Oldest Youngest

The revelation came last Friday, which also happened to be three days before Max’s fourth birthday. I’d baked a pan of Supreme Ultimate Fudge brownies (melt away chips in the mix!), and they had come out of the oven in a giant cakey mound instead of nice and flat like God and Betty Crocker intended. The pieces I’d sliced were all different heights and weirdly sloped, like brownie Stonehenge on a cooling rack, and definitely weren’t going to fit in the snack-sized bags I’d planned to carry them to the elementary school talent show concession stand in later that night. Also, I was on the phone with a surgical endocrinologist.

I was interviewing him for an article about having your thyroid removed, and as he explained in painstaking detail how he cuts the gland from its blood supply in the neck, I licked leftover brownie batter from my fingers and muffled the oven timer, swearing silently as my arm grazed the side of the hot oven. I’ve honed this skill over the last two years — Interviewing Highly Educated and Important People During Improbable Interview Conditions. I once interviewed a professor of medicine and esteemed diabetes researcher while driving soccer carpool. I had six (6) kids in the car with me, aged 3–12. (Ironically, I bought their silence with candy. I also sweat through my shirt.) Feel free to hit me up with an endorsement for that on my LinkedIn page.

After the interview wrapped, I texted a friend: “Tried to make the talent show brownies. Instead, I recreated Stonehenge with chocolate. Interviewed a surgeon about thyroidectomies while I baked. Livin’ the dream. [Sunglassed faced Emoji]”

I hit send. But even before the text was delivered, I knew my attempt at humor was misplaced. I sent another: “But actually, really that’s kinda true.”

This was the revelation: The fact that my normal week involves making money having a conversation about goiters while cramming odd-but-delicious brownies into tiny bags in my own kitchen in the middle of the day just before walking my batter-splattered self up the street to collect my kids from school? That’s me living my dream life.

***

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Today Max turns 4, and so does our family of five. Noah was 3 years and 9 months when Rosie was born, and Rosie was just over 3 and a half when Max came along. That makes Max, at 4 years old, officially the oldest youngest kid we’ve ever had.

All the gear is slowly marching out the door in the hands of other parents: crib, stroller, highchair, potty seat, impossibly small onesies with snaps at the crotch. All the kids read books with paper pages now, pedal bikes with two wheels, face forward in the car. We’ve reached a new family phase.

I used to worry that when Max was three and a half, babylust would kick in and I’d get sad. Sad because of some Kid Who Wouldn’t Be, sad because there’d be no more pregnancies, sad for the fact that I’d never again hold my own open-mouthed, wrinkly headed, magically scented baby for the first time. I’d never imagined myself having four kids, but I’d also never been finished having babies before now, either. I always wondered how it would feel to know I was really done. Would I sit and cry over open boxes of baby mementos? Create a moonlight ritual that involved burning my nursing bras and body paint? Buy a Harley and start dressing like Dita Von Teese? All of these scenarios seemed plausible.

But now that the time’s here, I don’t have a deep longing for another kid who’s yet to arrive. I feel like everyone’s accounted for. I realize now that the fortune cookie I got on my last day of pregnancy four years ago — it wasn’t talking about Max. It was talking about this family of five. They’re my dearest wish. They came true.

***

This morning, Max bounced into my bed and slithered under the covers, curling his body to fit against mine. He’s been counting down the days until his birthday, but somehow, today, THE day, he forgot. After three minutes of stillness, he gasped and sat straight up beside me. “I’M FOUR!”

You are, big kid. And so is your family. We’ve got nowhere to grow but up.

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May 9, 2016   1 Comment

I’ll be back before too long

In this already crazy three-kids-with-(almost)-three-different-sets-of-activities life, last Thursday night was DEFCON levels of crazy.

I was perspiring at 21-Day Fix workout DVD levels from the exertion of literally sprinting from Noah’s basketball tryouts down the block to Rosie’s piano lesson and back, then getting a text from Luke that he’s stuck in traffic and won’t get to Max in time for pickup and then racing across town in rush hour traffic to get him before the school closed (me out loud in my car while actively blocking a honking car from turning into McDonalds so I could make the light that had just turned green: “SORRY ‘BOUT YOUR CHEESEBURGER, BUT I’M MAKING THIS LIGHT.”) and blazing back to tryouts as Rosie’s piano teacher texts to say they’re done and then dashing over to get her with Max at my heels and then the three of us stumble-running back just in time to slump exhausted into the hot and crowded stands full of parents to watch Noah take his turn in front of the coaches.

(He nailed it.)

Finally, after the height of the hullabaloo was done, it was 6:20 p.m., and we were all sweaty and starving. Conceding defeat in both the homemade dinner plans I had (hahahahaaaaa) and any thoughts of getting Noah to soccer practice after his tryout (WHY), I left Noah at the rec center to hang with his basketball buddies and loaded Rosie and Max in the car to cut a familiar path through the neighborhood Chick-Fil-A drive thru.

As the three of us sat in the colossal line (with my gas light on, because OF COURSE) in the dark mist under the fluorescent fast food sign, Rosie started to sing. Then Max joined in, and so did I. All of a sudden, I’ll be doggoned if we weren’t having a moment in the middle of that paper-strewn, crumb-filled car, right in the middle of our hurried harriedness and too-busy business.

Rosie, high on her newfound ability to keep the melody in songs when I sing harmony, took the lead with gusto, with happy Max as her plaintive-voiced backup. We sang verse after verse of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody,” the lullaby version from a CD given to me as a gift just before Rosie was born, botching the lyrics and singing whatever words came out.

Know I adore you
Know I adore you
Know I adore you
And I’ll be back before too long

The gas got us all the way home. Luke was there to greet us at the door. We tromped through the house to the kitchen, found our chairs at the table, and sat down to eat our dinner, together.

***

I don’t get to this place any more. And by this place, I mean here on this blog, where I’ve come so many times before. I hang on to the hope that I’ll find a new groove someday that includes Yestertime. Ironically, now that I’m making a living writing, I can’t seem to find time to write about living. It’s not a sad thing, it’s just how it is for now. I still pinch myself, a year and a half after taking the leap to freelance writing, grateful that I seem to have found the rhythm of life that works for me and for us. (Even when that rhythm is frenetic and filled with drive-thru fries.)

I’ll keep paying for this domain. Hang on to the stories of the past and leave room for stories to come. I can’t not. I love this life too much not to write it down. I love it so much sometimes that it makes my chest swell like a wave about to crest. Like a bubble poised to burst. Like a balloon filled with too much helium, rising above the street lamps, headed straight for the moon.

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November 7, 2015   1 Comment

Today a decade

I’m almost never up before Noah on school days. In fact, most mornings he’s the one waking me with a gentle shake, fully dressed, breakfasted, and bookbagged, to kiss me goodbye before disappearing into the dark outside for the 6:45 a.m. bus. Today though, I crept into his room while the house still slept, beating his 6 a.m. alarm to its pre-dawn punch.

Good morning, 10-year old.

He blinked and stretched and craned his head toward the clock. “I’ve been 10 for twelve minutes,” he said. He closed his eyes again, half-smile on his face, and slung an arm around my neck. “And now you’ve been a mom for 10 years.”

Happy birthday to you, kid. Happy birthday to us.

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***

All of his birthdays have felt momentous, but this one especially so. Maybe it’s the double digits. Maybe it’s because he’s my first kid. Maybe it’s the word decade. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m 36. Maybe it’s a lack of sleep. Maybe it’s Maybelline.

I wonder sometimes if I became a writer the day Noah was born. I remember sitting in the recovery room that morning, not able to take my eyes off the bundle of blankets and baby in my arms, feeling the weight of everything I’d done up to that moment come crashing down like a big heavy truth. It was right and it was scary and it was overwhelming and it was exhilarating all at once. This is forever, I remembered thinking, like I’d only just learned the word two hours before.

Since then I’ve been chasing words, hoping to create sentence time capsules to hold all my big heavy truths.

At the beginning of her memoir Having Babies, Irish novelist Anne Enright says:

I also have to apologize to my children for writing about their baby selves; either too much, or not enough, or whatever changing way this book takes them, over the years. My only excuse is that I think it is important. I wanted to say what it was like.”

Noah (and his sister and brother after him) made me want to say what it was like.

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***

This Thursday, Noah will compete in the school spelling bee. Every night for the last few weeks, we’ve snuggled up in bed, or sprawled on the couch, or faced each other across the kitchen table, firing words and letters back and forth to practice. On the list is the word nostalgia, which Noah kept spelling n-a-s-t-o-l-g-i-a, until I started saying “NO, you don’t start NOstalgia that way” to make him laugh, and also to help him remember how to spell it.

The word nostalgia comes from the Greek nostos, meaning “return home,” and algos, meaning “pain.” The year I was pregnant with Noah, Luke and I saw the movie Garden State, which we both loved. (To this day, if I hear any of the music from the soundtrack, I can see a tiny baby Noah with newly-minted dad Luke doing “exercises” on the floor of our tiny apartment to the beat of the songs.)  One of my favorite quotes from the movie is “Maybe that’s all family really is. A group of people that miss the same imaginary place.” Last year when Noah turned 9, I realized that—assuming he goes away to college at 18—he’s halfway through the years he’ll live in our home with us full time. Which means: We are in the midst of our family’s imaginary place.

I already have nostalgia for it.

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***

The night before Noah was born, I ate chocolate cake. Went out with friends for dinner and a movie, then settled down for the night with books in bed before turning out the light. But the light never went out that night. Instead, with a pop and a gush, I catapulted into motherhood before the sun had a chance to rise on the next day. At 5:42 a.m. Noah arrived with arms outstretched, hands reaching toward my shining face. Neither of us have been the same since.

***

On Turning Ten
by Billy Collins

The whole idea of it makes me feel
like I’m coming down with something,
something worse than any stomach ache
or the headaches I get from reading in bad light-
a kind of measles of the spirit,
a mumps of the psyche,
a disfiguring chicken pox of the soul.

You tell me it is too early to be looking back,
but that it is because you have forgotten
the perfect simplicity of being one
and the beautiful complexity introduced by two.
But I can lie on my bed and remember every digit.
At four I was an Arabian wizard.
I could make myself invisible
by drinking a glass of milk a certain way.
At seven I was a soldier, at nine a prince.

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But now I am mostly at the window
watching the late afternoon light.
Back then it never fell so solemnly
against the side of my tree house,
and my bicycle never leaned against the garage
as it does today,
all the dark blue speed drained out of it.

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This is the beginning of sadness, I say to myself,
as I walk thought the universe in my sneakers.
It is time to say good-bye to my imaginary friends,
time to turn the first big number.

It seems only yesterday I used to believe
there was nothing under my skin but light.
If you cut me I would shine.
But now when I fall upon the sidewalks of life,
I skin my knees. I bleed.

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Happy birthday to my Noah. Beneath your skin will always be light.

January 12, 2015   8 Comments

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of feliz-iness

Almost every day as we’re walking the block and a half home from school, Rosie tries out her newest Spanish word or phrase on me.

“Mama,” she’ll say with a conspiratorial smile, “Are you sorprendido, feliz, or enojado?”

I tell her it depends on which one means “hungry.”

I have known easily less than half the Spanish words that glide off her tongue during these sidewalk vocabulary lessons. Once, at the beginning of the year after she inquired if I was muy vien, I explained to her that it was actually “muy bien” with a b, chuckling at her adorable Kindergarten mispronunciation. Later that night as I was relaying the story to Luke, I was gently schooled in the existence of and proper use of the Spanish soft b. Which sounds like a v. And is totally used when asking someone if they’re muy bien.

Well, then. Color me sorprendido-ed.

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Kindergarten Rosie is so much different than Kindergarten Noah. The contrast between the ways they have each experienced the world since birth would make you think they live in alternate realities. Noah met Kindergarten with wide eyes, quietly followed rules, and a solemn, deep reverence for the noble pursuit of knowledge. Rosie hit the school door from day one with wide open arms, squeals of delight, and BFF necklaces for all.

But also: a solemn, deep reverence for the noble pursuit of knowledge. A common thread woven through two cloths of a very different color.

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The most recent unit of study in her class has been all things America: the Statue of Liberty, the American flag, the National Anthem, the Washington Monument, bald eagles, etc. Like a budding patriot, Rosie has absorbed this USA info with vigor and reports to me any and all facts about our country she thinks are important, which is all of them.

She is fascinated with the National Anthem, and I don’t know exactly what she was taught about it, but I do know that if you attempt to sing it in any less than a reverent tone, she will gasp and admonish: “Mama. Don’t sing like that! That is our national anthem.” Noted, Betsy Ross.

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When I used to imagine Rosie in a structured school setting with homework and behavioral expectations and morning assemblies, I couldn’t quite picture how it would go. She’s a little bit of an enigma—I know how she is, but don’t always have a good grip on how she will be. School was a big question mark in my mind when I tried to predict the Rosie forecast. But now as I watch her weave every morning through a sea of puffy-coated children to find her seat in the auditorium before school, hugging friends and waving to teachers whose names I don’t even know, I feel that question mark straighten itself into an exclamation point. She’s got this. Assignments on lined paper and book fairs and quest to end each day on a “green light” and pledges to flags and foreign languages and all.

So, to answer your earlier question, Rosie Mae, I am pleasantly sorprendido-ed. I’m also muy feliz. And next time I sing the National Anthem, it will be hand to heart, in my very best voice.

November 20, 2014   No Comments

All I read is the rhythm divine

I wish I had some kind of algorithm for calculating the number of books I’ve read out loud to my kids in the last 10 years. (And let’s time out for a second and recognize the staggering, unbelievable fact that in two months I will have been a mom for ONE DECADE, holy cow. OK, time in.) I don’t even have a ballpark number, but I know it’s a lot of books. I remember reading to Noah in utero (oh, adorable pre-kid me) and then later to weeks-old lump of Noah, who could barely see 6 inches from his face, much less the book I was enthusiastically flipping through in front of him as he waved his little baby arms uncontrollably.

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I am a children’s book enthusiast, to be sure. OK, I’m also a little bit of a children’s book snob, if we’re being honest here. There are books I don’t care for that are deeply loved by many (Love You Forever is one of them—I KNOW, I’M A MONSTER) and there are some that I’m gaga over that other people probably feel deeply meh about. Some children’s books just endear themselves to me, and others fall flat. And others (oh so many others) are just plain terrible, no matter how you slice it.

Tellingly, there is a high correlation between the books I find endearing and the books my kids adore. Do I think Fancy Nancy is a masterpiece of child literature, to be lauded through the ages? No, no I do not. But the fact that Max requests Noah read it to him on a nightly basis, and does so in some weird accent he decided was appropriate for saying Fancy Nancy (“Fawn-cee Nawn-cee”) is going to keep it safe from our “donate” pile for a good long time.

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One thing that really seals the deal for my kids’ book hall of fame is a solid rhythm and rhyme scheme. Now, there are plenty of kids’ books that are considered rhyming reads, but they ‘rhyme’ about as well as Kraft Singles pass themselves off as sharp cheddar. If I can’t make it through a page without tripping or awkwardly pausing, or shifting around where the beat hits in a sentence, it’s no good. And I’m talking about during the first read through. These are strict criteria, I realize, but to be a well-worn book in this house, you gotta rise to the (rhyme) occasion. If the words are catchy enough that they become an earworm, and I find myself tapping my foot to a two-line phrase in my head while I’m driving down the road or standing in line for coffee—well, that’s good rhyme writin’ right there.

I have a mental list of these very kind of books, some of my tried and true, toe-tappin’ jams. So I decided I’d share them here, because who doesn’t need good-writin’/good-readin’ children’s book recommendations? No one, that’s who. So here, in no particular order, and from me, who has no actual authority or expertise in this area, are five of my all-time favorite rhyme and rhythm reads for kids:

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1. Trucks: Whizz! Zoom! Rumble! by Patricia Hubbell

We got this book as a gift from a good friend’s mom who also happens to be an elementary school principal, and let me tell you, that’s who you want buying you books. Elementary school principals know what’s up. This one’s been a steady pick off the shelf since Noah first cracked the spine in preschool. It’s so rhythmic, it practically reads itself. (Also highly recommended, its counterpart Trains: Steaming! Pulling! Huffing!whose rhymes actually sound like the rhythm of a train chugging down a track.)

Old trucks, new trucks, going-to-the-zoo trucks. Red trucks, blue trucks, bringing-toys-to-you trucks. Trucks that rumble, roar, and shriek. Trucks that putter, groan and creak. 

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2. Sandra Boynton’s books. All of them.

OK, maybe not ALL of them. I get tripped up on the ones that have singing, if I haven’t heard the song before. (Although I have pretty mean musical improv skills, not gonna lie.) But other than that, I would have to hail Sandra Boynton the Queen of Rhyme (paired with Dr. Seuss, who is King). Her books are clever and funny and bop from page to page without a hitch. Actually, I’m not sure why we don’t own all of them. Why do we not own all of them? Hmm, this is a problem.

Top picks:

The Going To Bed Book:

With some on top and some beneath, they brush and brush and brush their teeth. And when the moon is on the rise, they all go up to exercise! 

Barnyard Dance!:

Bounce with the bunny. Strut with the duck. Spin with the chickens now—CLUCK CLUCK CLUCK! With a BAA and a MOO and a COCKADOODLEDOO everybody promenade two by two!

Other particularly rhyme-worthy faves: But Not the Hippopotamus, It’s Pajama Time!, and Fifteen Animals!

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3. Mr. Brown Can Moo! Can You? by Dr. Seuss

Ain’t nobody do it like Seuss. Anyone who makes up words is the bee’s knees to me, and Seuss is the original wordmeister. Just like Sandra Boynton, I could probably list all of his books, but this one is SO satisfying to read, I feel like I’m Bernadette Peters as the witch in Into the Woods doing the “Greens/Witch’s Rap.” Not only does each page hum along effortlessly, he combines the rhymes of the previous pages as he goes, tacking them on to each other neatly, and then puts all the noises of the whole book on the last page in one giant finale of syncopation. Oh Teddy G., you and your rhyme-crafting are so dreamy.

Oh the wonderful things Mr. Brown can do!

MOO MOO 
BUZZ BUZZ
POP POP POP
EEK EEK
HOO HOO
KLOPP KLOPP KLOPP
DIBBLE DIBBLE DOPP DOPP
COCK-A-DOODLE-DOO

Mr. Brown can do it. How about you?

Runner up: Dr. Seuss’s ABC BookI count it as a particular source of pride that I can recite this book from memory from start to finish. #mompartytrickshayyyy

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4. The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman

I reviewed this book once for an online family magazine some years ago (pre-Max), saying:

“Both my kids sit enraptured while I read this whimsical tale of a mom trying her best to feed her seven finicky kids, easily drawn to the effortlessly flowing rhymes and rich illustrations. Every word in the book has a logical place and purpose, and the narrative comes together seamlessly, complete with happy ending. I love books that I can read like a song, and this one definitely fits the bill — there’s no stumbling awkward prose to be found.

And bonus: The underlying message of the story is that compromise can be a beautiful thing. For a mom who’s dealt with her own picky eaters from time to time, that’s a message I can get behind.”

Yep, that’s pretty much it in a bag. This is a good one.

A year rolled by.
The children grew.
“They really are a splendid crew,” 
Sighed Mrs. Peters, pinning pins
And diapering her brand-new twins:
Little sisters, quick and smart,
Impossible to tell apart;
But Flo liked poached eggs, Fran liked fried.
If she mixed them up, they cried.

Tired to the very bone,
Mrs. Peters groaned a groan.
She’d take the eggs down from the shelf
And whisper weakly to herself,
“What persnickety young eaters
Are all my seven little Peters.”

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5. The Very Cranky Bear by Nick Bland

You knew this one was coming, right? I mean, come on. It’s my all-time favorite. (In case you haven’t seen it the 32 places I’ve posted it before, here is 2-year old Rosie, reading this book in a very 2-year-old Rosie way.)

“ROAR!” said the Cranky Bear. “ROAR ROAR ROAR!” He gnashed his teeth and stomped his feet and chased them out the door. 

***

Clearly, five books does not a comprehensive list make, so I want to hear some of your favorites so I can be educated in more radical rhythm and rhyme. (Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin, Jr. is one I considered including, but we don’t own a copy, so I can’t speak to its standing-the-test-of-time-edness.) I mean, gosh, if we found new favorites, I suppose we’d have to … buy more books? I guess we could prolly get down with that.

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November 17, 2014   15 Comments