Ready for Christmas?

I’ve been wavering between feeling downright euphoric (I’ve actually squealed at the piles of boxes waiting for me to open and squirrel away, and I was super-excited when I scooped up something the girls will like thanks to my oh-so-clever friend C) and going into a minor panic at what I haven’t done yet.

Did I tell you about what happened last year? We were at our Christmas Eve church service when J leaned over and said, “I wonder what Santa’s going to get for Madison.” Madison. You know, our goldfish. As far as I was aware, Santa had made no provisions for Madison the Goldfish at all. Which is ridiculous, because he always gets some things for Isis the Cat. So, on Christmas Eve, after the kids were in bed, I headed out to Target hoping to find some fake kelp in the pet section. So, first? Whatever you and I might think about Target on every other day of the year, Target at 10 pm on Christmas Eve is an utterly joyless place. It’s a bunch of disorganized, stressed-out people and children who should have been in bed long ago. Plus, the fish offerings in the pet section consisted of fish food. Nothing festive. Santa ended up picking out some window gels to put on the tank. Hopefully Madison enjoyed that. J thought it was cute. Anyway, I feel pretty confident that Santa was clever enough to hit the pet store hard and early this year, so that’s one less worry.

Holiday preparation-wise, today was not my most successful. I had two main items on the to-do list. First, send off a package to Grandma, then head to the (gasp!) mall in search of just a little something more for one of my daughters. Have I mentioned that my daughters have given me almost zero ideas? It hasn’t been helpful. M started by asking for a phone and a dog. That’s not happening, and she most downgraded to a kitty. I’ve pointed out that the reason that we own our cat is because she couldn’t get along with the other feline at her previous adoptive home. J started with “I don’t know” and has most recently declared that she only wants a pull-up bar and some chocolate. Our small, old house doesn’t appear to have a single doorway in which a pull-up bar can be installed. But I bet she’ll score some chocolate.

Anyway, Cute W drove our new Rogue to work so that he could bring home the large-ish gift that had been delivered to his office, which left me with his car.  So my first challenge was that I couldn’t find the damn keys. I’ve been so spoiled by the Rogue. I just need to have the keys somewhere in the general vicinity, and I love that feature. It didn’t seem like that big a deal when we bought the car, but it has changed my life. Except not this morning. Eventually I found the keys, but by the time I got to the counter with my package, I realized that I didn’t have my wallet with me. I’d dumped it out of my bag while I was searching for the keys.  Then I was told the package probably wouldn’t arrive by Christmas. Well, good effort.

Then it was off to the mall. Cute W had driven away with the GPS stored in the Rogue, too. I’m sure that you remember that I am crippled by a complete lack of directional-sensing abilities. So much so that I’d looked up and written down the directions to the mall. On a sheet paper that was cast aside during my frantic search for keys. Well, I reasoned, surely I could make it to the mall. I’ve lived in the area for 12 years, and I’ve been there many, many times. Yes, well. My ability to get lost is well-nigh heroic. If getting lost were a superpower, I’d totally be wearing a cape right now. I ended up having to park at a random Hannaford to run in to the bathroom and check the GPS on my phone. Tragic.

By the time I made it to the mall, there was a big flashing sign suggesting that I might drive to a different entrance, but I’d barely made it to the ramp I’d found, so I ignored that.  The parking lot was a horror show. I was way too hesitant for some mad-dog shopper who blared her horn into me as I hesitated between near-left and far-left lane. Being at the mall was a bit like visiting a wake as I mourned the loss of M’s favorite store (Delia’s) and J’s favorite store (Ruum). There was so much inventory that I wished I had the girls with me to do some serious shopping, but anytime that they’re free is a time when the mall is likely to be even more crowded, and as you can tell, I barely made it through my trip on a weekday morning, so. . . no. Maybe we’ll try after Christmas. Anyway, purchases were made. Also, chocolate was acquired. I managed to get things home and hidden away before J was home. Which means that I’ve swung, once again, from despair to optimism. Maybe I’ll get it all done.

Hope you’re all ready.


I’ve been de-cluttering. I know: you thought I might be running around shopping or decking halls or some such, but cleaning out some storage is Christmas-gift-related. That’s all I’ll say about that for now.

But I’ve been uncovering treasures and not-quite-treasures. It was a pretty epic purge, if I do say so myself. In one time capsule, I unearthed ribbons from a preschool gymnastics meet (blue for first, natch), a junior prom souvenir wine glass, and (wait for it:) my first bra. All went into the garbage. . . impressive, no? Those were the easy ones. Tougher to send into recycling were multiple notebooks full of history and French from undergraduate and graduate school. I got rid of about 85% of it. At one point I was hesitating at the recycle bin, but then I saw one of my papers from graduate school. The grade was a B, and I’m not kidding: immediately I flushed with a little bit of rage and a big dose of shame. I could feel my heart beating more quickly. And so I tossed it, and everything else from that class. Phew! That felt good. But here’s some stuff that I’m keeping:


Wow. I had no idea that we’d gone to Chuck E. Cheese so often! Especially surprising since it’s one of my least favorite destinations ever. But there’s something  mesmerizing and magical about that draw-you-a-picture machine, isn’t there? I think that we will keep these forever.



This picture requires some notes.  It’s from November of 2007, so M was 5, and she meticulously drew all of the items on my grocery list while we walked around Hannaford. Afterward I did my best to label what was what on the back side of the paper. In the top right you’ll  see a smiling M. To her left, in the top middle, are two bananas. The bottom-left circle with 4 circles inside represents oranges, and just above and to the right is a little rectangle with a cow on it: that’s butter.  By this time I had J, too, and I was a more experienced mama, so I realized that labeling for Future Memories was a good idea. It’s a bummer looking at the old pictures and they’re basically two smudges–like, what the heck was that?

And here’s where you can tell that I needed a writing outlet: I documented our early sibling struggles in a preface to a compilation of sticker charts that I had created for M.


That’s right: each of these smiley faces represents a day in which M refrained from smacking J upside the head or grabbing J’s stuff from right out of her hands. Let’s just say, every day was not a sticker day. But it worked for a while, at least.


Speaking of the poor, abused younger sister, what about J’s stuff? We have so much stuff for M, the first daughter (and first granddaughter on her Dad’s side). Did we save anything of J’s?


Aw, c’mon! You know I’m kidding. Here are two well-documented pieces from a particularly formative time in the artist’s development, what I like to call her The Sun Looks Like A Spider period:



On the right, you’ll see a portrait of me holding J’s hand. A portion of this work of art has been torn away, and while there exists hearsay evidence that it’s because another resident artist used the space to scrawl, “I hat you!” However, this cannot be proven, since the ripped-off paper is not extant. On the left, you’ll see the artist’s very first attempt at writing her name.

Speaking of formative artistic periods, this painting is an early work by another up-and-coming young artist:


This piece is by my little brother, John Szlasa, who got an MA in Fine Arts from Yale and will soon be appearing in the American Academy of Arts and Letters Invitational Exhibition. In case you aren’t familiar with the Academy, this is an unbelievably big deal. A seriously huge honor. As in, possibly I should pull this out of the cardboard box that it was in with my moldy 7th grade Home Ec cross stitch (trashed), because if I keep it in climate control and find the right buyer, maybe we can retire, living on this!  And in case you think I don’t know art when I see it, I do have five of his other paintings hanging around the house–I’d forgotten about this one.

We had tons of cards, and I think this one may get tossed, but I wanted to point out the adorable mouse choir singing in front of a penis house:


Wait, what? You don’t see it? Maybe I’m getting a little punchy from inhaling mold spores.

Ah, and finally, never to be tossed:



The cache of letters between Cute W and me when we were both abroad for a semester. Those were the days before email, folks. One of the girls started to take an interest in these, and I successfully maneuvered them away from her, saying that they were probably full of mush. I have no idea, really: I haven’t read them in at least twenty years. And I didn’t open any of them for fear of getting sucked in. I have too many other boxes to sort.


We spent Thanksgiving in Savannah, visiting my parents and my sister and brother-in-law, who all live there. It rained almost the entire time that we were there. When it wasn’t raining, the kids were riding around on my parents’ golf cart, which is always a big highlight of our trips down south. I went to a hot yoga class with my sister and just barely managed to not pass out: yay, me!

One day our little family of four went exploring downtown, where Cute W had us follow the Yelp reviews to Zunzi’s for sandwiches. It was super-yummy. We all ordered different things and shared around, because we are good at sharing. The two favorites were both chicken, the Conquistador sandwich, drowning in special sauce that made it a mess to eat

DSC00359and Gabriella’s Zesty Chicken, which had just the right amount of zest.



Even though I’m occasionally bummed out that the girls don’t love all vegetables more and that they’d always, always, choose fried meat options around the house, I have to admit that they pretty much rock at trying new things at restaurants. It’s like dining with grown-ups: you don’t have to pick the chicken fingers or something to ensure that they’ll survive, and I appreciate that.

The rest of the time we walked around, it was mostly Cute W walking very quickly down the sidewalk, M at his side, until they’d pause and double back to find J and me poking along. He’s all about efficiency, which can be wonderful, but tourists aren’t efficient. As people who have been residents of a tourist-heavy city (New York), especially one that can be a bit hostile to tourists, I think it takes a bit of self-discipline to force yourself to stop and look around. It feels vaguely embarrassing. It was easy for me, in part, because I wanted to defend J’s right to look around, so I tended to go just slightly slower than her. And then I’d say things like, “Come on, honey! Let’s embrace our inner tourist!”

One of the stores that called out to J was the Savannah Bee Company:


We love samples, and there were plenty of honeys to sample. By the time J and I had chosen our favorites, Cute W and M wandered back, and we all decided that we needed the rich and creamy Winter White Honey, which tastes a bit line honey frosting. There was also a cute little beehive-style fort, which I tried to take pictures of for you, but it proved impossible to get it properly without including random children.

We had a fun week, and it wasn’t even too bad to say goodbye since we know that we’ll be seeing the family again at Christmas.

What else is going on? Well. . .

M just said that she thought that perhaps she should get a belly button ring.

“Huh. You really wanted your ears pierced long ago, but now your ears are pierced and you never, ever wear earrings. I don’t think that you really need to acquire another empty hole.”

“But Mom,” she countered. “Belly button rings are much cooler than earrings. I mean, who doesn’t want a belly ring?”

“I don’t.”

“Well, that’s because you’re an oldster instead of a hipster. I love you, Mom, but you’re not the hipster in this family anymore.”

I’m pretty sure that she thinks that hipster is the same as hip, so I choose to take this as a compliment, that perhaps, once, I was hip.

Also, the girls have opened up a stand on in the upstairs hall. They’re reaching outside their windows to break off icicles and scoop up what they’re calling “purified snow” and charging money for it. And I’m so pleased that they’re playing together happily that I plunked down 35 cents for a medium-length icicle. I also asked about the purification process for the snow. “Oh, I’m afraid that that’s a company secret. It’s a very complicated, secret process,” was the answer. I guess that means that they check for debris. They’ve also got two jars, once for charitable donations and another “to help our employees go to college and keep them off the streets and off drugs.” A worthy endeavor. I threw in an extra dime.



It was a beautiful day to hunt down and bag our Christmas tree!


We ended up going with the widest tree we’ve ever had. M has named it “Plumpy.” The girls found the tree and I was skeptical but unwilling to quash their enthusiasm. “That one’s really nice, girls, ” I said. “Did you see the two that Dad and I saw? Or what about that one over there? . . . Or. . . .” Nope. They had their tree. It’s going to be a little bit difficult to open our front door for the next few weeks, but you know, whatever.

Now it’s decorated, the stockings are hung, we’ve polished off a bottle of prosecco and two bottles of sparkling juice, and the girls are hunkered down in front of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Hooray.

Over the weekend, J and I attended not one, but two crafting sessions.

On Friday, it was  the elementary school crafting night. I said that I’d help at one of the craft tables, but I couldn’t be extra-early. You know what that means, right? As volunteers arrive, they  I could only arrive, gravitate to crafts that are (1) adorable or (2) easy or, ideally, both. Those of us who arrive late get crafts that are slightly less adorable and/or high-maintenance. Considering my arrival time, my assigned craft wasn’t too bad: dream catchers. Okay, yes, there was quite a bit of tying, but neither glue nor sparkles, so that rocks. And I thought the craft was pretty cute. Here’s what we used:


Our superb volunteer organizer had already done quite a bit of prep work. She’d cut the middles out of paper plates, punched holes into them, and tied a little ribbon loop to the top. So we had literally stacks of the prepped plates, plus tons of feathers, beads, and rainbow yarn. We could have used from scissors–I swiped a pair from another table and everyone did a good job with sharing.

To make the dream catcher, the kids just tied one end of yarn to one of the punched holes, like so. . .



And then went across the paper plate and poked the yarn through another hole, then moved over one hole to pull the yarn back out. . .




. .  .  and then they kept going back and forth until they’d gone to all the holes. Huh. Now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing that my sample would have looked better if I’d gone straight across and looped once over the right in that first move above. Well, whatever. Also, our kids generally ran out of string before they ran out of holes, and then panic would ensue, but really, they just needed another piece of string. Once they’d strung hither, thither, and yon, they tied their string to keep it secure. Then I’d have them hold the plate by the hanging loop so that they could figure out where the bottom was, and we’d take a shorter piece of yarn and make a “U,” putting each end through one of the bottom two holes.


Then they added a few beads to one of the ends of yarn and tied the yarn around a feather or two, then repeated with the other end of yarn (trimming it if it was too long).


Then, ta-da! They were ready to catch some dreams!


On Saturday, it was our church’s Homemade Holidays event, and my favorite new craft were paper sphere ornaments that the organizer had prepared after finding it on Martha Stewart’s website. I often expect Martha to be way too complicated, but once in a while she has a real gem, and this craft is simple and elegant. You need paper that you cut into strips (she suggests cards, but I think we used scrapbook stock, and it worked out great), a hole punch, and paper fasteners.

Start with paper cut into strips with holes punched on each end. Stack them up so that the patterned sides are all facing the same way, and then  use a paper fastener to attach them together on each end.



At our craft station, we were using little pieces of pipe cleaner to make hanging loops, but I think I’d like a bit of thread or an inconspicuous hook better. Once both ends are attached, you can just gently pull the strips apart into a sphere shape. If it’s not pretty easy to do, you just have to loosen the paper fasteners.


Look how cute!


We just put these on the tree, and they looked even prettier with the lights–someone settled the pink one so that a pink light happened to settle inside, and it made the interior glow. So that we took the yellow one and set it on a yellow light on purpose, and the overlapping paper makes a pretty star shadow. And when it’s time to put them away, we can put them back into little stacks of paper so that they won’t get crushed.

Oh! Here’s a link to my tv appearance.

If you’re looking for more holiday crafts, I have links on this page.



I’ve updated the events page.

If you don’t “like” my Facebook page, you may have missed my review of The Secret Garden at Capital Repertory Theatre. We really loved this play, but it’s not necessarily a good choice for little kids. You can read the review for details.

I’m going to be on Newschannel 13 Live at Noon tomorrow (Friday) talking about free holiday fun around the Capital District. If they post the segment on their website later, I’ll share it with you, of course.

Holly brought some candy this morning. About damn time that elf started spreading holiday cheer.

Holly Returns

On Monday, J sighed and said, “Do you think that our elf is going to come back this year?”


Holly the Elf is, like, the bane of my existence in December. I tried to find one post for a bit of back history for you, but there were tons of references to Holly the Elf, mostly my struggle to remember to move her, or my scares when J would come downstairs after bedtime and see her hanging around in my laundry basket, waiting for me to come up with something to do with her. This just isn’t one of my high-skill areas, parenting-wise. J’s still in that territory where she doesn’t quite believe in everything anymore, but she still wants to believe. And so, when she’s asking for Holly, I’m going to do my best to give her Holly.

But it ain’t easy, yo.

First, where the hell did I put the damn thing? The trouble with Holly is that she can’t be stored with all of the other Christmas decorations. She’s supposed to be at the North Pole! And sometimes J helps me unpack the storage boxes. So when J asked about Holly, already mildly disappointed that she hadn’t shown up for December 1st, the traditional first day of Household Observation, my face smiled while anxiety flooded from my heart and pooled in my abdomen. “I don’t know if she’ll come back, hon. I guess we’ll see.” I continued to pack J’s backpack while taking mental inventory of my various hidey-holes around the house.

Once she was off to school, it was time to start ransacking the house. With my enthusiasm so low, the last thing I wanted to do was buy another one of these overpriced dollies. But I knew I would. First I checked official hiding places. Then I tried to reconstruct what might have happened last year.

Usually, I reasoned, I stuff Holly into the laundry area on December 26th. Then she lounges among the miscellaneous laundry debris (pennies, hair elastics, wadded-up receipts, etc.) for a week or so before I come up with something better. But, last year, did I ever come up with anything better? Maybe not.  In which case, I would have stuffed her into a plastic bag and flung her up somewhere that was too high for J to reach. And from there I checked out the messy shelves above my washer and dryer . . .



. . . and moved that crate filled with the iron that only comes out for crafting projects because I don’t actually iron clothes; as well as a gallon of distilled water that I bought for something–maybe the iron, once?–and kept in case I’d need it for something else, then forgot about for three or four years;  along with miscellaneous rags, which tend to gather because I am far better at putting holes in socks than I am at cleaning the house with spare rags. And once I’d moved all that aside,


there she was! Nestled between the cheap plastic deli platter I think I might use someday and the bleach that lasts months at our house because I seem to be incapable of doing a bleach wash without putting a spot somewhere in the breast vicinity of whatever top I’m wearing. Hooray for Holly!

Now, in the process of dismantling my piles of junk in the name of Elf Excavation, I managed both to re-discover and to puncture the gallon of distilled water. So my moment of triumph was marred by the epic spill all over myself and my immediate vicinity before I put the leaky gallon container into a large bowl.

Then, I had to come up with someplace to put Holly so that it would appear as if Holly were in the house this morning and no one had found her. I helped her build a small fort with the tree skirt that’s awaiting our tree


and tucked her into it with a board book, so she could read up on her Elfin Duties.


Crap. According to the literature, apparently she and I are going to have to make some Christmas balls to hang on the tree. Add it to my “to do” list, I guess.

J was excited to stumble upon her later that evening, even if she didn’t arrive bearing gifts.

Then yesterday, I set Holly the Elf next to our spider plant, because I wanted J to notice that we’re actually getting flowers or spider babies or something.

Holly on lamp

The plant success is amazing, because we’ve had this plant for years, and it’s always been somewhat sickly. It had brown leaves and it always looked droopy. Recently I trimmed it and put it somewhere else, and it’s suddenly revitalized. In fact, I was looking into exactly what was going on with this plant the other day, and I found an encyclopedic page full of questions and answers about the care of spider plants. You will never guess what the cure for brown-tipped leaves is! Switch from regular water to distilled for watering!  I am not even kidding. All of this actually happened. So I salvaged that last cup of distilled water and put it in a new container, which I then tossed up into that crate, where I may or may not forget it.

And then, this morning, guess where Holly appeared?

. . . . .

Sitting on the lamp, next to the spider plant. That’s right, folks. It’s only December 3rd, and I’ve already forgotten to move the damn elf. Do you know how it feels to wake up all snuggly in your bed ten minutes before you actually have to get out of the bed, and you’re excited that you’ve got a little extra snoozing time and you start pondering your day and then you realize that YOU’VE ALREADY FAILED TODAY’S PARENTING without even having gotten out of bed or interacted with anyone?!?!

I will tell you.

It feels bad.

Cute W has now set a daily alarm on his watch to help with the Holly effort, but meanwhile, of course, people who are much better and more enthusiastic parents than I am have taken pictures of their clever Elf High Jinks and posted them on Facebook and no matter how lovely these people are, if they were actually in my presence, I’d have to restrain myself from pinching them very, very hard. Because, this morning, they brought their children Joy and Wonder and I brought my child Low-Level Disappointment and Resignation.

Meanwhile, all of those parents who were feeling so self-satisfied about their Fabulous Elf Antics have been knocked off of the Most Awesome Parent podium because all the truly cool parents have moved on to Kindness Elves. I mean, come on. If the Kindness Elves weren’t so kind, they might tell those stupid elves who spent last night toilet-papering their host kids’ bathroom to go suck it. The Kindness Elves appear to be composed entirely of organic materials, and they do wonderful things like  successfully move every night, traveling in a festive group, bringing inspiration for thoughtfully planned little projects to spread love and good cheer to others, all assigned with long, adorable notes so that the entire family can bond with each other while laboring to make the world a better place with their own small efforts. Surely such elves will cultivate the best possible human beings in whatever household they visit. I mean, it’s a wonderful, wonderful idea.

But that won’t happen here. I can barely manage to move my trendy, self-absorbed, materialistic elf.

Festive Candle Crafts

We were trying to come up with something crafty for the girls to do as a gift. I pulled up a bunch of interesting-looking ones on Pinterest, like cinnamon sticks wrapped around candles from She Knows and a cute mason jar craft from Spark and Chemistry, and I mentioned old reliables, like corn husk dolls. At the time, no one seemed particularly interested in doing anything. I can’t remember why–maybe no one was paying attention? For whatever reason, the kids said that they wanted to do corn husk dolls.

I went to PriceRite, because it’s a reliable source of corn husks. But while I was there, I bought a a 12-oz bag of Badia cinnamon sticks. It was a huge bag for only $2.99, and I figured that, even if the girls weren’t interested in doing those cute candles, I might make them myself sometime. Plus, Christmas is coming, and cinnamon sticks are great for crafty ornaments, too.

J came home from school when my purchases were still scattered on the table, and did she seize upon the corn husks? No. She zeroed in on the cinnamon sticks. “But, Mom, why do we have these? Mom, I thought that we weren’t making those cinnamon candles.”

“YOU guys said that YOU didn’t want to make the cinnamon candles. I thought that they were cute, so I got some cinnamon sticks.”

“So, wait, are allowed to make those cinnamon candles?” J asked.

“Yes! Of course you’re allowed! But I don’t have any candles right now because no one was interested in doing that craft.” Whatever. The next day I picked up some basic pillar candles, and I don’t think that J bothered to take her coat off before she started working on a cinnamon candle. This craft is easy. I’ve seen other versions using a glue gun and, honestly? I think the craft project would benefit with a little sticky reinforcement, but J was already off and running, so we skipped that part. When M came home, she set to work, too.


The two of them were happily crafting, so I headed into the kitchen to do something. The next time I came around the corner, J was off and running on the other craft, a decoupaged mason jar. Argh. I’d actually seen these adorable small mason jars at the craft store, but I hadn’t bought them because no one had shown any interest in doing that craft. And they were super-cheap, too, but I feared that they’d just end up collecting dust in the garage like those big mason jars that we have.  So, that was my thought process at the store, and here I was at home, and J had retrieved a big, dust-covered mason jar, and she was already adding leaves from our supply for our Thankful Tree. Well, I decided, she’s already started, so no reason not to finish this one.  And it is pretty.


Actually, we ended up adding a rafia bow around the rim, so it looks prettier now. But I was a little concerned about transporting this big ol’ jar, so we only made one of these. But again, it was very simple, like the decoupaged vases we’ve made before (which make an excellent gift).

Anyway, both of these crafts are easy for kids to do, and they’re a perfect either as a gift for relatives or as an activity for a bunch of kids this Thanksgiving.


Pellets of Doom

I think Cute W and I suffer from constant low-level anxiety about concussions from soccer for M. Watching this NBC News story pretty much had me breathing into a paper bag, and when showed it to M she said, “I wish I’d never seen this.”  Although in that story, you’ve got to figure that there’s a terrible coach involved, and the parents seem crazy. I think we’d probably tell M she must wear a headguard after one concussion, and two concussions might mean no more soccer.  Cute W bought a head guard from Full 90, but so far she isn’t wearing it. I’d love for the coaches of her various teams to strongly urge some particular headgear so that it becomes what everybody does, and it seems like that might happen soon.

But meanwhile, there’s a whole new health scare lately. Just over a month ago, there was a story about how artificial turf might be linked to cancer, especially among soccer goalies, who spend quite a bit of time diving into it. The story starts dramatically with a chemo nurse noticing that she’s hooked up four soccer goalies within the week. If you’ve been on turf lately, you’ll notice that there are all of these little black dots. Apparently, goalies get these caught in their clothes and hair and end up both inhaling them and swallowing them in the course of play. Wow, that’s pretty horrifying, right?

So, it’s getting colder outside, and M’s doing more play on turf. The other day I saw her shoes lying around, a bit like this:



Do you see that? There are little black dots all over the place! Oh, my gosh. I grabbed the dust buster and sucked those Cancer Nuggets right up. In fact, my usual first impulse when there’s a mess is to document it (like the time J cut her own hair or when I dropped the butter dish), but in this case, I was in full-on panic mode. I got rid of the Pellets of Doom immediately. So, of course, when I wanted to write about it, I had to re-enact the scene. Luckily it was easy as taking a letter opener to the grooves on the bottom of her cleats. Wait, luckily!? That means that those extra Bonus Cancer Nuggets have been nestling in my closet for a week, like little Trojan Fleas. I came to this realization as I was digging the Nugget-Pellet-Fleas out of her shoes and scattering them on the floor for this photo. And then my cat ambled up and began sniffing the unidentified objects. “AWAY!” I shrieked.

Since the cleats discovery, it appears that my daughter has been inadvertently sowing Cancer Seeds to blossom and grow throughout our house.  And not just our house: also, our car:



So, that’s awesome.

I’m really still not as panicked about Cancer Nuggets as I am about possible concussions. And meanwhile, M’s little sister cheerfully reports that she’s learning to do back handsprings on the balance beam.

Maybe there’s something about the tangibility of these little Pellets of Doom. I see them, and I leap into action, vanquishing the scourge. If only every threat were so vulnerable to the vacuum cleaner.

Charmed Life

Guess what happened on Friday?

It was the 2nd annual Turkey Trot at M’s middle school. You might remember that M won the Turkey Trot last year. She was the top finisher and girl winner for the 6th grade. It meant quite a bit of glory. Later, some of the grown-ups said that they were even more impressed when she walked home after school, hauling the eighteen-pound frozen turkey.

As Turkey Trot season rolled around, we started out confident. Cute W planned to take the afternoon off to watch the run. I kept teasing M, “You’re bringing your mama a turkey, aren’t you?” Then I started lobbying to have a Friend Thanksgiving if she won. We could cook up the turkey and throw in some stuffing and cranberry sauce and invite all of her friends. I thought it was a clever idea, and a great way to finally get her to host something, since she never, ever wants to invite friends over to our house.

“No, Mom. We’re giving the turkey to charity,” she said.

“But, this could be fun. . .” I wheedled.

“Or, it could be braggy. Serving turkey to people I beat at winning a turkey.”

“But you’d be sharing the spoils of victory. . . .”

“Let’s share with people who need food. Seriously, Mom, what do you have against the homeless?”

Damn, she’s good. You can totally tell she’s got non-profit-attorney blood running through her veins.

But as the Big Day approached, we all stopped counting chickens.

M wanted a repeat victory. Bad. Usually, she’s chill. She is very good at being quite indifferent to the vagaries of middle school social life, for example. Which seems to be part of her mystique.

But, leading up to the Turkey Trot, M started going for runs. On the morning of the Turkey Trot, M requested a water bottle. “I’m going to hydrate all day,” she announced. This girl wanted to win. This made all of us a little nervous. One of M’s friends is a runner, doing track while M was doing soccer this fall. Surely she had a great chance. Then, as the day approached, Cute W decided not to come, after all. “I’m afraid that if she doesn’t in it this year, I’ll be the jinx.” I thought that this was silly, but when I told M what Cute W had said, she thought he shouldn’t come, too. “I mean,” she said, “What if he took that time off especially to come watch, and then I lost? He probably just shouldn’t come.” Well, I sure as heck was coming. And win or lose, this year I’d be prepared. I packed up extra warm clothes, a water bottle, and a couple of plastic barf bags. Just in case.

And then, she won. Again.

Which was awesome. She was so excited. She’d been nervous all day, she said. For the rest of the weekend, she kept saying out of the blue, “Guess what?” We’d reply, “What?” and she’d squeal, “I won a turkey!!”

But I felt a little bad, too. There were plenty of kids who were there just to have a good time, happy to participate. That SO wasn’t us. We were in it to win it. And then, I’m sure that there were other kids who really, really wanted to win, and didn’t. My kid is just so freaking lucky that sometimes it feels downright unfair to root for her.
Her grades are excellent, she is conventionally attractive, she starts on her soccer team. When middle school started she decided which people she wanted to be her new best friends, and suddenly they were. As far as I know, her first serious crush became her boyfriend. The first time she went to Dave & Buster’s with a bunch of friends, she got in line with a bunch of people for the giant claw game (you know: those total scam arcade games where you try to get a stuffed animal, and it drops every time?). She successfully clawed and won three different items in a single grab. That single incident is emblematic of her impossibly charmed life.And yes, yes: there’s effort there, too. She works for her grades, and she practices soccer footwork. But she also doesn’t have any learning challenges to overcome, and she has a devoted soccer-fiend dad.

I try to remind her that she is extraordinarily privileged. At some point Cute W and I let her watch Louis CK chatting with Jay Leno about being a “little white girl in America,” and I think that she honestly took it to heart. She tends to love reading stories where girls overcome adversity, including memoirs like  I Am Nujood, Age Ten and Divorced. And, closer to home, I’m always trying to ensure that she’s using whatever social power she has for Good instead of Evil. She was talking about someone off by themselves, and I jumped in, “Wait, did you try to include them? Remember, if someone’s alone, it’s really easy to help them feel included.” And she responded with, “Oh my gosh, Mom, I know that because you’ve only told me, like, a million, jillion times!” And I sat back, feeling very pleased with myself. She is also fortunate to have an excellent mother.

But it gets a little awkward sometimes. Like when I’m cheering at a soccer game: the best cheering is when the teams are only a couple of points aware from each other. If our team gets too far ahead, I feel morally obligated to start bucking up the opposing team. So, standing, shivering, along the Turkey Trot Race, I yelled for all the kids whose names I could remember. But I yelled for M, too.

That child needs a little adversity in her life. Other kids should get a chance to be winners. Even as her mother, it feels cosmically unfair of me to root for her above all others.

But root for her I do.

M alone as Turkey Trot winner cropped

Getting Ready for the Season

This morning, J practically danced out of the house and on her way to school. Why was she so excited? It was that smidgen of snow, the twinkle’s worth of frost. Winter is coming, and she’s vibrating with enthusiasm.  It’s funny: when kids are teensy, they don’t even remember the seasons. Every year, snow is a startling new discovery, the sizzling-hot summer pavement surprises them. We grown-ups sniff the air or watch the stores stockpiling shovels and shake our heads ruefully, knowing that winter is unavoidable. But J’s in that sweet spot. She forgets how inconvenient it is to peel off snow clothes on the way to the bathroom, that February winter-will-never-end feeling is a faraway memory. I think that the anticipation is heightened because we happen to be reading The Long Winter, in which Pa and Laura observe the muskrats and the birds and all sorts of other hints that their winter will be bad, so that it begins to feel like a scary movie in which the monster is Winter. I think it’s made J hyper-aware of the natural changes, even as she appreciates that, unlike De Smet, our town is practically overrun with supermarkets. No: as far as she can recall, winter has no drawbacks. It’s   a shiny destination packed with Christmas and skiing and snow days, and she can’t wait to get there. Her mother, on the other hands, has barely adjusted to autumn.

In fact, when I started to do a bit of blog maintenance, I realized that I’d accidentally trashed my Embrace Winter page, so I’ll have to put that back together. For now I’m coasting on apple orchards and a link to holiday stuff, although I have updated my events page.

Speaking of which, I’m a bit sad that I don’t have a link to my latest WNYT appearance [Update: here it is!], because I liked the theme particularly: great stories make great children’s theater. So I’m just going to give you a little repeat-plug here. I wrote an article about taking children to the theater, and experts recommend that you take little kids to shows that are stories that they already know. They’ll get excited about it, and it’s easier for them to follow the plot. And there are several different “great stories make great theater” opportunities coming up, including:


Jack, The Beanstalk, and Friends at Steamer No. 10 Theatre this weekend. It’s a slapstick comedy adventure in which Jack encounters some of your favorite nursery rhyme characters, and Steamer 10 is a great “starter theater.”

This Saturday,  Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse at The Egg is showing at at The Egg (Nelson Rockefeller Center for the Performing Arts) at 11 am. It’s a production by Omaha Theatre, and this is one of our favorites at our house. I’m a huge Kevin Henkes fan. One adult admitted free per child.

On Sunday at 3 pm, Pinkalicious the Musical is at the Palace Theatre. What’s more fun than a story kids love? Throw in some songs!

The Secret Garden opens at Capital Repertory Theatre on Friday the 21st. This is a Tony-Award winning musical that’s continuing deep into December, so it could be a great family outing.

And next Saturday, November 22nd, you can walk watch Peter & The Wolf An Urban Tale at The Egg  at 11 am. Choreographer Cartier Williams (who’s performed with Savion Glover) and his company of tap, ballet, hip-hop and modern dancers bring the famous cast of characters to New York City in the 21st century as they re-imagine this classic tale. This one’s a great deal: $10 for a child’s ticket, and each child can bring an adult for free.