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Posts from the ‘kids’ Category

giving up the ghost

This post is about dreams, and letting them go. I spent most of 2013 feeling strongly that I was meant, nay DESTINED, to have three children. I hounded Tom daily for my unborn third child, prompting much consternation and dry-gulping of Advil.

Leaving aside the problem of an unwilling sperm donor, I sensed unease from those closest to me. There were comments that I took as judgmental warnings. “Wouldn’t that mean you have to change your life a lot?” “Don’t you think that would be hard on Tate?” “But things are finally getting so easy!” “WHY do you want to have three children?”

WHY did I want to have three children? Because my first two are fucking awesome and I had a vision of a third awesome kid, poking his head up from the empty back row of my SUV. And maybe this time, the kid would actually look like me. An awesome new kid that looked like me. Was that so much to ask?

Although he did not want another child, Tom still wanted to have regular sexual congress, which seemed a bold and uncompromising position to take, given the circumstances. And that’s where we come to the letting go of Tom’s dreams. The dream of remaining a man in full. The dream of leaving his man tubes uncut and un-cauterized.

The dream of having regular sex while at the same time not having a vasectomy.

Anyway. He’s had the consult. The procedure is scheduled. I know it’s scheduled because Tom sent me an Outlook calendar invite for that entire weekend, the description for which reads “Resting at Home.” The invite was followed by a verbal clarification from Tom. “The doctor said I can’t move around AT ALL because the gravity on the weight in my balls might mess up the healing. Like, I can’t STAND. Or MOVE. So I am just going to be in the TV room that weekend, HEALING.”

The easy joke here is that I already have a third child, and that his name is Tom. The tougher joke is that I’ll spend that weekend solo-parenting my two amazing kids, putting to bed my dreams of a third.

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sick hair day

Tuesday found me at home with Finn, who had fever.  I will admit that once I get past the stress of missing work, I like staying home with a sick kid. A sick kid needs you. A sick kid wants you. A sick kid accepts your cuddles and kisses because he’s too weak to push you off.

Alas, this was not a big fever. It was just a spot of fever. The kind of fever that keeps your kid barred from school but fails to keep him quiet and immobile on your couch. I have a special name for this kind of fever, and that name is A Pain in My Ass.

“Mom. Can we dye my hair today?” I squeezed my eyes shut and mentally cursed myself. He’d been asking for days to dye his hair blue. If I’d remembered about the hair, I’d have plugged him full of Motrin and used my full upper body strength to shove him into his classroom. But here we were, just the two of us. Alone. With nothing to do, because Tom had loudly conditioned Finn’s staying home on NO SCREEN TIME, before he himself ran away to the office for a busy day of surfing the internet for articles about the World Cup.

I didn’t object to the blue hair. I enthusiastically support my kids any time they want to look different from other people. No, what I objected to was the work. So many steps. The procurement of the dye. The covering of all surface areas in the bathroom. The application. The waiting. The washing. I didn’t sign up for that. I signed up for forced cuddling, seven hours of daytime TV, and a late-afternoon Slurpee and Doritos run.

We drove to Sally’s, where Finn took a look around the store and commented loudly on how empty it was. “Boy, this store is EMPTY!!” As an aside, my kids can’t step into a store without remarking on how few customers there are, always in front of the person running the store. Why do kids do that? Does it reaffirm their own bodily presence, their own existence in the world? I’ve thought about this a lot, and my only conclusion is that it’s incredibly awkward. For me.

Anyway, the woman at Sally’s led us to the blue hair dye section, and assured me that the stuff would work without bleaching, even on Finn’s brown hair. Has my own black hair ever been dyed? Yes. Have I ever known it to take color without pre-bleaching beforehand? No. Unfortunately, these long-known truths escaped me in the face of my 7-year old’s enthusiasm.

Back home, I carefully laid out the dye, Vaseline, and shower cap, while pulling on my gloves. I covered the sink with towels. Finn took his shirt off and plopped down on the toilet seat. I traced a thick gob of Vaseline all around his hairline. Then I started rubbing in the blue gel, which looked bright, bright blue. Finn started fist-pumping the air before I’d even done his whole head. He turned his head from one side to the other, admiring himself. Then I put on the shower cap, and then, we waited.

shower cap

40 minutes later, I gingerly pulled off the shower cap. The hair still looked blue, but mostly because the gel was blue. The actual hair underneath looked alarmingly black. And worse than that was his scalp, which was bright teal. I felt a tingly sensation on the back of my neck. The same tingly feeling I get when Finn asks me at school what we are having for dinner, and I know that we are having turkey meatloaf, and that Finn is about to lose his shit in front of a roomful of parents.

I pushed Finn into the shower and turned on the shower head. I watched in horror as all the blue gel washed out of his hair, leaving behind a head of hair that was two shades DARKER than before. Finn, in the meantime, was watching the blue water run over his feet, and freaking out. “MOM YOU’RE WASHING ALL THE BLUE OUT!!!! STOP!!! STOP IT!!! STOP WASHING THE BLUE OUT!!!” My mind was racing. Because I knew that if he was pissed now, he was going to fall apart when he saw himself in the mirror.

No help for it. Finn jumped out of the tub, splashing blue everywhere, and ran to the mirror. When he saw himself, he opened his mouth in a rictus of pain, started screaming, and didn’t stop. He screamed for like ten minutes, I swear. And I didn’t even have the heart to quiet him, because goddamnit, I have been there. Who hasn’t entered a hair salon clutching a picture of Kate Moss, and walked out, dreams crushed and soul broken? Some of us do that four times a year.

post dye job

post dye job

Anyway, Cuz eventually stepped in and we went back to Sally’s to procure some hair chalk. The box says “Hot Huez,” which apparently does not rhyme with “Hot Suez,” but instead rhymes with “Hot Shoes.” Go figure. Finn woke me up at 6:00 AM today so that I could rub some Hot Huez into his hair. I rubbed it in but good. Then I set it with hairspray. Finn craned his neck around me, trying to get a peek.

“Is it blue, Mom?”

That it is, kid. That it is.

More pics of Finn’s blue hair odyssey available right there to the right via Instagram…  

 

lice, you ain’t nice

Every time I see an email about lice from my kids’ school, I read it with a shudder of revulsion and then try to figure out which kid in the class has the lice. Then I try to prevent my kids from coming in contact with the perp, all without actually mentioning the word “lice.” It’s tricky.

Me: “Hey Finn. So how about those Blazers, huh. Say, anyone at school get a haircut recently?”

Finn: “What?”

Me: “You know. A haircut. Like anyone cut their hair super short? Or…I don’t know. Any of your friends get a new hat?”

Finn: “Like what kind of hat?”

Me: “You know. A hat. Like, a baseball hat. Any kind of hat.”

Finn: (Long pause). “No.”

Me: “Ok, that’s cool.” (Pause). “Hey, maybe don’t do any reading today in the reading corner.”

Finn: “Why not?”

Me: (Pause). “Well, you can read. Just don’t, you know, touch any of the pillows. Don’t do any lounging. And maybe, you know, don’t touch any of your friends today.”

Finn: “Why not?”

Me: “Because.”

Finn: “Because why?”

Me: “Because I said so, ok?”

Finn: “But why?”

Me: “BECAUSE THERE MIGHT BE BUGS ON THE PILLOWS OK?? Now eat your breakfast.”

The thing about lice is that centuries of human familiarity with lice hasn’t robbed it of its power. It’s like leprosy. I haven’t heard of anyone having leprosy in a really long time. But anyone who has seen Ben-Hur knows that leprosy is no joke. Your skin falls off, and then your fingers fall off. I don’t want leprosy, and I don’t want lice. Lice isn’t a sexy old-timey disease like consumption, which makes you think of Chopin coughing delicately into an embroidered handkerchief and seems kind of romantic. Yes I know that consumption is technically tuberculosis. But do YOU know that lice is BUGS? In your HAIR??

Feel free to start screaming. I did, when we got the call. I buzz my kids’ hair on a regular basis and we’d avoided five rounds of lice at my kids’ school, so I thought we were home free. Nope. Tate had a bug near his ear, and needed to be picked up. The school checked Finn as a precaution and said he was clean, but my older son was leaving for outdoor school the next day, and I wasn’t taking any chances. My car screeched into the school parking lot and I left the engine running while I ran in to grab Finn. Tate had already been picked up by Tom and with any luck, was at home being fumigated. Inside the school, Finn sensed my distress and reacted accordingly.

Finn, digging in his heels: “Wait, why are we going home early?”

Me: “Ha ha, happy to see you too, sport. Hey Chandra!” (Waving to another parent). “I just, you know, felt like picking you up early because…I missed you.”

Finn: “But I want to play soccer!”

Me: (Leaning close, grabbing shirt, and hissing). “Listen, buddy. Your brother has BUGS, ok?? IN HIS HAIR. We need to leave. RIGHT. NOW.”

With Finn in the car, I sped off for Lice Knowing You. The only nice thing about lice in the modern age is that there are places like Lice Knowing You. Lice Knowing You is a real place that actually exists. It is a salon, just like any other salon, except that this salon isn’t marked from the outside and the only service they offer is the removal of bugs from your person. The school had told me that Finn was clean, but, no offense to the school, I needed a professional opinion. I screeched into the parking lot and dragged Finn into the salon, where I tried to be really chill about not touching any of the surfaces. There, a lady sprayed conditioner in Finn’s hair and then gave Finn the first combing of his life. No lice.

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I packed Finn into the car and we peeled off for home. I arrived to find Tom and Cuz stripping all the beds. Tate was running around the house stark naked. I waved to Tate from a safe distance and turned to Tom. “So, did you do the lice treatment?”

Tom looked up from spraying a mattress with an expression that suggested that he had been dealing with lice and spraying the mattress for approximately seven years, instead of the 45 minutes that had elapsed since he’d left the school with Tate. “I didn’t find anything,” he said.

What did he MEAN he didn’t find anything? Tom wasn’t like Finn, who often asks where his glasses are, when they are on his face. Tom is a FINDER. Tom’s ability to find things is like number 4 on the top ten things that I love about my husband. If Tom didn’t find lice, there were no lice. But still. The school wouldn’t have sent Tate home on a TUESDAY unless they had found some serious lice. Would they?

“What do you mean you didn’t find anything?,” I asked. “Do you even know what lice look like? They look like little white grains of rice, Tom. Like little white eggs. Did you even look at any pictures??!!!” I could feel myself sounding and looking like a howler monkey and was powerless to stop it. Tom stopped spraying and pulled his body up to full height. “Yoona. I know what lice looks like. I know what nits look like. I looked at the pamphlet in the kit. He didn’t have any lice.”

Well. He didn’t have to get all hysterical about it. I gave him a look and hauled both my boys to the bathroom, where I clipped on my trusty Number 1 guide and buzzed them clean.

Try clinging onto that fuzz, you nasty lice. And you nasty nits, too. ‘Til next time.

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pants on fire

On the list of undesirable behaviors, lying has never seemed that bad to me. I mean, I’m a mom. Honesty may be the best policy, but sometimes, lying is just easier on everyone. Like when my seven-year old croons “I put your faith to the test, when I tore off your dress” along with Jason Isbell in the car and then asks me what the song is about. There’s only one answer to a kid’s question about the meaning of a country song. “America,” I always answer, looking off into the distance, imagining I’m in a Chevy commercial. Seems appropriate.

Anyway, it’s January. And January means resolutions. This year, I’d settled on “chew slower” when I overheard Finn and Cuz talking about lying. “I never lie,” Cuz said. And boy wasn’t that the truth. Three weeks ago, I’d passed by her on the stairs in a new backless top, late for a party. “How does it look?,” I asked, twirling.

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cuz and me, new year’s eve

Cuz made a face and looked pained. “You aren’t tan enough,” she offered, apologetically. Changing in my closet, I cursed her under my breath while pulling on a mechanic’s suit that covered every inch of my mid-winter skin. But Cuz was right. And if she’d lied, I’d have inflicted my pasty back on a whole room full of party-goers. So maybe there was something to this honesty thing.

Over the next few days, I thought more about resolving not to lie. Maybe it was time to go back to the basics. After all, I’d lied recently to a total stranger and it had gone very badly for me.

My car was in the shop and the dealership had shuttled me to a rental agency. There, I met Kevin, the most falsely chipper employee I have had the misfortune to meet. You know the type. Sunshine on the outside, but inside is a black, rotten core, and it’s cursing your mother. I endured about three dozen of Kevin’s questions at check-in with a stoic calm. Right up until Kevin asked for the name of my employer.

“Why do you need that info?,” I asked, incredulous. “For the computer, Ma’am,” Kevin answered, his fake smile slipping just a hair.

I don’t know why, but I did not want to tell Kevin where I worked. For what possible reason would Enterprise Car Rental need to know where I worked? They had my name, my address, my telephone number, my credit card on imprint–why?? WHY?? And now he was calling me MA’AM?

Something inside of me snapped.

“I don’t have a job,” I said to Kevin. Once told, the lie felt bold and bracing, as if someone had splashed a bucket of ice water on my face. It felt wild and crazy and amazing. Until, that is, Kevin gave me a fake look of sympathy and said, in a stage voice three times as loud as the one he’d been using up until then: “I’m sorry, Ma’am. It’s a tough time out there.”

What the hell. Why would he assume I was looking for a job, and not happily unemployed, like a good portion of the populace? Was Kevin fucking with me? Was he purposely trying to embarrass me? I turned around and noticed, for the first time, four other people in the line behind me, who had observed my testy exchange with Kevin and were now leaning in for more. Did these people think I was jobless? I wasn’t jobless. I had a job. I had a job!!!!!

I turned back to Kevin and leaned over the counter. “Actually,” I said, “I have a job.” Kevin raised a skeptical eyebrow that I visualized wiping off his face via shovel. “Yes,” I said, loudly. “In fact, I’m a lawyer.” I heard a snicker behind me, followed by a loud throat clearing and some shuffling. The four eavesdroppers were standing so close behind me that I could feel all four of them breathing on the back of my neck. “No really, I am,” I said, to Kevin, but mostly to the room. At this point, I was fully aware that I sounded like an ass hat, but there was no turning back. “I’m a lawyer. I really am.”

“Uh huh. Ok, ma’am,” said Kevin, not even bothering to ask me for the name of my fake employer. “Would you sign here for the rental protection?”

Back to my resolutions. I’d lied at Enterprise Car Rental, and the result had been ignominy. But that grown-up lie was certainly different from the little white lies I told my kids. Wasn’t it? I’m thinking now about the twenty or so little lies I told my kids TODAY, starting with “Bummer, the person in line in front of me bought all the cake pops” and ending with “All toy stores are closed on Mondays.” What will I do when my kids are older? They won’t buy these lies forever.

So. I am resolved. Slower chewing. Less lying to the kids. Bring it, 2014.

the tattooed baby

When I was pregnant with Finn, the time would come at the end of my OB appointments where my doctor would ask if I had any questions about the pregnancy. I had lots of questions, but they were mostly about food. Not food for the baby. Food for me. Like, “The French drink wine while pregnant, so why can’t I,” “Can I eat oysters, and if so, how many;” and “What, exactly, is a ‘soft’ cheese?”

My OB is one of the more attractive older men I’ve met, and I’m already predisposed to developing crushes on men who are responsible for my physical well-being. This is why I developed a crush on the dentist who removed my wisdom teeth, and why I currently have a crush on my spinning instructor even though I hate his class. Anyway, with my OB, I developed a crush that was disturbing (to Tom) in its intensity. I liked my OB so much that I needed him to like me. This all seems irrelevant, but it’s not, so stay with me. This background explains why I couldn’t ask my OB the only question about my baby that I really wanted to ask, which was “Can you tell from an ultrasound whether the baby has a large birthmark on his face?”

Finn came out with no discernable birthmarks although he was so pale that he glowed. But Tate. I should have known from day 1 what I was getting into with Tate, because he came out with all sorts of marks. A lightning-bolt shaped mark on his forearm, a dark thumpbrint on his wrist, and best of all, huge Mongolian spots on his rear end that made his butt look blue. Most of the marks have since faded, but he must have been born with a taste for skin art. Because now he wants tats. And he wants ’em bad.

tattoo

I am sympathetic. Every few weeks I see a cool tattoo on some nubile 20-something in my yoga class and I’ll ask Tom if I should get a tattoo, and he answers as he always does, by staring stonily out the car window in long-suffering silence. If he’s in a lighthearted mood he might say something fun, like “I will divorce you if you get a tattoo. I really will.” But mostly he just stares out his window.

The worst is when Tom plays along and asks what kind of tattoo I’d get. That always gives me pause. The only thing I’ve ever considered is a tattoo for my dad, who is gone. And then I take an even longer pause while I consider that while we never talked about tattoos, I’m pretty sure my dad hated them. And what kind of homage would that be? It would be as if my kids decided to honor me after I’m gone by engraving my name on a pair of man sandals and wearing the sandals everywhere with tube socks. That would be terrible. I can’t do that to my dad.

So maybe a tattoo is not in my future. But something tells me we will be visiting this issue again, when Tate is old enough to beg. Last week he padded up the stairs and stood next to my bed, in the dark. Tate’s voice is at approximately the same pitch/frequency as a dog whistle, and sounds particularly shrill at 5:45 AM. “Grandma says we can go to the tattoo store and get real tattoos.” I poked Tom, who played dead.

When I asked Grandma about the tattoo date, she said that she felt really bad for Tate when she caught him soaking stickers in a plastic bag full of water, trying to make them into tattoos. I tabled the discussion, and Grandma, in turn, brought home some fake tattoos to tide Tate over. He flipped through the tattoo book and landed on the one he wanted. I placed it square in the middle his chest, as directed.

In the mornings, Tate picks out v-neck shirts that will show his tattoo off best. In the evenings, when I try to wash it off, he pushes my hand away, or screams.

I don’t know what I’m going to do when he’s 18.

Have a tattoo? Even better, have a kid who wants a tattoo and is coming of age? I’m all ears.

lying to your kids about santa

Tate asked me this morning if today was Christmas. It’s November 26th. It’s going to be a long month. Especially since my kids won’t stop grilling me about Santa. Below, actual questions I’ve fielded about Santa in the last two weeks, and my actual responses.

Q: “Is Santa real?” A: “What do you mean by ‘real’?”

Q: “Is the Santa I saw last year for pictures real?” A: “He was kind of real.”

Q: “If that Santa is not real, who is he?” A: “He’s the real Santa’s brother.”

Q: “What about the Santa we saw at Lloyd Center, was he also Santa’s brother?” A: “Yes.”

Q: “Can Santa fit down a chimney?” A: “Yes he’s very flexible and squishy. Like playdough.”

Q: “Can Santa fit down a chimney that has a wood stove, like ours?” A: “Usually. But sometimes he needs to use the front door.”

Q: “How does he open the door to the wood stove from the inside?” A: “There’s a handle on the inside.”

Q: “How does Santa get to every house in the world in one night?” A: “He flies super fast. Plus, the concept of time is malleable.”

Q: “What is a malleable?” A: “It’s something that’s very bendy.”

Q: “How does Rindy (my kids’ elf on a shelf) fly back to Santa every night if he can’t move?” A: “He can move. He just can’t move while you are looking. And he gets picked up by Rudolph.”

Q: “We left 8 carrots on the plate last year for the reindeer but there were three left. Why didn’t the other reindeer eat the carrots?” A: “What the hell? I don’t know. But carrots give you night vision so you guys should try eating one sometime.”

Q: “How powerful is Rudolph’s nose?” A: “Powerful enough, buddy. Powerful enough.”

Q: “How does Santa eat all the cookies that all the kids leave for him?” A: “Santa doesn’t eat for days beforehand.”

Q: “How can he do all that work on Christmas eve just by eating cookies when you say cookies have no protein?” A: “Well he has to stay awake all night and there’s a lot of sugar in the cookies and sugar can be good in situations like that.”

Q: “Well maybe he would like meatballs instead. Do you think he would like meatballs?” A: “I’m pretty sure ‘Santa’ would love meatballs.”

Q: “Where do all the elves live?” A: “In apartments.”

Q: “The North Pole has apartments?” A: “Yes.”

Q: “If I wake up on Christmas Eve and come downstairs, will I see Santa and be scared?” A: “Maybe. That’s why you should never wake up in the middle of the night.”

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please let my kids be nerds

At bedtime last night, Finn leaned in close and tenderly stroked my cheek, as he always does when he’s about to ask me to buy him something. “Mama. You know, I don’t have any cool stuff to share for sharing day.” Stroke, stroke, nuzzle, nuzzle. “So, I was thinking…I could buy some crystals. At the crystal store.”

Crystals!! Could thunder eggs and postage stamps be far behind?

Hot diggity. Now we were talking.

I have friends who don’t want their kids to be nerds, or to hang out with nerds. But these friends are going about it all wrong. In my experience, it’s hard to turn out interesting as an adult unless you were a nerd while young, or at least, had friendly, sustained contact with nerds. Don’t believe me? Think of the most outwardly-attractive-yet-inwardly-boring adult you know. I guarantee that person has never been a nerd.

finny bike

Of course, the inverse of that doesn’t work as well. Not all nerds flower into something cool. But look around at your nerdiest friends. Aren’t they often the people you want to hang out with the most? I mean, for short periods of time.

Not to brag, but I was a huge nerd for the majority of my youth. On my first day of kindergarten, I wore an itchy wool dress and a matching hat. A MATCHING HAT. As a new immigrant who barely spoke English, it’s amazing I wasn’t stoned by the other kids. Who cares though. I had no idea how inappropriately I was dressed. Because I was a nerd.

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In 7th grade, my plastic glasses broke and I fixed them with a band-aid, because band-aids are adhesive as shit. In 8th grade I walked down an entire hallway at Meadow Park Intermediate School with the back of my skirt tucked into my tights. I played cello. I wore a Guatemalan braided belt. I’m not Guatemalan. Some of my best friends were teachers. I was a nerd.

But it’s ok. Because nerds are tough. While the popular girls were collecting Esprit bags, I was learning how to develop stuff that would help me later in life, when it really mattered. Like a strong will, to cope with the teasing. Or a sense of humor, which helped me make friends with the other nerds. Somewhere along the way, probably in high school, I stopped wanting to fit in with everyone else, and started wanting to be different. That’s when I learned to embrace the nerd, to become one with it.

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Finn wears glasses and loves karaoke, but, crystals aside, he’s exhibited few other signs of classic nerd-dom. But Tate, he’s got some serious nerd potential. My youngest has an unnatural fascination with ninjas that only seems to be growing with time. All signs indicate that he’ll be the 14-year old with the Bruce Lee obsession who can quote every line from “Enter the Dragon.” When Tate gets dressed, he invariably tucks his t-shirt into his elastic-waist shorts before hiking the whole rig up to his armpits. I sure as hell didn’t teach him that. That’s strong instinctual nerdiness right there.

Tom, as a pale red-headed child with freakishly long limbs, was also a nerd. In fact, from the photos I’ve seen, he may have been a nerd until as recently as 1998. Given that my kids have nerd on both sides, I’m confident that blood will tell.

Yes. My boys have nerd in them, and I can’t wait to see it shine.

killer tofu

Everywhere you turn, someone is telling you that something you’re feeding your kids is bad for them. Which is fine if your kids are good eaters and you have a host of food options from which to choose. My kids? Left to their own devices, they each eat like twelve foods. Maybe more like six, if you take away the fruit.

One of the things they will both eat, however, is tofu. They will eat every variety of tofu, from silken to pressed. They will eat it in soup, baked, pan fried, steamed, whatever. And that’s good because tofu has nutritious stuff in it, like vegetable protein.

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Anyway, about the tofu. The latest word on tofu is that if you have boy children and they eat too much of it, they will grow breasts. Or something like that. Feel free to Google it—I haven’t, because, okay, I admit it, I’m scared of where “tofu man breasts” will lead me on Google Images. I’ve been afraid of Google Images ever since I Googled “genital warts.” Not that you believe me, but I don’t have genital warts and neither does Tom. I was just curious.

Besides, I have my own thoughts on the latest fear-mongering over tofu, and those thoughts are similar to my thoughts on MSG. Let me just point out that the Chinese have been around for a really long time. And I don’t know any Chinese people who complain about MSG headaches. I also don’t know any Chinese men with breasts.

Well, wait a minute. I know a few Chinese men with breasts, but they’re fat all the way around, and I’m sorry, if you’re a fat man you’re likely to have breasts regardless of your race or how much tofu you ingest. If you need further scientific evidence that it’s ok to eat tofu, I ate a shit ton of tofu growing up and I’m flat as a goddamned board.

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I guess what I’m really railing against is food hysteria in general. We all want to eat healthy. I try to make good choices, and make good choices for my children. But for me, food is not just about sustenance. Food is about taste, memory, pleasure, warmth, happiness. I enjoy nothing more than this loaf of bread with a crock of good butter. Eating bread reminds me of when I was a kid, tucked into my window seat on a rainy day, reading about Heidi and her grandpa and their goats and their tasty milk and cheese.

Nowadays, I feel guilty when I eat bread. And that guilt drives me to eat my croissants in the car like I’m some perv, or worse, to forgo the croissant entirely in favor of “healthy” pap like gummy, reconstituted granola. I dunno. I’m going to die of something, and I sort of doubt it’ll be the bread.**

So about that tofu. I like stir-fries because your kid can help with the washing and chopping. This delicious little stir-fry (you can sub shrimp if tofu is not your thing) makes my family happy. It’s a little spicy but even Tate will eat it, and shamefully, he thinks black pepper is spicy. Also, you might as well prepare your kids’ palates for the global Chinese domination that is coming.

Thanks to the sauce in this stir-fry, my kids will (accidentally) eat the mushrooms, water chestnuts, and green onions in the recipe. Shiitakes, not the benign kind of mushroom. Hot damn! I guess I’m ok risking two tiny sets of man boobs for that.

**I’m aware that certain people, like those with Celiac Disease, can actually die of bread consumption. I’m not making light of bread eating, except as it applies to me.

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MA PO TOFU

Adapted from “Martin Yan’s Chinatown Cooking”

Ingredients:

3 fresh or dried shiitake mushrooms (if dried, soak in warm water for 20 minutes), de-stemmed and chopped

6 oz. ground pork

1 teaspoon + 2 tablespoons soy sauce, divided

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 teaspoon hot bean paste, black bean sauce, bean chili sauce, or chili garlic sauce (one of these should be available in the “ethnic foods” aisle—we’re getting ethnic, people!—of your grocery store. If you have a choice, go for the bean chili sauce)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/3 cup chopped water chestnuts

1 14-oz. package soft (or silken, or Japanese style) tofu, drained and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 green onions, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch lengths

2 teaspoons cornstarch (dry)

2 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

Directions:

1. Marinate the pork: stir the ground pork, 2 teaspoons cornstarch, and 1 teaspoon soy sauce together, let stand 10 minutes.

2. Make the sauce: stir 2 tablespoons soy sauce in a bowl with the sesame oil and one cup water. Set aside.

3. Chop the water chestnuts, mushrooms, green onions, throw them all in bowl and set aside. Get your chopped garlic ready. Make sure your tofu is cut and drained. You want everything chopped before you start a stir-fry, because the actual cooking takes like 4 minutes.

4. Heat a wok, skillet, or cast-iron pan over high heat until hot. Add oil and swirl to coat. Add the garlic and stir fry until fragrant, mybe 20 seconds. Add the pork, whatever bean/chili paste or sauce you are using, and stir fry until the pork is crumbly, 2-3 minutes.

5. Pour the sauce into the pan along with the cut vegetables (water chestnuts, mushrooms, green onions). Slide in your tofu, stir gently or swirl the pan to get the tofu coated with the sauce. Let simmer until heated through, 2-3 minutes. Don’t freak out if your soft tofu starts to break apart. Just be as gentle as you can.

6. Pour in the dissolved cornstarch and cook gently, stirring, until sauce boils and thickens, about 1 minute. If you don’t care if your sauce is runny, you can omit this step.

7. Take off heat. Serve over hot brown rice!

yoonanimous reviews: water bottles

My family has approximately 200 water bottles, and most of them blow. If you’re in the market for one, I’m here to help you narrow the field.

I’ve had a lifelong struggle with water consumption. I know I need 8 cups a day. But I hate drinking liquids. My friend Ryan says that he prefers to drink his calories, in the form of beer. Not me. I prefer to eat my calories, in the form of bratwurst.

While I hate drinking water, I am an eternal optimist when it comes to water consumption. So I have a water tank in my house and fresh water delivered bi-weekly. And in hopes that setting the stage for water consumption will lead to the eventual drinking of water, I buy water bottles. Lots of water bottles.

My ratings are broken down into three categories, and go from a scale of 1-5. Drinkability refers to your ability to actually access the water in the water bottle. Portability refers to the water bottle’s take-it-and-go factor. The Kid Factor measures the bottle’s ability to withstand children, which in my case often depends on the hardiness of the nozzle. My kids are aggressive masticators. Like beavers.

1. The Camelback

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Judging by the selection at REI, the Camelback is the water bottle of choice here in Portland. The Camelback Eddy is hardy and indestructible. It is also large, heavy, and unwieldy, so much so that I feel nervous carrying it by its handle. The bite valves might as well be Haribo gummy bears as far as my kids are concerned. They have chewed through two 3-piece replacement packs with feverish intensity.

But let’s get right down to the nitty gritty about the Camelback, which is that you have to suck so hard on the nozzle to get the water out that it makes water-drinking both difficult and lewd. Tom once wiggled his eyebrows at me while watching me suck on the Camelback. I submit that if your water drinking can put your spouse in a romantic mood, you need a new water bottle.

Drinkability: 1; Portability: 2; Kid Factor: 1. Total: 4/15

2. The Sigg

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I must enjoy the Sigg because I’ve had one since law school. It has a pleasing shape and the seal on that cap is airtight. The lip has a nice curved shape and the flow of water is neither too fast nor too slow. It’s a bit large but it seems much lighter than the Camelback.

The problem with the Sigg and all other stainless bottles is the mystery about what’s inside. I guess it doesn’t matter because you’re just putting water in it. But if I start to think about it, I am uncomfortable with how dirty the innards of my Sigg might be. So I try not to think about it.

Drinkability: 4; Portability: 4; Kid Factor: 3. Total: 11/15

3. The Lululemon POS

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I think this bottle is a knock-off of the Lifefactory bottles that were ubiquitous for a while. It’s made of glass, which feels clean and virtuous, and the glass is encased in a rubber cover so that if you drop it, the bottle, in theory, won’t break. I say “in theory” because I’ve dropped a Lifefactory bottle and it shattered, just like every other glass item I have ever dropped.

I guess if I had to choose one thing that I like about this water bottle, I’d have to say the color. Sigh. I have tried hard to love this water bottle, because my kid gave it to me for Mother’s Day.

And yet, I cannot love this terrible bottle. First, while the cap is presumably airtight if properly sealed, I wouldn’t really know, because I have never properly sealed it, despite taking time out of my schedule one weekday morning to sit down and try to figure out where I was going wrong in my operation of the Lululemon POS.

To compound the problem, if the lid on this sucker isn’t on tight, you’re in for a world of pain, thanks to that wide opening. Which brings me to point number 2: it is impossible to drink water from this bottle without dousing your entire face and possibly your torso. Perhaps I have poor hand-eye coordination. But I have a hard time believing that, because I am very good at ping-pong. Instead, I choose to believe that the design of this bottle is inherently flawed. Also, the bottle is so tall and skinny that it tips over at the slightest hint of wind. Oh, and my kids never, ever choose this water bottle for themselves, because it weighs approximately five pounds. Don’t believe me? Watch.

Drinkability: 0; Portability: 0; Kid Factor: 1. Total: 1/15

4. The Bkr

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The Bkr, like the Lululemon POS, is made of glass encased in rubber. Also like the Lululemon POS, the Bkr is a classic example of form over function. For example, the spout is so small that when I drink from it, I can’t help but imagine that I am a tiny hummingbird using its tiny beak to draw (pollen? honey? dew?) from the stamen of a tiny, tiny flower. The tiny opening also makes it impossible to clean, or fill. If I’m trying to fill it from a water tank I actually have to crouch down and look up into the undercarriage of the water tank to ensure that I have placed the tiny opening of the water bottle directly under the spout, because if I don’t, the water just splashes all over. Drinking water is hard enough. I don’t need obstacles.

Drinkability: 1; Portability: 5; Kid Factor: 1. Total: 7/15

5. The Klean Kanteen

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The Klean Kanteen is a standby in my house and we have many of them. It’s made of light stainless steel, and has a wider opening than the Sigg, which provides a satisfying but non-threatening flow of water. The width of the opening also allows you to look inside and actually clean the bottle. The lid has a handy loop for your finger. The slim shape fits nicely into a bag but is not so skinny that it will tip over. My only complaint with this bottle is that the lid, not being attached to the bottle, tends to go missing. But that’s not the bottle’s fault.

Drinkability: 4; Portability: 5; Kid Factor: 4. Total: 13/15

6. The Crocodile Creek

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I’ve included my wine glass in all these pics to provide scale. As you can see, the Crocodile Creek, being designed for kids, is much smaller than the others. I’ve included it here because it is Tate’s favorite water bottle, and he asks for it by name (“my tiger one”). I think he likes the size of the spout, and that it is easy for him to handle. The small size makes it very portable. It’s very cute to look at. All that aside, if you are older than three, you might be frustrated by the pathetic flow of water, which is akin to what you might experience if someone were to wring a damp washcloth into your mouth. And while your toddler might love it, your older kid will shun it. Finn calls it a baby bottle and says it smells bad. But boy does Tate love it.

Drinkability: 3 (for kids); Portability: 4; Kid Factor: 5. Total: 12/15

7. The Contigo

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Ah, the Contigo. Linds has had one for a year, and she carries it everywhere. She drinks more water than anyone I know. I mean, so much water that it can feel alarming for a non-drinker to observe. Eventually I started wondering if it might be her water bottle. So I finally gave in and ordered one.

Now, my kids and I fight over the Contigo. Because it is an amazing water bottle. First, the size of it is like a slimmed-down version of the Camelback, with all the Camelback’s sturdiness. The nozzle is a hard plastic but it’s not gummy or chewy like the one on the Camelback. Instead, the Contigo nozzle facilitates your intake of the most satisying drink of water you’ve ever had. A steady, continuous stream of hydration. Linds described this water bottle best when she said that it actually makes water taste better.

But that’s not all folks. The nozzle, once locked, is leakproof. I have carried it inside my leather bag for a month with nary a drop spilled. The bottle is also entertaining, thanks to the white button that unlocks the nozzle and flings it into ready position. That’s the one complaint I have about the Contigo–when it unlocks, the nozzle flings a small spray of water in your face. But listen, with the Contigo, it’s all so good that even the spray feels intentional. Like it was designed to heighten your enjoyment of the water.

Drinkability: 5; Portability: 5; Kid Factor: 5. Total: 15/15

The Yoonanimous final rankings:

1. The Contigo (15/15)

2. The Klean Kanteen (13/15)

3. The Crocodile Creek (12/15)

4. The Sigg (11/15)

5. The Bkr (7/15)

6. The Camelback (4/15)

7. The Lululemon POS (1/15)

What have I missed? Do you have a water bottle that you love to hate, or one that beats my Contigo? I’m always on the hunt, and want to hear about it.

downers: boy books

Now that Finn is reading, our house is littered with chapter books. From what I can tell, the offerings for young male readers fall into one of two camps: 1) mind-numbingly dull or 2) soul-crushingly terrifying.

You might think a lot of things in life are boring. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t know shit about boring until you’ve read 72 volumes of the Magic Tree House series. Those books are so bad that they will make you start hating things you used to think were cool, like time travel, Morgan Le Fay, and trees.

I thought I found a way to get around reading the Magic Tree House books by borrowing them on CD and playing them on long road trips. Bad idea, if a human is doing the driving. You’d be better off trying to drive after eating a whole roasted turkey and chasing it with a bottle of Nyquil.

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do not operate heavy machinery while reading

But I’ll take boring over scary, any day of the week. I want to cry when I think that my boys could turn out like the kids in “Captain Underpants,” “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and “Stink,” who blow up toilets, rob unsuspecting neighbors, and engage in mail fraud. The boys in these books don’t really talk. Instead, they retort, or quip. It’s really hard to keep your kids from saying “stupid” and “idiot” at home when they’re reading those words in books that you’ve bought for them.

As an aside, the effort to stop my kids from saying the word “stupid” reached a nadir last month when my four-year old Tate began saying the word “doopid” as a workaround.

Me: “Tate, what did you say?? Did you just say ‘stupid’?”

Tate: “No mommy.” (Rolling of eyes). “I said DOOPID.”

Point is, I’m done with those crap books. Instead, I’m eager to introduce Finn to the chapter books I loved as a kid. Like the Ramona books, by Beverly Cleary, or the Redwall series, by Brian Jacques. Later, perhaps some Robinson Crusoe or Alexandre Dumas—Athos was such a badass, and Lady de Winter! The best. Anyway, it was with these classics in mind that I bought a copy of “Little House on the Prairie,” and started reading it with Finn three nights ago.

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The good news is that Finn seems to dig the book, in spite of the long paragraphs about the dappled light on the prairie grass, and door carpentry. The bad news is that as a kid, I never realized how old-fashioned the book is in terms of gender dynamics. Ma basically does whatever Pa tells her to do, even though it’s clear from the get-go that Ma is ten times as smart as Pa, and also, not too keen on the idea of a long wagon ride to the middle of nowhere.

Yeah, Ma puts up with a lot. Later in the book they’re building their log house and Pa drops a fucking LOG on Ma’s foot, and Ma has to soak her foot and put on her own bandages while Pa parties with a neighbor and does a bunch of fiddlin’. I mean, if Tom dropped a log on my foot while he was building our log cabin, I…I don’t even know. But know this: I certainly wouldn’t be putting on my own damn bandages. Most likely I’d limp away in anger and then get eaten by a bear. But at least I’d have my self-respect.

Antiquated gender roles aside, Finn’s not the only one who’s digging on this book. The thing about reading Little House on the Prairie as an adult female is that you realize that Pa, being an alpha male, is totally hot. I mean, look at this illustration.

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uh, yes. i’ll take two

Not sure he’s got a ton of brains, but Pa is a doer, and I like that in a man. I also like that he’s a provider. The older I get, the more I want other people to take care of me, because I’m tired. Let’s not forget that when he dropped that log on Ma, Pa was building a log cabin. BY HIMSELF. And when the family was crossing the river in the wagon and they started sinking, he tossed the reins to Ma and jumped in the water and basically pulled the ponies to safety. Hot. If they made this book into a movie today, I’m pretty sure Chris Hemsworth would make an awesome Pa.

But back to the book. When Pa goes hunting with his gun, he gets it done. He PROVIDES. He brings back a prairie dog and two rabbits and some other vaguely rodent-like animal that I can’t recall. All I remember is that Ma makes gravy out of whatever it was.

No one can make cornmeal cakes with prairie dog gravy sound as delicious as Laura Ingalls Wilder. I can hardly wait for the later books when they make baked beans with salt pork. I don’t even know what salt pork IS, and my mouth is watering onto my keyboard right now. Anyway, what was I saying. Right. Pa gets it done for his family. And as an adult female, I really dig that about Chris Hemsworth. I mean Pa.

I’m really excited for the later books. I don’t remember them clearly but I DO remember the TV show, and so I know there’s lots of Mary being blind and Carrie being a rascal and a love interest named…Alfonzo? No. ALMONZO. That’s not a name. That’s a candy bar. But anyway, I’m excited. For Finn.