Friday, November 30, 2007

In the interest of serving the general public as cold and flu season kicks into high gear...

The following chart of frequent phrases has been created for your convenience. Should a sore throat render your voice inadequate to the daily demands of parenting, simply print this simple list and post it on the refrigerator. Point to the appropriate number.

AutoMomic Responses

10) Get in the car!

9) Stop Fighting!

8) Pick it up.

7) Go to bed!

6) Just eat it.

5) Because I said so.

4) Get dressed Now!

3) Turn it off!

2) 5…4…3…2…1



This is a benevolent dictatorship, not a democracy.
We serve no whines of minors.
We love you.


It's not going well.

Indisposed, daughter who is two knocks. "Don't come in!" I urge. She opens the door and very gently puts down a box of baby wipes. "Here you go Mom." She says and walks away.

It's really not going well.

You should use the potty J.

"No Mom."

Why not?

"Then I'll get my beautiful potty all dirty."

It's not going well at all.

At the grocery store, "We need diapers Mom! Don't forget diapers Mom."

Nice lady listening: "Don't you want to be a big boy and use underwear and go to school?" I nod my head eagerly in agreement.

"NO. Then I'd have to leave Mom alone with the baby!"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Peanut Gallery Therapy

My brothers and I fought with each other for recreational purposes.

This was pre-game boy cable 24-7 TV stone age time. Instead of phoning other parents to schedule play dates or hyper structuring activities such that we had nothing to do with each other, our parents would throw all three of us sans protective sunscreen or excessive padding outside to entertain ourselves. Trolling the neighborhood for other similarly displaced youths, we’d organize a game of hide and seek or freeze tag or kick the can if there was even one other non related person involved.


If there were no additional people to play with, the dynamics of our group became unhealthy. Two younger boys against a bully big sister who idolized Lucy Van Pelt did not stand much of a chance, especially since they had not ever considered colluding against me. “Let’s play circus!” Guess who got to be the Lion Tamer. “Let’s put on a show.” Guess who got to be the star. “Let’s play story!” Guess who WANTED to be the big bad wolf. Guess what happened in my story until Mom would intervene to make me “play fair.”

I never wanted to play fair. I wanted life unfair in my favor of course!

Then one day it was raining and we couldn’t go outside. There was nothing on television and we’d eaten and Mom had to pay some bills so she sent us to our rooms to play. After a few minutes in my own room, I wandered down the hall looking for something to do.

I saw my two brothers setting up a hot wheel set in their room. They had a charger and it was really cool the way they could get those cars to fly around the track. It was beautiful and huge and they were lining up and dividing cars for a big race. I asked if I could play.

It would make a good story if they had said No and why. Alternatively, if they had said Yes and I had had a moment of epiphany, it would have made good copy. I could have recognized I wanted to be part of their lives and a friend, not just a sister, but this was pre even Phil Donahue or Dr. Phil or Oprah.

They said yes and I immediately plunged into trying to redistribute the cars to get the ones I wanted, muscling the younger one out of a few choice racers, leaving him the scratched police car, white convertible and the green van with yellow seats and orange stripes. When he complained, I relented a bit and gave him all the fire trucks.

Oddly enough, he was not moved by my generosity. I wound up giving him the black car. Of course it was the best one to hug the track and I made several offers to get it back but he wasn’t interested, even when I offered everything else.
We did however spend an afternoon racing cars and I remember my brothers saying “Let’s do that again.” I agreed, and we did, and it was fun.

“Why did you tell us that story?” My son demanded, looking as annoyed as if I had assigned six extra pages of reading for homework or asked him to vacuum his room.

“Because I want you to play with your sister.”

“But she doesn’t like cars.”

“I don’t mean it has to be cars. It can be dinosaurs.”

“But I don’t want to share dinosaurs with a girl, it’s a dumb idea. Dinosaurs aren’t for girls. Everyone knows this.” He protested.

“Look. I want you and your sister to learn to play now so you become more than brothers and sisters, you become friends, like I am with my brothers and sister now.”

“But you’re grownups.”

“But it started then.”

“I don’t want to.” He humped.

I was tired. I was tired of talking. “Do it because I said so or the dinosaurs go away.” I growled.

“Come on F. Let’s play dinosaur.” He said in his most beckoning voice. It may have started because of a threat but within minutes, he and she were deep in a storyline about the T-rex that could fly and the brave stegosaurus that stopped the flying dino from eating her friends by offering a sacrificial PB&J and ice cream instead.

Lucy Van Pelt flexed her muscles. “It’s good to be back.”

Friday, November 23, 2007


Today's offering is verbal stuffing, bits of this and that, mixed to make something really excellent to eat, but not often.

On Thanksgiving morning at six o'clock, the alarm went off.
"Come on Love, we have to dress and stuff the turkeys."
"Feed and clothe the kids, right." he smiled as he hit the alarm.

First a serving of Turkey...

Friday, emerging from the food comas, I happened to smirk at a bag of pecans that warned, "Processed on machines that may have processed nuts from trees." It reminded me of the recall in New Hampsire of Eggnog, where the feds insisted the products be removed from shelves as they lacked sufficient warning...MAY CONTAIN EGGS. Somebody must have egged the government on to do this, or else someone isn't using their noggin.

Mashed Potatoes for Brains...

Pulling out the hotdogs to make lunch, I observed the following label. "Child Safety: When serving hot dogs to young children, cut hot dogs lengthwise, then into small, easy to swallow pieces. Children should eat while seated and be under adult supervision. Please contact us at 1-866...for more information." I called the number to ask whether they could send someone over to supervise. They haven't gotten back to me.


This year, retailers have recognized that "Happy Holidays" and "Season's Greetings" aren't cutting it with the vast shopping public that may actually be purchasing things to celebrate a religious observance. "Winter trees" flopped big time last year. Determined not to offend, some not so bright bulbs have opted for "Yuletide Season." Guess it's okay to acknowledge pagan religions, after all, there are so many druids running around.


Cutting cake to celebrate my husband's birthday caused our three year old to come a running. "Who's the cake for?" he asked. Our other children cued up for servings. "My favorite child first." their father replied and added with a wink, "Who's my favorite child?" The older four began to smile and one of them volunteered "All of us." but John grabbed the slice and said "ME. I'm your favorite." and hunkered down on the slice.


On the issue of favorites, a favorite story of my dad's. When asked by one of his sons, which of his nine children did he love the most, my grandfather told the story of how he couldn't be a priest because he had lost part of his thumb. He held up his hands. "You see I have nine fingers." he said. "I love and need them all."

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

My Consuming Passion

Being something of a foodie, I get catalogues for all the high brow uber expensive special gourmet treats. Some of the offers available transcend even American standards for wretchedly indulgent excess. These glossy brochures wax rhapsodic about the food with such transparent joy as to promise a pre “the fall” experience of eating. Catching my beef eater son drooling over a Wagyu Kobe beef offer heartened me about his spiritual innocence, but also stiffened my resolve to recycle the catalogs as quickly as they came in the door. I didn’t want to hear the cacophony of “I want this…” that would come with allowing Wireless, William Somoma, Lillian Vernon, Brookstone, L.L. Bean and Leaps and Bounds Toys catalogues into my home on a perpetual basis.

This policy was strictly enforced until there came one devoted purely to chocolate. I had seen beauty before, but here was the brochure detailing a myriad of choices evoking my deepest passions. There were no sojourns by the purveyors of this most sacred of foods into the disappointing venue of baked goods or ice creams. This catalogue knew its audience and was singled minded in its pursuit of chocolate perfection. There were no cute shaped dinosaurs or Christmas trees; there were fillings of hazelnut, cherry cordial and fondant. Appreciating the priority of substance over form, I spirited the contraband brochure to my room for further study.

That night, I began to educate myself on the varieties of pure indulgence available. I even gave my husband a good back rub to lull him to sleep before sneaking a peak at my beloved. The buyers had scoured the globe for the best chocolate truffles (Teuschers), nibby bars (Scharffen Berger), fudge sauce(Elmer’s Fudge Sauce), hot chocolate shavings (Shokinag), not to mention standby’s like Lindt semi-sweet bars, Hershey’s syrup, and Recchiuti hand rolled truffles and hand cut chocolate. I could feel my mouth watering. I would say I was like a kid in a candy store, but that seems rather obvious.

I had a lap top. I had a catalog. I had a credit card.

But wait, maybe these words were just words. After all, being a writer myself, I understood the glory and the emotional power of good descriptions. Was this pure marketing? To be on the safe side, I googled each item individually to ascertain the truth. I didn’t want to fall for any expensive pretenders. Alas for me, each of them proved to have many a glowing testimony to their positions as certifiable wonders of the chocolate world.

This knowledge brought a whole new set of questions for me. Were these various treats experiences worth not simply buying, but saving for? Were these chocolates such that they might even be worth abstaining from all other chocolate to allow for a greater taste experience? Would ordering too many at once rob me of the true nature of their individual chocolate essences, deprive me of the transcendent nature of unique fine chocolates? Would multiple experiences cheapen my appreciation of them? Worse, what if they disappointed? I felt oddly guilty as I lingered over the order form, like I was acquiring not simply one but multiple mail order brides, preparing to purchase blindly, illicit things I already wanted to love.

After wrestling with my conscious and my budget, and for brief moments, my diet, I decided it was better to play the field. I’m still young I reasoned. I’d have a blind date a month and who knows, maybe one of the gourmet chocolates and I would hit it off fabulously and I’d agree to a second or third date, perhaps be ready for a more permanent commitment. I ennie meenie miney moed my choice and put the catalogue lovingly into my night stand dresser drawer.

The next day, a Lego’s, American girl, National Geographic, Signals and Back to Basic Toys catalogue arrived in the mail. I recognized my own hypocrisy and called the children to hand them out. It can’t hurt to look I reasoned. Besides, I could artfully leave the chocolate catalogue out on the piano in case the kids or their dad needs any hints this Christmas.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Adventures of Contrary Boy and She Who Would Be Two

Warning: I have been toddlerized.

I have come to accept the inherent cereal and milk encrusted feeling of all my door knobs and the fact that no wall escapes a Zorro like calling card.

One can only hope to contain a toddler, not control. They have to consent to any ideas or activities. The moment one says something in imperative voice to a two year old, the answer is already decided. “We need to go.” “You need a diaper change.” “It’s time to play, eat ice cream and ride flying pink ponies while watching TV and jumping off the furniture.” The reflexive response to all three of these commands is NO! Not only no but hell no!

Time to get dressed.

Now usually I bring the clothes down when I get them up and tackle that task while they’re still groggy enough not to reflexively resist. Today I was slumming and it was ten o’clock when I attempted this feat. Going through the laundry to find fresh outfits, my children sensed what was coming and scattered.

I do have a trick or two though. I have found that if I practice the piano, even so much as a single plink on those ivories brings them to practice with me. This secret summoning spell remains 100% effective as long as they are unaware that I am manipulating them.

Plink! Plink! Plink! I want to be sure they come so I play a winner, “The Spinning Song.”

Up they run, my son shouting “I want to play. I want to play!” “Play!” my daughter who turns two in a week calls. She gets to me first.
I take the first comer and wrestle her to the ground to get dressed. “Now you can play the piano.” I explain. She happily plinks.

Now my son isn’t willing to get dressed and stays out of arm’s reach. “Can we go to the fitness center today?” he asks. (They have better toys I’m told at the gym).
“Fitness Center.” My daughter repeats.

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe. If people get dressed.” I say, acting casual, as though going to work out would be a major effort and inconvenience to me. He picks out his clothing and hands it to me in a flash.

“Thanks Contrary Boy.” I say as I help him into his shirt.

Make no mistake, toddlers do have super powers; they get sane educated adults to comply with an endless array of tasks through erosion of will.

Yesterday, I needed to make an appointment. The receptionist put me on hold. I witnessed Contrary boy, complete with blanket cape, amble through the kitchen. He found a magnet, a marble, the back of one of my earrings, a cell phone I had given up for dead and a lost bag of chips ahoy to share with his sister. When I cried “Wait!” He bolted out of the room. In the meantime, She Who Would be Two came in, found one shoe, put it on her foot and walked off. She took a marker with her. Returning five minutes later with an entirely purple arm, I hung up. I’d call from my cell with them in their car seats.

Both she and her brother asked for a second round of breakfast.

What did they want?

“Peanut butter and Jelly sandwiches.”

We were out of bread.

“Could I make it on hot dog buns?”

They thought this was funny and I pointed out it looked like a mouth. Impulsively, I added blue berries on top as eyes. My son wanted his to have a mustache. That took some doing but after two minutes of discussion and a smear of peanut butter, I served Groucho Marx PB&J on a bun.

I thought I might squeeze back in the call. The Receptionist put me on hold before I could tell her not to.

“Mom. You didn’t give us napkins.”
“Napkins.” She Who Would be Two repeats.

I find a roll of paper towels and pull off two. Still holding.

“Mom, you didn’t give us drinks.”
“Drinks.” She Who Would be Two repeats again.

“I know.” I responded. “Mommy’s on the phone. The service here is terrible.”

“Terrible.” He repeated.

I started making sippy cups of milk before She Who Would be Two could repeat Terrible as well.

Happiness lasted as long as the sandwiches. She Who Would be Two shredded her bun and got her hair covered in peanut butter and jelly.

“My hands are sticky.” He explained, visibly distressed.
“sticky.” She starts to say.
I grab a towel and sponge off her hands and face first.

As I turn to wipe his hands, Contrary boy frowns. “Mom, We haven’t had lunch.”

I hung up again.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Ordering Out

Going through a drive thru is rather like taking a leap of faith with my brood. Or at least, it used to be. I'd write the order as follows:

W: Big Mac, root beer
B: Ten Piece, Chocolate Shake
M: Mighty Kids Double Cheese, Chocolate Shake BOY Toy (even though she's a girl)
P: Mighty Kids Chicken Nug/BOY TOY ONLY, Chocolate Shake
F: Happy Meal Hamburger/GIRL TOY ONLY, Sprite
J: Happy Meal Cheeseburger/BOY TOY, Chocolate Milk, Apples
R: Happy Meal Hamburger, GIRL TOY, Chocolate Milk, Apples
Me: Diet Coke, resign self to eating whatever order got messed up.
Order four more hamburgers and two four pieces to cover the bases and sigh as oldest produces three dollars to buy six pies.

After writing things down and having errors, writing things down and handing it in and having errors, writing things down and having the kids change their minds, I placed an ultimatum, either cope with what comes or no more golden arches.

This quelled internal dissent at least publically, but getting people to hear the order took time. I considered running through the drive thru twice, as five seems to be the cut off at which the cashier assumes you're done. Instead, I've channeled my inner Julie Andrews.

It is fortunate for me that blogs have not yet progressed that you would hear my words in my own voice. Imagine I'm in tune and very musical.

"A flat please maestro."

They laugh and then they listen. And, I almost never get any mistakes anymore.

(Sung to the tune of twelve days of Christmas)

"For our drive up order please listen to me please

Three happy meals, 2 with hamburgers and one with just cheese.

We'd also like two chocolate milks and an apple juice for drink

and six apple pies!

One big mac meal. A ten piece too

And two Mighty Kids Meals.

One is Cheeseburger, the other chicken!

Three Medium Chocolate Shakes and One Root Beer

And for me a diet coke!

and four hamburgers and 2 chicken four piece

from the dollar menu.

And two girl and Three Boy Toys....."

My only issue is if the kids change the order.

Goodnight Everybody!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Joining the Gamers' Club

What we don’t know innately, we marry.

For example, my husband has a built in GPS in his head. He can tell North on a starless night without a compass or those pesky Auroras Borealis. On the other hand, I still navigate the town that has been our home for thirteen years with mild trepidation. There is a Bermuda Triangle within its radius that plagues me still to this day. The directions for getting to the Victory Center where our daughters play basketball have imprinted on my brain such that I cannot get there….without getting lost first. I have come to terms with my faulty brain. I don’t take them to games anymore.

I dance, love musical theatre and enjoy reading the classics. He reads history for pleasure and can remember it without a test the next day. In other words, ask me if you’re playing Trivial Pursuit for the brown or the pink slice of pie, ask him if you need the history one. I don’t even remember what color that pie piece is.

Where are my…?

During our dating years, I marveled at how organized and put together my future spouse was. He never lost anything. I lost my purse and found it later the second night we met. My I.D. card fell out of my pocket in December. When the snow finally melted that semester in April, I found it again.

I have learned to look in the place where things ought to be first when beginning a mission to retrieve lost objects. Cue Mission Impossible music here. I am now the GPS for all items within the household.

"I can't find my music stand."

"It's next to the computer in the study."

"We don't have lunch boxes!"

"They're still out in the car where you left them."

“Where are my papers from yesterday?”

“They’re on the table under the lunchbox in the kitchen.”

Actually, I’m more like the brown paper envelope in the middle of the Clue Game. I have the answers, I just need the right question.

Scrabble, Upwards and On Words…

We play cards and strategy computer games and every board game there is in our house. My husband is the master of the set battle plan, thus he usually wins at hearts and always at “Go.” My method of play is more on the fly, I school him at chess and occasionally have a run of victories at cards. Where we both are evenly matched is Scrabble. He can plink down amazing words.

Because I’m a non-speller, my victories have been mostly moral ones, but there was one where I put down the “J” on a triple letter score to catapult to the lead, forming the word “Jo.” “That’s not a word. I challenge.” It was a bluff, but I lucked out. It means sweetheart. I tried calling him that for a time, it didn’t stick. It’s a stupid word and even I concede, I won, but with dishonor. (You have to say that last part with a Klingon accent).

Speaking of Klingons,

If anyone in cyber space has Quest for the Throne, the Klingon version of Star Fleet Battles (STB), I’ll buy it from you. Back in my sophomore year of college, he bought the game to teach me about STB quickly and I was undefeated in seven tries despite being an absolute rookie. Then the game vanished mysteriously. He promises he didn’t throw it away.

Gifts and Gift Giving

November 15, 1992 A day that remains pivotal in my spousal relationship. No, it’s not our anniversary or the anniversary of an anniversary or anyone’s birthday. It’s the day we stopped being newlyweds and became a “settled” couple. My husband came home and saw me putting away some shirts from the drycleaners. After dinner, he gave me a pensive gaze and said with recognition in his voice, “You don’t iron for me anymore.” I laughed.

December 20, 1997 We were wrapping up the last of the loot when it occurred to me I hadn’t bought my beloved a present. Expecting a baby, I could have punted and just allotted the oversight to pregnancy hormones. My admittedly feeble attempt to rectify the situation was worthy of spousal scorn, but he’s a very gallant man. My folks were in town for the holidays and I had purchased several books. Having overheard my mom talk about having read one of the books I had bought for her, I regifted on the spot. The problem was, he knew about that book in particular and the fact that it was originally intended for my mom. The inscription on the inside says it all. “I was thinking of you as I wrapped this book, Love S.”

The other day, my husband called me about a sign he saw talking about giving your wife a rock to remember. “How about some quartz?” he offered. “Wow. That would be great!” He showed up with what I estimate to be a 90 lb. boulder that looks very nice in our back yard. The sparkly earrings came later. I countered by getting him something I swore when we dated I’d never do, some practical gifts, fresh pants and socks. Then, feeling bad, I impulsively bought him a beautiful red blanket, and “The Man of LaMancha.”

Romance may be about getting hearts and flowers but love isn’t about getting what you want. It’s getting what you most profoundly need, even if it’s to be told to shape up. We’ve both demanded that the other become more of the person God intended us to be over the years. We diet and budget and struggle with organizational systems to manage our many charges together. He’s learned to bring chocolate on any occasion and how to dance, and I’ve discovered the History section at the book store under his tutelage. I’ve introduced him to musicals and classic film and he’s taken us to civil war battle grounds and explained the campaigns. He’s even navigated me over the phone to the basketball center. And together, we’re a tough match in cards or Trivial Pursuit.

Think I may buy an ironing board, just to surprise him.

Hillary's Family Tree

*This piece was inspired by a puff article on Hillary's relatives, it is a departure from my normal home spun stuff --think of it as dark chocolate instead of your standard every day Hershey's. As Always, I hope it makes you laugh. --Sherry

Who would have thought we could learn something new about Hillary Clinton?

How is it that Hillary's genetic magnificence did not come out when she was campaigning for Bill the first two times around, or when she ran for Senate? The Hillary Camp must have been holding this card for some time now. Imagine, being able to Google HRC and get Angelina Jolie and Madonna. Her Royal Clintoness even has ties to actual royalty, with Camilla Parker Bowles finally married to Prince Charles.

These shocking new details about the history of Hillary come courtesy of Washington genealogist William Addams Reitwiesner and the Washington Post: Reliable Source. (Friday, Nov. 2, 2007, C3) Reitwiesner is a Library of Congress employee. His research also revealed Hillary's musical roots transcended genres, as she is also linked to Celine Dion and Alanis Morissette (tenth cousins once removed). The Washington Post, being the Washington Post, rushed to break the news.

Having done my own research into her genealogical lineage, there are even more startling details that Hillary doesn't want made public.

Indeed, she managed to bury her family ties to eighth cousin twice removed, Margaret Hamilton; you know, the Wicked Witch of the West from the Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The Hillary Camp, aware that this connection would be unpleasant as it might scare small children, commissioned a revisionary tale of this character. It can be seen on Broadway today as the Tony Award winning show: Wicked.

Harder to conceal was the relationship with her French great, great, great uncle Nap--Napoleon Bonaparte to the rest of the world. Although now largely forgotten by the mainstream media, Old Bonie was undone in his first go 'round as Emperor with his preoccupation with the Health Care Reform Act of 1812, his implementation of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy just prior to the invasion of Russia, his obsession with a vast right wing conspiracy orchestrated by religious conservatives to bring back the monarchy, and his penchant for Lithuanian interns. Oh wait...that last part was from Bill's family tree.

Even though Sandy Berger was able to secret out the records from the Library of Congress in his pants before Reitwiesner could find them, I managed to procure a copy from the recesses of a secret vault in the Clinton Presidential Library.

Forget Albus Dumbledore, the real bombshell in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series was the identity of Tom Marvlo Riddle's love child fathered in his sixth year at Hogwarts in the days before free distribution of birth control in high schools. You guessed it, Hillary can trace her true origin to none other, Lord Voldemort.

When confronted about the connection, the Dark Lord shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well, you know, there's no accounting for family."

When confronted about her alleged father while autographing pictures for an adoring crowd of progressives, Clinton responded in typically cryptic Clintonian fashion, "What is a Rose Law Firm by any other name?"

To my horror when I looked down at the autograph she put on my program, instead of seeing Hillary Rodham Clinton I read,

I looked up as she walked down the receiving line. She turned and with her smile said—“You and your little blog too.”

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Why Can't the Parents Teach Their Children How to Speak?

I finally cracked the code.

I can speak my five year old daughter’s language.

Oh, I know we taught her English, but communication has always been an issue with her. I assumed it was part and parcel of being the fifth child out of eight. I thought she ignored directives on the theory that I wasn’t talking to her. I thought she pouted to be sure she got attention. Now I know better.

My daughter uses purple prose expressions. She likes sugar frosted cereals and pink fairy princesses and over the top sentiment. Moreover, she can be persuaded by use of the same exuberant broad brush painting with words.

How did I discover her dialect?

It was 32 degrees outside.
“Put on your coat. It’s cold.” I said.

“NO!” She crossed her arms and rolled her tongue, making her “ugly face” in response.

Normally I would simply assert my authority and the coat would be on her body. Today, in a moment of maternal weakness, I try to address her actual needs writ large in her defiance. “Look outside. See the frost? I’ve been outside, it’s very cold. Put your coat on.” I thrust the coat in her hands.

“NO!” she repeats and throws the coat on the floor and stomps off.

Torn between, “Oh yes you will wear this coat and I’m putting it on your stomping self right now!” and “Something must be wrong, this makes no sense!” I stall for time and my temper by asking “Why?”

“I don’t want to wear a coat on the playground.” She sobs. She repeats it three times, each subsequent statement becoming more sorrowful and full of deep breaths.

“I’m wearing my coat. It’s cold outside and I want to stay healthy.” My son volunteers, adopting his “virtue boy” voice.

“Thank you son.” I smile and wave him off to the car.

Recognizing he’s not going to get the additional credit at her expense he’d hoped, he sulks off to the car, taking off his coat as he does and pausing by the window to be sure I see him. I rap on the window. “I thought you wanted to stay healthy!” His own words force the coat back on, the cold helps too.
“I don’t want to…”she’s still sobbing.

“Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop. Stop.” I rub her arms gently to calm her down and try to make eye contact. “I want you to wear your coat so you can be all toasty warm during play time at kindergarten.” She gives me a small smile. I push my apparent advantage.

“I love my daughter and I don’t want her arms cold or for her to not be able to play because she feels uncomfortable. That would be terrible. I want her warm, toasty, ready to go…” The coat goes on in a flash, as do the mittens and the hat, though an older one marches in to switch hats since this daughter is accidentally wearing hers. I wait for the melt down that doesn’t happen and we get in the car.

Something just happened. I asked her to do something and she agreed. Can I do it again? I wonder.

“Hey Precious. Would you do me a great favor to help take care of your brother and sister? It’s a pretty big job…”

“What what what?” She’s all in. I feel vague guilt asking except she’d have to do these things anyway, so I’m just manipulating the mood in which she receives these tasks, I tell myself. “Can you sit in the far back and give the baby her juice? She’s too little.”


Now my brain is abuz with other prospects –doing homework, chores…the whole world suddenly seems open to me via talking to my dauther.

I start looking at the whole incident for what it truly reveals. Each of my kids speaks English, just with a different dialect. Mulling the whole thing over, the next day I try to say the same command to each child. The following are field tested results from a confirmed child whisperer.

Oldest comes down in short sleeved shirt. He’s fourteen so telling him what to wear other than to say “You’re out of uniform, or that doesn’t fit or is dirty,” is out of bounds. I ask him to take out the garbage. He goes to do the job and immediately comes back in for a coat, hat and mittens.

The next comes in to the kitchen. I’m ready for her. “I stuck your coat and hat and mittens In the dryer…” is all I get out. She’s gone to fetch them in a flash.

My middle girl is a bit of a mystery, compliant in many things but always for her own reasons. She loves cold, so the indirect way won’t work. “Which coat are you wearing today? I don’t want a note from the nurse about not wearing proper attire for playground.” She goes to get her stuff.

Virtue boy sees everyone else and tests me. “I don’t want to wear a coat!” “Fine, then you have to wear a sweater. I hold up the sweater.” He hates sweaters. Batting 1000! I think.

Purple prose still works today and I begin thinking I’ve got it down when it all crashes.

Contrary boy has dressed himself. He is wearing shorts. It is 32 degrees outside and he is wearing shorts. He is bragging about dressing himself. We have to get in the car.

I punt. I dress the baby and load her in the car with the others.

She who would be two loves her coat and willingly complies. Still wondering how I’ll do the last one, I'm considering using parental fiat power but don’t want to ruin my average. I’m in the zone, I think, there has to be another way. I get his socks and shoes on and he is singing about superheroes he’d like to be.

“Thank you Son!” I kiss his forehead and run to the linen closet.
Wrapping him in a polar fleece blanket won’t allow me to go anywhere but back home, but it does get us out the door. Super son and I get in the car. Twenty minutes ‘till school. Buckled and bundled, we’re gonna make it. I feel high on parenting…

The urgency in her voice tells me I’m about to crash.

I’m in freefall.

“You forgot to make us lunches!” There are universal cries of pure despair.
“I’ll bring your food before lunch.”
“Before snack?”
Roll, tumble, hit a tree and flip into a ditch and crash again.
“Before snack.”
Mollified, we set out onto the road.

Well, I may have learned the dialect but the universal language is still food.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Front Cover Me Girl

Stuck at the dentist, I began looking at the headlines of multiple magazines at the same time. Thousands upon thousands of us purchase them month after month and year after year and it is quite possible that the magazines in question stopped writing actual copy back in 1980 and are just continually recycling past pieces with bright new shiny titles. Each magazine obsessed over fashion, trouble with men and how to eat excessive amounts of fattening food without gaining weight. They also revealed that we the readers were obsessing over these same things even if we didn’t know it yet.

According to these respected publications, today’s woman is supposed to be polished, organized, Zen like in her understanding of the earth, superb at balancing business and family life, fashionable, slim, thrifty, not to mention a gourmet chef that ensures everyone in the family gets plenty of sunshine, exercise and anti-oxidants. She is on the go but not stressed out, organized but not rigid, impeccably dressed but not vain, and self indulgent but in a good narcissistic sort of healthy way.

The pharmaceutical ads interspersed with these articles offered guarantees that we could experience nirvana even if our current reality failed to meet magazine expectations and that we should contact our doctor if we felt the slightest hint of a spiritual, physical or emotional malaise, real or imagined.

Apparently I am suffering from a dearth of desire for external medication. I’m sure there’s a pill for that too though.

Having thumbed through a few of these sagacious tomes, I have a slight quibble about the front covers. These covers always have one of two things on them, skinny women in elegant skimpy clothing, or gorgeous food. The skinny women obviously have never been allowed to view let alone eat the food shown on the fabulous covers. Perhaps once they hit the fossilized age of 20, they become the cooks for the magazine and are allowed to consume life sustaining amounts of processed carbohydrates and protein, not to mention sugar.

The food is always either meat or dessert. The meats portrayed are almost always steaks so perfect you want to go back down the aisles at the grocery store, find the identical selection of meat, spices and herbs and take it home to cook. Around November, Turkey shows up and maybe ham. You never see London broil on a front cover or chicken thighs.

When it is dessert, it is usually piled high and chocolate, or has that tri-color catch-your-eye-type-presentation because the chef used a few ripe raspberries and some fresh mint at the end to dress it up. No matter how few easy steps the cover screams it takes to make this simple no fuss always loved dessert, the actual process remains more complicated. It will however look just like the cover when you are done, just as surely as you look like the model on the other magazine’s cover if you buy the same dress.

Lastly, there is a question of which magazines offer Truth.

These reading tomes want our loyalty in the same way political parties, religious denominations and spouses do. They want a commitment, a subscription even, and possibly proselytizing by giving out subscriptions as gifts.

Do I want to seem Cosmopolitan, like the girls from Sex in the City, or like a cultured French woman and read Elle? Do I get my advice from Rosie, Martha or Oprah? Am I Today’s Woman, or a Working Woman or Working Mother? Am I confident of my SELF or in need of Shape? What am I missing out if I choose one over another? Am I turning a blind eye to the wisdom on female financial planning and weight loss in a week if I pick Redbook over Southern Living? Will I fail as a mother if I chose Child over Parents magazine?

As the hour ticked by and I waited for kids check ups to be over, I found myself pining for just one out of date issue of Grit or National Geographic. Digging through the piles, I finally found one. The cover was “Chocolate and why we love it.”

I am ashamed to admit, I took that one home.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Potty Wars

I hate potty training. Really. I hate it. Why? Despite having five children out of diapers, I cannot point to any one of them as being a success because of my efforts. None of them have ever willingly embraced the idea of wearing underwear over diapers. None of them have been easy. None of the diaper set still pending looks to be easy on this point either.

I love my kids.
I love being a parent.

I hate potty training.
Potty Training with Child #1
Behavior management doesn’t work.

We went to the store.
We bought a small potty.
We bought stickers.
We bought “M&Ms.”
We brought it home.
We set it up.
We started the week with high hopes.
I made a chart.
I put the chart on the bathroom door.
I put the “M&M’s” in the freezer.
I put the stickers in an envelope next to the chart.
I explained to my son the idea.
He would try to go potty.
He would earn stickers (happy faces).
If he was successful, he got “M&M’s.”

Within a week,
my son drew a picture of himself.
He explained, he’s unhappy because he just had an accident.
He then began to cry. I looked at the picture.
The unhappy face stick figure burned into my brain.
I threw away the chart, gave him the stickers and then,
I ate the “M&M’s.”
Four months later, we were still changing diapers at 3 and nearly 8 months.
Potty Training with Child #2
Bribes don’t work either.

We cut out a picture of a ballerina and taped it on the fridge.

The deal was simple enough, if she went potty and could wear underwear, she could do ballet.
We bought the underwear in advance.
We went to watch the ballet class.
We even bought the slippers and tutu and put them in her closet.

Our daughter sensed that this was worth even more than we were offering.

Within two months, a picture of a bike was added, at her request. She also wanted to go to school.

I stupidly agreed to it all, anything to get the job done.

Four long months later, she demanded payment in full,
for her very first success.

We explained (rationally) that she had to do this more than once.

She grew angry.

Four more months later, diapers were still on our grocery list, and she was 3 years and 7 months old.
Potty Training with Child #3
A watched child never potties.

Every 25 minutes, we took her.
That got old fast.
You can’t go anywhere or do much of anything.
Our lives revolved around the attempt to keep that commitment of every 25 minutes.
After a weekend of that, I was ready to be committed.

So we tried a combined approach of what had sort of worked before.
The chart was back.
The stickers were back.
The bribes were back,

None of it worked.

A friend recommended the Couch Potato technique.
It sounded promising.
We should stick a tv in the bathroom with her.
We’ll turn it on and she’ll sit. She’ll relax, and bingo! She’ll go.
She got hours of cartoons out of that deal.

Four months later, we were still trying for our first success at 3 1/2.

Potty Training with Child #4
It’s his potty and he’ll cry if he wants to.

This time, we tell ourselves, it will be different.

We have read the books.
We have looked at magazines.
We have learned from our mistakes.
And, we are starting earlier.

Our son is newly two.

Our son likes his new underwear.
He likes his stickers.
He sits on the potty.
We praise him often, just for thinking about sitting.

Somewhere in the process,
something breaks down.
He decides, he doesn’t want to.

We take him any way.
I don’t want to!
He sobs.
We make him sit.
I don’t want to!
He screams!

We drag him to the bathroom.
He cries when he sits on the potty.
I …..gasp!..... hate…..gasp!....the….gasp!....potty!
One day, I see him clutching his body
and sprint him to the bathroom.
I sit him down, saying as calmly as I can,
“I know you need to go.”
“NO! You! Don’t!” he sulks back.
I sit in there with him, reading books.
I clean the bathroom while I wait.
I organize the towels,
And the sheets,
And the medicine cabinet.
I know I can’t spend the whole day in the bathroom, and
I can’t leave him there forever,
But nothing happens until I diaper him up.

Then he comes to me immediately
“I need a diaper change.”
sweetness in his voice and innocent eyes.

Our son held out until he was nearly four.

Our bathroom looked very nice for those two years.

Potty Training with Child #5
Seek Professional Help.

Okay, we are getting desperate.

Yes, four children have managed to potty train, but not one before the age of 31/2! I have been driven nearly insane by the process. I remain doubtful about my prospects for success with my daughter. As I have a toddler and am expecting my seventh, the idea of three in diapers makes me literally faint of heart.

It is summer. All the books say that is the best time to do this.
We consult friends. The collective advice is to go Cold Turkey.
No Diapers. Not even at night. The theory is that within one week,
she will train herself.

A week passes, two, three. By the fourth week, I have washed every item of clothing and all of her bedding at least eleven times, the carpet has spots and smells faintly of carpet cleaner. Not one success.

Summer passes. We try pull-ups. These are simply more expensive diapers that prey upon parents’ hopes and create laundry at the same time.

We’ve had no success and we’ve been at it since April. I quit for a time and resign myself to changing three different sized diapers multiple times daily.

Then, one day, I crack.

She gets up and is dry.
I take off the diaper and explain that today, she will potty.
I sit her down. I bring her a book. I set the timer.
Twenty minutes pass, nothing.

I change her baby brother and the baby. Checking on her,
she is still looking at the book. I fix breakfast. Determined, I bring breakfast in on a step stool for her, and set it up next to her potty. “Thanks Mom.” She says with a beautiful smile. I go away feeling like Super Mommy.

I fix her brother breakfast and nurse the baby. After getting them dressed, I pick out clothing for my new big girl, my heart full of hope. Going to check on her, the phone rings. The call takes about five minutes, and then I do the dishes, absent mindedly forgetting to check. The baby needs nursing and changing again. My son needs his face washed and socks and shoes.

When I remember my daughter is still in the bathroom, I run upstairs, and there she is, sitting on her potty, fast asleep.

There is nothing in the toilet.

Potty Training with Child #6
Global Warming

This kid has seen potty training at its ugliest. He knows what is expected and is old enough to take care of business. He also has a sense of humor.

His favorite joke is to sit on the portable potty and then announce, “I did it Mom.”

When I go over to check, he laughs and says, “It’s a trick Mom. I tricked you.”

One day I said, “It’s time to potty now.” He looked outside at the weather and said, “Today isn’t a good day for pottying.”

The M&M’s are still in the freezer waiting.

The Last Word

I saw in a magazine that the average mom changes 3,175 diapers by the time a child is 2 &3/4 years old. I know that I have been changing diapers since 1993. Using that figure and accounting for the fact that none of my children have made it out of diapers before the age of 3&1/2, I have done the math. No one should ever know these sorts of stats, but from these calculations, I estimate I am responsible for a land fill the size of Rhode Island.

I still have a chance to have an easy pottying experience, our two youngest are still in diapers. Their father has a standing offer to any child who potty trains before the age of 3, he will buy them a car.

And once it does happen finally for our youngest child, once I am finally diaper free…..

the kids want a dog.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Fun with Treadmills

There have been many fitness fads and I have tried them all. In my closet and basement are the remains from past overzealous new convert obsessions that, over time, lost their luster and ability to steer me towards a size eight or even ten jeans, as I returned to the comfort of daily chocolate, large fries and the occasional Krispy Kreme. Jazzercise t-shirts, Jane Fonda tapes, Tae-bo equipment, the ill-conceived daily jogging regime pedometer and walking log, along with ankle weights and the never opened Abdominator await the next garage sale or call to 1-800 Got Junk. None of these greatest crazes to encourage exercise can compare, however, with the impulsive decision one Christmas to buy my spouse and myself home fitness equipment, specifically a treadmill.

Looking at the huge steel nagging machine, my husband sighed, “As if working every day didn’t sometimes already feel like a steady sweaty march to nowhere.” Even the red ribbon I had artfully placed on the monitor didn’t help.

Still, I tried to explain how this would give us more energy, fight the middle-aged pounds and in the long run, cost less than a gym membership. “So we can stare at a gym at home we don’t use instead of staring at a bank statement each month for a gym we don’t use.” My husband grumbled. He was less than excited by my Christmas gift to “us.” That evening however, he dutifully got on the machine and started walking.

We had small children so in the interest of safety; I placed the machine near the computer in the corner of our basement. The person on the machine could watch a DVD, help critique an article or talk to another person on the computer while working out, but they couldn’t watch TV, it was on the other side of the stairs. This was perhaps an error on my part. College football was on and so as soon as Notre Dame started playing, the treadmill was abandoned. Notre Dame didn’t play very well that bowl game, so his heart got a good work out anyway.

The next evening, I tried the “machine.” My husband was playing Civilizations II. I normally served as domestic advisor in these games, reminding him to adjust the tax rate and move the citizens around to ensure the greatest levels of production, encouraging him not to go the “Let’s annihilate everyone route!” every time and build magnificent cities instead. After five minutes of trying to explain while walking that I wanted him to make a road from Paris to Rome and initiate a peace treaty over the noise of the machine, I watched as he declared war on Caesar and most of the known world. Having no need for a non war-time counselor, I tried reading a book.

Reading while on a treadmill can be done, but it cannot be done well and it cannot be done with books that require any degree of thought. I have an obsession with “quality” literature and keep trying to finish all the English assignments I had in high school. The Sound and the Fury is hard enough standing still. On the machine, I experienced free-form stream of consciousness reading, as I constantly lost my place when the lights would flash or the display would dutifully beep as I had failed to keep pace or my heart rate had dropped below the prescribed level for my age and weight. Okay, so maybe I shouldn’t have picked Faulkner for a maiden voyage but I gave up after rereading the same sentence the eighth time and not for the life of me knowing what it meant.

Undaunted, the next night I returned with an Ipod, armed and ready. I prepared to zone out into music land when my then four-year-old son came down. He was delighted to see how this machine worked and instantly set about finding hot wheels to send shooting off the back of the machine at three point five miles per hour, his mom’s top treadmill speed at the moment. It was a fine game except I was terrified he’d get his fingers caught. Instead, the back wall had hot wheel sized dents. Exercise would be regulated to hours when children were in bed.

Alas, this perfect storm of children and treadmills resulted in a few days passing where it sat unloved as mom and dad were too tired to work out that late in the evening. We’d try morning instead.

That proposition never even bothered to materialize once. The alarm would go off and I’d slap the snooze vowing to get to the damn machine later in the day when the kids napped. This also never occurred, but that may have been due to the fact that the kids never napped. Weeks went by as the treadmill became part of the house like a load bearing wall, never noticed or loved. I’d vacuum it from time to time after a smart alec ten-year-old daughter wrote “You never use this thing.” in the accumulating dust with her finger.

Then one day it happened. That same four year old boy that liked shooting hot wheels off the back, got on the machine. He pushed the buttons and was sent back at the same rate as his cars. The machine had caused my baby to get a sprained wrist –he fell on his hand. I unplugged it and cursed it and it sat for months without so much as a guilty feeling. It became a place for laundry. It was great for hangers. Sometimes I’d clear it off and walk a mile or so, but most of the time, it was where I sorted socks.

The treadmill would still be my laundry station if not for the revenge of the no longer four-year-old. At five see, they get experimental and scientific. They prove that cups of soda and treadmills do not intermix happily, as the soda short circuits the motor when it spills into the component parts, and that such actions cause a machine to smoke impressively.

When we moved, I had the movers escort the remains of the machine to the curbside, and I began wondering if I should get an elliptical for our new basement.

ran in Beaumont Enterprise for free

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Halloween Hangover

Some kids can eat one or two pieces of Halloween candy a day to stretch it out until Christmas. Other kids impulsively eat all the good stuff the first and second night and spend the next week grumbling as they fish through the dregs of their stash to find and tolerate non-descript toffees. For the second group of people, of which I am one, making November 1st a holiday is the equivalent of fall back day light savings time. We need it!

November 1st should always be a day off, in deference to parents and children alike. Both groups suffer from the toxic combination of excessive sugar, marathon like scheduling, back to back party festivities and lack of sleep on October 31st. Even my toddler has a whiff of stale air about her, like she’s spent the day in a bus station. Getting dressed in normal clothing seems anti-climactic. No amount of caffine or morning chocolate or orange juice can compete with the brain coma brought on by too many Twix bars and Goo Goo Clusters the night before. Moving heavy equipment or for that matter,operating simple machines remains possibly unsafe. Until such time as the November 1st vacation extention becomes universally accepted, here is a worthwhile alternative to consider.

Faced with the social pressures of a major kid holiday, the Johnsons from our old neighborhood showed true class and restraint, the likes of which I've never exhibited. It seems their four year old fell asleep around six on Halloween and could not be roused. Unfazed by this turn of events, they settled down for a relaxing evening dinner, punctuated only by parents juggling flashlights, costumes and shepherding groups of children for trick or treating.

November 1st arrived. Her daughter woke up refreshed and happy. “Are we going trick or treating?” She asked. “Tonight honey.” Her mom replied.

That evening, the Johnsons dressed up with their daughter and knocked on doors, explaining as they went. The neighborhood parents were only too happy to provide the kid with some treats from their own kids’ Halloween stash, and the idea of Halloween week was born. They became neighbors to know, having shown charm, humility and wisdom about Holidays, children and parenting all in a single blow.

Wonder what they do for Thanksgiving?

Leaving a comment is a form of free tipping. But this lets me purchase diet coke and chocolate.

If you sneak my work, No Chocolate for You!