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My dentist, book clubs, and Jump Rope for the Heart

I’ll be honest. This post is just one big lead up to how much I dislike Jump Rope for the Heart.

I went to the dentist yesterday. I love the office but they are a chatty bunch. The dentist, Dr. Rooster-in-the-hen-house, is a friendly, older man with a sanguine face and a deep abiding respect for people who floss. He sets the tone for the hospitable atmosphere.

These toothbrushes are pregnant. They’ve been “impregnanted.” So much to say. So little time.

The hygienists and assistants were particularly loquacious yesterday because they’d all attended conference. The office staff took a team building seminar–a class that seems wholly unnecessary for this group. And my hygienist was all “We took a team building seminar and talked about our personalities, but we never took a personality test!”

So she’d taken it upon herself to send a personality test via group text. (Of course they have a group text. Try to keep up.) She cleaned my teeth whilst interrogating everyone about their results. To my surprise once again, most people had not only taken the test, but were willing to share their results and comment on the test’s accuracy.

“Have you taken that personality test? The Myers-Briggs?,” she asked me.

My mouth is open and there’s a hook scraping the inside of my lower jaw. I was only paying attention to their conversation to take my mind off the scraping sound echoing through my cranium. And I was trying make sure my mind didn’t go to that dark musical place: Steve Martin singing “I’m Your Dentist” from Little Shop of Horrors. This song is an ear worm. I didn’t want it in my head for the rest of the day.

Too late.

So I grunted an affirmation. Yes, I have taken the Myers-Briggs. Then I think how absurd it is that some countries don’t even have access to running water and Americans are worried about what four letters correspond to their unique snowflake selves.

Then came the air suction thingie and the tiny water gun. What happened to filling the little dixie cup and letting the patient sit up for a hot second? When I finally did sit up, the hygienist commented that since I closed my eyes, I got to relax. I think this is something that people with adult children say to people with younger children.

“Must have been nice. Getting to close your eyes for awhile. Not think about anything.”

Completely aghast, I said nothing.

Are you crazy? I’m happy you’re stewarding my dental health but that wasn’t a massage. And it certainly wasn’t a nap. I closed my eyes because the light you shine in my mouth rivals the sun in brightness. Even with the fake Oakley sunglasses you give me. 

And I’m always thinking, always worrying. It’s kind of the hallmark of having anxiety. Here’s where my mind went yesterday morning: Jackson’s book club and Jump Rope for the Heart and how I’m failing at both. All interrupted by show tunes.

Anyway, while plaque was getting scraped off my molars, I thought about Jackson’s second grade book club. When we were rifling through his backpack this morning, I saw a rather thick chapter book.

“Have you read this one yet? It’s long.”

His eyes dart around, “Uh, no.”

“Okay, well you have time, but start reading it.”

He won’t. I thought of how Jackson may not have read any of the Book Club selections this year. After all, the librarian didn’t assign Captain Underpants or another graphic novel that employs toilet jokes as its main source of humor. So Jackson is basically treating his kid book club the way all adults treat adult book club. Maybe the librarian should just give up on the discussion. Just serve some some small bites from Trader Joe’s and let the kids gossip and drink Chardonnay with ice in it.

(NB: That’s a joke. I’m not actually suggesting the elementary school librarian serve alcohol. And she is a responsible person and wouldn’t even joke about kids getting loaded.  She a fine teacher and an even better person. Her Myer-Briggs letters are better than mine.)

My spa appointment/teeth cleaning was also interrupted by Jackson’s last words as I dropped him off at school. They are the same last words everyday for over a week.

“Have you done the Jump Rope for the Heart yet?”

Don’t. even. get. me. started.

Jump Rope for the Heart is one of those programs where the participant gets money donated and then promises to do an exercise on a given day. Like on Facebook…when you see your FB friend’s Go Fund Me page and it reads like this:

“Hey, I’m going to do a marathon in Santa Monica. I’m training so hard. Donate to Muscular Dystrophy so I can go run this marathon.”

And you’re like, “Is my money going to research for Muscular Dystrophy or am I funding your vacation to Santa Monica?”(Notice how it’s never the Big Mud Run of East Bumble.) Either way, is this tax deductible? I hate to be that person but unless it’s one of my charitable causes or a really good friend, the tax deduction is the only thing that’s going to get me involved.

So replace Muscular Dystrophy with Heart Disease. Replace marathon with kids trying to jump rope. And finally replace trip to SoCal with worthless trinkets from Oriental Trading Company. Will Jackson actually jump rope for sick hearts? I don’t think so. Therefore, Jump Rope for the Heart is my homework.

And now that he’s in second grade with all his second-grade-sass, Jackson told me that I don’t care about saving lives. And this past weekend, he reminded me that my father had open heart surgery.

So far, I’ve been a good mom and responded with deep, cleansing breaths and then ignoring him. But soon, I might lay it on. No, I don’t care about lining the pockets of the AHA’s Board and CEO just so you can “collect ’em all.” And PopPop’s heart disease is hereditary–he’s German and can’t resist Boars Head cold cuts.

Furthermore, Jump Rope for the Heart is a constant reminder that I still don’t have my double unders in CrossFit. That’s it. Double whammy.

Love you, Dad.

 

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You, Sir, are kicked out of “The Menagerie”

“He just blowed for you,” Darcy said from the back seat, eyes wide and still confusing her prepositions. Were we in trouble? He doesn’t look happy. Well, I pissed off the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school this morning. He’s a man in his 60s with a handheld stop sign and a whistle he’s not a afraid to blow with wild abandon. I treat him with distance and respect.

But I was tired this morning. And I was waving at a friend on the corner.

I didn’t notice him signaling me to turn right and so I got not one, not two, but three blows. The last blow was exasperated. It felt like a higher pitch although I’m not sure that’s possible.  It was the sound the whistle makes then the blower smokes too much and thinks everyone is an idiot.

This is basically the face I got this morning.

We made eye contact and his eyes were filled with contempt. Neon clad fingers pointed at me forcefully then directed me to turn right. The disdain was palpable. I wasn’t looking at my phone, I promise. I wasn’t about to hit a stroller.

But there is NO ROOM FOR MISTAKES AT DROP OFF!!!

Therefore, I must declare publicly that the new crossing guard at Jackson’s school is officially kicked out of The Menagerie.

I suppose I should explain what The Menagerie is. First you should know this: a writer’s mind is a vivid honeycomb of anecdotes, fantasies, dialogue, and clouded memories. And this massive cellular structure is all dripping in the honey of self-doubt and sarcasm.

Back to The Menagerie…

(Also, I know there are some of you who are confusing the word “menagerie” with “menage a trios.” Not the same. You have a dirty gutter mind.)

Simply put, The Menagerie is a group of people who I enjoy interacting with but would never really be friends with. I’m pretty fascinated by people even if I don’t always like them. The characters in The Menagerie have interesting stories. They are usually older people and therefore their stories a gilded by a veneer of fiction I find endearing. Their stories, their quips, and their motivations all provide fodder for my creative work. Write what you know, the adage goes.

Other current residents of the menagerie include my amazing landscaper who told me that he used to eat the squirrels he hunted in my area before they “put in all these goddamed houses” and the ex-CEO of Aeropostale who sat across from me in the adult education watercolor class at Bronxville HS. She wore Chanel shoes and Hermes scarves but borrowed my watercolors.

“Have you painted much before?,” I asked.

“No, but I have some experience in design. I just retired.”

“Oh, really? What did you do?”

“I worked in retail. At Aeropostale.”

My face must have looked confused as I tried to square a classy lady like herself folding $8 shirts at Aeropostale. So she clarified, “I was the CEO.”

“Oh?” I said. Duh, I am sitting in a school in Bronxville. 

“Can I borrow your cerulean?”

Can I borrow your fucking Birkin bag? <– I didn’t say that.

Anyway, I thought the new crossing guard would be perfect for my mind curio cabinet. He drives a red scooter that he parks in the fire lane and surrounds with small orange cones from Dick’s Sporting Goods. That’s so idiots like me don’t hit the scooter. Or the idiots who drive the fire truck make sure to steer clear when they are pulling their emergency vehicle close to the school to save our children from burning flames or from ISIS.

Also, he wears one of those Sons of Anarchy helmets. The small black skull caps that look like they will do NOTHING if you get into an accident. That kind. And attached to the back of his helmet are three foxtails.

I am not kidding.

He also plants his pop-up chair in a neighbor’s yard. Not on school property but quite literally in the middle of someone’s lawn. There is shade here. I shall have it.

And one time, I saw him put his own body in front of a turning car. I think he even slapped the hood of the car so the driver would stop. Apparently, this driver decided she would turn right while he was crossing another party. He walked to the car and hollered at the driver. I can’t remember what he said but I’m pretty sure he muttered curses as he trudged back into the crosswalk. In my mind now, the crossing guard yelled the drill sergeant’s lines from Full Metal Jacket.  Something to the effect of… I didn’t know they stacked shit that high!

The point is…that four way intersection belongs to him…on school days…between 7:15 & 8:15am and then again between 2:30 & 3:30.

I don’t know much more about this guy. And after this morning, I will never find out. He’s the type who never forgets a face. I am now in the idiot category.

If you’d like to read about another group in my menagerie, check out my story of The Sippin’ Sisters.

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Second Grade

Jackson holds a chalkboard apple on his first day of second grade.

On Monday, Jackson started second grade. Actually, since he is the first-born, we all started second grade together. I fussed over the chalkboard apple and my subpar font. And his outfit. And his hair. And what do you put in the school bag? At least I had his lunch is down pat. Uncrustables & Capri Suns since day one of kinder. Lunch, consider yourself, phoned in. Judge all you want, readers.

Darcy spent the morning pissed that it wasn’t her first day of school. She is generally resentful of being the youngest and so she is always finding ways to commit family treason on special mornings like this one. Sidenote: Yesterday Darcy helped me start Jackson’s laundry. After diligently putting all his clothes in the machine, as instructed, she poured bleach on them and started it. While I applaud her self-direction here, she could have stopped after she completed her task and chosen NOT to be treasonous whilst my back was turned.

Anyway, we took Jackson in the classroom, did the requisite pictures, seat finding, etc. He seemed happy but a little tentative. We then made our the PTA coffee, said hellos, caught up with some friends, and fed Darcy a kolache. NB: A kolache is basically a large pig-in-a-blanket. Texans heart kolaches big time.

Darcy parked herself at the food table, grabbed a kolache (like a good native-born Texan), popped the breakfast sausage out of the pastry, took a bite, then popped it back in.

I was clearly the wrong person to get C.K. and I coffee since doing so took about twenty minutes. So much chit-chat. It’s a life skill. I have mad chit-chat skillz.  And I forgot my car keys on Jackson’s desk so I had to travel back for those. His teacher met me halfway, keys jingling in the air, a knowing look on her face that spoke, “You are the mom who will ask what I want from Starbucks and then completely forget or get my order wrong.” At least now she knows I am an overly apologetic hot mess. Better than me overachieving in these first weeks of school only to find out that it’s all downhill from Halloween.

Monday night I got to thinking about my time in the second grade. I sent a note to my future second grade teacher when I was still in first grade. I wonder if it was before or after I got in trouble for drawing privates in a marble notebook during recess. There were two other depraved kids there but I can’t remember their names or faces. So maybe I imagined them. And it was just depraved little me, sitting on the playground, doing some risque sketches.

Whether Ms. Triola knew of my first grade transgressions, I can’t say. But clearly what I wrote in that note I hand delivered to her classroom was enough. I wrote a letter. And I got what I wanted. The note told Ms. Triola that she was the prettiest teacher in the school. And that I loved her high heels. (She legit had pumps in every color.)

The high heels remained a point of fascination even after I’d gained access to the best second grade class Dutch Broadway had to offer. I remember walking up the stairs behind her and Ms. Triola wouldn’t put her whole foot on the step in front of her. So the sole of her impractically-high-for-a-teacher-heel would be on the step but the four inch heel would balance off the edge. It was a weirdly marvelous thing–and something I copied when I became a teacher years later. I soon learned that high heels were ridiculous to wear when you stood for most of your  work day.

This is THE Porsche!

And I didn’t care. Just like Ms. Triola taught me.

She drove a Porsche. And even though it was an ugly 1980s Porsche, I could tell this vehicle was better than the Pontiacs and Datsuns that populated the rest of the faculty lot. A vehicle for someone who wore Porsche-like footwear.

I even heard my mother tell our across the street neighbor Rhonda that Ms. Triola’s “sugar daddy” bought it for her. I remember thinking that maybe my father would buy me a red sports car one day. And I would punch the gas over each speed bump in the school lot and completely ignore the school zone speed limits, just like Ms. Triola did.

At least I think she did. The car was red and therefore appeared capable of mildly illegal behavior.

Ms. Triola got married later that year–presumably to said Sugar Daddy–but I don’t remember her married name. It’s a law in elementary school that all teacher’s names are whatever they are when you first meet them. I can’t learn a whole new surname because of your life milestone. I’m seven.

 

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Morning snuggles…sort of

People enjoy me on social media too.

People enjoy me on social media too.

Earlier this week, in an effort combat the longer summer days and make sure my kids sleep in (purely for my own sake), I taped cardboard on their window behind the blackout curtains. See the screenshot from Facebook. Judging by the emojis, other moms are in the same boat or were when their respective children were small ameba-humans like mine.

The results have been inconclusive. Darcy is coming down with a cold so who knows what’s going on in her little dragon brain all night. Or who knows why she got up at 5:13 this morning after a long day of pool play time yesterday.

Here’s my morning inner monologue for your entertainment…

(Hold on. It’s 8:16 am and we’ve already had breakfast and danced in the kitchen to The Village People. But my writing is interrupted by the sounds of rage from the play room. And indeed when I walk in, they are locked like two rams, heads butted against each other, over a new set of Legos. I’m not kidding. The image you have in your head should be of two kids on all fours, legos on the floor between them, tops of their heads touching. I marvel at how strong both of their noggins must be and see veins popping from reddened necks. Then I intervene.)

Back to your regularly scheduled programming.

5:13am: I look at the clock but it’s still pitch black outside. I lie to Darcy who is standing eerily silent at my door. “It’s still night-night,” I say and change her diaper. Then I put her back in her crib.

5:38am: I hear a soft thump. No doubt this is Darcy getting out of her crib. Her ninja skills are good until the landing. The monitor shows the empty crib and closed door. She’s up in her brother’s bed tryin’a get comfy. She must be stopped. Jackson can sleep through an atom bomb but not in the early morning hours. I grab her and she is mercifully silent. “Want to lay with mommy?” “Okay,” a tiny nasally voice in the dark.

5:39 am: She lays facing me, eyes closed and smiling. To the victor goes the spoils. She looks cute in the early morning light peeking through the sides of my blackout curtains.

5:42 am: She moves away, now perpendicular to me. And the toe digging in my side begins. I’m reminded to cut her toenails. They feel like small razors. And her feet are surprisingly strong. It’s the worst shiatsu massage ever. Between this borderline torture and her ability to deprive me of sleep, she has a career in the CIA ahead of her.

5:50 am: Sitting up. Playing with both of her lovies.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

Lounging like a boss at 10am.

5:51 am: I pretend to sleep and Darcy notices. I must needs the lovies. In an expertly executed role reversal, she puts the lovies on my forehead and gives me her blanket. “Night-night, Mommy,” she whispers coyly. Her chance at escape. I clutch the lovies while I decide whether or not to care. The lovies are surprisingly comforting. I spend the next few minutes working through a business plan for adult lovies, ignoring the toddler altogether.

5:56 am: She is at my door fussing with the childlock. No CIA yet for you. Foiled by a piece of plastic around a doorknob.

5:57am: I weakly attempt discipline and then, research be damned,”Want your iPad?”

5:59 am: I doze to the horrifying sounds of children’s programming. My half-dreams while the Yo Gabbas sing are the closest I will ever get to an acid trip, I believe.

6:25 am: Jackson slams the door open. Take that, childproofing! I’m six! He rubs his eyes. “I went potty, Mommy. I slept later too. See, I tried to help.”

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Preschool Graduation is tomorrow

Jackson's 1st Day at St. Mark'sAnd my heart is full. Jackson graduates from preschool tomorrow at 11 am in the chapel of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church. He’s already revealed that the class will sing “Jesus Loves Me” and do sign language along with the lyrics. I’m bringing tissues for that part alone. I have no idea what to expect other than the song and my deepest desire that the school plays Pomp & Circumstance when the kids walk in. I think the last preschool graduation I attended may have been my own or Maggie’s.

IMG_2295 (1)It’s not that classic my-kid-is-growing-up/time-goes-so-fast feeling that’s really getting me. Although I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t nostalgia at play here. Jackson is my baby boy turned little kid. And yes, he’s going to full time school in a few months. After so much time spent together, he’ll be in school for more hours in the day than with me.

But no, it’s not nostalgia. It’s an immense feeling of gratitude. St. Mark’s is a school that truly lives out its vision. It’s a nurturing community that fosters a love of lifelong learning. That’s what’s advertised here and that’s what you get.  And as someone who moved to Austin with only a few months before Jackson was to start nursery school, I am so grateful for St. Mark’s. I can vividly remember texting C.K. saying that I was going to write a 10414479_10153157054132028_5825563322865329284_ncheck for the deposit while on the tour of the school. It was the treed multilevel playground that sold me right away. On that same tour I can also remember chatting with one of my now dear friends, Lindsay. We moved to Austin within months of each other. We were both pregnant–due only one week apart (with girls to match our boys). When Jackson and Lindsay’s son Grant started at camp at St. Mark’s the teachers asked if Grant and Jackson were cousins. “They seem like they’ve known each other forever,” one remarked. Just as Lindsay and I were kindred spirits, so were Grant and Jackson.

I soon found out that my friendship with Lindsay would be one of many. Because that’s how St. Mark’s is–it fosters relationships among adults and children alike.

So thank you, St. Mark’s Episcopal Day School…

  • for nurturing my child and providing a safe environment for his growth
  • for hiring teachers like Elaine, Kiki, Laura, Rae, and Becky and giving them the autonomy to utilize their incredible talents to the betterment of the students (those are just the main tIMG_2237 (1)eachers Jackson had–every teacher is amazing!)
  • for fostering a community of parents who truly enjoy each other’s company and work together to continue the stewardship of an already amazing place
  • and personally, for providing me and Jackson with a place to anchor ourselves after we moved across the country and for making us feel very much at home

Kindergarten has a tough act to follow.

“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6

IMG_1974St. Mark’s lives this everyday.

And one more… “Play is the highest form of research.” –Albert Einstein

 

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On Second Children

I wrote this in April 2014, about four months after Darcy’s arrival. Updates are in brackets. I thought it was worth a share. 

 

“On Second Children”

“The first child gets bathed everyday. The second child gets bathed when they smell,” the pediatrician joked at the one week well visit. But it was a half-joke. I laughed but I thought (rather arrogantly) the second child will be bathed everyday as well. Two days later I kissed my baby on the neck right beneath her ear ready to inhale that delicious new baby smell and got a whiff of cheese. Yes, breast milk had built up in one of the many folds of my newborn’s neck and was fast turning into “breast cheese.” Hadn’t I bathed her just yesterday? No, it had been days. And when I resolved to bath her that day, I peered at my house through bloodshot sleepless eyes and I sighed. She would need a bath in the near future. Yes, “in the near future” was good enough.

12198488666_bf0ce79f12_bOn January 13, 2014, we welcomed our baby girl Darcy into the family. She’s the daughter I’ve always wanted, fourth in the family of four I’ve always wanted, and the sibling I wanted for my first. By all counts, we are blessed.

But Darcy is the second child. Darcy’s arrival in our lives has made me reflect on what it’s like to be second, to come into the world when the veneer of new parenthood has dulled just a bit.

By virtue of her birth order, Darcy gets a mom whose attention is split, grandparents who are happy she’s around but not as giddy about her, and a brother who loves her so much he could just squeeze her to death. Seriously, we call Jackson “Lenny” from Of Mice and Men. He’s just so happy she’s here he can’t even handle it. And he wants to rock her and squeeze her so hard that it’s almost violent. In his little four-year-old brain baby Darcy is the newest love of his life but also the reason his whole world has crumbled. One day I caught him playing Wreck-It Ralph on his iPad. He readily assigns real people to the characters in games. Darcy was Wreck-It Ralph. He sang happily, “Here comes Baby Darcy. Here to ruin everything.”

That all sounds rather grim. Darcy isn’t loved any less. And just because Darcy is here, Jackson isn’t loved any less. And Darcy gets two parents who are more confident and more relaxed in her care taking.

15346881201_4d12a74941_oHowever, Darcy’s whole life experience, especially in these early years, will be informed by her being the second child. Today, I’ve already interrupted two of her naps to take her in the car for Jackson’s activities. I never woke Jackson from a nap.  If Jackson wasn’t awake yet, we didn’t leave the house yet. We ate at restaurants according to his schedule, arrived late to family events,  and left early so he could get to bed.

You would think my new baby would be terribly cranky because of her interrupted sleep, right? Yet after four months of being woken up, Darcy still wakes with a smile and she wakes easily. Then she drifts back off in the car seat.

[Update: At around 6 months, Darcy’s naps and nighttime sleep became an issue. I refer to the 6-9 months as the Dark Ages. She’s since been sleep trained and I bow at the throne of Weissbluth and Ferber. But that whole nap whenever thing got hairy real fast.]

Of course because I wake her up so often, I feel guilty. This guilt creates a habit that I never indulged with Jackson. Darcy often takes naps right on her Boppy pillow after eating.  She finishes nursing and half-drunk on mother’s milk, drifts off for 45 minutes or so, catching up on that nap that was happening when I woke her for Jackson’s soccer practice. My first-born never got this treatment. Driven by anxiety and a competitive spirit, my child was sleep trained perfectly. I once put him in for a nap while friends were over for lunch. It took all of two minutes. The other mom leered at me, “He’s down? Are you serious?”

Essentially what I see coming together is exactly what the birth order book predicted. Darcy is simultaneously easy going and yet thinks the entire world revolves around meeting her needs.  Everyone, young and old, should be delighted by her little smile and gorgeous eyelashes. She has no worries. It will all work out. After all, there are three people bigger than her who will make it so.

Seeing how Darcy’s little personality form has made me more empathetic to my younger sister’s experience as well. As the second child, Maggie was probably always waiting for Mom to finish something, her schedule always planned around my own.  Only when Darcy cries does she have my unfettered, immediate attention. Of course I play with her but it’s not the same as Jackson whose every blink and smile was observed, commented on, recorded on film even.

Portraits : Don Kids : Family-34I relayed this revelation to my sister about a month after my daughter was born. I expected to be met with a defensive response but she seemed pleased. Her older sister finally “gets it.” Is there no greater satisfaction for a second child then to have achieved the respect of the eldest? I see it already in Darcy. There is no one in the world, including myself, who can light up her face like her brother. Her little eyes follow him as he putters around the room with his toys and her whole face reacts when he bestows some of his charming laughter on her.

15002652963_f5140e5fdd_o[Update: She is still enamored with her brother. However, she is now wary of him. And I think she realizes that crying gets him in trouble.]

I think most moms would agree. You go into a second pregnancy wondering how you can possibly make more room in your life and your heart for a new baby when you already love your first so much. But it happens. It’s not that the space in your heart reserved for your children divides. It’s that your heart itself grows. You love them both. You love them differently but you love them the same—passionately, assiduously, wholly. It’s not about more or less love. It’s about time. Isn’t it always?

 

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The Elf on the Shelf Debaucle

It sounded like a good idea. All my friends on facebook were doing it. All my church pals who had little kiddos were talking about it.

The Elf on the Shelf.

I decided that this year Christmas would be extra magical. There would be decorating of cookies, our annual Nutcracker trip, tree trimming, present wrapping…and now there would be a stealthy elf who would hide in a different spot every night. Jackson would wake up, find him (maybe even with a little note or an advent present), and be the happiest kid ever.

That didn’t happen.

It all started this Thursday. I put Darcy down for her afternoon nap and Jackson and I went and played on his iPad on my bed. (Disclosure: I dozed while he played on his iPad. It happens.) But before we retreated to the master bedroom, a package arrived. I spied inside and saw the box set, complete with cheaply made toy elf and the classic book that explained his mythology. While Jackson was getting out his iPad, I snuck over to the tree and put it in plain sight.

When Darcy woke an hour later, I walked out in the livingroom and the act was on. “Jackson! Something came from the North Pole.” He ran out, little socks trying in vain to grip our parquet wood floors.  “What is it?,” he said, eyes filled with wonderment and glee as he held up the box. I grabbed Darcy from her crib and sat down to read him the book.

“I bet some of your friends already have one,” I smiled. But then I realized that he might ask why we only just got a scout elf . Think fast. “I knew we would get our elf when Darcy came along.” (If you’re keeping score, that’s friendly fib number two.)

I read the book with such feeling. I highlighted all the parts about how the elf is magical and comes alive at night. For those of you who don’t know the Elf’s mythology, here’s a quick run down…

  1. He’s from the North Pole. (or Amazon.com)

  2. You have to give him a name. (Saves money on personalized box printing.)

  3. He comes alive every night and visits his friends in the North Pole then goes all inanimate during the day. He’ll always be in the different place though. (Think Toy Story when humans are around.)

  4. He reports on his child’s behavior to Santa.

  5. He comes every year on Thanksgiving night and leaves after Christmas.

  6. You cannot touch him. His magic will fade if you do.

So I made sure to highlight the magical-little-elf-who-comes-alive-at-night part. I knew Jackson would have a blast looking for him each morning. I downplayed the whole Foucaultpanopticon part. We won’t have any Big-Brother-is-watching-you crap in this house. Besides, Jackson is good–and not because he’s afraid of some fictional portly man who lives up north. Jackson behaves because he has a healthy fear of me and C.K. Duh. Like when I say I’m going to vacuum up his legos if he doesn’t pick them up…NOW. And then I walk to the hall closet. Jackson gets his little butt on the floor and scoops all those precious legos into their bin. Why? Because I actually will vacuum up those little legos. Anyone who has stepped on a lego with bare feet will know how insanely gratifiying vacuuming up legos might be. Eff those legos.

But I digress. We read the story. His face was so precious, so full of awe. He took the directive about not touching the elf very seriuosly, using it as an excuse to boss around his 10-month-old sister. “Don’t touch Mr. Elf, Baby Darcy. No presents for you!”

We read the book a second time. Jackson was still completely plugged in. Then I suggested we call his grandmother to tell her about this most magical event that has transpired. “Yes! Call Meema.”

And that’s when it happened. Not five minutes into that fateful Facetime call, Jackson’s mood changed. “I don’t like him,” he whispered, a grim expression on his face.

Jackson realized it–something we all know about the Elf on the Shelf. That shit is creepy. He’s small. He grins all the time. He wears a ridiculous hat. He watches your every move. And then, the worst of it, he comes alive when you sleep. Now, supposedly the Elf just goes to the North Pole. But Jackson doesn’t know that. Maybe the Elf breaks your toys, vacuums your legos, climbs into bed with you, takes your soul. Who knows?

“I don’t like him. I don’t like his magic,” he cried. Now there were tears. I told my mom I’d call her right back. And then the lies just poured out of me. “He’s a good elf. He’s not a bad elf.” (Shit. Now he thinks there are bad elves.) “The elf is just Santa’s helper.” “The elves are making your Skylanders.”

“I don’t want him!” Jackson screamed, really terrified now. I called my mom back thinking she would help. He adores his Meema. Surely, she would play along with this amazing little fib.

But she was no help. We’ll leave it at that. No, we won’t. Not only did my mom yell at me to get rid of the elf, she could barely contain her laughter that this had gone so horribly wrong for me.

All the while, Jackson is now hollering at the top of his lungs, “Get his magic out of the house!” And my favorite line: “Give the elf to the poor kids.”  This was a clear sign that another advent activity was going wrong. I want Jackson to pick some toys to give to Salvation Army or Any Baby Can. I’ve been prepping him slowly for this painful decision. I want him to know that others don’t have as much and so it’s important to make some efforts to take care of others. Evidently, he’s not absorbing these values.

 After getting off the phone with Meema a second time, I had to come clean. “He’s just a story and a toy. He doesn’t really come alive.”

And that was all it took. Now “Knob” the elf is a happy addition to our home. And every few hours, Jackson asks me to hide him again. He shouts, “Let’s play Elf on the Shelf!”

Jackson did agree, however, that we should keep the magic part for Baby Darcy. And for Daddy.

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Our Heroine Goes to the Pool

Recently I’ve added pool time to my stay-at-home-mom daily routine. It breaks up the afternoon and simultaneously gets us out of the house and out of the heat. As I float around today with my two babies, I can’t  help but ponder my pool times before the arrival of these cherubs in my life. Back then, my main objective was to look good in a bathing suit. Now, vanity plays a much lesser role. I smirk as I wonder “Does this count as my shower for today?”

Before kids, I would see how I could weasel another drink out whoever was dry enough to go inside. Oh hey, are you getting out? I’ll take another beer. And then there’s the internal monologue that ensue when nature calls.  Damn, I have to pee. That means drying off, going inside, wriggling awkwardly out of my bathing suit then pulling the wet suit back on. Would anyone really know if I just peed in the pool?


But any young parent knows that pool time with kids is different, much more than sucking in your gut and debating the ethics of swimming pool urination.
There’s the hyper vigilance of having to keep your children alive. There’s the cramp in my left arm that’s cradling my 21 pound six-month-old as she kicks her chubby thighs frantically through the water. There’s the repetitive, ridiculously loud exclamations of my four year old. And then there’s me, pacing back and forth in the shallow end, trying to engage in whatever deranged narrative Jackson has created for today’s play and employing phrases like “use your walking feet” whenever Jackson scampers dangerously around the cement edge.

And you know what? Pool time is pretty awesome. Today Jackson wants to play a live action version of Plants vs. Zombies. Darcy and I are the “plants.” I am equipped with a green beach ball that I pelt at Jackson as he repeatedly swims from the stairs to my location. Even with the aches in my back and my four year old droning on about how he wants to eat my brains, I’m enjoying his laughter. And even though he thinks he’s a zombie, I’m watching him teach himself how to swim as I move farther and farther away each time we restart the game. And Darcy is happy too. She’s floating in my arms, breathing the summer breeze, and feeling the contrast of the Texas heat and the cool water.  As a typical second child, Darcy has no pool toys of her own. Still the baby contently chews on Jackson’s old water wing. And she’ll take a nap when we return home.

I’ll take it.

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Toddlers are funny (The Library Edition)

Jackson planking in gymnastics class.

First full week of being a stay-at-home mommy. Since this would usually be my first full week of teaching, I find myself haunted by this eerie feeling that I’m supposed to be somewhere or I’m forgetting something.

But mommying is fun.

Exhausting but fun.

Jackson was introduced to storytime this week. We attended a session at our town library on Thursday and then one at a local town’s library on Friday. Both proved that Jackson needs a little more practice at structured group activities.

On Thursday he wanted to run the show. When the teacher asked if anyone knew “what to do if they’re happy and they know it,” one little girl answered “CLAP HANDS” and Jackson said “SING ABCs.” My girlfriend very kindly noted that Jackson was just offering an answer but I knew better. He was issuing an order. Sing ABCs now, lady. Or else! (Side note: At least he didn’t scream “Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle Wiggle YEAH” because Jackson certainly knows what to do if he’s sexy and he knows it. And cue shame at the frequency with which we listen and sing along to LMFAO in the car.)

Later on, he walked directly up to the librarian, tapped on her leg just as she was about to start another song and said “Idea! Sing how many monkeys jumping on the bed.” (He’s taken to saying “Idea!” before announcing what he wants to do. Other ideas include “Idea! No nap! Only play!” and “Idea! Chocolate milk!” as he hands me back a juice box.) The librarian very skillfully deflected his demand and I thought to myself “That’s right. You gotta shut that down.”

On Friday Jackson got the Idea! a little better but story time was not without social faux pas. While the librarian read Animal Boogie to the group, a book with a rhyming refrain boogey-oogey-oogey, Jackson announced “I got boogers!!” I think he thought that all the animals in Animal Boogie had boogers. Boogie. Boogers.

Still I explained that “to boogie” is to dance with glee and “a boogie” is that green crap in your nose. I think I sufficiently clarified that one. It was a teachable moment.

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Mommy & Novelist…Or Maybe the Other Way Around

Jackson prepares for the Mud Run.

Alternate title: “How To Write and Market Your Novel, Be a Stay-at-Home Mom, and Deal with the Pull of Guilt from Both Your Literary Baby and Your Real Baby.”

I started writing North Shore South Shore in 2007 when my husband was relocated to Los Angeles. I was working as an editor for AOL’s TV Squad. I joined a writer’s group with my husband just to fill some time. I took the relocation hard and didn’t have many friends in L.A. or much to do for that matter. But I drafted the first iteration of my novel.

We moved home just a year later, I started working as a high school English teacher, and North Shore South Shore collected figurative dust filed away on a USB drive. Plus I started back pursuing my second Masters. For a solid year, the novel was just a large file, forgotten and finally moved to make room for lesson plans and graduate work. I looked at it a few times during school breaks. I had to revise much of it and add a fourth narrator. But I couldn’t even get to writing because I would have to read the whole thing before I could put fingers to laptop.

In 2010, I had Jackson and finishing North Shore South Shore looked unlikely. But in the summer of 2010 (five-month-old in tow) I buckled down during naps and after bedtime. North Shore South Shore was “coming along.” I even started posting about it on my facebook page (because if you don’t mention it on facebook, it’s not real). By the following summer, I had something of a manuscript and an active, charming 15-month-old. I had also finished my second Masters. My husband’s voice was now a familiar refrain: You need to finish it. How many people say they are going to write a novel and never write one? You have over 100,000 words. You never know–it might get published.

Jackson takes the road not taken.

And I have him to thank for the completion of North Shore South Shore. My refrain was something like this: I don’t have the time. I have the baby to care for. I have a part-time teaching gig still. It’ll never get looked at anyway. But, despite my best efforts to convince myself NOT to finish the novel, I finished it. I created this blog to document the process. The book became an old friend that I would catch up with whenever I had the chance. I looked forward to times when I could work on it the same way I looked forward to taking Jackson to the zoo or the playground.

While writing the book was a focused, intense process, marketing my book to both buyers and literary agents is a multi-headed monster, like the mythical one that Hercules kills in his labors. But Hercules killed his wife and kids (ain’t no Disney ending there) and therefore is suspect as a role model for this process. Talk about missplaced rage.

Still, I’m left with the task of fitting it all in (and without mythical role models). Oh, and I should mention we’re potty training right now. My days alternate between the guerilla marketing of North Shore South Shore and taking care of Jackson. I confess, sometimes I just want to focus on caring for and playing with him. When I’m working on novel stuff, Jackson beckons “I play you, Mommy” and grabs my hand. (Cue pang of guilt.) I feel like I’m missing something. He’ll never be this age again. “It goes so fast so enjoy it,” said the lady in the diner peering over her walker with tennis balls on the bottom and I get this eerie feeling that my octogenerian self is warning me. (It should be noted that before said lady walkered over to our table, I was trying to make Jackson sit in his high chair and he was calling “Help! Help!” to other diner patrons.)

But if I’ve spent the whole morning with Jackson, my literary baby beckons.

So my days include (but are not limited to) potty training, updates to the novel’s facebook page, emailing queries to agents, cutting up fruit for snacks, play dates, formatting the book for release to eReaders, scouring Pinterest to fill out North Shore South Shore‘s Pinterest page, tweeting, emailing, diaper changing, playing with blocks or trains or play-doh, and the occasional art project.

And despite every expectation that I should not be able to accomplish both, things are getting done. I’ve had several requests for full manuscripts from agents. My kickstarter project started two days ago and is already 31% funded. My facebook page has over 300 fans. And the book is finished and will be released in October.

And my laundry is done. And my apartment is (somewhat) tidy. Because mommies can do anything. After all, we gave birth. That s*** was ridiculously hard.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll allow for some advice (not of the sage variety but advice nonetheless):

1. It’s okay to want to work on your work, especially if you’re creative like me. Just as my child is a living, breathing being in need of my love, North Shore South Shore is an ever-expanding and contracting text that has taken on a life of its own via twitter, facebook, and kickstarter. Taking care of both babies feeds my soul in different ways. I’ve learned I’m learning to be at peace with working on the project.

Jackson paints a blob.

2. Do something meaningful with your child (either once or multiple times a day depending on the age). I find that Jackson’s attention span for me is only about 20-30 minutes. After that, his interaction level decreases and he moves on to something else. So I try to do a few activities in a day with him. We paint, craft, build block towers, pretend play with Go Diego Go toys, build Thomas Tracks, and read books. Some days I spend a few hours in the morning with him at the Botanical Gardens or the Bronx Zoo and then I spend more of my afternoon marketing North Shore South Shore or doing quick stints of proofreading.

3. Get in some work when your child is napping or eating. The naptime work session is obvious. But I get in some writing after I set Jackson up with breakfast or lunch. I find it takes toddlers at least a half hour to eat anything. He is a gourmet who savors each cheerio, each bite of penne, each strawberry half. By contrast, I eat lunch standing at my kitchen counter, putting away dishes with one hand and stuffing a sandwich in my mouth with the other. Because of my obsessive need to multi-task and damaged relationship with food, I can get plenty done during his lunchtime.

4. If you feel like there’s something you want to do, DO IT. Write the book. Start the business. (I have a friend who makes beautiful invitations from home and another who crafts adorable bows for little girls.) Finish the degree. (I have two friends working on their dissertations right now.)  Just do it. I certainly believe you can.

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