Pick Your Battles

These days it seems like Hayden is all about pushing our buttons. Come to think of it, the same could be said (in alternate moments) about Delaney.

What they want to wear, or don't want to wear...

what they want to drink (Pellegrino or Perrier), out of what type of cup...

which version of the Doggie Movie (old or new) do they want to watch (at least, as Heather notes, we are out of the Elmo stage)...

and whether there is Winnie-the-Pooh-Bear or (god forbid) Big Bird on the BACK of the diaper that's being proposed.

"Me Bear!!!!" Hayden will shriek if he spies a feathered yellow giant making its way to his bum. "Where Me Bear?" And then we dissolve in tears and refuse any pants whatsoever, forever redefining the "boxers or briefs" debate.

All of this has led me to ask: Are we offering too many choices? Are we too lenient with the sparkling agua? Are we the only parents allowing them to watch movies while they eat? (Yes, I confess we've fallen into that very bad habit. Not sure how to get out of it, so please leave any advice below as a comment.)

At the end of the day we are exhausted with the struggle. Two two-year-old wills are just too many. As we pick up the countless blue w/ blue top, pink w/ yellow top, yellow w/ orange top cup-combos containing the day's worth of Blue Juice, Green Agua, Tea (not really), Nup (milk) or Oranshe Juz, we understand how paper cups came to be invented. If only they could drink from them without spilling it down their fronts.

We realize how helpless we are to know which trigger is going to be "the big one." We watch with amazement as an offer of cottage cheese is met with "no no no Mama, go-gurt!"

So we were very surprised by "the big one", the 7.3 earthquake last month. And the one this morning, a 5.3 in La Ceiba. And the removal of the Honduran president on Sunday, for (among other Very Bad Things) illegally wanting to re-write the country's constitution so that he can remain in power beyond his term.

Some "big ones" shake more than others. In this house, the perfect storm involves just the wrong drink at just the right moment. In Central America, it seems to have been brewing a long time.

We're on high alert, despite it being way past bedtime. We'll count our sippee cups and rule in favor of the people, whatever color agua that turns out to be today. May the same be true for Honduras this week.


Broomstick, anyone?

I'm overreacting, I'll freely admit that.

But as a frazzled MOM (mother of multiples) on Father's Day weekend, I claim that as my right.

You see, one of the downsides of living in a remote corner on a remote island is that Date Night happens only rarely, when someone is visiting us and gives up a night themselves in order to stay home with our two sleeping angels. Most of the time, Mike and I stay in.

Except on those "special" nights when we decide to take the twins out with us.

That requires monumental physical effort and mental preparation. Find the sippy cups; pack extra food and drinks in case they don't like the menu or our order doesn't come fast enough; organize diapers and wipes; get extra changes of clothes for when they spill their Agua; pack restaurant-appropriate toys, books, crayons, new coloring books and faithful Bobbies; add back-up toys so I have something novel to distract them with; find two pairs of Crocs that either Sonoma the Dog is using as a pillow or their owners have hidden and forgotten; change diapers and clothes before we leave for good luck; find car keys; lock the door; load up the car; load up the twins in car-seats; give them juice for the road and the "right" book each (Hayden's is blue); and then get in the car. And then get out of the car to be sure that you really locked the front door after all.

You truly can't remember.

You also can't remember why anyone thought this adventure was a good idea in the first place.

As I've said before, Delaney and Hayden are enthusiastic eaters. They love going "oud da dinner" and walk in wearing their "bah packs" from Meme filled with gear. They are basically well-behaved once we arrive and even more importantly, they are pretty darn cute. Most places welcome us and get set to be entertained.

But last night our welcome was thin. I probably brought the curse on myself by asking the young owner of the pool-side bar whether she was serving wine that came out of a bottle. (After years of visiting and living on Roatan, I've learned not to ask what kind of wine is available. The answer is Red and White.) But the last time we were at this particular oasis, the vino came out of a box, which is only acceptable to me at cook-outs for large numbers of people, not when I'm paying by the glass. Good thing I had asked.

I guess in retrospect we also made the mistake of trying to go out on a Saturday night. Even though it was all of 5:30 when we arrived.

I think, though, that if you are going to be in business, and you want my business, you leave your own bad day behind the counter. And if the customer is having a bad day, you fawn all over me -- and my kids.

As I said, I'm overreacting. But we had spent the better part of two hours getting to this point and to this restaurant. I was ready to have a nice evening and let someone else do the worrying.

Within minutes, Hayden spilled his cup of emergency Cheerios artfully across the entry.

Mindful that this was also a bar, and these were not peanuts we had scattered on the floor, I asked for a broom.

This would have been so easy except for the fact that Hayden loves brooms. And sweeping. And now he had found something exciting to do at this restaurant.

He swept up his Cheerios and then moved outside to the lawn. I relaxed and picked up my glass of from-the-bottle-red, smiling to myself that I was raising a boy who liked to be helpful. And I could sit here peacefully like a grown-up for a few seconds. He started sweeping a patch of dirt and gravel, like he does every day at home. Honestly, Mike and I didn't think anything of it. It was a lovely evening and a safe spot for them to play while we waited for our meals.

But it really ticked off this young restaurant owner, who clearly has never had to amuse/distract/trick/protect/mediate/stall/trick/coerce/encourage/coerce/amuse/distract two two-year-olds at once, ever.

"He's getting my broom dirty!" she shrieked and flew across the grass like the Wicked Witch of the Caribbean.

She grabbed it from poor Hayden's hands. Didn't say anything to him, or to Mike who was supervising; just yanked it away. Flying back, she didn't even acknowledge me, now standing in the doorway in astonishment, feeling the crumbs of a broken evening fall on my feet along with a few errant Cheerios from my lap.

I would have better understood if brooms were hard to come by. (They're not. They're everywhere.) I would have understood if she had said to me, "Would you mind bringing the broom back? We've spilled Cheerios in the kitchen, too." Or even, "I'm sorry, I have an overwhelming fear of dirt on my cleaning supplies." Then let me get the broom away from my son with an explanation he can understand.

Or just do away with the Kids' Menu and we'll get the hint and go elsewhere. Otherwise, be kid-friendly, and be friendly to kids.

It's just good business -- we'll spend more money the longer our kids are happy at your restaurant, and if we're lucky, some day soon we'll get a real Date Night out at your establishment. Then we can order appetizers and dessert, too.

I apologized to our other waitress (the owner-gal never reappeared), because the thing that concerns me more than some woman's attachment to her broom is thinking that my children might not, in fact, be welcome or well-behaved. So I am truly sorry if we pushed the limits of good toddler and parental dining-out etiquette. Next time, we'll leave the Cheerios right where they fall.


Don't Lick the Art

Hayden has not outgrown his baby impulse to put everything in his mouth. Things other than food, I mean.

Sticks, stones, playdough, neosporin, chalk, soap, markers, sponges. You name it, he's tasting it.

Recently I had to pull him off a bronze statue, whose elbow he was sucking.

"Don't lick the art,' I said.

At Christmas Mike surprised us with a delectable new wooden sculpture by island artist Melvin. We called this "Christmas Fish" -- appropriate, if not original. Sure enough, Hayden climbed right on to Fish and tasted the paint. Here's a short, ridiculous family video (shot 6 months ago; our language skills have come a long way since then). If you watch closely, Hayden bends down to give Christmas Fish an, um, kiss, while he's riding it like an, um, cowboy. Giddee up.

Don't lick the Fish, Pirate.

The plus side of all this experimentation is that Hayden's a really good eater. His current favorites are grilled shrimp, pesto-covered pasta, bananas, guavas and prunes. However, I'm tempted to write to San Pellegrino and tell them how grossly we are misusing their oh-so-elegant product. Not only do we call it Green Agua in our house, but it is the one beverage that I allow Delaney and Hayden to drink from a real cup. This means lots of gurgling, backwashing and dunking. Last night, it was lasagna and broccoli dunked in the Pellegrino. I'll spare you the photos of that.

Hayden's also very interested in cooking. I'm imagining that he's going to fulfill my fantasy of being the Next Food Network Star. "Me Up," he insists, whenever I'm doing something in the kitchen or at the stove. He pushes a counter stool over and climbs up to watch -- or stick a finger in it.

Here he is with nanny Jesse, and Delaney is with visiting new-nurse Carrie-Ellen, making Jesse's birthday cupcakes last week.


How do I explain that it's OK to lick the spoon?


40 is the new...

So I turned 40 and got inspired to shake things up a bit.

I put on a dress instead of shorts, causing much confusion to Delaney and Hayden.

I ordered iced tea instead of red wine, causing much confusion to my favorite waiter at the Blue Bahia.

I decided to start swimming laps (and have done so twice.... OK, maybe once), causing much confusion to my husband who thinks he is just brushing the pool every day for the pleasure of the birds.

I debated over my birthday wishes: a) get serious about buying family health insurance or b) ask for a treadmill. I chose to apply for insurance, since it seemed easier to fill out an online form than to fly to San Pedro Sula looking for personal fitness equipment.

Or easier than actually getting on the treadmill.

That turned out to be only partly true, since the online form took hours and then required lots of follow-up. But as of today, after a year-and-a-half at the mercy of the Honduran medical system, we are now globally insured.

Then I realized I needed to reinvigorate my job search after being told that my resume was "eclectic." So far I've applied for three "virtual" remote jobs and one at the fancy family resort, Tyler Place. That's where I just confessed that I lied in order to make our reservation as Junior Midgets. I mean, if I'm going to bother to confess, and then promote them on this blog and elsewhere, I might as well keep going and ask for a salary, right?

Most fun of all, I decided to give this blog a fresh look. Hope you like it. Leave me a comment below and tell me what you think. You might also tell me what else I should do to make 40 new and different.


Fibbing For Camp

Forgive me, I'm an idiot.

That was the subject line in the email I just sent to the fancy family resort that we hope to escape to this summer.

I, um, lied about Delaney and Hayden's birthdate just so they could be classified as Junior Midgets, rather than Senior Toddlers. The cut-off is 30 months and our babies won't quite make it.

I've read about Mothers Like That, who lie about their kids ages just to get them into the right school or class or, well, summer camp. And now I am one.
Mike thinks I'm crazy.

But you'd have done it too, believe me, if you'd spent the last 14 days pouring over the Tyler Place reviews on Trip Advisor and http://www.wejustgotback.com/. This resort gets hundreds of 5.0 ratings from families all over the country as the best place EVER to go with kids. The program sounds phenomenal, like a once-in-a-lifetime hands-on experience even if you're just 2 (or nearly 2.5). (Check it out at http://www.tylerplace.com/.)

It's not that I want Delaney and Hayden to grow up faster (well, maybe I'm stretching the truth there, too). It's just that I want them to have the Splash Pad and the Marionettes and the Fleet of Red Wagons and Tipi and the Treehouse (whatever that is). Plus a dress-up party and tending their own organic garden. All the outings to children's museums that we can't have while we're living on an island, packed into one glorious summer week.

But I've been consumed by guilt over my little white birthday lie and confessed (online, of course -- who could make a phone call like that?). Now I'm waiting to see if I've gotten us banished from the waiting list or relocated to an even more remote corner of the camp. (We're already booked at a full 10-minute walk to Lake Champlain and more significantly, to the dining hall. But at least we're there.)

Or if we're not banished, I surely will be branded as the Lunatic Liar from Somewhere South of the Border.

What makes this even more amusing is that I'm the girl WHO HATES CAMP and actually ran away from my dorm the one time I went (at the tender age of 15). I walked for what seemed to be miles just to find my parents at their hotel, relieved at last to be back in reassuring surroundings (and closer to amenities).

And here I am choosing, as the dream vacation from our permanent island vacation, a family camp back in New England.

Go figure.

At least now my conscience is clear. Delaney and Hayden will be 30 months at the end of August. Their days as Junior Midgets are just beginning.


Earthquake Shoes and Other Tales of Clean-Up

My flip-flops are carefully aligned alongside my bed each night, a habit acquired from growing up in quake-prone Los Angeles. In case you have to jump up in the middle of the night and make a mad dash over rubble to get to the doorway as your house collapses around you.

Fortunately there was no falling rubble last week when the 7.3 earthquake hit sleepy (and sleeping) Roatan at 2:24a.m. Our houses did not collapse and in fact suffered minimal damage. Pictures were askew, the pools lost gallons of water, and the heavy procelain lid flew inexplicably off the toilet tank in one bathroom and crashed in a hundred pieces. We did have a film of plaster dust that coated floors and furniture in the bedrooms, but we needed to sweep anyway.

The wood and thatch home of Maria-with-the-twelve-children by the side of Mud Hole Road is also still standing. And so are the dozens of other shanty-like dwellings that dot our little villages. Click here to read more about the underwater shock resulting from a “left-lateral strike-slip faulting on the Swan Islands Transform Fault, a segment of the boundary between the North America and Caribbean plates”:


Islanders responded to the subterranean roar by going to church. The day after the earthquake, and the day after that, and even the day after that, there was a big collective “hush” over the island. Only 14 patients at the clinic, instead of the usual 60, reported Carrie-Ellen, our Hartford nanny who is here volunteering. (It was Carrie’s first earthquake ever, so now she has lots of stories to tell about her first clinic post since graduating with her UConn nursing degree.)

All schools were cancelled by order of the Municipality the next morning, so we were stuck at home. Delaney and Hayden helped with clean-up by “moving” neatly swept plaster piles from one spot to another.

Needing something productive to do, that afternoon we organized a massive wash of all porch toys and the very dirty foam alphabet rug. This occupied all afternoon, thankfully, and now the tool bench, barnyards, blocks and baby dolls all sparkle.

As the dust settled over the weekend, we apparently experienced some 300 aftershocks and an unrelated 5.0. Various clean-up efforts continued.

Through neighbor Heather, we learned that our mutual housekeeper of more than nine months has officially ditched us, taking advances on her salary from both families and departing for the mainland. That leaves us with lots of far more mundane cleaning than dusting around the earthquake shoes or participating in the Great Alphabet Rug Scrub.

So we were happy to quickly find new housekeeper Norma, though like her predecessor, Norma speaks no English. My instructions were limited to “limpiar aqui, aqui, aqui.” Clean here, here, here.

This seemed to work, but at dusk I realized she had scrubbed all of our many windows with a wet sponge instead of newspaper and windex, leaving a streaky residue that makes you think the plaster dust is still coming down.

Norma comes back manana and I will attempt to explain that agua doesn’t work on windows. It was also just as well that she didn't get around to washing the kitchen floor, since David and Isaac came over and urged Hayden to have a glass of juice in a big-boy cup. That, of course, required cleaning up afterwards.

On Monday Mike and I attended our final parent-teacher conference of the year (yes, the babies have now completed their first year of school!). Delaney got high marks for leadership demonstrated each day at --guess what -- clean-up time. Apparently she tells the older boys and girls when to pick up their toys, even following them around with a bullhorn (OK, a trumpet) to get her point across. That's my girl.

Hayden takes his cues from her and helps with clean-up too… though if, for whatever reason, Delaney is not in a clean-up mood, then Hayden can't be bothered either. This sounds more like the behavior demonstrated at home.

In fact, Hayden's final report card sported three sad faces for hitting and biting. "Hayden takes turns...sometimes," it said.

But both kids received "good" or "excellent" in the 38 measures they were graded against. Discovery Bay is a very thorough preschool.

We'll always remember their first school year, marked by no less than a massive earthquake. Hayden even noted the occasion by planting a Honduran flag in the sand, looking out to the mysterious sea.