Imagine a world without DNA. A world in which there was no way to test for paternity or maternity. How would we tell our kids from those of other people? Thankfully, in Maddi’s case, it’d be no problem. Not only does she look a lot like Chris and me, there’s an even more telling indicator of her lineage — her unmitigated love for shopping.

While each of us has our different style — Chris loves to buy rather than browse, and I live to browse rather than buy — there’s no doubt that both of her parents are shopaholics. Many of our daughter’s formative days have been spent riding through the local mall in her stroller on one of Mommy’s mega-jaunts or perched in the seat of a grocery cart while Daddy fills the basket with goodies. And all this retail goodness hasn’t failed to rub off on Maddi.

While she’s not one to turn down a toy horse when we stop at her favorite mall shop, thankfully, she’s not some acquisitive “conspicuous consumer” who strives to amass all manner of earthly goods. But it’s obvious Maddi does share my love of window shopping.

Even last year, when she didn’t have all that many words, I could ask Maddi “Do you want to go shopping?” and she’d be beside herself with excitement. That went double for the magical words “Do you want to go shoe shopping?” Like her mom, two of Maddi’s great loves are footwear and basking in climate-controlled retail goodness.

Now that she’s got words to go with all those thoughts in her little head, Maddi has some definite favorites, and “shop” is one of them. All it takes is Daddy pulling on his “going out” clothes and grabbing the keys and Maddi runs for the door exclaiming, “Shop?! Shop?!” If she should see me tear the grocery list from the pad on the refrigerator, there’s no hiding the fact that we’ll be going to the store. Should she see a shopping cart or the logo for either one of the two groceries we frequent, Maddi begins squealing in paroxysmal glee.

She not only has finally begun to understand that when she gives her book or toy or frozen dinner to the cashier, she will, indeed, get it back; she actually insists now on handing it over or placing it on the belt herself. Thanks to the prospect of shiny dollar-store stickers, she no longer grabs random items off racks (much). And we’ve spent so much time in the mall’s parenting room that she now feels completely at home in it — to the point where she’s jumping off furniture and literally climbing the walls (not as difficult as you might think, since they’re decorated with plywood cutouts). Yeah, the feeling at home in the mall bit’s not such a good thing …

Luckily for Maddi, she has two parents who have no problem indulging her craving for shopping cart and stroller rides. Now, when she’s older and starts asking for more than two-for-a-dollar stickers, that’ll be another thing.

And here’s our little power shopper, purse in hand and ready to go:

The picture of horror

Ever since the day I nearly lost him at 33 weeks, I’ve vowed that I’ll never take James for granted. That’s lucky for him, because he’s such a low-maintenance baby that it would be all too easy for him to get lost in the shuffle. This week, in addition to our not-so-low-maintenance toddler, we have Kaija up for a visit. In between having to split my attention between two little girls, each of whom want 100 percent of it, somewhere I have to find time for James.

He doesn’t demand much — unless he’s dirty or hungry or has spent too long staring at his bears or lying in the bouncy seat, James isn’t one to put up a big fuss, so it’d be easy to leave him alone while he’s not screaming and chase after Maddi or play endless games of pretend with Kaija. However, even though he isn’t upset about being neglected, it does upset me. It doesn’t seem fair, because James doesn’t ask for much from me, that I should give him less than I give the girls. So when there are no imminent fires to put out, Maddi-and-Kaija-wise, I’ve been making sure to bounce James, sing “Roly Poly” or make that trilling sound that amuses him so much.

The girls, however, don’t see it this way. Despite the fact that James gets approximately 10 percent of my “face time” — direct, person-to-person playing and talking — to Kaija’s 70 percent and Maddi’s 20 percent, the girls don’t seem to understand why their brother is getting any attention at all. James can be hungry and screaming his face off while I watch Kaija play outside, and when I remind her that I can’t get on the grass and be a dog with her, she will ask me why I can’t put (the loudly wailing and ravenous) James inside in his bassinet. When we’re inside, should I have the audacity to give James one of his toys, Maddi’s radar will go off, and she will climb down from whatever item of furniture she’s scaled and come running up to snatch it from him.

Now, foolish mommy that I am, I decided that I would take all three kids to get a group portrait taken today. A week or two ago, I separated James’ and Maddi’s carseats when I noticed that James’ right eyeball was just within poking reach of Maddi’s seat. (Three guesses how I figured that one out …) But lo and behold, when we tried to install Kaija’s behemoth of a booster seat, it wouldn’t fit in the center. So back to the old configuration we went. I drove off, crossing my fingers that nothing would happen in the 20 minutes I estimated our drive would take.


We were but a mere five minutes into our journey when I heard the dreaded singsong words, “Heather, Maddi’s hurting James.” And then the dreaded screaming. And then the most-dreaded words, “James is bleeding.” I pulled the car over, strapped Maddi back in her carseat, and headed onward.

Sure enough, when we reached our destination, I retrieved James from his carseat and his face bore a sizable strip of raw, bleeding fingernail marks. I cleaned the wound as best I could with a Wet One, and then did what any insane lady would do — proceeded to herd three respectively sullen, maniacal and disfigured kids onto a platform to be photographed for the better part of an hour.

For those of you not familiar with Wal-Mart’s photo specials, you can get a pretty decent package of shots at a drastically reduced rate — with the caveat that you cannot choose the best of a variety of poses, but rather must go with the first shot you approve. This probably works great for people who will settle for “good enough,” but for perfectionists it’s probably not the way to go — especially when we’re talking about group shots. The first shot in our case was probably the best, but despite the fact that everyone was smiling, I foolishly thought “We can do better.” After all, Kaija was slumping, Maddi’s grin was crooked and James was looking in entirely the wrong direction. After that, we had a variety of shots where one or two (and sometimes all) children were not smiling, or smiling too fakely, or frowning, or crying, or falling over, or trying to get up and run away, or spitting up, or blinking or looking otherwise stoned, or any number of other photography mishaps.

At last, we got a shot that was probably the same quality as the first. “What are the odds we’re going to get another decent shot?” I asked Chris’ mom. We both knew the answer to that one.

So for our troubles, we will, in three weeks’ time, have a halfway OK group shot of three kids. And for his troubles, James has (yet more) war wounds from his loving sister. I will make sure to bounce him extra and sing him some “Roly Poly” tomorrow, regardless of what the girls think I should be doing.

Coming soon: The group shot that shall live in infamy.

How he rolls

At 18 weeks old, it’s hard to believe James was ever a wee thing of just under six pounds. At his vaccination appointment last Wednesday on his four-month birthday, our little man weighed in at an impressive 14 pounds, 12 ounces and measured at least 24 inches with his knees bent. (It’s hard to tell how long he is when he’s kicking so mightily!)

His legs, which in November resembled popsicle sticks jutting awkwardly from a stiff and spacious newborn diaper, now boast rolls of flab with crevices so deep that Q-tips are necessary at bathtime to properly rid them of that special, cheesy-smelling fat-wrinkle jam that especially rotund babies produce on a continuous basis. That goes double for his neck, whose folds accumulate lint, dead skin and fermented spitup at an alarming rate. Even Maddi, with her prodigious, Michelin-manlike thigh rolls, could — if necessity dictated — last a good three to five days unwashed without smelling like a cheesemonger’s workshop. However, James is ready for his bath in two days, tops, and begins reeking with an unparallelled rancidity after four.

Of course, the stench doesn’t begin to touch the malodorous miasma emanating from James’ diminutive derriere, so it’s hardly worth mentioning. What’s a little sour milk next to pure sulfur, right? Besides, while his signature fragrance is strongly evocative of a Limburger-and-rotten-egg sandwich, what he lacks in aroma he makes up for with cuteness and charisma.

All a person has to do is look at James and our wee boy will drive himself into fits of delight. He’ll coo and smile and giggle and flap for what I assume would be infinite amounts of time, were they available to him. He doubles over with huge, gummy grins when we’re singing “Roly Poly.” He lights up when Daddy coos back to his overtures. He even giggles in the bathtub when I’m cleaning that horrid-smelling grime out of his flabby but adorable neck creases. I’m sure he would still be cute without all the rolls, but what’s better than a jolly little fat man? It’s like Christmas every day!

In other news, James is sitting well in his Bumbo now, lifting his head and shoulders a little off his play mat during tummy time, rolling from back to front and sticking his pacifier back in his own mouth from time to time. He enjoys rattles, mirrors, mobiles and chime toys. Maddi, oddly, didn’t really get into the whole toy thing, preferring instead to be entertained by human playthings and items around the house that meet her “Three-D” rule — dangerous, dirty or destructive. It warms our hearts (and eases our minds) that her old, little-used toys are finally being put to good use.

Oh, and here’s some odd news for you — James is working on some teeth already. Yep, at the tender age of four months (but really three, gestationally), our wee boy is a slobbering, red-cheeked little ball of teething cuteness. In fact, when he was crying the other day, Chris spied two white bumps under James’ gums use this link. Two kids in diaper is a fair bit of work. Two kids in diapers who are both teething sounds like a fair bit of overtime. Fun times are no doubt in store!