Tag Archives: Family


Monday morning, I was upstairs brushing my teeth, trying my best to ignore Benjamin throwing a tantrum on the landing and Zachary screaming about something from the dining room.  We had twenty minutes before we needed to be pulling out of the driveway, no one was dressed, and only two of the children had even started breakfast.

I spit and rinsed, then hollered, “What is it?”  Zach responded, sobbing incoherently, and I stomped down the stairs.  “What?!”

“I have throw up,” he wept.

Shit.  He hasn’t thrown up in months, but he has a long history of vomiting up breakfast.  He has a very strong gag reflex, and a little bit of post-nasal drip in the morning is likely to bring up a rerun of breakfast.

“OK, don’t move,” I told him.  Not that I had to.  He’s been through this so many times that he knows the drill: contain the wreckage before cleaning up the child.  I grabbed a rag from the table, then thought the better of it.  There was an entire cup of orange juice vomit all over his pjs and chair.

This was a job for the Emergency Paper Towels.

Normally, we only use rags, which get thrown in with the rest of our wash.  We keep the EPTs for power outages, when we don’t want to be cleaning with rags that won’t get washed anytime soon.  And for special cases of Copious Vomit.  There were only four towels left on the roll, and I used them to stop the spill before it left his chair, tossing the cardboard roll onto the table.  I managed to get the child out of his bottoms, but he pulled off the top – smearing upchuck all over his face.

“OK, now you’re going to need a shower,” I remarked, lifting him carefully and heading for the stairs.  Zach, who cannot stand to get his face wet, does not do showers.  But I was not drawing a bath with less than 15 minutes before we had to leave the house.  I sidestepped his brother, still tantruming on the landing and stood Zach in the shower.

Five minutes later, everyone was at the now-cleaned-up breakfast table, with one child freshly showered and dressed.  “What’s this?” Benjamin asked, picking up the empty paper towel roll.

“It’s a paper towel roll,” I told him. “You can have it.”

“No fair!” Zach shouted.  “I never get a long one.”

Now, I would like you to know that I bake my children whole-grain muffins and they want Cheerios.  I make them fresh waffles and they ask for Goldfish.  I buy organic, local produce, and they want bananas from a continent-and-a-half away.

I have made the ordinary exotic, and I have made the exotic ordinary.

Which might explain why Benjamin spent the entire day finding eighty-seven different ways to play with an empty paper towel roll.

Scenes from a playdate

Three boys popped themselves out of my minivan as I unbuckled Lilah from her seat.  “Do you boys want to play outside for a few minutes while I make lunch?” I asked.

“Yes!” shouted Benjamin, not-yet-four and full of excitement that a six-year-old was over for a playdate.

“Nah,” said Zachary, prompting his friend to reply in the same vein.  Crap.  I was sort of hoping they would stay out at least long enough for me to run to the bathroom.

They filed into the mudroom, kicking off shoes and moving quickly into the kitchen to make space for the next child.  “Come on,” Zach urged his friend.  “Let’s get away from Ben.”

There was no place to get away from Benjamin.  The house is small, and the child was persistent.  I had not so much as opened a jar of jam before I heard wailing from the next room.  “Get him out of here!” shouted Zach.

This was Zach’s first playdate with Elliot.  He and Zach were spinning their wheels, trying to figure out what to do together, as they hadn’t yet developed a rhythm to their play.  Zach’s room is so tiny that it is hard to open the dresser without banging into the bed, so there is nowhere to play up there.  All they have is outside – which they had already rejected –, the small living room, and the adjacent sunroom.  Where Benjamin was.

For me to make lunch would mean walking away from the children, all of whom were required to be in the same space.  And as soon as I walked away, Zach turned from playing with his friend to fighting with his brother.  No one wanted to see a repeat of our last two playdates, during which Zach had gotten so anxious that his brother’s presence had sent him into a tailspin.

I managed to sit Lilah and Benjamin at the table long enough to shove a slice of cheese in each child’s hand.  That meant I was left with two things that somehow had to be done simultaneously: feeding the younger children and helping Zach and his friend find something to do.  Were I to turn away from feeding Benjamin, he would be down from the table and in his brother’s face, triggering a meltdown.  Were I to turn away from the older boys, Zachary’s anxiety would kick into high gear as he tried to control every detail of the playdate.

I dumped some hummus on both plates, then turned to the older children.  “Would you like to play Guess Who?”

“Yes!” Elliot replied.

“No,” Zach moaned at precisely the same moment.  “The other kid always wins!”  The truth of the matter is that the kid who goes first pretty much always wins, but try explaining that to a kindergartener.

Seven minutes later, we had somehow managed to arrange a game of Guess Who, with Zach and Elliot on one side and Benjamin partnered with me on the other.  Since I had to keep excusing myself to reheat pizza and spread peanut butter, that meant that poor Benjamin was pretty much holding his own against a five- and six-year old.  He asked three turns in a row if the mystery person was bald.  Fortunately, he was so thrilled to be playing with the big boys, he could not have cared less whether he won, lost, or contracted pertussis.

After the children were fed, I sent the older boys into the kitchen to roll cookie dough into balls and place it on a sheet.

“I think we’ll have nine,” Elliot told Zachary.

“And there’s three already baked in the cake stand,” Zach pointed out.  “So we’ll have twelve.”

“Great!  We’ll have a dozen!”  I made a mental note to congratulate their teacher on her math instruction.

An hour later, the boys had eaten cookies, Benjamin and Zachary had argued over a broken toy, Lilah was weeping on the couch, and I was pacing by the window, hoping Elliot’s babysitter would arrive to pick him up so that I could put Lilah down for a very overdue nap.  Then it took five minutes for Elliot to get on his shoes while he and Zach both tried to convince us the playdate should go longer.  I waved goodbye and whisked Lilah up for her nap.

“Will you read to us?” whined Zach eight minutes later, as I came back down the stairs.

“One minute, baby.”

It was an hour-and-a-half later, and I still needed to pee.


Being completely and totally inept at all things technical, I once tried and failed to set up some sitestalker thingamagig to figure out who visits my site and from where.  Somehow, it managed to reflect that absolutely no one ever visits this blog, which I know to be patently untrue, because I click over at least once a week.

However, WordPress does kindly provide a probably somewhat incomplete list of the search terms people have used to find my site.  Normally, I just find those amusing.  And a little scary, since there seem to be an awful lot of people searching for Emily Rosenbaum, although maybe that’s because there’s a reality TV chick and a very prominent sociologist with my name.  Anyway, a recent uptick in certain combinations of search terms leads me to the conclusion that folks here in this very small town have learned that I have a blog and are actively searching for it.  And presumably reading.

That’s fine, of course, as there’s nothing I like more than increased blog stats.  There is a downside, however, to folks here in Rockwelland reading my musings.

I have to see them twenty minutes later in the school parking lot.

I have always aimed for brutal honesty here at Wheels on the Bus, with allowances made for the privacy of my family.  So, I don’t talk about my sex life,.  I don’t talk about my husband’s work, our arguments (not that we ever argue), or really anything about our relationship.  He’s a wonderful father and a supportive husband, but the man deserves his privacy.

I also try to respect my children’s privacy.  I am fine with the occasional poop post and a few years ago I included the requisite mocking of my toddler son’s interest in his willy, although you’ll note that for some reason I do not talk about my toddler daughter’s private parts at all.  I don’t know why that feels more invasive, but it does.  (Although, I guess that anatomically, it really is more invasive.)

A lot of my earliest writing had to do with my anxiety over Zachary.  He is complicated, and parenting him requires more ingenuity than I have on most days.  Over the years, I have used this space to figure him out.  I have made understanding my son’s psychology a bit of an obsession, and I continue that dedication to completely smothering my firstborn.

I just don’t think it’s right to do it in a forum being read by his friends’ parents.

Of course, I will continue to write about him, and I will try to be as honest as I can – as long as it is only my own psychology hanging out there like a big old moon in the bus window.

There is, however, an upside to knowing that people in this little town are interested in what I have to say.  It provides me an opportunity for the following public service announcement to those parents I will see in the school parking lot:

Please, for the love of Mike, when you are talking to your friends, picking up your kids, combing your hair, writing the great American novel on your iphone, or otherwise not actually driving somewhere in your automobile, turn the fucking thing off. That’s my air, my children’s air, and your children’s air that you’re belching foul toxins into.

And thanks for reading.


I have a discipline problem.

Zachary screams and talks back to me, every now and then even pinching me.  He intentionally wakes his sister, tortures his brother, and this week hit a friend at school.  His favorite game is to get his brother to misbehave, then sit back innocently and watch him get in trouble.

Benjamin smacks his sister for fun, breaks things, and calls people “stinky butt,” a term I fear he learned from his brother.

Lilah, bless her little heart, is delighted that she understands my directions and – other than getting pissy when I refuse to change her clothes for hours – is incredibly obedient.

I can yell, I can take away privileges, I can send them to their rooms.  And it works.  On Zachary.

Benjamin?  He won’t stay in his room.  He feigns nonchalance when I take away TV time.  He laughs maniacally and breaks things.  And how the hell do I send him to his room when he hits his brother’s friends in the kindergarten line in the morning?

I truly fear this kid will end up in juvie.

You may have heard about the mom who had her friend in the sheriff’s department pretend to arrest her five-year-old because he was lighting fires.  The neighbor was shocked, but I wonder what the neighbor would have thought if the house had gone up in flames.  My guess?  Everyone would have been aghast that the mom hadn’t found a way to stop her kid from starting fires.

Really, to my mind, there is only one question: where can I get a friend in the sheriff’s department?

We call him “Cotton Eyed Joe,” because we have no idea where he came from

Benjamin is in the backseat, still in the preschool afterglow.  “Mommy,” he says.  “I really, really want a pet dog.”

I am accustomed to these statements.  Last week, he wanted a pet bull, which he was going to keep in a bull cage in the living room.  Currently, there is a circle of rocks in our yard, just in case any passing penguins want to use it for their nest.

“A pet dog,” he repeats.  “And a bull, and a cat, and a T-Rex.”

“A T-Rex, huh?” I reply, half-listening.

“Yes, but you can’t let the T-Rex cross the street.”

I start to focus in on what he’s saying.  “Why can’t the T-Rex cross the street?”

“Because of the cars.”  He looks out the window and sighs, satisfied that we have settled the matter.

On grandmothers and board games

I check in on Zachary fifteen minutes after putting him to bed.  He is awake.  Although he has discovered that the testing is really quite easy, it threw off his sleep patterns.  I sit down on the edge of his bed.

“What’s wrong, my sweet?”

“I’m going to have bad dreams,” he tells me.  “Someone brought in Spider Man checkers today.”  We chat for a few minutes about Spider Man checkers and board games in general.  He is quite sure that he is stupid – that he always loses the games.

“You know, you changed my life when you were born.”  I am thinking of the way he taught me about unconditional love and parenting, opened up a world of emotions that people who have parents come to understand in childhood.

“I know,” he says again.  “You stopped teaching when you had me.”

“That’s true.  But I’m sure sometime I’ll teach again.”

“You know, people who have children still can teach,” he tells me.

“I know, but I wanted to be here for you guys.”

“Well, if my grandparents lived in town, maybe my grandma could take care of me while you taught.”  Then, silliness kicks in.  “Or, maybe grandma could teach for you while you took care of us.  No, that would be backward.  I think grandma better take care of us while you teach.”

“That’s true.  If she lived here…”

“But grandma doesn’t really take care of us,” he remarks, as though taking care of someone implies boring.  “She plays with us.”  Which, in case you were wondering, his mother does not do.

“That’s true.  She’s a pretty fun grandma.”

“She’s the best grandma.”

“That’s right,” I reply.  “There isn’t a better one out there.”

He smiles.  “You’re joking!”

“No, you got the best grandma,” I assure him.  He looks at me, all earnestness.  Then he speaks.

“I think your mother would have been just as good.”

Scenes from last week; or, Cheese with that?

It’s 6:45 Tuesday morning.  I am exchanging emails with the kindergarten teacher, trying to schedule a time in the remaining few weeks of school for me to come read to the class.  Zach has been wistfully referring to the “guest readers” for months now, and I have finally taken the hint. The teacher – a new mom – has been up for hours and is cheerfully replying to my emails, wedging in an extra slot.

I do this all before dropping Zach at school.  He’ll go straight to the Y after morning kindergarten for Fun in the Afternoon.  The afternoon kindergarteners do Fun in the Morning.  This is how we extend half-day kindergarten.

I pick him up at two o’clock, waiting for ten minutes outside the classroom, which has a glass door.  I stand to the side of this glass door; the teacher doesn’t see me right away, so she calls several other children first. He scowls at me.  “You weren’t standing in the hallway.”

I give him the Sun Butter cookies I made.  It turns out that Joy of Cooking peanut butter cookies are just as tasty if you sub in honey for all the sugar, whole wheat flour for white flour, and Sun Butter for peanut butter, thereby rendering them acceptable even for nut-free classrooms.  By the time I was done tinkering, they were a mighty healthy treat, and Zach even likes the ones that were slightly overbaked.

We pick up his brother from preschool and go home.  I offer them more cookies, but explain there won’t be enough for everybody if they don’t also eat the darker ones.  “No fair!”  Zach yells.  “They’re disgusting!”

The boys rest a little, eat snack, refrain from beating one another up for the most part.  Lilah wakes up from nap and I nebulize her before we run out the door to go back to the Y.  We’re overscheduled, I know, but Zach loves the Tuesday afternoon art class and Ben needs to swim at least twice a week or he shrivels up into a ball.

Picking Zach up from the same classroom, I am careful this time to be standing on the opposite wall so I can be seen as soon as the teacher opens the door. She comes out and begins hanging pictures on the wall.  Finally, she sends out the kids.  “Guess which mask your child made!” she tells the parents.

I scrutinize the pictures, masks inspired by Native American art.  I know Zach’s style, and after a moment, I pick out the correct piece, much to his teacher’s surprise.  “No!” he pouts, sticking out his lip.  “I didn’t want you to guess.”

Because, apparently, knowing his artwork indicates some basic lack of concern for him.

In the car on the way home, I mention that I am going to be the guest reader.  “You know, you’ll need to pick a book for me to read to the class on Thursday.”

“The only books I like the other kids in the class won’t be into!” he mopes.

“You mean chapter books?”

“Yes.  I only want you to read chapter books.”

“But, honey, I can’t read a chapter book to the class.  I only have fifteen minutes.”  This, I think, is a reasonable response.

“The only books you can read are chapter books,” he insists.  “Or you can’t come in.”

Testing… testing

Our school district – in its wisdom – decided that the kindergarteners need to do a week of standardized testing.  This despite the fact that half the kids can’t read and the other half will be too distracted by picking their noses for the test to have any validity. Now, normally, I would just chalk this up to a colossal waste of time and resources.


The kindergarten teachers felt they needed to reassure the kids that testing is not a big deal.  For a week and a half before the actual testing begins.

Yes, they announced to the kids a week and a half ago that there would be testing.  They had the children practice using privacy folders, which are meant to curtail the wandering eyes.  They told them to be sure not to tire themselves out, eat a good breakfast, and get plenty of rest.

Now, if you want to make sure that my particular kindergartener does not get plenty of rest, the best possible way to do so is to inform him a week and a half before you start testing that he is going to be tested.

He began by telling me he would need to miss tae kwon do on testing week.  I got his teacher to talk to him and explain that physical activity is actually a good thing to engage in.  She told him that testing really is nothing to worry about.

I repeated the message, as did his therapist.  I even went so far as to explain to him that the testing was just there to help figure out if the teachers are teaching the material well.

Clearly, he was unconvinced.  He has been awake for hours every night, eyes wide open, staring at the ceiling.  He fell apart on a playdate.  He has been hideous to his mother and brother.

OK, that last one has nothing to do with the testing, but I wanted to complain about it anyway.

Testing starts this morning.  It will last a week.  On the one hand, I am thrilled to get started so it will be over with soon.  On the other hand, I know this is just the beginning of two decades of this shit, starting with the kindergarten tests in which they have to identify which picture is three o’clock and ending in cold sweats for months before the LSATs.

I wonder if he’ll need a privacy folder for the Bar Exam.

Everything I need to know I learned from Laura Ingalls Wilder

As we have already established, I have a somewhat unorthodox idea of what is appropriate children’s literature.  I prefer not to expose my kids to violence in its many forms – whether war or droids.  However, I don’t think sexuality – when explained in a healthy way – ought to be taboo.  My strange sense of propriety extends beyond books to life; I want to maintain their innocence about things like video games and Spongebob, but I have no problem explaining things like homelessness and bigotry.

As Zachary graduated to chapter books, I decided to start reading him the Little House series.  There were two things I did not realize.  One, Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a fuckload of books.  Two, my child would become completely engrossed.

We have been at this for about four months.  We have read eight-and-a-half Little House books, all the way from the Little House in the Big Woods of Wisconsin to the First Four Years of Laura’s marriage to Almanzo.  We are a year-and-a-half into those four years, after which we will be finished with the series.  I fear he may ask me to start reading other books about Wilder.

For awhile, he would get the picture book versions of the books on his weekly trips to the school library.  I am pretty sure he is the first kindergarten boy the librarian has ever seen who knows exactly where the Little House section is.  But, he soon tired of those watered-down versions.  He decided the writing was not up to his standards.

Apparently, my kid is a literary snob.

The books bring up some tough questions, and I do not censor Ma’s bigotry.  Instead, I discuss with him that her hatred of “Indians” is prejudice, and we talk about why that is so bad.  When we hit the minstrel show, it got a little more complicated.  Ever try explaining to a five-year-old why blackface is so offensive…?

I don’t mind these conversations.  He is learning history, and a part of that is coming to understand that attitudes are in many ways socially constructed.  He may not grasp all of this, but raising a child with any set of values is an ongoing process.  Frankly, it’s one of my favorite parts of parenting.

Not that the Little House mania has been all positive.  There have been a few unforeseen complications.  When he and his friends get together, they tend to play games themed around their obsessions – one friend loves dinosaurs, another Star Wars.  Lately it has been How to Train Your Dragon.  But, it’s hard to propose to a group of six-year-old boys, “Guys, I have an idea.  Instead of playing dinosaurs, let’s play Little House.  I’ll be Almanzo.  Who wants to play Carrie?”

And then there was the trip to the local living historical farm, which starts with a display of nineteenth-century farming implements.  As we walked in, Zachary walked up to the first display case.  “Oh, look!  A yoke!”  Turning to the next case, he exclaimed, “It’s a plow!  And a pitchfork!”

You don’t even want to know how excited he was to churn butter.

Of course, he was even more excited for Laura and Almanzo to get together.  You see, I had explained during Farmer Boy that the book was about Almanzo, who would grow to be the man Laura marries.  So, for all of The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie, and These Happy Golden Years, the kid would writhe with happy anticipation whenever Almanzo showed up.   Clearly, my child is a romantic.

Zach has gotten some queer notions about the way the world works from these books, however.  It took some time to explain exactly why Laura and her Ma both had to stop teaching once they got married.  And he hasn’t quite grasped that people don’t get married anymore straight out of their parents’ houses.  I had to explain that his teenaged babysitter is going to college, rather than finding a beau.

The books have taught him about engagement rings, a necessary education for all five-year-olds.  “Mommy, why do you have two rings?”

“One is my wedding ring, the other is my engagement ring.”

“Why did you marry Daddy and leave your parents’ house?” he asked, missing about ten years in the middle. “I bet you were glad to get away from your stepmother because she was mean, even though Daddy is sometimes stinky.”

“I didn’t marry Daddy right after I left. I went to college.”

“Did you go to college right after you left your stepmother?”

This was not a conversation I wanted to have in front of the sponge that is his three-year-old brother.  “Honey, can you come into the kitchen and I will be happy to explain it?”

He followed me in, and I bent down to his level.  I think my kids know when I am imparting important information, because I stop washing dishes and actually look at them.  “I didn’t leave when I went to college.  I left when I was about John’s age,” I explained, referring to our ten-year-old neighbor.

“Who did you live with?”

“My grandparents and then my aunt.”

“But you were happy to leave your stepmother,” he repeated.

“That’s true.  I was happy to get away from my stepmother.”

“Because stepmothers are mean.”

“No,” I said.  “My stepmother was mean.  But not all of them are.”

“Why was she mean?” he asked, a question I dreaded only slightly less than the other possibility: how was she mean?

“I don’t know.”

“Maybe she didn’t like you?”

“Well, that’s true.  She didn’t like me.”

Never one to be deterred, he pressed on.  “Why didn’t she like you?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know why a grown-up wouldn’t like a child.  Why do you think?”  At this point, I was hoping to get a sense of what he thought the issues were, so that I was not giving more information than he was actually asking for.  However, he had no idea why a grown-up would dislike a child, and the conversation stopped there.

But I am left with it, this knowledge that the conversations are rapidly creeping up on me.  He is asking more and more, wanting to process my life, to fit it into the world that he knows.  And, unlike the middle child – whose pleas of “tell me about when you were a little girl” can be assuaged with “I liked to climb trees” – this one is old enough to handle parts of the truth.

I just wish I could maintain his innocence a little bit longer.

You’re never fully dressed without a similie

Benjamin is three-going-on-four, and he is going on four hard.  He stands with one hand on baby and another on boy and is pushing hard in either direction.  He wants to fit in with the big boys.  He bursts with enthusiasm when his brother’s friends include him and howls with frustration when the older children leave him behind.  But for all his protestations of maturity, he wiggles deep into babyhood, only to find himself stuck there and screaming to get out.

Much of his anger flies at me.  I am the primary caregiver, and he is a middle child, angry that his sister gets babied and his brother gets grown-up time.  Of all our children, he is the only one who needs someone to lie down with him at night.  He simply cannot bring himself down from the highs and lows of the day without another heartbeat to help him find a steady rhythm.  Sometimes he snuggles in, pressing his muscular little body into us, but other times he kicks, fights, and punches.

He does this especially with me.  The instinct is to pull away, to show him that violence makes me leave.  But, last week, it occurred to me that he was testing to see if I’d walk away, make the other two – the ones who flank him – the priority because they are easier.  So, I stayed, pinned him in a bear hug, and told him, “I’m not going away.  But I won’t let you hurt me.”

It has worked, and evenings have gotten calmer.  But he is a tough cookie, all bluster and bravado on the outside, despite the deeper need and sensitivity.  He just wears himself out sometimes, fighting to be a five-and-a-half year old and a nineteen-month-old all at the same time.

Saturday, he needed a nap, although he has long given up a regular naptime.  One of his brother’s friends was coming over for dinner, and there was no way Ben was going to make it through the night.  I took him upstairs to lie down with me, whereupon he tried every technique he could come up with to avoid falling asleep.  Wiggling, hitting, general noisiness.  He also tried talking, which is his absolute favorite hobby.

Of course, he talked about his favorite topic – other than weapons and violence – Lucy.

“Lucy is really, really strong,” he told me.

“Is she?”

“She’s as strong as a tree.  She’s as strong as a grown-up tree,” he went on.  And there it was.  His very first simile.

That’s my baby.