Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Metaphors of Four Year-Olds (OK, so they're actually similes but it didn't sound as good)

So I just found this Father’s Day card that Primo made for David last weekend. He made him a lovely, labor-intensive cray-pas card that had written inside of it “Dear Daddy: I love it when you make up pretend stories. Love, Primo” and this card went along with a clay mask he molded of his face in art class (one of the perks of Montessori is that you get reeeeeally nice craft presents on holidays). But this other card I found today was like a secondary, back-up card, that he quickly jotted off with his speech therapist one day.

As you see, the card consists of a Xeroxed clip art picture of an armchair, complete with bag of “Tater Chips” and a large remote conPost Optionstrol. Attached to the bottom of the armchair is a long piece of paper with fill-in-the-blank sentences for which the child is supposed to supply the answer. They are all dad-related similes. Here is how my son’s card reads:

He’s as handsome as a prince.
He’s as smart as an owl.
He’s as tall as a Frankenstein.
He’s as funny as a little bunny FooFoo.
He’s as happy as a clown.
He’s as strong as a bull.
He’s as hungry as a monster.
He’s as nice as a doorman.

We don’t even have a doorman, folks, But that’s how much of a city kid Primo is. Nice as a doorman. It’s what every father aspires to.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

We Stoop to Sell (and Conquer)!

Our stoop sale on Saturday, which coincided with the street's block party, was a total, balls-out Stoopapoolooza. Bubbles, sidewalk chalk, kids on bikes and trikes and scooters and skateboards. Selling lemonade. Selling my mother's accounting textbooks from 1971. Playing beach ball on the asphalt. There is no more simple an equation for joy as closing a street to traffic and letting the kids loose. As my son said over and over again, "This was the bestest block party ever!"

See for yourself.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Unique New York

These pictures are brought to you courtesy of Pixmaster King, AMAM's resident dad photoblogger. He's got an eye, I tell you. I should know, he was my high school boyfriend.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wierd sisters, wacky accents, and a poem so good its like nitrius oxide

It’s Poetry Thursday and I offer to you another selection from my favorite anthology, Poetry Speaks to Children. This one is beloved by both my kids, but especially by Seconda who holds it so dear that she has ripped the page that features this poem to shreds.

Every time she opens the book to this, her favorite page, taped back together is four different places, she does the same routine. First she shrieks, “Oooooh Isabel!! It’s my FAVORITE!” Then she makes her faux-sad face and says, “I hope I didn’t rip it!” Like someone’s been slipping her, too, AmbienCR on the sly and she’s performing strange acts of destruction at night that she has no knowledge or memory of. My daughter is what Shakespeare liked to refer to as a “weird sister.”

So here is Odgen Nash’s “Adventures of Isabel.” It is almost a crime to post this without a recording of Nash reading it because he has got, hands-down, the best poetry reading voice in the history of mankind. He was raised in Rye, NY and Savannah, GA and I can’t tell where the hell his accent is from, kind of a Louisiana/ Boston blend with a pinch of wacky thrown in. But with his accent the title sounds like “The Ahhhd-vaaan-tures of Isabaaaal.” It is so friggin’ delightful to hear him describe how she met an enormous “bea-yare” – seriously, its like taking nitrous oxide. But here’s the text to start. Read it to your kid. I think besides being funny it’s got a healthy dose of grrrrrl power.

Adventures of Isabel
By Ogden Nash

Isabel met an enormous bear,
Isabel, Isabel, didn't care;
The bear was hungry, the bear was ravenous,
The bear's big mouth was cruel and cavernous.
The bear said, Isabel, glad to meet you,
How do, Isabel, now I'll eat you!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry.
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She washed her hands and she straightened her hair up,
Then Isabel quietly ate the bear up.
Once in a night as black as pitch
Isabel met a wicked old witch.
the witch's face was cross and wrinkled,
The witch's gums with teeth were sprinkled.
Ho, ho, Isabel! the old witch crowed,
I'll turn you into an ugly toad!
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry,
She showed no rage and she showed no rancor,
But she turned the witch into milk and drank her.
Isabel met a hideous giant,
Isabel continued self reliant.
The giant was hairy, the giant was horrid,
He had one eye in the middle of his forhead.
Good morning, Isabel, the giant said,
I'll grind your bones to make my bread.
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She nibled the zwieback that she always fed off,
And when it was gone, she cut the giant's head off.
Isabel met a troublesome doctor,
He punched and he poked till he really shocked her.
The doctor's talk was of coughs and chills
And the doctor's satchel bulged with pills.
The doctor said unto Isabel,
Swallow this, it will make you well.
Isabel, Isabel, didn't worry,
Isabel didn't scream or scurry.
She took those pills from the pill concocter,
And Isabel calmly cured the doctor

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Demon Children Redux: or how to achieve peace, love and understanding

So if you read my post about demon children you will know that toddler music class is a fraught time for me. I’m not going to say that it is totally unenjoyable – there are sporadic moments of delight and humor – but it is by no means a walk in the park. Seconda is not what you’d call a joiner.

Let me amend that. Her brother -- who spent a full year of Montessori drawing at a nearby table while the class conducted circle time -- is not a joiner. Seconda loves joining, but on her own terms. She’s just a nonconformist. So she’s totally up for circle time, but neither hell nor high water will make her sit. Instead she runs around the perimeter of the circle, shrieking suggestions at the teacher and lightly touching children on the head, like there’s a big game of duck duck goose in session but she’s the only one playing.

Our current class is more dance-oriented than the last and there is a part where all the adults and kids run over to one wall and bang a rhythm on it with our hands, our feet, our heads. Then, at the teacher’s command, everyone runs over to the other wall en masse and repeats the sequence there. What makes this game a game at all, as opposed to just banging on a wall, (which incidentally I can do for free at home) is the uniformity of it. But my daughter, who literally goes against the grain, refuses to be a part of our collective movement. Instead, while everyone’s banging on one wall, she’s banging on the opposite one, and when the teacher yells “Other wall!” she speeds full force into the oncoming throng, with her head thrown back in laughter. And she stands alone on the wall we’ve just abandoned, banging her little heart out.

Despite the fact that is it inconvenient and somewhat embarrassing, I actually love the fact that Seconda marches to the beat of her own drum and to be quite honest, I consider it an indication of her budding genius. The problem is, no one else in the class does. I can tell the other moms have pegged her as a “problem” kid. And it’s not just that she grabs the parachute out of the teacher’s hiding spot before the appointed time, but the fact that she also tends to get a little -- how should I put this? -- physical with the other kids.

I wouldn’t call her behavior “aggressive,” per se. It’s not hostile or anything. She just likes to make an impact on the world around her and often the easiest way to do this is through physical contact – say, by swatting a child on the arm or bear-hugging them so they topple over, or very vigorously caressing their hair. She’s a bit of a wild card. But I’m on top of it. I am SO on top it, in fact that my soundtrack could be the Police song, “Every Breath You Take,” because every move she makes, I am WATCHING her, all right.

So, we were at our last toddler dance class last week and we got through nearly the whole class without incident which was almost too good to be true. Sure, Seconda didn’t follow any of my instructions (Don’t touch the egg shakers! Put that boy’s sippy cup down! Don’t you want to sit down with everyone else! This wall, Sec, THIS WALL!) but still, there were no attacks.

And then, when everyone else is compliantly singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and making the corresponding gestures, my daughter walks over to another little girl, just about her age. First she caresses the girl’s hair in an “Awww, cute” sort of way. Then, with no warning whatsoever, she gently places her hands on either side of the girl’s collarbone. She’s not squeezing, or applying any pressure at all, she doesn’t look mad or mischievous, in fact the two of them are just regarding each other calmly, like “Everything’s cool, we’re just getting to know each other over here,” -- but still, she has her hands around the kid’s NECK.

While mentally tallying up how many parents are going to go straight home and call Social Services, I take action. I quickly move Seconda’s hands and say, in a relaxed tone, “We don’t touch our friends’ necks, honey. You could hurt her.”

Of course, as soon as I advise her not to pursue a course of action, you can bet your bottom dollar that she will continue at all costs. So her hands slide back up to the girl’s neck. And then, while I am reaching to grab her away, I hear a voice in the crowd say, “That’s kind of scary.”

Dear readers, I am a peaceable person in general, and not prone to fits of violence. But I nearly pivoted on me heel and went ape-shit on those mofos. I wanted to find the snide woman who the voice belonged to and school her, Brooklyn-style: “Scary, huh? I’ll show you scary, you chickenshit sanctimommy be-yatch!”

I mean, don’t get me wrong, she was right, it was cuckoo for coco puffs and I certainly could have made that observation. Any of my friends or family, proven supporters of my babycakes, could have made the observation, and we’d have had a hearty chuckle. But these ladies aren’t my friends no way no how. I’ve been going to dance class for five weeks and no one’s said a word to me, during or after class, which could be counted as even nearing amiable. In that context, calling my kid “scary” is just fucking rude, the kind of rude that I simply cannot abide.

But since I don’t feel like spending my kids’ formative years in the clink, and because it’s just not great modeling to use the word "co*ksu#ker" in front of your children, I did abide it. Anger management, folks, at its best.

However, one of the many uses of the blog is to air the thoughts you can’t quite voice in the real world. So now I'll say what I would have liked to say to SnideMom at dance class. Imagine me, standing beside my two year-old in cheerful strangulation pose with another consenting two year-old, facing a mob of sanctimommies, delivering this monologue:

“Is it too much to ask that you have a heart? I mean, aren’t we all in this together? Doesn’t it take a village? Am I to believe that your little ones are so perfect that you don’t need to be spared the judgment yourself? Don’t TELL me this one never tried to strangle someone in a Mommy and Me class.[At this point, I point to a tiny little pipsqueak with hair in perfect pigtails, sporting a spotless red gingham sundress]. All I’m asking is that you give a girl a break. Give both us girls a break. And I’ll return the favor. And what will follow will be nothing less than peace love and understanding.”

First everyone will applaud. Then SnideMom will apologize and confess that she’s really just jealous of Seconda’s nonconformist leanings since it’s clearly a sign of super-high IQ. Then we’ll all hug and end the class with "Kumbaya" in harmony. While Seconda runs in circles and shouts the lyrics to “Bungalow Bill.”

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

All the King's Horses

Have I ever mentioned that my daughter loves Humpty Dumpty? She’s particularly fond of the climactic moment where the innocent if reckless egg shatters into a million pieces. Irrevocably. That’s the kind of girl she is. I’ve talked about her schadenfreude before here, and frankly, I don’t mind it. I think it’s kind of cool she’s brave enough to face the harsh realities of existence. What I do mind is when she brings the nursery rhyme to life in my kitchen.

These things always happen in the morning. That’s because my daughter is clever and she knows that first thing in the morning is the best time to undertake her shenanigans because I am half-dead with exhaustion since I’ve usually been up with her two or three times a night. Peculiarly, these same night-wakings have no sedating effect on her.

So yesterday, I’m taking the first few sips of my coffee (trying to drink as much as possible before she dunks a crayon or chunk of Play doh in it) and I’m flipping through the Tivo to put a Miss Spider episode on for Primo, so I can have the time to make breakfast, when I hear a strange, ill-boding sound come from the kitchen. Hard to describe the sound – kind of a squishy yet crackly plop! followed by Seconda announcing, “Uh oh. I made a big mess.”

“What did you do?” I ask, still flipping through the Tivo. She’s my second-born after all, and if I dropped everything whenever she caused a weird noise in the other room, well, I’d never get anything done.

“Humpty Dumpty broke is a MILLION pieces!” she explains.

I walk in the kitchen and of course, there on the floor is a 12-pack carton of eggs smashed to varying degrees, and oozing out their yolky gooey mess.

“All the king’s horses and all the king’s men—“ Sec starts.

“Yeah, I know, they can’t put him together again. And neither can we,” I inform her, getting down to her eye level like Super Nanny advises, “Sec, look, you can’t touch the eggs. Not for kids. You get it? Do. Not. Touch. Eggs.”

The fact that this has happened two more times will indicate to you how effective my parenting is.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Father's Day

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This Father’s Day I didn’t fret about what to get my husband. I didn’t make him a photo book on Snapfish or have Primo paint him a piece of pottery. I didn’t unearth the phone number for this tiny store in Kauai that we stumbled upon during our honeymoon and make arrangements with the manager to send a tiny figurine that ended up having special meaning for us, in time for the big day. I didn’t make him his favorite German chocolate cake. All those gifts were thoughtful, if I do say so myself, and well-received, but they weren’t what he really wanted.

For Father’s Day my husband only wants one thing. From me, at least.

I bet you can guess what it is.

(If you’re averse to TMI or related to me you may want to stop reading now)

I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a palindrome but it starts with a B and ends with a B. It’s free. Requires no shipping, only handling.

It’s what my husband wants for every holiday, in fact – his birthday, our anniversary. Christmas. Its not like these occasions are the only times he’s the beneficiary of such pleasure, but it’s not the sort of thing you can ever get enough of, I guess. Its like as a kid you probably got spaghetti and meatballs pretty regularly but that didn’t preclude it from becoming your favorite food and being what you requested when it was your turn to choose. If I’d realized sooner that sex acts were not only a perfectly good present for my spouse but actually the perfect present, the non-pareil, the piece de resistence, I could have saved quite a bit of cash by now.

But that’s what marriage is -- learning how to communicate, Men-are-from-Mars-Women-are-from-Venus style.

“Why don’t you like the Starry Night tie I special-ordered for you?”

“Because I wanted a BJ.”




Friday, June 19, 2009

Photo Friday

Here are some lovely pictures of our dear Brooklyn, taken by ex-pat Nic King, who's now slumming it in San Francisco. Well, we can't all stay in the Big Apple forever.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Man on Wire

I saw the most amazing movie last night: Man on Wire. Its not some esoteric, off-the-beaten-path pick -- it won the Oscar last year for Best Documentary. But me and the old hub finally got a chance to view it last night. Holy shit does it haunt me, in the very best sense. Watch this trailer and I bet you money you will be clicking "Watch Instantly" on Netflix tonight.

It’s about this Frenchman, Phillipe Petit, whose life’s dream was to walk on a tightrope between the Twin Towers. While waiting in the dentist’s office as a child, he read in a magazine that these great towers were going to be built and he knew that they were being built for him, so that he could walk in the clouds between them. While he waited years and years for them to be built, he undertook other high-wire feats, like walking between the towers of Notre Dame and above the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. But through it all, he was thinking about those towers and living for the day that they’d be finished. He was obsessed – you kind of have to be, if you’re going to pull something like this off.

Now, of course, he couldn’t just waltz right in to the World Trade Center with his cable coiled over his shoulder and set up shop for his death-defying trick. This kind of shenanigan is totally illegal. So he went guerrilla. He and his team conned their way into the towers with fake IDs and disguises, hiding under tarps, and then, in the middle of the night they worked like mad trying to rig everything up.

The whole thing is so fucking insane you can’t believe it. And you think he’ll never – there is no way – he couldn’t possibly pull it off. But – spoiler alert – he does.

He steps off the the roof onto a wire and he walks straight through the clouds to the other side. Eight times. And he doesn’t just walk, he kneels, and even – it will give you goose bumps –lays flat on his back, right there, in the air, one hundred and ten stories up, so high that the people on the street can hardly even make him out.

I can not stop thinking about it.

I think what it comes down to is, that’s exactly how I want to remember the Twin Towers. Beacons of hope. The impossible made real, for all of us.

The funniest part is that after he’s done it, all the Americans want to know, “why?” and he, French to the core, just laughs it off. It is an outrageous question. Why did Van Gogh paint Starry Night? Why did Joyce write Ulysses? Why did we build those towers? It’s the kind of moment where I think, “If you have to ask, you’ll never know.”

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Centipede: friend or foe?

I begin today the following question:

Are centipedes poisonous?

Primo and Seconda were sitting out in front of my parent’s New Jersey house, digging in the dirt and catching bugs. The dirt is about the only thing that my parent’s “country” place has going for it and we like the kids to avail themselves of it when they can. Stuck in the middle of central New Jersey, nowhere near a beach or river or lake, all there really is to do is loll around in the grass and catch creepy crawlers. So Primo and Seconda were blissfully doing that, letting centipedes wriggle around in their palms, and I was recounting this to my mother on the phone since it struck me as one of those very peaceful, lovely moments of a child enjoying simple pleasures, the kind of moment that should warm a grandmother’s heart. Instead she shouted

“What’s the matter with you? Don’t you know centipedes are POISONOUS!!”

“I find that hard to believe,” I retorted, with no basis for argument whatsoever besides good common sense and a compulsion to disagree with my mother.

“No, no, that’s not true,” I repeated.

My mother’s counter-move was, as it always is, putting my father on the phone.

“What do you know about it?” he shouted, “I’m a doctor!!! Do you know how many people I’ve seen in the ER with centipede bites!!”

Now I knew he was shitting me. My dad is a cardiologist and the vast majority of his patients are over 60, not the most likely victim of a poisonous centipede bite. Plus, I don’t think he’s ever administered care in the ER.

“You are maniacs!” I shouted, “CENTIPIEDS ARE NOT POISONOUS!”

I hung up, ran inside, and googled “poisonous centipedes” And guess what readers?

Centipedes are totally fucking poisonous.

Just look at what the Texas Agricultural Extension Service of A and M have to say about them (and who knows better than they, being in Texas and being agro-experts): “Like all centipedes Scolopendra can inflict a painful bite with a pair of poison jaw […] Each walking leg is tipped with a sharp claw capable of making tiny cuts in human skin. A poison may be dropped into the wounds resulting in an inflamed and irritated condition. The best rule of thumb is NEVER HANDLE CENTIPEDES.”

I did not add the capitalization. The Texas Agro people put it in there themselves. Which is to say they feel very strongly about it.


That leads me to my next question:

Are the wriggly, many-legged creatures my kids play with even centipedes?

I mean, the website describes centipedes as “fast and ferocious predators” and a snail could beat the suckers my son was playing with to the finish line. Unfortunately, since I am not technologically savvy, it did not occur to me to take a picture of the creature at hand, so there is now no way to settle the matter. I will say this: Primo ran inside a minute later, exclaiming, “Seconda squashed the centipede and then I smushed him and all this green liquid came out! Which is lucky because green is my favorite color!

Poisonous or not, green liquid is nothing to mess with.

“Go wash your hands right now!” I ordered.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Thug life

For a reason unknown to us, my son has taken to only wearing one sock at a time. He’ll start off with two, like a normal person, and then somehow, while he’s drawing, or playing with Legos or bug-hunting outside, one will go missing.

“Why are you only wearing one sock?” David and I will ask. He doesn’t know why, he just prefers it that way. It is very mysterious.

The other day, David came home from work to find Primo watching TV with one foot snugly fit into a purple and gray striped sock one foot bare, dangling off the couch.

He turned to me and said, “Should we be worried? Is this a gang thing?’

And that's why I
A. love my husband and
B. posted this photo of Primo in Dumbo, which bears the file name "Thug Life."

Monday, June 15, 2009

Dunker Daughter

My daughter is a dunker. By which I mean she enjoys submerging solids into liquids. As you can imagine, this isn’t terribly convenient for me. It’s not like we live in Topeka where my daughter can drop rocks into buckets of fresh rainwater in the prairie outside our home. It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to imagine what kinds of containers full of liquid are available for dunking in our apartment.

I’ll give you a hint. I thank God for toilet bowl locks.

But despite the fact that we’ve bolted the toilet lid down, and visitors to our home can never figure out how to take a pee without my tutorial, Seconda still finds plenty of non-sanctioned ways to dunk. And before you suggest that I fill the sink up with water and let her go to town, let me add that I do offer my child plenty of opportunities for water play. I am a Montessori mother and I know the virtue of these unstructured, self-directed

sensory journeys. She just prefers dunking if it’s combined with mischief.

Which leads me to my current conundrum.

In the morning I drink coffee. This isn’t just my morning beverage, it is the only thing tying me to sanity. I need that morning coffee. I need it so immediately that David sets up my coffee maker every night before he goes to bed so that in the morning all I have to do is press a button and it starts dripping the steaming, delicious goodness. So when the children wake me at 6am with their invariably unreasonable demands (“We need to make a pop-up book about the solar system right now!” “I want chocolate for breakfast!” “You can’t change my diaper! I want to wipe my OWN POOPY BUTT!”) I can cope, because I have coffee to drink. Lately though, a peculiar thing has been happening. I’ll make my coffee, mix in milk and sugar in the perfect proportions, take a few sips and then leave it in the coffee table while I go attend to one of the many unreasonable demands on the agenda. When I come back a minute or two later and take a sip of my warm coffee, I find that along with my coffee I am drinking a plastic figurine of Glenda, the good witch of the North. Or maybe a harmonica. Or maybe a post-it with the phone number of the expert I am supposed to call in a few hours to interview for an article I’m working on.

If I place the coffee of a higher surface I know for sure she will climb whatever she has to, to reach it and it would probably result in not only coffee contamination but coffee spillage, just about the worst fate to befall a mother at 6:07AM. Or maybe I should buy one of those state-of-the-art thermoses with the sealed top that you’d have to be a secret agent baby to open. Possible solutions, readers? I am open to suggestion.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Graduation Day

Off I go to Primo's preschool graduation, where I will, no doubt, cry like a baby. I am a big crier. That is why my daughter, age 2, commonly uses the expression "cry for joy" in conversation.

David: "Why is Mommy crying?"

Seconda: "She reading the Giving Tree book. She ky-ing for JOY!"

But on this monumental occasion, let's take a little trip back in time and recall my son's first day at nursery school, almost three long years ago. I have just the thing to take us there -- "Preschool Jitters," published in the Park Slope Reader, Spring 2008.


By Nicole Caccavo Kear

It’s 8am on a Monday morning and I have changed my outfit three times.

“Is this too flashy?” I ask Primo.

“Nope!” he responds.

I am skeptical: “You sure?”

‘Elmo!” he responds.

Not helpful. Then I remind myself that although he’s unquestionably a fashion prodigy, he is only two years old.

I stuff a manila envelope full of paperwork, strap Primo into the stroller and rush out of the front door, stopping briefly to apply lipstick.

“It’s late,” I mutter, “Great first impression.”

Am I headed to an interview for a big-wig job? To sign the contract on a high-rise condo?

I am on my way to the first day of school. Not mine, of course; Primo’s nursery school. My son, blithely unaware of what awaits him, is calm, composed, unfazed by my jitters.

What if no one talks to us? What if everyone’s already made friends? What if the other parents misinterpret my carefully-designed hip mama look as plain trashy? What if my son assaults another student or refuses to relinquish the Play-doh at clean-up time?

When we’re a block away, I ask Primo, “Are you ready for your first day of school?” and, all of a sudden, I’m hit with a wave of empty nest syndrome which makes me start to cry. So I flip open my cell and speed-dial “Hubby.”

“Our baby is all grown up,” I moan, “We just brought him home from the hospital and now he’s going to his first day of school!”

“It’s only for two hours,” my husband replies. He delivered the same pep talk to me last night.

“But it’s the first in a lifetime of first days of school.” I persist, “And what if he’s not popular?”

I hang up on my husband and decide its time to pull myself together, since having a manic mother does not increase the likelihood of ending up in the popular crowd.

Neither does posing for a photo shoot in front of the school building, but that doesn’t stop me from pulling Primo out of the stroller and arranging him in various collegiate positions on the front steps while I snap away like the paparazzi. When I’m sure I’ve got a shot that can be blown up to 8 x 10, I take my son’s hand to steady myself and enter the building.

The school we chose is perhaps the most feel-good place on earth. Everything is clean, well-organized and drenched in sunlight – from the trunk of dress-up clothes to the reading nook to the tank where Mama Hermit Crab and her snail friends live. It is such a cheerful, inviting place that it leaves me wondering what the catch is.

His new teacher, Carole, is standing in the classroom door to greet us: “Welcome to our classroom, Primo,” she says, “Would you like to see your cubby?”

I am flooded with a delicious warm feeling. If Sesame Street was a real place, this would be it, with Carole in charge of kicking all clouds away to insure a lifetime of sunny days for all.

We walk together to a wooden cubby where some dear soul has Velcro-ed a sign with “Primo” written in even block letters. It is perfect and I brush away a tear.

“Let’s hang up your sweater,” Carole suggests, “and then you can explore the classroom. There are so many fun things that you may be interested in.”

Who could resist this enchanting calmness? My son takes the teacher’s hand and walks over to the snack table where she sings him an impromptu ditty about Cheerios.

I perch on a miniature chair along the wall and watch with satisfaction as Primo sits at the table like a civilized gentleman and drinks his water as politely as you please. I let the warm sensation wash over me. It’s like the relaxed feeling I used to get after drinking a glass of wine. I am buzzed on nursery school.

Two hours later, Carole invites the children to the rug, making sure to mention that it’s OK if they opt to continue their independent work. Then it’s time to sing the good-bye song.

“Time to go already?” I think.

On the way home, I give my husband an enthusiastic report. No battery and assault, no tantrums, no worrisome asocial behavior. Carole noted that Primo showed interest in many different kinds of activities, and she said it approvingly, as if cementing his potential as a real Renaissance Man. I, for one, pulled my weight, chatting with the other moms and communicating that I was hip but down-to-earth, progressive but not radical, a nice middle-ground mother. All in all, a resounding success. I may even be able to leave next time.

The first day is behind us and forward we ride, into a future of algebra and trigonometry and calculus, science projects and summer reading. Pop quizzes, ERBs, SATs. Not to mention in crowds and packed lunch and school dances. It’s excruciating -- so sweet, so terrifying -- to think of how we’ve only just begun. And the thought of this brings a lump to my throat again and makes me wonder how I’ll ever make it through.

So I turn my attention to my son: “Did you have fun at school?”

“Cheerios!” he laughs delightedly.

“I love our little talks.” I tell him.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Battle of Brooklyn

My son had good playground karma yesterday, and that’s not easy to come by. The afternoon romp got off to a great start when he ran into his favorite brother pair-- Eddie and Joey -- on the monkey bars. Eddie just turned 4 and Joey’s 6, which means Primo, at 4 ½, is exactly in between them age-wise and has had a chance to be in preschool class with both of them (Joey last year, and Eddie this year). They’ve got a sister Seconda’s age, live nearby and have friendly, down-to-earth parents. If there was a match.com for playdates, I would choose this family, and we’d all end up on a commercial, the kids playing superheros and hopscotch in the background, the grownups drinking coffee in the foreground and talking about how playdatematch.com really works.

So Primo is running around the playground with Eddie and Joey, killing red ants against my protestations, walking the plank, undertaking secret agent missions, all around the Old Stone House which is at the far end of the playground. I’ve been vaguely aware that this house has something to do with the Revolutionary war and is of great historical value to people like my husband who read really long nonfiction books. But that’s about the extent of my knowledge.

“We want to go inside!” Joey shouts to me and his sitter.

“Ok,” I say. Because I am game and cool and Super-mom.

We all walk in the little house and the kids immediately run to a large glass case which houses an elaborate replica of the Battle of Brooklyn.

Then a woman who works at the Stone House comes in and tells the kids that the battle we are studying occurred in the very spot on which we stand.

“That’s that the house that we are in now?” Primo asks, pointing to a tiny replica.

“Yes, it is,” Stone House lady confirms.

“Why is there a big hole in the roof?” he asks.

“Because the British fired a cannonball into it.”

I could tell this line of questioning was heading in a risky direction.

“Why are those guys lying on the ground?” asks Eddie.

“Well,” says Stone House lady, a little anxiously, “They probably got shot,”

“What about those guys who are lying in the river?” adds Primo.

“Those too,” she responds before excusing herself to take care of a pressing matter in the office upstairs.

Then Seconda, never one to be left out of a conversation, even one that is over her head, inquires, “Where are their mommies?”

“That’s a good question,” I reply, now fully responsible for this impromptu Q and A, “Their mommies are probably at home waiting for them to come back.”

And then Joey, the elder of the group, old enough to face the awful facts we are trying to sugarcoat, asks, “What about the mommies of the ones who died?”

You know, when I think about the days when my kids were newborns, I think of the sleeplessness and breastfeeding tribulations and the crying, and I remember that that was tough. That was tough but this is hard. Revealing these unyielding truths to a child, not much more than a baby himself -- that we die, not only die but suffer, that we make others suffer, that we lose things we can never get back. That I am powerless to stop it.

What’s mastitis to that? Its heavy, the burden of that. It’s hard.

So a big thanks to Old Stone House lady for fielding the easy questions and then taking off when the shit hits the fan.

But there is a question pending: What about the mommies of the one who died? Where are they? What are they doing?

“Well,” I answer, “they’re probably crying.”

And I leave it at that.

We check out the mannequin wearing a Revolutionary War uniform, and talk about bluecoats and redcoats and

Paul Revere and then its time to eat dinner. So Eddie and Joey leave with their babysitter, and we walk home and play with sidewalk chalk on the stoop until the tiny figures laying in the glass dome and their unseen weeping mothers are forgotten.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

"Happiness was hiding in the last tear"

When I was preggo with Primo, I picked up this collection of poetry for kids called Poetry Speaks to Children, and then I more or less forgot about it for 3 ½ years. But for the past year or so, the tots and I have been making up for lost time, reading and re-reading the lyrical gems in there. The great part about the collection is that its not “children’s poetry” but grown-up poetry that works for children. There’s Edgar Allan Poe in there, Langston Hughes, Shakespeare, Gwendolyn Brooks . . . and the selections are all well-chosen, dynamic, funny, interesting for little readers. But the best part is that the book comes with a CD which includes readings of the poems by their authors. It is a MUST for a long car ride. Not only does it engage your mind as well as your kids’, you will feel like an uber-parent when your 2 year-old spontaneously recites William Blake.(best party trick ever when Seconda shouts "Tyger Tyger burning BRIGHT in the FOREST of the NIGHT!")

Enough free advertising. Here’s my current favorite by poet laureate of my heart Galway Kinnell. The way he delivers “ha ha!” is worth the price of the book, I think.


By Galway Kinnell

Crying only a little bit
is no use. You must cry
until your pillow is soaked!
Then you can get up and laugh.
Then you can jump in the shower
and splash-splash-splash!
Then you can throw open your window
and, “Ha ha! ha ha!”
And if the people say, “Hey,
what’s going on up there?”
“Ha ha!” sing back, “Happiness
was hiding in the last tear!
I wept it! Ha ha!”

Monday, June 8, 2009

Lucky Day

This morning I awoke to the sound of my son yelling with delight: “Look mommy!” I opened my eyes and found five little fingers smeared in a brown substance waving wildly in front of my face. Primo was happy to explain:

“I found something on the floor and I thought it was poop so I rolled it in between my fingers and tasted it and it was chocolate!”

I guess its going to be a lucky day.

Franks and Freaks

Nothing says summer like a day at Coney Island. Eating franks and shooting freaks. Handing over your ticket for the ride. Sipping ice-cold lemonade. I heart Coney. We all heart Coney. How could you not?

Of course with the new development that’s underway, it may not stay so easy to love. But when we went yesterday, we were relived to find that though there were some absences – the go-kart places an batting ranges which used to be on Stillwell Avenue have been pushed out to make way for Thor Equities’ Festival by the Sea – most of the Coney faves were still standing, for now.

Since Primo is suddenly anti-sand, David and he stuck to the boardwalk while Sec and I got gritty. She played in the sprinkler on the sand for a while and then on the playground, where she removed her hat and dumped an entire pail of sand on her head.

“Let’s run to the ocean!” I said, fun-loving, footloose mama that I am.

And we ran, me and the girl holding hands, and splashing in the freezing water and laughing. I was literally in the process of thinking, “Why does everybody complain about this beach? It’s clean! It’s totally clean!” when a Park department guy wearing an orange shit blew his whistle at me.

“Get out of the water!” he yelled.

“Me?” I asked, incredulously.

“Yeah, you,” he replied, with an unspoken, but crystal-clear “knucklehead” implied.

“We can’t go in the water?” I pressed the point.

“It’s contaminated,” he replied, no beating around the bush.

Oh,” I said, surprised, “With what?” It didn’t make a difference what the answer was really -- contaminated is contaminated and I wouldn’t have let Sec stay in if the risk factor was sewage rather than a deadly parasite. Still, I was curious.

But the man was already blowing his whistle at someone else.

So I dragged Seconda out, literally kicking and screaming and we headed over to meet Primo and Pops at the kiddie ride area, where Prim was riding Dizzy Dragons.

My son is the most serious-looking amusement rider you will ever encounter. He loves to ride, he thrills to ride, he can’t get enough of rides, but if you saw him on a merry-go-round, or sitting in the belly of a spinning clown, you’d think he was trying to figure out the theory of relativity, he is concentrating so hard. I mean, his brow is actually furrowed.

When he’d used up his three allotted tickets, we left the rides and treated ourselves to “freshly-squeezed lemonade” on the boardwalk, in the spot where the fabulous Lola Staar boutique used to stand (you can find her now at the Brooklyn Flea).

“We’ll take a small.” I told the kid behind the counter.

“For two dollars more you can get a large and get free refills,” was the counter offer.

But I’ve been to a movie theater or two in my lifetime and I know how to decline the up-sell.

“The small is fine,” I said, handing over $3.

The kid placed a small cup under a metallic hand-cranked juicer, where a half-lemon was pre-placed. He pulled the lever and a few drops of juice accumulated in the cup. Then he poured these driplets into my cup, placed it on a shelf beneath my sightline, and then, five seconds later, handed me a full cup of “fresh squeezed lemonade” which tasted suspiciously like Crystal Light.

“Everyone is a shyster on the island of Coney,” concluded David.

Shysters or not, nobody nowhere nohow makes a frank like Nathan’s. So we chowed down, David with his Coors and chili cheese dogs, the kids with their corn on the cob and me with fries on a pitchfork. The Beatles were right. Happiness is a hot dog. Yum yum chomp chomp.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Harsh critics

My 22 year-old sister, who considers it her responsibility to keep me informed about web happenings (“What? You never heard of “Dick in a Box?” OMG, Nicole, you are SO OLD!!!”), just sent me a link to this very funny blog called Tiny Art Director, in which an artist parent opens himself up to some pretty harsh criticism from his little girl. Reminds me of my own unforgiving child, who likes to tell me that the drawings I produce under duress of tantrum, according to his detailed specifications, are “not good at all.” But at least he doesn’t give thumbs down to my writing. Yet. I’m sure as soon as he can figure out how to navigate the web, he’ll visit this blog and send in scathing comments that I will have to heavily moderate. Ah, parenthood.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Caught in the rain

You must know by now, readers, that I’m not a Hallmark-moments, chicken-soup-for-the-mother’s-soul kind of person. Its not that I’m against living in the moment and being grateful for the little things – on the contrary, I think it’s commendable. I just don’t usually have it in me.

But the great thing about life on earth is that every so often we end up surprising ourselves. Which happened to me just yesterday.

Primo’s been having a tough time going to school lately, and I’ve been taking extra measures to help him feel more comfortable saying goodbye at drop-off. One of these measures is bald-faced bribery. When he flatly told me yesterday that he was NOT going to school, “end of discussion,” I told him that if he did, I’d get him this Ed Emberely Halloween drawing book he’s been wanting. I promised I’d have it for him at pick-up. I’m very serious about keeping my promises to the kids, so there I was at pick-up, perky as can be, with the book in hand.

As it turned out, the book backfired. He was so excited about it that he ended up crying and miserable because his drawings didn’t look exactly like Ed Emberely’s. Then I tried to draw the pictures for him and he ended up crying because MY drawings didn’t look right. The entire meltdown happened on a bench in front of his school, with Seconda pressing buttons on a nearby ATM machine, petting ferocious-looking dogs without my permission and playing dangerously close to traffic.

It was clear that I was in for a long, awful afternoon with unhappy son and untamable daughter and I was pretty pissed about the prospect. In an effort to turn things around, I tried to take the kids to the playground but sad sack Primo refused to walk because “stuff” kept getting in his Crocs and this was very disquieting to him.

Furthermore, he informed me, I was being “selfish.”

He hastened to explain himself when he saw the look of disbelief flicker across my face.

“First you brought me this book I wanted after school," he started.

“Yes, I did.”

“That was nice.”

“Yes it was.”

“Then you drew pictures for me.”

“Yes, yes, that was nice, too.”

“And now you want to take me to the playground,” he concluded, having done a lousy job, in my opinion, of defending his position.

“Yes, I do want to take you to the playground,” I said, trying to manage my frustration and failing, “Because it is a BEAUTIFUL day and I want you to run around and have fun and leave me alone and be happy, LIKE A KID IS SUPPOSED TO DO!”

He grumpily conceded, and we, very slowly, walked to the playground. By the time we got there, the beautiful day was not so beautiful. In fact, it didn’t even look like day anymore. In fact, it was dark as Hades.

“It’s NIGHT,” Seconda noted.

“It looks like nighttime but it’s not night yet,” Primo corrected.

Raindrops had begun to fall. We could feel them. It didn’t just look like rain was coming. The rain had started. But it had taken us a flipping hour to get the playground, and we had done it, by God, we’d made it there, and nothing was going to make me turn around.

The kids played for about two minutes while the last, foolhardy caregivers fled with their charges in tow. We were the only people in the playground and it had become so dark, as Primo put it, it looked like we were “in a forest of darkness.”

And then it started to pour. A biblical rainfall that leaves you wondering if there’s an ark somewhere you could hitch a ride on.

A quick assessment of the stroller confirmed that there was no rain cover, no rain jackets, no umbrella, nothing in the way of deluge protection. And that’s when my Hallmark moment happened.

“Fuck it,” I thought.

“IT’S RAINING!!!!!”” I threw my head back and shouted.

“IT’S POURING!!!!” Primo sang

“DA OLD MAN IS ---- SNORING!!!!!!” Seconda brought it home.

Incredible sheets of water fell out of the sky so that within a minute we were sopping. The more it rained, the louder we sang.

“Let’s run to the awning!” Primo shouted.



“I AM WEEEEEEEEET!” yelled my son, laughing so hard he could hardly speak.

And we went on like this all the way home, yelling and whopping and laughing and loving the rain and life and each other. Especially each other.

When we got home, we peeled off our dripping clothes, wrapped ourselves in towels, and curled up on the couch to read a long book.

Turns out it wasn’t such an awful afternoon after all.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Be kind, unwind

When you have a baby and you read the Baby Whisperer and Dr. Sears and Weissbluth, you find that all these experts spend a great deal of time talking about the importance of creating a soothing bedtime ritual. This ritual is supposed to help your child transition from the stimulation of daytime to the tranquil peace of sleep. I am neurotic and overachieving and always try to do what experts say, so by four months of age, Primo was being bathed at the same time every night, massaged after bath to promote body-mind wellness, read to in the rocking chair, and placed in his crib awake, while the cool chords of Coltrane’s Ballads played on a little CD player in the corner. Same sequence, same time, same place, every night.

Fat lot of good it did us. The Sandman himself couldn’t get this kid to sleep without a struggle. Since he was a baby, he’s had a tough time settling down, and we have tried everything. Everything.

Including, most recently, allowing him to take David’s old Ipod shuffle to bed with him.. Since nightlights and stuffed animals, and good-dream-stories and bribes and threats didn’t work, we figured we’d try letting him relax to his favorite music.

We found however that it is somewhat difficult for a child to unwind whilst his two year-old sister hurls plastic babydolls at his prone form.

I knew something was up when, instead of the usual defiant but jovial yelling, I heard Primo wail. I ran in to find him hysterical and his sister jumping and down in her crib, beside herself with delight at what a terrible ruckus she’s caused.

“She hiiiiiiit me,” he sobbed, “In the heeeeeeead! With her BABYDOOOOOOOOLLS!”

And there you have it, the distillation of my kids’ relationship. Seconda beats Primo down, despite being half his age and less than half his size.

She’s tough as nails, that baby, and ruthless, too. At the playground yesterday, when these 6 year-old boys were chasing Primo around, he ran up to her and pleaded, “Go get those bad kids.” And she did, kicking them hard with her pink Converse high-tops and squawking, “GO AWAY! PRIMO IS MY BOY!” Whenever there’s a kiddie throw-down, I put my money on my daughter and man, does she deliver. But when she turns on her brother, well, action must be taken.

So I had to confiscate her babydolls and move her into the Pack N Play in our bedroom. I mean, Primo was afraid to fall asleep with her there.

Two minutes later, I heard him sobbing again. Back to the bedroom I went.

“What is it now?” I asked.

“I just keep crying,” he sobbed, “and the tears are going into my ears and making my ipod headphones sliiiip oooout.”


“Then just stop crying,” I offered. I mean, its not rocket science.

So, the next time you’re heading into a major pity-fest, and about to stew in your sorry state, just console yourself with the thought that at least your baby sister didn’t beat you up and give you tears in the ears. It should help.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Weird shit is happening . . .

. . . to me at night. And the weirdest part is I suspect that I am the culprit. I went to bed last night with my watch on and woke up this morning with a bare wrist. The watch was under my pillow.

(You can’t see me but as I write this, I am raising my eyebrows, communicating suspicion and consternation). In other words: WTF?

Is someone slipping me AmbienCR without my knowing it? And, in addition to making me remove my wrist jewelry and hide it from myself, are the meds also making me eat while not awake, while you will recall from my prior post is a potential side-effect? If so, that could explain why I never lose weight despite the fact that I honestly don’t seem to eat that much and do the kind of hard, manual labor that would keep Rosanne Barr svelte.