March 31, 2011

On Crashing and Burning... literally

DD in M's shoes
Last night was, to put it mildly, very rough.  Ever since SI's illness, or Grandma's visit, or whatever it was, the girls absolutely will not self-soothe.  They will not put themselves to sleep peacefully.  Not for a nap, not for the night.  Yes, I appreciate all of your comments that this is a phase and that it will pass.  But as you are probably aware, as it's happening that's not too great of a comfort.  It's a question of hoping every night that tonight will be the night.

This is a problem.  Not just for the usual outnumbered-by-unhappy-children reasons, but also because, not being used to this, I am making stupid, stupid mistakes.

For example, as a general rule, as soon as I close the nursery door, I'm basically done being Mommy for the night.  I can, say, make myself a meal.  Or a cup of tea.  Or study.  Or watch some 30 Rock.

So, last night, I did what I normally would do.  I put the kettle on, put a pot of artichokes on the stove (an extra special treat!), and began to do my homework.  A few minutes into this lovely routine, the screaming begins.

SI in my shoes
Now, as you might recall, I no longer have a baby monitor.  This isn't usually a problem- we have a plug-in unit that lives in the bedroom, so if something goes wrong while I'm sleeping they'll wake me up.  But the rest of the time, it's just a question of, "Did I hear somebody being miserable?"  As the kitchen is on the complete opposite end of the house from the nursery in our one floor flat, I tend to err on the side of caution.

That said, I definitely heard somebody being miserable.  I went into the nursery, expecting that I would tuck everyone back in, make sure everyone has their own loveys, and then leave again.

So naive.

The moment I close the door behind me, SI starts shrieking as though she has been stabbed.  I stand on the far side of the door for a moment, trying to decide what to do.  I know she's exhausted, she didn't nap well.  But I also know she can scream for ALL OF TIME if she decides that it's in order to do so.  I also knows that, if I snuggle and rock her, it will only take about three minutes to have her out cold.  So, I heave a heavy sigh, and return to the room.  I take her out of the crib, and begin to rock her.  As expected, her eyelids droop and her breathing slows, but she doesn't go to sleep.  I can't blame her.  It would be hard for me to sleep if there was somebody five feet away shouting and laughing and JUMPING ON THE BED as hard as she possible could.
DD hams it up

Yes, DD was screwing me over on this one.

So I finally reach the point where I'm sure that, given some peace and quiet, if I put SI back into her crib she'll sleep peacefully.  I cautiously put her in bed, and pick up DD.  Got to get her to settle down, or my night is going to get mighty long.

DD is elated to be held and rocked.  So happy, in fact, that she must laugh and smile and cover me in kisses.  All well and good, but SI's crib is much closer to the rocking chair.  Directly next to the rocking chair.  So each expression of mirth by DD rouses SI a little more.  I try everything.  I swaddle DD.  That's very funny.  I throw the blanket over her head, despite the fact that it's already very dark.  This is a GREAT game!  She throws the blanket over my head.  I shush and shush her, she makes raspberry sounds.

SI cleans it up
And suddenly, I'm getting a migraine.

And it's not one of those, "I just want to go relax with my cup of tea," sorts of migraines.  No... it's got a new, different sort of flavor.  It's one of those, "This is a toxic environment and I must get out," migraines.  Like I get in the perfume section of department stores.  Like I'm breathing something that isn't supposed to be air.

And then I smell the smoke.

And then I remember that I had dinner on the stove at the opposite end of the house, the hour ago that I entered this nursery that is starting to bear a strong resemblance to Hell.

I literally throw DD back into her crib, and go running across the house at top speed.  My beautiful, beautiful artichokes- my talismans of Spring and the husbandry of my own psyche- they are on fire.  All of the water has evaporated, and the poor tin steaming tray upon which they rest... it is blackened and sooty.

The smoke smells vaguely cemeterial.  And I start to go blind.

DD eating a Hamantaschen
Not with rage, mind you.  My rage has been tempered quickly by my organ freezing terror.  No, it's just that I get ocular migraines.  I literally go blind from having a headache- and frequently going blind is my first warning that I'm about to be in tremendous pain.  So far, it's only happened while I was driving once.  Never again.  Sometimes I get little windows of vision, but it's not terribly helpful.  The only thing to do is get into a nice, quiet room, and lay down.  Drink a glass of water.  Try a few simple remedies.  The usual headache things.

But, of course, the only room where I can go to lay down and be in pitch blackness is my bedroom... conveniently also the only room with a direct connection to the sounds coming out of the nursery.  Very loud, VERY unhappy sounds.

What do I do instead?  I finish off a bag of Oreos.  That's what a responsible adult does when under extreme duress, right?

I eat a bag of Oreos, I snipe at M when he finally returns from school, I throw away a hard boiled egg that I am completely incapable of peeling, and (of course) I completely fail to finish my homework.  I go to bed early, hungry, in pain, the moment I'm certain that the noises from the nursery are gone for good, and before I can say anything too terribly rude to the wonderful man emptying my dishwasher.  It's all about damage control.

SI hears there are cookies over here
I wake at 6:30, a full two hours before my children usually rise, with the plan to do my homework then.  After all, that gives me three and a half full hours before I leave for class.  Plenty of time to edit my paper, review my notes, read a case study or two.

So, so naive.

DD, who didn't exactly go to bed happy, awakens early- not unusual if she's had a bad night.  She wakes up as early as mother, and remembers immediately that her mother doesn't love her anymore.  The conclusion she must have been reaching while I downed my dunked Oreos without chewing them up first.

And me?  As soon as the sun hits my eyelids I remember that I've got a raging migraine that's trying to kill me.  I take an arsenal of quick dissolving, fact acting prescription drugs, and go to meet my destiny.

The girls, both awake now, helpfully assist me in dressing and changing them.  They give me countless kisses and hugs while I cook them french toast.  And then Our Mary Poppins arrives, and I hit the books.

In the only quiet, child-free room in the house. My bedroom.

Oh Grandma, I wish I could blame you for my woes.
The nice, quiet, comfortable, shady, warm bedroom.  Where I sit in the nice, downy, cozy, comfortable bed...

I awake several minutes into my second of three classes of the day, when the diaper service calls to inform me that our credit card has been declined.

And my migraine?  Yup.  Still there.  Nice and mushy instead of stabby and achey, but still there.

So here I am.  Updating my blog instead of learning about horizontal management and collaboration.  No- that class starts in about two minutes.  Right now I should be learning about American defense policy.  (Note: Now that I've added pictures of my children being extremely adorable- something that always helps me feel better about being a bitter parent- I should in fact be learning about networking and non-hierarchical management.)  But regardless, I'm not going.  I'm listening to Our Mary Poppins go through the drama of nap-time without going to her aid, at a nice, comfortable, quiet distance, and I'm wondering when I'm going to squeeze in the time to do some extra credit to make up for today. 

And I'm really wishing I had a fucking artichoke.

March 29, 2011

As We Always Say, "Next Year in Michigan..."

On Guppy Lake for my birthday.
Three weeks from tomorrow, I am going to age again.  Assuming I make it, of course, which is always the hope.

I mention this because some proportion of my family has asked me what I want.  Unfortunately, I've had a hell of a time coming up with anything that isn't actually for my kids.

It's amazing.  My birthday used to be a week-long event.  It was the heralding of REAL spring, when it actually got warm and sunny.  I would take a car full of my friends up to Guppy Lake and we'd spend the whole week, or at least a long weekend depending on the scheduling, soaking in a hot tub, walking through the freshly budding forest, cooking out at bonfires by night, climbing trees, paddling around in a kayak...

It was the best week of the year.

How many people in the tree?
Of course, being in a school where the closest break to my birthday is at the end of the semester two weeks later, you'd think I'd just postpone the trip, pack up, and head to Guppy Lake with my semester over.

Oh, but you'd be wrong.  You see, this is going to be The Summer of Insanity at Casa SuperMommy.  I can't tell you how desperately I'd love to take a break at my childhood home, but it's not possible.  This summer, M and I are cramming as many classes as possible into the short term,

Yeah, you read that right.  I will be taking one class in four weeks, and two classes in the following eight weeks.  That means that my first class will start... the Monday after my current classes end.  And it's not just me.  M's taking one class during each of those terms as well.

So what on earth would cause us to do something this insane?  If we do this, we each only have to take one class during the last semester of next year.

One class apiece before we graduate.

Imagine the time we would have to do our work!  To see each other!  To look for jobs!  It just makes too much sense.

Yeah, that's me in the boyscout hat
You think I miss my husband now?  When I get to see him on weekends and after the kids go to bed at night?  Just imagine how much worse it's going to get when those weekends we're both studying our asses off because we've given ourselves the summer course-load from Hell.

I'll miss my kids, too.  For at least that four week term, I don't think I'm hardly going to see them at all either.  It might just make me lose my mind.

So that, dear readers, is what SuperMommy is getting herself for her birthday.  A canceled birthday tradition, a stack of summer textbooks, and a whole summer of preemptive stress.

Oh, and that pair of Fluevog boots I've been lusting after for the past two years.  They went on sale, and NOTHING could stop me!
Birthday shoes!

If, for some reason, you would like to get me a birthday present, I am in need of a new multi-station baby monitor (apparently all handsets for our current monitor had a 15month lifespan, and are no longer functional- despite months of jerry-rigging internal battery-bits), a new faucet for the kitchen sink (gift cards to Home Depot would suffice), a couple 5"x7" picture frames for some ADORABLE prints I picked up for the kitchen, or a coupon for a massage.

If you want to send stuff I want for my kids, we have an Amazon baby registry still up, full of DVDs and books we'd love for them to have.  After all, it's their half-birthday on Friday.

So, what AM I doing for my birthday, really?  I'm having a crazy two night stay with my family for Passover (that's two days before), I'm going out to dinner with some friends on one night, and I'm going out to dinner with M one night.  And really, that's all I need- a little grown-up time, Ethiopian food, and cheesecake.

My personal heaven
Pretty much in that order.

Still, each time I look out the window, all I can think about is loading up the car and heading north.  I'd love to watch my kids running around the "back forty" where the old playhouse was, I'd love to bundle them up in life jackets and take them out in the paddle boat, I'd love to smell the pines and hear the frogs, and gaze up in wonder at the uncountable stars...

Maybe next year.  Maybe next year...

March 28, 2011

Nap Time- Otherwise Known As, That Which Keeps Me Sane

DD being ridiculous... ridiculously EXHAUSTING!
I'm not proud, I'll admit it.  I NEED my children to take a nice, long nap during the day.  I NEED to have a few hours in the middle of the afternoon to do (or procrastinate doing) my homework, drink a cup of tea, and generally chillax.  I NEED our regularly scheduled nap time, just as much as my children.  Without a nap, they reach the end of the day hysterical and miserable, and I am RIGHT there with them.

That said, nap time hasn't been going so well lately.

Of course I'd like to blame Grandma.  She was here for a week, she was so happy to go in to that room and comfort anyone acting too crazy.  She was all too willing.  But that's not fair.  It's not Grandma's fault.

SI's silliness makes me tired.
I'd like to blame SI.  It was that damned Roseola she got, it totally screwed up her routine, and DD's just going along for the nap-free ride.  But that's not fair either.  It's not SI's fault.

The reason they aren't napping is that they are having too much fun.  In short, my twin daughters are best friends, and like most little girls sharing a room with their best friend, they would much rather play than sleep.

Nap time used to be elegant in its simplicity.  I would change diapers, read a story, tuck the girls into their quilts that Aunt Genocide made, make sure they had their frog loveys, and turn on a lullabye CD.  Then I would leave the room.

And my children would nap for about 150 minutes.  Up to two and a half glorious hours.  It was magical- like a fairy tale.  Despite how much I love playing with my kids, it may have been my favorite time of day.

Now?  I change diapers.  I read a story.  I tuck the girls in with their quilts and frogs.  I turn on the lullabyes and leave the room.

DD says: "It's not nap time, it's time to point at birds..."
And the next hour is filled with the sound of raucous laughter.

I go in every twenty minutes or so, re-tuck (this is now a HILARIOUS game according to DD), and tell everyone to be quiet and go to sleep.

This does not work.

This last week, the only thing that can be done is to rock the girls to sleep.  Something that, while very sweet, we haven't needed to do in about nine months.  And they're a hell of a lot bigger now.  I absolutely cannot rock both girls to sleep at once.  It's physically impossible.  First of all, they're made out of knees.  Knees and elbow.  Second of all, the moment they see each other sharing my lap, they realize that they are SO MUCH CLOSER together than they were in their cribs, and much more fun can be had this way.  Even getting poked in the eye is funny if you're sharing SuperMommy's lap.

SI would rather drive than sleep
Therefore, I rock them one at a time.  I throw the quilt OVER DD's head, and rock her to sleep while SI- a mere 18 inches away from the glider, shouts, screams, laughs, and calls DD's name (which coming from SI sounds an awful lot liek DaDa) over and over again.  Then I put DD in her crib, snoring peacefully, and start the awkward attempts at rocking SI to sleep- now wired from the effort of trying to figure out what the hell happened to her best friend.

It's not that they're not tired, either.  There's constant yawning through the play, there are occasional pauses where everyone lays down and NEARLY falls asleep.  If SI is particularly exhausted, she might even actually pass out during one of these.  Then DD wakes her up by chucking a toy or blanket at her head (once she even pulled the sheet off her crib for this purpose) and after a few seconds of angry sounds the game is BACK ON!

I have not been taking this turn of events gracefully.  I have shouted, I have practically thrown my children into their cribs (they find this very funny), I have taken away toys, I have cranked up the volume on the white noise, I have begged, and I have been extremely rude to M when he's around for this charade.  In short, I have acted like somebody who's really in need of a nap.
DD says, don't sleep!  Be a buckethead!

Now this is not productive behavior.  I don't know why it is that my children's mirthful determination not to nap can incite such rage in me, but it does.  I am absolutely beside myself with frustration and exhaustion about half an hour into this ridiculous routine.  I'm ready to slam doors and throw cold and un-drunk cups of tea through panes of glass.

And I'm not always good at turning off my ire and playing the Zen Master.

It used to be like clockwork- regardless of what time they got up, by 12:30 my daughters were passing out where they stood.  If we were at a restaurant, or watching cartoons, or in the car... id didn't matter.  I'd see my kids yawning, their eyes drooping, and say to myself, "Gosh!  It must be 12:30!"  And it was.  M and I used to struggle to keep SI awake until we got home if we were driving, lest we wake her to put her in her crib before the magic of the required nap had done its work.

Now?  I've been getting them to pass out at what used to be wake-up time.  Instead of waking up lazily and happily, they wake up totally pissed about having slept through a meal.  It's painful.  But at least they're enjoying themselves.

Me?  I just need a nap.
Seriously, though- who could stay mad at that face?

Still, no matter how much I want to throttle them when I'm futilely rocking a child who is laughing uproariously while poking my nose, pulling my hair, stealing my glasses, or sticking her fingers in my ear...

Once they're asleep, and I'm holding their tiny, unconscious bodies in my arms, looking at their gorgeous eyelashes and marveling at how soft the skin of their squishy cheeks are; once it's peaceful and quiet, and the laughter has stopped and a truncated nap is beginning, it's like the first time I ever held them all over again.  I fall in love with those beautiful faces and sweet, sleepy breathing soudns every time.

And then I feel like a giant jerk.

...a giant jerk that needs a cup of tea and a time out.  And maybe a nap.

March 26, 2011

Death, and Other Funny Stories

I've recently become a big fan of The Hossman Chronicles.  Yes, it seems that just as I have a harder time getting along with women in real life, I prefer the company of male parenting-bloggers online as well.  At any rate, Daddy Hoss recently wrote about his children's first real encounter with death.  I laughed out loud through the whole thing, when I wasn't pausing to reflect on the enormity of the issues raised by his poor children discovering that he might, in fact, be a bunny murdering monster.

Let's face it, coming to terms with death is incredibly traumatic... when it happens.  But then you become an adult.  You come to understand that death is inevitable, you make some sort of peace with it.  And then those same events- the ones that were so incredibly painful, they're suddenly hilarious.

If you've never read Hyperbole and a Half, I recommend her description of her own traumatic experience- How a Fish Almost Destroyed My Childhood.  You'll laugh until you cry.

I haven't had to explain death to my kids.  They're not even two years old, it would be silly.  But it will happen.  I somehow doubt it will be our cat who gives them their first brush with death.  After all, he's probably got a good ten years left in him.  Grandma, Grandpa, Poppa and Grandmommy are all in excellent health, and the girls' five surviving great-grandparents are doing pretty well too, for the most part.  Chances are we'll be walking to the park and find some roadkill, or a bird will fly into our window.  Chances are, death will be a sinister force that takes even sweet, random animals.

So I got to thinking about when I first learned about death.  And yes, it was horrible.  And remembering one story always leads to another, so... here we are.  Without further ado, I give you three stories of Learning About Death. 

Act 1: SuperMommy the Super Villain
My family had guinea pigs in the basement.  Guinea pigs are great pets for little kids.  Sure, they're rodents with big sharp teeth, but their mouths don't really open wide enough to bite anyone.  They're just little furballs with teeny tiny legs and big eyes, with round little ears on top.

Guinea pigs are very, very cute.

So one day, we have a whole lot of baby guinea pigs.  My sister, Aunt Something Funny (who is probably all of four years old), decides that she and her sidekick- that would be me- are going to play Pet Store.

We go down to the basement, and she buys a bunch of baby guinea pigs from me, the store clerk.  This is a full service pet store, though.  I don't just hand over the baby guinea pigs- I package them up for her.  In a nice pretty cookie tin.  They're all lined up reeeeeeeeeeal nice, and I put on that lid.  I think it had a log cabin in a snowy field.

And, as this is a full service pet store, I deliver the guinea pigs to her house.  Her house was, of course, our shared bedroom.  Which was in the attic.

Picture, if you will, the charming scene of two curly headed moppets, laughing as they march gleefully from the basement up the stairs to the kitchen... around the living room... up the stairs to the big hallway... and up the stairs again to the attic.  Where upon their arrival, the existence of other toys and games completely distracts them from whatever it was they were doing a moment ago.

My parents, of course, discovered the tin full of dead baby guinea pigs, and confronted their adorable little girls.  Aunt Something Funny was old enough to understand that something horrible, awful, unspeakably bad had happened.  Poor me... I knew I was to blame.  I had killed all of those little baby guinea pigs.  But I was also three, I didn't quite know how to cope with my own crushing guilt.  So how did I do it?  For a while, anytime anyone was around, I would announce to them that, "We put the baby guinea pigs in the tin and they all died!  Now they're all dead!" and Aunt Something Funny would burst into tears.  I think I finally forgave myself for being a murderess about six years ago.  I'm sure Aunt Something Funny is still harboring her own hangups.

Act 2: Grandma and the Raccoon
One winter, my MIL saw a raccoon having seizures in her backyard.  So, like a good citizen, she called animal control.  After they told her they were on their way post haste, she called the next door neighbor to warn her that there was a sick raccoon, and that there was going to be a commotion in between their two yards.

Having no idea what the commotion might be, this neighbor thought it might be a treat for her very young children, and lined them up- looking over the back of their couch out the window, to see what happened when animal control came for the sick raccoon.

Two animal control officers arrived, and observed the poor animal.  For a moment they seemed to pause, and then one officer acted.  In one swift motion he pulled a gun out of his coat, and he shot the raccoon at point blank.


There was no telling those poor, screaming children the next house over that the raccoon was just sleeping, or that he would be fine.  No, a bad man had POINTED A GUN at that raccoon and shot it.  Two times.

No coming back from that.

Act 3: Bones
My family once had a dog named Chewy.  He was a bad dog, as far as it came to pooping on the floor and chewing up treasured possessions, but was otherwise the sweetest animal you ever knew.  He was a Pomeranian, and as friendly and mild tempered as any Pomeranian ever born.

It wasn't just my mom and sisters and I who loved that dog, despite how naughty he was, it was every little kid in our lives.  My Back-Up Mom (long story) had a five year old daughter, and she ADORED Chewy.  She would carry him around, feed him little snacks, he was the best friend a little girl could want.  Even if she was allergic to dogs.

Over the summer, my Back-Up Mom and her  daughter were staying at Guppy Lake.  It might have been the 4th of July.   But, sadly, Pomeranians are prone to sudden and fatal seizures.  And poor Chewy picked that day to have a sudden and very fatal seizure.

There are many of our pets buried up at Guppy Lake, so this was no new routine for us.  But for that poor little girl...  Once it was clear that Chewy was dead, she had a whole host of questions.  The sort of existential questions anyone would ask after their first encounter with death.  What happens when you die?  Does everyone die?  Will I die?

The two answers that gave her the most comfort and satisfaction were that Chewy's soul was in Heaven, and after Chewy's body went into the ground it would turn into bones.

After the doggie funeral, we had a fairly somber meal.  And after the somber meal, as with any funeral, we began to laugh, to joke, to mourn healthfully.

And then we noticed the little girl was missing.  A quick search turned her up, experiencing a no-doubt life altering moment of sudden reality.  She had gone to dig up the dog.  As all the adults (or near-adults) rushed her away, there was a scream, "Is Chewy bones yet?  IS HE BONES YET???"

March 24, 2011


Welcome home, SuperMommy.
It's been almost a week since you heard from me.  Ages, in this fast-paced blogosphere.  I might as well have dropped off the face of the earth.  So where have I been while I've been away?

I've been on vacation.

SI chasing DD around the yard
No, let me rephrase- I've been at home, with my children and my laundry and my cat and my most excellent MIL.  I am on Spring Break from school, until Tuesday.

I had thought that I would use my break to... say... write a lot.  Or read a lot.  Or do my "spring cleaning."  Instead, I've been being SuperMommy, which is a job that does not come with vacation time.  I've wiped a lot of noses, I've wiped just as many butts, and I've folded a mountain of clean clothes.  At least twice.

I'm having a really wonderful vacation, too.  Really, I am.

M and I go to different universities.  This means that, unfortunately, our semesters don't always match up.  Last week he was on Spring Break.  This week, my turn.  Totally kills any hope of maybe GOING somewhere.  Not that we would- where would we want to take two toddlers?  That said, M has his last midterm tonight, so he's been at school every day after work.  That means he wakes up at 4am, leaves the house at 5am, goes straight from work to school, and then comes home around 9 or 10pm, completely exhausted.  He doesn't get to see his kids.

As for me, this makes me FEEL very much like I'm on vacation.  I sleep in (compared to 4am), I neglect my school reading (amazingly, none of my professors assigned homework for the break,) and I play with my children (who are finally both healthy and back to normal.)  Nobody is as hard working as M these days.  I'm planning on catching up with him for insanity of commitments this summer.
SI contemplates the universe, DD sees a bird

The thing that REALLY makes it feel like a vacation, though, is my kids.  I love being home with them.  I know I could never be a total success as a SAHM, I need to get out on my own sometimes.  I have plans to work once I've got my degree, but only part-time.  Enough to pay for the child care.

I like having conversations with other adults, I like having the freedom to stop by my favorite pastry shop, or do half a dozen errands in an hour.  Small children are the kryptonite to that sort of freedom.  And more than anything, there's the wonderful moment where you go home to your kids.  It doesn't matter what else is going on.  Sesame Street is on PBS?  Who cares!  Mommy's here!  We've got crayons and paper?  So what!  Mommy's here!  Were we eating sandwiches?  Not anymore!  Mommy's here!  Time to cover SuperMommy in hugs and kisses, scream with delight, lead her around the dining room in a welcome-home parade, play catch with her... suddenly, it's all about me.  And it's not just being a total narcissist that makes this appealing.  It's a success.
DD charging after a dog

Being a parent is hard.  Everybody tells you that when you get pregnant, but it's not something you can really understand until you're there.  If you've been a nanny, and au pair, a teacher... it's different.

Being a parent is insanely hard.  You can't stop- EVER.  You never get to turn it off.  You're a parent 24/7 for the rest of your life.  Your life revolves around people who will never EVER reciprocate the sort of investment you put into them.  Your greatest achievements and failures all stop being individual- suddenly they're all about what your kid did.  What your kid didn't do.

The other day, I was in the grocery store parking lot.  DD pointed towards the minivan and shouted, "Mama, da CAAAAAAR!"  I was so proud I had to tell everybody I talked to for about... well, I guess I'm still doing it, huh?

So for my Spring Break, I'm home with my kids.  Every day when I get them out of their cribs they're happy to see that it's me, and not Our Mary Poppins (who they adore.)  Every night when they go to bed, they're ecstatic that it's me making the silly voices for Are You My Mother?, no matter how much they love M's Nixon imitation.  For my vacation, I'm rocking motherhood.  Hard.
SI getting clean after playing in the mud

Today, we're testing more products for Kolcraft.  Then I'm making M a steak dinner to celebrate his midterm.  And then tomorrow he actually gets to come home from work, and he and my MIL and I will all go out and act like grownups together.

School is frustrating as hell.  It sucks not to see my husband on a daily basis.  It sucks that he doesn't see his wonderful little girls.  And it sucks that the weather got all miserable again.

But if every day I'm the main event in my daughters' lives, the most exciting thing to happen no matter what else is happening... this is pretty much the best vacation ever.

March 19, 2011

Oh, Today We'll Merry Merry Be!

Chag Samayach!  (For you non-Hebrew speakers, that means Happy Holiday!)

Today is Purim- without a doubt the biggest party holiday on the Jewish calendar.  As a kid, I LOVED Purim!  It was a cross between Halloween and Channukah/Christmas- you got to dress us in costumes and eat all the cookies you could!  And oh, the cookies!  Purim boasts, in my opinion, the best holiday-specific cookies of absolutely any holiday.  I know, Christmas cookies are hard to beat.  But Hamantaschen?  Pretty much the best thing ever.

"Esther and Haman Before Ahasuerus" - Jan Victors
Like pretty much all Jewish holidays, we're celebrating the same thing.  Not being completely annihilated.  Channukah?  We didn't get killed by the Greeks.  Passover?  Didn't get killed by the Egyptians.  Yom Ha'Shoah?  Didn't get wiped out by the Nazis.  Yom Kippur?  Didn't get killed personally by God.

A lot of folks have tried to wipe the Jewish people off the face of the earth.  It makes us a bit twitchy as a people.

At any rate, here is a very abridged version of the story of Purim, otherwise known as the Book of Esther:

Once upon a time King Ahaushverous, the King of Persia (known in the Greek as Xerxes) had a very beautiful wife named Vashti.  She was so beautiful that one day he asked her to dance for his friends.  She absolutely refused, and he sentenced her to death.  He then declared that he would chose the most beautiful girl in the land to be his new wife.  Esther was a very beautiful girl, and her cousin Mordecai (who had raised her from a child) told her that she could be the new queen, but that she must keep her Judaism a secret.  King Ahaushverous chose her to be his bride, and her cousin Mordecai found favor in the King's eye by uncovering and foiling an assassination plot.  King Ahaushverous's Grand Vizier, Haman, was a proud and egotistical man, and disliked Mordecai.  When Mordecai refused to bow before him (because Jews bow only to God) he was so incensed that he went to the King,  "There are a great many people in your land who defy your rule and would see you overthrown!" he said, "And you must exterminate them all!"  The King agreed to Haman's plan, and the date was set to round up and kill all of the Jews in Persia- a great many people.  When Mordecai heard of this he told Esther that she must go to the King and beg him to spare her people.  Esther fasted for three days, and then went before King Ahaushverous.  She fed him a giant feast, and then told him that there was a plot to kill her.  The King wanted to know who would do such a thing, and she told him that it was Haman- that she was Jewish and that he had condemned her and all her people to death.  King Ahaushverous was so moved and angry that he ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, and with his help the Jews fought off those who would have killed them all.

And then the Jews lived in remarkable peace and prosperity in Persia for a very long time.  Ancient Persia was actually a pretty awesome place to be a Jew after all of that.

So to celebrate there is MUCH drinking and eating of Hamantaschen- cookies in the shape of Haman's triangular hat- whilst wearing costumes and making enough noise to erase the sound of Haman's name from the memory of men.

It gets very loud.

There is also the tradition of the Mishloach Manot.  Michloach Manot are packages of cookies and other assorted treats that you send to friends, family, or charities for Purim.  You know how for Christmas people send around boxes of cookies?  That's a Purim activity in Jewish circles- all the Hamantaschen you can eat!  This year I'm passing out Mishloach Manot to my neighbors, a few Jewish friends I think could use a taste of home and some childhood nostalgia, and a friend in the military.  She will probably be very excited.

There are three standard flavors of Hamantaschen.  Poppyseed, apricot, and strawberry.  Now, I know what you meshugganah goyim* are thinking.  "Poppyseed?  I don't know about that.  Apricot?  Okay, I guess.  Strawberry!  Yes, I'll have some strawberry cookies!"  Meshugganah goyim!  Resist that impluse!  You have the order of Hamantaschen superiority COMPLETELY BACKWARDS!  Strawberry and apricot are there to give you the occasional flavor break- no matter how good something is, variety still helps.

I remember my husband's first Hamantaschen.  He went for the strawberry because it was the most familiar.  And he said it was okay.  And after I pinned him down and forced him to eat the poppy Hamantaschen... he was hooked.  I think he's probably had about eight in the last 12 hours.

My daughters- toddlers, mind you, won't even eat the apricot or strawberry Hamantaschen.  It's poppy all the way as far as they're concerned.

Trust M, the former meshugganah goy.  Trust the babies.  Trust the Jewish people.  Eat the damn poppy cookie.

This year I followed my amazing sister's advice and also made a few Nutella Hamantaschen.  And they are amazing.  I always consider making prune Hamantaschen, they're also traditional, but I never liked them as a kid.  But you can always experiment!  Why not, right?  You can never have too many cookies!

Lightly flour your surface

Aunt Genocide's AMAZING Hamantaschen
  • 1/2c + 3tbs butter- softened
  • 1/2c sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 3tbs sweet Jewish wine
  • 1tsp vanilla
  • 1/4tsp salt
  • 2 3/4c flour
  • Filling: 1 can poppy seed pastry filling, 1 jar each GOOD strawberry & apricot preserves
Beat butter until smooth, and then gradually add sugar- beating until light and fluffy.

Beat in egg and vanilla, then wine and salt.
Add flour slowly until a you have a very soft dough, then wrap in plastic and chill at least 3 hours.

Let stand at room temperature until workable but not soft, preheat oven to 375.

Cut 3" rounds
Roll on lightly floured surface to 1/8" thick, and cut into 3" rounds

Put 1tsp (or more, if you're feeling brave) filling into the middle of the circles, then pinch together into triangles.  REALLY blend the edges together!  Otherwise your Hamantaschen will just fall apart!

Place 1" apart on ungreased baking sheets, and bake for 13 minutes- or until just starting to get golden at the corners.

Form your cookies!
Remove to wire racks to cool immediately.

Serious awesomeness ensues.

And last but not least, to share a little bit more of the cultural flavor of the day, here are the lyrics to "Wicked Wicked Man," my personal favorite Purim song!  (It's sung almost to the tune of "Old MacDonald," if that helps.)

Wicked Wicked Man
Oh, once there was a wicked, wicked man
And Hamen was his name sir,
He would have murdered all the Jews,

Though they were not to blame sir 

Oh today, we'll merry, merry be
Oh today, we'll merry, merry be
Oh today, we'll merry, merry be
And nosh some hamentashen

And Esther was the lovely queen
Of King Ahasuerus,
When Hamen said he'd kill us all,
Oh my how he did scare us


But Mordecai her cousin bold,
Said what a dreadfull chutzpah,
If guns were but invented now
This Hamen I would shoot sir


When Esther speaking to the King
Of Hamens plot made mention,
"Ha, ha" said he, " Oh no he won't.
I'll spoil his bad intention."


The guest of honor he shall be
This clever Mr. Smarty.
And high above us he shall swing,
At a little hanging party.


Of all his cruel and unkind ways,
This little joke did cure him,
And don't forget we owe him thanks,
for this jolly feast of Purim.


*Meshugannah goyim is Yiddish for "Crazy non-Jews"

March 17, 2011

My Lifelong Best Friend

JS around the time we first met
Prompted by Julie of From the Mudroom, I'd like to tell you a little about my best friend in the whole world.  Aside from M, of course.

And I don't use that phrase lightly.  I have many CLOSE friends, and a very few friends I would LIKE to call my "Best Friend."  But the title is really reserved for one person, and it feels like a little betrayal to her to use it for anyone else.  So if you're one of my other best of friends, and you know if you are, please don't be offended.  I love you dearly, but there can be only one BEST friend, and for me it will always be my first.  She is not only my best friend, but aside from my sisters she is my oldest friend.  And no matter how much time or distance has kept us apart, nothing ever seems to have changed between us.

Let's call her JS. I have hardly seen her in the past two decades, and we both turn 27 years old this year.

From left: V, Me, and JS at my 7th birthday party
We became best friends in kindergarten, when I thought she looked lonely and offered to let her play with my pony I'd brought for show and tell. It was my favorite toy, and she appreciated the gesture. We spent every afternoon after school playing at each others' houses, but then halfway through first grade, her family moved.  She went from our small New Jersey town to a suburb of Philadelphia about two hours away. We still talked on the phone as much as we could get away with, and every couple of months one of our sets of parents would drive us over to spend a prolonged weekend sleepover at the others house.

Then, when we were eleven, my family made the big move to Michigan.  JS got to come and spend two whole weeks with me over the summer, and after that we just didn't see each other. We wrote letters, we called occasionally, but our regular visits were over forever.

No matter what, we always seemed to grow together.  Whether it was a love of musicals, a burgeoning talent, an addiction to a particular flavor of literature... we always seemed to have it in common.

Me, JS, B, C, and Aunt Genocide at my 8th birthday party
When I was a teenager my super-cool parents let me take a road trip all by myself to spend most of a summer visiting friends and family on the east coast.  Of course I stopped and visited JS.  Originally, the plan was that she would spend a weekend with me- we'd drive to New York City to visit my aunt and uncle, and I would drive her back.  It was a great opportunity, we told her parents.  When I showed up after weeks living in a car wearing a patchwork skirt and a van full of watercolored canvases, her mom took one look at this scruffy, stinky, hippie-dippie girl she hadn't seen in five years and put the cabash on that leg of the trip. Instead, JS stayed home and got pregnant- I'm sure that taught her mom a lesson. The next time I saw her was the next summer, before going off to college, and she had her brand new beautiful baby boy. She was my first friend to become a parent, and I learned a lot about what that really meant watching her, talking to her, and hearing the occasional horror story about the early months of her older son's life.

I didn't see her again for more than five years, until my wedding. I would have asked her to be my maid of honor, but I thought that considering that she was juggling a failing marriage, two children, and lived halfway across the country maybe she didn't need the stress. She stayed with me and my husband after the wedding- one of the best presents I could have ever asked for.
Jac and JS at my Bachelorette Party

I've seen her once since then. Later that same summer my husband and I went to the east coast, and visited her family for the weekend. She had left her abusive POS husband and was living the single-mom dream.  I don't know how, but she has a knack for attracting really wonderful people to her- people who help out around the house, who fall in love with her kids... everyone that knows her seems to think that just having her around makes them lucky.  I feel that way.  She's an amazing lady, she truly is.

These days, we talk rarely. Maybe every couple of months.  We just both suck at using the phone, and we're both really busy people in general.  But every single time it's as though no time at all has passed- we're still the same little girls getting into trouble for building camp fires behind her parents' house, or staying up into all hours of the night singing The Little Mermaid.

JS- a Rock Star mom at Sesame Place in '08
She is, and always will be, my very best friend. We watched each other grow from dumb kids into (I think) remarkable- or at the very least competent and adult- people. We've counseled each other through our crises, given advice on each others children and significant others, and mused about one day living close enough that our kids (her sons are a little older than my daughters) could fall madly in love with each other and get married someday.

It probably won't happen. She's done very well for herself starting a business out in the Philly area and it would be very hard for her to move, and my husband's career is best suited to stay around Chicago.  But we can still dream.

And as life gets slightly less complicated, as our kids get older and our finances more secure, maybe someday we can go back to seeing each other for a weekend every few months.  Just like old times.

March 16, 2011

My Family, As I See Them

What started out as some casual doodling on my blog header has turned into a bit of an obsession.  I just can't stop.  After all, the magic of cartoons does something that words just can't... actually SHOW you something.

So, here you are- my family:

You don't have to be crazy to work here...
Zen Mama
Birth of a Migraine

Perfect Moments

Another family sketch I'd love for you to check out is Stacey's, who blogs over at  Love the LaquerStacey's beautiful family.  I love it!

I'm getting pretty addicted to this whole cartooning thing.  It's a bit of a departure for me, and I LOVE it.  Plus, it gives M a good laugh (which means I win).

So I think you can expect to see more of them in the future.  :)

March 14, 2011

Worst Mommy in the World

My daughters and their new friends- the owls
I have no doubt that someday they'll call me horrible names.  But right now, I do it all to myself.  And I can't even tell myself that it's really not that bad.  All I have to do is keep checking the condition of the laundry.

My children are in a right state.  Let me put it this way, in the last two days we've gone through a lot of neosporin.

I was so anxious to have kids who could move around on their own steam.  And really, it's a huge improvement in most ways.  I can walk down the street and my children walk along with me, their tiny hands in mine.  I can go out and come back, and they take themselves back up the stairs.  I can say, "Go to your chairs!" and they run to eat a meal.  It's lovely.

Except, of course, that they're just not that good at it.
SI and her new best buddy

Two days ago, the streak began.  SI and I were playing with the yoga ball.  She was chasing it up and down the hall, shrieking with laughter.  As she ran after it (me encouraging her, of coures), she fell down.

She fell down, knocking her head REALLY HARD into a heating vent.

So she had a giant, bleeding lump on her forehead.  As the evening progressed and she calmed down, I kept checking her eyes to make sure they were focusing together.  I knew it wasn't likely that she had a concussion, but she was so sleepy... I was terrified.

So the next day, when we went to the grocery store, I was very sure to take care that both girls got lots of attention and love.  That meant two carts, which was fine.  We had M with us, SI's scabbed bump was a little smaller, and with a hat on her little head I thought that I might not appear to be some sort of horrible child abuser.

Then DD started getting very silly.  She wanted me to tickle her under her chin.  And what kind of parent wouldn't tickle their adorable toddler under the chin when explicitly begged by such a sweet and insistent  little munchkin?

DD giving her owl kisses
So I tickled her.  And I tickled her again.  And in her inexpressible mirth she flung her body sideways as hard as she possibly could.  Instantly, her laughter turned to screams.  She had smashed her face- SMASHED her FACE- on the metal bar at the side of the cart.  While she screamed and the other grocery shoppers started looking for the horrible abusive mother who was maiming her children in the frozen food isle, I saw blood starting to trickle from the corner of her eye.

I panicked.  I picked her up, abandoned the cart (and my purse) and ran off to sit down with her, apologizing over and over and over again.  And DD, rock star that she is, stopped crying almost at once.  It was only five minutes before we were back in the cart, going through the checkout.  We were still a few groceries short, but I didn't care.  And DD was sporting a nasty shiner.  Lucky us, the blood was coming from a cut probably a millimeter away from from her eye.  It still makes me breathless with terror when I think about it.

After a much needed naptime, we went to the 'burbs for my cousin's birthday.  Upon our return, M went to extract DD from her car seat, and positively screamed to me across the car- "Come quick!  She's covered in blood!"

And that she was.  COVERED in blood.  Perfectly happy, but with blood crusted all over her face, from forehead to chin, all over her hands, her hair, her arms, in her sweater...   Turns out she'd gotten a nosebleed and, in toddler fashion, rubbed the blood all over herself.  The car seat (and one of my favorite blouses) looks like it's been through a horror movie.
SI and her "Owii" = BFFs

So today, we went off to a music class.  The other mothers laughed off my daughters' bumps and bruises, assured me that they didn't think I was beating up my kids when they were at home, and we all had a lovely time.

When we got home I did what I usually do- I encouraged the girls to race up the stairs.  How fast can they go- they're crawling up three flights of obstacles, right?

DD, in her excitement to be a step higher than her sister, KICKED SI IN THE FACE.  And then raced ahead.

SI burst into tears.  I grabbed her around the middle and leaped up the stairs behind DD, who was turning a corner out of sight, and in my haste I knocked SI's head into the wall.  (Not very hard, but still.)  It was enough to turn being hurt and upset into one of the worst things that had ever happened to her.

Of course, I still wasn't expecting that when I looked down to give her a kiss and tell her it was okay, that her face would be all bloody.  It seems DD actually busted open SI's lip.  Poor SI, who's mouth is already all sore from growing new teeth, has a nice big cut to make her even droolier and more miserable.

This owl is rightly terrified of my children
Just two days ago I felt like an amazing mom.  I had the happiest little girls, they were giving me tons of kisses and hugs.  They were eating well and sleeping well and cheerful and sweet... and I felt like I was just the awesomest mommy you ever saw.

But now I have a collection of blood stained diapers, blood stained clothes, and bloodied babies.  Gorgeous little girls that are sleeping peacefully while I contemplate a stiff martini to get through my horrific guilt.

I swear, I'm really not a terrible mother.  I'm really not.  I just feel like one.  I feel like the worst mother in the world.

March 11, 2011

Freedom, Consequences, and The Opposite of Teamwork

First of all, many MANY thanks to Kyle at Have Kids, Will Blog (and The Kopp Twins- whose little girls I personally can't get enough of) for the incredibly kind words about me and my blog.

Secondly, another heap of thanks to Mom Daughter Reviews for even more lovely and kind things about me that you're spreading all over the internet.

All this attention could turn a girl's head!

And now- onto a subject about which I've been meaning to write at length- Freedom.

I am, in a way that I have not been since practically becoming pregnant, free.  You see, we live on a third floor walk up.  It's a gorgeous place- huge east facing windows with no obstructions, so it's always filled with natural light.  I've taken advantage of that by filling it with stained glass.  It has a lovely balcony on the front, where we can watch strangers and friends come and go.  It's on a nice quiet block, the most non-emergency vehicle noise we get up here are the sound frolicking children and dogs in the unofficial dog park next door.  We love it here.

But, again, it's a third floor walk-up.  When we moved in, I was already five months pregnant (twin adjustment: ten months pregnant) and in a really remarkable amount of pain from my SPD.  I didn't get out much.

Then there were two babies.  And it was winter.  I pretty much hibernated.  Spring came, and with it my return to school.  It was so nice and breezy in the house, with all those big, south facing windows opened wide.  And it was so much of a hassle to bring my children up and down, one at a time, the treacherous back stairs to the back yard.  Plus, we were so busy traveling.  Whenever I was home, I just stayed there.

But now things are different.  Spring has almost really sprung, it's routinely warmish, and sunnyish, or at the very least pleasantly dreary and humid.  I love early spring.  And now, my children have learned to climb the stairs.

Allow me to repeat that.

My children, each about thirty pounds of squirmy little toddler, are capable of bringing themselves from the front door of our building to the front door of our condo three stories above.  Add to that some success with a few tries at medicating my mystery condition, and I actually FEEL like leaving the house!

I can't tell you how liberating this change has been.  Suddenly, during those non-school days, I can GO somewhere, I can take my curious and friendly children off to play with other kids, I can meet other parents, and I can even run to the grocery store.  I almost don't know what to do with all that freedom.

Unfortunately, this isn't a perfect situation.  The girls can get themselves up, but not down.  Fine, down is easier for this grown-up.  Or so I thought.

Turns out that my old friends, back injuries and ankle sprains, do not like taking carrying two children down the stairs at once.  But what else do I do?  Take one down, leave her in the front yard all alone, and return for the child panicking in her coat and shoes upstairs?  I somehow doubt that this might lead to anything resembling happiness, and even at my best all I can imagine is hearing my daughter's name on an amber alert over and over and over.  So I use my trusty sling, tie one child on to my chest, pop the other on a hip under one arm, grab all our stuff, and leave the house.

The girls are loving it.  These days, if I need to distract them from absolutely anything,all I have to do is say, "Shoes!" and off they go to pull their shoes out of the drawer and try putting them onto their silly little feet.

We've been going to toddler music classes, and the produce market, and the occasional meet-up at other mother's houses.  And I feel like a new woman.

A completely broken, shattered, mutilated woman.  It feels like when I raise my head I'm catching some ample amount of flesh between my vertebrae, like I have a golf ball lodged under my right shoulder blade, and like I've been kicked repeatedly in the lower back.

Now, this alone wouldn't really be a problem, but it's compounding another little problem in a big way.  School.  That's right, I'm still in classes.  And every single one of my infuriating professors has assigned group projects.

I hate group projects.  It has been my experience for pretty much my entire life that the real purposes of these experiments are to test the limits of how much work you can do for other people without getting the credit.  So far, my biggest group project of the semester has beaten all the records.

You see, there's another woman in my group.  Another woman with a child, who has to travel a fair distance to get to class, and who seems rather busy.  When we first discussed this, there seemed to be a measure of understanding between us.  As the semester has progressed with me struggling to keep afloat in the midst of my illness and toddlers, this woman has failed to turn in her assignments, show up for classes, or cooperate in any way with her group.  Each week, her demands for our meetings have become more and more outrageous, up until we reached a total breaking point.  M and I have been having some money problems- the bursar at his school never sent him his financial aid, my school is still denying my my FAFSA for taking two semesters off to have babies, and both of our cars needed about a grand worth of repairs after the storm of doom.  I was ready to start missing classes because I couldn't afford Our Mary Poppins, but she got pneumonia anyway, and saved me the embarrassment of having to cancel on her.  In desperation, I agreed to a date, time, and general geographic area for a team meeting, chose the only location within that area that came equipped with high chairs (a deli), and agreed to schlep my toddlers to the South Loop and build a Power Point presentation.

Of course, there was pouring rain from dawn until dusk the day of our meeting.

So, what did this fellow mother and student and commuter do at four o'clock in the afternoon, watching me wrestle a child less than a year and a half old into a sling outside of a deli where she had agreed to meet me?

She marched up to us, third teammate in tow, and flat out refused to convene our meeting in the deli- at 4 in the afternoon with two toddlers in attendance- BECAUSE THERE WAS NO BEER.

I stood there, jaw on asphalt, spine on fire, SI a-flailin', DD a-wailin', getting steadily wetter, and collected my thoughts.

And as a reasonable adult with no choice but to finish this class, no reasonable options aside from taking my children home, and with a million and one responsibilities already waiting for me when I got there, I volunteered to do the whole project by myself.

It was exactly what she had expected.  She didn't even miss a beat.  She said, "Okay then!" and cheerfully handed of any semblance of responsibility.

She picked the one and only day and time she would be available to meet up again and review our project- conveniently a day that M is home and can watch the girls- and went off in search of beer.

To his credit, our other teammate seemed to feel that there must be a catch.  He's sent me a few emails since making sure I've got his part of the info and offering to go on fact-finding and photography missions.  But this other woman?  Her response to my declaration that I would just DO IT, was to tell me what her bit of the information was supposed to be, and what images I should get to go along with it- things that I already knew.  In short, that she had done no work and that I was now to do her part of the work- in all of its aspects- on her behalf.

Would you eat them on a boat?
Me?  I put the girls back into their car seats (miraculously they were okay with this) and just took them back home.  Where we had, without a doubt, the nicest night we've ever had without M at home.  Really, the girls were so charming ans sweet and loving that I couldn't help but feel like my degree was just a waste of time- a diversion from the only people in my life that always make me feel wonderful and good and successful, people who never royally screw me over out of pure selfish spite.

Still, I'm doing the damn project.  I'm stuck with this woman for the rest of the semester, so I'm just going to count my lucky stars that it's half over and wait until this presentation is done.  And then I am going to rip this woman a new one.  Seriously, I am laying down the law, letting her know that even if the professor feels that it's none of his concern if a teammate is completely useless (his argument is that if you can't work with difficult people in a group in school you can't do it in real life, so tough cookies) I can still go to her advisor, and that if she leaves us in the lurch like that for our final project I'll be making it very clear that she is NOT part of our group and had nothing to do with it.  I'm used to making enemies of colleagues, and I can deal with that kind of animosity for another few semesters.

So what's the moral of the story?  Is there a lesson, or at the very least a happy ending?

Thank you, thank you Sam I Am.
Let's see... it's sunny and beautiful and not EXACTLY warm but marvelously springlike.  I can bundle my wonderful children into their shoes and sweaters, and take them down the street to the playground.  Or next door, to a big open grassy (muddy) lot, or just sit on the front stoop while they play in the tulips.  Because I'm free, you see?  Tomorrow I'll be finishing that stupid Power Point, with M playing happily with his children.  I've replaced my desk chair with my yoga ball, so my back pain is slowly improving.  I've got a grocery list full of ingredients for making hamentastchen (I love the spring!) and I'm planning the girls Purim costumes.

Tomorrow I'm going to be up to my ears in school related frustrations, but right now I can sit in the sun with my amazing, sweet, cheerful little girls, and feel like the most successful person in the world.  So yes, it's the best of all possible endings.  Me and my girls get to ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after.

March 9, 2011

Ivan and the Firebird

From the Firebird Stories...

Once upon a time, there was a Czar who had a wonderful garden. In the garden there was a magical tree that grew apples made of solid gold. This tree was the most prized of all of the Czars possessions, and he guarded it jealously. He liked to walk through his garden every morning, and each day he looked upon the tree with joy and pride.

A.Glazunov "Firebird"
Box. 1929   Palekh
One morning the Czar took his morning walk, only to find that some golden apples from the tree had been stolen. He asked the guards what had happened, and they told him that they had fallen asleep and did not know. The Czar sent them to the gallows and posted more guards to watch the tree.  Still, the next morning more apples had disappeared. Again the guards said that they had fallen asleep, and again the Czar sent them to the gallows. For ten days this went on, with the Czar condemning to death any guard who failed him. Finally he confronted his three sons with the charge. He told his sons that whichever of them caught the thief would be named heir to his throne.

The eldest son tried first. He sat at the base of the tree with his sword in his hand and waited for the thief. Shortly after midnight, he heard curious music that seemed to be coming from the air itself.  It was so sweet and beautiful that he fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, yet more of the apples had been stolen.

The middle son tried next. He went across the path and watched the tree from a distance, but shortly after midnight he began to hear a strange and beautiful music, and listening to it he fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, even more of the apples had been stolen. Now there were only a few left.

Finally the last son, Ivan, went to guard the Czar's magical tree. He climbed into its branches, and waited. A little after midnight, he heard strange and beautiful music in the air. As his eyes became heavy, he washed his face with dew to revive himself, and covered his ears with his hands to block the enchanting sound out. A moment later the garden was lit up as though the sun had risen. A bright, golden glow was coming over the horizon, moving closer to the Czar's garden. After a few minutes, the Firebird appeared. Its feathers aflame, it illuminated the trees and flowers as it landed in the Czar's favorite tree, and began to eat the last of the golden apples.

Ivan lunged for the Firebird. He did not catch it, but he plucked one of its fearsomely bright tail feathers. He went running into the palace, shouting for all to come and see. The feather alone lighted the castle as he made his way through.

When the Czar learned what had happened, he was outraged that his youngest son had not caught the thief. He told his sons that until the Firebird was brought to him, he had no heir. The Czar sent his sons out in quest of the Firebird.

The three sons walked away from their father's palace in the direction from which Ivan had seen the Firebird fly, until they came to a vast forest. Once in its shadows, they decided that Ivan had shamed them. As the older brothers, it should have been they who discovered the Firebird. They therefore decided to leave their brother to be eaten by wolves. They took his weapons and left him only one day's ration of food and water. They abandoned Ivan and went on in search of the Firebird.

Before long, a wolf came through the trees to the clearing in which Ivan sat, alone and defenseless. Ivan looked at the wolf and said, " I suppose you have come to eat me."  "I am afraid I cannot eat anyone," replied the wolf.  "I am old, and all of my teeth have fallen out. I have not eaten in days, and came to this clearing to lay down and die."

"Firebird" - Ted Kierscey Animation
"Wolf, I have some bread in my satchel. I too am going to be dead soon, so if you would like you can eat my bread."

As the wolf ate the bread, Ivan told him about the Firebird, and his quest. The wolf laughed.

"I know where the Firebird is. Because you have helped me, I will take you there and tell you how to capture it."

As they walked, the wolf explained that the Firebird was a captive of the Emperor of a nearby land. She was kept in a magical cage in the Emperor's garden, and if anyone but the Emperor touched this cage the guards would come running at once.  However, each night the Firebird escaped to fly about the countryside. By scaling the garden wall and waiting for the Firebird to return, Ivan could capture her and return in glory to his Czar. But he must remember not to touch the cage.

At long last, Ivan and the wolf reached the Emperor's garden wall.  Ivan crept into the gardens and waited for the Firebird's return. When she arrived, the garden was lit up as though by the sun. Ivan grabbed her, and began to run back to the garden wall. Only it was so hard to carry her against all of her struggling, and he was blinded by the bright flames of her feathers. Forgetting what the wolf had said, Ivan went back to retrieve the cage and carry her more easily. The moment that he touched it, guards came running from every direction. Ivan was brought before the Emperor in chains, charged with the theft of royal property.

When the Emperor asked why he should show mercy on such a criminal, Ivan explained that he was the son of the Czar, who had charged him with a quest.  The Emperor replied, "If you had come to me and told me of your purpose, an arrangement could have been made. But now you have stolen, and by the law I must kill you.  However, if you would be wiling to quest for me, I would spare your life and give you the Firebird as your reward.  My daughter is the captive of a wicked sorcerer in a nearby kingdom. If you rescue her for me, you may have the Firebird and leave here in safety."

Ivan agreed at once, and went off in search of the Emperor's daughter. On his way he met up with his friend the wolf, who knew all the secrets of this land.  The wolf told him that the Emperor's daughter was under two enchantments. The first was that her heart had been replaced with one of wood, so that she could not love. The second was that a curse had been placed on her face, and anyone that gazed upon her would fall instantly and irrevocably in love with her. The wolf said that Ivan must rescue the Emperor's daughter, but never look upon her face.

"The Firebird" by Edmund Dulac
Finally they reached the evil sorcerer's castle.  Ivan caught the girl as she walked through the lawns, but he forgot the wolf's words and looked upon her face. Instantly, Ivan was in love. As she had no heart, the girl could not love him in return.  Ivan's unrequited love was horrible.  He knew that he must return her heart to her, so that he might be loved as well as love, and have some hope for happiness in his life.  "Where does the evil sorcerer keep your real heart?" asked Ivan. "Under the floor in his bedroom," she replied.

Ivan came up with a plan. That night, he dropped the feather he had stolen from the Firebird into the evil sorcerer's garden. As he expected, the evil sorcerer came running down, looking for the Firebird. Ivan ran to the sorcerer's room, stole the girl's heart, and fled with her into the night. 

As soon as she had her heart again, she fell as much in love with Ivan as he was with her. When they returned to the Emperor, they asked that they be allowed to marry. The delighted Emperor gave them his permission, and sent them back with the Firebird to claim Ivan's throne.

Ivan became a great Czar, and he and his bride lived happily ever after.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Vote for me!

Visit Top Mommy Blogs To Vote For Me!