Obsessions of a Three-Year-Old

My three-year-old daughter is obsessed with Paw Patrol.  It’s a Canadian show about a boy named Ryder who directs about ten pups.  Whenever there is a problem in town, the citizens call Ryder and his dogs to save them.  They do this in lieu of funding a fire or police department.

Paw Patrol was invented by a toy company, which is pure genius.  Who needs commercials?  The show itself is one long commercial.

Accordingly, Annabelle is not that into the show, but she loves the stuffed dogs, so much so that she can’t imagine anyone not liking them.  The construction dog is named Rubble, but her grandma once called him Bubble.  (In Grandma’s defense, Rubble is a bit big boned.)  “Grandma called him Bubble!” Annabelle said, then threw back her head and laughed for five minutes at Grandma’s ignorance.

We got Annabelle Paw Patrol socks for her birthday, but the laundry cycle works out so that she has two days when she has to (gasp!) pick a different pair of socks.  Annabelle’s answer to this is to go sockless for two days in protest.  “Why don’t we just get her more Paw Patrol socks?” Andy asked.  Of course that makes sense.  But seriously?!  There are so many socks in that drawer that you have to arrange them just so to get it to close.  Some of them are the My Little Pony socks that I bought her that she was in love a few months ago, but now all of a sudden her feet are too good for them.  When I suggested she wear them, she had about the same reaction as when Grandma called her dog Bubble.

In addition to liking the dogs, Annabelle likes Ryder—the boy!  She likes the way he combs his hair straight up and has noted that she wishes there was a page of her book with a picture of Ryder styling his hair.  I think his hair looks stupid—I mean, he combs it straight up.  I guess this is where our disagreements on boys begin.

Annabelle is not the only Paw Patrol fan.  When trying to buy paper plates for her birthday party, we visited three Party Cities and still could not come up with enough plates.  Apparently there’s a run on Paw Patrol plates.  They probably go for hundreds on the black market.

One of my criticisms of Paw Patrol is that there are only two girl dogs out of about ten.  Even Ryder’s a boy.  I’ve read a lot about how it’s good for girls’ self-esteem to see strong female characters in shows and books.  I tried to get Annabelle into Skye, one of the female dogs, but no luck.

OK, confession time: I have another reason for selling Skye.  When I was wrapping Annabelle’s birthday presents, I saw we’d gone a little nuts, so I put some away to save them for Christmas, and stuffed Skye was among them.  Now I’m trying to brainwash Annabelle into wanting Skye for Christmas.  I’m very subtle.  “Don’t you like Skye?” I ask.  “She’s so cute!  Probably you want Santa to bring you Skye for Christmas.”  But Annabelle won’t budge.

If I could get Colin on board with the brainwashing, success would be mine.  But if I tell Colin, he’ll question the whole Santa Claus story.  It seems a shame to destroy the magic of Christmas for a six-year-old boy.  I could never put a price tag on his belief and innocence.  Except that if I can’t get Annabelle on board with Skye I’m going to be out like eight bucks.

“I want Ryder for Christmas,” Annabelle says.

“I don’t know if they make him,” I say.

“I hope they make him with his hair combed straight up.  He’s cute.”

Ryder

 

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One More Never Hurt Anybody

I think I want a third child.   Sometimes I think this means I’m crazy.  Andy confirms this.

I especially doubt my sanity every evening at bedtime.  Around eight p.m., I’m not even sure I want the children we have.  Science claims there’s no such thing as a perpetual motion machine, but I have two of them.  How is it possible that when everyone’s energy level should be at its lowest, my children are able to reenact a stampede from the nature channel, matching the noise and destruction level with stunning similarity?  They’re such gifted little overachievers.

 One night, when the house was a disaster from said stampede, and bedtime felt so far away, I thought of a woman I knew who’d just given birth to her fourth.  “Imagine having to breastfeed a newborn and get an extra one to bed,” I said to Andy.  “When do those parents sleep?”

“They don’t,” Andy said.

Then our children did another rowdy run by, and Andy did his silent-eyebrow-raise-look which made him think he’d won this round.

I was on the receiving end of that same look last week when we were at the amusement park.  Our children were running back and forth at an outside eatery, weaving among the families with the obedient robot children who were sitting quietly.

“Should we tell our kids to stop?” Andy asked.

But I was tired, so I shook my head.  “It gives the other parents a chance to feel superior.”

I like to practice random acts of kindness like that.  Just think how many more opportunities I’d have for that kind of thing if I had a third.

But there are those times when the kids are cuddling with me, one under each arm or one on each leg.  Or when Annabelle is walking around the house with her Lambie saying, “I love you!” and hugging each member of our family.  Or when Colin disappears into his room to make and wrap a present for his sister, just because.  And I think, “Oh, just one more.”

Right after I drop Colin at school and it’s just me and Annabelle, I’m sure I want another.  In fact, during 8-3, if they’re all in school, I could probably handle ten.  As long as someone else puts them to bed.

Andy wants a van.  But if there are only four of us, we don’t need a van.  Now if there were five of us…

“Never mind,” Andy says.  “I don’t need a van.”

I am afraid of the extra work a third will inevitably bring.  But my mom says the third is so easy.  “The switch to two is hard, but three is no problem.”

I want to believe her, but I was her third, so of course it was easy.

I am also nervous about how sick pregnancy makes me.  Do I want to do that again?  I know a mother of six.  “After four or five, you stop getting the morning sickness,” she says.

I don’t think I’m going to run that experiment.

“We’re not chill people,” Andy says.  “Think about your friends who have three.  They’re all more laid back than us.”

“I’m chill!” I say.  “You don’t think I’m chill?!  Why don’t you think I’m chill?!”

Andy doesn’t answer, I think because I’ve so soundly won this point.

When I asked Annabelle if we should have another, she said, “Yes.  You’ll take care of it.”  She’s good at distributing responsibility.

Colin was more on the fence.  “I already got used to Annabelle.  I’m not sure if I can do another.”

When pushed, he agreed to a third if it can be an older brother.  This upset Annabelle, who wants an older sister.

That sounds impossible, but so are the stomping and wild animal sounds that rip through my house at eight every night, so who’s to say what’s possible?

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Early Onset Senioritis

My kindergarten son offers a lot of resistance to school in the morning. He doesn’t exactly hate school; he just feels it gets in the way of other creative projects he’d like to work on at home. He has Legos to build and train tracks to construct, and Lightning McQueen and his friends have had noticeably less adventures since August rolled around. I see his point. School is a time suck.

People tell me to talk to him about what he wants to do when he grows up so that he will see school as preparation for work (also a time suck). Since age one, I have asked Colin this question, and his answer has always been that he doesn’t want to get a job; he just wants to play. He is smarter than I am. It took me all the way until I got a job to realize the whole growing up thing was a total mistake.

On the mornings Colin gets upset before school, I waffle between thinking I should be more compassionate and feeling like, “Come on already.  We’re going to be late.”  The thing about compassion is that it takes extra minutes in the morning that we just don’t have.  So I am settled into a routine of hugging him but then being a bit heartless and shoving him into the car and then questioning it and feeling guilty about it after I drop him off.  It works really well for us.

His two-year-old sister helps with this routine. In the midst of Colin’s agonies over not wanting to go, she interjects, “Colin, you have to go to school.” That goes over really well. Then she follows it up with, “I’m never going to school. I’m going to stay home with Mommy forever.” Words of comfort, like splashing hot water on a burn.

It’s not all Annabelle’s fault. She’s been warned off. She used to want to go to school, but Colin explained the horror that is institutionalized education: No Lambie, no Mommy, endless hours of drudgery. She changed her tune pretty quickly.

Part of Colin’s argument against school is that he feels he’s mastered the kindergarten curriculum, so he might as well drop out, focus on his Legos, and take a passing glance at first grade in August. Last week, I was helping out in his classroom while his teacher was going over the letter sounds, and Colin got upset and left the learning circle. When I tried to find out what was wrong, he said, “We’ve done those letter cards. And she was just going to keep doing every card.”

“Oh,” I say. “Well, yeah. That’s how school is.”

Then five minutes later, when the activity changed and the letter cards were put away, Colin was smiling and happy again. So I congratulated myself on some pretty stellar parenting there.

Andy tells me that he used to complain about going to school in the mornings. I think he means that it’s normal for kids to resist school, but what I hear him saying is that this whole problem is genetically his fault.

My dad did tell me that he remembers being in grade school and shouting, “I’ve had it! We go over the same stuff every day!” and then storming out. This story is startling similar to Colin’s little episode and does sort of seem to suggest I’m genetically culpable. So I didn’t tell Andy about it.

Colin doesn’t want to do his homework either. Again, he doesn’t hate it. He’d just rather do other things. Annabelle, meanwhile, says, “Homework? I want to do homework!” This is probably because homework for her consists of cutting the paper into as many pieces as possible and then scattering them all over the floor and table. Sometimes she randomly glues some of them together, just to mix it up. At any point, she can announce, “I’m done!” and actually be done. Then I tell her to clean her mess, and if she picks up five pieces of paper, she thinks she’s done a really good job. It’s hard not to see Colin’s point that growing up is full of disadvantages.

Part of the problem is me. I don’t want Colin to go to school either. I miss those days of him sleeping as late as he needed and then getting up to snuggle in bed with me. I miss going on adventures together during the day. He drove me nuts some days, but I still liked having him with me. Now he’s at school every morning, and school wears him out so much he needs a nap, and there’s no time left for Legos or Lightning McQueen or snuggling or fun. I miss him.

But I have this vague sense that I’m supposed to act like more of an adult about it all. At least, that’s what I see all the other parents at drop off doing.

The day Colin had his breakdown about the letter cards, when I drove away, I saw him at recess, sitting and eating lunch with a friend. It was the sweetest picture—my baby! making a friend by himself—but also sad—my baby, making a friend by himself, learning to do all the things he has to learn to do without me.

Then Annabelle said from the backseat, “Do you think we should find me a baby school?”, and I said, “Hush. There’s no such thing.” Then she remembered Colin’s horror stories of school and was pacified, and I could rest easy knowing that her transition to school will be smooth as a tsunami.

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The Adventures of Lambie

Lambie full body

My two-year-old’s favorite toy is a stuffed, green lamb. Wherever Annabelle goes, Lambie goes too.

Even after he’s been washed, Lambie always has a gray tint to him. He spends a lot of his time face down on the ground. He’s probably responsible for half the infections that swirl through our house. It’s a scary thing when Annabelle insists we kiss E. coli Lambie.

I washed Lambie last week (though no one would be able to tell), but the very day he emerged from the washing machine, he acquired a red stain on his face. This is because he insisted on taking a ketchup laden bite. I told him not to, but Lambie can really dig his hooves in when he wants something.

When Annabelle was younger, Lambie bath days were traumatic. I counted it a triumph when I successfully snuck him into the machine. I was so naïve. When Annabelle discovered the theft, she knelt at the machine, screaming and wailing as she watched her lovie tumble in suds. You’d expect a happy reunion when Lambie finally emerged, but no.   He was wet and deemed uncuddlable. Annabelle threw him down, cried, tried to cuddle him, threw him down, and screamed some more. It was easier to skip the wash and let the bacteria fester.

Lambie assumes a prominent position in the household. He attends all meals (as evidenced by the condiments on his face). Whenever there is a lull in dinnertime conversation—ha! That’s a joke. There’s never a lull in conversation when her five-year-old brother is present—but when Annabelle is able to shove a comment into the melee that is dinner, she often says, “I want you to talk about Lambie.”

We try. We really do. But after the fiftieth time this request is made, the conversational well runs dry.

Lambie is a useful motivator, though. When Annabelle refuses to eat her vegetables, Lambie promises to clap after each bite. It’s amazing how much easier the broccoli goes down when applauding livestock are present.

Whenever we leave the house, Annabelle says, “Lambie will come too.” And he does. But Annabelle is a fair weather friend. When she sees something more interesting, Lambie, that love of her life, is tossed on the ground. How many times have we been on the freeway, minutes from home, when Annabelle’s small cry of “Where’s Lambie?” fills the car.

Once we searched the library for him until Annabelle finally remembered she’d buried him in the box with the other stuffed animals. I would never have found him there. Another time Lambie spent the night at the Granite Store. Andy assured me Annabelle was too young to care or miss him. But the next morning when I said we were going to the Granite Store, Annabelle ran to the window, pressed her little hands to the glass, and cried out, “Lambie!” She stationed herself there until we left to retrieve her marooned friend.

More recently, Lambie stayed three days and nights at a friend’s house. I searched the house several times for him before we left and enlisted Annabelle’s help, but Annabelle was too busy playing to be concerned. After we left, Lambie was discovered hiding in the closet. Apparently, he’d been playing hide and seek, waiting for Annabelle and he friend to find him. Hopefully Lambie won’t fall for that trick again. When Lambie and Annabelle were finally reunited, Lambie complained bitterly about being left to sleep alone during the nights of his separation. Maybe this experience will teach Lambie not to run and hide right before it’s time to leave.

Lambie likes to wear dresses and put bows in his ears, but Annabelle refers to him as a “he.” This frustrates Colin, who sees this as Not Right. When asked his gender, Lambie sometimes says he’s a boy, sometimes a girl, and sometimes just Lambie. Perturbed, Colin attacked the question from a different angle: Is Lambie a Mr. or a Mrs.? This resulted in an angry tirade from Annabelle, with both the answer and source of the anger remaining unclear. Slowly, Colin has come to accept these ambiguous answers, so Lambie has done his part for teaching acceptance of gender differences. It almost makes up for him being a travelling petri dish. Almost.

Lambie isn’t always an angel. Once the kids were yelling in the house, and when Andy told them to be quiet, Annabelle explained, “That was Lambie.” Colin corroborated this story. Lambie was promptly sent to time out, but that’s by no means cured him.

Annabelle has hugged Lambie with such vehemence that he no longer has any stuffing in his neck. Sometimes when I say, “I love you, Annabelle,” she responds, “I love Lambie!” And I think she does. Lambie fulfills a need that somehow the rest of us can’t. She loves him with a fierce love that cannot be destroyed. Unless he’s hiding and there are other toys to play with. Or if we’re in the Granite Store and she notices a particularly stunning cut.

Annabelle cropped

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Our Gingerbread Thug House

At the grocery store, my son Colin picks up a gingerbread house kit. “I thought this might be a fun project for us to do together,” he says, all sweetness.

I’m not crafty. Or artistic. Or even particularly good in the kitchen. So this gingerbread house kit does not play into my skill set. But Colin is looking so cute pretending that he wants family time when what he really wants is to consume the massive dessert pictured on the box, so I cave.

Colin, Annabelle, and I swing the cart into the candy aisle to buy sweets to decorate the house. This is the real reason I said yes. Andy always wants us to buy candies without artificial colors, and I try, but it’s hard. Because I heart Red Dye No. 40. Sorry, Whole Foods, but your all natural beet juice colored candies are not the same. Yellow Dye No. 5 is my other bestie.

It turns out the gingerbread house is a three step project. First we have to make the dough, but Colin is allergic to egg and dairy, so we have to modify the dough so that it’s vegan. Annabelle and Colin also have to fight WWIII over whose turn it is to dump the flour into the mixing bowl. And then again with the sugar. And again with the vanilla.

The recipe says to refrigerate the dough for two hours. I refrigerate it for two weeks. Life is busy.

Andy mentions that the dough has white stuff on it, so I decide it’s time to resume the project. The dough still smells okay, and the white stuff looks like flour—and who really eats the gingerbread houses besides Hansel and Gretel?—and look what happened to them.

The dough is hard as a rock. The recipe really should have been more specific—like refrigerate for at least two hours, but not more than two weeks. I nuke it and add water and flour, and it resembles normal dough again. We don’t have a rolling pin because, really, we aren’t rolling pin type of people, so I use the margarita mixing cup to roll out the dough.

On my first try, I am able to cut out three walls. We need four, with two roof slabs, a chimney, and people. The box says there is enough dough for one and a half houses. I am beginning to seriously question these directions.

Annabelle, my two-year-old, helps. Colin, that champion of family time, plays by himself. Annabelle drools when she concentrates, and her spittle drops onto the dough. I roll it in with the margarita cup because Colin and Andy aren’t watching.

I make icing—also vegan—and bake the house. Now it is time to put it together.

Andy takes over, clearing his throat with importance because he teaches Architectural Design at the high school. The vegan icing doesn’t hold so well. That may be because the sides of the house aren’t flat. (Because there was not enough dough for a small cabin, let alone the split level custom home advertised on the box.) It looks like the gingerbread children will have to find alternative shelter for the night. Colin, Annabelle and I help by eating the carcinogenic candies.

Eventually, we are able to construct a drafty and dilapidated gingerbread abandoned warehouse where the gingerbread thugs meet.

2015-11-08 17.09.58

 Our house

2015-11-08 16.38.13

The house on the box

I’m not sure children were involved in making this second one.

Colin and Annabelle have a lot of fun decorating the house with candy, and family bonding prevails, as Colin predicted. Every two minutes, Annabelle asks, “Can I eat this? I’m going to eat this.” Then we have to rip it out of her sticky little fingers because she has already consumed enough candy to power four large cities.

When we are done, Colin eyes our gingerbread house from the wrong side of town. “Can we eat it now?” he asks. It’s like the ending of a Clint Eastwood movie. Were those white streaks on the dough flour? Or something else? I don’t know, Colin. Do you feel lucky? Do you?

2015-11-08 17.09.14

 

 

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Racing the Bell

The biggest challenge of my son Colin starting kindergarten has been wrenching the children out of bed and scuttling all of us out the door to make it to school on time.

Remember those name poems from elementary school? I’d write my name in big letters down the page: KIRSTIN. Then I’d write “kind” by the “K” and maybe “interesting” by the “I.” I always wrote “responsible” after the “R”—because I am responsible. I’m the kind of person who gets my kids to school on time.

So why is it we always end up running to beat that bell?

Part of the problem is that the children work against me. They hate getting up, and there is a law of the universe that states that if Colin wakes up crying, Annabelle will too. I think Einstein had a thought experiment about this that my family has proven through repeated trials. No matter how early I put the kids in bed or how long I let them nap, this still happens at least a couple of times a month. I can’t blame them. Just hearing the sound of an alarm clock on a movie makes every muscle in my body clench, so I get it. As long as the kids are getting dressed, eating breakfast, and brushing their teeth while crying, I’m all sympathy.

The school run is like a game. How close can we cut it and not be late? Very close. But it’s a stressful game. For me. The kids are not at all concerned by it. This morning, for instance, I sent Colin out of the bathroom with instructions to drink the rest of his milk. Five (crucial) minutes later, I discover him looking at a Thomas the train book with Annabelle on the couch. When I asked him why he hadn’t finished his milk, he said, “Huh. I saw Thomas and forgot.” Apparently Thomas has relaxing, hypnotic properties. Does he come in pill form?

Why don’t we just wake up earlier? We have. There is no scientific explanation for why this yields the same Cutting it Close results. I think it’s because we don’t need ten extra minutes in the beginning of the morning. We need them at the end.

Almost every morning, I think to myself, “Yes! We are going to be early today.” And almost every morning, fate conspires against me. Colin spills his milk at breakfast. The house is locked and the kids are buckled but Annabelle’s tantruming because she doesn’t have her sacred Lamby. And Bear. And Dolly. We’re out the door on time but then realize we forgot Colin’s backpack.  We’re ready to leave but then Annabelle says she has to use the toilet. I put her on it and read her fifteen books, and then as soon as I give up and put her diaper back on, she poops. (There is some definite confusion about what the toilet is for, but that’s a different article.) No matter how early we are, I watch these inevitabilities pop up, sucking away our time until I know we’ll be Cutting it Close again. Then fate really twists the knife because, even when the dog is dancing in the spilled orange juice, the worst I’m allowed to say is “Well, gosh darned it!”

Despite our inefficiency, we have made it on time every day. Except for that one day when Colin couldn’t run because he’d just gotten the flu shot in his leg and he was manufacturing a limp, and Annabelle refused to let me carry her and insisted on stopping to pick up every rock she saw to add to her rock collection. We arrived as the bell was chiming its last chime. Colin slipped into class so quietly that the teacher didn’t notice—but that’s a useful life skill too, isn’t it? Never let it be said that school isn’t teaching him anything.

I’m kidding. I feel terrible—really terrible—about that time. Because the “R” in Kirstin used to be for “responsible.” What’s it for now? Not “ready.” I guess it’s for “run.”

One of the worst parts of running late is that we have to pass all the smug on time people walking back to their cars. It’s like the walk of shame. Or run of shame. Does the orange juice never spill in those houses? Do their babies never poop? But those people will never know the sense of triumph that comes with making it just in time. The closer we cut it, the greater the feeling of success when Colin leans through the door, his nose inside before the final chime of the bell, the theme to Chariots of Fire playing faintly in the background.

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To Grandmother’s House We Go

My parents live in Reno, so several times a year we pile in the car, two adults, two kids, and a dog, to go over the hills and past the neon lights to grandmother’s house.

Sometimes we have uneventful drives filled with “I spy” and kiddie naps. Those are the best kind. Sometimes my daughter, Annabelle, gets car sick. Those are the worst.

One drive, Colin was just learning to wear underwear instead of diapers. Weren’t we naïve parents. What do you do when a toddler desperately cries, “Toilet! Toilet!” in the middle of the mountains? You leave yellow snow.

Once, on Andy’s favorite drive, we made it there in one go. Of course, Annabelle, then a newborn, screamed for the last fifteen minutes of the drive. I suggested we might pull over, but Andy said we were about to set an all-time land speed record for Benicia to Reno driving, so we couldn’t stop, obviously.  I was not even aware that we were tracking record driving times, but apparently we do, and extensively.

This last time we had a nice, easy drive—no records, but no major scream attacks or messes. But when we arrived, ready to dive into some of grandma’s cooking, we couldn’t get the trunk of the car open.

I should mention our car is always over packed. I’m never too concerned about burglars while we’re gone because everything we own is with us in our trunk.

After two hours and a few calls to our insurance, Hyundai roadside assistance, and a local mechanic, the trunk remained locked. And I just knew that Andy and Colin were saving this up for fodder for why we should buy a van, an argument that’s been two against one since Colin learned to talk.

Eventually everyone contributed to getting the trunk open. Five-year-old Colin told us we should give up on the trunk and focus on opening the back seats. Andy found instructions online about how to do that. These instructions involved me squishing my hand into a space so small that it might never come back out again. Should I do it? Annabelle, concerned that we were still locked out because no one was really trying, upped the ante by pooping in her pants. The diapers were in the trunk. In went my hand to pull the wire to open the seats. Into the trunk, through the open seat, went Andy to flail in the dark, searching for the diaper bag.

The best part is that my hand did come back out again. Though not all of the skin. But I hate to be picky.

When our trip was over, my dad surveyed our mess of bags, booster seats, toys, and books strewn across his living room. “Maybe you should be careful when you pack the car this time,” he said. “Are you sure all of that’s going to go in?”

“Not to worry,” Andy said. “It always goes in.”

Andy and Colin played Why We Need a Van all the way home.

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