Ask the Magic 8-Ball

If you pay close attention, you begin to pick up on the tiny events that shape your life and give you a glimpse of what your future holds.

Oh, dear reader, even now I can see the puzzled look on your faces, the furrowed brow, the questioning eyes. You're thinking back over the day, saying to yourself, "What's she talking 'bout, Willis?"

Let me explain.

I picked up Helen from daycare the other day. A day like any other, spent racing through my evening commute to get to the center, waving hello to the other parents and a few teachers. Helen saw me at the door and ran straight to me with a cry of pure joy. I got a big hug from her, and headed over to get her daily report.

The teacher casually commented to me, "Helen pulled the fire alarm today."

(loud sound of needle scratching across record)

I paused, and carefully asked, "She did WHAT?"

A table and several chairs sit at one end of the room for meals and art projects. That morning, while the class was playing, Helen wandered over to the table, pushed a chair up against the wall and stood in it, reached up for the fire alarm and pulled it down.

In her defense, it's bright red, perched about halfway up the wall, and apparently the teachers were busy with eleven other children at that moment. Sometimes I lose track of her, and I've only got the one to watch.

But folks, I gave birth to the child WHO PULLED THE FIRE ALARM AT SCHOOL.

I asked the teacher what happened afterwards. She said the kids do pull the alarms from time to time, and they announce on the intercom that it's not a fire. I could just hear the blaring noise she started and how she must have scared all the babies, and the teacher said Helen got off the chair and sort of stood there, looking around, not the least bit frightened. I asked if the fire department showed up, but they called them off before a truck rolled up to take Helen in for questioning.

On the drive home, I saw her whole future. Today, in daycare, she pulled a fire alarm. In first grade, she'll be the one to put the tack in the teacher's chair. We'll get hauled in for a parent-teacher conference and things will immediately go downhill from there. She'll never get into the good math class, or land on the honor rolls. She'll get fingered in some kind of sketchy SAT scandal and end up in a so-so college with a dead-end job after graduation, unable to support her parents in the style we're so desperately looking forward to enjoying.

I tell you, pay attention to these signs, folks. They're all around us. Did you realize your future was right there all along, in a daycare teacher's not-so-watchful eyes?


Material Girl

Last year I gave Helen one present for Christmas. She was just a baby then, and I figured we had another year before the concept of presents clicked with her. No need to cram the house full of things from her parents, when I'm already buying stuff all year long.

This year, I did the same thing again. She has plenty of stuff and I know how much my living room can hold. So Helen got a Sit'n'Spin, which has morphed over the years from the giant hard plastic spinning
beast of my childhood to one that's oval-shaped and plays music.

(Don't worry - I didn't install the batteries. And with a little cooperation from you, dear reader, she may never know it, either.)

Brian got her just one present, too - a beautiful
coin. It's a 2004 Walking Liberty proof, and he's planning to give her a new one each year. Something special and meaningful and SHINY. She really liked it.

But everyone else took up the slack in the toy department. Helen got a LOT of presents. We filled up the car and watched it sag under the weight of the gifts.

Back home, Brian & I packed up or tossed out all the old stuff. We're starting over with the new stuff, and it feels nice to have our living room so de-cluttered. And our bonus room. And Helen's bedroom. Really, really nice.

It's amazing to me how the toys become fruitful and go forth and multiply. Suddenly you have all these things piled up. I've mentioned the Legos and the Potato Head, and I'm not kidding. They were EVERYWHERE.

But now we have new stuff to spread out!

A rocking buffalo and a little t-shirt with an Inuit doll on it:

A kitchen stocked with food:

Her first Barbie:

There are way too many more to mention everything, but there are some highlights. She got a set of magnet letters for the kitchen fridge which gave me about 10 minutes of uninterrupted cooking time. WHAT A GREAT TOY.

We also got a lot of new books, which will be fun for me because I'm getting very tired of reading the same four books to her.

Her favorite new toy right now is a
Magna Doodle. Coincidentally, I had gotten Helen's cousin M. the same thing, and they both really enjoyed them. Helen loves drawing, but she's not so good with keeping the pen on the paper. Magna Doodle is the perfect way to go.

I've been writing our names on the Magna Doodle for her, and now she tries it, too. She makes a little mark and say "Mama" or "Dada." The legibility isn't there yet, unless she's planning a career in medicine. As a test, I could take that Magna Doodle to a pharmacist, and if she's the future Dr. Helen, I'll come back with a really good prescription.


A Christmas Miracle

Warning: this blog entry mentions "tee-tee" and "poo-poo." Please skip it entirely if you're not up for it.

I've spent a lot of time these past few weeks preparing myself mentally for the daunting task of potty training.

Those of you who knew me back in the day would say, "Jennie! That's not you! Whatever happened to your single gal, free-wheeling lifestyle? The heady days of hefty bar tabs and late nights? The weekends spent planning and hosting a big dinner party with 30 of our closest friends, where I had to wear that crazy costume?"

Folks, if you happen to find that lifestyle, let her know that she needs to stay home once in a while and put all that bar tab money into her 401(k). Good grief.

Anyway, back to the potty training. As I was saying, it's mind-boggling to consider that I will be responsible for getting a child to do something that will carry her through polite society for the next 70 or 80 years, until someone is paid to do it all for her. You know, simple concepts like using toilet paper or washing hands afterwards. And then, there's the training tips that will prepare them for a successful marriage: which way do you hang the toilet paper? After you're done, do you put one lid down, or both?

Valuable skills indeed, and I do feel the pressure weighing down on me each day to get this right.

I bought a potty several weeks ago, brought it home and set it in the bathroom. I talked about it every day, showing her that Mommy uses the potty and now it was Helen's turn. So we have a routine: just before she gets in the tub, she sits down for a little bit on the potty. And she has tee-teed a couple of times. The first time it happened, she looked shocked. I made the appropriate congratulatory noises and moved on with the bath. She talks about it, asks to use it almost daily, even if nothing happens.

A few days later, Helen mentioned "poo poo" for the first time, and held her hand on her bottom. I thought, oh my goodness! The first step is recognizing when it's going to happen. We rushed to the potty, but apparently Helen thinks a little gas is the same as the real deal, so despite sitting there for a while, nothing important happened.

Then came Christmas.

That evening, Helen stood up and cried, "poo poo." She said it several times, appearing to be in agony. And really, haven't we all been there before? Poor girl.

I rushed her upstairs to the bathroom. We didn't bring her potty with us to my parents' house, so I put her on "Mama's potty." Sure enough, a few seconds later - well, I don't really have to type it out, do I?


The bonus part is that from here on out, every box of diapers I buy could be our last. And that, folks, will be reason enough to host another big dinner party for 30 of our closest friends. I'm thinking we need a theme - maybe something to do with water?

And if you know me well, you'll start planning your costume, now.


Jingle Bells

Helen's daycare has already started the onslaught of artwork. I'm never sure what to save of all the things she's done - whether it's fingerpainting, or glued cutouts, or drawings with markers. It all starts to look the same, and averaging about 3 new pieces per week means I've got a lot of paper piling up. Occasionally I'll sort through the stack and toss anything that looks boring.

This morning, I found this one in her folder and decided it was perfect for sharing with all of you.

Clearly, at 18 months, she has yet to master gluing tiny scraps of paper in a straight line. Heck, most days the Wyatt house has trouble walking in a straight line, so at least she comes by it honestly.

This year we haven't put up a Christmas tree, or taken her picture with Santa. (Here's last year's picture.) The tree would have been field-stripped in 38 seconds, and she wouldn't let go of me when I tried to get her near the old guy at the mall. Maybe next year we'll have a little more luck with both of those holiday traditions. However, I'm confident that opening presents will be no problem.

And in the meantime, a very Merry Christmas from our family to yours.


What's that word?

At each visit to the pediatrician, the nurse goes through a checklist of skills the child should be able to accomplish at that age. For example, at 6 months, Helen should be able to sit up. At a year, they ask about walking or feeding herself. Basic stuff, really - and if she's not doing certain things, that's a red flag that they look at to figure out why or what could be slowing down progress in that area.

This last appointment, the nurse asked if Helen had any words. "You know, four to ten words?" I stared at her. "She got, like, FORTY words." "Okay."

When I mentioned this to the doctor, she said that was good. "It's a sign of intelligence," she told me.

Oh no, it's not, lady! It's a sign that I won't get a word in edgewise for the next 18 years, that's what it is. Sign of intelligence. Ha! I gave birth to a chatterbox. I know it, and now you know it.

We can understand what Helen says in context. If she's pointing at her toys, saying "Beh" - that's bear. If she's pointing at the refrigerator, sayiing "Bah-bah" - that's bottle. If she says "Ba-by" - she wants her baby doll. If she says "Baaaaa" - chances are really good that I just asked her what a sheep says.

Sometimes she pops up with a new words and really surprises me. The new one this week is "bite."

At our daycare, parents have to sign an Ouch Report if a child was bitten during the day. It says what was happening when she was bitten (i.e., Helen took a toy away from another child) and what they did afterwards (i.e., hugs, ice, etc.) There's another report to sign if she's the biter. So far, I've only gotten the Ouch Report in her tenure at this daycare, but something's up lately, because it's been twice in two days.

I can always tell when it's time for her to move to the next room, because all of the kids turn into sharks and start biting each other. It's like they're sick of the toys, the kids, the teachers - get me out of here! *chomp*

Anyway, when I picked her up on Monday, I looked at the mark on her arm and she pointed to it and said, "bite." I know it's a new word, and I'm happy for her learning so much, but this isn't quite what I had in mind.


Say Cheeeeeeese

This is what happens when you ask Helen to smile.

I can't WAIT for her first school picture day.


The Second Anniversary is "Cotton."

December 11, 2004. Brian & I were getting ready for our big trip down the longest aisle in town. Marriage vows, wedding cake, first dance, tons of famly and friends there to witness the whole thing. It was a bitterly cold day, overcast and wintry. Of course half the wedding party was dressed like it was a gorgeous summer day, but that's really all they sell in the stores.

Groom: undershirt, long-sleeve shirt, vest, jacket, long pants. (Note the many layers required.)

Bride: sleeves? what sleeves?

Many of you reading this blog were there that day. What most of you don't know is that Brian & I had been taking dance lessons for about two months. For our first dance, we were planning to break out a choreographed disco number to a Bee Gees tune.

Instead, we used up all of our lessons and we still had no choreographed number (go figure). More lessons were going to be difficult and expensive at a time of the year when nobody needs either one. So, Brian & I decided it would be much better to dance to his alma mater's song: The Tennessee Waltz. And when I mentioned this part to the DJ handling the music for our reception, he arranged for a mutual friend to record a version just for us. We heard his tune for the first time as we danced to it at the reception.

It was absolutely perfect. Brian & I dressed in our finest, waltzed around the room to a custom-made tune, surrounded by a gorgeous night-time view of downtown, our closest friends, and a buffet table full of delicious food and drink and wedding cake.

Fast forward two years: we're standing in our kitchen, sharing a bowl of macaroni & cheese, watching Helen smear dinner on her face. Later, during the Muppets movie, I fall asleep with Helen on the couch.

Like sands through the hourglass, people. Sand, hourglass.


A lot can happen in a blog.

This week Helen had an appointment for her 18-month immunization shots.

Her doctor is a wonderful lady - very sharp, yet quite friendly. But the best part is, when I tell her funny stories about Helen, she actually laughs. I never noticed how many doctors don't laugh, like EVER, until I met this one. Most doctors are too busy to listen to you. They're ready to move on once you start making jokes. Maybe they all skipped the class where people in my generation figured out how to use humor as a defense mechanism. So, doc, when I'm making jokes about chest pain, maybe you better ask me if it's heartburn, or will I need an ambulance to the emergency room? I guess medical school and residency and a busy practice suck all of the humor out of life. How could a patient possibly joke about chest pain?


This pediatrician job-shares with another doctor, so she's only losing half of her workweek to joyless pursuit of financial freedom. Then, every 3 months, I show up as the last appointment of the day - and I bring a really funny story about Helen. How much better can your job possibly get?

So, while we were waiting to see the doctor, I thought to myself, "Hey! She clearly appreciates my sense of humor, and maybe she'd enjoy our blog. I should write down the address for her ..." (loud sound of needle scratching across a record)

I almost let Helen's doctor see all of my lousy parenting skills. Letting Helen play with pill bottles and inhale paint fumes? Ignoring ear infections, or advertising the sale of my firstborn? Hanging out for hours at a whiskey still?

Wow, that was close. I mean, really close.


Show Mommy how the piggies eat!

Mini-beef ravioli:

Sugar-free chocolate pudding, different night:

Dear reader, I will let you guess how many paper towels we use in a week.


Lynchburg Loves Helen

Last weekend we drove to Lynchburg, Tennessee, home of the Jack Daniels distillery. They offer free tours, and there's a tiny town center nearby to purchase memorabilia. Unfortunately, it's a dry county, which means sales and tastings are not possible. But they finally got special permission from the state a few years ago to sell a limited number of commemorative bottles in their gift shop, for the first time since Prohibition.

(I know what you're thinking. It's a very odd situation for a distillery in business for over 150 years.)

Every so often, they release a new commemorative bottle, and they arrange a signing day with their Master Distiller, Jimmy Bedford. There are a lot of collectors who show up to get his signature. He's kind of like the rock star of whiskey. Do a search on eBay for "signed bottles of Jack Daniels" and you'll see what I mean.

We packed up Helen and drove down early that morning. The line wasn't very long when we arrived, but someone brought a couple boxes of glassware to be signed. They set a limit on this kind of stuff, but apparently the limits didn't apply to this guy. So it took about 2 hours to get to the front. But don't you worry - I did a lot of glaring at him for everybody.

Brian bought a few bottles and chatted with others in line, while I did my best to entertain Helen in a room that really wasn't meant for kids her age. We played outside a little, but it was about 40 degrees so we couldn't do that for long. She said hi to everyone in line, played with a Christmas tree, and sent a Jack Daniels e-card to Grandpa B. from the computer in the lobby. It was 8 pages of gibberish, but banging on the keyboard bought me a solid 5 minutes of distraction, so I let her do it.

Finally, we were at the front of the line. I got out the camera, and Helen chose that moment to demonstrate her superior hair-pulling skills. Honestly, I can see the benefits of being Sinead O'Connor when she gets a fistful of my hair. Pulling back on hers doesn't work, either. We just end up looking like 2 girls in a junior high school fight. "OWWWW! Let go!!"

While Brian distracted her, I got my pictures of Mr. Bedford signing one of his bottles. I took Helen back and in a fit of spite, she took her pacifier out of her mouth and tossed it away. Normally, it hits the floor. But today, I wasn't that lucky. To my sheer horror, it landed on the table and skidded to a stop against Mr. Bedford's hand.

Time stood still. Tick .... tick .... tick. I didn't even know how to react. I honestly thought he would nod to a security guard and we'd be quickly escorted to our car. Oh well, I thought - at least we had one bottle signed.

Instead, he smiled and kept on signing. Everyone at the table thought it was funny. Brian gave the pacifier back to Helen and she miraculously behaved herself long enough for us to collect everything and leave. Thank you, Jack Daniels and Jimmy Bedford, for having a sense of humor and a lot of patience. And for not quickly escorting us to our car.

As we were leaving, I heard someone say they were taking a break for lunch. I bet Mr. Bedford was headed straight for a good hand-washing.


The Muppet Show

Our friend W., the Navy officer I mentioned in a previous post, recently sent Helen a bunch of Muppet DVDs, including movies and the first season of the Muppet Show. Helen will go to the DVD player, point, and say something. It doesn't sound like Kermit or Muppets, but that's what she means. Too bad if you're watching something. It's required that you stop and put in a Muppet DVD.

She spends the opening theme song dancing. She bobs her head around and moves her arms. Shortly after that ends, her interest wanders. Except for the Swedish Chef skits. She will stop whatever she's doing to watch Swedish Chef.

She knows some of the characters. She can point out Kermit, Fozzie Bear, Miss Piggy and Animal. She can say "hommel, hommel." That's "Animal, Animal."

It's been fun watching the first season again. Such happy memories of my childhood, watching this show with my family. I can't imagine what TV executives thought in the mid 70's when they put puppets on in prime-time, but they deserve an award for it. I wish they still had that kind of imagination today.

And I dare you to watch this scene from "Muppets in Space" without a smile on your face. 4_on the Floor fans will especially appreciate the link.


A few months ago, Helen's Uncle K brought over a couple of boxes of toys. They're moving to a new house later this month, and they've been paring down the toy collection. I haven't had to buy anything new in a quite a while. I just pull something out of the box.

So a few weeks ago, Helen became the proud owner of a family of Potato Heads.

She LOVES these things. One of her favorite games is to point out her ear, her nose, her feet, her belly button, etc. Potato Head is an excellent way to teach the body part game. We've even added "hat" and "shoes" to the repetoire.

However, after a few weeks of playing with the Spud Family, I've figured out why he gave us the whole set. Turns out that a nose and 6 ears and a random pair of cowboy boots can sit on the playroom floor for days at a time before she'll pick them up and play with them. But if I spend an evening cleaning it all up, it's promptly all back out on the floor again the next day. It's Uncle K's sinister way of passing the clutter back to our house instead of his. Way to go, K. Very sneaky.

Just wait until he sees what we got his boys for Christmas. I think it involves, oh, about a MILLION Legos.

Last month the family came over to out house to eat Thanksgiving dinner with us. I asked K., "Won't your boys see these toys and say, 'Hey, that's mine!' " He said, "Nah, they didn't even notice the toys were gone. So they'll just say, 'Hey, we've got one just like that!' "