Let’s Not Have a Party—Let’s Have a Melee!

Imagine you got really lazy about planning your oldest son’s 11th birthday party and two weeks before the date, you realized that you had to GET ON THAT, STAT?! I imagine that being the smart person that you are, you would probably decide to invite a class of 26 students into your home in mid-October—a day that could be gorgeous or could be rainy—and you would plan activities like dodgeball, because WHAT COULD GO WRONG WITH THAT?

Well, YOU might not do that, but clearly *I* would.

I bought a bunch of small rubber balls and Alex picked the dog up and put her away so she wouldn’t steal all the Oreos and that’s what we did.

Cassidy was mightily put out.

The dog was all, “But I WANT Oreos!”

I would like to report that only one head injury was sustained.

That didn’t happen during dodgeball though. The head injury happened during the full-fledged melee that occurred when said class (about 15, plus my three, came) discovered our cache of Nerf weapons and assorted short swords. It was honestly like nothing I’d ever seen before. It was kind of like that scene at the very beginning of Fellowship of the Rings that explains about the Rings of Power and how that one ring ruled them all, except instead of Sauron and that king who didn’t want to throw the ring away, you had Sam and a bunch of his little cohorts fighting over nothing.

It was AWESOME.

Warrior Sam

I actually took this photo much later in the day, shortly after the kids found the costume chest.

After the head injury (he’s okay), I wanted to calm the party guests down, so I put down a little line of cones, divided them into two teams and started up a few rounds of dodgeball. As you do.

No one got hurt or terribly upset during that whole thing, so I decided to move them on to Red Rover. Remember Red Rover? It wasn’t until kids started wringing their hands, loudly ranking their peers in order of weakness, and a couple of them got clotheslined that I remembered that I totally hated that game when I was a kid.

Regardless, it’s been passed on to a new generation that wasn’t aware of it before. Yay, me!

Fortunately, before I was able to introduce something else brilliant, like throwing knives, the pizza arrived and everyone chilled out and ate some food. Yet, as Red Rover follows dodgeball, cake follows pizza and the chill diminished. It has never happened to me before that I wasn’t able to clear a path to the table for the birthday kid to blow out his candles, but this time I was swarmed, so we had an impromptu standing ceremony.

cake

Sure, we can do it here.

I think that the cake bottleneck happened partly because several kids were watching Mr. Free-fall From Space on the computer between our kitchen and dining room. Don’t forget that this was a party made up of Sam’s overachieving buddies from school. (It seems rude to call children that aren’t mine “nerdlingers.”)

Jack watches a free-fall from space

Don’t get any Xtreme Stuntz ideas, nerdlinger Jack.

I’m not kidding when I say the chill diminished. One girl was actually walking around saying, “Buzz, buzz! I’m buzzing! Buzz, buzz!” It looked a little bit like a spontaneous water fight was going to break out, so I quickly organized the troublemakers into teams for kickball. Not all the kids wanted to play, so Alex had to fill in at second base at one point. Dude. That guy can NOT catch a kickball.

It was embarrassing, really.

(I’m just trying to get you your loveable oaf credibility back, sweetie.)

Things were going pretty well. Sam was super happy, Quinn had run away to sneak time with his DSi…

I SEE YOU, QUINN.

I SEE YOU, QUINN.

…and Jack had departed to his sensory happy place…

Happy, happy, sand, sand, hammer, hammer, rock...

Happy, happy, sand, sand, hammer, hammer, rock…

…when Alex interrupted the kickball game practically mid-pitch to shriek, “HE’S GETTING READY TO JUMP! HE’S GETTING READY TO JUMP!” and 15 scientists-in-training went thundering into the house to watch a guy sit in a capsule for the next 15 minutes. Parents started arriving and I was all, “I swear we haven’t been making them watch this for the full two hours,” but I don’t know how convincing I was considering some of the kids really didn’t want to leave before the dude exited his capsule.

Alex is the HEAD nerdlinger.

Alex is the HEAD nerdlinger.

Oh, and I sent each kid home with his or her very own megaphone. Because I like to SHARE.

SHOUT!

I’m the head jerk.

No matter how hastily tossed together, this party was a blast. Sam has such a good group of kids in his class. And the party was perfectly him. We all had such a great time. Happy birthday, Sam! Thanks for making life so fun!

birthday cat

Glitter cat makes everything awesome.

But Sam makes it awesomer.

Tour de Stimeyland, Here He Comes!

Guess what my brilliant son learned to do while I was at BlogHer?


That’s right! Now Sam can ride a two-wheeler all by himself. I’m a little pouty that it happened when I wasn’t around considering it was one of my biggest goals for him for the summer. But I guess it’s hard to teach a kid to ride a bike if you keep forgetting to take the bike out of the garage. So all things considered, it’s probably for the best that Alex took the lead on this one.

And there was some muttering about, “I fell of my bike in the street,” so maybe it was good that I missed it.

The Good, The Bad & The Whiny

Today was the first time in a looooong time that was able to spend an entire day with my whole family and not have to be attached to my computer. Hooray! Alex and the little dudes spend a lot of weekends doing fun things while I work. I just finished a big project and am caught up on my other work, so I happily took advantage of Alex’s Memorial Day day off.

When we were trying to decide what to do, I remembered that they all went on a particular hike one time that seemed like a lot of fun. So I suggested a hike. Everyone was excited, except for Sam who said that he was sooooooooo tired that he couldn’t even contemplate thinking about doing anything as strenuous as (gasp!) walking.

To which we said: Tough damn luck, kid.


Needless to say, after we forced him into shoes and stuffed him into the car, he had quite a lovely time. I mean, granted, I did have to say, “Shhhhhh! People don’t come here to hear you whine, Sam!” a couple of times, but for the most part he had a good time.

Right to left: Jack, Sam, Mr. I-Don’t-Want-To-Pose-With-My-Brothers.

Disregarding the “thunderstorms probable in the afternoon” warnings as weatherperson paranoia, we then headed over to mini golf. Can you guess who didn’t want to go? Can you guess who whined, “Can we find a place that doesn’t have 18 hoooooooles? I don’t waaaaaaant to golf 18 hoooooooles.”?

Can you guess who nearly turned the car around (Hint: his name starts with “a” and ends with “x”.) in a classic I-Will-Turn-This-Car-Around-Right-Now!!! moment, and then who talked him down off that metaphorical ledge?

Can you guess who ended up being forced to play mini golf? Can you guess who had to be threatened into being pleasant? (And if that’s not a paradox, or ironic, or whatever, I don’t know what is.)

Can you guess who got the last laugh when it started to thunder and lightning at hole number seven and we were forced to leave the golf course?

But then it got way better. It’s amazing how a sudden change in plans can sometimes make all the difference in mood. It started when we all laughed together at the people fleeing the adjacent pool who had towels over their heads so they wouldn’t get wet.

Then we had a whole science conversation about rain and lightning and lightning rods and houses catching on fire and how if you’re in the desert and there’s a lightning storm you should lay flat on the sand so you’re not the tallest thing around and then Sam said, “Yeah, so you’re shorter than a cactus,” and then he asked about different kinds of clouds and we talked about evaporation and there was some talk about Benjamin Franklin and it was awesome. And somewhere in there it stopped raining.

Then, we wrecked it by dragging them to the grocery store.

There was a minute when I thought Alex had Quinn and Alex thought I had Quinn and we had just started to panic when I looked over at the doughnut case and saw a little blond head near a closing doughnut case door and a grubby little three four-year-old hand clutching a doughnut.

And then we bought doughnuts for everyone and things were good again. Right up until we were leaving the store and saw the torrential rain that had started. I drew the short straw and ran to get the car. I was outside for about a minute and was soaked to the skin. But on the plus side, I was driving, so I got to drive through puddles and create waves of water. I always like that.

All in all, there was more good than bad whiny. It was a pretty good day.


I’m hoping to get more of these days soon.

Edited To Add: For those who asked, this trail is located in Rock Creek Park just off the parking lot at the end of Beach Drive in Chevy Chase. The parking lot is to the left where they close Beach Drive on weekends.

*****

A post on Quinn’s birthday/birthday party is (probably) coming up soon, but I wanted to direct you to the blog of one of our guests, who made the most adorable card for Quinn that I have ever seen. She has an etsy shop, and does fantastic custom work. You should all buy your cards from her.

Please, For the Love of God, Don’t Tell Sam

Today and tomorrow are kindergarten orientation at Jack’s school. Seeing as how the kindergarten teachers and classrooms need to be available to welcome next year’s kindergarteners, this year’s kindergarteners don’t go to school today and tomorrow.

Jack is super pleased about that.

Sam is not. He feels it is terribly unfair.

After shoving an unwilling Sam out of the car at drop off, I decided to take advantage of the day, and so piggybacked on my friend L‘s plans to go to open gym and then a nature center. But first, Jack and Quinn played in the backyard for nearly an hour and shared and cooperated and chatted. They are a good duo.

And remember how Jack was all disconnected the other day, and I was all conflicted? Today Jack was On. His. Game. It was awesome. He was so happy at the gym. The joy on his face was incredible. And, yeah, he mostly played by himself, but he was cognizant of the other kids around him.

It was a totally awesome hour at the gym except for when I was watching Jack gleefully jump on the trampoline and some lady brought a sobbing and distraught Quinn over to the lady who was supervising the trampoline to see if she knew who this neglected kid’s parent was. Because he couldn’t find me, and was sad. Nice.

Then we continued to follow L and another friend around Montgomery County to a nature area because they were meeting yet another friend there who had to pick up pond water to deliver to a tadpole. I know. I thought it was weird too.

But what wasn’t weird, and was in fact super awesome, was the fact that there was a pond to find tadpoles and minnows in. There were geese to honk at us.


There was even a bamboo forest. Repeat: a bamboo forest. Does it get cooler than that? I think not.


Especially if you like to pretend you’re a panda bear. And both Jack and Quinn do.


Plus there was mud. And a creek. And a three-year-old who swore that he could walk on the rocks and not get wet.


How long do you think that lasted?


Not long.

Then I bought them ice cream. In an effort to assuage Sam, I bought him an ice cream too, so he’d have one when he got off the bus. He was totally thrilled about it until he found out that his brothers had gotten ice cream too.

God forbid Jack or Quinn tells him what else they did today. (Shhhh.)

Commander Blue Bear Goes to Goddard

Quinn’s playgroup went to the Goddard Space Center Visitors’ Center today. It was terribly fun. The delightful group included such blog luminaries as WhyMommy (Guess what? It was her idea we go there. Shocking, huh?) and Heather from Penny Possibilities. Good times.

I could tell you what we did there and how we learned stuff and had a wholesome good time, but I think you may know that that may not be where I’m going here. When Quinn and I were reviewing our photos after we got home (and laughing hysterically, because he’s three, and I’m like a three-year-old), I came up with other plans for this post.*

Also, you should know that Quinn was calling himself Nermal for some reason.

So, without further ado, I present to you:

COMMANDER BLUE BEAR GOES TO SPACE!

It’s never easy heading out into the unpredictable vacuum of space. But for those with the desire, the courage, the training, and the knowledge, space can be an adventure of the most tremendous kind.

You need a good space craft…

…a good crew…

First Mate Nermal, at your service! **

…and an intrepid leader!

Talk about The Right Stuff!

It’s never easy to say goodbye to your loved ones. The uncertainties of space travel make every last second count. And every last kiss all the more special.

Yeah, they’re both boys. You got a problem with that? ***

You really should have more of a bone to pick about their questionable hygiene.

Commander Blue Bear is not the type of astronaut to leave anything to chance. He is truly a commander of his entire ship, from leading his crew to checking the rocket mechanics before launch.

Be careful down there, Commander Blue Bear!

Everything checks out okay. Ready to go. T minus…

Three…

Two…

One…

BLASTOFF!

The unfortunate thing is that the commander forgot to buckle his seat belt. Never forget to buckle your seat belt on a space mission, folks.

Don’t worry. He’s okay. First Mate Nermal and
Peon Mom extracted him.

And then lots of things happened in space and it was all very dramatic and there were lots of close calls and, hell, let’s say they discovered a whole other planet and they named it, oh…I don’t know…Stimeyland Bearpiter.

Needless to say, Commander Blue Bear’s lovah was happy to see him return.

That’s a romantic dip, not a murder.

The only thing left was for Commander Blue Bear and First Mate Nermal to go over the mission reports.

Job well done, men. Job well done.

* I only had to stage a couple of these photos once I came home. I think it might be embarrassing that I took this many photos of a stuffed bear for no apparent reason.

** Or does a first mate belong on a boat? Obviously I didn’t learn that much at the visitors’ center.

*** I’m not sure, but I think this may be the first gay stuffed bear astronaut kiss ever published on a blog. We break a lot of ground here at Stimeyland, people. A lot of ground.

Complicated


My family went to the park today with my friend and her two kids. We had a picnic, we played basketball, we rode scooters and bikes, and we played. (Well, some of us did. Some of us just had a picnic.)

It was fantastic. It was a tremendous amount of fun. But there was a point when I started to watch Jack and I got sad. And I’ve been trying to figure out why.

Jack was completely happy at the park—or at least he seemed to be. He ate some food then he found the horseshoe pit and played in the sand for an extremely long time. Then he moved to a different sand pit. Then he transported handfuls of sand from the second sand pit to the basketball court.

At the same time, the other four kids were running, chasing, playing, talking, laughing, and making friends.

And Jack laid in the sandpit and poured sand through his hands.

Later, when he wanted company, he found me and insisted on running through a script of a story that he likes. He would say his part and then he would tell me my line, insisting that I recite it exactly. He refused to do much more than look at any other people. While everyone else was running around wildly and yelling to each other, he was enthusiastically pantomiming a piano performance for me. I don’t know that he spoke a word to anyone other than me. And maybe a little bit to Alex.

Why was I so sad while I was watching him?

Is he happy? He seems happy. He doesn’t seem to notice that he is different. He doesn’t seem to notice that he is alone. He doesn’t seem to care.

But I was quiet and lonely as a child. And I would go out of my way to pretend not to care, when I desperately wanted to have friends. I know that Jack is always thinking and processing and deciding and I don’t want him to have to hide his desire to have friends, knowing it is easier to act aloof than it is to scale the wall of interaction.

He is so obviously different from all the other kids. His silence, his gestures, his behavior—all of it sets him apart. Do I care? No, I really don’t. I love the way Jack sees the world. I love that he is such a sweet little soul. I love that he was born into a family that is going to let him grow up to be him.

Then again, I do want him to learn how to interact with other children and adults. I want him to be successful in the world. And I know that success doesn’t hinge on his playing basketball with other kids at the playground today, but it would be encouraging to see some interaction. Today there was zero.

While climbing on the play equipment, he is entirely oblivious to other children, seeing them only as obstacles to move around. His refusal (or inability?) to see that he is upsetting other children by not waiting his turn, or by trying to climb over them instead of waiting for them to move so there is room to go next, can be hard to watch.

And I could have stepped in to facilitate some play with the other kids. But everybody else was moving so fast, while he was moving at his slow and steady pace. I know how hard it is to facilitate interactive play when it is just me, Jack, and another kid at our house. It seemed insurmountably difficult to do so in this situation.

Plus, Jack clearly is so dependent on me already. Ask him who he loves; he says he loves me. Ask him who I love; he says I love him. I think I was the only person Jack saw at that park. Sam wanted to play with him at some point. He tried to call out to Jack, but Jack ignored Sam completely, because he was so set on the script he was playing out. Sam even asked me, “Who is Jack now?” And when I told him that Jack was being Frog, Sam tried to get Jack’s attention by calling out for Frog. But it wasn’t in Jack’s script. So Jack didn’t pay attention.

I do a lot of telling myself that age will help Jack immensely. It’s hard to be a little kid, even without extra challenges. Jack will be six next month. When will all his hard work start to make a difference? Will all his hard work make a difference?

It is just all so complicated. He is a complicated child. And my feelings about him are so complicated as well.

In my life, all I want is for him to be happy. I want him to be happy now and I want him to be happy in a month and in a year and in ten years and when he is 56 and when he 98. I want him to be happy.

And it makes me sad when I see things that will be obstacles to that happiness. Maybe he isn’t like I was. Maybe he’s not hiding behind a mask of aloofness. But I’m so afraid that even if he’s happy now, he won’t be happy later. And that makes me sad.

It’s complicated.

Hopping Down the Bunny Trail

Do you ever suggest an activity to a friend with the knowledge that said activity will almost certainly do you in?

I did that this week. I had plans with my friend E and her two little dudes. In a fit of hubris I asked E if she would like to go to Bunnyland at a nearby orchard. Even as I asked I was about 75% sure that the day would end in semi-disaster.

Because Bunnyland is described as: “An Eggstravaganza of fun! Bring your basket and take a hayride in Bunnyland…” blah, blah, blah, I put us at 10% disaster even before we left due to the use of the term “Eggstravaganza.”

Bunnyland was about a half hour away from our house and my kids were pretty patient on the way there. I gave them a long speech about the rules and the kind of behavior I expect from Team Stimey. And I gave them a little lesson in herd mentality. Like the lemming I am, I followed the trail of minivans clearly headed to Bunnyland as we all passed the entrance to the orchard, came to the end of the road and all did minivan U-turns to go back to find the entrance. It was awesomely hilarious.

We quickly parked but then after we got to the line, we had to return to the car to put on sweaters. Sweaters which we all wore for about 20 minutes and then I carried for the next three hours and forty minutes. (I’m going to up our disaster quotient to 25% for that.) We found our friends and the guy at the front tried to charge me $19 too much to get in. That was not awesomely hilarious.

But then the fun started. Everything at Bunnyland except for a couple things (like pony rides and face painting) were free—you know, with the $26 admission for my family. So we were able to walk right up to pretty much anything we wanted to do and do it.

And do we did.

Here’s a nice photo of my kids and E’s kids before we ended up carrying everyone’s coats and Easter baskets:


The reason we were forced to carry the baskets around was because there was an Easter egg hunt. I had a moment of panic when I thought I was going to have to carry around 800 plastic eggs all day too, but the people behind Bunnyland are smart.

Much to my relief, the eggs were not only empty, but the kids were instructed to return them to the chicken before they left the egg-hunt area. Plus, there were plenty of eggs because Bunnyland employees were wandering around discreetly dropping eggs onto the ground.

Something Sam quickly figured out.

Quinn was less pleased about the empty eggs than I.

And Jack handed me his basket and found a tractor to play with.

My kids are nothing if not true to their personalities.

After the egg hunt we did every single damn (free) thing Bunnyland had to offer. We played on the playground, we went through the bouncy tunnel and jumped on the moonbounce, we rode bikes around a gravel track, and climbed on another tractor.

Then we went down the giant slides.


Which were totally awesome. Except for when Quinn
badly injured himself falling on the side lip of the thing.

Then there was hay fighting, bunny-petting, and Jack trying to climb in the bin with the baby chicks.

Quinn somehow managed to get hurt in this large soft circle of hay as well.

Throughout all these activities, there was a lot of herding, and yelling for children, and counting of small boys. Plus there was about three minutes when I was sure I’d lost Quinn only to spot him in the bouncy tunnel.

When lunchtime hit, E stood in the longest line (time-wise, not length-wise; it was weird) known to humankind for lunch while I did everything short of standing on my head to keep five small boys occupied and in one spot. We played Simon Says and Animal Charades and Duck Duck Bunny and Stay Here and Don’t Move While I Go Chase Down Sam/Jack/Quinn Real Quick.

Honestly, if disaster were going to strike, it would have been then. I’m pretty proud of myself for keeping everyone together and mostly happy.

I rewarded myself by forcing my children to use the porta-potties.

Yeah. I’m that dumb.

But then there were hayrides and threats about “There is a very tiny baby immediately behind you, Quinn! If I see so much as one piece of hay on it, I’m throwing you over the edge of the wagon!” At the time I meant it. But after a couple of minute of sitting and watching our kids get so excited over the little bunny scenes set up along the route, I relaxed.


And then, while Sam and his two friends went on the hayride a second time, Quinn fell off some tall playground equipment and declared himself both done for the day and too small to try to use the fireman’s pole.

Bunnyland was particularly brutal to Quinn. See the evidence here:

About 35% disaster.

Let me make some quick calculations and come up with a total here: four hours at Bunnyland with my buddy E and our five little dudes, hayrides, slides, rabbits, hay, chicks, rubber duck races, a playground, an Easter egg hunt, and two moonbounce activities. Subract total and utter exhaustion on my part and multiply by eking out every last bit of our money’s worth.

I’d have to say that’s about 0% disaster.

I’m totally going back next year.