Thursday, May 29, 2008

Drama at Buh-Lay Class

A had her weekly tap and ballet class last night. Every week is sort of like that movie "Groundhog Day." Before class, I remind her that's it very important that she make some kind of attempt to listen to the instructor. And every week, I watch through the window as the same scene repeats itself over and over. I watch the instructor carry out a dance step of some sort. Then I look at A. And what she is doing never matches what the instructor just did. Often I'll notice her running around the room, skidding in her tap shoes, while the instructor stands there with her hand on her hip. There are only two little girls in the class and, as far as I can tell, the other little girl does whatever my kid tells her to do. The other thing that happens every week is that A claims she has to use the potty. She ends up missing a good 5 minutes of a 30 minute class.

So last night, I tried to break the cycle. I made sure she emptied her wee little bladder right before we left the house. I lectured her all the way to the Y about how she should listen to Miss Alyssa. She nodded solemnly and said that yes, she would indeed listen.

But alas . . . I watched through the window as Miss Alyssa tapped the toe of her left shoe against the floor. A flipped onto her back and jabbed both feet into the air. Halfway through the class she insisted she had to go potty. "There's no way!" I told her. "You just went!" But I hauled her off to the bathroom anyway and guess what? She pinched a loaf right there at the Y. She was determined to produce SOMEthing, and she surely did.

Then came the drama. At the end of class, the instructor gave the other girl a sticker for being a good listener (or at least making some sort of attempt at it). A lined up for her sticker and was . . . DE-NIED. I had to hand it to the teacher, who is pretty young herself, for dishing out a consequence like that. A wailed all the way home and could not wait to tell her father how she had been wronged.

Next week is the last class. Apparently there will be some sort of "parent observation." I'm sure there will be an elaborate recital where A can show off the zero steps she learned over the course of seven weeks.

I will probably wait until the Fall before trying again. In the summertime the kid and I like to spend Wednesday evenings at the farmers' market, where we can eat kettle corn and listen to live music. And we don't need special shoes for that.

In other news, here was our dinner conversation the other night:

Me, attempting to talk with my husband: Kevin was at work today (Kevin’s wife is pregnant and is overdue, which is why his attendance at work was noteworthy).

P: So they didn’t have the baby yet, huh?

Me: No.

A (loudly, with a scowl on her face): Mama, why did you say no to Father! You can’t say no to Father! (Yes, she is still in this phase where she calls him "Father")

P: Mama says no to Father all the time.

A: You can’t say no to Father.

Me: Be quiet and eat your dinner.

P: How was your dental appointment? (I’m having trouble with a crown, so I reluctantly made an appointment.)

Me: Well, the gums dropped on that side and apparently there’s nothing to be done about it.

A: Gum drop?! Gum drop?!

Me: No, not that kind of gum drop. What did you do at Jessica’s today?

A: I wore the Sleeping Beauty dress.

I'm surprised she didn't try to work the words "Chuck E Cheese" into this conversation like she normally does, even though it never has anything to do with anything.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cheating a little here

A few months ago I wrote a blog entry called "Just a little longer." At about that same time I was asked to submit an essay for an anthology. (A real live book! I know!) I revised the blog entry a bit and submitted it along with another essay. Well, it looks like the other one is more likely to be used for the book. But, I still liked the way the one about my daughter turned out, so I'm including the revised version here.

Just a Little Longer

Our little family seemed to be caught in some endless loop where our three-year-old daughter, A____, stayed up too late, woke up crabby and tired, didn’t nap, stayed up too late, and woke up crabby again. Lather, rinse, repeat. Every so often, the lack of sleep caught up with her and she slept for twelve hours straight. Recently, she rolled out of bed at around nine o’clock on Sunday morning and we barely made it to church on time. I guess I could have woken her up earlier, but that just seemed like pure craziness.

That night, my husband was working late and A____ was wide awake in her bed. I, on the other hand, was tired. I leaned over the bed rail to kiss her good-night. She grabbed my face and kissed both of my cheeks. Lately, she seemed to think she was European. I climbed into my bed, arranged everything thus and so, and closed my eyes. Moments later I heard bare feet padding into my bedroom. "Mama, I wanna come in your bed,” she said.

Figuring that having her in my bed was better than not knowing what she was up to in other parts of the house, I pulled her into bed. This was new for her, because we never brought her into our bed when she was a baby. We felt it was better that she learn to sleep independently. Plus, our female Boxer was still alive at that time and had been sleeping in our bed since puppyhood. We suspected it would be easier to train the baby than the dog.

“Pie, why do you want to lay in bed with me?”

She looked at me and smiled, bumping my forehead with her own. Her gray-blue eyes were the same shade as her birthmother’s eyes. “Because I like you, Mama.”

When A____ was born, I secretly feared I would not recognize her in the nursery at the hospital. I pictured myself sidling up to the wrong bassinet, cooing over some stranger’s wrinkled-up newborn. I thought that maybe if she had come from me, I would instinctively know her without looking. But I did know her. I have always known her. I recognized her “Mama!” from a hundred other voices, the way her hair smells, the birthmark on her ribcage.

On that Sunday night, her excitement was palpable. We watched TV for a while. She flailed around, kicking me in the knees a thousand times. Restless, she turned and turned like she was on a spit. Mercifully, she fell asleep eventually and then her dad carried her to her room when he got home.

Not surprisingly, I heard that little voice again as I lay in bed watching "Mystery Diagnosis" the following night. "Mama, I wanna come in your bed,” she pleaded.

I reminded her that she needed to sleep in her own bed. Undeterred, she went back to her room and returned with her little blue IKEA chair and positioned it next to the bed. And then she was on my pillow seconds later. I watched her brush a curled tendril out of her face and smiled as I noticed that her little hands were still a bit chubby. And her cheeks. Soon, I thought to myself, she will enter a growth spurt and her little Buddha belly will be gone for good.

I blinked. She is five. She turns to wave as she climbs onto the orangey-yellow school bus. It is her first day of kindergarten. She is not the type of kid to cry on her first day of school. But I am the type of mother to wail long and loud. My daughter hops on the bus and sits next to a child she doesn't know. And starts talking to her, because she is that kind of kid.

She is ten. I have taken her to the amusement park with her friends. I hold her pink cotton candy while she rides the Ferris wheel with the others. I cup my hand over my eyes to shield them from the sun as I search each swaying car, looking for my baby. She sees me and waves.

She is thirteen. She is mad at me. I have informed her that she is too young to date a boy. (My friend Jen claims that this boy’s name will be Scab.) She storms off and yells, “You're not my real mother!” over her shoulder. Her bedroom door slams.

She is eighteen. She is leaving for college today. She pulls out of our driveway much too fast and heads down the street. She thrusts her arm, now long and slender, out of the window and gives one last wave. I want to run after her, but I don't.

On that Sunday night, I thought of my friend Erin, who spent that day honoring her daughter Birdie, on Birdie's first birthday. What should have been a happy occasion was surely not, because Birdie was stillborn. A full-term, beautiful baby who never took a breath. I thought of Erin and her daughter as I lay in bed with mine that night. Pie and I smiled at each other in the dark. "Do you know how much I wanted a baby?" I whispered to her.

She nodded. "Here I am."

Monday, May 26, 2008

Further adventures of the introverted parents with the extroverted kid

The kid, on stage, completely univited

Today P and I put the kid in her wagon and set off for the park. As we approached the wooded play area, A could see that there were a few visitors already there. "There are people at the park!" she exclaimed. "Everyone will see me!"

And that is truly how she goes through life - every day is an opportunity to be seen.

Headed to the park to greet her peeps

On Sunday evening, we were invited to attend a 10th wedding anniversary party in honor of my friends Nancy and Gary. (When I told the kid we were going, she said, "I love Nancy and Larry! They're my friends!") Now, this was not a kid-type party per se, and please believe me when I say that I tried like hell to find a sitter. It's tough to do on a holiday weekend when all the sullen teens are out of town. But my friend assured me that it was okay to bring A, as it was better than not making an appearance at all. P had to work, so it was just the two of us.

The party was held at a local theater (which is actually an old library - it's a very cool building). My friend and her husband are members of an improvisational comedy troupe, and the theater is where they perform. The first challenge we encountered was that Nancy, God love her, had set out bowl after bowl of "neminems" all around the lobby and in the theater itself. The party had a Mickey Mouse theme, so all the M&Ms were black, white, or red. I spent half the evening wiping black saliva off my child's beautiful face.

After the kid had consumed copious amounts of chocolatey goodness, all the guests were instructed to take their seats inside the theater. There was a video presentation that included footage from the wedding, the reception, etc. Then Nancy, Gary, and their pastor took the stage for a vow renewal ceremony. The kid started yelling, "Hey, it's Nancy! Hi Nancy! What are you doing!?" She just could not squelch the compulsion to chat directly and personally with Nancy, as though there weren't 50 other people in the theater. After a few moments of intense, whispered negotiations, I gave up and pulled her back out to the lobby. There was another guest sitting at a table out there and of course A had to chat with him. "I'm eating cheese because it's quiiiiiiet," she informed him. "But I'm not supposed to eat botata chips because they're not quiet." (It always cracks us up when she puts out her little fists and makes us play "one botata two botata.")

After the vow renewal ceremony was over, the masses poured back out into the lobby and it was then that the kid was truly in her element. I had a couple glasses of riesling in hopes that I would mellow out as my child became increasingly gregarious. I watched her walk into the middle of a group of five adults, give them her full name, ask them for their names, and then ask them what they were eating. I can't pull that off and I'm 38.

Extroverted improv comedy people, I think, tend to recognize their own kind. And so it was that no one seemed at all worried about my kid's behavior . . . except perhaps me. I was trying to walk the fine line between "who brought this adorable child?" and "why is that woman letting her brat run rampant?" I don't think anyone thought the latter at all - I just wanted to make sure they didn't have a chance to. At one point a man wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a fedora was laying on the floor with A, arm wrestling her.

The highlight of the evening, without a doubt, was when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and then said, "Um, your daughter is trying to get into the men's room." I think you'll agree that the average mom doesn't ever want to hear that phrase uttered. Ev-er.

After dinner, the next item on the agenda was improv games. Nancy was up on stage, explaining to the crowd how the games would work (there are two teams of performers that play improv games, often using material and ideas gathered from the audience). The next thing I knew, there was a curly-haired girl standing next to her on stage, talking loudly to the performers. She was completely unfazed by the large crowd watching her. I took a couple of snapshots and then attempted to catch her and pull her off the stage. But she's a lot younger and a lot faster. Eventually one of the performers caught her and handed her to me. She starting hollering things like "put me down!" and "I don't wanna go!" At that point it became obvious to me that we had to leave. There was no way she was gonna sit in the audience when clearly she felt her calling was ON stage.

In the car on the way home, she sang loudly for a while and then announced, "My butt just farted."

The born performer.
When I tried to get her dressed this morning, she told me,
"Not right now. I have to dance."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

O Cooter! My Cooter!

Okay, so I'm not actually talking about my cooter, but the Walt Whitman reference didn't work otherwise.

If any experienced moms are reading this, I could use some advice. Sometime last year, A began complaining about her nether region. "My gyna hurts," she said. We don't let her take bubble baths, so I knew that wasn't the culprit. As a young child I was hospitalized with a kidney infection and the doctor told my poor, guilt-ridden mother that Mr. Bubble was the cause of my malady. I do have memories of sitting on the potty, totally refusing to pee, while my mother ran my hand under cold water in case that might cause some sort of reflex (it never did, and to this day I cannot pee in front of my mom . . . not that peeing in front of my mom is something that comes up too frequently). But anyway, I am cautious about all things related to the entire urogenital system.

I took A to the pediatrician, who could not find anything wrong with her. She examined her thoroughly, and ran a urinalysis and a urine culture. Nothing. Nada. Rien.

Because the problem seems to come and go, I didn't worry too much about it over the next few months. When she would complain about it, I would slather some A&D ointment on her and that would seem to help, at least temporarily.

As my three regular readers know, the kid has been housebroken for a couple months now. I wasn't sure if that would change the issue in some way. I can now get a better feel for her frequency of urination and because of that, I'm fairly confident that she does not have a urinary tract infection. However, I have been eye to eye with her while she is on her little potty and there have been times I have seen her wince.

At her three-year appointment earlier this month, I mentioned it to her new pediatrician (the old one moved away) and he poked around and said that the kid's cooter looks just fine.

So where does that leave us? P says that she is just doing it to get attention. I say, maybe something is going on. I would be a jerk of the highest order if I just let it go and there was an infection or medical condition of some sort. We actually had an argument about it last night. Apparently my husband fancies himself a vagina expert. P's father, God rest his misogynist soul, was an expert on everything (and I mean EVERYthing) so I cringe every time P starts sharing his own wealth of knowledge, even though he is always wrong. (Thank God for Google - it settles a lot of arguments at our house.)

Do I take her to a urologist now? Take her back to the pediatrician and require him to take a closer look and run another urinalysis? I'm all ears here!

p.s. Spellcheck does not like the word "cooter."

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


I made a bold move this morning: I washed Teddy. He was looking pretty bedraggled. I know for a fact that he had been in at least two dogs' mouths. He had had syrup ("surry-up") spilled on him. At least once I had run over him with a grocery cart. He had been dropped in the snow, in the dirt, and behind the toilet. For all I know he had a couple of diseases. So, as filthy as he was, I knew he needed to be washed . . . but I couldn't help but worry that the spin cycle would be his undoing. And believe me when I say that if something happens to Teddy, life as we know it is over. The kid would sooner live without oxygen than live without Teddy.

I bought Teddy during our Thanksgiving trip to DC last year. I got him at a World Market store. I didn't even realize that he was 1/2 off until I got to the register. So, I paid a whopping $5.00 for him. Had I known that Teddy would become so important, I would've bought two of him right off the bat.

I have dozens of photos of Teddy on my hard drive. He is often the kindling that ignites the morning tantrum, because I have wronged him in some way. I am supposed to seat him properly at her red plastic table in the morning while I fix her hair. ("NOOOOO! Teddy wants to sit on the stool! Not the chair!") Then I am supposed to sit him upright on the dining room table while she eats her waffle (with surry-up). We have to bring him to the grocery store. ("Can't Teddy just sit in the car? We won't be long." "No!") We bring him to church. We bring him out to dinner.

In order to grab Teddy for his date with the washing machine, I had to sneak into the kid's room at 5:00 a.m. and wrest him from her sleeping body. My goal was to have him clean and dry by the time she left the house with her father. And the plan worked. Teddy is now (temporarily) clean and de-gooey-ified. I feared his side seam would open up and spill Teddy guts all over my washer and/or dryer, but the $5.00 bear held his innards in. God love him. Twice since Teddy came to live with us, I have taken A to Build-a-Bear and spent far too much for larger and more attractive plush toys. They sit stoically on A's bed, while the clearance rack bear goes everywhere with her.

I just want to state for the record that if Teddy ever gets lost, I am moving across the country and changing my identity.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Secret

My mom called to chat last night and, since the kid was up way past her bedtime, I decided to let her talk to my mom as well.

I handed her the phone and listened to A's side of the conversation.

"Tell her the secret about underpants," I suggested. Lately she thinks it's hilarious to grab my head and whisper this secret into my ear: "Underpaaaaaaaaaants." I think you'll agree that the word "underpants" is its own punchline and is just inherently funny to say.

A scowled at my suggestion, though. "No, I'm gonna tell Meemaw a nice secret!"

She turned back to the phone and held it up to her mouth. "Meemaw," she said sweetly, "I wish I loved you."

I couldn't help but laugh. She thinks of a wish as a nice thing (like a hope or a promise) and didn't mean it in any negative way. It was just one of those classic "hey, I'm just learning this language, fer-cryin-out-loud" moments.

I took the phone back and my mom was laughing, too. "I think I'm cutting her off," she said, meaning the endless booty that she sends my daughter.

Talking to a three-year-old on the phone is an interesting project, though. It's like pure stream of consciousness. I was out of town with friends for part of the weekend and called in to see how the kid and her father were doing.

Me: What did you have for breakfast?
Her: I had cereal. What did you have, Mama?
Me: I had a granola bar.
Her: Father! Mama had a granola bar! [pause] She had a granola bar! No, a granola bar!
Her: Mama, I hope you can come back.
Me: I'll be back. I'm going to the museum with my friends.
Her: Oh. Tell your friend that we have a little cat downstairs. (Our "little" cat is so fat that her swinging belly nearly touches the floor, but I'm not one to split hairs.)
Me: Okay. Do you want me to bring you something?
Her: Yes, bring me a flower.
Me: A flower? Well, maybe I could bring you a flower.
Her: An open flower, okay?
Me: Oh, okay.
Her: Mama, do you like pink soap? I like pink soap.
Me: Yes, I like pink soap. What are you and Father doing today? (she is still in this phase of calling him Father, though she has reverted back to Mama for me)
Her: We are going to Chuck E Cheese!

When P got back on the phone he seemed to have no inkling of this Chuck E Cheese plot that had been hatched, but did end up taking her later in the afternoon.

That's all the news for now. Just remember, when you're having a bad day, tell someone the underpants secret. I don't care who you are - that's some funny shit.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I need a piece of water

A short nap in the garage, fruit snack still in hand

It's true what they say about kid's uttering "the darndest things."

Yesterday as we left A's dance class at the Y, she started yelling, "But Mama, I need a piece of water!" She had spotted a water fountain and needed a piece of refreshment, I guess.

On the way home, the sun was setting so it was coming into our van at all sorts of odd, irritating angles. I handed the kid her sunglasses.

"Mama, the sun is birking me."

"It's what? Bugging you?"

"No, it's BIRKING me."

"Oh okay, it's birking me, too."

Birking seems as good a word as any other, I suppose.

Is it Friday yet? I need a piece of wine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

It's Defective

The kid had her first dental appointment yesterday. The dental hygienist and the dentist both agreed that she was one of the more willing three-year-olds they had seen. I wish I had taken my camera because she looked darned cute sitting there in the big chair getting her spit sucked right out of her.

And then we ran into a little snag. Don't ask me how I have failed to notice this, because I feel like I know every inch of her, but we learned that . . . she has an underbite. Frankly, I'm not sure that I'm prepared to deal with a defect of this magnitude. Dr. Fay assured me that "she just comes this way" (in other words, she was already defective when she left the factory and it has nothing to do with the fact that I let her sleep with a nuk in her mouth for far too long).

So now I have visions of orthodontia and headgear and retainers dancing in my head. There goes my vacation home in the Carolinas. Drat!

I mean, first the birthmark (hemangioma) on her ribcage and now a misaligned jaw? Oy.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Giddy and Chloe, Sittin’ in a Tree

My boy Gideon has a new girlfriend. Or, ball and chain is more like it. That’s probably what he calls her under his breath.

Chloe definitely wears the figurative pants in this relationship. Whenever she thinks he’s getting out of line or being in some way non-compliant, she grabs him by his skinny hips and humps him. Giddy is around four years old and Chloe is fifteen months, so in essence he has sold his soul to a puppy.

We have two resident dogs, Giddy the Boxer and Karl the big black fluffy dog. Karl is nearly ten and definitely doesn’t want to wrestle. He has a limited tolerance for the youngsters. He lies in the corner looking perturbed while they play, and I always imagine him saying things like, “When I was your age I walked to school in the snow – it was uphill both ways!”

Fostering is a lot of work but one nice benefit is that it gives Giddy a friend, even if just for a few weeks. Chloe is deaf and harder to place, so she will probably be with us for a while. She and Gideon run around the backyard together, and then come indoors for Wrestlemania. She plays dirty, though. She grabs my boy by his jowly lip and then bites it. He screams like a girl, but she can’t hear him. So she just bites harder and then shakes her head. He retaliates by biting the backs of her legs, but he lost most of his teeth in an apparent hit-by-a-car episode that occurred before we adopted him. So he’s not what you’d call a formidable opponent. He is slightly larger so he usually just resorts to pinning her down and hoping for the best.

When the match is over, they retire to the guest room and lay on the bed in there. Gideon usually ends up being Chloe’s pillow.

Despite her tenacity in the ring, Chloe is actually a very sweet girl. She is smart and picks up hand signals quickly. I taught her to “shake” in one session and now we are working on the “down” command. She adores my daughter, even though the kid is not always that nice to Chloe. Chloe likes to jump on A’s bed in the mornings and let’s just say that the kid is not a morning person. I don’t think A understands Chloe’s deafness. I’ve tried to explain it several times but she persists in yelling, “Get out of my bed, Chloe!” every morning. I showed A how to make the hand signal for “no” and she is getting pretty close. At night her Chloe tolerance is much higher – they hang out in my bed and watch “Oswald” together before turning in. (On an unrelated note, I just noticed the other day that Fred Savage does the voice for Oswald. Squiggy from Laverne & Shirley is on the show, too! Seriously, if you are wondering where the stars of yesteryear have gone, check Nick Jr.)

We’ve done something kind of unusual with Chloe, which is that we allow her to sleep in our bed. Normally we do not allow dogs (particularly foster dogs) on the bed because it sometimes causes dogs to get too big for their fur and then the next thing you know, they’re trying to assert their supposed authority in other areas, too. But with Chloe being so young, we don’t want her wandering the house at night. Knowing where she is in the wee hours is definitely better than the alternative. She spoons with me like my Lucy did, though she doesn’t groan and snore and sigh like Lucy did. And, like Lucy, she’s a good egg.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Morose Mother's Day

Warning: abundant self-pity ahead . . .

Mother's Day was a bust this year.

Maybe P's family didn't make a big deal about Mother's Day when he was a kid. Or maybe he just didn't know that I was hoping for something, anything. He was sick on Saturday so I suppose I have to cut him some slack for that, but if he didn't persist in leaving everything until the last minute, it wouldn't be such a problem. I had mentioned to him a few weeks ago that I could use some summer pajamas. I thought maybe he would take the kid shopping and pick some out. Then on Friday he announced that he hadn't bought anything and that we could all go to the mall together on Saturday. Oh.

I took the kid to a birthday party on Saturday afternoon and then brought her home. I decided to go back out and do a little shopping by myself. I had a Gymboree coupon that was burning a hole in my pocket. I ended up buying some summer things for the kid. I did buy some unremarkable pajamas for myself from T.J. Maxx, which I could have done without needing a special occasion.

P was feeling better today so I was hoping maybe he would surprise me or something. He milled about aimlessly this morning while I busied myself with feeding and dressing our child. Then I went outside to pick up dog poop. I kept waiting for him to say, "I'll take care of that! You sit down - it's Mother's Day, after all!" Okay, he would never say any thing vaguely like that but a girl can dream, you know.

By mid-morning I was in tears. I started wondering if I would be treated differently if I had birthed this child of ours. Then I started wondering if my other four babies had died in utero because God knew I would not be a good mother. And then my thoughts drifted into the realm of what a horrible mother I clearly am, because I was unable to get A to eat anything except Sun Chips and applesauce for dinner last night.

A and I went to church, which usually succeeds in uplifting me. But soon all the talk about brunches and gifts and flowers left me looking upward at the ceiling, trying not to cry in public.

Later, P said that we should all go out to lunch but by then it all just felt sort of "too little too late-ish." I thought maybe he would run out while we were at church and buy A a card to sign, but there was nothing on the counter when we got home. At one point I saw something in his hand and felt my heart jump because I thought it was a card after all! But it was a lottery ticket.

By late afternoon I decided to stop wallowing and to take the kid to the wildlife sanctuary. We purchased a bag of corn and attempted to unload it on ducks and geese that were, apparently, all corned out. A didn't really notice, though, and just kept tossing the hardened kernels into the shallow lagoon. We also walked through the nature center and stopped in the gift shop. I bought her a windmill-on-a-stick toy (which was taken away two hours later when she smacked one of the dogs with it). We studied each animal exhibit until we found its advertised inhabitant. She picked a bajillion dandelions and then made me carry them.

She's too young to know that today was supposed to be different from other days. But she loves me every day, despite my copious shortcomings as a mother. Maybe a wilted dandelion was all I really needed after all.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

You Can't Go Home Again

My first car, in front of the old house. I can't believe I actually took a photo of that car. But c'mon, it was mine and it had a sunroof! And a tape deck!

Was it Thomas Wolfe who said you can't go home again? Or am I thinking of The Great Gatsby? In any case, I can't go home again. And I'm feeling downright melancholy about it. Because for the past 12 years (since I moved to the midwest), I always felt like I actually could go home again.

When I tell someone, "I'm going home for Thanksgiving," they often look at me quizzically and say, "Don't you, um, go home every day?" But, you know, there's home and then there's home.

I spent the first 26 years of my life in the DC area (P and I lived in sin in Northern VA for a couple years after I moved out of my parents' house when I was 23 - hey, I was a full-time college student so don't even go there), so in many ways it is still home to me. My parents' home is comfortable, familiar. Just about everything is in the same spot it was in when I moved out 15 years ago. When I go back to visit I know I can find a bag of potato chips in the pantry - and that the pantry door will open with a squeak and that the handle is just about to fall off. I know there is cereal on top of the refrigerator. I know that the sink in the pink bathroom doesn't work right (and is now even less right after my dad "fixed" it recently). I know that the TV doesn't start working until about 20 minutes after you have turned it on. I know which chair in the living room is my mom's and I know not to sit there. I know, it seems, everything about that house.

My parents are in the process of moving to Oklahoma (where my wee baby sister lives with her husband and son). My mom is already down there, having flown out on a one-way ticket. My dad will figure out what to do with 20 years of accumulated stuff and then join her over the summer. They have four cats and my dad is going to drive down there and deliver them to my mom soon. My dad + four cats + an old Thunderbird + 1400 miles = sheer madness. Pop has promised me exclusive rights to this travel story for my blog, and I think it is going to be a good 'un.

I have to admit that in a way I'm relieved to be living so far away because otherwise I might feel obligated to head over to the house and help. I mean, there is an unfathomable amount of stuff in that house. My dad sells a lot of toys and whatnot on eBay, so the basement is full of inventory. My mom collects high-thread-count linens and bedding at a rate that would be alarming even to the Trumps. The linen closet in the hallway has been overflowing ever since I can remember.

I told my parents that if any cash is found in my old bedroom, it's definitely mine. We moved into that house when I was 16 or so. There was a bedroom in the basement so I claimed it. I froze my ass off for all the years I lived there, but at that age it definitely seemed better than being in a room right next to my parents. I also had my own bathroom down there. The bathroom had this horrible goldish copperish wallpaper that was festooned with a fuzzy black felt filigree. Later, when I was in my 20s, I would come home after drinking at a local ladies' night and would find myself sitting in the bathroom, rubbing that spectacular wallpaper with my fingertips.

Me, not sure what year. Somewhere in the early 90s.

See the white post in the picture above? The one on the porch? Yeah, it served no purpose. In fact, it was not even attached at the bottom (still isn't, I'm sure). I'm sure my sisters and I all have at least one story about some hapless date walking us to the front door, leaning suavely against the post, and then . . . that momentary look of horror as the bottom slid across the concrete and he lurched backwards. Ah, the memories. We also had a spindly little knee-high rose bush in the front yard. We never did anything for that poor bush - no watering, no pruning, nothing. And yet it held on for years and years. We called it the "first date bush." Every boy would trip over it at least once.

Believe it or not, my parents never owned the house. They didn't want to buy it because they had it in the back of their collective mind that they would move once all the kids were out of school (the last kid finished college in 2004, I think). The house is owned by a smallish Asian man named Mr. Long. My parents never minded him too much because for the most part he left them alone, except to contact them periodically to raise the rent. My parents have asked for repairs just a few times over the past 20 years. At one point, portions of the house needed a new coat of paint. Mr. Long sent over another short Asian man, Mr. Lee, and assigned him the task of painting. Mr. Lee painted as high as he could reach (while standing flat-footed on the floor) and then went home. Eventually my parents stopped asking for repairs because Mr. Lee didn't seem to have any particular skills as a handyman. And neither did my dad. So when an electrical outlet stopped working, we simply grabbed an extension cord and plugged in our appliances in some other outlet.

Homecoming dance, 1987

Check out my homecoming picture. I loved that dress and I don't care who knows it. I still have it, though I can't get it zipped. That carpeting is still in the house, by the way. Rusty brown isn't really a bad way to go when you have kids, let me tell ya. That gumball machine is still around, too. My parents have to hide it from the grandkids so it gets moved from room to room when they come over. If there is still gum in the machine, it is older than old.

I can't help but wonder who will live there next. Maybe they will care about the lawn. God knows we never did. Maybe their kids will sneak out at night through the kitchen door, like my middle sister did. Maybe they'll have a teenage daughter who will choose the basement bedroom. That bedroom has a long window that looks out at ground level of the back yard. One time my parents stuck pink flamingos in the grass about a foot from my window, just to irk me. I wonder if the new family will turn the dining room back into a place where you eat instead of the sewing room it is now. I wonder if the kids will stand in the picture window to wait for guests to arrive. I wonder if the new family will feed the birds and squirrels that my mother has fed all these years. I wonder . . .

I will still go back to DC because my middle sister and her family still live there. Also, my grandma, my father (the other father), and lots of friends and relatives. It's just going to be very odd not to go to that old house anymore. Very strange, aye.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Fish are Not Vegetables (and other random lessons)

After we got back from our trip on Sunday, I decided to run to the grocery store (well, "run" isn't exactly the right word . . . that makes it sound like I dig it and well, I don't). As I rounded the corner in the frozen foods aisle, I spotted a hair-netted lady with some clumpy-looking samples on a tray. 99 times out of 100, samples at the grocery store are not something I can or would eat, so generally I just ignore the food sample hawkers.

"Would you like to try some salmon burger?"

Now, normally I just say, "No, thank you." But something possessed me to say this: "No, thank you. I'm a vegetarian."

Her smile faded a little. "Oh, but it's FISH."

"Right, which means it's not vegetarian."

The lady couldn't let it go, though. "My daughter was a vegetarian in college, but she ate fish."

I smiled tightly and walked away, because dissing her daughter didn't seem appropriate under the circumstances. I was half an aisle away and could hear her saying, "Some vegetarians eat fish!"

My friend Jen became a vegan about a year ago and encounters far more challenges than a run-of-the-mill vegetarian like me does. Not long ago she ordered some pasta in a restaurant and asked all the questions she needed to ask in order to ensure she was getting a vegan meal. Her dish arrived with copious amounts of Parmesan cheese on top. "Um, what's this?" she asked the server. "Oh, it's just Parmesan," the server replied. "Parmesan what?" Ohhhhhh

In other news, the kid had her annual visit with her pediatrician today. He examined her and deemed her "normal." And by "normal" I'm assuming that he meant "exceptional in every way."

After we left the doctor's office, she and I headed to the post office. I needed to mail a box to my parents and pick up an express mail package. First the lady informed me that the express mail package wasn't there because it was still riding around on a truck. I guess I didn't read the happy little "we tried to deliver your package but you forgot to quit your job and stay home to wait for it" slip very carefully.

Then I put the box for my parents on the counter. The postal lady looked down at the address label that I had printed from my computer. "You're mailing this to the same zip code?" she asked. Meaning, the same zip code we were standing in. I looked down at the box and noted with horror that I had PUT MY OWN ADDRESS ON THE BOX. "Um, nope, not mailing it," I said quickly and took the box back. I couldn't think of anything to say to account for my stupidity. I'm a secret shopper! Just testing you to see if you notice when people try to mail boxes to themselves!

You see, I used to be quite sane and organized. I really did! Ask my friends and relatives! And now I'm just a moron who doesn't understand how the postal system works. Woe is me.

All Over But the Shoutin'

The big birthday weekend in the big city went off without a hitch. It rained a lot on Saturday, so we were forced to schlep umbrellas wherever we went. Or, umbabrellas, if you prefer. That's what the kid calls them.

It turns out that I needn't have worried about getting access to the indoor water park that was in our hotel. They were more than happy to sell us the overpriced tickets when we got there. We also enjoyed paying the $22.00 fee for parking.

We hit the children's museum first. Basically what we do at this type of joint is to tag-team the kid so that she doesn't get abducted. We chased her from exhibit to exhibit, trying our best to keep an eye on the kid with the bouncing curls and the birthday t-shirt. I think her favorite attraction was a simple little slide . . . kind of like the one we could visit anytime (for free) at the park in our neighborhood. We also fell into the "you have to walk through the gift shop to get out of this place" trap and bought her a plastic piece o' crap from a bin that was conveniently located at a three-year-old's eye level.

Then it was off to lunch. We were right next to a mall so we just went to the food court and hit the Qdoba. I don't know what it was about that place, or maybe it was just that we weren't used to being in a big city, but it was an experience. I ordered a burrito and the lady kept asking, "black or pinto?" So I would say, "black" and then ten seconds later: "Ma'am, do you want black or pinto?" "Um, still black." I could see her lips moving and I could hear sound coming out, but nothing was connecting. We ordered a cheese quesadilla off the kid's menu for the short one. "Would you add black beans to that?" I asked. After conferring with a manager, she informed me that it would cost extra. "That's fine," I said. When we got to the register, there sat a cheese quesadilla with no beans. "Are there beans in this?" I asked as politely as I could. Blank stare. "You wanted beans?" I guess there is something to be said for those glass enclosed make-it-in-front-of-you joints, because I'm pretty sure no one had a chance to spit in my food in retaliation for my unreasonable bean-related requests.

After checking into our hotel, we changed and headed straight down to the water park. As indoor water parks go, I have to say it was pretty nice. All of the pools were generally shallow enough that A was able to stand up in them and not drown. I spent half the afternoon yelling, "Stop running!" and she went careening across one wet pavement after another. I felt like I was a fifth-grade safety patrol all over again.

Eventually we wrung ourselves out and headed back to our hotel room. It seemed as good a time as any to indulge in pink birthday cake (and, as promised, the cake was new and not used). The kid also opened the gifts we bought her: roller skates, safety gear (helmet and pads), and a Leapfrog Word Whammer for the fridge. If you are a parent and have suffered through the Letter Factory and Word Factory DVDs a thousand times like I have, I'm sure you know allllll about the Word Whammer. It has spots for three letters so that you can build small words (I have a theory about why it only has three letters: because all the good cuss words have at least four).

For dinner we headed to Red Robin, the kid-friendliest dining establishment out there. I had signed her up for some sort of birthday club, so she got her meal for free. And they sang to her, which she loved. They brought her a free ice cream sundae. Between the birthday cake (and apparently she did sign the kid contract that requires her to eat just the icing) and the ice cream, we feared that later we would be faced with a sugar buzz like none we had ever seen.

We finished up the evening with another trip to the water park. Actually, I persuaded my other half to take the kid back down there. I came down and took some photos but when I go swimming, I'm not easily put back together. One swimming excursion in a day was enough for me. When they got back to the room, I thought the kid would be wiped out. It was around 9:30 by then. Instead, she stripped off her swimsuit and announced, "I HAVE TO COLOR!" as though national security depended on it. So, she colored in, well, her birthday suit. She finally succumbed at around 10:30 and slept for the next 11 hours.

Sunday morning we continued the healthy eating trend with some grub from Dunkin Donuts. (For the record, we did have egg and cheese sandwiches, but all the kid wanted was a "black donut.") After breakfast, we headed out of town and stopped at Build-a-Bear for the final hurrah of the birthday weekend. She picked out a teddy bear and went through the assembly line of stuffing, fluffing, etc. Then we got to the part I was dreading - the part where you have to sit down at the computer and name the bear. She had already informed us that the bear was a female. "What is her name?" I asked. "Bear," she said. Intense negotiations ensued because she already has a "Bear" and "Monkey" and "Dog." Finally she did come up with a name on her own: Sally.

So, that's about it for the weekend festivities. We're tired and . . . broke. And now we have a three-year-old on our hands, which means we made it through the Terrible Two's! Not that she really knows the difference. When we ask her how old she is she says, "May third."

Friday, May 2, 2008

Happy Birthday, Beautiful Girl

We are going out of town for the big birthday celebration, so I'm posting this a day early . . .

To my curly-haired, smart, funny, comet of a kid . . . happy third birthday! Not a day goes by that I don't wonder how I got so lucky. Being your mom is the greatest gift I have ever been given. Even during your 6:18 a.m. daily meltdown, I still feel blessed. From the day I met you at the hospital, I knew you would turn my world upside down. I was so full of love for you, from that very first moment. I just wanted to hold you, breathe you in, and protect you from anything and everything that even hinted at villainy. They say that a mother can muster up enough adrenaline to pull a car off her child. I really think I could do that, but don't test it out, okay?

I love you for all that you are now and for the person you are becoming. So keep on laughing, keep on singing, and keep on "dancing down the street with your suede blue eyes."

Happy birthday!