Sunshine & Lollipops

I am grumpy.

The weather sucks.

It’s June, and summer vacation has officially started. The weather sucks. And I am grumpy…

However… though the weather hasn’t much cooperated here in Seattle (folks are bandying around the term “Junuary” to describe this gloomy, overcast, and rather chilly month – very bleak), it’s still that time of year again: time for the summer haircut. Or buzz cut, as the case may be.

Yep, last week I got out the clippers and shaved the mop off my 5yo’s head.

The 5yo's Summertime Buzz Cut

My little sunshine: The 5yo and his new summertime hairdo.

I probably would’ve waited a bit longer… you know, either upon arrival of summer (and no, contrary to popular belief, June 20 was NOT the start of summer, no matter what the celestial experts say; here in Seattle, summer doesn’t officially begin until the day after the 4th of July, on which occasion it inevitably rains…), or upon being visited by the uncontrollable (and somewhat irrational, I admit it) urge to put a barrette in my son’s hair just to see his beautiful blue eyes (and though I’m perfectly comfortable with him wanting to put a barrette in his own hair, that’s his decision, not mine, and so far he has never ever made that decision…) – but both happenings were at least a few weeks off – and… swim lessons began this week. And that meant wearing goggles. And as Liam was already highly resistant to the idea of wearing goggles (who knows why, he never explained and I didn’t really want to know, he just really really really didn’t want to wear goggles), I decided that we needn’t up the discomfort factor with pulled and snagged and tugged hair caught in the straps of said despised goggles. So…

Someone Needs a Haircut!

The before shot: someone needs a haircut!

… he needed a haircut.

Recognizing the reality – nay, the gravity – of the situation, I squared my shoulders, took a deep breath, prepared for a royal battle, and, on Monday, while the baby napped, plugged in the clippers, put a chair in the middle of the kitchen floor, and called Liam in for his summer haircut…

Knowing from experience that this wasn’t going to be easy, and knowing that I was grumpy (stupid weather) and therefore my patience was already stretched a bit thin, I rehearsed the rational arguments I had prepared (in the middle of the night, naturally, when I woke up at 3am to worry about swim lessons), I steeled myself to endure his heart-tugging pleadings and beseechings, I restocked the tissues for the inevitable waterworks (his and mine), and watched my tousle-haired child walk in…

… and calmly ask for a lollipop.

Which I gave him (my mouth wide open).

And then he sat down. In the chair. In the middle of the kitchen (my jaw hitting the floor).

He didn’t run and hide under the bed (it’d have to be my bed, though; his bed has storage underneath…), roll his eyes (they learn this trick so young, these days!), argue until he was blue in the face (or rather, blotchy in the face), or even sigh (very dramatically) in exasperation as he sat in the chair; he just took his beloved Dum Dum sucker, stuck it in his mouth, and I turned on the clippers…

And shaved his head as fast as I could!

The thing is, he didn’t always resist having his hair cut. I used to take him to the kid salon for his trims; when he was young and super wiggly, I just didn’t trust myself with a pair of sharp scissors around his delicate little ears… eyes… neck… I mean, sheesh!, safety is a priority! Plus, what’s not to love about watching your child contentedly (contentedly!) sit in a fire engine chair and play with action heroes and toy cars while a professional stylist Edward Scissorhands an impeccable hairdo in the few minutes allotted her before boredom, panic, or a good ol’ fashioned temper tantrum sets in? Liam liked visiting the salon so much that sometimes he even asked to get his hair cut. Yep, in the early years, haircuts at the kid salon were worth EVERY PENNY.

No… haircuts didn’t become an issue until I decided to start saving some of those pennies (I mean $25 plus tip for a cut?? That’s a lot of wine at the outlet shop!! Just sayin’…) when he got a bit older and was finally capable of holding still long enough for me to cut his hair myself, without nicking him or otherwise puncturing his carotid artery. But, as I should have expected, he didn’t want me to cut his hair. After all, I don’t have a fancy seat for him to sit in, and all the cars and action figures I have for him are old, “I’ve already played with that” (said in the absolute most woebegone tone any child in the whole history of the world has ever mustered) toys. So, the first few haircuts took more than a little convincing on my part to even get him near me and my clippers.

And then, of course, the fact that the first haircut I gave Liam took um, well, two days didn’t exactly help matters. I know!! I know, I know, I know… It’s crazy… but the thing is, and I’m sorry to confess it, but I’m just not a crafty person. I’m the kind of person you shouldn’t trust with scissors, unless straight lines aren’t important to you. I’m the kind of person who is incapable of making my children their own Halloween costumes if they require anything more elaborate than looking like a hobo (hey, I can tie a stuffed red bandana on a stick with the best of them…). I’m the kind of person who puts twenty – TWENTY! – holes in the wall just to hang up one small picture frame. And even then, it’ll look crooked. So no, I’m not kidding… it took two days – TWO DAYS! – to cut Liam’s hair that first time. You need the details? Really? Okay… but it’s not pretty… I was just trying to keep his hair a bit longer on top and shorter on the sides and the back, pretty standard little boy haircut, right? But I couldn’t for THE LIFE OF ME get the line straight – he looked like I’d placed a lopsided bowl on his head, and there’s just nothing – nothing I tell you! – good about that look. So, it took two days for me to keep cutting up the longer side until it finally looked even…

After this first hair trimming debacle, it took about four or five really ssssslllllooooowwwww, torturous, and emotionally scarring (for both of us) haircuts before, on the verge of quitting my amateur hair styling practice forever, and with a stroke of pure genius, I remembered that the kid salon gave (wait for it… wait for it…) post-haircut lollipops to all the kids. Ah-ha! I just needed to dangle a little treat in front of him, like the proverbial carrot before the horse! Let’s see… I had leftover Halloween candy in the cupboard… there had to be some lollipops in there… I searched frantically for a sucker, knowing that I had about 1.5 seconds before my son successfully made his escape to the relative safety of the living room, where he knew I couldn’t follow him with the clippers (being ball-and-chained to the electric outlet – for crying out loud, someone really needs to create cordless clippers; she or he would be a bazillionaire within the year). Finally! I found one last lollipop!! And offered it to my precious, if traumatized, child in attempts to win his affections and good behavior…

And it worked. I cut his hair. And he then he got his sucker.

Of course, that was a two-lollipop haircut – one for each of the two days it took for me to get everything to look even (I’m sorry, but it’s really hard for me to cut a straight line! I have no excuses for myself…). And he still resisted me every time I mentioned he needed a haircut. And he still whined his way through every haircut I gave him (though I’m happy to report it takes me less than 24 hours to cut his hair, these days – I’m getting quicker every time!), after which he would sullenly take his “reward” and leave me to clean up the piles of hair left on the bathroom or kitchen floor.

This is why I was shocked, yes shocked!, that he was so ready and willing to have his haircut last week. If I had known I just needed to give him the lollipop BEFORE his haircut, rather than AFTER, I would have purchased a lifetime supply of Dum Dums immediately, and life would’ve been so much easier (he really couldn’t have informed me of this trick several haircuts ago?!)!! Of course, I had to wash little bits of hair from his sticky lollipop several times while cutting said little bits of hair from his head (hey, if he was fine with it, I was fine with it!), and the haircut took a bit longer as I felt obligated to turn off the electrical appliance every time I ran the water in the sink (given that I’d rather avoid electrocution; what can I say? I’m a safety girl!!). But the whine-free, bicker-free, battle-free haircutting session was, to be honest, A Really Enjoyable Experience. It didn’t even take two days this time!!

And in spite of being a Grumpy Gus (uh, where is the sunshine?!), it turns out, I rather LIKED cutting my son’s hair. I felt so… so… what’s the word? Oh, yeah, so COMPETENT. And as a very non-crafty kinda person, and as the mama of a very chaotic household, feeling competent is a fairly rare occurrence these days. So rare, in fact, that [cue harp music, add Scooby-Doo style shimmery transition] the moment triggered all my melodramatic tendencies (of which I have many) and I envisioned the moment as sugary-sweet as Norman Rockwell might have: the smiling mother cutting her red-and-white-striped-shirt-clad son’s hair in the middle of the kitchen, while the boy lets the dog lick his sucker and the summer breeze ripples through the curtains of the open window… [and SNAP back to reality…]

Well, though my smile might have looked more like a grimace (rain rain go away!), and my son’s style gravitates more toward graphic tees, and though there’s no way my son would share his lollipop with the dogs, and though both of our dogs are huge and don’t come close to resembling the little lapdogs that populate Rockwell paintings, and though I don’t have curtains at my kitchen window (it’s on my to-do list, sigh…), and though the summer breeze is currently so blustery and cold my window isn’t even open (it’s June; my windows should be open!!)… at least my short-haired son wore his despised goggles at swim lessons that day with nary a complaint.

Lollipops. Are. My. Hero.

And I feel quite pleased with myself (why, yes, I am puffing up my chest even as I type!) every time I look at my son and his new haircut.

Looking at him, I feel happy (happy? Yes, HAPPY!!). He’s like a little ray of much-needed sunshine.

Looking at him joyfully frolic in the pool, oblivious to the fact that it’s RAINING (lessons are only cancelled if there’s thunder and lightning), he reminds me – through all my seasonal affective disorder grumpiness – that, even though summer might be holding out on us (oh, “Junuary,” you are such a tease!), my little boy will always be my little sunshine.

(No matter how long his hair gets…)

The Summer of Chores

It’s not even 9:30am on the second day of the kids’ summer vacation, and they’re already fighting. It’s gonna be a looooonnnnnggggg summer.

Things started off just fine… At 9:00, everyone was dressed, had eaten breakfast, the laundry was started, the dishes had been washed, the sun was shining, and all three kids were playing so nicely together.

Brothers and Sister Playing Together in Perfect Harmony!

Paisley (9yo), Broder (23mo), and Liam (5yo) on the second day of summer vacation – perfectly content playing with the Matchbox cars together… for all of ten minutes.

I should’ve known it couldn’t last. Sigh…

The 9yo and 5yo had an elaborate Matchbox car racing game going on – which inevitably involved winning… which, therefore, inevitably involved losing. Specifically, the car racing game involved “only girl drivers” winning… And (inevitably) this was a problem for the 5yo, Liam, being a BOY. Having already had enough coffee that I thought I could handle this little spat, I reminded the kids (or rather, reminded the older kids – the 23mo toddler was perfectly content crashing cars into one another and throwing them to the floor) about one of the longest-standing rules of the house: everyone must be okay with the game that’s being played, or the game has to change.

I had to remind them of this rule several times. (Did I already sigh?)

Eventually, Paisley let “a boy driver” win the “Championship round,” (hear the crowd roar with approval!) but then quickly resumed the “only girl drivers” winning game (hear the crowd go silent with apprehension…). Apparently winning the championship just wasn’t enough for Liam (perhaps because there was no silver trophy and glass of milk handed to him by a wildly enthusiastic pit crew?), and he dissolved into a puddle of tears.

By 9:15am, I’d had enough of the bickering and tantrums. Game. Over. The cars were done and needed to be put away. Confronted with their cries of despair and despondency, I (still rather calmly at this time) explained that if someone isn’t okay with the game, and they can’t compromise or come up with a solution, then they had to find a new game.

But did they go find a new game to play? Did they go find some activity to do that didn’t involve winning or losing? Of course not! They ran around the house, taking turns chasing each other, blaming the other for ruining the game, not compromising, and generally ruining the other person’s life FOREVER!!

Apparently we have no other toys or games in this house. At least, no other toy or game that could possibly compete against how fun (??) it was to fight with each other.

Because that’s all they wanted to do: fight with each other. Have I mentioned that it’s not even 9:30am? On the second day of summer vacation??

As the kids continued ranting and raving at each other, I stared longingly at my now empty coffee pot. I gave Broder a quick snuggle (he was totally unfazed by the mayhem), and put him back down so he could continue bashing the toy cars to pieces. I scrubbed the last pot sitting in the sink. I wiped down the now-clear kitchen table. And sent mental messages to my children to stop Stop STOP!

Turns out they’re not mind-readers (which is so lame), so I finally had to intervene. And remind them of the little discussion we’d had yesterday morning. When they were arguing over – What? What were they arguing over? Oh yeah…

Yesterday morning, Paisley slept in, and then finished knitting a purse she was making up in her bedroom. Liam was downstairs building a Lego dragonheaded airplane (and really, the airlines totally need to jump on that idea: flying would be so much better on planes that had dragonheads instead of cockpits), and I thought it was safe to put the toddler down for his nap. Bahahahaha! How many years have I been a parent??

No, just as the baby was falling asleep, I hear Liam creeping upstairs and sneaking into the room he shares with Paisley. Who just wants quiet time. But it’s Liam’s room, too. And so it goes, quickly spiraling into a door-slamming contest (!!). Which, of course, wakes up the baby (!!).

Devil horns sprouted out of my head, fire flashed from my eyes, and in my best demon-voice I reminded my (perfectly precious) children about one of the newest rules in the house: fighting tells me you are bored, and if you’re bored, I have something better for you to do with your time: chores; you may either choose to play nicely or you may choose to clean – it’s your choice – but if you fight, the rule is, you do chores.

The fire in my eyes now a dim glow, and my demon-voice a quiet whisper, I let them know that this was their one and only warning for THE ENTIRE SUMMER. I wasn’t going to remind them AGAIN. If they fought, it was their choice, and I’d simply hand them a wet washcloth for scrubbing. Did they understand? Paisley? She resentfully nods. Liam? He hang-doggedly grumbles yes. Good.

And I walked out the door to return to the now howling toddler who just wanted his nap.

Which he eventually took. And there was no fighting for the rest of the day. I had such high hopes that it would last…

But here we are again… the kids fighting. Not interested in playing a game both are okay with… Not listening to my sage wisdom to compromise… Clearly bored. So I did what I told them I’d do: I boldly stepped in front of my two screaming banshees (who were still chasing after each other), and handed each of them a wet washcloth.

The trim along my stairs is now dust-free and clean, courtesy of the 9yo. The baseboards leading to my side door are now devoid of the muddy paw prints made by the dogs, courtesy of the 5yo.

Liam Doing Chores

The 5yo cleaning the baseboards of the hallway. They look really good, by the way…

Hmm… Not bad…

You know… maybe they’ll figure out pretty quickly that fighting just isn’t worth it, and that maybe – just maybe – they should choose to play nicely instead of doing chores. Or, maybe – just maybe – it’s truly gonna be a looooonnnnnggggg summer of fighting. But, then, at least I’ll have a clean house…

Huh. So, really, either way, it’s win-win for me? Wow. This just might be the best summer EVER…

Well, then! To that I say: bring on the summer, and the looooonnnnnggggger, the better!!

When Did He Get So Big??

Kindergarten Graduation

Liam, 5yo, at his Kindergarten Graduation Ceremony (June 2012). He stitched a beautiful red-tailed hawk on to the sash he’s wearing – one of his favorite birds.

My 5yo has graduated. From kindergarten. And I… I… Well…

I don’t quite know how this happened!! Or rather, he’s very smart, so of course he graduated, but I don’t quite know how this happened SO FAST.

I swear I walked him to his first class just YESTERDAY! Not three years ago…

Oh! No no no no… No, he didn’t repeat kindergarten for three years; I’m sure that was a bit confusing!

First Day of Preschool

Liam, 3yo, on his very first day of school (September 2010). Look at those cheeks!!


No. Liam attends a Montessori school, and started in his Primary classroom three years ago (THREE YEARS AGO! HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?!). The first year, at 3yo, he went to school just in the morning. Then, at 4yo, he returned to his same class, with his same teacher (how we adore her; she was Paisley’s primary teacher as well), and attended for the morning and stayed for lunch. At 5yo, in his third and final year (equivalent to the traditional kindergarten year), he became what they call an “Extended Day” student and stayed all day, using his afternoon hours to master all the work he’d been learning for the past three years. THREE YEARS?!

It just goes by so fast…

And sometimes I don’t want it to go so fast. I want time to slow down, so I can savor just how perfect my child is TODAY. Of course, he was perfect yesterday. And he’ll be perfect tomorrow. And the tomorrow after that… And I’ll love him to pieces every single day, at every stage of development, as he grows and matures and becomes whatever he wants to become.

But it’s so hard to give up THIS moment; I want to hold on to him just as he is forever and ever and remember exactly how wonderful and witty and unique he is NOW.

So, because I know I can’t hold on to today (and really, I don’t want to – I want my child to continue exploring and learning and thriving and moving forward), I’m going to settle on trying to capture today, the now, as fully as I can: I’m taking pictures; I’m shooting videos; I’m tucking his precious works into memory boxes. And today (actually, it took three days, but who’s counting?) I’m starting my first ever Graduation Questionnaire – a verbal snapshot, if you will – to capture a little of the inner workings of my child. If I don’t completely lose my marbles in the next few years and decades (c’mon, with my crazy life, you know it’s a feasible reality; let’s just hope I keep sane until well into my 110s, though, shall we?), I intend to ask each of the kids the following set of questions upon any significant academic milestone: graduations from kindergarten to elementary, elementary to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to college, and so on if they continue past college… (hey, a mama can dream!).

Oh! A bit about the Graduation Questionnaire itself – I’ve broken it into major thematic sections, just because I’m a little OCD like that… I also decided to set the questionnaire to a soundtrack (because I think life is better with music… that’s just me). I plan to always only pick songs that are meaningful to the child being interviewed, and will add an explanation as to why, in hopes that the songs and explanations, upon re-reading these questionnaires at some future point, will more fully flesh out the child and the moment in question, and also trigger my own memories of the time (as I believe music is a wonderful mnemonic device; I’ve also heard that chocolate assists memory recall – good thing I eat so much!).

So, without any further ado…

 THE GRADUATION QUESTIONNAIRE

PART A: THE BASICS
Song: Let’s Get It Started (The Black Eyed Peas)

Liam became quite the fan of The Black Eyed Peas when my (ingenious, brilliant, and perhaps entertainment-seeking) hubby serendipitously discovered that playing The Black Eyed Peas music videos on YouTube would settle down Liam’s baby brother whenever he was fussy (which wasn’t too often, but often enough for us to create a Black Eyed Peas station on Pandora in order to play them on the road, and to make Liam come running as soon as he heard their music piping from the computer). Though he prefers their song Boom Boom Pow, it’s rarely on the radio; I am absolutely required to blast Let’s Get It Started whenever in comes on when we’re in the car.

What is your name? Liam. (He spells it out for me… In case I didn’t know? Love.) L-I-A-M.

How old are you? Five. But I’m turning six.

How tall are you? Mmm. I don’t know. I actually don’t know. Do you know how big I am? (According to the door frame we use to mark all the kids’ heights, he was 3’ 8 ½” in March; according to his high-water pants, he has grown at least eight feet since then.)

What color is your hair? I don’t remember. I just don’t know that. (Me: Dark blonde.) Oh.

In what city do you live? State? Country? Um, I live in Washington, Seattle. What’s country mean again?

PART B: CURRENT PREFERENCES
Song: Magic Dance (David Bowie, from Labyrinth)

I can’t tell you how long I’ve waited for my kids to be ready for the movie, Labyrinth! One of my all-time favorites… I let the older two watch it about a month ago, and now Liam keeps asking if any and all songs he hears on the radio were sung by “The Goblin King.”

What is your favorite color? Why? Red. Um, because it’s a really pretty color.

What is your favorite book? The Tree House books (He means The Magic Tree House books; they are pretty fun…).

Do you have a favorite singer or band? Uh, no.

What is your favorite song? Goblin King? (At my skeptical look, he continues…) What? We sometimes listen to it…

What is your favorite movie? How to Train Your Dragons (He means How to Train Your Dragon; not plural).

What is your favorite part of the day? Why? What do you mean your favorite part of the day? (Me: Like morning, afternoon, evening… Or like when you wake up and come snuggle with me in my bed, or when you go to school, or recess…) Uh, I have to go to the bathroom. But I’ll tell you when I get back. (And we PAUSE. At this point I look at Bill and say: This is going to be the best post EVER. He laughed. As he should…. I twiddle my thumbs. I check out my email, Pinterest, Facebook. I roll my eyes. I wait some more… Finally, the child returns!) Okay, what’s the question? (I repeat the question.) Going to the Mariners game. (Me: But that’s not something you do every day…)  Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhh….. My favorite thing to do is to do school. Can I go watch my cartoon now? (Me: Answer a few more questions. Please??) But… whine whine whine whine!! (And we PAUSE. This is going SO well. Wow! Right… aaaaand we pick up the next day.)

What is your favorite meal? Snack? Dessert? Peanutty Pasta (followed by a big smile – a win for Mama!! Too bad that’s not what we’re having for dinner tonight…). Ritz crackers. Candy.

PART C: THE FAMILY
Song: Little Talks (Of Monsters & Men)

We listen to a LOT of the local indie radio station KEXP in our family, and this is one of our favorite bands and songs (this video was filmed by KEXP during the Iceland Airwaves festival); I think we’re also quite fond of the fact that this band is from Iceland – and even Liam is excited that his older sister and his papa are starting off our family’s global explorations in Iceland this summer.

What’s your favorite thing to do with your sister? Read books with her.

What’s your favorite thing to do with your brother? Wait, which brother. Papa or Broder? (Me: Uh, Papa is not a brother…???) Oh. Uh, I like playing “I’m going to get you!” with Broder. (This is said while on his tiptoes, with his hands up by his face like he’s pretending to be a cat, and he draws out the phrase like “IIIII’mmmmm goooooinggggg tooooo GET Youuuuu! And then he pounces… Like he really got his little brother. I confess this is a really cute game; and Broder loves it, too: I honestly think the two of them are going to bust a gut, laughing as maniacally hard as they do. Well, usually…) But when he cries, I stop. (Hmm. Well, sometimes… But at least he knows he’s supposed to stop!)

What’s your favorite thing to do with Mama? Going to school with you. Also, hugging you. (Awww!)

What’s your favorite thing to do with Papa? Uh, let’s see. Going to Mariner games with him? (Can you tell Bill took him to a Seattle Mariners baseball game this last weekend?)

What’s your favorite thing to do with your dogs? Your cats? Play ball with them. (Which he does every single morning when he wakes up at the unbearably early hour of 5:30am – the dogs, however, don’t seem to mind the early hour; they adore Liam. Naturally.) I don’t know what I do with the cats. Well, I do know what I do with Pippi; not Poncho. I hold her and kiss her. I sometimes do that with Poncho. Not all the time. (Me: Why don’t you do that with Poncho?) ‘Cuz he sometimes bites and scratches. (Right. Smart kid.)

When you get to start travelling to other countries, where do you want to go first? Why? Egypt. Because it’s really cool. (Me: What makes it cool?) ‘Cuz King Tut used to live there (the King Tut exhibit is currently at the Pacific Science Museum in Seattle, and we see the signs and billboards everywhere), and so did the Scorpion King. (Me: WAIT! WHAT?? What do you know about the Scorpion King?????) Well, I don’t know anything about the Scorpion King. But he had scorpions… (Note to self: hire private investigator to follow my child and uncover who has been corrupting said child with stories of inappropriate movies!)

Where do you want to go after that? Um, to, um um um, let’s see. What’s it called? Where [friend’s name] was born? I want to go to Germany.

And after that? I don’t know yet. (Fair enough.)

PART D: HOW HE FEELS
Song: Sail (AWOLNATION)

Oh my goodness, how I wish I had video footage of Liam ROCKING OUT to this song (and I’m talking head-banging, air-guitaring, lip-syncing ROCKING OUT) when we’re driving to school in the morning! His enthusiasm is infectious, and I happily indulge his request to turn the volume way up above all safe levels for the ear drums involved… Also, you MUST watch this video – it’s of a guy in a flying squirrel suit; I’ll leave it at that. And if Liam does anything this crazy stupid in his entire life I will kick his arse myself – if he makes it back home alive!!

What makes you laugh? Um, Paisley tickling me. Also, you tickling me. Mostly everyone tickling me. Except for those people who can’t make it work… (Clearly, we feel sorry for “those” kind of people…)

What makes you cry? When people tickle me so hard and I say stop and they don’t stop and then I start crying. And when someone bites me, also. (Of course… But, uh, who is biting my child?)

What makes you angry? When somebody pushes me. And when [kid in class] punched me in the face, I got mad at him. (Excuse me?? Apparently I need talk with my child’s teacher about my child getting punched in the face and bitten?! My Mama Bear alter ego is rising to the surface… I better take a sip of wine.)

What makes you happy? When somebody makes sure I’m okay. (Aww! That’s nice!)

Do you have a pet peeve? (Pause to define pet peeve.) When somebody sings a song so many times and they don’t stop and it really starts to annoy me. (And no! He isn’t referring to me! I don’t think…)

What’s the worst thing that could happen to you? When somebody gets really mean at me. That’s my worst thing. (Mama Bear growl about to escape…)

What’s the best thing that could happen to you? Um, when somebody, um… I don’t know that. All things are my favorites. (Happy boy!)

PART E: AT SCHOOL
Song: Under Pressure (Queen & David Bowie, as performed with puppets)

As any decent parent should do, I’m raising my children to identify important voices in the history of rock ‘n’ roll (Springsteen, Dylan, “The Man in Black,” and so on). In the last few weeks, I’ve been working with Liam on being able to “hear” Freddy Mercury; this was a surprising challenge until I remembered Liam loved this video, and explained that this song was sung with “The Goblin King” (see above).

What does your teacher do the best? Give me lessons.

What is your favorite thing to do in class? Um, to hang out with my friends. (Me: how about lessons?) My favorite thing is… hanging out with my friends. (He says this as if I’m really dim-witted. At least he doesn’t roll his eyes! As I’m about to interrogate him about lessons, he quickly cuts me off…) Mama, can we have dinner now? I’m hungry. (So, a dinner break was taken, but I fully intend to return to this question, apparently for day three of questioning, with the belief that there better be more than “hanging out with friends” happening at school…) (Next morning, I repeat the question.) I already told you, hanging out with my friends. (Me: I specifically want to hear about your favorite work in class, though.) Um. Reports. You might have already heard that. (Indeed, during his graduation ceremony in his class last Friday, his teacher had said a little bit about each child, including what their favorite work in class was… she’d mentioned that Liam’s favorite thing to do was reports. At least he reminded me of this in a kind manner, and didn’t make it sound like I was dim-witted – this time!)

How do you do that, write reports? Um, you write the words, and when you’re done you edit it. And then you write it. And then when you’re done you draw it.

What goes on at the playground? Sometimes people attack. (Me: Attack?!) Yeah, attack guys. But we just play nice games. (Me: What kind of nice games?) I don’t really know. Mostly [friend’s nickname] just makes it up. But I don’t know.

What do you want to learn in first grade? I don’t know. (I’m getting tired of hearing “I don’t know.” Maybe I need to rethink my questions. I try again…) I only know that they have the clock work.

What do you think you’ll have to learn in first grade? You don’t really have to. You don’t have to learn it. You can ask if you want to learn. (Huh.)

PART F: THE FUTURE
Song: Land Of Hope And Dreams (Bruce Springsteen)

This is my favorite of Liam’s current favorites. Bill and I are huge Springsteen fans, and of course we bought his latest album, Wrecking Ball. It’s great, and is on continuous play in the car. Liam is obsessed with listening to Track 10, Land of Hope and Dreams. It’s a great song, though not new; the video I’ve included here comes from Springsteen’s reunion tour with the E Street Band, which Bill and I attended exactly 12 years ago yesterday, on June 12, 2000, the opening night of the Madison Square Garden show in NYC; the concert was freaking EPIC, and he closed the show with this song.

Is there anything in particular you want to learn how to do? I don’t know yet. (Me: It could be anything: how to fly a plane, mow a lawn, drive a car…) I just don’t know. (Okay. Next question.)

What do you want to be when you grow up? I feel like being a vet. But taking care of honey badgers and peregrine falcons and that kind of thing. I might take care of some others…

How will you become a vet? You need to ask the people, the people that work at the vet.

Where do you think you’ll live when you’re my age? Mama? Can I just see this? I want to see what it’s like… (We pause for my child to watch the garbage truck go by in the alley. These questions are taking me forever! What was I thinking??? He tries to run off to the playroom after, but I call him back and ask the question again.)  I don’t know. I’m telling you, I don’t know yet! (Okay. Sheesh!)

If Kindergarten Liam could give advice to Grown Up Liam, what would you want to say to him? I don’t know. (Me: Well, wouldn’t it be cool if you met yourself all grown up?) Yeah, but… I don’t get it! (Okay, that’s legit. He’s only five. It’s a fairly abstract question… Or, he just wants to go back to hitting his baby brother over the head with rolled up Mariners posters that were supposed to make it out to the recycling bins. Either way…)

Is there anything else I should know about you that I should include in this report? Can I do this later? (Sure. Sure… When you graduate from elementary school… And when you graduate from middle school… And when you graduate from high school… And when you graduate from college… And when you graduate from your veterinary program… Or whatever other program you decide will help you become what you want to be when you grow up.)

HERE ENDS THE FIRST GRADUATION QUESTIONNAIRE

Yes, yes, we can and will do this later. And you know what? I’m looking forward to seeing how Liam’s answers to these questions change over time…

More than he will ever know, I’ve already enjoyed watching him grow and develop from a tiny bundle of cooing goodness into a considerate toddler who I never had to worry about running into the streets (he just always waited to hold my hand). And I’ve already enjoyed watching him grow and develop from that considerate toddler who still had cheeks rounded with baby fat, into the curious little boy he is today who still giggles like a maniac when being tickled (though I STILL don’t know how this happened SO FAST!!).

And now? Now I must content myself with looking forward to watching him grow and develop from the curious little boy he is today, who loves hanging out with his friends, into a kind young man who still loves hanging out with his friends, and is also still as sweet, as gentle, as playful, as generous of spirit, as confident, as silly, as family-centered, as perfect as he is today, as he was yesterday (okay, fine, three years ago!) when I first walked him to his classroom door, and as he was the day he was born and made our world infinitely better.

But no matter how old he gets, and no matter how tall he gets (and at the rate he’s growing now, he’ll be twenty and a half feet by the time he reaches twelve, I swear), and no matter how FAST it all goes (SO FAST!!), I hope he always smiles that same sweet smile…

And knows that he will always be my baby.

No matter how big he gets.

An Uninvited Guest

I love having houseguests. I really do.

I love being surrounded by my favorite people – family and friends who come to visit and stay, to share their mornings and evenings, their adventures and stories, their laughter with us. I love how the rooms in my house suddenly feel cozier than usual; the addition of extra bodies in the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, just makes the house feel warmer, friendlier, happier. For me, guests help make a house feel like a home.

Also, to be perfectly open with you (and isn’t that the point of having a blog?), if I never had houseguests, I don’t think I’d ever clean my house…

Don’t get me wrong; I do clean my house regularly – I set aside every Tuesday morning as my cleaning day, when I vacuum and wash the floors and scrub the bathroom and do as much as I can in the four or five hours I allot for this task. But as I’ve mentioned before, with each subsequent (messy) child and (messy) dog entering my (messy) life, I’ve had less time (and less energy, no matter how much caffeine I suck down, and let’s admit it, less interest as well), to wipe crayon and pen and sticky-finger marks off the walls with the Magic Eraser (which really is magic…), scrub the muddy paw prints off the glass patio doors (they’re just going to get muddy again in an hour – we live in Seattle for crying out loud), or dust the… well, to be quite frank, to dust anything (what is it that I so despise about dusting?!).

But when houseguests are expected, the OCD Hostess in me rears her June Cleaver coiffed head, and I feel obligated to really DEEP CLEAN my house (we’re talking breaking-out-toothbrushes-to-clean-the-grout—between-the-tiles-on-the kitchen-counter kind of deep clean, here) and provide my family and friends with a nicer place to stay than my own ever-lowering standards deem acceptable for my spouse and my children (I know, they deserve better, but there you have it…). With the impending arrival of company, I usually take about five or six days to DEEP CLEAN the house: Day 1, tidy the guest room and bathroom; Day 2, tackle the kids’ rooms and bathroom; and so on until I can proudly open the door and usher my welcome guests to a house that is top-to-bottom, spic-and-span clean.

Of course, sometimes, just sometimes, the houseguests aren’t welcome… Not welcome at all…

Shall we talk now about the uninvited guest that arrived at our house this past weekend?? On the top of the 9yo’s head??

That’s right, on Sunday evening, my adorable and sweet (and long-haired) daughter mentioned that her head was itching…

I think I actually suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the last time my daughter mentioned her head was itching – indeed, whenever I hear “itchy head,” my eye starts twitching and I begin to hyperventilate. You see, six months, two weeks, and two days ago, amidst an outbreak at her school, I found one tiny little lousy LOUSE on Paisley’s head, and I have been a jittery bundle of nerves ever since, just waiting for the next time our home was invaded by these nasty little parasites.

I realize it’s rude and impolite and perhaps a bit hostile, but (vile, disgusting, shudder-inducing) lice are UNWELCOME VISITORS in my house.

So, there we were, it was Sunday night, Paisley told me her head was itching, my head immediately started itching (I apologize if your head is now itching – the word “lice” seems to have that effect of people), I took a deep breath, grabbed the lice comb (purchased six months, two weeks, and two days ago), and started going through her hair (did I mention she has really long hair?), section by section. After about fifteen minutes of searching and finding nothing, I started feeling confident we were in the clear. HUGE mistake! Huge… I know better than to let my guard down… As I held in my fingers the very last section of hair to go through, (you know what comes next…), I combed out one (loathsome, awful, evil) sandy-colored, six-legged, adult louse.

I said a bad word.

I said a few more bad words as I stomped downstairs to put the (offensive, monstrous, horrid) louse into a plastic baggy. And then I said a few more bad words as I stomped back upstairs to tell my now crying daughter that everything would be fine, and I would do the best I could to get her to school on time so she could make her much-anticipated low-tide beach walk (she is currently obsessed with anemones, and absolutely NEEDED to be at that low-tide beach walk). I also mentioned that she shouldn’t repeat any of the bad words I had used… She said she understood. She’s good like that.

After tucking her and the boys into bed, I made an appointment at the (very friendly and most wonderful) Lice Knowing You Salon for first thing the next morning. And then I broke out the vacuum cleaner, pushed up the sleeves of my sweater (it might be June in Seattle, but it’s still sweater weather) and started cleaning the house… Surprisingly, given my lice-induced PTSD, it wasn’t until I was vacuuming the cushions of the couch, chair and ottoman with the upholstery attachment of my cruddy vacuum cleaner that I finally succumbed to the emotional breakdown I’d been attempting to hold at bay by swearing repeatedly under my breath while sipping (read: gulping) my wine, and BURST into tears. And I’m talking the streaming down my face, couldn’t stop if I wanted to, pathetically wet tears. It’s ridiculous, I know!! But I knew what the next day would bring…

From the First Lice Outbreak

My Facebook Status from November 22, 2011: The First Lice Outbreak. Who knew so much work could be generated from discovering something so small (adult lice are the size of a sesame seed) on one child’s head??

I stayed up until 12:30am that night cleaning…

And woke up at 6:30am the next morning to continue cleaning…

I used the timer on my phone to know when the washing machine and dryer finished any given load of sheets, towels, jackets, recently worn clothing, pillows and stuffed animals currently on rotation in the kids beds (though the 5yo checked out lice-free, he shares a room with Paisley, so his bedding got the full treatment – as did Bill’s and my bedding, as Paisley often climbs into our bed to do her nightly reading while her brother falls asleep); both washing machine and dryer were in use the ENTIRE day.

The Costco-sized bag of flour tortillas had to be removed from the overstocked freezer to make room for Paisley’s beloved snowy owl stuffed animal, being too delicate for the dryer, which was zipped into a plastic bag and placed into cold storage for eight hours. As was her hairbrush and comb. We will be eating lots of quesadillas and burritos for dinner this week…

I cleaned all the bathrooms in the house. I cleaned all the floors in the house. I cleaned the stove top and the kitchen sink (because Paisley has really long hair… the fallen strands of which can be found everywhere, including cooking and washing surfaces). I dusted headboards and baseboards and windowsills and shelves (because I can’t help but believe my abominable-snowman sized dust bunnies would make a perfect hideout for any renegade lice that have managed to avoid the washing machine, the freezer, or the Clorox wipes). And it took me an hour and a half (AN HOUR AND A HALF!!!) to even FIND the floor of Paisley’s and Liam’s room in order to VACUUM IT.

I finally stopped cleaning at 8:30pm that night when I finally made the kids’ freshly laundered and vacuumed beds… you know, so that they could finally go to sleep, as they were exhausted from a busy day at the beach and afterschool activities; yes, I’m pleased to report that I performed a Major Mama Miracle and got both of them to school, lice-free, in time to make their class outings to the beach and explore the low-low tide, and that Bill earned Major Papa Points for leaving work early in order to pick the kiddos up from school (so I could continue cleaning) and take Paisley to her art class and the boys to the park (so I could continue cleaning uninterrupted).

I tucked the kids into bed, and poured myself a (much-deserved and delicious) glass of wine. I surveyed my now spotless (well, as spotless as it gets) house and felt very pleased that I had accomplished in a little over 24 hours what it usually takes me four or five or six days to complete. I sat down, put my feet up, and took another sip of my (much-deserved and delicious) glass of wine…

And felt like something was wrong… Like I’d missed something…

No, I’d put all the pillows through the dryer… No, I’d removed the stuffed owl and hair brushes from the freezer… Ah! I hadn’t ironed the mattresses!! But that’s because the experts at the salon had been very surprised we were even there, Paisley’s lice infestation was so mild (they only found a few nits – lice eggs – and I had discovered the only (revolting, repulsive, hateful) adult louse she had; as most people don’t feel itchy at this stage, they thought she must be highly allergic to the lice bites to feel it so early on), and they only recommend ironing mattresses if the outbreak is severe…

The 9yo at Lice Knowing You Salon, Seattle

The 9yo at Lice Knowing You Salon here in Seattle. Our second visit in a year – this time she knew to take a book with her, so she was pretty content for the hour and a half treatment. It’s a good thing they don’t do haircuts at the salon, or she might have gone home with a crewcut!

So what was (sorry, I have to say it, I just can’t help myself…) bugging me?

Oh! Oh… Oh, that’s kind of sad… As I took another sip of wine (and honest, this time I was sipping and not gulping – I was rather enjoying the stillness of the moment) I realized that there was no impending arrival of company. No visitors my June Cleaver coiffed alter ego could usher in through the door to the now top-to-bottom, spic-and-span clean house. No friends or family to help fill the now tidy rooms with laughter, chatter, and warmth, and help make our house feel cozier than usual, the way a home should feel. In short, I had a clean house, but no houseguests. And I love houseguests…

Feeling a bit discontent and unsettled, I meandered into the kitchen and started unloading the dishwasher (you’d think I’d have had enough, right?!). As I put some glasses away in a cabinet, I spied the plastic baggy in which I’d sealed the (heinous, odious, detestable) louse and (for some unknown reason) left on the counter.

Huh. Not to gross you out or anything, but yeah… the (icky, bloodsucking, trouble-causing) louse in my house was STILL ALIVE. Turns out, I had a houseguest after all. I shuddered.

And tossed the baggy into the garbage can.

I might love company. And the clean house that comes with their arrival. And it might be rude and impolite and perhaps a bit hostile… but uninvited guests? They’re not welcome in my home. Not welcome at all…

Kiss and Tell

Broder's Kiss

A big, ol’, wet, open-mouthed, sloppy kiss from my baby boy: the best! I include this picture to give you a visual reference for this blog post’s dramatic finale…

A handful of years ago – actually, before we even had kids, so “a handful of years” is a rather generous term, but I don’t like to dwell on how old I’m getting so we’ll stick with it, if you don’t mind – I went to a wedding where a Young Child, around 5yo or so (old enough to know better), was truly and epically defining the phrase “running amok” during the reception. It. Was. Monumentally. Bonkers. Young Child was running and hollering around the empty dance floor like a particularly defective wound-up toy; bouncing his way through the formally-set tables, bumping into chairs and knocking guests (even grandparents got a knock or two) so hard they spilled their drinks and dropped forkfuls of food on their tables, laps and floor; and hanging – yes, hanging!! – from the table holding the wedding cake. THE WEDDING CAKE. You could hear the collective gasp ripple through the dining room during that one… And at no time, NO TIME, did his mother (one of the bride’s best friends!) come and collect him, talk to him, recommend he refrain from screaming like a banshee, or ask him to behave himself and be considerate of those around him; she was much too busy talking with the others at her assigned table and sipping at whatever drink she was enjoying. It was like she had blinders on (and ear plugs in); she was either completely oblivious to the Tasmanian Devil act Young Child was performing, or she just didn’t care. As he went careening across the room, the entire assembly of well-dressed onlookers (with the possible exception of his preoccupied mother) audibly inhaling as Young Child yet again came within millimeters of toppling over the wedding cake (I honestly can’t believe that cake survived), one of the guests at our table (the minister who had conducted the wedding ceremony, of all people), stated with quite an impressive amount of confidence, “Now that is a child just screaming for some boundaries.”

And I took his words to heart, remembering them as advice to live by when I became a parent. More than a decade later, as a parent who struggles to create safe and realistic boundaries for her own (loud, rambunctious, Tasmanian Devil impersonating) children (who all too often run amok themselves), I am reminded of Young Child from the wedding reception every so often, most recently a few days ago when my 23mo toddler and I went to coffee with one of my dearest friends and two of her children.

My friend, being brilliant, recommended a kid-friendly coffee shop near her house that has a play area in the back – a BIG play area (it was impressive). While parents drank their beloved little cups of caffeine (well, my little cup of caffeine is beloved… I shouldn’t speak for anyone else, I suppose), they watched (or didn’t watch as the case may be, but more on that in a moment) their happy tikes gambol and frolic on a little stage (perhaps one time a nice place for a local small-timey band to play a lively set or two for coffee-drinking and cupcake-eating patrons, it’s now a total kid-zone) stocked with toys of every shape and color: a table-top train set, two or three large shelves full of dolls and books and large Lego pieces, an old-fashioned wood rocking horse, and even a green Hulk action figure that my son enjoyed trying to give to some random father on the other side of the dais (thankfully this father knew to keep giving it back). Among and amidst all these fabulous “new” toys to play with were probably a dozen or so children, ranging in age from not-quite 2yo (I think Broder was one of the youngest) up through around 4-4½yo. Enter into this story Young Child’s doppelganger, Little Boy (maybe 4yo, he was one of the oldest at the café), who was, shall we say, screaming for some boundaries… And his mother? Not so much watching her little tike gambol and frolic… Rather, she was happily chatting away with her friends at a distant table, completely oblivious to the tug-of-wars and squabbles her child was creating (I saw her check on him just once the entire time we were there).

For the record, I’m all for letting children have a bit of independence while learning the ways and means of social interactions and negotiations, but I do tend to get involved (call me overprotective, if you wish) when there are tears or the threat of physical violence. So does my friend. Our involvement, it turned out, was required more than a few times between our children and Little Boy.

It started out with me eye-balling the troublemaking urchin (I’d already seen him take toys directly out of the hands of other children, who of course promptly burst into befuddled tears, so I was aware of his, shall we say, lack of impulse control) when he came over and started driving three Matchbox-size monster trucks in and out of the rooms of the three-story dollhouse where Broder was happily playing, galloping a My Little Pony around the “yard” of the house. The dollhouse was set on a small table, and when Broder dropped his pony onto the floor, Little Boy – I’m not kidding – looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching (he somehow missed me, perhaps because I was at that moment taking a long sip of delicious latte from my bowl-sized mug), and, oh so nonchalantly, PUSHED THE DANG TABLE ON TOP OF MY TODDLER.

I quickly unpinned (the very confused) Broder from the table, and (using my Pleasant Mama voice, I might add) informed the troublemaking urchin that Broder was just a little guy, and he needed to be careful with smaller kids. Little Boy just nodded, and resentfully watched Broder dust himself off and return to galloping his pony around the table… I sighed, knowing this wouldn’t be the end of it, and returned to my chair.

As I sat back down, I saw Little Boy’s mother drinking her coffee and smiling with her friends – she hadn’t seen a thing. I cut her a little slack: sometimes you miss things as a parent. I get it.

Broder moved on from the dollhouse, and away from Little Boy (who’d pushed a table on top of him!), and I thought, “Good.” Broder found an old-fashioned school desk, and for quite a few minutes seemed perfectly content just sitting and smiling. Until… Yep, you guessed it… Until Little Boy decided HE wanted to sit in the desk and started inching his way toward Broder. I took a sip of coffee and continued chatting with my friend, but prepared myself to intervene; sure enough, Little Boy finally made a move to PULL Broder out of the desk chair. Before he could pull my son’s arm out of his shoulder socket, I had my hand between the two of them, forcing Little Boy to let go of Broder and give him a little space. I then explained (again with the Pleasant Mama voice, though perhaps a little strained…) that yes, waiting was hard, but Broder was taking his turn, and when Broder was done, Little Boy could have a turn. Little Boy looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language, then, sulking, put his back against the wall to wait his turn. I again returned to my seat (why did I even bother??), and was astonished (though I really shouldn’t have been) to see Little Boy ever so very very very slowly start to sidle his way closer and closer and closer to Broder. He was creeping so slowly (the better to avoid detection, you know; very discreet), that it took a couple of minutes for him to finally get close enough to my son that I finally, yet again, abandoned my beloved little (okay, huge) cup of caffeine and moved to intercept… The whole time Little Boy was making his (very slow) move, Broder sat in the coveted school desk and watched him with a look of growing astonishment (“What IS he doing?!”), and regularly turned his big innocent eyes to me, just to see if things were on the up and up. Finally Little Boy could take the slow progress no longer, his need to possess the chair palpably overcoming any self-control he possessed, and he leapt toward Broder, rapidly closing the remaining distance between himself and my son, and JUTTED, yes JUTTED, his face directly into Broder’s face, nose-to-nose; the move was so quick and aggressive, I actually expected Broder to swat him in the face, or, if not swat him, to roar like a lion (swatting and roaring being Broder’s most common responses when confronted with a sibling or other child who does something he doesn’t like; the roaring like a lion bit is remarkably effective at making other kids BACK UP quickly, just in case you were curious). But no, Broder didn’t swat or roar at Little Boy… No, he did something infinitely better… Broder KISSED HIM. He kissed him! Little Boy pulled his face back so fast, you’d have thought a snake bit him; the look of shock on his face (I’m sorry to admit it, but there you have it) was just priceless. Little Boy looked at me, his eyes opened as wide as they could go, and quite calmly stated, “He just licked me.”

You have NO idea how hard it was to keep a straight face, to not burst out laughing. Oh goodness… IT HURT!

“Yes,” I explained, again in that Pleasant Mama voice I’m trying to perfect (I had lots of practice during this particular excursion), “yes, that’s how he kisses. He’s still learning to kiss. His kisses are a bit wet, huh? But wasn’t that nice?”

Completely taking me by surprise, Little Boy broke into a HUGE GRIN and triumphantly declared, “YEAH!!” And then, before I could do anything to stop it, he took me unawares again by JUTTING his darn little face directly into Broder’s face, nose-to-nose, AGAIN! What the-??

Ooohhh… Oh. I see… Oh…. He just wanted another kiss…

And my heart melted. Right then and there I realized my precious, sweet toddler was my hero – indeed, he was my role model. Yes, Little Boy was a troublemaking urchin with impulse control issues who was screaming for some boundaries (as was Young Child before him), but what Broder knew, and what I had missed, is that sometimes a troublemaking urchin needs MORE THAN boundaries. Sometimes when a child is acting up and running amok, that child just needs some good, old-fashioned ATTENTION. Some honest to goodness AFFECTION. A tight squeeze-y hug. A big, ol’, wet, sloppy kiss…

So, next time my kids go all Tasmanian Devil impersonating, troublemaking urchin on me (ooohhh yes, my kids can give Little Boy and Young Child a run for their money on any given day of the week), hopefully I’ll remember the valuable lesson my not-quite 2yo son taught me this week. Next time one of my kids JUT their face into my face, and decide to go toe-to-toe and nose-to-nose with me (probably about me insisting on them putting on a rain coat since it’s raining, or actually eating some type of vegetable matter during the day), instead of reminding them, in my best Pleasant Mama voice, of the safe and realistic boundaries their father and I have set, I’m just going to lean over and give them a big, ol’, wet, sloppy kiss.

Or lick their face…

Either way, it’s sure to halt the running amok, if just for a moment. And hopefully it’ll make them break into a huge, heart-melting grin. And hopefully I’ll remember that, when my kids are acting up and screaming for some boundaries, what they might really need is just a little loving attention FROM ME.

But if their running amok is endangering any nearby wedding cakes or involves pushing another child under a table, I think I’ll take my loud, rambunctious, Tasmanian Devil impersonating, troublemaking urchins to another room before giving them that big, ol’, wet, sloppy kiss…