Books for Christmas

It is a Christmas tradition – the nieces and nephews each get a book from me for Christmas.  (Yes, they get a toy or two, as well.)  So what are we putting under the tree this year?  I tried to focus on stories that feature characters being brave, persevering, and learning gratitude.  And I tried to find some books that feature characters, locations and traditions that might be different from ours.  I have linked these images to Amazon so you can learn more about them, but – as always – I’d encourage you to support your local independent bookstore and buy there!  Here’s our list:

A mouse musters up the courage to ask a lion to teach him how to roar. By Rachel Bright, Illustrated by Jim Field Ages 3-5

A mouse musters up the courage to ask a lion to teach him how to roar.
By Rachel Bright, Illustrated by Jim Field
Ages 3-5

A tale about the power of stories and storytelling set in Morocco. By Evan Turk Ages 4-8

A tale about the power of stories and storytelling set in Morocco.
By Evan Turk
Ages 4-8

Winner of many awards, a book about thankfulness. By Matt de la Pena, Illustrated by Christian Robinson Ages 3-5

Winner of many awards, a book about thankfulness. Features people of all shapes, colors and abilities!
By Matt de la Pena, Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Ages 3-5

Bedtime poem by Inuit throat-singer and author describes the gifts given to a new baby by Arctic animals. By Celina Kalluk Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis Ages 2-3

Bedtime poem by Inuit throat-singer and author describes the gifts given to a new baby by Arctic animals.
By Celina Kalluk, Illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
Ages 2-3

A clever and lovely seek-and-find book By B.B. Cronin Ages 3-7

A clever and lovely (and detailed!) seek-and-find book
By B.B. Cronin
Ages 3-7

A book about imagination, frustration and problem solving. By Ashley Spires Ages 3-7

A book about imagination, frustration and problem solving.
By Ashley Spires
Ages 3-7

A silly, funny book in which a penguin tells the readers what his life is really like. By Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith Preschool - Grade 2

A silly, funny book in which a penguin tells readers what his life is really like.
By Jory John, Illustrated by Lane Smith
Ages 3-7

A beautiful, poetic story about a boy who sets off alone with only a few belongings to find a new homeland. By Rebecca Young Illustrated by Matt Ottley Ages 4-8

A beautiful, poetic story about a boy who sets off alone with only a few belongings to find a new homeland.
By Rebecca Young, Illustrated by Matt Ottley
Ages 4-8

A story about a bear who finds a piano in the woods and learns to play. By David Litchfield Preschool - Grade 2

A story about a bear who finds a piano in the woods and learns to play.
By David Litchfield
Ages 4-7

Happy shopping and reading!

First Day and Everyday


First grade starts next week.

First grade for my kind, freckled thinker who is finding his voice, and up at night pondering the merits of inboard motors.

He will be fine.  What choice does he have other than to be fine, to navigate his life on his own, at least a little bit, and figure out the way of the world through the small, significant, triumphs and heartbreaks of childhood.

The skinny-legged boy with the too-big backpack (aren’t they all?) will walk into school and I will drive away.  And get a coffee.  And drive to work.  I will not worry.

I am ready for the big moments.

I am ready for first steps, lost teeth, first days.  I am ready to watch them glide away without training wheels, to sound out books on their own, to tie their shoes.

My tender heart catches when I least expect it.

When the biggest helps the littlest with his shoes.

When the middle uses a big word I haven’t heard her use before.

When the wobbly toddler gait all of a sudden becomes smooth and coordinated.

We may mark the time with first steps and first days.  But it is those tiny changes, the ones we almost don’t see, that add up to people, our people, growing a hair’s width every night.  Our little people whose lives slowly and beautifully start to become their own, separate from us.  One millimeter, one second at a time.

In the cool dark, the clock ticks and they sing our bedtime songs with lyrics of their own.  And then a quiet pause as they drift away into dreams that are theirs alone.



To Plum at Four

(Late again on this birthday update – time and tax season are to blame.  But now, here we are, just around the corner from Pickle’s 6th, so Plum certainly deserves a small ode to her 4th.)

To Plum at Four

And just like that, you turned the corner from toddler to kid.  Little to big.


My sweet Plum with the “golden” hair and silly hula moves.

You are the brightest star.  I finally understand what it means when they say someone is “beaming” because your huge smile IS sunshine.  Actual sunshine.

You love to play and be heard.  You love your own space.  Your hugs are always lovely surprises.

You are brave.  You love to run.  You love to help (until you don’t).  You love Elsie cat so much we worry slightly for her safety.  You are good at being part of a team.

You are silly and smart, fun and funny.  You are confident.  You work hard.  And more than anyone I know, the camera catches the essence of you.  Perhaps because you don’t hold back, or perhaps because you just can’t help but let your light shine through.

You are my middle, and perhaps – unsure when to lead and when to follow – you just decided to do it your own dang way in your own sweet time.   And I love you for it.

Happy birthday Plum.  Four is awesome, and so are you.

What is that holding up your head?

And just like that, my daughter has a neck.

Granted, she’s always had a neck.  A cute little stem of a neck that I never really much noticed as it was holding up her big baby head, with its in-need-of-a-trim strawberry-blonde hair and sticky-outie ears. But today I noticed it.  Because it was different. She appeared to me, all at once, older, larger, like a child instead of a baby.

And that’s how it happens.  It’s a universal parenting experience. One day, when you aren’t expecting it, you look at that little boy or little girl and suddenly they look bigger, leaner, older, different.  They are changed – at least in your eyes – overnight.  It amazes me. Every single time.

Sweetie Plum

Turn Around (Harry Belafonte, Malvina Reynolds and Alan Greene)

Where are you going, my little one, little one,
Where are you going, my baby, my own?
Turn around and you’re two,
Turn around and you’re four,
Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of my door.
Turn around, turn around,
Turn around and you’re a young girl going out of my door.

Where are you going, my little one, little one,
Little dirndls and petticoats, where have you gone?
Turn around and you’re tiny,
Turn around and you’re grown,
Turn around and you’re a young wife with babes of your own.
Turn around, turn around,
Turn around and you’re a young wife with babes of your own.

Bedtime. Please.

Bedtime for Pickle.  We’re trying to rein it back, since it keeps getting longer and longer.  It is a long-ish routine to start with, but really, it should be simple enough: pajamas, TV show, pull-up, teeth, 2 books, 2 songs, bed.  How long can that possibly take?

Forever.  That’s how long.


My sister, amazed by his creativity and persistence, encouraged me to write down Pickle’s stall tactics/questions/pre-bed needs wants and desires.  So here is a (non-exhaustive!) list.  Yes, these are all real.  And yes, this is why bedtime takes forever.

  1. I have to pee.
  2. I have to poop.
  3. I want you to come sit with me while I poop.  So we can chat.  No I’m not done yet.
  4. I don’t want to wear overnight undies (aka pull-ups).
  5. My overnight undies itch.
  6. My overnight undies are too hot.
  7. My overnight undies hurt me.
  8. These pajamas are too hot.
  9. I want to take my pants off.
  10. These pajamas are too cold.
  11. I need to floss because I have yuckies on my teeth.
  12. I need to shower because I have so many yuckies. I didn’t wash all of my parts in the bath earlier tonight.
  13. I have to wash my hands.
  14. My hands hurt.
  15. My belly hurts. It feels like boo-boos.
  16. I need a “belly fixer” (Tums).
  17. I want to do “belly fixers” (a completely made-up placebo I came up with that consists of vaguely yoga-ish poses that will make belly ailments go away).
  18. I have to throw up.
  19. I have to pet the cat. I love her.
  20. I want the cat in my room.
  21. I want the cat on my bed.
  22. The cat licked my head. I want the cat off of my bed.
  23. I want the cat out of my room.
  24. I’m thirsty but I don’t want water.  I want milk, and then I want to brush my teeth again.
  25. I’m hungry.
  26. I want to do three more flips on your bed.
  27. I just need to sit on this large pile of clothes and pretend it is a horse.
  28. I want the light on in my room.
  29. I want the light off in your room.
  30. I want to read more books by myself.
  31. I do not like any of the 60 books in my room.
  32. I want you to read me more books.
  33. I want the light off.
  34. I want the curtains open.
  35. I want the curtains closed.
  36. I want the curtains open again, but just a little bit.
  37. I want my door closed.
  38. I want my door closed, but not all the way.
  39. I just need to try to tie the legs of my pajamas in a knot.
  40. I’m a little sad.
  41. I want you to check my room for lions and bears.
  42. I have to pee.
  43. I need an extra cuddle from you.
  44. I need an extra cuddle from Dad.
  45. I want to talk about things.
  46. I want to tell you something.
  47. I have a question.
  48. I want to tell you a secret.
  49. I have a surprise for you.
  50. I want you to sing me three songs.
  51. I didn’t like those songs; I want you to sing four more.
  52. Do you know a song about blueberries?
  53. My penis itches.
  54. Do you know a song about donkeys?
  55. I know a song about blueberries. I will sing it to you. (Cue 8 minute mash-up of songs he knows – none of which have anything to do with blueberries – interspersed with nonsense words.)
  56. I want to sing you three more songs (of the same long, made-up variety).
  57. I want you to sing me three more songs (including the full-length versions of Wheels on the Bus and She’ll Be Coming ‘Round the Mountain).
  58. What does ______________ mean (insert each line of each song here)?
  59. I want to talk about the day (this has included discussions about dog vomit, the origins and purpose of hospitals, and the ins and outs of air travel).
  60. I want to talk about tomorrow.
  61. I don’t like the plan for tomorrow and would like to discuss changing it.
  62. I want to negotiate donuts and lots of TV for tomorrow.
  63. I want a treat right now.
  64. I have yuckies on my teeth and need to brush them again.
  65. I want to see my sister. I love her.
  66. I want to hug my sister.
  67. I want to bring my sister something.
  68. I want to take something from my sister.
  69. I need Alfie/Cubby/Baby Bear/Monkey. (Always a stuffed animal conveniently not located in his room.)
  70. I’m still hungry.
  71. I want an apple.  Peeled, but not cut up.
  72. I want more water.
  73. I have to pee again, and I want you to come with me.
  74. My blanket is too hot.
  75. I want a cold blanket.
  76. I don’t want any blankets.
  77. Where is my other blanket?
  78. Why do we need blankets?
  79. I want your blanket.
  80. I want you to make me a nest of blankets on my bed.
  81. The nest of blankets you made me is not right.  I want to make the nest. (Cue 10 minutes of nest-making.)
  82. The nest I made is all wrong!  I blame you!  And I’m still thirsty!
  83. Where is the cat?
  84. I need to wear my hat/headlamp/bear slippers/stethoscope to bed.
  85. I’m not tired.
  86. I want the light back on.
  87. I want Dad.
  88. Why are you yelling at me?
  89. I have to pee again.

If you look at it right…

I pulled away from the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru and I cried.

I did.

It had been one of those weeks – the ones that seem to feel like they come more frequently now.  The weeks where bad things happen, when people show you their worst, and others show you their best.  Weeks when you shield small eyes from news and try to figure out how to explain to small people why bad things happen, when you don’t really know yourself.  Weeks when so many of the tweets, blog posts, Facebook posts I see are some variation of “hold the ones you love extra tightly tonight”.  It was one of those weeks.

And it was a Monday.  Back into the swing of things.  I had spent nearly an hour, before 8 am, trying to persuade Pickle to get dressed.  He spent much of the morning half-naked, wailing from the stairs that he wanted other pants and he wanted to help Dad with the trash. He was, in typical nearly-3-year-old fashion, unmoved by my calm, rational, suggestion that he needed clothes to help Dad because it was 34 degrees outside, and that he could be helping him right now if he just stopped screaming at me and got dressed in pants of his choosing.  His response? “DON’T EVEN LOOK AT ME! NEVER NEVER!”  Sigh.

So the lady who cut the line at the Dunkin drive-thru really bugged me today.  I can usually let that kind of stuff roll off my back.  I can accept that some people are greedy, some people are selfish and some people make bad choices.  And really, a 30 second delay in me getting an iced coffee isn’t a very big deal.  But today, it annoyed me.  There was a minivan in front of me, and 2 cars behind me when the woman in the silver car jumped the queue.  She just tucked herself in, in front of the minivan lady.  I was annoyed.  I had visions of kindly informing her – from my open window, and loudly – that there was indeed a line, and she had just cut 4 people, and who did she think she was anyway.  It made me grumpy – the idea that she could be oblivious to those around her, to the rules, to the order of things.  It made me grumpy that people act without full consideration of their actions, that people could care so little for the people around them.  And perhaps I projected a bit of my sadness and anger that stemmed from events of the last week onto this woman.  It is hard to understand why people are selfish, why people are stupid.

The line moved up, I placed my order and pulled up behind Ms. Minivan.  I saw the man at the window hand her a Diet Coke, and a bag and off she drove.  I pulled up, and handed over my debit card, but the man at the window refused it.

“The woman in front of you paid for your order,” he said.  “She just said to pay it forward at some point when you’re feeling generous.” He smiled. I was lost in my grumpy train of thought, so his words took a second to register; I’m sure I looked confused.

I mumbled something about how nice that was, and offered to pay for the person behind me, too.  Maybe she paid for the person behind her too; I won’t ever know.

And maybe I’m overtired, or hormonal, or silly, or perhaps just human, but I cried as I drove away.  A few of the tears were stored up from the week before, a few were tears of embarrassment or anger at myself for losing faith in my fellow human beings, even if just for a bit, and a few were tears of thanks, to the woman, and the universe, for teaching me a little bit of redemption and kindness through a cup of iced coffee.

“Once in a while you get shown the light
In the strangest of places if you look at it right”

A Monkey! A Monkey! My Kingdom for a Monkey!

BOOM! Yes, I did just make a Richard III reference in my title.  Poor guy, they just found him under a car park. How does a king end up under a car park? 


Recently, a friend sent a link to this blog post: “Searching for The Glow Stick” by Jason Good.  It made me chuckle, since we struggle mightily with those toy pieces strewn about the house (*clears throat* the train table he got for Christmas? The track stayed assembled for 2 days and was then destroyed in Godzilla-like fashion by Plum the Destroyer).   And we know all too well the various items Pickle MUST HAVE in his bed before he can even consider going to sleep.  Because after a while (who am I kidding – after 8:30pm!) it just isn’t worth arguing about anymore.

Items in Pickle’s twin bed include:

1. Pickle

2. Twin-sized comforter

3. Twin-sized down comforter (or King-sized, depending upon whether there has been a recent Pull-Up breach)

4. Crib-sized, double thickness fleece blanket

5. Frog Pillow Pet (that he adores; this thing does not wash well, ew)
Stinky Frog Pillow

6. Alfie (18″ teddy bear)

7. Cubby (30″ teddy bear – Cubby is soft and huge)

8. Baby Bear (10″ adorable Steiff he got when he was born)
Baby Bear

9. Monkey Head Blanket #1 (he loves these things.  Seriously, we have 6 of them.  As back up.  Because we need nearly $100 of tiny stuffed monkey head blankets.  Parenthood makes you do crazy things.)
My Kingdom for a Monkey

10. Monkey Head Blanket #2 (just in case)

11. Sippy cup halfway full of water (it is not full, because we are trying to avoid middle-of-the-night Pull-Up breaches)

12. Large, yellow Mercedes Matchbox

13. Large, blue BMW Matchbox

14. Small, red Ferrari Matchbox

15. Flashlight that looks like a bug and whose batteries last forever
Lightening Bee?

16. 3 books (these vary night by night)

He has two, child-sized pillows as well, but one month ago, these fell off the bed and onto the floor on the side of the bed that is hard to reach so there they stay.  On occasion his bed also contains a noise-making tanker truck and this musical bus toy he got for Christmas.
Beep Beep Bus!

I suspect pretty soon he’ll be asking to sleep in our bed, because there simply isn’t any room left in his.

So tell me, what is the strangest bedfellow your little one has insisted upon?

Soft Chewy Center

He is so soft.

My dear dear little Pickle.

We work, as parents, to make them ready for the big world.  The hard world.  The cruelty, the randomness.  We work to build them up, so that they can face the challenges, the heartbreak.  And we hope that the shell we help to build is hard enough to protect the soft insides, but thin enough that the light can still get in.

His teachers told me so.  They confirmed what I already knew.  He was young, so young, too young to be truly empathetic. But he was.  He is.  He had been playing with a toy, the toy had fallen out of his hand, hit another child and made the child cry.  It was minor, and an accident.  But Pickle spent the rest of the day checking in occasionally, giving hugs, rubbing his friend’s back, trying to make it better, worrying. His teachers were amazed.

He is so focused on being good.  On being good to people.  On being a good boy.  He is already too hard on himself.  I know it too well.  I ache for him when I see that part of me in him.

Tonight, he had a rough time, a tough night.  Perhaps it was the way the stars are aligned, or something in his own rhythms that are off, but he had a toddler meltdown.  He is a toddler.  He isn’t yet two and a half; I need a reminder of that sometimes. He couldn’t bear the thought of changing clothes, so he wailed and fought and whined and cried. When he finally settled, we curled up on the couch together in the glow of the light-up-pumpkins in the the bay window.  I said, “Pickle, you had a bit of a hard time tonight, you were sad and mad, huh?” He responded, “Yeah, Mama.  I sorry.  I sorry for me.”  Oh Pickle, I thought, please don’t ever apologize for you –  for your sadness, your madness, your feeling.  You are not a bad boy, you are allowed to be you, and we love all of you.

“It is okay,” I told him, “It is okay to be sad.  It is okay to be mad. Sometimes I get sad and mad.  Sometimes Dad gets sad and mad, too.”  He looked up at me, eyes wide, to confirm.

Dad walked downstairs, and came over to us to sit, be cozy and chat.

“Dada? You get sad sometimes too?” he asked.

“I do. I do get sad sometimes,” his Dad confirmed.  And Pickle seemed comforted by this.

My sweet boy, it can be rough growing up as a sensitive boy in a world where sensitivity feels like a weakness, until you are much much older.  But we will try to help you be confident, feel secure, know you are so very loved.  Because, just yesterday you told me, “I like myself.”  And I hope you always will.

I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.

My little guy has been a great helper lately. It is so nice to see him so proud of the things he can do. He’s dressing himself, using the potty, putting on his shoes, helping me cook. Last night he put the forks on the table for dinner – one at each place – and then, on his own accord, he opened the drawer, got the knives (not the super-sharp-poke-your-eye-out ones) and set them at our places. He then carried his full plate to his place. The kid is 27 months old. And it is little stuff, but it made him feel capable and important. I like that. And I like him to feel that way.

I learned recently that the ramp-up to preschool in New York City is kind of hysterical. Now, granted, NYC is its own world. I daresay the majority of the folks I know there – all super successful Manhattanites – have nannies for their children, or are SAHMs (or some combo). That is the norm, for many reasons. Kids grow up very differently there than they do here. However, the ramp-up for half-day preschool included:

  1. The application/acceptance insanity (know anyone who lives there? Ask them about it. When my nephew was born there in April, my husband sent a text message to the new dad saying, “Congratulations on L’s arrival! Sorry to say, you have been rejected from every preschool in NYC because your application was not timely.”);
  2. A home (!) visit by the teacher;
  3. An individual family visit to the school;
  4. A first full week of half half-day preschool – which would be quarter day? which would be 2 hours long?
  5. On the first day, the school provides coffee to the parents, and the parents are required to stay in the school lobby for the entire half-half day.

And don’t get me started on the fundraising, bake sales, etc.

I’m not a push-my-kid-off-the-dock-to-teach-them-to-swim kind of parent. I try to kindly and gently ease my kids into new situations. I try to take temperament, age, and development into consideration. I try to be reasonable in my expectations, positive and honest. That being said…

I do have expectations. I expect that my kiddos will face challenges, new people, new places, and things they find scary. And while I want them to know that I am always there for them, they also need to know that I might not always be there with them. And that’s okay. Because they’re okay – better than okay – and in almost every situation they can adapt, survive, integrate, and surmount their fears and anxieties. I want them to be able to be proud of doing things for and by themselves. Because, after all, isn’t helping to create a capable, functional and productive member of society one of the most basic things we’re striving for as parents?

Yes, NYC is different. The classroom setting that my kids have been used to since +/- 6 months old is new to a lot of NYC kids. And my NYC mom-friend is looking forward to meeting the other parents on that first day; that makes sense to me.

But we need to give those kiddos more credit. Have a meet-the-teacher/see-the-classroom/meet-the-parents Open House, then off to the races. I know in my heart that most of those doodlebugs can handle 3.5 hours of a new place, other kids, and adults who are new to them. And they can handle it without their parents sitting in the lobby.

Some of you might wonder why we shouldn’t ease the kiddos in gradually if we have the opportunity. Why? Because life doesn’t usually work that way.

Give them a chance to experience new things, sometimes uncomfortable things, on their own. Give them a chance to be their own people – little people who are learning to be adaptable, resilient and capable. Give them a chance to own their new experience. Give them a chance to be proud of the things they can accomplish. Today it is velcro shoes, knives on the table, and four hours at preschool. Tomorrow, the world.

Helping Dad with Lawn Care (or rather, Dirt Care)

The Boy Clothes Lament…

Baby/toddler girl clothes are just so much cuter than boy clothes.  Wandering through Macy’s the other day I noted a whole section of fancy holiday dress items for girls.  The boys’ section?  A few argyle sweater vests.

What do I see in the land of girls’ clothes?  Options!  Colors!  Selection! Fabrics!  I have a sneaking suspicion that the Plum Baby in my belly is of the XY variety.  This will be good for my wallet since he can have all of Mr. Pickle Pumpkin’s hand-me-downs.  And thankfully, my sister is having a baby girl in April, so I now have an excuse to venture over to the magical land of girls’ clothes.  I suspect fulfilling my need to purchase girl clothes will make me a popular auntie.

Things I Would Like to See in the Boys’ Section:

  • Bright colors
  • Interesting fabrics and details
  • Stripes
  • Less brown
  • Less dogs
  • Less sports
  • Less “My Mom Is Hot/Tough Like Daddy!” stuff (barf)
  • Cozy and comfortable wares that aren’t sweatpants
  • Less cargo pants
  • Less camouflage (I’m not dressing my kid in camo, I’m just not)
  • Less skulls and crossbones (sheesh, these clothes are for 2 year olds)

So help me out… great boy clothes that fit the bill and fit my budget???