Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Tis the Season

It's that time of year filled with joy, cheer, party overload and desperate attempts to bring the magic of the holiday season into sharp focus for toddlers everywhere, so long as they still believe.

After the season got off to a roll with a pre-holiday "just because" pancake party, it was off to the races with the first event: a holiday-concurrent birthday party. Which went something like this:

Hello All,

Just a quick reminder that there is a bit of a schedule. We are very excited to see everyone tomorrow!!


3:45-4:00—Dress up! Costumes passed out. (Tutu, wings, wand, halo—so have kids wear clothes that they can put the costume over).

4:00-4:15—Picture Time

4:30-5:00—Craft Time

5:00-5:30—Pizza, Salad, Cake, Cupcakes

I think the important thing to point out here is that the child in question was turning 3. I don't think I need to explain beyond that.

Next, was a holiday party at an indoor playground - complete with crafts, cookie decorating, bouncy house, obstacle course, temporary tattoos, face painting, magic show, parachute, and cupcakes.

Throw in some holiday baking (OK, a LOT of holiday baking), walks to admire the neighborhood lights, nighttime train rides to Santa's house, plans for Disneyland, Nutcracker recitals (too much? too soon?) figuring out Santa's list and endless scouring of Internet holiday event listings (amid self-flagellation for each missed event) and the pressure to make this magical season well, magical can get the best of any elf. Especially an elf who has yet to finish her Christmas shopping.

And then sometimes the favor is returned, a thousandfold. Tonight, as I put my girl to bed, after the obligatory sprinkling of magic dust AND powder, she reached under her covers and found some magic powder to scatter over me. It was the perfect, irreplaceable, unsolicited gift.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Playdate Pressure

It's been exactly a month since Otter began her academic career, and while some things have drastically improved (like actually wanting to go to school), other aspects of her socialization have um...plateaued (like, say playing with other children). To this end, her teacher suggested several times, that we contact one of the other parents in her class and set up the ubiquitous "play date."

Now as my friend Kate points out, play dates are a rather new invention. When we were kids, which admittedly was a while ago, but not THAT long ago, you were just friends with the kids on your street. But be it a question of progress or geography, cars abound and children running up and down our block are noticeably lacking. Which leads to the necessity of pre-planned spontaneous outings where the children play and the parents referee and (hopefully) bond for what may be a life-long - or an afternoon-long - friendship.

And therein lies the rub. I have a history of shunning forced socializing with strangers. Not that I mind meeting new people - but I had never joined a sorority. Or even a club, really. Networking was always more of a chore than a pleasure. And those Mommy and Me groups sent me running for the hills. It's not that I'm better than those people (ok, I might be better than a few of those people) but after 7th grade I've never belonged to a clique. And it seems odd to start now, when I've fairly mastered the skill set required for making friends organically.

I was hoping that during the orientation meeting at the school, I would naturally gravitate towards someone, whose child would naturally make a perfect playmate for mine. But as we sat pretending to listen to the teachers describe the school, while in actuality sizing each other up one thing became clear to me: I do not fit in with these parents. Jumping to conclusions? Perhaps. Judgey? Most likely. But there I was, with my bleached hair and combat boots. and there they were - in their sun dresses and rhinestoned sandals. So, I'm just saying...

And to be fair, I wouldn't doubt if they had the same initial, unfounded, utterly superficial assessment of me, thinking "Which hooligan did she birth and then enroll with my angel?!"

Which leads me to the little angels I have to pick from. Or rather, the ones Otter has chosen. So far I have been presented with 4 options:

First there was the "Sandbox Companion" - let's call her SC for short. SC seemed very promising - in fact, SC's mom (we'll call her SCM) seemed receptive to the idea. So much so that on the morning we were told of the unbreakable bond of sand toys, SCM suggested to Otter that she go and play play dough with SC. And when Otter didn't jump at the opportunity, SCM took my befuddled child and started leading her away. And that's when it all went south for me.

Really SCM? Do you see me manhandling your spawn into coming closer to the Little People House? Are you suddenly in charge of this classroom? Last I checked, you were just another parent dropping her kid off. So please take your mitts off mine, and note that as of this moment I don't like you, you pushy broad. SCM may have sensed my bristling - the second time the teacher reintroduced us (again, suggesting a play outing for the kiddies) she pretended to be surprised and not recognize me. Yeah, SCM is kinda full of it.

Option two is a young man who is quite proud of his Potty Training prowess. Which he announced (and someone demonstrated) in class. I know he's only three and yes, this is my "my kid is a head taller than everyone but won't potty train sour grapes" routine but come on. Ironically, I think I like PT's mom.

Option three is recovering from a case of Hacking Cough. Enough said.

Option four is Otter's Cubby Roommate. CR may have the most going for her though that is the full extent of what I know about her.

Though from what I'm hearing (much to my shock and chagrin), who I like is fairly irrelevant. Apparently its Otter who gets to gravitate towards friends and I get to do her social planning and follow meekly along. Better find that class roster and start dialing.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

School Dayz

So with all the hub-bub of me starting a new job, and what with the travel and unexpected passings, I've completely dropped the ball on reporting on a major event in Otter's existence: the start of her schooling.

Now that the wheels that will take her down the road of unfathomable success or epic failure have started turning, I can step back and assess SB's reaction to the start of the journey.

The first day was met with dubioius interest. On the upside, from the open house, she knew there was a bunny and toy cars there. And paint. And cookies for snack. And a brand new lunch pail, shaped like an owl that she could take. On the downside, aside from those certainties, she had nothing to go on. And in our household, strange = bad.

The first few days went well enough, with us staying in the classroom and Otter tentatively playing with the myriad new toys available to her. And then we took a trip to see grandparents - followed by a "no kids" trip to Vegas. And though Otter continued to go to school while Bree and I did up Sin City, upon our return SB began the "I don't want to go to school," routine.

But after days of using every tactic to get her into the classroom - from pointing out all the cool stuff there to telling her she can quit, but has to tell her teacher in person - it seems that SB has found her stride. She's now playing "school" at home - which involves us eating a lot of "snacks," - eating up the aforementioned school snacks with gusto, singing songs, and mentioning what the other kids did that day.

This morning, she rushed me out the door, saying "It's time for school!"

Apparently to a good end or bad end, this school thing is here to stay.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Requiescat in canem pacem.

He was there the day she first came home from the hospital. And though he was less than please with her infringement on his despotic rule of our household, he became a model "big brother" - patient to a fault, submitting to being crowded, pinched, having paws run over by strollers and toys, and, despite our best efforts, having to play second fiddle to a baby.

We broke every conventional "wisdom" with him - giving him more freedom once Otter came home. He would sit on the bed with us while I nursed, sometimes putting his giant head on my lap. I would put SB on his bed, a tiny infant lying near a giant of a 100 lb. pit bull. He gained bed sleeping privileges for the first time. We'd often curl up together - all 4 of us squished on a queen-sized bed.

And as Otter grew, she did so with him as a constant, furry, larger-than-life companion. Whether she was trying to climb on him, dress him in Christmas hats, make sure he got his fair share of pancakes, join him on fund-raising walks for homeless dogs, pummel him, or - ultimately - hug and kiss him, she loved him with all her heart. She grew to respect all animals, to approach them carefully - or at least more carefully than most toddlers do.

On September 20, 2011, Foster died.

More terrifying than sitting at the vet, knowing we'd never see him again, more frightening than the deafening silence, emptiness and lifelessness that filled our house with his absence, was the prospect of explaining to my 3-year-old that this incredible fixture in her life was no more.

Bree and I waffled between the big doggie playground in the sky or that he became a star. In the end, we followed the advice of SB's teacher, and told her the simple truth: Foster was very, very sick, and he died. No fables, no euphemisms. Those, said her teacher, were for us, the parents. Otter would understand, albeit in her own way.

SB is taking the news in stages. Though she first ignored any mention, telling us she wanted to play, she's since been asking about him.

"Where is Foster?"

"Can we go get him?"

Her questions make my heart bleed. My answers tear it to pieces.

Last night she asked me, "But where did he go?" And after a panicked pause, I again, told her the truth. "I don't know honey," I said. "But he won't be coming back to our house." I suggested making an album of his photos to remember.

I'd like to think that perhaps he did become a star, his dogly energy - a glow that outshines his physical size a million-fold - returning to the infinite universe. If that is the euphemism I need, I'll take it. My great pain is that on his celestial journey, he took an irreplaceable part of me with him. Though that's the least I can offer him.

Rest in peace, Foster.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Happy Birthday Bean

Three years ago today, I entered the hospital a bloated, fat, waddling woman and left, several days later, a mother.

In those 1,095.75 days she has gone from She-Blob, to Otter, to Chicken Otter, to Booty, to Bean. She has grown 39 inches, learned to talk, and count, and feed herself. She's made friends. She's lost a grandfather. She's learned to count, and have picnics (at which she serves wine), to recognize letters, avoid potty training and get chocolate out of us. She is smart and feisty and frustrating and willful and the most amazing creature I've ever met, who owns my heart even on the days I'm at the end of my rope. She cracks me up with her jokes. She shocks me with her insights. She confuses and confounds me with her questions. I am in awe of her.

Long before she became, my mother told me that until I had a child of my own, I would never understand what it means to have one. That the way you love your child can never be predicted or replicated or even imagined. I didn't understand it then, but I do now - which is exactly as she told me it would be. I am both privileged and humbled by the awesome responsibility that is being her parent.

As you embark on the 4th year or you life Bean, I will tell you what I tell you every night: I adore you. Happy birthday.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

America's Most Wanted

At the end of a really brutal week, I came home last night hoping for a glass of wine, a chance to complain, followed by some silence. By the time SB was in bed, wine had been upgraded to gin and complaining had been replaced by full-force whining. My reverie of self-pity was interrupted by Bree's ominous words: "There's something I have to tell you."

This is never a good way to start a conversation. It is rarely followed by "We won the lottery," or "I got a promotion, 200% raise, full benefits and a Hawaiian vacation." More often, the follow-up goes along the lines of "The roof collapsed," or "Your mother's moving in with us and all her belongings are in the guest room now." Last night, the news was far, far more potentially devastating.

"Baby Ducky is gone. It may be for real this time." Baby Ducky (the sleeping one, NOT the bath one) is the Animal du Jour. Like, he is IT. And while he's been ousted from bed during the Great Bed Animal Purge (making his descriptor of "the sleeping one" a bit of a misnomer), he is nonetheless, a very hot commodity.

The story seemed to be that 3 animals left for the park with Otter, but only 2 returned. This did not bode well - once the stuffed creature is out on the streets, the best one can hope for is it's not picked up by some young sociopath-in-training waiting for some unsuspecting fiber filled animal to practice his craft on. Plan B needed to be put in place immediately, since Plan A (looking for Baby Ducky come morning) seemed folly at best.

I'd like to say that I am one of those parents who has backups of the favorite animals. Or at the very least knows the manufacturer, serial number, model and make. Or even who gave the particular animal to us. Alas, all I could tell you about Baby Ducky is he was small and yellow. And while I was convinced that I knew the manufacturer, an Internet search proved that I had actually been thinking of Baby Chicken. Which isn't even something I realized - until Bree pointed it out.

Now we were really in trouble. I decided to forgo dinner, and instead, settled down to an evening of searching images of stuffed baby ducks in hopes that one of the thousands of pictures that Google inadvertently pulled up would jog my memory. Without making light of it, what followed was akin to scouring missing persons listings. I frantically scrolled through page after page of stuffed yellow ducks, occasionally saying "I think it's this one!" only to realize that no, it was not. Bree came up with a fuzzy iPhone photo, that we blew up, cropped and desperately tried to compare to the online toy ads. It was like searching age progressed backs of milk cartons for a toy duck. Still, we somehow came to a consensus that one particular duck may have been Baby Ducky's doppelganger - or at least a close enough match, if you accounted for matting, fading and lighting in the respective photos.

As the sun rose, I prepared my story. As predicted, the first question out of SB's mouth was the whereabouts of Baby Ducky. Tales of him napping, which had held her at bay the previous evening were futile. I opted for the truth: that Baby Ducky was lost, but we would go to the park to look for him. But as I walked through our park, my already-shaky faith was being broken down by the moment. If Baby Ducky had ever been in the park, he was long gone. Dejected, I turned home and began the painful "I think he's gone" explanation. Which went over surprisingly well. As soon as I made a promise of procuring a new duck, SB seemed satisfied with abandoning the search and rescue operation.

As we neared home, and just as I was wrapping my my tale of new ducks who were just like the old duck but (possibly) just a little different, I happened to glance across the street. And there, right in the roadway, was a clump of pale yellow. I dashed across. There he was! A victim of a hit and run, Baby Ducky was more grey than yellow, squished, missing an eye - BUT present and accounted for. I virtually yelped with glee. "Look, we found him! Isn't that great?!" Otter didn't miss a beat. "I don't want him," she said. "I want a new one."

Oh no - not after what I'd been through! Reassuring her that there was no need for a new duck, I high-tailed it home. A wash and dry later, Baby Ducky is almost good as new. Sure, he's half blind and probably emotionally scarred by his fiasco. But he was dragged around all day, and even accompanied Otter on a picnic. He may still be banished from bed, but he's definitely back in the fold. Welcome home, Baby Ducky!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rules to Live By

Things to remember:

The crib is the train.
The office chair is the plane.
The armchair is the boat.
The truck is the car.
The rug is the truck.