Remember Flying Without Kids?

I remember when vacation meant a week of sleeping in, eating meals over the course of hours while enjoying a bottle of wine and long leisurely days laying on the beach. I long for those days sometimes but I generally love vacations with my kids, too. What I don’t like is flying with my kids. A friend of mine told me she’s getting on a plane this week without her kids. I’m so jealous. I’ve flown without my kids once in five years. It was the most glorious trip ever.  I didn’t have to feed anyone, get anyone down for a nap or worry that someone was going to be unable to equalize the pressure in their ears and scream bloody murder for three hours. It was awesome. Here’s what flying looks like before kids and after kids:

Before: Getting to the airport exactly one hour before my departure time because that’s all I needed.

After: I now arrive at the airport two hours before departure because we travel with an entourage made up of 7 suitcases, a stroller, two car seats and two children who only want to run in opposite directions from each other. Moving through the airport is like driving an 18 wheeler: long, slow, wide turns while constantly checking to make sure I haven’t run into someone or dropped anything/anyone off on the side.

Before: Sharing knowing, annoyed glances with strangers over the screaming child in 9B.

After: Dodging eye contact with everyone around me because my child is seated in 9B screaming his head off. Instead, I share knowing, sympathetic looks with the other people traveling with kids and gratefully accept the bag of half-eaten Cheetos from the mom across the aisle in hopes it will shut my kid up. 

Before: I would pick out a book just for reading on the airplane knowing I would have a chance to sit there for several hours, uninterrupted, able to totally engross myself in the characters and plot.

After: My reading material consists of something that includes  an illustrator listed on the cover or the Sky Mall magazine.

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Before: I ordered more than one drink without dodging disapproving looks from other passengers.

After: I order more than one drink but it’s usually for the six passengers seated around me who are being tortured by my kid crying or my kid’s movie that is inexplicably still audible despite him wearing headphones, and those who will need surgery for their herniated disc caused by my  kid repeatedly kicking their seat.

Before: I wouldn’t drink anything for an hour before the plane in fear of having to actually use one of those broom closets disguised as a bathroom.

After: I contemplate letting my kid pee in a bottle rather than taking him to the bathroom. I made the mistake once of scheduling a trip while  my kid was in the middle of potty training. Never again. You think airplane bathrooms are gross? Try being three feet tall with questionable balance. There aren’t many places to put your hands to keep from falling over.

The next time you are flying and seated near someone traveling with kids, offer to buy them a drink. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it as much as you.

Photo Credit: Chef Cooke via Flickr   

Five Things you Should Never Say to the Father of Your Children

Note from Jenn: Today’s guest post is from my husband, who I let out of the basement long enough to write this post. Enjoy!

Dear Wife,

You are an amazing mom. I am in awe of your patience and love every day. I also very much enjoyed your note “Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children.”  In the spirit of gender equality, I’d like to offer a few suggestions of my own: five things you should never say to the father of your children.

1.  “The trash needs to go out and the cat’s litter box needs scooping.”  I accept your statement of fact.  Oh, did you want me to do something about that?  I appreciate that you are trying to cleverly disguise your nagging so neither of us feels like I’m lazy and you are a nag but if you want something, ask.  If you are trying to make conversation, I hope two people who love each other and have so little time to talk to each other can find something else besides trash and cat poop to talk about.  Also, how old is the cat?  And…how long does the average cat live?  Just curious.

2.  “I know you think I just sit around all day drinking my mocha and watching Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”  No.  No I do not. Ever. If I ever actually say that to you, they’ll find what’s left of me in a dumpster down at Hunter’s Point.

3.  “Drop your pants and get to work.”  I get it – we rarely have a minute to ourselves.  And I’m a hunk of man meat that you just can’t keep your hands off. We have to seize the moment!  But, when I get home from work, I’m tired.  I’ve had whiny customers calling and interrupting me and all these executives with unrealistic expectations up in my business all day.  Sometimes I just want to be held.

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4.  “Is that what you do at work all day?”  This statement usually comes after some TV show includes a scene where a bunch of nerds at work are playing ping pong.  It’s important not to compare or keep score because our jobs are very different. Our workplaces are very different.  Besides, I play foosball all day at work, not ping pong.  Ping pong is for dorks.

5.  “Let’s have another.”  Another what? Baby?? No. No. Those three words should be reserved only for ordering drinks.  I love our two boys. Fatherhood and our life with kids is more fulfilling than I ever imagined. I love our life. Just. How. It. Is. Let’s leave well enough alone.

I love you and I know you love me but obviously there are going to be things we do that drive each other crazy.  If the list is only five long and we can tell each other how freakin’ annoyed they make us, I think we’re winning.  Now I must go, I could really use another…drink.

photo credit: Shelly S. via Creative Commons and Flickr.

Five Things You Should Never Say to the Mother of Your Children

Dear Husband,

You are a wonderful father and husband. I thank Fate everyday that we crossed paths and managed to scare each other into getting married. You do the grocery shopping (usually with the kids!), help with bedtime, cook dinner at least two nights a week, and are home for dinner almost every night. You are a dream! How did I get so lucky?

But, there are some phrases you should just stop saying. Every time I hear them, I  contemplate a one-way ticket to Tahiti…for me. Alone. All by myself.  For starters, here are five things you should never say to the mother of your children:

We need this in our house.

We need this in our house.

1. “I need a couple of minutes to go to the bathroom.” Almost without fail you come home, say hello, kiss me on the cheek, get the kids riled up with excitement to see their daddy and then excuse yourself to go to the bathroom. Alone. With the door closed. And locked. You get annoyed when one of the kids tries to follow you in there, or worse, bangs on the door demanding to be let in. I get to go to the bathroom alone only when both kids are at school or in bed. That averages out to about 1.5 times a day. And in reality, usually during one of those times you are in the bathroom brushing your teeth. No, dear husband, you get to have an audience, complete with running commentary on all of your body parts. Prepare to be humbled.  And by the way, our three-year-old is potty training so show some enthusiasm!

2. “I thought you were going to _______ .” Yes, I had big plans for today, too. I thought I was going to get a shower. I thought I was going to call the plumber. I thought I was going to put the Christmas decorations away.  I thought I was going to make it to the pharmacy. I thought when I grew up I would  travel around the world saving children from orphanages but then, guess what?? You knocked me up. Twice. And now those little bastards are holding me hostage everyday making me do things I never dreamed I would do without someone putting a gun to my head. I do not control my days, let alone my hours or minutes. Yes, I thought I was going to do something today too, but alas, I only managed to keep our small humans alive just so I can live to tell of their tortures tomorrow.

3. “Have you seen my ______?” You are a grown-up. I am keeping track of my stuff and the humongous piles of crap that come with our two children. I cannot keep track of your stuff, too. Please do your part and find your own crap. And while you’re at it, pick it up and put it away, too.

4. “It’s been a while since we…you know.” Yep. And it’s gonna be a while longer (see #1 and #2). I am never alone. Someone is always touching, grabbing, licking, wiping, hitting or otherwise abusing my body. At 8:30 at night when that finally stops, the last thing I want is a grown-up touching, grabbing, or slobbering on me. To say nothing of the other thirty things that I didn’t get done today that I must now somehow get done between the hours of 8:30 PM and 11:00 PM. Yes, I miss you. Yes, sex is important but you knocked me up (twice, remember!) and now I have certain responsibilities. I should be free in 2018.

5. “I don’t feel so well. I’m gonna take a sick day.” I call this the Man Flu. I didn’t coin this phrase but it is so true. It doesn’t matter what the affliction is but men seem to suffer so much more than anyone else when they are sick. In the five years I’ve been a parent, there is only one thing that has made me take to my bed and it was a horrible case of mastitis (can I get an “Amen!”?). So, dear husband, not that you aren’t allowed a sick day but you aren’t allowed to then lay in bed all day, complaining of how bad you feel and summoning me to fetch you drinks, medications, and meals.The barely controlled chaos of my day tips into uncontrolled chaos with the addition of your sickly demands. The lives of the three other people in our house must go on. I get sick yet our kids still get to school. They still get fed.  I still wake up at an ungodly hour to snuggle our youngest so he doesn’t wake our eldest. You can take a sick day but don’t be surprised when I only manage to throw some Children’s Tylenol and a gummy bear vitamin at you as I pass by with a half-naked toddler.  Yes, that is probably poop smeared on your drinking glass because you summoned me in the middle of a diaper change. If you get sick, do what I do and Suck. It. Up.

I love you. I appreciate you. You are amazing. But please stop saying these phrases unless you want to  be forced to hunt me down on a remote island in the middle of the South Pacific.

Hm. I think my plan is about to backfire. <Sigh.>

In case you didn’t see it, my husband  posted his reply, “Five Things You Should Never Say to the Father of Your Children.”

Photo credit: Beautiful Freaks

Teaching Mommy

I am the only female in my house and I’ve learned a few things about boys in the last four years. Here are some things I learned this week:

1. Louder is better. Preferably in the car but anywhere in close proximity to other people. My youngest literally screamed at me today, “MY MILK IS WHITE AND COLD!!!” Yes it is.

2. It is one of life’s cruelest ironies that I ever have to decipher the difference between smeared chocolate and smeared poop.

3. Don’t tell our pool but I would pay my son’s weight in gold for swimming lessons. Yes, I know my oldest does not love swimming. I see you other parents looking at him with pitiful eyes as he clings to my leg before he gets in the pool. I am still going to forcefully peel him off my leg and insist that he get in the water because he will actually go to sleep before 10:30 p.m. if he gets to play in the water (which he happily does – once he’s in the pool). I will actually get to watch the season premiere of Mad Men I’ve been waiting three months to watch. If. I. can. just. get. him. in. the. water. Oh, yeah, and that whole water safety, swimming thing is important, too.

4. Rocket ships need a lot of cookies.

5. I know why there are stupid warning labels on seemingly hazardless things or obviously risky things. This morning, while I was getting breakfast ready, my youngest did a handstand on the breakfast table with his feet propped up on the wall behind him. The table moved. He bashed his face into the side of the table. (He was fine.)

6. We have reached the stage where the greatest threat to my sons’ survival is not me but each other.  My two boys were in the driveway riding bikes/trains/rocket ships. I was inside fixing dinner. What happened next as reported by my four-year-old: “Little Britches turned my train (bike) into a rocket ship and then bashed his dump truck (wagon) into the launch pad (basketball hoop). There was no way for the train engine (bike/rocket ship) to get back to the train station (garage). So I threw a brick at him.” Yes, my oldest grabbed a brick and hurled it at my youngest, hitting him right in the middle of the forehead. Yes, it will scar but I consider that lucky.

7. Our country should consider adding emergency room physicians and nurses to the list of people it is customary to tip.

8. Never teach your children to change the batteries in their toys. Ever. Likewise, never give them access to the battery charger. Ever. I’m all for creating independent children but this goes too far. If I have to hear Thomas the Tank Engine say, “I’m the number one blue engine!” one more time I’m going to poke my eardrums out with a pencil.

9. Privacy means nothing to a three-year old. When I found my three-year-old trying to properly use my tampons on himself, I decided I needed to redouble my efforts in enforcing a closed bathroom door policy.

10. If I had external genitalia, I’d find it pretty fascinating, too. What I don’t understand is why men never outgrow this fascination.

I’d Like to Thank the Academy

I’ll admit it. I’ve practiced my Academy Awards acceptance speech. The problem is that I’m not an actress. I have no aspirations to be an actress, but I think it would be amazing if regular Joes or Janes would receive public recognition for their own accomplishments, no matter how ordinary they are:

“And the Academy Award for Best Husband Response to the Question, ‘What Do You Think Of My New Haircut?’ goes to…” (I know there are some contenders out there.)

Besides those benefit dinners that everyone except me seems to get invited to recognizing a “Volunteer of the Year” or “Humanitiarian of the Decade,” there isn’t a lot for a stay-at-home mom to aspire to in the “Awards and Recognition” department. It’s been five years and I’m still waiting for a cost of living adjustment to my salary. So I’ll take Mother’s Day as my “I-Am-Finally-Winning-Something” Day. Consider it my yearly bonus. Let the party planning begin!

Since I’m a shoo-in (I think my only other competition in the house is the spider hanging out in the corner of our stairwell whose babies hatched last week – shDSC_0032e promptly ate half of them), I think I should have my acceptance speech ready. So, I’m going to put on my best pair of black yoga pants and favorite hoodie and thank away. (pic of my party shoes.)

Any success I have as a mom, most notably not dying of embarrassment or imploding from frustration, is owed to many people – but mostly I’d like to thank some kick-ass moms who get me through my days:

-My mom. Duh. There isn’t enough time in the world to list all of the ways she is amazing. That’s a whole other post.

-My mother-in-law. Your son’s ability to love me reminds me how important it is for me to teach my sons to show and express love. Thank you for giving him that ability. It is such a gift to me and our sons.

-My sister for being brave and smart enough to leave a broken marriage and setting an example for your kids (and mine) that sacrificing your own happiness for the perceived happiness of someone else is never a good idea.

-My sister-in-law for putting up with my countless phone calls every week. And, your child sleeps less than mine so I always take comfort on my sleep-deprived days knowing you have it worse than I do.

-My friend whose husband left her last year when she was seven months pregnant with their third child and is now facing a life she never saw coming with amazing strength and courage. You leave me speechless.

-A mom I know who is working a full-time job, volunteers at all three of her kids’ schools, sits on the board of several nonprofits and runs marathons. You give me hope that one day I will be able to do more – or I should at least reconsider my decision to not drink coffee.

-A friend whose husband has terminal cancer and is grieving the “last time” every day while still raising two beautiful, active, inquisitive boys with more thoughtfulness than I can ever conjure up. If you can do that, I can manage to get my preschool registration forms in on time.

-My next door neighbor growing up who raised five boys and a girl without any of them going to jail. You give me permission to let my boys be boys and my house be filthy dirty.

-My friend who has one child and doesn’t volunteer for anything and doesn’t have aspirations of going back to work because you feel best when you are only focused on your son. You give me permission to say “no” and not get sucked into things out of obligation. You inspire me to be more focused and present when I’m with my kids.

-My friend who makes the time to exercise almost every day, even with three kids, and is healthier than ever before. You remind me that my health and getting exercise must be a priority. I’m a much better mom when I take an hour to make my muscles, heart and lungs work hard.

-The mom who I don’t know but was sitting at a table next to me at a restaurant and brought over a pile of napkins after my four year-old hurled his milk at my two year-old’s face for no particular reason, soaking me, my two year-old, and the entire table. I was stunned, horrified and embarrassed. You simply saying, “I have two boys,” probably saved me from starting a full-fledged food fight with my four year-old. Thank you for the gentle reminder that many, many people have walked in my milk-drenched shoes and I, too, shall survive – and so will my kids.

-The many friends and neighbors who have offered to babysit, drop off food, run errands or pick up my kids when they know the other parts of my life have become more demanding than my kids. I cannot do this mommy thing alone and you make it easy to ask for and accept help.

My boys wouldn’t be the spunky, funny, and loving little beings that they are if not for these and many other people because, if I had to do this alone, I would have dropped my kids off at a fire station months ago and headed for a Caribbean island. Yes, I am their primary caregiver and I will happily take my one day of recognition but I am filled with deep gratitude, too. Thank you moms, and Happy Mother’s/I-Am-Finally-Winning-Something Day.

I Love House Guests

I freaking love house guests. I know that some people find this bewildering, including some of the people who have stayed with us (I know I don’t exude Martha Stewart-esque hospitality), but I really do love it. Especially family.

Really. I’m not lying.

Reasons I love house guests:

1. For about 24 hours my house and life appear to be out of the pages of Sunset or Parenting magazines. My house gets super clean and organized. Even if it’s only for 24 hours.

2. We eat and drink waaaaay more…and better.

3. It gives us an excuse to get out those funny things that we never use in day-to-day life but seem so much more necessary (and cool!) when we have others around to see and use it. (We always get the margarita glasses down from the top cupboards in the kitchen that require a real ladder to reach.)

4. When there’s an audience, I do my best impersonation of a patient, loving, knowledgeable mommy and somehow my kids fall for it and become darn near perfect (hmmmm…are the two connected? Probably not.).

5. Our kids are better behaved. Or maybe someone else is paying attention to them so I don’t notice them as much.

My brother, sister-in-law and nephew spent the last week with us and it was awesome. My perfect house lasted about 10 minutes into their arrival and then it took on the personality of a fraternity house: there was spilled juice (and beer), broken toys, screams, laughs, tears, tantrums, smooshed food on the floor and lots of pushing and rough-housing in the name of fun. Three boys under age five is not for the faint of heart. And I loved it. Partly because I was no longer the sole referee but mostly because I had a better excuse to have an evening cocktail a little earlier.

But the really great thing about having house guests is we finally go do things that we’ve been wanting to do for a long time but always put off because they seem like too much work, too far away or even too special to do when it’s just the four of us. Of course we always try to play it off to our house guests like, “Oh yeah! Every weekend we are doing something equally interesting, adventurous and fun!” When in reality we are doing dishes, laundry, screaming at the kids to leave the cat alone and generally wondering how everyone else is having more fun than us.

So when I happened to hear that the tide was going to be low during the morning and midday last Thursday, I took off my Martha Stewart apron and put on my dictator mustache and announced to my brother and his family that we were going to the tide pools at the Marine Reserve in Moss Beach. I confessed that I’d never been and had no idea what to expect but I assured them it was awesome (gotta sell it!).

And it was.

IMG_2061 In my typical half-assed way, I failed to actually plan anything but getting there. I had no idea that it was almost a half-mile hike in (great for my pregnant sister-in-law and three kids under five who can’t go more than ten steps without saying, “I CAN’T walk. Carry me!”). Never mind that while I remembered to pack swimsuits, towels, lunch and sand toys, I did not plan on how to get them all to the beach. So we (I mean my brother) did our (his) best interpretation of a Sherpa and lugged all the stuff up the bluff and down the stairs that rivaled the steepness of the north face of…ummm…any mountain (because I can’t remember the names of any mountains right now. I know. I’m an embarrassment to native Coloradans everywhere).

But when we got there, we were rewarded with an amazing, inviting little strip of sand and water. Indeed. It. Was. Awesome. (Insert me doing the “I Told You So Dance.”) The magic took over and we all became lost in our new-found world.

IMG_1241The kids didn’t hesitate to wade into the water and instantly found all kinds of little creatures. We all wandered along the ocean’s edge, poking at shells, picking up sea glass, chasing fish and soaking up the wonder of it all. It was a warm, sunny day and we had this part of the beach mostly to ourselves. It was one of those days that all the planning in the world could not have made it any better (well…a lunchtime cocktail would have been nice).

IMG_2067There is something about tide pools that turns our family into a big group of kids. We stared at crabs, let snails slide and suck on our fingers, gently prodded mysterious squishy things attached to rocks and jumped back slightly when they moved. The only discernible difference in the behavior of the adults versus the children was we adults sometimes hesitated to touch something or warned a child to not step on something that might be dangerous. To the kids, the water was a huge bathtub to explore with nothing to fear. And to the adults, this enthusiasm was muted by our knowledge and experience.

Years ago my brother was stung by a man-of-war jellyfish that washed up on a Florida beach during our spring break vacation. We all learned of the dangers that seemingly innocuous and enchanting sea creatures can hold. I think of that every time I go to the beach. That and my irrational fear of sharks. I can’t help it.

IMG_2086My kids eagerly, openly and, at times, exuberantly, explored. And I was filled with a mixture of delight because they were so at ease and fearless, and sadness because I couldn’t be. Almost, but not quite. As a parent, I struggle to truly relax and let them go without thinking of (and often verbalizing) the dangers of which they are wonderfully unaware. Ok. So there weren’t any jellyfish or sharks but someone has to make sure we put on sunscreen, eat lunch and clean up after ourselves.

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When it was time, the adults put out the blanket, wiped off sand from hands and feet, set up lunch and sat back while the kids refueled. And when they finished, we packed up and finally convinced them to leave. We headed back up the stairs and down the trail to our car.

On the drive home, the kids snoozed in the back and the adults were quiet, tired but relaxed and fulfilled. Being a grown-up isn’t as fun as being a kid but on days like this one, it’s pretty darn close.

It was one of the best days of my life and it wouldn’t have happened without house guests.

Everyone is gone and the Rowes are starting our usual week of preschool, chores, baths, naps and snacks. And I’ll be doing some touch-up painting, a lot of laundry and scrubbing mystery substances off of floors, walls, and couches. And I’m not even a little bit annoyed by it (ok, maybe a tiny bit). The toys are back in their bins and the house is back to its pre-house-guest state. I’ve resumed yelling at my kids and they’ve resumed yelling back.

Thankfully, we have more house guests arriving next week.

Pro-tip if you go to the J.V. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve: there is parking in a neighborhood with a much shorter walk to the stairs. No need to park at the park trailhead and walk in (Cypress Ave/Beach Way intersection). The one caveat is if you go this time of year and want to see baby seals, park at the trailhead and go right after the bridge and up the hill to the overlook. It mostly makes up for the crabby, wailing kids on the walk/hike in.

Awesome Moms on iPhones

A blog post, “Dear Mom With an iPhone” has been making the rounds and every time I see it my hackles raise up like a porcupine cornered by a hound dog. Yes, I’m feeling defensive because I am absolutely That Mom. My iPhone and I make regular appearances at the local park. So…here I thought I’d give it a different take:

Dear Mom on the iPhone,

You are awesome. Seriously. Take a minute to revel in your awesomeness. You are juggling 52,532 things on any given day all while being accosted, battered, verbally abused, and ignored by the very people whose schedule of feeding, bathing, entertaining, enriching and otherwise caring for, your entire existence revolves around – Handsome Little Devils and Perfect Princesses that they are. Oh…and you have a spouse, probably aging parents and at least one high-maintenance friend or relative who also demands your attention. God, you’re amazing! Oh, you have a job outside the home, too? You just doubled the number of balls you’re juggling because you have a second family to manage. Holy crap. I just died of exhaustion thinking about that.

So yes, you are thrilled that they have taken a break from pummeling each other over the last yellow Lego to push each other down the slide. You are thrilled to have ten minutes that don’t require your complete attention and adoration so you can see if your doctor has called you back to schedule that appointment you haven’t been able to make since….well, whenever your post-partum check up was because you haven’t had time to take care of your own health because you’re driving to the pediatrician’s office every other week to fish out a Lego from Handsome Devil’s nose or have the doctor look at Perfect Princess’s ears to see if that recurring ear infection has gone away, yet. <Gasp for air>

Oh, look, your kids just jumped off the swings and they are yelling at you, “Look Mom! Look what we can do!” And it’s amazing. And you should take a second to verbally acknowledge what they did. But, guess what? Your mom just called and she needs you to call her right away to help her decide what dessert to serve at your sister’s baby shower. And there are three emails waiting from parents from school who want to know if you can help work the bake sale on Friday. Oh, and you still haven’t called back your best friend who is passing through town tomorrow….oh crap, that was yesterday. Never mind. At least that’s one less thing to do. And your boss needs you to review the 123rd draft of his power point by tomorrow and wants to know if you have time for a “quick” call at 3:30 (when you’re supposed to be picking up Handsome Devil from soccer and taking him to the dentist).

Oh! Perfect Princess just made it across the monkey bars all by herself! That’s incredible. She’s never done that. Huge accomplishment in her short life. It is. Make a big deal about it at dinner tonight with Dad. But you have about three minutes left in your ten minute window before Perfect Princess decides to dump a bucket full of sand on top of the head of the cute girl in the pink flower dress. So, in those three minutes you better text your husband to tell him to pick up milk and cereal, find your son’s shoes that mysteriously disappeared in the sand, call your sister back and tell her you can’t watch her kids Friday night because you are now manning the bake sale table and call the mechanic to get your car scheduled for a service.

You can do it! Because this is what you do everyday and you are awesome at it!

Remember, as a parent, we get to witness amazing feats and accomplishments of our children every day. It is what inspires us, endears them to us, and keeps us from totally losing our minds when they fill the toilet full of Play-Doh. But you will miss a lot of moments in their life, big and small, and that is ok. Repeat after me, “That. Is. OK.” They know you love them. They know you support them.

Because, while you did not play with them at the playground, you did play a marathon game of Chutes and Ladders yesterday and didn’t say anything when he went up the slide instead of down and won the game just because you love the big smile he gets when he wins.

Because you stayed in her room late last night and helped her turn the scary shadows in her room into magical sleeping fairies.

Because when he was sick, you laid down with him in his bed rubbing his back until he fell asleep.

Because you made her favorite snack when she came home from school and told you her best friend didn’t want to play with her at recess.

Because you dug 11 holes in your flower bed to find him 20 worms to add to his snail and worm collection.

Because you taught them to have confidence in their own abilities and pride in their accomplishments – and not just because you do.

So, go ahead and take the last minute of your ten minute window to try another level of Angry Birds because your kids are going to be just fine.  You need a minute to let your brain rest and not think about those 52,532 balls (or 105,064 balls if you have a paying job). You love your kids and you are awesome.  And they know it. And that’s all that matters.

Love,

This Mom and her iPhone

And with that, I’m down to 52,531 balls.

A Cure for Broodiness

I promise I won’t always write about the chickens but they are providing so much entertainment and material that I can’t resist.

We noticed a couple of weeks ago that our chicken Salt was spending a lot of time in the nesting boxes. Over the course of the week it became clear that she was not just smitten with the box but in fact was obsessed with it. If I opened the nesting box she gave me the what-for with lots of clucking and puffing of feathers and some mock pecking for good measure. She only left the box if I made her and spent very little time eating and drinking. Salt was broody. She had the undeniable and totally normal need to hatch herself some cute little chicks. I don’t blame her. The maternal instinct can be strong and add to it the cuteness of fuzzy little chicks and I would probably sit on a clutch of eggs for three weeks if it meant I got to have a bunch of little fuzzy chicks following me around.  But, alas, we don’t have room for anymore chickens.

photo(2)Poor Salt had no idea that the bunch of eggs she so desperately wanted to hatch was full of duds. No rooster, no chicks. Remember, chickens are as smart as rutabagas. After more online research (my Google search history is embarrassing…all chicken related), I found out this is a common problem and most resources started by saying, “If you have room, it’s probably easiest to just get some fertilized eggs and let her hatch some chicks.” We don’t have room so I moved to the next option and separated her from the nesting box during the day by keeping her in a separate pen and then putting ice packs in the nesting boxes at night so she would stay out of them.

I was skeptical, especially when on the first night of letting her back into the roosting coop with the nesting boxes now filled with a combination of flower pots and ice packs, she wedged her way into a tiny space, right on top of a frozen water bottle and slept there all night long. When I checked on her in the morning she had laid an egg right on top of the still chilly water bottle. I decided to hold fast to our strategy for another couple of days and I put her in her separate pen anyway.

Eight hours later while waiting for dinner to finish cooking, I went outside to put the chickens into their roost for the night and she was gone. Gone. Nowhere to be seen.

Gone.

Salt had literally flown the coop. The last I saw of her was around lunch when I had gathered eggs. She was nowhere to be seen. Justin was on his way home from work, dinner was on the stove, the boys were engrossed in some elaborate fantasy world of trains, volcanoes and space ships. And I had a missing chicken. And it was getting dark.

I literally wrestled the boys into the car, a feat made only a little bit easier by the motivation of a missing chicken and the need for a search party, on a train, to a volcano, to catch a space ship. On the way out the door we saw our mail person. I decided to deputize her as part of our search party. Her English is very limited. The conversation went like this:

Me: “We lost a chicken. If you happen to see a black chicken with white spots on your route today, would you come tell me?”

Her: “Lost?”

Me: “Yes. We lost a chicken.” (Now making chicken wing flapping gestures with my elbows.)

Her: “Chicken? Dead? To eat?” (Flapping her arms, as well.)

Me: “No, no. A live chicken. Black and white. Bawk! Bawk!” (Still flapping my arms.)

Her: “Chicken?” (Still making chicken flapping gestures.)

Me: “Yes! Chicken!” (Still gesturing and almost shouting, partly out of excitement and partly out of urgency…the clock was ticking and it was getting dark.)

Her: “Chicken? For dinner tonight?” (Now using her pointer finger to make a slashing gesture across her throat.)

Me: “No, no. She’s a pet. We need her alive.”

Her: “Chicken? Pet?” (Pointing to kids and making chicken gestures)

Me: “Yes! Pet chicken. Come tell me if you see her.” (Still needlessly flapping my arms but relieved we had come to an understanding.)

Her: “Chicken. You eat for dinner.”

It was a command, not a question. Yes, she and I understood what the immediate issue was but she was offering a more long-term solution. We both moved on to our work at hand.

I jumped in the car and drove around one block. I spotted one of our neighbors and rolled down my window. I related our dilemma and she said, “Yes! She’s in our backyard! My son called a couple of hours ago when he stopped by the house and said there was a chicken in our backyard. I didn’t have your number so I couldn’t call.” I jumped out of the car, leaving my two boys wailing (they get very upset when I leave them in the car alone, even for a few seconds). I sprinted to the backyard. No chicken.

I got back in the car. The kids were only moderately comforted by my return. They took turns wailing and admonishing me, “You CAN’T leave us alone in the car!”

Yes, I know, but I had to find the chicken. It was getting much darker and a chicken left out overnight was surely fox or raccoon breakfast.

More wailing.

And then I spotted her. About 3/4 of a block away Salt was sitting on the corner of a busy street. Sitting. As in nesting. Totally calm.

I slowly drove towards her, turned the corner, parked, got out of my car (ignoring the wailing in the backseat) and walked right up to her, picked her up and put her under my left arm. I was half-way back to my car when I realized I had absolutely no plan of how to get her home. I had no cage. I couldn’t leave my kids in the car and walk home. It was too far for all of us to walk back together, never mind where would I put the chicken while I got the kids unstrapped from their carseats.

So I secured my grip on Salt under my left arm, climbed into my car and rolled down the window. My instinct was that the chicken would feel better with the window down (dogs like it, right?). I put the car into gear and started to pull out into traffic. As soon as Salt felt a little wind come in the window she freaked out! She got one wing loose from under my arm and started flapping wildly. I couldn’t see, the kids started howling with laughter. I had to pull over. In the meantime, neighborhood rush hour traffic swirled about us.

I rolled up the window, re-secured my grip, screamed at the kids to be quiet and then tightly gripped the steering wheel with my right hand and drove home. By the time I got home there were tears streaming down my face from laughing so hard. I was nearly hysterical with laughter!

Oh, domestic life that I imagined in my younger days…afternoons baking with my kids, kicking the soccer ball in the backyard, movie night, dinner parties and PTA meetings…you are a long ways from here but here is pretty great, too.

Now, on to the next broody hen remedy…

The Bird Lovers

My wedding vows were woefully incomplete. My poor husband had no idea what he was getting into when he married the daughter of a veterinarian.

Don’t get me wrong, Justin loves animals. He comes from a family that loves animals. My dad was his family’s veterinarian. He knew he was marrying into a furball-and-feather-friendly family. But he couldn’t possibly have known what would be asked of him. Over the last twelve years Justin has certainly earned his furry halo and wings. But the last two months brought ample opportunity (re: plenty of legitimate grounds for Justin divorcing me) for us to polish our halos and wings.

It all started in December when Justin’s family came for an early Christmas. Justin’s parents, his sister and her boyfriend came with expectations of delicious food, temperate weather, exploring northern California and lots of fun family time. Everything was going great until Justin discovered on day two of their visit one of the chickens, Eleanor, bleeding profusely from her mouth. By the time I came home from taking the kids to school, the poor bird was in bad shape, still bleeding and unwilling to stand.

I called the feed store where we bought the chickens to inquire about a vet and they stifled a snicker before telling me, “I don’t know of a vet. Why don’t you just kill it? It won’t be worth the trouble of fixing the bird.” Clearly, I didn’t preface my question with the right information. On the next call I made it clear that this bird is a favorite pet of my kids and I did not want to scar their memory of Christmas 2012 as the “one when Mommy killed the chicken.” I got the same response as the first phone call but I also got a referral to a vet 30 minutes away in San Francisco. I called and they could see me right away.

Great. I hopped in the car with the dying bird and drove to San Francisco, the whole way playing out different conversation starters for telling the kids Eleanor died but that we were still going to celebrate Christmas the next day. I felt sick to my stomach. I was certain that was where this little story was headed.

I arrived at the vet only to find the office in a busy part of San Francisco and there was no parking…for blocks. I parked and hauled the bird cage out of the back of the car and carried it the three blocks to the vet office. None of the two dozen or so people I passed on the sidewalk even looked at me. What?!? Could they not see that I was carrying a bleeding, dying chicken? What’s not to stare at? Clearly, I was in The City where just about anything goes.

When I walked into the office, the vet took Eleanor right away but I wasn’t allowed into the “trauma room.” It felt like a scene out of a movie when the vet looked at me gravely and said, “She’s in bad shape. We’ll do everything we can to save her. I’ll be back as soon as I have anything to report.” Now, as the daughter of a vet, I have witnessed plenty of animal trauma in my life – cats, dogs, and cows mostly. But even I wasn’t prepared for such a dramatic encounter over a chicken. I mean, it’s a chicken. Were they going to start an I.V. and hook her up to heart monitors? When the vet said she would do “everything she can” I wondered if I should have signed a “do not resuscitate” order or, better yet, a living will on the chicken’s behalf? Would Eleanor want extraordinary measures taken to save her life? I didn’t know. She’s a a chicken. Yet, everyone was acting like Eleanor was my daughter.

As I waited for the vet to come back, I had plenty of time to talk with the Bird Lovers in the waiting room. There was Bill, an older gentleman and owner of a homing pigeon who had suddenly stopped eating, and Marcy, a sassy older woman with a baby parakeet with a bladder infection, and the hipster city couple Ben and Jules with a cockatoo who had lost her voice (no joke). They were all “oo-ing” and “ahh-ing” over each others’ birds and their ailments: “Oh my. That sounds painful. How did you know?” or “What would cause that in a bird?” and “You must be so worried.” I initially feigned concern but inside I was thinking, “You are all a little crazy. These are birds!” Yes, as their owners we have a responsibility to care for them and ease their pain if possible, but let’s not pretend these birds are human.

But I was curious. How did Marcy discover the bladder infection? What do you do for laryngitis in a bird? And the Bird Lovers were not feigning concern. They really were moved by each others’ plights.

When they finally got around to asking me what  my deal was, I told my story and Bill said, with a look of bewilderment, “Really? You brought in your chicken? Why didn’t you just kill it and have it for dinner?” Once I explained that the dinner he spoke of would be Christmas and the chicken was my sons’ favorite pet, there were small utterances of understanding but I could tell that even among the Bird Lovers, there was barely room for chickens. Bird Lovers, with an asterisk.

The vet called me in and explained the injury was to Eleanor’s beak (probably from one of the other chickens attacking her) and only time would tell if it was salvageable. In the meantime, the chicken needed to be kept inside, fed soft foods, and given an injection of antibiotics and painkillers twice a day for two weeks. Ok. Two questions. First, “What do you mean by inside? Is the garage ok? I have a house full of guests for Christmas and every room is taken.” (Implying if Justin’s family hadn’t been visiting I would have put the bird in the kitchen? No.) Second, “How long does she need to be inside?”

The vet explained Eleanor couldn’t be in a garage – a horrible place for birds because of all the fumes and chemicals – but the chicken should be in the house, preferably the kitchen because it’s generally the cleanest place in the house and poses the least risk for infection. Not a chance. Justin’s family already thought I was crazy for saving the chicken. Asking them to help fix Christmas dinner while ignoring the chicken in the corer was too much to ask. (Again, implying that had they not been visiting that the chicken would have moved into the kitchen? Again, no.) The vet further explained Eleanor absolutely could not stay in a bathroom. Fine. They’re all occupied anyway. The basement was out, too, because Eleanor needed warmth and natural sunlight. And Eleanor needed to be inside for as long as it took for her beak to heal – at least two weeks.

What!?!?!? My furry, veterinarian daughter halo and wings were instantaneously incinerated by the murderous thoughts that flew into my head. A chicken for Christmas dinner was sounding just about right. It would be easy. I was at the vet already. The vet could do the hard part and all I’d have to do was make up a story about Eleanor going to the big farm in the sky. It would be so easy…so easy.

But I couldn’t. I put Eleanor back in the cage and took her into the waiting room to hand over half of what we had managed to save for Carter’s college education. And then it happened. A collective sigh and “ooooo” and “ahhhhh” from the Bird Lovers in the waiting room. “She’s GOR-geousssss!”, “Oh my! What a beautiful bird!”, “You didn’t say she was so unusual looking!”, “Oh poor girl…cooooo….cooooo…”, “Oh wittle gul…you need some wuv don’t you?”, and “Well, of COURSE you would save a beauty like that. Christmas dinner…certainly not!”

I. Was. In. Or, rather,  Eleanor was in.  Her beauty was all it took to convince the Bird Lovers. She was “Miss Universe.”  And so I left with a beautiful, drowsy, but revived bird and the adoration of the Bird Lovers.

I called Justin on the way home and explained our instructions. With only one audible sigh, he was on board and would explain everything to the kids and the rest of his family. I was certain he would do exactly that and then pick up the phone and call a divorce attorney.  I returned home and Justin helped me lug the cage up the stairs and into our office.  I made Eleanor a bowl of oatmeal, Justin gave her her medicine, and we fixed a little nest of towels and rags for her to sleep on. No mention of divorce. I was in the clear.

Eleanor stayed in our office for a month, enjoying her soft meals and warm spot in the house. We adjusted to our new housemate, with the one exception being that Justin gave up working in the office at night because Eleanor’s unpredictable wing flapping and clucking were distracting and startling. I rather enjoyed her morning crows (yes, chickens will crow, too), but they sometimes started a little early.

Over the next month, I made several more trips to the vet, made friends with the receptionist and even ran into Bill and his homing pigeon again. Every time Eleanor and I arrived and departed the vet’s office there was a chorus of “ooos” and “ahhhs” over Eleanor and her beauty. And I realized that not only am I a Crazy Bird Lady but I am the Reigning Queen of the Bird Lovers. Parakeets and cockatoos (and even homing pigeons) are so bourgeoisie. But a chicken, our chicken, is special. And she better be. For what we spent to save her, we’re expecting her to lay a golden egg any day now. Seriously, any day would be nice!

(Photos by Ezra Gordon)

Tucking in the chickens

I feel the need to document one of the more ridiculous activities in our life from the last month. A little bit of background: when we bought the new house, the contract stipulated that we also take possession of the three chickens currently residing at the house. They were cute and charming and produced wonderful colored and tasting eggs (see previous post for an introduction). We loved our new-found identity as suburban hispsters with backyard chickens. But one of the chickens had a taste for blood that rivaled Hanibal Lecter and it became obvious that she wasn’t well-suited to being a positive experience (or role model) for our young kids. So, off to another chicken-loving family she and her two companions went.

But we had already drank the Backyard Chicken Kool-Aid so new chickens were purchased. They aren’t babies (we are already raising two kids and baby chicks are just about as big of a commitment…we aren’t having a third child for a reason), but they aren’t full-grown either. In preparation for the new chickens we did our research. We learned the pecking order is a real thing and it would take a couple of weeks to sort itself out with plenty of blood and feathers to show for it.

What no one told us is that we would have to teach them to go to bed.

Really.

I still don’t have my four-year-old trained to go to bed, how was I going to train five chickens to go to bed? Which method would I use? Babywise? Healthy Habits? Ferber? Attachment? None worked with my four-year-old so my confidence level that we were suitable chicken keepers was pretty low.

After much reading (it’s scary how much is out there about raising chickens) we learned chickens have a roosting instinct that makes them seek higher ground as the sun goes down. Unfortunately, as someone pointed out to us, chickens are about as smart as a rutabaga and they aren’t very discriminating about where that roost may be. It could be on a large rock that is just a few inches off the ground. It baffled us why our chickens were choosing to pile themselves, all of them, onto a single 12″ stick that was stuck about two feet off the ground in the corner of their cage, completely ignoring the wonderfully cozy, enclosed roosting bars inside their hen house.

Rutabagas, indeed.

We were told we needed to train them to roost in the right place. For three weeks, every night, our evening routine consisted of dinner, bath for the kids, brushing teeth, singing songs with the two-year-old, putting him down, then wrestling (literally) our four-year-old, reading books, going to the bathroom, singing Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star, tucking him in and then marching outside to the chicken house and grabbing each chicken, one-by-one, off their ridiculously chosen perch (on top of another chicken in four out of the five cases), gently shoving them up the chicken ladder leading to the hen house and then opening the door to the hen house to make sure they were all actually roosting on the bar and not just standing there (rutabagas!). You add the hysteric flapping of wings and chicken poop flying everywhere and suddenly our bedtime routine became a whole lot messier.

We were told it would take two weeks. It took more than three. Three of the chickens caught on pretty quickly but two hold-outs drew it out. They simply were not interested in joining their friends inside the house. We clearly had not met their demands. We were stumped.

So, I called a new friend I had made over the summer. Mike The Chicken Farmer in Sonoma. He was a bit bewildered. He’d never had problems with chickens roosting but he admitted he was a “real” chicken farmer and he didn’t have time to tuck in his 100+ chickens every night (I’m pretty sure he thought I was a rutabaga). But he did say that chickens are followers (see: pecking order) and that maybe we didn’t have the right order. We needed to get the alpha chicken to roost before all the others.

Ok. We knew which one was the alpha chicken so we tried that. Didn’t work. We were still stumped and feeling silly for already dedicating three weeks of our lives to this endeavor. Justin had been handling the bulk of the chicken bedtime and it just so happened he couldn’t do it for a couple of nights, so I did it. And guess what? After two nights of me tucking in the chickens, all five began roosting in the hen house on their own.

I guess we were wrong. I’m the alpha chicken and Justin ranks at number four in our flock of rutabagas. Yay, me!

I think.