Beach Bummed

This weekend the Wyatts are packing up & heading to the Florida panhandle to spend some time getting crispy on the soft white sand, despite liberal applications of SPF 300. No, that's not a typo.

It's a regular trip for us with the same group of friends, and we do the beach well together. Normally it's 4 couples, but over the years, the group has grown. This time, we have 13 adults and 2 kids stuffed into 2 condos. It's our usual condo, across the street from the beach and a great restaurant.

We also have a regular local who handles our beach chair rentals. He looks like a cross between an old Malibu surfer and a fine set of leather luggage. George Hamilton would feel pale next to this guy.

It will be Helen's first trip to the beach. She was a mere week late for the last beach trip two years ago. I cannot wait to show her the beautiful shores of the Gulf of Mexico, where I spent all of my beach vacations as a kid. I'm crossing my fingers that she doesn't freak out and we don't end up at the pool instead.

But either way, I could really use a handy rip in the space-time continuum to get past the long drive with a toddler. I don't think there's enough Twizzlers in the world to get us there and back without a meltdown. From me.

Wish us luck - and I'll post pictures when we get back.


My Little Pony

On Saturday we went to the same community picnic where Helen took 1st runner up in the beauty pageant. No pageant this year - instead, we went with a friend of hers from daycare.

It was pretty advanced for a playdate. We had met at the mall once before on a weekend afternoon to let the kids run off some steam in a giant play area. These two are really great buddies and the daycare teachers have told me many times they have watched Helen holding hands with this little boy. His 2nd birthday was last month, and Helen still sings Happy Birthday to him at home.

The mom and I have been chatting at pickup and dropoff for months now, and the first playdate had gone so well, I followed up with the picnic invitation, which she eagerly accepted. I think she and I are trying to dance around the whole "making new friends" thing. As a married lady in my mid-30s with a kid, this is a lot harder than it looks. At first it was about the kids and the daycare, but we've ventured into talking about other things now, like work and family, and we're making plans for a get-together again soon.

The picnic was packed with booths for local vendors, animal rescue groups, and lots of political candidates. There were 4 stages for music and talent acts, and bouncy castles and climbing towers for the kids. They even had pony rides. It was $5 to put her on a horse and let her ride around in circles. I walked next to her, which made it hard to get pictures, but fortunately there were plenty of volunteers who snapped some photos of us.

Helen's friend from daycare did get on the pony but he lasted maybe two trips around the circle before he wanted off. Helen, on the other hand, wanted to ride TWICE. So I spent $10 on pony rides. She kept patting the horse's mane, and saying "Horsie? Good horsie!"

I think I know what she wants for Christmas.

We also went to the Children's Stage to see some of the musical acts. Saying this as someone who cannot carry a tune, that was actually quite painful to watch. Fortunately, Helen chose that moment to go completely nuts and try to take down the soundboard tent, so we moved on.

I think we were there for 3 hours, and Helen was completely exhausted when we got home. She crashed for a quick 90-minute nap. But I won't forget this moment for a long time, where Helen made every single parent standing in line for a pony ride laugh:

Woof woof woof woof woof!

Friday night Brian cooked ribs, and we invited a guest to join us for dinner: the Amazing Babysitter. Very soon she will be the Amazing Married Babysitter. So it was a good chance to relax and have fun before the wedding chaos descends.

Amazing Babysitter brought over her two babies: 3-year old German shepherds. Massive dogs - very tall, solid, and FRIENDLY. She had them on the leash at first, but took them off after a few minutes and they obeyed her instantly. Came when she called, didn't bark, and didn't get into any trouble.

Too bad I didn't get her to train Helen from the beginning!

Helen squealed with delight all evening. She was not the least bit scared of these dogs, who outweighed her by at least 50 pounds each. She patted them and barked at them and chased them everywhere. And she talked about the "puppy dogs" all weekend. Fortunately, they were good-natured, patient dogs who were so busy checking out the new backyard, they didn't even notice this little squealing child who kept patting them.

Presenting SCOUT and PATTON, the gorgeous German Shepherds:


Happy Mother's Day

Here's a poem that takes me right back to a picnic table by the lake, outside of Arts & Crafts. Fellow Camp Cosby kids, you know what I mean.

The Lanyard
by Billy Collins
(as heard on "Prairie Home Companion")

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the pale blue walls of this room,
bouncing from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word "lanyard."

No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past --
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.

I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.

She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sickroom,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold face-cloths on my forehead,
and then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.

Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.

Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.

And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift--not the archaic truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-tone lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.


I'm a Beta Mom!

Those of you who don't read a lot of "mommy blogs" might not know about the ungodly number of hours women spend debating hot-button parenting issues. You name it: everything from breastfeeding to co-sleeping to infertility can set off vast amounts of angry comments and hate emails across the internet.

A few women, however, recognized a desperate need for online parenting resources. One whipped up a website for a group of popular mommy bloggers and called it "Alpha Mom." Bloggers, unite! Form of, ice cube in my cocktail!

It turns out that Alpha Moms command a lot of attention from their loyal readers, and where Alphas go to shop for products, other parents will follow. Naturally, the corporate world jumped on the bandwagon immediately. Google "Alpha Mom" and you'll find tons of praise for these women from every corner of the boardroom. They're even getting their own TV channel soon.

But what is an Alpha Mom, exactly? There's a great article in USA Today this week describing this new marketing segment. To quote:

Alphas are educated, can-do types whose organizational skills bring a corporate mentality to their parenting and a technological agility to their problem-solving. These high achievers will often surf the Web and blogs for advice. They've also gotten plenty of media attention.

Okay, I've got the surfing part down pat, although I'm not one to follow a lot of advice. I'm stubborn like that. But organizational skills - does that mean I'm actually getting something in my house cleaned while I'm taking care of Helen? Yeah, that's not me.

The USA Today article went on to describe the recent anti-Alpha Mom movement, a sort of backlash against all these images of perfection in motherhood. These "rebels" take a much more relaxed approach to parenting.

Those moms have it together sometimes. They may forget to send back permission slips or lose track of their turn for team snacks. They don't necessarily have the catchy name, though some call themselves Beta Moms or even Slacker Moms as they urge their peers to chill.

I'm so glad there's finally a name for me. You Alpha Moms can have it all - I'll just sit right here while my child reads "Green Eggs & Ham" to me, and not think about running the dishwasher or setting out her clean clothes for tomorrow or paying a few bills online. In fact, I might even take a nap.


Zoo-topia, except for the train

The cousins had such a good time at the zoo together. Lions and tigers and elephants, OH MY!

The elephant's enclosure was being cleaned and readied for lunch, and the room where they keep him is accessible to the public. We went around to see him, and Helen waved to the big guy several times. The elephant didn't really notice. He kept pacing around his little room.

Suprisingly, the zoo also had a few buffaloes. I was impressed that I could get this close. Cousin M. wanted to ride one. Um, sorry, buddy.

We found a huge flock of pink flamingos, too. Here's Helen with her Nana. Grandpa is right behind her, and Cousin M. stayed in the stroller.

Most zoos have something for the kids, besides all the animals. This zoo is no exception - there's a train that runs around the woods behind the zoo. No viewing of any animal enclosures, although I did see a chipmunk scurry across the track. We started off just fine with the kids - here they are getting settled in their seats. I've included it because I had no idea I got the shot until I got home. Grandpa's face CRACKS ME UP.

But about 100 yards down the track, I'm not sure if the occasional "TOOT TOOT" of the train horn bothered her, or the noise of the engine, but Nana took a picture of how Helen spent the rest of the ride:

If the trip to the zoo taught me anything, it's that I need to figure out how to get my camera to focus on its intended subject, and I don't need to spend extra money on train tokens at the zoo. Thank you, Helen.

Sweet Ride

Aside from the Mustang project, there's another car in our garage that's not ours. The other day, Brian needed the room to move the engine stand around, so he pulled the Porsche out in the driveway. It belongs to our Navy friend W., and we've been storing it for him.

Helen decided it was time to take a drive.

If these pictures don't cause a cold river of pure fear to pulse through your veins, then YOU can give her driving lessons.


The One Without Pictures

This weekend I traveled home with Helen to visit the family. Helen and Cousin M. played together non-stop on Saturday. We took them to the zoo for a few hours. We showed them monkeys and elephants and giraffes and lions and tigers and even pink flamingos. Now that they're older, they're having more fun seeing the animals.

The only time they napped was during a short trip in the car. Fighting sleep every step of the way, they stayed up until 9 pm and then CRASHED. Their parents didn't last much longer than that.

I also got a late birthday present - a very special accessory for MY PRECIOUSSSS. It's a zoom lens (75-300mm, for the camera geeks), and a couple of memory cards to help with the maximum number of Helen pictures required to get me through the day.

But you may have noticed I haven't posted any of those pictures. I took so many this weekend that the laptop started laughing when I got home. Seriously. I heard, "Hahahahahahahaha! AS IF, LADY." It was a little eerie, actually.

So, I'll do some technical fiddling tonight. That's my word for it. I'm not the big geek in the family, so I fiddle and cross my fingers that nothing crashes. It usually works. But it probably explains a lot about why my laptop laughs at me.


The Paci Wars Have Begun

Yesterday I picked up Helen at daycare, and she had a meltdown as we got to the front door. I think she wanted to play outside, and I was wearing shoes that hurt, and a linen suit that I just wanted to get OUT of already, and if she could just pick herself up off the porch and come inside for a minute ... well, you and I both know she's almost two, so that didn't work. So I hauled her up and carried her in, and that's when the meltdown started. I changed my clothes in my bedroom while she laid on the living room floor, wailing.

Usually when she gets to wailing, she wants her pacifier. The pacifier is for sleep time only. She knows this. I tell her this whenever she asks for it, and a quick distraction usually works. This time, it didn't.

I tried ignoring the fit. I tried reminding her that she doesn't get anything by crying, that she needs to ask nicely, and to say "please" if she wants something.

Ah, who are we kidding? Toddlers learn to throw fits because that gets the attention - negative or positive, it gets the attention because parents usually react to a fit. Normally I use distraction and it has been successful in the past. But I think she's at the age where independence and a need for control is rearing its ugly head. Last night, distraction wasn't going to work at all. So I tried very hard to just ignore the wailing. Occasionally, if she seemed to quiet down, I would remind her that she needed to ask nicely for her pacifier, instead of screaming for it. Hearing my voice seemed to make it all much, much worse.

It was about 30 minutes of pure toddler fury. At times she was so upset, watching this little girl have a gigantic fit, complete with the stomping feet and the flying fists, was actually pretty funny. I hate to say that I laughed, but I really, really did.

She finally stopped crying and wandered into the kitchen. I came in, and she showed me something she had pulled out of the cabinet. She wasn't crying anymore. I asked her if she was ready for dinner. She was. She got whatever she asked for, as long as she said "please." And it worked. The rest of the evening was fine.

This morning when she woke up, she went into full-throttle fury mode again. The difference was, I had about 4 minutes to get out the door for work. So I didn't have time for the ignoring, or the patient reminding about asking nicely. Parenting books never tell you how to deal with a time crunch like this, and all I knew to do was to keep moving, with a struggling crying toddler who was furious at me for not giving her a pacifier. So everything was no. No pants, no shirt, no sandals. Oh, ESPECIALLY no sandals.

I had worked so hard to get a clean diaper and clothes on a squirming target fighting me every step of the way, and of course I was having my own little meltdown about starting the morning this way. Somehow, it wasn't nearly as funny as it was the day before. So I decided I'd head to the car, strap her in her toddler seat, and have some free hands to put the sandals on. We headed downstairs, and as I grabbed my purse, Helen kept wailing, "No sandals, no sandals!" through giant, sobbing tears. Walking toward the door, I replied, "Oh no, Helen, it's ALL sandals, ALL the time!"

I got the sandals on. I dropped her off at daycare. I MIGHT go get her tonight. We'll see.


Roommates I Have Known, Part 4

Once Olivia transferred, we managed to convince the Housing Office that Samantha could move from her room across campus to join us. They fell for it, and Samantha was in.

Samantha fit right into the room. A petite girl with blonde hair and blue eyes, she was originally from England, and came to America when she was 10. I remember one time she showed me her green card, which was actually a nice shade of pink. Who knew?

She and I got along very well. She was a quiet girl around new people, but once I got to know her, she had a really dark sense of humor that I loved. We stayed up late a lot our freshman year, getting to know each other and talking about all the things from our hometown. Since we both went to high school in the same town, she and I were convinced we knew each other before college and just forgot that we ever met. Maybe we did, maybe we never did. But today, knowing her as well as I do, I think it was because we were destined to become best friends.

She and Cari had both decided to rush a sorority our sophomore year, and I remember the sisters coming to Megan and I ahead of time to let us know they'd be breaking into our room in the early morning hours to get them. This struck me as really funny, because during our freshman year, the girl next door to Samantha rushed Chi Omega. The sisters made a HUGE racket, banging on her door and screeching loudly at about 6 a.m. I remember stirring in my sleep, thinking "What was that?" I didn't know that Samantha flung open her door and glared at all of them. One of the girls smiled and said, "Sorry!" in that sing-song girly voice that isn't really sorry at all.

Samantha slammed her door as hard as she could.

I tell you, if the girls hadn't woken up everyone up with the screeching, that door slamming did the trick. I was on the other side of Sam's room and holy cow, it rattled our windows. The Chi Omegas treaded quietly out of our hall and never made another peep.

Samantha was legendary that day. All of us on the hall were awed by her. So when the sorority came to get Samantha and Cari for their own initiation (NOT the Chi Omegas, thankfully), instead of the hoopla we witnessed the previous year, the sisters tiptoed in with flashlights and snuck both of them out quietly. What a contrast.

Our own Tuesday night parties in the Chalet continued. But with two sorority girls as roommates, I tagged along with them to the off-campus parties on the weekend. Most of our school's social life came from the Greek system. One fraternity in danger of losing its charter from dwindling membership attracted the attention of some of our guy friends, who saw it as an opportunity to rebuild the group as their own. So we joined their parties on the weekends, too.

The campus started a shuttle bus system that we used to travel to the nearby apartments off-campus. There was a theme song for these rides that a few people reading this blog will be able to sing along with immediately: "Ride the shuttle bus, get your money's worth ..." And now that I've reminded you of it, I DARE you to get this song out your head by tomorrow. :)

Both Samantha and I were dating "older" men, and late that spring term everything got really messy. Samantha was always there to listen and always knew the right thing to say. She was incredibly supportive. I can only hope I was the friend she needed then, too.

Both Cari and Samantha, who were taking German, decided to spend fall term of their junior year studying in Vienna, Austria. That would leave me without a roommate for one term. Cari's planned roommate for her junior year, a sorority sister named Jen, needed a roommate for that term, too. So she & I paired up in an off-campus apartment that fall, waiting for our roommates to come back to the USA.

It was a terrible horrible no good very bad time. Jen was up to that point just a nodding acquaintance of some people I ate lunch with regularly. She seemed normal enough for the first few weeks, but it turns out she was a touch crazy in the head, and it all started coming loose that year. She had a boyfriend that I think enjoyed pushing all of her buttons at once and stepping back to see what happened. I sort of kept my head down and tried to ignore it.

But there was also some serious drama with the fraternity and boyfriends and good friends that all happened for no good reason whatsoever. And the whole time, my best friend was halfway around the world, speaking German every day. She and I wrote each other constantly, and sometimes saved up our money to call each other. I remember pouring out my heart in a very long letter about all the terrible things that were happening, and she called me very early one morning to talk about it. I had kind of gotten better by the time she called, but hearing her voice on the phone brought it all back right away and I think I spent most of our precious few minutes on the phone crying. I still have her letters, filled with lots of No Ways! and How Could Theys?! - as many as she could fit into the left side of a postcard. I tell you folks, that is a true friend.

Samantha came back to school in January, and we managed to secure the apartment next door. I remember the rent was something ridiculous like $400 a month for a two-bedroom. The place was originally built as government housing for returning Vietnam veterans. It was a dump, but it was OUR dump. We made the best of it with some of our parents' cast-off furniture and kitchen stuff.

Speaking of kitchen stuff, this is where the baked beans on toast figures in prominently. I'm sure she can chime in with all of my weird stuff, too. But this blog entry is about HER. :)

Sometimes we had our own parties in that apartment. But the best one, I remember her mom sent me some money to buy her a cake for her 21st birthday. Samantha was a little younger than the rest of us because of the age differences for grade school in England. So all of us had been 21 for quite a while, and we decided to celebrate her birthday in style. For college students, "style" is code for "get a keg." I had been to plenty of parties with kegs, but never had one in my own place before, and never had one since then. We bought ballons, made snacks, invited all the neighbors and cranked up the music. It was a great party and I know Samantha had a lot of fun, too. I can't wait to show her kids the pictures one day.

Six months after we graduated, I heard our apartment building burned down over Thanksgiving Break. I lived nearby and came back to town often, so I drove over to see the damage. Sure enough, there was a shell of a building left, surrounded by orange consruction fencing. It was shocking to see it. I just stood there, staring at it for several minutes, not saying anything.

The fire started two apartments away from ours. There were lots of rumors flying around, but that particular apartment was the home of two younger girls we knew from the fraternity parties, one of whom smoked constantly. However it started, though, I can't imagine coming back from the holiday and seeing everything GONE. This was a place where I had stored the precious few things I'd managed to collect and call my own. My computer, my entire music collection, my clothes, and those super bath towels my sister had given me. I couldn't imagine starting over with nothing.

I got some renters insurance for my own place, pronto.

Since graduation, we've both lived in plenty of different cities. We've called and written and emailed to stay in touch. I was in her wedding, and many years later, she was in mine. I've spent weekends at her house, enjoying her children and chatting with her husband. We've even had some very rare girl time to ourselves. She has morphed into a wonderful chef, a mother of two darling kids, and a very responsible homeowner. After a long career in the legal field, she stayed home to take care of her kids, and now teaches science to junior high students.

This is the dark sense of humor girl I spent so many nights in college hanging out with, laughing over something ridiculous at 2 a.m. at Dunkin' Donuts, or singing Nine Inch Nails in the car at the top of our lungs with the windows rolled down. I tell you, life takes some strange turns. I'm just so glad she's still here to laugh about it all with me. And also to help me remember it. :)


This is no ordinary love

For my birthday this weekend, I got a camera. A really nice camera. Is it possible to love a piece of electronics this much? Well, I do. I don't care who knows it. My camera & I are sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G.

For the camera junkies out there, it's a Canon Digital Rebel XTi. It came with a lens kit for the zoom (18-55 mm). In two days, I took 70 pictures. Each of them are over 3MB. My laptop literally groaned when I uploaded them last night.

A few months ago I moved most of our pictures on our computer to an external hard drive, to give us a little breathing room on the laptop. And now I finally understand the point of all those terrabyte drives. It's so I can store 18,000 pictures of my child that I will take this year.

I plan on becoming quite the photographer of my child. Just look how good* the pictures already are!

Helen celebrates NFL draft day with her daddy in her new Tennessee Titans gear.

Helen needs a haircut. Really, really needs a haircut. But I can't bring myself to cut those curls. Also, I will laugh at whoever thinks she can sit still for a haircut. Ha!

At her cousin's birthday party, Helen contemplates which to smear on her face first - ice cream or cake.

Here we have a rare shot of the photographer, as she reluctantly lets someone else use her PRECIOUSSSSSSSSS.

* - "good" is my opinion.