Ho Ho heeeee hee hee

14 Dec

Just keepin’ it real here, December can be stressful with its tightly scheduled forced fun and maximal wallet impact. But since having children, looking forward to their Santa letters has given me a seasonal lift. I thought last year’s letter from the then-8 year old would be her last non-ironic one, and this year it would be all, “Dear ‘Santa,’ can we stop arguing about whether or not I can have an iPhone PLEASE.” But as the 2013 letter attests, the 9 year old still wants to believe!  It’s a comedy miracle, excerpted below.

Dear Santa,

I really admire your work. I have three questions.

1. Some people in my grade don’t believe in you. (Not me.) What do you think of that?

2. Could you draw a picture of you and Mrs. Claus?

3. Have you always been Santa, or were you selected when you were, like, 20?

I’m sorry for all I did wrong this year (frowny face with a little tear.) I *am* getting better at impulse control, though!

Thank you greatly.

There is no actual need for additional commentary, the letter speaks eloquently for itself. But since she doesn’t have a iPhone yet and hasn’t found this blog, I can’t resist.

I want to start by complimenting the opening–”I really admire your work.” Smart kid to butter up the big guy before she asks the hard questions.

Item number one is a beautifully wrought example of passive-aggressive tattle-tailing. Considering writing back to her in my best Santa handwriting, “I think none of those little fuckers is getting anything but coal from me. Believe THAT.”

Her second item has me thanking my lucky Santas that I have a cartoon-enabled spouse. I hope he is limbering up his sketch book.

Item three tells me that she is wildly optimistic about what her future job search might be like. In fact, just the other day she was listing out her top three career choices for me:

1. Taste Tester for a Bakery (this DOES sound like a good job)
2. Glass Blower
3. Architect

Far be it from me to judge career aspirations since I am using time I could be working to let her unwittingly write a blog post for me, but.

She’s had her actual list picked out since approximately July, and it includes such items as a back scratcher, Pentaminoes (“you know the math thingies that you make into complex rectangles”), and “A big, original, Grimm fairytale storybook with all the original stories.” Also, “I sort of want princess lip gloss made by Disney Dist. by Townley Inc. 389 Fifth Ave NY, NY.” Not making that last item up. Love you, sweet 9 year old. Don’t ever change. Or, I mean, change all you want, but please stay crazycakes.

As for the 7 year old, making a list was unexpectedly emotional for him this year. There was wailing, gnashing of teeth, rending of garments, etc. His birthday and Christmas are only 10 days apart, and apparently he’d already asked for what he REALLY wants for his birthday, i.e. a mani-pedi and a shoe shopping expedition. Truly, he is my spirit animal.

Anyway, list-making was about 45 minutes of me throwing out ideas–Legos? No. Remote-controlled car? No, thanks. Books, games, puzzles, soccer ball, art supplies…? No, no, NO. He put his head down on the kitchen table in despair. Finally, finally he managed to come up with a travel alarm clock, some sew-on backpack patches, and a string of Christmas lights. New appreciation for the expression “old soul.” Because that’s only a weird list if you consider that its author is 7 and not, you know, 67. When I showed it to Husband, he said, “Good lord, we have to figure out SOME KIND OF TOY to buy that kid.”

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to shop for back scratchers, backpack patches, and SOME KIND OF TOY. But first, shoe shopping and glitter toes. Wishing you a December full of laughing at and with the people you love.

Family Fun

19 Nov

When last I wrote about the impact of my community theater habit on my family, I’d just finished up work on a musical that included my husband in the cast, rendering our children parentless nights and weekends for a couple of months. Which was totally fiiine. At least that’s the way I remember it. I have really good amnesia skills, though, you can tell because I have more than one child.

Anyway, this fall I had the opportunity to work with a director friend who asked me to adapt and assistant direct Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. The project intimidated me, and that made me mad at myself, so I had to do it. The director also expressed interest in seeing my nine year old for a part. My daughter had already asked if she could audition for something, and having her come to rehearsals I’d have to attend anyway would certainly be convenient. Moms and girls, learning together! Mass hysteria! Sign us up.

First, I cobbled together an adaptation, learning a tremendous amount in the process. I may not have time or money for a formal playwriting education, but I do have tolerant friends willing to let me learn on the job. Then, my daughter auditioned and was cast. When my husband came to pick her up, we asked him to jump up and do a cold read of Scrooge’s nephew, Fred. And he nailed it–ugh, he’s so annoying–so he was in. The director and I decided it would be best for me to play Ghost of Christmas Future because it’s a lot of driving just to point ominously. And gosh, the thought of our six year old home by himself with a sitter while his WHOLE FAMILY did a play together was so heartrending that, against my better judgment, I asked the director if she’d mercy-cast him in a small role, which she graciously did.

BAM mostly by accident we were all in a play. Upside? No need for babysitting. Downside? No need for babysitting.

Our A Christmas Carol opens on Friday, so right now we’re inching our way toward the tippytop of that first big hill on the rollercoaster. Reminds me of this past summer when I rode the Grizzly at King’s Dominion with my six year old. I turned to him afterwards expecting him to be limp with laughter, and instead found a pale, quivering mass literally speechless with fear. Trying to say that at this point it could really go ANY WHICH WAY, y’all. Here are a few impressions of the process so far.

1. As a couple, it’s hard to parent together, it’s hard to work together, it’s hard to work AND parent together, PLUS parent people who are working on the same project. Is all I’m going to say about that. My husband LOVES to be directed by me. Oh, look, I said something else!

2. As a parent, it’s hard to parent, it’s hard to work and parent, it’s hard to parent people who are working hard, PLUS work hard yourself on the same project. It’s kind of cool to have my kids know me in this very adult realm and different context, and it’s also kind of weird. And now they know for sure that I know a lot of swear words.

3. Needing less babysitting is nice. But I’ve still needed babysitting, and constructing and staffing a schedule that accommodates four different rehearsal calls, plus other after-school activities, plus Husband’s intense work travel schedule, plus my other work, (both paid and volunteer), has been… Well. I don’t consider organization to be a natural strength, so it’s been LIKE THAT.

4. I am a lunatic about kid dinner and kid sleep. Since the typical rehearsal schedule runs four weeknights and a weekend afternoon or evening per week, I had some major Fun Police anxiety about involving the kids in this play. It hasn’t been as bad as I feared, actually, but here’s an anecdote from Sunday’s tech rehearsal.

It’s 8:45 pm. We’re working on the finale with lights and sound. My six year old doesn’t enter when he’s supposed to. The stage left Stage Manager calls out that she can’t find him. The stage right Stage Manager replies that he’s asleep on a bench on her side. She rouses him, he finishes strong, we get in the car to go home.

Me: “Were you nodding off backstage, buddy?”
6yo: “I was just resting my eyes. I was still listening, though.”
9yo: “Pfffft, yeah RIGHT, you missed your cue!”
9yo: “Did TOO.”
6yo: “Did NOT I was AWAKE!” Etc. etc. etc.

Yep, going great.

Obviously I can’t draw conclusions about this experience before it concludes, and I’m sure I will feel many different flavors of things even then. One thing I know, though, is that this was a special and unique adventure I’m proud of our family for undertaking. And another is that I will be wearing my extra-super waterproof mascara on opening night.

It's All Happening!

It’s All Happening!

Make time. Take time. Find time.

14 Nov

Two weeks ago, a friend’s 6 year old daughter was killed in a tragic accident. That week tragic accidents happened in lots of places around the world. That week other children died and life kept on being unfair and reality kept on being brutal. And that week, this brutal tragedy unfairly happened to my friend. But it didn’t happen to ME. My grief is nothing to her grief, to her family’s grief. My grief feels selfish and self-indulgent. My grief is useless to my friend, but I offer it. I can’t help but offer it. There is no bottom to my grieving about their grief.

I might pick up some chicken for my friend. I might bring her a coffee–she might be out viewing her daughter’s body, and thus not home. I might offer my time, my money, my embrace. I might attend her daughter’s memorial and weep from the depths of myself, bow my head and rock and keen. It’s not enough.

It can even be too much. Their house is packed with food, they’re swarmed with offers of help, I’ve heard that my friend says she’s “all hugged out.” There is nothing to do, but if I could, I would do it all, we would do it all, her community would do anything, everything. The parents of our town are rocked. Whether they know the family or not, the thought of this little child, this horrible tragedy, consumes. Friends who never met the little girl confide that they still can’t stop crying, can’t sleep, feel almost foolish in how deeply it affects them.

At one point in my life the worst things I could imagine happening all involved a violation of my own body or mind. But now the worst thing I can imagine would happen to one of my children. I don’t matter to me anymore, not like this.

I’m hugging my daughter goodnight and squeezing her tightly, holding her just a fraction too long. She interprets this gesture completely correctly and says softy, “I think you are more sad about this than me, because you’re a mom, and you’re the mom’s friend. I’m just a kid. It’s different.”

My nine year old also says, walking back from the little girl’s memorial, “A family is like a knitted sweater. And they have a piece ripped away. And all the little x stitches that hold the pieces of the sweater together are unraveling now. And now they need to try to fix the sweater, to stitch it together again. I think they can do it.”

People need lessons, and sense, and logic they can grasp, so they try to graft narratives on to this tragedy, to knit it into shape. But the death is not what holds the lesson. It was wrong, terribly wrong, and it was an accident. Random, horrible in its utter ordinariness.

When I think of this little girl and her family, I think of the trips they took together, their adventures, the experiences they made the time to share. The family meals, and the soccer games, and the early morning snuggles in bed. Every moment of that time was precious and vital, and this family embodied that knowledge. My friend’s little girl was loved and prized and cherished. What more can we offer our children than the gift of our time and attention? You don’t know how long you will share your lives together, you never know. Don’t miss it.

Standing with my friend in the park, in the sparkling bright fall sunshine, looking around at the celebration for her daughter’s life–the African drum circle, the hula hooping, the dancing, the colorful leaves and soft breeze and brilliant blue sky, the kids chasing each other around the playground and shrieking with laughter–she smiled and said, “Isn’t this beautiful? Isn’t this amazing? I want to do this every year. We should do this every year.” Yes, we should. Every year.

Just Eat It

26 Sep

I love to cook. NOW.

I grew up so afraid of the heat from the oven that I couldn’t stand to take the chocolate chip cookies I’d painstakingly mixed and put in the cold oven back out of a hot one. My little sister was braver and better coordinated–I generously allowed her to handle that part.

A telling college story is the time my first real roommate in my first real apartment mocked me scathingly for warming up spaghettios and canned corn for dinner à deux with my boyfriend. “Dinner is SERVED, honey!” she trilled, mincing around the kitchen waving a can opener. (She wasn’t that nice.)

When I was first married I specialized in a category of one pot meals I called “stuff with stuff in it.” For example, cous cous with spaghetti sauce and (more) canned corn mixed in. Or mac n’ cheese with tuna n’ peas–rhymingly delicious.

My mom is an accomplished cook who filled my early childhood with tasty, nutritious meals accompanied by thick slices of her home-baked bread. My dad says he hates to cook, but faithfully churns out beautiful omelets, scratch buttermilk pancakes, perfectly grilled cheeses, etc. Suffice to say I was always aiming at being someone who reliably made good food at home, but I took my time, and sacrificed many cans of corn, getting there.

But, although I say it about myself, I’ve arrived. This past Monday night I roasted two chickens on a bed of apples and onions, accompanied by a butternut squash gratin and steamed green beans with lemon-butter. For dessert I made an apple pie and whipped cream. There was certainly labor involved, but truly, it was the labor of love. And I hope my children understood that in their hearts, because I was a little crabby with them during dinner prep.

And that’s a theme. Kids, I’m in the kitchen sweating bullets cranking out a beautiful meal to show you my love and care. Now, buzz off. I don’t want to be talked to, looked at, questioned, or god forbid, HELPED. Everyone leave the kitchen so I can love you, please!

A favorite phrase I amuse myself repeating ad nauseam is, “something yummy that you will like.” As in:

“What’s for dinner?”
“Something yummy that you will like.”
“What are you packing in my lunch?”
“Something yummy that you will like.”
“Kids, what do you want for breakfast? Never mind, I’ll just make you something yummy, that you will like.”

The second part of the sentence is part brainwashing attempt, part threat. You will like it, because heaven help you if you don’t. I sure as shit don’t want to hear about how you don’t like this yummy food that you actually DO like, now shut up. I AM TRYING TO LOVE YOU HERE, BE QUIET AND EAT.

I’m a great parent, you would love to be my kid. Or just to come to dinner. Don’t bother to ask what’s on the menu. Your job is to supply wine, pleasant conversation, and compliments to the chef. Or else.


17 Sep

Are you like me, eagerly planning and anticipating a summer family trip, only to find, as a friend memorably put it, “I had to stop calling it a ‘vacation’ and start referring to it as an ‘adventure’”? We first adventured as a family 5 years ago, and each summer since we’ve accrued little nuggets of knowledge via the pick-axe of painful experience. This past summer I actually engaged my thinking organ to plan a trip that took into account some of our hard-earned learnings. Our trip was therefore both sort of relaxing and pretty fun! You haven’t asked for my advice, but that’s never stopped me giving it before. Read on for my (idiosyncratic, probably non-transferable) 8.5 Family Vacation Truths.

1. Hey dummy, if you’re going to change time zones during your vacation, don’t do it TWICE.

Let’s start big. This one is like directions that begin, “Plug product in.” And yet, two summers ago I planned a vacation that had us adjusting to two different time zones in a three week period. There is nothing relaxing about jet-lagged children. Multiply it by two and you’ll wish you could check into a psych ward instead of that charming B&B.

2. Don’t stay at a charming B&B.

They may say kids are welcome, there may even be other children staying there, but as a parent you will not know one moment of relaxation. Not when your kids are plundering the thoughtful breakfast buffet, not when they’re playing noisy tag in the serene garden courtyard, not when they’re picking all the cashews out of the mixed nuts served at the 5 pm sherry hour, definitely not when they get lice and you’re forced to beg to use the washing machine and leave a triple digit gratuity.

3. If the kids get lice/the flu/hand-foot-mouth/hand-tongue-butt etc., etc., your vacation is over.

Things will go more smoothly for you from an expectations standpoint if you just accept this fact and start day drinking.

4. If you can swing it, rent something private.

Everyone wishes that vacation meant taking a vacation from all familial exasperations, but unfortunately, wherever you go, there you all are. Don’t judge your family drama, work around it. You’ll feel more comfortable doing your parenting at high volume when there’s no concerned host or nosy stranger listening in.

5. A trip with friends is not really a vacation.

I do love a friend trip, but I love it most when it’s all adults. It’s not us, kids, it’s you.

So by all means, travel with friends, just know it’s not going to be a VACATION. It’s a fun visit with your lovely friends, and their lovely kids, who your kids might love more in theory (at least if your kids are like certain prickly, high-drama children of mine). But a VACATION is herein defined as laying like broccoli being reasonably antisocial and mostly agenda-less. Our beach week of un-cut family time this summer, the first we’ve ever taken, was surprisingly fantastic. I read four novels, slept nine hours a night, and only had one major blow-out with aforementioned prickly child. That’s something very close to happiness, right there.

6. Make peace with not doing all of the things. Just do some of the things. If it’s one of those days, be peaceful about doing none of the things.

When I capital T-Travel, I want to see and eat and learn and feel and do everything, today. Leave no hike unhiked, no painting unseen, no pastry uneaten. Back in childless pre-history I planned a trip to Europe that had Husband and I going to everywhere you can think of including the whole of Scandinavia for 2 days each. He was crying uncle five days into our five week trip. Getting to knooow yooou…

Admittedly, my travel mania is already at war with the whole concept of VACATION. Then we added in kids who need to, like, eat regularly and go to bed on time. It has taken me all these years to fully appreciate that if pushing a full-grown man to accommodate my insanity was bad, pushing people under the age of 10 to do so is just downright silly.

This year we went to two (2) places in two (2) weeks, and I forced myself to only plan one activity per day. If all was going well maybe we could play paddle ball on the beach AND learn to make friendship bracelets AND go out to dinner. Maybe we could make it to the SF Zoo AND afternoon tea. But if what we ended up doing was naps and a few hands of Uno and leftovers for dinner, and no one was crying and everyone was still speaking to each other, that was a good day.

7a. Don’t try new things. Be comfortable in your comfort zone.

I just love the rhythm of a vacation routine, don’t you? Slow start, decadent breakfast, post-lunch siesta, nightly family card game/early cocktail hour. Rinse and repeat. Heaven!

7b. It’s fun to do new stuff as a family!

Discovering a new place is thrilling, and watching your kids discover it is all the better. They notice things you never would have, and their excitement is such an experience-enhancer. Discovering a new place in a new way, as we did with a state park on our very first long family bike ride this past summer, is double the fun.

8. Life is short, eat dessert first.

Since we all agreed that this past summer’s trip was our best ever, I asked the kids what they thought made it so good. “Dessert after lunch AND dinner EVERY DAY,” said one. “Candy, candy, candy. And chips!” said the other. You can’t learn anything from this item except that we clearly deprive our children to a scandalous degree.





What happens after a few too many treats.

What happens after a few too many treats.

Since I couldn’t even come up with ten list items, it’s obvious I still have a lot to learn about family vacationing (especially since I’m currently planning a trip that flagrantly disregards fully half of my list). But, as my mother always says, “Vacations are 30% anticipation, 30% being there, and 40% coming back home.” All I really hope is that my family will always look forward to being back at home together.

For other musings on family travel, check out this post from April.

Some Sum-summertime

27 Jun

Oh, hey summer.

It might be illegal to pick a dogwood flower? Maybe?

(It might be illegal to pick a dogwood flower?)

School’s out, and my bloggy productivity has plunged accordingly. The kids have been doing some camp, so I’ve had a little time to myself, actually, but I just can’t focus.

I've been taking it all in.

I’ve been taking it all in.

It’s nice to surrender to the rhythm of doing less. Or, doing plenty, but less of it indoors.

For example, we’ve been to the pool a bunch. Sometimes we swim, sometimes we just stare pensively into the middle distance and hope Mom will forget about swim team practice.

Sometimes we swim, sometimes just stare pensively and hope Mom will forget about swim team practice.

She never forgets.

My girl and I went to see the Indigo Girls in concert, me for a sixth time, her for a first. So much gorging on treats, so much wild twirly dancing. Quite a little tearing up on my part to be genuinely enjoying such a fun, friendsy activity with my kid. Absolutely no arguing. (Whew!)

And a little resting.

And a little resting, too.

We’ve been hanging on the back porch grilling many foods, sitting in the shade powering through novels, biking endless loops around the block.

And crashing out for the occasional nap.

Crashing out for the occasional nap.

I did one workish project this June, which was to prepare two acts for the late night adult variety show at a local theater. Which kind of reads like something involving pasties, as I look at it (“And for the second act I’ll be using rollerskates!”)

But my contributions were relatively tame, I assure you. I wrote a tiny play called “Catty Corner” and cast it with a few of the extremely fine comedic actresses who are thick on the ground in my hometown, plus me because I was the director and could do whatever I wanted. I don’t have video to share, but a backstage costume shot will suffice to give you the flavor.

It was very silly. And, luckily, also funny.

My friend Mikey did an awesome silent cameo that brought the house down.

I do have a video link for the song I arranged and performed. The song, one of my old-time favorites, is “Witness,” by Shannon Worrell. I worked out four background lines using my rudimentary “piano skills,” then recorded myself in GarageBand while sitting at the kitchen table with the windows open. My favorite thing about the finished product is all the birdsong the mic picked up. For the performance, I sang the lead live over the recorded background. It made me feel about as exposed and vulnerable, and therefore gut-churningly nervous, as anything I’ve ever done. I almost backed out after a disastrous rehearsal. But a good friend lent me the insight that allowed the show to go on: “Think of it like a pelvic exam. You don’t look forward to it, but you have to get it done because it’s good for you.” Laughter is also good for you.


In a few weeks we’ll head out of town for our annual summer trip. I would call it our “vacation” but, based on past experience, there’ll be more crying than I typically associate with that word. The good, the bad, and the ugly of family travel, amirite? In the meantime I hope to bust out a little more writing, but only if I can fit it in around all the highly important hanging out.

Swingin' sibs.


Mom Solo

30 May

An evening of solo parenting, presented in three acts.

Got a traveling spouse? Or maybe one of you habitually works late? Or there’s only one of you on an all-the-time basis! Regardless of how you ended up there, it’s just you facing down the kid dinner hour, weeknight ablutions, and tuck in. This one’s for you.

Act 1: Feed heathen children.

I want to provide a homemade sit-down evening meal because apparently it makes children smart, and I am relying on these ones to support me in my dotage. But there’s only one adult eating, so I don’t want to make ambitious food that only I will appreciate. But I want there to be vegetables, because their presence on a dinner plate soothes my troubled parenting soul. “I did a lot of things wrong today, but at least I served vegetables.” But the vegetables need to be cunningly integrated in such a way that they get eaten without anyone noticing too much, because I have no stomach, heh, for a dinner battle, and nothing provokes a dinner battle in our household like a pile of unadulterated steamed kale.

I make some kind of simple, inoffensive pasta/frittata/soup/roasted/grilled dinner while the children loll in front of PBS Kids. Because oftentimes the best kitchen help is to find something quiet for the “helpers” to do outside of the kitchen.

So now the food that I’ve cobbled together with my own hands and my own goddamned expensive organic groceries is hot, it’s all served up, and I’m starving. I call the kids to dinner, reminding them to wash their hands. First, the storm of whining. Then, the footrace to the bathroom. The tripping, the crying, the high-pitched recriminations. I pour a glass of wine and take a long swallow.

The meal begins. “So, kids, let’s do Best and Worst parts of our day.”

9yo: “The best part of my day is I learned what the F word is.”

NAIVE ME (pretty sure she thinks it’s “feta cheese”): “Oh?”

9yo: “Yes. The F word is ‘Fuck.’”

6yo: “What?”

Me: “WHAT?”

9yo (smiling proudly, and wickedly): “Yes. It’s fuck. Annie told me on the bus.”

Me: “Fine. Well. What’s it mean?”

6yo: “Wait, what IS it, what did she SAY?”

9yo: “I don’t know.”

Me (triumphantly): “Then don’t say it. Never use a word unless you’re sure you know what you’re saying.”


9yo: “Well, what does it mean?!”

Me: “I’m not telling.”

Nailed it.

Act 2: Cleanse heathen children.

I’ve limped through the meal–”Mom, no offense, but this doesn’t taste as good as last time. What did you do?”–and now it’s time to attempt to get the piano practiced and the showers taken while I simultaneously do the dishes. It’s a tricky maneuver, but one that will yield blessed free time when I finally descend from the goodnight kisses. I fix in my mind an image of myself reclining on the couch, enjoying another glass of wine and a little light Facebooking, and I forge ahead. First, the storm of whining. Then, the footrace to the piano. The tripping, the crying, the high-pitched recriminations. With less patience than before I march in and growl and glower until things are on track. There is discordant plunking, there is steamy showering, the dishwasher is loaded, I’m working on the pasta pot. We’re only running 20 minutes behind schedule. The couch, the wine, it’s so close I can almost taste it. And that’s when the call echoes down the stairs.

“Moo-ooom? Can you come here? I forgot to tell you something.”

The something is that her head has been itchy again, which leads to a hurried investigation under the strong bathroom light, and a discovery of nits. RIGHT at bedtime. ALWAYS RIGHT AT FUCKING BEDTIME. MY HUSBAND HAS NOT BEEN HOME TO HELP A SINGLE FUCKING TIME THIS WHOLE FUCKING SCHOOL YEAR WHEN I FOUND A BUNCH OF NITS RIGHT AT FUCKING BEDTIME. (She didn’t learn fuck from me, I swear!)

Everybody cries. Everybody yells. Everybody gets combed and lathered with Cetaphil and blown dry like some horrible assembly line in a factory that makes nightmares (see this post for more info, sob.) It’s now an hour past bedtime. My knees are sore, my back is sore, my throat is sore from yelling. The kids are droopy and pouty and they look like miniature mad scientists with their stiff, bristly Cetaphil heads. Thank god it’s time for

Act 3: Tuck in heathen children.

“No books tonight, it’s too late. Just get into bed, please, I have a lot of laundry to do.”

First, the storm of whining, but one look at my face cuts it short. Finally, finally, good night kisses. Finally, finally, snapping out the bedside lights. Sitting in the dark next to my daughter, I pat her back and wish her a peaceful rest. And that’s when she sits up in bed and says, “I FORGOT TO DO MY SCIENCE HOMEWORK.”

The End. Seriously, let it end. Do days when you’re solo parenting have more hours in them, or what? Fuck.

Make that a double pink wine.

Make that a double pink wine.