My Kind of Tea Party

Liam's Tea Party

Liam, at his tea party.

Personally, I’m a coffee drinker.

But I absolutely adore going to my children’s tea parties at their school. Okay, I confess, I smuggle my travel mug full to the brim with the hot, dark, bitter essence-of-life (read: drug) that I require every morning to just remember how to inhale and exhale. But I still take little sips of the lukewarm herbal tea that my 5yo son, with such sweet joy and deliberate steps, carries so very very very carefully to out little table: a tiny little table decorated by the children the day before the party, in preparation for this celebration of their community, with a tiny little gingham check table cloth and a tiny little bud vase usually containing a carnation or freesia that cheerfully takes my mind off the discomfort of wedging myself onto a tiny little chair made for a tiny little person doing important, mind-expanding, soul-improving work.

I love the pride the children take in serving tea and mini-muffins to their parents and grandparents. I love the dignity the children absolutely radiate as they oh-so-carefully set each cup and plate down on the table. I love how these adorable children, who usually bounce off and roll on top of each other like a litter of puppies, manage to tame that wild, kinetic energy, and slow down their little bodies for half an hour, to celebrate – with such innocent reverence – the civilities of life.

For some reason, this morning’s tea party reminded me of a poem I read long ago.

The autumn leaves are falling like rain.
Although my neighbors are all barbarians,
And you, you are a thousand miles away,
There are always two cups on my table.
~ T’ang Dynasty Poem

Though it’s winter, and not fall, the sentiment remains the same: that, as busy and crazy and hectic as life can get, there’s value in taking a moment, however brief and hard to come by, to sit down with our dearest friends and family members, and sip a cup of tea. I am so pleased to see my son learning this lesson so early in life. And I am honored to share a cup of tea at his table.

Though, I wonder… would it be okay to ask for coffee, instead?

A Year of Dates #1: Breakfast & Bowling

For Christmas, my beautiful, wonderful, generous, most-awesomest mother gave me and my hubby the very best gift ever: AN ENTIRE YEAR OF DATES. Twelve dates, one a month, for the next twelve months. Twelve blissful moments to sneak away from the everyday mayhem, twelve fun excursions for us to plan together, twelve times to celebrate being best friends. Twelve DATES.

The word DATE is almost a foreign concept for us anymore. We did the math and realized that last year, we’d gone on a whopping TWO dates. To be fair, there are several factors why we rarely go out. For one, have you noticed that even the most basic “dinner and a movie” date is anything but basic when it comes to the checkbook? Well, we have. Add in babysitting expenses for three kids, and you’re starting to compare a date night with the cost of replacing another pair of soccer shoes for the kids (I mean really, how many pairs of soccer shoes can one family have??). For another, last year we added crazy onto crazy and brought home two sweet and adorable, but very energetic, puppies who needed (still need) constant, vigilant attention as they clearly preferred (still prefer) the children’s socks, shoes, and stuffed animals over their own plastic, squeaky toys and chews. With a baby still nursing and just learning to crawl, and two older kids with intricately choreographed bedtime rituals, this equation usually scared off even the most intrepid babysitters, including Grandma! And finally, but not least, Bill and I just really like spending time with our family; we will usually choose a family movie night with the kids over going to dinner at the newest, swankest restaurant on any given weekend night.

But there’s something to be said for carving out time for the two of us.

And some healthy competition between an old married couple!

Bill, About to Pick Up a Spare

Bill, About to Pick Up a Spare

Which brings us to January, and Date #1: Breakfast and Bowling.

It turns out that West Seattle Bowl has this amazing Saturday morning special where, if you buy any breakfast entrée, you get two free games of bowling. I confess that my expectations were very low for breakfast at a bowling alley, but I was pleasantly surprised. Breakfast was tasty, the coffee was hot, the waitress was friendly, and the clean dining room had no resemblance to the dim, smoke-filled, sticky-beer-floor establishment that I’d envisioned. After some serious carbo-loading, we were ready for the games to begin.

Bill started out strong, rolling a strike right away. I was worried, and went in search of a new bowling ball, after putting two in a row in the gutter; if the pink one wasn’t working for me, maybe the green one would. Bill rolled two spares after the strike, started the trash talk (and backed it up with some more impressive scores), and in desperation, I returned to the pink ball. After several more gutter balls for me, Round 1 went to Bill, with a sizeable lead and an inflated ego.

Bill Makes Bowling Look Good!

My Hubby Makes Bowling Look Good!

Round 2-5, however – and I don’t mean to gloat, but I’m going to – were all mine, baby!! Oh yeah. I’m not saying I’m ready for the professional league, but by Round 5, after bowling several strikes, and some more trash talk, it was Bill who went in search of a new bowling ball. Alright, I confess that all that pride-cometh-before-a-fall stuff caught up to me in Round 6, and my lovely pink ball ended up in the gutter as often as in Round 1, but I’m good at blocking out bad memories, and I shall concentrate on the end results: Final score: 503-379. (Gloat gloat gloat!)

And this is why my husband is so wonderful: as disgruntled as he was that he never managed to recapture the glory of that first round, he still took a picture of the scoreboard to show the 5yo who had requested, when we left for our date, to know who won when we got home.

It turns out, it’s nice to have a date every once in a while, if only to be reminded that my husband will always be my biggest fan. And I will always be his.

Creative Consequences

Honestly. One of the most difficult aspects of being a parent, at least in my house, is coming up with consequences as creative as the trouble my children get themselves into.

Last Friday morning began as any other morning: a mad dash to get everyone dressed, fed and out the door in a timely fashion. I try to have all the beds made before I head downstairs for coffee (yes, I bribe myself with coffee to get the chores done more quickly; it works), so I went to make the kids’ beds (yes, I know, they should make their own beds – that post will have to wait; in the meantime, feel free to judge me as harshly as you’d like), and from behind the 9yo’s pillow I pulled…

My copy of “Twilight.” With her bookmark at page 46.*

I’ll pause to let you imagine the sound I made…

You see, we’d had this conversation about when she could read “Twilight” so many times, I’d lost count. She’d even asked on Thursday morning, the very DAY of the TRANSGRESSION, and my answer was the same as always: “Since Bella’s in high school, you can wait until you are in high school.” I realize this is a flimsy argument, and someday soon she will point out that I’m a hypocrite and have let her read many books with older characters – “Treasure Island,” “Harry Potter,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia” all come to mind. After I praise her for using the word hypocrite properly in a sentence, I will explain that I simply don’t think she is old enough to read these books yet. She will argue (as she already has) that “her entire class” has read “Twilight,” (well, I only know of one child). And I will simply respond that different families have different rules. The point remains…

That it took me until 3pm to STOP FUMING and realize that the book itself was IRRELEVANT. I’d said she couldn’t, and she did anyway. It could’ve been anything: don’t eat that candy, don’t touch my iPad, don’t drink the glass of wine I left sitting on the dining room table so I could help your brother who is screaming his dang head off in frustration because the Lego pieces aren’t going together properly.

Life is full of temptations.

And they’ll eventually be more dangerous than reading a book I don’t think she’s ready to read.

Hence, the need for creative, natural consequences to help her learn to control her desire to eat candy, touch my iPad, drink my wine, read a book that’s not allowed, or generally do anything that she knows she shouldn’t do.

It took me the rest of the night to come up with a punishment to fit the crime. I thought briefly of treating her like the high schooler she wanted to be: give her a minimum of twenty chores day, ten times the amount of homework, no time for cartoons… But I realized the lesson that I wanted her to learn wasn’t To Not Want to be a Teenager… I didn’t even want her to learn To Not Want to Read “Twilight”; I don’t care if she reads it when she’s older. No, what I wanted her to learn was To Not Do What She Knows She Should Not Do – to not yield to temptation.

So, the next morning (after she had the whole night to fret once she realized the book was missing from behind her pillow), I sat the now-very-nervous-wreck-of-a-child down for a talking to, and explained that she would be spending the entire weekend writing lists designed to reinforce the importance of following the rules (for example: 5 reasons why rules are important, 5 reasons why I should NOT read “Twilight” at age 9, 5 things that are really great about being age 9, 5 reasons why family is important, 5 reasons why I don’t like getting in trouble, 5 people who look up to me as an example of what to do and how to behave, 5 ways I know my parents love me, 5 ways I show my parents that I love them, etc). I was originally going to create one list per book page read (46 pages), but I knew she’d never be able to do that many, so I divided it by two (23 lists) and explained that if there was a next time (and there better not be!) it would be two lists per page (92 lists). I also explained that any complaining or whining about the lists meant that she’d get another list. All the lists needed to be different – she couldn’t repeat lists or explanations she’d written before – and all the lists needed to be spelled properly, using a dictionary to check her work (as she doesn’t care a jot about spelling, I was pretty sure this requirement was going to be the real slow down). I also explained that the lists needed to be done by Sunday night, or she wouldn’t be able to go to her All Night Roller Derby Skate Party. I confess, having that kind of incentive was hugely helpful in making this lesson work. Otherwise, we’d probably still be writing lists.

5 Reasons Why Lying is Wrong

The first of many lists: 5 reasons why lying is wrong

It did indeed take her all weekend to finish. I only added three more lists due to whining. Every time she did get upset, I reminded her that I didn’t ask her to break the rules, and that she was responsibile for breaking the rules; it wasn’t fair to get mad at me. She completed her last sentence about two hours before leaving for her skate party. (At which point I let out a HUGE sigh of relief!)

I felt rather proud of myself that I’d come up with such a creative consequence. I honestly felt that the lesson had been learned. And then…

And then… And then, yesterday, while over at a friend’s house, she ate a piece of candy without permission, knowing full well that I would have said no.

My eye is still twitching.

Fine, it was a jawbreaker and not a cigarette or a shot of whiskey, but still! I was so bummed out.

But that night, when I tucked the little urchin into bed, I saw that maybe, just maybe… Hmm. “So, what do you think we should do about you eating that candy without permission? More lists?” I could tell she’d been thinking about this, and I was impressed by how calmly she replied, “Well, since it was candy, how about no dessert?” I asked her for how long, and she thought just one night, and we both laughed, and I suggested she think again, and, a bit panicky, she thought that 50 nights without dessert would be a bit too much (!!), and I agreed and mentioned that somewhere between one and 50 might do, but hurriedly added, “And don’t say two.” In quick fashion, we decided that one month without deserts would be fair (we don’t have dessert every night), and after finalizing details about any upcoming birthday parties or other dessert-centric celebrations, I ended the negotiations with a hug…

And the optimistic hope that the children just might be as creative in coming up with their own natural consequences as they are about the trouble they’re going to get into. On a daily basis. For years to come. Because let’s face it: they’re kids. And making trouble is their job.


*Go ahead, judge me again. I have read, and totally enjoyed, all the “Twilight” books. What can I say? I love books, all books, low-brow genre pieces as well as literary classics. Stephenie Meyer shares book shelf space with Stieg Larsson, André Malraux, Garbriel García Marquez, Yann Martel, Steve Martin, Peter Matthiessen, Cormac McCarthy, Ian McEwan, Larry McMurtry, Toni Morrison, Vladimir Nabakov and Abd al-Hakim Qasim. And yes, I know the last book is misshelved. But my literary promiscuity and OCD behavior is beside the point…

My Toddler Peed in the Fridge

It’s true.

He did. He peed in the fridge. There was pee. Lots of it. In the fridge.

Because he peed.

In the fridge.

Liam, Age 2 1/2

The culprit, around the same time as the crime.

The story is pretty self-explanatory, actually. Exactly three years ago, on February 20 of 2009 (thanks to the handy-dandy Facebook Timeline for the fact check!), I started potty-training my then 2 ½ year old son, Liam. He was, of course, wearing “big boy” underpants, rather than a diaper (read: “not so absorbent”; this becomes a factor in a moment). We were in the kitchen (I’m always in the kitchen). I was bent over, looking for something or other in the refrigerator (probably leftovers – I love leftovers; leftovers complete me). He saw his glass of milk, located oh so not conveniently on the top shelf of the refrigerator, and decided he was thirsty. I, of course, was in his way, and he, of course, was too short to reach his cup. But, because he’s a good little problem-solver, he very deftly slipped under my arm and climbed into the fridge, stepping up and onto the bottom ledge – inside the fridge – in order to reach the top shelf. While tottering INSIDE THE FRIDGE, he finally managed to grab his cup, and, quite proudly, take a sip…

Apparently drinking milk has the same effect as sticking your hand in warm water: it triggered his need to pee…

And yeah. So. My toddler peed IN. THE. FRIDGE. While wearing his not-so-absorbent “big boy” underpants.

And that’s how I ended up with a little puddle of piddle inside my refrigerator.

So there you go. That’s the story of my life. Everyday there’s something. Honestly, with three kids, two dogs, two cats, and a husband – there’s usually more than just one something. (It might not be pee in the fridge again, but with an 18mo toddler quickly closing in on his own potty training, I really wouldn’t discount the likelihood that someday soon you’ll read another blog post about pee in my fridge. Or maybe in my dryer. Or maybe on my computer keyboard.) So. I just have to shake my head, take a deep breath, and LAUGH OUT LOUD. Because if I didn’t laugh, I SWEAR… I’d probably stab myself in the temple with a fork before I ever made it to five o’clock wine time.

And that wouldn’t be good. It’d be pretty gross, actually. Not to mention painful…

Laughing is better.

And it’s my opinion that laughing likes company.

So feel free to laugh at my expense! I’ll be joining in with you as soon as I put the bleach away. At least until the next time a toddler pees in my fridge.