Incompetent Stepmother

This is from last week.

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Today is Friday the 13th and we are now also out of rice, pasta and name-brand frozen pizza. Next week doesn’t have the time change or the other stuff, but I’m not looking forward to it. This COVID19 panic is getting all real n’ shit.

We have been trying not to talk about it around Ethan because he can get a bit anxious and we don’t want him to worry. He knows the basics but he honestly doesn’t seem that interested. He’s seven. He has other things to think about.

This morning, I was trying to rush him out to the car so I could take him to school when he suddenly started dashing around looking for something. “Where’s my coat?” he asked.

I picked it up of the wall hanger and said, “it’s right here!”

“No, not that one. Mom bought me a new one. I KNOW I took it to school yesterday!”

“Oh,” I said. Handing him the one that is suddenly no longer “the new one.” I searched through my memory bank of images from the day before. “You weren’t wearing a coat when you got out of your dad’s car, I remember that. Was it IN the car?”

“Maybe.”

We got belted in and started toward school. The radio was reporting on The Virus so I quickly turned it off and put on some music. My car is a 2007 Toyota and plays CDs, which Ethan finds a bit fascinating. He was asking me about it and wanted to know how many CDs it held. I told him it holds six. “What is the most a CD player can hold? Like, six hundred?”

“If it had six hundred CDs there wouldn’t be room for the engine!” I said, and he laughed.

We got to school and I noticed right away that there wasn’t the usual throng of people and cars. I’ve heard that a lot of people are keeping their kids home so I didn’t think much about it. I parked and hopped out of the car. Ethan is at that age where he still likes being walked in to class and I like to take advantage while that lasts. I will be the totally uncool stepmom before I know it. “And another thing,” I can almost hear his tweenaged voice telling his future friends. “She still listens to CDs!”

We walked into the school and again I noticed just how empty it was. One of Ethan’s teachers called out to him and said something to that might have been just to him or to both of us, but he was across the corridor and I couldn’t make it out, so we just waved. We walked to the vestibule where the they keep the lost and found items. It was overflowing with coats. It usually is full, but now that the spring weather is cool in the mornings but warm in the afternoons, kids have apparently been forgetting coats left and right. He looked and looked but didn’t find it. Ethan gave me a side hug and started to walk off to class but I decided to walk him all the way to the door so I could check his locker.

As we walked past Ethan’s old first grade classroom, his Spanish teacher from last year said something to us with a somewhat exasperated expression. I couldn’t make it out. I actually wasn’t sure if she had spoken in English or Spanish. I asked Ethan, “what did she say?” He just shrugged. As we walked past I smiled and said, “Hola!”

We were almost to the lockers when Ethan’s current teacher walked toward me and said, “We are asking parents not to enter the school because of the new restrictions. You should just drop him off outside.”

I stopped and looked around again. Yes, that was what was different! I was the only parent in the building! Suddenly I noticed all these little eyes staring at me. Ethan’s school is majority minority and Ethan is one of the whitest students, even though he is one quarter Korean. One little girl in particular was glaring at me and I felt like I could read the thought bubbles above her little head. “There goes one of those white ladies who thinks the rules don’t apply to her!”

“I’m so sorry!” I said, clutching my Kate Spade bag closer to my chest. “I didn’t know…”

“It’s okay,” Ethan’s teacher told me, but she was pointing at the door and it didn’t feel okay.

I bounced so quickly I forgot to ask her about the coat. (Dammit!) I felt like yelling over my shoulder as I left, my germ cloud trailing behind me, “Steps don’t get the emails; it isn’t my fault.”

The worst part is: right before I was stopped by the teacher, I asked Ethan, “what does the coat even looked like?”

“White camo,” he said. What? What even is that? I can’t picture it, but am still certain that if rednecks had a flag (a new flag, I know they have the stars and bars), it would be made of white camouflage.

I’m actually relieved to think that they will probably close the school soon so I won’t have to show my face there in the near future. My white white face with the bright red cheeks. I will be keeping all of those (and my germs) at home.

 

 

Wicked Stepmother

Ethan (seven) has been having a little trouble at school. He’s bright and motivated and his teachers love him. He has lots of friends. AND (I’m deliberately not saying “but”) he has really big feelings. He gets frustrated when something happens out of the usual order and he doesn’t feel prepared, for instance. We (both our family unit and the family unit of his mother’s and stepfather’s house) have always made sure he knows that it is okay to cry. We set the example; we show our emotions and encourage him to check in with and express his own. Unfortunately, some of his fellow classmates (you couldn’t hear it but I just sneezed and it sounded just like ‘dumb boys.’ It was weird) have started calling him “cry baby.”

We talked about it a lot over the weekend. His school is supposed to have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying, which seems nice. When I was in school in the 80s, bullying was a perfectly acceptable hobby for a lot of kids, encouraged by parents and gym teachers alike. But really there’s zero-tolerance for bullying that happens directly in front of an un-distracted authority figure, which typically isn’t the setting the these little butt holes choose. So we discussed some strategies that he could try, such as going to a teacher if the issue persists, and gave him some reassurance that he’s fine, just the way he is.

I hate this stuff because it brings up my own childhood crap. But also because I HATE the way school breaks our kids. I see it with my nieces and nephews and my friend’s children. Everyone starts out confident and quirky and excited about school and then they get dumped into the sausage machine and the shitty little kids who need everyone to be the same will appoint themselves the gatekeepers of what is allowed and beat the quirks to a pulp. It makes me so sad.

In response, I did something bad. I knew it was bad, and I did it anyway. I was driving Ethan to school so it was just the two of us and I brought up the situation. I waited so that I could get him to myself and not have his Dad hear me and have to correct me for my terrible advice.

“You know,” I said, stopping at a traffic light. “I was thinking of something you could say to [Kid’s Name].”

“What?” Ethan asked.

“Next time he calls you a crybaby, say ‘yeah, but I can stop crying and you will still be ugly.”

“Oh, Rachel!” Ethan said, his eyes bright with a smile, but shaking his splayed hands in front of him, as if refusing another slice of cake. “I would get in so much trouble!”

This is the problem with zero-tolerance policies. The kids who don’t care about following the rules won’t be dissuaded, but the kids who just want to do the right thing won’t even defend themselves.

“You could tell your teacher that I told you to say it,” I said. “I will take the blame!”

“Actually, I thought of something else I could say,” he said.

“What is that?”

“I’m just going to say, ‘how would you feel if someone said that to you?’ And then they will realize it isn’t nice.”

I made myself say, “Yeah… that’s good… too.” I checked the rear-view mirror. “But you could still think about my response. It might make you laugh.”

I got a good smile and a little chuckle then. “Yeah,” he said. “It is funny.”

We don’t get him again until the weekend so I won’t get to check in with him for a few days. I feel so much pressure to enjoy him now, while he is cute and sweet and small. And as purely him as he will be again. Every day those shitty little dumb-asses change him a little more. This is the price we pay for being social animals, I guess. Now I understand why people choose to home-school. I wouldn’t go that far, however. At the risk of offending someone, I’ve met home-schooled kids and some of them could stand having some weirdness smoothed down in the sausage machine.

Chicken Tenders

The other night, we were having roast chicken for dinner. Matt went back to carve off some seconds.
Ethan (age 7): Dad, are you cutting the off the chicken’s “tenders”?

(“Tenders” is his word for the male genitalia, which he learned from the Kung Fu Panda Movies).

Matt: Chickens don’t have “tenders”.

Ethan: I eat chicken tenders all the time!

Me (putting my hands in the air to make the “time out” gesture): Wait… wait… wait… this whole time you have been eating chicken tenders, you thought they were a chicken’s “tenders”?

Ethan: Ye-ah! (Said in two syllables, like “Du-uh!”)

Oy Vey. I blame Jack Black.

Stepparent of the Year?

This is the kind of stepparent I am:

Last summer, we went to a wedding for one of Matt’s cousins. Ethan, then six, looked dashing in his suit. We accepted that he would play in it and get it dirty, so there was only one problem: the clip on tie.

Apparently the metal of the clip was touching his neck and irritating him. We made it as comfortable as possible but it’s not like we could loosen it.

After the pictures were taken, I got an idea. I told him, “you know, if you clipped it to your back buckle loop, it wouldn’t touch your skin. And it would look like a tail!”

Ethan was delighted and he wore it on his butt the rest of the wedding, which delighted others as well. But Matt was not pleased. I’m not sure his parents approved either, though usually Ethan can do no wrong.

“He’s wearing it!” I protested. “I’m a genius!”

No more was said about it, but next time I guess I need to go through Matt before I make any more of my costuming compromises.

Suburban Jungle

Ok guys, gotta warn you before you read on: there is grossness ahead! (Gross as in dead rats… nothing pervy.)

We had a rough week for the wildlife in and around the house.  Don’t panic; Wensley is fine! But we’ve had some other issues.

It started with the rats, actually. I love backyard birding, but feeders attract rodents.  That’s been an issue ever since I first moved in to the house and invested in my feeders. I don’t mind the squirrels, which I realize is basically a form of rodent racism. But they are cute and rats are not. So the squirrels can stay. The rats have to fuck off.

I have tried all the different types of traps that they have at Home Depot and the only kind I have had any luck with are the old timey Tom and Jerry wood and guillotine wire ones.  I bought a big one because these rats are huge.  Actually, I bought several because I looked out the window one morning and saw that I had a whole family crowding around under the feeder, picking through the seeds that the birds dropped on the ground.

I quickly discovered that rats don’t eat the part skim mozzarella that I buy for snacks to try to keep the calories down. They insist on the good cheese because apparently, I have snobby rats, like Patton Ozwalt’s character in Ratatouille.  Only if they do decide they want the cheese (because it is quality locally sourced sharp cheddar), they will find a way to grab it off the trap without triggering it. These are seriously smart rats!

Maybe I should have invited them in and asked them if they could cook and then hire them and live happily ever after. Only, there’s no way because I couldn’t even get past that idea when it was just a cartoon. I sat through the entire movie feeling like I needed to wash my hands. By the end I needed to take a bath in hot Purell. Then, shortly after, I heard that Peter O’Toole died, and I am still convinced it is because those chefy rats gave him the bubonic plague.

After the good cheese, I decided that I needed something messier. I took a small cut of an apple and I smeared it in peanut butter.  That was tricky to set up and the trap snapped closed on me. I didn’t lose any fingers but I did invent a new type of cluster bomb that spreads peanut butter from hell to breakfast. If your enemies have peanut allergies, it would be quite lethal. I’m still finding spattered globs on the backyard furniture.

I did finally manage to get the trap set up. Unfortunately, the ants ate all the peanut butter off bait before the rats got to it.

That was about mid-week and Matt had the idea that we should go out that night. He got tickets to a Bees game, our local Minor League Baseball team.  Ethan is seven now and loves going out to games. He especially loves the Bees because they have a nice playground and he can’t sit through a whole game.  Of course, it turns out that none of us could. Sit through the whole game, that is. It was hot as hell and the innings were taking forever. We finally left just after the seventh inning stretch because it was after 10 pm and we needed to get the kiddo to bed.

Back at home, Matt made a terrible discovery while Ethan was changing into his pajamas.  “Oh no!” he yelled, making all of us stop in our tracks. “I think Kaa is dead!”

Back when the boys moved in with me two years ago, I had only one reservation, and that was the pet snake, Kaa (named for the python in Rudyard Kilpling’s, The Jungle Book). He was a twelve-year-old corn snake and he was humongous. Here is a photo I took when we first got his terrarium set up in Ethan’s new room.

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And here is a photo of Matt holding the last skin Kaa shed.

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I never measured Kaa, but Matt is over six feet tall.  You can see what I’m talking about.  Big. Ass. Snake.

Once he moved in, I completely forgot about him.  We actually had to write his feedings on the calendar to keep track of them, or we would have forgotten. Matt fed him a frozen rat (thawed, of course) once every two months or so.  Then shortly after that there would be a slimy reptilian turd to clean up.  Matt once told me that if I was bored I could take care of those for him.  I laughed. Like it is possible to get that bored. I told him, “I will clean up every accident Wensley ever has but I’m not touching that stuff.”

Other than that, Kaa was the easiest pet on earth.  I never bonded with him.  I couldn’t even make myself touch him.  I knew he wasn’t dangerous, but I couldn’t make my hand go near him.  It’s like there was an instinctual imperative – something hard coded in my DNA – that just wouldn’t allow it.  But God Damn I didn’t want him to die!

I went into Ethan’s room to give him a hug and that’s when the smell hit me.  Matt has a terrible olfactory sense.  We’ll be driving along and I’ll say that I smell a skunk and we will have to go another five miles before he will smell it.  I started clawing at the window to get it open. As I mentioned before, it was damn hot and we had turned the A/C down before we left to be green. Not realizing, obviously, that Kaa would decided to buy they farm and start the decomposing process.

I pinched my nose closed and walked over to the terrarium. I guess I wasn’t expecting to be able to tell that he was dead by looking at him, just by the smell. After all, snakes have no faces. It didn’t occur to me that they could have tortured facial expressions. I was wrong. I’ll never get that image out of my mind. His mouth was wide open and his little onyx-black eyes – once his only “cute” feature – were sunken and dried.

“What are we going to do with him?” Matt asked.  I knew exactly what he meant. It was nearly eleven at night and still ninety-five degrees outside.  The smell was overwhelming. We just couldn’t put Kaa outside or in the garage for the night and then bury him in the morning.  The smell would attract racoons, or worse.  I decided that we had to do what my biologist sister would do.  I went to the kitchen to clean out some space in the freezer. A lot of space.

I grabbed Ethan’s sleeping bag so that he could sleep down in the basement with us, away from the stench. At first, Matt protested, asking if that was really necessary.  Then, as he picked up the lifeless snake with a garbage bag like you might do with a giant dog shit, the smell finally hit him. “Oh my God!!!”

The next day we had a little funeral.  Ethan took a nice river stone he had collected on one of our hikes and made it into a headstone. It had a grass stain on it because I had thrown it at a rat a few days before, but we decided that Kaa would appreciate that.  Then we buried him in a nice spot under the bird feeder.  We talked about what a good snake he was, and mused out loud that he might enjoy being near the birds and the rats.

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It gave me an idea, in fact. That night, I went back out with a trap loaded with a peanut butter smeared cracker.  This time, instead of just setting it below the feeder in plain sight, I buried it so that the wooden slat was hidden and only the bait was visible.  The next morning, I went outside with Wensley on his early morning constitutional and saw that I had caught something.

I pulled the trash bin into the back yard and grabbed my shovel from the shed.  It wasn’t until I got close to the trap that I realized there were two dead rats in it.  It was the two juveniles of the family. They must have got to the bait and the same time and were both caught when the bar came down.  I started to feel heartless for having done this, and so I reminded myself that I didn’t kill them to be a dick. They aren’t safe! We have a dog and a second grader! Neither of whom need rabies or the plague! I had to do it!

“Ug,” I said out loud as I lifted the rats and trap with my shovel, refusing to get any closer than that. “Sorry guys.” And then I dropped them into the trash bin and closed the lid.  Then I went in search of some Purell.

That should have been the end of the story, but there’s more.  Just a few days later, my younger sister and her family came to town for a visit. We were all hanging out at my older sister’s house. One of my nephews came running in from the yard yelling, “There’s a dead thing! It’s a chipmunk or a rat or something! And it’s gross! I can’t play back there!”

I gave the universe this look:

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Then I said to the other adults, “It’s okay, I got it. I’ve been training for this.”

I grabbed a plastic shopping bag out of the closet and followed my nephew out to the yard.  It was not a chipmunk. It was a juvenile robin.  It didn’t have a head but I was able to identify it by the scattered belly feathers.  “It’s just a bird,” I told my nephew.  “Looks like a cat got it.”

He took a few steps back as I wrapped my hand in the bag and then took a hold of it. There was a stick that had fallen on top of the bird so it was awkward to grab. I ended up having to flip it over.  As soon as I did I yelped in horror. A golf ball sized mass of writhing maggots pulsed in the open chest cavity, like a new myriad chambered heart.  My nephew moved to look but I warned him off.  I flipped the bag inside out, capturing the entire “disgusterous” (to quote the BFG) mess and disposed of it the same way I had the rats.

We went back inside and I (you guessed it) washed my hands for fifteen minutes.  I even made my nephew wash his hands and he hadn’t touched it. My mom asked what was going on and I ended up telling her the whole story of my crazy week of death and decay.

That is when Mom told me that when she first got married she used to re-use mouse traps to save money. “I’d just open up the wire and toss the dead mouse out, and then I’d use it again.”

That blew my mind.  For just one second, cleaning up that gross dead bird for my nephew, I felt like an adult. That is a rare feeling for me.  Sometimes I still feel like I’m twenty, but only until I spend a little time with someone who actually is in their twenties, and then I’m like, “Nope. I’m forty.” But even after all these years of having a real job and making mortgage payments, I never feel like a bona fide adult.  Then my nephew asked for someone to protect him from a dead thing and even though I hadn’t particularly wanted to, I stepped up and I did it. Like a grown up. Then I tried to picture myself pulling back the wire on one of those traps and taking the limp mouse out because my family needed to save that dollar… and I realized that I will never be that adult. And you know what? I don’t give a rat’s ass.

AlpenGLOW

Our little family joined up with friends at an Airbnb in Colorado last weekend. We decided to leave our cold mountain and go to a higher colder mountain to celebrate President’s Day because who doesn’t love a long car ride to go to someplace similar but worse?

Actually, I can’t explain why. We are mountain people and it was a different mountain. We went. We looked at it. We sledded down a part of it. And we explored some of it’s microbreweries while the children sampled the mac-n-cheese each establishment had to offer. Mountain people stuff. You just have to trust me, it was fun.

Monday morning, I got up early to get a shower before the line formed and to begin packing up before the long ride home. Check out was 10 AM which I thought was too early for a place that specifically advertised for families, but I can’t help following rules, even when they are nearly impossible.

I was packing up the kitchen while Ethan (age 6) ate breakfast and Matt went up to take his turn in the shower. That’s when the fight broke out. The very near next door neighbors began to shout at one another over who (the man, apparently) is lazy and who (the woman, eventually) should leave. I looked over at Ethan to see if he noticed anything but he looked untroubled. It got louder and louder and until each were daring one another to call the cops.

Of course, Wensley chose this moment to ask to go out for a wee, as the back yard was directly adjacent to the situation. I gave in before having to clean up a mess and risk losing the cleaning deposit that we had managed to retain all weekend. I opened the door and each word became as clear as if the conversation were happening there in the kitchen.  “I do every-%$^@ing-thing around here! Why don’t you &(%*ing *$@# yourself? You $*&^@ing @&%$@#er!” Or something like that.  Meanwhile, Wensley sniffed the snow, being particularly particular about picking a spot for a 15° morning.

Ethan walked over to stand by me and peered out the door to see who was yelling.

It was clear that I wouldn’t be able to just ignore the fight at that point, so I said, “Well, I’m glad I’m not in that family. They don’t speak very nicely to one another.”

Ethan considered this for a moment and then said, “At least there hasn’t been any contact, I don’t think.”

I was stunned by this statement. I wondered if he even meant what I heard when he said the word “contact.”

“Yes,” I hedged. “That is good.”

“Because the only people who should make contact are professional wrestlers,” he added, sagely. “That’s pretty much the only time it’s okay.”

“I agree,” I said, biting the inside of my cheek to keep from smiling. “Leave it to the professionals.” Wensley came back inside and Ethan went back to his cereal and that was the end of the conversation.

Oh my goodness, I love that kid. Where does the kid get this stuff?

Christmas Bites

At some point in the week, a truck (I assume?) came through the neighborhood and collected the discarded Christmas trees. I didn’t see it happen. One day I saw the trees lying in the gutter, a corpse in front of every home, and I thought of the Monte Python line, “bring out your dead!” Then the next afternoon they were gone. One final Christmas magic trick.

My holidays were a whirlwind. As a new step parent, I am learning that Christmas with a child is much more fun, but so much more work! It is possible that we over-do it. The kids don’t need the dozens of elaborate recipes executed to perfection, for instance. They are so focused on Santa and toys and chocolate… and… and… and… But it all feels so important! Who knows what will stick out for them in the decades ahead? What smell, taste, or activity will come to symbolize “Christmas” when they are my age and looking back on it all? That is what we are trying to accomplish here. We simply aren’t baking cookies and roasting turkeys and instigating sword fights with the spent wrapping paper rolls. We are constructing memories! We are making happy childhoods! What could be more important?

I can’t pretend it is only for the kids, I suppose. I always put way too much effort into Christmas. I always expect too much from the day. And I nearly always ruin it for myself by trying too hard and indulging too much. It’s a character flaw of mine, and it burns brightest during the holidays. Do other families have that person, too? The one who goes overboard, wanting everyone to feel her love vibrating through her gifts? The one baking up a storm, wearing light-up earrings, and wearing everyone else out with her enthusiasm? I hope not. I’m exhausting. I wouldn’t wish myself on anyone else’s family, either.

At one point before my family arrived, I started a blog post, but I didn’t finish it in time to post for the holidays. There never seemed to be any TIME! I was too busy putting antlers on things (see below). I’m finishing it now and posting, belatedly. Just in case there was someone else out there who found, once the trees vanished from the street, they weren’t quite ready for Christmas to be over, despite it all.

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Every year, I take note of the holiday honking, but then I quickly forget about it. What is that all about? Most of the year, I will occasionally hear someone honking their horn at another car, usually for truly bad behavior. But between Thanksgiving and Christmas, an epidemic of honking breaks out. People are in a hurry, and they are self-absorbed. Everyone has end-of-year deadlines for work and a shopping list the length of their forearm and no time for your bullshit. Each day it hear multiple people honking at cars for making legal maneuvers too quickly or too slowly, or just for existing in space and time. Someone honks at every light the second it turns green. People honk at jaywalkers and bollixed pedestrians wandering aimlessly though a parking lot as if concussed, trying to make sense of it all. Don’t we all feel a little shell-shocked? Can’t we employ a little compassion?

No. This is not the season for compassion. It is the season for douchebaggery. And for grumbling over the line at the post office, at noon on December 19th, when what in God’s name did you think you would find going there on your lunch break? And it is the season for treating retail workers like foam stress balls to be crushed between the fingers and the palm because we are human and therefore terrible.

I was in line at the grocery store’s post office and the woman in front of me was glaring at a the lady at the scale, who was wearing a name tag that said “Hello! I am in training!” I looked over the shoppers shoulder to read the message she was typing on her phone, which said, something to the effect of “OMG, I’m NEVER getting out of here!”

I quickly saw the problem. They woman was trying to save time by posting a package at the grocery store. No big deal. Same thing I was doing. Only this woman was sending something to Myanmar, or Somesuch. And the poor lady behind the counter (who was in her fifties, at her first week of this new job, thinking she was going to be selling eggs and deodorant), was furiously trying to learn how to fill out the customs form. She was asking for her co-workers to help her, but they didn’t know either. Because this is a grocery store! You take complicated crap to a real post office! Especially two days before Christmas! After the woman sent her text, she looked back at me and rolled her eyes with luxurious indignance, inviting me to join in the shaming of the proletariat in the apron. I declined, gazing behind me, as if to see who she was looking at. The man behind me had a shopping cart full of packages; I counted fifteen. This is another shipping mission that, at least during the holidays, should be saved for the real post office, in my opinion. I tried to tell him so with my eyes, but I don’t think he got the message.

After I mailed my small package to an adjacent US state, I wandered back into the store to pick up some chocolates and eggnog flavored salt water taffy to fill up stockings. I stopped at a table for a free sample of brie and sour cherry preserves on a lemon flavored cracker, and as I licked every microscopic crumb off my thumb and index finger I asked myself, “what is wrong with everyone! It’s Christmas! It doesn’t have to be ‘every man for himself!’ Just don’t be an ass-hole. And take deep breaths. Especially in long lines. Keep your sense of humor and we will all get through it together!”

I was still thinking this as I walked out through the sliding glass doors and out to my car, when I passed a white haired lady and her male companion, probably her husband. “Oh, my!” She said to me, and I stopped. I thought maybe she was going to ask if she knew me. I have one of those faces and I get that a lot. “You have a beautiful, smile!” she exclaimed instead, making my day, my Christmas, and my year.

“Thank you so much for saying that!” I said, deciding at the last second not to hug her. “Merry Christmas!” I said to her and her fellow, and I walked to my car.

Here is my Christmas wish for everyone: be that lady. I know, Christmas is Carnage. It is exhausting, and it will kick your ass. Especially if you are a Mom. (Sorry guys, but that’s what I have witnessed. See this Onion article for reference.) But you can focus on the smiles, and call them out when you see them. And if possible, instead of making cashiers go home in tears, make someone smile.

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The Tiny Professor

Matt found this package of colorful cauliflower in Ethan’s backpack when he came home from school.

“What is this? A snack you are saving?” he asked.

“No, no! I can’t eat that! It’s for my research!”

Ethan is six.

“You mean it’s for homework?” I asked. “What are you supposed to do with it.”

“No, not homework,” he said. “I’m researching them.”

We were stumped. “What are you researching?” Matt asked.

“I want to know how they grew like that, that’s all.”

We put the package in the fridge after that. I’m not sure what experiment he has planned but it’s the best excuse a 1st grader has used to get out of eating vegetables that I’ve ever heard of.

Deck the Howls

This is how I decorate for Halloween:

This is how my neighbors decorate:

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To be honest, they are in a different neighborhood but I couldn’t think of a word for someone else that lives in your city but not on your block.  Citymate? Neighboring-neighbor? I dunno.  But I think of them as the owners of the Halloween House and I have to go by to see what they have come up with every year.  (I’ve blogged about them a time or two before.)  I think this is my favorite so far; they have really outdone themselves.  One of these days I need to stop when someone is in the yard.  I have so many questions!  Mostly to do with budget and storage.

To be a little more honest, I have one more Halloween decoration.  It is five feet tall (just shorter than I am) and it looks like this:

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The dogs’ names are (from left to right) Zero, Maxwell Silver-hammer, and Queequeg.  (I name everything, by the way.  I originally named the parrot and cat skeletons Polly and Pyewacket, but only to myself.  Then, on a whim, I asked Ethan what he thought their names should be and he said, without hesitation, “Pierical,” pointing at the parrot, and “Port Jackson,” pointing at the cat.  So, obviously, those are their names now. He said he didn’t know where he got the ideas for his names but clearly we were both feeling the letter “P.”)  I bought the inflatable dogs last year after the fellas moved in because I wanted to make sure we had a fun yard for Ethan and the neighborhood kids.  And also because, dogs.

Months later, long after Halloween, one of my neighbors stopped me to say hi and she mentioned the big dogs.  She said that her daughter loved them.  “And I mean, she loved them.  One day, we came home and they were deflated and she started to cry.  ‘They’re dead! ‘They’re dead!’ I couldn’t console her!”

“Oh, I’m sorry! I was unplugging it during the day to save power.  But you know, they are ghost dogs.  So, technically, they were dead the whole time.”

My neighbor responded with that blank look that translates as a reminder to socially awkward people to avoid face to face contact in the future.

At any rate, they are back up for the holiday.  And I haven’t unplugged them this year.  Not even once.

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The boys didn’t think my arrangement was all that “spooky,” so I added a raven and a severed limb.

It is so fun to decorate now that there is a little one around. But if I’m being honest, it’s really for me. Ethan just wants the candy.