She’s Six

Last night, I put my daughter to bed and reminded her that it was her final night to be a five year-old. Of course, she already knew this, as her birthday countdown has been going on seemingly for months (that’s genetics at work, right there). She was, like most nights, engaged in a long internal debate about what outfit to choose for the next morning. As she considered the extensive pros and cons of one pink dress versus another for her big day, I asked her what she thought would be exciting about turning six.

“I’m not really sure. But at least I already know what I want to be when I grow up.”

“Oh really? Tell me.”

“I don’t want to work at Trader Joe’s anymore, like I did when I was five. But I still want to work in a bakery and a flower shop during the day and also watch my kids. I will visit my older brother at his job at the toy store on Fridays. And at night I will be a rock star.”

Welcome to the world of my newly-minted six year-old. It is a place of firm decisions, fantasy, curiosity and in-the-know. I would love to live there myself, but I’m not nearly cool enough.

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This child knows what she wants. She watches the world around her and takes in everything. There is no speaking in adult code around her. There is no “maybe she didn’t hear us” or “she won’t remember that.” Oh, no. She hears you (often from a sneaky perch at an unlikely distance), she gets it and then it is duly noted – filed away for her future use when you least expect it. Remember that time you made a wrong turn to get to gymnastics in 2013? No? Well, she does. It should come as no surprise that we sometimes call her Eyewitness News.

I wrote last year on her birthday about my concern that the innocence of her beloved princess phase might end soon. No worries – it turns out that Disney marketing runs deep and devotion dies hard, as she has insisted on sitting beside me to browse Pinterest all week for yet another unrealized interpretation of the princess birthday cake. That’s OK. I will take the princesses and fairy dust over whatever comes next, because it can’t possibly be as sweet and harmless. I’m happy we’ve been granted an extension for her to play in this world.

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The princess phase began at age 3.

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…and is still going strong this year.

Back in reality, she is my resident sous chef and Cooking Channel viewing companion. She has also positioned herself as a second mother to her two year-old brother. In fact, she pretty much thinks she plays the same role to her eight year-old brother. She is the rule enforcer, the resident cop and my extra set of eyes. Basically, she wants to be in the middle of everything.

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This year she went to full-day Kindergarten and was also thrilled to have her own after-school activities that didn’t involve her brothers. It seemed to me that she slowly realized she is her own person and not just a sibling to two boys. But that didn’t stop her from assuming every female role in her older brother’s Star Wars games.

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I don’t mean to make it sound like she’s all rainbows and sugar and no sass. There are battles of will multiple times each day – over shades of pink and purple and hair clips and which carbohydrate she would like to consume for her next meal. The same decisiveness that makes her a true go-getter also means there is a take-no-prisoners approach to daily Q&A sessions on everything from my parking job to how babies come out.

She is the only daughter I will ever have, and sometimes that reality really tugs at my heart, mostly because I know how much she would love a sister (but, no, sorry – see “ships that have sailed”). I think of how close I am with my mom and how that mother/daughter bond is so special and so complicated and tumultuous at times. It’s delicate and different to parent a daughter and sometimes all I can hope for is that I don’t completely screw it up.

Like every mother, I want her to have every shred of confidence in the world that she needs. I want her never to be the mean girl. I want her to not shy away from sports like I did. I want her to know that boys come and go, but good girlfriends are forever. I want her not to inherit my hang-ups. I want her to know that maybe you do need math in the real world, after all. And I want her to know that I will be here for the million other lessons she will need in her lifetime.

I want her to know that she can do anything. Although I suspect she is already on her way.

Happy 6th birthday to my sweet, sweet girl.

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June, You’re Killing Me a Little

Oh, June. Juuuuuune.

You are so full of promise, with your (mostly) warm temps, extended daylight hours and quickly approaching end of the school year.

But we have a few issues to sort out first, if we’re going to hang out together in the future.

Ceremonies: Whether it’s an actual graduation or a dance recital or just a gymnastics trophy ceremony, I’m running around town with the hope of a spare tissue in my bag. As much as I have wished and waited for these scheduled activities to wind down, the finality of each one shows just how big my kids have grown over the course of the year. I somehow made it through Kindergarten graduation’s “Pomp & Circumstance” without making a total slobbering spectacle of myself but only in the just-barely category. But do me a favor and just look away when we attend my son’s Author Day presentation later this week and the teacher fires up the year-end slideshow. Especially if she sets it to the inevitably sentimental piece of music. I’m a goner. Look. Away. Because that’s not me bawling at 8:30am under the fluorescent lights of a second grade classroom.

The Emptying of the Desks: Hey, I get it – the teachers can’t keep all of the kids’ stuff stored in their classrooms and they want to give us a chance to see as much of their work as possible. But they really should warn us to clear out some space first. Because my kids have been bringing home enough paper items to fashion a school year wallpaper mosaic for our playroom/hallway/first floor/tri-state area. On a standard, non-June day, I barely keep my head above water in the Mom vs School Papers battleground. Now, forget it. I hereby raise my white flag in total defeat as I attempt many a clandestine, under-the-cover-of-darkness move to dispose of these treasures while my kids aren’t looking. I would just like to take a moment to be thankful for paying a flat rate for recycling every month. #blessed

Change: Yes, plain old change. June is fulllll of it. As in, my kids were smaller when we started the school year nine months ago and now they’re noticeably bigger and they hate the very themed backpacks they begged for last August and OMG what is happening with time and space. I’m not good with change. When things wrap up, it means the status quo is about to shift and my head is about to explode.

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Fall Registration: Let me clarify that last point above. The status quo would shift if I didn’t meet every early bird registration email with utter disdain and denial. And June is throwing a lot of that bullshit my way. Summer camps, fine – their time is now. But can we not, for just few weeks, start pushing the fall schedules and sign ups with the subtitled pressure of are-there-or-aren’t-there-enough-spots-if-I-wait? I haven’t even signed the thank you cards for this year’s teachers yet. I’m still on the lookout for an impossibly flattering bathing suit. I refuse to do anything fall-ish when my summer hasn’t even begun. Got it, June?

 

What a roller coaster. We’re ending, we’re beginning, we’re still in school and we’re begging for summer vacation. The schedules morph in the span of a few weeks from frenetic with homework and activities and schedules to wide open spaces on the calendar. It’s a shifty time. And if you love transitions and change, then allow me to recommend June as your month. Surely you’ll savor every one of its 2,000+ transitional moments.

Me, not so much. I’ll be much more at home when I’m sitting squarely in July, firmly in the summer and in the grasp of nothing in particular.

June, we’ll ride this out – but you’re killing me a little.

 

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The Last Second Birthday

Last night, I put my youngest to bed and it was the last time I’ll ever have a one year-old. And I’d be lying if I said it didn’t break my heart more than a little.

We all know and marvel at how time can simultaneously drag and fly when it comes to our kids. There have been oh so many sleepless nights with this baby (yes, I’ll probably call him my baby forever). To be clear, not the standard amount of baby/toddler no sleep. So little sleep. There were many nights when I thought I was the only one awake in a twenty-mile radius at some ridiculous hour, yet again, with the ocean waves of the sound machine keeping me company and the smell of his baby head resting on my shoulder as he fought off sleep. Every hour like that seemed to last for days over the course of about 18 months.

And now, he is two. In the blink of a sleepless eye.

He is a giant, this boy, and the sheer force of his will comes out of every limb as he climbs, bounds, runs, falls and tackles. His movement is non-stop and high impact. He is a giver of aggressive hugs, as if he’s daring you to resist him.

So headstrong, this boy. So very stubborn and insistent.

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But for every screaming run through our house and blur of his movement past us, there is an equal number of moments when he stops, or at least pauses – ever so briefly – to request/demand kisses and hugs and to be carried and held. He desperately wants to see what he can do on his own, and yet relies on his perch in the bend of my elbow, propped on my hip, with his arms draped around my neck.

 

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His verbal skills took their time to emerge but have recently come a long way. Even when we can’t understand him, though, he has entire emphatic toddler monologues – perhaps to prove to himself that he has a definite opinion (genetics at work, right there).

As he turns two, he has a few go-to words and phrases that he prefers over all others and really sum up his personality.

  • NOMINE! You know, when yelling “mine” with territorial conviction is not going to get the point across to your two older sibs, this expanded form seems to do the trick. “NOOOOO, MIIIINNNNNNNE!” Now put them together as a singular psychotic word because someone related to you casually gazed in the direction of your trains or cup or shoes or {gasp} the remote control.
  • SNAAAAAAACK. I can say with 100% certainty that my older two kids didn’t know what the hell a snack was at age two – at least not on an on-demand basis. Such is life with older siblings whose entire mission in life is to procure their next food grab. So of course it’s going to rub off. He wants what they want. And they want another god damned snack at 16-18 minute intervals throughout the day.
  • KISSSSS PLEEEEASE. I cannot even begin to express how this melts my often-jaded parental heart. This future linebacker/rugby player/competitive eating circuit champion goes from distinct tornado of domestic destruction to asking for more kisses as he slobbers all over my face. It is the best.
  • GERONNNNIMMO! Score another point for the siblings. They have taught their little brother to charge across the room into any and all furniture while screaming this battle cry (or, to mix it up, “TROUUUUBLLLLE” and “CANNNNNONNBALLLLL”). Once this act got the first laugh and the boy knew he had an audience, it became his signature move.

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Take that verbal foundation, throw in a few of his favorite characters and here’s a verbal sampling of his day:

“Mama, snack? Snack? Snack? SNACK!”

{Four minutes of me desperately guessing which unarticulated food he wants under the snack umbrella.}

“Mama, show? Show? Remote? SHOWWWWW? Pup pup (Paw Patrol)? Thomas? Chuggington? Snack? Mama, snack? SHOW?”

{Senses dog walking within three foot radius of Percy.}

“NOOOOOMIIIIIINE! NOMINE! NOMINE! NOOOMIIIIINE!

{Charges at dog}

“GERONNNNIMMMMO!

“Snack, mama? Snack?”

{Charges at me}

“CANNONBALLLLL!”

“Kisses, mama? More kisses?”

Lather, rinse and repeat, every five to seven minutes until he achieves REM mode.

 

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You know, lots of people assumed when I got pregnant at 40, already having a boy and a girl, that this must have been an unplanned scenario. Not true. This child was a conscious decision. Someday I’ll write a more detailed post about how I was given very grim odds, early on in my pregnancy, about his  chances of facing significant health issues. I will never, ever forget the days, and then weeks, I had to wait to rule out one terrifying possibility after another.

And, as crazy as it sounds, I thought I was being punished – for pushing my luck, for wanting more than I deserved. Because all kinds of desperate and nonsensical thoughts creep into your head in those situations. And yet, this baby, who was to be welcomed regardless of what those results might have brought, was perfect. Perfect.

 

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I think about that time a lot and how lucky we are. I admit that I’m not great at “enjoy every minute” and remembering not to take things for granted as often as I should. But I do try. Because when I summon the memories of that time, it feels like a world that I only peeked at from outside a distant door but never had to enter.

This child, my last baby, is very physically attached to me. He wants to be carried. He does not want to wean. He needs to know I am in his peripheral vision, at a minimum. The love pours out of him (all 35ish pounds of him). He is all-consuming and a force to be reckoned with. My wish for him is that this intensity of love always remains such a big part of him.

Yes, I will miss having a one year-old in my house. There’s no doubt about it.

But he’ll always be my baby.

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Perched on the Cusp

Here in the finally-thawed Northeast, we still have about six weeks of school left. Six weeks is a long time. That’s still a lot of homework and boxtops and lunches. Dear God, the fucking lunches.

But with the warmer weather and the endless barrage of camp ads coming at me, begging me to get my shit together and figure out how to avoid nine weeks of “I’mmmmm borrrrred,” the summer is beckoning. The shorts are slowly replacing the pants in our wardrobes. The grill is moving from a covered snow receptacle to the promise of an actual, food preparation mechanism (soon). Hell, it’s even time to reject the local CSA with a big “I don’t fucking think so” after last year’s death-by-produce-overdose.

And so here we sit, somewhere in limbo. The homework is growing so very tiresome. The reading logs never die. The after-school schlepping is practically on sad auto-pilot, begging for an end date.

It’s an odd time of the year. I’m sort of halfway to the land of mentally checked out, dreaming up summer vacations and outdoor dinners and warm nights with white wine on the deck. It lingers there, within reach. Summer is so, so close. And with that comes the promise of looser rules, bended bedtimes and fewer commitments. I can taste it.

But I also have a lifelong problem with transitions and fearing that some delightful stretch of time is almost over before it has even begun. I can dread the end of a vacation before I’ve even arrived there. I mourn when Christmas is over as I’m still wrapping gifts and waiting for Santa. I read about the importance of being present and it does nothing because I’m already reading the next paragraph. It’s a giant character flaw.

So I like the cusp of things the best. The eve of an event. The anticipation just before it happens because then it can’t yet be over. It’s still ahead of me, with all of its promise.

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And that’s where I stand right now, on the cusp of summer. It is barreling toward us and we can’t wait. We earn that time, damn it – we pay for it with nine months of homework and carpools and schedules. With months of winter coats and layers and polar vortex-y claustrophobia.

And this is our reward, our respite, our reboot.

But as much as I wish it here, I don’t. Because it truly, magically flies. And then my kids will be a grade older and everything changes all over again.

I’m not ready to think of them at the next level – third grade and first grade (in the same school, for the first time ever) and the baby in pre-school. {Shut up, I’m not crying.}

I want to hold onto them in their sunscreen-slathered, chlorinated glory, cannonballing and clocking hours on end in the water. I want to preserve the feeling of not rushing to school, of not having homework hanging over us, of not fulfilling a to-do list a mile long.

So, I’ll enjoy my perch here, on the cusp of summer, for the next few weeks. I’ll pack the remaining school lunches and dream of our warm weather adventures, knowing that the clock is still in our favor for a while longer.

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Return to Sodor

They’re two, they’re four, they’re six, they’re eight…

He’s baaaa-aaaaack. Like a flashback from our early parenting days.

My youngest has recently proven a highly scientific hypothesis of mine that I’ve firmly believed since 2008: Either your kid has the Thomas the Tank Engine gene, or (s)he doesn’t. While my daughter never cared much for the shiny blue engine, my two boys are 100% Thomas Nation.

My oldest, who will be eight this month (sob – howwwww can this be?) was utterly obsessed with every engine on the island of Sodor. It was cute for a while, how he memorized each engine’s face and talked about coal tenders and the difference between “steamies” and diesels. Like millions of suckers who have gone before us, we thought this was adorable and slowly fostered this interest by amassing Thomas trains, tracks and accessories that evolved from a collection to an investment. We began to wonder how there was no tax write-off opportunity for this expense.

He needed a train in his hand to go anywhere. Then a train in both hands. Then a full line-up around the perimeter of his crib at night. He scolded us for not knowing the difference between Edward and Percy. The mere introductory bars of the Thomas theme song would render him giddy. His utensils and cups where Thomas. His shirts. His books. He loved it all.

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And slowly, like millions of reformed suckers before us, we began to notice that maybe Sodor was not such a cute place. The engines were all pretty whiny. Stupid accidents always happened on the tracks, which were ultimately met with disdain by Sir Topham Hatt, the head of the railway.

“You have caused confusion and delay,” my oldest would boom with imitation, in his adorable toddler voice.

But really, Sir Topham Hatt was kind of an asshole. It didn’t matter, though — nothing was getting our family out of the grips of Sodor.

Except time.

I can’t remember exactly when his love for Thomas faded, but it was gradual. It wasn’t so much that he stopped liking Thomas, but he just slowly began requesting the likes of Lightning McQueen or Buzz Lightyear more. But somehow, the engines strewn across the carpet became fewer and the hours spent at the train table, configuring the tracks, dwindled.

It seemed like light years ago. Until recently.

As if on biological cue, my youngest, at age 21 months, suddenly began to pick up and express interest in some of the old trains now relegated to out-of-the-way bins. They shared shelf space with Legos and Ninja Turtles and Star Wars characters — all the figures that had replaced Sodor’s importance in our home over time, and rarely seen the light of day in recent years.

“Choooo chooooo.”

This is the sound of my youngest, upon waking up. Upon leaving the house without a train in hand. Upon handing me the remote control in anticipation of seeing the shiny blue engine and his cohorts.

Aaaaaand we’re back.

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Some things have changed on Sodor since we were last held hostage there. Naturally, some shiny new engines (even electric ones) have been added, presumably with endless companion merchandise opportunities. The newer episodes are finally an industry standard 30 minutes in length, instead of the old 10-minute duration that allowed moms to get exactly zero done while their children were under the mesmerized grips of the engines. So, thanks for that. At least I can get a meal prepped while my toddler’s brain rots.

The biggest change, though, is watching my oldest, who now far prefers to discuss the Millennium Falcon and the secrets of the young Jedi, as he sees his younger brother giddy about the engines. He’s sort of watching, sort of pretending not to be interested. But that pull, although distant, is there. He’ll ask with innocence, “Who is that engine again?” and my heart will sort of break.

“That’s PERCY. You remember Percy?”

“Yeah, sort of, a little.”

“He delivers the mail. He’s the green one. Number 6!

You would’ve taken a bullet for him six years ago, I want to say.

“Oh yeah, Percy. And Mom — isn’t Sir Topham Hatt a little rude?”

Yep, things are still the same too. The whiny engines and the ridiculous, avoidable calamities. It’s a lot like the formula from a Three’s Company episode, minus the sexual innuendo and Mr. Roper. But equally annoying on a consistent basis.

So, here we are again. Last weekend, we took the old train table down from the attic and set it up with the tracks and the trains. The baby was thrilled. His older brother often joins him at that table, and tells him how to set things up and where everything goes. Like it’s slowly coming back to him.

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It’s sweet and nostalgic.

Even when it’s a little annoying.

Chooooo chooooo.

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{Unrelated to trains and far less annoying than Thomas: I’m so excited to be included in a new humor anthology about parenting: I Still Just Want to Pee Alone. Yep, it’s the third installment in the series and — fun fact here — the original just made the NY Times Bestseller list!}

 

 

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3,653 Days of Marriage

We were lucky. For a February day in New York City, we were very lucky. Sure, it was cold and I think it even flurried, but we had none of this Polar Vortex/endless tundra nonsense or snowstorms.

I remember our parents being more than incredulous when we chose a February wedding date. Really? February?

There wasn’t any single good reason, really. The most obvious one, looking back was — Hey, let’s just get this done. We’ve been dating for five years and let’s just have our quick engagement and finally be married.

{Yes, five years of dating, on and off. Mostly because one of us just wasn’t ready. It doesn’t matter which one of us.}

{OK, it was totally him.}

Also, it turns out that you can get the deal of the century in February. Well, in relative terms. It was Manhattan, after all. But all of the venues we wanted? Available. The vendors? Available. And all pretty much willing to negotiate because, as we were repeatedly told, nobody really gets married in February.

And so we grabbed the church, the reception venue and took just five months to plan a big city wedding.

Today is our tenth wedding anniversary. It’s crazy to me that a decade has gone by. Yesterday I pulled out boxes of wedding photos — not just the ones from the album that sits in our bookcase, but the hundreds of others that didn’t make the cut and yet are priceless in so many ways. I hadn’t seen some of them in years.

It was funny to look at the shots of that day through an age-progressed lens. I was reminded of the details of the reception I had stressed over. The sheer number of people in the room (more than 200), many of whom I didn’t know and haven’t seen since (my husband’s family is huge). I doubt that anyone could have convinced my 2005 self that a big, formal wedding wasn’t the greatest thing ever.  And yet that was the day I really, truly realized that I hate being the center of attention. Should we have done it differently? Who knows. It was a beautiful wedding, but 2015 Me — with the mortgage and three kids — might have gone with the less is more approach.

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It’s funny to look at photos of your guests — the people who were the most important in your life at the time. You assume these people will always be near and dear. Many of them still are. Inevitably, though, over time, you move on and lose touch with some of them. Jobs change, people move.

And then you lose other people altogether. And those photos sting.

And it’s odd not to see the people there who are dear to us now but we didn’t even know back then. Because 2005 Me couldn’t have dreamed up the friends I’ve since met through having kids and moving to the suburbs.

A wedding day is an obvious beginning and also a snapshot in time, of two people who can’t possibly know all that lies ahead of them.

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(Also, we look like BABIES. And, at the ages of 32 and 38, we definitely weren’t. I’m placing the blame squarely on the kids for aging us in dog-year ratios.)

We were different then. But not. Just more innocent or naive versions of ourselves, maybe.

Now, these ten years later, our suburban life with three kids and a minivan is a far cry from this couple who lived and worked in the city and scoffed at the thought of ever leaving.

So we’re unrecognizable, but not. Sort of like our wedding venue — the gorgeous historical building in Manhattan that is now (wait for it) an REI outdoor gear store. Yes, the very dance floor we stood on with friends and family is now precisely where you can find a quality canteen for your next camping trip. Things change, I’m told.

My husband and I are still opposite in many ways. He is methodical, patient and precise. He is mellow and level-headed and he doesn’t mind Taylor Swift. I am none of these things.

But our common ground — the marriage Venn diagram overlap — has stretched even more over these ten years as our family life has grown and evolved. Each new stage becoming trial by fire, party of two. And he really is my ideal co-pilot on this ride.

After ten years, the rhythm between us is different from the one in 2005. Not worse by any means, but certainly different. The one we live in now involves more people under our roof and less sleep. It’s not the sound of late nights out or mid-afternoon brunches or talks of exotic getaways, but instead that of homework and gymnastics and Cub Scouts and Sunday school and feeding small mouths. The rhythm of our home is far different from before, but it binds our family to its routine, to its element, to its daily ebb and flow.

It is quieter yet louder. Casual yet crazy. Foreign yet ingrained.

Ten years ago at this time, I was sitting in a chair having make up applied and my hair put up while sipping a mimosa and marveling at the amazing family and friends around me as we got ready for the big event. Today, I’m filling out camp forms and thinking about whether my kids will actually eat the pork tenderloin that I’m going to make later. There’s a Pinewood Derby car to be finalized tonight. And about 12 loads of laundry. There’s no band playing in the background or people making speeches about us. But still, in between homework and the Thursday night grind, there will be toasts and celebration and dinner and dessert. Because 3,653 days deserves full glasses in this full house.

Have I loved every single one of those days? Of course not.

Am I excited to see what the next few thousand bring? Absolutely.

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The Third Child Will Be Mellow, And Other Lies People Tell

I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while. Hell, I’ve been wanting to write any post at all for a while. But I have to make it quick, because I have a very limited window before my 19 month-old attempts any of the following:

  • Pulling discarded food out of the trash for snack time
  • Attempting to remove, with mixed success, the electrical outlet covers
  • Opening the oven
  • Manning the stove
  • Locating a steak knife in the bottom dishwasher rack and setting off a potential Barbie hostage situation
  • Resisting sleep at gold medal levels
  • Breaking childproof locks clear off the cabinets from sheer brute force
  • Moving my car keys to various undisclosed locations

Maybe my mind has gone soft over the last year and a half, but I really do seem to remember hearing the following generalizations about third children when I was pregnant with mine:

“They just go with the flow. They have to.”

“They’re soooo mellow.”

Things like that.

Interesting, I say. Also, the term bullshit comes to mind.

I know that generalizations are just that. But still. I’m starting to think these are the same people who told me that, one day, I’ll forget the pain of childbirth. Or that one small square of chocolate can satisfy a sweet tooth.

Friends, my cabinets are locked down. My outlets are covered. My doors are all closed when rooms aren’t in use. These are things I did not do with my first two kids. In fact, I think I might have rolled my eyes when others did. (Truth. Sorry.)

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I admire this child and his desire to make his mark on our family. I further admire his clearly-defined plan to do so. It seems to have four basic components:

  • Stay awake, all the time, at all costs
  • Carve out a distinct path of destruction
  • Move, with abandon and whim, any and all important objects to top-secret-toddler locations
  • NEVER, ever lose contact with the giant colander

This last one is key. My sweet boy has an obsession with my kitchen ware. No kid-sized pots and pans, thankyouverymuch — I tried. Trust me. So while the Tupperware and various serving utensils really are his Toddler Toy Holy Grail, you’d better be prepared for 31 pounds of sheer fury to unleash upon you at the mere suggestion of taking that colander from him.

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Some kids have security blankets or lovies. Mine holds a pasta strainer near and dear to his heart. It’s really no surprise, I guess, coming from a long line of carb loaders.

When not poised in a warrior-like position and wielding stainless steel cookware, he can often be found hoarding and stacking and nesting any and all things he can find. Like DVDs, princess accessories or perhaps random spices. They are found days to weeks later in unlikely places. Just before throwing away an old gift box leftover from Christmas the other day, I realized something was still inside. Oh, look, there’s my paprika, my sunglasses and my older son’s overdue library book, along with some half-eaten crackers.

Ask me how many minutes in an average day I spend trying to find the remote control for the TV. We should all thank him for helping us cut way back on our screen time.

So, the mellow third kid stereotype? Not happening.

He wants to be in the mix so badly, to participate in the orbit of his older siblings and join their craziness, their noise, their games. He wants to be busy busy busy busy busy.

He wants to be non-stop and he wants to be held.

He wants to not miss a single thing.

He is not mellow, this third child. He does not go with the flow. He wants to be heard.

And yet, once in a seemingly blue moon, he is still.

Just long enough for me to find my keys and wash out the colander.

 

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Lessons Learned Over Winter Break

Greetings from the ongoing wreckage of Hurricane Christmas!

If all goes according to schedule, I should have all remnants of this holiday cleaned up just in time for July 4th.

I used to think that today — the first “real world” day of back to school, work, etc. — was the most depressing day of the year. HOWEVER, this year, while I am sad to leave the revelry behind, my opinion has evolved and today is not so bad after all.

back to school

In fact, as I sit here, typing in silence, I do believe there’s an unfamiliar feeling creeping up on me. Why, it’s joyful solitude. Holy crap, I’M ALONE. (Well, until the baby wakes up.) I am not fulfilling a snack request or mediating an argument or thinking about the next activity we can pursue to keep everyone from going insane.

I am sitting. The TV is on a channel of my choosing. The coffee I am drinking is still hot, without the assistance of a microwave.

But I did love the break, in the way that we look back on all things frenetic and wish we had enjoyed them more. I had lots of family around. Everyone stayed healthy. I even pulled off a pretty good Christmas dinner for 20 adults.

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And I learned a few lessons along the way.

1) The period of time that constitutes winter break is not analogous to the normal space/time continuum. It’s like dog years meets the big bang. Or something slightly more science-y.

2) A very reliable meat thermometer makes all the difference between stress-free holiday dinner prep and the hostess yelling, “We are SO having Chinese food next Christmas! DO YOU GUYS WANT LO MEIN WITH CHICKEN OR PORK?”

3) New addition to the Ninth Circle of Hell: Any and all airport pick-ups on the Sunday before Christmas. Bonus points if you brought a kid along “for a quick ride” who didn’t use the bathroom before you left the house.

4) There is no existing scale on the market that self-destructs into flames after producing your January 1 weight. (Hellooooo, product development opportunity.)

5) Forget North Korea’s threats. The real terrorists are the folks in China who package children’s toys.

6) How to set yourself up for failure: Trying to create a photo book of your entire year (OK, your previous 2.5 years) on the last day possible for holiday shipping. Disregard if you enjoy a) picking through 6,772 photos in one sitting and b) a slow, steady descent into blindness.

7) If you play a YouTube video of a previous New Year’s Eve in Times Square for your kids well before midnight, they will not know the difference. (Pro tip: Just conveniently stand in front of the screen when they flash the year 2014 or 2010 or 1977.)

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8) Do not bother buying new toys for toddlers.

 

pots and pans FTW

 

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9) There is no limit to the amount of princess accessories my daughter will wear simultaneously.

princess dress up

Or at any time, day or night (“I didn’t want my ice powers to freeze my bed.”)

ice powers by night

10) Above all, listen up: NEVER, ever play Cards Against Humanity with your dad. Unless you are already in therapy — then, consider doubling down on your weekly sessions.

I hope you and yours had a great holiday!

Now, back to reality we go. I have a lot of clean-up to do by my July 4th deadline.

 

 

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Tidings of Discomfort (and Joy)

Turns out there’s a fine line between thriving and cracking under pressure.

I truly love Christmas. I do. But I am willing to admit, with 15 days to go, that I maaaaaay have taken on a tad more than I can handle. Am I excited to have 25 people over on Christmas Day? Yes! Honestly, I am. On any given day, I’d rather host a holiday and keep my kids at home than spend multiple hours in the car. Because what else says joyful and triumphant like averaging 4 mph in traffic while mediating arguments over Frozen vs The Lego Movie for vehicular DVD entertainment?

But wow, the big day is coming fast and I’m not as prepared as I’d hoped to be at this stage of the game. This may have something to do with our latest home renovation project veering way off schedule. Our original completion timeframe was scheduled for mid-November, and yet, here we are — living in a construction zone with, among other setbacks, an erroneous front door that is far too narrow and actually more suitable for a doll house than a home where adults reside. Until the right door arrives (estimated delivery date: anyone’s guess), you’ll just have to enter sideways if you eat one too many crescent rolls. Unless you are an American Girl doll or a Barbie — then please, come on in. I can then serve you out of tiny toy teacups the size of thimbles just to keep the experience going.

At least I was making very good progress with my holiday shopping. I use the past tense because I had, until today, a complete and total false sense of security that came screeching to a halt when I took a few minutes to actually look at my purchases to date. And there, on the floor of my bedroom, was bonafide scientific proof that 1) it’s easier to shop for a girl than a boy and 2) I should never shop while undercaffeinated. With my daughter’s gift pile (I use the term loosely — these are all small gifts) looking about four times bigger than my son’s, I knew I was setting up some serious therapy discussions for his teen and adult years. Time to kick Operation Even Out the Gifting into high gear. Oh, except for the baby — at 18 months old, he will not know the difference. He loves playing with my Tupperware so much that I’m considering getting him his own set and calling it a day. Shhhhhhhhh. If any of you tell him he was under gifted, I will Photoshop the hell out of Christmas 2014 to prove you all wrong.

But guess what I got done early? For the first time EVER, I knew well in advance what to buy for my husband. I mean, apart from the obvious front-runner, this was a true Christmas miracle. I purchased. I had it delivered. When my friends discussed in stressed out tones what to get for their husbands, I nodded calmly and told them I was done while buffing my nails. And then I had an extra venti peppermint mocha because I earned it. The stress of finding something for him was alleviated before the first weekend in December.

Until he came home the next day and declared he would be making the very same purchase as something “we need for the house.”

Sonofabitch.

I had to come clean and ruin the surprise.

Moving on, I’d be lying if I said feeding my 25 Christmas guests wasn’t on my mind pretty much 24/7 at this point. Yes, I have some ideas. And the problem, really, is that the black hole of Pinterest has about four million more ideas that render what I considered traditional to be tired and just outdated. Ham? Prime rib? Pffffft. If you’re not infusing your stuffing with kale and serving a signature cocktail, does it even count as dinner on the Internet?

Now, there is one area where I have excelled (versus my own historical performance): My holiday cards. Imagine my complete shock when I placed my order last week and was offered options like standard shipping and others that did not involve a 670% premium for shipping via time machine. AND: I have already purchased all of my stamps. That means no physical altercations this year at the Post Office, which is a huge time saver.

Speaking of efficiency, as I prepare to get those cards out the door, I am going through my annual process of chopping down the recipient list. Not to be mean, but just to be prudent. My traditional (but sometimes modified) rule of thumb is this: If I haven’t heard from you at all since last year’s card and we’re not related, then sorry. In the paraphrased words of the Seinfeld Soup Nazi: No card for you! Happy holidays and godspeed. Your kids look adorable on Facebook, and keeping our relationship strictly at the Zuckerberg thumbs-up level is ok with me. No hard feelings.

My husband, on the other hand, is less ruthless. Put another way, he would be ok with sending a card to everyone we’ve ever known since the dawn of time. It’s really a nice thought. And that’s because he’s way nicer than I am. But you know what he’s not? The person who is sending all of the cards. It’s a discussion every December.

There are a few other people I won’t be sending cards to this year. They are on my Holiday Shit List. Like the aforementioned Pinterest Overachievers. Also, the inventors of Common Core Math — because just when I thought math couldn’t get any more painful, touché! Let’s not forget Kay Jewelers, anyone who got a Lexus with a red bow like the commercials and all members of The Trans-Siberian Orchestra (do they play that music strictly to induce cardiac events?). Oh, and the manufacturers of my new front door. It’s a door, not a planet — let’s get moving here.

In the end, of course, the holiday season is not really about any of these things. The gifts, the cards, the menu, the state of my house. Most people won’t remember what I served and what my cards looked like. OK, but they will probably joke for years to come about my dollhouse front door.

The truth is that this year I have a lot more family members coming to visit who aren’t usually here for Christmas anymore, and it’s making me excited and nostalgic and thrilled and sad at the same time. It reminds me of the years we all had Christmas together — before people moved away and the crowd was always big and loud and crazy. It only recently occurred to me that every family has a golden era of sorts when it comes to holidays — a stretch of years, whether it’s a handful or a decade — when everyone is in good health and everyone travels home and nobody misses it. The years when all of the holiday snapshots, literal and figurative, are captured. And you can’t possibly know during those years that you’re all in the midst of that golden era and that it will become the standard to which you hold your holidays in your mind and heart for years to come. It becomes the time you look back on so fondly (family drama and all) and wish you had held it more dearly while it was here.

And while I won’t have every family member here, it’s going to be very close. Closer than it has been in years. It’s going to be special to me.

So maybe it’s easier to worry about food and cards and gifts.

Maybe it’s easier to stress about the size of the front door.

And maybe, in some respects, it’s better to be immersed in the crazy prep phase than to think about how infrequently these times actually come along.

(Still, I’m cutting the card list way back.)

discomfortandjoy

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Not Quite the Break I Had in Mind

Time for a pop quiz.

Of my three children, which would you deem the most likely to suffer a broken leg?

A) The seven year-old boy who spends his days replicating ninja moves and Star Wars battles?

B) The five year-old girl who spends her days attempting overly dramatic ballet and gymnastics maneuvers?

C) The one year-old boy who spends his days walking laps around the first floor of my house?

I was naive enough to be surprised that it was C. I mean, scrapes and bumps in spades, sure. But a broken leg?

As all stories of injury or illness begin, it was of course 5pm on a Friday. That exact moment all medical office phone lines switch over to after-hours-we’re-not-here mode.

He was walking laps around the kitchen and dining room, as he does 5,000 times a day. I heard him fall, as he does 5,000 times a day. He cried a little and it really didn’t seem serious, until I noticed that he was having trouble getting back up. When, 30 minutes later, he still couldn’t bear any weight on his right leg, I knew I had to do what every parent loves more than anything: Drag all three kids, unfed at dinner time, to the pediatrician’s office on a Friday night. Is there really anything better?

I really wasn’t expecting it to be a broken leg, but there it was. A toddler fracture, to be specific, where an “uneventful” fall at the wrong angle apparently breaks a 17 month-old tibia.

The pediatrician on duty that night wasn’t our usual, but I’ll never forget him. Why? Because his face will always be burned into my brain, as he speculated that the orthopedist would tell us on Monday morning to keep the baby off of his feet for four to six weeks.

Whaaaaaat? Howwww? Huhhhhh? Uhhh? 

These were the most complete thoughts I had in my head.

These non-thoughts then gave way to visions of me sitting on the floor with a screaming kid for a month and a half, passing toys back and forth while wondering where the hell we packed away our Elf on the Shelf last Christmas.

Luckily, when we did see the orthopedist, it wasn’t that bad at all. Three weeks in a hard cast and he’s allowed to walk on it when he’s comfortable doing so.

Exhaaaaaaaale.

Then some lovely nurse fanned out an array of swatches for me to choose the cast color, as if we were talking about window treatments. And it was done.

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We’re just a few days in, but let me say what a trooper this kid has been.

And, while I’ve never been known for my bright-sidedness, there are other advantages to the situation.

  • First, he is sitting. Sitting. Not running 65 mph. Not exploring every potential safety hazard in my house. Sitting and hanging out with toys on the floor. It’s like going back in time about six months. The temporary reprieve from “Dooooooon’t touch thaaaaaaaaaat!” is sort of nice.

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  • The cast is a decent means of self-defense from his siblings’ antics. One swift little baby kick with that thing and he is the alpha male in the room. Ask my seven year-old.
  • In addition, we’ve unknowingly witnessed a global medical breakthrough here. Not in his leg, but in his response. He is a calm and happy patient. In other words, progress in the Male Injury Response Gene is showing signs of hope. If he makes it through the winter without a ManCold, I’ll know we have some Nobel-level developments here.

I learned a few things about my own crisis response protocol as well. Don’t bring siblings to a medical office at dinner time on an empty stomach. Try to form wholly recognized words when faced with the prospect of keeping a baby off of his feet. And, lastly, always have more than 24 miles worth of gas in the car at 5pm on a Friday.

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