No Holds Barred

Thomas hugged me yesterday. Now at this point in parenting, you’d think I wouldn’t care where my hugs are coming from. A hug is a hug is a hug, right?

Um, big “No” on that one. When you have a baby who is capable of slapping high fives with peers and offering his hand for adults to shake, I don’t think it’s too much to expect him to be able to give a proper hug to his own mommy. Especially when he is more than happy to bestow affectionate squeezes on the very brother who, just moments before, high-sticked him (a generous euphemism, as the hockey puck is nowhere to be found).

Maddux was never a hugger. Still isn’t. She’s more of a wrap-your-arms-around-a-neck-and-then-dangle-limply-with-your-full-body-weight-while-emitting-a-strange-high-pitched-giggler. But she abuses hugging technique with equal abandon upon all her victims, so that’s OK by me.

James, on the other hand, was born hugging. His arms just naturally curl into a hug position anytime he’s near anything remotely huggable. A mom, a pillow, a truck. If you’re on his VIP list, James will drape himself across your chest and ask you, with that huge smile that showcases all 20 of his teeth, “Sing sunshine song!”

Of course, if you are a baby, James finds that it’s easier to subdue you by giving your head a big squeeze. You can’t see. You can’t move. It’s perfect. So the key to getting a really good hug out of my middle son is to avoid being below the age of 14 months. (Luckily for you, you’re reading this, which means either that you’re older than 14 months, or that you’re a very bright baby indeed. In which case, you’ve been warned about the hugging.)

So anyway, James and Thomas have been hugging each other for a few weeks. At first I thought it was just a new grappling technique in their Fight Club.

“Stop that fighting at once!” I barked at my two smiling boys. Then I thought to myself, “Why are both of them smiling? Shouldn’t one of them be screaming for mercy?” And I realized that instead of a mutual stranglehold, I was witness to the most amazing thing ever: Two boys hugging each other nicely instead of face-checking each other. And I had just yelled at them to stop. Oops.

Luckily, my children are incredibly disobedient, so telling them not to hug was perhaps my parenting coup d’ etat. They embrace each other in between head-butts at home, and give each other big bear-hugs at the gym. Go, me.

But was I on the receiving end of any of these full-contact hugs? No, I was not. Although Thomas was happy to slap me fives or shake my hand or descend into my knee whenever a spot happened to be available (he will plop himself on any open lap, a fact which delights his siblings to no end), his mommy-hugs consisted of a hand on each shoulder, his head laid sweetly just below my chin. Nothing to sneeze at — but then he’d go give his brother a hearty squeeze around the neck. Where’s my squeeze, kid? You wanna talk squeezes? You don’t even want to know how long I spent trying to squeeze your giant full-term head out, and you didn’t even have the courtesy to face the right direction! Don’t you think I could use a hug after all of that?

But after a few weeks of practice, Thomas decided his hugs were ready for prime time, without me ever having to unleash my “Where’s Mommy’s hug?” rant on his unsuspecting ears. (Besides, I’m saving the agony-of-labor card for something really important, like sleep.)

Yesterday, as the boys and I were dropping Maddux off in her classroom, we all hugged each other good-bye as usual. Then James gave me a hug good-bye as well, hoping that this was the day I’d let him stay in Maddi’s class and play with all the fun blocks and beads. (He keeps forgetting this is contingent on being potty trained.)

“Aww, James, what a nice hug!” I exclaimed.

Then Thomas flung his chubby arms around my neck and crushed his cheek against mine. I just about fell over. (And not just because I was squatting and the giant baby-hug threw off my equilibrium!)

I’m a pretty tough cookie. I can ice a bloody lip or nose without breaking a sweat. I can scour dried poop clumps from a windowsill with the calm of someone sweeping away a few dust bunnies. And on Sept. 11, 2001, when my radio alarm clock woke me with news of planes flying into American landmarks, I went to work on what should have been the first day of my weekend (24-year-olds don’t get real weekends off in news) and edited stories of death and horror for another week. The only things that can dissolve me into a quivering puddle of goo are that impossibly sweet “Silent Night” Pampers commercial and hugs from babies whose little limbs can barely encircle your neck.

And I finally got my big, soft, heart-melting baby hug from Thomas at the moment when I least expected it. If it hadn’t been for the swarm of 3- and 4-year-olds watching and judging, I would have wept for joy right there. There’s just something about a toddler’s glorious abandon of affection that can turn a mom to jelly in an instant. A hug is not just a hug when it’s my baby’s first, no matter how many kids I have. (Although, given my feelings about the third stage of labor, I think it’s safe to say we’re done.)

Fun and Games

For more than a century, athletes from all over have converged every couple years for the Olympic Games. Sometimes, the games are held in scary locales with creepy, oppressive cultures and corrupt officials — Hitler’s Germany, Soviet-era Russia, Salt Lake City. But this year, the Winter Olympics are but a few hours away in beautiful and friendly Vancouver, B.C.

One of the perks of living a few hours away from the Olympics’ host city is that the torch relay passes through our town. Since it’s not a terribly big city and we weren’t sure when we’d be on the relay route again, we decided to take our kids out past their bedtimes. Just this once.

Since this blog is basically birth control in written form, you are probably expecting this to end badly. As much as I would love to give you a satisfying tale of terrible kiddie chaos and frenzied coffee-swilling madness, I must regretfully announce that there was a minimum of insanity.

OK, fine, James and Maddux both licked the railing on the park bench and Thomas managed to create for himself, in a matter of 2.5 seconds, a handsome cookie beard. There was also the small issue of the single light-up Coke bottle someone handed the kids, so that instead of having some boring conversation with my husband on the ride home, I could spend my time refereeing a heated toy-custody battle. (Luckily, these bottles do not have a very good battery life.)

However, things could have been much worse. Let’s face it; they usually are much worse. Since nobody pooped an entire outfit or split their face open or had a tantrum that attracted stares from a block away, I shall consider our outing a smashing success. The kids bounced around excitedly, Maddux proclaiming early, often, and loudly, in her best Rose-Bowl-parade-announcer voice, “The Olympic TORCH!” (Bystanders stopped looking around for it after about the fifth time.) James also enjoyed playing Official Announcer, baffling those around us with his triumphant shouts of “Da whipping porch!”

While James and Thomas enjoyed the torch relay, they are newcomers to the Olympic scene. Not so Maddux. Our little preschooler has been hosting pretend Olympic games in the playroom since July, often being the only contestant, which lends credibility to her amazing gold-medal streak of some 800-bazillion and counting. She never tires of skipping across the room, giggling in pageant-perfect faux humility as she receives her prize from the invisible panel of judges, and racing back to me proclaiming “I won another GOLD MEDAL!!!!” in a voice so excited it might surprise you to learn it was her 400th GOLD MEDAL!!!! of the afternoon. (Just wait until she learns about Academy Award speeches. She’ll be unstoppable.)

Maddux’ skipping always represents the sport of figure skating, that pinnacle of winter sports for girlie girls. She used to call it “girl hockey” because in a local ice arena where we watched an exhibition hockey game, there was a mural on the wall portraying a female figure skater. After leaving the game, she told me “I want to be a hockey ghoul (this is how she pronounces girl), because I just LOVE their outfits!”

“Really?” I asked, rather skeptically.

“Yes, they are just like PRINCESSES!” my daughter exclaimed rapturously.


“That’s not hockey, that’s figure skating. Hockey girls wear the same thing as hockey boys. Figure skaters wear little skirts, and the boy figure skaters wear pants and fancy shirts. They don’t play hockey, they do the same things you do in ballet class, except on ice skates.”

Maddux’ eyes went from her regular-cartoon size to full-on anime-heroine size.

“I’m gonna be a figger satyr!” she exclaimed with a squeal.

So a figure skater she is, winning thousands of gold medals weekly. (Take that, Michael Phelps!)

But now that we’ve watched the Olympic torch come through town, James is ready, too. The whole ride home, during his turn to hold the coveted glowing Coke, he held the bottle aloft as if it were the torch itself, yelling as it changed color: “RED!!!! GREEN!!!! BLUUUUEEE!!!! YEYYOW!!!!RED!!!!!!!” (This is always a delightful thing in the car, as James has only the one volume: Super loud.)

So for the boys, we’ll have hockey — or as they call it, sockey ball. (Yes, they realize that sockey ball players use a “puck,” but that doesn’t change the fact that its name is “sockey ball.”) And for Maddux, we will record figure skating. Although we really need to work on pronouncing those ‘K’s and ‘G’s, since nimbly sliding across the tile in the mall in slippery shoes while you’re yelling loudly, “Look, I’m Satan!” tends to draw stares.

Happily, no such stares were drawn last night and we all survived the torch relay — the only casualty being a healthy dinner (unless you believe Kraft’s claims). The next Olympian feat: tomorrow night’s family hockey night with Maddux’ school, in which we will attend a Rockets game right around bedtime. Stay tuned for the exciting sporting action!

Waiting for the torch

What’s In A Name?

“They” say our identities are fully formed by the age of 3. And funnily enough, 3-year-olds — at least the ones I’ve known — are often inclined to rename themselves. One child will take on the moniker of his favorite cartoon hero. Another may borrow the name of a favorite food. Sometimes the meaning behind a preschooler’s alter ego is a complete mystery.

I, for instance, happened to have an evil twin named Heathera, upon whom all my misdeeds were blamed. This Heathera ran about besmirching my good name — playing with things she wasn’t supposed to, making terrible messes and torturing my brothers. (I’m reasonably sure she opens packets of instant oatmeal over the freshly-cleaned cooktop every morning, too, so get off my back, Chris.) Yes, the standard set for my progeny was pretty high to begin with.

Then, the inimitable Maddux was born. Our fearless daughter is not one to concoct imaginary evil twins. Oh no. She had darn well better get credit for her dramatic and inventive misdeeds! And thus, at the tender age of 2, our mild-mannered toddler became the supervillain known as “Chaos.”

That’s right. As she jumped from couch to couch, strewing a wake of broken “babyproofing” gadgets in her path, she would recoil at the very mention of this Maddux person she’d once been.

“I not Maddux!” she would snap. “I CHAOS!”

And you know what? We really couldn’t argue with that.

While we’re not really sure where our darling daughter came up with her intimidating (yet completely appropriate) nickname, I have to take partial responsibility for what my son calls himself. Our eldest boy, who plays all the livelong day with giant-wheeled vehicles and hockey sticks, has given himself a nickname that will strike fear into the hearts of … well, anyone that really hates kittens and lollipops and rainbows.

Get ready for it …

My almost-preschool-age son has chosen for himself the rather long title of “The Little Baby Jamesycakes.”

Not Spider-Man. Not Monster Truck. Not even just Jamesycakes, which I could handle. Little. Baby. Jamesycakes. And he says it in THE cutest voice. EVER.

Yeah, he is not going near a playground until we clear that one up.

I called him Jamesycakes a couple times while smothering him with kisses at tuck-in time, as I think moms are entitled to do on occasion — failing to realize that he would associate the nickname with cake, which happens to be his favorite thing ever in the whole entire world. OF COURSE he wants people to think of James and immediately think of cake. What could be better, right?

Well, if you’re James, apparently babies. Little babies. And I have to admit he certainly is a cute little baby Jamesycakes when he hunches his shoulders up to his ears, cocks his head to one side, squints his eyes into adorable little LOLcat slits and says “I the cute little baby Jamesycakes!” in his very sweetest voice. However, I have it on pretty good authority that cute little baby boys who name themselves after pastry get a lot of swirlies and atomic wedgies. So we need to find a nickname that’s slightly less “LOLcat” and more “surviving to adulthood.”

James train? Rescue Pack? “I haz cheezburger”?

At least you can’t fault the kids on originality. Which is why I’m eagerly awaiting the day Thomas decides that his name just isn’t “him.” What will our youngest boy be rechristened? Will it be something based on his behavior, like Headbutt or Crush? Or will he, too, find inspiration in a favorite food? Perhaps in a few years, our playroom will be ruled by Sushi or Cheddar Bunny. If he’s anything like his siblings, Thomas will choose an alter ego that suits his personality.

So, Headbutt it is.

Chaos, microwaver of innocent puppy dogs

Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark

Are you afraid of the dark?

Maddux is. She sleeps with a Christmas tree in her room year ’round. The door is always cracked about six inches. And her blinds are open, which she claims is in case Peter Pan wants to visit, but which I suspect is because she appreciates the comforting glare of the streetlights.

Now, when I was a kid, I was afraid of the dark, too. Because, as any child of the ’80s knows, Darth Vader’s armor and Emperor Palpatine’s cloak are both very well camouflaged by bedroom shadows, and if you don’t have the covers up to your chin and a stuffed animal on either side of your head, you may well find yourself staring up at the emperor’s chalky visage as he glares at you with soulless, bloodshot eyes, zaps you with The Force and chortles, “Yessss, yess, I can feel your anger!” while Lord Vader stands nearby, choking you with his mind. In fact, Chris will tell you I still can’t watch anything more frightening than “48 Hours Mystery” right before bed.

But Maddux is not the lucky recipient of nightly visits from Maleficent or Ursula the sea witch. The only thing she’s afraid of is tripping over her Barbies as she frolics quietly (and, sometimes, not-so-quietly) in the wee hours. In fact, my intrepid daughter cannot sleep properly unless she has been told a story that includes pirates, skeletons, wolves, man-eating sharks, ghosts, malevolent space aliens, evil owls, or a combination thereof. Routinely, she will badger me to allow her to watch a movie she spied in the grown-up section of our media center — a movie all about her favorite subject, aliens.

“Mommy, I want to watch the movie called ‘Aliens’,” she told me recently.

“Oh, no, you can watch a movie about aliens, but you may not watch ‘Aliens’,” I replied.

“But I will be SO GOOD.”

“Well, sweet pea,” I told her, “That movie is for grown-ups only, because it’s really scary and the aliens kill lots of people and they don’t come back to life.”

“That’s OK, Mommy,” my preschooler replied sweetly. “I will be really brave.”

Maddux’ powers of persuasion are strong, but not strong enough for me to allow my little princess to watch gruesome disembowelings performed by slavering razor-toothed killers. So we watched “Chicken Little” instead, to her great disappointment.

But a few nights later, as I tucked her in, she resumed her incessant badgering.

Me: “What would you like your bedtime story to be about?”

Maddux: “I would like you to tell me the movie ‘Aliens’ because I really want to see it and you and Daddy won’t let me. But you can just tell me about it.”

Me: “How about a different alien story, with a girl superhero?”

Maddux: “How about ‘Aliens’?”

Me (tired after a long day of arguing with kids and not using my best judgment): “OK. Once upon a time, there was an astronaut princess named Ripley.”

Maddux: “You mean Maddux.”

Me: “Of course. Maddux. Anyway, the astronaut princess named Maddux was sleeping in her special refrigerator on her spaceship when she got a message from a planet asking for a superhero to come help. When they got to the planet, all the people were gone, but there were some alien eggs.” I leave off the part where an alien attaches itself to a guy’s face.

Maddux: “What about the aliens?”

Me: “Be patient! So Maddux and her astronaut go back onto the spaceship and are minding their own business, enjoying their dinner, when all of the sudden, a horrible evil alien POPS RIGHT OUT OF AN ASTRONAUT’S CHEST!”

Maddux is totally unfazed.

Me: “The alien EATS THROUGH HIS CHEST with its slobbery, razor-sharp teeth. And then the cool robot doctor sews him up as good as new.” (Because even if my daughter is a coldblooded enjoyer of gory R-rated bedtime stories, the only people who die on my watch are wolves, pirates and, of course, aliens.)

The story proceeded, but instead of cowering under her blankets, Maddux seemed nonplussed. After all, the Big Bad Wolf gets disemboweled routinely in our stories, courtesy of the kindly woodsman (you know, to remove the gobbled-up granny). So I pull out all the stops.

Me: “Now, this was not just any old alien. Instead of a humanoid head, the alien that was chasing Maddux and her friends had a long, pointy head with dozens of pointy teeth, and inside his gigantic, gleaming head was a tiny little box-shaped head that would shoot out of his mouth with amazing speed and CHOMP-CHOMP-CHOMP at people just when they thought they were out of his reach. And as they hunted for the alien, HE was hunting for THEM, waiting in the dark with slobber dripping from his rows of terrible teeth.”

Maddux (not even a little wide-eyed after this terrifying slumbertime narrative): “Like Thomas?”

Me: “Uh, sure. And as they hunted the alien, they foolishly decided to separate. And the alien gobbled up everyone on the ship, one by one. He even ate (dramatic pause) the robot doctor.”

Maddux: “Noooooooo! Not the robot doctor! I am changing your story and putting him back together.”

Me: “OK, so she puts the robot doctor back together and they program the ship to self-destruct. They get into an escape pod and fly out of the spaceship as it bursts into flame with the alien still inside it. Then the robot doctor sews everyone up and they throw a royal ball, where Maddux meets a prince astronaut, they fall in love, and are married that very day. The End.”

Maddux curled up in her bed with a happy sigh. “Thank you for telling me the ‘Alien’ story, Mommy,” she said blissfully. “It was so cyooool!”

Ten minutes later when I returned upstairs to tell James his trucks needed to honk more quietly, Maddux was snoring away softly — dreaming, no doubt, of saving the day from drooling, razor-toothed extraterrestrials. On top of the covers.

I draped her blanket over her. She may not be afraid of the Alien, but you never know when Palpatine and Vader might show up.

The Odyssey (And Other Things Borrowed From Those Masters of Tragedy, The Greeks)

In Greek mythology, a boy named Icarus puts on a pair of wings made of wax and feathers and, ignoring the warnings of his father, flies too close to the sun. Since wax doesn’t hold up terribly well to heat (Daedalus apparently didn’t think his invention through too well), poor Icarus falls into the sea when his wings melt away.

I recently undertook an Icarian journey of my own, but substitute a plane for the sun and my kids for wings. The plane hadn’t even pulled out of the hangar before the meltdowns began.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I was very excited when Chris booked a trip for all five of us to attend my brother’s wedding in Tennessee. But I also threw up a little in my mouth, because none of us (even the most patient and perfect, which I am not!) really looks forward with delight to an international trip spanning four travel days and 6,000 miles round-trip.

My mom suggested that we make a few weeks of it, but I looked into it, and they don’t offer a Round-Trip-With-Padded-Cell-On-Return-Flight special, so I politely declined the offer to spend an extra week being smothered by insane toddlers on a bouncy air mattress.

Our odyssey begins the Wednesday before the wedding weekend. We were supposed to be packed and ready to go by the time Maddux got out of school, but of course we weren’t. When one has three kids, packing up all the “last-minute” things such as toothbrushes and suckies and special toys takes a lot more than your “last minute” between the end of naptime and time to get out the door. Try “last five hours with many interruptions from small children who are hanging, slothlike, from your limbs.” So we got out of the house three hours behind schedule, at 7.

It actually worked out well, because the kids slept on the five-and-a-half-hour drive to Spokane instead of what they usually do in the car, which is fight and whine. Or, maybe not. Once we got to the motel, they were bouncing off the walls. If there is one thing worse than sleeping on a lumpy motel mattress, it’s trying to sleep on a motel mattress while listening to a wide-awake toddler chatter until 1:30 a.m. about diggers and trains and who poops in their pants or doesn’t (turns out, everyone does).

Eventually, I fell asleep wedged — uncomfortable and completely immobile — between a toddler and a hotel-crib-hating baby, while listening to the steady snores of my preschooler (but only until 5:30, when she woke up and decided to gallop around the room. Joy.)

After that refreshing 4-hour repose (and let’s not forget that the previous night was spent packing) it was time to spend nine hours in various planes and airports. Let me just say that while we saved thousands of dollars by driving to the states and taking a flight with a layover, THIS IS NOT THE WAY TO TRAVEL WITH KIDS. Seriously. Can’t emphasize that enough. Quite honestly, any travel time greater than two hours pretty much requires a heaping dose of Valium for everyone involved. It’s impossible for me to adequately describe the horror of a full day of flying after a half-day of car travel. I will try anyway, but much like the battlefield, nothing is quite the same as actually being in the trenches.

So, the day began promisingly enough. After drinking enough coffee to kill Juan Valdez himself, we headed to the airport with kids and bags in tow. Check-in and security were surprisingly uneventful, except for a teensy meltdown when James was asked to remove his shoes. The kids were all very well behaved in the airport. You know, like the calm before the storm.

That all changed once the captain turned on the “fasten seatbelt” light. I leaned over to fasten James’ for him, but apparently I had neglected to inform him that children need to be properly restrained during flight.

“NNNOOOO SEATBELT!!” he shrieked, to the warm smiles dismay of everyone around us. “I DON’T WANNITTTTT!!! NOOOOO, MOMMMMEEE, NOOOOO!”

And to my immense delight, my little treasure of a boy threw himself on the floor in front of his seat and proceeded to have the most adorable screaming fit ever. Everyone applauded. Oh, I mean glared. I threw up a little in my mouth.

Luckily, after we determined that James was now fulfilling the dual role of ticketed passenger AND lap baby, that flight was uneventful.

That flight.

Fast-forward through a disgusting and slimy lunch at the Las Vegas airport’s Sbarro, which was abundant with whining, crying and pizza-throwing by our non-napped baby, and we were on our second flight of the evening, which basically started not long before bedtime (you know about foreshadowing, right? So remember the phrases “non-napped baby” and “not long before bedtime”.)

So, as we are holding our now TWO lap babies pre-flight, we foolishly tell our fellow passengers, “They haven’t had a nap today and it’s bedtime, so with any luck, they will sleep the whole time.”

This is the point in our story where, were it sci-fi, current-day Heather builds a time machine and goes back to strangle two-weeks ago Heather, screaming, “WHY? WHY DID YOU SAY THAT??!”

Naturally, Thomas whined and cried the entire time and did not, in fact, fall asleep until he had entertained the entire plane with his imitation of an angry bald eagle for a good half-hour. We were happy to deplane long after everyone else, so that they would have time to decide NOT to rush us en masse.

By the time we got to the hotel, it was 2:30 a.m. Tennessee time and way past bedtime any way you cut it. The kids, thank goodness, all passed out the instant their heads hit their pillows and slept until a ridiculous hour (which, combined with Thomas eating the longest breakfast in the history of breakfast, probably owing to his hatred of Sbarro pizza, resulted in our being late to the rehearsal). Oh, I forgot to mention — the rehearsal and wedding? A four-hour drive from Nashville, where we landed. The money we saved on airfare might just be spent on psychotherapy.

The three-ish days we spent in Memphis are a blur of wedding awesomeness and kids-in-the-same-bed-as-me awfulness. I will skip over the late-night chatter of James, the early-morning waking of Maddux, and the joys of entertaining a baby in a series of unbabyproofed venues.

Fast-forward to the night at Grandma and Grandpa’s house. I was dreading this night, because no matter how much he may deny it, Dad does wake up at 5 a.m. and make inhuman amounts of maybe-inadvertent-but-maybe-not noise. Every. Living. Day. (Do we know any 4-year-old girls like this? Why yes. We surely do. Wonder where she got that …) So after securing his promise that he would be as quiet as the proverbial mouse (although, having grown up with pet rodents, I can assure you that they are actually very audible), we agreed to crash in the guest room. Thomas had dibs on the Pack ‘N’ Play, Maddux called the little couch, and James and I shared the air mattress.

Ahh, James. He of the never-ending nighttime chatter. On this particular night, I can verify that he was awake and talking until 1:30 a.m. Tennessee time. The rest of the night I spent completely awake, as his weight and my weight rolled us into the middle of the air mattress in a sweaty, kicking, drooly heap.

Sunrise in Tennessee comes around 6 a.m. I can tell you this because my watch said 4-something when I first heard Maddux chattering away to her stuffed animals and realized with horror that there were no blackout curtains. WHY DIDN’T I REMEMBER TO WARN THEM ABOUT BLACKOUT CURTAINS? All of the kids would really benefit from falconers’ hoods, but Maddux more so than her brothers. As soon as there’s a glimmer of light coming into her room, her eyes spring open and she’s ready to go, as if she were a walking, talking solar panel (who, unfortunately, keeps a charge long after the sun has set). Naturally, her morning adventures became louder and louder until I sent her downstairs — the resulting tantrum, of course, being what woke the boys at 6 our time. The saddest part in all of this is that I didn’t hear a single bang or crash from my dad the whole morning. Nope. Just from the kids.

This was going to be the most awesome day of travelling yet. I could tell.

We’ll just fast-forward here through the first flight, which was pretty much the same story as the second flight of the previous trip. James seatbelt tantrum, Thomas wants to nap but instead cries, Mom bounces everyone on knees and sings “Thomas the Tank Engine” theme song until boys fall asleep just as captain announces descent. Deplane in shame after angry business passengers, having ordered record amounts of in-flight adult drinks, rush off plane to consume Juan-Valdez-killing amounts of coffee and schedule vasectomies. Spend an hour on the tram because a) the kids think it’s a Thomas train and b) an hour of riding between two buildings numbly listening to your kids yell “All aboard!” exactly every two minutes beats sitting in chairs having people direct homicidal glares your way.

This brings us to the second flight.

Note to self: Never again schedule a flight after the kids’ normal bedtime. Especially after five days on the road. Especially when it’s your second flight of the day and you have made your Sbarro-hating baby eat (or rather, throw and complain about) Sbarro again because it is the only restaurant in your stupid terminal.

Imagine the previous plane scenarios I’ve described, except with Thomas literally climbing on Chris’ and my heads and James having even more floor tantrums. Imagine Maddux, for whatever reason, pretending she’s at a Jewish wedding — except substitute the glass with some in-flight Chips Ahoy wafer thingies. Imagine me singing the stupid Thomas train song for more than an hour (oh, lucky, LUCKY people in front of me!). Imagine it not really working. Imagine the most high-pitched eagle screech a baby could possibly make, but imagine it being done into a megaphone — seriously, that boy has some pipes. And for a good 30 minutes nonstop, at least. What I imagined was Samuel L. Jackson coming at us with a gun, beads of sweat rolling down his face as he commanded “Get these emm-effing kids off this emm-effing plane!”

I’m pretty sure that even the laid-back coastal mom whose two preschoolish-age kids led the rear of the plane in a rousing rendition of “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” was wishing she hadn’t sat in front of the crazy family with a preschooler, a toddler and an almost-toddler. And at the end of the Flight of Horror, instead of heaving a huge sigh of relief, I ended up carrying not one but TWO sleepy boys along with a diaper bag THROUGH THE AIRPORT because, even though you can get one immediately if you are flying OUT, apparently they do not rent out little baggage carts right at the gate. (The baggage cart wouldn’t have been for the boys, but rather the baggage that Chris was lugging instead of a boy. Although I’m sure they would have enjoyed that.)

We went to the hotel, James chattered and suffocated me in sweaty, drooly toddler snuggles (how DO they simultaneously snuggle and kick?), baby wailed, Maddux rose early with bells on, blah blah blah. I’m sure you know the drill.

AHHHH, Chris and I thought, Five hours and it’s over. (Oh, you poor fools.)

You know how you always forget something on a trip? Well, I remembered everything. Just not enough of everything. Namely, diapers. Also, after four days in a roomy minivan, I forgot how, in the Highlander, our three young and feisty children are all but inches away from each other.

So, with Thomas in a pair of size 5 Diego Easy-Ups, we headed onto the open road to a round of, “Jamesy’s touchin’ me!” “Maggots poops her pants, HAHAHA!” “CAWW! CA-CAWWWW!” “Thomas scratcheded me!” “DON’T DO DAT, MAGGOTS!!” “CAWWWWWWWWW!!!!”

But it was all OK, because hey, there’s the border! Hey, there’s that cute little town we passed in the Kootenays. Hey … what’s that smell?

That smell, my friends, is the smell of despair. Changing a diaper in the front seat of a fully-packed car is no easy task. Changing an oversize pair of Easy-Ups on a baby who has eaten too much Sonic and still thinks of diaper changes as a contact sport, in near-freezing temperatures at a mountain gas station? Worse than all the aforementioned plane trips combined.

Eventually we made it home, although we think our sanity may have been lost in transit. Guess that shows us for aiming too high! I’m pretty certain that if Icarus had been travelling with kids, he would have been pretty happy to plunge into the sea and end it all.

Next time: Why we will never fly Southwest again.

Wedding Belles

Every little girl dreams of her wedding day (except for me — I always dreamed of becoming a 6-foot-tall Russian double agent outfitted in a black PVC minidress, thigh-high boots and a chic ebony bob, but that is neither here nor there). Since Maddux has decided to wait until her sixteenth birthday to tie the knot with Prince Phillip from “Sleeping Beauty,” the next-best thing to nuptials of her own is being a flower girl in someone else’s wedding. Luckily, Uncle Gary and Aunt Elizabeth gave Maddux the opportunity of a lifetime last week, buying me at least another 11.5 years before I have to worry about sending my baby daughter down the aisle in a white dress.

Ever since Elizabeth asked Maddux to be the flower girl earlier this year, our little princess has been beside herself with anticipation. She practiced swanning about in her dress-up clothes (being sure to lift her skirts daintily whilst going up stairs or curtsying). She rehearsed the strewing of the rose petals in her bedroom with her bridal dress-up set, in the playroom with tiny bits of torn-up construction paper, and at her school playground with leaves. She was so enamored of the hairstyle we planned for the wedding that she begged me to put her hair up “in a Tinkerbell bun” for school one day.

As if being a flower girl wasn’t exciting enough, a masked ball was to follow the wedding. Now, if you are a 4-year-old girl who devours princess movies and fairy-tale books like a dragon eats knights, a ball is basically The Most Important Event You Will Ever Attend. Maddux occasionally tells me she wants take walks in the woods in the mornings, because that is when you are most likely to encounter princes. Just THINK of all the prince-meeting opportunities an actual ball presents!

On the day of Gary and Elizabeth’s wedding, Maddux got all dolled up in her flower-girl best and sashayed around the opera center (this sashaying, I should add, was done on pretty much zero sleep, so we are all incredibly lucky that her lovely white dress did not wind up going through the fountain out front).

Upon receiving each of the 70,000 compliments she got that night, my little daughter told people, “Thanks. I’m the flower girl, but you can just call me Flower.” And right before Maddux headed down the aisle, she told Elizabeth, in her most let’s-get-down-to-business voice, “I’m going to go spread rose petals now!”

Maddux very methodically walked down the aisle spreading rose petals, and, upon reaching the end of the red carpet and discovering that there were still flowers left in her little basket, she very conscientiously turned the basket upside down to ensure that the petal-scattering job was done to the fullest extent.

Now, since it was basically bedtime and we all know Maddux needs her sleep, I had but one requirement for my little flower girl. Fidgeting and dancing and looking around were pretty much expected at this point.

“Maddux,” I told her the day of the wedding, “Your job is to smile and look pretty. You don’t need to say ‘hi’ to anyone. But no matter what, remember NOT TO PICK YOUR NOSE.”

Naturally, during the ceremony, Maddux wiggled around. She fidgeted and hopped from foot to foot. She played with the bridesmaids’ feather fans and swung her basket around like she was a helicopter about to take off and tried to engage people in conversation. She waved to all and sundry. (I saw all this thanks to the complimentary baby-sitting. Otherwise I’m sure I would have been shushing and rocking and pacifying two bedtime boys. So thanks, Gary and Elizabeth!)

“That’s OK,” I told myself, while putting a finger up to my lips and making the universal “Shhhhhh!” sign, which was met with gleeful waving. “At least she is NOT PICKING HER NOSE.”

Then she picked her nose.

Luckily, she was the cutest little nose-picking flower girl there ever was. She smiled the whole time and was charming all night long. Hardly anyone noticed that her third knuckle was in her sinus cavity and I’m pretty sure there is no photographic evidence of the gold-mining expedition.

After the bride and groom were married and sent back down the aisle (YAY!) we convened for the masked ball. Maddux was among the first people on the dance floor.

“Do you think you’re going to meet a prince?” I asked her.

“No, Mommy, you’re so silly,” she told me. “Princes don’t marry little girls.”

But she did want to dance. Until midnight.

I figured after 20 minutes, she’d tire out. After all, it’s not as if they have cardio classes for 4-year-olds. (Later it occurred to me that the reason they don’t have exercise classes for 4-year-olds is because kids that age have about 10 million times more energy than grown-ups and that they would probably find a Zumba class quite restful.)

Maddux deigned to dance with me for awhile, but quickly deduced that I am a wretched dancer, so she kindly told me, “Mommy, I need to dance by myself. You can go sit down now.”

She danced with my brother Gary, which was adorable (brides and grooms are celebrities when you’re 4, so he was not sent to sit on the sidelines). Then she danced with a few other people, but sent most of them away.

For a good hour or 90 minutes, she danced in circles with one hand over her head like a ballerina. Everyone stopped trying to cut in after awhile (since she repeatedly insisted she worked better solo), so at the end we only intervened when she twirled too close to the candles.

That night, as we collapsed into bed at the hotel, Maddux sighed, “This was the best day ever!” (I’m sure Gary and Elizabeth agreed.)

Fight Club

When I had boys, I was prepared for a little roughhousing. After all, even my little princess has been known to jump on couches and assault playmates with very little cause. (What am I saying? Especially my little princess!) But, despite my interests in both gender studies and neuropsychology, and despite the fact that my own siblings and I engaged in spirited sparring matches every time my parents left us unattended, I was not prepared for Fight Club.

With Maddux, the aggression always has a reason. Yes, that reason might be “You have that toy and I want it,” but at least she’s not getting in fights for the sake of, well, getting in fights. But the boys. Oh, the boys! Where does one even begin?

As soon as Thomas was old enough to grab, he began pulling James’ hair and poking his face. We’d be shopping — Thomas in the seat, James in the basket of the shopping cart. The second I turned to peruse a grocery-store shelf, Thomas’ hand would dart out and grab a tuft of hair. James would launch a hair-grabbing attack of his own. As I retrieved my merchandise, back still turned, the boys would be locked in a most vicious hair-pulling contest — IN COMPLETE SILENCE. The second they sensed me turning to look, however, their hands dropped to their sides and they’d pretend they weren’t just trying to scalp one another. Because by now, every guy knows the first rule of Fight Club is “Do not talk about Fight Club.”

Now that Thomas is crawling and climbing, the time-out corner has become our new mixed martial arts arena. When James goes to sit in time-out (often voluntarily, for no reason at all, because he’s a weird kid like that), Thomas will initiate an impromptu match by climbing on top of James and whacking at him with both arms.

Like UFC, there are no rules. Knee to the groin? Why not! Eye-poking? Totally legal. Head-butting? Awesome! Hitting someone with a magnetic train or other prop? Pretty much required. Naturally, baby-riding — along with James-riding — features prominently in their matches. Today, the boys tried to squash each other with a folding Diego chair until they both wound up caught in the legs, squealing to be freed. Yesterday, there was a toe-biting incident.

But heaven forbid that the referee should try to intervene. Both of the boys will cry piteously until they are told they are no longer in time out (they usually weren’t to begin with), upon which the pugilists resume their rowdy, giggling death match.

Now, I know some people think it’s only nat’ral fer boys to ‘rassle. But those people also make mystery liquor in their carburetors and use loaded shotguns as decor. So James gets time-outs for fighting. Which is not good, because the time-out corner is the boys’ Fight Club venue.

Me: “You’re in time out for fighting!”
James: “WAAAAAAHHH! I be-wanna be-fiiiiighhht!”
Thomas: “GOO GOO GAAAAAAAA!” (Translation: “Awesome. Fight’s ON!”)

So today I tried using two separate time-out spots, even though you are not supposed to give babies time-outs. Unfortunately, it just resulted in Thomas leaving his spot in a flash, building up momentum and gleefully head-butting a delighted James before I could scoop him up.

So now the hunt is on for a new auxiliary time-out spot. Or maybe two nice little glassed-in timeout spots like the ones I show the kids when we’re watching hockey games. On the other hand, having their very own penalty boxes might be incentive to fight, and we all know they don’t need that.

So for now, Fight Club has three rules. Do not talk about Fight Club. Do NOT talk about Fight Club. And whoever wears Mom out first is the winner.

One Flu Over the Poo-Poo Nest

Before I begin today’s blog, let me just say that this post is not for the faint of heart. (That means you, Chris. Stop reading! I’m serious.) Really, the only people who are going to be able to read this post are those who have become inured to the steady flow of fluids (and solids, and mysterious viscous admixtures of fluids and solids) that goes along with having kids.

Anyway. Where were we before you involuntarily gagged? Oh yes. Poop and barf!

If you have kids, you know how often they get sick. If you have more than one kid, you know that the frequency of the entire family coming down with some wretched illness or another is directly proportional to the number of small children in your house. Three times the kids = three times the illness. And the younger the kids are, the more disgusting the illness — because no matter how much hand-washing, sanitizer and Lysol you employ, there is a certain amount of fecal-oral contamination endemic to an environment containing children between the ages of 4 months and 4 years. (You know, from the time they’re able to find their butt with their hands to the time when they are actually capable of washing said hands for more than two seconds without then running off giggling and sticking their dripping hands INTO THE DIAPER PAIL, JAMES. UGH!)

We have had various forms of combined flu three times in the past six months. So on Wednesday, when I removed Thomas from his high-chair post-breakfast, only to have him grunt out a diaperful of pea soup whilst covering my hair and shirt in a slick of oatmeal vomit, I was not as surprised as the uninitiated might think.

Of course, when you have to choose whom you clean first, and which end, proper decontamination is difficult enough azithromycin 500mg. That’s before you factor in the fact that 1-year-old boys love to grab their crotch areas during diaper changes. It’s as if their hands and behinds are charged with powerful magnets. Once I had wiped all the vomit off, here’s how the diaper change went:

Wipe horrible poopy legs and outside of diaper
Move baby’s hands
Wipe slightly poopy baby hands

Open diaper
Move baby’s hands
Wipe filthy poopy horrible baby hands

Pin naughty baby hands down with one hand
Give incredibly slimy bum a futile swipe
Move baby’s hands (HOW did they get out of my iron grip???)
Wipe filthier, poopier, even more horrible baby hands

Pin naughty baby hands again
Another futile swipe at the Bog of Unbearable Stench with a fresh wipe
Wipe baby’s hands for the gazillionth time
Snarl at baby to stop grabbing his filthy behind

Wipe as much poop as possible while baby continues reaching for favorite playthings
Cry to self
Cover baby’s mostly-clean bottom with diaper while I’m still ahead

Drench baby in hand sanitizer
Wash self in hot, soapy water
Cover self in hand sanitizer
Cry more tears upon seeing the baby has pooped again
Repeat above scenario endlessly
Find self sick with same thing baby has two days later, to no great surprise

And Chris (who is terrified of regular poop diapers, let alone the diarrhea that literally came splooshing out of THE FRONT of the baby’s diaper DURING DINNER last night — ARGHH!) wonders how I always get sick!

They’re Two, They’re Four …

I’ll admit it. My kids can be pretty thuggish when the mood strikes. Luckily, the only gang affiliation they currently have is their known ties to the Really Useful Crew, and the only banging is done to each other’s heads, with wooden trains.

James sleeps with a few select engines (never mind the fact that they are far from cuddly) and will happily sit at the train table from morning ’til night if given the opportunity. Thomas has finally made the transition from terrorizing the Isle of Sodor with Godzilla-like climbing and swiping to merely causing (mostly) unintentional carnage while actually playing with trains.

Even Maddux, who is ordinarily ensconced in the magical land of princesses and faeries, will drop everything for a showing of “Thomas and the Magic Railroad.” (Personally, I keep expecting Mr. Conductor to break into Jack Donaghy’s deadpan whisper, or admonish Lady to “Never go with an evil diesel to a second location!”)

Unfortunately, the trains of “Thomas and Friends” just happen to have really awesome names, such as James, Thomas and Henry. Sound familiar? Yeah, the first two are my boys’ names and the third is what both would have been named had I ever won that argument with Chris.

Now, not being a huge “Thomas The Tank Engine” aficionado before bearing my children, I was not aware that Thomas and James are the names of the fictional Number One and Number Five trains, respectively. However, this is brought to my attention each and every time I introduce my sons to any boy over the age of 3.

The other day, my lovely daughter asked me, somewhat sadly, “Mom, why didn’t you name me after a train?”

“Well,” I said, not having planned an answer for this particular question, “I actually did not name James and Thomas after trains. I picked those names out because I liked them.”


Phew, I thought, glad she dropped that.

“Mommy,” Maddux said thoughtfully after a minute or so, “I would like you to call me Lady from now on.”

“How about Daisy or Emily?” I ventured, wondering how people would react if I happened to utter an absentminded “C’mon, Lady” at the mall.

“No, Lady is the most beautifullest and special of the girl engines,” Maddux said, attempting to flutter her eyelashes like a Disney princess but (thanks to the fact that her eyes roll back completely when she does this) looking more like she was having a mild seizure. Then she threw her hair over her shoulder with a melodramatic hand gesture.

“Alright, Lady, but I will have to call you Maddux when we’re not at home.”

“That’s fine, Mommy.”

And off she went to the Isle of Sodor, to roll with her crew.

Mouths of Babes

Ever notice how stuff that would be really annoying if done by an adult is totally acceptable if your adorable kids are the ones doing it? One day, my kids will grow up, and when that day comes, I would hope they know better than to say “suliminable” or “strategery.” But right now, their mispronunciations and malapropisms are the very essence of cuteness.

For instance, today James uttered these words, “It rained-ed-ing on de sidewalk.” Yep, he finally managed to trump Maddi’s double past tense by compounding it with present tense. I’m not even sure what that’s called, except “darn cute.”

Maddux is very conscientious about letting you know something happened in the past. We never hear “James chased me,” always, “James chaseded me.” And from the bathroom, in the loudest voice possible, this classic is heard at least once a day: “Mommy, I makeded a poop!”

In addition to the endearing grammatical gaffes are the myriad mispronunciations which, I’m ashamed to admit, often go uncorrected because we don’t ever, EVER want the kids to learn how those things are really pronounced.

From Maddux (some of these, alas, have gone the way of the dinosaur):

Pobby (potty)
Inwizzle (invisible)
Rincess (recess)
Ghooghy (yogurt)
Girlpants (big-girl underpants)

Courtesy of James:
Cupcakes (pancakes)
Baker (bacon)
Dumb **** (dump truck — we worked really hard and fixed this one fast!)
Maggots (Maddux)
Bopping (shopping)
Girlpants (big-boy underpants. Sigh.)

So many of these are fading into oblivion (hooray for some, but sad to see others go). It’s like I’m losing my little babies! Of course, we still have Thomas, who will doubtless provide us with years of entertainment. (Let’s just hope he can say “truck” and that he knows there are two different genders.) One day, of course, he will be expected to know how to pronounce “nuclear” correctly. (Just in case he ever wants to be preznit.) But for now, we’re curious to see what he’ll come up with.