Irony (see also: in a nutshell)

Earlier this month Helen's school had a big week-long fundraising event, capped off by a fun run at the end of the week. To celebrate, everyone got to dress up each day in a certain theme. Wednesday's theme was Tacky Day. Kids could dress in wild clothing, mismatched shoes, crazy hairdos - the tackier, the better.

Even though I explained it repeatedly, Helen had a very hard time understanding the concept of "tacky." And she really didn't know why I was making a big deal out of picking specific things for her to wear, because she's done it for herself for over a year. Since I still had a lot to do to get everyone else ready that morning, reluctantly, I sent her upstairs after breakfast to pick out her own tacky outfit. She came downstairs in a pair of hot pink pants and a purple Jonas Brothers t-shirt.

I think she accidentally hit the target, dead center.


Go to the ball!

The title of this post is something I heard approximately 8 million times at varying levels of volume during my 4-year tenure as manager of the high school boys' soccer team. We had a scrawny little science teacher who was one of those lightning fast players "back in the day" so he took on a bunch of truly lazy teenage boys and tried to whip them into shape. We had a few stellar players who grew up on soccer fields as kids, but two standouts do not make a winning team in the competitive world of high school soccer in the late 1980's. So I traveled to games and I stayed late after school at practices and I dutifully marked stats during the games and I slugged giant bags of balls around and I filled up coolers with ice water, all to watch us lose miserably. It had its moments of fun, and I made some friends, and I think sitting on the bus headed to an away game kept the teenage boys from being teenage boys. Maybe that's why the coach had me as manager all those years.

I promise this story has a point.

One evening in May, Brian was surfing online and found the local community's soccer league signup page. He promptly entered his information and signed up Helen for fall soccer.

Later, he told a friend at work that he had signed her up, and mentioned some fear about her ability to learn how to play the game. His friend reassured him, however, that there is only one play in soccer for children this age.

Here's the field and the ball:

Here are the children in a circle around the ball:

This play moves around the field at random. Kind of like Pong.

I realized that all those years I've watched children playing soccer, that man was dead-on accurate. Once you realize that, weekly "practice" becomes a little unnecessary. Which was a good thing, too, because 100+ heat index every afternoon last week cancelled the first practice.

Helen is on an under-6 team of 8 girls, playing 4-on-4 soccer on a half-field. Brian took her to her first game this afternoon and got some great pictures of the team playing. She had a lot of fun, but after she got home she confessed to me that she did not score any goals. Brian said they didn't really keep score or track who "won" the game, but it ended as a victory for her team at 4-3. Because Brian definitely counts those things.

So here's the point of the whole story: if memory serves, that total score represents more goals than the boys' high school team scored my entire freshman year. I'll bet those little girls had a better defense, too.

ZING! Here's where all my Facebook friends from high school stop reading my blog.

Brian told me there is one ringer on Helen's team, who runs like a gazelle being chased by hungry lions. Only in this case, the gazelle also dribbles a soccer ball, and once in a while, the lions play for your own team. You see, it was kind of unclear for some of the girls that they didn't have to fight each other for the ball. Which was amusing for the referees and parents alike.

Here's Helen before the game with her team, getting final instructions - she's the one in pigtails smiling at the camera instead of listening to her coach:

Here's Helen, in her lucky #7 jersey, running out onto the field to sub in for her first play:

Here's Helen running The One Play:

Here's Helen celebrating successfully running The One Play for several seconds in a row:

Wish us luck on a fun season. Once college football starts up, we may discover that Brian has signed me up for soccer, too.


One Small Step, One Giant Leap - I Get It Now

This morning there was a point at which I realized I'm not just a person who gave birth to three kids, but a MOM. The first one was born over five years ago, so I've racked up some experience in this job. And when I gave birth to Helen I knew today would happen at some hazy point in the Not Yet Future. As the sun rose this morning, the haze cleared on probably one of the most important days in her life and in my career as a MOM.

Brian and I dropped her off at her first day of kindergarten this morning. Five long years of experience with daily dropoffs at daycare stepped in, so there weren't any tears from us or her. I helped her put up her backpack, and got a hug and after making sure she was sitting in the right spot, she just sort of waved at us, like "Okay, I'm good, you can go now." Brian and I looked at each other, and we said goodbye and walked out. This afternoon I'll go back to pick her up. I'm sure she have plenty of stories about her new teacher and her new friends and her new school. Right now I'm just sort of absorbing it all.

I'm a mom of a kindergartener, a well-adjusted little kid who was truly eager to get started on her future. I didn't even cry about leaving her at a brand-new school.

Way to go, Helen. You're making this MOM gig look easy.


I Can't Argue With You Before I've Had Caffeine

Helen had a sore throat last week. She reminded me constantly that her throat hurt. No other symptoms, just that it hurt to swallow.

The next evening when I arrived to pick her up at daycare, she was still complaining and the teacher mentioned that she was running a low-grade fever. The only medicine I had in the drawer with pain reliever in it was some cold/cough medication, so I let her take a teaspoon of that.

The next morning, as we were getting ready to go, she asked for medicine.

Jennie: Helen, I'll let you have some medicine tonight if your throat still hurts. Sometimes cold medicine makes you sleepy and I don't want you to be sleepy at school.

Helen: But I'm already sleepy.

She's quick, I have to give her that.


Well .. Your Favorite Band Sucks, Too.

On the way home from work the other night, I was listening to my iPod in the car. Brian had created a playlist of crazy upbeat dance music that I was enjoying, so I carried my iPod into the grocery store to pick up a few things. Reaching the checkout counter, I pulled the earbud out to chat with the cashier, who was probably 20 years old.

He asked me, "What song were you listening to?"

Sheepishly, I replied, "Usher's 'Love in This Club.'"

He did a double take, and looked at me with his eyes wide open.

I laughed, and said, "I bet you didn't expect that."

He agreed, saying, "No, you definitely don't look like the type to be listening to Usher." I explained that my husband had enjoyed Usher's performance of that tune on Dancing with the Stars several years ago, and bought it on iTunes, and I was enjoying the mix that he had made.

The cashier thought for a moment, and said, "You know, I liked that song, too - about two summers ago."

Quietly, I gathered up my groceries and walked out to the parking lot, with the iPod now shoved in my purse. I realized on the way that I officially qualify as "old."

Exhibit A: "Dancing With the Stars" is my source of new music.
Exhibit B: I am nearly twice as old as the grocery store clerk.
Exhibit C: I now look old enough to stop listening to dance music.
Exhibit D: I was actually mocked for being out of touch with the current music scene.
Exhibit E: I got the strongest urge to call him a "whippersnapper."



Theoretically, how much trouble am I in if my infant daughter routinely talks to me like this?


Family, Fourth, Food, and Farm

Brian's family has a reunion each year on the 4th of July, so we packed up the girls and headed for the farm. We grew the reunion this year with the addition of Jane, who amazed me with her good-natured attitude toward an outdoor event with bugs and humidity. She smiled at all the new faces and loved being held by new people. Three and a half months old is still an age that can be difficult to handle away from home. She was a real trooper.

Meanwhile, Helen and Alice ran themselves into the ground for 2 straight days. They play outside regularly at home, but they don't have access to dozens of acres or half a dozen cousins. I've got to remember to build up their stamina for next year.

Here's one picture of Helen I managed to get as she flew past with a very popular toy, a water pistol:

The first day, around 3:30 in the afternoon (4 hours past normal nap start time), Alice was walking around the tables while the family played Bingo, and she had a little bottle with a rock inside it that she was using as a homemade rattle. She was shaking it to her heart's content as she walked around and grinned at everyone. Eventually, she went to her Nana and asked to be held. And that is where, approximately 13 seconds later, she passed out cold.

Helen and Alice both slept like rocks that night. Neither of them made a peep about sleeping in a new spot - it just needed to be a horizontal spot, and they were soon snoring away. They also slept super late the next day.

The girls ran nonstop the entire second day. There wasn't even an accidental nap when either one of them sat down too long. Do the math on the tipping point, and you have kids who probably won't be in the best mood by the time the fireworks are ready to launch.

What I hadn't counted on was Jane's reaction to the fireworks. I should have remembered that Brian & his brother would make the fireworks show pretty loud. She had dozed off, and awoke with a start at the first mortar shell. From that point on, each firework that exploded made her squirm and cry. So I took her inside the house during all of the oohs and ahhs.

Once the girls hit the house for bedtime, they wanted to stay up. Heck no, says I. It's bedtime. Less than a minute later, there wasn't any protesting. And they slept even later the next morning.

I'm guessing when they're older and not needing naps, this reunion may be less exhausting for them. When we got home from the farm, they both took 4 hour naps. Mine was only 3 hours.

Two videos from the farm to share with you all!

1. Helen shows off a new skill while the family plays croquet. Be sure to listen for her to give her pre-judged and completely unsolicited opinion on the video at the end.

2. Alice says hello to all the cows. I'll go ahead and translate: "Hay-yo, Neigh!" Like Helen, she calls all animals by the sound they make, rather than their names. Unlike Helen, that's what she thinks a cow says, instead of "Moo" - they're all "Neighs." Yes, like a horse. Go ahead, mock away. I'm sure all of your parents suspected you were a little confused at some point during your childhood, too.


You'd Want This in Your Backyard, Too.

Two separate videos of Helen enjoying her backyard birthday present earlier this month. And Alice was right there with her.


History Repeats Itself. Really.

I got a new cellphone for my birthday that will take minute-long videos. Turns out to be the perfect opportunity to brag about my newest child, Jane, right? Because she talks. No, really. She just chatters. Seriously.

A month later, she was two months old, babbling like mad at her first doctor appointment, and the doctor walked in and said, "Huh. Normally that's a 4-month old skill." And I said, "(something unprintable in a blog read by Brian's grandmother)."

If this was my first kid, I'd actually *be* bragging. But folks, this is not my first rodeo. I've already got one child who never shuts up. And when I say never, I mean, I put her to bed and I'm walking to the bedroom door and I'm literally shutting the door on a stream of gibberish. "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy! I love you! Um, what are we having for breakfast in the morning?"

Jennie: "Good night, Helen."

Helen: "Mommy, is tomorrow a stay-home day?"

Jennie: "Good night, Helen." (shutting door)

Helen: (through the door) "Mommy! How many days until it's a stay-home day?"

Jennie: (walking down the stairs) "Good NIGHT!"

Anyway, this video demonstrates Jane's talking skills. You may think it's cute or adorable or precious. And it is. But I also see it for what it really is, and it strikes fear into my very soul.

It's Helen, The Sequel.


The One Where I Probably Violate Some Unknown Copyright Law

I want to dedicate this video blog entry to my friends Christine & John, who have listened to more than a few cover songs with me back in the day, before I moved away to be with Brian. At the dueling piano bar this past weekend, the band played it nearly instantly after I sent the request up there. I thought my friends might enjoy the stroll down memory lane, and the rest of you might love a trip back to the 1980's, when the music had layers and the lyrics didn't and nobody seemed to mind a bit. Apologies for the dim lighting (in a bar) and the less than stellar quality of the sound (recorded on my phone), but hopefully you get the idea. I miss you guys, and I hope your new hometown has a stellar cover band, too.


No, it wasn't a dream.

Last weekend my in-laws came to town and said, "Get out of here! Scram!"

I am not sure if they were talking to me or the cat, but I raced into the bedroom and opened a random dresser drawer. Think fast, Jennie: where are the suitcases? Upstairs. Too far away. What do I need to wear? Hmm. Who cares? I tossed the first layer of clothes in the drawer into a little plastic shopping bag that was on the bed. I ran to the kitchen, yelled something about milk in the freezer, grabbed my purse, and sped away in the little red convertible.

As I got to the stop sign, I saw Brian in my sideview mirror. He was running behind the car, waving his wallet. Reluctantly, I pulled over and picked him up.

That night we had an adult dinner at a quiet restaurant, with wine and candles and excellent food that did not need ketchup. Or sippy cups. We checked in at the hotel, propped open our eyelids with scotch tape and headed to a bar for a beer. And then came back to the room to enjoy the deep, uninterrupted sleep of parents who refuse to call home and check on anyone.

The next day we had a wonderful lunch at a Mexican place with margaritas, where not a single grain of Spanish rice landed on the floor. Afterwards we strolled around the mall and sat in the massage chairs at Brookstone, where we enjoyed the entire 5-minute demo without hiding the massage chair remote control. We even played with the new iPhone at the overly crowded Apple store, where we didn't pull a screaming child away from banging on the laptop keyboards at the kids' table.

Later, we saw a newly released movie in a real theater - not a pay per view or Redbox rental ("Knight & Day" - go see it, it's hilarious and very well done). We didn't have to share concessions with someone who can eat her weight in popcorn, and we didn't need to take a bathroom break every 10 minutes.

That evening, our outdoor tourism plans were foiled by a sudden thunderstorm, but we did manage to pass several hours with a bartender who kept plying us with special concoctions involving a large array of homemade flavored vodkas. This was not as disappointing as it sounds, although Brian does not recommend the habanero vodka, unless you are attempting to win a very large bet. I vowed to return another day, when I would once again not be counted on to nurse a young infant.

We headed down the street and happened upon a dueling piano bar that looked promising, so we handed over the cover charge to enter a place that did not have a giant inflatable slide or a singing robotic rat. Turned out to be the best entertainment we'd seen in ages. And folks, we have 3 little girls who must be quite entertaining, since we haven't been on a date in 6 months, but two pianos, one drumset and a bass guitar later, we had seen an entire evening of sheer FUN. We got back to the hotel after 1 a.m. and crashed.

The next morning, we spent far too much on breakfast from the hotel buffet, and headed home. The girls were clearly excited to see us. Helen spent the morning dancing around in the $4 tourist shop cowboy hat we purchased for her. Alice promptly glued herself to my lap for the next two hours. Nana swore up and down that Jane was a good baby while we were gone.

I'm working on medals for the in-laws. Do you think it should mention "bravery in the line of fire" or "valor beyond the call of duty" - or both?


The End of an Era

While I was pregnant with Alice, I toured a new daycare center. This was after nearly 3 years of childcare provided by a decent center right around the corner from our home. You can't beat that kind of convenience with a stick. So, looking farther away was harder, and mentally a bit of a block for me, but having two kids, affordability was the biggest factor in making a change. I also knew that every 3 months, Helen got a new teacher. With that kind of turnover, it was hard to get any rapport built up, and I was beginning to worry about her reaching a crucial point in her development and learning with a revolving door of instructors. She's a sharp kid but I didn't want her to suffer with all the short-timers.

The teacher I met on the tour of the new place was very reassuring. She had previously worked at the center where Helen was, and she knew what I was worried about with their staffing issues. She assured me that turnover was very low. She herself had been at the center for 4 years. Helen's class was taught by the owner. Alice would have teachers who had each been working there for a minimum of 2 years. That was excellent news to me.

October 1 will mark 2 years of attending this daycare. Helen now has some very near and dear friends in her class, and she loves each one of her teachers. Alice turns into a bright ray of sunshine in her classroom. You can tell she truly enjoys herself. I love how the teachers hug her. Jane is smiling every time I leave her in the morning and is being cuddled whenever I show up. I have landed in a great daycare and I wouldn't leave them anywhere else for the world.

Except, sometimes, it's time to go.

I was not prepared for this scene. I knew that it was coming for a couple of weeks, and I had been working hard to get the house clean for a visit from her PeePaw, and get a potluck dish made and delivered, and managed the logistics of getting a family to arrive on time and neatly dressed - so essentially, I'd been focusing very closely on the trees and suddenly the forest appeared on stage. Seeing her walk out in that outfit, it was a very startling moment for me. She keeps telling me she's 5 now, but dang if she didn't just grow up right there in that cap & gown. Plus, she was so cute up there with her friends.

I'm just a little bit sad that the daycare doesn't run an elementary school, too.


My New Precioussssss

I'm not an early adapter of technology. My mother works at a large retail computer store, my father buys everything that comes out of that large retail computer store, and my sister has 2 masters degrees in education technology. I, on the other hand, am convinced that disgruntled leprechauns live inside my computer. Also, I put my fingers in my ears and go "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" when Brian starts talking about the new iPad.

So, for my birthday, something that was long overdue - Brian took me shopping for a new cellphone. I had a Motorola Razr for 4 years. It was a wonderful Mother's Day present, and all it did was make calls. I thought that's all I needed. But 4 years later, once you start referring to your cellphone as Old Unreliable, it's time to upgrade. At the store I pulled it out my pocket and the kid/salesguy saw it and snickered. No, seriously, people. He SNICKERED. At ME. ON MY BIRTHDAY. I was ready to box his ears and call him Sonny. But I refrained.

After a lot of shopping and a lot of questions and a lot of test-driving, enter my new phone: an HTC MyTouch from T-Mobile. I love this phone. It's a Google phone which is very straightforward and simple. I can take minute-long videos and upload them to YouTube which means, keep an eye for more kid video than you can stand. I can send pictures via text message to everyone except Brian (don't ask, he doesn't know why, either). I can listen to music. I can slide my finger around to the letters instead of tapping them out. It's called Swyping, and I love it. I spent about 10 minutes doing a tutorial, and I was off to the races.

After getting mocked by the whippersnapper in T-Mobile, it felt good to have this new hip phone and live somewhere near a cutting edge in technology. Even if it's just a bedroom suburb of the cutting edge, it feels good. I loaded up on a data plan and a text plan and hit the road.

Brian picked up the kids from daycare that afternoon. He stopped at the store with them to pick out cards and cake and a balloon. Let me tell you what really deflates a good birthday high. It's when your kid hits the door, all excited, and gives you this:


The One Where She Turns 5

Those of you who have known me for many years understand my fear and trepidation surrounding children's birthday parties. Specifically, the ones at some gigantic indoor play zone where I sort of know the kid from daycare but have never met the parents, and our kids are way too young to just drop off. So instead, we stand around trying not to stare at each other, making awkward small talk about how precious our kids are, asking variations of "What's your name again?" and feverishly hoping that our kid isn't the most hyper one in the room.

I knew that this year would be a touch & go year for Helen in terms of birthday parties. If you have checked this blog faithfully, you will know that Helen's parties have consisted of some cupcakes on the big day, and not much else. And for all those years when she couldn't really talk, it worked just fine. Then came the talking years, but I was still a bit ahead of her on the reasoning skills, so we kept parties at bay.

Then came this year. About a month ago, one of her friends turned 5, and had a big party at a giant indoor play place. It was a Friday evening, and the invitation said "Siblings invited" and they served pizza, so I caved in and dragged all 3 kids out. I figured it would wear them out and we could sleep in on Saturday. And I did get to chat with a couple of very nice moms, but it still felt awkward as hell. The party girl's mom, however, breezed in and handled it all so graciously. This party was for her 3rd kid, and she still whizzed around like Martha Stewart. She made sure we all had food and snacks. She sweet talked Alice and chatted with Helen. She even helped me haul one very reluctant-to-leave child back to the car. I'm telling you, that's SO NOT ME.

Later that weekend, Helen told me that she was thinking of having her party at the same place. Proceed directly to CRINGE. Folks, these parties start at around $200, and that's not including pizza and cake and ice cream. That's just, "Yes, you can rent out space here," and "Don't forget to bring the goody bags." Plus, sending the invitations and deciding who to invite, and all of our family is out of town, and the few who do live close would be on vacation, and ending up hosting all these daycare parents I don't know, it was just like NO. I CAN'T DO IT. DON'T MAKE ME DO IT.

So then I had a conversation with Helen about how we weren't going to have a party at the Giant Indoor Play Place. I told her that we could have some cupcakes and presents at home, and she said, "You mean, a family party?" And I said yes, that's right. Fortunately, she didn't have her nose pinched and head held up high while she said it, but you could tell she was a little disappointed. Especially when she muttered darkly, "And next year, I'm having a party with friends." So next year, after kindergarten is over, we can invite a friend or two over to swim at the neighborhood pool, and grill some burgers and hot dogs and have some cake. But this year, one last time, it would be just us.

Years ago, Brian & I talked about our vision of the perfect birthday party, and we thought out loud, wouldn't it be fun to rent the stuff but not invite everyone - just have it for her to play around in. Like, booking the giant indoor play place for just your family. Or calling up the inflatable rental store and setting it up in the backyard for the kids. Book the petting zoo to come visit. We could skip the looney tunes clown and the not-so-funny magician. But you get the idea. That idea stuck in my head for the longest time - 4 years, to be exact - and so last month I started calling around to find out prices for renting the giant bouncy castle.

YIKES. Varies from $100-$175 for anywhere from 4-8 hours. That includes setup and takedown, but still. A lot steeper than I pictured. You can buy them, but quality varies, and prices can go up dramatically for ones that will endure a 5-year old's bouncing.

So I found the guy that would rent it for $100, and I was in discussion with Brian about what to do. I just happened to mention it to a co-worker who was taking the day off for his son's birthday party, and he said, "Oh, I have one." I was like, HUH? You own a giant bouncy castle? Turns out, yes, he does. He has 3 boys and sometimes on the weekend, they'll put it up in the backyard and let the kids go nuts. It's good to wear them out and they sleep like angels. And this co-worker said, Hey, you can borrow it. Folks, that is pure awesomeness. Besides, the money saved and all that, no worries about if it rains, the rental period is ruined, rescheduling the party, etc. We could put it up when we needed to and take it down on our schedule.

So, her birthday was on a Friday. I told her that we would have our family party on Saturday, with cupcakes and presents, and that we could make the cupcakes together that afternoon. But I didn't let on there was anything more to it. Brian went out mid-morning to mow the lawn, and then he set up the bouncy castle. Once I got the high sign from him, I told her there was a surprise for her birthday in the yard, and I led her outside with "eyes closed, Helen, close 'em tight!" I got a picture of her when she saw it for the first time:

Then she & Alice went to town bouncing in it. Sliding on the slide, running around, climbing in, bouncing and sliding to their heart's content. Helen told me over and over it was the BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER. Honestly, that was all I needed to hear. Family party, schamily party. She got a bouncy castle to play in. Game over, Giant Indoor Play Place!

It was about 97 degrees outside, though, so they got hot, quick. I went inside to watch from the windows, and take care of Jane. About 45 minutes later, Alice came bounding in, hair plastered to her head and red from head to toe. She sucked down a cup of ice water and headed right back outside.

Shortly after that, I got them to come in for a little lunch, and then put both of them down for a nap. They slept for FOUR HOURS. Suffice it to say, the cupcakes were ready when she got up.

We are looking into buying one of these things. My co-worker said he had found a company that was going out of business, and they typically sold these to the rental companies. My co-worker picked up this one for a steal, and he said it paid for itself after they used it at 2 birthday parties. Seriously, with 3 kids, this is a must-have. Brian was amazed at how easy it was to set up and take down. It came with its own high powered fan, and it inflated in about a minute and came down in about 2 minutes. It fit in a tiny duffel bag. Didn't even ruin the grass at all. Really! Have you bought one yet? Go, go, go!

One of our neighbors came by later in the afternoon, totally jealous and wanting to bounce. But it was only rated for ages 10 & under. I will have to look into buying one that's more adult-sized. Maybe we can make back some of the money by selling time in the bouncer to the neighbors. Hmm, a possible revenue stream on weekends. This has all kinds of possibilities!

Happy Birthday, Helen. Now that you're 5, your birthday parties are going to start earning their keep.



Last month Brian picked up Helen from daycare and headed southeast of town to one of those Pick Your Own farms. He and I had looked at possible places to go the day before what ended up being the big flood weekend. That flood sort of put everything on hold for a while. So when he texted me this picture in the middle of my workday, I got excited.

When I got home that night, I realized I had to do something with over 10 pounds of perfectly ripe strawberries. Fast.

We ate a bunch of them that evening. Most of the berries you buy at the grocery store are red on the outside and white on the inside and taste vaguely berry-ish. Sometimes there is an exceptional period of about a week or two where you break down and buy a pint or a quart and they turn out fantastic, but you dare not press your luck any longer.

Not these berries. These berries were red on the inside, juicy and DELICIOUS.

One summer when I came home from college, I visited a farm near campus and brought my mom a couple of pounds of fresh strawberries. She made a pie with them that was amazing. So, naturally, I decided that's what I had to do with these berries.

The next night, after the kids went to bed, I got to work making my own pie. Rolled out the crust, found a recipe online, and WOW. It was fabulous! I didn't even bother with making a whipped cream topping, but that would have made it even better.

We snacked on the rest of the berries that week. Truly a delightful way to start off the summer. Prices were reasonable, around $2 a pound (not counting the gas for the trip out of town). Most farms will have some pre-picked for a little bit more, if you don't want to do it yourself. The way the heat index has been the past 2 weeks, I wouldn't blame anyone for skipping that step.

Blueberries are in season now, and so are blackberries. I might need to send those two off for my next cobbler ingredients.


It's Just Lunch

While we visited my parents last month, my sister asked us to come see her at school. She teaches a 5th grade class down the street and we decided to have lunch with her. So I packed up the girls and prepared for my meal in an elementary school cafeteria since, let's see, minus 11, carry the 1 - oh good god. Moving on ...

Helen was excited to see a real school, since she's in a tiny daycare now. She will be starting kindergarten in August, and she has asked me a million questions about it. Every day it's something different: what they will do in kindergarten, if her friends will be in her class, what they will do after kindergarten, how long will they be in class, if they get naps, or snacks, or playdough - everything. That kind of curiousity is exciting to watch develop, and I haven't seen her the least bit anxious about it.

Anyway, we arrived at the school for lunch. I had told her that her Aunt M is a teacher, and we would be eating lunch with her class. But I didn't tell her that the cafeteria would have about 200 kids in it. She walked in and looked around and just stood next to me, not saying anything.

So we went through the lunch line. Folks, it was corn dog day. They had cooked carrots and a blueberry dessert to go with it. These are all things my children will eat, so the lunch line was a total success in my book. We got food for Alice and Helen, and headed for the tables.

I had one of those mommy moments where I realized that Helen is growing up. I'm used to thinking of her as an older kid since there are 2 babies at home, but she's like an older baby because I still do so much for her. School age is a big leap. This cafeteria scene will become a daily occurence for her quite soon. She'll have to make choices without her teachers doing it for her. No one will constantly remind her to eat all of her lunch so she won't be hungry later. I kept asking her what she thought, and she was really quiet, just taking it all in. Helen is *never* quiet. So this was interesting to watch. It made me wonder how long it will take her to reach a comfort zone in her own school. Maybe it's good that we practiced this ahead of time, so she has an idea of what to expect.

My sister asked her if she wanted to take her tray to the dishwasher, and she was totally up for it. So they headed to the window. Later, Helen took Alice's tray all by herself. As I watched her walk away from me carrying that tray, I did my darndest not to tear up.

After lunch we headed back with my sister's class to their room. My sister asked Helen to be the line leader, which was a huge deal to Helen. All students are supposed to walk quietly through the halls on what they call "Third Street." The square floor tiles make a neat pattern, and they are supposed to walk on the third tile away from the wall. If I had to guess why, after watching a class head back to their room, the third tile is just far enough away to keep kids from getting the walls dirty, bumping up against doors, tearing up bulletin boards, or disturbing other classes. It also means as they travel through the halls, another class can approach from the other direction and everyone stays in line and in order. Helen spent the entire trip back to my sister's classroom with her head down, totally focused on keeping her feet on Third Street. She took her duty very seriously and never wavered once. A few times we had to tell her to "look up, go this way" as they needed to make a left turn. But she did a great job. We saw the classroom, watched the kids get their stuff ready for the next lesson, and then headed back to the car. She saw so much that day, including a boatload of kids several years older than her, and she still hasn't expressed an ounce of anxiety about going to kindergarten. So that's a good thing.

This week I chatted with another daycare mom whose daughter will go to Helen's school. She said that the first day, they have an event for the kindergarten parents called the "Boo Hoo Breakfast." It's meant to lessen the separation anxiety, by letting us remain at the school a little longer, but it gets us out of the classroom so the kids can get started with their day. I thought the name was hilarious. Even funnier is that first day is a half-day. So I drop her off starting at 8:00, have breakfast at 8:30, and school ends 3 hours later. That means I still have to figure out lunch & daycare for her that first week. Ugh!

(By the way, if anyone wants it, I found a recipe on a school district's website for that square pizza that we used to have for school lunches. Remember how excited you were to find out it was pizza day? That giant rectangle with the shredded sausage and hardly a hint of tomato sauce, underneath a layer of barely melted cheese, and that chewy pizza dough? Ah, the things we used to love. Now, if I can just figure out how to dial down the portion sizes from "serves 300.")

Bring on the Baby Pictures!

When you arrive at daycare to pick up your kids, and one of them looks like this:

... if you wake that baby up, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.