Kiddos and Books 12/14/13


No, not even yesterday’s snow stopped story time! And yes, I’m so glad I woke up at 5am to clear the snow so I could do it again at 8.

Books We Read


The Snowy Day

Kiddos were entranced by the simple story of Peter and his snowy day. The best part was watching the kids look at the book, then out the window, then back to the book, then out the window as they slowly realized that like Peter, they were having their very own snowy day.


Click Clack Moo

This is a story time fav – cows and hens who strike for better working conditions and a farmer smart enough to know when he should negotiate. Added bonus – kiddos learn “big” words like furious and ultimatum – concepts with which they (and their parents) are all too familiar.


Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

The perfect book for the holidays…when all of those lovely Amazon boxes appear on your doorstep and you wonder what you can do with them.  Well, they can be a race car, a robot, a time machine (big fav in our house), a dinosaur catcher…


Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

One of my musically inclined parents upped the ante on this book and started reading Pete in different rock star voices.  You haven’t lived until you’ve heard his versions of Prince, Bob Dylan and Axl Rose singing “I love my red shoes.”

The next Kiddos & Books Story Time will be Saturday, January 4, 2014 9:30am
The Common Cup – 1501 W. Morse, Chicago


Kiddos and Books – 12/7/13


Brrrrrr! A chilly start to a Saturday morning! Thanks to everyone who braved the cold!

Today we read:


The Fantastic Mr. Wani by Kanako Usui

A visual feast about a crocodile on his way to a party.  Lots of giggles from the crowd.


Not A Box by Antoinette Portis

Rabbit has something next to him…but it is absolutely positively NOT A BOX! Great for encouraging imaginative play in youngsters.


Harry the Dirty Dog by Gene Zion

A classic tale about a dog and his avoidance of bath time.  Really, Harry?


Pete the Cat: I Love My White Shoes

Pete’s got some fancy white shoes, but when you walk through town, who knows what you’ll step in! Nice, repetitive story makes it easy for kiddos to follow along, and it introduces colors.  Plus, Pete’s just a cool cat.

Kiddos & Books – Every Saturday – 9:30am
The Common Cup – 1501 W. Morse, Chicago


Things That Go THUMP in the Night


A few nights ago, Lori and I were logging some late-night hours in our state-of-the-art home office – the basement of our 100-year-old Victorian. We were catching up on client emails, redoing budgets, and putting together project plans for upcoming work. As much as I adore our home, it can be…quirky. I mean, yes, it’s haunted – that’s another story – but more than that, the laws of physics simply don’t seem to apply.

Come to think of it, the two things may be related.

Apart from the flickering lights, burned out batteries, unidentifiable smells, and random cold spots, the thing that really makes this house odd is how it treats sound. It’s just…weird. We can all be in the kitchen at the back of the house and very clearly hear footsteps going up the front stairway. I can be in the mudroom and hear Lori yelling from our bedroom to turn off the stove, but not hear Gabe in the powder room yelling for someone to help him wipe his butt. Or we can be in the frontyard and hear Olivia’s books landing with dull thuds on the floor in her protest of nap time.

Even our neighbors across the alley have become extended members of our funky aural family. On more than one occasion, we have found a morning-dew-covered bottle of wine waiting for us as we hustle the kids to school after a particularly challenging evening where Olivia’s non-stop screaming at her brothers to give her the damn hula hoop has apparently traveled from our backyard into their front sitting room.

Sounds like this might help after last night.
It’s happy hour somewhere.
– P and T

Perhaps it is the house’s coping mechanism, after raising the previous owners’ eight rambunctious boys – this disperssal of sound to keep itself sane. Whatever the origins, it has become so integrated into our everyday “normal” that we don’t register it anymore.

That’s probably why, after the first THUMP we heard that night, we just lifted our heads from our computer screens, shrugged, then went back to typing. After all, it wasn’t unusal for Nick to literally hit the wall to try to fall asleep after he figuratively hit it.

“Do you think we should check on them,” Lori asked. Translation: I’m in the middle of putting together this budget, so could you go upstairs and make sure they haven’t tied the drawstrings of their robes to the ceiling fan…again.

“Actually,” I rationalized, not wanting to stop work on a creative brief I promised the client, “I’m sure they’re fine.”

The second THUMP was accompanied by the patter of little feet scurrying down the hall, followed promptly by a third THUMP and more giggling.

We simultaneously sighed, stopped typing and headed upstairs.

“Nick? Gabe?”

Silence met us as we ascended the stairs.


We rounded the bannister, and heard giggling coming from behind the guest bedroom door. Stepping across the threshold, we saw what all of the commotion was about. The boys had built a reading nest – complete with every blanket from their beds and every book from their shelves – literally, we had to step over Go Dog Go and The Boxcar Children to find stable footing.


Where should I start? My first instinct was to scold.

It’s 9:30! Why are you up?! Why does it look like a library truck threw up in here?! Why can’t you just read in bed? What part of ‘goodnight, stay in bed, see you in the morning’ did you not understand?

But then…they just looked so adorable, nestled in their little reading fort, pillows on the perimeter, books stacked haphazardly, many open at once as if they were remixing lines from each author to make an entirely new piece (for all I know, they were). Then I remembered that we had made the mistake of giving them Lori’s homemade high protein flax bagels right before bed. Olivia had declined, which was why she was still slumbering in the adjacent room.

Then there was the fact that as a kid, I had ruined my eyesight reading by flashlight long after my parents had gone to bed. Well Hello, Karma. How you doin’?

“Why don’t you guys get one book to take back to your room, ok?”

Nick chose a book on evolution while Gabe opted for Winnie the Pooh.

“Can we stay up a little it to read?”

Lori and I smiled at one another, completely on the same wavelength. “Of course you can,” Lori nodded. “And we’ll even stay upstairs and rub your backs.”

That seemed to ease the tension in our elder boy. Grabbing hold of his brother’s hand, he walked back to his room, helping Gabe into his bed before climbing into his own.

Within five minutes both boys were fast asleep. Lori and I tiptoed out of the bedroom and returned to our basement enclave.

Whether it’s a home bursting with books, or a snack packed with protein, we get back what we put in. A lifetime love of reading, an evening burst of energy – kids use whatever we give them. So can we really be upset when Nick walks into a door because he hasn’t looked up from his latest Captain Underpants book? Or Gabe demands not one or two but seven bedtime stories, including poetry? Or Olivia sends our blood pressure up when she tries to bring a stack of ten books down the stairs with her? Or they demand something from Lori’s kitchen because it’s just so freakin’ good?

As we strive to nourish their bodies and feed their spirits, we must remember that the rewards we are so eager to reap will appear on their terms and their time.

And like the sounds that bounce through our home, will be random, yet… inevitable.

We must simply wait –

And listen.


Our New Trend

“Give me your tired, your poor…”
Whoops! Wrong statue! Or is it….dum dum DUUUUUUM

“Enough with the bossa nova already!”  Lori hit pause on my Brasil Pandora station.  Gilberto Gil; Bebel, João and Astrud Gilberto; Jorge Ben Jor and the like had become 24-7 guests in our house after Lori put her foot down on my 24-7 show tunes station.

“We really need to diversify the kids’ musical palate, doncha think?”

I shrugged.  Right now, my default music setting was bossa nova…and since Nick already belted “Clang clang clang goes the trolley.  Ring ring ring goes the BELLLLLLLLLL!” any time he rode his bike, I considered my work on that front complete.


“He’s not a Glee kid.”

“Not yet,” I muttered.  Come hell or high water, one of these kids was going to be musically inclined.

I think my plan is working.  These days, Nick’s most common objection to being dropped off at camp is that “we’re not done listening to Mas Que Nada!”  I hadn’t set out to create musical omnivores; that’s just the environment they’re growing up in.

It’s the same with religion – we’re cafeteria Catholics, both of us long-term products of Catholic education.  We still have a relationship with the church despite its ongoing efforts to sever its relationship with us.

Of late, I have been on a Jesus kick.  Yup, he is just alright with me.  It could have something to do with watching The Tree of Life, a movie that vaulted top of my top 10 – past The Decalogue… and Green Card.  Or maybe it’s the bedside reading – Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff and Unholy Night – both of which I heartily recommend.  The first made the laugh, and want to read more about potty-mouthed angels; the second made me cry, and made me want to read more about vampire-smoting presidents.

Even though summer in the Catholic faith is laaaaaaame, and the churches aren’t air-conditioned, religion is having a renewed – though not an overt – presence in our lives. In passing, I’ve been recounting scenes from Lamb to Lori:

“So Biff and Joshua, aka Jesus, meet up with these Buddhist monks after they’ve been hanging with this demon guy.…”

And somehow the kids have picked up on this.  Nick has been carrying his children’s Bible around the house, as has monkey-see-monkey-do Gabe.  Though Gabe has, in classic little bro fashion, trumped Nick in the historical reenactment department by insisting that he wash everyone’s feet in the house…even Olivia….even our dog, Skippy.

I never thought the words, “put that Bible down and finish your breakfast. God can wait,” would pass through my lips, but behold, they have…to which Nick has responded, “But I’m not done reading about Noah!!!”

The kids will rebel in their teen years – we all do.  But at least this way I’ve given them something to rebel against.  The same with music.  They may venture into electronica, Punjabi dub or whatever new-fangled thing the kids are listening to these days.  They may even shave their heads, join the clergy, or just commune with the Great Spirit in their home-made labyrinth.

It won’t really matter.

There was a great description of religious belief in The Sun a few issues back: each tradition is a spoke on a wheel.  They all lead to the Source.

(Duuuuude….pass the dutchie…)

Whatever path our children choose, they will always find their way home.

P.S. Yes, I’ve become a cliché – a middle-aged black woman who reads religious fiction.  Saints preserve us! 
Dang it! Now I’m apparently Irish too.


I Support My Fairy-Loving Son

Nothing wrong with a little faerie dust

A sprinkling of faerie dust to cure your troubles

We walked silently to our friend’s house, save our shared footfall. Nick was unusually quiet, preferring to stare at the ground rather than the trees that lined our path. Something was bothering him, but I knew better than to ask him directly. He would tell me when he was ready.

“Nana,” he whispered, eyes downcast as he clutched the book we had just picked up from his school’s book fair. “Sometimes kids make fun of me for liking girl things.”

My heart broke a little.
Actually, it broke a lot.
Then my Nana Claws came out.

I wanted names, times, dates, locations. I would track these kids down and give them a complex so deep they’d be in therapy until their forties – buck teeth, morning meltdowns, seriously f@#$-ed up hair. How dare they hurt my son. How dare they judge his choices –

As I had.

Nudging him away from The Secret Diaries to Ninjago and World’s Scariest Animals Books 1-7!! Presenting his book to the cashier with a shrug and an eye roll, fearing the whispers about the boy with 2 moms who liked only girly things and really, wasn’t that the problem with same-sex households…

Did I think he didn’t see it? Was unaware of my silent disapproval? What kind of message had I sent him?

I took a deep breath and prayed for the clarity to see past my own ego, the one that wanted to make these kids pay for, well, being kids, and be the parent my son needed me to be in this moment, not the fearful hypocrite from 2 hours ago.

I leaned over and tipped his chin up so we could see eye-to-eye.

“How does that make you feel?”

He gave a little shrug. “Sad, I guess.”

“Sweetie, I know it’s a little hard right now, but it’s totally OK to like fairies. Do you know that one of the things I love about you is how you know exactly what you like?”

It was a quality I wish I had. Perhaps I did have it once, when I was his age, but it had dissipated over the years. Thank goodness for these children of mine, who were slowly returning the many things I had lost from my childhood.

“I remember one time, when you were 3, you took a huge bite of butter and when I asked you why you said, ‘’Cause I like it!”

His eyes went wide. “I did?!”

“You bet you did. That’s what makes you so special, kiddo. And I think being special is pretty awesome.”

He started walking again, this time with more pep…so much so, that it took me a few extended strides to catch up.

“You know what else, Nana?”

“What, Nick?”

“When I was looking at the books at lunch time, a girl leaned over and told me that she liked boy things.”

“Really? And how did that make you feel?”

“Happy.” He closed his eyes and wrapped his hand around his fairy necklace – a free gift with every Magikal Forest purchase. “I have magic in me,” he said, quoting a passage from the book.

I leaned over to kiss his forehead.

“You most certainly do.”

P.S. I did take this fairy opportunity to introduce Nick to Shakespeare by way of Midsummer Night’s Dream. A very accessible kid’s version is available here. We scored ours from the library.

Once an English major…


Where Did I Come From?

“We cannot have an identity of our own until we have our own story.”

– James P. Carse
Breakfast at the Victory: The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience


Story time is sacrosanct in our house.  No matter how crazy, crappy or convoluted the day has been, we will gather, as a family, in the boys’ bedroom and read.

There are books that are in regular rotation – 10 Apples Up on Top (Gabe), This is the Way to the Moon (Nick), and  Mary Had a Little Lamb (Olivia).  But the ones that the kids request the most are the stories of how our family came to be.

“Mommy and Nana were in a meeting,” starts Nick’s story.  And he listens with rapt attention as we describe the daisy chain calls to our work, then cell phones, to ask if we wanted to pick up baby boy…right now.

How we were so excited to meet this baby that we forgot our car seat when we drove to the doctor’s house.

How we bounded up the stairs of his Victorian and he met us at the door.

How the moment our social worker placed this tiny baby in our arms we knew he was our Nicholas.

How we realized we didn’t have any baby items at home so we drove to Target and walked the aisles while Auntie Caroline told us over the phone what we needed to buy.

How when we got home we stared at him as he slept, whispering over and over, “thank you for finding us.”

“And what about Gabe,” Nick prompts. “He came from Obama’s house.”  We smile, as we always do, because no matter how many times we have explained that “the white house” that Gabe came from is different from the one where Obama lives, Nick still thinks his brother has a presidential connection.

“Mommy and Nana were working on the computer,” starts Gabe’s story, “and we got an email.”  There was a baby boy, about a month old, in the nursery of “the white house.”  His birthmom had picked our family – had picked Nick specifically to be this baby’s big brother.

How we went to visit the baby – just Mommy and Nana – while Nick was in school. 

How alert he was, with his toothless baby smile, and he snuggled into our arms, as if he was always meant to be there.

How we went as a family to bring him home and Nick told everybody in the elevator that he was going to get his baby brother.

How we sat on the big couch and big brother did such a good job holding his brother’s head up as he fed him a bottle.

How we showed Gabe the giant “READY” sign we had painted, now hanging in our kitchen, to let him and the Universe know that we were here and waiting.

How Gabe smiled at Nick as he drifted to sleep and Nick’s smile filled his face, then the room, then our hearts.

“And Olivia?” Nick says of his sister who has fallen asleep in Lori’s arms.  He is stretched on the floor next to his brother, who is fighting to stay awake.

“Nana was ‘making a movie’” – we describe our work in ways that they can understand – “and I got a message on my phone that Olivia was being born.”

How Olivia had to stay in the hospital because she was so excited to meet us that she came a little early. 

How Nick picked the clothes for the new baby and we cautioned him that maybe we would just have the baby for a little while since we had to wait for her birthmom to tell a judge she wanted us to take care of Olivia forever, and remember how the other babies’ mommies had changed their minds…

How Nick studied the yellow duckling onesie he held in his hands then said quietly but firmly, “No. I want to keep this one.”

How Nick and Gabe waited with our village of friends and family while we visited Olivia, taking pictures to show them when we came home.

How Nick started his first day of kindergarten; Gabe went to daycare.  Both came home, went to bed, and awoke a few hours late to meet their little sister.

How we sat together in Olivia’s room, marveling at our expanded family.

The children are asleep now, and as we tuck each one in, we know we will share these words again.

These are the stories we tell our children, for them to tell themselves.


Scout’s Honor

This weekend, we discovered Gabe’s strawberry allergy. One moment, he was happily chomping on a strawberry popsicle. The next moment, it looked like someone had pressed his face into a Berber carpet. (Hey, they actually use real strawberries.  Huzzah!)

Luckily, I’m a worrywart, so I always have children’s Benadryl on hand.

Yesterday morning we offered him almond-buttered toast; he insistently pointed to the strawberry jelly with an emphatic, “I want dat!”

Not going to happen, kiddo.  Back and forth we went until Lori decided to add some explanation, even though we were unsure whether it would make sense to his two-year-old brain. “If you eat this,” she said, picking up the jar, “you will get yucky bumps on your face. Remember?” She touched his cheek to reinforce the point. “Itchy. Owie.”

“Itchy. Owie,” he repeated, before covering her hand with his own then finally accepting the toast – sans jelly.

That afternoon, when I picked Nick up from school, he ran to me, face radiating with joy, emphatically waving a flyer. “It’s a club! Just for boys! They do fun things! I want to go!”

“That’s awesome, kiddo! I bet – “ My heart sank when I saw the logo.

The Boy Scouts.

Great, we’re going to have that conversation.

“I bet,” I began again, as we drove home, “that it does look like a lot of fun, but here’s the thing – they don’t like families that have 2 mommies or 2 daddies. And I know it’s not fair, and it doesn’t feel good, but that’s just the way they think. It doesn’t make it right.”

“Oh.” I could see the spark fading from his eyes…then, an idea forming.

“What if only you or Mommy takes me, but not both of you and I tell them I have a daddy.”

“But you don’t have a daddy. You have 2 mommies, just like…” and I listed the same-sex families we had purposely surrounded ourselves with, knowing that the children of these relationships would need to see themselves reflected in others. “Oh, and don’t forget Joshua – he’s got 2 mommies and a daddy – how cool is that? And Elise, she has 1 mommy. And Kevin, he has 1 mommy and 1 daddy. See? There are lots of ways to make a family.”

Nick was silent, staring out the window, no doubt, still processing.

“Sweetie, if we told them that you had a daddy, that would be lying. Would that feel good?”

“No,” he sighed. “I just really wanted to go fishing.”

“Hey! We can all go fishing as a family, or maybe you and mommy can go?” But not on a boat that moves, ’cause your momma will turn all shades green…hmm, teaching moment! Link back to something he already knows…

“Hey Nick, do you remember Martin Luther King, Jr.?”


“And how he had a special day and wrote lots of letters and talked to lots of people?”

I saw him scrunching up his face, trying to reach back to January.  “And he said we all have to love each other?”

“That’s right. Did you know that some people didn’t like him because of the color of his skin? It was brown like yours and mine. Did you know some people didn’t like people who were Chinese like Mommy – ”

“Nana,” Nick interrupted with his half-scolding-Barry-White-deep voice, which meant he was about to lay down some serious learning. “There is no brown skin or white skin. That’s just the ladder inside us that makes it that color.” Hurray for introducing DNA and the concept of pigmentation early!

“That’s exactly right.” My little six-year-old genius, so wise beyond his –

“Wait, are there any orange people?” And we’re back.

“Hmmm, I haven’t seen any, but if I did, I bet I would be nice to them.”

“Yeah, me too.”

That night, for story time, Nick reached for a book we hadn’t read in weeks – Leo Lionni’s Little Yellow and Little Blue. Maybe he just likes color theory, or maybe our mini lesson in prejudice stuck.

Whatever the reason, it didn’t matter.

We created this family – 2 moms, 3 kids and a dog – through love. And try as we might to protect these wonderful kids from the evil strawberries and outdated prejudices in the world, we can’t.

All we can do is explain what we know, and love them the best that we can.