Chaos Engines

If you don’t have kids, it’s hard to explain what amazing chaos engines of mess they truly are.  Let me paint a small picture for you.  It’s spring of 2015.  We have decided to sell our condo and move from Cambridge to the woods of northern Westchester, NY.  Part of this process involves cleaning and painting our condo before it’s up for sale.  Painting means we have to get out for a couple days.  We have 2 kids, trying to navigate them and a crew of painters would be virtually impossible, so we get a hotel room for a couple days to let the guys work, and the place air out.

The kids are pretty psyched about this turn of events.  A hotel visit probably means a pool (in this case it did)… it probably means staying up late and watching movies (it did), and it probably means lots of snacks during a disjointed weekend with no schedule.  My then 2 year old, now 3 year old, Vera, was pleased with this entire arrangement.  I don’t think Vera’s first words were “I’m hungry”… but they are a frequent refrain.  We’re not even unpacked in the hotel room and a chorus of “I’m hungry’s” is calling out to me.

Red being a consummate professional, has packed a bag of snacks for just such an occasion.  Vera peeks through the choices looking for something optimal, and lands on a sleeve of saltines.  Dropping two suitcases and a shoulder bag to the ground.  I open the saltines for her.  She instantly grabs two handfuls of saltines, crumbling a third of the half dozen crackers in both her hands across the ground in front of her.

“Honey, don’t make a mess,” I intone… settling into the couch next to her.

“Sorry daddy,” she says in sweet tones as she settles into the chair next to me to munch.  Big sister Lucy doesn’t want saltines so she’s pouting.  Vera is munching happily as a growing pile of crumbs and cracker spills around her onto the chair.

“Can we go to the pool?” asks Lucy.

“The pool, the pool daddy!” exclaims an excited Vera, who starts jumping on the chair, and is now grinding cracker into the fabric with each jump.  She also drops a cracker or two in her exuberance.

“Give us a few minutes to unpack girls,” I reply.

“Ok Daddy,” says Vera sitting down and grabbing more saltines.  Not content to minimize her mess radius, Vera gets up from her chair with 3 broken saltines now stuck to her behind.  She walks towards the back of the hotel room, trailing saltines in her wake… a pile of broken crackers lies on her chair, and the floor.  Those crackers never stood a chance.


On a side note, if you’re keeping track, we just ran out of dish soap.  I guess it’s time for another palette!


Country Mouse

(written originally in the summer of 2015)

I live in the burbs. It’s a new thing. I did grow up in the burbs, but I quickly found the city and never went back. Until recently that is. Now I live in the burbs again. My new burbs are not the same as my childhood burbs though. There were no horse farms where I grew up. There were no mountain ranges. At least not in my town. The houses were closer and there were more of them. Stores were closer. Everything was closer. Now I live in a house at the foot of a mountain. It’s not a big mountain, but it qualifies.

Why do I live in the burbs next to a mountain? That’s a common question these days. Both from people who already live where I live now, and from old friends who live in cities. That’s not an easy answer. There are different answers. I wanted quiet. I wanted space. I wanted fresh air. I wanted Lucy to ride her bike in front of our house. I wanted a house. I wanted the drive to visit family to be under 3 hours.  I wanted all these things but I’ve only lived in cities for the last 25 years. Do I like it? It’s only been a couple months, but I think so. Red told me she’ll be able to answer that question in 3-5 years. We’ll circle back in 2019.

It’s been a long six months. Once we decided this was happening (moving to the burbs and all), there’s been a lot of new ‘to-do’s’ on our to-do list. People say moving is one of life’s big stresses. It’s probably true, but over the last 15 years we’ve done it so frequently that we’re actually pretty good at it now. Red and I moved several times around Brooklyn… and then from Brooklyn up to Cambridge… and then several moves in/around Cambridge… and now we’re back, living at the foot of a mountain an hour north of New York City. I guess one of the reasons for this move was to hopefully stop moving for a bit. We’ll see. Anyways, the to-do list for moving is no joke.

We sold our place in Cambridge. This involved storage units, and cleaning, and real estate people, and cleaning, and fixing things like broken pipes, and painting, and still more cleaning. We bought a place at the foot of a mountain. We moved our stuff, our kids, our dog, our fish. We said goodbye to good friends. We moved in summer so Lucy could start school on time in a new town. School’s a big deal when you’re moving with kids. At least, it should be I guess. Yeah, I think it should be. Anyways we did it. Now here we are living at the foot of a mountain by a lake.

There’s a lake not far from our new house. Actually, there’s three. Our lake connects to two more, and if you get yourself a canoe or kayak, you can paddle from end to end of all three. I’ll have to get myself a canoe or kayak soon. We took the dog down to the lake this morning. Does Lexy like the burbs? Hell yeah, Lexy likes the burbs. Lexy is the family dog and she recently turned 17. Crazy right? She’s been with Red and I since the beginning. She’s moved through all our moves. She likes the burbs. No question. She likes our yard, she likes our back yard. She likes the lake. Lexy seems pretty pleased with country living.

So what’s the verdict for a family of city mice transplanted to the country? The jury’s still out, but I’m optimistic.

Update –

So I wrote this entry months ago, and never posted it.  I came back to it because on Monday we had to say goodbye to Lexy.  She was an old dog.  A few months out from her 18th birthday, Lexy had been struggling a lot lately.  Well, anyways, we had to say goodbye. I’m sad.  I lost a friend.  I lost my first, and to this point, only dog.  I’m happy she made it to our new home with us.  I’m happy she got to run in the grass and scamper by the lake.  I’m happy our girls got to know her… our first ‘baby’ before the real babies came.  Her absence feels glaringly loud right now.  I will miss her.  Goodbye Lexy dog.

I’m Poooping

It’s late in the day.  Red is out to dinner with a friend for her birthday.  We’ve already had dinner… or at least, the kids have had dinner.   Which really means that Vera has spread a bunch of food across her head and torso while ingesting roughly 30% of what she picks up in her hands.  Her older sister has barely touched her plate and I know there will be a round of ye olde “I’m Hungry” sing-a-long right before bed.

I’m doing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen while my little ladies watch a mind numbing episode of Caillou on Netflix.  Lucy is bouncing in her chair, bouncing off the arm of the chair, bouncing off the wall next to the chair… all with an alarming amount of energy for a child that should be winding down for bed.  I holler from the kitchen and alert the masses that it will be ‘straight to bath time’ when Caillou is over.

Ignoring my earlier rant that “this dinner is all you have to eat before bed”, elder sister inquires if she can have a bowl of frozen mango while watching Caillou.  I look over at her prepared plate of fish sticks, corn, diced red pepper, and toast… sigh, and reiterate the rant from 15 minutes prior.  Still bouncing in place Little Miss whines a solid four year old’s lament of how unfair life is.  Caillou comes to a merciful end and I declare ‘bath time!’ for all little girls in hearing range.

Bouncy smurf keeps bouncing in place on the red chair and Vera is standing in the middle of the TV room un-moving.

“Ok guys, let’s go, bath time!” I command for a second time.  Lucy obliges and starts trudging towards the hallways upstairs.  Vera is stuck in place as if made of stone.

“C’mon Vera, bath time,” I say again.  No response, no movement… she’s standing there contemplating the universe in the middle of the TV room.  Now Lucy has trudged back from the stairs and has decided to join me in the Vera interrogation.  In very Lucy fashion she marches to within a half inch of Vera’s face and coo’s sweetly at her something about bath time.

“I’m poooooping.” Vera proudly declares.  Not moving an inch.

“No yur not,” Lucy replies laughing.

“Pooping RIGHT NOW.” Vera responds with emphasis, scrunching up her eyes while working on ‘something’.

“Ewwww,” says Lucy, “What are you doing with your face?” She inquires, all about 2-3 inches from Vera who is obviously still hard at work there in the middle of the room.

“No Lucy!” shouts Vera, “Bad Lucy!” and she tries to give her a push but hits nothing but air… Lucy’s bouncy constant motion would make a featherweight boxer proud.

I gently ask Lucy to give Vera some space please, and head upstairs to the bathroom.  Ignoring me and Vera, Lucy continues “You’re not pooping… what’s wrong with your face?”

I ask Lucy a second time, a bit more forcefully, to please leave Vera alone and head upstairs.  I’m ignored again and now Vera is shouting “Bad Lucy” at her sister but still standing in place.

I break, and order Lucy upstairs for 5 minutes of bouncing.  We recently got a solid kid’s trampoline for the girl’s room, and it’s a good tool for getting out energy…but Lucy is not fond of doing things by herself.  She slunks a few feet towards the stairs and then bursts into a puddle of tears on the floor.

“Big Poopie Daddy!” Vera exclaims proudly.

Yes honey.  Congratulations are in order.  Big Poopie.

Conspiracy Theories

Kids push your buttons.  They do this on purpose.  I don’t know why.  Perhaps its normal limit testing.  Perhaps it’s a part of emotional growth.  Perhaps the little bastards just enjoy watching their parents get all worked up.  I’m going with the latter.  For some reason Little Miss Junior has my number.  She’s a devilish little girl by nature, but she’s got a knack for driving me crazy while Red just chuckles. 

This may seem irrational (because it is), but she knows when it’s my morning to wake up.  She does.  She knows…. and she gets up an extra hour early.  Just for me.  All the time.  For some reason LMJ has a sixth sense for when Red is taking the morning shift and she’s rarely up before 7am on those days.  In the last week She’s been up at 5:15, 6:15, and 6:20am for me.  That’s right, 5:15am.  I woke up to go to the bathroom that morning and LMJ was happily playing in her crib talking to herself, waiting for DaDa.  As I write this on Saturday night, she woke up at 7:30am for Red this morning.  She slept in today, for some reason. 

LMJ also exhibits certain behaviors that just drive me nuts.  Every morning without fail, during breakfast, she’s munching away on her cereal, or oatmeal, or whatever, and she puts her feet up on the kitchen table.  This interaction then transpires:

Me: “Honey, take your feet off the table, that’s yucky.”
LMJ smiles at me from her booster seat, takes her feet off the table, and then slowly puts one heel back where it was, next to her cereal bowl.
Me: “LMJ, no.  Take your feet off the table”
LMJ: “No dada” while shaking her head seriously and leaving her foot right where it is.
I remove her foot from the table and repeat “no feet on the table LMJ, it’s yucky.”

As if choreographed, she smiles at me with angelic eyes, and actually leans forward and puts her head on my arm in a very ‘aww isn’t that cute’ moment…. then she puts both feet back on the table and looks at me in delight. The first time she did this I laughed out loud.  The last time she did this I got completely perturbed.  Yes, I have found myself getting easily flustered by an 18 month old. 

What’s peculiar is that our oldest daughter, Little Miss, has the same effect on Red.  LM can push Red’s buttons like it’s her job.  The same behaviors that bring out the worst in Red, often roll off my back, and vice versa with LMJ.  It’s hard to explain, but for some reason I have far more patience for LM’s button pushing, while her little sister can quickly drive me up a wall.  LMJ doesn’t even bother with the whole ‘feet on the table’ antic for her mom.  She saves that one for me.  Even if she did, Red would just ignore it, and the behavior would stop… while I let my blood pressure boil and start correcting the behavior and falling right into that trap laid by a chuckling 18 month old. 

This is all too scripted to be coincidental.  I think they plan this stuff.  I think the kids gather when we’re not around and swap notes about how to drive us crazy.  Little Miss sharpens her emotional daggers for Red, while LMJ practices her knowing glances in my direction while teetering off the top of some piece of furniture, as if to say, “I could fall dada, I could fall… are you watching? heheh…” I know LMJ can’t talk much yet, but she’s got those big devilish eyes.  Don’t be fooled.  She knows what she’s doing.  I should probably get to bed.  I’ve got morning duty tomorrow, so obviously LMJ will be up before daylight.

Flying Solo

So I’ve been absent from the blogosphere for a little while… my volume of work travel has been pretty crazy over the last two months.  It’s been trains, planes, and automobiles for quite a while.  I’ve been to LA, Chicago, Dallas and many trips to NYC.  Every time I leave Red with the kids all to herself.  Two weeks ago Red boarded a plane on Thursday morning and flew off to Chicago for a much deserved getaway weekend with girlfriends.  For some reason she didn’t take the kids with her.  No wait, that was planned.  Up until that weekend, I had never taken on the task of parenting both girls by myself for such an extended period of time.  Sure I’d done the random day here and there, and I’m a very involved father, but this would be my first solo flight from noon on Thursday till late Sunday afternoon.  I was nervous.

Red is a wonderful mother – she sets proper boundaries, she feeds the children well, and she invests in their activities and growth.  So I can’t sit them in front of the TV and order pizza for four days.  Damn.  My basic plan was to load up on activities… keep those kiddies running until they pass out.  I took Thursday off work, Friday I had nanny coverage during the day, and Saturday/Sunday were all mine. 

The weather wasn’t great, but it did warm up enough for us to get several play ground visits, one friend play date, and a trip to a local animal farm in during that short span.  Have I ever mentioned that Little Miss Junior is obsessed with birds?  The farm had cows, goats, horses, pigs, your usual assortment of livestock… but she goes gaga over birds.  The chicken house was her own personal nirvana.  She stomped around and pointed at those chickens in delight.  She could’ve spent the whole morning there, just looking at them and smiling.  She doesn’t talk much yet, but she’d point at those birds and look back at me and her older sister as if to say, “Are you guys seeing these chickens?  Aren’t they awesome?!?” Yes LMJ, we see the chickens.  We had play sessions at home, including Little Miss’s first Easter Egg coloring.  There were a bunch of group dog walking sessions as well.  Walking the dog becomes extremely difficult when you can’t leave the children at home alone… so it’s a full on jacket, socks, shoes expedition with the wee ones just so our pooch can do her thing.  

Long story short, I survived the weekend, and the girls survived as well.  No major meltdowns, nobody bleeding profusely… no need for child protective services.  Both girls were entertained, fed, and bathed at the end of the day.  The flip side of this coin – WOW was I tired.  Like bone tired.  Like melt into the sofa for 15 minutes once they were both asleep.  This was old man, “I’m just gonna sit here for a while” tired.  I needed a porch and a rocking chair.  A tip of the cap to all you primary care-givers out there who handle kids by yourselves all the time.  I think I doubled the volume of grey in my beard with just three days of solo flight.  Thank God for Red.

Man in a Suitcase

Over the last 7 weeks, I have had 6 work trips.  It feels like my kids are taller every time I see them.  I would have been 7 for 7 but one of the trips got moved and since I can’t be in New York and Los Angeles at the same time, I had to miss that meeting.  It has been nearly two months since I spent seven straight days at home.  I am tired of airplanes, luggage, security checks, hotel rooms, rental cars, rental car buses, and my broken wrist.  During one 72 hour stretch, I was in Boston, NYC, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and back to Boston. I work in sales, and while I don’t always travel like this, it’s been a heavy stretch since Verizon took over our company in December.  So here’s the tale of my favorite travel day in the last two months.

A couple weeks ago I had to go to Los Angeles for a three day group training session.  My flight from Boston to LA had a layover in Chicago.  Not long enough to get some tasty deep dish pizza, but long enough that we had to de-board.  We land in Chi-town, I shuffle off with my computer bag and roller board and go find a seat at the gate.  I was getting back on the exact same plane in 45 minutes at the same gate, but in a different seat.  I’m fairly obsessive when it comes to booking air travel.  I check in 23 hours and 59 minutes before the flight takes off.  I get a seat on the aisle toward the front of the plane.  I often upgrade for priority boarding.  I never check luggage.  I want to ensure that I can always find room for my rollerboard (people getting on last on commercial flights often have no choice but to check bags when overhead room is gone) and that I’m one of the first people on and off the plane.  Yeah, I’m obsessive.

So I’m queuing up with the obsessive business people for priority boarding, I stroll up to the ticket taker, and he declares, “Sir, you’re going to have to check that bag.” Pointing to my rollerboard.

“Excuse me?” I reply. “Why would I have to do that?”

“That bag looks too big for the overhead compartments.” He tells me.

“Well, I just GOT OFF that plane at the end of the ramp.  With this bag.  It went just fine.  This is my layover.  It’s not too big.” Now I’m getting mad.

“Sir, can you put the bag in the sizer for me please?” he asks.  Now if you travel, you know the ‘sizer’ is the tiny metal square thingy by the onramp to planes that is half the size of most of the bags that people take on board.  I have a broken hand, and I’m carrying a computer bag on my shoulder, and my rollerboard.  I awkwardly attempt to turn my rollerboard one handed into the sizer, but I can’t get it to fit, and I’m now astonished that he’s making the one-handed guy do this while 200 people wait and watch.

“Sir, where is your final destination?” He asks, reaching for a luggage ticket so he can check my bag.

“You’re kidding me right?  I JUST GOT OFF THAT PLANE WITH THIS BAG.  It was not too big.”

“Your final destination sir? The FAA is watching us closely sir, and that bag looks too big to fit.  These are the regulations,” he declares while tagging my bag to be checked.

At this point I’m not very social, or patient, with this guy.  I mutter that I’m going to Los Angeles and trudge to the boarding ramp as I loudly declare just for him, “What an unbelievable asshole that guy is.” The woman directly in front of me laughs out loud and turns to me, “I fly out of Chicago all the time.  He does that to somebody on EVERY flight.  It’s a power trip thing I guess.”  Despite my vocal public obscenity, I do feel vindicated that the guy apparently WAS an asshole.

I settle into my aisle seat towards the front of the plane, as people slowly board one after another.  I’m guessing there’s a crowd flying to Los Angeles coming back from South by Southwest, because there are a lot of ‘rockers’ on this flight.  People with studded belts, long hair, men with jewelry, several people carrying instrument cases.  A rocker couple slides in next to me, and the dude is large.  I’m no small man, but he’s a good 6’4” with shoulders like Charles Barkley.  Awesome. The intentionally distressed jeans he’s wearing are so very cool, and likely more expensive than my luggage.  The triangle pattern eyeball across his artistically ripped denim shirt back is hypnotizing.  I hate them both. After 20 minutes of boarding, and people settling, his girl friend leans over to me and asks, “Hey, would you mind moving to that seat over there?” she points to a window seat two rows back.  At first I think she has to be joking.  The window seat is on the left, meaning my awkw ard braced broken hand would butt up against the plane wall all flight (It’s annoying, I’ve already had it happen), and I’ve already gone over my preference for the aisle to get on/off quickly. “I’m sorry, no, not really, I much prefer the aisle.”  I reply.  She’s a bit miffed.  She wants me to move so her and rock-a-billy can have an empty seat in their row.  Seriously?  This ain’t gonna be my day.  Over the next several hours, these two people go to the bathroom 7 times.  I’m not joking.  She goes to the bathroom 4 times, and he goes 3 times.  Each time I have to get completely up into the aisle with my clumsy hand and whatnot.  I hate them both.

So I never check baggage because that slows you down at the airport.  I’m waiting for my bag to show up, and waiting, and waiting.  It finally comes down the conveyor and I dash to the shuttle bus for the rental cars.  Worst fears are confirmed when I hit the rental car office.  The line is 15 people deep for cars.  Sigh.   Ok, I pop out my phone and notice I’m 100 emails back now that I’ve been flying all day.  We slowly inch along towards the obligatory rental counter questions.  While I’m waiting, I see there’s 3 people working the counter.  One of them is an inhuman machine.  He’s pumping people out.  Step up, License and Credit card, punches through his pc – off you go.  One of them looks like they’d rather set their hair on fire than be working at a rental car place, but is moving people along.  One of the clerks has been working with a trio of Europeans since I got online, and is still working with the same trio as the line dwindles down.  The machine next to him has processed 5 people, 6 people, 8 people… the dolt is still talking with the Europeans… explaining insurance, and options, and asking about their family history, and what they plan on doing in Los Angeles.

You know what happens.  I get to the front of the line, and the dolt is free.  “Next” he calls.  Dammit.  The other two attendants have literally processed 15 customers in the time this guy got through one.  I step up to him, “no interest in an upgrade, no insurance, I’ll fill the tank myself… here’s my license and credit card, and I want a GPS”.  I gave him everything he needed in one sentence.  He doesn’t need to ask me any questions, he has the answers, but the GPS throws him.  He punches some numbers into the computer and looks at it funny.  I’m not panicking yet.  The machine next to him has already processed the woman behind me on line and is calling for another person.  The dolt says he has to go get a GPS and disappears behind a door.  I wait.  The machine processes that second person while I’m waiting and calls for a third.  The dolt returns with a GPS and pulls it out to punch a serial number in the computer.  He looks at the screen funny again.  “this one’s not in the system, let me get another,”… he leaves behind the door, again.  The machine is finishing up customer #3 now.  The dolt returns and does the SAME THING again.  Punches in the number, looks at the screen funny, and says he needs to go find a new GPS.  He leaves AGAIN to get a third GPS unit.  I want to cry.  The machine calls for the 4th customer while I’ve been standing there.  I’m not kidding.

The dolt returns and cannot get this THIRD gps unit entered into the system.  Now he’s looking for help.  I can’t help him, I don’t work here.  He asks the machine for assistance.  The machine told him to hold a minute while he finishes the fourth customer during the time I’ve been standing with the dolt.  When he’s done, he comes over, takes the GPS, and literally punches a handful of things into the computer, “you’re all set,” he says and returns to his desk.  “What did you do?” asks the dolt.  “Sometimes you have to be careful about entering the numbers,” says the machine tactfully.  The machine looks at me apologetically.  I sigh.

Keys in hand I trudge to my rental car.  The dolt is very nice and actually apologetic, but still a dolt.  6 people behind me in line have been processed and left while I was with the dolt for what seemed like an eternity.  Yes indeed, work travel is glamorous.

One Armed Bandit

A couple weeks ago I was walking our dog in the morning when I was attacked by ninjas in the woods near our house… no wait, that didn’t happen. I was walking our dog in the woods when Vladimir Putin invaded Cambridge and I had to fend off a squad of Russian paratroopers with my bare hands… no, that’s not right. I was walking our dog in the woods when I encountered a robotic sasquatch that I had to battle hand to hand Steve Austin style… no, that’s not it. Ok. I was walking our dog when I slipped on some ice and broke my wrist.

Slipping on ice is not exactly a glamorous story. The whole incident makes me feel both clumsy and old at the same time… like I should be doing Calcium pill commercials to avoid brittle bones in my golden years… At the time I thought I had just jammed my hand but as the pain grew I knew I had done something to it… a quick trip to the local ER confirmed my suspicions and has left me in a splint from the top of my knuckles to my elbow for the last two weeks. As you might imagine, parenting with one arm has become a bit of a challenge.

When I first returned from the ER, Little Miss was quite intrigued with the bandage on my arm. She built her own version with paper and scotch tape, and signed her initials on my wrist. Little Miss Junior has been a tad more difficult. LMJ has been in a bit of a clingy phase, demanding to be carried quite a bit. She’s not talking much yet, but more words are coming, and lately ‘up’ has been a constant demand, as she looks up at you and wonders why you’re not carrying her from the kitchen to the living room. She doesn’t understand why Daddy has the new bandage on his arm, and generally she tries to unwind it and remove the bandage clamps than heed my instructions of ‘gentle honey, please don’t do that’.

She’s also recently decided that diaper changes are a terrible inconvenience, and often wages her own personal takedown defense against the would-be cleanup crew. Changing the diaper of a squirming, kicking 16 month old with one arm immobilized has been an exercise in creative restraint whilst trying not to scatter the contents of her last few meals across myself and the floor. Good times. I await my visit to the orthopedist later this week, for the verdict on how my wrist is healing. With any luck I won’t fall and break a hip on the way over the Doctor’s office.