Hey Kids,

Guys, I’ve got two pages of notes in my journal for January. (The teal journal. The one that matches my wallet?) Two pages is a record. I predict this letter will descend into bulleted lists in one-and-a-half screen scrolls.

I’m going to start at the end of the month, when daddy and Jeff spent a weekend skiing at Mt. Baker, leaving the three of us to marvel at my inability to think of a single damn thing for us to do without daddy. The morning of Day 1, you two got away with a triple-dose of screen time while I tried to convince myself my head cold was imaginary. One of the cartoons you were watching repeatedly made mention of a martyr. “Mama, what’s a martyr?” Wanna guess the metaphor I used to explain that one?

I did eventually get my head out of my butt and take you somewhere. We spent that Saturday at the Everett Children’s Museum and then we caught a movie. (Ferdinand. You guys liked it!) At the museum, you learned about gravity, buoyancy, and flow dynamics. At the movie, you learned about abattoirs, shoplifting (hands-on practice!), and how to mortify your mother in public restrooms.

  • In the movie, the weaker cows are taken to the “chophouse.” When I explained, in answer to your question, Puppy, that the chophouse is where cows go to get turned into steak, I thought for sure you’d emerge from that flick a vegetarian. And I was fine with that—we really ought to be vegetarians. But no… you were unfazed by that discovery.
  • Kitten, you lifted a box of watermelon sour gummi worms from the concession stand. I had no idea until we were in the theater, movie playing, and you asked me to open the box.
  • I had to pee. PEE! I was juggling a bucket of popcorn (buttered), an order of pretzel bites with plastic cheese, a diet coke, two kids, and a full bladder. Puppy, you’re old enough to wait outside the ladies’ room, but you didn’t want to wait outside, so I ushered you both in, balanced the foodstuffs on the lip of the diaper-changing table, and implored you both to stay put and make sure the popcorn didn’t topple while I peed. Oh sweet relief… interrupted by Kitten shouting down the length of the restroom, “Mama! Are you pooping?! You sure are taking a long time!”

Something’s going on with you, Kitten, and I don’t quite know what it is. Yet. I hope. My journal entries for this month reflect it: They start out exasperated in an amused way, and then grow panicked. Here’s what the beginning of the month looked like:

Your nighttime routine has disintegrated. You will not—you cannot—fall asleep without a parent next to you, preferably mommy. During one incident, after shrieking and then chanting, “I wanna sleep in mama’s rooooooom!” over and over until you nearly puked, you tried to delay my departure by unburdening yourself of your burning questions:

  • Why do you have hair on your peanut?*
  • Why does daddy have hair on his… belly?
  • Why do babies come out of my peanut?
  • How do babies know to drink milk?

And of course I can’t let these questions go unanswered, if they represent what’s on your mind. Well played, Kitten.

^^ This particular incident descended into a heated argument over whether your never-to-be pet cat would be an indoor cat or an outdoor cat. Now, it’s important to note that the argument transpired mostly in your head—I really don’t care if your invisible pet is a mangy mongrel that leaves invisible kill on our stoop, but the debate was fierce, and you eventually consented to an indoor invisible cat. “But I’m calling him Cutie. Hmph.”

Again, that was the beginning of the month. Our current reality is this: You sleep in our bed every night, without argument from us. If we carry your deeply-sleeping body back to your bed, you wake yourself up within ten minutes and crawl back into our bed.

Fine.

But it’s the other developments that leave me rattled. When your beloved babysitter, Sophie, came one night, you were a puddle of despair, washing over my feet and pleading for me to take you with me. And almost every day your teachers tell us tales of your uncontrollable sobbing at nap time. You wail, “I can’t stop crying!” and seem panicked by the tears that keep flowing.

The episodes are usually preceded by a tummy ache—sudden and acute—so we focused on solving that. Your doctor had suggested treatment for constipation, and we came to suspect your reluctance to poop at school was a culprit.

(BTW, this is a trait you share with your brother—both of you save your poop for home, and race each other to the bathroom as soon as you drop your backpacks on the floor. I didn’t try to instill anal-retentiveness in you; it just happened.)

You told Ms. Kylie that mommy still wipes your butt at home, which triggered yet another lecture from Ms. Kate. “Kitten is five years old; she must wipe her own butt.” You’re telling me?

So, we launched Project Clean Your Own Butt, and you took to it with zeal. You’re very proud to be wiping your own butt, singing “I’m a big girl!” and dancing around naked—because you still get naked to poop.

But the sobbing attacks continue, and they’re particularly unnerving to me because they’re so familiar. I spent a year – my fifth? sixth? —convinced that each parting from my dad would be my last time to see him alive. (Our goodbyes were pretty intense.) And I spent another year—pretty sure it was my eleventh—in a full-fledge depression that sucked me into convulsive, panicked sobbing fits periodically throughout the day, with the worst moments being those when the rest of the house was asleep, but I remained awake.

Never nap around depressed people.

I can’t help worrying that you’re enduring a similar despair, Kitten, but I don’t want to speculate out loud for fear the adults around me will think I’m overreacting (She’s only five! It’s just a phase…) or trying to score a drug scrip (Those aren’t the right symptoms for Adderall).

I’ll catch a story about parents of five-year-olds going through similar difficulties (this New Yorker cartoon spooked me with its timeliness), and then I know you’re fine, that we should just continue to love on you as we do. But then your teachers will take me aside at pick-up and whisper to me like they’ve never seen a child suffer like this in their 35 years (combined) of teaching, and then I’m ready to put out a call on Facebook for child-psychologist referrals.

But you’re only five! And I’m not sure I believe in child psychology. I’m going to stick with loving-on-you as the primary treatment for the time being.

And with that, let’s bring out the bullets– alternating between third-person and second-person points of view because I’m not trying to win a nod from the Man Booker prize committee here:

  • Kitten was miserable at the Dungeness Spit and demanded daddy take her away. Puppy and I lingered behind for a bit, throwing rocks in the ocean. As we began to head back, Puppy spotted daddy and Kitten waaaaaay up ahead, and called out to them. They heard him, and waved back. Puppy, almost to himself: “Wow. I’m really loud.”
  • When Kitten wants to play on the Nintendo, she begs excitedly, “Multi-player! I wanna play multi-player!” Which is totally reminiscent of Fifth Element: Mool-ti-pass.
  • When I’ve got both kids at bedtime, our routine is this: I’ll read out three books, and Puppy will read out the fourth. Now, bear in mind, Puppy has just begun to learn how to read, and Kitten is—ostensibly—not yet learning. As he’s reading out his book one night, Puppy gets stuck on a word, and Kitten supplies it for him. And his surprise at that, his double take… it cracked me up. I’m glad I laughed; it gave you permission to laugh, Puppy. Otherwise, I suspect you would have stormed off.
  • Trying to explain the willing suspension of disbelief to you, Puppy. Daddy says, “Imagine if, in the Lego movie, cats suddenly started talking too! You’ve accepted that Legos can talk, but cats?! There’s no premise for that.” Then Kitten observes that cats do talk in the Lego movie. Crap.
  • The particular sheen of glaze that coats Puppy’s eyes when we try to explain Big Things: slavery, early programming languages, the willing suspension of disbelief.
  • Kitten has always been curious about the thermometer I keep in my nightstand. I told her once that I used it when I was trying to get pregnant with her. I explained how I used it, but she must have tuned me out by then. Now I find her taking various objects’ temperature, saying, “Look mama! I’m getting it pregnant!”
  • Husband tells Kitten, wisely, that you can always add salt to a dish, but it’s difficult to take it away. “It’s not difficult at all, Daddy! You just lick it off.”
  • Kitten asks why mommy and daddy have a two-person bed while she and Puppy have one-person beds. She advises that it makes better sense to let the kids have two-person beds, “So mama can sleep with me, and Daddy can sleep with Puppy.”
  • Kitten: “Don’t tell me you love me so much, Mama. Too much love makes my tummy hurt.”
  • Telling Kitten she’ll need to sleep in her own bed again soon. She replies, sleepily, “I know.” Snuggles into mommy’s pillow. “Maybe when I’m six.”

* We don’t use cute words for your body parts at home. Your vulva is a vulva, but you prefer to call it a peanut. I blame preschool.

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At dinner tonight, I complained that this month’s Letters to Our Children wasn’t writing itself— there was no funny opening from which the rest of the letter flowed. So, Puppy, you offered to be funny for me, and I said I’d open with it.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

            To eat a chicken sandwich.

Why did the elephant cross the road?

            Because the chicken had the day off.

Why did the hen cross the road?

            Because it was stapled to the chicken.

Ah, eight-year-old humor only a profoundly fatigued mom could love.

Now that the ball is rolling, let’s plow through last month’s shenanigans:  Kitten, your birthday party was at Elevated Sportz, (that ‘z’ gave me conniption fits all month). We had initially scheduled it for your actual birthday-day, but when the first RSVPs to come in were negative, I panicked. So I rescheduled the party for the day after your birthday—despite my hair stylist’s strongly-worded counsel to the contrary—and hand-wrote a second batch of invitations. And it worked! We got heaps of positive RSVPs, including about ten extra kids (at $18 a head.)

They even charged us for the babe-in-arms sibling someone brought. I’m not even 100% sure that infant was in our group.

Stupid Z.

Though your daddy and I — and all urban liberal parents — scorn party favors, I still feel extorted to provide them. No parents want to be on the receiving end of those cheap, plastic tchotchkes, but nor do we want to be the host of the party that ends with kids stage-whispering to their parents, “WHERE’RE THE GIFT BAGS?” So, we provide them. And I agonize over them for weeks in advance.

In a desperate ploy to appease all parties to the party, I elected to make “calm-down jars” for your birthday party favors, Kitten. Calm-down jars: colorful water beads floating in liquid, housed in artful jars. Turns out, the calm-down jars were the least-calm aspect of your party’s planning. Party favors are meant to be cheap and plentiful, but these calm-down jars demanded Voss water bottles, which aren’t cheap. The water beads were easy, but we had to run a half-dozen experiments to figure out the liquid. It needed to be clear, thick enough to suspend the beads (calm-down jars aren’t calming if the beads rush to each end of the jar when tilted), block excessive absorption by the water beads, and above all, it needed to be cheap and plentiful.

We tried baby oil, vegetable glycerin (I bought a half-gallon off Amazon), and water mixed with ‘80s hair gel.  It was about this time the RSVPs reached critical mass, and I realized I didn’t have enough water beads to make the rainbow-colored jars I’d envisioned. Furthermore, Daddy had picked up 330 ml plastic Voss bottles instead of the planned 800 ml glass bottles, (a choice I have no quarrel with. This was such a stupid idea to begin with, Daddy was wise to stop throwing money at it).

I surrendered. I should never be allowed to plan kids’ parties. I repurposed craft cards from Puppy’s failed, first-grade Valentine’s Day gifts to hand-write instructions for parents to make their own calm-down jars, and I passed out the beads and bottles for them to do so (never acknowledging the jars were too small, and who the hell has 330 ml of vegetable glycerin lying around?)

During the chaos of distributing these non-calming-jars, several parents asked me if the water beads are edible. WHO KNEW I HAD TO WORRY ABOUT THAT ISSUE?! Good grief, no – they are stunningly inedible.

I guess the fact we haven’t been sued means your birthday party was a success, Kitten!

Puppy, your party had far less drama, at least in the planning stages. You chose to invite eight of your closest friends to a few games of laser tag. Daddy and I agreed: NO PARTY FAVORS!

This was our first time to do a kiddo-drop-off party wherein we drove the kids somewhere. I wondered if the parents would have heebie-jeebies about letting us drive their kids around, but they were all too eager to let us take responsibility for their kids’ lives for a few hours.

Which I totally get.

Daddy drove the big car, while I took the overflow– two kids– in the small car. On the way to the party I drove Sandy and Ava. I found Sandy so delightful, Puppy; I’m awfully proud that you’ve chosen to be her friend. I might like to suggest you marry her, when the time is right; she’s kind, calm, astute… she’s got a writer’s soul. Sandy also has a sordid history of dead pets, but that’s likely more a reflection on her parents.

Ava’s just hyper.

Both girls rowdily requested Imagine Dragons when I asked what music they wanted to listen to. I naively expected they’d pick the Trolls or Moana soundtrack.

On the way home from the party, I drove Aliza and Griffin and, Puppy… we need to talk about Aliza. When she heard my pronunciation of the word, orange (which, I’ll grant you, is different than locals’ pronunciation), she “corrected” me. When I explained that, where I come from, my pronunciation of orange is the norm, she said (AND I QUOTE), “You’re in America now, so say it the right way.”

Whoa. Is she from a Trump-supporting family? You understand how this friendship demands some parental intervention, right?

When I enlightened Aliza with the wonderful news that our country is filled with various dialects, adding a delightful richness to our language while enabling us to still understand each other, she replied, “You’re in Washington now, so say it the right way.”

So, yeah—Aliza’s out.

Griffin is a gentle soul. He’s welcome at our house any time.

Also noteworthy from your party, Puppy: You won the award for Most Trigger-Happy during laser tag, and Daddy’s decoration of your cake was epic. (Pictures around here somewhere…)

In December, we hosted a number of plagues. I held a dalliance with a flu-like illness that had me on my back, staring absently at a dust bunny, or maybe it was a section of old spider web, that was stuck to the ceiling over our guest-room bed, fluttering in the draft from our heat vent, for days. I don’t know why I chose to convalesce in our guest room… During a mid-flu fit of tidying (?!?), I chose to stash my phone with a pile of unloved toys in a drawer in a junk bin in the closet under our stairs, so… so much for making sense of any of my choices during that time.

Took me HOURS to find that damned phone when I returned to the land of the living.

Kitten, you also sported your first puking sickness. We got the call from day care, and I brought you home early, only to find the smoke detector near your room was chirping. Being a nincompoop, I had to call Daddy to ask how to silence the damned thing. I could swear he said to push the center button, which I did, but that caused the entire system to come alive, with myriad alarms ringing and a robotic female voice at the center of it all, sternly calling, “FIRE, FIRE, FIRE.” Despite being sick as a dog, Kitten, you came running out of your room in a panic because—did I mention this earlier? You’ve been kind of obsessed lately with fires and what-if scenarios.

  • What if I fall asleep and there’s a fire?
  • What if I’m pooping and there’s a fire?
  • What if you’re in the shower and there’s a fire?
  • What if we’re on an airplane and there’s a fire?
  • What if you don’t get out fast enough?

At least now you know what to do if you’re puking-sick and there’s a fire: run out of your room and find mommy standing outside your door, beating the smoke detector with an inflatable GO GIRL hammer that you won at the State Fair, shouting obscenities.

I’ve totally got your back, girlfriend.

Not that I enjoy seeing you puking-sick, Kitten, but one of my favorite memories of the month was this: I came into the family room to find you sitting up in your nest of comfort items, puking into the orange bucket that Daddy was holding for you. Daddy looked over your shoulder and mouthed to me, “She never took her eyes off the TV.”

Puking-sickness = unfettered screen time in our house.

And then when you recovered from the puking-sickness? You were so chatty! You found me in the bathroom that morning–doing my toilette– and you kept me company with a steady stream of random thoughts and observations, the most astute of them being, “Wow, I have a lot to say.”

Evidently, I have a lot to say as well, given the length of this letter thus far. Let’s wrap up the month’s memories in bulleted form:

  • Nearly every day, on the way home from school, Kitten makes an accounting of the people who are “not good to me” – a la Arya Stark’s kill list.
  • Kitten asks Siri what it feels like to die.
  • More Kittenisms:
    • Your classroom’s holiday “book arrange.”
    • “On the 12th day of Christmas my tulip gave to me…!”
  • Kitten by Daddy’s bedside one morning (wearing bunny ears, bird feathers, and pink bear paws) to ask if she can play on the Kindle. Daddy tells her to come closer—he wants to whisper something in her ear. Kitten, rolling her eyes, says, “I know what you’re going to say…” “What am I going to say, Kitten?” “You’re going to say (adopts crazy-grown-up voice) ‘You’re five years old and five-year-olds can get themselves dressed.’” Daddy was going to say you’re cute, Kitten.
  • One hour after Christmas gifts are opened, “First kid who complains of having nothing to do gets a toy tossed in the fire!”
  • Puppy, you’ve begun to threaten to run away from home whenever we try to make you do something you don’t want to do (like practice piano). You’ve decided that when the time comes, you’ll run away to William’s house. I teased you by imagining William’s mom’s enthusiasm for taking on another gross, eight-year-old boy: “Oh goody! Does he have stinky toots? Does he wipe his boogers on his pants? Does he leave piles of snot rags all over the house?!” I guess I went too far with the teasing, though, as you clearly started to feel bad about yourself– which isn’t my intent! You’re a completely normal eight-year-old kid– they’re gross! But I didn’t want to leave you feeling that way, so I said, “Like I’d ever let William’s mom have you…” When you asked why not, I told you I like to sneak into your room when you’re asleep and cuddle you, and cover you with kisses that you can’t wipe off. You seemed better after that.
  • I told Grandma Nancy that we gave you two a video game system for Christmas. In return, she cited some study that purportedly shows video games are equally as addicting as heroin. So I’ve decided to make 2018 a year of addictions, and I’m starting with jigsaw puzzles. Whereas I have only allowed myself one puzzle per year in the past (they’re dangerously consuming for me), I’m going to keep an active puzzle on our dining room table all year round. I’m not sure what point I’m trying to prove, but I figure I can work on the puzzles while you’re playing the Nintendo. Who needs food?

My favorite Christmas present this year

Daddy woke me on a Saturday morning, a steaming mug of coffee in his hand, and whispered, “There’s light outside, and it’s frosty.” The most joyful gift: I photographed frosty dead things for an hour, while Daddy baked banana bread, Kitten napped in front of the fire, and Puppy lost himself in Minecraft. I honestly can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday morning.

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