Saturday, October 4, 2008

Family Lore: W&E, Ages 2-3


Once upon a time, in a land called Flower Mound, a princess named Elizabeth decided diapers were no longer to her liking.
Her mother, a very wise and astute woman, agreed it was time to introduce her child to the merits of the royal throne. Thus, the queen journeyed to the magical land of Tarjay where she traded her gold card for the prettiest potties even the pickiest of princesses would find provocative. There was a blue potty emboldened with a teddy, a green potty bearing a fish, a white potty with grand arms, and last but not least, a pink potty the color of posies.
“Oh!,” exclaimed Princess Elizabeth upon seeing her potties, “Me try them!”
And she did.
Princess Elizabeth sprinkled. Princess Elizabeth tinkled.
She dripped. She dropped.
She pondered. She puddle.
Her highness was very, very proud of her work and kindly called the entire kingdom to the Throne Room see the merits of her afternoon. Oh, how the queen and king clapped! Her twin brother Prince William spun in celebratory circles! Even the Royal Godfather, who had no children of his own and knew nothing yet of potty appreciation, could see with his very own eyes how wondrous it all was!
The bare-bottom princess beamed with delight.
But after several days of potty production, Princess Elizabeth grew weary.
“Bebe want play, no potty,” she said, with a look of dismay.
The queen, wanting to cease upon the princess’ initial interest, quickly offered more incentives. She built a library in the Throne Room complete with developmentally appropriate works about potty time. Then, she offered the princess a royal stepping stool so that her precious feet could easily reach the sink, a sink made festive by animal-shaped soaps scented with roses.
Sadly, the allure of the tap lasted for a few days. Princess Elizabeth found standing on the stool to be tiresome. Her little calves were tired. Her delicate fingers were wrinkled with so much washing. Besides, Prince William wanted to play Hide in the Royal Drapery, a game much more interesting.
Princess Elizabeth called for her Pull-Ups and declared potty time “all done.”
Now, the queen was very wise indeed. She knew from past experience that Princess Elizabeth had a will like that of the feistiest dragons in the kingdom and that if she pushed her highness on the issue, there would be no business to be had.
So she bided her time.
One day several weeks later, the queen and her entourage were shopping at Babies-R-Us when Princess Elizabeth called for a trip to the local potty. This, thought the queen, was a very good sign. So she parked her purchases and wheeled the Royal Buggy into the bathroom.
“Oh!” said the princess spying the kid-friendly facilities, “Bebe see little potty! Bebe try!”
The queen, being a bit of a germaphobe, made haste to carefully prepare a quilted space for her cherub on the petite potty. But once the place was properly prettied, her highness requested to be partially disrobed for the main event.
Not wanting to lose momentum, the queen complied with the princess’ wishes, though she suddenly realized her daughter’s royal robes were both too complicated to remove quickly in such a confined space. There were buttons to undo and zippers to unzip, and slippers to remove.
Fortunately, her highness was a creative sort and was able to busy herself by unrolling yard after yard after yard of toilet paper. Then, because the queen was taking so long and she needed to make herself useful, the princess carefully began shredding it.
Meanwhile, Prince William watched from his place in the Royal Buggy. He provided helpful instructions in a very loud voice so that both his sister and mother would be sure to hear them.
“Sit down, Bebe!” he repeated again and again, “Like Meeum!”
When no action was taken, Prince William took to cleaning out the trays in his Royal Buggy. First he pitched his Royal Sippy Cup onto the floor. Next, he dispensed his Royal Snacks. Then being a very kind and thoughtful brother, he also took care of his sister’s place.
The queen felt an unseemly prickle of sweat at her hairline.
The Great Undressing continued.
Princess Elizabeth shuffled beyond the billowing mountain of toilet paper and began conducting science experiments while she waited for her mother. She peeked beneath the lid to see exactly where the water would originate when she flushed. Then she caressed the underside of the porcelain lid to see if it was cool or warm or wet. She poked out her little pink tongue and was about to see if it tasted like vanilla ice cream when the queen finally lifted her onto the potty.
A calm washed over the threesome. And it grew quiet. Too quiet.
Princess Elizabeth swished her feet back and forth on her perch. Prince William sat at attention, mouth agape, waiting.
“Hmm,” thought the queen, “perhaps we need a little encouragement.”
While the queen had not lived long in the Land of Texas, she had learned that many in the community responded to loud chanting and arm waving.
“Prince William, we must cheer!” she exclaimed.
Thus, she stood tall in the stall, raised her arms and began.
“Go, Bebe, go! Go, Bebe, go! Go, Bebe, go!”
Prince William chimed in and together their voices rose and fell in a cadence surely heard all over the store, if not the entire kingdom.
Then suddenly, Princess Elizabeth went!
She was very, very proud.
“Meeum’s turn!” the Prince wailed, unstrapping himself from the Royal Buggy in a move so violent it nearly overturned the rig.
The perspiration dripped from the queen’s delicate underarms like morning dew falling from a magnolia. But the queen was no fool: Never before had the prince uttered an interest in the potty and she knew she must take the opportunity to introduce him to the pleasures of the throne.
She begin again to prepare the petite palette.
The unadorned princess, seeing that her mother would need her to busy herself for the next several moments, tottered off to explore the facilities next door.
When everything was finally in place, including the prince, Sister, Brother and Mother all cheered with magnificent gusto.
“Go, William, go! Go, William, go! Go, William, go!”
They tried again, even louder than before.
“Go, William, go! Go, William, go! Go, William, go!”
The prince squinted his eyes and grimaced.
“Meeum want snack,” he said, “Meeum hungry.”
The queen was relieved to have closure. And frankly, she was a little hungry herself.
But as luck would have it, she too had been inspired by all the cheering.
She gathered up her children and their Royal Robes, washed their tiny hands and parked them back in the Royal Buggy.
For a third time, she prepared the potty. Then she took to the throne.
The prince and princess started with big, round eyes at their mother.
Then quietly, they began chanting. Faster and faster their words came tumbling out. Their voices crescendoed and the words filled the chamber for all to hear:
“Go, Momma, go! Go, Momma, go! Go, Momma, go!”
And so she did.



I always pictured my three-year-old son’s first love as a sprite of a thing.
She’d have sparkly blue eyes, bouncy pigtails and a contagious laugh. This little girl—her name might be Caroline—would appreciate William’s sweet nature. She’d admire his artwork and quiet humor. At recess, Caroline would hold William’s hand as they sat under a tree and talked about clouds. She’d help him find Bear if he went missing. She’d even embrace his crazy twin sister with a knowing smile.
But we mothers are often wrong.
William, it turns out, loves a 40-something hippie chick named Anna Dewdney. This woman is herself the mother of two small children one of whom is named Cordelia. She resides somewhere in Vermont.
I know few other things about Ms. Dewdney except that she has really, really long brown hair and enjoys rhyming. This information I gleaned from her two famous (at least to us) books, “Llama, Llama Red Pajama” as well as “Llama, Llama Mad at Mama.”
Her picture is right there, on the back of the book jacket. She’s smiling—and bundled up, of course, because it is cold in Vermont.
William—my obsessor—became attached to Anna’s first book at age 2; he discovered her second story a month ago. Both volumes are now dog-eared and regularly toted from room to room along with Bear, his inflatable green guitar and various Fisher-Price Little People figurines.
William can recite “Pajama”—the story of a small llama’s ability to cope with separation from his mama—and do all the voices. He’s learned what rhyming is from the story and how to do it even if his rhyming “words” are just made up mumbo-jumbo.
This is quite the life achievement when you’re three and, thus, it leaves an impression.
So I suppose I should not have been surprised when young Wills wanted to send a valentine to Anna D. After all, everyone else in the family had been accounted for.
“Mama, we gotta send Anna Dewdney a letter,” William said, his hands busily adding “fringe” to a red heart I had just cut out.
“Uh huh, sure” I said as I swept up three pounds of glitter from the floor.
“No, mom, right now,” he said, scissors in mid snip, his hazel eyes looking up at me with the seriousness of a law student’s.
“Sit down,” he instructed, “and start the words.”
He pushed a piece of white construction paper in front of me.
“Tell Anna Dewdney,”—William always refers to the author by both first and last names out of respect, I’m sure—“that we really, really like her books. And that she should do a video. No, wait, a movie. I should make the movie. I’m gonna make the movie after I go to college in California. It’ll be about llamas. Good ones. Ones that don’t make you scared at night. That like to shop. In grocery stores. With their mamas. Tell Anna Dewdney to write more llama stories but they have to have covers that aren’t blue. I don’t like the blue ones.”
I scribbled furiously as William’s words tumbled out.
“Now, Mama, we’re done,” he said, scrambling down from the table. “You go get the stamp and an envelope.”
Hopping on one leg, he worked his way over to the dining room where he plucked a sticky return address label from my Christmas card pile.
“Now, let’s go to your office,” he commanded. “You’ll get Anna Dewdney’s address from the computer.”
Right. From the computer.
Dear God, I thought to myself as I ascended the staircase, please let Anna Dewdney’s address be out there in cyberspace. Please. Please.
William pulled up a chair as I booted up the computer.
I fiddled around for a bit then—holy Moses—there it was.
Anna Dewdney lives in Putney, Vermont, town of 2,634 people, median income: $40,000.
“William, I got it,” I said.
“Good job, Mama,” he said, “I knew you could do it.”
I stuffed the letter into an envelope, he stamped it, then we marched barefoot to the mailbox together. My arms quivered as I hoisted all 38 pounds of William into the air so that his little arms could reach the red flag. He pulled it up ever so gently, popped open the door and carefully snuggled Anna Dewdney’s letter between the bills.
I plunked William down on the sidewalk.
“Nice work, Mama,” he said brushing his hands together, a grin spreading from chin to cheek.
I hope Anna Dewdney—and her llama friends—can appreciate a good story as much as we do. Often, real life is better than fiction.


WRITTEN: Summer 2007

Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
Goodbye, Kraft macaroni and cheese. Adios, apple chips. So long, bacon bits.
Three hours into my cleaning spree and I was still on jet fuel. Bags of trash blooming with my family’s favorite foods mounded around me like the some bizarre plastic mountain range.
I pulled forth a brimming container of Jif peanut butter, one of the four foods my three-year-old son will actually consume, and squinted to make out the label. It read: “Made from roasted peanuts and sugar. Contains 2 percent or less of molasses, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (soybean), fully hydrogenated vegetable oils (rapeseed and soybean), mono-and diglycerides and salt.”
I gasped.
It was bad enough that the J.M. Smucker Company was loading up a childhood classic with heart-clogging oils but it was even worse that they were sneakily declaring the fact. By telling shoppers that “2 percent or less” of a product is involved in its packaging, it seems the harm is very minimal.
Well, they weren’t going to fool this momma.
They might as well replace the peppy red, blue and green striped label with a skull and cross bones. Jif was poisoning my children!
I dunked the peanut butter into the open trash can with certain aplomb.
I always got like this after a good seminar.
And the night before had been a doosey. Nutritionist Lexie Smith had visited my twins club and made a case for eating natural, organic food. Dump anything with a pesticide sprayed on it, she advised, do away with refined flours, and forget you ever heard of sweeteners like Splenda which were created in laboratories. It is also smart to avoid food additives like dyes and, of course, fast food, she added.
“Do you ever wonder why French fries discovered in your car seats days after you passed through the drive-through look the same as when you opened the container?” she asked. “That’s because bacteria won’t touch it. And here we’re pumping our kids full of these products.”
Then, she backed up the importance of healthy eating with scary numbers: Childhood diabetes is skyrocketing, many tweens have been found to have corroding arteries, infertility strikes more Americans than people of any other culture.
Diet alone, she added, can prevent the majority of diseases and ensure your body works like its supposed to.
I concluded right then and there that it was a dereliction of duty to ever again put marshmallows atop my kids’ cocoa.
And so I began dumping.
And dumping.
And dumping.
Five hours after the start of my project, my pantry looked clean enough to have Martha Stewart inspect it. There were hardly any of those toxic boxed food items left; the canned goods included only staples like chicken broth and diced tomatoes. The remaining pastas were whole wheat; I had organized my spices according to the Dewey Decimal system.
Bravo, I though, as I shut the door and cracked open a Mother Earth Mango juice.
The next morning, however, I noticed a flaw in my plan.
It was 6:21 a.m. and Will wanted breakfast. (Well, he never actually wants breakfast, but I feel it is important to at least put something in front of him so that when the Department of Child Neglect comes calling upon noting his boney ribs that I can truthfully tell them I tried to feed him.)
With all of the peanut butter, cereal and nitrate-laden bacon long gone, there was nothing for him to eat. I poked around my now neatly arranged baking section and—ah ha!—spied some whole grain Quaker oats.
I considered making old-fashioned, stovetop oatmeal. Well, there was just no way he would eat it. I mean, even the organic stuff sporting happy, furry Elmo on the box was routinely rejected.
What else could I do with it?
Then, inspiration struck.
I would make a healthful oatmeal bar like the kind marketed in the “easy breakfast” section of Kroger except without all the transfats.
I called to Will to put on his pint-sized apron and gave myself another pat on the back—the nutritionist said that children who prepare their food are more likely to actually eat it.
Together we found a cookbook.
That’s funny, I thought to myself as we leafed through it. All the recipes including oatmeal were for cookies. Well, I’d just have to improvise.
Will cracked the eggs and plopped them into the bowl.
The next item required was butter. Two full sticks. Even if there was a lot of it in the recipe, at least it was natural, I reasoned. That noxious margarine stuff could limit a child’s IQ, I just knew it could.
Then the recipe called for sugar. Lots of it—almost three cups—both the brown and the forbidden white granules.
So, there’s a little sugar, I thought to myself. At least I didn’t use Splenda. And the kids were going to eat the bars long before nap time so they’d have plenty of time to burn it off before I tried to put them to bed.
Just as I was about to get the mixer going, I heard Twin B banging on the door.
“Don’t move,” I told my little chef. “Momma is going to get Sister.”
Five minutes later, I had the blonde begging to help the brunette. But as many cooks know, too many in the kitchen spoil the broth.
Will tightened his grip on the Mix Master and glared at Elizabeth who was eagerly pushing a chair over to the counter. Faster than you can say “cardiothoracic surgeon,” she scrambled up and made a move for the long wooden spoon in her brother’s right hand.
Chaos ensued.
In an attempt to save the morning, I fished a bag of M&Ms out from behind the Organic Cheez-Its. (I kept them with a clean conscience, you see, as they are my potty training incentive.)
I poured a cup of candy out on the counter and told Elizabeth to sort out the blue from the pile so that Will could continue to stir the bars in a sister-free zone of contentment.
Meanwhile, Will had taken the opportunity to try out the goo as a new hair gel. And butter being what it is, shaking the slop free from his curls took me a few minutes.
I looked over at the counter to see Elizabeth jamming 400 dyed M&Ms into her mouth. (I assumed that Easter Bunny pink was probably not a color found in nature.)
“Rainbow!” she screeched as she dumped the remainder of the one-pound bag into Will’s batter.
To sum it up, the breakfast cookies—and that’s what they turned out to be—were terrific. Extraordinary, really. Especially when warm.
Especially when washed down with an ice cold Diet Coke.



I knew instinctively that the peace in my home had evaporated even without looking up from my book.
It was nap time on a sunny week day. I had indulgently snubbed the dishes, creeping upstairs to the quiet of the guest room with a new novel and an old patchwork quilt. One hour after I had put the kids to bed, a glass of ice tea now sat neglected and perspiring on the night stand as I thumbed through the troubles in someone else’s life.
But suddenly, my breath caught. My house was absolutely still yet I knew as sure as the sun was in the sky that my two-and-half-year old daughter had just Hudinied her way out of her crib for the very first time. I knew, too, that she had tiptoed across the playroom with all the stealth of a cat burglar and now stood just outside the door.
She was most likely naked.
I tore my eyes from the text and fixed them on the doorway.
Elizabeth had at least taken the time to accessorize her birthday suit. Her chubby feet were rammed into pink plastic doll shoes and a pink felt purse heavy with rocks dangled from the crook in her arm.
She was so delighted with herself she couldn’t even speak, a grin the size of Texas plastered across her face.
I was simultaneously awed and angered.
How I managed to also be surprised by her newfound skills was beyond me.
After all, everyone had told me that one day my twins would climb out of their cribs.
In fact, in the past year and a half Elizabeth had proven herself a master of undoings. She bested the scientists at both the Britax and Combi companies, learning how to wriggle out of the child restraints in her car seat and stroller. She could open any child safety lock on any interior door so long as it was at eye level. And for kicks, this child unscrewed the lids of various jars in the pantry--jars so tightly sealed by my manwich of a husband that I had to call a locksmith to make a PB&J.
I sighed inwardly. In order to get my child to stay in her room and provide her even a chance at resting, I would have to reverse the locks on her door and lock them from the outside so that she could not escape.
I immediately called Grandpa, our go-to handyman, and within hours the job was done. The only complicating factor, we noted, was that Elizabeth’s bedroom was part of a circular floor plan that linked her space with two bathrooms and a guest room. That meant that five doors total had to be locked in order to keep Elizabeth from exiting her bedroom into the hallway--or entering a bathroom or guest room, all of which provided scary opportunities for a curious toddler.
We would have to be very vigilant to make sure that Elizabeth stayed put.
(William’s bedroom is not part of the circular floor plan; his room is on the opposite side of the catwalk that serves as our playroom. He has only one door which is easy to lock but, of course, he is not the kind of toddler who would ever consider climbing out of his crib.)
That very night, like so many in our household, proved to be inspiration for Barnum and Bailey.
Despite my efforts and that of my mother, who often joins us for bedtime, Thing 1 and Thing 2 leapt out of the bathtub, racing throughout the maze of rooms that make up the second floor. They looped from one room to the next like professional NASCAR drivers, howling as the two grown-ups slammed into one another trying to catch them. Finally, we decided the best strategy was to work together to flush them into the playroom and lock the doors behind us.
Here we go, I thought, as I twisted the springs: One lock. Two. Three. Four. Grandma would turn the fifth when she exited Elizabeth’s bedroom.
With the children finally out in the open we were able to separate them--often the key to diffusing the pre-bedtime bursts of energy--and carry them off to their individual bedrooms.
More than one hour later, my husband and I were relaxing over dinner when we realized Grandma was still upstairs with Elizabeth. It was not uncommon for Memaw to extend bedtime with Elizabeth, as our precocious child had a winning way of convincing even the most structured caregiver to stretch out bedtime.
On the other hand, Grandma was known for snoozing and it was very possible she had fallen asleep in Elizabeth’s bed.
“I’m going up there to get Memaw,” I told my husband.
I trundled up the stairs and decided to peek into Elizabeth’s bedroom via the bathroom so not as to be in her line of vision is indeed she was still awake.
I pushed open the door to the guest room and there was Grandma, perched on the edge of the guest room bed.
“WHERE have you been?” she whispered, “I’ve been locked in up here for an hour! I didn’t want to wake Elizabeth by passing through her room, so I’ve been trying to flag down passing cars through the open window.”
We slide back down the stairs.
“You locked the doors, right?” I asked.
She plopped down at the dinner table, grabbed a dinner roll and nodded affirmatively.
Just then, a door creaked upstairs and a little blonde head poked out.
“I’ll get her,” my husband said.
He reappeared 15 minutes later, triumphant.
“Okay, I got it,” he said, “I made sure all five doors are locked. There is no way she can get out now.”
Overhead something thumped.
We heard a door open and close.
Elizabeth appeared at the stop of the staircase with her rock-filled purse in one hand, that Texas-sized grin sprawling across her face.
“Hey, Daddy,” she whispered, “BOO!”


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