Archives for category: the boy

It started with a guest.

When your house is small, like ours, you learn to be flexible with your space. The playroom is an alcove in the living room. The laundry room is our linen closet. Our office is wherever we sit down with a laptop. Our guest room is…Sam’s room.  If you come to stay with us, we’ll put you up in a tiny room covered with dinosaurs and a twin bed.  Sam, meanwhile, goes to have a sleepover in Annabel’s floor on the old crib mattress.

So that’s what we did when my mother came to stay for a few days a bit before Christmas.  She stayed in Sam’s room and Sam and Annabel had a giggly sleepover. But after she left, he didn’t want to go back to his room. And Annabel didn’t care, so he stayed there, on her floor, for days.  Every night it was the same thing, “Annabel? Want to have a sleepover again?” “Yeah!”

Travel at Christmas broke up the routine and things went back to normal. Then, after a few nights: “Annabel, want to have a sleepover?” There we were again, two kids, one room, one in a bed, one on the floor. Again and again and again. After a few weeks of this, there was really only one solution.


It’s cozy, sure, but at least we have a playroom now.


Okay, that part’s still a slightly messy work-in-progress.  But that giant box of Legos is no longer in my living room alcove and we’ve now got a full-size futon for guests. So we’re going to call this a win.

About a month ago we made our annual pilgrimage to Florida. This post isn’t about that trip, which was fine, but not our best vacation ever.  We did our usual eating of fried foods, drinking of Cuban coffee, and letting our children play with alligators.

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See? Not Maine.

This trip was not the best for a few reasons, not least because Michael developed an odd rash the day before we left. We pondered it for a bit, but as he didn’t seem in immanent danger of dying and we had packing to do, we ignored it and went on our merry way.

And merry it was, until the next day when we realized the rash was spreading and that it was becoming increasingly painful. All the image searching of rashes that we could do (and, please, don’t search rash images unless you really, really have to) seemed to suggest that it was shingles.  But it couldn’t be shingles because Michael’s never had chicken pox. So we searched and searched and finally he showed the rash to his mother.

“Oh, sure,” she said. “That’s shingles.”

“But I’ve never had chicken pox,” he said.

“Sure you did,” she answered. “You had it the same time everyone else did but you only got two or three spots.”

And just like that, we learned that not only had Michael had the chicken pox after all, rendering moot years of discussions about how we’d handle chicken pox in our kids, but he also had shingles, a disease generally limited to the elderly and the infirm.

Now, shingles, for those who have not had a reason to extensively research it, are caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox.  After you have the pox, the virus stays in your body, hanging out in the nervous system until a weakened immune system allows the virus to gain a foothold.  At that point, the virus travels along your nerves until it reaches the skin, where it causes a rash.  This sounds creepy and painful, and it is, and it pretty much ruined Michael’s vacation. It didn’t do a whole lot for the rest of us, either, as we tried to accommodate a downed member of the family.

Everything we read suggested that it was possible to catch the chicken pox from someone with shingles, but it was pretty rare.  For transmission to take place, a non-immune person essentially has to come in direct contact with the rash.

“So just don’t rub the children’s faces on your oozing sores and it should be fine,” I said, looking up from my father-in-law’s computer.

“Got it,” Michael said.  And he kept his shirt on and washed his clothes separately and that was that . Or so we assumed.

Because we are dumb.


About a week after we returned home from Florida, I found myself in the bathroom getting the kids ready for bath. I pulled Annabel’s dress off and immediately noticed three small, red dots on her stomach.

“Huh,” I said.

“What’s that?” she asked, curious but not scared.

“I don’t know, but it looks like it may be the chicken pox.”

“COOL!” she yelled. “I have the chicken pox!”

I was less enthused.

The next day I took her increasingly spotty self to see the doctor, which I had to do in order to make sure that her immunization records showed that she’d had the disease.

“Yup,” he said out in the parking lot where he came to look at her, so we didn’t infect everyone else. “That sure is chicken pox. Do you know where she contracted it from?”

“Well,” I said. “Her dad had shingles.”

“Really?” he said. “When did he have them?”

“He still does, a bit.”

“And you don’t know anyone else who had chicken pox?”




“Wow,” he said. “That’s a pretty compelling case. But, honestly, the chance of getting chicken pox from shingles is so rare it is practically theoretical. This is amazing!”

I, again, was less enthused.

Because I believe in giving full credit where credit is due, I need to tell you that Annabel really was a superb chicken pox patient.  She rarely complained, she tolerated quarantine even when it required her to sit endlessly in the car while I ran errands, and she was generally excellent company. But by the of the mandated six-day sequester, she was healed up and quite ready to go back to preschool.

I packed her up, sent her on her way, and assumed it was over.

Because I am dumb.


You may wonder why I was so casual about the whole thing considering that I have another child in the house.  The reason is this: Sam had received the chicken pox vaccine.  We had intended for neither kid to get it until they started school, believing that natural immunity had a slight edge over vaccine immunity during the course of a lifetime (though we went back and forth on this a lot especially considering–remember?–we thought Michael had never had the chicken pox).  But we learned when reviewing Sam’s vaccination records at his three-year check-up that somewhere along the way he’d gotten the shot.

We didn’t really mind either way, and, frankly, by the end of Annabel’s bout with the pox I was tired of calamine lotion, hideously behind at work, and pretty much done with the varicella zoster virus altogether.  Plus, I was feeling pretty lucky that Annabel’s case was as moderate as it was and I wasn’t really looking to roll the dice a second time.

But, hey! Guess what! A week after Annabel went back to preschool I was pulling Sam’s shirt off for bath (seeing a pattern?) when I noticed tell-tale red spots all over his stomach and back.

“Look!” Annabel yelled gleefully, “You have chicken pox, too!”

So I hauled him to the doctor the next day, which happened to be yesterday.

“Sure does look like the chicken pox,” the Friday doctor said. “I don’t see this much anymore, honestly, what with the vaccine.”

“But he got the vaccine.”

“Right. We tend to see that cases with the vaccine are much milder. Is his milder than his sister’s was?”

“No, it’s worse.”

“Really? But he has fewer spots?”

“No, he has more.”

“Interesting. It looks like the vaccine didn’t help much here.”

“You think?”

“This really is unusual. Believe me.” And I believe her.

Because I am dumb.


To recap:

My 37-year-old, generally healthy husband developed a illness usually limited to the elderly and the infirm from a childhood disease he never knew he had.

He then gave this disease to our daughter in a manner of transmission considered so unusual that it is “practically theoretical.”

Our daughter then gave the disease to our son, despite his being vaccinated against it with a vaccine considered around 90% effective.

When I was at the doctor with Annabel, he seemed oddly pleased with her contraction of the pox. “The thing is,” he said, “she will now have a 99% chance of being immune from this for life. That’s actually really good.”

I had the chicken pox when I was a kid. I don’t remember having it, but I definitely did.  I’ve never in my life worried about getting it a second time. But right now? I’m looking at how percentages are running for us and I’m thinking, boy, I am basically guaranteed to end up in that 1%, aren’t I?

A few friends who have followed this saga have mentioned that I should buy a lottery ticket. It seems to me that the luck we’re running is actually the exact opposite of what is needed to win the lottery. What would happen if I went to buy a lottery ticket is that I would somehow bump into the person behind me, causing them to slip and fall and sustain tremendous injury. They would then sue me for everything I have, including my family, who I would be forced to sell for cash, and I would end up destitute, penniless, alone, and covered in the first-ever-known simultaneous case of chicken pox and shingles.

So buying a lottery ticket doesn’t seem like the right move.

But I might do it anyway.

Because I really am that dumb.

Remember when I interviewed Annabel on her birthday? Well, Sam turned three this past Sunday and, as he is a second child, it took me a few days to get around to the interview.  More truthfully, it took me three days to get around to it because 90% of my time with Sam is spent chasing him around at full-speed, trying to get him, and everyone around him, through his early childhood intact.  Interviewing falls a bit by the wayside.

But no matter. We finally got to it and, as he is less of a lying liar who lies than his sister is, this requires significantly less editing time.

Without further ado, Sam at three.

What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite food?

What’s your favorite thing about school?
Telling my teacher about it. [No idea, folks. No idea.]

What makes you happiest?
Making bread.

What makes you sad?
When someone knocks over my tower.

What is your favorite thing to do with Dad?
Play with him.

What is your favorite thing to do with Mom?
Clean up the kitchen and do puzzles.

What is one new thing you’d like to try this year?
Play with a triceratops. [!!]

What would you like to be when you grow up?
A firefighter.

What’s that going to be like?
I’ll put out the fires.

sam skating

Photo ruthlessly stolen from Dory, because she takes far better pictures of my children. And just about everything else.

Sam was having trouble settling down last night, as he sometimes does as his off switch is a bit faulty, so I went in to rock him for a moment. As I tucked him back into bed he held up the small white bear he had chosen as Most Valuable Snuggly for the evening.

“Where’s his momma?” he asked.

I glanced around his room and located a polar bear at the foot of his bed. “Here’s the momma,” I said and tucked it in next to him.

“No,” he said. “That’s the brother.”

“Oh.” I looked around the room for the other white teddy bear I know exists in our house.  I didn’t see it. “The momma must be in Annabel’s room. Do you really need it?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yes.”

I slipped out of his room and into Annabel’s. Luckily, she has always had a highly reliable nighttime off switch and she was already asleep.  I located the desired bear and carried it next door.

“Here she is.” I snugged this bear in next to the other two.

“No,” he said. “That’s the dad.”

Now, you are reading this and thinking, “Wow. What a complex family dynamic this little boy has created using just his powers of imagination! Childhood is so magical!” But that’s just because you don’t know Sam as I do. I knew that what he was really doing was messing with me.

[Sam is my apple-tree child, in case you were wondering, and could have sprung Athena-like from my own, messing-with-people head so I know these things.]

I folded my lips and looked around the room.

“I’ve got to have the momma,” he said, with a tinge of petulance in his voice. “I can’t go to bed without the momma.” I looked into his eyes and saw that, messing with me or not, he was ready to escalate this to meltdown should I fail. I kept looking.

Finally, half-hidden under a pile of books because Sam always sleeps with a pile of books [see above apple-tree commentary], I found a medium-sized brown bear.

“Is this the momma?” I asked, holding her up.

“Yep,” he said, satisfied and triumphant. I handed him the animal, hauled the blankets up over the giant pile of bears, kissed him on the head, told him to go to sleep, and made a mental note to record this here as a sign that all our lessons about families coming in all sorts of combinations are working.

Or that my boy has a really sick sense of humor.

Either would be fine with me, really.

“Hey, come here.  I want to take a picture of you.”


“Because I want to take a picture of your hair.”

“My haaaair?”

“Yes, your new haircut. Why are you making that face at me? Come here and let me see your hair.”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“But you asked to see my hair!”

“Not the back of your hair. Who cares about the back of your hair? No, really now. Cooperate.”

“Seriously? Are you serious right now? Just stop being a goofball for two seconds, look at me, give me a normal smile, and let me take a picture.”


“You’re welcome.”

“Yes, Sam. What do you need?”


“Oh, sure, baby, I’ll take a picture of your new haircut, too.”


“Well, that’s just about perfect if you plan to try out for a Junior Newscaster position. Do you plan to be a newscaster, Sam?”

“No! MAMA!

“You know, you two are so lucky that you always redeem yourself in the end.  Really, really lucky.”

[Personal aside to Annika: Sam loves that shirt. No, really, he LOVES that shirt. Thank you!]

Yesterday, in case you missed it, I finished up a long, dull post about my garden.  As I was writing the long, dull post I thought, “It doesn’t matter that it’s long and dull because I’ll write a quick, witty little Halloween update at the end and that will liven everything up!”

And, uh, then I forgot to do that.

So! Halloween! We can still talk about Halloween on November 2nd, right? (I actually don’t care much about your opinion on that matter. Just so we’re clear on our roles in this exchange.)

Remember last Halloween when I couldn’t figure out how to make Annabel’s requested costume and Michael needed to step in at the last second to avoid a scenario in which her costume became Naked Two-Year-Old?  This year, we abandoned that charade completely.  We asked Annabel what she wanted to be, she said, “A pumpkin,” and then Michael nearly ran me over on his way to the fabric store while screaming “I’M MAKING IT.”

I theoretically was in charge of Sam’s costume, a relatively easy scarecrow.  I didn’t come up with that idea. It was suggested by my sister and confirmed by Annabel and Michael. To make his costume, I rifled through the bin of hand-me-downs from other people.

Basically, I outsourced this entire Halloween. If you like homemade Halloween costumes, like me, and you are also breathtakingly lazy, like me, I really cannot recommend this method enough.

Anyway, I present Halloween 2011: the Pumpkin and Scarecrow.

Yes, yes, I know that pumpkin costume is amazing. Feel free to praise Michael extensively in the comments. He deserves it.

The sun, which hadn’t felt hot when we’d arrived, seared into my back.  Sweat pooled under the edges of my hat.  My knees and ankles ached under the pressure of holding a squat for far longer than I should ever hold a squat.  I moved aside a few green leaves and saw some flashes of red.  I gently lifted the berries and checked for green spots or holes left by birds or slugs.  Then I pulled them off, one by one, and reached back to put them in the box behind me.  I was stretching for more when I heard a shuffle, shuffle, shuffle behind me, then a quick scrabbling noise, and, finally, a mushy gulp.

“Sam,” I said as I lifted the leaves of the next plant.  “Get out of the strawberries.”


Blueberries for Sal  is one of those children’s books that I assume everyone knows.  But I’ve met many people who haven’t read it, so isn’t universal, much to my dismay.  If you haven’t read, and you are partial to books about cute little kids and cute little bears heading up to Blueberry Hill to pick blueberries with their mothers, or, rather, eat all the blueberries being picked by their mothers, then you certainly should read it.  It’s a nice flashback to the time when property rights were a bit more laid back and whoever owned Blueberry Hill was happy to let the local folks come gather a couple of quarts, as long they didn’t mind occasionally getting entangled with bears or having their children eat all their hard work out from under them.

I don’t know if you can pick berries like that anymore.  These days, I don’t live in an area with a lot of wild blueberry fields.  At least, none that I know of.  There are a few patches here and there.  We have a small one in the utility easement on our property, but it only produces a few cups each season. That’s enough if you’d like a few days worth for your yogurt but isn’t so helpful if you want to make jam or pies or feed my particular children.

I grew up in an area with more extensive blueberry barrens. They were commercial fields owned by large blueberry operations, yes, but still they were still pickable.  All you had to do was wait until the rakers went through and were done with the field, and you could then take your bucket and go pick the areas they missed. Those were usually tricky areas around rocks or in hollows, places that someone looking for the fastest harvest would skip.  It was possible to pick quarts of berries that way, if you had the time and inclination to pick quarts of an item that was an average of 1/3 of an inch in diameter.  But I did, because I’m a forager by nature and once I start gathering I must gather until there is nothing gatherable left.

I don’t think things operate that way any more.  One of the fields near my old house now has giant boulders, the ones that litter every blueberry barrens, piled up around the edges of the field.  It must have taken a monstrous effort and some heavy duty machinery to pull all of those chunks of granite out of the ground, chunks of granite that have been there since the glaciers dropped them off on their way through.  But I suppose it was worth it because now they can harvest the blueberries in straight shots, up and down, possibly even with machinery.  There probably isn’t anything left for foragers like me and Sal after that.


Annabel and I went to pick wild strawberries a few weeks ago.  I’d noticed a patch while I was on a walk and after she woke up from her nap I brought her back out with me.  They weren’t in a picturesque little field or conveniently located beside a babbling brook.  Instead, they sprawled out of the ditch by the side of a busy road.  I’m not surprised no one else picked them.  It wasn’t a very inviting location.  But she and I turned our butts to the passing traffic and gathered up several cups of the little buggers.  I tried not to dwell on the fact that these berries were basically raised on car exhaust.  I just wanted to see if she would like picking them.  She did.

We gathered just shy of two cups. It was enough for Sam and her to have them as a snack when we got back home and some on top of their cereal the next morning, besides.


Back at the pick-your-own-strawberries place, red juice ran down Sam’s chin and onto his shirt.  He smiled at me, reached into my box, and took another one.  After he ate all of the berries in my container, he scooted over to the row and began pulling berries directly off the plants and cramming them into his mouth.  I tried to run interference at first, as his technique definitely ran less toward foraging and more towards fruit-napping, but I finally realized it was more effective to just let him go while the rest of us picked as fast as we could.  In the end, we picked four quarts, leaving one a bit shy to try to compensate for Sam’s strawberry bacchanalia.

It wasn’t true foraging.  It was a farm and we did have to pay.  But I guess that’s how things work these days if you want berries free of carbon monoxide.

And, of course, there were no bears.

We had a snow day today.  Well, we had a snow afternoon.  All four of us ended up at home early, sent away from work or daycare for our own safety, staring out the windows at pummeling snow and high winds.

It was awesome.  Until Annabel started to get a bit antsy during Sam’s nap and I realized we were teetering on the edge of afternoon disaster.

There was only one thing to do: make Snow Day Cookies.  Snow Day Cookies aren’t any specific kind of cookie.  They are just whatever variety seems most cuddly, most warming, and most soul-nurturing on that particular snowy day.

Today, I chose oatmeal chocolate chip.  I know, right?  Perfection.

On to the baking.  First, I enlisted my trusty assistant.

Her official Trusty Assistant Apron was made by my sister Andrea.  This was actually its maiden voyage.

After a short tussle over which stick of butter was my stick of butter and which stick of butter was her stick of butter, we creamed both sticks in with a cup of brown sugar and a half-cup of white.  Then we added the eggs.

The trusty assistant has been helping me for a long time in the kitchen, and she has proven so dependable that she has recently advanced in her duties.  Behold the new household egg cracker:

I will be happy to rent her out for your egg-cracking needs.  She never drops the shell in or anything.

So, two properly cracked eggs later, we were ready to drop in some vanilla and two tablespoons of milk.

And then the dry ingredients: 1 3/4 cups of flour, 1 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt mixed together and dumped in with a smile.

Er, that’s not really a smile.  That actually borders on mild resentment.  Well, she’s been handling flour dumping duties for a while now.  Perhaps she feels it is beneath her.  I encouraged further cooperation with some mild bribery.

A few more tussles about how we do not put spatulas back in the bowl after licking them and we were back on track.  We stirred in 2 1/2 cups of oatmeal and 2 cups of chocolate chips and then started dropping the dough onto the sheets.

New kitchen duty #2!  It was a banner day for the trusty assistant.  She did pretty well, but if you are the kind of exceptionally uptight baker that insists on all the cookies being the same size, you probably don’t want this method.

We threw that round in to bake and…oh uh.  The trusty assistant’s trusty apprentice was awake.  And cranky.

Let me transcribe what she was actually saying while I took this picture: “Hey mommy, hey mommy,  Sam needs a toy.  Can you get Sam a toy, mommy?  Hey mommy, hey mommy, Sam needs a spoon so he can help.  Can you get Sam a spoon so he can help, mommy? Hey mommy, hey mommy, when will the cookies be done?  Hey mommy, hey mommy, hey mommy, I’m thirsty.  Hey mommy, hey mommy? Mommy?  Mooommmmmmmy!  Mommy, PAY ATTENTION TO MY WORDS!”

Right, so, a toy for this one…

and a socially acceptable gag for that one…

and the cookies were done.  I shuffled those onto the cooking racks and tried to dole out the next batch as quick as I could while they were distracted and…too late.  The trusty apprentice went rogue.

Meanwhile the trusty assistant gave up altogether.

So I abandoned my preferred two-pan rotational system and grabbed a third cookie sheet so I could throw the final dregs of dough in with the second batch before we hit complete chaos.

Ten minutes later we were done.  Time to settle back and enjoy with some hot chocolate, because my theory with kids and sugar is: if you’re going to do it, go big.

And that’s how to properly make Snow Day Cookies.

I’m sorry to say that all this pretty much used up my kitchen mojo for the day, so later I was forced to invent a new tradition: Snow Day Tacos.