Saturday, October 31, 2009

We Interrupt This Halloween to Bring You the Greatest Compliment Ever

I think that pretty much stands on its own, but if you want the back story, here it is.

ShallowGal has been looking for advice on Twitter all week long. Like, how do you keep a four-year-old happy in a looooong line that will ultimately result in his being given a flu shot?

And like any normal person, I suggested The Big Lie approach.

(If you're not familiar with the twitter timeline concept, read the second one first.)

And then, tonight, she needed more help. Seriously. How does the woman get dressed in the morning? She was going to a party and didn't know what to do about trick or treaters visiting her empty home. Should she put out a bowl of candy, she asked? To which I gave this advice:

Honestly. Why aren't all of you following me on twitter? I could solve the world's problems. You hear that @barackobama? (Although I'll need to hire a copy editor for my tweets first. Jeez.)

So there you have it: "Stimey—the evil, less dead Ann Landers."

Friday, October 30, 2009

Scary (Pretend) Halloween (II)

(Super) Scary Thing #1:

The very scariest thing about this Halloween (oh, please, let it be the scariest) was when I got a call from my sister-in-law, S, yesterday to tell me that my sister was in the hospital for complications from H1N1.

That was scary enough, but then a couple of hours later S called back and started using words and phrases such as "blood pressure bottomed out" and "unresponsive" and "blood clot" and "ICU."

Fortunately, the latter two didn't pan out and she's back at home now. But, oh my god, I don't think I've been that scared since Loon Day. Especially since she's in New Mexico and I couldn't even be there for moral support. My fingers (and toes) are crossed that she continues to improve. And rapidly.

Thank you to everyone who was on Twitter last night and sent good thoughts to my sister and me. Ann, the interwebs are pulling for you. As am I. Feel better soon. Please.


(Sorta) Scary (But Highly Annoying) Thing #2:

I almost burned my house down this morning trying to make toast for Sam. I, somewhat obviously, need to work on my cooking skillz. We were all happily in the TV room watching the cast of the Today Show dressed up as Star Wars characters when Sam walked into the kitchen to get his shoes and yelled, "Mom! There's smoke everywhere!"

And he was right.

That's the culprit circled in red right there.

I will say that I can trace the smoke trail all the way back to, and place the blame squarely upon, my dog. If she hadn't eaten Sam's pancakes, then he wouldn't have asked for toast, and I wouldn't have tried to make it, a job I am obviously unqualified to do.

I'm pretty sure we caught the toast seconds before it burst into flames.


Consequently, I spent the entire day smelling like burnt toast and apologizing to everyone that stood within three or four feet of me. And don't get me started on how my house smells. Oy.


(Mutant) Scary Thing #3:


You might not be able to tell from the photo, but this wasp (and his buddies) is an inch and a half long. These weird, huge wasps have recently shown up at our back door.

What. the. hell. are. they?


(Not) Scary (at All, But Rather Totally Adorable) Thing #4:

Pretend Halloween II, Elementary School Edition was today.

Jack represented the dark side with style and pizazz.

Sam was a serious, stoic Jedi. I didn't get a photo of him smiling until we got back to his room and he saw all the snacks.

And Quinn totally scored because he got to go to both Sam and Jack's parties.


And it's still only October 30.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Why, Yes, Today IS Pretend Halloween.

For all of you who were saddened by Quinn's harsh economics lesson yesterday, rest assured that he has recovered nicely.

And you may have laughed to hear Quinn ask about Pretend Halloween, but actually today was Pretend Halloween. Or, alternately, Day One of the Three Never-Ending Days of the Great Candy Orgy Halloween.

Quinn's preschool class had their Halloween Parade today, although it is more of a Halloween Stand Around and Let the Parents Take Your Photo Event.

Quinn was a Jedi.*

I think he looks a little bit like a Jawa, but don't tell him that or he'll get really, really mad at you.

Damn, that kid is cute. I spent a lot of time looking at him today and being proud of him. He's an amazing kid.

At the end of the day, all the kids were sent home with chocolate cupcakes with bright yellow frosting. I had to put a towel over Quinn's white Jedi pants.

Coming tomorrow: Pretend Halloween II, The Elementary School Edition.

* (Okaaaaay...why does Firefox's spellcheck recognize "Jedi" but not "Asperger's"? Or "spellcheck" for that matter?


Also, thanks to Whirlwind who sent the most awesome Halloween package ever to my kids. Costumes included.

That's some good stuff right there.


Read all about my new gig as a Nintendo Brand Enthusiast over at my review site, Things. And Stuff.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

That Will Teach Me to Make Idle Promises

Quinn got out of school today at noon and we had to be at Sam and Jack's school at 1:40 for a Wall of Fame ceremony. (Yes, yes, another Wall of Fame. Jack got on it this month, but Sam didn't. It was quite the scandal at our house.)

Well, I had to go to Target to pick up a couple things, so I figured that Quinn and I could go there, and I could feed him a snack and he could then eat pizza at the Wall of Fame. (And, yes, it does have to be capitilized upon each utterance.)

We went around the store and shopped for what I needed, and the entire time Quinn didn't stop talking for more than four seconds.

"I want to go to the Star Wars section. Can we buy that candy? I'm hungry. I want a hot dog. What comes after one million sixty hundred? Is infinity a number? Is Halloween tomorrow? Is pretend Halloween tomorrow? Did we buy candy? Did we buy snacks for Sam's class? Can we buy snacks for my class? Pretend Halloween is tomorrow, right? Right? RIGHT?!?!"

Well, I think I could be forgiven if, as we were entering the Target cafe, I said to Quinn, "If you stop talking for five minutes, I'll give you a dollar."

The talking didn't stop, but it did lessen, and I know I heard some counting, and as I was paying, Quinn asked for his dollar. It turns out that he had misunderstood my proposition, had counted to five, and was now demanding his twenty dollars.

So then, it turned into this whole thing with the sobbing and the sad face and the demanding of a three-dollar bill, and I finally relented and told him that if he behaved himself at the Wall of Fame that I would give him a dollar when we got home.

And then all was right with the world.

For a little while.

Quinn did some behaving and some misbehaving and somewhere along the route between Target and the school and the ride home, Quinn became entirely convinced that he was owed two dollars.

Which he wasn't. And which he didn't get.

I tell you, that kid is lucky I (a) gave him one dollar, and (b) didn't throttle him.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Jack...the Jackster...the Jacksonarama.

You may have noticed that I haven't done a lot of writing about the "autism" part of "life. autism. gerbils." lately. (Or you may not have. Who am I to know what you notice?) I guess the biggest reason is because while, yes, we still work with Jack's autism every day, he is kicking ass and taking names.

He seems to have evened out in school—or the school's not telling me about his troubles. Either way, I'm not afraid of my cell phone anymore, which is good. Based on what I see when I'm in there every week, I am floored by the differences in him this year. Even the differences between now and a month and a half ago are amazing.

The thing is, I remember last year when I was sitting in what is now Jack's class, but used to be Sam's, and I would look around the room and think, "Jack would sink like a rock in this class." But you know what? He's not. His support is consistent and wonderful, he is interested in much of the work, and, I think most importantly, Jack is getting older, and his age is working for him.

Yes, he still struggles, but less. I see it with his homework. Last year and at the beginning of this year, we had some epic homework battles. He still makes me work for it, but he's doing so much better.

And he has had so many tiny victories as well. Like when he ate this gummy worm.

Yes, I know that gummy worms don't technically count as fruit, but Jack ate food that wasn't brown, so I'm counting it as a win.

He does still use the front of his shirt as a napkin, but I think that's more due to bad parenting than autism. Seriously. Sam had been taking a lunch to school for a year and a half when someone mentioned putting a napkin in their kid's lunchbox and I was all, "Oh. Riiiiiiight."

Jack is also getting so much better at expressing that he wants to be part of something. I always take a million photos (can you tell?), and he'll smile or ignore or run away like my other kids. But on Sam's birthday we were sitting down to open Sam's presents and Jack said, "Wait! Take a picture of me with Sam!"

That had never happened before. He's never vocalized that he wanted to be in a photo. (Unlike my other two little attention hogs.)

Add to this the fact that he comes home from school and shows me the things he drew that day at school or something else from his backpack at least once or twice a week. His eagerness to share things and experiences is amazing to me.

I do have to say that most of his sharing and eagerness and the rest is directed almost entirely at me. His little self is metaphorically plastered to me. It makes sense that these new ways of expressing himself would start with me, the person he feels safest with and identifies most with. I'm hoping that soon they will transfer to the rest of the family and then, hopefully, to friends and teachers.

I'm starting to see signs of that. It used to be that he would never use other kid's names, and most of the time, if you asked him, he wouldn't be able to remember them. That's starting to change.

Then there's empathy. Jack has always had a deep store of empathy, it's just that he didn't use it on the traditional targets. (The cockroach in WALL-E? Dude, Jack felt that guy.) He's always piped up now and again with sporadic attempts to make other kids feel better or to show that he is aware of others' feelings, but it's happening more and more these days.

Like, the other day when I had some friends over for a Halloween potluck and there was a two-year-old who started screaming when Jack walked in wearing his super awesomely scary costume.

I took Jack around the corner, told him that his awesome costume was scaring the baby, and would he mind taking it off? He immediately started to strip down to his street clothes, and when he was done, he walked straight over to the baby and said, "See? It's just a costume. It won't hurt you."

All of which was completely lost on the toddler who was vacillating wildly between OHMYGOD SCARY BIG PEOPLE IN MASKS!!!!!! and OHMYGOD A BOWL OF MULTICOLORED GOLDFISH CRACKERS RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME!!!!! But he did it. All by himself.

All of which is to say that I haven't written about autism for a while because it hasn't been causing us a whole lot of problems right now (aaaaannndd now! the problems will start). But honestly, maybe that's when I should write about autism. Because last year at this time if you'd told me how far Jack would come in a year, I would have cried with gratitude. And every kid with autism is different and no one can tell you what is ahead for you, but for us? What a difference.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"I Don't Know...Some Zombie Thing..."

Alternatively titled: "When There's No More Room in Hell, the Dead Will Walk the Earth."

Last night, hordes of zombies descended on downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, and I was right in the thick of it. As were many other people, some of whom had no idea what was going on, but were entirely unfazed by the whole thing. Like the dude whom I overheard mutter the title to this post.

Our dedicated medical workers are always the first to fall.

All of you who thought about coming and then didn't because of the rain and the tired and the inertia? You are so bummed, because it was, like, 70 degrees, not rainy, and AWESOME.

Fortunately, my friend Mrs. D J and her family came down and let me hang out with them. J's son is making a zombie movie and used the opportunity to get lots of tape of free special effects. Considering that they didn't know about the zombie walk until I told them about it, I'm pretty sure that my part in the making of the movie earned me an Associate Producer credit and a 10-share of the eventual proceeds.

Even the undead can't be too careful about the swine flu.
Brainssss...Purelllllll...face maskssssss....

I just might have done a fair amount of jumping up and down and clapping my hands. Which, come to think of it, may have wrecked more than a few of J's son's shots.

"Where's braaaaaiiiiinnnnsssssss....?"

I took a lot of photos. I wasn't the only one though. There was a virtual swarm of paparazzi.

Some of the zombies were endearingly committed to their roles.

Some were less so. Since when do zombies smoke?

But never fear! There were zombie hunters too.

Incidentally, the zombies went to a showing of Shaun of the Dead after the walk.

Some of the zombie costumes were good, some were a little weak, all were good-intentioned, but this was the very damn cutest of them all:

Awwwww....tiny zombie....

I hit Lebanese Taverna for dinner (and the bookstore) before the walk and caught sight of my first zombies while I was eating.

The guy behind the counter asked if they were meat-eaters or vegetarians.
They said they were vegetarian. Pffft.

I spent a substantial portion of my meal trying to surreptitiously take photos of zombie dinner without being noticed. I don't think I succeeded. Not to mention that you can't even tell that they're dressed as zombies because of my shoddy photography.

I really enjoyed the dedication to the role that some of the zombies showed at the walk. Especially this guy:

I also enjoyed his colorful boxers.

I leave you with these tips:

(1) To kill a zombie, you must destroy his brain.
(2) In case of an undead uprising, hope for shambling zombies instead of the newfangled running kind.
(3) Zombies can't swim, but they also can't drown.
(4) Head north. The zombies will freeze, but you will not. Probably.
(5) Remain vigilant.
(6) In no case should you take an actual shotgun to a casual zombie walk.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You Can Keep Your Sparkly, Dreamy Vampires—I Prefer My Ghouls Gray and Rotting, Thank You Very Much.

You may be aware that I am a fan of zombies. I find this to be a really embarrassing thing about myself, but I just can't help it. I've seen many, many zombie movies, many of which are terrible, some of which are startlingly good.

I even read zombie literature. (Yes, there is such a thing.) And maybe a zombie blog.

I'm a geek.

All of this is to say that I am so excited to go to the Silver Spring Zombie Walk this Saturday. I'm not dressing up or anything, because I am not bold enough/completely geeky enough/badass enough/committed enough to do so.

But I'd like to invite you guys to go with me, because Alex is afraid of zombies and won't go. Also, if he went, we'd have to take our kids with us, and even I am aware that dragging three small children out at 8:30 on a Saturday night to be assaulted by the living dead = bad parenting.

Jenni is going with me. That is, if you consider an offhanded response to a comment on her blog to be a binding contract. Which I do.*

Who else wants to come? We can grab dinner or a drink in downtown Silver Spring before the zombies start to roam at 9:30. The zombies are watching Shaun of the Dead (one of my top five movies ever) at 10 at the AFI, but I'll be heading home to work after the walk. And to post photos of the walk on my blog.

If you want to come, email me at and we'll make a plan. If no one wants to go, I'll feel really sad and unpopular, but don't let that influence you.

So whaddya say? Who wants to get their zombie on?

* You can back out. I would understand.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Scribble-Scrabble to Stick Figures

Quinn's preschool teacher is a wonderful woman whom I will refer to as Mrs. G, because that is her name. This is the third year I have had a child in her class, what with my having three children, and I love her more each time.

My very favorite thing that she has the kids do is draw a picture of themselves every month. At the end of the year, she puts them all together and gives them to the parents, so they can see the progress their child has made over the course of the year.

Each month when the pictures go up, the parents stand in the hall and ooh and aah and laugh about the pictures.

Now, while both Sam and Jack's packets had radically different first and last pictures, I figure that I might have a slam dunk winner for Most Improved in Quinn.

While the above is a picture—and I use that term loosely—of his family, his self-portrait for September looked pretty much exactly the same. See, Quinn doesn't draw...things. He scribble-scrabbles.

I didn't think much about it until I looked at everyone else's pictures, and every single other kid had, at the very least, drawn a stick figure. I wasn't overly concerned about it, because I figure he'll draw when he wants to draw, but I was a tiny little bit sad that he was the ONLY kid in the class who had never drawn a circle head and a stick body.

Mrs. G must have picked up on that, or she just decided that it was time for the Q-ball to draw a picture, because a couple of days later, this appeared on her classroom door:

Um. Yes. That IS the most amazing piece of art ever. Definitively. Artists, you can stop now. It's been done.

Except! When asked to draw a picture of himself in October, Quinn busted out not one, but five stick figures. And a house.

And some other random squiggles.

So, to recap: Quinn (1) can draw masterpieces, (2) can count to five, (3) knows all the members of his family. But, Quinn (1) cannot follow directions such as "Draw a picture of just yourself."

I can't wait to see what November brings.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

DCMM: Trust and the School Bus

Last week, an Alexandria school put a kindergartener on a bus after school and sent him home. Unfortunately, the kid was supposed to stay at school in an after-hours program and the bus dropped him off in the wrong place—more than a mile from his home.

He wandered the streets crying until a couple of older kids found him and took him to their apartment manager. The apartment manager then called the school, which gave him the mom's phone number. The apartment manager then called the mom and took care of the kid until she could come get him.

Thank God this screw up of epic proportions ended without the worst happening. If you're a parent, your mind is already swirling with all of the terrible things that could have happened to a lone, terrified kindergartner left alone far from home.

When I heard this story on NPR the other day, my mind reeled in anger and what ifs. Yes, I absolutely commend the school systems on getting the right kids on the right buses 99.999999999% of the time, but frankly, if you're a school, you should get it right 100% of the time.

The thing about sending your child off to school is that you also send your trust. You trust that the school will take care of your child and keep him safe. You trust that they will not leave him fearful, scared, and with emotional scars. You trust. You have to.

Unfortunately, I know from personal experience that this is not one isolated incident. This kind of thing happens all the time.

When one of my oldest son's friends started kindergarten, he decided at recess sometime in the first week that he was done. So he left. He walked home. Which, thankfully, was very close. Also thankfully, his mom was home and returned him to the school—where the staff was unaware that he had left.

Another of my son's friends had an experience scarily similar to the one of the Alexandria child referenced above. She was supposed to stay for an after-school science class, but was instead sent home on the bus. The bus did drop this kindergartener off at the right stop, but her mom was not home. This young girl stood on the corner and cried until a woman—a stranger—who runs a neighborhood home daycare center saw her and brought her inside.

This year, the very same thing happened to a friend of a friend at my school. Her son, also a kindergartner, was sent home when he was supposed to stay at an after-hours program. In this case, the kid's across-the-street neighbor, who had provided child care for him in the past, was home and picking up her own child from the bus stop, so she collected the stray child as well.

Are you sensing a trend? These were all kindergartners, kids who didn't know to say no to their teacher when she sent them off to the wrong place. They were also all very young children, very much at risk of getting lost, getting stolen, or simply getting hit by a car while wandering unattended.

I too have had this experience. On my middle (autistic) son's very first day of special education preschool a couple of years ago, his bus took more than two hours to bring him home. They couldn't find our house. And my son couldn't tell them where he lived or even what his name was. The bus driver actually stopped at the wrong house on another street, walked my child up to the door and tried to deliver him into the wrong house.

If you're counting, that's four kids that I know personally who have been misdelivered on their way home from school. That shouldn't be. So you know, I let my kids ride home on the bus. I've lost my child, and my school never has. I do trust my school. I know that they try their very hardest, and I am aware that the very last thing they ever want to do is lose a child or scare one. I know that. I know that even the best teachers, bus drivers, and administrators make mistakes.


I personally believe that no young child should be let off of a school bus unless there is an adult or responsible party there to pick her up. I've seen my son's bus driver not let a third grader off of the bus because his older brother, who was usually there, was late. She took him back to the school. And the first time I sent my husband to pick up my autistic son from his kindergarten bus driver, she didn't recognize him and demanded ID prior to letting him take my child.

That is what I am talking about.

I know that no system is perfect. But when you are trusting someone with your child, that system damn well should be.

Original DC Metro Moms Blog post.

Jean blogs about her personal experiences at Stimeyland and runs an autism information and event listing website at AutMont.

Friday, October 16, 2009

My Mom Has a Stalker

For the past week or week and a half, someone has been trying over and over to gain access to my mom's house through her windows. I have been receiving increasingly frantic emails and phone calls from her about her would-be intruder.

And it's not like he's being subtle about it either. Over and over, multiple times a day, he clunks into her window, regroups, and tries again.

The one responsible for the assault? This guy:

The first word I got about this guy, who I will call, let's say...Sven, was sometime last week when I got this email from my mom:
I have a bird that, yesterday and today, keeps trying to fly though the window into my house. I keep hearing this thunk and I see feather impressions on the outside of the window. I turned on the light inside hoping he wouldn't try to kill himself anymore, but I just heard another thunk. Poor bird.
I emailed her back that she should remove the bird feeder that she must have hanging inside her dining room.

She told me that she'd tried to scare him off by hanging CDs by the door and taping faces to the window. Now I'm not going to go into what *I* think about the CD idea—which is that wild animals like shiny things. Oh, look! I did go into it.

But the faces idea seemed like a good one.

I love that she made her people so happy. I probably would have drawn them grimacing and pointing.

The next day I got a voice mail message: "He's still trying to commit hari-kari! What do I DOOOOOOOOOOO?" Then an email: The bird was continually thunk, thunk, thunking into the window, falling to the patio, and then picking himself up and flying off.

Then later that afternoon, I got a hopeful call from my mom. The bird was gone. "I think he's stopped doing it," she said.

"Do you see his corpse on the porch?" I asked.

"No," she answered, "He probably went somewhere else to die."

But no. Sven was just taking a nap or something. Pretty soon, he was back to casing the joint.

Apparently he'd taken to peeking in the windows. Clearly this bird knows that there is glass there. He wants something that's inside. (Guard your eyeballs, mom.)

I suggested hanging a blanket or something similar on the outside of the window. At the very least I figured it would muffle the sound. My mom took my advice and taped plastic garbage bags to the outside of the window, a decor choice that she termed, "classy." Shortly thereafter, she sent an email with the tentative subject heading "success?"

But no.

Sven took to tearing down part of the bags and then sitting on them to peek inside the window.

It's like he's taunting her.

Now he's rotating between three different windows. Thunk into one. Rip, rip, rip, thunk, into another. Thunk, thunk into the third.

"I refuse to put garbage bags over every window in the house," says my mom. She is completely stressed out about this poor bird and really doesn't want him to kill himself trying to get into her house. But she wasn't willing to follow my suggestion that she just open the door and let him in, so I'm not sure how seriously to take her.

I've gotten many more emails on the subject from her, my favorite of which included the subject head, "cardinal and peace prize." And, no, she wasn't suggesting that the bird receive the peace prize, but I think maybe Obama should put Sven on his to-do list.

The internet has been very little help thus far. There is no shortage of websites about cardinals flying into windows, but few of the conditions seem to apply to Sven and my mom. I've stopped giving her advice and am know just sitting back watching the show and laughing to hear how Sven is fucking with her.

I'll be sad when she sends me his obituary email though. I hope he wises up before that happens.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

I Wonder if John McCain Cried Too

Today was my scheduled day to volunteer in Sam's classroom. I don't know why, but Thursdays seem to be the day that all the good stuff goes down in the second grade. Last week I got to be there for the class butterfly release party, at which the class released the butterflies they had raised from caterpillars.

The fact that those butterflies were likely murdered days later by the cold weather is mostly irrelevant.

Today was class election day. Sam has been talking about this for days. The kids had spent the week making speeches and campaign posters. Today they voted. Sam wanted to know if I could vote. I think he really wanted to win.

All the posters were hanging in the hall when I got there. Sam is so much more coiffed in his poster than in real life.

Like I said, I think he really wanted to win.

The teacher seemed a little bit stressed about the whole thing. She was well aware of the agony of defeat that was coming. Evidently the class president thing is part of the second-grade curriculum, but she was obviously dreading announcing the winner and breaking a bunch of little hearts.

I was in charge of counting the votes.

I'm not going to say that there was any election fraud, but my being in the classroom just might have kept Sam at the forefront of some little minds. He won with a staggering four votes!

He was so happy.

But a couple of the other kids were so sad. Especially one in particular. He was crying as the other kids were lining up to go to art. I felt so bad for him. Sam does have a fair amount of anxiety about school, but for the most part, things come really easy to him. I almost wanted to force Sam to abdicate his new title.

Of course, even though I'm not sure about the rules of Second Grade Class President Elections, I'm pretty sure that even if abdication were legal, it would have resulted in the absolute devastation of my sensitive little Sam.

But I was still left with the dilemma of how to get this sad little kid to art. His teacher was leading the rest of the class out of the room so I tried to take his hand and lead him out too, but he resisted. And if it were my kid, I would have just dragged him or picked him up, but suddenly a bright red light went off in my head with the following words flashing underneath it: "ILLEGAL RESTRAINT! ILLEGAL RESTRAINT! DON'T TOUCH THE CHILD!"

Which is usually a pretty good rule to go by when you're at a school, I think.

Eventually it all got sorted out with additional staff, some hugs, some more tears, a drink of water, and me, your goonball host, nearly bursting into tears because I just cannot watch someone else cry.

Now I'm off to clean my house and enjoy the last couple hours I have before Sam comes home and starts insisting that everyone in the house refer to him as Mr. President.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Play Ball! And Every Damn Thing Else Under the Sun.

I may have mentioned once or twice that Sam is way into sports these days. He's absolutely the cutest about it. The other day Alex took the little dudes on the Metro to the museums, and Sam found a sports section on the train, brought it home, and dutifully tried to absorb all the information from it that he could.

So, a few weeks ago, when Sam was asking for all sorts of extravagant destination birthday parties, I carefully suggested a sports-themed home party. His eyes lit up and he got totally behind the idea, asking for modest things like a piñata and a pin the basketball on the player party game.

For all the grief I give Sam, he is really an easily satisfied guy when it really comes down to it. I love him very, very much. Furthermore, I can't believe he's eight years old. And that he has man-feet nearly as big as mine.

In recent years, I've had pretty small parties for Sam, which I think is great and perfect and wonderful and easy. This year I invited 18 kids (including my own), and created personalized sporty shirts for each child. We were ready to party!

We also had about 40 balloons, thanks to a free coupon from Balloon Time. I gave Alex the job of filling the balloons about an hour before the party started. It was maybe the most fun hour of my kids' young lives. But before the fun, Alex insisted that, "This tank doesn't have any helium in it! It's supposed to have something in it, but this one is empty! This tank is empty!"

Then I walked over and pushed the little nozzle down and it started to fill a balloon with helium.

Which, in turn, led Alex to make his own little gesture at me.

But then there were balloons. Glorious, glorious, plentiful, multi-colored balloons!

I was also clever enough to schedule this party at Not a Meal Time O'Clock, so we didn't have to serve lunch. But I still put out my standard party diet of chips.

And that picture up there was my hand drawn preparation for Pin Tape the Basketball on Sam.

Kids started to arrive right on time, and on what seems to have been the last warm, sunny day of fall. Thank God, because if I'd had to let 18 kids play baseball inside my house, I wouldn't be this chipper now. We let all the kids play around for about a half hour and then I went out amidst them to set up my obstacle course.

All attention was on the back lawn as I did so. Kids were watching; the parents who stuck around were watching; only Quinn wasn't watching. Quinn was carefreely running across my yard. And Alex kicked a soccer ball as hard as he could halfway across the lawn...directly into Quinn's shins.

The kid dropped like a fucking rock.

Man, he could not have done that on purpose if he'd tried. I can't quite imagine the geometry and chance that brought Quinn and that soccer ball together, but oh, dear lord, was it funny. I think it might make me a bad mom to admit that I busted up laughing, but if so, every other adult there is just as bad as me, because we all burst out laughing. Even Alex laughed. Although to give him credit, he did it with his head turned away from Quinn as he hugged and comforted him.

Quinn did not laugh.

I looked a little bit like a moron as I ran around the yard with Sam, a whistle, and a megaphone explaining the course, but the kids were way into it. Plus! I learned that I probably would have made a good drill sergeant.

I hadn't really planned the obstacle course, other than looking up "obstacle courses for kids" on the internet a couple of hours before the party, and searching the garage for sticks and balls. But, if I may toot my own horn (or megaphone), it was AWESOME!

In the garage, I did find a most excellent balance beam, otherwise known as a two by four.

And I remembered that we had a tunnel in the basement, so I tossed that on the lawn too. I didn't realize until a bunch of 8-year-olds showed up though that the tunnel was almost comically too small for them. It was hysterical to see all those giant boys try to wiggle through it.

Jack did all right though.

I had also found sticks for a jump over/crawl under obstacle. The munchkins' visiting grandma supervised that section of the course, which came complete with sun basking priviliges.

The rest of the course involved a lot of jumping, swinging, sliding, and slaloming, all accomplished with varying degrees of success by the three to eight-year-old crowd.

After that, I forced the kids into teams for a relay race. Here is Quinn quite obviously cheating.

But cheating fast!

The kids all demanded to know what team had won. I didn't have a good answer, because they all kind of dithered all over the place, at least half of the kids cheated like Quinn, and I wasn't really paying very close attention.

I suggested that maybe they all won. They didn't buy it. One helpful kid said that it was "kind of a tie." And then another kid said, "No. Everybody lost."

Yay! Everyone's a loser at Stimey's house!

But everybody gets to be noisy.

That is, until Sam decides that only he gets to hold the megaphone.

Evidently there's a reason Alex and I are married. He may have taken Quinn down with a soccer ball, but I walked straight past Sam mugging Jack for the megaphone, stopping only long enough to snap a photo. In my defense, they were both giggling. Sort of.

Next up (Are you tired yet? Because I sure was.) was Tape the Basketball on Sam. It never ceases to amaze me how much kids love shit like this. How often will you have 18 (or 17—one kid didn't want to play) kids standing patiently around for a four-second chance to tape a piece of paper to another piece of paper?

Obviously the game is hysterical. See?

Apparently that is what I look like when I laugh. How come no one ever told me this?

I'm not going to say there weren't attempts at peeking and some carefully feeling their way toward the center of the paper with their fingers, but they all did pretty well.

Unfortunately, I forgot to get a prize for this game. (Or any of the other ones.) Fortunately, no one seemed to either notice or care.

Blah, blah, blah, happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday dear Sam(uel), happy birthday to you...

Followed by the frantic fifteen minutes of cake cutting and ice cream scooping that is the bane of any birthday party host's existence. At some point, I rushed back into the kitchen from distributing plates of cake to find my cake cutter (Alex) calmly leaning against the counter eating his own piece of cake.

There might have been some frantic berating at this point.

Next up, piñata time. This is the time in every Stimeyland party when Stimey and Alex nearly divorce because Stimey hisses at Alex to help with the bat, goddammit, and Alex hisses back that he can't do a single damn thing other than hold the piñata string and why don't you put down the camera and do it your damn self, or get one of the other fifty grown ups to help, and then Stimey hisses back something obscene, and then the incident is quickly forgotten as all the parents rush around trying to keep Stimey from taking a whack at Alex with the bat any kids from being hit by a wildly swinging bat.

Here's a tip: if you want a piñata to actually break open when the kids are batting at it, get a spherical one. That is the shape that doesn't need a parent to go all Office Space on it after the kids fail to bust it open.

That said, I now present to you the greatest piñata photo ever taken:

Well, except for maybe this one:

And that was it. I gave the 18 kids the metal whistles that were in their goody bags and sent them home with their annoyed parents. My guys, Sam especially, were tired and happy.

But not too tired to go to our favorite birthday destination, Friday's. Not because of the food, but because of the clapping and singing to the birthday boy.

Sam was delighted to be serenaded. Nearby diners also enjoyed his enjoyment.

I have to say, I've thrown some good parties, but I think this was one of my best. And the most tiring. I was asleep before my kids were that night. Ah, to be 8 again.