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  1. Can We Ban Halloween?

    November 16, 2010 by Wendy

    I hate Halloween.

    There. I said it.

    Isn’t that bad, coming from a mother of three children? Shouldn’t I be reveling in this kid-centric holiday, planning and making their costumes weeks in advance, like a good mom does?

    But no, I kind of dread Halloween beginning Oct. 1.  Maybe it’s because it’s the first sudden flurry of activity after the long summer and stressful start of the school year. Suddenly, the calendar becomes packed with school parties, fall festival and volunteering, plus trying to decide on three costumes and then gathering the supplies for them all. I’m just never quite ready for it when it hits.

    But the main reason I’m so anti-Halloween is because the traditions that go along with it (eating ridiculous amounts of sugar and celebrating all things evil and gory) are the opposite of everything we try to instill in our children all year long. Trick-or-treating is the WORST. Think about it: We are forever warning our children about Stranger Danger, and yet, we take them out in the dark of night (and sometimes on a school night!) and goad them into knocking on strangers’ doors and taking candy from these strangers. And even though we’ve all had it drilled into our heads since we were little that strangers put razor blades and drugs in the candy, we’re all, “Go on, sweetie, go knock on that door and hold your bucket out, and remember to say thank you!”

    Every year, while the girls and their cousins are knocking on some random door, there I am at the end of the driveway, going “Who came up with this tradition? This is terrible. We’re making our kids go knock on some pervert’s door and letting them take candy from them! It’s so dumb! Halloween should be banned!”

    And every year, there’s my Halloween-loving sister, going, “Oh, get over it, ya Scrooge, it’s tradition!”

    That’s not to say we don’t get into it or celebrate it. The twins have always chosen their own costumes, and they’re almost always homemade, which is saying a lot, as I am not a lover of crafting. In past years, they’ve been sushi, an ant-infested picnic table, cotton candy, an ice-cream cone and a bubble bath, winning prizes in the costume contests almost every time. (Score for the non-crafty mom!)




    This year, because they were too indecisive (Twin A), or procrastinated too much (Twin B), we kept it simple. Twin A was a “spa girl” and Twin B was a gypsy, both of which were easy to put together with stuff we already had around the house. Little Miss decided months ago that she wanted to be Snow White, which was even easier, since we already had the costume from previous years, and only had to buy a new wig:




    I do have a lot of fun helping the girls dress up, but I admit it’s probably one of very few things I won’t be too sad to see them outgrow. The tween twins are almost there, but not quite yet. They still had fun dressing up and trick-or-treating this year—especially when we hit the house where the nice old man always hands out money instead of candy. (They know his house—it’s the one with the Bentley parked out in front.)

    Every year, I get into Halloween less and less, putting up fewer decorations and barely glancing at those little booklets for fun ideas. In fact, this year, I didn’t put up a single decoration, other than the tiny pumpkin Little Miss brought home from her field trip to a farm. Thankfully, Little Miss is afraid of anything remotely creepy, therefore I get a reprieve from getting the boxes of decorations down (I only have two) and stretching those pesky cobwebs all over the house. The scariest decoration we have is a pumpkin with a sensor on it that says, “Boo! Did I scare you?” when you walk by. She has nightmares about that thing so there is no way it’s coming inside.

    The twins weren’t quite that skittish, and we got into the holiday more with them. Every year since they were toddlers, we would drive more than an hour away to a farm with a pumpkin patch, where we’d let them pick their pumpkins, and I’d take a million adorable pictures of all things fall. Then we’d come home, let them dig the gunk out, and I’d make roasted pumpkin seeds. But for some reason (usually due to poor planning and lack of time) we haven’t gone, nor have we even carved pumpkins for the last two years. I know, lame.

    Lucky for us, my sister is the complete opposite. She lives for Halloween, and is one of those who decks out her house both inside and out as much as most people do for Christmas: skeleton-bone streamers, bleeding pictures, ghosts, monster footprints, spider webs, rats, life-size hanging ghouls, rattling skeletons, creepy snakes, screeching cats. Come October, her house looks like one of those Halloween superstores.

    And she carries the theme into her menu for the evening. This year she made “feet of meet” (foot-shaped mini meatloaves, complete with mangy toenails made from Brazil nuts), pizza that looked like candy corn, some kind of bloody punch, mashed potatoes with green-olive eyeballs, witch-finger cookies and rolls with finger hot dogs sticking out. You get the picture:



    Clearly, that’s why we go there every year, plus she has a better neighborhood for trick-or-treating.We don’t get a lot of trick-or-treaters in our neighborhood and never stay home on Halloween night.

    Especially not since the time two years ago, when just as we were getting ready to leave, our doorbell rang. “Don’t answer it, I don’t have anything!” I said. But it was too late. The girls opened the door and there was a hayride-load of about 15 kids holding their pillowcases and buckets open expectantly. The girls and Hubby ran to the pantry in a panic and came back with handfuls of stale Easter candy and—wait for it—conversation hearts. I’m still mortified.

    That night, we came home to find our pumpkins all smashed up all over the yard. We got the message: Our “treats” sucked and we’d been “tricked.”

    I guess that’s what happens when the kids find out who the neighborhood Scrooge is.

  2. Kindergarten Crush

    September 15, 2010 by Wendy


    Well, it’s been over a month now since the Little Miss has begun her school journey and all I can say is this: She is in love. Like, really in love. With a boy.

    The object of her affection is a cute little red-haired boy named Peter, and I’m pretty sure it was love at first sight. At least we started hearing about him from Day One.

    “He has these orange eyebrows and they’re just so, so cute!” she’d say. Or, “Peter is just sooooo funny!” Or, “Guess what Peter did today!”

    Whenever somebody asks her how school is going, she’ll tell them about Peter.

    “I’m so, so totally in love with him,” she’ll say emphatically.

    Every day when I pick her up, anticipating stories of what she learned or what she did, I’ll hear stories about Peter instead. How funny he is, what he said, what he did, how he chased the girls on the playground.

    From the beginning, I really wasn’t getting a picture of what was going on day-to-day in the classroom. Other than what Peter was doing, of course. I knew that Peter used the blue scissors one day to cut out his triangles. (OK, so they’re cutting shapes.) I knew that he told a funny joke in Spanish class. (“Oh, you went to Spanish today?”)

    I figured I’d have a better idea of her day after attending the school’s Curriculum Night, which is when the parents go to the classroom and listen to the teacher talk about classroom expectations and what lies ahead.

    So there we were a few days later, squished in the kindergarten-size chairs, listening to the teacher talk about the daily schedule, how bright all the children are, how she can barely keep up with the speed at which they want to learn, etc. Then she started talking about how all the children have been bringing in so many interesting shapes from home, and I’m all, huh? The Little Stinker Miss never told us she was supposed to do that! She went on to say that one boy even brought in an article from Architectural Digest that showed the most interesting shapes!

    OK, that’s it. I felt like the biggest slacker, and we are not slacker parents.

    I nudged Hubby, and whispered, “She didn’t tell us she was supposed to do that! But we sure do know all about Peter!” Of course, I said this quietly, seeing as Peter’s mom was sitting across the tiny table from us.

    I am and always have been a school-rule follower, an extra-credit doer even when I have an A+ in the class, and well, yes, I sort of expect my kids to be kind of the same. So if they were told to bring in shapes from home, well by golly, we’re going on a hunt for the coolest, most obscure shapes and they’ll be in the backpack before night’s end.

    But no, she didn’t say a word about it.

    Oh, we’re so going to have a talk when we get home.

    Sitting in that classroom, I felt like we were in the middle of an Everybody Loves Raymond episode. I never really watched that show, but the few times I did, it always seemed to showcase them failing as parents. And there we were. Failing as parents.

    All because of Peter.

    In fact, I almost raised my hand and said, “Um, we didn’t know anything about this. Was there something sent home about this?”

    Except I had already raised my hand about 26 times to ask questions, undoubtedly earning the title of That Annoying Mom. I wasn’t about to become That Clueless Annoying Mom, too.

    As soon as we got home, I asked Little Miss if she was supposed to bring in some shapes from home.

    “No,” she said. And then a few seconds later: “Did you tell Peter’s mom that he’s the cutest boy in the class?”

    “No, of course not!” I said.

    And she was disappointed! “Awwww, why not?” she said.

    We went through this same thing with Twin B when she was this age, with yet another redhead, only his name was Reed. While doing a deep clean of her room recently, we unearthed a note that had the words, “I ♥ REEB” scrawled across it in her backwards kindergarten writing. Today’s seventh-grade version of her just slapped her forehead with embarrassment and crumpled it up. That should be reassurance to me that Little Miss, too, will get over this crush in time and focus more on her kindergarten studies.

    And while I don’t want to encourage this infatuation, I also don’t want to tell her to “not like” someone. After all, she sees something in this boy and it’s kind of sweet. Curious if this crush was two-sided, I asked her one day, “Does Peter seem to like you as much as you like him?”

    “Well, when I hug him, he says, ‘Stop that!’ and runs away,” she says with a laugh. “But then Clara tells me to keep doing it anyway so I do! He doesn’t like when I hug him at all!”

    Mmm hmm. Ya think?

    That prompted a little talk about respecting people’s personal space, and that if he doesn’t want her to touch him or hug him, she shouldn’t. (Wait, as a mother of three daughters, shouldn’t I be having this talk the other way around?)

    “But his hair is just so cute, I can’t help touching it. Can’t I rub his head?” she asked.

    She told me that during story time on the carpet, she likes to sit by him and then demonstrated how she scoots her head under his face so that she could look up at his “cute, cute eyes.”

    Oh, my. I’m waiting any day for a phone call or email from the teacher saying that this has become a problem.

    Last night as I was giving her a bath, we had an interesting little conversation.

    “Tomorrow for school, will you do my hair in a bun, but not all the way up, like Belle’s?” she asked me as I washed her hair.

    “OK,” I said, thinking the hairstyle idea must’ve been inspired by the tea party we’d just had with all her Disney Princess dolls.

    “Because then I think Peter might say I look cute!” she said, with that adorable chubby-cheeked smile and giggle she gets when she, well, talks about Peter.

    Oh man, is she setting herself up for a day of disappointment, is what I’m thinking.

    “I will do your hair like that, but don’t be surprised if Peter doesn’t say anything because boys don’t really notice those things,” I said.


    “They just don’t,” I said.

    Keep in mind, this is about 8:30 p.m., the time when moms are just sooooo tired and just trying to get through the nightly duties.

    “But why?” she persisted.

    “Because boys are just different. They don’t notice those things, and if they do, they don’t always say so, now come on let’s get out and get dried off and put your pajamas on and brush your teeth and pick your story so you can go to bed.”

    There. No room for questions.


    “When we have a wedding, we’re gonna hug and kiss, right?”

    Now it was my turn for the questions.

    “When who has a wedding?” I said, blowing right past the hugging and kissing part.

    “Me and Peter,” she said.

    “Peter and I,” I corrected. “Wait, now you’re going to marry him? We’re talking about a wedding?”

    “Yeah,” she says, with the Peter smile. “But I don’t think he’s gonna be too happy about that.”

    “Why not?” I ask, wondering if maybe, just maybe she picked up on his nonverbal communication cues that I picked up on when I visited her at lunch one day. As in, he shirked away from her as she attempted to reach for him. And then the shirking turned to running. Away. Fast.

    “Because he doesn’t like hugging,” she said. “And I don’t think he’ll like kissing at all. I think he’ll run away as fast as he can,” she said with a laugh.

    The  girl is 5, and yet she could be writing articles about committment-fearing men for Cosmo.

    Last Friday, I went through her school folder and found a blank white envelope. It was an invitation to Peter’s birthday party, obviously handed out to the whole class.

    “Oh, you got a birthday party invitation to Peter’s party,” I said.

    “Whaat??” she shriek-inhaled, then ran squealing through the house as if I just told her Justin Bieber was at our front door. (Yes, unfortunately, she has a little crush on him, too. Who is this child?)

    Immediately, she began working on a card for him. The party was weeks away and no one even said she was going but that boy was getting a card from her.

    She gave it to him on Monday, after which he said, “Is that for me?” and then turned to his friend and said matter-of-factly, “She’s in love with me! I really think she is!”

    She thought that was hilarious and repeated the story several times that evening.

    Recently in the middle of the night, I heard her calling out to me that she had to go to the bathroom. Blearily, I stumbled to her room to assist her. As she stood there washing her hands, she chatted on loudly, as if it were 1:30 in the afternoon instead of the morning, like it was.

    “When I get home from school tomorrow, I’m going to make Peter a picture with Legos and crayons!” she said cheerily.

    “OK,” I said, trying to mentally process Legos and crayons, Legos and crayons? Huh? Is she making him something with Legos? Or with crayons? Is she making Legos out of crayons? Or crayons out of Legos? Oh, forget it, it’s too late for this.

    But sure enough, on the way home, she said, “As soon as I get home, I’m going to change out of my uniform because my rump always feels hot in it, then I’m going to wash my hands, get a drink, and make Peter a picture of Legos with crayons.”

    Oh, so I wasn’t dreaming. Here’s what she drew:


    That’s Little Miss, lounging atop the Legos, and that’s Peter on the right in his red uniform shirt, and then there’s a mouse.

    While she was drawing it, more details of her day began to emerge, which is what usually happens.

    “Hannah and I got into an argument at lunch today,” she said.

    “Why did you argue?” I asked.

    “Because she said that she was going to marry Peter and I said that I was going to marry him!”

    Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me. Now we’re fighting with our girlfriends over this boy? Sheesh, when they say kids are growing up too fast, they’re not kidding!

    “You and Hannah are going to change your minds about a thousand times on that in your lifetime so don’t even worry about,” I said. “Besides, Peter might not even want to marry either one of you!”

    Without skipping a beat, Little Miss said, “Yeah, he might want to just marry his self! He might want to just hug his self and kiss his self!”

    Wow, this girl’s got it all figured out already. Forget phonics and shape cutting! She’s got an article to write for Cosmo right now. Better yet, I hear Oprah is leaving…

  3. First Day of Kindergarten

    August 10, 2010 by Wendy

    first day

    So, we survived the first day of kindergarten! (I say “we” but really mean “I,” since it was, as expected, more traumatic for me than for Little Miss.)

    I have been dreading this day for five years. Really, five years. I knew from experience how quickly my time with her would fly, and I held on to each day we had together as tightly as I could until the inevitable school years snatched her away.

    I knew the day would be hard. I knew it because, well, I’m a mom, and because I’d been through it years before with my older girls. I still go through it, every year on the first day of school.

    Last spring, the school had a “kindergarten buddy day,” in which incoming kindergarteners visit the classroom of outgoing kindergarteners, while the parents go to the library and listen to the principal talk about all the things to come. That was the day when the lump in my throat began forming, and as I watched a boy take her hand and lead her away from me and toward the classroom, that lump evolved into full-on tears, causing the other parents to glance at me uncomfortably. After all, it was only a half-hour, and we had four months before the real day came.

    Still, I barely got through that 30 minutes, which is why I knew the first day of real school would be so, so hard, and which is why it put a huge damper on my summer that even a week on the beach couldn’t lighten.

    Thankfully, Little Miss didn’t pick up on any of that, and has been beyond excited to begin this new chapter of her life.

    Over the weekend, we bought her an alarm clock of her very own, and she was so excited to wake up to it on Sunday morning at 7:45. (This, from a girl who’s been luxuriously sleeping in until around 10 all summer instead of getting dragged out of bed every morning to accompany me on the drive to her older sisters’ school.)

    When the “night before” finally arrived, she was bathed and brushed and in bed by 8:30, with her alarm set, uniform laid out and a pile of school-themed books picked out as bedtime stories. Of course, we read The Kissing Hand, and I almost made it to the “I love you” without crying. Her sisters and I put kisses in her hands, and she gave us some of her own. Poppy presented her with her very first Twist-Erase mechanical pencil, a requirement for all students in this household. (Remember, Poppy is an engineer, and is highly OCD about mechanical pencils. I can’t stand them. Mechanical pencils, that is.)




    kissing hand


    She had a hard time falling asleep, despite having gotten up early and despite having swum all day at her grandparents’ house. I had an even harder time of it, and literally watched the clock change hour by hour, until finally 7 a.m. came and there was no more postponing it.

    The day had come.

    Why did this have to go so fast? Why does this have to be so hard for us moms? I know it’s hard for dads, too, but I think it’s a different kind of sadness. For them, it’s hard watching their kids grow older, which means they’re growing older, too. For me, that’s a component as well, but it’s more about letting go of and missing this little person that’s been attached to me, day after day, all day long for five whole years.

    Her teacher understands this apparently, as when we met her on Open House night a few days before school was to start, she looked at my teary eyes and handed me an envelope that said “Open at 9 a.m. Monday morning.” Sensing it was probably something that was going to make me even sadder, I decided not to wait and opened it right away when we got home that night. I’m glad I did that.

    Inside was a tissue, a cotton ball, an herbal tea bag and a poem that put the tissue to good use. Here’s what it said:

    The First Day of Kindergarten

    I know it was hard for you to leave today
    And know your child must stay.
    You have been with her for five years now
    And have been a loving guide,
    But now alas, the time has come
    To leave her at my side.
    Just know that as you drive away
    And tears down your cheek may flow
    I’ll love her as I would my own
    And help her learn and grow.
    For as a parent, I too know
    How quickly the years do pass
    Not so long ago, it was my turn
    to take my children to class.
    So please put your mind at ease
    And cry those tears no more
    For I will love her and take her in
    When you leave my door.

    And beneath that, she wrote, “Thank you for entrusting your child to me. I will try to do my very best to be your child’s guide in learning and exploring this bright new experience in Kindergarten. Enjoy the nice cup of tea. Put up your feet and relax. Then hold the cotton ball in your hand. The softness will help you recall the spirit of your child.”

    Of course, the floodgates burst, right there on the kitchen rug. Twin B came to comfort me, and I handed her the poem. She read it and shed a tear or two of her own, passed it on to her sister to read, who tearfully passed it on to her father, who got a bit misty himself. Luckily, Little Miss was oblivious to all of this, happily chattering about her new school, without a worry in the world. I’m so grateful for that. I will take care of all the worrying and nervousness. And I do a great job of it, too.

    I worry that she’ll get hurt or sick at school, or that she’ll get her feelings hurt, or that she’ll feel awkward or lonely on the playground, or that she’ll feel uncomfortable about using the school bathroom. I worry that she won’t be able to poke her straw through her juice box, or open her string cheese by herself at lunch.

    She is the baby of the family, and as such, always has four of us looking out for her, doing things for her, telling her what to do or what not to do. And yet, this child is extraordinarily independent. She loves nothing more than to shut her bedroom door and play with her dolls, talk to her Disney Princesses and Polly Pockets, listen to music, read a book or color.

    So I knew she’d be fine after we said goodbye on that first day. In fact, when we discussed it earlier, she said, “How about if you just say goodbye at the door and then leave, OK? But make it a quick goodbye because I don’t want to be late.”

    And that’s pretty much what we did. All four of us. Poppy took the day off for the occasion, and we all walked her to her classroom, the very same classroom that we had tearfully dropped her older sisters off seven years ago. I was stronger than I thought I’d be, even with the flood of those memories coming back.

    It wasn’t until the first bell rang and all the kids  lined up with their giant backpacks on their tiny backs that I started to cry. Our Little Miss just looked so tiny standing there, even tinier than the rest of the tiny ones. When the second bell rang, she jumped out of line and ran to her father, cheerfully saying, “Bye, Poppy! I love you!” Because of the throng of paparazzi parents shouting and waving to their kids, I could only reach her hand. I gave it a squeeze and said, “Have a good day, sweetie!” And then we watched her go in. And I cried. Like, almost the ugly cry. A mom next to me looked at me and sympathetically said, “Oh, it’s OK!” and patted my arm. This poor mom, probably sad herself and comforting her own child, now has to worry about comforting me? I was so choked up, I couldn’t even respond to her. I hope she doesn’t think I’m rude.


    bye poppy


    As the four of us walked back to the car in the searing heat, it felt so strange. Someone was definitely missing. That feeling got even stronger when I glanced at her empty booster seat when we got into the car.

    After we got home, we all got busy. Poppy made espresso, the twins got busy making the homemade pink cupcakes they’d been planning to make Little Miss for an after-school surprise, and I wrote this blog post, while my eyes got some kind of repetitive-motion injury from looking at the clock so many times.

    Because Little Miss turned five only a week ago, and because she had never been in a preschool setting, and because I think a six-and-a-half-hour day is ridiculously long for a little person like herself, I’ve opted to pick her up early after lunch for now. Of all three kindergarten classes, there’s only one other mom doing this that I know of. (I was really pulling for the half-day kindergarten measure to pass in our district but I won’t get political here.) The school is supportive but I think not thrilled about this, and I know neither will Little Miss be, once she finds out what she’s missing: free choice, buddy reading, specials (art, music, P.E., Spanish), and naptime, in which they all rest on beach towels on the icky floor. (Poppy calls this “Lice Time.”)

    We’re taking it day by day but my guess is she’ll be going full-time sooner than I wanted.

    We arrived after lunch to pick her up. Shortly after I signed her out, she burst through the office door, holding her teacher’s hand and said, “I met a girl and I asked her to play Tag and she said, ‘No, let’s play Hide ‘N’ Seek instead!’ so I did!” We don’t know this girl’s name, but Poppy branded her Miss Bossy for the remainder of the day.

    I looked at her peanut-butter-and-jelly-streaked face and her sweaty, disheveled pigtails and saw the same pure joy and excitement that I saw in her sisters’ faces every time they came home from school in those days. (Middle school is a little different. Unfortunately.)

    She had a great day.

    end of day


    Of course, we all bombarded her with questions that she couldn’t keep up with, and when we got to the car, I said to everyone, “You guys, one at a time, let’s not bombard her with questions; let’s let her tell us about her day as she feels like it.”

    Me, two seconds later: “Did you eat all your lunch? Were you able to open your drink and your string cheese? Did you have snack time? Did you use the bathroom? Did you wash your hands before lunch? Who did you play with?”

    Immediately upon coming home, she went to the bathroom (no, she didn’t go at school) and wanted to take a shower. Then her sisters surprised her with the pink cupcakes, inspired by her current favorite book, Pinkalicious. (Thank you, Kennah!)

    Bit by bit over the next several hours, we got more information from her about her day, especially when grandparents and aunts called to see how her day went. We learned that:
    • She dropped her granola bar at snacktime and was starving by lunchtime.
    • She dropped her string cheese somewhere and didn’t eat it “cuz it touched the dirty floor,” even though it was still in the package when it was dropped.
    • Someone named “Crab Box” helped her open her drink and read her the note I put in her lunch box.
    • A boy hit his head on the playground.
    • A girl in her class had really fancy shoes on.
    • A boy tried to sit in the teacher’s chair before storytime.
    • She got to help do the calendar with a zebra pointer.
    • A girl asked her what kind of berries the champagne grapes she was eating were.
    • Her teacher read The Kissing Hand to the class.
    • They made raccoon masks.
    • A girl at her table has really red eyes, “not pretty red, like a crayon, but red, like she cries all day.” (She whispered this part in my ear.)

    When bedtime finally came, she was so wound up and excited and could not stop talking. But for me, that was relaxing. It reassured me that she did not get sick or hurt at school, nobody hurt her feelings, she didn’t feel lonely or sad and she had help at lunchtime.

    It was a good day.

    Like Mrs. Raccoon says to her little Chester in The Kissing Hand, “Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do,” she told him gently. “Even if they seem strange and scary at first. But you will love school once you start.”

    And I know I will, too.


  4. Letting Go of My Little Larva

    July 9, 2010 by Wendy

    Earlier this year, when winter turned into spring, I decided to give Little Miss a lesson on life cycles.

    You see, instead of sending her to preschool at age 3 and 4, I had kept her home, where I taught her the early stages of the three R’s, plus things like life cycles and a whole lot more. (I think, anyway. We’ll see when she gets tested in the fall.) The reasons for keeping her home were many, but the main one was, I admit, purely selfish. As my last baby, I wanted to keep her home with me as long as possible. Having seen her older sisters sail at supersonic speed from kindergarten to middle school, I am all too aware of how fast it goes. And I am all too aware of the feeling that once they start school, you lose a huge part of them as they’re sucked into schedules, routines, homework, projects, contagious viruses, a whole new social group—all of which are pretty much out of your control.

    I will be losing my Little Miss exactly one month from today to the public education system.

    My mother-in-law once told me that you start letting go of them a little each day from the minute they’re born. (This from a woman whose two out of three grown children live within 20 minutes of her, but whatever.) That was hard to imagine back in the days when I was their only source of nutrition for the first six months of their lives, and then as their only “beverage” for another year beyond that. That didn’t feel much like I was “letting go,” especially when it was two at a time.

    I miss those days.

    But that’s just the way it goes. It’s the circle of life. (Go ahead, sing The Lion King theme song here if you must.)

    Oh, yes, back to teaching the life cycle. So I ordered one of those butterfly kits and a frog habitat, in which you have to send away for the larvae and the tadpoles. While we waited for our “babies” to arrive, we went to the library and got lots of books on life cycles, butterflies and tadpoles.

    A couple weeks later, our “babies” all arrived on the same day in our mailbox: two tadpoles and six butterfly larvae. The tadpoles were easy. They just needed to put in some spring water, fed every other day and observed for signs of changing into frogs. The butterfly larvae were even easier. They just hung upside down in the little cup for about two weeks, each one slowly forming into a chrysalis. At that point, we observed more closely and actually got to witness four of the six emerge from their cocoons and unroll themselves into butterflies. As soon as they’re “born,” you feed them some orange slices and sugar water for a few days.

    And then you let them go.

    And it is beyond sad as you watch your child say goodbye to their beautiful Monarch friends, and you explain over and over why they have to be let go. And then you wonder why you ever did this project when it brings so much pain, especially when you’ve done it before with older children and heard the same wails and saw the same agonizing tears.

    This is what it looked like, from the beginning to the end:








    kiss goodbye


    getting ready

    getting ready2




    So by now, you must see where I’m going with this post. Yep, the old butterfly-gets-its-wings metaphor.

    In college, for an English class assignment, I wrote an allegorical poem about leaving home, and I used a butterfly as a metaphor. My professor wrote “Cliche!” and “Overused!” in big fat red ink all over it. Gah! I cringe when I think of that awful poem. At the time, I was offended, but oh, how right he was. How could I have not seen that back then? Did I really think that was a good poem? And here I am again with the butterfly metaphor. But I don’t care. No one’s grading this, and right now, with my Little Miss one month away from starting kindergarten, it couldn’t be more appropriate.

    How did this happen so quickly? Please excuse the use of yet another cliche, but it literally seems like I just had her. I can picture myself lying in that hospital bed, doing that final push despite my case of sudden-onset reflux. And then the doctor held her up and I saw her little girl parts and I realized then that despite the fact that I’d been saying I didn’t care what we were having, that I really, really did want another daughter.

    And she was perfect. Her proud father kept saying her head was shaped like a trapezoid, but I never saw that. Not even in pictures to this day. In fact, she came out so clean, so pink, so chubby, and just so everything a baby should be. And I loved her immediately and deeply.

    We got home from the hospital and settled into our easy, snuggly routine. And then I blinked my eyes and it was time for her to start kindergarten. Yes, really, just like that.

    That’s how fast these almost-five years have gone. (She turns 5 exactly one week before the first day of school.)

    Of course, I’ve been through this before, with the twins. And yes, that was doubly painful. But kindergarten was only half-days back then, so it was a teensy bit easier. It was when they started full-time 1st grade that I really had my breakdown. But being pregnant with another little one at the time made it a bit easier, and I started to enjoy my “me” time that year, knowing it would be my last for a while.

    But this time, it’s different. I knew all along how fast it was going to go, which is why I tried to make the most of each day we had together, and why I kept her home with me. But just because you realize it, doesn’t mean time slows down. I wish it worked that way.

    And by the way, those two tadpoles I mentioned we sent away for in February? They were supposed to turn into frogs in two weeks. It is now almost six months later and they’re still tadpoles. One of them hasn’t grown a bit, and neither are even close to losing their tails or growing legs. I even emailed the company to find out what’s the deal.

    If only our children could be more like the tadpoles.

    When I think about how fast my girls have grown and are growing, I get like a hot flash, a lump in my throat and a stabbing pain in the gut, especially when I realize that with the twins turning 12 later this month and starting 7th grade in the fall, it means they’re only going to be home with us for another six years before they go off to college.

    Go away, lump, hot flash and stabbing pain, go away!

    I get that same hot flashy, lumpy, stabbing-pain-in-the-gut feeling when I imagine the first day of kindergarten one month from today. I’m dreading it more than anyone could know. I’m dreading it as much as I’m already dreading the walk back to the car after we leave her older sisters in their dorm rooms at college.

    But I can’t go there right now. That’s an entirely different post. Heck, that’s an entirely different blog.

    If you look at those last few pictures of Little Miss after having kissed her butterflies goodbye and letting them go, you’ll get an idea of what I will be looking like at 9 a.m. one month from today. And the day after that. And probably the day after that. And then, after a few more days like that, I’m sure I will enjoy the few hours I’ll have to myself to “get my groove back.” I’m looking forward to the day when I look at the clock and go, “Oh, man, it’s time to pick them up already?”

    But until then, I’m holding on to my little larvae.

    P.S. If by some chance a bald and probably retired college professor who looks like Paul Shaffer happens upon this blog, please refrain from writing “Cliche!” or “Overused!” in the comment box. I already know it is and I don’t care.

  5. Smoky Plum is the New Black

    June 6, 2010 by Wendy

    My poor husband.

    Friday  night, he helped coach at Twin B’s basketball practice. They came home, both dripping sweat, and didn’t say much other than to ask who won the national spelling bee. However, about a half-hour later, Husband walks out of the kitchen holding a bag of ice to his face and says, “Uh, I ran into Brooke’s head tonight at practice and now my eye has suddenly blown out.”

    “Blown out????” I say, blasting my migraine-plagued head off the couch. You don’t say the words “blown out” to a panicker like me unless you’re at the hair salon.  ”Lemme see!”

    He pulled the bag of ice away, revealing a Cadbury-egg-sized purple lump on the corner of his left eye.

    Ahhhhhh! What did you do now?” I shouted, or something similar that made him go, “Well you don’t have to get mad about it!”

    “I’m not mad, but it’s just why are you always getting hurt?” I said, reminding him that he was still healing from his neck injury of three days ago, when we heard Little Miss cry out in the monitor at 3 a.m. and he flew out of bed but got his foot stuck in the blanket and fell shoulder-down smack into the door.

    I took a closer look at the eye injury, which made my own eyes water.

    “Want a raw steak on it?” I asked, because that’s what they did once on The Brady Bunch, when Peter got socked in the eye by Buddy Hinton while sticking up for Cindy.

    “No. I don’t even know what that does,” he said.

    “Me neither,” I said. “And anyway, we don’t have any. How about a bag of frozen peas?”

    “What for?” he asked. “I got this!” he said, nodding toward the unwieldy bag of ice cubes in a Ziploc wrapped with a dishcloth pressed to his eye.

    “Should I take you to urgent care?” I asked, already knowing what his answer was going to be.

    “I don’t think so,” he answered, as if I had just asked “Will it snow here in Arizona tomorrow?”

    I still wasn’t sure, so I took a picture of the injury and texted it to my sister, whose husband is a paramedic. “HELP!” I put in the subject line, and then waited. They live in Michigan, and it was going on 2 a.m. there. Still, my phone rang a few minutes later.

    “Is his eye hanging out of the socket?” my sister said, repeating questions fed to her from her groggy husband, whom she jolted awake when she got my text.

    “No!” I said. “It’s on the outside, not the eye BALL.”

    “Is there fluid leaking out?” she asked.

    “I don’t know. Is there fluid leaking out?” I asked Husband.

    “I don’t think so,” he said, dabbing away the condensation from the ice bag.

    “You don’t want to mess around with the eye, I’d take him in,” I heard my brother-in-law say in the background.

    But since nothing was hanging or leaking out, we decided to skip the dreaded E.R. waiting room and just ice it and sleep on it.

    “If I wake up and his eyeball is on the pillow, then I’ll bring him in,” I said to my sister.

    Well, the next morning, I didn’t wake up next to an eyeball, but what I did wake up next to was Adam Lambert:


    The swelling had gone down, but his entire eyelid was swathed in a deep plum color with a perfectly straight line of kohl black right by his eyelashes.

    “It looks kinda pretty!” I said, after the initial shock wore off.

    Throughout the day, I kept staring at that eye, thinking, “Now how can I get my makeup to look like that?”

    I always thought that when one gets hit in the eye, one gets a black eye. But no. This one was the perfect shade of smoky plum mixed with a hint of shimmery lavender. In fact, I have an eyeshadow palette just like that called “Time for Wine.”

    Even more disturbing, the swelling had pushed the outside edge of his eyebrow up into a nice little arch, the kind that some of us girls go through the pain of waxing to achieve. With a little plucking here and there, and the application of some guyliner and guyshadow to the other eye, he’d be make Adam Lambert and Pete Wentz look like amateurs.

    I emailed some pictures to a half-dozen family members who I thought might be be interested or entertained. (Luckily, Husband is a good sport when it comes to these things and indulges me while I make a spectacle of him.)



    My sister-in-law said, “Well, so much for trying to do a ‘guy thing’ for a change. Maybe he should stick to princess bedtime stories.” (Ah-ha, so you do read my blog! See previous post.)

    My aunt said, “OK, if he starts singing, bumping and grinding, I’m running for the hills. But seriously, I’d take that photo with me to the nearest MAC counter and tell them to do their stuff.”

    And now if only I can get that annoying Adam Lambert song, What Do You Want from Me? out of my head.

    Poor guy. He can’t even get a decent, cool-looking shiner. And adding insult to the pretty injury?

    It came from a 13-year-old girl.

  6. Girls, Girls, Girls

    June 1, 2010 by Wendy

    Sometimes I feel bad for my husband, living in the all-female, estrogen-soaked household that he does. Last night happened to be one of those times, maybe because our evening bike ride had to be cut short after encountering a pack of javelinas and four squealing, shrieking girls wanted to high-tail it home. (In fact, our bike rides always seem to be cut short, due to some fear one of us girls develops out in the middle of nowhere, where he likes to go. That being said, I don’t think coyotes, bobcats, snakes and the dark are unreasonable fears at all when you live in the desert.)

    Anyway, I told him that he should start taking more time to pursue his hobbies, and do more “guy” stuff, like hunting, fishing or going to the shooting range. Sometimes a guy just wants to sit around and talk about trucks, and that’s just not a need I’m capable of filling. Politics, I’ll do (on a good day), but trucks, no way.

    “When? When am I going to find the time to do those kind of things?” he asked.

    “Well, I don’t know, you have to make the time,” I said.

    So about an hour or so after this discussion, he offered to put Little Miss to bed. A few minutes later, I went in to say good night, and this is what I found:


    It looks like he’s snuggled up in bed with her, reading the captivating tale of Cinderella’s Palace, right?  Only this is what I heard when I walked in:

    “Do not mix alkaline, standard (carbon zinc), or rechargeable (nickel-cadmium) batteries. Do not recharge non-rechargeable batteries. Rechargeable batteries are to be removed from the sound module before being recharged. Rechargeable batteries are to only to be charged under adult supervision. This product uses…”

    And then I figured out what he was doing. Bored out of his mind from all the princess tales he’s read night after night, daughter after daughter over the years, he decided to get creative. And read the inside cover of the page. You know, the copyright page. Only this book was one of those that had those musical buttons on it, thus all the battery talk.

    And Little Miss was listening with rapt attention! Especially when he got to the part about the book/device being compliant with FCC rules and regulations.

    Happening upon this scene reinforced my belief that he really needs more guy time and less “princess” time. But that isn’t quite what I meant.

    Oh, well. At least Little Miss is now aware of the dangers of mixing carbon-zinc and nickel-cadmium batteries.

  7. The Fig Tree

    May 27, 2010 by Wendy

    It’s nearly the end of May, which, as anyone with a drop of Italian blood in them knows, means only one thing:

    Fig season.

    As far as I know, any family with an Italian patriarch worth his saltimbocca owns at least one fig tree.

    I am not Italian. Just ask the “100 percent Italian” waiter at the little trattoria we went to last weekend, who made sure to point out this fact, all the while fawning all over my dark-haired, olive-skinned husband. I know he was 100 percent Italian because he told us this. About three times. But I get it. After being married into an Italian family for the past 19 years, I know a little bit about how it works.

    Which brings us back to the fig tree:

    Native to the Middle East and particularly prolific in Italy and California, it’s not at all common to see fig trees among the saguaros and ocotillos here in the desert Southwest. If you do, in fact, see one in someone’s yard, you can pretty much guess that someone of Italian descent resides there.


    My straight-from-Italy father-in-law has two of them, and he made sure both of his desert-dwelling sons have them as well. In fact, we have two. Years ago, he came over with some roots and a few branches from his own tree and said, “Plant this.” And we did. And it quickly got enormous, and started shedding those giant fig leaves that look just like Adam and Eve’s underwear.

    And ever since, it’s like my father-in-law has allowed us to adopt and raise his own flesh and blood. I’ve even sent pictures as it grew. It’s not unusual for him to call our house to check on the fig tree. Sure, he asks how the kids are, how’s everything, but what he really wants to know about is that fig tree. Are we watering it? Did we cover it? Are they getting ripe?

    By “covering it,” I mean putting a sheet of netting over it when the fruit starts to appear, so as to prevent the birds from pecking at it. (I feel sorry for the birds that dare peck at my father-in-law’s trees. Let’s just leave it at that.) Prior to this covering, there’s much back-and-forth discussion between my husband and father-in-law that goes something like this:

    Husband: “I went to Home Depot today, and they didn’t have it.”

    Father-in-law: “Did you try Lowe’s?”

    Husband: “No.”

    Father-in-law: “Ya gotta cover it or you’re gonna lose it all! I’ll go to my Home Depot and get some and I’ll send your brother over this weekend.”

    Covering it is, for some reason, a big two-hour ordeal. It involves ladders, extension poles, other people, and if the kids aren’t around, some swearing. Then once it’s covered, it’s on.

    We wait.

    We check.

    We wait some more.

    fruits 2


    Last year at this time, not only did my father-in-law provide the netting and help us cover our trees, but he drove around to his friends’ houses to help them cover theirs, or do it for them if they were out of town. (All of his friends are Italian; thus, of course they have fig trees, too.) Because of this, we called him the Fig Saver, and imagined him wearing a Superman-like cape, flying around town, shooting netting out of his wrists, all in the name of protecting and saving everyone’s fig trees.

    The other day, my in-laws had a pretty harrowing day that involved a doctor’s appointment, a painful shot to my mother-in-law’s spine and a visit to a very ill friend of theirs. The kind of day that you just want to end by going home and collapsing in bed. But no. They stopped over.

    To check on the figs.

    “One more week,” my father-in-law said as he drove off.

    Strangely, it brought back memories of visiting my obstetrician’s office as I got closer to my due date, leaving the office with a “one more week” assessment.

    When the figs do finally come in, though, it’s less like a birth and more like a competition.

    Every night, my husband and father-in-law discuss how many they got, how they taste, how many are left on the tree, how ready they look, etc. We’ll bring some from our tree over and he’ll say, “Nah, these are no good.” Or, ” Too dry.” Or, “These were picked too soon.”

    Then a whole big discussion ensues about the differences in elevation, water quality, the weather, etc. (We live 7 miles apart, however they do live on a mountain.) But usually what it comes down to is him saying, “You guys don’t water it enough!” or “You guys water it too much!”

    The big discussion.

    The big discussion.

    For Father’s Day last year, we got him a sweatshirt that said “got figs?” on it. The fact that a company actually produced such a shirt tells me he must not be the only one with this obsession. And he actually wears it.

    Every year, he announces the figs will be ready on his birthday, which is May 19. In fact, when he was a boy in Italy, that’s how he knew it was his birthday. If there were figs on the trees, he must’ve turned another year older.

    Recently, one of the girls asked him, “Nonno, when are we going to celebrate your birthday?”

    “You’ll know it’s my birthday when the figs are ready,” was his answer.

    Turns out they weren’t ready on his birthday, but they might be this weekend, so guess when we’re celebrating his birthday?

    Provided there are figs.

    Last year, my sister-in-law and I toyed with the idea of having a baby shower-type party for him when the figs come in, with invitations, balloons, games, a cake, the whole works. Of course, he would think we were being silly, but to him, the fruits that come off these trees are like his babies. We weren’t joking.

    Every day during the season, he gently plucks the ripe ones off the trees and lovingly places them in a basket, bringing it in and placing it on the table for all to admire.

    And then he eats them.

    And eats them.

    And eats them. Skin and all. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen my mother-in-law try to temper his intake, warning him, “You’re gonna have a problem.”

    In this family, a problem means either gas or intestinal issues. I don’t know if he ever has a problem, but I sure would if I ate as many as he did in one sitting.

    He does share. IF you’re family or close friends. One by one, he introduced all three of our girls to the art and pleasure of fig eating and they all love them. And Mama loves them because they’re packed with potassium, fiber, calcium and a bunch of beneficial minerals.

    First, Nonno tries one while Little Miss watches.

    First, Nonno tries one while Little Miss watches.

    Ahhh, finally, a bite.

    Ahhh, finally, a bite.

    Little Miss with last year's harvest of the day.

    Little Miss with last year's harvest of the day.

    Drippy, messy, straight off the tree.

    Drippy, messy, straight off the tree.



    And speaking of the art and pleasure of eating them, apparently there’s a whole lore among men comparing them to certain parts of the human anatomy. But this is a family blog, so we won’t go there. All I know is my husband loves them, too. A lot.

    I’ve come across many recipes that incorporate figs, but I’m pretty sure my father-in-law would have a fit if he knew I tainted them by using them in a recipe. No, figs are to be eaten in their purest form. Not dried. Not in a pudding. Not in a cookie. I am quite certain he’s never even heard of a Fig Newton.

    Besides, there are never any uneaten ones left to use. Once, my father-in-law came over and saw that we had a basket overflowing with them. It was about three days’ worth of pickings and we just hadn’t gotten around to eating them all.

    He looked at the basket in horror, as if we had left an unattended child in the middle of the street.”Those are gonna go bad!” he admonished. “You gottta eat them! How come no one’s eating them? If you don’t want ‘em, I’ll take ‘em. I’ll send some to Uncle John!”

    “Pop! How many you think we can eat in a day?” said my husband. “Just because we don’t go crazy doesn’t mean we’re not eating them!”

    Sadly, because it’s such a short season, the figs are gone before we know it. But that’s OK, because that only  means one thing:

    Time to make the sausage.

  8. Sixth Grade. Ugh.

    May 26, 2010 by Wendy

    For the better part of the school year, Some Boy has had a crush on my Twin B. I don’t like  it, but it is sixth grade, the hormones are starting to emerge, it happens. And thankfully, she’s just not that into him. She’s not into any boys yet. (Yay, us!)

    It started with a rumor that he “like liked” her. She kind of laughed it off and said, “He’s nice, though.”

    (Note the though, though.)

    She lent him her copy of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. I told her that might send the wrong message, that she liked him back, but whatever.  It really didn’t faze her in the least that he liked her. She was just being her usual nice self.

    I marveled at that, because when I was in sixth grade and a boy liked me, I hated it. Hated it. It made me all uncomfortable, I did everything I could to avoid him and I just wanted it to go away and leave me to my horse models and Nancy Drew books. But she just treated him like she’d treat anybody else.

    At first, it was cute hearing the stories of how he’d stumble and clatter over a bunch of desks just to score the seat next to her. Or how the rumors swirled the day before a field trip that he was going to sit by her on the bus. (He didn’t, thanks to her group of protective friends, who surrounded her that day so he couldn’t.) Or how his friends would tell her that he wants to tell her he loves her. (Did you get that? I know that was a lot of pronouns to digest.)

    It was even kind of cute when Twin A (sister of the crushee) coincidentally got put into a group with Some Boy’s sister at her gymnastics competition. Throughout the course of the day, they figured out who each other was. “My brother is in love with your sister and my parents tease him about it all the time,” Some Boy’s sister said. On the way home from the meet, we learned that Twin B was the object of much discussion at their dinner table. That was kind of funny.

    But yesterday, cute and funny turned to annoying and kind of creepy.

    Apparently, Some Boy told one of Twin B’s friends this about her:

    “I can’t wait until she has her growth spurt.”

    In the words of kids today:




    And in the words of ME today: ”Listen, Prepubescence, get your eyes off my daughter’s chest! There’s nothin’ to see here, folks.” Not yet, anyway.

    “By growth spurt, I hope he means my height…but I doubt that,” said Twin B, now wise to the world and the ways of perverted prepubescent sixth-grade boys.

    Yeah, I doubt too that it’s her vertical stature he’s interested in. But I have to say, Some Boy does have good taste. She is lovely. And sweet. And innocent. And I plan on her staying that way for a long, long time, “growth spurt” or not.

    I just picture him, sitting there staring at her, waiting for her to “develop.” (Insert annoying air quotes here.)

    Eeewwww. Gross. Disturbing.

    And completely normal for this age.


    I’m so glad sixth grade is over in about a week.

    Oh, wait. No I’m not. I heard seventh grade is even worse.

    Post post script:

    When I picked the girls up from school today, the first thing I heard when they got into the car was that Some Boy has now told someone that Twin B  had “sexy eyes.”


    Well, at least his eyes are traveling upward. It’ll give him something to look at while he waits for the “growth spurt.”


    Another post post script:

    I kind of dreaded telling the husband/father about this little incident. So I chickened out and told him to read my blog tonight. He did, and while normally I hear him laughing, tonight I heard no laughter. Instead, I heard a low rumble that sounded something like this:

    “Oh, this boy’s gotta go. He’s gotta gooooooo.”

    I’m afraid this is only the beginning.

  9. What a Difference a Word Makes

    May 22, 2010 by Wendy

    Yesterday, while we were sitting in the car waiting for BK to finish pumping the gas, Little Miss said, “Mommy, remember the God talk the other night?”

    “The God talk?” I asked, trying to remember what she was referring to.

    “Yeah, you know, the one where you said you forgave God for Poppy?”

    Whaaaaat?” I asked, amid the peals of laughter from the other girls. “I forgave God for Poppy?”

    “Yeah, remember, at the end of my prayer the other night, you said “I forgive God for Poppy.”

    “Ohhhhh,” I said, suddenly remembering the conversation. After her bedtime prayer, I often ask her if she wants to add anything, like what she’s thankful for, sorry for or asking for. After one too many nights of “Thank you for my Barbies,” or “I would like more toys,” I tried to steer her in the direction of less material things, like being thankful for her sisters, her parents, her grandparents, her home and food on the table. As an example, I told her things I was thankful for, which of course, included Poppy.

    “No, I said I thank God for Poppy, not forgive Him for him,” I clarified, just as Poppy opened the car door and asked what was so funny.

    “Oh, nothing, we’re just forgiving God for you,” I said.

    “Oh,” he said, nonplussed, but I explained the situation anyway.

    It was a good lesson on what a difference one word can make.

  10. What Would Walt Think?

    May 13, 2010 by Wendy

    Last week in Disneyland, at the end of one of our family’s favorite attractions—Soarin’ Over California—I said, “Walt Disney would be so proud of this ride.” (I know, in Disneyspeak, it’s an “attraction,” but let’s face it, this is a ride. And a spectacular one at that.) A simulated hang-glider tour of the Golden State, Soarin’ takes guests—strapped in tightly under a wing-like canopy contraption thingy—over such California landmarks as Napa Valley, the Golden Gate Bridge, Malibu, a Palm Springs golf course, Los Angeles at night, San Diego and Disneyland itself. It is awesome, and I wish I could ride it every day. It’s like sitting on a ginormous swing that’s lifted high up into the sky, with your feet dangling as you swoop into different scenes, sure you’re going to kick the surfers, river rafters, horseback riders and skiers you’re gliding over. It’s amazing how real it feels, especially with all the twists and turns, and the smells of evergreen, orange blossoms, the ocean and the cold snowy air on the mountaintops. I always get goose bumps at the end, which culminates with the fireworks and Tinkerbell flying over the castle. Walt would definitely be proud of the Imagineers who came up with this one.

    In fact, more than a few times during this last trip, I wondered how Walt would feel about how Disneyland has both evolved and stayed the same since he created it in 1955. I thought about it when I saw the light on above the fire station on Main Street, which Disney freaks like us know is left on as a tribute to him. Word is, when the light is off, it means his daughters are in the park. Walking down the middle of Main Street, I thought how cool it must feel to be one of Walt’s children, seeing the throngs of people filing in every single day, and knowing your dad built such a worldwide icon. And I imagined Walt himself, looking down at the park as if it were his child, and like any father, he would likely be proud of a lot of things the park has become, while shaking his head in disapproval at a few things. But just a few. Here’s what I know he would be proud of, based on our most recent experience:

    • The park and the surrounding grounds remain immaculate. It still surprises me how clean it is, despite the fact that some 40,ooo people pass through the gates each day, give or take a few thousand depending on time of year. I never saw a single cigarette butt or straw wrapper on the ground. We even noticed a cleaning woman mopping the street at the end of the driveway of the Grand Californian Hotel. I said to the girls, “Look how hard that woman is working to keep it clean for us. I’ll bet no one ever thanks her, so let’s thank her today.” And so we did. But then BK kind of ruined the moment when he said, “She should be thanking us! We’re paying her salary!” (To be fair, this was at the end of our trip, so he might have been a little jaded—and broke—after five days of Disney dollaring.) But what really made me happy were the hand-sanitizing stations scattered throughout the park, complete with warning signs about staying home if you’re exhibiting signs of illness. Which no one did, obviously, as I’ve never heard so much productive, hacking, gross coughing in my life. (There’s no place like Disneyland to kick the germophobia into high gear, especially in those crowded enclosed lines.) Still, it was nice to see the Disney folks cared about us and our health, even though these dispensers were empty  every time we attempted to use them.


    • It’s still all about the details, just as Walt wanted. This photo says it all:


    • There was no shortage of healthy snack options wherever we went. Sure, there’s still plenty of churros, corn dogs, face-size lollipops, ice cream bars and cotton candy around, but there are also lots of fruit stands and healthy items on every menu. One day, the girls and I loaded up on snacks from a vendor cart while we waited for the Pixar parade at California Adventure. Our haul included pineapple spears, mango slices with cayenne pepper, bags of dried apples, a hunk of sourdough bread and a pickle that stunk up our cooler for the next two days. But don’t be too impressed at this relatively healthy spread—snacks for the next night’s fireworks viewing included a giant frosted Rice Krispies treat, a couple squares of fudge, chocolate-covered marshmallows on a stick and this adorable Minnie Mouse apple that cost $8.95. Yep, Walt would be proud:


    • We were in line for Splash Mountain over in Critter Country, trying to figure out what to do next because the big girls wanted to hit Space Mountain, but we didn’t want to jet all the way over to Tomorrowland to find an hourlong wait, especially when our 4-year-old had been asking to go on Dumbo all day. What to do? Well, there’s an app for that. Seriously, there is, and it’s called MouseWait. Though not affiliated with Disneyland, Walt would be so proud of this genius iPhone app that we depended on throughout our stay. Not only does it list updated wait times for all the major attractions in both Disneyland Park and California Adventure, it also includes real-time park news, like “They just ran out of coffee at Market House!” or “Space just shut down!” or “There’s a big crowd by the castle right now, anyone know what’s up?” I discovered and downloaded this free app before we even started planning our trip, which allowed me to keep my eye on things before we went. It was a good tool to gauge the daily crowds, and gather all sorts of other helpful information, like daily hours and events, where to eat and where not to (I learned someone got food poisoning at one of the restaurants there, so we steered clear of that one!), park tips and updates, and even glimpses of the parks via live webcams. The girls enjoyed reading about all the Hidden Mickey spots, and I enjoyed lurking in the MouseWait live chat lounge, where all the cool MouseWaiters hang out and discuss most things Disney. There seems to be a core group of them—many of whom I’m guessing are annual-pass holders—and they actually have regular meet-ups and reunions in the park. Even though they seem like a very nice, welcoming bunch (they love Disney, how can they not be?), I didn’t feel cool enough to jump in on any of these conversations until our fourth day there, when I woke up with a horrendous migraine. Migraines and Disneyland do not make a good combination. Not wanting to miss out on the fun (or worse yet, waste a Park Hopper day!) I had to drag myself out into the bright California sunshine and try to make the best of it. So I turned to MouseWait. I created a user name (Melody, after Ariel’s daughter), jumped into the chat area and asked for suggestions for quiet, out-of-the-way spots at California Adventure where I could park myself while the rest of the family played. Almost immediately, I got 16 responses, all with great suggestions and most with “hope you feel better soon!” sentiments and even headache remedies. They were all so nice, it made me tear up right there sitting outside of Grizzly River Run rapids ride. But perhaps most helpful was the wait times feature. The app employs a patented technology called MouseRank that uses some kind of algorithm that combines a bunch of factors that result in accurate wait times. I don’t know exactly how it works, all I know is that it does and it’s surprisingly spot-on, and it saved us a bunch of time while we were there. The only downside was that I was glued to it like a preteen with a DS, especially while waiting in line. I still get on it a lot now, living vicariously through others who are in the parks at this minute. Walt would definitely be proud of this one. And did I mention it was free?


    • Disneyland has a way of bringing out the best in people. On our second day there, a woman came up to us and handed us a balloon for Little Miss. This wasn’t just any old balloon—this was one of those high-dollar (10 bucks, I think) balloon-within-a-balloon balloons that stay inflated forever. I have no idea why she gave it to us, but Little Miss loved it so much she refused to let go of it, even though it was triple-tied to her stroller and weighted down with a water bottle. She stopped going on rides for the rest of that day because she didn’t want to let go of it. We brought it out with us every day, and even trusted it with a cast member who wouldn’t allow us to take it in to the Aladdin show. Unfortunately, the happy balloon story has a sad ending. On our drive home, about an hour outside of Anaheim, for some reason that will forever be unknown, Twin B decided to open the back window. From the front seat, all I heard was a loud sucking noise, and then the wails of a devastated Little Miss. When I turned back, I saw that giant pink Mickey head getting smaller and smaller as it glided over the top of the freeway bridge behind us. BK scolded Twin B for opening the window, causing her to burst into her own tears, followed by Twin A then bursting into tears. So thank you anyway, random stranger lady, for the balloon. For a short while, it brought our daughter precisely the joy that Walt intended.


    • It’s hard to say how Walt would feel about Bats Day, which happened to fall on the weekend we were there. I’d never heard of it, but apparently it’s a huge unofficial gathering of the goth/death rock subcultures. Their website touts it as “the largest dark alternative subculture gathering on the West Coast,” and I’d have to say that was an accurate description. Our first clue that something was up was the sea of black we noticed as soon as we got to the castle that day. Our second clue was all the parasols, combat boots, prom dresses, top hats, fishnet stockings,  skulls, guyliner and trench coats. The park photographer told us it was “Goth Day,” but then MouseWait told me it was “Bats Day.” We even saw a few gas masks, which I guess goes along with some of those alternative genres. At least that’s how one MouseWaiter and possible Bats Day participant explained it to me when I asked, also saying, “There’s Goth and then there’s stupid.” Not surprisingly, the Haunted Mansion remained packed all day long, and I heard later that the parking structures were full of hearses. It was fascinating. And a little scary, especially when Twin B and I ended up in an elevator car full of them on Tower of Terror. In line, one guy who sported the tallest, sharpest, spikiest mohawk I’ve ever seen, asked Twin B if she was scared. He meant of the ride, but I could tell by the way she was staring at his hair and sidling up next to me, that it wasn’t the ride she was scared of. I wasn’t scared until we got on and Spike said, “OK, back row, grab the person next to you and choke them for the picture.” Luckily, we were in the front row. This went on all weekend, and it sure made for some excellent “people watching.” It was essentially a Twilight novel come to life, minus the hot young vampires. (This group spanned all ages—I never imagined that senior citizens were into Goth, but apparently, they’re out there.) It was even better than when we accidentally and unknowingly  found ourselves smack in the middle of “Gay Day” in Disney World one time the first weekend of June.



    Now for the parts where Walt might’ve wanted to put a few cast members in time out:

    • At the end of our trip, we went to the World of Disney store to buy a few souvenirs. It wasn’t until after I got home that I noticed a small message with an asterisk on the bottom of our receipt. It said “WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the state of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm. Thanks for visiting the Disneyland Resort. Have a Magical Day!” Unfortunately, the asterisk was referring to the Ariel necklace that Little Miss picked out as her souvenir—and wore the entire 8-hour drive home. Great. She already lost her balloon, now I’ve got to take away her necklace, too. But I’ll have a “magical day” doing it! I wish this information were posted with the product, so I wouldn’t have bought it in the first place. Oh yeah, I’m sure that’s exactly the point. I don’t think Walt would have knowingly sold anything that causes cancer and birth defects.


    • At California Adventure, I ordered a chicken wrap for lunch at the Bountiful Valley Farmers Market. I ordered the Sonoma wrap, with grapes and a yogurt sauce, but instead got the Buffalo chicken wrap. BK went back to the counter to switch it out for me, and since I had taken a bite of the incorrect one, he said he would just eat it. But no. The cast member at the window said he had to witness him throwing the incorrect order away before he’d replace it, and he actually craned himself out of his window to make sure it did, indeed, go into the trash. Sheesh! What a ridiculous waste. I was so annoyed, and I’d bet Walt would would be, too.
    • After dropping more than a few dollars on a salon makeover for Little Miss at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (see previous post), we immediately went on Peter Pan’s Flight. After the ride, Little Miss noticed she was missing the purple ring she’d just gotten as part of the makeover. Upon exiting the ride, I told the cast member, who instructed me to come back that evening after 8, when they do a cleanup of the ride, collecting lost items. We did come back that night, and the nice Peter Pan cast member told me it wasn’t found, but that if we went back to Bibbidi and explained what happened, they’d give us a new one. You gotta love Disney. Except: When we went back to Bibbidi and explained the situation, a surly woman (who was no fairy godmother) told us she would have to call her manager. After some time, the manager came out and said all officially that we would have to go back to Peter Pan and have them fill out a loss report. Are you kidding? They were acting like this was a real 10-karat amethyst, when it was really just a $4 ring! And it probably was known to cause cancer and birth defects, too! “Never mind,” I said, “It’s not worth all that, and it’s not like it was even real.” But then after the manager left, Surly told us to just take another one. But she wasn’t happy about it. I’m pretty sure Walt wouldn’t have been, either, but not because he was out a silly ring.

    Still, even with these few disappointments—and even with the crabby old cast member at the exit who growled, “That’s my foot” after we accidentally bumped him with our stroller—there’s no question that when it comes to theme parks, there’s no place like Disney, both Land and World. Disney just knows how to do it right, which in a way, has kind of ruined any other theme parks for us, like Knott’s Berry Farm and Magic Mountain. Even with their high-tech super-scary thrill rides, compared to Disney, they might as well be the state fair.

    And for that, Walt should be proud.