Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Mr. Bubbles

While in the tub the other night, Ben mentioned that he is afraid of water. He said whenever he sees water, he's afraid he's going to fall in and won't be able to swim and will get water up his nose. I was glad he confided this, and told him he would likely learn to swim at camp this summer so he wouldn't need to be afraid anymore.

"You'll start out by blowing bubbles. That's how your cousin Sarah teaches kids to swim. You know, she's a lifeguard."

"Mom, I already know how to make bubbles," he said.

"You do? That's great. Can you show me?" I sat there proudly, waiting for him to bend over and stick his face in the water, but he just sat there looking at me with a goofy grin on.

Then I saw bubbles rising up in the water and he laughed out loud at the look on my face when I got the joke.

Ya gotta love boys.

Monday, April 27, 2009


When I was younger, I carried a purse with the essentials of a younger woman: wallet, journal and pen, keys, lipstick, mascara, tissues and emergency phone call quarter (this was in the days before cell phones).

Not long ago, I realized that my large purse, while no longer needed for hauling around diapers and baby toys, weighed almost as much a my six-year-old. So I decided to scale down to a smaller size. I figured the limited space would help me avoid accumulating the unnecessary 'stuff' that finds its way into larger bags, much in the same way cosmic debris finds its way into black holes in space.

My new bag is 8 inches wide by 8.5 inches tall. Cute, sassy, chic. This morning, I decided to clean it out. Here's what I found:

14 receipts
cell phone
train schedule
sustainable seafood guide
8 handi-wipes
3 lollipops
2 bottles of hand sanitizer
3 pens
1 deck of cards
1 granola bar
tic tacs
KI pills (in case of nuclear attack)
1 package of wasabi
2 packets of soy sauce (thankfully, no sushi)
9 Dunkin' Donuts napkins
LEGO Darth Vader figure
neon plastic alien
two marbles

Either the laws of physics cease to exist inside my purse or I truly have become a magical mom, able to carry any number of food and entertainment items with me, regardless of purse size. I feel like a modern day Jesus. Instead of loaves and fishes, I'm ready to sugar up the pint-sized masses with Twizzlers and lollipops, then play a quick game of Crazy Eights before the train comes. I know we have time, because I have the schedule with me, you see.

Apparently all those cub scout meetings have finally made an impact, their message sinking in to my tired, frazzled brain: be prepared.

The funny thing is, I'm rarely out with my children for any extended period of time anymore. Instead, they are at school, gymnastics, tennis, piano lessons and den meetings. My job now is merely to get them there.

I suppose I could downsize again and get rid of all the kiddie-oriented, no-longer-needed stuff. Maybe I can even go back to my own bare essentials. Think of how light my purse would be!

Of course, that would mean letting go of a lot more than just a few lollipops. I'm not sure I'm ready to do that just yet.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Relative Age

"Mom, this penny was built in 1971."

"Oh yeah? Well now it's 2009. So can you figure out how old it is?"


"Count up by 10s from 71."

(Ben's eyes look up to ceiling while calculating)


"That's right!"

"And Dad's older than that, and he's not dead, so it'll be a long time before this penny dies."

"Let's hope."

Monday, April 13, 2009

Whine List

Ben is a homebody. He loves to sit around in his pajamas, all day if I'll let him, and just eat and play and cuddle and read, occasionally jumping on the couch or bed to burn some energy. On the weekends I call him Hugh (as in Hefner) because on the rare days we don't have to go anywhere, he will remain in his pjs from the time he gets up until it's time for bed.

Normally, this is fine with me. He's good to go when he knows we have plans, and he's happy to stay home when he can. In fact, it's only a problem when vacations end. Of course, no one wants to get back to the regular routine after a vacation (OK, so maybe I do, but that's just because school vacations are actually more work for me). But Ben, as much as he loves school, still seems to struggle mightily. The worst part is that I am always blindsided by it.

"So, Ben, how was your first day back at school?"


"Really? What was so great about it?"


"That's terrific! Shall we go to the library?"


And off we go, happy as clams. Ben gets to play on the computer. He gets his very first library card, and picks out a book for his brother. Life is good. Until we get home.

"Mom, can I play DS?"

"Well, why don't we have a snack and check out your homework folder first?"

"Nooooo, I don't waaaaant to do homework!" (italicized because there is no 'whine' font).

"Tell you what. If you finish your homework, then you can play DS until dinner time."

"Nooooo, I'm hungry nooooooow! I can't waaaait for dinner!"

And so it continued until it was time to pick up Jacob at scouts, Ben interspersing his whines with tears, tantrums and other fits usually reserved for the toddler set. Hello? Where did my happy boy go?

After picking up Jacob, Ben began asking for another snack (his fourth) in the car. I told him I had no food, but we'd be home in minutes and he could eat some veggies then. He let loose. Of course, there's nothing like a captive audience in a small space to help you make your point. By the time he yelled that if he didn't eat something nooooow, he was going to starve, all I could think was, "at least then you'll be quiet."

Suffice it to say that nothing was right with the world anymore. If Jacob was sitting in a chair, Ben wanted to sit in it. If he had to use the bathroom, Jacob was in the bathroom he wanted to use. The only vegetable he wanted to eat was the one we were out of, and so on.

After an hour and a half of trying to curb the whining and getting nowhere, I figured I had two choices, the legal one being a personal timeout with a glass of wine.

Then it hit me. First day back after nine days home with Mom. 'Alex, let's go with Vacation Withdrawal for $200.'

I got down on one knee and opened my arms.

"Ben, I really missed you today."

"I missed you toooooo!" Finally, the dam burst. Tears, hugs, kisses, cuddles and more hugs ensued. And then....

It was done.

When I tucked him into bed later, smiling, he noticed that I'd set his radio to play for 90 minutes before shutting itself off.

"Well, I hope you won't be awake to hear it the whole time, Ben."

"Why not?"

"Well, it's 7:20 now. If you stay awake for 90 minutes, what time will it be?"

"Um, 8:50!"

"Wow! That was great! How did you get to be so smart?"

"S-H-O-O-K. No, wait. S-H-O-O-L."

"Close enough, school boy. Good to have you back. I'll see you in the morning."

"'Night, Mom."

Thank God there are no more vacations before summer.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stimulus Package

You would think that I wrap my kids in bubble wrap, the way my husband talks. Granted, Jacob is almost 10 years old and until this past week, would not let us take the training wheels off his bike. He can't swim the crawl, and he can't ride a skateboard or scooter. Heck, just getting him to remember everything he needs before getting in the shower is a challenge.

OK, I know I'm overprotective. But I haven't forbidden him to do these things; I just haven't actively encouraged him. I don't want to be one of those parents who pushes her kids to do things because *I* think they should be doing them. But I will concede that swimming and riding a bike are things a boy needs to know how to do. I gently encouraged him, suggested he take the bike out on sunny afternoons, even offered to hold on to the back to help him feel more steady. Apparently, this was not enough.

How to encourage our kids without being overbearing? It's something I've struggled with since my children have become old enough to learn independence, and independent enough to push back. With all my psychology background, I couldn't find the right balance.

Fortunately, my husband is a man of logic and intelligence. To help me with this challenge, he drew on his parenting skills along with his own background of, well, being a boy. As they say in Vegas, money talks, bullsh*t walks. He told Jacob that if he could ride his bike without training wheels by the end of spring vacation, he'd give him 20 bucks.

Needless to say, within an hour, Jacob's training wheels were gone and he was pedaling, albeit unsteadily, up and down the block.

I have never been above bribery, and can see the logic, especially in Jacob's case: he covets LEGOs, and they are expensive. He's too young to have a job. His birthday and Christmas don't come until the end of the year, and they are the only time he gets gifts. So when he's given a task that will earn him some money, it's pretty much guaranteed that the task will be accomplished and, more than likely, a lot sooner than you would expect. It's a win-win: we get what we need from him, he gets what he wants from us. What's not to love about such an arrangement?

I'll continue to preach to my kids that you can't just throw money at a problem, because they also need to learn problem solving and frugality. But inside, I'm composing a list of things for Jacob to do, and doing quiet little cartwheels on the way to the bank.

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Guilta Fish

My father asked me point blank the other day whether I was trying to kill the fish. He was referring to the goldfish in the tank in our dining room, the fish that will be 5 years old in October, the fish that is bigger than my hand and that I am convinced is part cat, because it has survived so many near-death experiences. I didn't have an answer for him.

My dad was alluding, of course, to the fact that I want my sofa table back. The fish is in a 10-gallon tank, atop my sofa table, taking up lots of space. Once the fish dies, I get my table back. When I'm in decorate mode, I hate the fish. It's a living thing, though, and I would never do anything intentionally--should I say consciously?--to hurt it, like pour bleach in the tank or something.

I admit that I do pour a lot of other chemicals in the tank though, mostly to keep the fish alive. There's Insto Chlor to remove chlorine and chloramine, on the rare occasion that I change the water, at least partially. There's Clear Water, to remove odors and cloudiness when I actually don't have time to change the water, even partially, and Nemo has to swim around in his own, er, debris for a while. We've also got Ammonia Chloramine Eliminator, to remove ammonia when his tail and fins start getting red, indicating that the levels are too high because he has been swimming in his own debris for too long. And of course, Maracide, for when Ich and other external parasites set in, along with my guilt. When it's time for Maracide, it's usually time for an intervention. Some type of fishy CPR.

No, I didn't major in marine life in college, and no, I didn't learn all of this at the cub scout trip to the aquarium last month. I learned it through experience. You never really know a fish until you live with it, as the saying goes. Nemo and I have been through a lot. The funny thing about fish is, even though they don't need to be walked or played with or even taken to the vet for shots, feeding them is not enough. I didn't really realize this until actually acquiring a fish. Feed it, clean its room and keep it warm is not a lot to ask, but sadly, I don't even do all those things as regularly as I should. So it's a wonder to me that Nemo has lived so long.

But he keeps on keepin' on, making kissy noises on top of the water at mealtimes and when he sees us playing with each other and the dog. He's one of the animals we feed each day, and though not as snuggly as the others, he does his best to participate with us. The sofa table, from where he can watch us eat and talk and play, is his world and through its window he watches us, its inhabitants. He seems to forgive me my transgressions and lapses in his care, by bouncing back to health every time.

Granted, it may be because he can't hear me joke to visitors that when he gets big enough, we're going to fry him up and eat him. But I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. Besides, even though I'd love to get my sofa table back, I wouldn't eat anything that lived in water that dirty.