Do not ask questions. 

Do not come at me with Bringing Up Bebe malarkey about snacking.

Just repeat after me:

When you go to the zoo
you either pack NO SNACKS
or
you pack enough snacks
for every child
in your party.

Not just your own child
slash children -
But 
every 
child
in
your
party.

And honestly
if you pack snacks
you can't pack too many.

Once other kids see that the snack bag has been opened
you'll be the pied piper of the penguin exhibit.
Probably
some teenagers will come up to you
and be like
'scuse me
ma'am
I heard there were cheddar bunnies?

And here is the key part - 
the snacks that you pack
for every child
in your party
must
be
exactly
the
same.

great

outstanding
protein
nice touch

love it
nuts are good fat
plus no preservatives

nice work
bringing three pieces each
of two different flavors

be careful though
when you pull them out
you have to make sure that each kid
eats the same flavor
at the same time

you can't be yanking out
two cherries
and a cashew
like some kind of
fucking moron

nice
nice
wait

checks out

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

HOLY SHIT

We have two cheds and a chip

I repeat

TWO CHEDS AND A CHIP

NO YOU CANNOT JUST SPLIT THE BAGS
ARE YOU EVEN A PARENT
OR ARE YOU JUST PLAYING ONE
ON FULL HOUSE

DID YOU EVEN CHECK THE BAGS BEFORE PACKING THEM

Hide them

Hide them now

There's no way this ends good.
The only thing left
is to end it fast.

Oh God...

No...

NO...

they spotted it.

And
everyone
wants
the chip.

holy shit
how long have you been there



My dad once told me something about kids.

He said, "Never forget, they're just as smart as you are. They're just less experienced."

At the time, I thought he was sharing a message of love, a heartfelt insight into the incredible minds of our beloved babes.

But now I know better.

"They're just as smart as you are. They're just less experienced."

He wasn't saying, "they deserve your respect because their minds are just as capable as yours."

He wasn't saying, "pay attention, because they will create heartbreaking poetry and art and beauty, even before they can walk or talk."

He was saying, "it is only a matter of time before they acquire the skills to take you down."

And he was right.


and from that day on
the air conditioner
spoke only urdu

If you don't want to hear me bitch about shopping, stop reading now.

Dear Stores,

I was in you a bunch over the last couple of days, 
shopping for a dress to wear
to a grown-up affair
this weekend. 

Before you ask,
NO,
I didn't find one.
I'm pulling out the old reliable
from the back of the closet
but that dress killed
at junior prom
so I'm not worried.
(You were right, Delia*s.
Metallic purple IS forever.)

But while I was in you, Stores,
 I had some thoughts.
Not all of them were crying thoughts,
but I wanted to share a few ideas
 open up a dialogue, perhaps,
so that we can all feel...

what's the word...

not fucking miserable

when we have the opportunity
to collaborate
again
someday
when enough time has passed
that I've forgotten
the way
you
smell.

So, here is a smattering of reflections,
from a shopper who:
a) wanted to buy things
b) brought money to buy things
c) bought no things

two days in a row.

1. Viva La Revolucion

Let's get this out of the way immediately. Please Google "fitting room lighting" and listen to the people. The people will not stand idly by, swallowing the cruel debasement and tyranny of your cellulighting. Soon there will be an uprising, and you will know the day of reckoning is upon you when the people arrive in your stores bearing baseball bats and singing, at the tops of their lungs, the score from Les Miserables, which is only appropriate because the last time I popped into a blue-lit fitting room with white jeans and a prayer, the manager had to come drag me out as I trembled and whisper-sang, 

I dreamed a dream of time gone byyyy
when hope was high and life worth living...


2. Said No One, Ever

Remember when everyone was like "I love the shopping experience at Abercrombie and Fitch! It's so dark and crowded and loud and pungent. It makes me think of slave ships and sex dungeons. God, I want a rugby shirt with a moose on it." 

Oh, you don't remember that?

Then turn on the fucking lights, turn down the fucking music, and put down the cologne, Capitan.


3. It Really Gets Me In the Mood To Try On Espadrilles Though

Speaking of music, we are living in a post-Columbine, post-Sandy Hook, post-Virginia Tech, post-Aurora Movie Theater, post-Paris, post-San Bernadino, post-Fort Hood America. People get shot everywhere. I've never claimed to be anything but a little on the nutty side, but as soon as I go into a store, I always check to see where the back door is, as I was advised by a very informative article about how to survive a shooting spree.

Please do not play songs that have gunshot sounds in them. 

I wasn't the only one who dropped my handbag.



4. This One's About Me, Though

It's easy to be a medium in an XS-XL world. You're a middler, average, not so thin the other girls at yoga won't make eye contact. Not so thick that the other girls at Whole Foods think you're shopping there for the first time. Medium is a solid place to be - a place where carrots are both sticks and cake. You're a Schumer, and it's good to be a motherfucking Schumer. Sure, in the wrong pants you have to hide from people who want to take pictures for their Wal-Mart blogs, but in the right dress you've got curves for days and let's be real, you look just fine naked. 

But lately the cool stores have been adding a new size... XXS. And SOME OF THEM, the really fucking mean ones, have even added XXXS. And it's not vanity sizing - that's a true XXXS. The pants would be snug on Buster.

When I flip through a neatly sized rack of shirts whose hems stair-step down, I reach for the middling one, pull it out, and immediately make a note to burn this place to the motherfucking ground because the middle shirt is an XS. My medium looks like a bath towel. I can practically hear the Cambodian factory workers tsk-ing at the waste of fabric - "we could make seven regular-person shirts with this!" I imagine that on Friday afternoons when things get silly, they see how many people can fit into a shirt that, actually, is still a little tight across my shoulders. 

It's hard to be a medium when the world starts at XXXS.

Think of me as a movie theater soda. When I say "I'm a medium," I'm thinking of the reasonable, 1960's-era medium - 12 ounces, maybe. Enough to wet your whistle without bursting your bladder. 

The thing is, when I say "I'm a medium," in a world that starts at XXXS, I feel like the 42-ounce counter-cracking Wal-Mart trough that comes with its own titanium-reinforced wheely-cart so you can get it into the theater without rupturing a disc.



5. Are You There, Suzanne? It's Me, Katie.

Knock Knock
Who's There
Fucking Nobody
Because You're in A Fitting Room With A Shirt That Almost Works But You'd Like To Try The 8 Just For Comparison
And When Suzanne Let You Into That Room She Said
"Just Let Me Know If You Need Anything!"
And Then
Evidently
She Immediately Moved To India To Live Her Truth Among The Elephants.

Godspeed, Suzanne.



6. Feast or Famine

Remember how I was raving about how nice it was to be a medium? There's a beauty in the balance between clean lines and lush curves; there's a peace in a place that boasts bounty and space.

Okay, so that. But with your merchandise, please.

It seems to me, Stores, that you either have four items in your 10,000-square-foot space, or you have 10,000 items in your four-square-foot space.

Side note: How do any of you museum-curated sparsity boutiques stay in business? You're selling one black shirt and a jumpsuit? At least you save time on inventory.

Manager: It's time to take inventory!

(points at shirt)
(points at jumpsuit)
(double-checks that she is holding up two fingers)

Alright! Good inventory, guys!

Side Note Part Deux: How do any of you clearing-house warehouses stay in business? Your store looks like my closet in high school after I tried to get dressed for a date. Or, if I'm being brutally honest, my bed on laundry day, after I have washed and dried all of the clothes and put them on the bed and sang out to the world "I have finished the laundry!" Because of course I'll just fold them "later," even though we all know that "later" will never come and the clothes will simply move from the bed to the floor to the bed to the floor, being slowly whittled down as we throw armloads of cottons and polys around to dress ourselves day by day until it's all dirty again and I clap my hands and say, "today I'm going to finish all the laundry!"

welcome
to
Pants
your #1 source
for pants
and entropy

Me: Do you have this pant in any other colors?
Salesperson: Listen, lady, I didn't even know we sold pants.
Me: Isn't this store called... Pants?
Salesperson: Do you have a problem?
Me: No, it's just, if you don't really sell pants then why is the store called Pants?
Salesperson: I didn't name the store.
Me: No, of course, but I just--
Salesperson: -- it's not sunny. Why do you have sunglasses on your head?
Me: I... My hair...
Salesperson: Nice yoga leggings. Did you just leave an 11 am vinyasa flow?
Me: no... I just... Felt bloated today...
Salesperson: WELL WHAT DO YOU KNOW. Looks like we're not the only ones who lie in our advertising.


Okay Stores. My kids woke up so I've gotta go tend to their futures. Because that's what I'm doing. Contributing with my service to the welfare and happiness of others.

Think about it.

Warning: This post contains strong language and ineffective parenting.

Also, if you haven't already read this post about how Chicken is really into taking a verboten word, changing one letter, and then saying it over and over again with the wide-eyed innocence of a sociopath, you might want to hit it up before you read on.

THIS MORNING

9:45 am
I am on the couch with Buster, who has been taking plastic cupcakes out of a muffin tin,
then putting them back,
for about 15 minutes now
because he's an old soul.
Side note: now I really want a cupcake.


or rather
i did
before i looked at this picture
in which the cupcakes look like
the soft-serve consistency
of Oompa-Loompa turds
after a bender
in the world of pure imagination
or possibly
the contents of rufio's outhouse
post-lost-boys-buffet
right?
you see it
right?
bangarang

Chicken is on the floor
playing happily with Hot Wheels and a car transporter,
vrooming,
beeping,
saying "oh no look out cars the car transporter is made of ants!"
and then "I was just kidding. It's okay, cars."

Pretty nice start to a Monday morning.
AND THEN...


Chicken: I'm gonna cut you in your face, Stumpy!

Me: Who are you talking to?

Chicken: You, Stumpy!

Me: I don't like when you say that you're going to cut me in the face.

Chicken: Why?

Me: Telling someone you're going to cut them in the face is a threat. That's a scary thing to say.

Chicken: Oh, I see.


(10 seconds later)


Chicken: I'm gonna cunt you in your face, Stumpy!

Me: Um... (Don't freak out don't freak out don't freak out it was only a matter of time before he organized those four letters into that particular order and said it out loud)

Chicken: Cunt your face.

Me: That is not better.

Chicken: But I didn't say cut!

Me: No, I heard you.

Chicken: I said cunt. Cunt.

Me: YEAH, I heard--

Chicken: CUNT. Not cut.

Me: Okay, okay, okay, okay, just stop saying--

Chicken: CUNT. I'm gonna CUNT you in your face.

Me: CHICKEN. That is a word that many people find very upsetting.

Chicken: Cut?

Me: No, the other one.

Chicken: Stumpy?

Me: No, the... never mind.

Chicken: Okay.


(10 seconds later)


Chicken: Mommy?

Me: Yes, baby?

Chicken: Will you cunt some apple slices for me? Pweese?

Me: I... Yes, I will cut some apple slices for you.

Chicken: Okay.

Buster: (whispers) cunt.
I've been reading a lot about structure. 

Structure, in the context of my three-and-a-half-year-old, is making sure that he understands the basic boundaries of safety and acceptability in his world. 

It is his job to strain the harness, buck the saddle, test the fences, drive with unstoppable force toward what he needs, that second. 

what is,
"to run away from mommy
and sit on the stoop
after mommy said wait a second"
alex?

It is my job to hold the harness, replace the saddle, mend the fences, and lay a gentle hand on his shoulder when I say, "No. It is my job to keep you safe and remind you to be kind. That isn't okay. That isn't how we roll. Let me tell you why."

I have found that he's usually pretty amenable, if I take the time to wait out the tantrum/storm, and then kindly explain why he may not:

a) tell his little brother to "get out of here," or push him out of the room, just because he's smaller

b) take food off of someone else's plate

c) play with the fishing net that he has already used to rap the skulls of every member of the family

d) tell me which chair I'm allowed to sit in at the table

e) call someone "stupey"


When I say that he's "usually pretty amenable" I mean this conversation:

Chicken: But I'm not saying stupid mommy.

Me: But it's close enough. I know what you mean when you say "stupey," and that is not a kind word.

Chicken: But it has an "ee" in it, not an "id."

Me: If I called out "Chickee" would you know who I was talking to?

Chicken: Yes...

Me: OK, then you can't call someone stupey. At least not out loud. You can say it in your head all you want. But if you say it out loud you could really hurt someone's feelings. "Stupid" is a very hurtful thing to call someone.

Chicken: Oh, I see. 

See? OMG parenting is so easy.
And with that, I award myself an A+ for parenting. 
I stood my ground. 
I was calm, clear-headed, and articulate.
He said, "oh, I see."
I made him see.
(gives self an exploding fist bump that turns into a glorious jazz-fingers firework)

Three minutes later Chicken looks me dead in the eye and says, with a little smirk:

"Stupey."

That's the danger of insisting too hard on anything with my Chicken, or any three-year-old - make it too interesting, and he will intentionally transgress again, just to get in a scuffle with the border patrol. Just to keep things exciting. He's like those activists who drive around Arizona with their iPhones surreptitiously recording, hoping they will have the chance to ask a US Border Protection Officer "why did you stop me?" or "am I free to go?" Or like Chicken and Buster, screaming at each other with their eyes locked on me, to see what I'll do.

Chicken: But I'm not saying stupid mommy.

Me: We have already talked about this. It's not okay to say that word. I know what you mean when you say "stupey," and that is not a kind word.

Chicken: But it has an "ee" in it, not an "id."

Me: Mm hmm, but again, and we've already talked about this, it's close enough that everyone knows what you mean. If I offered you macaronid for dinner, you would know what I meant, right?

Chicken: Yes...

Me: OK, then you can't call someone stupey. Not ever. Got it?

Chicken: Oh, I see. 

The second time I give myself an A. Solid A.
I stood my ground.
I was calmish, clear-headed, and articulate, if a little snappy.
He said, "oh, I see."
I MADE him see.
(gives self high five secret handshake that includes a palm swipe and locky-fingers)



"Stupey."

That's the danger of getting emotional, even if the issue is an emotional one. When you let blood, it stains. And when you return again and again to the same blood-drenched battle ground, your body remembers to fight and your mouth remembers to snarl, and sooner or later you realize that you're fighting for no other reason that this is the mode of communication that you have both agreed upon, in this place, over and over again, over days, weeks, months, years. It feels right.

Chicken: But I'm not saying stupid mommy.

Me: Yes you are. You know you are. I'm not going to explain this to you again.

Chicken: But it has an "ee" in it, not an "id."

Me: You know what I'm about to say, right?

Chicken: Yes...

Me: OK, if you say that word one more time you are going to your room.

Chicken: Oh, I see. 

Okay, I'm getting mad.
That conversation was a B. Soft B.
I stood my ground. Or maybe, dug in.
I'm pretty pissed. And I've stopped explaining anything except that I've already explained it.
Plus, you know, I drew a line in the sand. 
I basically dared him to say it again.
We can all see where this is going, right?
Yeah.
We can all see. 
(gives self the sign of the cross)



"Stuuuuuuu..........................................
po."

As I carry him to his room he wails, "But I'm not saying stupid, Mommy!"

This is the danger of making what parents call "promises." Once you make them out loud you have to keep them. 

Or rather, you don't have to keep your promises, but when you say "if you do that one more time we are leaving," and he does it one more time and you stay, then everyone who heard and saw you knows exactly what you are. Outmatched. Undercommitted. Untrustworthy. The Loser.

There's an element of pride at play, too. When your child crosses a line and you permit it, even if you know what you're doing, even if this is part of a long-term plan, you want to prove to anyone watching that you're still the biggest dick in the room, that you call the shots. Sometimes you fight just to win, which is, I'm pretty sure, like the #1 piece of successful marriage advice that Hollywood agents give to their successful screen actor clients.

It's going to be a fight, probably a bad one. Because the hardest things to teach are the things we can't force - how to sleep, for example. When and where and with whom the word "fuck" is okay to say aloud, how to deal with a pushy kid on the playground, on your own, without Mommy. 

These traits - empathy, respect, patience, restraint - we have to model them over the course of our lives, carve them out of hard wood, curl by tiny curl. 

It would be much easier to pretend I didn't hear him or just laugh it off - he'll grow out of it. But I can't help but imagine him as a swarthy second-grader, pushing knob-kneed nerds off the swings and braying "what a stupey!" Or, a few decades later, this:


1. this is the only candidate-specific political opinion i will express in this blog post
2. i intentionally went looking for a picture of donald trump that did not look like he was about to bite the head off of a live ferret and the first ten to twelve pictures did not meet my standards
3. donald trump has a well-established habit of name-calling and belittling fellow candidates and other persons of note with such words as "loser" "dope" "hater" "shrew" "ugly" you know what just google donald trump name calling and settle in with a bottle of jack.
4. name calling is for insecure bullies who need to make sure everyone's laughing harder at someone else


Some things are worth fighting for.

Which brings us to the election year.

I'm raising my sons with an eye to their eventual freedom. Piece by piece they'll acquire the documentation they need to sign their own names to things, and someday they will live a house without a scrap of paper that bears a signature line for "guardian." 

I hope they'll call, of course, and honestly, live next door. But I'm trying to raise them to be free, and kind, and capable with their freedom. Which is why I fight with them so fucking much right now.

That's the danger of freedom - to be kind in a free state demands one of two things, innate virtue or virtue forced by transparency. Doesn't matter to me which one I get - virtue is as virtue does. Frankly, I love me a good virtue forced by transparency. On hard days, I always take the kids out in public. I am a way better parent when people are watching. I wish I had a hoodie with an 800-number on the back - "How's my Parenting?" Not really. Jesus, that is a terrible idea. Really just the worst idea ever. 

This year I'm more aware than ever of the trap of the prepackaged politician - here's this guy's stance on immigration, here's that lady's opinion on Russia - they come to us locked-up, polished and consistent, all their incongruous ingredients blended smooth and then hermetically sealed. Like Kozy Shack pudding packs.

I've forgotten that these politicians are, like all of us, grown-up toddlers. They test the fences. They drive with unstoppable force for their heart's desires. They are people in flux, people in progress, carved a bit every day by whomever is in the room with the blade, curl by curl. 

And like Chicken, when politicians cross the line, they need to hear the following, without character assassination or grandstanding, without threats and without assigning a value judgment to their worth. They need to hear,

No. 
It is my job to keep you safe and remind you to be kind.
That is not okay.
That is not how we roll.
Let me tell you why.

Pretty sure that's why the founding fathers gave us Presidents and Congress and Justices. So at any given time there is one voice in the room that can say:

You may not:

a) tell your little brother to "get out of here," or push him out just because he's smaller. Same goes for a bunch of other people too: black people, brown people, Muslim people, women people, gay people, trans people, really just all people.

b) take food off of someone else's plate, or funding from public schools to pay Blackwater or bank executive bonuses.

c) play with the fishing net that you have already used to rap the skulls of every member of the family, or insist that you still want to buy and bring home and keep under your bed military assault weapons that have already been used to murder thousands and thousands and thousands of innocent people.

d) tell me which chair I'm allowed to sit in at the table, or what I'm allowed to put in my body to keep myself from getting pregnant, or what I'm allowed to take out of my body if I do get pregnant.

e) call someone "stupey." Or loser. Or ugly. Or terrorist, or illegal, or baby murderer, or really anything that isn't their name.

There's a danger in insisting too hard on anything with this government - we're designed to be adversarial, and once the debates get too interesting, the story shifts from the fucking point to the skirmish. Public figures transgress again and again, just to get in a scuffle with the border patrol, just to have something to put in a mailer, just to keep things trending.  Make no mistake - they're screaming at each other but their eyes are locked on you. They want to see what you'll do.

There's a danger in getting emotional, even if the issue is an emotional one. When you let blood, it stains. And when you return again and again to the same blood-drenched battle ground, your body remembers to fight and your mouth remembers to snarl, and sooner or later you realize that you're fighting for no other reason than it's Thanksgiving and we've all had tee many martoonis. 

There's a danger in making what politicians call "promises." Once you make them out loud you have to keep them.  

"We will not confirm any nominee..." 
"We will utterly destroy our enemies..." 
"We will send everyone to college for free..."

Keep your promises, or bear the scarlet F of a fucking flip-flopper. Good God, you can't even change your mind or everyone who heard and saw you knows exactly what you are. Ambitious. For Sale. Flaky. The Loser.

This election is going to be a fight, probably a bad one. Because the hardest things to require of our leaders are the things we can't ever really measure - integrity, humanity, perspective, the low blows they don't dole out.

These traits - empathy, respect, patience, restraint - we have to demand them, carve them out of hard wood, curl by tiny curl. 

It would be much easier to stop reading the news or just laugh it off - it's one President. How bad can things get? 

But I can't help but imagine my country as a barrel-chested second-grader, pushing knob-kneed European countries and potential Middle East allies off the swings and braying "what a stupey!" 

Or, a few decades later... who can say.

Some things are worth fighting for.
Chicken: I wanna blow on Buster's belly!

Me: I don't think he wants that right now kiddo, but you can blow on my belly!

Chicken: Nah. Your belly is too hairy.

Me: What?

(Chicken walks over to the bookshelf, runs his finger along the spines.)

Me: WHAT?

Chicken: Can I have a treat?

Me: Let's talk.

your honor
ladies and gentlemen of the jury
the boy recanted
of his own free will
and signed this affadavit
swearing to the natural hairlessness -
truly the porcelain velvety freshly-waxed asian smoothness -
of my belly
again
of his own free will
no incentives
no carrots
no sticks

well
yes
he did get a brownie after

but
that was an unrelated brownie
your honor

it was a
purely circumstantial
brownie

Pull up a chair, cats and kittens, and let me tell you the story of...

POSSIBLY
THE WORST PLAY DATE EVER*




*Nah, it really wasn't that bad. 
There was only a little blood. 
But at the time, it definitely felt like:


DEFINITELY 
THE WORST PLAY DATE EVER.
it was so bad
i took no pictures
there are no more pictures in this post
that's how bad it was

wait no sorry there's one more at the bottom
#bestcaptionever



PART 1:
The Boys are Back in Town

11:45 am, a busy coffee shop with high ceilings and local oil paintings on the walls.
Bespectacled twentysomethings type on their Macs.
An elderly owl-faced lady sits in the corner, watching the Friday foot traffic outside and crocheting tight little loops of purple yarn.
Jazz plays softly, occasionally blotted out by the hiss of a milk steamer or the cheerful clatter of a fork against porcelain.

Suddenly, the sun slides behind a cloud. 
Lighting slashes across the sky, and rain whips against the wide windows as conversation hushes and all eyes turn toward the hooded, lurching form at the door. 

A mother, wearing a giant toddler in a baby sling on her chest, and gripping the wrist of a three-year-old with a whine on his lips and murder in his eyes, fumbles her handbag as she tries to turn the door handle. 

The three-year-old kicks the coffee shop door open violently. It swings into the shop and bounces off of the legs of a quadriplegic man in a wheelchair. 

Man: Oh!
Katie: Oh my God, I am so sorry. Chicken, did you see what just happened? Honey, you just hit this man!
Man: It's okay... it's not like I could feel it!

He laughs. 
Katie laughs. 
This man is obviously Jesus. 
In her head, Katie calls this man Todd the Quad.
In her head, Katie begins writing her suicide note.

That was the first thing that happened.





PART 2:
No, But That's TOTALLY OK to Cry Over

Chicken and Buster locate the train table in the back of the cafe, the whole reason Katie felt safe even attempting an out-of-the-house play date. Katie instructs Chicken not to let his brother run away while she orders some food and drinks.

Barista: Hey! How are you?
Katie: What?
Barista: How are you?
Katie: Fine, sorry. Wow, or maybe not, right? HAHAHA!
Barista: (laughs weakly, shoots quick glance around to make sure there are witnesses). So what can I get you?
Katie: I need an Americano and two kids' steamed milks with a little vanilla in them. And for food, can I get--

Out of the corner of her eye, Katie sees a blur of movement as Buster comes tearing around a large table toward the cookie display, his arms extended and the word "CAKE" already forming on his tongue. Chicken, following directions for the first time in his entire life, rounds the corner at a sprint and screams, "CATCH!" as he tackles his brother. Their bodies slide across the polished concrete until they bump into the glass-fronted cookie case. Chicken lies on top of Buster, pinning his arms to his sides. Buster is giggling.

Katie: -- -- -- yep, looks like I'm gonna need a couple of cookies, and two ham sandwiches, please.

The entire cafe is watching this family with the detached curiosity of anthropologists. "Hunh," they seem to think. "The customs of this tribe are unknown to me."

Katie shepherds the two boys back to the train table and returns to the counter to bring two lukewarm steamed vanilla milks back for the kids. Chicken, whose instincts for vanilla milk are basically truffle-hog level, arrives in his chair at the moment his milk cup lands on the table. He pushes Katie's handbag aside so he can really get all up in that, and knocks over Buster's entire cup of vanilla milk. He looks up at her with eyes so wide she can see her own face in them.

Katie: It's okay, baby. That was an accident. Just drink your milk.

Katie runs back and forth from the table to the napkin station, which is all the way on the other side of the cafe. But are we calling these "napkins"? They are translucent squares of post-recycled non-bleached environmentally-sustainable GARBAGE that couldn't even soak up the sweat from Katie's forehead. They are thinly sliced bark, y'all.

A man pauses at the table. The smell of body odor and hair oil surrounds him, and he wears scuffed, soft-looking thick-soled brown leather boots and an overstuffed stained backpack. He looks like Bill Nye the Science Guy. He smiles at the kids, showing teeth black at the gums, then looks at Katie, helplessly pushing these apparently waterproof napkins around in a milk puddle on the table. 

Bill Nye: What happened?
Katie: Oh, just something totally predictable.
Bill Nye: Kids can always be counted on for that.
Katie: Tell me about it!

He keeps walking. Katie keeps wiping. A moment later, he returns - Katie notices his smell first, and looks up to see him standing next to her with a clean, wet bar towel. 

Bill Nye: Here you go, this might work better.
Katie: Thank you.
Bill Nye: No problem. You have a beautiful family.
Katie: Thank you. Really.

The towel does work better. 
Bill Nye leaves. 
At some of the tables he passes, people lean away from him. The crocheting lady scoots her seat. A couple of clean-cut guys in dress pants and ties uncross, then recross their legs away from him. A moment later the barista delivers a new vanilla milk to the table.

Katie: (surprised) Wow! Thank you so much! That's so nice of you.
Barista: The guy bought it.
Katie: Which guy?
Barista: The homeless guy.

Bill Nye the Homeless Guy bought my kid a vanilla milk.




PART 3: 
A Game of Chess Against Our Old Adversary

Katie checks the time. It is just now the hour of the agreed-upon play date. She types a quick text to her friend: "I'm here!" She hits "send" just as a train-whistle scream pierces the air.

Chicken is standing over the body of a 9-month-old baby girl. And not, like, a stocky, thigh-rollin, already-rockin-deltoids baby girl. Chicken is standing over the conquered form of, like, a bird, basically. He holds a wooden train clenched in each fist. Katie runs over just in time to hear him say, in a sing-songy voice:

Chicken: Baby, I don't wiiiiike when you touch my twaaaaains! Okaaaaay?
Katie: What happened?

The little girl's mom scoops her up and cuddles her child to her cheek, like a teacup poodle on the Fourth of July, or a fearful guinea pig.

Katie: (to the mom) I'm so sorry. I didn't even see what happened.
Mom: It's okay. (Translation: Not okay.)
Katie: Chicken, look at how small that baby is.
Chicken: No.
Katie: Look at how little she is, honey. You are big and strong and you have to be gentle with the little baby. Look at her, she doesn't even know how to stand up yet. 

It's true. She looks like a just-born deer, wide-eyed and clinging to her mother's lap as she balances on coltish, quivering legs. Chicken could snap her like a dried spaghetti. So, for that matter, could Buster.

Chicken: She twied to gwab my twains, Mommy.
Katie: (gets down low and whispers right into his face) If. You. Touch. That baby. Again. We. Are. Gone. 
Chicken: Oh.
Katie: Do not even look at her. Play on this side of the table, or walk away.

Chicken chooses to play on the other side of the table. Katie pulls out her phone to see if her friend has texted back. Just then, she realizes... Where's Buster?

Katie: Buster?

He's on his tippy-toes, his fingers clenching the edge of crocheting lady's table. He fixes on her half-eaten blueberry scone. Katie can see his eyes dilate. She runs over and catches his hand, no joke, half an inch from the scone. Crocheting lady freezes and her jaw drops open. Katie can't tell if she's apalled at the depravity of this juvenile scone-groper, or if she's super impressed at the way Katie hurdled that double stroller parked in the middle of the cafe in order to collect her wayward son.

Another scream rips through the air.

Katie whirls around to see Chicken locked in a battle of tug-of-war with a little girl (who we will call Sally). At least Sally is his own size and appears to boast approximately the same ratio of piss to vinegar as Chicken does.

Their little hands tremble as they scream in awful harmony into each other's faces. A four-inch wooden Thomas train smiles vacantly from between their sweaty little fingers. 

Katie runs over, drops Brady by the table and assumes he'll find something to play with that isn't strange pastries. 

Katie: What's happening here?
Chicken: (red-faced) She's twyin to take my TWAIN!

Just then Sally lets go of the train, not in surrender, but in a calculated act of agression that works just as she hoped it would. Chicken lands on his butt on the concrete floor and starts to cry. She snatches the train from his now-limp hand, and PUSHES HIS FACE back as she walks over to a basket on the floor and drops the train in, where he lands on top of ALL THE OTHER TRAINS.

Katie realizes, now, who she is dealing with. Sally didn't even want to play with the train. She merely wanted to collect it, stand guard over it, and wish all these toddlin' motherfuckers WOULD come try to play with one of her trains. Another kid sees Sally's loot, checks Sally's scowl, and runs a soft fingertip over the train tracks, whispering "choo choo."

Katie and Sally make eye contact, and Katie nods, as if to say, "that's a power pantsuit play, sister. Don't get it twisted - I'm coming for you, Sally, because mark my words this train table WILL BE FREE. But, respect."



PART 4:
Postcards from the Edge

Sally gets a fistful of some other kid's blonde curl.  While the child wails, Sally's mom leans over and drops a forkful of scrambled eggs into Sally's mouth. Sally chews.

__

Katie finds Buster sitting at a table across the cafe with a nice lesbian family, eating their food and playing with their six-year-old's Hot Wheels. They all smile and wave at Katie as if to say, "we'll keep him!"

__

Sally and Chicken find themselves face-to-face once again.

Chicken: You seem upset.

Sally's mouth twists into a snarl, but she turns and stalks away, dragging her basket of trains behind her like an ogre with a club.

Chicken: She seems upset.

Chicken: 1.

__

Katie decides it is time to get the fuck out of this cafe. Her phone buzzes.

Jen: Just parked! See you in a minute!




PART 5:
Because Kids

Katie sees her friend Jen walk into the cafe, harried, just out of the rain, lugging a still-tiny Aiden in his covered car seat, and holding her daughter Elisa's hand. Elisa is three, just like Chicken. Katie waves. The next five seconds unfold in excruciatingly slow motion. 

Elisa looks up and sees Katie.

Elisa smiles. 

As her lips part in a sweet grin, a viscous stream of pale brown liquid falls from her mouth. 

It looks like she is pouring out some of the chocolate milk shake she drank in the car on the way over. You know, for her homies. Except, from her mouth.

Katie cocks her head. This picture doesn't make any sense. Pink rain coat and matching boots, big brown eyes, happy smile... leaking brown mouth juice?

Katie: What...?

Elisa's chest kicks out like she's just been hoofed in the back by a mule. At the same instant, her eyes and mouth pop into three, identical shocked "OH!" shapes, and a wave of vomit spatters onto the floor at her feet. 

Katie: WOOOOOOOOOAH!

Rain boots were a good call.



PART 6
Conversation Between Friends

Jen: I'm sorry we have to cut this short...
Katie: Are you kidding me? Of course. I'm so sorry she's sick.
Jen: Well, she still wants a cookie.
Katie: Of course she still wants a cookie.
Jen: Man, I can't believe it...
Katie: Really, it's okay. We need to get out of here before we tear this motherfucker down. 
Jen: (laughs) Oh no.
Katie: Yeah, it's probably past time for us to get out of he--

Katie and Jen's friend Hannah walks in with her two boys, Cameron and Blake. Cameron is three, like Chicken and Elisa. Blake is almost 2, like Buster. 

Hannah had said she would try to make it to this play date, but wasn't sure if she would.

Katie wonders what Hannah sees when she walks into the cafe. 

She imagines Hannah is wondering if the play date location has been moved to, well, not the seventh circle of hell, but maybe like the third or fourth, based on the "holy shit we are on lockdown" eyebrows and hysterical giggles that seem to leak from Katie's mouth like chocolate milkshake vomit every time she tries to speak.

Katie: Hannah! Chicken, look who's here! It's Cameron.
Chicken: I wanna go home.
Katie: Yeah... I know...
Hannah: How are you guys doing?

She's not asking "what's up." She's asking "what's going down."

Jen: Elisa just barfed.
Katie: I cannot even discuss what we have done to this place and these people.
Hannah: Well, you've been here for awhile.

Katie is grateful for these friends who understand that it is not a matter of whether children will make enemies of the general crocheting public, but only a matter of time.

Katie: I'm so sorry Hannah, but we have got to get out of here. Buster stabbed that girl in the face with his triceratops earlier.

Oh yeah I forgot to tell you that Buster totally stabbed Sally in the face with his fucking adult shoe-sized hard plastic triceratops. I was scared she was going to lose an eye. But then, I wasn't. Because if ever there was a b who could rock an eye patch...


now
she's got a taste for human flesh


Hannah: How many trains does she have in that basket?
Katie: Trust me, she was asking for it.
Chicken: Why was she asking for it?

Fuuuuuuuuck.

Katie: She asked Buster if she could borrow his triceratops in her face.
Chicken: Oh.
Katie: Yep.


PART 7
Every New Beginning Comes From Some Other Beginning's End

Katie: CHICKEN?!?!?

She spins around, scanning for his shining brown cap of hair at the level of tabletops and elbows of standing cafe-goers.

She spots him leaning with all his might on the front door. The door hovers open, an inch, now two. It's a busy street outside, and too easy for Katie to imagine that small body getting swallowed up by bigger bodies, heavy rigs, tires that spit dirty rain water on the sidwalk.

Katie: CHICKEN! STOP RIGHT NOW!

He hears her - he must, she's yelling - but doesn't stop. He has told her that he wants to go home, and now home is where he shall go, and it's Mommy's choice if she wants that to be the one in Seattle, or the one that people talk about when Aunt Francie finally succumbs, peacefully, surrounded by friends and family.

The door is open three inches, now four. Enough that Chicken gets an arm through. He sees Katie running for him and starts to push harder. He wants to go. He said to her, a minute ago, "I want to go." She didn't listen. She can't get there in time. He's going to run into the street. It's raining.

Suddenly, the whirr of a motorized wheelchair hums through the room.

Todd: Hold on there, now, buddy.

Chicken freezes, his right arm and most of his torso already reaching into the whirling street.

Todd the Quad rolls toward Chicken, slowly enough that he doesn't spook the lad, but quickly enough to get there in time to insist, through the forward motion of his chair, that Chicken retreat into the cafe again. The door sighs closed.

Todd: You gotta wait for your Mommy, buddy.
Katie: Thank you.
Todd: No problem.
Katie: Really, thank you.
Todd: Really, no problem.

__

So that was the worst play date ever. Or, at least, so far.

__

This blog post is dedicated to two people who had, in a way, the least to give, and who were most willing to give what they had.

Todd the Quad and Bill Nye the Homeless Guy, I gave you silly monikers for the sake of shorthand and a giggle. I think you would both laugh if you ever found yourselves on this obscure square millimeter of internet. 

Todd, you saw my child on the loose; you saw my panic and you stepped in, reached out. The irony of those turns of phrase does not escape me. How many eyes, connected to how many still-stepping legs and still-reaching arms, saw that my son was about to run, and chose to sit? Though you could not reach, somehow you did. Probably it would have been fine if you hadn't. Probably. My son is sleeping in dinosaur pajamas. Thank you. Really.

Bill, while dozens of others coolly scored me, and my mess, you handed me a towel. While I had the cash to buy more milk, you did it for me, and left without a word. It was my problem and you helped me, and there was no way I was ever going to be able to pay you back. You told me my family was beautiful. I didn't know it at the time but I felt off-kilter and defensive, like I and my boys were the only off-key strings in a symphony of violins. You told me my family was beautiful. Thank you. Really.

A man with numb arms caught my son today; a man with no bed treated us.

__

This post is not dedicated to Sally.

__

But still, respect.
Sorry for the long radio silence! It's been one of those months. Ryan and I had family in town and we took advantage of them to jet off for a 2-day break to New York to see Hamilton and so many people we love. What I mean to say is sorry you've been desperately bored but I've been cavorting sans toddlers in the city that never sleeps. 

Now read my blog post and tell me it's funny.



Buster is wicked cute.

He's 20 months old and all curls and dimples and sweet dance moves and mushy baby words.

When you ask him to give you a kiss he ever-so-gently rubs his forehead against yours, because that's what he has seen Chicken do. We call it a Tiger Kiss.

He coos, giggles, sings, babbles, barks, meows, and quacks - honestly, he's baby crack.

But there's one thing he does that is less than adorable.

I'm trying not to take it personally.

Lately, he's been pointing at illustrations in his books and saying, "mama!"

Sometimes it's sweet.

brown hair
eyelashes
friendly face
rosy cheeks
that could be the japanese cartoon face
of mother mary herself.
buster
has such insight.

Sometimes, though...


jesus
is that me
with the hair
of the bad guy from Doug?
and is that me
wearing a human liver on my mouth?
and is that me
screaming in german
or about to smack you in the face
with a slotted spoon?
is that who i am to you?

mama!

okay, pipe down dimples
that's enough out of you
YEAH.

I wish I could say that it's out of left field, but... I get it. That's probably pretty accurate, when the church bells toll the 4:30 Suck Pocket each day.

Here are a few more pictures that, apparently, look like me:

just because a person has
unnaturally short arms
doesn't mean you have to
you know
talk about it


is this because
you saw me nibble that cracker off the floor?
that was
one time,
buster.
and it wasn't a cracker
it was a vanilla oreo.
and i'm not a wizard.
and it had been a really long day.


not sure what to say here.

mama!
really?
eyes!
really?
huh.
that clown does have
kind eyes.


point of order
sir

mama
isn't packing
that particular brand
of six-shooter

hahahahaha
six shooter

that's hilarious

amiright ladies?


okay
that's actually a pretty harsh burn
because
that is absolutely what i look like
i
and paul bunyan

totally on board with this one