Category Archives: Family

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the kitchen

It never ceases to amaze me how similar talking about raising kids sounds to the plotlines of horror movies.

“I woke up, disoriented, only to discover his face was mere inches from mine, his milky breath washing over me. I screamed while his face twisted into an evil smile.”

“I slammed shut the bathroom door but when I looked down I saw two pairs of sticky hands slowly reaching out for me from underneath.”

“It was a dark and stormy night. I grasped for a diaper but my hand met with nothing but air. With dawning horror, I realized we were out. My terrified eyes met hers and that’s when she unleashed hell from below.”

“The restaurant only had white milk, no chocolate, and there, right before our very eyes, they transformed. Their bodies and faces contorting into inhuman angles and expressions. Where once small children had been were now hideous monsters, their banshee screams filling the night air.”

But that’s the devil’s bargain you make when you create life. In exchange for building a creature of pure adorableness, that adorableness is wrapped around the brain of a psychopath.

This is also why, once you reproduce, there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide anymore. They will FIND you. Thinking of having kids? Forget reading parenting books. Start with Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Homegirl tried to warn us.

Just like in any good horror movie, among the nooks and crannies of my own haunted house, there is now only one small corner I can retreat to when the monsters get too terrifying. Thanks to a heavily fortified baby gate, the kids are barred from entering the kitchen. However, from the vantage point of the baby gate, they can see pretty much the entire kitchen. Which is why, of course, they hang out right there by said baby gate, moaning and growling and straining to get in like zombies if zombies wore duck-covered footie pajamas.

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But there’s that ONE corner in the kitchen. It’s dark and dingy and usually dirty BUT they can’t see me.

The first time I discovered the power of this secret corner, I was trying to make dinner. The kids were tired and cranky and out for blood. I was at the end of my rope but couldn’t escape. Or so it seemed.

I reached for something in the fridge, their high-pitched cries making the blood in my veins turn to ice, when one of them shouted “Momma! Where are you? I can’t see you!”

I crouched down and froze. They can’t see me, I thought to myself. Holy crap, they can’t see me. Maybe they’ll stop hunting me if I ignore them long enough. Stop breathing so hard, you idiot! They’ll hear you. Just don’t move. Don’t blink. Don’t exist.

And IT WORKED. Soon enough they got bored and actually started playing with their toys, their devious plans to drive me insane momentarily forgotten. 

Because that’s the thing with kids. Or at least my kids. Out of sight, out of mind. If they can’t see me, they start to function like actual humans, able to do things without my immediate presence or assistance. However, if I am in the room, they magically forget how to do even the most basic of things, like operate a blanket and stack blocks on top of each other and hold a book.

Better yet, if I hide out in my dirty little kitchen nook long enough, they’ll eventually get bored enough that they’ll attempt to interact…WITH EACH OTHER.

Which is why I now leave a book or magazine in my corner. I also leave small adults-only snacks back there, like the secret expensive chocolate and Doritos, because Doritos are only for people who can eat ketchup without getting it in their hair. I’m also thinking of having my husband build me a little wet bar back there. I know a recliner won’t fit but maybe a small chaise lounge or something.

Who says horror stories can’t have happy endings?

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Meatballs for breakfast

One day, not long ago, my daughter went down a slide and rammed right into the back of an older child who had gone down the slide before her. It really hurt, the boy was quick to tell me, and my daughter should probably apologize for it. I agreed and turned to her, saying “Mae, can you say you’re sorry?”

Her response? To stare defiantly at both of us. She stared so long, in fact, that it got down right uncomfortable. So, feeling the need to avoid confrontation at all costs like the good born-and-bred midwesterner that I am, I told the boy, “she’s pretty young, she probably doesn’t understand, but I’m sure she’s very sorry.”

The incident was soon forgotten by the kids and they went back to playing because, ah, youth. But it stayed with me. This wasn’t the first time she had reacted this way when asked to apologize for something. It was then that I realized my 2-year-old daughter refuses to say she’s sorry. For anything.

And part of me doesn’t want that to change.

Last week for dinner, we had spaghetti and meatballs. Every morning since then, whenever I ask her what she wants for breakfast, she yells “meatballs!”

“Meatballs? Really?” I respond.

“MEATBALLS!”

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I don’t want this to change either.

Now that my kids are two and four, life has pretty much devolved into one long WWE match occasionally interrupted by baths and trips to the library. When her brother hits her, my daughter does a feral growl and hits him right back. When they argue, she doesn’t back down. When he gets angry, she doesn’t demur or try to smooth over the volatile situation. If someone is pushing her or pulling her or tickling her in a way she doesn’t like, she loudly screams “NO!” and “STOP!”

Minus the hitting, I hope to God none of that ever changes.

At 2-years-old, she cares nothing for your opinion. Or mine. At 2-years-old, there is no piece of furniture, no piece of playground equipment, no object in nature (including large, slow-moving animals) that is too high to climb and conquer and then jump off of. If it were up to her, she’d be naked all the time. Because at 2-years-old, her body is her own wonderland.

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As her mother, this is all pretty exhausting to deal with on a day-to-day basis. As a woman, however, it’s exhilarating to watch.

All too soon, despite my best interventions, the world is likely to teach her that she needs to change these things about herself. That she should apologize for taking up space. For getting angry. For even daring to have an opinion.

The world will start whispering to her that her body is not her own anymore. That those mountains are not hers to climb and conquer anymore. That being pretty and nice is better than being loud and fearless and strong and curious.

That yogurt is an acceptable breakfast. Not huge chunks of meat.  

Then again, maybe not. Because I’m watching. I’m taking notes. My young daughter is teaching me how to be a female in this world, the kind of female I want to be. And my hope is that I learn enough so that I can return the favor. That when she’s a young woman and the world is trying to crush her into some shape, some role, she doesn’t fit into, I’ll be there to remind her who she really is.  

And then when some poor soul makes the mistake of telling her “stop being so bossy” or “hey, smile!” or “you know, you could be prettier if only you’d…” she laughs so hard in their face that she almost chokes on her breakfast meatball hoagie.

The Adventures of Kitty “Meow” Cat, III

Hello. You probably don’t know me. In fact, there is no reason you should. My existence is of little importance to most people. Most people, that is, save one.

And it is for her sake that I would like to share the following story with you.  

Perhaps I should start at the beginning. My name is Kitty Cat. A wholly unoriginal name, I’ll grant you, but considering I was given my moniker by a young creature who still occasionally sticks a spoon in her eye, the name serves its purpose. I am, indeed, a small stuffed kitty cat toy.

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I remember little of my life before the Christmas of 2017. The first clear memory I have is of being imprisoned in a small cardboard box in some kind of gargantuan toy prison, my feet and neck bound by indestructible chains of plastic. The entire lot of us were slowly being driven mad by an endless loop of what our prison guards called “sounds of the season.” And from morning until night, we were subjected to humiliating pokes and prods by chaotic mobs of angry giants and their leaky offspring.

You can imagine my relief then when one of these giants took pity on me and orchestrated my escape in a daring plan whereby she distracted the prison guards using only a piece of green paper and calmly walked out the door.

Soon thereafter, however, I realized my freedom came at a cost, for I was quickly put into the possession of her own personal leaky offspring.

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Life hasn’t always been easy for me. I suppose it never is when you are the beloved toy of a 2-year-old. But I tolerated things like the high-pitched, screechy voice she uses for me (even though clearly I sound much more like an off-brand Patrick Stewart) because there is not much in the way of an alternative for me.

A realization I would soon come to know intimately.

It was a summer day like any other. I awoke in the vise-like grip of my small human. We played Kitty Cat vs. Batman. We illegally removed her fresh diaper (although I was a very reluctant accomplice). She mashed my face into her bowl of Cheerios while repeatedly proclaiming “Kitty Cat eat. Num Num Num.”

Then it was off to the library, her strapped into the stroller, me securely by her side with half my head accidentally tucked under her rear. Like most of our asinine activities, it all went by in a blur of giggles (hers) and shouts of “dammit, Mae, I said NO!” (her mother’s). It wasn’t until our walk home that my entire world, small as it was, was shattered.

I wasn’t sure what was happening at first. Then, all of a sudden, I knew too well. I was slipping, slipping. I tried to cry out, to cling to her, my little sticky biped, but with horror remembered I am utterly inanimate. Yes, dear readers, “Toy Story” is a falsehood of the most egregious kind.

I was tumbling, down, down. By the time I could finally orient myself, the stroller was disappearing over the horizon.  

And so I laid there. Under that overpass. Cars careening past. Pedestrians trudging by on their weary way. No one even bothering to look my way except for the useless neighborhood birds and squirrels with their tedious chittering.

I had never felt so alone.

All was lost. I knew it in my non-existent heart. I prayed for death but it wouldn’t come. Oh, what I would have given to be back in those chubby arms with their faint whiff of ketchupy peanut butter. That little girl loved me so much and what did I give her in return?

Nothing.

Nothing but a silent, stitched-on, smirk. Had I neck muscles, I would have hung my head in shame.

But wait, what was that? In the distance? A glimmer of flannel? Could it be? No. No, it couldn’t possibly be.

Yet, hope of all hopes, it was. It truly was my girl’s father.

“There are no lost toys on my watch,” I heard the man say in a very macho voice as he tucked me into his very manly computer purse.

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Later I was to overhear that the mother had told the flannel daddy man about how I was lost and so he had walked the same route we took on his way home from work. But it was all just background noise to me. For I was safely back in my love’s arms, being squeezed until I thought my stuffing would fall out my eyeballs. The smell of old macaroni and cheese has never smelled so sweet.  

So, where do we go from here? For I have seen things. Things no small toy should see. I have aged much beyond my calendar age of eight months and have seen firsthand just how frightening of a place the world can be.

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But I have also found my place in it, this scary world. It is by her side. For if the world is scary to me, imagine what it must be like for her. It is the least I can do, for there is no love quite like the love of a tiny child for her ratty old stuffed animal, and, from now on, I shall do my utter best to return that love ten-fold and be her courage when the world grows just a bit too big. 

And I shall do it even when she relentlessly kisses me while eating pancakes with an obscene amount of syrup.

 

The last days of nowhere to be

I think there’s something wrong with my calendar. I looked at it this morning and it said it was the end of July in the year of our Lord 2018.

Which is practically August.

Which is basically pre-autumn.  

And that can’t possibly be right.

Because if that is right, that means my family is swiftly approaching the last golden-tinged days of childhood where we have nothing to do and nowhere to be. That our light-hearted existence of pure autonomy is coming to an end. So, clearly, whoever is in charge of calendars (the Mayans, or those arrogant Gregorian folks, or even the Moon in all her lunar wisdom) messed up somewhere.

Because according to my internal calendar, my baby is still a baby and preschool is still starting sometime in “the future,” and most definitely not on the concrete date of September 4th. Which is why it simply makes more sense that literally everything else in the world is wrong and I am right.

Because I am not ready for this.

Seriously, I’ve known that preschool would be starting for only four and a half years. What kind of psychopath can mentally and emotionally prepare for that kind of thing in only half a decade? I mean, sure, I’m assuming moms with names like Karen who have actual first aid kits in their bathrooms probably can, but what about the rest of us normal moms who use maxipads and duct tape in a pinch?

In my defense, it’s everyone else’s fault. They just let me leave the hospital with a BABY.

TWICE.

And then, a few weeks later, my husband went back to work, both grandmothers went back to their respective midwestern states, and we were pretty much left to our own devices. My kids and I have been so poorly supervised for so long, we basically live like old-timey hobos, free to tramp around and come and go as we please, gleefully ignoring the fundamental rules of society. Bathing, pants and normal voice volume all optional.

But now we’re expected to suddenly adhere to someone else’s schedule? To be somewhere? On time? More than once? Like, a whole crap ton of onces?

So, what? I’m now expected to wake my 4-year-old up every day to achieve this Herculean task? Wake up the kid who, if he doesn’t get a solid 11 hours every night, turns into a tiny Hulk? Ok, yeah, sure. I’ll just amble on in there with a helmet and a plastic Captain America shield and hope for the best then.

Oh god, and so I guess this means I also have to pack him a lunch or something? Like, a normal all-American lunch? But he only eats beige food. Plus, it takes him roughly 97 minutes to eat three beige-colored crackers. And do I make him a well-rounded lunch full of fruits and protein and, I don’t know, avocado toast, knowing full well this will cause him to starve to death? Or do I pack him things I know he will eat (animal crackers and tiny packets of butter I stole from semi-fancy restaurants) but will probably result in some concerned phone calls?

BREAKFAST. I forgot about breakfast. Don’t get me wrong. I love making breakfast. Big, full, diner-style breakfasts. Which, again, I’m happy to make. Whenever the hell I get around to it.

Oof. Clothes. He’ll probably need to wear clothes, huh? Best case scenario, they even match. At the very least, not pajamas. At the very least least, not pajamas worn with cowboy boots and my bright pink aviator sunglasses.

I suppose I’ll also be expected to wipe off the Groucho Marx eyebrows I drew on his little sister with a marker for an absolutely perfect Instagram photo before we drop him off.

Yeah, no. The calendar must be wrong. I’m not ready for real life. For responsibility. For really loud alarm clocks.

For pants.

Looks like it’s time to start Googling train schedules so us three hobos can find a decent one to hop on.

The swimming pool incident

Guys, it took me a long time but I finally found…hang on…sorry, I need a moment. I just get so choked up about it, you know? But I finally found…sigh…a friend with a pool. Like, a legit pool. In-ground and everything.

Better yet, I found this friend with a pool in time for the FOURTH OF JULY. She had a cookout BY THE POOL. I have pictures. We all look like we belong in a fancy beer commercial.

And when I think back on all those dreadful Independence Day celebrations I had to sweatily endure. YEARS of them. Just sitting there in the hot sun, water-less, hating all my stupid family and friends gathered around me with their non-pool-having asses. Yay, America or whatever. Sure, I’d love to have another beer so I can immediately leak it out of my pores, leaving me sober but with belly bloat and a slight headache, thanks.

But now…well, now, as I might have mentioned, I have a friend with a pool. And I ain’t letting her go. I mean, I wouldn’t anyway because she’s a great person, as are her husband and kids, and blah, blah, blah. But, yeah, the pool. I could find out she likes to go on Arctic cruises and club baby seals for fun while on vacation and I’d be like, cool, cool. You’re clearly an awful human being and I have every intention of stopping being your friend…in October. Mid-October at the very latest if it’s one of those really warm autumns.

There was only one drawback to this otherwise amazing, life-changing, event. Which, if you’re a parent, I’m sure you can relate. I mean, don’t you guys hate that awkward moment when your kid tries to kill your other kid? In public, no less?

We were all having such a good time too. Before, you know, the attempted murder and all. Laughing and splashing and screaming at everyone to stop splashing. My 2-year-old daughter was standing right next to my 4-year-old son on the steps leading into the pool. Then I blinked, like an idiot, and BOOM. The little one was facedown in the water.

Luckily there were multiple other parents in the pool and since every parent is a low key superhero, roughly six of them immediately dove toward her and she was scooped out of the water within mere seconds.

Still, she was hysterical. Because drowning isn’t fun at any age but especially at the age of 2. She was fine though. Everything was fine. I was cuddling and cooing and comforting and ready to chalk the whole thing up to childhood shenanigans…

…when, lo and behold, I heard one of the other kids say “he pushed her” and I instantly knew who that “he” was. Which is how I went immediately from feeling grateful that my one child was alive to worried that my other child wouldn’t be for long.

Because I was going to kill him.

It’s an interesting feeling, that one. As a mom, you’ll do pretty much anything to protect your family. Until that moment comes when you have to protect your family from your family and then you’re just angry and confused, a panting Momma Bear who is growling at everything because you’re no longer sure who to strike out at.

I’m happy to report that there were no casualties that day. Mostly because my husband took one look at my face and then quickly removed my son from the scene so as to have a chat with him about why we don’t drown our sister under any circumstances.

And within an hour we were all back playing in the pool. Because, let’s face it, you can’t let a little thing like sororicide get in the way of a good time.

If I sound a bit callous, or a bit too casual about the whole thing, it’s probably because I am. Even I was a bit shocked at how quickly I shook it off. But I learned three very important lessons that day.

One, drinking sangria your friends made that would put most frat houses to shame helps blunt the edges off the never-ending stress of being a parent.

Two, being surrounded by other parents when something like that happens, parents who have been in the trenches, parents who are hardened veterans, parents who have seen things, man, helps you realize you are not alone and that your kids aren’t the only kids who have ever tried to kill each other.

And three, in order to survive these precious but clearly hazardous child-rearing years, you have to learn how to brush things like this off. Like, oh, ha! Baby’s first attempted assassination. How adorable. Did anyone get a photo?

Because when it comes down to it, we are all raising tiny psychopaths.

They’re learning. You hear that a lot as a parent. You tell yourself that a lot as a parent. These kids, they hit and bite, they throw stuff and spill stuff, they can’t control their emotions. Because, hey, they’re learning. How to human. How to handle. How not to murder.

Which was clear the next day when my two kids were happily playing together again, no thought of murder on either of their minds. Just lots and lots of thrilling suicide attempts while seeing if they could fly by jumping off the kitchen table.

 

37 things I’ve learned in 37 years

Decluttering your life only works if you refuse to allow your family back into the house.

You should do one thing every day that scares you, like skydiving, or answering your phone when it rings even though this will likely result in having to talk to another human being.

When you’re a mom, children turn into gremlins the minute they find out it is your birthday.

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After a certain age, every musical guest on Saturday Night Live makes you squint and say “who the hell is that?”

Always do the voices when reading books to your kids.

If an entire drawer in your fridge isn’t devoted solely to cheese, are you even really living?

Nazis are bad. Always. No exceptions.

Saving the planet is good. Always. No exceptions.

If you cook Thanksgiving dinner, apologize for nothing. I don’t care if the turkey tastes like hot garbage and the mashed potatoes are on fire. You just spent 16 hours in the kitchen. Apologize. For. Nothing.

Everyone talks about how important it is to drink water but it is equally important to know that if you do start drinking water, you’ll have to keep doing it forever because now you notice how dehydrated and awful and death-ish you feel when you don’t drink water. You’ve been warned.

If you take your dog on a walk, he will poop exactly one more time than the amount of plastic baggies you brought with you.

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Don’t say maybe when you want to say no.

After a certain age, you wake up in pain for no discernible reason. Maybe it’s from your three-mile run. Maybe it’s from when your toddler was practicing WWE moves on you while you tried to make dinner. Maybe it’s because you sneezed too hard. Who knows?

Pillow fights are fun for exactly 24 seconds before it all devolves into attempted mass murder via fluff.

Parenting gets easier the day you realize that the food will never be eaten, the laundry will never be done and the term “clean” is now highly malleable.

Don’t just be nice. Strive to be kind.

Camping is always a great idea. At first. Then nature happens. A lot of it.

Never feed small children spaghetti unless it’s their bath night.

Never feed old dogs leftover spaghetti unless it’s their bath night.

No matter how many times you threaten them, someone is going to eventually poop in the tub on bath night.

Wine.

After a certain age, people start looking too young to be your doctor.

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Remember to have fun.

You can never own too many books. You can definitely own too many cheese slicers. (Seven. SEVEN.)

Make friends with people who understand you when you say things like “I’m having a really good boob day.”

Screw it. Just order pizza for dinner.

Let your loved one know you care. Pinch their butt more.

Resist the urge to buy your children finger paints. They’ll play with them for five minutes and it will take you roughly the rest of your life to clean up the mess.

After a certain age, no matter how positive you are that you’re right, you are definitely not using that Internet slang term correctly. Trust me. I’m Netflix and chill AF.   

Don’t let your kids “win” at board games. That’s how those insufferable people who say “well, actually” are created. Crush them at Candyland. Crush them hard. Society will thank you.

Making the bed in the morning seems so pointless. Until you go to bed.

Kids are resilient. So are you.

Your partner cannot read your mind. When they make you angry, tell them how you feel right into their big, dumb, stupid face.

For those of you wondering, a nice Kentucky whiskey pairs best with dinnertime temper tantrums.

After a certain age, you’ll start yelling at people to stop wasting paper towels. Do not panic. This is a natural part of the aging process.

Slow down. The only thing waiting for you at the end of all this is death.

I’m 37 now and I can officially declare that there are no grown-ups. We’re all faking it.

That Old Dad Magic

My husband once told me that what I do is like magic. He came home from a long day of work, put his stuff down and suddenly noticed that the formerly gigantic haphazard pile of mail that had littered his desk was now in nice, neat, organized stacks. How did that happen? he wondered. For that matter, what happened to all those dirty dishes? And when did those formerly filthy street urchins living in our home become the squeaky clean von Trapp children?

Oh, he told me, it must be magic. Mommy magic. The thousand little things I do daily to keep this family ship from running aground.

It was one of the best compliments I’ve ever received. He truly saw what I did when no one was looking and sometimes, as a parent, that’s all you want at the end of yet another long day (besides a glass of wine the size of your face).

But dads have their own particular magic. And so, for this upcoming Father’s Day, I wanted to let him, and all the other dads out there, know that what you guys do each and every day is noticed and appreciated and loved.  

Like, for instance, how on any given family adventure, dads are the shoulder ride mules, the piggy back stallions and the sleeping toddler plowhorse, wrapped all into one.

They are the bad joke tellers. The world needs bad jokes and dads across this great nation of ours have heroically stepped up to the plate, never wavering in their devotion to that post-joke groan.

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You want grilled meat for dinner? Don’t worry. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these former cavemen from their appointed duty of artfully charring animal flesh. And they will be wearing some pretty snazzy cargo shorts while doing it. Yes, even in the winter.

They are the pool throwers. If there is a pool with children in it, nine times out of ten there is a dad in that pool who will spend the next 90 minutes hurling children down into the water with a giant splash. They do it to their own children, and your children, and all the random children who show up and get in line to also be thrown. No one knows who these kids are but it doesn’t matter. These dads never deny a kid a good throw. And these dads never complain. Even when their shoulders ache and their back is screaming.

They are always willing to do battle…with customer service. They will spend hours on hold, sometimes even holding two phones to their ears (a move my husband calls “insanity in stereo”) in order to finally talk loudly at another human being because, at this point, it’s really just the principle of the thing.

They are the mice hunters (and dead mice thrower-awayers). They are the spider smooshers and the snake beheaders. The “WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT THING!?” investigators. And, in many cases, the “we are not getting a dog” nay-sayers who end up loving that ridiculous ball of fluff more than anyone.

They are the illicit snack giver, ruining tiny appetites before dinner because, hey, ya gotta let them babies live a little.

They are the turkey carvers and the toy assemblers and the resigned wearer of the Jabba the Hut suit in the family Star Wars Halloween costume.

They are the big, over-the-top, baritone finish at the end of every Happy Birthday song.

They are tall and short, thick and thin, tattooed and tie-wearing. They are the men who are gentle enough to cuddle with a newborn and brave enough to change a sick toddler’s diaper and strong enough to fix any boo-boo and loving enough to let their toenails be painted and wrestle on the floor no matter how exhausted they may be.

They are dads.

And we love them.

Thanks for all the magic, boys.