Travel Don’ts

Posted: July 24th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Money, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Sleep, Travel | 13 Comments »

Here’s how NOT to fly cross-country with your two young children. Consider this a parental Public Service Announcement.

1. Take a flight scheduled at the end of the day, at the end of a weekend of 100-degree temps in New York City.

2. Before the flight, go to an expensive restaurant for brunch. Buy your children blueberry pancakes, which they refuse to eat (a first), though they nearly fight to the death over the side of bacon (giving you a perverse sense of pride). Watch as they have concurrent meltdowns over a small sticker, in front of your friends from London whom you see once every five years, and whose children are not only perfectly mannered, but also have British accents (which makes them seem MORE polite).

3. At the end of said over-priced, un-eaten meal, discover that the restaurant is cash only. Watch your two devils and your friends’ two angels as she runs to an ATM machine. Set down the insufficient cash you have and promise your friends you’ll “get them next time” (i.e. in five years).

4. Take taxi back to other friend’s apartment and discover it’s the one cabbie in New York City who doesn’t take credit cards. Drive with him to ATM where you’re so jangled you withdraw only the cash you need to pay him. Thrust the money his way, and drag your whining children—who are exhausted and grumpy, as well as ravenous—inside.

5. Realize that the worst possible thing you could do right now would be to take a 6-hour plane ride. Check!

6. Frantically finish packing and call car service. Ask kids to try to pee. Have urination standoff. Give up. Drag luggage halfway down hall to elevator and have three-year-old announce, “I have to tinkle. Really bad!” Head back to friend’s apartment, at which point (you later learn) the car you’ve called gives up on you and leaves.

7. Schlep:

  • 1 immense roller bag (containing 3-weeks worth of clothing, toiletries, and 2 bottles of marina sauce made by your hometown priest)
  • 1 carry-on small duffle bag
  • 2 car seats
  • 1 double stroller
  • 1 laptop bag housing a computer and DVD player
  • 2 empty-bladdered children

Call for another car to come while schvitzing on 100-degree sidewalk (See: earlier-referenced NYC heat wave). Realize you have to pee. Ah, irony.

8. Watch your three-year-old doze off on the short ride to the airport, and realize your chances of getting her to sleep on the flight have been officially shot to shit.

9.  Arrive at airport 45 minutes later then planned. Hand driver credit card, which he swipes several times without luck. Watch as he takes his card-swiper-thingy outside, holding it up to the sky like a carrier pigeon he’s about to set free, in an attempt “to try to get a better signal.” Time ticks on. Your three-year-old wakes up from her car seat and bellows wild-eyed, “I need Baba [her stuffed animal lamb who's is wedged God-knows-where in some bag piled on the curb]!!!” Driver gives up on getting a signal for his credit card machine and/or making contact with alien life forms. Tick tock, 40 minutes until flight departure. Driver asks you to call into his office with your credit card. You call twice and get busy signal. You age five years—maybe even nine—and nearly bust an artery in your neck.

10. Struggle into airport and realize you were dropped off near Virgin Atlantic terminal when you need Virgin America. Ask someone if they are next to each other… of course they aren’t. Haul aforementioned bags, car seats, strollers and children with weakened, rapidly-aging body.

11. Check in. Oddly, without incident.

12. Wait in security line. Ten minutes later realize it’s just a line impersonating the security line and set out to find actual security line.

13. Ascertain that Security is downstairs. (You still have your big-ass stroller, though other bags were checked.) One elevator broken. Wait as working elevator is crammed like a clown car with a sizeable Indian family. Door will not close since Grandma’s wheelchair repeatedly blocks elevator’s invisible eye. Tick tock. Check cell phone: 4:00PM. Reference boarding passes to see that it’s boarding time. Stop to reflect on all the fun you’re having. Have thoughts interrupted by three-year-old’s ear-piercing scream, “I. WANT. BABAAAAA!!!!”

14. At front of security line TSA agent asks you, “Why do you have only two boarding passes here?” Have full-bore flop sweat and begin to whimper and paw through purse when he looks down and says with a chuckle, “Oh, HERE it is…” then winks at you. Determine you hate all men. Except your husband who you can’t wait to thrust the children at when (if?) you eventually arrive in San Francisco.

15. Experience public act of deeply-mortifying mothering when, in the security line with 10 minutes ’til take-off, your five-year-old refuses to enter scanning machine. Scream head off, drag her in. She wriggles free and flees like a feral cat. Compassionate TSA agent ushers kids through. Maybe all men not so bad after all.

16. Sprint like madwoman to Gate B25 with children stacked on top of each other on one seat of stroller and laptop loosely jostling in the other. Arrive to hear “final boarding call” announcement and, panting, hand boarding passes to ticket-taker lady. Three-year-old proffers high-decibel request for stuffed lamby, with glaring omission of word “please,” and without British accent.

17. Ticketing agent writes you up stroller tag and says, “I’m sorry ma’am, but I’ll have to take that carry-on. Our overhead bins are totally full.” At which point you burst into tears. You blubber like a baby howling, “No! You CANNOT take this bag!” (Which contains books, crayons, coloring books, snacks, wipes, and extra clothes. Oh, and Baba. At that point a wild boar could not force you to hand over Baba.) Ticketing Agent Woman fears you and your tears—especially after they trigger both your children to start sobbing in an if-mom’s-losing-it-we-probably-should-be-too moment of solidarity. She sends a male underling down the ramp with you, where you learn there’s plenty o’ room in the overhead bins. (Clearly that other chick just had it out for you. You decide you hate all women.) The carry-on bag with Mommy’s Flight Survival Contents gloriously remains with you, and you settle into your seats.

18. All is well with the world.

19. Flight delayed 30 minutes due to storm/air traffic control/your shitty luck.

20. Flight delayed an additional 25 minutes. God making sure you know He’s still watching. Clearly somewhere, somehow you’ve been a very very bad person.

21. Lift-off. Joy!

22. Discover the plane has wifi. Battery dying on laptop, but looky here—there’s a power socket! Children ensconced in small back-of-headrest TV screens. Losing brain cells rapidly, but also not bugging you.

23. You start documenting your day. You chuckle to yourself as you type. See? You haven’t lost your sense of humor! In fact, you feel a bit smug. Victorious even. Why, you’ve survived evil airport employees, demanding ill-tempered children, and non-functional credit card machines. You made your way through that security line, girlfriend—even if it did mean getting publicly clawed at by your child. You even resolved to always carry more cash. Oh, see how far you’ve come!

23. From your peripheral vision you notice your three-year-old makes an odd wiggling motion with her upper body. Then suddenly a warm pinkish liquid gushes forth from her mouth covering your arm, her lap, her legs, and nearly filling the cavernous void between her seat and yours. Why, of course.

24. And now your day has gone perfectly wrong. Giving you statistical hope that something this miserable is likely to never happen to you again.

25. Mop everything up with the help of an amazingly-kind flight attendant. Decide to un-hate women. And marvel at the fact that Baba has remained virtually un-touched by puke. What excellent luck.


Campfire Classroom

Posted: June 23rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: California, Discoveries, Firsts, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop | 1 Comment »

You think you know everything there is to know about someone, then out of the blue they bust out something new.

Mark did this to me on Sunday. He told me that two of the best showers he’s ever taken took place since he’s known me.

Okay, I admit this is NOT the most scintillating tidbit. Not like finding out he’d been a prodigy on the tuba. Or that he had a tail surgically removed after birth. (Neither of those things, sadly, are true.) But, you know, when you’ve been married to someone for a while, any fresh little nugget is compelling.

So about these showers. The best of his life, he claimed. And before you envision some steamy Nine 1/2 Weeks acrobatic-sex scene, the showers he was referring to he actually took alone.

One of them was after a several-day backpacking trip we took through the Minnesota Boundary Waters. Back when we were dating. It was the kind of grueling balls-out adventure that had the potential to cement our relationship or squelch it. After several days we emerged from the woods exhausted, sucked-dry by mosquitoes, and with Mark missing a toenail. But strangely, still in love.

We were both chicken-fried in sedimentary layers of sunscreen, bug spray, and dirt. Oh, and sweat. Did I fail to mention we were comprehensively coated in deeply-funky homeless man strength sweat?

Well, yes sirree we were.

Mark remembers that first shower back in civilization quite fondly.

Then there was the bath Mark took in a fancy L.A. hotel room after completing the AIDS Ride. (Okay, so this wasn’t a shower per se, but his second best “bathing experience.”) Turns out that after a 580-mile bike ride, a soak in the tub does you justice. In the same way that doing anything other than pedaling your bike would probably be pleasant.

Since having had kids, neither Mark nor I have gotten much chance to do the kinda things that result in severe abstention from cleanliness. No long camping adventures. No immense feats of athletic endurance. And I don’t mean to show off here, but even when the kids were newborns we somehow managed to shower regularly.

So it wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when we went camping for a weekend with Kate’s school, that we returned to the Land of the Stinky.

Yes, we’re the people who put camping equipment on our wedding registry, got a bunch of great new gear, then I immediately got pregnant. And say what you will about the merits of a Thermarest, I had no intention of settling my preg-o whale-like carcass atop a thin air mattress and hoping for any semblance of a good night’s sleep. I mean, even a world-class optimist like me knew that was too much to hope for.

But now Paigey’s well over three years old. We no longer have a baby as an excuse. (Take my notions of poor sleep as a pregnant camper and magnify those to the tenth power at the thought of bunkin’ in a tent with a baby.) So when Kate’s kindergarten sent out an email about a school-wide weekend in the wilderness, how could we say no? It seemed like high time to dredge up and dust off our sleeping bags, Nalgene bottles, and moisture-wicking clothing. Oh and those great little super-absorbant towels.

Sure, we were staying in a cabin. With bathrooms just a path’s walk away. And—get this—there was even a dining hall where we were beckoned by bell for meals three times a day. So it was hardly roughin’ it. But it was a perfect re-introduction to the wonders of the wilderness. A great way for Mark and I to revisit the concept of camping, and to envision it as an activity for our party of four.

And beyond re-igniting our desire to starting camping again, our whole family learned a little something new that weekend. So much so, that I started noting our various discoveries.

Here’s that list:

Electric Kool-Aid Gummi Bear Test
For the first time, Kate and Paige drank Kool-Aid. Paige dubbed it “gummi bear juice” and became immediately, devastatingly addicted. After polishing off a large cup she’d plead, “More, more, MORE gummi bear juice, Mama!” I started wondering what we could use as a methadone to ease her off the stuff on the long drive home.

And to top it off she had a big, smile-shaped, red Kool-Aid stain on her face. Kinda like a milk moustache, but larger and more terrifying. By weekend’s end I feared it was essentially tattooed on. She looked like The Joker from Batman—and with her sugar high, was acting only slightly less demonic.

Boys Like Fire
At the bonfire our first night, I learned that boys—especially 4th and 5th grade boys—really REALLY like fire. Trust me on this. My eyeball was almost on the receiving end of a flaming marshmallow several times. Some boys were skipping the s’mores altogether to focus all their attention on setting branches and leaves on fire. The way things were going it was only a matter of time until bratty siblings and controlling parents were tossed into the flames. I bugged out before the real pyrotechnics kicked in.

Tricks for Keeping Warm
On our first morning in the cabin, Mark handed Kate and Paige their clothes for the day and suggested they put them in their sleeping bags to warm up. Mind you, it was May, but still chiiiiilly where we were. (Saturday night dropped down to 40-something.) Anyway, I thought this idea of thawing your clothes before getting dressed was sheer spousal brilliance.

It pays to marry an Eagle Scout, ladies.

And the other thing? On Sunday morning when I was nearly swan diving into a cup of rank camp coffee to warm up, I learned that I’d bungled my attempts to not freeze during the night. I’d layered on lots of clothes before climbing into my super-schmancy hi-tech sleeping bag. (I am, after all, The First Lady of Wired Magazine Gadgets.) Anyway, in a not altogether flirtatious fashion, one of the dads from the school informed me that “less clothing is more” in one’s sleeping bag. As in, your body generates warmth that bounces off the sleeping bag and gets trapped there—keepin’ ya toasty.

But me? I’d intercepted my 20-degree sleep sack’s ability to be warm and womb-like by foolishly layering on leggings, a t-shirt, and a hoodie.

This explains why mountain men like to sleep in the buff. (Someone said that who was listening to our conversation that day, so I thought I’d say it too. But I actually don’t know any mountain men, and certainly have no insights into their proclivities for night-time garb—or lack thereof.)

Moths to a Flame
The first morning at the dining hall many of Kate’s classmates were clamoring around the industrial cereal dispensers—those long clear-plastic tubes that’re filled with different cereals. You churn a knob at the bottom to dump some in your bowl.

And you know what was in one of them? FRUIT LOOPS.

This, like the Kool-Aid, was life-changing for many of those all-organic, low-sugar, earthy-groovy-healthy California kids. Suffice to to say they were like moths to a flame. Or rather, like little robots aimed at a target who kept blindly walking towards it, bumping into it, then charging it again.

All those lies us parents had been spewing all these years—that the flavorless cardboardy organic Cheerio-shaped cereal was the most delicious and indulgent of breakfast options—were brutally laid bare.

I actually had some Fruit Loops myself that weekend. What a taste flashback!

And you know, they ARE pretty damn good.

Four-Legged Stroller
I have long contended that I will be pushing my children to their proms in strollers. Because they are the world’s wimpiest walkers. I know I should really just dispose of our Rolls Royce-quality double stroller altogether. But now I don’t think I’ll have to. Now that Kate’s been on a horse I’m convinced she’ll be more game for a pony than a Porsche when she turns 16.

I too rode a horse for the first time! Took a glorious hour-long trail ride on an amazing gorgeous trail. Even saw a real-live beaver out swimming in the river.

Nature! Real living nature!

I’m currently considering an urban-girl-goes-country wardrobe overhaul. The next time you see me wearing turquoise jewelry, a silver belt buckle, jeans, and boots, please just play along with it. I’m sure, like all good phases, it will pass.

When in Rome, Speak Roman
On the second morning in our one-room cabin, Kate rolled over and started yammering on about something to Paige. This was a thrilling chance for Kate to start her 12-hour-long Daily Talk Marathon a few minutes earlier than at home, where she has to walk from her bedroom to her sister’s before lurching into uninterrupted streaming chat.

Paige was groggy. She was un-used to the late bedtimes brought about by night-time bonfires. She harumphed. She whined. She rolled over. She pulled her blankie over her head. And finally, fed up, I heard her clearly, unemotionally say, “Suck it, Kate.”

I was stunned. And I think Kate was too—even though I’m pretty sure neither of them knew what it meant.

Kate quieted down. Paige dozed back off, and I lay trembling and speechless in my sleeping bag, not believing what I’d just heard my baby say. (Mark, as it turns out, was in the bathroom during this.)

Clearly the girls picked up more than just how to wield hot marshmallow-tipped sticks from the older boys that weekend. They learned a new nearly-swear. But blessedly—maybe because I didn’t react to it—it was one lesson that they totally forgot.

Kate is doing an overnight camp-out with her most-excellent super-expensive summer camp tonight. They’re sleeping under the stars, having a bonfire, s’mores, and lots of other good clean fun. At nearly six years old, this will be a big dose of independence for her. She’s stayed away from us with her grandparents before, but an overnight camping trip is truly the Big Girl big league.

I’m in that weird maternal place of feeling half thrilled for her and half sad about how quickly my girl is growing up.

And I’m looking forward to getting out to camp more this summer with our whole family. No doubt Kate will have a thing or two to teach us then. Hopefully it won’t be about being naked in your sleeping bag.

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Camels and Cranberry Sauce

Posted: May 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Food, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Sisters | 4 Comments »

My friend Maria is shopping for a new religion.

She’s a nice Italian-American gal. She’s married with two young kids, and wants to do something religion-wise with her fam. But she’s just not feelin’ it from the Catholic Church any more.

I think she’s looking for something a bit more New School, if you know what I mean.

So Maria did what anyone does these days who’s looking for a good dry cleaner, or a restaurant tip for Date Night. She posted something on Facebook.

“Religion shopping,” she stated simply. “Any advice?”

I loved it.

The thing is, about half her Facebook posse seemed to think she was kidding. They left comments like, “WHAT??????,” and “‘Religion shopping. Hmmm. I don’t get it.” One person even asked, “Religious items or actual religion??”

Maybe they think The Internets aren’t the appropriate medium for finding one’s Higher Power. But as someone who’s wrangled with what-do-I-serve-my-family-for-religion-tonight questions of my own, I wholeheartedly condoned her approach.

In fact, I was hoping I might be able to coast on her tailwind. You know, pick up some useful insights for myself. (Mental note: Must follow up with her on this over a bottle of wine this summer.)

So a month or so ago, my SoCal sister Judy came to the Bay Area for Spring Break. She’s no college co-ed, but she was entertaining two students. And she was hell-bent on introducing them to Yosemite, Wine Country, San Francisco, Berkeley, and every roadside attraction, restaurant, and fabulous friend she had along the way.

When my sister does something, she goes big. Trust me.

In the midst of this break-neck Spring Break, I invited her and her friends over for dinner. My girls love their auntie—and we don’t get to see her nearly enough. Plus I was curious about the students she was spending so much time with.

“No pork,” she said, when I asked about their food preferences. “And you can’t go wrong with rice.”

As a hardcore hater of certain foods (mostly mushrooms, really), I always ask guests what things they don’t like to eat. I appreciate when folks do the same for me. But I also wanted to be cool from a cultural perspective, since my sister’s friends are from Egypt. They’re Fulbright scholars doing a year-long program at the university in her town.

While I knew there was little chance of making these guys feel truly “at home” in my Craftsman cottage in the middle of Oakland, I at least wanted to be sure they’d enjoy their dinner.

So while I focused my attention that afternoon on what we’d be eating—roast chicken, cranberry sauce, broccoli, and plenty of rice—I was utterly unprepared for what we’d do. Or rather, what they’d do. Which was, to be specific, pray.

Because after they’d swept in, and I set out cheese and other nibbly things, and after I offered wine (which was declined), and they allowed my unabashedly un-shy girls to literally crawl all over them, my sister turned to her friends and said, “There are two bathrooms if you’d like to wash.”

Which struck me as a bit odd.

I mean, I know that I unintentionally mother people, by sheer force of habit. I’ve been know to ask adults if they “need to go potty before we get in the car,” and to hand Kleenex to sneezers “in case they need to blow.”

But my sister’s got dogs, not kids. If anything I’d expect her to hold the back door open, make a smooching sound, and ask liltingly, “Have to go out?” Or maybe inquire in an excited tone if they want to go to the park.

Yet her friends didn’t find her directive to wash at all odd. In fact, they looked out the window at the near-setting sun, detangled themselves from Kate and Paige, and headed to the back of the house.

“They wash before they pray,” Judy whispered.

And sure enough, ten minutes later, after having flipped the roasting broccoli and needing to use the bathroom myself, it was apparent that some washing certainly had taken place in there. And from the state of things, it might have happened with water shot from an elephant’s trunk. Or a fire hose, perhaps.

The whole room was soaked.

Back in the living room my sister was catching up with the girls. Her guests were nowhere in sight.

“—and we went to the zoo. Paige tooted really loud. It was soooo funny! And Dad got a flat tire on his bike… ” Kate was breathlessly babbling, deep in one of her non-sequitor-laced talk-a-thons.

“Oh and I got a purple pony in a goodie bag from Zoe’s party!” Kate continued. “Lemme show you. It’s in Paigey’s room.”

My sister held her arm out. “No. Don’t go in there right now, honey.”

Kate stopped in her tracks. “Why not?”

Judy: “My friends are in there.”

Kate: [scrunching her face] “What are they doing?”

Judy: “Praying.”

Kate: [pauses] “Why are they doing that?”

Judy: It’s their religion.”

Kate: [thinks] “What’s religion?!

Ha! Exactly.

[Cue a large plot of my deceased Catholic relatives turning over in their graves.]

When Kate left a small opening in the conversation into which I could wedge a few words, I got the download I’d been desperate for.

“Yeah, so what’s up with the washing and everything? Explain, please.”

In a fast-paced whisper, Judy gave me the low-down on how her friends were Muslim. They pray five times a day, and one of those times is at dusk. And before they pray they do what she called “ritual washing,” where they splash water on their face, hands, arms—ears and feet even–in a special way, and a certain number of times. (Which explained the soggy state of my bathrooms.)

I felt bad that my humble home didn’t better accommodate their needs. I envisioned them facing Mecca on Paige’s hot pink polka-dot carpet, alongside the stinky diaper pail. All that washing and preparation, and they were probably kneeling on a lost Lego piece, and growing faint from poo fumes.

During dinner our new friends fawned over and joked with the girls. They tried cranberry sauce—something Kate and Paige would fight to the death over—and didn’t care for it. It blew Kate’s mind that one of her favorite foods was something some grown-ups hadn’t ever tried.

And in the relative calm of the dinner table, Mark and I had a chance to ask them about the changes that’d taken place in Egypt since they’d been away. “Was it weird to not be there for that? What were the reports from their families like? How did they feel about going back now?”

We asked about what their houses were like. How much English they’d known before coming here. (Not much.) And how they planned to apply their studies here to their careers at home.

Every question I asked seemed to spawn three more in my mind. It took all my restraint to not pull out a video camera and dive into a deep documentary-like interrogation.

It was fascinating, and heartwarming, and an incredibly unexpected way to spend a Wednesday night at home.

Kate asked to be excused to fetch the globe from her room, then had the guys show her where they were from. Then she asked, “Do you have camels?” which we all had a good laugh over. Mark and I had no idea where she’d come up with that. (Apparently some cigarette companies are doing an excellent job of marketing their products to kindergartners. Thank goodness. See how much she’s learned!)

My sister posted on Facebook a few days ago, “It is hard to prepare yourself emotionally that you may never see someone again.” And I knew she was referring to her Egyptian friends, who are heading home today.

She met them though a professor friend, who works at the college they attended. The woman thought they needed someone to practice their English with, so Judy invited them to her house for Thanksgiving. And many months later, they’d gotten into a groove where they all walked her dogs daily, cooked together and taught each other recipes—even planted a garden at my sister’s house.

I feel her pain. When our long-time nanny went home to Israel last fall, I felt the same way. In my sadness I asked Mark if he thought we’d ever see her again, and he gently responded, “Probably not.”

Why is it everyone’s always talking about how small the world is, instead of how damn huge it is?

After our dessert the night of our dinner, I tucked Paige into bed then closed her bedroom door behind me. Judy and Mark were quietly standing in the middle of the kitchen. I felt like I’d clearly walked in on something.

“What?” I said, looking around for clues.

And without a word they both opened their eyes wide, and jerked their heads towards the living room. I craned my neck to peek in, and saw that our guests were praying again. This time, wisely, not by the diaper pail.

I tiptoed over by the refrigerator to give our new friends some privacy.

That afternoon Katie hadn’t even known what religion was. But by the end of the evening we’d all gotten a chance to see it in action—twice. From people who, I imagine, never questioned the faith they grew up with, or felt the need to shop for a new one. People who went to amazing, bathroom-drenching lengths to practice their religion several times a day.

I’m so happy we got to spend an evening with those guys. What an education for all of us.

I send them both a wish for happy trails and safe travel. And I hope that they find peace and contentment in all they are going home to.


All Hail to Principal Kate

Posted: May 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Miss Kate | No Comments »

Mark and I are so going to rock the nursing home scene.

I know it may be a bit premature to get fired up about this now. But if our Bingo skillz are anywhere near as on-fire as our knack for winning raffles, we’re going to DOMINATE those oldsters.

Here’s the thing: Last year at Kate’s preschool auction we were ready to dart out the door early. The school was providing childcare and we had one hour of babysitting left. This compelled us (and some friends) to want to bee-line to a bar to guzzle as much booze as possible in that remaining window of freedom. (What is it about being a parent that makes you want to drink like a frat boy sometimes?)

So we’ve got one foot out the door. Quite literally. And we hear the auctioneer bellow, “Now wait a minute folks! We still have the raffle drawing for the instant wine cellar!”

With a dramatic flourish he sunk his hand into a glass bowl. He withdrew a stub, looked at it, and scrunching up his face he muttered into the mic, “I’m so bad at pronouncing these names.”

And Mark and I looked at each other. Because we knew.

Yes, thank all that is holy and bad for my liver—we won! (And the guy actually did a commendable job of pronouncing McClusky.) Yup, we took home more than four cases of vino that night. All different kinds, and all pretty good stuff—each family from the school having contributed a bottle.

I’ve found that many things labeled “instant” are not as good as their slower alternatives. Instant coffee, instant rice, instant mashed potatoes. But an instant wine cellar? Now that’s a good thing. Trust me.


A couple months ago, I dragged Mark by his ear to Kate’s elementary school auction. He’s not a fan of those sorts of big, canned social events. Here we were on a Saturday night having spent $40 a ticket to come to the school’s auditorium—a place we schlep through every weekday in far less fancy attire. But we bought the tickets and gussied up because private school is kinda like going to a chiropractor. Your back is never totally better. And private schools never have enough of your money.

So anyway, they had a silent auction, a live auction, and, I noticed as I stumbled across the dimly lit prom-like room towards the bar, a raffle.

I diverted my wine mission, and sashayed over to the raffle table, heady with optimism and the cheap pinot I’d been drinking. I requested two $25 tickets, and proclaimed to the mom-volunteers workin’ the table, “I’m gonna win.”

Oh it’s so BORING being this lucky. Yes, yes, we won AGAIN. (Yawn.) I mean, it’s nearly at the point where it’s just unfair to the other naive, hopeful raffle ticket buyers who we go up against.

But get this: This time there was no physical prize. Mark wasn’t making several trips back and forth to the car heaving heavy boxes of wine into the trunk, or worse, cramming in some over-sized blindingly-colorful classroom art project. This time we won something intangible, something experiential, something that would make our daughter get a taste of power she may never cleanse from her mind’s palette.

We won that Kate, our little kindergartener, was going to be principal of the school for a day.

Brilliant! We were beaming. You would’ve thought they’d awarded us Neiman Marcus matching his and hers hot air balloons.

The real principal emailed me a couple weeks later to set it up. “Would April 28th work for Kate?” she asked. I wondered what she thought Kate might have planned for that day, other than circle time, chasing the boys around the playground, and singing rainforest-themed songs.

Let me see… No meetings with heads of state planned. No bereaved families to visit. No fundraiser luncheons.

April 28th? Why… yes! She’s available!

At  drop-off one morning I bumped into the principal. She suggested that Mark and I brainstorm with Kate about what she might like to do for her day at the helm. “Let me know what she comes up with,” she said. “Then I can pick out some of things that’re realistic for us to put in place.”

We hadn’t yet mentioned this whole thing to Kate. Why, her teacher suggested, get her all hopped up about it when it was still a ways off? (That poor woman is painfully aware of Kate’s relentless tenacity when she wants something to happen NOW.)

Our brainstorm with Kate at dinner that night was an off-the-cuff chance to bounce around ideas. But minutes after introducing the concept to Kate, it seemed like she’d been planning for it for a lifetime.

She started spewing out ideas at a staccato pace. And what was dazzling was how damned realistic and implementable all her plans were.

“I want ten extra minutes of recess. For both recesses.”

“Pajama Day for the whole school.”

“Extra long reading time.”

“I’d like for everyone to be able to make postcards. Oh! And to send them to people they love.” (No surprise, this coming from Ms. Hallmark herself.)

If she’d hooked a laptop up to a projector and started reading from a PowerPoint presentation I wouldn’t have been surprised. The gal was apparently made for this job.

She was ready.

And as she rambled on, and I started envisioning her in a smart, trim, gray flannel suit, I found myself getting annoyed with all her efficiency and pragmatism. She was getting a shot at doing whatever she wanted to for a day, yet everything she dreamed up was so drearily restrained. So maddeningly practical.

Like, get this. At one point she threw out: “I want the snack in the after-school program to be fruit salad.”

Fruit salad?

Have we really been withholding sugar from her so comprehensively that her idea of unbridled food glee is FRUIT SALAD? What about candy bars? Chocolate cake? What about a frickin’ make-your-own hot fudge sundae bar for God’s sake?

I emailed the erstwhile principal the list of Kate’s annoyingly-reasonable demands. Then, a few days before her rise to power, a school-wide email went out announcing Kate would be the temporary Head of School.

That’s when everything changed.

Yes, what came next was the adrenaline-amped dizzying swirl that comes with anyone’s sudden rise to fame. And as her mom—playing a minor role in Principal Kate’s posse—I was sucked right into it alongside her.

At the playground after school the next day swarms of children gathered ’round me, jumping up, waving their arms, and vying for my attention. “Kate’s gonna be principal tomorrow! We get extra long recess! Kate made it pajama daaaay!”

I pushed past the throng wishing I had a security detail, and entered the relative sanctuary of the building. A couple older kids were slumped against the hallway wall, backpacks slung over their shoulders. They looked up at me from their conversation and said casually, “Hi Principal’s mom.”

It was almost creepy.

In the arts and crafts room I finally spotted Madame Principal herself. She stood there like some hot molten core, the focus of all the energy in the room. She was surrounded by a pulsating ring of pumped up, over-tired, I’m-friends-with-the-boss kids. Some were Kate’s real homies. Others were clearly making a play to get on her good side.

And then one child called out in a scrawny voice, “All hail to Kate!” And I kid you not, they all joined in the chant. “All hail to Kate! All hail to Kate!”

Over the din the guy who runs the after-care program mouthed to me, “It’s like she’s a celebrity.”

Walking to the car later, my little principal reached to hold my hand and asked, “What does ‘all hail’ mean?”

I swear, this is the kinda stuff Michael Jackson must have gone through as a kid.

Anyway, in the same way that it’s cool for a bartender to know your drink order—how it’s nice when someone shows how they know you—it’s also validating and happy-making as a parent when other people show how they really know your kid. Which was how I felt when I told various friends that Kate was getting a crack at running her school for the day.

My dad let loose his famous, booming expression of affirmation: “Oh ho ho!” (No, my father’s not Santa. But he does talk like him.) Others imagined how perfectly poised Kate would be in the role. And more than one amiga said something like, “When she becomes president some day, she’ll say she got her first taste of power in kindergarten when she was principal for the day.”

I adored every implication that Kate has confidence, smarts, and leadership qualities. I mean, folks were probably just thinking about how she’s bossy as hell. But in a silly proud way I indulged in the jokes about Principal Kate being the gateway to President Kate. I imagined myself feeling how Kate Middleton’s mom must have on her daughter’s wedding day—watching in amazement at all that her little girl had grown up to be.

I can see it all now. She’ll no doubt appoint Paige to be her secretary.

I wish I could outline the activities of Kate’s actual day in power. I wish, like a fly on the wall, I saw exactly what went down that fateful day. But this is one of those stories that gets you to the part you’ve been waiting for and then it turns out there’s no there there. If you were at the movies you’d probably walk out feeling ripped off, left to form your own unsatisfying conclusions about what really happened.

Put it this way, if you’re able to get a reliable detailed account of your child’s days at kindergarten, you’re a better mother than me.

All I can say for sure is that I dropped her off at school that morning to more playground fanfare. She was clutching a clipboard with a sign on it saying ‘Principal Kate.’ And she and the rest of the kids pouring in for the day were in their PJs (which, I’ll note, dramatically reduced the professional effect we were going for with the clipboard).

I snapped a few pictures of her sitting at the principal’s desk, and left as she and the temporarily-overturned Head of School were discussing the merits of lunching in the staff room.

I can’t help but think that one day, the incoming White House staffers will be elated to have finally made it to the big league. After all their over-achieving, the glory and glamor will finally be theirs. But then, for President Kate’s inaugural dinner, she’ll insist that fruit salad is served for dessert.

[Insert that "waah waah" sound effect to indicate disappointment.]

Ah well, at least they’ll get to wear their PJs to work.

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Egads! Paige is Three

Posted: February 10th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Milestones, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Preschool | 3 Comments »

Every summer when we visit my sister in Cape Cod Mark nearly drives off the road laughing when he sees the sign for this one hair salon. It’s called ‘Egads!’

It’s impressive that such a poorly-named business has lasted so long. And it brings us no end of entertainment. No matter how many times we pass that sign it sets off a little husband-and-wife comedy routine. In British accents, no less.

“Egads!” Mark will bellow, peering forward at me then retracting his neck in dismay. “Your hair! What on earth has happened to it?”

Or I might look startled and cry out, “Egads, man! Have you seen what your hair looks like?!”

Or Mark’ll say,”Your hair is so… interesting.” And I’ll fluff my ‘do, smiling coyly and say, “Why thank you. I go to Egads Salon.”

We sometimes natter on as if we’re renowned naming experts who’ve pulled down a huge commission for naming the place. “Ah yes,” one of us’ll say with erudite puffery. “One of the most brilliant brands I take complete credit from building from the ground up is Egads Hair Salon. Yes, yes, the one on the main road in Harwich by the Dunkin Donuts. Brilliant work, if I do say so myself.”

These things delight us immensely. (I’m so damn lucky to have found Mark.)

It’s just such good material. I mean, aside from all the negative connotations that make “egads” a terrible name for a hair salon, who even really uses that word anyway? Other than, like, Sherlock Holmes?

My darling love-dumpling Paigey Wiggle turned three years old last week. Or, as she’d put it, “fwee.” And lately, as if to remind me of her Big Girl status, she’s been providing me with scads of egads-worthy moments. She still can’t shake the angelic light I see her in, but man she seems to be trying.

The other day, while we were walking down the street an older gentleman saw her, bent to her eye-level and kindly said, “What a pretty dress you have on.”

She stared up at him silent and blinking. So I nudged her. “Paige, what do you say when someone compliments your dress?”

She looked at me, then looked at him, and with a big smile shouted, “BOOBIES!”

Not exactly what I had in mind.

“Egads, child!” my inner voice cried out, as I took her by the shoulders and guided her away, offering the man a weak smile. I would have attempted an explanation, but hell if I understood what she was thinking. Better to just move along.

Lately too, even the smallest amount of liquid—even something remotely damp—is a source of abundant fascination for Paige. I know the bathroom will look like a tsunami hit if I send her solo to wash her hands before dinner. But I’m still sometimes too busy to chaperone. So I bellow from the kitchen where I’m cooking.

“You okay, Paige? No playing with water, please.”

“That’s enough now! Turn OFF the faucet!”

“Please don’t get into Daddy’s hair goop! That stuff is expensive.” (And a pain in the ass to clean up.)

But the other morning as I was packing lunches like a madwoman, cleaning up breakfast dishes with an OCD-level of care (in case the queen drops by), and wondering when I’d actually make it in the shower, I wandered by Paige’s room. She had three plastic cups lying on the floor, and another in her hand, dumping water on top of her toy box. The entire top of the wooden box, which is a long bench, was a pool of water. And there was a Niagra Falls gushing over the edge onto the floor.

I admit that I screamed.

It wasn’t at her, per se. More a scream of shock. Like, an “Aaaaagh!”

A more refined Bristish chap might have emitted a proper “Egads!” But my verbal reactions to stress or surprise aren’t quite so controlled.

Paige’s “water table” happens to be a piece of furniture that’s near and dear to me. One of those drag-it-out-of-a-burning-house type items. It was mine when I was a kid, and my dad not only built the thing, but he painted and decorated it too. It’s got my name across the top, the alphabet, and some little tigers and flowers on it. And it’s deliciously orange. Which Kate or Paige will be quick to tell you is Mama’s favorite color.

So, water was pouring down into the hinged crack where lots of toys are stored. It was flowing onto Paige’s big rug. It was likely pooling under the toy box too, leaving a nice big mark on the hardwood floor, but it was too heavy to move to know for sure.

In all the time I was busy being Morning Superhero Mom, Paige had been stealthily filling cups with water in the bathroom and ferrying them to her room. As if she were tasked with single-handedly putting out a fire, six ounces at a time.

I was crazed. Of course, Paige was immensely proud. As I was wind-milling my arms in the linen closet, grabbing towels with maniacal speed as if someone were going into labor, Paige was admiring her work and muttering things like, “All the water, Mama! All the water…”

Ah well, there went the 6 minutes I’d set aside to take a shower. (A more resourceful gal would have dipped her head under the waterfall and washed her hair, a la Brooke Shields in Blue Lagoon.)

Miss Paigey is not only bragging about being “a big girl now.” My formerly easy-peasy dumpling has a new defiant ‘tude. She’s now prone to yelling No, stomping her feet (with her hands on her hips for added sassiness), refusing to take another step on the sidewalk, and even sometimes swatting at me. The other day her refusal to walk into the playground and her incessant whining once I lured her in prompted another mom to ask me how old she was. When I answered three, she didn’t say a word. Just sorta nodded her head.

But I could hear what she was thinking loud and clear: “It’s not the terrible twos, it’s the terrible threes.”

Lordy be.

Even though I could kinda see how she was thinking like she was, I still wanted to run after her, tap on her car window and explain, “You actually have it all wrong. This is Paigey. She’s not like that. She’s an angel!”

In fact, when people ask how Paige is, Mark says, “A handful,” at the same moment I’m saying, “Wonderful!” I always look at him like “Really?” It seems like we should get our stories straight.

But honestly, I think it’s me who’s suffering from temporary delusions and/or denial. I mean, I’m with her more than Mark is, so I should be acutely aware of her less-than-perfect behavior of late. But her sweetie pie angel-puss persona is so deeply ingrained in me. It’s hard to shake. It’s like when a friend chops off their hair or something. You still picture them the old way for a while, and you’re always a little surprised when you meet up with them and they look different from your mental image.

And if her sudden onset of cranky defiant negativity wasn’t offputting enough, it also turns out that Paige is in love. I know. I know what you’re thinking. The gal just turned “fwee.” But after two weekend visits to our friends’ house in Napa, Paige has become desperately infatuated with their 8-year-old son. (Who is, undeniably, handsome and charming.)

She wandered into my room the other morning, mopey and forlorn, climbed into bed and whimpered, “I miss Elliot.” Then she rolled away from me and slumped into the sheets like she couldn’t go on.

If she’s coloring, picking a book out from the library, or putting a barrette in her hair, she’ll invariably assert, “It’s for Elliot.” If I’m trying to coerce her into an outfit, I’ll sometimes tell her, “This used to be Elliot’s sister’s.” (Works like a charm.) And she spends entire mornings refusing to respond to her own name, and insisting that everyone call her Elliot. It’s like she parlays her lovesickness into becoming the object of her desire. Like that comforts her somehow.

It’s so dramatic as to be from another era—Austen-ian even. Which, of course, I love.

Anyway, a stricter version of me would make a stand and put an end to the thing. I mean, he IS five years older than her. But at this point I’m leaning more towards a simple “no boyfriends ’til you’re potty trained” rule.

Silly me, thinking I had a good decade or so before I’d be coaching my fwee- and five-year-old girls through matters of the heart.

A few weeks ago Kate and I went to pick Paigey up from school. Paige’s classroom is in the back of the school and down a set of stairs, where you can’t see or hear the street. As we walked up to her room, two of the teachers called out, “You were RIGHT, Paige!” and told me that about three minutes earlier Paige announced, “My mother is here.”

It happened again last week. “It seems like she KNOWS when you pull up and are parking the car,” the one nice afternoon teacher whose name I can’t remember said. “It’s amazing.”

I grabbed Paige’s lunch box and guided her up the stairs. Amazing? Nah. Paigey and I have always been tuned into each other that way. Like, when she was a teeny baby, I’d wake up in the night and not move or even open my eyes. A few seconds later she’d be flapping around in her bassinet. It happened later too, when she was sleeping down the hall in her own room.

We’ve got a few years and some layers of the world between us now, but that girl and I are still connected. Big three-year-old or not, I’m pleased to announce that Paigey-Lou is still her Mama’s baby.


Kissing Frogs

Posted: December 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Discoveries, Firsts, Holidays, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate | No Comments »

If you’re looking to make a new amphibian friend, come on over to our house. Because this holiday season we’ve opened our home (and yes, our hearts) to Freezey, Room 2′s pet frog.

I love Kate’s school. Really and truly a wicked wicked lot. But man, do they send out a lot of email.

We get a school-wide “Friday Notes” email from the director. The same day we get a classroom newsletter from Kate’s teachers. Then every other day of the week we get anywhere from two to 300 other emails on topics of varying importance and interest from folks ranging from art teachers to the hot lunch lady.

Somewhere on the application we must have forgotten to de-select a box that said our email address would be shared with every school administrator, teacher, and janitor who has a lot to get off their chests.

I’ll have to check, but I’m nearly certain that in small decorative script bordering the school’s crest is the motto, “You can’t ever over-communicate. But we keep trying.”

And in case you missed reading it there, they sent that out in an email too.

A mom from the school recently emailed me about getting our kids together for a play-date. I shot back the response, “We’d love to, but I’m too busy reading email from the school.”

Which I found uproariously funny. Like I sometimes do with things I say.

So anyway, when I got Kate’s class newsletter a couple weeks ago—which actually DOES relay lots of info I DO care about—it fell to its usual low-priority place in my email in-box. Behind more pressing messages like snarky responses from friends to my Facebook status updates.

When I finally did read the newsletter, I saw that the teachers were looking for a home for the class frog. It’s really a wee wee thing. No flabby croaking bull frog. Just a little underwater dweller, no bigger than my thumbnail.

My immediate reaction to this request was something along the lines of, “No way, sucka.”

But on second thought, my frosty heart melted a bit. It might be fun for Kate (and Paigey) to have the thing at home. We’re not going anywhere for the holidays—’staycationing’ as they say. No relatives visiting, elaborate plans, or parties to throw. So why not throw open the doors of the McClusky estate to a small, homeless frog? Perhaps, at the very least, we could afford him a brief respite from the trauma of 25 children constantly tapping on his tiny tank.

Instead, there’d be just two kids doing that.

And two adults.

I asked Kate if she’d like to frog-sit. Suffice it to say, my eardrums bled after experiencing her extremely loud and positive reaction to the possibility.

It was a “first to respond wins” sort of deal. But by this point it was Saturday. The email had gone out the day before. God knows what other parents had jumped at this offer in a more timely manner. We’d likely missed the boat, and I’d be spending the entire two-week break comforting a heartbroken Kate because Freezey the frog was living it up at Gemma or Henry’s house.

Which would, no doubt, set a vicious domino effect into motion resulting in Kate not getting into an Ivy League college.

I mean, not that I ever think about that.

Every three minutes for the remainder of the weekend Kate yanked at my arm and bellowed in my face, “Did Alice email you back?! Do we get to take Freezey? Do we, Mom?!”

It was fun.

Monday morning as we walked towards the schoolyard I prepped Kate for defeat. If it turned out that Freezey was going home with another kid, there would still be things in her life to look forward to.

Upon seeing one of her teachers, Kate screamed and panted out her question in a brink-of-hyperventilation state.

“Freezey…,” the teacher said slowly, like some reality show host announcing the winning contestant, “Is going home with… YOU!”

I nearly vomited, had a migraine, and wept all at once. I was blinded by joy and luck and sweet, beautiful tantrum-avoidance.

So it wasn’t until I got into the car later, watching Kate prance around the playground from friend to friend sharing her giddy news, that I began to fret.

The thing is, Room 2 used to have two frogs. Freezey’s friend (lover? life partner? tank mate?) Cutie Pie, recently, uh, croaked. (Couldn’t resist that one. Sorry.)

Yes, a couple weeks ago I picked up Kate from school and heard all about the funeral, the tears, the card-making, the sharing of feelings about loss. Cutie Pie, she explained, had started to hang out under one of the orange rocks in the tank. Then never came back out.

Some valiant dad did the honors of removing the corpse. Cutie Pie was buried under a tree outside the classroom. “And we had to change the water in the tank after,” Kate said somberly. Cause really, who wants to swim around in Death Funk water?

Kate was especially hard-hit by this development since in a contest to name the frogs, her submission, “Cutie Pie,” won out in the voting. Cutie Pie, by all accounts, was Kate’s first baby.

My God, I thought, leaning my forehead on the steering wheel. If I ask for only one thing in my life, it will be that Freezey doesn’t die on our watch.

Thursday, a day before school even let out, the teacher emailed me. “Could you take Freezey home this afternoon?” Kate, she said, “was enthusiastic about this idea.” (Read: Pestering the poor teacher incessantly.)

I figured, if we are going to kill this animal, why not start a day early.

I drove home that day with Freezey more slowly then I did taking a newborn back from the hospital. (Alas, if only Mark had been available to sit in the back seat with the small frog.) No water sloshed from his tiny plastic home. No apparent trauma was suffered from what must have been violently changing environments—through the kid-packed school hallway, to the gray-rugged Subaru floor, to several different settings in the house while Kate sought out the perfect place to keep him. She was like Thom Filicia in a tizzy to select the ideal nook for some avant-garde Japanese piece d’art. The feng shui apparently had to be impeccable.

As I cooked dinner that night Kate bellowed out status reports from her room. “He looks sad,” she wailed. And, like my dad who has a low threshold for anything bleak or dismal, I called back, “Honey, I’m sure he’s fine! He’s HAPPY! Happy to be with us. Happy to be here for his Christmas vacation.”

But Kate was un-convinced. “He’s sad,” she repeated more quietly, almost to herself. “His eyes… they look sad.”

It wasn’t until I’d slapped dinner on the table, bathed the kids, and was clearing away dishes later (don’t mean to glamorize my life here), that I glanced over at Freezey in his new approved tank spot. (Note: I’m avoiding the term “resting place.”)

I took a couple steps closer. First off, his pale gray skin doesn’t exactly convey the image of robust health. But more than that, what concerned me was that the critter was fully submerged, spindly legs splayed out, and utterly unmoving.

I panicked. HE’S DEAD.

But Kate sashayed in and drawled a hello in his direction. Picking up on my frantic Mama vibe, she reminded me how he got his name. “Mommy,” she said, with the weary exasperation of a child three times her age. “He’s called Freezey because he almost never moves.”

Wonderful. I have to spend the next two weeks tending to an animal who is fervently adored by Kate and 24 of her dearest friends, while he plays dead.

I was jolted into a deep maternal panic, more intense than any fretting I’ve done for my own human offspring. I considered emailing the teachers to see how they manage to ascertain Freezey’s  alive-ness. But with 25 human five-year-olds in the room, I decided it probably wasn’t a priority for them.

In the ensuing days I’ve felt like Shirley McLaine in the opening scene of Terms of Endearment, convinced her sleeping baby’s not breathing. She shakes the infant out of a peaceful sleep to a full-bore wail, breathes a sigh of relief and says, ‘That’s better.”

If only I could hold a wee mirror up to Freezey’s mouth to be assured of his breathing. Unfortunately, that trick won’t work in an underwater setting.

At any rate, it turns out that having 1.5 ounces of amphibian around the house has had a happy impact on the place. Kate and Paige came home from a holiday party Friday and held the spoils from their stockings up to Freezey’s tank. They waved candy canes in front of the glass, and relayed the thrilling details of their day, hoping to gain Freezey’s barely-conscious approval. They were like Kim Kardashian vamping outfits in the Prada dressing room for the admiration of the ambivalent salesperson.

Last night Kate strained to stay awake until Mark returned from his work trip. Not to lay eyes on her sorely missed father, but “to introduce him to Freezey.” When it became clear she might fall asleep before that was possible, I had to vow I wouldn’t let Mark near the amphibian sanctuary, so Kate could do The Reveal in the morning.

No doubt sealing our fate for a brutally early wake-up call.

But despite that I’m glad I ignored my initial impulse to avoid temporary custody of another living being—albeit a small caged one that only requires feeding twice a week. Even though this could be a terrifying precedence-setting act, one that lays the groundwork for years of hamster, snake, and hermit crab classroom critters coming home with us at holidays and summer breaks—so be it. We’re just a few days in and Freezey’s already served up some sweet moments of childhood glee.

I’m also coming around to the little guy (gal?) myself.

And we haven’t even fed him yet! A prospect Kate says involves pellets that are “really stinky” and requires one to “wash hands really well after.” I can already picture Paige feeding her dolls and lamby pretend food pellets. That is, if she doesn’t decide to stick a candy cane inside Freezey’s tank first.

Yesterday, as I cleared the breakfast dishes from the table, I paused by Casa La Freezey to take a peek at my new frozen friend. He was facing outward, which I took as a thrilling sign of life, since at Lights Out the night before his typical dead-man’s-float position was facing the wall. From this new angle I was able to look at his face for the first time. And I nearly dropped a plate of scrambled eggs when I saw that his eyes really DO look sad.

So now, amidst last-minute shopping, holiday baking, and keeping the kids entertained while school’s out, I’m all hopped up on finding some way to pull my new chum Freezey out of his glum froggy funk.

I wonder how the school will feel about us taking home one frog, and bringing back two.

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Honk If You Have a Bully

Posted: November 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Firsts, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Kindergarten, Manners, Misc Neuroses, Miss Kate, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool, Sisters, Travel | 7 Comments »

Do they make “My kid’s a bully at Greenwood Elementary School!” bumper stickers? I’m guessing not.

It’s hardly the kind of thing you want to publicize. But if more people ‘fessed up about their kids’ unkind-to-others behavior, those of us who are wrangling with this unsavory stuff would feel so much less alone. Less freakish. Less sympathetic to people like, say, Jeffrey Dahmer’s mom.

I actually read a poll in a Motherboard newsletter about bullying. 71% of mothers said their kid had been bullied, but even more moms said their kid had never BEEN a bully. So who’s doing all that bullying then?

Well, now I know: It’s my daughter Kate.

Okay, so maybe it’s a bit soon to hang the bully mantel on her. But in my most neurotic Mama heart I just want to brace for the worst case scenario.

I was on a plane to New York. Yes, New Yawk Cit-ay! Blissfully alone. No diapers to change in a cramped cabin bathroom. No restless children to pacify with a constant stream of new toys and snacks. No dual car seats, immense roller bag, double stroller, and two overtired children to maneuver through endless airport hallways.

In other words, by virtue of simply being airborne alone–People magazine and novel in hand, and free to nap at will–I was already deep into my vacation.

But it was too good to be true. Because when the plane landed and I texted Mark to report my safe arrival, seconds later my phone rang. It was him, calling from home in the middle of the day.

“What’re you doing at home?” I asked nervously. This couldn’t be good.

“Well, I got a call from the school that I had to come pick Kate up. That she’d hit some other kids.”


My feel-good glow turned instantly to a churning stomachache.

“I considered not telling you ’til after the weekend,” he went on. (This getaway was my treat for being the On Duty parent when Mark traveled to exotic ports for work this summer.) “But I didn’t know who else I should tell about it. And I had to talk to someone.”

Why, I wondered, hadn’t he enlisted the ear of an imaginary friend?

Kate’s hitting episode that day was actually her third strike. She’d poked someone, pulled another kid’s hair, and did some other swatting or shoving, and right on the heels of her visit to the principal’s office. Oy.

And so, poor Mark got a call during a meeting with his two bosses (of course). He muttered apologies for his sudden need dash out the door because his five-year-old got kicked out of kindergarten for the day.

Good times.

As I yanked my bag from the overhead compartment and walked off the plane, my cell phone wedged between my ear and shoulder, I outlined my anxieties to Mark.

“So what if this is the first glimpse we’re getting of Kate developing into a sociopathic adult?” I panted. “I mean, you haven’t noticed that she’s been killing squirrels in the back yard with sticks or anything, have you?”

My mind raced. “But really—oh God—what if her teachers don’t like her now?” The one thing worse than being a serial killer in my mind? Being UNLIKED. This thought made me stop to lean against the wall en route to Baggage Claim. “Oh shit. What if she’s turned into the problem child they don’t want to deal with? Did it seem that way when you talked to them?”

Mark started talking me down off an emotional ledge—likely regretting at that point that I was the person he chose to share this news with. He tossed out some theories. Kate’s been super tired after school. The day at kindergarten day is longer and requires more focus than her short playful stints in preschool. Maybe that’s catching up with her? Making her grumpy and irrational? Also Paigey has been prone to hitting lately—a more age-appropriate behavior for a two-year-old, no doubt. But maybe Kate is somehow passing that forward?

This got me thinking. My sister Ellen tied a nun to a tree with a jump rope when she was in Catholic school. Hell, we LOVE that story in my family. And I’m sure that got her kicked out of school for the day. Maybe even a week! And dare I admit to my own behavior in Miss Hancock’s classroom? Bonnie Usher grabbed an eraser I wanted so I leaned over and bit her arm. (She was clearly askin’ for it.)

I mean, these kinds of things are garden variety childhood offenses, right? Ellen and I have never been incarcerated. I’d even go so far as to say we’re both highly-functioning members of society.

But by the time I was in the cab watching a gray day in Queens whiz past the window, my attempt at sweeping The Hitting under the carpet turned on me. And I did what nearly every mother tends to do: wracked my brain for what it was that I’D done to bring this all about.

It didn’t take long to decide that Kate’s playground furor was due to the very trip I was on. Brought about by my selfishness for wanting to be away alone for three nights. Plus, it was just days after another overnight trip I’d taken for work.

It was my fault entirely.

It’s been two weeks now since this all went down. And I can happily report that Kate has made no additional assaults on her peers. A feat that, after her first day back in school after The Incident, she felt was worthy of a gift.

“I didn’t hit anyone today!” she cheerfully reported as she climbed into the car. “So can you get me that ice cream maker toy that I saw on TV?”

Uh, you don’t get a prize for *not* whacking your friends upside the head, kiddo. Puh-leez.

Now most mortal Mamas would just let this go now, right? Turn their attention to other anxieties. But Kate’s parent-teacher conference rolled around a week or so later. Even though it was packed with praise for things like being “a promising mathematician” (Mark’s genes), a precocious communicator, and an all-around smart gal, I found I was clinging to the Hitting. So in the course of our chat with the teacher, I somehow resuscitated a long-dormant anxiety I thought—or hoped—I’d put to rest.

Did we send Kate to Kindergarten too soon?

Everyone is holding kids—sure, mostly boys—back these days. Six-year-olds are as common in kindergartens as lice. Not to mention five-year-olds. Which makes Miss Kate, who started the year off at age four, a wee one in her class.

In terms of book learnin’ the girl’s ready to roll. But is she out of her league in terms of emotional development and social composure?

I flip-flopped wildly on this issue last year. Each time lecturing Mark on the merits of what I was sure was my final decision. Another year of preschool will buy us more time with her before she’s off to college. It’s settled! But then her interest in writing and reading would make me certain that more preschool would bore her. A day later a friend would extol the merits of Pre-K programs and I’d be on the phone with the preschool begging for her spot back.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Ultimately the three schools that assessed her all thought she was ready. So we pulled the trigger.

During Kate’s conference I started speculating madly on this issue. (I’d forgotten how good I was at it.) I wanted her teacher to pat my hand and assure me we made the right decision. And in subtle ways she kinda did—saying Kate is intellectually in line with her classmates, and behavioral issues like hitting can crop up in the first six weeks of school. But she didn’t take me by the shoulders and scream this into my face, which was apparently required to really convince me.

So on the drive home Mark—bless his heart—tried talking me off the ledge again. He’s long felt confident that Kate was ready for kindergarten. And even though The Hitting Thing rocked his world too, the fact that it was now ricocheting in my mind to other places, seemed to fortify his hunch that it would all be okay.

After reading Halloween books to a sweet sleepy Kate that night, I looked at her as I closed her door and had a Mama moment. I couldn’t imagine her being any more perfect. I crawled into my own bed and wondered what I’d think if we had held her back, but she still did something like hit another kid. What excuses would we have then? What could I beat myself up about then?

Maybe that champion spouse of mine was right. Once I dove past that thick outer layer of self-doubt and frenzied Mama worry, I found that I arrived at a more peaceful place. There I let all the dramatic self-flagellation slip away, took a cleansing breath, and had a clear calm thought that sometimes these things just happen. And in kindergarten, along with learning to read and to count to ten in Spanish, Kate’ll also learn how to control her emotions, and how to be a better friend.

She will survive Kindergarten. She’ll move past The Hitting until it’s some little incident we—and hopefully her teachers—barely remember. And, God willing, she won’t chop people up as an adult and store their body parts in chest freezers.

At least, I really really hope not.


Speaking with the Fairies

Posted: October 2nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Birthdays, City Livin', Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Kate's Friends, Milestones, Miss Kate, Parenting | Tags: | 3 Comments »

I vowed to never be a pony-renting birthday party mom. No juggling clowns, jumpy houses, or elaborate expensive goody bags. I decided some time ago that simple sweet parties were the key to raising my kids all wholesome and well-balanced.

Plus, I figured hype-free parties would be less stressful.

But then last year, I was overwhelmed—nay, terrified—by the prospect of entertaining a slew of raucous four-year-olds in our small back yard. (Yes, the guest list grossly exceeded my long-ago best laid plans for wee intimate birthdays.). So I rented a jumpy house. A big princessy pink castle jumpy house.

And then this year, well this year a meltdown at California Pizza Kitchen informed it all. I swear we don’t go there very often, but for some reason it’s a blog-worthy spot.

So there we were, in our CPK booth, awaiting our CPK personal pizzas and my half Waldorf, and Kate mentioned how super duper wicked excited she was for her friend Casey’s party. The party wherein a fairy—a real live bee-ooooo-tiful fairy with wings and a flower crown and everything—was going to not only paint faces and make balloon animals, but do a magic show too.

Kate’s anticipation for this party was so intense I imagined her pituitary gland transmitting jolts of unicorn hallucinations throughout her system. For weeks she was bathed in a heroin-high haze of pixie dust, and mind-numbing glee at the thought of a corner slice of cake with a blue frosting rose.

Yeah, so she was excited.

And then Mark laid it on her. Right there in our CPK booth. “Actually, honey, you know how we decided to go visit Aunt Judy? Well, it turns out we’re going to be in Palm Springs for Casey’s party.” And just to be sure his dire message was clear he added, “So you won’t get to go to the party after all.”

At which point Kate clenched both sides of her head in an Edward Monk-ian scream and began what was to be a long, loud, and active grieving period.

Even though Kate’s ensuing hunger strike and black armband seemed like extreme expressions of parental condemnation, I did feel bad. We had told her we were going to the party. I did read her the invitation daily (at her request) until she could recite it from memory. (“Be sure to arrive by 12:30 when the magic will begin!”) And I was a coward, putting off telling her myself so Mark had to share the bad news.

So I did what any mother who is heartbroken about her child’s heartbreak does. I called Casey’s mom to find out how to rent a fairy.

She gave me the straight scoop. “What I liked about these fairies,” she said, “is that they’re not Disney characters.”

“Oh good. That’s good!” I said. I was taking notes like a first-year law student.

“And communicating with them is interesting,” she added. But I was too busy scribbling down the URL she gave me, like some junkie with a line on a dealer, to take much note of anything else she said.

It was a month before Kate’s birthday. “Oh Kate,” I thought, with an aren’t-I-clever Hollywood-grade chuckle. “You WILL get your fairy.”

But seconds later on the website, my scheming laughter turned to perverse fascination. This was no two-bit get-a-fairy-and-a-jumpy-house combination party pack kinda place. This was all fairies. Serious fairies. With serious fairy names, like Miss Violet and Miss Acorn. There were gauzy sun-drenched photos of each one wearing wings, flower-wreath halos, and shimmery flowing dresses. They had long wavy hair cascading around their shoulders like some Vidal Sassoon Shampoo wet dream.  They were seated on mossy rocks at river’s edges and in flower filled meadows. One super hot blond was even nuzzling a real white bunny rabbit.

It was intense. It was compelling. It was kinda pervy.

It was definitely NOT Disney.

Clicking on each fairy’s main photo took me to a bio page with more glossy pics and background info on each gal. Things like “she came to our family in a whirl of sparkle,” (our family?!) “she  likes to sing songs way high up in the tree tops to the squirrels,” and other ‘qualifications’ like being a clown college grad or former nanny.

Anyway, I couldn’t porn out on the whole thing without getting my hubbie in on it. Besides, it had been seven minutes since I’d called Mark at his office.

“Okay so check this site out,” I said giving him the URL. “I feel like I’m hiring a call girl.”

After we hung up I imagined a bunch of guys in Mark’s office crowding behind his desk, obsessing over the site over his shoulder.

As for me, back at the house, I found I was a bit gun-shy about calling them. Who should I say I wanted? Did I go for experience or looks? And could the acorn fairy face-paint anything besides the poorly-rendered Blues Clues dog that appeared in one picture?

Plus, for the trifecta—magic show, face-painting, and “balloon twisting” (I guess that extends beyond just animals)—it was stupidly expensive. Fairies, it turns out, don’t come cheap.

But my thoughts of how excited Kate’d be—and what the hell I’d do with twenty-some sugar-crazed kids on my own—spurned me on. So I dialed.

No answer. The voice on the answering machine was shrill—a woman intentionally making her voice high-pitched and sing-songy, achieving an effect best described as demented. Her outgoing message mentioned something about her “being in a goblin class until two o’clock.” (Now does Goblin 101 meet on Tuesday-Thursdays? Or is it a Monday-Wednesday-Friday class?)

At any rate, I managed to leave a message using my very own voice. I didn’t get reeled into that thing where someone talks with a drawl and you talk back with one even though you were raised in Indiana.

The next day, as I walked in the door from somewhere and unburdened myself of heavy children and whining grocery bags, I hit play on the machine. “Why hello-ooo, Kristen!” the munchkin-woman voice trilled out. ” It’s Trixie! Why I was so verrrrry happy to get your call. Hoo-ray! But I guess I’ve missed you. Tee hee hee!”

I quickly hit Stop before Kate heard. And before I had to hear any more.

Eventually, after a voicemail exchange that included a glass-shatteringly shrill “Tag! Yoooou’re it!” message, Trixie (who I thought of as the madam of the fairies) and I reverted to email. But even there, the messages I received were rife with “[smile]” and “[wink!].”

I guess that’s just how fairies communicate. Constant reminders of their cuteness, wee-ness and girlishness. As if we could ever forget.

Several laps into this surreal communication sworl I finally received some actual helpful information. Yes there was a fairy who could work at our party. Just one fairy was left for hire that day.

Of course, I ran to the website to check her out. I was both crestfallen and unsurprised to see that the fairy who was free, the last puppy of the litter, the last-ditch consolation-prize party nymph, was—okay so it might sound kinda mean—but she was by far the uncute-est of the fairies. Maybe even a bit kinda “homely,” as my mother would say.

I was dismayed. I called Mark. Our child’s fifth-birthday fairy call girl was the bottom of the woodland barrel.

Damn me and my procrastination! Of course all the more organized mothers snatched up all the cute sexy fairies first. Poor Kate and her friends would be doing that thing you do when you see an ugly baby. Wanting nothing more than to say, “She’s beautiful!” but having to drum up alternate compliments. “Your wings, Miss Mushroom! Why, they are so long and lustrous!” “Your eflin shoes! How they curl so at the toes!”

But a day or two into sharing my frumpy fairy misery with a few friends, I started to come around. “Maybe,” I said to an amiga, lounging in the sun at her swim club, “Maybe Miss Mushroom will teach the girls that knowledge of math and science will get them further in life than a dewy complexion and a button nose? Or—you don’t have to be cute to make sound investment choices? And if you fling around enough glitter fairy dust, people won’t be able to really see you anyway!”

I was starting to feel preemptively defensive and protective of Miss Mushroom. By the end of the week I’d transformed my mental picture of her from the fugly fairy to an up-and-coming feminist intellectual. Like some young Simone de Beauvoir or thick-calved Hillary Clinton. I was hatching plans to take her into our home, set her up in the downstairs bedroom. We’d help her pay her way through Berkeley so she could quit the fairy gig once and for all. We’d emancipate her from her evil-voiced madam, Trixie. She’d become a beloved family member, a big sister and role model to the girls.

A couple days before the party I was slopping the kids’ dinner on plastic plates, while swilling a glass of wine. It was that early evening chaotic hell-realm time of day when everyone’s cranky, fried, and hungry. The phone rang.

“Hey, is this Kristen?”


“Oh hey, it’s Miss Mushroom,” the woman said.

I gasped! After only communicating with her madam, after talking her up for weeks to Kate, it was her. Miss Mushroom. In the telephonic flesh!

But what shocked me as much as her sudden presence on the phone line was her voice. It was kinda gravelly. I mean, not like Marge Simpson’s chain-smokin’ sisters or anything. But definitely no affected lilting fairy voice. Like not even trying a little tiny bit to sound like she could fly, or at least heal wounded wildlife.

“Yeah so I just wanted to run through the details of the party and stuff,” she said, interrupting my thoughts. “Turns out I’m not that far from you, which is cool.”

She was like some urban hipster fairy.

I felt a bit sad, somewhat let down as I ran through the “in our backyard” “eleven o’clock” “magic show first, then face-painting” details. I realized I was missing the magic. The magic I’d hated. The fake fake fairy-voiced magic.

But not long after hanging up I’d managed to shake it off. Despite how she came across on the phone, one look at her gossamer wings and the kids would be smitten. (And they were.) And the whole reason I hired Miss Mushroom was to avoid having to entertain the teeming throng of kids myself.

Besides, next year when I revert to the “small picnic in the park with a few close friends” I won’t have to worry about these things. I mean, you know, I’ll do the small picnic thing, or buckle again and go the pony-ride rental route.

Only time will tell.


Dear Mom

Posted: September 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Extended Family, Firsts, Kindergarten, Milestones, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting, Preschool | 19 Comments »

Dear Mom:

So Kate started Kindergarten last week, and Paigey started preschool yesterday. And I’m dying to talk to you about it. Damn it.

Anyway, maybe through the Cyberspheric Alternate Plane Afterlife Postal System (CAPAPS), this letter will make it to you, wherever you are.

Not to be harsh, but the truth is that with you gone for more than five years, I’ve gotten used to having birthdays, Mother’s Days—even Christmases—without you. A sad fact.

It’s not that I don’t miss you. It’s not at ALL that. I’ve just kinda gotten used to you not being here. Resigned myself to the fact that you never met my girls.

But then one morning last week Mark and I were standing on a playground watching Kate line up with her new classmates, her sparkle-heart backpack nearly the size of her, and I was struck with such a cutting pang of Mamaness. My own Mamaness.

My little baby Kate was suddenly such a big kid. Which made me such a grown-up Mom. Which, in turn, made me want my mommy.

Mark and I were all teary as Kate-o trooped in with her class. She, of course, was smug and confident. Locked and loaded. Ready. She didn’t look back at us once.

Afterward I was trying to think of what it was that made me well up, because in the steel-willed way I no doubt got from you, I’ve always secretly looked down on the preschool parking lot criers. The weak women who can’t deal with their kid going off to school.

Butch up, ladies! Kids grow up. And school is fun.

The closest I got in my emotional deconstruction was the realization that my teariness came from being proud of Kate. How confident and funny and creative and wild and sassy she is. And sure, how much I love her.

But I give myself little credit for her dazzling Kate-ness. It’s like these kids are born and are already, well, who they are going to be. Did you think that? I mean, you had twice the daughters I do, so your sampling is far more scientifically valid than mine.

Anyway, Kate’s been LOVING her school. She’s all algow about it. She sometimes shares parts of her day, but a lot of it she seems to guard as this special thing that she just wants to ruminate on and enjoy herself. (Which obstructs my obsessive smother-mother tendency to want to know. Every. Single. Detail.)

But God, I was kind of a basket case in kindergarten, right? I remember crying and crying for you, and all the other kids were totally chill and happy to be there. Not to make excuses, but I think it sucked knowing that you were right across the street. All the kids who lived further away didn’t have the ease I did of imagining themselves back home with their mamas. From the playground I could sometimes even see you outside gardening.

How long DID I keep up the tears?

As I sit here now, on my sunny porch (on a white wicker chair you’d totally approve of), I’m bracing myself for becoming The Parking Lot Crier next week when Paige’s preschool really kicks in. Yesterday and today they required that one parent stay with their kid. We all took staggered breaks away (I’m on one now) so the teachers could see which kids really crater.

I’m kinda doubting whether it makes sense to have Paige in preschool now. Makes sense for me, that is. I mean, she’s my dumpling! She’s my sidekick. She really IS my baby. And aside from the ghastliness of missing her, with her not home I really should be doing something useful with my time. Like weaving our clothes, or spackling the tub, or assembling photo albums for each child starting with their conceptions. Or hey—here’s an idea—making some money!

Right now I could list three-hundred reasons why Paige should wait another year for preschool. But I know she is ready and happy and will love it. And I can’t let my own shit—sorry, issues—get in the way of her good time.

YOU were always so good about not letting your emotions interfere with what we did. You led the Dry-Eyed Mom Brigade at school drop-offs. You didn’t flinch when I went  to college 14 hours away (12 hours if speeding). And I was the last kid to leave the nest. You never guilted me about coming home when I’d get the chance to be adopted by rich friend’s families for fabulous vacations.

So what I’d really like to know now is, was it that you were really cool with it all? Was the stiff upper lip no act? Or were you just the dutiful Mama bird, nudging me out of the nest ’cause otherwise I’d never fly?

If you could please send me some sort of sign to indicate the answers to these questions, I’d really appreciate it.

Anyway, as we pulled up in front of the house yesterday, after Day 1 of preschool, Paige announced, “Me no need you, Mama. Me big girl now.”

Did you hear me wail from whatever cloud it is you live on these days? Did you hear my car nearly take out the front shrubs as I tearily tried to park? Did you hear me walk around to Paige’s car seat and say, “Now YOU hear ME, Missy. I’m 43 years old and I still need my Mama!”?

Then I sat down on the curb and cried.

Anyway, if you could ever swing by for a visit, I’ve already planned out the day we’ll have. It just consists of us sitting around my house, drinking tea, and watching Kate and Paige play. And me asking you every two minutes, “Aren’t they great? Aren’t they so cute? Aren’t they just the best?”

I might also have you tackle some tough clothing stains I’ve been wrangling with. So don’t wear anything fancy.

Love you, Mama.


Check Me Out

Posted: August 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Other Mothers | 1 Comment »

So, not be all self-horn-blowy or anything, but I thought I’d mention I was recently featured in a Ladies’ Home Journal article about mom bloggers.

And since I may never have a crack at an Oscar speech, I’d just like to unfold a little square of paper, smooth down my Bob Mackie gown and say: “I’m truly honored to be part of a group of such rad, talented, and fabulous women. Who all look ten years younger than they are. And who, I’m sure, never yell at their children. Y’all rock.”

Anyway, check it out if you’re looking for some good new reads. There’s a Finnish Mama who props up her napping baby in hilarious little scenes and photographs them, a foodie whose blog is excellently called My Kids Eat Squid, a design diva who hasn’t let reproduction cramp her style, and an astrophysicist who, amongst other things, writes about her ongoing duel with inflammatory breast cancer (a brutal kind I’d never heard of that forms without a lump).

Oh and of course Dooce is in there too. Right after me. (Heh.)

And if you’re too loyal to even consider reading another blog, you can go straight to my part. I’m #6 of 12.

Makes me feel like a calendar girl.

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