"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~e e cummings

Sunday, April 28, 2013


Last summer, right after we moved into our new house, I had visions of a huge, beautiful, full vegetable garden that we would create. We would prepare the bed in the fall, plant it in the spring, and enjoy the fruits of our labor all summer. 

It didn't happen. 

And it's not going to happen this year. 

Other things came up....like a patio that we wanted to expand to make it more usable and a yard with several drainage and erosion "challenges,"that required us to call in the experts to fix. And there's that baby running around all over the place....too big to keep contained in one spot, too little to allow to run around with the big kids (there are just so many things to be picked up and eaten!). And life, as it always does, has gotten in the way...with places to go, people to see, and chores to do, the weekends of spring are slipping by. So the vegetable garden will have to wait. 

But there's something about the beginning of spring--it's the neon green of the leaves...the earthy, fragrant scent of the ground waking up... that makes me (and the rest of the world, I'm sure) want to go outside and get my hands dirty, so I have been missing my garden the last few weeks. 

I could hardly contain my excitement when my friend Clare texted me last week with Very Big News: She and her kids had discovered a Tadpole Pond! Did we want to go collect tadpoles after school the next day? YES! We did! Mud and muck and dirt and earth and nature and SCIENCE! Hooray!

(Retroactive Nerd Alert.)

Thursday, after school, we pulled on our muck boots and dusted off our bug bin. I strapped the baby into the Ergo pouch and we were off on an adventure. A tadpole adventure! We met up with our buddies and paired up: Two six-year olds in front, two mamas with babies in pouches in the middle, and two dawdling three-year olds bringing up the rear. 

We traipsed through the fields, alongside the creek, over a few bridges, until we reached the edge of the woods, tucked way deep down in the middle of our neighborhood. It was a long, pleasant walk...with occasional shouts of "Wait up!" or "It's my turn with the walking stick!" or "Stop swinging the walking stick so close to your brother!" And then, finally, we reached the pond. Mud puddle, really. And the tadpole collecting began!

I had wanted to get pictures, but with six kids between us; two of them sword-fighting with bamboo sticks, two of them up to their knees in mud, two of them strapped to our bellies and squirming to get down into the mud with the big kids, and two containers of slippery tadpoles, dripping slimy, muddy water down our arms, neither Clare nor I was able to properly capture the moment. 

That's what our return trip was for...for the pictures and to bring more friends back for tadpole collecting...and to collect more ourselves, these to bring in to Evan's classroom.

Saturday afternoon at the Tadpole Pond (also, with Daddy reinforcements, so Mommy could take the pictures):

This kid was the expert Spotter. He knew exactly where to place his jar to capture the squirmiest, liveliest 'poles of the pond. And he didn't stop trying until they were caught.

But this boy?
Oh, this boy was in it for the mud.

I think they could have stayed all day...

But we had to get home! We had a tadpole habitat to create! We had scooped up as much mud and pond water as would fit in our bug bin with the tadpoles. We wanted to put them in a larger bin at home, though, so we added some creek water from the creek across the street...and some rocks and sticks for the froglets to practice crawling up on once those legs develop. Our bin is deep, with high sides but only a few inches of water. We don't want those frogs hopping out too soon...

But for now, we watch them swim.

One of the kindergarten teachers at Evan's school gave him some Tadpole Food pellets to bring home. (A rather niche business, Tadpole Food pellet-production, don't you think?)
When that runs out, our neighbor, a veteran tadpole-raiser, suggested mashing up any leafy green...spinach, spring mix, whatever, as a quick and easy do-it-yourself tadpole food.

Our springtime pets. Perfect pets, really, as they live outside and will shortly be released back into their natural environment.

Lesson Learned:
Yay for spring! And, Yay for science! And, Yay for tadpoles! (And fingers crossed for a high success rate of tadpoles to frogs!) 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fun at the Dentist!

Got a free day?
Feeling brave?
Energy to burn?
Pride to toss to the curb?

Then, have I got a day for you!

First, spend an hour and a half of your morning at the dentist. Bring your 3.5-year old for his appointment, too. And bring the wiggle-worm 14-month old. Strap her in the stroller while your teeth are being cleaned. Bring her snack to keep her occupied. She'll spill it all over the floor of the exam room, but that's okay. The hygienist will assure you, with a sigh, that there's a broom.....somewhere. It won't matter, because for the duration of your cleaning, the 3.5-year old will dance and twirl in the, approximately, 17-square inches of space not occupied by the dentist chair, hygienist, tool trays, X-ray equipment, stroller, etc., pulverizing the spilled snack into a hardly detectable dust.

When your baby grunts and pulls and lunges and yells in an attempt to escape from her stroller, direct the Big Brother to find her toy, any toy, or book, any book, or water bottle! Yeah, that'll occupy her--the water bottle! from the diaper bag. This will be tricky, as your mouth is full of a dentist's tooth polisher and the suction tube, which the hygienist repeatedly refers to as "Mr. Thirsty," even to the adult in the room. Your Big Boy Helper will have no idea what you're saying, but will appear to be helping as he digs through the bag. It will turn out that he just emptied to contents of your wallet into the bottom of the bag and that the water bottle is now leaking, but that's okay, too, because who carries cash anymore?

Once your teeth are clean and sparkling, hop that big boy up into the chair and grab some paper towels to clean up the snack dust. He'll do great during his cleaning, thank goodness, because by now, the baby is All Done at the dentist. You'll get her out of her stroller and she'll want to run. She can't, of course, so you'll hold her and bounce her and sway with her and distract her and she'll be thisclose to Losing It, so you're sweating and willing the hygienist to polish faster. The Big Boy's teeth will be finally be cleaned and the dentist will come in to do his final check. He'll start talking to you about...you know what? You won't know what he's talking to you about because you've got one foot out the door and a baby squirming out of one of your arms and a Big Boy asking you to "Hold me, please, Mommy?" while pulling on the other. And your once-organized bag is now bursting with the remnants of failed-distraction tactics and you're hoping you don't leave a trail of books and lovies and snack containers as you walk back through the waiting room. 

You'll make it out. Barely. Go home and make lunch very quickly because the animals are hungry and the clock is ticking to naptime (and that second cup of coffee).

After lunch, hustle the two upstairs because you need to squeeze their naps in before you get the Biggest Kid off the bus and whisk him to...yup. The Dentist.  

Spend an hour trying to get the kids to sleep. But they won't. Of all days, today they won't.

At 3:00, start preparing to leave for the dentist. The appointment isn't until 3:30, and it's just up the road, but you'll need to account for the I-don't-wanna's that are to come. I don't wanna go to the dentist. I don't wanna brush my teeth. I don't wanna stop playing. I don't wanna do a potty try. I don't wanna put my own shoes on.... These, coming from the oldest, are compounded by the whimpering coming from the 3.5-year old who is over-tired and super-cranky. Also adding to the fun, is the 14-month old, who ALSO is over-tired and WIRED: running around the house, happily screeching as she escapes your grasp, rolling all over the floor and laughing when you ask her to sit so you can put her shoes on. 

Drive back to the dentist.

Arrive a few minutes early, you know, to be polite. Wait for 20 minutes past your appointment time anyway. 

Once back in the tiny, cramped room, try to occupy the two who have already seen and touched everything in the room once today. Let the 3.5-year old spin on the floor on his back because, well, at least he's no longer whimpering. Pace the room with the baby, pointing at and naming Every. Single. Thing. in the room. Sink. Paper towels. Soap Dispenser. Mirror. Cabinet. Sonicare Flyer. Computer. Latex Gloves. Dentist Tool Tray. Mr. Thirsty.......The hygienist will, mercifully, clean the big boy's teeth in record time, sensing that, once again, the end of the relative calm is rapidly approaching.

The dentist will poke his head in, with a telephone in his hand, and say, "Just give me a minute, I'm getting a second opinion on that wayward tooth of his." 


Remember that? The extra tooth that showed up on the X-ray Evan had a few months back? The adult canine tooth growing in between his two front adult teeth? And it's upside-down? Yeah. You can see it here:

Turns out our dentist has never before seen it and is seeking outside opinions. The tooth is still way up high. His front teeth aren't even a little wiggly. I know it's something we'll have to figure out at some point, probably relatively soon, but today? Let's just clean and be done for today. And another thing: I'm all for professional collaboration. I'm just a little concerned about the fact that our dentist has no idea who to collaborate with on this issue. He said he called a pediatric dentist and an orthodontist, neither of whom returned his call. (??) So now he's on the phone with an oral surgeon, who isn't picking up. Does that strike anyone else as odd?


So now, all tooth-cleaning is complete and you're awaiting the next step...more X-rays? Go home? The dentist is still on hold with the oral surgeon. The baby is arching her back and screeching in a no-longer-happy, adorable tone. She wants to get down and she wants to touch and try to eat everything in the room. You do your best to keep her relatively contained in a relatively clean and safe corner. The biggest boy, still in the chair, is begging to go home and flat-out refusing to have X-rays, which he may not even need.

And the dentist is still on hold.

The 3.5-year old is now, literally, spying on the patient in the room next door. You let him because, by definition, spies are quiet. This is the first time he hasn't been talking/whimpering/complaining/on the floor since you returned to the office.

The dentist comes back into the room.

The baby is crying and flailing.

The spy was caught and is embarrassed, head buried in your leg.

The dentist was not able to speak to the oral surgeon. The dentist starts talking, at length, about his opinions, or rather, lack of opinions on the Wayward Canine Issue.  The baby is pulling your hair and kicking her legs. The big boy is pulling your arm, trying to lead you out of the room. The biggest boy is sitting, smugly, in the chair, as it becomes apparent that he won't be having X-rays taken today.

The dentist is still talking.

The baby is seriously about to propel herself onto the floor, so you help her down but barricade her from sucking on the wires that are coming out of the dentist chair. Now that you're down low, the big boy is in your face saying, "Excuse me, Mommy. I have to tell you something. Excuse me. Excuse me. Mommy? I said Excuse me. Did you hear me Mommy? I was so polite. I said Excuse me, Mommy. Mommy? Did you hear me?"

The dentist stops talking and looks at you. You have half of your body wrapped around your baby, trying to keep her from pulling Mr. Thirsty out of his stand. Half of your ponytail has been pulled out of the elastic and is frizzing up around your face. Your free hand is giving the universal sign for "WAIT A SECOND, PLEASE" to the 3.5-year old and your now-bored Biggest Boy is rifling through your bag, looking for your phone. 

"You know what?" the dentist begins, "Why don't we just give this some time to develop. We'll see if we want to take some films at the next appointment. Oh, and we'll also want to start doing fluoride treatments. And, of course, we'll want to take the bite-wing films, now that he's got his six-year molars in. Do you think it'll be comfortable for him then? At his next appointment? To do the bite-wings? I know some kids don't mind it but for some it's a real problem?"

All hell is breaking loose.

You shake your head. You say, "I don't know. I just...I don't know." You gather your things and your children. You leave your pride on the floor next to one last puff that missed both the twirling/pulverizing and the paper-toweling from this morning.

You walk out of the dentist office, get the kids in the car,  and look at the clock, thankful that it's just about time for Daddy to come home. And for a beer. 

Lesson Learned:
I think we'll be shopping for a new dentist. I want a dentist who knows what to do with a Wayward Canine. I'd also like one who knows when it's time to stop discussing bite-wings. Oh, and, obviously I  can't show my face in there again.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Ninjago! The Birthday Party

If your kid has a birthday coming up and is between the ages of 5 and 8, I suggest you gently coax him or her into Loving Ninjago with all of his or her heart. It won't be hard....you can find shows, books, clothes, and about a million toys in the Ninjago section of practically any store on the planet to woo him or her. And then, just go ahead and spend a few minutes on Pinterest and Instagram (I promise, it'll only take you a few to find what it is you're looking for...). When it comes time to decide upon a Birthday Party Theme, your child will beg you for a Ninjago Birthday Party, you'll be bursting with simple yet Awesome ideas for decorations and games, the Party will practically plan itself, and the day will be a huge success. Trust me on this one. This was the easiest and most fun party yet. And we've had some good ones. (Dinosaur Train, Cars 2, and Mickey Mouse, were the big thematic parties of birthdays past.)

So here we go: Evan's Ninjago Birthday Party!

We kept this party small. He invited only six friends; his "most Ninjago-ish friends," meaning: The kids from his class who also play with Ninjago and who know the characters, story line, etc. This was helpful, actually, as it would have been a bit much to have to, for example, explain to novices what a shuriken is, or the fact that Lord Garmadon becomes Lord Garmitron in The Final Battle, and Lloyd Garmadon is the son who is bad but becomes good, and Zane is the robot ninja, and Nya likes Jay, and the stone army warriors are, for a brief time, controlled by the brown ninja, who isn't really a ninja, but he helps the ninja, so.......see what I mean? It's a good thing I'm a fast learner. And that Evan is a walking Ninjago Encyclopedia.

But small parties work best for us, anyway, and this was a Just Right number.

When each guest arrived, he received a red Ninja Band (pictured below). These are just strips cut from a red t-shirt. About half chose to wear theirs as headbands, and half as belts. The Goodie Boxes are Ninjago-colored Chinese take-out boxes. I printed "Ninjago Eyes" onto self-sticking labels, cut them out, and stuck them on. (All images used on decorations and invitations were found on Google Images or the official Ninjago website.) Each box contained a Lego Minifigure, two homemade origami Ninja Stars, and some Ninjago stickers.

For the decorations, we made gold, red, and black Chinese lanterns and hung them all over the party area. I think I'll recycle them next Chinese New Year, actually, because I liked them so much...

We ordered helium balloons in the Ninja colors (black, white, blue, green, and red). I printed large "Ninjago Eyes" onto cardstock, which I then taped to the balloons.

I wrapped juice boxes in the same Ninjago-colored construction paper and added more Ninjago eyes. These, I printed on address labels to make adhering them to the juice boxes quick and easy.

Here's the table set-up. There are Chinese lanterns, in different sizes, hung from the windows on all sides of the table.

I also made a birthday banner, as I do for all birthdays. For this one, I used the Wonton font (I downloaded it, free, from dafont.com). I also found some black dragon images on Google Images to separate the words.)

On Pinterest, I saw SO MANY great ideas for food for this party. People made sushi cakes by slicing Swiss Cake Rolls, or sashimi candy with Rice Krispie treats and Swedish fish. I saw adorable Ninjago cupcakes made with fondant to look like each of the Ninja's faces...one mom served blue corn tortilla chips and salsa labeled as "Dragon Scales with Fire Sauce," which was particularly clever and easy....but I kept it even more simple than that. We had cupcakes (plain ol' vanilla and chocolate) with toppers (images printed, cut out, and glued onto toothpicks) and fruit "katanas."

Super simple, and just enough for a 3 pm birthday party.

Of course, no birthday party would be complete without games. We structured the games around a Ninja Training Schedule. Each child received a card with the Schedule of Games printed on it. After each game, he received a sticker. When his card was filled with stickers, he had completed his Ninja Training and had achieved the much-desired Green Ninja Status. If you know Ninjago, you know this is Very Special. All of the games we played were quick. I wanted to keep the kids moving. (That lesson was learned as a kindergarten teacher. Keep 'em busy, keep 'em happy.)

Party Game #1: Sensei Says
We played this like Simon Says, with each kid getting a turn to be Sensei. It went very well. Until Max said, " Sensei says, 'Kidnap!'" Which was, at once, surprising, alarming, and hilarious. The kids had no idea how to 'Kidnap!', which was refreshing. I suggested instead, "Sensei says, 'Touch your nose?'" 

Party Game #2: Pin the Veil on Nya
Nya, Kai's sister, doubles, undercover, as Samurai X. While undercover, she wears a veil to mask her true identity. The storyline begged for this game. Unfortunately, I forgot to take an after picture, but the "veils" were just red pieces of construction paper cut to shape, with a roll of painter's tape on the back. 

Party Game #3: Jay's Target Practice
I was kind of grasping at straws for the game to represent Jay ("Ninja of Lightning"). Ultimately, we just gathered soft golf balls (the dense foam ones that don't bounce much) and containers of various shapes and sizes. The kids tried to get the balls into the targets, simple as that. And yes, just about as chaotic as you would expect it to be when 6 six-year olds, 1 five-year old, and 1 three-year old all start tossing balls at the same time in the same vicinity. You may want to give this game some more thought.

Party Game #4: Kai's Obstacle Course
In our basement playroom, we made a "Ninja Hop" (hopscotch) game using painter's tape on the rug. From there, the kids had to crawl through the Underworld (play tunnel), perform three acts of Spinjitzu (three jump spins on the trampoline), and ride the dragon (horse ride-on toy) to the Shrine of the Shurikens (a large bin filled with ball-pit balls, with origami ninja stars hidden within). 

Party Game #5: Zane's Shuriken Toss
So each kid ended the Obstacle Course with a Shuriken (the directions to make origami ninja stars can be found online or, if you purchase cool metallic origami paper, ahem, in the enclosed instructions). The Shuriken Toss involves trying to knock balloons off pedestals, using the found shurikens...

The pedestals are covered paper towel rolls stuck into Lego brick bases. 

After watching the Target Practice, we played this game one-at-a-time...those ninja stars have SHARP points. It was a great group of kids, though, who were just as happy to cheer on their buddy as to play themselves. (Such a lucky boy, my Evan is, to be surrounded by such nice friends.)

Party Game #6: Cole's Brick Blast
This was the favorite. By far. And all you need is a doorway, an uncle who will repeatedly reset the "bricks" and, waiting behind the wall, pretend to be Lord Garmadon, taunting the young ninja to just try to find him. Oh, and someone  in the house with a penchant for online shopping. Amazon and Zulily boxes work best for this game. Kohl's boxes work well, too. Just sayin'.

And finally, it was time for cake.

A pre-candle blow-out ninja chop is optional. But a good choice.

Lesson Learned:
Oh, this was a fun one. And, for the first time, Evan's nerves didn't get the best of him. There was no pre- or post-party fever. There was no mid-party meltdown. There was just pure fun and happiness. Pure NINJA fun and happiness. 

And now, for the pre-party photo shoot pictures....

Evan took this one:

Practicing Ninja Moves

Ninja Baby

He had to move the hair from off his forehead in order to show his "Ninja Face."

Ninja Guys

My Love.
Six Year Old Love.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


We have hardly toured the whole splash park and he jumps right into action. He is running under the fountains, avoiding dumping buckets, and aiming fire hoses at his Dad. This is a brand new boy. A big kid. A big, brave boy.

Evan. My six year old Big Boy.

My, how he's changed.

Still has great hair. Now, with a bit more 'tude.

So there we are, at the hotel splash park and pool, the day before Sea World. We are all giddy with vacation excitement and he is Having Fun. And then he starts running toward the staircase. It's a large staircase....

...and the only way back down once you reach the top is a waterslide. A large waterslide. And I freak out. "Go with him!" I yell to Sam, who is still ducking Max's firehose aim. "THOSE ARE WATERSLIDES!" Sam is watching, but not following, our off-on-his-way Big Boy. Our big boy who is about to reach the top of a huge, open staircase, take one look at his exit option, and Flip Out.

"SERIOUSLY! Does he even know what THAT IS?!" I'm about to cause a scene because Sam is Still Not Following Evan. "Just give him a minute," Sam says. "He's fine. He can handle this."

"But what if he can't?! What if he gets scared? He's never been on a waterslide before!! GO! GO HELP HIM!" I'm frantic.

Sam follows him. Finally. And, sure enough, Evan is stuck at the top of the platform, calling down to his Daddy.

Sam turns back to me. "He says he'll be on the blue one!" he calls to me, with a huge I-told-you-so smile on his face.

I'm stunned. But I do as I'm told. And I wait. My heart pounding out of my chest.

And here he comes:

Slipping, sliding, flipping, splashing....and beaming.

He hops out of the chute and I think his smile is about to turn him inside out. I'm speechless. And I want to cry. Instead I give that big boy a huge hug. I lean back and look at him.....like reeeeally look at him. And my heart feels like it's going to bust right out of my chest. "Look what you just did!" I say to him, pointing ALL the way up to the top of the slide. "You just did THAT!"  He's cheeks have to hurt from the strain of maintaining the Biggest Smile Ever. "I know!" he starts, "I got to the top and at first I was nervous, but then I just told myself 'I can do this.' So I just did it! And it was awesome. I'm goin' again!" And off he ran. Well, off he speed-walked, because, you know....no running on the pool deck.

What's happened here?

What happened to my hiding-behind-my-leg little Watcher? What happened to my think-first, act-later (or never) little Mr. Cautious? What happened to my shut-down in new circumstances little Worrier?

I'll tell you what happened. 

He went to Kindergarten. 

And there, with the independence required of Big Kids in the Big School, and under the loving guidance of a Master Teacher (thank goodness for Mrs. C), he discovered the wings he had always had, but had kept tucked up close behind him. 

And I don't think this Mama Bird could be any prouder to watch her little baby take his first solo flights away from the nest.

That's not to say he won't return to the nest for time-and-again reassurances. We're still navigating our way through the course of Riding The Bus to School and haven't quite reached the Drop-Off Play Date level of independence, but we'll get there. When we're both ready. 

There's another magic to Six that stretches beyond the new-found confidence that Kindergarten brings....It's called Reading. And Evan is a Reader. The other day, as I made dinner, Max sat on the couch making up the words to the illustrated poems in Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends. They were pretty good poems, actually, for an imaginative three-and-a-half year old, but Evan wasn't sold on them. "Max," he said, "if you let me sit with you, I'll read them the way they're supposed to sound." Max, always the obliging little brother, happily turned over the book to Evan. "Hmmmm," Evan said, as he started flipping through the pages, "Let me find one I can read........Wait a second! I can read almost all of them!" Max smiled at him and said, "That's great, Evan!" To which Evan humbly responded, "Yup. I am a Reader, after all."

And my boys sat together, reading and being read to, for about four whole minutes, until the inevitable tackle contest began. These boys are the dictionary definition of Brothers. They love one another. They share games and secrets and jokes and dances that are, according to them when Sam or I try to join in, "Brother Things." Most "Brother Things," we're learning, involve Potty Humor, which they've figured out will earn disapproving furrowed brows when shared outside of the Brother Circle. Whatever brings them together!

And it's not just a Brother Thing when it comes to Evan being The World's Best Big Brother. He and Molly have a bond. A special bond. A Biggest Brother and Little Sister Bond. No one makes her laugh the way he does. She saves her best open-mouth kisses for him. And my usually texture/moisture-averse boy doesn't even mind the baby slobber when it comes from his Mollster.

He still wants extra snuggles at bedtime. 
He still sleeps with his best stuffed buddies.
He still needs one last you-can-do-it shoulder squeeze before he climbs aboard the school bus. 
He still wants us to help him brush his teeth.
He still kisses me in front of his friends.
He still asks us to stay with him when he's playing at a friend's house.
He still eats his fruit cut up into little bites, but prefers his grapes whole because he "can handle that."
He still wants to be read to.
He still watches "little kid" shows and movies and says movies like "Brave" and "Wreck-It Ralph" sound "too grown up" for him to watch.
He still dances without self-consciousness.
He still lets me hold his hand.

But he's becoming aware of the larger world. He's asking questions that prompt Sam and I to glance at one another before answering...questions about birth, and death, and God, and love. Big questions that Sam and I want to answer open and honestly, but that we kind of can't believe he's big enough to be wondering about. The other day he said, "Mommy, tell me about when you met Daddy and you decided to marry him. How did you know that?" Whoa, buddy.

Evan. You were the First best thing that Daddy and I ever did. You challenge us in ways that feel, at times, impossible to handle. You are the best teacher of patience that I have ever had. We are sometimes at a complete and total loss as to what to do with or say to you. But for every one difficult, heart-wrenching moment of parenthood we muscle through, you give us 100 reasons to make us smile and our hearts to swell with pride and love. You have taught me more about Being Yourself than any After School Special ever could with your inherent self-confidence and, yes, stubbornness. You won't be swayed to be who you aren't or do what you won't. Not ever. And I love that about you.  It sometimes drives me nuts, but I love it.  Your fascination with animals, nature, spies, and lately, ninjas is truly inspiring to watch. When your interest is sparked, the flame isn't easily extinguished...not until you've read everything, asked every question, and seen every Google Image on the subject. I love how deeply you become immersed in a subject. I can't wait to see what captures your attention as you grow older.

You are a friend. You are a student. You are a brother. You are a pretender. You are an asker and a knower. You are an explorer. You are a wonderer, a thinker. And try as you might to deny it, you will always, always, be my little boy.

And I love you. Lots and forever.

Lesson Learned:
Happy birthday, six year old boy!