Monday night comedy

It’s definitely bedtime, but Mabel is playing at her dollhouse, totally immersed in a scenario that I am not privy to, muttering everyone’s lines and making it all up as she goes along. Usually she likes to keep the TV on in the background so nobody can hear her, but tonight it’s off. I let her play on.

She bounds over to me, the little drama all wrapped up, to announce that she’s hungry. No surprise there, since she barely ate any dinner. I let her take some goldfish crackers, though I’d rather she ate a banana. A banana is not on her list of acceptable options tonight, and we’re out of yogurts.

Dash is done with his homework and has had his bedtime snack. They fall on each other like puppies and I head up the stairs, picking up the basket of clean laundry for folding as I go, hoping that tonight, for once, they’ll follow me. They do, after a fashion, having decided that Mabel is a baby and Dash is her mother and I – oh joy – have been assigned the role of big brother. Such hilarity.

Whatever gets you through the bedtime routine, as my mantra goes when I’m solo-parenting it. My mantra also goes why is this still such an ordeal and aren’t they old enough to just put themselves to bed yet, but nobody answers my queries. This particular game got us all the way into pyjamas and through toothbrushing and bathroom necessities and into Mabel’s bed, where the three of us now sat as she orchestrated the next part.

Her lisping fake baby voice is nothing like the voice she really had as a baby, when she probably spoke a lot more sensibly than she’s doing now, but tonight, for the moment, I’m entertained by her clowning. She produces some baby board books and demands that her “mother” read them. I watch Dash gamely – and relatively fluently, for him – read the sight words. After a couple of books he tries to hand the job off to me, but she’s ready for that – “No! He’s dyswexic! He can’t wead them!” Then he decides to teach her to read, and sounds out “r-e-d” for her in the colors book. She picks up another at random and reads “wed, wed, wed; wed wed wed, weeeeeed”, and gives herself a round of applause. She’s a born comedian, but I’m not sure anyone beyond the immediate family will ever see this show. Maybe you had to be there anyway. I’m somewhat enchanted by the sight of the two of them in fits of giggles, huddled together in cute pyjamas, in perfect accord, in cahoots.

I leave them to it though, as it’s clear no real storytime is going to happen tonight, and go to fold the laundry in my bedroom. I’m about finished when they’ve done with all the hilarity her room affords and they appear at the door. We’re at that point where the fun is about to turn into hysterics. Actually, we may have left that point in the dust ten minutes ago. I push a load of Dash’s folded clothes into his arms and he retreats to his room before Mabel can run in there and lock him out. It’s every man for himself now – she’s about to bounce on my bed where the other clothes are in neat piles, because she knows that that, of all things, will push my buttons and turn me from mild-mannered pushover to rage-filled mother bear. I’m very protective of my folded laundry.

I pull her back to her room by the ankles. She’s still giggling, putting on the baby voice, but my goose is cooked, my hourglass of patience has run out, and it’s time for the fun to end. Time to sleep. I heave myself up again to her bunk and sit against the pillows to one side. Amazingly, she joins me, lies down, lets me pull the duvet over her fluffy new pyjamas.

Ten seconds later she asks me if I know how hard it is to fall asleep when you’re tired but you can’t go to sleep. “That’s because you haven’t tried yet,” I say, exasperated. It’s not the first time we’ve had this conversation. She harrumphs back at me, thrashes her legs demonstratively, wriggles. I hold my ground and close my eyes; let my mind drift – but not too far. I have things to do downstairs, my day can’t be done already. Besides, who knows whether her brother is going to sleep or fashioning paper aeroplanes in his room. At least he’s quiet, I think.

The legs are still. She turns onto her back and yawns. Her breathing changes. A few more minutes and I can go. Picking my way over the foot bumps, the bunched end of the duvet, the red fleece blanket. Down the creaking ladder, out the door where stepping on a floorboard makes her new shelving click unaccountably; it’s okay. I’m home free.

A quick check on the boy, who was in fact lying quietly with his light off. Hope I didn’t wake him up. Night night sleep tight close the door.

Nine-thirty and I’m out. Not bad going for a Monday night.

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In all its glory

Nature, consider this a warning. You’re on notice.

I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t pulled a tick off my children all summer. This is probably because they’ve spent far too much time indoors glued unhealthily to a screen, but there are upsides. As soon as they go outside, bad things happen.

Yesterday, Mabel (who had a great first day of second grade, thankyouverymuch), came to me saying there was something stuck in her hair and to take a look. I parted her locks and saw a wriggly thing that instantly made me drop the hair and recoil with a startled “Ew!” Then I had to coax her back to me so that I could be a bit more adult about the whole thing. There was a large tick attached to the back of her head, wriggling away happily as it embedded its front teeth in her scalp. Delightful.

I removed it with my favourite loop-of-thread technique, without pulling half her hair with it, and, for want of a better plan, imprisoned it in a tupperware container where I hope it has expired for lack of oxygen by now. I could have set it free to roam again, or drowned it in alcohol (waste of good vodka) or put it in a baggie and sent it off to be analyzed, but I’ll probably just wait till it’s dead and put it in the bin. Little fecker.

It wasn’t on her long enough to pass on Lyme disease, because she would have noticed it when she brushed her hair that morning, which I know she did because, see above, first day of school, so it’s fine. Probably. I’ll watch out for fevers. I know all about the Lyme stuff. But ticks are gross.

Also yesterday, Dash woke up looking like he’d been savaged by a particularly angry horde of mosquitoes in the middle of the night. As the day progressed and it seemed to be getting worse instead of better he decided that it might be poison ivy, from when he was helping his friend’s dad with some yardwork at the weekend. Indeed it might.

Today he looks as if adolescence has abruptly descended with a really nasty case of acne on his face and neck. I might have to take him to the doctor tomorrow. I bought some stuff over the counter at vast expense and I even think it was working, but he said it stung too much to give it a second try.

Stupid nature. Safer inside playing Hungry Sharks on his iPad Mini. Sure, it’s melting his brain one cell at a time, but at least he’d be outwardly unscathed. (Also, he learns about sharks.) (No, it’s not educational. Don’t get it for your child. It’s quite gory and rated 12s and he shouldn’t be playing it at all.)

Mabel walking along a green path in the sunshine
Walking to school, surrounded by nature, waiting to pounce

Rooms of kittens

 

If you know Mabel at all, you’ll know that she’s wanted a pet for ever. She wants a dog, but has accepted, with some degree of maturity, that we are just not dog people and she’s not getting a dog until she’s old enough to move out and own it herself.

(Don’t hate on me for not being a dog person. I love dogs, I really do. I have opinions about what constitutes a proper dog (sheepdogs, retrievers) and what’s just ridiculous (chihuahuas, yorkies), but I’m nice to all dogs and they generally like me back. But I just can’t imagine having one as part of the family – probably because I didn’t grow up in a dog house, and because apparently I lack whatever gene my daughter has that makes that not matter.)

Dash wants a dog too, not to be outdone, but with him it’s more of a passing whim. With Mabel, it’s a vocation.

Anyway. Since she knows we’re not getting a dog, she opportunistically hops on whatever she thinks might be more likely. If she thought we’d get a lizard, or a turtle, or a budgerigar, she’d madly want one of those. (A while ago she nearly had me agreeing to a fish, out of desperation – and what on earth is the point of a fish? You can’t pet a fish.) Yesterday she saw a guinea pig on an episode of The Cat in the Hat and spent the next several hours chanting “guinea pig” at us in various tones from wheedling to demanding, culminating at bedtime when she sleepily told me that guineapig no sleepypig Daddypig. Indeed. I made an imaginary guinea pig with one hand and snuffled her neck with it. She called it Percy. Things were at a pretty pass.

This morning she had me googling guinea-pig care and habitats and looking up cages. I am, apparently, defenceless against her well-thought-out plans and also her incessant demands. Anyway, I found myself saying that we could maybe go to the animal shelter and see if they had any guinea pigs. I thought they probably wouldn’t, and that it would buy me some time. Or something. I don’t really know what my thought process was – mostly I was just agreeing with things to get her off my back.

This is often a problem I have in life and parenting.

Here’s the thing: we actually live in walking distance of our town’s animal shelter. This is a fact I have closely guarded from Mabel for several years now; all the more so since she learned to read and might some day notice it on the sign as we drove past. (If ever I need to drive up that way I usually accelerate wildly or try to point at something on the other side of the road.) She knows there is an animal shelter in town somewhere, and in the past we’ve vaguely discussed going to see the dogs and cats or whatever they have, but I’ve never gone through with it.

This morning I looked at their website, and oddly enough one of the few times they’re open to the public is Wednesday afternoons. The stars, apparently, were aligning. Four o’clock came and I’d done everything else I needed to do. The kids were fighting and I wanted to introduce a distraction. “Mabel, let’s go to the animal shelter,” I said, rashly. “We can walk there.”

Dash didn’t even want to come. See, no commitment. Fair-weather pet-wanter, that one.

The other reason I’d always resisted a trip to the animal shelter was because I was afraid I’d fall in love with a kitten and our no-pets stance would crumble where it stood. Cats, I can do. We got a kitten when I was ten – a skittish farm kitten that never really warmed to people much, but I loved her. I know how a cat belongs in a house.

So Mabel and I trotted down the hill and round the corner in the sultry afternoon heat and humidity to the animal shelter, where, I was careful to note beforehand, we would ONLY LOOK. There would be no choosing and bringing home of any animals. Not today, anyway.

People, they have ROOMS OF KITTENS at the animal shelter. Really. Two rooms of kittens and one of grown-up cats. There must have been a kittensplosion recently, because the first room had two big cages with six tiny tabbies in one and five tiny grey fuzzballs in the other, all squeaking and scrambling up on each other’s heads in an effort to be first to be petted. Plus sundry other cats of various ages in other cages. The second room had six marginally less tiny kittens roaming free and sleeping in a pile, who were not nearly as grumpy as I would have been when we woke them up to see if they wanted to play. The third room had some very friendly and well-fed elder statesmen of cats who were also happy to be petted. We had to do each room twice, Mabel insisted, first to say hello and then to say goodbye.

And of course she fell in love with a grey-and-white fuzzball, and I found myself quite taken with an elegant pale tabby kitten, and our walk home was filled with her exhortations that I should talk to Daddy very seriously about getting one. Or two. And I was … not unswayed, shall we say.

Dammit, I knew I should have stayed away. But on the plus side, she’s stopped talking about guinea pigs.

Mabel looking up at the camera
Mischief managed

Soundtrack of my life

Mabel came with us on Dash’s school run this morning, because I was taking her to the doctor straight afterwards (to ascertain that her ongoing sniffles-and-cough-and-ear thing is probably two colds back to back rather than anything worse, like maybe a sinus infection; doctor said if she’s not over it in another week she’ll call in a prescription for us; AANYWAY). Usually, Dash’s traffic-clogged trip to school has the soothing soundtrack of NPR talk radio, but Mabel hates NPR. She wanted the crappy music stations; more specifically, not any songs but preferably the ads. She likes the ads. Why would anyone like the ads? (I like the crappy music stations too, I hasten to clarify, but I like the songs, not the ads.)

So I put on the classical music station and told the kids it was a compromise: a compromise is when nobody gets what they want. In retaliation, Dash started to sing his favourite dirge from music class, which is a two line hum where half the class sings a low monotonous wail and the other half sings a high chirpy incredibly irritating tiddly bit. Maybe it sounds good when they put it all together in music class, but one part at a time sung by Mr I-never-get -bored-of-the-same-line-over-and-over does not. Mabel started to build an imaginary brick wall to shut herself off from him. I glanced back to see her happily spreading invisible mortar and placing invisible bricks. Once her wall was done, she sang her own song: a brief and whiny rendition of Dash’s nemesis in tune form, ‘Shake It Off’. He protested. She said he couldn’t hear her because of her brick wall. I listened really hard to Mozart.

But because it was morning, and we’re all well-rested and not yet grumpy, things didn’t turn ugly, as they easily could have later in the day. Instead of screams and kicks and threats of turning someone out on the Beltway (where quite honestly they would probably get there quicker walking, but also probably flatter), they joined forces. Dash started humming the theme tune to Star Wars, and Mabel joined in, but singing the words ‘Let it Go’ to the melody. (They both hate ‘Let It Go’, which they view as horribly babyish and something they only liked as their immature three-years-ago selves. This about-face happened just after I bought Frozen on DVD.) They happily worked themselves through the themes to Indiana Jones and Harry Potter this way, and finally moved on to a rousing chorus of ‘Shut Up and Dance’.

I was not allowed to join in.

(And now I have remembered this post, from a million years ago, which was mostly inspired by me and B in the car singing along to whatever it was we were listening to, and thinking we needed some underlings to teach to sing along too, before they decided that we were uncool and so were our tastes in music. I think we’ve managed that, though it maybe didn’t turn out exactly as I envisaged. When does it ever, though? We did pretty well.)

Mabel sitting on Dash, on the sofa, sort of.
A sibling moment, but at least not in the car.

Walkers

This morning Mabel had planned to walk to school on her own, with a friend from a few doors over. The friend, a year younger but much braver, was all for it. Mabel had been enthusiastic, but I wasn’t surprised when, last night, she started having second thoughts. On Friday, I had belatedly and panickingly wondered if she even knew how to safely cross a road (things you might forget to tell your not-firstborn), so I went over the importance of making sure a driver sees you even if they appear to have stopped. I’d done the job a little too well, though, and now she was worried about the roads, and the cars. (There are a few small roads to cross on the pleasant and suburban half-mile trot to school. The last is actually an exit from the school, but the big yellow buses come out there with their drivers seated way up high where they’re hard to see.)

Mabel often worries about things at night that are no problem at all the following morning (don’t we all?), but this morning she was adamant that she still wanted me to go with them after all. The friend, who appeared at our side door on the dot of 8:40 as planned, was a little disappointed, but I promised to hang back and let them pretend they were walking alone. Two sets of bare legs, not yet summer-bronzed, preceded me to school – Mabel’s skirt much shorter than I had thought; maybe it should be relegated to weekend use; where did those extra three inches of leg above her knee come from, I wondered – two smooth-haired heads turned towards each other with giggles and assertions all the way there, explanations of the project poster Mabel was carrying, declarations of a nonsense game where they were in higher grades, were each other, had funny names. Mabel looked back to make sure I was still there every few minutes, though.

I don’t really want to stop walking her to school, though I do want her to walk herself home (with some friends) next year because that will make my life a little easier. I have to push her a little, bolster her confidence and give her the tools she needs without making her too scared to venture forth with my talk of what could go wrong – she comes up with the worst-case scenario all too easily by herself.

She can rise to the occasion perfectly well, and she will.

Two girls on the sidewalk
Not today’s picture, but t’will do.

Not filed under “sick children”, but it could have been

My blog was sick. Just vaguely sick, the sort of thing you could ignore mostly and just let niggle, like a cough that wasn’t going away. But it was getting worse. I thought maybe updating to the new version of WordPress (as all good bloggers should do when they’re told to) might help. I even took the heretofore unprecedented step of backing up first.

Then it turned out I couldn’t download the backing up widget. I got another one instead, and that worked okay. I clicked the “Automatic upgrade” button, and nothing happened. I kept trying for about a day, just in case the internet stars were misaligned, but they didn’t realign on their own.

I even contacted my hosting company and asked for help. The nice man couldn’t replicate my problem and suggested I clear my cache. That seemed to help, and I felt silly. Then it turned out it hadn’t helped at all.

I decided there was nothing for it but to do the update manually. I started copying over files. It appeared I could only do them one at a time. I soldiered on. When I came to folders within folders, I had to make the new folders and populate them, one file at a time. I suspected this was not what I was meant to do. As I clicked on the folders and saw what was in them, I realised it would probably take me a week. Without sleeping.

I finally asked for help. On a more local level. It’s such a cliche, but my husband does know more about this stuff than I do, even though he doesn’t have a blog. He knows what FTP means and how to make it happen. Thank heavens for husbands, and similarly enlightened people. Transferring the whole thing at once, in three batches, was but the work of a few minutes and not nearly as hard as the instructions made it sound.

Hooray! said I. A whole new day of functional blog was dawning with the advent of WordPress 4.1. But no. The glitch was still there, and getting worse. Now my Jetpack (which minds my stats and various other widgets) was no longer connecting. WordPress.com no longer recognized me. My blog was still there, still working, but I felt as if some insidious termite was breaking it down pixel by pixel.                                 .

Finally, last night, I tried my hosting company’s chat help again, and this time they agreed that there was something wrong. When the tech guy you’re chatting to replies “Hmmm,” you know you’ve presented them with something interesting. In the end I had to pay real money for an unique IP address that I need because something happened to their server. (I shouldn’t need it for long, and then I’ll get most of the money back, but it’s hardly ideal.)

And this morning I logged on and there was my blog – instantly, not after ten seconds of a page not found message – and my stats were back and WordPress.com knew me and I had to fix up all the things that had gone astray and everything was shiny and working the way it should.

And it turned out that I really do care a lot more than I thought I did about this blog and I’m glad the backup widget worked because if I hadn’t done that I’d definitely have been freaking out because as it was I was surprisingly tetchy and stressed about the whole thing. So the moral of this story is to back up your blog, boys and girls. And that if something seems wrong, you should get to the bottom of it before it gets worse. Which is probably a perfectly good metaphor for life, too.

Questionable moments in parenting #267

Lately Dash has been doing his reading with music in the background. It was a suggestion somebody came up with to help him relax while he reads, thus leading, hopefully, to more fluency and swifter reading with no loss of comprehension. I have no idea whether it’s working, to be honest, because he reads in his room nowadays, but he’s really liking the music. He’s becoming quite the mini-authority on Bach and Handel, actually.

As a result of which, I thought it would be good to get him a music player of some sort for Christmas. Something hefty in size and old-school in style: a CD player boombox, in fact. (It has a bluetooth capability to play mp3’s too, if we want to use that.) He loves it. Of course, Santa also had to bring him a CD, so I thought I’d pander to his inner tweenybopper and get a Kidsbop CD. It’s just like the MiniPops of old, if you remember the MiniPops (OMG now I’m having flashbacks of Hey Mickey and Bucks Fizz rendered by 10 year olds*), only more professional sounding. I’m pretty sure when they say “sung by kids” they only mean the backing vocals. Anyway, the one I got (no. 25, Gawd help us) has a fair selection of songs he already knew (Cups, Roar, Royals) and several that are now his new favourites, educating the rest of us in One Direction and Miley Cyrus all the while.

Which brings me to my most recent moment of questionable parenting. He wanted to hear the originals, so I showed him how to search for them on YouTube on my computer while I was making mince pies for the party we were throwing (wildly! with abandon!) yesterday. So I was standing right there telling him which option to select when he looked up Wrecking Ball. And I even thought that this might be a little PG rated as videos go, but I didn’t have the presence of mind, apparently, to nudge the pointer in the direction of the boring lyrics-on-screen version instead, oh no I didn’t.

So then we stood there, he and his little sister and I, watching Miley cavort salaciously with a sledgehammer in her undies (“That must taste yucky,” I said) and ride the eponymous ball and chain with nothing at all on but her rather nice doc martins. “That’s so funny,” said Mabel, “She’s naked!” “Ooh, she must be very cold,” said I, invoking my mother, and all sensible mothers before me, wondering just what this experience was doing to their tender psyches and how long they’d have to be in therapy before this moment was finally exposed as the root of all their troubled lives.

We should maybe stick to Beethoven and his ilk a while longer.

*You’ll be devastated to hear that I can’t find either of these on YouTube to share with you. But there is lots of other MiniPops goodness there. I just can’t decide which one to link to.