The great Holiday Toy-Catalog Clipping Event has begun! The floor around our breakfast bar is littered with paper shavings, and the kitchen counter is a minefield of clipping stacks. Puppy, you’ve been experimenting with classification schema: you’ve tried sorting the clippings by color, by theme… I worried we’d face a moral crisis when you came upon the Lego Star Wars toys (do they go in the Lego pile, or the Star Wars pile?), but you handled it with aplomb.

Counter to intuition, the clipping event doesn’t help us understand any better what you might like for Christmas, Kitten. You tell us you’d like “a toy,” or something “red, yellow, green, blue, brown, purple and black. And pink and orange.” Desperate for specifics, I’ll prompt you with something I saw in the pile of clippings: “How about a dollhouse?” to which you’ll reply, “No thanks; I already have that [in the clippings].”

 

“If Santa walked into the house right now with a toy under his arm, what toy would you wish it to be?”

“A cute one!”

 

 

The Annual Request for Gift Ideas kicked off the day after Thanksgiving, right on time. I don’t know why I find this tradition such a struggle. Is it because it’s all at once—both kids’ birthdays and Christmas? Is it because I take it too seriously, trying to think of inspired and unique gift ideas in a range of price points for each person who asks? Is it because I have no frickin’ clue what you guys want? Or am I just pissy because this time of year is stressful and I feel like I’m having to do all the work?

This year, I’m trying to adjust my attitude. In the weeks leading up to the holidays, I was taking a workshop in still-life photography. The instructor introduced us to several new (to me) concepts, including that of wabi sabi—a Japanese aesthetic that values the beauty in imperfection and impermanence. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, roughness, simplicity, economy, austerity, modesty, intimacy, and appreciation of the ingenuous integrity of natural objects and processes.

 

I’ve been a little obsessed with wabi sabi this past month. My exploration of the topic also brought me to hygge—the Danish concept of coziness and comfortable conviviality. You two kids will likely suffer for this new interest of mine, for not only do I want to explore wabi sabi and hygge photographically, I want to answer each question of, “What should I get Puppy and Kitten for their birthdays?” with “Something handmade and shabby, made of natural materials, with soft edges and worn surfaces.” I’m envisioning rough, earthenware bowls.

Legos are not wabi sabi. Unless… maybe vintage Legos off eBay? Especially if the box reeks of cigarette smoke.

Truly, though, I’m opting out of the what-do-the-kids-want ritual as much as I can, without infringing on your happiness. Rather than curating links to specific items, I’m encouraging the interlocutors to ask you what you want, themselves.* Or, I’ll say, “Oh, I don’t know—whatever strikes the fancy of the four/seven-year-old inside of you.” Or, “Impeachment.”

November unexpectedly took us on a quest to find the best store-bought ginger snaps. It started when I was sick (like, the entire month) and a neighbor brought over a tin of Ikea ginger snaps. (Which? Best sick-offering ever.) Those cookies set the bar, and they set it high. We polished off the tin in a day.

Puppy, you surprised me in your zeal for ginger snaps; I always thought they were more of an adult flavor. You also like cantaloupe, peppermint, and tomato soup, which are tastes I didn’t appreciate until adulthood. (Actually, I still don’t like cantaloupe.) And yet, you don’t like tacos. You baffle me.

But it’s been fun sampling ginger snaps with you! We like the snaps we picked up at World Market (the ones in the bag, not the ones in the tin), but agree the ginger snaps we took to Kitten’s last soccer game were revolting. (Nabisco brand.) We may not be invited back to that team next year.

Our hearts were breaking when we heard you, Puppy, describe your school’s lock-down drill to Kitten. Last month’s mass shooting was in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and very small children were shot in the head, “execution style.” The threat feels so tangible; I want to keep you two inside with me forever.

You explained to your sister that you have to do the drill “in case there’s a bad guy outside.” Kitten protested that there are no bad guys, but you assured her there are. The conversation quickly spun out of control while Daddy and I sought our openings. As Daddy strapped you into your car seat, Kitten, you cried, “Mommy! Henry keeps saying there are bad guys, but there aren’t!”

Oh, Kitten.

Two things:

  • It reminded me of the scene in Aliens wherein Newt asks Ripley why grown-ups tell little kids there’s no such thing as monsters when there is. (“Most of the time it’s true.”)
  • You’re right Kitten—they’re not so much bad guys as regular guys who make bad decisions. (Couple that with unfettered access to guns, and you create monsters.)

November Vignettes

  • You’ve each honed your communication styles to a gleaming, lethal edge. Kitten, you’ll repeat each statement – not matter how rhetorical— at ever-increasing decibels, until you receive acknowledgement you’ve been heard. And Puppy, you’ll launch into a narrative rife with tangents, stringing disparate thoughts together with conjunctions, and never yield the floor. Every car ride features a cacophony supernova exploding from the backseat, with Daddy and me helplessly shouting “One at a time, please!” into the chaos.
  • Don’t build nether portals near villages. It’s just… unwise. One of Puppy’s life lessons, gleaned from Minecraft.
  • Kitten is learning to count to one hundred at school, and is obsessed with counting—such as, how many years before she’ll be able to wipe her butt for herself. Maybe when I’m (… carefully counts her fingers…) Puppy’s years.
  • Let’s watch The Vampire Strikes Back! –Kitten
  • Kitten, grabbing onto my arm and pulling me close when I’m trying to leave to pick up grandma at the airport. Stay with me! I’ll never let you go… a sly grin slowly spreads across her face… I tooted.
  • The day before Thanksgiving, which was also, tellingly, the day grandma Nancy arrived, I threw out my back. This was a new experience for me, and seems to portend my future as a senior citizen. You two kids were very kind in your care of me, as I shuffled around the house like a doll whose joints were superglued in place by a malevolent older brother.**

*And when they complain that Kitten is vague in her answers: Welcome to the party, pal.

**Interestingly, the injury cleared up on its own, once grandma Nancy left, which is why I’m calling it the psychosomatic back injury of Thanksgiving 2017. Clever, non?

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Hi guys –

Did you miss me last month? Things got away from me and I missed posting. But have no fear! I’ll post an extra-long letter this month, to make up for it. Wee!

As I write this, Kitten’s room is cordoned off due to a painting mishap, you two are sleeping in the play room for the second night in a row, the upstairs hallway is covered in paint chips, and Daddy and I are numbing ourselves in front of TV and wine, respectively.

As you may have guessed, Daddy and I are in the throes of our annual do-all-the-house-things-before-Thanksgiving lunacy. It all started three years ago when we hosted our first Thanksgiving, and Daddy was still painting the kitchen as guests arrived. This year, we’ve decided to test the limits of our marriage: I set the goal of completing the office, dining room, Kitten’s room, laundry room, kids’ bathroom, and guest room before our guests arrive.

We’re at T-minus 25 days. Things were going swimmingly until the mishap I mentioned earlier. Kitten, the plans for your room have been mired in uncertainty and confusion for three years now—just like our plans for parenting you. You’ve asked for your room to be painted in all the colors. At one point, we settled on purple, but I just couldn’t do it. We tried yellow, but sheesh yellow is so easy to get wrong. I found a gorgeous wallpaper that your daddy nixed—first for technical reason (which I pooh-poohed), then for price (which I had to respect). Finally, we settled on a grey wall with coral watercolor dot decals arranged in a wallpaper-like pattern on one wall, with matching coral on the other walls. Only… we couldn’t decide on a grey. Or a coral, for that matter. So we said to-hell with all the indecision, forget the decals, forget the grey– just paint all the walls coral and be done with it.

So we did. Or rather, Daddy did. He gave over a Sunday to painting your room.

And the outcome is… well… each time I step into that room, I’m reminded of the afternoons I used to spend with my best-friend-in-seventh-grade, Connie Razidlo, after Catholic school, at her house. Her family was rich (by my standards then) and had a VCR (a Sony Betamax) with a wired remote control. We would pop in The Exorcist, and watch it over and over again, sometimes in reverse, sometimes frame-by-frame, pausing to examine the demonic images that flash mock-subliminally during Father Karras’ frenetic completion of the exorcism.

It’s those same images that flash across my vision when I look upon your coral walls, Kitten. They are unnerving. They shift—the walls—and the color bleeds into everything around it. I sincerely believe one could go blind, if one stares at those walls too long.

Daddy suggested we move your furniture back into place and see if the walls calm down, but I’m agitated, aflame—I can’t let you sleep in there; I can barely walk past the room without convulsing. We’ve got to paint over it—NOW– and I’m prepared to sacrifice my job and my marriage to make it happen.

Stay tuned.

So anyway… September! Let me do a bulleted notes-dump to make up for having missed last month’s post:

  • We visited the canal over Labor Day weekend. Our second night there, Daddy and Puppy slept in a tent while Kitten and I shared the middle bedroom. At some absurdly-early hour of the morning, Kitten, you woke up, left our room, walked outside to the tent, unzipped the door, woke up Daddy, and rudely demanded breakfast. Later, after I’d woken at a leisurely hour and heard the story, I asked you why you hadn’t woken me, instead—“I was right there!” You replied, “Mommy was tired, so I woke up Daddy.” Duh.
  • Sadly, there were a lot of nearby forest fires last month, and the haze they produced made the sunlight eerily gorgeous, like it was the golden hour all day. The light on your sleeping bodies when I went to wake you in the mornings was so compelling. One morning, I couldn’t stand it anymore—I had to take a picture. Puppy, I begged you to stay where you were, and I sprinted out of your room to grab my camera. By the time I ran back, you were out of bed and dressed— in record time. Which just goes to show that your most effective motivator is the opportunity to rob your mother of her joy.
  • Puppy, you spent much of your summer in camp with your best friend, William. I love how your personalities fit together—you’re both so sweet and easy-going with each other. When you’re confronted with other kids’ energy that’s too aggressive or dodgy for your tastes, you two just do your own thing, without any qualms about what others might think. You’re just so genuine in your interests and pursuits.

One day, toward the end of summer camp, all the camp parents got an email saying many of the camp kids had been called to the office that day and scolded for making crude, age-inappropriate jokes about sexuality… or something like that. The email was vague, but clearly some teachers were taken aback by the language they’d heard. I asked you about it when you came home, but you were reticent with the details, as usual. You just interrupted me to declare you weren’t among the kids called to the office and can you go play with William now? Later, William’s mom filled me in on the details: “All the kids in summer camp were called to the office that day—all, that is, but two…” she described with a smile.

Oh sweet innocence! Keep hold of our boys for as long as you can!

  • We saw a lot of sea lions on our road trip through Oregon and Northern California this summer. You kids delighted in watching them argue over space on the pier, and flop asleep on top of each other. Since then, Kitten and I have shared a new feature in the bedtime routine: pretending to be sea lions, we bark each other off the bed, then fall asleep draped over each other. Kitten, your sea-lion bark is pro-level.
  • Daddy and I dragged the two of you furniture shopping in September. (This was the do-all-the-house-things-before-Thanksgiving kick off). We had to grab dinner at the mall, so we took you to sushi for your first time! It was fast-food sushi, but still… You tried zero fish. You balked at the “black rice wrapper,” and you delighted in your steak kababs being delivered by robot. Afterwards, Puppy declared he loves sushi! I’m looking forward to you actually trying sushi.
  • Puppy, you lifted an old, defunct PDA* from someone’s house. You toyed with it a bit, then put it down. Later, you came whining to me because Kitten said she was controlling you with it.

Later again, I found Kitten sitting at the back door, watching the boys playing in the backyard. She had pulled up a chair by the door and was sitting there, holding the PDA in front of her like the yard was her TV monitor and the PDA was her joystick. She explained to me that she was “controlling William.”

And then school started! Second grade for you, Puppy, and your final year in preschool, Kitten. We all went to the first-day-of-school BBQ, and it was there that I was ambushed by the PTA. They got me while in line for hot dogs. I was distracted by the giant cooler of La Croix just up ahead—I wanted to snag a lime, and it looked like there was only one left. I just had to get past PTA-President Saul, who has shoving a sign-up form in my path. So I signed it. Of course I did—I always sign up for the PTA at the first-day-of-school BBQ.

Only, it wasn’t a PTA sign-up form; it was a room-parent volunteer form. I had agreed to be your class’s room parent, Puppy. What’s more, I had unwittingly conned my friend and neighbor—and your best friend’s mom—to sign the form as well. She, at least, had the foresight to ask what it was we were signing. It was then that President Saul lied to us; he said we were merely agreeing to receive information about the new room-parent program. If, after reading the promised email we wanted to volunteer, then we would have the opportunity to do so.

“Great!” we both thought; “I can delete that email later,” and we signed. Two weeks later, we each got congratulatory emails announcing our selection as room parents. We were given two hours to decline the honor with the caveat that it’s our responsibility to find a replacement parental sacrifice.

I still didn’t get the lime La Croix.

Our first responsibilities as co-room parents came upon us quick: We had to host the Halloween party and assemble a gift basket for the sock hop auction. Ms. Jessica took the bulk of Halloween-party logistics while I worked on the basket.

Now, before you think I got off easy, may I remind you of my perfectionism problem? (Only about trivial things—never about important things, like parenting.) That basket was nearly the death of us. I dragged you kids to four – FOUR – stores in one afternoon, trying to find the right accoutrements of our gift-basket theme: Baking With Kids. I spent countless hours on the computer, searching for unique items, and crafting witty and diplomatically-worded emails to the other parents, begging for money.

It stressed me out. I developed auction-basket-induced bruxism and had to wear a mouth guard at night for a week.

The sock hop is this Friday. I’ll be interested to hear how much our basket sells for. I won’t be there to witness it as I’m currently dealing with pink-wall-induced conjunctivitis. (New development since I began writing this post. We have GOT to cover those walls, Kitten!)

Your Halloween party was yesterday, Puppy (as I write this). It went swimmingly! I manned the touch-gross-things station. I held each kid’s hand as I guided them, blindfolded (them, not me), to touch troll fingers, fish eyeballs, monkey brains, and worms. I must have touched 60 kids. And then I went home and discovered I had pink eye.

Silver lining: I’ll never be asked to room parent again.

October Highlights

  • You went to the school nurse’s office one day, Puppy, complaining of nausea. Daddy and I picked you up from school and brought you home. On the ride home, you told us how you had passed the time while waiting for us. You had remembered the advice to think of your favorite things when you’re feeling low, so you thought of Legos. Then you imagined writing a new story for the Lego Ninjago TV show. But you needed a new villain… something that can threaten or harm Legos… Then you got it– nail clippers!

  I don’t know… I thought it was pretty clever.

  • We’ve been letting your hair grow longer, Kitten. Not exactly intentionally—we’ve just been too busy to make a hair appointment. The parts of your hair nearest your mouth are often stiff, sticky blobs. I may need start clipping them back when you eat, the same way my Nanna used to clip back the ears of her cantankerous toy poodles when she fed them.

 I hated those poodles. I’ve made an appointment get your hair cut this weekend, Kitten.

  • While Daddy was away for a weekend at Scout leadership training, I took you two to the pumpkin patch. We went later in the day than we usually do, so we were only there about three hours before they closed. This was entirely too early for you, Kitten, and you shrieked, “I don’t wanna go home!” for the entire 40-minute car ride home before you finally passed out. I made an audio recording of it so Daddy could share in the experience when he got home.
  • Normally, I like to share the photography books I check out from the library with you kids. Remember how much you loved the Edward Burtynsky images of garbage dumps, Puppy? Nevertheless, I’ve chosen to keep the book of American lynching photographs hidden for now…
  • Mama, will you make me my tomatoes? Kitten, referring to the roasted sweet potatoes she loves. Pretty much the only vegetable you’ll eat.
  • October brought us heaps of infections. At one point, Daddy was slogging through an impressive double-ear infection, and it was during that time, Puppy, that you stopped hearing us. I suspected an ear infection in you, too, and do you know how difficult it is to get the pediatrician’s office to take me seriously when I ask to get my seven-year-old’s ears checked because he isn’t listening to me?

It took two doctor’s visit— one with an indelicate resident who gave you a life-long phobia of ear-cleanings—before we got our infection diagnosis. I took you to the pharmacy to get your prescription filled, which took forever. You were doing great with the waiting (I’d promised to buy candy corn), but you eventually hit a wall. But I got you over the hump! I sang to all the muzak tunes that were playing over the PA. Footloose, Movin’ Out, Dancin’ in the Street… Thank god I’m parenting as old as I am.

  • Puppy says the leaves changing color look like a birthday party.
  • While Daddy was away on another Scout-leadership weekend, we were debating what to do with a rainy Saturday afternoon. I suggested a movie, but the only kid-movie showing was a little too old for Kitten. Puppy said she might find it scary and Kitten countered, “I’m not scared of bad guys! You know what I’ll do when I see a bad guy? I’ll cut him and tear out his heart and eat it!” smiling proudly.

 Puppy, you observed that she couldn’t do that because she’d need a knife and a knife is a weapon and weapons aren’t allowed in the movie theater.

  • Puppy: I’m sad. Only Legos will make me not sad.

   Me: Even if I tickle you?

   Puppy: I may laugh, but I’ll still be sad.

  • In the sticker aisle at Michael’s, Puppy debated which set of armed-forces stickers he’d choose, as he was allowed only one. “I don’t know what to tell you, Puppy, since there’s really no choice here. It’s the Navy stickers or nothing, right?” I think he wanted Chair Force stickers. But we’re a Navy family; he’ll understand.
  • Kitten is so fierce! Her anger… One night, while getting you both ready for bed, I asked you each what you do when you’re sad. Puppy, you said you cry when you’re sad. Kitten, you said, “When I’m sad, I’m angry.”

And no doubt—your anger is a force. Daddy and I are struggling in how to help you deal with it. It ignites so quickly, and burns so intensely. And your shrieks! They’re mind-boggling. On the one hand, I’m glad you’re not hitting, spitting, or throwing, but on the other hand, I sincerely worry you’ll harm yourself and others with your shrieking. It would be easier to guide you if the source of your anger were relatable, but it’s so often something we deem inconsequential—something random, that sets you off. We sometimes feel helpless.

Well, we’re working on it, but there was a moment, just this week, that was telling, to me. Kitten, you were over-tired when we said it was time to go to bed, and you flipped a switched—you went berserk, shrieking, flailing… Daddy lost his patience (and he’s a rock, so that’s saying something); he picked you up, put you in bed, and had to hold you down. That made you insane, and I had to usher Puppy out of the room while Daddy helped you come down from your rage. It was a bad moment; we all failed ourselves a little that evening.

Later, when you were calmer, but still shaken, I lay beside you in bed, rubbing your back, and I asked you if were sad. You nodded. Do you feel angry, too? You nodded. Scared? Nod. Of Daddy? You shook your head no. Of your anger? Nod.

*Personal Digital (Data?) Assistant. It replaced Public Displays of Affection.

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