Crazed In the Kitchen: 2011   

Friday, December 30, 2011

Why We Won't Need Noisemakers At Our House This New Year's Eve

It’s that time of year again…New Year’s. These days, that no longer means wild parties and copious amounts of alcohol for me—more like a glass of Two Buck Chuck chardonnay and asleep on the couch by 9 pm (hey, I’m not proud but I’m not ashamed either—nothing, NOTHING, trumps sleep anymore. N.O.T.H.I.N.G.). It’s also a time for Resolutions—or, as I like to call them, Opportunities to Fail.

As a kid, I used to love making New Year’s Resolutions. I had a sort of Jillian Michaels streak back then—I believed that as resolutions go, the more the better and the more extreme the better. Collect money for homeless cats! NO, wait! Give all my allowance every week to homeless cats! NO, wait! Build a kennel in the basement and take in homeless cats! My heart was in the right place, but usually by January 3rd I had given up and gone back to reading “Sweet Valley High” and doodling in my Trapper Keeper.

As an adult, I gave up resolutions because, let’s face it, I don’t like failure. But something happened recently that made me rethink my position. I was building a train track with my 1-year-old when I let out a…how shall I say it?...a zephyr, as my grandma called them. A toot. The call of the Barking Spider. OK, it is what it is: I farted. And though I consider myself to be fairly feminine and ladylike (stop laughing), apparently this one was less zephyr and more hurricane because my son looked around, confused, and asked, “Daddy???”

The thing about tooting is that it’s one of those bad habits—like swearing and eating microwave popcorn for dinner—that you can get away with when you have a little baby. “It’s ok!” you tell yourself. “He’s just a baby, he doesn’t understand! I’ll worry about it when he’s older!” But then, before you know it you have a fairly astute preschooler and a no-filter, mimicking toddler. Eventually, you have to watch your mouth, eat something green, and, I guess, stop farting in front of your kids.

I swear I wasn’t always this crass. In my 20s, I would hold a toot in for DAYS while my long-distance boyfriend was in town for a visit. But you get older, you have babies, you take time off work to stay home, and things…well, they change. I no longer spend my days in a classroom dealing with students, administrators, and parents. Most of the time, it’s just me, the cats, and my two boys. There are no great standards of decorum here. My 3-year-old runs around mostly naked all day and quite frequently demands that I “smell this butt!” My 1-year-old likes to announce to anyone who will listen that “Daddy has pee-nit!” and “Mommy has nigh-na!” For them (and, let’s be honest, for their dad as well), tooting is a common event, always at least acknowledged (“I tooted, Mommy!”) or even celebrated (“William, did you hear that noise that sounded like thunder? I tooted!”) Big or small, all toots are funny to them. Tub toots usually garner the most laughs (What’s funnier than a fart? A fart that bubbles!), and a super loud toot, or “toot quake” as we like to say, can stop a conversation dead in its tracks with fits of giggles.

Now, I know passing gas is a natural bodily function and in no way do I expect my kids to stop doing it. And I spent enough time hanging out in fraternity houses in college to know that a well-timed toot can, indeed, be funny. But—and maybe it’s a little bit sexist—as the lone female in this family I seem to shoulder most of the responsibility for modeling social graces in this regard. I may be fighting an uphill battle in this house of boys and men, but my one and only New Year’s resolution this year is to model proper tooting etiquette at all times: Hold ‘em in when you can, say “excuse me” when you can’t.

And if you absolutely, positively have to let one rip, wait until Daddy is telling that poignant story, the one that always makes him cry, about the Miracle on Ice at the 1980 Olympics. There’s a cookie in it for you if you do.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A So. Cal. Christmas

(No, not a lo-cal Christmas. I don’t think I’ve ever had one of those.)

As a native Chicagoan living in Southern California for over 11 years now, I can say that I will never get used to celebrating Christmas in a warm climate. To me, Christmas as a child always meant cold weather—often with snow—and all that went with it: snow pants and jacket, mittens, boots, scarf, hat, the whole deal. Going out in the cold and snow was a matter of fact—how else would we get to school, to work, to the liquor store? (Did anyone else get dragged to a true liquor store—not a convenience store with a fancy name—as a child? It’s a kid’s nightmare: glass everywhere, you can’t touch anything, and if you turn around too fast—especially in a puffy down coat with a hood—you are likely to cost your parents at least the equivalent of two Coleco games. Anyone?)

Anyway, Christmas meant winter. It meant cold. It meant dragging a Christmas tree through a snow-covered parking-lot-turned-tree-lot to your car, tying it on with twine, and skidding through icy streets praying it wouldn’t fly off and under the giant wheels of a snow plow or salt truck.

But this is not what Christmas means to my sons.

Both of my boys were born here in Southern California and have lived here since. My younger son, age 21 months, has never even seen snow, let alone felt a temperature below 55 degrees. My 3-year-old is hardcore for a California boy: he’s been to the Midwest not once but TWICE during winter and so has participated in such exotic native activities as building snowmen, riding sleds, and having your boogers freeze the minute you walk out the door. And still he said to me the other day, as he pulled on a light hoodie for a walk to look at Christmas lights, “Mommy, I know what winter is! Winter is when it gets chilly almost every day!”

Chilly? CHILLY? In Chicago, chilly is an over-air-conditioned movie theater on a summer day! It’s the 8th inning at Wrigley when your nosebleed seats end up in shadow! It’s most of MAY and sometimes even early JUNE! It still boggles my mind that my very own children think it’s normal that Christmas decorations and blooming rose bushes go together. That licking metal poles at the park is just gross—not an activity that results in a trip to the ER with a bleeding tongue. That even in the deepest darkest days of winter—when the temperature reaches a horrifying low of 60 degrees—one can walk to the local ice cream shop and enjoy a cold treat outside without losing a finger to hypothermia.

And yet, how great is it that in two days, when the post-present-opening-orgy torpor of Christmas Afternoon sets in, I will be able to send my boys (in their hoodies), off to the park with their father and paternal grandparents for an hour or two of outdoor play? How GREAT is it that I will then lay on the couch, in the “chilly” quiet of a child-free house, dozing comfortably as a chorus of possessed battery-operated toys chirp and sing to no one? How great is that?

I admit, it’s pretty great. But it’s not great enough to keep me from missing the Midwest and the Christmases of my childhood.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Mommy's Twelve Days of Christmas

A Mommy’s Twelve Days of Christmas

(Let’s just start with Day 12, shall we? You’re welcome.)

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my family gave to me…

12 people in our house on Christmas  (But just one bathroom)

11 toy cars in the bathtub (Boys, why? Why?)

10 marital arguments (Dirty dishes go in the dishwasher, not the sink. There is no Dish Fairy. Love you! Is it time for you to go back to work yet? )

9 straight hours of sleep for Mommy (Hey, a mama can dream)

8 episodes of Yo Gabba Gabba on the DVR (Probably not to be watched all at once. Probably.)

7 glasses of wine for Mommy (What? No…Of course not! More like three! Okay, maybe four. After bedtime, of course. Almost NEVER for breakfast.)

6 dropped calls to grandparents on Skype (“Hi…” “Love…” “Merry…” “Just call my cell phone, we’ll put it on speaker.”)

5 diaper creeeeeaaammmsss(We’ll find the winning combo someday. But it’s coming out of your inheritance…)

4 pounds of chocolate (Mmmmmm Dark Chocolate Mint Frangos. Those things are like crack for chocoholics. Totally worth the calories.)

3 meltdowns in Macy’s  (Two for William, one for me)

2 potty training accidents (If peeing all over the floor and wall next to the toilet can be called an “accident.”)

And one dumb cat trying to eat our Christmas tree (Newsflash, feline genius: it’s fake. Stop. It.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Ding Dong

Maybe because I’ve spent most of my life in school, either as a student or a teacher, I do a lot of research when I start something new. Becoming a mom was no different. If a baby, toddler, or preschooler does it, I have a book about it. Throw in Google and some online mom chat boards, and I am Very. Well. Informed.

So, I was not at all surprised when my older son became interested in imaginary play, as my how-to-parent-a-three-year-old book had told me to expect this. The book also told me it would not be long before he invented an imaginary friend, or perhaps even a whole imaginary posse. But where most three-year-olds zig, Matthew decided to zag. Rather than making up friends, he pretends to be someone else himself.

Thanks to a birthday “gift” of a used VHS tape, Matthew’s first alter-ego was Ariel, the Little Mermaid. For months, we had to call him “Ariel,” or he wouldn’t respond. (There are NO looks, by the way, like the looks you receive at the park when you shout, “Ariel, put your penis away!” because your aspiring nudist, mermaid-loving son is flashing the kids on the swings.)

After I saw the Ariel movie for the 8495520943580349 time, I introduced “The 101 Dalmatians,” and he was transformed. To, of course, Cruella DeVil. Then I learned what awkwardness REALLY feels like when I found myself at the indoor play place shouting, “Cruella! Give that ball back! Cruella! Say you’re sorry right now, young man, or we are leaving this minute!” As the months passed, he moved on to Wendy from “Peter Pan,” Cera from “The Land Before Time,” and Toodie from “Yo Gabba Gabba.”

[Here is where I’m supposed to make some defensive-sounding comment about how the fact that my son relates primarily to female characters is developmentally normal considering the fact that he spends about 85% of his waking hours with me, his female mother. But the truth is, I don’t care. Whatever floats his boat floats my boat, too—gender-“appropriate” or not.]

[Also, he may watch too much TV. But when a kid drops his daily nap, well, standards loosen.]

Then one rainy afternoon I decided to show Matthew a few scenes from my favorite childhood movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” Within minutes he declared himself to be The Wicked Witch of the West and insisted I play a made-up game with him called “Dorothy Melts The Wicked Witch.” The game is quite easy to play, as its title suggests: Matthew is the witch and sits on the couch. I hold a stuffed dog as Toto and a blue blanket as some water and prance around the coffee table singing “We’re Off to See the Wizard!” At some point “Dorothy” throws the blanket/water over the witch and watches while she moans “I’m melting! Melting!” and sinks into the couch.

So I played, and played, and played this game. While it was not as fun as “Ariel Jumps in the Water With Her Clothes On,” it also was not as skull-crashingly boring as “Cruella Steals the Puppies”—both of which I had played repeatedly in the past few weeks as well.

But then Matthew crossed the line.

As he melted into the couch for the 15th time that day, he commanded that I sing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” and dance around his not-so-lifeless body (3 year olds are NOT good at playing dead). But even though we were having “fun,” I just could not bring myself to dance and sing in celebration of my son’s fake death. It just felt wrong. Not sharing my reservations, my 1.5 year old chanted helpfully “Nee-nah! Wicky wet!” and fell on top of his still-moaning brother. Weakly, I joined him, singing optimistically, “Ding dong the witch is melted?” But preschoolers are known for nothing if not for their occasional, completely random but also completely fanatical attention to some details. I would sing the song correctly, or there would be hell to pay in the form of a whining, crying meltdown.

So I sang and danced, regaling my sons, the neighbors, and an innocent dog-walker outside with a musical description of where the goblins go (Below! Below, below, yo ho!).  Matthew delighted in this new variation of his game, William tripped around happily shouting “Yo ho! Yo ho!” and I decided to focus on the fact that no one was fighting or crying. I also resolved to save more money for his future therapy bills. Because they are coming.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


Lately I’ve been on a quest to make some more mom-friends. So I’ve been handing out my phone number like a 20-something single girl at last call. A few months ago I even exchanged numbers with a mom I met in line at the post office (talk about a meet cute!).  
This morning I packed up William, my politically-correct canvas grocery bags, and my shopping list and set off. My list was neatly divided: Things to Buy at CVS, and Things to Buy at Trader Joe’s. The Trader Joe’s side had the usual grocery stuff. The CVS side listed exactly three things: “bottle brush, toothpaste, and YEAST CREAM.” Yes, yeast cream. But it’s not what you think: every few months my littlest guy gets a nasty diaper rash that needs jock itch cream to knock it down. And this happens to be one of those months. 
So. Quick trip to CVS finished, we are browsing Trader Joe’s, and we run into a mom who looks familiar. Once we figure out how we sort-of know each other, we chat…and it’s magical. Light-hearted, sympathetic…everything you want in a potential mom-friend. But with three kids present between the two of us, eventually the magic gave way to crying (hers) and a hacking coughing fit (mine). She headed to the frozen organic fruit, and I to the hormone-free milk and yogurt. But I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Was she The One? Could this be my next bestie? Are almost-40-year-old women allowed to say ‘bestie?’ I had to take action.
I grabbed my list, flipped it over, and scrawled my contact info on the one tiny bit of available blank space (OF COURSE I recycle old used papers for my shopping lists! OF COURSE this is not because I couldn’t find a single piece of blank paper in the house!). I ripped off my info and headed across the aisles to find my prey. As I approached, I flipped the paper over, curious to see which part of my shopping list was on the back. I hoped it was the “whole wheat flat bread, organic squash, and intriguing-but-not-pretentious-sounding-wine” part. But, as I should have known, there was nothing written there but “bottle brush, toothpaste, and YEAST CREAM.”
I stopped in my tracks. I wanted to believe that it didn’t matter what was written on the back of my contact info, that my potential new friend wouldn’t even look back there. But who was I kidding? would look back there, if someone handed me their number. And, yes, I suppose “YEAST CREAM” isn’t the most embarrassing thing to have to buy…anti-diarrhea medication, maybe? Condoms, size small, perhaps? But still. YEAST CREAM. Yuck.
I assessed my options. #1) Hunt down another pen (not so easy, damn Bermuda Triangle diaper bag) and cross off the offending item. #2) Abort mission, move on with my life, maybe place one of those “Missed Connections” ads on Craigslist and hope for the best. Or #3), seize the moment and the potential adult conversation in my future, lead with a joke about the YEAST CREAM, and go for it.
I decided to go for it. It’ll be fine! We’re all adults here! Right? RIGHT???
Well, I’m happy to say, it worked. We laughed together about the YEAST CREAM, exchanged numbers, and even went so far as to set a play date for a few days from now.
Which gives me juuuust enough time to try to break my 3-year-old of the habit of yelling “god damage!” every time something doesn’t go his way. 


There are times when the days just get to me: too much fighting, too much spilling, too much throwing, too much whining…too much altogether.
But then a moment happens like it happened today. William woke up from his nap undecided about being awake. As we sank into the rocking chair to discuss it, Matthew climbed up and joined us. I found myself with a boy on each knee, a book they actually agreed on, and a peaceful moment of “brother fun,” as I call it. I had to take a second, close my eyes, and take the moment in: Snuggles from both my boys, an awesome gliding rocking chair (which we bought second-hand off Craigslist for a fraction of the price—bonus joy!), and a good book. (OK, so it was “Ten Barnyard Babies,” but I take what I can get.) It seems like there are so many times when I’m just trying to get though the minutes…to the next bedtime, the next weekend, the next milestone. But when a moment like this one happens and I actually have the presence of mind to appreciate it, to just be there “in the moment” as the self-help books are always nagging us to be…those moments pass so quickly. Even before the sad barnyard babies could find their wayward moms, Matthew was diving out of my lap yelling “I have to go potty!!! It’s an emergency!!’ and William was half-falling, half-sliding after him yelling “Potty! Potty! ‘Mergency! Potty!” And the moment was gone.
I have dark times where I can’t quite get my head around why we’re here and what happens when we go. But those moments—those snuggly, happy moments, feeling the weight of those little bodies on my lap, my arms wrapped around them—that’s it….That’s why I’m here and that’s what I was made to do.   

Gosh Poop It

So, of course I’ve been trying to watch my mouth since my first son was born. And, to my credit, I’ve done a fairly good job. No f-bombs have been dropped in either child’s presence, and no s-bombs for that matter or even a-bombs (you all know what I mean). But I’ve had a few moments of weakness with “dammit.” And, I learned recently, I’ve apparently said “goddammit” in front of the kids as well. How do I know this? Not long ago, Matthew dropped a Lego creation on the floor and let out a perfectly-timed, top-of-his-voice “god damage!” for all of us to hear. We had the requisite some-words-are-only-for-grown-ups (damage-is-not-one-of-them-but-dammit-is) (oh-and-damage-means-breaking-something-but-you-don’t-usually-shout-it-out-when-you-break-something-but-technically-that’s-not-wrong) conversation and I vowed to be more careful. So this afternoon, as I was hammering nails into the wall to hang Christmas lights and I hammered my thumb instead of the nail, I tried to hold my tongue. What came out, very slowly and through gritted teeth, was not much better than the original version: “Gosh…poop…it!”
3.5-year-old Matthew was silent, but looked at me with a wheels-are-turning, I’m-saving-this-one-for-preschool look. 20-month-old William smiled with delight and proceeded to march around chanting “gah poopit! gah poopit! Mommy, gah poopit!” 
So. “Gosh poop it,” it is. Now if only I can remember that the next time I step on a Hot Wheel while holding hot coffee.