Christmas Tree Plan B

What do you do when you close on a new home about ten seconds into the new year, yet still want to make your home festive for your kids without unpacking and repacking all of your Christmas stuff?

Keep it all packed up nicely in the garage rafters and improvise! christmas tree ornaments

-Real tree.  More like a treelet so we can keep floor space open for the bins and boxes that will likely be piling up by then. Came in its own tree stand.

-string of lights $3. We’ll donate those with the tree stand if we don’t manage to throw it in while our other stuff is getting packed on the moving truck. Everything else is paper so we can recycle it.  Waste free and pack free-yay!!

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-Paper garland.  The boys’ attention span matched the necessary length.  Win!

-Beloved action figures as climbing the tree count as ornaments.  They do.  It’s about what you love and right now, this is what they love.  Included in our tree are an armless GI Joe, headless Spiderman, legless Spiderman, motorcycle-less Spiderman (meaning he looks like he’s pooping in the tree), 2 Darth Vaders a Stormtrooper and an Elvis.  The joy they felt decorating this tree was incomparable, as were the sound effects.

best ornaments for kids

-My favorite part is the star decorated by my oldest, which includes the word, “Pese” with a peace sign covered in what appears to be bacon.

We rocked it.  I haven’t loved a Christmas tree this much since I was stringing the sweet 70’s candy garland on my childhood Christmas tree with my family.  I’ll be sneaking one of Spideys into my purse, marking the year with a sharpie, and whether or not we do our Plan B tree next year, I’ll be hanging this memory on our tree for years to come.

What about you? What’s your favorite holiday decorating memory?


October Gifts

I must have run my small fingers back and forth over the velvety blue ridge in the back seat of my parents’ car a thousand times.  On any other day it would have been the hotly contested “boundary line” between me and my brother that even a pinky nail dare not cross.  That day it was a place to focus and fidget and calm the fragile lump in my throat.

I was sad, but it was a confusing kind of sad. I didn’t know if I even had a right to be sad or to feel robbed, but I sure felt both of those things a whole lot.  I mean, I never met her. Heck, I wasn’t even alive yet. Right or wrong, I was shook and the news that day forever tinted the lens of my life.

My mom and dad brought my brother and me to the cemetery where they lovingly told us about our big sister in heaven. Her name was Megan. As we looked at the details of her birth certificate, they stretched snapshots of heartache and beauty into a life’s story.

They only got two days with Megan.  There was no way they could have known she had such heart problems. The sister I had always wanted was actually real, but she doesn’t get to live?  My parents had a sweet gorgeous baby, and they couldn’t bring her home? They had to bring her here? As my head was spinning picturing every person I knew losing Megan, my parents carefully chose the words for our young minds.  It’s hard to explain but I remember an overwhelming sense that my parents, amid this tremendous loss, had kind of surrendered to this absurdly complicated event. There was no hiding their devastation, and there were no words that would have made any logical sense to us. But simply, this was our truth.  We are blessed and this is what our blessings look like; some are seen, some are not. There was a steadfast assurance that she was living with God. We’d see her in heaven someday and until then, we live the life we are given. With hugs, a deep breath, and a “God is good.” we headed out.

My mind silently swirled on the way home as I traced the edge of that fuzzy seat with my fingers.  I was so heartbroken for my mom and dad.  It was a deep, aching feeling. I remember desperately wanting to know more, but I didn’t want to make them sad again with more questions. I finally blurted out something random, but quickly realized the answers weren’t making me feel better. Do they have baby funerals? What did she wear? Was she born bigger or smaller than me?  Did she look like Tommy or more like me? Where did her clothes go? What did the Grandmas do? Can you say her name again? I just wanted to know more. Anything more. More her. What a ripoff.

Three days after Megan was born, my aunt called the hospital to check on her very first niece. My mom replied, “she’s an angel.”

Determined to have a sister one way or another, I introduced myself to our angel that night in my bed. Staring at my flowered wallpaper I awkwardly said hello.  I didn’t know what to say or what to expect, but I felt sure she was listening. It didn’t hurt that she shared a birthday with my first best friend.  That had to be proof, right?  It didn’t seem right calling her my sister though.  That word seemed like a sacred title, earned over a thousand shared secrets, and we hadn’t even shared time on earth. Even without the right titles, I began to tell her more, imagining her whispering my prayers into God’s ear to give them extra oomph. Megan grew older in my mind as I grew. Would she want to be called “Meg” by now? I’d imagine her face, giving her all of the features I coveted myself like the brightest blue eyes, rich brown hair and the perfect sprinkle of freckles over her nose. Because I am a good sister, I gave her gorgeous, thick, curly hair despite our genetic predisposition for pin-like wisps. In return she gave me another place to be heard, understood. When I was happy, I had a hunch she was celebrating too. Looking at my brother’s newborn daughter’s face, I knew she had already felt the love of an aunt. When I was lonely, she made me less alone. Megan became the captain of my heavenly rally section. If I couldn’t have had her as a sister, I have loved having her as an angel.

My first due date would have been August, but like so many others, we miscarried and found ourselves praying for another chance at parenthood.  We were over the moon to get pregnant again quickly.  Shocked, really. I knew my rally captain was celebrating with all of us.  I took the fact that the baby was due near Megan’s birthday as a little high-five from heaven.

I had kind of a jerky labor.  My contractions came out of nowhere on Monday and immediately held themselves to a clockwork 10 minutes apart, quickly going to 5 minutes. Then they just stayed there forever.  Back and forth to the hospital.  Is it time? Yes. No. Yes. Maybe. No. Sure. Epidural kept going out on my right side and I was on night two of zero sleep and lots of pain.  Well, half pain/half paralyzed. Late Tuesday night, the nurse said, “You’re progressing, honey, just reaaaallllly slowly.  I’m sorry, but I don’t think you’ll be ready to push until tomorrow.”  I don’t think she was expecting me to smile a huge smile. But I did.

What I had been afraid to say out loud my whole pregnancy, what we all had been afraid to say my whole pregnancy, was just a few hours away from coming true. Just before sunrise on Wednesday, October 18th, my son was born on Megan’s birthday.

I will never in my life forget the look on my parents’ faces as they entered the room to meet their grandson on their daughter’s birthday. Their sopping wet smiles were the most magnificent I had ever seen them.  Once I opened my mouth to try to speak, I couldn’t even form words. We were a blubbering heap of gratitude and joy and pain and healing and celebration. It was the most beautiful ugly cry in the history of all time. We all just smiled through our sobs. Nodding wildly. Knowing that right then, right there is where heaven met earth.

All of the hunches and hoping that she was somehow here with us were confirmed. And to witness my parents getting that gift was simply the most extraordinary experience.  Even with all of these words, I can’t express how much I wanted this for them. It was like a reward for their faith in God and themselves and each other, and for the shaky, numb footsteps they must have taken forward after they lost her. I know that few get this kind of moment and, I promise you, these people are worthy of this gift.  Not an ounce is lost on them.

I thanked God. I thanked Megan. I thanked them for my healthy, beautiful boy. I thanked them for guiding my parents from that first birthday that must have been so dark, to this one, full of light.

My son is a gift from God in heaven, but he was escorted here by my sister.  And for that, I am so deeply grateful.

baby yawns

I’m finishing up a painting when I hear Jimmy muttering from his bed.  Surely he’s not awake because he is bold and loud when he is.  His hand must have fallen asleep so I lay him back down and snuggle next to him.  Propped up on one elbow, with my other arm rubbing the pins and needles out of his hand, I can’t deny how much of this bed he suddenly occupies.  There are long, capable limbs everywhere.  The weight of his new hair is starting to quiet his cowlicks and his generally roosterish hair-do isn’t very roosterish at all.

He is fitful and anxious, but still semi-asleep.  He flips his hand over mine to stop the motion and puts my hand on his belly, laying his hand over my forearm like a dog guarding a toy.  Amused that he is in as much command asleep as he is when awake, I look down at my boy as he yawns. It was that brand new baby yawn; their nose disappears into a teeny button and they let out a whispered roar that is so scrumptious it renders you defenseless to all of the abuse they are about bring in the form of relentless servitude.  That yawn.  My giant boy did that yawn.

I look down at all the brush strokes on my sleeve and remember wearing it the night before he was born.  I had been working on a painting and could only button three buttons before my giant belly burst out.  It was January and we lived on the third floor.  I was so ready to have him that I abandoned all sense of appropriate clothing choices.

It stopped my heart.  I’m a sucker for baby yawns, but this one just struck me.  My dad nicknamed Jimmy the White Tornado and it fits him perfectly.  His white blonde hair is a blur as he flies by. Afraid of nothing, with a penchant for adrenaline rushes, at age 2.5 this boy is lightyears away from babyhood.  I have such mixed feelings when I look back on that first year.  I fell so hard in love with him because it was the most extreme year of my life.  He was my second child, but my first tornado.

My first, Michael, was born a citizen of the world, eagercopyright to enjoy his people and the constant fun they were sure to provide him.  While he certainly enjoyed our company in the world, the presence of his parents was not crucial to his happiness or navigation.  After all, life is a parade and surely someone else would pass by if he needed help, right?  He was a simple equation, an open book, and through toddlerhood, he handed out answers more frequently than problems.  Michael was our Red Solo Cup in a Pull-up.

Our second, Jimmy, on the other hand, was born the citizen of his world.  My husband and I were necessary inhabitants, essential to the minute-to-minute operations of his world but with little actual control.  He was born with skepticism and an unwavering conviction in his own feelings.  We were the befuddled gatekeepers to his world, relying heavily on hunches and hope to dodge the meltdowns.

His physical need for me truly shocked me, and it took me a long time to even realize that the term “momma’s boy” didn’t begin to cover it.  He required touch in a completely different way than I ever expected.  He wanted to be tight in my arms or swinging from the chandelier.  Many times, I would just rock and sway and keep him company in the chaos of his little body.  I wasn’t so much a respected leader as I was a court jester.  He would kick me out and beg me to come back in the same breath.  As unpredictable he seemed at times, he was pure and rich, ooey gooey love.  His unabashed joy was so infectious that it kept us on a mad dash to find it again, desperate to keep the shit and the fan in separate corners.

We have shared several hundred 3 am’s. Somewhere in there, we found some things that make his world a better place, including hardcore workouts, loads of furry animals ready to be de-fuzzed strand by strand, intense thumb-sucking, and swapping lullabies for marching bands.  Why request a soft, “rock-a-bye baby” when your mom will sing Irish drinking songs while firmly drumming your back?  The lovely therapists from Early Intervention would later shed some light on sensory processing issues, and help us make sense of our hunches.  I wanted to kiss them.  But not before I kissed Jimmy some more.  Our little tornado knows how to keep on truckin’.

So tonight, as I look down at this little big guy and I’m struck by the fact that we are so far from where we were when that yawn belonged to a newborn or even a toddler.   He is laying in the scattered proof of a contented soul: wearing the pajama pants that sat in his drawer for year, warming up to them just in time for them to become shorts, his faded blue nail polish that he sat so still for, the stuffed chipmunk next to his head whose fuzzy tail is still intact, the book he hid under the blanket, the weighted blanket at his feet because he doesn’t need it on his body tonight. All of it, he is just so much comfier in his own body.  So many nights he just couldn’t rest, and he just couldn’t release me from his white-knuckle grip.  Tonight his palms are softly open, showing off a thumb sucker’s callous because it is nowhere near his mouth.

I can’t say we are free of our 3 am rendevous, but they are 1000 times more peaceful than they were.

Sweet Jimmy, thanks for the tiny snapshot of the old you.  I’m grateful to be in your joyful twister 🙂  And I’m even more grateful that you are, indeed, asleep.

not so fast

I hear his voice from the other room–the voice that suddenly seems so old to me, even though in real time he is six.  He’s not six to me.  It still feels like I just got him, and that he miraculously and freakishly aged from a newborn to an actual person who reads in some science fictionesque measurement of time and space.  He’s new and old all at once; his voice big and small.


“I’ll be right the-”

He comes bounding in the room, looks me straight in the eye.

“How ’bout we go outside and play football?  I’ll be the official and you can be the tackler.  I’m the official because I know how to play football the best of you and Jimmy and me and Dad.  Well, Dad’s a little better but he’s at work so I will tell you who wins.” He tucks his hand up under my elbow and sweetly curls his arm around mine, “Thank you for my pancakes, Mama. They were yummy.  Can we have more pancakes for dinner?  (jumps into robot voice) Pancakes for every dinner ever!!!! (jumps out of robot voice) You can even give me spinach. Just not inside the pancakes, but I’ll eat cold spinach next to my pancakes. Mama, can I have a kids’ show? Jimmy already got a kids’ show and it’s not fair if I don’t get one too. Jack at school loves the Blackhawks.” His cheek is pressed against mine when he starts singing, “We will, we will rock you! Sing it…” I can’t see him but I know he is making his rock out face.  I mean, really, how can you not when singing that song? “What are we gonna do today?” I can feel his little stinky breath near my ear as he tries to cuddle in closer, “how ’bout we have some tea?”

I love being privilege to his loveable ramblings, especially when he is in such a cuddly mood.

But here’s the thing.

I was sitting on the toilet.

A half a dozen topics covered, including meal planning, and not once did it occur to him that it wasn’t the time or the place.

So forgive me, dear future son, who will undoubtedly beg me to trust your judgement, who will likely groan with every caution I give on your way out the door, who will insist you know just as much, if not more, than me.  Forgive me for thinking you are still brand new.  Forgive me, but you didn’t even notice that I HAD NO PANTS ON!!!

So sorry, kid, it may be hard to trust your judgement.

socks, pops, and glasses. what’s your kid karma?

“They look even to me.  It’s time to go, Bridget.”

No, they are not! How can you not see the difference?!  This sock is sooooo slanty!  And totally lower than the other one!  Agh!  And it’s loooooossssseeeeeer.  I haaaate socks. Now it’s too high. Almost.  Almost.  Maybe. Ok. That’s better.

I’d finally stand up after forever on the floor only to be assaulted by gravity, one sock daring to move a millimeter out of place. Whaaaaaaa!

God bless my mother.

A few decades later and a piece of kid karma comes served on a silver platter in the form of shoelaces.  Michael’s shoelaces must be tied super tight, and equally tight.  And then a little bit tighter.  If his blood circulation isn’t threatened, we have to start over.  As much as I should empathize as a former footwear perfectionist, I admit it puts me right on the crazy train.

God bless his mother, right?

Kid karma must be really fun for grandparents.  I imagine teenage karma is even more satisfying, but kid karma is a nice appetizer.

My parents aren’t really tally people, don’t keep a scorecard of what is owed.  They don’t hold anything over our heads.  That said,  I’m willing to bet that when my mom was “marble-hunting” after I swallowed one, she looked forward to the day when I’d have to do some toilet sorting for my own kids. So when I heard the boys giggling and Michael yells, “Ewww, Jimmy has a booger!”, I should have felt another bit of karma coming my way.  Jimmy turns to me and I see a blob coming out of his nostril.  As I grab something to wipe it, they explode with laughter because it’s actually a well-placed Corn Pop.  I go to wipe it-because I know where this can lead-when I hear the dreaded, “SNIFF!”  Sigh. Welcome to the Random Crap Up The Nose Club!

It was amazing really. The Corn Pop was big, and a two year old’s nose is so small, yet it disappeared like nothin’.  I didn’t worry.  I mean, it was from his bowl which meant it probably had a bit of milk on it.  It would break down easily, right?  I figured it would make its way out little by little.  Being a modern mom, I shared the funny news with my facebook friends and kiddie class moms.  People quickly showed their RCUTNC membership cards, warning of expansion and smell and possible surgery.  Other friends gave removal tips. A dozen tales later and I couldn’t help but think of the grandparents laughing at their kids dealing with nose treasures.

This time was small fries in the world of kid karma.  More entertaining than stressful, it was comical trying to teach Jimmy to blow his nose. It just made him sniff it up further.   I tried the Woody Woodpecker pepper method to make him sneeze, but it only managed to crack Michael and I up while Jimmy got annoyed.  A few hours later my husband comes home and simply asks him to blow his nose and he did it.  Just like that.  One try.  I’m hoping that means my husband has some decent kid karma.  That’s important.  Here’s why…

You guys, I put my parents through something awful.  So awful that it made my marble swallowing and required marble hunting look like a party; like a Pinterest party with tissue paper poofs and mason jar centerpieces.

It all started with eyeglass envy.  I don’t remember what grade I was in, maybe second? My school full of Catholic uniforms was suddenly sprinkled with incrediblyfantasictotallyradicalsoveryamazing pastel eyeglasses.  Pink ones.  Purple ones.  Holy shit!  Pink faded into purple on the same pair of glasses!  Are you kidding me?!  All of that marvelous for one lucky girl!  Oh, how I wanted to be that girl. That girl also gets an eyeglass case, and if I dared to dream, my case would be just as beautiful as my glasses. Everywhere I went- the park, grocery store, church-I was doing field research, preparing for the day when I would get to choose my very own pastel glasses.

If only I didn’t have perfect vision.  I quickly realized that I couldn’t wait for sitting too close to tv to take its toll.  I had to take matters into my own hands.   A simple, “I’m seeing double” would do the trick, no?  No.  I passed the eye test.  I didn’t even get to try on a single frame from the Wall of Happiness and Joy.  I needed to take it up a notch so I sat on the attic stairs that went into the kitchen and I practiced the “blind hands” so I could feel my way to my mom since my eyes were failing.  I told her I was seeing triple and then, because I didn’t know the right “le”word, I told her I was “seeing fives.”  Gulp.  I was all in now.

As absurd as it sounds, my mission progressed.  I was a goodie goodie good kid so lying wasn’t in character for me.  And apparently, I was a solid little actress.  Sticking to my story, I answered over and over again, “It’s very blurry. Yes, sometimes I see fives.”  There were concerned looks, some suspicious, and some hushed phone calls.  Another appointment was made.

I was in complete denial of my liar, liar, pants on fireness.  I thought if I came out and asked for glasses, everyone would think I was silly and selfish.  But needing something?  Somehow that seemed like a much better approach.  I thought I’d get the fabulous glasses to fix my super bad eyes and we’d all live happily ever after.  Genius!  Except that when parents hear that their typically good daughter’s vision is rapidly changing and she is seeing double and then FIVES?! they don’t think she needs glasses.  They think she needs a brain scan.

Yup, I unwittingly faked a brain tumor in an effort to get pink glasses that I didn’t need.

Let that sink in for a minute.

I’ve got some serious shit coming my way, don’t you think?

p.s.  Let’s hear it for the doctor who called my bluff.  And for my parents for not abandoning me in his office.

Spill it.  What do you have coming your way?

50 hundred 911 calls

Michael is the lucky recipient of my sleep-walking and talking genes.  It’s been completely entertaining ever since he first called me into his room demanding an answer to, “Do fish swim in your butt?”

“Um, luckily, no.  But that is a good question.”

I had to admit, it was a higher-level kind of question, especially for a sleeping three year old.  He added a request for ketchup right before his head flopped back onto his pillow.

My husband, Rob, tells me this morning that Michael came in while sleeping last night asking about the jumpsuits.  “With the numbers.  The orange jumpsuits.  Do they have their names?  What do the numbers mean? What if they get away?”  Rob fielded the questions and luckily, he went back to sleep for another hour before waking up with another nightmare.  “I can’t even tell you it’s so bad, Mom.”  Ok then, please come here and never leave so I can protect you forever.  Ugh, so tempting!!  But life is fantastic when you don’t think about escaped convicts so let’s just snuggle and talk about puppies.  Or farts.  Whatever makes that scared look on your face go away.

The day proves he really is stressing over prisoners and the possibility of their escape. Or worse, that there are bad guys all around without orange jumpsuits and how in the hell do we know who they are?!  Nothing like a little light conversation. Michael is a smart kid and he picks up on everything.  In most moments, he lives in the lightness of things; sees the simple joy that others don’t see.  He’s a silly kid, loves to be funny.  But, he also knows that every rule or caution is given for a reason, and he needs to know details about that reason in order to move past it.  Figuring out how to satisfy that need for information without giving him more to freak out about is dicey. I’m sure I sound like a moron most times I’m answering him. We usually have the kids watch their shows on Netflix and they don’t see much of the news or even commercials for it.  Clearly, we stumbled upon some of the news this week.  I vaguely remember answering him that the orange jumpsuits are the uniform for people in jail.  That was few days ago.

We had an awesome day today, the kind that erases all the crummy half-sick, too many errand days of the week prior.  We laughed a ton. All of us. But I can see the thoughts creep in and feel more questions coming our way throughout the day.  I’m happy he asks. And I want to make sure he keeps asking.  I’m kicking myself because I’ve caught myself saying to him, “this is nothing to get upset about” over an explosion like tying his shoes or not getting something when our kids are clearly bathing in enough “stuff.”  We’re in a super-meltdowny phase right now and my husband and I are both struggling with how to approach it.  It’s over bizarre stuff that baffles us, and none of our usual tactics are working.  But I know these are the times when the kids need more of our patience; when it’s time to unearth those superpowers and resist the urge to sell them. Regardless of the irrational (to me) breakdowns over slurpees and unicorns,  I have no right to tell him he doesn’t have a reason to get upset.  How do I know?  I can think it shouldn’t make him upset, but if I decide that for him I totally dismiss his voice.  It’s easy to forget how small their world is, and that they have exactly zero sense of perspective, making shoelaces a big deal. I need a new go-to line, because I can feel the words “you have no idea how good you have it” rising up in my throat and we all know how effective that is.  If I want him to keep trusting me with his fears and frustrations, I have to value his words, even the ones I don’t agree with.

Michael goes to bed but then gets up and asks to be re-tucked in.  He usually wears a halo to bed so I don’t mind obliging him in a few bedtime games a couple times a month.  I tell him to wait until Jimmy quiets down and I’d sneak back to tuck him in.  When I do, he has the blanket up to his chin and I can tell by the look on his face he’s worried.  I ask him if he wants to talk about anything and he says no.  “Why did you ask me that, Mom?”

“Your face looked like you were thinking hard about something.”

“No, I wasn’t. But what do I do if I see a bad guy in a orange jumpsuit?”

“You probably never will see one in real life, only on tv.”

“How do you know? Do they have a face like in the kids’ shows with the big eyebrows?” oh gosh your sweet little artist eyes are totally picturing the trench coat and crooked smile, too.

“Because there are MILLIONS of police officers in our country and just a small amount of bad guys.  The orange suits mean that the police already got ’em and they’re in jail.”

“What if they escape?”

“Well that’s where the orange suits come in handy because if they escape jail, everyone will know because they’re either wearing the jail uniform or they’re naked.  Either way, everyone who saw them would call the the police and they’ll throw ’em back in jail.”

“Like 50 hundred people will probably call I bet.”

“At least 50 hundred.”

He needs more info.  Though preschool statistics make him happy, 50 hundred calls to the cops for a naked or orange-suited escapee aren’t going to help him sleep.

“You know, God also gave you instincts.  (I can see the smile start to crack.) Not “stinks”, instincts.  Instincts are like your secret weapon. You may not know why you don’t want to be near someone, but there’s a voice in your head or a feeling in your gut that tells you to stay away from them. You should listen to your instincts.  If that ever happens you just tell me or Dad or someone you love.”

“Or the polices,”  he says shaking his little finger at me like a cartoon teacher.  I can’t bring myself to correct the plural police because it’s the last shred of his baby talk and I’m savoring it.

“Yes, or the police.”

“haha-Stinks. Did you ever see a bad guy in real life?”

Um, oh yay.  I kind of have an answer. When I was little, my brother and I were with my mom at a mall when we spotted a woman getting arrested for shoplifting.  Never one to pass up a life lesson, my mom literally dragged us through the mall behind this flailing woman wearing a dozen layers of clothing under her jacket screaming, “I didn’t steal nothin’!” If she didn’t, she was about to give birth to quadruplet pant suits.  I was sure we were going to get in trouble for eavesdropping, but we followed the police and her until they disappeared into the security office. I very clearly remember it was an unmarked door on that slanted wall underneath the escalator.  Now my adult brain knows that there was probably more to the office than the door on the slanted wall, but I spent my childhood thinking that mall offenders were immediately sentenced to a lifetime of standing crooked in the tiny triangular space under the escalator. Perhaps I should have asked my mom more questions.  Anyway, I was never, ever tempted to lift anything from Spencer’s, so I guess my mom’s plan worked.

He needs to know the shoplifter went to jail. He is very curious to find out if the police used their sirens when they dropped her off at jail.  He wants to know about the washing of the orange jumpsuits and if televisions in jail only show boring shows.  As I share my first brush with crime, I leave out the dragging and the screaming and the tiny slanted mall jail, but choose to play up the amount of clothes she was hiding.  “She looked like a snowman!  No, a giant snowBALL!  They could have rolled her to jail.”

“Maybe they did roll her, Mommy! They rolled the giant snowball monster farthead pooped her eye out!!!  Aaaahhhhhhhahahahahahahaha!”

And just like that, my boy cracks up, returning to his rightful age of five years old.  So glad I had all that internal debate about how to walk the tightrope between dismissing and fueling his fears.  There is a good chance some armpit orchestra would have done the trick.

By the way, we are going back to vhs tapes for our sole television entertainment.  Because I’d much rather answer questions about fish swimming in butts than about crime.  And can we all say a prayer that we don’t come across a group of inmates cleaning up the side of the highway this summer?  Yikes.

Bed Bath & Beyond Fun

Packing up to make a quick run to return a coffee maker at Bed Bath and Beyond and I hear a yell from the kitchen, “Can I bring this, mom?”

Is it a knife?


Then sure you can.

“Awesome!  Can I wear my race car helmet too?”

Of course.  Let’s go.

I had no idea what he grabbed until I look back to make sure he’s all buckled in and there he is. Racing helmet on.  Visor down.  Game face on.  Cheese Grater in hand.  “No Mom, it’s the shifter-mover.” Oh, of course!  It’s a gear shift. The Olive Garden-esque cheese grater that Rob and I were so excited to register for because we clearly had big plans for freshly grated artisan cheeses, the grater that hasn’t had actual grating capabilities since Michael was 2 and used it as a drumstick, the grater that is so loved that I can throw it and say, “fetch!” to get the kids away from the oven, is now a gear shift too.  And it isn’t like a gear shift.  It IS a gear shift.

As I pull away, I hear his little voice purr like an engine. As I turn, he leans.  As I change lanes, he huffs with effort.  As I come to a red light, he groans in defeat. And when we pull into the parking spot, he exhales with relief and cheers his come-from-behind victory!  Two year-old Jimmy yells, “Win!”

How awesome is it that a child can be strapped in a car seat and, with every. single. fiber of his being, believe that he alone is controlling a machine capable of going 200mph?  I mean, you have to admire the commitment to character.  Mom melts away.  His little brother becomes an adoring fan.  The guy with the bad comb-over next to us becomes his fiercest rival.  Michael is awesome at this.  Not a day goes by that he doesn’t wear some sort of costume.  I will die a little on the inside when he outgrows this. I can’t say I hope it lasts forever because grown men in costumes at Bed Bath and Beyond are creeeeeepy.  But I do hope it lasts long enough.  Enough to fill his soul with faith in his own imagination.

“Can I wear my helmet in the store?”

Of course.

“But I can’t bring the shifter-mover, right?  I don’t want them to think I stole it.  Because they sell these there, you know.”

Oh, I see.  I think you’ll be ok, but it’s up to you.

“I better not.”

We go inside and I’m hiding my smile because I don’t want to distract from the awesomeness that he’s feeling after the big race.  A very cheerful employee tries to suggest we look around for something else before we make our return.  I decline.  She is sure we need something else as long as we’re here.  Dear, sweet girl who must be new.  In the two seconds we’ve been in the store, the boys have found squirt bottles and are crouching around the display stalking each other.  That glint in their eyes? That means they’ve spotted the floor to ceiling water glass display and they. must. shoot. it.  Yes, I am sure I don’t need to shop around.  Because your piles of towels and towers of dishware look like the set of Wipe Out to my kids.

For me, there are two basic rules for behaving in a store at ages 5 and 2.  Number one, they can’t mess with an employee’s hard work.  And number two, it’s their job to control their limbs to avoid collisions (with displays, fellow shoppers, each other). As the universe likes to do when you bring your kids out for a “quick run” on the verge of bedtime, there was nothing quick about it.  I can see that our simple rules were getting harder to follow and my credit card is being held hostage while they figure out the computer glitch.  I resort to bribery.  Here’s where parenthood is hilarious.  You imagine using lollipops or a shiny new toy to bribe your kids.  Well, of course before you actually have kids you imagine all the amazing and creative things you’ll do instead of bribing your kids.  Anyway, what works with my kids?  Letting them sit in the lawn furniture displays. No joke.

“Michael, look in my eyes.”

He raises the helmet visor.

“Do you know what they have here?” I nod to outdoor section.  His eyes widen.  He gasps.  Jimmy gasps too even though he can’t see over the squirt bottle display.

“You know what you need to do to get there.”

Perfect angels.  Return gets done.

Paradise, here we come!!  Two little boys, (one in a helmet) with their feet up, heads resting in their hands.  Fake hot dogs in the fire pit.  Jimmy insists they’re too hot. Sipping out of the plastic margarita glasses.  Michael can’t stop giggling because Jimmy is disappointed there aren’t real hot dogs and lemonade.  We try out every chair and all agree we should invite our family here for a party.  The wheelie ice bucket will be a big hit.

That errand was an easy thing to avoid.  And I think sometimes I avoid the store+2 kids out of habit, an old habit.  Since birth, my little guy has had a visceral disdain for stores.  I wouldn’t even call them meltdowns.  It’s more like he vaporizes.  But the truth is, he is turning that corner.  He’s in the game now, and even if it’s not consistent, it’s awesome.   He’s joining our family in a whole new way. As terrible as age two can be, it’s also every bit as exciting.

When I was registering 9 years ago, I thought that Bed Bath and Beyond would give me all the things I needed to throw a fantastic party.  I didn’t realize that so many memorable ones would take place while we were still in the store.  I couldn’t have planned a better post-race celebration.

I’m so bringing real lemonade next time.   It will BLOW THEIR MINDS!

Anyone else enjoy a good store display party?

a not-so-simple morning

My husband’s coaching schedule means that our family time is very random, and weekends together like this one are rare.  It was really great morning.  The kids woke up at 8-the holy grail of wake-up calls, isn’t it?  Well, as a parent anyhow.  Michael, my five year old, runs in our room and whispers loudly with the speed of the Micro-Machine Man, “Mom, how about you paint my face like a snake again?  We should do it now before I get dressed, because I’ll wear my polyester shirts and I want to– oh, wait, I’ll get dressed first so it doesn’t smear, cuz sometimes it does and I don’t want to get on any face paint on my good polyester. It’s good to always get ready for the day because we have a lot to do and the first thing is always getting –oh, wait I have to go potty.  the first thing should always be going potty.”  whew.  This monologue was done before I even got the second eyelid open.

And yes, he is concerned about polyester.  Excuse me, his good polyester.  Because my child loves his polyester.  It’s my fault.  I over explained why I didn’t want my super sweatbox to wear his beloved hand-me-down jersey on a 90 degree day 3 years ago and he held onto that little nugget of info for dear life.  Like a priest at the pulpit he will extol the virtues of the leisure suit fabric, convincing you that coats are unnecessary in a world where polyester exists.  In fact, today he wore two.  For extra awesomeness.

I let my husband sleep in because naps are how we show love.  I fed the boys, painted faces and put together a toy semi-truck with a detachable trailer-a constantly detachable trailer.  48 tears/fix/play/break/tears cycles later, I had shown enough love and I told our two year old to wake Daddy to tell him he was in charge of the truck.  After we hid the truck, we all took off for a walk to Target and took a little bike path with plenty of spots to throw sticks in to a creek.  We raced just long enough for my husband and I to realize we need to work out more.  A lot more. The boys were thrilled with the fresh air, fresh dirt, and the occasional duck. Don’t worry, they didn’t harm the ducks. (If you have young kids, you know that they can easily confuse target practice with a little friendly conversation when it comes to small woodland creatures.) They ran for giant sticks over and over again, coming back to the little bridge to watch the tiny current pull them away.  It was my perfect kind of day.  Nowhere to be, figuring it out as we go, watching the kids be kids.  Simple as that. Life is good.  So, so good.

As much as polyester, Michael loves a good garage sale. Our long walks around our old city neighborhood really laid the ground work for our favorite mother/son sport.  We’ve been gearing up for the season and when he saw the sign we knew we had to stop on the way home.  So we split from the other guys and took a quick run.  Lots of tools.  Michael is sure he needs those concrete tools.  “Those would be great for our inventions or when we have to move stuff around.  You just put it on there and it gives it support.”  I’ve got to give him credit for the sell.  He even offers to negotiate the price since he doesn’t want me to spend too much money. ha! My stifled laughter turns into disgust when I spot the worst possible thing to spot at a garage sale with your kids…..the ginormous bins of stuffed animals!!!!!   AHHHHHH!  Note to the universe, PLEASE stop putting out your vintage, deformed, drooled on carnival prizes out for sale by the dozens.  And telling me how much your child loved them only makes me want them less.  I know the most loved animals also spent the most time on your bathroom floor, under your kitchen table, and under your child’s butt as he slept.  I’m the farthest thing from a germaphobe.  I grab public door handles with reckless abandon.  But you best take shelter if you tell my boy that the cholera-laden Scooby-Doo is “on the house.”

Luckily, this seller took my warning glance seriously and we progressed to the costumes.  Anything easily washable is fair game.  When we originally went up to the house, I heard a young man’s voice forcefully muttering something.  As we stepped on the lawn, I could make out the f-word. Six more were blurted out in as many seconds.  Only his feet and his shoulders were clumsily racing toward adulthood, the rest of him was very much a boy.  He spoke to us, at us, came and went as Michael contemplated between the firefighter and the power ranger.

I consciously didn’t shield Michael.  I didn’t create conversation to drown out the profanity. Obviously, I’d rather he didn’t hear it, but I didn’t want him to think something was “wrong”.  I assume the boy has Tourette’s Syndrome, and not that I know much about it, but I know he can’t control it.

His parents were there and another younger brother, maybe 11 years old.  The younger boy was casually lurking as if he had a stake in the sales but was too shy to actually play salesman.  He perked up when we crouched by the costume box.  The older boy came back, asking the younger, “f-love, f-power rangers, f-what you want to buy with your f-money?”  The younger boy pretended he wasn’t there.  His cheeks turned blotchy red. I could tell it was for my sake.  He didn’t want to be a part of swearing in front of a little kid. I smiled at them both agreeing that the Power Rangers were, indeed, awesome.  Big fat juicy lie, but I was desperate to send them a lifeline.  The older boy grabbed a fake knife with blood on it and happily shouted that it was fake sprinkled with the same kind of language and interruption.  Frankly, he was talking so fast, Michael missed the fun words.  As we waited to pay, the older boy kept prodding the younger one for attention, occasionally poking him with the rubber knife.  My heart ached for the younger one.  He looked as if he was praying for the lawn to swallow him up right then and there.  And when he realized he didn’t have enough change and that meant we had to stay a few moments longer, I could almost hear the f-bomb that went off in his own head.  He slowly lowered his eyelids and shook his head the slightest bit as the older one kept talking and swearing. The parents acknowledged the boy, but not the language.  There was a lot of love in what they were not saying; in the apologies they were not making. His mom told him kindly, but firmly to stop it once while we were waiting, but again, I felt like it was for Michael’s sake.  I put my arm on Michael’s head, hoping the words, “I’ll explain in a few minutes, but please, oh please, don’t say anything just yet” would somehow pass from my brain down my arm and into his head.  I didn’t want us to add to their pile.  I hoped our smiles and light conversation spoke enough.

I started the conversation as soon as I could as Michael hopped back on his bike.  I chose my words carefully, avoiding words like “wrong” or “normal”.  I told him that boy’s brain made him say words that may not make sense to us.  It’s just how his works.  It’s not a choice.  I wanted my definition to do all the right things, but who knows? Five years old is funny age.  They are starting to see glimpses of life’s injustices.  He seemed to get that this was probably hard for this kid.  He felt a little bad, but didn’t know exactly why.

As we made our way home, my heart went out to them.  That boy is so much more than those unfortunately-timed outbursts.  I’m sure he has adorable quirks like Michael’s deep love of polyester.  There is a voice beyond those swear words.  Part of my version of a perfect morning was the joy in seeing strangers interact with my kids about their painted faces.  The boys love it, smile proudly and meow/hiss/bark at them.  Strangers smile back.  Done.  Simple.  There are no double takes, no furrowed brows, no blushing cheeks when my children meet people.  What a gift that simple thing is! And I’m sure that boy is a gift to many.  I just have to say, that must be hard.  And to anyone that has something like this on your plate, you have my admiration.

There are dozens of everyday things that are simple for one person but downright complicated for another. How do you teach your kids to recognize and respect those moments?  I hope I did right by that family and by Michael, but I honestly have no idea.

As for the brothers, I hope they made gobs of money on their sale and get to go treat themselves to whatever has replaced Power Rangers on their wish list.  I know a new toy won’t help in any real way, but we all deserve a treat now and then, don’t we?

Thanks for reading!