Category Archives: parenting

back in the california desert in a fixer-upper

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It happened so fast. And then I was in denial. And then I was excited. But by late fall, we found out that we were moving back to the California desert. In January. After only a year and 1/2 in Albuquerque. Just as I had found a community of cool moms.

Then, we decided to buy a house. First-time homebuyers. You know, to make things easy. We were moving to a market that doesn’t have a lot of rentals. We were moving to a market that plans to add a lot of jobs in the next few years. Interest rates were still low. And I wanted a kiln.

So the week after Thanksgiving, we flew to Palmdale with baby L. and left big C. and little C. with my parents. We found a real estate agent and we decided we’d buy a house that week. The first day, we walked into a house the right size for us with vaulted ceilings and lots of light on a corner lot in the right neighborhood. We knew it would need work, but we said what the hell. Let’s do it. We put in an offer, and we closed within 30 days.

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The house, built in 1990, turned out to be more of a fixer-upper than we expected. That first week in town, we stayed in a hotel. We pulled out the carpets; we scrubbed the floors and walls. We demolished the kitchen. We pulled out the bathtub. We laid carpet in the bedrooms. And then we called in A.’s father for emergency help. “We need you,” we said. (And by “we,” I really mean A.)

The second weekend, I drove the boys to my aunt’s and uncle’s house in Atascadero. I teared up when I saw the ocean. It had been a year and a half since I’d seen it — the glorious, vast ocean that makes me feel alive and connected to the earth. And what a year it was — the closest brush I’d ever had with death.

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Now, we’re living in a construction zone. I didn’t enroll the boys in preschool since big C. starts kinder in the fall and it’s our last chance for freedom — to not be bound by a schedule. So they’re adjusting to no schedule and a new space. And I’m adjusting to very little “me” time. But we’re exploring our new town. We met my parents in San Diego last week. We can go anywhere and do anything and it feels good.

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A. rigged up a sink and we bought all new appliances. It’s livable, but a bit cluttered. All I really want to find is my blender so I can make L. varied baby food. He’s living on banana, sweet potato and baby oatmeal lately. But he just turned 7 months so he’ll be OK.

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Dad O. has painted the bedrooms — the boys’ room, the baby’s room, the guest room — and he’s working on the master now. (I had no idea colors were so hard to pick out.)

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We’re slowly unpacking. It sounds hectic. It feels like it should be hard, but since I’m not working, I don’t have much stress. A. is doing the bulk of the work (he’s my hero). I put my Etsy shop on hold till I have the space to throw again. I bought a kiln — it arrived today and it will be a while till I try my first firing. But for now, I’m living in the moment with these boys in our new house that we have yet to call “home.” But we will call it that — soon.

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get rid of clutter: it makes kids happier, too

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My almost two-year-old is entering his defiant phase.

“OK, CP, time to clean up!” I say after dinner. “You’re in charge of the Legos.”

“No,” he says with a smile, and then turns in circles, arms out like an airplane. Or he walks away and grabs a toy car and starts pretending it’s zooming on the furniture. And then grins at me with that infuriating glimmer.

“CP,” I say with a sterner tone, pointing at the rug. “Legos.”

This happened three nights in a row. Three nights ago, when his exasperated brother tried to boss CP into cleaning, CP took a heavy wooden car and hit CM in the mouth. CM wailed; I put CP on the couch, and he giggled at me when I told him how unhappy I was and we don’t hit in this house. (I later told A. it was time for me to read up on toddler discipline again, because CP’s personality is so different from CM’s. I default to this woman’s advice, and I’m also going to pull out some of the books on my shelf.)

Two nights ago, when CP wasn’t cleaning after several prompts, A. and I decided to put the Legos away. He put them on top of the fridge, so CP could see them and ask for them.

Yesterday morning,  CP was wandering the house.

“Mama, I can’t find the Legos anywhere,” he said in whiny voice, hands up-turned.

“CP, you didn’t clean up last night,” I said. “You don’t get to play with them for a few days.”

He cried for a moment and then said, bottom lip out: “Ohhhh.” It’s tricky because I’m not sure he really gets it yet.

But here’s what I noticed. With the Legos out of sight, the boys got along better. They played in a huge cardboard box we’ve had for two weeks that we turned into a “house.” They giggled and pounded on the box like it was a bongo. Then they jumped into a toy bin and pretended it was a hot air balloon. Later in the morning, I took them on a hike in the Sandia Foothills and they walked on what was left of the snow and jumped in the mud, and CP made up a song that went, “CM, I loooove you.”

The boys don’t need much to be happy. We’re all about simple play. We want to foster their independence, creativity and love of nature. Sometimes the best idea, even though it can feel hard in the moment when they’re upset, is to simply put those toys away.

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kids’ music, kind older folks and serendipity

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A few weeks ago, A. and I had a rare dinner alone in Ridgecrest. OK, so it wasn’t alone, CP was with us, but he was still only nursing and would sit in his carseat, watchfully and quietly. We ate at Charlie’s, a bar restaurant with very little ambience — five or six TVs with sports programs, a pool table, high ceilings, cushy chairs on wheels and older patrons. One entire wall was a mirror, and we sat next to it.

An elderly couple came in and sat down across from us. And the woman kept looking over and smiling at CP, who A. was holding up on the table on his wobbly legs, his feet turned inward, his eyes focused on his image in the mirror. I finally smiled back at the woman, and she asked, “How old?” She was in her 70s at least, with curly gray hair and round glasses. Her husband had a hearing aide.

A. wheeled his chair over to their table, with CP on his lap, and they both lit up. It turns out, they were from Albuquerque, N.M., where we think we’d like to move next. And they have several grandchildren.

“Do you have a CD player in your car?” the woman asked us.

Confused, I said yes.

“Our daughter is a children’s singer,” she says. “She sings lullabies that will put your baby to sleep.”

They were on their way to Yosemite, so they were staying in the hotel where the restaurant is.

“Go get some of them,” the woman said to her husband, kindly.

He nodded, and a bit later, he returned with four wrapped albums and an article about their daughter, Susie Tallman, published in the Albuquerque Magazine.

We put the CDs in the diaper bag and thanked them.

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On the way home, I popped one in the player, and the first song — Six Little Ducks — was catchy.

Since, we’ve been listening to them — a song here, a song there. The lullabies do not put CP to sleep, as the woman guaranteed they would (in fact, I don’t care for them), but we have found a few songs that move us to our feet, including Five Little Speckled Frogs. The song has gone into our regular rotation, along with songs by the Laurie Berkner Band, Raffi, Elizabeth Mitchell and another new discovery: Johnny Bregar.

Now, every once in a while, CM (who will be three in December) will ask: “Can we listen to Five Speckled Fwogs?”

We turn on our stereo in the living room and act out the song — pretending to sit on a log and shovel delicious flies in our mouths. The joy on CM’s face makes me smile — it’s ridiculously cute. And every time we do it, I think of that couple, who are so proud of their daughter.  And I can’t help but think that maybe we’ll see them again, someday.

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toddler boot camp

We had no idea we were about to put C. through boot camp this weekend, but that’s exactly what we did. And, in turn, we got our butts kicked too.

We ditched all diapers. Daytime, nighttime — gone.

And yes, this type of potty training is no joke. I wanted to run to the mountains. I wanted to drink several glasses of wine with a girlfriend. I wanted to go back to the pottery studio and throw pot after pot. And then I wanted to collapse. But I had to watch my little guy’s every move.

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single parents everywhere: i salute you

It’s MLK day, and C. is in the playroom singing to himself and building Lincoln Logs. I’m drinking a coffee and feeling relieved: the long weekend is almost over and A. will be home from Phoenix later this afternoon.

I was a bit stressed about him leaving — A. spends every weekend morning with C. He handles the night-time baths. He gets home from work around the witching hour, and plays with C. while I cook. (A. often cooks, too.)

This weekend, A. wanted to meet a grad-school friend for a getaway to play golf, watch football and have time to himself before baby no. 2 arrives. And he deserves it.

But at 34 weeks pregnant, I’ve been extra tired and my tolerance for the 2-year-old “I WANT IT!” is diminishing. So letting A. go from Friday afternoon till Monday evening sounded hard. I also don’t have a lot of friends in the desert (not like D.C., anyway), so a long weekend alone with C. sounded even harder.

So I put together a plan. Saturday, C. and I would drive to Lake Isabella and find a farmer’s market and have lunch at the Kernville Brewery (which I have liked in the past). A girlfriend would drive up from LA to hang for the evening, and on Sunday, another girlfriend would come over for dinner.

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Over the past three days, here’s what I learned — and this is with just one toddler, not two or more kids, and it’s also while I’m not working.

1. Showering is virtually impossible. At the end of the day, when I usually shower, I had no energy for it (or I had guests). Therefore, A. will come home to a filthy, crusty wife.

2. A few more days of doing this, and I would probably stop making C. clean up after himself (for lack of energy and patience) and he would turn into an oinking pig in a pigpen and I would probably trip and kill myself on Tinker Toys.

3. We don’t watch TV (except for my Downton Abbey indulgence) and we don’t have an iPad, but C. likes to watch videos of himself on my iPhone (am I raising a narcissist?). I generally let him watch videos for a minute or two and then take it away, but I have a feeling if it was just me all of the time, I’d let him watch more. And I might even get an iPad.

4. How, oh how do single parents work full-time and eat healthy, whole grain meals? The one meal we ate out (lunch at the brewery)  — chili and a chicken sandwich — made me feel awful after a few weeks of mostly vegetarian low-fat cooking. But cooking is exhausting — I would probably have to eat frozen meals on TV trays every day.

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The weekend ended up being really lovely — despite the few meltdowns (C.’s, not mine) and his refusing naps and his sniffles. We pretended we were bears living in a cave and we read books and we went for walks and he gave me kisses and hugs. He even said, “Mama, I miss you” (he must not know what that means). But I can’t wait for A. to get home so I can squeeze him tight and let him know how much I appreciate him.

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