the amazing size of a three year old’s bladder

In these waning days of 2010, I have been taken to task by certain readers for not having posted at all during the Christmas season. This is not because of any shortage of reflection-worthy moments, but rather a dearth of moments in which to reflect. Nonetheless, my apologies.

Oh sure, Santa came and all that, but what’s really been keeping me busy during these twelve days of Christmas is my daughter’s bladder. Even though Maggie is barely three, she goes to preschool five days a week (world-savvy third child that she is), and so it has taken this extended stretch of no school no babysitter hard-core togetherness for me to realize that my daughter never goes to the bathroom.

Maggie can go sixteen hours without “making peeps” (as we call it around here) no problem. The only time there’s trouble is when her mother gently broaches the topic that she should perhaps go and sit on the potty and “just see what happens.” Then there is wailing and breath-holding and tantruming like it’s 1999. Or like Rumpelstiltskin, who met his end in the version of the fairy tale that I read growing up by stomping his feet so hard the ground opened up beneath him and swallowed him up. Then he tore his own arms off.

Her extreme anxiety is of course probably caused by her bladder being so full she can’t think straight. And her outlook on life usually improves immensely once she has voided herself. The challenge is getting her there. These are a few methods that have worked, if briefly:

-a phone call from Santa (me calling our house phone from my cell phone) saying she will not get her princess bike unless she sits on the potty for Mommy

-a princess bike from Santa with a note attached to it saying this means she now has to sit on the potty for Mommy

-a sudden, mock realization by me or her older brother Connor that her eyes are turning yellow because the peeps have backed up to her eyeballs (this sends her running to the bathroom)

But now the Santa thing is used up until next December, and I have a feeling she’s catching on to the yellow eyes thing. Or she will as soon as it occurs to her to look in a mirror. Then I’ll be back to the starting line.

Seamus was like this too, and I always take some comfort when I remember that I’ve gone through something before. Even if I can’t recall how it ended, the point is that it DID end. I know the right answer is to make sitting on the potty part of a routine for my daughter, something that seems non-negotiable because we do it at the exact same times every day. Good luck doing that in this crazy house.

Anyone else have a kid with an amazing bladder?

how to throw a kick-ass LEGO birthday party

I may not be much of a baker, but if you want to throw your kid a fun birthday party at home, come to Mama. Having 17 six year olds in one’s apartment is not something I can necessarily recommend, but I have survived it. When Connor turned eight this month, despite my repeated suggestions that we have his party anywhere else but our apartment (a bowling alley? a movie theater?) he was adamant: he wanted a “house party” again this year. “I’ve already told everyone,” he explained calmly. “It’s going to be a LEGO party.”

I had to admit, this seemed like a very good idea. I got a bunch of Legos out while his many guests arrived for his 7th birthday last year, and I had to tear most of the boys away from them 45 minutes later. They hold kids’ attention; they have to sit down to use them; sounded good to me.

The only real requirement was lots more Legos, since most of my boys’ collection has been fashioned into creations like this zoo–

which cover every surface in our home and must not ever, ever, be taken apart. Good news- my centerpieces were already complete. Bad news- I needed to restock. I had great luck on Ebay buying people’s only slightly dusty collections of random Lego parts. Even on Ebay, Legos are not exactly a bargain, but I still spent a lot less buying two thousand or so of them than I would have taking a dozen kids to Chuck E. Cheese.

Connor assured me he and his friends would just build Legos the whole time, but I knew from past experience that Plans C through Z need to be complete, lest you have a pack of idle boys stirring up trouble in a home without a basement rec room or backyard. That’s why I am so grateful to online resources like Under the Sycamore, another mom blog written by a truly spectacular photographer and crafty-minded mother. Seriously, her crafts and her pictures will make you feel quite inadequate, but she’s got lots of great ideas- like using hot glue to make your gingerbread houses stick together. Not that I have a glue gun around.

Anyway, Ashley (author of that blog) threw a Lego party for her six-year-old, and it was from that jaw-droppingly perfect party post that I got the idea to print out Lego coloring sheets from the internet to have the guests color as they arrived.

By the time everyone got there, the party was already 25% over and no one was bleeding from the nose yet. Success!

We then dumped out the Legos and told the kids that they should build something awesome because there would be a contest. They took to this idea most enthusiastically, and came up with the idea that they should work in teams. They chose their teams peacefully and got to work.

They were really sweating the contest part, so I kept dropping hints that everyone would be a winner. The truth was, I had Lego minifigures for everyone, and my categories for judging had not been made up yet.

After half an hour or so of building, each team gave us a complicated description of their space station, or whatever it was they created, and I nodded solemnly, pretending to take copious notes. Then prizes were awarded, for categories such as Best Moving Parts, Best Pirate Ship, and Awesomest. As predicted, everyone was a winner.

From there, we were on to pizza and cake. I made a Lego cake. It was not pretty. Connor loved it anyway.

Just when the kids were starting to surf a sugar high, I pulled out my list of activities cribbed from and announced another contest: who could pick up the most Lego pieces with a pair of chopsticks in 30 seconds? 3 sets of chopsticks, 3 kids played at a time, and by the time they had all had a turn, the dads were ringing the doorbell for pickup. (Yes, all moms dropped off, all dads picked up. Seemed like a good system, even though I had nothing to do with it.)

On the way out, each kid got to take home a sizable chunk of their team creation and some Mad Libs, which have nothing to do with Legos but were a big hit.

And now we still have mountains of Legos to play with.

This was an easy party and the kids really seemed to love it. If you have a Lego lover, I recommend giving it a shot!

Anyone else still braving birthday parties at home?


Are you ready to kick your neighborhood sanctimommy in the teeth this holiday season? Drop the tinsel and watch this hilarious video by Jen Singer from


Here’s one choice selection: 

“I have to finish putting up my Christmas trees.”

“Trees? You have more than one?”

“Of course. One tree is for Santa. One represents my family’s Irish, Native American, Chilean, and Tutsi heritage. One simply has white lights and candy canes. One is in my husband’s bathroom.” 

Scarily accurate satire!

my bake sale FAIL

The Christmas season is one in which to showcase the very best your baking skills have to offer, and after resolving last week to say yes to all things Christmas-y, no matter how too-busy I think I am, I reported to my son’s kindergarten class last Friday to help them decorate gingerbread cookies. The kids were still at lunch when I arrived, so the classroom was empty except for one mother hurrying to and fro getting everything ready. Skipping the chit-chat, she handed me a small box, a spoon, and a professional mixer.

OTHER MOM: Seven tablespoons of meringue powder. Thirteen to fourteen tablespoons of water. Then mix on high.

I did as I was told, but I’m thinking: meringue powder? Doesn’t she know about Betty Crocker?

Then I saw the unadorned gingerbread cookies laid out on the plates, and understood just what level we were playing at:

The smell of cloves and nutmeg warmed the air. Holy crap, the gingerbread girl had tiny strands of gingerbread HAIR. How did she do that?

We made pastry bags of three different color frostings (another first for me) and when the kids came in, helped them decorate their gingerbread people to their hearts’ content. Here’s what Seamus came up with:

which led to this conversation in our home that same evening:

CONNOR: Seamus, does your gingerbread lady have… bras?
SEAMUS: Mm hmm. Dose are her bras.
I had been afraid to ask.

Still, Seamus was so excited about his gingerbread girl and her bras that I decided to kick my own holiday baking up a notch. The school’s holiday party was two days away, so the next afternoon, Seamus and Maggie and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work making Magic Bars. “These were the hit of my bake sale!” one reviewer proclaimed, and since I ate about eight of the misshapen ones, I can aver that they are indeed magically delicious. So delicious I just went to the freezer to get another one.

What’s that you say? You thought I made them for my kids’ school holiday party? Why, I did. I walked in with my Tupperware container of Magic Bars, handed them in proudly, and was off to the face painting booth with Maggie.

About half an hour later, I came back to the bake sale booth, and saw hand-painted Christmas tree cookies, and bright green cornflake wreaths, and for sixty dollars, a three-tier confection that had a tiny Grinch attempting to steal Christmas on the top. I mean, this thing was Cake Boss good. But not my sweet, humble, single-pan Magic Bars. 

My friend behind the counter saw me looking around hopefully– perhaps they had sold already? Since they were *that* delicious? Then my friend sheepishly lifted the paper tablecloth. “I have them down here,” she said, sort of gritting her teeth apologetically. “Cause… they have NUTS.”

D’oh. I mean, yes they have nuts, but they’re right on top, and they’re magical, and anyone with a kid with a nut allergy is probably not buying random strangers’ baked goods, right?

They came back home with me. Bake sale FAIL.

When we got home, it was Maggie’s naptime- and time for me to focus on my next baked good adventure: a cake for Connor’s 8th birthday party the next day. We were having a LEGO themed party (more on that next post), and he wanted a LEGO cake. In a moment of insanity, I had decided that I would not outsource this request: I would make it myself. This was before I realized how much I sucked at baking things compared to, oh, every single other mother anywhere.

Here was the LEGO cake recipe I had decided to make, from Family Fun magazine. (Their name has “Fun” right in it! How could I go wrong?) Simply by baking a rectangular cake and eight upside-down cupcakes, then frosting them a bright LEGO color, my finished product was sure to look exactly like this!

After approximately eighteen hours of baking, cooling, digging out of pans, doing surgery with toothpicks, frosting, crying out to the gods, refrosting, taking deep cleansing breaths, and frosting some more, this is what I came up with:

Oh, that’s not… THAT bad, you say? Here’s a closeup:

And I mean, I worked HARD to make it look like that.
I revealed my handiwork to my family. My husband stifled a guffaw.
“It’s not really da color of a real Lego,” Seamus said, pointing out what was probably the 8th most glaring thing wrong with my cake.
Then Connor looked up at me and smiled.
“I love it,” he said.
And he did.

Last night when I tucked Connor in, he gave me an extra hug. “Thank you so much for my cake, Mom,” he said. “You worked so hard on it. And I really loved it.”

I’m no Cake Boss. But he appreciated that I tried. And I’ll never forget it. Next year I’m going to try to tackle this one:
Oh sure, this cake is pretty good. But I know how to make an anatomically correct ginger-girl, so… watch out.

it’s the most runner-full time of the year

Sorry I haven’t posted this week; while I have been sitting at my computer for dedicated stretches, I have been spending December’s child-free moments creating spreadsheets and trawling the Web for free shipping and trying, unsuccessfully, to cross “finish Christmas shopping” off my burgeoning to-do list.

Every year I think I won’t get it all done, and of course I somehow do, but this year I am having serious doubts. Mount Xmas seems higher and harder to scale each year, and I can’t really say why that is, because each year another present I used to have to buy falls off my list. Last week, my sister-in-law and I decided we weren’t exchanging gifts among the adults in my husband’s family (just the seven grandchildren, sigh). That’s four fewer presents to buy right there, and yet every time I look at my list,  another handful of names have crept onto the list, like kudzu.

I also have trouble saying when. Each year I say I’m going to keep the Santa shopping for our own kids under control; the problem is that I do it remotely, since we don’t celebrate Christmas morning in New York City. I do keep track of what I’ve ordered, nice little lists, but then I’m never sure it’s enough, because I can’t see it all stuffed in the upstairs closet. I might just need one more little thing, I think.  Then I walk into Urban Outfitters and see this Star Wars “In Your Pocket” talking keychain, and say “I’ll take two” (so the boys won’t fight), and then repeat that process a dozen times, and on Christmas Eve, when I drag it all out, I will be nauseous at the amount I have somehow accumulated. “This is too much stuff,” I’ll say. “This is ridiculous.” David will refrain from comment. “I am doing WAY LESS next year,” I’ll vow. And then it will be Dec 8, 2011, and I’ll have 56 gifts for each kid again. 

This morning when I dropped the kids off at school, there was a signup sheet posted on the kindergarten door. “We need two parents to help with gingerbread house decorating!” it said, in gay red and green and gold lettering. Well, I’m not a crazy person, I thought; I have WAY too much to do to take up half a free morning making gingerbread houses with my kid.

Then I realized: if I don’t have enough time to do something like that at Christmas, then I need to change something. Because I’ll miss it. I’ll miss all the fun, while I’m making lists and checking them twice. I don’t want to be merely the architect of a perfect Christmas for everyone else. I want to be part of the fun. 

So I signed up to make gingerbread houses on Friday. Then I signed up to bring baked goods to the school holiday party on Saturday. Then I signed up to put beards on the shepherds and the wise men the morning of the Christmas pageant next week.

I may soon be taught a harsh lesson, like when Marcia Brady overcompensated for her case of “new school-itis” by signing up for every single club on campus. But I am going to remember that I am having fun, yes FUN, that I love Christmas, and that anything that falls between the cracks probably didn’t need to get done anyway. 

Did I mention I’m hosting a birthday party for ten eight-year-old boys on Sunday afternoon in our apartment? A party requiring a theme cake? 

How are you managing your holiday madness?