Oh have we played fast and loose with RR’s world. Several nights this week she has gone to be after 7pm.


Oh. You were thinking about her 7pm bedtime. I saw that side-eye.

hippo side eye

My friends, we have put RR to bed at 7 from the start and she likes it. In fact, when we keep her up, she delivers a package of noyoujustdidn’t that would fell even the mightiest of parents. But for one reason or another we haven’t had her to bed before 8 and if you come to our house you can see the very foundations of our world crumbling before your eyes. It’s like the moment before the sinkhole. It’s not good.

Before you know it we are IN the sinkhole. And we’re making it worse by scrabbling around looking for ways to distract her from her sugar/excitement/chaotic high in ways that turn her into even more of a monster. They are well-intended gestures. Here, baby, watch a little TV while we get ready for work turns into PUT YOUR SHOES ON OR I WILL. Well, I don’t know what. I’ve never gotten to the point before where every other sentence is “So help me god if you don’t…”

When I do finish the sentence I follow through. This, of course, results in epic tantrums because for some reason she hasn’t yet caught on that if I say “Please listen or I will leave the room.” I actually will leave the room. I don’t fool around, you all. Suddenly I can see why people start to drown in a pool of time-outs. That route would be ineffective for RR who puts her own self in time out, cackling happily at the break from you, me, life, everything.

We’re trying to bring the bedtime routine back, but weekends of birthday parties and late nights and dinners drawn skeptically from the depths of the refrigerator have resulted in a the return of the wolverine*. I am not happy to see you again, no sir. Please tell me this is not what four is like**.



*Given the number of times I have compared RR to a wolverine, I’m considering a domain change. It’s a good thing is available.

**Unless you are Becky who makes no secret that four is what makes her child an only child.

Not MY Child

Depending on who you talk to, RR looks just like Debra. Or, she looks just like me. It’s what we hoped for when we went down the donor list selecting for things like tooth size and shape and height of cheekbones.

It’s a small consolation for having to pay for what lots of folks get free. We looked at my features and chose a donor who reflected them almost exactly. The almost was even our choice. It was fun to fine-tune my own features in an I wish I longer lashes way. We even ended up with the same hair color (that one was luck).

photoPopsicle on face courtesy of grannie and, yes, we let her sleep in it. The dress and the popsicle.

Monday we took her to the US-Ghana game at a local theatre. The venue seats 1000 and it was full to capacity and then some (shh, don’t tell). I wasn’t sure how she’d do with the certain chanting, cheering and, as it turned out thunderous stamping and hollering. I certainly wouldn’t have been okay at 4. I am barely okay at 40.

At the half we distracted her with the iPad (in all, 45 minutes is a pretty solid attention span for a small person watching men bat around a ball without explanation) but she spent the last 10 minutes of the match inexplicably sobbing. I was certain this was proof that she got more than my hair. When we finally got to the car, she took a deep breath and said, “Mama, I’m crying because I couldn’t hear the dolphin (on the iPad) when my new friends got so happy.”

Her new friends had leapt to their feet, Debra and I included, when a late goal put the US ahead. The noise was tremendous and I was sure the new friends had terrified my child for life. But, no. We’ve heard so much about her new friends, all 1000 of them, that I almost feel bad for leaving her at home for the next US match on Sunday. Almost.

Her new friends. Now that is Debra through and through.


My first, and only, experience with soccer prior to 1998 was sitting in the frozen bleachers to watch a girl who I had an enormous crush on but, tragically, had no idea that’s what it was, play. Was she any good? More worryingly, did I even tell her I was there? My only memory of the game is that I spent it shivering. Nice start in the romance department, self.

A handful of years and a new city later, I was playing on two co-ed adult teams as one of two token females because, “well, we have to have at least two girls to get to play.” I don’t suspect I was any good. I have terrific aim but I hate to run. That same summer, I was spending afternoons skipping out of State Department Portuguese homework and watching the World Cup in a local pub with other diplomat delinquents. My friend Matthew, a perplexing combination of American diplomat and British accent, took my football schooling to heart. We dated once or twice, maybe, but I admit I was dating the soccer fan, not the boy. Outside of the sunny pub and sober, he lost some of the shine.

In 2002, I was in Mozambique, ground to pieces by my job. I have almost no memory of those weeks beyond turning my TV out the window every day so that the guards at my house could watch from the yard. The woman I was dating had no use for soccer and, as it turned out, I had no use for that woman. It also turns out that I lost a few more years getting past my job and her to life now (and thank goodness that’s done).

More than a decade later, I am taking my daughter to soccer class and watching her learn to handle the ball. Or rather, I am taking my daughter to class and watching her consider the ball and then lay in the grass counting clouds. She tells us, I yove soccer, mamas. And then she weeps because you are not yistening to me! and I am too hot! and we are perplexed because she’s not telling us anything at all and, baby, we are also TOO HOT. This evening I’ll no doubt be watching birds, counting clouds, and investigating beetles with her instead of playing soccer and, sadly, instead of watching the opening match.

There’s probably a whole post here, in and of itself, about my daughter inexplicably opting out of things, but it turns out the World Cup is on so it will have to wait for another time.


Some Mommies…

This is 500 posts. 500, you guys. There are days when I don’t have 500 words in me (today, lucky you), let alone an entire wild thing to let loose from my fingers. It feels momentous even though the only fanfare will be the notification when I hit publish. On the other hand, I caught a snatch of conversation while my daughter used the potty (oh. my. god.) at school. It’s a communal bathroom and she was perched on the seat while two other children washed their hands at the sinks. We were just out of sight but close enough to hear one little girl say to the other:

Some mommies marry mommies and some daddies marry daddies. 

That’s enough fanfare for one day anyway, isn’t it?

 Screen Shot 2014-06-10 at 1.43.29 PM

Bribe Not Accepted

Once upon a time I lived in Mozambique. Antonio was a superhero of the Port. He had a friend on every shift and ably imported every vehicle for the staff at the Embassy and every endless shipment of household goods. For 20 years he built contacts, no, relationships, over forms and customs fees.

Fees. You might not know that we don’t pay bribes to expedite shipments for our folks overseas. It’s not uncommon to wait four months for your own sheets and towels, the anniversary espresso machine you got from Aunt Cindy, practically all of your clothes (is that a hole in my favorite sweater?), and, in some places, the 1000 rolls of toilet paper you’ve imported in anticipation of certain scarcity. A gift at Christmas, certainly, but we don’t come to an understanding, expedite, or grease the wheels. I’m an optimist.

In fact, bribery doesn’t actually work on everyone. You knew this, of course you did. For instance, my child is absolutely immune to bribery. She’s immune to incentives. There’s some mystical formula that results in her doing something when I ask her to do it but I’m pretty sure it involves the phase of the moon in relation to the growth of an obscure moss in Peru. If there is a bribe that RR will respond to, I haven’t found it.

So here I am, at home. At home instead of at work. Setting a timer over and over while my almost four-year-old (28 days and counting) tries to figure out how her bladder works. I’ve done the math – since Saturday I’ve heard the timer go off 96 times. Another 96 if you count the times the “it’s okay to get up now” bell has gone off. It’s working when nothing else would. We had to retreat to the small, standalone potty and put it about four feet away from her, but she’s starting to get it.

Yesterday, she went to school in the morning and we retrieved her after a midday email saying that she’d peed through four outfits in as many hours. That’s backward progress and, to be honest, Debra and I are done. So here we are at home, trying to make the seemingly impossible connection between internal triggers and bodily functions. Today’s achievement (so far): mama! when I cross my yegs I have to go!! Once I helped broker a peace treaty. This was way more rewarding.

Speaking of rewards – blue lollipops seem to do the trick.

blu tongue

P.S. Is it dirty pool that I’m feeding her popcorn to get her to drink more? I don’t even recognize myself anymore…

Uneventful Revolutions

It started because I wanted to show you a picture of my grocery list.Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 10.39.49 AM

soupRemind me to give the three-year-old the keys to the car so she can go out and get it herself.


It started at groceries and ended with an uneasy truce. With myself. This year* has faltered forward, teetering and fumbling along and moving as least as much backward as making progress forward. “Progress.”

Last May, I thought I would be pregnant. On the other hand, it’s ever more clear that I’m a good parent of a single child. We were facing potty training with RR but look, an ENTIRE YEAR later and she has used the toilet exactly ONE time. Other parents and I bemoan the trials of potty-training and then there’s that awkward silence when they realize that RR isn’t having accidents. You can’t have an accident when you haven’t even begun. On the other hand, you guys. Grocery list.

I don’t talk about work much because, really, librarian. But I’m busier than I ever have been and, in comparison to life in the Foreign Service, it’s not that busy. But work and new responsibilities are seeping into my home life without compensation or recognition and as I think about the bills for RR’s school, I just want to die a little. Or at least eat more cake.

And the cake, holy cow. All that progress, the rediscovered jawline, the new pants, the good sleep and clear skin, gone. Gone after four months with my parents. Gone after checking my work email at home. Gone after watching women at work get pregnant and give birth. Gone. What I have in exchange is litanies of criticism every time my pockets pull and my waistband tugs.

I took that grocery list and, a single can of soup in hand, I bought new clothes that stretch, give, and flatter. I allowed some resignation (a feeling I am entirely uncomfortable with in every situation) that this is my body, it may change shape in one way or another, but I might as well accommodate it rather than lecturing, cursing, and condemning it. It felt a little revolutionary to spend money on something that fit rather than walk through the day feeling miserable.

Nothing really changed (except small spending we couldn’t afford) but it felt revolutionary just to say, I give up right now. Today, I’m not going to do that. I’m not pregnant, I’m undervalued, I’m exhausted but I am not going to wear an unflattering shirt.

Some revolution.



*I suppose one of the side effects of working at a university is that the year seems to end when the students graduate, when the fiscal year wraps up, when my vacation time turns over, when my professional responsibilities become less of a torrent. And now, when RR gets out of school, when she turns another year older, when the flowers bloom again, when the top goes down on the car.



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Turns Out It’s Bad Guys


You guys, the inevitable slide into peer influence has begun. I always thought it would be words we don’t use* or some sort of violent swordplay, which we could handle. There have been hints that this was coming. For example she said, “hey hey hey lemme see lemme see” when she noticed I was reading something unfamiliar. She also tried out some version of nany nany boo boo and, when asked who said that, blamed it quickly on another little girl. I know we can’t keep the outside world at bay (and we don’t want to) but then bad guys showed up and with it my personal line in the sand.

I didn’t even know it was a line, you guys. But then there it was, it turns out the line is bad guys. Frankly, I might prefer fuck.**

I even know where the exposure came from. Not school, but my dad. Not local hoods leaning up against trashcans and flicking ash in the street, but friends.


It’s not like she doesn’t get exposure to what we’d all agree are bad guys. For example, I have a video game she loves to watch and while a part of it is gathering lovely purple flowers another part is sticking an arrow in folks who are out to get my flower-gathering guy. For awhile we had her sold that I was simply putting them to sleep (as they silently crumpled to the ground). Now she clearly gets that some characters have malicious intent and we’ve got to manage the situation. Debra and I have spent some time explaining why flower-gathering-guy has to do this without relying on good/bad. Flower-gathering-guy has issues, obviously, since he’s storming into other people’s castles and breaking open their safes. He is not all good. And those other guys have a short fuse, which is why old flower-gathering-guy sometimes ends up falling down and starting over. After all, they are protecting their shit, it’s reasonable that they’d be upset. Talking about motivation with regard to characters in a video game seems bizarre but it works for us.

I know, some of you are aghast that I’d let my child watch something on a screen, let alone a video game. I’m pretty sure if I were a good parent I wouldn’t have a blog at all and RR would be potty-trained. So that’s settled.


All this is to say that my dad – totally naturally, I might add – referred to flower-gathering-guy’s opponents as bad guys. And then we hung out with some kids who were quick to show RR who the bad guy toys were and demonstrate how they should interact with the good guy toys. At that point I realized I wasn’t ok with a no-shades-of-grey view of morality. It was also when I realized that I overthink things (I’m just saying it so you all don’t have to. I have flaws.). Debra and I just aren’t down with the idea of categorizing every toy in black as a bad guy. We don’t dig the fact that good guys are invincible, infallible champions of right. We don’t like TV shows geared to kids that feature villains with no redeeming qualities.


I want her to think about people and things as a whole without relying on a flat characterization given to her by someone else. That’s asking a lot of my almost four-year-old but, since she isn’t wasting time on the potty, she’s got time to work on this concept. This hamstrings us a bit. For example, we can’t tell her that people who pull up next to her and offer her candy are bad guys. We have to tell her that she cannot approach strangers in cars at all (unless they are in uniform and in public – and dude, even that isn’t safe).



We’ve got our own shades of grey here, of course. So she plays with kids who are/have bad guys. That’s not different from coming home having played princesses. It’s just kids. It’s why we’re parents so that we can live with these small people and bring them up in line with our family’s values. But we’re biting the bullet and asking our most frequent houseguests and promoters of bad guys that when they stay over they join us in steering the kids toward other kinds of play. I’m pretty sure that makes us total assholes. We’re not scolding the kids, or asking anyone to make grand proclamations, we’re just hoping for an alliance that turns bad guy play into sandcastles, tag, and that weird game where they slam doors and shriek.

Chalk this up to another parenting surprise. Who knew?


*Except that recent weekend where a car pulled into a parking space we were headed for and I emphatically said ASSHOLE and RR repeated it, turning it over and over like a shiny rock and saying it loud and clear. We convinced her that I said A SOL – and that I was really calling noting that the man driving looked like our cat, Sol***.


**Yeah, not really.




Maybe the very best thing about traveling to a conference is the daily video message from RR. We started a morning and evening message when she couldn’t talk and even though now she can, we’re not always able to connect and see each other’s faces in real time. The little gems my wife sends to me are priceless – not only because I always miss them both terribly but because it’s a chance to look at my beanstalk with new eyes. So big, so talkative, so charming.

I would spam you to pieces but I think it’s probably enough for me to tell you that she’s devastatingly beautiful and stunningly smart. I should also probably tell you that I’m the least biased person in the world. That said, you are welcome to go through the car wash with her if you need a little diversion. As my wife said to me, it’s equal parts joy and terror.

Get Me a Jar and a Cork

There have been more than a few moments lately where I find myself thinking that RR at almost four is funny and delightful and wishing I could bottle some of it to open on a cloudy sixteen year old day.

Yesterday, she wore a bathrobe to school. So far she hasn’t shown any interest in picking out her own clothes and rarely leaves the house in a mish-mash. But I had left the hand-me-down to-try-on robe where she could see it and she pulled it on and left clad, hood-up, in blue terrycloth adorned with yellow duckies.

When she opens her mouth we’re shocked at the full sentences and complex thoughts that come out. She can explain herself when she’s upset and entertain us with ridiculous jokes. She is often thinking two or three steps in ahead. The other night, she was watching a movie when we told her it was time for bed (a babysitting tactic gone on too long). She unearthed the right remote, deftly turned it on, and paused the movie. She headed to bed without upset but, when she got there, she asked Debra, “Is mama playing her game? (a video game I don’t play in the evening)” When my wife answered in the negative, she said, “Good, she hasn’t unpaused my show” I had been in the living room thinking that we were rotting her brain, it seems to be working fine.

She does things she’s never done before without a second thought. I was planting on Sunday, putting in new herbs and vegetables while she played in her room. It was going on two hours and I was wondering what had happened to her when she stuck her head out the screen door and asked to help water. Covered in dirt, I suggested she wait until I could find her watering can. She ducked back inside and came out 5 minutes later having found the can, opened a stool, and filled the can with water. When asked where she got the water, she said, you were too busy for the barrel* mama, so I used the sink.

I’m the most struck when we’re in places with other kids her age. She seems absolutely spring-loaded. We were trying on new shoes at a kid’s shop and when asked, she raced in a circle, skipped, jumped, and hopped, all to make sure they fit. I was parts embarrassed and parts proud as other mothers with three and four year olds stared. At the gym on Saturdays she clambered on to a balance beam three feet off the floor and did assisted somersaults.

Even the little things surprise me, like her compassion when I cracked my head on the door (she fetched an ice pack) and directness (when my parent’s dog touches her with his nose she says I AM NOT FOOD DUNCAN!”). My mom and dad have been gone two weeks now (amazing). She found two animal crackers in her seat and insisted on taking one in for grannie and one for pop-pop, even though they had gone. Oh honey, Debra said, and her eyes welled right up and hovered on the brink of spilling over. But we could see her shake it off and plan for the next time she sees them.

She is well-liked at school. We see her play with different kids all the time, some days as pirates finding treasure others as monsters playing freeze tag. Parents tell us that their own kids talk about her at home (a little embarrassing as RR never mentions a soul). This is how we find out that she makes the other kids laugh, that her smile lights up the room, that she’s a joy to talk to, and that she’s a sought-out companion. While this isn’t something we planned for, it’s a relief to know that if it continues she will have fewer social hurdles to surmount.

I realize I’m latching on to these things to convince myself that there’s nothing wrong even though she absolutely refuses to have anything to do with the potty or pedaling a bike or trike**. While I can ignore the latter (she seems coordinated enough, see somersaults) the former has both Debra and I worried. She’ll be four at the end of June and it isn’t as though she’s just having accidents. She absolutely, positively, will not sit on the potty. When she wears underwear and wets it she seems to have no idea it has happened or, if she does, doesn’t care that she’s sopping.

She tells us she’ll use the potty when she’s four. I don’t believe her. I don’t know what else to do but I don’t believe her. It’s so frustrating, especially in light of the rest of her life. I can’t make her do it. I can only assume that she will, eventually. How can she be so smart (She adds. She subtracts. She is starting to read and write.) and so physically capable (she can hop on a swing alone and pump as high as much bigger kids) and not be able to figure out potty training?

Anyway, I say all that to bottle it up – the amazing and the baffling. She is a joy. She does make us laugh. She is smart and thoughtful. We are incredibly, absolutely, amazingly fortunate.


*We use a rain barrel for watering the front gardens.
**We even borrowed a balance bike which she tried twice and then abandoned.