Monday, June 4, 2012

The Horror of Chuck E Cheese

Stella was invited to a birthday party at Chuck E Cheese this weekend, which meant that I spent several hours in the company of animatronic rodents, in theory "supervising" my children but actually shutting down my sensory intake systems one by one to in an attempt to reduce my external stimulus levels to survivable levels.

The kids loved Chuck E Cheese, of course, in the way that they can only truly love something that is really, really bad for them. Here are some photos, courtesy of my friend Christine K, who was also there, and who also hopes to live a normal existence some day again after intensive therapy:

See? The kids were loving it! You can tell from the manic look in their eyes and the thin sheen of sweat on their brows! Meanwhile, I was partaking in the kids' joy, playing games with them, and experiencing the whole event through the eyes of a child. Whatever, fuck that. As usual, I was reading.

In case you're wondering what I was reading: World War Z by Max Brooks, a novel about zombies taking over the world. Which was pretty appropriate, considering the inside of Chuck E Cheese. What the heck is that glowing mouse face over my shoulder...? Run for your life! It wants brains!

Speaking of zombies, the birthday cake had a picture of Justin Bieber's face on it, in the frosting:

Stella doesn't have the foggiest clue who Justin Bieber is. Actually, I'm not sure I really understand who he is either. (Undersecretary of Agriculture, right?)  But I believe that the ability to realistically depict a teenage heart-throb on a birthday cake can be reasonably called one of humankind's greatest achievements. Putting a man on the moon was great and all, but you should see the detail in Justin's bangs.

And the games. Oh, the games. You buy tokens and then use the tokens to operate the games and then you bug your mother for more tokens. It's a skinflint parent's worst nightmare. Actually, Stella got some tokens as part of the party, and then after those were all gone, I just kept repeating, "There's plenty of fun to be had here without tokens," which must have been true because (a) we were the last ones to leave after the a freaking HOUR, and (b) when we did leave I practically had to pry Stella's fingers off the air hockey table to get her to go.

Stella had so much fun at the birthday party that of course she has requested to have her birthday party at Chuck E Cheese. Thank god her birthday isn't until November, because I'm pretty sure she will have forgotten about Chuck E Cheese by then. Unless of course, we really do have a zombie apocalypse by then, in which case, what the heck, I would definitely let her go to Chuck E Cheese for her birthday. And maybe even buy her a token or two.

But I wouldn't bet on it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

What Cookies Get You

If you perhaps felt a great disturbance in the Force recently, do not worry -- it was due to the fact that my brother and sister and I were all in the same town for the weekend. I believe our simultaneous presence also increased the frequency of solar flares and caused a two-headed calf to be born on a farm just out of town.

My mom came to visit for the weekend too. She got to nuzzle her grandchildren and take us out to eat, and we got to tell stories about how we raided her liquor closet growing up and didn't even bother filling up the bottles with water because we knew she would never notice the missing tequila. (Well, I didn't do any of that sort of thing. I was an angel growing up, unlike my brother and sister, a fact I would like to draw my mother's attention to in case she is thinking about revising her will.)

There was some serious cuteness involving children this weekend. Any hand-holding or spontaneous kissing among the cousins was immediately photographically documented. Many times, the level of cuteness could only be truly described using profanity, which is why at various times during the weekend, each of us found ourselves whispering to the other adults, "They are so! fucking! cute!"

Photographic proof of the cuteness is below, as shown by photos taken by my sister-in-law Margaret. Is there anything cuter than little kids holding hands?

Stella and her cousin at the gardens

Baby W and his cousin, on their way to feed the goats.
We also arranged for a professional photographer to document our family's cuteness, in case someday proof of this extraordinary cuteness was required, like when we renew our passports or something. For some reason, Baby W was quite cranky all through the photo shoot, which was unusual because he's normally pretty even tempered. Perhaps all the extra solar flares were getting on his nerves.

Anyway, I tried to cheer him up and buy his cooperation by stuffing him full of cookies. This approach didn't work at all, which shocked me because one of the fundamental underpinnings in the parent-child relationship is supposed to be the understanding that you can (temporarily) buy good behavior with sugar. In fact, I think it's written into the parent-child contract that as a parent I can expect at least 15 minutes improved behavior per cookie. Baby W flagrantly flouted the terms of our agreement. He will be hearing from my attorney.

See that cookie? And the lack of a smile?
I am so totally suing this shortie.
The great thing is that I have a little niece or nephew on the way, so the next time that I get together with my siblings, there will be one more little kid around. That is pretty much going to blow our cuteness quotient through the roof. I'm already looking forward to the next time we get together, which will hopefully happen when I go out to visit the new baby. But until that happens, I'll have to be satisfied with visiting the two-headed calf.

Monday, May 21, 2012

This Will Be My Most Popular Post Ever

I have been quite busy recently, what with medical school and fine-tuning my acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize and all, so I've been neglecting Midwest Potato a bit. No doubt this causes great grief to all seven regular readers of this blog. (Seven readers, that is, if I somehow manage to make my mom count as four people.)

Anyway, I was looking back at old posts, trying to think what to write about, and I noticed that my most popular post ever was about chillblains. That's because I included a photo of Stella's poor winter-damaged fingers, and other people apparently also foolish to live in a climate not fit for man nor beast googled "chillblains" and found their way to my site.

The lesson that I learned from this is that people like to look at damaged extremities. So here is a picture of my toes.

A good rule of thumb is that the uglier a runner's toes are, the sexier his or her legs are. That's definitely true in my case, but since I'm not posting a picture of my legs, you'll just have to wait up until you can ogle them in person. I know, it's hard to be patient.

I also noticed that people really liked to look at pictures of my messy house on this blog. Then half the readers (that would be 3 and 1/2 readers) post something along the lines of "You think that's messy?! My place is so messy that we haven't been able to find the actual house since September and have had to camp in the yard! Also, we used to have a third kid but then he made the mistake of venturing into the den on his own, and we never saw him again!" The other half of people who look at the pictures of my messy house write notes to themselves never to let their children play over at my house, because I seem like the type of person who would probably have ringworm.

So here are two more messy house pictures for your enjoyment:

See how our living room is nearly indistinguishable from a cardboard box farm?  That's because the kids had a lot of fun playing with one big cardboard box, so we thought we should really amp up the fun by getting them four big cardboard boxes. Whoooo-eeee! Better step back, folks, we're having so much fun in our house it can't possibly be legal!

(Someday, it will dawn on Stella that while she was playing with cardboard boxes and eating whole-wheat parsnip muffins for breakfast, other kids were playing with their Wiis and eating Lucky Charms. Depending how old she is when she figures all this out, she will either be very angry or very grateful.)

So there you have it -- photos of blighted extremities and my trashed house. The only thing that would have been better is if I managed to somehow show both items of interest in a single image, by taking a picture of mangled foot, showing my disorderly house in the background. Next time, maybe. Right now I need to do something about this ringworm.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Ask Not For Whom the Toilet Tolls

The good news is that Baby W is interested in starting to use the toilet. The bad news is that he is also interested in helping everybody wipe. And I truly mean everybody -- his mother, his sister, his father, YOU if you came to our house (and something tells me now that you won't), and any visiting dignitaries like ambassadors who stop by to use the bathroom. If the opportunity ever arose, Baby W would consider it a true honor to help President Obama wipe.

Baby W is also talking a lot about bathroom issues these days. "Dada poop?" he will ask. "Stella poop?" So I reassure him that yes, every member of this family poops, except of course for me. I release my waste products in the form of fragrant rose petals, which issue forth from my body at regular intervals.

He's starting to let us know when he has a diaper that needs changing, which is one of the first steps to starting toilet training. The irony is that we almost never need him to actually let us know that. Usually we know perfectly well that he has a dirty diaper, although we pretend like we haven't noticed anything with the secret hope that the other parent will give in first and change him. It's a silent game of spousal chicken, and the stakes are high. We don't need a baby wandering into this emotional minefield.

Of course Baby W is very into flushing, too. He'll flush for you any time you need a flush. And he's good at waiting until you've finished before he performs his flushing responsibilities -- he just stands by the toilet handle until he is needed. Basically, he's a tiny flushing butler, at your service. I might get him a pint-sized silver tray that he could use to carry the toilet paper.

Baby W is also something of a flushing connoisseur. Whenever we visit bathrooms away from home, he has to try out the flushing action of the toilet, much the same way that a car enthusiast might keep an eye out for vintage vehicles when driving around the city. Baby W particularly likes the toilets that let you save water by choosing between two different flush levels as needed. So while I am in one stall, he will be in the next stall over, flushing the water-conserving toilet again and again and again and again and again. Just think of all the water he's saving!

I'm glad Baby W is interested in toilet-related activities, especially since it means that soon he'll be interested in actually using the toilet himself. In the meantime, I can put up with assistance with dirty diaper notification, flushing, and wiping. If Mitt Romney comes to use our bathroom, though, all bets are off.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Worst

I can't think of a single thing I like less than looking for a new child care provider. Well, maybe cleaning up cat barf, particularly after I first discover it by stepping in it. That is also not very rewarding.

The frustrating thing is that we already have child care providers who we like very much! But they are college students who have a nasty habit of -- get this -- graduating! The nerve. Governor Walker has a good start on dismantling the university system but apparently they are still letting students graduate and get professional jobs. For now.

David is often the one in our house who is in charge of finding new child care providers. He usually does this by putting a listing on the University of Wisconsin job site, and then we interview candidates. For some reason, this approach always seems to yield leggy blond university students. And then we hire them! I'm not sure I need the competition have having beautiful 21-year-olds with perfect teeth caring for my babies. This time I'm going to be in charge of posting the job listing. I will specify that the ideal candidate is caring, fun, confident, and slightly dumpy.

And interviewing candidates! That's also the worst. I never know what to ask these potential babysitters. Really, all I want to ask is "Are you going to fatten my child up and feed them to a witch? No? Then you can start Wednesday."

David, on the other hand, is obsessed with finding out where the potential babysitter is from. Because deep down, he thinks that a person from small town Wisconsin is likely to be more trustworthy and wholesome than a person from somewhere else. (I try not to remind him about Ed Gein.) And he loves forging a connection based on some mostly-imagined geographic commonality. Like this:
David: "Where are you from?"
Leggy young thing: "Oconomowoc."
David: "Oh, really? One time my uncle got a speeding ticket in Oconomowoc! I think that was in 1989."
Me: "This is all TRULY FASCINATING. Let's get to the part where I ask about the witch."

It doesn't help that deep down inside, I believe that my children are so awesome that child care providers should pay us for the privilege of being around them. Take a look and see what I mean:

I think it's reasonable to ask a child care provider to pay us $13/hr to be around such incredible cuteness, don't you?

For a while, we had a GUY doing occasional child care for us. He came recommended from a friend, and had a great resume -- he had previously worked at a nearby preschool and had a lot of child care experience. But David just couldn't get over the weirdness of a man taking care of our children. I know that sounds incredibly old-fashioned, but -- well, actually, there is no "but." That attitude really IS incredibly old-fashioned, and seems especially odd coming from David considering that he is a very hands-on, invested father. But I try to remember that David grew up in small town Wisconsin in the 1960s, which was the equivalent of the 1950s in the rest of the world, and he is bound to have some old-fashioned ideas. These new-fangled horseless carriages, for example -- he doesn't trust them one bit.

[I told David that I would be making fun of him on my blog today, and he said, "It would be more efficient for you to let me know when you're not making fun of me on your blog."]

We'll get through it, I know, and hire a new leggy blond who takes wonderful care of our children. And this time around, when we interview candidates, I have new question to ask. I'm going to ask about her willingness to clean up cat barf.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Parenting Magazines are Pure Evil

A lot of parenting magazines -- which by the way in general I find to be almost complete and total bullshit -- tell you not to sleep with your child, because...well, I never really understood exactly why. I think that's just one piece of a whole library of bad advice given by parenting magazines. Not that those magazines don't play a parent in helping people parent. A good rule of thumb is for every bit of advice given by one of those magazines, do the exact opposite.

Slow dancing to Alison Kraus.
Remind me, is there an app
for dancing?
Those of you who don't have little kids might think I'm exaggerating about the evil contained within these parenting magazines. What's the big deal, you wonder? I'm am telling you, these magazines are pure, unadulterated wretchedness, and it's a special type of wretchedness that's designed to get you to spend money. Here are some examples of articles that I found from Parenting Magazine's website just now:

Takeaway message: "If you spend less than $500 on a stroller, it means you don't love your kid."
My thoughts: "Did Jessica Alba junk-pick a stroller like I did? Mine only had a few bedbugs on it."

Takeaway message: "These apps teach your kids as much as going to Harvard would, and for only $1.99!"
My thoughts: "I know of this awesome app for kids. It's called OpenAFlippinBook!" (Note: this kind of attitude is why my kids are destined to be social outcasts. I'll may as well get them started learning Dungeons and Dragons right now.)

Takeaway message: "If you don't have a Conair Garment Steamer, a Clinique Quick Blush, or a momAgenda Kitchen Folio [I'm not making these up -- they're all included as must-haves], then your kid will basically go to jail. In fact, we're surprised he's not there already."
My thoughts: "No wonder this parenting gig is so hard! I have the totally wrong brand of garment steamer!"

Poor kid hasn't had
CRAP steamed
Back to my point, which is that parenting magazines tell you not to sleep with your kids. I really want to disagree with the parenting magazines just out of sheer principle, but I'm said to say that I have to agree with them on this one. Sometimes, when I go to bed, my kids look even more adorable than they do during the day, and so I crawl into bed with them, hoping to sleep and cuddle the whole night. But you know what? MY KIDS FIGHT DIRTY.

They may start out with their heads on the pillow and their feet down by the end of the bed, but by the time midnight rolls around they're sleeping in positions so tangled and unnatural that I'm pushed to the very edge of the mattress. Yesterday when I was snuggled up to Stella, she delivered a sleep-kick worthy of a donkey...straight to my armpit. Because that's where her feet where.

Unlike adults, who manage to stay sleeping in mostly a north-south arrangement, my kids wind up pointing east-west, east-southeast by west-northwest, and all the other directions. And as cute as they are, it's hard to sleep with a spinning compass needle. So usually I just give up and get out of bed. And as long as I'm up, I use that time to steam a garment or two.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mess Rating

The downside to going to bed at 8:00 PM is that I don't much done around the house. On the other hand, the upside to going to bed at 8:00 PM is also that I don't get much done around the house. Many evenings, as I lie with the kids while they fall asleep, I know that I should get up and be productive, and tackle satisfying activities like paying our quarterly income taxes. Or cleaning out the litter boxes. Or -- wouldn't this be fun? -- paying quarterly taxes WHILE cleaning out the litter boxes. And then I could claim the cats as business expenses.

When I do manage to get up after putting the kids to bed, I spend most of the time trying to get the house in some semblance of order so that it doesn't look like it was affected by some sort of bizarre micro-quake (5.2 on the Richter scale). David somehow manages to be in total denial about the state of the house. In fact, even when the house is a complete dump, he considers things to be relatively picked up. How is he able to do that? Is that some sort of natural gift that is associated with male hormones? Because I would totally risk male pattern baldness if it meant I was able overlook the level of chaos and clutter we have in our house.

Let's take a look at some days this week when our house was messy, and you will see what I mean. On a scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being the neatest and 10 being the messiest, I would give this table a 7, which translates to "pretty messy, and I might even clean it off if I can take a break from thinking up disgusting yet hilarious jokes about Santorum dropping out of the presidential race."

David, on the other hand, would give this table a solid 2 for a mess rating, because it has a book on it. But only one book! He simply can't see all the other books.

Here's another example. When the kitchen looks like this, I don't want to answer the door, because it might be social workers coming to take my children away. (To be honest, I don't like to answer the door even when the kitchen is clean because it might be someone who wants to know if I have "five minutes to talk about the environment.")

David, on the other hand, considers this kitchen to be pristine. In his mind, this could be a training kitchen for best practices in food safety. And the truth of the matter is that we really don't have any problems with common kitchen pests like cockroaches or mice, but that is probably because they have gone in search of cleaner houses.

One more picture of our house, below. On a scale from 1 to 10, I'm going to give our living room a 9. That rating includes extra style points because that is a rainbow-colored feather boa on the floor along with the other toys, and that is just plain fabulous.

David, on the other hand, wondered if I had surreptitiously hired a cleaning person, because things were just so darn sparkling around here. And then he checked to see if it was too late to get our house included in the Parade of Homes.

There is a silver lining to David not being able to accurately assess the mess level in the house. He is never cranky when the house isn't clean -- because to him, the house is always clean. I wish I could join him in thinking the glass is half full, although to be honest I'd just as soon skip the male pattern baldness.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Heroin, Methadone, and Diet Dr. Pepper

I'm trying to kick my diet soda habit. It seems like every time I open the newspaper, I see another article about how bad diet soda is for you. It turns out that people who drink a lot of diet soda are more likely to be overweight, have heart attacks, develop diabetes, have their life savings wiped out by Ponzi schemes, and be selected for jury duty. And I definitely do not want to get jury duty.

The problem is that diet soda is seriously delicious. I don't know how carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, artificial and natural flavors, sodium benzoate, and caffeine can add up to something so tasty, but it does. Maybe there's a secret ingredient: Evil. Pure, carbonated evil. Throw some fake sugar in there and the result is nirvana. 

I do love caffeine. Fortunately, ingesting caffeine does not interfere with my ability to fall asleep at night. At bedtime, I lie down with the kids until they fall asleep and then I get back up again, except for the part about getting back up again. Really what happens is that I fall fast, fast asleep the nanosecond we turn off the light. In fact, sometimes I think I fall asleep while I am still reading them books. My mouth is making sounds, but my brain has turned itself off.

Anyway, since I love caffeine, but want to avoid the negative health effects of diet soda, I had the brilliant idea of switching to coffee. Some might liken this move to heroin addict switching to methadone rather than kicking the habit altogether, but I say...actually, I would say that comparison is right on target. My goal is harm reduction. I am the Netherlands of the public health world.

However, switching over to coffee is not going so well. I'm going to let you in on a secret: Coffee is gross, unless you add a boatload of sugar. And cream. And artificial and natural flavors. And maybe a little high-quality, locally-sourced, free-range sodium benzoate. Once you add all those, it's delicious. 

Even just seeing
a picture of it
makes my hands
Maybe I should just embrace my diet soda addiction in the same way some smokers embrace their socially unacceptable habit. I could take "drink breaks" from work every hour or so, and go out on the sidewalk in front of my office to take a few quick swigs. When I check into a hotel, I could ask for a soda-drinking room. To fully follow this model, I would have to smell awful as a result of indulging in my bad habit, as cigarette smokers do. Given the amount of sodium benzoate I've consumed, I probably already smell a bit funky.

I have made some moderate progress in my drive to cut out diet soda. For example, mark today on the calendar, because I did not have a drop of Diet Dr. Pepper! Seriously, mark it. This might be the only day that ever happens. 

It won't be easy, but if I truly care about my health, then I need to stop drinking diet soda. Instead, I'll help keep my body healthy by drinking water and milk. And every so often, sneak out on the side for a few quick swigs of sodium benzoate.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

10 Things

I have a child who is learning to play soccer. I pay attention to politics. The natural result:

10 Things a Coach Would Say if the Republican Presidential Candidates Were Actually Kindergarteners Learning to Play Soccer

10. Guys. Guys! We're all on the same team, right? Let's all move the ball in the same direction.

9. Ronnie, I know you think you should be able to use whatever part of your body you want to move the ball, but rules are rules.

8. Please do not call your teammates sluts.

7.You may not wear a sweater vest over your uniform.

6. Rick, I'm glad you think God is helping our team win. Let's try to make a goal anyway, okay?

5. I should have been clearer. You may not wear a sweater vest UNDER your uniform either.

4.Newt, you okay, buddy? Newt took a ball to the face, everyone, but he's more surprised than scared, right, little fella? [Newt crumples to the ground, crying.]

3. Why is everyone clustered on the right side of the field? You've left the middle wide open!

2. Rick. Please stop saying that everyone else on your team other than you is so bad that it doesn't matter which team wins.

...and the #1 thing a soccer coach would say to the crop of presidential candidates as kindergarteners...

1. Now remember, we're a team -- Aw, who am I kidding? IT'S EVERY  MAN FOR HIMSELF!

What else?

Monday, March 26, 2012


David has taken the kids to see his side of the family, which means I have a whole evening to myself. What did I do with all this time?

1. I spent some extra time at work. While that may sound lame, did you ever think about the possibility that I work as a pediatric oncologist, and the extra time I put in may have saved a young life? I'm not, of course, but I did managed to put together a really neat-o bar graph in those extra 45 minutes, which is almost as good.

2. Freed from the requirements of putting together at least a half-way nutritious dinner for my kids, I majorly carbed out. I bought some locally-made fresh pasta and chowed through an enormous mound of it for dinner. I just checked the packaging to see how many servings I ate, and while I'm embarrassed to share the actual number, I will say that it rounds up to 10.

For dessert, I ate a bagful of very expensive dark chocolate-covered almonds, and I didn't share a single one.

3. I gave away furniture on Freecycle. If you don' t know about Freecycle, it's a website you can use to give away stuff. You post a description of what you want to give away, and then people can contact you if they're interested in taking it. This system works pretty well, except that there's always some jerk who contacts you wanting a detailed description of the condition of the item and its complete history, as if he is doing you a big favor by taking this item off your hands. Sure, dude, I'll be sure to reply to your email in case the other 99 people who emailed me who really want this item somehow get struck by lighting. 

I'm giving away some of the baby-related furniture, since David has been firm in his desire to stop at two children. Baby W is at his peak cuteness these days -- so cute that David and I often take breaks from playing with him to whisper fiercely to each other that "the baby is SO fucking cute." But even the extreme cuteness were living with can't break down David's will. I just hope David realizes that if we're not having any more children, there's really no reason for me not to rocket straight to menopause and lose all interest in sex. But I'm sure he's thought that through.

I was not aware it was humanly possible to be exposed
to this face and yet not want another baby.
Also, I have pointed out to David if we asked Rick Santorum what he thinks, Sen. Santorum would undoubtedly come down on the side of us having more children. Dilemma solved!

4. While everyone was gone, I read more than 10 pages of a book in one sitting. It was a strange, unfamiliar feeling. After about 8 pages, I started looking up, thinking "Aren't I supposed to be doing something else?" I think that being a parent has given me ADHD.

(By the way, I just finished two excellent books that I would strongly recommend: The Magician, and The Magician Kings, by Lev Grossman. They are like deeply fucked-up versions of The Chronicles of Naria, and I mean that in the best possible way.)

David and offspring are scheduled to roll into the driveway any minute, so I have to make the most of my last minutes of free time. I'm already laying the plans for the next time David takes the kids to visit his family. Next time, I'm going to get the chocolate-covered pecans.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Prepare for Bed

News flash! Kids are cute when they are asleep. Here's one little angel who just went off to bed:

I also took a picture of Stella sleeping, but it seemed a little weird to post it. A picture of a sleeping one-year-old is cute, but a picture of sleeping six-year-old  brings all the pedophiles out of the woodwork.

Which reminds me! Did you see that Dick Cheney had a heart transplant?

Every night, I get the kids ready for bed and then lie with them until they fall asleep. This means that I usually lie in the dark, on the bed, for about half an hour while my offspring drift off to Lullaby Land. After they go to sleep, in theory I get back up and install low-flow shower heads in our bathrooms, muck out the stables on our five-acre estate, and learn to weld -- or something like that. In truth, I have no idea what productive things I would do if I got back up after I put the kids to bed because it almost never happens. I'm lying down for 30 minutes! In the dark, for cripe's sake! Show me someone who can stay awake through that, and I will show you someone who never dozed off during their 8:30 AM Russian History class. And that person simply doesn't exist.

Anyhow, I often awake with a snort about 11:30 PM, still dressed in my work clothes. Heck, sometimes I even wake up at 6 AM the next morning, still dressed in my work clothes. This isn't as bad as it sounds, because when it is time to go to work, I'm already all set. In my well-worn work clothes. Don't worry, I change my underwear before I head back to the office.

If I were smart, I would acknowledge that I often go to bed when the kids do, and I would be all ready for bed when I lie down with the kids, with my pajamas on and my teeth brushed. But I can't bring myself to face the hard reality that I'm unlikely to get back up and be productive. So instead, I go to bed unprepared, and wind up with unbrushed teeth and wrinkled clothes -- just the same way that many teens who participate in abstinence-only sex education don't want to acknowledge that they may engage in sexual activity, and then wind up unprepared when they actually do have sex. And some of those teens wind up with a lot worse than unbrushed teeth. Although, to be fair, my unbrushed teeth are pretty bad.

The kids and I sleep on a giant futon mattress on the bedroom floor. This works great for cuddling with the kids and nursing Baby W when he wakes up at night. In theory, sleeping on a futon on the floor is not all that comfortable, but what do I know? I fall asleep after 15 seconds of lying down in the dark in my work clothes, so it doesn't seem to be negatively affecting my sleep too much. David gets the "real" bed to himself, with a luxurious queen-sized mattress and box springs. This might seem unfair, but remember, I guess it really is unfair.

Despite everything, I have to say that our sleeping arrangement is working out pretty well for us. It's a little unconventional -- all four of us sleep in one room, and I don't sleep in the same bed as my husband -- but it functions, at least for now. The kids are good sleepers, and while some nights are tough, I'm not as exhausted as I was a few months ago. Now if I could just get those low-flow shower heads installed...

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fuckin' United

In the past month I have flown to New Zealand, to San Antonio, and to Washington DC. I also passed through airports in Cincinnati, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Chicago. I have been in taxis, subways, hotel shuttles and inter-city buses. Shit, I have been seriously busy. Wait a minute, I didn't travel by camel at all! Well, maybe my next trip will be to Egypt or Arizona or wherever it is that camels live.

All my travels went very smoothly. This confused me. I flew Fuckin' United Airlines quite a bit over the last month and -- this is the really bewildering part -- all the planes took off and landed more or less on time. (I am so used to being filled with rage at United that I refer to that airline as Fuckin' United just as a matter of course now.) If an airline known for being chronically late somehow manages to land its planes more or less on time, isn't that a sign that something's gone terribly, terribly wrong?

Another thing that confused me happened as I waited in the security line to fly back from Washington DC. A TSA employee came forward to swab my hand and explained that he was looking for traces of explosives. He asked if I had been around toxic waste at all (??) and when I said I hadn't, he asked if perhaps I had been up on Capitol Hill.

Let's unpack this statement.
  • First of all, was the TSA guy trying to make a joke by comparing Congress (which has many of its facilities on Capitol Hill) to toxic waste? I thought we were not supposed to make jokes in the security lines! DO NOT MAKE JOKES IN SECURITY LINES, dude. You will be duty-bound to arrest yourself, after first patting yourself down in a lecherous manner.
  • Second, TSA officers are federal employees, yes? They are part of the federal government. And Congress controls the nation's purse strings. By likening Congress to toxic waste, this TSA employee was mocking the very organization that controls the funding that supports his own job. It's a little bit like calling your dad a dweeb behind his back but then asking him for your allowance. Bad idea.
Washington, DC was gorgeous. At least it I hear it was. Me, I barely went outside, since I spent almost all my time there at a training. But all that time inside was worth it, because I learned how to make beautiful maps like this one. The heck with cherry blossoms...there are charts to be made!

Being in DC meant I was able to get together with my friend David, who writes a blog at, where he has interesting things to say about life and uses words like "verisimilitude." Here's a picture of him holding the beer menu at the bar where we had a drink. Can you see how much of the menu has been crossed off? What's up with that? The menu looks like it's been redacted for national security purposes. If Dick Cheney had a beer menu, this is what it would look like.

I love to travel, but I have been thoroughly discombobulated by all this coming and going. I keep waking up in the middle of the night not knowing where I am. And I still have New Zealand currency in my wallet. I'm looking forward to staying put for the foreseeable future, enjoying a slower pace of life, and catching up with the laundry. And then I'm going to ask my father for my allowance.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Natural Selection

We become parents for a variety of reasons -- by accident, on purpose, for the tax
deductions, because our own mothers mentioned (four or five times a day for several years)
how much they would like grandchildren -- but according to scientists, we also become
mothers because we want to pass on our DNA. We’re driven to reproduce because we want
our genes, in the form of our offspring, to have the best possible chance at succeeding.

The irony is that by reproducing, we’re working at cross-purposes with any children we
already have. Only children have an advantage over other children, in that they don’t have
to compete for scarce parental resources, and they have an incentive to keep in that way.
As Charles Darwin said, “Only children never have to share the iPad.”

So it makes sense that when took I steps to become a mother a second time, my daughter
evolved new adaptive behaviors aimed at insuring that that her genes, and not the genes
of any theoretical sibling, would be the most likely to get passed down. If Darwin wanted
to study evolution and natural selection, I don’t know why he didn’t just come to our house
instead of the Galapagos, although I grant you we have fewer iguanas.

The first adaptation my daughter evolved was to develop an unsurpassed ability to
disrupt any activities that could, at least in theory, lead to another child, if you get my drift.
You could suspend her in a sensory deprivation tank many miles away in, say, Indiana,
administer a powerful sedative, and yet she would still wake up when I gave my husband
a backrub. She got to the point where she could interrupt so much as a meaningful
glance between my husband and I, by announcing that she has something VERY VERY
MINUTE, which is that um, um, um, she has a hole in her sock.

Well-played. But she wasn’t the only one who could evolve. I developed my own, superior
adaptation: code. In her presence, I’d say to my husband “How about after daughter goes
to bed, you and I get together and eat some broccoli.” Sometimes when I was feeling extra
frisky, I’d even suggest we eat kale. When my daughter grows up she’s going to wonder
why her mother had such a fetish for brassicas.

I won that evolutionary round, but my daughter didn’t give up so easily. Even after the baby
was born, she hoped to regain the favored “only child” status. Her favorite activity was
grabbing the baby’s head and -- you know how scientists seeking to control nuisance geese
populations will “addle” the eggs by shaking them vigorously to insure they don’t hatch?
It’s the same motion you use to shake up a container of orange juice. The baby’s own pulp
must have been a little addled because he didn’t mind a bit.

I evolved a new adaptation in response, which was to never leave the two alone together.
But sometimes it was unavoidable. When I took a shower, I would bring both kids into the

bathroom, and I could see through the frosted glass of the shower door that something was
happening out in the bathroom between them but I couldn’t tell quite what. It was a lot like
The Blair Witch Project in that you don't know exactly what's going on…but you know it's
not good. One time when I got out of the shower there was a return address sticker on the
baby’s cheek. Little hint.

And she would say, “I love the baby so, so much,” in a sad, regretful tone that implied she
would be seriously bummed out when we returned him to the orphanage.

I’m happy to say that I won this evolutionary battle. In the end, my daughter accepted
that I am mother to two children. In fact, she’s evolved again, into another little mother
herself. When I nursed the baby, she would ask, “Mama, can I help by holding your hot, hot
breast so full of milk?” Nnnnnno. And do me a favor, don’t google that phrase, okay?

And me, I’m happy because I got another chance to pass my genes down to the next
generation. In fact, I’ve proposed passing down my genes to a third child, but my husband
has put down his foot. Instead, we’re getting an iguana.

Friday, March 2, 2012


I've bid sayonara to the land of the hobbits. The kids and I managed to survive the 30 hours that it takes to travel from my father's house in New Zealand back to the land of brats and cheese. Everybody was a little cranky after our long vacation, and there was occasionally unhappiness during the travel, especially on the part of Baby W. Do you remember how I said that on the way out to New Zealand, three people came up to me and complimented me after the flight about how quiet the kids had been?

Nobody did that on the flight back.

As long as we're talking about kids and travel, I have a great idea that would revolutionize car travel with young children. We had several hours in a shuttle at the beginning of our return trip, taking us from my father's house to the Auckland airport. At one point during the shuttle trip, Baby W started to get cranky. No problem, because I have a superpower -- two of them, in fact -- inside my bra that can calm a fussy tot in no time. But it's nearly impossible to nurse a child who is belted into a car seat. To remedy this problem, I'm proposing that women evolve much longer breasts, or perhaps some sort of breast-extender appendage, to make it easier to reach the baby's mouth. Either that, or we could get car seat manufacturers to change the design of car seats, but to be honest it would probably be easier to totally redesign the basic female body structure.

I'm majorly ambivalent about New Zealand. Upon hearing that I've just come back from New Zealand, most people rhapsodize about how beautiful the landscape is in New Zealand, and how much they'd like to go there, or go back there. And it's true, New Zealand is beautiful. But they also have traffic there. And Kentucky Fried Chickens. And Starbucks. At the grocery store, I saw that the cover story on the magazine at the checkout counter was about Glee. It's disappointing that so much of their culture is similar to American culture. If I fly to the other side of the world, I want to land in a place that is truly foreign, you know? It makes me want to collar New Zealanders and say "GUYS! YOU'RE BLOWING IT!"

A few days after returning from New Zealand, I flew to San Antonio to attend a work conference. In fact, I'm sitting in the San Antonio airport right now. San Antonio is a great town for a conference because look! Look what they have in San Antonio!

I have curly hair

That's right. San Antonio has margaritas. And I had one, thereby doubling my 2012 alcohol consumption to date. As long as I was cutting loose and having a drink, I decided to go into full-bore party mode and watched TWO Daily Show episodes online back at the hotel before falling asleep.

I felt like I needed to partake in some Texas culture, so I visited the Alamo. Fortunately, it's right across the street from a Hooters, which helped round out the Texas cultural experience.

The Alamo
Inside the Alamo, the most interesting part to me was the old pre-1900 graffiti. I really love how the marks people make defacing a monument became history in themselves. I wish I could also leave my own mark for people to see a hundred years from now. Of course I didn't, though. In Texas you can get the death penalty for doing that.

Margaritas and history are great, but the yardstick that I use to judge a city's true worth is whether it has a good place to run. And yes! San Antonio has a great place to run! Here's the RiverWalk, which makes it possible to run 5 or 6 miles without ever having to cross a street. It's a wonderful example of far-sighted urban planning. I'm not sure what it's doing in Texas.

The RiverWalk in San Antonio

All this traveling has been great, but I'm looking forward to going back home, especially to seeing David and the kids. I'm a little worried because it's apparently snowing back in Madison, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the weather won't cause any delays. I'm looking forward to getting back in the groove of my everyday schedule: going to work, getting Stella off to school, and playing with Baby W. And in case you were wondering, that schedule does not include watching Glee.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I'm still in beautiful New Zealand, where we shiver and zip on a hoodie if the temperature doesn't hit 75. We return to Wisconsin in just a few short days, and I am not looking forward to returning to frigid temperatures, gray snow, and darkness at 5 PM. Can someone please arrange for summer to hit the northern hemisphere in March this year? Thanks oodles.

In the meantime, we're wringing every last drop of enjoyment that we can get out of the warm weather. Today we went blueberry picking. Here's what the kids did when I asked them to pose in front of a big tree:

Seriously, how did these kids get to be such smart-asses? Next thing you know, they'll have blogs of their own.

There was more hilarity with the blueberry-picking buckets, followed by tragedy:

We picked many, many blueberries. I asked Stella how many she thought we picked, and she said "maybe 20." Stella's kindergarten class is just finishing up an unit on estimating, but I have say that she may need a little remedial work in that area.

Baby W ate nearly as many blueberries as we picked. Then he lost a blueberry down his onesie. I was glad to see him looking down his own shirt for a change, with nearly as much interest as he looks down my shirt.

What are we going to do with the blueberries, all 20 of them? That's a good question. I'm thinking it would be fun to do some baking, maybe make some blueberry pound cake or blueberry crumble. It's always fun to make a sweet treat, and my father loves desserts, to the point where he eats a giant slice of cheesecake with an enormous scoop of ice cream on it twice a day. The irony is that due to my father's health problems, he's skinny as a rail. He's 6 ft 4 inches and only weighs 12 stone, or 80 kilograms, or 142 pebbles, or 62.5 eggweights, or whatever eminently sensible units of measurement they use here. Wait -- a furlong! Yes, I think my father weighs about a furlong.

It's hard, when you see somebody eating so many desserts, to exercise dietary restraint. Before we came to New Zealand, I warned Stella that Grandpa ate a lot of dessert, and that we would not be eating dessert every time he did. Anybody want to lay a bet on how long that lasted?

And the trouble is that I have not had any opportunity to go running while I'm here, since there is nobody capable of providing child care for me. This means my opportunities for exercise (and for working off all the cheesecake) are limited. Instead of running, I've been doing lots of pushups, since that's something I can do with the kids around. I once attended a motivational seminar given by a reformed felon, and I learned that in prison the inmates do a lot of pushups. I'm happy to know that when the feds finally send me up the river for not declaring all my tips in income from when I worked as a waitress, I'll have a head start on all the other residents of the pokey.

Another great New Zealand vacation draws to a close. We leave New Zealand having spent some quality time with my father, having enjoyed the warm weather, and having had a great time just relaxing. I'm also leaving just a little bit heavier than when I arrived -- I would say about a furlong.

Monday, February 13, 2012


I've been in New Zealand for a few days now, and things couldn't be better. The kids are having a blast, the weather has been fantastic, and we are enjoying all that New Zealand has to offer...except bungee jumping. (And sheep.) On the other hand, we've yet to see even one single hobbit so I guess not all is well in paradise.

This is my sixth trip here, and there is some part of me that is a little ambivalent about New Zealand. Yes, New Zealand has lovely natural beauty, huge fern forests, and pristine waterfalls. But when I go to New Zealand to visit my father, I spend most of the time in the city. And the cities, or at least the city that my father lives in, have a familiar suburban feel to them. This is in part because New Zealanders seem intent on building really ugly houses.

This is what a New Zealand house should look like, and some of them even do:

But it turns out that many Kiwis are not that excited about in tiny, old houses with balky plumbing, and many of the New Zealanders who can afford to live in more modern houses. As if they don't even see the value of tourists finding their basic living quarters quaint! Whatever.

This is the type of house that many New Zealanders live in today, at least in the area of the country where my father lives. I don't want to use the word "ugly," to describe houses like this, because I recognize that not everybody has the desire or wherewithal to live in a pre-war farmhouse that doubles as a sheep-shearing shed, but let me just say that you would not see a self-respecting hobbit within ten miles of this house:

My father's house here is a whole different ball of wax, as it does not look like New Zealand houses old or new. It's a lovely house, as you can see below. The house has verandas around three sides, a two-story living room, and a basement apartment with a separate entrance, which is where the kids and I are staying. (It's raining in the photos, and I know I said the weather has been "fantastic," but by that I mean "not 8 degrees.")

I'm not going to show any pictures of the inside of the house, because of course as soon as the kids and I showed up, we trashed it. But I'll show some pictures of his garden. His house is on a fairly large lot -- a hectare maybe, or a fortnight, or whatever kind of weird metric units they use here -- and the gardens are great, as you can see:

The irony is that this house, as great as it is, is very poorly suited to my father, who has very significant health problems. He is trying to sell the house, although so far he hasn't had much luck. Maybe you should buy it! Surely you can see that it's a great property. And I can promise that he's a very motivated seller. He's only asking $600,000 New Zealand dollars, which is a real steal. In U.S. dollars, that's less than a hectare.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Hallelujah, I made it to New Zealand! The kids and I survived the nearly 30 hours of travel it takes to get from my house to my father's house on the other side of the world. I only have one or two new twitches in my eyelid as a result.

It is quite a haul to travel from Wisconsin to New Zealand. First we flew to Dallas, then to Los Angeles, then to Auckland, then we took a three-hour shuttle to the Tauranga area where my father lives. I have to say, the kids were fantastic on the trip. In fact, after the long Los Angeles-Auckland flight, I had three separate people come up to me and compliment me on how well the kids had behaved during the flight,  how quiet they were and how little they cried. It's true, they are great travelers and deserve praise, but how about some kudos for me?! After all, I also managed not cry too loudly. Although a tear or two might have squeezed out when Baby W knocked the chicken cacciatore off my tray and into my lap.

Stella enjoying the sprinkler in New Zealand.

My brother lent me his iPad for the trip to help entertain the kids on the trip. I wasn't sure how much we would use it, but the iPad turned out to be central to keeping Stella happy. On the other hand, Baby W is still nursing and relied more heavily on his very favorite toy, one that can provide entertainment and comfort for hours on end without needing a recharge. I call it the iBoob.

As always the international part of the air travel was far superior to the domestic portion of the trip. On the Quantas flight between Los Angeles and Aukland, we far had more leg room, more amenities, and just an overall much better experience than on the other legs of our trip. But what kind of word is "Quantas"? What happened to that missing "u"? I hate to spread rumors, but the one of the few other words that I can think of without a "u" following the "q" is Al Qaeda. I really hope that Qantas is not a terrorist organization, but if they are, I would still like to acknowledge that they have an excellent in-flight entertainment system.

Baby W wearing his rain coat into the baby pool.

The one complication that arose during our travel is that Stella has developed a phobia of airplane bathrooms. This phobia meant whenever Stella needed to use the toilet, I needed to go into the bathroom with her. And if I was in the airplane bathroom with Stella, I couldn't leave Baby W out wandering the plane by himself, so he had to come in as well. This meant that we had three people inhabiting a space only about 18 inches square. And yet we managed to do it. I'm putting in a request now to have my gravestone read: "Fit Three People in An Airplane Bathroom," and I think it's an accomplishment worthy of, at the very least, a Pulitzer.

Now that we are here and settled in New Zealand, the kids have had a lot of fun playing in the sprinkler. While they get wet, I practice cartwheels. I'm taking an adult gymnastics class, and you may remember me posting a video of my cartwheel a few months ago. I'm happy to say that I'm much better at doing cartwheels, as you can see in the video below. Some of that improvement is due to practice, but I think my gymnastics teacher deserves a lot of the credit for helping me learn to do a cartwheel, especially considering my overall lack of coordination. You might even say she deserves a Pulitzer.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012


I leave for New Zealand a week from today, with two children in tow, to visit my father. In preparation, I've sunk some fairly serious moola into buying fun and educational books and toys that I'm sure will divert the kids for seconds, possibly even MINUTES of the airline flight. What can I say, I dream big.

But I have also brought out the big guns for the flight: I'm bringing an iPad. My brother has generously offered to lend me his. The kids have never seen an iPad before -- heck, even I've never really seen one before -- and I know they will be not be able to take their eyes off it. Before you know it -- zzzzzzip! The entire 30 hour trip will be over, and the kids will have only blinked once or twice. 

Yes, the iPad will rot their brains, but I've decided in these circumstances I'm okay with that. Brain rot will not be optional on this trip. It will be mandatory.

From our 2009 trip to NZ
This might be a good time to mention that a few years ago when my brother traveled to New Zealand to visit our father, he (my brother) got strip-searched in the Auckland airport. Strip-searched! He never did figure out what the problem was, but I wonder if perhaps his name got included in some sort of no-fly list. Sure, his friends call him "Quinn," but as a family member I know that his real name is Abd Al Aziz Awda. But hey, he's lending me his iPad, so I'm not going to turn him in.

Mostly, I plan to have the kids watch old Tom and Jerry cartoons during the flight on the iPad. Have you ever seen classic Tom and Jerry cartoons from the 1940s? They're hilarious. And, I have to say, incredibly racist. I spend half the cartoon laughing, and the other half cringing and trying to figure out how to talk with Stella about how the black housekeeper is portrayed. I figure I'll just check out an I-Can-Read library book on the Freedom Riders or similar for Stella, and that will cancel out the racism in the Tom and Jerry cartoons. That's how the racism equation works, right? 

As for me, I won't need anything to keep me entertained, because I will be spending my time keeping the kids out of each others' hair. Did I mention that Baby W will be spending the entire trip sitting on my lap? And that he will spend the entire trip kicking his sister? And that she will beg me to keep him away from her even though there's nowhere else he could really go? And that if he prods her enough, she will eventually push back? Let me just say that I am planning to make full use of the Air New Zealand policy of serving passengers all the free wine they can drink. And I'm hoping the kids don't hog all the brain rot, because I'm going to need some as well.  

My dad

Saturday, January 28, 2012


Wisconsin is a recreational wonderland in the winter! It's non-stop skiing, skating, and sledding here during the cold months and there is always plenty to do outside.

Ha, you didn't actually fall for that, did you? That might be the official spiel from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism, but very few people here prefer winter to summer. I grant you, there are the occasional individuals who think the fact that you can cross country ski in the winter somehow makes January somehow more enjoyable than June, but those people have had their neural cortexes damaged by extended exposure to severe cold. Very sad.

Here's one bummer about winter: Chilblains!

See those red spots on Stella's poor hands? Those are chilblains, which happen when exposure to the cold bursts capillaries, usually in your hands or feet. You don't hear the Wisconsin Department of Tourism mentioning chilblains too often. (New possible tourism slogan: "Come for the great ice fishing, stay for the damaged capillaries!" If that won't draw tourists from Illinois, nothing will.)

Chilblains are annoying but fairly harmless and go away by themselves. However, this means my beautiful daughter is damaged goods and we probably won't be able to get much of a dowry for her. Maybe just one cow.

Now, I don't want to make a Wisconsin winter sound like a total bummer. Winter can be fun, but in my opinion Wisconsin totally overdoes the winter thing. I mean, I like to skate as much as the next person does, but it's hard to get your kids excited about hitting the pond when it's 8 degrees out. And the amount of time and resources that must be devoted to getting the kids dressed in their winter coats, snowpants, mittens, etc, is positively obscene. Everything would go much more smoothly if we could have winter in, say, May.

Here's some proof that we actually do go outside on occasion in the winter and recreate:

See? We ice skate. If there is a more wholesome activity than ice skating, I do not know what it could possibly be. However, I am an extremely unskilled skater, and when I am with Stella I spend most of my time trying to convince her to not hold on to me for support, since with her flailing she would likely bring us both down. Stella loves skating -- for about 15 minutes. Then she makes a beeline back to the warming hut and tries to get me to buy her hot chocolate.

We did not get hot chocolate afterwards. But we did go out for pizza. Here are two incredibly good-looking people waiting for their pizza:

So I guess winter isn't so bad after all, at least not if it means you get to go out for pizza afterwards. And I am fully confident that once Stella's hands heal, we'll be back up to a two-cow dowry.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


If it's January, then that means I must be panicking about going to New Zealand! Many years at about this time the kids and I head to the southern hemisphere to visit my father, who lives in the Land of the Long White Cloud. In fact, we go to New Zealand so regularly that I plan to start saying that I "winter" there. And yes, I realize this may make you want to punch me in the face. Heck, it makes me want to punch me in the face. 

This will be Stella's fourth trip to New Zealand. Can you believe it? She's only six years old! Let me put it this way -- Stella has been to New Zealand more times than she's been to McDonald's. Is that fantastic or what? Please, please, please, never let this bubble pop that we're raising her in. 

By the way, I had a potluck party recently, and among the guests were a vegan couple. I let the other guests know about their dietary preferences, but I didn't want to make the vegan couple to feel self-conscious, so I just told all the guests to not bring any meat or dairy in their dish to pass because DAN and BECKY would be sitting in judgment of those of us who ingested animal products for the sheer joy that comes from being cruel to other sentient creatures. 

My point is that for the potluck dinner, my vegan friends brought what they called "fake chicken nuggets," which were actually breaded seitan nuggets. Stella loved the "chicken" nuggets and ate several of them. She is going to be so incredibly confused when she first encounters chicken nuggets of the McDonald's variety. Maybe not as much as I think, though -- It's very possible that Chicken McNuggets and seitan nuggets both include exactly the same amount of chicken. 

Let me be clear that I am looking forward to our trip to New Zealand. But I am not looking forward to the travel to get there. And what makes it especially tricky is that Baby W will be sitting on my lap for the entire trip, since I am not buying him a ticket. Keep in mind that he is nearly 6 feet tall and weighs 170 pounds. 

Even though Baby W does not have a seat on the plane, he still has to pay hundreds of dollars for the privilege of sitting on my lap the whole way. Can you believe it? That seems a little unfair to me. When the flight attendants come around with peanuts, I am so totally going to take two packets to make up for the cost. Then won't they be sorry!!!

Here are two photos from the last time we went to New Zealand. I show them to you to give you an idea of why, despite the difficulty of travelling to the other side of the world with two children in tow, the trip will be worth it.

Plus, that extra bag of peanuts is major incentive too. If that isn't reason to travel to New Zealand, I don't know what is.