Goodbyes Suck

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Rest in peace, my Poncho baby boy. You were sometimes a cantankerous, don’t-pet-me-anywhere-but-on-the-top-of-my-head-or-I’ll-bite-your-hand-off, wait-around-the-corner-and-jump-out-at-the-dog-to-scare-the-living-shit-out-of-him, you-will-think-about-declawing-me-in-my-middle-age-because-the-toddler-seems-like-a-fantastic-if-mobile-scratching-post kinda cat, but you were also a purring, fireplace-loving, can-find-a-sunny-spot-in-the-house-on-the-cloudiest-Seattle-day, warm-my-peoples-feet-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night kinda cat… and you were my first baby. I will so very much miss your feisty and always charming little spirit.

Planning for Paris: Lessons From Iceland (Part 2)

Paisley the Viking at the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík . Pretty sure the Louvre in Paris doesn't let kids dress up in their exhibits... More's the pity.

The then-9yo, aka Paisley the Viking, having fun (fun, I tell you!) at the National Museum of Iceland in Reykjavík. I wonder: do you think the Louvre in Paris will let her play dress-up with their exhibits??

Lesson One: Context is Critical Everything

One of the more important lessons Bill learned about traveling with kids (or at least traveling with our kids, or maybe just traveling with our ONE kid, but it seems like a good lesson for any young person with an attention span that can barely last through an episode of Phineas and Ferb without taking a break to beg for more goldfish crackers, visit the bathroom, or whack a sibling upside the head just to see the reaction): give them as much knowledge, background information and context about what they’re going to see or do BEFORE they actually see or do it – and not DURING and not AFTER.

How did Bill learn such a valuable lesson, you ask? Well, a little backstory first:

As a family, we we have decided that these global escapades of ours, though meant to be fun, are also very much meant to be educational – as compared to, say, our past trips to Hawaii, which were solely dedicated to frivolity and absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible, a vitamin, it turns out, that is quite important for pasty-fleshed Seattleites (okay, I’m only speaking for myself, but seriously, the pasty-tones get BAD come early spring) who can only go so long without sun before turning translucent (like those icky looking fish who dwell in cave lakes – honestly, it’s not a good look for me or anyone), and I therefore whole-heartedly appreciate every trip to a sunny paradise I’ve ever taken (truly!). However, these international trips with the kids are not about devouring as many beach reads as we can stuff in the suitcase and sipping fruity drinks with paper umbrellas in them poolside (though maybe I can work this in during a future trip to say, oh I don’t know, Bali? There has to be some GREAT educational stuff going on in Bali!!). Of course, just being immersed in a new culture is mind-opening and enlightening, but in attempts to ensure the whippersnappers learn something a tad more concrete about the country they are visiting than “Hey! Like, wow! They speak a foreign language in this foreign country!” we decided to ask the kiddos (in this case, just Paisley, since she was the only young‘un going this round) to write a report about something – the culture, the history, the social expectations, etc. – they’d be seeing and encountering while visiting the destination country.

So about two weeks before Bill and Paisley left for Iceland, I asked Bill when he was going to have Paisley do her report on Iceland; wasn’t he running out of time? And he was all, “Huh! I thought we were doing these reports after they got back from the trip…” And I was all, “Huh! I guess that makes sense… Write up what they just learned…” Turns out, I was thinking the report would serve as a way of providing information (you know… that whole context thing?) about what they’d see while they were there, and Bill was thinking the report would serve as a way of synthesizing and summarizing what they learned while they were there, after the fact. (Which really does make sense, but you see where this is going, right?)

Okay, so I agreed that Bill’s plan to wait until after the trip to have Paisley write her report on Iceland had merit, and two weeks later they abandoned me and the boys, and headed off into the great unknown…

Being very conscious of traveling with a young child, and considerate of her feelings and that whole relatively short attention span thing (recall the whole Phineas and Ferb episode above: I wasn’t making that up…), before they left he worked hard (like the good Papa he is) to create an agenda that would be educational, but enjoyable, too. For instance, he planned that they’d spend the first two days in Reykjavík touring the must-see sites like Hallgrímskirkja (a tower-like Lutheran church that is probably the most distinct landmark in the city),

Jet lag? Or just in awe of the grandeur that is Hallgrímskirkja (or Hallgríms Church) in Reykjavík, Iceland?

Jet lag? Or just in awe of the grandeur that is Hallgrímskirkja (or Hallgríms Church) in Reykjavík, Iceland?

Solfar (the Sun Voyager sculpture that sits majestically in the center of Reykjavík, on the waterfront),

Please notice that I'm posting the picture of Solfar with awesome views of Videy Island, Old Harbour, and Snæfellsnes Peninsula (upon which is found Snæfellsjökull, the setting of Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth), rather than the photo of my daughter, in typical American fashion, climbing on stuff that they generally shouldn't!

Please notice that I’m posting the picture of Solfar with awesome views of Videy Island, Old Harbour, and Snæfellsnes Peninsula (upon which is found Snæfellsjökull, the setting of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth), rather than the photo of my daughter climbing on it, and – in typical American fashion – generally acting like the world is her playground…

and Tjörnin (called “The Pond,” this lake in the center of the city fronts Reykjavík City Hall),

Visiting the swans and ducks at Tjörnin, enjoying the sunshine, and trying to stay warm (it's August, by the way!), by drinking some hot cocoa...

Visiting the swans and ducks at Tjörnin, enjoying the sunshine, and trying to stay warm (it’s August, by the way!), by drinking some hot cocoa…

but he also planned on them spending several (very happy) hours a day (both morning and evening!) in the more kid-friendly pursuit of swimming and splashing about in several local geothermal pools (Laugardalslaug, the city’s largest hot pot and host to an 86 meter long water slide – 86 meters long!! – was their favorite).

Though Bill and Paisley visited several local hot pots, or geothermally heated swimming pools, they're still talking about Laugardalslaug. Sadly, we have no pictures of the epic slide inside because, as it turns out, it's rather difficult to swim with an iPhone...

Though Bill and Paisley visited several local hot pots, or geothermally heated swimming pools, they’re still talking about Laugardalslaug. Sadly, we have no pictures of the epic slide inside because, as it turns out, you can’t really take your iPhone swimming… Apple really needs to get on that…

And instead of spending all day driving the 190 mile loop that comprises the three different sites of the famous and touristy Golden Circle (Bill didn’t think our 9yo would much appreciate spending that much time in the car), he planned for their third day to visit only one of the sites, Þingvellir (where the continents of North America and Europe actually meet, the first national park in Iceland, and the original location for the founding of the country’s parliament way way way back in 930 AD),

Bill and Paisley - with Paisley's new "friend" and souvenir from her trip, a stuffed puffin (turns out, Iceland is home to one of the largest colonies of puffins in the world, and this makes my daughter very happy, as our kids are rather bird crazy) - enjoying the beautiful views at Þingvellir.

Bill and Paisley – with Paisley’s new “friend” and souvenir from her trip, a stuffed puffin (turns out, Iceland is home to one of the largest colonies of puffins in the world, and this makes my daughter very happy, as our kids are rather bird crazy) – enjoying the beautiful views at Þingvellir.

where they could spend a few quality hours (rather than just the quick, cursory visit most tourists make when trying to see all three sites in one day) exploring the church and the remains of the Assembly (talk about an educational experience!),

This picturesque cluster of buildings located in Þingvellir - also called Thingvellir - National Park is the Þingvallakirkja on the far left, a church built in the 1850s on the site of the original church built there to commemorate the adoption of Christianity in 1000 AD, and the five-gable Thingvallabær farmhouse on the right, now the summer home of Iceland's prime minister (currently Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who is, by the way, the first female prime minister of Iceland AND the first openly lesbian head of state in the world - GO ICELAND!!)

This picturesque cluster of buildings located in Þingvellir – or Thingvellir – National Park is the Þingvallakirkja on the far left, a church built in 1859 on the site of the original church built there to commemorate the adoption of Christianity in 1000 AD, and the five-gable Thingvallabær farmhouse on the right, now the summer home of the country’s sitting prime minister (currently Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, who is, by the way, the first female prime minister of Iceland AND the first openly lesbian head of state in the world – GO ICELAND!!)

hiking around,

As seen from the national cemetery  (the final resting place for such country notables as poets Jónas Hallgrímsson and Einar Benediktsson), the Icelandic flag flies over the löberg, or the "law rock" - the long, low-lying rock wall under the cliff face and above the Öxará River and lava field  - where Iceland's parliament, called the Althing, met for six weeks every June and July since it's creation until 1874, when it moved to Reykjavík.

As seen from the national cemetery (the final resting place for such country notables as poets Jónas Hallgrímsson and Einar Benediktsson), the Icelandic flag flies over the löberg, or the “law rock” – the long, low-lying rock wall under the cliff face and above the Öxará River – where Iceland’s parliament, called the Althing, met for six weeks every June and July since it’s creation in 930 until it moved in 1874 to it’s new home in Reykjavík.

and just playing outside at a more leisurely pace – after, of course, spending the morning at a hot pot!

All was going well, everything was going according to plan, and Bill was looking forward to what Paisley would choose to write about in her report, when… on DAY TWO:

Bill, being a history buff as well as a diligent visitor who genuinely wished to know more about the foreign country he was in, naturally took our daughter to the National Museum of Iceland. The museum has an impressive exhibit, with about 2,000 objects and 1,000 photographs dedicated to telling the story of Iceland from the Settlement in the 9th Century to modern day. Bill planned on a lovely morning spent taking it all in… Maybe a couple of hours, say, followed by some lunch and a cup of hot coffee for himself (did I mention that he said the coffee in Iceland was out-of-this-world good?) and some hot cocoa for the kiddo…

Yeah… it took our daughter exactly ten minutes to go through the ENTIRE exhibit, covering approximately 1,100 years of history.

TEN MINUTES.

She even wore the little headphones and followed the special audio guide for children. To give her CONTEXT about what she was learning about… To give her a general awareness of what she was seeing and why it was important…

TEN.

MINUTES.

At which point, Bill started worrying about my upcoming trip to Paris…

He knew for me, who loves art, who studied art history in college, who can’t WAIT to meander, browse, slowly absorb and just BREATHE IN the art and history and culture of all of Paris… Well, yeah, ten minutes wasn’t exactly going to cut it.

He emailed me that night, and reiterated his point when he got back home, saying that, um, yeah, he thought maybe the kids should go ahead and do those reports BEFORE we left for foreign lands… I believe his exact words were: “Make sure she has LOTS of context when you go to Paris; otherwise you will go NUTS!! I really think she was bored today.” And then he recommended I have Paisley read everything she could about everything that was Paris before we left.

Great. So, I had a little less than a year to introduce her to all of art history?!

Yes, yes, I know I’m rather melodramatic (you’re not really surprised, are you?!), but, as you might be aware, the Louvre is just a WEE bit larger than Iceland’s National Museum, and it’ll take more than ten minutes just to GET to the Mona Lisa, let alone spend any time with her small bad self… At least seeing Leonardo’s masterpiece – if you recall – is one of the primary reasons Paisley chose Paris for her second international trip (left to my own devices, I probably would’ve picked somewhere they serve those fruity drinks with paper umbrellas with a healthy dose of Vitamin D on the side, waiting to visit Paris when Paisley had several years of world history under her teen-aged and undoubtedly hipster-styled belt), so I can at least feel confident that she’ll want to GO to the Louvre… But will she want to STAY there long enough to see and learn about (this isn’t supposed to be torture – I want it to be fun! – but it is supposed to be educational…) some of the most significant and iconic art pieces in the world?? (Like, did you know that the Louvre houses not only some of the most impressive works of the Renaissance, but is also home to the Law Code of Hammurabi, an ancient Babylonian stele dating from 1772 BC, one of the earliest known law codes in human history, and the origin of that whole “an eye for eye, a tooth for a tooth” concept?? Yeah, kind of a big dealio…)

And then, of course, there’s still the Musée d’Orsay, the Musée Rodin, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Musée de l’Orangerie… For crying out loud, do you have ANY idea how many of the world’s GREATEST museums there are in PARIS?!?! Well, let’s just say… there are a few

And she might get BORED?! Well! I don’t think so…

So as soon as Paisley returned from Iceland I took Bill’s advice and I brought home approximately 20,000 books from the library (okay, okay, more like 20 books) for her to start reading… and I must confess, my indoctrination plans (pardonnez moi, my plans to gently and supportively create CONTEXT!) for my 10yo are, so far, going quite well… In all seriousness (don’t snort; that’s rude… I can be serious if I really really try!), we have found many delightful books which I think, or at least hope, will help her (or, to tell the truth, help both of us, as I’m learning stuff I never knew about the City of Lights as well…) more thoroughly enjoy our upcoming trip (and avoid that dreadful boredom that comes with being forced to look at art or, are you kidding me?!, another church, that just looks old-fashioned and has no relevance to her modern-day life): books about kids going to Paris (for instance, we both chortled and snickered while reading Eloise in Paris, in which Paisley learned several invaluable French phrases, her absolute favorite being “tout de suite” – meaning “immediately” or “right away” – which she uses quite often here at home, now, with much Eloise-style flair, as in: “Mama, please do have Papa come upstairs and say good-night to me… and make sure you tell him tout de suite!”); books about kids living in Paris (outstanding reads in this category include the impressive and captivating The Invention of Hugo Cabret, a novel worth owning whether you plan on visiting Paris or not… the very enjoyable Madame Pamplemousse and Her Incredible Edibles, though I seriously doubt even this cute book will be enough to encourage Paisley to try either foie gras or paté… and the adorable Adèle & Simon, about a sister who walks her brother – who loses a mitten, a scarf, a crayon and other precious childhood items while visiting the dinosaurs at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, watching a puppet show at the Jardin du Luxembourg, eating sweets at a patisserie and visiting several other essential Paris destinations we’ll be visiting ourselves – home from school… Paisley and I liked the story so much we plotted out Adèle and Simon’s address on the Cour de Rohan on our map of Paris and plan on walking by!); books kids in Paris themselves read and love (the standout in this category is, hands down, the English translations of the wildly popular Astérix comic books, about a village of wily Gauls who fight off Roman occupation, which have also been made into several films starring none other than Gérard Depardieu – though Paisley hasn’t seen the movies yet, she did get an Astérix t-shirt for Christmas, which she plans on proudly sporting on the streets of Paris… unless, because it’s quite a favorite of hers, she wears it out from overuse before we ever leave!); and books about kids meeting artists whose paintings and sculptures are on display in the various museums (MUSEUMS!!) of Paris (there are literally hundreds of kids’ books about famous artists like Degas, Rousseau, Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso – some of the better ones are the handful of books by Laurence Anholt, and the Getting to Know the World’s Greatest Artists series by Mike Venezia, the Da Vinci one being a beloved gift to Paisley from her grandmother who visited Paris a few years back and is most likely the reason Paisley knew enough about the Mona Lisa to declare she’d be going to Paris to see said painting for her second big trip abroad). And when we were done with those first 20,000 books, I went and got 20,000 more books… and 20,000 more after that… I will confess: for the most part, I’ve deliberately chosen picture books for her to read – books well below her reading level, I suppose, but books that are fun to read and full of stories about kids just like her and, I think most importantly, books full of colorful pages exhibiting the very paintings and sculptures and cathedrals she’ll get to see (and dare I hope… want to see?) in Paris – art work and buildings that she’ll be able to recognize when we visit all those (hopefully now interesting and not boring) museums and tourist attractions in Paris.

The latest pile o' books from the library...

The latest pile o’ books from the library…

Of course, this “lesson” is currently more of a “theory” at this point… and I have no idea if all this reading will pay off; after all, the museums we visit are still MUSEUMS, and she’s still only ten years old with the attention span of any 10yo: roughly somewhere between ten minutes and the length of that ridiculous episode of Phineas and Ferb (and that’s approximately 22 minutes, for those of you whose children don’t demand a little cartoon action in their day)…  Nor am I sure that having her write a report for me before we go will help, either (though I’m thinking of having her write something about Versailles, as it’s going to be infinitely BORING for her there if she doesn’t understand who the Sun King was and why he was so important, or who Marie Antoinette was and why she got her head cut off for simply offering to feed everybody cake – because, let’s admit it, without a modicum of historical context, any modern-day 10yo in her right mind would throw a parade for someone, anyone!, who offered them CAKE; I mean, it’s CAKE!). But, for me, I think it’s worth trying to follow Bill’s advice to provide as much knowledge, background information and context as I can, in attempts to hold off the boredom as long as possible for that 10-22 minute stretch of time, so that our visit to the Louvre or any given museum in Paris will be educational, but will also be just that much more interesting

And don’t worry! Even with having learned all this “context” BEFORE we go, I know I’m not going to get more than an hour at any given tourist attraction. So what to do with the rest of the 23 hours of the day (well, minus at least eight hours of beauty sleep – we ARE in Paris, after all, and must look our best!)? Well, we might not be able to go splash around in any geothermally heated hot pots (sadly, I don’t think the Seine is very warm, or even very clean, and I’m pretty sure we’d be arrested if we tried taking a swim… and being arrested in a foreign country isn’t exactly the kind of educational experience I was hoping for), but there’s gotta be some serious giggles to be had in counting how many couples we see kissing as we walk along the Seine on our way to the nearest metro station, and some great times to be had while trying desperately not to accidentally order frog legs or snails at the fantastic sidewalk café we just stumbled upon, and, if all else fails, some deliciously smile-inducing moments to be had while devouring all the macaroons and pain au chocolat we can lay our greedy little hands on, right?? Because we WILL have fun… after all, c’mon! As Eloise just might say, c’est impossible – and that means rawther impossible – to NOT have fun when one is on vacation in PARIS.

And if things go really well, and we’re not in a total sugar-induced coma from all those macaroons? I’ll have Paisley send you a postcard telling you all about everything she learned at the museum that day…

***

This blog post is the second in a series. If you missed it, feel free to read the Introduction: Planning For Paris, Lessons From Paris (Part 1)

And still to come (if I could ever stop pinning Paris pictures on Pinterest long enough to write):
Lesson Two: Wherever You Go, There They Are
Lesson Three: Scale Back, Stay Longer
Lesson Four: Make Time for Playtime

Planning For Paris: Lessons From Iceland (Part 1)

Herein, find several tips for traveling internationally with kids - kids who may or may not like extra long flights or eating anything other than pizza once they arrive in those horizon-expanding destinations...

My daughter, at the airport, on her way to Iceland. She didn’t sleep a wink on the 7 1/2 hour red-eye flight… Because sleep is totally overrated for pint-sized international travelers… Right?!

Holy WOW. I did it. Last week I booked two round-trip tickets for Paris! In slightly less than three months my 10yo daughter and I are leaving for Paris. Yes, PARIS. Paris, FRANCE.

!!!!!

(Ooh, sorry… that high-pitched sound you just heard through your computer screen? That was me squealing. With glee. GLEE I tell you!! Wheeeee!!!!!)

Seriously, I am almost vibrating with excitement. I honestly can’t get my brain to concentrate on anything else (I mean, c’mon! Do you really expect me to remember to pick up my kids from school, on time, or, and it gives me a headache just thinking about, do my taxes when there are photos of Paris to pin on Pinterest or style blogs to read about what is – and perhaps more importantly, what is not – acceptable to wear in Paris??). So far I have checked off the three biggest items on my planning to-do list: I found an AMAZING apartment for us to rent for our visit, and have even paid the down deposit; I woke up in the middle of the night the week before last to go online and nab (just barely, too!) our fancy-schmancy tickets to the Paris Opera Ballet, which, as a huge ballet fan, I actually built our entire trip around attending; and now I have two non-stop tickets (non-stop!! I’m sooooo in love with non-stop flights…), with confirmed seats and everything. The only thing left to do, now, is plot out the smaller, day-to-day details, like exactly what Paisley and I will be doing while we’re there… Maybe we’ll spend a delightful afternoon at, gasp!, the Louis Vuitton flagship store on the Champs-Elysees! And maybe we’ll take three whole days to explore the Louvre!! And maybe we’ll dine at Le Jules Verne, the legendary restaurant at the Eiffel Tower!!!

I’m sorry, but did you just SNORT with laughter?! You did!! Well. That’s not very nice of you… Honestly, can’t you just let me have my dreams for FIVE MINUTES?! I mean… I know. I do! I KNOW: I’m traveling to Paris, one of the most important and significant cities in the world, a veritable treasure trove of history and culture, the capital of Romance with a capital R, THE City of Lights… with my TEN YEAR OLD.

Not exactly a second honeymoon (or even a first honeymoon, for that matter, since Bill and I decided to move across the country from Seattle to North Carolina instead of booking a romantic getaway to Paris, or anywhere else for that matter; ahhh… someday)… I know, I know

Which leads me back to my husband’s trip with Paisley, to Iceland this last summer: the inaugural expedition in our family’s plan to travel with our three children around the world, once each of them becomes old enough to a) travel long distances comfortably (and without making me or Bill – or everyone else on the plane – want to commit ritual suicide; honestly, I don’t care how many times I hear or read about people who travel around the world with their youngest munchkins and have the absolute greatest time – bully for them, I say – I personally think traveling 12+ hours on a plane with a 2yo toddler sounds like a circle of Hell straight out of Dante’s Inferno) and b) to actually remember all, or most of all, the horizon-expanding adventures we wish them to experience (and just spent a whole lotta cash on procuring). Being the first international trip for both of them (Canada doesn’t count – sorry, Canada), we knew there would be quite the learning curve with this trip; and indeed, Bill was a wonderful guinea pig (or should I say canary in a coal mine?!), bringing back a wealth of fabulous lessons learned from his one week stay in Iceland – and which I have taken to heart while planning my upcoming trip to Paris.

As I don’t want to make you feel like I’m forcing you through one of those slide-shows old Aunt Edna and Uncle Chester made you endure when you were in middle school and would rather be doing ollies on your skateboard or cruising the mall for the perfect pair of neon-colored hoop earrings to match your very trendy neon-colored jelly shoes rather than hearing about what kind of birds nest on the top of Teddy Roosevelt’s moustache on Mount Rushmore, I’ve broken this blog post up into several parts, or “lessons” if you will, which you can read at your leisure… say, in between Instagramming – is that even a word?! I’m making it one if it isn’t already; feel free to alert the OED – pictures of your adorable kids doing ollies (because, let’s admit it, when you do ollies anymore your knees kill and you can’t walk up the stairs for a week… unless you’re Tony Hawk, in which case your ollies, and knees, are just as fine and Instagrammable – another new word! – as your adorable kids’ ollies and knees…), or internet shopping for the perfect neon-colored clutch to match your very trendy neon-colored strappy platform sandals (so very retro, and absolutely necessary for the spring cocktail party to which you’ve just been invited!). Granted, these are lessons for my family, and we’re a bit crazier than most, so some – or possibly all! In which case I humbly apologize for taking up your time which could have been better spent reading about Taylor Swift’s latest conquest and/or breakup – of these “lessons” might not apply to you and your precious little angels… But, in the belief that a few of you have angels who sometimes occasionally act like MONSTERS normal old kids, over the next few days, or possibly weeks – I do actually have to pick up the kids, on time, from school (they’re so demanding!), and my taxes, as much as I’ve beseeched the folders of paperwork sitting on my desk to do themselves, are stubbornly not complying with my wishes (how very rude!) – feel free to peruse, adopt, and/or adapt for your own family vacation planning, Bill’s top four lessons about traveling with kids…

Spoiler alert: yeah, it’s looking pretty doubtful that three whole days blissfully meandering through the rooms of the Louvre is in my near future… And Louis Vuitton and Le Jules Verne?? C’est impossible, aussie.

Le sigh…

In the meantime, here’s a sneak peak at the next few blog posts:

Lesson One: Context is Critical Everything
Lesson Two: Wherever You Go, There They Are
Lesson Three: Scale Back, Stay Longer
Lesson Four: Make Time for Playtime

And here’s a mini-slide show that would do old Aunt Edna and Uncle Chester proud:

What do you do when you get off the plane at 6 a.m., and your rental apartment won't be available for several hours, and neither you nor your kiddo has slept at all on the plane so you're both a little punchy from lack of sleep? Why, you make sure your first stop is at the local "hot pot," of course! Iceland is a geothermal wonderland, with an abundance of natural hot springs in which to soak away the afternoons; when in Rome, do as the Romans do, when in Iceland, do as the Icelanders do... and splash for hours in your favorite hot pot (Bill and Paisley recommend Laugardalslaug)!

What do you do when you get off the plane at 6 a.m., and your rental apartment won’t be available for several hours, and neither you nor your kiddo have slept at all on the plane so you’re both so punchy from lack of sleep you can barely see straight? Why, you make sure your first stop is at the local “hot pot,” of course! Iceland is a geothermal wonderland, with an abundance of natural hot springs in which to soak away the afternoons; when in Rome, do as the Romans do, when in Iceland, splash for hours in your favorite hot pot (Bill and Paisley recommend Laugardalslaug)!

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church and is one of the most impressive landmarks in Reykjavík; it can be seen from most places in the city. In front of the church is a statue of Iceland-born Leif Eriksson, who is considered to be the first European to discover America (sorry, Chris Columbus!) around 1000 AD. The steeple at the top offers an impressive view (there's even an elevator, so you don't have to worry about your kid whining on the way up)!

Hallgrímskirkja is a Lutheran church and is one of the most impressive landmarks in Reykjavík; it can be seen from most places in the city. In front of the church is a statue of Iceland-born Leif Eriksson, who is considered to be the first European to discover America (sorry, Chris Columbus!) around 1000 AD. The steeple at the top offers an impressive view (there’s even an elevator, so you don’t have to worry about your kid whining on the way up)!

For the most part, our family prefers vacation rentals, like this adorable second floor apartment where they stayed in Reykjavík, to hotels... For WAY less than a boring old hotel room, Bill got this flat where he and Paisley had their own bedrooms (meaning, Bill didn't have to turn the lights out when Paisley did; he could stay up and read and enjoy all the benefits of jet lag on his own), plus a kitchen where he could stock up on cereal (and other kid-friendly necessities) and his beloved coffee beans (and other parent-friendly necessities), and a dining table - with a chandelier! - at which to enjoy it all.

For the most part, our family prefers vacation rentals, like this adorable second floor apartment where they stayed in Reykjavík, to hotels… For WAY less than a boring old hotel room, Bill got this flat where he and Paisley had their own bedrooms (meaning, Bill didn’t have to turn the lights out when Paisley did; he could stay up and read and enjoy all the benefits of jet lag on his own), plus a kitchen where he could stock up on cereal (and other kid-friendly necessities) and his beloved coffee beans (and other parent-friendly necessities), and a dining table – with a chandelier! – at which to enjoy it all.

Þingvellir, or Thingvellir, National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of three major tourist attractions right outside Reykjavík called the Golden Circle. The tectonic plates that form North America and Europe actually meet here (and if you're not like Bill - visiting as a single parent with a non-PADI certified child who you don't feel comfortable dropping off with a complete stranger - you can actually scuba dive BETWEEN the two continents, if you're so inclined!), and Iceland's parliament was founded in Þingvellir back in 930 AD.

Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is one of three major tourist attractions right outside Reykjavík called the Golden Circle. The tectonic plates that form North America and Europe actually meet here (and if you’re not like Bill – visiting as a single parent with a non-PADI certified child who you don’t feel comfortable dropping off with a complete stranger – you can actually scuba dive BETWEEN the two continents, if you’re so inclined!), and Iceland’s parliament was founded in Þingvellir back in 930 AD.

After a few days in Reykjavík, Bill and Paisley drove to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur where they rented a cabin for a couple of nights to explore Vatnajökull National Park (Europe’s second largest national park, covering approximately 13% of Iceland). Paisley loved her sleeping loft: if you look closely, you'll see her HUGE grin!

After a few days in Reykjavík, Bill and Paisley drove to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur where they rented a cabin for a couple of nights to explore Vatnajökull National Park (Europe’s second largest national park, covering approximately 13% of Iceland). Paisley loved her sleeping loft: if you look closely, you’ll see her HUGE grin!

Jökulsárlón,  the glacial river lagoon found on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, has to be one of the most majestic sights in the world. This photo doesn't do justice to the scale of this glacier-fed lake: a tourist boat (which you can take if you visit), literally looks like bath toys when compared to the size of the icebergs. Jökulsárlón is a 3-7 hour trip from Reykjavík, depending on how often you and/or your kiddo(s) need to stop for potty breaks!

Jökulsárlón, the glacial river lagoon found on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, is truly one of the most majestic sights in the world. This photo doesn’t do justice to the scale of this glacier-fed lake: a tourist boat (which you can take if you visit), literally looks like a bath toy when compared to the size of the icebergs. Jökulsárlón is a 3-7 hour trip from Reykjavík, depending on how often you and/or your kiddo(s) need to stop for potty breaks – or just to see all the pretty waterfalls along the way!

With all the waterfalls, you might think Iceland is a tropical paradise... Paradise? Yes. Tropical? Not so much! Bill and Paisley visited at the end of August; while the kids and I were happily splashing in the kiddie pool on the deck in the sun, Bill was wishing he'd brought their winter jackets instead of their light weight rain coats, and I don't think Paisley took her fleece hat off the entire time they were in Iceland. If you go, dress warm! (Here, Paisley and her hat are at Skógafoss, a beautiful waterfall carved out of a cliff which was once located on the coastline, but is now about 3 miles away from the sea!)

With all the waterfalls, you might think Iceland is a tropical paradise… Paradise? Yes. Tropical? Not so much! Bill and Paisley visited at the end of August; while the boys and I were happily splashing in the kiddie pool on the deck in the sun, Bill was wishing he’d brought their winter jackets instead of their lightweight rain coats, and I don’t think Paisley took her fleece hat off the entire time they were in Iceland. If you go, dress warm! (Here, Paisley and her hat are at Skógafoss, a beautiful waterfall carved out of a cliff which was once located on the coastline, but is now about 3 miles from the sea!)

The Blue Lagoon (and no, I'm not talking about the 1980 Brooke Shields/Christopher Atkins movie!) has to be one of the most amazing "hot tubs" in the world - an industrial accident that has become the country's most popular tourist destination. In 1976, while searching for a new, reliable, geothermal energy source, a local heating co-op drilled deep wells in a lava field for a new power plant, and let the factory excess runoff back into the ground. But, surprise!, the runoff had a super high silica content, which sealed up the rocks with a slippery white coating and created a natural reservoir of 104˚F water, just perfect for soaking in... even with your kiddos!

The Blue Lagoon (and no, I’m not talking about the 1980 Brooke Shields/Christopher Atkins movie!) has to be one of the most amazing “hot tubs” in the world – an industrial accident that has become the country’s most popular tourist destination. In 1976, while searching for a new, reliable, geothermal energy source, a local heating co-op drilled deep wells in a lava field for a new power plant, and let the factory excess run off back into the ground. But, surprise!, the runoff had a high silica content, which sealed up the rocks with a slippery white coating and created a natural reservoir of 104˚F water, just perfect for soaking in… even with your kiddos!

It was hard to leave, but a long soak in the Blue Lagoon before boarding the plane for the 8 hour flight home was a pretty great way to say good-bye. Both Bill and Paisley are planning on going back... I just hope they'll bring me and the boys with them!!

It was hard to leave Iceland, but a long soak in the Blue Lagoon before boarding the plane for the 7 1/2 hour flight home was a pretty great way to say good-bye. Both Bill and Paisley are planning on going back as soon as they can… I just hope they’ll bring me and the boys with them!!

Lactose Intolerance

On the evening of Saturday, January 12, 2013 (the date will live in infamy, at least in the blackest part of my soul), while I was clearing the dinner table and Bill was reviewing the pictures he’d taken that day while hiking with the three kids (so I could work – seriously, how do I nominate him for a Hubby-of-the-Year-Award??), the youngest child (read: the smallest gremlin in the house) got mad (read: really really really really mad) at his older sister for not sharing her toys with him. So (naturally), he picked up her unfinished glass of milk and… threw the milk at her.

Yes. Really. He did. He THREW the milk at her…

(Go ahead and visualize the rich, creamy, white stream of delicious, wholesome, organic 2% milk arcing ever so gracefully through the air and…)

SPLASHING her right in the face. Totally drenching her… And the table… And the floor… And Bill… And, oh yeah, drenching the CAMERA, too.

Oh, my, YES, you read that correctly: drenching the CAMERA (on which Bill was reviewing the pictures he’d taken while hiking that day). The BRAND NEW CAMERA.

Yes, the brand new camera, all of 19 days old, that was my birthday present (I’m a December baby) from Bill… and my Christmas present from Bill… and Bill’s Christmas present from me… all rolled into one tidy, and expensive (at least for us) package (which I quite happily wrapped, and then unwrapped three hours later, on Christmas Eve).

Our big Christmas (and my birthday) present: a new DSLR camera! We give each other GREAT gifts... Just sayin'.

RIP, Nikon D5100, we hardly knew you… (12/24/12-01/12/13)

Turns out, in case you were wondering, cameras don’t really care for milk.

My brand new camera hadn’t even survived ONE MONTH in our household.

And that’s when I cried. Really. I did. I CRIED over spilled milk (though not when the kids were looking; that’d set a bad example – I quite responsibly waited until I was alone in my bathroom later that night… to cry big big big tears).

I actually started this post the day after the milk incident. And yes, it’s taken me more than six weeks to write, mostly because every time I even think about my not-working-brand-new camera my stomach gets all tight and I just want to (and I’m sorry to say it, but there’s no delicate way to put this) throw up.

To be perfectly fair, there is a slim (and I mean miniscule) possibility that the milk wasn’t the culprit – the camera battery didn’t seem to love the cold weather up on the mountain during Bill’s hike, and drained within a few short hours. And I’d had a bit of trouble getting the LCD monitor to work when the camera was in manual mode (though this could be because I’m a complete amateur, and just don’t know which button or menu item to turn on or off).

But the likelihood that the spilled milk did the damage – and that, therefore, the toddler killed my camera and we, as his adult representatives, would be responsible for paying (through the nose) for said damages (or even having to buy a new camera altogether) – is pretty dang high. (And the 2yo is just LUCKY he’s TWO, and that he’s CUTE… and that he ran away as fast as his little legs could take him, once he threw that milk… AND that he’s pretty fast…)

Looks can be deceiving...

Don’t let his look of innocence fool you; this kid is a cold-blooded camera killer who laughs diabolically whenever I bring up anger management classes.

The thought of the repair bill, or worse being told the camera was beyond repair… ugh! It took me more than a month to finally send the camera to the Nikon repair shop (really! I just couldn’t bear to even look at the poor thing let alone break it down and pack it up!), in hopes that my brand-new (did I already mention that??) camera could be, you know, FIXED.

Two weeks ago I checked my email as usual and – ooh boy, I actually got flustered and jittery – there were two (not one but TWO) emails from Nikon. With the estimates. For repair. One for the camera body and one for the camera lens. Oh, Holy Crappola. This wasn’t going to be good…

I didn’t open those emails then… No, I didn’t. Instead, I took a lunch break. And a dark chocolate break. And then I folded some laundry. After that I briefly contemplated dusting, but then rolled my eyes – like I was going to dust!! I think I actually snorted at myself in derision – so I reluctantly returned to my computer and opened the email…

To learn that the bill would be a whopping $0.

I know, right??!!

I’m not kidding, it took me 15 minutes to start breathing again, and then another 15 minutes of looking through the fine print for any reference of an unidentifiable sticky white substance shorting the wiring, or a note explaining that anyone with children under the age of 10 automatically voided any and all warranties, to finally believe that I wasn’t going to have to pillage my children’s college savings in order to cover the repairs or buy a new camera (an especially problematic solution given that the children’s college savings is currently nonexistent).

Of course, I still didn’t have my camera… I did, however, anxiously track the progress online daily – my stomach in knots every time, in fear that the $0 charge line would abruptly change to $699.99 or that the (fairly serious sounding) note stating the repair was a Category B2 “Moderate Repair: Major Parts Replaced” job would suddenly read “Category Impossible: Toss This Baby Out” – and tried to remind myself that repairs take time.

And then last night, at about 8:30 in the p.m., the doorbell RANG, prompting the dogs to start yipping and barking and running around and sliding on the floors like a swarm of killer bees was chasing them, and making me want to punch in the throat whoever was trying to sign me up for more magazine subscriptions at this time of night, while at the same time sending up a silent prayer to my toddler – the lightest sleeper in the entire universe – to NOT WAKE UP because I desperately wanted at least one glass of wine before having to put him back to bed for the eighty-ninth time. I felt bad for such violent and mean-spirited thoughts, however, when one of our neighbors (being, you know, neighborly) handed my husband a package that had been delivered to his house by mistake.

I opened the box… and found MY CAMERA!! (Oops… I mean, OUR CAMERA!! Sorry, honey!) And then I giggled. I did! I LAUGHED!! And it felt good, too. I did a little happy dance and put all the pieces back together. I had my camera back, I had my camera back!! I turned it on and… and…and nothing. What the heck?! Bill walked by and nonchalantly asked if I’d recharged the battery. Ugh! Does he HAVE to be so irritatingly smart sometimes?! I’m so taking back that Husband-of-the-Year nomination… So I plugged in the battery…

And now that I see it’s fully recharged, I think I will finally power up my big bad camera… and CELEBRATE!

And I do believe the occasion calls for something just a wee bit stronger than milk

Now, where’s that Nestlé Quik??

Cooking Lessons

Back in December, the week before winter break, the 10yo decided to start cooking the family dinners. I know! My eyes totally bugged out of my head, too!!

Intriguingly, she came up with the idea all on her own, completely out of the blue, and (rather shockingly, as it had been on my mind for a while) not as a creative consequence I’d (brilliantly) concocted to illustrate for her how insanely maddening (and infuriating, provoking, exasperating, harpy-shriek-inducing… well, you get the idea…) it is to spend a considerable amount of thought in planning, and time cooking, wholesome (and delicious, dang it!) meals for the family, only for the kids to whine about and bemoan whatever (okay, vegetable-laden – five servings a day, people!) dish was put on the table (you’d think I was serving poisoned frog livers and botulism-infused cat tongues if you ever witnessed the melodramatics my kids perform in my dining room at least several nights a week; we’re talking Academy Award winning theatrics here…) and refuse to eat – or even try – a single bite of that evening’s dinner (which, I swear, has never involved frog livers or cat tongues; not even on Halloween).

No, one Friday morning she woke up cheerful as can be (such lovely mornings, when the kids wake up happy… and so rare…) and informed me over her bowl of cereal that she would be cooking dinner that night. I sipped my coffee and waited for her to blurt out, “Just kidding!! Hahahaha! Was that a good joke or what?!” but, no, she was serious. As I already had three more nights of meals planned (and the corresponding groceries purchased, which I didn’t want to go bad), I convinced her to wait until the following Monday, when I would return to the grocery store and could buy the ingredients she would need. Also, I convinced her to cook for only three nights the following week, rather than all seven as she was adamantly planning, as we were leaving for my mom’s house for the Christmas holidays on Thursday and I thought she might not want to delay our trip to Grandma’s just so she could cook four extra meals; she graciously agreed, but explained that she would be taking over the cooking duties upon our return home post-holidays. Hmm… I doubted she’d even remember her resolution over the weekend…

But, sure enough, on Monday morning, as I was writing out the grocery list before taking the kiddos to school, she ticked off on her fingers the three meals she was planning and the ingredients she would need. I listened to her… Nodded… Pursed my lips together tightly so as not to say anything… Nodded some more… and quickly texted Bill to make sure he ate a big lunch. With meat. And vegetables. Because he SO wouldn’t be getting those at home. No, according to my daughter, veggies are an obvious threat to humankind and a thoroughly non-essential food group; her plan: carbs, carbs and nothing but carbs, baby!

Day 1: Bean and Cheese Quesadillas. Does taco sauce count as a veggie?!

Day 1: Bean and Cheese Quesadillas. Does taco sauce count as a veggie?!

Day 2: Blueberry Pancakes (from scratch!). For the record, these were AMAZING. We need to triple the recipe next time...

Day 2: Blueberry Pancakes (from scratch!). For the record, these were AMAZING. We need to triple the recipe next time…

Day 3 of 3 nights the 10yo cooked dinner for the family: her homemade "Marvelous Mac n Cheese." Her choice. I sneaked in Beecher's Cheese. But she said NO when I suggested peas! Veggies are highly overrated anyway, right?!

Day 3: Her homemade (and self-titled) “World Famous” Mac And Cheese. I sneaked in Beecher’s Flagship Cheese (yum!), but she said no when I suggested adding peas. Ah, well… It was worth a try!

Here’s the thing: each meal she made was delicious. And fun. And she was clearly so proud of herself that, once we did get home from Grandma’s house, I let her keep cooking. No, I didn’t let her take over all the cooking duties, as she’d earlier insisted (though it was really tempting!! But really… how many nights in a row can a family survive on blueberry pancakes for dinner?), and I did insist that her meals needed to start incorporating vegetables (she rolled her eyes, and begrudgingly agreed), but she thought that cooking once a week would be okay. For now. Her 6yo brother, Liam, had very thoughtfully given her a kid-friendly cookbook for a Christmas present (and wow! – even from one of my favorite cookbook authors! what a smart kid!! – okay, okay… so I was more than a little involved in picking out the present, but I really didn’t think she’d appreciate the Lego set he picked out for her nearly as much as he would appreciate it…), and she pours over that every week when I ask what’s on the menu. For the last two months, she’s been wowing us with her culinary talents, and cooking up a storm for us.

The 10yo made mini-pizzas for dinner! The college menu planning is now complete - eight years early!

Mini-Pizza Night! They took TWO HOURS to make, but hey, they were good and her brothers were VERY happy.

And every once in a while she makes a meal with vegetables in it – though not always on purpose! The look of surprise on her face when I started pulling out onions and celery and carrots and zucchini for her Macaroni Minestrone recipe (she reads recipes a bit more closely these days!) was truly priceless. But the best part of that night (and perhaps it’s unkind of me, but there you have it): when Paisley served Liam his soup he stuck out his tongue in protest… and she almost slugged him! I couldn’t help myself. I snickered. I did! I snickered (but behind my hand), and gently pointed out how, um, yeah, it’s kind of frustrating, isn’t it, when someone insults your cooking without even trying it? She didn’t reply; she just stared at me (rather coldly – I think she could tell I was gloating, even if I was trying to hide that fact) while she (rather defiantly) chewed a mouthful of vegetables (rather unhappily). But she did it! She ate some veggies. And she didn’t DIE a slow and tragic and painful death.

She still prefers carb-happy meals (and really, who doesn’t?) with no veggies in sight; her “world famous” mac and cheese has made a second and third appearance (I’ve started sautéing spinach with garlic as a quick green side for mac n’ cheese night – not that any of the kids eat spinach), her brothers were quite ecstatic about mini-pizza night with homemade crusts (the only green in sight: the bell pepper slices I put on my pizza; and technically, bell pepper is a fruit), and a couple of weeks ago she made a very tasty cheese lasagna with one of her school friends (again, sans veggies; unlike Congress, I don’t count tomato sauce as a vegetable). But she’s made the veggie-heavy Macaroni Minestrone twice now (it really is good…), and I think everyone enjoyed the night she made vegetarian fried rice with carrots, broccoli, peas, and even water chestnuts (!!), and just last week she asked to make one of her favorite recipes from my own repertoire, Strawberry Asparagus Pasta, which was so good that there were no leftovers (well, except for all the asparagus left on her plate that she refused to eat… them being veggies and all). And, okay, she doesn’t always eat the veggies on her plate, but at least she cooked with veggies… so we’re making some kind of progress, right?!

So, yeah, I might have to spend twice as long cooking a meal with my daughter as it would take on my own – while I show her how to knead pizza dough without dropping it on the floor or wait for her to (slowly, slowly, oh my good gracious, painstakingly slowly) peel a carrot or two – but she’s getting the hang of food preparation, and in a couple of years, honestly, she should have enough experience to whip up her favorite Greek Pasta Salad without me around (and without cutting off a finger – perhaps the only real goal I have in these early cooking lessons at the moment). And I’m looking forward to teaching her brothers how to cook, too, when they hit age 10. Can you imagine? Three nights a week where, once I teach the kids the basics, I don’t have to cook?? Maybe I can actually get to all those projects that are piling up around the house (oh you know, like finally completing any of the children’s baby books or framing that poster in the dining room that’s been sitting on the buffet table for the last six years and counting), or – better yet! – just sit around reading a book (how decadent!), while they serve up some delicious, healthy meal for everyone?! Whoa… I am loving this plan… Heck, why do I even care if my daughter cooks with veggies?? Just so long as she cooks… am I right, or am I RIGHT?! Now that I think about it, I could totally survive off blueberry pancakes every night!

Now, if only I can convince her to stick around for the cleaning up part…

School Daze

The 2 1/2 yo and his trusty backpack, ready for the first day of preschool.

The 2 1/2 yo and his trusty backpack, ready for the first day of preschool.

My head has been in a total fog all day… I’ve been trying to wrap my brain around the fact that my youngest child just started school. Okay, granted, it’s just preschool, and it’s only two mornings a week, but, still… I have three kids who are all old enough to be IN SCHOOL. Which means, I finally have (hold on, let me get my fingers out… that’s one, two, three hours each day… times two days a week, that’s…) SIX WHOLE HOURS A WEEK WITHOUT KIDS. My head is spinning…

Now, don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sign my 2½yo  up for preschool just so I could finally get rid of all my kids at the same time (not that I either judge or begrudge any parent who does so just to get some alone time!). Indeed, I worried a bit that he’s still too young; with the other two kids, I waited until they were a bit older before enrolling them in school, and I really do prefer (most days anyway) having them home with me while they’re little. No, I decided that Broder, who absolutely adores his 10yo sister and 6yo brother and does absolutely everything they do – regardless of whether or not he’s old enough to, say, walk out the front door without a parent (oh yeah, he pulled that one over the weekend… while I was oh so conveniently downstairs folding laundry; luckily, Liam saw him head out and chased him down the sidewalk (he’s fast!!), dragged him back in the house kicking and screaming, and then quickly tattled on him – that’s what I call a goooooood big brother) – could benefit from some time with kids his own age, and engaging in a bit more of, shall we say, constructive play than oh, I don’t know, beating on his (very influential older) siblings with a Jedi sword or two (and I haven’t even let him watch Star Wars yet!).

So last week we went to visit the small Montessori preschool where three of his friends already go. It’s nothing big or intimidating, just the daylight-basement of his teacher’s home; very inviting and comfortable, full of fun toys and pet fish and various projects and happy kiddos going about their work. He seemed enthralled, and explored the place like he’d been there every day of his life, happily eating some goldfish crackers right out of one of his friend’s bowl (naturally!). So far, so good…

But having gone through two “first days of school” already, I had enough experience to know that it wasn’t going to school that’d be the issue. It would be me leaving the school that could potentially bring on the drama-slash-waterworks. So, all weekend I reminded him that I’d be saying “bye-bye.” Was he going to be okay with that? And every time I asked, he’d happily nod his consent. Hmm. I’d believe it when I saw it.

I woke up this morning, his first day of school, both excited and a bit conflicted; I knew preschool would be good for him, but I am really (really really really really) sad that my baby (my baby!!) is “leaving home” already! Broder, on the other hand, was only excited when I brought out his backpack. NO nerves there! He put it on right away, and ran downstairs to – very proudly – show it off to his big brother and sister, turning for them like a model on the runway (I’m not kidding, he even sashayed!). They, of course, being very smart siblings, applauded and cheered for him, and he quietly beamed with pleasure. Bill left with the 10yo to take her to school (recall, Paisley has an 8:30am drop off time), a few minutes before our own scheduled departure, and Broder stood at the door, with his cute backpack on, staring outside, ready to go. I gulped down – I mean, delicately sipped – the last of my coffee and hoped his positive attitude would last…

Broder leading the way to his new school. He's running, if you can't tell. RUNNING. What a tease!

Broder leading the way to his new school. He’s running, if you can’t tell. RUNNING. (What a tease!)

We arrived at the school and were the first ones there. He walked in like a boss, ready to own the place. It was awesome. I literally had to hold him down to get his coat off, and then had to chase him down again to get his shoes off (which, by the way, his papa had put on the wrong feet – I only mention this in retaliation for some text messages said Papa sent my way this afternoon; I’ll get to those in a minute…). His enthusiasm didn’t wane as some of the other kids came in. I chatted with his teacher for a few minutes, and all looked very promising for an easy drop off (Wait – did you just snort with laughter?! Not nice! Not nice at all…). As he darted by me on his way to the next shiny item that caught his eye I said “bye-bye” – and watched him stop as abruptly as if he’d hit a brick wall. Oh, dear… He spun around on his little sock-clad heel and walked to the door, ready to go with me. His hand was on the door knob when I reminded him of all our conversations over the weekend and how Mama had to say “bye-bye” and take Liam to school (recall, Liam has a 9:30am drop off time – Broder’s drop off is 8:45am; and yes, I want to stab myself in the temple with a fork whenever I think of trying to juggle three different drop off times – and three different pick up times – at three different schools for the next several months). Apparently he didn’t remember us having these little talks. “Me go,” he claimed. “Me go, too! Go go go!!” And his “Go go go!” just kept getting louder as I pried his sweet fingers off the door handle, gave him a kiss and passed him off to his (thankfully very calm and been-there-done-that) teacher and walked out the door…

And listened to his “Go go go!” all the way down the sidewalk…

Feeling like the WORST MOTHER EVER.

Of course, I’d felt this same truly terrible feeling twice before, on my other kids’ first days of school, but when it comes to saying good-bye to your child (whether they’re crying or not) for an extended period of time, well, let’s just say practice doesn’t make perfect. The first day of school (or daycare or nanny-care or any length of time that will persist for several days a week for what feels like eternity) is ALWAYS HARD, for everyone involved. I felt so bad for Broder, and for myself!, and I don’t even know how I got Liam to school; I can’t remember which route we took or how long it took. I do know we got there on time, and that I actually deposited my child in the right place (thank goodness!), because as the final bell was ringing I had a total mini PANIC ATTACK (yes, yes I did) as I looked around for Broder, my suddenly missing constant companion, before I remembered that he was at his own school. Heart still racing, I was in a total daze by the time I walked through the front door after dropping off both boys.

At which point, realizing I didn’t have a child to feed, entertain, or put down for a nap, it finally dawned on me that I had THREE WHOLE HOURS (okay, really two and a half, given the driving time to and from, but still!) without any kiddo interruptions. W. O. W. What to do, what to do??!!

What I should have done is gone upstairs and jumped on the bed in excitement (though as I’d already made my bed this morning, this might have been quite the psychological struggle, and I confess, I don’t think I could have done it had I thought of it); or have called a friend to meet up for coffee (there must be someone I know who doesn’t have to work or take care of their kids… though, I can’t think of anyone right now); or gone grocery shopping all on my own (truly, as anyone who’s taken three kids – or heck, even just one kid – grocery shopping can attest, shopping all on your own is a little slice of Heaven on Earth); or gone shopping-shopping (wow, what a novel concept: actually browsing in a grown-up department store, where I can find clothes in my size, and without getting bashed in the face, over and over again, by the free balloon from the kids’ shoe department – which for some reason I’m always carrying, what’s up with that?! – the balloon which I freely admit I use to bribe my child/ren with whenever I attempt to shop with any of them in tow; it’s a stupid idea shopping with your kids, I know, but sometimes it must be done); or just curled up in my big comfy chair with a big delicious cup of coffee and a big thought-provoking novel (I’m thinking it’s about time I actually managed to finish a book for Book Club again; just a thought …); or, if I wanted to go the responsible adult route (I know, I know; who wants to be a responsible adult?! Boo hiss!), started on some of the large-scale work projects that are lurking on the horizon (like a complete web site redesign; can we say “hours??”); or even tackled some of the pesky “spring-cleaning” (okay, fine, “year-round”) tasks around the house (all of which feel rather Sisyphean in nature, but at some point I actually *do* need to sort through all the kids’ clothes and shoes – as I’m pretty sure my 10yo hasn’t worn the size 4T dresses still hanging in her closest in, oh, you know, a couple of years – nor is my kitchen pantry going to rearrange itself into a more useful organizational system no matter how many times I beg it to); or (perhaps the very best idea), just TAKEN A NAP (sigh… doesn’t that sound ridiculously decadent??)

And I would have happily done any and all of these should-have-dones (well, I wouldn’t have happily started organizing my kitchen pantry – that just sounds horrible – but I would’ve at least enjoyed the satisfaction of having an organized kitchen pantry…), IF my brain wasn’t still with my baby boy… Three measly miles away. So, instead, I cleaned the breakfast things from the table while fretting about whether or not my little guy was still crying; and constantly checked my phone to see if the ringer was on; and checked again that the ringer was turned up loud enough so I could hear it in case Broder’s teacher needed to call me and tell me to come pick up the UNHAPPIEST CHILD ON THE PLANET right away; and texted my husband when the phone didn’t ring (which totally didn’t help comfort my jittery nerves, as he simply said that Broder would be fine, if maybe a bit mad at me, and reminded me to not forget that Broder likes to throw things – like his very hard plastic tippy-cups – at those unfortunate souls who do make him mad, and maybe I shouldn’t turn my back on him this afternoon; thanks for that, honey – really, thanks! – kisses!!); and basically watched the clock slowly slowly slowly tick-tick-tock its way toward the time I could get back in the car and drive to the new school and pick up my little sweet pea and hug him and hug him and hug him.

And then come home and put him down for his nap.

So I could finally get some work done! Assuming that my brain would no longer be in a worried fog…

I was ten minutes early picking him up. I tried to stay in the car, but I had a hard time concentrating on people’s Facebook posts on my iPhone… so I gave up and went inside…

To be told by my love bug, my youngest child who had cried and cried and cried and WAILED and broke my HEART into itty bitty little pieces when I left that morning, that he didn’t want to go home.

Are you KIDDING me??

What a stinker!!

And that’s when my brain finally started kicking in (well, what’s left of my brain, anyway; after 10 years of parenthood, we’re not talking Mensa-quality here, but, hey, it’s all I’ve got). Well, fine! Two can play at that game…You had fun? Fun?! Now it’s Mama’s turn…

That’s right, baby. Time to take a nap (sigh…). Time to read some (what I call) Bad Mama Books (yeah, you know the ones; the books, sanctioned by Book Club or not, that you can’t put down even if your kids are clubbing each other with a baseball bat you mistakenly forgot to put back in the too-high-to-reach-even-if-they’re-standing-on-a-chair-hiding-spot while in the same room in which you’re sitting and reading). Time to email the graphic artist and web programmer (done!) about that new web site design and skip off to Nirvana, aka Nordstrom’s shoe department (I’ll even take a balloon for myself, thank you!). Time to forget about getting this house in shape (because, like, that’s going to happen!) and even forget about going to the grocery store and head off, instead, to find the perfect Americano.

So, who wants to meet me for coffee? I’ll see you on Wednesday morning…

Right after I get done jumping on the bed.

Seeing Stars

Like any good parent, I believe my children are exceptional. Sometimes they’re exceptional troublemakers, but for the most part, they blow me away with their never-ending curiosity, their intuitive insights, their quirky senses of humor, their good good hearts. However, it’s not every day – or any Saturday night as the case may be – where your 10yo daughter gets to demonstrate to you, to herself, and to, oh, you know, 7,000 screaming fans just how exceptional she can be…

Two weeks ago, at her weekly roller derby practice, Paisley (aka Lyka Livewire) and her roller derby team (she skates for the youngest division, ages 8-12, of the Seattle Derby Brats, the junior league for the Rat City Rollergirls, the premiere roller derby team here in Seattle) were invited to skate an exhibition bout at the half-time show of the Rat City Rollergirls’ first big event of the 2013 season. Wow – you should’ve heard the screams of excitement! Heck, maybe you did; if your ears started ringing a couple of Friday nights ago, yeah, that was them.

The big night finally arrived. As it was a special occasion, we took a little extra time to dress ourselves up (or rather, at least one of us did). The application of make-up took an especially long time, but I think the end result was well worth the work.

Looking fierce. Game face ON!

Looking fierce. Game face ON!

Off we went, face paint on and suitcase full of gear in tow, to the back entrance of Key Arena (yeah, that Key Arena – you know, just the largest entertainment venue in the city of Seattle, the place where acts like, oh, say, Mick Jagger, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen perform when they’re in town). We dropped off our daughter backstage to stow her gear (in a room aptly titled “Halftime Act”), and then Bill and I headed upstairs to find some good seats. After purchasing a hot dog, a salted pretzel with “cheese” (what is that stuff?! I know it’s not cheese, but it’s so dang good!), and a Panini sandwich for our dinners (the dinner of champions!), Paisley was able to join us to watch the first half of the first bout (The Throttle Rockets vs The Sockit Wenches), declaring her former coach, Luna Negra of the Throttle Rockets, “the best jammer EVER!!” (though the Sockit Wenches would pull off a narrow win, 176-163, Paisley was okay with this since another of her former workshop coaches, Neutrino, is a fantastic jammer for the Sockit Wenches), before taking off yet again with her teammates to lace up their skates and start warming up.

And then, finally, the half-time show started. The Tootsy Rollers took the track!

Paisley’s super-wonderful coach had whispered to me, before the girls headed backstage to warm up, that Lyka (as they call her on the team) would be skating as jammer in the fourth jam… This was VERY exciting, as all last season and most of this season, Lyka adamantly refused to skate jammer at all (the jammer is the skater who makes all the points every time she skates through the pack of other skaters – you can always pick out the jammer, as she’s the one with the stars on her helmet cover), preferring to skate pivot, the lead blocker (the pivot is the one with the stripe on her helmet cover; she and her three blocker teammates create the defensive, and sometimes offensive, part of the team, keeping the other team’s jammer from passing and helping their own jammer get through the pack to make points). With a few nudges from her coach (“a good pivot knows what her jammer needs, and in order to know that, a pivot needs to know what it’s like to be a jammer”), Lyka finally pulled the jammer cover – stars and all – over her helmet about a month or so ago during a practice scrimmage… and she ROCKED IT.

I hurried back to my seat, told Bill about Paisley’s upcoming jam, and we fired up the video apps on our iPhones. This was going to be epic!

The whistles blew and the bout began. I don’t even know what happened during the first jam, I was screaming so loudly for the Orange Crush and the Turquoise Terrors, as they took the track (the Tootsy Rollers are divided into two teams – the Orange Crush and the Turquoise Terrors – more for convenience than for any sense of rivalry; the girls might be separated by the color of their jerseys, but they are all ONE team and support and love each other like sisters). The second jam, featuring two of the Tootsy Rollers’ most talented jammers, was just pure high-octane action. Thrilling! I fiddled with my phone (my battery was dying; I was very worried that I wouldn’t catch this milestone moment!), and looked up and – oh my goodness! – there she was! On the JUMBOTRON!

Lyka Livewire, jersey number 100 Amps, had skated up to the line for the Orange Crush. Her toe stop was down. She crouched, waiting… ready for the whistle… The announcer introduced her. Lyka was jammer during what is called a power jam – the other team’s jammer was in the penalty box – and my little roller derby queen took full advantage of the situation. The whistle blew, and she RAN off that line, her arms pumping, her skates gaining speed, and looked for the line that would take her through the pack… Some jostling… some more jostling… around the corner… on the inside… and she BROKE FREE! SHE WAS LEAD JAMMER!! In the clear… Still focused, she quickly made it around the track once… twice… and came back up on the pack. She didn’t even slow down!! She cut right on through! And then, DOWN SHE WENT. A blocker for the Turquoise Terror did an excellent job of defense, leaning Lyka right off the track. Unfazed, Lyka popped right up and was back on the track before you could say “roller derby rocks!” She saw the opening on the inside and cut right past most of the pack, engaging once again the Turquoise Terror’s tenacious blocker that had brought her down. Lyka skated side to side looking for an opening, nimbly avoiding any more defensive “leaning.” And then, even the announcer went crazy with the skill these young teams possess: one of Lyka’s teammates expertly came in with some crazy good offensive moves, cutting the Turquoise Terror’s blocker off and giving Lyka the room to pass! By this time the other blockers had caught up, and one of her own blockers was in the penalty box; Lyka now faced a veritable wall of backs, and the blocker she’d left behind was BACK, ready for more! But this proved no-big-deal for Lyka, who quickly side-stepped around the other skaters, put on a burst of speed, and zipped on by TO SCORE!!! As she came up on her bench and her coach, her hands went to her hips and flew up in the air in the gesture that calls off the jam. All this in one minute. A mere 60-seconds of adrenaline-spiking, out-of-your-seats-screeching-your-head-off EXCITEMENT!

YES, EXCITEMENT!! All Caps doesn’t even come close to explaining how bubbly and giggly and happy I was feeling for Lyka/Paisley and all of the Tootsy Rollers! Indeed, I was so excited I accidentally posted the above video to Facebook TWICE, totally killing the battery in my phone in the process. I have no idea how many points my daughter scored, or even what was the final score of the short 10-minute exhibition bout. But really, the points scored and who won or lost is completely beside the point – ALL those girls skated their HEARTS AND SOULS out, out there in that big big arena, in front of literally THOUSANDS of screaming fans.

I was – and am – so impressed by how these girls, these amazingly awesome athletes, even as young as they are, handled themselves at this major event: with both intense energy and easy confidence, quietly demanding the respect of everyone who was – and is – lucky enough to watch them. They should all be so very proud of themselves. These girls are just going to keep getting better, too. And one day soon, sooner than I’m ready for I’m sure, these girls will be old enough to skate with the Rat City Rollergirls themselves. And here’s the thing… What happened in that short 10-minute bout will last these girls a lifetime. They might not know it now, of course (to them it was just a blast!), but someday, maybe, they’ll look back and really see, really appreciate, what they demonstrated that one Saturday night…

Indeed, I truly hope that short, one-minute power jam will stay with my daughter forever: I hope she will always face life with the fierce determination she showed when she put her toe to the line; I hope she will always bounce back from a fall as quickly as she did during that bout; I hope she will always surround herself with allies who support her and protect her back, running interference for anyone who gets in her way; I hope she will always step around any obstacle that gets in her way, as deftly as she did the girls blocking her; I hope she will marvel and delight in her strength, resiliency and her persevering spirit whenever she crosses any finish line; and I hope she will always remember that she can – and did – do something (scary, intimidating, and over-whelming) that she didn’t think she could (skating jammer – and even doing so in front of an arena full of complete strangers!), and the satisfaction and self-respect that come with doing so. But mostly, I hope that she (and I wish this for each girl on her team) will know – know deep in the core of her being – that she is, just as her parents have always known, exceptional, whether she wears that jammer helmet cover or not.

(I suspect, however, that after the excitement of this last weekend, she’s going to want to wear those stars on her helmet for many more bouts to come. And I’ll be there rooting her on, every time.)

***

Because I don’t want to step on any toes, I didn’t include any of the professionally shot photographs that were taken during the bout. But if you want to take a look, here are the links to some truly amazing shots. From what I understand, roller derby photography is REALLY tough due to the fast nature of the sport and usually terrible lighting conditions. These guys did a fantastic job of covering the Tootsy Rollers and the first RCRG bout of the season, and I want to thank them for making their photos available for the public to see. Having said that, these are their photos, wholly and completely, and all rights belong to them. Thanks!

Waiting backstage for the bout to begin: think she’s having fun?!
Lyka and her teammates on the bench.
Ready to rumble! On the starting line (check out that focus!!).
And this is what it looks like from the inside of the track. WOW.
Another angle at the start line.
How much do I love the look in her eyes?!
And she’s off!
Lyka Livewire, cutting through the pack.
An AMAZING shot.  She’s flying!
There is no slowing this girl down!
Passing the other team’s blocker.
Around the track.
Looking for a way through as she spots the pack.
And around again!
Love this one: in black and white.
Listening to her coach and calling off the jam.
Calling off the jam: in black and white.
And here’s another video of Lyka’s jam, closer to the track.