Monthly Archives: August 2007

Candy Beans

It was a long day here.

Our new nanny spent the afternoon with the boys and me, just to start getting acclimated. Lyle, who has made it very clear to me that he’s “nervous” about both the new babysitter and starting nursery school, was not behaving in a particularly friendly manner. He clung to me for dear life and, every time she spoke to him, swatted his hand in her general direction and said, “Blech!” He’s been clingy for the past week as these changes have been approaching, but today was definitely the worst. By the last hour he started to look her in the face, smile a little, and even held her hand for a minute on the balance beam at the park.

But this success was tempered somewhat by my elder son choosing that hour to start acting like a total hooligan. I had to cut the park outing short due to bad behavior (as in, getting a mouthful of water and then spitting it all over the structure, just barely missing a 3-year old girl – whose mom was pissed – then getting benched by me, and then basically doing it again!!).

Obviously, my kids were showing their best sides for the new nanny. ARGH!

It shouldn’t be hard to imagine then that I had very little patience left come dinner time, when Lyle took one look at the unfamiliar refried beans next to his beloved quesadilla and started screaming for me to “GET – THEM – OFF – THE – PLATE!!!!”

Well, this mama said “No way” to that one. You eat what you want and don’t eat what you don’t want, but I’m not going to start scraping the “yucky” food off the damn plate! (If I’m ever not sure what to do in a meal situation, I think, “Would I be embarrassed by this at someone else’s house? A restaurant?” and go from there.)

He was in hysterics. Not the laughing kind. We had to leave the table three times before he wanted that quesadilla enough to sit down again without screaming.

In between heaving breaths, he looked at the beans and asked, “Mommy, what is that?”

Without a second thought I answered, “Candy.”

Three hands were immediately clapped over three smirking mouths.

He stared at me. “This, Mommy? This is candy?”


I could barely look at him as he tentatively tasted it.

“I yove this candy!” he declared, and went on to eat it by the spoonful and dipped his quesadilla in it.

After a while, I took a small step closer to the truth. “It’s called ‘candy beans'” I told him.

Well, come on! There are “candied yams”, right? Why not “candy beans”?


Birthday Party Primer

I know that so many of you have come to depend upon my parental wisdom, knowing as you do that I have been a mom for nearly seven years now and have much rich and deep (*cough*) experience under my belt. It is for this reason that I feel compelled to share with you my Birthday Party Primer. I have, after all, just thrown my 9th children’s birthday party tonight – I ought to know what I’m talking about, yes? (Note: 9 is a conservative estimate, given that it seems every birthday, including the current one, has required at least 2 or 3 celebrations.)

#1 – Cover all Barf Spots
You may discover, mere hours before your guests arrive, that the dry cleaner you just paid $55 to fumigate your white shag rug did not actually get Lyle’s vomit stain out. At all. Not even close. Never mind that you’ve had it in your house for almost a week before you even realized this, you simply don’t have time to get it out of there before people arrive and potentially SIT on it – because, as everyone says, “These rugs are so cozy! Who needs the sofa? I’ll just sit right here!”

My solution? Bring out the card table, slap a bright sheet over it and – Voila! – a snack table that prevents anyone from sitting on barf at your child’s party! No one will ever know! (That is, until they comment snarkily on the fact that you have this fancy-pants table in your sun room all of a sudden and you feel the need to defend your slovenly housekeeping lest you get an unwanted reputation as a Martha Stewart type.)

Looks cute and hides all vomit stains.

#2. No Planned Activities
Do not plan any games or activities, for goodness sake! Just keep the party short enough that the kids stuff themselves silly, unfurl party blowers into each other’s nostrils and eyeballs, open presents, and play together until the novelty wears off and the crying starts. Then send ’em home! Who cares if they turn the living room into a 3-ring circus? It’s a PARTY!

Three-ring circus

We only invite adults willing to take part in the circus.
#3. Don’t spring for an expensive cake
Make a boxed cake the night before. Your kid likes the movie CARS? Slap some chocolate frosting across the white frosting and call it a road – grab his three favorite movie vehicles and place them on the cake at the last minute. Toss on some car-shaped sprinkles that were coincidentally in the container your husband bought, and you’re golden. You’ve spent a buck thirty and he’s happy as can be. (And, as an extra bonus, you have proven once and for all that you don’t have a Martha Stewart bone in your body: because just LOOK at that thing!) [Wait! Not on vacation? I take it all back: get thee to the bakery and spring for the expensive cake.]

#4. Invite your coolest friends
Invite only good friends to your child’s birthday party. The kind of laid-back, fun-loving adults who don’t judge you, the hostess, for sitting at the table upstairs drinking wine with them rather than supervising the 7 kids under 7 downstairs in the playroom. You know, people who aren’t supervising their kids, either. (We highly recommend Macalester College alumni for this.) Because, frankly, who wouldn’t rather hang out with friends than realize that this is what it looks like down there:

Please direct any questions about throwing a child’s birthday party to me at any time. Because obviously, I’ve got it all figured out.

Just Passin’ Us By

I sat on the couch with Lyle this afternoon, watching CARS – a special birthday treat which had the added bonus of making the hours go by faster while we waited for his party guests to arrive.

I marveled over Baxter’s l-o-n-g, lean body stretched across the floor below us, and smiled when Lyle pretended to be scared just so he could hold my hand some more.

After a while, he leaned back on a throw pillow, facing me.

“Mommy, is time just passin’ us by?” he asked.

I’d say so, little guy. I’d say so.

Happy 3rd Birthday, Little One!

“Well, we never really knew
How much we needed you

Till you came into our lives…”

“‘Cause now we’re doing cartwheels and somersaults

And it’s all your fault

Yeah, it’s all your fault.

It’s you we love (mama, can I hold [him])

It’s you we love (let’s put [him] on your shoulder)

It’s you we love.”
(The photos and the boys are mine, but the lyrics belong solely to Justin Roberts…here’s a sound clip!)

Part Three: Safety

[To read Part One, click here. For Part Two, click here.]

I continued to climb, past my sister-in-law, and then eventually past my brother-in-law (who was, with the pure determination of a loving parent, miraculously pulling both of his 35-pound children up to safety), and suddenly we were at the top, far sooner than I believed possible given the length of our descent. Baxter stood at the top of the staircase in the woods, leaves and sticks swirling past him in the wind, with his hands over his ears and an expression of sheer terror on his face.

I could no longer run. Although we were decidedly not out of danger – in fact we were in a meadow with enormous, old trees all around us – we were finished climbing. My legs threatened to give out from under me from fear and exhaustion, but I kept walking rapidly to the house. Matt had sprinted ahead of me, depositing Lyle, and suddenly I was on the porch of our vacation house with my two boys, my niece and nephew, and my sister- and brother-in-law. And we were all okay. Matt ran back down the path to locate his parents and make sure they were all right; it was a horrible feeling to be racing ahead with our children in the storm, not knowing if our parents were safe. They were.

As we pulled the kids’ sandy wet clothes off on the covered porch, breathing hard, the rain began in earnest, finally joining forces with the wind. I filled up the big warm bathtub for the boys, and tried to catch my breath as the downpour again made its racket on the skylights above. It became obvious to me all of a sudden that I could barely breathe and needed my asthma inhalers stat; I sat in my wet clothes at the edge of the tub, shaking from the adrenaline and albuterol, marveling at our safety and trying not to think about how much more treacherous that already muddy path would have been, a mere five minutes later, in this kind of rain.

It was a fast-moving storm, without a doubt. And yet people more attuned to their natural environment (and less engrossed in a fun outing with their small children) would have paid more attention to that lovely dark blue sky in the distance – perhaps noticing it closing in on them – and the wind picking up all of a sudden. When we gathered around the table to eat our picnic dinner, still shaky, we suddenly noticed a huge tree limb that had come down in the backyard, just barely missing the house itself. It was impossible not to imagine anew something of that size crashing down when we were in the woods, with us underneath. News reports today confirm the speed and danger of the winds we were in, the flooding and power outages here and across the Great Lake at home. Chicago was hit quite hard, too, it turns out.

But on a personal level, I was extremely upset by how powerless I felt to keep my children safe. My older son, fancying himself a superhero, proved his Superior Speed and Strength by making it to the top first. But without the safety of an adult nearby, he was far too vulnerable. The one in my arms was nearly hit on the head by a tree branch, and I could not carry him all the way home. I’m sure Matt was right when he suggested that if I had not had the option of handing Lyle over partway up, I would have carried him the whole way, fueled by adrenaline and sheer parental will. But the fact remains that in the moment, I didn’t think I could.

For months now, I’ve wanted to get into better physical shape. I need and want more exercise. I just haven’t felt the motivation required to adjust my schedule and make it happen. But let me tell you, feeling like I couldn’t protect my children when they were in danger – because I wasn’t fast enough or strong enough? That’s all the inspiration I need.

While Matt was putting the boys to bed hours later, I was still working to calm myself. Putting on familiar, quiet music and pouring myself a glass of wine, I focused on mundane, everyday tasks that required no thought: washing dishes, putting the kids’ toys away, and sweeping up the sand we’d tracked in.

Opening the front door to shake sand off of the towels and blankets, I stopped for a moment and stood on the large porch. The storm was still raging around us: lightning and thunder had been added to the rain and wind, and it was a frightful scene. But knowing that, just inside, four beautiful, unharmed children were getting tucked into their warm, cozy beds by brave and loving parents filled my heart with much joy.

And indescribable gratitude.

Part Two: The Apocalypse

We scrambled, there on the beach, to collect our things. Grandparents, eager to calm a disappointed and angry four-year old, were moved to pick up as many large, heavy “special rocks” as they could from the stream before heading up the stairs. Fear rising in our parental hearts, we quickly stuffed blankets and towels in tote bags, and assigned children to adults. “Put your shoes on!” we shouted to the kids, “We need to get back up to the house before it rains!”

As we began our ascent up the wooden stairs, the wind we had so blithely ignored started to pick up with a vengeance. After two steps, Lyle cried, “Carry me, Mommy, I’m too tired for the stairs.” Handing Matt my tote bag – with him already carrying the extremely heavy food and drink bag – I hoisted Lyle into my arms and began to climb. There were other adults ahead of me, Baxter visibly among them. Matt was behind me.

Within mere seconds of our climb, the wind began its outrageous frenzy: leaves swirled and rocks rolled down the hill, clipping at our ankles. Pieces of tree bark flew at us, prompting my sister-in-law to cry out that it had started hailing. I thought she was probably right, and yet it hadn’t. Logical thought processes had been, literally, thrown to the wind.

But, oh, the sound. That fearful sound was the worst, we all later agreed. Although the howling, angry 60-mile per hour wind was hitting us straight on, we all felt like this had to be something akin to a tornado. And yet I continued to dash up the stairs as fast as I could, fueled by adrenaline alone; avoiding the “sink hole” and trying to choose the least muddy places to step, lest I trip and fall with Lyle in my tired arms. It no longer mattered that there were no handrails in some spots because to slow down enough to hold one would have meant we had the luxury of time. And we most assuredly did not.

When large tree limbs began to fall, one of them grazing Lyle’s head, I started to feel the terror in my throat. My sister-in-law, moving quickly up the stairs next to us, looked visibly shaken. “We’re going to be okay,” I tried to say with certainty, but honestly, I didn’t believe it. I turned back to Matt and called out that I needed him to take a turn with Lyle. “Can you see Baxter?” he hollered, barely audible in the wind. “No, but he’s up ahead with…” and here I paused to scan the crowd behind me to figure out who was up ahead with my older son. Everyone was accounted for. I looked up the wooded path ahead of us. Baxter was not in sight. “He’s by himself!” I shouted, now starting to seriously panic.
I handed over Lyle and grabbed the bags from Matt, lunging up the stairs again with two huge tote bags; together, they were actually heavier than Lyle. At one point in the climb, Matt yelled to me that I should just leave them on the path, and if I hadn’t known that we had some valuables in one bag or the other, I would have. Despite being almost completely out of breath, I called out Baxter’s name. I could barely hear my own voice in the cacophony. Frightening thoughts raced through my head: Has he run off in the wrong direction? Where would he go if he got to the top? Is he hurt? Did one of the tree limbs hit him up ahead?

I have never been so afraid in my life.

[Stay tuned for Part Three…]

Part One: The Beach

It was a perfect, sunny day here in Michigan; surprising, after the intense thunderstorm that had pounded the skylights in the wee hours of the morning. We – two grandparents, four parents, and four young children – spent the morning at the Discovery Museum in St. Joseph since the trees were dripping and the ground was soaked.

As soon as our little ones awoke from their well-deserved naps, however, we were ready to go. Laden with beach toys, picnic blankets, towels, a big bag of drinks, and enough sandwiches to feed an army, we headed for the beach. Not having been on the beach outing the day before (because we Mommies were busy getting lost on unmarked back roads with a nearly-empty gas tank in search of a grocery store), I only understood that the walk involved some mosquito-infested woods and a staircase down to the beach.

I was somewhat surprised, therefore, when we came to the steep, rickety wooden stairs that led us through muddy terrain. Turns out, our house is essentially on a cliff. The “sink hole” on one step and the portions without handrails were also unexpected. I found myself somewhat anxious, juggling a big beach blanket while simultaneously trying to get Lyle down those stairs, my sweaty, slippery hand clutching his, but when we made it, the beautiful white sand beach on the shore of Lake Michigan was worth the precarious trek. We joked (sort of) about the walk back up, but consoled ourselves with the fact that the food and drink bags would be lighter.

While the engineers among us worked to divert a “river” that ran along the beach in new and fascinating ways, others ran headfirst into the water. I popped lime green goggles over Lyle’s big brown eyes, and in we went, my water-loving boy and me. We swam, we jumped, and we waded far out until we got to a big sand bar where he could stand on his own again. Others joined us, and we marveled over the colors of the blue sky. “Look, Lyle,” I instructed in wonder, “Over there, Sweetie: the sky here is so light blue – but in that direction,” I pointed to the west, “it’s a beautiful darker blue.” I was pleased to point out the permutations of his favorite color in this natural setting.

After a while, the breeze picked up, and I suggested we get out of the water and play on the beach. It was chillier to be standing on the sand bar than I’d expected. Lyle, his Oma and I sat in the sand and played. Matt called my name and gestured that we should come to the picnic blankets. “Okay, Lyle, I think it’s time to eat now! Let’s rinse off our hands in the lake,” and off we went. But as I got closer, I saw that the others appeared not to be unpacking dinner but actually to be folding blankets and towels, worried expressions on their faces. Kids were fussing about a sudden departure. I looked again at those lovely blue clouds and it turned out they were a lot closer than they had been.

And all of a sudden, they looked less a little less beautiful and a lot more…threatening.

[Stayed tuned for Part Two…]

Aaah, Michigan!

Where the house is gorgeous, the lake a short walk down the path, the cousins adorable…
and the wi-fi just a tad spotty.

Do We Know How to Road Trip, or What?

State Patrolman Baxter, checking our route on an iPhone map:

Here’s what Lyle thought of Indiana:

Service…for Customers??

I had the strangest experience today. It was a sensation that was somewhat familiar – but dream-like – as if it were something I last felt in childhood.

If I remember correctly, it used to be referred to as “Customer Service” in the good old days.

No, no, not the department you call with trepidation when you find the time to remain on the line for a minimum of 20 minutes, getting transferred five times before reaching a human being who is probably a contract worker in India knowing little and giving you incorrect information about the actual airline/product/service. Not that kind of Customer Service. That’s what I’m used to.

But no. I mean actual service for customers.

You see, I just took the position of Treasurer of our condo association last week. As you may imagine, I was thrilled to take on this added responsibility since I have so much time on my hands right now. But, I digress. Along with this position, I inherited an account at a local establishment called Broadway Bank. I had to go in yesterday to change the account over to my name. Allow me to share what I encountered there:

1) I walked into a gorgeous, big, open room – the architecture was beautiful! To my right, there was a sea of bankers – I mean, at least 20 of them, sitting at desks, helping people. In. Person. I was immediately seated in front of someone who helped me quickly and easily. Here in the city, I am accustomed to walking into a sterile Bank of America office where there is not a single banker visible; they are in closed offices in the back. And there are never more than two of them, so the wait is ridiculously lengthy.

2) One of the employees actually used an IBM Selectric typewriter to fill out a form for me. The kind of typewriter I learned to type on in, oh, 1987. Awesome.

3) I worked with another banker to set up an online account. Now, I have no idea about the quality of said online banking system – and this is a feature I use a lot and love about Bank of America – but they gave me a form to fill out by hand (user ID and password) and told me that it would be up and running by the next morning. I was given a little slip of paper filled out with my codes so that I wouldn’t forget: again, handwritten. Amusing as hell.

4) I hadn’t had time to check and see if my online account was working yet, but at lunchtime I received a personal email from the banker who helped me sign up for it. Yes, a personal email, folks! I went online and couldn’t get it to work; somewhat disappointed with the old school bank, I replied to her email letting her know I was having a problem.

5) Not five minutes after sending my email, the phone rang. When I saw “Broadway Bank” on the caller ID, I just about hollered, “You are shitting me!!!” Yes, the same woman was calling me to help me, which she did very easily.

What the hell??

I think it’s very sad that such an experience was so incredibly mind-blowing. No wonder the incidence of depression is so high in America. I’d love to see a study showing the decrease in daily person-to-person interaction over the past thirty years.

Sometimes…well, our country is such a detached and lonely place.