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Halloween Rant

Pure unadulterated evil.

This is a rant. You’ve been warned.

We live in a fairy tale of a neighborhood where everyone knows their neighbors, waves to passing cars, and lets their kids run amok like they should. There is one thing, however, that I utterly hate about living here: The Phantom.

See, every year in the two weeks leading up to Halloween, The Phantom begins to strike. You know when you’ve been hit because you’ll find a bucket or bag of Halloween crap on your porch. I don’t mind finding fun stuff on my porch as long as there’s chocolate involved — it’s the chain letter aspect I detest. Also there’s never chocolate in these things.

Your delivery comes with a flyer that you’re supposed to make two copies of, put with two NEW buckets or bags of crap, and then leave on two other porches. BUT here’s the “fun” part: you have to find houses that don’t have the “already been hit” flyer on their front door. AND you’re supposed to do this at night, AND ring the doorbell AND run away without being seen.

There are two main reasons I don’t participate in this “tradition”:

  1. I refuse to perpetuate the cycle of buying more crap just because it’s “fun” and that’s what everyone does.
  2. Shitty, labor-intensive, obligatory tasks like this fall on moms 99.9999% of the time.

Look, I like Halloween as much as anyone, but A) I have MORE than enough to do, and B) I don’t need more plastic/gooey/sugary crap in my house. It’s hard enough regulating all the crap that’s already here. Which ties back into A), really.

So when this year’s bucket arrived (there it is up there, looking innocent but holding only evil) and the Boo asked about it, I explained the rules and why I always break the chain. Then I said, “If you want to keep it going, that’s great, but you’re on your own once I make copies for you. I’m not buying more stuff, and I’m not going out with you.”

We’ll see what he does… I’ll just be over here in my Halloween Grinch outfit.

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Two years since my last post. And I can’t even blame the pandemic for all of it.

The last time I posted, the Boo had just started second grade. He loved his teacher, and she was a great match for him. He was riding the bus to and from school most days, and hating it most days.

We all know what happened five months later, so I won’t bore you with that.

Instead, I’ll focus on the good news: We’ve remained healthy, employed, and reasonably happy. We’ve been able to lean on each other on tough days, and have (mostly) enjoyed the bonus time together. We haven’t lost anyone we love. On the whole, as cliché as it sounds, the ongoing stress and adversity has brought us closer.

Meanwhile, the Boo has been growing up. Third grade was remote, and tricky at times, but it gave me a new window into how he learns, and a deeper appreciation for what a great kid he is. He managed to remain connected to his friends, and though his social skills slipped a bit, they’re coming back. He hates that he’s not eligible for a vaccine, and that there’s no set date for when that will happen. Sometimes that causes big messy feelings, but he understands the why of all that, and he communicates his frustration, which to me is WAY better than him clamming up.

It’s funny to think of how he was two years ago. I’m not even sure I remember, exactly. He’s definitely taller, and funnier, and sneakier than he used to be. Harry Potter movies have given way to Star Trek: Next Generation and (some of the) Marvel movies. The Apollo program has become somewhat of an obsession, and he wants to go to Space Camp, even if he has to eat foods he doesn’t like (for the record: that’s HUGE). He’s definitely gotten more independent and confident in his abilities, which brings us to what happened the last time we cooked together.

We decided to get together with my mom for a Labor Day meal, so naturally, we needed a cake. The Boo decided on a mix (Trader Joe’s, don’t judge, they use ingredients you can pronounce!) and then announced he’d do everything himself, because “cooking is a life skill, mom!” I’d occasionally forget not to help, whereupon he’d yell, “Don’t help me!” I was however allowed to ask questions and comments like, “What are you going to stir that with?” and “I’d highly recommend doing that over the sink.”

Friends, he did everything except take the cake out of the oven (nobody wants to go to urgent care on a holiday!), and that’s when I found the note. He’d taken it upon himself to document the perfect burner level for melting butter — right down to the map of *which* burner the note pertains to. (Actually a crucial detail when your stove has ridiculously/wonderfully specialized burners that trip up the adults in the house.)

Makes me wonder what will happen next time he cooks. I’ll let you know — and I promise you won’t have to wait another two years.

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My view on laundry day.

It is a truth universally acknowledged: children need clean clothes to wear, at least sometimes. Also true: children have a gift for generating dirty laundry.

Back in the days when I could carry my son with one arm, his particular gift was spitting up. He was a happy spitter, but before I understood that concept I took him to our pediatrician, who chirped, “This is a laundry problem, not a medical problem.” We have since switched pediatricians, though not because of that particular occasion of pithiness.

It was stunning, the number of sullied onesies that stacked up in the course of a day. Also, the bibs, oh Lordy, the bibs, which were nearly beyond number and I felt must be folded, to which a friend (who is still a friend) remarked, “You have too much time on your hands.”

Our washer and dryer were in the basement, at the far end of a small and very narrow utility room I called the laundry cubby. The furnace and water heater were at the front end, and blocked most of the passage to the machines. I must have shinnied past them thousands of times. Getting to and from the laundry room was often the only exercise I got, but because of the stairs and the sheer amount of laundry generated by my baby boy, doing the laundry actually helped me lose my considerable baby weight.

These days we live in a different house, with a laundry room that allows me to turn around while carrying a laundry basket. My kid is far beyond his days of happy spitting. I’m working outside the home again, and I exercise like a normal person. But still, there is the laundry, piling up, waiting to be moved, waiting to be folded. T-shirts and jeans have replaced bibs and onesies, and I look for small things in pockets instead of spit-up stains.

Laundry is the only constant.

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Christmas Wrap-Up

Here’s the list of Things to Remember for next year, mostly about food for some reason. Enjoy, friends.

  1. The Boo was up at 5:30 on Christmas morning, and had torn through his stocking stuffers by 5:45. After he made his way through the stack of Santa presents, he reluctantly agreed, with much whining, to hold off on the presents under the tree until after everyone was up and ready. It’s the same every year, the mad dash of opening that he loves and that, in all honesty, I both cringe at and kind of love seeing. But it made me think: why confine it to one day? Seriously consider opening the floodgates early next year.
  2. The Trader Joe’s “rise and bake” cinnamon buns never turn out as amazingly as we think they will, and we spend all kinds of time and energy on them. Buy some damn pastries next year.
  3. Make-ahead desserts (whipped cream layered with thin cookies) were tasty, easy and fun, but still a bit crunchy after only three hours in the fridge. Mini cakes need about six hours in the fridge.
  4. We all got grumpy Christmas morning because we needed protein. Make some sort of baked egg thing the day before.
  5. Our minimal, simple dinners still left us kind of worn out, and the kitchen in a constant state of chaos. Research a great place for Christmas Day, maybe dim sum?
  6. The Fraser Fir didn’t drop ANY needles and it still smells great. Do that again.
  7. Getting out for a daily walk was one of the keys to a great few days. Do that again.
  8. Two weeks with a tree up felt about right. Do that again.
  9. The Boo got a huge kick out of shopping for family members. Involve him in the process more.
  10. We took about three photos all day, which means that we were engaged in spending time together, but also means that we don’t have a lot of images of the day. Take a few more photos. Just a few.

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Well friends, I did it. A blog post a day for 30 days, more or less in a row. On the way, I figured out a few things:

  1. Mornings rule when it comes to writing.
  2. Feedback from readers is nice, but it’s easy to like it too much.
  3. I have more spare time than I thought I did.
  4. There is no end to ideas.
  5. Writing a book is a marathon made up of sprints, and I just sprinted 30 times.
  6. Technology is my writing BFF.
  7. Writing is a rabbit hole that’s good for me to go down.

From here, I’m going to do a minimum of one post a week, probably late in the week.

Thanks for coming along for the ride. Ta-ta for now.

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So. Many. Words.

The other day, my husband was telling The Boo to do something, and he was repeating himself, because The Boo is six, and was distracted like Doug in Up when he sees a squirrel. I get the impulse, and I do the same thing sometimes. I walked up to him (my husband) and quietly said, “Do you remember that thing about how when you say something to a dog over and over, they stop hearing it? Works the same way with kids.”

Sure, it was slightly obnoxious, but it was also true: many behavior modification techniques that work with animals also work with kids. Here are a few I use on a regular basis:

  1. Ignore the behavior you don’t want. Saying,”Oh my God WHY are you singing that song for the 80th time?” achieves exactly nothing. Except that maybe it amuses your kid and makes them sing that song for the 81st time. And I can’t count the number of times I’ve walked away from a tantrum. Lovingly, of course. “Come find me when you’re calm and ready to talk.”
  2. Praise the behavior you do want. “I love how you were so kind to that boy who was hurt!” “You have gotten so good at sharing!”
  3. Short, clear commands work; yammering away about what you want the kid to do doesn’t. “Socks. Shoes. Now, please.” Sounds mean, gets the job done. I use this technique when I’ve asked nicely once or twice; sometimes I just remind myself that “It’s time for socks and shoes” is better than “I’ve asked you over and over and you STILL haven’t…”
  4. Treats and rewards work. Find out what makes your kid tick and use that to pick a motivator. Stickers, screen time, whatever. We recently started a morning routine system where The Boo gets points for doing a series of tasks with minimal or no prompting. The points equal minutes of video game time after school. His idea, but I was on the verge of suggesting something similar. Every time I use this technique, The Boo forgets about the reward, but the new behavior sticks.
  5. Hand signals, body language, touch feedback, and eye contact. A huge percentage of communication is nonverbal. Use all of that to “read” your kid and to convey happy feedback as well as unhappiness with behavior. Ain’t nothing better than a warm hug from mom or dad, right?

Obviously, there are huge differences between kids and dogs, and different kids respond to the different techniques. These are just a few that have worked well for us.

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iPhone 3GS 010

Jim (L) and Georgie (R).

Fact: Once upon a time, a dog ate my kitchen.

Well, the wood parts of it, anyway.

Her name was Georgie. She was half rottweiler, half sneaky neighbor dog, and she was big, sweet and apparently anxious. I had gotten her as a puppy, on New Year’s Day. I was living with a guy at the time, and he went with me on the hourlong drive to get her. He had a dog, an enormous Irish Wolfhound mix named Gracie that I had trained because he never bothered and she liked to jump on people. So I was confident that I could handle a puppy.

A friend of a friend had a dog who’d had an unplanned litter, and the pups were gorgeous and sweet. There was one left, the runt, 10 weeks old, with a nick in her lower eyelid thanks to her mom. (Her brother Walker has lost an eye the same way.) She was great in the car and she puked in the back seat right as we pulled up to PetSmart for supplies. Because she had been living in the country, there was cow manure in the puke.

I began training her immediately; she was smart and eager to please. She liked to play a game where I hid something and had her sit and stay until I said “okay” to release her to find it. She loved tennis balls so much I could use throwing one as a training reward. She could balance a treat on her nose until I released her to flip it up and eat it. She was awesome.

Then she started eating my kitchen. I think it may have been around the time the other dog moved out with her loser of an owner. (Maybe he’s no longer a loser, but he fit the definition back then.) I found out later that her mother (the rottweiler) used to chew on rocks, which didn’t surprise me.

I talked to people with dogs and did some reading and learned that spraying Bitter Apple on things will prevent chewing. I went and got it, sprayed it everywhere, and she went on chewing. In desperation, I mixed dish soap with cayenne and painted it on all the areas she’d been gnawing. That worked. I also stuffed Kongs with wet kibble and peanut butter and froze them, then gave her one as I left for the day. She liked those so much I had to get her the black indestructible ones.

In the end, I got her a friend — Jim — and that was what really ended her lonely chewing festival. Together, they helped define an era of my life before marriage and kids. I took them on road trips, came home to them, bathed them in the tub (So. Much. Hair.) and used their names for my first email address. Georgie ended up having two knee surgeries; the man I married built her a ramp to help her get around and a friend told me, “he’s a keeper.” She died at a kennel, of shock brought on by gastric torsion, as I was coming back from an overseas trip. Jim had to be euthanized when my son was six months old and ready to crawl, and as an overwhelmed new mother I appreciated the timing. I didn’t always enjoy taking care of them, but I took my stewardship seriously.

Looking back, I think I never gave up on Georgie to make up for Cody.

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Day 27: A Dog Ate My Couch

For Cody.

Fact: Once upon a time, a dog ate my couch.

I was in my late 20s, sharing an apartment with a very sweet and funny bulimic friend and working full-time at a nonprofit for a part-time salary. The apartment was the bottom half of a beautiful old house. The landlord lived upstairs; she was nice, but understandably businesslike. I’m pretty sure the lease had a “no pets” clause. I don’t recall how we got around that.

Here are the other things I recall about that dog:

  1. He was a gorgeous German Shepherd.
  2. His name was Cody.
  3. He had been tormented by his previous owner’s white German Shepherd.
  4. He was very sweet.
  5. The couch destruction happened over the course of a couple of days, but the destruction was total.

I had never cared much for the couch — it was covered in awful floral fabric. It had come from either my roommate’s parents’ house or Goodwill. The couch wasn’t the issue. The issue was clearly the dog.

I would like to say we worked really hard to figure out why he was chewing. I would love to say we figured it out and addressed the underlying issues. Instead, I’m going to tell the truth: I drove him to a shelter and surrendered him. I didn’t mention the chewing on the paperwork because I wanted to give him a fighting chance of being adopted. I have no idea what happened to him.

I have never, ever, cried so hard as when I got back in my car.

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Day 26: It’s Silly

Well, here we are at the end of our Thanksgiving break, ready to wrap up five days of delightfully unstructured family time with a rousing round of Let’s Build a Native American Dwelling.

To be clear: I am thrilled that the school is including First Nations cultures in their curriculum, but I have some questions:

  1. What are the kids supposed to learn by making a model of a dwelling outside of school hours?
  2. Why not take them to Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site? It’s half an hour away, it’s the site of the most sophisticated prehistoric culture north of Mexico, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  3. Is Cahokia too far? How about the museum on the grounds of the Gateway Arch?
  4. No time or money for a field trip? I get it, times are tough. How about having an actual Native American person come speak to the kids?
  5. Why is our family time, which is already scarce, being infringed upon by this task?
  6. Why doesn’t my kid understand why he’s being asked to do this project? (He doesn’t; I asked him and he said, “No.”)
  7. Why not have the kids work together as a group to build a life-size dwelling? And then eat lunch inside it? And talk about what it would be like to live in it, break it down, and put it up over and over?

Initially, The Boo had selected an Iroqouis Long House from the options on the assignment sheet. But when he realized that he’d have to give up some of his free time to do the project, he switched to the one he thought would be the easiest.

And that, friends, is why I’m spending a chunk of today helping my kid make a model of a tipi.

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Day 25: It’s Crazy

Someone else’s photo with my word. Credit where it’s due y’all!

A while back, A friend and I had a conversation about our husbands. There was a lot of laughter involved, and no we did not discuss anything dirty. I don’t remember what she told me about her husband, but I do remember the gist of one thing she said: People need to talk about their marriages more, so they realize that everyone’s marriage is crazy.

I like that philosophy. I like it a lot. And I think it applies to a lot more than marriages.

For example: I cyber-stalk stray dogs because I can’t have one right now. I go on PetFinder, I set my parameters, I scroll past all the ones that seem too high-maintenance, and then I find one that seems perfect. Good with kids, good with other dogs, not from a puppy mill, neither a puppy nor a senior dog because I don’t want another baby and I don’t want to lose a dog a year after I adopt it.

When I find a dog I like, I bookmark it. I don’t always tell anyone about it, because this is my private little crazyfest. Then I check on it every so often. Or talk myself out of checking on it. And then, one day, it’s gone. Adopted. Home.

This exercise in craziness has taught me a few things:

  1. There are stacks and stacks of people who want to adopt dogs, and therefore I don’t need to save every dog I fall in love with.
  2. There are stacks and stacks of great dogs, and therefore there is no rush.
  3. There is a shelter 10 minutes from my house that will happily talk to me about their dogs, all of which they know really well.

So maybe I’m not so crazy after all.

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