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The day is not off to a good start.

Part of it is actual, part of it is mental, part of it is diet-al.

Part the first: I have managed to make my child simultaneously hate school and believe that her teachers are going to be mad at her if she isn’t perfect. We had parent teacher conferences last week, and her teachers mentioned a couple of things Carla needed to work on. And I mentioned those things to her, and we talked about some strategies, and she got really cranky and irritable with me and then we moved on. We had a lovely weekend. This morning, she waltzed into my room in one of her signature amazing ensembles (purple pants, pink shirt, faux leopard fur vest, sparkly headband) in a happy mood and snuggled with me until my alarm went off. I reminded her this morning about what we had discussed, and it was like flipping a switch. All of a sudden she was hot and would I take her temperature. No fever. She was really tired and naptime at school is way too far away so she wants to stay home. She doesn’t want to go to school. She’s NOT going to school. I tried to figure out what the deal was – she LOVES school; over the weekend, we drove past her school and the parking lot was full and she said “No fair! Those kids get to be there on the weekend!” – and eventually got out of her that she thinks she won’t be able to do what we discussed and her teachers will be mad at her. So. No school. She’s done.

Well shit.

I tried everything in my Mommy Toolkit to persuade her: Assurance: We don’t expect you to be perfect, we expect you to try your best. Your teachers love you. Here are all the wonderful things they told me about you at the conference. Here are all the things for which your father and I are so proud of you. Bribery: If you go to school today, you get to do X! I will let you bring your horse in the car on the way to school! If you still feel bad at school, you can go to the nurse and she will call me to come get you! Logic: School is your job, you have to go. If Daddy didn’t want to go to work, what would happen? It’s a law that kids your age have to go to school. Mild threats: If you don’t go, here are all the fun things you will miss. If you stay home, you will be bored; no TV, I have work to do so I can’t play with you. And – bringing out the big guns – I will make you go on ERRANDS with me. She was undeterred.

Finally, after assuring her for the ten thousandth time that neither her teachers nor I would be mad at her, that none of us expects her to be PERFECT, that we just want her to TRY… After singing her the Daniel Tiger song about “your best is the best for you”… After coming up with some specific strategies to try with her teachers… FINALLY, I got her out the door. We were thirty-five minutes late.

And then, when I was telling her teacher about the strategies we had discussed and explaining what had happened, I of course burst into tears. Because nothing makes a Bad Parenting Morning worse than leaking it all over your child’s poor teacher. The only saving grace was that we were so late, there weren’t many other parents lingering in the halls to see me blubbering.

Man, I really screwed things up. And I don’t know exactly HOW, or exactly how to fix it, or how to do it differently. And she still needs to work on the things she needs to work on, although obviously they are not DIRE. (Though I managed to get poor Carla to feel that they ARE dire.) And my heart just feels so RAW for her, because she is working so hard at growing up – so, so hard – and she wants to please us and her teachers so badly, and she is so much more sensitive than sometimes even I realize. And of all people in the world, I should be the one who KNOWS what she needs and understands how to get through to her without screwing her up and I DON’T.

So that’s the actual.

The mental is the crushing certainty that I am the absolute worst choice of person to be a parent. And that nonetheless I have to do it anyway. And at stake are my child’s PERMANENT HAPPINESS AND WELL BEING.

There is also the outward spiraling, wherein I begin to feel that everything else in life is terrible too: our house is falling apart, I can’t keep up with the to-do list, I am failing as a writer. You know. One bit of the scaffolding gets knocked in and the whole structure comes tumbling down.

Then there’s the diet-al, which is stupid and I should just QUIT because it’s making me miserable. I have a constant headache. I feel nauseated and my brain seems to be going at half speed. I am not particularly hungry or missing foods all that much, but I do have a rather abnormally intense fixation on Diet Coke.

You can see how this all adds up to a bad morning so far.

Two things I am using to try to pull myself out of this negativity quicksand:

  1. The diet is over as of Thursday morning. I will be celebrating with a big bowl of pasta and a thick slice of cake.
  2. I have a pedicure scheduled with a friend for Friday, which should be relaxing and my friend and I will get to chat and catch up.

And between me, my husband, and Carla’s teachers, we should be able to figure out how to redirect her perfectionism… somehow? Right?

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Poor Carla is just off  lately. Saturday she ate practically nothing – some bacon and a tomato from her BLT at lunch, a handful of fries; a peanut butter sandwich at our friends’ house that night – and then she ate a great lunch yesterday but literally NOTHING for dinner. Not a single bite. She requested instead to go to bed. But then she woke up at 11:30 and could NOT fall back to sleep. She was up until well past two. Two a.m. in the morning. And if by “she was up” you are assuming that maybe I was sleeping, no. I was reading Harriet the Spy and playing YouTube “spa music” and fetching water and taking her temperature and reading old favorite picture books and giving her Tylenol because her “neck” hurt when she swallowed and making a “nest” in my room beside my bed and lying quietly in the dark and hissing at Carla in my most soothing way to just be STILL and close your EYES.

No surprise that she was dragging this morning. She didn’t eat as much for breakfast as I thought (hoped) she would – most of her smoothie, one French toast stick – and was just kind of slow. Which could be tired slow. Or not-feeling-great slow. Or just plain old Kindergarten Slow. Who knows.

Why is so much of parenting so unknowable? That’s what I’m bemoaning this morning. I mean, I get it. There’s no handbook. No two kids are alike. Yada yada blah. But I have had this particular kid for nearly six whole years so you’d think I’d at least have the hang of dealing with her by now. But you’d have thought incorrectly, I’m sorry to say. (Mainly sorry for me, not so much for you and your misplaced faith in my supposed parenting “ability.”)

There are so many QUESTIONS. And I have answers to SO FEW of them! Sure, some things, like “should she be holding that sharp knife?” and “should I give her a hug?” have simple answers. But so many do NOT.

Some of the questions for which I do not have answers just TODAY:

  • Is “not eating dinner” a totally acceptable thing once in a while, or does it indicate something is WRONG?
  • Does a repeated claim that a child has a headache indicate an actual headache… or is it a bid for attention… or is it a parroting of my own not-infrequent headaches and therefore a cautionary tale against complaining too much about my own minor aches and pains… or is it a way to divert attention away from the not-eating?
  • And if there IS a headache, is it a normal Everyone-Gets-Headaches-Sometimes headache or does it indicate something is WRONG? And how do you know the difference?
  • How in the world do I stopper the effervescent frustration of Slow Child Not Moving Quickly Enough When We Need to Get to School on Time FOR THE LOVE before I burst forth with a Mean Mom snarl of PUT YOUR COAT ON OMG?
  • If there is no fever, and no REAL reason to keep a child home – especially when everyone seems to think that a snow day or two is imminent this week, based on predicted temperatures – is it really okay to send her to school? Even though this guilty feeling keeps nagging me like a staticky sock stuck to a pant leg?

This is not to mention all of the day-to-day questions I have, including but not limited to:

  • How much screen time is REALLY acceptable? And if my kid squeezes it all into the weekends, does that make it better or worse?
  • How am I ever going to get her to tie her shoes? I don’t want to buy shoes with laces until she knows how to tie them; cod knows I’m not going to tie them for her. But how is she going to learn until I buy her shoes with laces? DILEMMA.
  • Should we be FaceTime-ing with relatives more often?
  • Is my kid’s behavior around other adults totally typical of her age, or something I need to be more on top of correcting? (Things like not answering when being spoken to, sticking out her tongue or otherwise being playful, ignoring them totally and wandering off…)
  • Am I preparing her well enough for Real Life? While still allowing her to enjoy the freedom and innocence of childhood?
  • Is she really going to lose ALL her teeth? And how am I going to handle the horror that is a piece of my child’s bone hanging by a slim bloody tether from her gums MORE TIMES?
  • Do I read to her enough?
  • Do I play with her enough?
  • Does she have enough time to play?
  • How many stuffed animals are too many stuffed animals?
  • Are my expectations too high? Not high enough?
  • Am I giving her enough intellectual stimulation? Social? Physical? Creative?
  • Am I teaching her good eating habits?
  • Am I a good enough role model?
  • Is she getting enough sleep?
  • Is she happy?
  • How many ways am I failing her?

I don’t know if you are aware, but this parenting thing is EXHAUSTING. It’s like taking a midterm exam every single DAY and knowing that you haven’t studied enough and you are pretty iffy on big chunks of the material. But you don’t get a grade now  – oh no, you have to take 4,560 more exams just between now and when your kid presumably heads off to college. And they’re really important but there’s no way to know if you’re just squeaking by with a C average or totally bombing. That’s the hardest part, right? I could be TOTALLY SCREWING HER UP and I won’t know until she’s an adult.

I am going to go treat this bout of parenting angst with some melted cheese and maybe consider a nap. How’s that for being a role model, hmm?

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I have been feeling a little melancholy the past few days. I think I’ve pinpointed some of the sources: It’s that odd time of year, between holidays, where I am sad and exhausted after my full-of-family house emptied out, and the pressure of All Things Christmas is already hot and heavy. I have been rewatching The Closer, which is one of my favorite television shows, but I had forgotten how dreadfully stressful and sad the final season is. I haven’t been writing (paid work and then company/Thanksgiving), which always makes me feel unsettled and off. I read a well-written and deeply sad article in The New Yorker about dementia that hasn’t left me. My husband and I are going to see a lawyer to (FINALLY) do our estate planning. And, of course, the clouds have settled in for what promises to be many months.

It all adds up to feeling extra sensitive to silly things – a probably offhand but seemingly poignant comment from the checker at the grocery store; the way Brenda’s team is so loyal to her on The Closer; having to throw away gobs of carefully, lovingly made Thanksgiving leftovers that no one will eat; that sort of thing – and feeling a little mopey and down.

One of the other sources of my broodiness is a current heightened awareness of the juggernaut of time.

The retail sector is at least partially to blame, I think. All the frenzied emails about Christmas began what feels like months ago and have only increased in intensity. I get anxious just checking my email – all those companies yelling at me to hurry! Going fast! Don’t wait to get in on this! Shop more, save more! Ends tonight! Extended! Don’t miss out! Such a ceaseless cacophony of urgency that I am somehow unable to ignore.

Hanukkah is early this year, which makes me feel like I’m already behind.

My parents were looking at retirement homes when they were here for Thanksgiving. While I am grateful to them for preparing for their old age, and for being so open and frank about the subjects of aging and infirmity and death, it makes me sad and panicky. I may be nearly middle-aged, but I still feel like I’m somewhere in the big swirl of age twenty-to-thirty, and I’m not ready to think seriously about my parents being old.

As I literally just mentioned, I am rapidly approaching middle age, with its attendant anxieties. My skin has frequent eruptions of pique. I vacillate between feeling delighted about my middle-age invisibility and feeling angry about the fact that my husband grows increasingly attractive while I do the opposite and feeling depressed that I am fading into the wallpaper and winding inexorably toward death.

Plus – and, although it may seem like the least important item on my list, it is not– my child has her first loose tooth. As with so many childhood milestones, this feels remarkable and significant. Her little face will change so much once she loses teeth. Teeth she’s had since she was a BABY. And I’m suddenly hyper-aware that she’s five-and-a-half, which is almost six. And while five felt So Big – kindergarten!!!! – six seems practically ancient. This loose tooth has me all in a tizzy of Childhood Is Fleeting and I am simultaneously frantic about making Christmas Special While She Still Gets So Excited About Everything and mooning over all the times I failed to Cherish Every Moment. And now her babyhood is really and truly GONE. She’s practically a GROWN UP.

Of course her growing up is tied inextricably to my own mortality. It all comes down to this: This feeling that I want to keep my baby little – even while I love, LOVE how she is growing. The knowledge that it’s impossible to do so. The desperate need to take in everything – soak up every little bit of her – all the time, and watching as the moment steamrolls past even as I grasp for it.

Last night, I went in to her room to take her to the bathroom before I went to sleep. Usually, she climbs out of bed – she’s really getting too big for me to carry – but this time, I picked her up. She turned her little face up to mine for a kiss, and then draped herself over my shoulder. I stood there for a moment, just holding her. The weight of her in my arms. The warmth of her body, the baking-bread scent of her skin, the gentle sound of her sucking her thumb. Just a minute ago, she was small enough to fit in the curve of my neck. Now, her long legs dangle down to my knees. My big girl. My baby.

Well. Melancholy.

There’s a fresh layer of snow on all the trees, and a steady soft flurry. I got a bright assortment of bell peppers from the grocery store yesterday – the bright green and yellow and orange and red are a nice contrast to the grey. I’ve gotten my meager “fall” décor put away, but am allowing myself a few days before I put out the Christmas stuff; there’s no hurry, and I want to stave off that closed-in feeling I get after too many weeks of Christmas Everything Everywhere I Turn. But because I am a woman of contradictions, I put on a Christmas music station – and Mariah Carey and Tony Bennett and Wham! have done a lot to help chip away at the glum. I have coffee planned with a lovely friend. Just now, I have answered the door to find a beautiful wreath from my mother – it smells like Christmastime and is now hanging proudly on my door. It all helps.

Wreath.jpg

So too does the knowledge that this feeling shall pass, and the hope that maybe someday I will be able to enjoy the present moment without mourning its eventual passage.

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I was listening to the radio the other day and the talkshow hosts were talking about stereotypes. Ostensibly, the discussion was about stereotypes that you are proud of – the example they gave was that one of the hosts, who is Indian, is proud to be the bearer of the cultural stereotype about not wearing shoes in the house, because her house is cleaner than that of people who wear their shoes inside. Even though I am a STAUNCH no-shoes-in-the-house supporter, I thought the example was a bit of a stretch. (Is taking off your shoes at the door a negative stereotype? Is not wearing shoes in the house an Indian stereotype at all?)  Most of the other examples were neutral to moderately negative stereotypes that people didn’t mind about themselves: an Italian man said he talks with his hands; a white dude said he can’t dance; a Jewish woman said she is constantly trying to feed people.

It was one of those benign little conversation topics that’s stuck with me. (I am trying to distract myself with benign to balance out all the horror.) I am sure that I fit many, many stereotypes about people of my age, race, cultural background, etc. etc. etc. Probably a lot of them aren’t particularly attractive.

But there is one stereotype I know for sure I fit: I have a stereotypical Mom Car.

I don’t think I was even aware this was a stereotype until Carla started school and I made friends with other moms. (Did my mom have a mom car? I can’t remember.) All of us are always apologizing about the state of our cars. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you drive a 2019 Mercedes or a 1999 Dodge, if you’re a mom, the interior of your car is a disaster. (At least among my group. I know this doesn’t apply to EVERYONE; it’s a stereotype not a genetic imperative.)

My car is such a mess at all times. It is crowded with a hearty mix of Necessities and Absolute Nonsense, and it’s really hard to disentangle the two categories. And even more difficult is trying to find the time (or desire) to tackle the grand unknotting.

For example, right now I have two purses in my car, one in the front seat and one in the back. The one purse in my front seat is a Necessity; the one in the backseat is there because of laziness. Or, more likely, because any time I leave my car to go into my house, my arms are laden with groceries or child or child’s backpack and artwork, so there is no room for a Nonsense Purse.

Speaking of artwork – which could be a whole post on its own, titled “Do I Spend Money Now on a Separate House to Hold All My Kid’s Precious Art or Save It for Her Inevitable My-Heartless-Mother-Cruelly-Disposed-of-My-Creative-Output-Themed Therapy Bills?” – I have several absolutely irreplaceable pages of semi-crumpled paper on my front seat, waiting for a moment when Carla isn’t looking so I can toss them directly into the outdoor recycling bin (if I put them inside, she will see them and there will be tears). Also on my front seat is the school pickup sign that I need in order to collect Carla at the end of the day. Also probably a sweater that Carla couldn’t wear for one more second so ended up squished into a ball on the passenger seat as I urged her in escalating desperation to get in her carseat so I could stop holding up the pickup line.

In the center console is a Barnes & Noble gift card (depleted) that Carla won’t allow me to throw away; I will, but she has to forget about it first. In the cupholders are some acorns, some barrettes, a hair tie, a leaf that is well past crispy and on its way to dust, and a plastic heart-shaped “gem” that is too precious to get rid of but not so precious it ever makes it into the house. This morning after I dropped Carla off at school, I grabbed a half-eaten bag of mini carrots that had been languishing in the cupholder for… more days than I care to consider.

Because my car is a billion years old, I have a bunch of CDs that constantly spill all over the floor. I have an extra set of mittens. I have gum and mints and a handful of ones that I use to tip the grocery-bag-loader people at my grocery store. I have a bag that contains Emergency Entertainment Supplies – a pad of drawing paper, a package of colored pencils, flash cards, a miniature book. Usually there is a Beloved Stuffed Animal floating around somewhere. More often than not, there are assorted sticks, rocks, and leaves that were deemed too beautiful/interesting to leave outside but not quite beautiful/interesting enough to ever leave my car. I’m guessing you’d be able to find a sticker or two from Trader Joe’s or Target or the pediatrician’s office that Carla will never use – but whose potential is too powerful to allow her to dispose of them.

In the trunk is an old diaper bag I haven’t been able to bring myself to get rid of. Jumper cables. My grocery bag holder slash car organizer, which has really just become another receptacle for junk. A bag with “winter necessities” (blanket, hat, scarf, some ancient granola bars). Some apple juice leftover from a teacher appreciation thing.

I have at least three bags of antibacterial wipes floating around the car, not that I can ever find a wipe when I need one.

See what I mean? Total mess. And even though I try to keep up with it, the mess just keeps growing and growing.

My husband’s car, on the other hand, is spotless. He has Carla’s carseat and an extra white coat in the backseat. His grocery bag holder is folded up neatly in the trunk. He has a pack of gum and his latest book on tape in the center console. That’s it.

How does he do it? Well, he doesn’t ferry our kid around five days a week, there’s that. He’s not the main grocery/Target shopper. He doesn’t really need anything in his car.

While we’re talking about stereotypes, you should see my “mom purse.” First of all, it’s meant to be a mom purse. It’s one of those big almost duffle-y type bags that wears a welt on your shoulder if you carry it too long. But that’s because it holds everything you could possibly need! If you need a bandaid or some Purell or some headache medicine or gum, I’ve got it. I don’t know how many times I’ve been with other moms who inexplicably had nothing with which to entertain their toddlers, and I was able to unearth some crayons or plastic animals for them to play with. Or some goldfish to munch on. When my daughter’s friend didn’t have her hair tied back at ballet, I was able to produce a hair tie from the depths of my purse. Need a pen? I have one! Need a Kleenex? Chapstick? Change for the meter? Look no further. (Well, maybe look further for the Chapstick; I don’t share.) Feeling puckish? I’ve probably got some Teddy Grahams or a pouch of applesauce or at the very least an old, slightly sticky Dum-Dum.

Well, I am not embarrassed. My car and purse are functional; I’m not entering any organized-purse competitions or car-interior beauty pageants. I am a mom, and I do a bunch of stuff that requires me to have a bunch of junk in my car and prevents me from cleaning it out regularly. It’s like if I were a plumber: you’d find a ton of spare parts and tools and shoe covers and business cards and stuff in my vehicle, and you wouldn’t even bat an eyelash. The lollipop sticks and half-colored coloring book pages and once-beautiful leaves and spare socks are my work supplies.

Stereotypes be damned: I’m not ashamed.

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Do you have A Best Friend in the place that you live? I don’t; I have acquaintances and former work friends and mom friends, but no one who’s really… a Best Friend. I mean, I have my spouse! He’s certainly my best friend and my soul mate, but let’s not get all ooey gooey about him. I’m talking about a non-romantic bestie, someone to go grab a glass of wine with, someone who will go shopping with you and tell you which jeans look best, someone who knows and loves you for who you are, someone who will dissect every facet of an awkward interaction ad nauseum, perhaps while watching The Good Place.

I do have close friends. They just… don’t live nearby.

Some days I am totally fine with the fact that I don’t have a best friend right here in town with me; other days I feel crushing woe. This is a crushing woe period, and I think the root of the current woe is a communication desert between me and these friends. Take my lifelong best friend, for instance. She lives in our hometown, where we met more than 25 years ago. She and I have maintained our relationship via the magic of phone calls since we left for college in fall of 1999. Sometimes we talk every day. Sometimes we go a few weeks without talking – especially in the past few years. But I’d say on average we talk about once a week. And right now, we’re in a period of very infrequent contact. It sucks.

Same goes for… pretty much everyone else on my Regular Contact list. For some reason, there’s a lull in communication with everyone. And it’s freaking me out. I miss these people! I miss knowing what’s going on in their lives. And I miss talking to someone who knows me really well; it’s really hard, for me at least, to get to the point in a friendship where you feel fully relaxed and comfortable around the other person.  I just don’t have that kind of relationship with any of the mom friends I’ve made.

I am 95% sure – based on past experience – that the communication desert has nothing to do with me. The most likely explanation for the radio silence is that my friends are just really busy, and keeping up with me isn’t top of the priority list at this moment. If I think about that too hard, it makes me sad, but I do understand it.

Since I believe that my friends are just busy, I do try to stay in touch anyway, despite a lack of response. But that can be tiring. And disheartening; I end up wondering if I’m being annoying, or if I’m pushing on boundaries my friend is trying to set, or if I’m not getting the hint.

Because even though I know the likely explanation is that they are just busy, it’s hard not to worry. Did I offend them somehow? Is something really upsetting going on in their lives that they can’t tell me about? Worst of all, are we drifting apart? Are they ghosting me? Is this the end of our friendship? Am I unlikable and destined to go through life friendless and alone?

Okay, okay, let’s rein it in here. I am feeling lonely and adrift and the gloom of ceaseless rain seems like it’s here to stay but dwelling on it certainly isn’t helping, so I am going to change the subject.

Have you ever bitten your nails? Carla does, and it’s to the point that I cannot look at her fingers without every molecule of my body cringing. I worry she’s permanently disfiguring her fingers. Or that it’s just a matter of time before she gets some horrific bacterial infection and goes into septic shock or loses her hands. I haven’t heard a lot of stories about nail-biting-related amputations (and nor do I want to, thank you!!!!) (must… resist… googling…) but my mind always goes to the worst possible outcome.

I talked to her pediatrician, and he was pretty blasé about it; he recommended touching her hand gently every time I notice it. That was it. That’s all well and good if she bites her nails while I’m sitting next to her, or if she’s sitting on my lap while I’m reading to her. But what if she’s in the next room? What if she’s in the back seat of the car? What if she’s at school? The “knock it off, Carla!” and “stop biting your nails, Carla!” yelled across the room/car method is not a good deterrent, that’s for sure.

We tried putting special tape on each of her fingers, creating a physical barrier between her teeth and her nails. The tape stayed on for approximately three minutes and then came off.

We suggested bandaids instead, but Carla has a severe phobia of bandaids (I’m not kidding), and just trying to convince her to let us put one on a single one of her fingers was traumatic enough that we gave up.

We bought some of that nail biting polish that tastes horrible, and tried that. It did not work. She still bites her nails.

We tried bribing her with pretty nail polish and with those cute nail stickers — the ones that have unicorns, mermaids, flowers, or animal faces that you can stick directly on your fingernails. But her nails are so bitten that the stickers don’t fit on them, and so far the bribe hasn’t been enticing enough to keep her from biting.

So now I am trying the Ignoring It method.

My husband used to bite his nails, until quite recently. He finally just quit cold turkey. I have no idea how. My mother and father-in-law both used to bite their nails, and they managed to quit. So there’s hope.

And I used to bite mine – still do, if I’m being honest. At some point in high school or college, I stopped biting them compulsively. But anytime they get so long that they peel or crack, I bite them. And I cannot wear nail polish because the instant it chips, I peel it off with my teeth (I know, GROSS and probably poisonous) (In my youth, I used to wear Sally Hansen Hard As Nails clear nail polish just so I could peel it off with my teeth. Kids are weird, man.) and then bite my nails. Sigh.

So maybe it’s genetic. And maybe she will eventually get over it (like her father and grandparents have) or learn to manage it (like I have). But sheesh. It is so awful.

Well, at least she doesn’t bite her toenails. I suppose I should be thankful for THAT.

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We are at the glorious age where Carla wakes up on weekend mornings and trots herself down to the living room and turns on the TV all by herself. My husband and I have been sleeping in until the grand old hour of EIGHT AM. It is lovely. (IT GETS BETTER!) But then she just wants to watch TV alllllll day long. Sometimes I want to give in to this, because TV is such a good babysitter. I can cook or clean or read books or look at my phone. It’s wonderful.

But. No amount of TV is ever enough. My child is addicted to TV. She looooooves it. I love it too, so I completely empathize. But I also want her to enjoy non-TV activities, like riding her bike and playing on our backyard playset and exploring nature and building LEGO creations etc. etc. etc. And… she gets a teeny bit mean after she’s been watching shows for a while. And… TV consumption makes her want to consume MORE TV.

Listen, I am no TV detractor! There is some great programming on TV, for kids and adults alike. You can learn things from TV, from concepts about friendship and self-control, to new vocabulary words, to famous operatic scores (I’m looking at you, Bugs Bunny).

But, because she truly seems addicted, and because she gets a little mean, and because she needs to occasionally do other things – like move her body and flex her brain – we limit her TV consumption. During the school year, there is no TV on school days. There are exceptions, of course. If we go out to dinner, we bring an ipad and she can watch TV after we order food. If we go on a car trip that’s longer than an hour, we bring the ipad. If it’s a vacation day or a weekend day, we limit TV to an hour or two, depending on various factors. This works for us. Other people have found other PERFECTLY REASONABLE media-consumption strategies. I do not care if your kids watch hours of TV a day if it works for your family.

Anyway, I have gotten off track from my original point. Which is that my kid and I both like TV. Yet I cannot stand most of the TV shows she likes. My Little Pony, yuck.Daniel Tiger, yawn. Puppy Dog Pals, eye glaze. Barbie, more like barf-y. And I am not going to settle in to watch Real Housewives of New York Cityor Stranger Things or even old episodes of Friends with Carla.

But I have found something that we can watch together! MasterChef Junior.

We picked a season at random on YouTube (season 6, I think), and watched the whole thing together, episode by episode, over a number of weeks. We had such a good time!

It’s about kids, so it’s geared toward kids. Which means there’s none of the yelling and cursing I associate with other Gordon Ramsey programs (he’s the host and one of the judges of MasterChef Junior). The premise, like all other competition reality shows on TV, is that you get a big group of contestants and then give them challenges, whittling the group down until you have one winner.

But all the contestants are age 8 to 13! Which makes them relatable to Carla. And they are all SO TALENTED. And, even better, they are all super articulate and kind and gracious. So even when they lose and get booted off the show, they have these really sweet, grateful things to say. Like, “I’m super sad to be going home, but I really learned so much while I was here! And I made so many friends! And I am just so lucky that I had this wonderful opportunity!” Seriously, they are more gracious losers than I’ve seen on ANY OTHER competition reality program.

The other thing I love about this show is that it has Life Lessons that Carla and I can talk about while and after watching. In one episode, a little girl gets overwhelmed and starts crying. The judges step in and help her recover her equilibrium, and she calms down and gets back to cooking. So Carla and I can discuss how awful it is to feel overwhelmed, and how it happens to everyone, and then we can talk through some strategies for recovering from that feeling and doing what you have to do.

And we can talk about losing, and how upsetting it is, but how there are really good things that come from trying your best at something, even if you don’t win. And how to behave in a gracious and sportspersonlike way, rather than allowing our hurt feelings to bubble over into anger and pouting and kicking things on the way out the door.

And we can talk about hard work, and putting in your very best effort. And how it takes really focused energy and a LOT of practice to become really good at something.

I like to think that these conversations have a decent chance of sticking, when she can apply them to what we’re watching.

Anyway, watching Season 6 together was a lot of fun. I think Carla got a little bit bored by the end (I think there were 14 episodes), so we haven’t started a new season. But maybe we’ll do so in the future. And I’m trying to think of other similar shows that we might try instead. I think she’d like So You Think You Can Dance or maybe evenProject Runway, but neither of those shows is geared toward kids, so I’d worry about adult topics or nasty language. (I loved the Christian Siriano season of Project Runway, but some of the very sassy trash talk that made him so charming is not really what I want to model for my five-year-old.) I’d also like a show where the contestants are as gracious about losing as the kids are on MasterChef Junior. But that may be a fool’s errand.

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You may be wondering why you haven’t seen my annual Mooning Over the Passage of  Time or CakeRelated Therapy posts.

You know. The ones where I get all misty-eyed and sentimental about my child’s birthday and try to self-medicate with complicated baking projects.

Maybe you think I’ve gotten it over it! Outgrown it! Filled my life with better and more interesting things to think about!

Or, if you are a longtime reader of this blog, and/or A Realist, you may assume you just missed it.

Well, you haven’t missed it, per se. I’ve written it. Oh, I’ve written it. (I have, in fact, written – let me check here… —  2,349 words on the topic.) I just haven’t posted anything because… well, I am making my own eyes roll is really the best reason I can give you.

But I did have the annual mooning. And I did make some cakes.

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Unicorns in their carrying case at the party, waiting for eager five- and six-year-olds to gobble them down!

Carla wanted to have a unicorn birthday party, so I made unicorn cupcakes for the party. We invited fifteen of her friends. They played on an indoor playground. They ate pizza. They ate unicorn cupcakes. I turned one of her getting-sort-of-grubby dresses into a Unicorn Dress via the magic of iron-on unicorn and stars appliques.

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Baking Secret: I made so many cupcakes that I had… many left over. And I didn’t take this picture until many… weeks had passed. One can only think that the cupcakes would have photographed better had they been FRESHER. These have survived a birthday party, being in a hot car while the birthday girl ate a post-party lunch (she did not eat pizza AT her party), then being in my fridge for weeks. Of course, one might also choose to blame poor photography skills. One has many choices, is what one should know.

For her family birthday party, we went to Carla’s favorite restaurant for tacos. After dinner, we had cake. Carla had requested a purple cake with chocolate frosting. Last year, she wanted a purple cake with black  frosting, a concept I was more amenable to this year. But I went with chocolate.

(Disclaimer: I went with chocolate. But then I tried, briefly, to dye it black. But I only had regular black dye, which turned the chocolate frosting a disturbing shade of grey. [Apparently you need to use some sort of extra-dark cocoa powder AND extra-black black dye to get a truly black frosting.] [Do you think I didn’t check at our local Joann fabric and local baking stores to see if they had these items in stock? If you think I did not, you don’t know me at all.] So then I had to use ALL of the brown dye I own, which was a lot, to get the chocolate to be a nice, dark chocolatey color.)

My husband was very skeptical that that cake would be aesthetically pleasing. I was more optimistic, and plus I had A Plan. A Plan that involved gold and sparkles, which Carla loves.

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Baking secret: The only way I could get these sprinkles to stick to the frosting was by throwing handfuls of them at the cake. There are STILL tiny white sprinkles on my floor.

I think it turned out rather cute, right?

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Why yes, the cake IS a little crooked, thank you for noticing! I tried to compensate for the lean by taking an off-center photo which is, of course, my specialty.

I wish I had photos of it with the shiny gold candles in it, too. They were adorable. Oh well.

See? Chocolate on the outside, purple on the inside! (My mother-in-law noted that it seems more blue than purple. It is NOT BLUE. I applied the dye myself and it is most definitely PURPLE. Thank you for your comment.)

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Baking Secret: While I never thought I would do it, I DID end up using cake mix to make the cupcakes AND the cake alike. I doctored the mix before baking — butter and milk instead of oil and water, plus I added real vanilla bean and pure vanilla extract — but it was SO MUCH easier than making the batter from scratch. To make sure I wasn’t being TOO easy on myself, the filling between the layers is homemade chocolate ganache.

The cupcakes are gone. The cake is gone. The leftover ganache, which I just ate right now by the spoonful, is gone.

And now I have a five-year-old. An independent, brilliant, confident, creative, twirly, curious, still-sucks-her-thumb, sometimes-cuddly-sometimes-not, animal loving, imaginative, LEGO building, super fast running, fearless, charismatic, hilarious, beautiful five-year-old. She gets better and more fascinating and more complicated and more herevery day. I am so very lucky to have her in my life, so fortunate to be able to watch her and help her and enjoy her as she grows. (But I still have all the attendant Feelings™ that accompany my baby’s inexorable transition from infant to adult.)

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Why yes I DID color coordinate her wrapping paper with her cake, thankyouverymuch.

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