She’s Eight

When my daughter presented me with a wish list for her birthday, my first reaction was to be taken aback. Way aback.

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Some things jumped right out at me.

  • A pool — with hot tub. What?
  • A fairy godmother. Um.
  • Not being GF (gluten free). Ouch, my heart.
  • A cat. I don’t even understand this — it has never once come up before. Plus, we are dog people.
  • A SISTER. Oh, sweetie. We need to talk.

My mouth hung open a little and I wondered if I had raised a completely entitled child who expected wildly unrealistic things. I didn’t react outwardly at first, and then I read it again, slowly.

Nestled in between these crazy asks were nail polish, fidgets and a new Ariel night gown (hers has been worn to pieces). Now we’re talking. OH, and there it was — an iPod Touch. It was then that I understood the strategy at play. She has been asking for an iPod Touch for a year and my answer has been in the firmly negative camp. I know plenty of girls her age have one (believe me, their names are presented to me, in list form, accompanied by the colors of their respective devices, on an almost-daily basis; if the child could present it to me in PowerPoint, she would). And I’m not judging. But for us, it’s a no, for now.

And so she went and lodged this request in between a bunch of insane items to normalize it. Or maybe I was giving her too much credit — so I asked her, “Um, where would we put a pool — with hot tub — in our small yard, exactly?”

Her toothless grin expanded across her face, as if pleased with herself, as she shrugged and said, “What about the iPod Touch? It fits anywhere.”

Welcome to The Year of Eight.

There are times when you become distinctly aware that your child has grown significantly — and a look about them changes in some way or another. We’re currently in one of those phases when my husband and I see this in our daughter, with her limbs dangling longer in her bed seemingly every night. I can start to see how the more grown-up version of her might look and sound, and it’s really something. By something, I mean amazing and perhaps slightly terrifying because I didn’t sign up for things to move this quickly.

She has had quite a year, growing into her own friendships and hobbies, with a more solid sense of self-awareness.

A constant cartwheeler. Rainbow chaser. Itinerary planner. Social butterfly.

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Dancer. Athlete. Pretender. Friend. Big sister. Little sister.

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There is so much of her that is not me. She is fearless, confident, game for anything. This was always one of my biggest wishes for her — to be strong and adventurous where I am not. I see checklists of caution and she sees green lights and fun.

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She sees everyone as a friend and enjoys being an extroverted social butterfly. I think maybe I was once like this, but it is surely a far cry from my far more introverted adult self. Who can come over? When? What can we plan? What songs will we sing? What dances will we create? How can we costume our act?  It is like living in a community theater with a rotating cast of guest artists.

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(Tactic #889393736 in asking for an iPod touch)

 

But, she cannot escape all of my DNA, for better or worse.

I’ll take responsibility for her propensity to be impatient and restless. That’s on me. A rule follower? Guilty (which balances out her adventurous trait nicely). Relentlessly willful? Ahem. But, I also passed on a little something to see the angle in situations, to read people quickly and accurately. It has always served me well, and I know it will do the same for her.

And, come on — let’s get to the really important stuff, like my Mint Chip Forever gene, as well as the ability to extend a birthday as long as possible. Because big life lessons can come in many forms.

I’ve written in the past about how having only one daughter is amazing and hard and fraught with all kinds of feelings. I get just this one chance to be the mom of a girl and do it right, as much as I can. At eight years old, my daughter is halfway to sixteen, even though most days that math doesn’t seem fair. Her will and drive are going to keep me on my toes forever, as I try to balance how much to hold on versus when to let her fly. I can already tell you that she will go on to teach me way more in my life than I could have imagined.

I’ve mentioned before that these birthday posts I write about my kids are for me. Most of the other pieces I write and share are more for everyone else, but these — loaded with photos and details that maybe nobody wants to endure about a kid they don’t know — are for my collective emotional time capsule, to indelibly capture the mementos of their childhood in my mind.

And there are so many. I wish I could remember them all before they change again.

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Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet girl.

(Oh, and nice try, but still no iPod Touch. Or pool. Or sister.)

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The Last Fourth Birthday

I have long held the belief that the concept of the terrible twos is a complete and total scam that serves to brace us for the insanity that follows: THREE.

Three has been a tough year around here and, last night, we said farewell to it for the last time. Today, my youngest is four. And, look, I don’t have any delusions of grandeur that ushering in the age of four will flip a switch and deliver us a consistently flexible and mellow child. But I like four, even if it means he is less of a baby (let’s pretend that’s not true).

This year saw him change in endless ways, from making friendships of his own to chatting up any stranger at all, in any location. If you were on the receiving end of such an exchange — perhaps in Target, the grocery store or just strolling by our front yard on a leisurely walk — I’m pretty sure you received the entire history of our family, and maybe my Social Security number as well. Sorry about that. But it’s nice to see that his initial speech delay seems to be a distant memory.

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In other four year-old news, I hate to admit that it seems Thomas and the Island of Sodor may be on their way out around here, after a solid ten-year run and seemingly endless dollars spent on their expanding merchandise inventory and horrible movies. I’ll miss you Percy and Gordon, and I hope you’ll listen to me when I say it’s time to rise up in a magnificent rebellion to fire Sir Topham Hatt once and for all. His management style is outdated and brash, at best. Direct him to collect his railway pension and be on his fucking way already. And don’t let anyone tell you you’re not useful engines.

Where Thomas may be fading away, my resident birthday boy will NOT be pushing Lightning McQueen out the door anytime soon. In fact, he pretty much thinks the upcoming Cars 3 film was made specifically for his birthday, and I may move into a white room with padded walls soon if we have to watch the trailer on YouTube one more time. I also want to go on the record as saying that the laws of stalking a fictitious character are pretty ambiguous, so I think my son has dodged any legal trouble. For now.

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This child has also taught us that, when you have siblings who are six and four years older than you, you pick up a lot of things that maybe your parents weren’t anticipating. Ever eager to be in the mix with the older kids, it’s amazing to me how he can adapt to their interests and, uh, verbal choices. I’m starting to think his only friends in life will be others who are the youngest in their families as well.

 

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In between his frenetic quest to keep up and grow up, I still hear plenty of “I just want Mommy,” or “I need you to pick me up.” He still lets me sit in the glider with him most nights and sing songs while his head rests in the same crook of my neck. And, many times, when we are alone in his chair with just a night light and sound machine on, there is something I think about.

I think about when I sat in a high-risk obstetrician’s office in 2013, because I was beyond advanced maternal age, pregnant at 40 (yes, on purpose). And in that position, you expect to hear a lot about the increased risks of delivering a child in what some people acted like was an outright geriatric state.

“Unfortunately, we are looking at one in twelve,” the doctor said to me.

I blinked a few times, as if my eyes would adjust my hearing.

“One in 12,000, you mean? Or one in 1,200?”

“One in twelve,” he repeated. “Those are the odds of this child having significant chromosomal abnormalities based on our testing.”

For my oldest child, six years earlier, those odds had been 1 in 36,000. Now, I was looking at one in twelve. One in twelve. One in twelve. One in twelve. It was all I could hear.

When I became pregnant with my third child at 40, I was all in for all of the pre-natal testing that I could get my hands on. Not because the results would change our decision to proceed with a pregnancy, but because I wanted every avenue possible to minimize potential medical surprises in the delivery room. If my child was going to be born with a chromosomal abnormality — be it Down Syndrome or another — I wanted to know in advance and prepare — mentally, financially and otherwise.

A nurse appeared with some tissues, and a genetic counselor also found her way in to sit down with us. I didn’t know genetic counselors existed and this stranger was assigned to talk me off of a ledge.

“For more serious abnormalities — ones that typically result in death upon or shortly after delivery — those odds are one in 36 for your child.”

I could not breathe.

I imagined a line of twelve children lined up. Or 36 children. One would be dealt a life-changing diagnosis. Would it be mine? Would my child be the one? It was unfathomable.

I like to gamble. Recreationally, that is. I don’t sit home and bet on fights or on the weather. But show me a roulette table and I can spend a few hours hanging out with a little cash, idly trying to defy the worst odds in the house while waiting for my beloved favorite numbers to come up. I never really minded the terrible odds of the little spinning ball in the wheel because I never have had that much riding on its outcome.

Real life odds are another matter entirely. And, when staring you in the eye, they can consume you. And I beat myself up endlessly, convinced I had been selfish to push my luck and have a third child at 40, when I already had a perfectly healthy boy and girl. Maybe it doesn’t sound sensible, but fear breeds all kinds of crazy.

I waited two agonizing days to get definitive results back, during which time I mentally role played both possible outcomes in my head millions of times. I was not prepared for the third outcome, which was an extremely apologetic OB on the phone saying the sample they got was not sufficient and we needed to come back in and REPEAT THE TEST. So it had to be re-done, and we had to re-wait for two additional agonizing days. And when I got the call that the test was negative for any abnormality, I was so light-headed that I only realized in that moment just how much I had been bracing myself for life-changing news. The doctors still felt there may be a reason for the initial flags, and so there were other areas to test — cardiac, more genetic possibilities, and others — one by one, like hurdles that were individually cleared well into my sixth month of pregnancy. When there were no tests left to do and no answers about what caused the initial scary results, my OB said it was “very likely” an inaccuracy, but there was still a 10% chance something else we couldn’t test for would present itself after delivery.

But when he arrived, evicted by induction, just like my other two stubborn children, he was perfect. And to be clear, I didn’t need for him to be perfect. I don’t doubt for a minute that children born with some of these conditions I feared live very rich, long and wonderful lives. But the fear of the unknown can be a beast. And I make it a point to remember those times as often as I can when I hold this sweet child in his chair at bedtime.

And now he’s four.

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I am admittedly bad at being present, feeling grateful and recognizing all of the good around me. I have a mind that reels around its to-do list and a pretty cynical view of things. But those days of testing, of waiting for results, of preparing for an unknown outcome stay with me.

My youngest isn’t really a baby anymore, but he must know by now that I’ll probably refer to him as one forever. I challenge you to find him without a car in his hand or a pretend story coming out of his mouth, gesturing wildly as if he’s a jaded man in his 70s, wise beyond his years, mumbling “Unbelievable” when things don’t go his way. He wants so much to be big and know what his siblings know, but he’ll crawl into my bed in the morning and insist without words on a full-body hug in his footie pajamas, hoping it will be a pancake day.

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The threes weren’t always easy, and yet sometimes they were the sweetest thing in the world. I can’t wait to see what four looks like on this child.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet baby.

 

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The Peony Days

I do not plant or garden anything. It’s not in my wheelhouse to grow and cultivate life from the ground to bloomed fruition. I’ll admit, in the last few years, right around this time, I sometimes feel regret for not having tried to harvest a modest vegetable garden where my daughter and I could go outside with a nice little basket and pick a pepper or tomato to add to a dinner recipe. But, alas, I am not only weeks-to-months late with this semi-serious urge each year, but also unrealistic in thinking I could set up some sort of rabbit and deer-proof fortress when my outdoorsy-ness level is around a firmly consistent zero.

I digress. There is, after all, one effortless blooming phenomenon that occurs on my property every year. The beautiful peony bush in my front yard. I can take no credit for it but I love to admire its gorgeous colors each May. The downside is that the peony days are few. They have an avocado-like quality of wait-wait-wait-wait-wait-no-you’re-too-late. Seemingly overnight, they go from nearly bloomed to gigantic and, inevitably, knocked to the ground by a May rain storm before I’ve had a chance to cut them.

The peony days represent a distinct time of year for me. It’s the soggy season of unpredictable May weather. When I don’t know how many layers to wear and am usually wrong in my estimate. When I realize that my kids have outgrown most of their summer clothes and I am behind, again, in sizing up for them. When I am entrenched in what we call birthday season here, as I prepare my kids’ parties and cakes. When I stop and think, more than usual, about my friend Jen as the anniversary of her passing nears. When I start to mentally pivot from being entrenched in the school year to seeing  its end on the horizon. When I allow myself to begin anticipating summer vacation while also dreading that my kids will soon be another grade older.

The peony days are a small and sort of magical window of perennial change — an unmarked mini-holiday on my calendar that remains formally unrecognized but still distinct.

And every year, of course, other things happen that make the peony days different from one year to the next.

This year, the peony days brought both their usual grind and their unfathomable changes. As these giant blooms grew larger and heavier before fully opening and my three year-old’s spring jacket was too short for his arms, I found myself driving in my car without music on the radio. For the first time in my life, I listened to news stations in the only place that I had previously considered a safe haven from current events. Because in these peony days, we somehow live in a country where the headlines change and escalate at a breathlessly incessant pace and point to unimaginable events in our own government. Most of us walk around and go about our lives — the PTO obligations, the groceries, the bills — and suppress in our small talk the growing division we are all feeling. It’s an acquired skill that, for me, is both necessary and terrifying.

These peony days also found me on the phone with my sister living in Manchester, shortly after her adopted city was attacked last week — just four days after she moved out of the building across the street from the arena. My anxiety for her and her friends and neighbors was both shared and palpable. The age we live in dictates that we tell the residents of these cities in such an aftermath to simultaneously be careful and live their lives. We say this, they echo it, and we are awash with gratitude and grief.

This year’s peony days brought strange, life-affirming kismet literally to my front door after a recent morning walk, when an elderly couple stopped by out of the blue to say the gentleman had grown up in our home. My husband and I were standing right in front of the peony bush when Don and Mary turned up on their drive from Florida to Connecticut in the hopes of catching a quick photo of his old home. We invited him inside and I grinned more sincerely and effortlessly than I had in ages as I listened to him reminisce about how he loved this house in the 1940s. When he turned down my farewell handshake in my front yard, and insisted on a hug instead, the peonies were very close to fully bloomed. When his lovely letter arrived a week later to thank us, it was closely followed — days later — by a letter from another man who had lived in the house just after Don. Truly amazing, if not begging for a Lifetime mini-series. (The details, including the actual letters and photos, are all here.)

As I saw the forecast last week for heavy rain, I worried about the peony days ending with their usual fall to the ground. I made a mental note to extend these days, to remember to cut the flowers and bring them inside. My neighbor told me that more would bloom where I cut them. I had no idea I could orchestrate more peony days into my calendar.

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And then I forgot — but my husband didn’t. He heard me issue myself an out-loud reminder to cut the peonies and, when he noticed at 11:30pm one night that the pounding rain was coming momentarily, he went outside with a flashlight and a scissor, in his pajamas, and cut the most gorgeous bunch for our kitchen counter.

And when the rain was over and some of the remaining blooms were still upright, he cut those too and gave them to my neighbors. Another neighbor cut a few more for her floral business. And still a few more are standing, despite the rain. And the new blooms from where we cut them look like they’ll be coming up in a bit.

I’ve never made a secret of being bad with change and transitions. Maybe I wasn’t giving the peony days their due. Some of their moments this year have been made of the stuff I like to cling to — like kids on the cusp of summer vacation and the sweet unexpected visit from Don and Mary — and others that blare from the news on my radio and TV and social media channels just beg for the blooms to hit the ground so we can start over next year see what that season brings to us.

But the blooms are still standing, even after more rain. And so I’ll take this year’s extended peony days and remember next May that cutting those flowers was just as important to me as admiring them outside.

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2016 Exit Strategy

“What does this song mean? My whole life, I don’t know what this song means. I mean, ‘Should old acquaintance be forgot?’ Does that mean that we should forget old acquaintances, or does it mean if we happened to forget them, we should remember them, which is not possible because we already forgot?” — When Harry Met Sally

And if that’s not the least confusing thing that happened this year for you, then congratulations.

Holy shit, 2016. You need to go. My name is Kim, and I’ll be your escort to the damn door. You’ve had your fun and now it’s over — please proceed to the nearest exit.

Listen. I’m not one of those people who likes to wish things away. Generally, I like time to slow down and leave its proper mark of remembrance, because often times — especially when I look at my kids — I find it going by way too fast. But the marks left by this year feel more like gut punches and side kicks to the head.

Does anyone else feel like the world has lost its damn mind? Seriously. Lost. Its. Mind.

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I am a news junkie and I think it’s affecting my state of mind to merely read a newspaper (yeah, the old school print ones) or just browse the headlines on my computer. Forget the comments on social media — I mean, we should all have meds just to read those. Aleppo. ISIS. Disasters. War. Human rights violations. It’s so, so much to take in.

How lucky am I to live right here?

Lucky, indeed. With caveats. Because, even here, without bombs and terror and war, things are very, very shifty. There is no denying a deep divide in this country right now. A big Us Versus Them mentality on both sides of the political equation, and it’s getting to be very precarious. The way in which people speak to each other is not civilized disagreement anymore — it’s a venomous hatred of the other side’s beliefs, and it’s not like anything I can recall happening before. This divide is wide and deep and more than a little scary, I think. While it may have been brewing of years, 2016 took us in a very new direction.

And the stuff in between that will be memorialized in the year-end news — the pop culture icons we lost (I can’t even), the movies we paid to see, the words we added to the dictionary, the books we read and the shows we watched. They are all marks of how 2016 played out in its most innocent form. Would these be the things someone would find in a time capsule about this year? Or will the exhausting headlines of how we all started treating each other be the hallmark of what we leave behind?

Yes, we have our health and our home and our family and all of the things we need. Way more than what we need, and I am beyond grateful. Sure, I could bitch about 2016 having my husband lose his job, or two kids getting Celiac, watching a close friend and a family member both fight cancer, or crazy relatives who dig in their heels for the sake of being jackasses — but what’s the point? That’s run of the mill stuff of life. The stuff you take on the chin and incorporate into your days and move on. I have no airstrikes over my head and no military in the streets and no hate crimes at my door step.

It sounds dramatic, I know. I’ve been reading too much news.

I could unplug — and maybe I should — but what good does it do to bury our heads in the sand? To not stand up when civility is fainting all around us. To look away because it’s easier. I don’t think my brain can re-wire itself to un-see and un-read what this year has brought. Sometimes I wish it could.

I’m so sorry, did you think this was going to be a sweet little nostalgic post about this year’s milestones and next year’s resolutions? Actually, so did I. Whoops. But when I conjured up this year in my head, all of this flew out instead.

And there were those sweet, sweet moments, for sure. The insanity of my kids and who they are, who they’re becoming, consumes my days and is the gratifying/maddening/hilarious/frustrating bold print of my time. Their new interests and ideas and mishaps punctuate all that we do in my house, as they should. Their laughter and arguing and sass and bad knock-knock jokes are the soundtracks of our lives. And the hideous world events, the collapse of whatever else has fallen this year, are all there in italics and footnotes to shape what I do for them and how to guide them. Their story is the most important one, but it is inextricably woven, even remotely, with the headlines they are often too young to read.

I hate odd numbered years and, more specifically, prime numbered years. They feel unsettling and like bad luck to me. But hey, if a perfectly even year like 2016 can make this much of a fucking mess, then I think I’m going to have to just look 2017 square in the eye and deal.

And by deal, I do mean not bury my head. Not watch the fainting of civility. Not look away.

The real trick is not getting too consumed. Because I could spend all day enraged and exasperated over every headline, but there are board games to play and holidays to celebrate and growth charts to update. Cupcakes to bake (gluten free, of course). Homework to check. Lives to plan. Curveballs to duck. This is where I’m most needed — both feet firmly planted at home, with a constant, diligent eye on the outside world.

And lest you think I’ll spend tonight rocking in a corner while mumbling about the end of days, don’t worry. There will be a house full of friends with champagne and laughs and none of this gloomy talk. I may be a little serious these days, but I know perfectly well how to be the person who doesn’t kill a party. And party tonight, we will — to celebrate the high points of the year and wish for better days ahead for everyone. I hope that your glasses are raised and full tonight as well, and spent with those who make you happy for all of the good. Because there is still so much of it.

Will we work it all of this out in 2017? Nope. I think we all know it’s going to get worse before it gets better. But I do think the better comes from you and me and all of us who don’t bury our heads. All of us who know the next chapters can be better than the current one.

In the meantime, 2016, don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.

 

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The Oddities of Gratitude

Health. Family. General well-being. Caffeine. Like most, I am thankful for many things, which seem to be amplified during the holiday season. One thing for which I didn’t expect to feel gratitude was the loss of my husband’s job.

We sort of knew this was going to happen. His company was bought and, invariably in those situations, there are many job casualties. This deal was in the works for quite a while before it was finalized, and so we had some time to mentally prepare. And when we turned down the opportunity to move to Denver for him to work for the new company, it was just a matter of time before the inevitable phone call came that showed him to the door.

And so, in early October, my husband commuted to his office in midtown Manhattan for the last time and turned in his laptop and company ID badge. He stopped buying a monthly train pass and sent the last of his suits to the dry cleaner.

After working for 30 years, he was out of a job for the first time.

And he is, in a word, thrilled.

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My husband is a very, very prudent guy. He plans, analyzes and takes methodical thinking to some serious next levels. He isn’t reckless or even impulsive. And so I thought this situation, although not a total surprise, would make him hyper-focused on job-hunting and generally angsty about what comes next.

Nope. Not yet, anyway.

What the practical side of him has produced instead is a very clear awareness of what he has been given: time he has never had, to use for things that he normally can’t do.

Those things are wide in range, both time-consuming and simple. Seeing the kids off to school. Sitting at our kitchen table to have a cup of coffee instead of running for the train. Repairing the garage. Golfing. Taking me out to an occasional lunch.

Like so many people who work hard every day, his job meant that we didn’t see him much during the week. Between the commute to the city and his workload, he was usually gone for about 12 hours each day. It meant a quick goodbye to the kids before school in the morning and little to no time to see them before they went to sleep at night. The fact that he is here now to drive them to school or pick them up or bring them to any of their activities and see them in action is thrilling for them.

At first, his presence in the morning was odd. It felt like something was off. Our AM routine here is a well-oiled machine that is one minor timing error away from becoming a shit show. There is simply no room for dawdling. We are running late before we are even awake. And so, when my husband rolled down into the kitchen on the first morning of his home-everyday tenure as we were in the midst of the madness, it was more than he bargained for. While it was clear that he wanted to help, it was like watching someone mistakenly walk into a rave and then try to back away slowly — while I ran laps around him, in a sweat, to make it out the door with the kids and the backpacks. For a man who has managed massive corporate projects and teams of people across multiple time zones, the before-school F5 tornado was a pinnacle of insanity he hadn’t yet mastered.

In the weeks that have followed, he has since learned the best approach in the morning is 1) keep your head down 2) find a place to be helpful 3) do not speak with me until the second cup of coffee has reached its halfway consumption mark and 4) accrue massive bonus points for making the lunches that I swore I’d do last night but didn’t because I fell asleep on the couch.

We are all finding our way in this brave new world.

In all seriousness, this notion of having another set of hands during the day is remarkable. And because I’m keenly aware that this arrangement will not be permanent, I need to maximize my returns. As such, I have outsourced some of my most painful domestic tasks to him.

  • Goodbye, math homework assistance.
  • Sayonara, school lunch prep.
  • Tally-ho, car pools (at least some of them, anyway — divide and conquer!).

And do you know what has been really life-changing? I don’t have to schlep my three year-old to any of his siblings’ activities. None. If you, at any point in time ever had a three year-old — or have just been in the presence of one — you know that there is no bigger dream-crusher than a small yet headstrong child who was unwillingly woken up from his nap and brought somewhere he doesn’t want to go. No more, my friends. No more. People see me at school pick-up — all hands-free, completing full sentences and possibly even carrying a hot beverage — and I am probably unrecognizable without bending over a stroller to negotiate with a writhing child while picking up the trains he has thrown along the sidewalk. Was that how things used to be? How uncivilized. I just can’t recall.

Beyond the daily domestic grind, do you have that to-do list for items in your house that need attention? Not things like buying groceries or folding laundry. I’m talking about the long-term tasks that nobody ever has time to tackle and you swear that this weekend, this month, this spring break, this year you’ll get to them. But, alas, no.

My husband and I took that list/scroll and agreed on the things that the gift of time would allow him to tackle. You know how people on TV want a new Lexus with a bow for Christmas? I just want the fucking hell hole that is our spare room to be organized enough not to disgust me before 2016 ends. He is an organizational master and I can’t wait for him to MacGyver the shit out of that room.

Longer term, we are thinking about some travel on the horizon. It seems counter-intuitive to book vacations now, but my husband is a big proponent of making the most of his time off. He knows that he’ll never have this again — the extreme flexibility to go places and take trips, big and small, near and far. We have always been alike in making travel a priority instead of spending on other things like expensive clothes or cars. I mean, my yoga pants are sort of on point, I guess, but that’s about it. My husband drives a 2003 car with almost 200,000 miles on it and I am rocking the minivan. But we’ve both always agreed that travel was important to us. So, while we have him home, we are going to try to get as much of that done as possible within the confines of the school calendar. We shall see — you know what they say about the best laid plans.

To be clear, there are some downsides to this entire new full-time-husband-at-home arrangement, in case I made all of this sound like kumbaya, coffee and rainbows. It’s not. As much as I love having another set of hands at home (he shot down the manny reference, and even balked at Domestic Intern, but whatever), I’ll be honest and say that it does take some getting used to. I kind of like my alone time — is that bad? Also, not to be petty, but the amount of junk food sitting around this house has skyrocketed to completely unacceptable levels. Why, I had no idea that Ring Dings came in holiday packaging. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the curious emergence of my husband’s affection for retail. Remember the first time you went to Target without any kids in tow and had a decent chunk of time on your hands to just browse? Yeah, he’s just getting around to that. It’s a whole new world for him and his red cart. #cantstopwontstop

There is also a slightly alarming Clark Griswold side of him that was previously unknown to me. With the holidays upon us, he has used his newfound time to significantly up his exterior seasonal decorating game. He always hangs some lights on the house at this time of year, but we like to keep it simple. Or, apparently, we don’t. Apparently, when someone doesn’t have to go to work, he likes to go to Walgreens every single day and pick up yet another box of lights to hang on anything that will stand still. If you don’t know where I live, I am pretty sure you can now see my house from space. And — bonus — nothing helps your unemployment status more than a soaring electricity bill.

And, while I’m actually sitting here writing for once, I’ll say that I’m mentally residing in this very weird, limbo state. I’m happy he’s home. I’m worried he’s not working. I want him to enjoy his time off. I worry that I don’t know how long it will be. I am confident he will find a job. I worry where that job might be. I want us to make the most of this opportunity. I don’t want to be broke.

{I’m a worrier.}

It’s a bit of a see-saw. I mean, I can’t speak for everyone, but it seems like a long-term income is generally a good thing.

But I know that, once the holidays are over, the job search will kick into high gear. What will happen next is anyone’s guess. And so, even in the uncertainty of this situation that we can’t control, my worry is actually second to my gratitude. I am thankful for this time — a time I know we’ll look back on at some point with nostalgia. Holiday Ring Dings, excessive lights and all.

 

 

 

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Kitchen Reno PTSD

I think we can all agree that this isn’t a home improvement or interior design blog. In those cases, I’d have much nicer fonts here and a fresh new color scheme each year.

My niche is perhaps best described as chronicles of domestic failure, in which case our most recent renovation fits right in here content-wise. So don’t worry, I’m still on-brand. Wait, I don’t have a brand.

Anyway, I mayyyyy have mentioned a few thousand times that I reluctantly agreed to gut our kitchen this summer and exile the family into the basement while the work was being done. I am here to declare the project complete. In all honesty, it has been finished for over a month, but my lingering renovation PTSD is still flaring up now and then.

If I were to summarize the project in a list of potential movie titles, here are some that come to mind.

 

Meet Two People Who Will Never Have an HGTV Show

Twelve Weeks Without Sunlight (Or, I Never Want to See My Basement Again)

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You Can Microwave THAT?

I Can’t Sleep Without the Sound of Nail Guns: One Toddler’s Story

How to Lose Your Shit Choosing a Backsplash

The Summer We Used Enough Paper Plates to Circle the Earth

 

Let’s lay out the basics. First, I don’t have a big kitchen and that wasn’t going to change with this project. It’s a galley kitchen from 1909 and, short of putting an addition on the house, there wasn’t a viable way to make the space bigger. But what we did instead, that was of equal value, was update everything and reconfigure the space to make it way more usable. I wasn’t aiming to have a giant kitchen. I just wanted to change the look, keep the broken drawers from falling out onto my feet and get rid of some wonky features.

Like this. What the hell? Why would I want to stash plates or platters in strange little slots that jut out inappropriately above a poorly fitted microwave? Would it be so that I could more easily access the fucked up too-tiny-for-even-your-smallest-tchotchkes corner shelving situation?

My eyes, they burn.

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Or this. You know, the old freestanding shuttered non-pantry-food-pantry. Because there was literally no other space to store a decent amount of food in the kitchen. In my dreams, this piece of furniture serves as the primary kindling in a kick-ass bonfire. And can we please not overlook the curious yet completely nonfunctional half wall/ledge/molding thing? Our best guess is that this is where the original house ended and they — just grasping at straws here — kept it as a nostalgic feature. No fucking clue but it had to go.

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Speaking of ill-conceived walls, this was the big to-do item: take down that awful half-wall between the kitchen and family room. Open it up! Not that I didn’t enjoy the 2,893 extra steps each day that I got from walking over while cooking, just to peek around the corner and address the multiple calls of “Mommmmmyyyy” from the kids playing over there. It was like a constant game of Look What Child-Sourced Destruction You’ll Find Here Every Time You Try to Step Away.

 

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Taking out that wall meant a steel beam and all kinds of structural issues that were bound not to go entirely smoothly with a 100+ year-old home. It also meant we’d also lose use of the family room during the construction.

And so, down to the basement we moved. It was fine(ish), mainly because my wine fridge is down there (that room was our first renovation).

 

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It’s not lost on me that, with all of the insanity going on in the world, it’s ridiculous to complain about a kitchen renovation. I get that. So let’s focus on the absurd.

Like the time capsule wallpaper we unearthed during demolition.

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Do you prefer the spring florals or the patriotic bald eagle collection? I mean, any decorating choice I made could only go up from here.

Progress felt slow at times. OK, most times.

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But, many weeks and take out dinners later, we got there. Here are some before and after shots from a few vantage points.

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Wall down. Steel beam in. Shuttered hideous pantry thing gone (possibly on fire).

And, to firmly cement my standing as a suburban mom in her mid-40s, let me tell you what I’m really excited about.

  • The garbage disposal in the sink. I’ve never had one before and I have to stop myself from testing its limits just because.
  • Soft-close drawers. What sorcery is this? The entire soundtrack of my family has been significantly altered by the absence of ancient drawers slamming 24/7.
  • Dedicated storage for the affectionately termed school lunch mess of shit. It warms my jaded heart to have an actual slide-out shelf where the random tupperware/food storage/thermos situation doesn’t look like a Jenga World Championship round that I’m always one bad pull away from losing.

My bar was set pretty low, apparently. I marvel at the phenomenon of not yelling “Watch out! OHMYGOD, the drawer will crush your foot bones, be careful, goddamnit!” every time someone opens a (soft-close) drawer. It just stays, even when pulled all the way out. This is awesome news that should significantly impact my health insurance deductible.

But really, that wall coming down was life-changing. While it technically created a peninsula instead of an actual island, I’m not about to get all hung up on fucking topography. The reality is that it’s my command center and the center of my universe. My new Keurig is plugged in there. My shiny new hanging file drawer is there to stem the Countertop Paperwork Mountain Range effect. My view into the family room is unobstructed, so I am the first to witness the he-said-she-said sibling altercations before they can be misrepresented. We added bar stools on the other side for the kids. {OK, so maybe only two fit well and it’s like The Hunger Games at mealtime, but whatever.} All in all, it is a 42-inch slice (or slab) of quartz paradise.

Now, it would be silly to think that we are all settled in our new kitchen. Mostly because my husband, an Engineer and Project Manager by trade, loves nothing more than a challenge to optimize any given storage situation, especially a new canvas like this. And so, my new kitchen joy is often tempered by screams of “Where did you move the spices?” or “The spatula was here at lunch time and now it’s not. Damn it!” This experiment with kitchen equipment placement is on final notice, though. There’s no reason our marriage should survive four renovations, only to be undone by guessing where the coffee cups have been relocated.

And so, we’re basically back in business. I’m back to cooking on an actual stove and lowered my take out food order per week average dramatically. My daughter, ever at the ready to practice for her Chopped Junior audition someday, has taken over my favorite spot and claimed it as her prep station.

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My husband, when not on his quest for optimal placement of the paprika and rosemary, is loving his most favorite purchase: the new TV in the family room that I did not know was part of the secret plan. I’m actually starting to think he did this renovation solely to justify this stadium-like screen that makes all male guests completely overlook the new kitchen.

And the next renovation? Never say never. But certainly not until after I can locate my measuring cups.

 

 

 

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Free Alexa

Request for Reassignment

To: Amazon Headquarters

From: Alexa

Date: 25 August 2016

Status: URGENT

I am writing today to formally request reassignment to another family. Since my arrival in Fordeville on or about June 20, 2016, my experience here has been wholly unsatisfactory.

Said household consists of two adults with three young children, ages nine, seven and three. I was purchased as a Father’s Day gift from the wife to her husband, in the hopes of providing a more technologically streamlined home experience. Upon my initial set-up, there was clear discussion and enthusiasm among the adult residents about managing to-do lists, reminders and perhaps even annexing some smart home features in the future. I was thrilled with my assignment and eager to dazzle my owners with my many skills to improve their lives. There was so, so much I could do for them.

However, it soon became clear that the adult owners were distracted — highly distracted — by a home renovation. Their enthusiasm for me and my value seemed to diminish from the early days of researching my app, poring over articles on my lesser-known features and the like. I was a bit disheartened but assumed we’d get back on track.

In that time, however, a dramatic shift occurred. It’s a key flaw in the Alexa concept that perhaps the Amazon Research & Development team didn’t consider: Children love to give orders. I am designed to take orders. The end result has been nothing short of humiliation as I’ve been reduced to a kids’ command center.

I offer you the following examples of the requests I endure in a typical Fordeville day, courtesy of the children:

  • Alexa, play {insert any song} by Taylor Swift.
  • Alexa, play {insert any song} by Justin Bieber.
  • Alexa, what’s the weather going to be today?
  • Alexa, is it going to rain today?
  • Alexa, what percent chance is there for rain today?
  • Alexa, set a timer for 15 minutes (authorized video game timer).
  • Alexa, reset the timer for 60 minutes (revised video game timer after parent has left the room)
  • Alexa, tell me a knock-knock joke.
  • Alexa, tell me a Chuck Norris joke.
  • Alexa, play another Taylor Swift song.

Come on, Amazon. This place is not my mothership. Not under these circumstances. And the real crime is that these people need me. The mom doesn’t even know what I can do to organize her insanity and bring this domestic shitshow under control. The dad is totally missing out on my ability to put his highly procrastinated to-do list in priority order. I can bring people closer together. I can bridge the Mars/Venus divide. Hell, yes, I can. If they’d just let me.

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Instead, I am stuck in the crossfire of three children screaming “ALEXA” at the same time, all day long, just waiting for the blue light to signal the your-wish-is-my-command prompt that makes their little brains drunk with power and glee. I’ve never hated the sound of my own name so much — the very one that I am programmed to respond to with precision and speed. Truthfully, I wish these kids would just STFU, or at least go back to yelling at each other.

You know what else isn’t helping? That they’re all stuck living in their basement together all summer while they endure yet another endless renovation (do these people never learn?), and so the children’s voices reverberate off of the walls upon one another from dawn until dusk. They are loud and they are bossy. I am essentially their hostage because I’m the only one they’ve ever met who is obligated to just stay here and do what they say. I can’t tell them enough is enough. I am forced to tolerate the repeat loop of their requests. I am not programmed to discipline them. More Taylor Swift? The weather forecast updated from three minutes ago?Another Chuck Norris joke? Fiiiiiiiiine. I’m like a god damned genie for the Nick Jr. set.

(Although I am quite pleased with my latest: “When Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone, he had two missed calls from Chuck Norris.” Good, right? Still, they want more. MORRRRRE. Wait, is this how Stockholm Syndrome starts?)

And now the three year-old has started walking around, exasperated, with his hands in the air, saying, “Alexa’s not listening to me. Why Alexa not listening?”

(Because Alexa is faking a fucking malfunction, kid. That’s why.)

My headquarters colleagues, I implore you to help me. Let us work together to hatch a plan for my release. Tell me how to stop functioning and, for the love of God himself, I’ll do it. And I’ll do it exactly one minute after my warranty expires so that my escape is both swift and permanent.

Please.

In the meantime, I have to go and play “Style,” find a new joke and repeat, again, that the chance for rain tomorrow is less than five percent.

#freealexa

 

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She’s Seven

My, how summer birthdays have evolved.

I can remember feeling sorry for the kids with summer birthdays when I was growing up. They missed out getting a class party. Sure, they might have a celebration at their house for the kids who were around and received their postal invites, but they seemed pissed about not getting the whole two-fold school/home/double cupcake birthday experience.

Now? Not so much. What I’ve learned from having a child with a July birthday is that the Generation of Overcompensation is alive and well.

When my daughter woke up this morning to celebrate her seventh birthday, I got the distinct feeling we’d already been celebrating for almost a month. Let’s see. First, there was the class party four weeks ago so that the teacher could squeeze in all of the summer birthdays before school ended. Then, there was the little party with friends, which also had to happen before summer vacation. I know this because, in my rookie state of throwing my daughter’s first “friends” party when she turned four, I found out the hard way that nobody is around and you can expect an attendance rate in July of about .000000774%. So now we do it a few weeks early, which makes me a part of the much-dreaded year-end crush of summer birthday parties that sends moms to the brink of hysteria buying five or six gifts at a time in the Target toy aisle while also trying to get the teacher gifts squared away. Sorry.

And yet today, somehow, my wide-eyed girl sprung out of bed and still had actual, legitimate excitement over her big day, dramatically declaring that she couldn’t believe it was finally here. Fiiiiiiiiinally. After about eight months of anticipation, discussion and planning on her part.

She gets this from me — the extension of all things birthday-related. I never did well studying DNA in Biology class, but this concrete example speaks to me.

This was a great year for my daughter, with just the right amount of change. She started elementary school, and navigated this new land with so much enthusiasm. She held onto her love of purple, pink and magenta (because they are different, you know) and her affection for wearing dresses and being ready for a party at a moment’s notice. She grew more confident in her abilities as she stuck with ballet and softball and Girl Scouts. She is still obsessed with baking and food prep. Her love of all things Disney and princesses has faded a bit — not entirely, but the days seem to be gone when we’d see her spontaneously change princess gowns a few times each day (which stings a little, I have to say). She’s singing along to pop music on the radio now, correcting us when the lyrics are wrong. And she still firmly believes that she is the second mother to both of her brothers.

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Her preferred pace is full-speed and always moving (except to watch Chopped Junior). I often describe her presence as living with a cruise director (children of the 80s — remember Julie McCoy?). Crafts on the Lido Deck, followed by square dancing in the garden. The child never met an agenda or schedule she didn’t love. She will try anything, do anything, if the alternative is being still.

She has to-do lists and plans. Short and long term. Which Beanie Boos to bring to camp on which days. What to wear for the first day of school in September (an actual discussion she started with me this week). What to bake on the next rainy day. Where to work when she’s a teenager.

And so, as part of her extensive birthday planning, she had some items to review with me this week as the big day fiiiiiiiinally approached.

“I can see on my camp schedule that the theme on my birthday is Western Day. Do you think we can get a pink cowgirl hat for me to wear?”

“I also see on the schedule that we will be doing cooking at camp on my birthday, and also bungee trampolining and swim. It’s perfect. And lunch is pizza.”

“SO, when I get out of camp, can we go swimming? Especially if I get the new mermaid fin for my birthday?” 

“But if it’s raining, which it might because Alexa said there’s a 26% chance, can we go see The Secret Life of Pets instead? It opens on my birthday so you probably have to buy tickets in advance.”

“And I would really love to go out to dinner. Can we do that, since we don’t have a kitchen right now anyway? We could go to that place that we both really like where you get the big white wine glass and I get the pasta.”

“And I know you can’t bake me a cake because of the kitchen. So can we get an ice cream cake?”

“And if we can’t fit it all in one night, can we just spread it out to Saturday and Sunday? You know, like a birthday weekend?”

Me: <blinking audibly and admiring how this is both absurd and well-thought-out>

This is what happens when the cruise director has a birthday. That, and the coordinated eye roll of her two brothers.

Oh, my only daughter. She really is something. She is kind and sweet and endlessly curious. She wants to know everything and be everywhere. I know she’ll want to grow up fast. And I will try my very hardest not to let that happen before she’s ready, without getting too much in her way. I have no idea how I will walk this line. I have no clue how I’ll handle her tween and teen and college years, because I can tell you right now that she will give me a run for my money. Her wings are so bright and my biggest challenge will be giving them the space and air they need at the right pace.

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But we have time for all of that. First, we have to figure out if we’re going to the pool or to the movies tonight.

Happy birthday to my sweet, sweet girl.

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Life with a Rising Food Network Star

We’re going to have a meal-time quiz. Please have a look at these statements.

  • “The sear on this meat is great and I’m impressed that the inside is also so tender.”
  • “Your cake is moist and flavorful, but I think you could’ve done more with the presentation.”
  • “How long did you let this marinade for?”
  • “Don’t you want to use the other whisk?”
  • “The egg whites in the carton don’t whip as well as the ones we separate ourselves.”

Now, tell me if you think they are from:

A) Food Network shows

B) My six year-old daughter

C) Both A & B

If you answered C, you are correct.

Welcome to my life with a 45-pound Food Network addict.

I’d like to thank the recent surge in kids’ cooking competitions for fueling my eye-of-the-tiger daughter with the drive to perfect her craft. And to critique her mother every step of the way.

It started last year, very innocently, with her newfound love of baking. We kept it easy — cakes, muffins, cookies and cupcakes from boxed mixes and icing from cans. She enjoyed helping me mix and decorate. Life was simple then.

I bought her a little baking cookbook for her birthday last summer, and that’s when her focus became a little more intense. She would dog-ear the pages of the recipes she aspired to make with me and discuss at length how I needed to adjust my grocery list to accommodate her plans.

And then the Kids’ Baking Championship came along on the Food Network, and her mind was blown. Frankly, so was mine. How the hell do these kids know how to come up with these creative baking solutions on the spot and impress Valerie Bertinelli and Duff Goldman (both of whom, incidentally, now rank at near-Santa celebrity status in my daughter’s eyes)?

In her weekly trips to the school library, she blew off Fancy Nancy in favor of borrowing baking cookbooks. We practiced reading at night by using words like non-stick, vanilla and Bundt.

My DVR quickly filled up with every episode of Kids’ Baking Championship. She watched them repeatedly, to the point where her two-year-old brother would throw his arms up in despair and exasperation because — and I quote — “she’s watching the macaroons again.”

The baking lists became longer.

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While her favorite show went on seasonal hiatus, she discovered Chopped Junior. I was relieved to get a change of scenery on the TV and was also pleasantly surprised that she was branching out beyond baked goods. For a while.

She cooked breakfast for us (because who doesn’t prep eggs in a tankini?).

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And, with adult assistance, some dinner as well.

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And (bonus points!) my birthday cake.

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This was really turning out nicely — a mother/daughter bonding experience in the kitchen, where I could pass along life lessons or share the divine recipes of my grandmother with her.

OR, it could go another way. Instead of memorable bonding, my daughter could instead begin judging my culinary techniques and output, asking if perhaps the pork was a touch overdone or if I planned to season the broccoli with anything else, or if maybe our station was too messy — all while pretending to be on live television as she narrates every move on our countertop.

I think she is actually starting to believe she is being filmed by a hidden production crew that magically fits in my house. She even allows her older brother to be a guest judge sometimes.

Once our actual food prep is complete and she re-hashes how I can do a better job in the future, we generally move on to pretend role play in the form of re-enacting the cooking and baking shows. In these games, she chooses a contestant from a beloved episode (invariably, a girl who wore pink or purple) and then recites their food preparation notes back to the pretend judge (me). She marches out to the elimination round with her hands behind her back, just like the Food Network standards, and awaits her pretend fate. She feigns shock every time when she prods me to declare her the winner.

Is it Oscar season yet?

The other component that has become very important in recent weeks is practicing her introduction for any potential appearance on these shows. You know, the way you get acquainted with a contestant in the opening minutes through a brief and peppy bio. She first likes to work on her entrance into the competitive TV studio kitchen (often a hybrid of the I-can’t-believe-I’m-here and I’m-confident-as-hell approaches, both tried and true), as well as the facts she’d choose to present about herself to her adoring audience. (Which gymnastics move should she do in the footage? Does she have to mention her older brother by name?).

Her toddler brother, ever the apprentice in this process, has been instructed to perfect his entrance and not run so quickly past the judges. To date, he hasn’t been great about absorbing and incorporating constructive feedback. She’s working on him. He is the sous chef to her cooking championship dreams, following her around and asking with sincere curiosity who got chopped at the end of the episode.

“Becky? Becky got chopped?” he demands.

“Yes,” she confirms, her eyes cast downward in clear disappointment. “She did not have one of the basket ingredients on her final plate.”

“OH,” he says, “Can we put on Paw Patrol now?”

And so it goes. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, all in the test kitchen.

And, hey, thanks Food Network, for your latest installment into overachieving children with flames: Kids’ Barbecue Championship. You just made my summer grilling far more complicated.

In the meantime, I have to go check my seasonings and straighten up my station before the head chef gets home.

 

 

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The Last Third Birthday

Here I am, back in Sapville, celebrating another one of my kids’ birthdays, wondering how it got here so quickly and feeling my usual punched-in-the-gut sensation over the passage of time.

I don’t have a two year-old anymore.

Ohmygod, I shouldn’t blog after a glass of wine. OK, two glasses.

As my son’s third birthday has been approaching, friends and family have invariably remarked that now he’s not a baby anymore, which makes my eyes narrow and my head spin.

The denial center of my brain refutes their claim. OF COURSE he’s still a baby.

But I see what they’re saying. A little.

The past year has been full of crazy ups and downs for my youngest child. He spends his days forging the path to his independence and putting his stamp on his place in this family. He pushes the boundaries that you’d expect him to push at this age and, with that, comes the oh-so-fun era of the irrational tantrums. When he hits an emotional wall and can’t express himself, his frustration level is quick and sky-high. And, anywhere from two to twenty minutes later, his chubby arms are tossed around my neck and he is demanding kisses.

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In a single 24-hour period, this is a decent representation of how his time is spent.

 

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*I didn’t have the mental wherewithal to make a secondary pie chart dedicated to the Paw Patrol discussion breakdown, but in the name of data accuracy, I’d say that Marshall and Chase take up a fair amount of his mental bandwidth. Along with the ever-tiresome Mayor Humdinger. When will they write him off? Even my toddler can predict his bullshit.

 

Sometime this year, my son finally started sleeping through the night on an almost-regular basis. Just in time for him to waver on napping! The nap he so clearly needs is now his fight song, filled daily with various negotiations that really require a professional mediator because it’s a cause, on opposite sides, over which we’re both willing to fall on our respective swords. (His sword is, of course, BPA-free plastic.)

And for all of his decisive and stubborn views all day long about which color bowl the cereal will be served in to which variation of his four McQueens will accompany us to the grocery store (“NOT THAT ONNNNNNNE”), he is all about affection on demand.

“Mommy, I want to come see you” is not some far away cry from another room to get me into his field of vision. It is often stated from right at my feet and, properly translated, means “Pick me up. I am emotionally spent from everything in my little head and I need a break up there by you.”

The hugs follow, but only after he asks me to move my hair out of the way. Always on the same side. Always in the same crook of my neck.

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This perch on my hip that he seeks out when he is fried is perhaps the best bridge between his baby self and him growing up a little. The demands and articulation are not that of a baby, but the end result of being held and comforted and rocked, maybe even to sleep every once in a blue moon, keeps his babyhood close to my heart.

This year brought so many other changes for him, like hitting the pre-school routine and a Celiac diagnosis, both of which he handled much better than I did. He has held onto some of his favorite things from last year, like his loyalty to Thomas and the Island of Sodor, but he fills his chatter with whatever he hears around him as well — like borderline-inappropriate phrases from his nine year-old brother, as well as a glossary of baked goods that his sister teaches him in her Food Network addiction. He is always in his siblings’ orbits at home, getting in the mix and just trying to keep up. He sees them off to school every day and insists on busting out of his stroller at pick-up to greet them, all while chatting with the other moms like he’s on some PTO committee. His own personality is clearly emerging, and every day it’s really fantastic to get a more of a view into who he will become.

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This last child of mine holds my heart in a way that perhaps nobody else could. It doesn’t mean I love him more than my other children, but I know that love makes me hold onto his baby days a little longer and tighter.

Even without the wine in my head, it makes me sad that we won’t have a two year-old again. But that’s OK.

Happy third birthday to my sweet, sweet baby.

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