Just shut up and drive.

This morning we headed to Target to purchase Halloween candy in bulk.  We stopped at McDonald's to get a quick drive-thru breakfast.   Brian and I are playing the McDonald's Monopoly game, and collecting the little tickets like mad, hoping to win our retirement.

One of the best deals going is at breakfast, where you can get 2 hashbrowns off the dollar menu.  Each hashbrown comes with 2 game pieces, so add in my large Coke with 2 more game pieces, and I've spent $2 to get 6 pieces.  Of course, I haven't won a single thing but you can't win unless you play, right?

Once we got the food, I peeled off the tickets from the hashbrowns.  I then picked up the Coke to take a sip.

Jennie:  Hey!  Our drinks don't have game pieces!

Brian:  I know.

Jennie:  We got screwed!

Helen (from backseat):  Mama, what's screwed?

Brian:  You got this one, Mama.


Name that Baby

I was putting Helen to bed the other night and she asked me as I tucked her in, "Mommy, why did you name me Helen?"

Very simply, I told her that I wanted her to have a beautiful name that nobody else had, and so we picked Helen.

I gave her a kiss and a hug and told her good night. She's asked me a few times since then, and I always tell her the same thing.

Actually, there was a LOT of thought and discussion that went into naming both girls. With the first pregnancy, we had decided on a boy's name fairly easily, but I didn't invest too much into thinking about that one, since I knew I was having a girl. A few weeks later, the ultrasound proved me right. Ha! 

Brian and I debated for months between our fiercely-held positions on long-favored names, and I quickly discovered there was no middle ground. Brian had coached hundreds of young children in his career as a swim coach, and saw the entire gamut of names for girls and boys. As you might expect, some special kids stood out, and he really liked one name in particular for a girl: Miller.

I had a roommate in college who turned out to be impossible to live with, but I loved her name and vowed to save it for my own girl one day: Olivia.

Keep in mind, I'm a Jennie, born in the 1970's. My goal in picking a name was basically to find something nowhere near the Top 10 list of baby names, so she wouldn't grow up as one of four girls named Jennifer in every class. So imagine my utter disappointment when I learned that Olivia had skyrocketed to #6 on the list during my pregnancy.

Brian hated the name Olivia. But I hated his name choice just as much. So after several months of tug-of-war, with no one gaining any ground, we decided to abandon our choices and come up with a different name that we both loved. Brian brought home a baby name book and we made some headway marking the names we liked or didn't like. We put the names we both liked on one long list, and each night while watching TV, we'd go over the list and slowly mark off ones we weren't really excited about keeping. I stuck to classic names that were popular around my grandparents' era, which is harder than you think because of all the Bettys and Ethels. Brian really liked Emma, until I had to point out that every other kid was getting named Emma, thanks to Rachel on "Friends."

Eventually, we cautiously circled around Helen for a first name - a good classic name that was in the Top 10 about 5 decades prior to her birth, and currently hovering somewhere around #390 on the Social Security website's list of popular baby names. We had not picked a middle name, but had narrowed our long list down to several choices that might be good.

And then I went into labor, 5 weeks early.

In the delivery room, right after I got the epidural, Brian said, "You know, we might want to pick a name for this baby." After confirming that Helen would do for a first name, Margaret seemed like a good pick for a middle name, so under the quickening pace of contractions - yeah, let's do this thing. The on-call doctor walked in and asked if we had a name yet. I told her "Helen Margaret" and she beamed. It turns out Margaret was her name.

It felt like it was meant to be. Today, I can't even picture Helen as anything else. She's Helen, and I'm proud of our solid work on that one.

Alice's name was a little harder to pick. We wanted something with the same classic ring to it, but felt like we had worked so hard to hit the mark the first time that the second one wouldn't come close. We have a good friend named Alison, and Brian thought that would be a good name, but again - too close to the Top 10. But a variety of that name, Alice, hit me one day at work, and sort of grew on me after a few weeks. Years earlier I babysat a little girl named Alice, who by the age of 2 was much smarter than me, and I had a great-aunt that I never knew named Alice that was sort of legendary in the family for not taking guff from anyone. So that seemed like a great, strong name to borrow.

About a month before Alice was born, we were in the car headed to a family reunion. Brian suggested that based on past experience, labor would be forthcoming any time, so we should go ahead & pick our Top 3 names, and vote. Helen voted for Sarah, and Brian & I settled on Alice. We were running short on middle names, but we settled on Suzanne, which is the name of Brian's grandmother and seemed to flow well between Alice and Wyatt. (Helen swore she would call the baby Sarah anyway.)

So we had the name picked a month before Alice was born, but didn't tell anyone until the day she arrived. It worked just fine for Helen, and we figured it would be okay for Alice, too.

To this day, the name Alice fits her like a glove. I couldn't be happier that we picked it. But you could have watched me faint dead away when I walked into her daycare 8 weeks later, and discovered there was already another Alice in her room. We mothers finally met a few days later and turned on each other, accusingly, "WHERE DID YOU GET HER NAME??" Turns out, it was an old family name, and they just liked it. Okay, fine. I was grumpy for about a day, but really, both girls were so cute together. Three months later, Alice Senior moved to a new daycare closer to her mom's work. Alice Junior easily settled into her role as Just Alice. But I've taken to asking the name of every new baby in the nursery, just in case.

And now, we have to find a third girl's name by the end of March.  Wish us luck.  This one might end up "hey you."


In Hot Water

Last night we were in the living room, and Helen asked me if she could get some grapes from the fridge.  I said sure.  This required moving a chair from the kitchen table to the counter, so she could reach a bowl in the cabinet.
After she came back into the living room with a bowl full of grapes, I heard the dishwasher kick on.  I think there were, oh, about 4 dishes in there, since I had just unloaded & reloaded it.  It's got a front panel with flat buttons that you push to select your cycle, similar to a microwave.  Then it turns on.  No dial to set or anything.  It's very convenient for a child to turn it on, and it is one of my biggest pet peeves to hear it start in the early evening, since it wastes a lot of hot water right before bath time.  I am OCD about not wasting hot water before a planned bath or shower.  It is my cross to bear, and no one else's, but I have set times in my head when it would be convenient to turn on the dishwasher, and any slight deviation is just ruining a good hot shower.  Even with our upgrade last year from a 40 to a 50-gallon tank, I am still bothered by an hour's worth of hot water (and no dishwasher soap), especially when it's churning around 4 dishes.  
And given the ease with which a child can operate this dishwasher, you can imagine that I have to deal with my OCD on a regular basis.  I have come to realize she tests me, but it's free therapy.  One day, it might cure me of this obsession with having plenty of hot water.
Jennie:  Helen, did you turn on the dishwasher?
Helen:  No.
Jennie:  Well, Alice is out here with me, and Daddy is out here with me, and none of us turned it on.
Helen:  I didn't do it.
Jennie:  The dishwasher is on, Helen, and you were the only one in the kitchen.  Who turned it on?
Helen:  It just came on, all by itself!  (holds up hands in air, like "whodda thunk it?")
Brian:  (hides his face from Helen so she can't see him laughing)
I'm pretty sure when she moved the chair up to the counter, it hit the panel.  I'm not sure what setting she used - last night's self-imposed therapy involved grinning and bearing it instead of racing in there to turn it off - but it took over 2 hours for the cycle to end.  Those 4 dishes got the cleaning of a lifetime, but too bad!  No dishwasher soap = second cycle for you, with a bigger crowd next time.  And soap. 
I know my other OCD friends would approve.


Alice is around here, too, I promise.

I realize I've been writing a lot about Helen lately, and not so much about Alice.  I promise you, that girl is the biggest ray of sunshine.  She wakes up with a smile on her face, and sometimes she even falls asleep that way.  She spends her breakfast time giving me the biggest grins, and she is so proud of herself running around the house and climbing stairs and chasing her sister, that she smiles the whole way.  She gets so many compliments whenever we go out - "Oh, what a beautiful baby!" complete strangers will say.  The clerks at the grocery store love her.  She is one sweet little girl.
Sometimes she fusses about being picked up or having a toy taken away.  That's her job, as a 13-month old, to let me know in no uncertain terms how she feels about things.  And when she doesn't have the words, it's very easy for her to wail. 
That's right.  Alice doesn't have many words right now.  Basically, she can still say "tickle" and sometimes she says "Da-da," after a ton of prompting, and "Ma-ma" after a ton more prompting, and a couple of times earlier this month she told me "Hi."  A new word about 2 weeks ago was "Kitty."  She says that on a more regular basis than anything else these days, but only after a lot of prompting.  So she's a repeater. 
I am not sure why she is so much farther behind Helen's development on her speech, but I'm not complaining about it right now.  I have one 4-year old who talks enough for the entire family, so a quiet toddler is just fine.  I know the pediatrician has an expectation of how many words she should have in her repetoire, and I know Alice is behind that curve right now.  Again, it doesn't worry me.  They both walked at about the same time, and she's a happy kid, eating well and growing like a weed.  I also know that younger kids might not follow the same path as the older ones.  They concentrate on walking or talking, and Helen has clearly focused her energies in one area for a very long time.  It's evident from all the bruises on her shin from bumping into everything - walking is just not a priority to her.  She talks and sings all the time, just to hear herself make noise.  At dinner, while we're eating and Brian & I are talking about our day, Helen will say, "Mommy?  Mommy?  Mommy?  Mommy?" until I finally ask back, exasperated, "HELEN, I AM TALKING TO YOUR FATHER AND YOU ARE BEING RUDE TO INTERRUPT US.  WHAT DO YOU NEED?"  She will respond, after a slight pause, "I love you." 
Clearly this was not what she originally planned to say.  She wanted my attention for something, and getting it in an angrier fashion than she expected, she switched tactics.  Surely, her little kid brain told her, I can't possible argue with a daughter's LOVE?  Grrrr.
I may not ever teach Alice to talk.


The one with the Ariel story.

So this past weekend Brian went out of town to visit our Navy friend W., and I was at home by myself with 2 kids.  I think there was a 30-minute span one afternoon when they were asleep at the same time, and it was sheer bliss to take a bath in the total silence.  I've kind of forgotten what that's like.
We had Movie Night on Friday, and Helen looked forward to it all day.  We made popcorn after Alice went to bed, and watched a sequel of The Little Mermaid, which is more like one of those Star Wars "prequel" things in that all of the action in this straight-to-video number takes place prior to the giant movie release from my high school years.  "Ariel's Beginnings" I think it was called.
Side note:  Some of you non-parental types who have seen the first Little Mermaid movie may dimly recall that Ariel was one of 7 daughters of King Tritan.  Nowhere was her mother to be found in that first movie.  We learned in the prequel that at a very young age, Ariel's mother was smashed against the rocks by a pirate ship that happened upon the mer-people's day of fun along the shoreline.  Yes, I had to watch this with my daughter.  Holy crap, Disney.  A little bit of warning, huh? 
Side note, sequel: "After Further Thought":  My parents took me at age 4 to see my first movie in the theaters, which turned out to be a Disney double feature: Bambi and The Rescuers.  I'm pretty sure between those two gems of (1) onscreen parental murder and (2) adoption gone awry, complete with alligators, my parents had some 'splainin to do, too.
Anyway, the music is awful in this Ariel movie.  There's not much to recommend it, especially when compared to the original release, and I wouldn't watch it again if I was paid.  Helen on the other hand, has already scheduled another viewing for this evening.  Argh.
I also rented a musical by the name of "Annie."  Oh, don't roll your eyes at me!  Watching this movie again for the first time since, well - dang, I think it's probably been 20 years - was truly fun.  I had forgotten how funny Carol Burnett was, and how young Albert Finney looks!  For comparison, watch "Erin Brokovich" and really stare at Ed Masry.  Yeah, that's him.  His eyebrows have positively taken on a life of their own.  

Annie was a lot cuter to me this time around.  Must be more of a threat when you're a kid; you probably take the whole concept of orphanhood more personally.  
So when we talked to Brian on the phone Saturday night, I made sure Helen asked if he was her Daddy Warbucks.  Apparently, the answer was no.  I will have to remember that, and see if I can return these movies on time.  Oh, and buy more lottery tickets.


Helen is in LOOOOOOVE.

I have changed names to protect the innocent, but there is a little boy in Helen's class that we'll call Peter. Helen played with Peter quite a lot when she first arrived at daycare, and talked about him at home, but then she gradually moved on to playing with girls. To be honest, I was sort of relieved about that, because Helen was one of very few girls at her old daycare. Apparently there was a baby boy boom in that neighborhood for about 6 months, and Helen was the only girl for miles. So for the first 3 years, she naturally played with all the boys. When she moved to the new daycare last year, old habits took over and she joined up with the boys, but this new room was about half girls, and I think eventually that "playing kitchen and babies gene" kicked into overdrive, and she came home talking princesses and ponies and unicorns and told me all about her new best girl friends. This fall I haven't seen hide nor hair of that little boy, so I assumed he might have moved on to kindergarten.

So it sort of surprised me on Friday to hear her in the backseat on the way to the video store telling me that she loved Peter SOOOOO much (cue weepy teen angst voice, really) and wanted to play with him ALL the time. Turns out he's still there; he comes to school later and gets picked up earlier so I hadn't seen him. When I asked her why she loved him, she said it was because he was nice, and sometimes he played with her, and sometimes he did not. Plays hard-to-get, that kid.

Seriously? People, she's FOUR. I think I was about 13 when I went full-on boy crazy. I certainly never told my parents that I loved anyone SOOOO much. Not that I remember, at least. And the last time I actually told Brian that I loved him SOOOO much was when he steam-cleaned the living room carpet.

So yeah, I'm not really sure where all of this comes from. All I can say is, it's a good thing she sleeps on the 2nd floor, and that our stairs are really creaky. Just sayin'.


Finally, a new post.

I keep meaning to write blog entries and never get around to it. It's getting ridiculous. I need to just do it.

Helen is turning into a complete and total adult, 4 going on 14. She tells me what to do all the time. Based on this observed behavior, I think she will grow up to be a teacher. Really and truly, I have some basis for comparison - my mother was a teacher, and my little sister grew up to be a teacher. They *still* tell me what to do all the time. It's one of those deeply ingrained habits that I now realize comes from, oh, birth.

When I ask Helen what she wants to be when she grows up, she says she wants to be a doctor for kids who get shots. Lately, Helen has been very worried about getting shots. Her little sister is currently in a pediatric study for the H1N1 virus, and Helen was panicking at the thought of having to get the shot herself. Unfortunately, they already had filled their quota of 4-year olds (although, knowing kids at this age, they said "we'll take one 4-year old, thank you"), so Helen lucked out. And then one of her friends goes and ruins everything, telling her at daycare one day that when fall gets here, she has to get a shot. Coincidentally, the teacher has been counting down the days in class time each morning to the first day of fall.  Poor Helen.  Yes, I was planning to do the seasonal flu shot, so I confirm for her that will probably happen next month. So Helen will periodically burst into tears and tell her teacher that she doesn't want fall to come, because she definitely doesn't want a shot.  Her father & I have basically told her that it doesn't hurt but for a second, and it means that she won't end up in the hospital at Christmas time, and have to get a BUNCH more shots. But kids don't really understand the whole ounce of prevention thing. They're really into the whole evading any pain at all.

She also tells me that she wants to be a doctor for kids with bumps on their skin. She recently developed these spots under her arm and on her thighs, and after doing a ton of Googling, I figured out it's this. She said she doesn't want kids to get those bumps. Considering Wikipedia says they could last up to a year, it's an admirable trait, I think. Plus, dermatology? Cha-CHING.

Then she tacks on, "and I want to be a princess, a mermaid, a ballerina and an astronaut."

Okay, I'm not sure who's paying for all that schooling cuz med school alone is like WHOA. So, we're buying lottery tickets this weekend. Wish us luck.


Alice is One

Alice's first birthday came with a little bit of excitement.

I was sick as a dog on her birthday.  I came home from work early the day before, with a horrible stomach bug, and spent the evening trying not to see, smell or even think about food.  The next day, I slept and tried to figure out how to make cupcakes without getting ill.

Somehow, that afternoon, Mom Adrenaline kicked in.  My girl had to have her birthday cupcakes, and I was not going to cave and buy those sickly-sweet store-bought versions.  So I mixed and stirred and baked and gagged over the aroma of freshly baked cupcakes, and frosted them with possibly the best frosting I've ever made.   I couldn't even taste it, but I'm pretty sure that frosting kicked butt.  (Tip:  Hershey's cocoa has a frosting recipe on the back.  Use it, people.  You'll never buy frosting in a can again.)

Coincidentally, we had spaghetti for dinner.  Alice wore hers, mostly.  So that meant we had the first giant cleanup of the evening, before I could take pictures of her eating her cake.  It meant cleaning spaghetti off the high chair, the floor, and her head.   Then I stripped her down to a diaper, and got her cupcake ready to go.  

Not exactly the reaction I expected after all the effort I put into making those gag monsters.

Eventually, she did appreciate it.  I think the frosting changed her mind.

And of course, then we had cleanup #2.  I carried her straight up to the tub to get frosting and cake out of every nook & cranny, and later cleaned her high chair.  Again.  But it was totally worth all the queasiness to see her that happy.

I can't believe it's been a year since we brought her into the world.  What an amazing little girl she is.  Happy Birthday, sweet pea!


It's Already Started

We are enjoying a spaghetti dinner at the kitchen table.   Brian & I are talking about something that happened at work, and suddenly Brian notices that Helen has dumped about 10 tablespoons of parmesan cheese on her plate.

Brian:  Helen,  that's enough cheese!

Helen:  (freezes, fingers covered in cheese are stuck in her mouth)

Jennie:  Seriously.  Enough.  (moves parmesan away from Helen)

Brian:  Helen, I don't want you to just eat cheese.

Helen:  (still frozen)

Brian:  I'm not mad at you, sweetie.  I'm just saying, don't you think that's too much cheese?

Helen:  (shakes head no)

Jennie:  Wow.

Brian:  Okay.

Helen:  (still quiet, head down)

Brian:  What's the matter?

Helen:  Nothing!

Jennie:  (has to turn away & cover mouth to keep from laughing out loud)

Brian:  (resigned sigh) I won't make it.

Jennie:  (holds up 4 fingers)  She's FOUR.


Italian in a Small Town

It was 1997, and I had moved back to my hometown after a relationship tanked miserably. My parents very graciously allowed me to move back home, ten years before all the cool kids were doing it. After a few weeks of job hunting and wandering around my boxes and figuring out what to do with my life, I finally resigned myself to being a permanent resident of the town where I graduated from high school.

Yep, I went to get a new drivers license.

The county where my parents live is mostly rural. They reside in the more populated northern side of the county, which bumps up against a large metropolitan county. So I could have gone downtown to get my license, but instead I headed south to the small county courthouse, just for the experience. My parents told me where to find it, and wow. It's a tiny downtown. There's one stoplight in the town square, a few small stores, and the old courthouse. Here's a picture I found online:

I found an empty parking space on the street, right in front of the building. What kind of planet had I landed on? Further evidence of having left actual terra firma for parts unknown: there were only TWO people in line at the License Window. Cue angels singing Hallelujah!

Drivers license, fishing license, boat license, license plate for your boat, your car, your RV, etc. - all of this happens at the same License Window in the courthouse. Ahh, small towns. I immediately vowed I would never go to the downtown DMV again.

I told the woman at the window that I had just moved from Utah, and needed to get a drivers license. Clearly, this woman thought I was coming from another country (she was about half right), and although I didn't know it at the time, one vital word could have saved my morning from heading off the rails, right here ... but I didn't say it. She told me I needed to head over to the "Buchellus Building" to get my license.

"Where?" I asked, not sure I understood her accent.

She pointed to a doorway, which led to a parking lot. "It's across the parkin' lot, the Buchellus Buildin'."

Okay. I had no idea what I needed to do in this other building that couldn't be done at the super-nice, all-inclusive, no-waiting License Window, but I dutifully headed to the parking lot.

While I walked, I tried to figure out who the heck this "Buchellus" might be. Some Italian, I wondered, had settled here, of all places, and got this small town to name a public building after him! Amazing.

Once I made it across the parking lot, though, I started laughing. Over the top of the door, the sign proudly declared: "The Frank 'Butch' Ellis Building."

Inside, I encountered a small group of about six people, seated in chairs lining a hallway. It appeared to be moms with their bored-looking teens. So of course I started to get nervous that I would have to retake the drivers test. (Anyone remember what the fine is for littering on the highway? Yeah, I don't either.) I grabbed a copy of the drivers manual sitting on a table nearby, and took a number. Sitting down, I flipped through the book, awaiting some clerk to tell me it was my turn to fail. I overheard one of the moms say that she was really worried about her daughter's driving test, since that four-way stop intersection nearby was pretty tricky, and she wished they had gone to (even smaller town) instead for their test. That comment made me giggle, picturing my own drivers' test about a dozen years earlier. It was on the wrong side of downtown in the previously mentioned metropolitan area. To compare, a four-way stop in that neighborhood might be the ideal location for a carjacking.

Eventually, one of the clerks came back from administering a driver's test, and he did a double take when he saw me. Apparently that building was for teenagers anxiously awaiting freedom, not adult children returning to the nest because they couldn't make their first post-college relationship work right. I got to skip to the head of the line. Thank god for small favors, because it was at this point I learned I did not have to retake the test. Sweet! Then I learned that since I previously had a license in that state, he sent me back to the courthouse to get my old license number dug up and reinstated. I had just spent all that time waiting for him for nothing. That one vital word I should have told the first clerk? I had just moved BACK from Utah. Tips 'em off that I used to live here, la ti dah, here's your old license. None of the co-mingling with sweaty, nervous teens, none of the worries about re-testing decades after Drivers Ed, none of it. Ah, well.

Back across the parking lot. Back to the short line at the License Window. One photo session and small fee later, back to owning my new/old license. Again.

To sum up: there are no famous Italians in small rural Southern towns. Four-way intersections freak out moms of teenagers, probably because they know their own kids are so bad about taking turns. When you leave your hometown, YOU NEVER REALLY LEAVE YOUR HOMETOWN. Even the DMV is just waiting for you to mess it all up and come crawling back.

And no matter how far into the woods you drive, and no matter how short the line is, it still takes forever to get out of the DMV.


The One Where I Try to Gnaw on Her Cheeks

Alice's first word is "tickle."  

Really.  Yeah, I know.  That's what I said.

The daycare teacher told me about 2 weeks ago that when she tickles Alice, she'll say "tickle tickle tickle" while she does it, and now Alice says that back.  Alice *loves* to say it, even when they put her in the crib for a nap, she'll say it to herself as she's falling asleep.   The only time she won't say it is when I am *trying* to get her to say it in front of other people (sigh).   Anyway, this morning Alice was in her highchair and Helen stood next to her, and Alice reached over with her hand to touch Helen's shoulder and said "tickle tickle tickle." No prompting from me, I hadn't been tickling her - she had finished eating breakfast, and I was taking pictures of her holding her baby doll. Just spontaneously, she reached out to do that to her sister. Cutest. Thing. Ever!  

So I told that story to the daycare teacher this morning, and she said, "Oh, all the nursery parents just love Alice, because when they come in, Alice crawls over to the babies and touches the babies' feet and says, 'tickle tickle tickle.' "

My heart just melted.  I COULD EAT THAT KID UP.


Helen is 4!

Helen turned 4 this month. I am not sure where the time has gone but she is surely the youngest 4-year old I know. On the other hand, I've aged a whole decade. Hmm. Funny how that works.

Helen received many cards and gifts and well wishes from her family and friends.  As her birthday present, I took a day off work and we had a Mommy-Daughter Day. I planned a special agenda with good times for her on the agenda. Helen, meanwhile, got the bright idea to dress up fancy for Mommy-Daughter Day, and she woke up at 4:30, ready to go.  I had to shut it down and send her back to bed.  About 2 hours later, she arrived downstairs in her Tinkerbell costume.

I oohed & aahed over her outfit. Helen then asked me why I wasn't dressed fancy. I looked down at my jeans and Wonder Woman t-shirt and thought, oh heck. Her birthday is once a year. Back into the closet I went, digging out a dress from the dry-cleaner bag that I hadn't worn in ages. Fortunately it zipped. Matching shoes, and we were good to go. We stopped by Brian's work to get pictures made.

Dear Reader, we were the best-dressed girls in Waffle House for breakfast that morning. Fortunately, those waitresses have seen it all, and they don't bat an eye at this kind of outfit. Now, if we'd shown up at 2 a.m., it might have earned a raised eyebrow, but at 9 a.m.? "How do you want your eggs, sweetie?" Nobody even asked about the costume.

One trip to Target later, we were the proud owners of a new booster seat for Helen, plus an impulse purchase of Disney Princess pajamas. Then we headed to the movie theater to see "Up." We had to get the all-important Sprite and popcorn, and of course, the movie was in 3-D so we wore our glasses. Helen was far more interested in the popcorn. I loved the movie.

Mom's Official Movie Review: What a wonderful movie! Perhaps a little scary for younger kids, with big growling dogs in several scenes, but honestly, what a great story for adults. Dear Reader, you should watch it, too. Pixar could use your revenue. I worry about them sometimes.

After that, we went to get mani-pedis at my favorite salon. Speaking of which, I want to publicly apologize to everyone in Li-en Nails for your lack of a relaxing experience on the afternoon of Friday, June 5. I agree, the meltdown over messing up the toe polish was unwarranted. Helen has agreed not to make such a fuss again, either. And you don't have to worry - our next visit together won't be for a few years, or at least until we (read: she) can manage to sit long enough for the nails to dry before heading out the door.


Last month I took the girls to the zoo. It was one of those weekends where Brian went fishing on Saturday, and I was with the girls all day, and on Sunday he made plans to get some work done that would take all day, and I was like HECK NO I'M NOT STAYING IN THIS HOUSE ONE MORE MINUTE, YO. So I packed a couple bags with snacks & lunch and headed off for a very expensive picnic.

Actually, it's not that expensive, especially if you bring your own stuff to eat. You could haul a refrigerator in there, as long as you pay your entrance fee. I know a lot of places don't operate that way, so I was glad for the small reprieve. And this is the first year I've had to pay for Helen, but Alice was still free. So thank goodness for that.

The weather was great, and except for all the walking, the girls did fine. Alice has about 10 minutes of patience with sitting in a stroller or a buggy, and then she gets really tired of me not holding her. Let the screeching begin! The good news is that I can hold her and about 10 minutes later, I can put her back in the stroller. The bad news is that she's 20 pounds right now. So I alternated with pushing her or holding her. Helen tried a few times to get in the stroller when it was empty. I definitely got my workout.

We saw giraffes and elephants and some tigers eating lunch. We saw cougars napping and monkeys screeching. We even saw OH MOMMY THERE'S A PLAYGROUND!!! I WANT TO GO TO THE PLAYGROUND!!! CAN WE GO TO THE PLAYGROUND? PLEEEEEASE?

So yes, we did go to the playground. It started raining, and there's a sheltered area where I parked Alice's stroller and sat with her while Helen ran around and got wet. Dear Reader, that girl would change her entire outfit if she spilled a drop of milk on her shirt, but at the PLAYGROUND, it's RAINING, and she had a ball, not a care in the world.

I had to buy her a $2.50 bottle of Sprite to get her off the playground and back to the animals. We saw the meerkats and the alligators and MOMMY, I WANT TO GO BACK TO THE PLAYGROUND.

After 3 hours of too many animals and not enough playground and a lunch that she tried to feed to the crows, we got in the car to leave. She protested for about 15 seconds and then I heard blessed silence from the backseat. Sneaking a quick look as we pulled out of the parking lot, I found her head slumped to one side and eyelids slammed shut.

Thank you, PLAYGROUND.


First Job

When I was a teenager in the late 1980s, our next-door neighbor started his own business. They had gone exploring in a couple of nearby states to check out the newest trend in retail - really fancy bookstores with comfy chairs and coffee bars and peaceful adult contemporary guitar music. You know - a wonderful hangout where you could read.

Keep in mind, this is the late 1980s. The idea of drinking a cup of coffee AND reading a book IN A BOOKSTORE was like, BOOM - your mind just exploded. What if the customers spill the coffee ON THE BOOK? What if they get crumbs from their bagels ON THE BOOK? What if they READ THE WHOLE BOOK? How would that kind of place ever survive?

Yeah, I mean it. Seriously. it's hard to remember how novel that concept was in the beginning, but today, we all know the book-buying public latched on firmly. Nowadays, it's hard to imagine a bookstore you want to visit without a latte and a place to sit. Add some Manheim Steamroller, and stir. Presto! Suburban bookstore. Or: sprinkle hipster glasses, and toss with a calico cat. Presto! Urban bookstore.

Anyway, this neighbor opened the store with a friend of his in a brand-new shopping center near our neighborhood, and I sort of knew about it because my parents talked about it with our neighbor, and sometimes those talks happened in the driveway where I might be standing around and overhear it. I remember a grand opening, and I found it amazing. They had a couple of permanent employees right off the bat. These were good people who knew books and read books and LOVED books. Then one day, I think it was a few months later, our neighbor approached me about a part-time job doing some computer work in the back room. Turns out they were photocopying all the checks that people wrote (again, this was back before everything was bought on a debit card), and they planned to enter all of the addresses into their customer database. They wanted to create a mailing list for their newsletter, but their staff were generally busy selling stuff and didn't want to enter all that information. Could I help out? 

I'm not sure why they thought of me.  Cheap teenage labor?  Because I was there?  I don't remember asking my parents if I could, I don't remember if my parents talked to me first and then we talked to the neighbors - really, at this point it's all a giant blur of how it happened.  But I do know that I said sure!! and promptly spent Saturdays, and sometimes Sunday afternoons off and on working in the backroom of the newest trend in retail l for the next year and a half. They had a great DOS-based system (remember, 1980s) that catalogued all the books, with search capabilities and easy ordering from the distributors.  It all combined up at the counter with the register sales.  Yep - we used the computer as the register.  You can now applaud wildly at that cutting edge technology.  

My part of the system was pretty easy - I just entered in the addresses & phone numbers into a customer list. They had been saving a big stack of these check copies, and it took me a few months to work through them and get to current dates on checks. I got to where I recognized the repeat customers. 

It was cool to see the store grow to a huge success.  In the beginning, i don't remember being on a specific schedule but I basically worked weekends.  When they got busy, especially around Christmas vacation, they asked me to work the floor. I sold books, I shelved books, I wrapped gifts, I helped people pick out books, and I looked up stuff when people had questions. Eventually they felt like the mailing list was big enough, so I stayed on the floor as needed on the weekends. 

Working in a bookstore was my only retail experience. It felt like a smart place to work, like we had knowledgeable customers who looked at us as experts - not the retail clowns you always found at the mall bookstores. These days I think there are entire websites devoted to the dumb questions that customers will ask the good folks at Barnes & Noble, but back then, it certainly didn't feel like there was a giant conspiracy aimed at ruining our day.  Or else I was too young to notice it yet.  I had good bosses and co-workers, and while it wasn't a traditional office job with staff meetings and cubicles and memos, I definitely enjoyed it.

Oh - except for Manheim Steamroller. Nowadays I get an instant migraine when I hear that music.  Spend 8 hours listening to the same cd of adult contemporary guitar music, and tell me if you still enjoy it.  The owners got to pick the music, and we didn't get much say in that day's pick.  So, my favorite part of the day, musically speaking, was when one of the owners would rush back about an hour before closing time, steam pouring out of his ears, and change the cd to ANYTHING, GOD HELP ME ANYTHING BUT THAT ONE.

What was your first job? We're talking real paychecks here. Teenage babysitting or lawn mowing doesn't count.  Did you like it?


Bath Time

After dinner, our routine is pretty simple. Alice, normally covered in a rather large portion of her dinner from head to toe, is swept straight upstairs for a bath. Normally Helen monkeys around until I'm done with Alice, who until very recently had little patience for the tub and wanted out instantly. Helen would then get her turn, demanding a lot more water and lingering with her bath toys for sometimes a good 20 minutes or more.

Helen and Alice have been taking their baths together for a month or so now - Helen will eagerly hop in about 6 inches of water and splash around with her sister, who has been enjoying the toys and lingering herself lately. Tonight I got some great pictures of the two of them playing.

There is some pretty valuable real estate at the faucet end of the tub.  If my sister is looking at these pictures, it might bring back memories of our own childhood baths to see the struggle for prime position.  Alice was constantly crawling over her sister to get to that faucet.  She really enjoys standing up, and pulling up the knob that turns on the shower.

Later, they got into a splashing contest.  The loser was the bathroom floor.  


Kids Pics

Alice is cute as pie these days.  She's into everything - playing, trying to stand, growing teeth, and jabbering like a monkey.  This evening I caught her taking apart the Tupperware cabinet, and she was having so much fun, I let her do it.  

Helen is adorable, too. We've had some really fun moments this past month. Here we are at my office, checking out the action downtown one weekend as they turned off all the lights for Earth Hour.  I think she was more interested in the Sprite I got for her.

Catching Up

So, it's been a while.  Sorry about that.  Some minor stuff has been going on in the Wyatt house, and adjusting to Alice sleeping through the night, and somewhere in there I got so excited I decided it was time to stop breathing through my nose and instead developed this kind of rainbow-hued congestion along with sneezing - well, you get the idea.  

Oh, and I turned 37 last month.  So I'm old and I forget things now.  Blog entries?  Someone out there needs to remind me, regularly.  Dear Readers, please form a committee, and get it done.

A couple stories to share, all related:

For my birthday this year, Brian got some scratch-off lottery tickets to put in my card.  Lottery tickets have been a thoughtful addition to most of our gifts - Christmas stockings, wedding anniversaries, Secretary's Day, etc - for years.  But the excitement over possibly winning never matches the payoff.  We dream of how to spend the money, and then minutes later we're tossing the losing tickets in the trash.  Ah, well.  So much for the Mexican vacation.

So Brian had stuffed about $20 worth of tickets into my birthday card this year, and in order to postpone that awful feeling of disappointment, to enjoy that feeling of "What if I had all that extra money?" for just a little bit longer, I waited until after dinner to scratch off the tickets.

And promptly won $1000.

No kidding.

Yeah, that's what I did, too.

You have to understand, there's a giant conspiracy theory gone haywire in this state that nobody wins from these tickets, and it's all a ruse to get suckers to pay in to the education fund, rather than actually pay winners.  So to win money?  I was jumping up & down in the living room, screaming for all I was worth.  Alice was crawling around, looking at me like her mother had just gone insane, and Helen was standing at the top of the stairs, asking me, "Mommy, what's so exciting?"

So, it was a great birthday.  Honestly!  Loved every minute of it.

The next weekend, Brian went on a road trip to see a friend.  The guys made a stop for snacks and lottery scratch-off tickets.  That afternoon I was driving in the car, talking to him on the cellphone, with Helen & Alice in the backseat.  I told him if he won big bucks, he better get his butt back home.

After I hung up, I had the following conversation with Helen:

Helen:  Mommy, who were you talking to on the phone?

Jennie:  That was Daddy.

Helen:  Why did you tell him to get his butt back home?

Jennie:  (wincing) Helen, you remember when Mommy won that money from the green cards last week?

Helen:  Yeah.

Jennie:  Daddy bought some more green cards, and I told him if he wins a lot of money, he needs to come home.  

Helen:  (quiet for a moment)  Mommy, what does Daddy do if he doesn't win a lot of money?

Jennie:  (thinking - dang, that kid is getting too smart)


Overheard Twice

The only piece of information you need to know in advance is that Helen is being particularly difficult this month by not doing one thing that her mother tells her to do, even if what I'm telling her to do might SAVE HER LIFE.

Oh, and since I can hear the cackling 200 miles away, one more thing: Shut up, Mother.

So. On with the show.

Conversation #1

I am at the grocery store with Alice, talking on the cellphone to Brian. Alice stayed home with me that day with an ear infection.

Brian: Is Helen with you?

Jennie: No, I'm heading to the daycare to pick her up after I check out.

Brian: Do they have an overnight option?

Jennie: At daycare? I wish.

Brian: Is it just me, or do you just want to tell her to SHUT UP ALREADY?

Jennie: I'll be honest with you. Sometimes the best part of my day is in the morning, when I'm driving away from the daycare.

Jennie & Brian: (together) Suckers!!!

(Then I spent a moment in the deli laughing hysterically into the phone. I'm pretty sure I need to avoid the grocery store for a week or so.)

Conversation #2

I phone my mother to tell her about Alice's ear infection.

Mom: I'm sorry to hear she's not feeling well.

Jennie: Me, too.

Mom: How's Helen?

Jennie: You mean, She Who Burns Bridges?

Mom: (laughing) That's her Indian name?

Jennie: Yeah. I don't know where I get this stuff. I think it's all the sleep deprivation.



This morning the entire family awoke at 4 a.m. to take Brian to the airport, who is flying out for the annual Bataan Memorial Death March.  Previous years here and here.  

On the way home, a heavy rain started falling.  I turned up the wipers, and heard Helen singing in the backseat:

Helen:  The wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish ...

Jennie:  Good song.

Helen:  The mommy on the bus goes shhh, shhh, shhh ...  The daddy on the bus goes ... (silence)

Jennie:  (waits for a while to see if she comes up with anything) What does the daddy say?

Helen:  I don't know!

Jennie:  Well, what does your daddy say?

Helen:  Be quiet?


What a difference a day can make

I realize that by posting this entry and these pictures, there will be no less than 4 family members on my doorstep this weekend ready to take Alice away from us.  Please know that prior to posting these pictures, Alice was seen by the pediatrician and treated.  So she is on the road to recovery.

Now that I've scared you all to death, on with the show!

Alice was diagnosed with a severe double ear infection 2 weeks ago.  We were visiting my parents in Birmingham, and she kept getting a fever.  I knew something was really wrong.  Trust that mother's intuition, right?  Sure enough, the doctor confirmed it, and she got her 10 days' of antibiotics.  She seemed to improve - no more fever, a couple nights sleeping straight through, and I thought all was fine.  In fact, the evening of day 10, I took a bunch of pictures of her playing in the tub.

Gorgeous, right?

Then on the 11th day, she woke up with tiny red dots and hives all over her. 
Freaky, right?

The hives, from previous experience with Helen, screamed allergic reaction to me.  But for the life of me, I couldn't figure out what caused it.  Did we switch detergents?  No.  Did she eat something new?  No.  Did the daycare give her someone else's food?  No.  So we went to the doctor, who told us that Alice presented both of the classic symptoms of allergy to amoxicillin, the antibiotic we used for 10 days.  One reaction is tiny red dots (check) and the other is hives (check, check, check).  I said, but wait - she had an ear infection we treated with amoxicillin at the beginning of January!  Why did we not see anything then?  Typically this happens on the second run, the doctor said.  Okay, but why did the reaction take 10 days to appear?  Because that's when you typically see it, after the course has built up in her system.  Sure enough, the ear infection isn't cleared up, either.

So we're on a whole new antibiotic, as far away from the penicillin family as we can get.  In the meantime, the dots are subsiding, but the hives and welts got much worse overnight and during the day.  We're managing with Benadryl for now, which I can tell helps a bit because she stops scratching at the back of her head during nursing sessions.  Otherwise, she's fine. Congested, red and puffy, yes.  But fine.

As a Southerner, I believe the words you're looking for are, "Bless her heart."  

So, to all our great-aunts and mothers and to my sister specifically - you can put down your keys, and step away from the car. We've got this one.  I promise.


Setting the Standard

About a month ago, when Alice started rocking back & forth on all fours, I commented to Brian that all she lacked was figuring out how to move her hands. She moved her legs and turned around, but she kept her hands in the same spot. So Brian got on the floor with her, and proceeded to show her how to move her hands.

I remember yelling at him to STOP RIGHT THERE, MISTER. We already taught one of them to walk & talk, and now I spend my days telling her to sit down & shut up! So, why in the world would we show another one exactly how it's done?

Well, despite my best efforts at prevention, last Friday Alice put the rocking behind her, and started crawling. Those little hands moved her purposefully around the room - toward a toy, toward me, toward her sister - and eventually, as we all know, toward independence. (sobbing quietly into a Kleenex)

Whenever I left the room to get something, I'd come back to find her several yards away. She did laps around the living room all weekend, crawling like a little champion.

Tuesday, I picked her up from daycare, let her bite on my finger in the car on the way home while I was searching for her pacifier - and discovered she had a tooth. One of the bottom ones had poked through at some point during that day, and although it's tough to spot in her mouth, you can definitely feel it.

Two milestones in one week is really all I can handle as a mother. I could cheerfully freeze her at this point - smiling & happy & generally sleeping about 5-6 hours in a row. Instead, I'm getting a "baby" moving as fast as she can toward "toddler" and it's really freaking me out. Up next: driver's license!

I joked about that yesterday with my mom - the kids were still at daycare, mind you - and then this morning, in the car:

Helen: Mama, do you have a driving license?

Jennie: Yes, I have a driver's license.

Helen: Where?

Jennie: In my purse.

Helen: Oh. Okay.

Jennie: Why did you ask me about that? Where did you hear about a driver's license?

Helen: Well, you know, that lady on TV, the police? That lady?

Jennie: (draws a blank, no idea where she could have seen this) Uh-huh ...

Helen: That's what it was. I was just asking you about it.

Jennie: Okay.

Dear Reader, I will admit that I completely ignored whatever crap TV show she may have caught at some point in the past few days to say a quick prayer she wouldn't ask how to get her own driving license. Because this week, I don't need these kids to grow up any more than they already have.



These two love each other.  Alice smiles and laughs at Helen whenever she sees her.  Helen tells me often that she & Alice are falling in love, and when they grow up they're going to get married.  

Sweet, huh?

One day in the not-too-distant future, Helen will learn that this little sister of hers knows EXACTLY which button to push to start World War 3 in the Wyatt house, and she will also learn her little sister DELIGHTS in pushing that button.  Repeatedly.  But I have not burst her bubble yet.  Far from it.  I tell her that no, they won't marry each other, but they will always be sisters, and it's definitely a good thing to love your baby sister.  That way, they will always be sisters *and* best friends.  

A very quick update:  Alice is eating her homemade baby food like a champ.  After eating the first supply I made in 3 weeks, I took a few hours last weekend to make a bunch more (including green beans & peas, which were much easier than advertised).  Now I'm stocked up and ready to go for several more weeks.  

I'm sure it's not the last time I'll get a picture of her with this much food on her face (for the curious, it's sweet potatoes), but the smile is genuine, and priceless.