A brown belt for Big Guy – not that it’s important
Mon, 12/03/12 – 12:49 | Comments Off

It was testing week in karate and, as usual, Big Guy was under the gun. Not as much as he used to be, when he didn’t have a clue and had to frantically cram, but …

Read the full story »

Picky eaters and allergy-safe cooking — the two aren’t necessarily unrelated.

Girl Gone Wonk

From policy to politics, this rant’s for you.


The day’s events in a family way — unless something else amuses me.

School days

From preschool to kindergarten — so far

Simple Gifts

Inexpensive homemade gifts, creative parties and low-cost projects, for Christmas and beyond. Many are easy enough for children to help.

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Articles tagged with: essay

9to5to9: The future might be do-able — if I survive
Friday, 24 Oct, 2008 – 0:51 | 2 Comments
9to5to9: The future might be do-able — if I survive

Finally! We had a perfectly angelic dinner tonight. On one side of the table, at least. Not the one where the guys were sitting, though.
Funny thing is, three years ago I could not have imagined …

Election Issues: Can we turn toward civility?
Thursday, 16 Oct, 2008 – 11:15 | Comments Off
Election Issues: Can we turn toward civility?

I watched last night’s debate having made up my mind long ago about my vote for president and doubting anyone would say about the issues that would change that.
It’s always that way with many voters …

Si se puede writ local
Friday, 10 Oct, 2008 – 11:07 | One Comment
Si se puede writ local

I’m grumpy in the morning to begin with, plus you can’t be involved in political reporting for as long as I was without developing at least a veneer of cynicism.
Which is why I’ve snarled at …

A 30 on a near-30-year career
Saturday, 6 Sep, 2008 – 10:04 | Comments Off

I’ve been through five “”last days”" in my professional career. I’ve survived downsizings, and I’ve been downsized. But I’ve never been through anything as wrenching as today.

It was departure day at The Modesto Bee, where I’ve cheered, cried, gloried and groaned as a mid-level editor for a decade. Ten newsroom employees were leaving — I among them.

I was the junior member of the group — one is younger than I, but she had more years at The Bee. She and I have spent much time since having kids hiding out in locker rooms and restrooms, gnashing our teeth at the frustration of being a working parent in a tough, tough business.

The wake was Thursday, when I went to lunch with two people I’ve worked with from the beginning.

We’ve spent hours querying databases for illegal campaign contributions –

Little Guy’s doctor rebellion
Monday, 25 Aug, 2008 – 8:24 | Comments Off

For the most part, Little Guy is a fairly unflappable kid. He’s so chilled, in fact, that he slept through his circumcision.

Once in a while, though, he proves he is a normal toddler with all the usual quirks and fears.

Such when he asked if he could go to the park tomorrow morning and I let it slip that he has a doctor’s appointment.

“”No!”" he pouted, big-lipped. “”Don’t need a ketchup. I talk real good.”"

When he fell asleep an hour later, he still was protesting the ketchup. At least tonight there were no cries with that.

I’m not sure where that notion originated. Maybe he’s remembering Big Guy’s recent checkup, which was highly conversational, between the vision and hearing tests and the pediatrician’s general chit-chat. It also was heavy on tantrums — the doctor

9to5to9: Night owls are born, not made
Friday, 22 Aug, 2008 – 6:05 | Comments Off
9to5to9: Night owls are born, not made

I envy Little Guy. He can konk out anywhere, anytime. Usually, he’ll wake up cheery. At 6 a.m. On a Saturday. He’s been that way since he was a babe.

Not so Big Guy. He’ll hoot, holler, protest and refuse to close his eyes for at least an hour every night. He’s also been that way since he was a babe. I used to turn up the monitor to eavesdrop as he babbled himself to sleep.

As much as Big Guy and I joust each night, I can’t blame him. He’s not trying to be difficult — most of the time. He’s just being Big Guy.

And he gets it from me.

  • Grade school, up until dawn reading “”Gone With The Wind”" during summer vacation at

9to5to9: Spam as an economic indicator
Saturday, 16 Aug, 2008 – 2:51 | Comments Off

“Two weeks, 12 emails touting “”back to school”" sales and advice.

It’s a sign a couple things. One, I’m signed up for entirely too many newsletters. Two, retailers are getting increasingly desperate.

Some offerings have merit: “”10 Super Yummy After-School Snacks”" from parenting.com would be helpful if Big Guy would accept something besides pizza as “”super yummy.”" They do include tortilla pizzas, though — wonder if I could sell that. And I’m definitely going to try the Jelly Juice Cubes — think Jello with no dye, which Big Guy avoids because of asthma.

Others leave me scratching my head. Back-to-school with ebay, Snapfish or American Blinds, Wallpaper & More?

Maybe it’s different elsewhere, but window treatments aren’t required gear in our school district. Or are they telling me it’s curtains for Big Guy’s academic career? Kindergarten seems a

He says he’s not a baby, but …
Sunday, 27 Jul, 2008 – 17:44 | Comments Off

Some days, he looks just like Baby Big Guy in his crib all those summers ago.

Learning to fly in just two months
Wednesday, 25 Jun, 2008 – 22:12 | Comments Off

They first gathered under a blazing August sun, eight kids new to soccer, plus one “experienced veteran”

That practice sank disorganization to a whole new level, as kids darted here and there, grasping many blades of grass but few concepts.

They last gathered Saturday for their end-of-season party. That’s when I realized how much I’m also going to miss these kids.

It doesn’t take long to fall in love with them when they’re this age. You can’t help but be in awe of how far little bugs can fly in two short months.

By the end of September, we didn’t have to remind them to pay attention. Suddenly, they were focused on the game, even when they were sitting on the

Can Big Guy keep a secret? We’ll see
Tuesday, 17 Jun, 2008 – 5:59 | Comments Off

Little Guy rushed to me last weekend, tears streaming and voice frantic. Only one thing can cause that kind of trauma with him.

“”Mommy, want a Thomas toy!”" he pleaded.

“”Which Thomas toy, babes? You have a lot.”"

“”The one in Daddy’s car!”"Oh-oh. Little Guy had discovered his birthday present.

“”There’s no Thomas toy in Daddy’s car. Why would Daddy have Thomas?”"

Big Guy to the rescue. “”Yes there is, Mom. I saw it. It’s a Thomas toy, really!”"

His brother having affirmed his judgment, Little Guy rushed for the door toward the treasure of which he was being deprived. I grabbed Big Guy, knelt and whispered in his ear. “”It’s his birthday present. You need to keep it secret.”"

Big Guy’s eyes lit up. This was his chance at glory. Big people were trusting him with a secret — as if I had

Can Napoleon and Anwar Sadat exist in one mom’s head?
Monday, 16 Jun, 2008 – 7:23 | Comments Off

Thank God for the Internet. And thank God it wasn’t around when I was in college or I’d still be working on my bachelor’s. Other than painting my nails, procrastination options were limited back in the 80s. Not so now.

Which is why, faced with a sink full of dishes and loads of laundry this afternoon, I fell into an interactive leadership quiz a friend at a site I moderate. Based on answers to four questions, the quiz determines which of 16 political leaders you are most like. What the heck — it beats a case of dishpan hands.

What started as a diversion from domestic duties, though, turned into hours of introspection when the results on a companion military quiz contradicted both my self-image and the results of the political leadership test.

Could I be two people — a

One kid’s prank is this parent’s vandalism.
Thursday, 5 Jun, 2008 – 2:11 | Comments Off

Let’s start with some definitions courtesy of Cambridge Dictionaries, because there appears to be confusion about what’s been going on in high schools around these parts.

Prank: A trick that is intended to be amusing but not to cause harm or damage.

Vandalism: The crime of intentionally damaging property belonging to other people

Now we’ll move to three case studies:

Police in Ceres, Calif., issued five citations for vandalism after a two-minute nacho fling in the Central Valley High School cafeteria. School officials have suspended eight or nine students — some for throwing food, others for helping organize the fight via text messages.

Officials at Gustine High School punished the entire senior class after a pig had to be euthanized and the school suffered $4,500 damage. Police said the students covered their school in graffiti, destroyed textbooks, broke into buildings and let the agriculture program’s animals out of their pens. The Gustine rumor mill has it that some parents drove their kids to “”prank night.”"

About 40 Patterson High seniors blasted the building with paint balls and smeared lard on locks. Those who came forward had a choice: beautify the campus or face.

And yet some adults, such as this person who left a comment on the Ceres story at modbee.com, dismiss the incidents as “pranks.”

Big Guy as Peter Pan: I don’t wanna grow up!
Tuesday, 3 Jun, 2008 – 5:38 | Comments Off

One of my earliest memories is of thrashing around in bed trying to avoid a nap and thinking how sad it must be to be my mom.

She doesn’t have any dolls, I thought. How can big people face life without Barbie?

That’s why Big Guy’s speech on the swing set this afternoon didn’t surprise me in the least. Made me laugh a bit at the Mini Me nature of his soliloquy, but I think I hid my giggle. It was only hours later that I realized the kid was onto something.

“”What am I going to do when I get as big as you? I won’t be able to go down this slide anymore. No fun!”" he pouted.

Then he pondered the subject some more and really let rip.

“”All big people do is talk, talk, talk, talk, talk

Saying “screw it all” really worked for me
Monday, 2 Jun, 2008 – 5:48 | Comments Off

The day started with a landslide of laundry – washed, but rapidly wrinkling in baskets – and a pile of paperwork.

A last-minute doctor’s appointment quickly joined the list – it was just as ill-timed as the one two weeks ago, but when you’re begging, you can’t be picky. So I took the time slot sandwiched between lunch and Little Guy’s nap, figuring there would be hell to pay.

There was. Little Guy kept trying to bust through the door between the waiting room and exam areas, narrowly avoiding severed fingers and a concussion but howling when I stopped him. Wonder how my insurance would have billed that one – office visit or emergency care?

It turned out there was no need to go. His chronic four-day cough was nothing more than tonsils the size of the Super Dome. No infection – check back in a few years for likely removal.

Spending an hour on an errand with no real purpose other than soothing my paranoia – that cough could be asthma! – was what sent me careening straight into “screw it all.”

I quit. Time to let someone else figure out the day.

Big Guy’s countdown to kindergarten speeds up
Monday, 2 Jun, 2008 – 5:47 | Comments Off

July 8, 2008, 8:10 a.m.

Big Guy becomes a kindergartener. Just got the word today.

You’re rolling along in your comfy little overscheduled, hyperfrantic routine, surviving but knowing you can’t handle one more thing, one more hitch. And then something like this hits.

I am not ready.


How will I ever get everything together in time for him to start kindergarten in six weeks?

I had mentally braced myself for August – that’s when the year-round session I’d requested begins. I hadn’t heard anything from the school until I called today to check, and that’s when the lightning bolt hit.


I don’t even know what supplies he’ll need – the district’s Web site is decidedly nonhelpful, listing only the school calendar under the “parent information link.” Chunky crayons? Rounded scissors? Paste? Blackberry? Lap top with dual core processor?

Red Beard the Angel and other ethereal creatures among us
Monday, 2 Jun, 2008 – 5:33 | Comments Off

Forget the image of angels who flit about in froofy gowns.

I’ve had a number of ethereal encounters of late, and not one has fit that stereotype.

Angels such as the neighbor who anonymously toted my trash to the curb tonight after seeing me drown in guy-induced chaos. Or the lady who fashioned four paper airplanes to entertain the guys during a lengthy wait. Or the parent who readily admitted having a kid fond of crying “meanie” – Big Guy’s latest retort to virtually anything displeasing – and offered just the solution for talking him down from the ledge.

The best-disguised angel, though, sported a thick auburn beard and blue security guard’s shirt. I don’t think he was even aware of his heavenly qualities. But he said just the right thing at just the right time, and it made my day. My week, even. I’m still basking in the afterglow.

9to5to9: Summer messes win, muddy hands down
Monday, 2 Jun, 2008 – 5:30 | Comments Off

Before the Fourth of July, I’m sure someone will remind me of my brashness, but I’m going to climb out on the limb anyway: I can’t wait until summer messes are back.

Except for muddy footprints in the kitchen, down the hall and in the bathroom, summer messes are so much tidier than winter chaos. And if by chance things do get out of hand, in the summer, I simply hose the guys off and then let them back in the house.

Not so in the winter. I’ve spent a good chunk of my life of late putting Hot Wheels, Thomas trains and puzzle pieces back where they sort of belong. It’s a futile pursuit, really – I know every night that I’ll be doing the same thing again in 24 hours.

And that’s if I even see the toys through my end-of-the-day haze. Oftentimes, I won’t find them until my pre-dawn wake up the next morning, usually when they impale my arch. “Oh (word I don’t say in front of the guys)!

I’m going to throw every one of these (word I don’t say in front of the guys) trains in the garbage.”

In the summer, though, there’s nothing to pick up.

Free Treffly Coyne! Free Treffly Coyne!
Monday, 2 Jun, 2008 – 5:12 | Comments Off

Notice to the police: I’m running low on gas and will have to refill in the morning. Depending on the pump-ATM-astronomical alignment, I might be a yard or so away from the guys for a split second. But I promise I won’t take my eyes off them, so please don’t cuff me.

Sound preposterous? Something very similar to that scenario happened to an Illinois mother around Christmas, after she left her 2-year-old sleeping in the car for mere moments on a cold, sleety day while her two older daughters dropped $8.29 in coins in a Salvation Army kettle at Wal-Mart.

A Crestwood police community service officer then proceeded to arrest Treffly Coyne. The suburban Chicago mother is scheduled to go to trial tomorrow on misdemeanor

When you (and your kids) are strange
Monday, 2 Jun, 2008 – 5:06 | Comments Off

For three straight days, Big Guy wouldn’t wear any shoes other than his soccer cleats at home. When we went out, he’d put a SpiderMan shoe on his left foot and a lace-up tennis shoe on his right. With his purple soccer socks.

And these people at the Wonder Time Web site think their kids are weird?

I wonder how many of them rush home to clean windows. Or live to vacuum. Or refuse to throw away a bubble-bath bottle – there are six guarding the tub right now.

Granted, there are some genuine strange agents among the Wonder Time set, too.

  • A 3-year-old who sleeps with a rolling pin.
  • A 4-year-old who wears only horizontal-striped shirts – at least they won’t make him look fat.
  • A kid who’s

Big Guy meets his romantic rival
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 21:16 | Comments Off

She’s a raven-haired beauty whose soft brown eyes and gentle spirit caught Big Guy’s eye before he could even focus. And she, an 11-year-old who’d never much cared for babies, was smitten with his exuberant goofiness.

And so it was for four years with these polar opposite kindred souls.

He’d rush to her side the second she was in sight. They’d disappear into her room, playing KoRn CDs and giggling for ages. She entered a Goth phase; his favorite color became black. She had a Jonathan Davis birthday cake; he wanted an “On David” birthday cake, too. Her cell phone ring tone said, “Hello, Moto!” and that was Big Guy’s first intelligible phrase.

We always knew, of course, that the day would come when Big Guy’s First Love

Martha Stewart caves in to Christmas kitsch
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 21:13 | 2 Comments

Dad tried to get a grocery-store tree past Big Guy this year, figuring he’d combine the ATM stop and the purchase. But Big Guy was having none of it.

“No, no, no. We have to go to the Christmas tree stand,” Big Guy insisted. “Kissmas tee, Kissmas tee,” Little Guy chorused.

They got their way, because on issues that really matter, I do that when I can. And to a 4-year-old and 2-year-old, Christmas trees are near the top of the really matter list.

I’ve always put up Christmas trees, even in the years I lived alone. There’s such peace in relaxing in the still of a cold night – often a snowy night back then – and gazing at lights.

Back then, it was white lights only. And

Big Guy’s determined recovery
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 21:08 | Comments Off

Big Guy’s a battler — you can see it on the soccer field and in the “Piston Cups” he awards himself for every victory, real or imagined, over Little Guy and me. Until the past week, though, I had no idea just how much determination a scrawny little body could hold.

Big Guy had surgery last Monday for an umbilical hernia. I’d long known the day was coming. The hernia was roughly the size of a golf ball when it ballooned out after his cord fell off. While the gap’s narrowed in recent years, he still had  a thumb-sized whole in his abdominal wall and an elephant trunk where a belly button should be.

It wasn’t a life-threatening condition, and it wasn’t major surgery – it took

Dream a little dream
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 20:33 | Comments Off

“Hey, Mommy, guess what I’m going to be when I’m growed up!” Big Guy asked halfway home this evening.

I’d heard the list often enough to know Little Guy wouldn’t get in a word edgewise the rest of the drive.

“I don’t know, babes. What are you going to be?”

“I’m going to drive the fire truck and the police car and the siren thing and be a teacher and a baseball player and cook in the restaurant and …and …” he trailed off, trying to remember the rest of the list. “And be a pilot!”

“Sounds great! You’re going to be a really busy guy,” I said.

He nodded happily. “Yep.”

There were four things I swore I’d never do when I had children. I’d never raise my voice –

It was a wonderful party!
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 20:31 | Comments Off

An older and wiser relative told this cautionary tale a few years back, and thank heaven I’ve held onto it.

It was her son’s ninth birthday, and it had just been one of those days. House full of screaming kids mixed with a headache and a dash of little things gone wrong. When her husband got home, he asked how the party had gone.

“It was awful,” she said.

She didn’t know it, but the birthday boy was within earshot. He burst into tears. “I thought it was a wonderful party.”

So I’ll say this about Big Guy’s birthday: It was a wonderful party.

I was worried at first.  When I finally took the party gear out of hiding, I opened the box and out popped a Darth Vader pinata

A study in contrasts
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 20:25 | Comments Off

Little Guy’s a daredevil who’s going to wind up in traction before he’s old enough to drive. But he hates crowds, which he defines as a gathering of more than three people.

Big Guy’s so social that a trip to the grocery store could take hours by the time he gabs with other shoppers, checkout clerks, plants in the floral department. But his knees still knock a bit as he stands at the top of tall slides.

Seems I have two riddles wrapped in mysteries inside enigmas. And I can’t figure out how on earth it happened.

Little Guy’s going through a particularly wild stage now.

He tries his dangedest to ride Big Guy’s tricycle, even though his feet can’t reach the pedals and he has no prayer of

They HAVE to be the best
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 20:13 | Comments Off

I knew better than to say anything, but it was one of those instances where pressure to make polite conversation took a masochistic turn.

“So how’s the kid doing in kindergarten?” I asked.

“Fantastic!” parent gushed breathlessly. “The teacher said the kid’s way ahead of everyone else. So I’m really going to keep working with the kid at home. Now that I have her ahead, the kid has to stay ahead. The kid has to be the best in everything.”

I’ve never been the best at math, but I do know enough to burst that bubble: There’s about a 50 percent chance the kid will be only average at something.

There’s a 50 percent chance my kids will be “only average” at everything. And I’m fine with that.

Much of the rest of society isn’t these days.

What a mom loves about summer
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 20:04 | Comments Off

Six reasons summer and kids are a perfect fit

Dinner al fresco: At Che Two Guys, we have the finest open-air dining in the Central Valley, no reservations needed. And no dress code either, other than a requirement that you wear some. That part’s a bummer when your most-loyal customers love to shed their bathing suits and sprint naked, but it’s a requirement management must enforce.

Ambiance? We have that a plenty, from the faded and cracked resin patio furniture to the equally faded blue gingham table cloth. Shabby chic’s still popular, right?

For your listening pleasure, we have the neighbor’s stereo, usually cranked up to Motown tunes, or the sounds of the proprietress shrieking at blue jays bent on pecking at the grass seed planted in hopes of filling in brown spots before Big Guy’s birthday.

If Sanjaya wins …
Sunday, 1 Jun, 2008 – 19:29 | Comments Off

When Ruben “Motown Mojo” Porras, one of my Bee “American Idol” partners, emailed me about KHOP deejay Geno Knight’s If Sanjaya Wins Web site, my first reaction was a throw-away line.

If Sanjaya wins, I’ll let the kids eat birthday cake for breakfast. No chance of either happening, of course.

I checked out the site after I got home and was laughing so hard my husband actually quit watching ESPN for a few minutes.

“If Sanjaya wins, I will pack up my children’s bag and send them to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch for blanket’s surprise b-day slumber party,” wrote Michael from Rio De Janeiro, Brazil.

“If Sanjaya wins, I will sit and watch ‘Glitter’ everyday for a year,” pledged Rick from California.

“If Sanjaya wins, I will join the Sunnis and Shiites in holding hands and singing kumbaya,” vowed Mike from Des Moines, Iowa.

And then I stopped. Because I remembered that the tall, gangly pony-hawk wearing butt of everyone’s jokes is somebody’s little boy. What if that were my kid? Could he take it? Could I take it?