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Carla has decided that, when she grows up, she wants to be a zookeeper. A zookeeper with a cat for an assistant.

This comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Carla. She loves animals more than anything in the universe. She chooses videos of animals whenever I give her the chance to watch something on my computer. She prefers stuffed animals over dolls, and her favorite game of late (read: past year and a half at least) is playing “Kitty,” wherein I count to ten, she hides, and then she pretends she’s a cat and I have to bring her home and teach her to do tricks. (The reward for the tricks is Goldfish crackers, obviously.) If I hand her my phone in the car or in the grocery store, she will keep herself busy googling pictures of whatever animal is most on her mind (mountain lion, giraffe, porcupine, praying mantis, armadillo). She has no innate fear of animals: she loves snakes and lizards and insects as much as she likes the fluffier, cuddlier critters.

If I had to choose her FAVORITE animal, though, I’d say dog.

She claims she likes cats best – and maybe she does; that’s certainly the animal she pretends to be. She seems to play with her stuffed cats most often. Cats star in her favorite online videos. But she hasn’t had much real-life experience with cats.

Dogs, on the other hand…

Dog

I don’t actually know this dog. But it hasn’t gotten the memo that I am firmly and forever A Cat Person. It’s very cute, though. 

Carla’s first experience with a dog was at her great grandmother’s funeral. Well, to be more accurate, the reception after the funeral; this wasn’t the type of mortuary that has dogs wandering around, although that sounds like it would be quite comforting. She was not quite a year old, and she fell in love with the dog who lived at the house where the reception took place. And she followed it around the ENTIRE TIME we were there. It was some sort of golden retriever and so it was big enough that it could knock her over with a wag of its tail. She loved it and I think it launched a passion for dogs that has so far only continued to blossom.

My parents have a dog, and Carla has been OBSESSED with him since she first met him. She will follow him around constantly. She has to be touching him at all times. Whenever she’s not with him – even if that means she’s sitting at the table eating breakfast and the dog is on the other side of the room – she has to know what he’s doing. Even though we were all in the same room together, she would insist on narrating what the dog was doing. “He’s licking his paw!” she would crow to my mother, who was sitting several feet away from the dog. “He’s sleeping!” she would announce to my father, who was literally at that moment petting the dog. When we are away from my parents and Carla mentions them – I miss them, I love them, I wonder what they’re doing – she never omits the dog. When we talk about members of her family, she lists the dog right up there with her uncle and aunt and grandparents and cousin.

We are lucky to live on a quiet cul-de-sac that has MANY dogs. One dog lives next door. Another lives across the street. Another lives across the street and three doors down. There are four others that live at the north end of the street, and three more that live at the south end. Plenty of dogs in close proximity.

Which is great!

But it’s also raised previously unknown-to-me etiquette concerns. What is an ideal Dog Neighbor Relationship supposed to look like? What are the appropriate Dog Neighbor Boundaries? How can we be good and non-irritating Neighbors to Dogs?

To make matters more complicated and uncertain, I do not like dogs.

Perhaps this changes your mind about me. I’m sorry if it does. But dogs are not my thing. I do not like how slobbery they are. I don’t like the licking. I don’t like the idea of picking up another creature’s excrement. I don’t like the hair or the scent or the forced walking.

Listen, I’m not going to be mean to a dog. I will say hello to a dog as I pass it on the street. I will happily look at your dog pictures. I will even, on occasion, pet one. I can appreciate a dog. I certainly want YOU to love dogs.

But I bring this up because I don’t really know anything about what it means to HAVE a dog. To be a Dog Owner. I mean, I grew up with dogs… but they were outdoor-only dogs and they had the run of our many-acre property so there wasn’t any pooper-scooper action or even any walking to be done. I never went to a dog park. My parents were responsible for the brushing and the feeding. They kind of existed at the periphery of my attention.

This means that I’ve had to learn, from scratch, how to interact with other people’s dogs. I’ve always sort of thought of Dog People as sociable types, who enjoy being outside with their dogs, who bask in sharing their Joy of Dogs with other dog lovers. So when Carla learned to walk, and we’d be out and about in the neighborhood, I thought nothing of allowing her to pet our neighbors’ dogs.

(Note for the concerned: I have always taken great care to teach Carla about Dog Safety: asking the dog’s owner before touching a dog; allowing the dog to sniff your hand first; preferred places to touch the dog; steering clear of dogs alone on their lawns, protecting their homes; being alert to signs that the dog is frightened or upset – ears laid back on the head, tail between the legs, growling.)

At first, it was easy enough – and, frankly, tiny Carla was adorable enough – to get away with a lot of dog attention. Our neighbors were very indulgent. But as Carla’s gotten older and more autonomous – and ever more obsessed with dogs – it’s gotten more uncomfortable. For me, I guess I should say. I have no idea how the neighbors feel. I am just assuming that their patience with Carla and our constant Dog-Related Interruptions is wearing thin.

For instance, Carla would see a dog in its yard as we walked past and would call out to the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or she would see a dog passing the house and would run to the door shrieking after the owner, “Can I pet your dog?” Or, worst of all, she would see a dog owner arriving home, and would call out, “Can you bring your dog outside?” Anytime we glimpsed one of the dogs on our street, Carla would make a beeline for it. And then she’d foist attention upon it – to the exclusion of all other things, like neighbors asking her kind questions about what she’d done in school that day, or like her mother noting that we’d need to leave in two minutes to go eat dinner – until the point where I would physically extract her from the situation, sometimes with accompanying tears and/or screaming.

Delightful, right?

Our kind, patient neighbors would usually acquiesce to her doggy demands with gracious kindness. But it makes ME feel like such an imposition. And an over-indulgent parent. And a person who doesn’t understand proper Dog Boundaries. AND a Bad Neighbor.

In maybe the past six months, we’ve instituted a new “rule,” which is that we only ask if we can pet someone’s dog if we encounter it on a walk. As in, if the dog is walking with its owner and we are walking. If we are on a walk and we pass by someone’s house, even if the dog and its owner are sitting outside on the lawn, we will not bother them. The rule is accompanied by a stern reminder that we need to pet the dog for short time, and when the dog owner or I say it’s time to go, we need to leave immediately and with no tears.

So I am trying to teach her about privacy and boundaries and all the things that are important to me. And we’re having success!

But it’s HARD. Because she LOVES THOSE DOGS. And sometimes, before I can remind her of the rule, she calls out – across the street, down the block, out of a car window – “CAN I PET YOUR DOG?” And then the neighbors feel obligated to comply.

In those cases, I usually explain to Carla that it’s not the right time, remind her of our rule, etc. And guide her away from the dog. But occasionally, the dog owner will say something like, “It’s okay,” and then Carla gets to pet the dog anyway. And I die quietly of humiliation.

Because I never know what’s appropriate, you know? I never know if I am being too strict with my own boundaries, or if I’m reading the situation correctly, or if I am totally overthinking things, or if I am being way TOO lax with what I allow Carla to ask and do.

The other day, we walked a few blocks to the post office. On the way, we noticed that our neighbor was walking his dog – about half a block in front of us. I reminded Carla of our rule, and told her if we crossed paths, she could ask if she could pet his dog. So Carla took off running. I had her stop and come back, but of course she wanted to catch up to the neighbor dog. At one point, the dog stopped to sniff a tree and we were within a few yards. So she yelled, “Hello, Mr. Neighbor! Can I pet your dog?” (I am also trying to teach her to acknowledge the person and not simply the dog.) But he was wearing earphones and didn’t hear.

I knew he had seen us though; we’d exchanged a wave. And I also knew that he KNOWS Carla and her dog obsession. I wondered if he was purposely staying ahead of us so he didn’t have to deal with Carla. And then I began to panic that he might think we were following him. No! We were just going in the same direction! Fortunately, he veered off one way and we went the opposite direction to the post office.

But of course, on the way home, we spotted him. I told Carla that we would probably cross paths and that she could say hello and ask to pet the dog. But he STOPPED, on the other side of the street. I don’t know why. To avoid us? Perhaps. (Panic, panic.) But we had to cross the street anyway, and then he was maybe five yards away, and she had been so patient and so rigorous in sticking to the rules, so I let her go up to him and say hello and pet the dog. Our neighbor was very pleasant about it. But sweet amaryllis did it make me anxious, intruding on his walk like that! If it had been up to me, I would have assumed that he was keeping his distance on purpose, and then I would have waved, stayed on my side of the street, and walked briskly to my house.

As an introverted person with, shall we say, Very Strong Boundaries, it is extremely uncomfortable for me to try to navigate these types of situations appropriately – and even worse when I have to teach my boundary-light daughter how to do so. What’s the right thing? What’s overstepping? What’s too much Dog Joy vs. not enough?

I think Carla is going to win lots of friends in the neighborhood when she gets old enough to be a dog walker. But until then, I guess I will just keep bumbling my way through Neighbor Dog Relationship Issues.

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I think the first half of the post title implies that I am eagerly awaiting the end of summer, but that’s a little… simplistic, I guess. Yes, I will be glad to have my regular schedule back. Yes, I will be dee-freaking-lighted that I won’t have any more camp laundry to do. But I am also trying to relish these last few weeks, primarily because I will miss all this extra time I’ve had with Carla, and secondarily because I am a little anxious about how the upcoming year will go.

In any event, I am reflecting on our First Summer of Camp and also looking ahead to Pre-K.

First, an update on camp. Turns out I had but the one Camp Fret (well, that I posted about, at least) and the rest of it all went pretty well.

We enrolled Carla in four separate camps, for a total of eight weeks. And I think it all turned out fairly well despite the fact that I had NO IDEA I needed to enroll her in camp in FEBRUARY and that I had to start researching/planning in January. That is RIDICULOUS. Nonetheless, I will know better for next year.

The first camp was the best camp. It took place entirely outdoors, in the woods.

Forest

Please ignore the wildfire in the background.

Carla ADORED it. She came home filthy and exhausted and absolutely joyful every single day. She was overflowing with details about what she saw and learned each day, and was bursting with news of whatever creature she had seen or held or been peed on by. There were many snakes. She learned about poison ivy and black capped chickadees and baby toads. She learned how to rappel down a ravine via a rope tied to a tree and how to make sculptures out of mud and how to cook a potato in a campfire. She had her face “painted” with mud. She played in the rain. She napped under a canopy of trees. I cannot overstate how wonderful it was. I hope it is offered again next year, and for a longer time. I will enroll her in a heartbeat.

I also cannot overstate how horrific the laundry situation was. The campers were outside literally all day, every day, rain or shine. When the sun was out, they played in a creek. So she was wet and muddy at all times. How can I convey just how muddy she was? Let’s see. I had to disrobe her in the garage before bringing her into the house. I had to carry her into her bathroom and immediately deposit her in the bathtub. I had to hose her down with the shower to de-mudify her before filling up the bath. She even had dirt and mud UNDERNEATH her underpants and dirt sprinkled into every inch of her hairline.

She wore Keens (with socks) and jeans and t-shirts, and I had to wash the Keens each night and set them out to dry because they were so concreted with mud as to be unwearable. I washed out each individual item of clothing under a running faucet and then plopped it into a washing machine full of Oxi and water. I let everything soak all week and then did a load on the weekend. And nothing ever got clean again.

Listen, I am no stranger to stain fighting! I am a wizard with Oxi-clean. But man alive, the camp laundry was a worthy foe and to this day her camp shirts and many MANY pairs of socks still bear the grim reminder that I did not always win.

The first camp turned out to be the most communicative, another reason I love it so very much. We got an email each morning from the head counselor, telling us what the plan was for the day and what the weather would be like and offering suggestions about clothing to bring. The head counselor also operated a camp website, and each day posted photos and a list of discoveries and activities undertaken throughout the day.

The second camp was fine. I’m not particularly clear on what the campers did all day, aside from coloring print-outs of Disney scenes. The main benefit was that Carla got to go swimming three days a week, which she loved. She seemed to enjoy it well enough, but she wasn’t vibrating with excitement at the end of each day, nor did she bubble over with talk about what she’d done and learned and seen. It struck me as a summer daycare, which is fine, I suppose; maybe that’s the POINT of camp.

The third camp started out disastrously. It was held at the same location as Camp 2, so I kind of assumed it would be similar. We got one email about it, the week before it began. The email gave specifics about the duration of the camp and what the drop-off/pick-up procedure would be. That was IT.

When I picked up Carla the first day, she told me I needed to bring her a snack every day. And I said, no, we’re going home to eat lunch. And then it became clear that she meant I needed to send a snack with her, to camp. And I asked, did the other kids have a snack this morning? And she burst into tears and said that yes, they all brought a snack from home and she was the only one who didn’t have one.

I mean, my heart is obviously broken. This is no doubt going to be one of those things she brings up with hurt eyes for The Rest of Our Lives. And I feel TERRIBLE. But I didn’t know! Camp 1 specifically told us to pack two snacks and a water bottle for the kids each day. Camp 2 said nothing about snacks, but sent out a weekly lunch menu, and also provided a water bottle that we would take home and refill and send with her each day. Camp 3 SAID NOTHING. So. Major Mom Fail. (And let’s spread the blame a bit: Major Camp Communication Fail.) Also, it seemed like Camp 3 involved a lot of watching Tumble Leaf and The Lion King. So I’m not planning on doing THAT ONE again next year. Whatever. Live and learn.

The jury is still out on Camp 4, but rest assured I WILL be packing snacks and I will fill you in on any disastrous outcomes.

As camp winds down, I am thinking ahead to Pre-K. I am fretting over whether I did enough with Carla academically this summer (unlikely) and wringing my hands over whether her teachers will be a good fit for her.

And, in the category of Frivolous Considerations, I have been scouring the internet for The Perfect First Day of School Dress.

Carla loves to wear dresses. I think she’d wear a dress every day if she could. But she has a very specific idea of what A Good Dress is, and so do I, and they tend not to overlap.

I will spare you another home-made Venn diagram.

Her requirements, insofar as I understand them, include:

  • Twirly
  • Very twirly
  • Like, so twirly
  • MUST TWIRL

My requirements include:

  • Not expensive, because she will outgrow it in a year, and also she is hard on clothing
  • Really. I’m thinking the $15 range would be ideal.
  • Not overly frou-frou, because it WILL get dirty (see above point re: hard on clothing) and frou-frou is hard to clean
  • Not ridiculous, which is, of course, a completely subjective thing
  • Not sleeveless, because I want her to be able to wear it all year long

Further complicating things is that her school doesn’t allow kids’ clothing to feature a) denim, b) characters, logos, or single images, or c) words.

So this Gap Kids dress, which looks appropriately twirly (although it features easily-rippable tulle), is out because it says GAP on it.

And this similar dress is out because it has a heart on it. (I know.) (A pattern of hearts would be okay, though.) (I don’t really get it, either.)

Anyway, I have perused many websites, searching for The Dress. Old Navy, Gap Kids, Target, Amazon, Zulily, Gymboree. Even Hanna Anderson, which I love but which I usually deem too expensive (usually, not always). I have found some possibilities, but nothing that exactly 100% fits the bill.

Shall we take a look together?

This dress from Gap Kids is pretty adorable. But I don’t know if it will be twirly enough for Carla’s taste.

Ooooh I LOVE this dress. Seems like it would have some good twirl, no? Although… $32 is WAY outside my $15 budget. And now that I am giving it a Good Hard Look, it seems like maybe it would be less twirly than… hangy. Maybe what I really want is this exact dress in MY size. For $32. Get right on that, Gap. Thanks.

Carters has… some cute options. But nothing that falls within that narrow slice of Perfectly Twirly and Meets Mom’s Requirements Too.

This is the Lands End dress Carla wore last year. I love it SO MUCH and would happily buy it for her again – maybe in the navy-with-birds pattern – but the original no longer meets the Twirl Standard. (Unfortunate, for a dress NAMED “The Twirl Dress.”) And it’s $39. AND we no longer have a Sears nearby, so I can’t take advantage of the free returns.

Gymboree is usually my go-to for cheap twirls, but I’m not finding many candidates this year. Perhaps this one? But let’s be honest, I don’t really like it. I’m not anti-pink, per se. But this is SO pink. And the unicorns are SO gold. Meh.

Oooh! Hanna Andersson is having a back-to-school sale this weekend! I could totally do $19 for a First Day of School dress!

Hmmm. Okay, they have a very limited number of on-sale dresses available in Carla’s size. And the ones that are available seem… potentially not as twirly as they need to be. This one is cute… but is it First Day of School cute? More important, is it First Day of School twirly?

This one looks more reliably twirly… but I’m not in love with it. As far as plain-top-with-fancy-tulle-skirt dresses go, I like the Gymboree option FAR better. Especially because this one is $39.

Now, I DO like this one! It looks pretty twirly. And it also comes in a lovely purple, which is Carla’s favorite color. Which is important only because it’s buy-one-get-one-half-off, so I’d obviously have to buy two. (OBVIOUSLY.) That’s still about $23 per dress, but that’s reasonable. Maybe. My only complaint, really, is that it’s so simple.

Janie and Jack is having a 20% off sale on dresses! But… nope. The one I like best is STILL $79, with the discount. I cannot justify spending $79 on a dress that will likely end up covered in paint.

Nordstrom has a lot of choices, but very few under $30 and none that seem like they’d have the proper Twirl Level.

This Old Navy dress has potential, although I just can’t tell how well it will fill the Twirl Criterion. Sixteen bucks, though. That’s not too shabby. Although… do the sleeves read more “I’ve outgrown this dress and my mom hasn’t noticed” than “three-quarter-length on purpose”?

This Laura Ashley dress from Dillard’s is so adorable it almost hurts. Plus, it’s only $20. But… it’s much too summery. I don’t see myself flipping through Carla’s closet and choosing this one to pair with leggings and boots this fall. And it looks like it would be ruined in about five seconds, and that I would mourn its ruin. Dillard’s has a TON of really cute dressy dresses. Almost makes me wish that we had some weddings to attend so I’d have an excuse to buy one.

Oooh this dress from Amazon is pretty cute. And it’s under $10! The only thing that might be problematic is the ribbon (which ties in the back). Carla is notorious for removing belts and ribbons immediately. Also, it’s hard to tell whether it would have the appropriate Twirl Factor.

This one seems like it would meet Carla’s twirl requirement… and it’s only $11… but I think the tulle would last a day or two at most. And it has a belt. And I’m not sure if it really says I Am A Serious Academic (you know, as all Pre-K students’ clothing should). Actually, in my very subjective opinion, it veers pretty near to “ridiculous” territory.

LOOK WHAT I FOUND. This may not be right for The First Day of School, but no matter! I am adding this to my Amazon cart right now! How can I not? CATS. On a DRESS. Carla is going to FREAK OUT.

Well. So I haven’t found The Perfect Dress. Good thing it is so enjoyable to SEARCH. If you see anything that fits the bill, let me know!

 

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Carla’s rainbow cake turned out FAR better than I had hoped.

Rainbow Cake Final 4

Firstly, I asked Carla which order the layers should go. I said, “Do you want it to go ‘purple, blue’ like the Bubble Guppies song?” And she thought about it and said, “No, that’s wrong. I want it to be like a real rainbow.” Although she then asked “Where’s the white layer” and I had to assure her that there would be white frosting. (She has also since begun singing the song “blue, purple” despite the Bubble Guppies’ maddening insistence on “purple, blue.”)

Let’s back up a bit now. Because while the title and the first sentence of this post indicate Unadulterated Success, I will admit that there were some small setbacks. Especially when it came to the cupcakes. But a bit when it came to the cake, too.

For some reason, I am determined to make Carla’s cakes from scratch. I don’t know why. My husband (indulgently) thinks I am a wacko. My mother, who intuited my birthday-related stress from thousands of miles away, understood completely. She – who worked a demanding, full-time job throughout my childhood and beyond – made all of my Halloween costumes from scratch because of the same genetic quirk.

So I used my tried-and-true Sally’s Baking Addiction recipe for Carla’s cake. It is a good recipe, and it makes a very nice vanilla-y cake. But I realized only very belatedly that it is an oil-free cake. And – possibly because of that, although I can’t say for sure since I am a baking amateur at best – I think that makes it kind of heavy. I comforted myself for the heaviness of the cake by choosing to believe it makes the cake very easy to cut and layer. But I think perhaps next year I will try a different recipe. OR I will try to force myself to use boxed cake mix, which is what I used for the cupcakes, and which turned out light and fluffy and yet perfectly moist.

Of course, I was converting Sally’s recipe – which was for cupcakes – into what I needed for a six-layer rainbow cake. So I instantly made a mistake. My model cake used 8-inch cake pans. But I didn’t have 8-inch cake pans. I had three 9-inch cake pans OR two 6-inch cake pans. I decided to go with the 9-inchers, which resulted in super thin, super flat layers.

Rainbow Cake Layers in Oven

Too thin! Abort! Abort!

But! I stopped while I was ahead! I only made those two layers, and when I realized they would result in a very thin cake, I recalibrated. I mixed up another batch of Sally’s cake batter. And I went with the 6-inchers.

IMMEDIATELY better. They turned out very even in size.

Rainbow Cake Layers Six

They are not in ROY G BIV order here and it is Driving Me Crazy.

To get the color to be so vibrant, I used Wilton gel food coloring. And I ended up using a LOT of each color. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 a teaspoon of each, which is a LOT. (Note: Sally’s recipe uses only egg whites, which I think definitely helps with the brilliant colors. Using egg yolks makes the cake more yellow than white.)

Rainbow Cake Batter Colors

I used my new Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.  Okay, correction: MY HUSBAND used the Wilton cake leveler to cut the tops off the layers.

rainbow-cake-leveler.jpg

I carefully studied the directions (“directions”) for how to use it. And then I watched a video about how to use it, but I still couldn’t get it to work. My husband on the other hand got it to work just fine, and he did all six for me, which made me feel like he was being involved which was a nice feeling, and plus, I ended up with nice, flat tops to all the layers. I saved the tops in a Ziploc bag; they are in my freezer. (It turns out there are a lot of things you can do with leftover cake. I tried one of them – making a cake-pop-within-a-cupcake – with limited success, but there are other things to do as well. Might make for a fun project to try with Carla.)

Then I made the frosting – the same recipe that Sally used for her cupcakes.

Oh! And this is where I tell you my Shocking Vanilla News. Sally’s cupcakes and frosting both call for vanilla beans. And vanilla beans have always been expensive. I think the grocery store brand usually was about $11.99 for one decrepit bean. But last year I discovered that Penzey’s sells vanilla beans, and I was able to get two nice, plump beans per jar for $8.99.

That’s what I assumed I would pay this year, too; I have no concept of the changing price of vanilla beans. But this year, two beans was $18.99. EIGHTEEN NINETY NINE. I expressed my shock to the Penzey’s salesperson, who said that there’s something going on in the region that produces Penzey’s vanilla, and it was pushing the price up. She said she thought it would be temporary. But SHEESH. (Listen, I am selfishly NOT looking up the details about why the price is so high; I am hopeful it is something like an unusual drought and not a horrible civil war or something, but there are only so many things I have the capacity to worry about, you know? I am trying to limit the number of things I cry over these days.) It turned out it was a good thing I spent the $18.99 for two beans, because, as I noted above, I ended up having to make a second batch of cake batter.

Having learned from previous mistakes, I did a crumb coat of frosting and then put the whole cake in the fridge overnight. This is what it looked like right before I did the crumb coat.

Rainbow Cake Pre Crumb Coat 2

And then the next day, I added another layer of frosting and decorated the whole thing with these little rainbow-hued non-pareils.

It was hands-down the best looking cake I’ve ever made.

I don’t think it was the best tasting, though. First of all, the cake was dense and heavy as I mentioned above. Secondly, the frosting was VERY sweet. I mean, it was just sugar and butter, so it wasn’t a surprise; I didn’t expect it to taste like pickles or something. But it was too much. Probably the thick top layer on top of the crumb layer didn’t help. If I were to do it again, I would find a less-sweet frosting to use. Maybe a cream-cheese style (which is my personal favorite) or something that was more like a traditional buttercream, with less sugar. A third option, I suppose, would be to layer the cake with something other than frosting. I would normally go for a curd of some sort, but that wouldn’t really work with the aesthetic of this particular cake. Maybe a whipped cream frosting would be okay.

The cupcakes were another matter.

If you will recall, I made the rainbow cake for Carla’s actual birthday. She and her grandparents and her father/my husband and I went out to her favorite restaurant for dinner, and then we came home to eat cake and open presents.

But her birthday party was several days later. It was a make-your-own-pizza-party at a popular chain and we invited twelve of her friends and it was DELIGHTFUL. But I wanted to make cupcakes for that party, see above RE: wacko, so I did.

Rainbow Cupcake Tray

I think I’d gotten a bit cake-saturated by the time I got to the cupcakes, so my head wasn’t in the game. Plus, I’d decided to use a store-bought cake mix, which made me a little cocky. So I kept making stupid mistakes. I forgot to add the water to the first batch. (I was able to salvage that one with math; I’d already separated the oddly too-thick batter into its separate colors. When I discovered my omission, I simply divided the required amount by six and stirred the appropriate amount into each color.) Then I forgot to add the eggs to the second batch. (That one I had to throw away.) Then, when I finally got to the frosting, I’d left the cream cheese out all day… and despite varying reports online about whether cream cheese is safe to eat after that long (answers ranged from “it’s only okay if you’ve left it out for no more than four hours” to “I’ve left it out all night and it’s fine!”), the resulting batch of frosting I made had a very weird texture and I couldn’t in good conscience feed it to twelve of Carla’s preschool friends. (I ate some of it and have lived to tell the tale. But I’m not going to use preschoolers as guinea pigs.) So I scrapped it and made some more too-sweet icing – although this time I used a Martha Stewart recipe because I was plum out of vanilla bean.

Making the cupcakes into nice even rainbow layers was HARD. I tried the “use a spoon” method. And then I tried the “put each color into a separate sandwich bag” method. And then I tried the “drop whatever you have in wherever it fits” method. I kept running out of one color or another, so that the layers were never perfect.

OH WELL. They were all pretty. And they were all super delicious as well.

And hopefully Carla is DONE with rainbows. Because I don’t know that I will have the kind of patience that comes with novelty if she asks me to do it again.

rainbow-cake-final.jpg

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It is hard to believe that, four years ago today, I was officially 42 weeks pregnant with Carla… 14 days past my due date… and yet I wouldn’t meet her for another two days.

My Dealing with Birthday Feelings therapy is, apparently, making an elaborate homemade birthday cake for my child. I don’t know how, exactly, panicking over measurements whilst being covered in flour is therapeutic, but it is my thing.

Carla has requested a rainbow cake this year. Which is an improvement over what she asked for previous to settling on rainbow cake, which was a purple cake with black frosting. I am not opposed to that combination, but no way am I cleaning black frosting out of a fancy birthday dress. I doubt there is enough OxiClean in all the lands for that task.

My model rainbow cake looks like this:

I am going to follow The Little Kitchen’s strategic plans to the tee. But I am going to kick the crazy up a notch by not using boxed cake mix and instead making my own cake, using the recipe I used last year: Very Vanilla Cupcakes from Sally’s Baking Addiction

Since the cake has many layers (SIX), and since I have proved to be terrible at making straight cuts to the top of a cake, I got myself a little helper. It is a Wilton cake leveler, and I bought it at JoAnn Fabric for $7.99, although NOW I see that I could have bought it (as an add-on item) from Amazon for $4.98. Ooh! I also see it is now on sale at JoAnn Fabric for $5.59. I have not used it, so I have no idea if it will work or if it is destined to become one of those things that languishes at the back of the bottommost cupboard, only to be glared at disdainfully the three times a year you spot it behind the food processor. I will report back.

Speaking of disdainful glares, we have now come to the Bubble Guppies portion of this post.

Listen, I have a lot of problems with the Bubble Guppies as it is. But my current problem is rainbow-related.

Bubble Guppies Venn

I don’t know why this image is so huge, nor why the circles themselves are so THICK, but we do the best we can with the tools available.

My daughter has been singing a little song regularly for the past few months. It’s very catchy, so you can imagine that sometimes I awaken at half past three in the morning with it running in maniacal loops through my brain. It basically goes, “Red orange yellow green purple blue white! Something something something just right!”

That can’t be right, I thought. So I kept correcting her. “It’s not red orange yellow green purple blue white,” I would say, secure in my knowledge that of the few things I can truly accept as fact in the world, Roy G. Biv is one of them. “It’s probably red orange yellow green blue purple white.” Even though I don’t know why they’d tack the white on there, I guess I could ALLOW for it, because of rhythm. And yes, “blue purple” has a different rhythm than “purple blue,” but so what? Children’s songs have made more with less.

But Carla would become quite adamant. She would screw up her face and stomp her foot if she was in foot stomping position, and she would say, “NO Mommy, it IS red orange yellow green purple blue white!”

And I would calmly explain to her about Roy G. Biv and the rainbow and blah blah she’s not yet four so you may already know how well those conversations went.

We did end up seeking out the song on YouTube. And my dear Carla was finally vindicated! The song DOES say “purple blue white” and so now I am furious with the Bubble Guppies for passing on misinformation in such an ear-wormy way. WHY, Bubble Guppies? WHY? (Also, “orange like an orange”? You couldn’t think of ANYTHING ELSE that’s orange? Um, pumpkins? Tangerines? Velveeta?)

I would like to publically acknowledge that the song is not about rainbows per se. But it has insinuated itself into Carla’s brain as Fact. Color Order Fact. So she looked at the picture of the rainbow cake and told me that it was in the wrong order. And that her cake needed to go purple blue, NOT blue purple.

I don’t know if I will be able to misorder the layers of the cake. It will look so horribly WRONG, you know? (Although it will look horribly wrong to Carla if I do it the Roy G. Biv way…) And, more importantly, it will BE wrong. Plus, I don’t want her to go through life thinking that this is the way the rainbow goes! I can envision her failing all sorts of rainbow-related tests in future years, and her teachers shaking their heads and recommending rainbow remediation and our dreams of an Ivy League education disappearing into a bank of cumulous clouds.

We watched a YouTube video of Bill Nye, explaining rainbows. We looked at an actual rainbow. We discussed how mommy is a bit older than Carla and knows a few more things.

Nope. Bubble Guppies are apparently the Final Word on color order.

Basketballs are also orange, BUBBLE GUPPIES.

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Carla will be attending a couple of different camps this summer. It’s our first experience with camp, so, if you imagine my mind like a large industrial size gas stove, with pots of worry on each of the burners, the camp pot is currently set at a low simmer. With each passing day, though, it comes closer to a boil.

Part of that, I think, is that there has been little to no communication from the camps. We got emails right away that they processed our payments… and then… nothing. One of the camps required some sort of something that I’ve forgotten, to take place in April, and eventually I just contacted them myself to get it taken care of. (Would the camp administrators have ever reached out to me?) One of the other camps did send out a sort of welcome email, which promised to send more information in the coming weeks (it has not). The welcome email also included three attachments, two of which were forms that didn’t apply to Carla and one of which was a welcome letter (why couldn’t the content of the letter be part of the email?) that mentioned camp t-shirts and where to buy them, and also gave the date of a… something. I don’t really know what to expect, but I guess we get to go see where the camp takes place and… maybe meet some of the camp staff? It’s very unclear, and I have read it several times to make sense of it.

So the lack of communication is concerning. And it feeds into the part of my worry that derives from the fact that this is a Total Unknown. I never really did camp as a kid. We had a nanny when I was growing up, and my brother and I spent our summers at home. I think there were several years of swimming lessons, and maybe a few visits to a local park that offered face painting. But mostly, we played in the vast wilderness surrounding our house and tried not to get bitten by a rattlesnake. (It was a pretty idyllic way to spend a summer, I have to admit. I have fond memories of riding my bike over gravel and over twin ruts in the prairie that counted as a path; of inspecting ant hills with great care and interest; of swinging for hours in the sun; of swiping a handful of oats from the horses and planting them and watching them grow; of writing messages on pieces of birch bark from the wood pile; of playing with kittens in the hayloft; and so many other outdoor pursuits. I feel like I spent all summer long outside, but memory may be playing tricks on me.

The one childhood camp I remember attending was a sleepaway camp, and the first night I was there I developed pneumonia and had to be sent home. In any event, I was much older than Carla is, and plus this was a million years ago, so I have no idea how camps work anymore. The paragraph-long descriptions that persuaded us to enroll Carla are, from an information perspective, very slim. What does it actually mean to be “exploring the natural world through art” or “mastering new sports skills”?  What will the kids be doing all day?

One of the things I am fretting about is Carla’s reaction to camp. I think she will love camp, based on the broad understanding that the kids will be outdoors a lot and that there will be art and sports. But transitions are challenging for Carla, and I am a little concerned that it will take her so long to adjust to camp that she won’t get much out of it. Also, I have this nagging worry that the camp counselors will be… lacksadaisical, and I have scary visions of Carla running off and getting lost in the forest or something.

Okay, breathe, breathe. It’s going to be okay, yes? The camps will eventually send me some real information, right? I will know more than the dates and location of the camp, preferably before the first day of camp, yes?

I keep opening emails to the camp director, wanting to ask in a cheerful and not-overly-eager-or-bothersome manner whether we can anticipate any details in the coming days… or if there is a welcome session to introduce Carla to the camp venue… But then I chide myself about being patient and close the emails. I don’t want to be labeled as That Mom until they get to know me.

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Yesterday was Carla’s last day of preschool. It was a short day, so I ran to Target after I dropped her off. I had a list of things we needed, and a stack of coupons, and a cartload of Feelings, and where better to go when you have Feelings, I ask you, than to Target, where you can mindlessly wander the aisles and also participate in the soothing act of buying things?

It surprised me – which is surprising, knowing me – how much I was affected by The End of Preschool. I’ve been having terrible dreams for days: the one where I’m trying to save Carla from an active shooter but the only path away is riddled with motorcyclists and highways full of speeding cars; the one where I’m trying to save her from a furious grizzly bear lumbering toward us at the terrifying speed of bears; the one where she’s swimming with her face in the water and I’m terrified she’ll drown (way to be super original in your choice of metaphors, sub-conscious).

It’s pretty clear that this little milestone is presenting as a more significant marker of The Ceaseless Passage of Time than maybe it should be.

 

Right after I yanked my cart from the corral (and wiped down the handle with my own sanitizing wipe; I am nothing if not a germaphobe, and the wipes provided by Target say NOTHING about being sanitizing), I heard the two part harmony of children crying. The volume and intensity ramped up as I rounded the $1 section, and as I trekked down the aisle between the purses/jewelry section and the bank of checkouts, I could make out words. The older child was wailing, “I want the candy!” Her younger sibling was crying, too, but – it seemed to me – in sympathy rather than in any sort of personal outrage. The older child was really getting into it, hysterical sobs punctuated by very loud, very insistent screams of “I want the candy!” Her timbre and noise level read full-on meltdown and I am sure her mother was glad of the early-morning dearth of shoppers.

I felt, as one does, great affection and empathy for the mother, who was calmly unloading her cart onto the conveyor belt as her child railed and flailed.

As I passed, I overheard the person behind the family note, to the mother, “She wants the candy!” in a tone that conveyed bewilderment as to how the mother had missed this crucial point. And the mother responded, with great patience, “I know, but she can’t have the candy because she hit her sister. And I can’t give her candy just because she’s upset.”

Oh, internet! I was already weepy with all the sunrise, sunset feelings that The End of Preschool had brought on. But now, here was a mom who was just doing her best to teach her children, who was being scolded – albeit very gently, it seemed, from my in-motion and distant eavesdropping – for allowing her child to scream rather than just giving her the damn candy, and, in addition, she was calmly and steadfastly defending her actions to said scolder. Like she really needed a THIRD person to instruct when all she wanted was to buy her diapers and her chicken dinosaurs and get the hell out of there. I wanted to wrap my arms around her, internet, and tell her she is doing such a good job. That it will be all right.

But I don’t know that it will be. And especially at that moment, when I had to suppress the urge to shout, “Give her the candy now because she’ll be off to college in an eyeblink and you need to ENJOY EVERY MOMENT!”

 

We’ve been enjoying some really glorious weather the past week or so. Low humidity. Cool breezes. Warm sunshine. Carla and I have been spending as much time outdoors as possible.

One of our favorite activities of late is “bubbles.” I have this enormous bubble wand (from Target, obvs.) that produces excellent bubbles, both in size and quantity. I stand in our front yard and wave the wand, and then Carla chases the bubbles and tries to pop them (often with her face, which I have tried explaining is not the smartest plan).

It’s good from an energy-expenditure standpoint; Carla really throws herself into the chase. She runs hard, she leaps, she twirls, she dives. I contemplate her future as a soccer star. After fifteen or twenty minutes, she’s breathing hard and I know she will sleep well.

But aside from being good exercise (for her; unless you count “mild upper arm tiredness” as exercise on my part), it’s also kind of magical. The bubbles have their own sort of childish beauty, shiny and round, bumbling around the yard on air currents, nudging into one another, popping on the grass. When a breeze picks up, they erupt from the wand all at once: a flock of smooth and iridescent birds, bobbing this way and that in luminous clusters. When the air is still, they form slowly, elongating shimmers that finally coalesce into globes, unsure of their shape as they stretch and wobble through the air.

I love watching them burst against Carla’s hand, her cheek, her blond head. Even more, I love watching the gleaming orbs drift skyward, growing smaller as they rise, pinpricks of light against the clouds.

 

Preschool ending must have really messed me up, because – despite my list – I kept forgetting things. So I’d be in the pretzel aisle and remember that I forgot to pick up vitamins. And then I would schlep all the way back to the vitamin aisle… and realize I forgot all about Carla’s shampoo, on the complete other side of Target. And then I’d get to that side and remember I needed aluminum foil, which was way back in the opposite corner. It was a good thing I had a couple hours to kill, because I traversed that Target many times over.

One of my coupons was for 20% off Cat & Jack toddler clothing (ONE item, which at least they now state on the back of the coupon; harrumph). So I searched for awhile among the toddler clothes. But really, Carla is big enough now to shop in the older children’s section. (Of course, a pair of shorts in size XS or 4 may be identical in price to a pair of 4T shorts in the toddler section, but the coupon is applicable only to the 4T shorts.)

A whole end-cap of socks was on clearance. The display was in disarray, with all the sizes out of order. I dug around until I found the style I liked in size medium — lots of colorful stripes; pom moms on the back of one pair. A pack of Frozen socks caught my eye; Carla has a set that she’s outgrowing, so it would be nice to replace them. But they only had XL and XS – enormous socks for much older children; little teeny socks for tiny baby feet. So I had a little cry right there in the clearance section.

A whole wall of Carlas, at every age. Little wide-eyed infant with the jerky kicks and the balled up fists. Soft blond fuzz and chubby thighs crawling across the carpet. One-year-old Carla shrieking with delight as she clutches a blue carnation in her fist. Eighteen-month-old Carla saying “Hi, hi, hi” into a toy phone or digging into a baby-Carla-size pumpkin with an enormous spoon. Two-year old Carla eating snow by the bowlful, cheeks pink from the cold. Three-year-old Carla jumping gleefully on a trampoline in the backyard, blond curls taking flight around her. Three-year-old Carla in her polka dot dress and backpack posing with her chin up on her first day of school. Three-and-a-half-year-old Carla, fearless on skis, twirling with her father on ice skates, arms wrapped around the neck of a tolerant neighbor dog. Nearly-four-year-old Carla, chasing bubbles in the sunshine. Lifting her feet off the ground and gliding on her balance bike. Bending over a drawing – real! recognizable! – of a person. Skipping down the hall toward her classroom for the last time, “Elsa” braid swinging at her back. Slipping away from me, ever forward, not a glance behind.

Me, running to catch up. Never having mastered now enough to fully enjoy it. Grasping to hold onto each glimmering moment, even as the breeze catches it and pushes it up into the sky.

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Here it is, Friday, and I’m tired and cranky because my husband and I STILL have not adjusted to the time change, and I’m playing the age-old game of Should I Take Carla to the Doctor?

She seems FINE. She’s happy and energetic and eating in quantities that make me fear bare wrists and ankles are in our near future. But she is also… warm. Not feverish, but warm. (Not that I’d be able to tell if she were feverish; we have owned no fewer than SIX thermometers in her short life and not one of them has ever been accurate. We now have the instant-read kind that you stick in the ear and press a little button, and it’s always – ALWAYS – at least a degree or two high.) And she is also a little more snuggly than normal. And she woke up with some crust in her eyes. “Symptoms” which make me wonder whether she has an ear infection.

Carla has had many ear infections in her not-quite-four years. Not so many that she requires tubes. But enough that I think we may have been to her pediatrician once or twice for other things. Ever. (Not counting well visits, I guess.)

Her brand of ear infections doesn’t come with pain, though. I mean, thank GOODNESS, right? But it does make it a little difficult to evaluate. Sometimes – rarely – she’ll have a brief fever. Usually, she wakes up with crusty eyes. When she was really young, I would have to take her to the doctor just for that, since no respectable daycare was going to let her in looking like she had a severe case of pink eye. But it was always, always an ear infection.

Now that she’s older, the eye crust looks more like what my mom used to call “sleepy dirt” than Crazy Case of Conjunctivitis. So sometimes the only way we know she’s got an ear infection is that she cries out in the middle of the night. That has happened… twice, I think. And, now that she’s older, it seems that the doctors prefer not to medicate her. We used to get antibiotics every time; now the doctor shrugs and says, it’ll probably go away in a few days. Come back if not.

So if I have a not-in-pain child, who may or may not have an ear infection, and who will likely not even get antibiotics if she does have an ear infection, what’s the point in taking her in, right?

WELL LET ME TELL YOU.

I am deathly afraid of missing something. And having her pediatrician scold me. (And also, you know, having her be sick. That’s really the most important thing, of course.)

Last fall, my family was sick pretty much straight through from mid November, but by early January my husband was finally on the upswing of his lengthy cold, and Carla was still sniffly and coughing but otherwise seemed fine. I was the only one who seemed to be getting actively worse, so I finally decided to go to the doctor. It was just after Christmas and I still had a house full of guests and I just Couldn’t Handle Things anymore, so off I went. I got my diagnosis and my antibiotics and went home.

The next week, Carla had the telltale eye crust that means she had an ear infection, so I took her to HER doctor. And while there, I told him that we’d all been sick a long time, blah de blah, she’d been coughing and having a runny nose for a while, and now I think she has an ear infection. Normal stuff, right?

Defensive Interlude: I mean, we’ve ALL had a cold right? And we ALL know that a doctor can do NOTHING for a cold, right? So we wait it out. Eventually, it gets better, and we congratulate ourselves on knowing that it was a cold and on not wasting a copay or our own time. OR it gets worse, in which case we DO go to the doctor and hopefully s/he can do something about it.

Well, Carla had a cold! Cough, runny nose! No fever! No pain! No loss of appetite! No personality changes! Nothing! The only way we even realized she had an ear infection is that she woke up one morning and her eyes were all pink and goopy. She’d also spent the previous day saying, “What?” a lot, which she does a lot normally, but it was an extra lot. So I was pretty confident: ear infection.

So: to recap: I didn’t take her to the doctor when I thought it was a cold, even though it was a lengthy cold, because I was pretty sure he would shrug and say, wait it out. But when she showed symptoms of an ear infection, which can be treated by antibiotics if necessary (although, as I mentioned earlier, as she’s gotten older, the antibiotics have been replaced by a prescription for wait it out), I took her to the doctor.

But he chided me! He said, “Six weeks is way too long for a child of this age to have a cough like that.” And he said her ear infection was SEVERE and BILATERAL and that she probably couldn’t hear a damn thing (the memory of his chiding may be more strongly worded than it was in real time) and wrote me a prescription and sent us on our way.

Well, I felt TERRIBLE. Really. I mean, what mother wants to put her child’s health at risk? What mother wants to misjudge a situation so badly that the doctor scolds you? NO MOTHER, is the answer.

Poor Carla. She had an ear infection for a whole month after that, because the first course of antibiotics didn’t work. (And even though I could TELL it wasn’t working, we still had to finish the entire ten days before the pediatrician could see me again. That is another huff-fest entirely.) She was having SUCH a hard time hearing, and I was panicking about her somehow suffering longterm hearing loss.

So I think it is perfectly reasonable that now I am feeling a little jumpy about missing something.

And yet I’m dithering.

I really, really dislike going to the doctor for nothing. And the two visits since the Great Ear Infection of 2017 have both been false alarms. (One: Her preschool had me pick her up because she was complaining of a stiff neck, which is code for We Think Your Child Has Meningitis; she did not have meningitis. Two: She and I both had a stomach bug a few weeks ago, and hers presented as belly pain and complete loss of appetite. I tried to give the child a bowl of ice cream for dinner, just to get SOME calories in her, and she refused it. So I took her to the doctor. There was nothing he could do; just wait it out.)

Okay, I am still glad I took her in, both false alarm times, a) because you don’t want to mess around with meningitis. And b) because my husband and I were both googling “toddler belly pain” and had become convinced that Carla had appendicitis. Sometimes it is totally worth a trip to the doctor and a copay to find out that your fears are unfounded. (With the latter, though, the pediatrician seemed a little… miffed as to why I’d brought her in. I DID call the nurse advice line in advance! The nurse was who clinched my decision to come in!)

And of course, to add to the whole issue is that it’s FRIDAY. She wasn’t sick enough to keep home from school, but that means I will have to do a quick eval when she gets home, and then hope there’s a spot at the pediatrician… OR wait and see whether she wakes up crying in the middle of the night, and then take her to urgent care.

But none of the above makes me DITHER any less. Especially when the illness in question is just another ear infection.

SIGH.

Hey, at least the urgent care doc is unlikely to chide me, right?

 

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