Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Off the beaten path pets: the hornworm

Look, I'm just not an animal lover. I'm not an animal-hater, either. I've just never had that natural affinity for our animal brethern that so many people seem to possess. If I needed further proof that this kind of animal love is innate, I got it when I had Seconda. Despite having never been ezposed to animals in any real way, she has always loved them. She's an animal person, kind and affectionate and devoted. She's the kind of kid that really needs a pet.

If she was my only child, she'd have one, no question. If she was one of two, maybe then too. If she was one of three and ANY of the trio were easy-going, low-key kids, maybe even then. But as things are, with three high-string, high-maintenance kids, including a toddler, in my charge, no outdoor space and close to zero disposable income, there is no way she can have a bona-fide pet, the kind that requires walking, pet-sitting when we are gone and trips to the vet. I know my limits and this is one.

The trouble is, I'm ridden with guilt for failing to nurture one of my daughter's great loves and abilities. Having a pet to care for would be good for her in many respects - it would satisfy her need for non-verbal companionship, afford her responsibility, teach her compassion. This is why we got goldfish, and a hermit crab. It will come as no surprise that these did not quite meet the craving she has for a pet.

This summer, with school out and friends far-flung, the kid's felt lonely and has resumed pining for a pet, so David and I have been discussing it again.

Dogs are out because they require so much work they might as well be human babies.
Cats are out because Primo and I are allergic.
Snakes are creepy.
Rodents are scheevy,
Lizards must be fed with live crickets which in turn require their own food supply.
Birds make a lot of fucking noise.
Turtles carry sky-high levels of salmonella which can cause problems when you have a baby in the house because apparently, babies are incapable of resisting the urge to put turtles in their mouth.
Bunnies shit like crazy.

There's always put bellied pigs but come on, I live in a NYC apartment. That's eccentricity gone too far.

I considered guinea pigs for a while but when I found myself face to face with one at the pet store I could not be duped into believing they were not rodents. They're really just extra fluffy rats.

So that's it.

Except for tadpoles, I guessed. I'd seen these little ecosystem tanks at a local toy store which are cimpeletely self-sufficient (meaning, no feeding or cleaning) and inside are little tadpole type animals. They're alive and they're silent and they require no work. They're not much more cuddler or interesting than goldfish but they were worth further investigation, I figured. When I called the toy store, they told me they no longer sold those tanks, so I called the pet store and they, too, were out of tadpoles.

"Do you have any caterpillar, then?" I asked. Maybe I could tide the kid over with some of those.

"No," he said. I was silent, trying to think up new species of animals whose life could be sustained without any effort.

 "We do have hornworms, though," the guy piped up.

"What are those?"

"They are sort of like really big caterpillars that turn into gigantic moths," he elaborated.

"Hmmm," I pondered.

They sounded pretty gross, actually. Part of what makes caterpillars cute is their size. Who wanted a mutant caterpillar crawling around at night in their apartment? Plus, after they transformed, you'd get a moth. Both the before and after versions of the animal were less attractive facsimiles of cute things.

"People get those, for pets?" I asked.

"Well, no," he admitted, "They buy them as food for other animals."

I googled "hornworms" and emailed the link to David, with a subject line reading: "Possible pet?" He didn't reply. We haven't ruled it out yet, though. If I try really hard, I can imagine heartwarming photos of Seconda smiling broadly, with a gigantic hornworm squirming on her palm, hanging off the sides because of his tremendous girth. Then, a few weeks later, we'd snap a picture of Seconda sitting of the couch, a mammoth gray moth trying to eat through her T shirt. We could put the photos in matching frames which read, "Best Friends Forever" underneath. This could work. Right?

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Amazing Spiderman!!

When I was a kid, mu aunt took me to see Peter Pan on Broadway. I was little enough that I don't have any memory of the event but my aunt tells me that both of us were awe-struck. The piece de resistance, she likes to recount, is when Sandy Dun, as Peter, flew across the theater.

"Over our heads!" she still marvels.

I am sure it was -- and would still be -- incredible. Though, were Peter to fly again on Broadway, he'd have to do a bit more than take a pass over overhead to earn oohs and ahhs. The bar for aerial spectaculars on Broadway has been raised, for better or worse, thanks to The Amazing Spiderman.

NY Metro Parents sent Primo, Seconda and I to see Spiderman on Sunday and report back about our experience. In a nutshell: if you are looking for high-flying, show-stopping tricks, you will not be disappointed. The show bills itself as "New York's Most Thrilling Show" and I could not disagree, in terms of spectacle. Put that 1979 Peter Pan on steroids, and you'll end up with Spiderman. The webbed wonder takes countless swings directly overhead -- covering the whole audience in wide circles to include everyone in the delight. He hands on the balcony once, twice, half a dozen times. He shoots webs right onto the heads of kids staring up in amazement. In the final climactic battle with the green goblin, Spiderman stands right on top of the Goblin's shoulders, and they battle in MID-AIR. This production is not skimping on spectacle. You came to see the guy fly and he flies, all right. And it is pretty amazing. I confess that every time, the kids and I gasped in delight.

Seconda, who is 6 and not especially a fan of superhero stories, thoroughly enjoyed the plot and the music, especially the comedy sprinkled in throughout (at one point, the Green Goblin tries to leave a message for JJ Jameson and gets stuck in automated voicemail purgatory and that really cracked her up).   Primo, who's almost 9, and a self-avowed aficionado of superhero comics as well as the world's snootiest kid critic of musical scores (remember this is a kid that knows every single note of The Phantom of the Opera) was more reserved in his enthusiasm. He thought the music could use some work (sorry, U2), and I'd have to agree: there were a few lovely ballads between MJ and Peter, but in general, it wasn't the kind of score I'd download to hear a second time. And though I really enjoyed some of the ideas the set designer was playing with, particularly paying homage to the story's comic book roots with the words "Pow!" and "Bam!" popping up during fight scenes, it didn't go far enough to cohere.

The backdrop for the final battle though, which has the Chrysler building revolving until the audience gets a bird's eye view, so that Spiderman and the Goblin appear to be fighting a hundred stories high, was fantastic. And though I wished the actors playing Peter and MJ had more to sink their teeth into musically, their voices gave me goosebumps.

As we left the theater, the kids got handed Spidey backpacks (in celebration of back-to-school, all kids who attend the show starting August 20, while supplies last, will get a backpack), and that clinched it for Sec.  She stopped shooting invisible webs for a second and affirmed, "The Amazing Spiderman really was amazing!" There you have it.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Collecting Kids

Here’s the thing about having three children in the city:  you can spend an hour picking kids up and you still have more to retrieve. As soon as I’m done distributing kids to their various destinations, I have to begin re-collecting them again. It’s a Sisyphean enterprise, and that’s on a fair weather day, to say nothing of when it’s pouring rain or cold as a witch’s teat or a crushing heat wave. 

Maybe this is one of those parts of parenting that's infinitely easier in the suburbs -- still the same distributing of children liek newspapers and still the same re-collecting them again later, only that the process must be expedited, and more comfortable, because you're in a car. Instead of transferring trains twice, then hoisting my fat ass up three flights of stairs to get to the walk up playdate, lugging my stroller clumsily up the stoop stairs and cursing under my breath, I'd merely beep my horn, almost effortlessly and roll down my window. 

"Get in, champ," I'd say, just like people do in commercials. 

Sounds absolutely dreamy. 

Monday, August 19, 2013

This is what it is really like to be married with three children

Evening is not our family's finest hour (neither is the morning, leaving us with a slim window of mid day in which we can be expected to behave agreeably, but that's another story). By 8pm, tempers run high on all sides. Everyone is tired. Everyone is fed up. The grown-ups in the house have been parenting since the wee hours and they really want the kids in the house to go the fuck to sleep so they can catch try to refuel physically and emotionally because guess what -- they have to do it all over again tomorrow -- but the kids really don't want to go to sleep, for reasons that are unfathomable.

Plus, there's the mess. After dinner, our living room looks like a pack of wild animals descended upon it. Really. It looks like instead of feeding children, we fed hyenas or some other kind of animal which eats by lowering its mouth into a trough or a carcass, without the use of hand or paw. It doesn't help that the baby invariably throws her food all over the room like she's an avant guard artist or a bat-shit crazy inmate. She'll overturn a bowl of yogurt, shove a few handfuls (how does one manage a handful of yogurt, you may ask? About as well as you'd imagine) then throws whatever yogurt she's managed to collect in her palm onto the wall and floor and on her siblings. I keep taking yogurt away from her -- "You're suspended from semi-solids until further notice!"  - but then she'll undertake a food strike that will scare the crap out of me, forcing me to cave,  just to get a few swallows of something in her. Blueberries, beans, wagon wheel pasta  -- whatever she's got on her high chair tray, she tosses to the ground. She does it methodically, too, one berry at a time, but fast, like she's got a deadline -- which she does, because as soon as I see what she's doing, I confiscate all food items.

The point is: at 8pm, we are up to our ankles in filth and crankiness.

Still, one must go on living, is my guess. So the other night, I decided to take a break from chasing Terza around trying to change her nasty-ass diaper, and offer a kiss to my husband, my partner in crime, my partner in punishment, who was mopping up a milk spill. I walked over and said, "Come give me a kiss."

And he said: "Blegh."

"David!" I rebuked him.

"What?" he asked, realizing the milk was cascading onto the floor from the countertop.

"I just said, 'Give me a kiss,' and you said, 'Blegh!"

"It's just -- look at this shit," he gestured to the living room, which looked like a middle school cafeteria after a food fight.

"Blegh!" I repeated, "Blegh!"

"I didn't mean the kiss!" he protested, "I meant . . .  everything else."

"We are so married with children," I said.

"That's putting it mildly." he replied.

Then he gave me a kiss, and we lived to stay married another day.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Would you leave your kid with a robot?

Just read this NY Times blog post about Robot babysitters and population growth. As much as the cost of child care is making our bank account perpetually empty, I'm inclined to think its a useful deterrent in many ways: it's sort of like how it's helpful that freezers don't come with a free, lifetime supply of Ben's and Jerry's ice cream. Sometimes self-control needs a little help. But it got me thinking: would I leave my kids with a robot sitter? To decide, I drew up the following list:

Pros and cons of Robot Babysitters

You can't beat the value
They're always available
Exceedingly reliable
You don't have to give them fare for a cab home
Aces at discipline, have got that consistent thing down
Will make even the coldest parent appear effusive
Come on, it's crazy cool

If your kid needs a hug, he's up shit's creek without a paddle

Monday, August 12, 2013

For the locals . . .

A few weeks ago, Seconda met a little boy she really like in summer camp.

"I'm going to send a letter to Milo," she announced. She drew a picture of a cat fighting with  dog -- her trademark theme -- and she wrote a short message with inventive spelling.

"Do you know his address, honey?" I asked.

"Yes," she confirmed, "He lives on Snorkel Horn Street."

"OK," I replied, patronizing her. I'd go along with the game, "Do you know what number on Snorkel Horn?"

"No," she frowned, "He didn't tell me that."

"Hmmm," I said, "Then it may be hard to send the letter. Maybe you can ask him tomorrow."

The next day, she forgot all about the letter and so that was that.

Then, a few days ago, we were in Brooklyn Heights going to the movies. Primo was reading the street signs as we passed them, and he announced that we were approaching, "Schermerhorn Street."

"That's where Milo lives!' Seconda shouted.


"Snorkel Horn Avenue! That's where Milo lives."

I love it when these little mysteries are cleared up.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Date Night in the Bathroom

Remember when staying overnight in a hotel meant spending a half hour in the shower trying out all the free products, lying in bed watching crappy cable for hours at night, interrupted by vacation sex, followed by deep sleeping, which went on and on and on, past 9am, past 10, sometimes past 11, at which point you'd have to fling your belongings into your suitcase and hustle down to reception to sweet talk the guy behind the counter into not charging you for late checkout?

That time is no more. It ended the day I had my first baby, much less my third. Now, even on the rare occasions when David and I sneak away for an overnight stay somewhere, neither of us can sleep past 8am.  We are biologically wired to wake, adrenaline coursing,  aeound 7:30am, to pour cereal and shove breasts into baby's mouths and pack lunches.

When we stay in hotels with the kids in tow -- once a year, on our way down to North Carolina -- not only don't we get to sleep late, we don't get to lie in bed watching crappy cable. That's because even though we only ever stay at hotels that offer two-room suites - where the living room and its fold out couch is separated from the bedroom with a door -- now that we have three kids, we don't get a room to ourselves. Baby is always on board. Baby could be tossed into the madhouse living room with her big brother and sister but those kids don't go to bed til the stroke of 10  - minimum  - and I can't cope with the possibility that they'd keep the baby up til then. I'd rather have a sleeping baby hogging my bedroom, essentially barring me from entry, than an awake baby screaming her head off, while I retain full use of the bedchamber. That's because I know full well that as long as the baby's awake I don't retain full use of anything; I can't enjoy the bedroom anyway with her clinging to me collar like a monkey and caterwauling in my ear. So we give the baby the bedroom, and we give the kids the living room and David and I are left . . .

With the the bathroom.

The thing is, by the time the kids finally succumb to sleep, we are so fucking relieved to be Off Duty for a brief spell that we don't give a shit that we're stuck in the bathroom.

i sit on the closed lid of the toilet and David perches on the edge of the tub. Occasionally, the bathroom is big enough for us to drag a chair in from the living room. In this incredibly glamorous set-up, we do exciting and sexy things like eat leftover cold cuts, and watch Scandal on my laptop.We could have sex in the shower, I suppose, but seeing as these hotel stays always follows a 6-10 hour car ride with three children, that is the last thing either of us want to do. OK, not either of us. I think David could drive a school bus full of kids for 72 hours straight  and still want to have sex upon exiting the vehicle. Still, the vacation sex of our pre-baby-days is out. So, we kvetch and snack and consume media, crowded in the bathroom. And we relish every minute of it because it sure beats sitting in the car with the kids bellowing three different songs simultaneously and beating the crap out of each other of out sheer boredom.

Yet another way the deprivation of leisure exacted by parenthood improves you as a person, making you grateful for the things you used to take for granted.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Baby Fish Mouth

Terza has a new nickname. I hope it doesn't stick. I wouldn't want Baby Fish Mouth to follow her on the recess playground. Nonetheless, there's no possible way we could not call her that when her baby mouth smelled so much like fish.

I was about 14 when I first watched When Harry Met Sally, so the term Baby FIsh Mouth has been lodged in my brain for more than 20 years.What does that even mean? I have wondered on more than one occasion.

Well, now I know. Baby Fish Mouth refers to a baby -- the more adorable, the better - who has the same halitosis a shark would have, whose perfect, rosy little mouth emits an epic stank, like Canal Street on an August day.

I know why Terza ended up Baby Fish Mouth; she ate some haddock at my grandmother's house. But didn't smell as though she ate the fish. It smelled like she bathed in it, like she swam right up into the carcass of a haddock and shampooed her hair with its intestines. The smell clung to her all over but when she opened her mouth to give me a big juicy, open-mouthed kiss - it positively reeked. It reeked worse than the time I brought back dried fish from Iceland in my suitcase.

"AHHHH!" shrieked Primo, "The baby stinks!"

Seconda just collapsedbaby fish  on the floor in hysterical chortles.

"Give that baby a shower," said David, holding his nose, "And wash her mouth out with -- I don't know -- can babies use mouthwash?"

"This is why i have to stay alive at all costs," I replied, "Because if I wasn't here, you'd be Listerine-ing our 15 month-old."

I gave her a shower, scrubbed well with soap and then let her drown out the taste of fish with the manna of breast milk. It did the trick. She was restored to Baby Milk Mouth. Just the way we like her.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

How To Talk To Your Daughter About Her Body

Just read this piece on The Huffington Post by Sarah Koppelkam, called How To Talk To Your Daughter About Her Body. I cried. I flagellated myself. I congratulated myself. I wished my mother had read it when I was 6.

When Seconda was born, I forbade myself from ever uttering out loud those three words I've uttered countless time, "I look fat." I forbade myself from using the word "diet," to refer to a weight loss regimen. And I've managed to refrain from both. But how many times has the kid caught me looking miserably in the mirror, peeling off jeans in frustration, asking David, "Does this look terrible? It does, doesn't it?"

My favorite part, I think, is "Prove to your daughter that women don't need men to move furniture."  I mean, I do, frequently, but she's tougher than me. Which is what you hope for your daughter.