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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The Road to Perfection Fell Off My Map

Failed perfectionists, unite! I have your summer beach reading right here!

Oh, wait. Unless your kids are coming to the beach with you. Because then you’ll be too busy chasing them down to slather on sunscreen, fielding their snack requests, and hauling 68.8492 metric tons of provisions with you for a wholly enjoyable seaside afternoon that feels like the opposite of a vacation situation.

So, maybe forget the beach reading idea and save the book for the 12 minutes of consciousness you have on the couch each night after the kids go to bed. That way, you can extend your reading pleasure for months.

Lately, my kids have been making more and more comments about me not having a job. I find it ironic, if not wholly insulting, that I am usually buried under twelve laundry piles while simultaneously changing a diaper and calling out spelling words for tomorrow’s quiz as I defend my full-time occupation. And so I tried to explain that, in addition to my all-consuming domestic gig, my sometimes-job is to write.

This makes them tilt their heads, fully unaware of this blog’s existence that has documented some of their best and worst moments. And mine {which are mostly driven by them}.

In my daydreams, my sometimes-job as a writer gets upgraded to full-time status with a magical salary, a cult-like following and an unbelievably slimming gown for me to wear on the Oscar red carpet to watch the screen adaptation of my acclaimed novel(s) sweep the awards season circuit. I’m thinking perhaps something in a rich midnight blue or even the navy palate, but we’ll have to see what’s trending that year.

But back under my laundry pile, this sometimes-writer has been incredibly lucky to be included in some fantastic anthologies with groups of very funny and talented women. Each time I’m selected to be in another book, I’m both completely incredulous and extremely grateful.

Today, there’s a new one out. How great is that?

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Yep — it’s the latest installment in the I Just Want to Pee Alone (the New York Times Best Seller — which, come on, of course I’m going to slip in anywhere I can in perpetuity) series!

What’s that you say? You, too, have tried and failed numerous times as a mom to do too much, to overachieve, make it all work? Yeah, so have we, and we’re here to tell you how badly we fucked it up.

And by we, I mean this fine list of writers:

Jen Mann – People I Want to Punch in the Throat / I Just Want to Pee Alone

Bethany Kriger Thies – Bad Parenting Moments

Deva Nicole Dalporto – MyLifeSuckers

Julianna Wesby Miner – Rants From Mommyland

LOLA LOLITA  – SammichesPsychMeds / MockMom

Kim Bongiorno – Let Me Start By Saying

Alyson Herzig – The Shitastrophy

Kathryn Leehane – Foxy Wine Pocket

Harmony Hobbs – Modern Mommy Madness

Erin Dwyer Dymowski – Sisterhood of the Sensible Moms

Tara Wood – Love Morning Wood

Kelcey Kintner – The Mama Bird Diaries

Lisa René LeClair – Sassypiehole

Joelle Wisler – Joelle Wisler, Writer

Christine McDevitt Burke – Keeper of The Fruit Loops

Meredith Spidel – The Mom of the Year

Meredith Gordon – Bad Sandy

Nicole Leigh Shaw – NicoleLeighShaw.com

Allison Hart – Motherhood, WTF?

Jennifer Lizza – Outsmarted Mommy

Suzanne Fleet – Toulouse and Tonic

AK Turner – Vagabonding with Kids

Robyn Welling – Hollow Tree Ventures

Ashley Fuchs – The Malleable Mom

Kim Forde – The Fordeville Diaries

E.R. Catalano – Zoe vs. the Universe

Chrissy Woj – Quirky Chrissy

Stacey Gill – One Funny Motha

Wendi Aarons – wendiaarons.com

Jen Simon – jensimonwriter.com

Janel Mills – 649.133: Girls, the Care and Maintenance Of.

Jessica Azar – Herd Management

Susanne Kerns –The Dusty Parachute

Audrey Hayworth – Sass Mouth

Hedia Anvar – Gunmetal Geisha

Christine Organ – christineorgan.com

Shya Gibbons – ShyaGibbons

 

That’s a lot of fantastic imperfection, right? As in, you just got the urge to curl up with a good book over the holiday weekend and let the kids watch a movie in another room/floor/universe so that you enjoy the failure of others in silence?

I know how you feel.

Well, don’t let me stop you.

For the Amazon/Kindle/I-must-have-it-ASAP Prime set, here you go.

Barnes and Noblers/Nook folks, please find us here.

 

I hope you’ll pick up/download a copy. And I hope you’ll remember that there’s a profound joy in knowing that someone else screwed up worse than you did.

We can prove it.

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Glutenus Minimus

We recently got back from Disney World, and you’ll be happy to hear that I will spare you from a  recap of my Neurosis Level 10 Planning Spectacular (which was, I have to say, my best WDW performance yet). I thought of everything and packed accordingly.

Oh, wait – with one caveat: I did not plan for a toddler who would projectile vomit, almost daily, all over Disney property.

Let me back up.

Like his brother and sister before him, my youngest child was a super chubby baby. He had giant cheeks, along with rolls in his forearms and cankles that required dedicated bathing inspections. At every check up, he was consistently in the 90th or above percentile for height and weight. I produce large kids.

In the last few months, he started to lose his future Olympian rugby player stature and seemed to thin out a little. It seemed to happen a bit younger for him than it did for his siblings, but the truth is that my mom brain is so fried that I couldn’t remember those exact comparative details.

So when I took him to his 2.5 year check up in December, I was pretty surprised to learn he had lost four pounds since June. Four pounds! My pediatrician didn’t believe it – literally – and said it must’ve been an error on the nurse’s part at his previous weigh-in, but of course I was concerned. He was due to have routine blood work and a state-mandated lead test anyway, so I asked the doctor if maybe we should just throw in a Celiac blood panel. He agreed it couldn’t hurt.

I had seen a version of this movie before, three years ago, when my oldest was six and stopped growing for a year. Because my mother has Celiac Disease and it has a genetic component, we ran the blood test on him. His numbers were slightly elevated, but the endoscopy (the decisive way to diagnose it) was clearly negative.

So we had been down this road before and I was sort of expecting the same outcome.

Wish denied.

My pediatrician called me with the blood test results and said that my youngest son’s numbers were off the charts positive for Celiac. In fact, they were ten times higher than what my oldest son had registered. And so, back to the pediatric GI specialist we went and scheduled the endoscopy for a few weeks out – it didn’t seem urgent – after our return from Florida.

And then, the vomiting began.

It was sporadic at first, like once every few weeks. Then maybe once every week or ten days. I honestly did not think it had a gluten correlation in the beginning because we were firmly in The Season of 12 Million Random Viral Things Going Around. I also wondered if he maybe was having trouble with lactose sensitivity or if his endless runny nose/phlegm was making him gag. But he had no other symptoms. He’d projectile vomit, with no warning, and then instantly be 100% fine afterward.

Hmmmm.

We didn’t think it would be an issue on our trip because it was happening fairly infrequently. Yes, we were concerned, but in the absence of any other symptoms, we sort of chalked him up to one of those toddlers who randomly vomits now and then.

Now and then suddenly became every 24-72 hours in the days before our departure. We began to suspect gluten as the culprit but would not have answers until the endoscopy, so off we went to Florida.

Then the travel gods had lunch with karma, or something like that, and decided that we hadn’t had a good old Fordeville vacation shitshow in a while.

And on five of the eight days at Disney World, he threw up.

In the hotel hallway. At Be Our Guest. On Main Street USA. In his crib on the Mickey sheets.

The good news is that nobody outside of our family even blinked. Not once. It was either Disney Magic or everyone is used to some level of sick traveling kids. So, thanks, fellow Spring Breakers, for not making us feel worse than we already did. Because we felt fucking awful about it.

At that point, we pretty firmly believed this was a gluten issue but here’s where the really horrible part comes in: To have the endoscopy (which was within a week at this point) be conclusive, you need to keep the child on gluten so the true damage can be seen during the test. So that felt painful to inflict upon him. We kept extra clothes for him and tons of wipes on hand at all times. Also, I bet you didn’t know the Disney poncho had an alternate use, did you?

I joke but it wasn’t funny to see how quickly this was escalating. After each episode, he was completely fine and it did not stop him from enjoying our trip. But, had we known how frequently it was going to  occur, we may have postponed.

Two days after we returned home, we brought him in for his 7am endoscopy and basically knew what we were going to hear. The GI specialist was going to tell us her findings from what she could see through the scope, but she would also biopsy some of the tissue – and we would need to wait for those results to come back to get a definite diagnosis.

I don’t know about you, but putting kids under anesthesia really makes me irrationally upset and nervous. I don’t like seeing them go forcibly to sleep, or watching their little bodies go limp once the medication takes hold. Because my son has terrible veins, the anesthesiologist warned me that they’d need to first put him out with a gas mask and then do the IV once he was sedated. They let us go into the procedure room with him for the anesthesia portion, to provide comfort, but I find that so, so hard to watch.

Thankfully, it all went off without a hitch and we had him awake and eating lemon ice about 40 minutes later. We were in the same exact room where my older son sat after his endoscopy and it was all very deja vu. Children’s hospitals are truly amazing places filled with wonderful, nurturing people who know every trick in the book to keep kids (and moms) at ease. It did not escape me for a single minute how lucky we were to be there in an outpatient capacity, while so many families spend significant time there with chronically ill children. Despite the circumstances, I felt lucky beyond measure.

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The doctor told us she saw damage consistent with Celiac and that we should expect a positive biopsy. She left it up to us if we wanted to start eliminating the gluten right away or wait for a firm diagnosis. We had anticipated this conversation and bought a few gluten free staples for the house, and so we just went ahead there and then with taking the gluten out of his diet in hopes of stemming the vomiting – which we were told could take weeks.

That was twelve days ago and our son has not thrown up since. His appetite has increased significantly. In fact, I’m sure that some of the food issues we were seeing recently with fussiness and refusal had to do with how crappy he felt and how he was unable to express that to us. Sure, he still has age-appropriate pickiness but the full-on hunger strikes seem to have diminished. I honestly didn’t think we would see an improvement like this so soon. His color even looks better. On Friday, his pre-school teacher told me he is smiling more. I’m so glad he’s on the mend, but I’m also so upset by how awful he must have been feeling before this and how long it went undetected.

But, onward and upward.

My friends all give me a sympathetic groan of “Uggghhh” when I tell them we have to keep him gluten free. It seems like a pain in the ass. Honestly, I’m not upset about it – and I’m rarely a look-on-the-bright-side person. The truth is this: He is two years old. His unsophisticated palate consists of about seven foods. He will never remember the difference. And there are so many GF products out there now.

Also: This is totally manageable and he is getting healthier, so it’s all fine.

My mom was diagnosed back in 2004 with Celiac, which was basically the Dark Ages of Gluten Free Anything. She was in her 50s and had to change her entire way of eating from everything she’d ever known. At that time, she had to make a lot of it from scratch, as the products were so few and far between. The gluten free presence in restaurants was unheard of. And yet, she has always been unwaveringly diligent about keeping gluten out of her body, down to cross-contamination threats. And so, of course she is a tremendous resource to us right now (and her soft spot for her youngest grandchild probably increased about 4000% in GF solidarity). Now, it seems that everyone knows someone who is gluten free for one reason or another, and I have gotten so much helpful advice and sincere offers for assistance in navigating this path.

Will our whole house go gluten free? Probably not. I’m definitely concerned about keeping the cross-contamination down from my older two kids, but that’s manageable. My husband has a certifiable addiction to most foods with gluten, so I don’t think he’s ready to have the pillar of his food pyramid taken away from him. Yet.

My older kids have to be re-tested for Celiac in light of their brother’s diagnosis. I have to be tested, too. So we’ll see how all of that nets out.

For now, I’m just glad to not have cleaned up vomit in a while. I’m glad my sweet boy is feeling better. And I’m glad that gluten free cookies don’t taste so bad.

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The Hunger Games, Toddler Edition

Political freedom.

Religious persecution.

— Probably not the reasons why my son is on a hunger strike.

 

Protesting the Paw Patrol plot line.

Hates all food.

Control.

— Could be the reasons.

 

 

Determining my breaking point.

Testing boundaries.

Being two.

— Most likely the reasons.

 

Kids are picky, I get it. Toddlers can be a huge pain in the ass, I know. Palates evolve. Things change.

WHATEVER. WHY WON’T THIS KID EAT?

This is my third child. I’ve been to the bullshit meal rodeo before. I’ve seen my older two kids refuse food for bizarre and wildly inconsistent reasons. But I’ve never had a kid who just refused to eat on a semi-regular basis.

It’s got to be a phase, right?

It would be easier if the demands and aversions were predictable or followed some kind of pattern. I now know that would be too easy. That would not flex my parenting muscles to their maximum potential. That would not take me to the brink of insanity enough times in a day. That would not test just how far my wine stash will go.

Consider these two scenarios:

A) “Mommy, noooooooo! I don’t want pasta! No pastaaaa!”

or

B) “Mommy, pasta please! I want pasta! Pasta, pasta, pasta! Pasta with butter and cheese! Now please the pasta Mommmmy! NO NO NO NO NO NO NO MOMMMMMMY I DON’T WANT THISSSSSS PASTAAAAAA!”

My child specializes in Scenario B.

I could work with A. No pasta? OK, cool. We’ll move on. But this “Gimme, gimme, gimme this now don’t you fucking dare put that in front of me” approach has me off of my game.

I hear it in my head, all of the parenting advice:

  • Don’t be a short order cook.
  • Provide options.
  • Don’t make food a battle.
  • Just go with it.
  • He’ll eat when he’s hungry.
  • This too shall pass.

It’s like a simultaneous cacophony of bad clichés that contradict each other in the moment when you just want your kid to eat something. And when you don’t want to feel like your day is controlled by preparing food that repeatedly ends up in the trash.

Today my son took his “I want pasta/go to hell pasta” game to new heights by opening the pantry, pulling out a box of Kraft mac & cheese, insisting this was his “green pasta” (that veggie pasta) and yelling that he wants it. Not cooked. Not warm. Out of the box. Hard macaroni noodles.

“Donnnnn’t cook ittttttt. Noooooo.”

Seriously, kid? No. Just no.

I would’ve had more energy and patience to handle this scenario at 10:33am if I had not just recovered from the breakfast battlefield a mere hour ago. The one where he refused, like his life depended on it, the very same waffle he had requested a third helping of just a day prior.

Fine. No waffle.

But hard macaroni out of the box? Come on. I don’t need a dental reconstruction bill on top of this. It’s like a bad GEICO commercial.

This is the child who used to eat almost everything. Eggs. Veggies. Fish. Chicken. Cereal.

Now? This is the current comprehensive list of what he MAY ingest without a fight if the moon is full and the planets align and the garbage truck is driving by at precisely 7:04am.

  • Yogurt drinks
  • Cheerios (Multigrain, 3-9 pieces, total, but not the dark ones)
  • Waffle (edges trimmed, NO TOPPINGS OF ANY KIND)
  • Pancake (chocolate chip only – because, duh, that’s like having a cookie, which of course makes the cut)
  • Strawberries (unless there are too many bumps on them)
  • Banana (but not this week, no way in hell)
  • Grilled cheese (only if prepared by my husband)
  • Pasta (see above, kill me)
  • Bagel (cut into small pieces, with butter, heated but not toasted)
  • Chicken parm from the Italian place up the street (note: not plain chicken nuggets, not plain breaded cutlets made at home, but only the chicken parm from this one place, and only after the cheese has been removed and most of the sauce has been scraped off – thereby rendering it to be uncannily similar to said breaded cutlets I prepared at home for 1/17th of the cost)

In its entirety, it’s not a terrible list. But it’s important to understand what I’ve come to see as a few ground rules in his toddler mind.

  • Only 1-2 items on this list will be tolerated in a 24 hour period. Max.
  • Just because I ate it yesterday does not mean I will put up with it today. It’s a whole new game every day, lady. Can you bring it?
  • Don’t you know that reverse psychology doesn’t work on the youngest child? I see what you’re doing and you sound like a jackass, Mom. I called your bluff like 15 minutes ago.
  • I’ve been watching my older siblings and I know how to stand my ground. I can hold out way longer than you bargained for. Sooooo, if you want to get me down for a post-lunch nap before we pick the other two up from school, you’re running out of time. Your move.
  • If you’re going to write about this on your blog, at least mention that I’m good with puzzles and am probably the best hugger in the history of toddlers.
  • Can you move to the left a bit? I can’t see the TV.

This too shall pass.

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This too shall pass.

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This too shall pass.

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Right?

(When?)

 

 

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The Stranger

In the spirit of not being misleading, let me first tell you that the title of today’s post does not, unfortunately, refer to the very fine 1977 Billy Joel album of the same name. Nor is it a recap of the Camus novel that tortured so many of us in high school English class as we wondered why we had to study existentialism.

Nope. Today we will instead be discussing the psychological horror story that is unfolding in my house, courtesy of my two year-old.

Just for context, I’m a complete and total wimp when it comes to scary movies/stories and anything involving the supernatural. I don’t want to hear your ghost stories and I’m always the one covering my eyes during film scenes that most 10 year-olds can handle. I regularly change the channel just to avoid movie previews that I deem too terrifying. Because I like my sleep when I can get it.

I am spooked beyond easily, to say the absolute least.

And so, when my toddler recently started talking about the stranger in his bedroom, the series of strokes that I had can best be described as consecutive and chilling.

It started about a month or two ago, when he clearly told me that there is a stranger in his room. He said it very matter-of-factly, as he gestured toward the window. My first guess was maybe we had been confusing him by using the baby monitor’s “voice of God” feature when we talk through its speaker to tell him to go to sleep. The monitor is perched right above his window, and so I was able to stave off any cardiac event on my part while convincing my husband that must be what he’s talking about.

No.

“The stranger is in my window.”

Whaaaaaat?

I’d point to the monitor above the window, desperately insisting to him that must be what he means. And each time, he’d distinctly tell me that, no, it wasn’t there. It was outside the window. He’d walk over to the glass and point.

OhsweetJesuswhat?

First of all, this child does not know or use the word “stranger” in any context at the age of two. It has zero usefulness in his vocabulary right now and it’s not something I’d ever heard him say before. But, for argument’s sake, let’s just say he knew the word. How in the world would he know to use it that way?

Or, this way: When, soon afterwards, on certain nights as we’d head up the stairs to his room at bedtime, he’d say, “I’m scared to go in my room. The Stranger is in there.”

Smelling salts, please.

Without fail, he would say these things when my husband was away or arriving home late from work, and so I had to play the role of the calm and rational adult who would reassure this baby that everything was fine and there was no stranger in his room. While I died four million internal deaths and drank giant glasses of wine to calm my nerves. I absolutely deserve complete recognition from the Academy for my performance as an un-terrified person capable of parenting under duress in a leading role.

My husband, ever the engineer, king of due diligence and keeper of rational thinking, decided that hysteria wasn’t the answer and clearly there had to be a reasonable explanation. After his analysis, he decided that the peak above our front door created a shadow in our son’s room at night that could resemble the shape of a head. He was convinced this must be the root of The Stranger’s existence.

That’s all you got? Really? A fucking window peak that looks nothing like a head or a person or anything?

I was skeptical, to say the least. But with a clear lack of alternative explanations and a dwindling white wine supply, I was willing to buy into it to save my sanity.

Until last week.

“Mommy, The Stranger was talking to me in my room.”

OK, WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK? LET’S JUST BURN THE FUCKING HOUSE DOWN BECAUSE I CAN’T GO ON LIVING HERE AND ARE YOU EVEN KIDDING ME WITH THIS SHIT RIGHT NOW?

External reply: “What, now, honey? Who was talking to you? And where?”

Him: “The Stranger was talking to me.” {gestures to window as I try not to pass out}

Look, my house was built in 1909. Don’t think that, in my ongoing and perpetual terror of all things otherworldly, it never crossed my mind that a house with some age under its beams could have some ghostly factor to it. And trust me when I tell you, if it existed, I would have heard/seen/felt/fallen prey to it by now. Because I am that afraid and paranoid of this shit. Yes, it creaks and makes weird noises at inopportune hours, but I can honestly say that I never got a creepy vibe in the six years we’ve lived here. My daughter had this room as her own for a few years before her brother arrived and there was none of this nonsense. But now, my adorable and innocent little ghost whisperer is freaking me the hell out.

My husband did another in-room analysis and concluded that The Stranger talking was really the hissing radiator in the night. Ummm, OK? Maybe? I’ll go with that for now, because I don’t really want to start taking blood pressure meds in my 40s. But do you think I’m sold? Do you think a little hissing heater really makes sense when my boy’s sweet face looks me dead in the eye and just tells me like it’s a textbook fact that someone is fucking talking to him in the night? I don’t know, guys.

So, what’s a terrified mom to do?

Our house isn’t covered for arson, so Plan A is out. I would move him, but we don’t have any spare bedrooms, so that’s not working either.

He’s not crying or distressed by this. Apart from a few passing references to being scared of The Stranger, it really seems like a very minor thing to him. As opposed to, say, the supernatural cloud of doom/potential future Lifetime movie that it is to me.

And, to be clear, I do not want your “my toddler-also-sees/hears-a-ghost” stories in the comments here, unless it’s all happy and your ghost is now helping with the laundry and groceries. I’m not looking for evidence that some fucked up shit is happening here. I don’t want supernatural solidarity. If you are my friends, like I hope you are, you will comment only with an alternate and plausible explanation of my son’s claims that is rooted in this world. You will not reference Poltergeist or The Sixth Sense, or any other film with children and spirits. Consider yourselves part of Team Denial. Please and thank you.

In the meantime, I’ll be here with my giant wine glass, combing the Internet for a new house or an exorcist.

 

 

stranger_window

 

 

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I’m 82 in Ski Years

Skiing is one of those sports that seems like a great idea as a family pursuit in the long run, but requires a good amount of gear, expense, organization and whining management skills upfront.

This past weekend, we packed up the kids, 5.6 million metric tons of stuff, and off we went. We had originally planned this trip for the long Presidents’ Day weekend but the temperatures in the Northeast at that time were in the I-don’t-fucking-think-so range (around -25, give or take a frostbitten, amputated extremity). So we held out for early March and hoped for more survivable conditions.

I had a plan for this trip. And, like most of the scant plans in my life, whether or not it was going to work or fail was an utter crapshoot.

The mission was two-fold:

1) Get my older two kids skiing. Legitimately skiing. They have taken periodic lessons here and there, but never with enough frequency or intensity to make any real progress past the magic carpet or carving out the largest pizza pie that their little legs could handle without snapping off. The mountain we were visiting this past weekend was billed as extremely family-friendly, with a big focus on the kids. And so, I signed them up for two straight days of ski school, at six hours per day. For those of you keeping track at home and using Common Core Math, that is the equivalent of 39.2447 daily complaints about boot discomfort, a layer of clothing being bothersome or general discontent. Per kid.

2) Get my ski legs back under me. I grew up skiing and continued into my mid-20s. I was never an expert but could hold my own on most trails. I stopped after a crazy mishap with a tight rental boot landed me a blood clot back in 2003, and then I eventually had kids and just never picked it back up. Thirteen years went by until January of this year, when I finally got back to it, with a clear goal: just survive (aiming high, as always). Now I wanted to see if I could actually get some decent form back. In addition to my body cooperating with this mission, it was also contingent on the two year-old agreeing to hang out in the mountain’s day care center for a few hours.

Let’s just say that the odds were stacked against me on both fronts.

Then, for reasons I can’t explain and that probably fall in the supernatural realm, the tide started to turn in my favor. The late winter weather was gorgeous – nobody was going to perish from exposure. We got the older two kids layered up and into their ski boots with minimal complaints. The toddler offered only a minor protest at the notion of the day care, easily solved by a “Paw Patrol” episode.

And so, it was 9:36am on Friday and we had managed to get all three kids settled into their respective settings that did not involve us supervising them in any capacity. We looked around as if incredulous or clearly the victims of a reality show prank, and then sealed the deal with a high five, as only the over-40 dork set does.

If I’m being honest, the first thing that crossed my mind after this miraculous drop-off trifecta was to just go back to the room and take a nap. Simply because I could. Quickly reminded by both my husband and my unflattering ski pants of the real reason we were there, I soldiered on and made my way over to the chair lift.

When we reached the top and approached the trail map, my eyes went directly to any and all green on the map. I wanted the easiest way down. In fact, I followed signage that actually said “Easiest way down the mountain.”

No matter, I thought. It was our first run.

But, no. The green trails and I were as thick as thieves. Could I do the blue ones? Yes. Did I? Some. But I quickly realized that I am now the spry old age of 82 in Ski Years. My style can best be described as tentative and generally paranoid. My mission? Do not get hurt, do not get hurt, do not get hurt, which I chanted in my head at regular intervals down the hill.

I wanted the least amount of ice, the gentlest slope and as few tween snowboarding daredevils as possible within a 12 mile radius. I had become the skiing equivalent of “Get off my lawn,” as I scowled at any whippersnappers under the age of 20 who flew by and put my life and limb in danger.

Now, the problem with my newfound geriatric approach is that I had skied with my husband back when I was in my 20s and we were dating. At that time, I was probably trying to impress him, or just generally didn’t give a shit about my well being or how a body cast would impede me from driving a minivan. He remembers these days fondly and suggested a few “easy” black diamond trails that he felt I could still handle. It didn’t help that, in the ongoing and great injustice of being married to him, he is able to pick up any activity he hasn’t done in years and just excel at it. Sonofabitch. So he was all swish, swish, swish and I was talking to myself as I tried to maintain both general control and all of my limbs.

I did get my ski legs back over the course of the weekend and managed to do a pretty good job for a 40-something mom who was way out of practice. But my approach is just different now. I’m all senior citizen, all the time. If AARP is looking for a sponsorship opportunity on my helmet, they should totally call me. I don’t want the stress or the speed or the jumps. I want to cruise down the pretty little slopes and not worry about bodily harm. And I want a spot on the Olympic Apres Ski Team.

apres ski

Oh, and I want ski pants that make my ass look better. Even if I’m 82.

{And how has nobody improved the ski boot experience? We can put a man on the moon and cure horrible diseases, and yet we still require footwear for this sport that distinctly resembles a medieval torture device. Can someone get on this, please?}

Back at the day care, the toddler hung tight and probably binge-watched all three seasons of “Paw Patrol” in our absence. But that’s OK. His vision is slowly coming back into focus now that we’ve been home for a few days.

And finally, circling back to the first part of my mission, here’s how it went at the kids’ lessons while we seriously upped our apres ski game (because it’s important to condition and build endurance over time): They had graduated from the magic carpet to the chair lift, which seemed unfathomable to me. And the next day, from the novice lift to the big one that goes to the summit. Basically, by the end of the weekend, they were skiing the same runs as their 82 year-old mother.

ski kids

Now that I’m back home – operating the minivan without any detectable fractures and wearing sensible shoes that don’t make me want to cry – I’m glad we went. I’m excited that 4/5 of us can enjoy skiing together. And I’m 100% sure that I’ll be the slowest one in the group from now on.

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Speaking of mountains and general outdoorsy-ness, just a quick footnote to follow up on my last post about the NJ vs Colorado Pressure Cooker Decision Weekend. Even though we loved Colorado and we live in a state that has birthed a million punch lines, we’re staying put. 

 

 

 

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To Leap or Not to Leap?

Today is Leap Day and so it’s fitting that I tell you about the events of the last five days.

Do you do well with making important decisions? I mean really big ones — beyond how many times to nuke that cup of coffee before giving up and realizing it’s a symbol for how your day will unfold.

Big, important decisions are hard. I am fortunate that I haven’t had to make too many of them in my life. You know who hates decision-making a lot? My husband. Not everyday decisions or business decisions – those are easy for him. But the ones with huge ranges of gray? Yes. He is a man of science who embraces the pragmatics of a solid pro/con list. When a decision transcends these logical parameters, he would really rather take the wait-it-out approach. I would offer you an example, but you probably don’t want to hear about the infamous dating-for-five-years-but-still-not-engaged period of our lives right now.

And so, when he was extended an offer for a new job this past Wednesday, our regular old week  got interesting very quickly. Wow, a new job for him. One that he would love. Wow, it’s all the way in Colorado. That’s sort of far. WOW, he was given five days to make a decision. Whaaaat?

Then he was asked if we wanted to get on a plane and check it out over the weekend.

Uh, yes.

I’ve been to Colorado before, but only for skiing and not in a very long time. If I was going to move my family, we needed to go and spend some time there to make an informed decision.

And so, I assembled a true patchwork of child care from various family members (all of whom are owed huge gestures of thanks spun in gold), rearranged all of our weekend commitments and got on a plane Friday afternoon. This happened to be our wedding anniversary, and so what appeared on Facebook to be a photo of a last-minute romantic getaway was actually us taxiing to a pressure cooker situation and whirlwind tour of our potential future home base.

CO-bound

All weekend long, I felt a lot like I was on a reality show but one where the cameras must have been hidden. The premise of the show was “Hey, spend a weekend only with your spouse, in a city you’ve never visited. Now, find your way around a new area, locate the housing and school possibilities and discuss the entire future of your family before coming home with a decision in 48 hours. Go!” It was somewhere between House Hunters and The Amazing Race. It needs a more concise title and I have a few draft ideas I’m working through before I pitch the whole concept to the cable networks.

And so, my husband and I drove around like it was our job. We met with realtors and with friends of friends who live in the area to give us some perspective and advice. We stared at stunning mountains and bike trails and soaked in 70 degree weather in February. We thought about what it would be like to move our family from its Northeast roots to an area where we have not a single family member.

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And we wavered. We took turns saying whether the right thing was to stay or to go.

  • Do we want a new adventure?
  • Could we take the kids so far from their grandparents? 
  • How often would we be able to fly home to visit?
  • Are we happy where we live now?

{In short: yes, ouch, unclear and mostly but not entirely.}

I happen to love the Northeast but I’m also acutely aware of the fact that it’s the only part of the country I’ve ever lived in. I’ve traveled all over the world but my home base and center of gravity have always been in this area. The town where we live now is quaint and lovely and has so much of what I could ever ask for. Sure, I get fed up with some of the social dynamics and of course there are women in my mom orbit who make me crazy, but that would happen anywhere. But, sometimes, there is some appeal to just picking up and starting over somewhere else.

Plenty of people are lifelong movers, maybe for job purposes or perhaps just as wanderers of the world. Lots of folks live far from their extended families. And many stick close to their roots and to those in their tightest circle. Neither way is wrong – but what was right for us? It was truly the first time it had ever come up in a real-life, concrete scenario.

And that scenario drove the course of our weekend. In between getting lost and figuring out maps and school districts and counting how many Whole Foods one can actually put in a ten-mile radius, we sat down to great meals and cocktails and, funnily enough, had a fabulously unexpected getaway weekend. It wasn’t vacation by any stretch, but it was uninterrupted time on a mutual mission. And the question that loomed over us forced us to have some very real conversations about expectations and hopes and challenges for our family.

I was left wondering about leaps of faith and how they differ for people.

Many would go. The adventure, the newness, the sheer opportunity and of course the job.

Many would stay. The proximity to family, eliminating the uncertainty, the comfort what is already known.

Of course, there’s a lot more to all of this, and I won’t bore you with the 6.3 million dynamics and nuances at play. And my intention is not really to have the decision made by committee anyway, but more to bring my cortisol levels down to human levels by writing about it now that we’re back home.

After dissecting and re-dissecting all of the back-and-forth all weekend, I realized that the question was broader than I thought: Was the leap of faith to go or to stay? To face a new place or to pass it up and see what the future brings here at home?

Some people are excellent decision-makers under duress. And some feel like they just survived a reality show as they cross the finish line and hope they did everything they could to make the right choice.

Stay tuned for the outcome.

 

CO-mountains

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Pimp My Ride (2.0)

As parents, we make many important decisions that impact our families.

  • Which foods should we buy organic?
  • How much screen time should our kids get?
  • How many days in a row is too many to wear my favorite yoga pants?
  • Is the Pottery Barn Kids toy kitchen worth the price of a mortgage payment?
  • And which car should I drive?

The car decision is not one to take lightly. Given the amount of time I spend in my vehicle with my kids, it’s practically like buying a second home. One where everyone is forced to share a room while tethered into position.

And so, as my lease is about to expire, I find myself giving some very serious thought to this decision. I’m pretty sure I want to stay in a minivan situation. It feels right, like my formal identification card for living in the suburbs with three kids. I know, it’s not very cool, is it? That’s ok, neither am I. I’ve never been a trendsetter, and I have the mid-80s New Jersey yearbook photos to prove it.  Plus, if I let my cars define me, then what we should really be discussing is that my first vehicle was a 1986 Monte Carlo.

And I like the minivan, truthfully. It’s like my little kingdom on wheels. With three kids under nine, it serves a certain cargo-meets-I-give-up-on-style vibe that really speaks to me. All that’s really missing is one of those stickers with the family stick figures. That, or a bumper sticker that aligns Common Core Math with Satan.

But the question at hand is: Can I find the upgrades I really need?

And that’s where the search gets challenging.  What do you fellow parents think of some of these features I’m hoping for?

car-shopping

The Extending Limb Feature.  Mom, I dropped my {book, shoe, cup, etc}.  Mom, can you hand me my {book, shoe, cup, etc.}?  Mom, I need to put my mittens on. Mom, do you have any snacks? Mom, what kind of snacks? Mommmmmm?  Since my kids think of me as a mobile concierge and grand buffet server, I need to make this easier, and I honestly can’t believe that what has been done with pneumatic tubing in the drive-through banking world can’t be replicated in the domestic driving environment.  In the meantime, I need an extending robotic arm that can retrieve and distribute said items with precision and safety.  Also, when the Crisis Mode button is activated, the Extended Limb Feature can gently swat a misbehaving kid on the head who is seated in the third row — all without me taking my eyes off the road.

 

The Time Suspension Feature.  So, this may be out of our price range but it’s a worthwhile investment. I don’t know about you, but by the time I get my kids and their stuff to school each the morning, I fully expect the entire crew of The Amazing Race to be there greeting me.  And on the rare occasion when we are early for something, my kids immediately suspect that the activity has been canceled – because there is no other plausible explanation in their minds as to why we would be there first. So, on any of the 361 days a year I am running late, I would simply enable the Time Suspension feature, which would set all clocks back to a desired interval in order for me to appear to be on time. It’s like the Flux Capacitor, but without the pesky plutonium component and the Huey Lewis background music.

 

The Music Ban Feature.  Speaking of music, it’s a cruel reality but certain overplayed artists make me want to hit a tree and are, therefore, unsafe for my driving experience.  With this feature, my car will pre-emptively detect and block any and all Kidz Bop music for starters, followed by Adele. (YES, ADELE. I know, you all lovvvvve her but it’s just not safe to weep and drive. If you must listen, at least Uber.) I will add to this list of songs and artists over time as safety dictates. It’s sort reminiscent of the greatest scam I’ve pulled on my kids to date, when I had them believing for a full year that our minivan’s TV screen was actually only for GPS navigation. This was followed by my Best Actress in a Leading Domestic Role nomination, feigning utter shock and delight as they discovered we can watch DVDs on this thing. I’d like to thank the Academy for considering me.

 

The Snack Mold Disintegration Feature.  I noticed that one of the newer minivans now offers a central vacuum system, which is a good start. But still, there’s something about how the kids’ food just finds its way into the car’s nether regions and dies a slow death. You know how you find remnants of old snacks and — ohmygoodgod — sippy cups of milk tucked under the seats, maybe weeks later?  Don’t lie. You know you do. No worries.  My new car will swiftly locate such items and prevent mold from forming. Yes, it seems kind of science-y and, no, I did not technically pass high school Chemistry, but I’m going to leave the details to the experts. Why I’m not working in Vehicular Research & Development is a mystery to me.

 

And finally:

 The Husband Navigation Lock Feature.  It’s true that many cars have navigation systems, but do husbands ever use them?  Notsomuch. Their DNA forces them to resist.  So, what if the navigation was automatically locked in the ON position when the car detects your husband in the driver’s seat?  And, what if that navigation was programmed to a voice he would listen to?  I mean, he will tune out the annoying standard navigation voice – or, mine – but if, say, Bob Costas was giving him directions — he might actually stay on course. I know you want to carpool with me now, don’t you?

 

So that’s what I’m looking for in my next car. Just a few extra conveniences. I’m not sure why every dealership says I’m so picky.

I think, next time, I will take a car salesman out on a little two-hour test drive with my three kids during car pool — and then we’ll see if I’m still being unrealistic in my needs.

—–

 

 

{This is an updated version of an earlier post. The original Pimp My Ride ran the last time I was car shopping. I’ve learned more in the last three years about what I really need.}

 

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Summer Goal Failures

Well, hey there! I think we can kick this post right off with the obvious failure of keeping tumbleweeds off of my blog. It appears that I haven’t posted in about two months, which is a new low for me. And it’s not that I haven’t had anything to say – trust me. But apparently I was busy failing on multiple levels, so it was an equal opportunity summer.

My kids go back to school tomorrow and so now seems like a great time to list the many things I set to do over the last 11 weeks and failed.

Organization on any and all levels. This included sub-goals like clearing out junk drawers, donating old clothes and toys, and general removal of the ever-growing pile of clutter that seems to spread overnight like Gremlins that get wet. But since I’m only now clearing out the crap that was sent home on the last day of school in June, I think we can all agree that this didn’t quite work out. I have been toying with the idea of reading The Life-Changing Art of Tidying Up but I think it would depress me. And, frankly, it seems a lot easier to just use the kerosene-meets-match approach on the playroom at this point.

Kids’ outings. Oh, the places we’ll go! Or not. The kids and I had made a list of fun outings we should take this summer, like the zoo, a pirate cruise, mini golf and the aquarium. 0 for 4, friends, 0 for 4. Shit. But we did hit the library once and even returned all seven items on time-ish.

Growing food of some kind. If I’m being honest with myself, this was never going to fucking happen, mostly because people as ignorant as I am about gardening didn’t think to begin this process before, say, July. Score one for the farmer’s market.

Composting. My husband totally thinks I’m joking about this, but how hard could it be? I feel like this slop/trough situation was kind of made for us. Still, it needs to be done correctly and I never followed through and OMG do you see a pattern here? Next year, I’m on it. Probably.

Writing more. See above. Total failure. I could not have written less. I can’t even use consistent verb tenses in this post. The most typing I did all summer was my marathon texting session last week on The Day of the Teacher and Classroom Assignments.

Read a new book. I have one sitting on my night stand called The Fringe Hours, which is all about making time for yourself. I haven’t opened it. Do you want to call the Irony Police, or should I?

And there you have it. My summer failures seem to be abundant. But, really, why did I expect to get shit done when my kids were home way more than they weren’t? That was naive on my part.

But do allow me to point out what I did accomplish, because it’s not insignificant.

  • I expanded my summer wine roster by at least four new favorite bottles.
  • I went to the brand new Whole Foods alone on a Friday night.
  • I rediscovered, thanks to the miracle of Parental Amnesia, what it’s like to drag a headstrong (and gigantic) two year-old on all of my errands. Public tantrums: 20-40. And that was just me. He is a cross between an F5 tornado and a miniature rugby player. But at least I also built up my shoulders and arms in the process without hitting the gym.
  • I got the hell out of Dodge. Seriously. After two years of having a baby physically attached to me, he finally weaned and I decided to take a few long overdue trips. A dear friend, a sister overseas, a blog conference and perhaps more than your average evenings at U2’s latest tour. I took each of my two older kids on individual outings to spend time alone with them, sans Rugby Toddler. As a family, we spent time at the ocean and time in hotel rooms during hurricane-like conditions, and lots of time in the car getting to and from our various destinations. I spent time packing and unpacking and repacking, and I’m not going to complain one single bit about that because I’m grateful for all we got to see and do.

Oh wait, maybe I didn’t fail after all. Maybe it’s ok that I didn’t get the house organized or the vegetables home-grown or the books read or the blog maintained. Maybe the zoo and the pirate cruise and all of those things don’t matter because we had way too much sand in our toes and far too many hot dogs and ice cream cones. Maybe summer isn’t about all of that pesky productivity, even if my mental and physical house feel like a mess right now on the eve of school starting.

I have all year to get everything together.

Surrrrrrely, that will happen.

avalonkidsboat

 

avalonbeachdrinks

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