Monday, December 06, 2010

Sister Comfort

We just returned from a wonderful week in Hawaii. This was our first trip without a single diaper, wipe, stroller, or any of those other baby things that make traveling such a pain. It was perfect. The girls entertained themselves on the plane with drawing and coloring and ate real grown-up food without a fuss.

In Hawaii, we tried out every pool, hot tub, and beach in the Waikoloa area. We saw flowers, birds, fish, turtles, dolphins, mongoose, and feral cats. The girls made new friends each day and tried every kind of fruit grown in Hawaii. They built castles on the beach, chased myna birds together, made sand angels, and bickered, about all sorts of ridiculous things. For the first three nights, they shared a room successfully. It was the first time we’ve ever been able to put them in the same room and still get a full night’s sleep. Then, on the fourth night, they kept each other (and us) up half the night.

Peanut got the room, and String Bean was moved to the fold-out couch, and hubby and I holed up in our bedroom after putting them to bed. It was worth it to have a quiet night of sleeping kids and two non-cranky girls the next day. The next night, String Bean had a nightmare, and refused to sleep alone in the condo’s living room, so she ended up back in the room with Peanut, where they kept each other up half the night again. The following night we separated them again, and again String Bean had a nightmare, but this time, instead of coming into our bedroom for comfort, she went straight to her little sister’s room, woke her up, told her about the bad dream, and went to sleep in there.

Last night when we got home, they gave each other kisses and hugs at their bedroom doors and Peanut told her big sister, “If you have a bad dream tonight, you can come get in bed with me.” It was the sweetest moment. I asked String Bean why, when the girls clearly love each other so much, they fight over things like favorite colors and imaginary princess playmates. She shook her head. “I don’t know why we do that. I do like her. Maybe I’ll try to argue less with her.”

This morning they were right back to fighting, over who liked Hawaii better, who was dreading school more, whose waffle had the most strawberries in it. But I still have that little gem of an image, of String Bean waking, afraid, and wanting her sister’s comfort more than any other.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Princess Doesn’t Wear Socks

It’s hard to reason with Disney-brainwashed little girls. Everything must sparkle, be silky, or otherwise befit Belle, Cinderella, or Ariel. When String Bean wanted to play outside on a 45-degree afternoon, I told her she needed to change out of her Sleeping Beauty dress and into warm clothes. She consented to pants, a pink fleece shirt with crown imprints all over it, and a gold tiara. She drew the line at socks. I told her she’d be too cold outside in her little pink flats, but that I’d let it slide if she put on warm socks under them. She looked at me like I was telling her to play in traffic and said, “A princess doesn’t wear socks.” So there you have it. They also, in case you were wondering, don’t wear jackets, mittens, scarves, or hats. She says they don’t need to, as their long flowing hair keeps their head warm. Also, it’s hard to wear a tiara with a hat on.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Age of Wonder

So now I have a four and a five-year-old. My girls can swim, plié and chassé, String Bean can read like lightning, and Peanut knows the name of every animal she’s ever seen. It’s getting harder and harder to keep up with their little sponge minds, but I’m loving every minute of it.

String Bean suddenly wanted to learn to write in cursive, so I set her up with a sample sheet of cursive letters and a blank sheet of lined paper and let her rip. She dabbled for a half hour and now is doing her homework in such fancy script that I’m worried her kindergarten teacher will think I’m doing it for her.

Peanut wants to know everything about everything, down to the most intricate details of how long cars are supposed to pause at stop signs and how books are produced. She’s learning to read herself, mimicking her big sister and adopting the same habit of simply memorizing every word she comes across. From the back seat I hear her shout out the words we pass that she now recognizes: “Stop! Guest! Park! Hill! Halloween!” These simple moments fill me with such joy that I cannot believe I ever thought I was happy before them.

Over dinner they ask me to translate endless terms into Spanish and when their dad is traveling we pull out a globe and plot his travels. In this way they now know the names of a variety of countries and continents. They like to try food from the countries he’s in, or at least String Bean does. Peanut wants to see it, smell it, ask endless questions about what makes Chinese food different from Italian, and Japanese different from French, but most nights she sticks closely to her good old yogurt diet.

I’m sure when I was their age I learned the same way, more by the world around me than in school. I have strong memories of sitting with my father while he read the newspaper and asking endless questions about all that we saw in there, and his patience in answering each one. I remember that my mother never used baby talk or simplified sentences, she just talked to me as if I could understand everything she said, and, eventually, I could.

We still have plenty of emotional drama from String Bean and stubborn battles with Peanut’s iron will, but overall, I’m really enjoying this age. The age of wonder and knowledge and the misguided belief that I have the answers to every one of their questions.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Happy Birthday Peanut

Four years ago I went to bed, huge and uncomfortable, wondering if this baby of mine would ever come on her own. She was six days overdue, and I hadn’t had a single contraction. The induction was scheduled for two days later. I woke up at 1:30am having contractions every two minutes, that quickly picked up speed until they became one big long unending contraction. After a scramble of packing, and calling a neighbor to come sit with String Bean until my sister arrived to watch her, we were on our way to the hospital.

It was my second child, so I knew the drill, and I knew that this one was coming a lot faster than her sister had. We made it to the hospital, and the anesthesiologist, who’d been my favorite person the first time around, stopped by to tell me that I was too far along for an epidural. He fell right off my favorite person list at that news. We negotiated for a pain-relieving shot, and moments after getting it, at 3:04am, my little Peanut arrived. Only, at 8 lbs, 15 oz, she wasn’t all that little.

She came into the world on her own terms, calm and strong and fast, able to hold her head up from birth, ready to nurse and sleep and grow and take in the world around her. She was a content baby, a smiley one, a giggler who was mostly cheerful, except when she wasn’t, and then you found out how physically strong and willful she was. She’s kept that same core personality these four years of her life. Primarily calm, steady, happy, quick to laugh, but she has a will like I’ve never seen, and doesn’t do anything until she’s good and ready. Go ahead and try to rush her along, she’ll just dig in deeper, move slower, linger longer.

And now my baby girl is four. I like the new changes that have come with the age, the complex theories about life and death that she’s developing when she’s supposed to be sleeping, her ability to remember the name, habits, and habitat of every animal she’s ever heard of, her more legible writing and budding reading skills, her obsession with counting to one hundred. But I will also miss that snuggly girl who walked so slow I had to carry her everywhere, who thought chocolate milk could solve every problem, who woke up singing every morning and often giggled in her sleep. I hope that, her stubborn nature being what it is, she can hold onto those wonders a little longer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

At a Loss

This week the girls were supposed to get a new cousin. But, in a devastating twist of fate, my step-sister and her husband lost their baby boy just one day after he was born. The pregnancy went well, the birth was long and hard, and their beautiful full-term baby boy was born with serious health problems, and taken from them far too soon. These are concepts I cannot explain to my girls at their age. Concepts I myself can barely grasp. These things are not supposed to happen, with modern medicine and good prenatal care, with as much love and anticipation as these two wonderful people had heading into this experience.

I haven’t even told the girls yet. I can’t think of this stunning loss without crying, and have no words to offer them to make it all make sense. I’ll get there, will have to, but today isn’t the day. The memorial service is this weekend, and I don’t think I’ll bring the girls. Ever since losing her grandpa last month, Peanut has been having serious fears about death. A few times a week she breaks down crying, asking when I’m going to die, when her other grandparents might die, when she will. She cries that she’s growing up, and says she doesn’t want to be a grown-up, as if on some level that triggers a fear of her own mortality. These are heavy burdens for a three-year-old, and I think the loss of her baby cousin might be too much to add to her load right now.

It’s a fine line, protecting your children while educating them about the realities of the world around them. I have no guidelines for this, grieving for loved ones while caring for my girls, trying to accept the unfairness of the world while trying to explain it all to them. It's been a tough week, full of anger and sorrow and guilt, that I have two healthy girls while my wonderful step-sister and her husband are hurting so. I will do my best to explain the situation to my girls, when I can think of the words, when I can talk without crying about it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


And just like that, I have a child in kindergarten. It’s been coming for five years now, and yet it snuck up on me. I’ve tried to downplay my anxiety as I got String Bean ready these past few weeks: new backpack, new lunch box, new school clothes, a list of menu ideas for her lunches. She was either really good at downplaying her anxiety, or she simply didn’t feel any. She was excited, every time we talked about it, to make new friends, learn new things, experience a new school. Today was the big day. As I got her ready this morning, she was too wrapped up in a game with her sister to care what her lunch box contained (as long as her new princess water bottle was inside), or how I styled her hair, or what shoes she was wearing. She had no questions or concerns at all.

As we walked String Bean to her class, she took in all of the kids and parents around her with cool nonchalance. When her teacher appeared and asked the throng of kids to line up, and was ignored by the lot of them, String Bean stepped right up. She led the way to her new class, her classmates trailing behind her, without the least bit of apprehension. Now, three years ago, this girl’s preschool teacher had to pry her off my arm, leg, or ankle every morning for weeks. And it’s not that I wish she’d been emotional today, I’d much rather watch a confident girl sauntering into class than a sobbing wreck being wrenched from me, it’s just that now I realize how much she’s grown up. She isn’t my scared little girl anymore. She’s her own girl, off on a new adventure, without looking back. Really, the only drama of the morning was Peanut getting upset because she wanted to stay and play with the big kids on the cool new playground.

When we picked String Bean up from school I could tell she was tired, from the triple-digit heat wave with a non-air-conditioned classroom as much as the long day of newness. She smiled and said her day was good, that she played with some new friends, made a necklace (this teacher really knew how to win her over), and enjoyed circle time. She said some kids were sad and missed their mommies, but that she wasn’t sad at all. Her carefully packed lunch was missing exactly one handful of blueberries, so I fed her a late lunch and watched her play with her sister and marveled at how easy this transition was for her.

The thing I marvel at most is that, even though people always tell me how much she looks like me, she’s nothing like me. I was cripplingly shy as a child. I literally never spoke in preschool, saving up an avalanche of words that I dumped on my mom and sister as soon as they picked me up each day. One of my preschool teachers actually asked my mom to record my voice for her, because she wondered what it sounded like. I remember kindergarten as a terrifying onslaught of bossy girls and aggressive boys that I had to navigate to keep up my comfortable silence. I remember being kept after school so the kindergarten teacher could try to finagle me out of my tight shell. I remember being stressed and anxious and watching the clock until the day was over. I also remember finally starting to talk, making friends, and getting to the point where I actually looked forward to school. But that took a while. I’m glad that String Bean doesn’t have any of that timidity.

I know the year is young and there’s plenty of time for setbacks, but I also know that the tearful, clingy child she once was is gone. Now she’s the cool big sister, with the big girl school and new habit of rolling her eyes and saying “Mooooommmm!” when I embarrass her by acting like I care too much. She’s still plenty cuddly, wanting me to lay in bed with her each night telling her stories as she winds down for sleep, but that’s different than trying to kiss her goodbye while she’s in line for class.

Onward, little one. You make me proud. Enjoy the adventure.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Grandpa Bill

Last weekend, the girls lost their grandpa, my husband lost his father, and the whole world lost a kind soul who loved to help people. It’s a huge loss, and it’s been a tough week, of explaining concepts like death and cancer to Peanut and String Bean. I think String Bean has a better grasp on it, the death part at least, but for Peanut, repetition seems to be key. “Why did he die?” is one of her top questions, followed by “Will you die?” It’s hard to keep giving answers when there are no good answers, just repetitions of the facts: grandpa is gone, and he loved you girls very much.

He was the proudest of grandpas. My husband has found, while he’s been back in his home town, that everyone, even people we’ve never met, knew all about Bill’s granddaughters, had seen countless pictures, heard all the stories, knew how much they meant to him.

They are so young to have lost him, and I hope they’ll remember him: the weekly web cams and the visits and the trips together, like the one just last month, when we all went to Myrtle Beach together, and Bill watched the girls dig in the sand, jump in the waves, collect shells, and practice swimming in the pool. Maybe that’s one reason they are struggling with the news. They just saw him, spent a week with him, how can he be gone? It’s the way we all feel.

I know there will be many more questions to come, many more repetitions of the facts, and lots of sad times as we remember and try to move forward, but I hope that, most of all, the girls remember how much he loved them, his bottomless adoration of them, his admiration for each new skill they acquired. We should all be so lucky, to have love like that in our lives, however long it lasts.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

My Favorite Things

This week I have transmitted my love of sharks, angel hair pasta, and tarot cards to my children. It’s amazing to see how excited they get about the things that make me excited. It makes me feel like I can fill them up with whatever I want them to appreciate, but it also makes me feel like there’s an enormous responsibility here, to fill them up with equal parts of all things, so that they will find their own way, and learn to appreciate the things I myself don’t get particularly excited about. But then again, they are most excited by anything and everything princess-related, and I’ve never had a moment of adoration for that stuff, so maybe I’m already off the hook.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Bring on the Fours

The trying threes will be over in two months! I know the fours, especially with girls, can be a testing age as well. I’ve been through it once with my sweet little String Bean: the attitude, the sass, the first stinging comments, those “if you don’t do this then I won’t be your friend anymore” type remarks, and even the occasional “I hate you!” when she was good and mad at my rules. But, in my opinion, the threes are a special brand of difficult. The other morning Peanut, my happy, smiling girl, threw a rather spectacular tantrum because I put on my panties before asking her which color I should wear. Now, since she’s never shown any interest in or opinion on my underwear before, how was I supposed to know she cared to choose them for me that particular morning? I’ll tell you how: because she’s three.

Peanut’s will is unlike any I’ve seen before. And I’ve known some ridiculously strong-willed people. I can even be one of them when the occasion calls for it. But nothing really prepared me for the uncompromising stubborn nature of my little cherub. I have a healthy respect for her obstinate streak, and think it’ll serve her well in life. I’ve always felt like she came into this life knowing exactly who she is, and it’s more my job to figure out who that is than to bend her to any standards I might cater to. String Bean is more likely to follow my lead, to want my approval, to adapt to me without even knowing she’s doing so. Peanut, loving as she is, really isn’t that concerned with pleasing me. She’s a good kid, epic tantrums aside, smiley and quick to share and eager to befriend everyone, so I figure the stubborn streak balances her out a bit, keeps her from being a pushover. I’m sure being four with that iron will is going to be a bumpy ride for both of us, but it’ll be a nice change from these threes of thrashing tantrums and screaming fits of misdirected rage over things like someone else’s underwear color.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Loose Tooth!

It finally happened. After a good year of waiting, watching her other preschool classmates losing teeth and getting tooth fairy bounty, my little String Bean has her very own loose tooth! Never one to follow the crowd, it's one of her bottom teeth (all of her friends lost their top front teeth first). She's been asking me for several months: "Is this tooth loose?" while pointing at a very firmly rooted tooth. It's been a long time of apologizing for her very strong, reluctant-to-leave baby teeth and reassuring her that one day she'll get her very own visit from the tooth fairy. Ah, finally, those days are behind us. She's very excited, wiggling it as she watches in the mirror, asking endless questions about the tooth fairy ("How does she know when you lose it?" "What if you swallow it?"). I promised it would all work out, whatever happens. Then I asked about all of those friends of hers and what the tooth fairy brought them. I want to make sure that, when the time comes, the tooth fairy pays her the going rate...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Writer-Mommy

The strangest thing about having a blog is the sheer fact that people read it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run into a friend and started to tell her a funny story about my kids, only to find that she already knows all about it. How, when I haven’t seen her in a few weeks? Apparently many people I know actually read this blog. Which is great, but surprising. And which makes me feel guilty for not keeping up on it more. I’ve been working hard on the writing front, that’s my excuse. Two novels done, taking turns going out to agents, coming back, going out again…like waves on the vast ocean of one possible future. In the mean time I’m submitting a short story to literary journals, working on my third novel, writing a new short story, and revising two old short stories to send out. This business part of writing, the submissions and collecting of rejections, is the least fun part for me, but it’s the part where I’ve always quit in the past, so I’m not quitting this time.

As for the girls, they like that I’m devoting so much time to writing. Sure, when I duck out for a writing night (where hubby puts me up in a nearby hotel, keeps them for the night, and I crank away for as many hours as my weary eyes will tolerate), sometimes they fuss and beg me not to go. But in general, they think it’s cool. They are both book lovers, and the idea that I’m ditching them for an evening of working on something they appreciate seems to make it okay. And the fact that String Bean has announced many times that when she grows up, she wants to be a writer like mommy…well, I don’t have to tell you how proud that makes me.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Little Mama

“Mom, why are you so small?” String Bean asked me the other night. Good question! I mean, I’m not ridiculously small. I’m petite. Very. At 5’1” and a hundred pounds, I’m on the small side, sure, the smallest in my family by far, but I know there are even smaller moms out there. I take note of them whenever I see one. My taller friend Janie and I used to play a game of it, any time we were standing in a group, line, or crowd. She’d scan the people around me until she’d found a likely candidate, then say “That one. I bet you’re taller than her.” And I’d casually go stand beside some unsuspecting woman, just to see if I had a few millimeters on her.

It’s not that I want to be taller. I’ve always liked being small. After all, I feel like a whole human being. And when you’ve been looking at the chests and chins of everyone around you your whole life, that’s just normal, you know? Why would I wish for something other than the norm? Not to mention my laundry loads are smaller, my suitcases easier to lift, and in general I just take up less space than your average human adult. I’m not a loud, space-dominating type of person, so being small suits my personality perfectly. But to have your five-year-old notice that you’re a small mom, as moms go, kind of brings the point back home for a moment. I know it won’t be long before she passes me up. She’s already up to my highest rib, and her t-shirts are starting to look a lot like mine in the pile of laundry when I’m folding and sorting piles. I’ll have to come up with a good explanation of my smallness, as well as a good description of how it feels, because I have a feeling String Bean’s never going to experience being the shortest person around.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010


My children are mermaids. Who knew? After two and a half months of swim lessons and several heart-stopping moments of watching them sink rather than swim, or inhale mouthfuls of water when they’re supposed to be holding their breath, I’ve finally witnessed the miracle of watching them propel their little bodies without the teacher’s assistance about five feet. They just duck their wet heads, get those skinny arms and legs going, and pop up for a breath every few strokes. The most amazing thing is how calm they both were about it. Peanut turned to her teacher last week and asked her to let go, saying “I want to try swimming by myself.” I figured she’d sink like usual, but instead she chugged right over to the wall like she’s always known how to do this. String Bean had the exact same realization yesterday, when the teacher pointed her toward the wall, asked if she thought she could make it on her own, and without a word she took off, all those long limbs pulling her along from the middle of the pool until she was face-to-face with the wall. She came up to find her dad and I applauding, and looked surprised to be there, right at our feet, halfway across the pool from where she’d started. We praised her, this girl who just two months ago hated getting her face and ears wet, until she gave us her trademark smirk and eye roll and asked us to stop. But even though they didn’t want anymore effusive praise, I could see the pride in the way they both tipped their chins up, just a little, waiting for their next turns to swim.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010


After a slow, chilly start, I guess summer’s officially here. We finally made it up to the family’s cabin, one of the latest openings I can remember. Our trip was delayed due to huge snow drifts blocking the road into camp. A few warm, sunny days melted the last of the snow on the road, and we spent a great weekend up there with family and friends. It was too cool to swim, but the girls used their shovels and buckets to dig in a snow bank that was sheltered in the cool shade of cabin while wearing shorts and t-shirts. We hiked, swung in the hammock, sat around the fire pit at night, played with the puppy our friends brought along, had play dates with other kids in camp, found a small garter snake, tracked butterflies and lady bugs, and Peanut handled the rest of the insects as if she’d never had a hysterical fear of them before. The girls ran wild and got dirty and made “salad” with pine needles and gooseberry leaves and stalked the beautiful but rare snow flower around camp. This cabin, built by my grandfather, has now charmed its fourth generation in our family.

Back home, I brought out the kiddie pool and let the girls loose. We’re alternating between swim lesson days and kiddie pool in the back yard days, and I’m training the girls on applying their own thick slathers of sunscreen. Next week we’re off to the east coast, to spend a week on the beach with the in-laws, and I’m hoping to get either a Hawaii or a San Diego trip on the books before String Bean starts kindergarten in the fall. Since the summery weather took a while to get here, we’ll have to make the most of it while we can.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Swim Girls

After a year of trying to convince String Bean that swim lessons would be fun (and getting in response only hysterical crying and begging not to go), we finally got her and Peanut into a swim class last month. I like that it’s a class for 3-5 year olds, so they can be in there together, as having Peanut at her side always makes String Bean more brave. It turned out they were both fine with the class, learned all the basics of bubble blowing and head-dunking and back-floating and dog-paddling. The challenge was the unseasonably cool weather. But my girls are troopers, and they swam out in the cold and rain. The pool is heated, but it’s outdoors, and they emerged each time with blue lips, shivering so hard they could barely walk. And then two days later, they were so excited about going swimming again that they could barely sleep. I offered to let them skip class on the coldest days, to wait for a nicer day to take a make-up class, but they never wanted to wait another moment to get in and practice.

So far this month the weather has been much nicer. They’ve moved on to the next class, with a couple of new instructors, but essentially the same focus of paddling, floating, and jumping into the pool. The girls like to hang onto the wall, waiting for their turn with the teacher, seeing who can hold her breath under water the longest. They’ve gotten good enough at it that they’re making me nervous now, as I watch four little fingers on the ledge, waiting for what seems like forever for them to come up for air.

I’m trying to think of what other classes I can stick them in together, now that I see how they comfort and push each other. I’m thinking maybe dance, so they can rehearse and perform together at home, and have another reason for wearing little costumes all the time.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Sneaky Kids

String Bean has always been a sneaky one, able to get out of bed during nap time, open her door, scale the child-gate across her door, and get into all sorts of trouble upstairs, without making a sound to alert us. But lately, Peanut has been discovering her sneaky side, too. She’s realized that when she’s home with me and String Bean is at school, she can go through all of String Bean’s beloved possessions without fear of repercussions, as long as she remembers where everything belongs.

The other day I was putting laundry away, and I found Peanut in String Bean’s room, and while I wasn’t going to scold her for playing with the princess dolls she’s forbidden from touching, the first thing she said was “I’ll put it all back before we go get her!” She was very proud of herself. I figured it’s a good life skill, respecting her sister’s possessions enough to leave them exactly as she found them, and even good that she doesn’t take her big sister’s endless rules too seriously.

Then yesterday, Peanut told me that a boy at school had thrown rocks at her, been caught by the teacher, had gotten in trouble, and that later she’d thrown rocks at him. When I told her I didn’t think that was very nice, she said: “But the teacher didn’t see me do it!” So maybe she’s taking the wrong lesson away here, that it’s okay to break rules as long as you don’t get caught. So I gave her a mini-lecture on it being important to obey rules even when no one’s watching you. She said she understood, and promised no more rock-throwing, but that didn’t stop her from heading straight to String Bean’s room the next time she was home alone with me.

The funny thing is, when String Bean got home that day, she marched right up to her room and said she needed to put everything back where it belongs, because Peanut always puts her stuff in the wrong place. So, big sister sneaky-pants herself knew, all along, that Peanut was in there messing around whenever she had the chance. And she’s never scolded Peanut once for it. So, I’ve learned two new things this week. That Peanut is just as sneaky as her big sister, and that String Bean isn’t quite as intolerant of her little sister as I’d thought.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


One of the many things having kids has done for me is made me appear less shy. I’m still shy by nature: still comfortable playing wall flower, still more follower than leader, still feel no need to be the center of attention, ever. But in a group of people, if any of those people has kids, I have a common thread with them. I’m not so shy about launching into a conversation with someone I’ve never met before if I have an opening topic, a clear opinion on the subject matter, a strong desire to hear stories about their experiences.

This weekend I had two children’s birthday parties: one for a classmate of Peanut’s, one for a classmate of String Bean’s. At the first party, I knew the birthday girl’s mother on a very limited basis, and virtually no one else. But I ended up sitting at a table with two other women and having a lively discussion about all kinds of interesting things: the differences between American and Brazilian childrearing, private versus group swim lessons, miscarriages, travel with toddlers, IVF, picky eaters. The time passed quickly and I never once felt like the old wallflower, on the fringe of a party, not knowing how to jump in and join the fray.

At the second party I knew two of the moms well, but ended up chatting with the parents I’d never met before for most of the time. Not only am I less shy around other parents, but I find myself wanting to meet new personalities, hear new stories, learn of different experiences. Whether it’s from finally living this writer’s life where every new person I meet is one more potential character and every story I hear is another possible plot line, or just that as I’ve grown up I’ve forgotten some of those fears that used to make me shy away from new people, I’m enjoying this less-shy version of myself, and the new people that come along with it.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

I've been sick all week, thanks to those germ-incubators also known as preschoolers, and am still not feeling well, but String Bean has certainly done her part to make me feel special all week. She's very excited about this whole concept of celebrating moms for a day, and while I've always known that that kid adores me to a ridiculous degree, I think this week has taken it to a new level. I've been hugged, kissed, and told "I love you" repeatedly these past few days. She's left me sweet little love-notes everywhere: on my laptop, on the kitchen table, on my dresser. She's just beginning to write, so they're a little cryptic, with "love," "to," "Mom," and "from," written in random places, plus her name and sometimes mine, but I get the point. I am loved. Very, very loved. It's taken five years to get here, to this place of boundless appreciation. Five years of battling wills and tantrums and foot-stomping growls when she doesn't get her way. Despite how attached she is to me, or maybe because of how attached she is to me, I get all of String Bean's emotions thrown at me all day long, unfiltered. For her first six weeks of life that meant screaming every time I tried to put her down, and since then it's been a steady stream of highs and lows. But this week, and especially today, it's meant lots of tight hugs and rapid-fire kisses and praise for being "the best mommy." Today, it definitely feel like it's all been worth it. Happy Mother's Day!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Query Process

Novel number two just went out to its first agent. The submission process, a one-sided affair where you bombard literary agents with your work and get back no response at all most of the time, or form-letter rejections if you hear back at all, is the kind of thing you need a thick skin for. To keep putting your heart out there to be judged, and getting rejection after rejection, and never give up, is a serious challenge. I’ve been down this road before, many times actually, and I’ve always quit when it got too depressing. This time, I’m resolving not to quit. With my two novels circulating the globe, visiting the in-boxes of agent after agent, I resolve to keep them afloat and in circulation until I’ve run out of agents to query.

It’s one of those life lessons that children teach you: never giving up. Anyone who’s ever tried to talk a three-year-old out of something knows what I’m talking about. Peanut can be relentless in her stubborn nature. If she wants to watch Snow White, and you want to do absolutely anything other than watch Snow White, I can tell you now, after eight hours of killing yourself distracting her with every toy, craft, and show in the house, you’re going to find yourself watching Snow White. String Bean has the exact same never-stop-asking streak, and uses it just as effectively. She’s less about needing a movie fix and more about needing objects, but her fixation on the object she’s chosen to need at any particular time is staggering. I think she asked for Bendaroos every single day for six months before her grandma broke down and bought them for her.

If I can send my book out to a different agent every day for six months, I’m sure I could find one that was a good fit. I hope my demanding little munchkins can help me stay focused on my mission, reminding me that persistence, more often than not, does eventually pay off.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Back Seat Singers

One of the things that makes me not mind all of the errands, school drop offs and pick ups, and endless travels here and there, is singing in the car with my girls. It makes our trips more pleasant for all, seriously cuts down on the backseat fights between String Bean and Peanut, and reminds me of my own childhood. During road trips with my sister and mother, we would rock out in our ’71 Volvo wagon (yellow, with fake-wood interior and black vinyl seats), and whichever kid got to ride shotgun would hold a boom box on her lap, because the am-only radio wasn’t too reliable. We were singing Abba, the Grease soundtrack, The Bee Gees, John Denver. My girls are more partial to P!nk, Fergie, The Fray, with a little bluegrass thrown in to make their daddy and grandpa proud—primarily Crooked Still (I think their version of “Shady Grove” gets more backseat requests than any other song I’ve ever had in the car).

The girls are unaware, as they break songs down and try singing different parts, that they are learning about melody and harmony, or that they are carrying their mom down the happiest of memory lanes, or that they are building for themselves the exact same memory that I cherish. There’s a nice feeling of having come full circle, as I ferry them from place to place, with their sweet little voices singing song after song on the CD I’ve burned just for them. And it makes it just a little easier to get reluctant kids into those car seats to remind them whose turn it is to request a song. They’re always game for some back seat singing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

House Hunter

String Bean was introduced to those house-hunting shows on TV by my in-laws, who watched House Hunters on HGTV during their last visit. At first her reaction was worry that we’d move someday, like her friend across the street did. After reassuring her that we were not looking for a new house, I finally got to the bottom of her concerns: that she’d lose her princess decals that cover her walls if we moved. When I explained that we have more, because I didn’t use them all, she made me dig the unused strips of removable stickers out of the closet and show them to her. Once that concern was addressed, she flipped her stance completely, and now desperately wants to buy a new house and move.

I’m not sure what she thinks a new house would offer that our current one doesn’t, but she’s a natural shopper and collector of things, so I’m not surprised that she’s fantasizing about open homes the way other kids day dream about a new toy. She’s had me record a few episodes of House Hunters, and she likes to comment on the homes being shown: that she likes the kitchen in this one, the bathroom in that one, the deck and view from the other one. I’ve told her that when homes around us are for sale, they have open houses, and you can walk through and see if you like the place. So now she now wants to go to an open house or twenty. In her never-ending consideration of careers (this week we’ve had doctor, writer, nurse, and fashion designer), her fascination with “pretty things” and house-shopping shows led me to suggest interior decorating. So today, that’s the career of choice. I’d let her start with our house, but that just means we’d have princess decals on every wall. After all, we do have that whole unused strip of them just calling to her from her closet now.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010


Peanut’s easy at the dentist. She switches into her rare no-talking mode, but is a very good listener, super cooperative, totally unemotional about the whole thing. She lies down with her mouth wide open and keeps it that way, never flinching or fussing until the lady with the mask says she’s done, and then she’s off and running, for the sticker roll, the toy box of reward treasures, the balloon pick-up station. She keeps her eyes on the prize the entire time, suddenly finding her voice as the dentist tells her what a good girl she was, requesting a blue balloon for herself, a pink one for her sister, and glittery bracelets, if they have any, from the toy box.

For String Bean, it’s entirely a different story. She’s nervous in the car ride over, complains of a stomach ache as we wait for her name to be called. By the time the hygienist parks her in the reclining chair she’s near tears and terrified of everything: the spinning tooth polisher, the water-sprayer, the suction thing. She cooperates, holding her mouth open and all, but her hands are clenched in fists and her little jaw trembles the whole time, and she flinches every time there’s a noise or someone makes a sudden movement. And it’s not that she’s had a bad experience at the dentist before. She’s never had a cavity and only had X-Rays once. When it’s all over, she’s perfectly happy to collect her stickers, her toy, her balloon, and asks again and again if it’s really, really over and we get to go home now. On the ride home she’s a different kid, relieved of anxiety, chipper and chatty and full of tough talk about how well she did and how it wasn’t scary at all. Which each time makes me think that next time she won’t be so scared. So far, no luck on that one, but maybe one of these days.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


When String Bean was three months old, I took her into work to show her around. I’d decided to make my maternity leave permanent and needed to sign some paperwork, and everyone had been asking when they’d get to see her. She was a fussy baby in general, a mama’s girl who wanted nothing to do with strangers, but on that visit she was surprisingly calm, sleeping through most of it as one coworker after another came by to coo at her. One woman, Mary, one of the funny ones I was sure to miss after quitting, asked how she was sleeping at night. A miraculous thing happened at three months old. String Bean discovered her thumb. Sure, now that her bite is getting messed up from thumb-sucking, it isn’t so cute, not to mention the germs I imagine on her thumb every time I watch her slide it into her mouth. But at three months old, thumb-sucking meant self-soothing, and she suddenly started sleeping in a solid block of five or six hours, what we considered to be “through the night” in our sleep-deprived states.

“Wow, that’s great!” Mary said, “Sleeping through the night already. I don’t think my kids slept through the night consistently until they were eight years old.”

Her comment struck me as funny, an obvious joke. Of course kids sleep through the night before they are eight years old. Don’t they? Well, I have a five-year-old and a three-year-old and I’d say it’s a 50/50 chance each night whether I get a full night’s sleep or have to get up with one of them in the night. Last night I was up with Peanut three times due to nightmares and her generally not feeling well. That’s like having a newborn again. If Mary was right, does that mean I only have three more years of interrupted sleep before I’m only getting up semi-regularly with one child? I certainly hope so. Because I miss it. Sleep.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sneaky Kids

A little while back String Bean discovered our chocolate stash, and began sneaking downstairs first thing in the morning to eat candy, then hiding the wrappers in her toy box. Not the best hiding place, and I appreciate that, because that’s how I figured out who was responsible for our disappearing candy stash, and why String Bean had gone temporarily insane. Hubby and I suspected something was up, because she was a bit crazier than usual, hyper and argumentative and weepy all at once. Our kids aren’t used to having much sugar, so a little goes a long way with them.

After that I moved the candy, which was for napping/potty using rewards, to a high shelf in the cupboard in the kitchen. A few days later I came home and found chocolate on Peanut’s shirt, and because three-year-olds aren’t very well versed in the art of lying, when I asked where it came from, she told me that she and her sister were sneaking candy while I was out and Grandma and Grandpa were busy downstairs.

I made a great show of packing up all of the candy in the house, leftover holiday candy and Peanut’s M&M reward supply and tossing it all. Well, I didn’t really toss it, I just put it inside a plastic grocery bag and told her I was taking it out to the trash, then hid it in the car until nap time, when I could find a better hiding place. Yes, I have my own sneaky streak. I figure she must’ve believed me, because the tightly latched canister it now lives in, on a high shelf behind the wine opener, hasn’t been disturbed. And the formerly hyper-insane sugar-high kids have returned to their normal state of semi-sanity. But I know String Bean still has her sneaky streak. I’m curious what she’ll be getting into next, and hoping Peanut hasn’t learned how to cover for her yet.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Caring About Everything

The other day, String Bean and Peanut were dividing up a pile of princess toys, which can be a tricky business in our house. We have about a dozen princess dolls of various sizes and styles, so you’d think it’d be easy to divvy them up, but somehow fights still break out over who gets the Belle with the removable shoes versus the Belle with painted-on shoes, and who gets the lone Ariel doll. String Bean was making the tough decisions, carefully doling out dolls, when she took a look at her progress and saw something amiss.

“Can I take this one back?” she asked, and because she asked, rather than just taking the doll, Peanut agreed. Peanut is easy like that. She’ll fight if you snatch anything from her, resorting to biting if necessary to gain the advantage, but if you ask, she almost always gives in.

“Yeah, because you don’t really care, right?” String Bean said to her, “and I care about everything.”

I had to stop making their lunch to laugh at that one. And to make a note to write about it later. Truer words were never spoken. I don’t know what it is about how String Bean’s hard-wired that makes every little thing a monumental big deal, or what it is about Peanut that enables her to let most things go without any hard feelings, but it’s very clearly how they came into the world and not anything I’ve been able to influence one way or another. I remember when my mother would suggest that I be a little more outgoing like my sister, and even though I adored my sister, I hated being compared to her, so I’m careful not to evoke the sister measuring stick aloud between my two girls. But, secretly, I hope that someday Peanut’s laissez-faire attitude rubs off on String Bean, just a little.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Writer's Life

Just over four months ago I started my second novel, while my first one is still making rounds among agents, waiting for someone to feel enough of a connection to it to ask to see more than the synopsis or first 50 pages. So far no nibbles on that one, but that hasn’t slowed me down any in writing. Now that I have a good writing schedule set up, I’ve been doing a pretty good job of staying on-task. Which means only the blog has been suffering. Sorry about that.

Anyway, last weekend I finished my second novel, which I probably don’t have to say is a huge, exciting, terrifying thing. And now I get to repeat the process again. I’m doing a full revision right now, smoothing out some bumps in the time-frame of the story and looking for overly conventional word choices to change. Next I’ll use one of my beloved writing nights, when hubby keeps the girls and I duck off to a local hotel for the night, to read the entire thing out loud. It’s my favorite editing tactic, the only way I know to “hear” those old familiar words with fresh ears. Then, I’ll send it to friends I can trust to find my typos, continuity problems, underdeveloped characters, weak points in plot development, and who will hopefully tell me if the ending is a sufficient payoff for the setup (to quote a grad school writing prof of mine). Then comes the synopsis, the query letter, and a list of agents to target with my hopes and dreams for this little work of mine.

But first, I’m going to spend a few more days just looking at the finished product, the collection of files on my computer that make up this little book of mine, and marveling that I’ve managed to write two novels now. The third one is already taking shape in my mind, a little seed that’s just starting to sprout. I don’t know if this new career venture is going to work out for me or not, but I have to say I genuinely love the process, and so I’ll keep it going, until I simply can’t anymore. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get one (or more) of these novels published.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ups and Downs

Today is a day of highs and lows. Yesterday I said goodbye to a good friend at his memorial service, three years ago today my step-dad, who was every bit a father to me, passed away, and today is the birthday of my absolutely wonderful mother-in-law. Oh, and I’m sick, which just amplifies the whole mixed-feeling thing.

I’m not someone who shies away from hard times or lets sad things overshadow happy ones, so I’m content to have a day of celebrating the birth of one of my favorite people and acknowledging the passing of two of my other favorite people. Sure, I’m feeling a little muddled, with phone calls on my to-do list, one to my mom, to see how she’s faring on this sad day, and one to my mom-in-law, to see how she’s celebrating her happy day.

Yesterday at Ben’s service, I saw a lot of old friends, some people I haven’t seen for ten years, a couple I haven’t seen for twenty, and one little girl that I watched come into the world eleven years ago, held when she was mere minutes old, and who is now 11 and taller than me. Time passes quickly, and it can be hard to keep up with all of the people you know and love and once were so close to but have since drifted away from.

If nothing else, this day of ups and downs serves as a good reminder to tell all of your loved ones that you love them on a regular basis, to let go of all the little stuff that gets in the way of appreciating the people around you, and to give yourself permission to be happy, wistful, and even sad, all at once.

Friday, February 19, 2010


I’ve been wondering what the fives will bring, now that String Bean has been five for a few weeks. Last night I discovered one new aspect of String Bean’s ever-developing personality: compassion.

Yesterday a very dear friend of mine passed away. Ben was 43 years old, a kid at heart, and had been my friend for 23 years. We worked together when I was in high school, dated for a while, and were close friends from the moment we met all those years ago. His death was sudden and without warning, and left everyone who knew him in a state of shock. My sister called me with the news, during the girls’ naps, and at first it didn’t hit me. Because it simply couldn’t be true. But as the night wore on, and friends called and sent messages, and a memorial of sorts sprung up on his Facebook page, it sunk in that he’s really gone. It was a long hard night, full of tears. The girls were in bed, hubby had been gone for almost two weeks, one continent and one ocean away and not due home for several days. I spent most of my evening crying alone on the couch, finally free to do so.

String Bean kept calling me into her room, for this and that: she was too hot, too cold, had to pee, needed a sip of water. They were all the tell-tale stalling tactics of a kid who doesn’t want to go to bed, and I get that, but last night I just wasn’t up to playing her little stay-up-late games. So, I told her that a good friend of mine had died, and that I was very sad, and needed some “grown up time” to deal with it, and asked if she could be a big girl and lie quietly in bed until she fell asleep. She wrapped her long skinny arms around me and stroked my hair while I cried. She asked me a lot of questions about him: where he died (walking from his car to the doctor’s office), what happened (he collapsed, and died, and we don’t know why yet), and if the doctor can make him better, or if he’s gone forever. She was very matter-of-fact about it all, hugging me while I cried, and said “I know, he was your friend, and you miss him.”

She wanted to talk a little bit about all the times he’s been to our house, for her birthday and Peanut’s and every other party we ever threw, and discuss the shirts he always wore (aloha shirts were his favorite), and just remember him for a few minutes together. Then she settled back in bed and promised to sleep, and I went downstairs to continue my grieving. The funny thing is, it really helped, talking to her. Remembering him with her was exactly what I needed in that moment, to break through all of the sadness and just be grateful for having had him in my life. I’m equally grateful for having her in my life, and for the compassionate little girl she’s become.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


It’s official, String Bean is registered for kindergarten next fall. The registration date snuck up on me. It seems a bit early, almost seven months before she’ll start school, to be filling out all of those forms and waiting in line to have them approved, but I got it done. Which doesn’t mean that I’m actually ready. Preschool is one thing. She is with 2-5 year olds, and while there is a lot of learning going on at her preschool, there’s also a lot of play and there are teachers happy to give the little tots hugs whenever they need one. In elementary school, she’ll be the youngest in a school of K-5th graders, not the oldest like she is now in preschool. I’m sure she’ll do fine once she gets used to the routine and starts making friends, but it still seems like too much, too soon for me. I’m not quite ready for my baby to be such a big girl.

As for String Bean herself, she knows she’s going to kindergarten in the fall, will have a new teacher in a new school with new friends all around, and even though she’s prone to being oversensitive and nervous about new things, she’s totally fine with it. She’s told me she needs a princess lunch box, and then she’ll be ready to go. I know, I know. It’s called growing up. I’m not sure why 5 seems so much more grown-up than 4 did, but it does feel different. The final traces of chubby toddler cheeks are gone, she knows how to do everything herself now, and even though she’s a super clingy kid, she really doesn’t need me the same way she used to. All of which I’ve been waiting patiently for over the past five years. But now that it’s here, can we just slow it down a little?

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

How Come?

The threes are the age of “why?” We’ve been through this once, with String Bean, who has wanted to know everything about everything since she started talking at 9 months old. By 11 months one of her favorite things to say was “Where did it go?” Even when she was the one who hid the object just to give her a reason to ask her favorite question. So, we’ve been dealing with endless questions for a while now. Peanut has just hit the “why?” phase full-force, but because she’s a girl who knows her own mind and doesn’t like to do anything the conventional way, her question is always “how come?”

If I tell her it’s time for bed, she immediately asks “how come?” and asks that to every portion of whatever answer I give her (“Because you need sleep.” “How come?” “Because you’ll be tired without it.” “How come?”). With String Bean, to stop the flow of the endless “whys,” I would start asking either “why do you think?” or “why not?” in response, which would actually get her thinking up her own answers on occasion. I’m not sure how to do this with “how come?” “How come not?” just isn’t right. I hate to use the “because” response, for all of its emptiness and annoyance, and also because it just leads to more questions.

It’s not that I don’t appreciate an inquisitive mind. It’s just that, once in a while, I wish she’d be satisfied with only one or two answers instead of ten.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

It’s a Girl Thing

During hubby’s last long trip, two weeks in Asia, the girls and I headed up to my mother’s house for a break from all of our 24/7 togetherness that was getting to be too much for all of us. My sister also went up with her 9-month-old daughter. On the drive up, String Bean asked if her uncle would be there, and when I told her no, she said, “Oh, so it’s a girl thing.” I chuckled about that for the rest of the drive. One thing about super-effeminate String Bean, she appreciates girl things.

We’ve had three of these girls’ weekends at Mom’s house now, with Mom, her two girls, and three “grandgirls” as she calls them, and I have to say, I like the girl thing. Trips up to Mom’s house are a great way to get some extra help when hubby’s out of town for a couple of weeks, but when my sister and her daughter come, too, it’s more like a weekend-long party of girlness. We’re not sitting around painting toenails and doing each other’s hair: my sister is as makeup clueless and hair-product challenged as I am, but there are some feel-good movies watched and a lot of chocolate is consumed.

String Bean is a pretty good babysitter-in-training. She follows her cousin around, diverting her from danger, calling out updates to us every few minutes: “She’s near the stairs! She’s heading for the plant! She has a poopy diaper!” So that we can visit a bit and yet still keep a decent eye on the baby, who is now crawling and pulling up and getting into a whole new kind of trouble, especially at Mom’s un-baby-proofed house. String Bean understands which size objects are baby safe and which ones aren’t, and is pretty good at trading her little cousin small objects for larger ones. Peanut’s great at being silly and getting her cousin giggling. One of my favorite things about these girl weekends is watching the three girls playing and laughing together.

My other favorite thing is just hanging out with my sister, catching up and reminiscing and laughing about nothing at all. With three kids between us, we don’t get much quiet time to talk when we get together for an afternoon here and there, but over the course of a full weekend, we get lots of opportunities to talk and laugh. And this is in large part due, of course, to my mother’s tireless efforts in caring for her grandgirls. They are fed, dressed, bathed, fights are broken up, activities are planned, endless questions are answered, and instead of the constant “No, I want Mommy to do it!” that I always hear at home, I get to hear the beloved “No, I want Grandma to do it!” which is currently one of my favorite phrases in the English language.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Memory Girl and Spotter Girl

String Bean has become my memory lately. She finishes my sentences for me, recalls my shopping lists for me, and when I wander into a room only to find I can’t remember why I went there, she’s right behind me to say “You were going to feed the dog,” putting me back on track. She’s very proud of this skill and likes to call herself my “memory girl.” I think it’s fitting that she’s my memory now, since I had an excellent memory right up until the moment I gave birth to her, and it’s been slipping ever since.

The other day in the car she was reminding me what a great memory she has by remembering something for me (I honestly can’t recall what, I’ll have to ask her later), when Peanut tried pitching in and helping, by providing a list of nonsense words that just confused us all. String Bean pointed out that Peanut isn’t much help in the remembering department, but that she’s great at spotting things, like bugs no one else would see or planes so far away they’re practically invisible. This is a nice balance to her sister, because while String Bean can remember crazy things like what color shoes you were wearing when she met you two years ago, she can’t find her own shoes even when they’re sitting right next to her.

“I’m your memory girl, and she’s your spotter girl,” String Bean proudly proclaimed, and for the rest of the day, that’s what they were. They took turns showing off their impressive skills, with String Bean remembering things I hadn’t even forgotten yet (“don’t forget to feed us lunch!”) and Peanut spotting things that didn’t even exist (a bug that turned out to be a piece of lint, which she refused to believe no matter how many times I showed it to her). It devolved into a silly exercise of patience on my part, with having to acknowledge all of that remembering and spotting, even when I didn’t need it.

It’s remarkable how few things get truly lost in our chaotic house of too many things. Either String Bean vividly remembers watching someone kick it under the couch three months ago, or Peanut, at a glance, can spot it in the shadows between the couch and the wall. Overall, they’re handy things to have around: a memory girl and a spotter girl.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


A few days ago, moments after passing a fire truck on the way home from preschool, the girls announced to me that when they grow up, they are going to be fire-girls. As in, firemen, but girls. And that they’ll work together, on the same fire truck, because they’re going to be best friends forever. I told them they could just call themselves fire-fighters, rather than fire-girls, but they didn’t like that name. Something about the “fighting” aspect of it, the same word I use for the behavior which they are regularly scolded/given time outs for doing at home. So, fire-girls it is.

String Bean then gave me a lengthy explanation about how girls can do/be anything that boys can do/be, which made me pretty proud. Hubby and I try to instill this in them whenever possible, pointing out when we have a female piloting the plane we’re on, or when we saw women hang-gliding in San Diego, or that my doctor and her dentist are women.

I sometimes wonder what it is they’ll choose to do for a living when they’re grown up and realize that being a princess isn’t a paying career. An astrologer I saw before having kids predicted that I’d have two children, one boy and one girl, and one would be an architect and the other would be an actress. He was kind of right, except for the boy part. I could easily see String Bean as an actress, as she basically is one now, putting on mini-performances all day long, from puppet shows to Broadway-style song and dance numbers, and her flair for the dramatic is no joke. At three years old, it’s hard to see Peanut as anything other than a three-year-old bundle of energy and big smiles. Although I recently saw that same astrologer, and this time he told me my girls would be an actress and something to do with horses (he guessed breeding or showing them). The funny thing is, Peanut is obsessed with horses, and he, of course, didn’t know that. My grandmother and aunt were both prized Arabian horse breeders, so I guess it’s in her blood.

For now, they are fire-girls. Ready to ride on a big red truck, wearing big hats, and saving the world from the horrifying sounds that smoke detectors make. String Bean has a serious fear of smoke alarms ever since the one in her room went off (no fire, just a dusty space heater)—to the point where she has trouble sleeping in a room where she can see one. She seems aware that fire-girls would make these devices silent, which seems very important to her. Even at four years old, it’s good to have a life’s mission that would make the world a better, quieter place.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


I’ve been trying to come up with an accurate “terrible twos” type euphemism for the threes, which in my opinion are far worse than the twos, and I heard this from another mom. I think “threenager” is cute, and fitting. The threes, for both of my girls, were when the attitude kicked in.

I’m not sure how the terrible twos got such a bad rap. Maybe because it’s when the first tantrums start, and we’re all mildly horrified to see our sweet toddling little baby, who used to blow us raspberry kisses and giggle when we changed her diaper, turn into a red-faced beast who is completely out of control with emotion. But when your kid is two, they’re small, easily restrained or picked up to haul out of a grocery store, quickly distracted by shiny objects or food, and when they calm down, they come to you for comfort.

In my experience, the three-year-old tantrums are much more epic. When Peanut has a tantrum now, she doesn’t just want to huff and cry and blow off steam, she wants to harm me, her sister, herself. She bucks and thrashes and chases me around trying to bite me. She throws and kicks (aiming for your stomach or throat) and screams like some kind of wild animal in extreme pain. And she’s strong. Too strong for me to restrain without hurting her. She’s pretty inconsolable throughout the whole ordeal, so I just shut her in her room and wait her out until the animalistic screams turn to calls for mommy, and then I know we’re through the worst of it.

But my biggest complaint with the threes isn’t the tantrums, it’s the attitude. The threes, for both girls, were when the word “no” became the only word in their vocabulary. Peanut will say “no” to you before you’ve even finished offering her something. If I start a TV show for her, she immediately yells: “No, not that one!” before she’s even seen what’s coming on. Pick out an outfit, and she’ll shout “no!” from the hallway, where she can’t even see which outfit I’m holding. She also will get stuck on demanding the one thing she’s figured out we don’t have. Yesterday it was strawberries. We have 10 kinds of fruit in the house, all favorites of hers, but all she wanted was strawberries. The day before it was yogurt-covered raisins, which is only funny because she hates yogurt-covered raisins and spits them out every time (as she did when I finally got her to ask nicely for some, and gave them to her).

String Bean, who is finally coming down off the spectacular four-year-old attitude surge, will sometimes just put her hands on her skinny hips and shake her head at her sister, then look at me. “Was I like that when I was three?” she’ll ask. “Worse,” I tell her, which seems to amuse her greatly. Peanut’s got a stronger will than String Bean, so the stubborn part of the “threeenager” is more pronounced there, but Peanut’s got nothing on String Bean’s hyper-sensitive side. If String Bean had wanted strawberries when we were out, she wouldn’t just have asked for them ten thousand times in one day, she’d have been brought to tears by the disappointment.

So the sweet, mislabeled “terrible twos” are behind us, and soon I’ll be discovering what joys the fives bring with them. I’ll ride out the threenager issues as best I can, and try to keep a positive perspective, because I know that after the threes, come the fours, with haughty attitude paired with bizarre child-logic that runs you around in circles. I have a feeling Peanut’s really going to give me a run for my money in that phase.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Studio Grow

It can be hard, on these cold wintry mornings, to keep two restless, bored kids from causing each other bodily harm. Often, the best thing to do is just get them out of the house to burn off some energy and distract them from each other. Since I hate shopping, and my girls have no interest in food, things like eating out or heading to the mall just don’t do it for us. There aren’t many options when it isn’t nice enough weather for a park outing, but one great alternative near us is a place called Studio Grow:

It’s an indoor play space, geared toward the toddler thru five-year-old set, with just about every activity you can imagine. I just spent three hours there with the girls, and the only reason we left after three hours was because they were closing for the day. The girls could’ve gone on playing there forever. During those three hours, the girls danced, painted, made play-doh art, put on a puppet show, listened to story time, climbed on a jungle gym, rode these little cars down a coaster-like slide, played with dinosaurs, trains, blocks, and farm animals, read books, dressed up, played with dolls and prepared pretend food in their favorite “kitchen room,” experimented with gears, stamped, colored, glued, and a bunch of other activities that I was too busy socializing with the other moms to notice. Really, there’s no other place quite like it around here, where kids can be kids, busily and safely, and the messy arts and crafts aren’t in my house or on my carpet, where they can make new friends and so can I, and where I leave with two reluctant but very tired kids who actually nap (well, one napped anyway).

If you haven’t been, and you live in the Bay Area, it’s worth checking out. They have one in Berkeley and one in Concord, and both are owned by the nicest brothers-in-law you’ll ever meet. Your kids will thank you for it.

Friday, January 08, 2010


I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but my girls talk a lot. A whole lot. They keep themselves awake during naps and at night with their own talking, they have a hard time hearing each other over their talking, and they don’t stop talking long enough to hear the answer to a question they’ve asked, which just results in a lot of raised voices and repeated answers.

The other night I was putting Peanut to bed, singing her the bedtime song of her choice (“Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star”) and had to start the song over three times because she kept prattling on about her grandma, cousin, and silly uncle, and couldn’t hear the song over her own chatter. Halfway through the song each time, she’d cover my mouth and say, “Start over, I didn’t hear the song!” By the third round, I told her I wasn’t starting over any more, and if she wanted to hear it, she needed to close her mouth and open her ears. She tried to stop talking, covering her own mouth with her hand, but even that brief song was too long for her to keep quiet through.

When they aren’t talking, the girls are singing. They know the whole Disney princess anthology of songs, and songs from all of their favorite shows, and after exhausting that repertoire, they resort to making up their own songs: long, complicated show-tune-style numbers with dance moves and emotive facial expressions, full of silly lines like “I like you and the sun! Let’s look out the window and then have apples!” (where apples would raise to an operatic soprano, and be drawn out to about five syllables).

It’s not that they aren’t entertaining to listen to, or that I don’t appreciate their communication skills or creativity, it’s just that, sometimes, I’d like a few moments of quiet, absolute quiet, to just hear my own thoughts.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Happy 2010

It seems impossible that it is 2010 already. For one thing, that means that soon I will be the mother of a five-year-old girl, which just doesn’t feel possible, since she was just a newborn last week. On the one hand, I can’t really remember my life before String Bean came into it, as if she’s always been there, in one way or another, even before she was born. On the other hand, it means I’ve been a stay-at-home- (occasionally a work-from-home-) mom for five years, which is far too long considering the time passed in the blink of an eye. I guess that means I’ve kept so busy in the past five years that I never had time to sit still long enough to acknowledge the passage of time. In general, I think that’s a good thing, as I believe too much idle down time leads to bad habits, for most of us. But I also think that means it’s been at least five years since I’ve had several consecutive good nights of sleep, and I’m wistful for those days of feeling fully rested and ready to tackle whatever comes up.

There are lots of new things to come this year. Not only will String Bean turn five, and Peanut will turn four, but String Bean will start kindergarten next fall, and Peanut will enter her last year of preschool then. The girls will continue to grow and develop personalities and learn things that I can’t imagine my little baby already knowing how to do. I also plan to continue to grow as a person and learn new things. I’m just not sure what those things will be just yet. Mostly I plan to enjoy as many happy moments as I can with my girls, let go of the unhappy moments as quickly as possible, and hope to squeeze in a few nights of good sleep here and there.