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.

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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.

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

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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.)

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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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Past Lives

Although you’d never know it by looking at me in my minivan, the soul of a city girl lurks beneath my suburban life.

Over the course of 16 years in my 20s and 30s, I lived in four of the five boroughs of New York City (sorry, Queens). In seven different apartments. I got my first real job there. I lived my dating life as a single girl there (though Carrie Bradshaw, I was not). I witnessed 9/11 there. I was engaged there. Got married there. Had two children there.

I loved New York. Really, truly loved it. But the time came, after two kids and very limited space, to leave it behind. For the suburbs. My husband swears you can still see claw marks at the entrance to the Jersey-bound Lincoln Tunnel from the day we moved.

It has been four and a half years since the moving van was unloaded at our house. Many days, it’s like we never had that other life of subways and taxis and bodegas and laundromats. I can barely remember it. Until I go back, like I did last Sunday.

We went to visit my sister and her boyfriend in Brooklyn, and our older two kids had a fabulous aunt & uncle date with them at the museum. It was about 60 degrees outside, the sun was shining and the foliage was gorgeous. My husband and I had the baby in the stroller with about 90 free minutes until we had to meet up with everyone for brunch. We walked and walked, stealing glimpses of our former life there. The one that seemed both like a million years ago and like yesterday.

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I lived in Brooklyn just as it was about to be cool to do so. But back then, we all wanted to live in Manhattan, and Brooklyn was more of an obligatory step on the budget ladder to get there (I had already done my time in Staten Island and a brief stint in the Bronx). The first place I shared in Brooklyn was on an amazing, tree-lined street near Grand Army Plaza, which was beautiful and majestic and almost European. Even on our tiny budget, we had a real two-bedroom, a modest kitchen, living space and a roof deck with a neck-craning-small-slice-view of Manhattan. When the owners told my roommate and me that they were selling the place and we’d have to move, we were heartbroken. They suggested, that as two (very) young professionals, we try to buy it as an investment.

“BUT HOW CAN WE BUY AN APARTMENT THAT COSTS $120,000? WHO THE HELL HAS THAT KIND OF MONEY?”

Yeah, perspective and time change things, don’t they? Had I known anything at all about anything at all back then, I would have found a way to borrow the down payment. Because I’m pretty sure that apartment is worth well north of a million dollars now. Where the hell was HGTV in 1998?

There were other apartments, too.

The one on the Upper East Side with the person-I-never-met-before-turned-roommate, where we found strange, fly-by-night companies whose sole purpose was to build temporary walls so that you could divide already-small bedrooms into two or three more. Like highly overpriced residential cubicles.

The one in Murray Hill where I lived alone for the first time, up until a certain pug moved in. Where I learned that anything labeled “rent-stabilized” has that designation for a reason. The kitchen window facing a wall in an alley comes to mind, as does the need to use my oven as makeshift clothing storage.

The one on the Upper West Side where my husband and I lived just after we got engaged. It had a tiny kitchen that allowed you to be simultaneously touching all of the appliances at once and a spiral staircase that, two years later, I could no longer navigate at eight months pregnant.

And yet, I miss all of it. Less so now, but intensely for a while after we left. Mostly, I missed this:

  • Walking. More specifically, not needing a car. Of course, I can walk in the suburbs — it’s permitted — but the car is usually the more realistic option. And along with that comes the endless in-and-out-of-the-car seats nonsense that makes me just a little more insane every day. (“Are you buckled in yet? Are you!!??”)
  • Anonymity. In the city, there wasn’t any small talk or chit-chat with strangers. And that was fine by me. I’m not anti-social, but I’m terrible with small talk. It was perfectly acceptable to stand in your building’s lobby and stare straight ahead while waiting for the elevator. I did have some very sweet, older widows who lived on my floor, and it was nice that they stopped to check in on me when I was very pregnant (though there was a certain “Rosemary’s Baby” vibe that I tried not to overblow) — but they stayed largely out of my business. I’ve since had to re-learn social graces like inviting someone in when they knock on my door. The week we moved into our house, several families stopped by with trays of cookies and cakes to welcome us. It was so, so nice, but if I’m being honest, it freaked me out a bit. I just wasn’t used to it. And, in full disclosure, I remember wondering if I’d have to bake every time someone moved into the neighborhood. (Turns out that a bottle of wine says “welcome” just as well.)
  • Quick errands. At times, I miss the corner bodega more than I can express. Like when I just need one easy ingredient to finish a recipe. No problem — I’ll just walk to the corner and…nevermind. Now it’s back in the car, finding parking, going through the whole big grocery store as my children take down most of the inventory and wear me down until I purchase at least 28 additional items — usually in full view of a local teacher or school administrator. Small talk follows. Nothing is quick here.
  • Restaurants with liquor licenses. Now we’re really getting into it: The culture shock of the whole BYOB phenomenon. I know that, in many respects, it’s better that you have to bring your own booze to restaurants. It’s cheaper. You get what you want. There are many upsides. Except when you live in my marriage, where neither of us ever remembers that this is part of going out to dinner in our town. And then what — a dry meal? Let’s not be ridiculous. It’s instead this: “You run, as fast as you fucking can, to that wine store around the corner, before they close — quick!! — and I’ll find an appetizer on the menu* to order for you. Go! Now! Run!” (*Translation: an appetizer of my choosing so that I can enjoy half of it).

 

Perhaps I’m romanticizing my city days. Maybe it wasn’t all so wonderful. And maybe there were some big reasons for our move, after all.

  • Lack of living space. Do me a favor. Take your hand and open it up as far as you can. Look at it closely. That was about the size of my bathroom in my last apartment. For a family of four.
  • The Sunday night parking dance. You could pretty much bet large sums of cash that, after returning from any weekend trip with the kids, the dog and all of our stuff, it would be raining, sleeting or snowing. And so ensued the divide-and-conquer approach to unloading a family from the car into a 13th-floor apartment in 56 easy steps. After circling for parking for approximately 45 minutes to no avail, we gave in an double-parked, where a game of Beat the Parking Ticket began. One of us would stay with the car to ensure we weren’t ticketed, while the other would unload everything/everyone in about nine trips. This, incidentally, was a great substitute for traditional cardio.
  • Being accosted by crazies. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of nutters in suburbia — but they are often disguised in yoga pants. The New York crazies really put it all out there and get up in your face. It’s been awhile since an amateur preacher screamed in my face about the end of days or my sinning ways. Or a one-armed ukulele player spit at my feet for not giving him my half-eaten soup. I don’t miss that so much. If I want crazy, I know plenty of people I can call.
  • Planning for the higher education of a child in utero. Pre-school lotteries and interviews — with college-sized tuition bills to match. No thanks. If I told you what I paid in day care costs for two small children in the city…I can’t even think about it. In fact, I had to tell the day care place that I was pregnant with my second child before most of my relatives knew — so that she could have a spot the next year. For day care. Not Harvard. Not even private kindergarten. Day care. Anyway, I felt like I won the lottery when I was reminded that my property taxes in the suburbs cover the cost of a very good public school system. Now I can keep up my Starbucks habit.

But, still. New York will always be my first geographic love. And it’s true that I like my life in the suburbs for many reasons, but on days like that spectacularly sunny Sunday in Brooklyn, I do mourn the death of my city life. Central Park. The West Village. Delicious food at all hours. The energy and the diversity.

It was my other life, before the one I have now with a minivan and a snow blower and a distinct lack of brunch options. When I knew, without hesitation, which restaurant to recommend in which neighborhood and my innate urban compass could point me to the right subway station exit without thinking twice. And I was wistful as hell about it during that Sunday visit. What had we left behind? Would we ever be able to move back, or was it forever in our past? Would our kids ever know the city the way that we once had?

And then we saw it. A family pulling up to the curb, double parked and exasperated, unloading their three kids, their dog and their piles of bags and belongings from a weekend away — a good 19 minutes away from getting everything into their apartment.

And then I thought about that tiny, tiny bathroom we had. The windows that didn’t really close all the way. That not-so-occasional rat running out in front of you on the street. The navigation of the double stroller through the endless winter. The day care tuition bill.

And I knew that my heart would always belong to both the city and to suburbia. Because a girl can have more than one great love, right?

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It’s October, For the Win

I usually don’t realize how much I’m enjoying something until it’s just about over.

{Note: Except for wine or chocolate. I’m pretty much enamored from the beginning.}

But yesterday I came to a strange realization: October is my favorite month.

This was, somehow, news to me. 27 days in. OK, 40+ years and 27 days in.

Yeah, I’ve always loved autumn, with its foliage and crisp skies and sweaters and boots. And for many years, I had big time affection for September, what with its holdout warm temps and extended summer-esque vibe. And yes, it does deserve its rightful place of annual crowd favorite in many respects. Perhaps, though, it’s now having school-aged kids that has really made me appreciate Month 10 as top dog.

(I’m not going to justify my rationale each month, but let’s just say we can take any winter scenario out. Spring is fine, especially when we can officially bid any Polar Votexy weather goodbye. And summer months, I do love you, but let’s not forget the business of everyone home from school all of the hours of all of the days.)

Yes, September is great, but, holy shit, it is so, so stressful and riddled with change. By the time October starts, I have worked through my heartbreak over summer ending. I have muddled through the transition of back-to-school and closed toed shoes and routines and the occasional long sleeves. I have embraced the end of SPF 5 million every day. I have learned to live in a world where Pumpkin Spice Latte will never die. I have, with mixed success, procured all of the items on the school supply list. I have properly mourned the end of my favorite fruit season and moved on to the crock pot, the gourds and the soups.

All of that business is behind me by October. The temperatures drop and the fire pits pave the way for long evenings outside with deep, visible breaths. It is the last gasp before the all-too-early holiday season nonsense kicks in. Because we all know that the moment the last trick-or-treater rings the bell, the Christmas machine ramps up, with Thanksgiving just smashed in between somewhere, like a tryptophan afterthought.

October is the breathing room, the mental break, between adjusting to fall and preparing for the madness of November and December. It eases us gently into that rushed and insane season, with harmless Halloween decor and hay rides — little markers for mini-holidays, conditioning our collective memory to prepare for what lies ahead.

All the while the leaves turn into a million brilliant shades and you can smell neighboring fireplaces at work.

While you look for your favorite sweaters from last year, you realize one morning that your kids’ pants are all inches too short, after not having seen the light of day in half a year.

They are already so much bigger than they were in, say, July. The baby has words now and real mobility. He has entered that phase of utter sweetness by nature and sheer frustration over his own limitations — peeking down the pipeline of true toddlerhood. My oldest now reads books he couldn’t have fathomed under the distantly recent summer sun. And my daughter has suddenly become a real learner, whose days of pre-school seem like light years ago, rather than the span of just four months. And yet, October finds them firmly planted in their new school year, now accustomed to the new homework load and details of their classroom routine.

October, you are not all shiny and bright, though. The daylight hours begin to tangibly shrink, which makes the tasks of parenthood feel longer. Like we’re squeezing more than 24 hours into the day and watching the sunlight dwindle before we’ve even entertained the 32nd request for dinner. Every morning, there is the question of the heavier jackets and, before long, the gloves and hats and boots. And firing up the heat on the thermostat for the first time.

But I will take it. Because with every outgrown jacket and lost glove mystery, there is both routine and promise in October. There is the daily ordinary, just before the catalogs, the retail onslaught, Jingle Bell Rock, and the switch from PSL to Peppermint Mocha — just on the brink of taking us into the home stretch of the year.

With costumes and candy at the ready, my kids feel differently than I do. They have waited it out. They have counted down this month. They are wide-eyed over the prospect of Halloween and are ready for the end of October.

I’m not. I wish I had figured out just a little sooner how much I’ve loved it. I wish I had enjoyed the breathing room just a little bit more.

Sorry, September, but you’ve been replaced.

october

 

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So, You’re Considering the Corn Maze

You love fall, right? The crisp air. The produce. Boots. Jeans. All of it.

I do too.

And that’s precisely how people like us end up in corn mazes.

It starts with the innocent trip to the apple orchard or pumpkin patch. Because parental amnesia is a real thing and you fail to remember every year how annoying those outings are in actuality.

Anyway, there you are with baskets of more gourds or apples than you can possibly Pinterest into edible items in four lifetimes. You are thinking about the $100 you will have to pay upon check out and you are cursing about the fact that this place does not have an on-site winery. It is then that your children remind you, just as you think you’re about to pluck the last piece of hay from your sweater, that we haven’t done the corn maze yet.

Oh. Riiiiight. The corn maze.

How bad could it be? After all, I was trapped in one with my in-laws three years ago and lived to tell. So hey, why not? Let’s take a few minutes to go in.

Although, as we approached, this one seemed a little more legit than our previous corn mazes. Super tall stalks of corn. No obvious exit. And a 14 year-old employee working the entrance who snorted, “Good luck” to us.

Well, no matter. I immediately thought of how fortunate we are that my husband has a great sense of direction. This, unfortunately, was immediately followed by my deep regret of leaving him home with the baby on this particular day. He was tasked with painting the baby’s room. Not that the kid, at 15 months old, would get an identity crisis from the purple walls, floral decals and frilly chandelier. But sleeping under his sister’s initials was potentially going to send him into therapy in 20ish years. The room overhaul was a tad overdue.

So, as my husband either painted or ate all of the Entenmann’s in the house while watching football, it was my mom, my two older kids and me to fend for ourselves at the corn maze. Basically, three generations of the directionally challenged. The snarky 14 year-old employee handed us what was probably meant to be a map but looked more like a Spirograph on steroids.

Hm.

I’m pretty sure that entire crops matured and seasons changed during our time in this corn maze. Let me just end the suspense for you and disclose that it took 26 minutes on the clock, but a lifetime in my head. Here are some highlights of our journey.

Minute 1: I love a good fall photo opp. Which filter should I use on Instagram?

Life was simpler then.

Minute 3: Oh, maybe that map thing was for real and served some functionality. Because, holy shit, this is no joke. I hope nobody has to pee.

Minute 6: Isn’t this supposed to be a family-friendly farm experience? Or are we earning a scouting badge of some kind? Is this the farming equivalent of “Get off my lawn,” or perhaps a secret “Survivor” audition?

Minute 10: Time and space seem to be playing tricks with my mind. I feel like we’ve been in here for dayyyyys. I’m questioning my ability to guide everyone through this, in the event we have to spend the night in the corn. I mean, clearly, food won’t be a problem but what about the horror movie factor? Because I don’t think I need to name a certain obvious movie that comes to mind and the fact that I’m waiting to see Malachai at every corner of this maze.

Minute 12: Why do I never wear sensible shoes? Why? And where is everyone else?

Minute 13: Wait! This is why God invented the iPhone! All hail technology!

It appears I should have purchased the iPhone 6 for this outing because my 5 won’t display the layout of a fucking corn maze on Google Maps. At this point, my mother suggests the use of the compass. This helps establish when we are heading west, which is the direction from which we are guessing the music and other sounds of post-corn maze life are emanating. I’m no math genius, but I think there is a 25% chance we are right.

Minute 14: Omg, is that Malachai? Damn you, Stephen King.

Minute 17: Why didn’t I purchase the apple donuts before entering the corn maze? Speaking of donut consumption, I wonder if my husband has started painting yet. I think we all know the answer.

Minute 18: Like any family in crisis, we all begin to turn on each other. First, the sibling bickering escalates (“No, you made the last wrong turn. No, YOU did”). I threaten to withhold all apple donuts, foreverrrrrr, if they don’t stop. Then, I decide to blame my mother for passing on the lack of direction gene. Not in a broader life’s meaning sense, just with maps and such.

Minute 21: An integral turning point. A lovely young couple with a sleeping baby happens upon us. They inform us that, despite our best Apple-led efforts to head west, that’s not going to work. They are holding the Spirograph on steroids map and, more importantly, they seem to be deriving information from it. Bonus. We swallow all remaining pride (aka none) and shamelessly follow them. Until I realize that they could be serial killers and we’ve totally walked right into their evil trap. It’s possible that I’ve been watching too much late-night TV.

Minute 21:30: I follow them anyway, because: desperation.

Minute 23: The maybe-serial-killers with a baby have not revealed their evil plot. Yet. I distract myself from this possibility by imagining, if I survive, all of the Pinterest recipes I will comb through with my plentiful new apple bounty. I decide that I’ll bring a delicious apple crisp to this couple if they spare our lives and get us out of the maze before sunset.

Minute 25: I don’t want to appear melodramatic but we are losing steam. Our morale is down and our can-do attitude is gone. We just want to go back to life as we knew it, BCM (Before Corn Maze).

Minute 26: What is that sound? A bell? Ringing? Why, yes, it is. But what does it mean? The serial killers with the baby lead us to it. Oh, shit, shit, shit. It’s Malachai, isn’t it? This is it. Is he ringing it to signal the end is nigh? No. It’s not him! It’s the We-Found-The-Exit Bell! We are free! I am tempted to kiss the ground but decide to beeline for the homemade donut stand instead. I resist the urge to kick dirt up at the 14 year-old employee as we pass him.

The day is done. We have prevailed. While I hold my debit card with two apple donuts in my mouth and wait quietly to pay my $100 charge for six freshly-picked apples, I look around. I notice how beautiful the farm is. I do love the fall, after all.

I gaze over in the direction of the maze and notice the sun is beginning to set over the land. It is idyllic.

I just hope nobody is still in there.

 

 

 

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Late in the Evening

They’ve gone baaaa-aaaaack. Let the classroom bells ring like a song across the land. Or like a Ricola commercial.

My son started second grade yesterday and my daughter began Kindergarten today — sort of. It seems that we will endure a two-week transition process to slowly ramp up her class — seemingly in 7-minute increments —  to a full day. Yes, over two weeks. She’s not going into the Army, for God’s sake. So, we’ll get her in a full-day schooling situation by mid-ish September.

But anyway. The start of a new school year. Ahhhh. Full of fresh promise like a blank PTA sign-up sheet.

I treat this time of year sort of like New Year’s Day and try to take the opportunity to try something new or drop some bad habits (hi, summer french fry and ice cream addictions ). This time, I’m going to make a real and honest effort to try and join the Land of the Semi-Rested.

You see, I have a terrible habit of staying up way too late at night.

I’m not an insomniac. I stay awake by choice. And I think it’s slowly killing me.

I’ve always been a night owl. But now, with three young kids (one of whom does not yet sleep through the night — that’s a story for another day), I should really consider the 10:00 news to be my cue for lights out instead of dusk.

I’m sure that many of you can relate to the fact that, by the time the kids go to bed and I eat dinner with my husband, the echoes of “Mommymommymommymommy” slowly begin to fade. And then I have time to begin the 1,565 things I didn’t accomplish all day long. They are usually transactional at first — bills, emails, etc. And then, for better or worse, I just want time that belongs only to me.

I really wish I could tell you I use this time, late at night, writing a novel, mapping out my meal plan for the month or devising a long-term investment strategy. But, no. Hell, no. Last night, for example, I fell down an Internet rabbit hole of car seat research until 1:22am.

(Please, try to contain your envy of my sexy late-night pursuits.)

When not writing a novel, one of two things happens next. Usually, I just lose track of time and press on with my mindless pursuits until about 1 or 2:00. But, more often than I tend to admit, I fall dead asleep on the couch, remote in hand, laptop perched on my legs (is it supposed to get that hot or have I been radiating myself unnecessarily?) —  and I wake up at some ungodly hour, with every light in the house on and my contact lenses singed into the back of my eyeballs. Then I head upstairs to my bedroom and, in an evil twist, the baby senses the precise moment my head hits the pillow and inevitably wakes up. That’s ok, because, hey, I can totally sleep in until 6:30. Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

Why can’t I just go to bed before midnight?

WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF?

AND WHY DOESN’T KEURIG MAKE A DIRECT-TO-BLOODSTREAM MODEL?

It’s a problem.

Clearly, I have been in denial by assuming I could still get by on the little amount of sleep that didn’t bother me for years. Now, the coffee I seek like a moth to the flame is no longer seeing me through. I am off my game and — OK, fine — I’m exhausted. There. It has been said. In writing.

All for what? Some bad Facebook updates (because, come on, nothing good can come of social media after midnight) and an extensive ability to compare the Late Night hosts on all three networks (Team Fallon here).

I need to make a change and go to bed at a decent hour. This is my school year mission.

Starting tomorrow.

<Finishes blog post. Time stamp: 1:44am.>

 

 

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