Out of here

Today, we are doing something that makes life sustainable here at the Fun Apartment: leaving. We depart by car for a month or so in the Midwest so the boys can add swimming in lakes, climbing into car seats, running in yards, and riding bikes to their skill sets. This will supplement their strong showings from our home base in scooter riding, subway navigation, jaywalking, and Starbucks locating.

I have said before, but it bears repeating–every day, if necessary–my idea of bringing up these yahoos is borrowed from Calvin Trillin: “Despite all evidence to the contrary, you’re being raised in Kansas City.” (Of course, I have never even been to Kansas City, but I feel like this could be extended to include the entire Midwest. Or at least, anywhere but this godforsaken city.)

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Loaded for Bear.

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See ya, suckers!


It is kind of overwhelming to pack for a month, but since the entire Midwest seems to be nothing but laundry facilities, the clothes aren’t really a problem (except that I will look somewhat out of place there, just as I look somewhat out of place here–by nature, I think, I am some sort of hybrid species.)

One boy has really taken to the packing. For two days, his suitcase has been ready–crammed with stuffed animals, pajamas and twenty pairs of underpants. The other kid? Well, let’s just say that it’s a good thing he likes to be naked.

We’ll be in the car all day tomorrow. And most of the next. But lots of fun awaits us (in addition to the fun I still have to pack from the Fun Apartment.) There will be boat rides! There will be swimming! There will be big yards! There will be camping! There will be assisted living! There will be parades! There will be grandparents! There will be fireworks! There will be big stores! There will be Midwestern craft beer! There will be a trampoline! And, there will be throwing up in the car.

So it is very exciting/an unholy mess around here. And I should probably be doing something about it. Here I go! Clear a path, people! I’m going to turn this chaos strewn closet into something neat and tidy! Any minute now!

Hmm, well, I guess I’ll do it later. Right now, I am going to enjoy my last few predictable minutes, and ignore all the piles. After all, someone has to finish off the box wine and I’m the best qualified. And the morning will be chaos and pancakes.

But during the pancakes, I will be dragging all the old toys out of storage so they can go live in the bedroom of my brand new nephew! Thank god for boys. Or at least, this one boy, not yet a month old, has managed to perform a miracle I never could wrangle: cleaning out our basement storage unit in a single trip! So long, Thomas the Wretched Tank Engine–take your theme song with you!

Sorry, New York. You are out of luck. Make your own fun. We’re busy elsewhere.

But we’ll be back. Save us a spot, ok?

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Busted.

This morning, I wondered vaguely why the kids were so quiet. This was, of course, foreshadowing, because my younger little angel came tiptoeing over, ready to shop his brother. “Mommy, come see what we are doing.”

I approached the bunk bed alcove and saw my older son guiltily stuffing his scissors under his brother’s pillow.

They were doing this, apparently: cutting a large hole in the net that houses our stuffed animal kingdom. It is a vast kingdom, ever wider since the Wild Kratts entered our lives, and now their home has been destroyed.

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Crime Scene. Do Not Enter.

As I gasped and loudly voiced my disapproval, these loving brothers immediately began to throw one another under the bus.

One: He did it.

Two: No, he did it.

One: He did it too. And it was his idea.

Two: I did it only a little. You did it a lot.

One: You did it a lot too.

Not sure what this will mean for their proposed future marriage.

And what to do? I’m more of a “consequence” parent than a “punishment” parent, but what the hell is a logical consequence for this? Is it that they have to strew all their homeless collection of stuffed animals throughout the fun apartment? That may be a logical consequence for them, but it is a cruel punishment for me.

I sent them to their beds (well, I can’t send them to their rooms) to reflect on their crimes, and to give myself a chance to try and parent my way out of this. After a few minutes of asking myself “What the blanking blankity blank were they thinking?” I came to the conclusion that kids just have incredibly poor judgement. And sometimes they just do stupid things for no reason.

I tried to plumb my own memories for similar offenses committed before I could be tried as an adult. And I did dredge one up. It still brings a shudder through me to remember the time I poked a nail in someone’s basketball to see what would happen. And then had to buy them a new basketball. So the Mr. and I sternly sent them to fetch their plastic wallets and extracted enough allowance to order a new home for all the stuffed animals now creating a vagrancy problem at the fun apartment. (I thought it was somewhat lenient of me not to ask them to pay for shipping, but we do have Amazon Prime, so . . . )

I’m not sure they felt the real wrath or have had their judgement improved. But pretty much everything else they have asked for today, from breakfast candy to screen time has been rejected. And we now have a scissors checkout policy.

Although I do agree to paint all of our toenails with glitter, because, really, who says no to that? I don’t know, but it isn’t me.

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Glitter Toes.

Sometimes these consequence things just seem messy to me, instead of the crisp, clean message of reparation they are meant to send. But in some ways, most of our life is like that–muddled but generally well-intentioned.

And I can’t say I blame them for being a little lacking in self-control, when the previous evening had involved a past-bedtime dance party at school. Great fun, but I could almost see the next day’s meltdowns written on their faces. Summer, come ye quickly, but give me strength!

 

 

 

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Anniversary musings

The Man of My Dreams and I recently celebrated our anniversary (Yay, right!?!?) We usually mark the occasion my making the meal we had at our wedding, which (I’m pretty sure) was vegetarian lasagna and red velvet cake. There were roses and wine, as well. And I didn’t cut my finger off making the lasagna this year, so that was another reason to celebrate!


This auspicious event has spawned rather a lot of side conversations about weddings, marriage, and relationships in general. It turns out that these lads have picked up some interesting ideas about how these things work. Here are some actual conversations to give you some insight into their crazy little minds.

Little: I am going to have this kind of cake (i.e. red velvet) at my wedding.

Me: Good choice.

Little: It’s going to be at the beach.

Me: Great! That sounds like fun!

Little: You won’t be there.

Me: Why not?

Little: You’ll be dead.

 

Little: What if you wear a silver dress?

Me: Fine. People usually wear white dresses, but you can wear whatever you want.

Little: Even a golden dress?

Me: Yup. Whatever you want.

Little: I’m going to wear a ninja suit.

 

Big: I know, I can save someone!

Me: Umm. . .  what?

Big: I can save someone from danger! And then they will want to marry me!

Me: . . .

Big: That way I don’t have to ask them. They will just know to marry me.

 

Little: I want to marry my brother.

Big: You can’t marry me. The police will come and take us to jail.

Little: I don’t care. You can wear the dress. I will wear the ninja suit. Do you have a ring?

(I sure would like to be there when my sons get married. To each other. At the beach. Too bad I’ll be dead. . . )

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I’m just avoiding you

I have a new theory of parenting. (For those of you keeping score at home, this brings my sum total of parenting insights to: 2.) I think you are going to like this one, because subscribing to it requires very little effort on your part, and if you are anything like me, then that is exactly the kind of parenting theory you can get behind.

And it starts with nail clippers. Someone gave me a pair of infant nail clippers when I was pregnant and warned me that clipping the new baby’s nails would be the very worst part of my parenting experience (apparently, this person had a child who had not yet hit the dreaded threes, or she probably would have given me a bottle of whiskey instead to prepare me for the path ahead.)

So I took the nail clippers with some trepidation and gave them a place of honor among the baby’s stuff carefully arrayed in the soon-to-be-nursery (that’s right, we had a house then. It had rooms. I miss rooms.) and when the baby finally arrived and it took three of us to bathe, diaper, and dress him, I glimpsed the dreaded clippers and thought “Oh no! Not that, too! I can’t face it! I’m not ready!”

So I just didn’t face it. His nails never got particularly long, he didn’t cover himself in scratches. I figured his toenails would get long enough to resemble some hex from the Half Blood Prince, but they just seemed to never grow very much.

“Hmm,” I thought. “Well, if they get really long, I’ll give it a go, but since everything seems fine right now, I’ll just put these torture clippers away.” And I probably put them right next to the onion goggles.

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“Some have two feet and some have four. Some have six feet and some have more.”

And our second appeared also to have no real need to have anything clipped. Maybe they have some sort of non-nail-growing gene, I shrugged. And probably never thought about it again. Until this weekend, when I watched my older son wander over to my dresser, pick up my nail clippers and trim his own nails.

Avoidance, people. It works. 

I should go back in time and avoid potty training! I’m sure they would have picked it up on their own by now. We should just stop putting so much damn work into this.

Last week, at one of my various school pick-ups, I was eavesdropping on another mom tear out her hair over her kids and their insistence on singing that pop anthem “Shut up and Dance” (With me! Go ahead, sing along at home!) Apparently, use of the phrase “shut up” is verboten in their household and she is driving herself bonkers trying to keep her kids from singing this song. (Based on my own experience, it is impossible to remove this song from one’s head without surgery) But, she has tried to push a kid-friendly version of “Get up and dance” on them to no avail. And as she bemoaned this lack of success, I thought, “I don’t think I would go to the mattresses over this.” Because, once you go there, you have to pitch a tent and live there under your flag. Until the last fallen warrior is carried away.

And eventually, she’ll look back at the Battle of Walk-the-Moon. But I bet next time, she is going to embrace avoidance parenting.

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Joy, and Stuff

You guys know we live in a tiny apartment, right?  Perhaps you’ve also gathered that there are, at last count,  four of us in here–and two of us are kids!

And of course, all of us have stuff. Some of that stuff is toys. And clothes. And food. And books. And wine. So, we have the essentials. And there’s also an extra lampshade, with no lamp–don’t ask. And a sewing machine, giant volcano, tin can robot, postage scale, a basket full of rocks, a cordless drill, and several thousand of the Mister’s random bags of crap.

As you might imagine, the Fun Apartment can feel pretty crowded. Keeping a clear path  requires constant vigilance and many executive decisions made while everyone else is at school or work. (And no, I haven’t seen your bag with the old lock parts in it. Stop asking.)

I’ve written before about how I feel constant pressure to purge and unclutter.* So, it was inevitable, I suppose, that I would end up writing about Marie Kondo and her “life-changing” magic.

Have I read the book? Well, no, not the whole thing. But it is in the bathroom, and I’ve flipped through it. And yes, parts of it make plenty of sense to me. But not all the parts. “One theme underlying my method of tidying is transforming the home into a sacred space, a power spot filled with pure energy.”**  Yeah, I really can’t see that happening around here.

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Good thing we have shelves.

 

So we’re not totally converting to this new religion. But, like I said, it takes constant vigilance to keep the producers of Hoarders at bay. So I thought we’d just try to do some magic tidying and see how that worked out for us.

I’m not sure why I chose to take my organizational stand in the bathroom, with the wash cloths. But there they were: a bin overflowing with washcloths. Some of you may remember this pile of washcloths as the sea monkey mass grave. “Perhaps I could tidy those,” I suggested to myself. But there were a lot of them and rearranging them in the bin didn’t really produce the promised life-changing magic. So, I asked the man of my dreams about getting some of those tall odd-shaped drawers to curb the washcloths.*** But instead of agreeing to drawers, he suggested we just go through the washcloths and get rid of a bunch, until we came to a manageable quantity. Now, I am not one to quash the Mister’s purging urge, as he is only seized by this urge . . . Umm is there a word that means “every five years”? Quintennially? Maybe he has been reading in the bathroom, as well. Anyway, we dutifully went through our washcloth collection and decluttered. We were joining the choir. We were one step closer to a home filled with “pure energy.”

At least, we were, until the kids came down with pink eye.

(I will pause here so you can reassure yourselves that your eyes are not really itchy, but perhaps you should wipe down your screened devices anyway.)

That’s right, we suddenly found that what we needed were washcloths. Lots. Of Washcloths. Approximately the same number we had just unloaded. And we needed them right away. Suddenly, that decluttering urge seemed more like hubris or idiocy.

So we had not nearly enough washcloths to gt us through the pink eye. But we did have protective eye gear! A few years ago, some well-intentioned soul gave me a pair of goggles to wear while chopping onions, to prevent one from crying. While I have cried in the kitchen, it is usually for reasons pertaining to the presence of a large mountain of dishes and the absence of a dishwasher. I didn’t really need the goggles, but we held on to them, because well, I guess they just became part of the landscape. Maybe they’d be useful someday?

And sure enough: their time came! When your kid has pink eye and isn’t allowed to touch his eyes, it turns out that onion chopping goggles are exactly what you need. Pretty smart holding on to them all this time, wasn’t I?

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Safety first.

I’m sure that this whole life-changing magic is great for a lot of people. It’s probably perfect for real grown-ups, people better at adulting. But it seems like it’s not for us. Pink eye has taught me that I am not all that interested in having a home full of pure energy.  I’d rather have a home full of people I love, the things we need, the things we love, and a pair of onion chopping goggles.

Sure, I’ll still man the guns at clean-up time, but it turns out I actually like living with a bunch of interesting, useful stuff. Would it change my life to simply toss out a bunch of this stuff? Sure, but not necessarily for the better. Here at the Fun Apartment, life is magical enough.

*Martha Stewart’s last email was downright bossy about it: “Eliminate clutter.” Anytime a subject line includes the word “eliminate,” it just gives off a sinister tone.I begin to think about the clutter taking its family, assuming a new identity, and going into hiding until the reign of terror has ended.

**p. 161. I can’t make this stuff up.

***I do realize that her method is not to buy more storage space (That is the job of the Container Store’s marketing department) but I thought even just trying to wrangle some of the chaos into tidiness might help with the magic and pure energy business.

 

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Tribal

You’ll have to excuse us at the Fun Apartment this month. We have birthday fatigue. Our Little grew a bit bigger a week or so ago and, well, the jump from four to five required quite a lot of effort and energy.

See, in New York, it is hard to just . . . have a birthday party. At least, it is hard to have a birthday party attended by more than one child. So we have been putting off whole the “birthday party with your friends” business because, well, there are difficulties to be faced. But we thought, if we kept it small in stature and size–only his three close friends–then it might just be manageable.

The main difficulty, as it always is in New York City, is space. It is at a premium, especially around the Fun Apartment where one kid coming over for a play date creates a standing room only situation. Also, all of our extra chairs are broken in various eyebrow-raising ways. We could go outside, of course. There are parks and playgrounds, but these will probably be too cold to sustain a party longer than half an hour — what poor planning to have winter children! We could try an expedition party and head off to some fun destination, but then one has to schlep a cake and gifts through the zoo or a museum, while still keeping track of the guests. (Telling another parent that you are sure that you saw their child somewhere in the room with the giant whale, an hour previous, tends to put a damper on budding friendships.) And our local restaurants will demand a rather exorbitant fee for the disruption that a party of five-year-olds would provide. Or they might just laugh in your face.

So our inner party-planners were stymied, and decided to sleep on it. That is, until we realized that the ideal party space lay not two feet from our sleeping heads! Our beloved neighbors recently decamped to Brooklyn in order to accommodate two new roommates: twin girls. Their apartment–Ready to rent! You could live there!–was standing empty. So they graciously allowed us to have a riotous party in their former living room.

Space problem resolved, we tackled the problem of theme. If only indecision could be considered a party theme. An early birthday present of a woolly mammoth convinced the birthday boy that an ice age-themed party was his heart’s most intense desire. But, just like last year, after I had already bought the sharks, he changed his mind, a mere five days before the guests were due to arrive. Wild Kratts, he insisted, was his one and only party idea. While I love these crazy bros, I was not so eager to embrace this new idea. But, because, I am able to see the bright side of everything, I did not collapse into a(nother) screaming panicking fit. Instead, I patted myself on the back for my foresight in accidentally holding onto our amazon prime membership I signed up for to get the Christmas presents here on time. (How was I to know that you had to actually cancel after the one month free trial??) Smart by accident again!” I congratulated myself, while clicking on the free two day shipping button! Soon, small quantities of various animal print goodies arrived at our door.

(Although, I will pause here to concur with a friend who thinks that it would be good for us all as a society, if we agreed to give up on this whole goody bag thing. Although I do like the idea of giving presents on one’s birthday, instead of expecting them. But what to do with all those random little items? I have a special bin, specifically for “small toys we got for free somewhere!” Perhaps I sort too much. At any rate, I digress too much.)

I even managed a crafty type thing I’ve been intending to do for years. “I know!” I thought. “I’ll clean out all these random broken crayons and melt them down into rainbow crayons! They’ll be perfect for the birthday party! They are recycled! There may now be room in the crayon bucket for all the crayons! I am a such a domestic demi-goddess / mad genius!” Naturally, this project was a disaster start to finish. After I wore my fingernails down to brightly colored stubs, the Mister asked “Why didn’t you just soak them to remove the paper?” Luckily we didn’t have to go to the emergency room to remove the crayons I stuffed up his nose. Chopping and melting the crayons was easy, but Martha Stewart neglected to mention that this process turn your previously-serviceable muffin tins into a brown field super fund site. And the rainbow crayons, while kind of cool looking, only color on one side. And they looked so interesting and unrecognizable that one unfortunate party guest mistook them for a colorful snack.

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Me love cookies.

But despite my domestic demigoddess failings, it was a wildly, successful birthday party. And it was grand! My son and his three besties ran rampant. We opened the door to the Fun Apartment, and the door to the neighbors’ cool, enormous empty apartment and the guests immediately sorted themselves. The kids dove headlong into the Fun Apartment, pulling down every toy bin in reach (and a few I’m not entirely sure how they got to),  while their parents enjoyed some adult celebrating in the cool whiteness of the neighbors’ apartment. I have always maintained that the secret to a good kid’s party is in the cocktails. Thus, I found myself at Chelsea Wine Vault asking the rather unlikely question: “What wine would you recommend for a five year old’s birthday party?” They picked a winner!

“Should we go check on the kids next door?” I asked, setting down my wineglass. This naive statement earned me such withering looks of pity–looks that said “No, of course not, you foolish woman. They are fine and will find us if they are bleeding.”

“I could really get good at this parenting of increasingly independent children,” I thought, passing the bottle around again.

The lads eventually joined us to wrestle in a large pile at the center of all that empty space. Then they invented a game that involved throwing their inflatable animals at each other. I’m sure it was something totally sanctioned by the Wild Kratts: Living Free and In the Wild!

 

Keep on creature adventuring!

Our guests stumbled home when the threat of bed time began to loom. I even thought about how fun it would be if we woke up in the morning with the three extra kids in residence. But alas, or luckily, they all departed for home–hopefully two steps ahead of an impending meltdown.

But by the time the school birthday party rolled around, I had run out of celebration stamina. Fridays are rough around here anyway and when you throw in attempting to make rice krispie treats with uncooperative marshmallows, let’s just say that the bloody decimated bodies of Snap, Krackle, and Pop, or those of their bastard cousins from Trader Joe’s, were littered throughout the Fun Apartment’s kitchen. I kept expecting the Keebler Elves to show up with some crime scene tape. And I showed up late at school anyway. But at least nobody took a bite of the rainbow crayons.

Another reason to celebrate: this little guy’s birthday is also a party for all of us Fun Apartment residents, because it was on his first full day in the world that we decided to move back to New York, in a post-natal haze, with only a vague sense of, oh who the hell knows what to guide us. “If New York is in your heart,” said a friend, ” then that is where you need to go!” But for the longest time after we moved, even we–the Fun Apartment natives–weren’t sure that we had made the right call. After Little’s first birthday–a walk along the high line with balloons–even after champagne, the man of my dreams and I cried a little. “Did we make the right choice?” We asked. After giving up good jobs, an awesome house with lots of space, we weren’t sure we had arrived in Paradise. Instead the Fun Apartment felt more like Easter island. We moved here only to accustom ourselves to ever-increasing, ever-more expensive hardship. “Will he ever have a birthday where we don’t cry ourselves to sleep, in between kicking ourselves?” We wondered.

The long view won out, of course. This month, along with the Little’s birthday, it felt like we actually celebrated our 5th anniversary of Fun Apartment living, rather than just marking it by nodding solemnly at each other. Five years is more than twice as long as we planned to stay, but hey, plans change. We are finding our tribe. And loving it.

 

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Lots of love. I mean, LOTS.

Valentine’s Day kind of caught me off guard this year. Maybe it was the way it happened two days early. The school district used some sleight of hand to slip in an extra week off. In the middle of February. (Kid reaction: Yay! Parent reaction: Eek! What are you kids doing here? Shouldn’t you be in school? Learning?)

Anyway because of this smoke and mirrors break, I had to scramble to pull some heart-y type stuff together in time for school Valentine’s Day parties on Friday. Unfortunately, other, smarter parents with better calendar management skills had beaten me to the drugstore. So I trolled around for other ideas. (Thanks, Popsugar! I was almost starting to feel comfortable with my own inadequacy until you came along!)

And in my inadequate scramble, scrolling through 762 Valentine card ideas, I began to feel like Valentine’s Day is a little creepy. I mean, do we really want elementary school kids declaring their undying love for everyone in their class, like I did at parties in my twenties? (“I just feel so close to you guys right now. I love you all! Let’s hug! And have more wine!”) I’d be happy if we didn’t push the idea of romantic love on these kids until . . . well, I don’t actually know when I’ll be ready for that to happen. Grad school, maybe?

Anyway, this whole holiday just seems kinda creepy when you put it in a kid context, doesn’t it? Around the 538th glow stick card, declaring how another kids lights up my kid’s life, I wanted to shower, and then give the kids a bath. And I don’t think my seven year old can call all the people who gave him candy hearts emblazoned with “Call me!” until he get a phone. In middle school, if he’s lucky.

“This is kind of inappropriate,” I thought to myself. And then I thought of several, even more wildly inappropriate Valentine messages that would definitely call for my removal from the PTA’s sucker list. Now my mind is full of off-color glow stick innuendo and if either kid comes home with bubbles in their Valentine haul, I am going to need to be ventilated to stop giggling and snorting. (At least, that’s how the people at Party City revived me, with their balloon tanks.)

But somehow, I did convince myself to try and find some simple valentines that would not require hours of assembly, cost the Hope Diamond, or make my kids seem weird. And they had to come in some combination that adds up to 30.

And we managed to tape a lot of construction paper* hearts to happy-face pencils, without undue discord on the marital front, because that would really go against the spirit of the thing,wouldn’t it? So I did it while the Mister was working late and I made the kids write all the names. For the little guy, this was sort of the equivalent of writing a volume  of Game of Thrones. But he managed it, so maybe he’ll be a wildly successful sci-fi/fantasy novelist someday. That’s something to look forward to!

And, upon awaking on actual Valentine’s Day, two boys who are all knees and elbows slipped into our bed. They had noticed the boxes of candy hearts on the table, but we’re worried that I didn’t have any Valentines, because there were no candy hearts at my place. It’s true, those clever other parents had already cleared the drugstore shelves of my beloved sweet-tart hearts, so I figured that I would just steal the white ones from their candy heart boxes and call it a day.

“Don’t worry,” I assured them. “I’m sure Papa has a great big fancy surprise Valentine for me.” The boys accepted this answer, but the Man of My Dreams choked somewhat hesitantly before he went on with his pretend snoring. Ah, marriage.

Maybe my gift is that he will remember to wipe down the countertops after he does the dishes. I will keep my fingers crossed!

In the meantime, a cozy day in the cozy Fun Apartment seems lovey-dovey enough for me. And I hope that feeling lasts all the way through the completely made-up winter break holiday.

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I wear my heart on a stick.

*Why is it called construction paper? Only one of the three little pigs would be stupid enough to build a house out of it!

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