The Bitter and the Sweet

It happens every spring, that end-of-the-school-year crazy that hits mid-April and crashes over us like a wave, until we’re washed up on the sandy shores of June. It always happens, and I am always taken by surprise by school musicals, awards assemblies, field trips, Scout nights, finalizing grades for my computer students, saying goodbye to my eighth graders. I’m never ready, and this year I was less prepared than ever.

I’ve spent more than a decade of my life living with a preschooler. It’s over now. Two days ago, my littlest biscuit, my funny little Squish, graduated from preschool. He starts kindergarten in the fall. It’s a blow. I knew that it would be. There’s no way to prepare, really. I’ve been cut off at the knees; I can barely breathe. He’s a big kid now.

Kids grow up. They get older every, single year. And so do we. It has never really bothered me before. Growing up is a good thing. It means diapers are done, we’ve outgrown LeapPad’s entire product line (don’t even get me started here), we can go out for a meal without embarrassing ourselves. But there’s a flip side. They’re one year closer to leaving us.

Squish is five. We’ll be living with him for a long time to come, for better or for worse. He’s five. But his sister? She’s seventeen. She begins her senior year of high school in the fall. He embarks on his journey of childhood learning while hers is coming to an end. My bookends.

She will leave us. I am painfully aware that this time next year, she will be picking out the decorations for her dorm. So much change. Her departure is so imminent that discussions on what to do with her room are no longer theoretical. She will leave us.

I do want her to move on. She has to, actually. The boys share a room. That bunk bed will be outgrown sooner rather than later, and neither of them has accepted my suggestion to pitch a tent on the back lawn. She’ll move out and be on her own. And I am grieving. Gone is the little girl with pigtails and gap-toothed grin. She left behind a young woman who is preparing to face the world. It seems like yesterday she was dancing in the living room wearing her ruby slippers. A couple of weeks ago, she went to prom.

click to enlarge

If she grows up, that means her brothers are right behind her. Everything about our lives right now suggests change. We’re downsizing my vehicle in a couple of weeks. The reality is that we are unlikely to make long trips as a family of five anymore, and we’re done with bulky car seats. We can’t justify keeping a van. Even the family car highlights our paradox. Our kids are growing, but the family is shrinking.

To the casual observer, my life looks the same. I work, I wrangle kids, we get ready for some summer fun. But it’s not the same. My littlest guy, sporting a hoodie he refuses to remove even though it’s 80 degrees takes refuge at this moment in his cardboard box. But that box will fall apart and be taken to the curb for recycling. The hoodie will be outgrown and taken against his will to be tucked away as a precious reminder of the child he was. He is growing up, too.

Squish has been a challenging child to raise. As my husband sometimes says, it feels like he’s been five for half our lives. But even he will grow up. He graduated from preschool this week. I wept as he sang the school’s traditional preschool graduation songs “Tooty-ta” and “Tony Chestnut” with joyful abandon, just as his sister and brother before him.  One day in the future that feels not quite distant enough, he’s going to walk across another stage, receive another diploma. And it will be for keeps. I am grieving.

If Wishes Were Horses, They’d Poop On Your Floor.

I wasn’t going to blog today. Or tomorrow. Or maybe even the next day. But here I am. I don’t usually follow the Daily Prompt, either, primarily due to the recessive you’re-not-the-boss-of-me gene. But here I am. Today’s prompt asked if there was a gift I wanted as a child but never received. You know this story doesn’t end well.

Don’t ask me where I saw it. I don’t know. I was seven. At that age, I perceived that everything in the world came from Woolworth’s, Saturday morning commercials or Tupperware parties (is my 70’s showing? Let me tuck it back in…). But saw it I did, and I wanted it; coveted it secretly. Well, maybe secretly is the wrong word considering I told Santa, my mom, and pulling out all the stops, my grandmother. And maybe Jesus. I forget. Anyway, I asked for it. And asked for it. And what did I get for my troubles? Matching “What the heck are you talking about?” expressions. Because, indeed, they had no idea.

It wasn’t a Barbie for whom I burned with longing. Puh-leeze. My one concession to that franchise was a Malibu Ken, who had a scandalous tan when I took off his swim trunks. And no Strawberry Shortcake for me. Well, not until the following year. Nor did the delicious saltiness of Play Doh hold appeal (have I said too much?). The only thing on my Christmas wish list that year was a sandwich.

It was a thing of beauty this sandwich, the very height of cleverness, for you see, it wasn’t a real sandwich! It was a set of bath sponges made to look like one! I’ll let that sink in for a moment. A sandwich whose bread was a sponge! And whose cheese was a sponge! And whose pastrami…wait for it…was a sponge! What magic was this? And I haven’t even mentioned the best part. This sandwich was merely a stack of adorable absorbency without its crowning glory; a pickle! Made out of soap! A sweet little soapy gherkin just ripe for the scrubbing. It was a thing of beauty, so realistic I could have eaten it. And I wanted it. Badly.

All through the long weeks leading up to Christmas, I begged asked for this bath set. From anyone who would listen. To my mom’s credit ,I’m sure she wanted to encourage my sudden and new found interest in bathing and probably did ask me for details.

“Did you see it at Woolworth’s?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was it on TV?”

“I don’t know.”

“Was it at a department store?”

“Maybe. Yes! I think so!”

“Which one?”

“I don’t know.

I should have known it was a lost cause, but I didn’t. I hoped. And wished. Christmas morning came, and I did get a sponge. It was in the shape of a large key and came with bubble bath. I tried to find an image online to show you, but all I come up with is information regarding bubble bath and urinary tract infections. Once again, I am disappointed by bath sponges.

So there you have it. My heart was broken by a bath sponge and a soapy little pickle all those Christmases ago. I have never seen that set again, and my heart has never recovered.

Merry Christmas and stuff.

What did you wish for but never got? Just me, then?

An Unexpected Something

The Padawan and I have been reading The Hobbit together in anticipation of the movie’s release. Is there anything better than curling up on the couch under a blanket and sharing a delicious adventure with someone you love? I think not. We went last night to see the movie.

It was the Padawan’s first Opening Weekend, and we were both so excited! We’ve been looking forward to it for months. MONTHS! I’m a cheapskate by nature, but for this event I loosened the purse strings and bought the popcorn and the candy. And let the kid stay up hours past his bedtime. We were so ready to love this movie!

And we didn’t.

Howard Shore worked his magic with the score. Themes, both new and familiar, were exquisite. In this movie, we are treated to Shore’s interpretations of the songs that were so integral to Tolkien’s work. The soundtrack is a must-have. The deluxe edition, if you please.

The cinematography was simply gorgeous. Some shots were even more dramatic and lovely than the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

The acting was stellar, the cast spot-on.

But without the story, all of the above are worthless. Peter Jackson took a beloved tale of high adventure and turned it into a bar-room brawl.

The characters were unrecognizable. The Bilbo Baggins I grew up with charmed me with his delightful manners, no matter how absurd the situation. I loved him so because, though a party of ravenous dwarves appeared on his doorstep and proceeded to empty his larder, he was ever so polite. Though confused by their demands for cakes and ale, he complied. These simple acts set the tone for the story, both courtly and romantic.

The character on screen last night was rude and selfish, a hobbit from the 21st century. In his heart, Tolkien’s Bilbo wanted the dwarves to leave him to his peace (and his food), but he would not dishonor his guests or his heritage by saying so. The 21st century Bilbo told them to give him back his tomatoes.

Jackson’s rough treatment wasn’t limited to Bilbo. Radagast the Brown was a wizard in my mind akin to St. Francis of Assisi. The person we were subjected to last night was a buffoon with bird turds plastering his hair.

The script was toyed with until it was no longer the story I love. Where there wasn’t enough excitement, Jackson interjected some trumped up drama, twisting the tale and its inhabitants into caricatures of themselves. And there’s falling. Entirely too much falling.

There is no room for graphic violence in Tolkien’s story, but Jackson fixes that. Where the book depicts clean kills, Jackson creates torture and brutality, a goblin king eviscerated in front of the audience, a pale goblin’s arm severed and spurting blood, later replaced by a claw skewered through the flesh of his upper arm.

This movie should never have been rated PG-13. I’d have given it a solid R, and I never would have taken my son. By comparison, many of the Harry Potter movies were rated PG-13. I let the Padawan watch them after he had read the books because those, at least, were fairly true to their original source. I no longer trust Peter Jackson.

My joy for today is the sweet innocence I rediscovered in my Padawan. I think of him as nearly a pre-teen. Last night, my little boy was returned to me, bouncing in his seat with childish enthusiasm and anticipation, reaching for my hand to cover his eyes in the scary parts, delighting in the enormous container of candy in his possession. I treasure last night, regardless of the quality of the movie.

Happy weekend!

My Hope

Squish’s eyes grew big as he watched.

“I’ve never seen that before! How do you do that?” he breathed in open admiration. “Do it again?”

How could I say no? His giggles turned to guffaws.

“Show me how again!” he begged. “I want to do that! “

And my heart smiled.

We never know which of our skills and abilities and innate desires our kids will inherit.My great-grandmother quilted, but neither of her daughters were ever as passionate. My grandmother knitted and sewed, but none of us got that gene.I am a writer, but the Padawan would rather stick forks in his eyes than complete a creative writing assignment. And don’t get him started on grammar.

I have tried to pique the big kids’ curiosity before. They smiled, feigning interest to make me happy, but they never showed a desire to follow in my footsteps. I’m learning that I can’t force things like this.

But now there’s my Squish, who seems so excited about it that I could just hug him. Seeing his enthusiasm about what I do fills me with joy and hope. Maybe it won’t die with me. Maybe, just maybe, if his interest holds and I don’t burn him out, there will be one other person in this family that can put the toilet paper on the spindle. The future looks bright, indeed.

The Hope For The Future

There Will Come a Day

There will come a day

When the baby that cries in the night

Will find solace.

And so will you.

Hang on.


There will come a day

When the tantrums in Target

Will be outgrown.

And you will be proud.

Hang on.


There will come a day

When the diapers

Turn into dust rags.

And the world will rejoice.

Hang on.


There will come a day

When the favorite bedtime stories

Collect dust on a shelf.

And they read under the covers to themselves.

Be proud.


There will come a day

When Thomas the Tank Engine

Gives way to Star Wars.

And a new generation is initiated.

Avoid Episode One.


There will come a day

When the toys under the Christmas tree

Are replaced by skateboards and electronics.

And your heart will grieve a little.



There will come a day

When imaginary friends

Are made on Facebook.

And they will think they know it all.

Forgive them.


There will come a day

When you walk your little one into their first school

And the next day they graduate with honors.

And you will yearn.

Hold them tight.


Time is fleeting.

Hang on

To every moment.

Enjoy the magic moments, and go fishing with a stick

Taking a Leaf Out of MY Book

Sometimes I think I might like to swap my life for something a little less exciting, like being a secret double-agent, but I’d probably just get bored.

I took Squish to the used bookstore last week. It’s a fabulous place. 5000 square feet of media. Books, CDs, movies. You name it, they probably have it, will have it, or had it yesterday. I could live there.

Anyway, Squish and I went last week. We peeked in the free bin first thing, and we found a large collection of model train magazines, circa 1986. I let my littlest engineer take one of them. He tucked it proudly under his arm, and we went inside.

After a few minutes of browsing the children’s books, I looked over at Squish. He was doing an unfortunate little dance. When it comes to toileting urgency, I operate on a scale from 1-5.

1 –  number one.

2 – (what do you think two is?)

3 – one + two =3

4 – Elizabeth, this is the big one!

5 – Better use someone else’s bathroom

We were clearly operating on a 5. I grabbed the kid up and made a dash for the nearest facility. We got there in time, but barely. Crisis passed, it was time to wrap up the paperwork. Unfortunately, in our hurry to make the money shot before the clock ran out, I had not had time to check the facilities for crisis readiness. There was no toilet paper.

I checked my pockets for a stray tissue, but I was wearing my sweatpants (don’t you dare judge me!) and had none. This particular store doesn’t offer paper towels, either, so we were left high and dry there. Or maybe not so dry.

I even considered asking the woman in the stall next to us if she could pass us a bit of tissue, but she was in worse shape than Squish. I heard her mumbling to herself anxiously, apparently talking herself through her own special event. I didn’t want whatever germs she was carrying to disturb her. We were on our own.

Squish was bored with the whole do, so to speak, and he was ready to get back to perusing “Everybody Poops”, but I was a little stuck. I toyed with yanking his pants back up and forgetting the whole mess, but no. Just no. And he wasn’t wearing any socks. Finally, I looked at his train magazine, and the light bulb came on. If it was good enough for Grandpa, it was good enough for us.

I could have told him what I was going to do, but I didn’t for two reasons. First, the thought of tearing a page out of his new train magazine to do his paperwork might really upset him. The second reason, it might not upset him at all. In fact, it might amuse him so much that no magazine would ever be safe around him again. I could just see my husband’s entire collection of Runners World coming to a bad end.

I asked him if I could see his magazine for a second. He obliged. And then I betrayed him. I sang the ABC song, his very favorite, to cover the sound of tearing paper. He even joined in. I am a terrible parent. And it was terrible paper. But sometimes a job must be done, and it’s up to you and the little engine that could. And did.

Life may hand you bad cards, but sometimes you come up with a royal flush.

The Real Differences Between Boys and Girls, Vol 2

Girls come with better bubble wrap. That’s my only explanation for why my daughter has lived for 14 years relatively unscathed while both of my boys are on a first name basis with the moray eel at the local children’s hospital.

When my daughter rode horses – yes, we owned a horse. I think I’ll let you absorb that notion. This is your opportunity to picture me in a tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows, tootling child and thoroughbred  around to pony club events and sipping mint juleps. Take a moment.

Now back to reality. Picturing this?

I know. This is how you imagine my life to be. Try again.

It’s more like this:

She's NOT a pony. She is a freakishly large miniature horse. Don't say pony. This ain't no pony.

Yeah, long story short, we bought the horse, and the kid rode nearly every single day for two and a half years. But we never did get around to buying her a saddle. My daughter was thrown to the ground by that rotten horse at least twice a week. Without a bruise or a scrape to show for it. She did have a run-in with an electric fence once, but even bubble wrap has its limitations, and even the fence didn’t leave a mark. I chalked up her injury-free childhood to the fact that children are just naturally bouncy. Even when it’s their face on a barn floor.

So imagine my surprise when her brother came along. He made two emergency trips (pardon the pun) to the dentist, had stitches beside his eye, and fell off a slide only to land on his head. All before he turned two. And then came Squish. Two x-ray series of his skull by his first birthday. And how did they come by these costly frightening injuries? Pre-K rugby tournaments? Swinging a bag of hammers? No. By falling over their own feet. It would be logical to assume that the true difference between boys and girls is that girls are more graceful. You know what happens when you assume. You end up being wrong.

Girl Child trips over her own feet, too. And my feet. And the dog’s. But the angels catch her and wrap her in some kind of ethereal cushioning before she hits the ground. She trips, she dusts herself off. Squish trips and blacks his eye.

The real question is why do the angels like her better? I think it might come down to a bathing issue. Angels have noses, too.

Happy Tortoise Day: Bonus Edition

Each Wednesday, I spend my day happily up to my elbows in tortoise turds as I volunteer in the reptile department of my zoo. It’s one of the best things I do all week. Look at the photo below (keeping in mind that it’s about three times larger than life). What’s not to love? Even when it pees on me.

One of my charges. This guy (gal?) is about the size of a golf-ball . Photo courtesy of Phil Colclough


You may already be familiar with my supervisor, Michael, who was featured in the revised edition of a wonderful children’s book. In addition to signing autographs and generally being awesome, he works closely with the Turtle Survival Alliance (TSA), which has undertaken a unique project. Tortoises in Madagascar are rapidly disappearing due to illegal collection for meat and for the pet trade. TSA has worked out a partnership with Antsakoamasy, a village in Madagascar. The villagers will protect the ever-dwindling population of radiated tortoises, and TSA will build a school for their children. The ultimate win:win.

The school is nearing completing and is set to open in March. What they need now are tables, benches, and school supplies for their students. Here is the exciting part. Furniture for the entire school will cost only about $1800 US dollars, and a only a few hundred more would purchase the necessary school supplies.  This is where you come in. Michael is headed to Madagascar with TSA in a few weeks to teach villages how to properly care for confiscated tortoises until the animals can be returned to the wild. I would love be able to help raise the funds before he goes.

My friends, this is an achievable goal. Every dollar will add up quickly. I think we can knock it out of the ballpark and help these kids whose families are working to help protect this precious and endangered animal.

.Important update to this project on February 29.

Adult radiated tortoise cooling off in the mid-day sun. Photo courtesy of Michael Ogle

Malagasy kids saying hey, photo courtesy of Michael Ogle

My Bone To Pick, Volume I


I like watching movies with my kids. Who wouldn’t? A cold, rainy afternoon simply begs to be spent under the covers watching a treasured classic. As I dust off the old favorites, I’m finding I get a lot of questions. And some of them are a little hard to answer. I am at a loss as to how I should explain the following:

***Spoiler Alert***

The Road to El Dorado – This is an older DreamWorks production (2000AD) with stylized animation and a fabulous Hans Zimmer soundtrack. A star-studded cast, it’s well-acted and often funny. It’s rated PG. For human sacrifice. Thumbs up, DreamWorks.

Toy Story III – A continuation of the story of Buzz and Woody. Except this time, they’re abandoned by their beloved Andy and are eventually taken to an incinerator where the characters say goodbye to one another in  anticipation their fiery end. Sweet dreams, pumpkin.

Thomas the Tank Engine – The stories are charming. The creepy trains with fixed, frozen expressions who move only their eyes are not. It’s like Chucky on wheels. I have nightmares.

Horton Hears a Who – Adorable CGI adaptation of Dr. Seuss’s classic tale. That taught Squish the word “boob.’ Thank you for that. While I am fully aware that contextually, the word is used to mean “idiot,” his Sunday School teacher is not. Plus it made me cry. I’m not sure how to explain to Squish that I am tearful because the Whos are making a last, desperate attempt to let the world know of their presence before they are boiled in oil.

Finding Nemo/Bambi/ The Fox and the Hound/ Up/Cinderella – What does Disney have against mommies? Why are they killed off within the first ten minutes? The Red Shirts on Star Trek last  longer than Disney mothers. And I don’t know of any Red Shirt that was eaten by a barracuda. Disney writers, work out your mother-issues with a psychoanalyst, not a story line.

Disney’s Snow White – Grimm’s fairy tales were just that. Grim. But Disney animates it and adds adorable animals, wonderful music, a slapstick troupe of dwarves. And a huntsman assigned to cut out Snow White’s heart. If Disney can create friendly woodland creatures, why couldn’t they smooth over that tricky bit of plot? Maybe have the huntsman chase down Snow White and ground her from the Wii?

Lady and the Tramp – Precious tale of the unlikely friendship of two dogs from different sides of the track. And backyard breeding. Lady has Tramp’s puppies? Way to promote responsible pet ownership, Disney! Get the Lady spayed, and for heaven’s sake, neuter that Tramp. He might not be such a Tramp after the ole chop-chop. And what’s with the boy pups looking like dad, while the petite little girls look just like their moms? What is Disney trying to teach our children about genetics? Stop, already!

If this were a Disney film, I'd have about five minutes left to live.


Lost In Translation: Family Edition

"We're going on a hike." Because you've been bad.

“Hurry! We’re late!” : We’ve joined the Slow movement. Take all the time you need.


“Get down from there!” Preferably by flying.


“I was eating that!” Help yourself.


“That was my seat.” I was just warming it for you. Here. Have my blanket, too.


“It’s time to leave for church.” Please remove your shoes and socks, change into torn pants, and style your hair with my hand-mixer.


“Are those pants clean?” Did you wear them for less than five day in a row? To play in the mud.


“The kids are playing together so nicely!”  I wish they’d start another round of “Mom, He’s Looking At Me!”


“It’s school picture day.” (see “It’s time to leave for church.”)


“Eat it. It’s good for you.” It will make your ears fall off.


“Give Grandma a kiss.”  Please lick her face and poke your finger in her eye.


“Don’t pick your nose!” Unless you plan to share.


“It snowed last night!” Please strip down to your underwear before going outside. Barefoot.


“When you’re finished with that, put it back.”  Under the couch.