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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Getting Squirrelly

This poor guy got his nose stuck in one of our mousetraps.
A friend recently told me that if she had to choose an animal for extinction, she would definitely pick squirrels.

After our recent, and what most likely appears to be second, infestation of these rodents in our 110-year-old home, I would have to agree—especially after hearing my husband’s terrified call from downstairs around 11 o’clock Friday night.

“We have some kind of creature in the house!” he screamed, miraculously rousing me but not our three children.

Despite my instinctive realization that responding would ill suit my nerves, I found myself thrusting off the bedcovers and charging downstairs. Jeff hovered near the entrance to our living room, peering at the fireplace and clutching our children’s emptied LEGO box in his hands.

“You see it right there? Right there?” my husband demanded, stabbing the air with the LEGO box lid. “That’s its eye, glaring at us.”

Almost hoping that Jeff was experiencing a psychotic break instead of the possibility that a rodent was actually perching on our mantle, I quickly spotted the intruder—a beast neither Jeff nor I could identify in terms of species but one that we both agreed should not be there.

My husband then related how, as he sat on the couch, tapping away on his laptop, the creature had popped out of a hole in the masonry, skittered across the stone work and frozen, surveying the room with its glinting eye.

Terror clutched me as I began to understand that this late-night fiasco offered no satisfactory resolution—for us or for the rodent—especially after Jeff finally harnessed the courage to lunge at the fireplace with the LEGO box in a failed attempt to trap it.

The intruder flashed back inside its nook. Jeff and I stood stunned and heaving, as if we had just finished a sprint, reasoning, hoping that the clawing we now heard was the creature retreating up and out of our chimney.

At a loss about what now to do, Jeff soothed himself with Google, trying to match his memory of what looked like a pregnant mouse with a long tail and the nearly indecipherable image he caught on his iPhone of its glinting eye, with pictures he pulled up in the search engine. The deeper he delved into the repellent world of bats and other nocturnal vermin, the harder I found it to resist texting our exterminator, whose cell phone number I had managed to obtain during an infestation of grey squirrels in our eaves several years ago.

In those days, I would groggily awake each morning, our third baby, now 4, on my hip, and try to ignore the scratching sounds in the ceiling of our kitchen as I sipped my coffee. Only after I started to hear those same noises in the walls of my infant’s room did we shake ourselves into action.

A kindly exterminator set an exit-only trap through which the squirrels left and could not return, and I weaseled the man’s mobile phone number out of him for future emergencies.

This, clearly, was one.

“So sorry to text at this time, but we just had what we think is a squirrel come out of the stone façade of our fireplace,” I wrote. “Can you come out tomorrow?”

“Not likely a squirrel,” he answered, to my amazement, at 11:32 p.m., but without quite addressing my question. “Maybe a flying squirrel. Regular squirrels are sound asleep.”

“A flying squirrel!” I hissed at Jeff, who starting scrolling through harrowing images of the winged rodents and sharing disturbing trivia with me, such as the fact that flying squirrels live in colonies, chew through wires causing house fires and are misnamed since the animals merely use the “parachute-like membranes connecting their forelegs and hind legs on each side” to “glide.”

“Advice?” I texted the exterminator, who had lapsed into unresponsiveness.
“Leave door open. Have to let it out. They will sense the air.”

As helpful as he had been in the past, the exterminator’s counsel now felt highly unsatisfactory and frankly somewhat suspect. Was he drunk?

I was supposed to leave our front entrance gaping to the 31-degree November night and sit for however long it took until the nasty creature decided to glide out?

My husband and I abandoned that chilly plan after 42 minutes. We shut up the house, cranked up the thermostat and closed the French doors to the living room, stuffing towels under the cracks for good measure.

At 9:01 the next morning, feeling only mildly disloyal, I arranged a date with a new exterminator for that afternoon and then related my tale of flying squirrel woe, via text, to a couple of friends.

“I thought those were only in the Amazon!” one wrote back. “Panic attack!!”

Matters failed to brighten when the new exterminator climbed atop our treacherous roof with the aid of several ladders, confirmed that we were probably harboring a colony of flying squirrels and said that it would cost approximately $700 for him to trap them.

“Do what you have to do,” Jeff said.
“If it was your house, would you keep the den sealed off?” I anxiously inquired.
“I’m an exterminator,” the man laughed. “I sleep with snakes in my room.”

He headed back up our roof, this time armed with several sinister-looking cages that we would have to check daily until they stopped filling with vermin.

“I really enjoyed talking to that guy,” Jeff later declared, to my amazement.

I, on the other hand, was determined not to fall so quickly this time. I decided to withhold judgment until our squirrels had flown the coop and until I had ascertained the quality of our new exterminator’s responsiveness to midnight texts.

And I'm going to keep stuffing the living room door cracks with towels in the meantime.

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Domestic Wars

It feels like my three kids are constantly at war with each other.
Since becoming a parent and witnessing the intense rivalry between my three children, I am always surprised—and a bit envious—when other parents gush about how delighted their firstborn is to have a younger sibling.

My 7-year-old twins have still not forgiven me for bearing their younger sister, now 4. They already had each other to compete with. And so, from the beginning, Georgia and Griffin viewed Jane’s birth as the gravest offense I could have committed against their well-being.

Jane, for her part, takes full advantage of being the youngest child and fiercely guards her place of honor in the family. When I recently kissed her goodnight and told her I loved her, Jane demanded, “Do you love me more than Georgia and Griffin?”

And although my three children frequently engage each other in boisterous games, sometimes playing together for the better part of an afternoon, just as often it seems they are fighting. They constantly vie for attention, air their jealousies and weigh the inequities they feel surround them.

I have learned the hard way that when Georgia and Griffin return from elementary school, I should portray the days I spend out and about with Jane in only the most tepid tones.

“Where did those books come from?” Georgia, fresh off the bus, will demand. “You took Jane to the library without me?!”

Not to be outdone, Griffin, too, sees injustice lurking around every corner.

When he asked the other day when his younger sister’s preschool began, I said, “Not until Monday.”
“No fair!” Griffin cried. “We’ve already been going for a week!”

I pointed out that when Georgia and Griffin were Jane’s age, they attended a different preschool, which had a 15-minute shorter schedule than hers. All those 15-minute increments probably added up to more than a week, I reasoned, though this explanation barely dented the burden of Griffin’s perceived injuries.

So, at dinner that night, Griffin reminded Jane, “You know you have school tomorrow.”
“I know,” she said. “I like school!”
“Well, you’re going to do hard work,” he retorted.
“We don’t do work!”
“That’s not fair!” Griffin exclaimed.

My children cling to the belief that they are somehow being shortchanged, constantly sparring over who has the most or the best or the biggest. Their incessant bickering has become an unpleasant white noise whirring in the background of our days.

Georgia, Griffin and Jane fight over who is first in line for sunblock. They argue about whether to watch “Peter Rabbit” or “The Berenstain Bears” until I switch off the TV. I even had to confiscate the throw blanket and pillows from our couch because my kids kept shoving each other out of the “cozy corner.”

When I recently complained to my friend, Tippi Aronson, about my children’s spats, she told me that her 4-year-old daughter learned to count early on, just to make sure her 7-year-old sister wasn’t getting more jelly beans than she was. Another friend, Megan Cahill, said her 4-year-old daughter insists these days on wearing garish princess costumes everywhere so that she will be “prettier” than her 7-year-old sister.

So I try to console myself that I’m not alone. But now even Jane, who used to putter around, oblivious to the palpable anger of her older siblings, has gone to battle.

Jane used to accept Georgia’s hand-me-downs, delighted to wear the cast-offs her big sister once wore. And if Jane occasionally complained that I never bought her new clothes, I painted her acquiescence in heroic terms. “You’re recycling,” I’d say. “You’re saving the earth.”

But since she turned 4, Jane no longer succumbs to these tricks.

“I only have one pair of sneakers,” Jane whined the other day, staring down at Georgia’s scuffed-up old shoes.
“You only need one pair.”
“Well,” Jane said, “they’re not very pretty!”

And when Jane’s brother and sister’s soccer jerseys—a present from my husband who got caught up in the World Cup frenzy—arrived in the mail before hers, Jane sniffed a conspiracy.

“Georgia and Griffin’s stuff always comes before mine!”
“I don’t think ‘always’ is quite accurate.”
“Well, it’s not fair!”

“Life’s not fair,” I find myself repeating on a loop with little effect.

But the other day, I suddenly realized that salvation might actually arise from the cinders of my children’s strife, when Jane, on the way to her first morning of pre-kindergarten, asked, “Can you just drop me at the front door, and I’ll walk in like Georgia and Griffin do?”

Though heartbroken that my “baby” no longer felt she needed me, even if just in this small way, I experienced a simultaneous thrill of liberation. I understood that Jane’s wanting to have exactly what her older siblings had—her desire to emulate their growing independence—might very well soon set us all free.

Missives and Missiles

Note that my daughter crossed out "mommy" and added "daddy."
In recent months, my 7-year-old daughter has developed a curious habit of communicating with my husband and me via missive.

At times, this has proven to be a rewarding experience, such as a couple of weeks ago when I discovered this note from Georgia, decorated with drawings of flowers and stars, buried beneath my bedcovers: “Dear Mommy, I love you and please tell daddy I will miss him.”

Jeff was going on a trip, and Georgia was already pining for him. But I decided to take the bubble letter extras she had added to the page—including, “You Rock!” and “You Are The Best!”—as directed toward me.

Encountering this short letter among my sheets that morning gave me a shimmery feeling, inspiring me to share Georgia’s love via text with my husband later that day.

As pleasing as it was, however, this communication was not nearly as delightful as a card Georgia left last summer folded between the pages of my old copy of “War and Peace,” a tattered tome that had been lying on my bedside table for the past several months—and actually still is.

Despite its awkward syntax, run-on sentences and misplaced capitals or lack thereof, I found my daughter’s epistle much easier to digest than Tolstoy’s eloquently sprawling novel.

“dear mommy + daddy,” Georgia’s letter read. “Thank you for paying the money so we could go to new hamphsire also thank you for driving the car daddy and For being the best parents Ever!”

Then Georgia had added some leftover Valentine’s Day heart stickers, as well as some teacher stamps, including “Super Job!” and “Excellent!”

“Wow,” Jeff said, when I showed him the card. “That’s really cool.”

If I recall correctly, my husband even clutched his chest, as if his heart was so full it ached.

I, too, felt like we had just won the Parents of the Year Sweepstakes. Our daughter was so appreciative, so polite. And it was all our doing.

So imagine my thrill when this trend continued, and Georgia left me several weeks later a page adorned with hearts, a “thank you” sticker she had peeled off of a case of toilet paper (the kind of sticker that indicates you’ve paid), and the note, “dear mommy thank you for the kids dictonary.”

I was so overwhelmed by Georgia’s expression of gratitude that I didn’t even mind that she had been too lazy to test run her new resource—or even examine its cover—to find out how the word, “dictionary,” was actually spelled.

It was the sentiment that mattered. I really had, I decided, trained this kid well. And so I stowed her note along with the others in a special box for safekeeping, a sacred stash I was starting to peruse from time to time, whenever I felt down.

But as I was busy congratulating myself on Georgia’s appreciativeness, her ability to express her feelings in writing, her recognition that it was important to acknowledge the sacrifices of others, I started to notice a disturbing trend. My daughter was beginning to direct more and more of her loving letters to her father, and I was starting to get only the complaining ones.

“I need HELP NOW!!!” Georgia wrote on a slip of paper that she slid under my door when she was supposed to be in her room, thinking about her refusal even to try to put on her stubborn soccer socks all by herself.

A few days later, Georgia informed me, via another missive, that her 4-year-old sister had gotten “really mad” at her. “PS,” my older daughter added, “I think Jane needs a N-A-P.”

Like she did with the previous memo, Georgia shot this communication under the door to my bedroom, where I had temporarily barricaded myself for some peace and quiet and where I was disturbed to receive this unwanted dispatch from the outside.

To my further dismay, when a week or so later I spent 27 precious minutes scribing Georgia a loving response to another one of her notes, using her multi-colored pencils to give each letter its own hue, my daughter wrote back a terse, “pleas do not EVER use my pencils unles you ask me.”

What I was beginning to find even more irksome was the fact that Georgia had started leaving my husband elaborate letters in which she tumbled over herself to compliment him. “Dear Daddy,” read one. “On a scale from 1-10 about how good a daddy are you I’d give it a 10! You are the best dad I could ever ask for...thank you for being the best dad in the universe. I LOVE YOU. Here’s your plack and ribbon.”

There followed Georgia’s drawing of a plaque reading, “The best dad award goes to Jeff Bond” and a ribbon bearing the emblem, “#1 dad!”

On another page, Georgia penned a touching picture of herself and her father holding hands and the words, “dear daddy I LOVE you! This is for you!” And when Jeff returned from a football-spectating trip with college buddies, Georgia spent at least one full hour of his four-day absence—an absence during which I tended to our three children, making meals, doing laundry and breaking up fights—a giant “WELCOME HOME FROM TENESEE” [sic] sign that she taped to our front door.

Truthfully, I do not begrudge my husband our daughter’s affections. I know at Georgia’s age, girls usually develop passing crushes on their fathers as part of their normal development. Plus, her twin brother, as is a boy’s want from about 5 to 7, tends to favor his mother. Griffin just isn’t very literary about it.

But despite my rational overview of the situation—and even though I’ve developed a pretty tough hide through seven years of caring for three children—I must confess that my ire rose near the boiling point when I stepped into the kitchen the other morning and discovered the following note: “To mommy,” Georgia had written and then crossed out, on second thought. “To daddy,” it now read. “happy any day!”

“Georgia left you another card!” I hollered loudly enough to wake my slumbering husband, deciding that he could digest his daughter's loving message along with the breakfast he was about to be making his children.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

What's in Your Lunch Box?

My daughter recently made me buy her this Hello Kitty thermos.
From the time he was born at 4.2 pounds, five weeks early, now more than seven years ago, our son was a picky eater.

Told by doctors at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia to supplement Griffin’s meager intake of breast milk with formula, I tried six different brands—all of which either constipated him or caused the opposite problem—before finding one that brought my tiny son’s gastrointestinal tract to an uneasy equilibrium.

When he was old enough for solid foods, Griffin enjoyed spitting his mashed peas and carrots all over the kitchen floor. And as a toddler and now elementary school student, our son has refused to veer, even slightly, from a diet of milk, chicken nuggets and bagels and cream cheese, complimented by an occasional apple.

Griffin’s twin sister, on the other hand, has historically been a pleasure to feed. Georgia sucked down her breast milk and formula, slurped up a wide variety of mashed fruits and vegetables, and has heartily partaken in adult dishes at dinnertime, gliding smoothly, unlike her twin brother and younger sister, into dessert.

But with her recent entry into second grade, Georgia seems to have undergone a transformation in tastes that is causing me intense frustration. She has decided to exert her independence in the form of controlling her menus—an area I prefer she avoid, since I’m already overwhelmed trying to nourish her traditionally much finickier brother and sister.

It all started with a thermos.

“I think for second grade, I need a thermos,” Georgia informed me several days before school started. “You know, to bring soup or noodles in.”

No. I didn’t know. And those food items she listed were two of the only meals I could get everyone to agree on for dinner.

So, like any practical mother, I ignored my daughter’s request.

But Georgia remained undeterred, bursting into tears on our walk home from the bus after the first day of school, wailing that lunch had been “terrible.”

“Why? What happened?” I cried in alarm. “Didn’t you have anyone to sit next to?”
“No, nothing like that,” Georgia retorted with a sniffle. “The cream cheese you put on my bagel got all over my lunch box and my shirt!”

And for the next couple of hours, instead of telling me about her lovely new teacher, how she had arranged her supplies in her desk and what books she had checked out from the school library, Georgia aired her newfound culinary complaints.

“No more peanut butter and jelly sandwiches,” she said. “I don’t like carrots in my lunch, unless you have those little packages of dip. And I don’t like my apples cut curved anymore. I like them cubed.”
“Don’t you think you’re taking this a bit far?”
“Maybe,” Georgia said, conceding at least on the apples. “But I still really need a thermos.”

As frustrated as I was by my daughter’s headstrong behavior, I also sensed that Georgia was working through an important though mysterious developmental issue—taking the form of dictating her lunchtime menu—the cause of which I would never unravel but that I instinctively understood I should try to respect.

So I spent a weary evening circling the crowded aisles of the Target off City Line Avenue, searching for one of those old-fashioned thermoses that I had had in the 1970s. But instead of finding plastic jugs encased in plaid, all I could see were rows of insulated coffee mugs in a myriad of shapes and sizes and an alarming array of water bottles with straws, spouts and spigots.

I was about to give up when I spotted a preteen in a school uniform, who directed me to the camping section, where she nostalgically caressed a squat Hello Kitty thermos I had somehow missed in my meanderings. “My mom used to put soup in one of these for me,” the girl said.

Georgia was ecstatic when I brought it home.

“Jiayi has this exact same one!” she exclaimed. “What are you going to make for me tomorrow?”
“Soup?” I limply offered.
“Yes!” Georgia said, triumphantly declaring the next afternoon that Hello Kitty had kept her chicken noodle warm.

As I hovered over the stove boiling pasta for my daughter at 7 the following morning, I noticed to my dismay that Griffin—who I had always been able to count on to demand only a cream cheese bagel, applesauce and milk for lunch—was eyeing the Spider Man thermos that I had felt compelled to buy him to match his twin sister’s.

“What could you put in that?” he asked.
“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, sighing, overwhelmed, caving in. “Chicken nuggets?”
“But where would I get ketchup?”

Griffin shook his head.

“I know!” he proclaimed, offering a sudden epiphany. “You could put ice cream in it!”
“Maybe on your birthday,” I said.

Then I neatly tucked away one of the offending thermoses in a bottom drawer for what I hoped would be the rest of the school year.

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