Archives for category: the girl

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.

Me: Guess what? We have to go to a birthday dinner tonight. Would you like to draw a card?
Her: YES. I would love to draw a card.
Me: Here’s some paper.


Me: What…what is that?
Her: It’s a spooky costume.
Me: I thought you were drawing a birthday card.
Her: I am. She needs a spooky costume for her birthday.
Me: Don’t you think you should draw a cake? Or balloons? Or flowers?
Her: NO. I’m drawing a spooky costume.
Me: Well…okay, I guess.  If you want to.
Her: Okay.
Me: Hey, next time I ask you to draw a birthday card, will you draw a cake or something?
Her: Sure. Next time I will draw a cake.

…A week passes…

Me: Heyyyy…it’s your cousin’s birthday next week. We need another birthday card. Can you draw one again?
Her: YAY. I love drawing birthday cards.
Me: Okay, now do you remember what you promised to do next time I asked you to draw a card?
Her: Yes. I am supposed to draw birthday things.
Me: GREAT. Like flowers, or a birthday cake, or something, right?
Me; Great. Go for it.


Me: Is that a cake?
Her: No, it’s a birthday window.
Me: A…window?
Her: Yep.


Me: And what’s that?
Her: Birthday stairs.
Her: Yes.
Me: Like stairs you walk up?
Her: Yes. Only for birthdays.
Me: And what’s that?
Her: A birthday crown.
Me: It’s…
Her: What?
Me: It’s just…
Her: Huh?
Me: Never mind. It’s beautiful, baby. Great job.

Annabel: “Don’t turn the light on, Mom. We have to keep all the lights off for the show.”

Me: “I’m very glad that you are having a show, but I have to get dressed for work so I need the light on.”

Annabel: “I’m going to have Sam come in here and shoot you.”

Me: “What?!?!?!”

Annabel, heading down the hall: “Sam, I need you to come down here and shoot Mom with your turtle.”


Basically, I have lost all control of the situation. That’s the point of the story.

No, he didn’t shoot me. But he did have a turtle.

“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!]

She turned four.

Okay, fine, she turned four last Saturday. But then everyone in the house except me became sick in some sort of rotational pattern and, well, here we are.  It’s Wednesday.  She’s still four.

We made it through the threes.  When Annabel was two, everyone warned us about the threes.  “They are much worse than two,” everyone said. “The threes are truly awful.”

But you know what? As she approached four, people started telling us how awful four is.  I’ve even had a few laying the groundwork and warning me about the fives.  This seems, to me, excessively negative.  I enjoyed whole minutes of the threes and I anticipate that a second or two of the fours will be delightful as well.

This was her cake.  Last year she wanted a pink cake, which I achieved with some degree of success.  Minutes afterward consuming that bit of pink overload, she declared that when she turned four, she wanted a purple cake.  Specifically: a strawberry cake with purple icing.  On one hand, I worried about this birthday cake obsession.  On the other, I admire a girl who knows what she wants.

So I made her a strawberry cake with purple icing.  I let her sprinkle the colored sugar on top, which meant the cake had a nice, solid, crunchy coating of sugar that I think really added to the occasion.

You may notice that the cake photo is taken from a rather low, three-and-a-half footish height.  That’s because Annabel took it herself.  She’s been getting very into using the camera lately and, as our camera is not very expensive, we let her.  It’s fun to see things from her perspective.

Like this blurry but charming photo of Sam (and me cleaning off our kitchen counter for the 800th time that day).

Or this shot of Michael cooking.  Well, Michael’s butt cooking.  Apparently this is what you look like to a four-year-old if you are 6 1/2 feet tall.

Or this shot of a hand.  A hand coming towards a camera lens.  A camera lens that no longer retracts properly but that instead buzzes angrily when you attempt to turn the camera on.

I don’t think this particular second is going to go down in the record books as one of those delightful ones I expect out of the fours.

She wants a red cake for her fifth birthday.  Just in case you were wondering.

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.

On Labor Day, I thought we should be doing something.  It’s a lot of pressure, that third day of a long weekend, and I wanted to make use of it but I wasn’t sure how.  So I asked the three-year old.

“What should we do today?”

I don’t know what I expected her to say.  A bike ride to the frog pond, maybe.  Going out for ice cream. A trip to the lake.

“I want to go to the park.”

“The park? Which park? The playground?”

“No. The park where we go to eat pizza.”

“Really? By the water?”


It’s just a plain old park.  Nothing special there except a nice view of the harbor and a decent proximity to the pizza place.

“What would you like to do there?”

“Run on the grass with Sam.”

“Really? Huh.”

Sometimes a request is so simple, even my grumpy brain can’t think of a reason to say no.

So we went to the park.  And she did run around a good deal, circling benches full of tourists and swooping around flower beds.  Sam, who still isn’t a steady enough walker for uneven terrain, spent some quality time butt scooting around on the paths and the soggy grass.  There was giggling and chasing.

When their initial energy began to flag, we suggested a walk down the shorefront.  I fetched the backpack from the car and we tucked Sam into it on Michael’s back.  I picked Annabel some rosehips to eat on the way, which she liked and insisted on calling “cherries,” mostly so I would keep correcting her.  When we came to a spot with an easy path to the water, we headed down and sat on the rocks.  We tossed pebbles around the beach for a while, watching them ricochet.  I managed, in an impressively flukey shot, to balance a small rock right on top of a large boulder.  I was very proud of myself for about a minute-and-a-half, until Michael, in an impressively non-flukey shot, pinged it off again.

Michael remembered that he had promised our nephew a family picture for a school project.  So he propped the camera up on a rock and we took two quick timed shots before we ran out of patience.

Annabel climbed up and down a piece of ledge while singing “The Bear Went Over the Mountain.”  Michael built a cairn on my leg.  Sam built a cairn on Michael’s leg.  Michael and Sam engaged in a cairn building/destroying game.

Annabel and I wandered down to a tide pool and watched snails slide around on the rock.  She rescued a few that were out of the water.  I tried to explain the basics of snail anatomy.

Sam got a bit cranky because we wouldn’t let him sit in the tide pool, so we put him back in the backpack and headed back towards town.  A few more “cherries” for Annabel and a brief discussion about how we weren’t having ice cream for lunch later and we were back at the car.  We stopped at the grocery store and then headed home for sandwiches and snacks.

It wasn’t, by any stretch of the imagination, a picture-perfect day.  But it was a nice day.  It was a reminder that although sometimes the grass is wet, the picture comes out crooked, and one or more members of the party might get a little snippy, if you can just hang in there for the ride, it all works out okay.  We don’t need perfection, we just need everyone to show up for the game.  I forget that a lot.  I’m glad I got a reminder.

And all I had to do was ask the three-year old.

She could have at least looked at the camera, though.

Annabel spins around in a circle, holding her stick out straight, and ends pointing it at me.

“Poof! You’re a superhero!”

“Oh, fantastic. What are my superpowers?”

“You’re a princess!”

“A princess?” My inner Women’s Studies major is offended. “I don’t want to be a princess. What kind of superpower is that? I want to shoot rockets out of my fingertips or something.”

“Nope.” She shrugs. “You’re a princess.”  She waves the stick around again and points at Michael. “Poof! You’re a superhero!”

“What am I?”



[Please note that our child has never seen Batman. Or, for that matter, any princess movies. But that’s how these things go these days.]

I have concerns. “How come he gets to be Batman and I have to be a princess?”

She looks at me curiously. “Do you want to be Batman?”

“Of course I do.”

Michael objects. “She can’t be Batman. She has to be Batwoman.”

“Okay.” She waves the stick around again with a flourish. “Poof! You’re Batwoman!”

“Awesome. Thanks, babe.”

“Now what about me?” Michael is worried about having me as Bat competition, I can tell.

She waves the stick around one more time and points directly at him, “Poof! You’re Batwoman!”

Michael looks at me.  “I think we’ve got some gender issues going on.”

Annabel tosses the stick to the ground. “I’m gonna go play in your car, Mommy.”

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.