Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Not PETA-Bound

At the zoo, we came upon the potbellied pig exhibit. The sign said so, but a squat, snuffling animal was nowhere to be found. The kids moved around, looking behind trees and inside felled logs. Maybe it's inside the building, one surmised. Maybe it's at the vet's getting a checkup, another suggested. "Or," Amanda said, "Maybe it became someone's Christmas dinner!" And she shrugged and walked away, cracking up a nearby group of college students.

At breakfast, Benjamin told me, "Mom! Some people eat the bottoms of the turtles and just leave the shells!" I guessed he'd been watching Animal Planet with his equally early-rising oldest sister. "Oh, no!" I exclaimed, remembering his affinity for the turtles at the zoo, and guessing that was the response he needed. "Why would someone do that?!" Amanda jumped in, "Because it's meat-- DUH. People are hungry. They gotta eat. So they eat turtle. So?"

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

It Has Begun

I overheard Amanda coaching and coaxing Madeline-- trying to get the baby sister to bring her the television remote. I knew it wouldn't take long for the older siblings to go that route... But it might be more beneficial if they waited until she could walk.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Off the Road

Did you miss me? Wonder what was up? Think I had abandoned the blog?

Nah, we were on a ROAD TRIP! We drove to a lovely suburb of Madison, Wisconsin, to visit our beloved friends, Alicia, Erik and Annie in their somewhat new house. Well, it was new to us because we had never been to visit them in the, oh, four years or so they have lived in that state. Why? Because we have FOUR children-- the very fact of which pretty much ruins any car ride, not to mention the prospect of bunking all of them in someone else's home.

That's the beauty of friends, old friends, good friends. I felt like I was on vacation. Following a five-hour car ride that took seven, due to the five stops along the way, I showed up on the doorstep weary and bedraggled. My friend took my baby from my arms and went to fix me a drink. All weekend, they cooked for us, cleaned up after us, planned activities for all of us, and were so tolerant of the invasion on their idyllic, quiet life.

Highlights of the trip included: watching Alicia and Erik cook together and then eating their delicious products, driving through my old college stomping grounds and recognizing very little, visiting the Henry Vilas Zoo, touring the Cave of the Mounds, checking out the spectacle of Ella's Deli, playing with Annie's Zhu Zhu Pets, and admiring Alicia's excellent closet organizers. Though all the kids were pretty spent from the excitement, I wish we could have stayed longer. I hope we will be invited back.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Spreading the Word

The primary grades put on their annual "Journey Through Holy Week" play. As usual, the kindergartners waved their paper palms at a plywood Jesus riding on a plywood donkey. Apparently not to be trusted with any lines or blocking, they all just stood in one place and sang, "Hosanna!" (Elisabeth is way on the left, second one in, the white robe between the two green, with her back to us.)

Amanda's second grade class got to handle the crucifixion part, and, after a short introduction by a classmate, Amanda read the entire scripture passage. So proud. I want to share but the video clip is too large for Blogger. I will keep trying.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ready to Retire?

When Benjamin woke up, he asked me, "Mom do I have school today?" "No," I replied. "Do I have Pam (adaptive phy. ed.)?" he asked. "No," I said. "Finally!" Ben exclaimed, "I get a day off!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pressure Check

Though I've never had high blood pressure-- don't even think it runs in my family, either side-- today is one of those days when, it seems at every turn, I can feel my pressure rising.

It was a "get-up-and-go-go-go" kind of morning, when everyone had to be dressed and loaded into the car nice and early for drop-offs at school, coinciding with pick-ups of volunteer projects from school. Then, I had a morning "meeting" with friends where, as always, I found out more than I really wanted to know about stuff that's going on in the school and in the community. As I picked up Benjamin from school, Madeline fell asleep in the car and then stayed asleep when I carried her into the house. So, I was putting down one child for a nap at the same time I was getting lunch for another one. That sets the stage for dueling naps for the rest of the afternoon, meaning there would never be a time I wouldn't have at least one set of little eyes looking at me.

Somehow, I still managed a few minutes of overlapping "peace," and decided it was time to catch up on all those phone calls on my to-do list: checked in with the new dentist's office to confirm I had scheduled my appointment at a time that overlaps with the girls' school play; tried to make plans for something I want to do a few weeks from now but discovered I must be speaking a different language because the business owner on the other end of the phone simply could not follow me; thought about calling Benjamin's urologist for a surgical follow-up but couldn't really decide whether we needed to take up a whole day in the city when it doesn't appear to me there's anything really wrong, though the boy still occasionally complains "my penis hurts"; attempted to put together two sets of classroom donations for the school fundraiser and discovered both are lacking stuff; successfully, but uncomfortably, solved a mystery about monetary donations to the same cause.

The one that really took the cake: I had decided, after getting my umpteenth email from the school nurse about Amanda complaining of a stomachache, that I was going to take the first-born to see a specialist. I discovered there is really only one major pediatric gastroenterology practice in our metro area, and the clinic did not have an opening for six weeks. I tried the couple other independent doctors listed, only to find out one is now in administration and no longer sees patients; the other was so unreachable I can't imagine what an appointment with him would actually be like. I even called the Mayo Clinic, where we saw a wonderful gastroenterologist with Benjamin. There, I was advised to write a letter describing my child's symptoms and the doctors in the practice would review it and contact me in a week to let me know whether they were interested in seeing her.

Meantime, my phone started ringing off the hook, and I really don't know how to answer that call waiting beep-- can never find the flash button... and Ben woke up and started screaming at the top of his lungs just because I wasn't acknowledging the fact that he took off his pants... and then Maddy woke up and Ben went in the nursery and they started screaming at each other... and then one of the endless phone calls was from the GI clinic claiming they had a miracle cancellation for tomorrow and did I want it... and then I was full-board begging babysitting help off my mom and my sister... and then I started kicking myself for volunteering to prepare this big art project for school when I totally don't understand how to do it, nor do I even want to... and then I kept kicking myself for agreeing to get more donations for the school fundraiser when I haven't even completed collection of the first round... and then I put Maddy in her high chair and started shoveling in yogurt-- a lot of yogurt, probably way too much yogurt... and then the girls got off the bus and barged in the house, and Amanda started recounting today's tummy ache... and then they ganged up on me and whined they wanted to get out MOON SAND!

And that is why I am hiding in a corner and drinking Diet Dew.

Monday, March 22, 2010

11 Months of Life

Madeline is 11 months old today. She is fast, fat (in a good way,) and funny. Here's what's going on these days in Maddy's young life:
*Madeline is generally very good-natured, but, when the mood hits, she is capable of pitching a royal fit.
*Maddy waves (at herself) if you say "Hi" and claps if you say "Yay," but she will not do "So big!"
*She is mastering the art of going up the stairs. She has no clue about going down.
*Madeline has two bottom teeth.
*All that hair she had at birth-- it never fell out.
*If given the opportunity, Maddy will sit by herself and turn the pages in a book. She will also empty the bookshelf.
*She will sit in her high chair, wave her arms and yell, begging for her food. Sometimes, I withhold for just a few more seconds to watch the spectacle.
*Madeline loooves cheese.
*I'm beginning to suspect Madeline has allergies. Her nose runs often and she has eczema-like patches of skin.
*Maddy sticks out her bottom lip and blows upward to express her refusal of something.
*She loves to cuddle, and will rest her head on your shoulder when she is tired.





Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Day Care Debate

My children regularly inform me they believe their childhood is somewhat lacking because they do not attend day care. Yes, you read that right. They feel deprived because they have a mother who stays home to raise them.

This morning, to fill their void, they decided to play day care in the living room. Elisabeth and Amanda were the day care providers. Madeline and Benjamin were their charges. The big girls created a "safe area," and set up a nap space, a changing space, and different activity spaces. They talked to the younger children in cheery, high-pitched voices and established sticker charts to award their good behavior. They had it down-- kind of.

While focused on their games and decorations, the actual child care was somewhat forgotten. Beyond the watchful gazes of her caregivers, Maddy took up smoking...

...and Ben got a tattoo.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

One Last Push to Kill the Bill

I have received so many emails this week with that or a similar title. If, like me, you believe this health care reform is no reform at all, if you do not want the government taking over health care and pushing us into socialism, if you cannot tolerate the abortion allowances, if you believe this bill will decrease your quality of care and your quality of life-- YOU MUST TAKE ACTION. The final vote is expected tomorrow.

1. Ask your representative to vote "NO" on this bill:
www.healthreformscam.com/Take-Action/
www.capitolconnect.com/freeourhealthcarenow/
www.stoptheabortionmandate.com/call
www.stoptheabortionmandate.com/email
2. Ask others to do the same.
3. Say a prayer for our nation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Long-Distance Friendship

We had dinner last night with our friend, Justin, who is in town (stateside) for a short visit. Justin and Todd have been friends since high school, maybe earlier. For the past decade or so, Justin, a metallurgical engineer, has worked for international mining companies in Asia and Africa. Now, he is married with a son, and his wife is expecting a daughter. Justin was here, doing some of the mounds of governmental paperwork, to move his family to the U.S.

While he makes occasional trips to see his family here, we don't often get the chance to catch up, so it was nice to do that. Justin entertained us with stories of working and living in the jungle, commuting to another continent to be with his loved ones, and bridging the cultural divides he has encountered with his international lifestyle. I'm not certain, but he may have been equally entertained by our tales of housefuls of children and home improvement projects.

It was great to see an "old" friend, and we look forward to having him closer to home.

Justin, Ross, Anita (the birthday woman)

She Speaks?

As you've all heard if you spend any time talking to Todd, for months now, Madeline has uttered only one syllable, "Da-da-da-da-da-da-da." Todd insists she talks-- about him-- and keeps asking, "What do you mean you haven't written that in her baby book?!" However, this past week, we've been giggling as Maddy is changing her tune. She still says "da-da-da" pretty much every waking moment of every day... EXCEPT: in the evening when she wants to nurse or if she wakes up in the middle of the night. Then, it's clearly, "Ma-ma-ma-ma-MA-MA-MA!" I don't think I can declare a first word yet-- but it's coming. And it's loud.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

If I Could Turn Back Time

I told my children I had a sudden urge to push the "pause" button on our lives. They, naturally, looked at me like I was nuts. But, I was suddenly hit with a rush of developments that, all at once, reminded me how quickly kids grow up.

Madeline: She climbs the stairs. I am spending most waking moments doing my best to prevent traumatic head injuries.

Benjamin: At preschool, he sat down in front of a bin of plastic letters, and, without guidance or suggestion, spelled out B-E-N and D-A-D and M-O-M. Well, to be honest, it was O-M-O and then M-O-O-M. But, still.

Elisabeth: While we've known for some time Elisabeth is quite a good reader, it's something she has downplayed and even tried to hide, so we don't make a big fuss. All of a sudden, she is reading, on her own. Every time I look, Libby has her nose stuck in a Junie B. Jones book. The only problem is they're Junie B. Jones books-- not the greatest literary choice, but I guess it could be worse.

Amanda: She sat down after school and wrote out her entire name in cursive. Not the greatest cursive, yet definitely better handwriting than mine.

There's no stoppin' it... My babies are growing up.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Birthday Collection

When we had Amanda's birthday party, we asked instead of gifts for her guests to bring donations for the local food shelf. It was a joint effort but, of course, my idea. I just can't help but think all our children live such privileged lives. And, especially in this economy, birthday parties and piles of gifts just seem really excessive. Amanda received plenty of wonderful gifts from her family... So, I said the party would be a chance to have fun with her friends, but it would not be about presents. Amanda was cool with it.

It's not as though I invented the concept; I've been to plenty of parties where the invitation read "no gifts," and I've even heard other mothers toss around ideas for charity collections. Still, this was something new for our family, and for Amanda's friends. The girls and their families were very generous in their gifts for the food shelf. Amanda seemed proud to collect the boxes, cans and money, and I promised her we would take a special trip to the drop-off site to make the donation in Amanda's honor.

The food shelf has established hours a couple days a week for clients to pick up their necessities, and the director opens the building one hour earlier to accept donations. When we pulled up and drove around to the loading dock, I have to tell you, my jaw dropped. In the hour before food distribution was set to begin, in the middle of the week, in the middle of the month, those in need were lined up outside the building and across the parking lot.

Now, we live in a rural area, but many of those in town are considered somewhat well-to-do. There are beautiful homes surrounding two lakes. The downtown area sports a number of chic shops. Still, there are hungry people here... hungry people everywhere... and it really comes to light when you see moms and dads waiting in line for food-- food we had to share.

I went in ahead and explained to the volunteers that Amanda had taken up a collection at her eighth birthday party, and I wanted her and her siblings to deliver the food. They welcomed Amanda warmly and commended her efforts. The director took the money Amanda collected, and weighed all the food, a total of 114 pounds.

Amanda got a tour of the food shelf, and then asked the director whether she could come back some time and volunteer. Elisabeth said she wanted to "sell" the food. The volunteers explained about privacy and dignity for those who visit the food shelf, but encouraged us to help taking donations and stocking shelves. We agreed we would.

When we left the food shelf, Amanda was beaming. She told me, "At first, I wasn't really happy about having 'no presents' at my party. I was thinking, 'Come on. Can't I have just one present?' But, now, Mom, I'm so glad we did it. I feel really good." Later, Amanda said, "My heart has been doing these weird things, Mom-- and it feels really good." Not to be un-Amanda, she also said, "I feel better than I've felt in a long, long time" and "When I grow up, I want to open a food shelf."

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

This Makes Me Laugh

Call & Clean

It is no secret I do not like to talk on the telephone. I just don't like it. Talking on the phone feels like a waste of time. With four small children, talking on the phone is also challenging, because someone is always interrupting with a demand or a tattle. Often, I don't even answer the telephone, either because I'm tied up or because I can't find a handset.

Even before I had children, I was more of an ask-a-question-answer-a-question-hang-up kind of caller. In our old neighborhood, we had close friends who lived on the next street. She would sometimes call to ask a specific question, and we would begin chatting. The first chance I got, I would say, "Just come over." Now, she lives in another state, so, when it comes to talking-- to her and my other long-distance friends-- I don't have much choice but to use the telephone.

My sister is the same way. I would estimate our phone exchanges typically last a minute or less. Sometimes, we hang up so quickly, one or the other of us forgets to ask all our questions... and that leads to more brief phone calls. Recently, we got into a serious talk over the phone lines and talked for a hour. It was by far the longest phone conversation we'd ever had, and we both commented how weird it was.

Is there a point to this post? Oh, yeah. I was thinking today about the UPSIDE to talking on the telephone. For me, it is: PRODUCTIVITY. Yes, I have discovered I get a lot more done around the house while I am talking on the phone. Must be nervous energy... or I picked up my husband's pacing habit. A friend called with a question about school, and we got to talking, and the next thing I knew the living room and the den were picked up and the dishwasher was loaded. This also works well for making beds and folding laundry.

Of course, I have also seen the downside to this technique. If I pick up while I'm talking, I often have no recollection of where I put stuff. I just keep moving, without paying attention. So, when I hang up, the room looks neat, but the unopened mail and school donations are nowhere to be found. It's like phone-call-induced amnesia.

Monday, March 15, 2010

They Do Grow Up

I discovered Madeline's first tooth poking through after a couple of sleepless nights. But, the nighttime crying, gnawing, coughing and drooling continued. So, I explored her gums again and found ANOTHER TOOTH! This is like some kind of Krinke kid record. I know lots of babies get teeth between four and six months... I've even heard those News of the Weird stories about babies born with them... But my babies get their teeth late, really late, usually the first erupts close to the first birthday. So, once again, Maddy is ahead of the game.

On a separate developmental front, I took Benjamin to a Zoomobile presentation at the library. The place was a mob scene of preschoolers and parents. I had Madeline in the stroller and could not really navigate the landmines of crossed legs and splayed fingers on the meeting room rug. So, I lined up along the back wall and encouraged Ben to make his way toward the front and sit on the floor with the other kids. "Yeah, right," I thought to myself, and waited for the sad eyes and whining voice to beg, "I want to stay with you, Mommy." But, to my shock and awe, he turned and joined the crowd of children on the carpet. I spent more time watching Ben than the animals, but, during the 45-minute presentation, he only turned around to look for me once.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sleep Savings Time

Woo-hoo! The kids slept past 6:30 this morning, because we just changed the clocks, and because IT WAS STILL DARK! Thank you, Daylight Savings Time.

All Backed Up and No Way to Go

Much of last week, it seemed Amanda was spending more time in the nurse's office than in class. Her chief complaint: tummy ache. I had become certain she was either missing her daddy or there was some crappy second grade girl picking on my girl and I was going to have to smack her around.

On Thursday, I wasted a copay by taking Amanda to Urgent Care. The doctor half-listened to Amanda's three-minute soliloquy on her symptoms, observed her feet swinging off the edge of the exam table and her giggles to being poked in certain places and looked at me like I was nuts. After another agonizing, gut-clutching night, I took her to see her regular pediatrician. Aaah, what a difference it makes when the doctor has known my baby since birth. She took one look at Amanda and said, "I suspect this is more physiological than psychological." The doctor ordered an abdominal x-ray, and then called Amanda over to assess the results:

"You see that? See that fluffy stuff? It's all here, and around here, and all the way up here and down here. It's poop. Your tummy hurts because there's too much poop in there." Yes, even though she goes every day, Amanda's bod hasn't been doing a great job of waste elimination. The pediatrician put her on a 14-day regimen of Miralax. I've heard mixed reviews on this from other mothers. We tried it once on Elisabeth with disastrous results. But, so far, so good for Amanda. She is still complaining of stomachaches, but not nearly as often, and she sure is going more; I know, because I get full reports.

After we visited the doctor, I took Amanda back home for her first dose. Then, I let her lounge around for the rest of the morning-- unsure of how quickly or how violently the Miralax would take effect. Finally, I took Amanda to school, signed her in at the office and walked her to class. I discreetly pulled her teacher aside to explain the situation and then turned to leave. As I did, I heard Amanda announcing to the crowd gathered to welcome her back, "Don't worry-- I'm not contagious. I JUST NEED TO POOP MORE!"

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Empty

I am wiped out. Today is one of those days when I have nothing left. Don't even know why I walked across the room to post this.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Now, That's Weird

*I explained to Ben how our friend and former neighbor Kailee was recovering from surgery on her feet, and he exclaimed, "Kailee had surgery on her feet just like I had surgery on my penis!"

*We stopped yesterday to visit Elisabeth's teacher and her brand new baby, which Libby was so excited to do. So, today, I asked whether she talked about it much at school. Libby looked at me as though I was speaking Pig Latin and said, "No, of course not."

*I picked up Amanda from school early, after the nurse called and informed me she had been to the health room three times complaining of a tummy ache. I'm still not sure what the deal was-- maybe she was upset about something?-- but after laying low at home for a while, Amanda started asking for things to eat. Lots of things. She asked me, "You know what's weird, Mom? I'm feeling hungry for things I don't even like-- like peas... and broccoli... and rice!"

*We've hardly heard from Todd while he is at a conference in New Orleans, but he did find time to send to my phone a photo of a nearly naked prostitute on Bourbon Street.

*Ben informed me he will no longer be pulling down his pants or his underwear to use the bathroom; instead, he will just bend down the elastic waistband and pull out his wiener. Then, he demonstrated. Since the elastic waistband is somewhat wider than the unit is long, I don't think it's going to work.

*All four kids were in bed at 8:00 tonight-- a feat that never happens even when their father is home.

*I have decided on forms asking for my occupation, instead of leaving that line blank or writing in "Mother," from now on I will enter "Domestic Goddess."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Biting News

The littlest love was up off-and-on most of the night... finally falling asleep in the early morning hours, and staying asleep so I had to wake her when it was time to drive the preschool shuttle. But Madeline was her usual smiley self, so I didn't think much of it. At lunch time, something compelled me to stick my finger in Maddy's mouth-- and I felt a TOOTH!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Branding


I was driving down the highway as Benjamin yammered from the back seat about the "Culver's truck." I pretty much ignored him until I stopped at a light. "There," he said. "The Culver's truck is right in front of us." It was a shiny black pick-up. I told Ben he was wrong, but he insisted, "It says 'Culver's' on the back of that truck." Then, he pointed to the large, polished logo on the middle of the tailgate:

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Shark Bait

When we came home this evening, our garage door was open. Todd was livid-- ranting on about how he was heating the outdoors (the garage has radiant in-floor heat) and how could that have happened... It is a good question, because he totally has OCD about closing the garage door. But the kids were playing outside before we left, and I have a feeling a hasty clean-up and departure left one of their toys blocking the sensor. Anyway, I said, "Yeah, that's a concern, but I'm more worried about the fact I probably left the door (from the garage into the house) unlocked and we live on a high-traffic road, not to mention next door to weirdos."

Then, as any sensible parents would, we unloaded the kids and went inside without another thought. (We did make sure the garage door closed this time.) After we got the older kids settled into bed, Todd met me in the hallway and took the baby from me to put her in her crib. In whispered tones, so as not to wake the babe, this conversation-- which can only happen in our house-- followed:

Todd: "Oh, why don't you go check the basement to make sure no one got in the house while we were gone?"
Andrea: "No."
Todd: "Well, if there is someone lurking, don't you think that's where it would be?"
Andrea: "Yes."
Todd: "So, someone should go check."
Andrea: "I agree-- the MAN."
Todd: "Well, I was going to... but now I'm holding the baby."

Pizza Party

We are finally d-o-n-e celebrating Amanda's eighth birthday. On Saturday, we visited the local Domino's Pizza with 15 screeching girls, and our token Kazzy Boy. The owner is a wonderful man, so involved in the community, and always donating pizza-related gifts to the church and school. He gave the children a restaurant tour and pizza-making demonstration... then sent us home with lots of pizza and cake. We had snacks and played games at the house. It was an exhausting afternoon, but all went as well as expected.

There are other party elements about which I could write: how Kazmer fared with all those girls, how many adults you need to successfully execute such a party, why I think Todd was more excited than all the kids put together, how we decided to institute a "no gifts" policy and how we carried it out... but I will save those for another day-- I'm still recovering. I think you can get a good overview from the photos:

Friday, March 5, 2010

Boing!

Today, Madeline discovered the door stop-- and has not stopped thwapping it. Oh, joy.

I like to call this "The Age of Purposeless Movement," also known as "Stop Me Before I Kill Myself." Maddy is doing all the really fun things babies do at this age: pulling herself to stand in her crib and then screaming her guts out because she can't get down; attempting to go head first down the stairs; getting stuck under pieces of furniture; sticking her fingers into light sockets; chewing on electrical cords; scrambling to escape diaper changes. She cries about being confined anywhere, but, of course, she can't be set free because of the hazards lurking at every turn.

The other morning, I locked her in the bathroom with me because I didn't know what else to do with her while I showered. I was a little worried Maddy would try to crawl into the walk-in shower, so I directed her to our attached walk-in closet. It's carpeted in there, and I figured whatever she could get into would be soft. All the hangers are plastic. The most dangerous thing in there are shoe heels, and they're up on shelves where she can't reach or even see. Well, in the time it took me to get wet and lather up, Madeline managed to fall out of the closet and hit her head on the tiled bathroom floor-- twice. I skipped conditioner.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I Miss Tom

Our old house was in a subdivision, with our home perched at the end of a cul-de-sac. Directly across the street was a house of ill-repute. Well, not that kind of ill-repute... at least, I don't think so. What I mean is, the family that lived there was weird.

It was a husband and wife and their two young boys. When they moved in, the story we got was that both were attorneys who were escaping the city to this more rural setting. Tom said his wife had a much more successful, profitable practice than he, so they decided she would be the dedicated breadwinner and he would stay home to raise the boys. "How nice," I thought, "especially for two boys to have a stay-at-home dad." And, as a new stay-at-home mom myself, I felt somewhat comforted to have a man around the neighborhood all day-- just in case.

The comfort did not last. It soon became apparent the reason Tom did not work was that he was incapable, unemployable, weirdo with a capital "O." He wore hockey jerseys year-round. He had a band-- a bad band-- and he practiced in the basement, then burned CDs of recordings and placed them in the neighbors' mailboxes. His kids were oddly aggressive and yet overly affectionate. Tom didn't seem to do much, ever, except to practice his golf putts in the front yard, and hang out on his front steps with another grown man who never seemed to have anything to do. Tom's wife always seemed to be at work. But she also toted grocery bags from the car, mowed the lawn, took the kids to t-ball.

We hypothesized (gossiped) with the neighbors: Maybe Tom was a secret agent. Maybe Tom was printing money in the basement. Maybe Tom was making meth in the basement. Maybe Tom was having an affair with the babysitter. Maybe Tom was a child molester. Things got weirder and weirder. We noticed police stepping up patrols in the area. We didn't let our kids play over there-- even outside. The wife went on long trips. Tom's parents came and parked their RV in the street. Tom cried a lot.

As wary as I was (seriously, I watched with binoculars from behind my dining room drapes,) there were bright spots, too. Tom was friendly and generally jovial. I remembering being out-to-here with my Benjamin belly and waddling to the mailbox. Tom would stand behind his screen door and cat call, "Look at that beautiful pregnant lady!" Creepy? Definitely. But, in my state, I also couldn't help but think, "You know, he's right."

Eventually, not entirely because of this family, Todd and I decided to move away. We became nervous about scheduling showings on our house, unsure when Tom might pop up or in what capacity. We remained tight-lipped, and didn't feel too guilty about keeping to ourselves the secret about our neighbor... We figured every neighborhood has one, and we were reassured by the fact that a police officer bought our house.

Some months after we moved, the truth came out: Tom was just a garden-variety drunk. This fact was revealed with certainty after he grabbed another neighbor by both cheeks and kissed the neighbor squarely on the mouth. It was 9 a.m. The neighbor was a 60-year-old man. He demanded of Tom, "What is wrong with you, Man?" And, after detecting Jim Beam on his breath, the neighbor told Tom, "You need to get some help."

Rumor has it Tom did a couple stints in rehab, but I lost track of his progress, until today... I was checking out at Target, when a man got in line behind me and asked, "Do you know your baby only has one sock?" (I did-- it's a chronic problem.) I smiled and thanked Tom. He had no idea who I was. I let it be. I don't know if my face registered later. I don't know if Tom ever cleaned up his act. Whatever his story, I was kind of glad to see Tom was still hanging around. He was always good for a laugh.

My American Girls

Attention parents of girls (and weird boys): If you have extra piles of money around and are unsure how to spend them, I suggest investing in American Girl dolls. True, they are expensive, but they are also wholesome, educational, and fun. I admit, I fought it for a while. When Amanda was a baby, my MIL offered to go down the American Girl road, and I balked. They're too expensive, I argued. If you buy her a doll, she will just wreck it, I reasoned.

But, about a year ago, Amanda and Elisabeth really started to take an interest in the historical dolls and their stories. We read some of the books. Aunt Lisa bought the DVD series. One of Amanda's friends got Felicity. That was it. The girls studied and considered and wrote out their Christmas lists, and Grandma bought Amanda Kit Kittredge and Libby Molly McIntire. The girls have really enjoyed the dolls. They play together, take them to friends' houses, dress and undress them, fix their hair, sleep with them. Everywhere I turn, I see little girls growing up too fast. (Did you see the padded, underwire, demi-cup bras for children in the Target ad a few weeks back?!) So, it does my heart good to see my little girls playing with dolls.

One American Girl element we had not yet embraced (until yesterday): THE STORE. We had quite the adventure on our first trip-- definitely won't be our last-- to the American Girl Store at Mall of America. It was all so over-the-top, I think my sister hit the nail on the head when I described it to her, and she commented, "Sounds like Disneyworld." The employees were ridiculously friendly and helpful and they seemed really happy to be there. They soon learned my girls' names, immediately knew it was Amanda's birthday, and were there at every turn to make sure the kids were having a good time.

After we shopped a little (Amanda selected a typewriter for Kit, and Elisabeth just had to have a new school outfit for Molly) we went upstairs to the American Girl Bistro, where I had made a dinner reservation. It was a very casual, very girly atmosphere, and such a fun experience. The girls got special high chairs for their dolls. The dolls received their own menus, followed by courses of pink lemonade, mini muffins, and whipped cream with sprinkles, which the server reminded us could be play treats for Kit and Molly, or Amanda and Libby could eat them-- she didn't think the dolls would mind. While we were eating, the chef and her partner, yes, a chef doll, came out of the kitchen to make sure we were enjoying our meal. My girls noticed everything from the sparkles in the floor tiles to the crystals hanging from the bathroom lights.

The sisters are already making big plans for their next visit... Libby wants to get Molly's hair done (guess the braids are getting old) and Amanda asked if Kit can get her ears pierced. I assure you, I am not making this up.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 3

Today is World Math Day! It's also the day the "Star-Spangled Banner" was declared the national anthem. And, it's the anniversary of the Rodney King beating in L.A. March 3 is Martyrs' Day in Malawi, and Hinamatsuri (Doll Festival) in Japan. Today is What If Cats and Dogs Had Opposable Thumbs Day. March 3 is Alexander Graham Bell's birthday, and it's Jessica Biel's birthday. Oh, and TODAY IS AMANDA NOEL'S EIGHTH BIRTHDAY!

It's a big day, the start of a big year, for our first-born. At age eight, Amanda will certainly lose her first tooth. She will make her First Communion. She has vowed to learn to water ski. We celebrated as a family today, with a surprise trip-- our first-- to the American Girl store for shopping and supper. It was a great day.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Monday

*The numbers on the clock read 6:47 when I heard my husband's jacket sleeve rustling on his side of the bedroom. "Good," I thought, "he's getting an early start to the day. Maybe he'll be home this evening at a decent hour." I closed my eyes for just a few more minutes before I was awakened with the usual "Mommy, I gotta go poopy" alarm. I got up and began readying the kids for the day. Imagine my surprise when, just after 8 a.m., the back door opened and in strolled Todd. "Oh!" I exclaimed. "I thought when you left earlier you went to work-- I was hoping that meant you'd be home closer to suppertime tonight." Todd shook his head, "Nah, I was at the gym. Just started my triathlon training this morning. I'll be plenty late tonight."

*Elisabeth woke up around 7:15, stumbled into my bedroom where I sat on the edge of the bed, laid her head in my lap, and just groaned.

*Amanda was frustrated when it was time to put on her snow clothes and head out to the bus: "Mom, is my pink coat still in the wash?" I ran up and checked, found it still wet, in the washer, and threw it in the dryer. Back downstairs, I said, "The pink jacket is still damp. But it will be dry when you get home. Wear the purple one for one more day." Amanda argued, "But, Mom, how can it take a whole week to wash my favorite coat?" Well, when your mama doesn't get around to doing the laundry for a few days...

*I was shoveling yogurt and cereal into Madeline when Benjamin got up from the breakfast table and started running circles around the living room. "This is how you get energy, Mom. You need to do EXtercizes!"

*I put Ben in charge of his little sister while I sat down on the bed across the hall to put on my socks. Within moments, there was a thud, and Ben sauntered in, hands in pockets, and remarked, "Mom, the wall hit Maddy in the head."

*At the gas station, I spied loose money at the bottom of my wallet and started digging. In the process, I dumped out every credit card, insurance card, library card, etc. totaling about 50. The loose money was one stinkin' penny.

*Something is wrong with the dryer, making all our clean clothes smell like armpits.