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Carla finally decided on her birthday plans: we will do an escape room. I am… skeptical. But the people who run the escape room venue seem confident that the kids will have a blast even if they don’t “escape.” 

Carla also kind of wants a loose spy/detective theme which is… challenging to find décor for. So I am still working on that. I’m leaning toward all-black décor (the escape room facility has a party room) and then buying the kids dark sunglassesspy notebooks and invisible-ink pensmagnifying glasses, and fake mustaches as party favors. Maybe if I am really on top of things I will give each kid a manila folder with some spy/detective stuff in it – like “how to choose your spy name” and “crack this code” type games. We’ll see. 

For her cake, Carla initially wanted a chocolate cake with lemon curd. My dear, sweet husband, upon hearing this choice, reacted with a Gross Face and a loud, “YUCK” (sigh) and so she rethought her choice and now just wants a chocolate cake with chocolate cream cheese frosting. Listen, I was game to try chocolate with lemon curd! Chocolate: good! Lemon curd: good! (Joey Tribbiani voice.) But… maybe this will be better. For her party, I plan to make black velvet cupcakes – to complement the spy/detective theme – and top them with these adorable magnifying glass toppers. I will order these black cupcake carriers so that kids can take the cupcakes home (in case Covid transmission continues to be high when Carla’s birthday party comes around). (Everyone will wear masks during the party and escape room.)

Carla has only two gift requests, which we fulfilled. And my husband and I came up with a few other ideas that we think she’ll love.

A Barbie motorcycle: I don’t know WHY, but this has been on her wish list for at least a year. I finally found this one in stock at Walmart, and was glad to order it for her.  It’s kind of tame for a motorcycle, but it does come with a dog which she will like.

image from Walmart.com

A 3-D pen: I am honestly not looking forward to finding 3-D creations all over the house, but this has been Carla’s TOP REQUEST for the past couple of months. Whenever I ask what she wants for her birthday, this is it. And I know she will love it.

image from amazon.com

With only two specific requests, my husband and I have been tossing around some other ideas that we think she might enjoy. 

A new board game: I’ve heard so many great things about Ticket to Ride, and have had it in my cart for previous gift-giving occasions… I think we’ll finally get it for her.

image from amazon.com

A LEGO activity kit: Carla still loves LEGO, and this Gear Bots kit seems really fun. (And less expensive than a LEGO set.)

image from amazon.com

A joke book: Santa Claus brought my husband a book of dad jokes last Christmas, and Carla honestly gets more of a kick out of them than anyone else. So perhaps she needs her own book of jokes to thrill us with. Maybe she will bring it on the road trip and get us all chuckling along with her.

image from amazon.com

Animal erasers: These little “desk pets” were all the rage in third grade, and I know Carla would love to have her own eraser menagerie.

image from amazon.com

A book of birds: Carla LOVES birds, and when we go for walks together she often regales me with facts about the birds we see. I think she would get hours of enjoyment out of this atlas of amazing birds

image from amazon.com

A book of beasts: When I was looking for bird books, I came across this book of forgotten beasts and I’m guessing it would also spark Carla’s interest.

image from amazon.com

A set of bath bombs: My husband is opposed to this gift (it is too expensive for what it is, he says, and he’s not wrong), but I think Carla – who is newly obsessed with Pokemon – would LOVE these Pokemon bath bombs. (I tried watching one of the Pokemon TV shows she has been so into lately and I don’t get it. At all. But she will regale me for as long as I will listen with amazing feats of electrical types and ground types and water types. None of it makes any sense to me.)

image from amazon.com

A shaved ice machine: This is another impractical/expensive idea that my husband’s voice of prudence will probably overrule… but Carla loves shaved ice and would LOVE making her own snow cones.

image from amazon.com

An art case: Not that we don’t already possess THOUSANDS of crayons and markers and colored pencils, but this case of drawing supplies would be SO fun. I remember having something like this when I was a kid, and it was a highly prized possession. I also think it would be good to bring along on the road trip; a good way to keep all the utensils tidy and contained.

image from amazon.com

A fun new novel: I am always trying to encourage Carla’s (limited) desire to read, and this Swistle-recommended novel combines several of Carla’s interests. 

image from amazon.com

A reading timer: This is something I’ve considered before – and it would probably make a better stocking stuffer than a birthday gift. But I think Carla would enjoy timing herself as she reads.

image from amazon.com

A sewing book: Carla hasn’t spent a lot of time sewing recently, and I hate to think of her sewing machine sitting there unused. Maybe this book would reignite her interest?

image from amazon.com

A decoder set: Considering that Carla is interested in spy/detective stuff recently, I wonder if she might enjoy this decoder activity set. This would be another good Road Trip! option, too.

image from amazon.com

A fingerprint kit: Along similar lines, this fingerprinting kit might be a lot of fun.

image from amazon.com

If you have (or have had) a nine-year-old in your life, what have been some of the top gifts they’ve enjoyed?

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One of the most difficult aspects of parenting (for a highly-anxious, prone-to-catastrophizing person like me) is that there is an endless number of potential issues to contend with, and that so many of them come up without warning or context, leaving you to wonder, Is this a normal variation that is just part of a typical childhood? Or is this pathological and requires intervention? 

I don’t even know what to give as an example, because the things seem to come entirely out of the blue and I have ZERO idea how to handle them. But things like lying or bed wetting or stuttering – all things that could be Just A Phase, or could be Signs Of A More Complex Problem, but you don’t know until you know, I guess? I hate that. I want to be able to ask my mom or go on Google and hear/read, “A small percentage (5 to 13%) of children DO tend to turn purple at some point, usually between the ages of 6 and 11, but sometimes as early as age 3. Sometimes the hue leans a bit more toward blue or a bit more toward magenta; it typically fades after six months, but can last for up to two years. Avoiding crucifers during this time can truncate the duration. If your child’s skin develops yellow polka dots during the purple phase, take them immediately to the doctor.” 

Like, just CLEAR and COMFORTING information that says, this is not super common, but it DOES happen, and here’s what to watch for if you are concerned it’s taking an atypical turn… Why can’t there be that for every possible variation of child behavior? WHY. 

(I know why.)

Anyway, what I am hoping to discuss currently is The Teenage Years. 

It seems that I have had MULTIPLE encounters lately with adults who like to say, “Just wait until she’s a teenager.” Sometimes, this is in response to Extreme Sassafras (why is there only one S on the end of this word??) on the part of my child, who sometimes turns up the sass factor because she has the mistaken impression that people find it charming/funny. Well. Some people do, in fact, find it charming and funny, which I find tiresome and irritating. But they don’t have to experience True Sass on a daily basis, so I suppose I should give them a break. Sometimes, this baffling warning comes in response to witnessing/discussing something lovely that my kid does – like how she still holds my hand (sometimes) when we’re walking, or how she’ll still sit on my lap while I read to her, or how she still loves to run up and fling herself at people she cares about for a big hug. “Just wait until she’s a teenager,” they’ll intone, this time with a tenor of pre-wistfulness or knowledgeable sadness.

I am familiar with the “cherish the moment” faction. And I am familiar with the “better sleep now, because you won’t sleep again once the baby’s born!” faction. And I am familiar with the concept of people who either forget how much they disliked being forewarned about things you can literally do nothing about or who feel in their heart of hearts that they have somehow encountered The One Person who has gone an entire lifetime without encountering the concept of a phase of life that literally all people go through. People are just… going to do this. From now until the end of time, probably. And yet, I still find this so irritating I want to scream. 

Probably it is because I am growing increasingly anxious/fearful of The Teenage Years with every passing day. 

And also, I am irritated because it feels inescapably gendered. I don’t think my friend who has sons gets “Just wait until he’s a teenager”ed every five minutes. Plus, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say things in knowing, faux-concerned voices about how a person (usually the father) is going to endure life with THREE TEENAGE DAUGHTERS, as if that is just the absolute worst thing that any human can live through. 

But mainly, I am irritated because I cannot do anything about it. Nothing. If we are very lucky, my daughter will grow and age and at some point become A Teenager. That is a thing that happens. I cannot prolong her not-a-teenager years any more than I can prolong my own youth. 

I am not discounting the very real effects of hormonal changes on young adults! I realize that teenagers CAN be moody and distant and disrespectful and all the terrible things! I get it! Puberty is an actual phenomenon that changes people’s behavior!  

But I am just super annoyed at the people who keep saying, “Just you wait.” WHAT am I supposed to do with that information? Cherish every non-teenage moment, I suppose. 

Today, I am going to make two lists. One list of things that I can look FORWARD to about the teenage years, and a list of things that I want to address when my daughter is a teen. Preferably, my husband and I would discuss and have a plan for these things well in advance, but to be honest, they seem both so horrifying and so far away that I am struggling to focus on them. 

Things About the Teenage Years to Look Forward To

  • Having a kid who can drive herself to / from places (I recognize that this is also a negative point, because I cannot fathom my precious baby a) operating an enormous motor vehicle or b) driving around in the world with so many oblivious idiots)
  • Being able to watch ALL (most) movies together
  • Prom
  • Having more time to myself / more silence (“Just you wait,” says the knowing post-teenage parent, “When she’s a teenager you’ll find yourself LONGING for the days when she talked nonstop for four straight hours.”)
  • Fewer toys cluttering up the house
  • Real conversations 
  • No need for a babysitter
  • Another cook in the house
  • No more playdates – or, at least, not being in charge of scheduling/organizing playdates and enduring the unbearable awkwardness of interacting with parents I don’t know 
  • No longer needing to be the communication bridge between my kid and her friends

Things I Want to Figure Out How to Address

  • Social media
  • Phone / screen time
  • Peer pressure around sex / drugs / alcohol / social media / appearance
  • Sexual assault
  • Driving, with and without friends
  • Spending the night at other kids’ houses
  • Romantic relationships

Well, these lists both seem too short. I did consult a few online lists along the lines of “Great Things About Having a Teen!” Some of them – like enjoying shopping together, or sharing clothing and makeup – seem difficult to predict; I don’t know if Carla will care about shopping or clothing or makeup. And I want to emphasize academics and career-planning, but I’m not sure how to do so in a way that prioritizes Carla’s personality/goals rather than emphasizing the values I grew up with, so I’m not putting it on the list currently. I will continue to think about these topics and add to the lists as I come up with new items. Let me know what you would include. (And if you have any good books about anticipating / raising teenagers, I would be interested in those!)

In the meantime, I ordered this book over the weekend: 

image from amazon.com

While Carla is not quite nine, we are knocking on nine’s door. I am really hoping that the heretofore kind, measured Louise Bates Ames doesn’t say anything akin to, “Just WAIT until she’s a teenager.”

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May is chaos. I was whining to the mom of one of Carla’s classmates recently about busy I feel, and she said in a gritted-teeth, long-suffering voice, “That’s just how May is. And it will get worse as the kids get older.” So that was cheering. 

It feels like I was just chugging along, doing my thing, and then suddenly realized that I have fifty deadlines heading my way and I am only partway through each project.  Luckily, this isn’t true (at least in the paying work sense; I am on top of those at least). But it FEELS that way. Worse, it feels like everyone else has alsosuddenly had the same realization. My email inbox is jammed with teacher conference requests and reminders to schedule my gutter cleaning and invitations to end-of-year parties and check-ins about summer swimming schedules and gently scolding messages from camp to fill out my kid’s many, many forms already and notifications to update school payment plans and on and on. 

We had, in the past week, an invitation to a musical performance at Carla’s school literally three days before the performance itself. And then a notice, seven days ago, from Carla’s teacher, that the class has themed days all this week – and require things like sandals that I had not yet purchased. Then we had to schedule a meeting with one of the teachers to review Carla’s goals for next year. And I (stupidly) signed up to volunteer at a big end-of-school carnival. Not to mention, we get alerts near daily about Covid cases in Carla’s grade. Plus, Carla’s been working on her big Eleanor Roosevelt research project. IT’S A LOT.

I have not felt up to most things lately – reading, cooking, planning meals, blogging – but I miss those things (except planning meals). So let’s try a random info dump. I will try not to complain TOO much, but no promises. 

Zoom Awkwardness: While I am deeply, sincerely grateful for the ability to meet with people virtually, I wish someone would figure out how to solve the end-of-meeting awkwardness. You know what I mean. When you have all already said goodbye, but then you have to fumble around to find the button that ends the meeting. I realize that this awkward moment lasts maybe five seconds, but I find it excruciating. Often, I find myself distracted in the last moments of the meeting itself because I am trying to plan my exit in the quickest possible way. But no. Even if I can find the “end meeting” button ahead of time, I inevitably fumble it, or forget that I’ve carefully hovered my cursor over it for exactly that purpose, or the “are you sure?” box pops up and I just want to die of embarrassment. I realize this may not be as big a deal to some people as it is to me, and obviously I have lived to zoom again, but I HATE IT. Just let me out of this virtual discomfort! 

End of Year Teacher Gift: Every year, our Room Parent (i.e. Room Mom) collects money for a class gift. Every year, I dutifully send in money. Every year, I fret and worry and scour Etsy for an additional gift that my kid can give to her teacher, personally, on top of the considerable amount we have already sent in. Every year, I decide that the collective gift is BETTER – usually it’s a gift card, and I’m guessing it is much more useful/appreciated by the teacher than whatever dumb crap I could come up with – and exit Etsy without buying the personalized water bottle/bookmark/coffee mug I was pondering. And yet, despite going through this for SIX YEARS NOW, I inevitably find myself in the last week of school, fretting and fretting about the possibility of being the ONLY person who doesn’t double gift with a physical gift in addition to the cash contribution.

Road Trip: I am doing a right terrible job of Not Complaining, so let’s talk about something positive. My husband and Carla and I are going on a Road Trip this summer!!!! Aside from the astronomical cost of gas, I am really excited about our Road Trip. (Yes, I am capitalizing it.) We finalized all our hotel stays over the weekend, and so now I am gleefully shopping for Road Trip Necessities. This is what my father refers to as a “Tool Buying Opportunity,” which is part of what makes the planning portion of something (an event, a hobby) as enjoyable as or more enjoyable than the actual thing itself. My husband is researching the best family audiobooks to buy (or check out from our library) for our trip, and I love that this is the way his trip planning excitement manifests. He has already played a few samples to Carla, so that they can figure out whether she’ll have trouble understanding the accent of the narrator. 

Birthday Planning Stagnation: Despite ALL of your lovely suggestions, I have made ZERO progress toward planning Carla’s birthday party. Zero. This fills me with dread and anxiety. However, I will say that with every confident, encouraging comment about hosting a party here, I grew more and more entrenched in my certainty that having a party in my home is NOT the right way to go. So that was extremely helpful, and I am so appreciative. I genuinely envy those readers who are so easy-breezy about hosting an in-home birthday party. You make it sound so easy! And fun! And like the better choice! But my gut was clear: NO. So whatever we end up doing, it will be somewhere else. Your kind, helpful suggestions also clarified for me something that I already knew – but did not know I felt with such stringency – which is that I loathe trampoline parks. We used to take Carla when she was smaller, because it was a great way to release her endless reserves of energy in the dragging months of winter. But even then I always felt like I had to be careful not to touch ANYTHING, and I would always through Carla in the tub and her clothing in the washing machine the instant we returned home. Perhaps this speaks more to the cleanliness of my local trampoline park than to anything else, but since that’s what we have available, I am going to skip it. So I suppose even if I haven’t made any forward progress, I am at the very least narrowing the field. Thank you so much for your help, even if you may feel like I am ignoring your very helpful recommendations. Your advice is helpful nonetheless. 

Handyman: In other good news, I finally finally got a handyman to not only return my call, but to come over and look at my long list of projects!!!! He seems great. He reviewed things and took measurements, and was very clear on things he can/will do and things he cannot/won’t. The most important result, though, is that he CAN and WILL repair our ceiling. I don’t know if I’ve described our ceiling hole in this space, but I am going to do so now in case you want to skip to the next equally riveting bullet. It is not a hole, per se. It is more like a place where the plaster has declined to provide its normal coverage. The plaster is peeling away from whatever material forms the ceiling, and so it looks like a hole. We have had the spot examined several times by a plumber (and by our fathers), and it does not appear to be a leak. And it’s been there for YEARS, so I think we would know by now. But this stupid plaster lapse makes me so self-conscious about our house. It looks terrible, and it’s right above the kitchen table, and I hate it. And now it will be fixed!!!! Of course, there is no scheduled date for the fixing; the handyman warned me he is booked out for several weeks. So I guess now I am just hoping he really will send me an estimate and offer some dates. I almost don’t care what it will cost because I want it fixed. But then again, I have no idea what this kind of thing should cost, so… I will report back on whether it is a swallowable amount or something that kicks me in the gut and forces me to live with the stupid hole for longer. Like I said, we’ve been living with it for YEARS, so it shouldn’t be such a big deal to keep on living with it. But at some point in the past few months, I have reached some sort of tell-tale heart level of complete inability to co-exist with this thing for one second longer. 

Calendar Bedlam: Recently, I am having an issue that makes me think my mind is on a steep decline. I keep making plans, putting them in EMPTY SPOTS in my calendar, and then realizing – sometime later – that I have double booked myself. Example 1: A friend invites me to a performance. I check the calendar and see I have plans that night. I decline. Later, a friend invites me to dinner. I check the calendar and see I am free, so I accept. The next time I talk to the performer friend, she mentions the day of her performance… which is on the day I originally had free but now do not. Example 2: I set a playdate for Carla. The next day, I notice that she in fact has an orthodontist appointment that day, so I have to reschedule the playdate. Example 3: I have to do a mandatory nicotine test per our insurance, so I schedule it in an empty spot on the calendar. I get a reminder for the test at the same time I get a reminder for a meeting with Carla’s teacher, because I have scheduled them in the same time slot. WHY AM I DOING THIS AND HOW CAN I STOP.

Dirty Martinis: I recently learned the joy and beauty of a very, very dirty martini. My whole life, I have been staunchly anti-vodka, but it seems that may be because I have only ever had cheap vodka? I recently had a martini with really good, smooth vodka and it was delicious. Then I made one at home, with the fancy expensive vodka my father-in-law drinks, and it was also delicious. I am now out of olive juice.

Jury Duty: My stint of jury duty went GREAT. The summons said that we needed to be available for five days, beginning on a Monday. So I prepared to be gone that entire week. When I did jury duty several years ago, I went in on a Monday, sat around all day, and then was called to a courtroom near the end of the day. I wasn’t selected for that jury, but I was released from jury duty for the rest of the week. This time, you call a number in advance of your service and figure out if your jury number has been selected for that day. I got to miss two days, but my number was called for Wednesday. Then I arrived at the courthouse, sat around all day, and… was released. I didn’t have to go back at all! It was… kind of pleasant? Of course, the anticipation was the dreadful part. I had to worry about childcare for Carla for the whole week, and then I had to worry about driving on a freeway during rush hour, and I had to worry about parking downtown. But once I had Carla stowed at school, had made it downtown, parked, and successfully made it to the courthouse, it was fine! Pleasant, even! It was a beautiful day and we got ninety minutes (!!!!) for our lunch hour, so I got something from Starbucks and walked around downtown. I was even a teeny bit disappointed that I didn’t get selected for a case – I think it would be interesting to serve on a jury. The biggest inconvenience of the week, it turned out, was that I kept having to email the school to let them know that Carla would or wouldn’t be arriving early for babysitting services. 

Step Off: My watch has developed quite an overblown sense of its own roll in my life lately. Constantly telling me to stop and breathe, or noting that I am usually more active at this time of day what is up????, or advising me that I can “still do it!” if I just take a brisk 20-minute walk at 11:15 pm on a weekday. And now this??? Stay in your lane, watch. I am doing the best that I can.

Keto Stall: I feel the need to give you a keto update. During my extravagant jury duty lunch hour, I ordered coffee with cream (despite the fact that I hate coffee) and a pre-made lunch kit that seemed to be fairly keto-friendly: salami, cheese, and some nuts/dried fruit that I ate even though I’m sure it was full of sugar. I did not eat the crackers. Anyway: I continue to follow a low-carb plan. And I have completely stalled. It is SO frustrating. I am doing the plan, I am eating the high-protein/high-fat foods. I am in ketosis. And yet my weight has gone nowhere. It wouldn’t be so terrible except that I HATE it. Food is not fun or enjoyable. I do not look forward to meals, and in fact actively dread them. I cannot stand to plan meals, because they are inevitably some variation on meat + veg, or else they are complicated and frequently end up tasting awful. I am constantly asking my husband what I should make for dinner. I am not having fun, I am not losing weight, it is all awful. And yet any time I LOOK at a carb, I instantly gain two pounds. So I don’t think I’m ready to quit keto either. At least I am maintaining this not-quite-ten-percent-of-my-bodyweight weight loss. ARGH. 

A Good Salad: I did make a really good salad recently. It was arugula (yum) and spinach (yuck), heavily weighted on the arugula side for me and on the spinach side for my husband (who dislikes arugula). I added goat cheese, blueberries, strawberries, a sprinkling of sliced almonds, and grilled chicken. And then I added balsamic dressing because I love dressing as much as I love sauce. (Perhaps this is causing the stall in the previous bullet, perhaps indeed, although I don’t eat salads often because of the dressing factor.)

Strawberry Marketing: The strawberries in the aforementioned salad were PINK. My grocery store had a big display and they had a lot of marketing to assure customers that the strawberries are fully ripe! And taste like pineapple! I had to try them. My husband wondered if they might taste like underripe strawberries and indeed they did. They were fine with some goat cheese and balsamic dressing though, but NOT worth $6.99 per container when I can buy actual ripe strawberry tasting strawberries for $3.50. Between these berries and the miniature iceberg lettuces, produce marketers are really working hard for their money, let me tell you.

Garden Inertia: Let us turn to another pleasant topic, which is gardening. Of which I have also done ZERO. What the hell am I doing with my time, if I am not cooking or gardening or planning Carla’s birthday party? I am fretting and wringing my hands and going in circles is what. We have people coming for dinner this weekend, so now I am suddenly feeling Very Urgent about having at least some flowers in pots. It’s not like my “garden” is anything impressive. But I do like to have a few pots with flowers and I need to do that. Perhaps Carla and I will go after school. 

Spring Shopping Syndrome: In addition to fretting/hand wringing, I have been struck by Spring Shopping Syndrome. You are familiar with this yes? The point at which the weather begins to edge carefully toward warmth and suddenly you hate every single item of clothing you own? I have been buying (and then returning) things with great abandon. Loft has been my latest obsession, and they know it: they keep emailing me with adorable dresses front and center, and so I order the dress and then it doesn’t fit and I take it back. But, to get free shipping, I added on a cute blouse, and that DID fit, so now I have that sweet, sweet dopamine rush of clicking “buy” alongside the possibility, however small, that the item I bought will be cute, which makes me want to repeat the process all over again. Interesting how I am able to analyze this behavior and see it for what it is and yet I still can’t stop/won’t stop. 

All right, that’s it for now my dear Internet.

What’s clogging your calendar this month? Have you made any springy purchases? Tell me which deer-proof flowers to buy for my garden. 

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Carla is being so utterly charming these days that I figured I better write it down, for posterity. As my mother-in-law keeps reminding me when I am experiencing frustration/difficulty with my child, often frustration/difficulty precipitated by said child trying to entertain her grandparents rather than doing what I have asked her to do and aggravated by my reluctance to raise my voice in front of my in-laws, I will yearn for these days when she is a teenager and think longingly of these frustrations/difficulties because they will pale in comparison to the frustrations/difficulties of the teen years. 

BE THAT AS IT MAY, the current frustrations/difficulties are no less frustrating/difficult in comparison to a future I have not yet experienced.

I am getting off track. What I want to say is that just-shy-of-eight-and-a-half, while far from perfect, is in general a wonderful, charming, delightful age. 

The first thing that comes to mind is the clothing, possibly because Carla’s ensemble this morning is fresh on my mind. She was wearing a normal shirt and pants, but had rediscovered a leopard print hat with cat (leopard?) ears and was wearing that, to breakfast. She had also unearthed a pair of dangly black and red clip-on earrings and was wearing those. 

She has very distinct ideas about clothing, is what I’m saying. And I’m Here For It. All of it. Like how she recently learned about complementary colors in school and so prefers to wear complementary colors when possible. Purple pants and a yellow shirt. Green dress and red leggings. Maroon skirt and pale green shirt. It’s a whole look. 

Speaking of things Carla has learned in school: I guess they have been talking about homonyms? Or homophones? I don’t want to look up the difference between them. I know that homophones are words that sound the same, but may have different spelling/meaning (except/accept, write/right, ring/wring, etc.)… so maybe homonyms are words that are spelled the same but have different pronunciation (tear/tear, bass/bass, bow/bow, close/close )? When I was a kid, I learned that those were homographs, because they look identical, but someone told me homographs aren’t a thing anymore, and that stuck with me. Okay, I have looked it up: homonyms are words that can be spelled OR pronounced the same way, but have different meanings; it’s a blanket term that encompasses both homophone and homographs.

What I was TRYING to tell you, before I got all caught up in elementary school language specifications, was that Carla and I have been having a lot of fun lately thinking of homonyms together. I don’t know why I find this so delightful, but it is. Partly is that I love our language and its quirks and intricacies, and so I enjoy someone else actively enjoying those things. Partly is that it feels like a game, and there are so SO many examples to share. I was filling my car up with gas the other day and got back in, and Carla said, “Bear and bare, mommy!!!!” She’ll just announce a pair of homonyms randomly throughout the day and I’m loving it.

A less-but-not-UN-delightful thing about Carla is that she is Always Right. Now, this is not always true, technically. She is always confident, but occasionally her facts/reasoning will be wrong. But I swear, if you tell this child a fact even in passing, she will remember it for the rest of her days. Her grandmother showed her a video of a red-headed woodpecker on a tree in her backyard, and Carla said, “That’s not a red-headed woodpecker, that’s a pileated woodpecker.” And then she went to her room, retrieved her bird book, and proceeded to walk her poor grandmother through every single woodpecker in the book, and then compare the pileated example to the one from the video. (Carla was right, although, to be fair, a pileated woodpecker 100% looks like it would be called a red-headed woodpecker.) (That’ll teach her grandmother to try to share something interesting with her grandkid!) (Carla’s affection for facts comes across in a very didactic and “well, actually” kind of manner, but also I find it rather pleasing. We are working on the delivery of this kind of knowledge, but I appreciate the knowledge itself.) (While I am parenthesizing, I will say that the red-bellied woodpecker is very inaptly named. Whoever decided which woodpecker was which seems like they went about it in a very slap-dash and poorly thought way. “Eh? Another woodpecker with a red head? Let’s just pretend its pale white belly is red instead.”)

This is also the year when Carla is really starting to get into reading. I feel as though I have claimed that in the past, but it seems to be ramping up now. She’s certainly interested in books; whenever we go to the library, she will search through the shelves, peeking at tables of contents and flipping through the pages before handing me the book to add to a stack, and we will check out a dozen at a time. She has even discovered the joy of asking a librarian for help, and has marched up to the help desk for advice on a) books that feature animals (we got a HUGE stack that time) and b) a specific book she’d heard about in school. The thing was that she would check out this huge pile and then never read any of the books. Over the summer, my husband and I tried to bribe her to read: $15 per chapter book she finishes by herself. We paid her $0 over the summer, so I thought it was a wash. But NOW she has been bringing home library books from school and reading them in their entirety in an afternoon! This is unheard of! And I mentioned to her the other day that I wished she would READ the books she checked out from our local library, and she said she feels like she never has time to read, so I suggested that she devote fifteen minutes to reading right when she gets home from school and SHE HAS DONE THAT EVER SINCE. She finished a whole chapter book by herself and, of course, remembered that we’d once promised to pay her for reading, so I am out $15. Listen, when my husband and I came up with the bribe we were imagining her reading The Magic Treehouse books or Charlotte’s Web or something, and the book she read had more pictures interspersed throughout, but I don’t care. BEST $15 EVER SPENT. I will gladly reimburse her for reading. She still adores Shel Silverstein poetry, but she has also become fond of the Bad Kittybooks. Otherwise, she kind of dabbles in whatever appeals to her from the shelves. 

Nearly eight-and-a-half is an age of great independence and confidence. Carla still loves to ride her bike around our neighborhood, and has befriended all our neighbors – especially, as you can imagine, those with dogs. She is so friendly and cheerful to them all, and I love how outgoing she is despite her parents’ tendencies toward introversion. 

She is also at an age where she is beginning to like to discuss and analyze various topics. I remember Swistle writing about this, as her older kids moved out of the elementary school years, and I feel like we are just at the beginning of this phase and I already like it (even if I am not as thorough or patient a thinker as Swistle is). The other day, for instance, I mentioned to Carla that we might be driving a friend of hers to Girl Scouts, depending on a possible conflict the friend’s mother had. I stressed the might, because I didn’t want Carla to get her hopes too far up. She was very excited about the prospect of spending extra time with her friend (and in the car! for some reason being in the car together (masks on and/or windows wide open) is thrilling to the third grade set). After her initial delight, she asked, “Can’t we drive her ANYWAY? Even if her mom doesn’t have the conflict?” She persuaded me to text the friend’s mom, and I did so. But it was a long text. I said something like, “We’d love to drive your kid no matter what happens with your conflict” but then I went on to hedge a little bit, just in case: no pressure, if it doesn’t work out, we understand. (Maybe the mom really wants to attend Girl Scouts [in which case she can go in my place], or maybe they have a family commitment right afterward, or maybe she only wants her kid to ride in someone else’s car if it is truly unavoidable; I don’t know.) 

Carla read my text over my shoulder and said, “Send it!” when it was done. But then she wanted to know why I didn’t simply say, “Please let us drive the friend even if you have no conflict.” I explained to her that sometimes there is this invisible pressure that people feel to do what others request, even if they don’t want to. And she agreed, she understood; sometimes she will be playing in a small group of girls on the playground, and another friend will ask to join, and she will feel pressured to agree even if the game they were playing won’t accommodate another child. So we talked a little bit about how that may be a good type of pressure to feel, because you don’t want to exclude friends if you don’t have to, and you don’t want friends to feel left out. We talked about how to handle such a situation: you can be honest about how the current game won’t work with another person, but maybe you could play something else or maybe you could play together a different time. That was a nice conversation. 

Then I told Carla that sometimes with grown-ups, there is a slightly different kind of pressure – a pressure not to offend, a pressure to be easy-going, a pressure to make things happen even if it’s difficult or not exactly what you want – and that I am susceptible to that kind of pressure, and so I try not to make others feel that way. Plus, in this case, there was a potential additional sort of pressure that the mother might be feeling, to not be imposing on us to take her child. So I wanted to be CLEAR, in my text to the friend’s mom, that we wouldn’t be at all upset if it didn’t work out, but that we sincerely would love to take her child with us. Carla seemed to understand the nuances of this thought process, and I liked being able to discuss it with her. This makes me think that perhaps my sister-in-law was speaking directly to me when she mentioned recently that she has explored, in therapy, the effect of her mother’s anxiety on her, and how she can work to keep her own anxiety from affecting her own child.

She still occasionally breaks into an accent. Sometimes a really odd Cockney/British mashup, sometimes more of a pseudo-Australian sort of thing. 

Her vocabulary is enormous and delights me. It tickles me when she uses a word or phrase that strikes me as particularly grown-up. For instance, sometimes she will leave a room – a room still occupied by a person – and accidentally shut of the light. She invariably says, “Whoops! Force of habit.” I don’t know what it is about that phrasing that cracks me up, but it does. 

Carla is also getting to an age where she is REALLY interested in makeup. She is always pawing through my collection of eye shadows and lipsticks (I wear eyeshadow once or twice a year and lipstick never) and asking me what things are and what they do and wondering if she can try them or at least unscrew the lid to see them in greater detail. While I maintain that she cannot wear makeup until she is sixteen, I love this stage. I never in my life pictured having a daughter, and this is one of those overwhelmingly delightful aspects of having this particular daughter that feel so fun and exciting to share. She did, however, “borrow” my tweezers, which I did not love. I loved even less the possibility that she may or may not have been using the tweezers to remove dead skin from her feet. I think I will be gifting Carla with my tweezers and finding myself a new pair. 

She is constantly thinking of creative pursuits. She can turn anything into a project, and squirrels away dead glow sticks, cardboard boxes, sheets of bubble wrap, tiny plastic containers, beads, string, wire, pinecones, rocks. Anything and everything can be reused or repurposed to turn into something wonderful.

At nearly eight-and-a-half, Carla still wakes up singing. I love to hear her muted songs through the bedroom wall. It is such a happy morning sound. Will she still do it when she’s thirteen? I hope so. 

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We had Carla’s eighth birthday party at a nature preserve. It took place outside, in an open-walled pavilion. The “entertainment” feature was to be a dinosaur-themed hike. 

Because Carla had requested a dinosaur theme, I bought dinosaur décor. I had first found some pink and purple dinosaur party supplies, but my husband thought they were too babyish, so we went with a more mature dino look

Very Mature image from amazon.com

It worked out very well for the venue, which had long picnic tables that I was glad we could cover up with tablecloths.  Although it was quite breezy so my mother-in-law had to spend a lot of time masking-taping the tablecloths to the tables. Bless her.

Note the enormous rock in the foreground that my father-in-law used to help keep the tablecloths in place. Added to the theme.

I set up the gift table with additional snacks – eight-year-olds can build up quite an appetite when they are out hiking. Plus, there is ALWAYS one kid who doesn’t want the cupcakes. So I packed Cheez-Its and the flavored raisins I mentioned recently and mandarin oranges and lots of bottled water. I also made sure we had tons of antibacterial wipes and hand sanitizer; one can never be too careful, but especially during a pandemic. I also brought bug spray and spray sunscreen. I am nothing if not over prepared!

It looks quite sparse, but that’s because I forgot to tell my husband that half of the table would be for gifts.

My mother-in-law was such a HUGE help with the party, especially with the centerpieces. I wanted something to add a little visual interest to the tables. Yes, I know this is ridiculous; the kids don’t care. But * I * care. So I ordered these matching centerpieces, which were dinosaur cutouts that you affix to sticks and arrange artfully into vases or jars. 

This is what I expected them to look like:

image from amazon.com

My mother-in-law, bless her again, suggested the night before the party that we should set up the centerpieces in advance – for ease of carrying, and one less thing to worry about at the party. Thank goodness she did, because I could NOT get them to look right and was despairing. (My husband: “It doesn’t matter. The kids don’t care.”) But my mother-in-law persevered! She clipped greenery from our hedges and flowers from my flower pots and made the centerpieces look, I thought, quite lovely and wild. Did a single child comment on them? No. But I LOVED THEM. 

I am once again irritated that the decorations are one-sided.

I made cupcakes for the party, with colorful mismatched frosting. Per Carla’s request, they were vanilla cupcakes with lemon curd filling and lemon cream cheese frosting. When I ran out of lemon curd, I suggested we bring half plain, half filled, just in case some of her friends didn’t want lemon curd, and she was very amenable to that. 

Because it was SO HOT on the day of the party, I stuck my cupcake carrier into a big insulated bag and put ice packs under and on top of it. This worked very well, even though the cupcake carrier was too big to fit completely inside the bag. Not a single cupcake melted. (Better yet: no one got food poisoning from over-hot cream cheese frosting.) 

In classic me-making-things-as-difficult-as-possible-for-myself, I did not do all the frosting the same. But I rather like how colorful it turned out? I did three colors per frosting bag, trying out different combinations.

As I mentioned, the day of the party was HOT. And thunderstorms were predicted. I bought a book of dinosaur coloring pages – the kind where there’s a list of images to find in the picture – and a bunch of colored pencils, plus a couple of pads of drawing paper, just in case the storm prevented the hike from going through and we need to Do Something Else. Fortunately, it remained sunny and dry (and HOT) for the duration of the party. (It started pouring just as we were driving away, which was so lucky!)

I knew that the nature preserve staff allotted about thirty minutes between when the guests arrived and the hike began, so I brought some crafts to keep the kids busy. I found these dinosaur mask-making kits at Michael’s, and my in-laws helped each kid pick which mask they wanted to make, filled little plastic cups with glue, and distributed Q-tips and glue sticks. The kids seemed to enjoy the project, chatting with each other as they glued eyes and horns and spots to their masks, and making the masks took up the exact right amount of time. 

The hike leader was very sweet and friendly, but she seemed to have underestimated the amount of information kids today know about dinosaurs: every single time she tried to stump them with a question about dinosaurs, at least one child knew the answer. But the kids seemed to enjoy themselves, even if they weren’t learning anything new. It’s a PARTY, right? Not a college lecture series.

One of Carla’s friends told a delightful dinosaur joke: Why can’t you hear a pterodactyl go to the bathroom? Because the “p” is silent. Carla’s friends thought that was hilarious. 

I sneaked around and applied sunscreen to the kids while the staff member was giving her spiel. I mean, I tried to sneak – obviously I had to ask the kids if they needed sunscreen and then sprayed them with it, so I wasn’t invisible. 

One of the staff members led the kids on a hike through the woods, pointing out birds and turtles and plants. My husband and my father-in-law accompanied the group on the hike, to keep the kids together and watch out for stragglers. The kids collected seashells and answered trivia questions about dinosaurs.

My mother-in-law and I stayed behind to clean up the craft and wipe down the tables in preparation for cupcakes. The craft – which required the kids to peel white covers off of approximately six million tiny pieces – was awful to clean up. The breeze had carried the little peels into every corner of the pavilion, wedging them in between the boards of the benches and planks of the pavilion floor. But I got every last one of them (I hope). We wiped down the tables and then my mother-in-law and I went and sat in the car with the air conditioning blasting. 

That was the worst part of the party: being so hot. I am not a hot weather person and I was a melted candle well before the party began. When our friends dropped off their kids, one tried to hug me. “I’m too sweaty,” I told him. He stepped back and looked me over. “You sure are,” he said. That’s a good feeling. Being visibly, appreciably sweaty. 

After the hike, I herded the children – masked – into the nature center, where they were allowed to use the bathroom. (The nature center was still closed to the public.) They all washed (“washed”) their hands and hurried back to the pavilion. We handed out cupcakes (MANY kids rejected the lemon curd, so I’m glad we had the two options) and lit a candle on Carla’s cupcake and sang her happy birthday. 

These cupcake toppers were one-sided too, but still cute.

Then we handed out favor bags (which I apparently didn’t photograph?) and the kids’ parents collected them. It was a quick two hours but very satisfying. Carla and her friends seemed to have a great time. 

I DO wish we’d had dinosaur wrapping paper, but I can’t buy wrapping paper JUST to fit a theme.

For Carla’s actual birthday – a few days later – I carried on the dinosaur theme. We had one tablecloth remaining, and I added the centerpiece sticks to a vase of flowers, and I ordered a big dinosaur balloon. We always decorate the birthday table the night before, so the birthday girl (or man) sees it first thing when they come into the kitchen in the morning. (This is a tradition leftover from my childhood.)

Carla decided to stay home from camp. With all the birthday excitement, plus her grandparents being around, she’d been going to bed super late. So she wanted to sleep in and relax and I didn’t mind keeping her home. (I especially didn’t mind because her camp group was scheduled to go on a field trip that day, which required packing them all into a bus, during a pandemic, and driving them on a busy freeway. Two MAJOR anxiety points for me.) Carla didn’t mind missing her field trip and we decided to have a Girls’ Day. We put on dresses and makeup and did our hair fancy (she put an ornamental bird on her ponytail). Our first stop was a candy store. I gave Carla $5 and she was allowed to buy anything she wanted. I loved that we had nowhere to be, and absolutely no time pressure (I’d made her cake the day before, because it needed to be refrigerated overnight), so she could look at every single candy option on the shelves and take her time choosing. 

Then we went to a local bakery that sells macarons. I have taken Carla there twice since it opened, and each time, it was closed. But because we went this time so early in the day, it was finally open! The bakery has a little restaurant as well, and one of the tables is a beautiful Cinderella carriage. Because only two tables in the whole place had diners, I let her ask the manager if she could sit at the carriage table and get her picture taken. She wore her mask the whole time, but the photos are still really cute. She also told everyone we met that it was her birthday, and everyone was very charmed by her and wished her many happy returns. We got her a macaron to bring home and I asked what she wanted to do next.

Turns out, she wanted to go to Barnes and Noble and look at toys. (This despite the fact that she had JUST gotten a million new toys from her friends and had a million more family gifts to open later that night.) Fine! We spent a nice long time in the toy section, where she examined every Barbie and LOL and LEGO set and craft set and piece of Harry Potter merchandise in the entire store. Did we look at a single book? No. Again, it was lovely to be able to be as leisurely as possible, and let her take her time and enjoy herself. I took pictures of her holding things she wanted to buy, which I think gives her the same little thrill I get out of putting things I want in online shopping carts.

Then we stopped at a deli to pickup takeout sandwiches and headed home. 

For dinner, she requested homemade tacos. You KNOW I was happy to comply. And then we had raspberry cheesecake for dessert. 

It was a perfectly serviceable cheesecake. The crust was buttery and crunchy and the cheesecake had a good texture (except for the center, which was a little too soft for my taste). I had reserved some of the raspberry puree and we drizzled that over our slices. 

If only the entire theme could have been Sparkly Pink T-Rex. I would have really leaned into that.

Not my most beautiful or favorite cake, by a long shot, but it was what Carla wanted and I think it turned out okay. 

All in all, a satisfying – and surprisingly low-stress (once I secured the venue) – birthday celebration!

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Near our house is a pond. On the pond lives a blue heron; Carla has named him Jeff. We drive a specific way home from camp these days, just so we can drive past the pond. We look for Jeff. Any time we are in the car, Carla asks if we can drive past Jeff’s pond – even if we are approaching home from the opposite direction.

This feels so very Carla, and I don’t know why. 

She loves birds. She has always loved animals in all forms, but this year a second-grade study of birds really brought her ornithological passion to the fore. She has a pair of binoculars and a bird book and loves to cart them around with her. She exclaims over every feathered friend we encounter, no matter how common: “Look! A robin!” “Mom, look, look! I think that’s a pigeon!” “Is that a mourning dove?” “A chickadee!!!!!” Her enthusiasm for birds is boundless. Her grandmother recently took her to the craft store and she bought a bunch of tiny birds – the kind you see on Easter wreaths – and she wore one in her ponytail for several days.

Every time we see a bird of prey, she speculates it is either a red-tailed hawk or a vulture. I was not aware that our suburban area features vultures, and remain convinced that they are hawks, even when Carla insists otherwise. But then again, I am not the bird lady in our family.

She is equally enamored of dinosaurs, and somehow deeply knowledgeable. She will spot a dinosaur in a book or on TV and will immediately notify me that it’s a Spinosaurus or a Plesiosaurus or a Triceratops. Except that she knows dozens and dozens of dinosaur classifications, while those three dino-types I just listed are among the maybe five or ten I know. Her dinosaur birthday party went over quite well, I thought. Just the right amount of dino-décor for her party, and I surprised her with a dinosaur balloon on the day of her actual birthday. It was such a nice way to memorialize this current fascination. 

Carla, of course, remains especially enchanted by dogs. New over the past year, she has been granted permission to ride her bike or scooter around our cul-de-sac (ringing her bell as she passes, so I can listen for her; and if she goes over the ten-minute mark, which is how long it takes her to make the circle, I go out and look for her; she is always petting a dog), looking for dogs to pet. (Only the dogs of neighbors, not stranger dogs.) 

She continues to love crafting, and it is fascinating how her brain works: she can see a collection of raw materials and envision their endpoint and then actually make it happen.  (She brought home a stack of foam sheets and a zipper and told me she was going to make a backpack for her Barbie… I could NOT see how that would work, but she DID IT. A wearable, fillable, zippable, recognizable backpack!) She is a Maker, through and through. We watch Making Ittogether, and I hope it inspires her, shows her a few of the many ways she can transform everyday materials into something new, gives her ideas for potential careers doing something she loves.

She is obsessed by candy and TV, two things I try (and often fail) to moderate. She loves all things sweet, like her father, and is always asking for ice cream and s’mores and cupcakes. We have had all three, plus cheesecake, in the days since she turned eight. 

The cheesecake, by the way, was okay. Not great, but not bad. I had A Crust Incident when I was making it, but it was easy enough to scrap the crust and start over. (Less easy was wiping all the leaked butter out of the bottom of my oven. You live and you learn.) 

Carla’s tastes are growing and changing. Instead of dresses every day, she gravitates toward jeans and t-shirts. She is newly scornful of her unicorn-and-rainbows backpack, and wants one that is ALL BLACK for third grade. (We did put a selection of backpacks in front of her the other day, in the form of a Lands End catalog, and she liked ones with stars and galaxies moreso than the all-black option, so we’ll see what we end up with.) She loves experimenting with makeup and tattoo pens and stick-on jewels. She loves asking me to do new things with her hair – small ponytails, high ponytails, braids. (I didn’t say my hairstyling repertoire was vast.)

She can read very well now, and is able to read almost anything, but it’s still not an activity she likes or chooses to undertake very often. Over the past year, she’s grown very fond of audiobooks and will listen to the same ones over and over until I request that she try something new, or at least something we haven’t heard in a while. She went through the entire Judy Blume catalog (well, the lower grade books) and most of Beverly Cleary’s books and a lot of the Lemony Snicket “Series of Unfortunate Events” books and whatever else I can persuade her to listen to. She has heard Socks probably a hundred times, I am not even kidding. Ribsy is not far behind. I kind of miss the days of podcasts (Wow in the World and Story Pirates were her favorites) but I love that she is enjoying books in any form. 

She has fallen in love with poetry, though. She found a battered copy of A Light in the Attic by Shel Silverstein and read it over and over and over, memorizing several of the poems. She often chose that book for us to read when we put her to bed, each of us picking a random page and reading, then handing the book to the next person. Some nights, she would help me memorize one favorite poem. Other nights, after we kissed her goodnight, she would continue reading long past bedtime. We got her Where the Sidewalk Ends and the Random House Book of Poetry for Children for her birthday. If Carla is in a phase of loving poetry, well, I want to stoke that fire. 

This year, she continued to excel at skiing. She needs lessons to help build skill, but she is an eager skier and has no trouble keeping up with her friends. She tried out ice skating, for the second time in her life, and I was very proud of her for keeping at it even though it did not come easily to her. She had a few days of feeling very insecure, but she really worked hard and I think she has a good foundation of balance. 

Second grade was Carla’s best academic year yet. Her class was small (only ten children) and her teacher was phenomenal, but I am so very proud of how hard Carla worked. Not only at math and reading, but at paying attention and staying focused on her work which do not come easily to her. I am also so incredibly proud of how well she did during Covid in general, and during remote schooling specifically. It was so hard. And she really powered through it all.  

She has a bunch of friends from school and loves them all. It was so fun to see her at her party, with all these other little girls who are all so different and who all, somehow, get along so well. One of her friends moved away and they bridge the distance by playing Animal Crossing together, over Facetime. At another friend’s birthday party, Carla led the entire group in a toast to the birthday girl. Her voice and her enthusiasm carry. She wore a rainbow dress with rainbow sandals to that same friend’s birthday party and one of the other mothers commented that it was so appropriate an outfit because that’s exactly what Carla is: a dazzling rainbow of a kid, who attracts people to her and makes them smile. What a compliment, right?! 

Carla is increasingly sassy and I have to remind her on occasion to be respectful and to rephrase things. She hates having her hair brushed. She dislikes cleaning her room (her coping method is to “plean” which is her word for playing and cleaning; I am not a fan because “pleaning” is at least 95% playing and often whatever small amount of cleaning that occurs is soon erased by the playing). But in the main, she is cheerful and friendly and kind. She is enthusiastic about nearly everything (except sleep) (except when we are about to be late for camp) and my husband and I comment frequently about what a happy kid she is. She still, sometimes, wakes up singing. We both hope she never loses that innate zest for life that lights up everything she sees, that draws people to her, that makes her glow from the inside out. Seven has been a surprisingly spectacular year and I can’t wait to see what Carla-as-an-eight-year-old is like. 

This year, I didn’t fall as deep into my annual “my baby is growing up too fast” pit of nostalgia and despair. Probably because the shiny rainbow lining of this awful pandemic year was that I got to spend more time with Carla than ever before. What a blessing. I feel less like my time with her is slipping through my fingers, more like we can find pleasurable time in one another’s company, more grateful than ever before for the things outside of me that help her thrive (school, camp, sports, playdates). I am so happy she is growing and I love being able to witness as she has changed from a squishy, spit-puppy baby to a toddler dynamo to a thoughtful, eager-to-learn, happy-about-life child. What a privilege it is, to be her mom.

Eight. Eight is going to be great, I just know it.

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I was calling up to my daughter this morning, to tell her breakfast was ready, and it struck me that I never in a million years would have predicted that I would end up using the nickname I most often do. 

One of the reasons I fell in love with her name is because it had an abundance of nickname choices. I didn’t love one of the nicknames – the most common one – because it seems to be fairly common overall, both as a nickname for her name… but also as a nickname for other names… or even as a name by itself. But her name was in our family tree, and my husband and I both loved it, and it had ALL those other nickname possibilities… and I had fallen in love with one of the (lesser used) nicknames in particular. 

Let’s say, for example’s sake, that her given name is Carla (which it is not), and I had been sure, just sure that I would call her LaLa. But instead, I almost exclusively call her Carly – the very common nickname I had wrinkled my nose at early on. 

It really is so funny how naming works. Because now that “Carly” is inextricably associated with my darling child, I love it. 

A couple of times, I have given LaLa a go, just to see what would happen. (Carla is fine with this; she seems to find it sort of novel, that I had planned to call her LaLa.) But not only does LaLa seem very separate from Carla-the-person, it feels odd in my mouth.

I also love that her friends have come up with their own separate nickname for her: Cars. It’s so cute, and I never would have imagined it when I was choosing her name. Sometimes I call her Car, sure, but Cars seems different in a way that I find so charming. Well. Perhaps you’d have to be here, in my brain, to see it. 

Who knows why we never gave LaLa a fair shake from the beginning. Probably it’s because we refer to Carla, 90% of the time, as Carla. I use the Carly nickname a lot more these days than I ever have before; perhaps I am getting lazy in my decrepitude.

Oh! One unforeseen benefit of going with Carly over LaLa: One of the dogs down the street is LaLa. The dog is only a few years old, so I’m guessing that if we had gone with LaLa, the neighbors would have chosen something else. But maybe not! 

Did you have a nickname growing up? Do you now? I’ve had a couple over the years. My parents planned a nickname for me, based on squishing part of my first name together with a common nickname for my middle name. That sounds really weird when I can’t just share it with you, but that’s how they came up with it. They LOVED it. In fact, I think I even went by that name for some time. But – and I remember the event clearly, even if I can’t remember at all how old I was – I was enrolled in ski school at some ski resort when I was little, and someone mispronounced my nickname in such a horrid, detestable way that I immediately and vehemently refused to answer to that name ever again.

Later on, in high school, a couple of kids called me Susie. But it was irregular and there were only a few specific people who did so. I never introduced myself as Susie or anything. 

In college, one of my beloved roommates started calling me Suz, which stuck. That’s how I began referring to myself. My mom and my husband and a handful of other people (almost exclusively college friends) still call me that today. Aside from that, my husband doesn’t use any nicknames for me. Sometimes he’ll call me “Babe.” But that’s it. 

Once college ended, I went back to using my full name at work and when I met people. So most people just call me by my full first name. 

The lack of nicknames almost makes a little wistful, I guess, because I am a very nickname-y person (though I try not to be annoying about it). Obviously, if you don’t like a nickname, I will refer to you by whatever name you choose. But I tend to have multiple endearments for my nearest and dearest. As I said earlier, I refer to Carla as Carly (most often), and then Car, and then C, but I also call her Little Cat or Kitten (because she used to make a purring sound after she drank milk when she was an infant) or Honey Bun or Cutey Patootie or Sweetheart or whatever strikes my fancy in the moment. I have a variety of sobriquets for my husband. I even still call my brother by his childhood nickname, which I am sure he LOVES (but he has never bristled or asked me to stop). 

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First of all, does my daughter have too many stuffed animals, Y/N?

Don’t breathe or the whole stack will collapse. Somehow I am only JUST NOW noticing what a hideous color the carpet is.

Are you sure?

Why is that narwhal so creepy? He’s the only one who looks cheerful — everyone else looks Deeply Concerned.

To be FAIR, they are normally divided between two spots, on top of her dresser like so and also on top of her bookcase. We squashed them all together so we could set up her little Christmas tree on the bookcase. When you have two large piles instead of one enormous pile, it still feels like an infestation, but it’s less alarming.

I wonder what the collective noun is for stuffies? A fluff? A cuddle? A suffocation? Yes, that last one seems most apt right now (for all I know, Carla could be under that pile somewhere): a suffocation of stuffies.

Okay, enough about the Stuffed Animal Addiction which I have fully enabled in my household.

What I ACTUALLY want to talk about today is a Very Great Experience that I just have to record for Future Me. 

Carla and I have been diligently reading through the books suggested on her reading countdown calendar. This week, we got to the one about reading a 12 Days of Christmas book.

In anticipation of this day, I had ordered this book from the library:

A very good book, with beautiful illustrations and, at the end, a nice tidy explanation of what the 12 days of Christmas means that also addresses whether or not someone would have REALLY given all these birds and people as gifts.

After school was done, and we’d each bathed (what? we are stuck at home and you expect me to shower in the MORNING?), we turned on the lamp in the living room to stave off the gathering shadows and sat down on the couch to read. Really cuddled up in there, because our couch makes an L shape and both Carla and I have a Strong Preference for the space where the strokes of the L join. Instead of taking turns or finding an alternative location, we simply squeeze in there together as tight as possible. I’ll be honest. Sometimes elbows are involved. Snuggling now also has a practical component, because our furnace is having Troubles. It is set for 71 degrees, which, when achieved, feels like being on the surface of the sun. But at all other times, the temperature of our house sinks into the mid-60s which doesn’t SOUND cold but somehow is Very Very Cold Indeed.

Back to the memories I WANT to preserve!

I opened the book and asked her if we should read the book or sing it. And I discovered that she had never heard the 12 Days of Christmas! So we sang it together. Which was just the most delightful experience.

She didn’t know the tune, but she gamely sang along until she picked it up. We stopped several times to discuss the oddness of the choices of gifts. So many birds! And then people?! We had to talk about whether the gold rings should be gold-en, because gold-en made much more sense with the rhythm. (This particular book says GOLD.) And we had a brief conflict of opinion when we came to eight maids a-milking, because she felt SURE that the gift was COWS. I mean, why not, right? Makes more sense than giving your true love MILKMAIDS. I mean, what if you didn’t even HAVE cows to milk and now you have eight unemployed women milling around awkwardly?

We also talked a lot about the rhythmic addition of “a” to so many of the lines: a-laying, a-swimming, a-leaping. Carla seemed to understand why it was there, but I think she’s still a little suspicious.

And then, finally, we reached the glorious last page, with alllllllll the gifts sung one after another. By then Carla had a good grasp of the tune and the rhythms and we sang it with gusto. 

It was just… wonderful. The holiday spirit swept me right up and made the gloomy near-dusk all golden at the edges. 

It’s not even a song I typically like! I mean, I enjoy belting out “five gold rings” as much as the next guy; I’m not made of stone. But this book and this reading experience may have changed that. And now I look forward to hearing it on the radio (that sounds so old-fashioned but I can’t bring myself to say “hearing it on the Apple music holiday playlist”) so that we can sing it together! And I hope every time I hear it, from this moment on, that the words are gilded with the joy of sitting with my daughter on a winter afternoon and singing at the top of our lungs. 

I want to remember it always.

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I am skipping today’s Dinners This Week post. I mean, there’s no need to plan dinners when you’ll be eating dinner on an airplane, right? Let’s have some randomosity. Join me, won’t you?

First, let’s have some medicinal nachos:

Nachos 1

Chips. Top with cheese. Melt for 30 seconds in the microwave. Top with black beans and frozen corn. Microwave for another 20 seconds. Top with copious amounts of my favorite hot sauce. Add avocado, diced onion, and sour cream. Cilantro if you have it/don’t hate it. Tomatoes if you swing that way. Squeeze a wedge of lime over everything. Add copious amounts of sriracha for good measure. DEVOUR.

  • A lot of my fretting about Leaving My Bayyyyyybeeeeee has been channeled into Shoe Panic. As in, how am I going to walk around Europe for ten days without reducing my delicate feet to bloody shreds? So I have purchased and returned approximately 90,000 pairs of shoes in the past week. Nothing like leaving an important aspect of your planning to the very last minute!

 

  • These are the shoes I have ended up with: Skechers Go Walk Evolution Ultra sneakers (why do all athletic shoes have such ridiculous names?) and Vionic Minna ballet flats (in color “sand”) because I wanted to have walk-friendly shoes that were dressy enough for a nice-ish dinner.

 

  • Building on some of your great ideas for making the trip easier on Carla, I have bought her some books and other little fun surprises to open while we’re gone. There is a real dearth of fun, story-based children’s books about the very specific locations we are traveling to, which is DISAPPOINTING, but I did find this book about one of the cities on our itinerary:

Munich

  • You know that one of my big panics is Death By Airplane, right? So I have been desperately trying to get our life insurance upgraded just in case. Of course, the process takes waaaaayyyyy longer than I thought it would, so we just squeaked our medical exams in at the last minute and there is no way the underwriting will be complete before we leave. (I use these terms like I have any idea whatsoever how any of this works, which I do NOT.) HOWEVER. Did you know that you can get provisional coverage, based on the assumption that you will get approved? So that’s what we’re doing. We can pay a premium as though we’ve been approved, and then, when we come back home, ALIVE, we can pay any additional amount as needed. And if we perish while overseas, we’re covered. (I mean, as long as we are approved and have paid the correct amount; I’m assuming my parents could pay any difference after the fact.) Cool, right!?! Okay, maybe my calibration of “cool” has shifted in odd ways.

 

  • In other morbid planning, I tried to record myself singing to Carla. There are two songs I have been singing to her at bedtime all her life – one I made up while pregnant with her and the other is “Moon River” – and I have this desperate feeling that I MUST record myself singing them so she can listen to the songs (but will she?) to comfort her (but will they?) after my fiery death. But I can’t record myself! It’s so ridiculous! In every recording, I keep SWALLOWING in the middle of sentences. Like, “Mooooooon river, wider than a mile, I’m crossing [gulp] you in style someday…. [gulp] Dream maker, you heart [gulp] breaker….” It’s really distracting and annoying and I cannot NOT do it. I mean, have you ever tried to NOT SWALLOW when your body is telling you to swallow? And then try to SING while not swallowing? It’s absurd and obviously some sort of weird self-conscious reaction to recording myself. Do not suggest that I ask my husband to record me actually singing to Carla, because then I would die of embarrassment and also we are out of time. I am going to choose the least gulpy of the options and THAT’S JUST HOW CARLA WILL HAVE TO REMEMBER ME.

 

  • Abrupt subject change: Our Amazon Echo (Alexa) has begun telling me to enjoy my day. “Have a nice day,” she’ll say after I ask for the weather in the morning. “Have a good afternoon,” she’ll say sometimes after I’ve asked for the news briefing. It’s creepy but nice? And she only says it to me. She has never once used any sort of pleasantry with my husband. Also creepy? But it makes me feel vindicated in using “please” and “thank you” when making requests of her. My husband may not be on the good side of the AI after the uprising, but hopefully Alexa will put in a good word for me.

 

  • While I’m worrying about wholly unimportant things (recap: dying on my totally voluntary trip overseas; the state of my footwear for said trip; singing lullabies without swallowing; the inevitable AI uprising; will I have enough nachos to last until we leave for Europe?), let’s add in some panic about Carla’s birthday party. I think we have the venue down. And Carla has shifted from Tiger Theme to Seahorse Theme to Mommy, You Choose A Theme From These Five Cat-Related Categories Plus Foxes. So I am leaning toward Rainbow Leopard Theme, mainly because I have found the perfect party favor:

Rainbow Leopard

  • And the perfect cake to torture myself with making. (My husband heaved a great world-weary sigh when I told him about it and asked if I might consider just BUYING a cake.) (No.) (Does he know me?)

 

  • But I can’t find any great theme-appropriate invitations; some decent ones, but nothing I LOVE. And, WORSE, because I will panic about LITERALLY ANYTHING meaningless in the grand scheme of things, I cannot find any theme-appropriate paper plates and napkins. I can order them via Zazzle for around $60 for 40 to 50 plates-or-napkins, but can we all agree that spending $60 on 40 paper plates for a single party is excessive? I’m not saying it can’t be DONE; I wouldn’t judge anyone for spending $60 on 40 plates if that’s how they chose to spend their hard-earned money. But I think $1.70 cheetah-print paper plate — PAPER, not even hard plastic — is excessive and I really want to avoid it if at all possible.

 

  • So maybe foxes? I haven’t looked it up, but foxes could be a good alternative, right? It’s just that they are so Off Brand for my particular child, who wears leopard print probably three days a week (today she is wearing a faux fur cheetah print vest over a green dress and black leggings with faux leather patches; she has a very particular sense of style, this kid) and has leopard print boots and pretends to be a rotating cast of leopards/cheetahs/panthers on a daily basis. I am already exhausted by planning this party and I haven’t really even begun.

 

  • Please keep in mind that I KNOW that none of this is important, it’s a birthday party, not the Oscars or some other party that actually matters/has wide visibility, and really ALL parties pale in comparison to, like, climate change and gun control and matters of REAL IMPORT. I am not overlooking the absolute absurdity of wasting brainpower on this frivolity.

 

  • Frivolity continues: And what are we going to get Carla for her actual gift? She is fresh out of ideas, unless you count “more Barbies!” as an idea which I do not. The only things I can come up with are a) a new bike (although she has a perfectly good hand-me-down bike that will probably last her at least another year, in terms of being the right height, not to mention she staunchly refuses to let us remove the training wheels) and b) a doll, because she seems to finally be more interested in dolls than in stuffed animals. She has repeatedly asked for a basket for her bike, so she can collect things (acorns, pinecones, rocks) when she goes for bike rides… but I don’t think “needs a basket” is enough of a reason to buy a whole new bike… I don’t know. I am on the fence. What is the six-year-old set into these days?

 

  • I LOVED dolls as a child, and my mom got me a couple of Corelle (?) dolls that I cherished and played with for many years. (Oh wait, it turns out they are COROLLE dolls – Corelle is a type of dishware, it seems. My bad.) Is Corolle still a good way to go, doll-wise? American Girl dolls seem to be popular around here… although they are SO expensive I don’t think I am ready to travel down that road. I also used to love Cabbage Patch Dolls, are those still A Thing? (Ugh, I am cringing thinking about how the “preemie” Cabbage Patch Dolls were so coveted when I was a little girl. I guess March of Dimes used them to raise awareness about premature birth, but that went right over my head at the time. I can imagine it being a hurtful thing for lots of parents.) What is the current Doll Trend, is what I want to know? I thought, being a parent, this knowledge would sort of magically manifest in my brain but I WAS WRONG.

 

  • Speaking of brains: does your brain do that thing where, when overtired, it fixates on one word or phrase or song lyric to the exclusion of all other thoughts? Mine has been choosing “It’s raining tacos,” itself an agonizingly repetitive song, to replay ad nauseum in my head, at 2:30 am and beyond. Fun.  (No.)

 

  • My Inevitable Death Panic (which is both panic about my inevitable death and an inevitable panic about death) is manifesting in lots of cleaning, which is good, I suppose. But I have failed to take any Before photos, which makes it poor blog fodder. I just want you to know that I have done a LOT of work and gotten rid of a LOT of crap. I am kind of hoping my mom will open some drawers and marvel at how spare and tidy they are. “Maybe she died in a plane crash taking a totally unnecessary trip abroad, but, man, are her drawers neat and clean!” they’ll say at my funeral.

 

  • Let’s have one more photograph of medicinal nachos. These were yesterday’s, so I need to see if I have enough ingredients for another heaping dose before I make my way to The Land of Sausages and Schnitzel. DOCTOR’S ORDERS.

Nachos 2

Okay. Enough. What’s up with you, Internet? Lord knows we have enough Big Serious Issues at hand to ensure we never sleep again. But what utterly frivolous things are keeping you up at night?

By the way, my husband and I decided to limit ourselves to one phone while overseas, and it is his phone, so blog posting/reading is likely to be light/nonexistent while we’re gone. I promise photos of castles if when we return.

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