My new favorite kind of birthday party for kids: The “Parents, GTFO” kind

 

As any parent will tell you, March and April are brutal months when it comes to kids’  birthday parties. Starting around February your inbox will be flooded with eVites so numerous you’d almost welcome a plea for help from a member of Nigeria’s royal family.

The past few weekends my husband and I have hardly seen each other in our quest to get both kids to their designated party points. I spent spare moments wrapping gifts. Our bank called and asked if we wanted to do a direct deposit every month to Toys R Us.

In some ways, these parties are great because they give your kids something to do, neatly killing a little bit of dead time with minimal effort on your part as a parent.

But unfortunately, these days it is assumed that you will stick around to keep an eye on your kid and make awkward conversation with relative strangers. (Kind of like modern play dates.)

By now, I’ve watched countless magicians — or “illusionists,” as they prefer to be called — ply their trade, wondering if they date much. I’ve seen scores of little girls lose their minds when they come face to face with teenage girls in Elsa costumes. I’ve enjoyed the banter of pint-sized athletes as they go face-to-knee with the refs at basketball games. (“I guess we’re not calling traveling?” a 6-year-old asked the teenage boy overseeing the game at a party last weekend. I looked into adopting him but his parents didn’t go for it.)

It can be fun if you know the other parents but that’s pretty rare. It can get uncomfortable if alcohol is served and a parent overindulges and acts weird, such as the dad at a party last year who kept bugging me to admit I was Jewish. (I’m not, he was. I took his assumption as a compliment, although it got old the fifth time he slurred, “Are you sure you’re not Jewish?” “Pretty sure I’d remember being one of God’s Chosen People,” I replied.)

But lately, a new kind of party invitation has been coming through my inbox. Among the details of date, time and location, parents have been adding a note along the lines of, “Please leave your child here and pick him/her up when the party finishes.” You know, the way birthday parties used to be.

The first time I received such an invitation, I almost wept with joy. It was a double score because I didn’t know the hosts well and the party was near a superb shopping center I don’t go to much because it’s so far away.

I was so excited to have an hour and a half to myself I considered slowing down and pushing my daughter out of the car when we arrived at the birthday girl’s house just to save time. In the end, I walked her to the front door, rang the door bell and jogged backward down the driveway blowing kisses. (“Have fun! Be good! Love you!”)

For the next 90 minutes I lived like a rock star. That’s right: I went to a Marshalls Homegoods store. It. Was. Awesome.

When I’d had enough of that I sat in a coffee shop and read a book. It was one of the most relaxing Saturday mornings in recent memory.

Coming up this weekend I have another “drop off only” party and I can’t wait. This one is for three hours so you can only imagine the shenanigans I’ll be getting into. That’s right, Burlington Coat Factory, prepare to be DOMINATED.

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Thanks for coming! Don’t let the door hit ya where the Lord split ya.

 

 

Dear Family: You hereby have my permission to flush

 

To my lovely family,

It has come to my attention that you all have a major concern about drought in the area. Or that you all suffer swift and devastating short-term memory loss immediately after having evacuated your bladders and/or bowels. Or worse, that you believe the horrible Toilet Monster — a Kindestod-type character that could have come straight out of the Grimm brothers had indoor plumbing been their contemporary — will rear up and visit havoc upon our household should you part with your bodily waste.

Well, as a representative of the management in this establishment, I am here to confidently assure you that you can rejoice and rest easy: Nothing bad will happen should you choose to flush the toilet after using it.

Seriously, trust me on this.

I know, I know: It can be a bit intimidating to push that handle, what with the barely audible noise it makes as it performs its essential function. It can be difficult to say good-bye to a substance to which you have absolutely no emotional attachment.

But believe me, it’s better in the long run.

And despite what you seem to think, I will NOT be angry at you if you flush. Let’s just clarify that right now. Nothing would delight me more than to use a toilet that hasn’t already been “marked,” or to live in a house that doesn’t have the vague and constant whiff of a port-a-potty.

While we’re on the topic of actions that would not make me angry, let me add that there is absolutely nothing wrong with bringing your used dishes to the sink. It’s crazy but true. The kitchen table will not suddenly collapse should it be freed of its burden. After all, it’s the legs that keep it standing, not the peanut butter smeared, crumb littered plates resting on its surface.

The sink will not open up and swallow you whole should you choose to place your dirty dishes therein. The sink LOVES dirty dishes. In fact, you can hear it sobbing gently every night after I have whisked the dirty dishes from its maw and deposited them in the dishwasher to be rocked and scrubbed to sleep.

It misses those dishes. Don’t make it sadder than it needs to be.

Also, every time you grab my shirt and use it as a handkerchief and/or hand towel, my soul dies a little bit. Just so you know.

If we’re out of something that you use but I don’t — shredded wheat, blue cheese, chia seeds — it is perfectly acceptable to tell me. It would not make me feel inadequate to find out I didn’t guess this. In fact, I would prefer to know you need more of a certain item BEFORE I go to the store than to hear you ask if I picked up said item AFTER I get home. As efficient as it would be for me to perform a complete inventory of the fridge, freezer and cupboard every single time I go to the grocery store, I don’t. Instead I rely on the GROCERY LIST I place IN PLAIN SIGHT on the KITCHEN COUNTER to determine what we need. No special password is required to make entries on this list. Simply pick up the giant novelty pen with feathers on top for easy location and jot away.

Speaking of food, if you are standing in front of the fridge, door open, head inserted, looking for something, and I am engaged in an activity in a different room or on a different floor of the house, you will probably have better luck locating said item than I will. Contrary to popular belief, being born without man junk does not give one a photographic memory or the ability to recall at will the location of every item in the fridge, freezer, pantry or someone else’s sock drawer with pinpoint accuracy.

At the very least, try moving some items around and looking for longer than 10 seconds before asking me to solve the Mystery of the Missing Mustard while I am upstairs attempting to unclog a toilet that hasn’t been flushed in 24 hours.

And so help me, if you use the last of the mustard, don’t put “Mustard” on the list and then ask if we are out of mustard, I will cut you.

Don’t get me wrong family, I love you. Usually. It is only by having frank discussions about these things that we will keep our sanity. Or what passes for it.

Taking your children to the theater: a 28-step guide for parents

  1. Notice an ad for a live theater production aimed at children.
  2. Feel immediate guilt. You don’t do cultural stuff like this nearly as much as you should and your children need to, like, get intellectualized and stuff. Also, what else are you going to do on a Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.?
  3. Visit the show’s website. Read testimonials from parents about how amaze balls the production was. Doubt that little Connor instantly became a math prodigy after watching dinosaur puppets, but still reckon the show might kill a few hours.
  4. Click on the “Buy Tickets” button.
  5. Recover from aneurysm induced by ticket prices and scroll down, looking for seats that won’t cost the equivalent of a new set of tires.
  6. Discover that the only somewhat affordable seats will place you in the back of the highest balcony or so far to the left or right of the stage you will have an obstructed view. Ponder if your children will even notice.
  7. Feel immediate guilt and scroll back up until you find a happy medium. Back row of the orchestra section is perfectly acceptable.
  8. Click on tickets. When the computer asks if you want to donate money so an underprivileged child can go see the production automatically click on “Yes.” Wonder if there’s any way you could actually take the underprivileged child yourself, since you can already tell by the fact you are spending so much money that your children will hate the show.
  9. Recover from second aneurysm induced by final total. Taxes and “occupancy fees” — whatever the hell those are — have added an extra $50. Wonder if it’s worth it.
  10. Feel immediate guilt. You caught your youngest trying to stick a pencil in the cat’s ear the other day. You need to get these kids some culture, stat.
  11. Buy the tickets.
  12. Feel immediate guilt for spending so much money.
  13. Tell your spouse about the event but do it in code so the children don’t pick up on it. Children are programmed to think everything is about to start five minutes after they learn about it, so if you mention it now they will lose their s—t and ask you every hour when the show starts. Even if you say “Next April,” they will persist.
  14. The day of the event, 10 minutes before you are scheduled to leave, tell your children about the show. Your children will announce they don’t want to go, no matter how well you play up the event in question. (“It features live dinosaurs!” “I hate dinosaurs.” “You love them.” “I’d rather just stay here.” “And do what?” “Roll around on this exercise ball.” “It’s LIVE motherf—king dinosaurs!”)
  15. Force march everyone to the car and then into the theater.
  16. Look around the audience and wonder where the underprivileged kids are. These children all look distinctly privileged (yours included). Note that some of the little girls are wearing outfits that cost more than your monthly car payment.
  17. Explain to the children why you aren’t sitting closer to the stage.
  18. Enjoy the first 10 minutes of the show, when the puppeteers bring out baby dinosaurs. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done.
  19. Explain to your children that, even though they have raised their hands whenever the narrator asks for volunteers, it doesn’t mean they will get the chance to go onstage.
  20. Comfort your children when a giant prehistoric dragonfly puppet gets too close to them.
  21. Point out the legs of the puppeteer moving the triceratops that just lumbered onstage, because it is kinda big and your kids are starting to lose their s—t.
  22. Clutch your screaming, sobbing children and escort them to the exit when the giant T-Rex puppet crashes through the scenery and roars at the crowd, prompting roughly half of the audience to erupt in terrified tears and more than a few patrons to soil themselves.
  23. Wonder how the show’s producers sleep at night knowing that they have literally scared the crap out of a bunch of toddlers.
  24. Vow not to try another trip to the theater for a long time.
  25. Smack your forehead when your son spies a poster in the lobby for the theater’s upcoming double bill Cavalleria Rusticana/Pagliacci and asks, “Can we go see this?”
  26. Remind him that he called your Gilbert and Sullivan CDs “garbage” and explain that real opera is a million times worse.
  27. Feel immediate guilt for dissing opera.
  28. Go home and let your children roll around on an exercise ball.

That mom in the viral BBC interview video? That mom is all of us.

By now you’ve probably seen the clip shared ‘round the world of Professor Robert Kelly being interrupted mid-Skype interview with the BBC by his two adorable children:

Kelly, an associate professor of international relations at South Korea’s Pusan National University, has been commended for keeping his cool during the whole affair. He neither broke contact with the camera nor smacked the child with a brick, as some might have done. The children have been praised for being so darn freaking cute.

But I think we are missing the true hero of this entire episode and that is the frantic mother who comes slamming into the room and hustles the kids out with the speed and dexterity of a special ops commando.

This moment, now forever cemented into our hearts and YouTube viewing histories, is pure gold because it perfectly and silently sums up parenthood.

While the rest of the world is busy being articulate, well-groomed and capable of discussing weighty matters such as the geopolitical ramifications of leadership change in South Korea, parents are a bunch of lumbering, frantic maniacs scrambling about on what amounts to a never-ending suicide watch over creatures who have the speed and determination of pumas but the common sense of dog turds.

(At least one commentator has already described the scene as the “patriarchy in a nutshell,” but honestly, I can just as easily see a mother in the interview seat while a beleaguered dad scampers after the tiny offenders in the background.)

Any parent watching that scene can hear her inner monologue:

“S—t, s—t, s—t! I turn my back for one minute to clean up the cat barf the toddler was using to finger paint the baby and she runs in and interrupts what was probably the most important analysis to take place of Park Geunhye’s ousting EVER. Crap, crap. Am I still in the shot? I’m still in the f—king shot. Just. Gotta. Get. This. Door. Shut.”

This woman is a maternal goddess in my book. Some might deduct points for the fact she “let” the kids slip past her to get into Dad’s interview den, but in my opinion those people are heartless douche bags who can go eff themselves.

Kids are slippery, stealthy, crafty little Houdinis at that age. For all we know that adorable toddler hamming it up over Dad’s left shoulder just undid five “child-proof” locks and drugged the dog before creeping into that room.

The fact that Mom caught them in the act at all makes her a g-dd—n hero, in my opinion. My kids would have managed to pop the top on a value-sized bottle of aspirin and waggle their naked butts at the camera before I caught on that they weren’t, in fact, watching Backyardigans in the living room like I thought.

Hell, even her form is impressive. The speed that sends her practically sliding across the floor, the skill that allows her to corral the toddler and yank the baby’s walker out of the shot, the physical strength that allows her to crawl practically combat style back to the door to yank it shut?

If retrieving interview-destroying little people from Dad’s study were an Olympic sport, this woman would win mad gold, y’all.

What is even more impressive is that she accomplished it on four hours sleep, tops. She has the deadly toddler-baby combo on her hands, which means she is on call round-the-clock, dealing with the demands of two insatiable — but adorable — little maniacs.

Pair that with the fact that Dad was probably sweating bullets over his appearance on the BBC, she’d probably been on high alert all morning. No doubt she helped him pick out his suit, gave him a pep talk, tidied the bed and neatly stacked the books in the background — all without having showered or eaten — before assuming kid duty so Dad could get his brain on in a live international broadcast.

Even if she is, as some have suggested, a nanny, she is AWESOME. I adore her. If I ever get to meet her I’m buying her the biggest box of Chardonnay Rite Aid sells.

How my ‘career’ prepared me for motherhood

The other day, my son threw open the door to his room and called out, “Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

I took my cue and went in to browse. My son pointed me toward the bed, which was strewn with an array of random objects.

“The stuff in the way back is all clearance,” he explained. “But those items are final sale.”

“Good to know.”

I left the “shop” with a snow globe, a teddy bear, a single sock, two pencils, a cat toy, three books, a pillow and an earring I had lost months before, apparently behind his bed. Apart from the pillow, everything had been packed into two carrier bags.

The total had come to $5,000.

“Where are we? Venezuela?” I had asked.

He nodded seriously.

“Yes. Yes, we are.”

While swiping my imaginary credit card (he wouldn’t accept imaginary cash) he asked me to put my name and email down on his mailing list for special offers.

What can I say? The kid knows his retail.

When his dad arrived home from work, Jack scurried back up to his room.

“Shop! Shop! The shop is open!”

My husband, good sport that he is,  went to have a look.

“Sorry, sir, that’s the wrong door,” my son said.

My husband stood looking confused.

“You have to climb over that barrier first,” my son said, pointing to absolutely nothing.

“I climb over the barrier,” my husband said. “Okay.”

“Now you have to duck under the other barrier.”

He ducked.

“Now you go down the slide.”

He slid. Or pretended to.

“Am I in the shop yet?” he asked and my son nodded.

“The items in the back row are clearance. They are final sale.”

My husband’s haul came to $10,000.

“That’s outrageous!” he cried.

“It’s a game, dear,” I reminded him.

He shook his head and paid, although I could tell his Scottish sensibilities were gravely offended.

“You know, your business model could use a little work,” he said, eyeing the store hours sign that read “Open: 10-11, 4-5.”

“And the entrance doesn’t make it easy for your customers to get in.”

My son shrugged and skipped down the stairs to play something else.

“Actually, I know a few stores that operate like this,” I said. “They’ve stayed in business for years.”

And herein lies the difference between my husband and me. Since finishing university he has always worked in the corporate world, where things are (for the most part) practical and make sense.

My background is in journalism. Did I wield my Fourth Estate powers as a hard-hitting correspondent for a major news network, uncovering corruption at the highest levels of government?

Let’s just say that no one got the results from the 4-H show unless I got to work on time.

As a small-town newspaper reporter I got to see it all. In some cases, twice.

Name a strange situation and I’ve been there. Think of the most outrageous lie someone could tell and I’ve heard it.

I once interviewed a woman who hoped her vast collection of Strawberry Shortcake memorabilia — rumored to be the largest in the world — would be enough to draw customers to the bed and breakfast she’d spent her life savings opening.

I spent several freezing hours making conversation with a cop next to the body of a man who had committed suicide by jumping from the highest building in town, a 6-story parking garage.

I nodded knowingly when an elderly woman hooked up to an oxygen tank and sucking back a beer at 2 p.m. informed me that the crappy post-industrial town she lived in was “God’s country.”

I’ve been cursed at by an Episcopalian priest, hugged by a prison warden and informed by a Somali refugee that I needed to gain weight. (Lovely woman, she was.)

It’s quite a job, one many ambitious young reporters use as a stepping stone to the big city dailies. That was a transition I would never make as I had little aptitude for the profession, in part because I have the world’s least developed news sense.

Here’s an approximation of the sort of conversation I had several times a week with my editor:

Me (hanging up the phone): “Gotta run! Someone’s found a frost heave in their driveway that resembles Scooby Doo’s Mystery Machine. Should I bring a photographer?”

Editor: “We just got a tip that one the selectmen in [name of a town I covered, usually ending in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton] has been arrested for embezzling municipal funds. He planned on using the money to run away with the police chief’s wife.”

Me: “Hmmm, tough call.”

Editor: “Not really. Cover the selectman story.”

Me (shrugging): “Okay but what’s my angle?”

So when my son pretended to open a store with crappy hours, inflationary prices and an impenetrable entrance, it all felt familiar. I was immediately transported back to one of countless “Make Downtown Relevant Again” meetings I used to sit through in any number of towns that ended in -burg, -boro, -bury, -ford or -ton.

The objective of each meeting was to draw visitors to the long neglected main retail drags people were bypassing to shop at the big box complexes opening up everywhere in small-town USA.

I distinctly remember the owner of a shop selling things no working class family needed or wanted — hand-thrown coffee mugs for $25 and monstrous-looking wire lawn ornaments hand-twisted in India for $75 to name two — lamenting she couldn’t compete with large retailers.

Because a journalist is never supposed to “get involved” in the story, I refrained from suggesting she’d have better luck selling things that more than five people in town could afford to buy. Or that her restricted hours 11-4, NO JOKE, might make it difficult for prospective customers who worked 9-5 to avail themselves of her pricey goods.

So I sat through meeting after meeting while artist coops and fair trade jewelers scratched their heads and fumed about losing customers to Walmart.

This resistance to logic was in no way limited to retailers. The upside of encountering these attitudes is that I never need to negate things when it comes to imaginary play. (I mean, not that I would.)

Your shop is at the end of a water slide? Cool!

You are a ballerina zombie who was brought back from the dead to fight evil? Rock on.

You made that pie out of dog s—t and rocks and you want me to have a slice? Ha-ha! Nice try. Put it down and wash your hands.

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The sign my son made after I tried to shop with imaginary cash.

Five products that fail to deliver on their promise to parents

“Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.”
-The Princess Bride

Parents need to print out the above quotation and staple it to their foreheads. Because we repeatedly fall for marketing pitches that convince us certain products will make our existence as parents easier. They never do.

Here are five that have earned my seal of disapproval:

1. Nighttime diapers claiming not to resemble diapers

Produced for older children who are still having trouble mastering overnight bladder control — and there’s no shame in that — nearly every brand on the market claims to “look and feel like real underwear!” This is presumably so kids can go to sleepovers and not feel embarrassed.

It would work but for one simple reason: the second urine hits this diaper-in-disguise, it swells up like a marshmallow in a microwave. Unless your kid can convince his pals he has a ripcord in his drawers that he pulled in the middle of the night (“Got ‘em on Amazon”), everyone’s going to know he or she wet the bed.

2. Any lotion/cream/oil/belly balm that guarantees it can “reduce the appearance of stretch marks.”

Unless you’ve won the genetic lottery, your postpartum stomach will forever resemble the jowls of a depressed geriatric.

You want to know what reduces the appearance of stretch marks? Clothes.

Perhaps the marketing folks could start exploiting that. Cotton could go from being “The fabric of our lives” to “The fabric that lets you forget you can grasp a section of your stomach in your hands and pull six inches in any direction.”

3. “No more tears” shampoo

F—k you, Johnson and Johnson. Just. F—k. You.

4. Training pants that claim to make potty training easy.

You know what makes potty training easy? Having a kid who wants to be potty trained. All training pants do is make it easier for your child to pull down her pants and pee on the sofa while you’re in the other room.

5. Thermometers that claim to work.

Thermometers, whether of the forehead-swiping, ear-sticking, or tongue-tucking variety are presumably meant to give us a reliable approximation of our child’s temperature EVERY TIME WE USE THEM. This way we know whether to hit the “Oh crap!” panic button and call the doctor.

But unless you buy the $700 hospital-grade version, every parent will at one point be awake in the middle of the night with a feverish, sweating child and a thermometer that gives the repeated and cheerful reading of “97.5!”

 

If manufacturers really wanted to do parents a favor, they would mass-market the following products:

-A mute button. I’m kidding. Unless the technology already exists.

-A gage that shows how full your children’s bladders are since they can’t be trusted to relate these things reliably themselves.

-Five extra arms. One with a kung fu grip.

-A device that delivers controlled doses of chardonnay into your blood stream with the push of a button.

-A pill that immediately erases whatever dumb kids’ song that gets stuck in your head. (Get bent, Fresh Beat Band.)

Look back and laugh

You know when you’re going through a tough time and people say, “You’ll laugh about this one day”?

I’m kinda having one of those moments right now.

My last post here was about my daughter undergoing invasive scans to check the size of her cancerous tumors. Implied in that was all the pain this child has suffered since she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma as a baby, from the surgeries to the debilitating rounds of chemotherapy, the nights in the ER with sudden fevers to the non-stop vomiting and diarrhea.

So you can imagine something minor would leave her primary caregiver, me, completely unfazed.

Not even close.

Yesterday afternoon, when the same surviving cancer rock star daughter was closing the car door, she managed to trap her pinky in it.  As in, the door was ALL THE WAY SHUT, and she was shrieking and trying to pull her hand out.

And what did I, mother of a cancer patient, veteran of some seriously scary s—t do? I freaked the f—k out.

“NO!!!!!” I screamed, rushing to her and yanking the door open. Her pinky was slightly bent. And purple. Not good signs, but nothing major, at least compared to the botched biopsy they did on her skull five years ago.

“My baby! My baby!” I wailed, completely out of proportion to the situation at hand, hugging her tight.

“Jack!” I yelled to my son. “Get in the car, we’re going to the hospital.”

A skilled bystander in many a medical crisis, my son said, “Yay! Can I bring my iPad?”

Let me tell you I drove like I was heading to the Hazzard County line, Roscoe P. Coltrane in hot pursuit.

“Move! Please, move!” I called out to absolutely no one who could hear me. “This is an emergency.”

“Mom, you forgot the radio,” my son reminded me.

I punched the dial distractedly.

“No, not this song.”

In a Linda Blair voice I shouted, “I can’t change it, I’m driving! Your sister is in terrible pain!”

He glanced over at her.

“She looks fine to me.”

In truth she did. She had calmed down a lot and just sat sobbing quietly.

This didn’t stop me from screeching into the emergency room parking lot practically on two wheels, scooping my daughter up and running for the entrance.

“Mom! Wait for me!” my son called.

As always, the ER receptionists were calm and collected, which always drives me crazy. My daughter was quickly triaged and brought back for an X-ray.

“No shots?” my daughter asked everyone we encountered, from the receptionist to the janitor to a woman sitting with her sick baby in the waiting room.

“Is there any chance you could be pregnant?” the X-ray technician asked me as she draped a lead apron over my daughter.

“I would kick my husband’s a—,” I replied.

“I’ll take that as a ‘No,’” she said.

Back in the waiting room, my daughter asked if she would need a shot and then demanded to know where the gift shop was and if they sold stuffed animals. This kid knows her hospitals.

In next to no time, she was seen by a doctor, who, after assuring my daughter she wouldn’t need a shot, declared the pinky not broken, just swollen and tender. She wrapped it in a splint and told me to take her to an orthopedic surgeon in a week’s time to check for permanent damage.

My daughter was disappointed she didn’t get a cast, and downright aghast that she didn’t get to ride out on a wheelchair, which is how she usually exits the hospital.

“At least you don’t have to get any shots,” I reminded her.

All told, we were home in time for dinner, bath and bed.

And when the house was finally quiet, I had to laugh. Not because my daughter had been hurt, but because it was such a minor incident compared to everything she has gone through. If this is as bad as it gets from now on out, we’re going to be fine.

At least, we will be if I can learn to CALM THE EFF DOWN.

No more scans

Twice a year, we don’t get to pretend life is normal.

On these days, I drive my daughter to the hospital still in her PJs, usually fussy, sometimes crying because she is hungry and thirsty but can’t eat or drink before the tests she is about to have.

She is the youngest patient in the waiting room by decades. The nurses give her Disney princess stickers or abbreviated coloring books titled — I kid you not — “My Trip to Radiology.”

Every single time, I fill out the same form:

Has the patient had surgery?

Are you kidding?

If so, give the dates.

I list months and years because the actual dates have blurred together.

Has the patient ever had cancer?

Duh.

Does the patient have a penile implant?

Giggle.

We wait for an hour, sometimes two, once for three. When they finally call her name and lead us to the procedure area, I give her long and extensive medical history to the anesthesiologist and beg him (it’s always a him) to please, please, please put anti-nausea medicine in her IV. It will mean the difference between her vomiting once or twice when she wakes up or for the rest of the day.

The doctor always present a syringe filled with the pink liquid sedative Versed. Since I’m not allowed to walk her into the treatment room due to the completely safe levels of radiation, they want her calm when they take her from me.

When she was a baby she took the medicine easily. In her toddler years she pushed it away, or took it and then promptly threw it up. Now that she’s a mature child of 6, we have an agreement, one that many — but not all — anesthesiologists can’t get their heads around. I don’t make her drink the medicine, she goes bravely into the treatment room without melting down.

Many — but not all — anesthesiologists don’t believe she can do it, so I have to bust out my own medical credentials, namely an advanced degree in She’s My Kid, This Isn’t Our First Rodeo, So Kindly Step Off. The nurses always come to my aid, although from the way they shake their heads I can tell they are used to being ignored by Those Who Must Be Obeyed. (If it sounds like I have contempt for doctors, I don’t. I adore them, especially pediatric oncologists, who are g-d—n unsung heroes in my opinion. For some reason, though, most — but not all — anesthesiologists drive me crazy, probably because I disagree with their assessment that God wears a name tag and Crocs.)

They take her from me, weeping but not bawling, and I wave good bye smiling. Inside I am screaming.

The hospital has a chapel. I don’t know if God exists but I go into that room, get on my knees and beg. Please let her sleep soundly, please comfort her when she wakes up, please ease her pain. It feels hypocritical to pray when I’m not even sure what I believe but a parent in this position will do anything.

It’s a sentiment perhaps best summed up by the protagonist of one of the greatest novels of our time, Peter Benchley’s Jaws. At one point, when the beleaguered police chief is powerless to stop attacks on swimmers he declares, “If someone came in here and said he was Superman and could piss the shark away from here, I’d say fine and dandy. I’d even hold his d—k for him.”

Man is this is ever true. Except for the pee and d—k parts. Gross. But if someone told me standing on my head and coloring my face green would ease her pain, I’d flip over and grab the paint. It someone told me the universe is being presided over by a cosmic Elmer Fudd, I’d tell him which way the Wascally Wabbit went and ask him to grant my child mercy.

After the praying comes the waiting. At least four hours, sometimes more than six. For some reason, without fail, there is a band playing Irish music in the hospital lobby, and I don’t mean U2 or the Pogues.

Now, I love Irish folk music as much as the average person. Probably more since I have a few albums. But when this band’s music bounces off the cold marble floors off the hospital lobby, it sounds discordant and irritating, like a 3-year-old sawing at a violin or an accordion being dropped down a flight of stairs.

It’s a huge relief when the call comes in that they have finished the tests.

Upstairs in the recovery room, my daughter is a tiny body in a room full of giants. Groggy and quiet she clings to me as she slowly wakes up, while other patients groan or even rant in alarm because they don’t know where they are. If they shout I cover her ears. The nurses are remarkable at settling the patients down. They must be great with drunks.

On the drive home my daughter usually vomits, a surprised look on her face as the bile erupts from her mouth and nostrils. At home we cuddle and wait for the doctor’s phone call.

With a few exceptions it has been good news: the tumors are the same size, or they’ve shrunk the tiniest bit. We all exhale with relief. I say a prayer of thanks. We are officially granted leave to live in denial for the next six months, which is how we roll in this house.

But last week, when I steeled myself to schedule her next set of scans, I was given a pleasant shock by her oncologist. It’s been three years since she stopped chemotherapy, something I hadn’t realized in the daily chaos of life.

At this point, it is so unlikely the cancer will start growing again that the scans to check their size are considered more harmful than useful. Instead they will check her urine and test her blood once a year.

It’s a joy and a relief. She is no longer the ghostly pale baby who practically lived in a hospital bed. She’ll never again be the bald toddler with track marks in her arms. And now she won’t be the kid who is dragged out of school for debilitating tests and assessments.

She’s not completely out of the woods. She probably never will be, a thought that hangs over our heads when we let it, usually on Christmas and her birthday.

But for now, her life has gotten that little bit better. And for that, we are grateful.

When my daughter channels Steve Martin

As a parent you get used to hearing the same things over and over. This is in part because you repeat yourself so much, since children don’t hear anything unless you’ve said it three times. It’s also because kids — at least the ones I gave birth to — ask the same questions and parrot the same phrases every. damn. day.

Son: Mom, why did you just say ‘Jesus’?
Me (cringing): I was praying.
Son: You pray a lot when you’re driving.
Daughter (nodding): You do. You do pray a lot when you’re driving.

But the fun part of parenting is when your children say things you know you’ve heard before, just not from them.

Tell me I’m not alone in this.

Because so far I’ve pinpointed two famous comedians my children are channeling without even knowing it. How awesome is that?

I first noticed it when my son began starting every sentence with, “Remember back when…?” This in itself was amusing because he was only 5 at the time. It got even better when he would take a protracted stroll down memory lane, only to arrive at a non-conclusion:

Son: Remember when we went to see Nana and Papa?
Me: Yes.
Son: And we had to sleep at a hotel on our way there?
Me: Yes.
Son: And there was dead cockroach in our room?
Me: Half a roach, but yes.
Son: And when we got to Nana’s, Nana told us we could go swimming?
Me: Um hmm.
Son: And we went swimming?
Me: Yes.
Long pause.
Son: That was cool.

Tell me you know where I’m going with this.

Back in the ‘90s (I can’t believe I just said that), Chris Farley had a talk show on Saturday Night Live, in which he would do the same thing with his celebrity guests:

Chris (interviewing Jeff Daniels): You were in Purple Rose of Cairo. Remember when you were doing your movie and Mia Farrow was watching and then you came down off the screen and talked to her? And you were in black and white when you were on the screen but when you talked to her you were in color?
Jeff: Yeah, what about it?
Chris: You remember that?
Jeff: Yes.
Chris: That was awesome.

Or, my personal favorite:

Chris (interviewing Paul McCartney): Remember when you were with the Beatles?
Paul: Sure.
Chris: That was awesome.

Even better than this is when my daughter channels the great Steve Martin, something that happens on those admittedly rare nights she doesn’t want to go to bed.

Most nights:

Me: Time for bed.
Daughter: Okay!
She picks up her stuffed lion and goes to bed.

On the occasional night when she’s cranky, has had a bad day, or is coming down with something:

Me: Time for bed!
Daughter (sobbing): Noooooooo.
Me: Sorry, sweetie, but it’s time to go to sleep.
Daughter: Okay, fine, fine.
Me: Do you want Lion?
Daughter: No! (Looking around.) I just want this. (Picks up a Lego figurine.)
Me: Okay.
Daughter: And this. (Scoops up a novelty straw she was playing as a flute earlier.) And this. (Snatches a paper napkin.) And this. (Scoops up a marble.) And this….

Which is how her bed ends up looking like this some mornings:

messy-bed-2

Now, in The Jerk, Steve Martin’s character does the EXACT SAME THING. When he finds out he’s gone from rags to riches and back to rags again, he shuffles tearfully through his mansion telling his wife:

“I don’t need any of this. I don’t need this stuff. I don’t need you, I don’t need anything. Except this. (He picks up an ashtray.) I don’t anything except this ashtray. And this paddle game. The ashtray and the paddle game and that’s all I need. And this. The remote control. The ashtray, the paddle game and the remote control and that’s all I need. And these matches. The ashtray, these matches and the remote control and the paddle ball. And this lamp. The ashtray, this paddle game, the remote control and the lamp and that’s all I need. And that’s all I need, too. I don’t need one other thing. Not one — I need this. The paddle game and the chair. What are you looking at? What do you think I am, some kind of a jerk or something? And this. This magazine…”

I know, I know, it’s UNCANNY.

The best part is, my kids are still pretty young. Who knows who they’ll start channeling next.

The Blizzard of 2017: One mother’s harrowing tale of survival

Wednesday, 1/4: Reports come in that North Carolina is in for two to four inches of snow Friday night. All the local stations promise extensive of coverage of this “severe” weather. No, seriously, they use the word “severe.”

Thursday, 1/5: Since people didn’t lose their s—t enough, predictions have been changed to three to six inches of snow. North Carolina residents are urged to stock up on bread and milk. We don’t eat much of either so instead I buy beer and cheese.

We’re gonna get through this.

Friday, 1/6: People are finally taking this storm seriously. When I stop by Whole Foods the parking lot is filled to bursting with tank-sized SUVs and hybrids.

Inside it is upper middle class chaos. The shelves have been cleared of bone broth and a nervous-looking mother stuffs bundles of kale into a bag while her toddler munches on a dehydrated snow pea.

The line for the express lane snakes back to the GMO-free bakery, so I decide we can live without smoked turkey legs and place my empty basket back.

On the drive home I pass a municipal salt truck preparing the roads. Spying one is like laying eyes on a narwhal for the first time: you know they exist but can’t quite believe it until you see one for yourself. Since it takes days for Charlotte to clean up after a snow fall, I always assumed the city salt truck consisted of the vice mayor shoveling kitty litter onto the road from the back of a slow-moving Dodge Ram.

Putting the children to bed that night is akin to tucking them in on Christmas Eve. My daughter details the many things she will do in the snow: go sledding, make snow angels, build a snowman. I nod encouragingly, knowing she will be lucky if there is enough to scrape together one sad-looking snow ball.

Saturday, 1/7: At approximately 3 am my daughter asks me if it has snowed. I tell her we will see in the morning. She jumps off the bed and runs to the window.

“Mom, I can’t see anything,” she says.

“That’s because it’s the middle of the night.”

“Can you turn a light on outside so I can see?”

I resist the urge to tell her to get a job and her own place and somehow get her back to sleep.

During breakfast, wide, fat snowflakes begin falling over the layer of ice that accumulated overnight. When we finally make it outside, my son stares around at the thin layer of powder on the ground and asks, “Is this it?”

It is.

He goes back inside to play Subway Surfers.

My daughter really tries to make this work. She flops on her back and moves her arms and legs to make a snow angel. She does a wonderful job of crushing the grass into just the right shape.

We walk down the street to the local park where children are sledding down the only hill they can find: a steep incline by the tennis courts. Over and over they climb the few feet to the top, then have two seconds of sliding before they thwack into the chain link fence. We listen to the thwacks for a few minutes before my daughter decides snow is cold and she wants to go home.

We spend the rest of the day drinking hot chocolate, going for walks and playing CandyLand. By the time the sun sets, the snow has started melting.

Sunday, 1/8: There are some patches of snow but either the vice mayor or Mother Nature did their job well because most of the roads are clear.

The kids have no interest in being outside because the ground is wet and slushy.

At 6 p.m. I receive an automated call from the school district, informing me that school will be closed the next day due to the “severe” weather. Outside the cat chases after a cardinal and a man walks two golden retrievers.

The district’s Facebook page is a pen of venom, as ticked off parents berate the district. Since every employer in town — except the school district — will be open for business the next day, parents have been left scrambling to make child care arrangements.

Others berate the beraters, pointing out that the school district is trying to keep kids safe, that school buses can’t drive safely in the snow.

“What snow???” one man asks. “There is no snow.”

A woman posts a picture of her road, which is still slick with ice. They start calling each other names and questioning each other’s level of education and general competency, so I sign off and make plans to keep my kids entertained the next day.

Our governor offers these words of wisdom: “Travel conditions are still hazardous. Do not be fooled by the sun.”

That tricky sun.

Monday, 1/9: After a long and trying day of dealing with my kids, I receive an automated call from the school district. Due to the “severe” weather, there will be no school the next day. What they mean is, “Because there is still ice on one school parking lot at the far edges of the district, we won’t have school for anyone.”

Here’s the kicker: Teachers are expected to show up to work.

I add Amaretto to my hot chocolate and try not to cry. It’s not that my kids are horrible, I am merely at my saturation point. I’ve just had three weeks of their delightful company over the winter school break. I haven’t been able to GSD (Get Stuff Done), and it’s driving me crazy.

Tuesday, 1/10: We have exhausted every game in the house. We have assembled and disassembled every puzzle. We have taken long walks along the city greenway and run around like maniacs at the park.

When the phone rings that evening and I see the district’s number, I answer it with trembling hands. The spokeswoman’s cheerful voice informs me there WILL be school tomorrow. I almost sob with relief.

And yet…

…and yet I live in fear of the next “severe” weather system to hit the region. Because every year of the seven I have lived here, we’ve had snow and ice storms that shut everything down. And every time, the locals say, “We never get this kind of weather.”

These are not wimpy people. They operate in dangerously hot and humid summers, they display no fear in the face of the rat-sized flying cockroaches that apparently have the deed to every house in the state. My elderly neighbor routinely kills copperheads with a shovel.

So to see them react with such caution to snow and ice is kind of cute. Or would be, if they weren’t in charge of the %*#ing school district.