Whiz Kid

I have spent the last four years of my life potty-training people. Potty-training girls, potty-training boys, night-training, re-training, you name it. Few breaks. No vacations (unless you count childbirth, which I can tell you is a terrible way to get a reprieve from the drudgery of potty training). Constantly reminding, asking, changing Pull-Ups, shuttling a probably-too-late child at warp speed to the nearest toilet.

Potty training boys, it seems, is particularly hard for most moms. First, there’s the fact that we don’t have the necessary equipment to demonstrate proper peeing form. And, more importantly, they’re BOYS. Why take the time out of our days, they reason, to use a toilet when we can play trains in the comfort and convenience of warm, wet Pull-Ups? And James, who wails, brokenhearted, for more train time when I suggest a lunch break after hours and hours of train time, might be the toughest potty-training case yet.

When we broached the subject of potty training last year, James was more than happy to wear the colorful Diego Pull-Ups we bought for him. (Diego, as it happens, is only slightly less awesome than trains.) But as much as he loved his “big boy pants,” James did not love the idea of sitting on a toilet with his bare bottom. Once he was bribed and praised into some semblance of acquiescence, it seemed like we were almost in business. Now, if we could only get him to pee in the potty.

Here’s how that went:

Me (in a super-excited imitation of those manic people on children’s shows): “James, let’s put some PEE in your POTTY!”


Me (doing best impression of pee going into a toilet): “Sssssssssssssssssss”

James: “Pssssssssssst! Go ‘way, kitty!!”

Me (pulling up James’ Diego pants): “OK, James, we’ll try again later.”

James: “Mommmmmyyy! I SO SOAKED!”

And then, of course, there was the total evacuation strike. James was totally against waste elimination of either kind, but he was especially determined never to poop. And indeed, he went days and days without pooping. But inevitably, I’d be doing the dinner dishes after the kids were supposedly asleep, only to hear what sounded like a calf being slaughtered upstairs.

“I so pooped, Mommy!” James would lament, all sweaty and bug-eyed, thrusting faintly stinky hands in my face for (totally unneeded) emphasis. On legs as stiff as a new fawn’s, he’d totter into the bathroom for a change and a totally-beside-the-point half-hour on the potty.

But over the past six months, James’ Pull-Ups have been drier and drier, and many of his poops have made it into the toilet. With his big sister’s preschool graduation approaching, and James eager to join her in school while they’re still in the same class, I decided that spring break would be the week it would all happen.

A personalized cup was bought. A backpack was ordered online. We talked about classroom rules and school clothes and who he’d see on the playground. And on Friday afternoon, we pulled on a pair of tractor-themed underwear James purchased himself.

The poor tractor undies were thoroughly irrigated about 20 minutes later. Their package-mates hastily met a similar fate. James said adios to the green Diego undies. And the orange ones. And the blue ones.

There was much washing of undies and baking-powdering of wet spots on the floors. Potty-using did occur, but just as often, we could expect to hear Maddux wail, “Mommeeee, there’s pee all over the floor near the traiiiiiin taaaaable!”

Every 20 minutes, we’d have this discussion.

Me: “James, it’s time to go potty!”

James: “NOOOOO, Mommy! I playing (diggers/trains/dump trucks)!”

Me: “Let’s pee in the potty and then you can play some more.”

James: “NO MOMMEEE!! I stay DRY! (Slight pause) Mommy, I so peed!”

But finally, on Sunday afternoon, something clicked. Following his afternoon nap, James spent the entire evening dry. I was giddy with joy. On Monday, he stayed dry all morning. I fairly vibrated with pride as I put him down for his nap. After naptime, he ran to the potty himself and exclusively used the toilet — somebody pinch me! — until bedtime. Could it be that he was finally potty trained?

Alas, that was not to be. He had four slips the next day and one today. However, not one of those has been No. 2 and for that I am profoundly grateful. Because, frankly, cleaning a lump of doody the size and shape of a softball out of my darling child’s cloth underwear is not my idea of a fun time.

And this evening, James topped all his previous accomplishments by finally working up the courage (and coordination) to take a whiz standing up. And not a drop missed the toilet! (Grown men everywhere, take heed. IT CAN BE DONE!)

With another week and a bit left in our spring break, I think I can safely say James will actually make it to preschool this school year. It is the dawn of a glorious new era! James has already picked out all the toys he plans on using and what he plans to eat at snack time. Maddux, in turn, has taken it upon herself to tell James that he will not be wearing a tunic like hers, but pants. (I suppose, given that he thinks he will be in her ballet club as well, her specificity may be justified.)

Most importantly, though, I now have only one kid in diapers. And he’s an almost-18-month-old who yells at me while he’s pooping. There is a very real possibility that Thomas will be ready to potty train this summer. Which means one thing: After what will be five solid (and liquid) years of diapers as of May 6, Mama is getting a break!

Whining and Dining

Welcome to Casa de Phillips, an unforgettable experience in family dining.

Our guests are greeted by the restaurant’s signature shirtless performers. Think Chippendales, but shorter and with potbellies and spaghetti-sauce neckties. After they perform a dance inspired by the Russian Army, you will be seated by a hostess, dressed in all the finery of a royal princess. (Please wait to be seated, as all seating is assigned by the hostess.)

You will notice the layer of bananas and chunks of bread that festively covers the floor of our dining room. It is applied using a special apple-juice epoxy and is maintained several times daily by our No. 2 shirtless performer, Thomas. If you notice that an area of floor is running low on decoration, please notify Thomas using our special Casa de Phillips code, “We don’t throw food,” and he will rectify the situation at once. (Similarly, to commence a performance of the renowned Phillips Voice Orchestra, use the code, “We don’t scream at the table.”)

All our meals are served on the finest picnicware in keeping with our way-beyond-casual dining atmosphere. If you prefer drinking from an adult cup or eating with silverware, please alert us ahead of time.

If you are a lunchtime visitor, we offer three delicious entrees: Classic PBJ, all cream cheese, or all strawberry jam. Special orders can be accommodated upon request. Apples, oranges, cheese and Annie’s bunnies can be purchased from our a la carte menu. Once you have thrown your sandwich or your sippy cup, your bill will be brought out and you may no longer order additional items from our menu.

Visitors at dinnertime will enjoy, along with our chef-prepared nightly specials, the musical stylings of Phillips Voice Orchestra. Sit back and allow the otherworldly voices of James and Thomas to transport your senses. Thomas, a mezzo soprano with amazing volume and range, will begin the performance with a series of vocal flourishes. James, also a soprano, is an expert harmonizer. This performing duo is indefatigable and will fill your entire dinner hour with a series of impossibly-pitched crescendos. Their act has been described as the next best thing to sitting in an eagles’ aerie. We think you will agree their music is quite singular. (We do not offer refunds.)

After dinner, Casa de Phillips provides an entertaining grease-wrestling match. Our handler (or handlers) will wash and wipe the greased baby’s hands while the baby tries to escape from his high chair. Who will win? Who will get covered in food? It’s all good, not-so-clean family fun as the baby takes on all comers.

So please, pull up a chair at Casa de Phillips, open from 12:40 – 2 p.m. and 5:30 – 7 p.m. daily, for a dining experience you’ll never forget. (At least not without a lot of therapy.)

Your host, Thomas, diligently replenishes the floor-food.

Tale of The Ripper

The year is 2010; the setting, a cold and gloomy playroom in Western Canada. Fingers of pale sunlight angle through the wooden blinds and rest, as if exhausted by the journey, on a train table. Their presence does little to cheer the room or allay its wintry chill. Magnetic trains huddle together, lips pressed shut, shivering not with cold, but fear. The mountain winds whistle through the trees like harbingers of the terror that lies in store. As the voices of children echo off the bare walls of their nursery, no one notices a small figure crouched in a dim corner — or the faint shredding noise — until it is too late. Minutes later, in the same corner, a scream pierces the air. A broken shell of a book has been discovered, pages rent from binding. The Ripper has struck again.

This ghoulish mutilator of literary gems has been the scourge of the playroom for a few months now. He preys on its quietest denizens. Although he is well-read, mercy and remorse are not in his vocabulary.

The Ripper’s first victim was, at one time, believed to have been a beloved copy of “Busy Little Mouse,” whose back was brutally broken and torn to small shreds one day in early December. But after some investigation by the intrepid Inspector Mom, it became apparent that a serial mutilator was on the loose.

Who knows which classic story was this bookthirsty fiend’s first victim? It could have been “Does a Kangaroo Have a Mother, Too?,” which was discovered with its skin nearly gnawed off. Or the venerable copy of “Farm Friends,” whose pages, torn asunder, were found in various locales. (This is no easy feat, as this particular victim was a board book.)

Criminologists say to catch a serial criminal, one must look to his first crime. The 2009 mutilation of “Where Is Baby’s Mommy?” — if that, indeed, was the original crime — would suggest that our Ripper is either a baby, or a mama’s boy, or both. Some in the house (Sherlock Mads, for instance) have suggested that Inspector Mom herself has, in fact, caught the ripper in the act and let him go with a mere warning — and that The Ripper is her own son, Thomas Phillips, a known frequenter of the very bookshelf that so many of The Ripper’s victims called home.

The case against Thomas is strong. When the sound of tearing paper rends the winter air, Thomas is often found cradling the latest mangled victim of The Ripper. And the victims are often “his type” — small, colorful board books with a lift-the-flap feature that toddlers find impossible to resist.

Furthermore, the other possible suspects don’t fit the profile. Maddux is a known mutilator of paper and cardboard, but these are without exception stolen from the recycling bin and all the crimes have occurred in her own room. Even as a baby, she has never been anything less than gentle with books. James, on the other hand, refuses to touch any tome other than “The Monster at the End of This Book” and, that aside, has a concrete alibi for each crime attributed to The Ripper. (However, his constant and noisy activity with diggers and trains has provided cover for The Ripper’s crimes, so a conspiracy cannot be ruled out.)

What we do know is that, for now, no book is safe. “Chicka-Chicka-Boom-Boom” and friends have sought safety on a high shelf. The Karen Katz Lift-The-Flap collection is in protective custody. The watchful eye of Inspector Mom looks over “The Greedy Python” and “Slowly, Slowly, Slowly Said the Sloth.” It is a dark and forbidding time for nursery literature here.

There is faint hope that The Ripper will pay for his crimes, but many here fear that the corrupt, complacent authorities will simply wait it out, assuming his lust for paper will one day abate and books will again be able to lie about the room, unshadowed by the spectre of disarticulation.

For now, “Sadie the Ballerina” hides, motionless. “Curious George” dares not peer from his perch. Optimism is as dim as the wan February sunlight in this bleakest of Canadian playrooms. Wary eyes survey the floor constantly, hoping that today will not bring the discovery of The Ripper’s latest crime. Those who spend their days in this nursery jump at the merest turn of a page. Perhaps, as spring turns and days are spent watching yellow rays dance on warm, bright grass, summer’s optimism will overtake the dark mood here. But until then, in this interminable season of terror, the shrieking of bitter winds portends but more grim deeds at the hand of The Ripper.

Thomas: Innocent book lover, or scourge of the family library?

Double Doody

The first thing you’ll read in any book or article on potty training is this: Kids potty-train on their own time. Let them pick the pace. Of course, another pellet of wisdom from the potty experts is that children need to be physically capable of removing their pants, which is why Thomas — to his undying chagrin — is not being potty trained yet.

You see, Thomas is very pro-potty. Anytime James happens to be sitting on his little blue Baby Bjorn potty chair, Thomas squeals with glee and places the training seat on the big potty and shrieks at me until I deposit him atop his throne, to a chorus of triumphant cackling. In the event that he is not placed on the potty while James is trying for No. 2, Thomas will angrily drop a deuce in his diaper right then and there.

While Thomas’ goal is to use the toilet like a big kid, James’ goal is to transcend the excretory system altogether. Oh, sure, he is happy to put something in the potty if there’s a treat on the line. But James has far greater ambitions.

“I stay dry all day,” he tells anyone who will listen. “I never EVER EVER go pee! I NEVER go poop!”

And with that goal in mind, he stayed dry all last night, for the first time ever.

“Would you like to pee in the potty, James?” I asked after retrieving him from his room.

“No, Mommy!” James shouted. “I stay DRY!”

“James,” I explained gently, “The way people stay dry is by using the potty so they don’t have pee accidents.”


“OK, James,” I said. “We’ll try after breakfast.”

After a two-juice breakfast, I asked him to sit on the potty again.

“No, Mommy, I stay dry ALL NIGHT. I never EVER need to go to de potty. I STAY DRY!”

All right, then. Of course, it’s no easy task steeling oneself against bowel and bladder evacuation when one’s attention is divided between holding in a night’s worth of pee and playing with toy excavators.

Ten minutes in, James stood stock-still in the middle of the room and hailed me with a familiar refrain: “I so soaked, Mommy! I so pooped!”

“James,” I asked as I escorted him to the bathroom, “Do you think maybe you should have gone in the potty when I asked you to?”

“NO! I stay DRY!” he insisted, Pull-Ups drooping heavily with evidence to the contrary.

As I cleaned him up, I could hear Thomas banging on the door and squealing with anger at my failure to include him in the festivities. Once James was ensconced on his wee throne, I opened the door to an overwhelming statement by Thomas, in olfactory form, that one can indeed attain yogi-like control over one’s bodily functions.

In a world in which Thomas was not one of three spirited children, I might consider toilet-training a baby who was neither able to remove his pants nor climb onto his potty of preference (yes, the Baby Bjorn is great for putting toys in and all, but nothing beats a giant, flushable potty into which you can fit your entire body if you so desire). But there are other kids in this family. Ones who are likely to start jumping off tables or get into the glitter glue if I disappear into the bathroom to keep the baby from drowning himself in the loo. So until the summer, when Thomas has reached the 18-month mark and isn’t swathed in heavy winter clothing, we’re just going to have to put up with on-demand pooping synchrony.

In happier news, James has stayed dry all afternoon. Now, if only we can convince him that his big-boy underpants are, indeed, NOT made of stinging nettle …

Frickin’ Lasers

I think they’re on to me.

For years, I’ve been telling my children that I can see through walls and can monitor everything they do. It started with an offhand comment about needing laser eye surgery.

“Do you have laser eyes, Mommy?” asked my then-2-year-old daughter. wide-eyed.

“Yes, Maddux. That is how I know when you’re being naughty, even when I can’t see you,” I replied.

That’s not actually true. I can tell she’s being naughty because misbehavior is accompanied by either manic giggles or ominous silence. (Basically, this means I should worry any time she’s awake and most of the time she’s supposed to be sleeping.)

Here’s a typical night at our house:

7:30 Kids are tucked in.

8:15 Loud thumps, naughty laughter and the squeaky melodies of hard-partying My Little Ponies waft downstairs from Maddux’ room.

8:16 I find Maddux sitting straight up in her bed, My Little Ponies in each hand, eyes shut as if in slumber but fluttering ever so slightly so that she can peek and see whether I’m on to her.

Me: “Maddux, why are you still awake? Go to sleep. Now check my source.”

Maddux: “How did you know I was awake, Mommy? Did you use your laser eyes?”

Me: “What do you think?”

Maddux: “I think you used your laser eyes. I’m going to go to sleep now, but I don’t want you to use your laser eyes this time.”

Me: “Goodnight. If I have to come in here again, your ponies are going to go in time out.”

7:22 More thumping and giggling are heard upstairs.

Me: “Maddux, I told you no more pony parties. Give me the ponies. Right. Now.”

Maddux (wailing): “Mommmmmeeee, you said you wouldn’t use your laser eyyyyyyeees!”

Here’s another scenario for you. I come downstairs into the playroom with the boys after naptime and notice Maddux lying underneath the table. It’s not a very low table and offers absolutely zero shelter if you’re looking for a good hiding spot.

Me: “Maddux, why are you under the table?”

Maddux: “Mommy, don’t use your laser eyes! I was tryin’ to hide and surprise you guys!”

Since there’s an obvious lack of glowing red beams shooting from my face, I figured at some point Maddux would figure out that her mom hasn’t been bionically augmented. But as Maddux’ intelligence and knowledge base have increased, her level of incredulity has stayed at zero.

Maddux: “Mommy, when I grow up, I’m going to have laser eyes just like you.”

Me: “Is that so?”

Maddux: “Yes, because I got my genes from you, and you have laser eyes. When am I going to get my laser eyes?”

Although I could have told her laser eyes were a recessive trait and that she couldn’t expect to see through walls and set things ablaze with a mere glare unless Daddy had a dormant laser-eye gene, I instead told her that she would get her laser eyes when she became a mommy. It’s kind of true. Especially if she gets my nearsighted genes.

But while Maddux’ entire universe is built on her ability to suspend disbelief, James is firmly grounded in reality. This is, after all, the boy who was asked what Santa would be leaving under the tree and answered, “A big mess.”

So last night as I was tucking him in for the umpteenth time, I was pleasantly surprised when my little boy told me, smiling widely, that “Jamesycakes sees you all de time with his blue laser eyes.”

“Awesome!” I thought to myself. “My little boy’s imagination is finally blossoming.”

Then James threw his head back and began laughing uproariously. Because, of course, he knows that my supposed laser eyes are a fraud of Madoffian proportions.

I suppose I should be proud of my son for having the earliest-developed sense of sarcasm in the history of humor. But really, I’m just scared. Once they figure out that my laser eyes are actually just a pair of working ears and some intuition, the jig is up.

At least until I convince Santa to give me access to his network of hidden cameras.

Writes of Passage

When I look back on my childhood, my memories are broken up into two distinct eras — preliterate and literate. What I remember most about my preliterate life was wanting to read. Learning to read was like discovering the master key to the mysteries of the universe. No longer at the mercy of my parents (who were no doubt as relieved as I that they were no longer my personal encyclopedias), I was an insatiable consumer of fiction, biography, science textbooks, poems, magazines, newspapers, and the entire AMA Family Medical Guide (or as I liked to call it, the hypochondriac manual).

Learning to write went hand in hand with learning to read. I used words to label my pretend anatomy charts at age 5, to poke lighthearted fun at Reader’s Digest in junior high with my “Melodrama in Real Life” series and, later, to earn an impressive $10 an hour as a rookie newspaper reporter (age being no indicator of wisdom, this was what I chose to do with my expensive 4-year private-university education).

Having had this 28-year love affair with the written word, I’ve been anticipating the day my own children could share the joy of reading. When I held a 6-week-old Maddux in my lap and opened the pages of “Busy Little Mouse” for the first time, I imagined a time when she’d enjoy books on her own. While she teethed on her well-worn copy “I Love My Mommy” at 10 months, I told myself she was merely practicing for her future as a voracious reader.

But as much as she is her mother’s daughter in many ways (how many preschoolers can accurately summarize the workings of the circulatory, respiratory and digestive systems?), she also is her own person. And that person would rather be read a story than to read one, and would rather “just figure it out” than look it up in a book.

So getting Maddux to spend any more than a few minutes working on her phonics has been — well, like getting me to work on my math (something Maddux actually enjoys a lot). But lately, it’s been occurring to her that reading might come in handy in certain real-life scenarios, whether it be finding the price of a particular princess playset, figuring out the settings on a blow-dryer or asking Daddy via instant message what we’re having for dinner. (Also, it’d be nice not to have to rely on Mommy to provide spellings of people’s names when writing royal-ball invitations.)

Of late, she’s been sounding things out and connecting the sounds the letters make with the noises she hears in words. With a little prompting, she can finally read some of the easier words in her picture books. And tonight, in the bathtub, something finally clicked.

Maddux was playing with her foam letters and happened across a “J,” which we’ve established many times is for “James.”

“I’m going to spell ‘James,’ Mommy,” she announced. “What comes after ‘J’?”

Being a lazy mom, I replied with a typical lazy-mom answer. “What do you think comes after ‘J’? Sound it out.”

“Jjjuh. Ayy…” she began, using the word-building techniques her school and I have been using.

“So, what letter makes that sound?” I prompted.

“A!” Maddux squeaked excitedly, fishing around in the bubbles for that vowel.

She sounded out “Mmm” and followed it with “Zzz,” and thus was her first-ever word spelled on the wall of our bathtub. Technically, “Jamz” is not a word or a name, but it’s an appropriate phonetic spelling of “James,” so we’re counting it. She then spelled “Dad” with ease.

I have no idea what Maddux plans to do with her new skill — whether she’ll instantly begin devouring material way above grade level, or whether she plans on reading only when she can’t find someone to do it for her. Part of me suspects that she began reading because James has begun trying to sound out letters recently and Mads didn’t want her baby brother catching up with her.

But no matter what she does with it, Maddux’ future is here. She’s got the key to the entire world — literacy — right within her grasp. Soon she’ll be able to read herself stories, to select her own videos in Media Center, and even to discover that restaurant menus contain more options than just the healthy ones Mommy and Daddy offer up as suggestions (thank goodness ‘chocolate’ is such a long word).

Learning to read may not be such a huge milestone in everyone else’s lives, but it was the big milestone in my childhood. Books were my entertainment and my primary source of information in a pre-Internet world. The public library was an adventure, and at the same time, a home away from home.

I hope literacy will be important to my little girl as well. I look forward to sharing the old childhood classics, along with all the new books we find in the Scholastic catalogs she brings home from preschool. At the very least, I am excited — as I’m sure my parents were when I was small — at the prospect of no longer serving as my daughter’s on-demand encyclopedia.

So proud of her work, she insisted on a picture!

It’s Sockey Night in Canada

When I pulled the hockey sticks out of storage and wrapped them, Chris told me it was a bad idea. We’d bought them on sale at Costco when Maddux was about 18 months old and James wasn’t even holding up his own head, let alone a hockey stick.

Before the kids were big enough to interact with each other, we had visions of our adorable tots playing backyard games of ball hockey. When the kids finally did interact with each other, we revised that vision. The new vision looked more like a cross between Jai-Alai and a gladiator deathmatch, so into storage the toddler-size hockey sticks went.

But a few years had passed, and the older kids were big enough to know that high-sticking gets you a lot of time in the “time-out” box. Plus, what we’d managed to scrape together on our recession-era Christmas budget was looking pretty sad when we laid it all out to wrap.

“I’ll probably regret this,” I admitted as I surveyed the assortment of weaponry I was about to bestow on our band of tiny hooligans. But Maddi had already spied the sticks in the furnace room, so I was committed to the process.

When the paper came off the ball-hockey set on Christmas morning, the boys’ eyes lit up. “Sockey ball!” James giggled. No matter how many times I tell him that we play “hockey” with a “puck,” James will always insist that Canada’s national winter sport is sockey ball.

Ever since they were tiny, the boys have enjoyed watching sockey ball. James enjoys sockey and baseball in equal measures, but Thomas has a particular love for the ice. Before he was sitting up on his own, he’d watch hockey games with his daddy, his little eyes tracking the players and the puck. He’d squeal at the action and pump his little fists until the commercial break, at which time he went back to being a normal infant.

When Thomas was about five months old, we took all three kids to see the local WHL team play. Guess who started jumping up and down and squealing when the players skated onto the ice? As his siblings sat in their near-rinkside seats, somewhat bored, our not-yet-crawling baby tracked the action, waved his arms and jabbered gibberish in an urgent voice to the players. When we left at the end of the first period because Maddux and James were getting tired, Thomas howled his disapproval.

So now that Thomas was walking, I figured it was time to break out the hockey sticks. Insane, I know. Chris and I fully expected those sticks to be in permanent time-out by noon Christmas Day. But the kids proved us wrong. To be sure, there have been a few checking and high-sticking violations (for those who aren’t hockey fans, that means the boys have used their sticks to whack bodies and heads instead of the puck a few times).

However, this is what usually goes on: Thomas picks up a stick and holds it exactly like an NHL player. James does the same. If the puck (a blue ball in their case) is available, James will move it around with his stick while Thomas roars with laughter and swings his stick wildly (it’s as big as he is, and he’s new at this whole walking thing).

In the very likely event that the puck has gotten lost behind the couch, the boys will simply run around the playroom with knees slightly bent, sticks out, and their super-intense pro-hockey “game faces” on. James’ “game face” is concentrated scowl, with a slight flare of the nostrils, his eyes a few feet ahead of his stick on the “ice.” Thomas’ “game face” is a little different — his eyes wide, alert, a little crazy, and he’s usually jabbering some baby trash talk in James’ direction.

And on Saturday nights, we can always count on one thing. After dinner (usually pizza) and before bedtime (usually a bit late), the kids jump on the bed and watch “Hockey Night in Canada” with Daddy. Maddux, who’s going through her (realllly long) princess phase, doesn’t usually watch long, but if it’s Hockey Night, the boys happily watch the game until they’re dragged off to bed wailing “I watch sockeeeeeyyyy!”

Tonight, because the Canucks are losing*, the boys are celebrating Sockey Night downstairs with their own sticks. They’re good little boys and have watched enough hockey to know how the sport is played, so my refereeing skills are needed much more rarely than we thought when I pulled those sticks out of storage.

On the rare occasions when a boy raises a stick over his head and begins chasing the “other team” with wicked glee, all it takes is the question, “How do good little hockey players hold their sticks?” Down go the sticks. On go the “game faces.” It’s Sockey Night in Canada.

Watching the home team win the midget sockey championship

* The Canucks did not, in fact, lose and the kids got to watch the recorded version of their win after dinner. There was cheering and arm-pumping and the usually-coordinated Thomas was so excited that he took a header off the end of bed for the very first time. (Don’t worry, he was fine and went right back to jumping on the bed and cheering on the Canucks!)

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