Friday, February 27, 2009


Monday, February 23, 2009

Hilary's Story

I just found this on my computer. It was apparently written on December 1 at 1:35:45pm. I vaguely recall Andy hanging out with Hilary in my office one Sunday, and this was clearly the result. I think the last lines are very telling, though I'm not exactly sure of what:

I want this story to be about a little girl who is running to a far away place.

Who is the little girl?

Her name is Jessica. She is six years old. She has red hair. She has blue eyes. She lives in Villanova. Her mother is Sarah. Her father is Sam. Both Sarah and Sam are doctors. Sarah is a gynecologist. Sam is the team doctor for the Philadelphia Phillies. Jessica has two siblings - her twin brother Corey, 6 and Justin 5. Corey has brown hair and blue eyes. He is very tall for his age. Justin has blond hair and blue eyes.

Why is Jessica running? Is she running away from something or is she running to something?

She is running away from a mean guy. He wants to steal all of her books. She is running to get help. She is trying to find her mommy or her daddy to stop the mean guy from stealing all of her books. Her mommy and daddy are in their room. Mommy is going to the bathroom. Daddy is fixing something.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Propaganda Mill

Erika's friend, Jamie, desperately wants a dog. So, she and Erika spent many hours of their Sunday night sleepover holed up in Erika's room with paper, markers, and various other supplies churning out projects designed to convince Jamie's parents they should get her a puppy: an illustrated booklet on small, cute breeds of dogs; a dog diorama, and my favorite, the informative poster featured here, "Good Facts About Dogs."

Jamie and Erika's arguments included the following, alongside appropriate pictures:

*Dog saveing a prsons life

*Minnie dog in pocetbook

*A lisining dog in a obeedieince class

*A dog in a animal sheter is cheep

*Dog getting redey to fall asleep for the rest of there lifetime because nobody got them from the shelter

I couldn't believe it when I read that last one. Talk about the hard sell!! I didn't even think Erika knew what happened to unclaimed pets at animal shelters - she told me later that Jamie clued her in.

Unfortunately, Jamie's dad will never see the poster, because Jamie's mom (who came to pick her up while I was out with Jonah) decided that it wasn't fair for Jamie to take home all the art projects (even though that was the intention, kind of like Air Force pilots blanketing villages with pro-American pamphlets during the Vietnam War), so she insisted Jamie leave half here.

I couldn't help remembering the campaign I waged, when I was about 10, to convince my mom not to spay our cat Misty. Instead of a poster, however, I wrote a poem. Shockingly, I still remember it: "I don't want coats or hats, or gloves or mittens. All I want is for Misty to have kittens."

That didn't work either.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Aggressive Girls and Sensitive Boys

When Amy found out the twins' teacher this year was going to be Bracha, a stern but loving grandmotherly type, I asked my friend Tricia what to expect, since her daughter Avery had Bracha the year prior.

"She likes aggressive girls," Tricia told me, "and sensitive boys."

Which basically sums up Aaron and Gretchen. It's gotten to the point where Gretchen now reprimands Aaron for excessive whining or neediness.

This theme definitely seems to run through our household.

Last week, Rhea was picking up the kids to drive to preschool, and while Declan was getting into the car, Sophia stage-whispered to him, "Go tell Hilary you don't like her!" Declan, the dutiful soldier, complied. When I reprimanded him for being mean to Hilary, he looked up at me in all earnestness and said, "But Sophia told me to say it!" Needless to say, I didn't let him off the hook.

But I do worry about Declan, as a sensitive boy. Don't get me wrong, he's often the agressor, but in the end it's always Declan who comes crying to me, crying that Ronan kicked him (even if Declan kicked Ronan first) or that Erika was mean to him (ditto). And despite the trouble they seem to get him into, Declan cannot stay away from the aggressive girls.

Declan's BFF at school has long been Brooke; they've been in the same class at school and camp since before they were two. I asked him the other day if Brooke was still his best friend. He smiled shyly.

"She told me she's my girlfriend," he said.

Part of me worries how Declan will fare as the sensitive guy as he continues to befriend and eventually date (gulp!) aggressive women.

But at least he'll have company from Aaron and Gretchen.

(That's Declan and Sophia in the photo above at our New Year's Eve party last year. I expect I'll see similar photos in years to come: Declan looking silly, with a girl looking not very amused.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Childhood, Redux

Erika and I are reading Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing together. And it's pretty amazing, considering it was published over 30 years ago, how well that book has held up. It's still hilarious and poignant and incredibly relevant - despite the introduction of the internet and cell phones and Wii, I guess being nine years old isn't that different now than it was back in 1976.

So I get why the true gems of my childhood (and some from my parents' childhoods, as well) are still popular with kids today - Dr. Seuss and E.B. White, Star Wars and Monopoly. I think that "Why was 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9," is a classic joke, perfect for kids just starting to learn about the creative uses of language, and I agree that, "I'm rubber, you're glue," is so catchy and condescending it will probably be around until the end of time.

But I'll tell you what I just don't get: nanny, nanny, poo, poo.

What is so freakin' special about that meaningless insult that it should survive from generation to generation?

Maybe I should ask Aaron, Gretchen and Ronan. They use it every day - when they jump into the coveted middle carseat, or get an extra segment of clementine, or commandeer one of the 14 doll strollers we own.

Honestly, I don't think they really need a reason.

Maybe nanny, nanny, poo, poo is onomatopoetic on some primitive level, embodying glee and superiority and plain old button pushing more perfectly than a more articulate taunt ever could.

Or maybe, "I'm rubber, you're glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you, but I have a net that catches all the good words," is a little too much to expect from someone who can't yet handle the intricacies of "Frosty the Noseman."

What I want to know is, given that I've been hearing it my entire life, given its enduring and prominent position in our cultural lexicon, why is nanny, nanny poo poo still so excruciatingly irritating - not just to the kids, but to me?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Now I Get It

Now I understand why crazy people like my sister have so many kids. They're just so friggin' amazing. Sure, they have their ups and downs, and they don't always act (or dress) exactly like you'd expect (or hope), but each child is unique and so, well, amazing.

Molly is really (I promise I won't say amazing again) great right now, she's just the perfect baby. She's beautiful and smiles all the time and is so good, and I can't help but wonder, what would the next one be like?

(Don't worry, it ain't gonna happen. It can't. Physically impossible. Let's just leave it at that.)

I know, it's the height of vanity: Look what I can make! Let's make some more! But what is parenthood if not vanity? We produce kids that resemble us, then fuss over how cute they are. Then we try to raise them in our own image. Of course, we don't always succeed. But we try.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Happy Birthday Ronan!

Has it really been three years? Actually, it feels like Ronan has been in my life forever. I simply cannot imagine life without him. Sure, I'd probably get a lot more sleep, but I wouldn't be nearly as happy.

You might recall my ups and downs with Ronan over the years; sometimes he's a real terror ("a typical redhead," our old babysitter Kylie once said), sometimes a real sweetie. Nowadays, he's a bit of both. But I must admit, all my expectations of him have gone flying out the window.

Ronan, my little fireball, can now sit for 30 minutes working on a puzzle. He'll cozy up on a the couch with a book and look intently at the pages, all by himself. He'll sit and draw peacefully and quietly. We used to think Declan was the intellect, Ronan the jock. Now I'm not so sure. (Well, I'm sure Declan's no jock.)

Of course, Ronan will also steal Aaron's special bear, sneak an entire pack of gum and stuff it in his mouth while hiding under my desk, tackle his brother when he's not looking, and rip up a picture because, well, just because.

But all that will end today, right? The Terrible Twos are over, and good Ronan is here to stay...

...though that may be a little boring. I'll settle for pretty good right now.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Real, Live Frosty The Noseman

I don't like snow.

I don't like the beach much, either. In fact, I don't enjoy many of the things my kids love, like kicking a ball around, or squeezing play-do between my fingers, or ice skating.

I do think of myself as a fun person - it's just that my conception of fun is a lot different from theirs. That's not much consolation, however, when I imagine my children sitting around and talking about me when they're teenagers. It seems very unlikely the conversation will unfold this way:

Erika: Wow, how amazing was Mom's ability to sit and read by the fire for hours when we were kids!

Hilary: Yeah! And she could slow-play a flopped set better than Phil Hellmuth!

Aaron: Me, I just loved to watch her on the tennis court. She was the absolute definition of intermediate!

Gretchen: That's nothing compared to how she could appreciate a fine meal! I remember her making a reservation at Talula's Table a whole year in advance! I mean, what's more fun than a restaurant with just one table you have to reserve a year ahead of time, and just pray to God you're still married to the same guy and still friends with the same friends you made the reservation with!!

And so on and so forth.

Which is why I occasionally guilt myself into doing things like taking my kids out, at dusk, during the biggest snowfall we've had in the last two years, and building a snowman.

I have to admit, it wasn't bad. The kids were thrilled, and even Ronan, Aaron and Gretchen were trying to help, by which I mean they were grabbing mittenfulls of snow that crumbled in their fists as they stumbled through the six inches of snow, which pretty much came up to their waists.

When the snowman was done (and yes, he had a carrot nose, oreo eyes and a hat - we were freakin' ALL OVER IT), we held hands and danced in a circle, singing "Frosty the Snowman," which is Aaron's favorite song from his new favorite movie, which he - to everyone's extreme amusement, even his twin's - calls "Frosty the Noseman."

The best part? After dinner, when the whole family was in the kitchen, Ronan came up to me and said, "Remember we build the snowman? With you?" while his mother, who had remained inside, nice and warm in front of the computer, looked on forlornly.

A-ha! For one day, at least, I was the fun one.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

No More Kisses, Dammit!

My kids are too smart for me.

It took them all about five minutes to figure out that, while I have no problem turning off the lights and closing the door on distressing cries of, "One more story!" and, "I want a song!" and, "I need water!" I am immediately overcome by, "Can I have another kiss?"

Me: "Of course you can have another kiss, my sweet baby, you can ALWAYS have another kiss, mnum, mnum, mnum, mnum, mnum . . ."

And I wonder why my kids aren't asleep until after 9pm.

Hilary has become especially adept at working the kiss angle. We have a rule at dinner that the kids need to sit until all their siblings and cousins have finished, but Hilary has a tendency to wander. Sometimes, I'll look up from my plate and see her standing right at my shoulder.

Me: "Hilary, sit down! You know you have to wait for everyone to finish before you're excused."

Hilary: "But I love you, Mom. I just want to give you a big kiss" (imagine expectant five-year-old, tilting her puckered face upwards for a smooch).

It seems so heartless to say, "No kisses!" But after almost a decade of working with behavior experts who have helped us in our quest to manage Jonah's behavior, I've learned the importance of not reinforcing undesirable behavior. So, when it's clear that my children are stalling, when it's obvious I'm being manipulated, I'm going to put my foot down: "You can have all the kisses you want . . . later."