Saturday, December 29, 2012

The invasion of parkly pink princess boots

Yesterday afternoon, with the forecast predicting snow, I decided to run out to find Lily a pair of boots. We'd been caught bootless when it snowed Christmas Eve and I didn't want her to miss the chance to participate in snowy pursuits today. 
My pick.

The shoe department in Kohl's had very few snow boot options for someone's Lily size. Our choices were Spider-Man; black, purple and pink (my preference); and black with glittery purple and pink hearts and parkly pompom laces (for some reason, the first person who came to mind when I saw these was Paris Hilton). 

Then there was the pair that Lily zeroed in on with the same precision Snacks reserves for Peanut Butter the cat when she makes throw-up noises and the possibility of an extra meal is eminent.*

Powder pink, bedazzled moon boots featuring three Disney princesses in all of their parkly, doe-eyed glory.
Not gonna happen.


"Mama, mama! Disney fairies?" (she calls all Disney princesses Disney fairies -- the why of that is a mystery to me) she exclaimed as she pulled down boxes and boxes of glittering, cotton candy boots.

As luck would have it (well for Lily anyway) they didn't have the pair I liked in Lily's size. When I put the pair with the glittering hearts and pompoms on Lily's feet, she looked like she was ready to join the cast of "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" -- they just looked a little to ... adult ... for my 2 year old. 

So there we were, stuck between Disney Fairies and Spidey.

I'll let you guess which ones came home with us:

She's a trendsetter.
The attention to detail on this footwear is astounding. The portrait of Snow White, Cinderella and a conveniently long-haired Rapunzel (weren't we supposed to celebrate her big haircut?!) has glitter in it, there are rhinestones surrounding the princesses and dark pink flowery scrolls. There are silhouettes of Cinderella's castle and her pumpkin carriage and horses, a tiara embossed on the heel and hearts quilted on the fabric portion. 

Did I forget to mention that they light up? Because they do. 

They are, in the words of The Old Man, "A pink nightmare."

At least they are to me. 

To Lily they are fantastic. They're like Cinderella's glass slippers -- the most wonderful things she's ever put on her feet. (Just like the Ladybug dress-up outfit Santa brought her for Christmas is the most wonderful thing she's ever gotten to wear. Like, ever.)

And fine. They do the job. They're sturdy and keep her feet warm and dry. And if they can do those things while making her happy at the same time, well I guess I can learn to live with them, too.

Compared to life with an infant, life with a toddler is easier -- you don't have to carry them everywhere, you're not changing diapers every five minutes, you don't have to guess about what they want at any given moment. 

But in plenty of other ways it's a lot harder because toddlers have opinions about things. And they're not shy about expressing them loudly and frequently.

And sometimes their opinion about things -- like the undeniable amazingness of princesses -- might be different than your own.

These boots are one of my biggest fears in the flesh (or nylon, rubber and rhinestones rather): That Lily grows up obsessed with princesses and all the baggage that their pop culture doppelgangers carry: waiting to be rescued, expecting to be treated like royalty, feeling entitled, thinking a beautiful dress and a song is the cure all. 

Then I have to remind myself that I insisted on wearing dresses to school every day through second grade. I played with Barbies well beyond it was socially acceptable. I watched "Sleeping Beauty," "Cinderella," "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast" over and over again as a kid and haven't grown up expecting singing mice to do my laundry or enchanted teapots to make my dinner ( re-reading that sentence makes me think that some of these Disney-fied were just stay-at-home mom porn. I really should train all these damn pets to do their share around here). 

Despite all these seeds of frilly, woe-is-me-isms, I managed to enter adulthood without the expectation that I'd be whisked away to an enchanted land in the arms of a dashing young prince (although on our first anniversary Brad did whisk me away to Key West ... which is pretty much the same thing as magic kingdom**). 

And anyway, it's also important that she feel empowered to like what she likes.

So fine, Lily can tromp around the house in these ridiculous, pink, light-up boots and still grow up to be a smart, healthy, balanced, self-sufficient*** adult. 

They are pretty cute. I guess. If you're into that sort of thing.

*This blog was never intended for people with sensitive gag reflexes.

** Today, Lily pointed to a picture of Cinderella's Castle on the back of the "Lady and the Tramp" DVD we got her for Christmas and asked what it was. When I told her it was Cinderella's Castle and that maybe we could visit it some day her eyes light up and her jaw dropped in shock and she proceeded to run around the house in glee. I'm sure that won't come back to bite me.

*** For the record, I didn't meant to imply that any of these adjectives actually apply to me. Sure, I don't feel the need to sing incessantly or wear ball gowns everywhere I go, but on the intelligence scale ... let's just say I've melted more than one bag of frozen vegetables on to the stove and leave it at that.

Monday, December 24, 2012

'Twas the Day I Flashed The Interstate

Gratuitous Christmas Squirrel.
'Twas the day before Christmas and all through my house 
the children were crazy (As were the dog and my spouse)
The carpet was covered in needles and dog hair
And as for my sanity? Not much to spare.

Santa came early 'cuz of holiday travel
The girls tore through presents all in a frazzle.
A puzzle and outfits, a dolphin and books.
A doctor kit, giraffe and kitchen that faux cooks.

There were checkups and dress up and screaming galore,
Then pancakes and packing and messes to ignore.
The 6 o'clock wake up had me feeling dour,
And after two days I needed of a shower.

No longer odiferous I fed the girls lunch,
Lily was loopy and Jovie? All munch.
Our neighbor stopped by with more gifts to bestow,
Then I brewed up some coffee (caffeine had to flow).

Brad loaded the car (it was packed to the gills)
Then drugged the dog (in cars, Snacks finds no thrills).
Puppy claimed shotgun and to further my defeat, 
The girls buckled in, I climbed to the backseat. 

Then away we drove on our two-plus hour trek,
After just five minutes, Snacks was a wreck. 
All panting and shaking and whining to boot.
Jovie fell asleep; Lily was chatty and cute.

Squeezed between two carseats my butt was quite numb,
Yet my spirits were high -- the end would soon come!
The mood shifted slightly when Lily got crabby,
Refusing to sleep, the ride got rather shabby.

The tot grabbed my sweater and then pulled my hair,
Demanded fruit snacks, wanted out of the chair.
Then Jovie woke up and cried in a rage,
To God I prayed for an end to this stage.

The good Lord half answered as Lily did nap.
But Jovie, still screaming, my energy did sap.
With one child down and a dog finally sleeping,
Stopping the car would leave everyone weeping.

A desperate time, I undid my buckle,
Then whipped out a lady so the kid could suckle.*
There I was on the highway contorted, exposed,
Trying my hardest to stay a little composed.

To all of the traffic on I-81,
Sorry for flashing everyone under the sun.
The baby was the saddest you'd ever seen,
She's only eight months, not yet ready to ween.

Finally, by Scranton all creatures were soothed,
The car was quiet and my shirt nice and smoothed.
We were just a half hour to grandparents' house,
But I enjoyed each second of nary a grouse.

I suppose one day we'll all look back and laugh,
(Maybe the truckers appreciated my gaffe).
But now I'm the sleepiest I've ever been,
and I'm ready to take my pillow for a spin.

Before I collapse in my bed in a heap,
Happy Christmas to all! (And to moms, good sleep!)

*I Know, I know. Way too much information. But what did I say previously about vulnerability? And writers have to take risks (horribly mortifying risks). Also, it really was the perfect word and it rhymed with buckle. 

(If you'd like a more traditional, yet much creepier version of this tale, watch Dateline's Keith Morrison read "The Night Before Christmas".) 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Don't worry, Poppy's looking after them

Poppy and me.
My grandfather died a year ago this past Friday.

The anniversary kind of got swallowed up in the news of the day.

Growing up, I only saw Poppy a couple times a year (he lived in Syracuse and we lived in Virginia - a seven-hour trek), but he always made those visits special. My brothers and sisters were greeted with a big hug and a warm smile. There were always crayons and coloring books on hand, cartoons on the television and the much-coveted Green Machine parked in the garage for the siblings and cousins to fight over  take turns with. And even though he had 16 grandchildren vying for his affection, he always took time for each of us -- asking about school and hobbies.

His house was not huge or filled with expensive things, but it was warm, full of laughter and love. He valued relationships and good company so much more than any worldly possessions. 

At each visit Poppy would make our favorite foods -- fried bread dough or homemade macaroni and cheese. 

And my beloved blueberry waffles (which should qualify more as dessert than breakfast) -- homemade waffles right off the iron, warm blueberry pie filling and a scoop of vanilla ice cream. He made sure to include these on the menu during one of my last visits up there -- sitting on a chair next to the kitchen counter, manning the waffle iron because he was too tired to stand the whole time.

I was thinking about Poppy as I was driving back from mom and dad's house where my sister Sarah, her husband Lukas and daughter Penelope were visiting today. My parents made brunch -- dad baked fresh scones and mom whipped up a breakfast casserole -- and  the girls watched the trains circling the Christmas tree and chased each other -- the clatter of small feet and shrieks of laughter filled the house. 

Joyful music after such difficult days. 

It brought back fond memories of Poppy's house. 

It occurred to me as I was staring at the gray sky over the Susquehanna that Poppy was probably on the welcoming committee for those 20 babies who left their parents on Friday. 

He almost certainly wrapped them each in a big hug and then showed them over to a table stocked with crayons and coloring books and plates stacked with waffles dripping with ice cream and blueberries. 

I smiled a little at the thought. Something sweet out of something so terrible.

Miss you Pop.

Friday, December 14, 2012

In other news, Jovie fell down the stairs

Jovie fell down our basement steps Wednesday night. 

I was in the living room putting Lily's coat on to get ready for a quick run to the grocery store for a $1 can of green chiles to make dinner. Jovie was crawling around the kitchen - I could hear the slap of her little hands on the tiles, but I couldn't see her. 

I heard a crash. Then thump, thump, thump, thump. Then a wail. 

I could've sworn the baby gate was up. I still don't remember taking it down. 

I left Lily and ran down the basement, saying "Oh god, oh god, oh god" all the way (sorry God). 

Jovie was lying on her back on the carpet at the bottom of those 11 steep, wooden steps crying. Bart the cat was sitting next to her. 

I scooped her up terrified that I was going to find broken bones or blood or massive bumps. 

"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," I told her through tears. 

I took her back upstairs and called the pediatrician. The office was closed for a holiday party. So I took her to urgent care, they told me to go to the ER. 

"She could have internal bleeding or head trauma."

Brad, who'd met me at urgent care from work, took the wheel and we drove through rush hour traffic to  the ER where we waited for 5 hours (a built-in observation period for head injuries, I was later told by the doctor). 

"I thought the gate was up," I told Brad. "I'm so sorry." 

"You're a terrible mom," I told myself.

Jovie had stopped crying within 10 minutes of falling down the stairs. She was cooing and smiling with other patients and visitors in the E.R. She flirted with the doctors who examined her at 10:30 p.m. -- three hours after her normal bedtime. 

Save for a bruise over her right eye, she was unscathed. 

I've checked to make sure that the baby gate is up at least 10 times today. I'm considering investing in an infant-sized helmet and a bubble-wrap suit for her. Have to do a better job at keeping my girls safe.

I've spent the day watching coverage on the school shooting in Connecticut. I was 17 when the Columbine massacre happened. I remember sitting in my high school journalism classroom trying to wrap my brain around how teenagers like me could murder their classmates. I saw myself in the victims. 

But that event didn't prepare me for today, because today I'm a parent. 

When you're 17 watching news that children have been gunned down in a school, you're scared and saddened and confused.

When you're a parent watching the news that 20 children have been gunned down in their school, you're horrified, irate and heartbroken. You spend the afternoon picking up your babies and holding them close when they'd rather be playing. You are grateful for the news anchor who's also blinking back tears as he struggles to report the story (see feed at right). You read the sentiments of others. You offer unsolicited thoughts to an old friend who just wanted to know your address: 

I think everyone should experience being a parent -- the empathy it gives you for others and the overwhelming desire for the world to be a less ugly would make it less likely that these sorts of things would happen. 

And you text your sisters, also mothers, and try to make sense of it:

Sarah: Those poor children Sue ... 18 kids*. I'm crying here. I wanna homeschool Pea ... I never get emotional about this stuff ... now ... now we have children of our own ... and ... we never had to worry about sending kids to school. Those poor parents. Right before ... Christmas. So sad.
Me: I feel the same way exactly. Columbine was the first think like this and we were in high school. The world just feels so ugly right now. Don't want my girls to have to deal with this crap. Terrifying.
But you can't make sense of it. At least I can't right now. Those poor babies. Those poor parents.

It's senseless

Home-schooling the girls is tempting -- preferable to trading in that bubble-wrap suit for a kid-sized Kevlar vest. As these horrific incidences stack up it becomes harder to trust that my children are safe anywhere but here.

But on Wednesday night I forgot to put the baby gate up and Jovie fell down the stairs. She was in what should be the safest place in the world: Her own home. 

I'm not sure the answer lies in retreating to my nest and preventing my kids from stretching their wings. 

Right now, I'm just not sure about anything. 

Photo courtesy of Widerbergs on Flickr 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Our family got Christmas right this year

I think most people have mixed feelings about the holidays. While we all crave the promise of family togetherness and happy times, it often feels like our expectations are too high and we head into January a little disappointed.

Or is that just my family?

Every year around October the e-mails and texts between my siblings begin. What do you guys want to do for Thanksgiving this year? Did you want to try to get together for Christmas? One would think we could just come up with a consistent plan each year and stick with it, but somehow we always end up reinventing the wheel. 

Anyway, this year my sister Laura came up with yet another take on wheeled transport: A Family Gingerbread House Making Party.

She said she wanted to do something that focused on the kids and included her favorite holiday traditions: stories, singing, edible structures and tasty food.

So on Saturday, we recruited my neighbors to watch the dog and packed the girls up in the car to make the trek down to Virginia to Laura's house.

And after a day spent watching my girls play with their cousins, helping my nephews construct a gingerbread masterpiece, gabbing with my sisters and soaking in the stuff that makes me ache for my family the rest of the year -- maybe we're finally on to something.

My beautiful niece Hannah and her
adorable friend Katie pose
under Laura's beautious archway.
There was wonderfully cheesy and starchy snackage (including cream puffs! God bless them every one!). 

There were 9 kids (well four of who are teenagers and would probably not be very  appreciative of being called kids), three toddlers, two babies and a chihuahua, all running amok in a glorious throng (OK, the teenagers weren't giddy or pack like -- ditto for the babies -- but the rest ran amok in a glorious throng.)

The house was festooned in an array of holiday decor -- snowflakes hung from the ceilings, the kitchen cabinets were wrapped in red bows and stockings hung from the mantel (I would also be remiss to mention the incredible glowing archway Laura constructed, pictured at right. It's a pretty amazing, right? 

There was caroling. (Sure, several of the men and boy-folk might have disappeared into the living room during this portion of the program, but the rest of us sang like no one was listening.) It was the first time in years -- probably since I was a teenager -- that I'd heard my parents singing Christmas carols. It was like being 8 years old again at Mass on Christmas morning -- well, minus the near-painful wait as Father O'Brien delivered a long and tedious homily about how it's nice that Jesus was born, but we're all more than likely going to hell. Merry Christmas to you, too. Music has always been one of my favorite parts of Christmas and getting it back for a night was a gift.

But the highlight of the day was when my dad pulled up a cooler and read Christmas stories to us while we decorated our houses or fed our babies pureed green beans. 

Lily, center, provides some not-so-subtle percussion
by banging her feet on her makeshift bench during Papa's reading.
Dad read a couple stories from "Christmas In My Heart" -- that dealt with faith and giving. I've always enjoyed being read to -- especially by someone who is a good reader, which my dad is. He has a nice deep voice and reads with subtle emotion and good pacing, it's calming to listen to him, and like the singing, made me feel like a kid again.

Dad used to sit on the steps between my room and my sister Sarah's every night and read to us. He read us "Little House on the Prairie" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" among others -- laying the groundwork for my lifelong love of storytelling. 

Mom's a great storyteller, too. And patient. I'm pretty sure I forced her to read giant stacks of library books to me over and over again (not unlike Lily. Karma.). 

Anyway, I'm going to wrap this up kind of abruptly. "Parenthood" is on and it's not looking good for Christine and I'll probably be a blubbering mess within the next half hour or so. 

The moral of this story is read to your kids. It's a gift that they'll cherish their entire life. 

Also, eat more cream puffs. 

(Photos courtesy of my lovely sister Laura)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Neighborhood holiday decorations getting a little risqué

Afternoon walks around my neighborhood have been much more entertaining lately. For instance, today when I walked by the Crazy Kids' House the oldest boy scaled the family minivan during what appeared to be an epic game of hide and seek or tag or some such. I asked him if mini-van scaling was acceptable behavior in his household and he said it was cool cuz he was standing on the roof rack. Ahh. The old roof rack defense.

Aside from the neighborhood hellions, the holiday season has brought a highly entertaining crop of lawn and home decor. 

Of course, there's these guys:

Check out my delightfully tacky
 Christmas sweater with an uber-hipster knit cap.
Yeah I'm wearing a snowman sweater.
You wanna makes something of it?
I'll sick my deer on you.

And there's this guy -- who my sister Laura pointed out at Thanksgiving: 

Note to self: Nighttime surveillance of neighborhood
holiday inflatables with camera phone is ineffective.
The problem with decorative inflatables for shady neighborhood photographers such as myself is that they're often not inflated during the day, which means I have to do my reconaissance at night, which means I get photos like the one above that look like outtakes from an episode of "Ghost Hunters: Yard Inflatables Edition."

Luckily, the Ollie's down the road had the same inflatable on display:

How you doin'? Wanna see what's behind my choo choo?
I know what you're going to ask, and no, Sexy Snowman is not wearing pants. He's lounging in nothing but his vest, mittens and come-hither smile waiting for someone to inquire about his snowballs. Does the world really need a frisky Frosty?! Seriously, why do holiday decorations need to be turned into creepy lawn porn? Is nothing sacred?! 

Perhaps I'm being a tad oversensitive. Maybe I'm the creepy one.

Let's not think about that too much.

Moving on. Here's another unconventional Santa: 

It's blurry cuz I didn't want to get too close. 
What? The dude has a gun.
That's right. It's a snowman with a camo vest and a gun (what's with all these be-vested snowmen?). It's a good thing he's wearing that orange hat -- don't want anyone mistaking him for a deer. This particular house also had a NASCAR-themed inflatable featuring the Home Depot No. 20 car driven and pitted by snowmen (of course). Also a Minnie Mouse who was dressed up as Santa (Lily really liked that one). They have many, many other decorations as well -- it's a pretty fun house. (You know those little stick figure families you can stick on the back of your car? They have those, but instead of stick figures, they're skeletons. This pretty much confirms their status as badasses. Also, they have a killer Halloween display).

Finally there's Lily's beloved "Parkly Deer": 

We prefer to be called Sparkly Deer. TYVM.
While the Parkly Deer themselves are pretty standard holiday lawn deer (well -- maybe a they're a little fancier than the standard white-wired variety) -- they've come a long way since last Christmas. 

Last year, the antlered Parkly Deer was knocked over before Christmas. And there he remained -- along with his buddy and the tree at left -- through New Years, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veteran's Day, Thanksgiving ... you get the point. He basically laid low for a year. 

The folks who lived here mowed around him all year, but never righted him. Until a couple weeks ago. They picked Parkly Deer up from his leafy bed and added some more festive decor. 

Parkly Deer might well inspire a character in my novel or one down the road ... I have to believe that the type of person who mows around last year's Christmas decorations all summer long is an interesting sort of person. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Two novel goals and one snot-covered baby

I scored two goals during my indoor soccer game last night.

For most of the women I play with on Orange Crush scoring a couple goals isn't really a big deal. They put the ball in the net with the same ease Lily polishes off a bag of fruit snacks. Effortlessly.

But I'm not a goal scorer.

I've been playing soccer since I was little (judging by the mullet in some of my earliest soccer photos, I started when I was around 6 or 7). To be clear, I never played for my high school or a travel team or anything like that. Rather, I stuck with the low-expectations, we're-just-doing-this-for-fun youth league.

I'm in the front row on the right with the Fireballs - 
the team I played for when I was 11 or 12. 
This picture might very well have been the only time
 I touched the ball all season. 

For as long as I've been playing, my favorite position has been defense. Why? Because in my own rudimentary view of the game the defender's sole job is to stop the ball from getting near the goal and sending it on its merry way to the other half of the field. That's it. I'm just a wall with cleats.

Ball bad.

Must get rid of ball.

Go ball, go!

As you can see, I really have no grasp on the finer points of the game.

In the league I'm playing with now, there are  just five players on the field, which means that offensive and defensive players often trade positions, and everyone, save for the goalie, kind of plays the whole field.

This has been a bit of a problem for me, the wall.

The other women on my team fly back and forth up and down the field, deftly moving the ball around the opposing team and tapping it to one another in a wordless dance. In my mind they're evolved, mind-reading, speedy, graceful superhuman soccer extraordinaire and I've failed to emerge from the primordial stew. They're like the X-(Wo)Men and I'm Encino (Wo)Man.

I'm pictured at left. I'm pretty sure, based on the wacky positioning
of my feet, that the ball probably didn't go where I meant it to.
Sue kick ball.

Ball bad.

I especially have a mental block when it comes to playing forward. Anytime I cross midfield, it might as well be a foreign country for me. I don't know where to position myself or what to do with the ball. Getting the ball into the goal seems laughable, so I don't even try -- cheating back toward center field and trying to get out of the way of the players who actually know how to score. 

My inside voices yell at me: "You don't belong up there. Get back! Get back!"

But yesterday I scored two goals. And they weren't even accidental goals where the ball magically ends up in the goal after some way ward kick from half court. They were the type of goals that I never score -- mainly a teammate crossed the ball in front of the goal and I was actually in the right place at the right time and had my faculties about me to tap it in all sneaky like. 

They were much-needed goals. My confidence in my abilities as a human being had been worn from lack of sleep, two sick babies and Brad's being out of town. 

It all came to a head Friday afternoon when after shopping with the girls I went to put Jovie into her car seat and found that her entire face was masked in snot. That is no exaggeration. My mind immediately flashed to the moment, minutes before, when I'd plopped her down in her mucous-covered glory on the counter at the checkout, facing the cashier. Why didn't the cashier say anything?! 

"Umm, ma'am, the world's largest slug seems to have attacked your baby's face. Maybe you should wipe it off." 

I walk around all day covered in snot, spit-up and whatever other excrement my children choose to wipe on me, I don't care anymore. And truthfully, my girls often walk around with less-that-pristine clothes and faces. But when I'm out in the world, I try to keep their grubbiness to a minimum if for no other reason than it makes me seem like a competent parent. 

On Friday, I felt like the least competent parent in the history of parents. 

So I wasn't feeling especially confident when I headed on to the court to play my game. I'm not really sure what happened out there, but at some point -- maybe for the first time ever (at least for the first time in a long time) -- my head was in the game. Which is to say, my brain switched off and I transcended the day. I entered the mystical zone where I suspect the other women operate at on every game. I defended, I offended (or ... whatever that's called), I passed, I took my time and, most importantly, I didn't freak out on either side of the field.

It occurred to me that the problem for me with this noveling business is that my head isn't in the game. I feel very comfortable in this realm of blogging and column writing, but very intimidated by fiction. At this point, I'm kind of digging my cleats in on one end of the field because I don't know what to do with myself on the other.

One of my former colleagues posted this comment awhile back:
"It's so much easier to write a breezy blog post or surf Wikipedia or mow the lawn than it is to actually take the step of starting something longer, bigger, more daunting (and more potentially rewarding), isn't it? 
He's absolutely right. It's easier for me to play defense, but it's more rewarding to score a goal.

I've been playing soccer for years. And I've been writing for years. I know what I'm doing. So now I just need to do it.