Happy Halloween! or: God, this costume is hot

Halloween is here at last, and thank the Lord. My kids are so overstimulated just from thinking about it that all three of them were in tears as I dragged them and an enormous bag of costumes, gym clothes, and “salty snacks” for class parties to the bus stop this morning.

Here’s Maggie once we got to her nursery school party this morning, somewhat recovered:

I must say I love this costume, and I love that she chose it instead of another princess getup. But being Winnie-the-Pooh is HOT.  My daughter could go on an expedition to the South Pole in this thing, and her nursery school classroom is heated to a 1960s-vintage 103 degrees.  In this photo, as you can see, she has literally been brought to her knees by heatstroke. But under no circumstances would she remove her hood and reveal her true identity.

Then there’s Seamus, ever the contrarian. After piecing together a formidable “bad guy” costume from our collection of Halloweens past, he spent our bus ride to school avowing, alternately, that he was going to be “nothing” or “himself.” In other words, boycotting the costume-wearing entirely. At first I took the bait, explaining but it will be FUN, but everyone else will have one on and you’ll be sorry, but but but. By the time we got to school, I handed him his costume bag and said “Whatever.” I’m sure there will be a story there.

Tonight, we’ll go to a block party where I saw Tina Fey once, then trick-or-treat around two apartment buildings instead of going house to house. And hey, there’s no nor’easter TODAY, so I’ll count my blessings. Happy Halloween!

why lists are good for our kids– and our sanity

Like many mothers I know, I struggle mightily with the out-the-door routine of our weekday mornings. When it’s two minutes to eight and each of my three children has one sock and a bed head– well, I’m glad I’m not being filmed.

Then there’s the after-school slog: did you do your homework, where is it, I have to sign it, come back here and put your homework away, it’s time for your bath, yes it is, yes I know you took one last night, no you can’t have those Sun Chips I’m trying to get dinner ready…

and so on.

Recently I decided to reinstitute the morning checklist. I wrote down everything I need my recalcitrant and sleepy first-grader to do in the mornings, and asked him to copy it onto a sign for his room.

“Make peeps” is our bathroom euphemism of choice. I heard Rosie O’Donnell say it on her show (before I ever was a parent) and I just liked it. Anyway, I just scribbled it all on a Post-It and gave it to Seamus so he could make it his own. Instead, he just shrugged. “I’ll probably use this,” he said, never one to put himself out unnecessarily. But despite its shabby appearance, this Post-It note has worked wonders over the last couple of weeks. He is now able to get himself ready for school by 8 a.m. without me dragging him every step of the way.

Somehow, though, I felt like the after-school slog was different. There’s not a intense time constraint- just three kids, exhausted from a long day at school, who want to lie on the couch for a few hours of junky television. The last thing they’d respond to was ANOTHER list, especially a list as long as this one:

What am I, the Tiger Mother? Give the kids a freaking break.

And yet this was the advice I received from a cognitive behavioral therapist who has seen it all before. Give them a list, he said.

Puh-lease, I thought to myself. But they have such a highly structured day, I said out loud. They’ll hate this. By 5 p.m. they’re just tired of being told what to do.

Structure, this very wise man replied, does not have to be onerous. For children, structure can be a huge relief.

A nineteen-item list of things to do every night, a relief? Yeah, sure. I put it up anyway, because I was tired of the fighting.

And oh my. It has worked. Homework magically appears before me for me to review and sign. Dirty school uniforms leap off the floor and into the hamper all by themselves. In the most delightful way.

“Look at the list,” I say, when they ask me what happens now. And they do. And no one weeps with exhaustion. Not even me. The list is life.

Have you ever taken any parenting advice, sure it wouldn’t worked, and then have been shocked when it did?

pumpkin carving: another reason to hate October

I have already established in this space my extreme dislike of the corn maze, and I was very heartened when you all responded with similar reactions.

So here’s another reason I hate the festival of fall: pumpkin carving. I just can’t believe the hassle factor, the yuck, the stink of a pumpkin once you actually get inside it.

When I was growing up, we’d each get a pumpkin from the supermarket and a black marker. My dad was probably the most into it of any of us; he’d give his pumpkin eyelashes and teeth and stuff. I stuck with the more traditional triangle-eye. But either way, it took us all about ninety seconds to be done with our jack-o-lanterns for another year, and they’d sit outside our back door for a nice long time, and that was the end of it. My husband thinks that’s sacrilege, but I just don’t have it in me to goop out the guts and roast the seeds for an entire autumn Saturday. I’d rather organize the kids’ sock drawers.

I did let the kids pick out pumpkins, of course, with vague promises to do something with them at some point, and definite plans not to. But Connor (at almost-nine) is old enough to organize certain family arts ‘n crafts projects without me, and last week, I came out to the kitchen to find this:

I wish I could tell you where the face pieces came from… I think Oriental Trading? They’re like Mr. Potato Head pieces that you just poke in. (Even faster and neater than Magic Marker.) But as you can see, Connor went one third-grade-boy step further: he made a big head gash in his pumpkin, stuck a butter knife inside it, and added some ketchup for gore.

He loved it. *I* loved it. It was a terrific jack-o-lantern with absolutely no effort on my part. No scooping out guts! No mess! Since we live in an apartment, we couldn’t put him on the porch to be seen by all– but Connor’s pumpkin found a place of honor right inside our front door.

Cut to: three days later.

SEAMUS: Mom, something smells.

MOM: Really? I don’t smell anything.

The next day:

MAGGIE: Mommy, it smells like stinky fish in here.

MOM: Does it?

The next day:

CONNOR: Mom, I’m going to move my pumpkin over here so–


The entire bottom of the long-rotted pumpkin came off, splattering moldy, rancid pumpkin guts all over our apartment. It was like that episode of Breaking Bad where the guts come through the ceiling. Only this was grosser.

Learn from our mistake: if you puncture a pumpkin, you’ve got no choice but to scoop out what’s inside. If you try to avoid that unpleasant chore, much greater unpleasantness awaits you.

Where do you stand on pumpkin carving?

to my daughter on her 4th birthday

Maggie is four today.

And speaking of mothers I swore I’d never be, before my daughter was born, I swore that I would NEVER, no not EVER, buy her a birthday present that looked like this:

And yet.

I have a daughter who puts her blankie on her head and plays bride.

I have a daughter who loves purses, baby dolls, pink sparkly shoes, and headbands.

Oh, and princesses. How she loves princesses.

And I love it too. Because pretending she’s a princess, or a bride, doesn’t make her feel less-than; it makes her feel spectacular.

And because loving princesses means she’s still a little bit little. And she knows it too.

“Someday, when I’m tired of playing with my princess computer,” she told me about five minutes after tearing the wrapping paper off it, “we’ll give it to another little girl. Right, Mom?”

Right, Maggie. Just don’t go growing up any time too soon.

why we should all lay off the Corn Maze Mom

People are just lining up to crack wise about the mother of two who called 911 when her family got stuck in a corn maze this week.

Admittedly, it’s hard not to snicker when you listen to the 911 recording and hear the frazzled mother’s wicked Mass accent when she says “It’s getting really daaak out he-uh!”

But I do not join those who scoff, who say corn mazes are fun, who say what she did was ridiculous. First of all, it was a seven-acre corn maze. That’s for reals. Secondly, there but for the grace of God could have gone I.

On Columbus Day, we all visited Hank’s Pumpkintown, along with most of the population of Long Island, and about a hundred thousand yellow jackets. It was 82 degrees and sunny. David and I were ready to leave about as soon as we parked the car, but the kids would leave no hay bale unturned, no tractor-train ride untried.

Then Connor spotted the corn maze. “Whoo hoo, let’s do it!” he yelped.

“Uh, I have to hop on a conference call,” David said, conveniently and suddenly remembering a really important reason why he could not accompany us.

I really didn’t want to go. Like, REALLY. I’ve happily gone in corn mazes before, as part of a pack, as one of several decision-making adults. This was different: me and an 8 year old, a 7 year old, and a 3 year old. Me as the only one who could find our way out, while simultaneously keeping track of three kids hopped up on candy apples. This terrified me. This did not sound fun at all.

I chose the least of three evils, a “family maze” where a painted jack-o-lantern at the entrance told me we’d be out in about twenty minutes. Fat chance. Despite the Indian summer, this was how they’d find us come first frost:







Ten feet in the maze and I was completely lost. Sure, I knew the exit was behind me. But I couldn’t see how to get there. I had to go to the bathroom. Oh my GOD.

“Aidan! Aidan!” one mother called desperately from somewhere within the maze.

We rounded a corner and another family was talking to a sniffling boy who had lost his family.

“Are you Aidan?” I asked.

“Anthony,” he said sadly.

Recap:  in the maze for sixty seconds. Two lost children. That I knew of. And Connor had run ahead, disappearing around a bend.

“Stay with Mommy! STAY WITH MOMMY!” I yelled , running after him.

We came to a crossroads in the maze. I had no idea where to go next. If I had thought to call 911, I probably would have pulled out the phone, pre-dialed, gotten all set to pull the trigger.

Then Connor crowed “It’s this way! I’m totally sure!” and we all ran after him.

Turn after turn, he was sure. I had no choice but to put all my trust in a third-grader, so I did. And despite the jack-o-lantern’s twenty-minute estimation, it was just fifteen minutes later that I gulped the sweet air of freedom. (Not that I checked my watch a hundred times or anything.)

So I don’t laugh at Corn Maze Mom. And I don’t judge her, either, though some say being in the maze with a 5-year-old and a 3-week-old was dumb. I understand how she got there. I know how it is when you have that second baby, and you have this brief period of denial that life can be Exactly The Same, that you can make every day like Christmas for the older kid (because you feel SO GUILTY) and the baby will just snooze in the Bjorn. I took Connor to a Wiggles concert when Seamus still had his umbilical cord stump, and not one of us had a good time, but I was determined to get there.

A Wiggles concert is paradise compared to a seven-acre corn maze. If I could meet Corn Maze Mom, I would give her a big hug, and thank her for giving voice to those of us who suffered like her, but in silence. In Corn Maze Mom’s words:

“We thought a corn maze would be fun. Instead, it’s a NIGHT-MAY-UH.”

Corn mazes: fun or nightmare? what’s your vote?