The most lovable freight train in the world

We spent Thanksgiving visiting Dan's grandparents in Fresno. All weekend, they kept raving about Miss G. How great her manners are! How cute her short hair is, how it suits her! How they've never seen a child so... well, enthusiastic!

Grandma's sister: "She has such a little personality!"
Grandma: "Oh, my, yes!"

Little, nuthin'.

Miss G's greatest quality-- her cheerful, unsinkable nature-- is also her most exasperating. She has trouble keeping friends, because her enthusiasm reads as bossiness. (Okay, sometimes it is actually just bossiness.) No one can keep up with her, particularly not her mama. She is always at least five steps ahead, and nothing is ever fast enough for her. She expects perfection from anyone she looks up to, and since she is a trusting soul, that is almost everyone. I'm always nervous about bringing her into restrained environments-- say, Miss L's piano lesson-- because Miss G is just plain larger than life, and that is not for everyone.

At the same time, she is so open and sweet and good-hearted. She picked flowers from the grandparents' yard and handed them out as she said goodbye. She dished out unreserved hugs all around to these people she has met a total of I think three times. She loves giving presents and spends half her allowance on goodies she can share with other people.

I always feel like I'm too hard on her... the constant reminders to chew with mouth closed, to remember please and thank you, to use her inside voice. And since Miss G is the human equivalent to a small tornado, I am constantly, constantly hauling back on the reins, trying (often with total futility) to slow down even a little her exhausting joie de vivre. I don't ever want to quench her bright little spirit, but I just plain can't keep up with her.

So, I'm encouraged by compliments from Grandpas and Grandmas (and their sisters), by comments scribbled on report cards ("A delight to have in class!" is very popular), by my sister regularly asking for recent stories about her. I figure all this means I'm doing a good job. Although I think Miss G is an amazing kid not because of my parenting, but rather in spite of it.

Miss G, you have done it again. Even though you have interrupted me about 86 times while I've been typing this, and my resulting impatience has made it extremely challenging to continue praising you to the hilt, I am just plum crazy about you, kid. Don't ever change.




... for good health. Whatever other stresses may be going on in our lives right now, at least none of us is spending Thanksgiving in a hospital-- either as a patient or a visitor. I will never forget the Thanksgiving I spent as a very very sick cookie; every year this is my biggest thanks.

... for my amazing daughter. She has brought so much to my life, I don't know what I'd do or where I'd be without her. She is my guiding light. I want to be like her when I grow up: fierce and generous, loving and loyal and tough, smart and quick with boundless energy, a great sense of style, and a good sense of humor about everything. And thanks that she is healthy and cheerful and appreciative, that having a hard life has not made her bitter. Thanks that she is enjoying her life and doesn't dread school any more, and doesn't have to go to daycare anymore either.

... for my new husband. I am so blessed to live my life next to this man who is steady and true, who wakes up cheerful every day, who is furry and optimistic and makes me laugh, who loves my daughter, is utterly accepting of both of us, who is an amazing father, who always takes out the garbage and does the dishes every night, who never skimps on the foreplay and knows how to fix my car. Thanks for my new marriage. Although the first six months of said marriage have tested us severely with unemployment struggles and custody battles, we both figure it can only get better from here.

... that my relationship with Miss L has evolved so thoroughly from where it was at this time last year. We have managed to forge a positive foundation for ourselves and learned to navigate our lives within and around each other in a harmonious way--for the most part. And this in spite of multiple undermining attempts by external forces, making me even more appreciative of our new connection.

... for the rest of my immediate family. We're really only mildly dysfunctional, and we have a pretty good time together, all things considered. Thanks that my parents are blessed with good health and happy hearts. Thanks for the renewed closeness with my sister, and thanks for her baby daughter, who has softened her, opened her, and brought joy to her life and all our lives. Thanks that my brother is not living in China anymore and might decide to rejoin our family, and thanks for his fiancee who is largely responsible for this much-welcome shift.

... that I am working, even if it's just for the moment. Thanks that Dan is at the top of the out-of-work list at his Union, and will get the next job call that comes in.

... that, although we're eating an awful lot of hamburger and mac n cheese these days, we are not going hungry. Thanks that we have a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs.

... that we live in a free, non-war-torn country, that our children have the right to an education and not be conscripted into a militia against their will. Thanks that we live in a country where they can live whatever life they can dream up for themselves.



This weekend has been an oasis; I got to spend it with with my 1-year-old niece. Besides enjoying her for herself (and she is a thoroughly delightful little baby), I love the flood that comes in of till-now-forgotten memories from when Miss G was that age. I got drunk on that sweet baby-head smell, the tiny finger-pointing with exclamations of "Da! Da!" for everything she sees, the angry scream insisting, "I am NOT tired! I do NOT need this nap! I mean it!" I wallowed in every squirmy minute.

I am a baby junkie, always have been. I'm good with them; I get them and they get me. Older kids, not so much. Not even my own. I was great from Miss G's birth through age 6 or so, and then I suffered a sharp, inexplicable decline in patience and energy. Some parents say "Oh, it's so much easier as they get older" but I just don't see it. My parenting life has gotten harder over the past 5 years. I mean, sure, there are obviously some easier things. Less on-duty time. More independence, both for the kids and for me. I don't have to change diapers or clean puke off the favorite stuffed pig. And yes, babies are a lot of work. But it was my life; I stayed home full-time and raised her for the first year, and absolutely loved it. It doesn't feel like work if you're reveling in it.

It's also disconcerting seeing my own daughter so big next to this little peep of a baby; I so clearly remember her being that age herself. It could not possibly have been a full 10 years ago. Not when I am getting vertigo from the photo-perfect images of Baby G transposing themselves onto Peep as I watch her splashing in the bathtub. There's just no way that much time has passed. Surely Miss G can't be more than… 4? Okay, 6... at the outside.

Everyone warned me how fast this would go. It's not that I didn't believe them, but I just didn't know it would go this fast. Milk-spilling fast, falling-off-a-bike fast, roller-coaster fast.

The era when Miss G was little was the last time my life was clear to me. These days, I am juggling so many balls at once, and I don't feel I'm focused fully on even one of them. I am a mom, wife, and step mom. I work full-time, I manage our household finances, cook dinner, and pack lunches. As for parenting, the lessons I try to teach the girls are so much more complicated at this age. It's all about ethics and heartbreak and trying to explain why lipgloss is acceptable on an 11-year -old but lipstick is not. I'm trying to teach them to be self-confident enough to be honest with themselves and those around them, and self-assured enough to walk into rooms of strangers with heads held high. This is way harder than potty training (and I say this as a mother whose daughter dragged that process for an insanely long and stubborn time).

I have now become one of those titans of understatement who says, "Oh, enjoy these times! They go so fast!" To all you parents out there with little kids: Cherish this. You cannot imagine how quickly you will move from hating midnight feedings to wistfully missing those still, sacred nights with your child nestled against you.


Siblings. Sorta.

The girls are total opposites. Miss G is quick and impulsive and bossy. Miss L is quiet and reserved and daydreamy. The one personality trait they share is pigheaded stubbornness. Now add to that the fact that they were both only children for the first 10 years of their lives.

I'm not complaining; I’m impressed. Even if they'd been born to the same parents and grown up together their entire lives, I expect there'd be a fair amount of friction. I think they get along amazingly well, considering. But I realized this week, these girls have to be taught to compromise. This is something I never thought about before, and have just taken for granted, growing up as the middle of three kids. Give and take is a way of life when there's more than one kid in the house. Problem is, these kids still haven't learned that.

Miss G decided she wanted to put on a play. In classic Miss G form, she wanted to write, direct, produce, and star in this play all within the very last 10 minutes just before bedtime. She was so excited at the idea, I didn't have the heart to give her a flat no. Instead, I told her it would have to be a quick play, performed within the next 15 minutes. She tore out of the room to go whip out a plot as quickly as possible. Minutes later, she was back.

"Miss L says she doesn't want to do the play!"

I am consoling Miss G, saying we'll do it without Miss L, I'll read the lines with you, it'll be okay. Dan says, confused, "Huh. Miss L told me she really wants do the play."

So we call Miss L in also. By this time, both girls are in tears.

Miss L says that yes, she really does want to do the play. Only, she's not done with her script, she wants to work on it more. She wants real costumes. She wants to set up a stage. I say those are all really good ideas, but we need to get to bed, it's a school night.

Then we had to discuss the idea of compromise. I could swear we've gone over the concept multiple times, but it's just not sinking in. I give examples. We could do Miss G's finished skit tonight, which would make her happy. And Miss L could work more on her play, and we could perform it later, which would make her happy too. We'll do two plays. Perhaps in the future, one girl could write, the other could direct or do costumes or sets. If each girl has her own sphere of influence, they won't be butting heads. I explained to Miss G that there are benefits to investing your time, that a more deliberate initial effort makes for a better end result. I explained to Miss L that when someone is really excited about something, it's hard for them to concentrate on the details, like having costumes. I said if they were going to work together, that Miss G would have to slow down a little, and Miss L would have to speed up a little. Dan encouraged them to actually communicate. He suggested that perhaps Miss L could have explained her reasons for not wanting to do the play, instead of just saying she didn't want to. Perhaps Miss G could have asked her about her reasons instead of getting immediately exasperated, or she could have explained to Miss L how much it would mean to her to do the play right away, perfect or not.

I keep expecting them work this stuff out on their own, which is such an oversight on my part. In my family, if more than one kid turned up in tears at a time, my dad's answer would have been something like "If everyone's crying, then it's time to move on to something else. Everybody go play in their own rooms for a while." Smart guy. Dad's from the no-nonsense school of parenting, the same school I also ascribe to. Thanks to Dad, we learned early to work stuff out ourselves.

I have to keep reminding myself, our girls have not grown up with this. It seems second nature to me, but is utterly alien to them. We have to train them. And next time keep a better eye on how much Halloween candy is getting eaten all at once. Sugared-up kids are not good with compromise.


Weekend Eggs

I have to be at work at 6 am (5 am if I'm out on site somewhere), so I don't get to make breakfast during the week. To assuage my guilt about this, on the weekends I do something which I'd probably never do under other circumstances: I cook eggs by individual request.

Dan likes his eggs over-easy, which require a clean pan for proper flipping, so I start with him. The eggs should be cooked sunny-side up until the white is almost all the way cooked, then flipped, cooked for as long as it takes me to type this sentence, then slid onto a plate. As I do for anything I cook for Dan, I add twice the salt and 3x the normal human tolerance for black pepper. To this, he will also add Tabasco.

Miss L is next. She prefers her eggs scrambled, slightly undercooked and still mushy. The eggs should be cooked with salt and garlic powder, but no pepper. After cooking, a little shredded cheese should be sprinkled on top. Ideally, Colby Jack, but cheddar is also acceptable. Don't make the mistake of mixing the cheese in with the eggs and cooking it all together. This is not at all the same. As with most other food items, eggs must be eaten with ketchup.

Miss G likes her eggs scrambled also, but with sausage mixed in. The sausage links (already cooked) should be cut up into little pieces, mixed in with the eggs, then all cooked together in a big ol' sloppy mess. Salt or pepper or both or neither makes no difference whatsoever. She will also eat her eggs hard-boiled, but only the white parts; the yolks get fed to the dogs. Eggs eaten like this require salt and pepper on every bite. She will also eat sausage-less scrambled eggs without complaint.

In all cases, eggs should be eaten with sausage links and toast. Toast should be slathered with frosting-thick jam: apricot for Dan, strawberry for Miss L, and blackberry for Miss G. Everyone eats two sausage links, except Miss G, who will eat as many as are left unattended in the pan in addition to what's already mixed in with her eggs.

This is all ridiculously impractical, and has quadrupled the time I spend in the kitchen on Saturday and Sunday mornings. On the other hand, it's my only really indulgent parenting concession. As a rule, I don't believe in coddling kids; my number one parenting goal is to raise these kids to be adaptable and self-sufficient. I think mealtimes are one of the best places to teach these things. Don't like dinner? That's fine; I won't make anyone eat against their will. Instead, I encourage them to find their own solution. That may be to make their own dinner. Or, they may decide that mushrooms aren't so bad after all and eat what's in front of them. Or, they may choose to do nothing and instead sit there hungry and sulking. Whatever the result, it is one of their own making. They learn this way that are not powerless, that they have the ability to improve their circumstances by their own actions. At least, I hope that's what they're learning.

Miss G, raised like this from birth, goes with Option 2 most of the time. She eats what's in front of her, she loves vegetables, and rarely complains about anything, food least of all. She's a good sport about pretty much everything, never holds a grudge, and is always open to new adventures. My stepdaughter Miss L, on the other hand, is product of a more pampered childhood. She is resistant to meeting new people and trying new things. She orders grilled cheese at every restaurant and eats ketchup at every meal; when faced with a dinner she doesn't like, she tends toward Option 3.

It's hard to start teaching the idea of personal accountability mid-childhood and convince anyone it's a good idea. To Miss L, it just seems like lots of rules: take your own plates to the sink… fold your own laundry… take responsibility for your own belongings as well as your own actions. But Miss G has learned that accepting more responsibility results in being trusted with more freedoms, something Miss L has not yet grasped, even after 4 years together. It's the hardest part of step-parenting, being vilified for just… parenting. I just keep raising Miss L the way I raise Miss G and hope someday she'll be able to put me in context.

However. For weekend eggs, the complications of our relationships can be set aside, and the greater philosophical aspects of breakfast rules are suspended. The weekday restrictions-- with all the rules brought about by school and homework and swim team and piano practice and bedtimes-- are limiting enough. Weekends are for fun, for sleeping in and playing outside, and for eggs cooked however you want.