A Book, A Contest, And a Hell of a Sandwich

You know that saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? That’s me right now.

Actually, that’s a bit of a stretch.

Overwhelmed Mother of four who is dropping balls right and left, who has abandoned Weight Watchers, who hasn’t cooked a vegetable this calendar month, but is surprisingly well versed in this season’s talent on both American Idol and The Voice. Who may also have a teeny tiny simultaneous crush on Blake Shelton, Adam Levine, and Harry Connick Jr.

Well, yes, that sounds about right.

I was talking to someone recently, describing how I feel a little overextended. And by talking, I mean crying. I don’t know if it was the twitching of my eye or the dusting of confectioner’s sugar across my chin, but she hit me with some hardcore Oprah.

“You know what Oprah says. ‘You can only do three things well at one time.’”

Fucking Oprah.

I hate it when she’s right.

And she’s always fucking right.

Except for the time she laid into James Frey about A Million Little Pieces. She went too far that time.

So I thought about what three things I’m doing well in my life right now.

Eating? Yes. I’m eating semi-well, but I’m chasing two of three meals a day with chocolate. And I now need a late afternoon coffee to get me through the dark hours otherwise known as homework, baths, dinner, and bedtime. You know, the quality family hours. Also, I’ve made this ironclad contract with myself that pizza should be consumed with beer. And beer goes best with two slices of pizza + the cheese from Waldorf’s pizza.

So eating? Maybe not so well.

Sleeping? Yes, I’m sleeping. But every single morning at 4 AM, the cat pushes the bedroom door open, jumps onto the bed, climbs across my husband and begins grooming my hair and face with her long claws and her sandpaper tongue. And it fucking hurts. And her cat breath stinks. I have to envelop myself in a cocoon of covers, but I’m mildly claustrophobic, so as soon as I start panicking that I can’t breathe, I peel the covers back and BOOM! That bitch is on me again.

So sleeping? Not doing it well.

Wifely duties? I’ve been wearing flannel pajama bottoms like it’s my job. I pair them with a hideous bright blue sweatshirt with a penguin emerging from a Superman emblem on the front. It came with the entry fee to a local five mile race. It’s as comfortable as it is unflattering.

So wifely duties? Negative.

Mom stuff? I’m on top of the sorting, the washing, and the drying of the laundry. The folding? Not so much.

Would you like to have a seat?

Would you like to have a seat?

I’ve announced, “It’s breakfast for dinner!” at least four out of seven nights a week since…oh, I don’t know…Thanksgiving. We are down to one presentable pair of pants for each of my kids. And by presentable I mean I fully expect you to ignore the gaping hole in the left knee and the fact that said pants are short enough that my kid’s ankles are showing.

All things Mom? Not setting the world on fire.

Exercise schedule? I was fully prepared to run on the treadmill the other day. I noticed that the snow-blower is parked directly in the treadmill’s path on my back patio. It looks like it weighs five gazillion pounds. It’s on wheels, and I probably could have tried to move it. But that seemed like a lot of fuss, so I ditched my run and headed straight to the fridge to bust out four rectangles of chocolate. Oh, come on, it was dark chocolate.

Working out? Meh.

Breathing? Involuntary breathing is a no-brainer. Yoga-matching-my-movements-to-my-breath-breathing? I suck. I keep holding my breath in yoga class when something hurts. And don’t roll your eyes, that shit is hard. And every time my instructor tells me to be present and bring my breath to where I feel uncomfortable, I find myself wondering if that means I should blow on my left hip and then I wish I were somewhere else. Eating chocolate. Yes, dark chocolate. Jeez.

So, breathing? Don’t hold your breath.

Writing? I have so many stories. So very many stories. If you’re Facebook friends with me, you’ve probably noticed that my status updates are breaking records for number of characters used to communicate one stinking thought. And, yes, I did see M. Night Shymalan, and yes, I did lean across an unsuspecting Waldorf and scream, “You are the BEST! The BEST!” And I didn’t feel at all embarrassed except when I added, “Woohoo, go Philly!” I’ll admit, that was possibly the geekiest thing I’ve ever yelled across my oldest child at a famous movie director. But I like to think he appreciated it. Is this a blog post begging to be written? Absolutely. Add it to the list. The list right below the Costco list that is growing faster than my kids, who don’t own a pair of pants that actually fit them. Oh, but do me a solid and add “Superfruits” to that Costco list because we’re all out. Thanks.

So, writing? On Facebook, yes. Stringing sentences together to create paragraphs containing a beginning, middle, and end? Nope.

If I think hard–really hard–about something I’m doing well right now, I can come up with one thing. And it’s three words, so it may have to count as three things.

1. Buffalo

2. Chicken

3. Sandwiches

Boom!

We’re eating them once, sometimes twice, a week. And the older boys only complain that they’re too spicy to consume every other time I make them. So, I’m killing it—half the time—with the buffalo chicken sandwiches.

Take that, Oprah.

You know who is doing three things well right now?

My husband. Yes, B&B is handling his juggling act with ease, and he has JUST as big a crush as I do on Adam, Blake, and Harry. Except he looks way hotter than I do right now. Because of the Weight Watchers fail/no vegetables consumed/eating my feelings in chocolate situation.

This summer, it will be twenty years since he, a very tall, deeply tan, alarmingly handsome boy whose name I didn’t yet know, leaned over to me and said, “I’d like to buy you a drink, but the bar just closed. Where will you be on Saturday night? I’ll make sure I’m there too.”

I haven’t been able to shake him since and, believe me, I’ve tried. If I had to list three things he is doing well as an individual, they are three things that also make us work as a unit.

1. He is the bomb diggity of all Dads. He plays with the kids. And has actual fun doing it. And he likes to help them with their homework if they have questions. The dreaded math questions are his favorites to answer. He reads to them, he bathes them, and he disciplines them. Not as well as I do, but still, he is an active participant in the raising of our children.

2. He has interests outside of mine. For instance, I find Ultimate Fighting barbaric. He cannot get enough of it. He is an adrenaline junky. I prefer predictable (read boring) routine. He needs to understand how things work. I just like to know that things are indeed working. He hates doing the dishes. Oh, wait, that’s not a good example.

3. He lets me do my thing. (My thang?) Whatever my thing is, he supports me. These days, that thing is writing. He is even supportive when I write about him.

I wrote a story about B&B and his hobbies, and I got lucky enough that it landed in a book. And I did not throw him under the bus. Not this time at least. It is surrounded by hilarious stories written by some of the funniest broads on the internet. It’s all about the men in our lives. It’s called I Just Want to Be Alone, and it’s the sequel to I Just Want to Pee Alone.

Real books. That is my thing. I’m lucky to have a husband who supports my writing, and I am so enormously grateful to Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat for carving out a spot for me in both of these anthologies.

I really want you to do a girl a favor and buy the new book.

I said this to my husband. I said it because it's true.

I said this to my husband. I said it because it’s true.

It’s funny. And laughter is good. It heals. It gives you laugh lines. Laugh lines are the sign of a happy person. Buy this book. Laugh. It makes me happy to make you happy. Help me help you.

I’ve teamed up with my co-authors from Pennsylvania to give away five copies of I Just Want to Be Alone for free. Meredith of The Mom of the Year, Stephanie of When Crazy Meets Exhaustion, Christine of Keeper of The Fruit Loops, and I are bound by the polar vortex nightmare that has been this PA winter. We are bound by a love of story-telling that inspires us to look at the chaos of our lives–polar vortex included–through the lens of humor. Most importantly, our stories are bound together–polar vortex not included–in the pages of this kick ass book.

Four winners will receive a copy of I Just Want to Be Alone. One especially lucky winner will receive a copy of the book and a $25 Amazon gift card. I know. Totally awesome. If contests are your thing, you can enter this contest to win the book by clicking on the Rafflecopter below. The contest ends at midnight on March 26th, 2014, and winners will be contacted via email. To enter, you must be 18 or older and live in the continental U.S.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to make dinner. Guess what we’re having?

Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through

4 kids + Camp Mom = 87 long days of summer. We’ve officially reached the halfway point. No broken bones. Only one sunburn incident (the children were spared). A few minor cuts. Minimal mosquito bites.  Most importantly, my sanity remains intact.  I’ve learned a few things in the past six weeks.

The Little Lessons

I love having no schedule.

I hate having no schedule.

The minute a stranger tells you, “Your children are so well behaved,” is the instant they show their true colors and make a liar out of that stranger.

When I take the kids to Walmart, they will play hide-n-seek.

If there is a knock on the door, it only comes when I’m not wearing a bra.

When I take the kids to Costco, they will play hide-n-seek.

Legos are dangerous. They should be played with in a home where shoes are mandatory.

When I take the kids to the Acme, they will play hide-n-seek.

Neil Diamond is better in concert at 71 than he was at 51.

When I take the kids to Target, they will play hide-n-seek.

Making recipes I’ve pinned to Pinterest is a pipe dream.

summersnapshots

There is absolutely no reason to consume ice cream every night. Which is precisely why I eat it for lunch some days. You know, to mix things up.

When there is a glass of liquid on a flat surface in my house, my 3 year old’s elbow will be drawn to it like a moth to a flame. My reaction:

Week 1: “That’s OK, sweetheart, it was an accident!”

Week 3: Sigh. “Here’s a towel. Please wipe it up.”

Week 6: “Again?! From now on, if you’re thirsty, drink straight from the goddamn faucet!”

A 9 year old boy can thrive on a breakfast of 2 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries for 45 straight days. On the 46th day, he will eat 3 waffles with Nutella and sliced strawberries.

There is nothing wrong with splitting an entire bag of Sun Chips with 4 children and considering it a healthy lunch for the 5 of you.

A fedora can stay on my 6 year old’s head while he does flips in a pool. Underwater. It’s no wonder that the fedora is Indiana Jones’ hat of choice.

When my husband and I are spitting distance from the Phillies dugout, and 2 females wearing infants stroll down the stadium steps, they will inevitably sit in the empty seats directly in front of us. And obstruct our view by bouncing said children on their laps the entire night. And ask my husband to take pictures of them with their babies. Every inning. And shriek repeatedly, “Aren’t they the cutest babies you’ve ever seen?” And we’ll agree. Until the 7th inning, when my husband finally answers, “Actually, they’re not nearly as cute as the 4 kids we left at home. Where they belong.”  Never prouder, I will turn to him and announce, “Honey, you’re getting lucky tonight.”

Down in front, baby!

A chipmunk can play dead convincingly enough that my cat buys it. That same chipmunk can wait until the cat turns his back, then wink at me to let me know he’s still, in fact, very much alive.

When my husband announces to me on a Monday morning, “Oops, I forgot, I have a golf outing today. I probably won’t be home until after 10PM,” I’m going to need some time to digest that information. I’ll probably need to sit in a corner, hug my knees, and quietly sob. Don’t judge.

I don’t really like crab fries. Unless they are dipped in cheese. This is a discovery I didn’t need to make.

Parents whose kids are attending sleep away camp are easy to identify. They are either the adults who look tan, well-rested, and supremely happy…or they are the adults who see me with my 4 kids and proceed to laugh and point at me. I wish each of them a peaceful summer. And the pointers…I wish an unplanned pregnancy. May you be blessed with twins.

Perler beads…like pine needles from a Christmas tree…can be found months after cleaning them up.

Boot camp on the beach sounds great in theory. It’s a nut punch in reality. A sweaty, sandy nut punch. And I’ll still eat the donut that’s waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I get home. How could I not? It’s still warm. For. The. Love. Of. God.

The $1 movie at Regal Cinemas on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings is the best deal out there. When there are 3 busloads of camp kids in line ahead of me, I grab my youngest child and urgently yell, “He has to poop! We need to get to the bathroom…he has to poop!” I cover his mouth with my hand before he rats me out. Race to the front of the line. Then sneak into the theater first. For 5 glorious minutes, my kids tell me I’m as cool as their Daddy. Totally worth the scene I made in the lobby.

When the guys fishing on the beach pull 4 foot sharks out of the ocean, one after another, for over an hour, there’s no need to avoid swimming. Even when you have your period. Don’t ask. Just trust me. It’s perfectly safe to go into those shark infested waters.

A cat is able to launch its body at a closed, locked bedroom door so violently that the door swings open. It sounds very much like a cannon firing from the hallway into your bedroom. And it only happens at 5AM.

When I take the kids to the mall, and Party Rock Anthem begins playing over the speaker system, they will immediately form a straight line and bust out the moves to  Dance Party 3 in perfect synchronicity. Strangers will mistake this for a flash mob and snap pictures with their iPhones and post them to FB and Twitter.

When I clap my hands and relay the news, “Guys, Mommy’s piece made the Huffington Post!” like I did here, here, and here, 4 sets of eyeballs will stare at me blankly. Then one of them will pass gas, and a game of “who farted?” will ensue.

The library shouldn’t put out games for small children. Because my 3 year old will play the game, then fist pump and yell, “YES! I WINNED!!!” Forcing my 10 year old to yell, “BE QUIET!” To which the 3 year old replies, “YOU BE QUIET! YOU’RE NOT THE POLICE OF MINE EYEBALLS!” So my 6 year old chimes in with, “BOTH OF YOU, STOP FIGHTING!” The 3 year old and 10 year old then take it to the ABC rug in the children’s section. Naturally, the 6 year old screams, “STOP FIGHTING! MOM! THEY’RE FIGHTING!” My 9 year old will continue to read his chapter book like an angel play his DS as though he were in a trance. And my attempt to hide behind the reference books until the entire thing blows over will prove unsuccessful when the 6 year old finds me and inquires, “Mom, are you hiding on that bookshelf?”

If you take 4 kids to a self serve frozen yogurt store, even after you say, “do NOT touch ANYTHING,” not once, not twice, but three times, the oldest will think he’s “helping” by serving himself. He will in fact over serve himself, and his yogurt will cost $9. Not to be outdone, his 9 year old brother will serve himself while I am chastising the 10 year old. His yogurt will cost $9.15. And when the 9 year old discovers he’s chosen original tart flavor instead of snickerdoodle, his punishment will be to eat all $9.15 worth of it. And he will man up and do it. And I will swallow back tears of pride and think, “Well, now. That’s my boy.”

The Big Lessons

There’s nothing like spending a hazy afternoon at a friend’s pool with my kids. 11 kids, 6 on giant rafts, laughing, swimming, splashing…the quintessential summer pool party. We parents marvel at how our children are growing…not yet teenagers, but no longer our little boys. We take time to swallow over the lumps in our throats and tell one another how lucky we feel that our kids are friends. And that we, in turn, have become friends.  I go home on a day like that feeling like life is good.

I wake up the next morning to the news that an armed man has walked into a movie theater in Colorado and opened fire on the audience. People are dead. More people are injured. Witnesses are traumatized. The country is in shock. I am tasked with telling my older children. My job is to find the right words. Words that will educate them. That will instill just enough fear to be cautious. That will provide just enough comfort to feel protected. Words that, once spoken, will hinder their belief that the world they live in is a safe place. I go to bed after a day like that feeling like life is not always so good.

I spend the first half of the summer hoping that the men in power surrounding Jerry Sandusky didn’t really know. Sandusky is sick. He’s broken. But the men in power around him…none of those men was sick. I spend the first half of summer hoping that, had they known, they’d have put the welfare of innocent children above everything. Innocent children. And my heart breaks just a little bit upon hearing that they knew enough. Yet they failed to act. And again, it’s my job to tell my older kids. To find the right words to warn them that monsters like Sandusky exist. To encourage them to trust their instincts when something or someone doesn’t feel right. To expect them to comprehend that the men surrounding this monster had an opportunity to be better men…but didn’t take it. To remind them that these men have families who are now devastated and suffering. And to teach them that these families deserve sympathy…understanding…privacy…peace.

Summer is half over. The little lessons I’ve learned have become memories. Snapshots in my head of perfect moments with my kids. Still young…and beautiful…and unaffected…and innocent. The big lessons I’ve learned have been sobering. Gut wrenching. They’ve been the catalyst for whispered conversations with my husband late into the night…Do we tell them? How do we tell them? When do we tell them? What do we tell them? They’ve been the topic of texts and poolside conversations with friends who care just as much as we do about keeping the lines of communication open between parents and children. Did you tell them? How did you tell them? When did you tell them? What did you tell them? What did they say? The big lessons have left me wishing I could keep my children blissfully ignorant. Sheltered. Protected. Do we really have to tell them? The answer for me is yes. We have to tell them. These things happened. The children…at least my older children…will find out. Best they hear it from the people they trust most in the world…the people who will tell them only what they need to hear. And answer their questions. And offer hugs. And suggest hope. Hope that no more big lessons like these need teaching…at least for the rest of the summer.

May the last of our summer be filled with little lessons. Snapshots in our heads of perfect moments with our children.

*An abridged version of this piece appeared in the July 24th edition of the Huffington Post. It ran in the Parents section under the title “Snapshots of Summer, Halfway Through”

Camp Mom. Week One.

The Interrogator trots past me. I glance up from the chocolate chip pancakes that aren’t quite ready to be flipped. He’s bare chested, and his shorts are on backwards. I smile.

They’re the same shorts he wore to bed last night. The same pair he had on yesterday.

I flip the pancakes. I hear footsteps descending the stairs. It’s the Kenyan. I smell him before I see him.

Me: “Good morning, Kenyan! Please turn yourself around and march back up those stairs for a shower. It’s been…how many days since you’ve showered?”

He touches his fingers while his lips silently mouth the days of the week.  His eyes glaze over as he does the mental math.

Kenyan: “6 days, Mom. I had a shower 6 days ago.”

Yowza.

Me: “That’s kinda gross, buddy.”

Kenyan: “Ooooh! Are those chocolate chip pancakes?”

I nod and point my spatula toward the stairs…which lead to the shower…which is long overdue.

Kenyan: “Oooh, Mom, are we going to the pool today?”

Me: “Probably.”

Kenyan: “No need for a shower. You say it all the time. Swimming in the pool counts as bathing.”

He has me there.

CampMom

Me: “Fair enough.”

I check the pancakes. Almost done. As I walk the syrup to the table, I see the Verb in the corner. His back is to me. He thinks I can’t see him.

Me: “What do you have over there, Verb?”

He gasps…baffled that I’ve discovered him. I hear the crinkling of a plastic bag. He turns around to face me. His mouth is outlined in dark chocolate. He grasps a bag of semi-sweet morsels between his 3 year old hands, also covered in dark chocolate.

Verb: Placing the bag behind his back, “I’m not holding anything behind mine back, Mom,” he tells me with a smile in a sing-song voice.

What age do they start lying? I forget. Is this developmentally appropriate?

He runs past me into the kitchen to return the chocolate chips to their rightful place in the pantry.

Me: “Where’s Waldorf?”

Interrogator: “He’s asleep, Mom. Waldorf’s asleep. I know because I went into his room to get some Legos. And he didn’t yell at me because he was asleep.”

I glance at the clock. 8:47AM.

The Interrogator is wearing yesterday’s clothes. The Kenyan hasn’t bathed in 6 solid days. The Verb is eating chocolate before breakfast. Waldorf is sacked out in his bed. I’m making breakfast that requires more of me than pushing buttons on the microwave.

Summer is here. 4 kids. All of them home. No extracurricular activities.

Camp Mom is in session.

How was week one?

It was an adjustment. Here are some high points…and some not so high points…

I gave birth to 4 kids. Somehow, I manage to accumulate more kids on Tuesday. And it rains. And I am hell bent on going to Costco. I have 5 kids with me at the time. But I time it perfectly so that we zip through that puppy during lunch time. Turns out all of the kids love chicken cutlets. Bonus. I grant them permission to stand next to the sample cart and eat as many free samples of that bird as they can stomach. Yes, I remind them to chew with their mouths closed. I’m not raising cavemen. I hold up the bag, catch the eye of the lady doling out samples, give her a smile, an emphatic nod, a thumbs up, and make sure she watches me place it in my cart…while I abandon 3 kids next to her sample cart housing her bite size pieces. It works out perfectly. (Good news)

By the time we arrive home, I round up 2 more kids. 7 boys. Stupidity factor increases exponentially. Common sense at a dangerous low. We live in a split level house. The Legos are all the way upstairs, the costumes are one level upstairs, the Wii is downstairs. The boys are up the stairs, they are down the stairs. Up, down, up, down, up, down. While I unpack the products I purchased in bulk, I dodge boys rounding the corner down the steps into the kitchen. I sidestep boys rounding the corner up the steps out of the kitchen.

Me: “Guys, no running in the house please.”

Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat. Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat.

Me: Louder, “Guys, no running in the house please.”

Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat. Giggle, giggle, dodge, sidestep. Repeat.

Me: Sigh. “GUYS, NO RUN..”

My 3rd warning is cut off as I am pinned against the piano. By a small child? Negative. By a large bear. Launched from the top of the steps.

I survive a bear attack. Original artwork by the Kenyan.

As I’m pinned under the bear, the guilty party flees the scene. A hit and run in my own home. The guilty party’s identity remains a mystery. (Bad news)

After crawling out from under the bear, I give all 7 boys a come to Jesus a choice:

“Legos upstairs or movie downstairs.”

They spend the remainder of the afternoon quietly playing. I spend it cooking. (Good news) Our indoor cat has a mad crush on me, so he keeps his eyes trained on me as he frolics around in the dining room. When I say frolics, I mean he really frolics. Dancing, prancing, up on his hind legs…I see him out of the corner of my eye while I cook. I assume he, like I, is jammin’ to Adam Levine.

Me: To the cat, “Fawkes, you got the moves like Jagger?”

I finally turn my full attention to him.

He does NOT have the moves like Jagger. He has a petrified chipmunk. On my dining room rug.

Our uninvited dinner guest

He’s been batting that nasty ass vermin around for a full hour while I, none the wiser, have been putting on my own Katy Perry concert in my kitchen. (Bad news)

I immediately perform the running man…double time. Very high knees.

Me: “Ew, ew, ew, ew, ew, WALDORF!”

Waldorf arrives at my rescue within seconds, “WHAT? WHAT’S THE MATTER?!”

He follows my line of sight. Discovers the dead chipmunk. Looks at me. Looks back at the cat.

Waldorf: Smiling, “Yes! Way to go, Fawkes!” to me, “I’ll be right back.”

I continue my high step running man. My chant changes to, “Ew, ew, ew, ew, disease, disease, DISEASE!”

Waldorf returns less than a minute later with all 3 of his brothers. And a camera.

Verb, “Oh, he’s so cutey, cute!”

Interrogator: “Mom, can we keep him, Mom? Can he sleep in my bed, Mom? I can feed him. I’ll feed him. Can we please, please, pretty please keep him? Can I pet him, Mom?”

He reaches out to pet the dead chipmunk.

“NO!!!!” comes the chorus from Waldorf, the Kenyan, and me.

Waldorf: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! You’ll ruin my picture!”

What?!

Kenyan: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! Fawkes will scratch you!”

Huh?!

Me: “Interrogator, don’t touch him! You’ll get a disease!!”

The four of them turn to look at me. I can’t remember a time when 4 faces looked at me so blankly. Wait that’s not true…I see that look on their faces almost daily.

Me: “Everybody head downstairs please. Daddy will take care of this.”

I text B&B:

“Will you be home soon? There is a dead fucking chipmunk on the dining room floor, and I just vomited in my mouth.”

He replies:

“Bwa ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!”

I text him:

“I didn’t catch your ETA…”

He replies:

“5 minutes.”

I dry heave, shiver, and back into the kitchen. Shake my head. Shiver some more.

So, that was Tuesday.

Wednesday afternoon I have 6 boys again. And I get a long overdue haircut and color in my very own home while they do who the hell knows what sit quietly in the family room. The color is lighter than I usually go.

Me: “Kenyan, tell me the truth. What do you think of my hair?”

Kenyan: “The truth? I think it is the exact color of old person’s hair.” (Bad news)

Don’t ask a question unless you’re prepared to hear the answer.

But, week one of Camp Mom ends on a high note.

On Saturday, we take the kids to a local farm to pick fruit. My guys would eat their weight in fruit if I allowed them to…and the Verb does exactly that in the raspberry fields. It is a gorgeous day…sunny skies, low humidity…and I’m fairly sure the entire tri-state area is at the shore. So we have the place to ourselves.

Looking for strawberries

We return home in a fruit coma.  I’m the only one who suffers sunburn. (Good news)

Sunday is Father’s Day, my Dad’s 75th birthday, and the first time we see Little Sister, Flyboy, and their 3 kids since Thanksgiving. They bring their Arizona noise to the East Coast for most of the summer to avoid the 100+ degree heat of the desert. The grandkids serenade my Dad with You Are My Sunshine, When I’m 64, and You’ve Got a Friend in Me. Absolutely adorable. (Good news)

Monday is kinda cool. I receive an email from The Huffington Post saying they published my Father’s Day piece. (Very good news)  Ari Gold from Entourage right here…“BOOM!”  I am beyond excited that my piece makes the cut. Humbled, flattered, thrilled, stoked. Not to mention, it secures my position as the #1 child in Dad’s eyes (the best of the good news)…and, yes, I mention that to The Huffington Post when I email them to thank them for the opportunity. Oh, I most certainly do.

I spend Monday night with family at the Neil Diamond concert. 71 years old. Still performing. Voice sounds better than it has in a decade. And putting on the show of his life. Really, does it get any better?!

In the span of a week, I am violated by a stuffed animal, unknowingly host a dead chipmunk for cocktail hour, and am called a blue haired old lady by my son.

In the span of that same week, I spend a perfect day outdoors with B&B and the boys, am reunited with Little Sister, am serenaded by Neil Diamond, and am published in The Huffington Post.

Even Steven.

Maybe a little better than Even Steven.

Kinda kick ass all around.

Stay tuned for next week’s installment…

The Tortoise and the Hair

B&B: “Oh we’re doing it.”

Me: “We don’t have time.”

B&B: “We DO have time”

Me: “We have to leave in,” I glance at the clock, “8 minutes!”

B&B: Eyebrows raised, “It’ll only take 5.”

No it won’t.

But his mind is made up, so it’s pointless to argue.

Me: Sighing: “Fine.”

B&B removes his shirt, smacks my unsuspecting behind, and hollers, “Kenyan! Outside! Quickly!”

The Kenyan stops running his circular pattern in the family room long enough to mutter, “Huh?”

B&B: Calling down the steps, “Come on, we don’t have much time!”

The Kenyan bounds the steps into the kitchen two at a time. Looks at me, looks at B&B, looks back at me. “Is it time to go?”

B&B has a wild look in his eye: “Almost. First I’m going to cut your hair.”

Kenyan: Covering his head protectively, “Oh, no. Never again. You’re not cutting MY hair.”

B&B: Exasperated, “Come on, Kenyan!”

Our son backs away, hands still protectively clasped over his overgrown hair. He shakes his head, “No. Nope. No thank you, and no way.”

B&B looks at me for assistance.

Oh, no, leave me out of this!

B&B: “Mommy, doesn’t he need his hair cut?”

Apparently, after almost 18 years together, B&B still cannot read my mind.

Me: Clearing my throat, “Ahem. Yes. He does.”

B&B, Looking at the Kenyan, “See? Mommy agrees with me.”

Kenyan: “She agrees I need a haircut. You’re not touching my hair.”

At least one of them can read my mind. Well done, Kenyan.

B&B, looking once again to me for assistance, “Mommy, doesn’t he need his hair cut right now? Before his first race of the season?”

Nope. It’s a fakakta idea. There’s no time. Oh, and there’s that small detail I’ll leave for last…but certainly not least…that you butchered him the last time you cut his hair.

B&B: With a note of hysteria, “Mommy?! Doesn’t he need it now?!” Eyebrows raised, palms skyward, promise of serious spousal dispute in front of child if I disagree.

Me: “Um,” I look at the Kenyan, wrinkle my nose, squint one eye, shrug the opposite shoulder, “Kenyan, I bet he’ll do a better job this time.” Hoping my voice, which is 3 octaves higher than usual, doesn’t illuminate my lack of confidence in B&B’s clipping skills.

The Kenyan looks at me, narrows his eyes. Removes his hands from his head and they fall to his sides. “Ugh! Fine! Not as short as last time though!”

B&B’s face illuminates. He claps his hands and shouts, “Woohoo!” then hastily disappears from the room to gather his equipment before the Kenyan and I can change our minds.

I put my arm around the Kenyan. “I’m proud of you, buddy. Trusting Dad to do this means alot to him.”

Kenyan: Grudgingly, “Yeah, well it better come out better than last time.”

Word.

Me: “It will.”

I glance at the clock,  “B&B, you have 5 minutes.”

He escorts the Kenyan to the back patio, where the scalping cutting commences. I shake my head, filling water bottles and packing fruit while I wait.

I don’t have to wait long…

“What?! Oh! Nooooo!” come the Kenyan’s cries from outside.

Oh dear.

Kenyan: “I look…I look TERRIBLE! You did it again!”

Oh, crap.

Kenyan: “I’m never letting you cut my hair again!” Sob, sob, sob, sob.

Aw, shit.

I knew it. Terrible idea.

I hear B&B quietly coaxing the Kenyan, “You look great. It’s only hair. Think of how fast you’ll be. It’s not nearly as short as last time.”

Once the Kenyan commits to a feeling, he cannot be coaxed into un-feeling it. So, B&B has his work cut out for him. And so do I if I’m going to get him to track on time.

Kenyan: “No! NO! I shouldn’t have let you! I knew it! You’re never cutting my hair again! I’m not going anywhere! I look…I look WEIRD!” sob, sob, sob

I wait inside. Clearly, I’m tasked with supporting this ridiculous decision to shave the Kenyan’s head. To compound that, I will undoubtedly be recruited to step in for moral support. I’ll wait right here until the time is right.

B&B: “Kenyan, it’s only hair, this is absurd behavior, it’s time you man up…”

And, that’s my cue.

I step onto the patio,  “Hey, what’s all the fuss about out here?”

The Kenyan is the palest of our offspring. He is bright white in August, after spending the entire summer with his skin exposed to the strong summer sun. Shaving his hair down to his scalp, which hasn’t seen the light of day in a solid 5 years…well, it’s a dazzling effect to say the least. His head is glowing. Like a beacon in the ocean at night, he stands like a lighthouse, the glare of his almost bald head illuminating the way for ships in peril.

Except there are no ships in peril on our back patio. Just a 9 year old little boy, who is now running late for his first track meet, devastated about his new haircut.

And, yowza, I could cry too. It’s too short. By next week it will be just right. But, today, and for the next 6 days…too short. I’m careful to hide this from my face as he looks at me with tears running down his face. And I’m extra careful not to make eye contact with his father, whom I could murder.

I reach out and rub the peach fuzz for good luck.

Me: Smiling, “Buddy, it’s short, but that face is so handsome, you don’t even need hair!”

Nothing.

Me: “You look great!”

Nothing.

Me: “It’ll grow quickly.”

Nothing.

Me: “You’ll run faster!”

Nothing.

I break into an interpretive dance…to no music…just to make him laugh.

And…nothing.

B&B: “Kenyan, I appreciate your agreeing to this so last minute. So I will buy you the Lego set of your choice to reward your behavior.”

Something. A chink in his armor.

Kenyan: Hiccup, “A small set?” Hiccup, “or a big set?”

B&B: “Well, look at all of that hair on the ground! I’ve seen dogs with less hair. That much hair deserves a big Lego set.”

The chink breaks into a giant crack…quickly fracturing the anger and despair that’s shrouded him for the past 5 minutes.

When all else fails…bribery. Funny, the experts always leave that chapter out of their parenting books. It’s the cold, hard reality of getting things done with children. Bribery.  When I write my parenting book, that will be my title…Getting it done: The Art of Bribery.

The Kenyan is on board. B&B whisks him up to the bathroom to rinse the hair off his neck. I wait in the car, muttering a slew of curses at the time on the clock and at the current state of my child’s head.  And I know we’re out 100 big ones for the promised Lego set.

Jesus Christ Almighty and the donkey he rode in on.

tortoiseandhair

What a start to my Saturday.

B&B and the Kenyan emerge from the house. B&B, sensing my anger, race walking to the car. The Kenyan, who has not exhibited urgency a moment in his short life, lollygagging his way to the car.

B&B: “Good luck, Kenyan!” To me, “I’ll call you.”

I have many things to say, but none of them can be uttered in front of our child.

I peek in the rearview mirror at the Kenyan. Holy cow, his hair is short. Really, really short. I look at the clock…we have 17 minutes to arrive at our destination, which mapquest predicts is 34 minutes away. Goddamn it. B&B’s timing is as impeccable as his trimming skills.

I breathe deeply, but quietly, in an attempt to calm down. Futile. I need to start practicing yoga. I turn on the radio, hoping a song can lighten my mood.

“can be addicted to a certain kind of sadness. Like resignation to the end, always the end.” The Kenyan begins singing along. Somebody That I Used to Know is an enormous hit in our house.

I smile, listening to his singing. My mind wanders…

He has a great singing voice. And he is unabashed in his singing. I bet he makes Boy Choir just like Waldorf. Waldorf sang in the chorus of the Wizard of Oz last night. I was so proud of him, standing in front of the audience, singing with his friends. He had a ball! I wish I had gotten his hair cut before the show, but he still…

Oh. Dear. God.

I pull over immediately. Turn down the radio. Click on my hazards. Grab my phone and, with shaking hands, text B&B the words…

“Please DO NOT cut anyone else’s hair without my permission. Or, at the very least, until I get back home.”

He immediately texts back, “Wait….why?”

Good grief.

I reply, “Just don’t. Please.”

Put down my phone. Turn off the hazards. Turn up the radio. And continue driving.

Miraculously, we arrive at the venue a mere 2 minutes late.

Me: “OK, Kenyan, here we are! Your first competition. After 2 months of practice, you’re ready for this! I want you to remember what Coach told you. And do your best. And have fun!”

He nods his almost bald head, which I slather with sunscreen on this beautiful May morning.

Kenyan: “Let’s do it, Mommy.”

Love. I run for more reasons than I can count. The fact that the Kenyan loves to run…well, it gives me one of my biggest reasons to continue lacing up my sneakers.

The first parent we recognize from our group takes one look at the Kenyan and, before I have the chance to give her my warning eyes, asks him, “What happened to your head?!”

Oof.

Me: In a voice much higher than usual, “He’s aerodynamic! His Daddy cut it this morning, just in time for his race!”

The Kenyan rolls his eyes. But he smiles a little bit too. I direct him to join his teammates for his warmup laps.

While he jogs, I talk to a few other parents, warning them not to make a fuss over his new haircut.

We grab a spot by the fence and wait for our kids’ races. And wait. And wait. And wait. By my calculations, 90% of the females 10 years and under in the tri-state area compete in track. And every one of them showed up today. The Kenyan splits his time equally between asking me “how many more girls are going to run?” and scraping deep enough into a pine tree that his hands are sticky with sap.  He’s on the cusp of rigging a spout to tap the syrup…and smelling suspiciously of Christmas…when his race is called.

Me: Clapping, “Woohoo! Kenyan! Get to it, big guy!”

The first heat runs. He’s not in that group. The second heat runs. He’s not in that group. The third heat runs. This is his group. I even took video…

I lean against the fence, asking the Dad of a fellow teammate…the same Dad I had just blasphemed to, “How long do you think until he runs? I thought he was in the 3rd heat.”

As I’m asking, the pale little boy who’s crossed the finish line waves at me and smiles. What a friendly kid, he must recognize me from practice. I raise my arm to return the wave and realize that this pale child is indeed the same one I gave birth to 9 years ago.

Mother of the year.

Me: Whispering to the parents around me, “Holy shit, it WAS his race! I stopped recording! His first race ever, and I didn’t even see him cross the finish line! Goddamn that haircut, I didn’t even recognize my own child!”

I clap and yell, “Great job, Kenyan!”

I grab the arm of the man next to me. I ask, “Who won? The boy in the white shirt?”

He nods his head, “Yes, the pale kid won first place.”

Mother humper. I will KILL B&B.

The Kenyan won. HE WON HIS FIRST RACE!!! Our little boy won his first race ever, and I didn’t even recognize him. Because of this stupid haircut.

I clap again, yelling, “First place, Kenyan! Way to go, buddy!!” He smiles, and gives me a thumbs up.

I text B&B immediately, “The Kenyan placed first in his heat!”

He replies, “Yes!!!! Tell him it was the haircut!”

I shake my head. Figures B&B would credit the stupid haircut.

I look up to see my son heading my way. The shorts of his track uniform are shorter than he’s accustomed to wearing. Behind the safety of my sunglasses, I’m able to drink in every inch of him as he approaches. When did he get so tall? And his legs, have they always been so strong and sinewy?

I want to jump up and down, cheering like a fool, but I won’t make a scene for fear it will embarrass him. Instead, I smile, open my arms, and he rushes into them. With one arm around me and the other clutching his blue ribbon, he buries his head against me.

Kenyan: “That. Was. Awesome.”

So are you, my love.

Me: “First place, Kenyan. FIRST PLACE! I’m so happy for you! You’ve worked hard all season, and you earned that ribbon. I’m so proud of you!”

Kenyan: “It was really close. That other guy almost beat me.”

I smile and nod, implying that I’d actually seen him finish. Bad Mommy.

Kenyan: “You know why I won?”

Hard work? Determination? Improved stride? Months of practice?

Me: Smiling, “Why?”

He reaches up and rubs his head. “It was the new haircut. I didn’t have all that hair slowing me down.” He looks down off into the distance, smiling, “Daddy was right. This haircut helped me run faster.”

First place…because of that haircut?!

The haircut that made him cry?

The haircut that cost us the price of a big Lego set?

The haircut that contributed to my blowing the speed limit to get here on time?

The haircut that elevated my blood pressure before 7:30AM?

Me: “That Daddy. He sure knows what he’s doing.”

I look at my boy…clutching his first place ribbon in one hand, absentmindedly rubbing his buzzed head with his other hand. Smiling as he mentally places his Daddy high up on the pedestal where he belongs.

All parents should be so lucky to be such giants in the eyes of their children.

Life is good. The Kenyan won his first race. My blood pressure is down. And the haircut debacle has resolved itself brilliantly.

I will be purchasing sunscreen in bulk for the next few months though. To keep that beacon the pearly white it belongs.

Costco, here I come…

 

 

87 Days

T-13 days marks the start of summer vacation.

87 days of summer vacation.

87 days of Camp Mom.

87 days of no alarm clocks.

87 days of wet bathing suits and chlorine soaked towels tossed on my laundry room floor.

87 days of ice cream every day…sometimes twice a day.

87 days of my living room sofa doubling as a fort.

87 days of incessant questions.

87 days of constant negotiating.

87 days of “because I said so, that’s why”.

87 days threatening, through clenched teeth, to take away electronics for the remainder of the 87 days “if you tease your brother one more time”.

87 days of sunscreen.

87 days realizing too late that I should have reapplied.

87 days of math and language arts packets, completed 2 pages per day to avoid B&B and I hastily forging their answers the night before school the Kenyan and Waldorf working feverishly Labor Day weekend.

87 days checking out 10 library books, yet unable, 2 days later, to locate 7 of them.

87 days listening to Mommy’s music and mastering which songs can be sung at home but never in school.

87 days grilling.

87 days of paper plates.

87 days of the A/C running all day and fans in bedroom windows all night.

87 days hoping we’re invited to my parents’ shore house.

87 days praying we’ll be invited back again after the Interrogator shatters their glass-top table 3 minutes after our arrival.

87 days visiting with Little Sister, Fly Boy, and their 3 adorable kids, who annually swap the heat of the Arizona desert for summers on the East Coast.

87 days cooking 40 chicken nuggets at a time to feed her kids and mine.

87 days of sand in their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

87 days sitting at the baby pool. For the 11th consecutive summer.

87 days counting their heads at that pool.

87 days celebrating because 3 of my kids can swim.

87 days of my heart in my throat because 1 of my kids cannot yet swim.

87 days watching my freckles multiply. Exponentially.

87 days watching my skin wrinkle increasingly.

87 days having every intention to set up a playdate, but never following through with my plans.

87 days spent cursing the bra inserts of my bathing suits for their ability to hold that bloody crease right down the center.

87 days angrily removing the bra inserts from my bathing suit only to realize that the creased inserts are far more aesthetically pleasing than the real deal.

87 days vowing that next summer I will look like one of those chicks in the Athleta catalog.

87 days donning a bathing suit with a skirt because this summer I do not look like one of those chicks in the Athleta catalog.

87 days of the tent slowly killing a rectangular patch of grass in our backyard.

87 days cleaning the sticky sugar from the popsicles consumed, against my rules, in that tent.

87 days skipping a bath because chlorine kills everything.

87 days of Dr. Doofenshmirtz.

87days

87 days having no luck finding a babysitter for a concert whose tickets we purchased 4 months ago.

87 days of Acme’s Sizzlin’ Summer Giveaway.

87 days of suicide watch as a result of winning nothing but 22 stinkin’ donuts while participating in Acme’s Sizzlin’ Summer Giveaway.

87 days of “wait your turn to play the iPad”.

87 days of “No, I will not buy you that app”.

87 days of Crocs replacing sneakers whose laces need tying.

87 days spent on the beach reconnecting with cousins visiting from Texas and Georgia…and marveling at our kids’ long limbs and growing friendships.

87 days of “I probably shouldn’t, but it’s summer so what the hell, I’ll have another.”

87 days spent refereeing my kids’ arguments.

87 days of my heart ready to burst as their bonds grow stronger.

87 days allowing Waldorf and the Kenyan the freedom to ride their bikes through the neighborhood.

87 days of apprehension awaiting their safe return home on those bikes.

87 days envying my friends whose kids are attending sleep away camp.

87 days kissing my kids’ sweaty heads, relieved they’re not attending sleep away camp.

87 days dragging 4 kids through the Acme several times a week.

87 days of endless material about which to write.

87 days wondering when exactly I will find the time to write.

87 days interrupted by one glorious girls’ weekend during which I plan to take the Princeton…and Circle Pizza…by storm.

87 days planning what I’ll wear the glorious weekend I take the Princeton…and Circle Pizza…by storm.

87 days teaching my kids to boogie board and body surf.

87 days holding my breath while B&B teaches them, against my better judgment, to flip off the diving board.

87 days driving them to the empty beaches of Strathmere, where I’ll spend yet another summer not sitting and not reading.

87 days playing frisbee, run the bases, and paddleball on those empty beaches of Strathmere. And not giving a rat’s ass that it’s been 11 years since I last sat on the beach and read a book.

87 days digging a 4 foot hole in the sand because the kids asked for a DEEP hole…and because I know it’s the only exercise I’ll get all day, so I’d better make it count if I’m eating ice cream twice today.

87 days collecting stinky hermit crabs in bright yellow buckets.

87 days of stinky hermit crabs dying in bright yellow buckets.

87 days swearing that next year they are ALL going to camp. ALL SUMMER LONG.

87 days knowing that I’ll need to wrap my leg around the stripper pole to afford to send all 4 of them to camp ALL SUMMER LONG.

87 days of noisy summer thunderstorms.

87 days of weeding that I never get around to doing.

87 days timing my Costco trip just right so that the kids consume enough free samples to constitute “dinner”.

87 days of laundry needing folding that can sit one more day if the right episode of Scooby Doo demands my undivided attention.

87 days of Just Dance 3 and Mario Kart.

87 days having my ass handed to my by a 3 year old while playing Just Dance 3. And Mario Kart.

87 days of skinned knees and bruised shins.

87 days of Busch’s She Crab soup available only on Sunday and Tuesday.

87 days bumping into old friends at the shore.

87 days doing shots to celebrate bumping into old friends at the shore.

87 days paying for those celebratory shots the next day on the beach with the kids.

87 days wishing B&B were a teacher.

87 days thanking God B&B is not a teacher after spending 3 consecutive days in his company.

87 days vowing that next school year I’ll be my most organized.

87 days delaying the purchase of school shoes.

87 days of my 3 year old with a head full of damp curls.

87 days promising the kids we’ll accomplish everything on their to do lists.

87 days realizing we haven’t accomplished one item on their to do lists.

87 days living simply in comparison to most of their friends. And most of our friends.

87 days of gratitude that Dad has lived another year cancer free.

87 days until, for the very first time, every one of my kids is in school. Full time.

87 days looking forward to bedtime.

87 days wishing I could freeze time.

87 days to make memories with them that l hope will last a lifetime.

87 days wondering whether someday they’ll want to make those same memories with their children.

87 days of vacation.

Bring it.

And bring with it a very large pitcher of your finest margaritas.

Happy Summer

My Finicky Valentine

The topic of serious debate

Does this dog look like a male or a female? This is an important question that sparked some very serious debate in my home the morning of Valentine’s Day.

A couple years ago, I started getting the tiniest of gifts for my boys for Valentine’s Day. A little bit of candy, for instance. But, we’ve dropped  the mother lode at the dentist in the past year, and I am on a serious no-candy tear.

Me: Proudly, to the dental hygienist, “I don’t let the boys eat those gummy vitamins. I know they are the work of the devil. Huge cavity starters.”

Dental Hygienist: Looking at my kids’ x rays. “Mm hmm. Do you let them eat fruit snacks?”

Me: “Sure. But only for dessert.” Again, proud of myself.

See? I set boundaries in my house. I take care of my kids.

Dental Hygienist: “Giving them fruit snacks is just like giving them gummy vitamins. Except you’re giving them 16 gummy vitamins instead of 1.”

Mother Humper.

So, my gifts of candy to my children have morphed into little stuffed animals. I realize I have 4 boys. And one might assume that boys aren’t interested in stuffed animals. Particularly 10 year old and 8 year old boys. In our case, you’d be assuming incorrectly.

The first year or two that I had little Valentine’s Day gifts for them, they were surprised and thrilled.

Boys: “Mommy! Thank you so much! This is my favorite stuffed animal ever! Happy Valentine’s Day, Mommy! I love you!”

Me: “Aw, shucks, guys. I love you too.”

This past year, things have abruptly taken a turn. For the worse. The Kenyan approached me about two weeks ago, while I was either doing dishes, packing school lunches, or doing laundry.

Kenyan: “Hi, Mommy!”

Me: “Hi, Sweetheart! How’s your cartoon coming?”

The Kenyan writes and illustrates his own cartoons these days. His protagonist is Block Man, an ordinary shape who saves other good shapes from the more menacing shapes. Like the rhombus. The rhombus is a menacing shape in the Kenyan’s stories.

Kenyan: “Oh, it’s good, Mommy. I’m editing my most recent story now. Almost done.”

I love this child. This creative little child.

Kenyan: “Mommy, I wanted to show you something.” He whips out a piece of paper and begins reading from it, “The Lego Ninjago Tornado of Creation Spinner blah blah blah blahbity blah blah blah.”

Me: “Sounds cool, buddy.”

Kenyan: “Yes, it’s very cool. And I want it.”

Me: “Well, your birthday is still a couple of months away, but let’s start making a wish list.”

Kenyan: “No, Mommy, I want it sooner than that.”

Me: “No can do, buddy. You know the drill. Birthdays and Christmas we get presents. The rest of the year, we enjoy our presents. And make lists of all the presents we hope for in the future. And practice exemplary behavior to prove we deserve those presents.”

A little brainwashing never hurt anyone.

Kenyan: “Mommy, that’s not true. You get us presents for Valentine’s Day. I want this for Valentine’s Day. Instead of a cute stuffed animal. Please.”

You cannot be serious. This kid has some nerve.

Me: “Go away from me. And take your paper. Before I get very angry.”

The Kenyan walks away, sulking.

Me: “And you’d better not be sulking, I know it’s only February, but Santa is watching.”

valentine

Things are bad if I’m already playing this card.

That night, after the kids are in bed, I relay the story to B&B.

Me: “The Kenyan really pissed me off today.”

B&B: “Really? That’s not typical for him.”

Me: “I know. Which makes it even more irritating to me. You know how I always get them something small for Valentine’s Day?”

B&B: “Yes, which you know I think is stupid and a waste of money for a bullshit holiday. Why would you designate a day to tell people that you love them? Why don’t you just tell them if you love them? Or just bring home flowers because it’s a nice thing to do? You know I don’t bring you flowers much now because the cats eat them, right?”

Me: “Yes, I know how you feel about Valentine’s Day. And I know the cats eat the flowers, which is why you don’t bring them home. That’s fine. But, that’s not my point. You know I get the kids something small for Valentine’s Day…right?”

B&B: “Yes. I said yes.”

Me: “You said more than yes, so I want to make sure we get back on point.”

B&B: “We’re on point. We never got off point. This entire time we’ve been talking about Valentine’s Day, haven’t we? Well, and the cats eating the flowers. “

Please let the world end now. Right this minute.

Me: “Stop talking please. I am going to tell a story. You be my audience. How about that? Wait, don’t answer. Just be the audience. The quiet audience.”

B&B: “This isn’t fair. I don’t do this to you. And your stories are very long.”

Me: “My stories are long because you interrupt me. I am going to begin now.”

And maybe my stories are the tiniest bit long.

I have a feeling my audience is not so enamored with me, but I forge ahead…

Me: “So, for Valentine’s Day, I typically buy the kids a cute little random stuffed animal from Target. And they are always appreciative. They name their animals. Sleep with their animals. Play with their animals. It’s $20 total, and it’s well spent in my mind. Not something I do frequently for them. And they go bananas for it. And they play nicely together and leave me alone for a little while. We both know you can’t put a pricetag on that.”

B&B is about to agree.

Me: “Wait, don’t talk, I’m not finished yet.”

He is clearly irritated again. Still, I trudge on…

Me: “So, today the Kenyan comes to me. With a request. He wants me to buy all 4 of them Legos for Valentine’s Day instead of stuffed animals. WTF is that?! This is not a drive-thru service! Now they are expecting a gift instead of appreciating a small token? And since when is Valentine’s Day about Legos? It’s about candy, which I refuse to give them after all of their cumulative cavities, and cute stuffed animals. And overpriced flowers that I will kill you if you try to buy for me. That’s what Valentine’s Day is about.”

B&B is quiet.

Me: “My story is over. You may now resume your role as my husband and no longer play the role of quiet audience.”

B&B: “Thank you.”

Me: “You’re welcome.”

B&B: “No, thank you for keeping it short, not for granting me permission to speak.”

Wait a minute, that’s not funny.

B&B: “I can see why you were irritated at the Kenyan’s approaching you about the gift. It was assuming. And the type of behavior we expect from a spoiled brat. Which we are trying desperately not to raise.”

Me: “Yes!!”

B&B: “I say you get them nothing this year. F them. Then they’ll appreciate it next year if they are lucky enough to see a Hershey’s kiss in front of their obnoxious little faces.”

Hmm. I don’t think I can do that. I like to be good cop. But I do feel better that B&B has validated my feelings of frustration.  

The day before Valentine’s Day, I hit Target in a panic. In my anger at the Kenyan’s gift request, the day had managed to sneak up on me.

I’m lying. I’ve been writing nonstop, and am less on top of things than usual as a result.

I head straight for the seasonal aisle while the Verb is in preschool. It’s a complete traffic jam. 2 broads are yapping it up right in the middle of the aisle. Blocking my path to the cute little stuffed animals that are in my price range.

Come on, ladies, move your carts to the end caps, please. We are all giving you angry eyes, can’t you feel them?

I tap my foot a tiny bit to alert them to my presence. Nothing.

Hey, gals, take this chat to Starbucks please, the rest of us are on a schedule here.

I move a little closer. I wreak. I know I wreak. I’ve just come from a workout. I can smell myself. I will use this to my advantage.

Hey, do you smell that funk? Are you trapped in my green mist? It’s nasty, isn’t it? Move your cart out of my path before I rub my stink on your designer handbag.

Still nothing.

Me: Very politely. Slightly sing-songy, “Excuse me. I’m just trying to reach around you here to the stuffed animals. Sorry if you smell something bad. It’s just my sweat.”

Now I am getting the angry eyes. I don’t like the angry eyes, so I grab 4 different stuffed animals and dash off to pay.

That night, before going to bed, I take a look at the stuffed animals. There is one owl with a chalkboard and conversation hearts. I bury those hearts in the trashcan beneath the coffee grounds so that they will not defile my children’s teeth any further.

The owl is for the Kenyan, my little artist.

There is one teddy bear. No frills. Very cute. Small. Soft.

This is for my sweet little Verb.

There is one gorilla. He has the design of lips that have kissed him on his brown cheek.

This is for my Waldorf, who still lets me kiss him goodbye in the mornings. But only on the cheek. And only when he thinks none of his friends can see.

Finally, there is one dog. With a Cupid headband. The cutest of the four stuffed animals. The biggest. The softest.

This is for the Interrogator, currently my favorite, I mean the one who loves dogs the most.

I lay the stuffed animals at the boys’ breakfast spots, smile contentedly, then head to bed.

B&B: “The Interrogator is really pumped for Valentine’s Day. He would not stop talking about it before bed. He is wired.”

Me: “Good! He’ll be so excited when he sees the stuffed dog I bought for him. Every time we see someone with a dog he asks, ‘excuse me, are you the owner? Can I pet your dog?’ I think he’s going to love it!”

The next morning I awake at 5:00AM. The Verb has just climbed into bed with me.

I am so tired, but he is complete deliciousness.

For the next hour, I attempt desperately to catch my sleep again. But it’s impossible with his scratchy little voice breaking the peace every 3 minutes as he rattles off the time.

Verb: “Huh? What time is it? That say’s 5..2..E. What’s 5 2 E? Huh? Mom, what’s 5 2 E?”

Me: “Um….I don’t know honey, why don’t you ask Daddy?”

The Verb begins poking B&B.

Verb: “Daddy, Dad, Dad, Daddy, Dad, Dad, DAAAAAAAD!”

Nothing.

Verb: “Mom, Dad’s not waking up. What’s 5 2 E, Mommy? Oh, wait, now it’s 5…2…4!

The E must have been a backwards 3 in his mind. OMG. Please just be quiet, child.

Me: “Very good, buddy. Now let’s close our eyes until 6…0…0.”

Sleep is pulling me back in. I am almost there.

Verb: “Mom! Mom, it’s 5..2..B! Huh? What’s 5..2..B?

5:26. Forget it. I’ll just get up.

The Verb runs back into his room. He is the noisiest of our kids, so he easily wakes the Interrogator.

Bonus.

I know I’m going to be assaulted with breakfast requests and meaningless questions for the next 75 minutes before the rest of the crowd has to be shaken awake.

Wait, it’s Valentine’s Day! They will be so happy to see their stuffed animals!

Me: “Happy Valentine’s Day, my sweet boys! Give Mommy a big hug and a kiss. I love you so much!”

They give me hugs and kisses and race downstairs to see if I’ve planted something at their designated spots.

Verb: “Oh, a bear! Look, Interrogator, a bear! For me? I’ve always wanted a bear! I love mine bear!”

He hugs the bear and runs over to hug me.

Interrogator: “What the…what?! Huh? I’ll check downstairs.”

He races past me to the family room. I follow him.

Me: “Buddy, you missed your present. It’s sitting at your spot. Go up and see it.”

What is he doing? Is he hiding? Why is he hiding?

Me: “Interrogator? What’s wrong? Are you ok?”

Interrogator: “Don’t talk to me! Don’t look at me! I don’t want you to look at me!”

Me: “Are you sick, honey? What’s wrong?”

Interrogator: “I don’t like it! I don’t like it one bit!”

Me: “You don’t like what, honey?”

Interrogator, finally looking at me, very angrily, “I don’t like that….that GIRL dog!”

He hides his face again.

WTH is he talking about? It’s a boy dog. With a Valentine’s Day decorative headband. Girl dogs are pink. This is brown and white. It’s clearly a boy dog.

Me: “Interrogator, that’s not something a good citizen says to his Mommy. When someone gives you a gift, you say ‘thank you’. You don’t run and hide and cry about it. Please come here and let’s talk about it.”

Interrogator: “I won’t, Mom. I won’t come over. I’m leaving. You gave me a girl dog, and I’m leaving.”

This is a true test of your resolve, Bethany. DO not laugh. Do NOT laugh. Do not LAUGH. Don’t do it.

I go upstairs and look at the Verb. If any of my kids will give me an honest answer, it’s this one.

Me: “Verb, is this dog a girl dog or a boy dog? It’s a boy dog, right?”

Verb: “Nope. That’s a girl dog, Mommy. See? It has a headband. Girls wear headbands. The Interrogator’s dog is a girl dog.”

Oh, shit.

A new round of muffled crying comes from the family room after the Verb’s declaration.

I spend the next hour finishing the lunches, feeding the Verb, and attempting to coax the Interrogator out from behind the sofa cushions. He is acting as though I’ve arranged a marriage for him and he’s discovered his bride looks like Jabba the Hut.

B&B was right. He will love my telling him that. We spent two hours affixing candy boxes to 100 Valentine’s Day cards last night for all of their classmates. F these kids. Next year, these kids get nothing for this ridiculous holiday.

The older two finally join us. They are thrilled with their owl and gorilla. They quickly hug me, flash satisfied grins, admire each other’s animals, name them, and immediately begin battling their stuffed animals, right at the breakfast table.

Well, now I feel a little redeemed. The Kenyan isn’t even carrying on about the fact that there are no Legos.

Waldorf: “Interrogator, what did you get?”

Interrogator: Really braving his sorrow, sighs deeply and attempts a smile, “I got a soft doggy.”

Waldorf: “Oh, you love dogs! You are always asking to pet dogs. Can I see it?”

The Interrogator looks pleased with his brother’s attention, yet worried about the reveal. He lifts the dog from under his blanket and shows it to Waldorf.

Waldorf: “That’s a girl dog.”

Fuck.

The Interrogator’s face collapses. First he wears a look of horror. Then sadness. He looks at me, devastated at my deplorable choice in Valentine’s Day gifts. My heart breaks.

Kenyan: “It looks like a girl reindeer. It doesn’t even really look like a dog. It’s definitely a girl.”

I cannot laugh. I cannot laugh. I will not laugh. 

B&B enters the room. The Interrogator has again hidden himself under the sofa cushions.

B&B: “What’s up with him?”

Waldorf: “He’s mad about his present.”

Kenyan: “Yeah, his reindeer. Or his dog.”

B&B: “What do you mean he’s mad about it? How could he be mad about a present? It’s a present.”

The Verb runs up to B&B, showing him the evidence.

B&B: Glances at the dog, then at me, “Is he mad because it’s a girl?”

Good grief.

Me: “It’s NOT a girl dog!! It’s a boy dog! Girl dogs are pink! This dog is brown and white!”

Kenyan: “I’ve never seen a pink dog. What are you talking about?”

Waldorf: “Mommy, there are no such things as pink dogs. A girl dog is just a dog with no penis.”

Verb: “Waldorf! Hey! No potty talk! I telled him no potty talk, Mom.”

B&B: “This dog is wearing a headband. It’s clearly a girl. You gave him a girl dog. No wonder he’s pissed. This present is junk.”

The Interrogator continues to wail in the background.

We have 3 happy kids and 1 shattered soul. I am a terrible gift giver. And it’s not even 7AM yet.

Goddamn this holiday.

I take the kids to school, help distribute their Valentine’s Day cards, hit the gym with the Verb, then we rush to Costco to pick up a cake (to deliver back to school for a lunch celebration). Racing down the aisles of Costco toward the bakery, I see something that brings me to a screeching halt.

It’s the smaller version of the giant teddybears I have already given both to Waldorf and to the Kenyan for their birthdays. Their bears are over 5’ tall, and they are obsessed with them. This bear is an exact replica, only he’s 3’ tall. And $8.99. A bargain for certain. And I do love a good bargain.

This bear is the perfect bear for the Interrogator. If those yappy chicks at Target hadn’t been blocking my path, I’d have made a more well informed choice yesterday. And I would have realized that dog I’d picked for my Interrogator was a dud. 

I toss the bear into the cart next to the Verb.

Verb: “Oh, hey. Nice to meet you, bear. My name’s Verb. What’s your name? Oh, it’s bear? That’s a nice name! Hi.”

Deliciousness.

I grab the cake and bust out of there.

I am excited about the bear.

I call B&B from the parking lot.

Me: “I bought a bear for the Interrogator. It was only $9, and it’s really cute.”

B&B: “Did you check between the bear’s legs to make sure he has a penis?”

Me: “Yes. I mean no. I mean it doesn’t have a penis, but it’s not a girl bear. There are no accessories. I certainly don’t want to reward the outburst he had this morning; but I do want to offer this as a bit of an apology for not realizing that dog was a girl. Even though I think girl dogs are pink.”

B&B: “Girl dogs probably are pink. But boy dogs don’t wear headbands. So that was a girl dog you bought.”

Me: “Actually, no dogs wear headbands. Ever.”

B&B: “True. When are you going to give him the bear?”

Me: “After school.”

So, I pick the kids up at dismissal. We linger so they can enjoy the nice weather on the playground with their friends. I am excited because I know the Interrogator will be thrilled with his bear. An exact replica of his older brothers’ bears, only a little smaller.

Once we get home, the boys scatter throughout the house. The Interrogator is looking for his blue ninja.

Me: “Interrogator, can you come into my room for a minute? Mommy wants to talk to you.”

Interrogator: “Aw, Mom! I can’t find my blue ninja! Do you know where he is? Where could he be? Is he in the car? Oh, no. If he’s in the car, can you go get him? Please? I can’t find him.”

Me: “We’ll discuss your blue ninja in a moment. I wanted to talk to you about the dog I gave you.”

Interrogator: “I don’t want to talk about the dog until I find my ninja.”

Me: “I don’t want to talk about the ninja until we discuss the dog.”

Interrogator: “Grrr. Fine.”

Me: “So, now that some time has gone by, what do you think of your dog?”

Interrogator: “Mom, I don’t know, Mom. I just want to play with my ninja.”

I am going to set that ninja on fire.

Me: “OK, we’ll talk later.”

Interrogator: “Fine! He’s fine! My dog is fine, OK? Grrr.”

He’ll stop growling momentarily. This I know for certain.

Me: “Well, do you think your dog would like someone to play with him?”

Interrogator: “Like my blue ninja? Yes! My dog wants to play with my blue ninja, so I need to find him, Mom, I really need to find him.”

Foiled!

Me: “Actually, what I want to say is this…Interrogator, I am so proud of you. You are such a sweet boy. I am sorry that you were so upset this morning about the dog I gave you. Maybe you will feel better if I give you this?”

With that, I thrust the bear out toward my Interrogator!

Voila!

Interrogator: Backing away, frowning, “What’s this?”

Me: Beaming, shaking the bear at him,“It’s your bear! He’s for you! Do you like him? I bought him for you!”

Interrogator: Backing away more, “I don’t want this bear! He’s too…..too small! He’s not big like me! He’s not big enough! He’s a small bear! I don’t want a small bear!”

And he runs from the room, hysterically crying.

What the hell is going on around here?! Too small? This bear is too small? This bear is 2/3 the Interrogator’s size! Goddamn this bloody holiday!!!!!

I follow him, out of patience at this point. I fling the bear into his bedroom with him. He is crying and refusing to look at me.

Me: “Listen to me, Interrogator. I am upset with your choices today. I have given you two gifts and you have not thanked me! Gifts are a token of appreciation and love. I love you, that’s why I gave them to you. The kind thing to do is thank me for giving them to you.”

Interrogator: “I don’t want them. I don’t like them. You hurt my feelings.”

Oh, yeah? Well, you’re officially not my favorite anymore. How do you like them apples?

Me: “I am going to leave you in your room by yourself for a little bit. You need some time to think about how your words have hurt my feelings.”

Did I completely screw that up? He’s 5…was that the right approach for the 5 year old? Or is that more the speech for the 8 year old?

It’s like I need cheat sheets in my pockets at all times with all of these kids.

Waldorf intercepts me in the hallway. He lingers. And eavesdrops.

Waldorf: “I heard that. In there. I heard what happened.”

Me: “Unbelievable. I don’t know what’s gotten into the Interrogator today. He’s usually thrilled to receive a gift. I’m not batting 1000 with him today.”

Waldorf: “Hmm..nice idiom. Well, ahem, if he doesn’t want the bear, I’ll certainly take the bear. He would be a welcome addition to my collection.”

Collection of shit. This kid keeps everything. I’ve thrown away tin foil hotdog wrappers that he’s smuggled home and hidden for safekeeping in his closet.

Me: “Actually, Waldorf, if he doesn’t change his tune, I’m going to return both the dog and the bear. The Interrogator might need some more serious consequences after these outbursts.”

Waldorf’s eyes grow wide in panic. He’s already envisioned himself adopting the bear. The emotional attachment has already begun for him.

The Verb walks past us and stops outside his bedroom door (which is also the Interrogator’s bedroom door). The door is open. The Verb glances in.

Verb, “Hey! Mine bear! It’s mine bear! You found mine bear!”

He runs into the room and scoops up the $9 bear I’d just given to his ungrateful older brother.

Interrogator: Suddenly protective of the bear, “It’s NOT your bear! It’s MY bear! It’s MINE! Don’t touch him! You’re going to rip him! YOU’RE GOING TO RIP MY NEW BEAR AND HE’S MINE! AND HE’S NEW! AND I WON’T BE YOUR FRIEND ANYMORE!”

The Verb backs down to no one. Toe to toe, he will stand and holler at anyone foolish enough to challenge him.

Verb: Up in his brother’s grill, “IT IS NOT YOUR BEAR! IT IS MINE BEAR! HIS NAME IS BEAR! MOMMY BUYED HIM FOR ME! NOT YOU! I GOT HIM FIRST! I GOT HIM AT COSTCO WITH MOMMY! HE’S MINE! GIVE HIM TO ME!”

The Interrogator and the Verb have the bear trapped in a dangerous game of tug of bear. I don’t know how much longer he’ll hold up. But he’s from Costco, so he’s good quality.

Holy shit. I am not even going to intercede quite yet. This is almost comical.

Waldorf leans over to me and says, “You realize any second now the Verb is going to hit or spit on the Interrogator, right?”

I look at him to nod my agreement and I hear the loud SLAP of the Verb’s hand hitting the Interrogator.

Party’s over.

I separate the boys and take turns comforting both of them. Because they are boys, they are over it immediately. And, suddenly the Interrogator can’t part with his bear. Or his dog. He drags both to the dinner table. Snuggles up to me with both of them for his book before bed. And insists on sleeping with both of them.

As I tuck him into bed, I give him a big hug and kiss.

Interrogator: “Mom? I love my dog, Mom. I think it’s a boy dog. And, Mom? I really love my bear, Mom.”

Me: “I’m so glad, buddy. Your dog and your bear are lucky to be loved by a boy as sweet as you.”

Interrogator: “Mom? I love you the most, Mom. Let’s sing the National Anthem together, Mom. Oh, say can you see…”

Guess who’s my favorite again?

And guess who’s going to buy Legos for Valentine’s Day next year?