Tag Archives: kids

All life is suffering

30 Aug

One morning I woke up to find one of my kids heading out of the house with a fishing net. He briefly noted that he was going outside to catch butterflies. I thought this was really sweet–and then this exchange happened:

Me: “Oh cool, you’re catching butterflies.”

Paul: “Yeah, we’re gonna kill them later with bb guns.”

Raising boys is __________.

They don’t dial 911. Home protected by Red Ryder BB Guns.

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Parenting: Pet fish by the pound

28 Aug

“Good morning, Gil. I said, good morning, Gil.”

Ahh, summer carnival season. It’s almost over, but if you’re lucky enough, you have one keepsake or two from that special night you spent with your family. Close your eyes and you can almost smell it. That warm June night where you dropped $85 on nine (9) rides (of dubious construction and unknown operator sobriety), one (1) funnel cake, five (5) chances on the balloon dart game (Beyonce poster, yes!), two (2) orders of cheese fries, a few spins of the wheel at the chuck-a-luck table, and five (5) chances to get a ping pong ball into a vase for a goldfish.

Carnival goldfish. It’s exciting to win “stuff” at a carnival, but winning a LIVING thing is just the apex of prize winning. You win a soul. I mean, a soul that will probably only live between 6 and 18 hours, that doesn’t feel empathy, that you can’t pet, and that cost the carnival ~$.015–but a soul nonetheless. If the good people who run these carnivals really thought about it, they would sell little “goldfish starter kits” for $20 right next to the game. (Small tank, canister of food, bag of rocks. Boom.) But, alas, the carnival cooperatives haven’t decided to do this quite yet. You cross your fingers that your goldfish makes it home alive (or not, perhaps) and then you scrounge around in your garage at 11:00 PM trying to find your old tank. Or worse, you grab the big ricotta cheese container you’ve been saving with the rest of your Tupperware (clean, preferably), fill it with water and tell yourself, “just for tonight.”

Carnival goldfish inevitably enable us to teach our kids about the circle of life. In a way, the carnival people might be providing one of the greatest services to us parents. We get the opportunity to discuss life and death with our kids. Understand care and feeding. Feel love for something that relies on you. Create burial practices, understand loss. Conversely, this “prize” allows parents to lie and deceive our children by any means possible (another great skill to hone to deflect discussing one of life’s difficult issues) to replace the dead fish with a similar looking one before the kid finds “the floater.”

When my kids won a goldfish this year at the fair, ONE goldfish, they decided to spend $100 of their birthday money on a 10 gallon tank setup the next day (complete with kitschy “No Fishing” sign, faux plants, “deep sea” backsplash, rocks, and the all important filter.) I have to admit, it was kind of cool to have a nice tank after all these years. I thought this new guy had a fighting chance.

If you can keep the fish–or a series of lookalikes–great. You’ve succeeded. However, if you’re like most people, even with a fancy schmancy new fish tank, the fish die and you are left with an empty tank. You can perform an unceremonious flush of the deceased, or have an all out funeral (with eulogy and burial.) I’ve had both and everything in between.

At a certain point, the death of your fish is no longer a sad event for everyone, it’s just annoying. Trip after trip to the pet store to pick up the next round of goldfish becomes onerous. There had to be an easier way.

The last time we went fishing, we caught a lot of bluegill and sunfish. A lot. I usually just let the kids catch them and then release them back into the lake. But I just kept thinking of that empty tank. That sad empty tank. Fast forward two hours to our 10 gallon tank full of 4 inch pan fish. I had just been to LL Bean store and they seemed to be *thriving* in their tanks at the retail location. Well, I never thought I’d say this out loud, but the next day I muttered, “I really hope that bluegill doesn’t get stuck in the toilet.”

So, what I’ve decided to do now, is to go down to the local bait shop and buy minnows. Yes, minnows. They are pretty hearty, they are active in the tank, and the best part, they are sold…by the pound. I’ve resorted to buying my pets based on weight. It’s come to this.

Thank God I didn’t have to buy my beagle this way.

“Gunner. ‘Big boned’ like his mom.”

{why i can’t have nice things} Urination edition.

3 Mar

“A weekly, or as close as I can get to weekly, ritual (who am I kidding that I think I can do this every week). Some photos – with or without tons of explanation – capturing a moment from the week.

A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember. A moment that makes me remember why exactly it is that I can’t have nice things (but someday will).”

**A twisted step-cousin twice-removed of www.soulemama.com‘s {this moment}.

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Upon returning home from work one evening last week, I was met in the driveway by my baying 50-pound beagle and three (screaming) adoring fans (read: my children). I’m not sure why they still do this, maybe they’re just psyched that I decide to come home every night. Who knows. So, after I signed some autographs, reviewed the day’s artwork, and kissed everyone, I left the boys to their own devices outside. I wended my way through the garage junk labyrinth. I passed by my husband who was heading out to assist in the grocery unloading (greeting with a solid and meaningful “high five”!) and I then proceeded to drop my pack mule–sized parcels onto the kitchen floor. Alone in my kitchen. Home.

I’m not certain that anything would prepare me for the words I then heard, right after that four second period of quiet respite in that kitchen. From the driveway, and directed towards either a. the kids, b. me, or c. Jesus, my husband asked/(hollered) the following question:

“Who pissed on the Blazer?!?”

On.

The Blazer.

Which is a vehicle.

Yes.

Who pissed on the Blazer.

Now, it’s hard to pick out the most disturbing part to this story. But I made a list so you, the readers, can pick. In no specific order (except for that first one):

1. Why anyone would pee on a vehicle. I mean, it’s the most blatantly obvious choice.

2. That someone had to ASK who, *exactly* peed on a vehicle. I mean, in most families, there’s probably always “that kid.” Like, “oh shit, Pete pissed on the Blazer again.” But in my family, anyone–everyone–was a suspect.

3. That there’s a lot of outside pissing going on, just in general up here.

4. That these were the first words spoken to/at me by my husband after I came home. I mean, we greeted–remember that high-five–but these were the first words.

5. That there became a hillbilly CSI-like episode out in my driveway; an episode complete with accusations, denials, close visual examination of the liquid, claims that it was just “pop,” and even…smelling.

I stayed in the kitchen for most of the action, and then headed towards my room. Alone. Whether it was because of shock, concession, or malaise, it’s not important. To be honest, I really didn’t care. Pissing on the Blazer. So what?

There is an understanding in my house. When things spiral out of control, I sometimes go into my room and sit quietly. It’s my proverbial, “count to 10.” When I check out for a few minutes and disappear, and after my kids figure this out and ask where I am, I simply respond (from behind the locked door), “I am in Maine.” Maine: a state that I’ve always wanted to visit. Where I’ve never been. Where I dreamed of going to college. Where my patron saint of 21st century motherhood lives. It’s my happy place. It’s where I pretend I am. It’s where all my kids are not crying and I’m wearing sweet Wellies to collect the chicken eggs while the fresh blueberry pies are baking. I am “in Maine.” It’s a simple mental exercise. It can be done anywhere, not just when sequestered in one’s room. They understand this.

So, things settled down. They always do. The piss on the Blazer was cleaned. I never followed up on who the guilty party was. I made myself a cup of tea. I am OK with things. I am OK with being me. I hung out and played with my kids in the family room. I smiled.

Music was played and we all were at peace with our world. And then, from out of the ashes of what could have been a horrible, terrible, no good night, Spider-Man serenaded me…all the way back to Maine.

Spider-Man also weaves webs of music...to torture people.

PGH: field trips & activities (the list!)

31 Dec

A working list of things to do (that you might haven’t tried yet) around Pittsburgh!

Pure Pittsburgh

  • Klavon’s Ice Cream Parlor

http://klavonsicecream.com/

Located in Pittsburgh’s Strip District, Klavon’s is an authentic 1920’s Art Deco soda fountain/ drugstore. Everything in the building is original—you really feel like you stepped back in time.  Sit at the bar and order your favorite ice cream soda and then pick out some penny candy.

  • Pittsburgh Penguins open practice

If you like hockey, you know how expensive it can be to take your whole family to a game. For the last two years, the Pittsburgh Penguins have held “open practices” at the Consol Energy Center. Fans can come to the Consol and watch the Penguins practice for free. It’s a nice event, and a real treat to see all your favorite Penguins skating.

Shopping

  • Baldinger’s

http://www.baldingerscandy.com/

About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh lies the small hamlet of Zelionople, PA. Take your kids to an old fashioned candy store located right outside of the city, Baldinger’s Foods From All Nations. Check out the amazing candy selection and then the old timey way the clerks ring you up (the register won’t tally more than $9.99 at a time!) A really fun thing for the kids to do.

If you’re out and about on a weekend, check out a movie at The Strand Theater after your trip to Baldinger’s. The Strand is an historic theater in the heart of Zelionople. http://www.thestrandtheater.org/

Take cash.

  • Esther’s Hobby Shop

http://www.esthershobby.com/

Located in the heart of Millvale, PA, Esther’s is a wonderful little hobby shop. The owner is always available, friendly, and helpful. Although they specialize in HO gage trains, there are all sorts of cool kits and models for kids and adults.

After you’re done here, hop across the street to Pamela’s for lunch (Michelle Obama ate here!) and then over to Jean Marc Chatellier’s authentic French bakery  http://jeanmarcchatellier.com/  for some dessert. Round out your visit with a visit to the Attic Record Store http://atticrecordstoreinc.com/ for some old vinyl.

Random

Don’t ask. Just try it. Read all about it here.

I’m lucky enough to have a neighbor who puts up a rink every winter. More and more people are giving this a shot. It’s a great way to keep the kids busy during long cold winters.

Outdoors

  • Butler Farm tour

http://www.visitbutlercounty.com/festivals-events/agricultural-festivals/butler-county-farm-tour

Every September, farms across Butler open their doors to the public for an insider’s peek into how they work. In the past, participating farms have included a dairy farm, a wild game bird farm, and a working alpaca farm. Wonderful trip for a fall day, and the best part is: it’s free.

  • Allegheny County Outdoor Ice Rinks

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/fees/skate.aspx

Beginning right around Thanksgiving, Allegheny County opens their outdoor ice rinks in North Park and South Park. My family and I go to North Park’s rink just about every winter weekend. It’s so nice to skate outside in the crisp air, right next to North Park Lake, especially with a light snow falling. The rates are very affordable and the buiding is an awesome retro 1960’s throwback.

Learn to bait a hook and take the kids fishing. Pack a lunch and your lawn chairs. Even if you don’t catch anything, you’ll have a good time.

Music/Entertainment

  • Hartwood Acres Free Summer Concert Series

http://www.alleghenycounty.us/parks/hwfac.aspx#events

Every Sunday during the summer months, the county hosts free concerts at Hartwood Acres and South Park. It’s great way to unwind after a hectic summer weekend. Lots of families, kids, Frisbee games, dogs, and a nice vibe in general. Always an eclectic mix of music and entertainment, we look forward to Sunday nights in the summer.

  • North Washington Rodeo

http://www.nwvfd.com/rodeo/

Since 1959, every third week of August, the small town of North Washington, PA has turned into the “Rodeo Capital of the East.” About an hour’s drive north of Pittsburgh, you can watch bull riding, calf roping, barrel racing and all other sorts of fun rodeo events. Food is cheap and good, and everyone is friendly. It’s a real American experience that’s a short drive from home. You can buy chances to win a live steer, pig, and pony. If you win and can’t bring it home (what, no barn!?)…no problem. Your prize also has an auction value that you can sell right back for the cash.

  • Pirate games

The kids don’t care that they stink and the tickets are always available and relatively cheap. Swing for the “All You Can Eat Tickets.” These tickets include admission in addition to unlimited amounts of hot dogs, hamburgers, popcorn, peanuts, pop, nachos, and ice cream for the duration of the game. The cost for the unlimited “stuff your face experience” starts at about $40. Regular tickets start at $10 for adults and $6 for kids. http://pittsburgh.pirates.mlb.com/pit/ticketing/ayce_seats.jsp

Education

  • FIRST Robotics Competition

http://www.pittsburghfirst.org/

When I attended this robotics competition a couple years ago, I couldn’t help but think, “I wish they had this when I was a nerd!” A robotics competition complete with pumping music from a DJ, professional lighting, electric vibe, and kids from all over the United States and Canada. High School teams compete at the University of Pittsburgh’s Peterson Event Center for a chance to participate at the national competition. The high schoolers are given their robotic challenge in January and are given only two months to complete a robot that can complete the challenge tasks. This is a great opportunity to see truly gifted young adults.

  • Zoo classes

http://www.pittsburghzoo.org/Education/ChildAndFamilyPrograms

The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium is always a big hit with kids. Since the zoo is open mostly every day of the year, we like to go on colder days (when the animals are more active) or overcast/rainy days (when there are no crowds!) The zoo offers great classes and often give participants a chance to get close up with some special animals, maybe even pet them!

  • Libraries

http://www.clpgh.org/

Pittsburgh offers a wonderful library system with access to interlibrary loans between almost every Carnegie and most suburban branches. There are always programs available for all ages. Check out the beautiful Carnegie locations, especially the main library in Oakland and the Homestead branch, which also hosts concerts in a lovingly restored theater.

History

  • Soldiers and Sailors Hall (Oakland section of Pittsburgh)

http://www.soldiersandsailorshall.org/index.html

Great place for the military history buff (and budding military history buff). Wonderful exhibits feature both a national and Pittsburgh-centric view of the military history of the United States. After your visit inside, the kids can hang from the cannons out front, then walk a block down the street and get some of “world famous” “O” French fries.

  • The Old Stone House (Slippery Rock, Pennsylvaia)

http://oldstonehousepa.org/

Special activities planned all year round. Try to check out the fronstierman/woman rendezvous and military re-enactment weekends. Lovingly curated by staff and volunteers from Slippery Rock University, experience a step back in time with unprecedented access to an historical gem of a building.

  • Heinz History Center

http://www.heinzhistorycenter.org/c

Built in the shell of an old ice house, the Heinz Hisotry Center is the  premiere western Pennsylvania history museum. Highlights include hands on exhibits for kids, stellar permanent exhibits, and world class traveling exhibits. Don’t miss the Special Collections section which is really like stepping into a well organized and super cool attic housing Pittsburgh history.

Long Weekend Trips

  • Oil Creek and Titusville Railroad

http://octrr.org/

Over 150 years ago, many small towns north of Pittsburgh were booming with the spoils of the oil industry. After the first successful us of a drilling rig, oil towns popped up all over northwestern Pennsylvania from the 1850’s into the early 20th century. This train trip takes a rider back in time, and gives a history lesson about a time when the back woods were littered with boom towns.

The train runs through the beautiful Pennsylvania woods, most notably Oil Creek State Park, and boasts of having the only working Railway Post Office. Riders can enjoy the trip from the comfort of the antique rail cars, or bike half of the trip and then pack their bike on the rail cars for the second half of the trip back to the station.

If you go and want to stay the night, you can stay in the railroad’s Caboose Motel: http://octrr.org/caboosemotel.htm. Stay in one of the 21 refurbished caboose cars (with all the amenities of a regular hotel room). The train offers seasonal trips such as a fall foliage tour, murder mystery trips, and rides with Santa and the Easter Bunny.

  • Toronto, Canada

It helps to have relatives here, but I would love this city, regardless. Border rules have changed, so a birth certificate is no longer adequate to cross over the border. I would suggest a passport card for the kids if you’re driving. It’s a cheaper alternative to a passport, but will only work when driving across the border. Check out Niagra Falls and the Hockey Hall of Fame. It’s such a wonderful city, and it’s only about 5 hours from Pittsburgh.

  • Washington, D.C.

A great destination trip to take with kids. We stay outside of the city for deeply discounted hotels (relative to staying in downtown DC). Plus, having to take the metro everywhere adds a bit of fun to anything. The key is to try not to do too much. For a two night, one day trip, pick one “must see” location and let the rest fall into place. You’ll always find interesting things to see, and won’t be disappointed.

  • Wheeling Nailers Game

http://www.wheelingnailers.com/

As I mentioned before, taking the whole family to a Pittsburgh Penguins hockey game can be expensive. However, for much less, you can drive to Wheeling WV (about an hour and a half away) and catch a Wheeling Nailers game. The Nailers are the ECHL affiliate team for the Pittsburgh Penguins. The team offers some really great deals for a family, and you can catch a game and stay overnight for under $150.

Gold, frankincense, and…soup.

7 Dec

Originally posted: Saturday, December 18, 2010 at 1:58am, but you’ll enjoy it more this year. I promise…

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My favorite holiday decoration is a hand-carved wooden Christmas pyramid, a gift from my father bought during his trip to Germany. It is such a neat little piece, bought shortly before he died…a wonderful reminder of him around the holidays.  It has a sweet little nativity scene at the bottom, angels armed with their trumpets looking out from on high, and then the shepherds and wise men rotate around JC and the fam when the heat from the candles hit the top propellers just right. We love watching it go around and around, it’s a magical little toy. Whimsical, really.

I  take a long time setting it up. I carefully unwrap all the pieces that I lovingly put away last year. I take the time to talk to the boys about all the little characters, from the angels to the sheep. Tonight, I was talking to the boys about the wise men and asked them if they knew what their gifts were. I pointed to wise man #1’s gift and said “gold,” then onto #2, “frankincense,” they seemed to be interested and said the names along with me with some prompting. But then I pointed to #3, there was a pause. Surely they had been talking through these in their Catholic CCD classes? This one wouldn’t be so hard, right? Larry, Moe, Curley…Barbara, Louise, and Irlene…bacon, lettuce, and tomato…gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Any third item of a pop culture triumvirate should come easy. So, after a second or two, my son looked at me, then looked at the last wise man’s gift, raised his eyebrows with excitement, then looked back at me and shouted… “SOUP!”

Sure, why not.

The poor king who had to lug the hot pot of delicious soup to Bethlehem.

 

 

So, in honor of my Dad, and the historical license that is afforded with such things, the gifts of the Magi (in my home) are now, and forever will be: gold, frankincense, and soup.

I like to think it was a nice lentil, or perhaps a corn chowder. Thanks again, Dad.

Santa is not a “first responder.”

6 Dec

Every year around this time, our local fire department (one of three in the township) drives a big fire truck around the streets; sirens blaring, lights flashing, and Christmas music playing. That would probably be cool enough for my kids, but, there’s something even more awesome to this scenario, something even better: Santa is standing up on that fire truck! Waving! Ho Ho Ho-ing! Big spotlight on him! BIG! When we hear the sirens within about a 3 mile radius we are like Navajo Wind Talkers trying to figure out how close or far off the engine is. When he (HE) finally arrives, the kids excitedly run up to the road, talk to Santa for a minute or two, and get a few candy canes. My husband and I usually duke the firemen a little to cover gas, or beers for later. Whatever, we don’t care. It’s awesome.

The only problem with this event, is that this fire department doesn’t come past our house with Santa on an engine every year. Our township is huge, and in many parts pretty sparsely populated. I understand it’s probably tough to get to every street every year, I understand. The worst thing, though, the absolute WORST, are the years when the bedazzled engine crosses over our road at the corner and just keeps going. They don’t turn on our street, nary a stop at the stop sign. The crossroads is about 200 yards away…so the kids could run for it, but they’re usually just too busy freaking out that the engine isn’t turning. For as fun as this happening is some years, other years it is just torturous.

Santa in front of our house, 2008.

So last night on our way to Cub Scouts, there, at the end of our street we saw *gasp* a fire truck with lights a blazing! This was it! The big guy was. On. Our. Street!

Finally. Our turn.

So, being mother of the year, I roll down EVERYONE’S windows. We’re gonna see him. We’re gonna talk to him. He’s *our* road’s Santa tonight!

Now, as we approach the engine, the boys are really having at it. Screaming: “SANTA!! IT’S SANTA!!!!! HE’S HEEEERREEEE! WHHHHHHHHHHHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!” Loud. I mean, Santa’s not gonna miss us this time.

Then, as we get a little closer, I notice that the truck isn’t moving. Hmm, I figure Santa’s just inside the engine, doing some last minute primping. Getting candy canes in order. Texting the missus. Brushing his beard. You know, Santa stuff. But those lights are still going. He has to be in there!

Finally, we’re right in front of the engine, and–boy this is weird–it’s in MY lane? Facing me. Parked. Now, the kids are still screaming. And they’re still loud. They’re not letting Santa pass them by this year. I will also add that they are now unbuckled and halfway out of their respective windows. Whooooo! Throw caution to the wind, this is Santa!

At this point of the story, I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincerest apologies to the family at the end of our street who may (or may not) have been dealing with a very serious emergency last night when *that* fire engine was parked right outside of their house. With the engine’s emergency lights on. Red and white lights spinning.

On an emergency call.

When we were screaming with joy out of the Blazer’s windows, we really, I mean really, didn’t know that someone inside might have, oh, say, just had a heart attack, or that maybe your basement was on fire. I swear. And I really hope everything’s OK today. I sincerely do. And please, I don’t want you to think that we were celebrating your hardship, and subsequently booing for any reason other than our disappointment that Santa was not on that engine.

I’m sure you understand, right? When I drove past you and your family members (slow motion movie scene style) and you were all glaring at us from your front porch, I could see a glimmer of understanding.

Hope you duked the drivers…

I sincerely hope to see you again in 2011, big guy.

Saint Nicholas Day: a parent’s guide on what *not* to do

6 Dec

Growing up, we didn’t celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. I remember certain kids coming into school talking about this cool and mysterious holiday. All I could gather was that they put their shoes out one night and got little gifts in them the next…and I did not. I’m not (that) bitter, but that’s about all I remember about the holiday.

Recently, my mother and sister took a trip to Holland for my beautiful cousin’s wedding. They brought us back these awesome wooden shoes. Now, I guess we found out the rule for fitting wooden shoes a little too late: take what your shoe “looks” like and then buy a pair of wooden shoes TWICE that size. The older boys (kind of THANK GOD) couldn’t wear theirs, but the youngest took full advantage of clogging around in a pair.

Since the shoes were just so beautiful (and let’s be honest: super annoying), we decided that the best use of these art pieces would be to set them out for Saint Nicholas Day.

So, like I explained earlier, I didn’t grow up with this tradition, so I rely on the internet for all the backup (i.e. country of origin, date to place out shoes, etc.). My kids don’t mind that I’m pretty vague about it, they just know that they’re getting some stuff in their shoes. However, one of my kids was very curious this year…

Carmen: “So, where does Saint Nicholas come from?”

Me: “Germany.”

Carmen” “Does he speak German?”

Me: “Yes.”

Carmen: “Well how does he sound?”

Me (in my best 11th grade German): “Ich bin blah, blah, blah, blah.”

Carmen (after a thoughtful pause): “I’m kind of…freaked out by Germans.”

Me: “Well, Germans aren’t scary. AND, Saint Nick has helpers. Maybe helpful and friendly ghosts will help deliver the gifts. Maybe Pap Pap!”

So, the kid is slightly appeased. But, let’s break this down: I basically just told him the ghost of HIS DEAD GRANDFATHER was coming into the house to deliver his goodies.

What is wrong with me?

I mean if GERMANS freak him out, what is the thought of a ghost in the house going to do?

I really did have good intentions, but fast forward about five minutes. He comes out crying. He doesn’t want a German OR a ghost bringing absolutely anything into the house. We talk. We compromise. We decide that the shoes can go outside. He was pleased with this idea, and he was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Happy Saint Nicholas Day!

One more punch in my kid’s future therapy card.

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