Archives for November 2010

Black Friday and Our New Friend Jeanne

Black Friday. To me, it sounds positively foreboding. In fact, the mere words coupled with the ghastly images that flash on my television each year cause the exact opposite of the intended effect. Thanks to countless newsreels, I am not that mommy foaming at the mouth to wake at an un-Godly hour and trek to the nearest toy store/mall/department store for a good deal. To me, the possibility of a stampede doesn’t sound like a good time. I have no desire to duke it out with someones grandma over something called a Zhu-Zhu pet or Squinky. Nope. Crowds are most definitely not my thing.

I’m come to realize that for me, Black Friday is different kind of freebie day. Our Black Friday was spent lounging in our jammies and watching cartoons. We ate pumpkin pie and french toast for breakfast and we played games. Joe helped me explore the boxes holding our Christmas decorations. He discovered the ornaments that he made in preschool and kindergarten and marveled at how long ago he made them. To him, preschool was eons ago…an entirely different existence than that of a worldly first grader.

We listened to Kate squeal with delight and clap her tiny hands at each thing we hung. She ran laps around the house pointing and dancing in place with the thrill of discovering Santa Claus or giant red bulbs. They weren’t there when she was tucked into bed for her afternoon nap. She woke up to magic and discovered Santa, who I assume remains a complete stranger, but enchants her anyway. It was a good day.

The best part about this Black Friday was my ability to take a giant chunk of my shopping list from the comfort of my kitchen island, with the convenience of my laptop, a steaming cup o’ Joe and the beauty of my early winter view. Which, by the way, was freshly dusted with our first snow. I calmly, quietly and with great thought searched for and purchased a whole bunch of toys sure to bring smiles on Christmas morning. I told the kids that I was e-mailing with Santa. He was just ‘checking in’ on their behavior and most coveted toys. They’re still young enough that they don’t question the ridiculous nature of my tale. In this day and age, it only makes sense that Santa would communicate by e-mail, no?

A few years ago, when Gwen was just four months old and celebrating her first Christmas, I had no idea what gift would be appropriate. I balked at the naysayers who said, “She’s a baby, she doesn’t need anything”. Clearly, the magic of Christmas was lost on those poor souls. Santa Claus would never overlook a child simply because she was a baby!

Thus began my quest for a simple, perfect toy that she might keep with her forever. The toy that she would sleep with and who would accompany her on first day of preschool. The toy that would wipe away her tears and store them inside of it’s warm, soft body forever. The toy that would earn that ‘forever’ place of honor on her bed and feel the loveliest of hugs. Somehow, my search led me to Sylvain. Sylvain is from France but when we met over the Internet, she was living in San Francisco in a toy store called Zebra Hall. She was on sale and she was just precious. She was renamed Bun-Bun when Gwen began talking and she has fulfilled all of my grand expectations. She is Gwen’s most prized possession. Bun-Bun has been a good friend.

Sylvain, er…Bun Bun, comes from La Grande Famille by Moulin Roty and she has quite a few equally irresistible family members. They appear to be a pretty tight-knit group who spend a great deal of time traveling in cool, retro vehicles. Good for them!

Last Christmas, Kate had not yet reached one year. Again, at a complete loss for a special and meaningful toy for our littlest girl, I went off in search of another special friend. My standards were the same as those I applied in my search for Bun-Bun. I searched all over the United States for La Grande Famille. Alas, Zebra Hall had closed it’s website and it seemed that La Famille elected to remain on the other side of the pond. Or perhaps they were just living off the grid.

Thankfully, our British friends are happy to ship overseas because when I finally located La Grande Famille, Nini Mouse and her baby were begging to make the trip abroad. She arrived unscathed and happily accepted her assignment of loving the baby. The toughest part of her existence has passed for Nini. She survived the drippy bottles and the sad possibility that she might not be “the one”. Last month, Kate renamed Nini. She now goes by “Moo Moo”. She’s the one that must be in the crib each night. She’s the one who makes Kate giggle when she dances. She’s just Moo Moo. Like Bun-Bun, Moo Moo is made of the softest velour and she is elegant in her simplicity. She can be washed. She happily shares a bedroom with Bun Bun and my girls.

Kate won’t be two until February and frankly, we have enough plastic, mass-produced toys for her to explore. Oh, I’m sure she’ll get a few goodies from that corporate giant that I so despise entering, but today I searched for La Grande Famille. Happily, I located them right back here in the states. With so many animals to choose from and at such terrific prices, I hemmed and hawed for a good 20 minutes. Finally with a little help (decisiveness) from Joe and Gwen, I decided that Jeanne should be Kate’s newest friend. Jeanne will be here next week. Can’t wait for Kate to meet her on Christmas morning.

Now, about her birthday…the chicken, the mole, the cat, the dog, the frog, the hedgehog…which to get?

And….He Was Punched.

When Joe was just two months old, I sat in one of our living room chairs and cradled him on my chest. I relished the sensation of his warm, fuzzy wobbling head brushing against my cheek. His infant squeaks and gurgles softly touched my ears. His breath warmed my neck as he grew tired and succumbed to a nap in my arms. Babies sleep so deeply and that sunny afternoon, mine slept soundly enough that the short, quick rhythm of his breath lulled me into a state of bliss. I slowly pulled him from my shoulder to lay him on my lap. It was there that Dave entered to find me sobbing over the tiny, perfect body that was my newborn son.

David’s face registered a look of concern, “What’s wrong?” Struggling against my tears, I attempted to speak but my words were choked back by a spasm of fresh sobbing. He was across the room in three quick strides, his eyes zeroing in on the baby sleeping on my legs. He knelt at the side of my chair and put his big hand on Joe’s tiny middle, as if to make sure that he was still breathing. David looked into my eyes and took my hand, “What’s the matter?”

I wiped the fat, wet tears that were rolling down my checks and took a deep breath. I needed that air to speak without the interruption of hysterics. “Someday, someone is going to punch him”, I said as I exhaled. Immediately, I was overtaken with a fresh set of tears and squeaky crying. The thought of some boy hurting my perfect, tiny child was unbearable. To imagine that one day, someone might harm him was too much. David wanted to smile; I could see it glinting in his eyes, struggling to spread to his mouth. Instead, he hugged me and stroked our baby’s round, bald head. Together we watched him sleep.

Total Failure

I am a horrible mother.

It happens every time…just when I begin feeling like an honest-to-goodness and compassionate mommy I slip up again. This morning, I flopped into a chair in the family room, still reeling from Kate’s contribution to Barf Fest 2010. Not once in my single-girl days did I anticipate I would one day willingly hold a puking toddler for five straight hours. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t fun, but I happily held my sick little (stinky) Katie until she was done and sleeping peacefully on my (equally stinky) chest.

As a result of yesterday’s illness, exhaustion overrode my “filter” this morning. If I recall correctly, my filter malfunctioned at the precise moment that Gwen demanded to be carried from the couch to the kitchen so she could eat breakfast. I’ll admit it, I snapped. “That’s enough! You guys are adults now,” I yelled, “so act like one! Get up and walk into the kitchen by yourself!” As soon as I finished saying one of the most idiotic things I’ve said in my career as a mother, I turned to Dave, “Did I just tell them that they’re adults now?” Joe and Gwen sat quietly blinking at each other in surprise. Gwen looked bewildered. Dave laughed. Joe’s face brightened and I recognized the sheer joy coursing through his little brain courtesy of my idiotic declaration. His eyes widened and took on a dreamy far-off glaze. He was drinking in the realization that I had just provided him with carte blanche access to Grown Up Land. Dave said, “Joe, since you’re an adult now, go grab the car keys and head over to Starbucks. I’ll take a black coffee with a shot of espresso and Mom will have a venti latte.” He wasn’t done. “Kate, you have about six more months to shape up, we’ve had just about enough of this baby crap.” Kate gnawed on her bottle and slapped Stella across the face. I went back to bed in an attempt to recover my ‘good Mommy’ persona.

I’ll fess up and admit that there are times when I say the completely wrong thing to my children. Like the time Joe came home from preschool and dished, “[boy name] wore a princess costume and pink nail polish to school today.” He stood there looking positively freaked out, waiting for my response. Having really enjoyed several sociology classes in college involving gender studies, my reaction was an unexpected and disappointing, “Jesus. That’s weird.”

[boy name] is, of course, a boy and he was five-years-old at the time. So what if the kid regularly wore princess gowns to pre-school. It didn’t matter that he threw tantrums when he realized he wouldn’t get a girl goodie bag at birthday parties, right? This is how I should have reacted, so I immediately reigned myself in and smoothed over my verbal faux pas by saying, “I mean, it’s weird because Halloween was over like three weeks ago…I guess he just really liked being a princess.” Dave and I made eye contact and winced a little. I was a bit disappointed in myself for that lapse in judgment. After all, at four and five years old a lot of children engage in gender-neutral play. It’s normal.

A few years ago, my niece was describing the odd relationship of a friend and her mother to my sister and me. As she described how stifled her friend felt, my sister appropriately nodded her head and pasted a sympathetic expression on her face. One that said, I’m listening to your story but I don’t judge someone else’s parenting style in front of my child. What was my reaction? Well, my mouth said, “Holy shit! Aren’t you glad you don’t live in that house?” and then I stuffed a cheese doodle into it. My sister choked on her coffee and quickly explained that perhaps that wasn’t the best and/or appropriate response. I saw her point. On the other hand, I knew that my niece thought something was odd too, so I went with it.

As long as I’m confessing my lapses in effective parenting and lack of a filter, I might as well talk about last summer’s mortifying incident involving the sales person from Invisible Fence. We had an appointment for 9:30 in the morning. With the well-meaning intention of maintaining our summer schedule, I requested an early appointment so we wouldn’t miss a beach day. I wrote the appointment on the calendar and….well, entirely forgot about it.

The morning of the scheduled appointment was atypically insane (meaning…far more insane than usual). Kate and I were returning to the kitchen following an especially traumatic diaper change and found Gwen attempting to fit a gallon of milk into a juice glass. Joe was standing next to the wide open patio door, staring at Scooby Doo in a zombie-like trance while Stella was clearly off wandering in the wild. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation or maybe I was just having an ‘off’ day . Whatever the reason, I lost it. I yelled really loudly at Joe, “Now you can go outside and find the dog while I clean up the milk!” I’m not sure what he was thinking in that moment, but Joe defiantly looked at me and said, “No.” I stood there dumbfounded and frozen. Joe looked oddly triumphant, but also like he might pee his pants in fear. Our stand-off ended when I lunged toward him and his six-year-old body responded with lightening speed. I’ll give him credit, his reflexes have improved and he has shaved a few seconds off of his top speed. He was out the patio door in a flash.

One of my finer moments of maternal tenderness captured on film

Right around the time that we were rounding the swing set and I was grabbing the back of Joe’s shirt to tackle him to the ground, the (forgotten) Invisible Fence lady pleasantly called, “Helllloooo?” She rounded the corner into our back yard as I stood and pulled Joe up with me. While I ordered him to his room, I spotted Kate, clad only in her diaper, running across the lawn with Stella in hot pursuit. Gwen was on the kitchen table mopping up milk with a solitary sopping napkin and noshing on a piece of bacon. The Invisible Fence lady stood staring, mouth agape before finally saying, “Ummmm…I just saw a baby running down the driveway.”

I smoothed my grass stained pajamas, pretended that my hair wasn’t exactly as I left it when I crawled out of bed and introduced myself to the woman who had witnessed my mothering skills at their worst. At least she hadn’t seen me sprinting barefoot across the lawn, trying to stiff-arm Joe….right? I was sure that she had seen and heard the WHOLE thing. As I shook her hand and invited her inside for coffee, Kate and Stella were finishing their lap around the house. I scooped Kate into my arms and called Stella, who thankfully came to me straight away. Ms. Invisible Fence stood planted to her spot on the lawn and said, “Wow. You could REALLY use an Invisible Fence.”

You think?

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The Bad Finger

Right around the time that she began walking and babbling, I had Cookie’s number. She quickly made it clear that she was a mischievous tease when at 12 months of age, she toddled over to Joe and swiped his favorite monkey. She dangled the monkey in front of him and then with an impish glint in her eyes, she took off as fast as her tiny legs would carry her. I sat back in awe and observed my little Cookie as she ran laps through our tiny apartment, maniacally laughing as Joe followed in hot pursuit. He was screaming too, but evidently his opinion of Gwen’s game wasn’t quite so high. Unfortunately for Joe, his protests only fed Gwen’s good time and encouraged future monkey swiping. It was right around that stage of her growth when I predicted that Gwen was destined to be our lightening rod for trouble.

The girl has no filter. She can swear like a sailor and on a few occasions, she has let a word or two fly. Thankfully, up to now any profanity-laced indiscretions have been reserved to the confines of the house or car. That is, until today. This afternoon I was slightly early for pre-school pickup which provided me with the opportunity to spy. (Don’t you love those “fly on the wall” moments when they have no idea that you are there and watching?) I stood outside of the preschool peering in through the big glass window, trying to remain unseen. I covertly scanned the roomful of noisy children until my eyes finally came to rest on a small group in the corner. They were oddly subdued in comparison to the rest of the kids. Of course, I was immediately suspicious and even more so when I realized that it was Gwen who was holding court. A group of boys sat in a semi-circle around her. Nothing good comes from an unchaperoned, silent and barely-moving brood of preschoolers.

I squinted through the glare on the window trying to figure out what they were doing. The boys were enrapt as they watched Gwen perform some trick with her hand. My angle was bad, casting a glare on the window. For the life of me I couldn’t see, not to mention that one of the kids was blocking my view to Gwen’s hands. I saw her mouth moving and she shook her head ‘no’ at the boy in front of her. I thought I saw her roll her eyes and sigh with impatience as she shifted to the left. Finally, Cookie was in full view and to my horror I realized that my sweet little Cookie, the girl wearing a fancy dress and a big red bow in her hair, was teaching a group of boys how one properly ‘flips the bird’.

Right about now you’re thinking, “Well, who in the world taught that sweet little girl how to give someone the finger?” Joe did it. He came home last week with a long and sordid tale about how “So and So” from his first grade class was sent to the Principal’s office for “showing his bad finger.” He sternly proceeded to demonstrate the bad finger for Dave and me in precise detail and inquired as to its meaning. We barely attempted to hide our laughter at his solemn display, but then explained that using “the bad finger” is akin to saying the “F” word. His eyes widened and he immediately dropped his bad finger, but not before looking at it with horror. It appears that Gwen simultaneously absorbed the conversation and missed the message that The Finger is BAD.

I recalled that moment of parental failure today in the seconds it took me to lunge toward the door. I was still helplessly mid-lunge as I watched Gwen demonstrate her new found expertise to the group of followers. While I was I still turning the doorknob, she held her right hand up and began closing her little fingers one by one. She even pushed the disagreeable stragglers down, allowing her middle finger to stand proud and tall. I saw a boy giggle and raise his hand to his mouth to stifle his laugh at her naughty ability. Finally, I was able to jerk the glass door open and call, “Hey, Cookie!” She gave a startled jump at my interruption and gazed at me blankly for a half second. A happy look of recognition washed over her features but almost instantaneously, fear flickered through her eyes. She knows my “I saw what you were doing” glare well. She stood up slowly and stepped away from the boys who were now wearing expressions of wide-eyed terror. I pulled Cookie to me and gave her a giant hug while whispering, “I saw that!” in her ear. She pulled her face away and peered into my eyes with that mischievous glint I know so well. I made sure her entourage overheard the stern reprimand that followed before they ran for the hills.

I’m sitting here expecting a phone call from an angry mother. Something tells me that if it comes, it will be the first of many in Gwen’s school career.

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Payback’s a Bitch!

There was a game that we played as kids; I think we made it up. It was called The Tasting Game. It involved a blindfold and anything edible as long as it wouldn’t kill or maim a person. It was a game of trust or, alternatively, an opportunity for a sibling to exact her long-awaited plan of revenge.

My sister and brother really knew how to dole out the crap and, being the youngest,  I endured a fair amount of it. They had a knack for enticing me into a “fun” game with promises of candy and magic, but usually had a pre-determined agenda to make me the fool. For example, the time we happened upon a treasure map in the yard. It was the real deal, complete with authentically burned edges on aged parchment and a big red X marking a spot. Okay, I made that part up. It was actually crinkled up notepaper that they charred with a Zippo lighter. Nonetheless, I nearly peed my pants with excitement! I pursued that map’s circuitous instructions for what seemed like hours. My anticipation intensified with each step that brought me closer to the promise of riches. I told them that there was probably gold…pearls…diamonds, even! They were giddy with excitement –  slightly too giddy, in fact – but I was too involved to notice.

Finally, we found the ‘spot’. There it was, in a hollowed out tree trunk – a glistening gift miraculously delivered from the sea!

I feel compelled to point out that the Long Island sound was at least an hour away. 

But there it was… a golden treasure box that oddly resembled a cheap, gold foil-wrapped cardboard jewelry box from Reeds. With deep reverence for the history attached to its contents, I slowly lifted the lid from the box and gasped at the treasure inside. Three elbow macaroni and note reading, “Here’s your treasure noodle brain!”

Traci and Billy fell on the ground laughing and I stomped off, pissed at the world for impeding upon my fantastic imagination. Strike one, suckers!

Respectively, there is a difference of seven and five years between my sister, brother and I. So forgive me if, on the random day they suggested a game of hide and seek, I was gung-ho. I had no playmates! Shame on me for being so daft. Exactly how many times did I hide in the toy box before realizing that it was simply their golden opportunity to entomb me? Like clockwork, as soon as the counting began, I would run to the toy box and hurl toys across the room until there was sufficient room for my little body. I’d climb in and quietly close the lid, chuckling at the genius (predictability) of my hiding place. I would lay there trying to ignore the odor coming from Baby Alive’s putrid, moldy diaper and wait. I never waited long. As soon as the lid shut, I’d hear them running. They always threw themselves on the top of the trunk, sealing me inside that claustrophobic box. Ultimately, the amount of time they held me captive was determined by their eagerness to listen to me plead and cry. I finally learned that faked hyperventilation coupled with spastic thrashing got their attention. Following up with a death gasp and complete silence earned me a hasty exit. Strike two, you freaks!

The Tasting Game was a bit like Russian Roulette. If you agreed to play, you had to expect that you would be fed some unfathomable concoction from the refrigerator or pantry. Sometimes simultaneously.  Suspiciously, we often played the game when my father had stocked the fridge with tongue or pickled pig’s feet. Blindfolded and helpless, I recall being fed a heaping spoonful of jelly coated with mayonnaise and generously sprinkled with cayenne pepper. Strike three, you sadists!

With age, my cunning surpassed theirs. One day, when my now teenaged sister suggested that we pass the time with The Tasting Game, I agreed. I had been biding my time. I suggested that this time, perhaps she would like to go first.


Clearly, she wasn’t anticipating my newfound smarts. I silently laughed (refer to above-referenced evil laugh) at her pompous belief that I’d simply feed her some spicy mustard. I played the game as she expected. The first spoonful was a benign and somewhat tasty mixture of jelly and cinnamon. She guessed the tastes with a smirk, thinking I was an idiot child. The second concoction was a blend of spicy german mustard and horseradish. She made a bit of a face but again, guessed the ingredients. I could see that she was impressed at my ability to take it up a notch with a little spice. That, my friends, was when I pulled out the big guns.

I pulled the refrigerator door open for the noise effect, then ran to the bathroom and dipped a cup into the cold, refreshing toilet water. I brought the cup back to the kitchen and made stirring sounds before I poured a spoonful of the chilled water onto a hefty soup spoon. “Are you ready?” I asked, as a depraved smile of triumph spread across my ten-year-old face.

The spoon moved through the air and toward her lips in slow motion speed. I watched as her lips slowly parted with a smile of anticipation. Quickly, I poured the contents of the soup spoon into her mouth. She swished, swallowed, and then made that tongue-smacking sound a person makes when they are attempting to determine a taste. “Its water”, she stated in a tone that suggested I was a rookie fool.

“Yes, but what kind of water?” I asked while slowly backing away. As I moved toward the door I could see her expression change beneath the blindfold. As realization struck, I heard her yell, “TOILET WATER? YOU JUST FED ME TOILET WATER?!”

She ripped the blind fold off her face as she hopped off the counter, but I was already gone.

Hello, Mr. Pretty Mantis

As I sit in the kitchen gazing out the windows, I hear the wind howling. I can see it moving through the skeletal remains of the deciduous trees and watch as it bends the pines. It’s grey and damp outside. It just looks cold. It looks like November. I’m already longing for summertime as I notice that I’ve forgotten to take my pots inside for the season. The one that remains on the porch steps holds the last vestiges of summer greenery. That was the spot that Mr. Pretty Mantis called home.

The praying mantis wasn’t shy at all. He moved in and made himself highly visible to the neighbors (us) right away. His favorite perch was the highest, feathery fern, to the right of the clover and overlooking the lavendar. Each morning, he was there to greet the warm morning sun with me. I’d enjoy my coffee and allow him to sit on my leg. We’d chat and I’d marvel at his big buggy green eyes.

When he first moved in, he was still a little guy so I kept him a secret for the first few weeks. As he grew, I introduced him to Joe and Gwen and let them look from afar. I explained how special a Praying Mantis is and instilled enough awe in their little minds to ensure there would be no panic induced squishing. As I invited him onto my hand, Joe whispered, “Cooooool.” Gwen made a tiny gasp and said, “Can I hold Mr. Pretty Mantis?”

From that day on, we all greeted Mr. Pretty Mantis with a smile as we passed. We often paused to say hello and let him crawl on our bare skin. We liked how he would raise his front legs and poke them out at us as if to box. Joe giggled at how tickly Mr. Pretty Mantis was becoming as he grew.

One day Mr. Pretty Mantis disappeared from the pot. I explained that he had probably moved on to a bigger, more comfortable home in the field. The kids were sad to hear about his move. “He didn’t say goodbye”, Gwen whined. Joe wondered what area of the field he relocated to and went off in search of his friend.

Sometime in late August I was weeding the garden near the front porch when I saw something move in the leaves of the lilies. It was large enough to make the leaf it was walking on slightly sway. It took a moment to locate him, but I would have recognized him anywhere. It was our old friend Mr. Pretty Mantis! He sure had grown. Out of habit, I held out my hand and he hopped on. He was heavy now and his sticky feet felt slightly creepy on my skin. I tried to be cool and he stood still. “Hey, guys!” I called to my family. Dave and the kids came around the corner and I told them that Mr. Pretty Mantis hadn’t moved away after all.

As I held out my hand, Mr. Pretty Mantis took off up my bare arm. His (several inches) long insect body suddenly felt too heavy and his sticky feet grossed me out. After my long “be careful” talk with the kids earlier in the summer, I struggled to maintain my calm demeanor. Dave saw a crack in my cool and started smirking. I looked at him, eyes pleading to come get this BLEEPing bug off me…NOW! He laughed. Mr. Pretty Mantis was on my shoulder now and heading toward my face. I screamed and stuck my face and shoulder in the hydrangeas to avoid squishing him. As I performed a frantic get-this-giant-bug-off dance, I carefully flicked him off my shoulder and onto the bush.

Having saved myself from Mr. Pretty Mantis, I pulled my body out of the hydranges and turned to face my family. The children were looking at me like I was insane and my husband could barely contain his laughter. They all turned and walked away. “Hey, but don’t you want to see Mr. Pretty Mantis? I called. “He got really big!”

I Just Heard Myself…

I just heard myself and realized I am precisely the kind of jackass that I would make fun of if I overheard her speaking to her children.

Here is an example of why:

“Cookie, please don’t let Birdie eat that food from the floor.”

Really? Cookie?….Birdie? Did some waspy, old-school bitch from Greenwich possess my body at the country club buffet? Seriously, I have no idea where those nicknames came from. Even worse is that I have no idea why they stick, but they do.

Back when Gwen was still cooking away in my belly, Dave and I kicked some names around. Payton was high on the list. I really liked Payton. That is, until the day that Dave and I were in the Chestnut Hill Mall and overheard a waspy, new-school bitch from Newton hailing her spawn. “PAAAAAAAYTON, Paaaaayton. Come see Mommy, Payton.” At first it was difficult to understand her because of her locked bottom jaw. She was also speaking through her nose. It took a moment, but I realized that she was using one of our ‘maybe’ names.

I’m a people watcher but that day, I stood, mouth agape and stared at the woman who embodied exactly what I didn’t want to become. There and then I vowed that I would never morph into a 30-something woman who frequents the Chestnut Hill Mall with her designer babies and a nanny in tow. You’ve seen her at any number of upscale shopping malls. She’s the one who lounges on the couch outside of Bloomingdales/Neimans/Nordstrom in a Juicy Suit and Tory Burch ballet flats. She silently critiques the other women who pass by. She very obviously performs a dismissive once-over and a sneer while chatting on her iPhone and completely ignoring her infant. Do I need to mention that she always has the latest Bugaboo baby stroller and her baby is likely swathed entirely in Burberry or head to toe Oilily?

Payton was hastily scratched off of the list as I stood watching that woman as if she were some rare species of animal.

So here we are, four years later with two little girls who have perfectly nice and carefully chosen names. Nothing off the wall and nothing unpronounceable, but there’s that issue of the nicknames. They must have started somewhere around the time that I riding a doped-up, post c-section euphoria because I don’t remember the genesis of either moniker. I just know they were my creation. Back in the days when were spent our days at home, the nicknames were okay. House confinement meant that the names were private. That is, until the social obligations of my children required that we all leave the house together.

Last year I stood in the library of our tiny New Hampshire town at story hour and called out, “Cookie, get down from that table right now!” The (abnormally silent) mother next to me with the kids who didn’t speak or move, simultaneously jumped and rolled her eyes. She then turned and looked at me as if I was the most ridiculous ass in the history of ridiculous asses. My first inclination was to flash her one of my signature filthy dirty looks. Then my eyes moved to her poor, semi-comatose children pointlessly writhing around on the carpet and I decided that it just wasn’t called for. She had enough to contend with.

However, I did immediately recognize from her eye roll and wary expression that to her I was “that” woman. To the lady with the comatose kids I was the Juicy clad, new-school waspy bitch who had just rolled into town from the city. I shrugged my shoulders and told myself that her opinion meant nothing. After picking some lint from my Juicy sweat suit, I pulled our Maclaren stroller from the rest and began to walk home. On the way, we passed the General Store. I asked Birdie and Cookie if they wanted a lollipop and marveled about how comfy my ballet flats were.

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A Southern Gal and the Mystery Brogue

Sometimes the phrases that come out of my children’s mouths astound me, but there is nothing that causes me to raise an eyebrow more than Gwen’s occasional accent. Ever since she really began talking in full sentences, she has had a little bit of a southern ‘twang’ to some of her words.

As time marches on, I find myself thinking that those New Age people might be onto something with their theories of past lives. You see, we have come to believe that in her last life, Gwen was a southern gal. Otherwise, I have no idea why at the age of two and a half she would say the following, “Mawwwma, your pullin’ mah haaayah!” Then there was the night she proclaimed, “Awww, Mawwma, your fixin’ mah suppah?!” Um, Yes. Yes I am Gwen and we’re not having grits.

Last night, as I attempted to sleep off the puke filled day I spent with Kate, Dave woke up to hear someone descending the darkened staircase. Thinking that Gwen might be off on another midnight wine tasting, he hopped out of bed to intervene. According to Dave, he looked over the railing and called her name.

Dave: “Gwen…where are you going honey?”

Gwen: “Where’s the pahty, Mawma?”

Clearly the kid is either sleep walking or reliving her prior life as a southern debutant party animal. Either way, we now have an explanation for her nocturnal wine consumption.

As we chuckled about it the next day, we remembered that Joe did the same thing when he was three. One afternoon we decided to bring him swimming at the YMCA in Brighton. He was excited to go and stopped jumping up and down on the couch long enough to say with a succinct brogue, “Don’t forget me swimmin’ knickers, Ma.” He had suddenly morphed into a tiny Irishman right there in front of our eyes.

I can’t wait to hear what part of the world Kate comes from.

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Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

On some alternate plane of existence there is a version of me that is completely cool with wilderness and the dark. Together…at the same time. That version of me doesn’t stand on her dark front lawn demanding that the dog do “business” while her eyes dart in the direction of every sound made by nature and its nocturnal woodland critters. I’m willing to bet that alternate ‘me’ probably doesn’t stand in the dark with her little doggie on a pink leash, recalling the varieties of (potentially killer) animals that she learned were native to Maine during a visit to the Maine Wildlife Park this summer. Alternate me probably packs heat and can identify animals by their footprints. She’s woodsy and wears sensible shoes.
In this dimension, I’m not quite so cool. I am attempting to adjust to a yard that isn’t illuminated by the glare of street lights. I repeatedly tell myself that the sound of sticks snapping behind me is far less dangerous than the drug dealers who lived next door in Boston. Really, so what if last spring my bare foot connected with some unseen, but fairly sizable animal that squealed before it ran off into the dark woods? Right? That’s totally normal.
Having obsessively devoured each and every one of Stephen King’s novels, I tend to relate Maine to some super creepy stuff. When normal people think of Maine they probably think of lobster and moose; I think of vampires and the undead. So last week when I was startled by a pack of coyotes in the near distance while walking Stella on a dark and foggy night, I was slightly unnerved. The fog was so thick that I couldn’t see the lights of the neighbor’s house in the distance. My view was made up of the first few feet of the tall grass in the hilly field that separates our property, then a wall of thick fog that could potentially hide an animal stalking its prey (me). Before I heard the coyotes, I was marveling at the view. I was thinking of the moors and werewolves and how utterly creepy the whole situation would be if I weren’t so brave and successfully embracing country life. Then the cackling started. Stella jumped mid-pee but wisely chose to remain silent. Those cackles were close. All pretense of bravery flew out the window as Stella and I hauled-ass to the porch and bumped straight into Dave who will never cease being amused by me and my combined fear of darkness and wild animals.

The first time that I heard this pack of creepy dog things it was last spring. I had just begun opening the windows in the house and hearing the night sounds of our new place. Naturally, the first time I heard them I was frozen with terror by what sounded like a group of cackling ghouls. What I heard in the wee hours of the morning was eerie laughter. It seemed to move closer then fade back into the distance with such speed that it could only be supernatural…like that creature in the woods on the way to the Pet Sematary, you know…the one Stephen King wrote about – The Wendigo. I quickly called myself an idiot after I realized that I was listening to coyotes or coydogs but there was a minute there when I was freaked out.

I’m more comfortable hearing street noise and traffic than I am with wild animals. It’s ridiculous really, since I lived on a farm as a kid, surrounded by 200 acres of woods, fields and animals. I should be able to adapt again, right? I grew up in the Adirondacks for crying out loud! As I ponder this, I recall that I wasn’t overly thrilled with going outside in the dark at night as a kid either.

When I was about 14, my brother once took me along to go raccoon hunting. I loved my brother dearly (still do) and even though we are two entirely different people with completely different interests, I thought I’d step outside of my comfort zone. You know, look at life through my brother’s eyes for a few hours. BIG mistake. Raccoon hunting was not fun for me. It involved a yowling hound, a gun and hiking through woods in the dark. What the hell was I thinking? I had been hoping that he’d bag a raccoon in about a ½ hour and we’d be able to call it a night. It wasn’t meant to be so easy. We traipsed through a field and into the woods, through the woods and into another field. By that time, “Crash” the annoying, barking coon hound had run so far ahead that we could barely hear him. I kept asking my brother why we didn’t bring a light and he eventually began telling me to shut the BLEEP up.

At some point during our miserable woodland expedition, we heard howling and yips from what sounded like 20 dogs. I stood frozen in the middle of a field edged by forest and timidly asked my brother, “Whh…whhhhaaa…what” that sound was.”Coydogs”, he responded and kept walking. I quietly flipped out as he kept trudging through the field cursing his coon hound. “Do they bite?” I stammered. No answer. I ran to catch up to him, suddenly wanting to jump on his back. “DO THEY BITE?!” Now, by this time he was probably sick of listening to me say that I was cold, tired, scared, the mud was ruining my designer boots, the prickers were going to rip my Guess jeans, why didn’t we bring beer?, don’t we have a flash light?, where are the raccoons…do you shoot them?, exactly how far away from home are we?, do you know where we are? and do we have to walk all the way back? I have to chuckle when I recall his eventual response that yes, yes packs of coy dogs will attack a person, especially small people. They can smell your fear, he said with a sneer.

Now, how the hell do you stop being fearful so that a pack of rabid, man eating coydogs won’t smell you, come to investigate said “fear smell”, then notice your petite stature thus causing them to attack? That was one of the worst nights of my life, but it makes me laugh now. I tried very hard not to be fear-smelly, but finally gave in and trusted that my brother would feel obligated protect me with his gun should the wild dogs decide to devour me and my designer boots.

Having grown up and put some serious distance between myself and nature for several years of my adult life, I find myself back at square one. Most nights, when the dog requires her final walk, I try to quietly sneak off to bed and leave Dave and his bravery to the task. More often than not, he catches me halfway up the stairs and slyly asks me if I plan on walking my dog. I take a deep breath, grab the pink leash, call the dog and make Dave promise to stay by the door and watch us in case that Wendigo comes crashing out of the woods. So far, so good.

The Wendigo is a creature that has long resided in Native American folklore. Mostly in the Algonquin and Micmac tribe folklore. and