Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Bucket List

While we were on vacation this past summer, my sister mentioned something that was on her "bucket list". Because I rarely watch movies, I had no idea what she was talking about. Turns out, it's a list of all the things you want to do before you kick the bucket. Below is mine.

1. See my children become independent. Before I die, I would like to know that they can function on their own. I suspect every parent hopes for this. Assuming I don't depart this work earlier than I anticipate, I have every reason I'll see this happen.

2. Live in Italy or France for at least six consecutive months. When I first read Frances Mayes' "Under the Tuscan Sun", it struck a really deep chord. I want to rent a villa, drink ridiculous amounts of wine, have a garden, and walk leisurely through the countryside. While at it, I'll have the opportunity to learn another language. This one's going to be hard to fit in, and is going to take a lot of buy-in from Ed.

3. Visit Peru and hike the Inca trails. It's been on my travel list for a long time. When Ed and I got married, we discussed this and going to Alaska for our honeymoon. George Bush had just taken office and I was certain - certain - that Alaska would be absolutely destroyed by his environmental policies, so we had to go there. RIGHT NOW! (See, kids, I am falliable! And I am prone to thinking extreme thoughts! You already know that, but now you have it in writing one more time.) I don't regret the trip to Alaska for a minute, but I do hope that the opportunity to go to Peru hasn't passed me by.

4. Make a perfect strawberry-rhubarb caramel. Damn if I didn't take a class with this being the singular goal and damn if I haven't tried it more than once only to face failure. Complete failure.

5. Run a marathon.

6. Take a barge trip through Germany. I'm hoping to drag my parents with me on this one.

7. Go on a crazy vacation with my mom. Consider yourself warned, Mom. Someday, the two of us will find ourselves where we never expected to be. And it's going to be really fun. Keep repeating that and smile. "REALLY FUN!" I just need my kids to get a little older before I can leave them for a week or so. And having my sister along too would be a bonus, but that means the trip would need to take place on a sandy beach somewhere, and I'm thinking I'd prefer something a little more adventurous - though my mom is reading this and calling my sister right now begging her to be a moderating force so we can go to beach instead of...?

8. Fire a wood-fired kiln. Of course, this will require me to get back in the pottery studio! But there's hopefully lots of time for this.

9. Tend a garden that produces enough produce for a family of two for the entire summer. This might be tied to #2.


Monday, March 29, 2010

We might as well be on a first name basis

I have a friend who has called her parents by their first names, probably since high school. I was reminded of her constantly this past weekend because Helen has taken to calling me Elaine with great force. It happened like this.

Typically, she would call for me "mom", "mommy", "ELAINE!". Because Helen has developed a habit of talking whenever Connor starts talking, and because I would like her voice to not drown out his, as a matter of course, I continue listening to Connor, respond to him, and then if I can understand what Helen wanted as well, I respond to her. It's a talent to listen to two people at once while simultaneously doing whatever I am tasked with, which could be driving! If I don't pick up on what Helen was saying, I ask her to repeat, and then I respond. Because Helen is a persistent booger, it usually means I am responding to her at the point she screams "ELAINE!", rather than the point she says "mom".

So, in her brain, it makes perfect sense that calling "ELAINE!" gets a quicker response than "mom", so now she just goes straight to that.

I have avoided squelching the behavior for three reasons.

1. It makes sense to me that we're on a first name basis. She knows me better than anyone else she knows and I know her better than anyone else knows her.

2. It's funny...especially when we're in public. I always imagine that people look at us and think "wow, that stepmom is the closest thing to a mom I've ever seen".

3. We'll be visiting Dick in a few days, and I know in his heart it annoys him to be called Dick, rather than Grandpa, but since it doesn't bother me that Helen calls him Dick, I've never bothered correcting it. It seems in this case, turnabout is fair play.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

An Open Letter - Part 2 - Health Care Reform

Dear President Obama,

You may recall I wrote to you almost two years ago congratulating you on your Presidential victory. Today, I thought it appropriate to thank you for coming this far, and let you know it's only a start, and people who want health care for all are not about to back down. I hope you're not either.

You see, I knew you'd disappoint me a thousand times over in your four or eight years in office. I knew there would be times when I would feel like I got kicked in the gut - hard. And during these past few days of making deals, I never doubted for a minute that my side - the side that thought the legislation didn't go far enough - would be forced to compromise once more because we always, always, always believe the other guys when they say they won't support our policies. Always. And we must care about passage more than them because we can't fathom making the argument "I couldn't allow many good things to happen in health care reform because it wasn't even close to as much as I wanted" where they can apparently stomach saying "I wanted to vote for health reform but some talk show host told me it would provide for publicly funded abortions, and since apparently I CANNOT read or think for myself, I have to believe them. So there. Cut me a deal or I have to back out." And in this case, we ended up with an executive order assuring those anti-choice democrats that the Hyde amendment is alive and well. Then the news media reported that everyone compromised. I have to say, though, after a while it stops feeling like compromise. Sure, you can say we made an enormous step forward - and yes, that's important. But it's hard not to think about how we have no public option (something the majority of the country - and you! - support). Why does the likes of Kucinich always say mercy when Stupak gets to scream like Helen when she's been denied a piece of candy after brushing her teeth and then extract an executive order out of you? Why can't Stupak compromise?

But I guess that's all water under the bridge now. Thank you for the provision that bars insurance companies from dropping people because they got sick; thank you for the provision that doesn't allow insurance companies to bar people from coverage because of their pre-existing conditions; thank you for eliminating the concept of lifetime caps. Thank you also for allowing Helen and Connor to stay on my insurance until they turn 26 if they need it. I may not want them spending every night at my house, but I suspect I'll be happy to keep insuring them if they need it. No thank you for the tax complexity this bill created, although maybe it's a blessing in disguise since it might mean many more years of employment for me. (Be sure to catch my speech in April on tax complexity for low-income families - I'll drop you an invite when the date gets closer). Also, no thanks for taking this one over the river, through the woods, and everywhere else possible before something was finally passed. I suffer from heartburn occasionally, and I don't like additional stress. Although, I suppose it was nothing compared to what you and others were feeling every day--knowing that if you failed it was going to be a big F***ING deal in a bad way. But that reminds me, please thank Joe for dropping the F* bomb over the microphone. In case you couldn't tell, I agree with him.

Please don't forget all the promises you made on your way to the Presidency. You've got at least two more years left at this gig.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

You've Got to Start Somewhere!

Helen desperately wants to be part of Connor's play. And as I've probably commented before, sometimes she doesn't get the best roles when she joins him. A few nights ago, Connor wanted to ride in his battery powered truck, but per usual, the battery was flat. No matter, Helen was happy to push him around the yard.

He's one lucky little guy! And she's stronger than she looks.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Happy Month 29, Helen!

Dear Helen,

This month marked another exciting one on the calendar. For starters, we went skiing. Naturally, you do not show a particular fondness for this activity because it requires you to wear gloves, something that you have only recently seen the value in, and it requires you to be outside in the cold - also not among your favorite activities. However, you loved the ski vacation all the same because Grandma, Grandpa, and Dick were there - and because Connor went skiing a few days, you got to have Grandma and Grandpa all to yourself. They took you to the library, to a craft store, and I'm sure they sweetened you up with cookies, too!

You continue to be stubborn as can be and I must remind myself often that you are two, and two is the time when "no" is the only response a parent should expect, regardless of the request. You can even be tripped up by a question such as "Would you like a cookie?". You immediately respond "NO! Yes!". You also ask why all the time and rarely, do you stop talking when you aren't eating. And in fact, you talk a fair amount during dinner as well. If things get a little quiet, you typically break into a little performance which involves lots of signing, a little dancing, and a fair amount of randomness as you mash various songs together.

You adore babies and people in general. If you see a mom without a child on her lap, you'll often walk right up and fill that space, even if it's not my lap.

You enjoy your gymnastics class. At the end of one class, I asked you to show my your somersault that your dad said you could do, and naturally you responded "NO!". But then when Daddy asked if you had shown me, you said "yes!". When I contradicted you, you walked right out in the middle of the floor, as Connor's class was preparing to start, and performed the feat. And that's you, Helen. You're happy to just go do what you need to do, regardless of the circumstances.

You continue to love playing with Connor and often work your way into playing with his friends as well. They don't always give you the best roles to play, but you play them with zest, and that's an important skill, Helen, learning to love what you do.

As remarkable as it is, I almost forgot to mention, you no longer breastfeed. Yes, that's right, just before turning 2.5 you have weaned, and it was the easiest weaning I could have imagined. For a while now, we've only nursed at bedtime, and then I started switching up the bedtime routine a bit, so that we nursed before books, and hey, books are exciting, and you quickly decided you'd rather be reading, so our nursing sessions got shorter and shorter until one day, you told me you didn't want to nurse. Remarkably, my appetite immediately shrunk which is a good thing, because nursing and being pregnant burn a lot of calories, and I've been in one of those two states since Thanksgiving of 2004. That is a lot of years of eating like a professional eater, and goodness knows if my appetite hadn't shrunk, I might be purchasing new clothes in a few months now that I'm not burning calories by nursing. Even if you're not nursing anymore, you'll always be my baby.

You have the most beautiful smile, and you share it often. It's impossible not to smile when you're around.



Thursday, March 18, 2010

Happy Month 55, Connor!

Dear Connor,

You are a joy through and through. My predictions about four are coming true with force, and this is making everyone in our house feel good. Regularly, you perform small gestures of kindness and I love it. This past Saturday, we attended a show at the zoo. As a thank you for your participation in the show, you received a sticker. You gave it to your friend Zoe because you thought she would like it. That was just nice, Connor. No other word for it. This doesn't mean that occasionally you're not just mean for the fun of it, but mostly, you choose to be nice.

Often, I learn something special about you because someone points it out. One night, Zoe came over to play and before she got there, you were enjoying a take two in your room. You see, you were nap-free, and had taken something from Helen, and when I told you to take-two, you picked up an eraser and threw it at your dad. Mostly, your dad thought this was funny, but he also thought it more appropriate to tell you not to do this than to allow it, so to your room you went. Zoe arrived, you and your dad talked and you came downstairs, and then you came right up to me, stomped your feet and shouted "I'm MAD!". I'm used to this, and grateful that this is what you do rather than throw a tantrum because, dear Lord, I think the times you have thrown a tantrum number few than the fingers on one of my hands. And those times are not fun. Just ask your Aunt Linda who was here for the first of these and saw me in possibly my most inept parenting moment ever. In any case, when you did this, Zoe's mom (a psychologist) commented that she liked how you were using your words to talk about your feelings. Of course, she was offering nice words of encouragement while I was busy saying "I take it you're mad because you had to sit in your room for two minutes because you threw an eraser at your dad's head. Is this the case?" And of course, when the situation was spelled out for you, you laughed a little, stomped your feet a few more times, and then ran downstairs with Zoe to have some privacy. And the two of you didn't even destroy anything when you were down there, which just goes to show that you're a pleasant person to be around these days.

Several puppet shows came to life this past month when your au pair gifted you a puppet theater that she built from scrap lumber in the basement. She is seriously gifted in the art of turning junk into stuff. This particular show was about flying animals. Look closely and you'll see pugsley in the photo below.

You also have turned the corner on being helpful, and truly help out in the kitchen. On pizza night this past month, I was running late from work. And of course, this is bad because you and Helen need dinner at 5:30. Not 5:35, as your dad found out when he was a few minutes late recently and the two of you began begging for every morsel of food in sight rather than waiting just a few minutes for dinner to reach the table. In any case, I gave you some dough to work with, trying to buy myself a few minutes of veggie chopping and you actually rolled out and tossed pizza dough. You even set up a system where I would give a ball of dough to Helen, she would flatten it a little, and then you would roll it out into a usable pizza crust. You ended up rolling the dough out for everyone's pizza, not just your own! You've always been excited to help in the kitchen, but now I think you actually save me more time than you cost me in clean-up later! Soon, you'll be cooking me breakfast in bed I bet!

You can cruise down the mountain on a green trail. After just two days of ski school, you can successfully ski, turn, stop, and avoid objects in your path. You even advanced a level midday on your second day of lessons. You love skiing, and enjoyed a special trip to a nearby mountain with Daddy and a friend of yours and his dad. A great time was had by all, as I understand it.

And do you know what else happened this month? I had your curls chopped off. All of them. For a while now, you've been annoyed when it comes time to comb your hair in the morning and after bath because it's too tangled. Well, no more, my friend. We went to the barbershop and Annie cut it pretty close. You were excited to take some of your hair home, which was then released into the yard for birds to make nests with. I miss your curls, but I know they'll be back soon. But my goodness don't you look old now?

We released your worm farm. Although really, it was more my worm farm since I'm the only person who bothered to keep the soil moist most of the time and feed them. The trouble with the farm was that we were out of food. We watched about 20 worms hatch, but our container was meant for 6 worms. Only it was the middle of winter and how was I to choose between all those worms? So I let them all stay in their little box, but once we got a nice warm Spring day, you released them into the garden. I'm quite glad to see them gone. You were a big hit with the neighbor boys when it came time for the release.

You've begun to really enjoy the boy next door, and it's been really fun watching the two of you. Seems like whenever one of you runs out onto our shared driveway, the other one is shortly behind. This could make for a very fun summer!

I cross my fingers daily that our whole family stays in the mood that has dominated the past few months. It's been easy enough that I have been inspired to plan a weekend trip to stay in a caboose, something I'm sure you will love.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Everybody Likes to be Treated Nicely

Helen loves babies. She lights up when one is around. If she hears one cry, she instantly asks me "Why that baby sad?". Typically, parents carry their babies up high enough that Helen can't get too close, but occasionally, they do not.

Last Saturday, during Connor's gymnastics class, a dad set his crawling but not yet walking baby on the floor. The baby proceeded to intersect with Helen's path, which caused Helen to instantly squat down to say hello. Entranced, Helen smiled as the baby smiled back. And then, Helen sneaked a quick kiss.

At this moment, I took a little breath and glanced nervously about, because I realize many parents do not want a random two year old kissing their baby. Perhaps this is the set of parents that don't allow their baby to crawl in a public space though because do you know what this dad said? He smiled at Helen, went to retrieve his daughter, and said "Everybody likes to be treated nicely.".

And that was it.

And I agree.

And thank you, Helen, for choosing to sneak in a quick kiss rather than a quick eye poke. You are, after all, two - and two year olds can be a bit unpredictable.


Friday, March 12, 2010

New Dog in the Crowd

In preparation for her semi-annual consignment sale, my friend Thrift Store Mama wondered how others decide what to keep and what should go. She's a lot more thoughtful about these things than me. I won't go into detail about the random preparations I made for the sale, but I will record one memorable moment of this Spring's preparations.

One item made it into the potential consignment sale bin at my house, after being ignored for about a year. Helen noticed it as we were heading out to Colorado, and she asked if she could take it with us. I figured my dad would love to see the toy getting its second wind since he had given it to Connor on the ski trip when Connor was two. I had no idea what sort of second wind this toy would get.

After we arrived at the airport, Helen refused to be carried, because she needed to walk her dog. We were dropped off at the Continental gate, only to learn that even though we had purchased our tickets on Continental, received frequent flier miles on Continental for the flight, and got reminder emails from Continental - we were actually flying United. Continental is at one end of Dulles, United is at the other. Helen walked the E N T I R E length of the airport, with her little dog yapping all the way.

But Helen didn't stop there. She also proceeded to walk the dog through security, to the bathroom, to the train that takes passengers to the place where the plane waits, down the aisle of the airplane, until finally they both rested in Helen's seat. The same scene was repeated in the Denver airport. I think Helen walked two miles that day. At a V E R Y S L O W pace.

On the upside, she made an awful lot of people smile.

It is unfortunate that I do not have a picture of the actual ridiculous event, because it would be one to savor. But have you ever tried traveling with two kids under 5, ski equipment, a box of donuts (our standard early morning travel breakfast), and all the crap two children under 5 can gather in the few minutes they have between waking up and piling in a car? Upsetting the balance of all this AND grabbing a camera was not possible - not even close.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Southwest Airlines Might Have Failed Us, but Not Grandpa Dick!

When we flew to Albany over Christmas, I got caught off guard by the exit of the airplane, and ended up leaving Helen's backpack that her Grandpa Dick had purchased her in Puerto Rico behind. You see, in Albany, planes unload from the front and back. While I was gathering up Helen and our things, preparing my exit which I thought was still far off, Ed volunteered to take Helen, and I realized he was exiting the rear of the plane with Connor, not the front of the plane. RIGHT NOW! In a rush, I followed.

When we got to our car, I realized we did not have Helen's backpack. The backpack with her two bottles, two wee people, and various art supplies. I ran back to try and get on the plane, but of course, one cannot go near an airplane after they have exited the secure area, and one cannot get back into the secure area without a ticket. Even if they are a mother begging to get a child's toy, and volunteering that maybe someone could escort her.

I begged the security officer to let me run back to our plane. I considered going for it, but figured I would be tackled long before I reached my goal, and then I'd end up on the evening news as a terrorist. I went to the Southwest baggage desk and explained my situation. She told me the airport customer service desk attendant could escort me back. He, naturally, told me the Southwest baggage person could escort me back. In one last desperate move, I went to the ticketing counter and the lady there told me she'd have someone check the airplane. Only, even after describing EXACTLY where the backpack was, she told me that it was most definitely not there. I told her it was definitely there. She told me they had searched the plane. And no, I could not search the plane myself. It was definitely not there. And by the way, the plane would be taking off for Tampa soon and Southwest ALWAYS searches their aiplanes at terminating points, and Albany was considered a terminating point. Obviously, I had left the backpack somewhere in the aiport. Only I knew I had not.

Defeated, I rode back to Ed's parent's house with everyone else.

I called Southwest when I got back to the house, and got the number for the baggage folks in Tampa. I left a message for them. Miraculously, right before the flight landed, the nicest person in the world called me back and asked me to again describe exactly what I was looking for and where it was. She called back a few minutes later "I have your daughter's backpack. What is your FedEx number? I'll send it right out." Only I am not a business, and I do not have a FedEx number, so she told me how to get one, which I promptly did, and then I spent the next WEEK calling the Tampa baggage office between one and three times daily, leaving the FedEx number, leaving my number, explaining the situation, etc.

No one ever returned my call again.

The bag was never returned.

I filed a formal search form with the Southwest main office, giving them a description of the bag, the flight number, when it had been found, etc.

The bag was never returned.

How the heck do they file lost items anyway? Apparently no one knows because every time I ask, I am told something different.

Connor has a backpack identical to Helen's. (In fact, Helen was originally supposed to get a stuffed animal, but I knew she would fall in love with Connor's backpack so before she got the animal, Ed and I had returned the animal and replaced it was the backpack.) Basically, every time Connor gets the backpack out, Helen retells the story of how her backpack got left on the airplane and now she doesn't have one anymore, but if she ever gets to go on an airplane again, she will be sure her backpack does NOT get left on the airplane. It's a lot of drama. And a lot of guilt on my part.

Dick (Helen's preferred name for her Grandpa) heard the story at least once, maybe more times on the ski vacation.

Yesterday, a package came for Helen in the mail. As we opened it, I saw the backpack, and at first, my heart was full of joy because I thought Southwest had sent the backpack - FINALLY - and my faith in what a great airline they were was restored. Upon closer inspection, it was clear that it was a brand new backpack. And it could've only come from Grandpa.

Helen jumped with joy, immediately wanted to call Dick to tell him thanks, and wore the backpack around most of last night, as I'm sure she will for the next few days.

Thank you, Dick, you've made one little girl immensely happy.

And I promise, when we see you in Key West in a few weeks, I will NOT leave it on the airplane again.


Friday, March 5, 2010

That's my kind of girl!

This morning at breakfast Helen ordered two items:

a glass of orange juice and a bottle of wine.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

My Compliments to the Chef

Last night, Connor decided to try a dish at dinner that he used to love, then decided he did not like at all, and now apparently is back to thinking it's edible. After tentatively trying a few bites, he looked up at me and said:

"It's not terribly good, but it's still pretty good."

He proceeded to eat the whole meal. It's not the boldest compliment my cooking has ever received, but it's one of the few I've gotten in a while from Connor. I'll take it.

Monday, March 1, 2010


You know what would be really sweet, Dad? If you got rainbow straws from the grocery store the next time you went.