Monday, August 31, 2009

No Neon Noodles


So after all my recent blogging about how I am embracing the asphalt jungle and shall never forsake its public pools, no matter how hot it gets and how few items I am allowed to bring to the swimming areas -- well, I left town. I now interrupt your normal NY broadcasting for a brief episode in the Garden State, at my parent’s place.


So far, stay-cation trumps suburban vacay, hands down. This morning sucked raw sewage.


Came down to NJ last night with dreams of running through the grass and filling up the little plastic kiddie pool in the yard and then woke up to a freezing rain. I know you’re thinking, freezing rain sounds kind of refreshing right now. But there’s not much to do in this part of the Jerse in the freezing rain.


Thankfully, I’d worked hard beforehand to score guest passes (I am the queen of guest passes, which you may by noticing) to this mineral springs club with a bunch of pools in it. So I dressed the children in their swimming gear and brought them over.


Let me pause for a moment to elaborate on what I mean by “swimming gear.”


For Seconda, the two-year old who fears nothing and will jump into 10 foot-deep water without breaking her stride, this means a bathing suit. That’s all.


For Primo, the four-year old who won’t dip his toe in a puddle without some coaxing, when I say “gear” I mean tonnage of floatation equipment.


Now, just for the record, I never believed in floaties. Water wings, vests, kick boards, that sort of thing, I never had any of that stuff as a kid and I did just fine. I mean, I’m a lousy swimmer, but who cares? I get by. I figured if I got Primo water wings, he’d grow dependent on them and then he’d never really learn how to swim on his own. Incidentally, this is the same rationale we used to deny him the paci, which made him suck on my boob for comfort morning noon and night for 12 months.


This was a dumb-ass move. Little kids are dependent. Period. That’s what you call them on your taxes, for God’s sake. I mean, what did I think? He’d be dependent on me for food and shelter and education and love and diversion but NOT for swimming. Dumb. I suppose it might have worked out well for another sort of child, the kind that just rolls with the punches. But for my son, who is, well, highly cautious and loath to try new things, the no-training-wheels approach backfired on us.


Primo never built confidence in the water, because well, he wouldn’t even get IN the water. It’s not like we get much occasion to go in a pool anyway, so it’s been no big deal but finally, this summer I had to face the fact that my kid is terrified of swimming.


And so, last week, during my late August stay-cation swim-fest, when we popped into the Y pool for an open swim and I saw the heaps of floatation aids, I thought, “Awwww, what the hell?” I strapped him into one of those suckers, gave him two noodles to hang on to, and I’ll be darned if that aqua-phobic child wasn’t kicking around, grinning from ear to ear and shouting, “I’m a fish Mommy, look!”

Just like that, I became a convert.


So on the way to NJ this weekend, we stopped at BJs, and purchased the very last of the season’s (and accordingly discounted) fully-loaded “float suit.” It contains floatation pads in the chest, the back and the shoulders. It could keep the Titanic afloat.


Trouble is, to make Primo feel secure, this one piece of equipment will not suffice. He needs the suit as well as something to hold on to so that his chin bobs at least a foot above the water.

And that is why my son entered the pool at the fancy smancy NJ mineral springs club wearing a superhero flotation suit and carrying two neon noodles.


Did you know you aren’t allowed to bring neon noodles into fancy smancy mineral spring pools?


That’s what the lifeguard informed me.


“Then what’s this?” I ask, pointing to a more somber-colored gray noodle resting by the side of the pool.


“Well, you can only use it if you’re in the water aerobics class.”


“So, let’s just say we’re in the water aerobics class,” I suggest, but I guess with two rug-rats hanging off my arms, a sagging mid-section, and legs which haven’t been shaved since June, my flirtation is not as powerful as I hoped.


“The noodle is not Coast Guard-approved,” the life-guard replies, no longer looking at me.


To this, I am speechless. But Primo is not.


“WHY CAN’T I HAVE MY NOODLE????” he screams, “I NEED MY NOODLE!!!!”

I shoot the lifeguard a plaintive look. But he is ignoring me. It is probably embarrassing him to have to deal with me and my crazy brood.


“He says you can’t have it in here,” I explain, while trying to keep my hands on Seconda who is shaking me off,

shouting, “I can swim ALL BY MYSELF!”


“Why NOT?” Primo wails. He is panicking.


“Because it’s not Coast Guard-approved,” I reply. Unsurprisingly, this does not satisfy him. Neither does my pleading with him to trust the bionic super-flotation suit that he is wearing. Neither does my pointing out that the noodle-ban is not MY fault. I spend the next hour dragging whining Primo around on my back while wrestling to keep a hold of my aspiring two year-old Michael Phelps.


So yeah, I’m missing my stay-cation right about now.


Noodles forever!


Friday, August 28, 2009

The Verdict


Continuing my review of city watering holes, so to speak:


Chelsea Waterside Playground, Tuesday 10am


Pros: Its in Manhattan so I automatically feel cooler and more in-the-know, being there. Amazing, avant-guard climbing apparati that reminded me of a playground I took Primo to in Rome when he was a toddler (See how the cosmopolitan experience builds on itself? As soon as I go to Manhattan, I’m remembering my days in Europe). Multiple sprinklers and a very cool-looking mosaic wading pool increase options for water play.


Cons: It’s in Manhattan and I have a tendency to get into fights when we mingle with Manhattanites. Like, I heard some toddler start yelling his head off and Sec runs over to me and a minute later, a nanny marches off with her crying charge and shouts, “DID SHE HIT HIM?” and I said, “I don’t know, did you, Seconda?” And my daughter responded with a look of blind panic which didn’t indicate an answer one way or the other. Bu the child, with no obvious injuries, was standing there a-yelling and a-waiting, and so I told Sec to apologize for potentially hitting the child, but the nanny just kept standing there yelling “DID SHE HIT HIM?” like I was supposed to give her a polygraph or something. That’s Manhattan for you. Also the wading pool was tiny, increasing possibilities for altercations, especially when big kids cannonballed off the sides. Where are THEIR moms or nannies, I ask you?


Grade: B


Red Hook Pool, Wednesday 10:30am


Pros: Everything. Dreamiest of dreams come true. A perfect 10. Five minutes by bus from my place. Across the lawn from Ikea, so if you have a hankering for Swedish meatballs or need a bunch of throw pillows, you’re all set. Clean facilities, courteous park employees there to help you out, an OLYPMIC sized swimming pool so even with 200 people, you’ve got plenty of room, and, in addition to that, a gigunda kiddie pool, 10 inches deep, with all manner of sprinklers inside. Sheer halcyon. And if that wasn’t enough, the people at Red Hook Pool gave us lunch. ALL of us. Chocolate milk and sliced apples and a bologna sandwich on wheat bread. They do this every day apparently. I heart the Hook.


Cons: Doesn’t open ‘til 11, so I have hours upon hours of wakefulness before I can enjoy its watery bliss. Bu that’s why God invented early morning programming for children.


Grade: A+


The verfict?


Fuck the Hamptons.


(that is, unless you’ve got an extra bedroom you’d like to offer up for this weekend, in which case, I was just kidding)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Summer Stay-cation


It is the last week of August and my children and I have reached the point in the summer where we can take no more of the asphalt jungle.

It happens every year. We glide through June, we endure July and by the first week of August we start considering our vacation options. You know, a getaway. By the second week of August, we realize we have no options, lacking money and connections. By the third week of August, truly desperate, we aspire to make some.

“Isn’t there ANYONE we know with a summer place?” I ask David.

“Well there’s Miriam and Larry but they didn’t invite us after last year.”

Yes, that was true. We’d spent two nights at Larry’s mother’s lake-side cabin last year and while uneventful by our standards, I think it was a little draining on our friends, who don’t have kids and are accustomed to a certain level of quiet in their lives.

“How did we graduate from an Ivy League school without making friends with someone who’s got a place in the HAMPTONS????” I shriek.

So while everyone else is cooling off in the natural springs of Colorado or taking dips by the Jersey shore, we are sweltering in cramped quarters with no school and no camp and plenty of deadlines for cranky Mommy.

“These children haven’t been in a pool all summer!” I shout to David, “They haven’t stepped foot on sand. They are under-privileged.”

And that’s when I decided to turn things around. Because there’s absolutely no reason you can’t find sand, surf and chlorinated water, all in the borough of Brooklyn.

First stop of the summer stay-cation agenda:

Double D pool, 4pm, Friday

Pros: Close to home. Kiddie pool. Catchy and titillating name. Free.

Cons: Whoever reviewed this pool online as an “off the beaten path, hidden treasure” must come from a place where 200 people packed into a 10 x 12 area is considered under-capacity. This is neither hidden, nor a treasure. I couldn’t move my damn elbows it was so crowded. And the din which couldn’t help but rise from such a massive gathering was somewhat off-putting to Primo, who is freaked out by swimming to begin with. When I told the boy to hang on to my back so I could hang on to his sister with my front, I got an earful of whistle-blowing. I guess it’s a violation of pool policy, and I get that. It did seem likely he would strangle me and we’d all go down together. But I have to say the teenage rumble happening pool-side did seem to more worthy of whistle blowing than my out-of-necessity-piggy back ride.

Grade: C

Open Swim at the Y, Guest Pass, Monday 3pm

Pros: Perfect temperature water. Clean accommodations. Comfortable locker room with a hair dryer for those of us who will be having a hot date after swimming. Flotation devices up the damn wazoo – I am talking noodles, donuts, infant floaties, kid vests, buggy boards. You name it. And, the dealbreaker – it was totally, deliciously empty.

Within five minutes, my terrified boy had released me from his strangulation hold and was happily kicking around the pool, buoyed up by enough floatation devises to keep a whale above water. Happy as a clam.

Cons: We don’t belong to the Y. We can never go back again.

Grade: A-

Second installment of stay-cation review to be released tomorrow. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

What's in a ringtone?


Comes a time in every woman’s life, she needs a new ringtone.


My current one – “Lady Madonna” – was no longer doing it for me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love hearing Paul McCartney singing about me, children at my feet, wondering how I’ll manage to make ends meet. But after a few months, one needs a break, even from the Beatles.


So with my techno-saavy sister back in town, I had an opportunity to make some changes in my ringtone life.


We spent an hour scrolling through her iTunes library, and only got to “G.”


“I can’t take this anymore,” I protested, “I don’t even recognize any of these bands.”


(And while we’re on the subject, is it a crime that I can’t tell the Black Keys from the White Stripes from the Flaming Lips? I think they should all conjoin and call themselves the Flaming White Keys.)

But we preserved through “H” and I called off the dogs.


“That’s it” I shrieked, “Perfect,”


“Are you sure?”


I nodded, feeling very satisfied with myself.


And so it was that the next morning, while hosting a playdate, my phone rang and the whole room was treated to a rousing verse of “Celebrity Skin” by Hole.


“When I wake up in my makeup

It’s too early for that dress

Wilted and faded somewhere in Hollywood

I’m glad I came here with your pound of flesh

No second billing, ‘cause you’re a star now

Oh Cinderella, they aren’t sluts like you ----“


And that’s when I decided to change the ringtone. I mean, its just a matter of time before Primo asks me what a

“slut” is, and then what the hell do I say? Not the kind of gender roles I’m striving to impart here in the old homestead.


And really, when you get right down to it, its been a long time since I woke up too early for these sweatpants.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Tweeny Two Year-Old



Yesterday morning Seconda started the day by literally ingesting my Nars lipstick, imperiling herself and the future of my personal grooming. It only went downhill from there. I found her lying on her belly in her room read a book and chewing gum, actual gum, like she was a frickin’ teenager. Five minutes after I pried the gum out of her mouth I found her chewing something else.

“What are you chewing?” I asked, exasperated.

“I’m in my room so you have to LEAVE ME ALONE!”

This child, let me remind you, is TWO YEARS OLD.

Two.

“What are you chewing?” I repeated, now through gritted teeth.

“I AM CHEWING GUM!!!!!!” she shouted right in my face.

“Spit that gum out. Right. Now.”

I guess the calm in my voice frightened her, and she, for once, obeyed, spitting out, not gum, but a very moist and well-worked Trident wrapper.

She never watched Nickelodeon, not even Nick Jr. HOW did she become so tweeny on me?

Later that night, my sister and I were regarding Seconda, who was happily shoving cavatelli in her mouth, in the nude, and barking orders at us, “MORE OJ! NOT THAT CUP! GIMME MY BACKYARDIGANS CUP!” and Courtney observed, “You are a real monster.”

Seconda, her mouth full of pasta, replied in a very calm, very matter-of-fact way, as if to clarify a confusing point:

“I’m not a monster, I’m a rascal.”

And that, dear readers, is why I keep ‘er.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Huddled Masses


So we had the whole in-law family in from Tennessee visiting last weekend and I’m only now writing because it has taken me an entire week to recuperate from the whirlwind tour of my fair city that we undertook. It was a veritable New-York-apoolooza, the kind you need to train for. Now next to my family, I love New York City more than anything out there, but that doesn’t mean I love all of New York, all the time.


I love Tom’s Restaurant and cherry lime rickeys for brunch.


I love Luger’s for David’s annual birthday dinner even if the waiters deride me because I refuse to eat the rare parts of the meat. I am just waiting for the day they give me a charcoal on my plate, like some kind of wacko Santa, because I order my meat “in between “medium and medium well.”


I love the Transit Museum, especially the assortment of subway cars from the early 1900s.


I love Lombardi's for pizza and Ferrara's for cannoli and I love dumplings and pork buns at Dim Sum and the space show at Hayden Planetarium.


But I gotta say, I do not love Liberty Island at high noon in mid-August. Between the hordes and the heat, it’s hard to appreciate your freedom. By the time we got back to Manhattan, we all felt like we truly understood the meaning of those famous words inscribed at her pedestal, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”


“I always thought it was “be free,” I said,


“Me too,” said David, “But now it makes sense. After riding in that boat I am actually yearning to breathe free. It really smelled like shit.”


We were nothing if not huddled masses, me and David and his sister, trying to keep the kids from jumping overboard and dragging that behemoth of a double stroller up the stairs to the deck, losing the rest of our party in the thronging hordes of liberty-seekers.


The boat ride there and back and the super-intense security (at least they didn’t make the kids go through the air-blowing machine this time – Primo is still traumatized from last year) was definitely the worst of it. Once on the island, Primo plugged into the audio tour and was totally mesmerized for 40 minutes. It was also mood-lifting to hear him communicate with us at the top of his lungs, since he couldn’t quite understand how to remove his headphones.


“DO YOU KNOW ABOUT BERTHOLD?????”


“CAN I HAVE AN ICE CREAM????”


“NOW CAN OUR ADVENTURE BE OVER????”


And there, asking strangers to take group photos of us in front of Lady Liberty (and by the way, I cannot believe that anyone, even those from the farthest-off shores, even those who’ve never seen a camera before, would snap a picture of a family in front of the Statue of Liberty horizontally, landscape-style, so that the only glimpse of the magnificent icon is about ¾ of her pedestal), It was there that I recalled what a disastrous trip we had last year, when David and I took the kids for the first time to Liberty Island and they were both such insufferable little twits that I shouted at the top of my lungs, so loud that everyone around us stared,


“I AM NEVER HAVING ANOTHER CHILD!”


We love our Lady of the Harbor. A lot. We shout “hello!” to her every time we go over the Brooklyn Bridge and have a large, artsy print of her displayed prominently in the front entrance of our apartment. We know all sorts of trivia about the making of her, and pertinent documentaries on DVR that even Primo has watched. We love her so much that on the way home Seconda said, “When I grow up, I’m gonna climb to the TOP of the Statue of Liberty!:


I told her I’d be right there with her, as long as it was between the months of September and May.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Freaky Friday



This is how we roll in my house. The heat does strange thing to young minds.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Button up



This morning Primo buttoned his own shirt. And I took a picture of it because I was so proud. My baby’s all grown up. Would you believe that I teared up? It’s true. When it comes to kids -- oh hell, when it comes to anything -- I am so wildly sentimental it’s a damn liability.

But it’s also a genetic thing. I’ve only ever seen my mother cry for real a handful of times in my life, but sit her down in front of a Lifetime movie and she’s like a faucet. You’d think Meredith Baxter-Burney was her best friend. My aunt’s the same. I used to walk by the living room when I was living with her and find her inconsolable on the couch. Then I’d hear the end of Steel Magnolias playing on the TV.

I think I hit a nadir when I went to see Last of the Mohicans. I was actually asked to pipe down by a fellow theater-goer. My crying was disturbing his viewing experience.

“Stay alive!!!!! Whatever else occurs, I will find you!”
Gets me kind of choked up even now.

Anyway, congrats to my guy on his mastery of the button. What’s next? Pre-cal? Asking to borrow the car? Oh Lord, I need a hanky.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Our New Neighbor



Big news on the AMAM front. Huge. Colossal. My grandmother has moved into our building. Nonnie is now our neighbor.

For forty years Nonnie’s been kicking it in Bensonhurst, buying her fruit and vegetables from Two Guys from Brooklyn, enjoying the best cannolis in the US of A, hanging out of her window and yelling in Italian to her friends, most of whom are named Maria. But when her landlord who was a good friend, and incidentally also named Maria, died, things started to change at the old homestead. Maria’s granddaughter moved in, took over and brought a certain seediness to the attached house. Where my grandmother and her friends used to sit on the porch clucking their teeth at passersby, there is now large gatherings of young people smoking and drinking and playing music loudly. Nonnie’s friend, Lucia, who was living there when Nonnie moved in, fell and broke her hip a year or two ago and went to live with her daughter in Florida. Some of the new landlord’s friends moved in, in her place, and a few months later my grandmother gets a knock on her door at 11pm and it’s the cops looking for her downstairs neighbor.

None of that would have pushed my grandmother out of the place she’s called home for so long. She’s a tough broad. But then the landlady raised her rent by 30% overnight and she doesn’t have a lease so she is what you might call up shit’s creek without a paddle. At precisely the same time, we started looking for an apartment to buy, the market being what it’s been, mortgage rates at an all-time low, prices plummeting and our family much too large for our current rental. And that’s when somebody – I don’t remember who started the ball rolling – suggested my grandmother might be better off living near us, than in her walk-up crime den.

Let me tell you who DOESN’T think my grandmother is better off. My grandmother.

“You’re living in the lap of luxury over here,” I tell her, “You have a dishwasher and an elevator.”

“It’s so small! No room for anything!” she says.

I advise her that maybe she feels cramped because she brought forty pots and pans and enough plastic Tupperware to run a Chinese restaurant for a week.

“When was the last time you used this?” I asked her yesterday, holding up a spearmint-green Jello mold that is from the 70s. Literally, I ate Jello from this thing my whole childhood.

“I’m gonna start using it again one day!” she replied defensively.

When we packed my grandmother’s apartment, we unearthed:

A hand-powered meat slicer
Six aluminum mugs from the Playboy Club circa 1973
Every single Halloween costume worn by her five granddaughters, from their birth 'til they outgrew Halloween
My baby tricycle
Two unopened DVD players
A Remington typewriter circa 1930
Enough canned food for my kids to survive on ‘til they graduate high school

I can’t even describe the extent of stuff crammed into every nook and cranny of her apartment. Her closets were like clown cars – we just kept pulling out large items that you couldn’t imagine ever fitting in there. A meat slicer, for the love of God! The kind they have at Key Food that gets your honey-roasted turkey breast sliced nice and thin! We found every single item of apparel I ever wore as an infant, which would have been useful about 4 ½ years ago when my son was born, but has been impossible to reach until we spent three days digging a tunnel through her bedroom closest. I’m surprised we didn’t find members of our family trapped in there, under all the fabric scraps and baby shoes.

But I don’t know why I’m surprised. This is a woman who has been using her dishwasher, which hasn’t worked in over twenty years, as a kitchen cabinet. So when you went over to her place and she made you dinner, she’d open the dishwasher and you’d see dozens of boxes of Ronzoni penne, crushed tomatoes and Stella D’Oro cookies.

Her new dishwasher works, which I point out to her, but she says she’d prefer to use it as storage space. She needs to find a spot for that Jello mold, after all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Penitent about Princesses



So I know I slammed princesses yesterday, and today I’m feeling a little penitent. I mean, not all princesses suck. There are a lot of cool, kick-ass princesses who are pretty and have a good personality, so to speak. The whole package. And I’ve been slowly amassing an “unconventional princess” picture book collection to combat the Disney brigade. Here’s what I’ve got:


The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch


Classic Munsch, as they say on the cover. Girl outsmarts dragon to rescue her prince only to find out he’s a superficial “bum.” Man, Munsch is good. A real delight.

Princess Smartypants by Babette Cole


This is a funny one that appeals as much to my son as my daughter because of the various gross trials and tribulations Princess Smartypants puts potential suitors through, to win her hand. No one succeeds until Prince Swashbuckle who passes every test with flying colors; he doesn’t think the princess is too smart. But guess who gets the last laugh when Princess Smartypants gives him the kiss he’s been vying for and turns him into a big fat frog.


The Princess Knight, by Cornelia Funke


Violet is the younger sister of a bunch of boys, all of whom were raised to be knights but are pretty worthless. They mock her since she’s small. Never underestimate the little ones, I always say. She trains to be a knight, by night, with the help of the gardener’s son, and then enters herself, in disguise, in the contest for her own hand in marriage. She wins, of course. And then she runs off with the gardener’s son.


Princess Pigsty, by Cornelia Funke


Princess Isabella, sick of being pampered, starts the book off with a bang by tossing her crown in the fishpond and refusing to retrieve it. Her dad sends her to the kitchen as punishment, but as it turns out, she is happy doing chores down there and still won’t fish out her crown. Then he sends her to the pigsty, which is just about her favorite place ever. In the end, the King concedes to live and let live, and Princess Isabella gets to be exactly who she is.


Pirate Girl, by Cornelia Funke


Although not technically a princess tale, this is my favorite grrrrl power picture book. The illustrations are amazing and Funke is really at her lyrical best describing Captain Redbeard and his motley crew, the terror of the high seas, who one day capture a little girl who they really should have left alone. They bring Molly on board and try to collect a ransom for her, but can’t get her to divulge her mother’s name. Then one day, they find out who her mother is when Barbarous bertha and her harrowing crew of uber-tough pirate ladies easily overpower Redbeard’s team. My favorite line is when Barbarous Bertha asks her little girl, “What should we do with these piratical nincompoops?” We quote it often chez moi. I think I just identity very keenly with Big Mama Bertha, with a knife stashed in her garter and a mane of flaming hair. Raaaaar!


Atalanta, in Free to Be You and Me, is an oldie but a goodie . . . and I'm out.


Anyone have another title to add to the list?

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pretty Princess Parasite



Recently, my 2 year-old has a fixation on affirming her gender. She just says, “I’m a girl!” all the time, and I know that she means it in contrast to a boy, rather than in contrast to a hippo because she will say it to me too, “Mommy, you’re a girl!” and she regretfully informs her father, “You’re not a girl!” I don’t know what it means to her to be a girl, but I like how much she enjoys being what she is so I usually reply, “Yeah, I’m a girl too – hooray for us!”


She’s right too, that I’m a girl. Not just a woman, but a real girly girl. I wear lots of pink and plenty pf makeup and Chanel perfume, and haven’t seen my natural hair color since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. I love my woman parts even if they aren’t what they once were, I love to dress up and shop for shoes and drink champagne and fruity mixed drinks.


But I’ve tried, to some extent, to shield Seconda from my relentless girliness because I live in fear of the day she’ll go all “princess” on me. Am I making enemies here? I know a lot of great, smart little girls who’ve succumbed to princess mania and it doesn’t mean they’re not formidable forces in their own right, but I have to say, the princess shit drives me nuts.


Its not that I don’t like the movie Cinderella – hell, it was one of my favorites as a kid, and we let Primo watch it a bunch of times – but with Seconda, I’m a little more hesitant. I don’t want to inject her with the parasite of putting pretty before everything else. What’s so great about Cinderella anyway? I mean, she’s compassionate and beautiful, but not terribly interesting. Not terribly bright or self-reliant. Ditto for Belle, although she’s got a bit more fire in her. And the Little Mermaid is fun, she’s a redhead after all, and feisty, a rebel even, but it does bum me out that she gives up her voice – I mean, could there be a more literal metaphor for the danger here? – to be with some guy who is, when you get right down to it, a total borefest. The interesting female character there is Ursula – she’s got a slamming voice and some great rhyming skills and is incredibly powerful. What power does a princess really have, at least the Disney variety? My daughter right now, is a powerhouse. She may not be the most well-behaved kid or the most generous yet, but she’s smart as a damn whip and funny, the kind of kid you’d like to spend an hour talking to. I will just perish the day she begs me to buy her a poofy princess dress and matching glass slippers.


So, when she looks really cute, and every girl instinct in me threatens to call out, “Oh you’re my little princess!” I instead exclaim, “You look like the queen of the fairies!” I don’t know how much good it does, but at least a queen has power and fairies do magic, and anyway, it’s a reference to Spenser, which mitigates any harm.


Now she’s started to proclaim the same thing, so after we slip a flouncy three-tiered sun dress on her, she’ll run around the house yelling, “LOOK AT ME - I’m the QUEEN OF THE FAIRIES!”

We can only do our best, right?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Birthday and etc




Today is David's birthday and I've got some pressing matters to attend to, such as baking a cake from a box, acquiring his other presents (tradition calls for a bottle of beer and a BJ), and preparing my home for the arrival of my whole in-law family from Tennessee, and LA, so my point is, this post will be short and sweet.

A glimpse of last night:

7:45pm. When Primo complained that his sticky white rice was too "boring" (isn't that the whole point, you picky little sucker?) I added some soy sauce, and he said, his brow furrowed with worry: "I hope that's not beer!"

7:50pm: My daughter felt compelled to remind me: "Goddamnuit is not a nice word, Mommy." I need a swear jar.

8:30pm: After all the pains I've taken making the kids' bedroom into an outer space paradise, like something out of Cookie magazine, I asked Primo if he liked his room, and he said apologetically, " I like it, but not severely."

Happy birthday to my hunky and chronically under-appreciated hub.

Little Critters, Big CIty


The summer issue of the Park Slope Reader is now out, complete with my newest Dispatch from Babyville. You can pick one up in a coffee shop near you, or, if you're living beyond the Reader's reach, you can read the essay here:

Little Critters, Big City

By Nicole Caccavo Kear

I had a pet-less childhood with nary a dog or hamster or even a goldfish to call my own. To say that my mother is not an animal lover is to put it mildly. Though a reasonably feeling woman in general, she is downright coldhearted when it comes to creatures covered in fur, feathers, or fins. Not as bad as Cruella da Ville, but close. I guess I inherited this animal aversion because it never bothered me that I didn't have a pet. I had a kid sister, and that was sort of the same thing.

My kid sister, on the other hand, pined for a pet. Melissa's pining (and whining) led to a series of what I will euphemistically call "eclectic" pets, the kind a kid can keep in the city without disturbing the domestic peace too much. The first was Slimy, a snail gifted to her by a waiter at Ko Chine Restaurant in Chinatown. The waiter was impressed by Melissa's appetite for escargot and thought she might savor a live snail as much as she did the ones she swallowed whole. My sister shared one and a half magical days with Slimy before he, for no reason whatsoever that we could discern, suddenly stopped sliming.

After that she had to content herself with taking the classroom fish home on holidays, until one day my mother accidentally (we hope) flushed him down the toilet. Guilt ridden about the fish-slaughter, she consented to buy Melissa a bird. So they went to the pet store and came back with Freddy, a one-eyed, skittish cockatoo.

My sister did not look too happy with this, her long-awaited pet.

"Why does he have only one eye?" I asked.

"He was on SALE," she replied sulkily, "because he's missing an eye from having a fight with another bird. Now he's a nervous wreck."

"We rescued him!" my mother exclaimed, like she was auditioning to play Dian Fossey in the remake of Gorillas in the Mist. But my sister and I knew better than to buy the act - my mother had bought the bird because he was a bargain.

Over time Melissa grew to love Freddy, and when he issued his last, anxious chirp, our cousins handed her down their bird, a green parrot named Captain, who was as bona-fide a pet as a child of animal-haters could hope for. So, in the end, her dreams of pet ownership were realized.

Fast forward twenty years and you will find the cycle of pet-withholding has repeated itself. Only now I'm the meanie and Primo and Seconda are the pitiful city kids without a canine sidekick.

It's not that I hate animals. I just don't want them as roommates. Little critters, no matter how smart or loving, like to roll in the mud, lick their butts, and eat garbage, and I think that's fine, that's totally cool, as long as it's not happening in my house.

There's also the fact that I can hardly manage caring for myself and my two children, who seem more like animals every day, which leads me to believe it's not a great idea to enlarge our family. Every plant we've ever had dies a slow, painful death of thirst and is left to wither for several weeks before it's disposed of. The only living things that do thrive in our apartment are the animals that live there without my permission, the endless parade of mice, not just any mice but a mutant strain of defiant super-mice who are invulnerable to death and skitter around the kitchen corners despite my unflagging efforts at hole-plugging and crumb-collecting.

Point is, I've got my hands full.

But children don't understand logical reasons such as these. Children just want. And my 4 year-old wants a creature to call his own. In his desperation, he has turned to bugs. Ants, in particular.

In the afternoon, he has taken to patrolling the stoop for stray ants that he can pluck from their happy life on the pavement and drag into our inhospitable home.

"I FOUND ONE!!!!" he shouts, like he's struck gold. Seconda runs over and bends down so that her face is a half inch from his fingertip.

"Oh you so tiny, you so coot my little Anty! I LOVE YOU, ANTY. I LOVE YOU SO MUCH!" she bellows.

"Too LOUD! You're going to scare the living daylights out of him!" Primo scolds.

Then, like he's a surgeon and I'm a nurse, he orders, "Habitat!"

I comply, handing over the plastic dome with a yellow handle, kindly manufactured by Fisher Price to satisfy the bug-capturing yen of children like my son.

"Get in there you little Anty you!" he coos, dropping the sucker inside and shutting the door, which must sound like a death knell to poor old Anty. No doubt word has gotten out in the Park Slope insect world about Primo's appetite for ants; the sight of that habitat cum torture chamber must send them running for broke.

Primo captures a bunch more, gleefully narrating to Anty that he's delivering some roommates for him so he won't be lonely in there, and then, when the habitat is full of writhing, squirming, dirty bugs, we get into the old "Can I bring them inside?" debate.

The first time this debate unfolded, I was a novice, and feeling guilty that I'd deprived the kids of a Fido or a Mittens, I agreed to letting the bugs come upstairs, provided - and this was the dealbreaker - that the habitat door remain closed.

Rookie move, I know. But Primo's my first and parenting him is full of rookie moves.

About two minutes after we brought the impromptu ant farm upstairs I heard a shriek.
I ran into the living room to find Primo holding the empty habitat, screaming, "WHERE IS ANTY?"

"Did you let him out? All of them?" I yelled back, scanning the floor for ants and spotting not a one, "I TOLD you not to!"

"But I wanted to PLAY WITH HIM!" he choked out before the bawling began, the wild, wide-eyed sobbing of a man with nothing left to lose, "ANTY! ANNNNNNNNTTTTY!"

Seconda, not quite sure what the hubbub was about, but always willing to join in on a good cry, piped up, "I WANT MY ANNNNNTY! GET HIM MOMMY!"

Primo thought this was an excellent idea. "Yes, Mommy, find him! Find Anty and his roommates, too!"

It is the lot of mothers to fix the unfixable, to do the impossible. But even we have limitations. I tried to explain that you'd have better luck keeping track of a collection of dust motes than ants on the loose. I told him it was his own fault for not listening to his mother. I told him you can't really play with an ant anyway. I suggested finding one of Anty's identical twin brothers on the stoop. There was no consoling him.

Since that fateful day, we have a strict all-bugs-left-behind policy. The kids can pick up whatever creepy crawlers they please - slugs, inchworms, millepieds, rolie polies - but they all get released back into the wild when its time to go home. And wouldn't you know, just yesterday, the wheel came full circle when Primo was poking through the dirt at his grandparents' place and found a small, sleek, black snail.

"Mommy, Mommy look!" he cried, breathless.

I had to admit, the snail was stupendous. She stuck her head with its lovely little snail horns right out in a delightfully amiable way and swayed her body this way and that, ever so slowly. I felt positively enchanted.

We named her Slimy Jr. and spent an hour or two in the garden playing with her. When it was time to go inside for lunch, I told Primo it would be OK if we kept Slimy, since she was such a special, such a one-of-a-kind snail.

"No, we better let her go free, Mommy," my son said, "So she can find her family and live a happy life in the dirt."

And that, I think, is precisely what happened.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Deep Thoughts



My children have made some very illuminating observations to me over the last day or two, and I thought I’d share them with you.


Primo:


“I used to think Stonehenge was in New Jersey but now I know it is in a place that snows a lot and people make a lot of snowmen.”


“6 + 6 is 11.”


“An archaeologist is a doctor who takes care of people’s hearts.”


Seconda:


“This rocking horse is fucking crazy.”


“When I grow up, I’m gonna go back in your belly.”


“When I’m grow up, I’m gonna chew gum.”


But Primo was quick to correct her, O, innocent, ignorant babe that she is:


“You can’t Seconda, because only daddies can chew gum.”


Sometimes I do wonder if these kids will make it through all right.

Blast from the Past

In the process of packing I unearthed some pretty cool shit. And topping the list is my childhood collection of (drumroll, please) . . .

Garbage Pail Kids!!!!!

Just let the sweet memory of those words flood over you. This post is better than the original “I love the 80’s” isn’t it?

I have at least 5 dozen of these vintage cards, all impeccably preserved. On the top of the pile we spotted one that we knew would set Primo’s vampire-loving heart a pitter-patter.

Haunted Hollis


So, as rewards for good behavior, I have been doling out a Garbage Pail Kid now and then to the boy, and so far he’s received:

Haggy Maggie



And Alice Island.

Its not any easy job, though, to find cards that are appropriate for an anxiety-prone yet spook-loving four year-old. I was forced to rule out the following cards, for instance:








I hate to admit it because I know I sound a million years old, but I kind of don't see the appeal of these anymore. Why did I love these cards so much? Why did you? Enlighten me please. It is purely scatalogical? Working out some latent aggressions?






Monday, August 10, 2009

The Losing of the Nap


First off, let me be clear that this is not a picture of my child sleeping. If you knew me at all, you'd have guessed that for two reasons.


A. When my child does nap, I do not sneak in to snap photos of her sleeping. I do not crack the door for any reason whatsoever. I leave the child alone and I try to breathe as quietly as possible in the adjoining room.


B. My kid doesn't nap anymore.


Yes, readers, I am in the tumultuous terrain of the terrible twos, known far and wide (in my apartment) as The Losing of the Nap.


Before you stop me and say, “Whoa now, my kid didn’t drop her nap ‘til she was 4 or 5,” or better yet, “We’re European and my kid is 12 and still naps!” let me rush to qualify that I understand not all children lose the nap as part of the terrible twos. It’s just the particularly ornery ones that do, the ones that you need to sleep more than anything in the world, because it is those two hours of peace that allow you to grab onto the frazzled end of your sanity and make it through the rest of the day. These ornery, defiant, devil-may-care children are precisely the ones that have the nerve to drop their nap well before they no longer need the sleep, creating a total friggin’ mess in the process.


It goes like this:


Between 50-75% of the time, Seconda does not nap, even when I put her to sleep at the appointed time in the appointed place. She just stands in her crib tent, which is zipped tight, and yells or throws things or cries or sings loudly for an hour or two. I get no rest during that time since I am too busy sustaining a coronary. Then I finally let her out of imprisonment, for which she is very grateful and sweet, for exactly 20 seconds,

The moment her feet hit the floor, and freedom is assured, she begins to act like a total, unmitigated little shithead. This may sound mean. In fact, strike that. It does sound mean. It sounds terrible. But what you should take into account is that I am actually being generous because saying she’s a shithead is a tremendous understatement.

My mommy friend, Grace, who has two kids just the same age and Primo and Seconda came over for a playdate yesterday. Sec had opted out of the nap and when Grace and the kids arrived at 4pm, she was not just a hot mess but an atomic mess. While the other children played, she spent about an hour screaming, for a reason no one could understand.


Grace looked pained. She looked CONCERNED. While I ignored my own child’s screaming, she tried to fix whatever was wrong.


“Do you want some water?” Grace asked Seconda.


Screaming.


“Do you want a snack?"


Screaming.


“Do you want to play with the pirate hat?”


Screaming.


My well-intentioned friend, of course, got nowhere/ She could not fix what was wrong because what was wrong was that my daughter didn’t get the rest she needs to maintain her mental health. Her exhaustion makes her a crazy person. And not just her, either.


It’s like my toddler has colic. Can you begin to understand the implications of that? A baby who has colic can, ultimately, be put down for a few minutes and left to cry so that you can take a swig of whisky or whatever you need to do to get back on board. A toddler just follows you around screaming. Toddlers weigh a lot more than newborns and carrying them everywhere will give you a hernia. Toddlers, unlike newborns, will purposefully hit you in the eye and bite you on your arm. Toddlers should never get colic. But mine has it.


Now, between 25-50% of the time (and that’s a precise figure I calculated) Seconda DOES take a nap. What bliss! What rapture! I work, furiously, while Primo watches Noggin. In two hours, she wakes and I am restored, just like Lazarus. It is amazing. And she is in a good mood too, doesn’t have the colic, and we are best friends and snuggle together and I am happy.


Then bedtime approaches. David and I understand that since she’s napped, she probably won’t be quite as tired at 7:30, so bedtime creeps closer to 8:30. At 11pm she is still awake, jumping in her crib and yelling “PRIMO WAKE UP! PRIIIIIIIIIIIMMMMOOOOO!”


David and I have no evening whatsoever. I pass out in my bed, listening to her yell.


But that is not all, folks, That is not even the worst part.


The next morning, she wakes at 5am. Five o’clock in the miserable morning. And if I thought she had colic from missing her nap, she has a raging case of it when she sleeps for only 6 hours.


So. Scylla and Charybdis. Damned in I do and damned if I don’t.


This isn’t exactly what you imagine when you decide to go off your birth control.

Friday, August 7, 2009

I'm crushing on Adam Rex


As you may recall, my son is obsessed with spooks, specifically Dracula and Frankenstein. So we’re always on the lookout for literature which addresses this subject, but in a light-hearted and non-terrifying way, since, after all, my boy is literally scared of his own shadow most days.

The answer to our prayers is Adam Rex.

If your kid is over the age of 4 or 5 and you want to read a picture book that you will enjoy as much, if not more, than they will, you must run, don’t walk, to your local bookstore and get Frankenstein Takes the Cake. Or hell, go on Amazon, and see if they give you one of those “Buy this title with this other title and save!” and then grab Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, too -- Rex’s first Frank book.

The premise is simple – Rex just plops these spooks down in modern day society and lets the madness unfold. Like, for instance, what problems might face the caterer who works the Frankenstein/ Bride of Frankenstein wedding, or what issues might pop up if Medusa were to go to Kindergarten.

Rex had me from the inside flap where his author photo shows a hulky Franken-guy with hipster glasses, underneath which is printed "A haiku about Adam Rex":

“He knows Frankenstein’s
the doctor, not the monster.
Enough already.”

But when I really started to swoon is when we got to the modern-day story of the Headless Horseman, told through his blog which is titled: “Off the Top of My Head,” We follow the Horseman through his trials and tribulations, as chefs making pumpkin bisque ogle his head and crows go all Hitchcock to peck out the seeds from his eyes. But the best part is when the inevitable happens and the Horseman is forced to go shopping for a new head-fruit to replace the current one that has decayed: “I just can’t hide the funk in/ side this sad and sunken/ pumpkin.”

“He’s like Eminem!” I shouted to David.

“Why don’t you marry him already!” was his reply.

“Is he single?”

I’ll tell you this much. Primo would go nuts to have Adam Rex as a step-dad. He is totally, one hundred percent infatuated with the books, harboring particular affection for a story entitled “Count Dracula doesn't know he's been walking around all night with spinach in his teeth.” He also loved that the Headless Horseman’s blogroll featured the site: “I Vant to Suck Your Blog.”

“That’s funny because it’s like instead of blood he wants to suck up somebody’s computer!!!!!” shrieked Primo.

Up- fricking-roarious. And you haven’t even gotten to “The Invisible Man Gets a Haircut” yet. What can I say? Me and the boy have found a new level of kid lit nirvana.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Older than my years, it appears


We were on line at Bed, Bath and Beyond, returning some household items that didn’t fit our household, and to divert himself, Primo was showing his remarkable strength by lifting things– the pole used to cordon off the line, boxes housing George Foreman grills.


“Holy moly,” I said, “You are so strong! And you’re so young.”


“No,” he replied, “You are just old. You’re elderly.”


He’s not wrong either. I am only 32 and should be in the prime of my youth, but alas I am decrepit in spirit. Nothing that sleeping for two days straight couldn’t fix, though. Yes, 48 hours on uninterrupted sleep would probably even restore my abdomen to its pre-baby-number-2 flatness. After 48 hours of uninterrupted sleep, I would likely remember when to use an apostrophe in “its” and I might even be able to solve the health care crisis. But I guess I’ll never know , , , ,

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Williamsburg, the Literati and Me



David and I don’t get out very much. I know this because on the rare occasion when we do, people make a big, embarrassing fuss over it.

Last night, we not only got, out but made it all the way to Williamsburg. I never feel quite right in Williamsburg. I feel too old, and not hip enough. I am -- perhaps unfairly -- annoyed by how satisfied the residents of Williamsburg are with themselves for living there. I used to know this great guy, born and raised in Williamsburg, a ballet dancer who was debatably the biggest hetero horn-dog in history, with a Brooklyn accent so thick it made you feel like you were in Saturday Night Fever when you talked to him. You don’t find that kind of guy in Williamsburg anymore, though.

What you do find, and what lured me out there last night, are book parties for hot, on-the-rise, about to break out like a teenager who hasn’t been using his Clearasil, authors, like my friend Victor LaValle.

I have the good fortune of knowing Victor through my best friend from college, who's a big-time novelist and member of the Literati herself. What can I say? I may not be changing the face of literature, but I know the people that are. Victor's new book, Big Machine, is coming out on August 11th and if you consider yourself a reader with any amount of taste, you’re going to want to read it. You don’t have to believe me, just listen to what the Wall Street Journal has to say.

Victor LaValle's Big Machine Draws Comparisons to Thomas Pynchon

It was a big enough occasion that David and I got a babysitter (ie: my cousin) and hit the BQE. That’s when we realized we don’t get out enough because at least four people exclaimed, “You made it!” upon seeing us, like we had to sneak out of Sing Sing or something. But a great time was had by all and the booze and empanadas made me think that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t too old and out-of-the-loop for Williamsburg. So, Grand Avenue, watch out. You may be seeing more of me and my kids, dressed in their most irreverent and ironic T-shirts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Something is living under my son’s bed and you’ll never guess what


“There is a vegetarian bud-lah living under my bed,” says Primo in the car, on our way home from chowing down pierogies at Veselka.

“A what?” I reply.

“A vegetarian budlah living under my bed,” he repeats.

“A vegetarian what?”

“Buuuuuud-lah”

“A bird lore?”

“BUDLAH!”

“Butt lure?”

“Budlah budlah, Mommy, a vegetarian budlah.”

“Is this a real word or one you made up?”

“It’s a real word! The person who brings you things!”


And then I realize what he’s been saying this whole time, pretty clearly, is “butler.”


“There is a vegetarian butler living under your bed?”

“Yes!” he says, relieved.

Then David and I laughed so hard it hurt. And Primo laughed too.

“That sounds FANTASTIC!” I said, “I’d love to have a vegetarian butler living under my bed.”

“You would?”

“Absolutely. Its just the thing we need in our new place.”


I'm not joking, either. So if you know a good non-meat-eating butler who works for free , , ,