Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bedtime Rituals

One night last week - one of the nights Ken was out of town - I put all three kids to bed.  It was the usual bedtime ritual.  All three kids know it:  Pajamas.  One bedtime story.  One TV show (Mother Goose Club, Dora, Diego, or Doc McStuffins usually) with something to drink and a treat.  Brushing teeth.  Then, finally, to bed. 
“Tucking-in” is a mini-ritual within the bedtime ritual.  These days it usually involves Margot choosing which of her "babies" will sleep with her and Flynn deciding if he'll have a stuffed friend in bed with him or if he’ll simply throw it on the floor.  Coco gets into bed and waits patiently to be tucked in.  (By the way, all three kids are now officially in the same room with three twin beds all lined up in a row.  How that finally came to be is another post.)  Then there is finally the actual tucking in and multiple good-night kisses for everyone.  Flynn is the most intentional about good night kisses.  You lean down to give him a kiss and he's looking up at you waiting for it, and then he reaches up, grabs your head, pulls it down and gives you a big sloppy two-year-old-kiss right on the lips.  It cracks me up every time.
With all three kids tucked into bed I went downstairs to work for a while before going to bed myself.  Not more than a few minutes after I sat down in the dining room to work, I heard steps coming down the stairs.  Then into the dining room came all three kids.  I turned and looked at them standing in the doorway.  All three of them appearing at the same time is a new phenomenon.  It felt a bit like the arrival of a delegation of sorts, kind of like <and say this part in an official announcer-like voice> "The Delegation Representing Upstairs has arrived, sir."  I gave them my best raised-eyebrows, head tilted, questioning, "why are you up" look. 
Coco, as the speaker on behalf of The Delegation Representing Upstairs (which makes sense since she is the only Delegate who can speak in complete sentences), said, "Margot and Flynn want to sleep in my bed with me." 
"No.  Everyone needs to sleep in their own bed," I said.
"But they want to sleep in my bed."
"Well, they can't.  Now everyone needs to go to bed."
So I took them all back upstairs.  I tucked in Margot and I tucked in Flynn with all the necessary good-night kisses -- including the reach-grab-and-pull kiss from Flynn.  I turned to Coco who was sitting on her bed, not looking like she was going to sleep anytime soon. 
"Okay,” I said to her.  “Margot and Flynn can sleep in your bed.  But only after I leave.  And I don't want to hear any running around up here.  Okay?"  I turned and went back downstairs.
Minutes later The Delegation Representing Upstairs arrived again.  I turned and gave Coco my best "why are you downstairs this time?" look.
Then she said to me, “You didn’t tuck me in.”  And she burst into tears.  They were not boo-hoo-hoo for-sympathy tears.  They were honest to goodness “and you really hurt my feelings” tears.
I did not see that coming.  I had, in fact, not tucked her in.  I had violated our bedtime ritual.  So, I knelt in front of my crying little girl and gave her a big hug and a kiss.  “I’m so sorry, pun’kin.  I didn’t tuck you in because I thought you were waiting for me to leave so you could get Margot and Flynn into your bed with you.  I’m really sorry.  And I’m really glad you came downstairs to tell me you were upset.”  She stopped crying and gave me a hug back. “It’s okay, Daddy,” she said softly, sniffing just a bit. 
Sometimes a child can break your heart and warm your heart at the very same time.  
So I took The Delegation Representing Upstairs back upstairs, tucked them in – all three of them – and told them a story about a dragon that was the friendliest dragon you would ever meet, who stopped at a village for drink of water from the fountain in the square, fell asleep and scared all the villagers until three little children named Coco, Margot and Flynn came out and woke up the dragon and introduced themselves.  They become the best of friends.  The End.  

Princess Rule #18 
Always hang your tiara on your headboard
when you go to bed at night.
One never knows when one might have need of
its magical powers.
Margot and Flynn before their move from cribs to big-kid beds.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Holloween 2015: Woodland Faeries

three little woodland faeries

a family of woodland faeries

"Woodland Faeries!  Let's do this!"
Flynn:  "Margot, why do you keep putting the candy in here?"

Flynn:  "Maybe if I bite it hard enough I can get it open."

Flynn:  "still . . . biting . . . ."

Flynn:  "For the love of all that's good in the world, please open this for me!"

Flynn:  "I'm just going to sit here and eat my fish until all these strange people go away."

Postcards from Mendocino: County Fair 2015

"Twin kids, meet the twin kids."

"Your first time at the rodeo?"
"Me neither."

Words I never want to hear from any of these three:
"Can I do that too someday?"

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Postcards from Mendocino: Labor Day Harvest 2015

In the early spring of 2008 Ken and I planted a small orchard at our place near Boonville.  Okay, "small" might not be the right word.  We planted nearly 40 fruit trees.  And for the following several summers we were quite dedicated to the orchard.  In fact, much to my surprise, it became mostly my project and I really enjoyed it. 

Then came Child One and our time outside "in the garden" diminished a bit.  Ken stopped planting his vegetable garden altogether.  Then Ken started traveling for work every week and with my travel too, our trips north lessened a bit.  Then came Child Two and Child Three, and Child One started on the birthday party circuit.  Our trips north lessened further still and our time in the garden become nonexistent.

As you can imagine, the yard has been neglected a bit.  Okay, more than a bit.  And the California drought has not helped   Yet the trees in the orchard have kept on keepin' on for these past several years.  Yes, we've lost several over time, but the majority are still there. 

Over Labor Day this year we harvested three big baskets of pears and apples from an orchared that hasn't been watered in, um, three years.  The kids had a good time picking apples, although we had to keep an eye on Flynn and Margot who tended to take a single bite from the apples and then toss them into the basket. 



Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Mouse in the House

One early morning last week I staggered downstairs to the kitchen to make some much needed coffee in the blessed quiet before my three children would be awake demanding Aquanauts on the TV and milk in their sippy cups.  As I stood at the counter in the kitchen, bleary-eyed, enjoying the aroma of brewing coffee, I heard it . . . . the shuffley-scratchy sound of a mouse in the house.  I froze.  Suddenly I was very much awake, listening intently to that all-too-familiar shuffley-scratchy sound of a mouse in the house and trying to determine the exact location of the cursed critter.

You see, last spring and summer our entire neighborhood was overrun with mice.  It was a frequent topic of sidewalk conversation among the neighbors.  Nearly all of us resorted to a not-inexpensive service that not only got rid of the mice, but carefully sealed every nook and cranny around the ground level of the house so that no more mice would make our home their home.  And ultimately it worked.  The mice vanished and were not seen or heard from again. 

So, as I stood in the kitchen that early morning last week waiting for my coffee to brew, I was not at all happy to hear once again the shuffley-scratchy sound of a mouse in the house.

Without moving, using my super-human, bionic-woman-like powers of hearing, I listened carefully so that I could pinpoint the exact location of the little varmint.  The shuffley-scratchy sound of the mouse in the house was louder than I expected.  And more animated too.  Could there be two?  What in the dickens were they doing?  Dancing?  And why were they out and about in the house in the morning.  Our previous mouse guests and been active only at night.

Gradually, I turned from the counter and crept across the kitchen towards the breakfast room as quietly as, well, a mouse, so that I might catch a glimpse of the little intruder.  And, there in the breakfast room, seated at the breakfast room table, tiny little fingers tapping away at the keyboard on my laptop, was Margot.  She turned to me and grinned.  “Good morning, Daddy!  I was just checking your email.  Can I have some toast?”  Okay, she didn’t say that because she’s not talking yet, but it’s what she would have said if she could have said something.

Yes, Margot had toddled downstairs sometime earlier that morning, before I was up, and sat herself in front of my laptop to pass the time until she knew I would finally show up to make her some toast. 

You see, in our house we don’t have mice anymore.  What we have is free-range two-year-olds. 

Margot was the first to climb out of her crib.  Actually, first she climbed out of her pack-n-play in the country over Labor Day Weekend.  Again and again one night.  To the point where at different times during the night Ken and I were sleeping next to the pack-n-play to keep her in her bed.  Then when we got back home to San Francisco she demonstrated her ability to clamber quite easily out of her crib.  She got quite good at it quite fast.  In fact, last weekend when she was supposed to be taking a nap she climbed out of her crib ten times.  That’s not an exaggeration.  I counted.  I thought that if every time she climbed out of her crib I put her right back in, she would eventually give up and take her nap.  She, on the other hand, thought in her little head, “If every time Daddy puts me back in my crib I climb right back out, he’ll eventually give up and I won’t have to take a nap.”  She was right. 

It was actually several days before I sat in the room and watched her climb out of her crib.  She would swing her leg up over the end of the crib, pull herself over the side, tummy down, and then lower herself so that she could set first one foot and then the other foot on the cross piece at mattress level.  Then she would simply hop off.

Not to be outdone for long, it was only a week before Flynn realized he was getting left behind.  He quickly figured out the art of crib climbing and became a free-range two-year-old as well. 

So, sadly, we bid adeiu to the period when we could put two of our three children to bed and count on them to stay put.  And we say "hola" to the nightly battle of wills to get children to go to bed and stay in bed. 

Margot and Flynn, not in their beds but in Coco's bed instead.


Saturday, September 5, 2015

Margot and Flynn turn 2.

Flynn and Margot are now two.

Margot continues to be an independent, curious and introverted little girl.  (I’m so thankful there might be at least one more introvert in this family to keep me company . . . that is, when I want company . . ..)  At two, Margot already has her own opinion about the clothes she’ll wear.  In the morning when I pull clothes out of her drawer she makes it very clear if the outfit I’ve chosen is acceptable to her.  She may not have many words yet (see more on that below) but she knows “no” and uses it often.  Because her shoes and pajamas are kept in bins she can reach, she brings to me the shoes she wants to wear in the morning and the pajamas she wants to wear at night.  Dora and Doc McStuffins are already her favorites.  Because I’m the easy-going dad who can barely get himself dressed in the morning, she gets to wear whatever she chooses. 

Margot likes to try new things; at grandma and grandpa’s house last month she was way more excited than Flynn to try out Coco’s scooter and bike with training wheels.  She likes to play with our iPhones, playing games and watching PBS videos.  She continues to be the helpful one, picking up things around the house that are not in their right place and pointing our any spills she might find (and she finds them frequently). 

Flynn is a shy, cuddly and rambunctious little boy.  His shy nature still surprises me.  When someone he doesn’t know tries to talk to him he’ll immediately reach up to Daddy or Papa to be picked up and then – this is the interesting part, to me – he’ll turn his head away and pretend like the person simply isn’t there.  It’s like he’s pretending that there’s something in the opposite direction that’s far more interesting and he’s been meaning to look at for quite some time.  I guess it’s kind of like when you’re on the bus or the train going to work and a crazy person gets on; everyone simply pretends it’s not happening.  That’s what Flynn does; he ignores the crazy person.  It’s quite remarkable.  At least he doesn’t burst into tears anymore. 
Flynn really loves to be picked up, to be held and to cuddle.  If Daddy or Papa is sitting down, then he wants to be in a lap.  He also loves to climb and hang on to just about anything.  He hangs on tables, on bathroom sinks.  Just about anything he can hold onto that will hold his weight.  His favorite sport is jumping on the bed.  It brings him unbelievable joy.  How is it that as a child you think jumping on the bed is the most obvious and natural purpose for a bed, yet as a parent you see jumping on the bed as the inevitable path to a cracked skull?

"You understand what I'm saying, right?"
Neither Margot nor Flynn are talking yet and, frankly, I’m getting impatient.  They use a few basic words: “no” (but not “yes” - although Margot is very good at nodding “yes” while Flynn just grins if he agrees with whatever I’ve said), “up” “juice” “shoes” and “more” for example.  And they’re both good with “Papa” (which they use interchangeably for both Daddy and Papa) and “Coco.”  “Coco” they say all the time and frankly they seem to say it any time they see something that reminds them of Coco.  Margot at least utters series of sounds and syllables that sound something like a sentence might sound if she knew words.  And then she gives you this look like, “You understand what I’m saying, right?” 
Flynn, on the other hand, is monosyllabic.  He is also remarkably talented at shouting.  He shouts for pure entertainment and he loves it when you shout with him -- and, yes, I like to shout with him because I also find it incredibly entertaining.  In the morning Flynn shouts from his crib like a rooster crows to the morning sun, “Papa!  Papa!  Papa!” on and on until someone finally comes to release him from his crib of captivity.  Margot is always awake as well, but she lets Flynn summon “the help.”

I’m not worried that they aren’t talking yet.  They have an older sister who does all the talking for them and for everyone else in whatever room she’s in at the time.  And of course they hear Spanish more hours than they hear English for five days a week and I’m sure they are still trying to sort that out in their little heads too.  I wondered if maybe they were talking to Mari in Spanish and I’m was just missing out, but Mari confirmed that, no, they are using the same words with her that they use with me.

But I am impatient.  I want them to start talking so that I can start talking to them.  I want to hear what they’re thinking, what they have to say. 

Last weekend, on the way from Port Angeles to SeaTac to fly home with all three kids and my mom (who was flying down to help me get the kids home after a month at "Camp Grandma and Grandpa" and then flying right back) Cornelia was as usual chatting from the back seat for nearly the entire trip, asking questions in her usual stream-of-consciousness way, making declaratory statements about whatever she was observing at the time, and singing to fill in any otherwise lulls in the conversation.  Now, I love chatting with Cornelia and I take it as a personal challenge to answer any and all questions she asks as best as I can - which of course only encourages even more questions.  (This morning on the way to school she asked if bats come from eggs.  We looked it up on my phone at the train stop.  They don’t.  They’re mammals.)  After nearly two hours of this banter I said to my mom (rhetorically), “What am I going to do when there are three of them talking to me from the backseat?” 

Actually, I’m ready for it.  I’m more than ready for it.  Flynn and Margot, I’m ready to hear from you.  Someday, a dozen or so years from now, maybe not so much; but today, I really want to hear what you have to say.  I’m waiting, impatiently.

"Hmmm . . . . what does this do?"

"So, if I just squeeze this part here . . .?"
"Hey, what the . . .?!!"

"So, what does this do again?"


Wednesday, July 15, 2015

"And then this happened . . . ." (July Fourth, 2015)

It was the Fourth of July.  We were at the house.  We had spent the early afternoon at the “Old-time Fourth of July Celebration” at the Mendocino County Fairgrounds.  Flynn was taking his nap, Margot was crying from her pack-n-play protesting the idea that she should take a nap, and Coco was playing with her trains not even feigning an attempt to take a nap.  Ken was upstairs napping or looking at Facebook or checking email or something.  I was in the kitchen facing my usual dilemma:  Do I work or do I take a nap? 

But I was distracted by the recurring thought that I could smell smoke. 

It was just a whiff.  It was faint enough that I thought I must have been imagining it or mistaking some dusty-dry-grass smell for smoke.  It was really hot after all, so it could just be a dusty-dry-grass smell, right?  And everyone knows that I worry too much.  It just couldn’t be smoke.  But there it was again. 

I stepped outside to look to see if there was anything to see.  Was that smoke over and across the trees in the distance?  It was white so it couldn’t be smoke.  It must be a cloud.  But something about it looked not-quite-right with the other clouds.  The shape of it wasn’t the same shape as the other clouds . . . and it seemed low, like it was coming up from somewhere. 

I stepped inside and on my phone I Googled “fire near ukiah california july 4th”.  The results didn’t include anything that suggested there was a fire in the area. 

Outside a helicopter flew by in the distance, and then an airplane.  Standing in the kitchen I texted Ken who was in the bedroom above my head.  (When the kids are napping and we’re in different parts of the house, we text each other.)  “I think there may be a fire somewhere.  I was smelling smoke and now the aircraft.”  It was 3:45 p.m.

Then I heard a helicopter coming.  It was coming close.  And it was coming low.  Like, really, really low.  It was coming from the east.  I stepped outside onto the deck and looked to the east and then it came over the trees, paused and hovered.  Maybe a 100 yards from the house at most.  Fifty feet off the ground?  I could see someone in a helicopter jumpsuit (I guess that’s what they’re called?) and a helmet and visor looking out the side door of the helicopter.  He was very clearly looking at me.  From a helicopter.  Hovering.  One hundred yards from the house. 

It’s a strange feeling to have a helicopter hovering above your house with a guy hanging out the door looking at you.  It’s clear that whoever is in that helicopter is interested in you but you don’t know why they’re interested in you.  I remember thinking, “They’re looking for someone.  I wonder if someone is lost.  Are they searching for someone?” 

The helicopter moved away from the house, moving slowly away across the front yard and then over the orchard.  It’s nose was pointed downward, like it was looking for something.  And then I realized it was looking for a place to land.  It was moving toward a flat area on top of the ridge about a quarter mile from the house.  It was an old man-made clearing, cleared probably for some logging activity several decades ago.  Now it was the ideal helicopter landing pad.  Or at least the only useable one in the vicinity. 

As I watched the helicopter landing I saw the fire truck coming up the driveway.  The fire.  “Shoot!”  (Yeah, right, like that’s the word I used.)  I had forgotten about the smoke and my thoughts of fire.  “There’s a fire.  It’s here.  It’s somewhere here.” 

I texted Ken. “Come down.”  Yes, I realize now it was odd to text Ken from the deck when he was in the bedroom just behind me and there was a helicopter landing and a fire truck coming.  As if he was still upstairs napping or looking at Facebook or checking email or something.  Of course he had been standing on the deck upstairs watching the scene unfold just as I had been watching it.  Now he was walking out the door as I was texting him.

As an aside, we later learned that the firefighters in the helicopter and in the fire truck did not know we were there when they came up the hill to see about a fire.  They were a bit surprised to come upon a house and a barn and two men standing outside the house watching them from a yard littered with wagons and tricycles and such. 

The firetruck pulled up in front of the house.  Out of it came several firemen who clearly had things to do.  They immediately started walking around the house.  “Can we go into your backyard?” one asked.  “Uh, yes, of course.”  (Thanks for asking?)  One of them walked over to talk to Ken and me.  He told us that there was a fire and it was close.  It was less than half a mile from the house, to the northeast, down the hill toward the highway.  It was entirely on our place.  The only other parts of the conversation I recall are, “You don’t need to evacuate yet,” “You better get your hoses ready,” and “We’ll do our best to save your house.”  Six more firefighters arrived from the helicopter. 
If you look closely, you can see Coco
standing on the steps, watching.

I was thinking, “Uh, okay.  Thanks.  We don’t have any water.  And we’ll be evacuating now.” 

By that time Cornelia was on the deck in front of the house.  From her room upstairs in the front of the house, playing with her trains, she had had a bird’s-eye view of the helicopter landing and the fire truck coming.  I walked over to her.  “What’s happening?!  What’s happening?!” she asked with some urgency.  Alarmed but not yet scared.  I explained to her that there was a fire and that the firemen had come to put out the fire and to make sure we were safe.  She seemed satisfied with the answer. 

Off to fight the fire.
After a few more minutes the helicopter left -- I don’t remember which direction it went -- and the firetruck and the fireman all left, going north along the driveway towards the fire.  Ken and started packing.  We were going to a barbecue that evening so we weren’t homeless (not yet, at least).  We would simply go to the barbecue and wait it out.  We just didn’t know when we would be coming back and, when we came back, if there would be a house. 

Before we left the house Ken and I walked through it together to be sure we weren’t forgetting anything valuable.  (All three kids – the most valuable of anything – were already in the car.)  It was a little strange to walk through the house wondering if this would be the last time you would see your stuff.  And a little hard to believe you were even contemplating the question.

Fortunately, there wasn’t much to take.  We just packed up the kids, the groceries and a few mementos and left.  By that time, the smoke was very clearly in the air.

As we drove down the driveway and approached the last 100 yards at the bottom of the hill before the gate, we could see the entire scene.  The hillside in front of us, about a quarter mile away, was on fire.  The entire hillside was shrouded in smoke and there were glimpses of flames.  A few trees on fire.  There were a fire truck and a state patrol car on the highway below the fire and there were two more fire trucks on the ridge above the fire.  As we watched a helicopter flew over and dumped a load of water – or water and whatever else they dump – on the fire and then raced away to refill.  Then another helicopter.  And then a plane flew over and dropped a cloud of red powder.  And then another helicopter.  (We have video of the helicopters and planes but I can't get it from my phone to the blog!)

The entire scene as we saw if from our driveway. 
 As the firemen had left the house earlier, after saying “we’ll try to save your house,” I had thought, “I hope they try hard to put this thing out.  I know we’re only one house but I hope they try hard to save it.”  As we watched the operation happening in front of us I realized they were going to do everything possible to put this fire out as quickly as possible.  Otherwise, in an area that was already parched from the summer heat and a multi-year drought, this small fire could become a massive fire burning hundreds and hundreds of acres or more.  It’s not about our stupid little house.  We later learned that the fire departments from Anderson Valley, Ukiah, Hopland and Willits all responded to this fire.  Essentially, the entire Mendocino County fire department had turned out for this.

“We need to go,” I said.

We drove out our gate.  Ken wanted to see whatever we could see and try to get an update from the firemen, so we turned left out of our gate toward the fire rather than going right to Boonville and to our barbecue.  The highway wasn’t closed yet.  We stopped at the firetrucks along the highway below the fire.  Ken found a fireman who, once he understood that it was our land that was burning, was willing to pause and talk to us.  He was pretty optimistic about the situation.  He said they were feeling pretty confident that they would get the fire contained and under control.  He said about 30 acres were burning.  We gave him our number and asked him to call us if there was news and to let us know if we could come back to the house that night. We left for the barbecue.  It was 4:30 p.m.

As we were driving away we saw at the side of the road below the fire, a motorcycle that was entirely burned.  We knew at that point the source of the fire.  (We learned later that the motorcycle was stolen and the person who had stolen it was high on some controlled substance and had fled the scene.  He was later arrested.)   

At about 8:00 p.m. that night, the fire department called and said the fire was contained and that it was safe to return to the house.  There would be personnel on site all night long and through the following day watching the fire and mopping up, as they say. 

We did go back to the house that night.  As we came around the bend in the highway and reached our gate we could see the entire hillside – and it was glowing.  An orange glow from the embers left from the fire.  We didn’t expect that.  We could also see two firetrucks still on the ridge above the fire, with their headlights on.  The personnel staying all night to watch the fire.  We paused at the gate and decided we would go up to the house to see what we could see and then decide if we would stay.  We could drive back to San Francisco that night if we didn’t feel comfortable staying at the house. 

As we drove up the driveway we could see the headlights of a firetruck parked on the driveway.  More personnel.  We could also see that the fire had reached the driveway. 

We stopped at the truck and talked with one of the fireman.

“Is it safe to stay at the house?” we asked
“Oh sure, it’s fine,” he said.
“Are you sure?  What would you do?”
“I would totally stay at the house.  And we’ll be here all night.”
“There are three kids in the back of this car.”
“It’s fine.”

So we drove up to the house, put the kids to bed, and went to bed ourselves.  And about every hour or so through the night we heard a firetruck drive past the house.

The morning after.  The fire reached the driveway.

The pink residue from the fire retardant the plane dropped.

The burned hillside.  23 acres in total.