Grief

We lost dad a year ago today — technically; the call came a year ago yesterday, but he was still with us, even though the end was inevitable — and since then every time the phone rings, I hesitate before I pick it up. And I take a breath. Because I vividly remember the moment before. The breath before I heard my mother’s voice and knew she wasn’t just calling to say hi. The breath before she asked if I was alone, or sitting down. The second before she said, “Dad had a fall.” The last moment where I had a dad who shared the world with me, where everything was normal and happy and we all felt whole.

And now every time that phone goes, I can’t help it. I stop. Without meaning to, I take stock of what I’m doing, what I’m thinking, what I’m wearing even, where the boys are, what they last said, what I last said, whether I said the right things to everyone. Wondering if this is just another moment before. And wondering when I will stop wondering, and fearing that the minute I do, it will happen again.

Adventures in Bedsitting

Buoyed either by unflinching optimism, sheer stupidity, or some parental urge to hit the self-destruct button, we nixed the boys’ cribs and switched them into toddler beds.

I think this photo says it all.

Dylan is simultaneously delighted to be in his fire truck bed, and thumbing his nose — okay, picking it — at our thought that they’d be ecstatic to lie quietly in them.

The thing is, I’m not sure why we did this, in the end, except that it was one of two looming milestones and we sure as hell aren’t that excited about the end of diapers (seriously, think about it: In diapers, your kid can just sort of… roll with it… through any long car trip, restaurant meal, Gymboree class, museum excursion, park outing, flight, etc. No diapers means chaos). Our kids weren’t climbing out of their cribs. They would often go into hysterics at being put in there for naps and nighttime, screaming and holding out their arms for us and looking as pathetic and put-upon as two dudes could, but after five minutes of us ignoring them it would give way to laughter, chatter, and passing toys back and forth. This then led to one more crying jag once the better negotiator (Liam) ended up with everything — including all blankets and pillows — in his crib and then thoughtfully fell asleep, leaving Dylan with nothing. And occasionally they’d try and climb into their cribs, or stand on a truck in their crib and lean cutely out, not boosted enough to topple but still not wisely. We were probably on borrowed time. Apparently once Mohammed sees the mountain, Mohammed decides to hightail it there so as not to prolong the suspense.

Unless that mountain is a training potty, in which case, Mohammad camps out somewhere near the mountain for as long as possible until a pack of rabid wolves chases him the final 100 yards.

So we ordered the beds before Thanksgiving, then found a bunch of excellent reasons why we shouldn’t assemble them yet: We didn’t want to ruin Thanksgiving, we didn’t want to ruin Christmas, we didn’t want to ruin our lives, we didn’t want to ruin Finally one Friday night a couple weeks ago, Kevin and I looked at each other and shrugged and said, “Well, whatever, now’s as good as time as any.” Note: This is probably dumb. Prepping your kid, getting them excited about proper beds, showing them books about it… that is probably the recommended way. But we knew our boys lit up like firecrackers when they got to climb around in our bed, contrasting with the theatrical tragedy of when we put them down in their cribs, so we figured they were trying to tell us something. In retrospect, I suspect they were saying was, “SUCKERS.”

The dudes could not have been more delighted. They wanted nothing more than to spend all their time on those things. Most parents have a problem with the kids not staying in the room; ours are perfectly thrilled to do that. They just won’t stay in their  beds. As soon as the lights go off and the door is pulled to, they think that’s CARNIVAL TIME.

“BYE,” Dylan said pointedly, waving us out the door as they burrowed under their covers. As soon as we were gone, or in one case before my second foot was even fully out the door, they were up: golfing, shooting basketballs around the room, trading beds, laughing, scampering. Every time we went in the room and got them back in their beds, they’d look at us and go, “Night night, BYEEEE,” and the cycle would continue. The first night, they didn’t pass out until 12:30. And when they woke up at 7:30, they padded into our bedroom — we handle mutual sleeping time by closing their room off to the rest of the house, but leaving open the doors to the jack-and-jill bathroom that connects our rooms, so that if they wake up they can only come toward us and thus guarantee we’ll hear them — with looks of utter AMAZEMENT on their faces, like, “WHAT IS THIS WONDEROUS FREEDOM.”

The second night, after they quieted down at 10:30, Kevin went in and found Dylan passed out across the foot of Liam’s bed, and Liam passed out on the wood bedroom floor, peering out under the closed door (which he had slammed himself; while we’re still awake, we close off the bathroom and leave the main door ajar, again to force them toward us if they decide to escape). I have to note, at this point, that he wasn’t screaming or calling for us. I think he was just staring out under it because he could. They love to do that. They are peeping Toms. Our friend was changing her clothes in the guest bathroom and Liam peered under the door and said, “Shirt off,” and our friend said, “Um, can he see me? Because that IS what I was doing.” I am raising creeps. Can we call them curious? Let’s.

Even if they’re yawning their faces off, they never stay in bed the first, oh, four times. It’s like the freedom to get up is more important than their utter inability to see straight. It’s the same at naptime, when they often don’t fall asleep until close to 3 p.m., assuming they do at all. Last night, Dylan finally went at about 10:30 and Liam spent two hours tossing and turning. I was spying on the monitor, so I would intercept him before he came outside, although half the time he would climb into Dylan’s bed and kneel over him and do things like yank the pillow away and then be like, “Dyyyyylan, why sleeeeping?” Or he wanted to read a book. Or he claimed he needed a diaper change (he didn’t) and then asked to use the toilet, and then sat down for a nanosecond before standing up and announcing, “I’m done.” Or he’d decide he needed to change his pajamas. The poor kid was actually trying to sleep and just couldn’t. So he wanted his buddy to get up and keep him company, and that is NOT HAPPENING on my watch. Although I have hallucinated that a few times — the other morning I heard noise at 4 a.m. and thought both boys were up, but in fact, it was just Liam and then a pile of blankets on the floor.

It’s a brave new world that’s come with some residual crabbyness due to boys who generally aren’t as rested as they could be, but I will say this: They never scream when we put them down anymore, and Dylan wakes up about 50 percent less in the middle of the night begging for milk. Possibly because of those extra exertions, but still. Eventually they will learn, right? … Right?

I hope so, because the big struggle is that lately, one of the first things they do when they’re alone is remove all their clothes. Diapers included. And that is a first for them. (We also had to remove the diaper pail, because their favorite hobby was putting things in it that don’t belong there, and in one case, dismantling it.) Something about being in these beds has, I guess, triggered their desire to change their own pants. So far, this only once has ended in a messy, smeared disaster, and I’m grateful I can still only count those troubles on one finger. We’re trying to apply consequences to this behavior — toys and other distractions get removed from the room if their diapers get removed from their bodies. This might backfire, but we’re not sure what else to do. I have heard the duct-taping-the-diaper thing from plenty of other parents, but it’s just not something I am comfortable with doing. And I don’t mean that in a judgy way. Whatever other people are good with is their business. It’s like wearing flip-flops. You want to, go for it. But it’s not for me, and here’s why: For one, it feels like a Band-Aid — instead of teaching them not to, you remove the ability to choose. I do’t want to hide a toy because the boys will not want to share it; I would rather make them figure out how to share it, and only remove it if they fight or pitch a hissy so that they understand that not sharing leads to worse things. I never took away their walker because I was nervous they’d run it into the wall, or lose their balance; rather, I showed them how not to run it into the wall, and helped them keep their balance, because isn’t that the point? To learn it, not avoid it? But for another, I just can’t reconcile wrapping duct tape around my kid’s torso, and having to cut them out and try not to  nick them while they wriggle. What if it gets on their skin? What if they pick at it, what if they have a reaction to it, what if somehow they can rip at it and start gnawing? My kids STILL put everything in their mouths. I just don’t know if introducing an extra component to this situation helps.

And not for nothing, my kids are resourceful. Escapists. I suspect if I strapped them into a diaper, we’d find out real quick how easy it is to pull one apart from the bottom and leave nothing but a sticky silver cummerbund.

Of course, all of THAT just makes me realize that Mount Potty is pretty much around the corner from here, and the boys might like to do some sight-seeing.

Yo

This is the lamest excuse for an entry, but what is the Internet if not an excuse to ask people things?

I am making a soup that uses plain non-fat yogurt as a garnish, which you can generally only buy in honking great containers the size of a D cup. I only need a spoonful or two, so for once I’d like to maximize my leftovers. What are your favorite creative uses for plain non-fat yogurt, besides, you know, eating a giant bowl of plain non-fat yogurt? Because I don’t think I can do that.

50 Questions That Will Free Your Mind: 31-40

Halfway through, and I don’t think my mind feels much more free than before… we’ll see if that holds, particularly — SPOILER — when I get to question 40, or as I like to call it, “The One Where I Kind Of Want To Slap This Quiz.”

[For reference: 1-10, 11-20, 21-30]

31. At what time in your recent past have you felt most passionate and alive?

Oh, I’m sure it was earlier today, when I wrote a terse letter to Melissa & Doug about how I  believe their kiddie easel, if intended for children, should actually withstand children for more than three weeks before breaking beyond repair. I do love a good angry letter. In a larger sense, any time we took the kids somewhere they’d never been, and watched their reactions to something I knew they’d love, it was great. They stick their little hands in yours and trust you to lead them around and show them the world, and they think you are part of the magic that holds up the giant sky trains. Now, saying, “The time I saw roller coasters through my children’s eyes,” is terrible and terribly trite. But it’s true that the explosive joy of these two toddlers is exactly the kind of thing that can make you appreciate things that seem mundane any other time. And is it weird to say that I felt passionate and alive at my father’s funeral? We were driven to make it a memorable one worthy of him, we wanted to tell stories and make people laugh through all the weeping, and we were driven to make my mother’s life that weekend feel a little bit less awful. And when I looked at the standing-room-only crowd before I delivered the closing eulogy, I felt a charge: Dad was gone, but look at all the people who loved him. What a testament to life, and to what can be done with it just through the force of being who you are.

32. If not now, then when?

I’m sorry, what is the question? I was busy typing up there. Zzz. This should have been 31a. I feel cheated out of a question.

33. If you haven’t achieved it yet, what do you have to lose?

Are we still on the passionate-and-alive kick? Are you trying to lecture me for not feeling more alive passion? Don’t judge me, survey. You don’t know my life.

34. Have you ever been with someone, said nothing, and walked away feeling like you just had the best conversation ever?

No. That sounds like hokum to me. I’ve definitely had moments where eye contact said plenty,  but I never walked away thinking, “Well, hot damn, I am spiritually fulfilled and I believe we just transcended verbal communication.”

35. Why do religious that support love cause so many wars?

Because while many religions support love, I find that they are more interested in supporting being right. And anytime you have one thing trying to assert its superiority or correctness over something else, squabbles ensue. And escalate. Religion doesn’t really allow for there to be two sides to any story, or even three. You can’t really have compromise. You can, yourself, pick and choose things you like about them all and observe a cocktail of rites as you see fit, but that’s not going to be advocated by most religious elders or groups. Most Catholic priests aren’t going to sit down and say, “Well, kid, God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost are real, but I’m totes down with Vishnu, too, and I think half the Book of Mormon is real.” A devout Muslim probably wouldn’t sit down with you and be like, “Allah is fun, and all, but sometimes I prefer Xenu.” When you strip it down to the basics, the people running the show — the loud fundamentalists, who always feel like the majority even when they’re just the shoutiest — tend to discourage diversity of belief. So it always comes down to right vs wrong, and the lack of room for gray areas tends to be the problem.

36. Is it possible to know, without a doubt, what is good and what is evil?

Sure. Because it’s based on your convictions. If you have them, then you don’t have doubt.

37. If you just won a million dollars, would you quit your job?

No. Fortunately, I love my job. I’d rather have a million dollars AND then my salary. But also, let’s face it, a million bucks isn’t enough to chuck it all and spend my days traveling the world. You take out taxes, take out bills, take out college funds… I’m way too practical to see the word “million” and instantly kick up my heels.

38. Would you rather have less work to do, or more work you actually enjoy doing?

More work I enjoy doing, for sure. I’ve had jobs I didn’t like, and I’ve had slow days at jobs I didn’t like, and I find they suck at your soul even more than the busy ones because you have time to think about how much your soul is being sucked. I’d much rather be happy and busy. I’m used to that, anyway.

39. Do you feel like you’ve lived this day a hundred times before?

Yes and no. The part where I was laid up in bed all day feeling sick, and noodling on my laptop? Yeah. But the parts where I’m talking to other people are always fresh, and they give a nice new context to the other repetitive stuff.

40. When was the last time you marched into the dark with only the soft glow of an idea you strongly believed in?

That there’s some fancy language. Also, again, I feel like you’re judging me. Like if I don’t habitually march into the dark with only the soft glow of my convictions, I am a waste of space. I admit that I am not as much of a bold marcher. I will stand up for a conviction, but I rarely run screaming into the void. And I’m okay with that character flaw. Because sometimes glow-torch-bearers need a break from their darkness marching, and that’s where I come in: I write a Web site that gives laughs to the people who have been so busy changing the world that they just want to stop thinking for a second. Know thy strengths. Mine is not always finding my way through dim light.

Sickie

We had a pretty decent run of health toward the end of last year, which must be why I’ve spent most of the past month sick with three different colds, or allergy attacks, or whatever poison it is that’s crawled up my sinuses and laid its devil eggs.

Sick before Christmas. Sick after Christmas. Sick before the Golden Globes. If I’m burning off all my illness in one week, I can deal; if this is a nasty chain that takes me through Fashion Week to the Oscars, I might go insane. My nose is red. My nightstand looks like an F in origami class. I can’t sleep. And I have one of those really sore zits brewing on my cheek, although that has nothing to do with my disease. Unless it’s a mini-buboe, and this is the plague. You never know. But I’m sick of that stuffy, wet-eyed inability to do anything. This is where people go broke shopping online, I think. I don’t have the energy to do actual thinking, but if I’m on my computer I feel like I’m accomplishing something, and what could be better than ordering a bunch of shit I don’t need that won’t fit?

So I need to close the laptop, is what I’m saying. Maybe a crappy movie is on to distract me. Pray for Crossroads.

Christmas Managed

Well, we made it through. Christmas came and went, and Dad wasn’t there, and we still are.

It was hard. His ghost was everywhere, the absence of a person filling the room just as much as his body would’ve. His goblet, the one he used for Diet Coke and wine (individually; Diet Coke is not THAT magical), sat untouched in the back of the cupboard. We ate food with tomatoes in it. We listened to Christmas music. We didn’t watch endless loops of news networks, although the boys saw to it that we did put on the Golf Channel a bit. Dad would’ve loved having grandsons who, at two and a half, already love that station as much as he did.

 

We caught ourselves using present tense about him sometimes. We told stories, and laughed, but we also couldn’t escape thoughts of how much he would’ve gotten a kick out of certain things. Sometimes it was hard for Mom to play with the boys without getting emotional about how enamored Dad would’ve been with them. Mom often had to excuse herself for fifteen-minute periods. She wouldn’t sit on his side of the couch, the left side, until she got The Cold and then randomly decided that would be the day she tried to break that seat’s aura. I think it was because she felt lousy, and mentally, sitting on that cushion was like curling up on his lap. And weirdly, I was okay the whole time until Christmas Mass started. If I ever attend Mass it’s usually this one, and especially this year, I wanted to go with Mom. The choir — even the Pep Band, as I affectionately refer to the stripped-down group of ten that sings most Masses — is also unusually excellent for a small church in Encino. And when we stood up and they broke into “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and it hit me that Christmas was really here, and warmth and joy radiated around the room and the music soared and filled us, I started to cry. Figures: Standing in the place Dad may have disliked the most — church — is when I lost control.

I never knew my Dad’s parents. Granddad died before I was born, and Nan died maybe a year after. I’ve heard stories, but in most senses they’re blurry to me. Faces in photos. Ideas, not realities. Mom tells me that Nan poured a lot of her grief and loneliness into me, and that I brought her comfort and we had a really special bond. I love hearing that, but I don’t remember it. I was a baby. I love them because they gave me Dad, who was brilliant and hilarious and lively and unique and half of my DNA. I love them because that’s what you do with grandparents. But it’s a nebulous love. It doesn’t come from knowledge.

And I realized that’s what it’s going to be like for my kids, with Dad. They may hear about Dad. I will tell them how they used to run up to him and fling themselves at him, how they would climb up next to him and pick at his glasses, how he would sneak them sips of Diet Coke and then giggle at their “ew, gross, what’s that, I NEED MORE IMMEDIATELY” reactions, or how they’d sit on his lap while he played Snood. They’ll probably smile, and one day get sick of me getting misty over it, and they will love him because I loved him and because I told them he loved them and because that’s what you do with family. But it will be nebulous. It won’t come from knowledge.

So just as I yearn to have known them because it would fill in so much color around what I know of my father, so too will my kids be denied the chance to experience someone who is a HUGE part of who I have become. They would understand me if they ever met him. The connections would be so much stronger. A to B to C and so forth. There’s a reason we don’t jump in at B; the progression just makes more sense. But we’re missing our A.

Of course, I never knew the difference. I knew Mom’s parents but not Dad’s. That’s just the way it was. My kids won’t know any different. That may be a blessing — you can’t mourn what you never knew, really. Seeing it from this side, though, I understand how much that must have nibbled at Dad all those years, wishing his parents could have seen how we turned out and how he raised us. Just wishing they’d had more time. There is never enough time. And in the end he didn’t have enough either.

But onto happier things.

Aside from one limp nage I made, the holiday meals were all great, the colds we caught (and gave to a few people… sorry, y’all) finally went away, and the boys were cute and delightful and happy and made it easy for us to pull ourselves out of the darkness. They are such a marvel.

Liam woke up ailing on Christmas Day, so Dylan took up the present-opening mantle and carried it with aplomb. There were lots of OOOOOHs and YAYs, and nary a plea to go outside, which means they must’ve liked everything. They spent Christmas Eve gobbling down bangers and mash, our traditional dinner — as soon as the bangers came off the grill Liam took one look at them, eyes wide, and started chanting, “SAU-SA-GES. SAU-SA-GES” — and then boogying to my friend Amy’s Christmas mix (particularly amusing when a randy duet between Cyndi Lauper and The Hives came on, and they were dancing as blithely as if it were Yo Gabba Gabba). Then we snuggled up to watch Rudolph, and as soon as we saw the Bumble once, Dylan spent the entire rest of the time shouting, “UH-OH BUMBLE! WHA HAPPEN TO BUMBLE? OH NO! OH NO BUMBLE.” But not out of fear. To him, the Bumble was the hero of the piece. I think he must see similarities between Bumble and Liam.

We celebrated New Year’s at 9 p.m., so that we could watch MTV fete midnight on the East Coast, and let the dudes run around with noisemakers and poppers. And then it was over, and we all settled into another year, the first one my Dad will never see. Hopefully the first of many that we will, together, because as long as we do then he’s never really going to be gone. And over time that will stop hurting and start being a comfort.

And this photo makes me laugh. So that’s a start.

Two Days of Mothering

For the past 48 hours, I’ve done something I haven’t really in the entire time my boys were alive: be their mom all day.

I realize most parents do things like “take care of their kids” and “keep them from jumping off high places” and “don’t let them eat anything from the drugstore shelf” all the time, all day long, without help, and without the need to pat themselves on the back in writing or out loud. So my sense of satisfaction is absurd. But we hired Maria back when the boys were three months old, and we still had family staying with us to help with the babies. We need a nanny so that we can both work, and on weekends, we prioritize being able to do stuff as a family unit as much as possible because of the long hours Kevin works during the week. So other than the weekend Kevin went to Coachella… whenever that was… I haven’t been in charge of the boys for a succession of entire days all by my lonesome. It’s not that I don’t want to or am trying to avoid this fate; just that this is how my life is arranged.

Also, for me, my twins are a gauntlet. They have energy I have never had. They like to be outside. They like to go on walkabout. They don’t always like to go in the same direction, and only one of them registers that you exist and are speaking, which makes it difficult to encourage him not to run into the street if you are currently entangled with preventing the other twin from teeing off on the neighbor’s sprinkler heads. (This actually happened. The teeing off, not the running into the street. I would have been impressed by their resourcefulness, had I not been afraid they’d get arrested for vandalism.) They want you to lift them, over and over, so they can dunk a basketball in their plastic hoop. They want to be held, both of them, any time I’m doing something for which I need two hands or a wide berth, like using the oven or a knife. If I am chopping something, they wriggle between my legs and the counter and shove me backward, figuring that if they get into position I will have no choice but to lift them. They want to put everything in their mouths except food (which either goes untouched or gets chewed up and then returned to the plate: the edge of the diaper pail, balloons, Play-Doh, cars, spatulas, whisks). If I make it to bedtime and everyone’s still alive and the house isn’t broken, there’s an undeniable feeling of triumph. We made it. Now I can sit. Well, after I pick up the three buckets of toys they dumped on the carpet, and scrape whatever that is off the coffee table, and pluck masticated apple out of the carpet fibers, and wash their cups, and clean up the milk splash that gets everywhere when I pull out the straws, and sponge the counter, and mop the floor, and take out the garbage, and WHOA take out the diaper pail. Then I can sit. With my laptop, because it’s 10 p.m. and I have to do all my work.

And that’s just an afternoon with them. My daily shift of 4 p.m. until bedtime — which despite our best efforts inches closer to 9: 30 every day; Kevin rarely gets home earlier than 8:30, if that — feels like a marathon. A 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. day with them sounded like an Ironman.

But my nanny’s son had foot surgery, so we insisted she stay home with him. I decided I should bloody well stand up and suck it up and confront my fears about my limitations. Kevin is much braver than I am about taking the boys to places of temptation without backup — like the mall, or grocery stores. I am so self-conscious about whether I will be That Mom Who Can’t Control Her Wayward Children that I tend to chicken out on running errands with the boys. Kevin is a better person, so he takes the approach of, “Eh, we’ll figure out a way.” And that was me the last few days. I had to figure out a way.

Wednesday, we did some play classes and music classes, amid backyard basketball and golf. But Thursday… that was the trick. Thursday was my blank slate of a morning. I thought maybe a walk, then some basketball, maybe an impromptu playdate up the street. But then Dylan needed to get his ears checked for an infection, so I had to take them both to the pediatrician for the appointment. This always leads to the two of them climbing up on the wastebasket to try and wash their hands in the exam-room sink, then dry them with a paper towel, over and over again, until the doctor arrives. I help them,  because hygiene is important, and it’s more helpful than them digging through the drawers and pulling out instruments and swabs and Things That Look Expensive That They Will Try To Eat. The doctor prescribed a hard-to-find antibiotic that was only available at the nearby Mom and Pop pharmacy. Which is tiny and has no parking spaces.

So we parked at the street edge of the Ralph’s lot across Ventura, to go there on foot. That one went fine, as did crossing the cross-street to go inside. While I dropped off the prescription, Dylan and Liam managed to slap the little metal prongs that hold various important medicinal dispensing products, dropping them and their wares to the floor. In their defense, they tried to clean them up, but with that toddler aura of not really knowing or caring how it was supposed to go,  beyond realizing that they were supposed to go Up There. So they’d pick up the stuff and just sort of try to place it somewhere above them in midair.

And then Liam picked up a box of Magnum condoms and shouted, “OOOOOH.” It starts early.

The wait would be a half-hour, they said. So we toddled out to the sidewalk and I decided we’d kill time at Ralph’s, wheeling around and buying the occasional impulse snack. This is when Dylan decided he wanted to cross the street IMMEDIATELY, and when I didn’t let him, he stretched as far away from me and toward the curb as possible, and then stomped his foot and hurled his ball into the road. Then: “Uh oh ball,” as if the ball leapt out of his fingers of its own suicidal accord. (These guys are not big on actions-have-consequences. In their minds, they are forever innocent. “WHA HAPPEN BALLOOOON?” “Well, it popped.” “WHA HAPPEN?” “You were gnawing on it. “WHA HAPPEN BALLOOON?” “You happened.”)

Magically, no car hit the ball, so when we did cross he picked it back up as if nothing had happened. But after we pressed the button to cross Ventura, they again insisted on going IMMEDIATELY, and when I pulled them back, they both twisted and pulled and dragged and finally we just sort of…  kept walking along Ventura. Okay, sure, why not. Then Dylan didn’t want to walk; he wanted to be carried. Then Liam wanted to be carried and wouldn’t stop banging on my thigh until I obliged. Then Dylan wanted down, then he wanted to go places I couldn’t let him go, so he went Spaghetti Legs. And melodramatically slowly collapsed. Lengthwise. On the dirty, nasty sidewalk of heavily trafficked Ventura Boulevard.

Once I got him to his feet, I realized we had the light. So we hustled across the street, and like magic, the grocery store had one of the carts with the little car in front that seats two kids. Those things steer like whales and take corners like the Titanic. It amply killed the half-hour, and the boys only tried to steal one giant bag of peanuts and a tape dispenser, so I count it as a success. I parked the cart by the car and unloaded everything and then prepped to head back over to the pharmacy.

Except the dudes didn’t want to get out of the cart. Of course. Dylan shouted, “No, no, no,”  and Liam started whimpering, “Oh, NO, car!” Dylan wept as I extracted him, then both boys sniffled and sobbed along the sidewalk to the crosswalk. At which they were instantly cheered by the opportunity to dart into oncoming traffic. I held firm, and mercy of mercies, the light changed in time for us to surge ahead before anyone broke free of my grip. The chance to run wildly across a stretch of land riddled with cars snapped their mood like a rubber band, and instantly all was sunny again. (But with no traffic in sight, we totally jaywalked at the next street. I was not in the mood to halt momentum and then rev it up again.)

Naturally, the medicine hadn’t been processed because the girl hadn’t told the pharmacist how to find our insurance info in the system. So it took another half hour. And we waited. And waited. Dylan and Liam spent twenty minutes rearranging the cough drop section, in between hand-selecting love bouquets of their favorite ones and proferring them to the pharmacists as gifts with angelic smiles. But that couldn’t hold them forever, and so they started walking up and down the aisles, picking up medicine and shaking it and then putting it back down — or in one case, gleefully slapping a shelf and then gasping and cooing, “Oh, NOOOOOO,” when said slap resulted in every item being knocked asunder. Again to their credit, they immediately tried to fix what they did — as if, in fact, it were an Act of God and they had nothing to do with the problem — but they were getting punchy, and I was doing my best, asking them to keep their hands to themselves and clean up anything they spilled and apologize, but when you’re doing damage control with one, that is when the other will strike. It was tough for me to keep them both under wraps. Especially when they each chose an aisle. Liam knew exactly what he was doing, too. I stood at the end and peeked back and forth, back and forth, and Liam would just look up at me and say, “Bye bye,” and pretend to make a move for the door, all the while grinning like a fool. He thought it was hilarious. Meanwhile Dylan was starting a band with some antacid bottles and a tin of Altoids.

I chose Liam, obviously, because I can clean up the impromptu percussion concert, but I can’t clean up Liam after he runs outside and gets hit or kidnapped. But fortunately, a sympathetic employee took Liam under her wing, which was a gift from the heavens. He was so charmed by offering her some Corn Chex and whispering sweet nothings like “basketball” and “wha you doing Dylan” that he no longer wanted to toy with me. So I swept Dylan up, and miraculously, they called my name and I paid and we left, risking certain death by traffic only one other time before reaching the car. Where we had one last fling with the shopping cart, and one last tantrum about saying goodbye to it, before stuffing ourselves back in the Honda and zipping back home. It was 1 o’clock, we’d been out for three hours, we’d managed to stay alive… it felt like a triumph beyond any other.

Maria is back today, so I’m able to run my Christmas errands, organize my mom’s room for her impending arrival, wrap some gifts — after actually acquiring wrapping paper — and basically settle down for a bit before we rev into holiday nuttery. But I’m glad I had my two days with the dudes. It made me feel more confident that, yes, I can do it. I can find a way. It’s a champagne problem to have — oh, I have a nanny and an awesome helpful husband who loves being a dad and spending time with us, waaah — and that’s why it was so good for me to have that stripped away for a day and step into the breach. So I will allow myself a moment of pride that nobody got smushed by a car, but mostly, I feel intense admiration for the moms who do this every day without assistance — moms of singletons, moms of multiples, moms whose kids are different ages. It is not easy, there IS no manual, and no two kids — twins or otherwise — are going to need or want the same thing at the same time. It’s hard, it’s humbling. But it is satisfying, and it made the hugs at the end of the day feel so earned. It’s like they sensed I needed to feel like I’d done okay by them. You’ve got our back, we’ll squeeze yours. It was more than enough. It was everything.

PUT BACK

Yesterday, as I pulled out my iPhone to snap a picture of the dudes playing basketball, Liam stopped in his tracks and ran over to me, patted my back pocket (where I keep it), and said, “Put back. Put back.” When I slid my phone into the pocket, he nodded at me, satisfied, and then handed me a basketball, which to him is like handing gold to a poor man. I was being rewarded.

I remember a time, a little over ten years ago, when I didn’t even own a cell phone. In fact, I was the only tech reporter in Austin who didn’t have a pager, a Palm, or a mobile, and I didn’t even have a computer — my old PowerMac from college, a thing that is no longer a thing, was boxed up — until I’d lived there for several months and realized I could probably afford a laptop. (Which was a Compaq. Which is also a thing that is no longer a thing.)

And now, I’m so chained to my smartphone that my two-year old recognizes that it could compete for my attention, and — when he isn’t walking up to me and asking where my phone is, because he wants to play with it – essentially reprimands me for it. Kind of makes me realize I should pick up Goodnight Moon more than Words With Friends. Then again, they never like to finish an entire book in tangible form, so maybe I need an app for that.

Thanks

It feels like 2011 didn’t leave me a lot to be thankful for, because I’m still sort of clawing my way out of the hole that Dad’s death left in my life. But in the spirit of looking beyond that, and also in recognizing that hole will always be there and I need to learn to accept it and maybe decorate it with some throw pillows rather than try to escape all the time, I’m going to reality-check myself about all the things that went right this year, for which I am forever grateful. Here, in no particular order:

Health. This one’s boringly obvious, but I can’t exclude it. Even though we are all teetering on the brink of congestion, on the eve of hosting a Thanksgiving dinner we’ve been looking forward to for weeks, there is nothing really importantly wrong with any of us. THAT WE KNOW OF. (Sorry. Hypochondriac speaking.)

My teeth. I may not like my teeth. But my anxiety dream of choice involves them being loose, coming out, crumbling en masse, etc., so every day that I wake up and that hasn’t happened to me feels like a gift.

My knees. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll have them, since I’ve been trying to run more, and can’t seem to get past the 6.5-mile (and sometimes not even that far) mark without one of them complaining. I’m trying to be careful, stretch, taper down when I need to, but ultimately I think I just have to accept that I’m not built for distance and be grateful they can even take me that far. I have no idea now these marathoners do it without midlife skeleton replacements.

Friends. All my girls have opened their arms to me and my kids when I need them. I still get teary when I think of them sending flowers to my mother after Dad died, and making sure they were represented at Dad’s funeral. (Jessica flying to Florida with my kids, just so I could be with them when I needed them most, is a gift I’m not sure I can ever properly repay. Because I’ve flown with them. I know.) People I’ve never met thought to donate to TACA in Dad’s name, all because they read GFY and knew I was grieving. I’ve been able to reconnect with some people, locally and afar, with whom I accidentally fell out of touch because life got in the way. I’ve met people we only knew through Twitter, and felt instantly bonded. Lauren moved to Atlanta; I’m thankful she had the guts and grace to take the leap when she needed to, and yet more thankful that we’re still as close as ever, because some friendships are better than geography. It’s so easy for me to get caught up in the daily grind of parenting, of trying to keep the kids from escaping into the street or shoving each other or licking the inside of the fireplace (who knew that was so appetizing…), that I often forget to step back and look at the people in my life who make it possible for me to do anything and stay sane. I forget to reach out to them sometimes. I forget to make them feel important, when they are everything. So I’m grateful they stick with me anyway.

Diet Coke. I know, I know. But I get so sick of water, you guys. And it’s SO GOOD.

Spoiled. Jess and I put our baby out into the world this year and it was received with a lot of warm hugs. Publishing a book was so much scarier than hitting “publish” on a blog post several times a day. It was personal in a wholly different way, and it was scary, and yeah, we got our share of “Man, I like their blog, but this book was disappointing/sucky/boring.” But I can deal with all of that because I’m proud of what we did. I know the personal issues I had to try and overcome in the writing of it, and I know how hard we worked, and I will never forget every single time I heard Kevin laugh out loud when he read it. Or the people, friends and Internet friends and strangers, who rallied behind us to let us (and Amazon, and Goodreads) know how much they liked it, and the people whose books we signed — including a copy of Don Quixote on the day we sold out the Menlo Park bookstore, or the photo of J.Lo, or somebody’s Kindle receipt. I’ll always remember the person who brought us a map of all the nearby locales where we could buy a restorative Diet Coke after the signing. So many good experiences came because we put this thing out there, and I’m so glad we did.

My mom. She’s a master class on coping with grief gracefully. And now more than ever, I appreciate the security you feel when you know your parents are still with you — like it’s an extra layer of defense against life. Our kids will never know what it’s like to have a grandfather. God willing they will get to experience both their grandmothers for a long time, and I’m grateful for that, in part because I want family to be as important to them as it is to me.

Toast. It’s really good, y’all. Especially with some of Catherine’s strawberry balsamic black pepper jam on it. Oh, that jam. It’s world peace in a jar.

Homemade ice cream. Kevin got me a Cuisinart ice-cream maker for my birthday, and between the dairy-free cashew-based creams in Vice Creams (they are both scientifically and tastily amazing) and every recipe we’ve tried in the miraculous Jeni’s Splended Ice Creams book, I have been licking some bowls clean this year. The salt caramel one is amazing, but the real happy surprise was how good the banana with white-chocolate freckles was, considering I don’t love white chocolate (but when you caramelize it, as you do for this … it is a string of ecstatic expletives).

Duck Donuts. Well, mostly, I’m thankful my family still got to reunite in Duck, North Carolina, for a beach vacation. We needed it. We needed each other. And we really needed our now-annual fix of Duck Donuts, made to order and thus eaten warm, and available in a maple glaze that is like heaven. Krispy Kreme, you’re out. (Although I have to confess, they were never really in with me in the first place, but now they’re REALLY out.)

Diapers. Nothing makes you appreciate diapers like potty training. Truth. And we haven’t even started in earnest yet. Can the dudes wear diapers until they’re six, please?

Broccoli slaw. I hate broccoli. Like, a lot. But Alton Brown had this recipe for a slaw where you shave the broccoli with a mandoline, throw it in a bowl with some grape tomatoes and chopped pecans, and toss it with a lemony vinaigrette. It doesn’t even taste like broccoli; it’s just light and summery and delicious, and perfect in a sandwich wrap. So I found a way to eat a new vegetable. That’s a big deal for me. I hate eating my vegetables. Now if only I could embrace fruit.

Eating. I’m only putting this on here because I realized how many of the above involve consuming food. Really, I’m just enjoying doing more cooking this year, even if it’s just a slaw here and there. And I’m really looking forward to doing it with the boys. Liam already likes me to pick him up and show him what I’m cooking, and they both enjoy trying to open the oven (which, mercifully, is way too heavy for me to worry about them succeeding anytime soon). If only they ate with the same enthusiasm they show for watching me prepare food.

Maria. She’s been our nanny for two years now and she’s a huge reason our boys are so great. She’s also pretty much the only reason I get any work done, have thus made any money, and that I’m able to leave the house to do anything — gym, groceries, doctor, even movies — without panicking. A miracle.

Directing. Kevin got to do it for network TV this past February, and that is a freaking awesome achievment.

Parks and Rec. It’s the anti- 2 Broke Girls, which is an exhausting slog of mean-spiritedness tinged with casual racism (a phrase that should never even exist, let alone rewarded with a full-season pickup). You could argue GFY is mean, and I’d counter it — I think we poke fun but with an undercurrent of affection, for the most part — but I’d also say that if we’re occasionally mean it’s not with glee or relish, or even intent. But the marvel of Parks and Rec is that it manages to have ornery characters and lots of snarky banter without a hint of meanness. And it’s hilarious while doing it. I’m just glad this show exists, to prove it can be done, and give me a little reminder that humor doesn’t always have to come from snark.

Moisturizer. My face has crinkled irretrievably this year — I can’t even look at my forehead without getting upset — so let’s just all say a thank-you to the stuff that is probably at least minimizing the damage of time’s inevitable march.

Gymboree free play. Oh, how I am grateful for the hours my boys can spend there burning energy. Almost exclusively through playing basketball, which of course we also have at home so WTF dudes, but whatever — I will take it.

– “Hey baby.” My kids are getting more and more verbal, and with it come the most hilarious and rewarding little moments — like when I carried Liam out into the living room yesterday morning and he snuggled into my neck and patted my back and cooed, “Hey baaaaaby,” mimicking the tone I use when he’s not feeling well and I am stroking his back. And when I’ve been gone all day and I come home and Dylan lights up and bolts over for a hug, there is no better feeling in the day.  Watching movies with them is a highlight: They anticipate drama with a genuinely worried “UH-OH ______” (fill in the blank with Buzz, truck, ball, Russell, balloon, dog,  house… you name it). They can repeat lines before they come. They dance every time Randy Newman sings anything in Toy Story.  Liam even likes to mimic everything Carl does in Up: He won’t watch it unless he has a potato masher he can use as a walker, he heaves himself into an armchair with a sign whenever Carl does, and he reads one of his books along with Ellie’s Adventure Book. They like to hug people, wave goodbye, blow kisses, feed everyone (a dubious honor), celebrate basketball shots and good golf putts, and they are generally really happy guys who make us laugh a zillion times with things so tiny as a facial expression and so great as a tickle fight. Parenting is really scary, and I worry all the time we’re not doing right enough by Dylan (he’s still not gaining weight, he’s behind on speech a little), but it really has been a tremendous gift, and it’s worth every thing we have given up doing because now they come first. And I guess that’s one of the big things I’m thankful for most — the existence of these people who constantly remind me that life is larger than just the things that affect me. I’m thankful to have them as reminders that I can and should do better, and be better, all the time. I’m grateful they keep me from wallowing and keep me honest.

Tantrums

You’d think perhaps being born a twin would give my kids a predilection for sharing — or at least, an innate understanding that there will always be two of them and they can’t always have everything to themselves the minute they want it. But, they are still toddlers, and thus the world still shakes when they feel they’re being wronged, and we get swarmed by devastated, wet, red faced anguish. Forgetting of course that they’re much craftier than we think.

Case in point: Liam wanted to play the piano. So he crawled up on the bench and started banging away, which naturally enticed Dylan in his direction. But when Dylan stood next to him and reached up to play, too, Liam shoved him away and Dylan ended up falling down into the floor. Kevin handled a crying Dylan while I went to Liam, and as I spoke sternly to him, I could actually SEE the range of emotions on his face: confusion giving way to awareness giving way to anger and finally landing on stubborn resentment. It all washed over him as I spoke: the brows pinched, the jaw jutted, the lips pursed, the corners of the mouth turned down as he crossed his arms and then stomped away wailing into the corner of the room to pull on a stereo wire he knew was off-limits. It was like, “What? Did you SEE HIM horn in on my action? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE. I AM THE ONE WHO SUFFERED AT THE HANDS OF A MUSIC TERRORIST.”

Amusingly, Dylan calmed down almost instantly, and Liam lumbered around moaning for about twenty minutes, aware that we were mad at him and alternating between screaming in the hopes that we’d give him a hug and some absolution, and being the perfect angel “helping” unload the dishwasher. So I guess it’s good that he knows we were unhappy and he seemed to know exactly why; but at the same time, he didn’t seem to think he’d earned it, so it remains to be seen whether this was an effective teaching moment or just a storm that spun out and dissipated.

Sometimes I forget that toddler logic is an oxymoron.