Thursday, December 31, 2009

‘Tis the Season

So, we’re in the thick of it now: cold and flu season. So far, thanks to diligent hand-washing and flu shots, we’ve avoided the flu at our house, but the head colds have been running rampant. I just recovered from my first cold-turned-sinus-infection of the season, and hubby’s got a sinus infection himself now (on a business trip, no less, and you really haven’t enjoyed the full effects of a sinus infection until you’ve flown with one). String Bean has either had a month-long endless cold, or about three colds back-to-back. Peanut has been the luckiest, with only mild versions of the cold each time, but she more than makes up for it with the fact that she’s three now, and acting like it.

I can’t even blame preschool for all of these colds, as the girls have been off school since a week before Christmas. I read a study once that said kids who are in childcare or preschool, those lucky ones who have multiple colds every year of their young lives, have a lower risk of developing childhood diseases, like leukemia. Something about a well-exercised immune system. I don’t know if that study has held up over the years, or if it was just written by a parent trying to reassure himself that all of those colds his kids brought home were worth something in the end, but I’m looking forward to the end of this cold season, and I hope next year all of our systems are a bit tougher.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Perfect Gift

Apparently, Santa got it right this year. String Bean has been asking for a new bike for a while, and not just any bike, but a princess one, purple, if at all possible. When she woke up on Christmas Day, and sleepily dragged herself out into my mom’s living room, and there it was, in all of its perfect purple splendor, with a matching purple princess helmet, she just wanted to snuggle with me and avoid looking at it until Peanut woke up, too. At first we were worried that she’d changed her mind sometime in the past week and no longer wanted it, but once Peanut joined her in the living room, where Peanut found not only the scooter she’d been ogling in one of the toy catalogs that had come in the mail, but a hula hoop, which she’s been asking for nonstop for several months (how she even knows what a hula hoop is, I’ve never figured out), then the excitement finally hit. The girls donned their princess helmets, jumped on the bike and scooter, and took off. Well, not really, because we were inside, and my mom’s house is on six unpaved acres at the end of a long dirt road, and there wasn’t anywhere flat or paved around. So, they made do with doing a tight circuit around the kitchen.

Later, we took them out to a nice long, paved bike path that cuts through some beautiful woods, and has no cars or non-walking, non-biking traffic of any kind. Peanut decided that what she wanted was to stand on the scooter with both feet, while me, hubby, and my mother took turns pulling her along. But once String Bean hit the pavement, she was booking right along. She figured out the brakes, steering, and how to climb a hill within minutes. In the end, we had to quit, not because String Bean was tired from her long bike ride, but because we were all tired from dragging Peanut and the princess scooter around behind her.

After naps (and she took her first long nap in a long time that afternoon, another great benefit of the biking outing), String Bean immediately hopped onto her bike and started doing laps around the kitchen again. She then figured out that if she pedaled hard enough, she could ride on the carpet, so she started doing laps around the dining room table. When bed time rolled around, and I told String Bean it was time to head into her room for her nightly story, she looked at me and said, “Instead of a story tonight, I think I’d rather ride my bike around the kitchen some more.” So, with all of the many wonderful gifts from grandparents and aunts and friends that the girls have been enjoying, it’s nice to know that Santa was still able to bring the biggest winner of all.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

In my family, we always have our big family gathering and gift-opening session on Christmas Eve. I’ve never gotten a clear answer for why this is, beyond a vague reference to German ancestors who must be to blame. We still had the Santa gifts to open and stockings to wake up to on Christmas Day, so in a way it was the best of both worlds. We had a big get-together and a big meal and lots of new stuff to play with Christmas Eve, and when we woke up, we got a bunch more stuff to open and even more toys to play with. I’m keeping up the tradition with my girls, who will no doubt one day ask where it came from, so that I can give them the same ambiguous answer about someone somewhere generations before deciding that it should be done this way.

In our modern new family, we not only have the Christmas Eve/Day celebrations (usually at my mother’s house, followed by a sledding trip up the mountain from her house), but we also have the early Christmas with the in-laws, the informal pre-Christmas gathering with my step-siblings, and the post-Christmas brunch gathering with my father and step-mother. In all, this amounts to five Christmas gatherings/gift opening sessions for the kids. At several of these get-togethers, we’ve banned gifts for all but the kids, because it was just getting too hard to prep for otherwise. So, in light of all of these family holiday get-togethers and new toy/clothes binges, it may take several years for the girls to catch on that not everyone exchanges the bulk of their gifts on Christmas Eve. And that not everyone has five Christmas celebrations each year.

Whatever your traditions are, and however many days they span, I hope you have a very happy holiday season.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

So Emotional

The other day I was in the middle of folding laundry when String Bean came rushing to me, in tears, so hysterical that she could barely speak to tell me what was wrong. I asked her a few times what had happened, and finally she was able to choke out: “Your paper fell into the dog’s water!” Apparently, the little notepad I use to jot down my grocery lists had fallen off the counter, and into the dog’s water bowl, where she found it floating, and this is what sent her into tears on my behalf. When I laughed it off, she looked shocked. “I thought you’d be sad!” she sobbed. “I get them four for a dollar at the dollar store,” I told her. “I have two more of them in the drawer.” She stopped crying, but kept looking at me with such a pained expression that I had to stop folding towels and give her a big hug. That finally seemed to do the trick, and she calmed down.

What is it that makes some kids so emotional, and others so even-tempered? Peanut wouldn’t shed a tear over the loss of any material object, no matter how big or small. She’d just shake it off and move on instantly, although she’d want to talk about it every ten minutes for the next three days. Never in any sorrowful way, she’d just marvel at how something she once had no longer exists, the way she’ll tell total strangers that we used to have two cats, but one died, so now we only have one. To her it’s all just conversation. String Bean, on the other hand, left a sticker on one of her sweaters, and it went through the wash, deteriorating the sticker into a sticky gray mess. She literally broke into tears when she saw it.

I’m hoping that as she grows up, String Bean will become a little better at filtering the true crises from the little speed bumps and won’t break into tears over quite so many things. But I can also appreciate that as the more emotional child, not only is she more likely to yell, cry, and gnash her teeth in anger, but she’s more likely to tell me she loves me, beg me to spend just a few more minutes cuddling before leaving her in bed for the night, and overflow with gratitude at a new pair of pink socks. Peanut isn’t as quick to cry or become angry, but she’s also not as affectionate, clingy, or easily impressed with little gestures of kindness. Peanut’s a live-in-the-moment child, and her basic mood is calm-leaning-toward-happy. She’s a giggly little girl, can be amazingly stubborn, and hurts herself about ten times more often than String Bean, but she never gets terribly excited or bent out of shape about anything. Maybe String Bean will learn a little from her sister about patience, resilience, and self-control. I kind of like that idea, that while String Bean usually falls into the teacher role, as she brings Peanut up to speed on recognizing her letter, numbers, and expanding her vocabulary, Peanut has her own lessons to offer her big sister.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The Good Side of the Pillow

Peanut has been having nightmares pretty regularly for a while now. Night terrors might be a better description, as she’ll wake up screaming and thrashing around, tears streaming down her face, calling me, even after I come into her room, where I have to fight against her bucking body to get her to open her eyes and see that I am already there. Sometimes, even after she’s seen me and talked to me a bit, she still keeps screaming and crying like the nightmare is continuing, and maybe, for her, it is, and it just looks to me like she’s awake.

String Bean also has her share of bad dreams, real and faked, which prompt her to call me into her room to reassure her. I can tell when they’re real by her description of them. If it’s real, she’s specific: “A bad witch with a red hat was trying to get me.” If it’s just a ruse to get me to come visit her when she doesn’t feel like sleeping, her description is more like, “Um, it was about a dragon. And a lion. And a bad man. And a…robot. Oh, and there was a monster. And it was raining. And there was…a…dinosaur.”

Some nights I get up three or four times to soothe the girls back to sleep from night terrors, nightmares, and pretend nightmares. By 4am or so, when I’m running on only a couple of hours of sleep, I become a lot less sympathetic to the whole thing. I give them both pep talks, that the bad dreams are only in their heads, that they are safe from real dangers because the dog downstairs will protect us, that I won’t let anything bad happen to them. And then I start threatening them, that I need some sleep if they don’t want a cranky mama the next day, and that I won’t be coming back no matter how many times they call me.

The other morning, String Bean proudly announced that she’d had a bad dream, but hadn’t called me in, because she wanted me to get some sleep. I gave her lots of praise and asked how she soothed herself, and she said, “I just turned my pillow over to the good side.” She then went on to explain to Peanut how, if you have bad dreams, it’s because your pillow’s on the “bad dream” side, and if you flip it over, you’ll have good dreams from then on. It was a very sweet and helpful concept, and I can’t figure out where she’d heard it, or if she could’ve made something like that up on her own, but wherever it came from, I’m grateful. Now if only Peanut’s pillow had a “no night terror” side, we’d be set.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Warm Milkshakes

So, one day per week, on our way home from school, I take the girls to get milkshakes and French fries to have with our lunch. But now that the cold, wintry temperatures are upon us, it really hasn’t been milkshake weather. String Bean’s all about the hot chocolate these days, with a heap of whipped cream on top (I use Carnation Instant Breakfast warmed up, for a little more protein in there). And even though Peanut loves hot chocolate just as much as String Bean, she’s still hooked on the notion of milkshakes. After a few half-tantrums in protest as I passed by “the milkshake store” on our way home from school without stopping, I offered to make String Bean her precious hot chocolate with her lunch, and to make Peanut a “warm milkshake” instead. You can probably guess that they’re both hot chocolate, and I’m sure Peanut has noticed that I prepare them exactly the same way, but this silly little distinction is enough to get Peanut in a better mood about the whole thing. If there’s one thing motherhood is good for, it’s teaching you to bend reality in the most creative ways. Anything to keep a stubborn little kid happy.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Christmas, Part One

The in-laws have arrived, and Christmas is officially underway at our house. The tree is up, the railings and banisters are wrapped in Christmas lights, the TV is playing an endless stream of holiday specials, and grandma and grandpa came bearing a suitcase full of gifts, which they have been doling out a little at a time to keep these two girls excited and entertained. Together they’ve made potholders, played princess bingo, done kitten puzzles, and tomorrow they’re tackling a gingerbread house. As if that wasn’t enough, their suitcase is still full of pretty and sparkly clothes for the girls to be wrapped and put under the tree, and today the grandparents took them toy shopping. While String Bean led them around pointing out everything she wanted (in short, everything, although everything purple or decorated in glitter or sparkles ranked just a little higher on her wish list), and Peanut drifted from display to display, lingering a moment longer on some items than on others, their grandma strolled behind them and put things into the shopping cart, which their grandpa then took up front to pay for and stow in the car. It’s funny to think that the girls saw every item they’re getting for Christmas, hand-picked each thing, and yet have no idea what exactly came home with us, overwhelmed as they were by all of the possibilities in the store. We escaped from toy-store over-stimulation just as the girls were beginning to crash, got them home and fed and down for the naps they didn’t take, and then, while the in-laws wrapped gifts and monitored the restless non-nappers, I got out for a couple of hours of writing time while the rain poured down outside and a mocha warmed me up inside. So, that’s part one of my Christmas, as well. There’s nothing like leaving rambunctious kids behind, getting to work on the next chapter of your novel-in-progress, with a hot cup of coffee, surrounded by finals-stressed college students, and getting some uninterrupted stress-free time for yourself.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Month of Christmas

String Bean is all about Christmas this year. Before Thanksgiving was even over, when those first Christmas catalogs started arriving in the mail, she started hoarding them in her room, gazing wistfully at them by day, requesting to “read” them together as her bedtime story at night. She wants, in short, one of everything. Sure, there are things that are higher on the list, like the Princess bike (in purple) and Tinkerbell roller skates (ditto) and a doll-house style princess castle, complete with mini princesses and a horse-drawn carriage for them to share. Lower on the list (but still on the list) are a baby doll that crawls, a little robot dog, a dinosaur that walks, and a remote-controlled helicopter.

The other day I was telling her to be patient, because Christmas isn’t until the end of the month, and she gave me one of her impatient looks and said, “Christmas isn’t a day, it’s a month.” I tried explaining that, like Halloween and Thanksgiving and Easter, Christmas is just one day per year, and that the month is December, but she wasn’t having any of it. I guess it’s hard to believe all of the ads, TV shows, movies, decorations, music and festive clothes are about a single day rather than an entire month, so I let it go.

Also adding to the confusion is the fact that between her three sets of grandparents she’ll have three separate Christmas celebrations, plus a gathering with my step-siblings and their children. So maybe having four family-gathering-plus-Christmas-present-opening sessions in a span of eleven days renders the whole concept of Christmas Day irrelevant. Let the month of Christmas begin…

Monday, November 30, 2009

Hurray for School

I was worried that the girls would have a rough re-entry into school after two weeks off, but instead, they were so excited to go back and see all of their friends, tell them all about Hawaii and Thanksgiving, that they couldn’t sit still this morning. Drop-off was easy, with barely a kiss goodbye as they rushed in to see their friends. When I picked them up, String Bean told me she wasn’t too good at listening to the teacher today, because she was so excited to catch up with her best girlfriend. I’m sure I was supposed to admonish her for not paying better attention to the teacher, but I was actually glad to hear she was busy being social. I consider that part of her education as well. Peanut’s teacher told me she was going for a Miss Congeniality award today, being her sunny and chattery self with every student in the class, laughing and playing with everyone. It was great to see them both so happy to have the routine back in place. And those two and a half hours to myself to drink coffee in silence at home this morning were just perfect. I had a list of chores to do and I didn’t do a single one. I just relaxed and enjoyed the quiet.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Family Time

Between our Hawaii trip and Thanksgiving week, the girls have been out of school for two weeks. While I have certainly enjoyed this quality family time with them, sharing them first with my dad and step-mom for Hawaii, then with my mom for Thanksgiving, I think I’m ready for the old routine to return. The kids have been off schedule with naps and bedtimes from our travels and from having family over, and it’s taking its toll on both of them. The fighting has reached a new, more serious level. After years of mild pushing and shoving, they are now biting, kicking, and ripping each other’s hair out (literally) by the fistful.

On Thanksgiving I dug out some old baby toys to pass on to their cousin, and the girls had fun showing her how each toy worked. Then they started wrestling over the toys, screaming, punching, and biting each other for the privilege of giving their little cousin a demo on how to put Noah’s animal pairs into the ark or how to slide the triangle-shaped block into the triangle-shaped hole.

Basically, I think we’re all a little fed up with each other’s company. It doesn’t help that I’ve been sick all week, so not really up to taking them out to parks or on energy-burning outings. That’s another reason I’m looking forward to school on Monday. Maybe I’ll actually get a few minutes to rest while they’re there, and I’ll finally get on the mend with this cold or whatever it is that is just dragging on and on.

But first, we have two more days of together-time to get through…

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkey Day

So, as a vegetarian, and not much of a food lover in general, Thanksgiving’s never been my favorite holiday. I’m fine with the whole family getting together, and I can get behind taking a day to be thankful for all that you have, but the notion of spending a whole day cooking a mountain of food that will live on as leftovers in my fridge for a couple of weeks just never made sense to me.

My girls are very curious about Thanksgiving. As fellow food non-enthusiasts, I’m not surprised that they don’t remember Thanksgivings past. String Bean can describe each Easter egg gathering mission, each Christmas stocking, and every Halloween outing since she was two, but when I asked if she was looking forward to eating pumpkin pie, she thought I was joking, that you could make pie out of those funny decorations from Halloween. I guess she doesn’t remember eating it last year, or the year before. Mostly, like me, they’re just looking forward to having the whole family over: laughing with their silly uncle, playing with their favorite cousin, and fighting for grandma’s attention.

I’m looking forward to hearing the laughter of my happy, healthy girls, the main thing in this life that I am thankful for, and being surrounded by my loving and supportive family, another great thing to appreciate, and I’ll even take the mountain of leftovers, and be grateful that I can skip making dinner for a few nights.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Nap Time

Before nap time and bed time, there is story time. In String Bean’s case, this can mean coloring, practicing reading or writing, or listening to me read her a story. In Peanut’s case, it means I read her a story, and then she “reads” it back to me. She has an uncanny ability to memorize entire books almost line by line, and can recite the story as she flips through the book, giving the impression that she really is reading. If you listen closely, you can hear her edits on the original story, as she throws a line about a bird into The Cat in the Hat or an extra conversation with Sam into Green Eggs and Ham.

Her room used to be our guest room, and the guest bed is still in there, shoved into a corner, unused except during story time. We sit together as I read, and then I lay down and listen to the lilting rise and fall of Peanut’s voice as she takes her turn reading. On more than one occasion, I’ve felt myself drifting toward sleep as she reads to me, so I understand the reason this has been a part of bedtime rituals for generations.

The other day, I was listening to her read Peter Rabbit, and the next thing I knew she was elbowing me roughly, giggling, asking why I’d elbowed her. I think I must’ve nodded off, and then elbowed her as I twitched in my sleep. I’m thinking maybe I should record her soft, soothing reading voice and play it to help me sleep on nights when insomnia has the upper hand.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

The week in Hawaii was great. We had torrential downpours for the first two days, which was less than ideal, but we made the best of it (hot tubbing in the rain is a nice way to pass the time—even the kids loved it), and we were repaid for our positive outlooks with nice weather for the rest of the trip.

The kids, of course, loved the pools and hot tubs at the condo complex where we were staying, and the beach, as always, was a big hit. My father is a long-time train aficionado, and he found a 40-minute train ride through an old plantation. Half-way through the ride, the train stops next to an enclosure of Hawaiian boars. Initially they captured four of the wild pigs, but now there are 50, just a few short years later. Who knew pigs bred like rabbits? They handed out cups of dog food for us to feed the pigs, and Peanut thought that was the most fun she’d ever had. String Bean wasn’t so sure. The pigs were noisy, squealing and butting each other aside to get to the food we threw in handfuls over the fence, and the ground was a muddy mess from the heavy rains, so the scrambling pigs splashed all of us with mud. Peanut found all of this to be hysterically funny and exciting, even as we wiped her down in the bathroom afterward, laughing and saying “Look, pig mud!” at the splatter we wiped from her legs.

It was great to spend a full week with my father, extending beyond the initial catch-up phase and into a comfortable zone of just hanging out and relaxing together. And it was terrific to spend a week with my sister and her 7-month-old daughter, two people I never quite get to see enough of anymore. The girls loved having their cousin around so much, and I can see String Bean’s future as a great babysitter, from her attentive care of her little cousin.

It was hard to leave, which is the way you want to end any vacation. I realized that in her 4 years, String Bean has been to Oahu, The Big Island, and now Kauai. So, Maui must be next.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


Tomorrow, we’re off to Hawaii, for a much-needed family vacation. I’ll be leaving my computer at home, and so the blog will be taking a week-long vacation right along with me. The girls are excited about hitting the beach, swimming in the pool, and hanging out with their seven-month-old cousin for a full week. My dad, step-mom, sister, and niece will be joining us and I’m not only looking forward to sun, sand, and just getting away from it all, but I’m excited to be making new memories with my dad. We haven’t done enough family vacations with him over the years.

Back in my pre-kids life, I had a good run of going to Hawaii each year for six or seven years. Since having kids we’ve been there twice, and the last time we went Peanut was three months old, so it’s been a while. I’m looking forward to introducing her to Hawaii, the home of one line of her ancestors, now that she can run around and appreciate it. String Bean had just turned two on that last trip, so there’s no way she should remember it, but somehow she remembers certain details, like the bulldozer on the beach that she was scared of. Maybe it’s just all of the pictures she’s seen from that trip and stories that she’s heard, rather than actual memories. Either way, I know that she’s old enough to remember this trip, so it’ll be great to build some fun new memories with her, too.

I’m looking forward to a full week with my perfect little niece, with her smiley disposition, who has just learned to clap and give sloppy baby kisses. And having grandparents along to babysit on occasion for some kid-free time in paradise? Well, I don’t even have to tell you awesome that sounds.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Disasters, Part 2

This happened on Dad’s watch, so at least I don’t have to beat myself up that they got me again just four short days later, but the other day, while I was in the shower, and hubby was downstairs with the girls, they apparently felt the need to paint. With white-out. On chairs, the floor, and light switches, as well as their own hands. The thing about white-out, it doesn’t come off. Not with acetone, Mr. Clean magic sponges, 409, or Orange Clean. I know, because we tried. We tried everything. I was able to scrape most of it off the light switches, and eventually it started coming off of their hands, but the kitchen chairs are not being so cooperative, and neither is the floor. Luckily the kitchen floor is white linoleum, so, from a long enough distance, you can hardly tell.

String Bean painted her name on the back of one of her sister’s chair, and even though I’m annoyed that it’s there, I’m glad to see she spelled it right, and that all of the letters are facing the right direction (lately she’s been regressing on writing her name, something she could write at 2 years old perfectly, reversing the letters or writing it from right to left).

I won’t bother saying that I hope they learned a lesson here, because even as they were being scolded, they were all too proud to parade me around and show me everything they’d painted, from the kitchen to the family room. I also won’t bother saying that hubby and I learned a lesson here, because our lessons so far are to keep them away from kitty litter and white-out, and we know all too well that the next potential disaster to catch their attention won’t be on that list.

Sunday, November 08, 2009


So, I know better, and yet these kids still manage to catch me off guard. It’s like it’s their mission in life, to find your moments of weakness and then take advantage in a way you’d never expect. The other day I was chatting with my father, standing by the front door. I’d just come back from my weekly break, and he was headed home, but first we had some catching up to do. The girls were a little crazy, running around and flinging diapers at each other (clean diapers, fresh from the package), making a mess and shrieking up a storm. I asked them to pick up the diapers, and they started to, carrying armloads of them down to the family room to put them away. Maybe ten minutes went by as my dad and I chatted, possibly fifteen, before he left and I headed into the kitchen to make them lunch.

Peanut came up to me, hands held out to me and said, “Look Mommy. It’s dirty.” She’s never been one to like dirty hands, and will cause a fuss if she finds a speck of lint on her palm, so I escorted her toward the kitchen to wash her hands, but then I noticed what was on her hands. Sand, which made no sense, as we keep no sand in the house. I asked her what it was and she said, “We’re making footprints,” which also made no sense, so I followed the sound of String Bean’s cheerful chatter and found a complete disaster. Kitty litter, fresh from the litter box (as in, not the clean kind), was everywhere. It covered the bathroom floor, the laundry room floor, it filled the potty chair, it was in the sink, it was tracked onto the carpet in the family room, it was on the coffee table. There were sand buckets filled with it and toys strewed around on top of it. I was too horrified to react, but after I yanked the kids out of the mess and got to work sterilizing them from top to bottom, shaking my head and muttering to myself to avoid yelling at them, they got the idea that they were in trouble. Which is strange, since they’ve been told countless times never to touch the cat box, and until now, have had a perfect record. How could they suddenly forget that it was forbidden? Except, of course, if they knew it was, and that was the whole allure.

Regardless, I did eventually get around to yelling at them, when String Bean put on an attitude, smirking at me, making jokes with Peanut, and refusing to act contrite in any way. I put them both in time out with lunch while I vacuumed up the bulk of the mess, then swept, then mopped, and I still don’t feel like it’s clean enough. We’ve had countless conversations since then about germs and dust and general filth, to not just make it clear that the litter box is off limits, but to explain why. But I feel pretty sure the explanation isn’t necessary, because they’d never do anything as predictable as making the same type of disaster twice.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Christmas Crunch

I stopped by the Halloween store in the early afternoon on Halloween to get a last-minute costume for hubby, only to find the whole store gutted already, with the few remaining costumes in a messy heap in the center of the warehouse-sized room. So I ran next door to Target, which had a huge section dedicated to Halloween merchandise, only to find the Halloween items had been moved to a messy pile on one shelf, and the rest of the section had been stocked with Christmas items. Strangest of all, there were several people in the new Christmas section, loading their carts as if they were quickly running out of time to get their decorations purchased. Halloween wasn’t even over, and the Christmas frenzy was already starting? As much as I enjoy Christmas, I’d prefer to just celebrate one holiday at a time. And even though Thanksgiving is one of my least favorite holidays, not just because I’m a vegetarian and it centers around consuming a dead bird, but the whole glut of food aspect of the day just never made sense to me, I’d still like to have Thanksgiving behind me before getting into the Christmas spirit.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


So, the princesses were sick, but they were still beautiful. One Snow White with a deep cough and one Cinderella with a low-grade fever made the rounds around our neighborhood, collecting candy and admiring decorations, getting cooed over by the neighbors we know best, and getting special treats designated just for them. We headed down the street, and by the fifth house they had a system down. String Bean would ring the doorbell, and when it opened, Peanut would lead the chorus of saying “trick or treat!” It’s the first year that they jumped right in without much shyness, especially Peanut. As soon as the candy dropped into her bucket, she’d spin on a sparkly heel and say, “Let’s go to the next house!”

We were planning on a brief outing this year, not only because the kids were sick, but also because they were looking forward to being back home in time to give out candy to other kids. After maybe a dozen houses, the little princess buckets they were collecting candy in were totally full (who knew people were so generous with three- and four-year-olds, some giving four or five pieces of candy each), so we headed home. String Bean was done by then, feeling tired and ready to settle down to eat some candy and wait in the front window, watching for kids coming to our house, so she could race excitedly to open the door and dump huge handfuls of candy into their bags. But Peanut, who really got Halloween for the first time this year, and was no longer frightened by the scarier decorations, wasn’t done. So String Bean stayed home with me while Peanut went out on another round with her grandma. I’m happy to have another Halloween enthusiast in the family.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Happy Birthday to Me

Last Friday was my birthday, and despite having two sick kids at home who were stir crazy with missing school and out to cause each other bodily harm out of sheer crankiness, I had a great day. I woke up to my two precious little bundles of nonstop chatter bursting into my room, talking over each other in their excitement to wish me a happy birthday, and then describe every present and card waiting for me downstairs. Sure, they’d only seen the cardboard boxes that had come in the mail, and the colored envelopes waiting on the dining room table, but they were so excited that even these paper products were worthy of lengthy descriptions. We headed downstairs and they helped me open everything, running off with the prettiest cards before I’d had a chance to read them and storming my boxes of gifts like demolition experts (luckily I received nothing fragile). They sang “Happy Birthday” to me as I made my morning mocha, sang it again as I checked my email, and sang it again as I fed the dog.

My mom came down to brave the sickies and babysit so hubby and I could head out to celebrate. She came early, just as I was putting the girls down for much-needed naps, and while hubby was still at work. I took advantage of the time to run down the street to Starbucks with my laptop and get a little writing done. During my hour and a half break, I put the finishing touches on the final two chapters of a novel I’ve been writing for the last five months. It’s just the first draft, and I already have ideas for what needs tightening up or loosening up during revision, but it’s the first novel I’ve ever written, so I’m pretty proud of myself. I’ve spent years writing nonfiction, sharing family secrets and telling stories about crazy events in my life, but this novel is complete fiction. Finally, a book I can publish without having to apologize to anyone or warn anyone! I realize that trying to get it published will be a tremendous challenge, but looking back at the discipline it took to crank this 85,000 word novel in just five months, squeezed in around caring for my girls, I feel like I’ve already achieved success. In all my 38 years, it’s the best birthday gift I’ve every given myself.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Little Nurses

On a school day like so many others, while I was rushing my shower to stay on schedule, I cut myself shaving. It was a tiny nick, nothing to worry about. The girls, who were playing in my room at the time, saw the blood on my ankle when I got out of the shower. String Bean spotted it first and came rushing over to point at it: “Mommy is that blood?” I told her it was nothing, blotted it with some tissue, and figured we were done with it, but String Bean was still concerned. She stood there, watching the little cut carefully. “You better put a band-aid on it, or you’ll get blood on your pants,” she said. I decided that she was right, so I rummaged through my bathroom cabinets looking for a band-aid (after turning down her offer to use one of her Dora or Hello Kitty ones), and was about to put it on when Peanut spoke up. “Wait! You need cream!” She took the Neosporin tube out for me. The two girls watched closely as I put the Neosporin on the band-aid, and the band-aid on my cut. It was a nice little change in roles, to be the one they were trying to take care of instead of the one who is always taking care of their little injuries.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Halloween Lights

We have a light switch that operates an outlet in our family room, but the outlet is in a bad place (next to the stairs, so too exposed to where the kids like to play to plug a lamp into), so the light switch serves no function. Peanut has played with that switch for about a year, always turning it on, looking around the family room and in the adjoining rooms for any new lights that have come on, then turning it off and checking the rooms for any lights that have suddenly turned off. I’ve tried explaining it to her, that it’s an unused outlet, but it’s either beyond her three-year-old capacity for understanding or my explanation taxes her three-year-old attention span, because she’s never quite grasped how a switch so perfectly placed at her height could do absolutely nothing.

As Halloween decorations started going up around the neighborhood, String Bean suddenly remembered that we have a rather large cache of lights that I hadn’t brought in with the decorations we’ve already put up. We no longer have the curtain rod up that I used to hang the lights from in the front window, so I decided to please both girls by plugging the lights into Peanut’s switch-controlled outlet. I strung them around the railing along the stairs and across a guard rail that separates the kitchen from the split-level family room. The girls have absolute power to turn these lights on and off as the mood strikes them, and they do so every five minutes or so.

The first night we had the lights up, after turning the lights on and off about fifty times, String Bean turned to me and asked, “So where were these lights before?” I told her they lived outside in the storage shed, in a box with all of our Halloween decorations. She studied the lights and the switch, then asked, “And every time we turned that switch on in here, it turned the lights on out there?” Electricity is a tricky concept for a four-year-old. So, even with my careful explanations and demonstrations, the concept of the switch-controlled outlet is still a bit fuzzy.

The cutest thing was how guilty String Bean looked as she asked it, as if she’d just realized that she and Peanut have been wasting electricity by turning on the lights in the storage shed with that light switch all year. She didn’t appreciate my laughing as I reassured her that playing with the switch didn’t control the lights unless they were plugged into that exact outlet. And I’m pretty sure she still doesn’t understand what I mean.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

All-Powerful Big Sisters

The other morning, after a rough night’s sleep, I heard the girls moving around in their rooms fairly early. I wanted to sleep in, say, until 7am, before dealing with them, so I left them alone, knowing that String Bean would get herself up, pull down the gate on Peanut’s door (a no-longer-successful means of keeping her from waking her little sister in the morning), and convince Peanut to climb out of her crib, and that then they’d head downstairs together, where String Bean, expert in all things childproof, would open the childproof gate at the bottom of the steps that really has just become a way of keeping the dog downstairs all night.

One good thing about monitoring kids out of view (but not about trying to snooze once they’re awake) is that kids, particularly mine, are very loud first thing in the morning. As I lay in bed, pretending I had a chance of getting a tiny bit more rest before dealing with the morning routine, I could track their movement downstairs by the volume of their squeals. Louder meant they were in the living room at the bottom of the stairs, quieter meant they’d moved down to the family room, where all of their toys are kept.

Ten minutes later, I heard the girlish voices getting louder, then my door was thrown open and both girls rushed to my bedside, talking at the same time, saying something terribly urgent about milk. From what I could gather from their muddled rantings, Peanut wanted her morning milk (really, milk with a little Carnation Instant Breakfast mixed in), and wanted String Bean to make it for her. Apparently, Peanut had decided that her big sister could handle this job just fine, but, thankfully, String Bean disagreed. Peanut was still going on about wanting String Bean to make her milk, and String Bean was giving me a lengthy explanation that while she knows where the sippy cups are, and can put the “chocolate powder” into the cups, she’s not sure how much to put, or how to pour the heavy gallon jug of milk without spilling any. So, she thought the best thing to do was come get me, and Peanut wanted me to agree with her that it wasn’t necessary to get me involved.

Even though I was tired and cranky, it was a pretty amusing way to wake up. It was adorable to see Peanut’s confidence in her 4-year-old sister’s abilities, and to see String Bean growing up enough to care about things like making a disastrous mess by trying to pour a jug of milk that weighs almost as much as she does. So I hauled myself out of bed, laughing as the girls continued making their cases for/against four-year-olds making their sister’s chocolate milk in the morning, and headed downstairs.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sibling Rivalry

I know it’s a normal part of growing up with siblings, and that having a sibling to play, fight, and make up with is a healthy thing, proven to lead to more conflict-resolution-oriented adults, but really, isn’t there an easier way? I love it when my girls are laughing together, playing their cute little games of hide and seek or running from imaginary monsters or building forts out of couch cushions. The sound of their laughter together is truly the best sound I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately, the laughter only lasts so long. Then there is a tug-of-war over some toy, or hitting and pushing over one refusing to accept the role the other has assigned her. The other day I pulled them off each other, lying head-to-toe, kicking each other in the head. Neither one could remember what the fight was even about. I locked them both in their rooms, with gates in place to keep them there, and went downstairs to finish making their lunch. Within minutes they were laughing again, straining to reach each other across their gates, singing songs at the tops of their lungs, jumping up and down, and begging to be reunited.

Yesterday they got into a scuffle over both needing to play with the same toy horse (ignoring the other nine toy horses that lay scattered around them), and after each had pushed, then punched, the other one, they both got time outs. But they couldn’t manage to stay in their time-out chairs, and kept running across the room to each other to whisper silly things to make the other one laugh. So I tried a different tactic. I made them sit in the same time-out chair, with their arms wrapped around each other in a hug, and they had to kiss each other five times before they could get up. They were laughing hysterically after three kisses, and ran off best friends again.

I don’t remember my sister and I fighting so much as kids, but I also don’t remember playing with her much, either. We usually did our own things, in separate rooms. So maybe the problem is that my girls are too close, and refuse to play separately. I’ve tried using doors, gates, and harsh language to get them to play separately when it seems they can’t get along, but that just makes them more upset than fighting with each other. One time I asked String Bean why they can’t play nicely all the time, and she put her hands on her hips, gave me one of those exasperated sighs, and said, “We are playing nicely. Then we fight. Then we play again.” So maybe I’m the only one with a problem here, and they’re fine with the terms of their relationship.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Christmas Spirit

So, it’s not even Halloween yet, but the Christmas ads have begun on TV already. I’ve told the girls that they can’t have everything they see, but that they can start making their wish lists for Christmas, so every time we’re in a store together or I accidentally let them watch live TV on a channel with commercials, I get a few more items for the list. So far String Bean wants a princess bike, roller skates (the old school clunky kind that straps onto your shoes), Bendaroos, a new fairy wand, a jewelry box, rain boots, warm dresses, a new pig-shaped mini flashlight, and the new Tinkerbell movie that isn’t even out yet, but is already being advertised. I’m sure there are other items she’s thrown at me and I promised to put on the list but have already forgotten. So far Peanut has asked for…nothing. She got a doll house from her grandma for her birthday, and she spends hours playing with that every day. The rest of the time she spends with my old horse collection. Between those two diversions, she’s a happy girl.

I’m not sure what it is that makes some of us collectors: of clothes, jewelry, bright and shiny objects, toys, shoes, books, movies, you name it, while others just don’t value stuff so much. But I can tell you that I have one of each in my children. Maybe Peanut never asks for anything because with all of the stuff String Bean wants, pretty much every desire she could have is covered, but I think it’s more than that. String Bean is so aware of how things look, and puts a lot of value on the appearance rather than function of her objects. She’s prone to statements like “I just like pretty things,” as she sneaks her dentist appointment reminder card, decorated with a glittery rainbow, into her treasure box. Peanut’s treasures are all in her own mind, in the form of her imaginary scenarios that she acts out with her dollhouse dolls or Breyer horses. Aside from the doll she sleeps with every night, Peanut doesn’t keep any toys in her room or consider anything off-limits to her sister.

So, someday I’ll have to help String Bean understand the difference between a want and a need, and that not everything sparkly, shiny, or new is worth owning. Definitely before her teen years, when she’ll undoubtedly be on top of the latest trends and be a complete shopaholic. Maybe Peanut can help me get the message across.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


Before kids, hubby and I used to spend a lot of time hiking. After we got our dog, the always energetic vizsla, we spent even more time hiking, even opting for cold, pouring down rain hikes, where we’d all end up soaked and mud-covered, anything to keep ourselves active and wear out the dog. When he was just a hyperactive puppy, all long floppy ears and gangly legs, we used to hike him for so long that at some point he’d just give up, maybe after seven or eight miles, and we’d have to carry him the rest of the way. As he matured, covering three miles to every one mile we hiked, with his need to explore every trail, stream, hillside, and meadow we passed, we kept adding more distance to our outings to end up with the same quiet, tired dog at the end of the day.

After having kids we kept up modified versions of these hikes, but with babies in Bjorns, then backpacks, then jogging strollers, with diaper changes and feedings to factor in, we weren’t able to cover the same amount of ground, and we had to be more selective about the weather we were going to expose our kids to. This past year, with neither child able to hike far, and both refusing to ride in a stroller, the poor dog has hardly been on any long-distance hikes at all. I have to admit, it’s been unfair to him, to set up this expectation that every weekend he’ll be hiked to exhaustion, then suddenly scrap the routine.

Yesterday, I decided to try a hike alone with the two girls and the dog. I feel a little wary of going without hubby, and minding the dog off-leash in a large area full of grazing cows while monitoring the girls as they totter along bumpy, hilly paths, but they’ve both recently had growth spurts, and their long legs gave me hope that maybe they’re finally ready for some real hiking. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the outing. The dog roamed and explored far and wide, encountering several other off-leash dogs to play with, including two other vizslas. The girls basically ran the entire time, their new longer legs handling the uneven terrain like pros. We went full out for an hour, and when Peanut started slowing down, I asked if she needed me to carry her the last stretch back to the car. Without a word she took off running again, quickly catching up to her sister. It was the first hike I’ve taken since having children where I never carried a child or had to push one along.

With bad weather on its way, we might not have ideal conditions for a lot of these outings, but I’m glad to know that when time and weather allow, we’re all equally game for it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Rainy Days

So, the summery weather is finally taking a break here in northern California. This week the first real rain of the season hit, bringing with it cold, darkness, and a craving for quiet indoor activities. The girls and I have been drinking hot chocolate, watching movies, playing with Peanut’s new doll house, and sitting in our big front window watching the rain pour down, forming little rivers on the street that run down the hill, carrying the first fallen leaves along with it.

I love the first rains of the season. We have the first round of Halloween decorations up, and the darkness during the day means the little light-up pumpkins and witch-hat lights are easily visible all day long. I’m craving hot mulled apple cider and soup, wearing my favorite sweater and warm corduroy pants that I haven’t seen since last winter. String Bean even agreed to wear a long-sleeved shirt and her fuzzy pants (as opposed to one of her four favorite sun dresses) for the first time in four months without a fight, so you know she’s feeling the urge to get cozy, too. There’s nothing dreary about this first real storm. For one thing, as always after a long dry summer, we need the rain. And this is California, so I know this cool, wet weather won’t last. Sometime in the next few weeks we’ll have our usual fall warm spell, the Indian summer we all count on before we give in to the shorter days and cooler nights. But for these few days, the drum of the raindrops against the roof and the sight of the kids’ swing set dripping with water, are a welcome change.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


The hubby and I took a two-day getaway to Las Vegas (the furthest I’ve traveled kid-free since String Bean was born), while brave grandma stayed with the girls. She says they did fine, kept the basic routine with some added elements, like a checklist written in big bold caps, that the girls got to check off as they completed each item (eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, go potty, etc.). The girls apparently loved the list concept, and were not just cooperative, but eager to get through each step just so they could use a colored marker to check off the big empty box before the item.

We came home from the airport during naps (which the girls, miraculously, took, all three days for their grandma, after weeks of non-napping for me). When String Bean woke up, she first wanted to know if we’d brought her a present from our trip, and then (while wearing the new necklace she’d scored), she wanted to cuddle on my lap for the next two days solid. It’s how it always is with her when I go away, whether for an evening, a night, or a weekend. She is happy to see me when I get back, and reluctant to let me out of her sight for a few days. She gets tearful if I try to sneak off to the bathroom without telling her where I’m going, is moody at the next school drop off, calls me back into her room frequently after putting her to bed with silly questions and concerns, just to make sure I’m still there.

When I got Peanut up from her nap after being gone for two days, she smiled at seeing me and said, “Grandma said you were coming home.” I picked her up in a big hug, gave her a kiss, and she immediately said, “Put me down,” and was off and running to find Grandma, her big sister, her new doll house. Peanut’s behavior is pretty much exactly the same with me whether I’ve been gone or not.

I guess it’s a nice combination, one higher-maintenance and clingier child who makes me feel endlessly needed, but can also wear me down with her demands, and one easy-going less affectionate child who doesn’t make me feel like the center of her universe, but never taxes my reserves when I’m running low after a couple of late nights. I do look forward to the day when I can take an overnight break for myself and not feel like I have to make it up to String Bean afterward. But I also know that when that day comes, I’ll miss being the most important person in her world, just a little.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

It’s a Girl Thing

One of the things that I have always marveled at with String Bean is what a girlie girl she is. I have no idea where it came from, since I definitely didn’t get that gene, but she loves sparkles, dresses, jewelry, dressing up, tea parties, playing princess, and pretty much anything else you’d classify as traditionally girlie.

She has a posse of girls that she’s bonded with at school, and enthusiastically greets each morning, and reluctantly leaves each afternoon. In all there are six of them, which I believe is the total number of girls in her pre-K class. They share a brain, travel in a pack, are inseparable throughout the day, and adore each other as only a group of little girls can. Freely expressing their adoration with hugs, squeals, and endless praise for each other’s pretty shoes, beautiful hairstyles, or fancy clothes, this tight-knit little troupe of four-year-olds is an interesting study in the social development of young girls. And oddly, it’s the one aspect of her girlie nature that I can really relate to.

In high school, I had my own pack of girls I traveled in. There were five of us, and we ate lunch together, took classes together, and had endless sleepovers together. We were teased mildly for always being together, for all being the same height, and for speaking in our own secret language that only we could understand. The only difference was that we were not four-year-olds, so teenage hormone-driven drama was all around us, and occasionally infiltrated into our group. By the time I graduated high school, our pack of five was down to three, but I still count those other two girls, now women, as the closest friends I’ll ever have.

So there is something sweetly reminiscent in the way String Bean forgets I exist as soon as her “girls” arrive each morning at school. The way she’ll interrupt our long goodbye and run off beaming, holding hands with one or two of them, showing off her sparkly bracelet or complimenting her girlfriend’s sparkly headband, never looking back at me. I never really cared if I had a girl or a boy, I just wanted healthy babies. But now that I have two girls, I can’t imagine wanting anything different. As different as all three of us are, I feel like my girls and I form our own posse. Like my old group, we definitely speak our own language, have nightly sleepovers, adore each other unabashedly, and the way the girls are growing, very soon we’ll all be the same height. There is comfort in identifying as part of a group, something I think girls learn at a young age and carry with them into adulthood. I’m downright honored to be a part of their little pack.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Flu Shots

I just got my flu shot, doing what little I can to stem the flow of germs from preschool to my house, not to mention from the grocery store, Target, Costco, and the Starbucks down the street. I haven’t had the flu since I started getting the shot, back in college, after a particularly brutal flu season when I had it again and again. I don’t miss it. Likewise, I’ve vaccinated my kids against it, because the only thing worse than being really sick is having a really sick child.

Our pediatrician has a couple of flu shot clinics each year, where he opens his doors all day for his patients to stream in and get their shot, and sticker reward, in assembly-line fashion. Last year String Bean and I went to one of the clinics. I spent the whole morning giving her a pep talk about it, that the shot would be small, quick, and very mild, and that the sticker would be shiny, new, and quite beautiful.

When we arrived at the pediatrician’s office, she was whisked from the shot line into the FluMist line, because she’d had the shot before, and who wouldn’t prefer to sniff a little spray over having a shot? Guess who. String Bean has long had an obsession with saline nasal spray, so getting the FluMist vaccine was easy for her. He sprayed, she sniffed, no big deal. Until we were back in the car, Pocahontas sicker in hand, headed home, when String Bean suddenly piped up from the back seat: “Mom, I forgot to get my shot!” I apologized for the confusion, and explained that she didn’t need a shot after all. The spray up her nose had done the trick, and we were all done. She immediately started to cry, “Turn around! Go back! I want my shot!” Now, kids love to throw curve balls like this at you. Instead of feeling thrilled at her shot-reprieve, she was feeling deprived of the pricking sensation, the sore arm, all that I had promised her. I had to stifle my laughter as I apologized, profusely, for preparing her so adequately for something that, in the end, didn’t even happen. This year, I’ll try to be better prepared for either outcome.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Holiday Season

In our house, the holiday season starts in October. First, it’s Peanut’s birthday, then mine, then Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, then String Bean’s birthday. For the next four months, it’s one party planned after another. For the birthdays, there are play group parties, school parties, and family parties. Peanut’s at the age (and of the personality) where she just goes along with whatever comes, no questions asked, so she’s getting a few small parties as she makes the momentous turn from two-year-old to three-year-old.

String Bean, on the other hand, is quite the party-lover. She’s already giving me guest lists for her various birthday parties, wanting to be sure she gets to celebrate her big day (stretched out to a big week) with all of her closest friends and family members, and everyone else she knows, likes, or just hasn’t seen in a while. She’s giving me cake requests, gift suggestions, and ideas for decorations. Never mind that her birthday is almost four months away. This girl was born to plan parties.

I don’t mind planning parties, hosting holiday gatherings, even celebrating Christmas the three, sometimes four, times it takes to properly celebrate with every branch of my family. But I do have my moments where I look at the busy months ahead and start feeling the need for a massage or two. It helps to have String Bean’s enthusiasm to remind me that children are the real focus of so many of these occasions, making it instantly seem more worthwhile. And to have Peanut’s easy-going attitude to balance her sister out, so I’m only getting perfectionist pressure from one child. As party planning goes, I can already see who I’ll be passing the torch to someday. And I’m glad she’ll be better at it, more organized and more passionate about it, than I am.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

It’s all about Comfort

String Bean is a thumb sucker. She discovered her left thumb at three months old, and it’s been in her mouth any time she’s sleepy, scared, or needing some comfort ever since. The dentist tells me her bite is only mildly affected now, so not to worry, yet. We’ll tackle the habit more seriously when her adult teeth start coming in. I have to admit, it’s come in handy, the fact that she has something so comforting with her all the time. As soon as she found it at three months old, she started sleeping through the night. Now, when she’s nervous about a new situation or scared, it keeps the tears at bay. She also uses it to remember her right and left (she never sucks her right thumb, so if you tell her to turn to her left, she’ll pop her thumb into her mouth to orient herself first, then turn in the appropriate direction).

Neither of my kids had any interest in a pacifier. I tried, when they were wee things that cried regularly, but it just didn’t do it for either of them. String Bean found her thumb, and, wanting to prevent Peanut from adopting the habit, I tried various comfort measures until she chose one for herself. When she was about six months old, she started insisting on sleeping with one of the cloth diapers that I used as a burp cloth. She’d latch onto it while nursing, then cradle it to her chest as I put her down. As long as she had her burp cloth, she was a happy baby. I was happy with the choice, since I had dozens of identical cloths around the house, so we were never short of one. I kept them in her bed, in her swing, in the car, in the diaper bag, and tucked into the glider I used for nursing. I was never sure what to call it, this mini security blanket of hers, and tried various terms, but she came up with her own at about a year old, and that’s what it’s been called ever since. I’m not sure how it’s spelled, but it’s pronounced “tay.” She’ll be three years old next weekend, and she still sleeps with her “tay” every night. But we just had a dentist appointment, and her bite is perfect.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


When I was a little girl, I wasn’t so much into dolls and playing house and other girlie activities as I was into horses. I had a collection of Breyer brand horses (, the hard plastic kind that were designed to look quite realistic. My mother recently found my collection under her house, and brought them down when she was visiting this past weekend. The girls divided them equally (there are 10 in all) and spent the entire day making up little horse adventures and having little horse conversations (think: lots of neighing and whinnying, mixed in with English translations of these sounds).

String Bean’s style of playing is pretty rough, with horses jumping around each other, crashing into each other, and yelling at each other before they run screaming away from some invisible monster or evil witch. But Peanut’s horses are quiet types that eat together, go for walks together, and give each other kisses before laying down to sleep. She takes her time to pet each horse, talking to them in soothing tones as she cares for them, and each horse already has a name. Peanut’s version of horse play is exactly the same as mine was as a child, and it takes me back to watch her. In those quiet moments, as I replay my own happy childhood memories while watching Peanut creating her own, I’m reminded of another great thing about motherhood.

There are so many insignificant little moments from my childhood that I’ve forgotten over the years, silly little games I used to play, joyful songs we used to sing in preschool, quiet moments where I felt completely content with the world around me. Seeing Peanut totally entertained in her own little world is a nice way to go back to those forgotten moments. So often since having kids I’ve felt like their existence somehow saps my brain, making me forgetful, distracted, much more absent-minded than I ever was pre-kids. It’s nice now to see that they also have the ability to rekindle my memory, and refill all of those empty spaces in my mind that they’ve created these past few years.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grandma Crackers

The other day, String Bean was fussing for a snack. By fussing, I mean she wanted something, but everything I offered her was all wrong, for reasons that made no sense to me. After a frustrating round of “what about this, what about that?” she climbed up on the counter and dug through the cupboards herself. Somewhere way in the back, she found a box of graham crackers. When she was about 18 months old, she used to call them “grandma crackers,” because it was her grandma who introduced her to them, and the word “graham” held no meaning. Just a cute anecdote.

Anyway, I thought graham crackers sounded fine, especially if she had them with milk. I mean, that’s practically a healthy snack, right? She thought I was crazy when I poured her a cup of milk and told her to try dunking the crackers into it. She kept giving me her skeptical look (one eyebrow raised, the same look I give when I’m not buying into something) until I told her that used to be one of my favorite snacks at her age, and grandma’s, too. For whatever reason, ideas that come from grandma are infinitely superior to ideas that come from mom, so she gave it a try. She went through three glasses of milk, a big stack of graham crackers, and kept grinning and laughing every time at how silly it was to dunk her food into her drink, and have it be okay. Not just that it tasted good, but that mom condoned it. Sure, she ruined her dinner on it, but the cuteness of the whole activity was worth it.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Creative Solutions

One problem with flying solo for so long is that you get run down, start to relax the structure, and kids pick up on any weakness. The girls, who are by and large such good girls, have been getting a little stir crazy in the evenings. Little scuffles are breaking out, and no matter how many times I tell them it’s time for PJs and tooth brushing, they ignore me, sometimes even running away laughing, as I, too exhausted by the end of the day to give chase, yell at them to come back, which is even less effective than doing nothing.

The other night, at my wit’s end and anxious to get them to bed so I could finally have some much-needed quiet time after a hectic day, I had an idea. When I’m tired, I’m not as good at being creative, so I really should write all of these ideas down when I’m wide awake and newly caffeinated. Anyway, I went upstairs without a word, and put on my junior prom dress that we’d unearthed at my mom’s house last weekend. The frilly, lacy, awful powder blue 80s creation that String Bean is obsessed with. I came downstairs as if nothing had changed, holding PJs for two squealing, squawking girls who were embroiled in tug-of-war over something. They both took one look at me and let go of the toy they’d been ready to kill each other over moments before.

In my best Cinderella voice I asked them to gather around for a final potty run, PJs, tooth brushing, and hair brushing, and, to my amazement, they obeyed completely. Not only were they willing to be subjected to every step of the bedtime routine without complaint, but they showered me with compliments the entire time. “Mommy, you look so beautiful! Like a princess!” The dress doesn’t exactly fit. Two pregnancies and twenty years later, the zipper will only go halfway up, but String Bean beamed that this was wonderful, too. “You have some air going in there, to keep you cool!” she cooed.

I’ve already made a mental list of my other dresses for future rowdy, relentless nights. I have a black velvet number leftover from years ago, when I had season tickets to the opera. I have my flag squad uniform from high school. I have the bridesmaid dress from my best friend’s wedding. I have my wedding gown, which would push String Bean over the edge into some kind of unnatural bliss. I think I’ve got the next week covered.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Time to See the Dentist

Yesterday String Bean had her dentist appointment, and next week it’s Peanut’s turn. We’ve had moderate success with previous dentist trips. The girls are fine with the tooth cleaning part, since the spinning little tooth polisher feels just like the spinning toothbrushes we use at home. And both girls are so obsessed with floss that I actually use it as a reward for good behavior. But that doesn’t mean they don’t get nervous at the sight of that big reclining dentist chair with the spotlight above it. And neither one has ever had a decent set of X-rays taken. Something about the funny thing in the mouth, plus that heavy lead apron, plus having Mom and the tech scurry quickly out of the room while the big machine at their side beeps at them, is just too much to sit through.

This time, to better prepare them both, we had a mock dentist appointment at home. I set up a chair, and had them take turns leaning back for me to poke and prod in their mouth, brush and floss their teeth, then take pretend X-rays. At the end, I rewarded them each with a balloon—just like their pediatric dentist does—for being so well-behaved. Really, we couldn’t have been more prepared. Except that String Bean was up in the night, and was already cranky and tired before we even got to the dentist. When they tried to get X-rays, and instead got a very tearful, terrified four-year-old curled into a ball and pleading to go home, we gave up on those (again). She refused to sit through the polishing, which last time was the easy part, until we all agreed they could clean her teeth from my lap. I know they do this with small children, but String Bean is only 18 inches shorter than me, probably less by now, so it was a little ridiculous trying to hold her across my lap like a baby. But her teeth got cleaned, she got her balloon and a toy (actually she insisted on two, one for her sister as well, which just warmed my heart), and by the time we got home she was all smiles again. Maybe next time, when she’s five, we’ll finally get those X-rays.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Memory Lane

My mother is considering moving back to the Bay Area in the next few years, and part of that long-term plan is getting rid of the clutter around her house that she doesn’t want to move along with her. She’s been slowly cleaning out her basement, digging up boxes of Christmas ornaments she no longer uses and the doll house from her childhood, a metal one now completely rusted through the bottom.

All of those boxes of precious mementos from my youth that have been gathering dust for 15 or 20 years have also been unearthed, and last weekend while I was visiting, Mom presented me with box after box of stuff. Much of it brings back sweet memories of childhood best friends collecting matching trinkets, or of the grandmother I lost twenty years ago, or of the high school flag squad I was on. From the bottom of a deep box we pulled out my baby blue satin and lace dress from my junior prom. String Bean, of course, spent the better part of the day wearing it, tripping over the hem and holding the bodice in place with two hands, and loving every minute of it.

I never found the unicorn figurines that I can so clearly remember from my childhood bedroom, maybe they broke in the last move, or were sold at one of the family garage sales years ago. After perusing the contents of box after box, finding an equal number of favorite things as objects I literally have no memory of, I thought I’d narrowed down my pile of things to keep to one small stack. Then String Bean and Peanut got in on it, and now we have a vast assortment of dusty stuffed animals, ancient articles of clothing, and random curios destined for our house. Of course I’m amused at seeing these forgotten treasures getting a new audience to adore them all these years later. But I’m also secretly hoping not all of them survive the trip back to our house.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Little Painter

Last week, when Peanut was running a fever of 102 and had to miss school, she seemed happy to be staying home with me. That is, until we dropped String Bean off at school, and Peanut saw all of her friends heading into her preschool class. Then she started complaining that she wanted to go to school, to see her friends, and because she needed to paint. I stopped by her class, to tell the teacher (who is also the school director) that she wouldn’t be attending that day, to warn her that some bug was clearly going around, and to relay the message that Peanut was sorry to miss class because she needed a painting fix. The teacher smiled, turned to Peanut and said, “You want to paint? How about doing it at home today?” She led us to the storage closet, handed me a watercolor painting kit, and wished us a good day. Peanut was thrilled, once the Tylenol kicked in, to spend the morning painting pictures without a big sister’s interruption, and without the time limit imposed by school schedules. And I was thrilled by the gesture this teacher/director made.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Flying Solo

I’m halfway through hubby’s 16-day business trip, a hectic tour of four European countries and I forget how many cities. It’s the longest we’ve been apart, the longest the girls have gone without him, and, so far, we’re surviving, despite Peanut being sick and keeping me up all night twice, and not getting my preschool-time morning breaks, since she was too sick to go to school. I’ve called in reinforcements to make sure I have a few hours to myself every few days, including having my mom visit for two days, and going to visit her for two days, and aside from that I’ve just got a “let it slide” attitude going.

The other day, when String Bean was supposed to be having her quiet time so her sick sister could nap, but she kept making too much noise, I just laid down on her bed with her for a half hour, sharing my favorite memories of her as a baby (her favorite story is the way the NICU nurses called her “princess” from day one. They meant she was a high-maintenance baby, but she thinks they were predicting that she’ll marry a prince, live in a castle, and get to attend magical balls). The laundry’s piling up, the dishes are only getting done once a day, the dog isn’t getting walked, and we’re out of all groceries except milk and Annie’s macaroni and cheese, but I’m not worrying about any of it right now. We’re having lots of cuddle time on the couch and making up silly games and playing dress up, trying to keep String Bean engaged while Peanut gets some much-needed rest, and I try to fend off whatever bug she has with taking Emergen-C and washing my hands every ten minutes.

Hubby returns a week from today, is home for a day, then leaves again on another business trip. By then, we should have this whole flying solo thing down to a science. At some point I will have to break down and hit the grocery store, and do at least one load of laundry. But not today. Today we have some coloring books that need our attention, and a make-believe ball to attend in our princess gowns.

Thursday, September 17, 2009


Halloween came early to our house this year, primarily because String Bean wants to be Cinderella this year, and when I happened across a not-terribly overpriced Cinderella costume in her size, that showed none of the wear and tear of costumes on racks later in the season, she was with me. I tried to figure out how to buy it without her seeing, so I could hide it away upstairs (with Peanut’s Snow White costume), but it didn’t work out. The downside is that she always wants to wear the costume now, and I’m worried it’ll get wrecked before Halloween. The upside is that when wearing the costume, she adopts the mannerisms of a princess. She walks on her tiptoes in a sweeping, ballet-like fashion, moving slowly so as to avoid wrinkling the dress, she keeps her hands at her sides, gently resting them on the puffy skirt of her gown, she even holds her mouth in a princess-like half-smile the entire time. The overall effect is that when wearing the dress, she isn’t running, jumping, screaming, tackling or playing tug-of-war with her sister, or rolling around on the floor underfoot. In fact, she pretty much stands before the mirror, just twirling in slow motion or waving to her imaginary minions. Hopefully the dress survives intact until Halloween. But even if it doesn’t, I’m getting my money’s worth out of it in good behavior.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Baby Book

Two years ago, for a Christmas present for all of the immediate family members, I created a book about the girls. It was 24 pages long, in full color, with big glossy pages chock full of photos and accompanying text about milestones (first words, the age when they got their first tooth, when they took their first steps) as well as little anecdotes about trips they’d taken, their favorite outings, their earliest hobbies. It was a hit with the family, and I kept one archival copy for us (although, to be honest, I have no idea where it is right now).

The other day, as I was cleaning off my desk, heaped with years worth of miscellaneous papers, I came across the final draft of the book, printed on our home printer in basic black toner. It’s hard to make out the fine details of the photos in the dark copy, but as soon as the girls saw it, they recognized themselves. I’ve been reading them that book every night for bedtime for the past few days.

I don’t know about other kids, but mine just love hearing about what they were like as babies, or even just a year ago. They love stories about funny things they did or the quirky way they used to mispronounce certain words (and each other’s names). They both have the book memorized by now, and have developed their own narration to accompany it: “That’s when we were in Hawaii, and grandpa bought me that shovel, and that’s Daddy’s old phone that I used to play on, and that’s me drinking a smoothie from the place we never go anymore. Oh, and I remember that shirt!”

It makes me feel better about never doing a baby book for either of them. Between the photo book covering their early years, and this blog, maybe I’ve done as much, or even more, than a baby book would have.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Wedding Shoes

String Bean’s obsession with my wedding dress continues, with her feeling the intense need to see the dress, still hanging in the huge white garment bag in my closet, on a regular basis. And last week she started asking about my shoes. What shoes had I worn with the dress? Where were they? Could she see them? Could she touch them? I had no memory of what I did with the shoes, so for a while I put her off by saying I think I gave them to Goodwill. They were inexpensive white pumps that I knew I’d never wear again, so I couldn’t imagine hanging onto them. You can’t see them in a single wedding photo, so I couldn’t even remember what they looked like. Then one day, out of curiosity, I dug around in the back of my closet and unearthed a vaguely familiar shoe box. Inside were my wedding shoes exactly as they looked at the end of my wedding day, white pumps with heels dirty from tromping around on grass and dirt at our outdoor wedding and reception. I surprised String Bean with them after her quiet time (we’ve given up on the notion of her ever napping again), and she hasn’t taken them off since. It’s a little ridiculous, watching her struggle to go up and down stairs in these heels that are about twice her size, but she simply adores them. It’s a win win, because not only do these forgotten shoes now have someone to properly love them, but I now have something precious to threaten to take away any time she starts getting too out of hand. So far, it’s worked like a charm.

Monday, September 14, 2009

School’s Lasting Impression

This is Peanut’s third week of preschool. I think she’s doing well, since she never cries when I drop her off, and is always smiling when I pick her up, but I don’t really have a sense of how she spends her days. I realize that she’s only two, and while String Bean gives me the run-down on her entire school day in the car after I pick her up, she was pretty mum about the particulars when she was only two, too.

I still ask Peanut about her day, but I don’t get much from her. When I ask, “What did you do today?” she says, “Nothing.” “Did you have a snack?” “No.” “Did you go outside to play?” “No,” (at which point String Bean sets her straight, since she can see the playground from her classroom, and always notices when Peanut is out there). Last time I picked her up I asked: “Did you color or paint today?” and she said “No.” “Then what is this green stuff on your hands? It looks like paint or ink,” I told her. She looked at her hands and nodded. “It’s paint. I painted.”

I don’t know if she can’t remember her day or if, as chatty as she is, she just doesn’t feel like reliving it. When she’s calm and focused, I’ve asked her if she likes school, and she always says yes, so I’ll assume that whatever she does remember from her bi-weekly morning sessions there, it’s positive.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Surrogate Sister

The other day we had an impromptu play date with the neighbor boy two houses over. He’s four, and in String Bean’s preschool class, but while they had weekly play dates for their first two years of life, they rarely interact at school. My girls were outside waving at the cars and pulling weeds on our lawn (if I call them flowers, and ask them to pick them, they’re more than happy to do it all for me), when he ran over to visit, then invited the girls back to his house to see his favorite toys.

The girls had a great time with him, racing up and down the stairs, playing catch, exploring his toy collection, and his mom and I, who used to visit together almost daily, but now rarely do, had a nice chat together. When dinner time rolled around, I herded the girls home, to much protest. A few minutes later my neighbor called to say as soon as we’d left her son had said, “Why couldn’t you have had her first, Mom, so I could have a sister?” Apparently, despite the fact that he and String Bean don’t play together at school, he still has a fondness for her. I told String Bean what he’d said, and she laughed and called him silly, but I notice she’s repeated it about a dozen times. She also keeps asking when we’re having another play date at his house. So even though she doesn’t play with him at school, or even acknowledge that he’s there, I guess she still has a fondness for him, too.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Best Friends

One of the things I hoped for with having two kids a year and a half apart is that they’d be close, not just in age, but in everything. Be careful what you wish for. Actually, I’m glad they’re so close. Mostly, I like that when given the option of playing solo or together, they always choose to play together. Until the tug-of-war games start, and I have to play referee. Then I wish there weren’t quite so inseparable.

One reason I wanted two girls 20 months apart is that my sister and I are 20 months apart, and we’ve been best friends since I was about 8 years old (prior to that, we fought constantly). We’re different enough that we never competed for anything, but similar enough that we never ran out of shared interests to keep us hanging out together. Now I realize that my girls are so much closer, at a much younger age, that their relationship may turn out differently.

They are also very different sorts, with String Bean as the one who wears her heart on her sleeve, and Peanut as the one who never lets her emotions get in the way of having a good time, Peanut as the more outgoing one, and String Bean as the quieter one. But I’ve noticed lately that String Bean’s competitive streak is kicking in. Everything she does is faster, harder, better, and she feels the need to tell Peanut all about her superiority. At this point, Peanut doesn’t seem to care, and whenever String Bean shouts, “It was a race, and I won! I’m better than you!” Peanut just smiles and goes on about her business, totally unaffected. But what happens when Peanut can actually understand what String Bean’s saying? Will they lose some of their chumminess to competition? I’m curious to see.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


Peanut has been having nightmares every night for a couple of weeks now. Usually around 2am she’ll wake up crying. Sometimes she calls me right away, so I’ll go in, scoop up the sleepy thing, sing a quick song to her as she falls back asleep on my shoulder, then put her back to bed. But a few times, it’s been something else. She wakes up talking, saying “no” or “I don’t want…” in a sleepy voice, obviously winding up for a full cry as she does so. By the time I get into her room, her face is wet with tears and she’s fully crying, almost screaming, while thrashing violently, crashing her head and body against the bars of her crib. When I try to pick her up to comfort her, she starts kicking at me, screaming more, sometimes even calling “Mommy!” as if she doesn’t recognize me. I usually wrestle her out of bed then sit down with her on the never-used guest bed that’s in her room, letting her thrash it out in a safer place, talking to her until she settles down enough to allow me to comfort her. Sometimes these episodes last for ten minutes, sometimes for forty minutes. Often the next day she has no memory of it, or will only remember of a small part of it. At the cabin it happened, and the only thing she remembered was her baby cousin crying in the night, not that it was her own screams that woke the baby. I haven’t figured out what causes these night terrors, if that’s what they are, or the best way to get her through them. She seems fine the next day, maybe a little tired from the lost sleep. It’s just another one of those child mysteries that keeps us parents guessing. I’m hoping this particular phase is short-lived.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


String Bean has a new obsession: unicorns. I don’t know exactly where it came from, but in a week’s time it went from idle curiosity (“are they real? what do they eat? where do they live? do they neigh?”) to full-blown obsession, where she wants unicorn books, movies, toys, and clothes. She’s a little like her dad in that, this urge to steep herself fully in any new interest, and while I don’t have a problem with that in general, I do have a problem with stocking up on unicorn stuff just to have this fascination fade in a month or two.

The funny thing is, at about the same age, I was also heavily into unicorns, so somewhere under my mother’s house, stuffed in old storage boxes, there is a pretty good stock of unicorn paraphernalia, just waiting for a new little girl to love them. Hubby’s going to be doing a lot of traveling this month, so I’m planning on at least one trip up to mom’s house for a hand with the kids and a change of pace from the usual home routine. I’ll be down there, in the storage space under her house, braving the spiders, scorpions, and lizards, trying to scrounge up some unicorn mementos to appease String Bean’s new need. And then I’ll sit and watch her play with my old toys, enjoying the full circle they’ve made.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Cabin Trip

The annual Labor Day trip to the family’s cabin in the Sierras went well. There wasn’t any napping among the girls, and there were some 2am nightmares, with Peanut screaming so loud she woke the entire cabin, so we were all a little sleepy, but we made the best of it. The dog was hiked to oblivion, and the fisherman caught a few keepers and a lot of little guys he threw back, and the crowd enjoyed dining at the huge farm table my grandfather made with his own hands, and sitting around the fire out back at night, waiting for the little ones to drift off inside, playing guitars and sharing funny stories and remembering good times on previous trips up to the cabin.

One of the best things for me is watching my girls pal around up there, exploring every trail, pocketing handfuls of pretty rocks, marveling at the birds, butterflies, and dragonflies, splashing around in the swimming holes I used to play in when I was their age. My mother has spent her summers up here since she was born, as have I, as have my children. It’s nice, in this rapidly changing world we’re bringing our kids up in, to have something as constant as that, existing unchanged for generations.

So another summer of vacationing up there comes to an end. Next summer the girls will be a bit bigger, a bit braver, able to hike longer and maybe swim in the bigger swimming holes. They’ll also a bit more able to understand the history of one of their favorite places to visit, to learn a little more about the great grandpa they never got to meet, but who built such an amazing place with his bare hands.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

End of Summer

This weekend we’re off to our family’s cabin in the Sierras, for our annual Labor Day end-of-summer vacation together. There will be eleven of us there in all, a reasonably sized group, perfect for busy dinner conversation, late night chats around the fire out back, large enough to break into groups of hikers, fishermen, and book-readers each day, but not too large for the small cabin with its one bathroom.

It’s nice to have a place to go where everyone is like family, and kids run around together, and dogs roam freely, visiting all of the cabins like official camp greeters. And the fact that my mom will be there to help out with the munchkins is pretty nice, too. Also coming are my sister and my five-month-old niece, who is growing in personality and size so quickly that I feel like if I don’t see her for a week, I’m missing some special milestone. It’ll be nice to spend three solid days with her to see what new tricks she’s up to.

Now, if I could just get some sort of guarantee that the kids will sleep up there (always an issue), I’d consider myself home free.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Back to School

Okay, not every post will be about school from now on. But here’s another one, anyway. So, today was Peanut’s second day of school. Like Monday, she didn’t cry at all when I dropped her off. Instead I got her trademark scowl (“mad face” as she calls it). When I gave her a hug and said she should go play with her new friends, she hugged me back, scowled, then said “No.” I told her she could draw, paint, do puzzles, make a necklace, and she furrowed her little eyebrows and said “No.” I told her I’d be back soon, and she glared at me: “No.” So, I gave her a final hug and kiss and left. I turned around as I went, and she wasn’t crying or making a fuss, just scowling at no one, standing in the center of the room, a bustle of other kids and parents all around her.

So, the two things I was prepared for at drop-off were tears or total joy at being left there, and, like any child, she decided to throw me a curve ball by being angry instead. I’m sure that once she’s used to the routine, it’ll go much smoother. I know once the teacher gets the kids all trained up, she has them sit in circle as soon as they arrive, and String Bean was always quick to say goodbyes to get her favorite spot in circle. It’s a very large class this year, so it might take the teacher a few weeks to get all 25 3-4 year olds in line, but once she does, I’m hoping Peanut falls right in line with them. Or at least starts giving me the kind of goodbye I’m more experienced at dealing with.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


What is the deal with balloons, anyway? I am constantly amazed by just how fascinated my kids are with them. They please them like few other things do. It doesn’t matter if they’re big or small, full of helium or just breath, they are kept and coddled, stored in special places in the house and mourned greatly when they either deflate or pop. The girls carry them around like babies, play catch with them, and sometimes ask me to draw faces on them so they can give them names and personalities, creating little scenarios for them to act out. They fight over balloons as if they were some prized possession, while the fancy, expensive toys sit unused on the sidelines.

The girls each received one balloon at our Friday play date, and another at a picnic we went to on Saturday. You’d think the enthusiasm would be wearing off by now, but no. Just this morning I had to break up a fight because String Bean had decided that all of the pink and purple balloons were hers, which meant that she had three while Peanut only had one. While we have mornings where they could’ve had this same fight over a handful of Cheerios, it’s the balloons that always bring out the most guarding behavior. But since they also bring out the most creative behavior, I haven’t taken them away. Yet.

Monday, August 31, 2009

First Day of School, Part Two

It’s official. I’m the mom of two preschoolers. Today was String Bean’s second day of pre-K, and Peanut’s first day of preschool. It helps that with all of our pick-ups Peanut has gotten to know the school, the classroom, the teachers, and even some classmates who are now in her class with her. Today at her drop-off all of the teachers said hello and how excited they were to have her as an official student, even the ones who don’t teach her class. Certainly, a reception like that helps with the transition of being left in a class alone for the first time.

As expected, String Bean was a little moody as I said good-bye. She was tired this morning, and a little weepy before we even got in the car, and like with all new things, she’s shown a little resistance to her move to the Pre-K class. She managed not to cry, but just barely.

Peanut, however, seemed a tad puzzled about my leaving, and I had to explain again that from now on she’ll be in class without me. So she gave me a hug and a kiss, and watched me go, completely dry-eyed. Luckily, the one girl she adores (and plays with on the lawn outside every day we after we pick up String Bean) is in her class. So mostly she was just anxious for her little friend to finish her goodbye with her father, so they could play together.

At pick-up, Peanut’s teacher said she did fine. She also said, “She has a bit of her sister’s stubborn streak, doesn’t she?” Which made me laugh. If she thinks Peanut has only a bit of her sister’s stubbornness, then they got off easy. I asked Peanut if she had fun at school, and she said, “I played with so many friends!” which sounded like a yes to me. Then, when I was putting her down for her nap, she said, “I don’t want to sleep, I want to go back to school.” So, day one down, a success all around.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Little Gymnasts

On Friday one of our play group buddies had his fourth birthday. His mom threw a great party, for 20 (yes, 20) munchkins. She had the usual pizza and cake party staples, and she hired this very cool tumbling-gym-in-a-bus ( to entertain the kids. The instructor/bus owner sets up a circuit of gymnastics/tumbling areas (balance beam, rock wall, rings, hurdle, slide, ball pit, monkey bars, and even a zip line) in the bus, and helps each child master each apparatus, followed by a fun song and dance time. My girls loved it.

Peanut, always so fearless, led the way in every challenge, and what she lacked in skill she made up for in brute determination. It didn’t matter if she was a little small for some stuff, she tried it all, and loved it so much that I couldn’t get her off the bus. The kids were divided into 2 groups, because the bus couldn’t accommodate all 20 kids at once. But Peanut managed to finagle her way into both groups, so she got to go twice. I expected her to be a little wary of the zip line all of the kids got to do at the very end (which ran the length of the bus, from the front to the ball pit at the back), but she never even looked at me for reassurance, just grabbed onto the handle, tucked her little legs up, and ripped right along. She crashed into the ball pit, and came up with a huge smile. I can’t wait to get this kid on a roller coaster.

String Bean surprised me with her skill. She loves to dance, pretend to ice skate (socks on our kitchen floor), do pull-ups on her daddy’s pull-up bar, all kinds of athletic activities that show of her ridiculously long legs. But I’ve never really tried her out on gymnastics equipment. She was a pro at the balance beam and was the strongest one on the rings. The bus driver/gymnastics teacher asked if she’s already taken gymnastics, and when I told her she hasn’t, she said I should sign her up. She’s a natural.

It was a terrific party, a great time was had by all, and I even learned a few new things about my kids.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

First Day of School, Part One

Today String Bean starts her pre-kindergarten class. She’s at the same school, just moving into a new classroom, with a new teacher (but one she already knows, who has subbed for her class before), with mostly the same classmates, so it’s a big deal and it isn’t. She’s been complaining, during the break between summer classes and fall classes, that she misses her school friends and wants to go back. Of course today she cried at drop-off, even though her best little girl pals were already there, beckoning her to come sit with them for morning circle time.

I’m glad that even though she has her occasional tearful drop-off when she claims she doesn’t want to go to school, that overall she enjoys the experience, and complains just as much when it’s a school holiday. I’m also glad to have the morning alone with Peanut today, who will be starting school herself on Monday. We’ve spent the morning feeding her toy horses imaginary food and water, and just sitting together on the couch playing 200 questions (the main question being “why?” asked in response to every answer I give). I’m curious how she’ll do when I drop her off on Monday. And curious how I’ll do, on my first morning home without kids in four and a half years. After all these years I don’t remember what it’s like to be alone in my own home. Quiet, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

One of Those Weeks

Last week started out a little rough, with String Bean in one of her snotty phases, where the answer to every question is no, and delivered in as sassy a tone as she can muster. I try to humor her as much as I can in these phases, reminding her of concepts like saying please and thank you, and explaining that it accomplishes nothing to scream at me for preparing her the exact lunch she requested, just because it’s on the blue plate instead of the red one. In quieter moments I talked to her about what was going on with school, with her dad being out of town, with the busy weekend we’d had where I knew she got a little worn out, trying to find the cause of the attitude. I never got specifics, but through these quieter talks, she slowly came back to herself, and we seem to be back on better terms now.

So then, of course, it was Peanut’s turn. One of the fun things about a two-year-old is all of the growing independence, the ability to accomplish certain tasks alone, the excellent communication skills to avoid misunderstandings. One of the least fun things is that they are two, which means that they have these moments where something is going on in their body or brain that renders them incapable of a coherent thought, action, or sympathy for the poor addled mother trying to figure out what caused this epic tantrum to burst out of nowhere. Peanut had at least one doozy of a tantrum each day for four straight days. We’re talking thrashing, head-banging, throwing, hitting, scratching, pinching, screaming herself hoarse, chasing me around trying to bite me tantrums. And considering what a sunny, peaceful child she is 99% of the time, these moments are pretty disconcerting. I know the solution is to ride it out, wait until she’s blown off some steam and calmed down enough to want my comfort, when she’s back to my loving girl who asks me to wipe her tears and hold her for a while. But knowing that in the end it will all work out doesn’t make the tantrums any easier.

So, last week was kind of a long, exhausting week. Yesterday was a better day on the tantrum front. Let’s hope the trend continues this week.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Moving On

My step father passed away, quite suddenly, two years ago. It was a shock to all of us, left us all grieving in our own ways, but my mother, of course, was hit the hardest of all. Recently retired, poised to carry out a long list of post-retirement travel plans together, she suddenly had to envision an entirely different kind of life for herself.

Holidays haven’t been quite the same without my step-dad, who was one of those bigger-than-life joke-teller types. Always the loudest one in the room, holding court with a funny story, as well as one of the best cooks I’ve known. There’s a whole list of things my mother gave up doing after losing her husband, and one of them was celebrating her birthday. Each year I’ve offered to head up to see her, or have her come down to visit, for a little gathering, and each year she’s begged off, not wanting a fuss, not feeling up to doing much. Until this year.

Today is my mother’s birthday, and this time, when I asked if she wanted to get together to celebrate, she surprised me by saying what a great idea that sounded like. So, with less than 24 hours notice, I planned a menu, ordered a cake, invited some family and friends to join us for a celebration, and hosted my first real dinner party. Not a barbecue where hubby does most of the cooking, not a potluck where I only have to worry about a few dishes, but my first time preparing all of the food by myself. And it was a success.

It was great to see my mom, who is such a social person by design, back in her element, holding her newest granddaughter while catching up with friends, relaxing and enjoying an evening that was all about her, instead of working in the kitchen the whole time like she does for holiday gatherings. I’ve also noticed that she keeps talking about moving back to the Bay Area, to be near her grandchildren, into a smaller place that requires less maintenance, maybe into a retirement community where she’ll have a wider social circle. In short, I’ve noticed that she’s making plans for the future. I know that she still misses my step-father, and that she always will, but it makes me happy to see her moving through the grieving phase, and forward to a new, happier, phase in her life.

Happy birthday, Mom.