I Like Free Stuff And I Cannot Lie

I recently ran into someone who was a reader from way back, and she told me about the super-cool library pass program. I’d written about it a long time ago, but now’s a good time to acknowledge that not everyone in the Capital District has read and remembered every single morsel of my blog. And this person was right: it’s a great program. We were chatting about visiting museums, which made me recommend membership to her. And then urged me to make sure people don’t miss this stuff. And she’s totally right. I was going to write something new, but then my membership schpiel was so long, I’m just pasting it in. Which means that the numbers might be outdated, but the point (that memberships, especially with reciprocal programs) are a really great deal. I’m throwing it together so that I can have them, handy, and link to them from my Favorites page for easy reference.

Back in the Ssssshhhh. . . Library Secrets! post, I mentioned various extras that libraries provide, and many of them may be outdated at this point. But I double=checked, and many area libraries continue to offer a special program that allows families to visit museums and other cool cultural destinations. Basically, you check out a pass, use it to visit someplace for FREE, then return the pass. Click the links for more information about the pass programs in Schenectady, Albany, or Troy.

As I said in a post about miSci. . .

When it comes to museums, membership is an awesome plan. Okay, bear with me for a minute here. If you purchase a family membership at miSci, it costs $80.  When you’re members, you get free admission to the museum exhibitions as many times as you want for a full year and 4 free passes into the planetarium. For my family (2 adults, an 8-year-old, and a 10-year-old), a single visit to the museum with the planetarium show would cost $52 and a second visit without the show would cost $32, for a total of $84. So if we visit twice, the membership is a good idea, but then members get other discounts (like $20 off that Spark! series & a 10% discount off birthday parties and at the museum shop).

But it rocks even more than that because of the ASTC Passport Program. Many museums and science centers are members of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, which offers a reciprocal program that allows you to get into a bunch of other museums for free. Now, the one teensy bit of bad news is that the other places you visit have to be at least 90 miles away. CMOST ($80 for a basic membership) is also an ASTC member (so is the NY State Museum, but they’re reworking their membership program right now), membership at either miSci or CMOST will get you these fabulous reciprocal benefits when you travel out of town. So, for example, I could pay $80 for a membership at miSci and then travel to Boston and get out of paying admission for the family to the Boston Museum of Science ($82 for our family) and the Boston Children’s Museum ($56 for our family) or  check out Liberty Science Center ($58.50 for our family). If I made those visits, plus those couple of visits to miSci, I would save $200 in museum admissions!!

And now are you ready for your head to explode? Because miSci and a bunch of other New York museums (including the Albany Institute of History & Art, The Hyde Collection, and The National Museum of Dance) are part of another reciprocal program called the Empire State Reciprocal Membership Program. Free admission for everyone! I feel like Oprah giving out cars!


Books, Glorious Books!

My friend and KidsOutAndAbout publisher, Deb, has written a book! It’s Seasons and Reasons: A Parent’s Guide to Cultivating Great Kids, and actually, if you’re already signed up for the newsletter, some of it will look familiar. It’s a collection of her publisher’s notes, with all sorts of brief, thoughtful essays on parenting that will motivate you to be a better parent without irritating you. If you’re a Kindle person, click the link above because it’s FREE on Kindle until Monday. We LOVE free!

Of course, if you like to hold a good, old-fashioned book, you can also buy the paperback.

In fact, if you’re thinking of buying the paperback, you should click on the picture, because I’m doing the Amazon Affiliates thing as a little experiment. That means that if you click from my blog over to Amazon and buy what I recommended, I get a teensy cut of the money you spend. I’m not expecting to get much money, really, but it’s easy to do, and it gives you a cute little image, so what the heck? I actually tried this before, a long while back, and almost immediately, some creeper tried to buy an Amazon UK gift card with my account information, so I got spooked and ditched it before putting it into effect. This happened twice, which made me cast the whole project aside for a long time, but I’ve been meaning to try it again. This time, we look okay so far (knock on wood!).

As long as I’m suggesting books, I’ve been meaning to share a couple of parenting books that I’ve found helpful lately. I read a ridiculous number of books when I was pregnant and a parent of babies and toddlers, and then it dropped off. Basically, it seemed like things were going pretty well (I’m knocking on wood again!), so the urgency wasn’t there. Also, many of the books I read early on had a very specific viewpoint, and it made me feel a little bit like if I didn’t follow the advice, I was going to Ruin My Children. So I started coasting on instinct.

But in the last year or two I’ve had a couple of. . . challenges that sent me back to books.

I loved I’d Listen to My Parents If They’d Just Shut Up: What to Say and Not Say When Parenting Teens, by Anthony Wolf, PhD. Funny title, right? He is, I kid you not, also author of Get Out of My Life, but First Could You Drive Me & Cheryl to the Mall. Bwah, ha, ha.

This book was recommended by a friend who had an older child, and I found it tremendously reassuring. Wolf starts by talking about being a parent of a kid whom everyone tells you is awesome, but who can be tremendously obnoxious in the privacy of your own home. Which leads you to wonder if everything’s going great, like the general public thinks, or if you’re in fact failing miserably at this parenting gig. I totally identified with that. Then he says that if my kid appears to be a model citizen out of our presence, chances are good that everything will work out great. Phew! I also found it entertaining that, in his little vignettes of conversations with teenagers, the kids were so unbelievably horrifying, so unbelievably snotty, that I automatically felt better about my own kids. But then there were practical tips that I felt that Cute W must read, and I put little stickies in the book. By the time I was done, it looked like this:


So, that’s absolutely helpful, and even though it says it’s for teenagers, if your child is Gifted In The Obnoxious Arts, I think some pieces of the advice could be helpful beginning at, say, eleven years old.

Meanwhile, my other child inspired me to find Letting Go of Perfect: Overcoming Perfectionism in Kids, by Hope Wilson, PhD. and Jill Adelson, PhD. It had never occurred to me that there would be an entire book devoted to the problems of perfectionism, so finding this was a relief. They offer up specific suggestions on how to make your child’s perfectionism a force of Good instead of Evil.

And finally, probably my my very favorite parenting advice book, Ellyn Satter’s book Child of Mine: Feeding with Love and Good Sense. It’s the only book in which I feel like the advice absolutely made a difference and helped my kids to “turn out” better.  You know:  so far.   And I found this book reassuring, non-stress-inducing, and effective.

And, as long as we’re talking about books I recommend, I started a list of Favorite Books under the little Favorites link at the top of the page. I might add more, but for now, here’s one of my all-time favorite lists, Girl Power Picture Books, as well as some of My Favorite Books, either ones that I’ve read recently and loved or ones that I rated five stars on Good Reads.

So, shop away! And, even if you don’t want to do me a solid and spend money for me, you can nab the free Kindle book, which will translate into amping up Deb’s Amazon rating. And tell me what books I simply must read, too, please.

Weekend Fun in Westchester!

Last weekend we split up: Cute W and M headed to a soccer tournament, while J and I headed to LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester. J and I clearly got the better deal. The soccer tournament was a long drive to three games outside in cold, slushy rain.

When J and I arrived on Saturday afternoon, we headed over to Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site, where we took a tour that detailed the history of the house and the Philipse family, super-wealthy Tories who got out of dodge when things didn’t go their way during the American Revolution. We were part of a tour group of mixed ages, and J was listened attentively and answered question after question to the point that it got comical, and other grown-ups were giving me the thumb’s up and chuckling. The whole trip gave me nostalgia pangs, because it was an historic house right in the middle of the city, just like where I used to work Once Upon A Time Before Kids. Many of the exhibits, as well as some interactive things were kids–focused on the history of slavery in New York. That’s what J found most interesting–here she is checking out swatches of fabric–cheap, course stuff for the slaves, colorful and fine for the family.


For dinner, we headed to Havana Central Restaurant & Bar, which was very fun.


They had live music and gorgeous decor, and I don’t think J had ever been to a specifically Cuban place, so it was a new cultural experience for her. When the server arrived, he recommended that I have a mojito or a sangria, and this was a business trip, people. I wanted to review a restaurant near LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester, and a review would not be complete without sampling one of the recommended cocktails. Or some of the recommended cocktails, I should say. Whatever. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to. On the same philosophy I prevailed upon J to order a Shirley Temple, and she took one for the team. Actually, she loves a Shirley Temple, except when they’re way too sweet, and this one was perfect.  We followed this up with the most delicious plantain chips I’ve ever had. They came with a mojo dip and both J and I were shameless in our quest to scrape as many chunks of garlic onto our plantains. We were pretty much full by the time we’d finished out empanadas, but then J discovered that she loves yellow rice. This was my order, and she totally stole almost all of my rice.

Havana shrimpWe both managed to rally for dessert, too, which was impressive.

When dinner was over, lesser chicks would have headed back to the hotel, but we were in full-on vacation mode at this point, so we grabbed some tickets to see Cinderella. Then, when we realized that we had a good 50 minutes before showtime, we did some speed-shopping. Apparently, someone on J’s gymnastics team is going to have a bat mitzvah soon, and ever since I explained to her that even though it’s a coming-of-age thing, it basically feels like a cross between a birthday party (celebrating one person with fun) and a wedding (a service to sit through, followed by a big dance party), she has been super-excited. She’d been talking about getting a dress ever since she realized that we’d be at Westchester’s Ridge Hill shopping center, she’d been lobbying hard for dress shopping. Which is not normal behavior for my daughters. Well, we hit Lord & Taylor and I knew we’d nailed it with this dress when she started twirling in the dressing room. Then it was off to Cinderella. We’d only heard about the Frozen Short at the beginning of the movie earlier that evening, but as soon as I had the new dress in a bag, we basically ran back to the theater, in a panic that we’d miss it.  J insisted she could manage popcorn (how??), and she laughed uproariously ever time Elsa sneezed. We were already excited that Cinderella was Lady Rose from Downton, but we were super-excited to see Daisy, too, playing Drisella. By the time the movie was out it was way too late, and we were shivering as we waited for our hotel shuttle, hoping that shuttle driver wouldn’t turn into a lizards, but it had still been a fun night out.

The next morning it was off to LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester. I’d been afraid that it would be too young for J, and while I think that she was aging out of it a bit, she really did have a great time. Except for when I abandoned her in the indoor jungle gym: it was one of those kids-only climbing spaces, and I sent her in to scout the location for my review. Except that I didn’t realize that it’s one of those places where they guard your kids, so when you’re ready to exit, you need a parent to claim you. This is an excellent policy in general. If I had little kids, I’d love it. But since my Free-Range 10-year-old is allowed to walk to Starbucks with her sister, and my 10-year-old’s mother is the type of woman to wander off and take pictures and check out the cafe menu before the lunch rush (but seriously: the cash registers are encased in LEGO® bricks: how cute is that?), it didn’t work out so well for us.


And, the staff there were very nice about it, but J was pretty irritated with me. Actually, she was adorable, because once I sprung her, she glared at me, pulled the notebook out of my hand, then set to work taking copious notes on the jungle gym experience. At the top, she wrote, “Parent must claim child to exit!” and then she proceeded to draw a couple of diagrams. Incidentally, she recommends that section for 4- to 7-year-olds, except she thinks that some kids might get nervous crossing over the net bridge section. Holy cow, I love that little dumpling!

I also managed to screw up my pictures. First, I had my camera in my pocket for the Merlin ride, which involved pedaling. So I dislodged my camera and it plummeted to the ground. So then I spent the rest of the ride alternating between fretting about my camera, kicking myself for being so stupid, and reminding myself to soak up J’s delight. We rescued the camera and it seemed just fine. Phew! Except–it wasn’t completely, totally fine. I’d somehow dislodged the camera’s memory card, so it took photos, displayed the photos, and then, virtually speaking, threw them away. This was a particular bummer because I had adorable shots of J raising her eyebrow while wearing 3-D glasses for the 4-D movie, and then I took a ton of photos of the newest exhibition, City Builder, which was J’s absolute favorite section of the exhibit. It was also where we met Veronica, the only LEGO® Master Builder of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester, who was super-friendly and helpful, and who had beat out a bunch of other people (mostly guys) in a series of building competitions. So cool! And I got a picture of her helping J to create a magnificent new construction project. . . . A little while later I actually noticed the alert that my camera flashed about a memory card, and I fixed it, but those photos now live only in my memory (sniff!).

It’s difficult to restrain yourself from taking photos, especially in MINILAND®, so here are a few extras that didn’t make it into the review I wrote for KidsOutAndAbout.com.

And, okay, St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center are squished together, but still!


Altogether things look so realistic, and then you could look up close and each of the various details is so cool, too:


Plus they’re interactive, so you can hit buttons to make the lighting change or turn on sounds or move a crane. J and I loved this: the jumbo screen takes footage from within the room, so you can pose and look like you’re up over Time Square:


If you want more information about these places, you can read my complete review of LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester as well as my article highlighting other spots called Family Fun in Westchester.

Between staying up too late, sucking down sangrias, waking up early with my girl, and the tremendously overstimulating LEGO® good time we’d had, I was exhausted, but I knew that poor Cute W and M were exhausted, and they hadn’t had nearly as much fun. So we booked it home and had spaghetti and meatballs ready when they came in. And told me that they’d eaten on the road. But I still get a gold star.

Oh! And as a gold star for those of you who’ve read the whole post, check out this week’s KidsOutAndAbout newsletter to find information on a LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester giveaway!

Racking Up the Wins!

Some days are not excellent, like when your toddler bites another child, or when you find out that your child’s pants are (metaphorically) on fire, or the many times I’ve lost my temper or noticed that my kids have watched way too much tv today.

But, folks, I’ve been putting some Ws in the column, so I need to share.


Yesterday, M was looking for soccer shorts. She’s actually pretty good at this stuff, but she had been looking for a while when I stepped in to help her. She was getting a bit stressed out, because she’d need the shorts for this week’s tournament. So after thanking me for helping her, she started pointing out ways in which my attempts at helpfulness were pointless. For example, I started looking through her soccer backpack, unzipping compartment after compartment.

“Don’t look there!” she said.

“It’s worth a shot. That’s where I found your missing shin guards, remember?” I answered.

“But those are shin guards! I always take them off! But I would never just pull off my shorts and–”

She stopped mid-sentence as I triumphantly pulled out a crumpled pair of shorts.

Being M, she snatched them out of my hands and said, “Mom! Look at the shorts I just found!”

I told her that she was both awesome and brilliant.


J likes an impeccable report card, and there was a subject in which not perfection was not achieved. There was quite a bit of weeping. The teacher’s comments, to me, implied parental neglect. I secretly made an appointment with the teacher, expecting it to be painful. I was going to sneak in like a ninja to avoid causing anxious J more stress.

On the contrary. The grading system doesn’t coincide well with how the teacher runs the class, I was told. We’re doing exactly the right thing, I was told. J had started the class strong and had improved significantly, I was told. That one issue has been resolved, I was told. At some point, I started taking notes so that I could report the numbers and quotations to J to buck her up.

Several hours later, J confronted me. She’d seen me meeting with the teacher, and she was worried and embarrassed and angry at me for sneaking around. “What happened?!?” she demanded. I explained that I knew she’d fret if she knew about the conference, and I wanted to wait until I knew what was happening so that we could go through it all at once. Then I told her that it went great, and I pulled out my pages of notes and tried to start from the beginning. But she was already crying. I skipped ahead to the test scores. I showed her how well she’d done last year. “And then I did bad!” she interrupted. No, she’d done better in the fall. And with her most recent scores–“I went down!” she wailed. No. She’d managed to go up again. Really? She finally started to believe me, and I reviewed my notes from the beginning. She asked me if she could hang the notes up in her room.

But even better, a little while later she found me at the computer and gave me a long, hard hug. “Thank you for going to talk to the teacher. And thank you for not telling me that you were going to talk to the teacher.”


But wait, there’s more. The other day, M heard that I was at Target, and she asked, “Oh, Mom, will you please get me some Spandex for under my soccer shorts?” As soon as she requested it, I knew just what she needed. This outdoor tournament was coming up, and it was going to be cold, cold, cold. She had one decent pair of ankle-length leggings to help keep her legs warm, but with multiple games over two days, she totally needed a second pair. I agreed and grabbed a selection.

When I got home, she jumped up happily, then her face transformed into the special kind of brilliantly WTF face that you can only produce if you are going through puberty or menopause. “But, Mom, I asked for Spandex! I mean, thanks and good effort and all that, but I didn’t mean this; I meant Spandex. I need Spandex.” There was some back and forth in which I clarified that Spandex is the brand name of a synthetic material, not the name of a piece of clothing, like “vest” or “shorts.” She had had, in her mind, the kind of biker shorts-style shorts whose main function, for soccer players, is to conceal any vague impression of underwear, which can show through white uniform shorts. Which, okay, yes: I understand. She could use a pair. But playing outdoors in April, didn’t she want long ones, anyway? She grudgingly conceded that these would work out for the tournament.

And then, a little later, she said, “You know, I think it’s lucky that you misunderstood me, because long Spandex will work better this weekend. So, thank you.”

WYou’re welcome, children.

I’m also feeling like a winner now that we’re finally refusing the NY State tests. I’ve been railing about them for a while now, and I’ve been feeling guilty and hypocritical that we were doing them, anyway. Now that I’ve finally made the decision, it feels good. Come on, people! Join me! You can do it.

And finally, I feel like we’re winning something this weekend, because J and I are on a special assignment, reviewing LEGOLAND Discovery Center Westchester. I’ll have a complete review available on KidsOutAndAbout.com soon. It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do it!


Speak Up For Public Education. Now. And Then Again Later.

Cuomo teachers rock

Okay, parents. We need to do more. I’ve posted about issues with New York State Education and funding education before, but I can’t restrain myself from one more post.

Teachers are already speaking up. They’re speaking through their union, NYSUT, (which is doing tons), and they are making videos and showing up at rallies, and if you have Facebook friends who are New York teachers, check their timelines and you’re likely to see plenty of anger and despair. The drawback to relying on teachers and NYSUT as the main opponents to Cuomo’s “reforms” is that he is able to portray these educators as self-promoting “special interests.” According to Cuomo’s narrative, it seems, New York’s public school teachers are too busy reading magazines and swiping school supplies to teach the 16 nutritiously fed, well-rested, well-groomed children who’ve arrived in their classrooms, on time and ready to learn, from their loving homes in which at least 30 million words have been discussed at countless tranquil family dinners.

Parents must help. Getting people going is a challenge. In my district, kids do well on tests, anyway, so parents don’t worry. And of course everyone’s busy: too busy to help, or even too busy to notice that help is required. Our district has a PTO that stays neutral on many issues, citing that they need to represent all parents without taking sides.  For schools with a PTA, it’s a different story: the New York State PTA’s website is strongly pushing lobbying Albany, because the PTA is a national organization that lobbies on education issues, collects dues, and has guidelines member organizations follow.  PTOs are independent, so it varies. We have amazing PTO leaders, but honestly? I think that our local PTO’s policy is a colossal bummer, and I hope that they’ll change it in the future. The folks in PTO leadership are some of the most well-informed, organized, and helpful people out there, and I believe that many of them would like to use their leadership positions to urge parents to become political activists for schools, but they feel like it’s against policy or inappropriate.  For now, though–well, I am not a PTO leader. I hardly ever go to those meetings, so I feel comfortable saying that all of us parents need to do something. And if we’ve already done something, we need to do something more. And we need to do it now.

Here are things to do, many of which take less than five minutes.

If you don’t know already, learn enough so that you know what schools need. I’m advocating for:

Sign a Petition:

Unless you are a terrible typist, this will take you less than one minute. You also have the option of sharing the petitions on social media.

Email Some Folks:

NYS Allies for Public Education has an email form that you can fill out/edit, and then it will send your message to the Governor, Lt. Governor, NYS Board of Regents, NYSED, and your State Senator and State Assembly Member. All at once. There’s an email in there, or you can edit it or replace it with your own words. So it can take two minutes to contact 22 different people. Yes, a bit longer if you’re writing your own note and agonizing over it. If so, personal anecdotes from your family & school of you are great. If you do write your own note, copy and paste it, then save it, so you can send another email again. In fact, you can create a few different sentences and mix them up for next time, plus the site can save your information to make it faster next time. You can also share via social media and use their stock wording or write your own status update.

Contact state legislators via phone, ask for an appointment, or write them a letter:

Here’s where you can find contact information for your New York State Senator. Here’s where you can find contact information for your New York State Assembly Member. This is just if you want to add a little variety to your emails. I’m not bothering with Cuomo’s contact information, because I don’t think he’s a good listener, anyway. Once I went into a full-on rant about this on his office voicemail. If there is some sort of watchlist for crazy people, I am probably on it.

Attend an Event:

NYSAPE maintains a list of public forums, and, when I know about them, I’m adding these to KidsOutAndAbout.com as well. If you’d like to list something on KidsOutAndAbout.com, contact me at katie [at] kidsoutandabout.com. This is good to educate yourself and to show bigger crowds for the news. Truth? I haven’t made it to any, because I’m usually bringing children to their various activities, and if I want to get riled up and depressed, I just go to a local board meeting instead.

Refuse the Tests:

NYSAPE has information about refusing tests as well as sample refusal letters. For grades 3-8, the English-Language Arts test 4/14-4/16/2015 and the Mathematics test is 4/22-4/24/2015. I haven’t done this before, mostly because I know it will be stressful for all of us. I am still deciding, and I’ll let you know if we decide to refuse. UPDATE: We are refusing the tests.

Say it on social media:

Yeah, okay, I try not to nag people constantly, but sharing a link (like the email form above) or a picture is easy to do and every little bit helps. I made these unbelievable amateur-ish signs because I wanted something simple and clear that shares a parent’s perspective. Make your own or right-click with your mouse and “Save Image As” to steal one of these.

Support Children Support Teachers




That M is funny. The following quips all came up during a single dinner.

Okay, first, we were eating a soup with some noodles. We’ve been adrift, because we used to be deeply loyal to the protein version of Barilla pasta, which is made with chickpeas. But then, remember how a while back, the chairman of Barilla said that he didn’t like gay families and he didn’t particularly want them to eat his pasta? Well, our family stopped buying Barilla. Which is a bummer, because it’s really, really tasty. It’s been about a year and a half and we still miss it. So Cute W was lamenting the fact that we no longer ate Barilla and he started waxing nostalgic.

“Remember. . . ?” he said. “It was that special protein pasta, the one with. . . what was the special thing they put into it. . . ?”

“Hatred?” M suggested.


Later, we were talking about Netanyahu speaking at Congress, which led to a little general Middle East talk, at which point Cute W the Faithless started in on his tired old rant about religion being the root of all mortal strife, blah, blah, blah.

And M deadpanned: “You’re right. Just get rid of religion and make people be scientific instead. . . that will solve all our problems.”


Moving off foreign affairs, Cute W totally stepped in it when he hit the touchy subject of kids owning phones. Apparently he’d heard about some new study that said that drug and alcohol use was lower among teens who owned phones, and that there was speculation that the kids were so entranced with their devices that they felt no need for any mind-altering substances.

M jumped up, triumphantly. “You guys are putting me at risk!” she exclaimed. ” You might as well just buy me some pot!”


M is going to be my assistant at this weekend’s Hannaford Kidz Expo. Come visit us!

Warped and Frozen

The other day I walked outside and the sun so much that it made the day seem just a little bit milder, and I thought, “Gosh, it’s not bad out today at all.”

And then I got into my car and saw that the temperature was 10 degrees. I am not even kidding–this happened. Apparently, my perception of normal weather is entirely warped.

In fact, just writing this made me wonder, “What’s the temperature now”” Answer: it was 27 degrees. And when I saw that and realized that the next several days are going to be colder, I immediately set aside my laptop and reported outside for a brisk walk around the neighborhood. Sadly, I didn’t notice the wind from inside. It’s another one of those window days, as I call them. Looks good from in here. Shortly after I left the driveway, my walk shrank into a walk around the block.

Someone recently said that “global warming” turned out to be a poor choice of words (actually, it was Anna Quindlen). Clearly, there is climate change, but every time there’s cold or snow, some science-denier decides that this means everything’s going great. I was musing on that the other day, wondering what might be a better term. Briefly I was stuck on “Crazy-Pants Weather,” and I do think it’s more accurate, but then I realized that if we decided to dub our current climate the Crazy-Pants Weather Era, then every time there was a beautiful blue sky with fluffy white clouds, all the cranky anti-scientists would spend the whole day pointing out the weather’s momentary bout of sanity and looking smug. So, never mind.

But, see these sweaters?


They’re pretty, but they’re awfully warm. For years and years, they’ve really been too warm to wear in a practical sense. I’d pack them on trips to ski in Vermont, or sometimes I’d wear them as a top layer outside, instead of a jacket. But I run hot. Many years ago I had a facial, and the woman scrutinizing my face says, “Ah, you work out. . . I can see that you are sweaty here, around your hairline. . . .” and I made a little acknowledgement nod, but the truth is, at that time I didn’t work out. I’m just someone who sweats, like, from living my life.

Anyway, these sweaters that are a little too sweaty for this sweater to wear? I’ve been wearing them constantly, for weeks. I’m feeling pretty done.

Also, it seems like the cold weather might be attempting to destroy our house. We’re feeling pretty good about the roof (knock on wood!), because it was re-done recently. But possibly the foundation is buckling. Suddenly the back door and the bathroom door (you know, the ones that knock into each other) don’t close very well because something’s gone warped and off-kilter. In fact, the bathroom door doesn’t close. The best you can get is almost closed. Luckily, it’s on the outer perimeter of the house, so we avoided it and its torturously cold toilet bowl already, anyway. This is the sort of thing that makes Cute W wake up in the middle of the night and fret about our home’s imminent collapse. He pretty much can’t go through that door without muttering ominously. And that means quite a bit of muttering. The prospect of waiting it out and then finding out how much it will cost to prevent our house from crumbling is, if you’ll forgive me, chilling.


Giving Until It Hurts

My sweet J is a giver. She is a classic second child, going along with whatever her elder sister says. When friends argue, she plays peacemaker. But she also literally gives stuff all the time. For any holiday, she’s always coming up with gifts, either homemade or store-bought. Remember that time she bought Cute W “love dice” for Valentine’s Day? This year he got a soccer-ball tin of candies, I got chocolates, and M received a teddy bear.  She also frets quite a bit about the presentation of the gifts, including elaborate wrapping and hiding. It is very kind, and sweet. But I also feel bad for her sometimes: she spends, she worries, and she frets, and obviously, she doesn’t need to do that. Especially when M rarely reciprocates.

But generally, she likes it. The other day she was recalling our ski trip with friends. At one point she’d left the big girls to accompany the toddler-preschool set down to a game room with their grandma. The grandmother had asked for someone to help shepherd the kids, and at the time, I worried that J was sad to be leaving the cool crowd to help. I’d motioned to her that I’d go instead, but she said it was fine. So, weeks later, she started telling Cute W about going to the game room.

“So, I was giving the little kids bunches and bunches of quarters. . . .” she started.

“Wait, were you giving them your own quarters, or were you just helping to hand them out?” I asked.

“They were my quarters. And they were so excited that they kept coming to me. . . .”

“You know,” I pointed out, “they had their grandma with them. That’s exactly the sort of thing that grandmas are for, to give little kids quarters.”

“I know!” she insisted. “But that was what was so fun about it. I had mints with me, too, and with all of the quarters and mints in my wallet, I felt like I was a grandma. It was fun.”

And she showed us her wallet–a hand-me-down Vera Bradley from our neighbor–and damned if it didn’t look just like a Grandma Wallet.

Josie grandma purse

She had plenty of money and she was happy to give it. Really, she has a huge savings for a 10-year-old, and it’s because any money she spends goes toward giving either presents or charities (she gave $100 to Safe Passage after learning about it at a church service). I swear it comes back to her, just like karma. And she really does like it, so I suppose I just have to chill.

But meanwhile, sometimes she needs to chill. Like last Thursday night, after gymnastics, which was also Cute W’s birthday eve.  In keeping with tradition, J had a present for Cute W. This was particularly unnecessary, because after receiving an expensive camera for Christmas, he kept insisting that he didn’t need any gifts from anyone. At the time, we thought that his parents would be around for the birthday, and I finally managed to convince him that if I followed his wishes and presented him with nothing, I’d look like the crappiest wife ever. So I’d ordered up a couple of token items. When J found out, she scolded me for taking all the ideas, then insisted on buying one of of me so that she could claim it as her own. But it was not yet wrapped. Which I should have thought about, but didn’t.

So, you may recall that there was headache and drama on the way to gymnastics, and practice itself went worse. Apparently, she was falling off the beam and messing up skills that she knows how to do and becoming increasingly miserable. She arrived home weepy, tired, and hungry. Between showering, eating, and getting composed, it was probably an hour later when I went to check on her up in her room. She was supposed to call me for a final tuck-in after teeth were brushed, and she hadn’t called. When I got upstairs, my heart sank.

J was surrounded by scraps of paper and ribbon and an unwrapped CD.

“Want me to get you a gift bag?” I offered.

“No.” I expected that answer. I love gift bags, but I know that she thinks gift bags are lazy. But for the life of me, I had no idea why she’d gone with such stiff paper. Or why she hadn’t asked me for help.

“How about tissue paper?” She agreed to that one. I brought it up and prayed it would be quick. I should have known that mere tissue paper wasn’t enough. She started struggling with the ribbon.

“I bet that this would be a lot easier in the morning,” I started.

“But his birthday is in the morning!” she exclaimed.

“But, honey, he’s not going to wake up in the morning and demand a present immediately. . . .”

“He’s up before me! And if I’m not around, he’ll know I’m working on his present!”

“Okay, so first: what if he knows? Isn’t it kind of fun on your birthday to know that someone’s wrapping a present for you?”

At this point she was crying: the present looked horrible, she was so late, everything was terrible.

“Honey, you didn’t even need to get him a present. You are a present to your Daddy every day. Giving him a hug is a present and smiling at him is a present and telling him about your day is a present. He would much rather have a daughter who’s happy and no extra presents at all. I bet he’d be really sad if he knew how worried you were about this.”

She was unconvinced.

“It looks great right now, I think. Heck, M didn’t get your Dad anything. Please stop being so hard on yourself.”

. . . .

“In fact, I think you’re too tired to see how pretty it is. Everything looks better in the morning. You’re officially not allowed to work on this anymore.” And then I confiscated the gift, the wrap, the ribbon.

In the morning, Cute W was hard at work making his own damn birthday breakfast. Can you believe that? He is the morning person and the breakfast-making person. It’s sort of like with long-distance driving: with limited exceptions, actually driving the car himself is easier for Cute W than watching me fret and stress my way through driving the car when we’re on trips. I was not entirely useless: I’d made chocolate mousse and edited W’s article on his birthday eve. Also, I am patient. Realizing that J was missing, I reported up to her room, where she was tearfully struggling over making a bow.

J gift back


There was a bow, a lovely note, and a drawing on the other side of this gift. By the time I managed to convince J that Cute W would rather have her hanging around and helping her with waffles than have any more refinements to his gift package, he was running late. He’d expected that we’d be helping him instead of spending 20 minutes moaning over the imperfection of the wrapping paper, so all of us were behind schedule. And he didn’t end up unwrapping any gifts until later that night, which was long enough after the drama that I had to remind him to fawn over the wrapping job. He did, then tucked the tissues away as a keepsake.

On Friday we heard that SICM was collecting items to put into Easter bags for local kids, and we went shopping to donate some things. There was also the suggestion that kids could help decorate the Easter bags, as in, Oh, what a lovely idea! What a great activity for your kids, la, lah, lah. . . . And I absolutely agree. But not for my kid. We’re going to just stick with shopping. I can’t handle any more craftiness for at least a few days.

February Break

I’m just going to lay it out there: this February break does not represent my best parenting work.

Now, I’m not saying that I suck. I have my moments, like constructing a fabulous Halloween costume, having impromptu female anatomy lesson, or getting kids to eat vegetables. This week, though? There just hasn’t been the kind of effort you’ve come to expect from a woman who spends her work life urging families to get their kids out and about.

Part of this is a scheduling issue. We had a plan for visitors that fell through. If I’d known that I was going to have a great yawning stretch of nine days, I would have at least attempted to plan a day trip or two ahead of time. Now that the calendar’s theoretically opened up, though, it’s surprising how empty the calendar isn’t. Between soccer and gymnastics, one girl or the other has had something scheduled every day this week, which discourages impromptu day trips.

And part of it is plain old lethargy. It’s cold. I have cramps. I did a free trial of Hulu+ so that I could watch the end of Parenthood, and those episodes won’t wait.

So, yes, there’s been too much tv. There’s been a discernible lack of grooming all around. Work outs have been well-nigh non-existent. But, hey, it’s almost done now.

Lucky for M, most of her friends are in town, so she’s kept pretty busy going on outings with them and their parents. M hasn’t hosted a birthday party since 4th grade, and she’s been pretty consistent about never wanting to invite anyone anywhere. It’s pretty irritating. She’ll happily run around with her friends and their parents. I’ve met these parents, and I really don’t think that I’m inherently more humiliating than any of them. These days I’ve taken to giving up and just trying to slip the hosting moms some cash. Part of me would like to plan a surprise party for M’s next birthday party, but I think that she’d really, really hate it. But with so many of her friends playing basketball, and because she never invites people over, I was really glad that kids were free to play this week.

Based on the last post, you might suppose that all of my parenting challenges are coming from the elder sister, but that just isn’t so. Sweet J has been a bit crazy-making these days, too.

J’s a poky little puppy. It always feels like a struggle to get her out the door to gymnastics. Usually, this makes sense, because she’s rushing to finish homework and eating a ridiculously early mini-dinner. But you’d think this week would be easier, with our schedule clear. Nope. I think that part of it is that traffic is so unpredictable that there’s not a consistent link between behavior and consequences. On an excellent day, the gymnastics place is 15 minutes away. Generally, I allow 20 minutes, and when traffic is nutty, it can take 30 minutes. Usually, if we leave 20 minutes before class starts, we arrive with a couple of minutes to spare. But sometimes we’ll leave on time or even early, and traffic’s awful, so we’re late, anyway, and sometimes we’ll leave late and we hit every light perfectly and skate in right on time. The result is that J seems to feel no sense of urgency to get out 20 minutes ahead. And the worst part.. . . the very worst part, is that when she decides that she’s late, she goes into a freak-out mode that seriously interferes with her ability to get her butt out the door. So I’m trying to keep her cognizant of the time without flipping the freak-out mode switch.

So yesterday, I gave her warnings at 15 minutes ahead and 5 minutes ahead, and she acknowledged it, and then about 3 minutes before it was time to go, she requested headache medicine. This was the first mention of a headache all day. In fact, the last time she mentioned at headache was right before gymnastics, and on that day I probed, “Have you been feeling bad all day, or are you just not in the mood to get off of the couch and away from the tv and do gymnastics?” She was appalled. She loves gymnastics. How could I even question it? I’m so terrible. “I’m just saying that I can understand that you might feel decent lying around and not-so-good doing back-handsprings,” I said. “But if you’re feeling really sick all day, you should stay home and rest.” NO. She was fine. So when she requested headache medicine 3 minutes before go-time I refrained from rolling my eyes, but that 3 minutes were supposed to be devoted to boot-pulling, refusing a coat, and walking past the full water bottle and going back for it, not measuring out and taking medicine and following it with a juice chaser.

She sucked down her medicine and, seeing me standing in my shoes and coat, switched into freak-out mode. I stood silently, watching her pull on her boots.

“I can’t get them on! And please stop just watching me!” I turned and sat at my conveniently-located computer. I even had some silly story to read.

“I’m coming, I’m coming!” she wailed.

“Sweetheart, it’s fine,” I murmured. “I’m ready when you are.”

“Stop yelling at me!” She said this to her quiet, quiet, murmuring Mommy.

“Are you kidding with that one?” I asked, half-snorting. I mean, I was in the Mommy Zone. I was so Zen. I wasn’t late for my practice.

“You’re so mean. I hate how you’re acting all calm.” She said this. It is a direct quote. I know, because at this point it was so good I had to write it down, and luckily, I was at my desk.

“I’m sorry, baby. Should I yell? Would that feel better to you?”

I’m not usually much of a yeller, and my children occasionally accuse me of yelling when I actually get quieter. Once, strictly for demonstration purposes, I responded to the accusation by actually yelling, “This is what it would sound like if I were actually yelling” and M promptly started to hyperventilate. But in this case, J ignored me and I finished whatever I was reading on my computer and we headed out.




Recently, M shared some inaccurate information with me. Repeated this inaccurate information. Insisted on this inaccurate information. When confronted with solid evidence directly contradicting this information, there was no verbal admission of guilt. That, my friends, is not how she rolls.

A few days later, M was lamenting the tragedy that was her forced relinquishment of a pair of shin guards. J needed shin guards for field hockey, and she’d inherited a spare pair of M’s.

Okay, first of all, I’ll admit it: sometimes I try to get M to move on from a particular item so that I won’t have to buy something for J. Earlier this winter, due to the miracle of neighborly hand-me-downs, I had in my possession three different pairs of snow pants that were roughly the same size, which was size was slightly-too-big-for-M. J owned a single pair of snow pants: a bit snug in the waist, definitely getting worn, and sporting a duct-tape patch on one knee. Sized between the three big pairs and J’s dilapidated patched pair, the snow pants that M still had from last year were, she insisted, her favorite snow pants ever, ever, ever. The size was perfect. I argued that they seemed almost indistinguishable from the ones a size up, and that’s when M pointed out the hot pink piping, which is “my favorite! It is why I love them!” This argument seemed absurd, since for about four years she refused to wear any pink whatsoever on principle. And as this discussion continued, little J jumped in with, “I like my snow pants. The patch isn’t too leaky and as long as I don’t button the top they fit.” Because that, my friends, is how she rolls.

But back to the shin guards. For the longest time, M owned two identical pairs of yellow shin guards, until they started looking a little small for her legs, and we bought a new pair. The yellow ones have been around as back-ups, but they’d been tucked in a basket literally for months when I fished out one set for J. M readily agreed that J should have them.  That is, until the other day, when she started moaning right before a morning practice about how she was down to one pair of too-small shin guards. “What are you talking about? Where are your A-list shin guards?” I asked.

“They’re gone,” she answered darkly.

“Gone where? You had them last week! Have you looked for them?”


“You’ve looked all around your room? You’ve checked every compartment of your soccer backpack?”

“Yes. That’s what I mean by gone. Do you think I’m too stupid to know how to look for my shin guards?”

This, my friends, is a question best left unanswered.

It was certainly a Great Mystery. That is, until a few hours later, when M & J were playing outside and I decided to conduct my own search. In her backpack, I found M’s A-list shin guards in the second zippered compartment I tried.

They were nestled snugly with a jersey that wasn’t hers. At their last game, the girls had had to switch from black to white right before the game. Rather than opening her own (monogrammed) backpack and pulling out her own (numbered) jersey, M opened a random backpack and picked out a random white jersey, one belonging to the only girl on her team who wouldn’t need it for the game because she was subbing as goalie that night. I had duly laundered the jersey, hung it to dry, and left it with M’s backpack so she could return it to her teammate at that morning’s practice, the same one that had her moaning about her missing shin guards. So she had taken the jersey, shoved it in next to her (allegedly missing) shin guards as she headed to practice, and then neglected to return the jersey, anyway.

I went to the back door to call out to M, busy on the snow fort.

“M? I’m just checking–you’ve already thoroughly searched your backpack for the shin guards, but you couldn’t find them? You unzipped all the pockets?” I called.


“And, this morning, did you remember to return your friend’s jersey?”


“So, you’re saying that the shin guards are still missing, but at least you took care of the jersey?”

Yes!” She’s getting impatient with me now. Seriously, middle-aged women are pretty slow.

“Sweetheart, look.” I hold up the shin guards and the jersey. “They were in the same pocket in your backpack.” She looks at me blankly. “You know, you’re starting to develop a real credibility issue with me.”

She chirped, “Thank you!” And perhaps she missed my credibility statement entirely (like I was saying “wonka-wak-wahhnk” Charlie Brown’s teacher-style), but I swear to God, it seemed like she took it as a compliment. She positively beamed with pleasure.

shin guards