Niagara Falls

I mentioned that J had a big gymnastics meet recently, but I don’t think that I mentioned that it was all the way near Buffalo. That’s a massive schlep, plus I wasn’t sure how the meet would go, so I decided that we should try to work a mini-vacation in. Before Sunday’s meet, J and I spent Saturday in Niagara Falls. Cute W and M stayed home so that M could go to her friend’s bat mitzvah.

I had somehow never visited Niagara Falls. The closest I came was on a visit to my aunt & uncle’s house. They planned an outing there, but since I was massively phobic about rain and it was a drizzly day, I believe I stayed home. Either that or I blocked it out entirely due to being traumatized by excessive mist. Have I mentioned that I had. . . issues as a child? Many of them have resolved themselves.

Now I know that many will say that the Canadian side is better, but Cute W, who represents cities and villages across New York State, made an impassioned defense of the American side, which is a beautiful free state park, even if they strongly encourage you to buy a $38 Discovery Pass to their many special attractions. He was practically chanting U-S-A as I considered my options, but I was happy to stay on the American side. With my tragic sense of direction and my keen awareness of how cars can kill people, I’d be working hard to act breezy and stress-free without having to worry about reading and speaking Canadian. Yes, I’m kidding. But anyway.

After a little research (including a review of KidsOutAndAbout), I decided to spurn the Discovery Pass but planned to do the Maid of the Mist boat ride and the Cave of the Winds attraction.

I had planned our trip so that we’d arrive in the area in time for lunch and spend the afternoon at the falls. After consulting Yelp, I offered J a choice of well-reviewed places of some of her favorite kinds of food, and she chose Indian, so we headed to Spices of India. This was basically a grocery store with a casual eating area and buffet. We loved the buffet, and we had fun wandering around the grocery store finding many, many items we’d never heard of before. We were tempted to buy them, but knowing that everything would be sitting in a hot car for the rest of the day helped us confine ourselves to a jar of mint chutney. Then when we arrived at Niagara Falls State Park I felt pretty silly, because the place is pretty much surrounded by Indian food–yes, you can pick up a hot dog, but you can also grab a samosa and curry just as easily. Who knew?

The place was also crazy-busy when we arrived, so the park’s parking lot was full, and I headed for a city garage a couple of blocks away. Since I had no idea where I was going, I was tremendously pleased to ditch the car, but J really hated the parking garage. The stairwell we descended to get to street level smelled strongly of sweaty hands on metal (think, playing on old-school monkey bars and then smelling your palms in August, but then imagine you’re a 14-year-old boy and make it six times stronger). In fact, when we walked back at the end of the day, J actually started gagging and convinced me to walk up the car ramps. So, you know: there’s that.

But the falls were lovely! J was impressed.


There was quite a sea of humanity, but they’re clearly experienced at taking care of bulk piles of tourists, because it was easy to find our first activity, the Maid of the Mist. As we approached the boat, J loved looking down at everyone getting ready to go on the boat with their blue ponchos.


There’s nothing like putting on a poncho to whip up a ton of excitement. Once we were on the boat, J was jumping up and down trying to see beyond taller passengers, but of course she’s way too old and mature to allow me to lift her myself. She managed to survive the embarrassment of me asking some guys to let her stand in front of them at the rail.


Our favorite part of the boat ride was afterwards, when you can climb up alongside the falls (if you click on the photo above you can see a snaking trail of blue-poncho-wearing tourists). We got very, very wet.


J, in her thin white shirt, was not super-psyched. I thought that the ponchos would be sufficient, but we ended up lingering on the observation tower to air dry for a while.

Next we headed across the pedestrian bridge to Goat Island on our way to the Cave of the Winds attraction. If I were to go again, I’d plan to arrive early enough to park in the lot, go on the boat ride in the morning, and then linger over a picnic lunch on Goat Island. It had some really lovely and serene spots that were, as they say, far from the maddening crowd. Here’s a map of the park. It’s genuinely a pleasant place to lie on a blanket or throw a frisbee.

Okay, so the Cave of the Winds attraction is really just a spot where they’ve built boardwalks and staircases right among the falls so that you can get up close and personal with the water. J and I had loved getting wet climbing the stairway after Maid of the Mist, but by the end we were feeling water-logged and red-eyed, even with our sunglasses and ponchos. Again, if I were planning another visit, I’d leave a little more time for hanging out and playing, maybe getting hot, before doing the attraction, because J was pretty much done as soon as she arrived. This also may have been because she was annoyed with me. More on that later.

For Cave of the Winds, your timing is key. They actually rebuild all of those wooden walkways and staircases every year (or so the staffer told me), because everything get dislodged and destabilized with the winter ice. So when we went, the so-called “Hurricane Deck” was not available. If that access is important to you, you should call ahead. Second, we were fortunate to arrive as roughly a gajillion gulls were nesting and tending to their eggs, and in some cases, their chicks. These birds were very close to the walkways, and it was great fun to watch them. It was by far our favorite part of the attraction. If you’d like to see them, too, keep in mind that we went the last weekend of May, and there were mostly unhatched eggs and just a few chicks when we visited, so early to mid-June is optimal time to visit and see them.


And that’s why J got annoyed with me. Because of this bird:


Well, not exactly because of the bird, who, you’ll see if you click on the picture, is taking care of an egg. It was the tourist guy who, moments later, was trying to touch this bird while this bird was freaking out and flapping its wings to protect its future chick. And the guy just kept trying to stroke the bird and then I told him to stop and then I said it again and then I yelled at him until he backed off. In retrospect, I don’t believe that English was his first language. And I don’t endorse shouting at strangers. But I was definitely on Mama Bird’s side. J, meanwhile, quickly moved a discreet distance away from me so that she wouldn’t be seen with me.  I meanwhile, stood there next to the bird with my bitch face on until the man moved along. J was embarrassed and unmoved by my argument that since everyone was wearing hooded yellow ponchos, we already pretty much blended in with the crowd. Frankly, it put a damper on the next half hour or so, which was unfortunate, but it was not like I made a conscious choice to be humiliating to my daughter. It was pure instinct. I am instinctively humiliating. Oh, well.

We ended up staying at Niagara Falls much later than I expected, but not so late that J wasn’t begging to jump into the hotel pool as soon as we checked in. I let her go because I thought that we might meet up with teammates for a group dinner, and by the time I realized that that wasn’t going to happen, it was well after 7 pm. Sadly, my plan to eat hotel food was foiled by the lack of a hotel restaurant, and when J requested Chipotle, I was so starving that I agreed. I left her at the hotel chatting with friends and then watching tv in the room, because it looked like a quick trip.

The GPS said 3 miles, but the drive was a hop on-and-off the highway, just the kind of stuff I hate. I arrived and there was an enormous line, and luckily I’d only waited on line a few minutes when I realized that I’d accidentally put my wallet into my overnight bag instead of my purse when I checked in. That’s right: back to the hotel. I retrieved the wallet, navigated back to Chipotle with one fewer wrong turn than the first time I’d driven there, and arrived to discover that the line was almost exactly as long as it had been twenty minutes ago. When I finally got up to order, I found out that J’s favorite meat was unavailable and I almost started crying right there. Instead, I got two different kinds of burrito bowls made to J’s specifications, then begged them to dump all the other delicious toppings in another bowl so that I could throw them onto whichever bowl she rejected. For the record, J is willing to accept steak, too, albeit grudgingly.

Oh, and the meet went fine. Some successes, some disappointments. It was good to get home.

It’s off topic, but I wanted to let you know about a giveaway for a trip to Rochester. I’ve been to many of these places (see some reviews here) and they’re super-fun, so if you’re looking for a quick family vacation, you should enter.


Day Out With Thomas® Giveaway!

Thomas logo

Are you and your kids huge Thomas the Tank Engine™ fans? Then here’s a giveaway for you!

Peep! Peep! Thomas the Tank Engine™ is celebrating friendship at Day Out With Thomas®: The Celebration Tour 2015, and families across North America are invited aboard! Little engineers everywhere are invited to join Thomas when the #1 Engine pulls into Utica’s Union Station June 19-21 and June 26-28 for Day Out With Thomas®: The Celebration Tour 2015, presented by Fisher-Price and sponsored by MEGA Brands and all inclusive Hard Rock Hotels.

This fun-filled event offers little engineers and their families the opportunity to take a ride with Thomas the Tank Engine, star of the popular Thomas & Friends® series. In addition, children will meet Sir Topham Hatt™, Controller of the Railway and enjoy a day of Thomas-themed activities including arts & crafts, storytelling and more.

This year, Thomas & Friends celebrates 70 years of friendship.  All aboard the Best Friends Express for an unprecedented year of Thomas-themed programs and activations as the #1 blue engine celebrates friendship with fans around the world.

Tickets for Day Out with Thomas: The Celebration Tour 2015 are on sale now and available by calling Ticketweb toll-free 866-468-7630, or by visiting  or  Ticket prices are $24.00 plus tax (peak times, 11:00am – 2:00pm Saturdays and Sundays) and $20.00 for off peak times for ages 2 and up (service charges and fee may apply).

You can enter to win a family four-pack of tickets to Day Out with Thomas: The Celebration Tour 2015 for Sunday, June 28th at 3 pm leaving from Utica Station (likely 1 to 2 hours west of many of you). To enter, just comment below by Wednesday, June 17th at 6 am with answer to one of these questions:

1) Who’s your child’s favorite character from Thomas & Friends?


2) What quality do you most value in a mama (or dad) friend?

I’ll randomly select the winner when the drawing closes.

Good luck!

Thomas train

4th Grade is Tough

I should have asked this before, but can you do me a HUGE favor and fill out this KidsOutAndAbout survey about your favorite local kid-friendly places? I appreciate it!

My last post was originally going to be called Yin & Yang, because sometimes I feel like my daughters grow up as if they’re playing a relay race, passing the baton back and forth. “I’m feeling really low-maintenance,” one might say, and the other one will sigh and reply, “Well, in that case I better bring out my inner uber-bitch.” You know, because it’s important that parents stay challenged.

And with M in a delightful stage, the pendulum has swung over to J. I blame too much work with just a splash of pre-pubescent hormones.

Except that I realized that her high-maintenance phase isn’t misbehavior. She’s just stressed, and it’s hard to be around. In the mornings she is frantic to get out on time, which can be aggravating because her “on time” means “one of the first kids to arrive at school, always.” In the afternoons, she is moaning over homework, then she makes me feel like I’m shipping her off to a gulag when I’m politely telling her that she can’t watch tv because we need to go to one of the activities she (theoretically) loves. In the evening, she’s overtired, but it takes forever to get her to settle in and sleep. And then, especially since we sprung forward, she’s up at the crack of dawn and doing things when she could really use a little more rest. I have told her not to get out of bed before 6 am, but I can’t enforce this rule properly because I am always fast asleep at that time.

Fourth grade has been brutal. I expected this, because in our school, especially, all the parents talk about how demanding 4th grade is (and how 5th grade is a vacation afterward–fingers crossed on that one!). The kids had their huge New York project, and way back on April 30th I’d said that “I’m hoping that J can go into coast mode.” And then, instead, we jumped right into another huge, anxiety-causing project. It’s not that I hate the project so much, except that we could have used a week of normalcy before kicking back into high gear. So once again I’m hoping that the worst will be over after today, when the latest project wraps up. Although we’ll still have her reading book, which means she’ll want to take notes while she’s in bed. I really can’t believe that all of the kids in her class are taking the ridiculous number of notes that she’s taking while reading her book. I want to wrestle the little lapdesk away from her and shriek, “Just enjoy the damn book!”

It’s interesting, though, because this whole year I’ve felt like J’s been a little bit less joyful about school. Then, yesterday, we had a conversation in the car. I asked her, now that the school year was almost over, how she thought her current teacher ranked among the others that she’d had. She thought for a long stretch, and then she said, “Well, most of the other teachers are meaner to the other kids and nicer to me.” After a little probing, we figured it out. This year’s teacher doesn’t play favorites. Which is great, in theory, unless you’re the kid who is always, always teacher’s pet. J behaves well in school, making her an instant magnet for teachers’ affections. Then she walks to and from school, which offers her a little bit of extra time with her classroom teacher. She loves to  do little jobs or chat with her teachers about favorite tv shows or their kids’ antics at home. This year’s teacher is terrific, but what feels like standard professionalism to grown-ups feels, to J, like he’s aloof. J summed it up: “You know I really like being the teacher’s pet slash friend, and that aspect was lacking with [my teacher].” Funny, huh? But you’ve got to think that all of the kids who tend to get ignored or labeled naughty had a terrific year.

Beyond school and homework, J’s been a little bit stressed because she’s feeling torn about her activities. She does a long gymnastics practice three times a week, and lately she’s been interested in field hockey. She did a field hockey clinic over the winter in a gym, and we were eagerly awaiting information about more field hockey in the spring. And, of course, it turned out to be scheduled in direct conflict with gymnastics. Now, gymnastics is long enough that even though field hockey takes up the first hour of practice, I could still drive J over to gymnastics afterwards. In fact, the way traffic works, it means a smidgen more free time for her. I was okay with her missing some gymnastics, and so we went ahead and signed up. But then J started fretting about missing practice before her last meet of the season, the “states” meet. Except that she was fine missing gymnastics for her friend’s birthday party and Niska-Day. This is in contrast to M, who has skipped the most fun things possible (overnight camping parties, excursions to Great Escape, etc.) without hesitation because she’s so devoted to soccer.

And here’s the deal: J’s had a tough gymnastics year. In previous years she’s had moments of glory on the podium, but this year? Not so much. So I really, truly didn’t think that an extra ten hours (or 30 hours, for that matter) of practice was going to bring her medals  at a meet that would have stronger competition than all of the other meets where she hadn’t placed this year. Not that I said this to her, of course. But if I thought that she had a good chance of placing really high, I might have urged the practice. Instead, my attitude is: where’s the fun? This is a little stress-puppy who needs some fun. Part of this, too, is colored by witnessing how much M loved being on her school soccer team this year. There’s no school team for gymnastics and no one from her school is on the team, so a back-up sport would also offer a back-up social group at school. Yes, middle school looms. And the thing is that gymnastics has been great at teaching J to persevere and to use her perfectionist tendencies for Good instead of Evil, and I think her coaches are terrific, and they do a wonderful job of getting the girls to cheer each other on. But I also hate that someone feels like they have to specialize so much at 10 years old. And, with field hockey, I was really proud of J for trying something new (I wrote about how nervous she was on that first day).

J ended up skipping most of the field hockey before her big meet, which was last weekend, and now she’s attending field hockey again. But when I picked her up after her field hockey-gymnastics combo yesterday, she was bemoaning the fact that she’d missed a couple of really fun things at gymnastics. And I said that she could choose what she wanted to do, so we’ll see what happens.

 – – – – – – – – – – – –

I have a feeling I’m not alone about the homework fatigue. I shared this post about homework on the KidsOutAndAbout Facebook page, and commenting teachers and parents agree that we wish the kids would just go play outside, dammit. So if we all agree, why aren’t we doing it?

Way To Go, I’m So Proud of Me.

Lately, not to jinx it or anything? But, for me at least, M’s been a delight. That kid is sharp. She is funny.  She says all sorts of jokey pleasant things, which I appreciate, and when you realize that she’s turning 13 in two weeks, it’s remarkable how much of a tremendous pain in the ass she isn’t.

Okay, here’s an example. M just bought herself a new sweatshirt at a recent soccer tournament. It is her new favorite piece of clothing, tie-dyed blue and white, with a logo in front and her jersey number in back. Except that she recently wore it while eating a juicy plum, and now it has three fairly significant pinkish splotches. She brought it to me and showed me the stains.

“What do you think?” she asked, as if she were an orthopedist who’d like a second opinion on an X-ray.

“Hmmm. . . we’ll see how it goes. . . .” I said.

“Mom, you got this. I believe in you,” she said.

“Well,” I mused, “If I can’t get the stain out, we could potentially rub the rest of it with plum to make it look like it’s another tie-dye color?”

And then we both laughed and high-fived.

The next day, M saw the sweatshirt hanging from a hook next to the washer.

“How’s the sweatshirt doing?” She asked. Again, sounding like she was asking about a patient.

“I haven’t even tried yet,” I answered.

“Okay,” she nodded and walked away.

Alright, perhaps you’ll say that my expectations are too low, but this seems like a fabulous success story to me. M was pleasant, undramatic, and appreciative.

But you know what’s even better about it? When she acts like this, it’s because I taught her to do it.

1. She brought her stained clothes to me. Hello? Do you know how much training it took for me to get my kids to understand how important Stain Awareness is to The Laundry Sciences? I even made a flow chart long ago, which got prettied up for KidsOutAndAbout:

Laundry Flowchart

So, yeah. That kind of awesome requires significant teaching. And re-teaching.

2. She made that “I believe in you” comment. Well, that’s a long-standing saying of mine from times when my children have said that they were incapable of something that was entirely within their capabilities (think cleaning rooms, helping to clear the table, finishing spelling sentences). I’ll say things like, “I believe you can do it” or “I am profoundly confident in your abilities.”
Is there a wee bit of smart-assery when I’m saying this to my children, and then when they say it back to me? Yes. But you know what? Even if there is occasionally a smirk involved, there’s no getting around the fact that these are affirming comments. So, when I say something like, “Phew! I finally caught up with all of my emails!” and M responds with, “Way to go, Mom. I’m so proud of you,” the truth is I know that she is half-kidding, but also that she’s happy for me. And I feel perversely proud of myself, too. Possibly this is also because I try to model appreciation for small things.

3. She nodded and moved on. When M realized that for an entire day, I’d completely ignored her favorite piece of clothing, in her opinion a true laundry emergency, she was completely polite, accepting it with nary an eyeroll. She didn’t even ask when I’d get to it. Am I the only one amazed by this lack of drama? Did I mention that she’s a 7th grader? And this is her new favorite sweatshirt? Again, maybe my expectations are low, but if you think I’m silly for appreciating this completely normal and reasonable behavior, I’ll tell you a secret. Low expectations=joy. And once again, it’s even better because I know why there isn’t any drama. Once upon a time, back when there used to be Laundry Drama, I came up with a powerful phrase which can be adapted for your use. This is where Cute W would claim that it was his “patented method,” but that’s another story, and I’m getting distracted. Here’s the phrase:

“Anyone who feels so passionate about laundry should clearly be doing her own laundry.”

I think that I only said this two to three times before it took effect. And I was completely in earnest, following up with the offer of doing a little laundry clinic and writing up a cheat sheet to help the girls remember the steps to follow. When that happened, my kids fled in terror. But now, see: it’s out there. Laundry is something that I’m doing for them as a favor. Because I’m nice. They are fully capable of doing it for themselves. I am offering this service out of the goodness of my heart, but this service could be rescinded at any time. Do you see how awesome this is? Instant gratitude! Now, imagine the applications! “Anyone with such a refined palate should probably be in charge of cooking his own meals” or “Someone so excited about getting the kiddy pool filled could really pour that passion into scrubbing away the mildew!” See. . . ? I highly recommend it.

And guess what? In the time it took to write this post, the sweatshirt went through the wash and came out, plum-free.


Damn, I’m good.




Memorial Day Weekend

For Memorial Day, I took the girls to the mall where we bought M a dress for a bat mitzvah. Because I’m a #truepatriot.

So, yes, okay: I felt a little guilty. Especially because I was listing off all sorts of parades on and talking about activities that you can do to enhance the meaning of Memorial Day. But in fairness, we’ve done that in the past. We’ve been to parades, crafted tissue paper poppies, brought treats to our veteran neighbor, etc. We have no ancestors residing in the local cemetery whose grave we can spruce up and then take a photo for Facebook. So. . . we took the opportunity to get the girls some shorts.

Actually, it was pretty much an emergency situation, because M reminded me on Sunday night that she had this event coming up on Saturday, so we had to get moving. Shopping is bad enough without having to fit it in with midweek carpooling and such. Crap, come to think of it, we should have gotten the gift at the same time. Dammit. There’s going to be midweek shopping, anyway, isn’t there?

But, anyway, after the shopping excursion, J and I kicked off the summer season with a visit to the Schenectady JCC’s pool, which is open a full two weeks before the town pool, another perk we appreciate. I didn’t actually get into the pool myself, but I was happy to lounge on the chaise, Plus two of J’s friends were there, so she was happily cavorting with them while I chillaxed with their mamas. This was excellent, because after spending the morning shopping, I needed some Serenity Time. Prior to the pool outing, my sweet J was cozying up to me while I tried to cut meat and throw it into a marinade. This is not actually optimal cuddle time, so it became awkward.

Let’s see. . . what else did we do this weekend? Cute W took M to a soccer tournament over Friday and Saturday nights. They loved the soccer and the bonding but came home exhausted. J and I saw both Tomorrowland with a friend and Pitch Perfect 2 as a mother-daughter date. I thought Tomorrowland was more fun than I expected: a little heavy-handed with the I-believe-the-children-are-our-future theme at the end, but with plenty of girl power, so that was excellent. As for Pitch Perfect, I loved the first one, and this one was. . . fine, too. I think my expectations were too high, plus it suffered from putting so funny parts in the trailer. And yes, I know what you’re thinking: she took her 10-year-old to see a PG-13 movie, one with all sorts of innuendo and crudeness–have I lost all my standards? Well, yeah, pretty much. First of all? Hello, second child. When M was little, we had some standards! But also it helped that she had no idea what she was missing. It was also interesting because Tomorrowland’s rated PG, but there was a surprising amount of stressful violence. I think they skated by on the ratings because a lot of the “people” getting shot were supposed to be robots who looked like people, but come on. Meanwhile Pitch Perfect had references that (I hope) flew over J’s head, but also the kind of snarky humor that we’ll see on tv, like when the commentators say ridiculously inappropriate things. So I decided it was fine. M’s in 7th grade and J’s 4th grade, and I feel like once M hit middle school, it hardly feels worth it to try to shelter her from bad words and crudeness, because middle school is basically all bad words and crudeness, with some body odor thrown in. But it does get difficult when I approve something for M and not for J.

Oh! And I did some houseplant maintenance over the weekend, too.

Basically, I’m terrible at taking care of the houseplants. Yet in spite of my neglect, many of them manage to thrive. Not all. But some. Except that those plants that are hardy enough to survive eventually outgrown their planters and/or become unwieldy, and next thing you know I have a major surgical situation on my hands instead of just a little trim. So I really just have to wait until I can move “everybody” outside to take care of them. Far from the image of a serene lady at a lovely little potting station wearing a wide-brimmed hat and tugging on her floral gardening gloves, I am splayed out all over the yard, like so:


If you check out this mess, I had two schefflera plants that I divided into six more reasonably-sized plants (located at 6, 7, 11, & 12 o’clock), one abusively-trimmed basil and a bunch of seeds that I’m hoping to convert into a lovely little rectangular herb planter (at 9 o’clock), a mini plant (at 1 o’clock) that’s outgrown its home and dwarfed its two neighbors that I put into one of Mary’s old pots and have replaced with a new tiny succulent (below), and a spider plant (2 o’clock) that I re-potted on a whim because I happened to have a spare pot, and then when I saw the huge tangle of more-root-than-soil that was in the pot, I kept apologizing to the poor long-suffering thing.

So that was productive! Although, this reminds me, I should water them if I don’t want them to die by day after tomorrow.



I hope that you all had a meaningful/relaxing/fun/productive weekend. . . whichever you were hoping for!



Hiding the Mess

I forgot to tell you about the funniest part of Niska-Day!

Okay, I’ve said that I invite people over to watch the parade, right? And we usually bring our outdoor table and chairs into the front yard so that people can snack on something breakfast-y: sometimes people bring muffins or donuts, and we have stuff, too. And perhaps I’ve mentioned that now that we have hammocks, our front yard sometimes has a bit of a vacant-lot-at-the-trailer-park feel. Well, about twenty minutes after the parade ended, not one but two different people approached our house, assuming that we were having a garage sale! It was completely understandable. We normally have a red bench, two hammocks, and a little cafe table with two chairs in the front. Right after the parade, there was also that table and chairs as well as scooters, bikes, Ripstiks, and sweatshirts littering the lawn. I had to wave the people away and explain, “No, sorry, we’re just a mess because we’re partying over the Niska-Day parade!” Then I got the kid who’d left her bike to move it into the backyard just in case, since our neighborhood has been known to fall victim to scavenging. All in all, it was a great motivational tool for getting the kids to clean up. “Kids, people literally think that I’m selling your stuff, so if you don’t want it sold, you’ve got to put it away!’

Ah, good times.

I’ve begun to emotionally check out of school for the year. In September I’m eagerly packing nutritious lunches in the morning and pouncing on the shiny red folders filled with school information and completed worksheets in the afternoon. I realized that I hadn’t checked and signed J’s assignment book for at least a week on the same day that I stumbled downstairs in the morning to discover that J had made herself a breakfast of Buffalo Chicken Dip and chips and was watching it in front of the tv. That’s right, folks. Someone hand me the Mother of the Year sash and tiara.

J, however, is still all in. That poor little dumpling is working like a dog. At our school, fourth grade is widely considered the most challenging grade, followed by a relative coast through fifth grade. Honestly, M pretty much coasted through all of elementary school, enjoying a unique combination of character attributes: she’s a smarty-pants, she’s very disciplined, and she cares, but not all that much. So she’d get all of her work done with a low level of drama. J is just as much of a smarty-pants, but she is cursed with a perfectionism that can be almost disabling. The fact that it’s within the realm of possibility that she will Fail To Achieve Greatness on any given project makes it difficult to start or continue any project. I was super-excited when her Susan B. Anthony project was done. I was ready to let her coast for a bit. But instead, there was another project, an entrepreneurship project, that they jumped into almost immediately.

So days after the big New York State Spotlight shebang, she was laboring over her business plan and resume. Basically, writing and writing, then looking up to wring her hands as if to say, “I’m ten years old, and what have I really accomplished in my life?” And then writing some more, with occasional pleas for help.

“What jobs do I do around the house? I don’t do any jobs around the house!” she half-wailed.

“Yes, you do, honey,” I answered. “You keep your room clean and you put away the laundry and you help clear the table, and you and your sister are responsible for keeping your bathroom clean and the playroom clean.”

“But I’m terrible at all those jobs!” she protested. “My room is a mess right now!”

“Well, it’s true that you could do better at those jobs. But that’s what resumes are. You’re not obligated to tell the whole, entire truth: don’t lie, but focus on the positive.”

At which point M chimed in with a real-world example from our school board election. But that’s water under the bridge, the election’s over now.

Niska-Day Fatigue

We pretty much exhausted ourselves this weekend. It was Niska-Day, aka the girls’ favorite holiday after Christmas.

I’ve said before: I love the Niska-Day Parade. It’s such a terrific neighborhood celebration. We love seeing friends and the kids love running wild. I’m always full of neighborhood-love this time of year, with the flowers blooming and the leaves coming out to form tree tunnels over all the streets, and the love hits its peak during the parade.

But by the end of Niska-Day, I am toast, and this year was no exception. M had a tremendous run of some of the Most Fun Ever. On Wednesday, it was a marathon trip to New York City with her school chorus, where they watched Aladdin, which M said was awesome, and ate at the Hard Rock Cafe, which M said was terrible, as well as walking around and touring Radio City Music Hall. On Thursday it was an outing with friends to see Pitch Perfect 2. Then she and her friends cooked up a Fun Marathon for the weekend. On Friday, she hosted a sleepover for a few girls—

–Wait a minute, did you catch that? My daughter invited friends over. I know, right? For those of you who don’t recall, M hardly ever invites anyone over. I’m not sure why. She hasn’t hosted a birthday party since the 4th grade. In fact, Niska-Day is one of the days that I can still manage to get her to invite people over, because it’s the parade and we’re right on the route. So having friends over felt like a major score. They ended up doing a backyard campout, and I bought a ridiculous amount of junk food and everything went fine with no drama. So yay. Anyway. . .

So, the sleepover, followed by Niska-Day shenanigans, followed by (wait for it) another sleepover at a friend’s house and a soccer game on Sunday. M was actually much more pleasant on Sunday than I anticipated, given what must have been quite a bit of exhaustion. Actually, she got a decent amount of sleep because she takes after Cute W, who was always first to fall asleep at any sleepover. When I picked her up, the hosting mom joked that M was her favorite. Anyway,  she was a superstar at getting down to work on Sunday afternoon, because she had plenty of  homework. Personally, I believe that Niska-Day weekend should be homework-free, but I am not in charge.

Meanwhile, J had several friends over for parade-watching, and then a bunch of them played in our basement playroom. She spent much of the afternoon frolicking at our block party, then headed to the Niska-Day late. I think that next year I’m going to try to plan a little better for her. She’s getting to the age where she wants to be with her friends, but she’s not quite at the point where she plans it all herself, either. So there were some communication/planning snafus. She was also completely exhausted. Between the block party and heading to the carnival I urged her to take a little rest, and she headed down into the playroom to eat some ice cream and lie down. Halfway down the stairs she burst into tears, “Oh, why is it so messy?!?” she wailed. Never mind that it was she and her friends who’d trashed the room. She was almost comically pathetic: so beside herself that she couldn’t eat her ice cream, so she just cried and fell asleep. But later she was rejuvenated and able to go to  the fireworks with a friend.

Usually Cute W will take the girls to see the fireworks, but he’s been sick, so after watching the parade, he retreated to the couch.

By nightfall I was ready to join him. Every morning I love Niska-Day, but the truth is that by night-time I hate it just a little bit. It takes a full night’s sleep before I’m ready to look forward to next year again.

M’s Dream Comes True

I’ve updated the events page.

I’ll also be on WNYT Newschannel 13’s Live at Noon today (Thursday) talking about weekend fun. In fact, I should probably be taking a shower right now. In a couple of minutes. I realized  yesterday that I’ve been posting so infrequently that we have a LOT to catch up on.

So, one big deal: M finally has a phone. You might remember that she’s been asking for one for years, and she even made a phone out of cardboard last year in a desperate attempt to elicit a generous reaction from her parents:


Pitiful, right?

Well, she was literally the last of her friends to get a phone when she finally received one for Easter. Even a couple of my mom friends who were hold-outs had caved. She was thrilled. She’s still thrilled. Sometimes she’ll just say, “Oh, let me get MY PHONE. Did you see that I have A PHONE?”

There were some tactical errors, I think. We had actually intended to get her a phone by her birthday this June, but the fact that she didn’t have one started to drive me crazy, too, honestly. I love the idea of her having independence and being able to walk with friends for pizza and things, but when she’d check in, it would be with a random friend’s phone. Also, her soccer team had a group message going that her “antiquated” iPod couldn’t access, so when all the girls were reminding each other what jerseys to wear, she’d miss it. At one team event they all discussed how no food was going to be served, and we missed it and sent her hungry. So by the time she did get a phone, I was feeling almost as desperate for it as she was. Nah. She was way more desperate.

But, in any case, we weren’t about to just randomly gift her with a phone. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they cost a lot of money, and I’m the master of turning things-I-need-to-buy-my-kids-anyway into gifts. That’s particularly true of the Easter Bunny. You may not believe this, but for the first several years of the girls’ lives, they would receive fluffy stuffed-animal bunnies or chicks that would mysteriously disappear over the summer and get recycled into Easter baskets later on. Then we moved on to bikes and scooters: if it was a spring must-have item, it was in the basket.

In this case, M’s desired phone (Apple iPhone 5c 16GB (Green) – Unlocked) literally cost twice as much as my new phone. So there were some negotiations in which she agreed that she’d chip in a considerable sum. This was discussed and agreed upon twice, but I should have gotten it in writing, because later M claimed no recollection of this agreement. M’s argument for years has been “Other people’s parents just buy them a phone,” and while I understand her frustration, she is stuck with this set of parents, who have their own special charms, even if she doesn’t recognize them. So when it comes to her outstanding balance, she keeps not bringing it up, hoping that I’ll forget, and I keep not bringing it up but silently docking her money that she normally would have received, like her first-ever paycheck for helping me table at KidsOutAndAbout as well as her allowance. This collection service is effective but dysfunctional.

So, I regret that I didn’t do an actual phone contract, like many conscientious parents do. Part of this was because it was a rush to get the damn thing, and then we were traveling over Easter. Also, I know–yes, I know–that J doesn’t really believe in the Easter Bunny anymore, but I didn’t want to make it completely obvious by having a parenting discussion about what was in the basket with chocolates. J’s in that “don’t ask, don’t tell” stage of belief where she pretty much knows but chooses not to know. And I don’t want to force disillusionment on anyone.

So far the whole phone thing has been. . . fine. We had one scare where we thought that the phone was lost when it was in fact in M’s backpack on her person, but besides that, we’re golden.

So, M’s thrilled, I’m more happy than not, and maybe we’ll do a better job of implementation with J. But not for years and years.


I think, sometimes, that I’m not very good at friendship. Part of this is circumstantial. We moved often enough as I was growing up (preschool, 4th grade, 9th grade) that childhood friendships just didn’t stick. I remember that before that last move, I’d just settled into a group of girls I loved. I have this group shot of us  (that I can’t find right now) and I remember that I was so, so happy being with them. That day we danced around the pool singing along to Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine” and I totally felt the love. And it was really real, just like the song said. Shortly after that, we moved away. I don’t keep in touch with any of those girls. I can’t even remember all of their names.

I think falling in love so young wasn’t great for making and keeping girlfriends, either. Cute W was my friend for a year and a half before there was any kissing involved, but once there was, it was all over. I don’t think that having a romantic relationship has to destroy your friend prospects, but I do think it makes it tough when most of your friends are still single. In college, Cute W and I knew that if the two of us were alone at a dining hall table, no one would ever join us. We’d have to move over and jump in with our friends who’d discreetly avoided our Beautiful Couple Meal Time. Later, working in an office, friends assumed I’d rather go home to snuggle on the couch instead of out for drinks with a side of flirting. I used to visit family near an old high school friend once in a while, and I’d call to see if she wanted to meet up until I sensed that my spontaneous invitations were irritating her.  I think she attributed my lack of planning to a belief that she didn’t have anything better to do, without  a husband (and then a baby) like me. But really, I’ve just never been a huge planner. When she seemed downright angry at an invitation, I said to myself, “Well, I’m clearly bugging her, so I’ll let her call me next time.” And we haven’t spoken since.

Working from home is wonderful and flexible, but it can be pretty lonely, too.

And, of course, my lack of planning, my aversion to the phone, the fact that I am constitutionally incapable of doing things like posting Facebook pictures of adult-me with a pack of women and ardent, emoji-filled captions. . . well, that doesn’t help, either.

This topic has been knocking around in my head so long that I had to do a post about it, but I’ve been reluctant, too, because I know: it sounds pretty pathetic. Part of the problem is that I’ve been re-mourning my neighbor, Mary, now that her husband has moved away. Having him next door helped keep her present. If he were here right now, we’d be talking about how much she loved to smell our white lilac tree at night. I can tell you all, too, I suppose, but you can’t smile back fondly at the downright rapture that evening scent inspired in her.


Ugh, now I’m getting maudlin. Truly, I’m not as tragic as this sounds. I have excellent friends. Cute W really is my best friend, and my cup runneth over with sisters, too. You don’t have to feel Morally Obligated to comment your Undying Girlfriend Love to me.

In fact, I’ve been “working the problem,” as Cute W would say, by trying to connect with people in a more intentional way.

To that end, last weekend I went on a road trip to meet a girlfriend from high school I’d seen only once in the last 25 years.

For most of high school, she was my best friend. We wrote crazy, marathon notes and recorded mix tapes for each other. She brought me along to do musicals at the school where her mom was a teacher and girls were scarce enough that we could nab parts. I’d sleep over at her house, where we’d scrawl graffiti on the walls of her unfinished basement.  We’d polish off leftover Chinese take-out from greasy cartons and swipe a bottle of Asti Spumante from a case her parents had stored away and forgotten, pouring it into jelly jars full of ice to drink it as we lazed on the cast-off furniture.

Then, senior year, she started melting into a brittle bobble-headed doll. I remember the school nurse asking me if things were okay and I covered for her, because the nurse had never bothered to talk to me before. But it only got worse. We friends monitored, observed, questioned, and conferred. We set shards of evidence next to each other and built a picture that was too scary for us to handle.  So we decided to talk to her parents. Our delegation was an uneasy alliance between me and a frenemy, my rival in all sorts of affections, the girl who’d taught my friend how to purge in the first place. She provided eyewitness accounts of behavior that only troubled her because it had moved beyond recreational use, while I provided the prim, stifled panic.

If this were an after school special, talking to Responsible Adults would result in swift action, effective treatment, friend reconciliation, and hugs all around.

I wish.

Instead, my constant harping against self-destruction earned me a cold shoulder, and so we were out of touch through her decades of struggle with one thing, then another. It was good to see her finally healthy and well. It was good to talk with an old girlfriend.

But it also brought back old pain. All these years later, I can’t think of anything I would have done differently. My extreme honesty was clearly a tactical error, but I just didn’t have the wisdom to know that you can’t save somebody without their help. Losing her friendship crushed me, and yet I can’t be angry, because running from me hurt her so much more than it ever hurt me.

And all of this is happening as I see my daughters’ friendships shifting and changing, so it makes me re-consider everything in terms of how I’d advise them. Things like maintaining your own integrity even if it means losing a friend, considering that even the best relationships can have unintended consequences, and valuing and loving your people the best you can right this minute without thinking too much about forever or even tomorrow. I have all this friend wisdom that I’ve been acquiring for decades, ready to share with them. Except that they probably won’t really believe any of it until they’re my age.






Current Pastimes

Can you believe this streak of weather?

Weather ForecastGlorious! I took that picture from days ago, but once again I’ve been shuffling a blog post to the bottom of the To Do list. It’s amazing how often an afternoon that sounds like it’s going to easy gets overtaken by homework drama, household incidents, or various other curve balls. For example, I just finished an activity that leaped out of nowhere onto the agenda:


That’s right: I’ve spent the last hour buying and then writing inspirational messages on bananas. J and M have their Girls on the Run practice 5K after school today, and no one had claimed these refreshments as of this morning. But they’re cute, right?

We’ve also all been spending a lot of time outside playing 2-Square or 4-Square. Only Cute W calls 4-Square “Daddy’s Home Square” because he’s a massive trash-talker. I vaguely remember playing 2-Square and 4-Square when I was a kid, but I can’t remember it being so complicated! Now, before someone starts, they might call “Bus Stop. . . Popcorn. . . Double Touch!” and I’m saying “What. . . ?” while the ball bounces between my legs. But whatever: it’s good clean family fun.

When she’s not outside, one of M’s favorite hobbies these days is painting with nail polish. It’s funny, actually, because I remember that at Christmas she was interested in all sorts of rainbow colors of nail polish, and I was baffled. Because she never paints her nails. And of course, they were colors that I’d never choose, but I chalked that up to her being 12 and me being much older than that.

Turns out, she has no interest in painting her nails. But her alarm clock is another story.



She also likes re-vamping Altoid tins–cute!


In fact, now I try to keep my mints hidden. Not only do the kids like to eat them, but they’ll gorge on them to get more raw materials for crafting. Maybe I should start getting them to paint bananas instead?