Thursday, December 31, 2009

Supersize THIS

How did we make it through the fourteen hour road trip down South? What was our secret? Nothing so very mysterious.

In a word: McDonalds.

Trying to take a car ride over five hours without stopping at Mickey Ds is like attempting to cross the dessert without any water. A family needs McDonalds on the road. Its what it means to be American, for God’s sake. The kids really don’t eat much of it, except for some fries and if things get dire,which they frequently do, a milkshake. David and I like to blow into a MicDonald's, order us two Happy Meals, scarf down the burgers, throw the kids a few fries, do a rousing round of jumping jacks or high-speed Simon Says to get the bloo

d flowing, and then toss them their Happy Meal toys just as we're buckling them into their car seats for the next round of roadtripping.

While we’re on the subject, do you agree that Happy Meal toys have become insanely, unbelievably sophisticated? Right now, they are giving out these Avatar toys and the little action figures actually have voice-activated lights in their heads. So when you talk, they light up. I may be easy to please, but that shit is IMPRESSIVE. And its free! Yeah, I’m a sucker f

or a Happy Meal.

Second reason you can’t live without Mickey D’s on the road. You would have no place to stop. I mean, by the end of the trip, we tried. We tried NOT to stop at McDonalds. We figured we’d find somewhere else to use the bathroom and stretch our legs. So we passed up the golden arch which was located conveniently just off the interstate exit and we drove around for 15 minutes in vain looking for another hospitable indoor spot. We couldn’t even FIND the Burger King, it was so damn far from the exit.

Plus Subway and Arby’s don’t offer extensive indoor playspaces. After a four hour stretch of serious driving, pulling up to a McDonald’s and finding a funland inside is like stumbling into Xanadu. O rapture! The twisty slide! The ball pit! Supersize this:

And this:

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Odyssey to Tennessee Part Two Or what mind-alerting drug was I on when I suggested this motherf&*%^ing road trip

To pick up where I left off.

Flight to TN rescheduled for historic blizzard (which turned out to be pretty paltry actually).

Make-up flight cancelled because of feverish child.

That leaves us with: road trip.

David and I have driven to his family’s place in East Tennessee a zillion times before we had kids. Once we were down South and my agent called to say I had an audition the next morning so we just picked up right then, booked it back to NY and made it in time for my audition (was for a vacuum cleaner, I think, lest you think I was reading for something high-profile and exciting). David and I have driven across-country to California three times. We are NOT road trip novices.

But that was before the babies.

Now, we drive to my parents’ place in New Jersey and the two hours spent in the car are filled with such agida I can taste my own bile by the time we get out. The screaming! The pushing and hitting between the car seats! The whining! The demanding of snacks and toys and other items which are instantly dropped to the floorboard where the kids cannot reach them since they are both strapped into a five-point harness car seat and where I am forced to retrieve them, twisting my body around in contortions which I couldn’t even manage back when I was in actual Circus School, much less now, when I am a decrepit shell of a woman.

Here are some things you should know about the way our family rolls:

1. I get extremely car sick.

I had a stomach of steel previous to having children. One Valentine’s Day, my best friend Em and I stuffed my face with sushi, then dashed over to African dance class immediately after and I managed to keep all my food down. I wear that as a badge of intestinal pride. But having severe morning sickness both pregnancies somehow altered my physiological makeup and I now can not so much as glance at a word on a passing sign unless I want to get hit with a tsunami of nausea. Consequently:

2. I don’t read maps or signs or help navigate in any way at all.

This wouldn’t be a problem if we had GPS but we don’t because its just not the sort of thing I ever want to spend our hard-earned dollar on. Besides, David has a freaky sense of direction, super-keen and nearly always unfailing (except for that one time in Anza Borrego, CA, but that’s another story) He is a wunderkind really – can read the directions from the print-out on his lap, keep an eye out for exits while at the same time reaching his insanely long arms into the back seat to fish out Seconda’s sippy cup. He is literally a one-man driving machine.

3. We don’t have a DVD player in the car

This would, likely, solve all our problems. Yet I continue to maintain that the car is a WONDERFUL opportunity for family bonding. Playing 20 Questions and I Spy! Listening to perfectly delightful books-on-tape, like Heidi! Singing as an ensemble to Hey Jude! These are team-building activities. Of course, this only accounts for 5-10% of our time in the car and the rest of the time is taken up by the kids whining and fighting but hey, at least we’re all in it together.

Seeing as this was an extraordinarily long trip, I did bring the emergency portable DVD player which we bought when we took Primo to Italy a few years ago. It cost $90, has under 2 hours battery power, and virtually no control buttons so you can’t fast forward or rewind, but it works well in a pinch. I also packed pasta and sandwiches, tons of snacks, lollipops, licorice, Sweet Tarts, basically anything bribe-like I could get my hands on. Since Seconda had been fever-free all night and early morning, we decided it was all systems go. At 7:30am Monday morning we made tracks.

I want you to know I suggested spending the night at a city half-way along our route. Its what we did the two times we drove to North Carolina and it worked out really well. But David had been delayed two days already in starting his vacation and seeing his family and he didn’t want any more delays. So the plan was to make it to Gatlinburg is a single shot.

Here’s the good news:

The kids were stupendous. For perhaps the first time on this blog, I have to report they so far exceeded my expectations I actually felt a little guilty for doubting them. There was hardly any fighting or whining though quite a lot of contortions in service of picking up shit on he floorboard.

The bad news:

I was in a car with my two children for FOURTEEN HOURS.

We left NYC at 7:30 in the morning and rolled into my in-law’s place at 10:30 that night. And believe me when I say we didn’t do any sight-seeing along the way. With the exception of three 20 minute breaks for leg-stretching, gas refills and Happy Meal toys (more on that tomorrow), we put the pedal to the medal, baby. It was kind of excruciating. Whoever decided Virginia should be so big? I mean, no offense to VA but it took like SIX HOURS to get across it. Delaware, on the other hand, makes you feel like you’ve accomplished something. You really feel like you’re FLYING when you cross the whole state of Delaware in all of fifteen minutes.

The good/ bad news:

A mere three hours after exiting the car Monday night, I started to feel ill. Wake-you-up-and-drive-you-to-the-toilet kind of ill. Then I projectile vomited all those No-Longer-Happy Meals. So the bad news is I got a damn stomach virus as soon as the road trip was over. The good news is I got a damn stomach virus as soon as the road trip was over.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Getting home for the holidays, the hard way

Now that the obligation to spread Christmas joy and cheer is behind us, I feel its time to share with you the story of how we got home for the holidays.

The Odyssey to Tennessee Part One: Grounded

Being prudent, responsible folk, David and I secured our plane reservations for Christmas months ago. I even remembered to call the day before to score the bulkhead, which you’ll remember from my previous posts on the subject is something I feel passionately about. The way in which I packed our suitcase was nothing short of a work of art. I’d handed out gifts and envelopes to everyone on the list - all the teachers and teacher’s helpers, all the doormen and porters and supers. We were in a somewhat shocking state of preparedness for our flight Saturday afternoon.

And then the blizzard struck.

Its not that we didn’t know it was coming. We were just optimistic. But then, Saturday morning, we turned out the news and heard, “a historic snowstorm” . . . “10-20 inches in the city” . . . “canceling all flights” . . . “we’ve never seen anything like it!” Encouraging stuff.

Our flight was rescheduled for the next night at 8pm, which was great, because a lot of people didn’t even get rescheduled. Less than ideal, since traveling at night with my sleep-averse children is something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I know how that shit goes down because we’ve been there – oh! how we’ve been there. As I say though, we were just thanking our lucky stars we had seats on something airborne. We decided to make the most of it and headed over to our good friend’s apartment for a pre-blizzard bagel party. We bundled the kids and played in the snow. We filed six months worth of bills and paperwork. We had sex. By the following afternoon, we were in great spirits, and oh-so-ready to rumble.

Until I noticed that Seconda had a fever.

It wasn’t high – 100.3 – but she had the glassy eyes, the bright-red face and the miserable moaning that signifies this was just the beginning. Now, in the summertime, when everyone’s pretty healthy, a little lowgrade fever’s not such a crisis. But in late December, with a swine flu epidemic still in play, and my grandmother, who takes care of Sec, sick in bed with a strep throat -- it didn’t look promising. I’d taken Primo on the plane when he had 104 fever, at the end of our “vacation” to San Francisco, and that was one of the most anxiety-producing experiences yet.

David and I figured since we really didn’t know what this fever was going to turn into, it wasn’t a good idea to take her on the airplane. So I graciously offered to stay with Sec while he went ahead with Primo, and we’d just catch a flight later in the week and meet them down South. That was wildly naïve. No seats nohow to Knoxville – not direct, not connecting, nothing.

Sec fell asleep in the middle of these proceedings, and that was the dealbreaker. Although nearly all other 2.5 year olds on earth are still taking their proscribed afternoon nap, Sec hasn’t slept during daytime hours in months. Even when I locked her in her crib tent, and even when she’s in the car or in the stroller and even when I beg her and bribe her, she never sleeps til darkness falls. Kid was sick. We cancelled the flights.

And then, Eureka! Mommy has an idea.

“Why not drive?” I ask David.

Why not drive?


I’ll tell you why you shouldn’t drive to Tennessee in a single day with your two children under the age of five. In tomorrow’s post I will tell you about it, in detail, because we flipping DID IT.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My gift to you

Ho ho ho and meeeeerry christmas, everyone!!! I hope you get caught under the mistletoe with a special someone, if that's your speed, or that there's no mistletoe in sight if that would serve you better. I've got Santa-ing to do. But I will offer this quick recollection, as a present to ye faithful.

We were in the car a few days ago listening to this song from our favorite children's poetry collection (and just for total transparency, let me say I get NO incentive for doing so, the publishers of this gem doen't even know I exist, although, hey, it is Christmas so maybe someone could drop them a note and let me know I need a Flip camera . . . ) Anyway, the song is called "The Ghost of Jenny Jemima" and all of us are grooving to it. Then the song ends and Seconda waxes lyrical:

"Oh, I love that Jenny Vagina!!!!!"

Merry Chrismas folks.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Love letter

Primo has started writing words. For David and I, two writers, this is about the most thrilling development since he started talking. So he's been coming home from Kindergarten with these letters he composes during "Writers Workshop." At his school, they have this policy about not correcting the kids' spelling and just encouraging them to sound stuff out themselves, which will explain why the letter I am about to share with you has such . . . unconventional . . . spelling. You should know too that Primo is a huge fan of the letter Q, in lieu of the leter C. So, "qat" and "qar."It kind of makes it seem like he's speaking a language much more exotic that plain old English.

In point of fact, what makes the letter difficult to read is not so much the spelling but the lack of spaces between words. Youdontrealizehowimportantspacingisuntilitsmissing. But I don't mind. It worked for James Joyce.

So here is my letter, which he wrote all by himself:
And it reads:


I love you and I hope that we will (something something) Christmas.


My baby wrote me a letter. Its been making me smile all day. My baby wrote me a letter.

PS. Anyone who can decipher wha words lie between will ("wl") and Christmas ("Qaestmeas") gets a prize. Of course I'll have to rely on Primo as the judge since he's the only one who knows the real answer, but I'm sure he'll be fair. He's five after all.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Bedtime Brainstorm

Have I told you my new genius idea for getting a handle on bedtime?

Walkie Talkies.

Here’s the deal: Primo is having more than his usual share of bedtime fears which has resulted in him shouting, “MOMMY! ARE WITCHES REAL? WILL MY TONGUE FALL OUT? DO I HAVE A SPLINTER? CAN ALIENS EAT PEOPLE?” Each time there is a burning, terrifying question of this ilk, I am called into the room to deliver an answer, The answer is always “No” but I can’t just give him a blanket “No” to use in response to every question he’ll come up with in the next half hour. I tried.

It’s taxing, especially because every time I go in to address one of Primo’s fears, it affords Sec the opportunity to ask for something or remember that something is terribly wrong with her set-up. So I decided to minimize the number of curtain calls, I would get us a pair of high-quality refurbished walkie-talkies so that if Primo has a question, he can ask me that way. And I don’t have to get off the sofa. Because after 7pm, every single thing I do revolves around not getting off the sofa.

It has worked out decently so far. Except for this part.

Our apartment is so small that I don’t need the walkie talkie to hear my son talking. So when he pages me and asks, “IS THE END OF THE WORLD REAL?” I hear not just the walkie talkie but his regular voice asking the question in stereo sound. And I wonder why in lieu of walkie talkies, I didn’t think of just yelling “No” repeatedly through the wall. Guess I’m just too civilized.

Am I the first person in the history to have thought of this idea or are you in on the genius? Any other brilliant strategies I can use when the novelty of this wears out, in approximately 36 hours? Maybe Morse Code? Telepathy?

Monday, December 21, 2009

On the 12th Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me . . .

I used to be a gift-giving die-hard. I never shelled out a ton of cash but I devoted serious thought and creativity to choosing gifts, especially for my beaus. I have tracked down little wooden statuettes from Kauai, which relate to personal jokes from our honeymoon for David. I have scoured ebay to locate his beloved childhood toys. I took the time.

Guess what I don’t have, now that I’ve got two little kids? Time. But that’s not the whole story. The real reason I don’t undertake these epic quests for the perfect gift for David is that I’m too spent after undertaking that quest for our kids. Did I ever tell you how I once made a “Mommy Doll” out of socks, yarn, fabric scraps and such – all in one night – because Primo told me that was what he needed to stop crying hysterically at the drop-off movement class he had to go to with his school? I know that some of you are super crafty and patient and making a doll facsimile of yourself is no big thang, you’d do it just for shits and giggles. But making one Mommy Doll wipes me out.

So lately I have not been giving David many gifts for holidays and birthdays and anniversaries and such. At least not the conventional kind. Because I finally found out what he really wants.

Those of you who are minors or don’t want to hear about oral sex would do well to stop reading now.

A bottle of beer and a blowie.

Happy Birthday.

Happy Anniversary.

Happy Bastille Day.

Merry Christmas.

If you’re interested in trying this at home, you should know that the bottle of beer is optional.

I find we’re both really happy with this arrangement. Really, it’s the gift that keeps on giving in that it keeps your marriage alive despite the exhaustion, irritation and occasional bouts of loathing which pop up when you’ve been together a while.

This Christmas though, my greedy little husband had an idea. He was inspired by reading The Twelve Days of Christmas to the kids incessantly.

Yes, you guessed it.

“You know what would be a great present this year?” says he, “The Twelve Blowjobs of Christmas.”

Makes for a lousy song, I pointed out. Very repetitive.

“Plus, I’m not a sex worker,” I replied, “And that’s the only person who could give twelve blowies at a time.”

“One a day will work.”

Give ‘em an inch . . .

Friday, December 18, 2009

Holly Jolly Very Merry Shit to Do

Christmas is a week away and that means there is nonstop holiday shit to do. I’m not complaining. I love holiday shit, so much so that I don’t even mind when Walmart is playing Christmas carols in mid-November. I know it drives other people crazy. I know it’s a deplorable display of the very worst conspicuous consumerism to which the holiday has been reduced. But I don’t care. Hearing Dean Martin croon “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” makes me so damn merry I don’t know what to do.

Of course, I don’t need to think too hard about what to do with all my holly jolly very merry because, remember, there is nonstop holiday shit to do. I’m no Mommy Poppins, master calendar-izer, but I will tell you what we’ve done this December in the way of cheer:

Santaland at Macy’s

Please see yesterday’s post for more specific instructions. This year’s visit was a success since we sailed through the line and the children sat next to Santa all by themselves (does anyone ever sit on Santa’s lap anymore? Aren’t there laws against that?” This was a welcome development because I really hate being in the kiddie Santa pic. Don’t know why, since I have a high threshold of embarrassment, but cozying up to Santa for a snapshot really makes me feel like a major a-hole. I find the Macy’s Santas to be great, by the way, very soft-spoken, take their time, with no trace of alcohol on their breath. The kids were too bewildered, shocked and confused to tell Saint Nick what they wanted for Christmas (Primo: a mechanical bat (help??) and Sec: the ability to chew gum) but no big deal, because Santa just asked how they’d like it if he surprised them. We wanted to catch our favorite local puppet theater, Puppetworks, doing Miracle on 34th Street, on the same floor as Santaland but the timing didn’t work out. Heard it was great, though – made a grown man cry.

Charlie Brown Christmas at the Brooklyn Lyceum

Who doesn’t love Charlie Brown? Despite the fact that much of it flies over their head, both my kids watch the Great Pumpkin and the Christmas show religiously every year. It is thanks to Charlie Brown that Primo now calls his sister a blockhead. But this year, we took our Charlie Brown fan-ship to a new level but watching a live performance of it, accompanied by a jazz trio at the Brooklyn Lyceum. Maybe I’m just starved for theatrical nourishment, but both David and I thought it was frickin’ delightful, especially to the tune of $30 for four tickets. The actors replicated every vocal intonation and gesture of the cartoon characters, from Snoopy’s piano-side dance to the collective laugh at Charlie Brown when he picks out a pathetic tree. Almost avant-garde. Kind of reminded me of a Richard Maxwell play, House, I saw a million years ago. I’m not sure how it compares with Streetcar but thanks to BAM’s exorbitant ticket prices, I guess I’ll never know. .

The Colonial Nutcracker at Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts

At bedtime, we’ve been reading Primo E.T.A Hoffman’s The Nutcracker, which I’ve had for decades and never once cracked open. I never thought he’d make it more than a page or two because the language is really dense -- makes Lewis Carroll look like an Easy Reader. But he is mesmerized, mainly thanks to Godfather Drosselmeier. So we downloaded the suite onto his secondhand ipod shuffle and now he’s obsessed with the music, too. So we figured it was a good time to introduce him to the Nutcracker ballet. I opted for this one over the New York Theater version for one reason: the tickets costs $6, instead of $35. Was a good thing too because although Primo was raring to go, after the first half hour he was restless and by the end he was loudly asking, “WHEN is this going to be OVER?? I am TIRED of watching people DANCE.” But all in all, he did enjoy it although he was dreadfully disappointed by the fact that the Mouse Kind only had one head. Me too. I mean, when you’re expecting a seven-headed rodent, just the one head is a big letdown.

Sunday Mass at Saint Francis Xavier

I figured I should include this in the holiday preparations, although I wouldn’t say it was fun, necessarily. I mean, the mass part was fine. I love our church. But the getting there was kind of a Herculean trial. Primo is now scared of the Bible (can’t blame him really, that is some scary stuff) so he screamed and whined the whole way over, refused to go to the Children’s Liturgy of the Word even though I always go with him, and then he informed me (loudly) that the beautiful choir music was “very awful-sounding.” But it was a nice antidote to all the shopping madness that’s heating up to hear a message about sharing love and peace and joy with others.

So I’ll leave you with that. Peace! Joy!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Babies, the movie

What's cuter than a baby? Four babies! From four different parts of the world, doing more or less the same baby things, albeit in different ways. I'm talking about the new documentary Babies, and you can watch the clip here.

I like the goat just chillaxing at the end, trying to score some bathwater while the getting is good. But what I love is the babies attacking each other in the beginning, because it cracks me up that the cameraman is just sitting back and watching this rumble unfold. Reminds me of a home video my uncle took when I was about 10 and my sister was about 8. We were on the beach and I threw some sand at my sister's head. Big mistake. That child was 50 pounds soaking wet with rocks in her pockets but, man, could she get mean. She grabbed me by my ponytail and commenced to drag me around the beach thusly, while I screamed for help. Meanwhile you hear my uncle behind the camera laughing and going, "Hey, you guys, c'mon. (chuckle chuckle) cut it out."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Surviving Santaland

I feel I wasn't totally transparent in yesterday's post. I'm not just one of those parents who perpetuates the Santa myth. I am a Santa nut. Evidence of this is the fact that I go to Santaland at Macy's every year. Since I've had four Christmases under my belt, I've gotten the Santaland experience to an exact science and know how to get in and out --from front door of Macy's to paying for our picture -- in under an hour. I'm not going to TELL you of course. If I did, the forumla would be ruined because the tens of thousands of readers I have who always heed my sagacious advice would rush Santaland during this crowd-less window of oppurtunity. So it will just be my little secret. But hey, I'm no grinch. I'll offer some gems of wisdom in the form of telling you what NOT to do. Get ready folks -- its a cautionary tale. As seen in the Fall '07 issue of the Park Slope Reader . . .


By Nicole Caccavo Kear

I really, really love Christmas. But not all Christmases everywhere. I love Christmas in New York. Sad to say, yuletide festivities in all other places are destined to be sub-par. I know this for certain because since tying the knot, I’ve spent every other Christmas with my in-laws in Tennessee, and though they do a bang-up job which includes wild bear meat, red velvet cake and an evergreen dragged directly out of the backyard, how could they compete with the lighting extravaganza of Dyker Heights? The windows of Saks Fifth Avenue? The Rockefeller tree? But there is one respect in which my in-laws are lucky not to spend the holiday season in New York. No one in East Tennessee has to wait five hours to see Santa at Macy’s.

Neither do I of course. There’s no Santaland imperative. There is, in fact, a million reasons not to go, besides the ridiculous line—it represents the worst side of Christmas—the tacky, mass consumerism part. But I’ve been a Santaland junkie since I was two and my parents took me for my inaugural visit. I can’t disabuse myself of the notion that it’s the best, the Rolls Royce of mall Santas. Natalie Wood went there, I went there, and my kids will go to, no matter how much we all have to suffer in the process. Yes, when it comes to the Santaland habit, I’m a lost cause. But there may be hope for others out there, which is why I’ve fashioned a primer, a kind of Santaland for Dummies. Learn from my mistakes, ye faithful.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Santaland

  1. Don’t go.
  2. If you must go, make it after Christmas. Santa may not be there but neither will the crowds.
  3. If you must go before Christmas, take a sedative.
  4. Don’t be duped into optimism after getting to the front of the line for the special elevator that goes Express to Santaland! This just takes you to the real line.
  5. Don’t curse loudly when, upon seeing the line, you realize the enormity of your mistake.
  6. Don’t ask the elf to repeat herself three times when she tells you the wait is five hours.
  7. Don’t publicly berate your child when, after reaching the front of the line five hours later, he refuses to sit on Santa’s lap. Don’t yell, “Are you crazy? What’s the matter with you? Mommy’s been waiting ALL DAY!”
  8. Don’t make the rest of the line wait as you bribe, threaten, cajole, beg and order your child to “Get on Santa’s Lap Right Now!”
  9. Don’t put the picture of your child, bawling hysterically on Santa’s lap, on next year’s Christmas card.
  10. If all else fails, move to East Tennessee.

*As the blogger behind Seasonal Crap pointed out, yo'll find no respite from tacky, over-the-top mass consumerism in East Tennessee. So don't move to Pigeon Forge expecting that. What I meant was, you won't have to wait five hours to get it. The fruits of your commercialisic zeal will be delivered to you within minutes!!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Santa Situation

Multiple Choice Time

When you tell your kid that Santa is real, is it:

A lie?

The gift of magic?

Just pretend?

About a week ago, a mother posted to the ParkSlopeParents listserv with the subject heading, “Pretending Santa is Real?” and she asked, basically, if there was a way to allow your kids to believe in Santa without lying to them.

Parents today don’t like to lie to kids. Me included. I am a huge believer in straight-shooting when it comes to dealing with my kids. If we’re going to the doctor and my son asks me, in tears, “Am I going to have a shot?” I never say “No” if I know the answer is “Yes,” even though that would be easier. This may not sound like much to you but its notable because I am, in general, kind of a liar, I’m not pathological or anything. I just am not a terribly honest person, like my I-cannot-tell-a-lie-‘twas-I-who-cut-down-the-cherry-tree of a husband. What can I tell you? I learned to lie from my parents.

They didn’t deceive me about anything terribly important, but they did constantly put forth flimsy untruths for the sale of convenience. If they wanted me to try some food I didn’t like, they’d tell me it was something I did like. Here’s a piece of watermelon. Haha! It was a tomato! Gotcha. Whenever they didn’t want me to partake of something – whether it was a gumball machine, a sandbox or a kiddie ride – the thing would be “broken,” despite the fact that it would mysteriously work for other children. And stores never had my (very common) size in any of the brand-name shoes I coveted, though they always had an extensive selection in the knock-offs for half the price. So amidst all these little fictions, asserting that Santa was a man of flesh and blood was totally unobjectionable.

But modern parents, like myself, try at all costs to tell the truth. There are, of course, evasions. I won’t say “Yes you’re getting a shot, maybe a few, and it’s gonna hurt like hell, so brace yourself.” Instead I said, “I’m not sure.” But I try, even then, adhere closely to the spirit of truth.

Which brings us to Santa. For the past few months, my worrywart of a son has been asking David and I constantly if all manner of things -- some fantasy, some not, most scary – are real. Witches, zombies, ghosts, twisters, Jonah in the whale, people who kidnap children, man-eating lions, Martians. I try to answer as honestly as I can while assuaging his worry. (Martians: no. Witches: no. Ghosts: in a good way. Twisters: avoid the Midwest.)

So, considering his unflagging pursuit of truth, it seemed likely that Primo would pop the big Santa question this season. David and I wanted to be prepared.

“I don’t think I can tell him that Santa is real when he’s not,” I said.

“Who said Santa isn’t real?” David replied.

“Are you joking?” I said.

“No,” he continued, “I believe in Santa.”

I gave him a “cut the bullshit, the kids are asleep already” look.

“I do,” he said, “The idea of Santa is real for me, and that’s what I will tell him.”

Man, sometimes those dads really pull it out in the clutch. I thought that was a brilliant response. I DO believe in Santa, even though I know there’s no beneficent overweight long-haired stranger sliding down my non-exisitent chimney.

So I was prepared to tow the “Mommy believes in Santa,” line. But the amazing thing is, although he’s asked a dozen times a day if other fantastical things are real – manticores, fiends, two-headed monsters – he has not once inquired about the veracity of Santa. He’s no dummy. He just chooses to believe.

The people who replied to the ParkSlopeParents post had all sorts of interesting perspectives. The majority said they have no qualms about the Santa myth, because allowing them to have this magic in their lives when they’re young enough to really believe is a gift. A bunch of people said they were really devastated when they found out Santa wasn’t real, that they felt they’d been lied to by their parents so they now tell their kids the story of Santa but clarify that its not real, just a beautiful, magical story. A few people mentioned the difficulty of raising kids who don’t celebrate Christmas and thus know that Santa isn’t real but are treated like heathen killjoys if they leak the news to their Santa-believing friends. It was a really interesting discussion.

What about you? What have you told (or not told) your kids about Santa? Do you feel like it’s a lie, or a myth or just magical realism? And for parents of the older kids, when can I expect my son’s run of Santa faith to end?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wanna make a kid really, really happy?

Give the kid a nutcracker.

Not the decorative Christmas-kind of nutcracker, the kind on which the famous ballet with the Sugar Plum Fairies was based. Do not give them that kind because they will instantly break it and you’ll end up using Crazy Glue far too often and to little avail:

I mean a good, old-fashioned metal nut cracker. Like this:

Then buy a bag of mixed nuts, on special now for $2.99 at Shoprite.

Insane joy and revelry will ensue.

At bedtime, when we tried to wrest the nutcracker from Prmo’s compulsively cracking hands, he actually said, “I’ll just take the nutcracker with me and crack nuts in bed.”

My kid is a nut nut.

Friday, December 11, 2009

If I hear Free to Be You and Me one more time . . .

David and I are always on a quest for kid-friendly grown-up music that we can all listen to in the car without anyone of us going mental. If I have to listen to Free to Be You and Me one more time (and I LIKE that soundtrack, nay, even love it) there’s a good chance I will throw myself out the window (I’m not saying it would easy. I’m not as limber and lithe as I once was, but by tarnation, I’ll try). And if David tries to slip in some Drive-By Truckers, the collective shriek that will emanate from the backseat is likely to shatter the windshield. And if I suggest a compromise, say, a positively delightful reading of Heidi on CD – its like Calgon taking me away when I hear the reader’s lovely accent say “Peter” and describe the snowfall on the mountains and the creamy goat milk – well, the groaning and moaning is enough to make even the most optimistic parent get downright disgusted.

So David downloaded “Flood” by They Might Be Giants onto his iPod. Genius!

As we hoped, ”Istanbul” was a revelation to Primo. We listened to it about five times in a row. “Particle Man” was also a hit. In retrospect, we could have skipped “Burn the Playground Down.” It raised a lot of undesirable questions: “What’s this song about?” “Why does he want to burn the playground down?” “Could a person really do that?” But in general, a very good find.

The other music we discovered the kids LOVE and we just can’t get enough of? Bill Withers, guy who sings “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone.” You might not guess it, but Withers has a bunch of songs that are great for kids. There is one called “Grandma’s hands” about his grandmother. but what’s better than the song is his intro to it, in which he describes the church his grandma used to go to, where people would get so excited they’d jump into the fire that heated the church and accidentally hit themselves upside the head with drumsticks. Primo still jokes about that drumsticks.

Oh, and Ray Charles! There is no way kids can’t like Ray Charles. Especially “Hit the Road Jack.” Listening to your toddler croon, “What you SAAAAAY?” makes the pain of childbirth and the horror of the terrible twos all worth it.

And then there’s the Beatles. Kids have been listening to the Beatles since I was in labor. Abbey Road. With the Beatles. Sergeant Pepper’s. Rubber Soul. And always and everywhere, the White Album.

Ideas? Suggestions? What great grown-up music do your kids love?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Rainy Day Woman

Remember when I wrote a post, and later an essay for the PS Reader, about how me and the kiddos got caught in the rain and we were jubilant and giddy and full of love for each other and the world at large?

That was a summer rain. It’s easy to love a summer rain. Just like its easy to love a high-maintenance woman when she’s in her early twenties, has an hourglass figure and knows how to have a good time.

Early winter rain, on the other hand, is about as easy to love as a high-maintenance woman in her early thirties with two rowdy kids, distinct harpie-like qualities, a penchant for sweatpants and an inability to stay up past 9pm.

(I don’t know ANYONE like that, by the way: just speculating.)

((Do other people use their blog posts as intricate fishing strategies to secure compliments from their husbands: “Harpie? You? Never! And you’ve STILL got your hourglass figure, even in sweatpants, baby!”)

Point is: its raining today, like the dickens. And having just endured a sopping, slippery walk to Seconda’s school, I would like to assert something:


Prior to having two children, I never wore rain gear. I just wore my regular threads and carried an umbrella to keep dry, like a civilized person. But two years ago, after Sec was born, I realized that what with the double stroller, screaming toddler and screaming newborn, leaking breasts and leaking diapers, there was no chance of me retaining any connections to hip or cool at all. So why NOT enjoy the convenience of staying dry? I asked my mother-in-law for a pair of rain boots and a raincoat for Christmas. But as I wasn’t yet ready to surrender all aspirations to attractiveness, I opted for some very attractive rain boots – with a Dutch landscape on them – and a really sweet kelly green Boden rain coat.

Here’s the problem. Though they are attractive, they are no more effective at keeping rain off of me than regular clothes.

The boots spring a leak after three uses. That's statistical. I have repaired them twice and every time, after three uses, they are back to letting the water right on in. When we went to California and I wore these rain boots in the five-day-long torrential down pour which was our vacation I ended up wearing a rice cakes bag under my rainboots to keep my feet dry. Can you imagine how low a woman has to sink to empty a package of rain cakes and use the bag as a sock???? Today, though, I solved the leak situation in a much more classy way. I smacked a large piece on silver duct tape right on the side of the boot.

Just in case you are thinking this is a great idea – ooh, what a smart way to save money in these lean times, rather than get a pair of galoshes just cover your normal shoes in duct tape -- let me hasten to add that this not only looks HORRENDOUS, it is totally ineffective. Duct tape is not waterproof. I’m not sure why I thought it was. But its not. For the record.

Then there is my coat. Boden uses the term “Rain Coat” very liberally, it seems. I’m not sure what about the coat makes it appropriate for wet weather, since the material doesn’t appear to have any water resistant qualities to it whatsoever. It does, however, have a hood. A very stylish, floppy hood. If I were you, I’d avoid hoods of the floppy variety when you select rain gear because with the slightest breeze, such a hood is likely to just flop off your head, making it one hundred percent useless.

So, what had I learned from my attempts at stylishness where rain gear is concerned?


The kind people wear on that TV show Deadliest Catch.

It may not be attractive but neither is a super-hot pair of rainboots with silver duct tape on them, a drenched trench coat and running mascara.

And one more thing:

Is there a reason that we have sent men to the moon and can find parking spaces via twitter but we have not yet invented a way for a person pushing a stroller to also hold an umbrella???????
A disgrace, I tell you! Let us no longer stand idly by while research dollars are poured into the cutest prints to put on kiddie rainboots and umbrellas which fold up into 1 inch long packages!!! Let us band together and demand a solution to the stroller-pushing-can’t-hold-an-umbrella problem!!! Vive la revolution!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My first husband

Remember those big, high-backed pillows with arms that everyone had in the mid 90s? Husbands, they were called? They looked a little something like this:

This is not to be confused with the boyfriend pillow, which I was just introduced to, thanks to Google images. The boyfriend pillow is a much more literal, more creepy version of the husband model, with a life-sized arm (just one, mind you) and plush hand which you can wrap around you.

May not look like much just laying flat like that, but look at it in action:

Apparently, the ideal place to use your boyfriend pillow is on an armchair. Maybe the manufacturer thought photographing it in a bed was too risqué, might muddy the waters and stick the boyfriend pillow in the same category as the inflatable man or other kinds of overt sex toys.

I can’t vouch for the boyfriend pillow but the husband – oh, man, how I loved it! Perfect way to study while in bed during college. Then when your boyfriend would come over, you’d have to give your husband the boot because there simply wasn’t enough room for the both of them.

Back in college, of course, I didn’t know what it was like to have a real husband. Now I understand that no man could ever provide such a perfect blend of firm yet downy support. I know that no man could prop me up for so many hours without complaint. Of course no pillow can wake with the kids at 6am and feed them breakfast while I sleep in. Or put together Ikea furniture. Or drive the car with one hand while holding a paci in the baby’s mouth in the backseat with the other. So there’s that.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. As I type this, I am using a bona-fide blue husband to prop me up I’m at my parents place in New Jersey, the great storage center for everything anyone in my family ever owned. Because my parents never throw anything out, not only can I use a husband to blog, I can pull my hair back with a scrunchie, wear a Duran Duran shirt from the 1990 tour, and entertain my kids with a VHS copy of Babe.

Packrats. You’ve got to love them.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Winter Wonderland

Spent the weekend at my parents' place in New Jersey. And it snowed! How picturesque.

Primo and my father made a snowman, or, to be more exact, a snow-demon who had fallen down and sustained a serious blow to the head. Esoteric son and father I've got.

Then we listened to Dean Martin and Elvis Presley sing Christmas carols and trimmed my parents' tree. Or, I should say, Primo did it. He decked the halls like it was closing time.

And when we were done, it looked pretty lovely:

And Primo said, "I have a feeling it is going to be the best Christmas ever."

Monday, December 7, 2009

It's Time To Talk

Last Thursday I was thrilled to attend an amazing event on dating abuse and domestic violence, as part of Liz Claiborne's “Its Time To Talk Day.” I interviewed an incredibly diverse bunch of experts about teen dating abuse, domestic violence and cyber-bullying; a sort of crash course in subjects I knew very little about. After all, like most of you, I’m not a parent of a teenager (though Seconda has some distinct adolescent qualities).

In fact, now is the ideal time for parents like me to get educated about these issues.

Because to help protect kids from various kinds of abuse, you’ve got to talk to them early. As Dr.Jill Murray, psychotherapist in Southern California and author of three books on the subject, put it, “It is much easier to prevent this than to solve it”

So, what can you do to help prevent dating, digital and domestic abuse from happening to your kids? Here are the big-picture points, the things you’ll be working on for years, and can never start too early:

  • Talk about and model healthy relationships

Everyone I spoke to highlighted the importance of this, no one more persuasively than Ann Burke, whose 23 year-old daughter Lindsay Burke was murdered in 2005 by her jealous ex-boyfriend. Burke is an educator and a founding member of MADE, (Moms and Dads for Education) to Stop Teen Dating Abuse, and she says that you shouldn’t assume your kids know what a healthy relationship is, just because you have a happy family. Our kids get so many negative, confusing, misleading messages about what love is from the media that it's crucial for you to talk to them about what behavior is acceptable between two people that care about each other. Teens are especially susceptible to dating abuse because when they experience love for the first time, says Ann Shoket, editor-in-chief of Seventeen, it is so overwhelming, so new, so unchartered, it can be hard to know what behavior is OK and what's not. So you need to tell them just that – and you can start early by talking about this in terms of friendship, giving them guidance about what it means to be a good friend.

Talking is important but it won't be effective if you don't practice what you preach. If you're in a relationship that allows for physical intimidation, violence, or emotional abuse, children will grow to understand that that's acceptable, and all the preaching and urging to "do as I say and not as I do" will prove ineffective. Leslie Morgan Steiner, author of NY Times bestseller Crazy Love, a memoir of her abusive marriage, gave me a startling statistic: over 50% of people who admit to abusing their spouses admit to abusing their children, too. If you're in a relationship where you are suffering from physical or verbal abuse, chances are, your children are, too.

  • Help kids build self esteem

Kids who have a strong sense of self will be better protected against abusive relationships. But children aren’t born with esteem, says Murray, they get self esteem by doing something difficult and suceeding at it or by failing and figuring out how to succeed the next time. Helping kids build confidence is not the same as constantly affirming everything they do, she cautions – they’re not going to be self-assured because you tell them how much you love the way they blink. But you can celebrate their individuality, help them come to know who they are as a person, what they deserve, and that they can succeed at things even if they fail at first .

  • Keep lines of communication open so kids know they can come to you

Abuse thrives in secrecy, said Steiner: whatever it is -- domestic violence, sexual abuse, cyber-bullying – if the victim doesn’t talk about it, they become more isolated, more alone, more desperate. If they tell people about what’s going on, its really opening the door to stop it. Steiner said that part of why she was able to get out of the marriage which almost killed her was that on the night that she decided to leave, she told everyone. She needed every last person in her network to know about what was going on to help pull her out of what had become a living nightmare. Keeping lines of communication open with your kids is not as easy as it sounds, and it means that you have to suspend your emotionality when they tell you about things that make you livid and disappointed and sad, but its crucial.

Abuse doesn't have to be physical, either. Emotional abuse-- insults, humiliation, having every part of your life controlled -- can be just as devastating. We should remember too that our children are susceptible to a form of abuse we never had to grapple with, and that's digital abuse. Because so many forms of social media are so new, we don't yet have systems in place to protect users from abuse, and we are only now starting to understand the important of teaching kids online ethics.

Shoket says that 38% of girls polled in Seventeen say they wish they could escape social media. That's more than a third. And it makes sense, because abuse is so easy and seemingly without consequence on the computer screen. I spoke to Jason Rzepka, VP of Public Affairs at MTV, who just launched a big campaign against digital abuse called A Thin Line, and he explained that many teens who are participating in what we'd consider abusive language and behavior online, view what they're doing as no more than a joke. Part of what makes digital abuse so pervasive, he says, is that people are also emboldened to say and do things on a computer screen that they'd never do in person, because it just doesn't seem real. Of course, the effect on the people targeted is real, not only real but relentless, because today we have our phones and computers and iTouches with us 24/7, day and night, so that there is really no escape.

So what can you do about digital abuse? The first step is to teach children online ethics: that social media is not a game, but has real consequence for real people. Respect and kindness are as important online as they are in person. Hitting delete when you get a humiliating message or compromising photo of someone is as easy as hitting forward. We have to go over the basics, because if we don't, no one will.

The second thing you will want to consider is setting limits on technology use for kids. Murray says it is a really good idea to set up a system where phones and computers are handed over to parents or taken out of the bedroom when its time for sleep. Most digital abuse, she asys, happens between the hours of 12 and 5am, when you won't be aware of what's going on.

What it boils down to is its a big, bad world out there. But you're not defenseless against it. And if you have children that are still young, and still open to hearing what you have to say, you're in a tremendously exciting position to prepare them for the challenges they might face. Talk to them. Teach them about respect and kindness and ethics; show them what a healthy, loving relationship looks like. And if you run out of wise words you can tell them that I spoke to Tim Gunn --yes, the "Make it work" superstar of Project Runway fame -- and he said:

"Respect yourself, respect those around you and be a good citizen of the world."

For more information, you can visit Love Is Not Abuse, MADE, A Thin Line, Dr. Murray's website.

*I received a $50 Juicy Couture gift card in conjunction with participating in Liz Claiborne’s “It’s Time To Talk” day.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Who knew this was an S & M hair salon?

In honor of my birthday last week I decided to dedicate a little time to beauty. Nothing crazy, just what I’d call light grooming -- a mani/pedi and half a head of highlights.

When you’ve had two kids and have forfeited the joys of heavy drinking, smoking, drug use and casual sex, well, there’s not to many ways to get your kicks anymore. The occasional piece of chocolate cake or double espresso, maybe a Claritin D once in a while – and every so often, getting your hair washed at the salon. There’s nothing like getting your hair washed in a special sink devised to insure your comfort. Luxury! Relaxation! I, for one, think its absolutely sublime to have someone wash my hair, and that’s what I remind my kids of this whenever I’m shampooing them and they’re whining and crying and batting my hand away.

But on this particular occasion at the salon, I was in for a little surprise because I was assigned to a Rose, the Rough Hair-Handler. Rose greeted me at the front desk and introduced herself as colorist’s assistant (now is the part in the story where you find out that I get my hair done at a fancy salon that I can not afford, where everyone employed has an assistant. Even the coat check girl has an assistant and if that isn’t a one-person job, I don’t know what it.) As colorist’s assistant, Rose is expected to do things like fetch the clients green tea and magazines, hand the colorist foils, and set the timer which keeps track of how long the peroxide has been in my hair. But the most important responsibility, by far, is the washing of the processed hair.

By the looks of her, Rose would be a gentle and careful hair-washer, the kind that gave you an extra-long cranial massage and made absolutely sure the water temperature was just right. She had long, wavy brown hair, a round face and freckles – in other words, the kind of sweet, homespun girl who belonged on a prairie somewhere, not in the rat race.

Oh, but how misled I was. Because the hair-washing Rose gave me was as close to S and M as I’ve yet to get. First the scalding, steaming water on the scalp. And I don’t like to make trouble, see, so I tried to withstand the heat but finally I had to ask, meekly, if she couldn’t make it a little colder. Then I was treated to an ice-bath, and after that I didn’t dare complain.

But the water temperature was the least of it. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear it was the Yeti washing my hair. The girl had hands like a lumberjack. She yanking my hair and flung strands of it to and fro, rubbing and scrubbing like she was a crazy evangelical and I was a sinner she had to purify. Then she doused my entire upper face with the nozzle of water. Thankfully, she kept the water above my nose or I could have made a case it was

borderline water torture.

And that was BEFORE the mandated fancy-salon cranial massage.

When I sat up, my mascara was running, and my neck, shoulders and ears were absolutely coated in conditioner.

“Oooooh the color looks great!” she exclaimed with a smile as sweet as anything,” Do you want a blow out?”

“NO!” I cried.

God knows what the girl could do with a blow drier.