Category Archives: milestones


Mabel. Oh, Mabel mine. Happy sad girl. Puppy lover. Your fringe is in your eyes again and your shins are scraped. You still don’t go much for shoes, especially if there’s a pile of leaves to be jumped in. You’re a natural teacher, a committed animal-lover, a linguist. You speak fluent opposite, excellent gibberish, and your command of Russian is impressive. (Seriously.)


You hate princesses but you spent half an hour surfing Frozen clips on YouTube yesterday. You don’t like girly things, but you haven’t thrown out the pink half of your wardrobe yet. You don’t want to be limited, that’s all: you’re an equal-opportunity lover and hater of pink and blue, of bracelets and beyblades. You complain that your brother gets all the best stuff, but then you pick out the American Girl doll and know exactly which outfit she should have.

You think you can have everything. Keep believing that.

Mabel dressed as a pirate

You’re a fun lunch date, even if you do only want fries and ketchup. You and your brother, when not fighting tooth and nail or driving us nuts staving off bedtime, can be the most hilarious double act around. You’re a serious goofball, a crazy gorilla on Broadway, and did you know that meatballs are very rare in Australia?

You’re seven. Seven is the most magical age I can think of. Remember your magic. Use it well. You will always make me proud, no matter what you do, because I struck it lucky when I got to be your mother.

A poster Mabel made saying "Pink Boys Blue Girls"


A little farther away

Dash’s new school is ten miles away. It’s a straight shot around the Beltway, and except for the home-to-school run in the morning, it takes 15 minutes door to door. The morning run to school takes anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic. Maybe longer; we haven’t had a rainy day yet. This commute (no bus, nobody close to carpool with) is clearly going to be one of the less fabulous aspects of the new school, but we knew that. B and I take turns with the morning run, but of course I’m always the lucky candidate for the afternoon pickup. So between our two cars we’re driving 40 extra miles every day, with me spending an hour and a half in the car on a day when I drive him to school as well as back. I can’t wait for next week, when there’s a parent association meeting on Wednesday evening so I get to go over one more time that day.

But driving in good weather, even on a slow road, is fine. We have the radio, for news – educational! – in the morning and music in the afternoon. I can talk myself through some knotty plot holes when I’m on my own; I find talking to myself in the car is very productive, and nobody else knows I’m not on a handsfree phone call, right?

Really, the mental adjustment is about having one child so much farther away from me than I’m used to. It just gives me a tiny niggle when I think about emergencies, or bad weather, or terrible things like, say, for instance, what happened on this day fourteen years ago. I wasn’t even in the country, let alone a parent, then; I worried about my boyfriend but he was safely in Pennsylvania, and not in a field or on a plane. But if we’d lived here, if my kids had been at school that day, we would all have huddled together as soon as we could, to hold what’s dearest closest to our hearts.

In the winter, Dash’s school will follow the decisions of the county next to ours when it comes to late openings and early closings and cancellations. Mabel’s school, of course, just up the road, is in our own county, so they may have different decisions on the same day, in the same weather. And we’ll have to get onto the Beltway in snow or ice or storm to go and get him, or bring him there. (Then again, the Beltway is always the first to be attended to with salt and grit when there’s bad weather. It’s usually the minor roads that are harder to pass.)

I know that if I was held up getting Dash from school, for whatever reason, the friend who picks up Mabel would take her home with them for as long as was needed. I know that we all have mobile phones that allow us to communicate in emergencies (assuming I (a) remember to bring it and (b) remember to charge it). I know that statistically everything will probably be fine. I know that Dash would be looked after if I didn’t make it to the school because I was stuck on the road waiting for the AAA truck. I know that we have two cars, which helps a lot on days like this when the Check Engine light comes on and I ask B if he can bike to work so that I can bring the one car to the garage and still have the other for 3pm pickup time.

But it was nice when they were both a short walk away, all day, and I felt that no matter what happened I could run up the road (panting) and grab my babies and stick them under my wing and keep them safe from every sort of harm.

I suppose the distances are only going to get bigger as they get older, right? This is just the first leap.


As we left a birthday party last weekend, Dash totally pre-empted my reminder to say “Thank you” by spontaneously thanking his friend’s mom.

Yesterday I asked him to bring the washing in off the line, and he went and did it. Just like that.

He wrote a long list of the food he wanted for his birthday party, but when I brought his desires down to earth by telling him what I was planning and how it wouldn’t be quite the three-cake extravaganza that had been his opening gambit, he said “Okay.”

He’s also planning on baking his own birthday cake.

He got 100% in his spelling test today. Spelling’s hard when you have dyslexia, because nothing “looks right” on the page.

He goes to poetry club and plays baseball. He’s a Renaissance boy, y’know.

You’ve come a long way, Baby.

Dash as a baby

Baby Dash, 5 months



Mabel turns six tomorrow. I can’t tell if six is very big or still pretty small. When Dash turned six, of course it was very big. It was the biggest I’d ever had a child be. But now, as with all her ages, Mabel has so much expected of her, and yet is still the baby.

Five is able; six is sturdy; seven is whimsical, etherial, the dreamer. Eight is practical. Nine… I don’t know about nine, it remains to be seen. But these aren’t things I’ve seen, these are just notions I have, word associations. Six is so much more than five was, because five was only just after four.

Mabel has taken to school like the proverbial duck. I had no way of predicting this, because it wasn’t very true in nursery school, but it turns out she’s just as much a rule-follower as her brother, now. She wants to get everything right. She tries so hard to remember all the things she’s meant to do. She’s enormously motivated by the points system they run which allows them to buy things in the school store. She comes home and starts playing school again, except this time she’s the teacher and her hapless brother is the student. (She has a special teacher accent, which bears no resemblance to any actual teacher she’s ever had, but adds verisimilitude, apparently.) She makes worksheets for him and sets him math problems.

She’s starting to read, as if by magic. I can see it happening so much faster for her than it did for Dash* – she has six months’ advantage over him because of her November birthday, for one thing; and she has the probably-not-dyslexic advantage too, I’m pretty sure. She has always been more attuned to words than he was, more willing to pick up a pencil and draw; letter shapes are coming so much more easily and neatly for her, and she’s noticing all the words that are strewn in front of her in this literate life, in a way that I despaired of him ever doing. (He still rarely does.)

I went on her class field trip last Monday, to a pumpkin patch. She was so good she couldn’t be gooder, the whole day. No wonder she comes home and picks a fight with her brother over sofa space – that much being good has to balance out somewhere.

She brushes her hair and brushes her teeth and dresses herself and is very self-sufficient in many ways. The biggest development of all, though, is that I can put her to bed and walk away, at least some nights, now. It took six years, but the baby is finally learning to self-soothe.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have a baby anywhere any more.

Mabel as Snow White

*The funny thing is that, while it’s happening faster in school terms (as her birthday is closer to the start of the school year) she’s the exact same age as Dash was when he first read Go, Dog. Go!, which I was very impressed by her reading to me last night for the very first time. She does it with more ease, but it’s only in my mind that she’s doing it earlier.

How to totally half-ass your way to a successful children’s party

You may remember last year, when I made a Yoda cake. Or the year before, when I made a light-saber cake. Or both years when I made an actual effort and had plans and lovingly hand crafted pool-noodle lightsabers for Dash’s birthday party.

This year, I totally half-assed it. I tried to plan, I really did, but we had no cohesive theme (he wanted Star Wars again; I put my foot down) and somehow my vague searchings on the Internet weren’t bearing any fruit. And yet, things came together. Here’s how you can duplicate this amazing feat of lassitude:


Forget to buy fruit. Have some clementines at home. Decide they’re nice and colourful and some kids might even eat them. Be vindicated as you see at least two boys (lovely, wonderful, fruit-eating boys) happily helping themselves.

Fail to consider the need for party favours or goodie bags until, while vaguely wandering in Target, you spy some foam cutlasses. Buy just enough, without having any sort of pirate theme in mind. (Mabel exclaimed dramatically, “A foam cutlass of my very own! I’ve never had one before!” I had thought that with all the swords floating around our house at least one must have been hers, but apparently not.)

Make cupcakes three days earlier and freeze them, so you only have to pull them out and ice them on the morning of the party. (This is a bonafide actual helpful tip.) (“Bonafide” always makes me think of George Clooney in Oh Brother Where Art Thou.)

Fail to buy “pigs” to go in the “blankets”. Make the blankets (crescent rolls from a tin, half sized) anyway. The kids prefer them this way.

Party table with food

Before the deluge. Cake not included. Note the clementines. And salsa! Salsa is totally vegetables.

Invite too many children. Be miffed when half of them aren’t coming. Be even less motivated to plan anything in particular. Invite a spare sibling to make up numbers. End up with just the right amount, enjoying themselves perfectly well.

Be really lucky with the weather so the kids can run around outside.

Make a round cake, not any sort of fancy shaped one with icing that requires food colouring. Put chocolate icing on it. Hear no complaints whatsoever because they are perfectly happy with it and anyway it’s delicious. (Nigella’s sour cream chocolate cake, if you want to do it yourself.)

Tell your husband his job is to set up an obstacle course of some sort. The kids will spend most of the time watching/”helping” him faff around the garden. The course, when it is finally completed, will be a roaring success and manage to bring in the totally off-the-cuff pirate theme when he orders them all to do the whole thing with their foam cutlasses in their teeth.

Like the Pied Piper, leading them through their paces.

Like the Pied Piper, leading them through their paces.

Make sure a few convivial parents stay to drink wine with you while you all watch your husband caper in the garden from the safety of the pleasantly removed kitchen.

Enjoy a self-congratulatory cup of tea/more wine after everyone goes home, safe in the knowledge that you don’t have to do this again for a year, and that once you’ve cleaned up your house will be marginally cleaner than it was this morning.

Dash blowing out his candles

Round cake, chocolate icing. Done and done.


It’s a big day on the blog.

Today, if you like to look at the dates in the sidebar to confirm, it has been exactly ten years since my first post.

Coincidentally, this is my one thousandth post. (It’s not often you have to count to the number one thousand of anything. Which is probably why that word “thousandth” looks very very strange. But it’s right, don’t worry.)

I admit, this isn’t entirely a coincidence. I noticed back in December that these two milestones were approaching, and I thought it would be nice to make them happen on the same day. So there’s been a certain amount of deleting forgotten drafts and then deleting too many and then frantically realising I had to find something to say for three days in a row… but you don’t need to know about these behind-the-scenes minutae.

I also am bound to admit that that’s not quite one thousand published posts – some thirty of them or so are drafts; but they’re not just a saved semicolon to make up the numbers. Sometimes I put something in drafts and label it “Notes for just me,” never to be published; there are some that might still legitimately be considered works in progress.

List of posts showing 1000

And I can’t quite say I’ve been blogging steadily for ten years; but I’ve been blogging unsteadily. I don’t know if anyone ever delves into the deep dark of the distant archives, but I like having them there, as a virtual scrapbook that can plonk me straight back into the person I was two children ago, or one, or when they were smaller. I have a terrible memory; I like to have things written down.

If you’re reading, whether you’ve been around for years or just found me recently, I’m delighted to have you, and today would be the perfect day to leave me a quick comment, if you can. (I know commenting is tricky for some people. Sorry about that. It’s not me, it’s Blogger.)

Thanks for being here. It wouldn’t be the same without you.

Letters for "Blog" in fridge magnets



Sometimes life just writes my blog posts for me. The post about Mabel’s dentist visit segued into Dash’s prosaic encounter with the tooth fairy; and then this happened…

After school yesterday, out of the blue, Mabel and I had this conversation:

“Mummy, is Santa real? A___ told me today that it’s just the parents giving presents.”
Oh really?” said I, playing for time.
“I know from the way you said that, he’s not real.”
“You used that voice you use.”
[Oh crap. Really? I’m that transparent?]

Then we had a little conversation about whether it’s more fun if Santa’s real or not real, and she admitted it’s more fun if he is real, but she still wanted to know the truth. So I told her the truth. And followed it up swiftly with the Very Serious Admonishment that now that she’s in on this big secret, she must be very careful to keep the secret from the other kids.

I admit, I felt a twinge of sadness at the passing of the belief. But mostly I felt relief. I never did very well with the double standards required by Doing Santa. When you’re reassuring your kids on the one hand that giants don’t exist and dinosaurs are extinct and fairies are only in stories and there are no goblins, and then encouraging them on the other hand to write letters to the man who’ll come down the chimney and leave them presents in some totally magical manner… well, I’ve nothing against anyone who does it, but I found it tricky.

Anyway, there are great things about having Santa finally debunked:

  • I don’t have to explain how come Santa only shops at Target.
  • I can put useful things in their stockings that Santa couldn’t possibly have known they needed (and certainly wasn’t asked for).
  • I don’t have to be careful to remember which presents we gave them and which ones Santa did for years to come.
  • Santa doesn’t get all the credit for the great gift ideas that were really mine.

Don’t worry, Santa will still be coming to our house. Probably until the children are grown-up, and maybe even then a while. But if he slips up now and then and brings the wrong thing … well, I suppose the kids will know exactly who to blame.

Tooth of doom

Almost exactly two years ago, Mabel got a filling in a molar. She had just turned three, and it was not a fun experience. The dentist had intended to give her a crown, but she was wriggling and crying so much, in spite of the nitrous oxide, which didn’t seem to be doing anything much, that he left it at a filling.

I had taken her for a checkup as soon as her second set of molars were in, which was only about a month earlier. That seemed like a good time to start the dentist’s visits, and had been what I’d done with her brother, whose teeth have no holes. But I’d noticed a little spot on one of Mabel’s upper teeth, so I wanted to get them checked out. Sure enough, we were sent off to the pediatric dentist for a further look.

Everything had been fine at the two checkups after that filling, and then last spring Mabel took agin the dentist and decided not to open her mouth at all. I didn’t push it. She’s four-and-a-half, I said, because we’ve been through the four-and-a-halfs before, and they’re tough; she’ll be fine when she’s five. We went back a month ago and she was a lot more cooperative. And lo, the dentist could see that there was a new hole in the tooth with the filling.

So we went off to a new pediatric dentist (not that I had anything against the old one, but this one was closer and we had the referral for her) and they took some x-rays and saw that not only did she definitely need a crown, but also a baby root canal. I did ask later why they wouldn’t just pull the whole tooth: as this was a molar that isn’t due to fall out till she’s ten, the dentist felt that for spacing reasons it would be best to leave it in.

Taking x-rays was not a trivial procedure, because Mabel didn’t like the thing in her mouth that they use to x-ray just one area. She said it hurt the roof of her mouth; having a small mouth, I can empathize because I hate that too, but being a grown up I have learned to just do it and get it over with without gagging. She point-blank refused, crying piteously. Finally, they said they could try the all-round x-ray machine, and by bringing it down to the lowest level and finding some phone directories for her to stand on, they got her positioned just right. The dentist said usually this is harder for small children, because they have to stand perfectly still while the machine moves around their head, but I was proud of Mabel for swallowing her tears and standing like a statue so the machine could get a perfect photo of all her teeth, in and out of the gums. It was very cool to see all her adult teeth waiting inside there for the time when they’ll nudge the others out of the way and burst forth.

(Dash’s teeth are bursting forth all over right now. He lost his third this morning, and the adult incisor that’s front and centre is about to come down through the top gum where he’s had a space since he was a baby and knocked out the tooth. He’s going to look odd with one big and one little tooth until the second one comes out, but seeing him with a mouth full of teeth at all will be a new experience for us all.)

I told the dentist about Mabel’s previous experience and how the gas hadn’t seemed to work at all. She said she could give her some oral medication first to make her more relaxed from the outset, which would let her inhale the nitrous better. Then we had to postpone the appointment twice because she was congested with a cold, and we finally got there on Friday morning, the day after Thanksgiving. Yes, when you were all making turkey sandwiches and planning trips to see Frozen, or recovering from your Black Friday early-morning outings, I was pumping my baby full of drugs and watching the dentist drill out pretty much the entirety of her molar.

Again, the first hurdle was the worst, because she didn’t like the taste of the diazepam. After a million tiny sips and some crying and a break to watch tv, I eventually syphoned it up into a syringe and squirted it into her mouth. She swallowed some and spat out some and we called it done. In a few minutes she was amusingly floppy and having difficulty talking. (“I…an..not… [drool]…”)

Then it was into the chair and to be wrapped up in the special hugging blanket (“So I shouldn’t call it a strait jacket then?” I’m not sure they appreciated my humour, but I was pretty sure Mabel wasn’t in a position to notice, and has never heard of a strait jacket anyway) and under the elephant nose that dispenses the gas, and open wide so we can count your teeth…

Little kids must wonder why it takes dentists so very long to count teeth, and why they can never seem to remember from one opening of their mouth to the next exactly how many are in there. I sat by her head to keep the gas thing on (“Does it smell of strawberries? Or is it more like chocolate? Take a big sniff in and see.”) and to make sure no little hands wormed their way out of the huggy blanket in spite of velcro restraints.

After a lot of drilling (sorry, “buzzing”) with the little drill and the big drill, the poor molar was literally just a shell. Then it was scraped out and packed and a shiny crown put on top and boom, done. Mabel got to sit up and be unwrapped and I had to carry her to the car because she was still a bit wobbly on her pins, but we still went straight to Target (which was conveniently just across the parking lot) and got a new doll, because that was definitely a princess-worthy ordeal.

By contract II

I suppose I should mention this: I’m no longer a nursing mother.

If you’re new around here you might not be surprised by that – after all, for most mothers whose youngest is five years old, breastfeeding is something that happened way back in the mists of babyhood; toddlerhood at least. But here’s the thing: my babies were reluctant to stop. And I mean that most understatedly. They reacted to the idea of giving up the boob with screaming and terror and horror and gnashing and wailing of teeth, and frankly it was much easier for me to go along with that than to face their wrath.

I didn’t go into breastfeeding with the intent of carrying on until my babies could write their own thank-you notes. I certainly have no opinions about how long anyone else should keep it up, any more than I have opinions about what you should have for dinner or how often, if ever, you should shave your legs. Eat food you like; shave when you feel like it. Nurse your baby for as long as it suits you and your child.*

I had been telling Mabel that we would stop when she was five ever since she turned four and a half and we didn’t quite stop. We cut down from morning and evening to just morning at that point, and when I went on my Big Trip Away to BlogHer in July (for three days) she was just fine without. But our trip to Ireland was nicely timed to happen just before her birthday, and as I had hoped, the distraction of the different, of sharing a room with her brother and being in a new place was enough to break the habit quite easily. She only thought to nurse three mornings out of fourteen while we were there, and on the morning of her birthday was quite easily put off with a simple “No, you’re five now. You don’t need it any more.”

So we’re done. I’m not sad or sorry. I have no regrets about nursing for as long as I did, and I have no regrets about that part of my life being over. My babies and I had a mutually beneficial relationship for a long time, and though often the “mutually” felt more like “completely one-sided” in their favour, it was never enough for me to call a halt sooner than they were ready for. I’m not a martyr – far from it. I was always simply too lazy to make a stand against their will, because when it came down to it, the convenience outweighed the inconvenience.

So I can finally lay to rest the “Weaning” tag that I’ve used so often over the years here, as I considered, and attempted, and gave up on, and tried again with, and gradually approached the nirvana-like state of no longer breastfeeding. I’ve been wearing proper bras for a couple of years, actually, so I can’t even go out and indulge in some fabulous lingerie; and I doubt my alcohol consumption will see much change.

It’s a big milestone, but it’s been so long coming that I really don’t even notice the difference. Perhaps that’s as it should be. We’re looking ahead, not back.

* I’m talking here mostly about extended nursing. I do think you should start out by trying to breastfeed, if you’re medically able to. I think that’s a no-brainer. But if you don’t continue for very long, for whatever reason, I’ll assume that you did what you could and ended up making the best decision for you and your family. It’s not my business to have an opinion on that.

Another five

Mabel turned five on Monday, and I’m only now thinking to mention it on my blog. You can blame second-child syndrome, but it’s mostly to do with all the other posts that have been brewing while we’ve been away. And the way she defies description, this child. I can’t pin her down with a few choice words, because she is always so much more, so contrary that she’ll be the opposite of whatever I say, so impossible.

My impossible girl. Impossibly loving, defiant, demanding, thoughtful, intransigent, accommodating, everything.

I have a soft spot for four and seven and twelve. I don’t know why, but those ages hold magic. So I’m sorry to see my four-year-old grow up and on and become a five-year-old – or I would be, if it didn’t mean that I get a five-year-old who is so much easier to deal with in so many ways than her one-year-ago incarnation.

Mabel is direct, I can tell you that. She knows her mind, and she tells you about it. She doesn’t understand dissemblers; she’s not one for subtlety. And yet – sometimes she’ll pull my sleeve and bring my ear to her mouth and tell me something she can’t keep in, but she knows she shouldn’t say out loud. She’s learning, and she’s sharp like a knife, this girl.

And she’s funny and smart and inventive and can craft a pun or a metaphor or a rhyme that impresses, and she’s going places.

I can’t wait to see where those places will be.

Mabel posing

Mabel with Dash's wooden sword down the back of her shirt

Mabel on the phone

Blowing out candles on the birthday cake

Mabel with stuffed bunny and baby doll

Colouring while waiting at the airport