Friday, November 19, 2010

Listen Up, Mr. President

When you live in Washington D.C. as we did for many years, celebrities are not limited to Snooki, Lindsay and Britney. If you really want to get the interns revved up, spot Nancy (Pelosi), Harry(Reid) and now John (Boehner) dining at one of the venerable steak houses near Capitol Hill.
That's why having Roberto Rodriguez come to dinner at our house last night was a really big deal.
Mr. Rodriguez is Special Counsel to the President on Education, a handsome 35-year-old dynamo who advises Barack Obama on national school policy. He is, by Beltway standards, a minor celebrity.
In our world, he's a major one: Roberto also happens to be my husband's oldest and dearest friend, a fellow zoo school graduate from Grand Rapids, Michigan, who once ran the City High Student Council with Jim. (Three cheers for the City High "Pegasi," which was a somewhat dorky yet understandable mascot for Grand Rapids' gifted and talented youth.)
To know Roberto is to love him and in no time at all, six-year-old Elizabeth was perched on his lap as we grown-ups talked politics.
We explained to the twins that Roberto works for President Obama to make schools better.
"Is there any message you want Roberto to give to Mr. Obama?" I asked the kids. "Is there anything we as a country should be doing to improve your school?"
I, for one, could stand to do away with the TAKS tests but then, that's more of a state issue...
William, meanwhile, monkeyed with a paper plate, thoughtfully chewing his tongue.
"There should be more ice cream," he said, all business. "Every day there should be ice cream."
Roberto, ever the problem solver, asked for clarification.
"And should we have hot fudge available?" he prompted. "How about sprinkles? Do we want just vanilla or choclate, too?"
But Will wanted things simple.
"Vanilla would be good," William said.
"Well, that's important to know," Roberto said. "The House is considering the Child Nutrition Bill this week."
Who says officials don't listen to their constitutents?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Louse in De House

I am a big fan of the story “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” the children’s book in which one action leads to another. I think there should be a version for grown-ups called “If Your Husband Goes Overseas on Business.” Here is my version.

If your husband goes to China on business, your daughter will come home with a head full of lice.
If you go to the drug store to purchase a shampoo to remove the lice, there will be only one kit left. You will need two.
If you carefully apply the pesticide, which is supposed to kill anything alive, then spend three hours combing out your daughter’s thick, long hair with an inch-wide metal nit comb, you will notice at the end of your grooming session one very alive louse. He will have very alive friends.
If you call your pediatrician in a panic, he will put you on hold.
If your doctor suggests your massage mayonnaise into your daughter’s scalp as a homeopathic remedy, you do so only to realize that you have been using Light Mayonnaise instead of Regular Mayonnaise. It is likely lice will enjoy Light Mayonnaise.
If your aunt comes to visit you from New Mexico, you will send her directly to a seedy laundromat with 14 loads of lice-infested bedroom textiles.
If your aunt is at a coin-operated laundromat, she will not have enough quarters to get the job done.
If she cashes in her remaining bills for coins, she will run out of detergent.
If you are simultaneously doing laundry at home, your washing machine will break.
If your washing machine breaks, the toilet in your master bedroom will sympathize and begin spraying dirty water soaking your carpet.
If you need to soak up funky toilet water, you will realize your aunt has every towel in the house in the back of her car.
If you get the toilet water cleaned up, you will still need to vacuum up the lice.
If you try to vacuum up the lice, you will realize your vacuum is on its last legs and that you are out of clean vacuum bags.
If you spend a whole entire week raking through your child’s hair with a painful comb, you will feel guilty and let her play with a chemistry set.
If you let her play with a chemistry set, she will spill every single chemical on the kitchen floor where your baby is crawling.
If you spend an hour cleaning the brick surface on your hands and knees, your mother will helpfully dump your dirty mop water into the downstairs toilet.
If she pours the sludge down the toilet, several rags will go down with it and clog the pipes causing the potty to overflow onto your clean floors.
If you find yourself covered in toilet water, lice shampoo, mayonnaise and dead bugs, your husband will call from China and tell you he’s having a wonderful time at the World’s Fair.
If, after a week, you finally get your child cleaned up and the house deloused, you will get an e-mail from a first grade teacher informing you that Friday is Hat Day.
If it’s Hat Day in First Grade, your child will provide a habitat for a new crop of lice.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Mystery Reader

Being a Mystery Reader in first grade is a little like volunteering to step on the circus stage--you know darn well something funny will happen with the clowns and that it will likely involve water.
Yet, it is nice to raise your hand and be chosen.
Thus, I marched off to the elementary school last week with my two reads tucked under my arm and a theme: It's good to be quirky.
Mrs. E. turned off the lights as I entered and did a drum's Will's mom!
I parked myself in the rocker.
"Our two stories today are about being quirky and how that's a good thing," I told the kids clustered on the Crayola-colored rug. "Who knows what quirky means?"
Noone knew.
"Well, it means being unique in a special way," I said. "Our baby Charlotte is quirky because she likes to do chores. When she crawls, she pulls herself around on her tummy, dusting the floor."
I added that I'm quirky--I drink Diet Coke with my breakfast!
I offered other examples: Our grandma screams really loud when she rides kiddie amusements even though she's in her seventh decade of life, Will's sister separates all her food into categories before she eats them, our daddy can snore so loud you can hear him one floor down.
I then proceeded to read "Imogene's Antlers," the story of a British girl who, wouldn't you know it, grows antlers! I follow up with Dav Pilkey's "Dog Breath," about a canine who saves the day despite needing to brush and floss.
Then it was time to see how well we did with retention.
"Okay, so we know being quirky is a good thing," I said. "Who here is quirky?"
One little boy offered that he's quirky because he wears his hair in a braid on top of his head; another girl lives on a farm with a horse.
Will's friend Sandy has a dog who has really, really short legs but runs surprisingly fast.
They were getting into the swing of things now.
"Ohh, ohh, I have one," yelled a kid in a Cub Scout uniform hopping up and down. "I have a dog who wears a diaper and pees blood!"
Next time I think I will go to the circus.
At least that's a more predictable afternoon.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Crawler Camp

I've done many crazy things in the name of motherhood, but crawling across the living room floor on all fours barking like a dog with a baby rattle in my mouth might be the nuttiest.
Actually, I wasn't just barking. I was also shaking my head back and forth and sort of growling. Being consheentious, I wanted to get the part of Beagle just right.
The simultaneous goal, however, was to encourage Charlotte to creep, a milestone that at 9.5 months had failed to materialize.
I had pretty much given up on crawling and figured it didn't matter: After all, Elizabeth sat on her tuffet until she was 13 months old then stood up and walked across the room. She's since tested into our school district's gifted and talented program so I figured she didn't miss out on much.
So when all the other babies at Kindermusik zipped across the mats on all fours, I sat back and smiled.
"Charlotte has surveyed our flooring options which include brick and wood," I told another mother, "She's happy instead to relax and preserve her knees."
Not only was the baby thrilled with the arrangement--who wants to look down at the world after sitting up?--but so was I. With Charlotte immobile, I didn't have to worry about scrubbing the floor or packing up the Legos.
Imagine my surprise when my pediatrician raised a red flag--which I dismissed.
(This is my third baby, for crying out loud, let's not rush her! She'll creep when she's ready.)
Then my dear gal pal Michelle M., who is also a pediatric physical therapist, forced me to swallow a cold dose of hard reality.
"Crawling is imperative," she said in her kind doctor-y voice. "It promotes visual perception and strengthens the arms which enables kids to form the correct pinscher grasp used for writing later."
It turns out that crawling as a baby is linked to school success: Kids who don't color or write well in kindergarten generally never crawled.
(Creeping also does a bunch of other important things but I'm several days out from the conversation so I can't remember what exactly, but the gist is that kids must go through this phase to ensure their bodies and minds work properly.)
And what of Elizabeth?
"You got lucky," my friend said. "If Charlotte's not up on all fours and swaying back and forth by ten months, give me a call for clinical assessment."
Michelle's prescription: 30 to 40 minutes of belly time per wake period. This translates to 90 minutes per day.
Now, I will blatently ignore a middle-aged male pediatrician, but I will never, ever ignore the advice of a fellow hot momma with a Ph.D. (I will disclose I've spent thousands of dollars at Michelle's clinic where William worked to quit tiptoe walking--also a seemingly harmless quirk that causes big problems--and thus I know the value of early intervention.)
So, I dutifully spent an afternoon last week rearranging the furniture and laying down a huge foam mat: Crawler Camp would commence immediately.
Charlotte was not pleased.
Four minutes into our exercises and she planted her face into the foam, looking up at me with a pleading look that said "Can I please just have the camp water bottle and T-shirt and call it quits?"
"Listen, kid," I told her, "If you want to accurately pen your incredibly long English name when you're five, you're going to have to do this."
And so we've been at it now for a week. I've alerted all family members to the situation and now even the twins--the biggest enablers of us all--are forcing Charlotte to climb over the Mt. McKinley of pillows. Why just yesterday, the big kids even played Yoga Class with Charlotte, deftly demonstrating the various poses they'd learned in preschool.
Still, no success. And no real interest.
"See, Charlotte," I tell her, "If you can crawl, you can get whatever toy you want."
She rolls her big, brown eyes at me and whines like a dolphin both harpooned and marooned.
Hence my dog act.
If we have to put this sweet cherub through Crawler Camp, at least I'll try to make it fun for her.
No wonder I'm the one sporting rug burn on my knees.

EPILOGUE: Baby Charlotte began doing an Army crawl at 11 months. She first dragged herself to an electrical outlet then scooched over to the wastebasket to lick it. I abruptly canceled the meeting with the PT but now worries she is going to pull a lamp on her head... I should be more careful what I wish for...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My Mother's Table

My mother, for all her efforts to become a good cook, rarely serves up a meal without a side of apology.
"I'm worried this might be a little overdone," she'll say, plunking down plates of puckered chicken before us. "And I didn't quite get to these green beans in time but they should still be OK," she'll add, spooning out vegetables no decorated EMT could resuscitate.
Ketchup is often offered as triage.
So is salt, the "seasoning" of choice in her kitchen.
If things are really dire, she'll microwave a can of mushroom soup and slosh it over the top of whatever cut of meat needs help.
Her best strategy remains distraction, which is where the leprechauns come in.
My mother's table scapes are legendary. This is why, in part, her dinners remain extraordinary culinary events and a hot ticket any time during the holidays.
Sit down at one of her tables and you feel like you're in Disney World.
Depending upon the season, there are dozens of artfully arranged Easter bunnies, cupids, Santas, birthday hats, or ceramic rainbow sculptures lofted at differing heights atop boxes draped in antique lace and textured cloths. I've even seen her tastefully combine plastic flip flops, Styrofoam sun visors and multicolored bandannas in a centerpiece caterers at The Plaza would commend.
But that's just the beginning.
The placecards--and there are always placecards--are not simply small signs denoting your seat. Often, they hold clues about the life of the guest, which is essential, she believes, to the ice-breaker phase of a dinner.
At her events, you might be seated next to "World-Class Litigator," or "Museum Docent" or "Airplane Connoisseur." Even small guests get provocative cards like "Amusement Park Designer."
Sometimes, guests are given a part they're supposed to play.
One Christmas, my mother did a Texas theme and we were all given nicknames: We enjoyed the company of "Tall Richard," "Kitty Jo," "Jim Bob," "Big John," and "Little Jewel."
These monikers were extended to our stockings, which also were marked with the aforementioned names and hung on the backs of our dining room chairs.
There is silver, too, lots and lots of silver sprinkled between crystal goblets and linen napkins adorned with thematic napkin rings.
My six-year-old daughter Elizabeth always checks the silver sugar bowl to see if Memaw is serving white or brown sugar. She likes to clink the tiny tea spoon aside the bowl with a pinkie raised. While some grandmothers would flinch at the mere thought of young children nearing their pretties, my mother encourages use so that kids can learn early on to appreciate them.
"They're antiques," she'll say. "They've been through generations of kids and have held up just fine."
This is often a launching point for stories of people past and present.
You see, the real entree at my mother's table is not the roast but the conversation.
She knows something about everyone and makes connections for and between her guests, engaging them in ways few others could. My mother is fundamentally curious and asks curious questions. She mixes in ideas big and small, massaging the dialogue like a baker massages dough until the dinner becomes a party and the party evolves into a night to remember.
"Good God," she'll say after an evening, "Your father and I were up late again! The Smyths were at the dinner table until 2 a.m.!"
Of course they were.
My mother's meals are more nourishing than those served by five-star chefs in world-renowned restaurants. That's because she never fails to make her guests feel special, funny, smart, comforted and, well, full--even if you were noshing on that weird green Jell-o salad she serves in spring.
My mother's birthday was June 1 and for the occasion, I bought a clutch of ceramic pink flamingos. I set my table with pink polka dot plates then sprinkled dyed pink feathers throughout my table scape.
The food was a downright disater: The menu included stringy Hawaiian chicken and a birthday cake topped with crystallized icing so sweet it made dentists up in Oklahoma shiver.
"Ohh, this is delightful!" my mother cooed as she ate a forkful. "So, William, I hear that your tables were turned upside down in kindergarten today. What was that all about?"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Elizabeth's Journal

It is hard to imagine anything more exciting to a six-year-old than losing a front tooth, which is why when the blessed event occurred the Tooth Fairy left a message in pink glitter glue, a smattering of pink fairy dust on the floor and a five dollar bill carefully folded in the tooth pillow.
But today Elizabeth topped herself: She spontaneously lost another bottom tooth without any of the usual wiggling--only two days after losing a front tooth!
"Look what came out," she screeched, rushing down the stairs with the evidence cupped in her right hand.
For the record, she's lost five teeth. This means she now shares strained baby food with her eight-month-old sister Charlotte.
Elizabeth proceeded to make the necessary phone calls: Mewmaw and Papa, Grandma Nan, Aunt Jamie.
"You must come see my smile, Memaw," Elizabeth crowed into the phone while lounging on the couch. "I am adorable."
Then, she documented the event in her Dollar Store notebook.
Below is the entry as copied directly from the page.
(Of course I read it! But that's another blog post entirely...)

Day 4
I lost my tooth egan! Wow, I cant bulev it!
I lost my tooth!
I lost my tooth!
I can't bulev my self!

Such an entry would make even the Tooth Fairy chortle.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Boy Love

"No one will play with me at recess."
It was a statement of fact, bravely put forth by my small boy.
The huge hazel eyes searched mine.
My own eyes stung as I commanded every cell in my body to stay steady.
I did my best to soothe and strategize. Later, I inquired of the kindergarten teacher: What did she see? After all, I was under the impression that William is--and has long been--well liked by just about everyone. He's kind, intelligent and quietly funny. He blends well with many different types of kids and enjoys them all. His teacher confirmed this and explained that he always plays with classmates at recess.
Yet despite being busy, Will still felt lonely.
I knew exactly why: He needed a Best Friend.
Just as all little boys should have a dog, they need a Best Friend. All boys should have a special companion who can appreciate the fine art of mushing gross uneaten food into a carton of chocolate milk. They need a person who can repeat a fart joke with a cackle then cheer them on as they execute a flying two-footed leap off a swing when their moms aren't looking.
And while William has a built-in buddy with a twin sister who loves him like a turtle loves its shell, he doesn't have a best buddy--yet.
I had been hopeful there would be a match when he started preschool at age 3. While there was plenty of fun to be had, there was noone special who stuck; the second year of pre-k left us with many good memories but no real contenders for Best Friend.
I hoped that kindergarten--and a boy-heavy class of 19--would offer up an opportunity. But with six weeks left in the school year, I wasn't seeing a match yet.
In the meantime, we continued to play with lots of different children and kept up ties with our preschool pals. I invited 40 kids to the twins' sixth birthday party but shelved my hidden hope for a Best Friend for Will this school year.
Then just today, I heard the cackle I'd been hoping for.
It rose up from my backyard like the first Texas bluebonnet of spring--bright, tall and full.
Charlie Schwartzman--a friend from preschool--was running in hot pursuit of Will. Together they tore around our biggest oak tree, Will in the lead while weilding a Nerf gun. My boy was was laughing like a heyena, open mouthed, tongue wagging.
Even after Charlie tackled his pal and, apparently, licked his ear, Will was grinning.
After the Schwartzmans left, Will pulled me aside.
"Mom," he said, "Charlie said he likes me best. He likes me. The. Best."
Charlie, I think it might be mutual.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Hot Pink Egg

Elizabeth and I make up stories together every night as we lie beneath her pink quilt. Generally, they feature a mouse and we call them 'Mouse Tales.' The feature below is tonight's story, written down by me for posterity. It is a deparature from the norm in that it features a spring hen. (Whoever heard of a mouse sitting atop an egg? Then again, that might be another story...) I rarely have more fun than when 'writing' with Beebs; few things thrill me more than her love of words.

Once upon a time in a field growing really tall spring grass, there lay hiding a hot pink plastic egg.
A hen came upon the hot pink plastic egg.
She looked to the left.
She looked to the right.
"Where is the mother of this poor hot pink egg?" the hen asked. "Why, this little thing must be cold. I will warm it and wait for the chick to peck it's way into the world."
So the mother hen fluffed her feathers and carefully arranged herself atop the egg.
She enjoyed the afternoon breeze.
She enjoyed the sunset.
She enjoyed the sparkly stars as they popped out around the moon.
The sun came up and the mother hen flopped off the egg to inspect it.
"This little chick is a late riser," she said. "I will try to wake her up."
So the mother hen knocked on the hot pink egg.
Nothing happened.
She knocked again, louder this time.
"Little chick, are you home?" the mother hen asked.
There was no answer.
So the mother hen used her strong beak to crack the hot pink egg in two.
"Oh, my!" she exlaimed.
There lying in the center of the hot pink egg was a very small bunny dressed in gold. She wore a pink bow tie and smelled very, very sweet.
"Why, you are not a chick at all!" the mother hen exclaimed. "You are a lovely little bunny."
The mother hen cocked her head with a smile, fluffed her feathers and gently wrapped her warm wing around the chocolate bunny.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Soccer Stars

In Texas, you're behind in sports if you don't start prior to potty training.
People have been telling me this for years but I shrugged it off. I know things are competitive down here in the Lone Star State(see "Cool Moms" posted below) but, seriously now, what insane people put toddlers on the soccer field before they've give up their sippy cups?
It would appear there are many.
In fact, by the time the Big Dawgs creamed the Lightening Bolts last Saturday, it appeared the winners had been on the field together for three years.
A pint-sized Pele and his pal--a wringer for David Beckham--along with their five-year-old teammates, pocketed at least ten goals during our 40-minute game in ice-cold conditions.
I say "at least" because at some point I stopped counting.
Luckily for the parents of the Bolts, the referees don't keep score for the Under Six league. Had they tallied the points, I know that my own sweet William would have sobbed so hard his father would have had to have carried him off the field in a puddle.
While the coaches of the Dawgs were telling their players to "Defend #4! Close in on #7! Cut around #2!" my husband--Coach Jim--and his buddy, Coach Steve, were yelling and pointing "Run LEFT, Honey, run LEFT!" in an attempt to ensure our kids were at least aiming the ball into the correct net.
Reid looked up from the play puzzled; Elizabeth stopped altogether in her tracks; Jack ran over to the sidelines to look for a cookie.
Mind you, our kids are not idiots.
On the contrary, they were holding tough after only one practice. The others had been cancelled due to snowy/soggy/frigid weather. Moreover, some of the kids had never watched a soccer game before, much less played in one. We were still figuring out how to put on our velcroed shin guards, discussing how the game is played, learning what in the heck the whistle was all about.
But by half time, Aiden was kicking big, Reid was defending the goal and Jack, having been fortified by M&M-filled baked goods, was running after the ball with a determined look on his face.
Alas, the opponent continued mounting goals on us.
Not that that mattered to Sydney and William who were defending their fellow Bolts up in the stands. (Yes, there are stands for the Under Six League in Texas.)
According to Sydney's mom, one of the Dawgs was talking trash about the Bolts to Syd and Will.
"We're still winners if we try our hardest," William told the Dawg.
"Right," said Sydney, who then went on to expound on the virtues of good intent and hard work in a manner that would make her kindergarten teacher proud.
Apparently, this sussing shut up the Dawg, who agreed that everyone would be a winner despite the score.
It's true that we lost the game. Yet in the end, we won.
No matter the tally of the season, I think we've already gotten our money's worth.
Go, Bolts!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Cool Moms

Whoever says my middle-class North Dallas suburb lacks cultural diversity need only glance at my twins' elementary school.
Why, we have Overprotective Moms. Overscheduling Moms. Overbearing Moms. And, my favorite Mom type of all, Moms of the Oversmart.
Gifted and talented.
And while I am certainly among the many Ugg-booted, cell-phone weilding throngs who idle in a SUV at kindergarten car line, I am proud to say that I do not fit into any of these categories.
After all, my five-year-old twins engage in only one sport per season (that's soccer this spring, as both football and hockey were deemed unsafe). They engage in free play (from 3:30 p.m. until 4:47 p.m. M-F at which point we adjourn to an organic, homemade meal served on BPA-free plates.) They are smart, but not so smart as to be weird. (I permitted William to yell "POOP!" for 12 consecutive minutes yesterday but only after he agreed to name the organs that aid in digestion.)
The final proof: When asked to provide evidence of my children's giftedness for our school district's G&T program, I limited myself to one typed page per child. I recognize that it would have sufficed to simply fill out the two lines provided on the form, but because I am a professional writer, I believe some level of perfection is expected. This accounts for the six hours I spent crafting the essays. (Thanks to those of you who edited them! I owe you each a Starbucks!)
I might add that I was ultra cool when the twins and I ran into the G&T admissions officer outside an Ulta beauty supply store last week. I could have gone on and on about how William correctly identified the nation of origin of the story "The Little Red Hen" as England just the day before. I could have added that Elizabeth is reading "The Mouse and the Motorcycle"--a third grade chapter book--all by herself.
But I'm not that kind of mom, so I didn't mention any of it.
No, I kept it casual: I told the teacher how we're enjoying "Brain Quest" at dinner each night. The "game" is actually a fan deck that offers dozens of questions about history, mathematics and science.
"We challenge each other to see who can answer fastest then my husband and I expand upon the concepts," I told the teacher. "We've completed the kindergarten and first grade cards, so we've moved on to second grade. The cards would be such a welcome addition to your curriculum."
The educator smiled and mentioned something about finding a hairbrush.
I'm sure she took the time to text my advice to the head of the curriculum department as soon as she made her purchase.
In fact, I'd bet my Uggs on it.