usually when my brain starts short-circuiting his is still going strong. (One of the many benefits of having him around so much.) Alas, turns out he wasn’t even tuned it. Instead he was preventing Paige from reaching into a tank to grab Nemo.

“Okay, uh, well that is all good to know,” I stammered. “Maybe you could tell us a bit about maintenance?”

“Well, depending on which tank you get [of course!] you’ll have to change half the water in the tank bi-weekly or one-third of the water weekly.” This was turning into a math word problem. I was afraid she was about to ask me how fast the train was traveling.

Then Little Miss Fish Facts moved across the room to Vannah her arms alongside a display of pumps. “Now with these pumps you can…”

I was growing dizzy. I felt like if there was just a window I could look out, I could somehow steady myself. If it’s possible to get sea sick in a fish store, I was.

Water changes? Filters? Lights? Thermometers? Whatever happened to those goldfish that you won in a plastic bag at the carnival?

Oh wait… I remember. After short stints as “pets” they went belly up. Those simple fish-bowl fish never lasted very long, maybe because they needed confusing costly contraptions to keep them going. Eventually they all experienced tragic toilet-borne funerals.

Standing in that store I felt the way I did when I almost bought a Honda Accord. It was when Mark and I were dating, and I needed a reliable car to get me to a new, far-flung job. I’d gotten so far as to select the color, interior, and options, and they were pulling my new ride up to the showroom from an off-site parking lot.

But I panicked. Suddenly a Honda Accord seemed like the most wretchedly safe, generic, boring commuter-mobile I could ever own. It was like if I bought that car I would be giving up my personality altogether. Every ounce of me-ness would be whitewashed with soul-robbing sensibility. There was no way I could go through with it. But I also couldn’t bring myself to share my change of heart with the super high-pressure salesman. So I whispered to Mark, “Uh, I can’t do this. Tell them no.”

I think he whispered back something along the lines of, “You fucking tell them! I’m not going to tell them!”

But anyway, this fish thing was different. We were in it together. I touched the arm of Fish Girl before she launched into a lecture on solar-powered filters and said, “I think we need a minute.”

Then I turned to Mark and said, “Let’s get out of here. This is insane! Maybe at that other place we can get a frog or something. Something easier to deal with.”

Fast-forward to Pet Store #2, where we met a tortoise. It was darling! And seemed so right for us in so many ways. The girls could take him out of his tank and play with him on the floor. Can you do that with a fish? Noooo. Plus, no filters! No water to change! No temperatures to fret over!

This all sounded great. Then the male equivalent of Fish Geek Girl informed us, “Now, these tortoises live to be 80 to 100 years old. Some breeds get to be 100—even 120.”

Okay, so this was the opposite end of the toilet-funeral spectrum. Instead of having to comfort the girls about the death of their fish some day, Mark and I would be moving this turtle to a nursing home with us. Paige’s grandchildren would be playing with that damn, un-killable pet.

I’m sorry, but even a truncated 70-year turtle existence was way, way too long.

But then, to really wrench at our heart strings the Reptile Dude plucks a couple itty bitty baby tortoises out of a tank. Suddenly every kid in the store was crowded around us. They were ADORABLE. I don’t care how long these little guys live, I wanted one. I wanted two!

“Now these fellas grow to be about twice the size of Martin over there,” he said, nodding his head towards an enormous tank. The turtle inside looked to be about the size of a bear cub. These turtles would require their own bedrooms one day.

But they were cute! I was undeterred.

Then Our Knowledgeable Salesperson starts in on how the tortoises eat table scraps—the ends of carrots, wilted lettuce, withered cucumbers. They were like living compost heaps. What could be greener? What could be easier? Turns out I have a refrigerator FULL OF TURTLE FOOD on any given day. What dumb luck!

As Kate and Paige acted proprietary with the wee turtles the other store-kids were pawing at, Reptile Ron went on. “Now these little guys have shells that are forming still. So you’ll need to bathe them in water just about up to their shell lines for 20 minutes a day. But only for the first two to three years.”

Did he really just say “ONLY for the first two to three YEARS?”

I nearly kicked the man in the crotch. I didn’t manage to get my own children into the bath every day for their first two to three years.

I snatched those darling turtles out of the girls’ hands and plopped them back in their tank. Not an option.

But I never say die. There must be a perfect pet somewhere in this huge store. What else could he show us?

Next up, a variety of small, darling frogs. They really were cute. Brightly colored teensy things, hopping around in little mossy, leafy fairy realms. I cut to the chase. “Talk to me about maintenance. Gear. Feedings. Baths.”

“Well, you have to spray water in their tanks every day. They need the moisture,” he started. “And they eat crickets…”

Live crickets?” I interrupted.

“Uh-huh,” he said. Then he gently explained that their “live food needs” would require us to drive to the pet store once a week, just to keep us in crickets. He failed to mention how the hell you got the crickets into the tank. And the potentially-traumatizing Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom experience of watching the wee frogs devour their dinner.

“And how often do you feed them these crickets?” I ventured.

“Every day,” he replied cautiously.

And really, I know it shouldn’t be so shocking to think that a living thing needs to eat every day, but I was horrified. Disgusted even. Every day? For the love of God, no.

I tugged on Mark’s sleeve. “Uh, I think we need to go home,” I whispered. “Regroup. Do some research. Sell the girls on a pet rock maybe.”

And so, we left. Somehow we got the girls into the car without them screaming, whining, throwing wild tantrums. Somehow they weren’t hurling accusations at us of being bad, lying parents who’d promised to buy them a pet. It was one of those eery times when the kids just seemed to go with the flow. They did what we needed them to do.

“We need some time to think about what the best choice is for us,” Mark said as he clipped them into their car seats. We looked at each other over the roof of the car before getting in, and rolled our eyes. What the HELL had we gotten ourselves into?

When we got home it was time for dinner. Late really. And once we’d cooked, and eaten, and cleaned up the dishes, we needed to start reading the kids their bedtime books. So we washed their hands and faces, brushed their teeth and hair, and got them into bed. There would be plenty of time for a bath tomorrow.

Then Mark and I went on with our evening, secure in the fact that—despite their state of compromised cleanliness—we didn’t have to worry that without having had a bath the girls’ shells might dry out, shrivel up, or crack. These human pets? So easy. Even if when they woke up in the morning we would have to feed them all over again.


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Down Undie

Posted: September 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Birthdays, Housewife Superhero, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Other Mothers, Travel | No Comments »

Mark’s in Australia for work. He’s already experiencing tomorrow today, thanks to fun with time zones.

As for me, I’m marking the passage of time in terms of changes of underwear. Specifically, how many of these will take place between now and when he returns.

And trust me, I’m not implying anything sexual here. In fact, it ain’t even my undies I’m concerned about. It’s Kate’s. And by my count we have three more pairs of fresh panties to change into before Mark gets back. Three more protracted, tear-drenched, maternal-mind-losing overhauls of undergarments.

God help me to survive them.

Why, you may ask, is a simple clothing change such a chore for my sweet eldest child? Why does my body clench in stress when it’s time to do something so simple as get dressed in the morning?

Because I have a sensitive child. A sensory-sensitive child, to be more precise. What you and I see as a no-brainer garment we mindlessly toss on each day, is some sort of vice-like, itchy, binding, pressure chamber to dear Miss Kate.

It hasn’t always been about the undies. We’ve gone through this with socks. We’ve experienced it with shoes. Dresses with zippers were once attempted—no more. And pants? Stiff jeans? Ha! Never happen. There are certain types of clothing that are unquestionably off-limits for Kate.

There is a way to treat this issue. We’ve seen an occupational therapist. We’ve brushed her. Done joint compressions. We’d recite incantations if it would help. Mark and I would both probably make deals with the devil if we could. We’d do ANYthing to make this go away.

And for a while, it did. Getting dressed in the mornings became, well—normal. Unremarkable. Tear-free even!

But damn the new school year and all that transition times bring. In so many ways Kate has been fine. She loves school, has great friends she kept in touch with all summer, and even has the same teacher as last year because of the blended K-1 classroom. But clearly something is up.

Because two days ago it took 45 minutes and a sobbing freak-out for her to even TRY to put on clean underwear. And the day before, when I was desperate to leave the house? I confess. I caved. I let her wear the same undies she had on the day before. (A terrifying last resort for a clean freak like myself.)

And after my heart breaks that something so simple is such a struggle for her—after 25 minutes of feeling sad, I start to feel sorry for myself. And somehow the sympathy turned self-pity turns into unbridled frustration. And irrational maternal behavior.

Which is why, on Sunday morning when it was 80 degrees out and our friend’s pool in Napa was beckoning, I made a terrible, harsh—and ultimately ineffective—threat. I told Kate that if she didn’t get her undies on in five minutes that—that—that I would cancel her birthday party.

Even as I said it, I knew I’d never do it. Which is, of course, the worst kind of threat. This is Rule #1 in the Maternal Handbook of Threats.

Plus it seemed just plain mean.

But, man, was I frustrated. “On my last nerve” as my friend Jackie would say. And I wanted Kate to understand how serious I was—desperate really—about her needing to at least TRY. Without trying we’d never make progress. We’d still be sitting in that room now, with her bare-assed. I watched her flop around on her bedroom floor moaning, “ALL my panties are bad. I don’t like ANY of them.” And I wanted her to know I wasn’t planning to engage for another 45 more minutes in this fun game.

Did I consider letting her go commando? Yes, for a second. Did I consider letting her wear the same panties for a THIRD DAY? No.

And just to be sure I wouldn’t buckle on that score (and be arrested by the Department of Underwear Health, a.k.a. The DUH), I threw the twice-worn ones into the washing machine at about Minute 23 of her tantrum. Getting back into those soft, worn-in undies was NOT going to be an option.

The birthday threat did nothing, other than make Kate scream “You’re mean!” and sadly make me think she was right. So I moved away from the stick, and offered a carrot. “You can watch five minutes of TV if you put on these panties.”

And you know what? She wiped the tears off her eyes and perked up like she’d had a shot of espresso. And then she just put them on. Just like that. Like we hadn’t just spent the past hour trapped in what seemed like a bad, overly-dramatic liberal arts school play.

So when she finally, finally put on the damn underwear, it totally pissed me off.

Don’t get me wrong, I was happy that this long international ordeal—which was likely overheard by neighbors and passers-by who were speed-dialing Child Protective Services on their cell phones—was at long last coming to an end. I was just shocked to see that she really had it in her to put them on. Suddenly her sensory affliction seemed a lot like some let’s-torture-mommy power play.

All that time she couldn’t do it when I was asking nicely. Then pleading. But for a five minute dose of TV crack? Clearly that was a game-changer.

We had friends over for cocktails a few weeks ago. We were sitting in our back yard on the kind of glorious, sunshiny late afternoon that makes you smug about living in California. Mark was whipping up a assortment of fab-u-luss drinks. We were nibbling on overpriced stinky cheese. And we were with our beloved Brooklyn friends whose company we had for an extra day thanks to Hurricane Irene.

It was lovely. Lovely if you turned a blind eye to our scruffy, brown, hay-like, embarrassment of a lawn.

We don’t have sprinklers in our back yard. And we don’t spend much time there anyway. So I neglect it. Mark doesn’t care about it enough to warrant calling what he does ‘neglect.’

Somehow watering the lawn seems like the kind of thing balding men wearing Bermudas, black socks, and man sandals do. Which is clearly not me. Me? I neglect our lawn with gusto. I neglect our lawn with intention.

Except in the few weeks before Kate’s birthday party.

In those weeks I attempt to pack a year’s worth of loving, careful attention into the straw-like grass. It practically laughs at me as I spray the hose over it. But I am an optimist. If I water the lawn five consecutive times I expect a lush golf-course-like green carpet to spring right up. I feel like if I put my mind to it I can will that grass to grow.

Anyway, during our little happy hour I disparaged the lawn, and described how it would be transformed in less than one month’s time. Turns out my friend Zoe is a kindred Lawn Fairy spirit. Because just weeks before her daughter’s birthday (when they lived down in SoCal), she had some yard folk come in to make the nice-nice with the grass.

Trouble was, they spread manure along with the grass seed. Manure with a robust, shit-stinkin’ bouquet.

In the days approaching the party, Zoe said she’d walk into their yard and sniff neurotically. Did it still smell? Was that just the old smell she was smelling, and it had actually gone away? Would her guests be throwing up in their mouths a little as they attempted to eat birthday cake while ostensibly standing in an open-air sewer?

I LOVE so many things about that. I love hearing how other mamas go to silly extremes to make their kids’ birthday parties perfect. I love finding new reasons to admire old friends—bonding over a mutual disdain for yard work. I love knowing I’m not the only one who sometimes questions my ability to know if something is normal or not. (Is the shit smell still there but I just can’t smell it any more because I’m so used to smelling it?)

Kate’s party is Saturday. Mark returns from Down Under on Friday, just in time to nod off from jet lag during the pinata whacking portion of the day.

And sadly, all my optimism and last-minute watering have done nada in terms of transforming our lawn into a verdant grassy wonderland. It’s a bummer. I’d love for the yard to look fab, but I didn’t go so far as to call in a landscaper.

If there’s any poo smell at Kate’s party, I’m afraid it’ll be emanating from her fetid, possibly days-old undergarments. I’m doing my damnedest to get a clean pair o’ panties on the gal daily, but by the end of ten days of solo parenting it’s really hard to know what will happen.


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I Plan to Age and Tell

Posted: May 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Birthdays, Manners, Milestones, Misc Neuroses, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 3 Comments »

When my mom was little she was poor as dirt.

She was never one to wax nostalgic, but she did tell me a few stories about those days. Just snippets really. And they underscored the fact that—during The Depression when her dad ditched his wife and their eight (yes, EIGHT) children—she and her sibs didn’t exactly pass the time playing with Barbie Dream Houses, or spiffing up their new Huffy bikes with handle-bar streamers.

No, theirs was much more of a kick-the-can existence.

I got the impression there was also a lot of hanging out on their front porch. (See? It’s in my genes.) It was a roost from which they could survey the ‘hood. And wait for something exciting to happen.

Mom was the seventh child, but had one younger brother, my Uncle Eddy. The two of them had a little routine they’d put on for passers-by.

“What time is it?” Mom would ask with dramatic flourish.

And looking at his bare wrist Eddy would reply, “Why, it’s—one hundred o’clock!”

Yeah, okay. So it’s not much of a story, right?

To be honest, I’m not too clear on why she found that so uproarious. Maybe ’cause it showed how kids trying to act cool and grown-up invariably blow their own covers? Perhaps she wanted to console me that I wasn’t the last child on earth to learn to tell time? (Though I think I was close.)

Whatever the case, Paige has been playing her own numbers game recently. But she’s hardly grand enough to get even close to the realm of 100. These days for Paigey everything is about five.

Five is Paige’s exaggeration number. According to a theory of my friend Ruby’s, everyone has an exaggeration number. It’s the number they fall back on when they’re awash in hyperbole. If I remember correctly, Ruby’s was 52 for a while. Which meant it wouldn’t be uncommon for her to say something like, “It took me forever to get out of the grocery store. There were, like, 52 people in line in front of me.”

I mean, I think her number was 52. Ruby’s Exaggeration Number Phase was back when she lived in Sausalito, which was about a million years ago.

So Paige and five. If someone asks her how old she is, she’ll sometimes smirk and say, “Five.” Her big sister is five, therefore five is the baddest-ass coolest big girl age you could ever want to be.  (Though I must say, Paige’s delivery is never terribly convincing. She’ll have some trouble passing off a fake I.D. some day—which I’m thrilled about.)

I often ask the girls, “Did I tell you how much I love you yet today?” And with Kate this triggers a response like, “Yes, and I love you 50 Redwood trees, 100 houses, and a million firetrucks high!”

Paigey says, “I love you five.”

Which just slays me with a tidal wave of mama love.

When I was talking to Paige’s preschool teacher recently I mentioned how she has this five thing. He’s one of those child development gurus who always has a nugget of wisdom to share, even when he’s handing you a plastic bag full of urine-drenched clothing. And he said that for kids Paige’s age—which, for the record, is three—five is the largest number that they can grock. They can say bigger numbers and even count, but I guess their brains can’t wrangle with anything that’s more than five.

Who knew?

My brain has similar challenges accepting the greatness of some numbers. Specifically 44. Which happens to be the age that I turned on Tuesday.

44! How the hell did that happen? In my mind my age seems to default somewhere around 32. But somehow a dozen years got slapped onto my brain’s grasp of my age without me even noticing. Scary.

When I was little I never understood why asking grown-ups their age—especially women—was so verboten. At the grocery store shopping for my birthday party once my mother bumped into a friend. The woman leaned over and asked how old I was turning. After telling her I said, “And how old are you?” At which point my mama nearly fainted into the nectarine display.

Not asking women their age was a lesson that was beaten into me as a child. And every time I was reminded of this particular point of etiquette I resolved to not become one of those women myself. Clearly they felt some shame about their age, which mystified me.

Who really cares how old you are anyway? I mean, I only asked Mrs. Froncillo that day in the grocery store to be polite. You know, since she’d asked me.

The fact is, I do feel a bit weird about how old I am now. In the Bay Area I’m hardly the only 40-something with young kids. But I’m also not the spring chicken of the PTA. Many of my friends are younger then me. Hell, I’ve even got four years on my husband.

But that’s only part of what galls me about this 44 thing. I just feel so much younger than 44 implies. It seems out-of-whack and unfair to have to have that big number as my reality.

Despite all that, there’s some part of me that feels a strong pull to do right by my childhood self. I vowed in a grocery store produce aisle that I’d never be one of those vain, self-obsessed grown-ups who feels the need to hide her age. So this is my year to push aside any glimmers of my own anxiety.

I’m gonna take back my age.

I don’t plan to declare it when I meet you for the first time. I’m not getting a tattoo of two intertwined fours by my ankle. But if it comes up in conversation, I’m not shying away from saying, “I am 44 years old, thankyouverymuch.”

I’ve actually had a few chances to test this out over the past few days, and have gotten delightful reactions like, “No WAY. You look awesome!” And, “Rock on, sister.” And even a “You’re 44 years young,” which kind of indicates to me that I really AM old. But I know they were trying to be kind.

But whatEV. If I keep this up I’m hoping the mini-stomachache that precedes the announcement of my age will eventually go away. I’m hoping that I’ll train myself into coming around to the fact that 44 really is okay.

My friend’s father turned 75 recently. And the report from the birthday bash they threw him was that at some point in the evening he dropped to the floor and did 75 push ups. To the wild applause of his guests, of course.

How rad is that? Way to show you’ve still got it.

So here’s my plan. Every time I feel the sensation of Age Shame coming on, I’m going to get on the floor and do a bunch of push-ups. If I keep it up I’ll be able to wow the attendees at my 75th party some day.

Hey, I’ll be an old woman with a grossly over-developed upper body. I’ve got that to look forward to.

In the meantime, I can rest assured knowing that however old I am, in Paige’s eyes right now I’m only five.


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