Monday, May 31, 2010

don't ask

Don't ask why the past three posts have been about gratefulness and respect - it's just a little something I've been dwelling on lately.

But before I move on, I had to share what Punk told me today, when I asked for his opinion on the matter.

Me: "Hey Punk - what do you think when you hear people talking smack to their parents, or being rude to them?"

Punk: (shaking his head slowly) "I'm thinking - you better enjoy that roof over your head now buddy, because the second you turn 18, the second your parents don't have to live with you - they won't."

mmm hmmm.

job evaluation

I do it about once a month - ask my kids what I could do to be a better mother.  I figure it is only fair, since I am constantly dispensing advice about how they could be better spellers, swimmers, cleaners, math students and so on - I figure they should have their say too.

But it was a bit ironic after my earlier post, that Kooka and I should have this conversation as I tucked her into bed tonight:

"Alright Kooka, what could I do to be a better mom to you?"

"I knew this was coming. And you know what I am going to say - you are the best mom already."

"But you know how this goes - I am going to make you pick something."

"Yes, I know, and actually I have been thinking about it a lot."

"OK  - shoot."

"Well, when I was thinking about it this week, I was thinking that I would say, that my friend's moms buy them more toys, and things they want at the store."


"But then what I realized, is that I am really glad when you don't buy me things.  My room would just be full of junk.  And last week, when you cleaned out my closet and drawers, and got rid of stuff, it just felt really really good to come home to less stuff." Here she pauses, because she hasn't given me my concrete answer yet. She scrunches up her eyebrows and says, "I guess the thing you can do to be a better mom, is to keep not buying me stuff.  I do not need it - I think I do, I think I want it - but really I don't want it - because I do not like my life to be messy, it makes me really sad."

"So the thing I can do to be a better mom to you is to keep not buying you stuff?"

"Yes - that is it.  And mom?"


"Don't spoil Yoda either.  Make her turn out like us - like me and like Punk.  That would be the best thing you could do.  And tell Rico that it would be the best dad thing he could do too."

Amen sister.
I am all over that assignment.


Maybe the secret to having it all, is believing you do.

I would never go so far as to say my children are deprived.  They have more than enough legos, clothes, juice pouches, and books.  They have a roof over their heads, parents who love them, and running water, which is more than most of the world.  So let me be clear before I even begin this post - my children are not deprived.

But the question in my mind since before Punk was born, has always been this: "If  had one wish for my children, what would it be?"

The answer was always easy: happiness - deep, true happiness.

The second question was always a bit more difficult.  "How do I give them that gift?"

And I think the answer is this:
I don't.
I can't.

So, instead of giving them more, I give them less - a little something we call creative deprivation.  I am pretty certain, that by depriving them of their wants, they are more aware of, and more grateful for the things they need.  I am not talking about manners -  gratitude is not just teaching your kids to vomit out the words "thank-you" as the occassion calls.  Though it's a bonus, social niceties, are not the same as real appreciation for your lot in life.

Therefore, I make a good faith attempt to creatively deprive my kids on a daily basis. We don't have a video game console in our house - which means, that both kids actually enjoy playing educational games on the computer for 15 minutes; the kids have to buy their own gifts for each other at birthdays and Christmas.  Not that I couldn't pay for those things, but they are learning to make small sacrifices for the people they love, and are grateful for the gifts they get, because they understand; and home haircuts are a frequent occurrence. Believe me, when we do finally walk into Cost Cutters, nobody is complaining about having to be there.  They never forget to thank the stylist - and remind me to tip her.

Does all of this withholding make me a better parent than most?  I doubt it.  Will it make my kids better people? Maybe not.  Will it make them happy?  Absolutely.

I see the joy on Punk's face, when I let him pick the CD we listen to.  I get genuine hugs and smiles from Kooka when I ask if she wants to go for a walk in the park. They spend days plotting and planning what type of homemade birthday cake they want me to make for them.  The little things make them happy.

Punk is the child who seems to be most disgusted by greedy behavior.  He is truly revolted by the sound of a screaming 5 year-old, begging for toys in the mall. He'll roll his eyes, and say "Thank you for making sure I did not turn out like that - no one deserves that fate." He notices when people talk rudely to parents, and has zero tolerance for it.  He prays nightly for people who need food and shelter, and gives thanks that he has plenty. He will mouth the word "spoiled" upon seeing an over-indulged kid acting out.  For Punk, gratitude is something he has always known, and a lack of it, is intolerable.

Kooka shows her gratitude in other ways.  She is the first to pull cash out of her piggy bank to donate to a worthy cause.  She willingly pitches in to help with time-consuming chores saying, "You are working really hard on our house - do you want some help?" When we stay at a hotel with a pool, she whispers, "I sort of feel spoiled. Thanks for taking us here."  She takes excellent care of her belongings,  grateful for the three special dolls she has.

I do not know what will happen to Yoda.  I can only try my best and hope for the same.  I hope she doesn't get a car for her 16th birthday, hope she falls when she learns to ride a bike,  hope she has to work for her education,  hope she never assumes that her daddy's checkbook can buy her a happy life, hope she is happy that Kooka's hand-me-downs are relatively cool, hope that she appreciates her lot in life, and never blames anyone else for the way it turns out.

As for the rest of us - today is a perfectly sunshiney day, and right now, this is what we are thankful for:

Kooka:  my family,  my home,  my friends, Rosie the fish, my favorite fuzzy blanket, cool water in the pool

Punk: obviously my family, my sarcasm, Walter the toad, my friends, fresh markers

Me: healthy kids, Punk's sarcasm, getting to have a job I love, my house, rico, my brother, the fact that my kids appear to be fairly resilient about the past 2 years events, the weather, watermelon, finding a little birds nest outside, and knowing that the eggs already hatched, snuggles, bedtime stories and knowing that this list could go on forever.

Friday, May 28, 2010

in memory

In memory of Arnold . . . this always made me laugh - "Disturbing Strokes."  Then again, considering the way things worked out for those kids, maybe this theme song is more appropriate anyway.

Monday, May 24, 2010

new stuff

Click the "Stuff We Love" button to check out our latest craves.  If we get enough visits, or comments we're gonna start giving away some of the stuff we love to our followers.  Why?  Because we like you!

(Well - actually, it's just because we want other people to hop on the bandwagon and fall in love with everything we like, so these cool companies never go out of business - but we really do like you!)

Sunday, May 23, 2010


School is not out for anybody yet - but still, summertime has already started for us.

It began by putting up this pool.  It's not much - just enough to sit down and cover your head, it leans a little to one side, and catches too many helicopter seeds, but Punk and Kooka lived in it all day - creating whirlpools, mermaid lagoons, and giggles that carried through the entire yard.  Watching them made my entire week feel better. I hope every day of their lives is as happy as this one.

pimp my ride

It's about that time.  Time that we should be painting a nursery, stocking up on diapers, that sort of thing.

So despite our insane schedules lately, in the name of good parenting, Rico and I went shopping for a stroller.

If you don't know Rico, I will explain this much - he is fastidious about safety, and a bit like Rainman when it comes to numbers.  He can instantly calculate library fines on 11 overdue books, how much interest you'll accrue on $789 in the next 18 years, and unfortunately - the death rate of every single recalled car seat in the history of Babies-R-Us.  Having said that, it's been about 20 years since he needed to use a car seat or stroller, neither of his children where ever toted around in a baby bucket, so I thought this would be easy.

As for me - having just given up Kooka's stroller 4 years ago, I felt pretty prepared, and uncharacteristically easygoing about the whole affair.  I required two simple things: a cup holder for a mocha, and for the baby seat to snap into the stroller.  A great color would be a bonus, but I knew that would be a long-shot.  All strollers are ugly - that's a fact. You just have to hope that your baby comes out cute enough to distract from the prancing giraffes, or sleeping butterflies, or whatever it is that the crack-smoking designer was hallucinating about before he plastered it all over your baby's sweet ride.

Sooooooooo . . . .

First stop was Babies-R-Us.  The travel systems which included the cup holder and car seat, were moderately priced, and the Red Chicco was less hideous than most.  I was ready to go.

But I forgot who I was with.

After test driving every brand (not an exaggeration), Rainman decided we should keep looking.  I love this guy desperately - trust him implicitly - but an outing like this is akin to taking both Mama and Papa bear on a shopping spree: "This one's too big - this one's too small. This one's too heavy, this one's too light."  Needless to say we left without buying anything.

But our little excursion led us to a specialty baby store, where I presumed our choices would be more limited, and with any luck - better looking.




Understand - I am the kind of shopper who finds something I like and then asks for details. Rico is the opposite. He needs the facts - needs to know the details before he gets his heart set on something.  Unfortunately, I think he met his new soulmate in the stroller section.

This woman knew every detail about every stroller in every nook of this store, and furthermore, pronounced all of the strollers we had looked at previously, to be - and I quote, "Crap."

Poor Rico.  He went into overdrive.  God forbid that his newborn child be strapped into a stroller that could only hold up to 55 pounds!  Or what if we did not have a superior braking system?! What in the name of God (besides our own brute strength) would keep our precious infant from careening down steep mountain inclines?! And apparently we needed wheels with exceptional traction to get it up the mountain in the first place. I was never under the impression that we planned to do much mountaineering in Yoda's first three year's of life - but by God, Rico wasn't about to be limited by a cheaply made stroller. Suddenly the fact that we couldn't outrun polar bears on the ice floes north of Greenland was an issue.

So we looked at stroller, after stroller, after stroller.  The $400 stroller seemed to fit all of our needs - anyone's needs for that matter.  It was called "The Ironman", was actually endorsed by organizers of the triathalon  and came in racing yellow - you know -  just in case your 8 month old is REALLY athletic.  And even if he isn't - at least it will match all of his spandex LIVESTRONG racing onsies.

While stroller chick described the Ironman as "rugged",  the gunmetal grey stroller was actually touted as "technologically advanced, and aerodynamic." The James Bond of infant mobility machines. Outfitted in fine Corinthian leather, the "James Bond" offers  a button to face forward, one to face back, one to raise the seat, one to snap out a snack tray and one to shoot those little blades out of the wheels so you can damage villain-babies strollers when you're drag racing.  I couldn't find the power-booster, jet pack button, but I'm sure it was there somewhere.

Three hours later, and we are still listening to stroller descriptions. Every stroller in the joint costs more than $300.  Ironically none of them come with a cup holder or a car seat holder. Those will set us back another $100 - $200 - each.  Rico's head is swimming. I am almost in tears from exhaustion, and boredom.  Stroller chick actually pilfers a real baby to demonstrate the different features of her wares. The baby is fairly docille, as she is being portaged from seat to seat. But I swear she mouths "run" as stroller chick bends down to display yet another capacious underseat compartment.

Eventually we do.  It is me that can't take anymore.  I am like a whiny toddler tugging at Rico's sleeve, begging him not to accept their bribes.  They offer spring water, pretzels, anything to keep you sitting in the shop.  I can feel my own willpower slipping away from me.  I am not intelligent enough to choose a stroller. It's like a baby accessory cult.  At any moment they'll reach into the broom closet and pull out L. Ron Hubbard's cryogenically frozen corpse, or at least Tom Cruise, in an attempt to indoctrinate us into purchasing the only stroller in the world capable of maintaining good karma in our baby's delicate soul.

We need to leave - before it's too late.  I grab Rico by the hand, and we walk out into the bright sunlight. There is life out here - and believe it or not, someone pushing her child in a Target stroller.  Target I say! The child appears to be happy - no obvious markings, she isn't hanging on for dear life.  Granted the potholes in St. Paul are not as large as the ones in the Costa Rican Rainforest - but still, the kid seems ok.

Hopefully we will be too.

For the record . . . we have since purchased a stroller.  It is sitting in the garage unopened. Maybe it will stay that way for a while. For now, I am just glad to be done with it - but even more glad, that Yoda has a Daddy who wants her to climb mountains, and see Patagonia.  I am most grateful for that.

Friday, May 21, 2010

name game

So many people ask us what Yoda's real name will be.

Although there has been much discussion, there is no final decision.

However, there have been several options that we have unanimously crossed off the list.  These are real - and sorry if we offend anyone, but they just ain't working for us . . .

Beavis Monroe
Jesus Ichabod
Anselma Bambi
Winchell Blanche

If there's something on this list you really love - you better speak up now.  Punk is still gunning for "Yoda" - which is by far the best choice on this list.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


It was almost 8:45 when Kooka hopped out of the shower.

She spotted a library book on my nightstand and picked it up. It was just a little something I read last night, but it peaked her interest.

She climbed into bed and did not stop reading until all 172 pages had passed.

That is why we should homeschool - because when someone is driven to learn, to read, to imagine - we shouldn't have to interrupt that just so she can get up at 6:45 am.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

the immigration game

Yeah - I know, sounds like a hoot right - just the kind of good-time family bonding that Wednesday nights are made of. Give me a second  - eventually I'll explain.

I am always torn between being one of those homeschoolers whose children win geography bees and can recite passages from Greek tragedies, or the one with an 11 year old who can reassemble a cappuccino machine in under 3 minutes and play Come On Eileen on the acoustic guitar.  Although I tend toward the latter,  I feel like if I were really dilligent I could manage both.

But I can't - and the guilt is overwhelming.

What I can do - what we do do, is talk about current events - a lot.  It's all part of my master plan.  I figure even if we don't memorize the Tudor lineage, or the Chinese dynasties, by the time Punk and Kooka are my age, everything happening now, will seem like ancient history, so by default, they will seem much smarter than average, thereby giving me less of a complex.

One of the current events that keeps coming up in our house is illegal immigration.  Punk asked "Illegal means - against the law right?"  Yes, that's exactly what illegal means.

So the next question follows rationally, "Well, then why is everybody so mad at Arizona for enforcing a law that already exists?"  Another valid point.  Nobody really should be mad about enforcing a law our country created- but things aren't always so easy.

So the game began.  Twenty lego guys, a fistful of Monopoly money, two countries divided by hair ribbons, and the adventure began.  "Sven" was a farmer in a poor undernourished country "Konichiwa" - and because he was not an educated scientist, doctor, or IT expert, he did not make the cutoff list to be let into the USA.  Both kids decided that not only was it acceptable to let "Sven" sneak into the United States - but that it was actually, the correct, humanitarian thing to do.  Sven was a good guy - a good neighbor and they didn't even mind paying a few bucks in extra taxes to help pay for roads, police, extra food and firefighters that Sven might need.  As a matter of fact it felt so good to help him - that they helped Sven's 8 brothers sneak in as well.

Now some of those brothers needed to finish high school, one was a doctor, one was an arsonist, one another a farmer - but all of them there illegally.  Kooka in particular was a little perturbed about having to hire extra police, teachers, and transportation workers.  Punk happily moved into a lower-rent house so he could let more guys in.

But after Sven and his brothers each brought their wives and had children, Kooka could not take it anymore. "That is ENOUGH!" she said "Sven needs to start paying taxes.  He needs to go to the police and show him the money he made farming and offer to help us out!"

Punk agreed that it would be neighborly of Sven to pitch in.  So they walked him over to the police, showed the police his money, and instantly shut their mouths.

Without further question, Sven was deported and all his money taken from him.

"What the?!. . . "  That was Punk.  "Why not take his looser arsonist brother?  And what about his kids?  They just sent him back?! That is so not cool."

What followed was an extremely heated debate between the two.  Kooka - working hard as an investment banker, was tired of towing the line for Sven and his crew, while they never pitched in financially.  Punk, living paycheck to paycheck as a professional villain (hey - it was their game), decided he needed a better job so he could help more people. 

They tried several options -
• moving everybody including themselves and the President to Konichiwa (Sven's homeland) - but that didn't work, because the soil was still poor and there were not enough facilities for everybody.
• selling things to Sven's country at very deep discounts and allowing Sven to pay them back when he got on his feet.
• letting 100 Konichiwanians go to college in the US, so they could go help more people in their homeland.
• trading houses for a while (which, as the professional villain pointed out, might mean you were never gonna get your house back)
• altering the list of who should be allowed into the US - we didn't need so many doctors or computer guys. Farmer Sven needed to be able to get in and contribute.
• find another way to pay for stuff.  Sven had just as much right to be in the US as anybody else - but he didn't have the right to free stuff.  Maybe if nothing was free,  it wouldn't matter. (Financial planner Kooka pointed out the extreme logistical difficulties of financing a school district with no public funding, while her brother stared at her blankly, and said "that's why people like YOU live here - I am a villain for pete's sake - you figure out the rest.")

The conversation went on for quite some time . . . but the conclusion they came to is this . . . illegal means illegal for a reason.  There needed to be new laws - different laws. If you change the law, you don't have these problems, but trying to sneak around the law is never going to work for poor Sven, the professional villain or the investment banker.

The whole thing ended with Punk scooping up his Lego men, giving me an almost accusatory look and saying,  "That was a nightmare - and that is exactly why I never want to be a grown-up."

Lesson learned.

Monday, May 10, 2010

my mom says i'm gifted

I actually wrote this article about 3 years ago - thought it might be worth reprinting here:

There are show tunes playing in our house - constantly. I am actually the one who bestowed these CD's on my children, so I have no one to blame but myself.  Nonetheless, it's making me crazy.  I'm more of a pop/top-40 kind of girl myself.  Besides, a person can only listen to Jellicle Cats and Somewhere Over the Rainbow so many times before her brain implodes.

Oh, and there are costumes too. Lots of costumes.  We can't even buy a plain t-shirt without taking a sharpie to it and adding a Charlie Brown zig-zag or Tin Man rivets.

Do you have any idea what it is like to go to the grocery store with another human being who has stuffed two raffia hula skirts down his pants in an attempt to look "more scarecrowy"?  And the best part, is that the entire ensemble comes complete with the noodle-legged, bobble-headed walk and a constant, never-ending hum: "I could while away the hours, conferring with the flowers . . . "

It has been this way as long as child number 1 has been alive.  His room is full of props, hats, capes and homemade scripts. He's been borrowing my eyeliner for mustaches and "angry" eyebrows since he could talk. What's more, he's sucked his little sister in too.  It's not at all uncommon for me to wake up with the Pirates of Penzance staring me in the face, asking for breakfast.

And like people don;t think the whole homeschool thing is weird enough - I have to prove their case by bringing the entire cast of Oklahoma into the doctor's office.

Why do I put up with this?  What's the point? I only have one answer:  It's because, this intense, imaginative, theater-crazy creature with straw in his underwear is who my kid is. Those things are an innate part of him - like his blue eyes, his hay-fever, his love of fish sticks. It's not something I could change if I wanted to.  It's how the guy is made - and who am I to tamper with that?

He's a quick-witted, imaginative brain-stormer with dirty fingernails and a pocket full of one-liners. Those are not things I can measure on a test, but they are gifts just the same - gifts that make him who he is. Gifts, that if nurtured and respected can help him take on the world.

What exactly is a "God-given gift" anyway? People use that phrase all of the time.  But aren't all personality traits "god given"? I mean, it's pretty easy to praise a kid for a nice English paper, a winning baseball game or a great piano recital.  It's not always a bowl of cherries to have a kid who is "too" stubborn or "too" cautious  or "too" long winded. But the world needs people with those talents too. They are the military generals, the methodical scientists, the historians. They all have something to offer - not the same thing - but something.

There was an article in the New York Times a while back about how horrible it is that America's kids are not all great mathematicians.  Personally, I think it would be horrible if we were all great mathematicians. Where would we find our lawyers, our gardeners, our stand up comedians? I'm pretty sure Hillary Clinton isn't too concerned about balancing a chemistry equation. I doubt Stephen Spielberg could pass AP calculus.  And the thing is - nobody cares! As long as they do their jobs, they don't have to memorize Shakespeare, or be able to recite pi to 12 digits.

As for our family, we're working on nurturing our gifts.  Maybe someday I'll introduce you to my son: the Oscar winning actor/animal surgeon, who recently won the Nobel Prize for his breakthroughs in robotic engineering.

Or maybe I'll just say, "Hi, I'd like you to meet Punk.  He's a kindergarten teacher - and man, can he put on a killer puppet show!"

Sunday, May 9, 2010

stuff we love

We are trying to update our "stuff we love" button, on a regular basis.  Last week was sherpani - this week it's the family mint.  Check it out!

6th grade

Sixth grade is fast approaching.  If it were up to Punk it would be full time homeschool. If it were up to certain family members it would mean full time public school.  And if it were up to other members it would be full time at the private school where I teach (A 7 year free-ride would be roughly a $170K education).

Unfortunately, deciding is tough.

The facts about our public school experiences are varied.  As far as Kooka goes, her spelling skills have deteriorated dramatically, and her math has become stagnant at best. On the flip side, she seems content.  She is competitive, and this setting allows her to compare herself to other constantly - which is something she seems to enjoy.

As for Punk - needless to say, his experience at a charter school was stomach turning, but his regular public school experience taught him things I couldn't - things he needed to know.  He figured out how to use a day planner, what it feels like to finish last in a foot race, and the glory of being asked to teach drawing to his entire class (teacher included).

So what is best for them?  In an ideal world - I think Punk's 6th grade would look something like this:

8-10 - home room, band and biology at the public middle school
10-11 - art class at the high school or local college
11-3: homeschool

I think I may be pushing my luck to even wish  for it - but a girl can dream.  Does anyone else use the school system a'la carte like this?  I didn't even know we could until this year.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

happy day

This is Punk. Today is national Star Wars Day.  My mom heard it on the radio. That means I get to talk like Yoda for the whole day . . . . May the 4th be with you.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

reflections on the holocuast

They had saved me a seat in the auditorium.  When I sat down it was just as I suspected it would be: Punk on my right, his arm tangled around mine, his head on my shoulder, already bracing himself, attempting to take comfort, to escape from what he knew to be true.  Kooka did not even bother to drop her theater seat, but instead perched herself of top, head and shoulders above the rest of the crowd, eyes focused hard on the speaker.

They both knew the basic gist of the story: If you were Jewish you had no rights.  If you were Jewish Hitler hated you.  If you had Jewish blood in your veins,  you would be exterminated. 

Baby Yoda is 1/4 Jewish.  Now it is not just a story.  Now it is hitting home.

So we listen.  Punk's eyes meet mine often.  Deep and sorrowful, his eyes say what his mouth doesn't.  "Can you believe it?"  He sits up straight for a minute when she tells about being locked in a shed with a time bomb attached. He relaxes only when she tells us that God sent rain, so the fuse never lit.  And for minute he is OK, everything is right with the world - God's still doing his job.  It is overwhelming for Punk.  Too many thoughts in his head, and not enough ways to save every person who needs it.

Kooka does not look at me once.  She never takes her eyes off the podium.  I have no idea what she is gleaning from this, only that she is not missing a thing.  Her head nods imperceptibly when she hears, "Some of you may grow up to be inventors that create a cure for cancer." Kooka has a plan.  I am never sure what it is, and it changes daily, but by God, she is prepared to do her part, to make sure the world is better off when she's gone.

When it is over I ask them what they remember most.  I have already made my assumptions.  For Punk, I think it is the time bomb - the horror of being trapped and the miracle of being saved. For Kooka I think it is the story of the rescue - the real life story of Prince Charming arriving by Jeep to rescue his princess and take her away to a wonderful land.

But I am wrong on both counts.  There are two things that stick with them.

Both kids agreed the part that hit them most, was when Mrs. Klein was reminiscing about spending another "boring evening at home" with her brother sprawled next to her on the living room floor, her mother working on needlepoint, and dad reading the paper.  It was an unremarkable evening, nothing exciting to do - boring.  She then said, that she spent the next 4 years just praying for one more night like it.  Just one more empty, boring, do-nothing-day with the people she loved. Just a chance to be close to them again. 

"When she said she never saw her family again, that was the worst." Kooka said.

The other telling part of our discussion was a story Mrs. Klein told, about her friend finding a solitary raspberry, and giving it to her as a gift.  I set the plot up for the kids, and asked them if they could do it.  If they could imagine themselves 10 times hungrier than they had ever been.  If they could imagine finding one lone Starburst candy - what would they do. 

This part was exactly what I expected. 

"Yeah, I would give it away.  Giving somebody else such a great gift, and making them healthier would make me feel less depressed."  That was Punk.

And Kooka - I knew it before she said it - "No, I would not give it away. I would split it in half, because then we would both get more energy to fight the Nazi's."  Never trust anybody else to fight your battles. That's how my girl works.

I think there is more stirring in their little souls.  We had a lengthy conversation, but for now that is enough - even for me.