In Which My Child Displays a Profound Lack of Knowledge about both Zoology and Phonics

Mallory: Mommy, will you read me this book?

Me: Sure. The Animal Alphabet. How about, I'll say the letters and you name the animal in the picture.

Mallory: Okay!

Me: Here we go. A is for...

Mallory: Lizard!

Me: Well, actually, that's an armadillo. Good try! B is for...

Mallory: Cow!

Me: Yeah, that's a buffalo. They're kind of like cows, though, so you were close. C is for...

Mallory: Moose!

Me: Mallory, that's a camel. It doesn't even look like a moose. Let's move on. D is for...

Mallory: Whale!

Me: Well, okay, you're in the ballpark, but that's a dolphin, actually. E is for...

Mallory: Bird!

Me: That's a kind of bird called an eagle. That was a good guess. F is for...

Mallory: Wolf!

Me: That would be a fox. G is for...

Mallory: Monkey!

Me: And that would be a gorilla. But gorillas and monkeys are similar, you're right. Okay, I know you'll get this one. H is for...

Mallory: Pony!

Me: Horse! It's a horse! A pony would be smaller than that. I is for...

Mallory: Um...deer?

Me: That's an ibex. I wouldn't have gotten that one either. J is for...

Mallory: Tiger!

Me: Sorry, it's a jaguar.

Mallory: Can we read another book?

Me: Considering that K is for Kingfisher, I think that's a good idea.


Girl Trouble

Mallory went to play with her across-the-street friends last week. I think that I’ve previously referred to them as Maggie and Lizzie, so I’ll stick with that although those are not their actual names. Anyway. Mallory used to love to play with Maggie and Lizzie, would beg every day to play with Maggie and Lizzie, and in fact spent every Friday of last school year over there.

Well, she came home last Sunday and said, “I am never going to play at Maggie and Lizzie’s house again. You can’t make me.”

Upon questioning, she would only say that they were mean to her. She wouldn’t provide any other details, but she has remained steadfast in her refusal to play with them. A couple of times she’s said, “Can I play with Maggie and Lizzie –“ and then caught herself and said, “—oh wait, they’re mean, never mind.”

I don’t know exactly what happened. I have noticed in the past that the oldest was a bit snotty to Mallory, but not earth-shatteringly so. I certainly don’t think that their mother would have tolerated any mean-ness going on out in the open, so I can only assume that the girls got in some kind of fight when out of the mom’s earshot.

I’m sorry about it, not least because these people are our neighbors, after all. My main reaction, however, is, this is happening already? She’s only five!

I know little girls – well, big girls too -- are notorious for being fickle about their friends. When I was a teenager, I used to declare that I didn’t want daughters, only sons, because I knew how hard it was to be a teenage girl and I didn’t want to have to watch any daughter of mine go through that. (Apparently it didn’t occur to me that teenage boys have their own problems.) The cliques, the jousting for position, the endless assessment of who’s popular and who’s not – it’s the stuff of nightmares.

And I’m ashamed to say that I was as bad as they come, at least in junior high. I was one of a group of five friends known as the “smart kids.” We were picked on because we read books (gasp!) and weren’t that pretty (although who really is pretty in junior high?) and weren’t good at sports. I should’ve been grateful that, in the face of all that, I had four good friends to hang out with. Instead, I was always deciding that I was mad at one of them or not speaking to the other. I am really ashamed of this behavior now; I cringe to remember it. I’m sure it never occurred to me that I was as cruel to my friends as the “popular kids” were to me. With the space of time I realize that I was just trying to assert a bit of power over the situation. Plus, I was known as the “Smartest Girl in School” -- it wasn’t much, but it was all I had -- but I think I must have known deep down that in fact two of my friends were probably smarter than I was in some ways, which in turn made me feel insecure, so I retaliated by not speaking them for months at a time. Why they stuck with me, I do not know. I managed to get over myself by eighth grade, I think, and we did fine throughout high school. By the time I was a sophomore I didn’t even care about being popular. But I wouldn’t wish those middle years on my worst enemy.

Or on my daughters, to come back to the point, but I guess they’re going to have to go through all that anyway. I hope they make it through unscathed. I hope they are able to care more for their friends’ feelings than for their own status. I hope they don’t judge themselves by the arbitrary standards of the “popular” kids. I hope they judge others by the amount of brains and humor and compassion and kindness they possess, rather by the kinds of jeans they were or the brand of cell phones they have. Mostly I hope no one is ever mean to my kids. Because I can shield them from the across-the-street neighbors if I have to, but I can’t shield them from the whole world. What’s that saying – having a child is allowing your heart to walk around outside of your body. I don’t know if I’m ready for heartbreak yet.


Oh, hello there

I feel like I should apologize for not updating for so long. Then I feel a bit immodest for wanting to apologize – what, do I think there are so many people waiting with baited breath for my next post? It’s a weird thing, having a blog.

My reasons: I was in internet blackout mode for much of last week (insofar as possible, given that I work in web design) for fear of Harry Potter spoilers. I’ve been busier at work than I normally am. And my kids haven’t done anything interesting, funny, or adorable lately so what’s to write about? (Joke.)
Our parish priest died in his sleep a few nights ago. I was talking to my mother-in-law about it, and she said she can’t figure out the reason behind it. (By which she meant the cosmic reason, not the actual reason – he died of sleep apnea, apparently.) I was struck by that. I’ve never been one to believe that “everything happens for a reason.” Is there a reason that Aimee’s friend, a young woman of three young children, may not live to see her kids grow up? If there is a reason, it would have to be a pretty crappy one. I’d prefer to believe that things just happen. I don’t think that God makes things happen; I think that God is just there to help us cope with what does happen.

Uh, welcome back! This isn’t quite what I planned to write about. I’m not sure what I’m even trying to say. Maybe I should disappear for another week.

Anyway. Here’s a cute pic from our vacation, which seems like years ago already. Do we have cute kids or what?


When I Read

Since two-thirds of my regular readers have asked this question, here’s an answer.

I read all the time. It’s true and it’s no doubt to my detriment. The only times I ever got in trouble at school, it was for reading when I should’ve been paying attention to the teacher instead (2nd grade – Mrs. Duggins; 6th grade – Mrs. Thurman). If I didn’t read so much, my house would be much cleaner and my kids would have up-to-date photo albums. If I didn’t read so much, I’d probably be in much better shape physically and I would have completed the redecoration of my house. People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading. (Somebody else said that, but I believe it!)

Specifically. I read while I brush my teeth. I read while I blow-dry my hair. I read at red lights (a very bad habit, I know). I read while cooking dinner if the children are otherwise engaged. I read during my lunch hour (panic ensues if I forget to bring a book with me to work – I try to keep a spare magazine in the car for these occasions). I read at doctor’s appointments and in line at the drive-thru and while getting my oil changed. I read during Mallory's gymnastics class (although I have to glance up frequently because if she catches me not watching her she comes over to tap on the glass to get my attention; I'm sure her teacher loves that.) In graduate school I took the bus to campus every day and I loved it – 30 minutes with nothing else to do but read! As I recall, I brought a book to my wedding just in case there was down-time. So essentially – if I have a spare moment, I read. Mostly, though, I read at night after I put the kids to bed, even though every night while the kids are falling asleep I’m thinking to myself that I should, instead, clean the kitchen or iron some shirts or pay some bills or, you know, have a conversation with my husband. It’s a bit of an illness, really.

I feel compelled to point out that although I read constantly, I also read sloppily. I very rarely remember much of what I read. I love mysteries, but I am almost always incapable of guessing who-dun-it because I don’t read carefully and I miss all the clues. You’d think that with everything I’ve read, I’d be this vast storehouse of knowledge and quotes and so forth. But I’m really not. Which I guess makes it all a bit pointless but I don’t care. I will no doubt be reading on my deathbed and I hope that my survivors have the foresight to put some books in my casket. Because you never know – eternity is a long long time and I’d hate to be stuck there without something to read.


Boy Trouble

I promised fabulous tales of our fabulous vacation, didn’t I? As it turns out, I don’t have that many. It was fabulous, but it can also pretty much be summed up with : One house, seven kids, seven adults, lots of laughs, lots of whining, Scrabble at night.

My girls were obviously affected, however, by spending a week with their four boy cousins. For example, one morning a few days after we came home, Chris told Phoebe that it was time to get dressed. She looked him over, pointed to his boxer shorts, and said, “You dress your butt, Daddy!” Which was certainly an unprecedented turn of phrase.

As for Mallory – well, once we got to my mom’s house, she decided quite quickly that cousin Rhett was her new boyfriend. (This makes sense – her school boyfriend has reddish hair and glasses just like Rhett does.) She spent a full morning chasing Rhett around declaring her love for him, to his utter mortification. The day Aimee and the boys left, she and Rhett entered a negotiation over the ownership of the balloons left over from Phoebe’s party: they both wanted the blue one. After a brief skirmish, Rhett said: “I’ll let you be my girlfriend if you give me the blue balloon.” Mallory immediately acquiesced.

I guess that wasn’t the end of the story, though. Last week Mallory told me that she absolutely had to call Rhett on the phone, she had something terribly important to tell him. I dialed; they spoke; I think all Mallory said was, “Hi, I miss you.” Later she came to me and said, “I have a problem. Rhett asked me if I wanted to break up with him and I said yes because I didn’t know what it meant. But now I do know what it means, so I should’ve said no!” Which, you know, is a bit heart-breaking. I said that perhaps breaking up was the best course of action, since they are, after all, cousins. She said okay. But then she requested a picture of Rhett to hang by her bedside, so the flame, it is still burning.

Recent reads:

Strange Piece of Paradise by Terri Jentz
The Music Lesson by Katharine Weber
Death Comes for the Fat Man by Reginald Hill
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen (excellent!)
Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (loved this book)



Dear Phoebe,

It's your second birthday! You're the second child, so you're used to seconds -- second-hand clothes, second-hand books and toys -- not to mention a mother who's doing a second-rate job of maintaining things like your baby book and photo albums. I know that shoved in the back of my sock drawer is the post-it note I used to record contractions the night I went into labor with you, and I think I saw your hospital bracelet tucked in the back of our kitchen junk drawer. I did scribble down most of your "firsts" on a calendar: first tooth -- six months; first step -- ten months; first word -- doggie; first time you slept through the night -- well, we're still waiting for that, aren't we? Life has been so busy and full since you came along that I just don't have time to sort out all the memorabilia. Maybe when you're twelve I'll get around to it.

I never had second thoughts about you, but I admit there were times I second-guessed myself in those first few weeks. You were so completely different from your sister in terms of eating and sleeping that I thought I must be doing something wrong. One day when you were about a week old, you and I were in the rocking chair and you were crying because you were hungry, but I couldn't get you latched on correctly. Then Mallory came in the room and started to cry because she wanted me to play with her. Then I started to cry because here were my two favorite people in the world, my girls, and I was failing both of them at the same time and I just knew that you were both going to be scarred for life because of your horrible mother. Luckily things improved from that point. You've probably had to cry a bit more than your sister ever had to, and share attention that she had all to herself, but you also have the privilege of having a big sister who loves you very much. (I promise she does, even if she doesn't always act like it!)

The second time around, I didn't worry too much about those developmental milestones; I knew from Mallory that babies do things on their own schedule. That said, you've been a bit ahead of the curve: walking at 10.5 months, talking at a year. Now you can carry on real conversations that almost make sense. ("Monsters scare me." "They do?" "Monsters have vewy tiny faces.") And you're the only two-year-old I know who can sing not only the standards -- Twinkle Twinkle, Wheels on the Bus -- but also "Tomorrow," Olivia Newton John's "Physical," and the Beatles' "Babies in Black." You're amazing, and funny -- a cuckoo bird, you call yourself, or sometimes a silly goose -- and I love waiting to see what you'll come up with next.

Mallory probably considers you her second-in-command, but the truth is you'd much rather give orders than take them. "I don't want to!" is probably your favorite sentence. You were a bit over a year old the first time you told Mallory, "Hey! Be nice!" and now you sometimes referee your own squabbles with a "Girls! No pushing!" You have a will of iron, and while I'm afraid that might make the two's a bit terrible, I also hope that it will allow you to grow to be someone strong and self-assured and capable.

They say that when you have one child, you're a couple with a baby, but your second child makes you a family. I don't know if that's quite true. I do know that since you've been here, life has been a bit more complicated but also worlds more complete. Every second of the day I'm grateful for your big blue eyes, your funny laugh, your sweet (albeit rare) hugs, your unique way of moving through the world. They also say that a second child doesn't halve a mother's love -- it multiplies it. I agree with that one completely. Happy birthday, sweet girl.

P.S. I'm sorry I had to go to work today, and even sorrier that you were crying when I left. If I hadn't taken all of last week off, I would've been able to stay home with you. Or if you'd planned better and been born on the recent federal holiday, it wouldn't be a problem at all. I'll make it up to you, I promise.

UPDATE: So far Phoebe has celebrated her birthday by locking Chris out of the house and watching Blue's Clues for 30 minutes while he knocked on the door trying to get her attention. Apparently she feels that 2 is quite old enough to be in the house unsupervised!


Have you missed me?

Vacation was lovely. Am back at work and very sleepy. No energy to tell fabulous vacation stories. Just this one little snippet:

Mallory has a stuffed dog that she carries around and sleeps with and hugs and squeezes and calls George. Well, not really. The point is, it's her favorite. So last week Phoebe got hold of it, Mallory was enraged, and either Chris or I intervened by saying:

"Phoebe, this is Mallory's special puppy. She doesn't have to share it because it's special, so you need to give it back."

A few hours later Mallory gave me a hug. Phoebe saw, came running over, shoved Mallory aside, and said, "No, Mommy's SPECIAL to me!"