Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hooked on Phonics worked for someone

I feel like a major slacker blogger this week. It's been crazy. Since Saturday, after Tim got home, if I haven't been at work, I've been at rehearsal, sometimes both. Other things I've been slacking on: running and getting in shape. I've been doing these exercises meant to strengthen your core, and all I've learned so far is that after three kids in four years, I have no core. I have weak abs that look at my situps/pushups/pilates regimen and go "you're kidding, right? We will never knit together again. Have another baby. That's pretty much all we're good for anymore."

(Sidenote: Abs, that is never going to happen, so shape up or I'll buy some mom jeans to hide you, and no one wants that.)

Anyway. Today was a nice respite because my mother in law was able to visit us, which thrilled the girls and made me pretty happy as well. Hello, conversations with the over-four-feet-tall set! And speaking of conversations, it's getting harder and harder to talk around Miss Mary. To wit:

Me: Since you're here, Sue, I'm going to run to the store real quick. I just realized we're out of bread for sandwiches.

Sue: Well, I was thinking if you wanted we could go O-U-T. But only if it's okay with you.

Me: That's up to Y-O-U, it's fine with me. (Random spelling? I can play that game!)

Mary: I want to go out to lunch!

Sue and I exchanged a look. Mary knows all her letters by sight, and can spell her name and a few select other words without help from us, but as far as I knew, I was still safe with the spell-it-and-she-can't-interject game. She's known for some time that an adult spelling means we're probably talking about something she wants ("I do! Me! That thing you just spelled, I want to do it! Or have it! Is it something to eat?") but this was a new development.

"Mary," I said, "what does O-U-T spell?"

"I don't know," she said, matter of factly. "TARGET?!"

"No," I said. "Not Target."

"I want to go to Target!" This from Anna, joining the peanut gallery.

"We're going out to lunch," I said.

"I want Wendy's," pronounced my blonde walking Zagat guide to preschool fare. I vetoed that because I don't much like their chicken nuggets (what?) and we further negotiated. Lily woke up mad at the world and it started snowing at that point, so we compromised on a drive thru and a "car picnic." Yes, that's as classy as it sounds and no, I don't care.

It doesn't take much to make my kids happy. I kind of like it that way. And as long as Mary things everything spells Target, my little game is safe too.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

I found Jesus

A few years ago, my mother bought Mary the Little People nativity set as a Christmas present. This year both girls were really excited when I brought it out in December and played with it every day. Sometimes they re-enacted the Christmas story, but more often than not they brought in other Little People figures (I swear we have just about every one they make between the two older girls) and made up their own stories.

Throughout Advent, I labored under the naive assumption that the girls would play with the toy and then I would put it up with the other Christmas decorations. I would tell the girls to collect the pieces every night, but of course, things went missing. And things got added. I posted the following on Facebook one evening:

We can't find the donkey, and I'm betting the lion knows why.
But we always, always found the pieces eventually. (Side story: You see the red king in the picture? That's Anna's favorite. Or it was, until she saw an animated version of the Christmas story where King Herod was dressed in red. The next time she went to the set, she hollered "bad king!" and threw him across the room.)

And then baby Jesus went missing. It was almost Christmas and we had a nativity set with no Christ Child.

"Well as long as he shows back up in time for Easter, you're fine," my ever so witty father in law remarked.

Christmas came and went, and the Messiah had yet to reappear. I put the nativity in the toy box with the other Little People because, well, what's a Christmas decoration without the key element? I cleaned the play room corner to corner, cleaned the living room, cleaned the girls' rooms, and we never found Baby Jesus. Today, on my way home from work, I thought to myself how it was strange it had never turned up.

I got home and Tim and I decided it was time to move Mary and Anna into the same room again, so Lily could get out of the pack and play in our room. (Six months rooming with an infant? Oh yeah, I was ready.) We moved everything out of the rooms. I swept under radiators and moved furniture, and found an empty container to throw all the little toys into. When it was done, I had a box full of toys. I had looked at each one.

"Tim, I never found the baby Jesus," I said. "We have now officially exhausted all possibilities. I thought for sure we'd find him in Anna's room."

"Some will say 'he is here,' or 'he is there,' but do not believe them," Tim said, butchering the Bible passage. "When he comes, the whole world will know and there will be no question." I smirked and continued helping dismantle the crib to move it into the nursery.

We put the rooms back together, moved the toys back in, and called Mary and Anna to see our handiwork. Mary immediately ran to the container of toys.

"Baby Jesus!" she screamed happily. "I found Baby Jesus."

And there he was, sitting on top of the container that I knew for a fact contained no effigy of Our Lord and Savior. Tim gave me a look that said "I am sufficiently freaked out by this but don't want to admit it." Mary and Anna happily incorporated him into their dollhouse play. I'm pretty sure he's rooming in the second floor of the Grand Dollhouse with a camel, the forgiven "bad king" and a Loving Family mommy three times the size of the other toys.

It's a step up from a manger anyway. And just in time for Easter.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Word to your mother.

"Anna, are you eating something off the floor?!"

This query came from Mary, not me. Anna declined to answer and by the time I looked over, whatever it was was gone. Mary then shoved a book in the couch cushions and loudly exclaimed "the book is sinking!" and I had to save it, so I'll never know if my middle child is eating bugs, or lost popcorn, or what.

It should be said this exchange came after a rousing game of princess and puppy, which was made especially lovely by my husband's brilliant and sensitive portrayal as the ingenue from Aladdin. To wit:

Mary: "Hey Jasmine!"

Tim: *Stops drinking a can of soda* "What up." (My husband uses hip hop speak only while playing princesses. Call it a quirk.) He then picked up his jacket and a handful of multicolored pony beads fell all over the floor.

"Snow White!" Mary called to me. I didn't answer. "Snow White!!!"

"I'm Snow White after she ate the apple," I mumbled, shutting my eyes and resting my head on the back of the couch.

"You have an apple?" Anna asked, always on the lookout for an extra snack.

Surrealism, we have it in droves.

It's been a random kind of day on all fronts. Yesterday it was 50 degrees and lovely, today it was snowing, which turned to sleet, which turned to rain, with the appropriate accompanying temperatures. I can only conclude Mother Nature is going through menopause. The kids and baby have the sniffles, to boot, but that didn't stop them from wanting to play in the snow (melted by the time we could get outside) and having to go to the doctor for Lily's well baby checkup (unpopular all around).

Somehow we managed to get out of the house while only running a little late, but then hit a road block when the kids became distracted by the slushy mess on the lawn that they were still optimistically calling "snow." I told them to get in the car. Anna ignored me. Mary stared at the car like she'd never seen one before. Then she tried to get in on the same side where I was buckling Lily. The stress got the better of me and I snapped at her. I instantly regretted it. I regretted it even more when I looked up and saw a woman walking her dog give me a glance. Yeah. She probably thinks I'm Mommie Dearest.

I hate that there are days I seem to have absolutely no patience. Too little sleep, too many commitments, poor weather, too many all combines to make a perfect storm where they whine at me, I snap at them, they push back, I put them on time out, they freak out...and around and around we go. I try to breathe, remind myself they're only little once, tell myself that they're probably not actually trying to make me nuts (because then who would feed them between the hours of 7 a.m. and 6 p.m.?).

I remind myself everyone has bad days. Parents snap. Kids push buttons. They know I still love them. I try to count the good things. Yes, we had to go to the doctor's today, and yes, the doctor was having his own Charlie Foxtrot morning and running an hour behind, and yes, my kids did argue and roll on the floor (ew!) and fight over books...but Lily is healthy and growing like a champ and looks great. The worst she's had all winter is the sniffles. She's well on her way to growing into a crazy-making toddler. And at the end of the day, we can play and read books and laugh together. That's what's important.

That and being able to pull off a good Princess Jasmine.

What up.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why I love my kids

This is kind of a re-try of the Valentine's Day entry I know I wrote and saved on the computer, which the computer evidently ate. I am writing this at 9 p.m. because even my ADD-addled brain couldn't handle the logic leaps in the most recent episode of Glee and I needed a Hulu break. (Confession: I have a deep love for bad television. I might like opera and classical music and literature, but I also love me some awful sitcoms. When I was eight months pregnant with Lily and seriously insomniac, Netflix made my month by hosting all of the seasons of The Secret Life of the American Teenager. Feel free to close your browser now in disgust. I also like Kraft dinner.)

My kids are wonderful. They're compassionate, cute, funny little creatures and while I am completely exhausted by bedtime and some days feel ready for an extended stay at the nearest mental health facility, I am so very blessed to have them in my life.

And while I could wax poetic for hours about cute cards they make me or early morning snuggles, that's not why you read this blog, so onto the, er, quirkier reasons I adore my offspring.

*They love animals. Anna really loves our cats. Pamina has been quarantined in the family room since her surgery, and it's mostly for her own protection. I'm not a heartless pet owner. When I see Anna hugging Figaro just a little too snugly around his fuzzy little neck, or attempting to pet him especially vigorously, I intervene. "Nice to kitty," I remind her. "Do gentle. Soft." "But me love him," she'll reply, attempting to tighten her grip as I try to remove her from the situation. Note that the cat is sitting through this voluntarily, and Figaro is a remarkably large animal who could easily get out of her grip. This is why I have less compassion for them. Any sane animal would stay the heck out of her reach, not try to climb into bed with her when there's no adult to rescue them.

*They play "house." Sometimes this is your typical "Little House" scenario with baby dolls and dresses and Mommy and Daddy serving dinner. Often it's more "Dr. House" with all the relationship functionality that implies: On more than one occasion, I have caught Mary, clutching a baby doll, scream like a harpy at Anna, who is usually either trying to work the television or type on the laptop: "TIM!!!!!" Ladies Home Journal will be along to present me with my Awesome Wife award any time now, I'm sure.

*They love music. Mary's favorite song for the longest time was Puff the Magic Dragon and Anna is fond of Yo Gabba Gabba tunes. So Mary also knows all the words to (the cleaned up Glee version of) "Gold Digger" and "Bust Your Windows," the latter which she tried to sing to Lily as a lullaby once. So what?

*They like to spend time together and share. This is only a problem when they both decide they've put off using the bathroom until the last possible moment and try to use the potty at the same time. (Note to Tim: Yes, that happened, and yes, I would like to win the Lottery so we can get started on that home addition STAT.)

*They're social and fun. Mary loves talking to people and Anna, when she warms up in a given situation, is also very friendly. Now they just need to teach Lily, who is also quite charismatic, that two in the morning is never a good time for an extended "grin and babble" session.

*They're punctual. Wake up is never a minute later than 7 a.m., often no later than 6:15, and we don't have to be anywhere most days until 10 a.m. That's commitment to a cause, folks.

*They have excellent memories. Mary will still gleefully talk to anyone about weekend trips to New Hampshire, swimming in the pool on my mother's deck last summer, or the time I "broke Daddy's red car and now we don't have it anymore" and that, folks, was all the way back in 2010. I don't worry about her future employment opportunities because the courts are always looking for stenographers.

Or she could always be a card counter.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Vacation time

The schools are on winter break this week, which means Tim is home for a fabulous nine days in a row and I am remembering what it's like to not run around feeling like a chicken with its head cut off.

For instance! This morning the cat had to go back to the vet and I was able to do that all by myself! I got to sit there in the waiting room for approximately twelve years, cat carrier stowed at my feet, and surf my phone, and not once did I have to say things like "please get off the floor" or "please don't pet the scary looking doggy." I left that joy to other parents in the waiting room.

I did, however, get cornered by an 83 year old woman with some definite ethnic prejudices and a penchant for oversharing. I learned about her crazy neighbors, her bizarre relatives, the various pets she'd had over the past eight decades, and so on. And while some of what she said bordered on pretty offensive, it was also kind of nice to have a conversation (however strange and one-sided) without having to say "Stop that. Mommy is trying to talk to someone. Don't lick your sister. Don't touch the doorknobs too much. Stop reading the book about the abandoned starving kitty. No, we don't have any snacks, and even if we did, you wouldn't be getting one after rolling on the floor. Do you know what is on that floor?" (I did. Said oversharing octogenarian had a little dog who was playing fast and loose with his continence and the results were frightening.) As a former reporter, I always said I'd talk to anyone, but after whole days with the under-four-feet set, apparently I will quite literally talk to anyone.

Or this afternoon! I was able to make cupcakes for our playdate, including homemade icing, without twenty tiny fingers trying to sample the batter, because Daddy was far more entertaining. I even managed to complete the project without warning people away from the hot oven. Call the papers, it's a Christmas miracle.

This evening I went to rehearsal and remembered we were out of cereal and milk. The trip into the grocery store took less than 10 minutes. I haven't done anything in under 10 minutes in four years.

There are downsides, of course. To call me a control freak is to make the understatement of a century. I think I've written before how the inevitable disruption to a carefully honed routine makes me twitch just a little. Deep down I know it really doesn't matter if the laundry isn't all done at once or if the kids wear their pajamas too long or eat lunch at 1 instead of 12:30, but sometimes that's hard to remember.

And then I get to go to the store for bananas and it doesn't take an hour. Or I get extra time to sleep in the morning. Or the kids start shrieking in laughter because they're climbing, literally climbing, up my husband, and I realize how worth it it is. By Friday I might be going crazy, but if it weren't for winter vacation, I'd never have sat next to an 83 year old with all her teeth and a bad dye job, who looked me in the eye and announced "I hate people. Animals are honest. That's why I hate people," and launched into a story about a dog who stole the perfect hamburger once a million years ago in Delaware.

And what's better than that?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Miles to go

This morning was pretty much a blur to me, I'm not going to lie. Last night, no one really slept: Mary was up sick, and when she gets sick to her stomach, she freaks out like no one's business, which woke Anna, who was really annoyed to be roused from sleep (I don't know where she gets that, truly...), which woke Lily, who figured that 1 a.m. was as good a time as any to party like a rock star. We got the kids back to bed (for the moment - Mary would be up and down all night, unfortunately) and that's when I noticed the strangest humming sound outside.

It sounded kind of like the world's largest generator, and it was this weird woo-ing, humming sound. If you Google "strange humming noises outside at night" be prepared to read the world is ending, by the way. Which I did. I'm not one to don my tinfoil hat easily but this was straight up weird. You could hear it from every room in the house but it was impossible to pinpoint, except that it was coming from outside. I woke Tim and he was equally clueless. It may be aliens. Regardless, I didn't get to sleep until after 2.

This morning I was greeted by groggy children and a queue of every twin sized bed sheet we own, crumpled dirty in front of a washer that already contained a pillow and comforter. Good morning, Mommy! Mary and Anna camped out in the living room, Mary wanting to only eat dry crackers and the healthy as a horse Anna more than willing to demand her fair share of the bounty. Since the evening sick festivities had started well before midnight the night before, I hadn't even showered and was looking forward to nap time for my chance to re-humanize.

There was just one problem. Lily. When nap time rolled around, she was bright eyed and grinning, looking ready to army crawl the Providence Marathon. So I did what any sane mother would do - popped her in her high chair seat, gave her some toys, dragged the chair into our postage stamp sized bathroom (seriously - one bathroom for five people and it's not even a decent size) and gratefully jumped into the hot water. Bliss.

That brought me to the second unforeseen issue. I had two kids trying to nap and a baby who had grown bored with her toys approximately .05 seconds after getting them and had started grizzling. I poked my head out of the shower, and though I was blind as a bat without my glasses, the blurry lump that was my third born appeared to grin. I smiled at her and continued washing my hair. That's when I remembered six month olds are crap with object permanence and Lily was definitely not okay with the shower once again forever consuming her only source of food. For the next few minutes, I felt like a Jack in the Box as I finished the world's fastest cleansing ritual. Poke head out, see blurry face contort into what I'd assume was a smile, resume shower. Repeat when hollering began again. Note that Anna was taking advantage of my decreased attention to resist sleep and begin ritually bringing every toy she's ever owned back into bed with her. (And that's why her room still has a gate on the door.)

After I was sufficiently human again, I popped on my glasses and realized the floors in the house were absolutely in need of sweeping. Lily was not ready to admit that I was not going to go away again, and so with one hand I dragged a broom from room to room while the other pulled along my daughter, cooing and babbling in her high chair. She found the whole thing fascinating, and I was reminiscent of the elderly woman who used to follow me on my dining room rounds when I worked at a nursing home, the one who would watch me set or clear the tables and crow "Gee, I love to watch other people work!"

I have to clean the bathroom next but I just may wait until Lily is actually asleep for that. I'm pretty sure you're not supposed to shut your infant up with you in a tiny room with Clorox and other cleaning agents until she's at least seven months old.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Say Anything

Valentine's Day when you are dating is much different than what it becomes after you start sharing a bank account, especially when you add kids into the mix. Before, it's very "Oh, roses! How sweet!" and now it's more "You spent $60 on what, exactly? The kids can't eat flowers and the electric bill is due!" (Also, Anna would totally try to eat flowers.) With a preschooler in the house, Valentine's Day is definitely more about the kids at this point, and the excitement started building a couple of weeks back, when Mary's Valentine's Day party was announced.

I mentioned in a previous entry that I would probably wind up getting her cartoon character cards from Target, as opposed to making something gorgeous a la Pinterest, but I couldn't even manage that, and so yesterday I dug up some leftover red glitter, glue and construction paper and spent the morning cutting out enough hearts so that Mary could bestow loving sentiments upon her fellow classmates. (Lest you think I'm Martha Stewart, there are only seven other kids in Mary's class, plus two teachers, and when you see the cards, that'll be even more proof to the contrary.) I did the cutting and glue lines, Mary signed her name and helped glitter those bad boys up. But most importantly, I let her dictate the cards' messages, and I copied them down for her, verbatim.

Some were sweet, simple and to the point (she signed her name on the back):
"To Ava: I like playing with you at school!"
 Others were sweet, if a bit more random:

"To Miss Stacie: Thank you for being my teacher. I want to give you a birdie. You will love it!"

 And others, well...
Dear God. "To Carmine: Vacuum! I know you love those."
In Mary's defense, the kid DOES love vacuum cleaners. This is a four year old who has actually given me a cost analysis of a Dyson vs. a Dirt Devil bagless. No word of a lie. It should also be noted these cards were determined to be not sparkly enough and got another helping of red microglitter later (occupational hazard: red microglitter in your contact lens burns like fire).

I'm not sure how the party itself went, but at 12:15 I collected a four year old positively humming with holiday excitement and enough sugar to fuel an army of hyperactive children. She had crafts, and cards from her friends, and candy to last until Halloween. I don't know how I managed it, but they are all napping. Mary sugar crashed about five seconds after informing me she wasn't tired and didn't need any nap at all. Naturally.

How did her friends like their cards? I'm not sure. Miss Beth and Miss Stacie enjoyed theirs, after confirming with me that I had no plans to foist kitties and birdies upon them. (It's like they know me or something.)

I do know Tim liked his, especially the one from Anna.

"Dear Daddy, Playground. Air. Air again. That's it. Thumbs up. I love you. Love, Anna."
 Happy Valentine's Day, everyone. I'm off to eat my weight in Hershey's Kisses. Potato. Dishwasher. Squirrel.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A little bit fat

My baby is fat. She is soft and round and has dimples where her knees and elbows go. She has a squishy little belly and rolls on her thighs. When she grins, which is often, her eyes crinkle up as they meet her nursing-baby cheeks and you can see her double chin. After my sweet skinny-minnie Anna baby, I had forgotten just how adorably fat babies can get. And it’s often that, when I pick Lily up and bury my nose in her soft tuft of brown hair or snuggle that little roll on her neck, I will exclaim, “You’re such a good, fat baby!”

I promise, I'm not insulting her.
It’s this statement that raises eyebrows more times than I can remember. Not always, mind you, but often enough that I know chances are, when I say something to that effect, a well meaning mom at play group, or friend, or total stranger in the checkout line, will rush to my baby’s aid.

“No!” they exclaim. “Your baby is beautiful.”

At first I was confused. Of course my baby is beautiful, and, if I may brag, not just in an “every mom thinks their baby is gorgeous” way. Lily is a seriously cute kid. But it took me a couple of “corrections” to realize these people actually seemed to think that I was disparaging my daughter by calling her fat. As if my five month old baby was going to think I was insulting her.

It’s no secret that society is, as a whole, fat phobic. Fat people are lazy. Fat people are unhealthy. If all those fatties would just put down the Hostess box and go for a walk, the obesity epidemic wouldn’t be what it is today. Fat bashing is one of the last accepted forms of discrimination, but I had no idea it had gone so far until I realized that people thought I was insulting my baby daughter by exclaiming over her chub.

I am hopelessly out of the loop but it came to my attention that recently, designer Karl Lagerfeld called singer/songwriter Adele “a little bit fat.” I learned of it when I read comedienne Margaret Cho’s beautiful rebuttal (note: link contains strong language that may not be appropriate for work or children). Adele is overweight, but I can bet you she’s healthier than the skinny girl who eats a Snickers bar for breakfast and calls it good. I’m no doctor, but I’m a singer (with about .000009% of Adele’s raw talent) and I know you can’t sing the way she does and be too unhealthy. When I started running, I noticed my vocal control improving, my range expanding, my pitch getting much more spot-on. You cannot be a total sloth and have the ability to sing like she does.

But even so, why say it? What's with the fat shaming? (Lagerfeld, who has in the past said things like "no one wants to see curvy women" has since apologized and says his statement was taken out of context.) I am “a little bit fat.” I am 5’8”, wear a size 12 or 14 and, despite a regular exercise regimen that includes three mile runs, Jillian Michaels and extra abdominal work, despite a reasonable diet, the number on the scale hasn’t budged in months. I’ve lost some inches, but nothing remarkable, and that wasn’t exactly the goal. 

Ten years ago, the number on the scale might have triggered a major emotional meltdown, possibly an eating disorder. Five years ago, the number on the tag in my jeans, the ones that make my butt look fabulous and my legs look a mile long, would have sent me into a tailspin. It’s only now, after having three kids, that I can look at my body and be amazed at what it can do, what it has done. My body has surpassed my every expectation of it and continues to surprise me. It also continues to be larger than the standard of "beauty" that's pushed at us on a daily basis, and I’d be lying if I said I was at peace with that every day. But it is no longer the end-all, be-all. The number on the scale no longer influences if I feel beautiful that day. I know I am, and not just because I’ve got “a pretty face.” The size of my skirt no longer tells me if I am a worthy member of society. My body has brought three children into the world and nursed them into the fat and skinny babies they were, beautiful, all.

My daughters will never hear me say I am fat in a disparaging way. Regardless of how I look, they will see me be healthy. Mary has asked why I run and I tell her it’s because our bodies need exercise to work their best. I tell her we eat vegetables and fruit and good proteins because those are things that make our bodies strong and healthy. Mary, I will note, was also a roly-poly baby who grew into a perfectly proportionate, healthy toddler and preschooler, with the same chubby baby cheeks her father had until he was 17. (Kid, you will be carded for beer until you’re 40. Enjoy that.)

But kids are mean. Kids try to hurt each other. I know that chances are, one day, no matter what body type they turn out to have, one of my girls will probably come to me, upset that “so-and-so said I’m fat!” It happened to me and I wasn’t a big kid. I used it as an insult myself when I was a kid and hurting and looking to make someone feel bad, so I’m not going to pretend I’m some innocent party in the whole “fat is bad” propaganda campaign. But I hope that, if and when that day comes, my first reaction will not be to decry to accusation, as if being called fat is the worst thing that someone can be called. I hope that I will be able to make my daughters see that they are, now and always, so much more than the sum of their parts, that whether they are a size 0, 8 or 18, they are creative, intelligent, compassionate beings, with their father’s cheeks, mother’s eyes and, God willing, someone else’s attention span.

You are beautiful.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

What, really?

I'm going to step out of the box on this one, as this blog will contain very few kid anecdotes and instead is going to touch on something that completely baffled me today. The kids and I drove to my husband's home town to spend the day with my mother in law and had a nice morning and afternoon. We left around 2:30 so I could miss as much Boston traffic as possible.

As I prepared to pull out of the driveway, Mary called out that she hadn't buckled the last part of her car seat yet. I gritted my teeth, not because I was annoyed with her but because I had to wait for the yellow school bus chugging down the road to go past and everyone knows how annoying it can be be to get stuck behind a bus. Fortunately, the thing looked mostly empty.

It stopped at the corner, where a woman was waiting at a stop sign with a puppy on a leash. A few boys got off. I'm not sure how old they were but one had an instrument case so I'm guessing fourth or fifth grade. Then the bus took a left, and so did I. There was less than an eighth of a mile before the main road.

In that short space, the bus stopped twice. Once was less than a house's length away from the stop sign where it originally stopped. Two kids got off. Then the bus moved down literally two houses and stopped again, letting one more kid off the bus before continuing to the main road, where it traveled past my exit and I lost track of it.

This is going to be very "you kids get off my lawn!" but really? Really? When I was a kid the only bus stop in the neighborhood was up the road and around the corner, on the main road. It was easily a several minute walk from home and while parents usually accompanied the little kids, by upper elementary, certainly middle school, you were on your own. Certainly no buses were traveling down the residential roads to pick up each kid door to door. And when I called my mother in law to express my amazement at what I had just seen, she confirmed that the elementary aged version of my husband had to hoof it to catch the bus in his day, too.

I have to wonder what purpose this serves. If the kid in question is too young to be home alone, then he's not going to get dropped at home unless someone is there to meet him. If someone is there to meet him, why can't said someone meet him at a communal bus stop? If this is too much of an issue, why can't parents/sitters/whoever in the neighborhood take turns waiting for the bus at a stop?

I look at schools plagued by budget cuts, lack of funding, losses of resources, and then I see a bus taking three times as long as it could otherwise take driving kids home. We already take away gym class and limit recess, now we're sticking kids on a bus for longer than they should be and refusing them the chance to walk even the length of a city block. And this isn't a high crime town by any stretch of the imagination. Who asked for this? Parents? The schools? I can't imagine it was the kids or the bus drivers. What purpose does it serve?

I never thought I would feel grateful that my kids live within walking distance of a school. I probably won't feel grateful when it's cold and snowing and I'm trying to convince a three year old to walk along as I take her older sisters to class. But I honestly can't see the point of valet service to and from school. My mother didn't even drive us to the bus stop unless it was dangerously cold. "By the time I got the car warmed up you'd be on the bus," she would say. "We all have coats and boots. You're young! You're supposed to love the cold."

Back then I would have loved a bus to get me at my door. But I knew that was crazy. Even at seven I knew I would be on the bus for hours if every kid got picked up at their door and living in a somewhat rural town, I was already on that thing for a half an hour after school.

I know, I know. And here's where I tell you I walked uphill both ways to that bus stop and the snow was three feet deep, and we shot our own dinner or starved. But either I'm getting older or society is getting ridiculous.

It's probably both.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The body of Cat

Spring is on the verge of springing in New England (as it has been for the past two months, really) and the cat has celebrated by yowling, roaming the house, trying to escape, trying to mark and doing really inappropriate things to various household objects. This would be par for the course if I hadn’t ponied up the cash to have her spayed last summer.

So I called the vet’s office, where someone tried to tell me there had to be some other reason she was acting that way but who finally agreed to see her this morning. They informed me that if it was an “incomplete spay” they would cover the exam and resulting surgery costs but if the problem was “behavioral” I was on my own.

“Yeah, that behavioral menstruation’s a real pain in the butt,” I said dryly. “Maybe she’s got a stigmata.” 

So I loaded three kids and a yowling cat into the car and drove into the city where our vet is located and proceeded to hurry up and wait for a full half hour. Just as an FYI, when you are a last minute free appointment, your children are going to come of age in that waiting room. Fortunately, there was a basket of magazines and children’s books. Mary handed me one that featured a drawing of a cute black and white cat.

“I want the kitty story,” she said. I noted that gold letters on the front cover heralded the news that the Humane Society of the United States had sponsored the book and turned to the first page, where I found a twee, A/B/A/B four line poem about how Jasmine was a city cat, an indoor cat, a people cat…and I realized this was going nowhere good. I soldiered on for a few more pages until I leafed ahead realized that I was about to narrate to my rapt children that Jasmine’s owners were going to move out, lock her in their old apartment and NEVER COME BACK FOR HER. No lie, the book continued, in graphic imagery, to detail how she damn near starved to death. There was a particularly disturbing picture of an emaciated, terrified cat undergoing a vet exam once she was rescued. I slammed the book shut.

“No way,” I said. “Pick another one.” So Anna handed me one about a dog. The first page talked about how so-and-so was really a nice dog but his owners didn’t love him anymore and abandoned him by a telephone pole on the freeway. Seriously. A third started out, “My first owners had a baby and didn’t want me anymore. My second owners didn’t have time for me. My third owner died.” At that point I stuck the offending books behind the magazines and informed my kids story time was over. Mary grabbed the cat book.

“I want to read this one.”

“Honey, no way. You’ll get upset.” I put it back. She freaked out. She tried to tantrum. I held her on my lap. Lily objected and started squirming and fussing. I put Lily back in her carrier. Lily tried to squirm out of that. Mary tried to squirm out of my arms. Anna started rolling on the waiting room floor. The size two 18 year old with her teacup Yorkie across from me was probably mentally ordering up a lifetime supply of the Pill. Finally, she calmed down. We continued without major incident until the vet and vet tech came out for one miserable Pamina.

“We’re going to do a thorough examination in the back,” the vet said. “We have to look for a number of things, it’s better to do it that way.” Loathe to somehow wrangle baby, carrier, cat in carrier and two kids into an exam room, I agreed. The vet picked up the cat carrier. Mary’s eyes grew as big as saucers.

“They’re taking my kitty away!” she gasped and started wailing.

Oh God no.

“They. Will. Bring. Her. Back,” I said through clenched teeth, trying to sound like a good, soothing mother while every inch of me wanted to start crying myself. 


“THEY WILL BRING. HER. BACK,” I said, putting as much force behind my low decibel voice as possible. “We will not leave without her. Mommy couldn’t get that lucky.”

Someone walked by. 

“Three girls!” she cooed.

“WHICH ONE WOULD YOU LIKE?” I said, grinning like a rictus.

At this point Mary continued to cry and I acknowledged to myself that I had a cat in heat and a preschooler with PMS. The woman across from me with the overweight chihuahua started laughing. I guess I said that aloud. Oops. The vet tech came back out and let me know it would be a few more minutes.

“Oh, honey, don’t cry,” the tech said to Mary. “Your cat is going to be okay, she’s doing great. Here, why don’t you read this book about a kitty?”


“Okay,” Mary said, as I said, “No!” and intercepted the book. The tech looked at me like I had an extra head. I flipped open to Dr. Mengele’s Pet Exam. The tech’s eyes got wide.

“I never looked at it before,” she said. “Wow.” Yeah, wow.

Pamina was returned to us, looking none the worse for the wear. The vet came out and said the cat was, in fact, showing signs of heat and would need to come back for surgery the next day.
“You can drop her off and leave her in the morning,” she said. She took note of the kids. Mary was done crying. Lily was tolerant of her surroundings. Anna was still rolling on the floor and I was still trying very hard to pretend we weren’t in a waiting room full of dogs as she did so. 

“Can I drop the kids off, too?” I asked. 

She laughed. 

“They really are very good,” the vet informed me. “Very good girls.” Of course, she also informed me the cat had been “very good” so maybe she was just worried I was going to Safe Haven the lot of them on the way home.

Well, at least it’s not stigmata.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Super Bowl Monday

Go, Pats! ...Next year.
Considering the facts that my kids' bedtime is about a half an hour after kick off was scheduled, and that we don't actually have a cable package, Mary and Anna were a day late and a dollar short on wearing the jerseys my father in law procured for them, but they don't care.(See right.)

Now it's Monday and back to your regularly scheduled programming and my eldest two seem content to fight about every little thing under the sun. I try not to play referee too much because I feel like that will only encourage them to come to me with every perceived slight (and really, who has a great sense of injustice than a preschooler whose sister has taken the last Little People giraffe?) but sometimes you wish there was a fix-all just so there would be a little bit of quiet.

I have several friends with kids older than mine and as some of them are apt to tell me, "they don't come with manuals." I know this sentiment is engineered to remind me that we're all flying blind on this parenthood course, but all I think lately is, "but dammit, they should." The car seat comes with a manual. The oven comes with a manual. The phone that could probably stage a coup followed by a takeover of my home has a manual thicker than the Bible. But my kids don't.

I imagine a different world, an alternate universe where each child is born with its own unique troubleshooting guide. And that way, when Mary comes running in, sobbing like her arm's been cut off in the Little People combine, I can tell her, "Just ask Anna if you can play with ObnoxiousToyIHate when she's done," and Mary will dry her eyes, walk back into the playroom, and make the request of her sister, who will sweetly say "sure, Mary," and hand over said toy (current toy in question is something electronic that needs new batteries and as a result sounds somewhat demonic, which only adds to the atmosphere).

Instead, it goes like this.

*Imagine me peering blearily into my nth cup of coffee, the baby having not napped sufficiently thanks to the cat who is lucky I love her, when Mary comes screaming into the room.*

Me: WHAT NOW?! (My nth cup of coffee, someone's nth screaming trip into the room. It's a cycle.)
Mary: *heave, sob* AAAAAAAAAAnna took the toy I was looking at! I was going to play with it fiiiiirrrrrst!
Me: So you weren't even playing with it? Go play with something else. (Logic + preschool? Is there crack in your K cup, Mommy?)
Me: Go ask her if you can use it. Nicely.
Me: Well then I don't know what to tell you. Go back to the play room.
*Mary goes back, announces loudly to Anna she will NOT ASK NICELY for WhateverItIs, and surprisingly, Anna does not surrender the toy. So Mary switches tactics.*
Mary: Anna...*words change, tone becomes wounded*can I please use that toy now?

Now, here's where according to the Manual in my Alternate Universe, Anna smiles sweetly and abandons the toy. Because in all probability she isn't even using it, just holding it hostage because for a toddler, absolute power is absolutely wonderful. Of course, this isn't my Alternate Universe and the principles of logic do not apply.

Anna: No.
Anna: No.
*Mary comes screaming into the room again and we repeat ad nauseam until someone falls asleep, finds a snack or agrees to share. I brew another cup of coffee and tell myself that ulcers from coffee are better than ulcers from stress*

On a long day, this scenario repeats with both children in the starring role of She Who Hath Been Wronged, in case you think I'm picking on Mary. But since at the moment she is dramatically flopping on the couch a few feet away and announcing she doesn't want to go in the play room/play with Anna/do anything except glare in my general direction, well, I use what material I have on hand at the moment.

And coffee. God, so much coffee. 

Other things my troubleshooting manual will include:
*You asked for seconds last week and now you hate it - A mom's guide to WTF.
*Area 51 - a guide to disappearing symptoms the second you actually meet with the doctor
*We sure watch a lot of TV - getting the "in front of grandparents" statements you want, instead of the ones they're inclined to say (see also: Mommy uses grown up words, I eat a lot of Mac and Cheese, and Daddy plays a lot of Portal!)
*My sister is Baby Jesus - getting them to behave in church
*Go the *&!@ to bed - what to do when your bleary eyed child is standing on her bed and hysterically singing in an effort to avoid involuntary sleep.

And finally:

Laugh or cry: What to do when, after a solid hour of Thunderdome, play room style, your two kids are hugging and announcing "we're best friends!"

Best friends, indeed.

Friday, February 3, 2012

I'm not that crazy yet.

Today we walked into dance class and were greeted by the sight of a very small Pit bull puppy in a Louis Vuitton purse. (What, your animals don't travel couture?)  It was maybe eight weeks old, brindle spotted and white, and was taken in as a rescue by one of the moms who has much more patience than I do, and is either a whole lot more sane or a whole lot crazier, I haven't decided which.

Mary and Anna were in love, of course. It wasn't hard to see why: puppy dog was maybe two pounds, all wrinkles and big paws and floppy ears. They saw that dog and saw perfection. I saw him and had visions of one hundred pounds of jaws eating my sofa, land mines in the back yard and vet bills to rival my car payment. I could smell wet dog on a rainy day, feel the kibbles crunch under my bare feet at two in the morning as I woke to let a dog into the yard. I tried to smile. It was hard.

I don't hate animals. I don't even dislike dogs. I really like dogs. But we've tried the dog thing before. When I was just pregnant with Mary, we were in the final stages of adopting a greyhound from a rescue. I had had a greyhound mix growing up so I knew I liked the breed. One of my best friends' families had adopted from another rescue and I knew rescues were the unselfish, kind way to adopt an animal. And we did get a lovely dog, but he was completely unsuited for our family, and that's when I learned the hard way that some rescues aren't rescues at all but shady groups of people who take your money, lie to you about animals that love children (he is kind to the girls but completely unnerved by them and that causes him to freak out and scatter trash everywhere) and, when you try to contact them about medical issues they didn't properly disclose, get told you are out of luck, and then they change their number. Literally.

Most rescues are great. Most rescues are full of altruistic people who love animals. Unfortunately that didn't seem to be the case, and as a result we wound up completely stressed out and fed up with a dog that had a lot of psychological issues and the poor dog wound up having a near nervous breakdown from too much stress, too many kids and poor socialization. Which was a damned shame because he's a great dog. His story has a happy ending: Tim's nana agreed to take him for "a few weeks" after Anna was born so he could calm down and we could get settled and it turned out he loved the quiet house and she loved the company, and soul mates were found. He is a completely different dog. But I feel for other dogs who may not have had such a great outcome.

That was a couple of years ago now but I still can't look at a puppy and see anything but piles and piles of work. Because as the stay at home parent, we all know who's job it's going to be to wrestle a leaping pile of fur into the car along with three kids and hit the vet's office. We all know who's going to be "cleaning" the back yard so the kids can play in summer without also playing Biohazard. We had a dog growing up and my mom must have been Superwoman because not only did most of the care fall to her, but she treated that dog like the third kid she never had and Lady was one of the happiest dogs I've ever met.

I am not that saint. Not even close. And as such, there will be no dogs. I can handle cats. And we have two ferrets. I feel kind of like a quitter admitting that a dog, any dog, is so far beyond my area of expertise that we will likely never have one again.

I've explained this to my husband. I've explained it to Mary. I'm sure I will have to have the same talk with Anna soon, and then Lily. Tim understands. Mary wishes for a puppy like crazy but until lately contented herself with visiting Orlin, the aforementioned greyhound, whenever we visit my in laws and Nana.

Until today. Until the puppy and the little warm ball of cute that does not have the same ramifications for a besotted four year old.

So she came up with a substitute.
(Notice that Lily is making the same face as Mary did when she met a crippled duck. I anticipate this lasting another couple of months, then she's going to have to buy Anna off or something.)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Thank God it's (almost) Friday

Like the last half mile of a run, the end is in sight and I am pushing for it. Aside from rehearsal and some football game that apparently is pretty important and is either going to make or break my father in law's day, I have nothing due or to do this weekend. I don't count rehearsal because it's fun and I don't count the Superbowl because I am the world's worst sports fan and honestly don't follow anyone until they're doing something cool like going to something that ends in -offs, Series or Bowl. And even then I'll probably mess up the details. I caught the last quarter of the Pats vs. Ravens game in a local bar and it was so crazy I wasn't even sure who was cheering for who. Fortunately, I was in good company:

*My former co-worker, The Very Fabulous Ronnie, is cheering*

Me: Ronnie, do you even know who you're cheering for?
Ronnie: The Pats, of course! This is a very important game. Do you know why?
Me: ...No... (Yes, I know, I know, and it was a totally honest answer.)
Ronnie: Whoever wins goes to the Superbowl!
Me: Don't even pretend you knew that before showing up at The Bar today.

And we laughed, because it was true, and I watched the game because when I get an attention span I actually do find football interesting, and all was well until I tried to make some innocuous comment about the game to a friend of mine later. He launched into a full spiel about how the Pats really didn't deserve their win and all the technical things they screwed up on and I got entirely lost and started re-organizing my pantry in my head because dammit, I'm good like that.

Seriously, I'm a lost cause. If you want me to appreciate men in tight clothing jumping about, tickets to the ballet are always in fashion.

Holy digression, Batman. Is anyone even still reading?

This weekend. I cannot wait. Not only because I get to go to rehearsal and block (which, I reiterate, will be the only form of blocking I will pretend to understand on Sunday) but because that means The Week of Sick is over. Mary was well enough to go to pre-school today, I was able to get a couple of needed errands done, and we're still pretty much out of groceries but I can improvise until Tim is able to watch the kids. I am a woman of many talents but I'm no masochist and I draw the line at bringing the entire flea circus into Stop and Shop, especially since Mary and Anna invariably want the cart with the big, ugly, impossible to maneuver plastic car on the front of it and then I spend the shopping trip keeping Anna from selecting and trying to open various snacks, Mary from trying to get out of the cart entirely and the cart from ramming into little old Italian ladies who throw elbows. And then I pay almost $2 a gallon too much for milk because it's $4.99 a gallon at the supermarket and $2.99 at the corner store (no, I have no idea why) but there is no way in hell I am performing an additional three-in, three-out car seat bucking extravaganza for $2. My time, it is worth more than that. Just ask the people at the bank who used to pay me so well.

Lily celebrated the Return of Relative Wellness by attempting to go mobile, and I do not mean creating her own sputum-fueled app for my phone. The child is army crawling and rocking back and forth on her hands and knees and I do not need this yet. First of all, my baby, my last baby, is growing up way too fast, and second, my baby, my last baby, does not need to be getting into all the crap her older sisters already get into.

Mary was just thrilled to go back to school today. She came home with a paper of all her classmates' names so that she could provide them with valentines at the Feb. 14 party. My head immediately filled with imagery: My eldest and I sitting at the dining room table after the other two had gone to bed, lovingly cutting out red paper hearts, gluing doilies and sticking sparkly stickers, painstakingly writing friends' names with pink and red markers, cutting out appropriately themed pictures from magazines like Good Housekeeping and Better Homes and Gardens. And then I realized that except for the markers and construction paper, we have absolutely none of those things on hand, which means I'd have to go to Target and purchase them. And I know the second I try to do that, kids in tow (because what mom doesn't let her kids pick out their own art supplies?) I'm going to say "screw it" and pick up a box of pre-punched Hello Kitty cards and call it good.

I'm an awesome mom.