Sunday, February 28, 2010

Won't-Grow-Up Birthday Bash

Seconda turned three last week and in honor of her emerging from the terrifying terrain known as the terrible twos (wishful thinking) I decided to throw her a totally overboard birthday bash with a fully-realized theme . . . Peter Pan and Neverland. Sec loves Peter Pan -- not Tinkerbell, as you'd expect, but Captain Hook and his bo'sun Smee. She absolutely adores Smee. It so happens that I am rather fond of Peter Pan myself -- was a childhood love of mine, too, and Primo is obsessed, no other way to put it. Couple our shared passion for Peter Pan with the fact that I recently wrote this article about birthday party ideas for kids in the city, and spent a few weeks putting together various theme parties, soup-to-nuts, fanning the fires of my party-planning zeal and you get one totally pimped out Neverland Party. As Primo put it, "Mommy, you've gone TOO FAR with this party! Enough is enough!" It was so ridiculous that I grew embarrassed and worried that the parents of the kids in Sec's class would think I was some kind of precious party nut, so I spent all last week explaining to them that I wasn't usually so fanatic about my parties. When you have to preface your party with an explanation, you know you've gone too far.

First, the cake:

I am not going to compare myself to the Ace of Cakes, but you may, if you feel so compelled. The truth about the cake is that it looked like a big old pile of shit, green shit, before my dad, who could have a great show on the Food Network called The Cake Doctor (he's a real MD, you see, and also good at fixing cakes) stepped in. I gave him a handful of plastic characters and a big tub of cotton candy and he made the magic happen. But I'm happy to accept credit.

Here's Sec in her PJs wearing some of wildly fun dress-up accouterments I provided, all of which were relevant to Neverland adventures. This is mermaid hair. There were also eye patches, bandanas, and Lost Boy animal masks:

Here are the children happily doing the crafts I lovingly prepared for them until midnight: pirate hats, coloring pages, trace-your-shadow on butcher paper, feathered headbands, and fairy wands. Primo, the purist, pointed out Tinkerbell did not use a wand, but I told him we needed something to appease the die-hard princessy types.

My bagel spread (not in keeping with Neverland theme but NYC bagels are the perfect food for any occasion and need no apology). I did offer Pirate Booty as well.

Tattoos, of course, every possible kind of Neverland-related tattoo, including mermaids, fairies, pirate and Native American totem poles:

Blowing out the candles:

General revelry:

I didn't take a picture of my goody bags only because I didn't want to give you guys any ideas that you'd regret in the wee hours of the morning as you assembled them, half-deranged. Let's just put it this way: it was my first time at Oriental Trading Company, and I did not exercise enough restraint. There were pixy sticks, pirate telescopes, fairy paraphernalia, homemade pixy dust put in silken pouches and homemade mermaid-shaped chocolates, all of which was placed in a treasure chest. I used the snow day last week to start a sweat shop in my living room, where Primo worked overtime on my assembly line, putting an equal number of pirate gold in each chest. I also forced him to draw all decorations as well as the game "Pin the Hook on Captain Hook." In exchange I gave him pixy sticks which he just couldn't refuse. Good times.

The party was a success but we are all relieved its over and I can slowly morph from a psycho Martha Stewart wanna-be to my normal self again.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I have the answers to your problems!

There are a great many things about which I know nothing – sports, chemistry, how to choose a ripe cantaloupe – and there are plenty of things I know a little about – bargain shopping, belly dancing, Shakespeare – but there is one thing that I know a lot about: parenting.

Its not that my own experience has made me an expert, though I do have quite a robust collection of cautionary tales and don’t-try-this-at-home stories. But in researching the articles that I write for parenting magazines (you can read them at my website) I’ve had occasion to cross paths with plenty of people that are actual experts, lots of experts with differing perspective and varied backgrounds. All of which is a preamble to this pronouncement:



Just like Dear Abby, I will fix your conundrums, dilemmas, stalemates and otherwise prickly parenting situations.

You have a problem.

I have a solution.

It not a money-back, one-hundred-percent guaranteed solution but it will be – I promise you – worth a short. And it will be free. At the very least, I will tell you what parenting book to consult. Or I’ll ask my readers and THEY’LL tell you what to do.

I’ll give you a twitter-sized solution in 140 characters or less and I’ll give you a normal-person-with-a-decent-attention-space answer, with justification.

So try me. Ask me anything (except medical questions because I’m on MD, not even close, can’t tell a liver from a pancreas, so sorry, no can do). You can ask about:

Crazy and infuriating kid behavior including what they’re (not) eating, (not) drinking, and (not) crapping on the bowl

Discipline, or lack thereof

Marriage minefields

Making Mommy friends

Playground politics

Awful, gross things your body is doing -- in pregnancy, postpartum and beyond

That’s just a sampling. Feel free to let it all hang out. It will be anonymous, after all. Just email me at

Thursday, February 25, 2010

All Shook Up

We all want sick arms like Madonna. Ok, that's a given. But this, dear readers, is no way to go about it.

Shake Weight

I can only hope that you are having trouble reading this screen through the haze of tears which resulted from the laughter this video induced.

There is only one possible explanation for this product's orgins. It involved a bunch of people sitting around a bong one night when someone said:

"You know what would be FUNNY? You know how you can get a woman to do anything if you tell them it'll tone their muscles? What if we made this weight that looked just like a phallus and then told them they'd lose weight by shaking the thing up and down just exactly like they are JACKING SOMEONE OFF???? Ohmigod, we HAVE to make that."

Honestly, who would ever believe letting a machine shake you for 6 minutes would make you beach-ready?

Of course, as I sit here and type this, I haven't been to the gym in oh - almost two years -- so I guess even the Shake Weight might be an improvement.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The woman who never lets you down

Seconda was playing on David’s cell phone (hell, I won’t let the child within five feet of mine but David’s is fair game when he’s not looking). Since she doesn’t know how to dial numbers that connect to actual people, she usually ends up hearing this message:

“The number you have dialed is not in service at this time. Please try again later.”

Most people are annoyed when they hear this message. Not my daughter. It means she has reached her best quasi-imaginary friend, who goes by the name “Woman.”

“OK woman! I will try again later! Thanks Wooooomaaaaan!” she yells with delight.

Two minutes later, she informs me: “Mommy I have to call the woman back now. She told me to.”

Thankfully, Woman is exceedingly easy to reach and always available to repeat my daughter’s favorite message: “Please try again later.”

“OK Woman, I WILL!!!!” Sec shrieks with laugher. Woman is so reliable.

But after doing this a few times, she did tire of Woman’s predictability. My daughter wanted more from Woman than Woman was able to give. Their relationship had run its course. And Sec told me:

“I want the woman to say, “If you need help, I will help you!”

I guess the child has to learn sometime that customer service is never quite what you hope it will be.

Tomorrow, I think I’ll introduce her to Man who Tells the Time.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Who you gonna call?

I read this article in the Times yesterday about one this amazing Brooklyn lactation consultant, who I’ve interviewed countless times for articles I’ve written on breastfeeding and who I have actually referred to in said articles as “lactation superstar,” The woman is a genius, a breast whisperer for certain – the kind of person who is doing just exactly what she was called to do, rescuing new mothers from bleeding nipples, panic and self-flagellation. I know because she rescued me.

In his first days, Primo was a terrible nurser. So was I. Neither of us had a clue what we were doing and I swear I produced more liquid out of my eyes, crying, than I did out of my breasts. When he was about five days old, I called the pediatrician for help, and he gave me a phone number for a woman named Freda Rosenfeld.

“Freda gets results,” he said.

Since I couldn’t get an appointment with Freda 'til the next day, I opted to go with another lactation consultant who did not, even remotely, get results. After an hour of palpating me and watching Primo flail at the breast, she told me she didn’t know what was wrong and to give him formula.

“I could have saved the $100 and given myself the same advice,” I told David when she left.

Being stubborn as a mule, however, I did not give up, didn’t give the baby formula, and after a few weeks, we’d worked out the kinks and I breastfed him, happily, til he was a year and a half.

Looking back, though, I wish I had held out for Freda because I know she would have made nursing infinitely easier and more enjoyable for me and Primo. I know this because I did have occasion to meet her, two years later, when Seconda was three months old and Freda single-handedly saved my breastfeeding from certain doom.

Sec was a good little sucker, and I wasn’t so shabby a feeder myself so we didn’t have any real problems nursing at all, for the first few months of her life. But when she turned three months old, she suddenly refused to nurse. I mean totally refused. She would scream like it was a cat o nine tails I was asking her suck on, rather than my perfectly nice breast stuffed with manna milk. I’d spend 20, 30 minutes, battling with her, desperately trying to coax her back onto the breast that she’s been happily feeding from for months, and in the end, I’d have to give her a bottle of frozen breastmilk. She cried, I cried. I was shocked, rejected and terribly sad that I’d have to stop breastfeeding. Then, as a last-ditch effort – after taking her to the pediatrician, and asking parkslopeparents, and researching online – I called Freda Gets-Results. I figured there wasn’t much she could do, but it was worth a shot anyway. She told me she could see me that afternoon and Sec and I got on the Q train headed to Ditmas Park.

Freda ushered me right in and proceeded to ask a ton of very odd, very mysterious questions. I told her my theory, which was that Sec just preferred the bottle. This didn’t seem convincing to her. Then she took the baby, cooed and gurgled at her while checking out her mouth and tongue in an enigmatic way. Finally she watched me nurse – or try to nurse, since Seconda wouldn’t suffer the nipple even for a second. She listened intently to the way Seconda screamed, and she concluded: “This is not a fussy baby. There’s something going on here.”

So she rolled up her sleeves and coached me through different position, switching sides, taking breaks, asking questions. I managed to get Sec on to the breast for half a minute, but then she started screaming like a banshee again.

“She burped! She burped and then she cried!” Freda exclaimed

“I guess,” I replied, “But she’s always crying when I try to feed her.”

“But after she burped is when she really started screaming”: she said, “Let me ask you something: did you have any tomato sauce or orange juice today?’

“Yeah,“ I said, “I had both.”

“This baby has acid reflux,” she said.

“But she never spits up,” I countered, “I thought babies with reflux spit up all the time.”

“Not if they have silent acid reflux,” she replied, “And that’s what Seconda has.”

She instructed me to sit the baby up to nurse, and miraculously Sec stopped crying and started sucking. It was like magic and I literally cried tears of joy and relief. She told me to cut acidic foods out of my diet and keep with the sitting-up nursing. And after I left her office, I never had another problem with Sec refusing the breast.

It’s not always as simple as that, but everyone I know who’s had a visit Freda has offered a glowing review (you can read my friend and fellow writer, Debra Nussbaum-Cohen's story about Freda here). So if you’re in Kings County and have a lactation tribulation, you know who to call.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Toys! Toys! Toys!

It’s Toy Fair time, and last week I was invited to a tour of the Hasbro showroom to check out the new 2010 toys. Here are the things that I dug

BeyBlade Metal Fusion:

So you get this stadium, which is a plastic flat-bottomed bowl with high sides, and then you get a bunch of kids (or grownups, because let’s face it, my husband would play this for hours) and everyone pulls the ripcords on their BeyBlade tops and tries to knock each others tops off. Last top spinning wins. The really cool part, though, is that all the parts are interchangeable, so you can customize your top by changing the point, the weight disk, spin gear and all this other stuff, until you make your Dream Top. I’m a sucker for an old fashioned toy concept, and this one is a modern take on a classic.

FurReal Friends

We don’t have a pet for a bunch of good reasons: A. We live in a tiny apartment, B. I’m way too overextended caring for my little animal-like children and C. I’m just really not a pet person. But for a long time now, my 3 year-old has been clamoring for a pet and I’ve had to come up with new and creative ways to stave off her demands. And now I’ve found the perfect solution – these animatronics furry little toys that look and act like real animals. They are made to respond when you touch them on certain points – so if you pet Lulu the cat, she will move her head and ears, open and close her eyes, and even knead with her paws. And no litter box to clean or allergy attacks to account for. Normally I don’t go in for toys that do all the work of playing for the child, but I did feel like these pseudo-pets, especially the tiny ones that fit in the palm of your hand called Snuggimals which retail for $7.99) would really excite my daughter and invite hours and hours of play.

There was plenty to oohh and ahh about, in the category of Blasts from the Past:

Empire Strikes Back Action Figures

If you were born in the 70s your heart is biologically wired to skip a beat when you hear the words “Empire Strikes Back.” This year is the 30th anniversary of the movie and in honor of that, Hasbro has release a whole bunch of action figures, characters dear to my heart: Luke, Darth, Leia, and of course, Hunky Han. The figures are much more articulated than in the 70s – all the joints twist and turn and extend, but besides that, they look just like the old ones. Come August, you can believe we’re going to be playing with those. They’re also releasing the AT-AT – one gigunda one which can fits 20 action figures, and one medium sized one, which is still pretty roomy and which my daughter, no doubt, would attempt to ride immediately.

Strawberry Shortcake 5-inch Doll

Its Strawberry Shortcake’s 30th anniversary, too, and Hasbro is celebrating with a 5 inch doll ($9.99), which was the height of the original Ms. Shortcake back in the day. I have a soft spot for Ms. Shortcake and her aroma-therapeutic friends, not just because from my childhood, but because my husband confessed to having adored his Strawberry Shortcake when he was a boy. She’s sweet and wholesome and better than one of those pine air fresheners hanging from the rear view mirror when you need to get a stinky odor – not naming names, but it does happen in long car rides – out of your nose.


The toy that wobbles but won’t fall down has been around since 1971 and I’ve always thought they were cute but didn’t give much more thought to why kids love them. At the showroom, I got to speak to a Hasbro rep and heard precisely why. Weebles give little toddlers, who don’t have the fine motor skills to manipulate an action figure, a chance to play like their big kid friends, with toys they can easily grasp in their hands, and which never fall down, no matter how much you knock them about. It turns out to be a very satisfying play experience for year-old crowd, and the Weeble scenes, the treehouses and such, let kids do what they love doing best – put toys in, and take toys out. This year, the Weebles are being restored to their original egg-shape which is ideal for little fists, so look out for those.


The original Alphie came out in 1978 and now he’s baaaack, but with an LCD screen for a face. He comes with 30 cards full of edifying info about ABCs, counting, and other things you want your kid to know about. You slide the card in his chest and your child is prompted to press the button for the right answer. There are a ton of products like these now – all of which light up and sing in ten languages and who knows what else – but what I like about this one is it’s a robot. Who doesn’t like robots?


My 5 year-old son absolutely loves Candyland, so much so that one afternoon, I read him the little story that comes in the box, about Lord Licorice, Princess Frostine and the other confectionary creations, about 6 times in a row. Then he went off and drew his own game board and we played that. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is. Candyland, which came out in 1949, recently turned 60 and there’s a brand-new game board out this year which is supposed to be less gender-specific, with more boy-centric characters like the Duke of Swirl (as you see, my son didn’t have any trouble getting into it anyway, but the intent is to broaden the appeal).

Which brings us directly to the wide world of Board Games, a world in which Hasbro is King. The make just about every board game you ever played, including Guess Who, Sorry, Connect Four, Clue, and Trivial Pursuit. It’s hard to imagine improving on such tried-and-tried products. But that doesn’t mean the toy people won’t try. Last year, they introduced a new feature on all their games, called U-Build, which allows you to customize the game so you set it up and play exactly how you like. In addition to that, there was plenty of action on the board game front.

Twister Hoopla

Nothing brings a party to life like a little game of Twister, but now instead of a dotted mat, you’ve got different colored rings that have to be passed from one person’s body part to another and must be kept off the floor at all costs. Twister was an active game that got bodies moving well before there was a widespread impetus to do that, and I like the new makeover.

Scrabble Flash

I’m sure Scrabble purists out there would object but I thought this new incarnation of the game was pretty darn cool. You’ve got five “electronic tiles, ”basically these genius LCD screen, onto each of which a letter pops. You then you have 75 seconds to arrange the letters into as many word combinations as you can. When you link the tiles together and make a word, the machine somehow recognizes it (!!) and beeps to confirm. I may be easy to impress but that totally knocked my socks off.

And, last but certainly not least . . .

Monopoly Revolution Edition

Monopoly turns 75 years old this year and it has had a major face-lift for its birthday. The new Monopoly has a circular board, uses electronic banking instead of cash and includes a space-agey device which plays popular music like Rihanna and Beyonce to accompany certain actions. Since I was never a Monopoly nut, I don’t have any purist leanings to grapple with, but if you do, rest assured you can still buy the traditional Monopoly board in stores, too.

So that’s my round-up. The trend was oldies but goodies with some updates. Plenty of good stuff to get kids moving, to ignite curiosity and to spark the imagination.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Glorious Sunset!

My family loves Fairway. They have our favorite goat cheese from California there, cheap hot crusty French baguettes, four thousands kinds of coffee and spices and granola by the pound and live lobster. They have EVERYTHING. Including the frickin' Statue of Liberty. The view from Fairway in Red Hook is the kind of vista that stops you in your tracks . . . especially when the sunset looks like it did on the night Primo took this video.

My son, vlogger extraordinaire.

Kid's so full of sweetness, you could get diabetes just talking to him. Am I exaggerating? Just listen to him proclaim the moonlight "glorious!"

One important word of warning: do not attempt to get to Staten Island on what my child calls the Verrazano Bridge.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

My Birthday Girl

My baby girl was born three years ago today. Here she is, as a baby:

And a toddler:

And now my baby is a preschooler:
She's standing next to me now, in her Alice in Wonderland dress - the white eyelet number you see in the picture -- ripping off her sweater, despite the lack of heat, because "ALICE DOESN"T WEAR A SWEATER." At least she's Alice today and not a mermaid because mermaids don't wear ANY clothes, especially not underwear. How can they wear underwear when they don't even have a butt to cover? The kid's a logician.

Before I had Seconda, I never knew a child could be so charismatic. She's the best (and worst) company you could ever wish for. She reminds me of this Mae West expression that I used to quote when I was her age (and if that doesn't make us birds of a feather, I don't know what does):

"When I'm good I'm good, but when I'm bad, I'm better."

On my husband's chests are two tattoos -- one is an anatomical drawing of a heart, under which Primo's name is printed, and the other is a star, for our girl. Its just right. She lights us all up.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Imdb THIS, baby

In honor of Valentine's Day, I thought I'd share this exclusive, never-before-seen clip from the movie that David and I made back when we were dating. It was during this film shoot that I fell in love with him. Simple as that: we started and I was only minorly intrigued by him, we wraped and we were soulmates. Though we met in college and had a brief, one-night-long dalliance there while he was with someone else (gasp! disgrace!) we parted ways afterwards and he went off to live with his girlfriend while I went off in an apparent attempt to break the world record for romantic entanglements with hipster assholes who lived in the east village and had clawfoot bathtubs in thier living rooms. Believe it or not, I'm not talking about one person in particular but a whole category of men who are totally unmemorable and pretty much interchangeable.

When I met up with David again, a few years after college, he'd broken up with his girlfriend and we dated a bit but I was so into the elusive douchebags of no substance that I more or less dismissed the earnest Southerner who wore his heart on his sleeve and sent me (unironic) flowers. Then he asked me to be the lead in his indie film, which he was shooting in his hometown in Tennessee and it seemed like a good career movie -- the guys was a great writer and I'd never been to Tennessee. So I did it. And now we've been married six years. Its kind of amazing to have a chronicle of how you fell in love with your husband.

(Two notes before viewing: A. I did my own makeup so try to forgive the heavy lip gloss application. B. I did my own accent coaching which basically consisted of chain-viewing Coal Miner's Daughter. That's why I sound like I'm doing an impersonation of Loretta Lynn)

Blue Plate Trailer

Monday, February 15, 2010

Will you be my valentine?

It was thanks to the stomach flu that David and I got to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year. We’d booked a room at a charming bed and breakfast in the Berkshires in November for my birthday but when the day of our romantic getaway finally arrived, David found himself unable to leave the bathroom. Stomach flu, big time. So the B and B kindly allowed us to postpone our trip until this weekend. And what a weekend it was.

On the agenda was




More Sleep

Crappy TV

Basically, I don’t do anything on vacation that involves getting out of bed. Leaving the bed is a dealbreaker. Occasionally I’ll read the newspaper or a magazine. And I can talk on the phone. But that’s really the extent of it. It’s heavenly.

But on Valentine’s Day, David forced me to leave the bed in order to eat. We went to the restaurant in the B and B, where we’d made reservations, a nice enough place with good, affordable dining. But we’d forgotten about the dreaded Valentine’s Day Prix Fix.

“What the hell is this?” I asked David, when I looked at the menu. “I thought our dinner was included in the price.”

“This looks like a special Valentine’s Day menu.”

“Its $100 per person!”

“It is five courses.”

“I don’t care how many courses it is, I’m not paying this much money for a restaurant in the middle of nowhere. I don’t pay this much for food in MANHATTAN/”

When I start shouting about MANHATTAN, you know some truly offensive snobbish-ness is sure to follow. Beware.

“Well, where are we going to go? Its Valentine’s night.” David pointed out.

“Oh, I’ll tell you where I’m going, I’m going to eat a DELCIOUS dinner of Domino’s pizza and cheesy bread for under $20 – IN MY BED!”

David convinced me to at least take a drive and see if there were some other more appealing options, though cheesy bread was sounding pretty damn good. And that is how we ended up at Brew works, the local brewpub -- me, drunk off of one glass of Pinot Noir, and David wishing he had let me stay in bed. Because I am a loud, not-entirely-nice drunk.

David put it best when he told me on the way home that he felt like he was trapped in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

What especially embarrassed him is that I’d make my most private pronouncements exactly as the waitress came around:

When she brought the food: “Why don’t you ever tell me how BEAUTIFUL I am??”

When she took the food away: “I gave you the best years of my life! And now I’m OLD!”

When she brought the check: “Did I ever tell you what REALLY happened that night in the hot tub?”

I’m like a gremlin. Don’t feed me after midnight and never give me a glass of pinot noir.

But, all in all, a great trip with lots of rest and plenty of conversation.

When we got back, the children were elated. They couldn’t wait to report all the things their grandparents had done wrong and tried to cover up.

“Nonnie told me not to tell you but she let Seconda eat junk food ALL DAY LONG!” and “We watched all the TV we wanted!”

When I tucked Primo in last night, he said, “I feel more safe when you’re here Mommy/”

And I said, “Me too, honey.”

Friday, February 12, 2010

No gifts please! Just come angry!

I’ve been working on this article about birthday party ideas for kids in the city, so I’ve been in heavy-duty planning mode for the past few weeks, noting party supplies stores, investigating where one might purchase a dragon piñata, which bakery will make a cake in the shape of a mermaid, things like this. In the middle of this hard-hitting journalistic work, I was watching Celebrity Rehab.

Now, I’m not proud of this. And I don’t go out of my way to watch it – it’s not on my Tivo or anything -- but it happened to be on when I turned the TV on and I couldn’t summon up the energy to channel surf so I left it. The thing is, I have this ability – maybe I’d do better to call it a liability – to become hopelessly invested in any programming that I watch for over 10 minutes. It doesn’t matter what it is, if I watch it for 10 minutes, I am fully hooked. There must be a name for this syndrome. So it was that I was DEEPLY interested in Celebrity Rehab, and the plight of the Heidi Fleiss and the roid-ed up beefsteak with anger problems who used to be on The Real World.

What does this have to do with birthday party planning, you may wonder. I’ll tell you. To work on their anger problems – as a kind of scream therapy – Dr. Drew took the rehabbers to a junkyard; gave them a crowbar and told them to whack the bloody hell out of whatever they wanted. It was wonderful.
“This would make a GREAT birthday party!” I said to David.

“I think you’ve gone postal.”

“For grown-ups, of course,” I explained, “How insanely cool would it be to bring a few of your closet friend to a dump, give them each a 2 x 4 and invite them to go apeshit? I would LOVE to smash up old TVs and bust out car windows with no repercussions. So much better than martinis at a lounge in Alphabet City that I’m too old for.”

So its decided. Get ready for the Evite:

Nicole’s Tear Shit Up Birthday Bash!
You bring the rage, we provide the crowbars.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Scrooging on Snow Days

By Tuesday afternoon, both my son and daughter's schools had decided they'd be closed Wednesday. This struck me as a little hasty, a little drastic. It was highly inconvenient timing as I

A. was at the absolute height of my sickness, an upper respiratory something or other that has laid me low, oh low this week
B. have a deadline today, the fulfillment of which seemed unlikely if everything went according to plan, much less if I was violently ill and if I had no child care.

In other words, I was Scrooging on Snow Day.

To be clear, I am not the sort of person who uses an umbrella in the snow. I am not heartless. I like snow . . . once or twice a year. I take the kids out and build snowmen and go sledding and all the other perky activities required of me, and I do it with a smile. But when its the 4th or 5th big snowfall of the season, and I've had a pounding sinus headache for three days and can't hear out of one ear, AND I have a deadline, I do not embrace the snow. I curse the snow.

Tuesday night, after I read Primo his bedtime story (just finished Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and are on to Dahl's The BFG), he got up to go to bed. And the sweet darling that he is, he looked back at me,lying in bed in my pink fleece bathrobe and crooked eyeglasses, with a pile of snotrags beside me, and I guess he felt the need to encourage me, so he said:

"I think tomorrow will be a better day for you, Mommy. Its a snow day so you won't have to take us to school which will make it easier for you."

Because the really tough thing is taking the kids to school, not being stuck at home with them all day and night when I'm supposed to be working.

Bless his little heart. I did feel guilty after that, and so yesterday we did all of our favorite snow day activities

1. Watched Alice in Wonderland
2. Made Cinnamon Rolls with copius icing
3. Read chapters and chapters of Roald Dahl
4. Took out every single toy, book and game and left the mess there like some team of servingwomen would take care of it

David even took them outside to eat the freshfallen snow.

It was an easier day after all.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Little Me

Yeah, that's me. Those were the days. I still looked good in bangs.

And you know what? My parents are always talking about what a hellion I was, the worst ever, was so wild I make my daughter look like Pollyanna but I have to say, I look pretty sweet and docile in this picture. I am, for instance, still enough that the picture is not blurry. This is a nearly unheard-of feat when it comes to Seconda. She is one bad-ass lady. Consider this:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

An Out-of-this-World Kids' Show

Outer space is one of many things I know almost nothing about but am wildly interested in. Who doesn't want to know how many degrees it is on Venus? (900 degree F) Or what Mars is made of? (Rust) And since Primo’s second-favorite category of scientific inquiry is outer space (come on, nothing trumps chemistry), I decided to take him to the American Museum of Natural History on Sunday for one of the museum’s education programs called Dr. Nebula’s Planetary Vacation.

It was one of those times I feel supremely lucky to be a New York parent (circling the Upper West Side for 40 minutes beforehand looking for parking and then caving and using the insanely expensive lot, however, was one of the times I felt just the opposite).

The show is really top-notch, with a perky, dynamic woman playing the part of Scooter, Dr. Nebula’s lab assistant, and leading the kids in an hour-long exploration of our galaxy. It’s really interactive which keeps the kids engaged, even though what she’s covering is pretty sophisticated stuff. Or, I should qualify, it was sophisticated for me. To hear the kids respond to her questions, you’d think it was material they’d covered in nursery school. Seriously, kids today are so flipping smart.

Scooter would ask questions like: “Earth, Mars, Mercury and Venus are all made out of the same thing – what do you think it is?” and I’d be like, “Oh man, that’s a hard one. I’ve got nothing. Zip.” And about twenty kids would shout out, “Rock,” which was one hundred percent right.

Then she’d say, “Pluto isn’t made of rock or gas. What do you think it’s made of?” And I’m WRACKING my brain, totally clueless, for real, and this little 4 or 5 year-old goes, “Ice.”

Ice? Really? That wouldn’t have even been my sixth or seventh guess. I would have guessed plastic or polyester first.

“How many moons does Jupiter have? You, in the striped shirt.”

“Sixty three.”

“That’s absolutely correct!”

What are you people TEACHING your children at home?

But I know its not some super-secret science Kumon that’s infiltrating the pre-K crowd but just that kids are so unfettered by their inner critic, it allows them to be totally open to learning and thus, genius. I know this because Primo also knew all this stuff which I’ve never taught him, and which I am fairly certain his school has not even touched upon. He knew for instance that Mars is the planet fourth-farthest from the sun. So he got to be the one to put Mars on the Velcro map that Scooter was building with audience participation. He was thrilled. Big highlight.

After the planetary chart was complete, and Scooter had shared many fascinating facts about our galaxy (did you know that Uranus is comprised, in part, of methane, the gas found in cow’s farts? Don’t you feel just a little superior knowing that?) she set about making a comet. This was my favorite part. But please don’t try it at home kids: Mommy doesn’t want you getting into the ammonia and dry ice.

The show ended with Scooter constructing a planetary model using the audience as planets and asteroids and the sun, fitting these huge paper maiche planet hats on the kids and situating them around the theater. It rocked.

On the ride home, Primo told David all about the sulfuric acid on Venus and how Pluto’s orbit is highly irregular and that there is reason to believe there may be life on Mars.

Even David agreed it was worth forty minutes of looking for parking.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Underwear on the outside and other forms of fun

We had one of those All-About-the-Kids weekends where I basically functioned as a chauffeur, ushering the children from one diverting event to the next. Except that since we live in New York, I’m a chauffeur without a car, so it is my body that does the labor -- pushing the stroller, carrying the child on piggyback or dragging them forward by the hand, since their natural rate of walking is about twenty feet an hour. Add onto that the snow, 20 degree weather and the fact that all of us have been hit with a whopper of a late-winter cold and you get one cranky mommy on Monday morning.

Saturday was back-to-back- birthday parties, culminating in a dinner party where Primo had the time of his life playing with the daughters of my high school best friend. Apparently, the time of his life hinges on him wearing his underwear on the OUTSIDE of his pants so that he looks like a superhero. The upside of having a five year-old is when you go to dinner parties of friends with kids, they can all vanish into the basement and play together happily without your direction. The downside is that sometimes this playing involves the brief removal of all of their clothes.

Seconda, meanwhile, had the time of her life with the best playmate she’s ever had – herself. Her favorite pastime now is to carry on long and involved conversations with herself. Other people talk to her but she shuns them in favor of this internal repartee. It is as though she is so woefully disappointed by the conversational skill other people display that she’s resorted to just picking up their slack and playing their part too. Usually these conversations involve her berating and belittling characters like the evil stepmother from Snow White, or when she’s in a more magnanimous mood, reciting a list of all the things they cannot do.

“I’m sorry but you CAN’T have any mac n’ cheese stepmudder because you are TOO evil. No no no, you just can’t . . . if you say that one more time, I’m gonna give you a TIME OUT. No! Stepmudder you are driving me NUTS!”

Am I concerned about the fact that my daughter
A. Is fixated on the evil characters from every story?
B. Has well-developed conversations with them?

No, I am not. Because at least she’s not eating my lipstick or painting her face with nail polish..

I have noticed that her imaginary conversations have become more hostile, almost bordering on abusive lately. This corresponds to the fact that she’s been experimenting with telling me and others that she “hates” them and though I’m not one for censorship I consider hate more or less a curse word when it comes to leveling it against real people. The same goes for “shut up.” Is there anything more of a horror show that your 2 year-old telling you to “Shut up!” It’s worse than the f-bomb. So we shut that down right away.
But now she’s figured out a loophole, and that is to use all this nasty language with her imaginary friends, and I can’t really object to that, now can I, since they are A. homicidal maniacs and B. pretend?

“SHUT UP URSULA! You’re a BAD sea witch and I hate you!!!! If you don’t SHUT UP, I’m gonna kick you! BAAAAAD URSULA who I HAAAAAATE!!!!!”

Everyone needs a catharsis.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It is an honor just to be nominated

for Babble's Top 50 Mommy Bloggers

Even if I only have a single vote (which incidentally, I do).

This is an underdog story, folks. Can the blog that you now find on page 9, number four hundred and something, make it to page 8 or do I dare to dream, page 7??

I should add that though I am on the last page when you search by popularity, I am on the very FIRST page when you search alphabetically. So, I am a forerunner in that respect.

It is an honor just to be nominated. But it would be an even bigger honor to have more votes than I have hands.

No pressure.
You can vote here.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A System

For the past few months, David and I have been living in a never-ending episode of SuperNanny, except minus the nanny and the hope she holds for order and peace. I am speaking especially about our little one, who has taken the Terrible Twos way too far. The way that she destroys things -- from my lipsticks to her brother’s masterpieces to the fish’s habitat – and the way she refuses to do any of the things that are required to keep her in decent health – such as sleep, eat and shit – combined with the way she emits blood curdling wails when she is unpleased – all of that adds up to one serious Reign of Terror.

So a few months ago, I read on our local listserv about this useful system other parents were using for behavior management. I like Systems. Systems are structured and unyielding. Systems are consistent and fair and nonnegotiable. And this particular one, called the Voucher System, had even more. It had hard, cold numbers.

It’s basically the same as a points system or a sticker chart where positive acts – chores, sharing, good listening, brushing teeth and getting dressed, etc – get assigned a specific value, in terms of points. Negative actions – hitting, rudeness, not listening, refusing to clean up – also are assigned a point value. And then rewards – special dessert, trip, activity or toy – are assigned a point value and can be redeemed when enough positive points have been accumulated.

Orderly. Fair. Nonnegotiable.

The first time we introduced the system, it worked wonders . . . for a week or so. When Primo finally earned the Air-Dry Clay he wanted, he sort of lost interest. Unfortunately, it failed to entice the child we really need help with, Seconda – who is immune to bribes or threats. But we recently re-introduced the system because the old Ipod shuffle that Primo’s been listening to at bedtime has finally busted and we want to get him another Ipod but we also want him to earn it, because, hey, that’s one BIG gift.

So back go the charts and the kid’s been racking up points faster than a gambler on a winning streak. Right now, you can win big in our house if you go to sleep and get les than three warnings in the process. That’s 10 points right there. Hell, I’m ready to make it 50, I’m so desperate for a bedtime that takes under two hours.

But the other day, one of Primo’s friends from school came over for a playdate and when his mom came by to pick him up, Primo ran over to her with a piece of paper on which he had drawn lines and serious-looking instructions.

Then he explained what it was he was giving her:

“This is a VOUCHER System. If Denny does something good, you give him points here and he can get a toy, or some licorice or an ITouch. But if he does something bad, you have to take points away, on this side and he CAN”T get any of that stuff. OK?”

I found the whole thing very embarrassing. I mean, had I explained our system it would have sounded much more nuanced and friendly and progressive but really, Primo is right, this is what it is.

Alfie Kohn
would be MORTIFIED. But what can I tell you? It seems better than screaming at your kids and empty threats and ineffective time-outs. I don’t think the punishment/ reward system is ideal but I really don’t know how a normal (not Superhuman) parent with normal (not Stepford) kids can realistically operate under anything different. With two fire-craker, high-maintenance kids, modeling good behavior and treating them like the kids I hope they will become just doesn’t cut it. Input? Ideas? Any tips for other Systems a system-addicted mother like me can look into?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emu fat? Seriously?

I know my New Year’s resolutions should probably address ways in which I can improve myself on a fundamental level, like how to be a better citizen of the world and how to be more patient and magnanimous. But the truth is, most of my resolutions center on how to give myself a gradual, comprehensive makeover. The superficial kind. So first step: exercise! You heard how the Pilates class is going.

Second order of business: I am launching a campaign on my face. It is called Stop the Wrinkles.

Let me hasten to make myself seem less vain. Up until a few months ago, I never, ever gave wrinkles a passing thought. In retrospect, it’s probably because I haven’t taken a close look in a mirror in several years. But whatever the reason, I haven’t been worried about it. My mom and aunt and grandmother look pretty good and they never had plastic surgery or used any fancy creams. But in late November, when I was getting ready for my high school reunion, a process which requires one to be utterly self-critical and unforgiving, I noticed them.

I wouldn’t even say they are wrinkles per se, just a general loss of tautness in the epidermis (that’s my euphemism for “saggy face syndrome”).

At first, I thought something was wrong. I lifted my brow a bit to apply eyeshadow and when I let go, it did not spring back into a perky position like it used to. It just fell

“Why is my eyebrow DOING that?” I asked myself in the mirror. But myself did not have the answer.

I tried again – lifted the eyebrow so it looked like it was supposed to – Perky! Awake! Ready for fun! -- and then let it go.


David walked over to see if there was a real problem.

“What’s going on?”

“My eye is droopy!” I shouted.

He gave me a look which said, “Yeah, just as I suspected, self-induced nervous breakdown,” and walked away.

I finished applying my makeup as quickly as possible and darted off to meet my high school girlfriends to go to the reunion. On the subway over, we all talked about the dreaded Attack of the Wrinkles. Everyone, it appeared, had noticed some sign of them and nobody was happy.

My good friend Miriam confessed she’s been using emu fat on her skin at night,

“Its great,” she said, “and I think its making a difference. But it’s really expensive.”

I could not get over the fact that she was so blasé about coating her face in emu fat.

“Where did you even HEAR about this? Does everyone know about the benefits of emu fat but me? Is this a thing now?”

If I don’t know about emu fat, God knows what else I’m missing out on that is critical to the preservation of my epidermal tautness.

And that’s what I am asking you, readers. Fill me in. Right now, I do jack in the way of facial upkeep except wash my face every night before bed. Is it time for some wrinkle cream? Is it really necessary to take out a second mortgage to pay for the stuff? Does any of it really work or does it makes us feel a little less helpless as time soldiers on?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Networking: a pain-free approach (hint: go heavy on the cupakes)

It's February first but my New Years’ resolution momentum has not petered out yet. And since I spent most nights last year passed out in a stupor of fatigue, watching Project Runway re-runs, I have decided that this year will be Say Yes! Year. So last night, I said "Yes!" last night to an event hosted my Momasphere. The evite promised





I could take or leave the first three but when I saw the cupcakes, I knew it was meant to be. And I admit to having spent a good twenty minutes of my supposed-to-be-networking time planted in front of the Nine Cakes station, devouring bite-sized morsels of sheer delight and raving about them, with my mouth full to the baker who made them. How could I resist strawberry rosewater cupcakes with edible silver pearls fashioned from chocolate-covered puffed rice? You’d have to be a cyborg with no human feeling to say No to carrot cupcakes or the double chocolate ones, with gorgeous little purple flowers on top.

But I did stuff besides eating cupcakes. I also drank wine from bottles that had customized labels featuring the artwork of local Brooklyn artists from Brooklyn Oenology. (Quick show of hands: who knows how to pronounce that word, out loud? Isn’t there a law against that many vowels, all in a row?)

I was reminded that you are always rewarded for getting off your lazy ass and being a joiner when I ran into my best friend from high school there; she works with this amazing organization called Children of the City, who’ve been in Sunset Park for 28 years and offer support – educational, counseling, at-home visits -- to at-risk kids in the city, to break the cycle of poverty. You can donate or volunteer here (if Gwenyth Paltrow’s on board, then you know you better be, too).

But I didn’t just stuff my face with cupcakes and alcohol while listening to how others are actually doing things to better the world. No, sir. I also networked. And I’ll give it to those ladies at Momasphere and PSP Career Networking, it was pretty painless.

See, typically, if I had to choose between getting dental work done and networking, I’d go for the dental work. I understand meeting people is important and rewarding but it takes a special person to know how to break into a conversation that’s in full awing and stick yourself right into it, or how to excuse yourself gracefully from a tete a tete that’s run its course. I’m just not gifted in that way. But the ladies in charge of this little soiree did a bang-up job of pairing up people in the same industry and making introductions, thus making the networking rather easy, in fact.

In the spirit of networking night, I’ll share a tip I learned recently:

1. You can take honesty too far. Refrain from asking others if they ever considered using a little splash of their baby’s breast milk bottle in their morning coffee, when they ran out of milk. I know WE can talk about that stuff, but you shouldn’t do it during networking.

(Incidentally . . . have you considered it? I never actually DID it but I can’t drink coffee without milk and I do need coffee in the morning so there were a few close calls. Then I realized I could just buy Coffee Mate and life got a lot saner.

Happy Dodgeball

If there is a minute or two left over after the end of karate class, the Sensei often lets the class play “Happy Dodgeball.” After Primo’s first taste of "Happy Dodgeball" he confessed that he really didn’t care for it. I told him that I didn’t either. In fact, no sane person I know does. The senseis must know this because they felt the need to give dodgeball a friendly face by prefacing it with a positive word.

But, lets face it, if you have to stick the word “Happy” before something, the thing probably sucks.

I mean, would you buy it if the dentist told you that you needed a “Happy Root Canal!”

Or you found out you had the “Happy Swine Flu!”

Or it was time to do your “Happy Taxes!”

Come on, man. If someone’s gonna throw a ball at you, they should pay you and not the other way around. Am I right?