Sunday, December 27, 2009

Alone time

Since becoming a Mommy, I've suffered through countless moments bemoaning my lack of alone time. As much as I adore my daughters and love the fact that they both still want to spend time with me, whether it's snuggling on the couch, talking about their day, cooking together or working on art joint projects, there is such as thing as too much togetherness.

Lucy, in particular, enjoys just busting in on me in the bathroom, a big smirk on her face, "Watcha doin', Mommy?" or, when I'm taking a shower and I ask her why she had to stand there and watch me, she says with a woeful look on her face, "I just don't want to be away from you, Mommy."

My mom got a taste of Lucy's propensity for shadowing people over Thanksgiving. The kid stuck to her like a burr, chattering the whole time:

"Can I make the salad, Grammy? I'm good with the salad spinner!"
"I can set the table, too. Is it time to set the table?"
"Oh! Look there are the kitties! Wow, they make a mess with their food."
"Y'know what, Grammy, this is a nice house! Say, can I have a cookie?"
and so on.

Once Lucy finally went to sleep - and stopped talking - my parents were cracking up over Lucy's non-stop chatter. Her older sister, while lively, was never the motor mouth that her younger sister can be. Natalie's impishness extended to getting into things... then running away at top speed, giggling.

My Natalie is more self-sufficient and able to entertain herself, but she still comes around for some special sister-free Mommy-Daughter time, especially on nights when they sleep here. After her sister has gone to bed, Natalie likes to come downstairs and snuggle with me on the couch and "just talk about stuff," as she puts it. She enjoys hearing my recollections of when she was a baby, from what it was like when I was pregnant, to the delivery and her early years.

If she has questions or troubles, it's on these occasions that they crop up. I'm very pleased that she feels as though she can talk to me about anything; I hope that continues as she gets older.

However, when I am trying to get things done around here, the kids vie for my attention. If I'm up to my elbows in food while preparing a big holiday dinner or trying to de-clutter the house in advance of a birthday bash, they are- more often than not - underfoot, asking me to help them find a toy, come watch a movie with them, or make them something to eat.

Some days I feel as though I am being pecked to death with their incessant little requests, and I'll wail at them in mock-frustration, "Why can't you rotten babies just leave me alone for 5 minutes?!"

They giggle and pounce on me again.

After a frustrating day, I can be relieved to see them go off with their dad. Then I can have a quiet meal and watch a movie or a tv show in peace. If it's been a really bad day of them bickering with each other and driving me to exhaustion, I'll just go to bed early, even if it's before 6 pm.

You know what? Even on the worst days, I miss them before they even get to their dad's house. That's been the worst part of this separation: having the house empty of my kids for periods of time.

Right now, the house is quiet and still, not just because it's early on a Sunday. I had the girls on Christmas morning, but won't see them again until New Year's Eve because they're off with their dad while he's on his winter vacation. They are thrilled about staying up late on New Year's Eve, drinking sparkling grape juice out of champagne glasses and watching the ball drop at midnight.

I'm looking forward to all three of us snuggled up together under a blanket on the couch in our new flannel pajamas and fun fuzzy socks.

I have alone time in abundance now, but don't know what to do with myself. I ought to do something productive and creative with this free time, such as write or paint, but I will probably hold an impromptu marathon of "Scrubs," "Dexter," or "Rescue Me" instead, anything to help distract me from how much I miss my girls.

There is such a thing as too much alone time.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Expanding Kids' Palates

I'm making good progress in getting the kids to try out new foods, and finally able to cook more varied dinners that the three of us will actually share. I have to say, watching Hell's Kitchen ever week has helped piqued the kids' interest quite a bit.

Joy of joys, they have come to like seafood! Specifically baked haddock with a crumb topping.

I served it with Rainbow Fries (roasted root vegetables cut into fat matchsticks - 2 beets, 1 parsnip and a sweet potato sprinkled with olive oil and Old Bay) accompanied by a dipping sauce (mayo, whole grain mustard and a few splashes of Frank's RedHot Pepper Sauce), kale ribbons sauteed in olive oil and garlic, and a rice and quinoa pilaf which the girls absolutely inhaled.

My 10 year-old, who does not usually like rice, said as she dished out her 4th serving, "This is damn-good rice, Mommy."

So there ya go.

To read more, check out the recipe in my new food blog >>> Crisis Brownies and other comfort foods

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Back from the Hinterlands of Apathy

Hey all, (all two of you that even read this)

I know. I've been a bad blogger. I wish I could say that I was away being fabulous and busy and successful and could spare not even 5 minutes to post updates.

Alas, it was not so.

To show you what I mean, here is the list of activities since last June:

1. End of June: Once the kids finished school - which was nearly July for Christ's sake - we had about a week or so of do-nothing time before summertime activities were due to start. I could have gone to Connecticut to visit the folks (and probably really should have, since they haven't see the girls since June 2008), but opted not to, instead telling myself the fib that the girls and I could use that time to de-clutter and organize.

Yeah, sure.

It started out well enough with a trip to the library. Lucy got to break in her brand-spanking new card, and we each got three books. The girls spent hardly any time reading their books, as it turned out, choosing instead to play Pokemon on their Nintendo/Gameboys. *grumble*

The house remained cluttered and disorganized, though I read all three of my books.

2. July: Natalie went to sleepaway camp for a week; her third year in a row. I remember picking her up the very first year and listening to her sob on the way home, certain that she'd just experienced the high point of her life and that she would never, ever make better friends or have a better time... EVER again!

Ah yes, I remember that heartbreak from my time at summer camp. *sigh*

Anyway, off she went, and with Big Sister gone that week, I promised Lucy that she and I would do lots of fun Mommy-Lucy stuff. I guess we must have, but for the life of me, aside from a trip to Friendly's, I can't recall what we did. I do know that de-cluttering wasn't part of it.

When Natalie came home, the girls started two weeks of musical theater. They did Seussical, Jr. Lucy was in dancing-heaven and Natalie had scored one of the lead roles - Horton the Elephant. The wretched child would not let me listen to her practice though. She told me that she wanted to surprise me.

She did. The kid was phenomenal. I cried.

Well, I always cry during Horton's songs. "Alone in the Universe" makes me weep unapologetically.

Unfortunately, I don't have a recording of her doing it. *dope slap* Here's someone else singing the song:

Let me get a tissue and I'll get back to you. *sniff*

OK, all better.

3. August:
The girls had the option of doing another session of the theater, but they both decided that they would rather take swimming lessons with their cousin.

Mad success! Natalie took to it like a fish; a spunky, curly-haired fish who got in trouble from time to time for not listening to her instructor, but in her few weeks there she advanced a whole level to intermediate.

As if that weren't enough fun, a few afternoons a week we'd go to my sister's and hang out in the air-conditioned, cable-tv-equipped splendor of her house. I watched Project Runway, Top Chef, and numerous shows on BBC America and lolled about like a slug.

It was awesome, although it did nothing to aid me in my goal of getting my house de-cluttered.

Also, somewhere in between the musical theater, the swimming and the Top Chef marathons, I became an un-Vegan again.

I know, I feel like a terrible person. I describe myself as a sort of self-loathing omnivore as I rush madly into the arms of my lovers, cheese and sausage, once again.

I am such a failure. A meat-eating, wretched failure. But good lord, did I create a delicious split pea and andouille soup! To die for. Especially the pigs that gave up their lives to become andouille. :/

4. September: School started, I persevered but slowly on the children's book that I keep telling people that I am writing and illustrating.

*sigh* That could be a blog entry by itself...

House, somewhat de-cluttered. The key: no kids hanging around to adjudicate on everything that goes into a trash bag.

5. October: Now I'm asking myself, "Where the HELL did October go?"

No, really!

Where did it go? It's November this weekend, I'll be starting NaNoWriMo and I still haven't done my Christmas shopping! For that matter, Hallowe'en is in two days and I have neither bought any bags of candy nor carved a single pumpkin yet.

However, I did recycle and toss out a buttload of clutter this week.

Also, I am teaching myself German again. Sprechen wir Deutsch!

So there you have it: I am not a total slacker. Just 98.5% of one, with the holidays a-looming.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Exactly the Same & The Snow Leopard Wars

I have commented several times how I'm bewildered by the fact that two siblings who aren't necessarily close in age can still manage to fight over possessions. It's gotten to the point where I quite often buy them identical toys so that I won't get complaints like, "She got a webkinz kitty and I only got a webkinz doggie! *long indrawn gasp* You love her more than meeeeee!"

Yeah, sure kid. I love her more than you. *eye roll*

So unless they are with me when we pick things out or I'm buying something from a list of things which they each specifically asked for, I make a habit of buying two identical objects so that there can be no complaints.

Recently though, I have become sick of it and thought that perhaps by doing so, I have inadvertently been creating future trouble. Half of the stuff that they get ends up broken or forgotten. That must-have item of today will end up with the dust bunnies under their beds tomorrow, trust me. Besides, by buying two things, exactly the same, I am setting them up to believe that things will be easy; that they will always be treated equally with everyone else in the world, and we all know that's not the case.

Maybe I'm just cranky from having to break up yet another disagreement between them, but I am ready to open up the School of Reality for them. The first rule is "You can't always get what you want and no amount of whining is going to change that."

"Gee, your sister got the webkinz kitty and you only got the stinky webkinz doggie? Well, that kid over there has neither. I'm sure he'd love the stupid ole webkinz doggie. You want to give it to him? No? Ok then."
Part of the trouble with Kid#2 is that we all have indulged her to a degree. Another part of it is her natural cuteness. She has this ability to work her charms on anyone around her. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Snow Leopard Wars.

The Snow Leopard Wars

Several years ago, for Christmas, Natalie got a big stuffed Snow Leopard from my dad. MY first reaction was, "Oh no." Now my dad had always gotten me and my sister plush toys as gifts when he'd go out of town on business trips, often leaving them on our beds when we were asleep so that they were the first thing we'd see when we woke up. To say that we had quite a large collection of stuffed animals is putting it mildly.

I actually have no problem with the girls getting stuffed animals, the issue that Christmas was, this was the very last toy from the Christmas pile, and it was a big one; moreover, there was no corresponding toy for Lucy. My dad, bless him, had thought that Lucy was too little to notice this discrepancy, and sure, she probably was. She couldn't yet count, but as soon as she saw that enormous, soft stuffed snow leopard, her eyes boggled. She dropped the toy she had been playing with and immediately toddled over to her big sister and the snow leopard. Ruefully, my dad said, "Oh shit," as he realized that not only had Lucy noticed the toy, but she made it very clear that she wanted it!

In the beginning, she was amenable to petting it a bit and then playing with one of her toys. That did not last long. Eventually, she'd find a way to play with it whenever her sister wasn't. When Natalie went off to school, Lucy would grab that toy and roll around on the floor with it; she'd gather up a bunch of her smaller stuffed animals and convene some sort of tribal council with the snow leopard as deity or chief; often, she'd sit on its back as if she were riding it; other times, she fall asleep on top of it and take a well-needed nap.

Looking back, I know that we should have nipped this in the bud. It is not right at all to condone one sibling's usurpation of another one's toys, and she'd already laid claim to a stuffed cheetah which was originally Natalie's. I have no defense other than to say that she was the child after a lost son, in some ways a miracle baby, if only because the miracle proved that after a death, life can still emerge. Maybe I fell prey to her charming ways. Whatever the cause, we were on the verge of raising a monster child.

The situation came to a head when Lucy decided that she wanted to have the snow leopard snuggled with her in bed at night. As you can imagine, Natalie protested this. She'd been very nice about sharing her toy with her little sister up until that point, and now she wanted more?! We decided upon a compromise where they would take turns: one night Natalie would have the snow leopard, the next night, Lucy would. They agreed, but only on the surface. In reality, on the nights Lucy had the snow leopard, Natalie would be a little pouty. When Natalie had the snow leopard, Lucy seemed willing enough. She'd go to bed with no fuss, and at first we breathed a sigh of relief. but then, when their dad and I were sitting downstairs on the couch, we heard this:

Thump. Thud-thud-thud-thud-thud. *pause* Squeeeeeeeak. *pause* Thud-thud-thud. Squeeeeeeeeeeak. *pause* Thud-thud-thud.Thud-thud-thud.

Sitting below, we could follow the little thuds and squeaks from Lucy's room to her sister's. Their dad went upstairs to deal with this and when he came down, he was laughing, saying,

"I caught her just as she was coming out of Natalie's room. She had the snow leopard slung over her shoulder like she was carrying a wounded buddy out of combat!"

It really was a funny image. The snow leopard was easily the same size as her, maybe even a little bit bigger.

It took some nights of this repeated effort - she's nothing if not persistent - finally we lay down an ultimatum: the snow leopard or the cheetah. See, this fascination with the snow leopard was just a flirtation. Lucy's real love was for the stuffed cheetah she had somehow appropriated from her sister. We explained this to her, telling her that by right, both the cheetah and the snow leopard were Natalie's, and so far Natalie had been ok (kind of) with giving up the cheetah, but she wasn't remotely ok with sharing the snow leopard.

So we put it to her: if you want to keep the cheetah, no more back and forth with the snow leopard.

Her answer was decisive. She hugged the cheetah close to her, her big eyes filled with tears and she said, "Cheeeeeetahhhhhh!"

Crisis averted.

The new crisis is wondering if I am raising kids with certain unreasonably high expectations, but I suppose all parents wonder about this, right?

Why June 18th Breaks My Heart

I wrote this in June, 2001.

Nathan, My Stillborn Son

On Monday, June 18, I woke up with cramping in my lower abdomen. I got up in a fog (as usual) and went off to the bathroom (as usual). I was 37 weeks along, so I was antsy about the waiting. This was my second pregnancy, though, so I felt that I had a clue about what to expect.

Well, after about fifteen minutes had passed, I realized that I'd had this cramping three times. I thought to myself, "Wow, that kind of feels like contractions." They were mild, however, and I had no back pain with them so I wasn't too worried, and I told my husband to go off to work as usual. As time passed, they immediately started to come stronger , more painfully, and started out in my lower back and spread to my abdomen. Finally, at about 7, I called the OB on-call and he said that it sounded as though I were in the beginning of labor, and to come on in to the hospital.

I called my husband at work and told him and then realized that I was starting to bleed a little. I knew that this was normal with rapid effacement and dilation, and since I had been fully closed up and not effaced at all just days earlier at my internal, I thought, "Wow! This is happening fast."

I got my daughter Natalie and went downstairs and woke up my sister-in-law, Mary (Thank God she was there, as you'll see) and told her that she needed to drive me to the hospital since I was in labor. I called a neighbor to watch Natalie and we took off. The pain got worse and worse in my back. "Oh great," I thought, "Back labor." and when we were about 7 minutes out from the hospital, I felt a warm gush as my waters broke. I started stuffing paper napkins down my shorts to keep from getting her seats all gross, when I saw that the fluid was very bloody. She floored it and I waddled into the hospital and they whisked me up to the Family Birth Center.

I got there and they saw the blood and sort of said, "Wow, you must be really dilating fast." They checked me and I was at 5 cm. Then they hooked me up to a fetal monitor and found a strong heartbeat of 120. It wasn't until they put the pulse monitor on my finger that they saw that they were picking up my heartbeat on the fetal monitor. Then, I had two OB nurses searching for my son's heart beat as we waited for my OB to arrive. She got there not long afterward (at the time it felt as though hours had passed, I was in so much pain and now was worried for my son). She checked me and attached an internal monitor, and broke my waters. What came out was a rush of bright red blood mixed with the fluid. She saw the fetal heart rate was all over the place, and I saw from the look on her face that it was bad. She ran (I'm not kidding) out of the room and I heard the words "abruption" and "emergency c-section" and I knew in my heart that my son was dead.

They wheeled me into the OR. As luck would have it, she had an entire OR staff prepared in one room to do a scheduled hysterectomy. She ran in and told them to move their asses to the next room to do an emergency section for a placental abruption. They moved fast. By now, on the operating table, I was shaking, freezing cold, seeing flashing spots and fiery arcs in the periphery of my vision, and lightheaded. As the anesthesiologist put the mask on my face to give me oxygen, my throat closed up so that I felt as if I couldn't breathe. I got more and more panicky, certain that if I let them put me out that I would die. I remember starting to shake and seize and then nothing.

My next memories are spotty. I'm being wheeled out, screaming and crying, asking to see my baby though he was lying right there on my chest. I was asking if he was ok, though I knew he was gone. Then nothing. Next, I'm in a recovery room with my husband by my side, I'm on morphine asking him if the baby was ok, and he tells me that he wasn't ok, that he was stillborn. Tears, more tears and sobbing and pain, lots of physical pain. My OB came in, crying, telling me that there was nothing that could have been done. She explained that I'd had a complete placental abruption. I had almost bled to death, and it was fortunate that I hadn't died as well. She told me that placental abruption is the number one obstetric cause of maternal deaths in labor. It came as a double shock because I was not at high risk. I'd had the perfect, beautiful pregnancy, just like my first. Not even morning sickness. I was strong and healthy, and happy.

My husband brought my tiny boy in for me to see, touch, cuddle and kiss. He was mottled purple, red and blue, but beautiful, perfect and tiny. If he'd lived there would have been nothing wrong with him. I held him a couple times, but it was too much for me to cope with, so they sent him back to the nursery, but he was there when I wanted him.

Because time was of the essence, she'd had to cut me from my navel down to the pubic bone to get in quickly to try to save the baby and me. No cute little bikini cut for me. I looked like one of Dr. Frankenstein's rejects. Still there was nothing that could have been done to save my son. She said that the placenta could have pulled away from the lining when I was in the car 7 minutes away, and by the time I got there he might already have been gone. So many people came in to tell me how lucky I was to be alive and still have my uterus (does anyone really think that I will ever want to go through labor again?). I had the entire OB nursing staff, no fewer than four anesthesiologists, two OBs and our pediatrician/ neonatologist (who worked on our son for a long time to get him to breathe to no avail) all tell me that there was nothing that could have been done, and NO WAY I could have known.

I told myself again and again that if I had only gone in earlier instead of trying to "suck it up" and deal with the pain, that someone would have seen something and our son would be here with me right now, breastfeeding. I would be sleep-deprived and hormonal and cranky, but blissfully happy to hold my little son. Instead, I am in physical pain, and emotional agony. I feel as though I am ready to fall into an abyss on some days and on others, it's as if it hadn't happened. I half expect to look down and see my beautiful, big, pregnant tummy, with my little boy kicking and punching away inside.

My recovery in the hospital was excruciating. I needed a blood transfusion, and there were a few occasions where staff came in and asked me about my baby, not knowing that he had died. I cried on just about everyone who worked there, and cried myself to sleep clutching the blue hand-knitted blanket he had been wrapped in.

Thursday I was released, and in a drugged stupor stumbled around my house as my friends and family tried to help. Friday morning was the funeral mass. Next to the moment of actually knowing that he had died, it was the most excruciating experience of my life. My husband & I cried the whole time. The priest, a man in his 50's or 60's actually started to cry during his service, and we heard constant sniffing and sobs from the congregants. My dad sat next to me and held my hand the entire time, and my husband & I clutched each other in shock and disbelief. My husband & I processed out to the hearse, I carrying the casket spray of white and purple flowers with a ribbon "To our beloved son Nathan, Love Mommy and Daddy" as he cradled the tiny white casket in his arms. No one should ever have to place a tiny casket bearing the body of their baby into a hearse. It is just so wrong.

I could go on and on about what happened next at the reception, and how I was brought to the ER that night for an anxiety attack (or mental breakdown??) and how awful it is, and how if I hear one more person say, "It's part of God's plan," I'll scream. "Yeah, well I had a plan too, and in MY plan, I got to keep my son."

Everyone says that the road to healing from a loss like this can take as long as two years. It hasn't even been two weeks. How can I live this hell, or some version of it for two years?

My traumatic experience goes on and on. I wish that mine was a birth experience which, though painful and unfortunate, ended happily with a living baby instead of a funeral and Xanax.

In the weeks afterward, I regretted only holding him on two occasions, but I realize now that even if I had held him every minute that I was in the hospital, it would not have been enough. What are the minutes of four lousy, pain-filled days compared to a lifetime that was never meant to be? I have only the memories of holding him. Although he was full-term and weighed 6 pounds, 7 ounces, it was like holding a dried husk of wheat, he was so light. I felt as though I had to hold him tightly so that a breeze could not take him away from me. We never got to see his eyes or hear his voice or even see a flicker of movement cross his face, just shadows and our tears spilling out. Also, we have the fantasies of what might have been: how Natalie would turn out to be a bossy big sister and how he would retaliate by being a pesky little brother. Family trips in the car would have been filled with commands like: "Don't touch your sister!" or "Stop looking at your brother!" Most of all, our house would have been filled with even more love and laughter than we already have. These fantasies, 7 pictures, a green knit hat, blue knitted baby afghan, and some inked footprints are among the meager possessions we have to remember him by. I look at his photos every single day, just to make sure that I don't forget his little face, which already seems like that of a stranger, yet so familiar to me.

This process of grieving is a rough road, parts of which you can only travel alone. Slowly, they tell us, it will get better, and you will see longer stretches of good moments among the bad ones, then the moments will turn into days, then weeks and on to months. Nevertheless, you never forget, but merely try to find some peace.

June, 2001

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Trip to the Movie Theater

I recently took the kids to see Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

I hadn't seen the first one before seeing the sequel, though I knew the general concept behind it. The girls were more than happy to fill me in on everything, since they had seen the first movie many, many times.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

One thing occurred to me when we were watching the previews. We noticed that Will Ferrell has a family-friendly movie out soon: Land of the Lost. My munchkins are already begging me to promise to take them when it comes out.

Now my first response to the thought of taking them to see a Will Ferrell movie would be: "No fucking way!" Ron Burgundy? Hello?!

But on second glance, it appears that, like Ben Stiller, Will is making the move from R-rated hysterically funny/smutty flicks to the even more lucrative kid-centered PG/PG-13 movies. A few years ago, I'd never have guessed that the same guy who'd gotten his privates caught in a zipper (There's Something About Mary) or who'd pumped up his privates (Dodgeball) would ever be in a movie I'd let my kids see.

Now I think I'm looking forward to Land of the Lost as much as the girls are, but my most-anticipated movie of the summer is Julia & Julia based on The Julie/Julia Project, which stars Amy Adams, lately of Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.

I like how things can come full-circle.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Good Food for Healthy Kids

I've mentioned in previous posts how concerned I am with nutrition, both the kids' and mine. I've had a great week so far since I decided to switch to a vegan diet. I've given some thought to how I want to deal with my kids' nutrition since I've made a fairly radical change. I know that taking a dictatorial stance with the kids won't work, especially since this is a two-house household; I'm afraid that if they don't like the vegetarian food at Mommy's house, they'll go overboard with meat, dairy or other forbidden indulgences elsewhere. Even adults don't make good food choices when they're ravenous, you can hardly expect better from kids! I want to do right by my kids because the eating habits we have when we are kids set the stage for the rest of our lives.

Believe me, I am no food-saint. There have been plenty of times when I didn't feel like cooking anything elaborate and just whipped out a box of mac and cheese and threw some frozen green vegetables in it, added a cup of fruit salad as a side and called it a meal. I have also fallen prey to the Perdue dinosaur nuggets as a main course. No more. The best I can do is give them the most wholesome food that I can.

The other day Kid#2 came home from school early because her stomach was hurting. She told me that she didn't feel nauseous, but the nurse thought it best to send her home anyway. Now, this kid is more of a puker than her sister. She's a huge milk drinker and tends to be more of a grazer, eating small meals, but quite often. I decided to reduce the amount of milk she drinks to see if her stomach issues would improve. She really does not like water, and I don't want to give her a ton of juice, which is basically sugar. I thought about having her try my soy milk.

As with many things when attempting to introduce new things to kids, a lot of it is in the presentation. I asked her if she wanted to try my "vanilla milk."

"It tastes sort of like a milkshake," I told her, offering her a sip. She screwed up her face and shrunk away until finally, she sniffed. Then again. Next, a tentative sip. Her eyes flew open and she gulped it down.

"Mommy this. Is. SO. De-LI-cious!"

Score one for mom. Now both girls are glugging down Silk Very Vanilla soy milk.

Not to be outdone by her younger sister, Kid#1 has decided to give new things a try. The other day she asked me about my vegetarian diet, why I'm doing it and what I get to eat, especially since I don't eat cheese anymore (that was damned-near unfathomable to her). I mentioned that I'd had an awesome carrot salad for lunch. She perked up her ears at that and asked me what was in it. After I'd rattled off the ingredients, she thought for a second and said, "I think I want to try that. Can you make it for me?"

Color me shocked, but I'm not going to waste time over-analyzing it when this opportunity for my kid to eat better has presented itself.

Here is the kid-approved recipe. Enjoy!

Sweet and Spicy Carrot salad


  • 2 teaspoons ground flax seeds*
  • 2 tablespoons hot water*
  • juice of ½ lime
  • minced, fresh ginger
  • agave nectar**
  • 1/4 teaspoon of smoked Spanish paprika***
  • dash of cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 large carrots, grated
  • mandarin orange segments
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, whole or chopped****


  1. Put the ground flax seeds in a small bowl and add the hot water. Stir and allow to sit 10 minutes until thickened.
  2. Add lime juice, ginger, agave nectar, smoked paprika, cumin and s&p. Taste and adjust seasoning
  3. Put the grated carrots in a bowl.
  4. Add the dressing and mix well.
  5. Fold in the mandarin oranges and walnuts.
  6. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

* The flax seeds and water are optional. I first made this dressing without the flax as a thickener.

**You can use honey in place of the agave.

***To accommodate my kids' palates, I reduced the smoked paprika, since it's got some kick to it and my kids aren't as enamored with spicy food as I am. You can substitute sweet Hungarian paprika.

****Any nuts will do. Slivered almonds and sunflower seeds also go well with this.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

40 Year-old Vegan

22 years ago I became a Vegan briefly.

Since that time I have run the gamut of diets and eating philosophies: low-carb, high-protein, like South Beach; low-fat, high carb, like the Ornish plan; full-fledged, indiscriminate omnivore like most people, but I've always come back to thinking about Vegetarian/Veganism.

Recently I've been feeling fatigued and cold all the time, have had problems with hair breakage and unexplained weight gain. I thought for sure that it was my thyroid, I mean seriously, I had 12 of the 14 major symptoms listed for hypothyroidism, so I scheduled an appointment to see my doctor for my yearly physical. Many blood tests and one eye-popping step on the scale later, we found that my thyroid was not the culprit, but that my cholesterol and other results were really quite good.

The verdict: I'm a lazy-ass. Gee, no kidding!

I resolved to start exercising, perhaps to take up morning yoga again. I also thought that this might be a good chance to drop the meat and dairy from my diet. When I'd adopted a vegetarian diet way back when I was 18, I lost a ton of weight fairly quickly. Unfortunately, I had not read a lot about how to maintain a vegan diet in a healthy way, and was unable to sustain it.

I've read a lot more since then, and with the powerful search tool of the internet handy, finding new recipes to test and like-minded people for support is easier than it ever was. As always, I plan on blogging about it. I'll post the new recipes that I find that are particularly appealing, plus my adaptations of old favorites.

Here's to my journey. :)

40 Year-old Vegan

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dessert Pizza

At our house, we like all things pizza. We had a dinnertime play-date once with some friends and their two boys. On the menu, several homemade gourmet pizzas, including this kid-approved dessert pizza.

This is an easy, kid-friendly recipe, as much fun to make as it is to eat.

Dessert Pizza

  • sugar cookie dough, store-bought or made from scratch
  • whipped cream
  • fresh fruit
  • candy

  1. Spray a 10-inch round pizza pan lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Pat out the sugar cookie dough to fit the pan.
  3. Bake at 350° for 16 -20 minutes until slightly golden on the edges
  4. Take it out and let it cool in the pan for at least an hour.
  5. Top with whipped cream. If you make it yourself you can experiment flavoring it with different kinds of extracts. I like coconut extract.
  6. Let the kids then top it with pieces of candy or fruit. My kids like maraschino cherries, mandarin orange segments, slices of banana and shredded coconut
  7. Eat and enjoy! Refrigerate any leftovers there might be and enjoy them for breakfast the next day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Cooking with Kids

How many of you have attempted this? As you may know from previous blog entries (More Homemade Takeout, and Toddler Nutrition, or How I Learned That Toddlers Can Survive for a Week on String Cheese and Grapes), I have begun to muzzle my kitchen control-freak and give the kids a chance at food preparation. So far, we've stuck to making personal pizzas on Friday night Pizza Night, pre-party mandu preparation, and letting Natalie make the occasional grilled cheese sandwich, although, trust me, I'm always hovering nearby with the fire extinguisher.

Last weekend I made two baguettes of French bread. I was in a hurry, so instead of kneading the dough by hand, I used my bread machine (a Zojirushi, the only one I will ever use again). It occurred to me that the next time I make bread when the girls are hanging around, I could let them have a whack at kneading the dough. As anger-management techniques go, you could do a lot worse. Plus, it's just plain fun!

In the meantime, I am thinking about something simpler, like making cookies with the girls soon. I mean, what kid (or mom) doesn't like cookies, right? I received The Cookie Book from my uncle for Christmas one year, and still refer to it for their butter cookies and snickerdoodles recipes. More importantly, it is written for kids, providing careful explanations of kitchen terms and items. It's out of print, but worth the trouble of searching used bookstores.

Another great book for bringing kids into the kitchen as active participants is Ready, Steady, Spaghetti. One reviewer writes:

"Ready, Steady Spaghetti is a charming and effervescent book, one that makes you want to bring a child into the kitchen and start cooking. Effervescence does not overwhelm usefulness, but adds to it, and the book will produce smiles when open to a recipe in the making, or when the recipe result is on the table. As the title indicates, the book is for kids in its selection of recipes that appeal to the younger set, and with kids in the clarity and simplicity of the written recipes. The book abounds in photographs that are so joyful that the adult will find that cooking with kids of any age is a form of entertainment, while youngsters will be inspired to copy dishes that are artistic in their presentation. Appealing to both the eye and the taste buds, a happy time in the kitchen is guaranteed. Not only a time for fun, coking together is also a time for bonding. If you don't have a young child at home, find one to borrow, and have a cooking party." - From

What a great review! Interested? Check out this blog for your chance to win a copy.

Now as for me, the cookies are calling, begging to be baked.

Lucy the Great

Attitude. Ah yes, 'tude raises its ugly head. You may think that I am speaking of my older daughter, and while it's true that she's beginning to display some "tweenishness," I'm actually referring to the younger daughter.

Not long ago, on a sick-day, we had a few memorable exchanges. I'd spent the morning running around fetching things for the poor invalid lying on the couch, when finally, after she'd delivered another imperious command for her drink, I asked her, "How old are you anyway?"

"6" she replied.

"Really?" I asked her, "Are you sure?"

"Yes," she said. "Now where's my drink?"

The little wretch did everything but snap her little fingers at me; I swear, the kid is a like a Catherine the Great in miniature. Just as she finished slurping her milk through three curly straws, she threw off the covers, stalked to the kitchen to put the empty glass in the sink, when she said, "Hungry! I'm hungry!"

She stood in the middle of the kitchen, arms crossed, tiny foot tapping, shimmying her shoulders slightly, giving me that, "Oh yeah, whatchoo-gonna-do-about-it, Lady" look. I stared her down with "the Look," known to moms and dads everywhere. She broke eye contact, giggled, and then with a sweeping gesture, pirouetted and frolicked. Yes, frolicked.

Amazed, I watched her dance around the kitchen before I snapped, "For a sick little girl, you sure aren't acting very sick! You are never staying home from school again!"

She stopped short, gave me a stricken look and promptly burst into tears before running back to the living room to hide under blankets on the couch. Way to go, Mommy.


I'm not sure I'll be able to stay sane once the two girls hit their teens. That remote convent in the Swiss Alps is looking better all the time.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Drive Around the Block, Mommy!

That's what Kid #2 said to me on the way home from school today as we approached the driveway. "The Logical Song," that Supertramp golden-oldie had just come on the radio, and the kid was bouncing around in her booster seat. You know the song. Go ahead and click. I'll be waiting.

See? You know that song. So back to my story: I did what I often do, turned off the blinker, turned up the volume and cruised on through the light.

Thank God my kids have good taste* in music. No Jonas brothers for them; they are more likely to ask me to turn it up and drive around the block when something by Queen, AC/DC or The Cars comes on the radio.

Those 5-hour road trips to visit my parents can be fun listening to the tunes on the various classic rock stations within listening distance of I-90. I am limited to the radio because my car still has the standard tape deck-AM/FM radio - cheap speakers it did the day it was born at the Subaru factory way back when. I've just never gotten around to buying a cd player, and you can forget a dvd player with which to bribe lull the girls into behaving on long trips. They can read, listen to my music or play their Nintendos. If they insist on something else, they can play their own cds on their little personal cd players.

See? It works out perfectly for everyone. Thankfully, they still think that their mom has awesome taste in music.

*Good taste in music is subjective, I know, but I will never consider boy bands as good.

Through Our Kids' Eyes

This meme passed through my friends' Facebook pages not long ago. Amusing and heart-warming, it was fun for all three of us - the girls loved being interviewed. It's always interesting to hear what they think.

The Interview

1. What is something mom always says to you?
Lucy: "NO."

No hesitation there.

Natalie: "NOOOOO."


2. What makes mom happy?
Lucy: "Hugs, squeezes and kisses from your babies."

Aww, she's right!

Natalie: "When we hug and kiss you and you think of us as babies. and when we enjoy your food and when we sleep with you."

Actually the middle of the night "I have to sleep with Mommy because I saw a teeny spider" sessions are getting old. Otherwise she's right on.

3. What makes mom sad?
Lucy: "When we don't listen to her."

Yeah, "mad," "sad," sure. Just not "glad."

Natalie: "When she thinks of us when we're away."

True. I miss them when they're at their dad's even though it's just down the road. Literally.

4. How does your mom make you laugh?
Lucy "She does silly things and she makes silly jokes and she's silly."

I guess I'm silly.

Natalie: "By fooling around, like singing the "Bad Baby" song."

When Natalie was a baby I took the Bad Boys song from Cops and changed it to:

Bad Baby, Bad Baby, whatcha gonna dooooo, whatcha gonna do with a diaper full of poo.."
So I guess they both think I'm goofy.

5. What was your mom like as a child?
Lucy: "She was good and nice and cute."

Not to hear my parents talk about me. They say I was a holy terror.

Natalie: "I don't know."

There ya go. No speculation.

6. How old is your mom?
Lucy: "44?"


Natalie: "40. She's turning 41. She's old."

Gee thanks, kid. She's right, of course.

7. How tall is your mom?
Lucy: "I don't know, um... all the way up here? Um 6'2"?"

WTH? I'm 5'2 1/2" lol

Natalie: "I'm guessing around 5'7".


8. What is her favorite thing to do?
Lucy: "Play on the computer and play games with her children and help them solve their problem."

Sure. I'll buy that, as long as the "problem" doesn't involve spiders.

Natalie: "Draw and spend time with us."


9. What does your mom do when you're not around?
Lucy: "Read books, go on computer and takes a nap."

How'd she know?!

Natalie: "I don't really know."

She can be quite a literalist.

10. If your mom becomes famous, what will it be for?
Lucy: "To paint."

Awww, thanks sweetie!

Natalie: "Your drawing and being the best mommy ever and having the biggest eyes ever."

It's nice that they like my art. :)

11. What is your mom really good at?
Lucy: "Painting."


Natalie: "Drawing and spending time with us."

I think that they are my biggest fans.

12. What is your mom not very good at?
Lucy: "Explaining things. like Indiana Jones."

I have no idea what she meant, but it was funny!Maybe she meant "exploring."

Natalie: "Being stupid."

What a glowing endorsement. :)

13. What does your mom do for a job?
Lucy:"Works on the computer."

It seems that way sometimes.

Natalie: "You don't have a job, but you used to."

The Literalist strikes again! Apparently neither of them see mothering as a job.

14. What is your mom's favorite food?
Lucy: "Chicken."

No, but that's ok.

Natalie: "Is it Mexican food? Mexican and Chinese."


15. What makes you proud of your mom?
Lucy: "Making dinner."

Hmmm, I guess she's hungry...

Natalie: "You being my Mommy."


16. If your mom were a cartoon character, who would she be?
Lucy: "Squidward!"


Natalie: "You wouldn't really be a cartoon character, because I don't know any that are like you."

Yeah, I guess I am one-of-a-kind.

17. What do you and your mom do together?
Lucy: "We paint together."

We need to do more of that. :)

Natalie: "Watch a movie, sometimes doing clay and sometimes drawing."


18. How are you and your mom the same?
Lucy: "We're both white."

True. We're also both multi-cellular, carbon-based life forms.

Natalie: "It's very obvious. Everything except the glasses. And the wrinkles."

It's true. She is my Mini-me. Oh, but I do NOT have wrinkles!

19. How are you and your mom different?
Lucy:"Because you have glasses on."


Natalie: "The glasses and the wrinkles and sometimes the personalities."


20. How do you know your mom loves you?
Lucy:"Because you always say that."

I do tell them that a lot.

Natalie: "Because you always say it and you're my mommy."


21. Where is your mom's favorite place to go?
Lucy: "Alaska."

It's nice, sure.

Natalie: "Alaska!"

I guess they think I really like Alaska!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

“The Rule of Sibs: If your sibling gets something you want, you (1) try to take it; (2) break it; or (3) say it's no good”
-Patricia Fleming

I first wrote about sibling rivalry back in March, 1997:

"I can't understand how it is that a 4 year-old and an almost-8 year-old can have so much in common that their main form of communication is arguing over every last detail of what they're going to play, how they will do it, who will eat what, who drinks what etc." - "Sisterhood, Ain't it Grand?"

And lo, not much has changed in the intervening two years.

Just yesterday when I was chatting with my sister on the phone, she said pretty much exactly the same thing, wondering why, with the age difference being what it was, my two girls continue to fight like cats and dogs. They couldn't even call a truce for Mother's Day, for God's sake!

They fight over toys, who owns what, which identical toy horse is whose, and even who used to own what and who has primacy over an object. We've recycled toys, giving Natalie's baby and toddler toys to her little sister as she outgrew them and got Big-Girl toys, yet still pangs of possessiveness flare up.

"Hey, that's mine! I now I haven't played with Tickle-Me-Elmo in like 7 years, but still... that's mine!"

It's not even the bickering over stuff or the ever-popular, "Mom, she's looking at me!" "Yeah? Well, she's breathing near me!" that get to me, though they allot plenty of time for all of that, but it is the intentional pressing of each other's buttons that drives me nuts.

Both girls are guilty of this, but Natalie is just a bit more devoted to it than her sister is. She will do some tiny thing guaranteed to make her sister scream, howl or whine and then go off to her room, cackling about it. When ordered to apologize to her sister, she rattles off some lame "OhI'msosorryLucy" which just oozes insincerity.


I polled people informally about this just the other day and was assured that even though they used to fight with their sibs when they were younger, eventually they grew out of it and became friends.

I remain unconvinced for now.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Some Mother's Day Sweetness.

My older daughter made this for me.

Go grab some insulin, you may need it to counteract the pure sweetness.

"Mommy, you are the BEST Mommy ever!
Others are nice, but you'er the BEST!
Mommies are warmhearted,
Mommies are warmspirited as well,

I may actually be doing something right with these kids.

That is good to know.

Happy Mother's Day, and let's remember to appreciate all the Mommies out there.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's amazing the things you'll find when you're de-cluttering.

I've been on a de-cluttering and organizing kick lately. Just the other day, in fact, I loaded my copy of Quicken and spent a good two days entering in all the data from three years' worth of bank statements and checkbook register notes. Sometimes it pays off to be a pack-rat. Oh yes, it's been a little bit crazy here Chez Babs.

It all started last week when, for some reason, after I finished watching Slumdog Millionaire I leaped off the couch (literally, I actually did jump up) and marched over to my little studio downstairs which has been virtually unusable since in an effort to keep the living room habitable, I have just been tossing the kids' junk in there and slamming the doors shut. "Out of sight out of mind," right? But really, by doing that, I have basically been punishing myself because I couldn't even use my special studio space to make art whenever inspiration struck me.

So, I got up, dragged all the stuff out, sorted it into big piles of things to toss, things to recycle, and things to keep. I then did a mini-reorganization of the stuff in the studio so that my work table is usable. Now, just imagine, I have quick access to art supplies. Brilliant, I know.

In my de-cluttering frenzy, I found many, many pages of the girls' school assignments. These included, as always, a fine collection of paper-plate and brown paper bag art endemic to our education system (see right for the latest example from Lucy); the crowning glory was an old assignment of Natalie's from last fall in which she had to describe her family.

Natalie is a very funny kid. She's quick-witted, lively, and quite often, very silly. She is also right on the cusp of beginning to get sarcasm and irony. I have high hopes for her maintaining a sense of humor. I remember hearing her giggling when she'd been writing this assignment, and when she'd finished, I asked her what had been so funny. She ran over to me and gave it to me with that mischievous Natalie-gleam in her eye. I sat on the couch, read it aloud and started giggling myself. Soon, all three of us were laughing, and once we'd stopped, one or another of us would get going again.

That's a good memory.

About My Family

My dad is a guitarist and a sociologist. He's 43 years old.

My mom is america's best drawer! She's 40 years old.

My brother sadly he's dead. I think he's 7 years old.

I have a tabby cat named Cheetah. I think he's either 6 or 7.

I have a pesky little sister. She's 5.  She's truning 6 in December.

I'm 6th out of my family.

Heres good things about Natalie's family.

Its a good thing I have a pet.

Its a good thing I have a sister so if I'm in trouble I can blame  her.

Its a good thing I have parents because - well they do lots of stuff.

Its a good thing my dad is a sociologist because he makes money so we can by food.

Mommy is amaricas best browny baker!

I left the spelling and punctuation errors in for authenticity, although I am tempted to see if there's a version of Eats, Shoots and Leaves for kids.

Have a great day, everyone.

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Parent's Lexicon

I thought I might combine my love of language with my experiences as a mom to create this much-needed lexicon.

The Parent's Lexicon

  1. "We'll see."

    This means, "Stop pestering me about it and maybe the answer won't be 'No!' "
  2. "Maybe."

    This generally means, "No, but I don't feel like committing to a definite answer yet because I want to forestall the whining and tantrums."

  3. "Because I said so, that's why!"

    We trot out this gem for one of two reasons. Some parents feel that they should always have a well-reasoned answer for their kids' every complaint demand for an explanation, and quite often, they have no reasonable rationalization behind what they're telling their spawn to do/not do. When we consider that most parents don't feel like engaging in an extended debate on the issue, you can see how they might fall back on the time-honored "BISS,TW!"

    Others among us simply harbor secret desires of world domination.
  4. "Soon."

    When I say this, like in answer to, "Mommy, when can we go back to the zoo?" I usually mean, "Hopefully never again, and I hope that by saying 'Oh, soon, honey' I can buy some time before you ask me again."
  5. "What has the cat ever done to you?"

    I mean, "Leave the animal alone before he takes out your jugular with his claws!" or "Leave the animal alone or I'll send him right back to the shelter!" <--Of course I would never actually do that, I love the furry little animal, but it is a tempting thought on those days when the kids and cat keep pestering one another.
  6. "If you kids don't knock that off, I'm going to sell you on eBay!"

    This means "Knock it off right now."

    I tell my kids this all the time. My kids know that I won't actually sell them on eBay, mostly because I'm pretty sure it's illegal, but they do think it's funny and for some reason, humor often works to keep them in line.

    I did get a really dirty look from another mom one time I said this in public - Wegman's I think - and I was astounded that someone might have thought that I'd really do this.
  7. "I am going to count to three!"

    This is the best thing ever. It is sort of adapted from "3-2-1-Magic." What you do is, tell them that you will count to three and if they don't stop what they're doing/do what you're asking them do by the time you say "three," then BY GOD there will be consequences.
    For example: Your kid is meandering about the house aimlessly, after having made a merry mess on the living room floor with a ream of computer paper, crayons and glitter glue. You have told her to pick her stuff up, she does not listen; in fact, it seems that she is pointedly ignoring you! Once it reaches critical mass and you can't bear the idea of picking it up after her, you say, "Kid, I am going to count to three and you had better get to picking this mess up or I will start throwing all of this stuff out!"

    Crucial Hint: Be strong and follow through. If you say that you will toss stuff out but cave, you have just undermined your authority. The little munchkins will never take you seriously. Believe me, all it takes is one incident with the Black Hefty Garbage Bag of Doom and your kids will be true believers. Then all you have to do is say, "I think it's time for the Black Hefty Garbage Bag of Doom," and they'll be running up the stairs with toys in hand.

Do you have any crucial translations to add? Let me know!

Thanks for reading, more entries to come!

The 24-minute Diaper Change

The past few days I have been going through old blog and journal entries, partly to find new fodder for blog entries, and partly because I love reminiscing about when my kids were younger. They absolutely love it when I regale them with stories of their impishness.

Just the other morning, I stumbled across this gem from when Lucy was a baby. Our diaper days are long gone, and we've emerged on the other side of the potty training war relatively unscathed. From time to time, Baby Fever still afflicts me, especially whenever I see a newborn fresh with that New Baby smell clinging to the top of his little, hairless baby head. It's good to go back and refresh my memory with some smelly stories.

This 24-minute diaper change incident from April, 2003 ought to do it!

3:57-4:00 pm

Place child on mat, change dirty diaper, wipe baby’s butt, put on clean diaper, snap up onesie and pjs.
(Note to Self: For all its wretched stink the diaper was not heavily soiled.)

Take diaper to trash, wash hands.


Come back in, pick up baby. Nose is met with a definite stench.
Place child on mat again.
Unsnap pjs and onesie, check diaper. Yuck, very dirty.
(Note to Self: Baby’s tummy is still rather gurgly)

Take off diaper, wipe butt, put on clean diaper.
Notice stains on onesie, strip baby down, toss dirty onesie in hamper, locate clean one, change baby.
Toss dirty diaper in trash.
Scrub hands thoroughly.


Come back in, pick up baby, see red face, hear grunts, figure kid isn’t done pooping, place baby back on mat, leave room.
Go to kitchen and scour pan which has been soaking for two days in the sink.
Next, scour hands.
(Note to Self: Buy more hand soap)


Come back in, sniff the air, see a fresh poop stain on brand-new onesie.
Sigh, take off onesie, see that the pjs are also soaked through, toss them in the hamper, locate new pjs and onesie, put aside.
Take off dirty diaper, wipe butt.
Feel warmth on hand, look down to see a geyser of pee washing over hand, and soaking clean diaper and onesie.
Sigh deeply, dry butt, change diaper, undress baby.
Drop wet onesie in hamper, locate last remaining clean onesie, dress baby.
(Note to Self: do laundry)

Take wet diaper to trash.
Disinfect hands.


Come back in, pick up baby, smile back at smiling baby, get covered in a flood of curdled spit-up breast milk.
Take baby into bedroom, find new pjs for baby and new shirt for Mommy.
Get dressed, dress baby, wash hands.
Go to couch, sit down and begin breastfeeding.
(Note to Self: the vicious cycle will repeat itself in approx. 2 hours)

Of course, funny videos of dads changing diapers, including one dressed in a Hazmat suit, notwithstanding, diaper changes really aren't all that bad. If I could, I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat and have another kid, though I might hire someone to potty train them for me.

Natalie & Lucy, 2003

Coming soon! The Snow Leopard wars!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Name That Sound!

Parenthood changes your perception of a lot things, especially what sounds can mean. If you have no kids running amok, a random "click" from a room two rooms away doesn't take on the ominous meaning that it does once you have kids underfoot.

Here are a few notable examples from my own experience.

1. Silence:

Any seasoned parent will tell you that the sound of silence coming from the next room will set off alarms. Instead of sitting back with a huge *sigh*, a parent faced with an abrupt silence one room over will immediately leap out of her chair, wondering, "What has the kid gotten into now?!"

2. Silence, followed by *thwack-thwack-thwack*:

You know this can not be good. What could it be? Is it as simple as a throw pillow whacked against a coffee table or is it something more ominous, something involving the cat? Things that make you go "Hmmm..." right before your head explodes.

3. Silence, followed by peals of laughter:

This is especially troublesome once there is more than one child in the equation. The amount of trouble increases exponentially with each additional child. The last time I heard this series of sounds, it involved my two children, a set of magic markers and a pile of blank card stock. The card stock, as it turned out, was just for show. The real artwork appeared on the littler child's face and hands.

4. Silence, followed by *thwack-thwack-thwack*, *skitter-skitter-crunch* + peals of laughter:

In all honesty, this made my blood run cold. In case you have no idea what that combination of sounds could possibly mean, it is the sound that a large Ziplocked bag of Cheerios makes when it is beaten to death by a Cat in the Hat Toy.

5. Snip-snip-snip:

Picture, if you will: I was up in the studio with my 5 year-old daughter. I had given her her safety scissors so she could do her collage, with strict instructions that "scissors are for paper, nothing else!" After a while, it occurred to me that the short, sharp snips I was hearing were different from the longer, drawn-out sssssssnips I should have been hearing. With the utmost trepidation, I turned around in my swivel chair, and what do I see? Natalie, hunched over, brow furrowed, lower lip bitten in extreme concentration, giving the cat a buzz cut.

6. Dribble, Dribble Thwack-Ssssplop:

That's the sound that a fleece bathrobe belt makes once it's been soaked in water, and then swung around in circles and launched at the wall/furniture/carpet.

Where in the good, green hell do kids dredge up these ideas?

"Gee, what should I do with this bathrobe belt and sinkful of water?"

"I wonder how long I can beat this big bag of Cheerios with the Cat in the Hat toy before it explodes?"

"Gee, Cheetah would look cool with a mohawk! Or shorter whiskers!"


I have weathered these incidents pretty well and can laugh at them, and the girls absolutely love hearing these stories, but I know that my days of being surprised by new sounds aren't over. These kids are nothing if not creative and resourceful.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Burning Down the House With Spiders

Last night, as I was putting on my pjs, the theme from Hells' Kitchen (Fire) still stuck in my head, I heard Natalie scream in her room. I opened my door, poked my head out and shouted, "What?" only to hear her shriek "Fire!"

Paralyzed for a split second, all I could think was, "How the hell can there be a fire in her room?" My first thought was, oddly enough, a Molotov Cocktail, but, I reasoned, I would have heard the smashing glass. I took a mental inventory of all the incendiary devices in the house: we have two large lighters for the fireplace and I knew that there was a random pack of matches somewhere, but no, she couldn't be playing with matches. Could she? No. Then it hit me- an electrical fire!

As this all was racing through my head, I was tearing through the kitchen and leaping up the stairs. For a brief second I thought that I should grab the fire extinguisher from underneath the kitchen sink, but by the time I'd processed that thought I was already in the upstairs hallway.

I burst into Natalie's room, shouting "What?! What-what-what?" At the same time, I heard her saying, "It came down from the ceiling! It's on the carpet!"

Bewildered, I thought, St. Elmo's Fire? WTF?


Meet Frieda.

Frieda is a Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Argiope aurantia commonly found outdoors throughout the United States.

She may be big and scary-looking, but according to all the sources I found, these spiders are harmless to humans, preferring to stay outside. They often like to anchor their web under eaves of a building, like the north-facing windows of my studio as seen in this photo.

We first saw Frieda when we were pulling into the driveway. Natalie's voice gravid with awed terror, quavered, "OMG look at that huge spider!" I had to sigh and roll my eyes. The kid has this thing about spiders. The tiniest black speck on the far reaches of her ceiling will bring out a blood-curdling shriek and she'll stand on her bed, sobbing, and beg me to kill it. So, I was skeptical. I asked her where this huge spider was. When she told me it was on the front of the house, the skepticism grew. I marched them both to the front of the house to show them there was no giant spider hanging out by our house like some disaffected James Dean smoking a cigarette and scowling when I saw her.

"Holy shit," I thought, "That's a damned big spider."

I expected screams. Instead, the girls crowded around her and said, "Cool!" "Wow, it's a girl-spider, see? There's an egg-sac!"

I ushered them inside and they immediately took off for my studio where they could watch her up close and personal... with a barrier of double-glazing between them and her. We had our own nature program broadcast live from the comfy depths of my swivel chair. They named her Freida.

I looked her up on the internet and we discovered that Black and Yellow Garden Spiders prefer to stay outdoors (good), eat small flying insects (better) and are not venomous (best of all.) So, I decreed that Frieda could stay, just as long as she does not break the cardinal rule: Do NOT come into this house. If she breaks that rule, I warned the girls, she will die. If I ever saw that monstrous thing crawling around the floors of my house, it's her or me. If I had to use the microwave to beat her to death I would do it.

That said, they sat in my studio for a good hour and watched her and reported her every move. They looked on in knowing dread as some hapless mosquito got stuck on the web. Until that point, Frieda had remained pretty much motionless. I heard Natalie saying, "Is she even alive? I think maybe she's dead."

Oh no. In a flurry of motion that had my daughters screaming, Frieda dispatched that mosquito. The girls thought that was the coolest thing of all. Frieda has since gone on to die, and her egg sac got destroyed one very windy afternoon, so, there have been no little Friedas outside my studio window, and although the girls still hope for a Frieda II, Natalie's gut-wrenching fear of teeny-tiny house spiders persists.

So last night when I burst into her room, screaming, and she babbled something about things coming down from the ceiling, instead of St. Elmo's Fire or arcs of an electrical fire raining down from the light fixture, I saw a tiny black, many-legged dot wriggling on her carpet.

"A spider?" I shrieked in disbelief.

In A Christmas Story, Ralphie described his father's cursing as "speaking in tongues." Well, when under duress, I stand guilty of this as well. I am not even aware of it as I do it, it's like an exhalation of curses. So, seeing that there was no fire, but a baby spider's itty-bitty baby, I sighed, stalked to the bathroom for a tissue, and came back to first squish and then flush the spider. The whole time, I exhaled a stream of colorful words.

I caught a glimpse of Natalie's stricken face, teary-eyed, and grabbed her in a hug. "Honey, I'm not mad at you. I was worried. I swear I heard you scream 'Fire!' instead of 'Spider!" She sobbed a bit, so I continued, "And then I got to thinking, what the heck is that kid doing, smoking cigars up there?!"

She giggled, so I knew we were ok.

Then I started to shake and see spots in front of my eyes. For a second I thought I was having a heart attack. Nope, just stress. Stress... and relief.

Ok, perhaps it was an overreaction on my part, but I have discovered that to be a parent is to live in fear some of the time.

The great fear that enters parents' lives once they have kids is that something will happen to their kids. For most parents, this fear is remote, something that happens to Other People, not them. I can tell you though that once it does happen to you, this feeling changes. It happened once, why not again? I have already buried one child, what's to keep the fates from smacking me down again?

People who say that lightning never strikes the same spot twice are woefully misinformed. Lightning is more likely to hit some spots than others because of topography, and makeup. As far as this fear of something happening to another one of my kids, I can only describe it as feeling like a lightning rod for tragedy. Part of me actually expects to bury another child in my lifetime, and I live with this soul-numbing dread every day.

I try not to let this fear rule me to the point that I smother my kids. I don't wrap them in bubble-wrap and make them wear helmets. I don't hover. I give them autonomy. Hey, I even let my older daughter walk home from school by herself on occasion, but when asked, without even thinking about it, I can rattle off a long list of possible ways for them to come to serious harm right here in our safe home: a broken neck from falling down stairs; traumatic brain injury from rough-housing with each other; choking to death on a pretzel; a back-breaking back-flip while jumping on the trampoline bed; a penetrating abdominal wound from running with scissors or a pencil and falling on it; even, perhaps some scenario involving a long-overdue retribution from the long-suffering cat. The list goes on and on.

I never expect fire, however, and thankfully, there was none. Last night's amusing story of miscommunication came about thanks to our rooms being at polar extremes of the house and a flannel pajama top muffling my 40 year-old ears as I pulled it over my head just as she screamed "SPIDER!" Well, that and my overactive imagination.